Thursday, November 12, 2009

GOP's Worsening Civil War Could Wreck Its Chances For an Electoral Comeback in 2010

Right-Wing Hard-Liners Both Inside and Outside the Party -- Including the Poobahs of Fox News and Talk Radio, as Well as the 'Teabaggers' -- Have Rendered the GOP Leadership Impotent and Hijacked the Party, Driving It So Far Rightward That It Cost the Republicans a Congressional Seat They Held For More Than 140 Years; Florida Is Likely Their Next Target

Abraham Lincoln, the nation's 16th president, who led the country through the Civil War, famously said that "A house divided against itself cannot stand." He was, of course, referring to the nation after the secession of 16 Southern states to the Confederacy. But who would have thought that, nearly 150 years after he was elected president, Lincoln's words would apply to the very Republican Party he helped co-found in Ripon, Wisconsin in 1854 with other anti-slavery expansion activists? Today, the GOP bears no resemblance to the Party of Lincoln and is on the brink of being torn asunder in its own ideological civil war. (Photo courtesy Craig Pendleton/University of Maine, Farmington)

(Posted 5:00 a.m. EST Thursday, Nobember 12, 2009)



Bob Dylan famously sang that you don’t need a weather man to know which way the wind blows. The wind from the November 2009 off off-year elections -- like the 2008 presidential election -- is blowing unmistakably toward change.

In 2008, Democrats owned the change message, thanks to the disastrous presidency of George W. Bush. Now Republicans as the party out of power are claiming rights to it. On life support just a year ago, Republicans now have an opportunity to regain some, perhaps all, of the House and Senate seats Democrats won in 2006 and 2008 when Republicans handed them control of Congress.

But the wacky events in the special U.S. House election in New York's 23rd Congressional District offer an alternative scenario: the far right wing of the Republican Party is trading its own party’s chances of a comeback for ideological purity. In New York 23, Republicans managed to convert a dead-bang winner into a Democratic pickup.

A special election in the northernmost congressional district of New York became necessary because President Obama appointed the incumbent Republican John McHugh secretary of the Army. Cynics might suggest that the White House political team pushed McHugh’s nomination because it gave them an opportunity to win another congressional seat in the Northeast, where Republican members of Congress are becoming increasingly extinct.

Just last spring, Democrats won a special election in New York's 20th Congressional District, also upstate, that historically leaned Republican. The GOP nominated a long-time state assemblyman with impeccable conservative credentials. Democrat Scott Murphy then eked out a victory by linking him to the discredited Bush policies. Determined not to make the same mistake, 23rd District Republicans nominated a younger more moderate assemblywoman -- Dede Scozzafava -- over the conservative Doug Hoffman, a businessman.


Had the party rallied around its nominee, there is little doubt she would have prevailed. Polling gave Scozzafava the early lead over Democrat Bill Owens, a lawyer. The district makeup gave Democrats an outside chance at best of winning the special.

But then Hoffman, running on New York’s Conservative Party line and bolstered by well-funded attacks on Scozzafava from out-of-state conservative groups like the Club for Growth and radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh, began to make up ground on the underfunded nominee. Republican presidential hopefuls tripped over one another to endorse Hoffman after former Alaska Governor and 2008 GOP vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin threw in with the conservative.

By the weekend before the election, Scozzafava was in free fall and dropped out. Bitter over her shabby treatment from the conservative outsiders, she endorsed the moderate Democrat Owens. The schism allowed a Democrat to win territory that had been Republican since the Civil War.

Republicans now rationalize their loss by arguing that Scozzafava was out of the mainstream of the party and had been nominated by party bosses (i.e., district Republican county chairs) rather than through a primary.


But conservatives have already set their sights on other party moderates, including Florida governor and U.S. Senate candidate Charlie Crist, promising divisive and expensive primary battles next year. Viable moderates, if they survive the nomination process, will emerge compromised, scarred, and in some cases broke. This systematic attack on moderate Republicans by angry "Tea Party" activists and right-wing media celebrities like Limbaugh and Fox News' Glen Beck is designed to purge the ideologically impure out of the party.

