Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Politix Update: Why GOP Is Screwed No Matter How The Supremes Rule

It isn't exactly news that the Republican Party lost sight years ago of what governing is all about.  Not coincidentally, this was about the time the GOP got its teeth handed to it with the 2008 election of Barack Obama on the wave of an energized coalition of minorities, women and college students and found itself bereft of ideas to counter the young president's ambitious agenda.  With a nascent Tea Party, grumbling fundamentalists and John Birch Society-style right wingers fighting for the soul of a party growing more conservative, whiter and older by the election cycle, Republicans found themselves without big thinkers and new ideas and defaulted to attacking the president and his agenda with a relentlessness that has brought it short-term gains but left it ill prepared to take back the White House.
This self-inflicted malaise is about to play itself out in extraordinary ways with enormous consequences no matter how the U.S. Supreme Court rules on two historic cases fraught with politics: A challenge to the federal subsidies provision at the heart of the Affordable Care Act, and the question of whether marriage is a fundamental right afforded to everyone, gay or straight, under the 14th Amendment of the Constitution.  Rulings in both cases are expected before the court adjourns early in July.
The knots that Republicans have tied themselves in over the Affordable Care Act have been getting tighter and tighter.  After years of condemning the greatest leap forward in health-care reform since Medicare laws were enacted in 1966, including scare mongering about "death panels" and other lies on an epic scale, as well as dozens of unsuccessful House repeal votes, the GOP noise machine has fallen silent.  This is because a growing majority of Americans have grown kind of fond of what is familiarly called Obamacare, many because of the existence of federal insurance exchanges in their states, which are the conduits for the subsidies, and the GOP is faced with some very unpleasant realities if the Supreme Court grants the party its wish and guts the law by striking down the federal subsidies provision.
The first reality is that Republicans, who control both houses of Congress, don't know what to do if the high court nixes the subsidies although that would leave millions of very angry people (including some of their own, dadgummit) without health insurance, while extending the subsidies by congressional fiat would incur the wrath of the party's reliably cantankerous conservative base and pretty much all of the 12 or so (but then whose counting?) wannabes crowded into the GOP presidential primary clown car. 
The second reality is that of the 34 states that have federal exchanges, 26 have now very worried Republican governors who have had a grassroots view of Obamacare in action, and while some may be ideologically opposed to it, they know that it more or less works. Of the Senate seats up for election next year, 24 are held by Republicans and 22 of those are in exchange states.  Several Senate battleground states -- including Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio and Wisconsin -- that the GOP must win next year if it has any chance of taking back the White House would be hard hit by a negative court ruling because they all have federal exchanges, and Republican officeholders from these states caught in these crosshairs are demanding that their congressional leadership be prepared to act.   But McConnell and Boehner and Company are pretty much totally unprepared for what may be about to hit them despite vague and unspecified promises of some kind of interim solution.
"If a Supreme Court ruling against Obama turns into a hollow victory for conservatives, congressional Republicans could be in for a bloodletting," opined the conservative National Review. "Why? If the court rules that only those on state-created exchanges are eligible for subsidies, and Republicans . . . don't find a fix, nearly 6.4 million Americans would be impacted, and their health care costs could spike by almost 300 percent."
In other words -- and this is absolutely delicious -- having repeatedly tried to knock down Obamacare, Republicans would be flirting with electoral disaster if the court in effect rules for the GOP but the GOP doesn't hasten to prop up Obamacare. 
The consequences of the court in effect ruling for the GOP in the same-sex marriage case are perhaps not as drastic, but nevertheless large in terms of the 2016 election.
Six in 10 Americans support same-sex marriage, a number that jumps to seven in 10 when the respondents know someone who is gay or lesbian, while 36 states allow same-sex marriage, and those numbers continue to grow.  Next year's election will be the first in which gay rights could be a major issue and one that regardless of how the high court rules, will put Republicans on the wrong side of history as well as public opinion.  That is not a winning formula.
Beyond Republicans having worked so hard to bite themselves in the electoral ass and, in the process, continue their marginalization as a national political force, there is a deep irony here: The party that has blathered on and on . . . and on and on and on . . . about Family Values finds itself diametrically opposed to Americans who value access to affordable health care for their families and value people no matter what their sexual orientation happens to be.
The schizophrenia of the mainstream media when it comes to covering Hillary Clinton is enough to give a reader a bad case of whiplash.  A few days ago, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee was sinking in the polls, unsure of her identity, being dissed by young feminists, and dragging around burdensome baggage from a family foundation with a knack for attracting dodgy contributors.  And, of course, we'll always have Benghazi.  But today Hillary is flying high.  Howcum?
She gave a speech -- one single speech -- that the media loved.
In an address on photo op-perfect Roosevelt Island in New York City, Clinton sounded a clarion call on a litany of liberal issues without appearing to pander to her base: Shared prosperity, economic fairness, investing in people, aid for distressed communities, equality for gays and lesbians, the unfairness of overpaid corporate bigs, checking Wall Street excesses, including trying to buy elections, renewable power, greater investing in infrastructure, universal pre-kindergarten, paid family leave, a higher minimum wage, equal pay for women, increased aid for the mentally ill, tax penalties for companies that offshore their profits, and universal voter registration.  (Did I miss anything?)
This laundry list would appear to be left-leaning at first glance, but it's stuff many people like -- or at least focus groups do.  Me, too.  And most importantly at this stage in the campaign, stuff that the candidates in that overstuffed Republican field don't like.  But mark my word: It will be only a matter of time before the media will have Clinton sinking in the polls, unsure of her identity, being dissed by . . .
At least the mainstream media shows some consistency in its schizophrenia.  Take Jeb Bush.  The media had all but handed the former Florida governor the Republican nomination a few short months ago on the strength of his prodigious fund raising, close ties to the so-called Republican Party elite, the presumption that an establishment-oriented candidate like himself had the best chance of winning it all, and his chameleon-like ability to appear moderate to moderates and conservative to conservatives.  But a funny think happened on the way to the media coronation: His candidacy is in big trouble.
There are a number of reasons for this: Bush is not a particularly good chameleon, he has many more challengers for the nomination than it was presumed there would be, while fellow Floridian Marco Rubio is running even if Mitt Romney is not, and while he may be establishment oriented his party is increasingly less so.  He also seems to have managed to hit pretty much every pothole in his path during the so-called invisible primary.  But the biggie is that the media, while acknowledging that Jeb's last name might be a problem, has failed to understand the deep -- and I mean really deep -- antipathy with which many Republicans view his big brother.  Not so much because of that Iraq war thing, let alone that recession thing, but because of how George W. Bush sullied the party brand in general.
So while the big task for Hillary Clinton is energizing her Democratic base, something she showed she is capable of doing with her Roosevelt Island do-over, the big task for Jeb Bush, who formally announced his candidacy with a by-comparison lackluster do-over that provoked yawns from much of the punditocracy, is trying to run from his own last name without dissing his brother, let alone alienating his own advisers, a good many of whom were architects of the Dubya train wreck. 
There may be too many miles between the here and now to the Republican nominating convention for Bush to accomplish that trick, let alone regain the momentum those pundits declare he has lost.  This is because he never really had much momentum in the first place.
The Washington Examiner is reliably conservative and fawningly Republican, so it was startling to see this headline atop an article by Philip Klein:
If Republicans Can't Beat Hillary
They Should Disband the Party

