In the USA...United Surveillance America
October 19, 2013
High School Sexual Assault Case Is Revisited, Haunting Missouri Town
By JOHN ELIGON
MARYVILLE, Mo. — The mayor of this small manufacturing town in northwest Missouri hardly blinks an eye these days when he gets an e-mail that calls him an unflattering name in the subject line. Those tend to be the tame ones. Others cut much deeper.
“ ‘May you never sleep at night again, and may your soul burn eternally in hell’ — that’s commonplace now,” said the mayor, Jim Fall, recalling one of the hundreds of messages that flooded his in-box last week.
Ever since The Kansas City Star ran a long article last Sunday raising new questions about the Nodaway County prosecutor’s decision to drop charges against a 17-year-old football player accused of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl, the simplicity of small-town life here has been complicated by a storm of negative attention.
Some of the furor was tempered last week when the prosecutor, Robert L. Rice, asked a judge to appoint a special prosecutor to take a new look at the case. But the request is pending, and tensions remain high.
Local officials (even some, like Mr. Fall, who have nothing to do with the case), families and students say they have received threats. Businesses say customers have stayed away to avoid the reporters from around the globe. The Sheriff’s Department has taken down its Web site because of hacking threats.
And so a town of about 12,000, whose high school football team was praised a few years back for allowing a boy with Down syndrome to score a touchdown, now finds itself facing threats and scorn.
“Doesn’t matter how you view the situation happened,” said Steve Klotz, the assistant superintendent for the Maryville School District. “We’re all now in a position where we have an uneasy feeling about what does this mean for our town.”
The case resembles an episode in Steubenville, Ohio, in which two high school football players were convicted this year of raping a drunken girl at a party.
In that case, and in this, much of the outrage has been driven by social media, with the hacking collective Anonymous among the most vocal players, lashing out against people that it believes have failed or mistreated the accuser. The group has organized a rally to be held here on Tuesday. The accuser, Daisy Coleman, now 16, has spoken out publicly in the hope that she can help garner enough support to have her case reconsidered.
The community was shocked almost two years ago when Matt Barnett, then a senior at Maryville High School and the grandson of a once-prominent local politician, was arrested in January 2012 on charges that he had sex with Ms. Coleman, a freshman who the authorities said had been too drunk to consent. Under Missouri law, consensual sex between Mr. Barnett and Ms. Coleman would not be statutory rape because he was under 21 and she was at least 14. Two other boys were arrested — one, a 15-year-old, on charges that he sexually assaulted a 13-year-old girl, and another 17-year-old on charges that he filmed Mr. Barnett and Ms. Coleman.
The authorities had alleged that Ms. Coleman and a friend had been drinking before they sneaked out of Ms. Coleman’s house late that frigid night in January and went to Mr. Barnett’s home, where he was hanging out with several friends. Ms. Coleman said in an interview that she drank a clear liquid in a tall glass when she arrived and could not remember anything after that.
Eyewitness accounts say that Ms. Coleman went into a room with Mr. Barnett and that she had to be carried out afterward because she was so drunk, although one of Mr. Barnett’s friends told the police that the pair went into a room on two separate occasions and that it was only after the second time that Ms. Coleman could not walk on her own.
The 13-year-old went into a different room with the 15-year-old boy. He admitted to having sex with her even though she said no, according to the authorities. (His case went to juvenile court.)
Mr. Barnett and his friends drove Ms. Coleman and her friend back to her house. Melinda Coleman, Ms. Coleman’s mother, said she found her barely conscious in front of the house around 5 a.m., wearing sweat pants and a T-shirt. She called the police, and her daughter was taken to the hospital, where she was found to have a blood-alcohol level of 0.13 percent, well above the legal limit for driving.
Mr. Barnett admitted to having sex with Ms. Coleman but said it was consensual and disputed the claim that he had left her out in the cold in front of her house.
It didn’t take long for the town to take sides.
Ms. Coleman said she was harassed at school and on Facebook and Twitter. In one instance, she said, she was walking to the bathroom at school when a boy popped into the hallway and yelled “Liar!” at her.
“We had a handful of people that were really good to us, and we had a handful of people that just completely stayed out of it,” Ms. Coleman said. “But then we had a large group of people that were not so kind towards us.”
Her mother chimed in: “I would say it was pretty split. The people that were against us were so aggressively against us and so verbal and so hateful.”
Unable to withstand the harassment, the Colemans, who had moved to Maryville after the death of Ms. Coleman’s father, returned to their hometown, Albany, about 30 miles away. Their house in Maryville burned down after they left, and the cause remains unknown.
Mr. Rice, who declined to be interviewed, dismissed the charges months after they were filed, saying Ms. Coleman and her mother had stopped cooperating, something they both denied.
Mr. Barnett’s lawyer, Robert Sundell, also declined to be interviewed but released a statement accusing Ms. Coleman of inconsistent testimony at a deposition and changing her story several times. Ms. Coleman says she never changed her account of what happened that night, and Sheriff Darren White agrees.
“I think that they have been fairly consistent with that portion of it,” he said. But Sheriff White, who said he believed that Ms. Coleman had been sexually assaulted, also blamed the dropping of the case on her lack of cooperation.
