Paul Waldman

Paul Waldman is the Prospect's daily blogger and senior writer. He also blogs for the Plum Line at the Washington Post, and is the author of Being Right is Not Enough: What Progressives Must Learn From Conservative Success.

Recent Articles

On Obama's Absence From the Paris March

As you may know, in addition to my work here for the Prospect I write a piece every day for The Plum Line at the Washington Post. Today's is about the criticism the Obama administration is getting for the fact that the highest-ranking American official present at the march yesterday in Paris was the American ambassador, and not our president or Secretary of State. There were a lot of condemnations not only from conservatives, as you'd expect, but also from journalists. Of particular note is the fact that CNN's Jake Tapper said he was "ashamed" of the fact that the top American leadership was absent:

Maybe my memory's faulty, but I don't recall any other journalist committed to the ideal of "objectivity" saying he was "ashamed" about the fact that millions of Americans have no health coverage, or about the 30,000 Americans killed by guns every year, or about our ample contributions to global warming. It's precisely because those things are about real people's lives that it would be considered deeply inappropriate for a mainstream journalist to express such an opinion. But you can say you're ashamed about something entirely symbolic—and in the long run essentially meaningless—like the fact that the American ambassador attended a march when it would have a bigger deal had the Secretary of State or the Vice President been there.

That isn't to say that symbolism is unimportant. Much of politics is about the creation and dissemination of symbols. But what exactly is the damage that has been done by the fact that a (supposedly) insufficiently high-ranking American official represented our government at this event? Will the peoples of the world no longer believe that America is an advocate for freedom of speech, or that Americans abhor terrorism? I doubt it.

Read the rest here.

Why Not Mitt?

Flickr/Austen Hufford

Everyone—man, woman, Democrat, Republicanwho runs for office has a healthy quantity of ambition. And to run for president, your ambition has to be nearly pathological. But if you manage to become your party's nominee then fall short in the general election, you'll find yourself not only bearing the psychological weight of what might have been, but scorned by former allies, or at best treated like someone with a communicable conditioncall it loseritisthat few want to catch by getting too close to you. Most who suffer that fate go quietly into private life, eventually finding a place where they can cope with having come so close to reaching politics' ultimate prize and failing. No matter how powerful that ambition was, it can't survive the crushing disappointment.

But then there's Mitt Romney. After losing to Barack Obama in 2012, he barely lost a step, traveling the country to support GOP candidates and popping up periodically in the media to offer his wise counsel on the issues of the day. Oddly enoughand this might be related to their spectacular contempt for the man to whom Romney lostRepublicans seemed happy to have him still around.

Perhaps it's the indefatigable drive and optimism that led a man so plainly uncomfortable interacting with his fellow humans to become a politician in the first place, or perhaps it's a low opinion of the coalescing 2016 field, but whatever the reason, Mitt Romney is now moving toward a third run for the White House. No failed nominee since Richard Nixon has lost a general election and then run again, but Mitt is apparently (almost) ready to give it another go.

All that stands in his way is another man who, like Romney, grew up as the chosen heir of a famous politician, a son about whom those currying favor with his father surely said "This boy'll be president some day!" from the time he was but a wee lad. Could we be so lucky as to watch Mitt and Jeb Bush tear each other to pieces in the coming months? Philip Rucker and Robert Costa describe how the two are eyeing each other:

In recent weeks, Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush have been quietly trying to ascertain the other's motives and playbook. Bush has asked Romney's former donors about what Romney is up to, while Romney met shortly before Christmas with Bush strategist Mike Murphy and inquired about Bush's preparations, according to political consultants who know Romney and Bush.

Romney has said little publicly about Bush, but in exchanges with intimates, he has focused on Bush’s past advisory work for Lehman Brothers and Barclays, two major financial institutions. He argued that it makes Bush vulnerable to the same kind of Democratic attacks that he faced in 2012 over his career as Bain Capital co-founder and chief executive. He also has voiced doubts about Bush's political skills and ability to beat likely Democratic candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The idea of Romney running again may not be as crazy as it sounds. Just because no one has pulled off this trick since 1968 doesn't mean it can't be done. There may not be a hunger for another Romney candidacy sweeping the nation, but Republican primary voters have never been much taken with the fresh new thing. The only candidate in recent decades to get the GOP nomination without having been prominent in national politics for years or even decades was George W. Bush in 2000, and he had the benefit of being a president's son. So if no former nominee has gotten the nod again, it may be just because none of them tried.

Try to imagine the situation from Romney's perspective. According to most reports, his opinion of Jeb Bush is middling at best, and he probably isn't too impressed with the rest of the field, either. In 2012 he outlasted a collection of clowns to become the GOP nominee (when your major competition comes from the likes of Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum, you don't exactly have to be a virtuoso campaigner to prevail), and from where he sits the 2016 field may not look much stronger.

More importantly, Romney surely believes that he could have won in 2012 had just a few breaks gone his way. Whatever else you might think of him, this is not a man lacking in self-confidence. He thinks he understands what he did wrong and how he could correct his mistakes. And he hasn't stopped believing that he could be a great president, or that America needs him. So he may be looking at the race and saying to himself something like the following: I can beat Jeb to become the establishment candidate. I can raise more money and lock up more endorsements than him. After that it'll just be a matter of bumping off the same kind of knuckleheads I beat in 2012. Then it's on to whip Hillary in the general. It may not be a sure thing, but it's a winnable race.

