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Return to 1940

19410200_Senator_Robert_Taft_R-OH_Against_Lend_Lease-TAFTRobert Taft, the Ohio senator and son of a GOP president, was often called “Mr. Republican” in the 1940’s and 1950’s. He was continually on everyone’s list as a presidential candidate from the late 1930’s to the early 1950’s, but Taft never received the nomination in large part because he represented the Midwestern, isolationist wing of the GOP in the intra-party fight for supremacy that was eventually won in 1952 by Dwight Eisenhower and the eastern establishment, internationalist wing of the party.

The modern Republican Party is edging toward the same kind of foreign policy split – the John McCain interventionists vs. the Rand Paul isolationists – that for a generation helped kill Taft’s chances, and his party’s chances, of capturing the White House. While much of the focus in the next ten days will be on the important question of whether President Obama can stitch together the necessary votes in the House and Senate – Democrats have their own non-interventionists to contend with – to authorize military action against Syria, the other political fight is over the foreign policy heart and soul of the GOP.

As reported by The Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens here’s some of what those in the new Taft wing of the GOP are saying:

“The war in Syria has no clear national security connection to the United States and victory by either side will not necessarily bring into power people friendly to the United States.” Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.).

“I believe the situation in Syria is not an imminent threat to American national security and, therefore, I do not support military intervention. Before taking action, the president should first come present his plan to Congress outlining the approach, cost, objectives and timeline, and get authorization from Congress for his proposal.” Sen. Mike Lee (R., Utah).

“When the United States is not under attack, the American people, through our elected representatives, must decide whether we go to war.” Rep. Justin Amash (R., Mich.)

Taft’s reputation for personal integrity and senatorial probity – he served as Majority Leader for a short time before his untimely death in 1953 – has guaranteed that he is remembered as one of the Congressional greats of the 20th Century. Still, as Stephen’s writes in the Journal, Taft has also suffered the same fate at the hand of history as almost all of the last century’s isolationists have. They are condemned for what Stephens calls their almost unfailingly bad judgment about foreign affairs. Taft opposed Franklin Roosevelt on Lend-Lease in 1941. He argued against the creation of NATO, which has become an enduring feature of the post-war doctrine of collective security. Taft, always the man of principle, even opposed the Nuremberg trials that sought to bring to the bar of justice the top Nazi leadership of World War II. He considered the legal proceedings, organized and managed by the victors in the war, illegal under existing international law.

In every major showdown in his three-time quest for the presidency, Taft lost to an internationalist oriented Republican: Wendell Willkie in 1940, Thomas E. Dewey in 1944 and Eisenhower in 1952. When given his chance in the White House, and with the help of one-time Taft ally Sen. Arthur Vandenberg of Michigan, Eisenhower re-shaped the modern Republican Party for the rest of the century as the party most devoted to national security and most trusted to push back against Soviet-era Communism. That image lasted, more or less, from Ike to the second Bush, whose historic miscalculations in Iraq have helped create the kind of party soul searching for the GOP that Democrats struggled with in the post-Vietnam era.

A vote on Syria in the Congress will be a clear cut test of strength for the neo-isolationists in the modern Republican Party, many of whom have close connections to the Tea Party faction. Still the leaders of the new Taft wing, like Kentucky Sen. Paul, have demonstrated they are not one issues wonders when it comes to foreign policy. Paul filibustered over drone policy, has spoken out against NSA intelligence gathering and frets over foreign aid. And the polls show these skeptics are in sync with the many Americans who are sick of open ended commitments in the Middle East and the kind of “trust us, we’ve got this figured out” foreign policy of the second Bush Administration. I suspect the appeal of the neo-isolationists extends as well to younger voters, many of whom have not known an America that wasn’t regularly sending brave young men and women to fight and die in wars that seem not only to lack an end, but also an understandable and clearly defined purpose.

