Commentary Magazine


Topic: Rick Perry

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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Bad Day at Racist Rock

I am still trying to figure out why the “news” that Rick Perry’s father once held a deer lease on a 1,700-acre hunting camp known to locals as “Niggerhead” is a national story. By the Washington Post’s own account, “the name does not appear on U.S. topographic maps” and could not be found “in a database maintained by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names.” No one can remember Perry’s using the name, although it was evidently painted on a five-foot-by-three-foot rock beside the entrance to the camp. When he was a state legislator in the mid- to late-1980s, according to the Post, Perry “began hosting spring turkey shoots and other hunts for supporters and fellow legislators.” By then, however, the name had been painted over and the rock turned flat. On that score, pretty much everyone is in agreement.

Nevertheless, Gawker was “not surprised” to learn about “Perry’s old hunting ground.” The Huffington Post raised the inevitable question whether Perry is “racially insensitive.” The Village Voice chortled that “the phrase ‘Niggerhead’ will now always be associated with the Perry campaign,” and ran a photo with a caption that was far more “racially insensitive” than anything Perry is accused of.

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I am still trying to figure out why the “news” that Rick Perry’s father once held a deer lease on a 1,700-acre hunting camp known to locals as “Niggerhead” is a national story. By the Washington Post’s own account, “the name does not appear on U.S. topographic maps” and could not be found “in a database maintained by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names.” No one can remember Perry’s using the name, although it was evidently painted on a five-foot-by-three-foot rock beside the entrance to the camp. When he was a state legislator in the mid- to late-1980s, according to the Post, Perry “began hosting spring turkey shoots and other hunts for supporters and fellow legislators.” By then, however, the name had been painted over and the rock turned flat. On that score, pretty much everyone is in agreement.

Nevertheless, Gawker was “not surprised” to learn about “Perry’s old hunting ground.” The Huffington Post raised the inevitable question whether Perry is “racially insensitive.” The Village Voice chortled that “the phrase ‘Niggerhead’ will now always be associated with the Perry campaign,” and ran a photo with a caption that was far more “racially insensitive” than anything Perry is accused of.

Even Perry’s rivals for the Republican presidential nomination piled on. Herman Cain said Perry showed a “lack of sensitivity.” Mitt Romney told Sean Hannity the name is “offensive.”

I am still trying to figure out what Perry was supposed to do. Rebuke his father for signing the original lease? Refuse to have anything to do with the place? The Perry family did not own the hunting camp and could not “rename” it by some kind of magical authority, as Cain and others are suggesting. Nor is there any evidence Perry or his father even referred to the camp by that name. That others did so, and that the Perrys did not take some unspecified action to stop them, are sufficient grounds for insinuating racism, I guess.

The whole episode reminds me of The Catcher in the Rye. Holden Caulfield, the phoniness-sniffing hero, sees “F–k you” written on a wall and tries to rub it out with his hand. It won’t come off. “If you had a million years to do it in,” he says in resignation, “you couldn’t rub out even half the ‘F–k you’ signs in the world.” All Holden succeeded in doing was to earn a reputation for “profanity” and “obscenity.”

American culture has become so hypersensitive to certain offensive words, spotted in isolation like rare birds, that all feeling for language, all sense of moral proportion, is being lost.

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Republicans and the Hispanic Vote

Rep. Lamar Smith gets it partially right when he touts the election of Hispanic Republican candidates and of non-Hispanic pro-border-enforcement Republicans with the help of a significant number of Hispanic voters. “Exit polls reported by CNN and updated this week reveal that a historically robust 38 percent of Hispanic voters cast ballots for House Republican candidates in 2010 — more than in 2006 (30 percent) and 2008 (29 percent).” He observes:

Univision anchor Jorge Ramos, one of the most trusted commentators on Spanish-language television, concluded that “the United States moved to the right, and Latino politicians did so too — among them, a new generation of Hispanic Republicans who support policies that are essentially opposed to the undocumented immigrants in this country.”

