Many voters seem persuaded that the resurgent GOP candidate would be a better nominee than Mitt Romney, but experts aren't so sure.
Lately, Newt Gingrich devotes a substantial portion of his stump speech to arguing that he would be the best general-election candidate to beat President Obama among the GOP contenders. Voters appear to be buying it: in Saturday's South Carolina primary, Gingrich won a staggering 51 percent of voters who told exit pollsters their top priority was being able to beat Obama -- and that was the largest group of voters, at 45 percent.
What's Gingrich's argument? It has a few prongs. First, he says he would overpower Obama in debates, humiliating him and exposing him as a fraud. Second, he says his conservative views would provide voters with a strong contrast with the incumbent, giving those dissatisfied with Obama a true alternative rather than a near-equivalent, as he paints Romney. Finally, Gingrich argues his big ideas and sweeping oratory would allow him to make inroads with non-traditional Republican voters such as minorities and the poor.
The persuasiveness of these arguments is largely emotional, but some of it can be evaluated. We bounced it off a couple of political scientists -- exactly the sort of know-it-all, America-destroying elites Gingrich has so much contempt for.
1. Gingrich will win the election by winning the debates.
"As the nominee, I will challenge the president to seven three-hour debates in the Lincoln-Douglas tradition. I will concede up front that he can use a teleprompter if he wants to. ... Here's why I think he'll end up doing it. Psychologically, how does he get up in the morning and look in the mirror -- Columbia graduate, Harvard Law graduate, editor of the Harvard Law Review, finest orator in the Democratic Party -- and say to himself, 'I'm afraid to debate this guy who taught at West Georgia College?' .... In my acceptance speech, I will announce that the White House will be my scheduler. Wherever the president goes I will show up four hours later. With modern 24-hour news cycles...I don't think it will take many weeks of me methodically rebutting his speeches." -- Newt Gingrich, town hall in Beaufort, S.C., Jan. 19, 2012
Brendan Nyhan, Dartmouth College: "Debates happen very late in the campaign and generally do not change the outcome. In general, their importance is overstated. It's extremely implausible we will have seven three-hour debates. I expect we will have three debates in the standard formats. This is a highly structured process negotiated between the media and two risk-averse campaign staffs. We have no idea how Gingrich would manage a general-election campaign, but in the past, candidates have been relatively cautious.... Gingrich has been supposedly winning debates in front of partisan Republican audiences. That's not the same thing as a general election, where people won't necessarily be cheering those red-meat lines."
2. Gingrich will win the election by presenting a stronger contrast with Obama than Romney.
"I think we need a candidate who's far apart from [Obama]. I
can't imagine a debate between Romneycare and Obamacare. They'd be too close
together, it would make no sense at all. But I can imagine a debate between
freedom, independence, you and your doctor, versus the bureaucrat in Washington
telling you what to do. That debate we will win decisively." -- Newt Gingrich, town hall in Easley, S.C., Jan. 18, 2012
Alan Abramowitz, Emory University: "While it's true that motivating the base and getting strong turnout of the base is important, and Newt Gingrich might be better than Mitt Romney when it comes to energizing the conservative base, overall it's a dubious argument. Gingrich doesn't appeal very much to independents or Democrats. The Republican base isn't large enough to win the general election by itself -- in order to win a general election you need to appeal to the swing voters and make inroads among Democrats. The way he's campaigning is not going to appeal to them. He's a very polarizing figure who would also energize the Democratic base to come out against him."
Verdict: Not likely.
3. Gingrich will win the election by campaigning to non-traditional Republican audiences and converting them with his positive vision, like Reagan did.
"I believe we can go into every neighborhood in America, of every background, and say to people, 'Would you rather your children had dependence with food stamps on the government or independence with a paycheck from a job?' And I believe we will win that argument everywhere, and I think we can set up a campaign this fall of extraordinary proportions by bringing the country together. I don't want to run a Republican campaign. I want to run an American campaign." -- Gingrich, Easley, Jan. 18
"In 1980, when Ronald Reagan started the year about 30 points behind Jimmy Carter and when the Republican establishment described his economic ideas as "voodoo economics," Reagan just cheerfully went out and won the debate, won the nomination, and won the general election carrying more states than Roosevelt carried against Herbert Hoover. I would suggest that a solid conservative who believes in economic growth through lower taxes and less regulation, who believes in an American energy program, who believes in a strong national defense, and who has the courage to stand up to the Washington establishment, may make the Washington establishment uncomfortable, but is also exactly the kind of bold, tough leader the American people want, they're not sending somebody to Washington to manage the decay. They're sending somebody to Washington to change it, and that requires somebody who's prepared to be controversial when necessary." -- Gingrich, GOP debate in Tampa, Fla., Jan. 23, 2012
Abramowitz: "This election is going to be decided in about a dozen states by swing voters in those states. Reagan's election had very little to do with his speaking ability or his personality. It had everything to do with the fact that Jimmy Carter was very unpopular. His approval rating was in the low 30s. Obama's approval rating is 12 to 15 points higher. Unless his approval collapses and the economy deteriorates, I don't think this is going to be like 1980."
