Alana’s question as to why Sarah Palin continues to toy with the public and the Republican presidential field and refuses to issue a firm endorsement of one candidate is a good one. I believe the answer, however, has more to do with her desire to try to hog the spotlight for as long as possible than it does with any inane hopes on her part of a deadlocked GOP eventually turning to her as a savior or even her obligations to Fox News. But after last night’s Florida result, there is an even better query to be posed to those who spent much of the last week touting the former Alaska governor as a difference maker in the South Carolina primary.
If Palin’s unofficial endorsement was thought by some observers, including smart people like the Weekly Standard’s William Kristol, to have had some influence on the outcome in South Carolina, what conclusions should we draw from the fact that her call for Floridians to “rage against the machine” and vote for Gingrich doesn’t seem to have had the same effect?
1. The reach and scope of Governor Romney’s primary victory in Florida was enormous. He not only defeated Newt Gingrich by more than 14 points, Romney’s total was larger than the combined total of both Gingrich and Rick Santorum. Romney won among men and women; in all age, income, and education categories; among whites and Hispanics; among those who support and oppose the Tea Party; among those who decided early and those who decided late; and among evangelicals. Among the only categories Romney did not carry was those who described themselves “very conservative” (Gingrich carried 41 percent of the vote while Romney took 30 percent). Those who consider themselves “somewhat conservative” went for Romney 52 percent v. 32 percent for Gingrich.
Almost half the voters in Florida (46 percent) said electability was their top concern – and of that group, they preferred the former Massachusetts governor by 26 percentage points. And of the 62 percent of voters who said the economy was the issue that matters most to them, 52 percent went for Romney v. 30 percent for Gingrich.
The Obama administration seems to think it can stop American combat operations a year earlier than expected—in 2013—while also downsizing the Afghan Security Forces and still strike a peace deal with the Taliban. Only in some alternative universe is this a winning strategy. In the world we actually inhabit it is a recipe for a slow-motion—or maybe not so slow—catastrophe.
It is hard to know exactly what the announcement that the U.S. is ending combat operations in 2013 means because the dividing line between “combat” and “advising” can be thin to the point of non-existent. But at the very least it signals some pull back of the American commitment. And before long I suspect we are going to hear that the number of U.S. troops—already insufficient—will be cut back some more so as to allow President Obama to run for reelection claiming to have ended one war and to be on his way to ending another. The Afghan Security Forces will be hard-pressed to pick up the slack, because they will need extensive training and support for years to come. The only way they will have any chance of success is if the U.S. maintains a substantial force in Afghanistan after 2014—say at least 40,000 troops. But that is highly unlikely if Obama stays in office. He seems determined to downsize as fast as possible.
In recent weeks, as the Republican presidential field has been busy tearing each other apart while the primaries heated up, Democrats have been feeling a lot better about their chances to re-elect Barack Obama. The spectacle of the GOP’s internecine warfare and slightly better, though by no means encouraging, economic statistics have led some to believe the president may have an easier time this fall than many had thought just a few months ago. But the latest Gallup survey of the president’s approval ratings tells a very different story. Breaking down the job approval numbers state by state, Gallup presents a picture that ought to be deeply distressing to the White House.
If you add up the states where the president has a net positive approval rating in 2011, you only get a total of 215 electoral votes, while those where he has a net negative rating amount to 323. If these numbers remain unchanged through the fall that would mean a decisive loss in the Electoral College for Obama.
Daniel Larison responded to my post yesterday in which I argued that Georgia should be considered for NATO membership. I recounted that the stated reasons for keeping Georgia out in 2008 were Foggy Bottom’s concern such advocacy would prompt Russia to turn against our Eastern European missile defense plans, and the hypocritical warning from Germany–which endured quite a significant territorial dispute with the Russians for the first 35 years of its NATO membership–that countries with territorial disputes with the Russians should be kept out of NATO.
The first concern has obviously vanished, since those missile shield plans were scrapped. Germany’s position–which is refuted most effectively by its own history–should be reexamined now that Georgia and Russia have signed a border-control agreement. Larison disagrees, but I think ends up strengthening my original point. He writes:
Trying to bring Georgia into the alliance does not enhance European security in any way, and Russia would still regard it as an intolerable provocation. Just as it did not in April 2008 during the Bucharest summit, Georgia still does not have full control of its territory. It is ridiculous to ask members of the alliance to extend an Article V guarantee to a country with ongoing territorial disputes.
Last night wasn’t the first time Sarah Palin has beseeched Republicans to vote for Newt Gingrich. But it was the latest step in Palin’s strange Gingrich dance, in which she defends the former speaker, praises him, calls on voters to vote for him – but stops just short of officially endorsing him. The Globe and Mail reports:
There is a curious dance Sarah Palin is doing lately with Newt Gingrich, and it goes something like this: do not formally endorse Mr. Gingrich, but on the eve of key state primaries make an appearance on Fox News TV and deliver what sounds an awful lot like an endorsement.
The former Alaska governor and vice-presidential candidate did it ahead of the South Carolina primary, saying that if she were a South Carolinian she would ”vote for Newt.” Mr. Gingrich welcomed the lift and credited Ms. Palin’s comments with helping his South Carolina campaign. “She’s an enormous help. She’s a big help in the South Carolina victory,” he told Fox News.
This morning on CNN, fresh off his win in Florida, Mitt Romney discussed where the focus of his campaign lies. He said,
“I’m in this race because I care about Americans. I’m not concerned about the very poor, we have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I’ll fix it. I’m not concerned about the very rich, they’re doing just fine. I’m concerned about the very heart of America, the 90-95% of Americans that are struggling.”
Typically, peace negotiations are successful when one side has decided it cannot win on the battlefield. That was the case with insurgent groups as disparate as the IRA in Northern Ireland and the FMLN in El Salvador. Is it the case with the Taliban in Afghanistan? The administration would like us to think so because it has invested such high hopes in peace talks that would allow us to withdraw our troops as fast as possible. Unfortunately, there is plentiful evidence the Taliban are far from ready to give up their struggle to take over Afghanistan.
The latest data point is this report compiled by NATO forces based on interrogations of thousands of Taliban detainees. According to the AP’s summary, “The Taliban believe they will return to power after the U.S.-led coalition ends its combat role in Afghanistan in 2014″; they “also believed they were receiving support from Pakistan and that they were doing well on the battlefield.” Does this sound like a group ready to put aside its weapons? Hardly. So why engage in peace talks? Negotiations have many advantages from the Taliban’s standpoint–they could hasten America’s withdrawal and provide some breathing space for a movement battered by a U.S.-led offensive on its homeground in southern Afghanistan.
Egypt’s greatest export has always been its school teachers, at least in the Middle East. In the 1950s and 1960s, not only did President Gamal Abdul Nasser export Egyptian teachers, but many Arab states—especially in the Persian Gulf—used the Egyptian curriculum as well. It was not simply Nasser’s rhetoric which propelled Arab nationalism beyond Egypt’s borders, but also Egyptian expatriates.
I’m in the Persian Gulf region, interviewing a number of government and opposition officials. While American policymakers debate whether the Muslim Brotherhood has moderated (it hasn’t), or whether the new Islamist-dominated government in Egypt will void the Camp David Accords, thereby signaling to the world that treaties made with Arab countries are meaningless, the perspectives here differ.