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December 10, 2012

"Marijuana: A Winning GOP Issue?" ... and a lost 2012 Romney opportunity

The title of this post is drawn from the headline of this notable recent commentary by Nate Cohn at The New Republic, which echoes some points that should be familiar to regular readers of this blog.  Here are excerpts from the commentary:

Young voters might be pro-Obama, but they're even more pro-marijuana.  While 60 percent of 18-29 year olds supported the president's reelection, the CBS News and Quinnipiac polls, as well as the Washington and Colorado exit polls, show an impressive 65-70 percent of voters under age 30 supporting marijuana legalization.  The rise of the millennial generation — not persuasion of older voters — is primarily responsible for marijuana’s growing strength in national polls, with 65 to 70 percent of seniors remaining opposed to marijuana legalization.  With generational change already responsible for the GOP's national struggles, the party could really use a break from cultural questions that pit its elderly base against millennials.

Fortunately for Republicans, they actually have a rare opportunity here to seize the middle ground and appeal to younger voters.  While the Republican rank-and-file still oppose outright marijuana legalization, the issue could fit within the party's ostensible state-rights philosophy.  GOP voters seem to agree.  CBS News found that 65 percent of Republicans support allowing state governments to determine the legality of marijuana, compared to just 29 percent who believed the federal government should decide.  Rand Paul has already suggested moderation on marijuana legalization as a helpful step toward coping with generational change.

But Republican advocates of marijuana moderation don't have an easy task.  Just because GOP voters might accept the state-rights frame provided by a poll question doesn’t mean that the frame would prevail in a debate.  The exit polls in Colorado and Washington, as well as recent Quinnipiac polls, suggest that about 65-70 percent of conservatives, white evangelical Christians, and Republicans are opposed to marijuana legalization.  If the Obama administration allowed Colorado and Washington to violate federal law, moderation might become even more difficult as conservative media launch a crusade against a lawless administration....

If Republicans don’t seize the middle ground on marijuana legalization, Democrats will eventually use the issue to their advantage.  Not only will Democratic primary voters demand it, they will have a lot to gain.  As more younger, pro-marijuana voters enter the electorate and replace their elders, support for marijuana legalization will continue to increase, absent intervening events that reshape public opinion, like a disastrous ending to the experiments in Colorado and Washington.  If marijuana becomes another partisan social issue, like gay marriage or abortion, it will make it even more difficult for Republicans to appeal to millennial voters.

Regular readers know I think these sentiments are spot on: way back in April 2012, I urged in posts and in a Daily Beast commentary that then-candidate Mitt Romney should embrace "Right on Crime" rhetoric about the need for criminal justice reforms and stress a states-rights approach to pot policy as a means to appeal to young voters.  I further stressed something missing in Cohn's discussion: the unique and important opportunity for the GOP to use crminal justice reform in general (and pot policy in particular) to stress its pro-liberty and small-government themes in a manner that should be especially salient and menaingful to minority voters. 

I very much doubt that conservatives and white evangelical Christians will be too troubled by a robust and honest GOP-led conversation about the real costs and benefits of pot prohibition.  Meanwhile, I genuinely believe many minority voters (young and old, men and women) will be quite thrilled to be supportive of any and all GOP leaders who, in that conversation, stress the considerable (and often disparate) harms to minority communities from low-level arrests and criminal justice entanglements that can flow from potential selective enforcement of pot prohibition.  In other words, if GOP leaders were to make a concern for racial justice an express feature of any effort to "seize the middle ground" with respect to pot policy, they might benefits politically in a number of diverse ways.

Taking these musing just a step further, I cannot help but (foolishly?) suggest that Mitt Romney might have actually won the November 2012 election if he had headed my criminal justice advice way back in April 2012.  As highlighted in this Nate Silver number-crunching post last month, Romney won every red state save one (North Carolina) by 8 or more percentage point.  It is hard to believe Romney loses any of those states by embracing "Right on Crime" rhetoric and stressing a states-rights approach to pot policy.  Meanwhile, Prez Obama eeked out razor thin victories in Florida, Ohio, Virginia, and Colorado, all of which are states in which a targeted states-rights message on pot policy and criminal justice reform could have alone possibly moved the needle a bit.  And, even more important, any move to the center on criminal justice would have usefully suggested that Romney was an independent thinker who would not just rely on the tired-old-GOP playbook on social issues. 

Gosh, it sure is fun and easy to be a pundit giving advice to the guy who lost so I can now say "you should have just listened to me...."   Perhaps this could even get me a gig on FoxNews in place of Dick Morris.

A few recent and older related posts: 

December 10, 2012 at 07:31 PM | Permalink


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1. I'm sure the New Republic has the interests of the Republican Party at heart.


