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National Republicans

06
Millions of dollars will be spent and billions of words spilled, but only one thing will decide this election: Will voters be madder at President Obama or at Republicans in the legislature?
 
On today’s market, the outlook for Democrats is as chilling as a New Year’s Day Polar Bear Plunge. For two months, the news has been all Obamacare – and all bad. While Obama energizes voters when he’s on the ballot, the magic doesn’t transfer when he’s not. In 2010, his voters stayed home and the Obama-haters turned out in droves. That’s what got North Carolina in this mess.
 
If that happens again, Kay Hagan could lose, and Republicans could control both houses of Congress and keep super-majorities in Raleigh.
 
2015 would be no fun.
 
But, then, in 2016, Americans and North Carolinians would recoil at the result, Republicans will nominate Ted Cruz for President and there will be a Democratic landslide statewide and nationally.
 
There’s also a more optimistic scenario for Democrats this year: Anger at the legislature over the damage done to education could trump anger at Obama. The GOP and Tea Party could overreach nationally, like 1998, when Newt Gingrich & Co. overreached, lost big and paved the road for John Edwards’ election.
 
The point is that elections today are driven by negative emotions, namely fear and anger. No politician is popular. No politician has approval ratings above the 40s in North Carolina. By contrast, Jim Hunt stayed north of 60 percent most of the time he was Governor.
 
So keep an eye on one thing: Who are the voters maddest at in November?

 

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03
When I saw the headline I thought it must be a hoax but it turned out to be true: Congress, which hasn’t passed a budget in memory, had held a dead-serious, high-level, official hearing to establish whether there is extra-terrestrial intelligence in the universe.
 
As one wit quipped on the Washington Post’s website, First, they need to determine if there is intelligence in the Republican leadership in Congress.
 
Now this may all just sound like normal political foolishness as usual and you may say, Ho hum – but think about it: This bit of foolishness may have teeth.
 
Now, anytime a Republican Congressman slams a Democrat Congressman (who has a sense of humor) about the Obamacare meltdown the Democrat can simply look back at him, smile sweetly, and say, Well, I’m not the one who believes E.T. may be real.


 

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02
You would think by now out of sheer boredom Congressmen would be looking for new ways to fool voters but, undeterred at using the same old worn-out trick again, just before Christmas eager-beaver Paul Ryan rolled out his new budget, saying how he’d made a deal with the Democrats to cut spending and cut the deficit – which sounded pretty good until it turned out he hadn’t done any such thing.
 
Ryan’s new deal didn’t cut spending this year, or next year, or the year after – it increased it. So where are the cuts? Well, they’re promises Ryan is sure will happen a decade from now – if Congress doesn’t change its mind.
 
It’s hard to tell which is worse – Ryan increasing spending or Ryan saying he cut spending when he didn’t.
 
But give Paul Ryan credit for one thing – he’s proven Congressmen, like pickpockets, are not just sneaky – they’re predictable.

 

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18
Maybe I should apologize. But would Bob Rucho apologize? No sir! So I’ll double down, as they say.
 
My blog yesterday – warning that the next Congress might be run by people who think like Rucho – apparently ruined the Christmas spirit for some Democrats.
 
My friend Jerry Wayne Williamson of Boone (follow him at @JerryWilliamso1) wrote, “Well, Merry Christmas to you too! That's the most depressing thing I've read all morning!” Long-time colleague June Milby said, “Gary, It's the Christmas season, even Scrooge was redeemed right there at the end. Don't hit us too hard with the ghosts of Christmas past. There's plenty of time in January for that!
 
I can’t help it. And here I go again. Spoiler alert: This could really ruin your Christmas.
 
Here it is: Think about the chances that the 2014 elections could be even worse for Democrats than 2010 was.
 
Historically, second mid-term elections are disastrous for Presidents. See LBJ in 1968, Nixon/Ford in 1974 and Reagan in 1986. There are exceptions, like Clinton in 1998.
 
But here’s a disturbing poll finding from this week, a nugget that the Washington Post called “one very bad number for Obama”: The Post-ABC poll asked whether people trust Obama or the Republicans in Congress to do a better job "coping with the main problems the nation faces over the next few years." Forty-one percent said they trusted Obama. Forty-one percent said they trusted Republicans in Congress.
 
Let that sink in. Think about how the Republicans in Congress have done their jobs in recent years: the shutdowns, the shakedowns and the sheer nuttiness. Then tell yourself: Americans trust that crowd just as much as they trust the President.
 
This reflects, of course, the disastrous debut of Obamacare. Maybe, as some pundits predict, that will be gone and forgotten next November. Maybe not.
 
Thus far, experience tells us that when Obama is on the ballot, all goes well. Maybe it’s that people just feel good voting for him. But when he’s not on the ballot, look out.
 
