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Posts For: August 10, 2012

David Axelrod Offers Romney VP Advice

Mitt Romney received some advice from an unusual source this afternoon, the National Journal reports:

“If I were picking, I’d pick Pawlenty,” Axelrod told National Journal. “You shouldn’t write that, because everybody will think I’m trying to bait [Romney] into picking Pawlenty.” …

Opposition research, of course, is at the ready for everyone thought to be on Romney’s short list. But the psychological preparations at Obama’s Chicago headquarters seem geared almost entirely toward a Romney-Pawlenty ticket.

“That’s my influence,” Axelrod told NJ. “I’ve been saying Pawlenty for four months. The reasoning, as a strategist, would be: He is acceptable to the right and the evangelicals, but he’s not scary to moderates. He’s good on television. He’s been through this.”  …

Axelrod also seems to have taken stock of Pawlenty’s TV chops and emerged with grudging professional admiration.

“Of all of those you have heard of, he’s got a pretty good TV style,” Axelrod said.  “He’s cool. He’s casual. He can be colloquial. I would be surprised if they didn’t pick him. And I think Romney’s kind of not looking for risk.”

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Mitt Romney received some advice from an unusual source this afternoon, the National Journal reports:

“If I were picking, I’d pick Pawlenty,” Axelrod told National Journal. “You shouldn’t write that, because everybody will think I’m trying to bait [Romney] into picking Pawlenty.” …

Opposition research, of course, is at the ready for everyone thought to be on Romney’s short list. But the psychological preparations at Obama’s Chicago headquarters seem geared almost entirely toward a Romney-Pawlenty ticket.

“That’s my influence,” Axelrod told NJ. “I’ve been saying Pawlenty for four months. The reasoning, as a strategist, would be: He is acceptable to the right and the evangelicals, but he’s not scary to moderates. He’s good on television. He’s been through this.”  …

Axelrod also seems to have taken stock of Pawlenty’s TV chops and emerged with grudging professional admiration.

“Of all of those you have heard of, he’s got a pretty good TV style,” Axelrod said.  “He’s cool. He’s casual. He can be colloquial. I would be surprised if they didn’t pick him. And I think Romney’s kind of not looking for risk.”

I can’t imagine this is some clumsy attempt by Axelrod to sway the VP pick in his favor, as he knows his advice isn’t going to have any influence one way or the other. It seems more like Axelrod is trying to set the messaging tone against Paul Ryan or Rob Portman, on the assumption that Pawlenty is a less likely pick.

If Ryan gets the nod, the initial Democratic talking point will be that Romney capitulated to the extreme right instead of choosing a more moderate, reasonable Republican like Pawlenty (although, if Pawlenty does get chosen, don’t expect Axelrod to call him a moderate ever again). And as Axelrod notes in the article, Rob Portman will get tied to President Bush’s economic policies.

There are others who also seem skeptical that Pawlenty will get the nod. Byron York reported this morning that Pawlenty will make an appearance on the Sunday shows, which seems to suggest he isn’t the choice:

Other VP possibilities, notably Rob Portman and Paul Ryan, turned down invitations to appear on the Sunday shows.

People in the extended Romney circle view the Sunday appearances as a sign that Pawlenty is less likely to be the vice presidential pick. They feel certain that Pawlenty would not appear unless his appearances were cleared by the Romney campaign. And they also believe that Romney does not want his soon-to-be-announced pick all over the airwaves in the run-up to Romney’s big announcement; no reason to risk a possible mistake or put the contender in an awkward situation. Therefore, if Pawlenty is appearing, it suggests he’s not the guy.

That could mean nothing, but it makes sense that the Romney camp wouldn’t want its running mate selection getting grilled on high-pressure talk shows so soon before the announcement.

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Romney Drops Hint About Ryan for VP?

Mitt Romney gave some details about what he’s looking for in a running mate during an interview with NBC’s Chuck Todd yesterday, and some are wondering whether there was a hint that Romney will go for one of the bolder VP options:

CHUCK TODD: What do you want your running mate to say about you?  What do you want your selection to say about what kind of president you’re going to be?

MITT ROMNEY: I don’t think I have anything for you on the VP running mate. Other than I– I certainly expect to have a person that has a strength of character, a vision for the country, that, that adds something to the political discourse about the direction of the country. I mean, I happen to believe this is a defining election for America; that we’re going to be voting for what kind of America we’re going to have.

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Mitt Romney gave some details about what he’s looking for in a running mate during an interview with NBC’s Chuck Todd yesterday, and some are wondering whether there was a hint that Romney will go for one of the bolder VP options:

CHUCK TODD: What do you want your running mate to say about you?  What do you want your selection to say about what kind of president you’re going to be?

