Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

The Question Rove Should Be Asking

The most recent conservative attack on the Obama campaign has been around the efficacy of its spending, i.e., “they are outspending us on ads, without any movement in the polls.” J.T. Young made this argument in the American Spectator a few days ago , and GOP guru Karl Rove made it today in the Wall Street Journal : His cash advantage over Mr. Romney was probably gone as of July 31, in large measure because (according to public records at TV stations) Team Obama has spent at least $131 million on television the last three months. These ads have not moved him up in the polls. The race is tied in the July 30 Gallup poll at 46%. Neither have the ads strengthened public approval of Mr. Obama’s handling of the economy, which is stuck at 44% in the July 22 NBC/WSJ poll, nor have they erased Mr. Romney’s seven-point lead in that poll regarding who has “good ideas for how to improve the economy.” Rove’s problem is that this goes both ways. When you tally the spending from all groups, Team...

Romney Is Not Trying to Please Policy Wonks

The Romney plan for the middle class, in its entirety.
Campaign plans are a little overrated. On one hand, it's good to tell people exactly what you want to do if you're elected. On the other hand, whatever you do on the really big issues is going to have to go through the legislative sausage grinder, so the degree to which what eventually gets produced resembles what you proposed is a function of how close you were to your party's desires in the first place. For instance, the Affordable Care Act ended up looking a lot like Barack Obama's 2008 health-care proposal. There were important exceptions—his proposal didn't include an individual mandate and did include a public option—but the contours reflected the elite Democratic consensus of the moment. That's why his plan didn't differ much from those offered by Hillary Clinton and John Edwards. So if you want to know what Mitt Romney is going to do, the best thing is probably to examine Paul Ryan's plans—as Ryan Lizza argues —because that's where the Republican Party is now. But Romney...

Team Obama Flanks Romney on Taxes

This morning, the Obama campaign came out swinging against Mitt Romney’s tax plan, which will raise taxes on 95 percent of households, according to the Tax Policy Center . Here’s the ad: The Romney campaign has pushed back, accusing the Center of bias—one of its analysts has ties to the Obama White House—but that ignores the extent to which the Center was quite generous in its evaluation of Romney’s plan. They assume a world where Romney cuts tax incentives for the rich—including the charitable giving deduction—and ends all deductions for any income over $200,000. They also assume that the plan will generate economic growth, providing funds to offset the cost of the tax cuts that form the centerpiece of the plan. But these implausibly optimistic assumptions aren’t enough to square the circle of Romney’s tax plan. The only way Romney can keep the Bush tax cuts, cut taxes by 20 percent on top of that, and keep revenue at its current level is to borrow huge sums of money or raise taxes...

Mitt Romney Doesn't Realize the Primaries Are Over

Come on down, Mitt!
Let it not be said that William Kristol—magazine editor, Fox News commentator, all-around uberpundit and man-about-town—is not a man with practical solutions for the strategic challenges that face a Republican presidential campaign. Today he gives the Romney advance team an important heads-up: "Mitt Romney's hosting a campaign event at Jeffco Fairgrounds in Golden, Colorado around lunchtime today, and a quick scan of Chick-fil-A's website shows several locations within fifteen miles or so of the Romney event. So it should be easy for Romney to stop at a Chick-fil-A for a photo-op (and a sandwich!) on his way there." Is Romney going to take the advice? I'd bet my bottom dollar he is. Because Chick-fil-A has become the right's culture war emblem of the moment , Mitt won't be able to resist. It would be just the latest sign of something rather remarkable: the election is only three months away, and almost everything Mitt Romney does seems geared not toward persuading undecided voters,...

Ted Cruz Is Not a Ticket to Latinos

(Wikipedia)
The first time I saw Ted Cruz in action was last year at the 2011 Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C. He was seven months into his campaign for the Senate nomination in Texas and had already been the subject of a glowing cover story for National Review . His speech to the Values Voter crowd was the usual blend of partisan red meat and personal anecdote: He railed against Obama’s “socialism,” promised to restore free enterprise, decried abortion, told the story of his family’s journey to America—he’s the son of Cuban immigrants—and issued a cry for “change” conservatives could “believe in.” The usual, in other words. But there was something ironic in Cruz’s performance. For as much as he denounced Barack Obama, he shared the president’s flair for public speaking. His speech was slow-building, but by the time he made his pitch—“We need to take back the Senate!”—the crowd was with him 100 percent, chanting back his lines and even adopting the “yes we can” call-and-response of Obama’s...

