In the wake of Mitt Romney’s decisive victory in Florida, conservatives are faced with a couple of important choices. One is whether they will at some point in the foreseeable future make their peace with the former Massachusetts governor. The other is which of the remaining conservative candidates in the race will they support before they concede Romney is the nominee.
The answer to the first question is obvious. Though some right-wingers may not be able to reconcile themselves to Romney, after a few more primary wins for him, most conservatives will start getting on Mitt’s bandwagon in order to prevent Barack Obama’s re-election. The answer to the second is not so obvious. Though Newt Gingrich claimed Florida demonstrated that the GOP battle is now a two-person race, the lopsided margin in a state that only Gingrich seriously contested will not inspire much confidence in the former speaker’s standing as the leading “not Romney.” Though Rick Santorum finished far behind him in Florida, the weird and graceless manner with which Gingrich did not concede after losing combined with the wave of sympathy for Santorum due to his refusal to join the Florida mudslinging and his daughter’s illness may make the former Pennsylvania senator the more likely conservative standard bearer going forward.
Mitt Romney’s huge win tonight in Florida was sufficiently large that it is not possible to interpret it as anything but a stamp of approval from a broad cross-section of Republican voters in a closed primary. Given that by the last week the primary had become a two-man race, it is also impossible to avoid the conclusion that it was a resounding rejection of Newt Gingrich. Gingrich appears likely to take the sore loser scenario in the coming weeks as he attempts to foul the well for the likely nominee by branding him as not just a relative moderate — which is what Romney actually is — but a liberal. Gingrich may be able to convince his large donors to fund a last ditch and probably futile effort to derail the frontrunner. But he is unlikely to persuade most Republicans they are better off with a crippled nominee simply to vent his personal spleen at Romney for having beaten him at his own game with negative ads.
More importantly, the message Gingrich has been given from Florida Republicans is they consider him less electable than Romney.
Exit polls in Florida are showing that Jews only made up one percent of the electorate in today’s Republican primary. Since that is down from three percent in the 2008 GOP primary, Nate Silver of the New York Times concludes that this may show a lack of enthusiasm for the Republican field among Jews. That might mean, he writes, there may be reason for Democrats to think Jewish resentment of President Obama’s attitude toward Israel may not be carrying over into the 2012 election. But Democrats would be foolish to seize on such flimsy evidence for proof they are not in trouble with Jewish voters.
It is true that a drop in GOP Jewish registration shows none of the candidates generated enough Jewish buzz to get more voters to switch party affiliation as in 2008. But the comparison is unfair, because the man who drove that mini-surge in Jewish Republican voters was Rudy Giuliani. Though he flopped in the Florida primary four years ago, the former mayor of New York was a big favorite of the Jewish and pro-Israel community. None of this year’s Republican crop can claim that kind of loyalty from Jews, but the ultimate winner of the GOP nomination will have one thing going for him: he’ll be running against an incumbent president who is rightly viewed by many Jews as having distanced himself from Israel.
According to a new report by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), “In part because of the dampening effect of the higher tax rates and curbs on spending scheduled to occur this year and next, CBO expects that the economy will continue to recover slowly, with real GDP growing by 2.0 percent this year and 1.1 percent next year (as measured by the change from the fourth quarter of the previous calendar year). CBO expects economic activity to quicken after 2013 but to remain below the economy’s potential until 2018.”
America’s Lost Decade continues.
How radioactive is Sheldon Adelson these days? It’s gotten to the point where the casino mogul and Gingrich campaign mega-contributor is vulnerable to criticism in some quarters even when he does something non-controversial. That’s the only way to look at the issue of whether he had any involvement in the creation of a special post-Sabbath Republican caucus meeting in Nevada’s Clark County.
