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Gingrich the Spoiler

(AP Photo/Evan Vucci) Republican presidential candidate and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich speaks during a news conference after coming in second in the Nevada caucuses. T he most important rule in Nevada is don’t bet against the house. The guys who got it wired tend to win, and Mitt Romney, candidate of the Mormon majority, didn’t disappoint in Saturday’s caucuses. Equally unsurprising was the low turnout, which probably fell short of the number of people dropping their paychecks in the MGM Grand Casino on Saturday night. The best efforts of the media to drum up a story notwithstanding, the Nevada caucuses yielded no surprises and barely anything of interest. Barring some unforeseen upheaval, all that matters in this race is how long Newt Gingrich soldiers on. The campaigns will largely lie fallow for the remainder of February—the upcoming primaries in Arizona and Michigan are on Romney’s turf, and he’s expected to do well. (In Arizona, Mitt’s Mormons will boost his prospects, as...

Sell By Super Tuesday

(AP Photo/Evan Vucci) Republican presidential candidate and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich holds a press conference after losing the Nevada caucus. T o no one’s surprise, Mitt Romney repeated his 2008 performance in Nevada with a double-digit win last night. Given the poll numbers, which had the former Massachusetts governor leading by up to 20 percent, Romney’s victory was nearly preordained. As expected, exit polls showed that Mormons, who made up about a quarter of caucus-goers and voted for the candidate by a 90 percent margin, helped propel Romney to victory. But the candidate also led among other key demographics in the state, including evangelicals, Tea Party supporters, and voters who said they wanted someone who could beat Barack Obama. All that's troubling news for Newt Gingrich, who in his post-caucus press conference—an odd choice of format given the candidate's love for a rallying crowd and antipathy for the media—tried to bill himself as the authentic, conservative...

Quit While You're Behind

I t’s silly to pretend that those of us writing about the GOP nomination race don’t have a vested interest in a drama without end. This is to say that we have no interest in the resolution that the whole of the Republican Party wants badly even as its individual parts resist it. If the sheer math of the situation — only 5 percent of the delegates to next August’s convention in Tampa have been chosen — didn’t favor ongoing uncertainty, Mitt Romney’s mouth does; his is a fitful march to 1,144, with triumphs denied (South Carolina), won and then rescinded (Iowa), or won and then overshadowed (Florida) by the former Massachusetts governor’s comments about the very poor who will be protected by a safety net that Romney advocates shredding by way of Congressman Paul Ryan’s budget plan. No sooner this week had Romney strafed the Florida marshlands with his carpet-bombing character assassinations, winning the contest’s most impressive victory yet in one of the country’s three or four most...

What Happens in Vegas

Flickr/califrayray
The next stop on the national humiliate Newt Gingrich tour lands in Nevada tomorrow when, if recent polls have even an ounce of truth, Mitt Romney will trounce the competition. Every survey this week has Romney up by staggeringly wide margins. Public Policy Polling's latest numbers have Romney doubling Gingrich and gathering support from 50 percent of Nevadans. The Las Vegas Review-Journal' s numbers aren't quite as rosy for the former Massachusetts governor; Romney tops Gingrich by only a 20 percent margin. The polls that give Romney a dominating lead can probably be trusted given his performance in the state last time around. The real question is who finishes in second. All of the factors that make a caucus state hard to accurately poll are the ones that lend themselves to outsize turnout among Paul supporters—organization and enthusiasm. Even though the latest polls put Paul in solid double-digits behind Gingrich, it won't be too surprising if Paul in fact finishes second tomorrow.

Mitt Romney's Daddy Issues

http://www.flickr.com/photos/donkeyhotey/
It isn't easy getting a read on what motivates Mitt Romney. He's always polished and prepped, his square jaw firmly in place and every word carefully planned and delivered as though it were part of a 57-slide PowerPoint presentation. He married his high school sweetheart and raised a gaggle of strapping boys, not a rebellious one among them (so far as we can see, anyway). He has no visible vices. When he's frustrated he gives a fake laugh. He never seems to get sad or angry. In short, it's hard to discern what turns the wheels inside him. But those who try are homing on Romney's relationship with his father George Romney, car company CEO, governor of Michigan, and failed presidential candidate. And two of the smartest commentators around, Rick Perlstein and Michael Tomasky, have come to the same conclusion about the relationship of Mitt's political choices to what he saw happen to George's political career, and his presidential bid in particular. Here's Perlstein describing the kind...