Bob Taft – Mr. Republican – fought and lost many of these same battles more than half a century ago and since the victors usually write the history Taft stands condemns along with many others in his party for being on the wrong side of the history of the 20th Century.

The great debate in the Congress over the next few days is fundamentally important for many reasons, not least that it is required by the Constitution, but it may also define for a generation how the party that once embraced and then rejected isolation thinks about foreign policy. If Sen. Paul can be cast as a latter day Bob Taft on matters of foreign policy; a questioner of the value and scope of America’s role in the world, who will be this generation’s Wendell Willkie or Dwight Eisenhower?

Any GOP pretender for the White House will need to calculate these issues with great precision. Gov. Chris Christie, who has yet to declare this position but seems more likely to fit in the internationalist wing of the party, must have his world atlas open to the Middle East, but those maps are likely sitting right next to the latest polls showing the increasing isolation of the party’s base; the people who will determine who gets the next shot at presiding in the White House Situation Room. During today’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee vote on Syrian action Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, another 2016 contender, voted NO reinforcing the notion that a new generation of Republicans seem willing to bring to full flower an approach to foreign policy that died about the same time as Bob Taft.

What an irony that the robust, nation building, regime change foreign policy of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld, the very definition of GOP orthodoxy in the post-September 11 world, has been so quickly consigned to the dust bin of Republican policy.

Who this time will be on the right – and wrong – side of history?

[Note that Idaho Sen. James Risch joined with Paul and Rubio in voting NO on the Syrian resolution in the Foreign Relations Committee.]


Our Unresolved Issue

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul made a major speech at traditionally black Howard University in Washington, D.C. last week. To say the least the reviews of the senator’s speech were mixed. Comments ranged from “condescending and intellectually dishonest” to “nervy” and “sincere.”

Comedian Jon Stewart joked that Paul “fell asleep on the Green Line and woke up” at Howard and, while his history lesson was suspect, to say the least, I think the senator gets some points for even thinking about taking his libertarian infused Republican message to a generally hostile audience. His motives may have been sound, but with our great unresolved issue motives only carry you so far.

Paul’s point, of course, was to demonstrate GOP “outreach” to a segment of America that seems to have written off his party. Sen. Paul  may have been better served to first see the remarkable play I saw last weekend, since he might have learned that our racial and class issues don’t lend themselves to speeches from behind a podium, no matter how politically correct those speeches attempt to be.

Clybourne Park, the Pulitzer Prize and Tony award winning play by Bruce Norris, packs all the trouble we have as a society in dealing with race, class, political correctness, politics and how we live in America – together and apart – into a tidy two hours. Others have said it, so I will too – Clybourne Park is brilliant. You’ll be laughing, sad, nodding in agreement, snickering nervously in disbelief and, probably like me, walking out into the night thinking “we have a long, long way to go.”

The play, which also won the British version of the Tony, is set in a single house in the fictional Clybourne Park neighborhood of Chicago. The first half of the play takes place in 1959. The second half could have taken place yesterday afternoon. In a brilliant analysis of the play and the state of race in America, the former theater critic turned political analyst Frank Rich wrote in New York Magazine:

In 1959, a three-generation black family from a ghetto on the South Side has just purchased (the house) and is preparing to move in—over the objections of a neighborhood association that wants to keep its enclave lily-white. By 2009, that battle over integration is half-forgotten ancient history. Clybourne Park, like so many other urban neighborhoods nationwide, had long ago turned black in the wake of wholesale white flight to the suburbs. The house has since devolved into a graffiti-defaced teardown, battered by decades of poverty, crime, drugs, and neglect. But lo and behold, the neighborhood is “changing” again. A young white suburban couple is moving back into the rapidly gentrifying Clybourne Park. It’s convenient for work, and there’s a new Whole Foods besides. The only hitch is that middle-class African-Americans in the present-day neighborhood association are as hostile to white intruders as their racist white antecedents were to black home­buyers 50 years earlier.

