Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

And the Winner Is: Barack Obama

(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Without question, the winner of Wednesday’s Republican debate was Barack Obama. This wasn’t apparent at the beginning; during the first forty minutes, Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul argued about earmarks, and made the usual promise to cut taxes, cut spending, and magically balance the budget. But by the end of the event, the candidates had revealed their hostility toward women and Latinos, and further ensured that they would stay on Obama’s side into the fall. It wasn’t actually until after the first commercial break that moderator John King asked the candidates about the elephant in the room—birth control. After Gingrich went through the usual motion of insulting King for posing the question, the candidates embarked on a fantastic voyage of obfuscation, dishonesty, and outright attacks on women’s health. Mitt Romney, whose ancestors were driven from the country by the government for their religious beliefs, began the exchange with an attack on the...

Santorum's Piñata Moment

Back in early September, after he’d vaulted into the lead in Republican polls, Texas Governor Rick Perry found himself the queasy center of attention in his maiden presidential debate. "I kind of feel like the piñata here at the party," Perry said midway through the inquisition. It wasn’t long before Perry “oopsed” himself into oblivion—the fate that’s met each of the conservative shooting stars (Bachmann, Pawlenty, Cain, Gingrich) who’ve plummeted back to Earth partly because of the Piñata Effect. Tonight, in what might be the last 2012 GOP debate, it’s Rick Santorum’s turn. Coming six days before primaries in Michigan and Arizona, as Santorum leads in national polls, the 8 p.m. EST showdown in Mesa will be a test of how he can handle being a frontrunner—an experience he hasn’t had since his 2000 Senate campaign in Pennsylvania—and of whether Mitt, Newt and Ron can get his goat and turn their fortunes around. Throughout the previous 20 (or 25, depending on how you count them)...

Women for Santorum?

(Jamelle Bouie/The American Prospect)
If this new poll from the Associated Press is any indication, Republicans have mixed feelings about the presidential race. On one hand, 60 percent of Republican say that they are satisfied with the people running for the nomination, which is down from the 66 percent in October. This isn’t a great number, but it isn’t a sign of widespread disappointment, and it dovetails with polls from Gallup that show a broad preference for sticking with candidates that are in the race, rather than reaching for someone new. That said, only 40 percent of Republicans say they have any interest in the race, which is down from 48 percent in December. Some of this comes from election fatigue—constant coverage can result in people losing interest. What’s more, the race has stabilized considerably since January, and has probably lost some of its excitement. The general election should energize Republicans, since they’ll have a nominee and a direct competitor, in the form of President Obama. Even still, the...

Romney's Out of Flops on Abortion

(Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
Lots of politicians, and quite a few presidential candidates, have changed their minds on abortion. This is partly because, in its broadest terms, it is a weighty, complex issue with a legitimate case to be made on both sides, even if one side has a stronger case (I'm not talking here about subsidiary issues like parental consent or the despicable laws requiring women to get ultrasounds or anything like that, just the basic question of whether abortion is right or wrong). It's also because in recent years, both parties have tolerated less and less deviation on the issue, particularly in anyone who wants to be their presidential nominee. There are still a few pro-life Democrats (like Harry Reid) and pro-choice Republicans (like Olympia Snowe), but the days when someone could hope to get on a national ticket without toeing the line on abortion are gone. So if you've been around a while, there's a chance you held one belief in your early years, but then moved to align with your party...

Virginia Backs Down on Mandatory Transvaginal Ultrasound

(Jamelle Bouie/The American Prospect)
*Update: Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell retracted his support of transvaginal ultrasounds for women seeking abortions Wednesday afternoon. In a statement released to the press, McDonell said : Thus, having looked at the current proposal, I believe there is no need to direct by statute that further invasive ultrasound procedures be done. Mandating an invasive procedure in order to give informed consent is not a proper role for the state. No person should be directed to undergo an invasive procedure by the state, without their consent, as a precondition to another medical procedure. The new bill makes the transvaginal ultrasound voluntary but requires an external, non-invasive, ultrasound. Since it passed the House of Delegates last week, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell has maintained that he would sign a bill mandating transvaginal ultrasounds for women seeking abortions, should it reach his desk. Not only does this place him on the wrong side of reproductive health advocates—who (...

