Romney, Perry: New Combatants in an Old Republican War

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Road to Orlando Begins Tonight for GOP Frontrunners

“Well, the plan that I put together we’ve gone through and analyzed what impact it’ll have and it’s 59 different action steps. It’s not just one or two silver bullets, it’s 59 steps.”

-- Mitt Romney “On the Record with Greta Van Susteren.”

The Republican Party has been trying to answer the same question in presidential elections for at least 70 years: the more conservative outsider from the West or the more moderate insider from the East.

Robert Taft versus Thomas Dewey, Barry Goldwater versus Nelson Rockefeller, Ronald Reagan versus Gerald Ford and now Rick Perry versus Mitt Romney.

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    They have all been combatants in larger war that pits West against East, Jacksonian individualism against Hamiltonian centralization, social stringency against moral moderation, anti-government sentiment against pro-business government activism, America First against interventionist internationalism, etc.

    The Democratic Party tends to function mostly as a coalition of narrow interest groups (labor unions, race-based organizations, environmentalists, & co.), and nominees succeed by building their own sub-coalition between the factions. Republicans have long been essentially divided into two warring factions since the enactment of the New Deal.

    The split stretches farther back to the dawn of the industrial age when the party born of opposition to the expansion of slavery transformed into the party of industrial enterprise. We saw the contours when Bull Moose Teddy Roosevelt went after Robert Taft’s father, William, in 1908 and delivered the election to the first modern American liberal to be elected president, Woodrow Wilson. But it was in the 1948 contest between the younger Taft and Dewey that terms like Eastern Establishment and Country Club Republican became part of the party’s lexicon.

    The most successful Republican nominees have been the ones who have united the factions. Dwight Eisenhower in 1952, Richard Nixon in 1968, Ronald Reagan in 1980 and George W. Bush in 2000 all found ways to unite East and West. All four were helped by Republican desperation for victory, but they also were skilled at winning over converts from the other side. Ike was the liberator of Europe. Nixon used his anti-communist bona fides to woo the right. Reagan won establishment admirers by endless charm and persuasion. Bush established a bond with social conservatives by his own Christian experience.

    Romney and Perry begin tonight a three-debate gauntlet when they appear on the same stage at an MSNBC/Politico event. The stretch culminates on Sept. 22 with the FOX News/Google debate in Orlando. That’s fitting because Florida is the early primary state that best reflects the national Republican spilt. Anyplace where Republicans can nominate Charlie Crist and then Rick Scott should provide a pretty good test.

    Romney rolled out a new jobs plan that is the soul of Chamber of Commerce Republicanism – government interventions, but with better business conditions in mind. It is evidence again that Romney is resisting the urge to make a play for more stringent conservatives who are devoted to the precept that less government is best government.

    The reduction of the race to this revival of the old conflict proves difficult for Romney because the GOP in this Tea Party era is more conservative, more Southern and more Jacksonian than ever before. But Perry, who has always turned his back on the East, has so far shown little interest in winning establishment admirers. Republicans may flinch at the idea of going with Perry if they believe the Romney argument that Perry is just too much of a rube to defeat sophisticated and subtle Barack Obama.

    What Perry and Romney both have to remember is that no modern Republican has ever won a general election after a protracted nomination fight. Not Dewey or Ford on the left. Not Goldwater on the right.

    White House Looks to Reset, Then Beat Expectations on Stimulus Speech

    “The Republicans’ refusal to respond to the President’s proposal on jobs is not only disrespectful to him, but to the American people.”

    -- House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., in a written statement on the GOP’s decision to not rebut the president’s jobs speech.

    For those still betting against a fresh economic downturn, good news has been hard to come by.

    But American investors rejoiced today at double-barreled bailout news. Not only were they happy to hear that a German court ruled in favor of that country’s controversial plan to prop up its fellow European governments with borrowed Euros but also that President Obama will call for a third stimulus package of several hundred billion dollars.

