30 October 2015

Jeb! Campaign Blueprint-- Phileas Fogg or Baron Munchausen?

Jeb Bush’s Campaign staff shared with US News a 112 page internal campaign blueprint that exposed the the nitty gritty details of an establishment $130 million primary campaign.  After studying the Jeb! Q3 Campaign Briefing, it is hard not to hear the candidate speak and not think of the strategerie (sic) behind it. Yet the opposition intelligence contained in the blue book used to buttress its analysis also lends insight on the possible perceived primary pathways to victory for much of the Republican field

Jeb’s campaign is banking on surviving the February GOP contests. Afterwards it would leverage its fundraising prowess (both hard money and Super PACs) via advertising, endorsements, strategic Hispanic outreach for success in many contests. The Jeb! campaign is comfortable selling an idea of inevitability that Jeb is the only one electable against Hillary Clinton for a Game of Thrones dynastic grudge match.

It was telling that the Jeb! campaign advisers used a literary conceit to explore their long term primary strategy. After the early primaries, the Jeb! campaign used the codename Phileas Fogg, from Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days, to liken the frenetic March strategy to compete for 1,428 delegates in 22 state contests.

The character Phileas Fogg was a wealthy gentleman living in solitude but in a meticulous manner who takes up an impossible bet at the Reform Club. Around the World in Eighty Days chronicled those adventures. Kind of curious parallels when applied to a campaign of a son of a wealthy dynastic political family who had been away from politics for years but plots to come back with a well crafted plan.  Hmm.

While the internal memo did have several graphics which grappled with the Donald Trump phenomenon (particularly on the “W” association that he kept us safe), it seemed as if Jeb strategists perceived their main rival as being Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL).  The Jeb! campaign is prepared to shill the line that “Rubio is a risky bet” and playing up political parallels with the career of Barack Obama. Hence the Jeb attendance attack on Rubio during the third GOP Presidential debate.

The fundraising bar graphs showed that Bush inspired organizations (like the Right to Rise PAC) being prepared to outspend Rubio inspired organizations (like the Conservative Solutions PAC) for Future Ad Buys in Iowa and New Hampshire.  The Jeb! Campaign also was going to do a strong ad buy in South Carolina.

To extrapolate some strategy from the blueprint, Jeb is prepared to spend big in Iowa on the airwaves.  While they have a paid staff of 7 which includes a Hispanic outreach team, one senses that they are not trying to win as much as not being winnowed out.  The heavy ad buys in New Hampshire indicate this is where they would like their first win. However, winning the Granite State would be challenging as Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ) is putting everything in New Hampshire. This would also seem like fertile campaign territory for Donald Trump and Carly Fiorina.  The proposed heavy ad buys in South Carolina would rely upon “Big Mo” from New Hampshire into parlayed success in the Palmetto State.

The curious aspect of this internal analysis is its ambiguity for the SEC primary. If Jeb is able to neutralize Rubio, he would have the inside track on Florida’s winner take all 99 delegates. Jeb’s appeal has promise in some of the bigger states, presuming that the field of 15 candidates is mostly cleared.

The shortcomings of Jeb’s strategy are manifold.  They seem to think endorsements are of utmost importance. In fact, their answer to foreign policy challenges is look at how many decorated general support Jeb.  The Jeb strategists look kindly upon “the Bush brand” which seems counter to Bush fatigue and anti-dynastic ebbs in this election cycle.  The Jeb strategists believe that pointing to Bush’s educational accomplishments as Governor nearly a decade ago is a selling point without addressing complaints about Jeb’s association (promotion and profiting) from Common Core.

From a meta standpoint, Jeb’s campaign revolves around big money, which is necessary for the saturation advertising for the Bush brand prior to the February contests. Well, events like disastrous debate appearance can stop the flow of funds.  And because of the staffing and need to do early ads, their burn rate is about 90%.  It may make it hard to grease the skids when crunch time comes.  This might explain the  course correction of slashing campaign costs and shaking up the campaign as Jeb languishes in low poll numbers nationally and in key early contest states.

Moreover, the internal analysis is ambiguous on their Phileas Fogg strategy for March.  It’s great that there are a boatload of delegates available in March, but how exactly does one compete in twelve simultaneous contests on SEC Tuesday (March 1) for 612 delegates distributed proportionally.  Surely the answer is with advertising dollars and “The Big Mo”. But GOP rule 40 this cycle require “winning” at least eight contests for a candidates name to be placed in nomination. Unless Big Mo is an avalanche, this might be a big problem for Jeb.