MITT ROMNEY: I don’t think I have anything for you on the VP running mate. Other than I– I certainly expect to have a person that has a strength of character, a vision for the country, that, that adds something to the political discourse about the direction of the country. I mean, I happen to believe this is a defining election for America; that we’re going to be voting for what kind of America we’re going to have.

If Romney is truly seeking a running mate with a “vision for the country,” that seems to contradict the conventional wisdom that his choice is going to be based primarily on competence and governing ability. Rob Portman and Tim Pawlenty are fine candidates in many ways, but you’d have a hard time attributing a grand national vision to either one of them. Out of all of the likely VP choices, Paul Ryan is by far the one most associated with the word “vision” (this is a measurable fact, as New York magazine illustrates with a graph of Google search results). And while Marco Rubio’s vision may be less developed and obvious, the Weekly Standard has argued that he would be an ideal candidate to provide a contrast to Obama’s vision of the American dream:

The moment he’s picked, Rubio will become by far the most prominent Hispanic politician in the country. And in a contest largely about competing visions of the American dream, against a president who has minimized the importance of hard work as a road to success, Rubio’s personal story, of a father who worked as a bartender and a mother as a maid to provide opportunities for their children, would provide a powerful counterargument.

As John argued earlier today, Romney’s policies need to be more than wooden props in a stump speech. His choice of running mate may not give him a big, instant bump in the polls. But the right pick could help sharpen and fortify Romney’s own vision for the country, providing him with the support (and ideological confidence) to get below surface-level on his proposals.

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James Baker Keeps Digging

Josh Rogin’s interview with former Secretary of State James Baker is teased at the top of ForeignPolicy.com’s home page with the headline: “The Realists Strike Back.” The Star Wars reference is appropriate, because it seems Baker is having his Admiral Ackbar moment.

The purpose of the interview is Baker’s response to recent reporting by Rogin on the prominence of some foreign policy “realists” in Mitt Romney’s transition team and the discomfort that is causing among other foreign policy advisers. In the interview, Baker explains that he deserves to be mentioned alongside Henry Kissinger, because Baker believes himself to be among the greatest statesmen this country has ever known. Where did he get this idea? From Thomas Friedman. But a glance at the Friedman column in question singing Baker’s praises makes one thing clear that Baker seems not to have noticed in time: It’s a trap!

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Josh Rogin’s interview with former Secretary of State James Baker is teased at the top of ForeignPolicy.com’s home page with the headline: “The Realists Strike Back.” The Star Wars reference is appropriate, because it seems Baker is having his Admiral Ackbar moment.

The purpose of the interview is Baker’s response to recent reporting by Rogin on the prominence of some foreign policy “realists” in Mitt Romney’s transition team and the discomfort that is causing among other foreign policy advisers. In the interview, Baker explains that he deserves to be mentioned alongside Henry Kissinger, because Baker believes himself to be among the greatest statesmen this country has ever known. Where did he get this idea? From Thomas Friedman. But a glance at the Friedman column in question singing Baker’s praises makes one thing clear that Baker seems not to have noticed in time: It’s a trap!

Here is what Friedman writes about Baker:

The three U.S. statesmen who have done the most to make Israel more secure and accepted in the region all told blunt truths to every Israeli or Arab leader: Jimmy Carter, who helped forge a lasting peace between Israel and Egypt; Henry Kissinger, who built the post-1973 war disengagement agreements with Syria, Israel and Egypt; and James Baker, who engineered the Madrid peace conference. All of them knew that to make progress in this region you have to get in the face of both sides. They both need the excuse at times that “the Americans made me do it,” because their own politics are too knotted to move on their own.

As this is the paragraph that mentioned Baker, he should have read it prior to endorsing its message. There’s the moral equivalence that has become a trademark of Friedman’s, and the outlandish claim about Israel’s security and place in the region.

Even if you grant that Carter should get a great deal of credit for the 1979 peace deal–and you shouldn’t, because Carter opposed it, tried to stall and prevent it, and then finally jumped aboard when he could no longer hope to torpedo it–you’d still have to be delusional to believe what was written there. Friedman’s no history buff of course, but he should be familiar with Harry Truman, whose early recognition of the Jewish state was critical to its acceptance and survival in its early days.

Kissinger does belong in that group–but so does his boss, Richard Nixon, who worked with Kissinger to plan and implement Operation Nickel Grass to keep Israel supplied and armed during the Yom Kippur War.

There are others, of course; George W. Bush’s support for Israel during the Intifada, Reagan’s support for Menachem Begin–against the wishes of much of his cabinet–during the first Lebanon war, etc. But the point is that if Baker only read the paragraph mentioning him he should still have known not to brag about it.

