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N2K: Why the Hispanic Vote Will Matter in 2012

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April 26, 2011, 2:13 p.m.

“Big money is chan­ging how” polit­ic­al “races are be­ing run this year, but it’s not clear how much dif­fer­ence it’ll make.”

Groups “of­ten run by hard-edged par­tis­ans who are hard to identi­fy” are “pump­ing hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars in­to polit­ic­al cam­paigns.” As a res­ult, “can­did­ates are de­vot­ing more time to at­tack­ing and re­spond­ing to op­pon­ents, and less time to talk­ing about is­sues.” And “some cash-strapped chal­lengers” — usu­ally GOP­ers — “sud­denly have enough fin­an­cial back­ing to com­pete against power­ful in­cum­bents” (Light­man, Raleigh News & Ob­serv­er, 10/11).

These groups are “or­gan­ized un­der a tax code pro­vi­sion that lets donors re­main an­onym­ous.” Over­all, the ‘10 cycle is “awash in money from hid­den sources and spend­ing it at an un­pre­ced­en­ted rate, largely on be­half of” the GOP. “The breadth and im­pact of these privately fin­anced groups have made them, and the mys­tery of their back­ers, a cam­paign is­sue in their own right.”

“Stok­ing the flow of dol­lars has been the guar­an­tee of secrecy af­forded by cer­tain non­profit groups.” Busi­ness­man Mel Sem­bler “is close to” GOP strategist Karl Rove and has “writ­ten six- and sev­en-fig­ure checks to Cross­roads GPS, a Rove-backed group that is the most act­ive of the non­profits star­ted this year.” GOP­ers “close to the group said that last week, the group re­ceived a check for sev­er­al mil­lion dol­lars from a single donor.” GOP­ers “in­volved in Cross­roads say the groups owe their fund-rais­ing suc­cess to a hope that” a GOP Con­gress “would undo some of” Pres. Obama’s agenda. “But they also cred­it their fund-rais­ing strategy.”

Sem­bler: “I think most people are very com­fort­able giv­ing an­onym­ously. They want to be able to be help­ful but not be seen by the pub­lic as tak­ing sides” (Ruten­berg/Natta/McIntire, New York Times, 10/11).

Cen­ter for Re­spons­ive Polit­ics staffer Dav­id Lev­inth­al: “We are see­ing or­gan­iz­a­tions drop­ping six fig­ures, sev­en fig­ures in a single day. There still is plenty of time for them to get in­volved, if they are pledging to do that but haven’t yet.”

In many swing dis­tricts, “a flood of out­side dol­lars is be­ing aimed at vul­ner­able in­cum­bents to bol­ster the spend­ing of their chal­lengers and the of­fi­cial” GOP “ma­chinery. And while out­side groups have long had a role dur­ing cam­paign sea­sons, the sheer volume of spend­ing this cycle risks drown­ing out the can­did­ates.” Ac­cord­ing to DNC strategist/Obama ‘08 mgr Dav­id Plouffe “spend­ing by out­side in­terest groups through” Aug “was double the amount spent by” GOP­ers and Dems com­bined (Cum­mings, Politico, 10/12).

And a “shift in the flow of Wall Street money to­ward” GOP­ers “earli­er this year has be­come a tor­rent in the fi­nal weeks of the cam­paign, ac­cord­ing to lob­by­ists and busi­ness ex­ec­ut­ives dol­ing out the cash” — “a strik­ing de­par­ture from the” -08 cycle when “a broad swath of the fin­ance in­dustry” split “their dona­tions roughly evenly between” Dems and GOP­ers.

The “fin­an­cial in­dustry’s turn on the” Obama ad­min Dems in Con­gress “sheds light on the tattered re­la­tion­ships left in the af­ter­math of the eco­nom­ic melt­down and the gov­ern­ment’s re­sponse to it,” in­clud­ing hard feel­ings left over from “the vili­fic­a­tion of bankers” by some mem­bers of Con­grses. The sen­ti­ments have “promp­ted an all-out ef­fort to wrest Con­gress from” Dems (Frates/Maggs, Politico, 10/12).

