There’s an episode of the hit TV show “The West Wing” in which the president’s likely re-election opponent is asked why he wants to be president and flubs the question. The president’s advisers enjoy a good laugh at their opponent’s mistake–until they realize their boss also doesn’t know why he wants to be president.
As life imitates art, we seem to be watching a real-life episode of this farce play out. President Obama’s State of the Union address was widely panned even by his own supporters (“immediately forgettable” wrote Dan Amira). As a campaign speech–which it was–the address was delivered by a man who has no idea why he wants to be president again. He wouldn’t mention, let alone defend, his signature pieces of legislation–health care reform and the stimulus, both of which are deeply unpopular–yet said the economy is slowly getting better. The implication was that he hadn’t really done anything, but jobs were somehow coming back anyway so he should be re-elected because if the American economy is strong enough to withstand a first term of his, it can probably withstand another one.
Newt Gingrich isn’t the only one trying to beat Mitt Romney in Florida.
Several liberal groups are funding new ad campaigns in the Sunshine State targeting the vulnerable GOP presidential candidate, part of an unusually bold effort by Democratic supporters to bolster President Obama’s chances in November by influencing the Republican primaries.
Gingrich’s momentum ebbed though after a debate Monday where Romney hit him hard for his ties to Freddie Mac, calling him an “influence-peddler.” Romney has also launched multiple ads attacking Gingrich. Florida’s expensive media market gives the Romney campaign which holds an edge in fundraising the advantage. Additionally, a quarter million absentee ballots have already been cast, many when Romney enjoyed double-digit leads in state polls.
Finally, Mitt Romney gets a poll this week that actually shows him in the lead. Unfortunately for him, this Quinnipiac survey still shows a major deterioration in his lead since early January, now that the momentum has shifted to Newt Gingrich:
The final tally is 36 percent for Romney to 34 percent for Gingrich among likely voters in the Florida Republican presidential primary, but Gingrich gets 40 percent to 34 percent for Romney among likely voters surveyed after the South Carolina primary.
I agree with Jonathan’s assessment of last night’s GOP debate. The only important part of the debate occurred in the first half-hour, when Mitt Romney aggressively prosecuted his case against Newt Gingrich. Gingrich clearly decided he didn’t want a confrontation, probably assuming that doing so would endanger his lead in Florida. The former speaker wanted to float above it all, as best he could, in hopes of selling to the public the narrative of a “new” Newt – a candidate calm, disciplined, and in control of himself.
I’m not sure that strategy is a particularly good one. Gingrich tried that once before, in Iowa, and finished in fourth place after leading by double digits in December. And last week Romney tried the same approach, trying to keep his attacks focused on President Obama even as Romney’s opponents went after him hammer and tong.
Now more than ever, Mitt Romney needs to hammer home the argument that he’s more electable than Newt Gingrich in a general election. But it will be increasingly difficult for him with polls like these:
Among overall Americans, Romney’s favorability rating — a measure of broad acceptability — has dropped eight points since earlier this month, to 31 percent. His unfavorable rating has jumped 15 points, to 49 percent. That’s a net swing of 23 points. His negative rating now tops 50 among independents.
In the Book of Proverbs we read, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” I was reminded of those words in reading this story from Politico, which begins this way:
Take this quiz: If President Barack Obama wins a second term, he has promised that he will do … what exactly? There are people who follow the president closely who couldn’t answer that question. And even those who try would surely find themselves disagreeing with one another. As he stands before the nation Tuesday evening to present his State of the Union address, Obama is a president whose positions may be well-known but whose agenda — what he actually intends and can reasonably expect to achieve if voters give him four more years — is blurry. …Obama has yet to outline in a concrete way what he will do, said Julian Zelizer, a presidential historian with Princeton University.“He is an enigma,” Zelizer said. “He is not a politician with a clear set of ideas.”
Since the beginning of his political career, President Obama has had a particularly annoying habit of comparing himself to great historical leaders, including Ronald Reagan, Lincoln and JFK. Many politicians do this to a certain extent, but coupled with Obama’s thin resume and lack of substance, it played into the narrative that he had an inflated self-image.
