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First Thoughts: The GOP establishment strikes back?

The GOP establishment strikes back?... But in the long run, DeMint could make the conservative (and anti-establishment) movement even more powerful… Is the Senate losing its inside influence?... South Carolina, the place to be in 2014… The monthly job numbers: 146,000 jobs created in November, unemployment rate dips to 7.7%... The one-billion-dollar men: Both Team Obama and Team Romney raise more than $1 billion each… Another labor battle in the Midwest -- this time in Michigan… And welcome back, Alan Grayson.  

*** The GOP establishment strikes back? An interesting thing has happened in the month since the Republican Party’s losses in the November election: The GOP establishment has struck back -- at least in the short term. Consider the evidence: In the race for GOP conference chair, the establishment-backed Cathy McMorris Rodgers defeated the more conservative Tom Price. John Boehner’s position as speaker seems stronger than it has before. More and more congressional Republicans are signaling that they’re open to raising taxes (as long as they get something in return). And then yesterday, Sen. Jim DeMint, one of the biggest thorns in the GOP establishment’s side, announced that he was leaving the Senate in January to lead the conservative Heritage Foundation. While the DeMint-founded PAC Senate Conservatives Fund backed some of the rising stars in the party (Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz), it also supported candidates that went on to lose potential lay-up contests (Sharron Angle, Ken Buck, Christine O’Donnell, Richard Mourdock). It’s a question worth pondering: Would Mitch McConnell be the incoming majority leader if DeMint’s PAC and activism didn’t exist?

J. Scott Applewhite / AP

House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, accompanied by the House GOP leadership, gestures as he speak to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012, following a closed-door GOP strategy session. From left are, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of Calif., Boehner, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Va.

***  But in the long run, DeMint could make the conservative movement more powerful : Yet the establishment GOP’s new mojo is only a short-term development for now. It’s very possible that, in the long run, DeMint could make the conservative -- and anti-establishment -- movement even stronger from the outside. If Dick Armey could organize conservative forces in 2009-2010, just think what someone like DeMint could do; he very well could turn Heritage into a Club for Growth on steroids. As a prominent conservative told one of us, DeMint could very well “become the CEO of the conservative movement” at Heritage. In fact, DeMint   told Rush Limbaugh yesterday   that he could have a greater impact on politics from outside the Senate than inside of it. “I believe that I can do more good for the conservative movement outside of the Senate in leveraging the assets of the Heritage Foundation to communicate a more positive, optimistic message to the American people.”

NBC's Mark Murray and Domenico Montanaro discuss the comeback of the House Republican establishment and Sen. Jim DeMint's resignation to lead the Heritage Foundation.

***  The Senate and its influence: Chew on that quote above for a few minutes. What does it say about the institution of the Senate that a member has more potential power outside of it than inside it? Is it a recognition that if you’re not in leadership, you can’t be as influential as you want to be? That’s always been a reality of the House. But the Senate, too?

*** South Carolina -- the place to be in 2014: With DeMint’s exit, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) gets to appoint a successor through 2014. Some of the possibilities: U.S. Rep. Tim Scott (who is African American and is the favorite among many conservatives), U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney, former U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett (whom Haley defeated in the 2010 SC GOP GOV runoff), former state Attorney General Henry McMaster (who also competed in that crowded GOV field), state Rep. Nathan Ballentine (a close Haley ally), and the governor's deputy chief of staff Ted Pitts (a former legislator). Perhaps more importantly, South Carolina will have three marquee contests in 2014 -- two Senate seats and a governorship will all be up for grabs, and there are plenty of ambitious state Republicans who want these positions. But it’s also not out of the realm of possibility that a Democrat could emerge to be a player in one of these races, taking advantage of what could turn into some nasty and ugly GOP primaries. If you’re a young political reporter, move to Columbia. It could very well be the most fascinating place to be in 2013-2014. And don’t forget: As an early presidential primary state, 2016 will be impacted by what takes place in the state in 2014.

*** The monthly jobs numbers: 146,000 jobs created in November; unemployment rate drops to 7.7%: You know the presidential election is over when today’s monthly jobs report is far from your top political story of the day. Indeed, the Wall Street Journal calls today’s report the “Least important jobs report in 5 years.” One reason why is that the election is over. Another reason is the potential impact that Hurricane Sandy made. But given Sandy, the numbers are surprisingly strong. The AP: “The U.S. economy added a solid 146,000 jobs in November and the unemployment rate fell to 7.7 percent, the lowest since December 2008. The government said Superstorm Sandy had only a minimal effect on the figures.” Two economists indicated to one of us that Sandy was worth a loss of 80,000-100,000 jobs. So imagine what this report would be without Sandy?

*** The One-Billion-Dollar Men: Politico notes that, with the final numbers in, both Team Obama and Team Romney raised more than $1 billion. “Obama: $1.123 billion vs. Romney: $1.019 billion. That’s the final fundraising tally in the most expensive presidential election ever, according to reports filed Thursday with the Federal Election Commission by the rival campaigns and party committees.”

*** Another labor battle in the Midwest: And here’s the top political story outside of Washington, per the Detroit Free Press: “Michigan, considered the birthplace of the American organized labor movement, was on a fast track to becoming the nation's 24th right-to-work state late Thursday after the state House and Senate passed bills as part of a package to pass the law. Labor and Democrats were pushing back hard against the Workplace Fairness and Equity Act, but the efforts seemed futile as the controversial measures moved like greased lightning -- and without going through committees or public debate -- and could land on Gov. Rick Snyder's desk by next week. The debate raged across Michigan, and the country on Thursday, as to whether the legislation would do what proponents say, bring fairness to workers and spark economic growth; or do as opponents claim, lower wages and benefits and destroy the middle class.”

*** Welcome back, Alan Grayson: NBC’s Carrie Dann has profiled 10 new members to watch in the next Congress. Today’s profile: Alan Grayson (and he’s a familiar face). “He's ba-ack. Alan Grayson, the quotable liberal firebrand whose zippy insults served as cable catnip during his previous stint in Congress, will be back on the Hill again next year. After losing his 2010 re-election bid, Grayson moved to a new Orlando district and sailed to victory this year over Republican Todd Long. The man who disgraced former Rep. Anthony Weiner once labeled as ‘one fry short of a happy meal,’ has garnered frequent outrage for his rhetorical bombs. He was forced to apologize after referring to a banking lobbyist as a ‘K Street whore’; he said Florida Gov. Rick Scott would have ‘blood on his hands’ if he did not implement some parts of the health-care plan; and he accused Republicans of offering only the health-care proposal that sick people should ‘die quickly.’ He was roundly beaten by Republican Daniel Webster in 2010 but will return having won by a 25-point margin in a redrawn district. Cable news bookers, start your engines.” 

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