Adam Clark, 32, who has lived here for about a decade, said he and a friend drove to a town about 45 minutes away on a recent evening to see a movie, to “kind of get breathing space from all the activity, the negativity.”
He said he had not taken a side in the case and welcomed a re-examination. “One thing about us here,” he said, “if there’s a problem, we’ll fix it.”
Sheelagh McNeill contributed research.
October 19, 2013
Fiscal Crisis Sounds the Charge in G.O.P.’s ‘Civil War’
By JONATHAN MARTIN, JIM RUTENBERG and JEREMY W. PETERS
After the budget standoff ended in crushing defeat last week and the political damage reports began to pile up for Republicans, one longtime party leader after another stepped forward to chastise their less seasoned, Tea Party-inspired colleagues who drove the losing strategy.
“Let’s face it: it was not a good maneuver,” Senator Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, the senior Senate Republican and supporter of the deal that ended the showdown, said on Thursday in an interview from his Capitol Hill office. “And that’s when you’ve got to have the adults running the thing.”
Around the same time, roughly a thousand miles away in Mississippi, a 42-year-old Republican state senator, Chris McDaniel, was announcing his bid to take the seat held by one of those “adults” — Senator Thad Cochran, 75, a six-term incumbent and the very picture of the Republican old guard, whose vote to end the standoff Mr. McDaniel called “more of a surrender than a compromise.”
Insurgent conservative groups like the Senate Conservatives Fund, the Madison Project and the Club for Growth immediately announced their support for Mr. McDaniel, the chairman of the Mississippi State Senate’s Conservative Coalition and a former Christian-radio host, providing an early glimpse of what the next three years are likely to hold for the Republican Party.
The budget fight that led to the first government shutdown in 17 years did not just set off a round of recriminations among Republicans over who was to blame for the politically disastrous standoff. It also heralded a very public escalation of a far more consequential battle for control of the Republican Party, a confrontation between Tea Party conservatives and establishment Republicans that will play out in the coming Congressional and presidential primaries in 2014 and 2016 but has been simmering since President George W. Bush’s administration, if not before.
In dozens of interviews, elected officials, strategists and donors from both wings of the party were unusually blunt in drawing the intraparty battle lines, suggesting that the time for an open feud over the Republican future had arrived.
“It’s civil war in the G.O.P.,” said Richard Viguerie, a veteran conservative warrior who helped invent the political direct mail business.
The moment draws comparisons to some of the biggest fights of recent Republican Party history — the 1976 clash between the insurgent faction of activists who supported Ronald Reagan for president that year and the moderate party leaders who stuck by President Gerald R. Ford, and the split between the conservative Goldwater and moderate Rockefeller factions in 1964.
Some optimistic Republicans note that both of those campaigns planted the seeds for the conservative movement’s greatest success: Reagan’s 1980 election and two terms as president.
“The business community thought the supply-siders were nuts, and the country club Republicans thought the social conservatives scary,” William Kristol, the editor of The Weekly Standard, said of those squabbles. “That all worked out O.K.”
Far from being chastened by the failure to achieve any of the concessions they had sought from President Obama — primarily to roll back his signature health care law — the conservative activists who helped drive the confrontation in Congress and helped fuel support for the 144 House Republicans who voted against ending it are now intensifying their effort to rid the party of the sort of timorous Republicans who they said doomed their effort from the start.
“This was an inflection point because the gap between what people believe in their hearts and what they see in Washington is getting wider and wider,” said Jim DeMint, a former South Carolina senator and current Heritage Foundation president, who as a founder of the Senate Conservatives Fund is helping lead the insurgency.
Mr. DeMint, a sort of political godfather to the junior Republican representatives who engineered the health care fight and shutdown, said of his acolytes: “They represent the voices of a lot of Americans who really think it’s time to draw a line in the sand to stop this reckless spending and the growth of the federal government.”
But the party’s establishment leaders now have what they regard as proof that the activist wing’s tactics do not, and will not, work.
“The 20 or 30 members of the House who have been driving this aren’t a majority, and too often the strategy — the tactic — was ‘Let’s just lay down a marker and force people to be with us,’ ” said the senior Republican strategist Karl Rove. “Successful movements inside parties are movements that persuade people,” he added. “The question is, can they persuade? And thus far the jury’s out.”
Unlike in the last two elections when they were caught off guard by grass-roots primary candidates, who went on to lose otherwise winnable races, the establishment’s most powerful elements are going to try to pre-empt another round of embarrassing defeats.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce will decide which candidates to support in the 2014 midterm elections based in part upon whether they voted for the deal on Wednesday to end the shutdown and raise the debt ceiling.
The leading establishment “super PAC” co-founded by Mr. Rove, American Crossroads, has already started a new initiative called the Conservative Victory Project that is quietly working to head off Republican challengers whose victories in primaries, in its determination, would put party seats — or potential party seats — at risk of falling to Democrats in general elections.
But the jockeying for supremacy is making some longtime Republican lawmakers uneasy. Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri said the internal squabbles could weaken the party’s ability to wage battles against Democrats.
“You just can’t win these fights over a long period of time if you’re fighting over how to have the fight,” he said.