Accommodating Jews who observe the Sabbath and might otherwise be deprived of participation in a caucus scheduled on a Saturday seems like just the right thing to do, especially in a city like Las Vegas with a not inconsiderable Jewish population. But after the publicity that has attached to his decision to pump $10 million into the Gingrich campaign, Adelson is so sensitive about the notion he is manipulating the Republican Party that his spokesman denied today he had any involvement in the decision to set up a Saturday night caucus that will take place at a Jewish religious school he and his wife helped fund. But according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, he does deserve some credit for the effort to help Orthodox Jews vote.
President Obama and Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili were all smiles after their meeting at the White House earlier today. Obama reportedly told Saakashvili he wants a U.S.-Georgia free trade agreement, and the two leaders discussed security cooperation as well.
Obama also made a verbal gesture toward Georgia that everyone pretends to be reassured by even though it’s usually utterly meaningless: He reaffirmed American support for Georgia’s acceptance into NATO. But in this case, Obama’s NATO comments are actually important, whether the NATO bid goes anywhere or not. That’s because the reasons to keep Georgia out of NATO have disappeared, and we’ll find out whether the West’s commitment to its allies and to global security are all, as Obama might say, “just words.”
A thoughtful post by Donniel Hartman published yesterday on the Shalom Hartman Institute’s blog and eJewishPhilanthropy deserves serious consideration by all concerned about the impact of Haredi extremism in Israel.
Rather than casting all the blame on the Haredi minority or imagining there are facile solutions to the current problems, Hartman rightly casts his eye on the Israeli Jewish majority’s inability to articulate a coherent and compelling idea of Jewishness.
The Huffington Post picks up on Alana’s earlier post about the kosher food controversy while Mitt Romney was governor of Massachusetts, and adds a new wrinkle: a robocall “paid for by Newt 2012” is telling voters that “Holocaust survivors, who for the first time, were forced to eat non-kosher, because Romney thought $5 was too much to pay for our grandparents to eat kosher.”
Alana ably debunked the notion that anyone had to eat non-kosher food. Rather than move on, however, Gingrich seems to be upping the ante. “Newt 2012” is the name Gingrich’s campaign has been using, so I’m not sure how he’ll avoid owning up to this particular robocall. And unlike with regard to a Super PAC, there is no legal barrier preventing Gingrich from controlling the content and distribution of the robocall.
Developments in Egypt continue to take an ominous turn a year after the widely hailed revolution which ousted Hosni Mubarak. Not only have Islamist parties won two-thirds of the seats in the new parliament, but the military, which still retains a dominant voice in government, is intent on blaming foreign agitators for the discontent that continues to be felt in the streets. In particular, it has turned on non-governmental organizations which receive U.S. funding, forcing three employees of the International Republican Institute to seek refuge at the U.S. embassy in Cairo for fear they will be arrested. The fact that one of the refugees is Sam LaHood, son of the U.S. transportation secretary, shows how little the current Egyptian regime seems to fear offending even senior members of the U.S. government.
In response, I imagine there will be some “I told you so’s” from conservatives—including many in Israel—who thought the Obama administration should have stuck with Mubarak through thick and thin. My Council on Foreign Relations colleague Elliott Abrams effectively debunks that argument in this compelling Foreign Policy article.
The Gingrich campaign is preemptively blaming his potential loss in Florida on former ally Rick Santorum. Last Saturday, Newt Gingrich noted that Santorum was “young enough” to run in a later election, joking that “next time around is a good battle cry.” And his campaign co-chairman told CNN yesterday that “if [Santorum] weren’t in it, we would clearly be beating Romney right now.”
Today, the former Speaker continued to hammer this message on “Fox and Friends” (via HotAir):
“The longer conservatives stay split, the harder it’s going to be for us to [beat Romney],” Gingrich said on ”Fox and Friends” on Tuesday. “And I think that we risk not being able to beat Obama unless we get a conservative. I have to win the nomination.”
Santorum is sapping conservative votes from Gingrich, the former House Speaker said. Santorum, appearing just moments after Gingrich, countered.
