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Is the GOP Establishment the 2016 Underdog Right Now?

As long as the GOP establishment is divided, it’s hard to include them in the first tier.

National Review’s Jim Geraghty on Monday made a provocative point: Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney, and Chris Christie aren’t in the top tier of Republican presidential candidates in 2016. Instead, that designation belongs to Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, Rick Perry, and Bobby Jindal. Now, we can disagree on some of these names (Perry? Jindal?), but it seems that Geraghty is making a bigger point here: As long as the GOP establishment is divided -- especially if some combination of Bush/Romney/Christie are running -- it’s hard to include them in the first tier. The reason: It becomes a simple math game. In the 2014 midterms, the GOP establishment won (see Thom Tillis, Dan Sullivan, Cory Gardner) in large part because the Republican establishment was united (not divided) around one candidate. And in 2016, the easiest way an establishment Republican candidate makes it to the first tier is if there is just one of them. But that’s not the case right now.

The GOP’s problem with their new income-inequality message

So how do you fix it? An interesting thing has happened with all of the positive economic news over the past few months: Republicans have either tried to take credit for the growing economy (see: McConnell, Mitch), or they’ve become new crusaders to lessen income inequality. Here was Ted Cruz at the Koch Brothers-backed Freedom Partners meeting in California over the weekend: “The people who have been hammered for the last six years are working men and women.” Here was House Speaker John Boehner to “60 Minutes” on Sunday: “[F]rankly the president's policies have made income inequality worse.” And here was McConnell in that same “60 Minutes” interview: “Look, things are getting better. But the point is who is benefiting from this? This has been a top of the income recovery -- the so-called one percent that the president's always talking about have done quite well. But middle and lower income Americans are about $3,000 a year worse off than they were when he came to office.” So then the question becomes: How do you fix the problem?

It’s hardly the friendliest terrain for Republicans

Per MSNBC’s Suzy Khimm, the GOP’s traditional answer here is through lower taxes or tax reform. And Boehner blames regulations for the income inequality. “All the regulations that are coming out of Washington make it more difficult for employers to hire more people, chief amongst those, I would argue is Obamacare-- which basically puts a penalty or a tax on employers for every new job they create,” he said on “60 Minutes.” But the income-inequality playing field isn’t the friendliest terrain for Republicans. Are you for or against raising the minimum wage? (Boehner is against.) Are you for or against closing tax loopholes benefitting the wealthy? What about Medicaid expansion? The Obamacare subsidies the Supreme Court is deciding this year? And do you still call for reining in Social Security benefits? The GOP taking up the income-inequality cause is akin to a vegetarian becoming a food critic of America’s best steakhouses. You can certainly do it -- but it’s not necessarily your strong suit. Plus, it’s QUITE the transition.

But it’s something they have to figure out

What Republicans are doing here, however, is looking for angle to talk about the economy considering the more positive economic statistics. And Republicans HAVE to figure out a suitable message, because a large part of their rank-and-file voters aren’t benefitting from the economy right now. The recovery has come to a lot of urban areas (read: Democratic), but not rural ones (read: Republican). But it’s something they have to figure out, especially given all the money the party gets from Wall Street and free-market/libertarian types.

Big Bucks: Koch Brothers groups to spend nearly $900 million in 2016 cycle

And speaking of that free-market/libertarian crowd, both the Washington Post and New York Times reported on Monday that all of the Koch Brothers-backed subsidiaries (American for Prosperity, Freedom Partners, Concerned Veterans for America, etc) are slated to spend nearly $900 million during the 2016 cycle. Let us repeat: $900 million!!!! And no one is trying to knock down this number. If the past is any indication, most -- if not all -- of that money will be in anonymous contributions not tracked by the Federal Election Commission. (So fellow political reporters: Don’t rely on FEC data to tell you which party has the financial advantage in the upcoming presidential contest; those numbers are only telling you PART of the story.) To put the nearly $900 million into perspective, consider:

They’ve essentially built a separate political party

Bottom line: The Koch Brothers and their backers have built an entire political party outside of the official Republican Party structure. It’s not too different from what organized labor did in the ‘70s and ‘80s. The big difference: There’s a lot more money and sophistication in today’s politics than what we saw 30-40 years ago.

Gay marriage will be a GOP litmus test, no matter which way the Supreme Court rules

Even if the Supreme Court legalizes marriage in all 50 states, social conservatives aren’t going to let Republican presidential candidates off the hook, Politico says. Social conservatives [in Iowa] are determined to keep the issue alive during the run-up to next February’s Republican caucuses, no matter how the high court rules or how much some establishment figures would like to move on. ‘If you dodge the question, then it’s the kiss of death,’ said social conservative Sam Clovis, who finished second behind Joni Ernst in last year’s Iowa GOP Senate primary. ‘Candidates have got to be declarative about where they stand. Period.’”

Obama arrives in Saudi Arabia

After spending the last few days in India, President Obama has landed in Saudi Arabia to pay respects to the late King Abdullah, as well as to the person who will succeed him. The New York Times: “In addition to paying respects to the family of Abdullah, who died Friday, Mr. Obama plans to meet with his successor, King Salman. In part, the goal of the trip is for the president and his team to take Salman’s measure and, quietly at least, assess his health. The king, 79, has had at least one stroke and lost some movement in one of his arms. While Mr. Obama has met Salman before, they do not have a notable relationship. But American officials were encouraged that Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, the interior minister, was named deputy crown prince, signaling a next generation of leadership, because he has a long history of working with the United States on counterterrorism issues. He has met with Mr. Obama at least twice.”

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