What it's actually trying to do is reduce the political risks to the Democrats by having the opposition commit suicide. It's true that the Republican Party does a number of things to earn its title as the Stupid Party, but being pro-drug is too stupid even for it. Better to give Obama a free pass on his plunge into national bankruptcy (which pass might be about to happen).

2. The notion that Romney would have won if he'd embraced pot is pure speculation, and grossly implausible specultion at that. First, it would have enhanced his reputation as a flip-flopper. Second, it would have been seen, correctly, as unprincipled. Third, it certainly would have cost him more among his base (who would have sat at home in even greater numbers) than it would have gained him among 20-somethings.

Obama was cool; Romney was uncool. There is zero chance the younger crowd was going to vote for him even if he'd done a dance with Lady Gaga (or whoever it is now).

3. The electoral analysis is also misconceived. It's true that Obama just squeaked by in the named states, especially Florida. But it's also true that Florida has the oldest electorate of any state. Older people are the most strident group in opposition to legalization. Thus, if Romney had switched to pro-legalization, while Obama remained against it, he almost certainly would have lost Florida by a bigger margin than he did.

4. All this assumes, of course, that pot was a voting issue at all in the Presidential election. Does anyone have a neutral poll showing that it was even in the top 20 (if "top" is the right word) that voters were concerned with? I've never seen one.

5. The basic thing the Republicans needed to win was a candidate people liked and could relate to. Romney never did fit the bill. Obama did. QED. Next time, nominate some mensch -- Rubio or Christie or somebody -- who isn't a Massachusetts plutocrat.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 10, 2012 8:06:16 PM

Despite scientific consensus, the majority of Republicans in Congress deny that global warming is occurring and/or proclaim that we don't need to worry about it because "God" will protect us.

Given that this type of magical thinking prevails in the Republican Party, I have serious doubts about whether the Repubs. will move toward a rational approach to drug policy along the lines proposed/urged by Doug.

Posted by: Scarlett Rose | Dec 10, 2012 11:35:41 PM

@Scarlett Rose
Which Republicans claim God will protect us from global warming?

And how many Democrats are pushing for Marijuana legalization?

Posted by: MikeinCT | Dec 10, 2012 11:43:56 PM

Scarlett Rose --

Would you mind telling us which party had the fat majority in Congress (both Houses) when the CSA was enacted?

Would you mind telling us which party has had the majority in Congress for most of the 40 years since the CSA, and has done nothing to modify it (except add mandatory minimums)?

Would you mind telling us which party recently had such big majorities in Congress (and the White House) that it could pass anything it wanted and defeat a filibuster?

Would you mind telling us which party is currently undertaking the clampdown on California's rogue "medical" marijuana dispensaries?

C'mon, Scarlett, don't go silent now. Inquiring minds want to know.

P.S. For bonus points, could you tell us which party recently offered the American people a candidate to be "a heartbeat away" who was cheating on his dying wife and denying his own infant daughter?


Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 11, 2012 8:53:10 AM

MikeinCT --

I have the strong feeling that God will protect Scarlett from feeling that she should give responsive answers to your questions (or mine).

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 11, 2012 9:44:41 AM

MikeinCT and Bill Otis

Scarlett is right. Republicans, like the two of you, are fact-averse.

Republicans in Congress do actually believe that some higher power will prevent global warming. http://mobile.rawstory.com/therawstory/#!/entry/god-wont-allow-global-warming-congressman-seeking-to-head-energy,4fef78937af68a84dcd7d926

17 Dem. members of Congress signed a letter asking the Feds. to leave Washington and Colorado alone on marijuana. http://polis.house.gov/uploadedfiles/11-16_polis_ltr_to_doj_dea.pdf. To my knowledge, no Repubs. signed. Though, I suspect Ron Paul would. But, he's not really a Republican.

So Bill & Mike: 2 for Scarlett; 0 for you.

Posted by: Lt. Luther | Dec 11, 2012 10:52:53 AM

Who has all the answers besides Axelrod?—who won't tell—but here are a few Exit Poll results:

"The final numbers suggest that 91.6 million votes were cast by whites –
7 million less than the 98.6 million of 2008.
16.6 million Blacks voted -- 300,000 more than in 2008, 93% for Obama
11 million Latinos voted -- 1.7 million more votes than in 2008, 71% for Obama

Share of Votes Cast by Party: Democrat 38%; Republican 32%

Young Voters
Obama 60%
Romney 37%

Blame For Current Economic Problems
Obama 38%
Bush 53%

Women............Single Women
Obama 54%.......... Obama 67%
Romney 43%........ Romney 30% ...

People Looking For Empathy In Candidate......In Touch With People Like You
Obama 81%..............................................Obama 53%
Romney 18%............................................Romney 43%

%%%%% %%%%%

Senior Citizens
Romney 55%
Obama 42%

Men..................Married Men
Romney 52%..........Romney 60%
Obama 45%............Obama 38%

Married Women
Romney 52%
Obama 45%

Independents......Independents: Virginia......Independents: Colorado
Romney 49%..........Romney 53%....................Romney 50%
Obama 45%............Obama 45%......................Obama 43%...

