Saturday, July 10, 2010

Learning from Christie and Brewer How to Confront the Problem

The most important lessons for the Republican party aren't coming from any of the retired politicians doing their speaking tours right now. They come from two sitting governors, Governor Christie of New Jersey and Governor Brewer of Arizona. And what they're doing is very simple. They're confronting the problem.

When Christie won an election, like so many other state governors he was thrust into the middle of an impossible budget nightmare, which was full of impossible problems. State budgets had been bulked up by entitlements and their attached public sector unions. Cutting them meant a battle with the unions. But not cutting them meant serious tax hikes. Most governors chose to walk some kind of middle path, negotiating with the unions with the least political fallout, and raising taxes, to create a compromise that everyone hated.

But Christie made the rational calculation that he had nothing to lose by taking on the unions, because they would reliably come out against him during reelection anyway. And if he didn't take them on, he would have to shoulder the blame for a budget crisis that he had nothing to do with. So while neighboring New York's state government was trying to tiptoe around a complete shutdown over budget talks, New Jersey's new governor took the initiative and picked a fight with the unions, turning them into the villains in the budget crisis.

Unlike Schwarzenegger who had tried the same thing in California a few years too early before buckling under the response in response to his failed referendums, Christie benefited from better timing and from voters being able to directly connect the teacher's union to property tax hikes over school budgets. It was a scenario that gave people who were already cutting back a chance to directly stand up to tax hikes in local elections. And while teacher's unions are almost as good at wrapping themselves in a self-righteous cloak, as the California nurses union was, their own stunts ended up backfiring on them.

Christie's campaign served to put a major political foe on the defensive and shifted the perception of blame for the state's economic troubles, boosting his own popularity, protecting his reelection campaign and giving him a measure of control and power over an out of control situation.

What Christie did though is resonating beyond New Jersey, as Republicans and even Democrats, quickly rushed to jump on the anti-public sector union bandwagon, even when they had been taking money from those same unions not so long ago. That's because a winning strategy in one state has implications for other states. At a time when incumbents are terrified of public outrage, and scrambling for a way to avoid being blamed for the economic disaster all around them, a good tactic is a good tactic.

Similarly in Arizona, Governor Brewer zeroed in on the problem and tackled it. Like so many other states, Arizona was being bled by the cost of illegal immigration. Brewer directly tackled the illegal alien issue, and by doing so earned the ire of liberals and the Obama White House, but boosted her own popularity inside the state. Which is what really matters.

Like Christie, Brewer's presence was a bit of a fluke. Christie was an unlikely winner. And Brewer hadn't even won an election. But what looked like a disadvantage, was actually an advantage. Because it meant both of them had less to lose, than governors with more stable bases. And it made them hungrier to go on the offensive and stabilize their political prospects. Christie has already said that he's happy to rule as a one term governor, but his actions so far are giving him the best shot at reelection, which would not be the case if he had just overseen the usual compromises between unions and tax hikes that most other governors are doing. Similarly Brewer's polling has improved, even as so much of the left coast has lost its mind over her actions.

Brewer confronted a problem that happened to be part of the liberal base. She touched the "untouchable", a potential electorate that Democrats had been hoping to harness for the future. Through that course of action, she protected her own political fortunes and those of her party as well. And she enlisted populist forces in an issue that frustrated many Arizonans and Americans in general, but that most mainstream politicians had declared to be off limits. And while Arizona is being blasted by the political establishment, it has the support of locals and the country as a whole for doing a job that no one else seems to want to do.

The backlash against Brewer is all the more intense, because Arizona managed to skip ahead and tangle Obama's own policy agenda, forcing the White House into a confused tail spin, as it tries to push legalization and border security at the same time. Liberals are rushing to try and bring together the planned coalition of corporations and minority groups to try and sell America on their legalization program. But they've already been left behind and playing catch up on an issue that they've already lost among the people.

But for all the lost convention business, Arizona gains more from having to spend less money on jails and social services, than it does from a few bureaucrats showing up to use their hotel rooms. That's because it costs tens of thousands to keep a prisoner in jail for a year, and the occasional convention isn't going to bring in that kind of money. And that lesson too is not lost outside Arizona.

Other border states are joining in on the illegal immigration issue, and swing states like Ohio are polling in support of Arizona, and for a crackdown on illegal immigration in their own state. Tennessee has its own version of the law now. Bad news for Democrats in a state roughly split between Democratic and Republican congressmen.