But the reason it’s a trap is because of what was written before that paragraph. Here are some choice quotes from it:

  • “Since the whole trip was not about learning anything but about how to satisfy the political whims of the right-wing, super pro-Bibi Netanyahu, American Jewish casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, why didn’t they just do the whole thing in Las Vegas? I mean, it was all about money anyway”
  • “They could have constructed a plastic Wailing Wall and saved so much on gas”
  • “In order to garner more Jewish (and evangelical) votes and money, the G.O.P. decided to ‘out-pro-Israel’ the Democrats by being even more unquestioning of Israel”
  • “State Department officials, not to mention politicians, are reluctant to even state publicly what is U.S. policy — that settlements are ‘an obstacle to peace’ — for fear of being denounced as anti-Israel”
  • “the main Israel lobby, AIPAC, has made itself the feared arbiter of which lawmakers are ‘pro’ and which are ‘anti-Israel’ and, therefore, who should get donations and who should not”

You get the point: Most of the column was about the nefarious presence of Jewish money in the election. This is the flag Baker is now running around Washington waving at reporters to prove he’s a statesman. Something tells me it won’t help.

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Crossroads Ad Pushes Obama to Condemn Steelworker Ad

There’s a danger in hitting back against wild, unsubstantiated accusations. Do it wrong, and you can end up bringing more attention to the initial smear, i.e. “Congressman Denies Beating His Wife.” But American Crossroads hits the right notes in its latest ad, contrasting the honorable rhetoric of 2008-Obama with the mud-slinging in the Priorities USA steelworker ad. The powerful audio at the end is a great touch (former White House counsel John Dean speaking on the Nixon White House tapes in 1973, informs Mike Allen):

The Romney campaign is also increasing pressure on the Obama camp to denounce the ad. In an interview with Bill Bennett yesterday, Romney tore into the president’s campaign:

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There’s a danger in hitting back against wild, unsubstantiated accusations. Do it wrong, and you can end up bringing more attention to the initial smear, i.e. “Congressman Denies Beating His Wife.” But American Crossroads hits the right notes in its latest ad, contrasting the honorable rhetoric of 2008-Obama with the mud-slinging in the Priorities USA steelworker ad. The powerful audio at the end is a great touch (former White House counsel John Dean speaking on the Nixon White House tapes in 1973, informs Mike Allen):

The Romney campaign is also increasing pressure on the Obama camp to denounce the ad. In an interview with Bill Bennett yesterday, Romney tore into the president’s campaign:

Romney said in a radio interview that the ad was “wrong and inaccurate” and that the Obama campaign should be “embarrassed” the super-PAC, Priorities USA, is standing by the ad.

“You know, in the past, when people pointed out that something was inaccurate, why, campaigns pulled the ad,” Romney said on Bill Bennett’s radio show. “They were embarrassed. Today, they just blast ahead. You know, the various fact-checkers look at some of these charges in the Obama ads and they say that they’re wrong, and inaccurate, and yet he just keeps on running them.”

Frankly, it’s interesting that the Obama campaign hasn’t issued a clear condemnation of the ad yet. Is it because he’s worried about hurting Priorities USA’s fundraising if he speaks out against them too harshly? Wealthy Democrats have already been reluctant to give to super PACs, which was why Obama publicly endorsed Priorities USA in the first place — to let donors know this group was approved by the most principled campaigner ever. If he now denounces the super PAC for running slimy and dishonest ads, that could seriously handicap Priorities for the rest of the season.

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UN Agency Embraces Terror Group

When I lived in Tajikistan back in 1997, a branch of the Imam Khomeini Relief Committee opened within eyesight of the U.S. embassy. Within days, the State Department evacuated non-essential personnel. The reason was simple: While the Imam Khomeini Relief Committee describes itself as a charity and, indeed, often distributes blankets and food to the poor, the Supreme Leader controls its assets, and the group has a very close relationship to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Two years ago, the U.S. Treasury Department designated the Lebanese branches of the Committee “for being owned or controlled by Hizbullah and for providing financial and material support to Hizbullah and its director.” The Committee has engaged in suspicious activities not only in Tajikistan and Lebanon, but also in Afghanistan, Bosnia, and Somalia.

Enter the United Nations.

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When I lived in Tajikistan back in 1997, a branch of the Imam Khomeini Relief Committee opened within eyesight of the U.S. embassy. Within days, the State Department evacuated non-essential personnel. The reason was simple: While the Imam Khomeini Relief Committee describes itself as a charity and, indeed, often distributes blankets and food to the poor, the Supreme Leader controls its assets, and the group has a very close relationship to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Two years ago, the U.S. Treasury Department designated the Lebanese branches of the Committee “for being owned or controlled by Hizbullah and for providing financial and material support to Hizbullah and its director.” The Committee has engaged in suspicious activities not only in Tajikistan and Lebanon, but also in Afghanistan, Bosnia, and Somalia.

Enter the United Nations.