At its heart, this fight is the latest chapter of a long-running struggle for dominance between a generally pro-business, center-right bloc that seeks to tame but not exactly dismantle Washington, and populist conservatives who call for more extreme measures to shrink government.
Though the election and re-election of Mr. Obama may have radicalized many conservatives, the base’s fury has its roots in the two terms of his predecessor, Mr. Bush, whose expansion of Medicare, proposed immigration overhaul and 2008 bank bailout left many conservatives distraught.
“People just saw a party that had wandered away from its soul,” said Michael A. Needham, the chief executive of Heritage Action, an offshoot of the Heritage Foundation and perhaps now the most influential lobby group among Congressional Republicans.
But the conservatives’ sense of disillusionment with the establishment did not translate into success in the 2008 or 2012 nomination fights. And the divergent reactions to Mitt Romney’s defeat at the hands of Mr. Obama last year reignited a debate from Mr. Obama’s defeat of Senator John McCain in 2008.
Some establishment Republicans argued that the primary season helped drive Mr. Romney to take more conservative positions than he otherwise would have on issues like immigration. Activists voting against him asserted that he lost because he did not truly embrace conservative principles.
That argument has resurfaced this year in the Virginia governor’s race. The state attorney general, Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, a Tea Party enthusiast, is trailing Terry McAuliffe, a former Democratic national chairman, in every poll. And Republicans are already pointing to Mr. Cuccinelli’s strident views and the shutdown as the explanation for why the race may be out of reach.
Conservatives reject this line of thinking, arguing that Mr. Cuccinelli’s problem is that he drifted from his roots and ran an overly safe campaign on the economy without responding in kind to Democratic attacks on his social views.
For mainline Republicans, there is an obvious contrast: Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey is on track to win re-election in a landslide.
“Cuccinelli represents the party of no, and that’s not going to do so well in Virginia,” said Alex Castellanos, a longtime Republican strategist. “Christie is somebody who represents straight talk and a change from business as usual, and he’s going to do very well.”
A Focus on the Senate
The more important intraparty fight will begin playing out chiefly in Senate primaries next year, with the targeting of incumbents like Mr. Cochran; Mitch McConnell, the minority leader; Lindsey Graham of South Carolina; and perhaps Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Pat Roberts of Kansas.
Their perceived roles as moderating drags on Tea Party-inspired senators like Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah in the shutdown negotiations has galvanized conservative organizations to elect more such Republicans.
Mr. DeMint said he thought the power of the establishment and its corporate money was waning. “It’s harder to buy influence in Washington now,” he said.
That is certainly true in the House, the bulwark of Tea Party conservatism thanks to the overwhelmingly Republican nature of many of the districts and the less expensive campaigns necessary in them.
As the Republican retreat on the shutdown demonstrated, Mr. Cruz and Mr. Lee are very much outnumbered in the Senate.
“The lesson is, we need more reinforcements,” said Daniel Horowitz, an official with the Madison Project. Groups like his are more reliant on smaller dollar donations than their rivals. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Crossroads, for example, can summon large amounts from donors across the business spectrum, many of whom are expressing concern about the latest turn of events on Capitol Hill and are intent on avoiding nominees like Richard Mourdock of Indiana, who unseated Senator Richard G. Lugar, a longtime veteran, in the primary but lost in the general election after making a damaging comment on rape.
“I have seen the problems in some of these primaries where we’ve knocked off some pretty good candidates and it resulted in nothing for us — like Lugar,” said Mel Sembler, a Florida real estate developer and former ambassador who helps Crossroads raise money.
Spencer Zwick, the chief fund-raiser for Mr. Romney’s campaign, said individual donors tell him they are eager to help the establishment wing’s cause however they can. “There are a lot of individual donors who were supportive of Mitt’s campaign who are quietly waiting to figure out how they can play, and I think there’s a lot of appetite to make sure that we nominate candidates who can win general elections,” he said.
The Tea Party-aligned groups say they have an established record of winning primaries against Republican rivals with deep corporate backing. “We’ve always been outspent by orders of magnitude,” said Matt Kibbe, the president of FreedomWorks. And they do have some big donors, like the multimillionaire investor Foster Friess, who backed a failed primary challenge to Mr. Hatch in Utah last year and indicated in an interview last week that he would consider new “opportunities to put young, dynamic people in.”
But two stalwart backers of the movement, the billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch, did not support the shutdown strategy, and people with knowledge of their thinking say they are unlikely to engage in primary efforts against incumbents.
Such reluctance illustrates a central challenge for the insurgents in their effort to take over the party: unity. And the primary challenge to Mr. McConnell from a wealthy Louisville businessman, Matt Bevin, offers a vivid example of how the Tea Party movement’s hand is weakened when its leaders do not rally around shared goals.
Former Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska suggested last week that she would try to help defeat Mr. McConnell, and the Senate Conservatives Fund announced on Friday that it was backing Mr. Bevin. But the Club for Growth is still assessing the race because, its president, Chris Chocola, said, Mr. Bevin is “an unproven candidate.”
And when the issue of Mr. McConnell’s race came up at a meeting in New Orleans this weekend of the secretive conservative umbrella group the Council for National Policy, one participant there said, the members were torn: wealthy Hollywood interests have pledged to finance the Democratic challenger, Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, and some conservatives fear aiding Mr. Bevin only to see him lose the general election.
