Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Gingrich and Santorum's Pipe Dream

(Photo: Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
The basics of simple math are seeping into the 2012 race as the media challenges Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich to reconcile with the fact that reaching the required 1,144 delegates has become a near statistical impossibility. The candidates themselves might not cop to these facts, but it's clear they've shifted gears, turning the focus from winning a majority themselves to blocking Mitt Romney from gaining enough delegates to win on the first ballot in Tampa. "Romney needs about 50 percent of the delegates," Santorum said on Meet the Press yesterday. "On the current track that we're on right now the fact is Governor Romney doesn't get to that number." Gingrich pushed the same idea on his Sunday stop by Fox News. "He's not a very strong front-runner. Almost all conservatives are opposed, which is the base of the party," the former speaker said. "And I think we are likely to see after the last primary in June, we're likely to see a 60-day conversation about what's going to happen as...

Strange Doings in Dixie

“Things, strange things, are happening to me,” Mitt Romney told folks in Pascagoula, Mississippi, on Thursday evening. Hanging out with his personal aide, Mississippi native Garrett Jackson, as he stumps through the Deep South is “turning me into, I don’t know, an unofficial Southerner,” he said. This morning, to underscore this unlikely transformation, Romney began a town-hall meeting at the Mississippi Farmer’s Market with a chirpy “Mornin’ y’all,” and then proclaimed , “I got started right this morning with a biscuit and some cheesy grits. I’ll tell you! Delicious.” Soon, as he discoursed on the administrative costs of health care, Romney was joining in another local pastime: squashing a cockroach. “Oh look at that, look at that little guy,” he said , providing a play-by-play. “There. Got him.” The Mississippians seemed a bit unsure about how to react to all this. But they could be no more befuddled than the national political pundits, who’ve assumed that Romney couldn’t possibly...

What if Huckabee Had Run?

Should Barack Obama win reelection this fall, the 2012 Republican campaign might be remembered as much for those who decided to remain on the sidelines and leave a feeble frontrunner unchallenged as for the party's actual nominee. Even though Mitt Romney has held onto his place as the only candidate who can realistically win the nomination, it has become increasingly evident that the former Massachusetts governor was a weaker candidate than anyone initially envisioned. The fact that Rick Santorum—a candidate dismissed as a bottom feeder by his opponents, the media and Republican voters alike as little as three months ago—has caused Romney this much trouble provides all the proof needed that, should Romney have faced a strong field of opponents, he wouldn't seem so inevitable. Mitch Daniels, Paul Ryan, and Chris Christie all got their fair share of inducements to join the race, and the media spent the spring and summer parsing every Sarah Palin statement to see if she might join the...

What's Up With All the MEK Ads?

If you’ve been watching cable news lately, there’s a good chance that you’ve noticed some out-of-the-ordinary adverts. Namely, a 30-second spot done in the grainy style of a spy-thriller flashback calling for the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK), an Iranian dissident group, to be taken off the official U.S. terrorist watch list. It’s a conspicuous outsider in the typical ad roster filled with car commercials and cholesterol meds, which might have led some viewers to wonder, “What’s up with that?” Ask and ye shall receive. What does the MEK purport to be? As tabloid editors who traffic in celebrity divorces and teen-idol feuds well know, there are two sides to every juicy story. In the words of the commercial mentioned above, the “MEK is Iran’s democratic opposition working for a nuclear-free Iran founded on human rights.” The ad employs cinematically ominous music and a narrator whose vocal stylings are more stress-inducing than a pelvic exam, all to great effect. It closes with pictures of U...

The Race-Baiting Continues

(Still from video obtained by Buzzfeed.com)
I've been holding off on writing something about the bizarre spectacle of the Derrick Bell "exposé" that has consumed the nuttier corners of the right in the last couple of days, simply because it's so weird and pathetic that I wasn't sure exactly how to talk about it beyond simple ridicule. In case you missed it, here's the story, briefly: Just before he died, conservative provocateur Andrew Breitbart said his web enterprises would soon release an explosive video that would transform the 2012 election by revealing Barack Obama's radical ties. The video turned out to be of something that was not only utterly unremarkable, but had been reported before. In 1991, when Obama was a student at Harvard Law School, the school was embroiled in a controversy over the under-representation of minorities on the faculty. Derrick Bell, the first black tenured professor at the school and a widely admired figure in legal circles, announced that he would take a leave until the school made efforts to...

