TAMPA, FLORIDA—Newt Gingrich yesterday laid out an ambitious plan for his first 24 hours, speaking before a geriatric crowd in the Villages. His first day in office would include signing a repeal of three separate bills—because of course the weight of his victory would compel Congress to work past their differences for his grandiose vision—and a series of executive orders. He upped the ante on Monday in Tampa, adding even more items to this already-busy hypothetical agenda.
LUTZ, FLORIDA— On the last Sunday before the Florida primary, Newt Gingrich bowed his head at Exciting Idlewild Baptist Church, a megachurch in a suburb north of Tampa. As the remaining Republican candidates scramble to reach as many voters as humanly possible before Tuesday's all-important primary, every chance to preen before a captive audience is a golden opportunity. And no audience is more glued to their seats than devout Christians on a Sunday.
Talk to Newt Gingrich's supporters in Florida, and you'll likely hear someone bemoan the negative tone of the presidential campaign. They're sick of the attacks, both against Gingrich by the super PACs and Romney himself, but some also say they dislike the idea of negativity in general, even when it's done by their preferred candidate.
Peg Bradley was "infuriated" when I spoke with her after a Mitt Romney rally on the Space Coast last Friday. In her view, Romney and Gingrich are ripping apart the Republican Party with their "divisive" attacks both "twisting the other one's record." She wanted to hear what Romney had to say in person but considered her vote pretty much decided. "Because Romney's super PAC started it all, I'm voting Gingrich."
Over at The Washington Post, op-ed editor Fred Hiatt is worried that the political world has stopped being concerned with the federal debt and is instead focused on pet programs:
Mitt Romney would extend all the Bush tax cuts and cut trillions more besides—eliminating taxes on investment income for most Americans, reducing the corporate tax, getting rid of the inheritance tax and more. How would he afford this? Please don’t ask.
Let's assume that the polls are right and Mitt Romney beats Newt Gingrich in Florida tomorrow. Newt will come before the cameras and say that it happened because The Establishment did him in. Will he be right? Or will it be something a little less conspiratorial?
At his blog Frontloading HQ, political scientist Josh Putnam notes that, after Florida, it becomes impossible for a candidate to enter and win the 1,144 delegates necessary to attain the Republican presidential nomination:
If the list is constrained more simply to the states where filing deadlines have not passed, the total delegates open to a late entrant drops to 1157. After Tuesday, when Kentucky’s (and Indiana’s petition—see footnote 17 above) deadlines pass that total will drop below 1144 to 1066.
For as much as Beltway pundits and old Washington hands pine for a new age of bipartisanship, the simple fact—as this new Gallup analysis suggests—is that the conditions for bipartisan cooperation have long since evaporated. President Barack Obama, for example, is the most polarizing president in Gallup polling history, followed by Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton (if you isolate George W. Bush’s last three years, polarization is extremely high):
That's how I saw it when he confronted a protester during the South Carolina primaries. The young man asked how the former Massachusetts governor, as a member of the 1 percent, planned to support the 99 percent. Romney gave an answer that he'd been polishing for a week about the need for unity during our country's darkest hour and how demands of the 1 percent were attempts at division and rancor among the citizenry. Then he cited countries that we were supposed to understand were not better:
"If you’ve got a better model, if you think China’s better, or Russia’s better, or Cuba’s better, or North Korea’s better, I’m glad to hear all about it. But you know what, you know what, America’s right, and you’re wrong.”
THE VILLAGES, FLORIDA—Newt Gingrich has been roundly mocked by both the media and his opponents for his preposterous proposal to build a moon base by 2020. As outlandish as that claim may be, it's nothing compared to the promises Gingrich offered yesterday during a campaign stop at The Villages, a planned retirement community in central Florida.
CAPE CANAVERAL, FLORIDA—Mitt Romney took a note from the Gingrich playbook Friday afternoon when he visited Florida's Space Coast. Beyond the photo-op in front of a space module that once went up on one of the now retired space shuttles though, Romney made no attempt to match Gingrich's grandiose vision. He laid out reasons why he will continue a basic investment in space exploration—namely commercial, national defense and Armageddon type catastrophes—but didn't lay out any precise ideas for what he would do if he becomes president other than a vague suggestion that more of the burden should rest on private enterprises.
ORLANDO, FLORIDA—Mitt Romney just can't drop his phony everyman act, and he added a new spin on it Friday night: the struggling young businessman.
By this point anyone with even the slightest interest in politics is well aware of Romney's extreme wealth. Criticism from his rivals finally forced Romney to enter his most recent tax returns into the public record, and the figures were astounding. He earned $21.7 million in 2010; he earns the average median household income in less than a single day.
CAPE CANAVERAL, FLORIDA—Presidential campaigns are often rote affairs. This fact is shielded from the majority of the voters, who tune into the debates and perhaps attend one town hall. The candidates strive to present their stump speeches as organic conversations delivered extemporaneously, not the finely tuned scripts they truly are. But it's obvious to journalists who tag along with the traveling press corps—you hear the same boring anecdote delivered hour after hour, day after day.
Has Newt Gingrich floundered in Florida because he doesn’t understand his own appeal to GOP voters? In South Carolina, the former house speaker hit upon an anti-elite message that goes straight to the heart of the Tea Party—and the political moment. It was nothing new: the kind of silent-majority red meat that white conservatives have eagerly consumed since the days of Wallace and Nixon (not to mention Bush and Palin). But it was a message tuned to a time when Americans are increasingly cognizant of wealth disparities, and aware that elites have cornered the market on economic opportunity.