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National Republicans

07
The Republican civil war takes off, Obamacare takes a hit, Virginia is still purple, a big GOP personality wins big in blue New Jersey, public pollsters lose big and a new generation of Democratic leaders rises across North Carolina. Let's run it all down.
 
GOP civil war: The skirmishes are over, and the real war begins. Christie vs. Cruz in 2016. Tea Party and evangelicals vs. Thom Tillis. Tea Party vs. Pittenger (NC-09). Tea Party vs. the “Washington establishment.” Have at it!
 
Obamacare: Good luck arguing that Obamacare didn’t hurt Terry McAuliffe in Virginia. Its opponents believe it did and the media suspects it did, so the heat is going to get a lot hotter. Obamacare supporters have claimed that, once it goes into effect, the American public will love it so much they’ll never give it up. We’re still waiting for that to kick in.
 
Virginia: Democrats are oddly deflated in victory. They thought McAuliffe would win bigger, especially with a $15 million advantage. Maybe Virginia (like North Carolina) is just always going to be close, maybe voters didn’t like either candidate, maybe the Republican establishment abandoned Ken Cuccinelli, maybe it was Obamacare. Still, a win is a win.
 
Pollsters: Virginia was a surprise because public pollsters had McAuliffe winning big. Public Policy Polling had his margin at 7 points (it was 2.5). Some newspaper polls said he had double-digit leads. Geoff Garin, McAuliffe’s pollster, said his last poll pegged it at 3 points, and he dismissed the idea of a last-minute, weekend shift. Here’s the lesson: Campaigns spend a lot of money making sure polls are right, but public polls don’t have that same incentive. They want maximum publicity at minimum cost. Politicians always ask: “Where can I get a cheap poll?” My answer: “Why don’t you get a good poll instead?”
 
New Jersey: NC GOP strategist Paul Shumaker noted that this is a case where an outsized (in many ways) personality overcame a state’s political structure. Chris Christie is a force of nature, and he rode another force of nature, Hurricane Sandy, to victory in a Democratic state. But also note that heavy spending by outside groups kept New Jersey’s legislature Democratic. And don’t count on Christie’s win converting the Tea Party. Anybody who hugs Obama and lets gays marry isn’t winning the GOP nomination in 2016.
 
North Carolina: A remarkable cohort of young Democratic leaders won city and town races across the state Tuesday. In the past, municipal officers haven’t been great launching pads for political careers. But that is changing as North Carolina urbanizes. Cities and towns can be training grounds, testing grounds and proving grounds for new leaders. The party should take note and make room. Click here for a rundown on these races and the rising stars.

 

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06
Remember when George W. Bush ran as a “compassionate conservative” in 2000? Ted Cruz could run in 2016 as a “cruel conservative.”
 
The distance between the two Texans shows how far right the Republican Party has gone, thanks to the Tea Party. It’s a hell of a thing when Bush looks good in hindsight.
 
Carter says that 70 percent of Republicans call themselves “conservatives.” Not moderates, not mainstream, but conservative. Presumably, they don’t share other Americans’ antipathy to the Tea Party.
 
Given that 70 percent, how can Chris Christie be the nominee in 2016? Even assuming he overcomes temperament issues and questions about his health, how can any Republican with any hint of “moderate” win a Tea Party gauntlet in the debates and primaries?
 
Republicans like Cruz – and the North Carolina legislature – are on a mission to rid the party and the nation of any compassion whatsoever for people who aren’t rich, white, old and male. They turn on anyone, like a Mitch McConnell, who won’t meet their ever-rising ransom demands.
 
Now the Karl Rove-Chamber of Commerce wing of the party is fighting back. They are putting money behind candidates running against Tea Partiers. There is talk of business-backed GOP primary challenges in North Carolina.
 
Myself, I’m pulling for Cruz and the Tea Party to pull the GOP right over the cliff.

 

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05
The poor Tea Partiers are finding the Republican Establishment in Washington harder to keep ahold of than a greased pig – they cornered the elusive rascals, trying to defund Obamacare, but then the wily Pachyderms slipped through their fingers and now Ted Cruz and the Tea Partiers are taking a pounding, being called pouty children with no respect for the time-honored traditions of Congress and common decencies – like never putting a fellow Republican Congressman on the hot seat.
 
But Ted Cruz and Rand Paul may have lost the battle but won the war.
 
Republicans who vote in primaries loathe Obamacare and, thanks to the virtues of democracy, every GOP Congressman who voted for the deal (to fund Obamacare) has to win a primary in Topeka or Toledo or wherever to continue to be a Washington Republican.
 
So the Pachyderms are taking evasive action – by morphing. They’re no longer Washington Republicans – instead, they’ve announced, they’re now ‘Pro-business Republicans.’ It’s sort of like a leopard changing his spots. Or the polecat who had a PR problem and decided the way to solve it was to declare he was a jaguar.
 