Who are these pro-rule-of-law Hispanic rising stars in the Republican Party? Voters elected Susana Martinez governor of New Mexico, Brian Sandoval governor of Nevada and Florida’s Marco Rubio to the U.S. Senate. Bill Flores, Francisco Canseco, Jaime Herrera, Raul Labrador and David Rivera went to the U.S. House of Representatives.

But we should add a couple of caveats. First, Smith notes that Gov. Jan Brewer got 28 percent of the vote, a good result, he suggests, since in 2006 the GOP candidate got 26 percent. Umm … I don’t think barely exceeding the vote totals for 2006, a wipe-out year for the Republicans, should be the goal for the GOP. (Moreover, the percentage of voters who are Hispanic has been increasing in each election, so Republicans will need to do better with each election if they are to retain that share of the general electorate.) And while Rick Perry got 38 percent of the Hispanic vote, he got 55 percent of the overall electorate, suggesting that a huge gap still remains in the GOP’s appeal to Hispanics.

Second, Smith ignores the real issues: tone, rhetoric, and position on legal immigration. Marco Rubio believes in border control, but his life story is built around the immigrant experience, and he eschews inflammatory language that has plagued Republicans like Tom Tancredo. As Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell pointed out to me a few years ago, if the Republicans want to continue to make progress among Hispanic voters, they need to object to the “illegal” part, not the “immigration” part, of the equation.

Smith is on solid ground with his conclusion:

On many of the most important issues of our day – jobs, education, support for small businesses and the economy – the Republican positions line up with Hispanic values. Republican approaches to better education, small businesses and job creation demonstrate that the GOP will put policy over politics when it comes to Hispanic outreach. The right way to attract Hispanic support is to emphasize our shared values.

Too often, Republicans assume that their positions are so intrinsically true that they need no explanation. Wrong. If they want to attract a growing portion of the electorate, they need to explain both that Republicans value Hispanics’ contributions and participation in American society and that school choice, low taxes, reasonable regulation, and other mainstays of the GOP agenda are the best avenue to upward mobility and progress for Hispanics, and for all Americans. Election of impressive candidates like Rubio, Gov. Susana Martinez, Gov. Brian Sandoval, and Reps. Bill Flores, Francisco Canseco, Jaime Herrera, Raul Labrador, and David Rivera is a good start but hardly sufficient.

Rep. Lamar Smith gets it partially right when he touts the election of Hispanic Republican candidates and of non-Hispanic pro-border-enforcement Republicans with the help of a significant number of Hispanic voters. “Exit polls reported by CNN and updated this week reveal that a historically robust 38 percent of Hispanic voters cast ballots for House Republican candidates in 2010 — more than in 2006 (30 percent) and 2008 (29 percent).” He observes:

Univision anchor Jorge Ramos, one of the most trusted commentators on Spanish-language television, concluded that “the United States moved to the right, and Latino politicians did so too — among them, a new generation of Hispanic Republicans who support policies that are essentially opposed to the undocumented immigrants in this country.”

Who are these pro-rule-of-law Hispanic rising stars in the Republican Party? Voters elected Susana Martinez governor of New Mexico, Brian Sandoval governor of Nevada and Florida’s Marco Rubio to the U.S. Senate. Bill Flores, Francisco Canseco, Jaime Herrera, Raul Labrador and David Rivera went to the U.S. House of Representatives.

But we should add a couple of caveats. First, Smith notes that Gov. Jan Brewer got 28 percent of the vote, a good result, he suggests, since in 2006 the GOP candidate got 26 percent. Umm … I don’t think barely exceeding the vote totals for 2006, a wipe-out year for the Republicans, should be the goal for the GOP. (Moreover, the percentage of voters who are Hispanic has been increasing in each election, so Republicans will need to do better with each election if they are to retain that share of the general electorate.) And while Rick Perry got 38 percent of the Hispanic vote, he got 55 percent of the overall electorate, suggesting that a huge gap still remains in the GOP’s appeal to Hispanics.

Second, Smith ignores the real issues: tone, rhetoric, and position on legal immigration. Marco Rubio believes in border control, but his life story is built around the immigrant experience, and he eschews inflammatory language that has plagued Republicans like Tom Tancredo. As Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell pointed out to me a few years ago, if the Republicans want to continue to make progress among Hispanic voters, they need to object to the “illegal” part, not the “immigration” part, of the equation.