The ensuing discussion among the black and white characters touches on almost every important cultural issue and leaves it all, as we must know, messy and unresolved. Clybourne Park will disabuse anyone who still thinks, even after Barack Obama’s two elections, that we are living in a post-racial America, which brings us back to the senator from Kentucky.

At one point in his talk to the over-achieving students at Howard Paul asked: “How did the party that elected the first black U.S. Senator, the party that elected the first 20 African-American Congressmen, how did that party become a party that now loses 95 percent of the black vote? How did the Republican Party, the party of the Great Emancipator, lose the trust and faith of an entire race? From the Civil War to the Civil Rights Movement, for a century, most black Americans voted Republican. How did we lose that vote?”

The answer, of course, is part of modern American political history. Liberal Democrats and many northern Republicans embraced civil rights from the 1940’s to the 1960’s, while many southern Democrats didn’t. Today is Jackie Robinson Day, the day Americans and (baseball fans) celebrate the breaking of the game’s color line. It’s worth reflecting on the historic fact that the great Robinson backed Richard Nixon in 1960, while convinced that the GOP was more committed to civil rights than a Democratic Party still dominated at the time by southern racists. Real events changed that expectation.

By 1968 Nixon was driving the racial wedge deep into the country’s politics with a “southern strategy” designed to take the conservative south away from Democrats by explicitly appealing to white voters with a message that hardly concealed its racist undertones. As a result many southern whites abandoned the GOP as the region transformed into a  solid base for the Republican Party as it had once been for Democrats. The party of Lincoln and ending slavery became the party of Strom Thurmond and “welfare queens” and blacks, no big surprise, started voting for Democrats in droves. Sen. Paul’s speech last week essentially ignored this history. Had he seen Clybourne Park he might have approached his subject in a much different way. At least I’d like to hope so.

The reason Sen. Paul laid an egg at Howard, and the reason we still struggle so much with race and class in America, is that we have largely failed to grapple honestly, openly and historically with our troubled past. Racism, there is no nice way to say it, is deeply baked into our history. The playwright Bruce Norris is essentially saying we are all weighted down with our deep biases based on our notions (and history) of territory and conflict. He admits to being a “liberal whitey” who is out to demolish politically correct approaches to issues that are way too big for set speeches that avoid fundamental issues.

From the Constitution’s “compromise” over slavery and counting blacks at three-fifths of a person to current battles over the Voting Rights Act and voter suppression the old battles over race and rights continues even as the first black man occupies the Oval Office. We have a lot of work to do.

The brilliant play Clybourne Park does not tie it all up neatly as the curtain falls because, as Frank Rich has written, it is a play that is designed to provoke and frankly is without much hope. Still, art can sometimes do what politics can’t – cause us to think deeply about our situation. The racism that is so deeply baked into our society and politics is not susceptible to better messaging, which, as Rand Paul found out at Howard University, is at the heart of the GOP’s current response to its problem with African-American voters. Better messaging starts with better listening and not ignoring history but understanding it.

We have a lot of work to do and many of us are comfortable with what that means. First we must deal honestly with the conflict between who we say we are and who we really are. It’s a very unsettling conversation. Go see Clybourne Park. Think about it. Talk to your kids about it. Talk to a politician about it. Perhaps really addressing our nation’s long unresolved issue takes so long because every American – of every shade and at every economic level – must address the hard and historic issues in the heart before they can hope to be settled in our politics. Clybourne Park is so powerful because it forces us, at least for two hours, to listen to who we are.


Ron Paul

Can He Win Idaho?

Watching the GOP field I have come to believe that only Rep. Ron Paul, the libertarian from Texas, is truly comfortable in his own skin. He’s the only candidate in the race who hasn’t had to walk back his comments on one position or the other. The guy knows what he believes and says the same. But can he win something? Today may be his day.