Verdict: Nice try.
4. Michele Bachmann bonus argument: Obama will lose no matter whom we nominate.
"Anderson, the good news is, the cake is baked. Barack Obama will be a one-term president; there's no question about that. Now the question is, we need to listen to Ronald Reagan who said no pastels, bold colors. I am the most different candidate from Barack Obama than anyone on this stage. We can't settle in this race." -- Michele Bachmann, GOP debate, Las Vegas, Oct. 18, 2011
Abramowitz: "When an incumbent president is running for re-election, the election is mostly a referendum on the president. The challenger only makes a difference at the margins, and we're talking about a pretty small difference."
Nyhan: "The effect of ideology tends to be overstated relative to the state of the economy. But that's based on a data set that doesn't have a Bachmann- or Gingrich-style candidate. Assuming you nominate a normal, generic Republican, the fundamentals predict a closer race. Romney is more or less a generic Republican candidate. In a bad economy, that's enough. But we haven't seen the parties nominate someone like Bachmann or Gingrich."
In the final days of the Obama administration, scholars and journalists took stock of all that he had done to combat the dangerous rise of climate change. Barack Obama, they pronounced, had built up a surprisingly vast array of climate-concerned rules and guidelines across the government. He had turned the many policy-making tools of the many federal agencies toward preparing for this one imminent disaster.
Well, that was then.
On Tuesday, President Donald Trump will sign an executive order that will demolish his predecessor’s attempts to slow the pace of climate change. It is an omnibus directive that strikes across the federal government, reversing major rules that aim to restrict greenhouse-gas emissions while simultaneously instructing departments to ignore or downplay the risks of climate change in their decision-making.
Years of misleading coverage left viewers so misinformed that many were shocked when confronted with the actual costs of repeal.
As the Republican Party struggled and then failed to repeal and replace Obamacare, pulling a wildly unpopular bill from the House without even taking a vote, a flurry of insightful articles helped the public understand what exactly just happened. Robert Draper explained the roles that Stephen Bannon, Paul Ryan, and others played in deciding what agenda items President Trump would pursue in what order. Politicoreported on how and why the House Freedom Caucus insisted that the health care bill repeal even relatively popular parts of Obamacare. Lest anyone pin blame for the GOP’s failure on that faction, Reihan Salam argued persuasively that responsibility rests with poor leadership by House Speaker Paul Ryan and a GOP coalition with “policy goals that simply can’t be achieved.”
Donald Trump observed that health care policy is “so complicated.” The next item on his agenda, tax policy, will be just as knotty.
“Health care is a very, very complicated issue,” Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said last week in an interview with Mike Allen at Axios. “[Tax reform’s] a lot simpler.”
America’s health-care industry is roughly one-sixth of the economy, or about $3 trillion. U.S. federal tax revenue is roughly one-sixth of the economy, or about $3 trillion. Health care is a complex national cross-subsidy, where, for example, the healthy support the sick. Taxes are a national cross-subsidy, where, for example, workers support retirees. With health care, Americans interact with with an amorphous institution, with a maze of entrenched interests, in which they ultimately just want access to an excellent bundle of services at an affordable price. With the federal government, Americans interact with ... okay, I think you get the point.
Democrats want the chair of the committee looking into collusion between the Trump administration and Russia to recuse himself, and hearings have ground to a halt for the moment.
Embattled House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes is now facing Democratic calls for his recusal from an investigation into the Trump administration’s ties to Russia, as the inquiry grinds to what is at least a temporary halt.
The California Republican has been on the hot seat since announcing last week that he had vague but significant information about “incidental collection” of information about Trump transition team members by U.S. intelligence agencies. “Incidental collection” is when the communications of someone who is not the target of surveillance are picked up because they are corresponding with a target.
Jared Kushner’s new initiative promises to tap the expertise of the business community—but government isn't a business.
This week President Trump put his son-in-law Jared Kushner in charge of a new White House office, the Office of American Innovation. It will reportedly be staffed by former business executives who will operate like a SWAT team to bring new ideas to government.
