Commentary Magazine


Topic: Rick Perry

Immigration Debate Is Just Getting Started

Nearly every question of how a Republican politician’s stand will affect the 2016 presidential primaries must be qualified with “it depends who else runs.” And so it is with Jeb Bush’s comments on immigration. Although conservatives have more objections to Bush than on immigration, other issues–such as the Common Core, for example–just don’t have the visibility the immigration issue does. Nor do those other issues have the legislative and policy relevance of immigration: the Senate, after all, did pass an immigration reform bill.

Additionally, immigration arguably played a greater role than any other specific issue in sifting wheat from chaff in the 2012 Republican primaries. There were other factors, but it seems clear that Rick Perry was at least damaged by his comments on immigration–that if you don’t support in-state tuition for the children of illegal immigrations “I don’t think you have a heart.” Bush’s comment–that such migration is “an act of love”–has been compared to Perry’s, and it’s also similar to a far better phrased version of the argument put forth by Newt Gingrich, who put it in terms of separating families. And we got a preview of how Bush’s comments might be countered in a 2016 version of those debates from Ted Cruz, in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper:

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Nearly every question of how a Republican politician’s stand will affect the 2016 presidential primaries must be qualified with “it depends who else runs.” And so it is with Jeb Bush’s comments on immigration. Although conservatives have more objections to Bush than on immigration, other issues–such as the Common Core, for example–just don’t have the visibility the immigration issue does. Nor do those other issues have the legislative and policy relevance of immigration: the Senate, after all, did pass an immigration reform bill.

Additionally, immigration arguably played a greater role than any other specific issue in sifting wheat from chaff in the 2012 Republican primaries. There were other factors, but it seems clear that Rick Perry was at least damaged by his comments on immigration–that if you don’t support in-state tuition for the children of illegal immigrations “I don’t think you have a heart.” Bush’s comment–that such migration is “an act of love”–has been compared to Perry’s, and it’s also similar to a far better phrased version of the argument put forth by Newt Gingrich, who put it in terms of separating families. And we got a preview of how Bush’s comments might be countered in a 2016 version of those debates from Ted Cruz, in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper:

“We need to be a nation that welcomes and celebrates legal immigrants, people who follow the rules, and come here according to the law,” said Cruz in response.

“Rule of law matters. And if you look at any sovereign nation, securing your border is critically important,” said the freshman lawmaker.

“We need to solve the problem to secure the borders and then improve and streamline legal immigration so people can come to America consistent with the rule of law,” said Cruz.

Cruz’s response is not particularly controversial, though it’s clear he’s less concerned about fixing America’s legal immigration system–which is an unholy mess–than about securing the border. Both are important: in the age of asymmetric warfare, it makes no sense to have an unsecured border; and the current restrictions and layers of red tape on immigration are artificially distorting the market for labor and creating a black market–as overregulation almost always does–to fill the demand.

More relevant to 2016 than this argument–which goes round and round, and round again–is what it indicates about the various actors involved. And it confirms the pattern we’ve seen from Ted Cruz on his strategy for the primary contest. Cruz has not taken to promoting major reform legislation or “owning” an issue such as it is. Instead, he moves with alacrity to position himself slightly closer to the party’s grassroots when such reform is proposed.

There’s nothing objectionable about the strategy. Cruz is not required to churn out white papers or author major reform legislation, and if he does run for president he’ll do so anyway. It might not be on immigration, but in all likelihood a Cruz candidacy would include a tax plan at the very least. What the strategy is allowing Cruz to do is take the temperature of the party’s grassroots as the 2016 picture fills out.

Cruz has deployed the strategy against the candidate who would probably be his closest rival for grassroots voters, Rand Paul. When the Kentucky senator staged his famous filibuster over drones to the applause of conservatives (and a few non-conservatives as well), Cruz joined him on the chamber floor for the assist. But Paul’s response to the crisis in Ukraine was too tepid for Cruz, who staked out vague but more interventionist ground:

“I’m a big fan of Rand Paul. He and I are good friends. But I don’t agree with him on foreign policy,” Cruz said. “I think U.S. leadership is critical in the world. And I agree with him that we should be very reluctant to deploy military force abroad. But I think there is a vital role, just as Ronald Reagan did… The United States has a responsibility to defend our values.”

Cruz portrays the difference between him and Paul as a philosophical one, which is why, as I’ve argued in the past, foreign policy is likely to be a more prominent point of contention in the 2016 GOP primary season than it was in 2012. As Jeb Bush’s comments showed, the contentious domestic issue is likely to be immigration, which is why, no matter how stalled in the House immigration legislation remains, it’s an argument that will only get louder between now and 2016.

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Jeb Bush and the 2016 GOP Field

George Will wrote a column in which he said of Jeb Bush, “A candidacy by Florida’s former governor would be desirable” and “[he] does … deserve a respectful hearing from the Republican nominating electorate.”


I agree, partly because I admire Bush, who was a highly successful, reform-minded conservative governor. His record as governor of Florida was, in fact, more conservative in key respects than Ronald Reagan’s record when he was governor of California. (Mr. Reagan signed into law what at the time was the largest tax hike ever proposed by any governor, whereas Bush cut taxes every year he was governor, covering eight years and totaling $20 billion.) Governor Bush also has the ability to appeal to non-traditional GOP voters. For example, he won 61 percent of the Hispanic vote in 1998 and 56 percent of their vote in 2002. (Hispanics are one of the fastest-rising demographic groups in America; in 2012, Mitt Romney won only 27 percent of their vote.)

There are people who have doubts Bush will run and who say that even if he did, he wouldn’t win. Perhaps. For my part, I hope he does run, assuming he can do so with, in his words, “joy in my heart.”

But I also hope many others run in 2016, not only those I’m favorably disposed toward (like Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal, John Kasich, and Scott Walker) but also those I’ve been more critical of (including Ted Cruz and Rick Perry). Chris Christie and Mike Huckabee would be formidable figures in a contest; I hope they, too, enter the contest. The same goes for Rand Paul, with whom I have substantial disagreements (he is far more libertarian than I am).

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George Will wrote a column in which he said of Jeb Bush, “A candidacy by Florida’s former governor would be desirable” and “[he] does … deserve a respectful hearing from the Republican nominating electorate.”


I agree, partly because I admire Bush, who was a highly successful, reform-minded conservative governor. His record as governor of Florida was, in fact, more conservative in key respects than Ronald Reagan’s record when he was governor of California. (Mr. Reagan signed into law what at the time was the largest tax hike ever proposed by any governor, whereas Bush cut taxes every year he was governor, covering eight years and totaling $20 billion.) Governor Bush also has the ability to appeal to non-traditional GOP voters. For example, he won 61 percent of the Hispanic vote in 1998 and 56 percent of their vote in 2002. (Hispanics are one of the fastest-rising demographic groups in America; in 2012, Mitt Romney won only 27 percent of their vote.)

There are people who have doubts Bush will run and who say that even if he did, he wouldn’t win. Perhaps. For my part, I hope he does run, assuming he can do so with, in his words, “joy in my heart.”

But I also hope many others run in 2016, not only those I’m favorably disposed toward (like Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal, John Kasich, and Scott Walker) but also those I’ve been more critical of (including Ted Cruz and Rick Perry). Chris Christie and Mike Huckabee would be formidable figures in a contest; I hope they, too, enter the contest. The same goes for Rand Paul, with whom I have substantial disagreements (he is far more libertarian than I am).

Why do I hope the GOP contest will include people I’m not wild about? Because I want as many serious and substantial figures in the race as possible, in order to have the best representatives of various currents of thought (and style) within conservatism make their case. These debates can be clarifying, in a healthy way. (Some of us still regret that Governor Mitch Daniels, one of the most impressive minds and political talents in the GOP, didn’t run in 2012.)

In addition, people who look good on paper and sound impressive when being interviewed on Meet the Press don’t necessarily do well in presidential contests, where the scrutiny and intensity are far beyond what anyone who hasn’t run can imagine. Some people you might think would do superbly well in a presidential contest flame out; others who one might think would flounder rise to the occasion. You never know until the contest begins. So my attitude is the more the better, at least above a certain threshold. (Please, no more figures like Herman Cain, Ron Paul, or Michele Bachmann.)


The 2016 presidential contest should be winnable, but it won’t be easy. Democrats have important advantages right now when it comes to presidential contests. Which is why for Republicans to prevail it will take the best the GOP can produce. Who is that individual right now?

I have no idea. And neither do you. 

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Perry’s Deconstructive Governing Agenda

In his speech at CPAC, Texas Governor Rick Perry brought the crowd to its feet by saying this:

Nowhere does the Constitution say we should federalize classrooms. Nowhere does it give federal officials primary responsibility over the air we breathe, the land we farm, the water we drink. And nowhere does it say Congress has the right to federalize health care… It is time for Washington to focus on the few things the Constitution establishes as the federal government’s role: defend our country, provide a cogent foreign policy, and – what the heck – deliver the mail, preferably on time and on Saturdays. Get out of the health care business! Get out of the education business!

This points to a concern of mine and which Michael Gerson and I wrote about recently in an essay for National Affairs. For starters, Governor Perry’s interpretation of enumerated powers is more restrictive than what many of the Federalist Founders believed. (See the essay and here  for more.) As for Governor Perry’s line of argument: He says the Constitution doesn’t give “primary” responsibility over the air we breathe, the land we farm and the water we drink. But in fact, the Constitution doesn’t affirm even a secondary role for the areas mentioned by Perry. Is it really his position, then, that the federal government should have no role in education, health care, and clean air and water? What about child immunization? Support for the National Institutes of Health? Pell grants? The GI Bill? All of the New Deal? Bans on child labor? The Second National Bank (signed into law by the “father” of the Constitution, James Madison)? After all, the Constitution says nothing about establishing a national bank.