Some GOP leaders like former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who refused to back Hoffman on the grounds that the local nominating process, whatever flaws it may have, deserves to be respected by the national party, caution that the conservative attacks on moderate Republicans is a recipe for disaster.

Indeed, the controversy has already begun to overshadow the party’s gubernatorial victories in New Jersey and Virginia.


Democrats, who can barely contain their glee over this growing civil war within the Republican Party, would be well advised to pay attention to the real lessons from the 2009 elections. Voters on Tuesday cast their ballots against the incumbent party.

In New York 23, that was a Republican Party at war with itself. The seemingly popular and effective Republican-turned-independent New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg even struggled. But in New Jersey and Virginia, incumbents were Democrats unable to demonstrate they were up to solving their states’ problems.

And in the 2010 congressional elections, voters will be asked to re-elect a Democratic incumbent party apparently unable to get the economy moving or to pass health care reform. Exit polling indicates that voter anger is rooted in a lack of progress on key issues, especially the economy.

Even as President Obama remains popular in New Jersey and Virginia, independents switched to Republican candidates. Even more ominous, the coalition that helped elect Obama didn’t show up to vote. Obama became the first Democrat to carry Virginia and Indiana since 1964 because of a large infusion of young and African Americans voters. But neither Jon Corzine nor Virginia Democrat Creigh Deeds offered either voting group incentive to stay involved in 2009.

One of the main reasons for the Republican takeover in Congress in 1994 was that too many Democrats stayed home. Now Democratic congressional incumbents have to devise a strategy to energize the Democratic base without further alienating independents.


All of this previews competitive races in Indiana’s 2nd, 9th, and possibly 8th congressional districts. The Republican Congressional Campaign Committee has already announced it is targeting those races in 2010. Hoosier Democrats Joe Donnelly and Baron Hill, in particular, will likely face stiff and well-funded opposition.

If today’s voter anger is rooted in dissatisfaction and disillusionment over the failure of the promised change to materialize, then incumbent members like Donnelly and Hill will need to demonstrate progress by next year. Democrats must quickly come together and pass health care reform. And they will have to show that their reform is an improvement over the status quo.

Even more difficult, the economy must show clear signs of improvement. Voters are angry that banks that were bailed out with their tax dollars are now showing huge profits while they struggle to make ends meet. Hill and Donnelly must convince voters they are on their side rather than the side of Wall Street and special interests. That is becoming increasingly difficult for candidates who have to raise $2 to $3 million to run a competitive House race.


For Republicans, the challenge is to demonstrate they offer something better. Republicans have yet to provide any real alternative to the Obama agenda. And, the Republican image remains extremely poor as they have yet to redefine themselves after the Bush presidency brought them down. Meanwhile, many in the party remain in denial about both their image problems and the looming war between ideological and pragmatic wings.

In an off-year election that will almost certainly be nationalized, both parties and their candidates have a lot of work to do to win over voters who aren’t enthralled with either side. Yet, neither Republicans nor Democrats seem to grasp the change that voters crave.

(Chris Sautter is a Democratic consultant based in Washington. In 2008 and earlier this year, he served as one of Al Franken’s lead recount attorneys. This article first appeared on the Howey Politics Indiana Web site and is re-posted with the permission of its publisher.)

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Volume IV, Number 86
Guest Commentary Copyright 2009, NewsLink, Inc. Reposted with permission.
The 'Skeeter Bites Report Copyright 2009, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.


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Monday, November 09, 2009

Letter From the Editor: GOP Will Make a Huge Mistake If It 'Punishes' Rep. Cao

If the GOP's Right Wing Goes After the Party's Lone Asian-American Congressman -- a Vietnamese Immigrant Who Represents a Predominantly African-American (and Democratic) District -- Over His Vote in Favor of Democrats' Health-Care Reform Bill, It Will Risk Further Solidifying the GOP's Image as a Lily-White, Xenophobic Party That Is Hostile Toward Blacks, Latinos, Asians and Native Americans

