Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 10, 2012

Gingrich’s Folly

Newt Gingrich’s bubble burst weeks ago, but the after-shocks of his collapse are still being felt in the Republican race. By choosing to launch a bizarre attack on Mitt Romney from the left, Gingrich did little damage to the frontrunner but he managed to besmirch his already tattered image even further. After a disastrous showing in New Hampshire where he is battling Rick Santorum for the dubious distinction of finishing a distant fourth, Gingrich is now headed for an even more disappointing outcome in South Carolina.

Despite a massive infusion of funds from wealthy contributors, Gingrich has virtually no chance at this point of coming back and winning the nomination. Though he pledged to go on to South Carolina in a lackluster concession speech, all he can accomplish at this point is to further sabotage Rick Santorum’s meager hopes of becoming the sole conservative “non-Romney” in the race. Even more to the point, by continuing to echo leftist Occupy Wall Street smears of Romney’s business career, he will ensure that the legacy of his presidential campaign is that of a bitter loser who sought unsuccessfully to bring down the ultimate nominee.

Newt Gingrich’s bubble burst weeks ago, but the after-shocks of his collapse are still being felt in the Republican race. By choosing to launch a bizarre attack on Mitt Romney from the left, Gingrich did little damage to the frontrunner but he managed to besmirch his already tattered image even further. After a disastrous showing in New Hampshire where he is battling Rick Santorum for the dubious distinction of finishing a distant fourth, Gingrich is now headed for an even more disappointing outcome in South Carolina.

Despite a massive infusion of funds from wealthy contributors, Gingrich has virtually no chance at this point of coming back and winning the nomination. Though he pledged to go on to South Carolina in a lackluster concession speech, all he can accomplish at this point is to further sabotage Rick Santorum’s meager hopes of becoming the sole conservative “non-Romney” in the race. Even more to the point, by continuing to echo leftist Occupy Wall Street smears of Romney’s business career, he will ensure that the legacy of his presidential campaign is that of a bitter loser who sought unsuccessfully to bring down the ultimate nominee.

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Romney’s Big Night

Mitt Romney’s margin of victory in New Hampshire may have fallen short of his hopes and aspirations, but a double-digit win for the frontrunner must still be considered a major step toward the nomination. Given the dismal showing of Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich — the only candidates who might challenge him elsewhere in the country — after only two states have voted, it’s difficult to imagine that Romney will not be anointed as the GOP standard-bearer.

Romney’s critics on the right will, no doubt, try to downplay his sweep of Iowa and New Hampshire, but by winning both states, he’s done something no one would have expected him to do only a few weeks ago. Moreover, given his strong polling numbers among Republicans, the notion that the GOP base won’t stomach him as their nominee doesn’t have much credibility.

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Mitt Romney’s margin of victory in New Hampshire may have fallen short of his hopes and aspirations, but a double-digit win for the frontrunner must still be considered a major step toward the nomination. Given the dismal showing of Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich — the only candidates who might challenge him elsewhere in the country — after only two states have voted, it’s difficult to imagine that Romney will not be anointed as the GOP standard-bearer.

Romney’s critics on the right will, no doubt, try to downplay his sweep of Iowa and New Hampshire, but by winning both states, he’s done something no one would have expected him to do only a few weeks ago. Moreover, given his strong polling numbers among Republicans, the notion that the GOP base won’t stomach him as their nominee doesn’t have much credibility.

Romney rightly noted in his victory speech that both President Obama and “desperate Republicans” have subjected him and free enterprise to vicious attacks. But having survived these attacks and gone on to win big in New Hampshire, the only thing Gingrich may accomplish by continuing to smear Romney is to help the Democratic candidate Obama. But it is far more likely Gingrich’s attacks which he is making from the left will not do the former speaker any good. Nor is Santorum likely to make a run so long as Gingrich and his well-funded attack machine is still in the race.

Though we are forced to add in the requisite disclaimer about the race not being over and there being a long way to go, any way you slice it, Mitt Romney’s nomination is all but inevitable.

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Third Isn’t Good Enough for Huntsman

The networks have already declared Mitt Romney the winner of the New Hampshire primary, giving him an extraordinary sweep of the first two states to vote. Second place has also apparently been decided with the runner-up title going to libertarian extremist Ron Paul. That will keep Paul’s buzz up in the coming days, but it also means something else: the end of Jon Huntsman’s hopes for a breakout night in New Hampshire.

Huntsman bet everything on a huge showing in New Hampshire hoping that Democrats and independents would make him relevant. But a third place showing isn’t good enough. Of course, even if he had finished second it was difficult to see a path to contention for Huntsman, but a third place finish ensures that he is finished. Huntsman has enough of his father’s money in his pocket to go on campaigning as long as he likes, but defeat in New Hampshire means that this liberal’s idea of a conservative will soon fade from the spotlight.

The networks have already declared Mitt Romney the winner of the New Hampshire primary, giving him an extraordinary sweep of the first two states to vote. Second place has also apparently been decided with the runner-up title going to libertarian extremist Ron Paul. That will keep Paul’s buzz up in the coming days, but it also means something else: the end of Jon Huntsman’s hopes for a breakout night in New Hampshire.

Huntsman bet everything on a huge showing in New Hampshire hoping that Democrats and independents would make him relevant. But a third place showing isn’t good enough. Of course, even if he had finished second it was difficult to see a path to contention for Huntsman, but a third place finish ensures that he is finished. Huntsman has enough of his father’s money in his pocket to go on campaigning as long as he likes, but defeat in New Hampshire means that this liberal’s idea of a conservative will soon fade from the spotlight.

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If Romney Split the Independents, He’s Going to Win Big Tonight

Exit polls are reportedly showing that New Hampshire independents are splitting their votes between Ron Paul and Mitt Romney. It’s no surprise that Paul would do well with this group because he has more appeal with them than with Republicans. The same is true for Jon Huntsman, who the polls show only a couple of points behind Paul among unaffiliated voters. But if the exit polls showing Romney picking up as many as 30 percent of independents are true, then he is heading for a big night. Because Romney is certain to win the Republican vote by a large margin, it’s hard to see how he doesn’t win the New Hampshire primary by a huge margin.