Of course, beneath the surface not much has changed.
 

 

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04
Any Southerner worth his salt, at some point, has come face to face with William Faulkner’s story “The Bear” – about a mammoth, faster than a locomotive bear who roams and rules the last 100 square miles of pure wilderness in Mississippi where the final vestiges of ancient virtues like endurance and sacrifice have not yet been corrupted by the tentacles of civilization.
 
Each fall, every year, the same troop of hunters – a farmer, an aging Confederate General, a banker, a half-breed Indian, an incorrigible redneck and a boy – climb into wagons and roll into the wilderness for a rendezvous with the legendary bear none of them actually expect (and may not even want) to kill.
 
In those days bear hunting required hunting dogs, but no dog in his right mind wanted to go anywhere near that mammoth bear – until, at last, one of the hunters found a fyce with more gumption and courage than good sense.
 
The first time the little dog laid eyes on the bear he lowered his head and charged and the bear, more surprised than alarmed, stopped and turned at bay rising onto his hind legs.
 
The fyce, a paw slap away from doom, was saved.
 
Then, as the giant bear lumbered away, one hunter glanced at the man next to him, nodded down at the still yipping fyce, and grunted, We ain’t got the dawg yet – h’it aint big enough.
 
Up in Washington, President Obama’s the territorial equivalent of that old bear. Two Presidential Elections ago no one thought he’d whip Hillary – who was a Democratic legend in her own right.
 
Then, though no one said it much, a fair amount of folks figured the odds were pretty long against a black man getting elected President – but Obama whipped a war hero and landed in the White House.
 
When 2012 rolled around, just about every Republican guru and savant on TV was prophesying Obama, with his huge disapproval rating, was doomed. Instead Obama whipped Mitt Romney and since then he’s whipped John Boehner and Mitch McConnell in just about every fight with Congress without hardly breaking a sweat.
 
Of course just about everyone has an explanation for why Obama’s whipped every Republican in sight. It’s demographics. Urbanization. Culture. Technology. But in the end, let’s give Obama credit – Republicans failure may be as simple as ‘we ain’t found a dawg big enough yet.’  

 

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04
If Terry McAuliffe wins the Virginia governor’s race, Democrats might want to rethink this campaign finance thing.
 
Public Policy Polling’s final poll shows McAuliffe winning 50-43. But here are the numbers that caught my eye: McAuliffe leads in fundraising $34.4 million to $19.7 million.
 
The New York Times reported, “Armed with a much larger war chest, Mr. McAuliffe has battered his opponent, Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, with a barrage of negative ads and has put himself in a position that would have surprised many Democrats just a year ago: ahead in the polls just two days from the election.”
 
McAuliffe is as well-connected a Democrat as there is in the country. He’s best friends with Bill, Hillary and Barack. He’s a former DNC chairman. He’s raised and given money all over the country. So he has a lot of IOUs to cash.
 
Also, Virginia has a no-limits, no-holds barred campaign finance system. One donor gave McAuliffe’s campaign a half-million dollars.
 
Democrats fear the U.S. Supreme Court will strike down limits on how much donors can give a campaign. Maybe that wouldn’t be so bad, Democrats. Especially at a time when Tea Party candidates are scaring Chamber of Commerce/business donors.

 

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01
Whatever else it does, Obamacare drives Republicans into a frenzy of hype, hypocrisy, irrationality and overreaction.
 
Exhibit A: Republicans in Congress are outraged that website glitches prevent Americans from signing up for a program Republicans compare to slavery. Why are they complaining? They should take a cue from George Holding, take a nap and chill out.
 
Exhibit B: Republican governors who probably know better (like Pat McCrory and unlike Ohio’s John Kasich) reject Medicaid expansion, even though it would help millions of Americans and save hundreds of millions of dollars. Politically, the governors have no choice. They’re terrified of the Tea Party.
 
Exhibit C: Obamacare is a classic Republican policy, hatched by the Heritage Foundation, once championed by Newt Gingrich and put into law (no matter how much he denies it) by Mitt Romney.
 
How is it a Republican policy? Well, it starts by saying: no more free ride; everybody has to get insurance. The rest of us don’t have to pay all your medical bills. (See: “takers.”)
 
Obamacare achieves that goal through another thing Republicans should like: the free market. Instead of government providing the insurance (which would be “socialism” like Medicare) you have to buy insurance from an insurance company.
 
Finally, expanding Medicaid means people can afford to get primary and preventative care, which is cheaper, instead of waiting until they’re really sick and going to the emergency room, which is really expensive – and we all end up paying for.
 
We have national health insurance now. Your taxes, insurance premiums and medical bills already have a hidden surcharge that pays the bills for people who don’t have insurance, Medicare or Medicaid.
 
