Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Inside The Mind of a Conservative Billionaire

I was on the road for a few hours last night and unfortunately missed out on the latest round of "So You Think You Can Beat Barack Obama". Stereotypical liberal that I am, my car radio was instead tuned to NPR and I caught this fascinating interview with billionaire investor Foster Friess. Friess is one of a handful of rich conservatives reshaping campaign finance. A Rick Santorum supporter, Friess has reportedly provided most of the funds for the Red, White and Blue Fund, the super PAC buying ads on Santorum's behalf. Back when candidate specific super PACs began popping up last year, there was concern that billionaires such as Friess would keep their favored candidate funded with no public scrutiny. Super PACs have looser filing requirements than the actual candidates, only filing reports twice a year and if they wanted these billionaires could funnel money through various organizations, obscuring the original source. Instead, many such as Friess and Gingrch supporter Sheldon...

Newt Gingrich's Expert Judo on the Infidelity Question

Newt Gingrich may have almost no chance of becoming president (even if he does win the South Carolina primary tomorrow, as looks increasingly likely), but the man knows his audience. Let's take a look at the way he handled the first question of last night's debate, about allegations by wife #2, Marianne, that when she found out he was cheating on her with a young congressional staffer (who would later become wife #3), he proposed that they have an open marriage, also known as, "You keep your mouth shut and I sleep with whoever I want." After all, Newt does firmly believe that God made marriage a covenant between a man and a woman, and the man's mistress. Could he somehow turn this embarrassing tale to his advantage? Yes he could: The first thing to understand is that ABC News had been promoting the interview, and that portion in particular, since the day before. And Gingrich knew there was no way in the world he wasn't going to get asked about it at the debate. So he had ample time to...

Fighting Words

AP Photo/David Goldman
For the first question of tonight’s Republican debate in Charleston, the moderator, CNN’s John King, questioned Gingrich on the allegations made by his ex-wife that he wanted an open marriage. Immediately, Gingrich ripped into King, CNN, and the news media. “I think the destructive, vicious, negative nature of much of the news media makes it harder to govern this country, harder to attract decent people to run for public office, and I am appalled that you begin a presidential debate with a question like that,” declared the former House Speaker. The audience roared in support, John King looked chastened, and it’s no exaggeration to say—as several outlets rushed to proclaim—that this was the moment Gingrich won the debate. But this sort of lashing out is par for the course for Gingrich. At Monday’s debate, he attacked moderator Juan Williams for questioning the racial insensitivity of Gingrich’s rhetoric; he got a tremendous bounce from South Carolina voters as a result. That the former...

Rick Rolls, Newt Rockets

Had everything gone according to expectations, Saturday’s South Carolina primary would have been the first in a series of showdowns between the surefire Iowa caucus winner, Rick Perry, and the inevitable New Hampshire primary victor, Mitt Romney. But if a presidential candidate has ever failed more spectacularly than Perry to live up to his hype, it’s hard to recall one. The Texas governor’s withdrawal from the race this morning, and his endorsement of “visionary” Newt Gingrich—who is making a run at Romney, and leading in three new South Carolina polls—was belated, but also timely. With Sarah Palin edging closer to endorsing the former house speaker, and Rick Santorum’s Iowa momentum stalled, Gingrich appears positioned—especially if he wins on Saturday—to become the “non-Romney” conservative going forward. But first, he’ll need another rabble-rousing debate performance tonight in Charleston. And then he’ll have to cook up a savvy response to his second wife’s ABC News interview,...

Romney and Off-Shore Bank Accounts

Life must be good at the Obama campaign's Chicago headquarters these days. They can sit back and idly watch as Republicans do their job for them. This is around the time that a presidential reelection campaign would begin zeroing in on the best strategy to use against their general election opponent, but the GOP field has already settled on the narrative against frontrunner Mitt Romney. Instead of a primary defined by Romney's dreaded authorship of Massachusetts's health mandate or his wavering stance on abortion, Romney's opponents have unloaded on his "vulture capitalism" and glee at handing out pink slips. The spotlight was directed on Romney's hesitance to release his tax returns at the debate earlier this week, and will surely be raised again tonight when the candidates gather in South Carolina. Obama for America isn't taking the Republican implosion for granted though. In a conference call with reporters earlier today, campaign officials ripped into Mitt Romney as out of touch...