Paul was in Sandpoint, Idaho yesterday rallying a crowd reported to be 1,300. It was one of three events he held in the state yesterday. Paul has an appearance planned today at the Nampa Civic Center. Writing in Politico today James Hohmann noted that Paul drew his big crowd in a community with only 7,365 residents.

The Coeur d’Alene Press had this about the Sandpoint rally yesterday: “The famously libertarian candidate…saw a wide variety of attendees to the rally. Some, like Bonner County Commissioner Cornel Rasor, were longtime members of the established Idaho Republican Party. Others, like Tea Party activist Pam Stout, were fiscal conservatives seeking a frugal candidate. Still others were politically unaffiliated or young individuals attracted to Paul’s message of small government and minimal federal interference.”

The conventional wisdom holds that Paul must win somewhere – and fast – or risk running out of steam as the primary campaign grinds on. He would seem to have a far shot in three states with a GOP caucus today – North Dakota, Alaska and Idaho. The Idaho GOP establishment is aligned with Mitt Romney and the state’s sizeable Mormon population is almost certain to give him an advantage, but – a big but – the insurgent wing of the Idaho GOP, the group that has come to dominate a good deal of the party’s business, is entirely capable of sending Romney and his Idaho supporters a big message. We’ll see if they do. It may be worth noting that while Paul was drawing 1,300 up the road in Sandpoint, Gov. Butch Otter, a Romney surrogate, was speaking to a crowd of 100 in Coeur d’Alene.

Paul won 24% of the GOP vote in the Idaho primary in 2008 and won a straw poll of 400 party activists earlier this year. His rallies have smartly targeted the conservative Idaho panhandle, the University of Idaho campus in Moscow, Idaho Falls and the typically very conservative Canyon County in Idaho’s southwestern corner. Canyon County will likely produce the largest GOP caucus turnout tonight.

The national media has turned virtually all of its attention on the big swing state of Ohio where Romney and Rick Santorum appear to be running neck and neck. If Ron Paul were to pull off a win tonight in Idaho, North Dakota or Alaska, they’ll have to pivot on a dime and try to figure out why. Paul may not win – it will be tough – but if he does once more the GOP contest will be scrambled.

It was just four short years ago that Illinois Sen. Barack Obama filled the Boise State University pavilion and then completely out organized Hillary Clinton to win the Idaho Democratic caucus. Paul’s campaign understands what Obama’s did then – it’s the delegates, stupid. History just might be ready to repeat.



Eating Their Own

The Decline and Fall of the Moderate

Republican Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana certainly ranks as one of the most significant politicians to ever hail from Hoosierland. He’s the ranking member and former chairman of the prestigious Senate Foreign Relations Committee and has been elected six times to the Senate. Lugar is as close as the Senate has to a respected senior statesman on the issue of how we control weapons of mass destruction. Democrats respect and often follow him on those issues. Under normal circumstances, Luger ought to have a lock on re-election. He doesn’t.

In a Politico profile of Lugar and his re-election, reporter Jonathan Allen says the 36-year Senate veteran is catching it from the left and right for being out of touch with Indiana. Lugar’s very conservative GOP primary opponent, for example, has been hitting him for not owning a home in Indiana and for having the independence to vote for President Obama’s Supreme Court nominees.

Allen writes, “this race is an epilogue to a 2010 election in which anti-establishment Republicans knocked off sitting senators and party favorites, and in several cases gave Democrats a shot to win seats that had seemed out of reach.”

If Lugar survives the Republican primary in Indiana he may have a serious Democratic opponent, but Lugar is likely to hold the seat. If he’s knocked off, as relative moderates like Mike Castle in Delaware and Robert Bennett in Utah were two years ago, Democrats may have a rare chance to pick up a seat where Republicans dominate. The reason is pretty simple: Republicans – nationally and closer to home – are culling the GOP herd of anyone who even appears to be a moderate.