Exit polls are reportedly showing that New Hampshire independents are splitting their votes between Ron Paul and Mitt Romney. It’s no surprise that Paul would do well with this group because he has more appeal with them than with Republicans. The same is true for Jon Huntsman, who the polls show only a couple of points behind Paul among unaffiliated voters. But if the exit polls showing Romney picking up as many as 30 percent of independents are true, then he is heading for a big night. Because Romney is certain to win the Republican vote by a large margin, it’s hard to see how he doesn’t win the New Hampshire primary by a huge margin.

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Iranian Nukes? Cue the Laugh Track in Caracas

The friendly relationship between the dictatorial regimes in Iran and Venezuela has long troubled the United States, but the latest expression of this bizarre alliance has implications for Washington’s efforts to isolate Tehran. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is in Caracas this week for another love fest with Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez. The highlight of their exchange was when Chavez referred to a grassy knoll in front of his palace. “That hill will open up and a big atomic bomb will come out,” said Chavez as the two authoritarians laughed about the big joke.

Iran’s nuclear ambitions are no laughing matter for those who fear the Islamist regime being able to put a nuclear umbrella over its terrorist allies Hezbollah and Hamas or being able to threaten Israel with extinction. But the importance of Chavez to Iran is not his ability to provide them with moral support. The only real lever short of the use of force for the West to stop Iran’s nuclear program is an oil embargo. This week’s visit to South America is a reminder that Tehran has allies, including oil producers like Venezuela who may be willing to help them in the event President Obama finds the will to try to enforce a tough sanctions policy.

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The friendly relationship between the dictatorial regimes in Iran and Venezuela has long troubled the United States, but the latest expression of this bizarre alliance has implications for Washington’s efforts to isolate Tehran. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is in Caracas this week for another love fest with Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez. The highlight of their exchange was when Chavez referred to a grassy knoll in front of his palace. “That hill will open up and a big atomic bomb will come out,” said Chavez as the two authoritarians laughed about the big joke.

Iran’s nuclear ambitions are no laughing matter for those who fear the Islamist regime being able to put a nuclear umbrella over its terrorist allies Hezbollah and Hamas or being able to threaten Israel with extinction. But the importance of Chavez to Iran is not his ability to provide them with moral support. The only real lever short of the use of force for the West to stop Iran’s nuclear program is an oil embargo. This week’s visit to South America is a reminder that Tehran has allies, including oil producers like Venezuela who may be willing to help them in the event President Obama finds the will to try to enforce a tough sanctions policy.

Ahmadinejad will also be visiting Cuba, Nicaragua and Ecuador, but Venezuela is the key to Iran’s effort to find friends in the Western Hemisphere. Along with friendly nations like Turkey, Venezuela can help Iran evade Western sanctions and may exercise enough economic muscle to ameliorate the effects of an embargo.

But the one piece of good news for the West is the absence of Brazil from Ahmadinejad’s itinerary. The Holocaust-denying Iranian got a good reception there during his last trip to the continent, and the failure of the Iranians to secure another visit may reflect a limited diplomatic victory for the United States. It may also show that for all of its usual willingness to jeer at Washington, Brazil has no appetite for a confrontation, especially with Iran threatening to close the Strait of Hormuz and shut off all oil exports from the Persian Gulf.

This should be a signal to President Obama that, Venezuelan jokes notwithstanding, he will be backed, or at least not actively opposed, by much of the Third World should he decide to impose an oil embargo on Iran. The Iranians are counting on their ability to make friends abroad and Obama’s demonstrated predilection for delay to give them another year or two to complete their nuclear plans. With Iran already enriching uranium in its new mountain bunker at Fordow, time is running out for the West to act.

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Poll: Americans Fear Obama Reelection More than Iranian Nukes

This poll was conducted by Synovate eNation on behalf of US News and World Report’s Washington Whispers, which seems…questionable. But it has received a lot of attention from bloggers today, mainly for the finding that Americans fear Obama’s reelection by a 2:1 ratio.

In our New Year’s poll, when asked what news event they fear most about 2012, Americans by a margin of two-to-one said Obama’s reelection. Only 16 percent said they fear the Democrat won’t win a second term, while 33 percent said they fear four more years. …

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This poll was conducted by Synovate eNation on behalf of US News and World Report’s Washington Whispers, which seems…questionable. But it has received a lot of attention from bloggers today, mainly for the finding that Americans fear Obama’s reelection by a 2:1 ratio.

In our New Year’s poll, when asked what news event they fear most about 2012, Americans by a margin of two-to-one said Obama’s reelection. Only 16 percent said they fear the Democrat won’t win a second term, while 33 percent said they fear four more years. …

As we enter the presidential election year of 2012, what potential news event do you fear the most?

President Obama wins reelection–33%

Taxes will increase–31%

Iran will get a nuclear weapon–16%

Obama will lose reelection–16%

North Korea will attack South Korea–4%

To be fair, the question is pretty ambiguous. Does “fear” mean the event that respondents find the most frightening, or does it mean an unwelcome event they’re most worried will actually happen over the next year? Maybe the poll just shows that Obama supporters think he has his reelection in the bag, and aren’t as concerned about the possibility of him losing.

At the same time, the top three fears don’t seem to be a good sign for Obama. Republicans have been campaigning against Obama’s tax increase proposals and his weakness on Iran, so the fact that a whopping 80 percent say those issues are their biggest fears in 2012 doesn’t bode well for him.

This list does have some major omissions, though – no fear of the deficit? No fear of rising unemployment? – so it may not be useful for much more than entertainment value.

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Gingrich and Perry Mistake Is Romney and Santorum Opportunity

Rick Santorum is taking a pass when it comes to jumping aboard the anti-Bain Capital bandwagon. Which goes some ways toward demonstrating that he is, in fact, a consistent conservative, as he claims – and a principled one, too.

Good for Senator Santorum.

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Rick Santorum is taking a pass when it comes to jumping aboard the anti-Bain Capital bandwagon. Which goes some ways toward demonstrating that he is, in fact, a consistent conservative, as he claims – and a principled one, too.

Good for Senator Santorum.

I must say, I’m mystified by the populist, anti-free market attacks being leveled by Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry, the supposed “Reagan conservative” and sainted outsider in the race. I can’t imagine how this is going to help either one win the nomination.

They have shown themselves willing to tear at a primary foundation of a free market system (e.g., restructuring and downsizing) in order to serve a partisan purpose and political ambition.

What Gingrich and Perry may succeed in doing, in fact, is (a) making it clear Santorum is the best and most principled conservative alternative to Governor Romney and/or (b) rallying conservative support for Romney, in a way that hasn’t been done yet this election cycle. The former Massachusetts governor gets to present himself as a thoughtful defender of capitalism now that Gingrich and Perry have ceded that ground.

