Mitt Romney’s critics are pointing out right now that the candidate who claims to be the frontrunner and the most electable is still unable to get more than a quarter of Iowa Republicans to back him. They’re right about the fact that social conservatives and Tea Partiers simply can’t abide him, but in a six-way race, the idea that a top three finish (right now, he’s in a virtual tie with Rick Santorum and Ron Paul) is some kind of defeat is a misreading of his situation.
The greatest danger to Romney’s hopes of winning the nomination was for one of his conservative rivals to break out from the pack. So long as the various not-Romneys are fighting each other, the actual Romney wins. So no matter who comes out ahead in this three-way tangle, the fact that there is no single rival for him in the top tier constitutes a strategic victory for him. Even so, his own inability to do better than the same 20-25 percent he’s had all along doesn’t make him look good. That’s why a first place finish would be sweet for him no matter how narrow the margin of victory. And a third-place finish will feel like a defeat.
The first result that appears to have been decided in the Iowa caucus is that Michele Bachmann has finished sixth with only Jon Huntsman (who didn’t compete in the state) behind her. That Bachmann should have fallen so far so quickly says a lot about what a tough game presidential politics can be. Only five months ago, most pundits assumed Bachmann would be the leader in Iowa. Her victory in the Ames Straw Poll in August was purely symbolic, but at the time, she looked to have the social conservative and Tea Party vote in her pocket. But she never recovered from the entrance of Rick Perry on that very same day, and a few goofy comments about Texas vaccinations later, she was sent back to the second tier.
Bachmann’s demise shows that although the primary/caucus system can seem like a circus, it does perform a vital service in the way it vets candidates and rejects those who are unworthy of national attention. Bachmann is a passionate ideologue, but she never made a case for herself as a potential president. In the end, even those who shared her strong beliefs saw her as not at the same level as a more experienced Rick Santorum or even Rick Perry. Bachmann claims to be willing to go on and fight it out in other states, but she is kidding herself if she doesn’t realize her quest is finished.
Fox News just released its “entrance polling” of caucus-goers in Iowa. I’m not sure how accurate this is as a prediction method (assuming that people who attend caucuses may be less certain about which candidate they’ll end up voting for, as opposed to traditional primaries). But it still includes a few stats to mull over:
1. As predicted, Ron Paul seems to be the most popular candidate with the young caucus-goers. Fifty-five percent of survey respondents between the ages of 17 and 29 say they’re supporting Paul. But, also as predicted, their turnout is far lower than the older age groups, and they make up just 14 percent of the total respondents.
2. Paul’s supporters are long-term, true believers, while Santorum’s supporters seem to be jumping on the bandwagon. A plurality of Paul supporters in the poll said they decided to back him “before December,” while a plurality of Santorum supporters decided to back him “just today.”
If you want an enjoyable pre-caucus read, check out Mona Charen’s article today at NRO, which takes on the myth that squishy-moderate GOP candidates are forced on the conservative masses by a vague, omnipotent “Republican establishment.”
The Republican Establishment, like the “international community,” is more of a figment than a reality. Whom did the so-called establishment support in 2008? Do conservative voters believe that Republican elites somehow engineered the selection of the least loyal and reliable Republican in the U.S. Senate? And how did that work exactly? John McCain was considered the frontrunner in early 2007. Yet by the summer he was languishing in the polls and so broke that he was forced to take out loans. Was it the establishment that earned McCain the nomination or was it the fact that Rudolph Giuliani ran a terrible campaign, Fred Thompson never got airborne, and Mike Huckabee undermined Mitt Romney’s Iowa sling-shot strategy?
The term “Republican establishment” might be a bit imprecise when you consider it. Who exactly does it include? The Republican political class in Washington? The conservative media? Lobbyists? Donors?
Charles Murray is not only a friend; he is also among the most important intellectual figures in the modern conservative movement. So I’m hesitant to dissent from his views, particularly when it comes to explaining social trends. But at a recent lunch, we had a good-natured disagreement about incarceration and crime, which he elaborated on in a blog post.
The core of our disagreement is the role incarceration has played in the enormous drop in crime we’ve seen during the last 15 years or so. Charles argues that “simple incapacitation … plus a substantial deterrent effect is a plausible explanation for why violent crime dropped at all.” He harbors the belief that “without the massive increases in incarceration after the mid-1970s, crime rates wouldn’t have turned around at all. Higher imprisonment was the necessary condition for 100 percent of the reduction in violent crime.”