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In his speech at CPAC, Texas Governor Rick Perry brought the crowd to its feet by saying this:

Nowhere does the Constitution say we should federalize classrooms. Nowhere does it give federal officials primary responsibility over the air we breathe, the land we farm, the water we drink. And nowhere does it say Congress has the right to federalize health care… It is time for Washington to focus on the few things the Constitution establishes as the federal government’s role: defend our country, provide a cogent foreign policy, and – what the heck – deliver the mail, preferably on time and on Saturdays. Get out of the health care business! Get out of the education business!

This points to a concern of mine and which Michael Gerson and I wrote about recently in an essay for National Affairs. For starters, Governor Perry’s interpretation of enumerated powers is more restrictive than what many of the Federalist Founders believed. (See the essay and here  for more.) As for Governor Perry’s line of argument: He says the Constitution doesn’t give “primary” responsibility over the air we breathe, the land we farm and the water we drink. But in fact, the Constitution doesn’t affirm even a secondary role for the areas mentioned by Perry. Is it really his position, then, that the federal government should have no role in education, health care, and clean air and water? What about child immunization? Support for the National Institutes of Health? Pell grants? The GI Bill? All of the New Deal? Bans on child labor? The Second National Bank (signed into law by the “father” of the Constitution, James Madison)? After all, the Constitution says nothing about establishing a national bank.

It’s worth quoting here, as I have before, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who made this observation:

Perhaps the most important act of the Continental Congress was the Northwest Ordinance which provided a direct federal subsidy for education. Almost the first act of the Congress established by the present Constitution was to reaffirm this grant. A plaque on the Sub-Treasury on Wall Street commemorates both actions. This does not invalidate the view that the federal government ought not to exercise any responsibility, but it does make nonsense of the view that the Constitution – presumably because it does not mention the subject – somehow bars such an exercise.

It is one thing – and I think very much the right thing – to argue for a more limited role for the federal government and conservative reforms of everything from entitlement programs to education, from our tax code to our immigration system to much else. It’s quite another when we have the kind of loose talk from the governor of the second most populous state in America.

I realize that some people will argue that what Perry is offering up is simply “red meat” for a conservative audience. It’s a (lazy) default language those on the right sometimes resort to in order to express their unhappiness with the size of the federal government. But words matter, Governor Perry is actually putting forth (albeit in a simplified version) a governing philosophy, and most Americans who hear it will be alarmed by it.

As a political matter, running under the banner of “Get out of the health care business! Get out of the education business!” hardly strikes me as the best way to rally people who are not now voting for the GOP in presidential elections. I’m reminded of the words of the distinguished political scientist James Q. Wilson: “Telling people who want clean air, a safe environment, fewer drug dealers, a decent retirement, and protection against catastrophic medical bills that the government ought not to do these things is wishful or suicidal politics.”

According to a CBS News/New York Times poll, only 33 percent of respondents had a favorable view of the Republican Party while 61 percent had an unfavorable view. Having a prominent GOP figure give a speech in which he insists that virtually the entire modern state is unconstitutional and therefore illegitimate probably won’t help matters. Then again, neither does having the 2008 vice presidential nominee give a speech in which she takes great delight in re-writing Dr. Seuss.

This is not what the Republican Party or the conservative cause needs just now.

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The Hazards of Hillary Hagiography

As Mitt Romney secured the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, bringing to a close the competition to lead the GOP effort to unseat President Obama, there were all sorts of reactions from conservative voters. But the one complaint no one ever seemed to lodge was that there weren’t enough debates. No one had any reason to want to prolong the misery of that series of events. Grassroots conservatives watched in horror as the debates elevated Romney and Newt Gingrich while wrecking the candidacies of Rick Perry and Tim Pawlenty.

Liberals may have enjoyed what they thought was a clown show, but the debates went on long enough to eliminate any actual clowns from contention. (Say what you will about Romney as a candidate, but he isn’t a circus act.) The one exception to this rule might be the television networks that broadcast and moderated the debates, attracting viewers and giving liberal moderators numerous opportunities for what they actually show up to the debates to do: talk about contraception and occasionally call someone a racist.

So I am sympathetic to the idea that fewer debates next time around–especially fewer debates run by the moderators’ class of 2012, which included media personalities who threw themselves in front of Obama to shield him from any accusation unfit for royal consumption–might be worth a try. I wonder, however, if this is the way to go about it:

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As Mitt Romney secured the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, bringing to a close the competition to lead the GOP effort to unseat President Obama, there were all sorts of reactions from conservative voters. But the one complaint no one ever seemed to lodge was that there weren’t enough debates. No one had any reason to want to prolong the misery of that series of events. Grassroots conservatives watched in horror as the debates elevated Romney and Newt Gingrich while wrecking the candidacies of Rick Perry and Tim Pawlenty.

Liberals may have enjoyed what they thought was a clown show, but the debates went on long enough to eliminate any actual clowns from contention. (Say what you will about Romney as a candidate, but he isn’t a circus act.) The one exception to this rule might be the television networks that broadcast and moderated the debates, attracting viewers and giving liberal moderators numerous opportunities for what they actually show up to the debates to do: talk about contraception and occasionally call someone a racist.

So I am sympathetic to the idea that fewer debates next time around–especially fewer debates run by the moderators’ class of 2012, which included media personalities who threw themselves in front of Obama to shield him from any accusation unfit for royal consumption–might be worth a try. I wonder, however, if this is the way to go about it:

The chairman of the Republican National Committee says NBC and CNN are in the bag for Hillary Clinton, and he’s pledging to block the networks from sponsoring 2016 GOP primary debates unless they scratch their respective TV projects about the former secretary of state.

Reince Priebus accused the networks of promoting Clinton “ahead of her likely Democratic nomination for president in 2016” by airing the productions.

NBC is planning a miniseries about Clinton staring Diane Lane, and CNN has a documentary in the works about Clinton’s professional and personal life, expected to air in theaters before running on the cable network. In a letter to program executives, Priebus asserts that the networks’ plans will tip the scale toward Clinton in the next presidential election, providing unfair treatment not only to Republicans but also to other Democrats vying for the nomination. He called the networks “campaign operatives” for Clinton, and noted that Democrats protested when Citizens United tried to air a pay-per-view film about her before the 2008 election.

It’s possible this is just an easy way for Priebus and the RNC to reduce the number of debates, a prospect that was always easier said than done because the events brought revenue to local parties and gave candidates extra time in the spotlight. The debates were useful, without question, because the race was wide open and because it was important for Republican candidates–who won’t have the networks airing hagiographic propaganda on their behalf, unlike their opponents–need to be able to debate effectively. That was important in 2012 because although Obama isn’t a very good debater, the moderators intervened when they thought he was in trouble. It will be more important against Hillary Clinton, who is a far superior debater.

But 20 debates is excessive, and with few exceptions the last round of moderators didn’t exactly cover themselves in glory. It should also be noted that while the debates may have played a central role in derailing Perry’s candidacy, the later revelations about his health problems at the time suggests he might not have made it to the finish line even with fewer debates.

There is also the matter of the content of the CNN and NBC documentaries on Hillary Clinton. I doubt anyone thinks the network once derided as the “Clinton News Network” and the network that hired Clinton’s daughter will take a terribly critical view of the former first lady. But it’s worth keeping in mind that this is not how the Clintons will interpret the movies. Their standards for unadulterated worship are high. When Hillary Clinton spoke at the Saban Forum in late 2012 she permitted her event to be on the record–which included a film about Clinton preceding her speech whose tone was, wrote the New Yorker’s David Remnick, “so reverential that it resembled the sort of film that the Central Committee of the Communist Party might have produced for Leonid Brezhnev’s retirement party if Leonid Brezhnev would only have retired and the Soviets had been in possession of advanced video technology.”

Anything less will likely result in the expression of the typical Clinton suspicion that borders on paranoia (Clinton did, after all, introduce us to the “vast right-wing conspiracy”) and manifests in vicious public counter-attacks and character assassination. The networks are playing with fire: even the mere presumption of balance will set the Clintons fuming, and a replay of the Saban Forum’s Brezhnevite pomp will be a laughingstock.

Priebus is right to want to cut back on the debates and exert more discernment in choosing moderators and networks. He is also right to object to the hero-worship filmography of “news” networks covering the election. But the networks are probably asking for trouble, and Priebus and the RNC might end up enjoying not the films themselves, but the spectacle that follows.

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Is Perry a Viable 2016 Contender?

Texas Governor Rick Perry’s decision to pass up a chance for a fourth full term in office will make for a lively race to replace him next year. But the fact that he is clearly leaving the door open for another run for the presidency in 2016 raises the question as to whether a second try will give Perry a better chance than he had in 2012. Though there is an informal tradition among Republicans that the second time is invariably the charm, if Perry thinks he can count on that helping him to the nomination, he may be in for as unhappy a ride in 2016 as his 2012 run.

Perry’s record as governor is, if anything, even more of an asset today than it was in 2011 when he declared his ultimately unsuccessful candidacy, and three years is a lifetime in politics. But there is simply no precedent for a man who was a laughingstock as a presidential candidate in one election cycle to transform himself into the winner at the next contest. The memory of what happened to Perry in those first disastrous months of his campaign combined with the far more formidable nature of the competition in 2016 should give him and his potential backers pause before they commit themselves to an effort that is unlikely to meet with any more success than he had before. No one has ever better illustrated the gap between success at the statewide level—even in a state as big as Texas—and the national stage than Rick Perry.

