Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Republicans Coalesce Around Romney

(Flickr/KP Tripathi)

Despite the horse-race media coverage before tomorrow's Super Tuesday elections, Mitt Romney remains the odds-on favorite to take the GOP nomination. He has nearly double his leading opponent's delegates, dwarfs Rick Santorum's meager cash stockpile, and has a campaign organization that will go unmatched this late in the race.

Americans are "Depressed, Disappointed, and Underwhelmed" by the GOP Primary

(Sander van der Wel/Flickr)

As much as some Republicans would like to believe otherwise, the fact is that this primary is dragging down the party. Unlike the 2008 Democratic primary—in which two formidable candidates fought hard, debated substance, and energized voters around the country—this year’s GOP primary has been defined by clownish vanity candidates, divisive bickering, and an unlikable front-runner who—so far—has “won” by not losing.

America Needs a Good Mitt Romney Impression

(SNL/NBC)

A year and a half ago, I wrote a column lamenting the fact that it's kind of hard to make fun of Barack Obama. Naturally, conservatives responded that I was saying that because I'm an Obama shill, and I thought he was so terrific that he was impossible to mock. But here was my actual point:

Politicians who make good targets for humor tend to have a personality feature or physical characteristic, like a particular accent or a distinctive set of gestures, that are easily identifiable and thus can be exaggerated to make the politician look foolish, because exaggeration is what impressions and satire are built on. Some of these are simple and straightforward, like Bush's tendency to mangle his words. Others are more complicated but no less distinct, like Bill Clinton's "I feel your pain" charm, which simultaneously made you suspect you were being conned and like it.

The trouble with Obama is that he doesn't easily lend himself to mockery. He's famously cool -- never too hot, never too cold. And coolness itself is nothing if not a concerted effort to avoid being mocked. The most successful impressions -- like Darrell Hammond's Clinton or Will Ferrell's Bush -- may or may not perfectly ape the target's speech (Ferrell certainly didn't), but they capture something essential and absurd about the target, something that is seldom cool. The presidential impression currently featured on Saturday Night Live, by Fred Armisen, is a good re-creation of the president's way of talking. It just isn't all that funny.

And today, this satirical crisis threatens to get even worse. The Republican party is about to nominate someone who may be eminently mockable in many ways (goodness knows I've been trying to do my part). But it seems almost impossible to do a funny impression of Mitt Romney.

Just look at the version of Romney that Jason Sudekis does on SNL. In fairness, Sudekis isn't an impressionist. But it's like he's not even trying to capture Romney's speech, let alone use it to create something insightful or funny. He's just reading the words, and adding some bit of nasal tone to his voice, which doesn't sound like Romney at all:

Romney does have a particular way of speaking, but he doesn't have an accent or a distinctive voice. That makes it a challenge to imitate him, but a creative comedian should be able to do something to capture that essential Romneyness that makes him what he is. But other than Sudekis, there is no one out there doing a Mitt Romney impression, much less a good one. America's comedians need to step up.

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Super Tuesday

(Flickr/mhaithaca)

Broad categorizations are an American specialty—after all, we are the nation of the Cosmo quiz, the seven highly effective habits, the red and blue state. In keeping with this tradition, it seems fitting that we break down the biggest primary day of the GOP race into an easily digestible taxonomy. Super Tuesday 2012: one day, four candidates, ten states, 434 delegates. Here's what you need to know.

 

Ohio, the Battleground

66 delegates

Who’s the favorite? Flip a coin. According to Five Thirty Eight, both Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney both have a 50 percent chance of winning.

Mitt Romney Is Not An Unusually Negative Candidate

This kid knows negative campaigning. (Flickr/mdanys)

Is Mitt Romney an unusually negative candidate? The New York Times tries to make the case:

As successful as the strategy has been, though, it has raised questions about Mr. Romney's role in turning the primary process into something akin to a civil war, even as it has demonstrated a ferocious, whatever-it-takes style that could hearten Republicans if Mr. Romney ends up in a general election matchup against Mr. Obama.

"It's clear the negative ads are what's keeping this guy alive," said Nelson Warfield, a Republican strategist who worked for Mr. Perry. "It seems like Republican primary voters will not vote for Mitt Romney unless they are forced into it. And the way they're forced into it is when he beats the other guy senseless."

Throughout the campaign, Mr. Romney has also been on the receiving end of attacks from his Republican rivals as well as Democrats. But his aggressive style has been apparent since his first days in politics. For all that he can appear stiff and scripted at times, Mr. Romney has never shied away from deploying pointed and colorful broadsides against his opponents.

The history the piece goes through may be interesting, but the thesis isn't particularly persuasive. For there to be something out of the ordinary about either Romney's performance in this campaign or his history as a campaigner, he would had to have displayed either an unusual volume of negativity, or negativity of an unusual character. And he really hasn't on either count. It may be more noticeable because he's had a series of major opponents, each of whom had to be viciously dispatched in turn. So Romney has had to attack a whole bunch of people, whereas someone like Newt Gingrich only had to attack Romney. But on the whole, he's not much different from any other major candidate...

In Ohio, the Underlying Facts Look Great for Santorum

(jcburns/Flickr)

The first post-Michigan poll of Ohio Republicans is out, and Mitt Romney has closed the gap. According to Quinnipiac University, Rick Santorum has 35 percent of likely primary voters to Romney, who takes 31 percent. Because of the poll’s margin of error, ±4.3 percentage points, Quinnipiac presents this as too close to call. But the survey shows native advantages for Santorum that could propel him to victory, as long as he avoids another weekend of national controversy.

