What’s a GOP presidential hopeful to do? In the past year, the party has cycled through one favorite aspirant after another before running into a problem: There’s no longer a single consensus about what makes a good candidate. Inevitable deviations from conservative orthodoxy are seen as disqualifying sins. Republicans have a habit of killing their darlings.
Ted Cruz seemed to have the right idea. To become the tea party’s favorite candidate, he outflanked the entire Senate GOP. But that victory came at the cost of a public twice as likely to view him unfavorably as favorably and serious anger from within his own party — so much that it’s difficult to envision him winning the nomination in 2016, let alone the presidency. Before him, the immensely popular Marco Rubio was the party’s favorite candidate, until he committed the unpardonable sin of working to pass immigration reform. Before that, it was Chris Christie, whom the GOP adored until he got a little too cozy with the president in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. It’s enough to make Rand Paul seem like their best option — until you consider that he’s angered the tea party by supporting immigration reform, the establishment by espousing isolationist foreign policy views, and his own libertarian base by supporting Mitt Romney in 2012. Veer right, you’re damned; veer left, you’re jammed; play it up the center, you’re toast.
The cycle of anointment and repudiation echoes the 2012 GOP primaries, when Republicans elevated one candidate after another: Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, and Rick Santorum. When voters finally settled on Romney, the candidate had lower favorability and higher unfavorability ratings than any presidential nominee in modern history.
GOP strategist Rick Wilson calls this “the Highlander theory,” after the ‘90s TV show about the Scottish warrior who needs to behead other immortals because there can be only one. Ted Cruz became The One by eclipsing Rubio, who had ascended only a few months earlier. “Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio made similar mistakes in opposite directions,” says Ben Domenech, a senior fellow at the Heartland Institute and the publisher of The Federalist. “Rubio obviously tacked toward the center with a push for coming together on immigration policy, and that did damage to his standing with the conservative base. Cruz on the other hand tacked to the right in a way that helped his standing with base but hurt [his] standing with centrists who had been previously open to the idea of him.”
This division in the party — with the Right driving for purity and the establishment bristling — was most recently evident in the government shutdown. But its imprint is visible in the burgeoning field of Senate and House competitions, too. Almost a dozen Republican House members, such as longtime Idaho Republican Mike Simpson, are facing primaries from the right, with more challenges expected before the cycle begins next year. “This is a key moment for the tea party to decide how best to use its resources and whether to really go in behind candidates who need support [against Democrats], as opposed to wasting resources against candidates who have marginal difference from people who might challenge them” from the right, Domenech says.
But the Highlander theory could have the greatest impact on the Senate. Already, six Republican incumbents — Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sens. Lindsey Graham, Thad Cochran, Michael Enzi, Pat Roberts, and Lamar Alexander — face primary challenges from the right. Most of those seats aren’t at risk of a Democratic takeover, but the internecine battles there could distract attention from the task of winning a Senate majority. The real question, Wilson says, is “how much money are you willing to spend to knock off these guys, and how many dollars does [the internal fight] take from [the fight against] Landrieu, Pryor, and Begich? Those guys are getting a free ride because we’re more willing to chase purity and keep 40 votes then we’re willing to go out and get Democrats that are weak.” And there have been rumblings about challenges for other senators, such as Texas conservative John Cornyn, No. 2 in GOP leadership.
“They have to find a way to unify the two sides and leave some neutral ground,” Wilson says. “Purity is a lovely thing in soul, but a terrible thing in the real, ugly world of politics that can’t be wished away with magical thinking or unicorn dust.” There, the only thing that gets wished away is the latest favorite.
What We're Following See More »
As the Russia investigation heats up, "the role of Marc E. Kasowitz, the president’s longtime New York lawyer, will be significantly reduced. Mr. Trump liked Mr. Kasowitz’s blunt, aggressive style, but he was not a natural fit in the delicate, politically charged criminal investigation. The veteran Washington defense lawyer John Dowd will take the lead in representing Mr. Trump for the Russia inquiry."
President Trump's attorneys are "actively compiling a list of Mueller’s alleged potential conflicts of interest, which they say could serve as a way to stymie his work." They plan to argued that Mueller is going outside the scope of his investigation, in inquiring into Trump's finances. They're also playing small ball, highlighting "donations to Democrats by some of" Mueller's team, and "an allegation that Mueller and Trump National Golf Club in Northern Virginia had a dispute over membership fees when Mueller resigned as a member in 2011." Trump is said to be incensed that Mueller may see his tax returns, and has been asking about his power to pardon his family members.
In addition to ties between Russia and the Trump campaign, Robert Mueller's team is also "examining a broad range of transactions involving Trump’s businesses as well as those of his associates, according to a person familiar with the probe. FBI investigators and others are looking at Russian purchases of apartments in Trump buildings, Trump’s involvement in a controversial SoHo development in New York with Russian associates, the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow, and Trump’s sale of a Florida mansion to a Russian oligarch in 2008, the person said. The investigation also has absorbed a money-laundering probe begun by federal prosecutors in New York into Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort."
Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team is "is examining a broad range of transactions involving Trump’s businesses as well as those of his associates", including "Russian purchases of apartments in Trump buildings, Trump’s involvement in a controversial SoHo development with Russian associates, the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow and Trump’s sale of a Florida mansion to a Russian oligarch in 2008."
"A Senate bill to gut Obamacare would increase the number of uninsured people by 32 million and double premiums on Obamacare's exchanges by 2026, according to an analysis from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. The analysis is of a bill that passed Congress in 2015 that would repeal Obamacare's taxes and some of the mandates. Republicans intend to leave Obamacare in place for two years while a replacement is crafted and implemented."