Vin Weber: 2011 will be a nasty year in Washington

Vin Weber
Vin Weber

Skipping past Election Day and assuming that current trends hold up, 2011 will be an ugly year in Washington, featuring partisan warfare, gridlock and the possibility of a government shutdown, Republican bigfoot Vin Weber predicts, with a new Republican House majority looking nervously over its right shoulder while President Obama doubles down on his determination to be a “transformational” president.

Weber, the former Minnesota congressman, now a lobbyist and Republican insider, gave his report from Washington to a small audience at the Humphrey Institute Thursday afternoon, and offered his view of the Minnesota guv race as well.

The political moment

The worst of the bleeding is over for the Dems, Weber believes, but the damage is done and, although he predicts that the late Dem strategies will manage to rescue a few imperiled seats, the likeliest outcome will be a Repub takeover of the U.S. House with a small majority and falling just a senator or two short of taking control of the Senate. (The second likeliest outcome, he said, would be even bigger Repub gains.)

One fundamental cause of the Dem disaster, Weber said, was a “fundamental misreading” by Dems of the meaning of Obama’s big win in 2008. America is still a center-right nation, Weber said. The Dem/Obama surge reflected a country that was “just happy to have George W. Bush on a plane back to Texas,” but not a nation was ready to “turn the page ideologically” and adopt a series of liberal measures. The trillions of dollars of deficit spending of 2008-2010 – yes, Weber acknowledges that it started before Bush left town – left the electorate scared and worried, worn out by the pace of change, and susceptible to the current Republican promise to slam on the brakes.

Comparing the coming midterm earthquake to its most famous recent predecessors in 1982 (Ronald Reagan’s first midterm) and 1994 (Bill Clinton’s), Weber said this is a more ideological election based on that severe backlash against the Dems misreading.

The country has “moved further to the right in a shorter period than has happened in a long time,” Weber said, which is best reflected in poll results that show widespread public hostility to government spending and public debt and a near collapse of public confidence in the government’s ability to solve problems.

The bad economy plus this ideological shift constitute what Weber called the “macropolitics” of the moment, leading to Obama’s weak approval ratings and set the stage for the midterm much moreso than any particular campaign tactics or political messaging strategy.

Obama the “transformational”

When Clinton faced a similar disaster in his first midterm, he famously moved to the center and “triangulated” with the two parties in the House, announcing that the era of big government was over. But Weber recalled an interesting moment from 2008 when Obama got in some trouble for stating that Reagan had been a more “transformational” figure than Clinton. Obama sees himself as similarly transformational, and he will not triangulate, Weber predicted.

“This president has a different view of himself and his place in history,” Weber said. Obama will push for more change, and the kind of change he favors will continue to expand government and cost money.

But the Republican Party is also in the midst of a “transformation,” into a less pragmatic, more ideological, harder right, more libertarian party.

Obama will face a House dominated by “people who were elected by voters who are ready to throw out anyone who votes for any kind of spending or expansion of government,” Weber said. Every spending bill that comes along will cause those members to wonder whether this might be the one that will cost them their seats the way votes for TARP and the Obama stimulus measures appear to have ended the careers of long-serving members of Congress. Once you get into that mindset, Weber said, the safest, easiest vote on any spending bill is going to be “no.”

Obamacare “apocalypse”

Republicans and conservatives generally have developed what Weber described as an “apocalyptic view” about the damage that Obama’s big health care bill will do to the U.S. health care system, the economy and America’s free market structure. A lot of congressional candidates are talking about a vote on the first day of the new Republican-led House to repeal the whole thing.

They won’t have the votes to do that, Weber said, considering the filibuster rules in the Senate and the certainty of a presidential veto. But after that big symbolic vote blows over, the anti-Obamacareites will resort to a guerilla campaign to “defund” the health care program, leading to “a lot of vetoes, a lot of battles and an undetermined outcome,” Weber predicted.

It will be a discordant, unpleasant 2011, Weber said, and there is no “silver lining,” but if there are a couple of “silver threads” one might be the work of the bipartisan debt commission that will, soon after Election Day, unveil its ideas for long-term fiscal sustainability. There is no chance that this will not be a political painfest, involving shrinkage of Social Security and Medicare, higher taxes and perhaps cuts to military spending.

