Why the ground is shifting toward Republicans

The Briefing Vol. III, Issue 39-

This week:

  • Vitter goes down to a crushing defeat in LAGOV
  • Issues shaping up in Republicans’ favor
  • Obama created his own Syrian refugee problem

Election 2015

Louisiana: The election of a Democrat, John Bel Edwards, as governor of Louisiana, went off just as we expected. He defeated Sen. David Vitter by an approximate 12-point margin. It wasn’t very close, and it wasn’t much of a surprise — although it would have seemed like one about three months ago. It almost seems like a first in Louisiana politics, but Vitter’s scandals finally caught up with him and that was the end. He remains in the U.S. Senate, but he announced he will not be running for re-election, setting off a scramble among Republicans to replace him.

It’s important to recognize that this isn’t really much of a sign of life for the Pelican State’s newly moribund Democratic Party. It does give them one more electable public official, but Edwards won only by running away from his party on a number of major issues.

More importantly, Vitter’s defeat did not prevent Republicans from coming away with large majorities in both houses of the state legislature and control of all other statewide offices. Even as Vitter was going down to defeat, Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser, R, was easily winning for lieutenant governor. Other offices were either won outright in the first round of voting in October or else featured runoffs between two Republicans. The state education board, vital to the future of education reform in Louisiana, remains solidly in the control of the reformers.

The deeper lesson for Republicans comes from what happened in October. How did events conspire that allowed Vitter to make the runoff? It was the result of two other semi-credible GOP candidates staying in. Had there been only one, he would surely be the governor-elect today.

That closes the book on elections for 2015.

Election 2016

Issue set: Imagine for a moment that you have a magical superpower — a political superpower. You have the ability to put the whole nation into a trance and shape its thinking in one specific way.

There are limits to how it works. For example, you can’t tell anyone how to vote. But what you can do is to focus voters on whatever issues you choose. That could at least affect how they vote.

Want to get them all hot and bothered about income inequality or the minimum wage? Voila, it becomes the top issue on everyone’s mind. Want to make them care about global warming or campaign finance reform? Done.

That’s probably what Democrats would do with that power, if they had it. If Republicans had this power, they’d probably want to make the voters think about their own set of traditionally strong issues.

They would want people to think about Obamacare, which in recent months has quieted down, but which helped Republicans significantly at the ballot box a lot in the last two midterms. They might look back to the successes of the early 2000s, when national security and terrorism were the big issues. And if they really wanted to jump in the time machine, maybe they’d reach back to the issues of an earlier era — urban riots and campus unrest.

Well, welcome to November 2015. Without the help from any magic or superpowers, voters are now thinking and talking about precisely the issues Republicans would like them to be thinking and talking about.

  1. First, terrorism. Two months ago, the last time Gallup sounded out the voters on the question of which party they trusted more on “international terrorism and military threats,” Republicans had the advantage, 52 to 36 percent. This despite the fact that Americans had a modestly more positive impression of the Democratic Party than the GOP (43 percent to 38 percent).
    The Paris attacks have put ISIS at the center of everyone’s attention. In the new FOX News poll released over the weekend, terrorism had jumped from being the most important issue for just 11 percent of voters in August to 24 percent today — the number one issue, trumping even jobs and the economy for the first time in recent memory.FOXISSUES
    The same FOX poll mentioned above shows that 65 percent believe Obama is not being aggressive enough with ISIS, and, that 67 percent oppose his plan for Syrian refugees (more on this below).
    Meanwhile, Democratic candidates for president are talking about socialism as foreign policy and how ISIS is caused by climate change. That’s a bit of a wake-up call.
  1. Although it is an issue seldom considered by pollsters as a political issue in this day and age, the college and city unrest of 2014 and 2015 hearken back to another era. In the late 1960s, this factor left an impression and motivated voters to put Richard Nixon into the White House. White voters especially (and more than a quarter of black voters) viewed the Baltimore rioting as opportunistic thieving and violence rather than an expression of legitimate grievances.
    There is no good polling available at the moment to clarify the political effect of this or the safe-space protests on college campuses. These latter especially seem to be drawing little sympathy even as they highlight left-wing political correctness as a major modern problem. The radicals’ destruction of institutions once had a profound effect in preparing Americans for what eventually became the conservative movement. Could it help do so again, even just a little bit?
  1. Finally, but perhaps most importantly, there’s Obamacare. Perhaps you thought it was over — and surely the politicians who supported it and thought it would work thought so as well. But it’s coming back from the dead as a political issue. Events are in motion that will make Obamacare the same kind of large, looming issue it was in 2010 (immediately after its passage) and in 2014 (after its disastrous opening).

