Yesterday’s announcement that Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson will not seek re-election next year was a stunning blow to a Democratic Party that had already been facing an uphill battle to retain their narrow majority in the upper house. Nelson is the seventh Democrat to retire in 2012. And as is the case with seats in Virginian, North Dakota and Wisconsin, Nelson’s exit creates another opportunity for a Republican gain. It’s arguable that Nelson would likely have lost next year anyway as a consequence of his vote for Obamacare, but the incumbent’s withdrawal now moves the seat from a “leans GOP” to “likely GOP” in any analysis of the coming battle for the Senate next November.
But the main point to be gleaned from this news is not just that the odds of Mitch McConnell assuming the post of Senate Majority Leader in January 2013 have increased. Rather, it is to point out to Republicans that despite their well-publicized dissatisfaction with their choices for president, with an unpopular incumbent president presiding over a sinking economy, the stage is still set for a big GOP triumph in 2012. Provided that is, they don’t nominate a presidential candidate who will not only allow Obama to be re-elected but sink the Republican opportunity to regain majorities in both the House and Senate.
The payroll deal is is being billed as a House Republican defeat, and from a political optics standpoint it is. But the deal, which was passed by unanimous consent, actually isn’t bad for Republicans, especially considering some of the new language that was inserted:
The deal entails a new bill with language protecting small businesses from a measure in the Senate bill that creates temporary new caps on the wages that are subject to payroll tax relief, a Republican aide said. Sen. Harry Reid accepted the House Republicans’ proposal late this afternoon.
The bill will be passed by unanimous consent, which would not require all the members to return for a vote.
I’ve always been of the opinion that the idea there is such a thing as a Republican “establishment” is something of a myth. The GOP hasn’t really had anything approximating a ruling elite since conservatives nominated Barry Goldwater and booed Nelson Rockefeller off the stage at the 1964 Republican National Convention in San Francisco. The idea that Wall Street honchos or intellectuals running national magazines have any power over Republican voters and the party apparatus is based on a misunderstanding of how contemporary American politics works. The only thing that approximates an establishment is the family who produced two U.S. presidents during the course of a 20-year period encompassing the end of the last century and the beginning of the current one: the Bushes.
So the announcement yesterday that the elder George Bush is endorsing Mitt Romney comes as close as anything can to verifying one of the media’s favorite clichés about the Republican establishment’s role in the 2012 race. Given this mythical establishment’s lack of actual power and the resentment that the mere idea of its existence can conjure up among the party’s grass roots, it is doubtful the 41st president’s seal of approval will help Romney all that much. But what the Bush statement does do is make it clear exactly whom the GOP’s royal family doesn’t like: Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry.
Now that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is publicly calling on House Speaker Boehner to just take the two-month payroll tax extension deal, House Republicans aren’t going to be able to hold out much longer:
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday urged House Republicans to pass a two-month extension of the payroll tax cut, putting greater pressure on House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to act.
McConnell said House passage of a Senate-approved payroll tax relief package “locks in” legislative language requiring President Obama to speed up his timetable for approving the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline.
Watching House Republicans steer their party straight into a ditch over their failure to pass a version of the payroll tax cut has been like observing a car crash in slow motion. But along with the backbiting and second-guessing that have done little to enhance the reputation of the GOP House caucus or that of their leaders John Boehner and Eric Cantor, the debacle also ought to illustrate to Republicans the political resiliency of President Obama and the fact that a GOP victory in the 2012 election is not a foregone conclusion.
That’s an important lesson. Many Republicans have approached the presidential nomination process as if any GOP candidate with a pulse could beat Obama. The ease with which the president has run rings around Boehner on the payroll tax cut not only should bring back disturbing memories of how Bill Clinton beat Newt Gingrich like a drum back in the 1990s but should also show what happens when ideological inflexibility on the part of the GOP allows the Democratic incumbent to play to the center as well as to the left. A few more debacles like this one and Obama won’t have to channel Harry Truman in order to portray his opponents as do-nothing losers.
On Fox News last night, Karl Rove outlined how the House GOP can backtrack on their payroll tax cut position, while still holding on to a bit of dignity:
“The only way to win it is to sit there and ruin their own Christmases and wait until the president heads off to Hawaii for his, and then lambast the Democrats for having abdicated their responsibility of passing a year-long tax cut,” Rove said.
“There’s only one way out of it,” he continued. “Is to stay in Washington, wait until President Obama gets on an airplane and heads for Hawaii, and then hold a session in the House, vote the two-month extension and use the opportunity to beat up on the now long absent Democrats and Harry Reid and the absent president and say look – this is going to not be good for the companies that have to write the paychecks.”
Lacking money and organization, and under a heavy barrage of negative advertising, Newt Gingrich’s poll numbers are coming back down to earth. But it would be a mistake to treat Gingrich’s candidacy with the same dismissal as those of the “bubble” candidates who preceded the former Speaker. There is much Gingrich’s opponents can learn from him.
