Commentary Magazine


Topic: Election 2012

Why Do They Want to Be President?

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.

Read More

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.

His would-be Republican replacements don’t fare much better. Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal reported that “If elected president, Mitt Romney might consider ending a tax break that helped the former Massachusetts governor accumulate his fortune, an aide suggested Tuesday.” Well that’s a good election platform for a Republican: identify a legal, ethical, popular investment strategy that enables people to accumulate wealth, and then outlaw it. Romney is doing this because he is rich.

Actually, he’s doing this because he’s embarrassed by his own riches. The release of his tax returns would provide Romney the perfect opportunity to make the case for real tax reform. He isn’t. His financial history enables him to make the case private equity firms have had an overall (net? Net-net?) effect on the American economy that is by any honest rendering superb. He isn’t making that case either. Instead, he’s atoning for his sins, though he has committed none.

But don’t tell that to his rival, Newt Gingrich. Gingrich was asked yesterday about Romney’s enforcement-first approach to immigration. Gingrich’s position on the issue is, economically speaking, probably the better plan (even if the “draft board” idea is unworkable). Gingrich can make the case his approach to immigration is more humane, more respectful, more realistic, more feasible, and more economically beneficial to the country than Romney’s. So which nuanced, wonky riposte did Gingrich choose? None of the above.

As Alana noted yesterday, this was Gingrich’s response: “You have to live in a world of Swiss bank accounts and Cayman Island accounts and making $20 million for no work, to have some fantasy this far from reality.” Is he saying business leaders prefer mass deportations of illegal immigrants? Because they don’t. (That’s the point of cracking down on those who hire illegal immigrants as an enforcement mechanism.) Is he saying wealthier Americans prefer harsher enforcement measures? Because the evidence suggests that isn’t the case either.

What he is saying is that a man of Romney’s wealth and privilege is less qualified to be president regardless of the issues because he would be unable to understand the lives of “normal” Americans. So are there any Republicans willing to not only refuse to echo such pronouncements but offer a sensible yet bold contrast to it? Sure, Mitch Daniels is happy to do it. He did so in his response to the State of the Union. How’s he doing in the primaries? Right, he’s not running. He thinks the debt crisis is absolutely catastrophic for this country, but he’s pretty sure someone will take care of it. And if not, well, don’t say he didn’t warn you.

This is not to suggest there are no differences between Romney and Obama or between Gingrich and Obama. But there is a puzzling incoherence. I like the spirit behind Gingrich’s resuscitation of the space program. But it’s unrealistic to suggest a permanent American moon colony won’t cost the federal government a fortune.

Gingrich criticizes the president for spending too much while trying to do too much and then proposes radical changes that would cost billions, probably trillions. And as for Romney, in one sentence he criticizes the president for demonizing success and then sheepishly suggests maybe he shouldn’t have been able to make or vastly increase his personal fortune.

They all want to be president. But they all need to make a better case for why they want to be president.

Read Less

Democrats Attack Romney from the Right

At the National Review, Mark Krikorian flags this revealing article from the Washington Post:

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.

The plans include a $1 million ad buy from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the nation’s largest public employee union, which is focusing on Romney’s history as head of the private-equity firm Bain Capital. The Service Employees International Union and Priorities USA Action, a pro-Obama super PAC, have also jointly launched a Spanish-language radio campaign in Florida accusing Romney of having “two faces” on immigration issues.

Read More

At the National Review, Mark Krikorian flags this revealing article from the Washington Post:

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.

The plans include a $1 million ad buy from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the nation’s largest public employee union, which is focusing on Romney’s history as head of the private-equity firm Bain Capital. The Service Employees International Union and Priorities USA Action, a pro-Obama super PAC, have also jointly launched a Spanish-language radio campaign in Florida accusing Romney of having “two faces” on immigration issues.

You can’t blame these groups for getting a head start on their general election attack ads, but some of the issues they’re targeting him on are, let’s just say, unusual for Democrats. Poisoning the well for Romney with independent voters is one thing, but attacking Romney from the right in order to persuade Republican voters to support one of his rivals is a whole different matter.

And yet that’s exactly what some Democratic groups are aiming for, the Post reports:

Broadcast ads aren’t the only tactic available to Democratic-aligned groups hoping to influence the Republican contest. American Bridge for the 21st Century, a liberal super PAC that focuses mostly on opposition research, blanketed Columbia, S.C., with hundreds of hot-pink leaflets trumpeting Romney’s support for gay rights during the Massachusetts phase of his political career.