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Texas Governor Rick Perry’s decision to pass up a chance for a fourth full term in office will make for a lively race to replace him next year. But the fact that he is clearly leaving the door open for another run for the presidency in 2016 raises the question as to whether a second try will give Perry a better chance than he had in 2012. Though there is an informal tradition among Republicans that the second time is invariably the charm, if Perry thinks he can count on that helping him to the nomination, he may be in for as unhappy a ride in 2016 as his 2012 run.

Perry’s record as governor is, if anything, even more of an asset today than it was in 2011 when he declared his ultimately unsuccessful candidacy, and three years is a lifetime in politics. But there is simply no precedent for a man who was a laughingstock as a presidential candidate in one election cycle to transform himself into the winner at the next contest. The memory of what happened to Perry in those first disastrous months of his campaign combined with the far more formidable nature of the competition in 2016 should give him and his potential backers pause before they commit themselves to an effort that is unlikely to meet with any more success than he had before. No one has ever better illustrated the gap between success at the statewide level—even in a state as big as Texas—and the national stage than Rick Perry.

After 13 years in office, Perry has placed an indelible stamp on Texas political history. Though he has his detractors on the left, it’s difficult to argue that the state’s growth and prosperity has nothing to do with his leadership. The specific economic circumstances that apply to Texas may have worked to his advantage, but the least you could say about Perry is that he didn’t get in the way of those factors. Nor did he allow the legislature or the state bureaucracy to derail the boom. No matter how you look at it, he’s been an efficient manager and an effective promoter of the Lone Star State’s virtues. Any governor or president would be thrilled to be able to boast of a record that was anywhere close to what he achieved. After eight years of Barack Obama’s indifferent leadership, that ought to make for a powerful argument for Perry in 2016.

But any talk about another Perry presidential run has to start—and perhaps end—with a discussion of what happened to him the first time he ran.

Perry did enter the race late in the election cycle. By the time he declared his candidacy in August 2011 (on the day of the Ames, Iowa straw poll), his rivals had been at it for months if not years. But while he, and any other candidate, would be well advised to start a lot earlier in the run-up to 2016, it would be a mistake to assume that late start hurt him. In fact, it might have helped. After a summer and a couple of early debates that showed just how lackluster the GOP field was, Perry’s entrance into the contest could not have been better timed to ensure an easy path to the nomination for him. Perry looked to be the perfect candidate with a strong resume as a governor as well as close ties to both religious conservatives and Tea Partiers who loved his small government Texas philosophy. Indeed, the polls taken after his declaration showed him to be the frontrunner, easily eclipsing Mitt Romney and his other rivals.

It was only after he started opening his mouth and actually campaigning and taking part in the seemingly endless round of GOP debates that the trouble started.

What the nation soon learned was that while Perry had won three gubernatorial elections in Texas, he had never had to face the competition he was up against in the presidential contest. It wasn’t just that he soon got the kind of scrutiny from the national press that for the most part he didn’t receive in Austin. It was that he seemed utterly unprepared, if not completely incapable of putting forward a coherent argument for his candidacy.

The standard excuse for Perry’s disastrous debate performances is that he was still recovering from back surgery. That probably didn’t help him, but the indelible image of his “oops” moment when he couldn’t remember the three federal departments he said he wanted to disband is something that will stick with him until the day he dies. There are lots of reasons why a candidate can flop under that kind of pressure, but excuses don’t cut it in the big leagues in which he sought to compete. Within a few months, he went from being a likely winner to a punch line. It wasn’t that he lost so much as it was that he appeared to be in over his head outside the friendly confines of Texas politics. That is the sort of transformation that doesn’t just require a political makeover but an obituary.

The second try paradigm is what is tempting Perry back into the race, but the examples of Mitt Romney, John McCain, Bob Dole, George H.W. Bush and even Ronald Reagan don’t really offer much comfort to Perry. All of them mustered decent showings in their previous tries for the presidency. If this “rule” offers much hope to anyone it should be encouraging Rick Santorum, who came from the back of the pack to win a dozen primaries and caucuses before ending up as the unofficial runner-up for the nomination.

But what both Santorum and Perry have to contend with in 2016 is a potentially far tougher field than they faced in 2012. With political stars like Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, Rand Paul, Scott Walker and Ted Cruz in the mix, retreads from the failed attempts to stop Barack Obama have no reason to assume they start with an advantage over newcomers. More than that, the constituencies that seemed most likely to boost Perry in 2012 now have stronger claimants on their support. Santorum is a more natural candidate to support for social conservatives while Tea Partiers are far more likely to embrace fellow Texan Ted Cruz or one of the other conservatives. With Christie and potentially Walker in the race, Perry will also have strong competition for the title of most successful governor.

Perry may be a better candidate if he runs for president again, but the point is that his first try was so bad that anything would be an improvement. Second tries only lead to victory if the first impression a candidate makes on the national electorate is not as dismal as the one Perry made in 2011 and 2012. There are no absolutes in politics, but pegging him as a long shot for 2016 would probably be giving him more of a chance than he actually has.  

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The MSM Is Disappointed in Itself

In May 2012, the Washington Post published the findings of its deep dive into Mitt Romney’s past. The paper had been working on a big investigative journalism piece that would finally reveal what no one else could uncover about Romney. Utilizing the resources that only major dailies can marshal, and proudly speaking truth to power and defending the people’s right to know, the Post threw the 2012 election into pure chaos, upending everything voters thought they knew about the candidates.

Mitt Romney, as a youngster, once cut someone else’s hair.

It didn’t sound like such a bombshell at first blush, but then the Post–in a bid to make this as embarrassing as possible for the family of the victim–openly speculated about his sexuality. The family of the victim (who has since passed away), thoroughly humiliated by the Post’s behavior, denied the Post’s story and asked the newspaper to please stop spreading stories about their family “to further a political agenda.” Indeed, it was one of the low moments of the 2012 cycle. So why do I bring this up now? Because that same Washington Post reports today on a new Pew study showing that the media is increasingly echoing, instead of investigating, politicians. The Post, unsurprisingly, isn’t happy about this:

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In May 2012, the Washington Post published the findings of its deep dive into Mitt Romney’s past. The paper had been working on a big investigative journalism piece that would finally reveal what no one else could uncover about Romney. Utilizing the resources that only major dailies can marshal, and proudly speaking truth to power and defending the people’s right to know, the Post threw the 2012 election into pure chaos, upending everything voters thought they knew about the candidates.

Mitt Romney, as a youngster, once cut someone else’s hair.

It didn’t sound like such a bombshell at first blush, but then the Post–in a bid to make this as embarrassing as possible for the family of the victim–openly speculated about his sexuality. The family of the victim (who has since passed away), thoroughly humiliated by the Post’s behavior, denied the Post’s story and asked the newspaper to please stop spreading stories about their family “to further a political agenda.” Indeed, it was one of the low moments of the 2012 cycle. So why do I bring this up now? Because that same Washington Post reports today on a new Pew study showing that the media is increasingly echoing, instead of investigating, politicians. The Post, unsurprisingly, isn’t happy about this:

“Campaign reporters were acting primarily as megaphones, rather than investigators, of the assertions put forward by the candidates and other political partisans,” according to the report. “Only about a quarter of statements in the media about the character and records of the presidential candidates originated with journalists in the 2012 race, while twice that many came from political partisans.” …

When news organizations are pushed out of the information pipeline, voters alone are left to sort through messages that are tested in focus groups and opposition attacks tailored with great specificity. And on the heels of a presidential campaign in which one candidate’s pollster said he refused to let the campaign be dictated by fact-checkers, such a strategy is growing easier to execute.

The facts are these: Campaigns and candidates have more power than ever before to frame both their positive narrative and their opponents’ negative one.  And, if the Pew numbers are right, both sides are spending much more time on the negative side of the ledger — at least in 2012.

Think of those numbers the next time you run down the role of the political media.

Yes, you think about that the next time you feel like complaining about front-page stories in papers like the Post. In fact, you’ll probably have that opportunity again soon, because like clockwork the Post identifies the Republican it deems most dangerous to the liberal agenda and fires off a gobsmackingly absurd–and often factually incorrect–story about them. The Post usually follows that story with an article about its previous story, in which it drums up a fake controversy and then drums up fake outrage about it.

The truth is, if the Post is unhappy about the press acting “as megaphones, rather than investigators,” it only has itself to blame. Before Romney was the target, Democrats felt threatened by Texas Governor Rick Perry. So the Post published a story meant to be damning toward Perry’s character, in which it breathlessly reported the existence of a hunting property leased by Perry’s family that once had a rock with a racial epithet painted on it but which no one can find today. Before the Post went after Perry, the paper decided to weigh in on the 2009 Virginia governor’s race by attacking Bob McDonnell’s 20-year-old college thesis and publishing about a story a day on it for the first week or so. McDonnell won the election easily, needless to say. And the Post tried to dig up dirt on Marco Rubio, found nothing, and pretended it found something anyway. The Post story was quickly debunked.

None of this is to suggest that modern newspapers publish only nonsense. They do plenty of good work. And the fading of investigative journalism–a function of tightening budgets and lack of resources, mainly–is to be mourned. But too often investigative journalism as currently practiced discredits just this kind of reporting–especially when election season rolls around.

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Is Gun Control the First Major 2016 Issue?

With gun control still in the news and Vice President Joe Biden’s recommendations on legislation expected to come tomorrow, it is increasingly clear the country’s political class is engaged in two different debates. Members of Congress seem to be conducting an entirely different argument than officials at the state level, especially governors. In Congress, not even the Democrats are united in their enthusiasm for more gun control legislation; Harry Reid and Joe Manchin have both thrown cold water on the idea while Republicans in Congress don’t seem to fear the debate at all, believing it poses no risk electorally. (They believe, with history to back them up, that either no serious gun control legislation will come to the floor of either house of Congress or that the Democrats will overreach, enabling the GOP to gain seats in the 2014 midterms.)

