When Newt Gingrich rocketed to the front of the Republican presidential pack last month, I maintained that this was just another boomlet. Like Herman Cain before him, Gingrich was a vanity candidate whose stature would decline once the other candidates aimed their guns at his campaign. Gingrich is still ahead in national polls and in states like South Carolina and Florida, but in Iowa—a crucial state for his candidacy—he has seen a preciptious drop in support, thanks to two weeks of anti-Newt television ads from Ron Paul and Mitt Romney.
At the December 15 debates in Sioux City, Iowa, nominal frontrunner Newt Gingrich argued that the “courts have become grotesquely dictatorial, far too powerful, and I think, frankly, arrogant in their misreading of the American people.” Showing the discipline and moderation for which he has long been known, Gingrich followed up with assertions that judges that issue First Amendment rulings he disagrees with should be arrested and impeached and that he would ignore court rulings that didn't suit him.
In what seems to be an ongoing effort to convince Republican primary voters that he's the most radical Republican in the presidential race, Newt Gingrich decided to go after the "judicial activism"-haters by declaring yesterday that what we need is more witch hunts of judges. In Gingrich's view, when members of Congress -- a group of people well known for being sober and responsible and avoiding grandstanding and demagoguery -- feel like it, they should be able to haul judges in front of them to explain their rulings, and if the judges don't like it, federal marshals should arrest them.
As many of us noted some time ago, the combination of an electorate that requires perfect fealty to conservative orthodoxy with an orthodoxy that has itself undergone major changes in recent years makes life very difficult for most of the Republican candidates. Many of them have in the past supported things like a cap and trade system for carbon emissions and an individual mandate in health care, if only for the reason that when they supported those things, they were conservative positions to take. Now that those positions are anathema to Republicans, they have shifted away from them. But how much should a Republican voter punish them for their past blasphemies, when they weren't blasphemies at the time?
If there was anything notable about President Obama’s speech in Osawatomie, Kansas last week, it was the extent to which he attacked economic inequality in the United States, and its deletrious effects on income mobility:
[O]ver the last few decades, the rungs on the ladder of opportunity have grown farther and farther apart, and the middle class has shrunk. A few years after World War II, a child who was born into poverty had a slightly better than 50–50 chance of becoming middle class as an adult. By 1980, that chance fell to around 40%. And if the trend of rising inequality over the last few decades continues, it’s estimated that a child born today will only have a 1 in 3 chance of making it to the middle class.
This morning on Fox and Friends, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley endorsed Mitt Romney for the Republican presidential nomination ahead of his weekend visit to the state:
As an aside, it’s telling that the Fox hosts joke about offering the endorsement to Jon Huntsman; it’s a sign of how much he doesn’t appeal to Republican primary voters, despite his conservative record.
After a dozen different bouts in venues across the country, the Republican presidential debates have become a little like NASCAR; part of the thrill of watching is that you might see someone go up in flames.
SIOUX CITY, IOWA—Rick Santorum might have finally gotten a break at last night's GOP debate. The former senator from Pennsylvania never did poorly in previous debates, but he tended to blend into the background—no major gaffes but no memorable moments either. That might not have been the case in years past when social issues dominated the discussion, but with the economy taking center stage, Santorum has had little to add.
STORY CITY, IOWA—Before the pro-life seminar film debut last night, Mike Huckabee took to the stage to address his most adoring fans. Iowans still love the former Arkansas governor and winner of the 2008 Iowa Caucus. Sure there were four current presidential candidates on the docket, but many people seemed more interested in what their former favorite candidate had to say.
You may have said to yourself when you got up this morning, "You know what I could use? A mini-scandal that I'll forget about in a day or two!" No? Well anyway, this one is actually kind of interesting. You see, Mitt Romney has periodically used the slogan "Keep America American," which is obviously an attempt to appeal to various strains of xenophobia and resentment that run through the American electorate but are particularly strong in the Republican base. It also dovetails nicely with the attacks he and others make on Barack Obama, charging that the president has foreign ideas and is trying to turn America into a nightmarish Euro-socialist hellscape.
STORY CITY, IOWA—There was a line of folks patiently waiting to shake Bob Vander Plaats' hand when I tracked him down following the pro-life film premiere last night. A three-time gubernatorial candidate, Vander Plaats is a well-respected leader among the state's social conservatives and, despite his failure at running his own political campaigns (he's run for governor and lost every time), his endorsement is among the most coveted for any presidential candidate hoping to win Iowa.
DES MOINES, IOWA—Leaders of Iowa's religious right gathered here Wednesday night in an attempt to recalibrate the presidential race to focus on the social issues. A full crowd packed into the ornate Hoyt Sherman Place theater for the world premiere for Gift of Life, a pro-life film produced by Citizens United and narrated by former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. The film was full of CGIed fetuses, heart-rending stories of adults whose parents had considered abortion, and Huckabee strolling on a beach wearing a blazer as children built sandcastles in the background.
Ever since Jimmy Carter door-to-doored his way to an eye-opening Iowa victory in 1976—he actually finished second to “uncommitted,” but he beat the other candidates—the first-in-the-nation caucuses have played a supersized role in both parties’ nomination processes. In spite of quadrennial grumblings about Iowa becoming “less relevant,” it never happens. The charm of Iowa isn’t just that it’s usually won with old-fashioned, shoe-leather campaigning; it’s also that the state’s caucus-goers, in both parties, are so full of surprises (see: Pat Robertson, John Kerry, Mike Huckabee). And with the media’s collective binary brain desperate to boil down the GOP race to Gingrich versus Romney, Iowa just might be poised to uncork another shocker in 20 days.
Time to take an intermission from predicting paths to the GOP nomination and imagine what the GOP's general election campaign could look like. Let's take the two most likely nominees. It's relatively easy to imagine how Gingrich would campaign if he became the GOP candidate: the same way he's campaigned for the last few decades. One of Newt Gingrich's defining qualities as a politician is his unwavering confidence in his own ideas. Part of Gingrich's appeal is when you vote for him, you know what you're going to get. This appeal is also why many assume Gingrich will not ultimately be nominated—the Democratic and Republican elite both think the general public won't like what they see.
GRINNELL, IOWA—The emerging narrative for Newt Gingrich is that that he is an unstable politician prone to indulging in crazy theories more fitting a fantasy author than a presidential contender. He's been doing his best Chicken Little impression for years, running around warning about the threat of an EMP attack knocking out the nation's electrical grid (hint: it's not much of a threat). And, he is such a Steven Spielberg fan that he became convinced that the U.S. should invest in building a real-life “Jurassic Park.”