Perry on Politics: A party no longer grand

Published by James M. Perry on .

U.S. Representative Daniel Webster (R-FL) arrives for a Republican caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, October 9, 2015. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)U.S. Representative Daniel Webster (R-FL) arrives for a Republican caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, October 9, 2015. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

The first thing we need to know, says Paul Krugman in the New York Times, is that the "modern Republican Party is a post-policy enterprise, which doesn't do real solutions to real problems."

And, says Mr. Krugman, that poses a real problem for pundits and commentators who "really, really don't want to face up to that awkward reality."

Journalists have been taught for years that they should provide "balance" to their reporting, and some of them continue to do so now even though one party, the Republican Party, has completely gone off the tracks. Imagine, we once called it the Grand Old Party.

There are, of course, and thankfully, exceptions. E.J. Dionne, a veteran pundit, showed his mettle the same day Mr. Krugman was grumpily deriding pundits. For Republicans, Dionne said, "governing with Obama means furthering the collapse of the republic."

Once upon a time, there were sensible leaders in the Republican Party, even if some of them seemed just a tad dull. They cared about legislation. They worked and even socialized from time to time with the Democrats. They were patriots working for the "common good."

Now, they all seem crazy, even Kevin McCarthy from California, the House majority leader who shocked his colleagues by declaring he didn't want to succeed John Boehner as speaker. In a book he published in 2010 entitled "Young Guns," he wrote, "Who would have thought America could be going the way it's going now? With government taking over businesses? With government taking over health care?" The goal, he said, was "unshackling the grip that Washington has on so much of our lives."

Not good enough. Tea Party and Freedom Caucus hard-liners rejected Mr. McCarthy because they didn't think he was conservative enough. The man the Freedom Caucus put forward as their choice to be the next speaker was a congressman from Florida named, of all things, Daniel Webster.

The celebrated Daniel Webster (1782-1852), a "thoroughgoing elitist," according to one of his biographers, was a brilliant congressman and senator from New Hampshire and Massachusetts. He is often listed as one of the Senate's most accomplished members.

Florida's Daniel Webster (he claims he's distantly related to the great man) and his wife, Sandy, home-schooled their six children based on the teaching of Bill Gothard and his Institute in Basic Life Principles (Bible memorization, home schooling. large families, conservative dress, and respect for authority). In his 28 years in the Florida legislature, Mr. Webster's major initiative was passage of legislation legalizing home schooling.

He's a Ramblin' Wreck from his alma mater, Georgia Tech. Sometimes, it seems, he and his colleagues are all Ramblin' Wrecks.

James M. Perry, a prominent veteran political reporter, contributes regular observations to Mr. Perry was the chief political correspondent of The Wall Street Journal until his retirement. Prior to that, he covered national politics for the Dow Jones weekly, The National Observer.

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McCarthy steps away from bid to be next speaker

Published by Mike Pound on .

They're not smiling today. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Minutes after we posted a confident bullet-point about the nomination of U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy to replace John Boehner as speaker, we got word of a curve ball: Mr. McCarthy withdrew his name from consideration before the nominating vote took place, and the vote itself was postponed by Mr. Boehner.

What happened? Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Charlie Dent, whose 15th District stretches from Hershey to Allentown, just told CNN that while Mr. McCarthy, of Bakersfield, Calif., was confident of having enough Republican votes to win today's nomination, "he wasn't confident of finding 218 votes on the floor."

A late challenge from the Freedom Caucus – a group of conservative congressmen who nominated one of their own, Rep. Daniel Webster of Florida – is the likely wrench in Mr. Boehner's plans for an orderly succession. And Mr. McCarthy didn't do himself any favors when he admitted that inquiries into the Benghazi disaster by his colleagues were designed to tarnish the political reputation of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Could Mr. Webster garner enough votes to win both the nomination and the seat? Mr. Dent, again on CNN minutes ago: "We will not appease those who make unreasonable demands."

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Lunchtime links: 5 things to read this afternoon

Published by Mike Pound on .

(Peter Diana/Post-Gazette)(Peter Diana/Post-Gazette)

Baseball hangover? Baseball hangover. Thankfully, the rest of the world continues to turn.

1) Surprise! Republicans in the state legislature didn't like Gov. Tom Wolf's revised budget proposal. We'd say something pithy about "back to the drawing board," but that implies a previous level of progress that doesn't exist. A fun side note: The base salary of a Pennsylvania lawmaker is $84,012, or about $230.17 a day. As of today, the state's budget standoff has reached 100 days, so each one of our representatives and senators has pocketed $23,017 while school districts and human service agencies take out loans to cover their expenses. And we'd point out that Mr. Wolf has made $50,207 since the standoff began – using numbers from 2012 – but the governor pledged to not accept his state salary.

2) In spite of a last-minute nomination of a candidate to satisfy the body's tea partiers, the U.S. House is set to nominate Kevin McCarthy as its next speaker. The full House will vote on the position later this month.

3) We can't help but wonder: What on earth did Rupert Murdoch mean when he tweeted that Ben Carson would be "a real black president"?

4) For decades, Gallup was the standard in polling. But after a poor performance in the 2012 presidential race, the company has announced that it won't conduct presidential polls in 2016.

5) Another campaign gets underway today, as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announced the nominees for its next class. The hall will announce those being inducted in December; between now and then, members of the public can pick a top five that will serve as one ballot. Here is a rare Early Returns endorsement: we've loved Cheap Trick since seeing them as an eighth grader; we hope you think they're deserving of enshrinement.

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Clinton and Trump lead in new poll. Sort of.

Published by Chris Potter on .

Clinton Emails Poun 1

According to a new poll out today, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton still have the best chance of winning their parties' support in Pennsylvania. On the downside, the poll suggests they might only be truly capable of beating each other. 

