TIA Daily • May 9, 2012
Indiana, West Virginia, North Carolina, and Wisconsin
by Robert Tracinski
I had planned to write about a few more topics before the general election got underway in earnest. Too late. It's already here, and its arrival was heralded by yesterday's primary votes in Indiana, West Virginia, North Carolina, and Wisconsin.
The big news from yesterday's vote is that reports of the Tea Party's demise have been greatly exaggerated.
The first and strongest impact of the Tea Party movement is in reforming the right. Yesterday, Republicans in Indiana denied the party's nomination to long-time Senate incumbent Dick Lugar, in favor of Tea Party-backed challenger Richard Mourdock. Lugar lost because he is the ultimate example of the entrenched incumbent who has gone native in Washington, DC; he is just finishing his sixth term and hasn't even bothered maintaining a residence in his home state since the late 1970s. But Lugar also lost because he is a squishy, appeasing "moderate." He complained in his concession speech about "groups whose prime mission is to cleanse the Republican party of those who stray from orthodoxy as they see it" and specifically complained that "Republicans cannot admit to any nuance in policy on climate change. Republican members are now expected to take pledges against any tax increases." You can see how the Republican "litmus tests" have changed over the past few years.
In a hysterical reaction to this vote, Jonathan Chait focuses on another implication: the impact on Supreme Court appointments. Lugar was attacked for voting to confirm President Obama's two staunchly leftist appointees to the court, Justices Kagan and Sotomayor. The hysterical part is that Chait envisions a "constitutional crisis," with unfilled vacancies on the Supreme Court, if the Senate doesn't rubber-stamp Obama's appointments.
There are two obvious absurdities here. The Senate blocking a presidential appointment is not a constitutional crisis. It is the Constitution in action, with the Senate exercising its power to "advise and consent." The president would react as presidents always have when their appointments are blocked: he would nominate someone more acceptable. Surely, Chait didn't regard it as a "constitutional crisis" when President Reagan was forced to find an alternative to Robert Bork.
The greater absurdity is that Chait assumes it is Obama who will do the appointing. But I think it is more likely that it is Romney who will do the appointing (at which point filibustering judicial nominees will suddenly become legitimate again). So the significance of Lugar's defeat is that a Tea Party caucus in the Senate will put pressure on President Romney to nominate a staunch enforcer of constitutional limits on government power.
As I expected, now that we have fully left the primaries behind and moved into the general election, Romney has suddenly drawn even with Obama in the public opinion polls. And Obama can't take any comfort from yesterday's polls, either.
The most shocking result was in West Virginia, in the Democratic presidential primary. Obama is running without any significant, national-level challenger, but that's not exactly to say he's running unopposed. There are small-time crank challengers on the ballots in most states. This is not news—except when one of the cranks actually gets a large number of votes. In West Virginia, 41% of Democrats voted for Keith Judd, a convicted felon serving time in a federal prison in Texas. Obviously, this was not a vote for Judd, but a protest vote against what the locals refer to as Obama's "war on coal."
Similarly, in North Carolina, just under 21% of Democrats voted "no preference" rather than cast their votes for Obama. I presume that many of these people were drawn to the polls by another issue on the ballot: an amendment to the state constitution banning same-sex marriage. The amendment passed by a wide margin, so presumably it drew in a lot of conservative Democrats who are not too fond of Obama.
They're not going to get any fonder, because Obama perversely reacted to this public repudiation of gay marriage by coming out (so to speak) in favor of it.
Personally, I don't really give a damn about this issue one way or the other. On the one hand, if homosexuals want to get married, I think it's their business and the fabric of the universe won't be rent asunder. (Nor will the fabric of society, particularly since we're talking about a subculture that is no bigger than 1-2% of the population.) On the other hand, I think gay marriage is intended as an intrusive tool of social engineering, an attempt by the cultural elites to use the imprimatur of the state to force social acceptance of homosexuality on all of you ignorant redneck bigots. So you can see why it raises a lot of hackles.
My own view is that the issue ought to be irrelevant because when it comes right down to it, no one really needs the sanction of the state. If you want to get married, well, go out and get married. The legal elements of marriage can be established by a series of contracts regarding joint ownership, inheritance, child custody, power of attorney, and so on. As for the rest, well, hold a ceremony and tell everyone that you're married. Who's stopping you? If you think you can't do something just because you don't have the permission of the state, then that's your real problem. So I don't think this should be an issue for state law, and it sure as heck shouldn't be a federal issue.
But Obama is eager to make it a federal issue, and he's doing so in a context where it is clear that the public doesn't support him. Gay marriage is only legal in states where it has been imposed by the judiciary; whenever it has been put to a vote it has been rejected. So why is Obama taking up this issue? NBC's Chuck Todd explains: "Gay money has replaced Wall Street money."
This is a big introduction to the general election. Obama can't raise money from Wall Street for much the same reason that he can't run on the performance of the economy. So all he is left with is ethnic and social "wedge issues" and a strategy of pitting various interest groups against one another.
Charles Krauthammer got it right a few days ago when he wrote:
The entire Obama campaign is a slice-and-dice operation, pandering to one group after another, particularly those that elected Obama in 2008—blacks, Hispanics, women, young people—and for whom the thrill is now gone.
What to do? Try fear. Create division, stir resentment, by whatever means necessary—bogus court challenges, dead-end Senate bills, and a forest of straw men.
Will it work? Yesterday's vote in Wisconsin says otherwise.
I should acknowledge that primaries and special elections tend to magnify the influence of small but fanatical movements like the Tea Party, because turnout among the general population is very low. Yet this can still be a very significant indicator for the general election, if our radical minority is more active and dedicated than their radical minority. And Wisconsin was a perfect test.
This Wisconsin vote ought to have been of very little significance. It was not the actual recall vote for Governor Scott Walker, who has been targeted by the unions after pushing through legislation depriving public employees' unions of special privileges. That recall vote will be held in June. Yesterday's vote was a primary in which each party chose its nominee to become governor if Walker is recalled. Walker had no serious opposition in this primary; Republicans were ready to double down their support by nominating him to replace himself.
So there should have been little drama in this vote. But both sides of the primary produced an unexpected result. On the Democratic side, the candidate who had heavy backing from the unions lost by a wide margin. Remember that the unions were the whole impetus for the recall in the first place; its purpose is to protect their interests against Walker. Yet they couldn't get their own party's nomination for their preferred candidate. On the Republican side, despite facing only token opposition, Walker got more votes than both of the Democrats combined.
If this was a contest between the Tea Party and the unions, the unions lost, and they lost big.
I have been wary of making any specific predictions about this year's election, since public opinion polls don't count for much at this early date. But the kind of polls we had yesterday—actual votes in actual elections—matter a bit more. These were the first real votes of the general election. What they indicate is a strong possibility of an anti-Democrat, anti-Obama blowout in November.
Copyright © 2012 by Tracinski Publishing Company
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