Weber talks to the members of the commission and knows they will be putting out a very serious proposal. It’s possible that the commission will give Congress and the White House a once-in-a-generation chance to address a problem that badly needs addressing. But Weber also warned that if Obama insists on allowing the high-bracket portions of the Bush tax cuts to expire, he will undermine the chances of a big fiscal deal because Republicans will insist that the part of the fiscal package most painful to them – the higher taxes – has already occurred.

Emmer, Horner, Dayton

During the Q and A session, moderator Larry Jacobs sought Weber’s view of the Minnesota election for governor. Weber supported Emmer for the Repub endorsement and is still helping him. He says Emmer had a very bad summer, but the recent change in his leadership team has righted the ship and Emmer “has nowhere to go but up.”

Jacobs asked about Emmer’s refusal to put out a plan to address the state deficit. Weber said that the good government part of his brain knows that it is wrong to be so mysterious, that a candidate owes it to the public to say what he will be do if elected. But the political strategist said of his brain says “there’s almost no good that’s gonna come out of that.”

Weber described Tom Horner as an old friend and predicted that both major Twin Cities newspapers will end up endorsing him. He believes that if Horner makes a move up from his current poll ratings in the low teens in the upper teens, the next 5 to 8 percent of Horner voters will come from among those currently planning to vote for Dayton. (Weber didn’t say so, but if he’s right about that, it will also be a big boost for Emmer.)

Weber didn’t say much about Mark Dayton. He said – with a tone that suggested access to internal polling – that the enthusiasm gap among likely voters, which has been a tremendous boost for Republicans around the country, is significantly smaller in Minnesota than elsewhere. Dayton’s basic “tax the rich” message — which seems likely to excite the left base of the party but unlikely to create much appeal to moderates or conservatives – may have helped create and/or  may benefit from the relatively higher enthusiasm among Dem likely voters in Minnesota.

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Comments (18)

  1. Submitted by Hénock Gugsa on 09/10/2010 - 11:10 am.

    It is very apparent that the Republicans really have no new (constructive) plans or ideas for the country if and when they regain power or a semblance of it.

    All they want to do is turn the clock back to pre-2008, undo all that’s been done, and continue with the way things used to be.

    And, of-course, they would call it all “conservatism.”

    Then when things start to go from bad to worse, they would blame the democrats for having interrupted them earlier and sowing discontentment in the first place.

  2. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 09/10/2010 - 11:19 am.

    I’m afraid I have to find Mr. Weber’s musings less than compelling. Whom do we have to blame for the coming bad year? Could it be politicians who are more concerned about putting on a good show than they are with making policy? Horror of horrors–when did that sort of thing start?

    How about an 80s flashback? Before the Humphrey Institute anointed him as a policy wonk, Mr. Weber was a professional politician. In Congress, his greatest claim to fame was taking to the floor of the House and denouncing the Democratic leadership for the then-new C-SPAN cameras. Not legislation, just getting on TV (“famous for being famous” is what it is called by some). Perhaps Mr. Weber will recall how angry he was when the cameras scanned the galleries, to show that he was speaking to an empty House.

    If Congress, especially the Republican side, is all about ideological hard-liners who have no interst in getting things done, Mr. Weber surely bears some (not all, but some) of the blame.

  3. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 09/10/2010 - 11:44 am.

    Weber makes an important point, one that conservative candidates need to take notice of.

    Until 2012, Obamacare is safe. Even with the best case scenario, the GOP will not have to votes necessary to override an Obama veto fest, and all a protracted battle has to offer is the surety of weariness in both the congress and the electorate. Newly elected Republican congress members must not promise an immediate sea change to those of us that are yearning for one.

    Better to promise to rein socialism in as far as possible, prevent Obamacare from taking root in the bureaucracy so that it may be cleanly taken up, roots and all, after the next President takes office in ’12.

    Also, the new GOP majority must not make the mistakes the leftists did. Many people have gotten comfortable with the small “s” socialism represented by SSI and Medicare.

    We need to take the time to properly wean the public off Uncle Sam’s “free cheese” to ensure everyone is riding on the same bus before it is announced it’s time to get out and walk on our own two feet again.

  4. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 09/10/2010 - 11:53 am.

    Speaking of “misreading,” I’d say Mr. Weber is awfully quick to assume the extent of a rightward move on the part of the American people. Or on people’s motives for voting for President Obama.

