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National Republicans

20
How often does some well-meaning soul say, “Democrats and Republicans should put aside their differences and just do what’s right for the country.”
 
That sounds perfectly reasonable. But it’s perfectly unrealistic. The differences are over what’s right for the country. And the differences are fundamental and unbridgeable.
 
How, for example, would the two parties compromise on Obamacare? How do you put aside these differences: Democrats believe in government, Republicans don’t. Democrats believe everyone should have good health care, Republicans don’t. Democrats believe in public schools, Republicans don’t. Democrats are for people who are trying to make it, Republicans are for people who have it made.
 
Carter has blogged about the war inside the Republican Party between the Tea Partiers, who abhor compromise, and the “Pachyderms,” who sometimes compromise. Carter notes that the Tea Party is no fringe group. It’s a popular and powerful force within one of America’s two major political parties. Right now, it’s a force looking for a voice.
 
There’s a corresponding force within the Democratic Party. For two decades, Democrats have been dominated by Bill Clinton’s belief in a middle way between Republican and Democratic extremes. President Obama said in 2008 he would go to Washington and bridge the gulf between blue America and red America.
 
How’s that working out for you, Mr. President?
 
Some Democrats still believe in middle ground. Congressman David Price says the two parties came together to balance the budget in the late 1990s and can again. Erskine Bowles, who negotiated that balanced budget, is still trying to do it again.
 
But more and more Democrats believe there is no middle ground with the Tea Party. There is only total war. There will be a winner and a loser.
 
Like the Tea Party, that force is looking for a voice.

 

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18
Up in the gilded halls of Congress the Tea Partiers went on a tear last month voting against Debt Ceiling increases and budgets that didn’t cut spending but the whole proposition of fighting it out with Obama seemed altogether too risky to the Pachyderm Republicans so after a fortnight they gave up the ghost and passed Obama’s bills. 
 
Then, suddenly, the pillars of Republican Washington – like Mitch McConnell – found themselves facing primaries where folks like the Senate Conservatives Fund (which was founded by Senator Jim DeMint) were on the other side.
 
That was a serious problem.
 
So the Pachyderms ran up the distress flag and Big Business, loaded with millions of its own, charged to the rescue.
 
We want, the President of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said, a “more manageable Republican Party.”
 
Translation: We like Congressmen who vote for corporate subsidies and these Tea Partiers don’t look too ‘manageable.’
 
Then the Grand Vizier of the National Republican Senatorial Committee piped up and added ‘getting a General Election candidate who can win is the only thing we care about.’
 
Translation: Forget virtue. Principle. And spending cuts. We mean to win. And the end justifies the means.
 
Now the Tea Partiers may get buried under an avalanche of big business cash but, judging by their enemies, not being ‘manageable’ may not be a vice.
 

 

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18
Judging from Obamacare, Democrats can’t make government work. Judging from the October shutdown, Republicans don’t want it to work. What’s a democracy to do?
 
Obamacare is essentially an old Republican idea, hatched by the Heritage Foundation as an alternative to single-payer health insurance. It’s essentially Romney care. The idea is to put everybody in a big insurance poll – through the free market – that spreads the risk and the cost.
 
It tries to solve the problem of 40 million Americans who have no health insurance, Medicaid or Medicare. So they don’t get preventative care. They wait until they’re injured or until they’re really sick, and they go to the emergency room. Then they run up hospital bills in the tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. Which they can’t pay. Which all gets shifted to the rest of us.
 
The idea behind Obamacare is simple: Get those people into cheaper care earlier. Make them pay something (if they can) instead of sticking us with the bill.
 
But the execution of Obamacare is complicated. Because it relies on insurance companies. And because Chief Justice Roberts ruled that states could opt out of Medicaid expansion. Which most Republican-run states like North Carolina did.
 
So you could blame Obamacare’s problems on insurance companies, the Supreme Court and Republican governors and legislators.
 