The Islamic Republic’s official news agency has announced cooperation with the United Nations Population Fund:

United Nations Population Fund has voiced readiness to cooperate with the relief aid committee on health and rehabilitation of bread-earning women… Imam Khomeini relief aid committee has signed letter of understanding on broadening cooperation with United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), The World Health Organization and OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs), he said.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with supporting women’s health but there are many charities out there to choose from, most of which are not tainted by involvement in terrorism. Given that money is fungible, and the Iranians use the Imam Khomeini Relief Committee for surveillance and to provide cover to terror operatives, it is shameful that the United Nations would embrace the group. This raises the possibility that U.S. funding for these UN agencies may contribute to Iranian terror attacks which kill U.S. civilians. Secretary Clinton, Ambassador Rice: is anyone awake at the State Department, or are American national security and the well-being of American citizens now of secondary concern to the State Department?

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Romney’s Strategy Isn’t Working

The line from Romney headquarters last month was “every day we’re not talking about the economy is a day we lose.” This line, which came from the highest reaches of the campaign, was proffered to explain the unwillingness to provide substantive details on a host of policies besides the economy. Well, Romney HQ isn’t talking about the economy these days. It’s talking about the ad that all but accused Romney of murdering a woman with cancer. It’s talking about its vice-presidential pick. It’s talking about whether its ad accusing the president of gutting welfare-to-work laws is accurate. Guess what? It turns out you can’t just talk about the economy when people—and the media—want to talk about something else.

The polls suggesting he’s seven or nine points behind are surely wrong, but given that there is only one national poll that shows him ahead, we have to presume Romney is behind. He should presume he’s behind. And given that there’s no good reason whatever for Obama to be leading, one can only presume that Romney’s strategy in July and now in August is not working.

Which is why the “we only talk about the economy” line, while superficially clever, was and is so foolish—stupid, even. Of course Romney wants to focus on that one issue. It’s the one that hurts Obama the most, and the one on which he seems to score the best. He and his team have an idea about the campaign. They need to win independents to win. Independents are less ideological. So don’t press the ideological buttons. Keep it simple. Keep it plain. Obama has hurt you. I’ll help you. Fine.

But that’s not the only reason they’re doing it this way.

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The line from Romney headquarters last month was “every day we’re not talking about the economy is a day we lose.” This line, which came from the highest reaches of the campaign, was proffered to explain the unwillingness to provide substantive details on a host of policies besides the economy. Well, Romney HQ isn’t talking about the economy these days. It’s talking about the ad that all but accused Romney of murdering a woman with cancer. It’s talking about its vice-presidential pick. It’s talking about whether its ad accusing the president of gutting welfare-to-work laws is accurate. Guess what? It turns out you can’t just talk about the economy when people—and the media—want to talk about something else.

The polls suggesting he’s seven or nine points behind are surely wrong, but given that there is only one national poll that shows him ahead, we have to presume Romney is behind. He should presume he’s behind. And given that there’s no good reason whatever for Obama to be leading, one can only presume that Romney’s strategy in July and now in August is not working.

Which is why the “we only talk about the economy” line, while superficially clever, was and is so foolish—stupid, even. Of course Romney wants to focus on that one issue. It’s the one that hurts Obama the most, and the one on which he seems to score the best. He and his team have an idea about the campaign. They need to win independents to win. Independents are less ideological. So don’t press the ideological buttons. Keep it simple. Keep it plain. Obama has hurt you. I’ll help you. Fine.

But that’s not the only reason they’re doing it this way.

Romney and his people prefer this strategy because it’s what is most comfortable to them. He is not, at root, an ideological person. Neither, at root, are they. And the data suggest this is not a time for a sharply ideological campaign. The data suggest Romney needs to run as Mr. Fix-It. That is how Romney prefers to view himself. So the two match perfectly.

Alas for him, that’s not how it works. If conservative ideology is a problem with some independents, it also has the virtue of providing those who use it to discuss the nation’s problems with a pulse. Romney has just learned over the past few weeks that he cannot limit the discussion to the topics he wishes to talk about, especially when his rival is spending $100 million trying to destroy him in the swing states and when the media are largely serving his purposes by acting as though an increase in the unemployment rate and utterly unimpressive jobs-creation numbers are somehow good news.

So here’s why he should be talking about other things, releasing plans, giving speeches on big topics—because it’s the only way he can control the discussion. If he says the same thing about the economy every single day, he bores. He provides nothing new for anyone to fix on. He has to feed the beast. And it can’t just be that he puts his toe gingerly in the welfare-reform pool one day and then defend himself for three days after. It all has to keep moving.

In any case, if he doesn’t start putting things down on paper and develop the themes in speeches and get specific so that there is some meat on the bones of his policies, what on earth is he going to talk about for the next 88 days? Whether or not he killed a woman? This is a race he should be able to win, so if he loses, it won’t be because Obama won it. It will be because he lost it—and we’re seeing exactly how that might happen right now.

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