Standing up for his constituents: Representative Anh "Joseph" Cao (R-Louisiana), pictured here with his wife, Hieu "Kate" Hoang and their children, Sophia (left) and Betsy at their New Orleans home shortly after his history-making election last November as the first Vietnamese-American member of Congress, was the sole House Republican to vote in favor of the Democrats' health-care reform bill. Cao's vote has deeply angered right-wing activists both inside and outside the GOP, but in an interview with CNN, Cao -- whose district is predominantly African-American and overwhelmingly Democratic -- said, "I have always said that I would put aside partisan wrangling to do the business of the people. My vote tonight was based on my priority of doing what is best for my constituents." (Photo courtesy VietCatholic News)

(Posted 5:00 a.m. EST Monday, November 9, 2009)


Addressing thousands of right-wing "Teabagger" activists who staged a protest on Capitol Hill Saturday against the health-care reform bill, House Minority Leader (R-Ohio) branded the measure -- which was headed toward a House floor vote on Saturday night -- "the greatest threat to freedom that I have seen" and House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Virginia) confidently predicted that "not one Republican will vote for this bill."

Cantor, as it turned out hours later, was a tad overconfident.

When the final tally was compiled -- 220 votes in favor and 215 votes against -- 219 of those "aye" votes were cast by Democrats. The 220th "aye" came from a Republican.

And not your typical Republican who represents a safe, conservative GOP district, either. The House Republican leadership had apparently forgotten that freshman Representative Anh "Joseph" Cao (R-Louisiana) represents an overwhelmingly Democratic district. Not only that, but Cao is the GOP's only Asian-American member of Congress.


It was just a year ago when Cao (pronounced "gow"), made history by becoming the first Vietnamese-American elected to Congress. In the process, he defeated an African-American incumbent in a predominantly African-American district: nine-term Democrat William Jefferson, who was under federal indictment in a corruption and bribery scandal. Cao edged out Jefferson, 49.6 percent to 46.8 percent (Jefferson was subsequently convicted).

Cao is one of only four Asian-American members of the House. The other three, all Democrats, are Representatives Doris Matsui of California, the widow of the late Representative Robert Matsui, who died in 2005; Judy Chu of California, who won a special election in June to succeed Hilda Solis, who resigned in February to become labor secretary in the Obama administration; and Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, a former lieutenant governor.

Matsui and Hirono are of Japanese descent; Chu is of Chinese descent.


Indeed, the rise of Joseph Cao is a truly American success story. Born Quang Ánh Cao in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) in 1967, he fled South Vietnam as an eight-year-old with his family to the United States when Saigon fell to the Communist North Vietnamese and Viet Cong in 1975, settling in Houston.

His father, My Quang Cao, was a lieutenant in the South Vietnamese Army and was captured by the North Vietnamese when the Vietnam War ended. The elder Cao, who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and diabetes, would join the rest of the family in Houston following his release from a communist "re-education camp" in 1982.

Cao earned a bachelor's degree in physics at Baylor University in Waco, his master's degree in philosophy from Fordham University and, in 2000, his J.D. (Juris Doctorate) from Loyola University School of Law in New Orleans. While in law school, he also taught undergraduate courses in philosophy at Loyola.


The Republican leadership should have known that there was no way that Cao could vote against the health-care reform bill and expect to get re-elected. Countless numbers of his constituents in Orleans and Jefferson parishes -- including the hurricane-ravaged Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans -- were losing their health-care coverage because they could no longer afford their "exploding costs," Cao said in a statement posted on his Web site.

"Twenty percent of the people in my district are uninsured and we have tremendous health care issues in the district, and I believe this is good for the people of my district,'' Cao told Capitol Hill reporters minutes after the vote late Saturday night. "Louisianans need real options for primary care, for mental health care, and for expanded health care for seniors and children."

In an interview Sunday with CNN, Cao said that he had to put the interests of his constituents ahead of the interests of his party.

Indeed, GOP leaders had known for months that Cao was likely to vote in favor of the bill. In an interview during the summer with The Times-Picayune of New Orleans, Cao acknowledged that voting against the measure would have been politically suicidal for him.

In February, Cao voted against President Obama's economic stimulus package -- a vote that outraged so many of his constituents back home that it put his chances for re-election in 2010 in serious jeopardy. Having been burned once, Cao has since then broken from his party on several occasions. With the health-care reform bill, Cao knew he could not afford to alienate his constituents again.


