The speech vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan delivered this morning gives a sense of the quality you get from being in a room with him: He’s not a fire-breather. He’s unflappable and unadorned, combining plain-spokenness with almost offhanded rhetorical hints of the deeper philosophy undergirding his opinions (“our rights are from nature and God, not from government”). This wasn’t a populist spark-plug of a speech the way Sarah Palin’s dazzling out-of-nowhere introduction to America was in 2008; it was a calm elaboration of themes already articulated by the Romney campaign. Most important, he and Romney both spoke of saving Medicare, indicating that they have already thought long and hard about the attack that will be waged against them because Ryan’s famous budget changes the structure of Medicare for everybody under 55. The line being proffered before the speech was that Mitt Romney had chosen a vice-presidential candidate who will effectively become the presidential candidate because Romney has no ideas and Ryan has a million. That is a fundamental misunderstanding of the game going forward. Romney is the candidate, and he will pick and choose from Ryan’s ideas at will; it is Ryan who will have to say, as George H.W. Bush said, that he understands his ideas have been superseded by his boss’s. Remember, he’s voted many times for legislation he presumably didn’t really like (Medicare Part D, TARP, the auto bailout) because of political necessity.
Mitt Romney received some advice from an unusual source this afternoon, the National Journal reports:
“If I were picking, I’d pick Pawlenty,” Axelrod told National Journal. “You shouldn’t write that, because everybody will think I’m trying to bait [Romney] into picking Pawlenty.” …
Opposition research, of course, is at the ready for everyone thought to be on Romney’s short list. But the psychological preparations at Obama’s Chicago headquarters seem geared almost entirely toward a Romney-Pawlenty ticket.
“That’s my influence,” Axelrod told NJ. “I’ve been saying Pawlenty for four months. The reasoning, as a strategist, would be: He is acceptable to the right and the evangelicals, but he’s not scary to moderates. He’s good on television. He’s been through this.” …
Axelrod also seems to have taken stock of Pawlenty’s TV chops and emerged with grudging professional admiration.
“Of all of those you have heard of, he’s got a pretty good TV style,” Axelrod said. “He’s cool. He’s casual. He can be colloquial. I would be surprised if they didn’t pick him. And I think Romney’s kind of not looking for risk.”
Mitt Romney gave some details about what he’s looking for in a running mate during an interview with NBC’s Chuck Todd yesterday, and some are wondering whether there was a hint that Romney will go for one of the bolder VP options:
CHUCK TODD: What do you want your running mate to say about you? What do you want your selection to say about what kind of president you’re going to be?
MITT ROMNEY: I don’t think I have anything for you on the VP running mate. Other than I– I certainly expect to have a person that has a strength of character, a vision for the country, that, that adds something to the political discourse about the direction of the country. I mean, I happen to believe this is a defining election for America; that we’re going to be voting for what kind of America we’re going to have.
Josh Rogin’s interview with former Secretary of State James Baker is teased at the top of ForeignPolicy.com’s home page with the headline: “The Realists Strike Back.” The Star Wars reference is appropriate, because it seems Baker is having his Admiral Ackbar moment.
The purpose of the interview is Baker’s response to recent reporting by Rogin on the prominence of some foreign policy “realists” in Mitt Romney’s transition team and the discomfort that is causing among other foreign policy advisers. In the interview, Baker explains that he deserves to be mentioned alongside Henry Kissinger, because Baker believes himself to be among the greatest statesmen this country has ever known. Where did he get this idea? From Thomas Friedman. But a glance at the Friedman column in question singing Baker’s praises makes one thing clear that Baker seems not to have noticed in time: It’s a trap!
There’s a danger in hitting back against wild, unsubstantiated accusations. Do it wrong, and you can end up bringing more attention to the initial smear, i.e. “Congressman Denies Beating His Wife.” But American Crossroads hits the right notes in its latest ad, contrasting the honorable rhetoric of 2008-Obama with the mud-slinging in the Priorities USA steelworker ad. The powerful audio at the end is a great touch (former White House counsel John Dean speaking on the Nixon White House tapes in 1973, informs Mike Allen):
The Romney campaign is also increasing pressure on the Obama camp to denounce the ad. In an interview with Bill Bennett yesterday, Romney tore into the president’s campaign:
The line from Romney headquarters last month was “every day we’re not talking about the economy is a day we lose.” This line, which came from the highest reaches of the campaign, was proffered to explain the unwillingness to provide substantive details on a host of policies besides the economy. Well, Romney HQ isn’t talking about the economy these days. It’s talking about the ad that all but accused Romney of murdering a woman with cancer. It’s talking about its vice-presidential pick. It’s talking about whether its ad accusing the president of gutting welfare-to-work laws is accurate. Guess what? It turns out you can’t just talk about the economy when people—and the media—want to talk about something else.
