Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

No Way Out

(Jamelle Bouie/The American Prospect)
Let’s say that Eric Fehrnstrom is right, and Mitt Romney can reboot his campaign like an Etch-a-Sketch. In the fall, he runs against President Obama as a Massachusetts moderate—to borrow from Newt Gingrich—and wins the White House on the strength of conservative anger with Obama and public discontent with the economy. In which case, who is the “real” Romney? Is it the conservative ideologue who—despite his public heterodoxies—won the Republican nomination by attacking his opponents from the Right? Or is it the Romney who made his way to the Oval Office by emphasizing his moderate sensibilities? For Salon ’s Steve Kornacki, the only conceivable Romney is the former : As president, he’d be at the mercy of congressional Republicans (particularly on the House side) whose ranks are filled with more true believers than ever before. […] This ideological purity is enforced by the conservative absolutists who dominate the party’s opinion-shaping class – television and radio hosts, columnists,...

A Bum Rap, Etch-a-Sketch Installment

Probably not the Etch-a-Sketch they had in mind. (Flickr/Emily Kornblut)
As I've noted before , a substantial amount of the time the media and ordinary people spend talking about a presidential campaign consists of a discussion of charges and counter-charges about something somebody said, usually a candidate but not always. Not a lot really happens during a campaign–what candidates mostly do is talk, so their words take on an elevated importance. Each side tries to assert that the other's off-the-cuff statements hold the power to reveal hidden agendas and fatal weaknesses. It's all pretty silly. And it isn't just the candidates. Even surrogates and campaign aides' words can be fodder for feigned outrage, as happened yesterday (and Jamelle mentioned ) when Romney strategist Eric Fehrnstrom got asked whether his candidate would have trouble pivoting to the general election when he had spent the primary season pandering so vigorously to the Republican base. "I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign, everything changes," Fehrnstrom said . It's...

A Comedy of Errors

(Flickr/CrashBoy)
A new spin on the GOP race is hard to find as the chips fall into place for Mitt Romney to snag the nomination. There are only so many ways you can say Romney will win, and there’s only so far you can stretch the continuing credibility of the other three remaining GOP candidates. Some reporters and pundits have already begun to fantasize about the 2016 race, but there is still plenty to say about the general election. One surprising thing: This is gearing up to be the best campaign season for comedy since the salad days of the Bush years. In 2008, Sarah Palin was the saving grace in a contest between two politicians who defied easy comedic characterization. This year, the Republican nominee isn’t likely to be outshined by his running mate. Frank Rich wrote today: "Comedy is the only business we can be certain that a Romney presidency would grow." But we don’t even need to wait to see if he wins for the laughs to begin—the man has already established himself as the class clown of the...

Recycled Jokes

(AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Via Politico 's James Hohmann, here's the opening to Rick Santorum's latest radio ad: Ok. A liberal, a moderate and a conservative walk into a bar. And the bartender says...Hello Mitt. Funny, but true. By the typically humorless standards of campaign politics, that's not half bad. It's also unoriginal. The line might be familiar to those poor souls who have been following the Republican nomination obsessively. At CPAC this past February, Foster Friess, the eccentric billionaire who has provided the bulk of the money for the pro-Santorum Red White and Blue super PAC, took the stage to introduce Santorum. During his freewheeling intro, Friess jested : Life is just so much fun and so filled with humor. There’s a little bar a couple doors down, and recently a conservative, a liberal, and a moderate walked into the bar. The bartender says, “Hi Mitt!’ As The New York Times reported yesterday, the candidates are "increasingly reliant" on their affiliated super PACs to help boost their meager...

The Etch-a-Sketch Gambit

(teadrinker/Flickr)
If there’s been a single, enduring pattern in the Republican presidential primaries, it’s that Mitt Romney—or a staff member—can’t help but offend someone after winning an election. To wit, here’s communications director Eric Fehrnstrom on CNN this morning: HOST: Is there a concern that Santorum and Gingrich might force the governor to tack so far to the right it would hurt him with moderate voters in the general election. FEHRNSTROM: Well, I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes. It’s almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and restart all of over again. This is exactly what conservatives fear about the former Massachusetts governor; that he’ll abandon his commitment to conservative rhetoric as soon as he becomes the nominee. And given the degree to which Romney is willing to lie to audiences, this is not an unreasonable fear. On the other hand, it’s not as if this is a new concern. Conservatives widely believe that the party...

