Awhile back, I suggested that President Barack Obama might have a problem winning Florida in November. The latest polls showed him with a significant deficit and emphasized the extent to which the Sunshine State has plenty of advantages for Republicans: Demographically, it’s an exceptionally favorable state, with a large population of older whites. Overall, among whites, Obama lost every age group by double digits; his best performance was among whites ages 18 to 29, whom he lost by 10 points, instead of 12.5 points for whites over the age of 45, and 22 points for whites ages 30 to 44.
John McCain is no longer a substantively important figure in American politics. As a member of the minority party in the Senate, he chairs no committees. He is not a leader among his peers. Since losing in his second run for president, he continued his decades-long record of not bothering to engage in the legislating part of being a legislator (over a three-decade-long career, McCain has exactly one significant piece of legislation to his name, a law that was overturned by the Supreme Court). Yet he continues to be a politically important figure, appearing more often on the Sunday shows than anyone else and having his ideas and his opinions regularly reported on.
Which is why I simply must speak up now that the biggest myth about John McCain is cropping up again. It's the idea that, noble and modest as he is, McCain has always been terribly reluctant to discuss the fact that he was a POW in Vietnam.
The results of the Wisconsin recall election weren’t surprising; for the last month, polls had shown Walker with a solid lead over his Democratic opponent. What was interesting—and a little surprising—was the extent to which President Barack Obama has maintained a strong position in the Badger State. Among the 2.4 million people who voted in last night’s election—a slight decrease from presidential turnout—52 percent support Obama. Obama’s performance is down from 2008, when he captured 56 percent of the vote, but Mitt Romney hasn’t captured the difference.
Before 2008, there was a story I used to tell about how presidential campaigns have been waged over the last few decades. It goes like this: The Democrat comes before the voters and says, "If you examine my 10-point plan, I believe you will agree that my 10-point plan is superior to my opponent's 10-point plan." Then the Republican comes before the voters, points to the Democrat, and says, "That guy hates you and everything you stand for." It may not have applied to every election in our lifetimes (Bill Clinton was pretty good at running for president, you may remember), but it rang true enough that when I said it, liberals tended to chuckle and nod their heads.
That changed in 2008, when Barack Obama ran a campaign in both the primaries and general election that reflected a profound understanding that politics is much more about identity than issues. His opponent understood it too, but the statement of identity that a vote for McCain represented just couldn't garner a majority of the public at that moment in history.
So what kind of a statement of identity does a vote for Mitt Romney represent?
In March 2003, a then fairly obscure former Vermont governor and presidential candidate named Howard Dean stood up in front of a meeting of the California Democratic Party, opened his speech by criticizing the timidity and fearfulness of Democrats in Washington, and said to hearty cheers, "I'm Howard Dean, and I'm here to represent the Democratic wing of the Democratic party!" Rank-and-file Democrats were amazed and excited. Dean perfectly captured their frustration with national leaders whom they felt were wimps and capitulators, failing to stand up to a Republican president whom they disliked more than any other in their lifetimes.
In short order Dean became the candidate of the most partisan Democrats, and the news media portrayed him as some kind of wild-eyed liberal busting into the race from the extreme fringe. But the truth was that Dean was actually a moderate Democrat. He had opposed the Iraq War from the start, that was true. But he had also been endorsed by the National Rifle Association, and generally cut a profile in Vermont as a pragmatic center-left governor. Voters and reporters mistook his pugnacious style for a policy liberalism that wasn't really there, or at least wasn't any different from any of the establishment candidates against whom he ran.
I don't know whether or not they were inspired by Dean's story, but Mitt Romney and his advisors seem to have figured out that in this model there lies the key to securing the conservative base of the GOP that has distrusted Romney for so long.
There's no question the stakes of the Wisconsin recall are high. As I wrote last week, if Governor Scott Walker survives the election next week—no matter how slim the margin—he's likely to claim a mandate. Since he's already a rock star among conservatives and anti-union activists, Walker would be in a good position to push further right. If he loses, it gives the labor movement one of its biggest victories in years.
However, the fate of Wisconsin is unlikely to determine the fate of the presidential election. It may not even determine the presidential race in Wisconsin.
When the Washington Post story about Mitt Romney's high school years (including forcibly cutting the hair of a student whose commitment to conformism was insufficiently vigorous) came out, leading Republicans were fairly quiet about it. Whether the incident happened or not, they said, it tells us virtually nothing about the man Romney is today and the issues at stake in this election. That's a perfectly reasonable argument, but it isn't the one you would have heard from many of the foot soldiers in the Republican base. Among the troops, there was outrage, not so much about the Romney story, but about what they saw as a double-standard. As one emailed me after I wrote a piece on the topic, "I saw your article on CNN. When does the vetting of President Obama begin? Have you delved into his past? The next time I read an article about a young Barrack [sic] Obama will be the first."
