Commentary Magazine


Topic: Iowa

RE: GOP Playing to Win in 2014

I certainly agree with Jonathan that it’s nice to see Republicans this time around apparently keeping their eye on the ball (which is victory in November) rather than demanding an ideological purity that results in a candidate who couldn’t get elected dog catcher because he says dumb things. The dumb statement is then turned into a 30-second attack ad, endlessly repeated, and the candidate sinks without a bubble.

But maybe this year it is the turn of Democratic candidates to say dumb things. National Journal reported the other day that the likely Democratic candidate to replace Senator Tom Harkin in Iowa this year, Rep. Bruce Braley, came up with a beaut.

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I certainly agree with Jonathan that it’s nice to see Republicans this time around apparently keeping their eye on the ball (which is victory in November) rather than demanding an ideological purity that results in a candidate who couldn’t get elected dog catcher because he says dumb things. The dumb statement is then turned into a 30-second attack ad, endlessly repeated, and the candidate sinks without a bubble.

But maybe this year it is the turn of Democratic candidates to say dumb things. National Journal reported the other day that the likely Democratic candidate to replace Senator Tom Harkin in Iowa this year, Rep. Bruce Braley, came up with a beaut.

Talking to a group of lawyers at a Texas fundraiser that was supposed to be off the record—but was video recorded on someone’s cell phone—Braley managed to insult both Iowa’s other senator, Republican Chuck Grassley, in particular and farmers in general. With 97,000 farms in Iowa, that is probably not a good idea in a race for an Iowa senate seat.

Braley, noting that Senator Grassley is the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said that if there is a Republican majority in the Senate next year, “You might have a farmer from Iowa who never went to law school, never practiced law, serving as the next chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.”

He then compounded the felony by noting that he was not a farmer but a lawyer, and that if he were on the Judiciary Committee there would be someone on the committee with,  “your background, your experience, your voice, someone who’s been literally fighting tort reform for 30 years.” In other words, on the committee he wouldn’t represent the interests of the people of Iowa, he would instead represent the interests of lawyers.

This was also not too smart. As James Taranto pointed out yesterday, a Google search on “lawyer jokes” turns up 28 million matches. Lawyers, in other words are about as unpopular as members of Congress. Nearly the only people in the country who are against tort reform (and legal reform generally, for that matter) are lawyers and their very well-funded water bearers in Congress and state legislatures, like Rep. Braley.

The video should make a great attack ad.

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Des Moines Register: A Study in Contrast

Via Ed Morrissey: The Obama campaign couldn’t be happy to wake up to this front page of the Des Moines Register today:

Des Moines Register, October 25

I wrote yesterday about the Obama campaign’s tussle with the DMR over an editorial board interview the president initially demanded be off the record. After the Register’s editor blogged about the unusual stipulation, the campaign relented and released the transcript of the interview without comment or explanation. I’m not sure that has anything to do with today’s front page, but it can’t be a good idea to ding the Iowa media days before election day in a highly competitive state.

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Via Ed Morrissey: The Obama campaign couldn’t be happy to wake up to this front page of the Des Moines Register today:

Des Moines Register, October 25

I wrote yesterday about the Obama campaign’s tussle with the DMR over an editorial board interview the president initially demanded be off the record. After the Register’s editor blogged about the unusual stipulation, the campaign relented and released the transcript of the interview without comment or explanation. I’m not sure that has anything to do with today’s front page, but it can’t be a good idea to ding the Iowa media days before election day in a highly competitive state.

Here’s the Register’s lede on Romney, who apparently received an enthusiastic greeting at Eastern Iowa Airport yesterday:

This must be what momentum looks like.

It was a dramatic entrance into Iowa for Mitt Romney on Wednesday: As stirring music played, his campaign airplane, with his motto “Believe in America” visible along the fuselage, touched down at the Eastern Iowa Airport, taxied toward a hangar and parked just 50 feet behind the stage.

Romney stepped down the jetway to meet a cheering crowd of more than 3,000 and deliver a high-energy speech that was by turns sharply critical of incumbent President Barack Obama and confidently optimistic about the nation’s future under new leadership.

And here’s the lede on the paper’s Obama story:

Fighting a tense re-election battle, President Barack Obama let loose a blistering attack on GOP opponent Mitt Romney during a campaign rally here Wednesday, the first leg in what he called “a 48-hour, fly-around marathon campaign extravaganza.”

Obama was more forceful than usual on the stump, using a booming voice to tear into Romney as an untrustworthy double-talker and then, in more measured tones, to concede he hasn’t achieved all the goals he spelled out in Iowa four years ago.

That’s an accurate description of the dueling campaigns. As we’ve recently been noting at Contentions, the Obama campaign has been acting as if it thinks it’s losing, even if the polls haven’t reflected that. The president’s stump speeches have taken on a notably negative and sarcastic tone. Not that Romney is running a totally positive campaign, but recently he’s focused more on his vision for the presidency on the trail.

Obama still has a two-point lead in Iowa’s RCP polling average, but two of the latest surveys show there could be some movement in Romney’s direction. Romney is up one point in PPP, a bump from last month when he trailed Obama by seven points. They’re are also tied in the Rasmussen poll, after Obama led by two points last week. Romney is making his “closing argument” — a speech on the economy — in Ames on Friday.

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What if Ron Paul Wins in Iowa?

Chris Wallace is a brave man, and I’m sure his inbox is quickly filling with thousands of unintelligible hate messages from Ron Paul fans as I type. He is right, though. Because Paul has zero chance of winning the Republican nomination, a victory in Iowa would basically just reset the clock:

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Chris Wallace is a brave man, and I’m sure his inbox is quickly filling with thousands of unintelligible hate messages from Ron Paul fans as I type. He is right, though. Because Paul has zero chance of winning the Republican nomination, a victory in Iowa would basically just reset the clock:

“Well, and the Ron Paul people aren’t going to like me saying this, but, to a certain degree, it will discredit the Iowa caucuses because, rightly or wrongly, I think most of the Republican establishment thinks he is not going to end up as the nominee. So, therefore, Iowa won’t count and it will go on.”

But while a Ron Paul win in Iowa would likely be meaningless for his own campaign, it could have some interesting effects on the race. First, it would shake up the current narrative of the two-man competition, and potentially provide an opening for a candidate other than Gingrich or Romney to rise up. It could also be the pin that deflates the Gingrich bubble, since the former Speaker would fall short of expectations if he loses in Iowa.

But it could have some negative impacts as well. Phil Klein writes that supporting Paul in Iowa for strategic reasons may lend credibility to his crackpot views on Israel and foreign policy:

There is no question that a Paul victory would rattle Washington’s GOP establishment. But a Paul victory in Iowa would also help mainstream his noxious foreign policy views — particularly on Israel.…

If Paul won Iowa, his elevated status, at a minimum, would give more credibility to his foreign policy views. It could also allow global propaganda outlets to boast that a leading contender for the U.S. presidency thinks Gaza is a “concentration camp,” and argued that the raid that killed Osama bin Laden violated international law. And that’s just for starters.

Those who want Paul to win Iowa merely to “send a message” should realize that a Paul victory won’t send the message that they hope it will.

Support for Israel is a core value issue for Republicans, and one win by Paul isn’t going to change that. But Republicans in Iowa would be sending a message that Paul’s unforgivable flaws – the bigotry-laced newsletters he published for years, his dangerous foreign policy positions – are somehow more acceptable than Gingrich’s and Romney’s faults. If you’re going to throw away your vote on that, what’s the point of voting at all?

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Romney Pulls into Lead in Iowa

Rasmussen reports that in the Iowa caucus, Mitt Romney leads former Speaker Newt Gingrich 23 percent to 20 percent, with Ron Paul close by at 18 percent. It’s a small margin, but it’s another sign that Gingrich’s support might be flagging in Iowa.

Gingrich may be relying on tonight’s debate in Sioux City to reverse his momentum. But Iowa political observers aren’t sure whether it will make up for his lack of campaign infrastructure:

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Rasmussen reports that in the Iowa caucus, Mitt Romney leads former Speaker Newt Gingrich 23 percent to 20 percent, with Ron Paul close by at 18 percent. It’s a small margin, but it’s another sign that Gingrich’s support might be flagging in Iowa.

Gingrich may be relying on tonight’s debate in Sioux City to reverse his momentum. But Iowa political observers aren’t sure whether it will make up for his lack of campaign infrastructure:

Gingrich’s strong performances in Republican debates help his rise in the polls, said Iowa state Rep. Ralph Watts, but he hasn’t built an organization here. “I don’t think it’s much,” Watts said of the Gingrich campaign in Iowa. Watts, who is supporting former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, said he had a tough time deciding between Gingrich and Romney.…

Organization matters more than the debate, because so many voters are undecided, Dallas County Republican Chairman Michael Elam said. “I think people are debated out at this point,” he said. “They are looking for someone who is going to be able to stand up above the fray.”

If Gingrich delivers another great performance and Romney wounds himself like he did during the last debate, it could certainly have an influence on undecided voters in the state. But it could all be a waste if Gingrich doesn’t back it up with daily on-the-ground campaigning – and oddly, Gingrich is spending little time in Iowa during the next three weeks:

After Thursday night’s debate, Gingrich will take a 2 ½ day swing through Iowa next week but will not return to the state until Dec. 27, when he plans to spend the final week before the caucuses on a statewide bus tour.

Gingrich’s decision not to spend more time in the Hawkeye State over the next two weeks is all the more risky considering his lack of an established turnout operation there.

Iowa is hugely important for Gingrich. As the frontrunner for the last few weeks, you’d think he’d try to wrap up the state by investing all of his time and energy there until the caucuses. Either he thinks it’s too late for retail politicking to make a difference, or he thinks it’s already in the bag and he doesn’t need to bother.