The New York Times has an entertaining post about David Axelrod’s bizarre fixation with tweeting the Romney campaign an incessant amount just to let them know he’s always thinking of the former Massachusetts governor. It’s one indication that the Obama administration and their allies see Romney as their most formidable general-election opponent. But it’s also a sign that even the Times thinks Axelrod may need to find a way to distract himself from this particularly off-putting obsession:
Mr. Axelrod has only posted on Twitter 248 times. But a great number of them have been about Mr. Romney. And many have been just as snarky….
Mr. Axelrod clearly does a lot of personal thinking about Mr. Romney.
After hundreds of Occupy Oakland protesters were arrested Saturday night for attempting to violently seize control of a convention center, Mayor Jean Quan once again avoided criticizing the Occupy movement directly, instead blaming the violence on so-called “splinter groups.”
“This splinter group inside Occupy Oakland – the ones who advocate violence – are not in sync with the rest of the movement,” said Sue Piper, Quan’s spokeswoman. “People who have been involved with the national movement – and a lot of people who live in Oakland – are really fed up with this splinter group. This is not what Occupy is supposed to be about.”
With a bevy of polls showing Mitt Romney with healthy leads of anywhere from 8 to 20 points over Newt Gingrich in Florida, there seems little doubt he will win today’s Republican primary there. But with both Romney and Gingrich campaigning hard down to the last day, both camps are aware the margin of victory for the former Massachusetts governor will have an impact on the rest of the GOP race. Romney needs to meet or exceed the high expectations that have been set for him in Florida, because any slippage significantly below a double-digit margin will allow Gingrich to claim a moral victory of sorts that will encourage conservatives to believe the frontrunner can be slowed if not stopped.
While a decisive Romney victory tonight will not force Gingrich or Santorum out of the race, it will make it harder on them to argue they still have a viable chance to be the nominee. With no states on the horizon where either “non-Romney” has much hope of winning and with no debates scheduled for weeks, the aftermath of a Romney romp in Florida could be challenging. In particular, if Gingrich fails to keep it close, it could make it more difficult for him to persuade the major donors who have kept his campaign alive to go on pouring millions down the sinkhole of his campaign. Absent some signs of a rebound from his poor debate performances last week, it will make it appear as if the only point of Gingrich’s candidacy is to cripple Romney, something that will help President Obama in the fall more than it will advance the cause of conservatism he claims to champion.
“Five Broken Cameras” didn’t win the World Documentary competition at last week’s Sundance Film Festival, losing out to another anti-Israel film. But it has garnered plenty of international attention, including two awards at Amsterdam’s International Documentary Film Festival and a glowing write-up in the New York Times. The film, according to the Sundance synopsis, documents what happened after the West Bank village of Bil’in “famously chose nonviolent resistance” against Israel’s security fence: “an escalating struggle as olive trees are bulldozed, lives are lost, and a wall is built to segregate burgeoning Israeli settlements,” in which a child’s “loss of innocence and the destruction of each camera are potent metaphors.” In short, another tale of good Palestinians versus evil Israelis.
You have to persevere to the end of the Times piece to find another angle to Palestinian filmmaker Emad Burnat’s story:
During the weekend, the New York Post reported that Mitt Romney vetoed a bill to help fund kosher food at Massachusetts nursing homes in 2003. Newt Gingrich, who happens to be courting Jewish and elderly voters in Florida, immediately jumped on the story – and got it very, very wrong in the process:
“[Romney] eliminated serving kosher food for elderly Jewish residents under Medicare,” Gingrich said. “I did not know this, it just came out yesterday. The more we dig in, I understand why George Soros in Europe yesterday said it makes no difference if it’s Romney or Obama, we can live with either one.”
A few weeks ago, I joked that the Obama White House is “the Hotel California of presidential administrations.” It looks like we can add another name to the list of advisers who can never leave. Last week, Haaretz reported that longtime Mideast hand Dennis Ross was still advising President Obama on the Middle East, though no one was quite sure to what extent.
