Sunday, November 8, 2015

Sunday Reading

Base Jumping — Joan Walsh in The Nation on the problems the GOP has beyond the debates.

After Mitt Romney’s defeat in 2012, Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus performed an oddly but aptly named “autopsy” designed to avoid a rerun of that year’s debacle, when freak-show candidates competed in 20 presidential debates, a Senate candidate opined alarmingly about “legitimate rape,” and Romney himself suggested that tightening the screws on illegal immigrants might get them to “self-deport.”

To court Latinos and younger voters, Priebus and his advisers urged Republicans to tackle comprehensive immigration reform and tone down the anti-gay rhetoric. They offered sessions to teach candidates how to talk to and about women. And in February of this year, Priebus boasted of his proudest achievement yet: He had done “exactly what I wanted to do…taking control of the presidential primary debate process,” he told radio host Hugh Hewitt.

Priebus had trimmed the debate schedule from 20 to between nine and 12, and he found those debates friendlier homes. Hewitt and his home base, the right-wing Salem Radio Network, would co-sponsor three debates with CNN, and conservative clubhouse Fox News would have another three. The “liberal” MSNBC, which had sponsored GOP debates in 2008 and 2012, was axed in favor of pro-business CNBC. NBC News got a debate, but it was tethered to National Review, to make sure the candidates saw a friendly face.

Poor Reince Priebus! All of his efforts weren’t enough. His debate wrangling was intended to thwart the candidacy of polarizing outsiders who have little chance of winning a general election. But how can you depict your party as the victim of a hostile takeover by figures like Donald Trump and Ben Carson, when together they’re supported by a solid majority of Republican voters in virtually every poll?

Meanwhile, the candidates have revolted. After the October 28 CNBC debate, representatives from the warring Republican campaigns got together to wrest control away from the RNC. But the fracas only highlights the GOP’s fundamental problem.

More than 50 years after GOP leaders began their cynical tilt toward angry white voters, the party is reaping what it has sown: a base that’s consumed by fury, not just at Democrats but at Republicans who have made and broken promises over and over again.

From 2009 on, the party’s leaders have either peddled or tolerated the notion that Barack Obama is an illegitimate president who wasn’t born in the United States—and now Trump, the 2012 birther-in-chief, has been leading the pack most of this cycle. GOP leaders promised to repeal Obamacare, take the debt ceiling hostage to force budget cuts, and slash taxes without inflating the deficit. They accomplished none of this. Now they wonder why their base is so enraged.

Like Priebus, the two leading establishment candidates in the race—Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio—at least recognize that the party’s reliance on aging white voters will eventually doom it to demographic extinction, especially in national elections. They just haven’t had the fortitude to do anything about it. Bush, for example, has said that the next Republican nominee would have to defy the GOP’s base at times: “to lose the primary to win the general [election]” is how he put it. Yet in September alone, Bush went from defending his decision to speak Spanish on the campaign trail—“This is a diverse country. We should celebrate that diversity”—to asserting that “we should not have a multicultural society.” Likewise, Rubio joined the so-called Gang of Eight and helped craft a bipartisan, comprehensive immigration bill that easily passed the Senate. But when the right rebelled, he turned on his own bill and urged the House not to pass it. Still, the party’s anti-immigration base distrusts Rubio, as well it should.

And so, stymied on the policy front, party leaders have tried to tinker with the primary rules, the debate calendar, and now the debate moderators. Trying to head off the candidate revolt, Priebus suspended the NBC-Telemundo debate scheduled for February, though he insisted the debate would go on with National Review and a broadcaster to be named later. Tellingly, Bush representatives insisted on the inclusion of Telemundo, although the immigrant-bashing Trump predictably said no. I was hoping Bush would threaten to walk away if Telemundo was excluded—but no, it was The Donald, the television brand, who told the other candidates “See ya!” and set off to negotiate his own deal with the networks.

All of the wrangling over optics, however, won’t prevent another 2012. The trouble isn’t the debates, or the candidates; it’s the party’s rage-addicted voters. Republicans need some new ones, but given their policies and their determination to kowtow to their base, that’s going to be a long time coming.

The End of the Line — Russell Berman in The Atlantic on the long, slow death of the Keystone XL.

President Obama finally killed the Keystone XL pipeline on Friday, waiting until the last drop of suspense had drained from a debate that pitted environmentalists against champions of economic development and domestic oil production.