A Blockbuster Jobs Report

AP Photo/Madelyn Ruggiero
Earlier this morning, Nate Silver argued that 150,000 was President Obama’s “magic number” for job growth, in part, because 150,000 is the dividing line between a bad report—where the economy isn’t growing fast enough to keep up with population—and a decent one, where it is. If the economy could generate that many jobs on a monthly basis, then Obama is on OK footing for the election in November. Today’s report blows that magic number out of the water. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the economy created a whopping 243,000 jobs in January, with upward movement in nearly every sector of the economy, other than the government (public-sector jobs fell, again, by 14,000). What’s more, job growth for the last two months was revised upward, from 100,000 to 157,000 for November, and from 200,000 to 203,000 for December. Unemployment has fallen to 8.3 percent, the lowest it’s been since February 2009. Indeed, for the first time in a long time, all of the indicators are in the right...

Sacred vs. Profane

Campaign operatives love nothing better than a sharp, highly favorable contrast between their candidate and the opposition—and President Obama’s people had to be chest-bumping and high-fiving over the one they got today. At this morning’s National Prayer Breakfast, one day after Mitt Romney disastrously said he’s “not concerned about the very poor,” Obama delivered a heartfelt homily on the religious imperative behind the rich helping the poor: “I think to myself, if I’m willing to give something up as somebody who’s been extraordinarily blessed, and give up some of the tax breaks that I enjoy, I actually think that’s going to make economic sense. But for me as a Christian, it also coincides with Jesus’s teaching that 'for unto whom much is given, much shall be required.’” And then, this afternoon in Las Vegas—well, the Obamians couldn’t have scripted it any better. Their likely Republican opponent found himself onstage with the very embodiment of greed and gluttony, Donald Trump, who...

Donald Trump Endorses Mitt Romney

Flickr/Gage Skidmore
Even if Mitt Romney hadn’t appeared on stage to collect it, there is nothing good that can come of Donald Trump’s endorsement of the former Massachusetts governor. Not only is the real-estate mogul unpopular with the country at large but he is thoroughly associated with the “birther” conspiracy—the belief that President Obama is not actually a natural-born citizen of the United States. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine why Romney would even want the endorsement—Trump isn’t a political force and doesn’t provide much in the way of supporters. At most, Trump has nice words to say about Romney, calling him “tough,” “sharp,” and “smart” in his remarks. That the likely Republican presidential nominee would actively court Trump—Huffington Post reports that the two have had several meetings—smacks of desperation more than anything else. The good news is that the public doesn’t actually pay attention to the presidential race at this stage of the game. By the fall, when the general election begins...

Super PAC's Little Guys

AP Photo
Federal Election Commission super PAC filings proved largely anti-climactic when the figures were released Tuesday. Suspicions were confirmed that Jon Huntsman's largest benefactor was his father, who chipped in 70 percent of the funds for the PAC supporting his son. And Wall Street bankers have poured millions of dollars into Mitt Romney’s campaign. Restore Our Future, the super PAC backing Romney that pummeled Newt Gingrich in Florida, had, according to the commission’s figures, countless individual contributions of hundreds of thousands of dollars. The group raised $17,947,952.77 off 199 donors in the second half of 2011. That levels out to an average donation of more than $90,000 per person. But, interspersed among the six-figure donations, were eight checks written for $100 or less. Three more people donated between $100 and $1,000. Who exactly were these people who believed that their $100 donation would make a difference among contributions from Wall Street figures like John...

Forgive Mitt His Gaffes. Sort Of.

Flickr/Donkey Hotey
For a guy who is widely known as disciplined and methodical, Mitt Romney sure does utter a lot of gaffes. And I use the term "gaffe" not in the Michael Kinsley sense (when a politician inadvertently tells the truth), but in the sense of a statement that reinforces the supposed character flaw reporters have identified as the candidate's Achilles' Heel, whether the prevailing interpretation was actually what the candidate was trying to say or not. Romney can barely go a week without uttering some awful statement that makes his aides wince as it shows him to be just the patrician, out-of-touch capitalist overlord his opponents paint him to be (I listed a bunch here ). Since I'm on record arguing that gaffes almost never actually reveal anything new about a candidate, I suppose I should be defending Romney right now, since he has spent the last day being pummeled for saying, "I'm not concerned about the very poor," since "we have a safety net there." Mitt just makes it so hard. I'll give...