It's better to regret something you did than something you didn't do, and right now Mitt Romney may be looking at a future where he is haunted by both kinds of regret. Imagine if Hillary Clinton becomes the next president. If the Republican she defeats is Jeb Bush, Romney will say to himself that he would have been a much better representative of the party's establishment, and could have beaten her. And if she defeats a nominee who comes from the ranks of the younger Republicans, like Marco Rubio or Rand Paul, Mitt will know that if he had been in the race he would have dispatched those neophytes just like he did in 2012, and run a better general election campaign.

Meanwhile, everyone around himfamily members, friends, former and future campaign aidestells him all the time how terrific he is and what a great president he'd be. As a group of Politico reporters wrote on Saturday, "Romney's allies often insist that there's a clamor for him to run again, and that they hear it broadly." Whether that's true or not, it's certainly what Mitt is hearing.

And if there's one other thing you can say about Mitt Romney, it's that he's persistent. He lost in his first run for office, a Senate race against Ted Kennedy in 1994, then came back eight years later and won a race to become Massachusetts governor. He lost to John McCain in his first run for president in 2008, then came back four years later and got the Republican nomination. So why couldn't he lose the general election in 2012, then win it all in 2016? To him, it probably makes perfect sense.

Chart of the Day, Two Americas Edition

This is from an article in the National Journal by Ronald Brownstein and Janie Boschma; note that the "education" referred to in the chart is the proportion of whites with four-year college degrees in each district. A district is high or low if it is above or below the national average on those measures:

And here are some details:

The core of the GOP majority is the party's crushing advantage in the final quadrant: "the lo-lo" seats where both the minority population and the share of college-educated whites trail the national average. In the new Congress, Republicans will hold 150 of the seats in this quadrant, compared with just 25 for Democrats, an advantage of fully 6-to-1. These include a broad swath of districts extending from suburbia into rural areas across the South (such as those represented by Renee Ellmers and Virginia Foxx in North Carolina, Lynn Westmoreland and Doug Collins in Georgia, and Mick Mulvaney and Tom Rice in South Carolina); much of the Republican strength in border states (such as the seats held by Harold Rogers and Ed Whitfield in Kentucky, Sam Graves and Blaine Luetkemeyer in Missouri, and Marsha Blackburn and Stephen Fincher in Tennessee); as well as places outside the urban core in Rust-Belt states such as Iowa (Steve King), Wisconsin (Paul Ryan), and Michigan (Fred Upton and Dan Benishek).

The demographic characteristics of an entire district don't map perfectly onto individuals, of course. For instance, there are plenty of whites without college degrees who vote Democratic, and plenty whites with college degrees who vote Republican. But this does demonstrate vividly that Democratic and Republican elected officials increasingly come from, and do well in, different kinds of places. 

Credit, and Blame, Where It's Due

Two months ago, Mitch McConnell and John Boehner suddenly started talking about "restoring the 40 hour workweek," which they said the Affordable Care Act had destroyed. It was about as misleading an argument as you'd imagine; what it has to do with is the fact that the ACA defines "full-time" work as 30 hours or above for the purpose of the employer mandate, which affects only companies with 50 or more employees (96 percent of which already offer health insurance to their employees). The reason 30 hours was chosen as the line was that if you pegged "full-time" as only 40 hours and above, an employer could reduce an hourly employee's hours down to 39 hours and say, "You're now a part-time employee, so we don't have to offer you health coverage."

But that is exactly what Republicans want. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that they really don't care whether that happens to workers or not, but if changing the full-time line from 30 to 40 hours will undermine the ACA, they're all for it. So yesterday, in one of their first acts of the new Congress, the House passed a bill to make this change. How many Republicans voted against it? Zero.

But let's give credit where it's due. Here's an editorial in the National Review on the topic:

Republican leadership has an odd idea for one of its first big policy pushes of this Congress: a change to Obamacare that threatens to make the law worse.

The idea, expected to come to a vote in the House on Thursday, is to change Obamacare's requirement that most employers provide full-time workers with generous health insurance, a rule known as the "employer mandate." (Or the "employer shared responsibility provisions," if you prefer Gruber-speak). It sets the definition of full-time work at 30 hours a week.

Republicans have been making the case for some time—and no small number of Democrats and liberals are sympathetic—that employers will reduce workers' hours to avoid paying the substantial penalty or providing costly insurance, and that this outweighs the benefits of some workers' getting insurance thanks to the rule.

The current GOP plan, in the main, is to raise the threshold for full-time work to 40 hours. That may be a more reasonable definition, but there are more Americans who work 40 hours a week or a bit more than there are who work just over 30 hours. The proposal risks, theoretically, cuts to the working hours of many more workers.

Obviously, I feel warmly toward this editorial because I happen to agree with its position. But it also isn't easy for a conservative publication to come out and say the entire Republican party is wrong. The National Review is taking what, for conservatives, is a radical position: that even if you want to repeal the entire ACA, it's possible for repealing one small part of it to be a bad idea.

If that notion starts to take hold, you might find Republicans actually considering working to improve the law, as opposed to just thinking up ways to throw sand in its gears even if they harm millions of people in the process.

OK, so maybe that's going a bit too far. 

Photo of the Day

Outside the Grand Mosque in Paris.

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