Meanwhile, governors are dividing along traditional party lines. New York’s Andrew Cuomo and Maryland’s Martin O’Malley are diving in with both feet, while Virginia’s Bob McDonnell and Texas’s Rick Perry criticized the rush to use the school shooting to enact tougher gun laws. The exception in this case, and the one that proves the rule, is Biden. Gun control is fast on its way to becoming the first major issue of the 2016 presidential election.

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With gun control still in the news and Vice President Joe Biden’s recommendations on legislation expected to come tomorrow, it is increasingly clear the country’s political class is engaged in two different debates. Members of Congress seem to be conducting an entirely different argument than officials at the state level, especially governors. In Congress, not even the Democrats are united in their enthusiasm for more gun control legislation; Harry Reid and Joe Manchin have both thrown cold water on the idea while Republicans in Congress don’t seem to fear the debate at all, believing it poses no risk electorally. (They believe, with history to back them up, that either no serious gun control legislation will come to the floor of either house of Congress or that the Democrats will overreach, enabling the GOP to gain seats in the 2014 midterms.)

Meanwhile, governors are dividing along traditional party lines. New York’s Andrew Cuomo and Maryland’s Martin O’Malley are diving in with both feet, while Virginia’s Bob McDonnell and Texas’s Rick Perry criticized the rush to use the school shooting to enact tougher gun laws. The exception in this case, and the one that proves the rule, is Biden. Gun control is fast on its way to becoming the first major issue of the 2016 presidential election.

As Jonathan wrote, Cuomo’s recent “state of the state” address was a liberal wish list designed to appeal to the Democratic Party’s base, gun control included. O’Malley has been strongly signaling that he’ll make a run for the nomination as well. Biden will no doubt use his gun control commission–whatever the result–as evidence of the essential role he played in generating policy and legislation from the Obama White House. Democrats seem to genuinely want gun control on their resume as they bid for national office. But should they?

If history is any guide, no. There’s a reason Republicans and pro-gun rights Democrats don’t seem too concerned by the fact that even the White House has elevated this issue now to take advantage of the headlines and public sympathy generated in the wake of the Newtown massacre. As Mark Blumenthal wrote before the Sandy Hook tragedy, reminding readers of the post-Columbine trend in public opposition to stricter gun control:

The post-Columbine bump had faded about a year later, and support for stricter gun laws remained roughly constant over the next eight years. Following the 2008 election, however, support for stricter gun laws dropped off considerably. By April 2010, Pew Research found more Americans placing greater importance on protecting the rights of gun owners (49 percent) than on restricting gun ownership (45 percent).

The one wild card here is how long the issue is kept in the news. If high-profile Democrats and 2016 contenders keep the issue in the headlines, they might think they can also keep up public outrage at the dangers of gun ownership. But it’s easy to imagine that the opposite might be true. When leftists say they want to “have a conversation” about guns, what they mean is they want a monologue. We’ve been having a national conversation about guns for quite some time, and it’s awfully clear the left is losing the argument in a rout. The way mass shootings fade from the public’s attention over time–as does all news–probably insulates Democrats from putting forward unpopular legislation.

And President Obama might very well have agreed, believing he could put Biden’s name on a commission and then blame Republicans if nothing came from the recommendations, covering his left flank and avoiding antagonizing the right. Governors, meanwhile, had it (politically) easier: they could have avoided taking up the issue entirely, since most of the fuss was focused on Congress.

Biden may simply take an “I tried” tack with regard to the issue, allowing his time on the commission to prevent him from having to lurch to his left on guns in a Democratic primary season. In the YouTube age, however, it’s getting more and more difficult for politicians to bounce back to the center after appealing to their party’s base in the primaries. Rick Perry and Bob McDonnell are far from sure things to enter the 2016 race, but their comments are indicative of the fact that GOP contenders now probably think they’d enter a 2016 general election having been spotted a few points by a clumsy and overeager opponent.

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Is Ted Cruz Running for President?

Marco Rubio may not be the only Cuban-American thinking about the 2016 Republican presidential contest. Ted Cruz is weeks away from being sworn into the U.S. Senate seat he won last month, but the Texas Tea Party favorite is already starting to fuel speculation that he is thinking about the White House. Politico’s coverage of a Cruz speech this week in Washington takes the position that the incoming freshman senator from Texas’s bold assertion of conservative principles may mean that he’s got bigger things on his mind than getting acclimated to the upper chamber.

To say that he may be getting ahead of himself is fairly obvious. Cruz has yet to demonstrate that he can be a force on the national stage. And even if he does become a leading voice for conservatives, he’ll have plenty of competition with names like Rubio, Chris Christie, Paul Ryan, Bobby Jindal, Rand Paul and Jeb Bush, just to name the most prominent possible nominees. However, no one should be laughing at Cruz’s pretensions if indeed he really is already thinking big. As a landslide winner in the nation’s most important red state, the affection of the party’s conservative base and a Hispanic identity, a Cruz candidacy must almost by definition be considered a likely first-tier candidate in GOP primaries. But even if Cruz still has a long way to go before he can think about an elite status, Republicans ought to think about what such a development would mean for their party.

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Marco Rubio may not be the only Cuban-American thinking about the 2016 Republican presidential contest. Ted Cruz is weeks away from being sworn into the U.S. Senate seat he won last month, but the Texas Tea Party favorite is already starting to fuel speculation that he is thinking about the White House. Politico’s coverage of a Cruz speech this week in Washington takes the position that the incoming freshman senator from Texas’s bold assertion of conservative principles may mean that he’s got bigger things on his mind than getting acclimated to the upper chamber.

To say that he may be getting ahead of himself is fairly obvious. Cruz has yet to demonstrate that he can be a force on the national stage. And even if he does become a leading voice for conservatives, he’ll have plenty of competition with names like Rubio, Chris Christie, Paul Ryan, Bobby Jindal, Rand Paul and Jeb Bush, just to name the most prominent possible nominees. However, no one should be laughing at Cruz’s pretensions if indeed he really is already thinking big. As a landslide winner in the nation’s most important red state, the affection of the party’s conservative base and a Hispanic identity, a Cruz candidacy must almost by definition be considered a likely first-tier candidate in GOP primaries. But even if Cruz still has a long way to go before he can think about an elite status, Republicans ought to think about what such a development would mean for their party.

As Rick Perry’s abortive presidential candidacy showed, the reality of Republican politics in our era means that any prominent Texas Republican is always going to have a leg up. Perry was great at raising money and could have cruised to the nomination on the strength of strong support from Tea Partiers and religious conservatives had he not proved himself to be over his head in the debates.

Cruz appears to be far more articulate than Perry and could fit into an important niche as being far closer to the Tea Party base than any of the more prominent GOP names that are being mentioned for 2016. As the son of a Cuban immigrant, he also satisfies the perceived Republican need to appeal to Hispanics.

As for his lack of experience, it’s not clear that will be much of an advantage. Though Republicans tend to look at this subject more than Democrats, in 2016 Cruz would have as much time in federal office as Barack Obama had in 2008.

Though it’s not easy for any freshman senator to make a splash, the fiscal cliff negotiations could give him an opening if he winds up being one of the leaders of a Tea Party insurgency against a budget deal. That would not endear him to party leaders, but it could earn him a national reputation and solidify his status as one of the leading conservative voices in Congress.

Nevertheless, any craze for Cruz is premature. Unlike Obama, who had a star turn at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, all of Cruz’s triumphs have been in Texas, which leaves him open to skeptics who wonder if he is as unready for prime time as Perry was.

It should also be pointed out that unlike Rubio and most of the other major GOP contenders, Cruz’s stands on foreign and defense issues have been closer to that of isolationist Rand Paul than the Republican mainstream.

One interesting note about Cruz is that if he does run, his Cuban ancestry isn’t the only thing he’ll have in common with Rubio. Since Cruz was born in Canada it could feed the conspiracy theorists that have developed some original, if absurd ideas about who is eligible for the presidency. Like George Romney and John McCain, Cruz was not born in the United States. But since his mother was an American, he must still be considered a natural born citizen. But expect some who have questioned Rubio’s eligibility (although the Florida senator was born in the United States, his parents were not yet citizens) to probably play the same with Cruz.

To talk of Cruz as a presidential contender right now is a little silly. A lot can change in the next three years and we have no idea what issues or candidates will come to the fore by then. But the interest in the Texan should remind observers that any notion that the field for 2016 is already set is nonsense. 

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Dominance of GOP Governors Continues

Conservatives still reeling from the presidential election and the loss of some very winnable Senate seats can take comfort in a rather significant consolation prize: Republicans now control 30 governorships for the first time in more than a decade. The victory in North Carolina was particularly sweet for Republicans. But on a more fundamental level, the right has swamped the country with conservative reform-minded governors, and this success is not geographically constrained: such conservatives are at the helm in New Jersey, Wisconsin, Louisiana, New Mexico, and even Michigan.

In the last couple of years, out of power in the White House and stymied in Congress by Harry Reid–so enamored of grinding business to a halt that he’s refused to pass a budget for going on three years–conservative governors have led the charge. Though Virginia voters went for Barack Obama both in 2008 and 2012, they elected Bob McDonnell, a Republican, governor. And we can’t forget Texas Governor Rick Perry, who despite having a rough go in the presidential primary debates has presided over a state that has become a laboratory of conservative reform: tort reform, prison reform, education reform (ultimately blocked by the Democrats). Just how dominant is the GOP at the state level? U.S. News & World Report has this reaction from the Democrats:

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Conservatives still reeling from the presidential election and the loss of some very winnable Senate seats can take comfort in a rather significant consolation prize: Republicans now control 30 governorships for the first time in more than a decade. The victory in North Carolina was particularly sweet for Republicans. But on a more fundamental level, the right has swamped the country with conservative reform-minded governors, and this success is not geographically constrained: such conservatives are at the helm in New Jersey, Wisconsin, Louisiana, New Mexico, and even Michigan.