But Cao had a problem. As a devout Roman Catholic who at one time had studied to become a priest, he could not bring himself to vote "yes" on the measure unless it included a provision sponsored by Representative Bart Stupak (D-Michigan) that bans federal funding for abortions in the government-financed "public option" that would create a new government insurance plan.

Torn between his commitment to his constituents and his devotion to his faith, Cao made it clear to Obama, who had actively lobbied for his support of the measure, that without the anti-abortion language, he would be compelled to vote "no" -- and if that meant sacrificing his political career, then so be it. He was prepared to consign himself to being a one-term congressman, if he had to.

In the end, Cao didn't have to make that choice.

"When that was worked out … I called the White House and said I could possibly support the bill," said Cao, referring to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's decision to allow a vote on the Stupak Amendment, which passed 290-194. Liberal House Democrats who were staunch supporters of abortion rights swallowed hard and reluctantly accepted the amendment in the interest of getting the overall bill passed.

(Not surprisingly, the abortion-rights advocacy group NARAL Pro-Choice America denounced the Stupak amendment. Its president, Nancy Keenan, branded the amendment "an outrageous blow to women's freedom and privacy" and vowed "to fight to remove this provision as the process goes to the Senate.")


Cao's success in including the anti-abortion amendment in the bill was not enough, however, to satisfy hard-line right-wing "Teabagger" activists, who almost immediately branded him a "traitor" to the conservative cause.

Reader comments posted to conservative Web sites, including that of The American Spectator magazine, where columnist Quin Hillyer wrote a spirited defense of Cao, were riddled with ugly racist invectives, such as one posted by "TruePatriot" that read:


And this insulting remark by "Spicy Joker" that read:

The American Sphincter [sic] has lower standards for Cao because it wants to keep a token minority in the Repubic [sic] coalition. If Cao were any other RINO [Republican in mane only] - Lincoln Chafed [sic], Olympia Snowjob [sic], John McPain [sic], Kay Bailout [sic] Hutchison - The American Sphincter [sic] would denounce him as a RINO."


GOP national chairman Michael Steele issued a blunt warning last week to any Republican who votes in favor of the Democrats' health-care reform bill: "You do not want to put yourself in a position where you’re crossing that line on conservative principles, fiscal principles, because we’ll come after you.”

Cao fired back with a thinly-veiled warning of his own that while Steele has the right "to come after those members who do not conform to party lines," he warned that the GOP would risk losing his district to the Democrats if he went after him. "I would hope that he [Steele] would work with us in order to adjust to the needs of the district and to hold a seat that the Republican Party would need," Cao told CNN.

The GOP leadership would be making a HUGE mistake in going after Cao for standing up for his constituents instead of standing with his party. As the only Asian-American Republican in all of Congress who represents a predominantly African-American -- and overwhelmingly Democratic -- district, the GOP can ill-afford to drive Cao out of their ranks, as they did to Dede Scozzafava in upstate New York.

Their standing among black voters is already at rock bottom. They've lost the support of Latinos as a result of years of virulent anti-Latino rhetoric coming from the mouths of the party's more hard-line right-wing firebrands on the immigration issue.

Going after Cao will only further solidify the party's image as a lily-white, xenophobic party that is hostile toward blacks, Latinos, Asians and Native Americans -- especially after Cao's election was hailed by Republicans only a year ago as an example of the GOP's "Big Tent."

It's looking increasingly like the Republican "Big Tent' has been torn to shreds and the party is becoming an exclusive club for conservative whites only.

By the way, did anyone notice that the crowd at the "Teabagger" rally on Capitol Hill Saturday was made up almost exclusively of middle-aged-and-older white people -- the vast majority of them male? Steele said that the GOP wants to "partner as much as possible" with the "Teabaggers."

Perhaps Chairman Steele should be thankful that his first name isn't Thomas, for as far as I'm concerned, he's become as tragic a figure as the protagonist in Harriet Beecher Stowe's famed pre-Civil War anti-slavery novel -- whose title, for the sake of propriety, shall remain unmentioned.

Skeeter Sanders
Editor & Publisher
The 'Skeeter Bites Report

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Volume IV, Number 85
Copyright 2009, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.


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