One of the standing assumptions of most political pundits is that each party will emerge from its national convention these next two weeks with a “bump” in the poll numbers for their candidates. Gallup reports that the post convention fluctuations in its survey numbers give candidates a typical bounce of about five percentage points. Given the close nature of the current presidential contest and the fact that he has been trailing President Obama all year, Mitt Romney would certainly be happy with that kind of boost. It would be enough to put him into the lead at a time when he needs a momentum change.
But while pundits are also cautioning both the candidates and their supporters to remember that convention bounces tend to flatten out by the time the voters have their say in November, there are good reasons to believe the traditional bump may not be as strong in 2012 as it has been in the past.
Three days before the GOP convention begins, the race is effectively tied. The first CNN poll to feature “likely voters” has it 49-47 with Barack Obama on top; Gallup and Rasmussen, which have daily tracking polls, have it dead even. I go into greater detail about Mitt Romney’s pretty good position here.
More important, though, is the opportunity Romney has when he delivers his convention speech Thursday night with the entire country watching. It is likely that 75 percent of the people who will see him on Thursday may never have heard him say more than a soundbite or two. Romney tends to rise to occasions, like the 20 Republican debates in which he performed—never badly, and probably outright won 15 of them. But this is the occasion of occasions—the most important night of his life and potentially a turning point in the nation’s life.
This is obviously a huge opportunity for Romney; and it’s an opportunity that Barack Obama does not have.
As I wrote yesterday, a lot was hanging on whether United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon would decide to ignore the urging of President Obama and go to Iran for the meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement. Doing so would make a mockery of the administration’s claim that they had successfully isolated the Islamist regime as part of a campaign to force it to give up its quest for nuclear weapons. But when faced with a choice of offending the Non-Aligned Movement and its Iranian host or President Obama and Israel, Secretary General Ban picked the lesser of two evils from his point of view and affirmed today that he was heading to Tehran.
There are those who will say with justice that nobody has cared about the Non-Aligned Movement since the fall of the Berlin Wall rendered this Third World strategy of playing the West against the former Soviet Union moot. However, Ban’s visit puts the icing on the cake for the ayatollah’s effort to show how the world is refusing to shun them the way other rogue regimes have been treated. That Ban would decide to go to Iran only a week after its leaders issued a new round of statements calling for the elimination of fellow UN member Israel is an outrage in itself. But by hosting the representatives of 120 countries with the head of the world body along with them, the Iranians have good reason to argue that this demonstrates that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s claim that she has successfully isolated Iran is a joke.
The disagreement between Israel and the Obama administration over whether it’s time to acknowledge that diplomacy has failed to stop Iran’s nuclear program is starting to make a lot of people nervous. Both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak seem to be interpreting the administration’s staunch refusal to abandon a diplomatic track that has already clearly failed as meaning that the president won’t make good on his promise to stop Iran from going nuclear. That has led to talk that Israel will strike Iran without U.S. assistance or permission and that it may do so even before the November presidential election.
The Americans are doing everything they can to persuade the Israelis to stand down but in the absence of trust in the president, mere words may not be enough. That’s why one of Obama’s leading Jewish supporters, columnist Jeffrey Goldberg, believes it’s time for some symbolism. Goldberg writes today in Bloomberg that a long sought presidential visit to Israel before the election would do the trick. He’s right. If President Obama were to take time out from the campaign for a stop in Israel some time in the next few weeks, Netanyahu would have no choice but to postpone any attack plans. Though it is possible that Obama will listen to Goldberg, such a visit with less than 90 days before the election is a long shot. It is far more likely that the president will rely on his usual mode of communication with the Israelis: pressure and threats. But since that has never worked in the past, Obama’s supporters ought to be asking themselves what’s behind the president’s reluctance to act in a manner that might convince both Israelis and their Iranian foes that he isn’t fibbing about being prepared to act on the issue during his second term.
In his column at the Daily Beast today on the prospect of hostilities with Iran, Peter Beinart assumes his usual role: defender of Barack Obama against Israel and its supporters. In this case, it’s the chutzpah of Israel’s government to demand that the administration issue some clear red lines about how long it will wait before taking action against the Iranian nuclear threat that bothers him. Israel’s warning that it may have to act on its own is seen on the left as an attempt to force him to launch an unnecessary war. But Beinart’s complaint that we haven’t had a full-scale debate on stopping Iran is more than a bit disingenuous. Far from no one making a case for the use of force on Iran — which he compares unfavorably to the Bush administration’s efforts to justify the invasion of Iraq — the president has been doing that ever since he started running for president.