The group said the leafleting was aimed at sowing doubts among Republicans in the state about Romney’s conservative bona fides.

Check out the American Bridge PAC website, and it’s almost entirely devoted to anti-Romney attacks. Before the last South Carolina debate last week, the Democratic group even released an opposition research memo titled “Debate prep for Republican presidential candidates,” addressed to “Republican Presidential Candidates and their Esteemed Representatives.” It attacked Romney for supposedly being insufficiently pro-life, and profiting off Freddie Mac – issues that are mainly helpful for Gingrich:

Tonight’s debate may offer you your last best chance to reach voters not only in South Carolina, but across the nation. After more than a dozen debates, a lot of ground has been covered but there is still room to distinguish yourselves from Mitt Romney and attempt to derail his coronation. Since it seems that you have struggled to focus in on a sustained line of attack that erodes Mitt Romney’s standing and qualifications for being president among the Republican primary voters while not costing you support from your conservative base, we have mapped out three central themes that will accomplish both should you choose to highlight them in tonight’s debate.

Wait — so these Democratic PACs aren’t intimidated by the idea of President Obama facing Newt in three world-changing Lincoln-Douglas debates? Who would have thought?

Read Less

Gingrich Dropping in Florida Polls

Insider Advantage, which has been pretty good at picking up on pro-Gingrich trends early in Florida and South Carolina, shows Mitt Romney surging back into the lead in its latest poll:

An InsiderAdvantage/Florida Times-Union poll released Wednesday night of likely GOP voters shows Romney with 40 percent support to Gingrich’s 32 percent. …

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.

Read More

Insider Advantage, which has been pretty good at picking up on pro-Gingrich trends early in Florida and South Carolina, shows Mitt Romney surging back into the lead in its latest poll:

An InsiderAdvantage/Florida Times-Union poll released Wednesday night of likely GOP voters shows Romney with 40 percent support to Gingrich’s 32 percent. …

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.

The big shift for Romney seems to be coming from women and Hispanic voters. In an Insider Advantage poll from earlier this week, women were backing Romney and Gingrich in similar numbers, 28 percent to 30 percent. But today’s poll found that nearly 45 percent of women are supporting Romney, while Gingrich’s support remained flat.

Gingrich’s attacks on Romney’s immigration reform plan don’t seem to have had much success either. Romney’s support among Hispanic voters increased from 9 percent earlier this week to 66 percent today. Gingrich’s grew at a slower rate, from 25 percent to 34 percent.

This poll comes on the heels of three others yesterday that showed Gingrich’s momentum slowing, if not reversing. And if Florida Republicans are souring on Newt, they’re not the only ones. The growing wave of conservative media criticism against the former speaker could make it difficult for him to regain ground in the state. His one big opportunity to recapture a big lead on Romney is at tonight’s debate.

Read Less

What Could Pelosi Possibly “Know” About Gingrich?

During an interview with CNN’s John King, Rep. Nancy Pelosi hinted she knows something big that would prevent Newt Gingrich from ever becoming president:

Read More

During an interview with CNN’s John King, Rep. Nancy Pelosi hinted she knows something big that would prevent Newt Gingrich from ever becoming president:

If Pelosi’s talking about the ethics committee investigation again, it’s hard to believe there’s anything explosive there. If there was, Gingrich would have gotten more than just a reprimand from Congress – there would have been a serious criminal investigation. As it stands now, Gingrich was exonerated on some of the accusations by a subsequent IRS probe.

Plus, whatever damaging information on Gingrich that Nancy Pelosi claims to have in this clip, it apparently wasn’t horrible enough to stop her from teaming up with him on a global warming campaign. It seems more likely that Pelosi knows the same things everybody else does: that Gingrich cheated on two of his three wives, skirted ethics rules, left Congress in disgrace, alienated members of his own party, has an out-of-control ego, lobbied for Freddie Mac, flip-flopped on too many issues to count and seriously lacks self-discipline. So far, those problems haven’t dissuaded Republican voters from supporting him, but Pelosi certainly wouldn’t be far off to think these would be major – potentially insurmountable – obstacles during a general election.