Presidential campaigns can make some reasonably intelligent people do some very strange things indeed.

 

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So This Is What A Free Market Looks Like

Alana mentions an aspect of Newt Gingrich’s attacks on Mitt Romney that is less about capitalism and more about electability: that he clumsily (read: honestly) defends what many see as the dirty work of capitalism. This is a fair argument to make, inasmuch as Romney has a tendency to litter his campaign stops with cartoonishly unattractive, but accurate, descriptions of the free market (i.e. let Detroit go bankrupt, he likes being able to fire people, “Don’t try to stop the foreclosure process”).

In his column yesterday, Jay Nordlinger writes of his pleasant surprise at watching Romney engage an “occupy” protester and defend corporate profits. Jay writes: “I don’t think I had ever seen a candidate do this. You’re supposed to blast corporate profits or change the subject.” Indeed, Romney doesn’t like to sugarcoat his defense of capitalism in all its glory, and the worry is that it risks turning him into the Col. Nathan Jessup of this election, just itching to turn to a liberal and say:

You have the luxury of not knowing what I know. That the factory’s closing, while tragic, probably saved jobs. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves jobs. You don’t want the truth because deep down in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want me on that Wall Street, you need me on that Wall Street. We use words like market, creative destruction, invisible hand. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very economic freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather you just said thank you, and went on your way.

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Alana mentions an aspect of Newt Gingrich’s attacks on Mitt Romney that is less about capitalism and more about electability: that he clumsily (read: honestly) defends what many see as the dirty work of capitalism. This is a fair argument to make, inasmuch as Romney has a tendency to litter his campaign stops with cartoonishly unattractive, but accurate, descriptions of the free market (i.e. let Detroit go bankrupt, he likes being able to fire people, “Don’t try to stop the foreclosure process”).

In his column yesterday, Jay Nordlinger writes of his pleasant surprise at watching Romney engage an “occupy” protester and defend corporate profits. Jay writes: “I don’t think I had ever seen a candidate do this. You’re supposed to blast corporate profits or change the subject.” Indeed, Romney doesn’t like to sugarcoat his defense of capitalism in all its glory, and the worry is that it risks turning him into the Col. Nathan Jessup of this election, just itching to turn to a liberal and say:

You have the luxury of not knowing what I know. That the factory’s closing, while tragic, probably saved jobs. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves jobs. You don’t want the truth because deep down in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want me on that Wall Street, you need me on that Wall Street. We use words like market, creative destruction, invisible hand. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very economic freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather you just said thank you, and went on your way.

Of course, no one is accusing Romney of breaking the law (or of serving with distinction in the Marines), so we can’t take the metaphor too far. Nonetheless, this would, needless to say, not be the most attractive general election message to voters in swing states. But it would be the truth, wouldn’t it? And conservatives can handle that, can’t they?

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The Final New Hampshire Polling

There aren’t many surprises to be found in today’s Suffolk University and Rasmussen polls, with Mitt Romney continuing to hold a formidable 20-point lead. The big news tonight will be exactly how wide of a margin Romney wins by. If he finishes with above 35 percent of the vote, he’ll be fine. If he ends up with much less than that, it will raise more questions about his ability to seal the deal with conservative voters. Here’s Rasmussen:

Romney earns 37 percent support, with Texas Congressman Ron Paul a distant second with 17 percent of the vote in the latest telephone survey of Likely Republican Primary Voters taken Sunday night. Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman is now in third with 15 percent, up slightly from 12 percent late last week.

The Suffolk tracking poll has almost identical findings for the top three competitors. Meanwhile, Santorum and Gingrich are fighting it out for the fourth tier, coming in at 13 percent and 12 percent respectively in the Rasmussen poll, and 11 and 9 percent respectively in the Suffolk poll. Rick Perry has 1 percent in both surveys.

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There aren’t many surprises to be found in today’s Suffolk University and Rasmussen polls, with Mitt Romney continuing to hold a formidable 20-point lead. The big news tonight will be exactly how wide of a margin Romney wins by. If he finishes with above 35 percent of the vote, he’ll be fine. If he ends up with much less than that, it will raise more questions about his ability to seal the deal with conservative voters. Here’s Rasmussen:

Romney earns 37 percent support, with Texas Congressman Ron Paul a distant second with 17 percent of the vote in the latest telephone survey of Likely Republican Primary Voters taken Sunday night. Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman is now in third with 15 percent, up slightly from 12 percent late last week.

The Suffolk tracking poll has almost identical findings for the top three competitors. Meanwhile, Santorum and Gingrich are fighting it out for the fourth tier, coming in at 13 percent and 12 percent respectively in the Rasmussen poll, and 11 and 9 percent respectively in the Suffolk poll. Rick Perry has 1 percent in both surveys.

It makes little practical difference whether Paul or Huntsman come in second in New Hampshire, as neither one has a real path to the nomination from here. Things are a little different for Santorum and Gingrich, since both are vying seriously for the upcoming South Carolina primary. If Gingrich comes in markedly ahead of Santorum, it could undermine the narrative that Santorum has definitively replaced the former speaker as the conservative Romney alternative. If Santorum beats Gingrich by a decent margin, it will further the idea that Gingrich is on the way out.

Both polls appear to be taken before Romney’s out-of-context “I enjoy firing people” comment blew up into a major controversy late yesterday, so it probably won’t be clear whether that will have a major impact on voters until the final primary results are announced later.

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Syrian Refugees in Israel?

The Israeli Army’s Chief of Staff Benny Gantz says Israel is preparing to take in refugees following the downfall of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad. The interesting part is that Israel is expecting refugees from the Alawite minority and to house them on the Golan Heights.

The Assad family and most of the regime are Alawites at war with the Sunni Muslim majority. The Golan Heights was taken from Syria in the 1967 war when Damascus used it as a platform to shoot at and shell Israeli civilians in the Galilee far below.

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The Israeli Army’s Chief of Staff Benny Gantz says Israel is preparing to take in refugees following the downfall of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad. The interesting part is that Israel is expecting refugees from the Alawite minority and to house them on the Golan Heights.

The Assad family and most of the regime are Alawites at war with the Sunni Muslim majority. The Golan Heights was taken from Syria in the 1967 war when Damascus used it as a platform to shoot at and shell Israeli civilians in the Galilee far below.

