Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Who Is to Blame for Polarization?

For as much as Beltway pundits and old Washington hands pine for a new age of bipartisanship, the simple fact—as this new Gallup analysis suggests—is that the conditions for bipartisan cooperation have long since evaporated. President Barack Obama, for example, is the most polarizing president in Gallup polling history, followed by Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton (if you isolate George W. Bush’s last three years, polarization is extremely high): Although presidents always try to pursue policies that satisfy their supporters—and, in most cases, anger the opposition—it’s important to remember that presidents themselves aren’t responsible for the increase in polarization. That Republicans and Democrats have a stark contrast in opinions on the performance of President Obama has less to do with Obama, and everything to do with the public itself, which has grown more ideological and more partisan over the last 30 years. To wit, co-partisans are more likely to live near each other—think...

Gingrich Can't Lose!

LUTZ, FLORIDA —As Newt Gingrich plummets from his recent peak in Florida polling, he has apparently settled on a new hope: a brokered convention when the GOP meets in Tampa this summer. Gingrich took questions from the media following services at Exciting Idlewild Baptist Church Sunday morning. Despite falling far behind Mitt Romney—an eight-point deficit according to the latest numbers from Public Policy Polling—Gingrich was in a buoyant mood as he reflected on the state of his Florida campaign. "The most significant thing in both the polls this morning is that when you add the two conservatives together, we clearly beat Romney," he said. "I think Romney has a very real challenge in trying to get a majority at the convention." He reiterated his intention to continue his campaign to the very end, because as he sees it, "the Republican Party will not nominate a pro-abortion, pro-gun control, pro-tax-increase moderate from Massachusetts." He sees the delegates uniting behind him come...

Beyond the Buffett Rule

AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais Debbie Bosanek, left, assistant to billionaire investor Warren Buffet, inspired the so-called Buffett Rule to tax income from investments at higher rates. Imagine you didn't know anything about President Barack Obama's potential opponents, and someone asked how Obama would do facing a former private-equity baron who made a fortune buying and selling companies, sometimes ruthlessly so. Also, this candidate hasn't held a job in five years, yet he still manages to "earn" around $20 million a year, on which he pays less in taxes than most Americans who work for a living. At a time when the country has become concerned about increasing inequality and the lack of opportunities for Americans who don't start life at the top, that candidate would seem like just about the ideal opponent. And it wouldn't hurt if that candidate were also stiff and robotic and had gone through so many changes of position in his political career that it was apparent to all that he...

Memo to GOP: Cold War's Over

Mitt Romney can be funny. Seriously. That's how I saw it when he confronted a protester during the South Carolina primaries. The young man asked how the former Massachusetts governor, as a member of the 1 percent, planned to support the 99 percent. Romney gave an answer that he'd been polishing for a week about the need for unity during our country's darkest hour and how demands of the 1 percent were attempts at division and rancor among the citizenry. Then he cited countries that we were supposed to understand were not better: "If you’ve got a better model, if you think China’s better, or Russia’s better, or Cuba’s better, or North Korea’s better, I’m glad to hear all about it. But you know what, you know what, America’s right, and you’re wrong.” It was an uncharacteristic moment of candor for the metabolically stiff Romney. We can't see the protester in the video showing Romney's answer, but I can imagine the look on his face. It's of total befuddlement, as if to ask: "Did he really...

Gingrich Redecorates the Oval Office

THE VILLAGES, FLORIDA —Newt Gingrich has been roundly mocked by both the media and his opponents for his preposterous proposal to build a moon base by 2020. As outlandish as that claim may be, it's nothing compared to the promises Gingrich offered yesterday during a campaign stop at The Villages, a planned retirement community in central Florida. Gage Skidmore A huge crowd of seniors—numbering possibly in the thousands—packed into a parking lot outside a Barnes & Noble on a warm and sunny afternoon. A hot-dog stand held a steady line throughout the event, and its neighbor stand offered a full bar of beer and liquors. Golf carts—the apparent vehicle of choice in the area—whizzed by, fighting with SUVs for parking spots. It was a bizarre scene, but nowhere near as ridiculous as the tail end of Gingrich's speech. Overall, it was mostly his standard stump, with a few extra zingers directed at Mitt Romney. Then, near the end, he offered a laundry list of promised accomplishments. This...