Smith is on solid ground with his conclusion:

On many of the most important issues of our day – jobs, education, support for small businesses and the economy – the Republican positions line up with Hispanic values. Republican approaches to better education, small businesses and job creation demonstrate that the GOP will put policy over politics when it comes to Hispanic outreach. The right way to attract Hispanic support is to emphasize our shared values.

Too often, Republicans assume that their positions are so intrinsically true that they need no explanation. Wrong. If they want to attract a growing portion of the electorate, they need to explain both that Republicans value Hispanics’ contributions and participation in American society and that school choice, low taxes, reasonable regulation, and other mainstays of the GOP agenda are the best avenue to upward mobility and progress for Hispanics, and for all Americans. Election of impressive candidates like Rubio, Gov. Susana Martinez, Gov. Brian Sandoval, and Reps. Bill Flores, Francisco Canseco, Jaime Herrera, Raul Labrador, and David Rivera is a good start but hardly sufficient.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Never underestimate the ability of GOP candidates to turn off voters who should be their natural allies. “Clearly, Sharron Angle’s ad depicting dark-skinned figures violating U.S. immigration laws angered many Hispanic voters in Nevada, especially after she clumsily tried to claim they might have been Asian. Similarly, the presence of anti-immigration hardliner Tom Tancredo on Colorado’s ballot as the de facto Republican candidate for governor helped fuel Hispanic turnout.”

A lot of conservatives wish Chris Christie had abided by the “never say never” rule and left just a crack open for a 2012 run.  He has a “51-38 percent approval rating, higher than President Barack Obama or any other statewide leader, according to a Quinnipiac University poll.”

Never confuse Keith Olbermann for a journalist, says Michael Kinsley. “Does anyone doubt what Olbermann’s views are on politics in general and these races [in which he contributed to the Democrats] in particular? Most journalists try to suppress their biases — Olbermann gets paid to flaunt his biases.”

George W. Bush was never self-pitying or a buck-passer, writes Mark McKinnon. “Bush never complains. He never blames others. He takes full responsibility for his campaigns, his administration, his life. He accepts the cards he’s dealt. That’s the George Bush I know.” Get ready for the Bush nostalgia. (His approval rating is statistically identical to Obama’s. Says as much about Obama as it does Bush, huh?)

Never mind luring him to switch parties. The National Republican Senate Committee is already going after Joe Manchin.

Never think “no” means “no.” Rick Perry says he’s not running in 2012, but he sure is going after someone who certainly will be.

Never mess with Stephen Hayes. Especially if you don’t have your facts straight.

Never forget: in victory, minor spats tend to fade. “[Sen. Jim] DeMint is co-sponsoring an amendment [Sen. John] Cornyn plans to offer that would put the Senate GOPers on record in support of a constitutional amendment requiring the federal budget to be balanced and thereby force Congress to put the brakes on government spending and require a supermajority to raise taxes. … Funny, Cornyn and DeMint working together to stop earmarks, require a balanced budget and prevent future tax increases without a congressional supermajority. DeMint was the major force behind the Senate Conservative Fund that contributed mightily the victories of many of the incoming GOP senators, while Cornyn headed the Senate Republican Campaign Committee that made some moves earlier in the 2010 campaign that were strongly criticized by conservatives.” Victory tends to make pols magnanimous.

Never underestimate the ability of GOP candidates to turn off voters who should be their natural allies. “Clearly, Sharron Angle’s ad depicting dark-skinned figures violating U.S. immigration laws angered many Hispanic voters in Nevada, especially after she clumsily tried to claim they might have been Asian. Similarly, the presence of anti-immigration hardliner Tom Tancredo on Colorado’s ballot as the de facto Republican candidate for governor helped fuel Hispanic turnout.”

A lot of conservatives wish Chris Christie had abided by the “never say never” rule and left just a crack open for a 2012 run.  He has a “51-38 percent approval rating, higher than President Barack Obama or any other statewide leader, according to a Quinnipiac University poll.”