When Assad demands the Golan Heights back, he does not have it in mind as a refugee camp under the stewardship of his enemies for his overthrown clan.

I don’t know if this talk in Jerusalem is psychological warfare against the regime or a real contingency plan. It may be both. Israel probably will take in Alawite refugees if they flee mass retribution by an enraged Sunni majority. And whether the Israelis intend it or not, this is bound to sap the morale of the regime and its base.

Psychological warfare is difficult in a part of the world where conspiracy theories are rampant. Many Syrians may read this as Israeli support for the Alawites, and by extension the Assad regime that is murdering them, thus bolstering the ridiculous yet not uncommon notion that Israel and Syria have long had a sinister agreement with each other at the expense of the Sunnis. So if this announcement about refugees is strategic, it might help, but it also might backfire. We’ll see.

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Will Buchanan Be Called to Account?

For decades, Pat Buchanan has maintained his perch as a mainstream political commentator, first on CNN and later on MSNBC. But according to the Washington Post, Buchanan may not return to the left-leaning cable network after his book tour ends. Though some on the right will blame his departure on the network’s decision to try to become the liberal answer to Fox News, it’s far more likely that what some see as the racist tone of his latest tome has finally brought Buchanan the comeuppance he has long deserved.

Though Buchanan engaged in anti-Semitic rhetoric more than 20 years ago during the first Gulf War and has promoted revisionist views of World War Two in which he trashed Winston Churchill and questioned America’s decision to fight the Nazis, defended Holocaust war criminals and favored appeasing Islamists, none of that was enough to drive him to the margins of American punditry, where he belongs. But after claiming blacks may be less intelligent than whites in his latest book Suicide of a Superpower, Buchanan may have committed an unforgivable sin in the eyes of his employers.

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For decades, Pat Buchanan has maintained his perch as a mainstream political commentator, first on CNN and later on MSNBC. But according to the Washington Post, Buchanan may not return to the left-leaning cable network after his book tour ends. Though some on the right will blame his departure on the network’s decision to try to become the liberal answer to Fox News, it’s far more likely that what some see as the racist tone of his latest tome has finally brought Buchanan the comeuppance he has long deserved.

Though Buchanan engaged in anti-Semitic rhetoric more than 20 years ago during the first Gulf War and has promoted revisionist views of World War Two in which he trashed Winston Churchill and questioned America’s decision to fight the Nazis, defended Holocaust war criminals and favored appeasing Islamists, none of that was enough to drive him to the margins of American punditry, where he belongs. But after claiming blacks may be less intelligent than whites in his latest book Suicide of a Superpower, Buchanan may have committed an unforgivable sin in the eyes of his employers.

The new book, which includes chapters titled “The End of White America” and “The Death of Christian America,” is apparently an extended lament for the America of his youth, during which he listened approvingly to Father Charles Coughlin’s racist and anti-Semitic rants on the radio. Buchanan represents the worst of paleo-conservativism, a creed that in his version combines traditional xenophobia at home with isolationism abroad. It’s a free country, and he has every right to expound upon his views and to publish his beliefs wherever he can. But it’s always struck me, and no doubt others, as curious that his personal popularity in elite media and political circles was enough to enable him to retain his position in the mainstream broadcast media while others with similarly extremist and hateful views could not.

Some on the right maintain a certain affection for Buchanan for his willingness to skewer the left and because of his old associations with Ronald Reagan. But he left the Republican Party and, indeed, the mainstream conservative movement long ago as he drifted to the extremes of American political comment. If he is fired by MSNBC–whatever their reasons might now be–he won’t be missed.

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NY Times: Gingrich Tied to Investment Firm Similar to Bain

The New York Times reports that Newt Gingrich had his own ties to a leveraged buyout firm. This presents a bit of a problem for Gingrich’s new line of attack against Mitt Romney:

But Mr. Gingrich was himself on an advisory board for a major investment firm that had a similar business model, Forstmann Little, a pioneering private equity firm co-founded in 1978 by Theodore J. Forstmann that was, along with Mr. Romney’s Bain Capital and Henry R. Kravis’s Kohlberg Kravis & Roberts, among the leading private equity firms during the 1980s and 1990s.

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The New York Times reports that Newt Gingrich had his own ties to a leveraged buyout firm. This presents a bit of a problem for Gingrich’s new line of attack against Mitt Romney:

But Mr. Gingrich was himself on an advisory board for a major investment firm that had a similar business model, Forstmann Little, a pioneering private equity firm co-founded in 1978 by Theodore J. Forstmann that was, along with Mr. Romney’s Bain Capital and Henry R. Kravis’s Kohlberg Kravis & Roberts, among the leading private equity firms during the 1980s and 1990s.

The Times relates that Forstmann Little was less aggressive than Bain, and even criticized some of its competitors’ business practices. As an advisory board member, Gingrich obviously also had less of a connection to Forstmann Little than Romney had to Bain. But the whole story still reeks of hypocrisy, and it’s surprising that Gingrich decided to attack Romney on Bain. It plays into the idea that Gingrich has little intention of winning the nomination, and is pretty much on a kamikaze mission to go after Romney.

We’ll see whether the anti-Bain attacks have any impact on Romney in New Hampshire later today, but so far it doesn’t seem like this is something that will sway many Republican voters. The conservative response to the Gingrich PAC video on Bain has been overwhelmingly negative.

It may actually be a good thing that Republicans are getting a chance to preview the attacks that Obama would use against Romney in a general election. There’s no denying the fact that the Bain oppo would be an extremely powerful weapon against Romney next year. That’s not really a good enough reason to oppose his nomination – there are some issues Republicans have a responsibility to fight on, and the basic tenets of capitalism is one of them. But it is a wake-up call for Romney. He’ll have to formulate a better response to his Bain history than he’s been giving if he wants to make it to the White House.

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The Silent Young Jewish Majority

It has become an accepted point of Jewish communal debates in recent years that young American Jews are “distancing” from Israel. However, a contrarian view, that holds that a feeling of attachment to the Jewish state is at least as strong among young Jews as it is for older Jews, has been gaining traction of late, and it is buttressed by a recent poll, sent out yesterday by Mitchell Bard’s American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise.