Now American has three choices. First, muddle through with Obamacare. Second, go to a single-payer system by putting everybody under Medicaid/Medicare.  Or third, the Republican solution, which is … what?
 
Oh, that’s right. They don’t have one. In his column Sunday, the N&O’s Ned Barnett had this great quote from John Kennedy in his 1960 campaign: “I have been in the Congress for 14 years, and I know all about the record then, but I have yet to hear of one single original piece of new, progressive legislation of benefit to the people, suggested and put into a fact by the Republican Party.”
 
Some things never change in politics.
 

 

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15
The row started, oddly enough, with a single email. Which got answered. And counter answered. Then, boom, there was a full scale war of emails going on (with me watching copies flying back and forth) that lasted two days.  
 
At first I thought my two friends were arguing over who to support in the Republican Primary for U.S. Senate – but then it struck me what they were really arguing over was two different wars – and which war was more important.
 
Friend #1 figured the war that matters is whipping Obama while Friend #2 figured before whipping Obama the Tea Party had to, first, whip the Pachyderm Republicans in Washington who keep making deals with Obama.
 
Now, make no mistake: Friend #1 doesn’t like deals with Obama. And he wants to cut spending too. But not bad enough to shut down the government and risk losing the next election.
 
Friend #2’s view is simpler. To him all that spending is wrong. Period. Just like adultery or bank robbery is wrong. And he’s not about to go along with adultery just to win an election. He’s also a bit like Davy Crockett standing on the wall at the Alamo – he figures he’s dead right and doesn’t mind taking on a whole army to prove it.
 
In a way this whole argument’s the return of a very old fight I saw the first time back in the mid-1970s when we were trying to elect Ronald Reagan.
 
Back then, in all of Washington, we could only find two Republican Senators who’d endorse Reagan for President. Two. That was it. The rest of Republican Washington lined up behind Gerald Ford. So, in a way, the Tea Party – which, with Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and Mike Lee, has three Senators – is way ahead of where we were then.
 
Also, back then, everybody from liberal Democrats to mainstream Republicans let fly saying Reagan was too radical and too uncompromising and too unbending and if he ran he’d sink the Republican Party. And, in a way, that was partly right: He did run. And didn’t win. And Gerald Ford did lose to Jimmy Carter in 1976. But, then, it turned out we weren’t in the Alamo at all. Four years later, Reagan ran again and started winning elections faster than General Sherman tore through Georgia.
 
Who knows if history will repeat itself with a Ted Cruz or Rand Paul, but the Tea Party is a legitimate political movement – its ideas are popular within the Republican Party. And it may have to whip the Washington Republicans first.
 
Reagan did.

 

 

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14
 
The poor Tea Partiers have been getting pounded from pillar to post by the Washington political bosses and reporters and I’ll grant there’s a streak of oddness in the Tea Partiers but they also possess virtues like fighting for lost causes and having the courage of their convictions and besides, when you get right down to it, the idea Americans could do with a few trillion dollars less government over the next decade isn’t really all that unusual or radical.
 
But, that said, according to the bosses the Tea Partiers lack the one big virtue that trumps all the lesser virtues like courage and sincerity: Pragmatism.
 
Now that is a very old form of devilment.
 
The bosses don’t say the Tea Partiers are wrong. They don’t even say they disagree with the Tea Partiers. They just say they’re impractical. Which, in the end, means pretty much the same as wrong – because it means the Tea Partiers should stop fighting for spending cuts. Because, otherwise, Republicans risk losing the next election – which is impractical.
 
Now there was a time in America when we admired politicians who stood up for what they believed in and let the chips fall where they may. But, today, that’s no longer practical. When Obama says, I won’t negotiate on spending cuts – practical means saying, Yes, sir. And passing a budget with no spending cuts.
 
And that’s it in a nutshell.
 
When a Washington Republican says he’s practical he’s saying, Boys, talking about spending cuts is fine. Heck, I agree with you. But having a fight with President Obama over cuts? Forget it. I like serving in Congress and I might not get reelected.

