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Tom Ferguson: The problem for the GOP is they have nothing to say about the economic crisis even though Obama policies have been a failure

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington. In Iowa, the caucus is now over, a bit of a tie between Romney and Santorum with Ron Paul in third, as everybody probably knows by now. They’ve all headed off to New Hampshire. But what does all this mean in terms of the coming 2012 election? How is this going to play out a few months from now? Now joining us to help us deconstruct this is Tom Ferguson. Tom’s a senior fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, and he teaches at the University of Massachusetts Boston. Thanks for joining us again, Tom.


JAY: So what do you make of this roadshow so far?

FERGUSON: Well, it’s—look, let’s face it, this is a pretty good circus. I mean, you know, we’re back to—you know, back when P. T. Barnam was a Republican, we’re almost—we’re well past the sucker born every minute in this one. I mean, look, you’ve got to love a campaign in which, you know, Santorum basically comes up out of the ground. He’s sort of like in the position—I mean, I know on election night he was thanking, actually, God. He said that God’s grace got him through that. And then he just thanked God in public. I mean, my take was this guy survived Iowa pretty much the way, you know, some small animal like an armadillo might survive a nuclear exchange. That is to say, Romney blew off—Romney’s super PACs blew off Gingrich and Perry. Perry, thinking that his, you know, main rival for second or third was probably going to be Ron Paul, blew Ron Paul off a bit there. And nobody spent any time on Santorum. So, you know, in the last few days, he’s the only ultraconservative left standing, and he collects the endorsement of a bunch of resigned evangelical pastors, and he does, you know, pretty well. I mean, mostly the one thing you’d notice is that three-quarters of the state Republicans that showed up for the caucus—’cause it’s not a primary—three-quarters of those people didn’t vote for Romney there. Okay?

Now, the question is, you know, what does this all mean? I think it means now he’s pretty much—that is to say, Santorum’s going to be now in the sights of the super PACs and he’s going to get blasted. And he’s pretty vulnerable. He’s got—I mean, this is a guy who claims—walks around telling everybody he’s a former coal—he’s a coal miner’s son who has in fact become a millionaire since he left the Senate, in just five or six years, actually, basically by associating with medical—various medical companies and energy companies, you know, which are the backbone of the ultra-right, that is to say, in the Republican Party, that is to say, the folks who oppose, you know, what they keep calling Obamacare or any discussion of global warming. I mean, that’s where Santorum’s coming from.

JAY: Yeah. Let’s unpack that a little bit. If you look at who’s behind—who is the big money behind this section of the Republican Party, if you want, this section of the American elite that operates through the Republican Party, they need to get a lot of votes who are not all going to be multimillionaires, obviously. A lot of them are going to be middle class, upper middle class people. But in order to get those people, that wing of the society, to vote for these kinds of policies, at some point they’re going to have to address the economic crisis, they’re going to have to have some solutions other than simple formulas about smaller government. What the heck are they going to say?

FERGUSON: Well, this is their problem. I mean, look, Paul, this is pretty straightforward. I mean, ironically, the leadership of the national Republican Party is pretty much in the position of generals who prepared for the wrong war the last war and now fight a new one. I mean, you know, if you’re not a Republican, I have to tell you, it could be pretty funny. I mean, they’ve spent the last 30 years essentially doing a very strange constructed party [sic].

Their problem basically is this. If you start studying how the Republicans behave in power, they really shovel money toward the upper-income voters. I mean, Larry Bartel’s book, you know, Unequal Democracy, there is quite a good study of this. There’s a lot of others. Anybody who can look at the evolution of the U.S. tax code will see this. That is to say, Republicans in power are really quite single-mindedly focused on, really, cash-flowed upper-income groups. But that makes them unpresentable in public. And it means that they can count on—when they sort of do a national campaign, they can count on a very large vote in the upper-income groups, although in 2008 their luck finally ran out there.

And then their problem is, since that’s not enough, they’ve got to find a few other votes. And so, basically what they’ve done for a generation is find anything they could do to sort of splinter middle- and lower-class voters, though most lower-class voters, it’s important to note, they are always the most reliable voters for the Democrats, with essentially almost no exceptions there. Anyway, so what the Republican Party does is they get the discussion as fast as they can off economic issues and they move to, well, you know as well as I do, race, guns, abortion, gays, you name it. And [incompr.] the sort of libertarian streak in the party could even be viewed as a very special case of that kind of cultivation of sort of exotic plant. And then they sort of load those folks into a very small electorate.