The poll posed questions to 400 American Jewish undergraduate students and found that 66 percent of them view themselves as feeling “very close” or “fairly close” to Israel. By design, this question of a feeling of closeness is the same posed in the AJC’s 2011 annual survey of American Jewish opinion, which found that 68 percent of the general Jewish population also described their feeling toward Israel in similar terms. This, as well as the polls other results mean, according to Bard, that “Contrary to the claims of some outspoken critics, young Jews do not feel alienated from Israel.”

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It has become an accepted point of Jewish communal debates in recent years that young American Jews are “distancing” from Israel. However, a contrarian view, that holds that a feeling of attachment to the Jewish state is at least as strong among young Jews as it is for older Jews, has been gaining traction of late, and it is buttressed by a recent poll, sent out yesterday by Mitchell Bard’s American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise.

The poll posed questions to 400 American Jewish undergraduate students and found that 66 percent of them view themselves as feeling “very close” or “fairly close” to Israel. By design, this question of a feeling of closeness is the same posed in the AJC’s 2011 annual survey of American Jewish opinion, which found that 68 percent of the general Jewish population also described their feeling toward Israel in similar terms. This, as well as the polls other results mean, according to Bard, that “Contrary to the claims of some outspoken critics, young Jews do not feel alienated from Israel.”

One rather large caveat should be recognized when looking at the survey results: 43 percent of the interviewees attended a Jewish day school or yeshiva. According to the most recent surveys, there are about 230,000 students in Jewish day schools out of a school age population of about 1.2 million. So, realistically, about 20 percent of young Jews today attend day school. And, as the poll found, they are much more likely to express strong support for and a feeling of connection to Israel than their peers who have not.

Still, the basic results seem clear. Most young Jews feel connected to Israel in roughly the same proportion as their elders. They largely aren’t, though, speaking up about it. And their voices are largely not heard in the debate surrounding their views that continues to roil the Jewish world.

Perhaps the most important point these results, buttressed by the fact of Birthright, represent is that the current American Jewish generation may be a lot more like the last one than most people seem to want to recognize. Not terribly well-educated about Israel or other Jewish matters, it may nevertheless view a positive disposition toward Israel as a fundamental aspect of Jewish authenticity. Far from being beset by the supposed anti-democratic turns of a Jewish state they can no longer identify with, they, like their parents, view with pride a state and society they mostly don’t understand.

The Jews whose views of Israel are changing rather seem to be emerging non-Orthodox leadership. Many of them – from writers, philanthropists, rabbis and others – do seem to be more outspoken in their critiques of Israel and distancing from the Jewish state than was the case in the past.

But rather than leading the Jewish future – on this issue at least – these leaders may face a more uncomfortable reality of proposed constituents unwilling to follow them away from Israel and who instead say things like, “I’m a Zionist, pure and simple.” All of which means that a future where the attention-grabbing young Jews of today find themselves outside of their own community tomorrow may just be more likely than any other scenario.

 

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Who is Obama Rooting for Tonight?

On Saturday night following the Republican presidential debate on ABC, a panel discussion broadcast on the network included the startling claim by Democratic talking head Donna Brazile that Mitt Romney’s dominance of the GOP field was “good news” for the Democrats because the frontrunner is “the weakest candidate.” Even ABC host and former Clinton administration official George Stephanopolous openly scoffed at her assertion, but some on the right are echoing her taunt.

Yesterday, Rush Limbaugh agreed with Brazile and went so far as to allege, perhaps humorously, that Stephanopolous’s retort was an attempt to get his fellow Democrat to keep quiet about their party’s secret desire for Romney to be the GOP nominee. Limbaugh has, of course, been quite vocal about Romney’s alleged weakness. He believes the GOP’s nomination of a man identified with Wall Street will help fire up the “occupy” base of the Democratic Party while also causing the conservative grass roots to sit out the general election, allowing Obama to cruise to victory. But while Limbaugh’s views are entitled to the respect due to the pre-eminent voice of the conservative insurgency, I very much doubt the president is delighted with the prospect of a big victory for Romney in New Hampshire tonight.

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On Saturday night following the Republican presidential debate on ABC, a panel discussion broadcast on the network included the startling claim by Democratic talking head Donna Brazile that Mitt Romney’s dominance of the GOP field was “good news” for the Democrats because the frontrunner is “the weakest candidate.” Even ABC host and former Clinton administration official George Stephanopolous openly scoffed at her assertion, but some on the right are echoing her taunt.

Yesterday, Rush Limbaugh agreed with Brazile and went so far as to allege, perhaps humorously, that Stephanopolous’s retort was an attempt to get his fellow Democrat to keep quiet about their party’s secret desire for Romney to be the GOP nominee. Limbaugh has, of course, been quite vocal about Romney’s alleged weakness. He believes the GOP’s nomination of a man identified with Wall Street will help fire up the “occupy” base of the Democratic Party while also causing the conservative grass roots to sit out the general election, allowing Obama to cruise to victory. But while Limbaugh’s views are entitled to the respect due to the pre-eminent voice of the conservative insurgency, I very much doubt the president is delighted with the prospect of a big victory for Romney in New Hampshire tonight.

Limbaugh’s thesis that the Democrats “are not hammering Mitt Romney at all” doesn’t hold water. The Democrat strategy has been to do exactly that the entire campaign. Polls have consistently shown that Romney does the best of the entire Republican candidates against Obama–a result confirmed by the latest CBS survey. Only Romney has the ability to gain the votes of independents and wavering centrist Democrats, groups that will never go for Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum.

Moreover, the idea that Romney is weak because he is the embodiment of the Occupy Wall Street worldview makes no sense. The occupiers and the left-wing hatred of the free enterprise system they represent are a snare for the Democrats, not the GOP. If Obama sticks with his decision to run to the left in 2012 that may fire up a portion of his disillusioned base, but it will not play well with mainstream America. That will give Romney, whose business expertise is exactly the right resume line for a candidate in the midst of an economic downturn, an opportunity to occupy the center next fall. That is exactly the opposite of what Obama wants.

The president, who will spend much of the coming year ranting about Congress, desperately needs the Republicans to nominate a candidate closely identified with the hard right, not a moderate conservative like Romney whom most Americans think of as a reasonable and pragmatic leader. That this formulation fails to excite conservative activists is understandable but common sense must tell them the objective is, to use the late William F. Buckley’s formula, to nominate the most conservative candidate who can win, not the most conservative candidate.

