Note to NYT: Wanting to “Take Back America” is Not Just a Conservative Phenomenon

There are a lot of angles to criticize in Kate Zernike’s piece in the New York Times about tea parties. But there’s one point in the article that particularly jumped out at me:

What accounts for this gap between how they are faring and how they feel the country is faring? History offers some lessons. The poll reveals a deep conviction among Tea Party supporters that the country is being run by people who do not share their values, for the benefit of people who are not like them. That is a recurring theme of the previous half-century – conservatives in liberal eras declaring the imperative to “Take America Back.”

“The story they’re telling is that somehow the authentic, real America is being polluted,” said Rick Perlstein, the author of books about the Goldwater and Nixon years.

Liberal regimes tend to bring out these resentments, Mr. Perlstein said, because conservatives have equated liberalism in the popular mind with the expansion of government power, something that has always stirred distrust among Americans.

But while Zernike tries, with Perlstein’s help, to portray the “Take Back America” idea as some sinister right-wing phenomenon, the reality is that this sentiment is pretty typical of any ideological group that finds itself out of power.

It somehow escaped mention, for instance, that during the Bush years, the liberal activist group Campaign for America’s Future started holding an annual conference titled “Take Back America.”

Even more ironic is that one of the regular speakers at the conferences was none other than Rick Perlstein.

Report: GOP Views It as “Near Certainty” that Crist Will Run as Independent

Even though Charlie Crist has repeatedly denied talk that he would run as an independent, Hotline’s Reid Wilson reports today that top Republicans view this scenario as a “virtual certainty.” The speculation is fueled by Crist’s recent decision to pull TV ads directed at primary opponent Marco Rubio.

Also:

Privately, GOP officials have even tried to broach the idea that Crist drop out of the race. NRSC chair John Cornyn called Crist on Friday, intending to make it clear that Crist should drop out if he doesn’t believe he can win a party primary. Crist did not answer the phone, a source close to Cornyn said, and as of today Cornyn’s call hasn’t been returned.

UPDATE: CNN has an email sent by Rob Jesmer, executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, in which Jesmer writes:

We believe there is zero chance Governor Crist continues running in the Republican primary. It our view that if Governor Crist believes he cannot win a primary then the proper course of action is he drop out of the race and wait for another day. We have communicated this message indirectly and would have given it to the Governor directly had he returned Senator Cornyn’s phone call.

Would Romney Oppose Repealing the Individual Mandate?

Last week, I wrote a column explaining why a Mitt Romney nomination would kill the repeal movement by allowing President Obama to neutralize the health care issue given the similarities between the Massachusetts plan and the national health care law. At one point, I noted that Romney’s Free and Strong America PAC recently announced a “Prescription for Repeal” initiative to contribute to conservative candidates. But the language leaves wiggle by promising only to repeal the “worse aspects” of ObamaCare without defining what they are.

Today, a blogger for the website Rightosphere, Kavon Nikrad, writes that he asked Romney at a recent book signing to clarify what was meant by the “worst aspects,” and Romney told him that he would oppose a repeal of the individual mandate.

Here was the exchange, according to Nikrad:

I was one of the first in line to the book signing, and when my turn came I asked Gov. Romney if I could ask him a question. After he told me that this was OK, I posed the following question to him:

You have stated your intention to spearhead the effort to repeal the ‘worst aspects’ of Obamacare, does this include the repeal of the individual mandate and pre-existing exclusion?”  

The Governor’s answer:

No.

Gov. Romney went on to explain that he does not wish to repeal these aspects because of the deleterious effect it would have on those with pre-existing conditions in obtaining health insurance.

To be clear, once you force insurance companies to cover those with preexisting conditions, it leads to  a mandate to force individuals to purchase insurance. Otherwise, healthy individuals leave the market and simply wait until they get sick, and insurers are left with only the sickest and most expensive patients. This triggers premiums to go up even higher, encouraging even more healthy people to leave the market, and so the so-called “death spiral” ensues.

Given Romney’s long record of publicly defending the individual mandate — even on conservative terms — it certainly sounds plausible that he would oppose repealing that aspect of the new health care law. But I emailed Romney’s Free and Strong America PAC to get its reaction to Nikrad’s post and will report back when I get a response.

UPDATE: Ben Smith gets a comment from Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom, who calls Nikrad’s account “innaccurate” but doesn’t address the actual question of what Romney would support repealing. Fehrnstrom says:

Mitt Romney has been very clear in all his public statements that he is opposed to a national individual mandate. He believes those decisions should be left to the states.

