Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Out of The Quiet Rooms

AP Photo/John Amis
Even the most disciplined candidate can't get through an entire presidential campaign without uttering at least one or two gaffes, those emblematic statements journalists will mention again and again to provide vivid illustration of his or her character defects. Few candidates are more disciplined than Mitt Romney, but the likely Republican nominee has already built up a small library of such verbal misfires, which could become the signposts of a most enlightening and overdue discussion on which we will now embark. If we're lucky (and Romney is unlucky), that discussion will move beyond the oversimplifications we've gotten used to, and demand that we re-examine some very basic ideas about our economy, like what "business" really represents, how capitalism creates its winners and losers, and what government might do about it. In recent days, Romney has added some doozies to his growing list of cringe-worthy comments. In June, the man worth an estimated $200 million joked to a group of...

Smooth Sailing for Mitt

MYRTLE BEACH, SOUTH CAROLINA —After 15 debates and months of campaigning, one thing is still true of the Republican presidential field: No one wants to take on Mitt Romney. At first, during last night's South Carolina GOP debate, there were signs that Ron Paul, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Perry would remove the gloves and challenge the former Massachusetts governor. Gingrich opened his bid with a defense of his statements on Bain Capital—“I don’t think raising questions is a prerogative only of Barack Obama. … I raise questions that I think are legitimate questions.” Perry continued along those lines, pressing Romney to release his tax returns (to the large applause of the audience). “Mitt, we need for you to release your income tax, so people can find out how you made your money,” Perry said. “The people of South Carolina have to decide whether they have a flawed candidate or not. We cannot fire our nominee in September. We need to know now.” Santorum attacked Romney on...

Love Till It Hurts

If there's anything that can produce more anxiety than watching the Republicans pick a presidential candidate, it's watching the process from Israel. Yes, I know that the Republican candidates—well, except for Ron Paul—all love Israel. Newt Gingrich is still in the race because of the cash his super PAC got from casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, whose other political investments include financing an Israeli newspaper that exists to promote Benjamin Netanyahu. Rick Santorum has just been endorsed by the high council of theocons, who are sure they understand Israel's importance better than the Jews do. Mitt Romney's foreign-policy platform restates —in more polite but equally counterfactual terms—his accusation of last year that "President Obama has thrown Israel under the bus." This is exactly what makes me nervous. These candidates would love Israel to death. What's scary is not just that any Republican from the class of '12 is likely to replace Barack Obama's uneven support for Israeli-...

Give Us Someone to Endorse, Please!

¡Somos Republicans!—the country's self-proclaimed largest Latino Republican group— endorsed New Gingrich today, saying that the candidate "has been working hard for many years to include American Hispanics in the overall conversation for a better America." The group also lamented Jon Huntsman's departure from the race and criticized Mitt Romney's "non-humanitarian approach" to immigration reform. While I never quite understand groups that support a party that is actively antagonistic to their key interests (see GOProud, the Log Cabin Republicans), Gingrich is indeed the best of the lot when it comes to immigration reform. Whereas the two lead candidates, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, oppose anything other than stricter enforcement of immigration laws, Gingrich has come out in support of certain provisions of the DREAM Act; has proposed offering undocumented immigrants with deep ties to their community a path to citizenship; and recognized that much of the immigration problem is...

It's Not Me; It's You

Jamelle Bouie Jon Huntsman speaks during a Q&A session at the University of South Carolina. MYRTLE BEACH, SOUTH CAROLINA —By the time Jon Huntsman tried to sell himself as a conservative alternative to Mitt Romney, it was too late—he had already defined himself as a moderate Republican, and in the process alienated conservative voters. Indeed, you could describe Huntsman’s campaign as an exercise in attacking the voters he needed to win the nomination. John Weaver, his chief strategist, was known for his attacks on the right wing of the Republican Party, and Huntsman himself was willing to disparage conservative voters. When, in a tweet last summer, Huntsman said, “I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy,” he explicitly disagreed with conservatives in a way that appealed to liberal and moderate disdain for the right. Likewise, as Byron York described for the Washington Examiner , Huntsman was willing to question his own party's sanity: The next...

