It's always good for political junkies to remind ourselves that the rest of the public doesn't think about politics nearly as much as we do, and therefore their opinions are far less rooted and far more likely to change with the arrival of new information. If you're a TAP reader, you had an opinion about Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich a year ago, and your opinion today is probably pretty much the same as it was then. It may have intensified a bit, and there may be new things you think of when you think of those two, but it's unlikely that you've shifted from disliking them to liking them, or vice-versa. But that's not the case for most Americans, who in recent months have been subjected to all kinds of new information about the Republican candidates.
The most you can say about Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels response to the State of the Union is that it was better than Bobby Jindal’s attempt in 2009.
To be fair, responding to the State of the Union has never been an easy task. The president has the advantage of pomp, circumstance, and ritual. At best, the opposition party can present a simulacra of these things—see Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell’s response in 2010—and hope that the actual message is strong enough to reach viewers.
As the Gingrich-Romney cage match rages on into the spring, it’ll be increasingly tempting to grope for parallels with the epic Clinton-Obama clash of 2008. Will the eventual winner be “battle-tested” like Obama, a stronger candidate for having survived a slugfest, as some optimistic Republicans have argued? If favorability ratings are any indication, the answer appears to be an emphatic “no.” The longer the race goes on, it seems, the more people realize that they can’t stand Mitt Romney—and they already knew they didn’t like Newt Gingrich.
On the heels of a State of the Union that promises to address income inequality and a broken tax system, National Journalreports on the Democratic plan to revive a surtax on annual incomes greater than a million dollars:
Democratic members of a conference committee working on a long-term extension of a payroll-tax holiday and other programs will urge a surtax on incomes of more than a million dollars a year to pay for the bill when talks officially start today, said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., on Tuesday.
“Hi. I’m Jerry. I’m a person,” said Jerry Greenfield, co-founder of Ben and Jerry’s Homemade Ice Cream, as he introduced himself to the crowd with an ingratiating smile. “Ben and Jerry’s Homemade Ice cream: not a person.” Everybody chuckled.
Mitt Romney has now disclosed that he paid only 14.5 percent of his reported income in federal income taxes in 2010. That’s no surprise. My group, Citizens for Tax Justice, predicted as much last fall, based on Romney’s previous disclosure that almost all of his 2010 income came from capital gains and dividends taxed at the low 15 percent top rate.
Newt Gingrich insists that this is not fair. Touting his own “flat tax” proposal on January 17, Newt said, “I think we ought to rename our flat tax, we have a 15 percent flat tax, so this would be the ‘Mitt Romney flat tax.’ All Americans would pay the rate Mitt Romney paid. I think it’s terrific.”
Mitt Romney cruised through 2011 on the idea that he was the most electable conservative candidate. And, for the first two weeks of 2012, it looked as if he were about to prove it. He won a narrow victory in the conservative stronghold of Iowa and a landslide in the more moderate New Hampshire.
Mitt Romney's reluctance to reveal his income and tax information received center-stage attention once again at last night's debate. After weeks of immense scrutiny and criticism from his opponents, Romney caved and agreed to release his tax returns from 2010 and the projections for his 2011 return.
Whether intentionally or not, NBC News handicapped Newt Gingrich by asking the audience to stay quiet during the Republican presidential debate in Tampa, Florida. In South Carolina, the audience was a source of energy for Gingrich. With their whoops and hollers, they emboldened the former House speaker and cowed his competitors.
By contrast, without an obvious sign of support from the crowd, Gingrich was surprisingly vulnerable to Mitt Romney’s attacks on his record. And as the candidate with the most to lose in Florida, Romney was relentless, aggressively pressing Gingrich on his ties to Freddie Mac. Here’s the exchange in full:
The whuppin’ Mitt Romney took in South Carolina made one thing abundantly clear: The man desperately needs a new rationale for his candidacy. “Electability” doesn’t cut it when your own party starts rejecting you. And in a time of renewed class consciousness, neither does touting yourself as a grand master of private equity. “He can’t run for CEO any more,” writes Michael Walsh at NRO. So what can he run as? If his campaigning in Florida today was any indication, the Romney people have no answer as yet. At a rally in Ormond Beach, Romney went whole-hog negative against Gingrich.
Mitt Romney had little reason for concern heading into Saturday's primary in South Carolina. Sure, it looked as if Newt Gingrich would eke out a victory in the state, but Romney's status as the inevitable front-runner would remain unchallenged. The Florida primary at the end of the month would likely prove his knockout blow; he has held a massive lead in Florida polls—often topping 20 percent—and also has a resource advantage over Gingrich and a steady flow of support from popular establishment Republicans eyeballing a position in a Romney administration.
The Republican party has a very big problem on its hands, in the person of one Newton Leroy Gingrich. With his win in South Carolina, he has an actual shot at becoming their nominee for president, which, as the clear-headed among them know, would be a disaster. Just look at these poll results. Over the last six weeks or so as the spotlight turned on the presidential race, Gingrich's unfavorable ratings have shot up, presumably because Americans are being reminded of why they disliked him so much back in the 1990s. He's now viewed unfavorably by an average of 58.6 percent of the public, and favorably by only 26.5 percent.
Although Newt Gingrich has dominated the headlines since Saturday night, what happened in the South Carolina primary is less about Gingrich’s rise than it is about Mitt Romney’s fall. The right's determination to find anyone other than Romney—illustrated over the last eight months by the hot flashes of support for Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, and Herman Cain—has become desperate to the point that evangelicals supported a twice-divorced man who, by the account of one of his discarded spouses, aspired to manage a small harem. Moreover, they’re so frantic to be rid of Romney that they implicitly sanctioned Gingrich’s attacks against the former Massachusetts governor's personal financial gain.
The day before his decisive victory in the South Carolina primary, Newt Gingrich held a rally in Mount Pleasant on the USS Yorktown, a retired World War II-era aircraft carrier that has been turned into a museum of naval history. It was a huge event. Hundreds of people filed onto the ship to hear Newt “give 'em hell”—with “'em” being a combination of Democrats, the “liberal media,” and the Republican establishment.