Mitt Romney Feels the Illinois

(Jamelle Bouie/The American Prospect)
If you’re the kind of person who has followed the Republican presidential primaries since the beginning, then it’s fair to say that things are a little boring right now. For all of his good fortune, Rick Santorum hasn’t been able to translate his wins into support from the GOP, and for all of his ups and downs, Mitt Romney hasn’t actually lost the position he reached at the end of January, when he won big in the Florida primary. Romney is still the presumptive nominee, and his big win in Illinois—51 percent to 31 percent for Santorum—will strengthen his path to the 1,144 delegates he needs to clinch the nomination. But, delegates aside, the most important thing to come out of the Illinois primary was Mitt Romney’s new message. For as long as Romney has been on the trail, his message has centered on jobs, with constant attacks on the president’s job-creation record and a campaign that has highlighted his private-sector experience as a blueprint for creating job growth as president...

His Name Is His Name

I command you to call me "Speaker"...forever! (caricature by DonkeyHotey)
Some years ago, I was watching Silence of the Lambs with a friend who was then in medical school, and he pointed out that everyone kept calling the film's villain "Dr. Lecter." "Boy," my friend said. "Once you get that M.D., they have to call you 'Dr.' forever, even if you start killing and eating people." I raise this because Emily Yoffe has done us a service and asked why in the world everyone has to continue to call Newt Gingrich "Mr. Speaker" when he hasn't been Speaker of the House in 15 years. In all, three of the four remaining Republican candidates for president get called by titles they no longer hold, with Governor Romney and Senator Santorum joining Speaker Gingrich. This is a problem that seems to exist primarily in Washington, home to such fetishes of pompous self-importance as the "brag wall," the display of photos of an office's resident with even more famous and powerful people. There aren't very many other arenas in America where you get to make people call you by the...

Are We There Yet?

AP Photo
It’s official: Primary fatigue has set in. Today’s contest in Illinois is the 28 th primary or caucus so far, and just as the public reacted in groans after the 20 th debate, folks are starting to tune out this Herman Cain and Rick Perry-less contest. We have our fond memories, of course—the Iowa caucuses dished up an exciting and tense start to the race, and the late-night culmination of Super Tuesday had its moments. But now even the suspense that kept us glued to every word Wolf Blitzer and Anderson Cooper uttered on primary nights is fading fast—the current Real Clear Politics average has Mitt Romney up by 10 percentage points in Illinois. Even David Axelrod is putting his money on Mitt tonight. With Rick Santorum unable to build momentum from his Deep South wins last week, the Romney campaign has returned to its pre-Iowa strategy of talking smack about Obama. Although Romney, party elites, and the pundits are all back on the same page, the remaining renegade Republicans are still...

Newt Gingrich Is In the Zone

If I have to go to one more zoo, I'm going to drive an ice pick into my ear. (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
A kajillion years or so ago, I spent a bunch of time working on electoral campaigns. Since I was drawn to idealistic liberals, everybody I worked for lost, sometimes quite spectacularly. And I noticed something that happens on a losing campaign: After months of spending your days telling everyone you meet (voters, potential volunteers, potential donors, reporters) how your candidate is just the bee's knees and he is totally going to win despite what everyone thinks, the scales can fall from your eyes. This seems to happen about 72 hours before election day. A strange sense of calm overtakes you, something like the endorphin rush you're supposed to get as your body approaches death. People on the campaign begin to wander off in a daze. On one campaign I was working on in Northern California, after putting in 16-hour days for weeks, the field director (my boss, and someone older and more experienced than me), said, as we were out on an errand two days before the election, a time that...

I'll Catch the Next One

(AP Photo/Whitney Curtis)
(AP Photo/Whitney Curtis) Susan Klobe, right, and her husband, Wayne Klobe, of Ferguson, Mo., attend the "Gateway to November" rally hosted by the St. Louis Tea Party and Tea Party Patriots, Sunday, Sept. 12, 2010, at the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. "We've got to clean house and get rid of these guys in Washington," said Susan Klobe. If the 2012 Republican nomination race effectively has dwindled to two, what’s striking is how the Tea Party has vanished from the competition. Having virtually taken over the Republican Party two years ago, jettisoning in the process garden-variety right-wingers in order to nominate former witches, now the Tea Party is hard-pressed to identify which dog in the current hunt is theirs. Social conservative Ron Santorum and East Coast establishment Mitt Romney both are throwbacks to earlier Republican incarnations: Santorum is damned by his Senate record of earmarks and government spending, and on the issue of health-care reform that helped galvanize the Tea...

