THE BLOG
10/05/2014 07:52 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Can GOP Modernize? 'Yes' Since Boomers Economically Insecure, 'No' Due to Rush/FOX Poison

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By Mark Green

Frum-Alter disagree on two big topics: is Obama's ISIS strategy of "containment" capable of driving the group back? Can Republicans come back by developing economic solutions for anxious middle-class boomers and by being culturally tolerant? How do either when right-wing media dumbs base down?

*On Obama's ISIS "containment" policy. "Containment" worked with the Soviets in the Cold War and Hamas in Gaza... can it as well with ISIS since we can't kill all jihadists or the idea of a Caliphate? Alter agrees that the "least-bad option" is to stop this cancer from spreading since there's no public appetite for a larger involvement. Frum concludes that it's an either/or situation -- either we stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons or we act as its and Assad's de facto allies in a coalition against ISIS. Because ISIS is not in the top five foreign policy problems we face, Frum favors a more hands-off "squirrel policy."

Alter balks: so we do nothing if ISIS looks like it's closing in on Mosul or Baghdad? Would Bush43 really be idle were he president? Frum counters that he can't debate a counter-factual and sticks to his guns.

Should Congress weigh in as Parliament has with PM Cameron? No, thinks Frum, since we need presidential leadership on such foreign policy items; "absolutely" says Alter because of "the Constitution and War Powers Act, not to mention that such a debate helped before the first Iraq War" -- and he anticipates this debate during the lame duck session of Congress... with a likely bi-partisan majority reflecting the bi-partisan public support.

Notwithstanding the relatively good news of a continuously growing economy with unemployment down to 5.9 percent, there's a consensus that the usual mid-term focus on pocketbook issues may not materialize next month given the confluence of ISIS and Ebola creating a sense that things are going to hell in a hand basket.

*On GOP comeback - whether? when? We discuss Frum's influential, current article in Foreign Affairs arguing that the GOP will return to power boosted by economically anxious baby-boomers who have seen their retirement funds dry up. How has his party used the two years since the 2012 presidential loss to develop a governing agenda?
"Not at all," David laments.

Alter thinks a comeback based on hopeful economics and cultural moderation is unlikely so long as Rush and Fox poison the base, especially rural listeners/viewers/voters, with fringe ideas and attacks. Frum notes that the absolute number of people listening to/watching both is small (Rush claims 20 million; David thinks it closer to 2 million) compared to 130 million voters; instead, his focus is on structural causes, not politics or personalities.

Alter, however, counter that right-wing talkers a) are accelerants inflaming conservatives about Obama; b) "do an ideological hit job on how capitalism and government can work together to help the middle class;" and c) are tails wagging the GOP dog since party officials (unlike Frum) are too frightened to take them on.

Host: Frum thinks that "economic anxiety plus ethnic change is a dangerous cocktail" making 50- and 60-year-olds lean Republican. But why would boomers fearful about their retirement turn to the GOP when it was Bush43's Great Recession which shredded their finances and when Democrats created and can best defend Medicare and Social Security? (See Rep. Paul Ryan's budget.) A Grand OLD Party literally based on aging white voters and aging eccentric billionaires has a limited political future.

*Quick Takes: Romney, really? Obama candid or apologetic? What to do about plastic bags and campus sexual assaults?

*Romney '16 has gone from "no way" to "circumstances can change... we'll see" because "it kills me" to be regarded as a "loser for life." Is he Nixon '68 or an updated Stassen? Alter believes the latter, "though Ed Rollins, Reagan's campaign manager, now believes that Romney will be the Republican nominee." Frum thinks that "while it's always nice to be asked, there's no way he'll do it" in part because it's late in the cycle. Host: since he has a six-year head start on the rest of the field, except Jeb, it's not disqualifyingly late, though he should hesitate since in a CNN poll he's now behind Hillary Clinton 55 percent to 43 percent, a meaningful gap since both have 100 percent recognition.

*Is it politically appealing or damaging for Obama to be so candid about failure like underestimating the ISIS threat on 60 Minutes and noting the problems of Ferguson in his UN speech -- unlike a Bush43 who couldn't remember any mistakes? Jonathan, who's written two biographies of the president, thinks that Obama was an unusually candid candidate and president who's well served by admitting error on the Obamacare website, Veterans Administration, etc. David though scornfully believes Obama to be largely a buck-passer who usually blames, if anyone, subordinates or the opposing party.

*Does "Occupy Central" in Hong Kong show that Occupy Wall Street may have fizzled in the U.S. but is an influential model worldwide? Frum agrees that OWS had a strong message but collapsed in the U.S. because it had no agenda or structure "and it allowed its most radical elements to taint the whole effort." But he and Jonathan can't predict the outcome of the ongoing protests versus Hong Kong's police... and really versus Beijing's rulers who broke their 1997 pledge to allow Hong Kong self-determination.

*There's consensus that it's not "overreach" but smart environmentalism for California to ban plastic bags of the sort that's polluting the oceans and landfills.

*While sexual assaults on campus is a problem, there's a debate whether California legislation requiring explicit consent at all stages is a proper function of government as opposed to what either schools themselves or local law enforcement should do. Alter worries that this "epidemic" has some similarities to the numerous, overwrought accusations of child abuse at day care centers two decades ago.

Mark Green is the creator and host of Both Sides Now.

You can follow him on Twitter @markjgreen

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