Commentary Magazine


Posts For: November 20, 2011

The Supercommittee is Hard at Work

Nope, not at putting the finishing touches on an agreement. Instead, the members are reportedly trying to figure out how to gently break the news to the public that they will not reach a deal by this week’s deadline:

Members of the “supercommittee” charged with coming up with $1.2 trillion in budget cuts are focused on how to announce failure to reach a deal, Democratic and Republican aides confirmed to CNN Sunday.

While aides said no final decision had been made, they acknowledged that — barring an unforeseen development — an announcement of an end to negotiations is the most likely scenario.

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Nope, not at putting the finishing touches on an agreement. Instead, the members are reportedly trying to figure out how to gently break the news to the public that they will not reach a deal by this week’s deadline:

Members of the “supercommittee” charged with coming up with $1.2 trillion in budget cuts are focused on how to announce failure to reach a deal, Democratic and Republican aides confirmed to CNN Sunday.

While aides said no final decision had been made, they acknowledged that — barring an unforeseen development — an announcement of an end to negotiations is the most likely scenario.

While technically the committee’s cut-off date is Wednesday, its de facto deadline is Monday, as it still needs to publicly post any deal for two days before voting.

Mike Allen runs through some of the most likely resolutions:

Aides expect some “Hail Mary” offers on Sunday, and there’s something on the stove that could be inoffensive to both sides. But the committee may not even have a fig-leaf agreement to announce. Total, embarrassing failure. The markets and the country will hate it.

The most likely scenario: The co-chairs, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), on Monday will issue a short joint statement with the basic message: “This marriage is over.” Other possibilities are to hold a short going-out-of-business hearing, or to vote down a Republican proposal and a Democratic proposal.

This is an embarrassment. But as the clock ticked down, even the most optimistic among us had to concede this was a task doomed from the beginning. Pretty much the only way to get to a deal would be if a Democrat or Republican jumped ship to the other team – and based on the ideology of the members appointed, and the fact that they were under close supervision by party leaders, this simply wasn’t going to happen.

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Obama Must Act to Stop Hamas-Fatah Deal

President Obama and his cheerleaders in the media may be fed up with Israel and its democratically elected government, but the Palestinian Authority appears to be about to take one step closer to effectively ending all hope for peace in the foreseeable future. Journalist Khaled Abu Toameh reports that PA leader Mahmoud Abbas has agreed to a key concession that will solidify the Hamas-Fatah unity pact first signed in May. The result will guarantee a strong Hamas role in the new Palestinian government that will ensure it will be impossible for the PA to agree to any deal with Israel, no matter what concessions are forced out of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or where Israel’s borders might be drawn.

One of the key holdups to a Hamas-Fatah unity government was Hamas’ insistence Abbas dump Salam Fayyad as prime minister. Fayyad is widely respected in the West for his fight against corruption, his efforts to build a viable Palestinian economy and his attempt to crack down on terrorism with the aid of U.S.-trained security personnel. According to Abu Toameh, in secret talks with Hamas in Cairo, Abbas has finally agreed that Fayyad will be forced out, setting in motion a new wave of government graft as well as making it easier for Hamas to organize itself on the West Bank. This will not only doom the Palestinians to a new era of misrule but also cut the legs out of from anyone arguing that the United States should continue to pour aid into the coffers of the PA.

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President Obama and his cheerleaders in the media may be fed up with Israel and its democratically elected government, but the Palestinian Authority appears to be about to take one step closer to effectively ending all hope for peace in the foreseeable future. Journalist Khaled Abu Toameh reports that PA leader Mahmoud Abbas has agreed to a key concession that will solidify the Hamas-Fatah unity pact first signed in May. The result will guarantee a strong Hamas role in the new Palestinian government that will ensure it will be impossible for the PA to agree to any deal with Israel, no matter what concessions are forced out of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or where Israel’s borders might be drawn.

One of the key holdups to a Hamas-Fatah unity government was Hamas’ insistence Abbas dump Salam Fayyad as prime minister. Fayyad is widely respected in the West for his fight against corruption, his efforts to build a viable Palestinian economy and his attempt to crack down on terrorism with the aid of U.S.-trained security personnel. According to Abu Toameh, in secret talks with Hamas in Cairo, Abbas has finally agreed that Fayyad will be forced out, setting in motion a new wave of government graft as well as making it easier for Hamas to organize itself on the West Bank. This will not only doom the Palestinians to a new era of misrule but also cut the legs out of from anyone arguing that the United States should continue to pour aid into the coffers of the PA.