“The pipeline would not make a meaningful, long-term contribution to our economy,” Obama said. “So if Congress is serious about wanting to create jobs, this was not the way to do it.”

By the time the president made the announcement with Secretary of State John Kerry and Vice President Joe Biden standing by his side, the administration’s almost comically-long deliberation over the proposal—some seven years—overshadowed the pipeline itself, which would have stretched nearly 1,200 miles from Canada to the Gulf Coast. Republicans and centrist Democrats long held up Keystone as a job-creator that would be a boon to the nation’s ailing economy, but that argument began to lose steam as the economy strengthened in recent years.

Obama himself had cited studies finding that Keystone would create few permanent jobs, and as if to underscore his dim view of the economic argument, he rejected the project just hours after the Labor Department reported that U.S. employers had created 271,000 jobs in October and that the unemployment rate had dropped to 5 percent, a seven-year low.

On Friday, the president said that Kerry had met with him that morning and told him that the department’s review had concluded that construction of the pipeline “would not serve the national interests of the United States.”

“I agree with that decision,” Obama said. The decision is a blow to Canada, which had lobbied hard for the U.S. to approve the pipeline. The president said Canada’s new prime minister, Justin Trudeau, had expressed “disappointment” when the two spoke on Friday.

As the State Department proceeded with its long review of the proposal, the president had been gradually signaling his sympathy for the argument of environmentalists, who said the tar-sands pipeline would undermine the legacy of a president committed to combatting climate change. Still, he repeatedly rejected calls to speed up the review process. When Republicans made a Keystone bill their top priority upon winning full control of Congress earlier this year, Obama used his veto pen for just the third time in his presidency. Yet the administration’s delay in deciding on the project became too much even for Hillary Clinton, who announced her opposition in September when she said she could wait for Obama no longer.

In explaining his decision Friday, the president bemoaned that the Keystone had taken on “an overinflated role” in the nation’s politics. “It became a symbol too often used as a campaign cudgel by both parties rather than a serious policy matter,” he said. “All of this obscured the fact that this pipeline would neither be a silver bullet for the economy, as was promised by some, nor the express lane to climate disaster claimed by others.”

Obama argued that, in effect, the passage of time had showed that the economy could improve without the modest benefits offered by the pipeline. He cited the sterling jobs numbers and the fact that gas prices had dropped significantly in the last year—refuting another early claim by Keystone proponents. Finally, Obama said that approval of the pipeline would undercut a central premise of his administration’s economic agenda—that the U.S. could take aggressive action to combat climate change and protect the environment without sacrificing jobs and growth.

Republicans, of course, were unmoved. “This decision isn’t surprising, but it is sickening,” said the new House speaker, Paul Ryan.

By rejecting this pipeline, the president is rejecting tens of thousands of good-paying jobs. He is rejecting our largest trading partner and energy supplier. He is rejecting the will of the American people and a bipartisan majority of the Congress. If the president wants to spend the rest of his time in office catering to special interests, that’s his choice to make. But it’s just wrong.

Earlier this week, TransCanada, the company seeking to build the $8 billion pipeline, asked the State Department to suspend its review of the project. Critics suspected the request was not made because TransCanada was giving up on the pipeline, delaying the decision until after the 2016 presidential election, when a Republican victor might approve it. But the State Department rejected the plea, probably because its decision had already been made.

No Pain, No Gain — Andy Borowitz on the latest Ben Carson non-incident.

DES MOINES (The Borowitz Report)—New reports indicating that Ben Carson might not have actually stabbed anyone during his youth have sent the retired neurosurgeon plummeting in the latest Republican Presidential polls.

Carson supporters, reeling from the news that their candidate’s past might have been devoid of stabbing, have deserted his candidacy in droves, suggesting that Republican voters viewed Carson’s stabbing as a key part of his résumé.

Indeed, a recent University of Minnesota poll showed that a full third of Carson supporters singled out “his stabbing experience” as a top reason for supporting him for the nation’s highest office.

In Iowa, where Carson was the front-runner before the non-stabbing bombshell hit, voters like Carol Foyler, of Des Moines, expressed dismay and disillusionment that the retired doctor might have fabricated his stabbing exploits to make himself more appealing to Republican voters.

“I was on the fence about Ben Carson, but the stabbing thing really won me over,” she said. “Now, I don’t know what to think.”

Doonesbury — Deep denial.