This is an admirable undertaking. Like any large organization the government can always use fresh ideas. But the reality is that government is like the private sector only in some pieces of its operations—consulting business executives can be very useful, but a real government-reform effort must be led by people with in-depth knowledge of the government itself. Otherwise, it will simply be another initiative that is forgotten almost as soon as it is announced.
The rise of faith-based counseling in America’s most Christian regions has brought the clash over religious liberties to the therapist’s couch.
In the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election, life in the town of Easley, South Carolina, was tense for Leigh Drexler. Pick-up trucks with airborne Confederate flags seemed more prevalent than ever before, and her grandparents—who had never voted in their lives—registered to cast their ballots for the Donald himself.
Drexler felt isolated. “My family has always directed their point of view at me, but it has been a million times worse than normal,” she told me last October. “Every time we’re in a conversation, it’s either about the election or religion.”
It’s a dynamic that led Drexler, who identifies as a democratic socialist and an atheist, to go online in search of a therapist—someone who would perhaps better understand her lack of faith. She scouted towns within a 20-mile radius, but only “faith-based” practitioners turned up. She resorted to distance counseling over the phone with a therapist a few states away. “I knew there would be Christian counselors here, but I didn’t think that was all I was going to find,” she said.
President Trump may feel liberated to pursue tax reform after the failure on health care. But the GOP’s to-do list in Congress only gets harder from here.
“In a way I’m glad I got it out of the way,” President Trump told the Washington Post last week in the moments after he and Republican leaders in Congress pulled the plug on their first major legislative priority, repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act.
Health care was hard. Really hard. “Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated,” the president had said in a now-infamous quote. The health-care legislation was pulled without a vote last week after House Speaker Paul Ryan told the president there were not enough votes from Republicans to pass it.
The implication of Trump’s musings about the difficulty of passing complicated health-care legislation is that he believes the rest of his agenda will be much easier. Tax cuts? Everybody like tax cuts. The legendary border wall. More defense spending. A big, bipartisan infrastructure bill.
The College Board earns over half of all its revenues from the courses—and, in an uncertain environment, students keep being suckered.
Fraudulent schemes come in all shapes and sizes. To work, they typically wear a patina of respectability. That's the case with Advanced Placement courses, one of the great frauds currently perpetrated on American high-school students.
That's a pretty strong claim, right? You bet. But why not be straightforward when discussing a scam the scale and audacity of which would raise Bernie Madoff's eyebrows?
The miscellany of AP courses offered in U.S. high schools under the imprimatur of the College Board probably started with good intentions. The idea, going back to the 1950s, was to offer college-level courses and exams to high-school students. The courses allegedly provide students the kind of rigorous academic experience they will encounter in college as well as an opportunity to earn college credit for the work.
A new book argues that the giving patterns of today’s wealthy may present challenges to the democratic process.
In 2011, Michael Bloomberg gave the Sierra Club $50 million, the biggest donation in the club’s history, to expand the organization’s Beyond Coal initiative, which sought to shut down coal-fired power plants across the country. He gave $30 million more in 2015. The Beyond Coal campaign now says it has helped shut down 251 coal-burning plants, thanks in large part to Bloomberg’s donations.
The campaign’s success is good news if you’re an environmentalist who wants to replace coal with renewable energy, but not so great if you’re a coal miner watching his livelihood slip away. In a democracy, both sides might argue the issue of whether to shut down coal-fired power plants to their legislators or express their preference at the voting booth. But Bloomberg’s $80 million in donations inarguably gave a boost to the environmentalists’ side, and led to changes on the ground.
Conservatives once warned that Obamacare would produce the Democratic Waterloo. Their inability to accept the principle of universal coverage has, instead, led to their own defeat.
Seven years and three days ago, the House of Representatives grumblingly voted to approve the Senate’s version of the Affordable Care Act. Democrats in the House were displeased by many of the changes introduced by Senate Democrats. But in the interval after Senate passage, the Republicans had gained a 41st seat in the Senate. Any further tinkering with the law could trigger a Republican filibuster. Rather than lose the whole thing, the House swallowed hard and accepted a bill that liberals regarded as a giveaway to insurance companies and other interest groups. The finished law proceeded to President Obama for signature on March 23, 2010.
A few minutes after the House vote, I wrote a short blog post for the website I edited in those days. The site had been founded early in 2009 to argue for a more modern and more moderate form of Republicanism. The timing could not have been worse. At precisely the moment we were urging the GOP to march in one direction, the great mass of conservatives and Republicans had turned on the double in the other, toward an ever more wild and even paranoid extremism. Those were the days of Glenn Beck’s 5 o’clock Fox News conspiracy rants, of Sarah Palin’s “death panels,” of Orly Taitz and her fellow Birthers, of Tea Party rallies at which men openly brandished assault rifles.