As I predicted in September, the collapse of the Palestinian Authority’s foolish attempt to bypass negotiations and seek statehood from the United Nations without first making peace with Israel has strengthened Hamas. Though Israel’s critics said it was about to face a diplomatic “tsunami” from the PA’s UN gambit, Abbas was the real victim of his own ploy.

Some will attempt to blame the unity pact on Israel. They will say if Israel had only frozen settlements and given in to the Palestinians on borders and the future of Jerusalem, Abbas would not have been forced to deal with Hamas. But such assertions distort the facts. Abbas has always had a choice between making peace with Israel or Hamas. He chose the latter, because he knew the culture of Palestinian politics was such that his people would not accept any deal that recognized the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders were drawn. That is why he rejected Ehud Olmert’s offer of a Palestinian state in 2008 just as his predecessor Yasir Arafat rejected one in 2000 and 2001. It is also why he refused to negotiate with Israel even during the period that Netanyahu froze settlement building in 2010. The only way he could accept a state was by a UN fiat that bypasses recognition of Israel.

The rule of Hamas in Gaza, where it has imposed its will since a bloody coup in 2006, reflects the true face of Palestinian statehood. Though the vast majority of Israelis would gladly agree to a two-state solution that would entail great sacrifices for their country, they know allowing Hamas to replicate its terrorist state in the West Bank would only lead to an upsurge in terrorism and more bloodshed. The notion that they will agree to any concessions on land to a PA where Hamas has the whip hand is absurd.

The unity pact also demonstrates the bankruptcy of President Obama’s Middle East diplomacy. By focusing almost exclusively on trying to badger Netanyahu into concessions on the 1967 borders and settlements, Obama has only reinforced Palestinian intransigence and set the stage for Hamas to gain ground.

It should also be understood that allowing Hamas to get a foothold in the PA has implications for the region as well as the peace process. Hamas is an Iranian ally. A victory for them undermines moderate Arabs everywhere.

But it is not too late for the president to start using the considerable leverage he still holds over Abbas. Were Obama to tell Abbas that if he dumps Fayyad, he will lose every penny of the hundreds of millions of dollars he gets from the U.S. annually and that Washington will work to cut off every other avenue of aid, that would get the PA’s attention. Only by cracking down hard on the PA now is there any hope for averting a deal that will expand the influence of Iran’s Islamist terrorist auxiliaries.

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FBI Statistics Belie Islamophobia Hysteria

It has become an accepted trope of contemporary journalism that American Muslims are under siege and beset by hatred and prejudice. But the evidence for this conventional wisdom is lacking. The story line of Muslim persecution in the United States has always been a matter of anecdotes and perception, not facts. That truth was confirmed this week when the FBI released their annual crime statistics report which showed once again that hate crimes against Muslims remain rare and are far outnumbered by attacks on Jews.

The report is not perfect, since not all parts of the country do a good job compiling the data, but it provides an important snapshot of the state of the nation regarding bias crimes. But the numbers speak for themselves. In 2010, only 13.2 percent of religion-based attacks were directed at Muslims. By comparison, 65.4 percent of such crimes were directed at Jews. This shows a slight increase over the last two years (the raw numbers show 887 anti-Jewish attacks with only 160 anti-Muslim attacks), but is not a statistical fluke. In 2009, the FBI reported that 70.1 percent of religious-based hate crimes were anti-Jewish while only 9.3 percent were anti-Islamic. In 2008, the FBI said 66.1 percent were anti-Jewish while 7.5 percent were anti-Muslim. This has been true of every year in the past decade, even in 2001 when anti-Muslim crime spiked in the wake of 9/11. For all of the breast-beating about Islamophobia in this country, anti-Semitism remains a far greater problem.

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It has become an accepted trope of contemporary journalism that American Muslims are under siege and beset by hatred and prejudice. But the evidence for this conventional wisdom is lacking. The story line of Muslim persecution in the United States has always been a matter of anecdotes and perception, not facts. That truth was confirmed this week when the FBI released their annual crime statistics report which showed once again that hate crimes against Muslims remain rare and are far outnumbered by attacks on Jews.