Read Less

Romney Hanging on to Small Lead in Florida

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.

Read More

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.

The later results showing Gingrich with a six-point lead are closer to the other Florida polls we’ve seen this week, though this survey seems to undercut the idea that Gingrich is surging too quickly to stop in the state. There’s still room for a lot of movement in the race. According to Quinnipiac, 45 percent of likely voters are either undecided or say they may change their minds before the primary:

No matter which candidate is ahead, the race for the Sunshine State’s delegates remains wide open. Although only 7 percent of likely voters are undecided, 38 percent say they might change their minds. There is little difference among Gingrich and Romney supporters in terms of thinking they might change their minds.

And there are also some interesting items when you take a closer look at the poll. Romney beats Gingrich in several critical areas: he has higher favorability ratings, he’s seen as the candidate who can best fix the economy, he’s viewed as more trustworthy, and – oddly enough – he’s seen as the candidate who best shares voters’ values.

He also leads Gingrich in electability, one of the most important traits for Florida GOP voters:

Voters say 49 – 35 percent that Romney is better able to defeat President Barack Obama in November. By 52 – 44 percent, likely voters say they prefer a candidate who can defeat President Obama over one who shares their values.

Meanwhile, Gingrich beats Romney in the areas of leadership and experience – important qualities, but ones you would think would take a backseat to economic expertise and electability during this primary.

Read Less

Coming Soon: The Romney-Gingrich Collision

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.

Read More

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.

Most commentators seem to think Romney bested Gingrich last night. If so, the win wasn’t by a decisive margin, and there were no dramatic moments that matched what Gingrich did twice last week in South Carolina. It certainly won’t change the trajectory of the race in Florida like last week’s debates changed the trajectory of the race in South Carolina. But it may not have to.

The question for the Romney campaign is whether the former Massachusetts governor’s line of attack in the debate, combined with very tough ads being run in Florida, will raise substantial doubts about Gingrich’s public character. My hunch is that what Romney achieved last night is he stopped the bleeding and regained some balance. The polls will probably close a bit in Florida during the next few days. As a result I’d be surprised if, during Thursday’s debate, Gingrich is as passive in the face of Romney’s attacks as he was last night. Gingrich is no fool; he must know that being on the defensive on ethics charges isn’t where he wants to be.

So far in this campaign Romney and Gingrich have taken turns being the aggressor against the other. What will be fascinating to watch is if and when they decide, in the same debate, to go after one another hard, butting heads like a couple of rams. I’d lay some pretty good odds on such a collision happening soon, meaning as early as Thursday night in Jacksonville.

 

Read Less

Romney’s “Electability” Argument Collapsing

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.

Read More

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.

Romney’s unfavorables aren’t much higher than President Obama’s (currently 43 percent), but his favorable ratings are also much lower than Obama’s have ever been in the Washington Post poll. Since 2006, the percentage of Americans who view Obama favorably hasn’t dropped below 44 percent.

This could definitely change if Romney secures the nomination and Republicans begin rallying behind him. But it makes it harder for him to argue the case that Gingrich is a less viable candidate in the general election. His net favorables-unfavorables are now nearly tied with Gingrich’s. While the Post poll doesn’t explain what’s causing Romney’s negatives to soar during the past few weeks, his rivals could easily chalk it up to Bain Capital and the attacks on Romney’s wealth — assaults that would increase substantially during a general election.

Read Less

“Where There Is No Vision, the People Perish”

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.”

Read More

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.”

Traditionally, an incumbent president runs, at least in large measure, on his record and his vision for the future. But Obama can do neither. His record is more or less indefensible, and even the people who follow the president closely cannot even begin to sketch out what a second term would look like or what his presidency would be devoted to.

The only thing Obama can rely on in this election is to carpet bomb his opponent, which is exactly what he will try. It’s unclear whether or not this strategy will succeed – but it’s not too early to declare the Obama presidency to have been, by any objective standard, a failure. His presidency is out of energy and out of ideas. And Obama himself appears to be, at least right now, a shrunken figure who does best with the public when he’s out of sight and out of mind.

The heady days of 2008 – when Obama promised to repair not just America but the world — seems like a lifetime ago. He’ll deliver his State of the Union address and no one of either party will really care. His words are increasingly unserious, empty and partisan, and very nearly meaningless. Even the president’s strongest supporters must realize, at least in their quiet, honest moments, that the hope and promise of his presidency lies in ruins.