This is a crowded GOP primary field. Several candidates look like they have staying power based on big bank accounts which have not been burnt through (e.g. Trump, Cruz).  It is an outsider’s election with Dr Ben Carson and Donald Trump in the lead, but a Jeb conceit that they will fade away and Rubio is the big challenge. The briefing focuses at winning delegates but not necessarily contests.  This could be a fatal mistake as GOP primary rules require winning at least six contests for a name to get put into nomination.  If the February primaries are divided by several contenders, there may neither be “the Big Mo” nor the establishment (electable) and outsider left as the last men standing. That scenario moots the blueprints findings.

This cynical political junkie is wondering if the Phileas Fogg blueprint would be better substituted by the Adventures of Baron Munchusen. It may be less of a frenetic but methodical slog as envisioned by the internal analysis and more of like on of the Munchausen movie tagline “Remarkable. Unbelievable. Impossible. And true.”

h/t: US News

27 October 2015

What Makes for a Good Speaker?

After four and a half years as Speaker of the House, Rep. John Boehner (R-OH 8th) announced his resignation. Boehner allegedly wanted to resign after the 112th Congress but his handpicked heir, seven term incumbent  former Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA 7th), but he was ignominously upset by Rep. Dave Brat (R-VA 7th) in the Republican Primary. So  Boehner blustered that he wanted to resign after the pinnacle of his career in hosting Pope Francis to speak before a joint session of Congress.  Of course, this “Zip-a-Dee Doo Dah” excuse conveniently ignores the looming Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC 11th) Motion to Vacate the Chair, which the Speaker would either lose or have to win with Democrat votes. Boehner gave a month for his resignation to take effect in late October, 2015.

It is a good thing that Speaker Boehner gave a month to let things shake it.  Everything was arranged for Majority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA 23rd prior 22nd) to assume the big chair. But then McCarthy opened his big mouth during a friendly interview with Sean Hannity in which inartful articulation about Hillary Clinton blew two years of non-partisan investigation by House Select Benghazi Committee chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC 4th).

McCarthy’s gaffe enlarged a gulf between the House Republican establishment and the Freedom Caucus, which was reluctant to back a Cocktail Party candidate.   The Freedom Caucus had been poised to support Rep. Daniel Webster (R-FL 8th), who is less conservative then the Freedom Caucus but open to rules reform.  However, before the Republican Caucus secretly voted on their choice, McCarthy suddenly resigned and the vote never took place.

In the aftermath of this announcement, there was pressure to draft House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI 1st) from divergent voices like Trey Gowdy and Mitt Romeny. But Ryan   was leery about leading what some might characterize as a den of vipers to spend lots of his time fundraising away from family.  Ryan took a week to decide his druthers.  Ryan announced that he would run if his candidacy would unite the party and under certain conditions (such as reducing his extra congressional travel).

Paul Ryan was hailed as a conservative when he was chosen to be former Governor Mitt Romney’s (R-MA) running mate in 2012, yet was run down by some radicalized conservatives for his stance reformist inclinations on immigration.  As Ryan readied himself to possibly assume the Speakership, he tapped  David Hoppe, a veteran conservative who now works at the Heritage Foundation to be his  chief of staff. Yet even this move was characterized by discontented populists as “picking a Washington lobbyist”.  Moreover, some said that the Freedom Caucus would be sell outs if they backed Paul Ryan for speaker. But a super majority (but not 80%) of the Freedom Caucus expressed willingness to support Ryan for Speaker so the Wisconsin Congressman put his name forward for consideration.

Keeping these recent events in mind, it would be wise to discern what makes for a good Speaker. Some would claim, res ipsa loquitur, that the person must be able to speak.  Thus, Kevin McCarthy’s disjointed utterances should have disqualified him. There is no doubt that the Hannity snafu killed McCarthy’s bid to be Speaker.  But it was not because he was not articulate in his utterances.  Former Democrat House Speaker and now Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA 12th prior 5th and 8th) was not a skilled speaker but was on message and ruled her caucus with an iron fist (and is aided by a sympathetic mainstream media).  Looking back into recent history, Rep. Denny Hastert was not chosen to be the chief spokesman for Republicans or the House.  Neither was Rep. Tom Foley (D-WA 5th).