In Idaho, two of the few remaining “moderate” Republicans in the Idaho House – Leon Smith and Tom Trail – aren’t running for re-election this year. Both have watched the party move steadily to the far right with more moderate Republicans pushed to the sidelines. In Idaho the moderate Republican in elective office has become almost as rare as a Democrat…or a native sockeye salmon.

More than the home he doesn’t own in Indiana or his long tenure in the Senate, Dick Lugar is trying to survive in a national Republican Party that is redefining itself out of the mainstream of American political life, which is why it’s worth watching how Texas Congressman Ron Paul is playing the game during the presidential primary season.

Ron Paul doesn’t have a prayer of winning the GOP presidential nomination, but he does stand a good chance of helping define what it will mean going forward to be a conservative and a Republican. It certainly doesn’t mean being in the middle on anything.

The National Journal recently did its analysis of Senate voting records and concluded – again – that the most conservative Democrat in the Senate has a voting record that is more liberal than the most liberal Republican. This ideological divide has happened only three times in the last 30 years, but has now happened twice in the last two years.

National Journal declared that, “Ideological mavericks are an extinct breed. The otherwise iconoclastic Tom Coburn of Oklahoma had the most conservative voting record in the Senate (Democrats Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York were tied for the most liberal), and the old fighter jock himself, John McCain of Arizona, voted more to the right than two-thirds of his GOP colleagues.”

The House of Representatives is every bit as ideologically divided as the Senate, but it wasn’t always so.

The National Journal piece notes that not that long ago, conservative southern Democrats joined with Republicans to influence national policy across the board. And there is this great quote from former Rep. John Byrnes of Wisconsin, a Republican on the Democratically controlled Ways and Means Committee in the 1960’s. 

“It was a pleasant operation. You weren’t constantly fighting on philosophical or other grounds and issues,” Byrnes said in an oral history. “You were trying to look for ways where we could compromise differences and move along [legislation].… It was part of the thing that made life worthwhile and interesting. You knew that you did leave some kind of an imprint, because any idea that finally developed into a consensus, you knew that you were part of that process.”

But, back to Ron Paul. He wants, as South Carolina Republican Sen. Jim DeMint also recently called for, a final showdown between conservative Republicans and Paul’s brand of libertarian Republicans with the winner defining the modern Republican Party. If Paul ends the primary season controlling enough delegates, and he just might, he can force votes at the GOP convention over his ideas for reforming (or eliminating) the Federal Reserve, a more isolationist foreign policy or putting the country on the gold standard. Paul’s aim, and why he won’t bolt and run on a third party line in November, is to remake the GOP into his vision of what a conservative party looks like.

Meanwhile, at the grassroots in Indiana, Dick Lugar is getting killed. A straw poll over the weekend found him getting eight votes out of 69 in a contest with his Republican challenger.

The GOP moderate really is disappearing with this heart and soul fight between the traditional Chamber of Commerce Republicans and the conservatives who find Mitt Romney too squishy on many issues. Will Democrats, also not averse to eating their own, be smart enough to capitalize? There is, after all, a lot of room for the party from just right of center to where Sen. Bernie Sanders sits.

Tomorrow…some reflections on Senators who survived the kind of challenge Lugar is getting and some who didn’t.


Dumping the Veep

Pulling a Garner or a Hannibal Hamlin

John Nance Garner is mostly forgotten now days. If he’s remembered for anything it was for his alleged pity comment that the “vice presidency isn’t worth a bucket of warm spit.” There is some debate around whether he actually said that or whether spit was what he was really talking about.

In any event, Garner – Cactus Jack – was Speaker of the House, a two-term vice president, a serious presidential candidate in 1932 and one of the few incumbent vice presidents in American history to be dumped from the ticket. Garner didn’t think much of his boss Franklin Roosevelt running for an unprecedented third term in 1940 and would have run himself had FDR not run. That challenge to FDR’s leadership coupled with Garner’s generally conservative political outlook, was enough to convince the supremely confident Roosevelt to send Jack back to Uvalde, Texas in 1941.