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Morning Commentary

The Iraqi parliament finally approves a diverse new unity government, ending nine months of political stalemate and concern for the fledgling democracy: “Although Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds were represented in the previous government, this is the first time that all the major factions have been included, lending hope that Iraq can put behind it the bitter sectarian struggles and divisive politics of the past five years.”

More than nine Senate Republicans are expected to support New START when it’s brought up for ratification today, which is enough to approve the treaty. So what’s the GOP getting in return for its support? According to the Washington Times, Sen. Jon Kyl’s negotiations with President Obama have secured $85 billion to modernize and maintain our nuclear arsenal, as well as a commitment to build robust missile defenses.

In the New York Post, Jonah Goldberg analyzes the field of 2012 Republican presidential candidates.

In USA Today, Sarah Palin discusses the consequences of a nuclear-armed Iran: “Some have said the Israelis should undertake military action on their own if they are convinced the Iranian program is approaching the point of no return. But Iran’s nuclear weapons program is not just Israel’s problem; it is the world’s problem. I agree with the former British prime minister Tony Blair, who said recently that the West must be willing to use force ‘if necessary’ if that is the only alternative.”

Is Michele Bachmann considering a presidential run? Her $31,000 in contributions to Iowa candidates over the past year has some bloggers asking that question. Iowa’s campaign-finance report shows that Sarah Palin gave only $15,000 during the same time period.

Has it really come to this? Robert Gibbs is now seeking political help from Jon Stewart.

Ron Radosh sees similarities between Hugo Chavez’s recent power grab and the rise of Nazi power: “By passing the Enabling Act — the same term used by Chavez today — Hitler sought to abolish democracy by formally democratic means. … By banning opposition Communist delegates who had all been arrested, and preventing Social-Democrats from taking seats to which they were elected after the Reichstag fire, the Nazis now had the necessary votes to pass the Act. Clearly, Hugo Chavez must have studied Hitler’s tactics before commencing upon a similar road.”

The Iraqi parliament finally approves a diverse new unity government, ending nine months of political stalemate and concern for the fledgling democracy: “Although Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds were represented in the previous government, this is the first time that all the major factions have been included, lending hope that Iraq can put behind it the bitter sectarian struggles and divisive politics of the past five years.”

More than nine Senate Republicans are expected to support New START when it’s brought up for ratification today, which is enough to approve the treaty. So what’s the GOP getting in return for its support? According to the Washington Times, Sen. Jon Kyl’s negotiations with President Obama have secured $85 billion to modernize and maintain our nuclear arsenal, as well as a commitment to build robust missile defenses.

In the New York Post, Jonah Goldberg analyzes the field of 2012 Republican presidential candidates.

In USA Today, Sarah Palin discusses the consequences of a nuclear-armed Iran: “Some have said the Israelis should undertake military action on their own if they are convinced the Iranian program is approaching the point of no return. But Iran’s nuclear weapons program is not just Israel’s problem; it is the world’s problem. I agree with the former British prime minister Tony Blair, who said recently that the West must be willing to use force ‘if necessary’ if that is the only alternative.”

Is Michele Bachmann considering a presidential run? Her $31,000 in contributions to Iowa candidates over the past year has some bloggers asking that question. Iowa’s campaign-finance report shows that Sarah Palin gave only $15,000 during the same time period.

Has it really come to this? Robert Gibbs is now seeking political help from Jon Stewart.

Ron Radosh sees similarities between Hugo Chavez’s recent power grab and the rise of Nazi power: “By passing the Enabling Act — the same term used by Chavez today — Hitler sought to abolish democracy by formally democratic means. … By banning opposition Communist delegates who had all been arrested, and preventing Social-Democrats from taking seats to which they were elected after the Reichstag fire, the Nazis now had the necessary votes to pass the Act. Clearly, Hugo Chavez must have studied Hitler’s tactics before commencing upon a similar road.”

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Reapportionment Means Obama Just Lost Six Electoral Votes

Barack Obama won the 2008 presidential election so handily that losing a few electoral votes from his 365 to 173 margin of victory wouldn’t have made much of a difference. But there is every indication that the public’s repudiation of Obama’s policies at the polls this past November shows he will not have as easy a time of it in 2012. And now that the results of the reapportionment based on the 2010 census have been announced, Obama’s re-election just got a bit more difficult.

The new totals for each state’s representation in the House of Representatives will also change the number of electoral votes they can cast for president. So if we tally up the states’ new electoral votes based on the 2008 election, it shows that states that voted for Obama lost a net total of six votes, and those that backed McCain gained the same number. If you look back to the election before that, in which George W. Bush beat John Kerry, although some Blue States in 2008 were Red in 2004, the new electoral vote totals shows the same difference, a net gain of six for Bush states and a net loss of six for those that went for Kerry.

The big winners in the reapportionment are Texas, with four more seats, and Florida, with two. Washington, Utah, South Carolina, Nevada, Georgia, and Arizona all gained one. The biggest losers are New York and Ohio, which each lost two seats. Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania all lost one.

Of course, there is no telling how these states will vote in 2012; but however you slice it, the hill may have just gotten a little steeper for Obama in his quest for re-election.

Barack Obama won the 2008 presidential election so handily that losing a few electoral votes from his 365 to 173 margin of victory wouldn’t have made much of a difference. But there is every indication that the public’s repudiation of Obama’s policies at the polls this past November shows he will not have as easy a time of it in 2012. And now that the results of the reapportionment based on the 2010 census have been announced, Obama’s re-election just got a bit more difficult.

The new totals for each state’s representation in the House of Representatives will also change the number of electoral votes they can cast for president. So if we tally up the states’ new electoral votes based on the 2008 election, it shows that states that voted for Obama lost a net total of six votes, and those that backed McCain gained the same number. If you look back to the election before that, in which George W. Bush beat John Kerry, although some Blue States in 2008 were Red in 2004, the new electoral vote totals shows the same difference, a net gain of six for Bush states and a net loss of six for those that went for Kerry.

The big winners in the reapportionment are Texas, with four more seats, and Florida, with two. Washington, Utah, South Carolina, Nevada, Georgia, and Arizona all gained one. The biggest losers are New York and Ohio, which each lost two seats. Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania all lost one.

Of course, there is no telling how these states will vote in 2012; but however you slice it, the hill may have just gotten a little steeper for Obama in his quest for re-election.

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Memo to Congress: Do Nothing!

Gilbert and Sullivan made fun of the British House of Lords in Iolanthe thus:

When Wellington thrashed Bonaparte,

As every child can tell,

The House of Peers, throughout the war,

Did nothing in particular,

And did it very well.

The American Congress — not itself unknown for doing nothing in particular on occasion — has an opportunity in the next couple of weeks to do nothing at all and render the country a considerable service thereby.

What it needs to do nothing about is ethanol, one of the truly epic boondoggles in American history. As the ball falls in Times Square on New Year’s Eve, both the 45-cent-a-gallon tax credit on ethanol (which goes to companies that blend ethanol and gasoline, i.e., Shell, Exxon, et al.) and the 54-cent-a-gallon tariff on foreign ethanol will expire, unless Congress acts.

The 45-cent tax credit costs the government $5-6 billion a year and is opposed by such strange bedfellows as the Sierra Club and the National Taxpayers Union. Those in favor are, no surprise, ethanol producers and the farmers who grow the corn it is made from. The 54-cent tariff, which, of course, is paid by American consumers, keeps cheaper foreign (mostly Brazilian) ethanol out of the American market.

Ethanol was supposed to be the road to American energy independence (sticking it to big oil into the bargain), while cutting down on the risk to the environment from traditional oil drilling. But even Al Gore is now against it. “One of the reasons I made that mistake [of supporting subsidies for corn ethanol],” he recently said, “is that I paid particular attention to the farmers in my home state of Tennessee, and I had a certain fondness for the farmers in the state of Iowa because I was about to run for president.”

Since federal law now mandates that motor fuel contain 10 percent ethanol, both the tax credit and the tariff favor only the few (corn farmers and ethanol producers) at the expense of the many (taxpayers and drivers).

Once a tax or a credit is in place, it is often very hard to get it repealed, because the special interests benefited fight fiercely to see that it remains on the books, while the general interest does not fight nearly as hard to get senators and congressmen to vote to repeal. Political inertia is the lobbyist’s best friend. But in this case, Congress merely has to do nothing: let the tariff and the credit get lost in the hectic final days of the lame duck session and call it a job well done.

Even members of Congress should be able to that.

Gilbert and Sullivan made fun of the British House of Lords in Iolanthe thus:

When Wellington thrashed Bonaparte,

As every child can tell,

The House of Peers, throughout the war,

Did nothing in particular,

And did it very well.

The American Congress — not itself unknown for doing nothing in particular on occasion — has an opportunity in the next couple of weeks to do nothing at all and render the country a considerable service thereby.

What it needs to do nothing about is ethanol, one of the truly epic boondoggles in American history. As the ball falls in Times Square on New Year’s Eve, both the 45-cent-a-gallon tax credit on ethanol (which goes to companies that blend ethanol and gasoline, i.e., Shell, Exxon, et al.) and the 54-cent-a-gallon tariff on foreign ethanol will expire, unless Congress acts.

The 45-cent tax credit costs the government $5-6 billion a year and is opposed by such strange bedfellows as the Sierra Club and the National Taxpayers Union. Those in favor are, no surprise, ethanol producers and the farmers who grow the corn it is made from. The 54-cent tariff, which, of course, is paid by American consumers, keeps cheaper foreign (mostly Brazilian) ethanol out of the American market.

Ethanol was supposed to be the road to American energy independence (sticking it to big oil into the bargain), while cutting down on the risk to the environment from traditional oil drilling. But even Al Gore is now against it. “One of the reasons I made that mistake [of supporting subsidies for corn ethanol],” he recently said, “is that I paid particular attention to the farmers in my home state of Tennessee, and I had a certain fondness for the farmers in the state of Iowa because I was about to run for president.”