The polls suggesting he’s seven or nine points behind are surely wrong, but given that there is only one national poll that shows him ahead, we have to presume Romney is behind. He should presume he’s behind. And given that there’s no good reason whatever for Obama to be leading, one can only presume that Romney’s strategy in July and now in August is not working.
Which is why the “we only talk about the economy” line, while superficially clever, was and is so foolish—stupid, even. Of course Romney wants to focus on that one issue. It’s the one that hurts Obama the most, and the one on which he seems to score the best. He and his team have an idea about the campaign. They need to win independents to win. Independents are less ideological. So don’t press the ideological buttons. Keep it simple. Keep it plain. Obama has hurt you. I’ll help you. Fine.
But that’s not the only reason they’re doing it this way.
Pro-Obama super PAC American Bridge 21st Century has released opposition research books on five of Romney’s most likely VP choices, and the messaging is as predictable as you’d expect. Rob Portman’s file ties him to Bush’s economic policies, Tim Pawlenty’s rehashes his anti-Romney attacks during the primaries, Marco Rubio’s targets his autobiographical errors, Bobby Jindal’s hits him about tax cuts for the wealthy, and Paul Ryan’s is one long Mediscare attack. And that’s just the beginning; the booklets are hundreds of pages long and cover everything from the candidates’ statements about contentious social issues to their remarks on the Ryan plan, and (in Rubio’s and Pawlenty’s cases) an entire section on their “neoconservatism.”
Democrats obviously have attack plans lined up for each of them, so there’s no such thing as a completely “safe” pick. Not that it matters — as we’ve seen from the disgraceful Priorities USA ad, if the Obama campaign runs out of attacks, their backers have no problem just making things up.
We’re several days into the controversy about the Priorities USA steelworker ad, and the Obama campaign has repeatedly declined to condemn it. Campaign staffers have said they don’t know enough about Joe Soptic’s story to comment (even though they organized a conference call for Soptic to share the same story with reporters in May). They’ve also argued that the ad is being run by a super PAC that’s unconnected to the campaign, and therefore Obama has no responsibility for it.
Would the Obama campaign have bought the same excuse from its opponents? Of course not — in fact, the campaign has previously demanded that its opponents denounce sleazy attacks from outside supporting groups.
Mitt Romney’s Press Secretary Andrea Saul was hit with a biblical flood of conservative outrage yesterday, after she mentioned that the steelworker’s wife in the Priorities USA ad would have had health insurance under Romneycare if she had been living in Massachusetts. Calls for Saul’s firing (and eulogies for the Romney campaign) commenced immediately.
In an interview with Fox News Channel on Wednesday, Andrea Saul invoked Massachusetts’s expansion of health coverage as a defense to a harsh new ad funded by a super PAC supporting President Obama. In the spot, a former steelworker whose plant was closed by Bain Capital blames Romney, who co-founded the firm, for his family’s loss of health insurance and his wife’s subsequent death from cancer.
“To that point, if people had been in Massachusetts, under Governor Romney’s health care plan, they would have had health care,” Saul said in the interview. “There are a lot of people losing their jobs and losing their health care in President Obama’s economy.”
Bill Burton, former White House deputy press secretary and head of the pro-Obama Priorities USA super PAC, is struggling to defend his latest ad that suggests Mitt Romney is responsible for the death of a steelworker’s wife. You can hardly blame Burton; fact-checkers have found that the ad is dishonest, blatantly misleading, and sleazy, so it’s no wonder he can’t defend it. But why would he run something that is indefensible in the first place? CNN’s Wolf Blitzer pushed Burton on the issue last night (starts around four minutes into the video):
Sandra Fluke, the free-contraception activist whose claim to fame was getting insulted by Rush Limbaugh, is hitting the campaign trail with President Obama in Colorado today. But she started the day off with an anti-Romney column in the Huffington Post (via Daily Caller):
The morning of noted contraception activist Sandra Fluke’s campaign appearance with President Barack Obama in Denver, the newly minted lawyer explained she is “standing with Obama” in an effort to protect women’s health care.
