Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

The Ball's in Your Court

At the December 15 debates in Sioux City, Iowa, nominal frontrunner Newt Gingrich argued that the “courts have become grotesquely dictatorial, far too powerful, and I think, frankly, arrogant in their misreading of the American people.” Showing the discipline and moderation for which he has long been known, Gingrich followed up with assertions that judges that issue First Amendment rulings he disagrees with should be arrested and impeached and that he would ignore court rulings that didn't suit him. Many of the proposals deriving from these intemperate critiques are dangerously radical, others inadvertently reasonable. But what is strange about them is that they all assume a liberal federal judiciary that hasn’t existed for decades. More than forty years later, Republican elites seem to not to have heard about Earl Warren’s resignation from the Supreme Court. While the federal courts have not been bastions of progressive constitutionalism for a long time, conservatives have had...

Newt v. Judiciary

In what seems to be an ongoing effort to convince Republican primary voters that he's the most radical Republican in the presidential race, Newt Gingrich decided to go after the "judicial activism"-haters by declaring yesterday that what we need is more witch hunts of judges. In Gingrich's view, when members of Congress -- a group of people well known for being sober and responsible and avoiding grandstanding and demagoguery -- feel like it, they should be able to haul judges in front of them to explain their rulings, and if the judges don't like it, federal marshals should arrest them. Furthermore, he believes that the president should be able to simply overrule any Supreme Court decision that displeases him. As he said on Face the Nation , "Nine people cannot create the law of the land, or you have eliminated our freedom as a people." Newt would essentially like to overturn Marbury v. Madison and declare the last two centuries of Supreme Court jurisprudence invalid. It should be...

Forgive Newt His Flip-Flop

As many of us noted some time ago, the combination of an electorate that requires perfect fealty to conservative orthodoxy with an orthodoxy that has itself undergone major changes in recent years makes life very difficult for most of the Republican candidates. Many of them have in the past supported things like a cap and trade system for carbon emissions and an individual mandate in health care, if only for the reason that when they supported those things, they were conservative positions to take. Now that those positions are anathema to Republicans, they have shifted away from them. But how much should a Republican voter punish them for their past blasphemies, when they weren't blasphemies at the time? This is coming up now for Newt Gingrich, as some news reports have called attention to his prior support for an individual mandate in health care. Newt's explanation is that, first of all, the individual mandate was devised in part at the Heritage Foundation, and second of all, it was...

How President Obama's Economic Message Could Backfire in 2012

If there was anything notable about President Obama’s speech in Osawatomie, Kansas last week, it was the extent to which he attacked economic inequality in the United States, and its deletrious effects on income mobility: [O]ver the last few decades, the rungs on the ladder of opportunity have grown farther and farther apart, and the middle class has shrunk. A few years after World War II, a child who was born into poverty had a slightly better than 50–50 chance of becoming middle class as an adult. By 1980, that chance fell to around 40%. And if the trend of rising inequality over the last few decades continues, it’s estimated that a child born today will only have a 1 in 3 chance of making it to the middle class. It’s heartbreaking enough that there are millions of working families in this country who are now forced to take their children to food banks for a decent meal. But the idea that those children might not have a chance to climb out of that situation and back into the middle...

The Overrated Endorsement

This morning on Fox and Friends, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley endorsed Mitt Romney for the Republican presidential nomination ahead of his weekend visit to the state: As an aside, it’s telling that the Fox hosts joke about offering the endorsement to Jon Huntsman; it’s a sign of how much he doesn’t appeal to Republican primary voters, despite his conservative record. It’s easy to play up Haley’s endorsement as a game changer in the South Carolina primary, especially given her Tea Party credentials. “It doesn’t hurt to have it[Haley’s endorsement], and it can help build momentum,” says LaDonna Riggs, chair of the Spartanburg County Republican Party, “For people who like him and who would want to vote for him, it lends some credence.” On the other hand, Haley is among the most unpopular governors in the country, with an approval rating of 34.6 percent among all South Carolinians, and a 52.5 percent one among Republicans, an awful low in a state dominated by the party. Her tenure...

Last-Chance Dance

After a dozen different bouts in venues across the country, the Republican presidential debates have become a little like NASCAR; part of the thrill of watching is that you might see someone go up in flames. But last night, no one did. Mitt Romney stuck to his usual combination of pointed attacks on President Barack Obama—“I don’t think the president understands the private sector, and that some businesses fail”—but refrained from engaging Newt Gingrich or any other candidates on stage. Romney's big moment came when he tried to answer Chris Wallace on the question of his ideological purity. Romney maintained that he was a “reliable conservative” and explained that his deviations, particularly on abortion and gay rights, were the product of circumstance—he was governor of Massachusetts for pete’s sake! Of course, I’m not sure that I would find that reassuring if I were a conservative; in the event that Mitt Romney were elected with a Democratic Congress, would he stand up for...