Never confuse Keith Olbermann for a journalist, says Michael Kinsley. “Does anyone doubt what Olbermann’s views are on politics in general and these races [in which he contributed to the Democrats] in particular? Most journalists try to suppress their biases — Olbermann gets paid to flaunt his biases.”

George W. Bush was never self-pitying or a buck-passer, writes Mark McKinnon. “Bush never complains. He never blames others. He takes full responsibility for his campaigns, his administration, his life. He accepts the cards he’s dealt. That’s the George Bush I know.” Get ready for the Bush nostalgia. (His approval rating is statistically identical to Obama’s. Says as much about Obama as it does Bush, huh?)

Never mind luring him to switch parties. The National Republican Senate Committee is already going after Joe Manchin.

Never think “no” means “no.” Rick Perry says he’s not running in 2012, but he sure is going after someone who certainly will be.

Never mess with Stephen Hayes. Especially if you don’t have your facts straight.

Never forget: in victory, minor spats tend to fade. “[Sen. Jim] DeMint is co-sponsoring an amendment [Sen. John] Cornyn plans to offer that would put the Senate GOPers on record in support of a constitutional amendment requiring the federal budget to be balanced and thereby force Congress to put the brakes on government spending and require a supermajority to raise taxes. … Funny, Cornyn and DeMint working together to stop earmarks, require a balanced budget and prevent future tax increases without a congressional supermajority. DeMint was the major force behind the Senate Conservative Fund that contributed mightily the victories of many of the incoming GOP senators, while Cornyn headed the Senate Republican Campaign Committee that made some moves earlier in the 2010 campaign that were strongly criticized by conservatives.” Victory tends to make pols magnanimous.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Indignant are the elite opinion makers. “The editor of Vanity Fair is in dudgeon over last week’s election. … They heard this wave of Dem/lib defeats was coming, but it’s just possible they didn’t really believe it: How, after all, could it happen? Eight years of suffering—war, torture, lies, and oh, that mangled language—ended with the advent of Obamunism. Now they have to relinquish their antibiotic-free ranging and go back to huddle in their Robert Couturier-decorated pens? And all because of an enraged, pitchfork-bearing, brimstone mob of Tea Partiers?” Read the whole hilarious thing.

Exonerated. “The chief counsel for the president’s oil spill commission said Monday that concerns about money didn’t drive key decisions made on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig before the April 20 blowout that caused a massive oil spill and killed 11 people. The conclusion is good news for BP, which has been widely criticized for letting concerns about the roughly $1.5 million a day cost of the drilling rig affect choices that might have prevented the blowout.”

Useless (or worse). “Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, held meetings in Lebanon Monday before traveling to Damascus for meetings with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.”

Rejectionist — as always. “Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was quoted on Monday as saying that if Israel wants the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table it must cease all construction in the settlements. Meanwhile, top PLO official Yasser Abed Rabo said it was ‘impossible’ for the Palestinians to return to the peace talks as long as the present government is in power in Israel.”

Ambitious? He sure sounds like he’s running for something: “Texas Gov. Rick Perry insists that he’s not running for president, but he didn’t mind offering an unvarnished view Monday about the signature policy accomplishment of one Republican who almost certainly is in the race. ‘The health care plan out of Massachusetts, I would suggest to you, is too much the like the health care plan passed out of Washington,’ Perry said, succinctly voicing one of the chief difficulties former Bay State Gov. Mitt Romney faces in the upcoming GOP primary.”

Shrinking. “Democratic allies are not optimistic about their legislative priorities getting done in the lame-duck session after Democratic candidates got pummeled on Election Day. Senate Democrats had discussed as many as 20 bills up for consideration during the lame-duck session, the period between the Nov. 2 election and Christmas. In the wake of a midterm election that President Obama called a ‘shellacking’ of his party, Democratic insiders question if anything more than a stopgap spending measure and temporary extension of Bush-era tax cuts can pass.”