On the other hand, Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-GA 6th), Rep. Jim Wright (D-TX 12th) and Rep. Tip O’Neil (D-MA 8th) were able media front men while being Speaker.  So being clean, well spoken and  articulate, to borrow a compliment from Vice President Joe Biden, can augment the Speaker’s role but is not quintessential.

A second trait often associated with the House Speakership is as a fundraiser.  This would have been a task that Rep. Kevin McCarthy would have excelled at, lest the Benghazi bungle.  Boehner seems to have done well at raising funds, particularly for those who would support establishment leadership.  But this party role is something which Rep. Paul Ryan did not relish.  Obviously, it is ancillary to the job of being Speaker of the House and constitutionally the second in the line of succession to the Presidency.

A third quality associated with being Speaker is setting priorities.  Newt Gingrich was legionary for nationalizing the 1994 cycle and voting on the Contract with America in the first 100 days of the 104th Congress. Nancy Pelosi rallied her caucus in supporting legislation which impeded the waning George W. Bush administration in the 110th Congress and facilitated President Barack Obama’s agenda in the 111th Congress.

While current Speaker John Boehner has done some things to quell conservatives in the GOP caucus, like eventually launching the Benghazi Select Committee, suing about Obamacare and recently establishing a select committee to study Planned Parenthood abuses, his style tended to be top down and accommodating the powers that be in the White House. For instance, the lawsuit on Obamacare is window dressing with little chance of success (as it is a political issue that courts will eschew).  Congress voted many times to repeal Obamacare, but it was not really attached to budgets or fought for doggedly in conference committees.

Boehner also reneged on understandings which irked the base and conservatives.  For instance, Boehner repeatedly broke the Hastert Rule (bills must receive a majority of the majority to be put on the floor).  This meant that legislation passed with Democrat votes. Boehner would also jam down bills, like a continuing resolution or other lengthy legislation without giving members (and the public) three days to read it before voting.  So, to echo Nancy Pelosi on Obamacare, “We have to vote on the bill before we know what is in it.”.  Not a wise way to run a railroad.

Many rank-and-file conservatives wanted one of their own to be Speaker.  So social media pushed Trey Gowdy or Freedom Caucus leader Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH 4th).  This is under the assumption that a true Conservative would dominate the GOP caucus and get things done.

 Freedom Caucus Raul Labrador Jim Jordan
[L] Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH 4th) [R] Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID 1st) [photo: BD Matt]

Well, the popular press has branded the Freedom Caucus as being ultra-right wingers bent on their own way.  But at the October Conservation with Conservatives presser, Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID 1st) struck a much more restrained set of expectations.  The Freedom Caucus realized that with unity of around 38 votes they had a certain amount of power, to deny a candidate the requisite 218 votes, but they could not successfully back one of their own as Speaker.

It may seem strange that a Republican member generally considered an up and coming Conservative like Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT 3rd) only got lukewarm support in his bid for Speaker, as the Freedom Caucus was initially poised to back Rep. Daniel Webster, who had a 57% Liberty rating.  Rather than have a conservative warrior in the big chair, they wanted someone who would hear their voice.

What really bothered members of the Freedom Caucus was process issues.  They were tired of being shut out in the Committee process, not being able to advance their own legislation or  offer amendments during mark-ups. Ironically, this was not always because their amendments might lose, but that they could carry the day and ruin the pre-baked cake that House leadership had concocted with their counterparts in the Senate or across Pennsylvania Avenue.

Webster promised to have a bottom up leadership process and that influenced the Freedom Caucus.  While Ryan issued some daring demands (like get rid of the Motion to Vacate the Chair), he seems to have mollified the Freedom Caucus.  Scuttlebutt is that Ryan promised to not raise immigration reform until there is a new President. Politico reported that the Freedom Caucus and Ryan agreed in principle on most items and the Freedom Caucus would have some “buy in” on legislation, but his candidacy was still “take it or leave it”.  That was still good enough for 70% of the House Freedom Caucus.

This meeting of the minds did not win over all anti-establishment Republicans.  Rush Limbaugh posulated that to donor class got what they wanted in Paul Ryan.  Glenn Beck accused the Freedom Caucus of being sell-outs. But Beck wanted the House to look outside of its chambers to find a leader, by endorsing Senator Ben Sasse's (R-NB) modest proposal to draft AEI President Arthur Brooks.  In addition, Mark Levin railed at Ryan for never meeting a bailout he did not like.