Santorum for President Round 2

(Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
Earlier this week, I postulated that Rick Santorum needs to firmly position himself as Romney's runner-up to put himself in line to be the party's pick in 2016. Salon 's Alex Pareene followed the similar logic but took it a step further, declaring , "Now Rick Santorum is the 2016 GOP nomination front-runner." But political scientist Jonathan Bernstein isn't so convinced by the myth that Republicans turn to the runner-up in the previous presidential cycle to select a new nominee. Bernstein writes : One could argue that the Huck, not Romney, was really the runner-up in 2008, which certainly doesn't say anything promising for Santorum. Overall, I wouldn't entirely rule out Santorum for 2016 (assuming no Romney presidency), but I wouldn't put him among the top three contenders, either. My take: Should the Republican nominee lose this fall, Santorum will initially be viewed as the front-runner for 2016, but he'll quickly fizzle out once the race gets under way. Santorum has had the great...

McCain's Oops Moment

(HBO)
Nothing quite so aptly conveys the charade of practiced authenticity in our national politics as the four-star hotel room on a long-slog campaign run—a mess of tasseled drapes, ample sofas, and crisp white sheets all straining in hollow imitation of home. In what is one of the many huddles in hotel rooms such as this in HBO’s Game Change , which premiers this Saturday, March 10 on HBO, an (initially) pants-less John McCain, played by Ed Harris, talks with his senior campaign strategist, Steve Schmidt (Woody Harrelson) and campaign manager Rick Davis (the whiny-voiced Peter MacNicol of Ally McBeal fame) about the possibility of bringing Alaska Governor Sarah Palin onto the GOP ticket. To allay his candidate’s fears that the choice might be “too outside the box,” Schmidt lays out his reasoning, and coincidentally, the theme of the film: Sir, we live in the age of YouTube and the 24-hour news cycle. How else do you think a man who has absolutely no major life accomplishments is beating...

Away Game

Mitt Romney and the South go together like grits and quiche—which is a fancy way of saying they don’t. As Slate ’s David Weigel reported yesterday, in the three Southern primaries so far (no, Florida doesn’t count), the GOP frontrunner has carried nine of 300 counties. On a radio show in Birmingham this morning, Romney admitted that next Tuesday’s Alabama primary was an “away game” for him. But he wants to make at least a respectable showing, which is plausible, especially with Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum slugging it out for survival. Gingrich’s spokesperson says he’ll be out of the running if he doesn’t win both Alabama and Mississippi next week. Santorum, meanwhile, is pleading with folks to deal Gingrich a death blow: “If you go out and deliver a conservative victory for us on Tuesday, this race will become a two-person race. And when it becomes a two-person race, the conservative will win the nomination.” Somewhat surprisingly, a poll out today from the Alabama Education...

Can't Teach an Old Party New Tricks

(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
The more things change in the Republican race, the more they stay the same. Punditry had it that Tuesday’s primaries and caucuses would be conclusive, because punditry yearns for the conclusive when it can’t have the purely chaotic. “The beginning of the end,” was the result that commentators anticipated, by which they meant the final collapse of the final anti-Romney incarnation—as precipitated by Rick Santorum’s stall in Michigan last week—and Romney’s consolidation of the nomination. Forty-eight hours later, nothing is different at all. Romney is still the front-runner and the only candidate whose ultimate victory is fathomable, even as more and more he appears the weakest nominee of either party since the 1980s. What’s most striking about this—not in the sense that it’s surprising, which it isn’t, but rather in the sense that it’s so characteristic—is that nothing rocks this race, nothing shifts the inherent dynamic. The race is hermetically sealed, impervious to untamed truths in...

The Top-Down Romney Campaign

(Flickr/DonkeyHotey)
Much of the coverage of the moment is about the problem Mitt Romney is having with Republican base voters, who seem to neither like nor trust him. Their hesitation doesn't seem to be enough to stop Romney from becoming their nominee, but it has, and will continue to have, a multitude of consequences for the Romney campaign. Today, the New York Times points to another one: the shockingly small amount of Romney's fundraising that has come from small donors. You might say, well, money is money, right? And Romney has raised a lot more than his opponents, so what does it matter? The answer is that it has a series of implications for the fall campaign, none of which bode well for him. Some of it is about the practical necessities of a campaign, but perhaps more importantly, it's about the spirit the campaign embodies. But before we get to that, let's look at the numbers: It may be harder to find a hundred people who'll give $25 than that one donor who'll give the legal maximum of $2,500,...

Let the VP Speculation Begin!

