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State of Disunion

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Newt's Final Frontier

JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA—I'm an avowed space nerd who would love nothing more than to see a human land on Mars during my lifetime. So last night's debate was the most entertaining for me of the unending series in this year's election. Thanks to vapid moderation from CNN's Wolf Blitzer, the majority of the debate was devoted to personal life questions better suited for Oprah's couch than a debate stage. He ended the night by asking the candidates why they were the most electable candidate, essentially requesting each of them to offer a shorter version of their usual stump speeches. One of the few moments where the candidates actually engaged on policy was when the discussion turned to space; specifically the bold vision Newt Gingrich had announced the day before during an event along the Space Coast. Gingrich defended his plan for a lunar colony and a Northwest Ordinance for Space while his opponents harrumphed, claiming it was impractical during a time when Republicans are eager to see...

Why the Republicans Won't Benefit From Being the War Party

If there was a single moment in this campaign in which a candidate declared, "Here's a position that almost every American will find completely insane, but I'm taking it because Barack Obama sucks," it would have to be the time in one of the debates when Rick Perry declared that not only was he bummed that the Iraq war was over, but "I would send troops back to Iraq." Even his Republican opponents obviously thought that was crazy. I thought of that listening to the radio this morning, when John McCain gave an interview to NPR about how Obama has screwed up Iran policy, and reminded us all not just of why he was such an unappealing presidential candidate four years ago, but how far the Republican party has drifted on foreign policy. Among the absurd things he said were that the "green revolution" protests in 2009 were "literally crying out...'Obama, Obama, are you with us?'" and if Obama had spoken out against Iran more forcefully, things would have turned out differently. You might...

Hemming and Hawing on Blind Trusts

JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA —The candidates declined easy chances to attack one another with a surprising frequency during last night's debate. "This is a nonsense question," Newt Gingrich said when moderator Wolf Blitzer provided a prime opportunity to attack Romney's tax returns. "Look, how about if the four of us agree for the rest of the evening, we'll actually talk about issues that relate to governing America?" Romney didn't buy the truce-talk. "Wouldn't it be nice if people didn't make accusations somewhere else that they weren't willing to defend here? " he said. But Romney had his own trouble distancing himself from harsh rhetoric. Blitzer asked Romney what the message was behind an ad that accused Gingrich of referring to Spanish as "the language of the ghetto." "I haven't seen the ad," Romney replied. "I'm sorry, I don’t get to see all the TV ads." He hemmed and hawed, denying any responsibility when Gingrich said it was an inappropriate distortion of his statement. "I doubt that...

The Ghost of Health Care Passed

JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA —Last night's GOP debate was a smashing success for Mitt Romney. For once, he had been properly coached on answers to rebut Newt Gingrich. He turned the tables on the former speaker, using the same confrontational tone that Gingrich had in past debates to great success. Given Romney's rising poll numbers after Gingrich's ineffectual debate performance on Monday, last night's spectacle should be enough to cement Romney as the favorite for Tuesday's primary in Florida. The former Massachusetts governor didn't coast through entirely unscathed, though. Rick Santorum unleashed an aggressive attack on the topic that's expected to cause the most trouble for Romney among primary voters: health-care reform in Massachusetts. This was the expected albatross around Romney's campaign—not his experience at Bain. Santorum minced no words yesterday, accusing Romney of being Obama in a richer suit. "What Governor Romney just said is that government-run, top-down medicine is...

The Winner Is...Romney's Debate Coach

AP Photo/Matt Rourke
We learned so many things during Thursday night’s GOP debate in Jacksonville. Callista Gingrich would be a swell first lady because she plays the French horn and loves the arts. If you’re a Palestinian-American, don’t bother asking a Republican candidate in Florida to acknowledge your humanity, or even your existence. Immigration policy is really all about undocumented grandmothers. Rick Santorum used to go to church with the governor of Puerto Rico. And Ron Paul is itching to take on the other candidates in a 25-mile bike ride in the heat of Texas. The last debate before the Florida primary was, even by the standards of the 18 debates that preceded it, a stunningly vapid event—thanks largely to the preponderance of The View -level questions that moderator Wolf Blitzer and Jacksonville audience members asked. (Let’s not bother with Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, poverty or income inequality; we must know why the candidates think their spouses would make the best first ladies!) But the...

