The One Plouffe Is Worrying About

Back in February, in a post entitled "The One I'm Worrying About," I wrote about the one potential member of the Republicans 2012 pack I thought might actually be able to give Barack Obama a difficult time: Utah Governor Jon Huntsman.

I don't agree with all of Huntsman's policy prescriptions -- they're all quite conservative -- but to the extent that he is actually speaking about issues that matter to the American people and offering proposals to address them, he clearly stands out from the majority of the Republican leadership this side of Newt Gingrich (who despite the attention lavished upon him remains an immensely unpopular figure).

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Huntsman may not be looking to run in 2012, so perhaps this is somewhat moot in the short run. But I do think we would be remiss if we weren't keeping an eye on him over the coming years -- particularly considering he's just 48 years old at present.

Apparently I'm not the only one keeping an eye on Huntsman.

There is one republican presidential candidate that President Barack Obama's campaign manager fears the most in 2012...and his name is Jon Huntsman Jr.

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While no republican presidential candidate yet makes Obama's team "shake in {their} shoes...," President Obama's campaign manager, David Plouffe, now says Governor Jon Huntsman makes him, a "wee bit queasy...I think he's really out there speaking a lot of truth about the direction of the party."

A political scientist from Utah quoted in the article immediately above says that Huntsman is positioning himself in a "great place" because he has staked out a position as the moderate in the 2012 race, but I don't think that's quite right. As I wrote back in February with regards to Huntsman, and I wrote again over the weekend in eulogizing Jack Kemp, what the Republican party needs -- and what Huntsman is now doing to strong effect -- are politicians who have a positive vision of the country that extends beyond mere opposition to Barack Obama.

Ross Douthat writes along similar lines today in The New York Times (though he seems to think that a Bush-lackey like Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, the overly partisan Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, or the not-yet-ready-for-primetime Bobby Jindal could fill the role of the thoughtful conservative), so clearly some within the GOP are also thinking that their party needs what George H.W. Bush called the "vision thing."

I don't get the sense, however, that the whole party is there yet. No, the GOP by and large stands in a moment of retrenchment and denial, sticking with the out-of-touch strategies that have rendered the party with virtually no power in Washington today. Some day -- and it might not be until the party loses again, even a few more times -- Republicans will wake up and realize they need to change. And it's for that reason that I'm glad that someone as politically savvy as David Plouffe, who helped engineer Barack Obama's successful run for the Presidency, is keeping his eye on Huntsman.

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Bailouts & Parties

I read through Glenn Reynolds article about the Tea Parties today, which presents itself as "a post-partisan expression of outrage" which makes me chuckle, given how front and center the "former" hyper-partisan Republicans like Michelle Malkin have been to the movement.  

On the one hand, it's obvious that the Democrats capitulating to their knees for Bank bailouts has severely damaged the Party's credibility as an outsider agent of change. I had mild hopes for February and March being markers when we would see Congress/Obama makes some real progress, either on Labor bargaining, or Healthcare reform. Instead, the continuation of failed Wall Street bailouts became the agenda-- a political disaster for the Democratic Party.

On the other hand, most of the Republican Representatives and Senators are even more in the pocket of interests such as the banks. They might feign outrage for mock political capital, but when the AIG bonuses are voted on, they quickly capitulate to their bellies before their gods on Wall Street.

Glenn Reynolds recognizes a failed party when he sees it:

This influx of new energy and new talent is likely to inject new life into small-government politics around the nation. The mainstream Republican Party still seems limp and disorganized. This grassroots effort may revitalize it. Or the tea-party movement may lead to a new third party that may replace the GOP, just as the GOP replaced the fractured and hapless Whigs.

Then, at the same time, we have a DHS ("Janet Napolitano, playing the role of Janet Reno") that has put out a lame report on "right-wing extremist activity" rising in the US. Again, how can one resist a chuckle, with what Glenn Greenwald calls the ultimate reaping of what one sows:

I don't recall any complaints from Jonah Goldberg or Michelle Malkin. I don't recall Glenn Reynolds or Mark Steyn complaining that the FBI, for virtually the entire Bush administration, was systematically abusing its new National Security Letters authorities under the Patriot Act to collect extremely invasive information, in secret, about Americans who had done nothing wrong. Russ Feingold's efforts to place limits and abuse-preventing safeguards on these Patriot Act powers in 2006 attracted a grand total of 10 votes in the Senate -- none Republican.
But then, we have the "Obama Mimics Bush on State Secrets"&"an emerging progressive consensus on Obama's executive power and secrecy abuses" to contemplate; alongside the military getting their surge in Afghanistan while Obama & passive Democratic Congress acquiesce to the Pentagon's agenda. It all combines with providing a simple realization. Whatever partisan chuckle you might get from re-invented posturing by conservatives, its main holding power is a distraction from noticing the way in which Democrats have taken a hold of the worst of the Bush agenda --corporate bailouts, abuse of executive powers, failed middle-east policy-- with insider ownership.

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What Does Iowa's Gay Marriage Ruling Mean For 2012?

Yesterday, the Iowa Supreme Court issued their unanimous ruling repealing the ban on same-sex marriage. While much coverage has focused on Iowa's becoming the first midwestern state to allow same sex marriage, I think the far more interesting story here is how this will impact the 2012 presidential race.

