Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Zing!

Flickr/webjones
The other day, The New York Times reported that in their debate preparations, "Mr. Romney's team has concluded that debates are about creating moments and has equipped him with a series of zingers that he has memorized and has been practicing on aides since August." This then became the subject of predictable ridicule (check out #romneyzingers or #mittzingers on Twitter), but it actually does give us a window into the unfortunate state of the Romney campaign. I'm sure they're feeling pretty tense up in Boston right now. Barack Obama has a small but stubborn lead in every poll, there's only a month left, and these debates are the best chance the campaign has at doing something dramatic. So if you were involved in Romney's debate prep, you probably wouldn't think that just showing your candidate to be smart and likeable will be enough to change the campaign's direction. Hence the pressure for zingers. But it's tempting to learn the lessons of past debates a little too well, and that may...

Massachusetts Senate Debate, the Unscripted Version

What a ruckus! NBC's David Gregory hosted the second debate between Massachusetts Senate candidates, sitting Republican Scott Brown and his Democratic challenger, Elizabeth Warren. If you want to call the interruption derby that devolved before the University of Massachusetts at Lowell students' eyes a debate. Gregory opened by asking Warren about the well-worn Cherokee heritage controversy. Warren repeated what she's said before—including in the last debate, which Brown opened by attacking her on the same issue. (Full disclosure: Warren's daughter, Amelia Warren Tyagi, is a member of The American Prospect ’s board of directors and is chair of the board of the magazine’s publishing partner, Demos.) Gregory devoted many minutes of the debate to the issue, which began when the Boston Herald reported that Harvard University had claimed Warren as a minority on forms to counteract claims that its faculty wasn't diverse enough. Brown wants to use it to cast doubt on the entire biography...

The Carter Surprise

Ask Americans about Jimmy Carter, and the most popular response may well be: “Um. Wait. Was he a president or something?” After all, the man left office more than three decades ago, long before many voters were born. Unlike the Reagan years, there was nothing definitional about Carter’s presidency—which was one of its problems. And unlike Bill Clinton, the Man from Plains didn’t preside over a boom time—which was another one of his problems. He’s been a swell ex-president, but normal people don’t pay much heed to ex-presidents, especially the ones who run around doing fine things for humanity (yawn). Sure, to some politicos, “Jimmy Carter” is still synonymous with a gloomy and failed presidency. But for everybody else, Jimmy Carter was yesterday’s news 20 years ago. But he’s about to make a dramatic comeback, if the Romney campaign has anything to say about it. At Salon, Craig Unger reported today on the grand turnaround strategy that Team Romney is “ chortling with glee ” about: “to...

To the Spin Room!

A primary debate spin room, only a fraction as busy as what we'll see in Denver. (Flickr/WEBN-TV)
Barack Obama and Mitt Romney will be debating on Wednesday night, and as Michael Calderone tells us , an absolutely incredible 3,000 journalists will be trooping out to Denver to be there when it happens. They won't actually be in the hall, though. They'll be in a nearby gym, watching it on TV like everyone else. But after the debate ends, they'll decamp to the "spin room, where partisans will dispense utterly predictable remarks on what just happened. "Governor Romney hit it out of the park, while President Obama couldn't justify his failures," a Romney staffer will say. "President Obama hit it out of the park, while Mitt Romney only reinforced the doubts the American people have about him," an Obama staffer will say. "Ooo, that's fascinating—give me more of your interpretation of what I just saw, campaign staffer," no one in the world will say. Calderone asks one relevant question—Should they bother? (Answer: No)—but I'd like to address another couple: Why do they do it in the first...

Foreign Policy Is Hard

"If this Romney is elected, we will obviously have to shut down the nuclear program. He is so strong and resolute!" (Aslan Media)
In today's Wall Street Journal , Mitt Romney takes to the op-ed page to offer his vision for a new American policy in the Middle East. Apparently, the tragic recent events in Benghazi have convinced Romney and his advisors that something is going on over there, and though they aren't sure exactly what, it's definitely something, and therefore Romney ought to come and say something about it, to show everyone how wrong Barack Obama is. If you thought Romney was being vague about his domestic policy, that's nothing compared to what he has to say about foreign policy. The first half of the piece is the standard criticism of the Obama administration (he's weak!), and here's the part where Romney lays out in specific detail exactly what he'd do differently: In this period of uncertainty, we need to apply a coherent strategy of supporting our partners in the Middle East—that is, both governments and individuals who share our values. This means restoring our credibility with Iran. When we say...