Dems “are broad­en­ing their at­tacks on cam­paign spend­ing by” pro-GOP groups, “hop­ing to force the dis­clos­ure of donors’ iden­tit­ies and cur­tail a luc­rat­ive source of fin­an­cing for their rivals.” Mo­ve­On.org and Pub­lic Cit­izen, and Pub­lic Cam­paign “plan to press me­dia out­lets that run cam­paign ad­vert­ising to ques­tion wheth­er the cash used for the ad buys is leg­al for that pur­pose.” These groups “are also ask­ing the” DOJ and the IRS “to in­vest­ig­ate the pro-Re­pub­lic­an groups and the sources of their ad spend­ing.” The WH “has said its goal is to pres­sure the groups in­to nam­ing their back­ers” (Wil­li­am­son, Wall Street Journ­al, 10/12).

Wash­ing­ton Post ed­it­or­i­al­izes that the “secret money pour­ing in­to the com­ing elec­tion is alarm­ing” and “should be plugged for fu­ture cam­paigns.” But “the rhet­or­ic about this” from Obama “on down” is “ir­re­spons­ibly alarm­ist.” And “the pop­u­lar un­der­stand­ing of how this mess arose” is “ill-in­formed” and not re­lated to Cit­izens United but rather “a tax code that per­mits too much polit­ic­al activ­ity to take place in secrecy” (10/12).

Wash­ing­ton Ex­am­iner’s Car­ney writes “Obama likes to pre­tend he’s run­ning against greedy fin­an­cial-in­dustry mil­lion­aires, but look down the list of top donors in Septem­ber, and you’ll see part­ners and man­agers of hedge funds and private equity firms like Gros­ven­or Cap­it­al Man­age­ment, Sat­urn As­set Man­age­ment, and Chica­go’s Delaware Street Cap­it­al all giv­ing the DNC the max­im­um. Oth­er hedge-fund donors who give the max come from Bain Cap­it­al and the Tu­dor In­vest­ment Cor­por­a­tion” (10/11).

VP Biden echoed Obama “in blast­ing out­side in­terest groups in­clud­ing the Cham­ber of Com­merce” 10/11, at a fun­draiser for Rep. Chris Car­ney (D-PA) in Scrant­on PA. Biden: “For the first time in mod­ern Amer­ic­an his­tory, they don’t have to tell us (their donors). … I chal­lenge them, if I’m wrong, I will stand cor­rec­ted. But show me, show me. Folks, they’re try­ing to buy this elec­tion to go back to ex­actly what they did be­fore” (Tra­vers, ABC, 10/11).

More Biden: “Karl Rove has gone out, be­cause there’s no longer a re­quire­ment to dis­close who con­trib­utes to you, and gathered up tens of mil­lions of dol­lars. We don’t know if they’re com­ing from for­eign sources. We have a pretty good idea of where a lot of it’s com­ing from: very con­ser­vat­ive mil­lion­aires” (Ru­binkam, AP, 10/12).

WH seni­or ad­viser Dav­id Axel­rod, on the Cham­ber: “I guess my an­swer to the Cham­ber is just dis­close where your money is com­ing from and that will end all the ques­tions. The fact is they are spend­ing $75 mil­lion in this cam­paign and they will not dis­close where one dime is com­ing from. And that’s the prob­lem with all of these or­gan­iz­a­tions. We have tens of mil­lions of spe­cial in­terest money com­ing in­to these cam­paigns and no re­cord of where its com­ing from and that should be a con­cern to every vote in this coun­try” (ABC, 10/11).

Cham­ber seni­or VP Tom Col­lamore writes in an email “We ac­cept the Vice Pres­id­ent’s chal­lenge here and now, and are happy to provide our an­swer: Zero. As in, ‘Not a single cent.’ We hope this clears it up, and hope the Vice Pres­id­ent keeps his word and stands cor­rec­ted” (re­lease, 10/12).