Hopeless. All the Obama “smart” diplomats can do is repeat the fundamental error in their approach to peace talks. “The United States is ‘deeply disappointed’ that Israel has advanced plans to build 1,345 new homes in ‘sensitive areas’ of east Jerusalem, a State Department spokesman said Monday. State Department spokesman PJ Crowley told reporters that the United States sees the announcement as ‘counter-productive to our efforts to resume direct negotiations between the parties.’ ‘We have long urged both parties to avoid actions that could undermine trust including in Jerusalem and we will continue to work to resume negotiations,’ Crowley said.” Are all the Democratic pro-Israel Jews “deeply disappointed” in Obama yet? Hardly. Sigh.

Indignant are the elite opinion makers. “The editor of Vanity Fair is in dudgeon over last week’s election. … They heard this wave of Dem/lib defeats was coming, but it’s just possible they didn’t really believe it: How, after all, could it happen? Eight years of suffering—war, torture, lies, and oh, that mangled language—ended with the advent of Obamunism. Now they have to relinquish their antibiotic-free ranging and go back to huddle in their Robert Couturier-decorated pens? And all because of an enraged, pitchfork-bearing, brimstone mob of Tea Partiers?” Read the whole hilarious thing.

Exonerated. “The chief counsel for the president’s oil spill commission said Monday that concerns about money didn’t drive key decisions made on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig before the April 20 blowout that caused a massive oil spill and killed 11 people. The conclusion is good news for BP, which has been widely criticized for letting concerns about the roughly $1.5 million a day cost of the drilling rig affect choices that might have prevented the blowout.”

Useless (or worse). “Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, held meetings in Lebanon Monday before traveling to Damascus for meetings with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.”

Rejectionist — as always. “Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was quoted on Monday as saying that if Israel wants the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table it must cease all construction in the settlements. Meanwhile, top PLO official Yasser Abed Rabo said it was ‘impossible’ for the Palestinians to return to the peace talks as long as the present government is in power in Israel.”

Ambitious? He sure sounds like he’s running for something: “Texas Gov. Rick Perry insists that he’s not running for president, but he didn’t mind offering an unvarnished view Monday about the signature policy accomplishment of one Republican who almost certainly is in the race. ‘The health care plan out of Massachusetts, I would suggest to you, is too much the like the health care plan passed out of Washington,’ Perry said, succinctly voicing one of the chief difficulties former Bay State Gov. Mitt Romney faces in the upcoming GOP primary.”

Shrinking. “Democratic allies are not optimistic about their legislative priorities getting done in the lame-duck session after Democratic candidates got pummeled on Election Day. Senate Democrats had discussed as many as 20 bills up for consideration during the lame-duck session, the period between the Nov. 2 election and Christmas. In the wake of a midterm election that President Obama called a ‘shellacking’ of his party, Democratic insiders question if anything more than a stopgap spending measure and temporary extension of Bush-era tax cuts can pass.”

Hopeless. All the Obama “smart” diplomats can do is repeat the fundamental error in their approach to peace talks. “The United States is ‘deeply disappointed’ that Israel has advanced plans to build 1,345 new homes in ‘sensitive areas’ of east Jerusalem, a State Department spokesman said Monday. State Department spokesman PJ Crowley told reporters that the United States sees the announcement as ‘counter-productive to our efforts to resume direct negotiations between the parties.’ ‘We have long urged both parties to avoid actions that could undermine trust including in Jerusalem and we will continue to work to resume negotiations,’ Crowley said.” Are all the Democratic pro-Israel Jews “deeply disappointed” in Obama yet? Hardly. Sigh.

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ObamaCare Doesn’t Justify Secession

First, Republican Rand Paul wanted to revisit the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Now Representative Zach Wamp, following the lead of Texas Governor Rick Perry, wants to revisit the Civil War. “I hope that the American people will go to the ballot box in 2010 and 2012 so that states are not forced to consider separation from this government,” Wamp said during a recent interview with Hotline OnCall.

Representative Wamp praised Perry, who first floated the idea of secession in April 2009, for leading the push-back against health-care reform. “Patriots like Rick Perry have talked about these issues because the federal government is putting us in an untenable position at the state level,” said Wamp, who is competing with Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam and Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey in an August 5 GOP primary race. (The winner will face Mike McWherter in November to decide who will replace Tennessee Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen.)