Mon, Oct. 01 Electoral Vote Predictor

The Shadow of the Debates Looms Large Both President Obama and Mitt Romney are preparing for the first debate Wednesday. Dozens of surrogates are preparing people for a miserable performance from their candidate. The idea is that if the candidate does not drool all over his tie, he can be declared the winner. It is not clear why they bother. People will watch the debate and decide what they think based on what they see, not based on how low the candidate's spinners have managed to set the bar. Team Romney has announced it has some real zingers it is going to hurl at Obama. In contrast, Obama said he is going to be serious and not aim for clever sound bites. But as every comedian knows all too well, good comedy requires not only good lines, but a sense of timing and pacing—qualities that Romney is not known for. If his lines fall flat, he is going to become fodder for the late-night comedians, who do have good stage presence. Even more-or-less-serious pundits are already suggesting...

Diane Ravitch Talks School Reform, the Chicago Strike, and the "Testing Vampire"

(Credit: DianeRavitch.com)
Click here for part 2 of the Prospect 's interview with the former assistant secretary of education. Diane Ravitch is famous* for two things: championing the education-reform movement, then leading the opposition to it. The movement, which broadly supports an agenda that emphasizes student assessment (a.k.a. testing) and school choice (a.k.a. charter schools), has come to dominate American education policy. For the most part, both Democrats and Republicans now push to make school systems resemble economic markets. They want fewer teacher protections, more testing, and more charter schools for parents to choose from. President Barack Obama's Department of Education, headed by education reformer Arne Duncan, shares many policy goals with those of George W. Bush's administration. Ravitch herself was once part of the movement, promoting student assessments and helping to create voluntary academic standards. After serving as assistant secretary of education under George H.W. Bush, she held...

How Obama Beats Romney

(AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
DENVER, COLORADO —By the time his motorcade pulled up to Magness Arena on the campus of the University of Denver at 6:40 local time Wednesday evening, October 3, the president knew he had 20 minutes to make a decision. The campaign of his opponent, Governor Mitt Romney, had so deteriorated that, for his part, Barack Obama understood there was a sound argument on behalf of running out the clock and not taking any great risks. The president is typically a prudent man, right up until the moment he does something notably risky, such as ordering the mission that killed Osama bin Laden in spite of virtually all of his inner circle advising against it (except CIA Director Leon Panetta). Now, with only moments until the debate began, the president could anticipate what might well be moderator Jim Lehrer’s opening question, for which the Obama campaign had prepared an innocuous response, counting on the near certainty that Governor Romney would offer a response even more useless. But another,...

Sun, Sep. 30 Electoral Vote Predictor

Republican Strategists Tell Romney to Stop Playing It Safe Mitt Romney is using a campaign strategy of running out the clock, something appropriate for an incumbent who is ahead but not for a challenger who is behind. Numerous Republicans are pleading with him to break out and do something bold. Suggestions include going to the site of the Keystone XL pipeline that President Obama has put on hold and talk to unemployed workers who want to build it or even just going to diners and talking to voters. But Romney refuses to do these things, possibly because his handlers are afraid he will make a gaffe that becomes the news for a day or more. So he sticks to reciting his prepared remarks in carefully staged settings and avoids all retail politics. While there had been endless discussion about whether Romney is conservative enough or too conservative or too rich or too secretive or too whatever, one aspect of the choice of him as nominee hasn't gotten much attention: He is not a good...