A Tight Race in Florida

If there’s any state that’s key to Mitt Romney’s strategy, it’s Florida. You can imagine a GOP win without Virginia, Colorado, Ohio, or other traditionally Republican-leaning states—but Florida has 27 electoral votes, nearly twice as many as the other swing states, and without them, Republicans can’t score an Electoral College victory. At the beginning of this year, Florida looked like a sure thing for the Republican side. Demographically, the Sunshine State favors GOP candidates. In 2008, an excellent year for Democrats, 49 percent of Florida voters were above the age of 50, and 71 percent were white. Among whites, Obama lost every single age group by double digits; his best performance was among whites ages 18 to 29, whom he lost by 10 points. He lost by 12.5 among whites over the age of 45, and 22 points for whites 30 to 44. In a close election, it seemed clear that Republicans would win Florida, and early polls bore that out. Over the last two months, however, the outlook for...

Ted Cruz's Deceptive Triumph

(Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
Just about every national pundit has the same take on Ted Cruz's victory in Texas's Senate primary: Another Tea Party triumph! It's just like Florida in 2010, where "moderate" Governor Charlie Crist lost to insurgent Marco Rubio, or Indiana earlier this year, where "moderate" Senator Richard Lugar was dethroned by Tea Partier Richard Mourdock. The establishment loses again, and the new wave of the GOP continues its takeover of the party. On the surface, it sounds convincing. In the runoff for the U.S. Senate nomination, Cruz, running as a hard-core conservative, did upset David Dewhurst, who's been lieutenant governor—an unusually powerful position in Texas—for almost a decade. At the Washington Examiner , Conn Carroll summed up the almost-universal spin on the result: "Following the big-government excess of the Bush years, the Republican party was in desperate need of change," he writes. "The Tea Party has helped deliver it, and a victory in Bush’s home state would go a long way to...

2004 All Over Again

(Wikipedia)
Two historical analogues have been bounced around with regards to this election. Conservatives say we’re looking at another 1980, where a weak incumbent is felled by a resurgent Republican Party in a decisive victory. Liberals, with much less optimism, say that this is another 2004, where an embattled incumbent ekes out a small victory against a hapless and unpopular challenger. At the Wall Street Journal , Gerald Seib presents the case for both, but chooses not to take a side; at most, he invites his readers to speculate: There are important differences between today’s situation and these precedents. This time, there is no third-party candidate as there was in 1980, when John Anderson’s presence muddled the picture. And in 2004, Mr. Bush’s problem was a war in Iraq that was seen as his own choice, whereas Mr. Obama is more seen as somebody who inherited his problem, an economic crisis. Still, the precedents are intriguing: Will it be an incumbent who hangs on through adversity, or...

Obama: Not Like You or Me

(Flickr/SS&SS)
"He's not one of us" has long been one of the most common electoral arguments at all levels—every election features ads all over the country where one candidate is accused of not sharing "[insert state here] values." It's become almost a cliché that Democrats talk about issues while Republicans talk about values, building an affinity with voters as they construct a wall of identity between the electorate and their Democratic opponents. Yet it took some time for Mitt Romney to determine exactly how to show that Barack Obama was not “one of us.” The campaign tried out and then abandoned various attacks; for instance, faced with polling and focus groups telling them that voters basically like the president, the Romney campaign argued that Obama is "in over his head"—hardly the kind of attack that'll make people see your opponent as alien and threatening. But then deliverance came in the form of an infelicitous sentence Obama uttered, "You didn't build that," which they quickly ripped...

Mitt the Likudlican

(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak) Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney meets with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem. Four summers ago, when Barack Obama landed in Israel, one of the country's most popular papers headlined the event, "Obamania" and reported that he was greeted "like a rock star." This past weekend, Mitt Romney was not received in Israel as a rock star. The Hebrew headlines on his arrival noted his close friendship with Benjamin Netanyahu—and that he bombed in London. By the time he left, Romney managed to shift attention to his hawkish positions on Iran, but also to his breaches of American and Israeli political manners. His partnership with the Israeli prime minister was even more conspicuous than when he came. What Israelis learned about Mitt may seem tangential to the U.S. election. But a close read of Romney's visit matters—not just to that small number of Jewish voters whom Romney hoped to sway, but to...

