Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Conservatives lost in political wilderness

The following was published in today's edition of The Morning Sun.

The right may have triumphed in the last two mid-term elections, but last week’s Conservative Political Action Conference showed conservatives remain lost in the political wilderness.

Notwithstanding the tired, old narrative of civil war between the so-called establishment and the fabled right-wing insurgency — as if one can truly be anti-establishment when they are a member of the world’s most exclusive club — CPAC was really about whether one accepts the realities of how to win the White House in 2016.

While many of those who attended the annual confab just across the Potomac River from the nation’s capital in Maryland did care about winning the presidency after nearly a decade of Barack Obama the voices of ignorance were significantly more vocal as a dozen presidential aspirants contested what was essentially the first, albeit unofficial, primary contest for Republicans.

Just look at the results of the CPAC straw poll, which was without question the most anticipated item on the agenda.

Of the 3,007 attendees who participated in the straw poll, only 11 percent said a candidate’s “ability to win states Obama won” was the “most important quality for a Republican presidential candidate to possess.” By comparison, 39 percent of respondents said having a “solid conservative record” was the most important attribute of a would-be GOP president.

Make no mistake. This is not about the battle between the libertarianism of Kentucky Senator Rand Paul and the more traditional conservatism of Texas Senator Ted Cruz — to say nothing of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s third way strategy — for the heart and soul of the Republican Party. Rather, this is about curing the 39 percent of activists who have taken the shake oil causing them to go mad.

Those prescribing the pseudo-medicine claim it brings about ideological purity, as if Republicans nominating the Model Conservative is enough to secure the necessary number of Electoral College votes to win.
The dire reality facing Cruz, Paul, Walker, Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor, or whomever else wins the party’s nomination for president is far different.

Being more conservative, being more evangelical and being more blue-collar will do little to win back Virginia, Florida, Ohio and the other so-called purple states carried by Obama. Heck, even being whiter (the code word is often “Reagan Democrat”) is not the answer when 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney would have won in a landslide election with 46 states, if only white Americans were allowed to vote.

As it sounds now, a majority of the population in California, Hawaii, New Mexico and Texas are non-white, according to “States of Change,” a new study jointly produced by the conservative American Enterprise Institute and the liberal Center for American Progress and Brookings Institution.

Of those four states, California used to be Republican and New Mexico, where Republican Governor Susana Martinez has won two terms, has been purple since 2000. Only Texas is Republican, though even demographics here are cause for concern. By 2060, 22 states will be majority non-white.

Not long after Obama took office in early 2009, this columnist told attendees of a forum in Oakland County, the rich and traditionally GOP suburban county bordering Detroit, that Republicans and, by extension, conservatives would not win again until they looked and talked like the America of the 21st century.

Seven years later, the GOP remains out of power because too many conservatives continue denying the fact that the United States of today is vastly different from the country that twice elected Ronald Reagan to the presidency.

Reagan’s principles should still be guiding principles, but conservatives and Republicans need to wake up and realize what has always been done no longer works. Denying reality and pretending that nothing is wrong only stops the right from winning.

— Dennis Lennox

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Big distractions for Michigan’s new GOP leader

The following is from today's edition of The Morning Sun.

