Archive for October, 2015

The latest Republican debate marked the end of the Bush dynasty

Thursday, October 29th, 2015

Originally published at Every Joe

Put a fork in him: Jeb Bush is done. And the death blow was dealt by the man once considered his protégé, the junior Senator from his home state, Marco Rubio. As I wrote last week, Rubio is blessed with raw political talent. He’s authentic, tough when he has to be, yet ultimately positive and forward-thinking. During the latest Republican debate, his savvy was no doubt on full display.

In an exchange that felt forced, Bush attempted to call Rubio out for his Senate absenteeism. “Marco, when you signed up for this, this was a six-year term, and you should be showing up to work,” scolded Jeb. “The Senate, what is it? Like a French workweek? You get three days when you have to show up,” said Bush, attempting to land a blow but coming across as both vindictive and nervous. You could cut the tension of the moment with a knife.

“I don’t remember you ever complaining about John McCain’s vote record,” replied a cool-headed Rubio, referencing the fact that McCain, who was fully supported by Bush, missed more votes than he has during his presidential candidacy.

“The only reason you’re doing it now is because we’re running for the same position and someone has convinced you that it’s going to help you,” said Rubio, laying bare what was already obvious: That Bush’s consultants told him to go for Rubio’s throat, he followed through, but it felt grossly inauthentic – and everybody, Bush included, knew it.

“My campaign is going to be about the future of America; it’s not going to be about attacking anyone else on the stage,” concluded Rubio, adding that he continues to have tremendous respect for Bush – ending the exchange on the type of positive note that captures Rubio’s style.

For Bush, there was no coming back from that moment. He behaved like the wounded man he was, incapable of exhibiting the commanding leadership voters seek in a president. Rubio spoke with the authority Bush’s bundlers always hoped the Serious Man with his Serious Record would exude; yet Jeb! has consistently missed the mark.

As Politico reported in the wake of the debate, many of his biggest supporters are frustrated.

Explained one of Bush’s donors: “Going after Rubio that way was just a mistake. No one cares about missed f–king votes in the Senate. Washington cares about that. The media cares about that. And losing candidates care about that. Jeb sounded like he was losing. And Marco made him pay.” Another irked Bush supporter said, “Marco is a [expletive] Jedi master. Hopefully these idiots learn not to [expletive] with him anymore. Not necessary.”

While Rubio had what was arguably the night’s best overall performance, Ted Cruz had a major breakout moment himself. A moment that, particularly to many people familiar with his Senate campaign, was an introduction to a more authentic Ted; a contrast to the canned and calculated version that voters who only know him through his presidential run have been subjected to.

In a statement that prolific pollster Frank Luntz said scored the highest out of any he’s ever seen in the countless focus groups he’s run, Cruz called out CNBC’s moderators for obvious bias in a brilliant fashion that resonated with the GOP base. One by one, he recited each loaded question the moderators had asked the candidates, in order, and pointed out how the bias was obvious.

“The questions that have been asked so far in this debate illustrate why the American people don’t trust the media,” said Cruz. He then went on to contrast CNBC’s loaded questions with what he described as “fawning” inquiries made to the Democratic candidates in their recent debate hosted by CNN. He then said, to laughs from the audience, that the Democratic debate looked as though it was an exchange “between the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks.”

While Rubio and Cruz performed the best, other candidates had moments in the sun as well. Carly Fiorina, who has been roundly praised for her past debate performances, had some good one-liners, but didn’t stand out as much as she needs to in order to be a sustainable frontrunner. She remains a sharp messenger, who deployed what I considered to be a perfect explanation of how big government and big corporations work together at the expense of small businesses and the middle class.

“Crony capitalism is what happens when government gets so big and so powerful that only the big and the powerful can handle it,” explained Fiorina. “When government gets big and powerful, the big feel like they need to get even bigger to deal with all that power, and meanwhile, the small and the powerless — in this case, 1,590 community banks — go out of business,” she added, aptly demonstrating how government creates problems then attempts to “solve them,” leading to the type of socialism that tanks economies.

Ultimately, despite her talents, it’s difficult to make the case for Carly as Commander in Chief. It increasingly seems as though she’s running for Vice President, which might just be the ideal slot for her. With a gifted female communicator like Carly on the ticket, Republicans will be able to better weather some of the inevitable “War on Women” attacks Hillary will ultimately use against the eventual nominee.

Rand Paul, the resident libertarian Republican, had a good moment when he explained how the Federal Reserve exacerbates the income inequality Democrats claim to oppose so strongly. But he was given the least amount of time, didn’t jump in during moments he could have landed a blow, and simply continues to struggle in debate settings. Rand, whom I admire greatly, is cerebral. He performs better on the Senate floor, filibustering budget deals and surveillance schemes, than he does in settings conducive to soundbites.