The Success of Romney's Health-Care Pander

Governor Mitt Romney signs Massachusetts health care reform in 2006.
Last year, at the University of Michigan, Mitt Romney gave a speech on health care to address his prior support for the individual mandate—the linchpin for the Affordable Care Act and Romneycare in Massachusetts. The core of his speech—and of his message on health care since then—was that it’s unacceptable for the federal government to require health insurance for its citizens. As he said : Our plan was a state solution to a state problem. And his is a power grab by the federal government to put in place a one size fits all plan across the nation. Of course, this isn’t true. The Affordable Care Act maintains the private health-insurance market and requires people to buy into it if they don’t have insurance or qualify for Medicaid. If the ACA is a “one size fits all" plan, than by dint of similarity, Romneycare is the same. It’s for that reason that, at the time, I was skeptical of this whole maneuver. There was no way that conservatives could really believe Romney when he made the...

Candidates in Glass Houses

AP Photo
ORLANDO, FLORIDA —No one—save perhaps journalists —is more disappointed than Democrats by Newt Gingrich's poor Florida finish. The former House speaker's continued relevance and attacks on Mitt Romney has provided great news fodder. As Romney's path to the nomination becomes easier by the day, Democrats have gone searching for new strategies to paint the Republican front-runner as a weaker candidate than he actually is. Their newest strategy is to suggest that Romney's success in Florida is nothing more than a monetary imbalance that he can't carry through to the general election. “Mitt Romney’s victory tonight in the Florida GOP primary comes as no surprise—Romney and his Super PAC outspent his nearest opponent by running 13,000 ads to Newt Gingrich's 200, carpet-bombing the airwaves with negative ads," Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz wrote in a press release. "In fact, Romney’s campaign has already spent more on negative ads than John McCain did during...

Poor Winner

Mitt Romney sure knows how to celebrate a triumph. This morning, on his victory lap after thumping Newt Gingrich in the Florida primary, he spoke with CNN’s Soledad O’Brien and volunteered the following: “I’m not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net out there. If it needs repair, I’ll fix it.” Noting this might “sound odd” to millions of poor Americans, O’Brien kindly threw the former Massachusetts governor a lifeline to explain himself. He proceeded to make matters worse: “There’s no question: It’s not good being poor,” he said, foot traveling ever nearer mouth. “You can focus on the very rich; it’s not my focus. You can focus on the very poor; it’s not my focus.” This latest example of Romney’s lack of empathy for the non-privileged was guaranteed to raise richly deserved howls of outrage from progressives, but it proved equally unpopular with conservatives. “Romney's remark isn't merely tone-deaf, it's also un-conservative,” wrote John McCormack in The Weekly...

Gingrich Campaign Math

ORLANDO, FLORIDA —"I think Florida did something very important coming on top of South Carolina," Newt Gingrich said last night after the results of his loss had already been confirmed. "It is now clear that this will be a two person race between the conservative leader Gingrich and the Massachusetts moderate." This is Gingrich's new line of defense: Mitt Romney may win elections but he has yet to prove he can win a majority of Republican votes. Gingrich used a similar variation during his press briefing on Sunday, arguing that the combination of support for him and Santorum dwarfed Romney's polling lead. Once Santorum dropped out, Gingrich implied, he would gain the full backing of the true conservative vote, and any remaining messy details would be sorted out through a brokered convention. The finals results bore out a different story. As expected, Romney won Florida by a wide margin. But it was such a wide margin that he did manage the feat that Gingrich had termed impossible less...

The Public Likes Populism

At the same time that liberals have praised President Obama for his embrace of populist rhetoric, mainstream pundits have attacked him for “divisiveness.” In October, David Brooks criticized Obama’s newfound populism as “ misguided ”—“It repels independents,” he wrote—and more recently, William Galston warned that his focus on inequality “may well reduce his chances of prevailing in a close race.” And while it’s true that the Democratic base loves this rhetoric, it’s also true that it has a home among moderate and independent voters, who are increasingly uncomfortable with the income stratification of American society. In a recent poll from CBS News and The New York Times , 55 percent of Americans agreed with the Democratic contention that the rich pay less than their fair share in taxes. And while 52 percent of Americans believe that capital gains and dividends should be taxed at the same rate as ordinary income, this amounts to a significantly higher tax rate than the status quo—...

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