If Obamacare fails, the logical next step is to put everybody on Medicaid/Medicare. I half-jokingly suggested that in a blog last week. Then two conservatives said the same thing: Marc Landry in the N&O and Ross Douthat in The New York Times. (Needless to say, I’m reconsidering my position.)
 
All this shows how Obama Derangement Syndrome is driving the Republican Party farther and farther to the right – and farther out of touch with more Americans. Now, Democrats have plenty of problems, but they look much more rational right now than Republicans.

 

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30
Carter likes to say that politics is an exercise in human folly and error. Both parties seem set on proving it in Washington.
 
A few weeks ago, President Obama’s job ratings fell when the news was focused on Syria. But Washington Republicans came to his rescue. They shut down the government. Everybody forgot about Syria.
 
Now it was the Republicans’ turn to get whacked. Their ratings plunged as the shutdown dragged on. Obama’s ratings rose – not because of anything he did, but because he looked better than the Republicans.
 
Finally, Republicans surrendered on the shutdown. The spotlight immediately turned to Obamacare’s botched rollout. Once again, Obama has been taking the hits.
 
Not to worry. Congressional Republicans are riding to the rescue. They’re working themselves into a frothing frenzy attacking Obamacare. They look like hypocrites, complaining about problems implementing a law they worked so hard – in Washington and the states – to sabotage. Plus, they don’t realize how mean and hateful they look to voters who don’t suffer from Obama Derangement Syndrome.
 
Politicians, especially in Congress, are incapable of just shutting up when silence would be the best strategy. An old political maxim says, “When your opponent is shooting himself in the foot, get out of the line of fire.”

 

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25
Republicans couldn’t defund Obamacare, and Democrats seemingly can’t defend it. Some states (where there’s competition) are seeing lower insurance rates, and some (where Republicans blocked competition) are having sticker shock.
 
Nobody understands what Obamacare is, but everybody understands a website that won’t work, so we’re obsessing about that.
 
Maybe we’re overcomplicating this. Maybe there’s a simpler way to fix the whole system.
 
One thing seems to work: Medicare. It works so well that everybody on it is ready to throttle anybody who tinkers with it.
 
So why don’t we just put everybody – everybody, regardless of age – on Medicare?
 
Why go through the agony and confusion of “reform”? Why try to fix a broken system? Why not just throw out what everybody seems to hate and replace it with what everybody seems to like?
 
I don’t mind if you disagree. Soon, I’ll be on Medicare. And it looks good. I just thought I’d give you the same opportunity.

 

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24
The Pachyderms, or Supreme Republican Leaders in Washington, have a natural animus to Democrats – but, these days, who they dislike even more is Ted Cruz and Tea Partiers.
 
It’s time Ted Cruz, one Pachyderm snorted in the newspaper, started acting like an adult.
 
Talking about Senator Mike Lee, another added, He’s so immature.
 
Now the Pachyderms feel about the Grand Old Party the same way Eskimos feel about totem poles – that it’s a lofty and, in some ways, sacred institution. And their heart’s desire boils down to making the GOP more powerful. By electing more Pachyderms. And Ted Cruz is no blind-loyal-party-firster.
 
Even worse, Cruz has a pesky creed. He just plain loves spending cuts. And he actually believes if Washington keeps on running up debt the economy is going to flip over and tank.
 
But to Pachyderms, after a fortnight of getting out-foxed by President Obama on government shutdowns and debt ceiling votes, Cruz’s infatuation with spending cuts is spawning storm clouds with alarming swiftness.
 
To a Pachyderm cutting spending’s a fine sentiment. And saving the economy is a lofty goal. But electing Republicans comes first.
 
So, post-shutdown, Pachyderms are out for Ted Cruz’s scalp. But, for all their guile and cunning,  they’ve missed an important fact: Miles from the Pachyderms’ homeland in Washington, in the hamlets and small towns out in Republican Primaryland, Ted Cruz is Horatio at the Bridge – battling the villains on Capitol Hill single-handedly.

 

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23
Every now and then Gary and I venture out of our respective sanctuaries to journey out into the broader world and, just the other day, we meandered all the way across Raleigh to speak to a very nice group of folks about politics (from our different perspectives).
 
And, sure enough, during the meeting a hand went up and someone asked: With all these polls showing the Republican Party at its lowest popularity ever – how many Republican candidates could lose next election?
 
Gary, gentleman that he is, felt it was only fair I answer the question.
 
Now there’s no doubt a fair amount of people are unhappy with Republican politicians. They’re not in love with Democrats either. But the polls do show they’re more unhappy with Republicans.
 
I said, Imagine, off the shores of Africa a hurricane’s forming. Then imagine you could put all the Republican candidates on the tip of the beach in Wilmington. Now that hurricane may dissipate. It may roar across the ocean and turn north and swamp Boston. Or it might roar straight ashore in Wilmington.
 
And if you’re a Republican candidate standing on the beach, the same person asked, what do you do?
 
I said, Prepare for the worst.
 

 

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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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