Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

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...

Lonely at the Top

The debate among the Republican candidates over Mitt Romney’s time at Bain Capital has raised again questions about whether Romney’s tenure in the “1 percent” will damage his campaign. The Obama team certainly welcomes this debate. After all, they have been attacking Romney along precisely these lines: The day after Mr. Romney squeezed out a razor-thin victory in the Iowa caucuses, Mr. Obama’s political brain-trust trained most of its fire on him, painting him as both a Wall Street 1 percent type and an unprincipled flip-flopper. Some new survey data that Lynn Vavreck and I have gathered in collaboration with YouGov suggests that Romney is vulnerable to this line of questioning. In a survey conducted nationwide from January 7-10—right about the time that the Republican attacks on Romney’s “vulture capitalism” were crescendoing as the New Hampshire primary approached—we asked respondents: How well do you think each the following describes Barack Obama/Mitt Romney: very well, somewhat...

Not Even Close

Yikes, this isn't even going to be close. Mitt Romney is opening up a massive lead in Florida, the state that could be the front-runner's capstone to securing the nomination. A Rasmussen poll yesterday put Romney more than 20 points ahead of the nearest candidate. He drew 41 percent to 19 percent for Newt Gingrich. Rick Santorum had 15 percent, and everyone else was in the single digits. At least in Florida, Gingrich maintains his spot as the most viable anti-Romney alternative, but that's an increasingly tiny segment of the polling population. Romney's standing in Florida should only rise further after he is endorsed by Jeb Bush—a popular former governor in a state where his last name maintains more respectability than it does in the rest of the country. And just in case Rick Santorum's rise carries over to a top-two finish in South Carolina, the pro-Romney super PAC Restore Our Future is running ads against Santorum. The commercial claims Santorum "pushed for billions in wasteful...

Can Mitt Feel Pain?

If it weren’t bad enough that he’s become the face of leveraged buyouts, Mitt Romney is facing another fresh challenge in the next three primary and caucus states. As Arthur Delaney points out at Huffington Post , the first two states to vote for a GOP nominee have weathered the recession relatively well—a boon for the laissez-faire front-runner . It’s a different story in the next three: South Carolina and Florida, with 9.9 percent and 10 percent unemployment respectively, and Nevada, which tops the country in both unemployment (13 percent) and foreclosures (one of every 16 homes in 2011). While Romney has a fat jobs plan—59 points, people!—it sounds strikingly old-school after 32 years of Reaganomics: Cut corporate and capital-gains taxes, reduce regulations, and (here’s a departure) clamp down on “cheating” China. The most aggressively populist jobs message has come from Rick Santorum, who is promising to make South Carolina “the manufacturing mecca of the country” with his...

What Makes a Champion?

Rick Perry has a new minute-long campaign ad out today, and he's pulled out all the emotional stops. It covers all requisite Ken Burns bases—there's baseball, war vets, and even a Tim Tebow kneeling in the rain. There are planes, trains, and automobiles. Watch the magic for yourself. The video starts by asking "What makes a Champion?," segues into reminding us that Rick Perry ran the world's 13th biggest economy and that he created 1 million jobs , and ends by saying "This is a Leader." We'll see if this works in a state where he's currently polling only three percentage points ahead of Stephen Colbert .

The Pro-Newt, Pro-Gay-Marriage, Obama Voter

Summerville, South Carolina —The surest sign of Rick Perry’s anemic support in South Carolina is how incredibly low key his appearances have been. Whereas Mitt Romney drops in for rallies, and Rick Santorum holds town halls, Perry contents himself with small towns and smaller restaurants. Today, he held a “main street walk," which is exactly what it sounds like: He walks down the (usually quaint) main street of a (similarly quaint) town, speaking to voters and posing for photographs. Texas Governor Rick Perry talks to voters in Summerville, South Carolina. At no point does he speak or address the crowd; he simply walks for a block, turns around, and walks back. This takes about an hour. Normally, as I was told by a campaign aide, these happen without incident. Today, however, was a little different. As part of his walk, Perry visits with local business owners and talks to their employees. In Summerville, Perry spoke with Shannon Graves, a college student who works behind the counter...

A Real Instance of Voter Fraud

I normally try my best to ignore the latest Blair Witch film sting from conservative provocateur James O'Keefe, he of ACORN and Planned Parenthood fame. But O'Keefe's new gotcha video unfortunately dips its toes into my beat, so I'll briefly grant him some of the media attention he craves. O'Keefe sent his lackeys to New Hampshire earlier this week to collect ballots on behalf of now-deceased registered voters. The video shows a string of instances where members of his group Project Veritas headed to a polling location and deceived poll workers on their identity. Once the ballot was procured, they would express befuddlement that they were not required to present a photo ID and awkwardly stumble back to retrieve their IDs despite the protestations of the poll workers. Ignoring the snooze value of the ten-minute film (the repeated script becomes crystal clear just a minute in), it also doesn't prove the claims made by Republicans to justify their restrictive voting measures. It's true...