The report is not perfect, since not all parts of the country do a good job compiling the data, but it provides an important snapshot of the state of the nation regarding bias crimes. But the numbers speak for themselves. In 2010, only 13.2 percent of religion-based attacks were directed at Muslims. By comparison, 65.4 percent of such crimes were directed at Jews. This shows a slight increase over the last two years (the raw numbers show 887 anti-Jewish attacks with only 160 anti-Muslim attacks), but is not a statistical fluke. In 2009, the FBI reported that 70.1 percent of religious-based hate crimes were anti-Jewish while only 9.3 percent were anti-Islamic. In 2008, the FBI said 66.1 percent were anti-Jewish while 7.5 percent were anti-Muslim. This has been true of every year in the past decade, even in 2001 when anti-Muslim crime spiked in the wake of 9/11. For all of the breast-beating about Islamophobia in this country, anti-Semitism remains a far greater problem.

As I wrote last year when I debunked the mythical backlash against Muslims in an article in the October 2010 issue of COMMENTARY, the notion of a rising wave of hatred against Muslims is unsupported by any statistical research. When you consider that Muslims claim to have about the same number of adherents in this country as Jews and that anti-Jewish crimes have always far outnumbered those committed against Muslims, the media hysteria about Islamophobia is exposed as a big lie. But even if there are fewer Muslims here than their groups claim, the conclusion is unchanged.

Because the far greater number of attacks on Jews is not viewed (even by those groups dedicated to monitoring anti-Semitism such as the Anti-Defamation League) as proof the country is boiling with hatred for Jews, how can anyone rationally argue that the far fewer number of assaults on Muslims can justify the conclusion that Islamophobia is rampant?

Muslims, who have had to labor under the burden of guilt-by-association with the 9/11 attacks and the rise of Islamist terror in the Middle East, cannot be blamed for worrying about perceptions of their community. Like every religious and ethnic minority, they face bias. There has been a disturbing and persistent record of home grown Islamic terrorists and groups that purport to represent American Muslims, like the extremist Council on American Islamic-Relations (CAIR), which have ties to terror groups or have rationalized extremism. But most American Muslims are hard working and law-abiding.

But despite the claim of rampant Islamophobia, it is the relative absence of hatred and discrimination against Muslims that has best characterized American life in the last decade. While any number of hate crimes directed at Muslims is regrettable and all deserve to be punished, there is no basis in fact for the notion Islam is under siege here. If anything, the latest FBI statistics point out that lingering anti-Semitism — bolstered, it must be admitted, by a rising tide of Jew-hatred emanating from the Muslim world — remains a more potent threat.

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Iowa Polls Point to Confusion, Not Gingrich

Mitt Romney skipped yesterday’s debate in Iowa sponsored by a social conservative group. Those in attendance took it as a sign that the former Massachusetts governor isn’t competing in the Hawkeye state. However, as the New York Times reports today, though Romney spent this weekend in New Hampshire, he is planning an all-out push in Iowa in the last month of campaigning, aiming at a knockout blow that will give him a stranglehold on the nomination in January.

The idea of a Romney win in Iowa seems farfetched if you take the latest Rasmussen Poll of likely caucus-goers seriously. In the survey conducted on November 15, Newt Gingrich vaulted to an improbable 32-19 percent lead over Romney. This survey certainly confirms the strength of the Gingrich surge, but the volatility of these numbers even when compared to past Rasmussen polls in the state undermines the notion this race can be easily predicted. Less than a month earlier, Rasmussen had Gingrich trailing Romney by 12 percentage points with the former Speaker of the House only being supported by 9 percent. Though some very smart analysts, like the Weekly Standard’s Fred Barnes, are claiming this latest twist in the race is not a fluke and Gingrich won’t fade as others have, it’s difficult to place much faith in numbers that fluctuate that much.

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Mitt Romney skipped yesterday’s debate in Iowa sponsored by a social conservative group. Those in attendance took it as a sign that the former Massachusetts governor isn’t competing in the Hawkeye state. However, as the New York Times reports today, though Romney spent this weekend in New Hampshire, he is planning an all-out push in Iowa in the last month of campaigning, aiming at a knockout blow that will give him a stranglehold on the nomination in January.

