A once little-known set of national educational standards introduced in 44 states and the District of Columbia with the overwhelming support of Republican governors, the Common Core has incited intense resistance on the right and prompted some in the party to reverse field and join colleagues who believe it will lead to a federal takeover of schools. Conservatives denounce it as "Obamacore," in what has become a surefire applause line for potential presidential hopefuls. Other Republicans are facing opprobrium from their own party for not doing more to stop it. At a recent Republican women's club luncheon in North Carolina, a member went from table to table distributing literature that called the program part of "the silent erosion of our civil liberties."
It didn't generate much attention, but Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) quietly changed his mind about a fairly important national issue: after having already endorsed the Common Core academic standards in his state, the governor decided to reverse course.
Jindal must have seen some value in Common Core or he wouldn't have embraced the standards in the first place. But Jindal is gearing up for a national campaign; he realizes this has become a major rallying cry for the GOP base, and so the governor found it easier to simply reverse course.
Jonathan Martin noted over the weekend that this is part of a larger trend.
Remember, when these standards were embraced four years ago as part of a national campaign to improve proficiency in math and English, it was neither partisan nor ideological. Business leaders endorsed the program, as did many Republican governors.
So what happened? Martin's report added an eerily familiar sentence: "The Republican revolt against the Common Core can be traced to President Obama's embrace of it."
The list of issues that enjoyed GOP support right up until the president agreed with them isn't short: cap and trade, individual health care mandates, payroll tax breaks, civilian trials for terrorist suspects, the DREAM Act, clean debt-ceiling increases, etc. But it appears Common Core belongs on the list.
It's become so bad that in January, Common Core supporters practically begged the White House not to mention the standards in the State of the Union address, fearing it would necessarily push Republicans further away. "It's imperative that the president not say anything about the Common Core State Standards," Michael Petrilli, executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, said at the time, adding, "If he cares more about the success of this initiative than credit-taking, he will skip over it."
Obama obliged, but it didn't help.
I should reemphasize that the debate over Common Core does not fall strictly along partisan or ideological lines -- there are liberals who've criticized the standards and conservatives who've praised them -- but the most heated concerns have been raised by conservative activists, who've incorporated Common Core into a larger conspiracy theory. Right Wing Watch noted that Glenn Beck has called the education standards the "biggest story in American history" because, as he sees it, the policy is a plot to turn school children into cogs under a police state.
It reached the point a few months ago that some Republican supporters actually thought about changing the name of Common Core, while leaving the substance in place, in the hopes of defusing right-wing opposition. In January, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R), who's already endorsed Common Core, told the Council of Chief State School Officers, which helped create Common Core, "Rebrand it, refocus it, but don't retreat."
But for much of the GOP, that train has left the station and the time to move quickly away from the education standards is now. The far-right base has made up its mind and dissent will not be tolerated.