Q&A: Politix’s John Ellis

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Late last week, TIME spoke to John Ellis, who has blogged, worked in the election units of NBC and Fox News, written columns for the Boston Globe, and now runs a new website at Business Insider called Politix. Ellis is one of the hardest-headed political observers we know and he was kind enough to take on a few questions:

Now that Paul Ryan’s budget blueprint has passed the House, has the tea party reached its high water mark? Or just getting warmed up?

I’m not sure there is such a thing as “the” Tea Party.  There are a lot of Tea Parties.  And as long as municipalities and states (and the nation as a whole) continue to experience financial stress, the Tea Parties will continue to be important. So, I guess the answer is “no, just getting warmed up.”

You wrote last week that, even though John Boehner played a mean game of chicken with Barack Obama,  the 2011 budget deal may have weakened Boehner’s grip on the Speaker’s chair.  How come?

The Speaker is an old school Republican politician and the center of gravity is shifting to the younger, more aggressive, more ideological GOP leaders in the House.  The FY2011 budget deal left a lot of people on the Republican side with buyer’s remorse.  They wanted $60 billion in cuts.  They were promised $38 billion in cuts.  At the end of the day, they got $353 million, according to the CBO analysis. If that happens again, Boehner is a goner.

Obama gave a budget speech last week that many saw as the opening of his re-election campaign. Do you see any evidence that Republicans and the White House could possibly do a real deal on entitlements and debt before the election?

No.  Rep. Ryan was quoted last week saying that the parties were too far apart for “a grand bargain.”  But he said that the parties might be able to cut smaller deals.  I’m not even sure they can do that.

Your new site, Politix, has re-factored economics, public pensions and the bond market into the normal political equation in an interesting way.   Is 2012 election going to be about “The Global Economy, stupid?”

When we created the site, we said that we would cover three things: (1) the debt tsunami and its consequences, (2) threats to the national security of the United States and the “developed” world, and (3) the political argument about these two subjects — in other words, the 2012 presidential campaign.  We think that national governance will be devoted to the first two “issues” and that state and local governance will be exclusively devoted to dealing with debt in all of its iterations; deficits, unfunded liabilities, pension reform, what have you. We think the 2012 presidential election will largely revolve around these two issues as well.

With the GOP primaries less than a year away, the field doesn’t look very robust. Who’s really in — and how worried is the party about that?

Romney, Gingrich, Pawlenty, Huckabee, Santorum, Bachmann, Barbour all seem like they’re definitely in.  I don’t know about Palin, Huntsman and Daniels.  Trump, I assume, is a publicity stunt. Republicans generally share Peggy Noonan’s view that the party needs as many senior, experienced, serious candidates as it can find.

Before the year is over, will Obama face a challenge on his left? 

No.  Obama is unpopular with the elite base.  But he has no “issues” with the rank and file base.

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