    A) The rightward move to extreme fiscal and religious values and voting against their own economic interests depended on sincere people transformed by the Right’s propaganda machine.

    B) Obama was elected by people who wanted an end to endless war; to interference in the internal affairs of other countries on behalf of monied and corporate interests (Haiti, Honduras, and Venezuela and Georgia for instance);

    to free rides for the wealthy who, instead of creating jobs with their big tax breaks, exported jobs to countries with no environmental controls and workers who would accept an almost invisible paycheck;

    to a Congress that approved trade agreements and tax policies and an end to the regulation of financial institutions that allowed both our de-industrialization and the current recession to happen;

    to defense spending that goes far beyond suspense to “empire,” to the maintenance of a world-wide presence in a world that would rather provide its own defense, thank you.

    I’m sure others could add to this list.

  5. Submitted by Brad Robinson on 09/10/2010 - 12:12 pm.

    Interestingly, I find myself agreeing with Weber on most of his predictions. It may be that even the President knows he will lose the House majority. So it follows then that no new major legislation will be passed without bi-partisanship (unlikely given the ideologues sure to be elected), and no major repeals either.

    Even should a Republican President be elected in 2012, and also gain a Senate majority, the filibuster is still in play and nothing much gets accomplished. So what has been done is about all that will be done, unless some change is brought about by “executive order” or by the expiration of timelines.

    I think change, such as it is, is over and is here to stay for quite a while.

  6. Submitted by Lora Jones on 09/10/2010 - 12:22 pm.

    I, myself, am sick of the repubs continuing to chant “this is a center-right country” when I see very little evidence of that. If anything, based on almost every policy measure, the vast majority of Americans, time and time again, agree with center-left or left positions on Social Security, Medicare, the environment, food and drug safety, water quality, Wall Street excess, etc., etc. Where is this “right” lean coming from? If Weber and friends think that the Tea Party takeover of the Repub party is indicative of much more than a small faction of a minority party being whipped into a lizard-brain frenzy by limpballs and co., I think he’s doomed for disappointment.

    Will the repubs gain seats and possible take over the house? It’s likely. Does it mean that Simpson and his commission friends and the repubs can push their agenda of privatizing and/or dismantling social security — I wouldn’t bet on it.

  7. Submitted by Brian Simon on 09/10/2010 - 12:52 pm.

    Mr Weber fundamentally misreads the electorate, as does the GOP leadership. While it is true that the most enthused voters are those characterized by hard-line reactonary right politics, the majority is not center right, particularly if you take social issues into account (i.e. support for gay marriage is growing). But, even fiscally, if one were to believe the folks at Gallup, the majority is sensibly moderate & does not, for instance, believe in fully extending the Bush tax cuts. Instead, there is a rational middle that realizes that it takes money to pay for the services we get from government (Gallup data: ).

    I think the problem the dems face is a disgruntled electorate that is frustrated with the bickering in Washington. I suspect the electorate expected more from the Dems, after handing them significant electoral victories going back to 2006, and they still have trouble getting legislation passed. I also think that winning the House could be the worst thing that happens to the GOP, if some of their wackier candidates win seats & try to implement their reactionary agenda, voters will revolt at any gridlock and rapidly swing back to the Dems for 2012. Even now we’re seeing infighting in the GOP that does not bode well for future party cohesiveness; we’re also seeing some lost opportunities after nominating extreme candidates for seats that should have been easy pickups (i.e. Angle v Reid for NV senator – and the possibility of taking out moderate/RINO Rep Castle in the DE senate race).

  8. Submitted by Brian Simon on 09/10/2010 - 12:58 pm.

    Lora Jones asks
    “Where is this “right” lean coming from?”

    Tax aversion, nothing more, nothing less. Repubs campaign incessantly on perpetually cutting taxes, claiming (falsely) that tax cuts ‘pay for themselves’ and that there is plenty of waste to be cut from government. Instead we get accounting gimmicks (i.e. the Pawlenty admin) or massive deficit spending (i.e. the Bush admin). But something for nothing sells; as long as voters keep buying it, Repubs will keep promising it.

  9. Submitted by Ron Brochu on 09/10/2010 - 01:49 pm.

    Weber’s correct in one respect: People have no confidence in government’s ability to solve problems. But they feel that way about both parties. Neither cares about constituents. They only want control.