“This choice is personal for all of us because it will impact each of our lives. But for me, it’s intensely personal,” Fluke wrote in a Wednesday Huffington Post blog post, circulated by Obama for America. “Earlier this year, I was publicly attacked by Rush Limbaugh and others for testifying before members of Congress. I had shared stories of my friends and other young women, stories no different from those I’ve heard from women who also worry about having the health care they need.” …
“When Rush Limbaugh called me a ‘slut’ and a ‘prostitute’ for speaking about medical needs for contraception, Mr. Romney could only say that it ‘wasn’t the language [he] would have used,’” she added. “If Mr. Romney can’t stand up to the extreme voices in his own party, we know he’ll never stand up for women and protect the rights that generations of women fought so hard to ensure.”
Mitt Romney’s favorability ratings have plateaued, according to today’s Washington Post/ABC News poll. It’s not much of a surprise, considering the barrage of anti-Romney news during the past few weeks, but it still must be weighing on his mind this week as he makes his final decision on a running mate:
Mitt Romney’s favorability ratings have stalled over the course of his campaign’s bumpy summer months, with his earlier improvements as he was wrapping up the Republican nomination in the spring appearing to flat-line, according to a new Washington Post/ABC News poll.
While 40 percent of voters now say they hold a favorable opinion of the former Massachusetts governor–virtually unchanged from May–those holding negative views of Romney ticked higher in the new poll, from 45 percent to 49 percent.
Meanwhile, President Obama remained in positive territory on that measure, with 53 percent of voters reporting they hold favorable opinions of the incumbent. Only 43 percent say they feel unfavorably towards him.
While most of us are focusing on the obvious impact Mitt Romney’s vice presidential pick might have on the 2012 election, a feature in Politico today highlights the fact that his choice may influence future elections as well. Choosing someone like Paul Ryan, who is not only young, but the intellectual leader of his party, could well set the Wisconsin congressman up as the putative frontrunner in subsequent presidential elections whether or not the 2012 ticket is successful.
The debate about the vice presidential pick is, as Politico notes, something of a stand in for the broader argument about the future of the Republican Party. Should Romney go with Ryan it could mean that the reformist wing of the party will not only get a boost but have its leader put in a position from which he may well dominate the party. On the other hand, picking a more conventional figure like Sen. Rob Portman would serve as a brake on the conservative thinkers who want to help change Washington. The elevation of Ryan could, as Rep. Tom Cole tells Politico, be akin to Ronald Reagan choosing Jack Kemp as his running mate in 1980 rather than establishment favorite George H.W. Bush. Had Reagan tapped Kemp, it is probable that neither the elder nor the younger Bush would have ever been president. It is impossible to say in such a counter-factual scenario how else history would have been changed, but it is a reminder that there’s a lot more at stake in this decision than the impact on this November or even who will be presiding over the Senate next year.
The pro-Obama Priorities USA ad that blames Mitt Romney for the death of a steeelworker’s wife is even sleazier than it initially sounded. CNN reports that the wife of former GST Steel employee Joe Soptic had health insurance through her own job, despite the ad’s claim that she lost her insurance when her husband was laid off (video via HotAir):
The Obama-supporting Priorities USA PAC has released anti-Bain ads before, but it’s reached a new level of dishonesty with this latest one. It features a former GST Steel worker blaming Mitt Romney for the loss of his job and health care, which he suggests led to his wife’s subsequent illness and death. Politico reports:
The commercial casts Mitt Romney’s business background in a severely negative light, but it’s not a typical slash-and-burn attack ad. Instead, it features former GST Steel employee Joe Soptic speaking to the camera about what happened when the plant where he worked shut down.
“I don’t think Mitt Romney understands what he’s done to people’s lives by closing the plant. I don’t think he realizes that people’s lives completely changed,” Soptic said. “When Mitt Romney and Bain closed the plant, I lost my health care and my family lost their health care. And a short time after that my wife became ill.”
He continues: “I don’t know how long she was sick and I think maybe she didn’t say anything because she knew that we couldn’t afford the insurance. And then one day she became ill and I took her up to the Jackson County Hospital and admitted her for pneumonia and that’s when they found the cancer and by then it was stage four. It was — there was nothing they could do for her. And she passed away in 22 days.”