“It is il­leg­al for for­eign com­pan­ies to con­trib­ute dir­ectly to” cam­paigns but “cam­paign-fin­ance ex­perts” say “it is im­possible to veri­fy” Dem “claims of for­eign in­volve­ment in cam­paigns be­cause fed­er­al law does not re­quire non-profits” to “pub­licly dis­close their sources of fund­ing or cer­ti­fy that over­seas con­tri­bu­tions do not pay for ads.”

Lev­inth­al: “Are for­eign com­pan­ies in­volving them­selves in the cur­rent elec­tion? The an­swer largely is: Who knows?” (Schouten, USA Today, 10/12).

Some Cap­it­ol Hill Dems “worry that the” WH “is go­ing too far in char­ging that the polit­ic­ally power­ful busi­ness lobby may be us­ing for­eign money to fuel its elec­tion ef­forts. The charge ig­nites strong feel­ings among job-hungry voters.” But some Dems “are con­cerned that it may be over­stated and could harm” mod­er­ate in “swing dis­tricts” (Ham­burger/Gei­ger, Los Angeles Times, 10/12).

Rove fired back in a 10/12 ABC ap­pear­ance on GMA, “deny­ing that his party gets cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions from for­eign sources” and ac­cus­ing Obama of hy­po­crisy (AP, 10/12).

Rove: “Pres­id­ent Obama based his at­tack on a blog post­ing by Think Pro­gress, which is as­so­ci­ated with the Cen­ter for Amer­ic­an Pro­gress. A group headed by John Podesta, who headed the pres­id­ent’s trans­ition. It is a polit­ic­al group and doesn’t re­veal its donors. … For the pres­id­ent of the United States to say a leg­al and law­ful ac­tion by a private group, which has been up­held by the Su­preme Court of the United States, you know, when he him­self has re­lied upon polit­ic­al groups. There’s $400 mil­lion worth of ad­vert­ising and cam­paign activ­ity in 2008 on his be­half, from groups that mostly did not dis­close their donors.”

Rove: “Look, the pres­id­ent is be­ing hy­po­crit­ic­al about this. He had no prob­lem at all with this when groups were spend­ing money on his be­half in 2008 and not dis­clos­ing donors. He had no prob­lem at all not dis­clos­ing his own donors.”

Rove: “We do not so­li­cit for­eign en­tit­ies. … It is il­leg­al. … We have it on our ma­ter­i­als. No for­eign money can or will be re­ceived. And let me just tell you. All the area codes I’m di­al­ing are in­side the United States. Also, I love it. The pres­id­ent of the United States says I’m fund­ing these groups, as if I’m some bil­lion­aire like George Sor­os, writ­ing checks. I wish I had the abil­ity” (ABC, 10/12).

Wash­ing­ton Post’s Sar­gent takes is­sue with Rove’s char­ac­ter­iz­a­tion that “lefty groups and uni­ons are” also “run­ning ads fun­ded by an­onym­ous donors” just like the Cham­ber is, writ­ing “The com­par­is­on is totally bogus. Un­der Fed­er­al law, uni­ons dis­close far more about their fund­ing than oth­er polit­ic­al groups do, and it just so hap­pens that Mo­ve­On’s ads are fun­ded by a Fed­er­al polit­ic­al com­mit­tee that has to com­ply with the same dis­clos­ure re­quire­ments that can­did­ates and party com­mit­tees do” (10/12).

Ex-RNC Chair Ed Gillespie is out with a Wash­ing­ton Post op-ed, writ­ing that Dems “have ad­ded to their long list of bo­gey­men the out­side groups that seek to help elect” GOP­ers, threat­en­ing “con­gres­sion­al in­vest­ig­a­tions” dis­cuss­ing “private tax in­form­a­tion” and lev­el­ing “base­less ac­cus­a­tions of crim­in­al activ­ity”

“Without a trace of irony, power­ful Demo­crat­ic of­fice­hold­ers lament that many who sup­port these groups wish to re­main an­onym­ous. None of these Demo­crats ex­pressed con­cern about such out­side spend­ing in ‘08,” when more than $400M “was spent to help elect Barack Obama, much of it from un­dis­closed donors. The lib­er­al groups and Demo­crats who sup­por­ted the Bi­par­tis­an Cam­paign Re­form Act, which es­tab­lished the leg­al frame­work for this new cam­paign spend­ing, were much faster to ad­apt to its con­tours than the Re­pub­lic­ans and con­ser­vat­ive groups that largely op­posed it, and lib­er­al out­side groups massively out­spent Re­pub­lic­ans in the past two elec­tion cycles” (10/12).