Since federal law now mandates that motor fuel contain 10 percent ethanol, both the tax credit and the tariff favor only the few (corn farmers and ethanol producers) at the expense of the many (taxpayers and drivers).

Once a tax or a credit is in place, it is often very hard to get it repealed, because the special interests benefited fight fiercely to see that it remains on the books, while the general interest does not fight nearly as hard to get senators and congressmen to vote to repeal. Political inertia is the lobbyist’s best friend. But in this case, Congress merely has to do nothing: let the tariff and the credit get lost in the hectic final days of the lame duck session and call it a job well done.

Even members of Congress should be able to that.

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Three Months, Three Speeches

Mike Pence’s speech yesterday to the Detroit Economic Club was his third major address on national issues in three months. Combined with his speech at Hillsdale College in September and his speech in Iowa in October, Pence has been setting forth proposals that might engage an electorate that wants something more than “hope and change.”

Yesterday Pence proposed a program he labeled “S.T.A.R.T.” — Sound monetary policy, Tax relief and reform, Access to American energy, Regulatory reform, and Trade — with a lengthy discussion of each topic. The section on taxes was a 1,500-word discussion that read in part:

In an upcoming study written by the legendary Dr. Art Laffer, Wayne Winegarden and John Childs, they found the cost of compliance with today’s tax code to be over $540 billion annually and that individuals and businesses spend 7.6 billion hours on their taxes. … The Laffer study predicts that by simplifying the tax code and cutting complexity costs in half, our economy would grow $1.3 trillion more over ten years than if we maintain the status quo. …

There is one system that [provides the necessary revenue without discouraging economic growth and imposing undue compliance burdens] … a flat tax. …

Individuals would pay taxes on their wages or salary after receiving a basic income exemption and an exemption for any dependents, including children and elderly family members and others who you care for in your home. Imagine how easy this would be for people. Gross income minus a generous standard deduction minus any dependent exemptions and you’ve got your taxable income. Apply the rate and your taxes are done.  Everyone pays the same rate, and the more money you make, the more you pay. It’s fair, simple and effective.

We’ve heard this proposal before, and figures like $540 billion of compliance costs, 7.6 billion hours on taxes, and $1.3 trillion in projected economic growth deserve the same skepticism that properly greets projections of savings from eliminating “fraud, waste, and abuse” (or from enacting ObamaCare). The estimates are only as good as the assumptions underlying them — many of which are inherently speculative and none of which can be forecast accurately for 10 years (or even a few years). But Pence made the case that the time for a flat tax may be approaching:

A flat tax is in use in more than twenty countries around the world, and they have been proposed and supported by various legislators and economists in America over the past 30 years, such as Robert Hall and Alvin Rabushka, Dick Armey, Steve Forbes, Art Laffer, Jack Kemp and Richard Gephardt. We don’t think about it, but we already use flat taxes in America as taxes for Social Security, Medicare taxes, sales and property taxes. …

If you look back at history, the Kennedy, Reagan and 2001/2003 tax reforms were all followed by strong economic growth.  The flat tax goes beyond these tax cuts and provides not just lower taxes but a greatly simplified system.

It is not clear that Pence wants to run for president; some think he plans to run for governor of Indiana (one of the other lessons of “hope and change” is that executive experience is at least as important for the presidency as the ability to give a good speech). He may simply want his ideas in the arena (a commentator who has written frequently about him describes him as fundamentally a man of ideas).

But we should know soon: the presidential race will start in roughly two months, if Barack Obama’s February 2007 presidential announcement is any indication of the lead time that now governs such a race.

Mike Pence’s speech yesterday to the Detroit Economic Club was his third major address on national issues in three months. Combined with his speech at Hillsdale College in September and his speech in Iowa in October, Pence has been setting forth proposals that might engage an electorate that wants something more than “hope and change.”

Yesterday Pence proposed a program he labeled “S.T.A.R.T.” — Sound monetary policy, Tax relief and reform, Access to American energy, Regulatory reform, and Trade — with a lengthy discussion of each topic. The section on taxes was a 1,500-word discussion that read in part:

In an upcoming study written by the legendary Dr. Art Laffer, Wayne Winegarden and John Childs, they found the cost of compliance with today’s tax code to be over $540 billion annually and that individuals and businesses spend 7.6 billion hours on their taxes. … The Laffer study predicts that by simplifying the tax code and cutting complexity costs in half, our economy would grow $1.3 trillion more over ten years than if we maintain the status quo. …

There is one system that [provides the necessary revenue without discouraging economic growth and imposing undue compliance burdens] … a flat tax. …

Individuals would pay taxes on their wages or salary after receiving a basic income exemption and an exemption for any dependents, including children and elderly family members and others who you care for in your home. Imagine how easy this would be for people. Gross income minus a generous standard deduction minus any dependent exemptions and you’ve got your taxable income. Apply the rate and your taxes are done.  Everyone pays the same rate, and the more money you make, the more you pay. It’s fair, simple and effective.

We’ve heard this proposal before, and figures like $540 billion of compliance costs, 7.6 billion hours on taxes, and $1.3 trillion in projected economic growth deserve the same skepticism that properly greets projections of savings from eliminating “fraud, waste, and abuse” (or from enacting ObamaCare). The estimates are only as good as the assumptions underlying them — many of which are inherently speculative and none of which can be forecast accurately for 10 years (or even a few years). But Pence made the case that the time for a flat tax may be approaching:

A flat tax is in use in more than twenty countries around the world, and they have been proposed and supported by various legislators and economists in America over the past 30 years, such as Robert Hall and Alvin Rabushka, Dick Armey, Steve Forbes, Art Laffer, Jack Kemp and Richard Gephardt. We don’t think about it, but we already use flat taxes in America as taxes for Social Security, Medicare taxes, sales and property taxes. …

If you look back at history, the Kennedy, Reagan and 2001/2003 tax reforms were all followed by strong economic growth.  The flat tax goes beyond these tax cuts and provides not just lower taxes but a greatly simplified system.

It is not clear that Pence wants to run for president; some think he plans to run for governor of Indiana (one of the other lessons of “hope and change” is that executive experience is at least as important for the presidency as the ability to give a good speech). He may simply want his ideas in the arena (a commentator who has written frequently about him describes him as fundamentally a man of ideas).

But we should know soon: the presidential race will start in roughly two months, if Barack Obama’s February 2007 presidential announcement is any indication of the lead time that now governs such a race.

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Christie-mania

In a lengthy piece on Chris Christie filled with winks and nods to the left and more than a few unsubstantiated jibes (Christie, we are told, was previously a “political hack,” and it’s just the “sane” wing of the GOP that likes him), Jason Zengerie of New York magazine nevertheless provides an interesting peek inside Christie’s political operation and just a sliver of hope to his fans that he might still be persuaded to make a 2012 presidential run.

Why the excitement?

These are strange days for Republicans. After their historic midterm victories, they are seemingly ascendant, with George Will hailing 2010 as “conservatism’s best year in 30 years—since the election of Ronald Reagan.” And yet there is no Reagan-like figure to lead them. In Congress, John Boehner and Mitch McConnell are Establishmentarians ill-suited to the fervor of the times. The Republicans who are currently angling to run for the White House in 2012—Mitch Daniels, Tim Pawlenty, Mitt Romney, John Thune, to name a few—inspire little enthusiasm. Sarah Palin, the one potential presidential candidate who does get Republican pulses racing, is such a polarizing figure that the party Establishment is terrified she’ll run. At the very moment that the GOP appears poised to return from its short sojourn in the political wilderness, the party is desperately searching for a leader. Which explains conservatives’ serious—and sudden—infatuation with Chris Christie. Read More

In a lengthy piece on Chris Christie filled with winks and nods to the left and more than a few unsubstantiated jibes (Christie, we are told, was previously a “political hack,” and it’s just the “sane” wing of the GOP that likes him), Jason Zengerie of New York magazine nevertheless provides an interesting peek inside Christie’s political operation and just a sliver of hope to his fans that he might still be persuaded to make a 2012 presidential run.

Why the excitement?

These are strange days for Republicans. After their historic midterm victories, they are seemingly ascendant, with George Will hailing 2010 as “conservatism’s best year in 30 years—since the election of Ronald Reagan.” And yet there is no Reagan-like figure to lead them. In Congress, John Boehner and Mitch McConnell are Establishmentarians ill-suited to the fervor of the times. The Republicans who are currently angling to run for the White House in 2012—Mitch Daniels, Tim Pawlenty, Mitt Romney, John Thune, to name a few—inspire little enthusiasm. Sarah Palin, the one potential presidential candidate who does get Republican pulses racing, is such a polarizing figure that the party Establishment is terrified she’ll run. At the very moment that the GOP appears poised to return from its short sojourn in the political wilderness, the party is desperately searching for a leader. Which explains conservatives’ serious—and sudden—infatuation with Chris Christie.

That explains the search for someone, but why him?

He has set the tone, in part, by being “a strong governor who has opinions and is willing to express them,” he said. When I asked him about New Jersey senator Frank Lautenberg’s criticism of his decision to cancel the tunnel, Christie shot back, “All he knows how to do is blow hot air … so I don’t really care what Frank Lautenberg has to say about much of anything.” Anything? “I’m always willing to read something in the paper that he said, and if he makes sense, I’m happy to work with him on it. I haven’t found one yet.” Christie believes his aggressive approach sends a signal to everyone else in the state. “The tone I’m trying to set for New Jersey is: action. Less talk, more action. And I think that’s what I’m doing as governor, and I think we’ve gotten a lot of stuff done already because of that, because I’m pushing and pushing and pushing.” …

Christie’s combativeness has made him a popular figure with the tea party in a way that someone like Indiana governor Mitch Daniels—who’s fought some of the same fiscal battles in his state but with the mien of an accountant—can only dream of. More than anything, Christie fills the longing, currently felt in all corners of the GOP (and beyond), for a stern taskmaster. “People just want to be treated like adults,” Christie says. “They just want to be told the truth. They know we’re in tough times, and they’re willing to sacrifice. But they want shared sacrifice.”

