Will the Republican Party run for the White House in 2016 with a genuine effort to expand the party’s appeal beyond its core constituencies and make inroads with the voter groups that have buoyed Democrats in recent national elections? Or will Republicans mainly prioritize the need to further energize their core constituencies and hope they can continue outrunning demographic change?
Two excellent pieces this morning examine this question by contrasting the tones and approaches taken by Jeb Bush and Scott Walker, the two apparent frontrunners for the GOP presidential nomination. Here’s Jonathan Martin’s piece:
Mr. Bush, a privileged scion who married a Mexican woman and boasts of being bicultural, reflects his polyglot adopted hometown, Miami, and state. He is telling Republicans, in effect, that they must accept a changing country: that the path to the presidency will be found through appealing to voters who may not look like them, and with a standard-bearer whose state and immediate family resemble tomorrow’s America.
Mr. Walker, a small-town minister’s son…is a product of one of the most politically and racially polarized regions of the country, metropolitan Milwaukee. He has succeeded by confronting his adversaries and by generating soaring levels of support from his fellow Republicans in a state they have failed to carry in a presidential race for more than three decades. The party’s way forward, by Mr. Walker’s lights, lies in demonstrating toughness in the face of intense opposition from the left and mobilizing those who are already inclined to support conservatism.
Conservative writer Matt Lewis tells Martin that Walker’s strategy is about “turning out disaffected white men,” and a Walker adviser didn’t dispute the idea. Lewis added that Bush’s strategy is premised on the idea that “conservatism can win in the free market of ideas amongst a diverse and changing 21st-century America.” Jon Ward also has some good reporting that captures how this dynamic is playing out on the campaign trail.
Here’s what I’ll be watching: How will this basic underlying difference, if it is real, manifest itself in actual policy terms? On immigration, it’s true that Bush has leaned harder into the need for legalization by talking about the morally nuanced plight of undocumented immigrants and allowing that they have a positive contribution to make to American society. But both support eventual legalization only after the border is secured. Will their very real tonal difference show up in real policy differences?
On inequality, Walker may employ harsher rhetoric about the safety net than Bush does, but the evidence suggests that both are animated by the underlying worldview that one of the primary problems in American life is that we have too much government-engineered downward redistribution of wealth. As Noam Scheiber documents, most of the other GOP candidates are hostile to any government role in combating inequality. But voters outside the Tea Party base support raising taxes on the rich to expand programs for poor people and think such programs do them more good than harm. Some reform conservatives are urging the candidates to break from the party’s economic dogma. Will Walker and Bush differentiate themselves from one another in economic policy terms in the least?
On Obamacare — which almost certainly has more support among voters beyond core GOP constituencies, such as the “disaffected white men” who apparently remain deeply suspicious of such government activism — both support full repeal. If the Supreme Court guts subsidies for millions, the candidates will be asked whether they support any fix that might spend federal money to keep those millions from losing health coverage. Will we see any differences there?
* MIKE PENCE STRUGGLES WITH QUESTIONS ABOUT INDIANA LAW: On ABC’s This Week, Indiana Governor Mike Pence repeatedly refused to directly answer variations of the following question about the new religious freedom law in his state:
“If a florist in Indiana refuses to serve a gay couple at their wedding, is that legal now in Indiana…Christians who want to refuse service or people of any other faith who want to refuse service to gays and lesbians, that it’s now legal in the state of Indiana?”
Pence repeatedly replied that the law simply ensures that any government action that an individual believes impinges on religious liberty will be subject to a high level of scrutiny by the courts. He also said: “We’re not going to change the law,” which seems to rule out any kind of “clarification” of it –for now, anyway.
* WHY CRITICS FEAR INDIANA LAW: National Journal has a good overview of the dispute over whether the law really could result in discrimination against gay and lesbians to the degree that critics fear. It comes just as same sex marriage may be legalized nationally, and goes beyond the question about the florist and the gay marrying couple:
Critics say the potential reach is much greater. As more states adopt similar proposals, they argue, religious liberty could be used to defend discrimination in housing or by employers who object to providing same-sex spousal benefits. The problem, critics say, is that conservative states are structuring their own versions of RFRA — often intentionally — with same-sex couples in mind.
Whatever happens in Indiana, this debate will only intensify if the Supreme Court declares a Constitutionally protected right to gay marriage later this spring.
* WHITE HOUSE WORKING ON CONGRESS TO BACK OFF ON IRAN: The Wall Street Journal has a deep dive into the behind-the-scenes machinations in Congress around any forthcoming nuclear deal with Iran. The key point: The White House is accepting the need for a Congressional vote on any final deal very soon — rather than later in the process, as it had hoped for — but is asking members of Congress to find a way to structure such a vote so it doesn’t scuttle any deal.
Of course, this presumes that Republicans in Congress preparing a vote on any Iran deal — and some Democrats, too — are not motivated by an explicit desire to derail it!
* WILL HILLARY BACK NUCLEAR DEAL WITH IRAN? The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman reports on a private call between Hillary Clinton and a prominent Jewish leader, Malcolm Honlein:
Clinton told a representative of a group of prominent Jewish leaders on Sunday that she wanted to put the relationship between the United States and Israel back on “constructive footing,” the representative said.
A Clinton spokesperson didn’t confirm the contents of the conversation. This will be portrayed as a break from Obama, but the key question that will determine whether there is any real break will be whether Clinton supports or hedges on any Obama deal with Iran over its nuclear program.
* WHY HARRY REID WILL BE MISSED: E.J. Dionne roots the case for Harry Reid in the rightward lurch of today’s GOP and in the need for Democrats to not lose touch with working class whites.
* RUBIO-MENTUM IN FLORIDA!!! He’s running: “Senator Marco Rubio plans to announce his campaign for president on April 13 in Miami, two Republicans familiar with his plans said.”
With the retirement of Indiana Senator Dan Coats, that would mean two GOP-held Senate seats are now open, on a Senate map that already has many more Republican-held seats in play.
* CALLS GROW LOUDER FOR WARREN PRESIDENTIAL RUN: Politico reports that a major labor union and several prominent New Hampshire Dem activists are adding their voices to the chorus calling for Elizabeth Warren to run for the Democratic presidential nomination. I continue to think a real primary would be good for the party and even for Clinton herself, even if it wouldn’t change the odds of Clinton being the nominee.
But it’s hard to imagine Warren running. Meanwhile, judging by Martin O’Malley’s suggestion yesterday that the presidency is not a “crown to be passed between two families,” he is vying for the role of Clinton’s leading liberal foil.