In the last couple of years, out of power in the White House and stymied in Congress by Harry Reid–so enamored of grinding business to a halt that he’s refused to pass a budget for going on three years–conservative governors have led the charge. Though Virginia voters went for Barack Obama both in 2008 and 2012, they elected Bob McDonnell, a Republican, governor. And we can’t forget Texas Governor Rick Perry, who despite having a rough go in the presidential primary debates has presided over a state that has become a laboratory of conservative reform: tort reform, prison reform, education reform (ultimately blocked by the Democrats). Just how dominant is the GOP at the state level? U.S. News & World Report has this reaction from the Democrats:

But while Republicans hailed their victory in North Carolina as a way forward to “four years of balanced budgets, limited taxes and economic growth,” critics argued that losses in several other contested states revealed fissures in the GOP strategy.

“Like Republicans’ failure to reclaim control of the Senate, 2012 presents a year of missed opportunities for the GOP in governors’ races,” a release from the Democratic Governors Association said.

That is the statement of someone at the wrong end of an election drubbing. The DGA’s response to the GOP’s election night success was that Republicans didn’t crush them quite as thoroughly as they could have. An unspinnable victory has got to alleviate at least some of the bitterness on the right for what was a terrible night on other fronts, especially the Senate.

It’s more significant, however, because of the way the GOP has utilized those governorships. Blue states used to elect liberal Republicans who would basically govern as the Democrats would. But that’s not the case with this (young) crop. Many on the right are thinking about the promising future of these governors in terms of a 2016 presidential run. But it’s also important for conservatives to keep reforming the states’ approaches to economic and education policy to help insulate them from the worst of the Obama economy’s doldrums and the consequences of the left’s decision to completely give up on education reform. One lesson for the GOP on Election Day was that candidates matter. When it comes to governors, the right appears to need no such reminder.

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Romney’s Lifeline: Debates Matter

Since early last week, the polls have been a string of bad news for Mitt Romney. Both in swing-state polls and in national ones, President Obama is pulling ahead. There may be some nuggets of good news in states like Colorado, but overall, in must-win states like Ohio, Virginia and Florida, things are looking dire for the Republican nominee. Is it time for Romney to radically alter his campaign or its strategy? Is he due for an ad-spending blitz to try to buoy his numbers going into the fall?

Last summer, pundits debated how long it would take Rick Perry to clinch the Republican nomination. Would he sweep every single primary? How long would it take before his opponents just threw in the towel? His peak was mid-September 2011 in the polls, when according to the Real Clear Politics average, he led the next-most popular candidate, Romney, by more than ten points. He had yet to participate in a debate. Perry’s record as governor of one of the most prosperous states in the union brought him to the lead, and unfortunately, Perry’s less-than-stellar performance in debates was what quickly undid his candidacy. By early October, his lead over Romney disappeared, and his popularity only continued to sharply decline until his withdrawal from the race in late January.

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Since early last week, the polls have been a string of bad news for Mitt Romney. Both in swing-state polls and in national ones, President Obama is pulling ahead. There may be some nuggets of good news in states like Colorado, but overall, in must-win states like Ohio, Virginia and Florida, things are looking dire for the Republican nominee. Is it time for Romney to radically alter his campaign or its strategy? Is he due for an ad-spending blitz to try to buoy his numbers going into the fall?

Last summer, pundits debated how long it would take Rick Perry to clinch the Republican nomination. Would he sweep every single primary? How long would it take before his opponents just threw in the towel? His peak was mid-September 2011 in the polls, when according to the Real Clear Politics average, he led the next-most popular candidate, Romney, by more than ten points. He had yet to participate in a debate. Perry’s record as governor of one of the most prosperous states in the union brought him to the lead, and unfortunately, Perry’s less-than-stellar performance in debates was what quickly undid his candidacy. By early October, his lead over Romney disappeared, and his popularity only continued to sharply decline until his withdrawal from the race in late January.

There were two defining moments for Perry in the debate cycle. In his premier debate on September 7, Perry came off as far too aggressive in his efforts to be heard above the seven other voices on stage. A few days later, polls began to register the response to the debate and his numbers sank even with Romney’s. The second moment was so painful I muted the television as it was unfolding live. In a debate on November 9, Perry struggled to name all of the governmental agencies he would cut as president and, after he realized he couldn’t, he ended by saying “Oops!” On that debate performance Alana wrote,

A presidential contender forgetting the name of an agency he wants to cut is pretty awful, but momentary memory lapses happen. But as you can see, there were so many escape hatches that other politicians – smoother communicators – would have taken. Perry should have dropped the issue when Paul gave him a chance, moved on, changed the subject and tried to recover. Instead, he stood onstage for almost a full, excruciating minute, fumbling for an answer that never came to him.

If all Perry lacked was substance, he might still be polling in the double digits right now. Look at Herman Cain. Perry’s big problem is that he also lacks style. And in today’s media and political culture, that’s unforgivable.

After that November 9 debate, Perry lost any hope of regaining momentum, and soon he was an afterthought in discussions about the primary in the media. While few people were watching these endless strings of debates, the buzz after them permeated the consciousness of Republican voters. Tales of Perry’s poor debate performance impacted the perception of voters who weren’t even bothering to tune in yet, and soon Newt Gingrich rose on the back of his strong debate performances. Gingrich’s poor campaigning and checkered past couldn’t keep him in the running, but for a brief time in both December and January, he gave Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum a run for their money. Before Perry’s star took off, Tim Pawlenty saw the end of his campaign based on one moment in an early debate: his refusal to call ObamaCare “ObamneyCare” — tying Romney’s healthcare program in Massachusetts while he was governor to ObamaCare. Pawlenty’s nice guy moment put the end to his consideration as a serious contender for the nomination.

The first of three scheduled presidential debates comes in a little over a week. Historically, presidential debates have been unable to move the needle in favor of a candidate; generally the only way a candidate’s future has been decided is through a gaffe. While Romney’s numbers aren’t solid going into them, strong showings in the debates could help turn his campaign around, giving him the buzz necessary to get a boost among voters. Romney’s campaign isn’t failing, but it isn’t going to get him over the finish line first either. Totally revamping his campaign will only show signs of desperation and will surely fail to give the candidate a meaningful jump among voters. Only one thing can save Romney: himself.

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Gingrich: I’m Not Going Anywhere

Via the Washington Examiner, Newt Gingrich declines to take the National Review’s friendly advice to drop out of the race and endorse Rick Santorum:

“The National Review wanted me to drop out in June,” Gingrich said to reporters last night, calling such speculation, “silly.”

“You guys go around and pick up the same people that said that I was dead in June, that said that I was dead after Iowa, you know, twice I lead in the Gallup poll, ok?” Gingrich said.

Gingrich said that he had no plans to drop out before Super Tuesday and boasted that his campaign was still competitive.

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Via the Washington Examiner, Newt Gingrich declines to take the National Review’s friendly advice to drop out of the race and endorse Rick Santorum:

“The National Review wanted me to drop out in June,” Gingrich said to reporters last night, calling such speculation, “silly.”

“You guys go around and pick up the same people that said that I was dead in June, that said that I was dead after Iowa, you know, twice I lead in the Gallup poll, ok?” Gingrich said.

Gingrich said that he had no plans to drop out before Super Tuesday and boasted that his campaign was still competitive.

First of all, I don’t remember the National Review calling on Gingrich to drop out last June, and a quick search of the website didn’t bring one up. So if you know which NR piece Gingrich is referring to, please send it my way.

But Gingrich is absolutely correct on one point here. He was pronounced dead by the media twice, only to rise again. And as farfetched as it might seem at the moment, it could absolutely happen again.

The thing is, even if Newt manages to pull off another comeback, it’s not going to last. At some point he’ll crash back down. He has too much baggage, too many enemies, and not enough discipline. Just to take one example, here’s what Gingrich said about Rick Santorum and Rick Perry when he was leading the field in South Carolina last month:

“If we win on Saturday, I think I will be the nominee,” Gingrich said during a town hall meeting with voters here. “I’m the only conservative who realistically has a chance to be the nominee.”

“So any vote for [Rick] Santorum or [Rick] Perry, in effect, is a vote to allow Romney to become the nominee, because we’ve got to bring conservatives together in order to stop him,” Gingrich said.

With Santorum now leading Gingrich in primary victories, it’s now clear Santorum has a much more realistic chance to win the nomination than Gingrich does. If nominating a conservative is Newt’s main goal, as he claimed last month, then – by his own standards – shouldn’t he drop out and pave the way for Santorum? You would think. But then, Gingrich’s standards always seem to be things that only apply to other people – never to him.

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They Didn’t Do Perry Any Favors

It appears that CNN is waving its rules about qualifications to allow Rick Perry to take part in next Thursday’s debate in South Carolina. The network had said candidates would have had to place in the top four in either Iowa or New Hampshire and then register at least 7 percent in either national or South Carolina polls conducted in January. After flopping in Iowa and not even competing in New Hampshire, Perry doesn’t meet any of those criteria.

So in order to squeeze Perry into their debate, CNN Washington bureau chief Sam Feist decided to average three polls, two of which had Perry below the 7 percent mark. Exactly why the network felt compelled to do him a favor is not clear, but whatever its motivation, Perry will get one last chance to make his case to South Carolinians two days before the primary that will probably seal his fate as a presidential candidate. But given the fact that Perry’s decline is directly related to his debate performances, one wonders why, other than the humiliation of being excluded, he would care about getting into the CNN debate.