I’m reminded of this little history lesson by virtue of the political story that won’t go away – should Barack Obama dump Joe Biden from the 2012 Democratic ticket and replace the somewhat gaffe prone Veep with, say, Hillary Clinton?

Dumping a running mate is rare, but FDR – one of the greatest presidents by most measure – actually did it twice. Abraham Lincoln did it too in 1864 when he dumped a down east Republican from Maine with the wonderful name of Hannibal Hamlin from the ticket and replaced him with a Tennessee “war” Democratic by name of Andrew Johnson. The rest is history as they say.

Roosevelt second dumping took place in 1944 when the man he had handpicked to be vice president four years earlier, Henry Wallace of Iowa, was demoted and a not very well regarded Missouri Senator name of Harry Truman replaced him. On such decisions history turns.

In each case, the incumbent president made the decision to change vice presidents in order to strengthen the ticket. FDR wanted to run with a known liberal in 1940 and by 1944 Wallace had become a liability to the Democratic ticket so the safe Truman was ushered in. In 1864, facing a serious challenge from a “peace” Democrat Gen. George McClellan, and with the Civil War not going all that well, Lincoln aimed to create a national unity ticket by inviting a loyal Democrat from a southern state to balance the ticket. Once could argue that in each case the reshuffling strengthened the ticket and the president who made what must be a tough call was re-elected.

(Gerald Ford dumped Nelson Rockefeller in 1976 and replaced him with Bob Dole, but the circumstances were much different than the FDR or Lincoln scenarios. Neither Republican was elected for starters.)

So, will – or should – Obama shuffle the ticket this year? New York Times columnist Bill Keller says he should since the move would do “more to guarantee Obama’s re-election than anything else the Democrats can do.”

Columnist Jonathan Alter wrote last October that “if it’s clear that Democrats need to do something dramatic to avoid losing the White House, the Switcheroo will happen” simply because everyone involved will bury their pride to keep the GOP from taking over all three branches of the federal government in the next election.

Most of the speculation about “the Switheroo” has Biden getting a better consolation prize, the State Department, than Garner, Wallace or Hamlin did. Garner left public life in 1941, Wallace took the less than glamorous job of Secretary of Commerce and later ran for president on the Progressive Party ticket, and Lincoln briefly considered, and didn’t follow through, on the notion of making Hamlin Secretary of the Treasury. Hamlin eventually returned to Washington for two terms in the U.S. Senate before retiring for good in 1880.

For her part Clinton – and her husband – seems to disavow any interest in making the big switch, even while folks like former Labor Secretary Robert Reich make the case for it.

So what will President Obama do? Hold tight with Biden? Make a big splash with a switch? Obama, apparently not much of a hands on manager who clearly doesn’t like drama, will want to practice the first rule of vice presidents – do no harm. If he thinks he can win with Biden he’ll stick with him.

If, on the other hand, come July Republican nominee Mitt Romney has the lead in the polls and momentum, Obama might go for the big gesture. He is a student of history and surely knows that dumping a vice president, if done with a certain calmness and style, actually helped the two presidents he most admires – FDR and Lincoln. Putting Hillary on the ticket would, of course, generate as much buzz as John McCain sparked when he plucked Sarah Palin out of Alaskan obscurity. But Obama won’t have to worry about Clinton answering Katie Couric’s question about what newspapers she reads.

Hillary just might be a game changer.



Following the Money

With two wins in a row in the hip pocket of his blue jeans, Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney heads to South Carolina today to try and wrap up the GOP contest. Gauging by the most recent information from the Federal Elections Commission (FEC), Romney already has won the Republican money race in the Pacific Northwest.

The Republican nominee-in-waiting far outpaces his GOP rivals when it comes to raising money in Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington.