Secretary of Defense Palin

Newt Gingrich has staked out a string of positions over the course of the campaign that should be enough to disqualify him from holding the nation's top political office. Gingrich can't grasp the concept of separation of powers and believes the president should overrule court decisions he dislikes willy-nilly. He's in favor of child labor and peppers his speeches with race-baiting language. About the only thing Gingrich gets right is his desire to reinvest in space research. But this statement might resonate with voters more than any of those disqualifiers: Certainly, she’s one of the people I’d call on for advice,” Gingrich said in an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. “I would ask her to consider taking a major role in the next administration if I’m president, but nothing has been discussed of any kind. And it wouldn’t be appropriate to discuss it at this time. Gingrich was speaking of his new supporter Sarah Palin, one of the most disliked public figures even in this era of general...

The One-Sided Media Cocoon

While I was in the car yesterday I turned to a conservative talk radio station, which I recommend all liberals do from time to time. The host, whom I didn't recognize, brought up some innocuous piece of news reporting that appeared in the Politico. As you know if you care about these things, the Politico is a complicated media entity. On one hand, they employ a lot of reporters and they sometimes break interesting stories. On the other hand, they're almost a parody of the inside dope-obsessed Washington media, which finds the question of whether Eric Cantor's press secretary and John Boehner's press secretary are feuding far more compelling than, say, the question of what effects cuts in Medicaid would have on struggling Americans. But when this conservative talk show host mentioned the Politico, he found it necessary to refer to it as "the left-wing rag the Politico." Here in Washington, almost no one in either party is crazy enough to think that the Politico is actually a left-wing...

Back to Iowa

AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta
The Republican Party of Iowa released their final tally of a meaningless number today. According to the certified totals of Iowa caucus votes, Rick Santorum in fact finished ahead of Mitt Romney by 34 votes. But there's a catch: the party is missing results from eight precincts that cannot be certified. There is no way to ascertain if those votes would have given Romney the lead. Still, by any measure, that 34-vote Santorum edge counts as an essential tie. The bigger catch is that none of it matters. The Iowa caucuses are a straw poll, with no actual delegates selected through the vote. After the presidential preference poll at the start of each individual caucus, attendees are elected to serve as delegates to the county convention; a smaller group of those will be sent on to the state convention and eventually the national convention as delegates. Many caucus sites choose to portion delegates based upon the proportion of vote totals for each candidate, but most voters peel away after...

Can a Republican Elitist Win?

Mitt Romney’s off-hand revelations about his low tax rate and high speaker fees , combined with his growing list of Clueless Things Only a One-Percenter Could Say, raise a fundamental question: Is it possible for an elitist Republican to win a presidential election? Starting in the early 1970s, when Richard Nixon adapted George Wallace’s right-wing populism to Republican purposes, the GOP has won national elections by appealing to blue-collar and middle-class whites as the rhetorical champions of anti-elitism. From Nixon’s dog whistles about “crime” and “forced busing” to Ronald Reagan’s welfare queens to George W. Bush’s fake ranch and regular-guy patter, the party of the rich has won the White House by posing as exactly the opposite—the natural home of good ol’ boys and gals. Only one Republican nominee has conveyed a sniffy air of privilege—George Bush I, who beat a hapless Democratic technocrat in 1988 only to be crushed by the one-two punch of plain-speaking Ross Perot and “...

Mitt Romney Is Not a Popular Guy

Mitt Romney might be more electable than his Republican competitors, but that has more to do with their complete unpopularity than it does with his overall standing in the public. Indeed, according to the latest survey from the Pew Research Center, Romney remains unpopular with a large plurality of voters. Among all voters, however, Romney’s image is negative. In fact, slightly fewer voters have a favorable opinion of Romney than did so in November (33 percent now, 38 percent then); nearly half of voters (47 percent) say they have an unfavorable impression of the former Massachusetts governor. The big question is whether this changes in the summer, when the Republican Party—as a whole—will have united behind Romney as the GOP nominee for president. Even then, if Romney continues to come off as an out-of-touch plutocrat, there’s a fair chance that he becomes more unpopular as time goes on. What’s more, Romney’s unfavorables are growing at the same time that Obama has improved his...