Mittgoguery

The longer he must battle Rick Santorum for the Republican nomination, the less time Mitt Romney will have to edge back toward the political mainstream for the general election. Romney continues to make that repositioning unnecessarily tricky by going farther—much farther—to the right than necessary, apparently in a desperate attempt to persuade the hardcore right that he really is “severely conservative.” That effort is now luring Romney into the land of straight-up demagoguery.

GOP Senators Opt to Support Another Piece of Unpopular Legislation

(Talk Radio News Service/Flickr)

Despite the defection of Bob Casey, Joe Manchin, and Ben Nelson, Senate Democrats (with the aid of Olympia Snowe) were able to block a Republican-sponsored measure that would give employers the right to reject any health care coverage for any reason. Sahil Kapur gives a rundown of the fight at Talking Points Memo:

Blunt Amendment Fails in the Senate

(Flickr/Stacy Lynn Baum)

For a brief moment yesterday it looked as though some GOP senators were ready to step back from the ledge, and reject their party's assault on women's rights. A handful of Republican senators were hesitant to endorse the controversial Blunt amendment, which would allow any employer—both secular and religious—to reject covering individual aspects of health insurance they find morally questionable, not just contraception. Even Mitt Romney expressed opposition to the bill when an Ohio reporter explained the implications before his campaign quickly realized they had defied party doctrine, and issued a clarification, which reversed Romney's earlier statement.

Why Ohio Matters for Mitt Romney

This week, Michigan was the “must win” state for Mitt Romney. Next week—according to the world of punditry—it’s Ohio, where Romney has to win over a similar electorate—downscale, blue-collar workers—without the help of name recognition or family ties. There, his tendency to remind voters of his massive wealth (in the worst way possible), could prove fatal.

Mitt's Instincts Lead Him Astray, Again

(Flickr/DonkeyHotey)

Yesterday, Mitt Romney demonstrated once again why he has such trouble with his party's base. The issue was a bill in Congress sponsored by Senator Roy Blunt, which would allow any employer who has any objection to any medication, procedure, or treatment—not just objections to ladies doing dirty things with their ladyparts, which is where this all started—to deny their employees insurance coverage for it. Let's say your boss thinks people with diabetes are fatties who deserve to get their feet amputated—no diabetes coverage! Or your boss is one of the nuts who thinks immunizations give kids autism—no coverage for immunizations!

Obviously, it's a truly awful idea, and when Romney was asked about it by an Ohio television host, he said, "I'm not for the bill. But, look, the idea of presidential candidates getting into questions about contraception within a relationship between a man and a woman, husband and wife, I'm not going there." What happened next was predictable: conservatives squawked, and Romney quickly reversed himself, saying he misunderstood the question, and now he totally, totally, totally supports Blunt's bill.

Maybe he did just misunderstand it. But the reason Romney gets into these pickles is that he just lacks an instinctive feel for what those Republican base voters he's so desperately trying to appeal to want to hear. Given the time to work out his rhetoric and a clear understanding of where the base's sympathy is, he'll deliver the proper message. But on his feet, when confronted with something he hasn't thought much about, his instincts don't lead him to that place.

And oh boy, do those base voters know it. That doesn't mean Romney won't get their votes eventually, as more and more of them realize they just have no alternative. But with every one of these incidents, he saps their enthusiasm for the general election, and reinforces his image as an unprincipled flip-flopper.

Which makes me wonder, what are the people on Team Romney thinking right now? Do they look at their candidate and say, "He'll get better." Do they think they can finesse the character attacks the Obama campaign will make? Do they think that once the primaries are over and he doesn't have to pander to his party's nutball wing, these kinds of problems won't resurface? When you're working on a campaign, deluding yourself about your candidate's skills and chances comes with the territory. But they've got to be getting more and more worried, even as he stumbles his way toward the nomination.

Coulda Woulda Shoulda

Despite his phobia of higher education, Rick Santorum showed on Tuesday night that he is capable of learning.

Santorum Beats Dan Savage

(Flickr/Gage Skidmore)

Rick Santorum came up short in Michigan on Tuesday night, but it was of no matter. After months of turmoil he'd achieved a primary goal of his presidential campaign: his Google problem. That's right. When normal, God-loving Americans direct their web browsers to Google and type in the former Pennsylvania senator's last name they are no longer greeted by spreadingsantorum.com as the first result.

Are Republicans Backing Away from the Contraception Fight?

(Flickr/Stacy Lynn Baum)

Senate Democrats think they have Republicans backed into a corner. In response to the hullabaloo around the Obama administration's decision on covering contraception in health-care plans, Missouri Senator Roy Blunt has offered an amendment to allow any employer—not just religiously affiliated organizations—to refuse to cover any health-care service—not just contraception—based on "religious beliefs or moral convictions." The battle over reproductive rights has already allowed Democrats to paint Republicans as antagonistic to women and, needless to say, Senate Dems are gleefully forcing a vote on the measure tomorrow to get their opponents' extremist take on the record.

Anti-Romney, with a Side of Grits

(Flickr/Gage Skidmore)

The implications of Mitt Romney's Michigan win are still being parsed, but the calendar leaves little time for the campaigns to rest. Super Tuesday is in less than a week, and a total of 437 delegates in 10 states is at stake. The media have coalesced around the idea that Ohio is the only race that matters. The candidates have followed their lead—this morning Romney was campaigning in Toledo, and Rick Santorum called in to a Dayton radio station.

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