Huntsman '16: Catch the Fever

When he first got into the presidential race, I assumed Jon Huntsman was playing a long game. In the 2012, Tea Party-dominated Republican Party, a guy who had worked for the Obama administration and who, though ideologically conservative, was not inclined to treat anyone who disagreed with him as a despicable socialist demon worthy only of spittle-flecked contempt, had no chance of winning, a fact he surely must have understood. So one reasonable path was to run a respectable campaign, watch Mitt Romney lose in the general, and prepare for a strong race in 2016, when conditions would be more favorable. After all, Republicans typically have to run multiple times before they get their party's nomination. In the last four decades, the only Republican who got the nomination on his first try was George W. Bush (and Gerald Ford, but he was president at the time). So it seems like a sensible plan. But there's one hitch: In order for Huntsman '16 to have any chance, the party is going to have...

Evangelical Ballot Stuffing

An endorsement from a group of 150 social conservatives over the weekend should have been a huge gain for Rick Santorum's campaign. The South Carolina primary—Santorum's last real shot to block Mitt Romney's waltz to the general election—is right around the corner, and 60 percent of the Republican primary electorate in 2008 was evangelical or born-again Christians. Yet it's hard to see how exactly this endorsement will play out. The group as a whole did not commit resources to boosting Santorum's bid. It remained unclear Saturday afternoon if the attendees who entered the weekend supporting Newt Gingrich (or the few misbegotten souls still clinging to Rick Perry) would switch their ties and commit to Santorum as the anti-Romney of choice. Now, tales of dissent among the conservative rank and file are already starting to leak out. According to the Washington Times , a "civil war" is already under way following the Texas meeting: The meeting was called to avoid a continued division...

Mitt Romney the Serial Killer

Stephen Colbert announced last Thursday that he would form an exploratory run for the president in South Carolina. But, much as his real counterparts acted like true candidates long before their campaigns became official, Colbert's faux presidential campaign has begun to follow the lead of the real campaigns. He appeared on ABC's Sunday show The Week yesterday, and his super PAC (now officially controlled by Jon Stewart) has released a negative ad against Mitt Romney. The ad calls Romney "Mitt the Ripper" for his killing spree against corporations since they are, after all, people. Narrated by John Lithgow, the commercial turns Romney's words against him and ends with an image of Romney superimposed next to a wood chipper that chews up companies taken over by Bain and spits out money on the other side. Colbert himself is not mentioned; instead, the ad urges voters to turn against Romney, showing a sample ballot with the only two options being "Mitt Romney" and "Not Mitt Romney," the...

Exit Huntsman

Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman has gotten a lot of buzz since entering the Republican presidential race last spring, but he’s never been able to translate that into votes. After months of focused campaigning in the state, he came away from the New Hampshire primary with a disappointing third-place finish. Despite this, he continued on to South Carolina in an attempt to revive his bid for the GOP nomination. But after a week of campaigning—and a lackluster reception from voters—he’s calling it quits : Republican presidential hopeful Jon Huntsman will drop out of the White House race on Monday and endorse former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, a senior Huntsman campaign official said on Sunday. The official said Huntsman, a former Utah governor, was “proud of the race he ran.” Ultimately, he “didn’t want to stand in the way of the person with the best chance to beat President (Barack) Obama,” the official told Reuters. According to the most recent survey from Rasmussen, Huntsman...

The Right's Man

AP Photo/Rick Wilson
Around 150 bigwigs from the social-conservative movement gathered in Texas Friday night to endorse a candidate. Organizers didn't come out and say it, but the implicit goal of the gathering was to rally around a single alternative to Mitt Romney before he rolls past the competition in South Carolina and Florida. Surrogates for each candidate—save Romney and Jon Huntsman—addressed the crowd Saturday morning before the voting took place. The field was narrowed down through a series of votes until one candidate could attain two-thirds support. After three rounds, Rick Santorum emerged as the favorite, winning 85 of the 114 votes cast (some voters slipped off between the rounds of voting). Ron Paul and Rick Perry received mild support early on, but they quickly fell behind, leaving only Newt Gingrich and Santorum. The conservative revival was held outside Houston at the ranch of Paul and Nancy Pressler. Some of the most familiar names in evangelical politics attended, including Focus on...