The RNC put out this ad, which is far more effective than any ad run against Barack Obama in 2008. That isn’t because the people producing GOP ads are significantly better, or even any better, than those producing ads four years ago. The difference is that now, unlike then, Republicans have a stationary target in President Obama.
In 2008, Obama did not have much of a record to focus on. Today he does, and the empirical case against the Obama presidency is overwhelming. The irony is that the very thing Obama relied on to win the presidency – his own words (such as “This was the moment when it all began” and Obama’s promise to “offer change that we can believe in”) — may well lead to his undoing.
Mitt Romney is in a prime position heading into the Iowa caucuses tonight. But even though he’ll almost certainly finish in the top three, that doesn’t mean he can’t “lose.” Obviously, the best case scenario is Romney takes the top slot, and the second best is he finishes second to the untenable Ron Paul. A slightly worse outcome is if Romney comes in second to Rick Santorum, and the losing scenario is if he finishes in third, behind both of them.
The Washington Post sums up the impact a third-place showing would have on the Romney campaign:
With just hours to go before the caucuses in Iowa start, this is a moment for Rick Santorum to dream big. He’s got all the momentum heading into the final days with his rivals for the social conservative vote all fading fast. Ron Paul’s surge may be slowing as his record gets more scrutiny. Meanwhile, Mitt Romney, the frontrunner and likely nominee, is in a strong position to finish first. But if he does, it will only be because he held onto the same 25 percent or so of the vote he had all along, which may keep him within range of Santorum’s last-minute push. Even a vicious public insult directed at him–such as the attack launched by Alan Colmes on Fox News yesterday that Peter wrote about earlier–has turned out to be a plus for Santorum. It not only garnered him sympathy but allowed the public to see a human side to a candidate who is more of a policy wonk than a glad-hander.
Let’s assume for a moment Santorum’s months of hard work beating the bushes in the backwoods counties of Iowa is about to pay off with an incredible upset victory. The question will then be not so much a post mortem of the losers’ efforts but whether the former Pennsylvania senator has a viable path to the nomination, or if he will be this year’s version of 2008 Iowa victor Mike Huckabee?
While the Egyptian military made international headlines when they raided the offices of the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute a couple days before New Year’s, accusing the organizations of instigating protests and mucking around with opposition, the Egyptian press is telling a different story about who really is buying the Egyptian elections:
The daily Akhbar El Yom newspaper has published excerpts from the Ministry of Justice’s report on foreign funding of NGOs. Since summertime there has been a witch hunt on, as foreign funding – particularly Western funding – is viewed as foreign intervention and manipulation of Egyptian society. The fact-finding committee, headed by judges Sameh Abu Zaid and Ashraf El-Ashamawi, discovered that a single Salafist association has received LE296 million ($50mn) from two Gulf countries. According to the report, the Salafist Ansar El-Sonna association received LE181.7 million ($30mn) from Qatar and LE114.5 million ($19mn) from Kuwait, which was approved by former Minister of Social sSlidarity Ali Meslahi on February 12, 2011.
The CBS “Early Show” interview with Newt Gingrich that Alana discusses below begins with Gingrich asking: “Am I the Humphrey Bogart role or the John Wayne role, in this movie collection you guys are putting together?” In a strange way, this may serve as an accurate postscript of Gingrich’s month leading up to tonight’s Iowa caucuses.
Gingrich has always been given to imagining himself playing a certain role–usually a leading role–in the political dramas of his career. Some scoff at what they see as the childishness of it, but Gingrich has often used it to his–and the Republican party’s–advantage by allowing him to overcome the cynicism of those around him and take a broader view of each challenge as they come along. But because Gingrich’s knowledge of history, as well as his imagination, are usually superior to those around him (especially the media), it was, forgive the pun, out of character for him to ask someone else what role he is to play.
During the holiday weekend, a story broke about how the Girl Scouts had directed its members to Media Matters, in a handbook about discerning bias in media. Here’s the page in question. The problem, of course, is that Media Matters, funded by George Soros, is highly political and quite controversial. While adherents of Soros’ political views may find the organization a useful website to take down some conservative pundits, a more detached reading of the website will find that it projects onto others its own politicization, and often prioritizes polemic over accuracy.