Um, What's a Brokered Convention?

(Copyright Bettmann/Corbis/AP Images) President Jimmy Carter accepts the Democratic nomination for president at the 1980 convention. T here comes a point in every presidential election battle where political pundits and fanatical West Wing-watchers alike hold their breaths, click their heels, and wish upon an earmark that this will be the year of the brokered convention. As the surety of Mitt Romney’s arranged marriage to the Republican Party steadily diminishes while other suitors pull ahead, the plausibility of a tussle in Tampa come convention-time in August has grown. Herewith, a look at the peculiar institution of the nomination convention, why all the talking heads are in a tizzy about a brokered instead of a fixed one, and what the odds are of a televised royal rumble this summer. What is a brokered convention? In their current form, conventions are exercises in collective vanity, an excuse for the party’s settled nominee—who has already garnered enough delegates to make his...

Ultimate Whack-A-Mole

This next week, culminating in the February 28 primaries in Arizona and Michigan, could very well make or break Mitt Romney’s campaign—politically and even financially. The only feasible way he can sweep the contests, with Rick Santorum narrowly leading in Michigan and closing in on him fast in Arizona, is the same way Romney nearly won Iowa and did win Florida: Unleash colossal amounts of cash. This has largely been a Whack-a-Mole campaign: Whenever a conservative contender creeps out of the woodwork, Romney’s money machine obliterates him with multi-million-dollar attacks. His one truly impressive win so far came in Florida, where his campaign and super PAC spent more than $14 million bombarding the airwaves with negative ads and effectively stomped out Newt Gingrich’s second fledgling surge. Now the Romney treasure chest seeks to snuff out Santorum’s nascent legitimacy by deploying its full financial arsenal in Michigan—a state everyone thought the former Massachusetts governor had...

Santorum's Problem: the American People

The National Review ’s Rich Lowrey argues that the media is out to get Rick Santorum for his unapologetic social conservatism: Santorum is a standing affront to the sensibilities and assumptions of the media and political elite. That elite is constantly writing the obituary for social conservatism, which is supposed to wither away and leave a polite, undisturbed consensus in favor of social liberalism. Santorum not only defends beliefs that are looked down upon as dated and unrealistic; he does it with a passionate sincerity that opens him to mockery and attack. It’s absolutely true that Santorum—or rather, his beliefs—are a “standing affront” to the sensibilities of the elites. But this is also true of the country at large. Like it or not, most Americans support abortion rights, the wide availability of contraception, and an equal role for women in the public sphere. They like public schools—even if they could use improvement—and they aren’t on board with Santorum’s hostility to gay...

More Reasons Not to Look for a Brokered Convention

Library of Congress The 1920 Republican National Convention. With Mitt Romney unable to build support with a solid majority of Republicans, and the only alternative—Rick Santorum—an unelectable disaster, some Republicans have floated the possibility of a brokered convention, where party leaders decide the nominee for themselves. There are a few practical problems with this scenario; first, a new candidate would have had to enter the race two months ago, in order to have a chance at amassing a substantial portion of delegates. Moreover, it’s been forty years since individual party leaders controlled large portions of delegates. In other words, there are no delegates for GOP elites to actually broker. Then there’s the issue of Republican voters themselves. If this new survey from Gallup and USA Today is any indication, Republicans aren’t too keen on the idea of a brokered convention: By 66%–29%, the Republicans and Republican-leaning independents surveyed say it would be better if one...

Chart of the Day

By way of Mother Jones is this great chart comparing the costs of presidential elections from 1860 to the present: What’s remarkable is the extent to which election costs are very stable, at least until the last eight years, when they begin to explode. 2012 promises to be an even more expensive election, but I’d be careful before attributing that to Super PACs. Any number of things could be responsible for the change, from the growth of independent groups—which predates Citizens United —to the revolution in small donors we saw during the 2008 campaign. Even without anonymous donors and eccentric billionaires pumping millions into campaigns, it’s possible that we’d still face an extraordinarly expensive campaign season.