Unleash the Newt

Those who felt let down by Newt Gingrich’s muted performance at Monday night’s debate—and, really, who among us did not?—should expect to get their money’s worth tonight. Live from Jacksonville at 8 p.m., it’s Wolf Blitzer’s turn to be Newt’s media-elite piñata (and, happily, audience reactions will not be discouraged this time). But the former house speaker will have many more targets at which to aim his barbs—especially after a furious two-day bombardment by Mitt Romney and the right-wing media elite. Matt Drudge, Ann Coulter, R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr., and the editors of The National Review —to name a few—have declared all-out war on Gingrich. “Our Bill Clinton,” Tyrrell called him. “Re-elect Obama: Vote Newt!” Coulter declared . The Drudge Report featured no fewer than 14 anti-Gingrich headlines at mid-afternoon today. On a day when Gingrich’s campaign admitted that he lied to John King last Thursday about offering ABC News interviews with people who would contradict his second wife’s...

Space Case

COCOA, FLORIDA —Newt Gingrich took to the stage with an extra spring in his step yesterday. The presidential candidate has drawn many large crowds in Florida since his shocking South Carolina victory, but it was clear that this was something different from his standard stump speech. "What I'd like to do is a little different than most of the gatherings like this we've done," he said, hardly able to contain his excitement. "I'd like to use this as an opportunity to talk seriously about space." Gingrich, adopting his historian persona, offered an extensive lesson on American innovation dating back to Abraham Lincoln and finishing with John F. Kennedy's moon speech. Gingrich then placed himself among the pantheon of American greats, setting forth an agenda for space exploration as bold as any plan since the Kennedy era. "I will, as president, encourage the introduction of the Northwest Ordinance for Space to put a marker down, that we want Americans to think boldly about the future,"...

Gingrich's Debate Pledge

Survey a room of Newt Gingrich supporters and one main common theme always arises; they eagerly await the general election when Gingrich will easily waltz past Barack Obama in every debate. Newt has always thought highly of his skill at the podium. Throughout the fall and winter his stump speech has included a promise that, should he gain the nomination, he will challenge Obama to a series of seven Lincoln-Douglas style debates with no moderator. He took that pledge a step further on Thursday, stating that he would bypass the normal debate commissions. "I would reject the so-called debate commission this fall," he said," because we have had enough of newsmen deciding what the topics are going to be." Colonel Michael Steele of Black Hawk Down fame introduced Gingrich at the event and threw out the suggestions that broadcasting the Gingrich general election debates on pay-per-view could help solve at least a part of the national debt problem. The crowd largely agreed. "That's the one...

Romney Donates to Anti-Gay Groups

As it turns out, Mitt Romney’s donations in 2010 and 2011 include a non-trivial gift to several organizations that could be charitably described as viciously anti-gay: The Human Rights Campaign points out a report by CNN that says Romney’s charitable foundation gave at least $35,000 to antigay groups in 2010, with $10,000 going to the Massachusetts Family Institute, which ran radio ads last year warning parents that a transgender civil rights bill could lead to all manner of danger in bathrooms. One woman said in a radio ad that if the legislation passed (which it did), she wouldn’t let her daughter use the restroom alone anymore. And the group’s website showed a restroom door with the provocative message, “Who’s going to be waiting for your wife and daughter?” Considering how much LGBT-rights have been mainstreamed, I’m not sure that this won’t hurt Romney among Republicans, at least the moderate Republicans most likely to vote for the former Massachusetts governor. That said, this...