People Looking For Shared Values In Candidate......Has A Vision For The Future
Romney 55%................................................... Romney 54%
Obama 42%......................................................Obama 46%

* Almost all Republicans (96%) and Most independents (80%) gave the economy a thumbs-down, as did 58% of Democrats.

*About four voters in 10 say Obama’s response to Hurricane Sandy was important to their vote (42 percent), and they backed the president by a better than two-to-one margin. Fifteen percent said it was the “most important” factor in their vote.

{Edison Research interviewed 26,565 voters}

Posted by: Adamakis | Dec 11, 2012 11:10:38 AM


Regarding the bonus question, the correct answer is "neither."

Posted by: C60 | Dec 11, 2012 11:28:51 AM

Can we just throw this into the big pile of suggestions for Republicans that all mean the same thing: Stop being Republicans. This idea that their problem is simply a matter of straying from their philosophy presupposes a governing philosophy that hasn't truly existed since Reconstruction.

Posted by: Matt | Dec 11, 2012 11:51:57 AM

Lt. Luther --

I see you didn't answer a single question I asked. Wanna try again?

P.S. It's quite true that 17 Democratic representatives signed a letter to Holder asking that DOJ ignore federal pot laws in Colorado and Washington.

Could you tell me what happened to the other 182 or so? Could you tell me why not a single Dem senator signed it? And could you tell me the party to which the addressee, Mr. Holder, belongs?

Thanks so much!

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 11, 2012 12:33:12 PM

C60 --

Very good! Let me rephrase: "Which party offered the American people a candidate to be 'a heartbeat away' who would go on, not long thereafter, to cheat on his dying wife and deny his own infant daughter?"

But now that I see that you're up on the details, let me press further. Was this the same fellow who, at age 53, made, of all things, a sex tape of himself and his mistress? The same fellow who presured an aide to claim his daughter's paternity once the mainstream media could no longer avoid covering the scandal? The same fellow who, once he was forced to admit the affair, continued adamantly to deny paternity of his daughter? Until he was forced to own up to that one, too?

I must say, out of all this swamp, the single most mind-boggling thing is that a man in his fifties would have the vanity to make a sex tape of himself. The shear ego is just astounding.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 11, 2012 12:57:03 PM

Very good? What does that even mean?

Posted by: C60 | Dec 11, 2012 1:13:39 PM

C60 --

It's a compliment. But you can ignore it if you want and just read the rest of the post.

A man of true character, wouldn't you say?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 11, 2012 2:25:12 PM

Fair enough. Thank you. You will be hard-pressed to find John Edwards defenders anywhere at this point.

Posted by: C60 | Dec 11, 2012 2:40:15 PM

@Lt. Luther
I'm not sure if you understand my or Rose's posts. She claimed a MAJORITY of Republicans believed God would protect us from global warming. You're article only names one Congressman. One out of 242 is not a majority.

Similarly, 17 is not a majority of 193 Democratic members of Congress. As such, the Democratic still appears to oppose legalization or at best takes no position.

These are what we call 'facts'.

Posted by: MikeinCT | Dec 11, 2012 4:05:20 PM

Anyone for a $400 haircut?

""John Edwards ended 2004 with a problem: how to keep alive his public profile without the benefit
of a presidential campaign that could finance his travels and pay for his political staff.

Mr. Edwards, who reported this year that he had assets of nearly $30 million, came up with a novel
solution, creating a nonprofit organization with the stated mission of fighting POVERTY.

The organization, the |Center for Promise and Opportunity|, raised $1.3 million in 2005, and — unlike a sister charity he created to raise scholarship money for poor students — the main beneficiary of the center’s fund-raising was Mr. Edwards himself, tax filings show. Its officers were members of his political staff, and it helped pay for his nearly constant travel, including to early primary states.

While Mr. Edwards said the organization’s purpose was “making the eradication of POVERTY the cause of this generation,” its federal filings say it financed “RETREATS and SEMINARS€ with foreign policy experts on IRAQ and national security issues….and there were no limits on the size of individual DONATIONS."

"From speech given by Senator John Edwards as Democratic vice presidential nominee to the
2004 Democratic National Convention on 28 July 2004, based on the idea of Two Americas.
[John Edwards was later a candidate for the Democratic Presendential nomination in 2008.]

"I have spent my life fighting for the kind of people I grew up with. For two decades…
I stand here tonight ready to work with you and John [Kerry] to make America stronger…""

http://commonsensepoliticalthought.com/?p=1686 June 22, 2007; wikipedia

Posted by: Adamakis | Dec 11, 2012 4:17:57 PM

MikeinCT --

I see our friend Scarlett is maintaining radio silence. Now imagine that.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 11, 2012 4:58:44 PM

Maybe Scarlett has something to do in life other than jerking off in cyber space with you old men.