The idea of a Romney win in Iowa seems farfetched if you take the latest Rasmussen Poll of likely caucus-goers seriously. In the survey conducted on November 15, Newt Gingrich vaulted to an improbable 32-19 percent lead over Romney. This survey certainly confirms the strength of the Gingrich surge, but the volatility of these numbers even when compared to past Rasmussen polls in the state undermines the notion this race can be easily predicted. Less than a month earlier, Rasmussen had Gingrich trailing Romney by 12 percentage points with the former Speaker of the House only being supported by 9 percent. Though some very smart analysts, like the Weekly Standard’s Fred Barnes, are claiming this latest twist in the race is not a fluke and Gingrich won’t fade as others have, it’s difficult to place much faith in numbers that fluctuate that much.

Though he was absent from yesterday’s family values debate (which was not televised and thus had less impact than the previous GOP tussles), the scrum among those competing for the role of conservative “not Romney” points as much to Romney’s opportunity in Iowa as anything else. With Gingrich, Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, Rick Perry and Herman Cain competing for social conservatives and Tea Partiers and with Ron Paul maintaining his slice of voters who prefer an extremist libertarian/isolationist, there’s little likelihood of any of them being able to win the 30 percent or so of the vote that would guarantee victory in such a divided field. That leaves Romney–who has maintained a steady 20-25 percent figure in the polls–with a good chance of finishing first.

As for Gingrich, the spin coming out of his camp and from some conservative writers is that the “new Gingrich” — as opposed to the “old Newt” who appeared dead in the water over the summer and who could be relied on for a daily gaffe — is a disciplined and experienced politician who will cruise down the home stretch and easily outpace Romney and the other candidates. It’s been a crazy year where the old rules of primary elections don’t always apply, but the idea that Gingrich, who is clearly to the left of Romney and the field on the economy and the budget, somehow becoming the favorite of the Tea Party as well as the champion of family values boggles the imagination.

This is, after all, the same man who earlier this year blasted Paul Ryan’s plan for reforming Medicare and other entitlements as “right-wing social engineering” and also has a record of supporting a federal individual personal mandate for health care that is arguably even more heretical for Republicans than Romneycare. If Tea Partiers think ill of Romney, one has to ask why they would trust Gingrich, who has flip-flopped on all these issues?

The President Gingrich scenario also presupposes that Barack Obama is such a weak candidate that any Republican, even one as flawed and as widely disliked as Gingrich, can beat him. That is a myth. Despite his problems, Obama will be a formidable and well-funded incumbent who will have a number of natural advantages next November.

Gingrich has benefitted from being ignored by the media for months. While other candidates were scrutinized for flaws, Gingrich, who has more skeletons in his closet than the rest of the field combined, has flown under the radar while doing well in the debates. That should change in the next few weeks, and some of the luster may fade from Gingrich’s boomlet. Gingrich may be up in the polls this week, but if Romney makes an all-out effort in Iowa, he could still squeak by to a victory that could effectively end the GOP race.

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The Federal Government and…Child Care?

According to the Washington Post, if Democrats re-take control of the House, then at the top of Nancy Pelosi’s to-do list will be “doing for child care what we did for health-care reform” – pushing comprehensive change. That is alarming but not particularly noteworthy. What is worth paying attention to is Pelosi’s rationale.

In justifying her priorities, Pelosi said, “I could never get a babysitter -have five kids in six years and no one wants to come to your house. . . . And everywhere I go, women say the same thing” about how hard it is to find the kind of reliable care that would make their family lives calmer and work lives more productive. Read More

According to the Washington Post, if Democrats re-take control of the House, then at the top of Nancy Pelosi’s to-do list will be “doing for child care what we did for health-care reform” – pushing comprehensive change. That is alarming but not particularly noteworthy. What is worth paying attention to is Pelosi’s rationale.

In justifying her priorities, Pelosi said, “I could never get a babysitter -have five kids in six years and no one wants to come to your house. . . . And everywhere I go, women say the same thing” about how hard it is to find the kind of reliable care that would make their family lives calmer and work lives more productive.