Bil­lion­aire fin­an­ci­er/lib­er­al act­iv­ist George Sor­os “is sit­ting this” elec­tion cycle “out.”

Sor­os: “I made an ex­cep­tion get­ting in­volved in 2004 … And since I didn’t suc­ceed in 2004, I re­mained en­gaged in 2006 and 2008. But I’m ba­sic­ally not a party man. I’d just been forced in­to that situ­ation by what I con­sidered the ex­cesses of the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion.”

Sor­os, on if he is con­cerned about the GOP tak­ing over Con­gress: “It does, be­cause I think they are push­ing the wrong policies, but I’m not in a po­s­i­tion to stop it. I don’t be­lieve in stand­ing in the way of an ava­lanche” (Chan, “The Caucus,” New York Times, 10/11).

Some­times, you really don’t need a weather­man to know which way the wind blows.

The best way to meas­ure the pre­vail­ing breeze in­side the Re­pub­lic­an Party is to track the dir­ec­tion of the ar­gu­ment in the cur­rent pres­id­en­tial race. Al­most every at­tack from one can­did­ate against an­oth­er has come from the right; al­most al­ways, the un­der­ly­ing mes­sage has been that Mitt Rom­ney or Newt Gin­grich or Rick Perry, or fill-in-the-blank is not a trust­worthy con­ser­vat­ive. The race has re­sembled a shoot-out in which every gun is poin­ted in the same dir­ec­tion.

The in­tens­ity, and fre­quency, of that bar­rage re­flects more than the usu­al cent­ri­fu­gal force of primary elec­tions. It also un­der­scores the ex­tent to which this Re­pub­lic­an primary has in­ver­ted the usu­al re­la­tion­ship between can­did­ate and elect­or­ate: Many GOP voters are not so much look­ing for a lead­er to set a dir­ec­tion for the party as au­di­tion­ing a nom­in­ee they be­lieve they can trust to im­ple­ment the con­sensus that the party has already agreed on.

That un­usu­al dy­nam­ic helps ex­plain the race’s volat­il­ity. The GOP faces a mis­match between script and cast. Since Barack Obama’s vic­tory in 2008, con­ser­vat­ives have de­cis­ively won the ar­gu­ment about the GOP’s dir­ec­tion, al­most without a fight. But the party hasn’t pro­duced a 2012 con­tender who both em­bod­ies that new con­sensus and im­presses voters as a truly vi­able nom­in­ee, much less a plaus­ible pres­id­ent. In four (or eight) years, the party likely will be able to se­lect from choices such as Sen. Marco Ru­bio of Flor­ida or Rep. Paul Ry­an of Wis­con­sin, who check both boxes. But for now, this mis­match has pro­duced un­stint­ing tur­moil, es­pe­cially among con­ser­vat­ives, that could grease the nom­in­a­tion of Rom­ney, the can­did­ate whom many on the right trust the least.

One of the race’s most strik­ing char­ac­ter­ist­ics has been the ab­sence of a real de­bate over the party’s course: The ques­tion hasn’t been where to go, only how far and how fast. The lack of such a de­bate has been es­pe­cially note­worthy be­cause nom­in­a­tion fights that fol­low losses, like the GOP’s fail­ure against Obama in 2008, of­ten in­spire the most ser­i­ous in­tern­al de­bates.

The most im­port­ant mod­ern con­test over the Demo­crat­ic Party’s dir­ec­tion, for in­stance, came after its unanti­cip­ated loss to George H.W. Bush in 1988. Only the sting of that de­feat al­lowed Bill Clin­ton, four years later, to over­come lib­er­al op­pos­i­tion to his in­sist­ence that Demo­crats had to re­tool to re­claim the cen­ter.

