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More on Republican Grassroots v. Establishment:

One other quick note on the conflict between the Republican establishment and the grassroots, and the idea that the problem is the message, not the messenger.

I was recently at an event where a distinguished political scientist argued that "spending" per se was not causing a problem for Republicans in elections. That may be. But it seems to me that the problem with the Republicans when they ran Congress was not just excessive spending, but rather the combination of spending and misplaced priorities that gave rise to a perception of corruption and incompetence in the administration of the government.

I became aware of this when a friend of mine here in DC--a largely nonpolitical fellow who leans conservative Republican when he votes--was seeking top secret clearance for his job and was told that the government was out of money to process new applications. To which he commented, "How can it be that the government can find enough money to build a 'bridge to nowhere' but not to process applications for top secret clearance?" Good question.

And for what its worth, a quick search in the Westlaw "Allnews" database reveals that the phrase "bridge to nowhere" appears 3993 times. Perhaps not all of those are for the infamous Alaska bridge, but that seems like a lot to me. Moreover, a quick glance notes that a surprising number of the references are in letters to the editor and similar citizen comments. I suspect that the "bridge to nowhere" became a shorthand for what was wrong with Republican party rule in Washington in recent years, not just as an example of reckless spending, but of self-interest and incompetence.

Mary Katherine Day-Petrano (mail):
What else is new?
6.1.2007 11:49am
AK (mail):
I was recently at an event where a distinguished political scientist argued that "spending" per se was not causing a problem for Republicans in elections.

Sure, spending per se isn't a problem. The problem with spending is that too little of it is done on me and my interests, and too much of it is done on interests directly and indirectly in competition with my interests.
6.1.2007 11:51am
Eli Rabett (www):
AK for president
6.1.2007 11:54am
Sophist:

But it seems to me that the problem with the Republicans when they ran Congress was not just excessive spending, but rather the combination of spending and misplaced priorities that gave rise to a perception of corruption and incompetence in the administration of the government.


as opposed to the innocent reality?
6.1.2007 11:58am
ChrisIowa (mail):
You may have noticed Romney's rise to the top of the polls in Iowa. For the past month he has been running an ad on radio and television promising to control spending.

I think the ad is having an effect.

Mercifully, he has started to run a different ad, though it still refers to that issue, it includes other issues.
6.1.2007 12:08pm
Steve:
You may have noticed Romney's rise to the top of the polls in Iowa. For the past month he has been running an ad on radio and television promising to control spending.

Republican desire to control spending (and I'm talking about the elected Republicans in Washington, not you, gentle reader) seems to have risen from a long slumber right about the time the Democrats retook Congress. Suddenly, they remembered it was a bad thing to go throwing money at all kinds of programs. Suddenly, they realized how awful it was to include unrelated pork spending in the war authorization bill. For all those years of Republican control, these things had been just peachy.

If you care strongly about spending, it's clear that the only way it will ever be controlled is with a divided government. Anyone who hasn't learned that lesson hasn't been paying attention.
6.1.2007 12:16pm
DiverDan (mail):
As a longtime conservative-republican leaning voter, and one who used to actively help republican candidates, I have to agree that the message of the current republican party is really a problem for me. First and foremost, I have always considered myself a Goldwater Conservative - i.e., with a strong streak of libertarianism. The Democratic Party's strong paternalistic streak really put me off (and still does) - God save me from Government Bureaucrats that "just want to protect me"! But when the Republican Party was hijacked by the Religious Right, and "saving" us from Gay Marriage and Abortion became a legislative priority (just why should ANYONE care if two gays want to get married?), I was desparate to find another political home - the problem was, none were available! The Democrats were still much too paternalistic &welfare state for my taste, not to mention their support of judicial candidates who will encourage litigation asa means to accomplish what they can't accomplish through the legislature, Ralph Nader's Green Party is just another brand of stifling paternalism, and Ross Perot's Independent Party was too much into "economic no-nothingism" (that "great sucking sound" from NAFTA wasn't jobs leaving - it was the vacuum that was Perot's knowledge of economics trying desparately to find some substance). And no, spending per se was not the problem, but the Republicans since the early days of the Newt Gingrich Congress (with only rare exceptions, like Jeb Hensarling, 5th Dist. Texas) have been far too accepting of wasteful spending, and far too willing to try to outbid the Dems for votes, like the Medicare Prescription Drug Plan - an excessively costly intergenerational transfer that just rubs salt in the deep wound that is the Social Security System. The Republicans haven't yet chased me into the fold of the Dems, but they sure don't inspire any confidence or excitement in voting for them.
6.1.2007 12:55pm
pete (mail) (www):
"If you care strongly about spending, it's clear that the only way it will ever be controlled is with a divided government. Anyone who hasn't learned that lesson hasn't been paying attention"