This kind of talk from Wamp and Perry is stupid and reckless. For one thing, it is evidence of a stunning inability to distinguish different historical moments. For some people, the times in which we live don’t appear to be dramatic enough; they have to equate the events we’re going through to the clash with Nazism, the hardships of the Great Depression, the Bolshevik Revolution, the American Revolution, or the stakes involved in the Civil War. It all tends to be quite silly and unhelpful.

Beyond that, though, is the fevered mindset that would suggest that “separation from this government” may be necessary. Do Wamp and Perry have any grasp of what they are talking about? Do they understand that the South seceded from the Union to maintain chattel slavery as a way of life? Or that Lincoln, our greatest president (and the first Republican president), waged the Civil War — which cost America around 620,000 lives (the equivalent of around 5 million lives today) — to keep the Union whole and free? Are Wamp and Perry really suggesting we take up, in a serious manner, the issue of secession again? Because of ObamaCare?

I am no shrinking violet when it comes to criticizing Barack Obama. I believe he’s doing great damage to the country, and conservatives need to check him at almost every point along the way. But to argue that differences in policy ought to lead us to consider secession is lunacy. It also shows a (presumably) unwitting contempt for America, for its history, and for its role and purpose in the world. When schoolchildren across America recite the Pledge of Allegiance, here are the words they say: “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

Our loyalty is to the United States of America. It is one nation. And it is indivisible.

America is a sublime achievement — an “inestimable jewel,” in the words of Lincoln. Lawmakers who speak about “separation from this government” are doing a great disservice to themselves, to their party, and to their country. They ought to cease and desist, now, before they embarrass themselves further.

First, Republican Rand Paul wanted to revisit the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Now Representative Zach Wamp, following the lead of Texas Governor Rick Perry, wants to revisit the Civil War. “I hope that the American people will go to the ballot box in 2010 and 2012 so that states are not forced to consider separation from this government,” Wamp said during a recent interview with Hotline OnCall.

Representative Wamp praised Perry, who first floated the idea of secession in April 2009, for leading the push-back against health-care reform. “Patriots like Rick Perry have talked about these issues because the federal government is putting us in an untenable position at the state level,” said Wamp, who is competing with Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam and Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey in an August 5 GOP primary race. (The winner will face Mike McWherter in November to decide who will replace Tennessee Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen.)

This kind of talk from Wamp and Perry is stupid and reckless. For one thing, it is evidence of a stunning inability to distinguish different historical moments. For some people, the times in which we live don’t appear to be dramatic enough; they have to equate the events we’re going through to the clash with Nazism, the hardships of the Great Depression, the Bolshevik Revolution, the American Revolution, or the stakes involved in the Civil War. It all tends to be quite silly and unhelpful.

Beyond that, though, is the fevered mindset that would suggest that “separation from this government” may be necessary. Do Wamp and Perry have any grasp of what they are talking about? Do they understand that the South seceded from the Union to maintain chattel slavery as a way of life? Or that Lincoln, our greatest president (and the first Republican president), waged the Civil War — which cost America around 620,000 lives (the equivalent of around 5 million lives today) — to keep the Union whole and free? Are Wamp and Perry really suggesting we take up, in a serious manner, the issue of secession again? Because of ObamaCare?

I am no shrinking violet when it comes to criticizing Barack Obama. I believe he’s doing great damage to the country, and conservatives need to check him at almost every point along the way. But to argue that differences in policy ought to lead us to consider secession is lunacy. It also shows a (presumably) unwitting contempt for America, for its history, and for its role and purpose in the world. When schoolchildren across America recite the Pledge of Allegiance, here are the words they say: “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

Our loyalty is to the United States of America. It is one nation. And it is indivisible.

America is a sublime achievement — an “inestimable jewel,” in the words of Lincoln. Lawmakers who speak about “separation from this government” are doing a great disservice to themselves, to their party, and to their country. They ought to cease and desist, now, before they embarrass themselves further.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Is the media having buyers remorse too? “Ed Chen, a White House correspondent for Bloomberg News who is president of the White House Correspondents’ Association, said he asked for the meeting ‘to clear the air because in my 10-plus years at the White House, rarely have I sensed such a level of anger, which is wide and deep, among members over White House practices and attitude toward the press.'”