Less well known is his ability to co-opt and work with key Democrats in the deep Blue State. (He’s “cultivated strong relationships with the three most prominent Democratic power brokers currently not in jail.”)

The good news for Christie fans is that there are a few scraps suggesting that he hasn’t entirely closed the door on a 2012 run.  (“Christie’s actions aren’t those of someone who has ruled out a presidential bid.”) His staff’s YouTube videos, the trip to Iowa, and some whispers from his political confidantes are encouraging those in the GOP who are searching for Mr. Right.

But the premise underlying the piece is a bit off. The reason Christie has become a “star” is not because he’s captured the imagination of the “sane” wing of the party but because he transcends the divide (which is part real and part media-driven hype) between Tea Partiers and establishment Republicans. He combines serious governance with political theater. He’s got undeniable stage presence, but he’s also a serious budget wonk. He has no patience with political insiders, yet he’s learned to handle his opponents. And he’s become a master at disarming the liberal media without personal acrimony or a sense of victimhood.

But your reading glasses would have to be exceptionally rosy to see real evidence of a 2012 stealth campaign. The most his supporters can hope for is that the field of current contenders will prove underwhelming and that a serious movement to draft Christie will develop. But if the governor resists the entreaties of his fans, Republicans should remember that he became an overnight success thanks to a bunch of irresistible YouTube moments. Who’s to say that someone else couldn’t do the same?

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Add at Least One More Name to the 2012 List

In her post about potential 2012 Republican presidential candidates, Jennifer noted that “the most widely discussed contenders (Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, Mitch Daniels, Tim Pawlenty, Newt Gingrich, etc.) haven’t filled the base and party activists with optimism” and that fresher faces such as Chris Christie and Marco Rubio are not interested.

Even with the addition of Christie and Rubio, however, that list contains only eight names. Consider the following from Jimmy Carter’s White House Diaries, indicating that only a year and a half before being nominated, Carter ranked considerably lower than ninth:

About the time I announced my candidacy for president in December 1974, Gallup published a poll that included the question “Among Democrats, whom do you prefer as the next nominee?” There were thirty-two names on Gallup’s list of potential candidates, including George Wallace, Hubert Humphrey, Henry (Scoop) Jackson, Walter Mondale, John Glenn, and even Georgia legislator Julian Bond. My name was not mentioned.

This is not to say that Republicans should be looking for a new face simply because the usual suspects carry varying weights of baggage. Someone may seem an attractive alternative only because he lacks the baggage any person who has been in the arena will have acquired. Surely the past two years have taught us that the presidency is not the right place for someone, no matter how attractive, who does not have much on his resume under the categories of “Experience,” “Accomplishments,” and “Significant Votes Other Than Present.”

But there is at least one person who combines a relatively fresh face with substantial experience and accomplishments: Mike Pence. The current issue of Imprimis features his remarkable Hillsdale College speech, “The Presidency and the Constitution,” worth reading in its entirety. Here are excerpts from the final paragraphs, which reach a level of eloquence considerably beyond hope, change, and receding oceans:

As Americans, we inherit what Lincoln in his First Inaugural called “the mystic chords of memory stretching from every patriot grave.” They bind us to the great and the humble, the known and the unknown of Americans past—and if I hear them clearly, what they say is that although we may have strayed, we have not strayed too far to return, for we are their descendants. … We owe a debt to those who came before, who did great things, and suffered more than we suffer, and gave more than we give, and pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor for us, whom they did not know. …

Many great generations are gone, but by the character and memory of their existence they forbid us to despair of the republic. I see them crossing the prairies in the sun and wind. I see their faces looking out from steel mills and coal mines, and immigrant ships crawling into the harbors at dawn. I see them at war, at work and at peace. I see them, long departed, looking into the camera, with hopeful and sad eyes. And I see them embracing their children, who became us. …

They are silent now and forever, but from the eternal silence of every patriot grave there is yet an echo that says, “It is not too late; keep faith with us, keep faith with God, and do not, do not ever despair of the republic.”

It may be worth noting that Pence also gave a significant speech last month at the 10th Annual Friends of the Family Banquet. It was in Iowa.

In her post about potential 2012 Republican presidential candidates, Jennifer noted that “the most widely discussed contenders (Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, Mitch Daniels, Tim Pawlenty, Newt Gingrich, etc.) haven’t filled the base and party activists with optimism” and that fresher faces such as Chris Christie and Marco Rubio are not interested.

Even with the addition of Christie and Rubio, however, that list contains only eight names. Consider the following from Jimmy Carter’s White House Diaries, indicating that only a year and a half before being nominated, Carter ranked considerably lower than ninth:

About the time I announced my candidacy for president in December 1974, Gallup published a poll that included the question “Among Democrats, whom do you prefer as the next nominee?” There were thirty-two names on Gallup’s list of potential candidates, including George Wallace, Hubert Humphrey, Henry (Scoop) Jackson, Walter Mondale, John Glenn, and even Georgia legislator Julian Bond. My name was not mentioned.

This is not to say that Republicans should be looking for a new face simply because the usual suspects carry varying weights of baggage. Someone may seem an attractive alternative only because he lacks the baggage any person who has been in the arena will have acquired. Surely the past two years have taught us that the presidency is not the right place for someone, no matter how attractive, who does not have much on his resume under the categories of “Experience,” “Accomplishments,” and “Significant Votes Other Than Present.”

But there is at least one person who combines a relatively fresh face with substantial experience and accomplishments: Mike Pence. The current issue of Imprimis features his remarkable Hillsdale College speech, “The Presidency and the Constitution,” worth reading in its entirety. Here are excerpts from the final paragraphs, which reach a level of eloquence considerably beyond hope, change, and receding oceans:

As Americans, we inherit what Lincoln in his First Inaugural called “the mystic chords of memory stretching from every patriot grave.” They bind us to the great and the humble, the known and the unknown of Americans past—and if I hear them clearly, what they say is that although we may have strayed, we have not strayed too far to return, for we are their descendants. … We owe a debt to those who came before, who did great things, and suffered more than we suffer, and gave more than we give, and pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor for us, whom they did not know. …

Many great generations are gone, but by the character and memory of their existence they forbid us to despair of the republic. I see them crossing the prairies in the sun and wind. I see their faces looking out from steel mills and coal mines, and immigrant ships crawling into the harbors at dawn. I see them at war, at work and at peace. I see them, long departed, looking into the camera, with hopeful and sad eyes. And I see them embracing their children, who became us. …

They are silent now and forever, but from the eternal silence of every patriot grave there is yet an echo that says, “It is not too late; keep faith with us, keep faith with God, and do not, do not ever despair of the republic.”

It may be worth noting that Pence also gave a significant speech last month at the 10th Annual Friends of the Family Banquet. It was in Iowa.

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Follow the States, But Only the Right Ones

This report makes the point that, unlike the federal government, state officials have had to make hard choices to balance their books. The impression one gets listening to the mainstream media and incumbent politicians is that budget balancing is nearly impossible. The states have shown otherwise:

In the past three years, 29 states have raised fees on, or cut services for, the elderly and people with disabilities, says the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal-leaning research group. Fifteen states raised sales or income taxes in 2009 or 2010, according to the Tax Foundation, a conservative-leaning Washington research outfit.

Let’s see if you notice the pattern:

One popular state tactic has obvious—and ironic—national implications. New Jersey, Indiana and Minnesota, among others, have trimmed state spending by sending less money to local governments. That pushes onto local officials politically tough decisions about raising taxes, cutting spending or finding major money-saving efficiencies. …

Now, in Illinois and California, “the political system has done little more than lurch to the end of the fiscal year.” While in Mississippi, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Indiana, governors pushed for real fiscal reform. A sample:

New Jersey’s Chris Christie has cut pensions for future state and local employees, vetoed a tax increase on income over $1 million and cut $1.26 billion in aid to schools and municipalities, which local officials said would drive up property taxes. …

In Indiana, Gov. Mitch Daniels, a second-term Republican and the former White House budget director for President George W. Bush, moved the state from deficit to surplus by paring spending in good times. Indiana swung from a nearly $200 million deficit in 2004, the year Mr. Daniels was first elected, to a $1.3 billion surplus last year. It was not without controversy: On his second day in office, Mr. Daniels issued an executive order that ended collective-bargaining rights for state employees. …

In May, Minnesota lawmakers approved a budget widely seen as a victory for outgoing Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, because it ratified spending cuts he had made unilaterally and it didn’t raise taxes.

And, likewise, Bob McDonnell got elected in 2009 in Virginia on the promise to balance the budget without raising taxes. And he has done just that.

OK, you see point. These budget balancers and spending cutters are successful Republican governors, all of whom have been mentioned as 2012 presidential contenders. And in the 2010 midterms, their ranks expanded with Republicans elected in New Mexico, Wisconsin, Ohio, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Kansas, Oklahoma and Tennessee. That’s a lot of GOP governors who have the opportunity to lead on fiscal discipline.

Not only does this dispel the liberal myths that we need massive taxes to balance our books or that the public won’t accept reduced services; but is provides Republicans with a wealth of talent for the 2012 and future presidential races. The country seems poised to get serious on tax and budget reform and has grown weary of a president whose not much into governance. That suggests a unique opportunity for these GOP governors — provided they stick to their  sober approach to governance.

And on the other hand, we have the example of California which has yet to get its spending and public employee unions under control. It’s the beauty of federalism — 50 labratories in which we can see what works and what doesn’t. So far a lot of GOP governors are showing how to do it right.

This report makes the point that, unlike the federal government, state officials have had to make hard choices to balance their books. The impression one gets listening to the mainstream media and incumbent politicians is that budget balancing is nearly impossible. The states have shown otherwise:

In the past three years, 29 states have raised fees on, or cut services for, the elderly and people with disabilities, says the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal-leaning research group. Fifteen states raised sales or income taxes in 2009 or 2010, according to the Tax Foundation, a conservative-leaning Washington research outfit.