That means the president and his staff will be watching the New Hampshire results and those in South Carolina next weekend hoping Romney will stumble. Though the talk of the weak GOP field has bred overconfidence in some Democrats (among whose number Brazile might be counted), the prospect of a well-funded Republican who can appeal to the center is not something they should be happy about. Mitt Romney has his flaws, but neither the president nor his fan base is rooting for him to be the Republican standard-bearer.

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Daley Departure Busts “No-Drama” Myth

The resignation of White House chief of staff Bill Daley must be frustrating to President Obama because it–with some help from the well-timed release of Jodi Kantor’s new book on the Obama White House–reveals the extent to which Obama has succeeded not in creating a no-drama administration (an impossible goal in the Washington of 2012 anyway), but rather in creating the impression of one.

The New York Times tries admirably to parrot the administration line, calling Daley’s departure a “distracting shake-up in a White House that has prided itself on a lack of internal drama, with a tightly knit circle of loyal senior advisers playing a steadying role.” But the paper is forced to give away the game later on in the story, revealing the Obama White House for what it is: the Hotel California of presidential administrations:

While the president said he asked Mr. Daley to reconsider his decision, he did not apply the kind of pressure he brought to bear on Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, who has for several months been eager to return to New York.

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The resignation of White House chief of staff Bill Daley must be frustrating to President Obama because it–with some help from the well-timed release of Jodi Kantor’s new book on the Obama White House–reveals the extent to which Obama has succeeded not in creating a no-drama administration (an impossible goal in the Washington of 2012 anyway), but rather in creating the impression of one.

The New York Times tries admirably to parrot the administration line, calling Daley’s departure a “distracting shake-up in a White House that has prided itself on a lack of internal drama, with a tightly knit circle of loyal senior advisers playing a steadying role.” But the paper is forced to give away the game later on in the story, revealing the Obama White House for what it is: the Hotel California of presidential administrations:

While the president said he asked Mr. Daley to reconsider his decision, he did not apply the kind of pressure he brought to bear on Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, who has for several months been eager to return to New York.

The Times is right; Geithner has been begging to leave. And far from being chock full of “loyal senior advisers,” the White House is made up of people trying desperately to get out before their term is up (Daley, Geithner) and comically disastrous hires to which Obama has shown a generous amount of loyalty (Eric Holder, former press secretary Bob Gibbs).

Of course, for some reason, we haven’t seen the rash of newspaper stories on how Obama prizes loyalty over talent and competence, the way we did with George W. Bush. Perhaps the Times will be getting around to that any day now.

The other notable part of the Daley story is that he was brought in because he has ties to the business community and a good reputation in Congress. What the Daley departure signals is he is fully aware his boss’s reelection efforts will be consumed by Obama’s relentless attacks on both. He will be running against the “do-nothing Congress” and “Wall Street greed,” demagoguing the country’s political leadership and its private sector leadership. His slogan, then, will essentially be “It’s literally everyone’s fault but mine!” There was no reason for Daley to stick around as the president spent nearly $1 billion attempting to destroy the reputations of Daley’s friends and associates.

So Daley will go back to Chicago with a no-show title of “campaign co-chair” the administration says they will “probably” bestow upon him. But really, there’s no drama here. President Temperament is fully in control.

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The Gingrich Collapse

The last week of observing Newt Gingrich has been fascinating not for political, but for psychological, reasons.

For anyone who has been paying attention, Gingrich has become consumed with rage toward Mitt Romney. What explains Gingrich’s behavior, I think, is that not long ago he really believed — he was certain — the nomination was his. Remember what he told ABC’s Jake Tapper: “I’m going to be the nominee,” the former Speaker told Tapper in December. “It’s very hard not to look at the recent polls and think that the odds are very high I’m going to be the nominee.” Gingrich was also convinced he was invincible. “And by the way,” he told Tapper, “I don’t object if people want to attack me, that’s their right. All I’m suggesting is that it’s not going to be very effective and that people are going to get sick of it very fast.”

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The last week of observing Newt Gingrich has been fascinating not for political, but for psychological, reasons.

For anyone who has been paying attention, Gingrich has become consumed with rage toward Mitt Romney. What explains Gingrich’s behavior, I think, is that not long ago he really believed — he was certain — the nomination was his. Remember what he told ABC’s Jake Tapper: “I’m going to be the nominee,” the former Speaker told Tapper in December. “It’s very hard not to look at the recent polls and think that the odds are very high I’m going to be the nominee.” Gingrich was also convinced he was invincible. “And by the way,” he told Tapper, “I don’t object if people want to attack me, that’s their right. All I’m suggesting is that it’s not going to be very effective and that people are going to get sick of it very fast.”

It wasn’t simply that Gingrich would win; it was that he would do so after having risen from the political dead. All the “political consultants” were wrong; Newt was right. He would win his way — which meant going on a cruise to Greece during the campaign and not focusing on building an organization (or his travels) on Iowa and New Hampshire. He would write the script for, and star in, the greatest political comeback in American history.

But then something happened on the way to the coronation. The nomination began to slip through his fingers. Gingrich’s double digit lead in Iowa evaporated. He ended up finishing in fourth place. And Gingrich being Gingrich, he had to blame someone. His main target? Mitt Romney, even though Representative Ron Paul’s ads were the most devastatingly effective. His defeat turned Gingrich very nearly blind with rage. Since then, he’s lost control of himself, to the point that he doesn’t even know what’s good for him anymore, or seem to care. He’s now on a search-and-destroy mission, even if he has to adopt an anti-capitalist critique in the process.

On December 13, someone who knows Gingrich very well, and for a long time, wrote me an e-mail. He said, “I just saw a Fox report that Newt has slipped a bit in Iowa. If that becomes apparent to Newt he’ll turn savagely negative.”

He knew his Newt.

Note, too, this is all about Gingrich. Not the GOP. Not conservatism. And not the country. But Newt. That has always been, and I imagine it will always be, his problem.

It isn’t as if Gingrich is a man shorn of talent. In fact, he possesses some impressive skills. But many of us who are conservative have expressed our concerns about Gingrich because of his chronic indiscipline, his grandiosity, his erratic behavior. His pendulum can swing very widely and very quickly. This last week is roughly what we had in mind. And it has reinforced our belief he simply does not have the temperament to be America’s commander-in-chief.

 

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Republican Voters Still Think About the Ones Who Got Away

As Mitt Romney prepares to accomplish the unprecedented feat of winning both the Republican Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary today, here are some poll numbers to keep in mind. As Peter wrote, Romney is now the only candidate viewed as “acceptable” by the majority of Republican voters, and he leads among self-proclaimed conservative voters on acceptability. He is also seen as the most electable of the Republican candidates, and leads President Obama by two points in a general election matchup, according to a new CBS poll.