Sat, Sep. 29 Electoral Vote Predictor

How Does the Presidential Race Compare to Previous Ones? One way to measure the presidential race is to compare the national Gallup poll now to national Gallup polls taken on or close to this date in previous years to see their predictive value. Talking Points Memo has collected the data, and here it is . The notation D+6 means the Democrat was ahead by 6 points, etc. Incumbents are marked with an asterisk. Click here for full story

Early and Overconfident

Ringside Seat is the Prospect' s daily election-related newsletter. To sign up for it, go here . If Democrats weren’t already feeling blithely overconfident about President Obama’s re-election prospects, some are pointing to early voting as yet another source of sanguinity. The last time that there was a major “October surprise” in a presidential election, when Ronald Reagan “sealed the deal” against Jimmy Carter in a late-October debate, there was no such thing as early voting. Even absentee voting was in its infancy. But as part of progressive efforts to improve turnout, especially among low-income voters who sometimes can’t make it to the polls on Election Day, early voting has spread fast in recent elections—from 16 percent of all ballots cast in 2000 to about one-third of the total in 2008. This year, as many as 40 percent of Americans will vote early —which means they can, in the majority of states, already vote. And where does most early voting occur? In swing states. Iowa...

Reaping What Elections Sow

(Flickr/ BKM_BR)
In 2010, Tea Party mania influenced elections at every level—congressional races and governorships, most famously. But the biggest impact was on state legislatures, where 21 house or senate chambers flipped from Democratic to Republican control. In states like Texas, Republican majorities turned into supermajorities; in the Texas House, Democrats were no longer needed to make up a quorum. All the legislative energy was on the side of Tea Party Republicans. They made sweeping, historic changes—to labor laws, to health care, to reproductive rights, and, most of all, to state budgets and public school funding. In a few weeks, voters in most states will be choosing new lawmakers again. They'll make their decisions based in part on how they believe the incumbents governed over the last two years. But because of the massive scale of changes ushered in by Tea Party Republicans, it's going to be extremely difficult—if not downright impossible—for voters to judge the effects of those changes...

Guess Who's More Popular than Mitt Romney? George W. Bush

Wikipedia
This is incredible: According to the most recent Bloomberg national poll, President George W. Bush—the man whose administration left us with two wars, crushing debt, a broken economy, and a tattered reputation—is more popular than Republican nominee Mitt Romney. Bush receives a favorable rating from 46 percent of those surveyed, and an unfavorable rating from 49 percent. By contrast, Romney receives a 43 percent favorable rating, and a 50 percent unfavorable. This makes Bush more popular than Vice President Joe Biden (42–45) and the Republican Party as a whole (41–46). Two observations: First, if this result is accurate—and given Mitt Romney’s low favorability ratings across polls, there’s no reason to think it isn’t—then it’s partly a reflection of current conditions. The economy is worse now than it was at any point during the Bush administration. Even if Bush bears plenty of responsibility for the economic crisis, voters still look to the past as a better time, because in a narrow...

Who's to Blame for Mitt Romney?

Old white conservative guys pretending to be excited about Mitt Romney. (Flickr/Newshour)
Who's to blame for Mitt Romney? That seems to be the question of the day out there on the interwebs. Politico tells us that the answer conservatives give when you ask them is, Mitt Romney is to blame: "Slowly and reluctantly, Republicans who love and work for Romney are concluding that for all his gifts as a leader, businessman and role model, he's just not a good political candidate in this era." Steve Kornacki counters that the problem isn't so much Mitt himself, it's the Republican party, which "never actually bothered to create a comprehensive post-Bush blueprint." Jonathan Chait notes that although some conservatives are now claiming Romney was foisted upon them by the establishment, nobody within the GOP really wanted Romney: "He won by default." So who's right? They all are! Every factor has worked against a Republican victory this fall. Terribly unlikeable candidate? Check. Paucity of plausible primary alternatives? Check. Absurdly unpopular party dominated by crazy people?...

"You Didn't Build That" vs. the 47 Percent

Remember when "you didn't build that" was going to be the ticket to the White House for Mitt Romney? Seems like a long time ago, but for a while there the entire Romney campaign reoriented itself around this alleged gaffe that Barack Obama had committed. They printed banners about it, they organized events about it, they made TV ads about it, they made it the theme of their convention. And what happened? It just didn't work. The contrast with the Obama's campaign's favorite Romney gaffe, the secretly recorded "47 percent" video, is so striking it sums up everything that has gone wrong for the Romney campaign and right for the Obama campaign. Let's start with "you didn't build that." The first reason the attack failed was that it relied on ripping Obama's words from their context and giving them a reading that was so tendentious it bordered on the absurd. Could anyone who didn't already think Obama is a socialist believe that he said to himself, "I'm going to go out and say that people...

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