Idaho is clearly Romney country. As of the end of September last year, Romney had raised more than $336,000 in Idaho with more than a third of that total coming from heavily Mormon eastern Idaho. Romney, who hails from a pioneer LDS family in Utah, has raised about $130,000 in the Idaho Falls and Pocatello media markets and nearly $60,000 more in south central Idaho’s Magic Valley.

[I’m not always sure what the FEC really does, but the Commission has created a spiffy website where you can track contributions by zip code and find the names of individual contributors. At the site, you can click on a map of any state, select the drop down menu for the candidate you want to check and see details of the candidate’s haul in that state.]

Romney is doing almost as well raising money in Idaho as he is in much more populous, but much more Democratic Washington State. Romney leads all the GOP candidates there with $346,000 raised through the end of September, even though the Washingtonians for Mitt Romney blog hasn’t been updated since 2007. Romney’s total in Oregon is $176,000, with a not terribly impressive $41,000 collected in Montana.

[The Romney website has a state-by-state list of endorsements – Gov. Butch Otter in Idaho and former Sen. Gordon Smith in Oregon, for example – but the Idaho section carries a strange reference to former Sen. Larry Craig, a 2008 endorser of Romney. The site says Craig “was caught in a sex scandal and forced to resign from office and the campaign.” That quote requires a  Rick Perry “oops” response. Craig, of course, initially said he would resign in the wake of his 2007 “scandal,” but then went on an served out his term in the Senate which ended in early 2009.]

Proof that the so called GOP establishment is lining up behind Romney can be found inside the FEC numbers. Former Oregon Sen. Bob Packwood is in for Romney to the max – $2,500 – as is Idaho’s premier funder of conservative causes Frank VanderSloot of Idaho Falls.

Barack Obama remains, of course, the fundraiser-in-chief. The president has raised $1.4 million in Washington, nearly $390,000 in Oregon, nearly $98,000 in Montana and $49,000 in Idaho. That last number – $49,000 in Idaho – means Obama has raised more in the reddest of the red states than any of the rest of the GOP field, including Ron Paul. Paul’s total in Idaho is just north of $40,000. The Texas Congressman has raised $174,000 in Washington, $84,000 in Oregon and $32,000 in Montana.

The New York Times today reports that Romney pulled in $24 million more in the fourth quarter of 2011. He’ll likey need to spend a good deal of that in South Carolina where Super PAC’s supporters of his now on life support opponents will spend big to try and keep the GOP race going.

 The FEC site contains other nuggets of political trivia that reveal a good deal. One Paul contributor Harmut A. Leuschner of Hayden, Idaho, who is listed in the reports as a mechanic at Alpine Motors, had written 13 checks totally $425 to Paul’s campaign through September 2011. The largest check was for $100. That, my friends, is a committed supporter.


Historic Politics

A Very Old, Very Modern Campaign

Thomas E. Dewey, the one-time mob busting New York City prosecutor and later governor of New York, made three different runs at the White House, twice winning the Republican nomination. He never won the biggest election and the question of why is pertinent to our political life now, long, long after Dewey is mostly forgotten.

On a handful of occasions in American history – 1864 during the decisive year of the Civil War being one of the earliest and 2004 during the tough early days of the Iraq war begin the latest – the country has chosen a president during wartime.

I’ve long argued that Abraham Lincoln’s re-election in 1864 was the most important presidential election in our history. Had Lincoln lost that election to Gen. George McClellan it is altogether possible that the winner would have sought a negotiated end to the War of Rebellion, while maintaining the status quo regarding slavery. Lincoln won, thanks in part of Sherman’s timely victory at Atlanta, and refused to consider anything other than the complete capitulation of the rebellious states. America history was set on a course as a result.

In 1944, Tom Dewey won the Republican nomination for president and with it the chance to deny Franklin D. Roosevelt a fourth term. That election occurred at a decisive moment during World War II. As an insightful new book on that election – FDR, Dewey and the Election of 1944 by David M. Jordan – makes clear, Dewey failed to make a compelling case against either Roosevelt’s handling of domestic or war issues and instead ran a campaign, one of the first, that attempted to exploit the threat of Communism influencing the federal government.