Now most of us, if we had problems finding a babysitter, would ask for names from friends, neighbors and perhaps the parents of classmates. We might inquire with people in our Bible study, father-son book club or soccer league. We would consider putting up an announcement in the local library or going through a baby-sitting service. We might place an ad in a local newspaper. But what we wouldn’t assume is that this was a job for government to get involved with.

And even if we did, we would probably think in terms of the principle of subsidiarity, looking to local government before ever thinking of resorting to an appeal to the state government. So who on earth would assume that finding a babysitter to watch your children is the responsibility of the federal government?

The answer is: A liberal Democratic serving in the United States Congress (and in this case, the former Speaker of the House).

It’s hard to imagine what areas of life exist, if any at all, that a modern-day liberal believes is beyond the proper scope and reach of the federal government. The Constitution is, in large part, a governing document meant to limit the power of the federal government (and the power of government more broadly). The degree to which liberalism has not only traveled away from, but is now actively at odds with, the animating beliefs of the founders is staggering.

And this journey away from constitutionalism, and what it means for the life of our country, will frame the 2012 election. That is something that should delight, and will undoubtedly benefit, conservatives.

 

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Displaying American Power in the Pacific

I have often found myself critical of the Obama administration’s foreign policy, especially when it comes to the drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan, so I think it is important to give credit where it’s due. And Obama deserves credit, during his current Asian trip, for skillfully mobilizing regional opposition to Chinese expansionism and deftly displaying American power in the Pacific. The highlights of the trip include the unveiling of a new U.S.-Australia accord that will allow the stationing of Marines in the north, and the decision to send Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Myanmar(nee Burma) to reengage with a dictatorial regime which is showing greater openness to the opposition and greater wariness about becoming overly reliant on Chinese support.

Much of this involves pushing on an open door–but some open doors need to be pushed. China’s neighbors are increasingly wary of its attempts to dominate the region, by claiming, for example, sovereignty over practically the entire South China Sea. Thus, we see Japan entering into little-noticed but highly significant security accords with the Philippines, India and Vietnam. This could be the beginning of a NATO-like structure in the Pacific to contain China. It will test Obama’s skill at diplomacy to see if he can continue and expand this trend in the face of Chinese attempts to push back.

 

I have often found myself critical of the Obama administration’s foreign policy, especially when it comes to the drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan, so I think it is important to give credit where it’s due. And Obama deserves credit, during his current Asian trip, for skillfully mobilizing regional opposition to Chinese expansionism and deftly displaying American power in the Pacific. The highlights of the trip include the unveiling of a new U.S.-Australia accord that will allow the stationing of Marines in the north, and the decision to send Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Myanmar(nee Burma) to reengage with a dictatorial regime which is showing greater openness to the opposition and greater wariness about becoming overly reliant on Chinese support.

Much of this involves pushing on an open door–but some open doors need to be pushed. China’s neighbors are increasingly wary of its attempts to dominate the region, by claiming, for example, sovereignty over practically the entire South China Sea. Thus, we see Japan entering into little-noticed but highly significant security accords with the Philippines, India and Vietnam. This could be the beginning of a NATO-like structure in the Pacific to contain China. It will test Obama’s skill at diplomacy to see if he can continue and expand this trend in the face of Chinese attempts to push back.

 

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The Unmaking of Palestine

In today’s New York Times Book Review, Jeffrey Goldberg reviews Gershom Gorenberg’s The Unmaking of Israel (which is also reviewed at American Thinker today by Jerold S. Auerbach). Goldberg notes several issues that Gorenberg, “like many on the left, pays scant attention” to:

…the Arab states that provoked the Six-Day War and then, after their defeat, remained defiant and mainly uninterested in a quick exchange of territory for recognition of Israel. Nor does Gorenberg waste much ink crediting various Israeli governments with trying, over the years, to reach an equitable arrangement with the Palestinians … Nor does he grapple in any serious way with a subject of some relevance — the civil war among Palestinians …. Moreover, the corrosive anti-Semitism that long ago infected parts of the Palestinian polity (not to mention other parts of the Muslim world) is dismissed rather blithely.