Obama’s historical self-comparisons have become a running joke with conservatives. But why are Newt Gingrich’s even more outlandish personal assessments – that he’s just like Thomas Edison, the Duke of Wellington, or Henry Clay – not treated as equally ridiculous?
In the past two weeks, conservatives began pushing back against the notion that the Republican nomination should be decided by debate performances. They note, as Guy Benson does, that there will be no Lincoln-Douglas debates in the fall, and that Newt Gingrich would be lucky if President Obama even honored the traditional three-debate custom.
This is true, as is the complaint that the ability to score points off of mainstream media moderators does not presage the ability to score points off of the president of the United States. Last night, with no audience participation, Gingrich seemed to show just how much he has benefited from it in the recent past. But while all this may be true, it’s important to reject the idea that Gingrich’s rise is due only to made-for-YouTube moments. His campaign is not free of substance, most notably the following.
Mitt Romney is releasing his 2010 tax return Tuesday morning, but he gave several media outlets a sneak peek at the document and his 2011 tax return estimates late Monday. Based on the information released so far, it’s a wonder why he didn’t do this weeks ago. There aren’t many surprises here, unless it comes as a shock to some that Romney’s obscenely rich. He paid a 13.9 percent tax rate in 2010, mainly on capital gains, and expects to pay 15.9 percent in 2011. But the angle he’ll likely play up is his large charitable donations, which actually surpass the amount he paid in taxes:
The couple gave away $7 million in charitable contributions over the past two years, including at least $4.1 million to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Romney’s family has for generations been among the Mormon Church’s most prominent members.
The Romneys sent somewhat less to Washington over that period, paying an estimated $6.2 million in federal income taxes. According to his 2010 return, Romney paid about $3 million to the IRS, for an effective tax rate of 13.9 percent.
I’ve expressed my concerns about Newt Gingrich several times already, so there’s no need to rehash them here. But I’m certainly willing to give Gingrich his due: his smashing victory in South Carolina was a comeback for the ages. A week ago Gingrich was in the political intensive care unit, having finished in the back of the pack in both Iowa and New Hampshire and trailing Mitt Romney in the Palmetto State. Now he’s comfortably ahead of Romney in several polls in Florida.
Two debates are set for this week, including one tonight, and the primary is a week from tomorrow. And all of a sudden Newt Gingrich, 2012 GOP nominee, is not beyond the realm of the possible. All because Gingrich put together an extraordinary four days, beginning with last Monday night’s Fox News debate and culminating in his verbal assault of CNN’s John King on Thursday.
It looks like that surprising Insider Advantage poll Jonathan cited earlier today wasn’t a fluke. Rasmussen Reports just released a survey that also shows Newt Gingrich leading Mitt Romney by nine points in Florida, a massive turnaround from two weeks ago:
Less than two weeks ago,Mitt Romney had a 22-point lead in Florida, but that’s ancient history in the race for the Republican presidential nomination. Following his big win in South Carolina on Saturday, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich now is on top in Florida by nine.
The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Florida Republican Primary Voters, taken Sunday evening, finds Gingrich earning 41 percent of the vote with Romney in second at 32 percent. Former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum runs third with 11 percent, while Texas Congressman Ron Paul attracts support from eight percent (8%). Nine percent (9%) remain undecided.
Of all the many possible reasons Jeb Bush seems to have backed off his earlier intention to endorse Mitt Romney, Politico’s Ben White received the most plausible I’ve heard. White tweeted yesterday that he heard from people close to Bush and was told: “Jeb won’t endorse in part because he knows Romney needs to show he can take down Newt w/out help.”
This is consistent with one way Republican and Democratic nominations differ. The Democratic approach, especially when nominating a more left-wing candidate, is to allow allies and especially the media to try and drag the candidate across the finish line. Sometimes it works–witness the current occupant of the White House. Sometimes it doesn’t–it was simply too much to ask that the country elect John Kerry president. Bush knows the GOP nominee will get even harsher scrutiny, and he must be able to stand on his own. But follow this line of thought a step further, and it begins to look like withholding his endorsement was the best thing Bush could have done for Romney, right now.