 

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13
Is Senator Kay Hagan overreacting on Obamacare, or should Democrats rush to the lifeboats and abandon ship?
 
If you go by the N&O website’s headline – “Hagan calls for probe of healthcare website as political support drops” – you’d panic. After all, she had a conference call with reporters to call for investigations of the botched launch. The same day, Public Policy Polling said her race has tightened because of “early attack ads” and “the unpopular rollout of Obamacare.”
 
The hardest thing to do in politics is to underreact. But sometimes you should heed the wise words of ESPN Game Day’s Lee Corso: “Not so fast, my friend.”
 
First question (which we can’t answer): Are Hagan’s polls showing that Obamacare is really changing votes? Or is she doing this on the excitement plan, caught up in overheated hype and headlines?
 
What is the real evidence that Obamacare is moving votes now? Was it or wasn’t it a factor in Virginia? Even some Republican polls say no.
 
Or is this just the usual fluctuation in the polls? Republicans were down last month when the shutdown dominated the news. Democrats are down this month when Obamacare dominates the news. Next month it may be something else. Next year it will certainly be something else. If not, Hagan has no hope.
 
Here’s what PPP says about Obamacare: “It's always been unpopular in North Carolina and currently 38% of voters say they approve of it to 48% who disapprove, numbers pretty consistent with what we've found over the years.”
 
The approve/disapprove numbers, then, haven’t changed much. And 48-38 isn’t a margin that decides elections.
 
PPP goes on: “But what's really hurting Democrats is its being back in the news- 69% of voters say its rollout has been unsuccessful so far to only 25% who deem it a success.”
 
True that. And Hagan’s call for investigations put the story – and her drop in the polls – at the top of Page One.
 
Then she faces this reaction from Democrats, summed up by Joe Sinsheimer: "I practiced national politics for two decades as a Democratic consultant, and one of the few lessons I really learned, is that politicians who ‘try to have their cake and eat it too’ are rarely successful. When you try to hedge your positions, your enemies rarely believe you, and you just anger your supporters….Perhaps someone should call Sen. Hagan's office and explain this to her. She is not going to get re-elected attacking Obamacare.”
 
What’s the alternative? Remain calm. Step away from the ledge. Repeat after me: “This website mess needs to be fixed. But we’d also better fix our health care mess. If we don’t, it will bankrupt our nation and every family in it. What's the Republicans’ plan?”
 

 

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12
Mitch McConnell sounded a lot like an old-fashioned political boss: He sat down with a columnist from the Wall Street Journal, whipped out a knife, and plunged it right into the Tea Party.
 
To govern, McConnell said, parties must win. And to win they have to run candidates who’re adults.
 
That was a backhanded slap at Ted Cruz.
 
Then Boss McConnell threw a haymaker: He said the Tea Party narrative that Republicans could whip Obama if they were more ‘feisty’ is a fabrication and, what’s more, the Tea Party leaders are only spreading that tale for one reason: Money. To raise millions from gullible supporters then ‘take their cut’ and spend what’s left not to help but to hurt Republicans.  
 
Why, McConnell said, one Tea Party group was actually running ads to defeat him in his primary and that one group, by itself, had elected more Democrats than the entire Democratic Party over the last three elections. (The group McConnell was talking about is the Senate Conservative Fund which was founded by former Senator Jim DeMint and helped elect Ted Cruz.)
 
So there it is, straight from an adult candidate: The folks opposing Mitch McConnell are crooks who’ve elected more Democrats than the Democratic Party.
 

 

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12
 
Polymorphous America enjoyed a boom week last week.
 
The Senate passed a bill to show any fellow who doesn’t cotton to hiring transgenders, bisexuals or gay people the error of his ways. And, overjoyed, the President announced a more tolerant America goes hand in hand with a more prosperous America – as if entrepreneurs are now going to rush out and say, Gosh, the Senate banned transgender discrimination – I better hire more workers.
 
Who would have ever dreamed gay rights is the key to prosperity?
 