Let’s see if you notice the pattern:

One popular state tactic has obvious—and ironic—national implications. New Jersey, Indiana and Minnesota, among others, have trimmed state spending by sending less money to local governments. That pushes onto local officials politically tough decisions about raising taxes, cutting spending or finding major money-saving efficiencies. …

Now, in Illinois and California, “the political system has done little more than lurch to the end of the fiscal year.” While in Mississippi, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Indiana, governors pushed for real fiscal reform. A sample:

New Jersey’s Chris Christie has cut pensions for future state and local employees, vetoed a tax increase on income over $1 million and cut $1.26 billion in aid to schools and municipalities, which local officials said would drive up property taxes. …

In Indiana, Gov. Mitch Daniels, a second-term Republican and the former White House budget director for President George W. Bush, moved the state from deficit to surplus by paring spending in good times. Indiana swung from a nearly $200 million deficit in 2004, the year Mr. Daniels was first elected, to a $1.3 billion surplus last year. It was not without controversy: On his second day in office, Mr. Daniels issued an executive order that ended collective-bargaining rights for state employees. …

In May, Minnesota lawmakers approved a budget widely seen as a victory for outgoing Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, because it ratified spending cuts he had made unilaterally and it didn’t raise taxes.

And, likewise, Bob McDonnell got elected in 2009 in Virginia on the promise to balance the budget without raising taxes. And he has done just that.

OK, you see point. These budget balancers and spending cutters are successful Republican governors, all of whom have been mentioned as 2012 presidential contenders. And in the 2010 midterms, their ranks expanded with Republicans elected in New Mexico, Wisconsin, Ohio, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Kansas, Oklahoma and Tennessee. That’s a lot of GOP governors who have the opportunity to lead on fiscal discipline.

Not only does this dispel the liberal myths that we need massive taxes to balance our books or that the public won’t accept reduced services; but is provides Republicans with a wealth of talent for the 2012 and future presidential races. The country seems poised to get serious on tax and budget reform and has grown weary of a president whose not much into governance. That suggests a unique opportunity for these GOP governors — provided they stick to their  sober approach to governance.

And on the other hand, we have the example of California which has yet to get its spending and public employee unions under control. It’s the beauty of federalism — 50 labratories in which we can see what works and what doesn’t. So far a lot of GOP governors are showing how to do it right.

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A Bad Idea for GOP: Early Presidential Candidate Debates

Today, NBC and Politico announced they would co-host the first Republican presidential debate sometime in the spring of 2011. Presumably they are using the benchmark of April 2007, when the first Democratic debate for 2008 was held in South Carolina. There are so many ways in which this is a terrible idea for Republicans that it’s hard to count them, but here are a few:

1) An incentive for the lunatic fringe: An announcement like this lowers the barrier for entry to the race. Anybody looking for a little attention, or to get a chance to “go viral” with a snappy video-friendly performance highlighting a candidacy with no hope of ultimate success, might be able to get himself-herself into this thing. What if, just to take one bizarre possibility, the evil-crazy pseudo-pastor Fred Phelps of Kansas were to declare himself a candidate for the presidency in the Republican Party a week before the debate so that he could preach his “God hates fags” and “God wants veterans to die” gospel?

2) The panel of pygmies: It could well be, aside from the lunatic possibility, that not a single person who might actually win the nomination would be present on the stage. It would make sense in the new political atmosphere for serious potential candidates not to declare themselves early this cycle. It’s no longer necessary for fundraising; the only thing that speaks to the need for an early declaration is getting the right kind of staff on the ground in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. But the operatives in those states would themselves be wise to keep their options open for a while in 2011 rather than commit early. It’s true that the two eventual front-runners in the 2008 Democratic primary were on that stage in April 2007. But so were Chris Dodd, Bill Richardson, John Edwards, Joe Biden, Dennis Kucinich, and Mike Gravel (remember him? of course you don’t). Was the debate of any value to any Democrat seriously thinking about whom to vote for? Was it even of any use to any of the people on stage other than Kucinich and Gravel, who got a little boost from leftist throw-your-vote-away types?

3) Party mockery: The outlier effect would have a dual purpose for the organizations running it — first, the outliers will surely make some kind of news by being ridiculous in some fashion, and that, in turn, will help cast the Republican effort to make a serious run at Barack Obama in 2012 into something of a joke.

There’s nothing to be done about this. Politico and NBC will extend whatever invitations they extend, and candidates eager for any kind of attention will appear. But very little good can come of this.

Today, NBC and Politico announced they would co-host the first Republican presidential debate sometime in the spring of 2011. Presumably they are using the benchmark of April 2007, when the first Democratic debate for 2008 was held in South Carolina. There are so many ways in which this is a terrible idea for Republicans that it’s hard to count them, but here are a few:

1) An incentive for the lunatic fringe: An announcement like this lowers the barrier for entry to the race. Anybody looking for a little attention, or to get a chance to “go viral” with a snappy video-friendly performance highlighting a candidacy with no hope of ultimate success, might be able to get himself-herself into this thing. What if, just to take one bizarre possibility, the evil-crazy pseudo-pastor Fred Phelps of Kansas were to declare himself a candidate for the presidency in the Republican Party a week before the debate so that he could preach his “God hates fags” and “God wants veterans to die” gospel?

2) The panel of pygmies: It could well be, aside from the lunatic possibility, that not a single person who might actually win the nomination would be present on the stage. It would make sense in the new political atmosphere for serious potential candidates not to declare themselves early this cycle. It’s no longer necessary for fundraising; the only thing that speaks to the need for an early declaration is getting the right kind of staff on the ground in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. But the operatives in those states would themselves be wise to keep their options open for a while in 2011 rather than commit early. It’s true that the two eventual front-runners in the 2008 Democratic primary were on that stage in April 2007. But so were Chris Dodd, Bill Richardson, John Edwards, Joe Biden, Dennis Kucinich, and Mike Gravel (remember him? of course you don’t). Was the debate of any value to any Democrat seriously thinking about whom to vote for? Was it even of any use to any of the people on stage other than Kucinich and Gravel, who got a little boost from leftist throw-your-vote-away types?

3) Party mockery: The outlier effect would have a dual purpose for the organizations running it — first, the outliers will surely make some kind of news by being ridiculous in some fashion, and that, in turn, will help cast the Republican effort to make a serious run at Barack Obama in 2012 into something of a joke.

There’s nothing to be done about this. Politico and NBC will extend whatever invitations they extend, and candidates eager for any kind of attention will appear. But very little good can come of this.

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The 2010 Midterm Election in Perspective

In shifting through the fine analysis that emerged in the aftermath of last week’s midterm elections, a few data points are particularly noteworthy:

  • Republicans picked up more House seats than in any election since 1938. Republicans now control the most House seats, and Democrats now have the smallest number of House seats, since 1946.
  • Fifty incumbent Democratic congressmen were defeated, while only two incumbent House Republicans lost.
  • Independents comprised 28 percent of the electorate and supported Republican congressional candidates by a margin of 56 to 38 percent. That represents a 36-point turnaround from the last midterm election, in 2006, when independents supported Democratic congressional candidates by 57 to 39 percent. In addition, independents trust Republicans to do a better job than Democrats by a margin of 23 points on jobs and employment, 23 points on the economy, 27 points on government spending, and 31 points on taxes.
  • Voters support repealing/replacing ObamaCare by 51 to 42 percent. Democrats oppose repeal by 80 to 16 percent — but both independents (by 57 to 31 percent) and Republicans (by 87 to 7 percent) want to repeal and replace it.
  • Sixty-five percent of voters said that the stimulus bill either hurt the economy or did no good — and those voters overwhelmingly favored the GOP.
  • Fifty-four percent of those voting said they were dissatisfied with the performance of Barack Obama — and they broke 85-11 for the Republicans. Read More

In shifting through the fine analysis that emerged in the aftermath of last week’s midterm elections, a few data points are particularly noteworthy:

  • Republicans picked up more House seats than in any election since 1938. Republicans now control the most House seats, and Democrats now have the smallest number of House seats, since 1946.
  • Fifty incumbent Democratic congressmen were defeated, while only two incumbent House Republicans lost.
  • Independents comprised 28 percent of the electorate and supported Republican congressional candidates by a margin of 56 to 38 percent. That represents a 36-point turnaround from the last midterm election, in 2006, when independents supported Democratic congressional candidates by 57 to 39 percent. In addition, independents trust Republicans to do a better job than Democrats by a margin of 23 points on jobs and employment, 23 points on the economy, 27 points on government spending, and 31 points on taxes.
  • Voters support repealing/replacing ObamaCare by 51 to 42 percent. Democrats oppose repeal by 80 to 16 percent — but both independents (by 57 to 31 percent) and Republicans (by 87 to 7 percent) want to repeal and replace it.
  • Sixty-five percent of voters said that the stimulus bill either hurt the economy or did no good — and those voters overwhelmingly favored the GOP.
  • Fifty-four percent of those voting said they were dissatisfied with the performance of Barack Obama — and they broke 85-11 for the Republicans.
  • Republicans have captured the seats in at least 57 of the 83 Democratic-held districts in which Obama won less than 55 percent of the vote.
  • Democrats hold a majority of the congressional delegation in only three states — Iowa, New Mexico, and Vermont — that don’t directly touch an ocean. Republicans similarly routed Democrats in gubernatorial races across the Midwest and the border states, from Ohio and Tennessee to Wisconsin and Iowa.
  • Republicans picked up 680 seats in state legislatures, the most in the modern era. In the 1994 GOP wave, Republicans picked up 472 seats. The previous record was in the post-Watergate election of 1974, when Democrats picked up 628 seats. The GOP gained majorities in at least 19 state house chambers. They now have unified control — meaning both chambers — of 26 state legislatures. And across the country, Republicans now control 55 chambers, Democrats have 38, and two are tied. (The Nebraska legislature is unicameral.)
  • Republicans have not enjoyed this much power in state capitals since the 1920s.
  • Voters who identified as ideologically conservative accounted for 41 percent of the turnout, an increase from the 34 percent figure in 2008 and the highest level recorded for any election since 1976.