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It appears that CNN is waving its rules about qualifications to allow Rick Perry to take part in next Thursday’s debate in South Carolina. The network had said candidates would have had to place in the top four in either Iowa or New Hampshire and then register at least 7 percent in either national or South Carolina polls conducted in January. After flopping in Iowa and not even competing in New Hampshire, Perry doesn’t meet any of those criteria.

So in order to squeeze Perry into their debate, CNN Washington bureau chief Sam Feist decided to average three polls, two of which had Perry below the 7 percent mark. Exactly why the network felt compelled to do him a favor is not clear, but whatever its motivation, Perry will get one last chance to make his case to South Carolinians two days before the primary that will probably seal his fate as a presidential candidate. But given the fact that Perry’s decline is directly related to his debate performances, one wonders why, other than the humiliation of being excluded, he would care about getting into the CNN debate.

This does raise a great “what if” about a campaign that must be considered the most spectacular failure of this election cycle.

What if the GOP contest had not been dominated by a series of debates that became America’s favorite political reality TV series? What if the debates hadn’t started until a month or so before Iowa and then only  two or three? Before the debates, he seemed a sure-fire frontrunner, garnering the support of various conservative constituencies. There’s no way of answering such counter-factual queries with any degree of certainty, but there’s little doubt the repeated exposure of Perry under the television lights destroyed his hopes. His “oops” moment and other gaffes gave the country the impression he was something of a dolt. That may have been a little unfair but, looking back, his avoidance of debates during his races in Texas should have told those of us who took his frontrunner reputation at face value something about his ability to survive the presidential gauntlet.

Breaking the rules to get him into the last dance before South Carolina is a courtesy that is perhaps due to a sitting governor of Texas though it is bound to infuriate Buddy Roemer, who has been kept out of the debates because of his own inability to meet their criteria. But perhaps the best favor anyone could have done Rick Perry was to exclude him from all of the debates.

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“Vulture Capitalism” Attack Ripped from Pat Buchanan’s ’92 Playbook

Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry are continuing to slam Mitt Romney for “vulture capitalism,” a phrase that NBC reports was “newly-minted” by Perry. Actually, it turns out that the phrase isn’t really that new – and this isn’t even the first time a GOP candidate has used it to attack a primary rival.

In 1992, Pat Buchanan seized on the term in a fit of desperation, and used it to bludgeon frontrunner President George H.W. Bush in the days leading up to the New Hampshire primary. The Boston Globe reported on February 11, 1992:

Patrick Buchanan accused the Bush administration yesterday of promoting “vulture capitalism,” and called for a more compassionate conservatism that would consider human needs.

With time running out to make his case to New Hampshire voters before next Tuesday’s primary, Buchanan is pressing to personalize his appeal in new television ads that show him talking directly into the camera about his views and with campaign stops like the former residence of a supporter, Steve Embry, a victim of the recession.

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Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry are continuing to slam Mitt Romney for “vulture capitalism,” a phrase that NBC reports was “newly-minted” by Perry. Actually, it turns out that the phrase isn’t really that new – and this isn’t even the first time a GOP candidate has used it to attack a primary rival.

In 1992, Pat Buchanan seized on the term in a fit of desperation, and used it to bludgeon frontrunner President George H.W. Bush in the days leading up to the New Hampshire primary. The Boston Globe reported on February 11, 1992:

Patrick Buchanan accused the Bush administration yesterday of promoting “vulture capitalism,” and called for a more compassionate conservatism that would consider human needs.

With time running out to make his case to New Hampshire voters before next Tuesday’s primary, Buchanan is pressing to personalize his appeal in new television ads that show him talking directly into the camera about his views and with campaign stops like the former residence of a supporter, Steve Embry, a victim of the recession.

Buchanan’s popularity hit its peak during the New Hampshire primary. On February 16, 1992, The New York Times editorial page applauded his critique of capitalism, and argued that it led to his surge in the state:

He started his New Hampshire primary campaign intending to push President Bush back to old-time Republican religion. Then he came to New Hampshire, where businesses have failed in record numbers, unemployment in some towns has exceeded 20 percent and welfare rolls have swollen. Meet the new Patrick Buchanan.

Now the archconservative journalist campaigns by assailing “vulture capitalism.” Now the thundering apostle of free-market economics proclaims that “conservatism is about more than the constitutional right of big fishes to eat little fishes.” …

His conversion to this new-time religion may or may not be sincere. But it is paying dividends. Barely three weeks ago, President Bush seemed destined to bury Mr. Buchanan, who had never been elected to anything. Now with the election two days away, the President is scrambling to preserve a convincing margin of victory.

Unsurprisingly, conservatives dissented. On March 1, 1992, Charles Krauthammer wrote, in a masterful takedown of Buchanan, that the anti-capitalist sentiment was just one of the many symptoms of the candidate’s fascistic ideology:

Buchanan has converted to protectionism, i.e., government shutting markets in the name of the nation. And now the pretender to the throne of Ronald Reagan has gone beyond mere autarky to public denunciations of “vulture capitalism.”

This is Reaganism? Sounds more like Peronism. After a lifetime denouncing the left for letting government regulate the economy, Buchanan is a born-again economic populist, championing the shirtless ones against rapacious capitalism.

While Buchanan’s attacks on Bush aren’t identical to the current attacks on Romney, his dark portrayal of free market activity and use of left-wing rhetoric is remarkably similar. But Buchanan’s modest success didn’t continue on past the New Hampshire primary. And the current anti-capitalist rhetoric from some Republican candidates isn’t likely to get them very far either.

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Perry Won’t Give Up on South Carolina

Newt Gingrich is deflating in South Carolina, down 10 points from his 43-percent peak in early December. If that follows the trend from Iowa, Gingrich still has a way to go before he reaches his bottom. And those votes haven’t been picked up by any of the other candidates; they’re still sitting on the sidelines. With Michele Bachmann out of the race, and Gingrich and Rick Santorum low on funds and organization, Rick Perry may think he has an opening here:

A determined Rick Perry said Wednesday he will not abandon his presidential campaign despite a fifth-place finish in the Iowa caucuses.

“And the next leg of the marathon is the Palmetto State. … Here we come South Carolina!!!” the Texas governor wrote on his Twitter account.

Perry, an avid runner, attached a photo of himself jogging near a lake, wearing Texas A&M running shorts and showing a thumbs-up.

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Newt Gingrich is deflating in South Carolina, down 10 points from his 43-percent peak in early December. If that follows the trend from Iowa, Gingrich still has a way to go before he reaches his bottom. And those votes haven’t been picked up by any of the other candidates; they’re still sitting on the sidelines. With Michele Bachmann out of the race, and Gingrich and Rick Santorum low on funds and organization, Rick Perry may think he has an opening here:

A determined Rick Perry said Wednesday he will not abandon his presidential campaign despite a fifth-place finish in the Iowa caucuses.

“And the next leg of the marathon is the Palmetto State. … Here we come South Carolina!!!” the Texas governor wrote on his Twitter account.

Perry, an avid runner, attached a photo of himself jogging near a lake, wearing Texas A&M running shorts and showing a thumbs-up.

Then again, Perry’s stumping and ad money haven’t helped him reclaim his footing in South Carolina so far, so what’s making him think voters there will change their minds now? Bachmann’s support in the state isn’t substantial enough to matter much, even if Perry somehow managed to pick up all 7 percent of her voters.

But Perry’s decision will definitely make things more difficult for Santorum, by splitting the social conservative vote. The two will be competing for the same supporters, and Perry’s cash advantage, infrastructure, and connections in the state mean Santorum will have to a lot to catch up on. In the end, a drawn-out fight for the social conservative vote may actually help propel Mitt Romney to victory this way – an interesting possibility, considering the fact that many of Perry’s most adamant supporters are die-hard anti-Romney types.

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Winnowing the GOP Field

With just one day to go before the Iowa Republican caucus, the latest polls have led most observers to expect that there will be two big winners: Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum. But even if that turns out to be true, the big question that needs to be answered Tuesday night is whether or not Iowa will start the process of winnowing the GOP field.

It is on that uncertainty the fate of the leaders may hinge. If we assume Santorum does finish strong or even win the caucus outright by, in effect, winning the mini-primary of evangelical and social conservative voters over rivals Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann, his ability to mount an effective challenge to Romney will in no small measure depend on the willingness of those two to hang on in the race. Romney has benefited from the inability of conservatives to conclusively settle on a single “not Romney” candidate and looks to be in a strong position to cruise to the nomination no matter what the others do. If Bachmann and/or Perry were to quickly exit after poor showings, it might give Santorum a far better chance to give Romney a run for his money.

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With just one day to go before the Iowa Republican caucus, the latest polls have led most observers to expect that there will be two big winners: Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum. But even if that turns out to be true, the big question that needs to be answered Tuesday night is whether or not Iowa will start the process of winnowing the GOP field.

It is on that uncertainty the fate of the leaders may hinge. If we assume Santorum does finish strong or even win the caucus outright by, in effect, winning the mini-primary of evangelical and social conservative voters over rivals Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann, his ability to mount an effective challenge to Romney will in no small measure depend on the willingness of those two to hang on in the race. Romney has benefited from the inability of conservatives to conclusively settle on a single “not Romney” candidate and looks to be in a strong position to cruise to the nomination no matter what the others do. If Bachmann and/or Perry were to quickly exit after poor showings, it might give Santorum a far better chance to give Romney a run for his money.