In reality, Romney hasn’t always been “very clear.” For instance, this was an exchange with ABC’s Charlie Gibson in a January 2008 Republican primary debate (transcript here):

GIBSON: But Government Romney’s system has mandates in Massachusetts, although you backed away from mandates on a national basis.

ROMNEY: No, no, I like mandates. The mandates work.

Later in that same exchange, he says that his national plan wouldn’t impose a federal mandate. Of course, what you would propose to do and what you would support repealing are two different questiions, and Fehrnstrom still doesn’t provide a satisfactory answer.

The confusion just reinforces what I wrote last week, which is that Romney would simply not be able to credibly campaign against ObamaCare were he the 2012 nominee. There are too many video clips of Romney defending the individual mandate in principle for him to present a clear contrast with Obama. Just check out this compilation by Democrats.

UPDATE II: Fehrnstrom now says that the mandate should be repealed. But we still don’t know what Romney means by wanting to only repeal the “worst aspects” of ObamaCare — nor does this explain how he’d be able to overcome charges that he’s flip-flopping on mandates. 

UPDATE III: Here’s Romney in a Newsweek interview making the case that ObamaCare and RomneyCare are different.

Clinton Uses Anniversary of Oklahoma City Bombing to Attack Michelle Bachmann

Reprising his role from 1995, Bill Clinton is exploiting the anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing to attack critics of big government for inciting violence, and in the process, he directly singled out comments from Michele Bachmann.

According to a New York Times interview:

“There can be real consequences when what you say animates people who do things you would never do,” Mr. Clinton said in an interview, saying that Timothy McVeigh, who carried out the Oklahoma City bombing, and those who assisted him, “were profoundly alienated, disconnected people who bought into this militant antigovernment line.”

The former president said the potential for stirring a violent response might be even greater now with the reach of the Internet and other common ways of communication that did not exist on April 19, 1995, when the building was struck.

“Because of the Internet, there is this vast echo chamber and our advocacy reaches into corners that never would have been possible before,” said Mr. Clinton, who said political messages are now able to reach those who are both “serious and seriously disturbed.” He will be delivering the keynote address Friday at an event about the Oklahoma City attack being sponsored by the Center for American Progress Action Fund and the Democratic Leadership Council.

Mr. Clinton pointed to remarks like those made Thursday by Representative Michele Bachmann, the Minnesota Republican, who when speaking at a Tea Party rally in Washington characterized the Obama administration and Democratic Congress as “the gangster government.”

“They are not gangsters,” Mr. Clinton said. “They were elected. They are not doing anything they were not elected to do.”

In 1995, you may recall, months after Republicans took over Congress, Clinton exploited the Oklahoma City tragedy to lash out at his political opponents and supporters of limited government, specifically, conservative talk radio.

At the time, he said that, “I’m sure you are now seeing the reports of some things that are regularly said over the airwaves in America today. Well, people like that who want to share our freedoms must know that their bitter words can have consequences, and that freedom has endured in this country for more than two centuries because it was coupled with an enormous sense of responsibility.”

He went on to blast “purveyors of hatred and division” and “promoters of paranoia.”

Clinton’s comments to the New York Times are part of a broader effort by the left to use the Oklahoma City bombing anniversary to accuse critics of the Obama administration of inciting violence. MSNBC plans a two-hour documentary hosted by Rachel Maddow based on interviews with Timothy McVeigh. “Fifteen years later,” the show promo asks, “can McVeigh’s words help us understand today’s anti-government extremists?”

How Romney Could Kill the ObamaCare Repeal Movement

Over the past several weeks, political observers have speculated about how passage of the national health care law modeled after the one Mitt Romney signed in Massachusetts could hurt his presidential ambitions. But more significant for conservatives is how Romney’s presidential ambitions could stymie the effort to repeal ObamaCare.

As it is, achieving a full repeal of the recently-passed health care law will be extremely difficult. Given that Obama would veto any bill to undo his signature legislative accomplishment, it means that to get rid of the law, Republicans will have to not only take back Congress, but capture the White House. It also means that conservatives will have to relentlessly campaign against ObamaCare during the next two elections and keep public outrage at an elevated level for at least the next three years. And even if they achieve all of this, they will have a short window to repeal the bill in 2013, because by 2014 the federal government will begin to dole out hundreds of billions of dollars in subsidies, which will create a whole new constituency to preserve the law.