 

Read Less

Why Don’t Conservatives Care About Newt’s Narcissism?

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?

Read More

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?

If anything, Gingrich’s comparisons are much more overt than Obama’s. “Because I am much like Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, I’m such an unconventional political figure that you really need to design a unique campaign that fits the way I operate and what I’m trying to do,” Gingrich told CNN.com last November.

In the same week, Gingrich made a similarly grandiose comment in a Washington Post article. “I am the most seriously professorial politician since Woodrow Wilson,” he said.

And while Gingrich certainly had some great achievements during his time in Congress, even his most fervent supporters would have to concede that this assessment he gave to the Washington Post in 1995 is a bit over the top: “Obsessed recently with Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, [Gingrich] likened the appropriations triumph to the way the British expeditionary force maneuvered against the French during the Peninsular War, a campaign in Portugal and Spain in the early 1800s that eventually led to Wellington’s ascendance and Napoleon’s abdication.”

These are just three of the many self-comparisons to historical figures Gingrich has made over the years, which the Romney campaign compiled in a press release last week (and I wrote about previously here).

Gingrich’s capacity for humility is only slightly below Donald Trump’s. But for some reason, that hasn’t seemed to bother conservative voters. Despite all the attacks on Obama’s egotism, they actually seem to like this trait in Newt. It’s not completely incomprehensible — when somebody’s on your side, arguing for the same things you believe in, a little over-confidence doesn’t seem like such a bad thing.

But if we’ve learned anything from the last three years, it’s that delusions of grandeur don’t translate well into governing. Many of Obama’s lofty campaign promises of 2008 – post-partisanship, government transparency, and so on – were never delivered.

And based on what we know about Gingrich, it’s unlikely he would even be able to deliver on the campaign promises he’s making for the general election. The seven Lincoln-Douglas-style debates he vows to have with President Obama have almost no chance of ever happening. And even in the three regular debates, there’s no guarantee Gingrich would emerge a winner. He’s a good debater, not an extraordinary one, and the conduct that’s made him so popular at the GOP debates would likely only alienate independent voters.

You’d think a man with Gingrich’s personal and professional history – especially one who claims to be on a path to redemption – would be cautious before touting his own greatness. He compares himself to eminent historical leaders, but the greatest Republican presidents – Lincoln and Reagan – were notably humble and self-effacing. The more Gingrich tries to place himself on the same plane as these leaders, the faster he seems to shrink.

Read Less

Don’t Ignore Substance of Newt’s Campaign

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.

Read More

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.

This morning, Jim Geraghty pointed to a post by Laura W. at Ace of Spades HQ, in which she discusses the fact that for many voters, Gingrich’s famous “food stamp” moment in the first South Carolina debate had nothing to do with race–it was about the value of work:

This administration seems to think that Americans should view work as a vampire perceives holy water, and nearly every policy out of D.C. reflects that.

Well, we don’t think that way. We’re Americans. We want to work. Dammit, we’re ready to get back to it. Give us the reins to our own lives, stick your food stamps back… where they came from, and get out of the way. You’re killing us.

This message resonates. That’s why Gingrich won. Not just the slap at ‘the elites,’ but the content of the slap.

Dan Foster wrote an essay in the last issue of National Review that, while predating the South Carolina debate, examined a crucial cultural component of the welfare state. It’s not online (and I left my copy at home), so I’ll quote a paragraph from this blog’s transcription of part of the essay:

Due in part to the very acceptance and perceived success of the New Deal and its progeny, the taint of shame associated with being on the dole has long since faded. What’s worse, this moral change has coincided with demographic and actuarial changes that have made entitlements more lopsidedly redistributive, and thus unsustainable. Now, dependence on the federal government — not just by the poor, but by the middle and even upper classes — for everything from health insurance to home ownership, college to retirement, is so complete that most of us don’t notice the stream of subsidies until it is interrupted. And worse, we’re not even ashamed of ourselves.

Again, aside from the discussion of race (which James Taranto defends, expertly and convincingly, in yesterday’s column), Gingrich is participating in a series of substantive discussions on the welfare state and the corrosive quality of an entitlement society. And it isn’t just the base, with its rapacious appetite for red meat. Here’s David Frum lamenting that “the president is championing a more active government, not as a way to meet social needs but as a permanent and growing source of middle-class employment”–a model that not only failed in Britain under successive Labour governments, Frum notes, but actually increased economic inequality without raising the poor out of poverty.