Christie and Kasich both played the role of Governors with tangible records to run on who aren’t Jeb Bush, and Christie’s personality shined. But neither seem to be gaining traction with voters. People looking for Washington outsiders still appear to be more fascinated with Trump and Carson than the governors, while Cruz, Rubio, and Paul all make good choices too, given their tea party election pedigrees.

As for Trump, he seems to have calmed down somewhat underneath the waning glow of his fading star. Carson is now beating him in Iowa and even in some national polls, and the case for Trump is increasingly difficult to make as undecided voters start looking for more substance. This is why I ultimately think Carson, who offers little in the way of policy knowledge, will fade too, with voters turning to the two men I believe will come to lead the field: Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz.

It’s too early to know for certain, but both Rubio and Cruz seem to be peaking at the right time. Cruz arguably has a stronger ground game than Rubio, but Rubio is better suited to become the establishment’s compromise choice. After all, recent reports show that President Bush, whom Ted worked for nearly two decades ago, isn’t a particularly big fan of him.

Ultimately, Cruz will lead with hardcore grassroots voters, and he’s counting on earning the support of those who have flirted with Trump and Carson. But the establishment tends to prevail to at least some extent, and Rubio, as I noted recently, is the perfect stealth-establishment, consensus candidate.

Expect the ultimate battle to be between Rubio and Cruz – which will be fascinating seeing as they’re both first term Senators. That certainly takes the wind out of the Republican refrain of old about Obama’s inexperience. But today’s political climate simply isn’t favorable to the Old Guard; a large part of why this debate marked the end of the Bush dynasty.

Marco Rubio’s push to ban online gambling reeks of cronyism

Wednesday, October 28th, 2015

Originally published at Rare

Marco Rubio has seen a slight boost in the presidential polls recently, leading or tying Jeb Bush in several key states. The senator is increasingly seen as a potential consensus candidate for Republican establishment forces to unite around if Bush continues to fail in his attempt at pushing Trump and Carson out of their current frontrunner limelight.

In fact, one of the Republican Party’s most prolific donors is reportedly courting Rubio. Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate with a net worth of $25 billion, recently met with Rubio and was said to be favorable toward lending his support. As Politico’s Alex Isenstadt noted, an endorsement from the billionaire could come at any moment now.

Adelson is known for his extremely hawkish national security views that line-up well with Rubio’s. But their relationship goes beyond affection forneoconservative foreign policy, extending into territory that can be rightfully criticized as cronyism.

As Rare previously reported, Adelson has long pushed a bill called the Restore America’s Wire Act (RAWA), aimed at banning online gambling. This bill, which would be a boon to Adelson’s posh casinos, was introduced in Congress by two presidential candidates who have earned financial support from Adelson in the past: Lindsey Graham and Rubio.

On Wednesday, just hours before the third Republican presidential debate, a hearing was held on Capitol Hill in support of RAWA. As a press release sent by the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling explained, the group aims to institute a federal prohibition on an activity that conservative critics believe should be left to states.

Given that a hearing on a bill he has sponsored was held on was held the same day as a Republican debate, perhaps Rubio should be asked tonight why he wants a federal ban on online gambling—something a majority of Americans opposes?

Perhaps Rubio should be asked to address the fact that he’s engaged in an act of cronyism disguised as a pro-family measure?

After all, Adelson and his primary business ventures don’t exactly represent paragons of virtue from the perspective of social conservatives, who typically oppose gambling across the board. Conservatives who are interested in promoting free market measures ought to think twice about Rubio’s alleged commitment to their interests.

In addition to doing what appears to be Adelson’s bidding with RAWA, Rubio has long supported sugar subsidies, based on the absurd premise that they’re necessary for “national security.” Yes, really.

As Windsor Mann explained at National Review:

“If we eliminate our sugar subsidies first, Rubio warned, ‘other countries will capture the market share, our agricultural capacity will be developed into real estate, you know, housing and so forth, and then we lose the capacity to produce our own food, at which point we’re at the mercy of a foreign country for food security.’ Let’s try to untangle this. If we get rid of sugar subsidies, Americans will turn their sugar farms into condominium lots and start buying sugar from foreigners, who will starve us until we surrender to ISIS. Or something like that.”

If Rubio continues to rise in the polls, his record (and chronic absenteeism in the Senate) ought to be further scrutinized, particularly by fiscal conservatives who value individual freedom. After all, Rubio’s willingness to do the bidding of the casino and sugar lobbies represents the kind of cronyism the tea party was originally founded to fight.