The New York Times has an article about the strategy behind targeting Iowa and concludes:

The ruling will be like catnip for Republicans running for president in 2012. They have long denounced gay marriage and will use the decision to mine votes in Iowa, the staging ground for the presidential campaign.

It may prove more problematic for President Obama. Like most Democratic politicians, he has favored civil unions, not gay marriage. But the decision will be welcomed by a portion of his base and pressure may build for him to support gay marriage.

Over at The Fix, Chris Cilizza thinks this could pose a big problem for potential presidential candidate Gov. Jon Huntsman of Utah.

One person who could potentially be hurt by today's ruling is Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman (R) who has staked out a moderate position on the issue -- expressing his support for civil unions earlier this year despite the fact that large numbers of Utah voters oppose the idea. "I'm a firm believer in the traditional construct of marriage, a man and a woman," the governor told the Deseret News. "But I also think that we can go a greater distance in enhancing equal rights for others in nontraditional relationships."

It remains to be seen whether Huntsman's position -- against same-sex marriage but in support of civil unions -- is too nuanced to pass muster for social conservative voters. But the Iowa decision almost certainly means Huntsman will be on the spot to explain his position as he prepares to run for president.

But it seems to me both of these judgments presume an April 2009 mindset, not one of January 2012. Sure, this is a boon for GOP 2012 hopefuls who traffic in "family values" fearmongering (I'm talking about you, Palin and Huckabee) but it's hardly good news for the Republican field. By the time Iowans begin to caucus in 2012, same sex couples will have been marrying for more than 2 1/2 years in Iowa. Both there and throughout the country, same sex marriage will have become relatively mainstream and normalized and I anticipate we're going to start to see more Democrats come out in favor of gay marriage (as Chuck Schumer recently did) and more Republicans come out in favor of civil unions (as Jon Huntsman recently did.)

So, what does this mean for the Iowa caucuses in 2012? Certainly I'd agree that the Huckabee/Palin school of candidate is now even more likely to win Iowa but it could also lead Iowa down a road to electoral irrelevancy. Already, we saw that in 2008 -- Huckabee, really? -- where New Hampshire, whose electorate is far more consistent with that of the nation as a whole, was the kingmaker. As attitudes continue to shift in this new Obama era, the Huckabees and Palins of the world will continue to be more and more marginalized, which might lead to the emergence of a moderate candidate who'll use New Hampshire as a springboard toward the Republican nomination. Now, of course, the opposite could happen and the conservative wing could really take over the GOP over the next couple years, driving moderates out of the party altogether and ensuring a fringe wingnut becomes their 2012 nominee. While I would welcome this continued marginalization of the Republican Party, a lot can happen in 2 years and I'm not convinced that's the path they're going to take.

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The One I'm Worrying About

The one I'm worrying about isn't one of the retreads from 2008, or one of the potential 2008 Vice Presidential picks like Tim Pawlenty. No, it's the less used car salesman-like version of Mitt Romney, Utah's Governor Jon Huntsman. Take a look at some of what he had to say this week:

"What I'm referring to is where the Republican Party needs to go... I'm referring generally to Republican responses to the issues of the day. We've got to get beyond the gratuitous political carping and get on to real bold solutions and real ideas like healthcare, like energy, like the environment, like economic development, like housing. And until such time as we get to the point where we have real solutions for real people, and you're putting people before party, which is what we desperately need to do, we're going to be in a rut. And that's where we kind of find ourselves today."

I don't agree with all of Huntsman's policy prescriptions -- they're all quite conservative -- but to the extent that he is actually speaking about issues that matter to the American people and offering proposals to address them, he clearly stands out from the majority of the Republican leadership this side of Newt Gingrich (who despite the attention lavished upon him remains an immensely unpopular figure). And not only did Huntsman make some news this week by taking to task his own party's leadership in Washington for their empty political gamesmanship, to the detriment of offering real ideas, he also made a splash earlier this month by taking the surprising move of coming out in favor of civil unions in his state of Utah.

Huntsman may not be looking to run in 2012, so perhaps this is somewhat moot in the short run. But I do think we would be remiss if we weren't keeping an eye on him over the coming years -- particularly considering he's just 48 years old at present.

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50-State Strategy to Shrink

Former DNC Chair Howard Dean's 50-state strategy is generally regarded as the non-Obama reason for the Democrats' success last November. By putting representatives in every single state, Democrats were able to turn states like Virginia, North Carolina, and Colorado from red to blue.

In a video released recently, the new DNC chairman, Virginia Governor Tim Kaine praised the 50-state strategy for its overwhelming success but said that it would be scaled back because "You never should just do what you did yesterday."

Tremayne of Open Left mocks this response perfectly:

So, bottom line: it was really important and successful and we'll be doing something that we'll call a 50-state strategy but it won't look like it did before. Because "you never should just do what you did yesterday" even if what you did yesterday worked really well.

The idea behind the 50-state strategy is that voters in states like Alabama, Idaho, and Oklahoma are never going to vote for a Democrat unless they meet a Democrat once in a while. If you send two or three Dems to a rural town in red states like Nebraska, though, then you just might change some minds.

I'm worried that without the 50-state strategy, the Democratic Party will not maximize its potential in states like Georgia, Missouri, North Dakota, and Montana, all of which were very close this year. With just a little more attention (and some luck with the economy), those could really turn blue in 2012.

Three Steps Forward

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