That lack of a unified conservative challenge may have been at least one factor in Mr. McConnell’s decision to come off the sidelines to engineer the deal reopening the government and raising the debt ceiling with his Democratic counterpart, Senator Harry Reid.
In an interview, Mr. McConnell all but dismissed Mr. Bevin, pointedly calling Ms. Grimes “my real opponent.” He lamented that the party division in Congress “gives me a weaker hand” when negotiating as the minority leader.
Looking to 2016
Regardless of what happens in next year’s midterms, the fight for control of the Republican Party will play out most dramatically in the contest for the 2016 presidential nomination. If a candidate from the insurgent wing is to defy recent history and seize the nomination, he or she will have to run in a fashion that, organizationally, more closely resembles the sophisticated campaigns typically waged by establishment hopefuls.
“If there’s going to be a nominee who reflects their views and values,” said the longtime conservative strategist Ralph Reed, “that candidate is also going to have to be a prolific fund-raiser, build an organization in 30 states simultaneously and have to win the support of other elected officials.”
Asked if the insurgents could nominate one of their own in 2016, former Speaker Newt Gingrich, who saw his own presidential hopes battered by an onslaught of negative TV ads financed by top contributors to Mr. Romney, said, “I think it is still very uphill because of the money.”
The Tea Party forces also lack the sort of singular leadership of a figure like Reagan. And besides overturning the health law and generally seeking to reverse the expansion of the federal government, the hard-liners do not have a cohesive policy plan.
“You have to have a specific agenda,” said Jeff Bell, a policy director in the 1976 Reagan campaign, citing the supply-side tax cuts that were so in vogue with Republicans of that era. “That’s a missing element in today’s conservative revolt.”
What some Republicans hope is that they can find a candidate with the ability to bridge the chasm between the party’s two factions, someone who is acceptable to the insurgents and will benefit from their energy but will also be able to win over swing voters.
Establishment Republicans worry that electing more hard-line conservatives will do little to address what they see as the party’s fundamental challenge with those swing voters.
“We want to elect a majority of senators and the president,” said Mr. Alexander, who is a former presidential candidate, secretary of education and governor. “And in order to do that, we’ve got to persuade the American people that they can trust us with the government. And you don’t do that by shutting down the government and defaulting on the debt.”
Then again, in the eyes of the new-era conservatives, Mr. Alexander is part of the problem.
“It’s my generation’s time to enter this fight,” said Mr. McDaniel, the newly announced Senate candidate from Mississippi. “We’re excited. We love the idea of having this conversation about the future of the country, and the future of our party.”
Jonathan Martin and Jeremy W. Peters reported from Washington, and Jim Rutenberg from New York.
October 18, 2013
A Ted Cruz on Every Corner
By GAIL COLLINS
Have you noticed how many lawmakers from Texas were doing crazy things during the government shutdown debacle?
We need to discuss this as a matter of simple justice. These days, when you say “Texas” in the context of heavy-breathing Republican extremism, everybody immediately thinks of Senator Ted Cruz. Which is really unfair when there are so many other members of the state delegation trying to do their part.
I am thinking, for instance, of Representative Randy Neugebauer, who harangued an innocent park ranger about a shutdown-shuttered war memorial, insisting that the ranger and her colleagues should be “ashamed of themselves.”
Or Representative Louie Gohmert, who created a mild diversion when he charged that John McCain, an opponent of the shutdown, “supported Al Qaeda” in Syria. (McCain said that he did not take offense because “if someone has no intelligence, I don’t view it as being a malicious statement.”)
Or Representative Steve Stockman, who accused the president and House Democrats of “curb-stomping veterans.”
Or Representative John Culberson, who cried “Let’s roll!” in an apparent belief that shutting down the government was equivalent to resisting 9/11 terrorists.
Or Representative Pete Sessions, who summed things up rather neatly with: “We’re not French. We don’t surrender.”
See? Share the credit.
The nation keeps searching for signs of a resurgent political center, but there aren’t many hopeful peeps coming out of Texas. The pragmatic Texas Republican establishment is pretty much on its back, hyperventilating.
The old center-right standard-bearer, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, is desperately trying to wipe out his reputation as a mainstream politician while he runs for re-election.
“I don’t know about you, but Barack Obama ought to be impeached,” he told a Tea Party gathering recently, with more fervor for the cause than for grammatical construction.
Texas Democrats, who haven’t won a statewide race in a generation, spent the last decade whimpering and waiting around for all the Hispanic children to grow up and start voting. However, this year, they have an exciting candidate for governor: Wendy Davis, the state senator who starred in that famous 11-hour filibuster against anti-abortion legislation this past summer.
Some people think Davis, who is canny, energetic and attractive, might actually have a chance to win. But anybody who could just raise money and get 45 percent of the vote would be the party’s biggest star since Ann Richards.
Davis’s opponent will probably be the state’s attorney general, Greg Abbott, who has already amassed enough cash to buy Nebraska. Abbott once provided supporters with his vision of the attorney general’s duties: “I go into the office, I sue the federal government, and then I go home.”
So there’s that.
