The economic genius makes a point. (Flickr/Marion Doss)
A few times in recent elections, a debate moderator has said to the candidates, "There's been a lot of negativity in this race. Is there anything nice you can say about your opponent?" To which they usually reply, "He's got a lovely family." But the inability to admit that the other guy ever in his life did anything right just makes you look like a phony, or a jerk, or both. To wit...
With 435 spots at stake every two years, it can be hard to keep track of all the important House races. After a round of redistricting, experts are still trying to figure out the new political maps and how they might favor one party or the other.
One race to keep a close eye on is Iowa's Fourth Congressional District, which swallowed up the Fifth District (it was contracted out of existence because of a decrease in the state's population). Republican Representative Steve King, a favorite among the Tea Party and former best buddies with Michele Bachmann, is the incumbent in the race. He'll face off against the well-known and respected Christie Vilsack, wife of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack; Tom Vilsack is a former governor of Iowa.
Mitt Romney speaking to troops in Afghanistan (Flickr/isafmedia)
No matter who the Republican presidential nominee turns out to be, this will be the first election in pretty much forever in which neither major party candidate served in the military. As a post-boomer, Barack Obama never had to worry too much about this question, since he came of age after the transition to an all-volunteer military. But Mitt Romney was of prime fighting age during Vietnam, a conflict he avoided with deferments for college and missionary work.
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:
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 almost like an Etch A Sketch, you can kind of shake it up and we start all over again." Predictably, Romney's opponents were all over it, especially Rick Santorum, who expressed his dismay.
I'm going to resist the impulse to shout "Aha!" and suggest that what Fehrstrom said was, from his vantage point, completely fine...
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.
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.
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.
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...
It’s official: Primary fatigue has set in. Today’s contest in Illinois is the 28th primary or caucus so far, and just as the public reacted in groans after the 20th 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.
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 was typically frenetic, "So, you been out to Half Moon Bay?" And we took a drive to look at the ocean.
I thought of that as I read this article in the Politico about the latest weird phase in the weirdness that is the presidential campaign of Newton Leroy Gingrich...
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 Party’s existence, Romney is the original sinner. Meanwhile, the two candidates closest to speaking for the Tea Party position, Congressman Ron Paul and former speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, are ghosts who have not gotten the message they’re dead.
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.
President Obama in a Chevy Volt (official White House photo by Pete Souza)
or 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 argue persuasively. Romney's case on the economy now comes down to "It could have been better"...