Jeb Bush is an unconvincing spokesperson against crony capitalism

Tuesday, October 27th, 2015

Originally published at Rare

At the Washington Examiner, Jeb Bush recently penned an op-ed titled, “As president, I’ll end crony capitalism.” Bush said he’d end corporate welfare, do away with tax breaks for the energy industry, rewrite the tax code in a manner that will get rid of unfair loopholes, and promised to eliminate burdensome regulations that harm the economy. Wrote Bush:

“None of these reforms will be easy to make. The influence peddling industry in Washington will fight every step of the way to defend their fiefdoms and special favors. It is going to take a president with a stiff spine and a proven record of delivering conservative reforms to disrupt the old, established order.”

Props to Bush for outlining a reform agenda and trying to get out in front of an issue that plagues him. But does anybody honestly believe the narrative that Jeb! is a Washington outsider motivated to run for President so he can finally put a stop to those damn career politicians of yesteryear? Presidents like his tax raising father and bailout supporting brother?

Frankly, it’s difficult to swallow the notion that the inheritor of the Bush dynasty is the person best suited to upend the corporatist status quo. After all, only 4 percent of his campaign contributions have been in increments of $200 or less, and he’s earned just 2.3 percent of all small-dollar contributions in the GOP field. This puts Bush in ninth place among his competitors when it comes to measuring grassroots support through modest donations.

Making matters worse for him, as Republican consultant Lawrence Brinton noted in an analysis of recent fundraising numbers:

“It’s not just that (Bush’s) ratio of big-donor to small-dollar donations is vastly out of sync with the rest of the GOP and Democratic fields today. (Even Romney’s ratio of small-donor to big-donor dollars was more than twice Jeb’s.) Jeb’s big-donor to small-donor ratio is 15:1. No candidate has ever won the nomination with such a heavy reliance on big donors, even at a time when big-donor money made up a much larger percentage of total fundraising. For the rest of the GOP field, the ratio of big-donor to small-donor money is 1:1.6. Furthermore, Jeb ranks just third in total fundraising.”

And it’s not just Bush’s family ties and current donor base that make it hard to believe he’s a reform conservative. His own record, both during his time as Florida’s governor and afterwards, renders his alleged commitment to eradicating crony capitalism questionable at best. As governor, Bush had extremely close relationships with lobbyists (one of whom actually wrote some of his key speeches), and he often pushed agenda items for their corporate clients.

Additionally, as Jim Geraghty pointed out at National Review:

“After leaving the Florida governorship, Bush set up a consulting firm, Jeb Bush & Associates. A review of the firm’s records revealed ‘a third of the firm’s $33 million in proceeds from 2007 to 2013 came from banking giants Lehman Bros. and Barclays.’ One of the firm’s clients was the now-bankrupt fiber-panel manufacturer InnoVida, whose CEO pled guilty to two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.”

In a year when the Republican base is looking to outsiders, Bush is an unconvincing populist. Conservatives seeking to eliminate cronyism have much more compelling choices in virtually all of the GOP field. This is particularly the case when looking at the voting records of Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and even Marco Rubio; leaving Bush in a tough situation that has led to a recent staff reduction in an attempt to create a leaner campaign.

Given the dynamics of the GOP field, it comes as no surprise that Bush is attempting to strike an anti-corporatist, reform-conservative tone. But the numbers don’t lie: Jeb’s support comes from the very intersection of corporate interests and establishment politics that he’s expecting voters to believe he opposes.

Polls and fundraising show that despite Bush’s attempt at rebranding, the conservative base just isn’t buying it. In today’s political climate, that might just spell disaster for a man once considered the natural Republican frontrunner.

Is Marco Rubio ready for his moment?

Thursday, October 22nd, 2015

Originally published at Every Joe 

Marco Rubio is impressive. He exudes charisma, has a strong grasp of policy, performs well on the debate stage, and is the type of fresh-face the GOP needs from a public relations standpoint. This isn’t to say that I particularly like Rubio. As a libertarian Republican, I’m unimpressed with his ultra-hawkish foreign policy stances, can’t stand his utter disregard of civil liberties, could do without his somewhat crony approach to a few key economic issues, and find his lack of interest in criminal justice reform troubling.

That being said, I believe Rubio is a strong contender for Republican nominee, and predicted earlier this week that he’ll emerge as the victor. I’m personally still on Team Rand, and wrote a recent piece touting his rise in the polls. I think that Rubio, however, could very well stand out as the consensus candidate establishment forces ultimately coalesce around while also being acceptable enough to grassroots conservatives to pull off a win.