Electable, acceptable – by all practical measurements, Romney is the reasonable candidate to choose. But Republican voters still can’t stop thinking about the ones who got away:

The survey finds that 58 percent of Republican primary voters want more presidential choices, while just 37 percent say they are satisfied with the current field. The percentage of Republican primary voters that wants more choices has increased 12 percentage points since October…

It’s mathematically possible for another candidate to enter the race as late as early February and still win enough delegates to take the nomination, though some deadlines for candidates to get on state ballots have already passed, including those in delegate-rich Virginia and Illinois.

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As Mitt Romney prepares to accomplish the unprecedented feat of winning both the Republican Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary today, here are some poll numbers to keep in mind. As Peter wrote, Romney is now the only candidate viewed as “acceptable” by the majority of Republican voters, and he leads among self-proclaimed conservative voters on acceptability. He is also seen as the most electable of the Republican candidates, and leads President Obama by two points in a general election matchup, according to a new CBS poll.

Electable, acceptable – by all practical measurements, Romney is the reasonable candidate to choose. But Republican voters still can’t stop thinking about the ones who got away:

The survey finds that 58 percent of Republican primary voters want more presidential choices, while just 37 percent say they are satisfied with the current field. The percentage of Republican primary voters that wants more choices has increased 12 percentage points since October…

It’s mathematically possible for another candidate to enter the race as late as early February and still win enough delegates to take the nomination, though some deadlines for candidates to get on state ballots have already passed, including those in delegate-rich Virginia and Illinois.

Voters, whether they’re Democrats or Republicans, seldom end up with the candidates of their dreams. The GOP electorate recently had to put up with Bob Dole and John McCain, who aren’t exactly electrifying figures. Democrats have had it even worse – they were saddled with the pedantic Al Gore and blowhard John Kerry before getting their fantasy candidate Barack Obama. In that regard, Romney doesn’t buck the trend; he is the trend.

But a lot of dissatisfaction with Romney may stem from the idea that this election was going to be different. Obamacare, the economic crisis, the looming Iranian threat, and the mounting debt all combine to present an historic challenge. We’ve been told by conservative pundits that the country is careening full-speed ahead toward a cliff, and another four years of Obama will mean certain destruction. Hyperbole? Maybe. But any way you look at it, the stakes are high.

This election was also supposed to be about vindication. After the stinging loss of 2008, the conservative movement failed to shrivel away and die as predicted by liberal critics. Instead, we saw a resurgence of free-market populism in the form of the Tea Party, and the rise of new conservative icons like Paul Ryan, Chris Christie and Marco Rubio. The significance of the 2012 election isn’t just about the threat of another four years of Obama; it’s also about the knowledge that conservatives have a new crop of leaders who could rise to meet our current challenges.

But for whatever reason, the stars didn’t align. Conservatives now find themselves on track to nominate an acceptable but mediocre candidate, one they rejected in 2008. And while it may be mathematically possible for another candidate to jump in at this point, it’s way too late from a practical standpoint. Romney’s probably the best option Republicans have for a victory in November. But he may never live up to the high hopes conservatives had for this election, or for themselves.

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Poll: Romney Is the “Acceptable Nominee”

According to a Gallup survey released today, Mitt Romney is the now the only candidate who a majority of conservative and moderate/liberal Republicans nationwide see as an acceptable GOP nominee for president.

Conservative Republicans are more likely to say Romney would be an acceptable nominee than either Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum. Fewer than half of conservative Republicans see Rick Perry, Ron Paul, or Jon Huntsman as acceptable nominees. And among moderate/liberal voters, none of the non-Romney candidates receives more than 40 percent when asked if they are an acceptable nominee.

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According to a Gallup survey released today, Mitt Romney is the now the only candidate who a majority of conservative and moderate/liberal Republicans nationwide see as an acceptable GOP nominee for president.

Conservative Republicans are more likely to say Romney would be an acceptable nominee than either Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum. Fewer than half of conservative Republicans see Rick Perry, Ron Paul, or Jon Huntsman as acceptable nominees. And among moderate/liberal voters, none of the non-Romney candidates receives more than 40 percent when asked if they are an acceptable nominee.

Among conservative Republicans, the “acceptability” breakdown goes like this: Romney (59 percent), Gingrich (51 percent), Santorum (50 percent), Perry (41 percent), Paul (25 percent), and Huntsman (19 percent). Among moderate/liberal Republicans, the breakdown is thus: Romney (59 percent), Gingrich (36 percent), Santorum (35 percent), Perry (29 percent), Paul (35 percent), and Huntsman (25 percent).

Among the individual candidates, Rick Santorum has benefited the most compared to a late November/early December poll. Among Republican and Republican-leaning voters, the percentage of people who find Santorum acceptable has risen from 27 percent to 45 percent. On the other hand, Newt Gingrich has suffered the most erosion, dropping from an acceptability rating of 62 percent to 46 percent.

As Gallup concludes, “At the national level, Romney is in a strong front-runner position across several measures. He has broken the 30 percent barrier in terms of national support for the GOP nomination and leads his nearest competitor by 12 percentage points. About 6 in 10 Republicans say they expect he will be their nominee regardless of whom they personally support, and Romney is the only candidate that a majority of conservative and moderate/liberal Republicans see as an acceptable nominee … Gallup’s updated measures of support, expectations, and acceptability show that Romney is decidedly the front-runner at the national level.”

Some of us said a while ago that Governor Romney is in the catbird seat. This survey goes some distance toward explaining why.

 

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Wishful Thinking: Hamas’s “New Direction”

Yesterday, I wrote about the State Department’s wishful thinking on the Muslim Brotherhood. But the most widespread form of wishful thinking nowadays is undoubtedly the global enthusiasm for Hamas’s “new direction,” as evidenced by, for instance, this Haaretz editorial, enthusiastically reprinted the next day by the New York Times’ global edition, the International Herald Tribune.

Let’s for a moment ignore all the evidence to the contrary and assume Hamas really did agree to abandon terror for unarmed “popular struggle.” What would that mean for Israel? About 500 rockets a year fired at its civilian population. How do I know? Because Hamas, unwilling to risk another Israeli offensive, hasn’t personally fired rockets at Israel since the last offensive ended three years ago. Instead, it has allowed smaller groups to fire 1,571 rockets from Hamas-controlled Gaza while disclaiming responsibility – a tactic it would undoubtedly continue. In short, Hamas’s “new direction” wouldn’t reduce anti-Israel terror from Hamas-controlled territory one whit.