Competing for Space

CAPE CANAVERAL, FLORIDA —Mitt Romney took a note from the Gingrich playbook Friday afternoon when he visited Florida's Space Coast. Beyond the photo-op in front of a space module that once went up on one of the now retired space shuttles though, Romney made no attempt to match Gingrich's grandiose vision. He laid out reasons why he will continue a basic investment in space exploration—namely commercial, national defense and Armageddon type catastrophes—but didn't lay out any precise ideas for what he would do if he becomes president other than a vague suggestion that more of the burden should rest on private enterprises. Instead he proffered an inspirational story of a time when he spoke at a Boston Boys Scouts meeting. They had invited a scoutmaster from Colorado, who relayed a story of how NASA had once taken a flag from the troop and would fly it to outer space. Only it never left the atmosphere; the flag launched on the shuttle Challenger, which exploded upon launch in 1986. As it...

Mom-and-Pop Bain Capital

ORLANDO, FLORIDA —Mitt Romney just can't drop his phony everyman act, and he added a new spin on it Friday night: the struggling young businessman. By this point anyone with even the slightest interest in politics is well aware of Romney's extreme wealth. Criticism from his rivals finally forced Romney to enter his most recent tax returns into the public record, and the figures were astounding. He earned $21.7 million in 2010; he earns the average median household income in less than a single day. Yet he continues to uncomfortably wear his regular-guy jeans over his Brooks Brothers suits, trying his hardest to convince voters that he can relate to their economic woes. When he was here in Florida last year he told a group of voters that he was also unemployed and, in New Hampshire, the Harvard MBA/JD said he had also had moments where he was concerned about getting a pink slip Romney included a new narrative of hardship at a rally hosted inside a pant factory plant in Orlando on Friday...

The Many Uses of "America the Beautiful"

CAPE CANAVERAL, FLORIDA —Presidential campaigns are often rote affairs. This fact is shielded from the majority of the voters, who tune into the debates and perhaps attend one town hall. The candidates strive to present their stump speeches as organic conversations delivered extemporaneously, not the finely tuned scripts they truly are. But it's obvious to journalists who tag along with the traveling press corps—you hear the same boring anecdote delivered hour after hour, day after day. The candidates continually make minor shifts in their message, but one tale typically defines the course of the overall campaign. They're usually folksy tales rather than lengthy explications of policy. In 2008, John Edwards had James Lowe, the man who didn't have the money to fix his cleft palate. Or Barack Obama, who would rally the troops with a stirring rendition of "fired up, ready to go." In 2012, it's been Mitt Romney's singular commitment to rediscovering the lyrics to "America the Beautiful."...

Why Gingrich Lost His Groove

Has Newt Gingrich floundered in Florida because he doesn’t understand his own appeal to GOP voters? In South Carolina, the former house speaker hit upon an anti-elite message that goes straight to the heart of the Tea Party—and the political moment. It was nothing new: the kind of silent-majority red meat that white conservatives have eagerly consumed since the days of Wallace and Nixon (not to mention Bush and Palin). But it was a message tuned to a time when Americans are increasingly cognizant of wealth disparities, and aware that elites have cornered the market on economic opportunity. Tea Partiers might not like to hear about “punishing success,” or about share-the-wealth policies—for them, the oppressive class is viewed mostly in cultural terms. Gingrich found in South Carolina, perhaps by happy accident, a message (or an attitude) that spoke to them—one that no other GOP candidate was offering. But instead of continuing to hammer home that pitchfork populism and energize the...