Ryan may not be the essential man for Speaker but one wonders what Conservative critics want. Who would they choose and why?  If no one is likely to win, would firebrands be OK with Speaker Boehner remaining in place?  This is why discerning what makes a good Speaker matters to understand what candidate to support and appreciating the consequences of the choice.

Representative Ryan tends to be a conservative but has some bagging regarding bailouts and lingering concerns about immigration.  If he becomes Speaker, he may not be out of the rubber chicken circuit as much fundraising. But Ryan will probably be more of a media friendly face of the House and can articulate the Republican message.  Ryan’s reluctance to leave the Ways and Means Committee is because he wanted to radically reform our tax code from the burdensome stack of bureaucratic regulations.  It remains to be seen if this reformist impetus can be instituted while in the Speaker’s chair.

The Republican House Caucus will vote in secret on October 28th. If Ryan is a clear winner, then a formal floor vote should follow on October 29th as Boehner steps down.  But if the votes are not they, all hell will break loose and the House will need to discern what makes for an acceptable choice for Speaker. When Gingrich resigned in 1998, Rep. Bob Livingston (R-LA 1st) was poised to be Head of the House, but some kinks came up in that ascension, which brought about Speaker Denny Hastert.

23 October 2015

Psephology and Plotting Paths to Primary Victory

When chatting with a friend who is not a political junkie, I questioned if Carly Fiorina’s strong Republican Debate performances can translate into strong showings in Iowa.  My friend questioned the value of the Iowa Caucuses, considering that televangelist Pat Robertson won. With the Iowa Caucuses just a 100 days away, it is worth considering the importance of the early contest and assessing paths to primary victory. 

This dialogue prompted me to review all Republican and Democrat Presidential Primary campaigns since 1976. The assertion that Pat Robertson won is an understandable misconception. He actually placed in second in 2000, thus proving that a campaign need not win in Iowa, but being in the top tier is important to survive the winnowing out.  In the case of Senator Fred Harris (D-OK) in 1976, a fourth place finish with 9.89% support had Harris proclaim that he was "winnowed in” the race. Iowa many not pick a winner, but it typically does thin the field out.

Favorite son candidates sometimes can do well in Iowa just because of their connection or proximity to the Hawkeye State.  Arguably, this was Rep. Dick Gephardt’s (D-MO 3rd) strategy in 1988.  Some thought that such connections would have similarly helped former Congresswoman  Michele Bachmann (R-MN 6th) or ex Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN), but this pathway to success proved futile.  There was some speculation that in the 2016 cycle that Governor Scott Walker (R-WI) would have greatly aided by his native Iowan ties and being a next door neighbor, but that was not enough in the 2016 election cycle. 

Iowa and New Hampshire are important because they test a can test a candidates endurance, organization and strategy.  Because voters in the early primary states take their participation seriously, they expect to have lots of one-on-one encounters with hopefuls (retail politics). Former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) won Iowa in 2012 on a shoestring budget because of a grassroots effort to have town halls in all 99 counties. 

What makes  the “Haweye Cauci” unique is the fact that Iowa voters take their participation seriously and expect to be courted by aspiring politicians.  Then there is the challenge of getting voters to show up at the Caucuses.  Not only must they be motivated to spend several hours on a snowy Iowa evening to play politics, but they must represent their candidate.  There are not private ballot boxes for Caucuses so Caucus goers must argue and advocate for their candidate. Thus a “silent majority” who acts according to their principles in the sanctity of the ballot box will not do.  They must go before their neighbors and plead their candidates’ cases.

Iowa Howard Dean campaigner 2004
But retail politics needs to be done right to accommodate for Iowa Stubborn.  In 2004, former Governor Howard Dean (D-VT) was the presumptive favorite as he had a large stash of cash from internet fundraising and could mobilize an army of college students to knock on doors. Well, Hawkeyes did not cotton to brigades of out of state whipper-snappers in bright red  ski hats prodding people to the caucuses.  Thus Dean was in a battle for third place.  To rally the troops after the Caucus results were announced, he did the infamous Howard Dean scream, which was the beginning of the end for him.