Ronna Romney McDaniel may have easily won the chairmanship of the Michigan Republican Party, but the job she is embarking upon will be far from easy.
Romney McDaniel, the niece of 2012 presidential hopeful Mitt Romney and granddaughter of former Gov. George Romney, succeeded Robert Schostak after winning a 54 percent majority in the first round of voting at the Republican State Convention this past weekend.
A win is a win, but her majority was impressive considering the rather precarious situation Republicans find themselves in as the 2016 presidential election cycle gets in full swing with this week’s Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington.
While Schostak’s chairmanship was successful by most measures — the party maintained control over the governor’s mansion and the other great offices of states, both chambers of the Legislature, the Supreme Court and a majority of the state’s members of the federal House of Representatives — the GOP lost two winnable senatorial races (2012 with Pete Hoekstra and Terri Lynn Land in 2014). Then there was Romney’s morale-busting loss of his home state.
Romney McDaniel says her focus is defeating presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, but delivering on that promise will prove difficult and not because the Wolverine State hasn’t been carried by a Republican presidential nominee since 1988. 
Her biggest challenge will be finding a way to deal with the fact that many professing an allegiance to the party she now leads don’t actually see Democrats as the real enemy. 
These are the GOP heretics, who claim infallibility on all things conservative and regard the racist, xenophobic and homophobic Dave Agema as their prophet.
They ignore — to quote Russell Kirk, who together with William F. Buckley, Jr. defined the post-war political right — that conservatism “being neither a religion nor an ideology” can “accommodate a considerably diversity of views on a good many subjects, there being no Test Act or Thirty-Nine Articles of the conservative creed.”
For them, the only races that matter are a sinecure on the Republican county, congressional district or state committees.
For proof, just look at the election of Darwin Jiles as the party’s new ethnic vice chairman. Jiles has a long history of violent criminal offenses, including a gun crime felony in Genesee County and shooting a man in Oakland County.
His criminal past should have disqualified him, but it didn’t matter to the true believers who wanted to oust incumbent Linda Lee Tarver simply because she had the political courage to repudiate Agema. The fact that Tarver has also spent years fighting in the trenches for the GOP as a black Republican living in a staunchly Democrat city also didn’t matter.
“We have a lot of different factions within our party,” Romney McDaniel told MLive after her win. “We need to get them to coalesce if we’re going to be successful in 2016, which is a much more difficult landscape for our party. I’m focused on doing that in many, many ways.”
Romney McDaniel’s desire to bring her party together is laudable, but doing so when a faction of the party’s machinery doesn’t care about political relevancy or forming governing majorities will be a Herculean effort.
— Dennis Lennox

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Michigan relevancy at stake with presidential primary

The following was published in today's edition of The Morning Sun.

A bill working its way through the Legislature stands a good chance of making Michigan irrelevant in the campaign for the Republican presidential nomination.
Under legislation introduced by Senator Dave Robertson, the chairman of Senate Elections and Government Reform Committee, the date of the 2016 presidential primary election changes from late February to March 15. 
Robertson’s legislation, which passed the Senate and is now before the House of Representatives, may not seem like a terribly significant change, but it is.
If left as is, the primary election would be in violation of the Republican National Committee’s rules thereby resulting in Michigan more likely than not losing most of its voting delegates at the GOP convention in Cleveland.
While a familiar dilemma for Michigan Republicans — both the 2008 and 2012 primaries were in violation of the RNC-approved calendar of primaries and caucuses — this time around nobody in state party leadership is willing to defy national rules. 
Proponents of March 15 tout the date because, they claim, it is the first allowable date under national rules for a presidential candidate to win all of the state’s 59 delegates.
This makes for a great talking point, but the state rules developed by outgoing Republican Party chairman Bob Schostak only provide for a winner-takes-all method of allocating delegates if the winning candidate achieves a majority of the primary vote — an all but impossible electoral hurdle. Absent a majority win, delegates are proportionately awarded to presidential candidates based on the results in the state’s 14 congressional districts. 
Because the latter scenario is much more likely to occur, many Republicans want the legislation’s primary date changed to March 1, the first opportunity to hold an early contest in compliance with national rules.
Not only would this increase the likelihood of Michigan being just as relevant as it was in 2012, when the Wolverine State was eventual GOP nominee Mitt Romney’s Waterloo, but it would also alleviate major logistical concerns. 
That is because the March 15 date conflicts with the yearly township board of review meetings, which would hinder the ability of mostly part-time local government officials to also administer an election. 
It is not a question of just changing when boards of review convene, as changing this date would most likely require the Legislature to amend laws that have been on the books since the 19th century. Needless to say, the townships are opposed because even the smallest of changes could serve as a backdoor opening for those who want to get rid of townships.
This leaves March 1 as the most attractive date, but internal Republican dynamics, complicated by mercenaries of all-but-declared presidential candidates, are making this much more complicated than it should be.
Schostak wants the House to approve Robertson’s legislation before the weekend, when the Republican State Convention convenes to elect his successor.
The new leadership could amend or reverse Schostak’s rules, which would not only put GOP majority lawmakers in an awkward position with their own party but also provoke an epic fight over whether it is the party or the Legislature that has the controlling say in the taxpayer-funded primary election.
— Dennis Lennox

Monday, February 9, 2015

London, first stop for GOP candidates

The following is from today's edition of The Morning Sun.

History sure has come full circle.

After the shot heard around the world, 240 years ago, when Massachusetts colonials fired upon redcoats in Lexington and Concord, a telltale sign of a Republican seeking the presidency is a visit to London.

Iowa and New Hampshire may still have the first two electoral contests in the campaign for the party’s nomination, but London has become a must-stop for anyone who is serious about winning the White House.

Case in point is the 2016 presidential campaign.