Alas, if only incidents such as this one were the exception, rather than the rule. Take National Geographic. My father and grandfather were subscribers, and so we had issues going back to the 1940s. I would grab the magazine whenever it came in the mail, and would sometimes find issues from the time of Woodrow Wilson during the occasional excursion to the Parnassus Book Service in Yarmouthport, Massachusetts—still, hands down, my favorite used book store.
At first, Newt Gingrich probably thought he’d come up with a brilliant strategy: he’d publicly promise to shun negative campaigning, thereby forcing Mitt Romney to take a similar pledge. After all, Gingrich never had the funds to compete with Romney when it came to attack ads in the first place.
Of course, the plan started to backfire as soon as Romney politely declined to stop his own negative advertising – and the media and conservative movement yawned in response. Now that Gingrich’s poll numbers have been decimated by negative advertising, the former Speaker is suddenly dropping the nice-guy act. And it’s making him look worse than any Romney attack ad ever could:
I wrote earlier about the Turkish government’s invitation to Ismail Haniya to begin 2012 in Istanbul, as a guest of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. While ignorance of Arabic or inattention to Haniya’s pronouncements lead Westerners to kid themselves into believing Hamas has moderated, neither Erdoğan nor Turkish President Abdullah Gul, the latter a long-time resident of Saudi Arabia, can plead such ignorance. They know exactly where Haniya stands. Indeed, as the invaluable Itamar Marcus and colleague Nan Jacques Zilberdik at Palestinian Media Watch point out, shortly before he departed for Turkey, here is what Haniya had to say:
The armed resistance and the armed struggle are the path and the strategic choice for liberating the Palestinian land, from the [Mediterranean] sea to the [Jordan] river, and for the expulsion of the invaders and usurpers… We won’t relinquish one inch of the land of Palestine.
A friend has forwarded me a solicitation from the University of Michigan’s Alumni Association to join them on a “Cultural Connection” visit to Cuba. It is a depressing piece of moral blindness. For $3,845, Wolverines can enjoy an eight-day trip, complete with “a visit to a local health clinic” to “learn about socialized medicine and the delivery of social services in Cuba,” a trip to an art institute to “compare and contrast the role of the arts in Cuba and the United States” and “identify any differences in the opportunities for artistic expression,” and a “substantive discussion” with the management team of a dance company to explore “the political and financial challenges they face” (i.e. the U.S. embargo) in exporting Cuban dance culture. There is a good deal more in the same vein, including a visit to the Museum of the Revolution and dinner at the Restaurante Vieja Havana, “formerly the American Club,” but you get the picture.
It would be pleasant if moral blindness was all that was involved here, but sadly, it’s not. Michigan alumni who sign on are demonstrating the kind of sympathies that will bring them to the attention of Cuban intelligence which, as the Myers case showed, knows how to take advantage of gullible Americans with an academic bent. As a defector from the Cuban Intelligence Service noted in 2002, visitors from U.S. universities are targeted “very often and in a massive way. For example, there was recently a cruise ship in Cuba with students from the University of Pennsylvania. There were hundreds of students who automatically became objects of interest to the CuIS. . . . [who] using covers from the Foreign Ministry, or any other governmental organization like ICAP (Cuban Institute for Friendship with the Peoples) . . . . come into contact with students and even lodge where the foreign students lodge and participate with them in all their activities.” The essence of this visit, apart from
providing hard currency to the fading Castro regime and giving it a bit of blue-washing, is that the University of Michigan is naively signing on to have its alumni spied upon and tested for any willingness to betray the United States.
The USS John C. Stennis is back in the news as Iran threatens to block its passage back through the Strait of Hormuz, an international waterway through which more than one-third of the world’s oil tankers pass.
For reasons I explain here, Iran’s threats are more bluster than bite. I spent about two weeks aboard the Stennis earlier this year, and there is not an abler ship or admiral. Meanwhile, while Iran perceives weakness in the Oval Office, they should be very careful about what they attempt. After all, not far behind the Stennis is the USS Carl Vinson—last in the headlines after the disposal of Bin Laden’s corpse—which turned around in near record time. The USS Abraham Lincoln is also heading to the Fifth Fleet area of operations. While there is normally only an aircraft carrier or two in the Persian Gulf or Sea of Oman, it seems there is a mini-naval surge ongoing. If Iran wants to pick a fight, they should think twice and then think again.
