Ted Cruz had some advice for House Republicans on Saturday: "Stop reading the New York Times."
Cruz, a freshman Republican senator from Texas, was at speaking at the National Review Institute Summit in Washington, a gathering hosted by a magazine that has dubbed him, at various points, the "Michael Phelps" of public speaking and "the next great conservative hope." For three days, Republican heavyweights, including Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, gathered to ruminate on what had gone wrong in November—and what the party can do to right the ship.
At times, the assembled conservative elites tried introspection. The New Republic's Alec MacGillis rounded up 10 such moments from the summit, including notable revelations suchs as "the financial collapse was kind of a big deal," "the voter-fraud bogeyman was a distraction," and "[l]iving without health insurance is a bummer." These are all true. There was even some self-flagellation: Joe Scarborough, the former Republican congressman turned MSNBC host, eviscerated GOPers for shunning empiciricism during the campaign and for embracing Wall Street. Scarborough wondered why not a single Republican presidential candidate came out in favor of "breaking up the banks." (For more on the intraparty wrestling match, see Slate's Dave Weigel.)
But calls for reform were often countered by a renewed quest for purity. There was Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard and a regular on Fox News, who called the idea of female soldiers serving in combat "literally nuts" (editor's note: not literally) and, channeling William F. Buckley, urged Republian senators to stand atop* the wall of history, shouting "Stop!" John Podhoretz of Commentary magazine spent time rehashing his grievances about Georgetown Law School student Sandra Fluke. The American Enterprise Institute's Michael Barone—speaking at an all-white panel called "Do Demographics Doom the Right?"—referred to the peculiar new breed of pro-Obama single women as "the Lena Dunham generation," a nod to the Girls creator who famously invented contraception.
Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, an architect of the campaign against the Affordable Care Act and Obama's EPA, echoed Cruz's call to unsubscribe from the nation's top newspaper. Rep. Tom Cotton, a rising star from Arkansas, didn't urge attendees to unsubscribe from the Times, but perhaps only because he didn't need to, having previously called for its reporters to be thrown in prison. (Cotton also suggested his party didn't need to change its approach on gay rights, because the string of marriage equality successes in November were probably fleeting.)
Kristol and Podhoretz's comments, as well as Scarborough's tough critique, came at a panel called "What is wrong with the Right?" Thoughtful as the speakers were, the question seemed to answer itself. The five panelists (moderator Reihan Salam not included) were all white males—as was everyone who asked a question.
Then there was Cruz, who hammered Mitt Romney for his 47 percent remarks while asserting, as he has done regularly since the election, that the GOP needs to be "the party of the 47 percent"—not by embracing a new set of policies, but by changing its rhetoric. Even as the movement's elders wrestled openly with where the Republican party is headed, they offered a strikingly familiar road map.
So they beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into their gaffes.
*Update: I'm informed the word I was looking for here was "athwart."
Sen. Ron Johnson (right) poses in front of a statue of Atlas.
Sen. Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican best known for sparring with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at last week's Benghazi hearings, says the United States is currently living out the plot of the Ayn Rand novel Atlas Shrugged. In an interview with the Rand-inspired Atlas Society, Johnson said he "absolutely" sees parallels between the American economy today and the novel in which government regulations drive prominent businessmen to retreat into a secluded gulch in protest.
As Johnson explains in the interview, his affinity for Rand has literally been set in stone—the former PACUR* CEO helped a friend install a statute of Atlas in Oshkosh, Wis. "There was a big old statue on the side of the road for sale, and it was Atlas," Johnson says. "It had the world, it was obviously the Atlas Shrugged symbol, and he was thinking about buying it and I said, absolutely, I'll pay for half of it." Then they set it up outside his friend's construction business. (Update:this business.)
"It's a real concern," Johnson said, when asked if he saw examples of the private sector "shrugging"—that is, wilting under the pressure of government regulations. "As I talk to business owners that maybe started their businesses in the '70s and '80s, they tell me, with today's level of taxation and regulation, there's no way I can start my business today."
Johnson isn't the only Wisconsin Republican to lavish praise on Rand. Rep. Paul Ryan once called her "required reading" (also at a speech at the Atlas Society) before later backtracking.