Politico called the midterm elections a “bloodbath of a night for Democrats.” National Journal’s Ron Brownstein wrote, “If the U.S. genuinely used a parliamentary system, Tuesday’s result … would have represented a vote of no confidence in the president and the governing party.” And the Washington Examiner’s Michael Barone says that “you could argue that this is the best Republican showing ever.”

Apart from all that, it was a splendid midterm election for President Obama and his party.

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Two Big Losers: Obama and Gerrymandering

The president took it on the chin big time last night, but so did the odious, uniquely American practice of gerrymandering. It is named for Elbridge Gerry, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, who first altered district lines for political advantage when he was governor of Massachusetts. (His name is pronounced with a hard G — as in get – but the eponymous practice is not.)

But last night in both California and Florida, propositions passed that abolish the practice. Florida’s amendment leaves the task of redistricting to the legislature but requires that

Legislative districts or districting plans should not be drawn to favor or disfavor an incumbent or political party. Districts shall not be drawn to deny racial or linguistic minorities the equal opportunity to participate in the political process and elect representatives of their choice. Districts must be contiguous. Unless otherwise required, districts must be compact, as equal in population as possible, and, when feasible, must make use of existing city, county, and geographical boundaries. It needed a 60-percent vote to become part of the state constitution and it got 62.54 percent.

In California, the power to redistrict state legislative lines was taken away from the legislature two years ago and given to a nonpartisan commission. Yesterday, Proposition 20 passed, taking away the power to redistrict congressional lines as well. A competing proposition, No. 27, would have abolished the commission and returned redistricting to the legislature. It went down in flames.

How bad was the gerrymandering in California? After the spectacular gerrymander following the 2000 census, there have been 692 Congressional and state legislative elections in California. Only five — o.7 percent — resulted in a change of party. It will be fascinating to see what the turnover is in 2012.

This makes four states — the other two are Iowa and Arizona — that have gotten rid of gerrymandering. Only 46 to go.

The president took it on the chin big time last night, but so did the odious, uniquely American practice of gerrymandering. It is named for Elbridge Gerry, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, who first altered district lines for political advantage when he was governor of Massachusetts. (His name is pronounced with a hard G — as in get – but the eponymous practice is not.)

But last night in both California and Florida, propositions passed that abolish the practice. Florida’s amendment leaves the task of redistricting to the legislature but requires that

Legislative districts or districting plans should not be drawn to favor or disfavor an incumbent or political party. Districts shall not be drawn to deny racial or linguistic minorities the equal opportunity to participate in the political process and elect representatives of their choice. Districts must be contiguous. Unless otherwise required, districts must be compact, as equal in population as possible, and, when feasible, must make use of existing city, county, and geographical boundaries. It needed a 60-percent vote to become part of the state constitution and it got 62.54 percent.

In California, the power to redistrict state legislative lines was taken away from the legislature two years ago and given to a nonpartisan commission. Yesterday, Proposition 20 passed, taking away the power to redistrict congressional lines as well. A competing proposition, No. 27, would have abolished the commission and returned redistricting to the legislature. It went down in flames.

How bad was the gerrymandering in California? After the spectacular gerrymander following the 2000 census, there have been 692 Congressional and state legislative elections in California. Only five — o.7 percent — resulted in a change of party. It will be fascinating to see what the turnover is in 2012.

This makes four states — the other two are Iowa and Arizona — that have gotten rid of gerrymandering. Only 46 to go.

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A Sign of the Times

What could possibly be a more local concern than the design and lettering of street signs? And yet the New York Daily News is reporting that the federal government’s Federal Highway Administration (whose website opening page is entirely devoted to touting the glories of the Stimulus bill) is requiring that New York City replace its street signs with new ones that will be more readable and, therefore, presumably safer. In Frozen Sneakers, Iowa, (the late William F. Buckley’s mythical Nowheresville) that unfunded mandate would not amount to much. But the vast rabbit warren of New York City has a quarter of a million street signs, and they cost $110 apiece to manufacture and install. New York’s mayor didn’t know anything about it but didn’t seem concerned, as the state, in far worse fiscal shape than the city, will be paying the $27 million cost.

I haven’t the faintest idea if the new signs are more readable than the old ones, although that strikes me as easily testable. What bothers me is another question. Exactly what provision of the U.S. Constitution gives the federal government authority over street signs? The answer, of course, is that none does, unless you count Article I, Section 8, which empowers Congress to lay taxes in order to provide for the “general Welfare of the United States.” But in 1936 the Supreme Court ruled (United States v. Butler) that the general welfare clause was limited to matters of “national, as distinguished from local welfare.” Of course, the Supreme Court in recent decades has allowed the commerce clause, giving the federal government control over interstate commerce, to be used to justify nearly any action of the federal government.

Meanwhile, today marks the start of the new fiscal year for the federal government. How many appropriations bills has Congress passed to fund the government for fiscal year 2011, its most basic responsibility? Exactly none. They couldn’t even come up with a budget resolution.

What could possibly be a more local concern than the design and lettering of street signs? And yet the New York Daily News is reporting that the federal government’s Federal Highway Administration (whose website opening page is entirely devoted to touting the glories of the Stimulus bill) is requiring that New York City replace its street signs with new ones that will be more readable and, therefore, presumably safer. In Frozen Sneakers, Iowa, (the late William F. Buckley’s mythical Nowheresville) that unfunded mandate would not amount to much. But the vast rabbit warren of New York City has a quarter of a million street signs, and they cost $110 apiece to manufacture and install. New York’s mayor didn’t know anything about it but didn’t seem concerned, as the state, in far worse fiscal shape than the city, will be paying the $27 million cost.

I haven’t the faintest idea if the new signs are more readable than the old ones, although that strikes me as easily testable. What bothers me is another question. Exactly what provision of the U.S. Constitution gives the federal government authority over street signs? The answer, of course, is that none does, unless you count Article I, Section 8, which empowers Congress to lay taxes in order to provide for the “general Welfare of the United States.” But in 1936 the Supreme Court ruled (United States v. Butler) that the general welfare clause was limited to matters of “national, as distinguished from local welfare.” Of course, the Supreme Court in recent decades has allowed the commerce clause, giving the federal government control over interstate commerce, to be used to justify nearly any action of the federal government.

Meanwhile, today marks the start of the new fiscal year for the federal government. How many appropriations bills has Congress passed to fund the government for fiscal year 2011, its most basic responsibility? Exactly none. They couldn’t even come up with a budget resolution.

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Where Else Should He Go?

Obama is running out of places to go. There are just so many college campuses, and even his advisers must know that only a fraction of those kids are going to turn out to vote. He can’t go into swing districts for mega-events, because he’s likely to generate as much (if not more) opposition as support for his Democratic candidate. So it wasn’t unreasonable for him to go to small, supposedly friendly audiences. He wants to be shown “relating” and “empathizing” with ordinary Americans. But that, too, has gone very, very wrong. It seems they are quite miffed with him.

The Washington Post reports on his trip to Iowa:

Standing in the back yard of a resident, Obama stood patiently as one woman described, at length, her fears that the U.S. health-care system will soon resemble that of Great Britain. Next, a man spent several minutes describing the way his small business works – and his unhappiness with the prospects of a tax hike.

When the man veered off into his thoughts on Chinese currency, Obama interrupted.

“Okay, we’re going way afield now,” Obama said, jumping in to address part of the man’s earlier observations.

Too far afield, or he wasn’t briefed on it? And as for the rest, it’s about time Obama heard some unfiltered, unspun public reaction.

But Obama is still ambling down memory lane, recalling better days (“it was also a little bit of a nostalgia tour: Obama dropped by Baby Boomers Cafe, the restaurant that serves a chocolate chip cookie made popular by Obama and his campaign staff in 2008″). It is hard to see how any of this is helping Obama or Democratic candidates, and it is a measure of how far his political standing has fallen that it is hard to come up with a better alternative.

Obama is running out of places to go. There are just so many college campuses, and even his advisers must know that only a fraction of those kids are going to turn out to vote. He can’t go into swing districts for mega-events, because he’s likely to generate as much (if not more) opposition as support for his Democratic candidate. So it wasn’t unreasonable for him to go to small, supposedly friendly audiences. He wants to be shown “relating” and “empathizing” with ordinary Americans. But that, too, has gone very, very wrong. It seems they are quite miffed with him.

The Washington Post reports on his trip to Iowa:

Standing in the back yard of a resident, Obama stood patiently as one woman described, at length, her fears that the U.S. health-care system will soon resemble that of Great Britain. Next, a man spent several minutes describing the way his small business works – and his unhappiness with the prospects of a tax hike.

When the man veered off into his thoughts on Chinese currency, Obama interrupted.

“Okay, we’re going way afield now,” Obama said, jumping in to address part of the man’s earlier observations.

Too far afield, or he wasn’t briefed on it? And as for the rest, it’s about time Obama heard some unfiltered, unspun public reaction.

But Obama is still ambling down memory lane, recalling better days (“it was also a little bit of a nostalgia tour: Obama dropped by Baby Boomers Cafe, the restaurant that serves a chocolate chip cookie made popular by Obama and his campaign staff in 2008″). It is hard to see how any of this is helping Obama or Democratic candidates, and it is a measure of how far his political standing has fallen that it is hard to come up with a better alternative.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Not going to happen: “Specifically, the smartest thing Obama could do in replacing outgoing Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel would be to pick an outsider who can address some of the obvious weaknesses his administration has. … It is critically important that Emanuel’s replacement have strong ties to the business community, a history of good relations with both parties in Congress, and the independence and integrity to be able to tell the president ‘no’ when he is wrong.”