As Jordan notes, the “campaign of running against the Communists” was “a preview of what would become a standard of Republican campaigns in the years ahead, but in 1944 it did not play all that well.” In 1944, after all, Soviet Russia was a U.S. ally and the Red Army was bleeding the Nazi Wehrmacht white on the Eastern Front.

Jordan’s book, filled with insight into how both FDR and Dewey approached the election and particularly how FDR rather unceremoniously dumped Vice President Henry Wallace from the Democratic ticket in favor of Harry Truman, also puts the lie to the old notion that debates over foreign policy once stopped at the water’s edge. Dewey bitterly criticized FDR’s handling of the war, in particular suggesting that the administration was short changing the war effort in the Pacific to the detriment of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who willingly engaged in the sort of partisan politics that we would find completely inappropriate from a senior military commander today.

Republicans also eagerly circulated rumors, more accurate than not, regarding FDR’s health, but the GOP candidate and campaign were no match for the great campaigner – Franklin Roosevelt. By Jordan’s account, with which many historians agree, Roosevelt turned the entire 1944 campaign with one memorable speech delivered to the Teamsters Union on September 23. Today’s it’s remembered as “the Fala speech,” because of FDR’s humorous use of a story about his little Scotty dog – Fala.

Roosevelt opened that Teamster speech brilliantly: “WELL, here we are together again – after four years – and what years they have been! You know, I am actually four years older, which is a fact that seems to annoy some people. In fact, in the mathematical field there are millions of Americans who are more than eleven years older than when we started in to clear up the mess that was dumped in our laps in 1933.”

Dewey couldn’t keep up with such rhetoric in large part because FDR’s taunt rang so hard and true and because Dewey couldn’t begin to match Roosevelt’s personality as a candidate. Dewey suffered from a frequently deadly political malady. He was stiff and boring. Think John Kerry or today’s GOP contender Mitt Romney. Dewey also had a Romney-like tendency to quote FDR completely out of context, while modifying his own position on issues like the scope of a post-war United Nations.

At the end of the 1944 campaign, and remember that the Allied invasion of Normandy occurred just before Dewey was nominated in Chicago, American voters were unwilling to “swap horses in the middle of the stream.” FDR won his closest election polling 3.5 million more votes than Dewey. The contest was no contest in the Electoral College. Roosevelt won a 36 state landslide, including Idaho, Montana, Washington, Oregon and Utah. The war election of 1944 was also the last election where a Democrat won every state in the solid south.

There are many what ifs associated with 1944. What if the Democrats had not dumped Wallace from the ticket? The very liberal Iowan was very popular with the organized labor constituency of the Democratic Party and deeply resented his dumping. Some speculate Wallace would have been more accommodating of the Soviet Union than Truman turned out to be and that he would never have authorized the use of the atomic bomb on Japan.

And what if Dewey had won? Would the post-war world have been different? Would the humorless new president, a man unknown to Churchill and Stalin have gone to Yalta and done better – or worse – than Roosevelt who was clearly in seriously failing health?

Dewey lived to fight and lose the White House a second time. Today Dewey, who died in 1971, is best remembered as “the little man on the wedding cake,” a wonderfully snarky put down that is attributed to a half dozen wits of the 1940’s, and as the hapless candidate Truman beat in 1948.

Thomas E. Dewey, like so many who have run and lost the White House,was a fascinating, complicated man. He may have been just fine in the White House. Who knows. By the verdict of history Dewey was a two time loser, but also a victim of a great and almost always under appreciated factor of politics – timing. He ran an off key campaign against a brilliant campaigner in the war year of 1944 and, while Truman was stumping the country in a fighting mood four years later, Dewey tried to sit on a lead and run out the clock.

Where I advising any candidate today, I’d tell them to study both those elections. They each contain some enduring politic truths.