If Romney were the Republican presidential nominee in 2012, it would make this already challenging fight even harder. Romney’s role in creating a health care program quite similar to the one that just passed nationally would allow Obama to neutralize the issue during an election that would otherwise be a prime opportunity to make the case for repeal.

The health care program Romney enacted as governor has the same basic architecture as the national health care law President Obama signed last month. Both programs rely on mandating that individuals purchase insurance and they provide government subsidies to people to buy government-designed insurance policies on a government-run exchange.

Jonathan Gruber, the MIT health care economist who advised both Romney and Obama, told the Wall Street Journal, “If any one person in the world deserves credit for where we are now [with the passage of the new federal law], it’s Mitt Romney… He designed the structure of the federal bill.”

Romney and his loyal backers have tested a number of arguments in an attempt to distinguish RomneyCare from ObamaCare. For instance, they have tried to argue that the Massachusetts plan was made worse by the state’s heavily Democratic legislature, over Romney’s objections. But Romney signed the bill in 2006 anyway, with Ted Kennedy at his side, and did so knowing that he would not be seeking reelection as governor and that the law would almost definitely be implemented by a Democratic successor.

Romneyites also argue that his was a state-based reform effort, rather than a one-size fits all federal approach. While this is true, it’s also true that 20 percent of the cost of RomneyCare is being paid by federal taxpayers as a result of its Medicaid expansion.

Even if one believes that there are genuine policy differences between the two programs, from a pure political perspective, there are clearly enough similarities for Obama to exploit over the course of a general election.

One need look no further than President Bush’s 2004 reelection bid to see how such a strategy could play out. Though the Iraq war was growing increasingly unpopular at the time, the fact that John Kerry voted for the war resolution made it difficult for Democrats to present a clear contrast on the issue, and this allowed President Bush to muddy the waters. Likewise, if Romney tries to attack Obama on the national health care law, Democrats could counter that Romney was for it before he was against it. Partisan Republicans may scramble to explain the differences, but such distinctions would likely get blurred in the minds of the typical voters. In the end, the GOP wouldn’t have a clean shot at ObamaCare.

This would have repercussions down ballot as well. For instance, any attacks Republican candidates might want to make against the individual mandate would be blunted if the party nominated somebody who is on record declaring, “I like mandates.”

The White House understands this, and it’s no surprise that Obama has been drawing parallels between the new law and the Massachusetts system at every opportunity.

“You know, you’ve got a former governor of Massachusetts who’s running around saying ‘What’s this health reform bill?'” Obama joked at recent fundraiser in Boston. “And I keep on scratching my head and I say, boy, this Massachusetts thing, who designed that?”

In an interview with CBS, Obama got a little ahead of himself, and said that the Democrats’ legislation was “the sort of plan proposed by current Republican nominee Mitt Romney.”

Romney’s response hasn’t engendered much confidence that he’d be able to lead an effective campaign against ObamaCare.

“(Obama is) saying that I was the guy that came up with the idea for what he did,” Romney said at a recent appearance in New Hampshire, according to the New York Times. “If ever again somewhere down the road I would be debating him, I would be happy to take credit for his accomplishment.”

Romney’s Free and Strong America PAC recently announced a “Prescription for Repeal” initiative to contribute to conservative candidates. But the language leaves a lot of wiggle room. The press release announcing the program says the PAC will support candidates who vow to support a repeal of “the worst aspects of Obamacare.” But it doesn’t define which aspects Romney considers “the worst” and which ones he finds acceptable. This is no trivial matter given that Romney has repeatedly defended the individual mandate on conservative grounds.  

Just as John McCain was able to win the Republican nomination in 2008 despite his problems with the conservative base, Romney may be able to overcome his health care record in the primaries. And perhaps there are circumstances under which he could beat Obama by emphasizing economic and foreign policy issues. But win or lose, Romney would not be able to credibly campaign against the national health care law. And as a result, were he the Republican nominee, it would kill the movement to repeal ObamaCare.

RomneyCare Administrator Steps Down to Seek Job Working on ObamaCare

In a development that could have ramifications for the 2012 presidential race, Jon Kingsdale, the man who Mitt Romney appointed to help implement the Massachusetts health care plan, has stepped down. Though Kingsdale hasn’t announced where he’s moving to, a spokesman for his agency tells the Boston Globe that he will be “exploring opportunities to help with national health care reform.”

What does this all have to do with 2012?