Shame on Obama for keeping that secret to himself all these years.
 
There’s just no rational way to explain it.
 

 

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11
The way the Tea Partiers see it, to save the country they have to do to the Washington Republicans what General Sheridan did to the Indians during the Indian Wars.
 
Because when the Tea Partiers say, We can’t vote to raise the Debt Ceiling unless Obama cuts spending – the Republican Bosses say back, Geez, not raise the Debt Ceiling? That’s risky. Forget about it.
 
The Tea Partiers figure when it comes to saving the country a little risk is fine, but the Washington Bosses see that same risk as getting in the way of their winning elections.
 
Which brings us to a very old subject: Fiction in politics.
 
Up in Virginia, Ken Cuccinelli just lost the Republican campaign for Governor and before the sun rose the next morning, the Washington Bosses were telling the press, He’d have won if the Tea Partiers hadn’t shut down the government.
 
Which sounds eminently logical.
 
The Tea Partiers shut down the government, Cuccinelli lost, so Cuccinelli lost because the Tea Partiers shut down the government.
 
The Tea Partiers didn’t take that lying down. They shot back with their own logic: The Washington Bosses didn’t lift a finger to help Cuccinelli, Cuccinelli lost by two points, so Cuccinelli lost because of the Washington Bosses.
 
Now there was one more interesting fact in the press: Cuccinelli’s campaign, Slate.com reported, didn’t poll in the last few weeks of the race.
 
Now whoever heard of a major campaign not polling at the end of the race? That’s political malpractice. So here’s a bit more logic: Cuccinelli didn’t poll, Cuccinelli lost by two points, so Cuccinelli lost because he didn’t poll.
 
Of course, that’s not the whole story but it’s almost surely a reason Cuccinelli lost. Which is being ignored.
 
Instead, both Tea Partiers and Washington Bosses are pointing fingers and serving up explanations that serve one purpose: To hurt their political opponents.
 
And the press, instead of cutting through the political smokescreens, is going right along debating a pair of fictions.
 

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08
My grandmother, years ago, would regularly tell me, Carter, you’ve got your wants and your needs confused.  
 
It turns out reporters have the same problem.
 
What reporters need, just about every day, is a story. And what they want is a crisis to make it an interesting story.
 
Take the newspaper headlines the other morning that roared: A year after Romney’s loss, GOP woes run even deeper.
 
Of course, it would be no story at all to say, A year after Romney loses, no change for the GOP.
 
But to say, A year after Romney loses, GOP hits iceberg – now, that’s a story. And it opens the door to a whole line of good stories such as: GOP Ship Sinks. Or, Hole in GOP ship miraculously patched.
 
So ‘Republicans hit iceberg’ is a big story around Washington – which spawns a kind of mischief. Because, beneath the surface, the political tides haven’t really shifted much one way or the other. We still have an unpopular President. And slightly more unpopular Republican opposition.  And just about every time President Obama climbs into the ring with John Boehner or Mitch McConnell the same old thing happens: Obama wins.
 
So maybe there’s a better storyline that’s been missed – like: Why does Boehner lose? Or: Republicans need new champion – to beat Obama. And think of all the stories that might lead to: New Obama challenger knocked down. New challenger back on his feet. Or maybe even:  New challenger wins round – Obama shaken.
 

 

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Carter & Gary
 
Carter Wrenn
 
 
Gary Pearce
 
 
The Charlotte Observer says: “Carter Wrenn and Gary Pearce don’t see eye-to-eye on many issues. But they both love North Carolina and know its politics inside and out.”
 
Carter is a Republican. 
Gary is a Democrat.
 
They met in 1984, during the epic U.S. Senate battle between Jesse Helms and Jim Hunt. Carter worked for Helms and Gary, for Hunt.
 
Years later, they became friends. They even worked together on some nonpolitical clients.
 
They enjoy talking about politics. So they started this blog in 2005. 
 
They’re still talking. And they invite you to join the conversation.
 
 
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