As I replied to this person, there were hundreds, maybe thousands of articles written in 2008 (and since) about Barack Obama's youth. He even wrote a pretty frank book about it himself, before he ever became a politician. If you think he wasn't "vetted" you weren't paying attention. But there are millions of conservatives who believe precisely that, and as we approach Obama's possible re-election, with an extremely busy and consequential first term almost behind us, the obsession with his allegedly hidden past only grows.
Previously unseen video of shadowy character nobody has ever heard of.
Most of us would agree that Citizens United has been bad for democracy, with corporations and wealthy people now permitted to spend as much as they want to buy the kind of representatives they prefer. But there is one factor that we didn't really anticipate, something that mitigates the harm they can do: it turns out that rich people aren't necessarily that smart with their money.
So during the presidential primaries, casino mogul Sheldon Adelson spent $16.5 million to help out the campaign of Newt Gingrich, whom you might have noticed is not the GOP nominee. And in today's New York Times, we get an interesting story about Joe Ricketts, the founder of TD Ameritrade, who is preparing to spend $10 million to defeat Barack Obama. And what is the magic bullet Mr. Ricketts has located, the zinger that will bring down this incumbent president? Jeremiah Wright! Seriously. Jamelle discussed the racial aspect of this story, but I equally interesting is just how naive this demonstrates that influential people can be. Ricketts is going to spend all that money to "Show the world how Barack Obama's opinions of America and the world were formed...And why the influence of that misguided mentor and our president's formative years among left-wing intellectuals has brought our country to its knees." In other words, just about the same thing you could hear every day by listening to Glenn Beck's radio show or tuning in to Fox News.
In general, I’m not too concerned with civility in politics, but it’s hard not to be shocked by the nastiness and aggression of today’s Republican Party. Congressional Republicans routinely accuse Democrats of treason, or worse, with little rebuke from party leaders. Reliably conservative lawmakers—like Bob Inglis and Dick Lugar—are challenged nonetheless for their insufficient hatred of Democrats.
There’s no arguing that the Romney campaign’s formula for winning the GOP nomination—attack and destroy, attack and destroy—worked. But it also meant that their man left little or no positive impression with voters. The “pro-Romney” ads were overwhelmingly anti-Gingrich or anti-Santorum. In Florida alone, his campaign and super PAC spent a head-spinning $15.4 million on ads; exactly one of them was positive.
When he was the young mayor of Indianapolis in the late Sixties and early Seventies, Richard Lugar was acclaimed by Richard Nixon as his favorite mayor. An orthodox Main Street Republican, stiff despite his years, Lugar was competent, conventional and Nixonian in a good way (studious, intellectually ambitious) without any of Big Dick’s phobias. He brought those attributes to the Senate, where in recent decades he took on the challenge of ridding the world of loose nukes. It was a task that required him to work alongside his Democratic colleagues, which was never a problem for Lugar in any case.
A 2009 Tea Party rally in Madison protesting then-Governor Jim Doyle. (Flickr/cometstarmoon)
Based on emails from the Campaign to Defeat Barack Obama, the Tea Party-affiliated political action committee seems more like the Campaign to Support Scott Walker. Daily—sometimes multiple times a day—the organization sounds out emails blasting the move to recall Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.
The emails don't mince words. An April 15 email (subject line: Fox News + Wall Street Journal ALERT) tells subscribers that "If Obama's operatives and the union bosses win, they will export their tactic of million-dollar funded RECALLs against Republican governors across the country, and they will likely win Wisconsin's 10 Electoral Votes for Obama in November."
Forecasts of the Great Jewish Shift began as soon as the presidential campaign did: This year, we are told, Jews will finally vote Republican, or at least significantly more of them will than have done so in many a decade, perhaps forever. The predictions are a quadrennial ritual. They are made most often by Jewish Republicans, speaking in the bright voice of a compulsive gambler who knows that on this spin, the little ball will absolutely land on the right number. They are made by social scientists certain that reality will finally behave according to their models. They are made by Jewish Democrats as unable to control their anxiety as someone is to stop a tic.
The Democrats are putting all their emphasis on touting the Buffett Rule ahead of a Senate vote for next week to coincide with Tax Day. The push is ostensibly an effort to twist the arm of a few of the more moderate Republicans—say the two Maine Senators or running for reelection in Democratic territory Scott Brown—under the hope that they'll fear public backlash if they vote down the measure, a policy favored by over half of the country. However even if they peel off a few Republicans there is little hope that the bill would make any progress in the GOP-controlled House.