    Voters have reached the tipping point on partisan “solutions.” They’re tired of Democrats who spend too much and Republicans who can’t see beyond cutting taxes. Unemployed and underemployed adults increasingly view all politicians as an infection that needs to be eradicated.

  10. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 09/10/2010 - 03:26 pm.

    “Unemployed and underemployed adults increasingly view all politicians as an infection that needs to be eradicated.”

    Right now, I hope they’ll settle for a large scale down sizing. If not of politicians themselves, at least of the influence over our lives they wield.

  11. Submitted by Jean Schiebel on 09/10/2010 - 03:57 pm.

    Why on earth would people want to go back to the destructive practices of Republican leadership.
    Obama made it very clear on the campaign trail that you can’t fix 8 years of mismanagement in one term.

    Where were all these Conservatives when Bush was on his spending spree?
    Where were they when New Orleans was drowning?
    Who was on watch on 9/11?

    Bush managed to spend a giant surplus in his first two years and turn it into a huge deficit
    But Republicans get angry when they are reminded of that fact
    They spout the same old cut taxes themes , but the money never trickles down.
    Too many greedy “I got mine” people out there.

  12. Submitted by John Eidel on 09/10/2010 - 04:08 pm.

    As a thought experiment, let’s assume a parallel universe where the Democrats pass health care reform, financial regulation and virtually all of their currently passed legislative agenda, but in this world the unemployment rate is 5-6% instead of 9.8%. In this world, to my mind, the electoral results of 2010 are significantly different. Mr. Weber, the electoral losses likely faced by the Democrats will not be a result of a “fundamental misreading” of the electorate. As James Carville said, “It’s the economy, stupid.”

  13. Submitted by Paul Scott on 09/10/2010 - 04:21 pm.

    Vin Weber, SPNAS

    (Signatory to the Project for a New American Century.)

    In other words, Eric, why are we talking about what a guy so terrifically wrong in the past says about the future?

    Should we start asking Wolfowitz and Kristol to look in to their glass ball as well?

    Or are we just sp darn enamored to have a power player from MN, whether or not he is responsible for helping to provoke a war that has cost our country blood and treasure.

  14. Submitted by John Autey on 09/10/2010 - 04:37 pm.

    What the heck have the Republicans done for me.
    Have they lowered my taxes? No!
    Have they improved my economic outlook? No!
    Is there any evidence that they will be better managers of this country? No!
    When they were in power what exactly did they do to improve this country? What, somebody please tell me. I’m hopelessly middle class and never once have I benefited from anything these Republicans have done in the last 15 years.
    Seems these Republicans care only for power. Not giving a whit about the general welfare of this nation.

  15. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 09/10/2010 - 05:19 pm.

    I’m not sure how nihilistic office holding Republicans have become. If nobody in the house expects to run for President, I’m not sure they’ll risk trouble at home to make the party seem responsible and nationally electable. This might be a short ascendancy that feels like a long one.

  16. Submitted by Dion Goldman on 09/10/2010 - 11:04 pm.

    Vin Webber drank the GOP kool aid when he went to Congress and then left in 1992 after being caught up in the House Banking scandal. I question his integrity.

  17. Submitted by Joe Schweigert on 09/17/2010 - 10:04 am.

    I hear you, John. Turns out that the reason the middle class exists is because of government programs that reinvest tax dollars back into the community. Or what some people like to call socialism, in some effort to drum up outrageous cold war histeria.

    Am i the only one who sees the parallel between shrinking government programs and a disappearing middle class?

    Quote the crazy pill line from zoolander here if you want.

  18. Submitted by John E Iacono on 09/17/2010 - 12:42 pm.

    Any thinking that starts with the notion that “the people just don’t know what’s good for them” seems to me doomed to failure at the polls. It is now, and has always been, the sin of the “intelligentia” in our society.

    It is also regretably true that the choices often offered at those polls are between the lesser of two or three evils. So long as entrenched power structures persist, this is likely to continue.

    And it seems to me the public is making it very clear that the current bunch of scalawags in control are likely to be tossed out on their ear regardless of the bad smell from their opponents.

    It’s the price of ignoring the wishes of the common citizen. It keeps us at least SOMEWHAT balanced as we stagger through history.

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