In other words, the Obama model is fatally flawed. And who is making this argument as well as Frum? Newt Gingrich–and in a very public venue. Those who worry that a Gingrich nomination would take the heat off the president and make the election a referendum on the Republican nominee are expressing well-founded fears–fears that Gingrich has not, but must, dispel if he is going to be successful. And there is certainly an element of showmanship to what Gingrich is doing. But I’ve just quoted a conservative blogger, National Review, and David Frum all making similar arguments to the former speaker.

There is no reason to ignore Gingrich’s flaws, and his critics (especially those who served with him in Congress) shouldn’t be dismissed. A truly transparent nomination process would air all this out. But the notion that Gingrich is waging a vapid campaign for the presidency is unfair and incorrect. The erratic behavior may be vintage Gingrich–but so is the culture warrior who has emerged. The discussion over the weaknesses of the messenger is part of the vetting process, and Gingrich knows that. But it’s hard to argue with the message.

Read Less

Romney’s Low Tax Rate: Double-Edged Sword?

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.

Read More

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.

Newt Gingrich declined to directly criticize Romney’s taxes at Monday’s debate, and instead coyly noted that under his own tax plan Americans would pay a 15 percent rate, which he dubbed the “Mitt Romney flat tax.” But Gingrich will have to be careful with how far he pushes this line of attack; if he goes after Romney’s tax rate too blatantly, he risks a conservative backlash like the one over the Bain Capital assault.

Democrats have already started blasting Romney for his low tax rate, which could be a double-edged sword for the former Massachusetts governor. While it’ll likely prompt conservatives to rally around him in defense, it could potentially raise electability questions in the minds of GOP voters. President Obama has already started setting the stage for an election-year class warfare battle, and he couldn’t have dreamed up a better foil than Romney.

Just like Bain Capital, this isn’t a fight conservatives should shrink away from. It’s true that Romney’s tax rate would make him particularly susceptible to Democratic attacks in the general election. But at the same time, defending low taxes is a core value issue for Republicans. If conservatives cut and run when it comes to this issue, then they can’t pretend to stand for anything.

Read Less

Gingrich, Reagan and “Ressentiment”

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 was an amazing 96 hours.

Read More

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 was an amazing 96 hours.

There are several factors that explain Gingrich’s victory in South Carolina. But arguably the main reason Gingrich won in South Carolina doesn’t have to do with his capacity to articulate a conservative vision, his stand on the issues, or his past achievements as speaker of the House (though they all mattered). Rather, it has to do with his style. Interviews with South Carolina voters seem to confirm this judgment.

“I think Mitt Romney is a good man,” Harold Wade, 85, told reporters. “But I think we’ve reached a point where we need someone who’s mean.” And Gingrich, he said, was the only one mean enough. E.P. Chiola had been for a third candidate, former Senator Rick Santorum. But Chiola pulled the lever for Gingrich as well. “The more I thought about it, the more I decided I’m looking for a good fight,” Chiola said.

One heard some version of these statements time and again. Gingrich is, according to his supporters, combative and pugnacious. He’s a fighter, a political warrior who seems to relish a knife fight. In Gingrich’s own words, he won’t punch Barack Obama in the nose; he’ll “knock him out.”

And what Gingrich has done – and what he more than any politician in America seems well equipped to do – is to tap into people’s anger. What “nobody in Washington and New York gets is the level of anger at the national establishment,” Gingrich said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” yesterday. “People who are just sick and tired of being told what they’re allowed to think, what they’re allowed to say.” He added, “As they look at the big boys on Wall Street, they look at the guys in Washington, they know none of that help got down to average, everyday Floridians, and I think that gap creates a real anger against the national establishment.”

It may be that Newt Gingrich’s ability to give voice to voters’ anger and grievances – what philosophers from Kierkegaard to Nietzsche referred to as ressentiment, a deep-seated resentment, frustration, and hostility accompanied by a sense of powerlessness – is just what the GOP base is looking for these days. Time will tell.