With not much else to talk about during slow summer news weeks, much of the media is spending its time promoting stories they know are either untrue or incredibly unlikely about the identity of Mitt Romney’s running mate. Some of this, as Alana noted earlier today, is just deep in the weeds “tea reading.” Other stories, such as the ones promoting the notion that CIA chief David Petraeus is at the top of the lists that were floated today, seem outlandish. But because nobody but Romney has any idea of who the winner of the GOP veep lottery will be, any suggestion about a potential candidate is just as good as another.
All this makes for a media melee that does not exactly present an edifying spectacle to the public. But whether you think this orgy of unsubstantiated speculation is good fun or just a depressing picture of the state of modern journalism, the willingness of so many to play the game reflects something more than press boredom. Whether Romney is evaluating potential running mates on their ability to govern or their electoral impact or some combination of the two, the intense interest in his choice is also an indication that he needs to do more than just fill in the slot. Some in the GOP believe the country’s economic difficulties mean they are destined to win in November no matter what the pundits say. But the polls indicating President Obama is holding onto a slim lead suggest Romney must pick someone who can energize his party and give him a post-convention bump in the polls that he desperately needs.
Whether it’s general ignorance of religious issues or the impossibility of turning a complex issue like the Middle East into easily digestible sound bites–the American media’s specialty–the mainstream media’s coverage of the region is ghastly. Nowhere was this blind spot more obvious than the press coverage of Mitt Romney’s trip to Israel and his comments echoing what Arab leaders and scholars have said for years (though less harshly) about the ways Arab culture has held back regional economic development.
What Romney said is clearly true, which helps explain some of the terrible reporting. For example, I wrote about the Washington Post’s awful write-up of the story, in which the reporter made snide remarks about Romney and offered demonstrably false assertions without consulting the experts. This is most likely by design: had the reporter consulted experts, they would have told him what everybody knew: that Romney was, of course, correct. But the media’s attempt to write the first draft of this story and set the narrative against Romney was so egregiously off-base that it has made commentators across the ideological spectrum uncomfortable enough to speak up. One example comes from the Washington Post’s Richard Cohen, who writes:
The cultural difference between Israel and its Arab neighbors is so striking that you would think it beyond question. But when Mitt Romney attributed the gap between Israel’s economic performance and the Palestinians’ — “Culture makes all the difference,” he said in Israel — the roof came down on him. PC police the world over raised a red card, giving him demerits for having the temerity to notice the obvious. Predictably, Saeb Erekat, chief Palestinian negotiator and a member of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, denounced the statement as “racist.” It was, of course, just the opposite.
TechPresident.com notes that Sarah Palin’s Wikipedia page was edited more than 100 times in the five days leading up to John McCain’s running mate announcement. While none of this year’s likely VP contenders have seen a spike in edits that dramatic, Paul Ryan leads with the most changes during the past few days:
None of Wikipedia entries for the current candidates being bandied about by Romney-watchers — Rob Portman, Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, Bobby Jindal, Chris Christie, Kelly Ayotte or Tim Pawlenty — are currently showing anything like the spike in edits that Cyveillance spotted on Palin and Biden’s pages back in 2008. But most of those came in the 24 hours prior to the official announcement. That said, if Wikipedia changes offer any hint of what’s coming, then today might be a good day to bet on Ryan. On the other hand, his page is hardly the most popular in terms of views, or watchers, as you can see:
Fact-checking website Politifact — which has had a mixed record refereeing the election so far — gave Sen. Harry Reid a “pants-on-fire” rating for his charge that Mitt Romney didn’t pay taxes for 10 years.
In an Internal Revenue Service study of nearly 4 million 2009 tax returns of filers reporting more than $200,000 in adjusted gross income, 20,752 of these taxpayers — or just 0.529 percent — had no U.S. income tax liability. About half of those did have income tax liability in other countries. …
To gauge tax patterns for even higher-income earners, the best we can do is to look at another IRS study detailing the taxes paid by the top 400 earners in the nation in 2008. To make this list, you would have to have earned roughly $109 million that year. Among those 400 top taxpayers, 30 — or 7.5 percent — had an effective tax rate of between 0 and 10 percent. Given how the statistics are calculated, it’s impossible to know how many paid no taxes, but it’s safe to assume it’s well below 7.5 percent.
Neither study directly addresses Romney’s situation — he falls somewhere in the middle of the two studies — but the data does show that for earners both below and above him, it’s unlikely they paid zero taxes for one year, and it’s even more far-fetched to think they did so for 10 years.