Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Let Elections Be Elections Again

Presidential primary campaigns used to have a predictable script, one that went as follows. Before anyone started campaigning, journalists declared one candidate to be the early front-runner, based on his standing within "the establishment," that shadowy group of party insiders whose string-pulling power, attenuated though it might be, still exists. This candidate was often a sitting or former vice president (George H.W. Bush in 1988, Al Gore in 2000) or had run before and fallen short (Bob Dole in 1996, John McCain in 2008). If no such person could be found, the candidate who looked strongest on paper could be a reasonable substitution (George W. Bush in 2000, John Kerry in 2004, Hillary Clinton in 2008).

Are Republicans Stuck?

For a member of the conservative establishment, the last two weeks have not been ideal. Your nominal candidate — former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney — has not been able to consolidate his position among Republican voters, and has hit a wave of intense criticism as Democrats and Republicans begin to wonder about his core beliefs, or lack thereof. Under normal circumstances, you might switch your vote to another candidate, but the emerging alternative is Newt Gingrich, whose poor record as House Speaker is tarred by affairs, adultery, and a series of shady business ventures. Democrats are gleeful over the possibility of a Gingrich nomination, and for good reason; it would give President Obama a huge advantage in the general election.

Gingrich Leads Confused Iowans

The Des Moines Register released its well-regarded Iowa Poll over the weekend. Newt Gingrich topped off the field with 25 percent support a month out from the Iowa caucuses. It's a complete turnaround from his performance in the first two Register polls this year—one in June and another just a little over a month ago—in which the candidate only notched seven percent. Ron Paul comes in second with 18 percent, a sizable jump from his standing in the previous two polls.

Cain's Book Tour Comes to an End

Earlier this week, Herman Cain announced that he was "reassessing" his campaign in light of the allegations he had an extramarital affair and charges of sexual harassment. This afternoon—in an event marked by fanfare and enthusiasm—Cain followed up on that announcement with a decision to suspend his bid for the Republican presidential nomination. “I am suspending my presidential campaign because of the continued distraction and the continued hurt caused on me and my family,” said Cain in his speech to supporters. “It’s not because I’m not a fighter,” he explained, “It’s just that when I went through this reassessment of the impact on my family … my supporters … as well as my ability to raise the necessary funds to be competitive, we had to come to this conclusion.”

What to Read Before You Unwonk for the Weekend

  • Ted Widmer's op-ed on the difficulty of being in the third-year of a presidential administration is beautifully-written, chockfull of wonkalicious presidential history, and very smart. If you're going to read one article before the weekend, make it this one. 

Chart of the Day, Endorsements Edition

Via political scientist Seth Masket comes this chart showing the distribution of endorsements among the Republican presidential candidates:

When Endorsements Hurt a Campaign

Mitt Romney is rolling out an endorsement today that, in a more sensible world, would be a major boon to his Iowa. Longtime former Republican Governor Robert Ray is set to announce his support for the campaign on the same day that Romney begins airing his first TV ad in Iowa.

Ray served as Iowa's chief executive from 1969 through 1983 and is remembered fondly by most Iowans for his moderate governance, though not all segments of the state's population share that reverence. If any of Iowa's social conservatives were still going to support Romney (the small handful they might be), Ray will drive them further away.

Gingrich's Profound Insight On Poverty

One thing every politician is supposed to display is empathy, the ability to put oneself in the place of others and see things from their perspective. Empathy is a habit of mind, but it's also a product of experience. It's hard to see things from another's perspective if you know absolutely nothing about their lives. But even if you have no direct experience, if you have the proper habit of mind you can at least take whatever information you've gleaned and make some attempt to understand people.

Way Down in the Hole

The big number from today’s labor report is 0.4, the percentage by which unemployment dropped in November. Overall, the economy created 120,000 jobs (compared to 100,000 for the previous month) and the unemployment rate declined to 8.6 percent, a substantial improvement over where the economy was in the previous month. In addition, the employment numbers for September and October were revised upwards by a total of 70,000 jobs, another positive sign.

What to Read Before You Unwonk Tonight

  • Pundits and journalists have moved from denial about the possibility of Newt Gingrich winning the nomination right to the bargaining stage —it’s still unlikely that Gingrich will win, but, as John Cassidy asserts, “now it’s a real race!” However, Jonathan Chait argues that Mitt Romney should be more worried about the current frontrunner in the polls than pundits:

Hardly a Winning Performance

Of the anti-Romney ads I’ve seen from both Republicans and the Democratic National Committee, this—from Jon Huntsman—might be the most brutal:

The striking thing is that this isn’t hard to do at all. If you include 2005, the year he began to prepare for a run in earnest, Mitt Romney has been a presidential candidate for the last six years. And in his quest to prove his conservative bona fides, he’s reversed himself on almost every issue under the sun. It’s no exaggeration to say that anyone with an Internet connection, a video editor, and an hour of free time could make an ad like this.

Ain't Misbehavin'

Ginger White's apparently painful confession of having had a 13-year on-again, off-again affair with Herman Cain seems to have dealt the final blow to his tottering political campaign. I've heard conversations, since, in which political insiders are annoyed about that—believing that adultery should never be what brings a public person down.

Despite Previous Denials, Romney Is Competing in Iowa

Any lingering doubts on Romney's new commitment to winning the Iowa caucus can now be laid to rest. He's opened a new campaign headquarters in Des Moines, a campaign spokesperson said his " strategy is to win there," and starting tomorrow Romney will begin airing a new commercial, his first in Iowa since his 2008 presidential campaign:

Ignoring the Obama Presidency

Among liberals, and most political observers, it’s widely acknowledged that President Obama took a major political hit when he pushed for health-care reform against Republican intransigence and public opposition. The cost of winning comprehensive health-care reform—a longtime liberal dream—was a resurgent and powerful Republican Party. If political courage is defined by the willingness to suffer politically for the sake of good public policy, then Affordable Care Act stands as a testament to the president’s political courage.

The Anti-Newt Campaign Begins

It was only a matter of time before one of the Republican candidates unloaded on Newt Gingrich, attacking him with all (or at least some) of the reasons rank-and-file Republican voters ought to dislike him. So who was it: Mitt Romney, the man most threatened by Gingrich's rise? Rick Perry, looking to crawl back into the race? Herman Cain, in a last-ditch attempt to save his campaign? Michele Bachmann, hoping to win back the Tea Party voters who loved her for about 12 seconds a few months ago? Nope, none of them. Believe it or not, it was Ron Paul, who delivered 2 minutes and 28 seconds of hurt:

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