Since World War II, Re­pub­lic­ans have reg­u­larly en­gaged in heated in­tern­al ar­gu­ments after pres­id­en­tial de­feats. As his­tor­i­an Mi­chael Bowen noted in his sur­pris­ingly timely book The Roots of Mod­ern Con­ser­vat­ism, Thomas Dewey’s stun­ning loss to Harry Tru­man in 1948 ig­nited a full-scale de­bate over the GOP’s dir­ec­tion. In 1949, an early fore­run­ner of the tea party called the Na­tion­al Re­pub­lic­an Roundup Com­mit­tee emerged to de­nounce Dewey’s ef­forts to mod­er­ate the GOP and de­mand a great­er as­sault on the New Deal. But Dewey force­fully de­fen­ded his ap­proach and then helped en­gin­eer the 1952 nom­in­a­tion of Dwight Eis­en­hower over con­ser­vat­ive cham­pi­on Robert Taft.

Later, the GOP’s 1960 loss pre­cip­it­ated the epic 1964 primary col­li­sion between Re­pub­lic­an mod­er­ates, who ral­lied around Nel­son Rock­e­feller, and con­ser­vat­ives, who powered Barry Gold­wa­ter’s nom­in­a­tion vic­tory. Ger­ald Ford’s 1976 de­feat framed a sim­il­ar, though less stark, con­front­a­tion between Ron­ald Re­agan, as the con­ser­vat­ive cham­pi­on, and the eld­er Bush, as a more mod­er­ate, or at least tra­di­tion­al, al­tern­at­ive. After Clin­ton’s 1996 reelec­tion, George W. Bush, John Mc­Cain, and Steve For­bes offered the party dis­tinct­ive dir­ec­tions that GOP voters ul­ti­mately re­solved in the 2000 primar­ies by em­bra­cing the re­pos­i­tion­ing that Bush termed “com­pas­sion­ate con­ser­vat­ism.”

Noth­ing like that happened after Obama beat Mc­Cain in 2008. In­stead, Re­pub­lic­ans from the grass­roots to Cap­it­ol Hill uni­fied be­hind the con­vic­tion that Mc­Cain lost be­cause he (and Bush, in this ar­gu­ment) was not con­ser­vat­ive enough. A dom­in­ant view quickly emerged that Re­pub­lic­ans could re­cov­er power only by doub­ling down on an anti-Wash­ing­ton mes­sage.

The force of that con­sensus drove the un­yield­ing, and vir­tu­ally in­di­vis­ible, con­gres­sion­al Re­pub­lic­an op­pos­i­tion to Obama’s agenda. In an ac­tion-re­ac­tion cycle, the am­bi­tion of Obama’s ef­forts to ex­pand gov­ern­ment’s role fur­ther so­lid­i­fied the Re­pub­lic­an de­term­in­a­tion to re­trench it. The con­sensus was hardened again by the tea party’s emer­gence and then the res­ults of the 2010 elec­tions, when the com­bin­a­tion of Obama’s over­reach and voter dis­may over the slug­gish eco­nomy pro­pelled the GOP to his­tor­ic midterm gains.

Now, the GOP’s new con­sensus is vividly ap­par­ent in the agen­das of the 2012 con­tenders, who pro­pose to roll back gov­ern­ment more mil­it­antly than any Re­pub­lic­an nom­in­ee in dec­ades. The over­rid­ing is­sue among the ma­jor com­pet­it­ors is who is most ded­ic­ated to that cause. None of them has ques­tioned wheth­er the reign­ing in­ter­pret­a­tion of 2008 is cor­rect — and wheth­er the party can win the gen­er­al elec­tion be­hind the ideo­lo­gic­ally ag­gress­ive blue­print all are of­fer­ing. Con­gres­sion­al Re­pub­lic­ans’ plum­met­ing poll num­bers should of­fer some reas­on for cau­tion, but none of the GOP rivals is reach­ing for that straw in the wind as the vot­ing be­gins.

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