Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Gingrich Runs First Iowa Ad

Even though the Republican presidential nomination is set to kick off when Iowans head to their local schools and community centers for the caucuses in just 30 days, I'm skeptical of current polls. Over the weekend, the Des Moines Register found that 64 percent of likely caucus goers have yet to see any of the candidates in person. Besides the national debates, they haven't seen many on their TV screens either; Ron Paul was the only candidate with significant commercial buys earlier in the year, and the rest of the contenders are only now beginning to purchase airtime. Last time, 40 percent of Republican voters didn't make their final decision on whom they would support until the last week during a campaign that saw much heavier on-the-ground activity. The next few rounds of commercial buys—both positive ones and negative ads from opposing campaigns—could strongly sway perceptions of the candidates. Newly minted front-runner Newt Gingrich debuted his first Iowa commercial today. His...

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). Once the front-runner was in place, the search would begin for the challenger, the dynamic candidate who could break from the pack of nobodies to make it a two-person contest. This candidate was usually the one offering "new ideas" and "fresh thinking" in contrast to the staid and...

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. In other words, you’re stuck between two least offensive options on an otherwise terrible menu. Or are you? Writing for The Washington Post , George Will argues that are other choices for Republicans who want that (seemingly) elusive combination of...

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. The seemingly infallible 20 percent support for Mitt Romney might not be as rock solid as predicted; he dropped six percentage points down to 16 percent, though that is still a strong third over the rest of the field. Gingrich would appear to be in strong shape with such little time remaining until Iowa Republicans vote for their preferred presidential candidate. But the poll likely indicates that early state voters will remain fickle right up until voting day. Only 28 percent of those sampled said that they have fully...

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.” When thinking about what his campaign meant for the Republican presidential contest, it’s important to remember that Cain—for all of his popularity—was never a serious candidate for the nomination. He had little history...

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. If you have time to read only two things before the weekend, make this one your second. A member of the one percent refuses the label of job creator, and instead bestows it upon the middle class, and he has a good argument as for why everyone should agree with him. Newt Gingrich may be the current frontrunner, but he hasn’t been raking in many endorsements, which have been shown to be a better predictor of victory than polls. How the primary unfolds will be a good test of this political theory. Women for Herman Cain also like nannies and South African sugar. If he really wanted to salvage his campaign, he obviously should have used one of these images. Things Newt Gingrich likes: being in the lead, old people, the word...

Chart of the Day, Endorsements Edition

Via political scientist Seth Masket comes this chart showing the distribution of endorsements among the Republican presidential candidates: Yes, it’s true that there haven’t been many former candidates, which distorts the graph a little. Even still, it remains the case that while Gingrich might be popular among Republican voters, party elites are far more amenable to Mitt Romney’s candidacy. The latest Political Insiders poll from National Journal shows a similar result — only 17 percent of Republican elites (out of 102 surveyed) believed that Gingrich could beat President Obama in a general election. If it’s truly the party that decides the nomination, then I have a hard time believing that Gingrich stands a chance, even with his impressive poll numbers. Of course, it’s also true that party elites are competing for influence with conservative media personalities and their outsized influence in Republican politics. Sure, GOP elites might not like Newt Gingrich, but if Rush Limbaugh...

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. The campaign last fall against three Supreme Court judges who legalized same-sex marriage has become a galvanizing force for conservative voters this year. Ray was literally the voice for the weak-willed opposition campaign last fall, speaking on a radio ad that served as the only paid media for the pro-judge groups. "We'll never agree with every call, but you shouldn't fire...

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. Keeping that in mind, I give you Newt Gingrich, talking about why he thinks child labor laws ought to be done away with so we can start putting kids to work as janitors and such: "Really poor children, in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works. So they literally have no habit of showing up on Monday. They have no habit of staying all day, they have no habit of I do this and you give me cash unless it's illegal." Read that again. Newt believes...

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. But that’s the extent of the good news in today’s report. Yes, the unemployment rate has fallen to 8.6 percent, but a substantial portion of that was driven by a shrinking labor force—according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the civilian labor participation force (the sum of employed and unemployed workers) declined by 0.2 percentage points to 64 percent. In other words, as people give up on finding work, they leave the labor force and place downward pressure on the unemployment measure, despite the fact that they’re still unemployed...

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: The national media tagged Romney from the beginning as the party front-runner. Largely, this reflected the old campaign cliché that Republicans always nominate the candidate who is “next in line.” You know: Ronald Reagan finished second to Gerald Ford in 1976, and they picked him in 1980, George H.W. Bush finished second to Reagan in 1980 and they picked him in 1988, Bob Dole finished second to Bush in 1988 and they picked him in 1996. Romney finished second in 2008, so this must make him the new front-runner. The trouble with this theory is that it takes an overly literal interpretation of what “next” means. Republicans don’...

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. Of course, the Huntsman ad doesn’t have much circulation outside of those who follow politics for a living. If there’s anything that will do actual damage to Romney's campaign, it’s the disastrous Fox News interview that Huntsman sampled for his ad. By simply asking questions about Romney's prior views, Bret Baier exposed him as a man willing to say anything for the sake of elected office. I’ve said...

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. Here's the idea: Adultery is a private, consensual behavior. While it may violate a person's marriage, that's none of our business as citizens. Sexual harassment , on the other hand, is a public matter precisely because a) it is not consensual, and b) it is employment discrimination against women (or sometimes men), that makes it difficult for a person to earn a living. Violating another person's body and discriminating against them in the workplace is, in this view, completely relevant to governing, because it is an abuse of power that indicates someone may well abuse other power, and doesn't deserve to wield it. (Cf: Senator Bob Packwood : after...

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: Even as Romney has hesitated to launch a full-fledged Iowa campaign, he's already light years ahead of his main competitors. The (likely temporary) surge of Newt Gingrich's campaign allowed him to open his state headquarters just this week and rehiring the staff members that had fled his campaign when money dried up over the summer. For all the handwringing about Romney's poor performance in 2008, he still finished in second place with 25 percent of the vote, nearly doubling Fred Thompson's third place vote. If current trends continue, there likely won't be any social conservative alternative who can capture the 34 percent that went to Mike Huckabee in...

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. Which is why I also have no idea what National Journal ’s Josh Kraushaar is talking about when he writes the following : One of President Obama’s political weaknesses in his first term has been that he’s all-too-willing to avoid making tough decisions, hesitant to expend political capital for potential long-term gain. Throughout his first term in office, he’s had a cautious governing style, and has avoided taking on some of his party’s core constituencies…when it...

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