Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Mannes in Politico on the Republican Future

Politico asked if Republicans need to cut their ties to Fox News and Rush Limbaugh? I answered the question, but not quite directly.
My regular fans (assuming I have any) know that I am quite taken with Steve Skowronek's schema of the presidency.
One of his observations is that dominant political orders arise when the previous order is beholden to its various constituencies and can no longer take the actions needed to govern. Reagan established a new political order when the Democrats, in great part because of their commitments to their primary constituencies, could not effectively address the nation's fundamental problems.

Now, decades later, the same is happening to the Republicans. Reagan's rhetoric of cutting taxes and shrinking government resonated when top tax rates were 70 percent and the Democratic party shaped by FDR and LBJ had a reflexive response to every social problem of enacting a giant government program.
Three decades later, with Republicans effectively shaping the national political discourse, they are trapped by the weight of their history. Reagan did thus and such, so key constituencies of the party expect to continue on that course. But those responses, so necessary in the 1980s are less salient today. Smart Republicans want more flexibility. In the 1980s Reagan articulated messages of morality and personal responsibility that many welcomed. (Important note: That Reagan articulated messages of morality is not to imply that Democrats were in any way personally immoral. Personal weakness knows no party. Rather Reagan was able to discuss these issues in a manner that reached many Americans.) Now, decades later this message has become shrill, preachy, and at times downright offensive - the American people seem to have had about enough of it and it offers little guidance to the real problems faced by the American people.
But important components of the Republican party will insist on this, their own constituencies and livelihoods depend on them - and they believe in these values. It will be hard to distance the party from their own stalwarts.
Skowronek observes that after a dominant political order collapses, the losing party slowly learns its lessons and becomes the party of flexibility and maneuver because without those attributes they will be shut out from power. In a world shaped by Reagan, Bill Clinton became a great Republican president who pushed for a major free trade treaty, balanced the budget, and initiated welfare reform. But that only happened after nearly a decade in the wilderness and a series of devastating defeats.

That is what I wrote, now a few additional thoughts. First, I don't think Obama is the transformational president, I believe he is in the category of Clinton, what Skowronek calls a pre-emotive President. The Republican order may have one last gasp. They still have control over the House and did manage to get 48% of the popular vote. But their next President will face impossible demands from his own constituencies and be, effectively a Republican Jimmy Carter. (This will be followed by an order establishing Democratic President - but I am far from ready to predict the details.)

Bigger then that is the question overshadowing Presidential studies: the man or the moment? So much of what we assert as Presidential leadership is a decision made that was incredibly constrained by political realities. Every President has a few specific programs that are "theirs.". Carter seized on the Panama Canal Treaty and Middle East Peace as the foreign policy centerpieces of his administration. But in 1981 nearly any Republican President would have cut taxes. In the 1990s, facing a hostile Congress any Democratic President would have played defense and focused on small initiatives rather then big government programs.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Christie as VP: The Fun We Missed

Rumor has it Romney’s first pick for VP was New Jersey Governor ChrisChristie.  Neat how stuff starts to come out as the election gets closer.  Reportedly, Christie didn’t show the discipline the Romney campaign likes to see – showing up late to campaign events.  One can see Christie’s electoral/political appeal.  His brashness and earthiness would have contrasted nicely with the polished and heavily scripted Romney.  A Biden-Christie debate would have been a blast!

It still probably wouldn’t have made much difference, VP choices usually don’t and Ryan was also a solid pick.  Although Ryan does look a lot like a Romney offspring...

It is interesting to think how Hurricane Sandy would have played in the campaign with Christie as vice presidential candidate.  Christie probably would have needed to drop campaigning to manage the disaster that struck his state.  Although this would have been mentioned constantly in the news so it might not have hurt the campaign’s exposure.  If he had appeared effective the storm response might have even helped the campaign.

One of the reasons the story about Christie’s almost being the VP pick came out is because Christie has praised Obama’s aid to NewJersey.  There are rumors of bad blood between Christie and Romney now.

But what if Christie were the VP candidate?  Would he have still praised the federal aid to the state – possibly appearing magnanimous, above politics, and pragmatic?  Would he have criticized it and insisted he and Romney would have done it much better?  The political analysis would have been so much fun (probably irrelevant, but fun.)

Christie as Governing Partner
Following the theme of my work on the vice presidency, I still argue that Christie would not have been a good VP choice.  First, looking at historical data the last two governors to be vice president were disasters – Rockefeller and Agnew.  The former was too big for the job; the latter was too small.  Granted this was four decades ago, but what has really changed?  Governors are captains of their own ship, within their state environment they are the 500 lb. gorilla.  They don’t have to ask someone else if they can travel, give a speech, or how to structure their time.  Given this experience, serving as someone else’s number two does not come easily.

From the President’s viewpoint a governor also is a problematic VP.  The VP slot is a chance to bring an extremely experienced advisor into the White House.  Presidents have no shortage of advisors of course – almost anyone in the world who is an expert on anything would be happy to drop whatever they are doing to brief the President.  But an experienced Senator or House member with high-level knowledge of some issues can not only bring policy background but also knowledge of the people and institutions that Presidents have to deal with - what I've called (stealing a line from F. Scott Fitzgerald) "the whole equation."  Several recent vice presidents were experienced Senators and their Presidents found their counsel on the Senate invaluable.  Some recent vice presidents have brought substantial knowledge of international affairs or military affairs.  On a key issue it isn’t just a matter of identifying the preferred policy, but how to get that policy through Congress or get the appropriate allied nations to buy in.

Chris Christie appears to be a talented politician, but there is little he could tell a President Romney about how to deal with the Senate or the leadership of NATO – he would face the same learning curve as his President and that learning curve is steep.