And make no mistake: For better or for worse, the 2014 election will be a referendum on Obama. There is no escaping it. Even worse, there is not a lot that down-ballot candidates, from Senator Kay Hagan down, can do about it.
 
So, as Democrats enjoy Christmas and prepare for a new year, they need to plan for the worst, hope for the best and work like hell.

 

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17
Don’t underestimate the chances that people who think like Bob Rucho might control Congress a year from now.
 
Behind Rucho’s tweet and the budget battle in Washington is a death match between the Tea Party and the GOP Establishment.  If the Tea Party wins that war, and if Obamacare sinks Democrats in November, the Tea Party could end up in charge. Compared to what will come after that, the Gingrich-Clinton battles of the late 1990s will look like a, well, tea party.
 
So if you’re tempted to dismiss today’s right-wing rants and tweets, heed the warning signs.
 
Yes, Rucho’s tweet was condemned by Establishment Republicans like state Chair Claude Pope (one TAPster said: “He reads your blog!”) and Senator Jeff Tarte, who is Speaker Thom Tillis’ friend, neighbor and political ally. But Tea Party leaders leapt to Rucho’s defense, and what he said is right down the Tea Party-Fox News party line.
 
Then there is the PPP poll finding that Kentucky Republicans say they like Rand Paul (Tea Party) better than Mitch McConnell (Establishment) by a 59-27 margin.
 
Then there is Senator Richard Burr’s flip-flop on the bipartisan budget compromise. Politico reported that “North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr, a close friend of (Speaker John) Boehner’s, said last week he’d vote to advance the deal, but on Monday he changed course and decided to sustain a filibuster, a spokesman said.”
 
Democrats underestimated the Republican right wing before: After the Goldwater debacle in 1964. Then Ronald Reagan came along and almost derailed Nixon in 1968. Eventually, the right wing took over the GOP and then the White House and Congress.
 
It can happen again.
 

 

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13
Every child knows just before Christmas is the time to be ‘as good as you can be’ – so you might think after the mischief it’s been up to this year Congress would be rolling up its sleeves and planning to work straight through the holidays to pass the farm bill, a jobless benefits bill, the defense budget and confirm a new Federal Reserve Chairman – but you’d be dead wrong.
 
The House stops work tomorrow to head home and the Senate (which already took a week off earlier this month) will follow a few days later. In all, the two chambers will have worked 10 days each this month.
 
What are the chances they’ll be receiving ashes and switches for Christmas?

 

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22
Farmers are saying they’ve tried and tried but there’s no way on earth they can hire enough workers to pick the apples and cucumbers and sweet potatoes germinating in the fields so Congress had better get in gear and pass immigration reform jack-rabbit-quick to legalize undocumented immigrants (which is the farmers’ polite way of saying illegal immigrants).
 
Now it’s not clear whether there are just flat out no farm workers, period, or if there are just no farm workers as cheap as undocumented immigrants. But, either way, here’s an interesting fact: The big stick – the big argument – farmers laid on Congress to get it moving had nothing to do with wages.
 
The farmers said, pretty bluntly, to the Congressmen, Hispanics now outnumber African-Americans and you Republicans can either pass this bill or lose their votes. Which comes pretty close to saying, You can pass this bill and buy a lot of votes.
 
Which isn’t exactly Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.
 
Ronald Reagan once joked, Watching politics behind the curtain is like watching civilization with its pants down.
 
They ought to carve the words in stone over the doorway Congress.
 
 

 

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21
The train wreck hit so unexpectedly and with such force that, after standing his ground through the opening chaos, the President retreated which turned out to be like pouring gas on the fire – the partisan bickering soared. And Obama’s poll numbers tanked. And now listening to the wise men in Washington that was all that mattered: The President’s poll numbers dropping and Republican poll numbers rising.
 
But beyond the ruins of Washington politics the demise of Obamacare may be a sign of a subtler miscalculation: Not too long ago, from Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, Utopian (or, yes, Communist) governments filled rooms with geniuses who dutifully gave birth to Five-Year Plans and Ten-Year Plans and Great Leaps Forward which grey-faced apparatchiks, without pity or remorse, promulgated to build a workers' paradise – then they learned a terrible lesson: Government-run economies didn’t work. Geniuses, even with the best of intentions, were frail vessels when faced with the unexpected, the unseen, and the ghost in the machine.
 
President Obama, with all good intentions, started out with a vision of a kind of health care paradise and had his own rooms filled with geniuses who dutifully plan the first step down the yellow brick road – and now he finds himself scrambling to turn back the hands of the clock.
 
So perhaps the lesson to be learned from Obamacare’s rollout isn’t a three-point swing in a generic ballot question in a poll – it’s humility. And a reminder that geniuses are still no match for the ghost in the machine.
 

 

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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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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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