If there hasn’t been much contention about pressuring Iran it’s because it’s been one of those issues on which there’s been a clear consensus. Stopping an Islamist regime that hates the West and America and which routinely calls for Israel’s elimination while promoting anti-Semitism and subsidizing terrorism is not a controversial goal. Obama and the Democrats and Romney and the Republicans both agree on this. The only question is which of them is serious about it. Beinart’s call for debate before any promises are made to Israel is part of an effort to back the president’s desire to keep kicking the can down the road until after the November election. Rather than really wanting a debate about a feckless administration policy that has wasted four years on dead-end diplomacy and engagement with Iran and only belatedly enacted sanctions that it are being loosely enforced, what Obama cheerleaders like Beinart really want is to find a way to put on brake on the use of force. But his assertion that no one has made a case for stopping Iran being an “American interest” is simply untrue.
Today’s New York Times Book Review features an interview with NPR’s Ira Glass, who was asked, “What’s the one book you wish someone else would write?” He gave the following answer:
“Could someone please write a book explaining why the Democratic Party and its allies are so much less effective at crafting a message and having a vision than their Republican counterparts? … I remember reading in The Times that as soon as Obama won, the Republicans were scheming about how they’d turn it around for the next election, and came up with the plan that won them the House, and wondered, did the House Dems even hold a similar meeting?”
You have to admire the scheme the Republicans crafted as soon as Obama won. Faced with a new president with a 65 percent approval rating and complete control of Congress, the Republicans held a meeting and came up with a brilliant plan:
Ever since the last of a series of full-scale blowups between the Obama administration and Israel, Democrats have been desperately trying to convince Jewish voters that the president really is the Jewish state’s best friend. In order to do so, voters would have to ignore most of what had happened in the first three years of his presidency but they were able to argue that his decision not to blow up the U.S.-Israel alliance completely ought to serve as proof of his good intentions. That’s enough for many Jews whose partisan preferences leave them ready to believe the Democrats’ talking points. But while American voters, Jewish and non-Jewish who consider the question an important one, ponder the question of which presidential candidate is a better friend to Israel, the people with the most on the line in the Middle East also have an opinion.
The latest poll of Israeli views of the U.S. election is similar to previous surveys on the question of American leadership: they don’t trust President Obama. As the Jerusalem Post reports, a new Peace Index/Dahaf Institute poll shows that 2-1 majority of Israeli Jews think Mitt Romney cares more about them than the president. Forty percent of respondents said Romney “assigns more importance to defending Israeli national interests” while 19 percent said Obama did. Ten percent saw neither as being more supportive than the other while 25 percent said they didn’t know and six percent said “neither” backed their country. Back in April a Smith Research/Jerusalem Post poll found that 60 percent of Israelis saw Obama as either pro-Palestinian or neutral in the Middle East conflict. All of which leads one to wonder why so many American Jews think they understand Obama’s views of the question better than Israelis.
The saying goes, “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.” For the Obama campaign and White House, that hand is the White House press corps. The president can give speeches until he’s blue in the face (which he often does, when he’s not at fundraisers, that is), but it’s the press–which is generally sympathetic to the president’s agenda–that report these talking points to the American people.
Today, National Review’s Jim Geraghty remarked in his essential Morning Jolt newsletter:
So if Obama tries to make the next two months about Seamus and tax returns and Bain layoffs killing steelworkers’ wives and so on . . . he’ll be advancing a bridge too far for his non-MSNBC media allies. What you or I might call the moderate-left MSM — CNN, the Washington Post editorial page, USA Today, The Economist, and most of the business and financial press — will have to acknowledge that one side is putting forth a serious solution, and the other side is trying to turn the presidential campaign into a reality-show food-fight.
Oh, and you figure snubbing the White House press corps to do sit-down interviews with Entertainment Tonight probably won’t help matters, either.
The White House press corps noticed the snub and aren’t too pleased with taking a backseat to news outlets that are devoted to breathlessly reporting on Jennifer Aniston’s engagement and Brad Pitt’s upcoming wedding.
President Obama took time out from his latest campaign trip yesterday to give an interview to “Entertainment Tonight” and got exactly what he bargained for: an opportunity to spin the news with a softball questioner. The president, who avoids the serious journalists of the White House press corps like the plague was asked breathlessly by ET’s Nancy O’Dell what he thought of Mitt Romney’s charges that the Democrat is conducting a campaign of hate. His response was an incredulous assertion that he is the man trying to unite the country. That he said so with a straight face the day after his vice president claimed Republicans were going to put “y’all back in chains” — a clear reference to black slavery — and with Democrats accusing Romney of killing people, is a tribute both to his high regard for himself and his political skills.
Democratic operatives have been quite frank about the fact that Obama’s re-election isn’t going to be about “hope and change” but an attempt to destroy the character of his opponents. But if the next 82 days are going to center on each party’s efforts to bring out their base, then it should be expected that the president will try to keep up the pretense that he is holding on to his 2008 claim of being above petty partisanship. In order to do that, he’s going to let his running mate whip up resentment against Romney by using racial incitement.