The current government is divided and I do not think that has done much to stop spending. I wish I knew what the solution is to stop excess spending and poorly planned budgets, but my fear is that almost all politicians get reelected based on what spending they produce, not on what money they save. It may an inevitable result of having a very large respesentative democracy of a couple hundred million people. There is no incentive (other than personal integrity) to get politicians to be responsible with the budget and every incentive to be irresponsible. Sure every once in a while you get a Tom Coburn who is sincere about not wasting taxpayer dollors, but his type is very rare and does not get elected very often.

I think part of Perot's popularity a few years back is that for all his faults, voters knew that he would not willingly waste money to get votes. That is a rare quality in a major politican and I think a substantial minority of voters was attracted to that.
6.1.2007 1:00pm
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
It isn't spending, per se, but pork barrel spending, that is the hot button. Instead of getting the message in the last election, the Republicans in Congress seem to have just climbed aboard the traditional Democratic gravy machine. This is their chance to prove their bona fides, and hold the Democrats running Congress up to the light to expose their prolifigate ways. And what do they do? They join in.

I think that the reality is that the Republicans are not going to fully retake Congress until they can energize their base to fight spending, and they aren't going to do that until they can convince the base that they are serious about that.
6.1.2007 1:04pm
JosephSlater (mail):
I'm not a Republican, so I don't know what conflict there is between the Republican "establishment" and "grassroots" and "establishment," but I'm curious about the definitions of those groups.

First, is "establishment" a way of saying "leadership" or "national elected officials" (with somwehat negative connotations)?

More importantly, the "grassroots" or "base" of the Republican party seems, in recent years, to have been more the religious right than fiscal conservatives. Karl Rove wasn't encouraging the placement of balanced budget initiatives on as many state ballots as he could, he was do that for initiatives opposing gay marriage.

Finally, I'm guessing at least with most Americans, disenchantment with Bush and the Republican Party is about (1) Iraq (2) Incompetence (Iraq, Katrina, etc.); and (3) corruption.

As other posters have indicated, while being against profligate spending and pork is easy in principle, the federal budget is much more complex than bumper-sticker slogans would have it. For one, less of the budget is discretionary than many people think, and many government programs are much more popular than libertarians would wish them to be.
6.1.2007 1:18pm
Steve:
The current government is divided and I do not think that has done much to stop spending.

You're kinda making judgments based on only a five-month period, though. It's surely hard for Bush to push back against Democratic spending given his political unpopularity, but at least he's making the effort, which he surely didn't for the prior six years.
6.1.2007 1:20pm
Aultimer:

Bruce Hayden wrote:

It isn't spending, per se, but pork barrel spending, that is the hot button
.


Only to the extent TSA, Social Security (and the nifty Bush Drug program) and the endless tail of the Iraq war are "pork barrel spending".
6.1.2007 1:29pm
Hewart:
It seems to me that if Bush and the Republicans only NOW start "pushing back" against spending - now that the Democrats are the majority party - then it really has nothing to do with a putative principle of controlling spending, at all.

Rather, it seems like the Republicans will merely be demonstrating that they are perfectly happy to spend profligately as long as THEY control the purse strings and decide how the money should be wasted, and any push-back now is simply obstructionism because they don't like the Democrats making those decisions.

I've become convinced that the mantra of Republicans and fiscal conservatism is only a sound bite they trot out when convenient, but it's not really a principle they functionally abide by when they, themselves, have power. A politically expedient hypocrisy, if you will. The "Bridge to Nowhere" is the poster child for this hypocrisy.