I should add that anger can be a perfectly appropriate response to some situations. And conservatives have plenty of reasons to be unhappy with the president, our political institutions, and the state and direction of the country. But there’s a difference between a candidate who is sometimes angry and an angry candidate. Ronald Reagan was the former, never the latter. He was, in fact, a politician of unusual grace, human decency and modesty, seemingly incapable of nursing grudges or harboring hatreds. But let me turn to someone who knew Ronald Reagan far better than I.

In her book When Character Was King, Peggy Noonan wrote this about Ronald Reagan: “I always thought criticism hurt him now and then, but never made an impression on him. He wasn’t up nights thrashing around being angry. It didn’t get to his core the way it got to Nixon’s and LBJ’s. Criticism didn’t inspire him to take action to deflect or mollify or defy. He became expert at the shrug and the laugh, so much so that when he met with the press in the Rose Garden, as he walked away, he looked like he was shaking his leg as if to shake off a herd of wild puppies who were trying to bite his pants cuffs.” She went on to say that Reagan never took criticisms from the press personally and never gave them the tribute of his resentment. And she added this: “A lot of Reagan’s critics, not all by any means but many, seemed to have a kind of talent for hatred, a well-honed ability to disparage. Reagan himself didn’t have those things – he wasn’t a hater and found it hard to see hatred and enmity in others.”

Conservatism does miss Ronald Reagan.

 

Read Less

No Fluke: Rasmussen Shows Gingrich Surging in Florida

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.

Read More

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.

The one area where Romney has ceded significant ground to Gingrich is on the electability question. Of all the traits GOP voters look for in candidates, that one has topped the list, and it’s the area where Romney has typically excelled. But voters now say Gingrich would be a stronger general election candidate than Romney, by a 42 percent to 39 percent margin.

Oddly enough, Florida Republican voters still view Mitt Romney as the strongest candidate on the economy, by a 45 percent to 30 percent margin over Newt. Romney also leads Gingrich on “personal character,” 41 percent to 11 percent.

Romney’s latest strategy is to highlight Gingrich’s character issues – but if the former speaker is already nearing single digits in that area, how much room is there for these attacks to be effective? Floridians already seem to be aware of Newt’s personal flaws and perfectly willing to overlook them anyway. For Romney’s plan to have an impact, he’ll have to explain why Gingrich’s character issues would be a disqualifier in a general election. And it could be difficult to convince GOP voters of this if they’ve already accepted Newt’s baggage.

Read Less

Jeb Bush Non-Endorsement May Be What Romney Needs

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.

Read More

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.

Consider: the more “establishment” support Romney gets, the more Gingrich looks like the “outsider”–a remarkable, but understandable, piece of branding. Additionally, Romney’s biggest failing as a candidate seems to be his inability to connect with voters. It’s possible that many just cannot relate to the portrait of a man who doesn’t seem to have faced enough adversity in his life. Leave aside whether or not that is actually the case, since it’s subjective. Narratives stick. And if this is one signal being picked up by a majority of the electorate, then a bit of adversity may help.

In their new biography of Romney, Michael Kranish and Scott Helman tell the story of young Mitt’s first moment of public humiliation. In high school, Romney joined the cross-country team for a 2.5-mile race at halftime of one of the school’s football games. Romney, in his excitement, treated the run as a sprint:

Everyone except Mitt returned before the second half began. Finally, the several hundred spectators noticed Mitt making an agonizingly slow approach to the cinder track. “Mitt kept falling and getting up, falling and getting up, and eventually he just crawled across the line,” [childhood friend Graham] McDonald recalled. It could have been one of the most humiliating moments of his young life. But then the crowd began to rise to its feet, giving Mitt a standing ovation for his effort. “It was definitely looked upon as a show of character. Other people would have quit,” another classmate, Sidney Barthwell, Jr., said.

The authors write that Romney learned a lesson about pacing himself that he keeps in mind to this day. But he probably learned another lesson: people like the scrappy underdog. Gingrich has played that role in this campaign virtually the entire time. Romney has played the frontrunner, the too-perfect contender it is easy to respect, but not root for.

Now Romney’s campaign is in free fall. Gingrich’s aggression is legendary, and it is not missing from this fight. Romney thinks he needs someone like Jeb Bush to come to his rescue. But Bush knows better. Romney will have to embody his own campaign message: he’ll have to earn it.