The Iowa contest may only sport 30 delegates split amongst the candidates, but doing well gives what 1980 GOP candidate (and later President)  George Herbert Walker Bush called “The Big Mo”.  Good publicity from being win place or show in Iowa can help for the next contest in New Hampshire. 

But where “the Big Mo”  really matters is in the “Invisible Primary” for donor dollars.  When primary voters start selecting candidates (as Iowans do not vote), traditionally financial supporters either open the floodgates or cut off the flow of funds.  People like to bet on winners and may jump on the bandwagon to curry favor with underdogs who outperform expectations. Some may claim that the “Invisible Primary” ends before selection process begins, because money in the bank allows for prudent allocation of resources. But sometimes candidates on the brink of financial collapse, like Senator John McCain in 2008 or Senator Rick Santorum’s shoestring start  in 2012, needed the infusion of finances and publicity after doing well (or significantly beating expectations) in Iowa.

Doing well in the donor primary makes a difference in expanding organization and financing media buys several weeks down the road to effectively compete in a series of contests held on the same day, like the SEC primaries (March 1st) or in a populous and diverse state in which wholesale politics is essential, like Florida (March 15th) 

In 2016, the GOP has rules that primaries before March 15th may have proportional distribution of delegates, after that time it is winner take all.  Party rules this cycle also require candidates to win six contests. Candidates need to find their pathway to victory.  

Some Republican candidates choose not to put as much emphasis on Iowa as it is not a reliable predictor of success and the agrarian and evangelical midwestern voters may not suit certain campaigns. The eastern and western edges of Iowa seem to vote for more urban and moderate candidates in GOP primaries while the center of the state can be characterized as quite evangelical and values voters. Santorum squeaked out a victory in 2012 with a campaign appealing to value voters and retail politics. Governor Mike Huckabee (R-AR) beat Governor Mitt Romney (R-MA) 30%-27% by winning with “very conservative” voters, many of whom were evangelical value voters.

The importance of Iowa was demonstrated by the quick reversal of a social media faux pas by Donald Trump.  The brash businessman has earned a reputation of raring for a fight and never backing down. While Mr. Trump has been top of the Republican polls for the last 100 days, but a recent poll showed that he dropped in second place in the Hawkeye State behind another outsider candidate Dr. Ben Carson.  Trump's Twitter account, which he had leveraged for publicity to personally comment during the Democrat debate, forwarded a snarky dismissal of the poll, denegrating Iowans.  

Within a couple of hours, the Trump campaign deleted the tweet and expressed the regret for a young intern for the gaffe.  OK. so much for spoiling for a fight and never backing down as well as the aura of authenticity. But it goes to show the importance of not offending Hawkeyes and alienating the charm of Iowa Stubborn. 

If not Iowa, Republican candidates have to rely on doing well in New Hampshire, the first primary state.  The Granite State had a long reputation for picking Republican winners, with a couple of notable recent exception. Typically, New Hampshire voters are contrarian rejecting Iowa’s lead. Candidates sometimes camp out there to do tons of town hall meetings to maximize retail politics.   Senator John McCain (R-AZ) used it as his breakout moment in 2008. Conventional wisdom is that if you don’t do well in Iowa or New Hampshire, it is wise to hang it up.

A few contemporary candidates have sought to eschew the Iowa Caucuses and the First Primary in New Hampshire, much at their peril.  In 2008, Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R-NYC) calculated that he would win the Sunshine State due to the number of transplanted New Yorkers. So he essentially skpped Iowa, New Hampshire, Michigan, South Carolina and Nevada. To his chagrin, Giuliani only garnered 14.7% of the vote.  On top of that, any delegates won were cut in half since the Florida primary was held too early for Republican rules. 

In 2012, Gov. Jon Huntsman (R-UT)  iconoclastically set up his campaign HQ in Orlando thinking that Florida would lead to victory.  But Huntsman came in third in New Hampshire and dropped out by Florida.

The 2016 GOP Primary cycle features a crowded field and seems strongly influenced by debate performances.  After the second debate at the Reagan Library, businesswoman Carly Fiorina catapulted up to third place in the national polls.  All of that is well and good, but political pundits need to consider what is her plausible path to victory? At this late stage in the campaign, can an unknown candidate build an organization for effective retail politics in the caucuses or does someone like Fiorina hope that Granite State contrarianism carries the day?  Would publicity from an early primary win be enough to build a successful campaign for the SEC primaries or is the hope to be the last acceptable alternative to a frontrunner or establishment candidate?