If we are to assume that Santorum emerges from Iowa as the strongest conservative in the race, that ought to put him into position to take advantage of Romney’s weakness and to start chipping away at his lead in the other early primaries before mounting an all-out push on Super Tuesday and the later states. But Santorum, who up until just a couple of weeks ago was at the bottom of the heap, has little money on hand and only a rudimentary campaign organization outside of Iowa, where he concentrated all of his efforts.

A win in Iowa or even a top-three finish will enable Santorum to proclaim himself as the true conservative alternative to Romney, especially if, as expected, Newt Gingrich sinks to fourth or worse. But the only way for Santorum to take advantage of his well-timed late surge is for the other conservatives in the race to drop out.

So long as Perry and even Bachmann stay in to crowd the field, it will be impossible for Santorum to get the traction he needs to mount a credible challenge to the frontrunner.

If Santorum does well tomorrow night and especially if he somehow manages to ride his late momentum to an upset win, his money problems will be lessened if not completely solved. But Santorum’s ability to put himself forward as a potential nominee will be severely undermined if he is still struggling to compete for the social conservative vote against Perry, Bachmann or even Gingrich. The longer the second tier candidates stay in the better it will be for Romney.

On that score, there seems little reason for Santorum to be encouraged. Though her candidacy and campaign appears to have crashed in the one state where she had a fighting chance, Bachmann is talking as if she’s in denial about her dismal prospects and may wait to drop out. Perry has more than enough cash to continue and may think he will do better in southern states. He may decide to stick around until Super Tuesday in March, complicating a Santorum push to consolidate conservative support. As for Gingrich, even though his hopes appear to be as dismal as those of Bachmann and Perry, we must assume that if he didn’t drop out last summer, he won’t quit now, especially if he can continue to participate in debates.

In Santorum’s favor is the fact that the proportional vote rules will make it difficult, if not impossible, for one candidate to score an early knockout. That’s exactly what Romney will be aiming at if he can squeak out a win in Iowa that would almost certainly be followed by an expected easy victory in New Hampshire. The primary/caucus schedule was created in order to foster a long, drawn-out race, and that will be Santorum’s goal. But the longer it takes for Santorum to consolidate conservative support, the easier it will be for Romney to stay ahead of him.

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Perry’s Ignorance is Not a Virtue

ABC News reports Texas Governor Rick Perry admitted he didn’t know about the Supreme Court case Lawrence v. Texas, a case which struck down the state’s anti-sodomy law and similar laws in 13 others. The case was decided while Perry was governor, and he even wrote about it in his book Fed Up!, calling it one of the court cases in which “Texans have a different view of the world than do the nine oligarchs in robes.”

But in Iowa yesterday, Perry said, “I wish I could tell you I knew every Supreme Court case. I don’t, I’m not even going to try to go through every Supreme Court case, that would be — I’m not a lawyer.” He added, “We can sit here and you know play I gotcha questions on what about this Supreme Court case or whatever, but let me tell you, you know and I know that the problem in this country is spending in Washington, D.C., it’s not some Supreme Court case.”
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ABC News reports Texas Governor Rick Perry admitted he didn’t know about the Supreme Court case Lawrence v. Texas, a case which struck down the state’s anti-sodomy law and similar laws in 13 others. The case was decided while Perry was governor, and he even wrote about it in his book Fed Up!, calling it one of the court cases in which “Texans have a different view of the world than do the nine oligarchs in robes.”

But in Iowa yesterday, Perry said, “I wish I could tell you I knew every Supreme Court case. I don’t, I’m not even going to try to go through every Supreme Court case, that would be — I’m not a lawyer.” He added, “We can sit here and you know play I gotcha questions on what about this Supreme Court case or whatever, but let me tell you, you know and I know that the problem in this country is spending in Washington, D.C., it’s not some Supreme Court case.”

Asked by a columnist with the Austin American Statesman for clarification on whether he knew what the case was about, Perry responded, “I’m not taking the bar exam…I don’t know what a lot of legal cases involve.” When told that the Supreme Court case struck down the Texas sodomy law, Perry said, “My position on traditional marriage is clear…. I don’t need a federal law case to explain it to me.”

This episode illustrates why some of us are wary of those (like Perry and Herman Cain) who make a virtue of being outsiders and seemingly take pride in their ignorance, as if it’s proof of their outsider status.

To devalue the significance of “some Supreme Court case” is silly and unwise, to say nothing of being at odds with Perry’s own past statements. Lawrence v. Texas was hardly an obscure case, especially for a man who was serving as governor of Texas at the time. And to ask Perry to comment on the case hardly qualifies as a “gotcha question” (an all-purpose defense for people like Perry, Cain, and Sarah Palin).

I, for one, appreciate politicians who have actually done their homework before they run for president, who demonstrate intellectual curiosity and a command of the issues. Knowledge isn’t a substitute for wisdom, of course — but neither is knowledge antithetical to it. And Rick Perry has shown, time and time again, that he’s simply not prepared for a presidential run. This is one reason why he won’t win the GOP nomination.

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How Inevitable is Romney?

With just one week to go before the Iowa caucuses, uncertainty is the word that can best describe the situation in the Republican presidential race. The polls have been all over the place in recent months as one candidate after another took turns trying on the mantle of frontrunner. Newt Gingrich’s moment appears to have come and gone. The affections of the social conservative and Tea Party wings of the party are split between three candidates who can’t seem to shake each other. Libertarian Ron Paul is making a splash — largely on the strength on non-GOP voters — but revelations about his extremist connections and hate-filled newsletters may limit his chances at a first place finish. Which leaves us with the same guy whom the media anointed as the frontrunner back in the spring as the most likely to be nominated: Mitt Romney.

New York Times statistical analyst Nate Silver asks today whether it is possible for Romney to lose. The answer is yes he can, but the odds still favor him for the same reason they have the past few months: none of the alternatives turned out to be viable. A poor showing in Iowa would be a setback for Romney, but it is still difficult to construct a scenario by which any of his rivals can chart a path to the nomination. For all of his manifest flaws as a candidate and his inability to convince conservatives that he is one of them, it’s hard to envision Romney losing at this point.

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With just one week to go before the Iowa caucuses, uncertainty is the word that can best describe the situation in the Republican presidential race. The polls have been all over the place in recent months as one candidate after another took turns trying on the mantle of frontrunner. Newt Gingrich’s moment appears to have come and gone. The affections of the social conservative and Tea Party wings of the party are split between three candidates who can’t seem to shake each other. Libertarian Ron Paul is making a splash — largely on the strength on non-GOP voters — but revelations about his extremist connections and hate-filled newsletters may limit his chances at a first place finish. Which leaves us with the same guy whom the media anointed as the frontrunner back in the spring as the most likely to be nominated: Mitt Romney.

New York Times statistical analyst Nate Silver asks today whether it is possible for Romney to lose. The answer is yes he can, but the odds still favor him for the same reason they have the past few months: none of the alternatives turned out to be viable. A poor showing in Iowa would be a setback for Romney, but it is still difficult to construct a scenario by which any of his rivals can chart a path to the nomination. For all of his manifest flaws as a candidate and his inability to convince conservatives that he is one of them, it’s hard to envision Romney losing at this point.

The worst-case scenario for Romney in Iowa would be for Newt Gingrich to finish first there. Such an outcome would undermine Romney’s argument for inevitability and give Gingrich momentum going into New Hampshire and South Carolina, the one state that the former speaker must win. But with Gingrich sinking in the polls as voters come to grips with his record, the next most likely first place finisher is someone who presents no long term threat to Romney: Ron Paul. Though a Paul victory would be embarrassing for Republicans and diminish the reputation of the Iowa caucus itself, the chances of the Texas congressman getting the nomination are nil.

The other possibility in Iowa is that one of the current members of the second tier was to pull off a last-minute upset victory. Given the volatility of the polls and the nature of the caucus, that is also not an impossible dream. Both Rick Santorum, who has shown some life after months of hard work in the state and Michele Bachmann, who won the Iowa Straw Poll back in August, have some ardent supporters, but they’re essentially competing for the same votes which may make it impossible for either to break through.

More intriguing is the possibility that Rick Perry, the third member of the conservative troika in Iowa, could somehow catch lightening in a bottle and vault to the top. A Perry win in Iowa could turn the race around and give him back some of the luster he lost virtually every time he opened his mouth in the GOP debates. But since he, too, is competing for the same voters as Santorum and Bachmann, it’s hard to see how he can do it. While it is not out of the question one of the three could ride a last-minute surge into third place all that would accomplish would be to prolong their campaigns. It would take a win in Iowa to make Republicans believe in any one of them, and that’s a long shot at best.

Which leaves us with just one more scenario: a Romney victory in Iowa. Silver estimates that the range of possible outcomes in the Hawkeye state for Romney to be from a high of 36 percent of the vote to a low of 8 percent. But the chances of him getting closer to the higher number are far greater than a lesser result. In the final days, enough Republicans may decide that voting for a loose cannon (Gingrich) or an extremist (Paul) is not the way to beat Barack Obama while the social conservative vote is split three ways. A Romney win in Iowa would not completely end the race before it has hardly begun, but it would take a lot of the mystery out of what would follow.

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Elder Bush Makes Elite’s Choice Official

I’ve always been of the opinion that the idea there is such a thing as a Republican “establishment” is something of a myth. The GOP hasn’t really had anything approximating a ruling elite since conservatives nominated Barry Goldwater and booed Nelson Rockefeller off the stage at the 1964 Republican National Convention in San Francisco. The idea that Wall Street honchos or intellectuals running national magazines have any power over Republican voters and the party apparatus is based on a misunderstanding of how contemporary American politics works. The only thing that approximates an establishment is the family who produced two U.S. presidents during the course of a 20-year period encompassing the end of the last century and the beginning of the current one: the Bushes.