*This post originally misstated the name of Johnson's company.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein's (D-Calif.) new assault weapons ban legislation has many features the original 1994 law lacked—most notably, it closes loopholes that allowed manufacturers to produce de-facto assault weapons, and it eliminates the sunset provision, meaning the new version wouldn't expire after 10 years as the first one did. But according to Bloomberg, AWB 2.0 is missing one key thing that the original had—votes:
A proposed ban on sales of assault weapons would be defeated in the U.S. Senate today unless some members changed their current views, based on a Bloomberg review of recent lawmaker statements and interviews.
At least six of the chamber’s 55 Democrats have recently expressed skepticism or outright opposition to a ban, the review found. That means Democrats don’t have a simple 51-vote majority to pass the measure, let alone the 60 votes needed to break a Republican filibuster to bring it to a floor vote.
...The five Democratic senators from traditionally pro-gun states who've recently expressed skepticism about the bill are Max Baucus and Jon Tester of Montana, Mark Begich of Alaska, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Independent Senator Angus King of Maine, who is caucusing with Democrats, also said he opposes a ban.
This isn't exactly surprising. On Sunday, Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wy.) predicted the ban wouldn't even come up for a vote. For gun control advocates, the question going forward may be just how much capital they want to invest in what's looking like an uphill battle—especially given the uncertain effects of the initial ban.
The problems with the 1994 assault weapons ban, according to its supporters, were twofold. The first was that gunmakers could—and did—simply modify their semiautomatic weapons to fit the law by eliminating cosmetic features. An AR-15 without a bayonet mount is still an AR-15; it's just marginally less effective in hand-to-hand combat with Redcoats. That second problem with the ban was that it ended, sunsetting in 2004.
At a Capitol Hill press conference on Thursday to introduce new legislation banning assault weapons, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) promised that she and her colleagues had learned from their mistakes. "One criticism of the '94 law was that it was a two-characteristic test that defined [an assault weapon]," Feinstein said. "And that was too easy to work around. Manufacturers could simply remove one of the characteristics, and the firearm was legal. The bill we are introducting today will make it much more difficult to work around by moving a one-characteristic test."
And unlike AWB 1.0, Feinstein explained, this one wouldn't expire in 10 years: "No weapon is taken from anyone," she said, but "the purpose of this bill is to dry up the supply of these weapons overtime, therefore there is no sunset on this bill."
Feinstein's bill, like the original version, includes a ban on the manufacture and importation of high-capacity magazines, defined as any feeding container holding more than 10 bullets—something gun-control advocates point to as one of the success stories in the 1994 law. It would also close a loophole that legalized the slide iron stock, which as my colleague Dana Liebelson reported, allows gun-owners to convert their firearms into fully-automatics weapons—legally.
But the package faces stiff opposition, including from some Democrats. Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) recently lamented "one-size-fits-all directives from Washington," and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), who initially seemed receptive to limits on assault weapons and high-capacity clips, has since clammed up.
Even if Feinstein's bill does make it through Congress, though, there's still an open question as to what it would actually accomplish. Although Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) suggested on Thursday that the ban might have saved "hundreds of thousands" of lives had it never gone away, a 2004 University of Pennsylvania study commissioned by Department of Justice was much more reserved: "We cannot clearly credit the ban with any of the nation's recent drop in gun violence. And, indeed, there has been no discernible reduction in the lethality and injuriousness of gun violence."
For the last decade, Democrats have dreamed of turning Texas blue. Yet for the last decade, Texas has turned increasingly red—peaking over the past two years, when Repbulicans gained a supermajority in the Legislature for the first time ever. Those two facts, needless to say, can't really coexist. Now, Politico's Alex Burns reports, Democrats think they may have found a solution:
The organization, dubbed "Battleground Texas," plans to engage the state's rapidly growing Latino population, as well as African-American voters and other Democratic-leaning constituencies that have been underrepresented at the ballot box in recent cycles. Two sources said the contemplated budget would run into the tens of millions of dollars over several years—a project Democrats hope has enough heft to help turn what has long been an electoral pipe dream into reality.
At the center of the effort is Jeremy Bird, formerly the national field director for President Barack Obama's reelection campaign, who was in Austin last week to confer with local Democrats about the project.
One month into its existence, though, the group has already hit its first road bump: Thanks to a quirky system that forces legislators to draw straws to determine the length of their terms in redistricting cycles, the party's best statewide candidate (per the story), state Sen. Wendy Davis, will only serve two years instead of four. That means that come 2014, Battleground Texas' first bite at the gubernatorial apple, its most viable candidate for governor will likely be fighting for statehouse re-election instead. Such is life for Lone Star Democrats.