Mitt Romney's Wingman

Ron Paul's constant support for Mitt Romney has been one of this campaign's enduring mysteries. Paul has attacked every other candidate, often with vigor, but has never aimed his sites at Romney. And now he's taking on Rick Santorum directly, with his admaker's unusual (for political ads, anyway) style of hyper-kinetic, animation-based frenzy. Check it out: We'll get to the substance in a minute, but first, why is Paul doing this? I guess you could argue that if he helps Romney knock off Santorum, then it's just him and Romney. The hottest conspiracy theory is that Paul is actually working to secure a VP nod for his son, the spectacularly awful Rand Paul, and Dad carrying water for the probable nominee is the best way to do it. But nobody really knows what lurks in the heart of Paul. The attack on Santorum is actually pretty revealing. It all flies by pretty fast, but in there you have that Santorum voted to raise the debt ceiling; "doubled the size of the Department of Education" (...

There is No Catholic Vote

(Phil Roeder/Flickr)
Writing at The New Republic , Ed Kilgore contests the oft-mentioned idea that there is a distinguishable “Catholic vote” that is mobilized by issues like birth control: The more you look at the numbers, the idea that there is some identifiable Catholic vote in America, ready to be mobilized, begins to fade towards irrelevance. In the 2000, 2004, and 2008 presidential elections, Catholics voted within a couple of percentage points of the electorate as a whole. […] The idea that Catholics no longer behave self-consciously as “Catholics” on hot-button issues reflects the broader reality that they have become hard to distinguish from other Americans in their political behavior. The fight over birth control coverage in the Affordable Care Act has led to a lot of prognostication about the fate of the so-called “Catholic vote.” Republican strategists believe that Catholics are now ripe for the picking, and liberals like Time ’s Amy Sullivan see the administration’s actions as a recipe for...

The Least Funny Republican

(Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
From our standpoint over on the left, this Republican presidential primary has been a remarkable spectacle to behold. We've watched in wonder as one ridiculous candidate after another has rocketed to the top of the polls, all while the guy everyone assumes will be the eventual nominee struggles to convince voters he's a real human. The race has been a parade of charlatans and fools, with the lead at various times being held by an unhinged religious nut (Bachmann), a governor who made George W. Bush look like Stephen Hawking (Perry), a pizza executive whose ignorance was truly head-spinning (Cain), the nation's most unpopular major politician (Gingrich), and America's most vulgar citizen (Trump). None of these people were remotely imaginable as president, and all were a hoot to watch as they bumbled along toward their inevitable falls. But now that Rick Santorum is the last non-Romney standing, things have taken a serious turn. Santorum is not hilariously buffoonish, amusingly stupid,...

Santorum Surge FTW

(Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
Since his three primary wins at the beginning of the month, there has been a bit of speculation about the electability of former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum. The assumption was that Santorum, who lost his re-election bid by 18 points, would be a complete disaster in a general election. But that was before Mitt Romney embarked on his plan to alienate independents and destroy his standing with Republican voters. Even still, Santorum’s campaign only makes sense for as long as he focuses on the economy and away from social issues. But in the last two weeks, issues surrounding reproductive health have roared to the center stage of American politics, and Santorum—who built his name as a culture warrior—couldn’t resist the temptation to comment. Last Saturday, in Columbus, Ohio, Santorum entered the fray with a broadside attack against President Barack Obama’s policies, arguing that they’re “not about you. It’s not about your quality of life. It’s not about your jobs. It’s about some...

The Bible Eruption

As we’re freshly reminded by the Presidents' Day debut of Clinton , a PBS documentary on the Man from Hope, one big question clouded his 1992 primary campaign: When would the “bimbo eruption” come? (Thanks to Gennifer Flowers, it came early in the process; thanks to Hillary’s “stand by your man” command performance on 60 Minutes , it didn’t derail him from the ultimate goal.) Twenty years later, with Rick Santorum having been raptured to the top of the GOP polls, the question was a bit different, though no less pressing: When would the Bible eruption come? It happened this weekend, a little more than a week before the Michigan and Arizona primary shoot-outs with Mitt Romney. Lurching away from his economic message, Santorum told a Tea Party crowd in Columbus, Ohio, that President Obama bases his environmentalism on “some phony theology. Oh, not a theology based on the Bible. A different theology.” Santorum then spent the rest of the weekend simultaneously back-pedaling and continuing...

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