A story about an Iraq vet, the Yankees and a rabbi. Honest.

David Ignatius suggests that if Obama is looking for “big ideas to shape its foreign policy,” he should consider promoting freedom of the press. Hasn’t Ignatius heard? Obama isn’t much interested in promoting any sort of freedom. It’s too much like George Bush, I suppose.

Gov. Rick Perry sounds Shermanesque about 2012.

One ludicrous nuclear summit begets another one: “Iran opened an ‘alternative’ nuclear disarmament summit in Tehran on Saturday, bringing together representatives of 60 countries including Russia and China to slam U.S. nuclear policy and encourage nations to pull out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.”

Stuart Rothenberg: “Substantial Republican gains are inevitable, with net Democratic losses now looking to be at least two dozen. At this point, GOP gains of 25-30 seats seem likely, though considerably larger gains in excess of 40 seats certainly seem possible. We’ve moved 44 seats toward the Republicans and only 4 toward the Democrats.”

By the time he’s done, he will have alienated everyone in the state: “Some of Florida Gov. Charlie Crist’s top fundraisers are warning that they will no longer support him if he bolts the Republican Party to run for the Senate as an independent. … If he abandons the GOP race, a group of his most prominent supporters indicate they will not follow him.”

Barbara Boxer isn’t entirely clueless: “Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) warned that Democrats must match the Tea Party’s energy and enthusiasm or face the consequences in November. ‘At this point, I think the polls are showing that there is more enthusiasm with the tea party party,’ Boxer said.”

Is the media having buyers remorse too? “Ed Chen, a White House correspondent for Bloomberg News who is president of the White House Correspondents’ Association, said he asked for the meeting ‘to clear the air because in my 10-plus years at the White House, rarely have I sensed such a level of anger, which is wide and deep, among members over White House practices and attitude toward the press.'”

A story about an Iraq vet, the Yankees and a rabbi. Honest.

David Ignatius suggests that if Obama is looking for “big ideas to shape its foreign policy,” he should consider promoting freedom of the press. Hasn’t Ignatius heard? Obama isn’t much interested in promoting any sort of freedom. It’s too much like George Bush, I suppose.

Gov. Rick Perry sounds Shermanesque about 2012.

One ludicrous nuclear summit begets another one: “Iran opened an ‘alternative’ nuclear disarmament summit in Tehran on Saturday, bringing together representatives of 60 countries including Russia and China to slam U.S. nuclear policy and encourage nations to pull out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.”

Stuart Rothenberg: “Substantial Republican gains are inevitable, with net Democratic losses now looking to be at least two dozen. At this point, GOP gains of 25-30 seats seem likely, though considerably larger gains in excess of 40 seats certainly seem possible. We’ve moved 44 seats toward the Republicans and only 4 toward the Democrats.”

By the time he’s done, he will have alienated everyone in the state: “Some of Florida Gov. Charlie Crist’s top fundraisers are warning that they will no longer support him if he bolts the Republican Party to run for the Senate as an independent. … If he abandons the GOP race, a group of his most prominent supporters indicate they will not follow him.”

Barbara Boxer isn’t entirely clueless: “Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) warned that Democrats must match the Tea Party’s energy and enthusiasm or face the consequences in November. ‘At this point, I think the polls are showing that there is more enthusiasm with the tea party party,’ Boxer said.”

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Still No Republican Front-Runner

The media’s great obsession from the moment Obama took office was to identify the “leader” of the Republican Party. Was it Sarah Palin? Rush Limbaugh? The nonsensical game — for opposition parties rarely have a single standard bearer — was intended mostly to fuel the storyline of Republican disarray and dissension. With the pre-pre-campaign for 2012 underway, consisting mainly of book tours and Republican gatherings, the media is at it again. Ron Paul won a straw poll! Oooh, now Romney won one. What does it all mean? Very little actually. The tea-leaf reading is all a bit silly and very premature.