Democrats are trying to portray ex-intelligence officials who are publicly criticizing the Obama administration’s leaking of sensitive material in order to boost the president’s political standing as partisans. They think by merely saying the words “Swift Boat,” the group, which calls itself Special Operations Opsec Education Fund, will be ignored or reviled. But the comparison to those Navy veterans who blasted John Kerry’s record during the 2004 campaign is not apt. Whatever the motivation of the original Swift Boat veterans, their beef was a personal grudge against Kerry. The issue the Opsec group is highlighting is a serious problem that has already resulted in federal investigations of the White House’s behavior.
Earlier this week White House spokesman Jay Carney reiterated the administration’s mantra about Iran, saying there was still “time and space” for a diplomatic solution to be found to resolve the impasse over its nuclear threat. While no one, not even the president’s loyalists actually believe there is even the slightest hope for diplomacy or sanctions to work, the White House is publicly clinging to this position since the alternative is unthinkable. By that I don’t refer to how unthinkable it would be for the future of the world for the ayatollahs to get their hands on a nuclear weapon. From the point of view of the administration, what is truly unthinkable is the prospect of being forced to admit that it has been wrong all along about Iran and must change course in order to avoid a catastrophe.
The spectacle of the administration standing by its determination to keep talking with Iran long after Tehran effectively scuttled the P5+1 nuclear talks has to be discouraging to Israel’s government and can, in no small measure, be the reason why the Jewish state seems to be bubbling over with speculation about an attack on Iran sometime before the U.S. presidential election. With even U.S. intelligence now finally admitting that Iran is working on a bomb and with the Islamist regime making it clear it has no interest in agreeing to a compromise agreement on the issue, those trusted with defending Israel’s existence may be rapidly coming to the conclusion that they have no alternative but to strike soon before it is too late. Though foreign policy realists and other Israel critics are denouncing the Israeli threats, the only way to convince Jerusalem to stand down and follow America’s lead is for President Obama to start speaking honestly about the failure of his belated attempt to persuade Iran to give up its nuclear ambition. In the absence of such honesty, there is little reason for Prime Minister Netanyahu to go on waiting until the danger cannot be averted.
You have a Democratic campaign that’s painting its opponent as a felon, a tax-dodger, a dog-abuser, and a killer who will bring back slavery. On the other side, you have a Republican campaign that’s responding to these attacks as “hateful” and “inappropriate.” The media spin? Both sides need to tone down the “toxic rhetoric”:
“You thought last week was bad? Just when you thought last week’s third grade insults were as low as the campaign could go here, here we go again, the campaign has gotten even uglier,” MSNBC’s Chuck Todd said Wednesday. “It’s not faux outrage, it’s real outrage. Over the last 24 hours, the attacks from both sides have reached a new level of vitriol.”
CNN’s Soledad O’Brien said the campaigns struck a new note of negativity.
“Romney and Obama campaigns going on the offensive at the same time? What that means is nasty rhetoric, really nastier than ever,” she said this morning.
Seriously? Romney has basically stuck to attacks on Obama’s policy, it’s the Obama campaign that’s gone into the gutter. In fact, the only “negative” remarks from the Romney campaign cited in the Politico story were made in response to Democratic smears. Yes, Reince Priebus called Reid a liar — in response to Reid’s baseless accusations that Romney didn’t pay taxes for 10 years. The Washington Post gave Reid’s claim four Pinnochios, and Politifact rated it as “Pants on Fire.” Should they be criticized for toxic rhetoric as well?
There are moments in political punditry when it’s clear the so-called experts are anything but. This seems to be the case with what was by far the most common analysis of Paul Ryan’s selection as Mitt Romney’s running mate: pundits said it was a risk because the election would no longer be simply a referendum on an unpopular incumbent. But when you ask the voters about this, you get the opposite reaction. The Washington Post reports on its interviews with voters like Charles Bonuccelli:
“It’s not that I have an unfavorable impression of him. It’s that I have no impression of him,” he said. “You’re always kind of wondering, behind the facade, what are we going to get?”
The next day, he figured it out.
“This is a man who is to be taken at his word,” Bonuccelli said this week, after learning that Romney had chosen as his running mate Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.), a man known for his laser focus on shrinking the government.
“The thing was that we didn’t understand who this guy [Romney] was — was he serious about these things? It was a confirmation that he is serious,” he added.
A first-term president running for re-election always has a certain time-deficit challenge to overcome–the president, unlike his opponent, has a job to do. Electioneering takes a backseat to being leader of the free world. The president’s opponent, if not currently in office himself, could theoretically spend all day, every day at rallies in swing states while the President remains in the Oval Office, making decisions that set the trajectory for the country. The president, at the very least, has the advantage of already appearing presidential.