Frontrunners in the summer before a Presidential campaign year typically do not get the nomination, otherwise there might have been a President Dean (2004), President Gephardt (2008) or President Giuliani (2008). Hardball questions often hinder early frontrunners.  The trick is to peak and the right time and not get in too late.  In the 1980 cycle, then former Governor Ronald Reagan only announced his candidacy in November 1979 and had to rush to organize for Iowa.  But back then a late entry was feasible.  In the summer of 2007, Senator Fred Thompson (R-TN) announced in late for the 2008 primaries and had trouble getting traction and fundraising.  In 2011, Governor Rick Perry (R-TX) joined the 2012 GOP primaries after the Ames Straw Poll, but was hindered by the late start and a monumentally bad debate performance. 

In the 2016 cycle, it has been postulated that Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) is wisely waiting in the background to pounce when the primaries start.  Cruz was the first to announce with a strong religious liberty stance that would appeal to evangelical voters.  Cruz is accused by Republican Party elites for pushing for show votes on principled policies (e.g. really repealing Obamacare, Iran Nuke Deal, defunding Planned Parenthood) which underline his “outsider” bona fides while still serving in the District of Calamity.  Cruz has a strong campaign war chest.  All signs point to strong organization in early contests and the SEC primaries.  Cruz is also competing in very small contests (like Guam and Puerto Rico) which are essential to winning enough contests to be considered for nomination.  Cruz is a skilled debater who has made good use of the limited time he has been given in debates and he has not made enemies with his opponents. Yet at the beginning of autumn 2015, Cruz is placing 5th out of 15 with 8% support in polls. 

Cruz’s path to victory would need to do well in Iowa (especially with very conservative and evangelical voters), be competitive in New Hampshire, rebound in conservative South Carolina and then be successful in the bulk of SEC primaries (including his home state of Texas) on March 1st.  This slow and steady success strategy does not have the sizzle of Trump or the establishment imprimatur for former Governor Jeb Bush (R-FL), but is solid strategy that has a pathway to victory.  Whether or not this works remains to be seen. 

Looking at the GOP primaries methodically may not be as much fun as hobnobbing about the horse race with always changing polls, but it understands the primary process and gives benchmarks for successful strategy rather than a blind bandwagon approach to campaigns. 

20 October 2015

On The Cruz Effect and the Capitol Hill Cocktail Party

Senator Tom Coburn on The Cruz Effect

Former Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) was recently interviewed on Sirius-XM radio by Pete Dominick in which he disparaged "The Cruz Effect".  Coburn chaffed at lawmakers being put in a position to make desperate stands about legislative items which he believes have no chance of overcoming a veto. This was not the first time in which Coburn raised this reluctance to futilely fight. Coburn said similar things to Joe Scarborough on MSNBC's Morning Joe in 2013.

Senator Coburn was a 20 year veteran of the Senate and had developed a reputation for being "Dr. No" for his conservative intransigence.  Yet before retiring to tend to his Colon Cancer after the 2014 election cycle, Senator Coburn exhibited an animus against Tea Party types, with Huffington Post headlines bragging of a Coburn Smack Down of the Tea Party. Coburn was quick to condem Senator Cruz's shut down tactic on Obamacare. Some Tea Party constituents wondered if he was a Charlatan, Traitor or Patriot for his go along to get along Senatorial approach  gun control.

Although he is no longer in the Senate, Senator Coburn is pushing a Cocktail Party approach to things. In Oklahoma, it is not hard to sound conservative and promise to repeal Obamacare, protect the second amendment or now even to defund Planned Parenthood.  But where the rubber meets the road in legislating in the District of Calamity, intentions and ardor matter.

When speaking to Scarborough about Obamacare in 2013, Senator Coburn rightly points out that Republicans did not have 67 votes to overcome an expected Presidential veto from Barack Obama. Right. So when has either party had vetoproof supermajorities in the Senate? Not in nearly half a century.  In the 89th Congress (1965-67), Democrats held 68 seats in the Senate and 295 House seats. During the New Deal, Democrats had veto proof majorities in the 74th and 75th Congresses (1935-39).  During Reconstruction after the Civil War, there were veto proof majorities for Republicans in the 39th, 40th, 41st and 43rd Congresses.