Even the bottom of the ticket is going to have little sparks of strange. Next year, the race for Texas land commissioner will feature a new-generation Bush, Jeb’s son George P. The singer Kinky Friedman says he’s running for the Democratic nomination for agriculture commissioner on a legalize-marijuana platform. The rest of us will just sit here and mull the fact that Texans feel the need to make these jobs elective.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Gov. Rick Perry appears to be planning to run for president again. And since Ted Cruz is pretty clearly planning a run, too, there could be two Texans in the Republican primary debates. Maybe an all-Texas ticket!
While Cruz has been trying to win the hearts of American voters by spreading fear, terror and economic chaos, Perry has been wandering around the country, criticizing other states for their high taxes and bragging about job growth in Texas.
Economic development has, indeed, been impressive, thanks mainly to the state’s plentiful land and cheap housing. On the downside, a large part of Texas seems to be running out of water. Once the presidential debates kick off, perhaps Perry’s opponents could lift their water glasses and make sloshing sounds every time he talks about growth. Ross Ramsey, a columnist for The Texas Tribune, suggested the governor’s critics might carry bags of gravel to remind the world that Texas’ undermaintained roads have deteriorated to such an extent that the highway department has let some of them revert from pavement to pebbles.
This week, Perry’s in Israel, burnishing his foreign affairs credentials and promoting the Texas economy. Do not expect a critique of the Israeli tax code.
In Texas, there’s so much craziness, it’s hard for a normal crazy to get attention. Imagine an election year with both Perry and Cruz on television every night. To get any airtime, the Texas guys in the House of Representatives would have to call for impeachment while bungee jumping. While waving “Secede!” signs. While carrying unconcealed weapons.
Remember the Alamo.
Cruz rails at Republicans who ended shutdown: Expect to be challenged from the right
By David Ferguson
Saturday, October 19, 2013 14:53 EDT
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) is clinging doggedly to the notion that the shutdown of the federal government would have worked if only his fellow Senate Republicans hadn’t colluded with the Democrats and agreed to end the impasse. In an interview with Robert Costa of the National Review Online, Cruz warned that his insufficiently conservative colleagues will face primary challengers in the next round of elections, although he declined to name names.
“Unfortunately, rather than supporting House Republicans, a significant number of Senate Republicans actively, aggressively, and vocally led the effort to defeat House Republicans, to defeat the effort to defund Obamacare,” Cruz told Costa. “Once Senate Republicans did that, it crippled the chances of this effort, and it caused the lousy deal.”
When Costa asked if Cruz would care to call out any of his fellow Senators by name, he said, “I’m not interested in a battle of personalities.”
“But I will say this: from day one in office,” he continued, “I’ve urged the American people to hold every elected official accountable, and far too many elected officials are not listening to the American people…when you’ve got 10 to 20 Senate Republicans going on television, day after day after day, saying, ‘we cannot win, this is a fool’s errand, we will lose, nothing will happen, we will surrender,’ and blaming Republicans every step of the way, it eliminates the ability to get a positive outcome.”
The freshman Senator said that the moderates who ended the shutdown should expect to face primary opponents, warning, “Now, I have publicly said it is likely that I will stay out of all incumbent primaries, but every elected official has to make the case to the grassroots in his or her state on why he or she is effectively fighting for them.”
Cruz has come under heavy fire from fellow Republicans as well as Democrats who have lambasted him for essentially leading the party into a ditch and driving its popularity with the public to historic lows. It was evident from the start, say Republicans like New York Rep. Peter King, that the shutdown was a strategic dead end, but Cruz pursued it anyway, presumably out of an urge to shore up his credentials ahead of a 2016 presidential run.
When Costa asked if Cruz is uncomfortable being disliked by so many in Washington, he said, “Every day, I jump out of bed with a smile on my face, because it is a joy to have the opportunity to stand with the American people and work to help restore people’s faith and optimism in our nation. It’s an incredible honor to play a small role in expanding the American dream.”
‘Desperate’ donors tighten purse strings on right-wing groups and ‘self-immolating’ GOP
By David Ferguson
Saturday, October 19, 2013 12:55 EDT
Hard times have arrived for the Republican Party and particularly for right-wing pressure groups like Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS, Heritage Action and the one-time lavishly funded tea party PAC, FreedomWorks. According to a report in Politico, heavyweight Republican donors are frustrated and “horrified” that their money is going to wrong-headed politicians and groups that appear to have no effect on election outcomes.
“In conversation after conversation, donors express growing frustration with the party and the constellation of outside groups they’ve been bankrolling,” wrote Politico‘s Maggie Haberman and Anna Palmer.
Donors, they say, were “horrified in November after pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into campaigns for president and Congress with nothing to show for it,” and in the wake of the Republican shutdown fiasco, they have become even more concerned.
FreedomWorks PAC’s CEO Matt Kibbe took to CSPAN on Friday to declare that schisms between the old and new guards of the Republican Party are making it “a real possibility” that the party will split in two. Kibbe didn’t mention, however, that his group is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy thanks to a top-heavy management structure and tendency to hemorrhage cash on things like craft beers and Las Vegas hotel rooms.
