Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Engaging on Philosophy

Even imperial stormtroopers know we're all in it together. (Flickr/kalexanderson)
As the Republican party has moved farther and farther to the right in recent years, I've often felt that practical discussions of the effects of policy have gotten less and less important. The true believers who now dominate the GOP—and the politicians who feel the need to pretend they're true believers—are much more comfortable talking about the role of government than they are talking about how you solve actual problems, so they make practical arguments almost half-heartedly. Listen to a Republican talk about how they'd solve the problem of over 50 million Americans without health insurance, for instance, and you'll hear something like, "Well, we need free market solutions that don't infringe on freedom, because Obamacare represents the most profound expansion of government since Joe Stalin, and big government kills freedom…" Ask them why the free market will work better than government when in this case the opposite has proven true again and again, and they'll quickly move back to...

Party Planning

(Flickr/vinylmeister)
Mitt Romney is ready to shake off the GOP primary and move on to the general election, and so is most of his party. He picked up Jeb Bush’s endorsement this week, and even the Tea Party has been tepidly giving its OK to the front-runner. Meanwhile, the Republican National Committee is taking a page from the Obama 2008 playbook by getting a head start on general-election prep before the primaries conclude. Waiting until McCain won the nomination in 2008 left them unequipped to keep up with the Democratic campaign behemoth, a mistake the party isn’t going to repeat. The RNC plans to have staff in 10 of the 12 big swing states by the end of April, and 750,000 voter contacts have been made since the start of the year. The Republican Party can’t copy the 2008 Obama campaign magic completely, though, given their little problem in the peanut gallery. Unilke the Obama-Clinton contest, the 2012 primary squabbles have delved into deeper questions about what the Republican Party should represent...

Newt Just Wants to Help TV Networks

(Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
Even with his own sense of grandiosity, I doubt even Newt Gingrich truly believes a brokered convention is on the horizon. Mitt Romney, while still a weak candidate for the general election, is working his way steadily up to the required delegate count, and the leaders of the Republican Party—such as possible White Knight Jeb Bush—are throwing their lot behind Romney. But Gingrich isn't quite ready to drop the line, and his reasoning for why a brokered convention would help his party has become specious to a hilarious degree. Yesterday he suggested that it'd help Republicans because a brokered convention would just be so much darn fun to watch. Via GOP12, here's what Gingrich said on CNN: "That would be the most exciting 60 days of civic participation in the age of Facebook and Youtube. ... the convention would be the most exciting convention in modern times, and whoever became the nominee would have the highest attendance, the highest viewership in history for their acceptance speech...

The Attack that Will Stick to Romney

(mediafury/Flickr)
Like Greg Sargent, I think Mitt Romney’s Etch A Sketch gambit will work in the general election (though not so much if he’s elected president). Yes, his rhetoric is identical in substance to that of his opponents, but through tone and demeanor, Romney has managed to keep his moderate credentials, and few people within the mainstream media have bothered to challenge them. It’s for this reason that Romney won’t have to worry about the “flip-flopper” charge. No one actually believes that he’s as conservative as he’s portrayed himself in the primaries, and pundits are likely to accept the general-election permutation of Romney as the “real Romney.” So, is there anything from the primaries that will stick to the former Massachusetts governor? At the Washington Monthly , Ed Kilgore argues that the flip-flopper charge might actually have wings, if Democrats hammer it home over the next seven months. John Sides crunches the numbers and finds that voters aren’t too receptive to the flip-flop...

Etched In Stone, Before Long

(Flickr/DonkeyHotey)
Yesterday, I wrote a post sticking up for Romney advisor Eric Fehrnstrom on the whole Etch A Sketch thing. But in the 24 hours since, it has only gotten bigger. It isn't, we should be clear, "taking on a life of its own," because saying that is a way of excusing the individual decisions involved in the growth and spread of a meme like this one. The fact is that actual people—Romney's primary opponents, Democrats, and reporters—are making the choice to drop the Etch A Sketch comment, and what it is supposed to represent, into discussions, speeches, news stories, and ads. And at this point it's looking more and more like this is a metaphor that's going to stick around. Why? Let me offer some suggestions. It's both novel and clever . How many different ways can you say Mitt Romney is a flip-flopper? However many there are, they've been utterly exhausted by now. But Fehrnstrom, in a perfectly reasonable attempt to describe the way a general election campaign differs from a primary...

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...

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