Klein, in a lashing condemnation of Clinton's Roosevelt Island speech ("Back in 1996, her husband ran for re-election against a septuagenarian promising to build a bridge to the 21st century. Here she was, 20 years later, running for office building a bridge back to Roosevelt.") declares that the GOP "should be in a prime position to win the next election" because of "the mounting scandals, polls showing a lack of trust for her, the historical difficulty of political parties winning three presidential elections in a row, and the deep bench of fresh-faced Republican options . . . " 
But then reality catches up to Klein and nips at his heels as he acknowledges that "the next election will test whether demographic headwinds are too much for Republicans to overcome."
Klein shakes off the nipping and plunges ahead:
"When Republicans lost two elections to Obama, it was easy to explain away as a special phenomenon. In 2008, Obama was a rock star running against a boring old senator who represented an incumbent party that had presided over an unpopular war and financial crash. In 2012, he ran for re-election against a weak candidate who had trouble winning over his own party."
But the nippers are back as he concludes:
"[I]n 2016, Republicans have the ability to nominate a formidable candidate to put up against a Democrat with lots of baggage. If they blow it, then it may be time to throw in the towel."
I would be remiss to not at least give passing mention to Donald "I'm Rich and I'm Famous" Trump, who managed to insult just about everyone, but Mexicans in particular, in an announcement filled with fantasy and devoid of factual content that he too -- indeed, one of the great buffoons of our time -- was hopping into the Republican clown car.  
Hanging onto the rear bumper is more like it, but The Donald is bound to give the other clowns fits on the power of name recognition alone.  Because of this, he is polling high enough to make the cut and be one of the 10 candidates on stage at the Fox News version of Hollywood Squares, aka the first presidential debate on August 6, and has a shot at the CNN-hosted second debate on September 16.
Politix Update is an irregular compendium written by veteran journalist Shaun Mullen, for whom the 2016 presidential campaign is his (gasp!) 12th since 1968.  Click here  for an index of previous Politix Updates.

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