Business Is Doing All Right

At a rally this morning at Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina, Mitt Romney deployed an unusual line in his stump speech. “I feel under attack” by Obama’s policies, said Romney, referencing the administration's policies on business. When you consider that Romney has already defined himself as a callous Wall Street mogul, I’m not sure that it’s wise for him to identify with business, as he does in the quote. What’s more, Romney’s overall contention—that Obama has been terrible for business—just isn't true. As Time ’s Michael Sivy notes , money has been rolling in for business during the president’s term: In fact, corporate profits are now at a peak in dollar terms and close to an all-time high as a percentage of GDP. Overall, profits have more than doubled since 2000, while stock prices are actually lower than they were 12 years ago. What that means is that lots of great stocks are now cheap by historical standards. As long as this doesn’t penetrate the broader consciousness...

Is Romney Worried About Gingrich?

Judging from the polls, Mitt Romney should feel comfortable about his position in the South Carolina Republican primary. According to the latest survey from Rasmussen, for example, the former Massachusetts governor leads with 35 percent of the vote. His closest competitor, Newt Gingrich, takes 21 percent support from the state’s voters. Even still, the Romney campaign is incredibly cautious and, after Gingrich’s strong performance in Monday’s debate, they are worried that the former speaker might see a surge of support among South Carolina Republicans. As such, this morning the campaign launched twin assaults on Gingrich. Up first was this ad, featuring Congresswoman Susan Molinari, attacking Gingrich as an unreliable leader: The Romney campaign also held a conference call in which Senator Jim Talent and Representative Molinari spoke with reporters about the former speaker and his leadership record in the House. Both Republicans were scathing in their assessment of their former...

Earth to Planet GOP

Watching the Republican presidential primaries leaves me feeling kind of sorry for the candidates. In their attempts to appeal to minority voters, they’re like a group of Dungeons and Dragons buddies decorating their basement in hopes that the cheerleaders will show up. I’ve got news for you guys: You may get cheered on for telling poor people to shape up and calling Barack Obama the "food-stamp president" at GOP debates, but you’re sorely out of touch with the rest of us. The 2010 census showed that nonwhites accounted for the majority of growth in this country in the past ten years. Fifty major American cities would be on the decline if it weren’t for Latino and Asian growth, and whites are the minorities in four states. Yet the current crop of Republican nominees consists of five white guys who seem unable to relate to Americans living in a fundamentally different society. The race and gender of these candidates wouldn’t be such an issue if their platforms also weren't so offensive...

This Year's Jesse Jackson?

It was the most annoying and insulting refrain of the 1988 Democratic primaries: “What does Jesse want?” What the Reverend Jackson wanted, of course, was the nomination—which he came closer to winning than anybody seems to remember. And now it’s back , Ron Paul-style. “His goal is to make himself leader of the opposition—within the Republican Party,” writes Charles Krauthammer. “He is Jesse Jackson of the 1980s.” (Unless he’s the Pat Buchanan of 1992, that is.) The Hill was a bit less subtle, asking in a headline: “What does Ron Paul want?” Jackson probably likes this version no better than the original, particularly with more racist passages from Paul’s 1990s newsletters being unearthed all the time. But we’re sure to keep hearing the question repeated for months, as Paul piles up delegates. Does he want a big speech at the convention where he can espouse his contrarian views in prime time, a la Buchanan’s infamous culture-war speech ? Does he hope to have enough delegates to...

What "Not Very Much" Income Is to Mitt Romney

Up until now, Mitt Romney has refused to release his tax returns, something that he surely knew would eventually become an issue. And it isn't too hard to figure out why. When you're struggling to get past your image as an out-of-touch rich guy, having front-page stories about the millions you're pulling in isn't something you'd look forward to. And in Mitt's case, there are really two problems. The first is his income, which we can be pretty sure is in the seven figures. And this is despite the fact that he hasn't actually held a job in years. Unlike people who work for a living, Romney makes money when his money makes him more money. Which leads us to the second problem: the tax rate he pays. Because our tax system treats investment income more favorably than wage income, Romney probably pays the capital gains tax rate of 15 percent on most of his income, as opposed to the 33 percent marginal rate he'd be paying if that money were wages. Which is what Romney was forced to admit...

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