Romney's VP won't be nearly this interesting. (Therealbs2002)
Let's face it: never in our lifetimes will we see as disastrous/awesome a vice-presidential choice as John McCain made four years ago when he plucked Sarah Palin from the wilds of Wasilla and set her before the nation. Whoever Mitt Romney chooses to be his running mate, he (yeah, it's going to be a he) is not going to be anywhere near as interesting, maddening, or costly to the GOP ticket. Unlike McCain, Romney is not a gambler. We can be fairly sure that his choice will be vetted a lot more closely, and the ultimate pick will be, above all, safe. This is bad news for people like me who write about politics for a living. I'd go back and see how many words I've spilled over Sarah Palin in the last four years, but I'm afraid of what I'd find. I'm fairly certain I won't be anywhere near as inspired by the person Romney chooses. Will it be repellent white guy Rick Santorum ? No! Will it be boring white guy Rob Portman ? Maybe! Will it be some other boring white guy? Probably! And if...

He's One of Them

How did Mitt Romney scratch out a Super Tuesday win in Ohio, the state where Rick Santorum led by double digits just a few eye blinks ago and had the blue-collar evangelical message and cultural bona fides on his side? It was the usual formula: Mucho super PAC money , plus enthusiastic support from the only two sets of voters who’ve thus far shown a fondness for the former Massachusetts governor. These would be the elderly and the rich. Voters over 65 favored Romney by 15 points in Ohio, enough to provide his margin of victory. (Why? Chalk it up, perhaps, to “such a nice young man” syndrome—he does come across as squeaky-clean and polite and unthreatening. And so handsome!) But it’s well-off voters who are truly head-over-heels for the Republican frontrunner. While turnout is lagging overall in the GOP contests, Lexuses and Range Rovers are transporting goodly numbers of voters with incomes of more than $100,000 to the polls. On Tuesday, exit polls showed that 30 percent of Ohio...

Can Caucuses Be Defended?

Library of Congress
Super Tuesday, with its mix of primaries and caucuses, has led to some interesting discussions about the merits (or lack thereof) of the latter. Rick Hasen argues that Congress should ban caucuses outright. Jonathan Bernstein has a response defending caucuses. Is Bernstein's defense of caucuses—which he concedes are on some level exclusionary and unfair—convincing? Bernstein's first argument is based on the principle that "the parties should be trusted to know what works best for themselves." Parties, argues Bernstein, should be regulated less, not more, and their candidate selection should not be expected to conform to the norms of access that would govern general elections. On this point, I'm definitely with Hasen rather than Bernstein. Primaries, as the Supreme Court noted when it struck down the Texas Democratic Party's all-white primary, have always been subject to state regulation and intertwined with the general election process. Given that we have an electoral structure that...

Romney Takes the Last Frontier

(AP Photo/LM Otero)
All eyes were on the Last Frontier last night for the results of the crucial Alaska caucuses—widely regarded as make-or-break for, depending on whom you asked, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Ron Paul, or Newt Gingrich. After Romney managed to squeak past Rick Santorum late in the night with a three-point lead, there can no longer be a doubt that he has the nomination in the bag. No president since 1960 has ever won a general election without votes from Alaska, so Romney’s surprise win could truly be a game-changer. Alaskans clearly understood how high the stakes were—more than 13,000 people turned out for the caucus, only 60 times less than the population of Columbus, Ohio. The count could have been higher by a margin of tens if several high-profile malfunctions hadn’t occurred; the site of the South Anchorage polling site had to be moved after snow caused the roof of the auditorium at the Abbott Loop Community Church to collapse last Friday. Redistricting also caused countless polling...

Rick Santorum Can't Win

Rick Santorum speaking to supporters at a rally in Phoenix, Arizona. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)
Frontloading HQ’s Josh Putnam crunches the numbers and finds that under the most optimistic scenario, Rick Santorum is limited to a delegate haul of 1,075, which falls somewhat short of the 1,144 needed to win the nomination. Putnam notes that you could goose that even further and assume big wins for Santorum in the remaining primaries. Even still, the most he could win is 1,152 delegates. By contrast, Mitt Romney’s minimum 1,162 delegates while his maximum extends to 1,341 delegates. In other words—at this point—it’s mathematically impossible for Santorum to win the nomination through delegate accumulation. Of course, there’s always the question of a brokered convention. But as Putnam points out, of the people to win the nomination through negotiation, Santorum is at the bottom of the list: The bottom line here is that Romney has enough of a delegate advantage right now and especially coming out of today’s contests that it is very unlikely that anyone will catch him, much less catch...

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