Posted by: Sparky | Dec 11, 2012 5:42:34 PM

Then she wouldn't be here to begin with and neither would you. Or does she have enough time to make one comment but couldn't possibly spare another minute?

And I'm 27.

Posted by: MikeinCT | Dec 11, 2012 6:38:34 PM

Sparky --

OK, my man, if Scarlett is too busy to answer Mike's questions and mine, perhaps you're up to it. Would you mind? Or is it that you (and she) have no answers and just want to content yourselves with the drive-by smear?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 11, 2012 8:00:58 PM

Bill, your offense to the "drive-by" smear would be taken a little more seriously were it not for your seriously fact-challenged "bonus question" above. You obviously knew the facts relating to the timing of the Edwards scandals but ignored them to smear (falsely, as it happens) a political campaign (and what John Edwards moral failings have to do with marijuana laws still remains to be seen).

But your underlying, stripped of the partisan hackery, is correct. Neither Democrats nor Republicans have any political incentive to repeal the current drug laws. Federal corrections cost $8B a year, less than rounding error amid $3.55T in spending. And outside a few small liberal college-town enclaves such as Boulder or maybe Madison, there is little political future for a federal politician easily painted as soft on crime ... any crime.

By the same token, the likely result of more states legalizing marijuana to one degree or another will be less federal enforcement in the arena in the pro-legalization states (provided the activity does not cross state lines). Presidents, not legislators, enforce the laws and they are within their rights to prioritize those enforcement requirements.

Posted by: C60 | Dec 12, 2012 11:25:19 AM

C60 --

"Bill, your offense to the 'drive-by' smear would be taken a little more seriously were it not for your seriously fact-challenged 'bonus question' above."

A question (as opposed to a statement) can hardly be fact-challenged. Nor do I have any interest in the feelings of a scattering or poorly mannered, anonymous Internet posters.

"You obviously knew the facts relating to the timing of the Edwards scandals but ignored them to smear (falsely, as it happens) a political campaign..."

Just calm down. I did not remember the dates of the Edwards scandal. Your initial answer got me to look them up. That showed that he started in with his mistress in 2006, which was after his 2004 campaign (but before his pretty serious 2008 campaign for the Democratic Presidential nomination).

The fact remains that the Democrats nominated, to be a heartbeat away, a person of astonishinly low charcter. Or do you think Edwards just suddenly developed into a liar, cheater and sleazeball in 2005? What's the evidence for that?

"...and what John Edwards moral failings have to do with marijuana laws still remains to be seen)."

That's why it was a BONUS question. My initial questions about which party is responsible for passing the CSA remain stonewalled. But if you'd like to supply the answers Scarlett, Luther and Sparky refuse to, feel free.

Beyond that, my reference to Edwards has every bit as much relevance to pot as Scarlett's bizarre references to God, global warming and putative Republican stupidity. But you take no issue with her having meandered into that -- only with me. Why is that? Double standard, maybe?

"Neither Democrats nor Republicans have any political incentive to repeal the current drug laws. Federal corrections cost $8B a year, less than rounding error amid $3.55T in spending."

Your innuendo is that those supporting continued drug prohibition are doing it only for unworthy financial motives, and not out of any good faith belief that drugs are a serious health hazard whose use should be suppressed.

That is an unworthy and undocumented sentiment, and false to boot.

"And outside a few small liberal college-town enclaves such as Boulder or maybe Madison, there is little political future for a federal politician easily painted as soft on crime ... any crime."

Again, you paint the opposition merely as making political calculations, rather than having a good faith (and widely shared) view of the dangerousness of drugs. Get over it. You are not correct merely because you are indignant, and those opposed to you aren't moral cretins merely because they are, in fact, opposed to you.

"By the same token, the likely result of more states legalizing marijuana to one degree or another will be less federal enforcement in the arena in the pro-legalization states (provided the activity does not cross state lines)."

There's hardly any federal enforcement right now against simple possession amount toked up in private. See http://www.crimeandconsequences.com/crimblog/2012/12/making-something-out-of-next-t.html

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 12, 2012 11:59:04 AM

Bill, you got caught playing fast and loose with the facts in order to advance a partisan smear. There is little more that needs to be said on that subject.

Questions can indeed be fact-challenged; surely you've heard of the concept of a false predicate, or questions assuming facts not in evidence.

You previously have erred by assuming, without any basis for doing so, that I am anti-death penalty. Now you err by assuming, again, without basis, I am pro federal drug legalization. I am not. Why you continue to leap to such conclusions without any basis to do so is a mystery.

Have a great weekend.

Posted by: C60 | Dec 15, 2012 1:03:02 AM

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