Similarly, Karl Rove’s super PAC Crossroads GPS is, Politico said, among those “feeling the hardest pinch” from donors shutting their checkbooks. Crossroads spent $300 million in 2012 and saw nearly every single one of its candidates lose that November. Since then, donations have slowed considerably as the right’s financial backers have begun to lose faith in party gurus and politican strategists.
One-time backers of tea party Republican candidates, said Politico, are facing a kind of “Frankenstein syndrome” in which politicians like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and the House’s tea party caucus no longer fear the donors who put them into office and no longer believe that they need them.
Al Hoffman, a mega-donor and former U.S. ambassador to Portugal, told Politico that the money-holders on the right are wary now of financing politicos that are such ideologues that they end up hurting the very interests they were sent to Washington to protect.
“So many in the House are hard-right reactionary tea party,” he said, “And those Republicans, it appears, are ready to self-immolate, and are willing to risk the destruction of the party by risking the destruction of the economy, by risking a default.”
“I am desperate to get the Republicans moving again…in my view we’re becoming a party of irrelevancy,” he said.
Perspectives: The Right’s Closed Information Loop May Set Up the Next Shut Down
October 18, 2013
by Joshua Holland
This photo provided by Fox News Channel shows Sean Hannity interviewing former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin in New York. (AP Photo/Fox News Channel, Shealah Craighead)
It’s impossible to say whether we’ll face another crisis of governance in three months, when the stopgap budget resolution passed on Wednesday expires, but it’s clear that the 40 or 50 hardcore, tea party-backed members of Congress who precipitated the shutdown want another crack at it. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConell (R-KY) may have told The National Review that another shutdown “is off the table,” but Rep. John Fleming (R-LA), a member of the tea party caucus, told reporters to get ready for “round two” because in January, “we’re going to start this all over again.”
On its face, the desire to reprise a tactical maneuver that was politically disastrous for the Republican Party – one that’s damaged its brand so badly that there’s now a remote chance that control of the House might be up for grabs next November – appears to be completely irrational. But it’s perfectly reasonable for those on the right who mostly speak to other true believers and get their information primarily from the conservative media.
As Mitch McConnell was reporting the details of the agreement he’d struck with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (R-NV), Ted Cruz (R-TX) told reporters that the shutdown had been “a great victory” for Republicans. That kind of disconnect was common throughout the standoff. Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC), a moderate, said on Wednesday that public opinion had played a major role in Republicans’ decision to fold their tent. But even as the GOP sank to depths of approval never before seen in either the Gallup or the NBC/Wall Street Journal polls, Breitbart published a piece titled, “Polls Show Obama, Dems Losing Public Opinion Battle Over Shutdown, Obamacare,” and The Weekly Standard offered “eight reasons the shutdown won’t hurt Republicans.” Rep. David Schweikert (R-AZ) told one reporter that the sampling in those devastating polls was skewed.
And while the economic damage caused by shutting down the government and playing chicken with the debt limit was undeniable, Fox News dismissed it as a government “slimdown,” and an estimate by a Republican Budget Committee that only 17 percent of government had shut down quickly spread through the conservative media. “Debt ceiling deniers” – people who believed that the consequences of breaching the limit were exaggerated or imaginary – were easy to find among movement politicians and their allies in the conservative media.
And then there’s Obamacare. For many on the right, it’s not a law with a number of popular measures, one of which, the insurance exchanges, has had a very rocky rollout – it’s an unmitigated disaster that, as Ted Cruz put it, has already cost millions of Americans their jobs and their health care. And as Dylan Scott reported for Talking Points Memo, “The firm belief that the American public shares the same view of Obamacare that they do… remains omnipresent among hard-line conservatives.” So while Senator John McCain (R-AZ) said the shutdown was “one of the more shameful chapters I have seen in the years I have spent here in the Senate,” Sean Hannity’s message for Republicans was that this was “the hill to die on.”
What all of this means is that those hardcore conservatives who pushed their leadership to shut down the government aren’t only insulated from public opinion because they represent overwhelmingly white, heavily Republican districts. It’s also a result of “epistemic closure” — the tendency, universal but especially pronounced on the right – to seek out like-minded views and ignore information that contradicts one’s previously held beliefs. To the degree that we risk replaying this entire fiasco in a few short months, the alternative universe created day in and day out by a dedicated conservative media ecosystem is at least partially to blame.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the narrative of the party’s defeat that has gelled within the tea party. In their view, it wasn’t a result of the conservative wing pushing for a strategy that polls showed to be highly unpopular before it began. Rather, they were “betrayed by chicken-hearted RINOS” (Republicans in Name Only), as Fox News’ Todd Starnes put it, and, even worse, their otherwise highly popular message was the victim of “liberal media bias” among the mainstream press corps.
There was a telling moment during a press briefing by several House conservatives on Wednesday, when Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-SC) told reporters, “We’ve been talking amongst this group for the last four weeks about fairness, about whether or not it’s fair to give extensions to people who have political connections and make our families live under a different law.” He assailed the media for not carrying that message to the American people. Of the prospect of another showdown in the future, he added, “if we can figure out a way to drive that message home, that this is about fairness … then the outcome may well be different.”