Today, Haaretz follows up by noting the White House took the “unusual” step of installing a direct phone line from Ross’s office at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy to the White House. The State Department says Ross is an unpaid adviser, but Haaretz says Ross has been conducting some pretty important meetings on the president’s behalf:
Give Vice President Biden kudos for honesty, if not for good judgment. Apparently, he said in a recent speech that he had advised President Obama against launching the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. As reported by the Daily Caller:
The president “went around the table with all the senior people, including the chiefs of staff,” Biden explained. “And he said, ‘I have to make this decision. What is your opinion?’ He started with the national security adviser and the secretary of state, and he ended with me. Every single person in that room hedged their bet except [Secretary of Defense] Leon Panetta. Leon said go. Everyone else said 49, 51, this got to be, ‘Joe, what do you think?’
“And I said, ‘You know, I didn’t know we had so many economists around the table.’ I said, ‘We owe the man a direct answer. Mr. President, my suggestion is don’t go. We have to do two more things to see if he’s there.’”
In an intense primary battle, a lot of silly things are said. (Many of them, it turns out, are said by Sarah Palin, who seems intent on confirming every negative thing her critics have said about her.) Among them is the charge, repeated like rounds fired from a machine gun, that opposition to Newt Gingrich is based on those in the “establishment” who fear the scale of change he would bring to Washington. If you’re for Gingrich, so goes this story line, you’re for “genuine” and “fundamental” change. If you oppose Gingrich, on the other hand, you’re for “managing the decay” of America.
Except for this. The single most important idea, when it comes to fundamentally changing Washington, is the budget plan put forward by Representative Paul Ryan last April. When most massive-scale-of-change conservatives were defending Ryan’s plan against scorching criticisms from the left, Gingrich described the plan as an example of “right-wing social engineering.” It was Gingrich, not the rest of us, who was counseling caution, timidity, and an unwillingness to shape (rather than follow) public opinion. (The Medicare reform plan Gingrich eventually put out wasn’t nearly as bold and far-reaching as the one put out by Governor Romney.)
So much for Mr. Fundamental Change.
One of the interesting aspects of yesterday’s New York Times Magazine cover story about Israel’s decision whether or not to strike at Iran’s nuclear program came from a passage in which author Ronen Bergman describes his meeting with former Mossad chief Meir Amit. Amit, who headed Israel’s intelligence agency at the time of the 1967 Six-Day War, described a meeting with the CIA station chief in Tel Aviv during the lead up to that conflict. According to the transcript of the meeting, which was given to Bergman, the American spy threatened Israel and did all in his power to prevent the Jewish state from acting to forestall the threat to its existence from Egypt and other Arab states that were poised to strike.
The lessons of this confrontation certainly put Israel’s current dilemma about attempting to pre-empt Iran’s ability to threaten the Jewish state with extinction via a nuclear weapon in perspective. Bergman provides no firm answer to the question of whether or not Israel will go ahead and strike Iran even if, as was initially the case in 1967, it must happen over the objections of the United States. But he does attempt to give a coherent framework for how the decision can be made as well as providing a bit more background on the chief Israeli critic of a strike on Iran.
Readers of “Contentions” know I have significant concerns when it comes to Newt Gingrich’s presidential candidacy. But even critics of the former House speaker should insist that the charges leveled against him be accurate rather than fictional. And so I agree with this editorial in the Wall Street Journal, which asserts that Mitt Romney’s attacks on Gingrich’s ethics case in the 1990s are misleading.
It’s clear the charges against Gingrich were trumped up; the IRS exonerated him after a multi-year investigation (see this CNN report at the time). For Governor Romney to now say, as he repeatedly does, that Gingrich “resigned in disgrace,” simply isn’t fair. Gingrich’s resignation was not connected to the ethics charges made against him. He was, in fact, the victim of a smear. And to give that smear new life is wrong. It really ought to stop.