... AND THEN THE "PLEASE GUT MY SOCIAL SECURITY AND MEDICARE" SILENT MAJORITY WILL ELECT HUNTSMAN PRESIDENT
Yesterday I quoted a Talking Points Memo reader's account of a Diane Rehm radio broadcast on the debt ceiling. Charlie Cook, widely regarded across the spectrum as a top political savant, was, we were told, among those on the broadcast "lamenting the failure to get a deal through because of elements on the extreme left and extreme right that opposed a compromise" -- yup,those of us who want to keep Social Security and Medicare out of the debt hostage crisis are extremists exactly analogous to the teabaggers who are perfectly willing, if not eager, to blow the entire U.S. financial system up if they don't get 100% of what they want.
Well, now Cook has followed up with a National Journal column about his radio appearance. And he's making the same points:
On a WAMU public-radio program on Monday morning, an hour before President Obama’s news conference, host Diane Rehm asked her studio panel of three journalists whether Americans who were not part of either party's ideological base were engaged in the current budget and debt-ceiling battle. It was a simple question, but it went to the heart of the problem.
Republican members of Congress and presidential candidates are hearing almost exclusively from tea party activists and other vocal conservatives, who are saying, "Don't do anything that would raise taxes or even close tax loopholes." Democratic lawmakers are hearing from activists on the Left and their own constituencies, who are saying, "Any reduction of any kind in Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid would be absolutely unacceptable."
What I didn't realize was that Cook believes this worldview -- that there's a vast group in the middle eager to accept benefit cuts -- is going to be vindicated at the polls in 2012:
Many Democrats have ugly memories about the tarring and feathering they received in 2009 from tea partiers over health care reform and cap-and-trade policies intended to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. Republicans have even fresher memories about being pilloried for Ryan's plan to convert Medicare from a defined benefit to a voucher-like subsidy for buying private health insurance. However, the more that lawmakers preach to their own choirs, the more out of touch they will become. Eventually, that will make them vulnerable.
What they may be missing is that the November 2012 electorate is likely to be much broader ideologically and more diverse than the smaller midterm turnout last year. For Republican incumbents fearing challenges from their right, the primary turnouts next year are likely to be larger and broader as well. In some cases, independent voters will be joining the primary pool. Many will vote in Republican presidential primaries, because they will not be tempted to vote in the uncontested Democratic presidential primary.
Recognize this argument? It's the same argument Matt Bai made a month ago when he was trying to explain why Jon Huntsman's bid for the GOP presidential nomination should be taken seriously:
The turnout in next year's presidential primary ... will probably reach 60 percent. That means the influence of the most conservative, most motivated activists will almost certainly be diluted.
Second, it's vital to remember that next year's primaries will be the first since 1996 where Democrats haven't had their own nomination fight going on. In other words, in the last two contested Republican primary seasons, independents in "open states" like New Hampshire split their votes between Republicans and Democrats. But this year, all of them will be voting for a Republican.
So I guess if we put two and two together, Cook and Bai apparently believe that there's a vast pool of centrists who are happy to have their benefits cuts and who will flock to the polls, crossing party lines, to give Jon Huntsman the nomination of a party that you and I only think is dominated by tea party/Fox News/Limbaughnista crazies.
Of course, when Huntsman drops out after pulling down 3% of the vote in New Hampshire, Cook and Bai won't admit they're wrong, because Romney will probably still be going strong -- even though he'll be going strong only because the crazy voters think (correctly) that he's crazy enough, and because purist crazies (Bachmann, Cain, probably Perry) will have split the vote, thus giving Romney a path to the nomination despite lukewarm support. It won't matter that Romney will pick a running mate crazier than he is. It won't even matter, if he's elected, that he'll swing so far to the right that Cook and Bai will be shocked. Just the fact of his success will be proof that Cook and Bai are right and we as a nation haven't lost our moorings -- even if, as I suspect, President Romney turns into Scott Walker at a national level, laying to whatever's left of the New Deal and the Progressive Era as soon as he reaches office.