Read Less

Romney Blasts Newt: “We’re Not Choosing a Talk Show Host”

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.”

Read More

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.”

Back in Iowa, Romney kept his hands clean for the most part, letting his Super PAC and an occasional campaign surrogate do the mud-slinging against Newt. This marks the first time Romney has personally taken such direct shots at Gingrich on the campaign trail. According to Politico, this is part of a massive, $10 million Romney campaign assault on Gingrich, which will attack the former speaker’s character, lack of leadership skills, and negative reputation with his former colleagues on the Hill:

Hitting Gingrich on the issue of character as “an issue, not a subtext,” a top adviser said. This will include direct references to Gingrich’s ethics troubles in the 1990s, his work for Freddie Mac in recent years and his erratic past. The dirty work of hitting Gingrich on marriages will most likely come from surrogates, not Romney. “Character is a big part of leadership,” Romney said on Fox News Sunday.

Gingrich’s susceptibility to negative attacks was highlighted in Iowa. Weeks of ads blasting his lack of conservative credentials and work with Freddie Mac wore away at his poll numbers significantly. But because his surge came so suddenly in South Carolina, the Romney campaign did not have a chance to make a similar case against him in the state. Clearly, they’re not going to let themselves miss the same opportunity in Florida.

Read Less

Playing it Safe is Reckless for Romney

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.

Read More

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.

But it’s time for him to realize that some of the questions that have been tripping him up lately are of general-election concern, and his answers now will show up again later. Romney’s proclivity to stumble over questions at first and then prepare better answers to them in the future would make for good practice–60 years ago. But now, every moment is watched by many and recorded for those who didn’t watch. (The DNC already has an ad up this morning based on Romney’s unsteady response to a question about releasing his tax returns last night.)

Sometimes Romney is well prepared for questions. A good example from last night’s debate was when he scolded Gingrich for allotting himself partial credit for some of Ronald Reagan’s accomplishments. Romney pointed out, correctly, that Gingrich’s name appears once in Reagan’s diaries–and it is to dismiss an idea of Gingrich’s. (Reagan wrote: “Newt Gingrich has a proposal for freezing the budget at the 1983 level. It’s a tempting idea except that it would cripple our defense program. And if we make an exception on that every special interest group will be asking for the same.”)

But moments of Romney’s unpreparedness leave a mark. Are voters more concerned with what Reagan said in private about Gingrich or of the emerging reputation of Romney as a tycoon with something to hide? So which question should he prioritize? There are numerous football analogies he’s inviting, including the “prevent defense” comparison. But you could also say Romney is like the wide receiver who looks downfield before he catches the ball, only to drop it. Or the team that will play their most important game two weeks from now, so they forget about this week’s opponent.

Whatever your preferred analogy, Gingrich’s rise in the polls makes one thing clear: Romney’s strategy of “playing it safe” has become far too risky.

Read Less

Romney Should Release His Tax Returns

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:

Read More

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:

[W]hen pressed whether he’d follow the path of his father, George Romney, who released 12 years of taxes during his 1967 presidential bid, arguing that there might be a “fluke” in just one year’s results, Romney responded, “Maybe.”

“I don’t know how many years I’ll release,” Romney said as the crowd booed. Romney paused and smiled.

“I’ll release multiple years, I don’t know how many years,” Romney said. “But I’ll be happy to do that. I know there are some who are anxious to see if they can make it difficult for a campaign to be successful. I know the Democrats want to go after my being successful. I’m not going to apologize for being successful.”

If Romney doesn’t want to release multiple years of tax returns right now, that’s understandable. But he needs to be able to cogently argue why he’s not doing it, in a way that doesn’t sound like he’s dodging the issue. Otherwise, this will continue to dog him, especially if Gingrich manages to win this weekend’s primary.

Romney’s most effective argument in the race is that he’d be the most electable candidate against President Obama. But he’ll undermine that if he seems like he’s hiding some potentially damaging bombshell until after he secures the nomination. His point last night about Democratic attacks is accurate – he’ll likely be slammed with class warfare rhetoric. But that’s true no matter when he releases the documents, and Republican primary voters aren’t the type to oppose a candidate for being too wealthy and successful. Romney should disclose his tax returns as soon as possible, if only to diffuse this issue and assure his supporters there aren’t any unpleasant surprises waiting for them in the spring.