State of Disunion

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Newt's Final Frontier

JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA—I'm an avowed space nerd who would love nothing more than to see a human land on Mars during my lifetime. So last night's debate was the most entertaining for me of the unending series in this year's election. Thanks to vapid moderation from CNN's Wolf Blitzer, the majority of the debate was devoted to personal life questions better suited for Oprah's couch than a debate stage. He ended the night by asking the candidates why they were the most electable candidate, essentially requesting each of them to offer a shorter version of their usual stump speeches. One of the few moments where the candidates actually engaged on policy was when the discussion turned to space; specifically the bold vision Newt Gingrich had announced the day before during an event along the Space Coast. Gingrich defended his plan for a lunar colony and a Northwest Ordinance for Space while his opponents harrumphed, claiming it was impractical during a time when Republicans are eager to see...

Why the Republicans Won't Benefit From Being the War Party

If there was a single moment in this campaign in which a candidate declared, "Here's a position that almost every American will find completely insane, but I'm taking it because Barack Obama sucks," it would have to be the time in one of the debates when Rick Perry declared that not only was he bummed that the Iraq war was over, but "I would send troops back to Iraq." Even his Republican opponents obviously thought that was crazy. I thought of that listening to the radio this morning, when John McCain gave an interview to NPR about how Obama has screwed up Iran policy, and reminded us all not just of why he was such an unappealing presidential candidate four years ago, but how far the Republican party has drifted on foreign policy. Among the absurd things he said were that the "green revolution" protests in 2009 were "literally crying out...'Obama, Obama, are you with us?'" and if Obama had spoken out against Iran more forcefully, things would have turned out differently. You might...

Hemming and Hawing on Blind Trusts

JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA —The candidates declined easy chances to attack one another with a surprising frequency during last night's debate. "This is a nonsense question," Newt Gingrich said when moderator Wolf Blitzer provided a prime opportunity to attack Romney's tax returns. "Look, how about if the four of us agree for the rest of the evening, we'll actually talk about issues that relate to governing America?" Romney didn't buy the truce-talk. "Wouldn't it be nice if people didn't make accusations somewhere else that they weren't willing to defend here? " he said. But Romney had his own trouble distancing himself from harsh rhetoric. Blitzer asked Romney what the message was behind an ad that accused Gingrich of referring to Spanish as "the language of the ghetto." "I haven't seen the ad," Romney replied. "I'm sorry, I don’t get to see all the TV ads." He hemmed and hawed, denying any responsibility when Gingrich said it was an inappropriate distortion of his statement. "I doubt that...

The Ghost of Health Care Passed

JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA —Last night's GOP debate was a smashing success for Mitt Romney. For once, he had been properly coached on answers to rebut Newt Gingrich. He turned the tables on the former speaker, using the same confrontational tone that Gingrich had in past debates to great success. Given Romney's rising poll numbers after Gingrich's ineffectual debate performance on Monday, last night's spectacle should be enough to cement Romney as the favorite for Tuesday's primary in Florida. The former Massachusetts governor didn't coast through entirely unscathed, though. Rick Santorum unleashed an aggressive attack on the topic that's expected to cause the most trouble for Romney among primary voters: health-care reform in Massachusetts. This was the expected albatross around Romney's campaign—not his experience at Bain. Santorum minced no words yesterday, accusing Romney of being Obama in a richer suit. "What Governor Romney just said is that government-run, top-down medicine is...

The Winner Is...Romney's Debate Coach

AP Photo/Matt Rourke
We learned so many things during Thursday night’s GOP debate in Jacksonville. Callista Gingrich would be a swell first lady because she plays the French horn and loves the arts. If you’re a Palestinian-American, don’t bother asking a Republican candidate in Florida to acknowledge your humanity, or even your existence. Immigration policy is really all about undocumented grandmothers. Rick Santorum used to go to church with the governor of Puerto Rico. And Ron Paul is itching to take on the other candidates in a 25-mile bike ride in the heat of Texas. The last debate before the Florida primary was, even by the standards of the 18 debates that preceded it, a stunningly vapid event—thanks largely to the preponderance of The View -level questions that moderator Wolf Blitzer and Jacksonville audience members asked. (Let’s not bother with Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, poverty or income inequality; we must know why the candidates think their spouses would make the best first ladies!) But the...

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