The complete collapse of any claim to fiscal conservatism by the Republicans is the initial reason I left the party after life-long membership and became an Independent.

Of course, there have been ample additional reasons in the past six years to cement that decision...
6.1.2007 1:39pm
Hattio (mail):
I'll jump on the bandwagon again. The "Bridge to Nowhere" actually referred to two different bridges, with very different issues. Neither one of them, of course, was to nowhere. There were good reasons to oppose either one of them, one I was against, and the other I was conflicted on. But that they were bridges to nowhere were not reality and therefore not good reasons.
6.1.2007 1:50pm
AppSocRes (mail):
This Republican administration and many, if not most, of the Republicans currently in Congress, have out-Democrated the Democrats in many areas, e.g., a surrealistically Wilsonian foreign policy, grotesque expansions of federal power like the Medicare drug program and "No Child Left Behind", and outrageous pork-barreling when Congrees was controlled by Republicans. The administration has shown an amoeboid lack of spine when trying to forward true Republican issues, e.g., the reform of Social Security. The administration has also demonstrated a shocking amount of incompetence in implementing programs like homeland security (even the phrase reeks). The only reason I voted Republican in the last presidential cycle was because the alternative was a bit worse. The difference between Republicans and the alternative may soon seem so small as to overwhelm the effort that voting involves. The current president is better than any past Democrat president I can think of but that doesn't mean he hasn't performed abysmally while in office.
6.1.2007 1:54pm
Anon. Lib.:
I am always amazed that republicans and conservatives really believe that Republicans prioritize reducing federal spending. They want to cut taxes, clearly, but elected Republicans have never been against spending in action as opposed to rhetoric (at least on the national level). There is a handy chart of federal spending as a percentage of GDP at truthandpolitics.org (link below). There is very little variation between Republican administrations and Democratic administrations in terms of spending. The averages since the 1970's, as I quickly calculated them, were: Nixon (19.3%), Ford (20.5%), Carter (20.8%), Reagan (22.4%), Bush I (21.9%) and Clinton (19.9%). Not much difference.



Maybe Republicans have a greater ideological aversion to spending, but that ideology has never actually manifested itself in reduced spending. It follows, I think, that Republicans view spending cuts as very low on their list of priorities.
6.1.2007 2:05pm
David Drake:
I believe that the GOP's problem was spending, and not just what it was spent on. One of the GOP's main themes for years was "cut government spending." The GOP gained control of Congress when Clinton was President and, by and large, spending was controlled (even if the motive was to thwart Pres. Clinton.) Then the GOP took the Presidency too and suddenly the GOP started trying to outdo the Democrats in spending and Bush, for whatever reason, did not exercise his veto.

It is going to take a long time to regain the trust of the public on that one but it is necessary, as Hayden says. Difficult to know how it will be done, though, as it may be hard for the GOP to persuade voters to give them a second chance at Congress.

I concur in the last paragraph of what Joseph Slater says: much of the budget is non-discretionary "entitlements" and therefore the only fixes are long-term and politically unpopular.

I also concur with Steve that the solution is divided government at the federal level. I recall quite a few conversations before the 2004 election to the effect that we should vote for Kerry as that was the only way to stop the spending.
6.1.2007 2:27pm
JosephSlater (mail):
Reading the right-wing blogosphere, one could reasonably conclude that the conflict between the "grassroots" and the "establishment" is over immigration reform. This level of vitriol has, in the past, been reserved mostly for Democrats.
6.1.2007 2:58pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
Bush has probably done irreparable harm to the Republican Party with some help from his friends in Congress. If current trends continue, they will hit a devastating shock wave in 2008, which will send them into the wilderness for a long time. The problem was that Republicans didn't seem to notice that Bush was never really a conservative on anything except taxes. They didn't seem to notice Bush the multiculturalist. They have also clung to the bogus theory that they lost California because of Pete Wilson's support of Proposition 187 in 1994.

When George Bush said,

"I have a vision for our two countries. The United States is destined to have a "special relationship" with Mexico, as clear and strong as we have had with Canada and Great Britain. Historically, we have had no closer friends and allies. ... Our ties of history and heritage with Mexico are just as deep."