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In today’s New York Times Book Review, Jeffrey Goldberg reviews Gershom Gorenberg’s The Unmaking of Israel (which is also reviewed at American Thinker today by Jerold S. Auerbach). Goldberg notes several issues that Gorenberg, “like many on the left, pays scant attention” to:

…the Arab states that provoked the Six-Day War and then, after their defeat, remained defiant and mainly uninterested in a quick exchange of territory for recognition of Israel. Nor does Gorenberg waste much ink crediting various Israeli governments with trying, over the years, to reach an equitable arrangement with the Palestinians … Nor does he grapple in any serious way with a subject of some relevance — the civil war among Palestinians …. Moreover, the corrosive anti-Semitism that long ago infected parts of the Palestinian polity (not to mention other parts of the Muslim world) is dismissed rather blithely.

Goldberg nevertheless concludes: “Still, it is the Jews who created many of the problems the Jewish state faces today, and it is Jews who must fix them.” He describes as reasonable the suggestions to “disentangle religion from the state” and “return thousands of settlers to Israel proper” — but suggests Israelis may not be ready to adopt them.

Maybe that is because the latter step was already tried in Gaza and did not work out so well. Perhaps there is an even more reasonable requirement: if Arabs can be 20 percent of the Jewish state, there is no reason Jews cannot be a single-digit percentage of a Palestinian one – and Palestinian willingness to accept that fact may be the best way to judge their readiness for a state.

As for the entanglement of Judaism with the Jewish state, one rarely hears of the need to disentangle Islam from a Palestinian state, and one suspects a greater problem is the entanglement of anti-Semitism in the Palestinian national project. As Ruth Wisse notes in “The Suicidal Passion,” her important essay in the November 21 issue of The Weekly Standard:

Arab leaders do not yet acknowledge that they sealed the doom of their societies in 1948 when they organized their politics against the Jewish state rather than toward the improvement of their countries. … Whereas Europeans were jolted by revelations of what came to be known as the Holocaust into awareness of the ruin anti-Semitism had wrought, Arab leaders saw in the Jews the same political opportunities that had enticed Germany. Anti-Semitism was the European ideology most eagerly imported and adapted to the Middle East.

That resulted in problems that, because they were created by Arabs, must be fixed by them.

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Will We See a “New” Gingrich?

The rise of Newt Gingrich in Iowa, New Hampshire and nationally is real. The question, of course, is whether it can be sustained. No one really knows at this stage. But what is clear is Gingrich presents the most serious challenge the Romney campaign has yet faced.

None of the other candidates who have risen in the polls to challenge Gingrich– Bachmann, Perry or Cain — possess his political skills, which are considerable. And none can match his past political achievements, which are impressive. One has the sense that unlike the others, Gingrich at least belongs in Romney’s weight class. Which means this could be a real contest.

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The rise of Newt Gingrich in Iowa, New Hampshire and nationally is real. The question, of course, is whether it can be sustained. No one really knows at this stage. But what is clear is Gingrich presents the most serious challenge the Romney campaign has yet faced.

None of the other candidates who have risen in the polls to challenge Gingrich– Bachmann, Perry or Cain — possess his political skills, which are considerable. And none can match his past political achievements, which are impressive. One has the sense that unlike the others, Gingrich at least belongs in Romney’s weight class. Which means this could be a real contest.

Governor Romney still has to be considered the favorite, at least based on the usual political metrics (money, early-state organizations, staff professionalism, etc). Romney has become a formidable candidate, including an excellent debater. For moderate-leaning GOP voters, whose numbers are not inconsiderable, Romney is the clear choice. And Gingrich has accrued a lot of what’s commonly referred to as “baggage” these days. As I’ve argued before, now that he’s considered a front-runner, the intensity of the coverage of Gingrich — never a media favorite to begin with –will be enormous. And like the others, Gingrich might wither away.

Still, Gingrich has played in the big leagues for many years now. He has the capacity to inspire conservatives in a way that Romney, at least so far, has not. He possesses an active and creative (if impulsive and sometimes unrestrained) mind. And Gingrich understands, at least intellectually, his past weaknesses, including his lack of discipline and propensity to use strident, even apocalyptic, language.

To prevail, we would have to see a “new” Gingrich. Whether a man at Gingrich’s age can re-make himself is an open question. I have my doubts. But Gingrich now has his chance to prove me, and others like me, wrong.

Stay tuned.

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