Rubio is currently in a unique position; and it’s one that could allow him to peak at just the right moment. He is, according to the same CNN poll that shows Rand Paul back in the top five contenders, tied at 8% with Jeb Bush for third place. This is an impressive feat for Rubio considering the fact that Bush raised $13 million compared to his mere $5.7 million in the last fundraising quarter. It also speaks to why many pundits have speculated that Bush might not have what it takes to make it past the finish line.

The Demise of Jeb Bush,” written by Dave Catanese at U.S. News and World Report, is one of many articles that has cropped up as of late questioning whether Bush, despite being the overwhelming choice of the Republican establishment, is the right candidate for these tumultuous times. As Catanese explained:

Less than four months before primary voting begins, Bush has sunk into second-tier status in the GOP nominating bout. He’s stuck in a single-digit polling slump, idling between fourth and fifth place in the 15-candidate field, even after his allies have blitzed the television airwaves with more than $5 million in advertising. His much heralded fundraising prowess has also been neutralized, as he’s raised essentially as much money as Sen. Ted Cruz this last quarter and saved less than the rogue upstart Ben Carson.

Naturally, this has establishment Republicans concerned. Neither Donald Trump nor Ben Carson would be acceptable nominees as far as the powers-that-be are concerned. And the conservative base is justifiably in the mood for outsiders – though I’d argue that the authoritarian tendencies of both Trump and Carson, “anti-establishment” as they may be, represent a strong step in the wrong direction.

Nevertheless, the field remains dominated by these two, something has to be done, as far as Republican leaders are concerned, to neutralize them, and Bush – the wonkish and unconvincing face of a toxic political dynasty, increasingly looks like he’s enabling the “outsider” dominance rather than quelling it. What’s a party establishment to do? As Catanese wrote:

Even if the outsiders ultimately fade or self-immolate, there stands Rubio, who is far superior to Bush stylistically and boasts a youthful shine and novelty that accentuates his rationale for a new generation of ideas. Bush’s recent strike on Rubio’s spotty attendance record as a senator seems more likely to resonate with the Beltway press pack than a New Hampshire voter. But since the two are so similar on policy, the menu of attack options at his disposal is limited.”

I agree with Catanese’s take here, but I’d go a step further. It’s not just that Rubio has the potential to move in on what should have been Bush’s territory if Trump and Carson fade. I believe that major donors, many of whom Rubio has recently met with to allegedly positive receptions, will see the writing on the wall for Bush. They will recognize that Rubio is their best bet for obtaining a “serious” candidate, just acceptable enough to establishment forces and grassroots conservatives alike.

The young, articulate son of Cuban immigrants who comes across as vaguely anti-establishment due to his unexpected toppling of Charlie Crist, yet is essentially identical to Bush on policy, is the Republican Party’s best shot at keeping their hands firmly on the reins of power. This is of course, bad news for Bush, but potentially great news for the future viability of the Republican brand. It should be good news for Rubio, too. And it is, in theory. But it isn’t entirely clear that he’s ready, logistically speaking, for what could very well shape up to be his moment in the sun.

While Rubio looks like he’s in the process of scoring some big points with major Republican donors such as casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, hedge fund manager Paul Singer, and famous investor Charles Schwab, reports about his campaign’s lack of organization on the ground paint a potentially troubling picture. If Rubio is able to court big money and also pick up wayward supporters of candidates who have dropped out or are fading, he can potentially increase his fundraising enough to get on the ball. But as Kyle Cheney reported at Politico:

Rubio may be slowly rising in the polls, but his third quarter filing revealed a campaign that’s also out-manned by many of its rivals in the early-voting states. His staff is largely concentrated in Washington, with just a small umbrella of on-the-ground, early-state operatives – and he’s already at a disadvantage because he hasn’t invested the time in early-state visits that some of his opponents have.”

This means that Rubio would have to play catch-up, and with the right amount of resources, there’s still time for that. Rubio, nipping at Bush’s heels both in the polls and within establishment networks, could be the savior the GOP is forced to depend on. While Rubio’s entry into the presidential race has caused a great deal of consternation within Florida politics, Republican leaders both from the men’s home state and nationally might ultimately be happy that Rubio threw his hat in the ring if Bush can’t muster the momentum they’d hoped for.

“If a first-term senator is the answer, what is the question?,” said Jim Dyke, a Bush advisor based in South Carolina. It’s a line, particularly one that negatively invokes Obama, that Bush supporters like to deploy against upstart Senators Paul, Cruz, and Rubio alike. But the difference between Rubio and the other two is that, despite surface appearances, he is vastly friendlier to the whims of the party’s establishment.