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Yesterday, I wrote about the State Department’s wishful thinking on the Muslim Brotherhood. But the most widespread form of wishful thinking nowadays is undoubtedly the global enthusiasm for Hamas’s “new direction,” as evidenced by, for instance, this Haaretz editorial, enthusiastically reprinted the next day by the New York Times’ global edition, the International Herald Tribune.

Let’s for a moment ignore all the evidence to the contrary and assume Hamas really did agree to abandon terror for unarmed “popular struggle.” What would that mean for Israel? About 500 rockets a year fired at its civilian population. How do I know? Because Hamas, unwilling to risk another Israeli offensive, hasn’t personally fired rockets at Israel since the last offensive ended three years ago. Instead, it has allowed smaller groups to fire 1,571 rockets from Hamas-controlled Gaza while disclaiming responsibility – a tactic it would undoubtedly continue. In short, Hamas’s “new direction” wouldn’t reduce anti-Israel terror from Hamas-controlled territory one whit.

But to believe that Hamas has actually agreed to end “military resistance” and accept a Palestinian state in the 1967 lines as a “permanent solution,” as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas claimed last month, you’d have to commit the same fallacy I discussed yesterday: believing that what Arab leaders tell Westerners in English has more validity than what they tell their own people in Arabic. And Hamas leaders have been lining up to tell their own people they will never abandon terror or their goal of eradicating Israel. Following are just a few examples from the past month:

* Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh told those at a ceremony marking the organization’s 24th anniversary that “armed struggle” is “the strategic choice for liberating the Palestinian land, from the [Mediterranean] sea to the [Jordan] river … The Hamas movement will lead intifada after intifada until we liberate Palestine – all of Palestine.”

* Hamas “Foreign Minister” Osama Hamdan said Hamas’s recent agreement to join the PLO, Israel’s “partner” in the Oslo Accords, was aimed solely at getting the PLO to “reconsider its political program.” Hamas remains committed to “the liberation of our lands from the [Mediterranean] sea to the [Jordan] river,” Hamdan said, and “anyone who thinks Hamas has changed its positions and now accepts the PLO’s defeatist political program is living in an illusion.”

* Hamas official Khalil Abu Leila similarly said the group was joining the PLO solely to “bring the PLO back to its correct path and the goal for which it was established, namely the liberation of Palestine,” and persuade it to scrap Oslo.

* Senior Hamas official Sami Bardawil said that anyone who thinks Hamas will recognize Israel is “dreaming,” because “recognition of Israel is not only a red line but, from our standpoint, a religious-legal prohibition.”

* Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum denied a Haaretz report that Khaled Meshal, head of the organization’s political wing, had ordered a halt to anti-Israel attacks, saying the report merely reflected the Israeli government’s “state of despair.”

And a final point to consider: While Meshal, the man who signed the agreement with Abbas, was long considered Hamas’s top dog, Israeli intelligence now believes he has dropped to third or fourth place, below Gaza-based leaders like Haniyeh, Haaretz reported [Hebrew only]. Why? Because the Damascus-based Meshal’s power came from being the organization’s financier – the conduit for Iranian cash – and from his close ties with the Assad regime in Syria, where Hamas is headquartered. But now, the Assad regime is crumbling; Iran has slashed its funding over what it deems Hamas’s insufficient support for Assad; and Egypt is replacing Syria as Hamas’s patron. Hence, Meshal’s influence is waning.

But facts are often unpleasant things to contemplate. So wishful thinking springs eternal.

 

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Poll: Independents at Record Levels

According to a Gallup survey, the percentage of Americans identifying as political independents increased in 2011 by two points to 40 percent, the highest Gallup has ever measured. What’s interesting to note is that Gallup records from 1951-1988 indicate that the percentage of independents was generally in the low 30 percent range during those years, suggesting that the proportion of independents in 2011 was the largest in at least 60 years.

In addition, more Americans continue to identify as Democrats than as Republicans, 31 percent to 27 percent. (Republican identification dropped from 29 percent to 27 percent while Democratic identification held steady at 31 percent). Gallup points out that more Americans have identified as Democrats than Republicans in all but a few years since 1988 and the four-point gap between the two parties remains below the eight-point (36 percent to 28 percent) and seven-point (34 percent to 27 percent) Democratic advantages in 2008 and 2009, respectively.

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According to a Gallup survey, the percentage of Americans identifying as political independents increased in 2011 by two points to 40 percent, the highest Gallup has ever measured. What’s interesting to note is that Gallup records from 1951-1988 indicate that the percentage of independents was generally in the low 30 percent range during those years, suggesting that the proportion of independents in 2011 was the largest in at least 60 years.

In addition, more Americans continue to identify as Democrats than as Republicans, 31 percent to 27 percent. (Republican identification dropped from 29 percent to 27 percent while Democratic identification held steady at 31 percent). Gallup points out that more Americans have identified as Democrats than Republicans in all but a few years since 1988 and the four-point gap between the two parties remains below the eight-point (36 percent to 28 percent) and seven-point (34 percent to 27 percent) Democratic advantages in 2008 and 2009, respectively.

In addition, when independents’ party leanings are taken into account and combined with the party’s core identifiers, the parties end up tied. In 2011, 45 percent of Americans identified as Republicans or leaned to the Republican Party and 45 percent identified as Democrats or leaned Democratic. This is similar to 2010, when the Democrats had a 1-point advantage in leaned party identification yet suffered massive losses in the mid-term election. (Democrats have held an advantage for leaned party identification for most of the 21 years Gallup has tracked this measure.)

The increased independent identification is consistent with what one would expect, given the record levels of distrust in government and the unfavorable views of both parties. What’s interesting is that while the GOP’s rating is relatively low, the number of people who self-identify as conservative is at the highest number (41 percent) since the early 1990s. Thirty-six percent self-identify as moderates, while only 21 percent self-identify as liberals.

The bottom line, then, is conservatism is viewed much more favorably than the Republican Party. The number of independents is at a record level and will (as always) be key to winning the presidency. And the GOP, although it saw its support drop in 2011, is still in fairly good shape vis-à-vis the Democratic Party, especially when you take into the party leanings of independents.

 

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