Given the historically low approval ratings of the current Congress—and House Republicans in particular—it’s not unreasonable to think that the chamber as a whole is in for an electoral reckonning next November.
Pundits can't decide whether the future looks bright for the American economy, or the new year will bring doomsday. On the positive side, unemployment compensation claims are at their lowest levels in more than three years, housing sales are up, the stock market is making a comeback, and confidence in the economy is growing. On the negative side, there's Europe. If the continent drops into a big recession, the United States is in danger of losing the small economic gains it won in the past year.
DES MOINES, IOWA—Ron Paul drew another large, enthusiastic crowd here last night. Carrying homemade "End the Fed" banners and donning t-shirts emblazoned with "Ron Paul Revolution," hundreds of people packed into the Knapp Animal Learning Center (sadly, there were no animals) on the grounds of the Iowa State Fair for a veterans rally. When Paul visited the State Fair in late August, his speech at the Des Moines Register's traditional soapbox got little attention as crowds gathered anxiously to hear new frontrunner Michele Bachmann and speculated about the imminent entry of the Texas governor Rick Perry. Now, Paul is leading most Iowa polls and has earned a level of ground support that has eluded the other candidates in Iowa.
Congress had debt on the brain in 2011—fights over the debt ceiling, the Supercommittee, the Bush tax cuts, and voucherizing Medicare—but it amounted to just talk. It was a weird issue to focus on in the year before a big election, since most voters find unemployment and the general economy more important problems to tackle than the federal deficit. And, it turns out that this obsession with the debt was a bad idea for more than Congress' approval rating.
GRINNELL, IOWA—It looks as though we can safely dismiss a Santorum surge or a Perry reboot. For Romney, the polls hang steady just under a week before the Iowa caucuses, according to Public Policy Polling. Ron Paul maintains his lead over Mitt Romney by a 24-20 margin, statistically unchanged from the 23-20 percent gap last week. But Newt Gingrich's support has disappeared. The former House Speaker held a lead in the Midwestern state two weeks ago, but has now dropped down to third place at 13 percent, only slightly above Michele Bachmann at 11 percent and the two Ricks at 10 percent.
As every good conservative knows, lawsuit abuse is destroying America. Greedy plaintiffs filing frivolous suits, tying up the courts with cases they have no hope of winning -- you've heard it many times before. Which brings us to Rick Perry:
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who along with Newt Gingrich didn’t submit the required number of signatures to petition to make it onto the Virginia Republican presidential primary ballot, is taking the fight for ballot access to federal court.
A favorite trope of election coverage is to compare the current race to past elections. Is Barack Obama Jimmy Carter in 1980? Is 2012 a repeat of the 2004 election? Or is this year going to be just like 1896? With Mitt Romney, however, there's a far easier comparison: Mitt Romney in 2008. In the last presidential election cycle, Romney faced many of the same criticisms he does now: He was accused of being a flip-flopper and assailed for his religion and personal wealth. His failure to respond effectively to these accusations—and his fateful decision to stake his campaign on a win in Iowa—were his downfall.
Will the operatic sturm und drang of the Republican presidential race end with a whimper of anti-climatic predictability? With one week to go before the Iowa caucuses, Newt Gingrich is flailing (see below) and Ron Paul is mishandling the controversy over his racist newsletters (ditto), while Rick Santorum and Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann are still squabbling over the same Christian Right turf—leading folks like Nate Silver to ask: "How Can Romney Lose?" Even Mike Huckabee, who famously said in 2008 that Romney looks like "the guy who laid you off," is predicting he'll be the nominee.
When Barack Obama entered the White House, liberals hoped that the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice might return to its proper mission. The agency had been gutted during the Bush years, litigating individual cases of bias without tackling the systematic levers of discrimination that affect a far larger share of the population. Obama beefed up the agency's staff and DOJ started hiring actual civil rights attorneys (unlike the strict ideological conservatives without civil rights experience who entered during the Bush administration).
As 2011 draws to a close, the immigration situation in the U.S. remains a mess. Arizona's infamous SB 1070, which required law-enforcement officials to check immigration status during routine encounters if there was "reasonable suspicion" someone was in the country illegally, sparked a nationwide outcry when it was passed in 2010. But in the past year, lawmakers in Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Utah, and South Carolina have followed suit, passing a host of copycat bills. In Alabama, schools are even required to check the immigration status of students, which has resulted in hundreds of Hispanic children being kept home from school.
Congress' studied effort at ignoring the Occupy movement isn't that surprising when you take a look at legislators' tax returns: Many representatives sit comfortably in the 1 percent. Between 1984 and 2009, the median income of members of the House ballooned from $280,000—an already impressive figure—to $725,000, according to the new Panel Study of Income Dynamics from the University of Michigan. An analysis of the study in The Washington Post did not include figures for the Senate. In comparison, the median income of an American family has slipped from $20,600 to $20,500 over the same time period.
The Prospect is closed between Christmas and New Year's, so expect our posting to be a bit slower than normal over the coming week. But Patrick Caldwell will still be filling us in on what's going on in Iowa about a week out from the caucuses, so drop in to see how the GOP primary race is shaping up.
In case anyone forgot over the last decade or so that Newt Gingrich is a grandiose egomaniac, this campaign has served as a helpful reminder. But know that isn't enough, of course—if you're a reporter, you have to explain it. In today's New York Times, an article explores the question of whether Newt has mellowed under the calming influence of advancing age and the fair Callista. Some evidence to the contrary comes here:
In Mr. Gingrich’s voice was the sneer of the professor of American history he once was, and, it seemed, a glimpse of the Old Newt.
Ah yes, history professors, well known for their sneering.