Not going to be a good Election Day for Virginia Democrats. Three of the  four at-risk House Democrats trail GOP challengers, two by double digits. The fourth Republican trails narrowly.

Not close: “Republican Marco Rubio continues to hold an 11-point lead over independent candidate Charlie Crist in Florida’s race for the U.S. Senate. The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Voters in Florida finds Rubio with 41% support, while Crist, the state’s current governor, picks up 30% of the vote. Democrat Kendrick Meek comes in third with 21%.”

Not even handpicked audiences like him. In Iowa: “Holding the latest in a series of backyard meetings with middle-class voters, Obama heard one small businessman’s fears that his tax plans could ‘strangle’ job creation. The president also fielded concerns about high unemployment and the impact of his healthcare overhaul. It was a marked contrast to the enthusiastic university crowd that greeted Obama on Tuesday in Wisconsin when he sought to fire up his youthful base of support, and showed the obstacles his Democratic Party faces in the Nov. 2 elections.”

Not only Sen. Joe Lieberman is calling for Obama to get tough on Iran: “Barack Obama’s policy to prevent Iran from achieving nuclear weapons capability is under pressure from members of Congress, who argue that Washington should make clear it will consider military action unless sanctions yield swift results. … Howard Berman, the Democratic chairman of the House of Representatives foreign affairs committee, said recently the administration had ‘months, not years’ to make sanctions work. He added that military action was preferable to accepting an Iran with nuclear weapons capability.”

Not encouraging: “One of the most remarkable aspects of Bob Woodward’s new book, ‘Obama’s Wars,’ is its portrait of a White House that has all but resigned itself to failure in Afghanistan.” In fact, it is reprehensible for the commander in chief to order young Americans into war without confidence and commitment in their mission.

Not a fan. David Brooks on Alaska’s Sen. Lisa Murkowski: “I can’t imagine what Murkowski is thinking. The lady must have too many admiring conversations with the mirrors in her house.” Ouch.

Not a vote of confidence from one of Soros Street’s more sympathetic observers: “Will J Street even be around in its current form in coming days, now that it is enveloped in a scandal (more of a cover-up than a crime, in the traditional Washington style)?”

Not going to happen: “Specifically, the smartest thing Obama could do in replacing outgoing Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel would be to pick an outsider who can address some of the obvious weaknesses his administration has. … It is critically important that Emanuel’s replacement have strong ties to the business community, a history of good relations with both parties in Congress, and the independence and integrity to be able to tell the president ‘no’ when he is wrong.”

Not going to be a good Election Day for Virginia Democrats. Three of the  four at-risk House Democrats trail GOP challengers, two by double digits. The fourth Republican trails narrowly.

Not close: “Republican Marco Rubio continues to hold an 11-point lead over independent candidate Charlie Crist in Florida’s race for the U.S. Senate. The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Voters in Florida finds Rubio with 41% support, while Crist, the state’s current governor, picks up 30% of the vote. Democrat Kendrick Meek comes in third with 21%.”

Not even handpicked audiences like him. In Iowa: “Holding the latest in a series of backyard meetings with middle-class voters, Obama heard one small businessman’s fears that his tax plans could ‘strangle’ job creation. The president also fielded concerns about high unemployment and the impact of his healthcare overhaul. It was a marked contrast to the enthusiastic university crowd that greeted Obama on Tuesday in Wisconsin when he sought to fire up his youthful base of support, and showed the obstacles his Democratic Party faces in the Nov. 2 elections.”

Not only Sen. Joe Lieberman is calling for Obama to get tough on Iran: “Barack Obama’s policy to prevent Iran from achieving nuclear weapons capability is under pressure from members of Congress, who argue that Washington should make clear it will consider military action unless sanctions yield swift results. … Howard Berman, the Democratic chairman of the House of Representatives foreign affairs committee, said recently the administration had ‘months, not years’ to make sanctions work. He added that military action was preferable to accepting an Iran with nuclear weapons capability.”

Not encouraging: “One of the most remarkable aspects of Bob Woodward’s new book, ‘Obama’s Wars,’ is its portrait of a White House that has all but resigned itself to failure in Afghanistan.” In fact, it is reprehensible for the commander in chief to order young Americans into war without confidence and commitment in their mission.

Not a fan. David Brooks on Alaska’s Sen. Lisa Murkowski: “I can’t imagine what Murkowski is thinking. The lady must have too many admiring conversations with the mirrors in her house.” Ouch.

Not a vote of confidence from one of Soros Street’s more sympathetic observers: “Will J Street even be around in its current form in coming days, now that it is enveloped in a scandal (more of a cover-up than a crime, in the traditional Washington style)?”

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Past His Prime

Like Michael Phelps, who breaks a record nearly every time he dives into the pool, Obama sets records almost every day. Sunday was no different. He has a new high mark for disapproval at Realclearpolitics.com, at 51.2 percent, and a new low, at 44.5 percent. And a new record spread, at 6.7 points.

To carry out the sports analogy, he now acts like an aging athlete with only memories of past glories to keep his spirits up. The Washington Post observes that “without Obama on the ballot this year, his grass-roots network is a shadow of its former self. And with just five weeks before the midterm elections, Obama’s political advisers acknowledge that transferring the goodwill he cultivated over a historic presidential bid to an array of other Democrats has proved difficult.” Umm, it’s also proved difficult for him to retain that goodwill. Ah, well, they’ll always have Iowa.

Meanwhile, he is playing in minor league venues:

President Obama will swoop into the heartland this week in a high-stakes bid to boost enthusiasm for Democrats by reigniting the coalition of young and minority voters who were critical to his success two years ago. … So on Tuesday in Madison, Obama will stage the first in a series of rallies on college campuses designed to persuade what some call his “surge” voters — the roughly 15 million Americans who voted for the first time in 2008 – to return to the polls this fall.

Five weeks to the election and he is still working on getting minority voters and college kids to turn out for him!? I can tell you, college kids are not going to turn out en masse for a midterm election. The Obama girls, the rock videos — where have they all gone? The Post trips down memory lane:

The students on this leafy, generally liberal campus once constituted one of the strongest battalions in Obama’s grass-roots army. Two years later, the political dynamic has changed. Across campus, stickers, signs or chalkings for any politician are scarce. The laundromat where Obama’s young volunteers once staged late-night phone banks and planned bus trips to neighboring Iowa has gone out of business. And some students who say they voted for Obama in 2008 now say they don’t even know who’s on the ballot this fall.

Now the kids are all about football and grades:

On Saturday, student organizers waved signs outside Camp Randall Stadium as thousands of fans filed out of the football game. The Badgers won in a rout, and the young Democrats tried to break through the excitement of the game with perhaps a more exciting announcement: “President Obama on campus Tuesday!”

Some fans gave thumbs up or yelled “Go, Obama!” Others responded disapprovingly, as in “How’s that hope and change working out for you?” Hundreds more walked past in their red-and-white gear without paying any attention.

One student, showing her flair for the art of understatement, intones that “the euphoria has dimmed down.” Well, that’s one way of putting it.

Like Michael Phelps, who breaks a record nearly every time he dives into the pool, Obama sets records almost every day. Sunday was no different. He has a new high mark for disapproval at Realclearpolitics.com, at 51.2 percent, and a new low, at 44.5 percent. And a new record spread, at 6.7 points.

To carry out the sports analogy, he now acts like an aging athlete with only memories of past glories to keep his spirits up. The Washington Post observes that “without Obama on the ballot this year, his grass-roots network is a shadow of its former self. And with just five weeks before the midterm elections, Obama’s political advisers acknowledge that transferring the goodwill he cultivated over a historic presidential bid to an array of other Democrats has proved difficult.” Umm, it’s also proved difficult for him to retain that goodwill. Ah, well, they’ll always have Iowa.

Meanwhile, he is playing in minor league venues:

President Obama will swoop into the heartland this week in a high-stakes bid to boost enthusiasm for Democrats by reigniting the coalition of young and minority voters who were critical to his success two years ago. … So on Tuesday in Madison, Obama will stage the first in a series of rallies on college campuses designed to persuade what some call his “surge” voters — the roughly 15 million Americans who voted for the first time in 2008 – to return to the polls this fall.

Five weeks to the election and he is still working on getting minority voters and college kids to turn out for him!? I can tell you, college kids are not going to turn out en masse for a midterm election. The Obama girls, the rock videos — where have they all gone? The Post trips down memory lane:

The students on this leafy, generally liberal campus once constituted one of the strongest battalions in Obama’s grass-roots army. Two years later, the political dynamic has changed. Across campus, stickers, signs or chalkings for any politician are scarce. The laundromat where Obama’s young volunteers once staged late-night phone banks and planned bus trips to neighboring Iowa has gone out of business. And some students who say they voted for Obama in 2008 now say they don’t even know who’s on the ballot this fall.

Now the kids are all about football and grades:

On Saturday, student organizers waved signs outside Camp Randall Stadium as thousands of fans filed out of the football game. The Badgers won in a rout, and the young Democrats tried to break through the excitement of the game with perhaps a more exciting announcement: “President Obama on campus Tuesday!”

Some fans gave thumbs up or yelled “Go, Obama!” Others responded disapprovingly, as in “How’s that hope and change working out for you?” Hundreds more walked past in their red-and-white gear without paying any attention.

One student, showing her flair for the art of understatement, intones that “the euphoria has dimmed down.” Well, that’s one way of putting it.

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What’s It Going to Take in 2012?

On the Fox News Sunday roundtable, the panel discussed the 2012 GOP presidential front-runners. It is interesting that, aside from Sarah Palin, lesser-known Republicans seem to have gained top-tier credentials:

KRISTOL: … I think it won’t be the usual situation of nominating the next in line or the most senior person, the Bob Dole or the John McCain. So I think right now Palin is the frontrunner. We can say it’s a geological era away. It’s 17 months till Iowa. It’s not that long, you know? And she’s more — she probably has a slightly better chance than anyone else. She’s not an odds-on favorite, but she goes off with lower odds, better odds, than anyone else.