The Javelin Takes Down a Saint

(Flickr/NewsHour)
Secret Service names, while irrelevant for the actual election, are always a good source for a little amusement. In 2007 Barack Obama was designated the "Renegade" as he sought to takedown "Evergreen"—the name given to Hillary Clinton back when she was first lady. Gerald Ford's "Pass Key" seemed to presage his early departure from the White House. George H.W. Bush's "Timberwolf" seems a little rough and tumble for the demure president. Personally I'm preferential to the evocative "Rawhide" that Reagan went by. Now that Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum are being guarded by our nation's finest they've picked up new monikers for themselves. GQ nabbed the exclusive reveal last night. Romney will go by the handle "Javelin," one presumably directed to fell the incumbent president. For the few remaining months Santorum is in the race he'll be labeled "Petrus." The first results from Googling indicate that Petrus is Gordon Ramsey restaurant or a wine of the Bordeaux variety, but Santorum would...

Romney Gets Abstract On the Economy

President Obama in a Chevy Volt (official White House photo by Pete Souza)
For a long time, commentators noted that Barack Obama was going to have a hard time persuading the public with his argument about the economy, since it would come down to, "It could have been worse." Saying that unemployment may still be over 8 percent, and it peaked at 10 percent in October of 2009, but if it hadn't been for the stimulus we passed things would have been much, much worse, isn't going to be a consolation if you're unemployed. The fact that most economists say that the stimulus did in fact have a substantial positive effect on the economy doesn't really matter when it comes to getting people to vote for your re-election. When times are bad, "It could have been worse" is small comfort. That was the story up until recently. But the last few months have shown strong job growth, and most everyone is expecting that the economy will continue its upward trajectory. And guess what that has done to Mitt Romney: made him argue the mirror image of what everyone said Obama couldn't...

A Remarkable Work of Staggering Dishonesty

(Jamelle Bouie/The American Prospect)
As Greg Sargent , Steve Benen , and others have amply demonstrated, Mitt Romney has a problem with the truth. Throughout his campaign, he has openly lied about his previous positions, his beliefs, and the records of his opponents, Republican or otherwise. In a speech today on economic freedom at the University of Chicago, Romney continued the trend, building a mostly substanceless case against President Obama on the basis of half-truths and falsehoods. You can read the whole speech if you’d like. For now, I’d like to highlight a few passages that sum up Romney’s case against Obama in fact-free aplomb. First, there’s this: For three years, President Obama has expanded government instead of empowering the American people. He’s put us deeper in debt. He’s slowed the recovery and harmed our economy. There are a few things missing from this account. First is the fact that the Great Recession began in 2008 and was already on its way to reach its nadir by the time Obama took office. By the...

Election 2012, the Movie

(Photo courtesy of the Daily Show/Comedy Central)
It was back during Pat Buchanan's bumptious 1996 primary campaign that my better half glanced up from CNN with a bemused look on her face. "You know what this is about?" she asked. "Little boys in this country used to dream about growing up to run for president. Now they just run for president." Right she was, and maturity hasn't exactly been on the political upswing since then. That's why one way to get a handle on the 2012 race is by figuring out which movies the candidates' fantasy lives are goading them to privately star in, from Newt Gingrich—the first six-year-old with a super PAC—to long-vamoosed riot grrl Michele Bachmann (c'mon, can't you already picture her watching The Hunger Games with tears in those unnerving baby blues of hers?). The guesses below are provisional and also confined to those still in the running, so feel free to chime in with your own picks for everybody's inner Cinemascope epic. Movie Ron Paul Thinks He's Starring In: The Old Man and the Sea. He is a very...

Obama Doesn't Have a Small-Donor Problem

(Flickr/401K)
Mitt Romney's struggle to attract small-dollar donors has been well documented . Just 10 percent of his money has come from donations of less than $200, while the vast majority of his money has come from nearly maxed-out contributions. Even though Newt Gingrich lags by a wide margin in overall funding, he's managed to gather more money from small donors, $8.8 million to Romney's $6.4 million. The fundraising gap is large enough thanks to wealthy donors that Romney should be fine for the remaining primaries, but it could spell trouble for the general election. Romney has a smaller base of donors to turn to for further contributions, and the tepid rate of small checks is an indication that Romney has failed to trigger much excitement among regular voters. Now that's being flipped by The Washington Post , which ran an article speculating that Obama is in trouble by relying too much on small-figure donors: But Obama lags behind Republican front-runner Mitt Romney in finding donors willing...

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