The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The Morning Plum: GOP still can’t shake that “47 percent” problem

Placeholder while article actions load

That “47 percent” problem just won’t go away.

One of the big stories of the morning is that Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli’s new book contains passages that are very similar to the “47 percent” comments that helped doom Mitt Romney’s candidacy. It remains to be seen how damaging the comments will be to Cuccinelli, a rising star within the party. But beyond that, the news showcases the broader difficulties the GOP faces as Republicans “soul search” about how to remake their party.

Here are the key Cuccinelli comments, which are directed at unnamed “politicians”:

The amazing this is that they often grow government without protest from citizens, and sometimes they even get buy-in from citizens — at least from the ones getting the goodies…One of their favorite ways to increase their power is by creating programs that dispense subsidized government benefits, such as Medicare, Social Security, and outright welfare (Medicaid, food stamps, subsidized housing, and the like). These programs make people dependent on government. And once people are dependent, they feel they can’t afford to have the programs taken away, no matter how inefficient, poorly run, or costly to the rest of society. […]
Citizens will vote for those politicians who promise more benefits each year, rather than the fiscally responsible politicians who try to point out that such programs are unsustainable and will eventually bankrupt the states or the nation…Creating government dependency is the typical method of operation for big-government statists.

There’s been a great deal of chatter among Republicans lately that they don’t really need to change their ideas; they merely need to change their tone. But as Cuccinnelli’s comments demonstrate, the ideas are the tone. The basic problem here is not the rhetoric; it’s the apparent belief among many conservatives that there isn’t any legitimate way that government assistance can be a positive force in people’s lives. In this telling, any voter who is temporarily dependent on government in some way is at risk of suffering a kind of permanent political lobotomy, in which he or she will be rendered forever incapable of rational political decision making or future independence.  Any public official who extends the hand of government help in their direction is simply trying to manipulate these poor, lost souls.

This sort of thinking is increasingly at odds with the American mainstream, particularly the Obama coalition of minorities, college educated white women, and young voters that asserted itself in the last election. When it comes to Latinos in particular, the party’s problem is not just rooted in its harsh stance on immigration, as Jamelle Bouie noted recently. It’s also rooted in the fact that Latinos view government as a positive force and are repelled by the GOP’s hostile anti-government rhetoric. As such, it remains to be seen whether embracing immigration reform will even help repair the party’s relationship with this constituency.

Romney’s “47 percent” comments didn’t doom him because of their harshness alone, though that certainly played a part. Rather, he lost partly because of what those comments reflected: A broader inability to articulate any affirmative role for government to play in people’s lives. As many others have observed, the GOP’s basic problem is that it hasn’t articulated an actual policy agenda that has any chance of developing broad appeal. This task is only made harder by the need to pander to many within the party who hew to the actual beliefs underlying Romney’s 47 percent comments — beliefs that are perfectly captured in Cuccinelli’s new book.

(Update: Post edited slightly from original.)

* Obama drawing hard line on immigration? The New York Times has a big story suggesting that Obama and his advisers feel they have the upper hand in the immigration fight, and are less inclined to give ground to Republicans when it comes to the enforcement “trigger” provisions they want in exchange for allowing a path to citizenship. Of course, it still remains unclear precisely what sort of trigger Republicans want — they appear to differ among themselves about the role of that Southwestern border commission.

Either way, this story will likely anger the right, but it’s worth remembering that under Obama there has been a record number of deportations and an enormous amount invested in border security.

 * Is it immigration reform’s time? Speaking of Obama staking out a position to the left on immigration, E.J. Dionne has a very smart look at the delicate public dance politicians are doing, and how it makes immigration reform more likely:

By going slightly to the progressive side of the senators, Obama may ease the way for Republicans to strike a deal since they will be able to claim they stayed to the president’s right. Conservative supporters of reform, such as Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, will keep saying critical things about the president to preserve their credibility with the right. And if Boehner is interested in reform, he, too, must play a delicate game of distancing himself from Obama to persuade his most conservative colleagues to acquiesce to a vote on a bill.

And so the public hints that Obama is leaning to the left on immigration reform could paradoxically make a deal easier.

* Dems and the left could doom immigration reform, too: Adam Serwer is right about this: For all the focus on how difficult it will be for the right to accept immigration reform, the possibility remains of real divisions among Democrats about some of the core disagreements driving the debate, from the right’s demand for overly onerous enforcement provisions to the exclusion of LGBT people from any final compromise.

* Chuck Hagel set to face a grilling today: The Post has a good peek inside the politics of Hagel’s confirmation hearing today: For all the noise about Hagel’s past statements, the tone of the criticism just doesn’t sound like his nomination is in real trouble. It seems likely that Hagel will strongly emphasize opposition to a nuclear Iran and will ultimately succeed in mollifying GOP (and Dem) Senators holding out against him.

* More lackluster economic news: It had looked as if the jobless claims in recent weeks were cause for optimism, but today’s numbers show them back up again. Steve Benen has it in chart form; it’s another sign that the recovery remains far too lackluster and all the more reason for Obama to emphasize jobs in his State of the Union speech.

* NRA will urge lawmakers to vote against background checks: NRA president David Keene tells USA Today:

Asked if the NRA would encourage members of Congress to vote against universal background checks, Keene said, “If it came up today, yes.” He assessed the odds the proposal would pass Congress at less than 50-50.

There seems to be a bit of wiggle room there; some reports have suggested the NRA may support background checks with exemptions for family members. Either way, remember: Eight in 10 people from NRA households supports this provision. The NRA doesn’t speak for its members; it is basically a lobbying arm of the gun industry.

* And Wayne LaPierre mangles facts and logic: Dana Milbank debunks the falsehoods riddling LaPierre’s testimony yesterday, and skewers the basic logic, if you can call it that, underlying his opposition to universal background checks:

His logic failed him as badly as his facts. “My problem with background checks is you’re never going to get criminals to go through universal background checks,” he argued, unwilling to admit that deterring criminals from buying guns is a good thing, even if some eventually get theirs on the black market.

And, of course, this is an argument for expanding the background check system, not against it, since the remaining loopholes help those criminals get their guns on the black market.

What else?