If I had to do win, place and show at this point, I would say Sarah Palin, Mitch Daniels and Paul Ryan. If I could make my trifecta bet, I think I would bet on them. But you know, there are 10 other people. …

WALLACE: Wait a minute. That’s really interesting…

KRISTOL: … who could be the nominee.

WALLACE: … because what you’re saying is, you know, that a lot of the — frankly, all of the conventional names we had on there, like Pawlenty and Romney and Barbour, you’re saying that they’re going to go for somebody that — none of the above?

KRISTOL: Look, those people could also win, and they’re impressive politicians in their own right, and have been good governors, in the case of someone like Haley Barbour. And there are senators who want to run, like John Thune. There are former governors like Pawlenty, Mitt Romney.

I just think — I don’t know. My sense is someone new, someone different, either someone who’s governing successfully, like Mitch Daniels — really a striking contrast with Obama — Paul Ryan, who will be at the center of things in 2011.

He’ll probably be chairman of the House Budget Committee if Republicans win the House. He will be articulating the Republican — he’ll set forth the Republican budget, articulating the Republican national vision against President Obama. And then Palin, who’s impressive, so — but you know, that could easily — I mean, this will shock you, but I could be wrong and one of those three will not be — will not be the nominee.

CHENEY: I think some of the people that Bill mentioned. I think Mitch Daniels is a clear, very interesting potential frontrunner. Paul Ryan is very interesting. I think you’ll have people who emerge after these 2010 elections as real challengers. You’ve got fascinating governors out there. Chris Christie is terrific. I think, you know, it’s impossible to sort of say it’s going to be the establishment guys.

With the Iowa caucuses (which we’ve learned aren’t very predictive of much, as Mike Huckabee can attest) well over a year away, it is nearly impossible to predict where the country, the economy, and the GOP base will be. If ObamaCare is defunded and/or repealed, does this boost the chances of Mitt Romney (whose biggest handicap is RomneyCare)? If Paul Ryan becomes the president’s chief nemesis in the new Congress, does his star rise? If Palin’s endorsees all win in 2010, does she take on an aura of invincibility — or if many of them lose, does her mojo evaporate?

The complications and permutations are endless. (And recall that Rudy Giuliani was the “front-runner” in the GOP polls until his campaign imploded and his Florida-first strategy proved to be a bust.) But we do know that the GOP base wants to offer an un-Obama. So look for a candidate who can connect emotionally with voters, advocate American exceptionalism, articulate who our enemies are, defend American capitalism, demonstrate executive acumen, point the way to fiscal sanity, and embody the values and outlook of the American heartland.

The candidates(s) who can do these things well and convince Republicans, who are desperate to recapture the White House, that they can go toe-to-toe with Obama will be at the top of the heap. And remember, many of the old rules (e.g., that a congressman can’t run, a presidential candidate has to look like a professional pol, an Ivy League background is a plus) simply don’t apply. It’s going to be one heck of an exciting ride.

On the Fox News Sunday roundtable, the panel discussed the 2012 GOP presidential front-runners. It is interesting that, aside from Sarah Palin, lesser-known Republicans seem to have gained top-tier credentials:

KRISTOL: … I think it won’t be the usual situation of nominating the next in line or the most senior person, the Bob Dole or the John McCain. So I think right now Palin is the frontrunner. We can say it’s a geological era away. It’s 17 months till Iowa. It’s not that long, you know? And she’s more — she probably has a slightly better chance than anyone else. She’s not an odds-on favorite, but she goes off with lower odds, better odds, than anyone else.

If I had to do win, place and show at this point, I would say Sarah Palin, Mitch Daniels and Paul Ryan. If I could make my trifecta bet, I think I would bet on them. But you know, there are 10 other people. …

WALLACE: Wait a minute. That’s really interesting…

KRISTOL: … who could be the nominee.

WALLACE: … because what you’re saying is, you know, that a lot of the — frankly, all of the conventional names we had on there, like Pawlenty and Romney and Barbour, you’re saying that they’re going to go for somebody that — none of the above?

KRISTOL: Look, those people could also win, and they’re impressive politicians in their own right, and have been good governors, in the case of someone like Haley Barbour. And there are senators who want to run, like John Thune. There are former governors like Pawlenty, Mitt Romney.

I just think — I don’t know. My sense is someone new, someone different, either someone who’s governing successfully, like Mitch Daniels — really a striking contrast with Obama — Paul Ryan, who will be at the center of things in 2011.

He’ll probably be chairman of the House Budget Committee if Republicans win the House. He will be articulating the Republican — he’ll set forth the Republican budget, articulating the Republican national vision against President Obama. And then Palin, who’s impressive, so — but you know, that could easily — I mean, this will shock you, but I could be wrong and one of those three will not be — will not be the nominee.

CHENEY: I think some of the people that Bill mentioned. I think Mitch Daniels is a clear, very interesting potential frontrunner. Paul Ryan is very interesting. I think you’ll have people who emerge after these 2010 elections as real challengers. You’ve got fascinating governors out there. Chris Christie is terrific. I think, you know, it’s impossible to sort of say it’s going to be the establishment guys.

With the Iowa caucuses (which we’ve learned aren’t very predictive of much, as Mike Huckabee can attest) well over a year away, it is nearly impossible to predict where the country, the economy, and the GOP base will be. If ObamaCare is defunded and/or repealed, does this boost the chances of Mitt Romney (whose biggest handicap is RomneyCare)? If Paul Ryan becomes the president’s chief nemesis in the new Congress, does his star rise? If Palin’s endorsees all win in 2010, does she take on an aura of invincibility — or if many of them lose, does her mojo evaporate?

The complications and permutations are endless. (And recall that Rudy Giuliani was the “front-runner” in the GOP polls until his campaign imploded and his Florida-first strategy proved to be a bust.) But we do know that the GOP base wants to offer an un-Obama. So look for a candidate who can connect emotionally with voters, advocate American exceptionalism, articulate who our enemies are, defend American capitalism, demonstrate executive acumen, point the way to fiscal sanity, and embody the values and outlook of the American heartland.

The candidates(s) who can do these things well and convince Republicans, who are desperate to recapture the White House, that they can go toe-to-toe with Obama will be at the top of the heap. And remember, many of the old rules (e.g., that a congressman can’t run, a presidential candidate has to look like a professional pol, an Ivy League background is a plus) simply don’t apply. It’s going to be one heck of an exciting ride.

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Reading the Palin Tea Leaves

Reading the Palin tea leaves is about to become a daily obsession. Each visit and speech elicits a new round of speculation. She went to Iowa — she’s running! But she “spent little of her time with them. She did not appear at a rally, impromptu campaign stop or closed-door one-on-one meetings with party activists” — she’s not running! She’s making inroads with activists. (“‘She sure has a way of rallying the troops by pointing out that we need to get back to our roots, get out there and fight,’ said one.”) Nah, she’s not that electrifying. (“She did not carry the crowd with her through the entire 33-minute speech. When she talked about the beauty of the Tea Party movement, the party activists in the room barely responded.”) She’s hungry to run. (She says, “I want to get back to Iowa soon.”) Or, she’s decided she doesn’t need to. (“I know that you can make a big difference in America without even having a title.”)

It is both in her interest and the media’s to keep the suspense going. If she runs, the buildup and anticipation is invaluable; if she doesn’t, it still keeps her “brand” hot. The media loves a “How will it turn out?” story, and the left punditocracy is fixated on her. It is in no one’s interest to resolve the question quickly.

And her tea leaves are harder to read than most. If a traditional candidate is going to run, he’s going to do traditional things — meet with those activists, assemble a professional staff, and put together an Iowa or New Hampshire ground game (or revive ones from 2008). But Palin isn’t that sort of politician. It’s not clear she will, until the last possible moment (and maybe not even then), play the nitty-gritty insiders’ game. She, after all has 100 percent name identification and can command free media to an extent no other figure can. This doesn’t mean she can win with such an approach. But we’ve never seen a phenomenon like Palin. Maybe you can win the presidency without the rubber-chicken circuit and without organizing every straw poll in sight. We’ll find out. Or maybe not.

Reading the Palin tea leaves is about to become a daily obsession. Each visit and speech elicits a new round of speculation. She went to Iowa — she’s running! But she “spent little of her time with them. She did not appear at a rally, impromptu campaign stop or closed-door one-on-one meetings with party activists” — she’s not running! She’s making inroads with activists. (“‘She sure has a way of rallying the troops by pointing out that we need to get back to our roots, get out there and fight,’ said one.”) Nah, she’s not that electrifying. (“She did not carry the crowd with her through the entire 33-minute speech. When she talked about the beauty of the Tea Party movement, the party activists in the room barely responded.”) She’s hungry to run. (She says, “I want to get back to Iowa soon.”) Or, she’s decided she doesn’t need to. (“I know that you can make a big difference in America without even having a title.”)

It is both in her interest and the media’s to keep the suspense going. If she runs, the buildup and anticipation is invaluable; if she doesn’t, it still keeps her “brand” hot. The media loves a “How will it turn out?” story, and the left punditocracy is fixated on her. It is in no one’s interest to resolve the question quickly.

And her tea leaves are harder to read than most. If a traditional candidate is going to run, he’s going to do traditional things — meet with those activists, assemble a professional staff, and put together an Iowa or New Hampshire ground game (or revive ones from 2008). But Palin isn’t that sort of politician. It’s not clear she will, until the last possible moment (and maybe not even then), play the nitty-gritty insiders’ game. She, after all has 100 percent name identification and can command free media to an extent no other figure can. This doesn’t mean she can win with such an approach. But we’ve never seen a phenomenon like Palin. Maybe you can win the presidency without the rubber-chicken circuit and without organizing every straw poll in sight. We’ll find out. Or maybe not.

Read Less




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