Read Less

Poll: Gingrich Surges in South Carolina

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:

Gingrich……33%
Romney……31%
Paul…………15%
Santorum….11%
Perry…………2%
Other…………1%
Not Sure…….6%

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.

Read More

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:

Gingrich……33%
Romney……31%
Paul…………15%
Santorum….11%
Perry…………2%
Other…………1%
Not Sure…….6%

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.

The Marianne Gingrich interview airing on ABC tonight will also be a factor. Based on the clips ABC has teased out this morning, it could cause real problems for Newt as he and Santorum continue to face off for the evangelical conservatives vote. At the very least, the interview will shift Gingrich’s focus from playing offense against Romney and Santorum to playing defense against the comments from his ex-wife.

But there’s also the chance the interview could actually end up helping Gingrich. As Jonathan pointed out, the timing of its release, and the fact that his disgraceful behavior during his marriage to Marianne is considered “old news,” could raise charges of media bias from conservatives. If it looks like ABC is trying to influence the primary by airing the interview tonight, conservatives may end up rallying around Gingrich and dismissing his ex-wife’s claims.

This would be a mistake. The scandal with Gingrich is much more than just an affair. Voters should ask themselves what kind of person could treat his wife the way Gingrich did, and then go out and give public lectures on morality and family values without shame? This type of hypocrisy, the notion that there’s one set of rules for you and another for the rest of society, is the antithesis of what Americans have always sought from their politicians.

Read Less

Romney’s Wealth Problem–And Ours

Today’s New York Times story 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.

Read More

Today’s New York Times story 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.

Many of the questions surrounding Romney’s finances are just that: questions. And no one is suggesting Romney did anything illegal or unethical in his business dealings. But as the picture of Romney’s monetary success comes into sharper focus, his life is looking less and less like one many Americans can identify with, and Romney seems to know that.

This week, as Romney was dealing with the fallout from the revelation that he pays the 15 percent tax rate because so much of his income is from capital gains, he also earned criticism for saying the income from his speaking fees, which turned out to be about $374,000, was “not very much.” James Joyner offered one defense of how Romney described those fees: “Romney was likely brought up to downplay how much money he had so as not to rub other people’s noses in it.” Just as Murray’s Gallup poll, taken when Romney was a teenager, would indicate.

If Romney is the Republican nominee there is no chance Obama would refrain from the class warfare rhetoric he has already outlined. But the ironic thing about this line of attack is that it must insinuate, because to say it plainly–that Romney is unlike most voters–would outrage many Americans. Obviously Romney’s election would not carry nearly the same cultural significance as Obama’s, but Romney would nonetheless face a challenge somewhat similar to the difficulty Obama had in explaining himself to voters.

In many ways, Obama’s life story is quintessentially American. But his particular experience was so unique. How does he explain to Americans that he is one of them without drawing attention to just how different his upbringing was? In my opinion, he didn’t hit this note perfectly until his stellar victory speech, by which time, of course, it had no effect on the election.

If Romney is elected president, it won’t be quite so dramatic, to say the least. But it will mean he had overcome a parallel challenge: his story, that of an honest, hardworking family man who built a life for himself and his loved ones through effort, education, skill, and yet more effort, is also a classic American story. But this is also an America in which it is significantly less convincing to pretend we don’t have economic classes. The dramatic postwar expansion of American wealth, accelerated by the rise of finance, tethers Mitt Romney to what Americans both hope and fear about our economy–that of which they are both appreciative and suspicious.

The president and his allies have not been subtle about their plans to exploit this tension. But Romney’s story is a good one–and he must tell it. Yet, he should learn an important lesson from his adversary: It’s all in the delivery.

Read Less

Perry to Abandon Race; Endorse Gingrich

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.

Read More

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.

This also sounds like an attempt to create the impression that conservatives are coalescing around the former speaker and increase pressure on Rick Santorum to drop out. Despite Santorum’s big evangelical endorsement, he hasn’t been able to translate that into momentum in South Carolina. Perry’s announcement will also overshadow Santorum’s win today in the certified Iowa tally, ensuring that most of the good press the former Pennsylvania senator would have gotten from it is blotted out. Plus, it frees up key endorsers – i.e. Bobby Jindal – who Perry picked up shortly after he entered the race, who can now go on and support other candidates.

Read Less