This is why I ultimately believe, as Bush continues down the path of being rejected by Republican primary voters, that Rubio is the only candidate positioned to be a true consensus choice. He polls competitively against Hillary Clinton in a general election matchup, is her junior by nearly a quarter century, and is a first generation American with a compelling personal story.

On a general election debate stage, Rubio would articulate a positive “opportunity conservative” vision that contrasts well with Clinton’s sneering essence of dynastic “inevitability” that feels void of meaning. The bases of both the Democratic and Republican parties are thirsting for outsiders – and despite the unforeseen popularity of Bernie Sanders, liberals aren’t likely to get what they’re looking for with Clinton still in the lead.

If Republican strategists actually want to win, they’ll drop their personal ties to the man who represents a dynasty much less popular than the Clintons’ and opt for a fresh face who, despite seeming like an insurgent, is ultimately stealth-establishment. It’s the perfect compromise. Marco Rubio, if everything comes together for him this primary season, can beat Clinton. The question simply comes down to whether he’s ready.

ObamaCare is imploding and no one seems to have noticed

Wednesday, October 21st, 2015

Originally published at Rare

Remember when grassroots conservatives were fired up about fighting ObamaCare?

Despite some repeal battles still being bandied about in Congress, ObamaCare does not seem to be defining the Republican primary in the way that it dominated the discourse during the 2010 tea party sweep of the House and the 2014 GOP takeover of the Senate.

Perhaps it’s about timing. After all, conservatives haven’t been able to defund the law despite an insistence from some corners of the movementthat such a feat was possible with a sitting Democratic president.

And the two cases challenging ObamaCare that made it to the Supreme Court ultimately favored the White House. Meanwhile, despite the fact that various strong policy alternatives to ObamaCare exist, the Republican Party at-large hasn’t coalesced around a specific replacement for the law.

Yet as furor over ObamaCare has been pushed to the political back-burner, many key predictions made by the law’s critics about its impending failures are coming true.

Brian Blase, a contributor to Forbes’ health care reform series The Apothecary, explained in an article published this week, just 10 million people are now expected to enroll in ObamaCare next year; only half the number the Congressional Budget Office projected a mere four months ago.

Blase said, “While there are several factors that explain how the expert community likely erred so significantly (in its enrollment predictions), the most plausible explanation is that exchange plans are much less attractive than experts had projected.”

This is particularly concerning, seeing as the unwieldy law did far more than simply create a now-failing federally subsidized exchange to complement a thriving private market. One of the reasons ObamaCare has been unpopular is precisely because the president’s original promise that everyone could keep their existing health care plans turned out to be false.

In fact, several million people have lost their plans as a direct result of the anti-market provisions that ban insurance policies the government deemed insufficient. All the while, undesirable plans are subsidized by taxpayers who don’t want them, and uninsured individuals are fined for refusing to purchase sub-par, highly regulated insurance.

Additionally, due largely to ObamaCare, federal regulations and their cost to the economy have skyrocketed. In 2013, now Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell printed out the 20,000 pages of regulations associated with ObamaCare, noting that there would be more to come; a promise that has, as a matter of course, been fulfilled.

And like all regulations, these come with a cost to the economy.

Regulation Rodeo, a recently launched project of the American Action Forum that tracks the costs associated with ever-increasing regulatory burdens, provides the public with data that shows just how bogged down the economy has become in the years since ObamaCare has passed.

For example, in the four years prior to ObamaCare’s passage, 2006-2009, the cost per year of federal regulations surrounding health care amounted to an average of $3.1 billion. Paperwork hours per year were at 5.9 million, and the cost per regulation was $80.9 million.

These numbers seem high enough. Yet consider what has happened since ObamaCare’s implementation.

Regulation Rodeo shows the cost per year of federal health regulations between 2010 and 2015 now averages $10.3 billion. Paperwork hours have increased to 17.8 million per year, and the cost per regulation is an eye-popping $313.1 million. And we haven’t even made it to the end of 2015 yet.

While these numbers may seem arbitrary on their face, they represent the growth of bureaucracy at the expense of average Americans. Middle class consumers, particularly those in the individual market, are in most cases paying hundreds if not thousands of dollars more for lesser health care—all as a direct result of ObamaCare’s regulatory maze.

As Blase wrote at Forbes, “The fact that people find exchange plans so much less attractive than experts assumed when the law was passed will hopefully convince some supporters of (ObamaCare) that the law needs to be revisited, and likely fundamentally changed.”

Hopefully. But with a Democrat in the White House, don’t hold your breath.