Over the summer, insurers participating in the Obamacare exchanges announced surprisingly high premium increases for 2016. That’s bad, and it reinforces the public’s somewhat negative impression of the law. But it isn’t anything like the fireworks of 2010 or late 2013.

That part is only starting now.

Last week, the nation’s largest insurer, UnitedHealth, announced that it expects to lose $425 million in revenue from its participation in the Obamacare exchanges for the 2015 and 2016 plan years. The company will likely pull out of Obamacare because, as its CEO noted in a conference call with investors, the exchange market is not capable of sustaining itself for the very reasons Obamacare’s critics predicted. It is full of disproportionately sick people pulling out of the pool, with not enough young and healthy types paying in. Unless healthy people start getting interested, and fast, it is possible that the system will enter what is known as a “death spiral.”

But even more politically damaging, the Obama administration may have to begin reminding the uninsured that they will be punished with a fine if they fail to sign up. Just imagine the reaction that will elicit.

The exit of UnitedHealth would throw more than half a million customers out of their health plans in early 2016. This comes after several smaller companies have withdrawn from other states, and 12 of Obamacare’s 23 non-profit insurance co-ops have gone broke and closed. But those are minor problems compared to what’s coming. The inability of insurers — even experienced ones — to make money under the Obamacare system is a sign of the program’s deeper problems, and it will have consequences.

The first one is already taking shape. The insurance industry is ramping up a lobbying effort to seek a bailout for the massive losses being incurred. They would like to see this bailout attached to an appropriations bill next month, because the Obamacare law itself won’t allow it. It is essential that Republicans refuse to grant this bailout — if they let it happen, they will not only be throwing Obamacare and their Democratic rivals a lifeline.

The next stage will come in the spring, when insurers, still losing money, ask for massive premium increases once again for the 2017 plan year. In late summer, those increases will be approved by the various state regulators.

At the very least, there will be lots of bad Obamacare news in the presidential election year, throwing Obama’s most important domestic policy achievement into question. In the worst case, a widespread perception will emerge that the program is failing.

In short, although the candidate field and the national mood cannot be predicted at this early stage, the issue set for 2016 is starting to look very favorable for the GOP. It’s not enough to guarantee any victory, let alone at the presidential level, but it’s a good start.


Syria refugee crisis: President Obama’s plan to take in 10,000 refugees from war-torn Syria does not pose nearly as much danger as the public seems to fear. But in the wake of the Paris attacks the public is quite afraid, and it isn’t hard to see why. So afraid, in fact, that 67 percent now oppose it, and those in opposition represent a broad cross-section of nearly every demographic in American life — young, old, rich, poor, black, white, Republican, independent, Democrat.

From that same FOX News poll, released over the weekend:


What’s more, about 50 House Democrats voted with nearly all Republicans to pause the refugee program until the safety of Americans can be better guaranteed. There is a simple reason why this happened — Obama has hung them out to dry.

On an occasion when strong presidential leadership could have put the risks into context and explained the vetting process (which is actually more robust than people think), Obama chose instead to make two public appearances at foreign venues taking cheap shots at his political opposition.

Without any cover in the media, and without the dissemination of facts that a president can bring about with a timely and non-combative speech, House Democrats had no choice but to abandon Obama. He is now on the verge of seeing his policy cut off by bipartisan supermajorities in both houses of Congress. This didn’t have to happen, but it illustrates how leadership really does matter.

The House vote doesn’t necessarily bar refugees, but it might force the introduction of a more rigorous screening process. Obama might have to propose it himself in order to save his own policy from a bipartisan mutiny. If he’d thought of this sooner — or if he’d even explained the facts in a manner that didn’t condescend to his fellow citizens — he wouldn’t face this kind of danger now.