The Right's Quixotic Quandary

With the South Carolina primary eight days away, and Rick Perry having morphed into the Incredible Shrinking Candidate , conservative Republicans are down to two options in their quixotic quest for a non-Romney. The only problem: One has already displayed more political personalities than Sybil, and the other specializes in social issues that nobody especially cares about in 2012. Newt Gingrich can of course be both vicious and charming, potentially a winning combo for a Romney foe—but he can’t seem to decide whether to bash Mitt over Bain Capital or return to his pre-New Hampshire incarnation as the happy warrior of clean campaigning. Rick Santorum, meanwhile, has a promising anti-Mitt idea—appealing to blue-collar workers by promising to bring back manufacturing jobs—but he can’t seem to stop comparing gay marriage to polygamy , contraception to wantonness , and the Obama presidency to the Apocalypse . The polls show Gingrich and Santorum splitting the non-Romney vote in South...

Why Romney Can Win South Carolina

Mitt Romney greets voters at a rally in Charleston, South Carolina. Two of the most recent polls from South Carolina show a tight race for victory in the primary. A new survey from the American Research Group finds Mitt Romney in the lead with 29 percent of the vote, to 25 percent for Gingrich, 20 percent for Paul, 9 percent for Rick Perry, and 7 percent for Rick Santorum. A second poll , from Rasmussen, has Santorum in somewhat better straits; Romney still leads—with 28 percent of the vote—but Santorum has the third-place spot, with 16 percent of the vote. Newt Gingrich takes 21 percent of the vote. Together, these numbers seem like bad news for Mitt Romney. Yes, he’s in the lead, but Ron Paul is on an upward trajectory, and Newt Gingrich remains alone among the candidates who actually stand a chance of catching up to the former Massachusetts governor. What’s more, Romney seems to have reached a ceiling in his overall support in the state. His trend line is basically flat and could...

Standing Up for the 11th Commandment

The Romney campaign has hit South Carolina with a new television ad: Romney is doing well in South Carolina, with 29 percent support among voters to Newt Gingrich’s 25 percent, but not so well that he doesn’t feel the heat from his competitors. This ad, in particular, is a sign that Romney is worried about the effect of the Republican attacks on his record at Bain. And rightfully so; while Republican elites are happy to support the financial interests of the wealthy, actual Republican voters are fairly amenable to raising taxes on the rich. It’s very clear that Romney is trying to divert attention away from the substance of the attacks and toward a sense that Gingrich and Rick Perry (who has accused Romney of “vulture capitalism”) are not “team players.” Judging from the non-response that both candidates have received for their attacks—and considering how eager South Carolina Republicans are to beat Obama—this is probably a good approach.

The Private Sector Is Not Like Government

When Mitt Romney talks about his nongovernmental experience, he tends to reduce it to a simple declaration: "I understand how the economy works." He probably says this to one audience or another a dozen times a day. What he doesn't do is go into any detail about what kinds of insights this deep understanding has brought him to. After all, what he proposes on the economy is the same menu as every other Republican—lower taxes on the wealthy and investors, fewer regulations on business. If his experience in private equity has given him some profound economic wisdom, it's hard to tell what it consists of. The new focus on Romney's time at Bain Capital is giving us an opportunity to ask some well-needed questions not only about him but also about the nature of capitalism and the relationship of business and government. The candidate who claims, "I'm a businessman, not a politician" is a long-standing pet peeve of mine, since it implies that what we really need in government is people who...

Rick Santorum: Defender of Freedom

Santorum speaks to supporters in Greenville, South Carolina. CHARLESTOWN, SOUTH CAROLINA —Rick Santorum’s campaign for the Republican nomination relies on stark, apocalyptic rhetoric. Barack Obama isn’t just a Democratic president passing Democratic policies; he’s a dangerous radical who seeks to bend the American people to his will and fundamentally change the country’s “values.” Indeed, the takeaway from Santorum’s town hall at Daniel Island Elementary School last night, where 500 conservatives gathered to support the former Pennsylvania senator, was that the specter of Obama’s tyranny lurks around every corner. “He used fear, to everyone who is dependent on the federal government, he pulled the hook, to make them do what he wants,” said Santorum, describing Obama’s direct appeal to votes during the debt ceiling fight, “That’s why Obamacare is so dangerous—it’s an entitlement for every American.” Likewise, Santorum offered a stark picture of federal spending, where deficits are...

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