But “fairness” is such a transparently false talking point that no serious journalist would ever embrace it. It originated with the Obama administration’s decision to delay the mandate forcing large corporations to insure their workers because businesses needed more time to comply with the measure’s reporting requirements. They weren’t exempted from the law, and the consequence of the year-long delay is insignificant.
We expect politicians to respond to ordinary political incentives, and if that were the case, there would be no chance at all that tea party lawmakers would further sully their image with another disruptive showdown over the budget or debt ceiling. But when they’re mostly exposed to their own spin, those incentives get skewed, and that’s a big reason why we might end up in this mess once again early next year.
October 19, 2013
A Governor’s Last Campaign: To Prove Health Law Works
By TRIP GABRIEL
FRANKFORT, Ky. — In the windowless nerve center that resembles a campaign war room, Gov. Steven L. Beshear studied projections on a wall showing that 600 people were logged on to the state’s health insurance exchange.
Some 34,000 had begun applications, and more than 11,000 had signed up for plans, making Kentucky one of the most successful state-run insurance marketplaces under the new federal health care law.
“You are all doing a fantastic job,” Mr. Beshear told two dozen bleary-eyed workers.
In a state where dislike of President Obama runs strong and deep, Mr. Beshear, a Democrat, has positioned himself as a champion of the Affordable Care Act, out ahead of public opinion. It has endeared him to the White House at a time when news of the problem-plagued federal exchange, HealthCare.gov, has been embarrassing and damaging.
“My message to Kentuckians is simply this,” Mr. Beshear said in his office in the State Capitol. “You don’t have to like the president; you don’t have to like me. Because this isn’t about him, and it’s not about me. It’s about you, your family and your children. So do yourself a favor. Find what you can get for yourself. You’re going to like what you find.”
Kentucky is the only Southern state to operate its own insurance exchange as well as expand Medicaid coverage for the poor. It is an anomaly on the polarized political map, and a test — in a red state that has elected to the Senate Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, and Rand Paul, a Tea Party favorite — of whether bitterness over the law will dissolve if people decide it effectively provides affordable health care.
Mr. Obama “bragged on Kentucky,” Mr. Beshear said, describing a speech by the president that singled out the traffic to Kentucky’s exchange, Kynect, while attacking Republicans for shutting down the government over the law.
Yet even as the law wins some new fans who are able to sign up for benefits, there is a risk that those who already have insurance and see their premiums rise will blame the Affordable Care Act.
At 1,000 new sign-ups a day, which the governor called a great success, less than a third of the 640,000 Kentuckians who are uninsured will have signed up by March 31, the cutoff for coverage next year. (Through Thursday, enrollment had reached 15,480.)
Without large numbers of enrollees to spread risks, experts have said, the law could collapse.
Republican strategists in Kentucky said the health care overhaul would be a weight around the neck of every Democrat on the state ballot next year, as well as Democrats hoping to hold their majority in the State House.
“Kentuckians are suspicious and deeply concerned about Obamacare,” said Jesse Benton, Mr. McConnell’s campaign manager. “Any Democrat running in Kentucky in 2014 is going to be in a box: stand against your base, or endorse a policy that’s very unpopular and not working well.”
Wilson Stone, a tobacco farmer and Democratic state representative, said voters in his southern Kentucky district did not like the law. “People ask me if we can afford the Medicaid increase,” said Mr. Stone, who hopes his focus on constituent service secures his re-election next year. “I’m a little bit worried about how all this plays out and how aggressive the governor is.”
Mr. McConnell’s likely Democratic opponent, Alison Lundergan Grimes, has been noticeably quiet since the rollout of Kynect on Oct. 1.
“Alison has heard from Kentucky businesses and families who are afraid their rates are going up,” Charly Norton, a spokeswoman for Ms. Grimes, said in a statement. “She is concerned with some aspects of health reform, specifically the regulatory burden placed on small businesses, and believes Congress must come together to provide businesses additional tax relief.”
Ms. Grimes, the secretary of state, may face a tough campaign in a state that handed Mr. Obama a 23-point defeat last November. But Mr. Beshear does not. At 69, he is in the final stretch of his second term, the limit that Kentucky law permits. Many political observers believe he is acting to secure his legacy as an old-fashioned Kentucky liberal representing a tradition that has been in retreat for a generation, since social conservatives began defecting to the Republican Party.
“Steve Beshear is a man on a mission,” said Al Cross, the director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky. “He no longer has to worry about politics.”
Mr. Beshear, who failed in a 1996 challenge to unseat Mr. McConnell, spent a decade out of politics before capturing the governor’s office in 2007.
With control of the Legislature split between the parties and a shrinking budget, Mr. Beshear has had little chance to enact an agenda, except for a few hard-fought victories in education.
He insisted that Kentucky was at heart a progressive state. “When most of you all think about Kentucky,” he told an out-of-state visitor, “you think about the face of our Congressional delegation. That’s not really what Kentucky’s all about.”
Mr. Beshear said his decision to embrace the law was not political.
“To me this was a moral decision,” he said. “We’ve got 640,000 Kentuckians who don’t have access to any kind of affordable health care. The last ranking I saw, we’re 44th out of 50 in health status. You take any chronic disease or condition — heart disease, cancer, smoking, obesity, you name it — and we’re either the worst or close to the worst.”