Going forward, this means a chance for Republicans to increasingly take back the legislative momentum at the state level. And to do so by personalizing their campaigns, placing the blame on the Democratic base, and pushing them to the wall. It's the same thing that the Democrats did to Republicans in 08. It's what they're still trying to do now, by blaming everything from BP to Wall Street on the GOP.

Waiting for Congressional Republicans to do it is hopeless. Too much of the leadership is satisfied with waiting around for the Democrats to fall on their own, so they can benefit from it. The Tea Party movement is unfortunately becoming a victim of its own success, and being co-opted by professional politicians. While that's not a done deal yet, the Tea Party movement needs another flashpoint like Obamacare to become properly energized again. Without a specific issue as a litmus test, it becomes hard to hold politicians accountable, and harder to avoid being co-opted by them. In key states, illegal immigration can be that issue. And that too would help counter the public protests carried out by illegal immigration advocates.

The bottom line is that you can't win without confronting the problem. All you can do is inherit someone else's failure. A real victory requires a mandate for change, and that means tackling issues, rather than trying to be the more moderate version of the problem. For too long Republicans have been satisfied to be the more moderate version of the Democrats. And not only have they not picked up a moderate image, but they've lost the cultural war by being depicted as unreasonable extremists who want to oppress and destroy. That can only change by pushing forward, instead of pulling back.

You win by confronting the problem, and by defining your opponents as the problem. Democrats did that successfully in 2008. Now Republicans have their chance to return the favor.


Lemon said...

Christie and Brewer are leaders.
Obama is not.

Paul said...

If Republicans are ready to win by "confronting the problem", then what about California? Arizona's immigration problem might be worse than California per capita, but California's illegal immigration problem contributes the most to the nations total illegal immigration problem. We have already heard enough from Meg Whitman to see that she doesn't even really see a problem yet.

Yonatan said...

Tea Party movement needs another flashpoint like Obamacare to become properly energized again

Don't worry, that will come. When they begin pushing Tax & Cap & the like after they become lame ducks, there will be plenty to energize them. Unfortunately, I don't think it will just be noisy peaceful rallies this time.

Daniel Greenfield @ the Sultan Knish blog said...

most Republicans still aren't... which is why we have the government that we do

Keli Ata said...

Brewster and Christie are public servants and leaders. Obama and his ilk are politicians, which I am using as a derogatory term.

For the most part that's all most politicians are. They've forgotten what it means to serve the public, to represent us. That it's all about their constituents and states, not climbing the corruption ladder as Obama did.

I wish there was a better Republican candidate for NYS governor but when in doubt, vote for the guy you've actually met--Lazio.

Terrible way to choose a candidate but...there's not much to pick from this year. Wish Rudy was runny.

Shavua tov

(trouble with Blogger again. Keeps saying my password is wrong)

Anonymous said...

Could FM Leiberman be another leader?

Leiberman has been promoting the idea of a land swap in place of "land for peace."

In this contexts peace evolves over time, while security, through population exchange and separation, is the primary goals.

Personally I may be opposed to giving land to a fake entity, but maybe his idea has some value.

Currently Israel is in a downward diplomatic spiral thanks to Oslo and the post-Zionists who created it. We seem unable to buck the international forces that Oslo unleashed. However, Lieberman's suggestions may force everyone to switch tracks.

On an international basis it makes sense to everyone, except the Arabs. The "world's people" will see this to be a perfect solution. And, there has been reasonable examples of success, Cypress and Bosnia being two cases.

The Arabs will not agree, because their goal to destroy Israel will not change. But, the ball will be in their court to explain why it is unacceptable.

Israel will have to keep pointing out ever example to justify this program. And, remind those who claim you cannot transfer populations why citizenship exchange is not the same. Moving borders doesn't move people.

As always, there are risks.

Peregrine said...

I like your blog and am really noticing Gov. Christie. Now I hope you notice Col. Allen West at

The Marxist must go.


peter doonis said...

we all do what we have to do. Nurses are doing a most stressful, difficult job, and are generally treated like they are working in a factory dealing with inanimate inventory..they are not. The nurses union is almost always justified in what they ask for. As far as the strike, I do not know enough about that situation, but they must have been desperate to have tried such an extreme maneuver. Nurses good-the man bad.

Hey Daniel I think this is the first time that I disagreed with you, even partially. Cool. This is how things are supposed to work, and usually do..with everyone but Muslims who chop, cut, shoot and blow up whoever and whatever they disagree with work...

Yay Daniel
Yay Me
Yay Nurses :)

Post a Comment