Some three months after state and congressional elections and a full year from when the people of Iowa and New Hampshire have their say, some of the first skirmishes are taking place in America’s once colonial capital.

A high-profile visit to London carries a lot of cachet for GOP candidates with the 2016 campaign narrative shaping up to be less about the economy — national unemployment is the lowest since 1999 — and more about America’s role in the world.

Chris Christie, New Jersey’s governor, was in London last week under the cover of a trade mission. Among those on Christie’s schedule was the prime minister, though he did not get the prized photograph of David Cameron welcoming him to 10 Downing Street.

Next up is Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who comes to Britain this week for meetings his office says are focused “solely on attracting foreign direct investment.”

Before Christie and Walker, Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, then-Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Mike Huckabee, a Baptist preacher and former governor of Arkansas, were all in merrie olde England.

The reason for all the Republican love bombing is actually quite simple. Visiting London is an easy way for a pretender to look the part of a world leader, notwithstanding Cameron’s bromance with President Barack Obama and increasingly strained relations between the Conservative Party of Cameron and a Republican Party lost in the political wilderness.

For a governor, it is also a way to take baby steps outside the bailiwick of mundane state and local issues, which are far removed from foreign affairs (Iran, Russia, the Middle East), international trade (the long-stalled European Union-U.S. free trade agreement), defense (funding cuts and NATO) and terrorism (ISIS).

All a would-be GOP president has to do is board an overnight flight to Heathrow, get a picture in front of the iconic black door of 10 Downing Street for their handlers to tweet and say a few nice things about the special relationship.

Cue Christie: “From a cultural and historical perspective, obviously, the U.S. and our people have always had a really, really strong relationship with the U.K. that reflects our common language, our heritage, our ideals, our democratic traditions.”

If they keep to this tried-and-true script and avoid breaking protocol or causing a gaffe, as 2012 Republican standard-bearer Mitt Romney infamously did during his visit, then all should go well and maybe, just maybe some of the good folks back home in Iowa or New Hampshire actually take notice.

— Dennis Lennox

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Susana Martinez looms as GOP’s savior in 2016

The following was published in today's edition of The Detroit News.

Conventional wisdom has former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, the son and brother of presidents, and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie benefiting the most from Michigan native Mitt Romney’s decision not to seek the 2016 GOP presidential nomination.

While all three share some of the same political base, it isn’t a given that Romney loyalists, including those here in Michigan, will now swear allegiance to Bush or Christie.

This is even more the case given Romney’s comments at the end of his conference call announcement, which sent shockwaves through the field of 12-plus Republican presidential hopefuls.

“I believe that one of next generation of Republican leaders, one who may not be as well known as I am today, one who has not yet taken their message across the country, one who is just getting started, may well emerge as being better able to defeat the Democrat nominee,” the former Massachusetts governor said. “In fact, I expect and hope that to be the case.”

Just whom Romney had in mind is unknown, though a betting man would be wise to place money on Susana Martinez, the governor of New Mexico.

She is arguably the GOP’s best-kept secret — especially considering Obama’s heir presumptive is Hillary Clinton, the erstwhile secretary of state, senator and first lady.

With Clinton as the Democratic nominee it would be ludicrous to think women wouldn’t come out in record numbers to shatter the proverbial glass ceiling, just as black Americans did to elect and re-elect the first black president.

The only way Republicans can neutralize this advantage is by running a woman. Not just any woman, but the best woman.

Martinez grew up in a different America than Clinton, who like Romney, was born in the shadow of World War II. Martinez was in high school when the Clintons’ political career was underway in Arkansas.

More importantly, Martinez, a Hispanic fluent in Spanish, is a proven vote-getter — she won a second term last year with 57.2 percent of the vote — in a purple state that went twice for President Barack Obama.

Martinez’s seeming lack of interest in the presidency may be somewhat puzzling, but it isn’t terribly surprising given how removed New Mexico is from the chattering class in Washington and New York.

Still, a lack of interest hasn’t stopped Republican grandees from thrusting other would-be candidates into running. Just look back to 2012, when press baron Rupert Murdoch and others relentlessly pushed Christie to run.

Martinez has what the GOP so desperately needs — Republican control of Congress only perpetuates the right’s denial of America at the halfway point in the second decade of the 21st century — as the party searches for a national governing majority.

Republicans who care about winning in the future, and not just when they might get lucky after two terms of a Democratic president, should be looking to the Land of Enchantment and doing whatever it takes for Martinez to run.

— Dennis Lennox