He also said the law made economic sense, citing a state-commissioned study that found that an expansion of Medicaid over eight years would “create a $15.6 billion economic impact” and almost 17,000 new jobs.
He blamed the law’s unpopularity on Republicans who were “adept at demonizing the name ‘Obamacare.’ ”
“Most of these critics are going to end up with egg on their face,” the governor predicted. “People are finding that I can get health insurance for the first time in my life that I can afford. They’re going to look back at these folks after all the dust settles and say, ‘You misled us.’ ”
October 19, 2013
Driving a New Bargain on Health Care
By TYLER COWEN
The Affordable Care Act has gotten off to a rocky start. Federal and state online health insurance exchanges, which opened for business at the beginning of the month, have been bedeviled by technical snags. And opposition to the law from some House Republicans blocked funding for the entire federal government, leading to its partial shutdown.
In fact, with all the conflict and vituperation over Obamacare, it sometimes seems that one of the few things Democrats and Republicans agree on is that the law is imperfect at best. And they also agree that it could be improved. Even if a bipartisan deal to create a better health care system seems far off today, it’s not too soon to start imagining what a future bargain might look like.
Just to get started, I will assume that, at some point, Democrats will be willing to acknowledge that not everything has worked out as planned with the legislation, and that they would consider a rewrite that would expand coverage. I’ll also assume that Republicans will acknowledge that a feasible rewrite of the bill cannot give the Democrats nothing. And Republicans will need to recognize that repeal of Obamacare should not be their obsession, because they would then be leaving the nation with a dysfunctional yet still highly government-oriented health care system, not some lost conservative paradise. Both sides have a lot to gain, and, at some point, they should realize it.
Let’s look at some of the current problems in the health care system and see whether they might be patched up.
Even under Obamacare, many people will not have health insurance coverage, including two-thirds of poor blacks and single mothers and more than half the low-wage workers who lacked coverage before the law was enacted. That is largely because of the unwillingness of 26 governors to expand Medicaid coverage as the original bill had intended. The Supreme Court struck down that portion of the Affordable Care Act, however, giving states a choice.
Will many red-state governors eventually accept the act’s Medicaid extension, which is sometimes portrayed as a financial free lunch, since federal aid covers most of the coverage expansion? It’s not clear that they will. If the Republicans win the White House in 2016 and perhaps the House and Senate as well, they may cut off federal funds for that Medicaid expansion. In the meantime, many states don’t want to extend their Medicaid rolls, because such benefits are hard to withdraw once granted.
There is a deeper problem with relying heavily on Medicaid as the backbone of health care for the poor. The fact that so many governors have found political gain in opposing a nearly fully-funded Medicaid expansion suggests that long-term support for Medicaid is weaker than it appeared just a few years ago. Furthermore, in cyclical downturns, the increase in Medicaid coverage after a climb in unemployment puts much strain on state budgets.
A separate issue concerns employers who are shedding insurance coverage, whether by dropping retirees, moving more workers to part-time status, withholding coverage and paying fines mandated by law, or simply not hiring more workers in the first place. The magnitude of these effects is not yet clear, but over time we can expect that new businesses and new hiring will be structured to minimize costly insurance obligations. It’s no accident that the Obama administration handed out more than 1,000 exemptions from the employer coverage mandate, and postponed the employer mandate until 2015: both actions reflected underlying problems in the legislation. Ideally, the health care law should minimize what is essentially an implicit tax on hiring.
One way forward would look like this: Federalize Medicaid, remove its obligations from state budgets altogether and gradually shift people from Medicaid into the health care exchanges and the network of federal insurance subsidies. One benefit would be that private insurance coverage brings better care access than Medicaid, which many doctors are reluctant to accept.
To help pay for such a major shift, the federal government would cut back on revenue sharing with the states and repeal the deductibility of state income taxes. The states should be able to afford these changes because a big financial obligation would be removed from their budgets.
By moving people from Medicaid to Obamacare, the Democrats could claim a major coverage expansion, an improvement in the quality of care and access for the poor, and a stabilization of President Obama’s legacy — even if the result isn’t exactly the Affordable Care Act as it was enacted. The Republicans could claim that they did away with Medicaid, expanded the private insurance market, and moved the nation closer to a flat-tax system by eliminating some deductions, namely those for state income taxes paid.
At the same time, I’d recommend narrowing the scope of required insurance to focus on catastrophic expenses. If insurance picks up too many small expenses, it encourages abuse and overuse of scarce resources.
In sum, poorer Americans would get a guarantee of coverage and, with private but federally subsidized insurance, gain better access to quality care for significant expenses than they have now with Medicaid. Private insurance pays more and is accepted by many more doctors. But on the downside, the insured care would be less comprehensive than under current definitions of Obamacare’s mandate.
With a cheaper and more modest insurance package mandated under a retooled law, employers would be less intent on dropping coverage. That would help in job creation. It also would lower the federal cost of the subsidies through the exchanges, both because employers would cover more workers and because the insurance policies would be cheaper.
This wouldn’t be an ideal health care system, but it may be the best we can do, considering where we stand today.
TYLER COWEN is a professor of economics at George Mason University.