So the announcement yesterday that the elder George Bush is endorsing Mitt Romney comes as close as anything can to verifying one of the media’s favorite clichés about the Republican establishment’s role in the 2012 race. Given this mythical establishment’s lack of actual power and the resentment that the mere idea of its existence can conjure up among the party’s grass roots, it is doubtful the 41st president’s seal of approval will help Romney all that much. But what the Bush statement does do is make it clear exactly whom the GOP’s royal family doesn’t like: Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry.

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I’ve always been of the opinion that the idea there is such a thing as a Republican “establishment” is something of a myth. The GOP hasn’t really had anything approximating a ruling elite since conservatives nominated Barry Goldwater and booed Nelson Rockefeller off the stage at the 1964 Republican National Convention in San Francisco. The idea that Wall Street honchos or intellectuals running national magazines have any power over Republican voters and the party apparatus is based on a misunderstanding of how contemporary American politics works. The only thing that approximates an establishment is the family who produced two U.S. presidents during the course of a 20-year period encompassing the end of the last century and the beginning of the current one: the Bushes.

So the announcement yesterday that the elder George Bush is endorsing Mitt Romney comes as close as anything can to verifying one of the media’s favorite clichés about the Republican establishment’s role in the 2012 race. Given this mythical establishment’s lack of actual power and the resentment that the mere idea of its existence can conjure up among the party’s grass roots, it is doubtful the 41st president’s seal of approval will help Romney all that much. But what the Bush statement does do is make it clear exactly whom the GOP’s royal family doesn’t like: Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry.

When President Bush praised Romney as someone who wasn’t a “bomb thrower,” it’s not exactly a secret that he was thinking about Newt Gingrich. Bush and other GOP moderates disdained Gingrich as a radical troublemaker during the Reagan administration and considered his scorched earth tactics as House Minority Leader during the first Bush presidency to be contemptible.

Though Bush also said that he “liked” Rick Perry, the blood feud between the Texas governor and his son’s political camp is also no secret. Had there been any affinity between Perry and the Bushes, the latter might have avoided any endorsements.

It is doubtful any endorsement these days carries all that much weight. Bush 41 had a similar profile to Romney during his political career. Like Romney, Bush came from wealth, flip-flopped on abortion and was unreliable on the key economic issue of his day (substitute his “read my lips” switch on raising taxes for Romneycare). So it’s not likely that Tea Partiers and social conservatives, most of whom never had much use for George W. Bush’s father in the first place, will be swayed by his support for Romney.

But in the context of a crowded GOP field with a gaggle of unsatisfactory candidates vying for the affections of a limited universe of social conservative voters, Romney can survive the unflattering comparison. Yet if Bush 41’s seal of approval does help convince some wavering middle-of-the-road Republicans and moderate conservatives to forget about Gingrich or Perry and go with the more electable Romney, it won’t hurt him.

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The Iowa Evangelical Primary

Many Republicans have spent the last several months grousing that they don’t like the choices available to them in their party’s presidential contest. But if the polls are correct, it may be that one core GOP constituency has a completely different problem: they have too many appealing choices.

The ability of Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum to stay in the race though all are trailing badly in both polls of likely Iowa caucus-goers and national surveys is that each has managed to hold onto a loyal cadre of social conservatives. They are very different in their backgrounds, personalities and governing styles. But they share a devotion to social issues such as opposition to abortion, and the success of their candidacies depend on their ability to capture the lion’s share of the evangelical voters who propelled Mike Huckabee to an upset win in Iowa four years ago. They also share a problem: with all three hanging on, it is becoming increasingly apparent they will cancel each other out and ensure the victory of a Republican who doesn’t share their social passions.

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Many Republicans have spent the last several months grousing that they don’t like the choices available to them in their party’s presidential contest. But if the polls are correct, it may be that one core GOP constituency has a completely different problem: they have too many appealing choices.

The ability of Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum to stay in the race though all are trailing badly in both polls of likely Iowa caucus-goers and national surveys is that each has managed to hold onto a loyal cadre of social conservatives. They are very different in their backgrounds, personalities and governing styles. But they share a devotion to social issues such as opposition to abortion, and the success of their candidacies depend on their ability to capture the lion’s share of the evangelical voters who propelled Mike Huckabee to an upset win in Iowa four years ago. They also share a problem: with all three hanging on, it is becoming increasingly apparent they will cancel each other out and ensure the victory of a Republican who doesn’t share their social passions.

That is what caused the Family Leader’s Bob Vander Plaats to call all three this past weekend to ask them to consider forming a joint ticket with one of the others in this evangelical primary rather than seeing them go down fighting together on Jan. 3. Vander Plaats and Chuck Hurley, of the Iowa Family Policy Center, wound up endorsing Santorum, a move that gave his flagging hopes a well-timed boost. But the message behind that futile appeal for unity on the right was not lost. It’s become clear that in the absence of a last minute withdrawal by one of the three, the opportunity for another Huckabee-style win for social conservatives is going to be lost.

That’s good news for the others in the race, especially Mitt Romney. With Newt Gingrich fading in no small measure due to his inability to close the sale with religious Christians, Romney may be left with only extremist libertarian Ron Paul as the competition for the top spot in Iowa. That won’t please social conservatives who have never warmed to the former Massachusetts governor. But with Perry, Bachmann and Santorum dividing approximately a quarter of Republicans between them, there doesn’t seem to be any way for any of the three to break and win.

Back in August when she took the Iowa Straw Poll, Bachmann seemed to have a stranglehold on the social conservative vote in the state where she was born. But the emergence of Perry took the wind out of her sails and she never recovered. Perry’s disastrous debate performances made his stay in the frontrunner’s seat brief, but his good humor has allowed him to retain enough support to hang on. Santorum has been working hard in Iowa, but up until the last week he has gotten little traction.

But for all of the gnashing of teeth among social conservatives about a missed opportunity, no one should think that there was a path to the nomination for any of these three even if two of them were to drop out right now. If, as Vander Plaats desired, only one of them were to be running in the caucus, that candidate would have, as Huckabee did, an excellent chance of taking first place with less than 30 percent of the vote.

But everything we know about Perry, Bachmann and Santorum tells us that even if one of them were to win in Iowa, it would be difficult, if not impossible, for them to parlay that into the national momentum needed to win the Super Tuesday and later primary states. Had he not opened his mouth too often during the debates and convinced most of the country that he was a fool, Perry had the resume and the ability mobilize southern and western conservatives in order to be the GOP nominee. But contrary to those predicting a revival for his hopes, that ship sailed even before Perry said “oops” about his famous memory lapse.

As for Bachmann and Santorum, though each has strengths, neither has mainstream appeal. Like Huckabee, an Iowa victory for either would be a case of one and done.

That leaves the outcome of the evangelical primary in Iowa to be something of an academic exercise. One of the trio might get enough votes to sneak into the top three and claim a victory of sorts. But no matter which of them gets the most votes, evangelicals will remember this year’s Iowa caucus as a case of an abundance of choices that ensured their influence would not be decisive.

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What Was Perry Supposed to Do?

Here is what accusations of racism in America have come to. According to a column by Jonathan Capehart in this morning’s Washington Post, Rick Perry is “associated” with a hunting camp “widely known” as Niggerhead — he “had no problem” with it, you see — and that is “beyond troubling.” End of his candidacy. End of his respectability.

True, there is no evidence at all — none whatever — that Perry ever used the term, ever referred to the camp by it, ever spoke the word aloud, or ever did anything other than painting over the name and laying flat the rock on which it appeared. You might think the efforts to obscure the name suggest that Perry did have a problem with it. You’d be wrong. To be contaminated with racism, all Perry needs is to be “associated” with a name that doesn’t even appear on U.S. topographic maps.

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Here is what accusations of racism in America have come to. According to a column by Jonathan Capehart in this morning’s Washington Post, Rick Perry is “associated” with a hunting camp “widely known” as Niggerhead — he “had no problem” with it, you see — and that is “beyond troubling.” End of his candidacy. End of his respectability.

True, there is no evidence at all — none whatever — that Perry ever used the term, ever referred to the camp by it, ever spoke the word aloud, or ever did anything other than painting over the name and laying flat the rock on which it appeared. You might think the efforts to obscure the name suggest that Perry did have a problem with it. You’d be wrong. To be contaminated with racism, all Perry needs is to be “associated” with a name that doesn’t even appear on U.S. topographic maps.

No journalist can write like Capehart and be taken seriously. The first responsibility of a writer is to be as clear and exacting as possible. Capehart, though, intentionally resorts to vagueness, because he knows for a fact he cannot specify the nature of Perry’s offense. Perry did not name the camp, he did not own the camp, and he cannot travel back in time to change the name before his family leased it. The most Capehart can charge Perry with is being “associated” with the name, although he never takes the trouble to spell out exactly what that means or why it is so terrible. If it is found that Perry once borrowed a copy of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn from the Cushing Library at Texas A&M University, is he then “associated” with Mark Twain’s use of the word nigger throughout the book?

The truth is Capehart’s irresponsibility is far worse than anything Perry is accused of. If nothing else, Capehart forgives himself from asking the basic question. What exactly was Perry supposed to do? To ask the question, though, is to answer it. Short of repudiating his father for signing the lease and refusing ever to step foot on the property — easy things to ask of someone else — there is nothing more Perry could have done. When a journalist avoids asking a question out of fear the answer will sink his story, he has crossed the line and become a propagandist.

“[I]t is crucial that Perry address the issue forthrightly,” Capehart huffs — but the truth is he owes an explanation to the readers of the Post. And an apology to Rick Perry.

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