This Is What Mittmentum Looks Like

Jamelle Bouie Supporters of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney cheer as he takes the stage. COLUMBIA, SOUTH CAROLINA —It was hard not to feel bad for the handful of activists—including a Gordon Gekko impersonator —who stood protesting Mitt Romney, as hundreds of people poured into a warehouse on the outskirts of town for a chance to see the former Massachusetts governor. The group, called South Carolina Forward Progress, has dedicated itself to painting Romney’s time at Bain Capital as an exercise in “job destruction.” “For so many South Carolinians, Mitt Romney has been the prince of pain. His work at Bain is responsible for tens of thousands of hardworking men and women losing their jobs and putting their families' well-being at risk. He represents everything wrong with our system, he represents Wall Street greed over people, and the worst that we have,” said Lachlan McIntosh, who founded the group last spring. Unfortunately for McIntosh, the attendees at Romney’s rally were...

A New Candidate?

For fans of the horse race, this presidential election comes up a little short. The remaining contests are worth watching to see how the Republican Party's competing factions reconcile the fact that they must put aside their differences and support Romney if they hope to defeat Barack Obama, but any semblance of drama disappeared once Romney won the first two nominating states. He now leads the polls in the upcoming primary states. Thank god for Stephen Colbert. A recent Public Policy Polling survey showed that 5 percent of South Carolina Republicans would support the fake news host if he were a presidential candidate. That's 1 percent more than Jon Huntsman and falls within the margin of error for Rick Perry and Ron Paul. On last night's Colbert Report, the comedian hinted to his fans that he might have something up his sleeve, winking at a "major announcement" for Thursday night's show. “This just got real,” Colbert said. “I’ve got to ask, what do you think, nation? Should I run for...

The Class War Turns

Yesterday, the Pew Research Center released a report showing that the American public now perceives the conflict between the rich and poor as more prevalent and intense than conflicts between black and whites or conflicts between immigrants and the native-born. The number seeing those class conflicts has jumped 19 points since 2009, and amazingly, even 55 percent of Republicans think there are strong conflicts between rich and poor. For the GOP, about to nominate a guy who earned a couple of hundred million dollars as what one of his opponents calls a "vulture capitalist," this is disconcerting news. First, a graph: It's no surprise that the Republican establishment is freaking out a bit over the new attacks on Mitt Romney's career in private equity, particularly this remarkable video from a super PAC supporting Newt Gingrich. They've worked very hard for the last couple of decades to construct and reinforce a narrative that redirects class resentment—encourages it, actually, so long...

Ron Paul’s Guerilla Visions

AP Photo/Cheryl Senter
T hat the biggest story of the New Hampshire Primary has, in the 36 hours since, received relatively little comment attests to our perception of politics as a game of colliding strategies rather than a psychodrama. If nothing else, this coming electoral year we’re about to get a lesson in the strange Oedipal dynamics between fathers and sons. Ron Paul is running for president. He’s not just running for president up until next week’s South Carolina Primary or the Florida Primary at the end of the month; he’s not running through March or June or even up until the combustible convention days of September when the Republican Party meets in Tampa. Ron Paul is running for president forever, which includes—unless he dies first—next November 6. “We’re dangerous,” he giggled Tuesday night from the stage of his second-place victory rally in Manchester. In radicalese, this translates as (in the parlance of the horrible music my 14-year-old son listens to on the way to school): “I’m sexy and I...

Running to Lose

Jamelle Bouie Jon Huntsman speaks during a Q&A session at the University of South Carolina. COLUMBIA, SOUTH CAROLINA —At the University of South Carolina yesterday, Jon Huntsman was explaining his position on health care. Huntsman doesn’t believe that there should be an individual mandate in health care, he explained, but he does think that hospitals should be required to provide emergency care. When pressed on the problem of moral hazard and cost— i.e. , Won’t this just make health care more expensive?—he demurred. Likewise, when asked about his support for the Ryan plan by a self-described independent, he waved away the concern with a bland statement about cutting the debt. In other words, this was a classic Huntsman performance, in which his calm demeanor and pleasant voice mask a conservatism that goes deeper than what we’ve seen from most of the other Republican candidates. It should be said that the attendees were enthusiastic about the governor, and quite a few were...

GOP Continues Crusade for Corporate Liberty

In this first presidential campaign since Citizens United , I wonder if any advocates of that decision—a group that would include pretty much the entire GOP—would say that as a result, we have better, more democratic campaigns. Is there anyone willing to stand up and say that superPACs are a healthy thing? Well, it appears the Republican party is now saying we should just give up the charade and let corporations buy candidates directly already : The century-old ban on corporate donations to federal political campaigns should be junked as unconstitutional, the Republican National Committee argued in a legal brief filed Tuesday that could lead to new attacks on the GOP as beholden to corporate money. The GOP brief filed with a federal appeals court contends that the ban which became law back in 1908 violates the First Amendment in light of recent Supreme Court rulings, including the 2010 Citizens United decision which allowed unlimited donations to independent-expenditure groups. On a...

A Tea Party State of Confusion

Click on the image to see larger size. I f the 50 states were 50 people, and you had to rank them by ideology, then South Carolina—which holds the second Republican presidential primary on January 21—would be the Tea Partier of the group. Forty-six percent of South Carolinians identify as conservative. Republicans hold every statewide elected office and control both the state house and senate. The governor, Nikki Haley, was on the vanguard of the Tea Party in the 2010 congressional elections, and her predecessor—the right-wing libertarian Mark Sanford—was among the five governors to reject stimulus funds in 2009. The state’s congressional delegation is no less conservative. Of its eight members-—two senators and six representatives—only one, Representative James Clyburn, belongs to the Democratic Party. Moreover, the state’s junior Republican senator, Jim DeMint, is a right-wing icon. It’s not just that he is the most conservative member of the Senate, according to National Journal...

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