So having an assured veto proof majority is a rarity in American polity. Nowadays, the benchmark seems to be reaching Cloture (now set at 60 votes in the Senate).  After the election of Barack Obama and the eventual seating of Senator Al Franken (D-MN), Democrats had Cloture proof majority until Senator Scott Brown, the elected replacement for Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) was seated (replacing interim Senator Paul Kirk (D-MA)).

So it is fanciful for a Republican to think that their measures will have veto-proof (or Cloture proof) majorities by party votes alone through regular legislative procedures. But does that mean not doing anything because you are unsure if it will be enacted?

The reason why the comments of a former Republican Senator matter is that it epitomizes the conflict on Capitol Hill for the next Speaker and is a reason why outsider Republican Presidential candidates like Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina and Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) are leading in the polls.

What has been called the Surrender Caucus is only happy to fight for bills which they are certain will be enacted.  Sure, you can campaign conservatively for the "rubes" back home, but politicians who are comfortably ensconced in the District of Calamity Cocktail Party won't spend any political capital for causes in which victory is uncertain.  Hence they surrender without a real fight.

For example, with the recent effort to defund Planned Parenthood, there were attempts to attach a rider onto a Continuing Resolution to divert funding for womens' health from the embattled abortionists to community health centers. The Byrd Rule for budget bills only required 51 votes for passage (avoiding a Cloture Vote). But President Obama promised to veto the CR and Republican Leadership feared that it might be blamed for a government shut down.  So they surrendered without a fight and Senate Majority "Leader" Mitch McConnell jammed down a clean CR through December 11th. This was not a one-off but was indicative of a pattern, which Tea Party renegades like Cruz have exposed for the shame that it is.

It might have been messy, but having must pass legislation like the Highway Bill, a Continuing Resolution or a real Congressional Budget with liberally unappealing riders might have forced the hand of President Obama to shut the government down.  If the Republicans had a better communication strategy, they might not automatically be blamed for shutting the government down when it was an Executive Branch veto which did the dirty deed.  As the branches sought to craft a resolution, concessions might be extracted.  So in the case of Obamacare (a.k.a. the Affordable Care Act), a nigglesome provision like the employer mandate could be up for grabs, which eventually would kill the clunky and unpopular system.  But that involves some guts to take a political risk and then be ready to fight hard in the media and on Capitol Hill.But it's so much easier to, echoing Mr. Coburn: "Dingity, we tried but we just didn't have the votes to do it. Too bad (but we'll still rail against it for the next election).

The House Republican Caucus is set to nominate another candidate for Speaker.  Despite the entreaties of Speaker John Boehner that he is retiring after the crowing achievement of his Congressional career of having Pope Francis speak before a Joint Session of Congress, the reality is that he was set to resign because he would lose a Vacate the Chair vote.  Boehner could not win the necessary votes in the GOP Caucus because the Freedom Caucus both wants a leader who will fight but will also vote on their legislation rather than dictate what will be voted on (and will will or will pointedly lose and be a campaign issue).

After the talking heads shows this weekend, there is speculation that House Ways and Means Chairman Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI 1st) is reconsidering running for Speaker but he does not want  any strings attached to achieve the big chair.  Ryan's record on immigration issues does not jibe with conservatives and not allowing stands for legislation not certain to pass goes against the grain of the Freedom Caucus.

In the larger Presidential Primary picture, many insiders wonder why political novices like Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina lead in the polls.  Perhaps they are not seem corrupted by the system and are talking a good game about fighting the power.

Senator Coburn's cautionary comments about legislating are true enough, but they reveal that establishment Republicans don't really want to fight. Some Tea Party elected officials have not sold out to the Establishment. This explains why Leaders are anxious to primary rebellious Tea Party types and bad mouth others.  Since Republicans have not had a Veto Proof majority since 1875, is it their role to be Democrat lite, only proposing what can get passed and signed by a Democrat President?  What about the years when there were Republican Majorities in both Chambers of Congress and Republican President?  It does not seem like things were much different then.

Pundits have noted that Congress has a similar favorability rating to the Hermit Kingdom of North Korea with communist dictator Kim-Il-ung. This might explain why disaffected voters might welcome a congressional Cruz missile in the form of fighting for principles and causes.  This will be put to the test during the Republican primaries.  But political junkies might get early indications how this "fight to fight" will succeed  in the Speaker's Race.