Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

The Energy Trap

(Flickr/Gibsongolfer)
Republicans have been owning the energy narrative the past few weeks—what with Newt Gingrich’s science-fiction-worthy calls for $2.50 a gallon gas and Rick Santorum’s pockets full of shale —but now the ball’s back in the White House’s court. President Obama has taken a new tack on energy to compensate for the fact that voters blame him for high gas prices, but the change in tone is likely to leave his base squirming. He’s currently on a whirlwind trip to spread the administration’s new gospel: that the southern leg of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline is "a priority” and that "we're drilling all over the place right now.” In the end, more drilling is far from a panacea, as analysis of gas prices and domestic oil production shows, so Obama’s sudden love for Keystone and drilling sounds like pure electoral pandering. But the alternative—being his cool and responsible self and explaining the reality of gas prices—might suffer in execution although it sounds smart in theory. "Is...

Making The Most of $36 Million

Karl Rove might end up with the bulk of that money (Flickr/Sachyn)
The Wall Street Journal caught up with Harold Simmons for a profile yesterday. Simmons—the Contran Corp. owner worth an estimated $10 billion—is primed to be one of the more influential figures of the 2012 campaign. He's not running for public office nor is he working for any particular campaign. Instead he'll be among the small batch of elite billionaires pouring vast sums into Republican races. Simmons told the Journal that he intends to spend $36 million before the end of the year. He's already spent $18 million on super PACs so far, easily making him the highest dollar donor of the current campaign. The only reason he's not getting the same level of scrutiny devoted to Newt Gingrich's funder Sheldon Adelson or Rick Santorum's Foster Friess is because Simmons has no real stake in the primary: It isn't particularly important which man wins the nomination, for Mr. Simmons simply wants to defeat the president and reduce the reach of government. "Any of these Republicans would make a...

Dems Want Obama to Hurry Up His Evolution

(Flickr/mdfriendofhillary)
Like Paul , I'm convinced that any candidate who doesn't support marriage equality will instantly be disqualified as a plausible Democratic presidential nominee following Obama. Acceptance for same-sex marriage is growing rapidly across all ideological divides, and is particularly pronounced among liberals. In an alternative reality where the Democrats had an open primary in 2012, Obama's "evolving" stance on same-sex marriage would no longer pass muster in the Democratic base. Obama's former opponent and current secretary of state Hillary Clinton has already shifted her views , supporting marriage equality when it was up for debate in New York. And just look at the language of the up-and-coming leaders of the Democratic Party. Two of the leading 2016 possibilities—Andrew Cuomo and Martin O'Malley—are governors who staked out legalized marriage equality as their major accomplishment. Now another politician bandied about as a future Democratic leader is attacking Obama's wishy-washy...

Spin Without Limits

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 : Hours after he secured the endorsement of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney credited his brother, President George W. Bush, with keeping the country from a great depression in 2008. "I keep hearing the president say he's responsible for keeping the country out of a Great Depression," Romney said at a town hall in Arbutus, Maryland. "No, no, no, that was President George W. Bush and [then-Treasury Secretary] Hank Paulson." So let's get this straight: Bush saved America, and then America was fine, and then Barack Obama came in and ruined everything? How does that explain the fact that the economy...

A House Race To Keep an Eye On

(Flickr/Iowa Democratic Party)
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. King's old district covered the staunch conservative western edge of the state, and he typically faced off against lukewarm Democratic opponents. That won't be the case this year. His district has been expanded to cover a swath of more independent-minded...

Romney Shouldn't Be Ashamed of Not Having Served In the Military

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. This provides just one more topic for him to squirm through questions about, but as Conor Friedersdorf argues , it's pretty ridiculous to imply that in retrospect the proper course of action would have been for young Mitt to do everything he could to fight in a conflict nearly everyone acknowledges to have been a huge mistake: I don't fault Mitt Romney or his sons for not serving, and the reason a lot of people feel as I do is a great unspoken reality of American politics. I have no idea how Romney actually feels about having...

No Way Out

(Jamelle Bouie/The American Prospect)
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 : As president, he’d be at the mercy of congressional Republicans (particularly on the House side) whose ranks are filled with more true believers than ever before. […] This ideological purity is enforced by the conservative absolutists who dominate the party’s opinion-shaping class – television and radio hosts, columnists,...

A Bum Rap, Etch-a-Sketch Installment

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...

A Comedy of Errors

(Flickr/CrashBoy)
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. This year, the Republican nominee isn’t likely to be outshined by his running mate. Frank Rich wrote today: "Comedy is the only business we can be certain that a Romney presidency would grow." But we don’t even need to wait to see if he wins for the laughs to begin—the man has already established himself as the class clown of the...

Recycled Jokes

(AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Via Politico 's James Hohmann, here's the opening to Rick Santorum's latest radio ad: Ok. A liberal, a moderate and a conservative walk into a bar. And the bartender says...Hello Mitt. Funny, but true. By the typically humorless standards of campaign politics, that's not half bad. It's also unoriginal. The line might be familiar to those poor souls who have been following the Republican nomination obsessively. At CPAC this past February, Foster Friess, the eccentric billionaire who has provided the bulk of the money for the pro-Santorum Red White and Blue super PAC, took the stage to introduce Santorum. During his freewheeling intro, Friess jested : Life is just so much fun and so filled with humor. There’s a little bar a couple doors down, and recently a conservative, a liberal, and a moderate walked into the bar. The bartender says, “Hi Mitt!’ As The New York Times reported yesterday, the candidates are "increasingly reliant" on their affiliated super PACs to help boost their meager...

The Etch-a-Sketch Gambit

(teadrinker/Flickr)
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. This is exactly what conservatives fear about the former Massachusetts governor; that he’ll abandon his commitment to conservative rhetoric as soon as he becomes the nominee. And given the degree to which Romney is willing to lie to audiences, this is not an unreasonable fear. On the other hand, it’s not as if this is a new concern. Conservatives widely believe that the party...

Mitt Romney Feels the Illinois

(Jamelle Bouie/The American Prospect)
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. But, delegates aside, the most important thing to come out of the Illinois primary was Mitt Romney’s new message. For as long as Romney has been on the trail, his message has centered on jobs, with constant attacks on the president’s job-creation record and a campaign that has highlighted his private-sector experience as a blueprint for creating job growth as president...

His Name Is His Name

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. This is a problem that seems to exist primarily in Washington, home to such fetishes of pompous self-importance as the "brag wall," the display of photos of an office's resident with even more famous and powerful people. There aren't very many other arenas in America where you get to make people call you by the...

Are We There Yet?

AP Photo
It’s official: Primary fatigue has set in. Today’s contest in Illinois is the 28 th primary or caucus so far, and just as the public reacted in groans after the 20 th 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. Even David Axelrod is putting his money on Mitt tonight. With Rick Santorum unable to build momentum from his Deep South wins last week, the Romney campaign has returned to its pre-Iowa strategy of talking smack about Obama. Although Romney, party elites, and the pundits are all back on the same page, the remaining renegade Republicans are still...

Newt Gingrich Is In the Zone

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...

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