In Florida yesterday, Mitt Romney rolled out some new, aggressive attacks on Newt Gingrich:
“We’re not choosing a talk show host,” Romney said, alluding to his rival’s strong debate performances that helped shift momentum in his favor in South Carolina. “We’re choosing the person who should be leader of the free world.” …
“At the end of four years as speaker of the House, it was proven that he was a failed leader,” Romney said. “He had to resign in disgrace. I don’t know whether you knew that.… His fellow Republicans – 88 percent of his Republicans – voted to reprimand Speaker Gingrich. He has not had a record of successful leadership.”
There is some consensus around the campaign blogosphere this morning–on both the left and the right–that Mitt Romney is giving up so much ground to Newt Gingrich because Romney is in the classic “prevent defense”–the formation that football teams use when they want to prevent long scoring plays to try and run out the clock.
This is a sensible analogy, but probably too kind to Romney’s latest debate performances. Romney’s mind doesn’t seem to be on the play clock, but rather the alarm clock. These debates have been the campaign equivalent of Romney waking up to find that it’s not time for the general election yet, and hitting the snooze button. Part of this stems from the fact that Romney is usually on his game when the subject is Barack Obama, but seems to have lost interest in the reality show spectacles the debates have become.
With Newt Gingrich now leading Mitt Romney in the South Carolina polls, and Rick Santorum officially besting him in the certified Iowa tally, the former Massachusetts governor needed to hit it out of the park in last night’s debate. Unfortunately for Romney, his performance didn’t cut it. He had some great moments – as Michael Barone noted, Romney expertly navigated through tough questions on Bain Capital and Marianne Gingrich’s interview – but his response to queries about his tax returns were painfully inadequate.
It’s true the tax return issue is largely a trumped-up controversy that isn’t nearly as critical as Romney critics make it out to be. And it’s hard to believe that Romney is “hiding something” (other than the fact that he’s very, very rich, as John noted on Twitter) by not disclosing these records. But even his supporters should be worried that the former Massachusetts governor hasn’t been able to come up with a solid way to deflect the issue at this point in the race. This answer is not going to cut it:
Today’s Rasmussen poll appears to confirms what other surveys have been showing the past day and a half. Newt Gingrich is surging in South Carolina, and now holds a small lead on Mitt Romney:
With just two days until South Carolina voters head to the polls, those numbers could still shift significantly the next 48-hours. As Jonathan wrote earlier, Gingrich will almost certainly get a boost from Rick Perry’s exit and endorsement.
Today’s New York Timesstory on Mitt Romney’s personal wealth presents the challenge it will pose to both the Romney and Obama campaigns. There is a fine line between aspiration and ambition, between success and ostentation. But there is also a fine line between admiration and envy, and between class contrast and class warfare.
Ultimately, the Obama campaign may be faced with an opponent who, in one specific way, bears a striking resemblance to its own candidate four years ago. In his forthcoming book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, Charles Murray writes of 1963 America:
In the responses to a Gallup poll taken that fall, 95 percent of the respondents said they were working class (50 percent) or middle class (45 percent). A great many poor people were refusing to identify themselves as lower class, and a great many affluent people were refusing to identify themselves as upper class. Those refusals reflected a national conceit that had prevailed from the beginning of the nation: America didn’t have classes, or, to the extent that it did, Americans should act as if we didn’t.
Eric Erickson’s RedState column yesterday should have been a big clue this was coming, but it’s still a surprise that Rick Perry isn’t waiting until after Saturday’s South Carolina primary to make the announcement. Dropping out now and endorsing Newt Gingrich could give the former speaker a major boost. Perry may be polling in the single-digits in South Carolina, but Gingrich is closing in on Romney and he may only need a small bump to put him over the top:
Texas Governor Rick Perry, just months ago a serious contender to become the 2012 Republican U.S. presidential nominee, was set to drop out of the race on Thursday after a series of gaffes and controversies undercut his campaign.
Perry is abandoning his run for his party’s nomination to face Democratic President Barack Obama on November 6, campaign sources said, and will endorse Newt Gingrich, a former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.