At least, that’s how it used to be. Mother Jones reported yesterday that President Obama has attended more than 200 fundraisers since officially relaunching his reelection campaign in April of last year. “Put another way, that’s an average of one fundraiser roughly every 60 hours for Obama.”
Yesterday, Alana asked a perceptive question about President Obama’s self-image as portrayed in Game Change. I think we have the answer. My favorite thing about Game Change–the book about the 2008 presidential campaign that was made into a much-maligned HBO film–is the index. Whoever created the index at the book’s publishing house assumed no one would read it from cover to cover, but instead that its target audience–people who are portrayed in the book–would scour the index for the references they were looking for. So the structure of the index is quintessentially Beltway.
What do I mean? The index entries are organized according to mainstream media conventional wisdom. So under “Obama, Barack Hussein,” there is an entry marked “calmness and self-possession of.” You know, just to help nudge book reviewers in the right direction. But the entry under Obama’s name that takes the cake is the one marked “conventional politics disdained by.” In case you haven’t heard, Barack Obama is a new kind of politician. With that in mind, it’s worth noting that accusing Mitt Romney of murder has become something of a central theme in the campaign to re-elect the president.
The Obama campaign is in full attack mode this week, and President Obama’s campaign speech in Iowa today shows the level of cynicism in the Democrats’ attempt to bash Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan. While stumping in the Hawkeye state, the president criticized Ryan for blocking a farm aid bill that is before the Congress and which he described as vital to helping rural communities survive both drought and an economic downturn. But does Obama really think voters are dumb enough to believe this?
The president’s Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act isn’t a legislative equivalent of a farm aid concert. It is a mini-stimulus package aimed at playing favorites in the agriculture industry and represents exactly the sort of massive government spending that both sides in last year’s budget impasse agreed could not be sustained. But the farm bill isn’t just yet another example of the Democrats’ penchant for crony capitalism; it is also an attempt to preserve farm subsidies that virtually everyone in Washington knows are an unsustainable boondoggle that represent the worst in patronage politics. Far from the president’s championing of this issue being part of a coherent plan to demonize Ryan, his backing of farm subsidies merely illustrates why Ryan’s reformist ideas are needed now more than ever.
Many Democrats are outwardly cheering Mitt Romney’s choice of Paul Ryan. But I wonder what’s actually going through the minds of Obama’s inner circle. David Axelrod has probably run enough campaigns to realize that Paul Ryan is an exceptional political talent whose star is rising just as Obama’s is fading. And what’s the president thinking? Back in 2007, this was how Obama’s personal frustrations with his self-identity were described to the authors of the book Game Change:
“[Obama] wanted to be seen as substantive. He was substantive. And not being viewed that way was hurting his chances, he thought. I’ve spent my whole life caring about policy, he told his staff. I want to have new ideas. I want them to be specific. I want to make sure that no one can say they’re not specific enough. Obama had imagined at the outset of the campaign that he would set aside hours to consult with world-class experts, delving into the issues, devising innovative solutions. He kept asking for more time to do that, but his schedule was too jam-packed with fund-raisers and campaign events.”
The liberal assault on Paul Ryan has commenced. But the first round of attacks can’t provide much solace to Democrats, who assume they will be able to demonize the Republican vice presidential candidate with ease. The first 48 hours of Ryan’s candidacy has already seen a deluge of abuse from the mainstream media editorial pages and columnists. If all you read is the opinion pages of the New York Times, which trotted out its second editorial rant against Ryan in two days, then you probably think that political strategist turned pundit Robert Shrum’s boast in the Daily Beast that by the time the Obama campaign is through with him, Ryan will be as toxic as Sarah Palin. Liberals like Robert Reich, who took to the Huffington Post to howl that Ryan’s ideas are “social Darwinism” or former Times editor Bill Keller who damned the prospective next GOP administration as a compendium of every wicked conservative idea ever conceived, clearly believe all they need to do is to just call Ryan and to a lesser extent Romney, every name they can think of.
But the problem with this effort to Palin-ize Ryan is that the first returns show it probably won’t work.
In 2007, a growing international consensus on the need to stop Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons was hamstringed by a puzzling U.S. National Intelligence Estimate that claimed Tehran had abandoned its ambitions. Though the NIE was disputed by Israel as well as by other sources, this report became the bulwark of foreign policy realists determined to downplay or ignore the danger from Iran. But as Haaretz reports, a new NIE issued in the past month indicates not only is Iran working on such a program but they have made alarming progress on military applications of nuclear power.
The report, which was made known to the paper by both Western diplomats and Israeli officials, reportedly shows U.S. intelligence now concurs with their counterparts in the Jewish state that the Iranian peril is far greater than the Americans were previously willing to admit. This finding makes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s public questions about the West’s willingness to wait for sanctions and diplomacy to work justified. More to the point, it calls into question the Obama administration’s strategy of kicking the can down the road this year until after the elections.