    Obama’s first stimulus plan, the Valentine’s Day 2009 measure estimated to cost about $787 billion, and his second one, a $23 billion bailout in August 2010 for state and local governments to maintain employment levels at stimulated levels, both pleased investors looking for predictable increases in GDP.

    The latest budget reports say that there will already be $1.3 in stimulus spending sloshing around in the economy and that’s beyond the more than $2 trillion in monetary stimulus that has been ginned up by the Federal Reserve. All that dough, both borrowed by Congress and conjured by the Fed, is still swirling and many economists agree that it is the only thing that has prevented economic figures from revealing the existence of an ongoing recession.

    Having freighted the president’s speech with impossible expectations, though, the administration is working hard behind the scenes to reset the goal-line for the president.

    Democrats put out last night that the package was expected to cost some $300 billion. Then today, reports say $400 billion. No wait, $500 billion. Maybe even more if you count some loan guarantees, more state bailout money, etc.

    Not only will this send the remaining bulls on Wall Street into new buying binges for what they still believe are undervalued stocks, but it will also help the administration calm very angry liberals who want a third stimulus bigger than the first two combined and for Obama to lead a war against congressional Republicans, who they say are racist sons of bitches. By lowballing and then beating the early line, the administration will be able to say, “See, it’s bigger than you expected!”

    Already floated in the president’s plan are several points:

    *Some immediate new spending on public works projects

    *A new subsidized loan program to finance state and local government road projects

    *A third bailout package for local governments to prevent public-sector layoffs

    *Extending and expanding a payroll tax cut enacted as part of the 2009 stimulus

    *Passing long-stalled trade deals

    *Offering a tax credit for employers who hire new workers

    *Providing payments to states to extend long-term unemployment benefits with new subsidies for companies that hire those long out of work

    *Calling for those with poor credit and those in homes with mortgages that exceed their market value to get the same low interest rates as desirable borrowers

    Because of the fungible accounting of the federal budget, that laundry list can be made to sound expensive or cheap depending on how things are scored. Is the mortgage subsidy a trillion-dollar obligation or a potential money maker? It just depends on whether your economist believes it will work or not. How much will new welfare programs for the unemployed cost? It depends on when your economist believes they will get back to work.

    This approach will allow the White House to spin the numbers different ways for different audiences. In talking about their allegations of unpatriotic intransigence among Republicans, Democrats can go low. In trying to keep the left in line, the administration can go high.

    Since only a couple of bits of this stimulus hash will ever make it to the legislative table – most likely the extension of payroll tax cut and the trade deals – the actual size of the Obama plan doesn’t really matter except for as it relates to the president’s political posture. It has to look bold and consequential, but at the same time thrifty and modest.

    The danger is that it will end up as the Pontiac Aztec of stimulus plans – It’s a station wagon. It’s an SUV… It’s not selling

    That’s why Democrats are so angry that Republicans have chosen not to rebut Obama’s speech. The president wanted all the trappings of a State of the Union address. But he was denied a primetime speaking slot because he tried to step on Republicans debate, and now will be denied the rebuttal.

    The rebuttal is usually a president’s favorite part. After a 50-minute speech to a packed house filled with bright lights and cheers, his foes have to throw together a five-minute response that always looks puny.

    And Now, A Word From Charles

    “Here is the problem. Once you have a number [of troops in Iraq] that small, almost anything they do will be protecting themselves, which is militarily illogical.

    If you are going to do a lot of work to protect a small number of troops in a hostile zone, protect them at home. That lesson was learned by the Reagan administration in Lebanon where we had a very small number of troops. We stuck them in the airport as a presence. It was not large enough to actually affect anything on the ground but it was enough to attract Hezbollah, and we know what the tragedy that actually ensued.

    I am afraid that would be the outcome in a small contingent that wouldn't be able to accomplish anything on the ground with Iraq. I think it's either what the generals are recommending or zero.”

    -- Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”