The conventional wisdom among liberals is that despite a sinking economy and poor personal polling numbers, President Obama is actually in a good position to be re-elected. Democratic optimism stems from a belief that the Republican field is so poor the president can’t help but be made to look good by comparison. The evidence of considerable support for Ron Paul, who is a genuine problem for the Republicans, the unlikely rise of Rick Santorum, the comic antics and mishaps afflicting Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann and the now withdrawn Herman Cain have been enough to convince even some conservative commentators that the GOP dustup in Iowa has been an embarrassment for the party.
But Obama and his political team would be well advised to put aside this foolish optimism. The GOP field’s behavior hasn’t always been edifying, but the way the race has developed is not to the president’s advantage. Whether or not Mitt Romney finishes in first tonight, the most electable Republican will emerge from the state strengthened and with no credible alternative in position to stop him. That is the last thing Obama wanted to see happen in Iowa and what will follow in the upcoming states is likely to bring him even worse news.
Not only is Jon Huntsman’s latest attack ad on Ron Paul pretty pitch-perfect, it also comes at a great time. After watching the annual New Year’s 48-hour “Twilight Zone” marathon on the SciFi network, Ron Paul’s creepy conspiracy theories and crackpot foreign policy sound exactly like something the horror genius Rod Serling would concoct to terrify us.
Only one gripe: how could Huntsman’s team have left out this classic clip from the Reagan debate over the summer?
As the rest of the GOP field focuses on Iowa, Huntsman’s been stumping in New Hampshire, and in the latest Suffolk University survey he ties Newt Gingrich for third place, with Ron Paul in second. Huntsman currently has the state to himself, and there’s no reason to think he can’t edge out Gingrich in the quickly-approaching primary. More videos like this one can’t hurt.
A recent report by an international committee appointed by Israel’s Council for Higher Education recommended that the Politics and Government Department at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev be shut down, should it fail to address the shortcomings outlined. In particular, the department stands accused of allowing the faculty’s leftist political opinions and fondness for activism to affect the curriculum and undermine the quality of its academic research, a viewpoint apparently affirmed by students.
Faculty have responded that the committee is populated by extreme rightists and set out to hurt the department. However, in an op-ed for Haaretz entitled, ‘‘Yes, Shut it Down!’’ (perhaps unsurprisingly, it is only available in Hebrew) Ze’ev Maoz, a professor at UC Davis and the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center and a self-declared “proud man of the left” (credentials here), revealed he had been tasked with evaluating the department some nine years ago and came to the same conclusions, also based solely on academic considerations.
It was, in it’s way, a great moment. Dumb and profound at once. On NBC television, singer Cee Lo Green ushered in 2012 at a Times Square studio by singing John Lennon’s leftist anthem “Imagine,” only he updated an originally atheist lyric so that it now came out as a multiculturally sensitive, ecumenical one. In 1971, Lennon wrote and sang about his paradise on earth, in which there’s “nothing to kill or die for/and no religion too.” Green changed that to “nothing to kill or die for/and all religion’s true.”
I’m very much in favor of “Imagine” as a living document. If you want to know what left-liberals are thinking at a given moment just listen to how they tweak this dystopian dirge to reflect resentments and sensitivites du jour. In January 2012, multiculturalism trumps atheism. Stay tuned for updates.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has just hired a new adviser, the Jerusalem Post reports. Mahmoud Awad Damra is one of the prisoners Israel freed to ransom kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit in October; he was then five years into a 15-year sentence for his role as planner and logistics coordinator of several deadly terror attacks whose victims included three U.S. citizens. That, combined with his previous job running Yasser Arafat’s Force 17 security service, clearly qualifies him for his new role of advising Abbas on local government.
Two weeks ago, during a working visit to Turkey, Abbas took time out to meet with Amna Muna and 10 other convicted terrorists who were also freed in the Shalit deal, but whom Israel considered particularly dangerous and therefore refused to allow back into the West Bank. Muna used an Internet romance with a 16-year-old Israeli to lure him to Ramallah, where her partners in crime murdered him. When Israel protested this meeting, Abbas adviser Nimer Hamad insisted it was “natural” for a president to “meet his people wherever they are.” But of course: American and European presidents always make a point of meeting with convicted murderers during overseas trips – just like they always hire convicted terrorists as special advisers. Isn’t that how “moderate,” “peace-seeking” leaders are supposed to behave?