Today’s survey , furnished by Connecticut’s Quinnipiac University, is a “swing-state” poll, which looks at the political landscape in the battleground states of Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. It shows Mr. Trump with support from 23 percent of Republicans. Fellow outsider Ben Carson trails with 17 percent of the party's backing. Florida Senator Marco Rubio, meanwhile, is the top established candidate in the field: His 12 percent backing edges out businesswoman Cary Fiorina, while easily outpacing the likes of Texas Senator Ted Cruz and the rest of the field, none of whom escape mid-single-digit range.

That’s broadly consistent with polling we reported on earlier this week, and it confirms pollsters’ impressions that Mr. Rubio may be the mainline Republican candidate to keep an eye on.

There’s a a bit more churn on the Democratic side. Beset by attacks relating to her email habits as a former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton has seen her support among Pennsylvania Democrats drop from 45 percent in mid-August to 36 percent today. Vice President Joe Biden, a Scranton native, appears to be scooping up some of that support -- without even entering the race. 25 percent of Democrats say they’d back him, outpacing Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’ 19 percent backing.

But both parties’ frontrunners also have the highest negatives among voters as a whole. More than half of Pennsylvania voters view Mr. Trump and Ms. Clinton unfavorably. 54 percent of voters said Mr. Trump wasn't trustworthy, while 61 percent said the same of Ms. Clinton. When voters were asked whether the top-tier candidates care "about the needs and problems of people like you," Ms. Clinton and Mr. Trump were the only candidates who garnered "no" responses from more than half of those surveyed.

Who would win a clash between these titans? In a head-to-head match up, Ms. Clinton “leads” Mr. Trump by 44 to 42 percent, though in a poll with a 3-percentage-point margin of error, that’s a statistical tie. But of the top GOP candidates, Mr. Trump is the only one Ms. Clinton leads: Quinnipiac shows her trailing the other top GOP contenders between 3 and 9 percent.

For Republicans, Mr. Carson would appear to be the strongest candidate, beating all three Dems pollsters named.

For Democrats, the best picture would be a Trump/Biden match-up, which Mr. Biden would win by 10 points. Then again, even Bernie Sanders leads Mr. Trump by 5 points, a general-election result that would presumably portend the final victory of socialsim. And maybe the appearance of four horsemen, as well as one-third of the seas turning to bitter wormwood. 

Quinnipiac surveyed 1,049 Pennsylvania voters, of whom 427 were Republicans and 442 Dems.

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Toomey on a roll, with help from bakery

Published by Chris Potter on .

Citigroup. Blue Cross Blue Shield. JP Morgan. They rank among the most powerful economic interests in the world.

Yet in the effort to support Senate Pat Toomey's re-election bid, they have so far proven mere pikers when compared to the political might of … Martin’s Famous Pastry Shoppe.

As Mr. Toomey gears up for his 2016 race, the Chambersburg Pa.-based bakery -- known in Pennsylvania and beyond for its potato rolls -- ranks ninth among his supporters. Members of the Martin family, which owns the company, have contributed a total of $41,600, according to numbers compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.

That has outpaced JP Morgan and Citigroup so far, and edged out such heavy hitters as cable giant Comcast and Wall Street titan Goldman Sachs. And the CRP's numbers understate the family's support: FEC records show the Martins have also contributed to Mr. Toomey's acronym-friendly leadership committee, "Citizens for Prosperity in America Today," or CPAT.

"We feel he understands the issues involving family-owned businesses,” said Julie Martin, who handles public relations and social media for the company. "We think his fiscally conservative mindset helps us keep jobs here, and we like his common-sense approach to the Second Amendment."

Ms. Martin also praised Mr. Toomey's personal touch: “He has come to Martin’s and flat-out looked us in the eyes and said, 'How can government help you do what you're already doing well?' It really felt like he was listening to us and our concerns.”

She allowed that "we may not always agree with everything he does" -- and confessed to some trepidation concerning Mr. Toomey’s previous foray into expanding background checks on firearm purchases. "We weren't exactly sure what that was going to look like."

Indeed, that proposal has already proved a bit of a stumbling block for Mr. Toomey's campaign: Democrat Katie McGinty raised it just yesterday. But Ms. Martin said she didn't expect the gun issue to be much of a concern for her family going forward:

"After meeting and understanding what he was going for, it did make a little more sense," though she decilned to discuss specifics. 

Mr. Toomey isn't the only recipient of the Martin family's dough. FEC records show that since 2004, the Martins have backed conservatives including Rick Santorum, Sam Brownbeck and Michele Bachmann, as well as the National Rifle Association, as well as a political committee tied to the American Bakers Association ("the voice of the wholesale baking industry").

One family member has backed a committee supporting presidential candidate Ben Carson, though Julie Martin, for one, said she was "still undecided" among a list of three presidential contenders. Family members "don't always agree" on politics, she added, though, "We come down on God, country, and taking care of jobs here."

Mr. Toomey doesn't lack for support from larger businesses, and the Martin family's role as contributor may shrink as the campaign wends on: The Pastry Shoppe has actually fallen from the 6th-place spot it held among Mr. Toomey's supporters last month. Far and away Mr. Toomey's largest supporter is the Club for Growth, a pro-business non-profit that Mr. Toomey once headed. Individuals tied to Club for Growth have given Mr. Toomey just under $170,000 -- roughly quadruple what the Martins have provided.

Then again, Mr. Toomey is among the top recipients of small-dollar contributions so far this election cycle, suggesting he has the ability to draw both from Wall Street and a Main Street business -- one that literally started in a family garage.

"Senator Toomey has earned the support of people from across the entire political spectrum," said his campaign last week.

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