In his brief time in the spotlight, Gingrich exhibited three attributes that helped advance his candidacy and which the other candidates lack.
The latest survey of Iowa Republican caucus goers confirms the rapid decline in Newt Gingrich’s fortunes. A Rasmussen poll conducted Monday and published today shows Mitt Romney vaulting into the lead with 25 percent, Ron Paul in second with 20 percent, and Newt Gingrich lagging behind in third with 17 percent.
There are a few notable elements about this poll. First is the continuation of Gingrich’s slide which shows him with only about half as much support as he had just about a month ago in Iowa. Second are the steady gains that both Romney and Paul have made with each advancing 2 points in the last week. Third is the fact that for the first time, Rick Santorum is finally gaining some traction in Iowa and most specifically passing Michele Bachmann. But last and perhaps most significant is the fact that Romney is, according to Rasmussen, leading among those voters who “consider themselves Republicans,” while Paul is ahead among non-Republicans likely to participate in the caucus. That bodes well for the former Massachusetts governor and illustrates again how implausible Paul’s hopes for the nomination really are.
As we move toward the end of the year, it’s worth putting the state of politics in America today in perspective, starting with this observation: Barack Obama is, right now, in a perilous situation, quite apart from what the GOP field does and does not do to one another. That is, I think, the most important political development of 2011.
There are several year-end polls that illustrate Obama’s problems. One of them comes to us courtesy of the latest Allstate/National Journal Heartland Monitor poll. Having sliced and diced the data, the analysis of one of America’s best political reporters, Ron Brownstein of National Journal, is thus: On the nation’s immediate circumstances, “the verdict in the survey remains overwhelmingly negative.”
I think Alana is right when she says the main beneficiary of Newt Gingrich’s free-fall in Iowa will be Mitt Romney. In fact, as I wrote earlier today, any outcome in the first caucus other than a Gingrich victory plays into Romney’s hands. Even if a dark horse candidate like Ron Paul takes the state or one of the second-tier conservatives sneaks into the winner’s circle, the net effect will be to destroy the former Speaker’s hopes for the nomination. That will leave Romney in effect the only mainstream candidate left standing and, though his path will not necessarily be easy, it would then be hard to imagine anyone else becoming the nominee.
But though the various polls of likely caucus-goers are showing Paul, Gingrich and Romney as the only potential winners, a word of caution is needed. Anyone who thinks this isn’t a volatile race whose outlines can change radically from week to week hasn’t been paying attention. It also needs to be pointed out that Tea Partiers and social conservatives who abandon a sinking Gingrich in the next two weeks have two other logical candidates they could turn to: Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum. That’s why the betting here is that one of those two will wind up edging into the top three or better in Iowa by the time the caucus is finished.
Republicans scored a victory on Saturday, when the Senate passed a payroll tax extension deal that included a provision that would force President Obama to make a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline construction within 60 days. The choice puts Obama in a tricky political predicament, as labor unions and environmentalists are bitterly divided over the Keystone issue:
If Republicans get their way, President Barack Obama, right around Valentine’s Day, could have to weigh in for the second time in about three months on permitting the Keystone XL pipeline that divides his environmental and labor bases.…
For a White House sensitive to economic concerns, it’s not exactly an ideal scenario as it shifts into reelection mode. Hence the calculation last week from House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to elevate the profile of the seemingly parochial energy issue, which months ago was mired among a laundry list of Republican grievances with the Obama administration.
If there’s such as a thing as a backhanded endorsement, the Des Moines Register gave a major one to Mitt Romney this weekend. After glossing over some of the justifiable concerns that conservatives have about Romney, the paper piled on the praise for Romneycare and gushed over the candidate’s willingness to compromise with Democrats:
While other Republican candidates are content to bash the president’s health reform law without offering meaningful reforms of their own, Romney has defended the principal goal of the Massachusetts health care legislation, which was to ensure that all residents there had access to health care. …
This ability to see the merits of tough issues from something other than a knee-jerk, ideological perspective suggests that Mitt Romney would be willing to bridge the political divide in Washington. Americans are desperate for the Republicans and Democrats to work together. His record of ignoring partisan labels to pass important legislation when he was governor of Massachusetts suggests he is capable of making that happen.
As much as Newt Gingrich’s supporters wanted to believe his rise in the polls was more solid than Rick Perry’s or Herman Cain’s, it looks like his reign on top is coming to an end. Jonathan writes that Gingrich has plummeted to 14 percent in today’s Public Policy Polling Iowa survey, down from 22 percent last week and 27 the week before.