I mean, Republicans also (along with some conservative Democrats) spend a lot of time trying to push down voter turnout. I mean, in recent years it’s been mostly trying to get photo ID legislation across, which—there’s a wave of that since Republicans took over the state legislatures in 2010—and then also to try to cut down early voting there. Well, I mean, so when you get to a Republican primary, it’s like a kind—you know, it’s an electorate. It’s like a Japanese garden: it’s been heavily cultivated for ages. And so they got all cranked up after—for a whole generation or more, really, since Nixon at least, and, you know, under one reading of this, since 1868. They have been trying to change the subject.

Then they come into this election where, you know, by all rights the Obama administration should be an easy target. Its economic record has been awful. The unemployment rate has just been very high. The administration, you know, came in with—and as we’ve talked many times, they came in with a very small economic stimulus, one that was half the size of what they needed. They’ve done nothing about mortgages and they’ve concentrated on just shoveling money first to banks, and then letting them recover indirectly, I mean, with forbearance schemes. I mean, they basically concentrated on the banks. They’ve done almost nothing for traditional Democratic constituencies. By all—or anybody else, except the ultrarich. You know, by all rights they ought to be losers. But now—so the Republicans see that. They’d love to run on economics. Their problem—and, I mean, Haley Barbour said the other day, we should just run on economics, and there’s nobody better connected to big business in the Republican Party than Haley Barbour.

JAY: Yeah. But how do they run on economics when they’ve got to keep a constituency happy within the party whose economics doesn’t lead to any more jobs? That much seems pretty clear.

FERGUSON: Well, look, I have to tell you, now I think they really do need divine intervention. They got a problem. I mean, you know, they are—they prepared for the wrong type of campaign. Now they just want to campaign on economics. And, you know, you’re right. I accept your point. They’d like to keep these folks happy. What they will now do—. I mean, they’re sort of stuck with this. It’s too—. You know, you remember the old line when the workers rioted in East Berlin in 1953 and Bertolt Brecht, you know, famously said, well, maybe the government should dissolve the people and get a new one? Republicans can’t do that trick in the middle of the election. They’re going to have to be stuck with their sort of electorate that they’ve cultivated now for a generation. And so I guess all they do is they spend a [incompr.] super PACs, they bulldoze these folks, and then they try to keep them from going off to some third party. You know, as I say, this is an order—Santorum, you know, I don’t believe time is on his side, but he needs divine intervention. I think he’s got the need for it.

JAY: Well, maybe the reason there wasn’t a stronger field of candidates is that the people that were smart enough to figure this election out realized it ain’t worth it. I mean, Romney has a shot at it if Obama starts to implode. But Obama seems to have taken the national security card away from them, which normally would be a good one, but he’s the guy that got bin Laden, and he’ll be happy to be militaristic, at least in rhetoric, if not more than rhetoric, about Iran. So he takes that away. He’s been draconian in terms of civil liberties. He’s deported more people than Bush did.

FERGUSON: Well, I agree.

JAY: I mean, you go on and on, he’s taken over the Republican issues. And, in fact, you know, a lot of people were joking, the Republicans couldn’t have a better president. So it doesn’t look very good for them right now.

FERGUSON: Well, I still think—I mean, if you look nationwide at voter registration, you’ll find the Democratic edge in that has disappeared, and in one tabulation counting, now, a move toward independence as a move away from the Democrats, which I think it is. There’s a 7 or 8 point switch from where they were in 2008. I think turnout is going to be a huge problem for Obama. I’m not persuaded that, like, all of the exciting things that the Beltway’s talking about, like suddenly doing a recess appointment on Richard Cordray (who is a very mixed case anyway—he’s no Elizabeth Warren), is going to do him all that much good. And frankly, you know, I am among those who think that, you know, the recent dip in unemployment is likely to be actually counterbalanced fairly fast. I think it probably will go back up at least once more before the election.

JAY: Well, maybe this election will be decided by whose people stay home more or less.

FERGUSON: I—look, you don’t have presidential elections with none of the above, but if you did, that would be—I mean, I have never in my life seen an electorate as jaundiced at both parties as they are right now.

JAY: Thanks for joining us, Tom.

FERGUSON: Yup. Have a good one.

JAY: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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