His supporters evidently didn't take it seriously or weren't even listening. No wonder they call it the "stupid party." Now with S.1348, they know all too well what he meant. They are racing towards the cliff of oblivion and can't seem to let up on the gas pedal.
6.1.2007 3:28pm
David Drake:
A. Zarkov--

Then why do you think the GOP lost California if not because of Pete Wilson's disastrous policy toward immigrants?

And what is the REALISTIC alternative to the current immigration bill?
6.1.2007 4:06pm
David Drake:
Anon. Lib--

Perhaps the reason for this, as Joseph Slater suggests, that so much spending is locked in place by defense and entitlements. Along these lines, I recall the Congressional Democrats' response to Pres. Bush's tentative attempts to deal with Social Security: "No, and we're not going to tell you what our solution is."
6.1.2007 4:14pm
David Maquera (mail) (www):
I keep meaning to dust off my old copy of the Federalist Papers sitting in my living room. Hamilton really identified the issues that would plague the federal government with respect to factions and the necessity of divided government and separate branches, etc. Although a lifelong conservative who was pleased in 2000 to see the GOP finally take control of all three branches of the federal government, I am resigned to the fact that divided government is better after all.
6.1.2007 5:35pm
DiverDan (mail):
Anon Lib -- your comparison of spending asa percentage of GNP during various presidential administrations is at best misleading, since Presidents have very little power (other than the bully pulpit and the blunt ax of the veto pen) over spending. Even in proposing budgets, a President has little or no influence over transfer payments like welfare, AFDC, medicare, medicaid, social security, etc. Since the Constitution grants the power of the purse to Congress, its only fair that Congress, and not the President, get the credit for controlling spending or for runaway deficits. It always made me livid when Libs ranted about the "Reagan Deficits" during the 1980's, when it was Tip O'Neil's profligate Democratically controlled Congress that kept running up the tab. How about making a comparison based on which party controlled one or both houses of Congress? Even that comparison would unfairly saddle later Congresses with the fiscal black holes enacted by prior Congresses in the form of new or expanded transfer programs (like automatic COLA increases in Social Security).
6.1.2007 5:41pm
wb (mail):
Our President, our stubborn, ideology-blinded Republication President has been busy building bridges to nowhere for the past 6.5 years. The most expensive and treacherous of these is called IRAQ. He has squandered lives, good-will, reputation and treasure in a grand pork-BBQ for defense contractors.

Bill Clinton and James Carvel could not have engineered a better strategy to destroy the national Republican party.
6.1.2007 6:34pm
SIG357:
David Drake

Then why do you think the GOP lost California if not because of Pete Wilson's disastrous policy toward immigrants?


Because the demographic makeup of the state changed over the years from Republican type voters to Democratic type ones. How hard is this to notice?

And what "disastrous policy" did Pete Wilson have towards immigrants?
6.1.2007 7:35pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
David Drake:

The GOP lost California because of out-migration people who tended to vote for the GOP coupled with in-migration of Democratic voters. The Hispanic population, which votes for Democrats, also became a larger fraction of the state.

Pete Wilson's policy targeted illegal immigrants denying them non-emergency services. Why is that a disaster? Why should California subsidize Mexico?

The realistic alternative to the immigration is as follows. First control the border with stepped patrols and physical barriers. A double fence with acoustic sensors to detect tunneling, other high-tech measures will greatly reduce the influx. Once the border has become secure, the public will take the government seriously. Then we can deal with the 12-20 million illegals already present.
6.2.2007 3:39am
ATRGeek:
I am in the divided government camp. My back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest that spending as a percentage of GDP from Johnson forward grew fastest on average when Republicans were in control of both the White House and the House of Reps, then when Democrats were in control of both, then when there was a Republican in the White House and the Democrats controlled the House of Reps, and finally when there was a Democrat in the White House and the Republicans controlled the House of Reps.

Note I am focusing on the House of Reps (and not Congress as a whole) because of the special constitutional role for the House of Reps when it comes to spending.
6.3.2007 7:19pm