While we may just be witnessing the beginning of Gingrich’s collapse, his trajectory has seemed to follow the same pattern as the previous not-Romney frontrunners, who maintained their leads for a little more than a month before crashing spectacularly. But there are reasons why Gingrich’s fall may not be as dramatic as the other ones, according to the National Journal:
My view that Newt Gingrich’s performance in last Thursday’s debate would send him back to the pack was very much in the minority the day after the candidates clashed in Sioux City, Iowa. But a pair of new polls published this weekend shows the former Speaker’s large lead in the Hawkeye state is evaporating. For much of November and December, opinion surveys showed Republican voters were ignoring Gingrich’s troubling past and lack of electability. However, after getting pounded on his Freddie Mac fees and another week of heightened scrutiny about his inconsistent record, Gallup’s Daily Tracking Poll in Iowa showed Gingrich’s lead over Mitt Romney to have declined to four points (28 to 24 percent) from 15 points only two weeks ago (37 to 22 percent). Even more shocking, a Public Policy Poll now shows Gingrich dropping to third in Iowa with only 14 percent of the vote, while Ron Paul leads with 23 percent and Romney is listed as a close second with 20 percent.
The discrepancy between Paul’s showing in the two polls illustrates both the volatility and the difficulty of predicting this race. It is hard to square the fact that Gallup shows the extremist libertarian at only 10 percent while PPP has him in the lead. Nevertheless, both surveys agree on one thing. Gingrich’s surge is not only over; it may be about to be reversed. He is now rapidly losing ground in Iowa, and with no other debates scheduled before the Jan. 3 caucus and his campaign lacking organizational strength on the ground, it isn’t likely he’ll be able to recover. So no matter how well Paul does, the popping of Gingrich’s bubble is good news for Romney. Any outcome other than a Gingrich win in Iowa will set him up for a very good January.
A new Associated Press-GfK poll found the following:
A few days ago, Newt Gingrich looked to be rolling to the nomination, and Mitt Romney seemed headed for an inevitable loss. But the last debate before the Iowa caucus ended with the former Speaker headed back to the pack. Gingrich had some strong moments in Sioux City, but the beating he took on his consulting work for Freddie Mac from Michele Bachmann brought into focus the questions about his record that many Republicans have been ignoring in recent weeks.
Mitt Romney recovered from his poor performance last Saturday and was back to the steady, confident debater he was earlier in the campaign. But the story was not so much his strong showing as it was the ability of Bachmann and even Rick Perry to score some points. If, as today’s Rasmussen poll indicates, voters are starting to have second thoughts about Gingrich’s ability to beat President Obama, then the ability of the second-tier conservatives to eat into the former Speaker’s support may be crucial in deciding the outcome of the caucus next month. Though Ron Paul, the candidate who seemed in the best position to threaten Gingrich’s lead, had a terrible night as he was flayed by Bachmann for his irresponsible support for Iran, the net result of the field evening out in this manner is to Romney’s advantage.
Tonight’s debate in Sioux City, Iowa is the 14th in which all the major Republican candidates have participated since the first back in May. The campaign has undergone a number of major twists and turns in that time but after all the talking and the spinning, this event will be the last one before the Iowa caucus. That means that this will be the last chance for any of the contenders to change the minds of viewers of this latest episode of what has become the country’s favorite political reality show.
Once again the focus will be on Newt Gingrich who has been leading the national polls for weeks. With the release of a Rasmussen poll today that, as Alana noted, showed Mitt Romney overtaking Gingrich, there is a chance that the former speaker’s bubble may finally be bursting. This debate will therefore be closely watched not merely for the usual question of who makes the biggest mistake but as a sign of whether Gingrich is finally cracking under the pressure of attacks from Romney and the rest of the field. Since the debates have largely shaped this race, this last one before the votes start being counted will be crucial.
Join us tonight as senior online editor Jonathan S. Tobin live blogs the latest Republican presidential debate from Iowa. So tune in to Fox News at 9 pm and then log on to Commentarymagazine.com for live insights as the GOP contenders have at it yet again.
As the candidates prepare for the debate in Iowa tonight, Karl Rove outlines how the nonstop debates may actually be detrimental to the race:
Each debate kills at least three days: one day (and sometimes two) to prepare, the day of the debate, and the day after, spent dealing with the fallout from the night before. This late in the process – there are 19 days left until Iowa and 26 days until New Hampshire, with Christmas and New Year’s holidays eliminating crucial campaign dates – many candidates might want to chart their own schedules and set their own message priorities. But the debates won’t allow for that.…
Debates transfer power to the media, draining it from the campaigns. Moderators and their news organizations – through questions they frame or select – have more impact than candidates on what’s covered and discussed.
The results of last night’s recall elections in Wisconsin left the Republican governing authority intact, but the fact remains the GOP immediately lost two seats and came within a few thousand votes from losing its majority, while the Republican governor’s approval ratings continue to tank. The rallying cry of “hey–it could have been (and almost was) much worse” is not the best justification to celebrate.
That the state GOP was not completely steamrolled in recall elections is good for the party’s fight against public unions. But if this is celebrated as an unqualified “win,” the national Republican party will fail to learn important lessons from the public’s response to Scott Walker’s policies.