For once, the Republicans aren’t being sucked into the media narrative. This report explains that the GOP base is stubbornly refusing to select its nominee more than two years ahead of time. Some savvy voices explain:

[Gov. Bobby] Jindal said the current levels of grassroots energy will also preempt any crowning of a favored candidate.“They don’t want to be told who to vote for,” the governor said, referring to the party foot soldiers. “This isn’t going to be a pre-ordained election. There is this reputation in the Republican Party that you wait your turn and then when it’s your turn, you run. I think the voters are saying we want to make the decision, this is democracy, we’ll decide who we want to represent us and lead us.” “The activists would resist any attempt from party leaders or anybody else to try to pre-ordain a process or a pick,” he added.

The expectation among Republicans is that field will grow – and will include names who haven’t previously been considered.

“Every cycle that happens, there is a surprise,” said Liz Cheney following her own address to the conference.

Or, as Jindal put it: “Who would have thought a year into President Bush’s second term, that Sen. Obama would be the next president of the United States?”

And there is little to be gained this time around in being the designated front runner, the establishment choice. For one thing, the base is decidedly impervious to advice from Washington power brokers. (Ask Charlie Crist, if you doubt this.) For another, it targets the candidate for an onslaught from the Obami and their mainstream media supplicants. As Mary Matalin reminds us: “Look at what happened to poor George Allen . . . He got a big target put on his back. If I were thinking about 2012 seriously, I would lay low.” Well, many of the contenders aren’t exactly laying low — they are building name identification (Tim Pawlenty), trying to bolster 2010 candidates to cement potential support for themselves (Mitt Romney), blanketing the media (Sarah Palin), keeping the door ajar (Mitch Daniels), and making fiery speeches to the base (Rick Perry). But there will be time enough to pick the  front runners and assess the field. In the meantime, there are midterm elections to win, an indictment of Obamaism to press, and an RNC to clean up. That should be more than enough for now.

The media’s great obsession from the moment Obama took office was to identify the “leader” of the Republican Party. Was it Sarah Palin? Rush Limbaugh? The nonsensical game — for opposition parties rarely have a single standard bearer — was intended mostly to fuel the storyline of Republican disarray and dissension. With the pre-pre-campaign for 2012 underway, consisting mainly of book tours and Republican gatherings, the media is at it again. Ron Paul won a straw poll! Oooh, now Romney won one. What does it all mean? Very little actually. The tea-leaf reading is all a bit silly and very premature.

For once, the Republicans aren’t being sucked into the media narrative. This report explains that the GOP base is stubbornly refusing to select its nominee more than two years ahead of time. Some savvy voices explain:

[Gov. Bobby] Jindal said the current levels of grassroots energy will also preempt any crowning of a favored candidate.“They don’t want to be told who to vote for,” the governor said, referring to the party foot soldiers. “This isn’t going to be a pre-ordained election. There is this reputation in the Republican Party that you wait your turn and then when it’s your turn, you run. I think the voters are saying we want to make the decision, this is democracy, we’ll decide who we want to represent us and lead us.” “The activists would resist any attempt from party leaders or anybody else to try to pre-ordain a process or a pick,” he added.

The expectation among Republicans is that field will grow – and will include names who haven’t previously been considered.

“Every cycle that happens, there is a surprise,” said Liz Cheney following her own address to the conference.

Or, as Jindal put it: “Who would have thought a year into President Bush’s second term, that Sen. Obama would be the next president of the United States?”

And there is little to be gained this time around in being the designated front runner, the establishment choice. For one thing, the base is decidedly impervious to advice from Washington power brokers. (Ask Charlie Crist, if you doubt this.) For another, it targets the candidate for an onslaught from the Obami and their mainstream media supplicants. As Mary Matalin reminds us: “Look at what happened to poor George Allen . . . He got a big target put on his back. If I were thinking about 2012 seriously, I would lay low.” Well, many of the contenders aren’t exactly laying low — they are building name identification (Tim Pawlenty), trying to bolster 2010 candidates to cement potential support for themselves (Mitt Romney), blanketing the media (Sarah Palin), keeping the door ajar (Mitch Daniels), and making fiery speeches to the base (Rick Perry). But there will be time enough to pick the  front runners and assess the field. In the meantime, there are midterm elections to win, an indictment of Obamaism to press, and an RNC to clean up. That should be more than enough for now.

Read Less




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