Conservatives Begin to Panic Over Newt

Despite the fact that Newt Gingrich has been in Washington since 1979 and makes his living as the head of an only-in-DC network of "think" tanks, media production companies, and influence-peddling operations that together form what I like to call GloboNewtCorp , he is now running as the enemy of the elite Washington establishment. Sure, it's because it's always fashionable to present yourself as an outsider, and Newt has no identity unless he's somebody's enemy. But there's also an element of truth beneath all that posturing. The Republican establishment really does want him to lose. It isn't because they fear his transformative vision of transformative transformation, as Newt would have people believe. It's because they know that if he's their nominee, you can pretty much write off any chance they'd have of unseating Barack Obama. So now they're starting to get seriously worried. Look around the conservative media today, and you can see the signs. The Drudge Report , which is still...

Everybody's (A Little) Happy Nowadays

If this most recent poll from NBC News and the Wall Street Journal is any indication, the public is feeling a little better about our economic situation: [R]esults from the poll, released Wednesday, found voters feeling more positively about the economy and of Mr. Obama’s handling of it. Some 30% believed the country was headed in the right direction, up eight percentage points from a month ago. Some 60% said the country was on the wrong track, down from 69% in December and from 74% in October. […] The poll found that more voters are encouraged by recent signs of economic improvement: 37% said they expected the economy to get better over the next year, while 17% said they expected it to get worse. Expectations have risen since last month, when optimists outnumbered pessimists 30% to 22%. For as much as we focus on political strategy, continued improvement in the economy is the single most important variable in this year’s election. If the economy continues to pick up and these numbers...

Romney's Mormon and Evangelical Divide

COCOA, FLORIDA —In the Republican nomination contest, where evangelicals represent a broader segment of the voting population than the general election, it's widely accepted that Mitt Romney's Mormon faith could cost him. Romney's tax returns brought his faith back into the limelight when it was revealed that he does in fact tithe around 10 percent of his earnings to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as dictated by church rules. Yet, in the weeks preceding the Iowa caucuses, I didn't run across a single Republican who had ruled out Romney on the basis of his religion—or at least no voters willing to admit as such to a reporter. The worst I would get from the Iowans was concern that other people in the general election would be hesitant to cast their ballot for a Mormon, though they themselves were of course not influenced by that factor. I arrived in Florida this week to cover the last few days of the Sunshine State's primary, and at the very first event I attended, one...

Pop Goes Obama

The competition is stiff, but there may be no more abused word in political discourse than “populism.” (“pop·u·lism. A political philosophy supporting the rights and power of the people in their struggle against the privileged elite.”) It came in for a special flogging today, as pundits groped for ways to describe President Obama’s eloquent-but-mishmashy State of the Union address. Even The Hollywood Gossip was asking , “Will Populist Message Help Obama?” The answer is that it certainly could—if he had one. While Obama nodded toward populist themes last night—chiding the irresponsible financial sector, lashing out at the do-nothing Congress, pledging to make the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes—you’re hardly on Huey Long terrain when you frame a speech around the military virtues of everyone being in it together, or make a point of quoting Abraham Lincoln saying that “government should do for people only what they cannot do better by themselves, and no more.” Certainly, this re-...

Yes We Can ... Watch Something Else

Obama gave his 2012 State of the Union address last night, and all the eyes in the media and political world were tuned in. During the address, 766,681 SOTU-centric tweets were fired off , with 548 coming from inside the chamber. Despite the frenzy that takes over news rooms and congressional offices, the rest of the nation was more likely watching The Real Housewives of Atlanta or Wizards of Waverly Place . Ever since cable started competing with the networks for the hearts of the American public, ratings for primetime presidential addresses have plummeted, as shown by research conducted by Matthew A. Baum and Samuel Kernel of Harvard and the University of California, San Diego, respectively. Richard Nixon—not known for the most stirring rhetoric outside of defending questionable pet gifts—had 59 percent of households with televisions watch a routine press conference he gave in 1969. In 2010, Obama only had 41 percent of households watch him give the most important presidential...

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