No Such Thing As Good Luck

Flickr/Funchye
Now that we're having a real debate about the fundamentals of capitalism and success, it's worth considering another part of the now-infamous "You didn't build that" speech President Obama recently gave. When he was accused of taking Obama's words out of context, Mitt Romney's defense was that "The context is worse than the quote." As evidence, he cited not the actual context of "You didn't build that" but what Obama said a paragraph before, about the role of fortune in success. And it's that idea—that success has to do not only with hard work and talent but also with luck—that really got Mitt Romney steamed. Here's the passage in question: There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me -- because they want to give something back. They know they didn't -- look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own. I'm always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart...

Is Obama Misreading the Public?

In a new poll, Gallup asks voters to rank their priorities for the next president. Unsurprisingly, the top answer is “jobs,” followed by “reducing corruption in the federal government,” and “reducing the federal budget deficit.” Here are the full results: Writing at the Washington Examiner , Byron York cites this as evidence that the Obama campaign is out of step with the public: The point is that Americans prioritize what they want their political leaders to do, and right now, the things that are on top of the voters’ list — creating jobs, reducing corruption, and cutting the deficit — are issues that Mitt Romney and Republicans in Congress have been stressing every day. And the goals the president has been stressing are simply not at the top of voters’ concerns. This might be true for reducing corruption, which is a key theme for Mitt Romney. But I’m not sure if it’s accurate to say that voters are genuinely concerned with cutting the deficit, and it’s simply wrong to claim that...

If Only the President Would Make Speeches, Everything Would Be Different

President Obama delivers a speech on health care to a joint session of Congress.
Yesterday, psychologist and political consultant Drew Westen had yet another op-ed in a major newspaper (the Washington Post this time) explaining that all of Barack Obama's troubles come from a failure to use rhetoric effectively. Don't get me wrong, I think rhetoric is important—in fact, I've spent much of the last ten years or so writing about it. But Westen once again seems to have fallen prey to the temptation of believing that everything would be different if only a politician would give the speech he's been waiting to hear. There are two problems with this belief, the first of which is that a dramatic speech almost never has a significant impact on public opinion. The second is that Barack Obama did in fact do exactly what Drew Westen and many other people say they wish he had done. This is only one part of Westen's piece, but I want to focus on it because it's said so often, and is so absurd In keeping with the most baffling habit of one of our most rhetorically gifted...

Mitt Romney Thinks You're a Sucker

Mitt Romney tells ABC's David Muir he's no sucker.
Back in January, when he was asked during a primary debate about the taxes he pays, Mitt Romney made the somewhat odd assertion that "I pay all the taxes that are legally required and not a dollar more. I don't think you want someone as the candidate for president who pays more taxes than he owes." As I've written before , this would seem to indicate that Romney believes that if you don't have a team of accountants who can ferret out every last loophole to minimize your tax bill then you're just a sucker, so pathetic that you are unworthy of occupying the highest office in the land. But maybe I was being unfair. After all, I've been critical of the campaign habit of reading too much into any particular statement a candidate makes. We all say things that upon reflection we'd like to put another way or take back completely, so maybe Romney didn't quite mean it the way it sounded. But once you repeat a statement like that more than once, we can be pretty sure you do in fact mean it. And...

You Can't Beat Voter ID with Facts

(Ted Polumbaum Collection / Newseum)
The most recent episode of the Prospect podcast is a conversation with my colleague Abby Rapoport on voter-identification laws. One thing that we begin to talk about, but don’t spend enough time on, is the normative argument against voter identification. So far, liberals have devoted their time to showing the rarity of in-person voter fraud—the kind ostensibly prevented by voter ID—and the low likelihood that it would affect the outcome of an election. Tactically, this makes a lot of sense. The push for voter ID includes stories of massive voter fraud that play on public distrust toward government. If you can counter those stories with facts, you can make people think twice about implementing an additional burden to voting. Strategically, however, it’s a weak approach. Conservatives benefit from the the fact that their position sounds reasonable—if identification is required to buy beer and drive cars, then why isn’t it required for elections? Everyone agrees that voting is one of the...

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