Well, Kingsdale was appointed by the Romney administration in 2006, and tasked with running the Commonwealth Health Insurance Connector Authority, which operates the state exchange on which Massachusetts citizens can use government subsidies to purchase government-designed insurance plans. This is the same basic infrastructure that Democrats just created at the national level, and Obama himself has repeatedly tied the two plans together in the past few weeks.

“I keep on scratching my head and I say, boy, this Massachusetts thing, who designed that?” the president joked at a recent fundraiser.

As it is, Romney has struggled to draw meaningful distinctions between his plan and Obama’s. But if Obama were to snap up Kingsdale to work on implementing the federal health care law, it would make Romney’s task even more difficult. Imagine a debate in which Romney tries to attack the national health care law. Obama could respond, “Not only are the two plans quite similar, but I appointed the same man who Romney himself appointed to run the health care program he created in Massachusetts.”

Breyer: ObamaCare a Good Candidate for Supreme Ct. Review

Justice Stephen Breyer says that the U.S. Supreme Court is likely to rule on ObamaCare at some point in the future, the Associated Press reports:

Breyer told a congressional panel Thursday that the massive health care law, like most major federal legislation, is a good candidate for high court review.

In a podcast earlier this month, Cato’s chairman and constitutional scholar Robert Levy spoke about how a challenge to the federal mandate to purchase insurance would ask courts to rule on something that has never been addressed before. While courts have stretched the meaning of the Commerce Clause beyond all recognition, Levy explained, they have never ruled on whether Congressional power to regulate commerce among the states enables the goverment to compel the purchase of a given product. Thus, telling a farmer how much wheat he can grow on his farm for his own personal use is one thing, but forcing him to purchase bread to prop up wheat prices is another question.

Last month, AmSpec contributor Stacy Cline expressed skepticism that the Supreme Court would actually overturn the mandate, given their other flawed rulings.

Re: Milwaukee School Vouchers

Just to follow up on Joe’s post about the Milwaukee voucher story, if school choice produces the same results at half the cost, it also frees up money that could be reinvested in impoving schools. So, if Milwaukee spends $6,442 per voucher student and $14,011 per public school student, and this pattern holds as you expand the use of vouchers, it suggests that you could use the savings to spend more money on school infastructure, hiring more and better teachers, and so on.

Gallup: 63% of Americans Expect Own Taxes to Increase

During the campaign, President Obama was able to neutralize the traditional Republican advantage on taxes by vowing to cut taxes on 95 percent of Americans, and not raise them on those earning less than $200,000. In fact, some polls taken before the election even suggested the public trusted Obama more than McCain to not raise their taxes. But just over a year into his presidency, Obama losing the tax argument.

According to a Gallup poll released today, 63 percent of Americans expect to pay higher taxes in the next year. While 74 percent of those making over $75,000 expect their taxes to go up, 64 percent of those making between $30,000 and $74,999 still expect to pay more. And a even a majority of 53 percent of those earning under $30,000 expect to pay more.

There’s been a lot of debate over whether or not President Obama has violated his pledge, and I think there’s ample evidence, from the cigarette tax hike to the individual mandate tax, that he has. But putting the policy debate aside for the moment and looking at things from a purely political perspective, if this poll is any indication, it looks like Obama is losing the argument. Unless the White House can change this perception, Republicans are likely to have a lot more success this fall’s elections painting Democrats as tax hikers, than they did in 2006 or 2008.

Polls Show Obama in Dead Heat With Ron Paul…and George W. Bush

A few interesting polls out this morning show Ron Paul and George W. Bush within the margin of error against President Obama in hypothetical matchups. The first matchup is unlikely to happen, and the second one can’t, but both polls underscore the declining political fortunes of Obama.

Rasmussen finds Obama leading Paul by an insignificant 42 percent to 41 percent margin. While Obama is more popular among Democrats than Paul is among Republicans, Paul leads among unaaffiliated voters by 19 points.

Meanwhile, Public Policy Polling, a Democratic firm, finds that the public is now pretty evenly divided between Obama and the man whose unpopularity made his rise possible. The president leads his predecessor Bush by a narrow 48 percent to 46 percent. In this case, it’s more about voters returning to the typical ideological lines — with Republicans and conservative independents who became disenchanted with Bush during his second term supporting him over Obama.

PPP concludes:

These numbers suggest some peril for Democrats in making Bush a focus of their messaging this fall. A lot of folks who contributed to the former President’s low level of popularity now like Obama even less. Figuring out a way to make voters change their minds about the current President would be a much more effective strategy for Democrats than continuing to try to score points off the former one.