Social Issues Make a Cameo

SIOUX CITY, IOWA —Rick Santorum might have finally gotten a break at last night's GOP debate. The former senator from Pennsylvania never did poorly in previous debates, but he tended to blend into the background—no major gaffes but no memorable moments either. That might not have been the case in years past when social issues dominated the discussion, but with the economy taking center stage, Santorum has had little to add. But social issues finally got their time in the spotlight in last night's debate, held in the rural northwestern corner of Iowa. Moderators dedicated major time to abortion and same-sex marriage—the religious right's two favorite issues—during the second half, which allowed Santorum to tout his role in ousting three Iowa Supreme Court judges last fall and trip up Mitt Romney on his support for LGBT civil liberties. After some prompting from the moderators, Romney explained his transition from being pro-choice to pro-life, but Santorum was not convinced. "Governor...

Mike Huckabee Offers Mini-Endorsements

STORY CITY, IOWA —Before the pro-life seminar film debut last night, Mike Huckabee took to the stage to address his most adoring fans. Iowans still love the former Arkansas governor and winner of the 2008 Iowa Caucus. Sure there were four current presidential candidates on the docket, but many people seemed more interested in what their former favorite candidate had to say. Before things kicked off, Huckabee told ABC News that he would not be endorsing any candidates before the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3. But that didn't stop him from signaling his persuasion when he spoke yesterday. Huckabee, in effect, lent his support to the four candidates who attended the event, while dinging the candidates who didn't show: Mitt Romney, Jon Huntsman and Ron Paul. "My heartfelt and deep appreciation for the candidates who are here tonight," he said "and it speaks volumes that they are here…I do want you to take note, that there are four candidates who cleared their schedules and made this a priority...

Why Did MSNBC Apologize to Mitt Romney?

AP Photo/Frank Micelotta
You may have said to yourself when you got up this morning, "You know what I could use? A mini-scandal that I'll forget about in a day or two!" No? Well anyway, this one is actually kind of interesting. You see, Mitt Romney has periodically used the slogan "Keep America American," which is obviously an attempt to appeal to various strains of xenophobia and resentment that run through the American electorate but are particularly strong in the Republican base. It also dovetails nicely with the attacks he and others make on Barack Obama, charging that the president has foreign ideas and is trying to turn America into a nightmarish Euro-socialist hellscape. The slogan would be pretty repugnant on its face, but it turns out, as John Aravosis of AmericaBlog discovered , it's been used by other people before Romney, including the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s. As Rick Perry might say, "Oops." So MSNBC picked up Aravosis's post and did a brief story on it. Among other things, the story included a...

Vander Plaats Still Open to Endorsing Gingrich

STORY CITY, IOWA —There was a line of folks patiently waiting to shake Bob Vander Plaats' hand when I tracked him down following the pro-life film premiere last night. A three-time gubernatorial candidate, Vander Plaats is a well-respected leader among the state's social conservatives and, despite his failure at running his own political campaigns (he's run for governor and lost every time), his endorsement is among the most coveted for any presidential candidate hoping to win Iowa. Almost every candidate visited Iowa to be shepherded around by Vander Plaats for a full day at some point this year, and everyone except Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman attended last month's Thanksgiving Family Forum hosted by his organization, The Family Leader. There's just one hitch: The Family Leader tied any endorsement to a marriage pledge , which quickly become a source of controversy when it was released this summer. In addition to requiring candidates to remain faithful in their own personal...

Pocketbook Rules

DES MOINES, IOWA —Leaders of Iowa's religious right gathered here Wednesday night in an attempt to recalibrate the presidential race to focus on the social issues. A full crowd packed into the ornate Hoyt Sherman Place theater for the world premiere for Gift of Life , a pro-life film produced by Citizens United and narrated by former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. The film was full of CGIed fetuses, heart-rending stories of adults whose parents had considered abortion, and Huckabee strolling on a beach wearing a blazer as children built sandcastles in the background. The crowd sat enraptured throughout the movie, but the four Republican candidates who spoke before the film were the real draw. Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, and Rick Santorum all happily stepped on stage to flaunt their pro-life credentials; Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, and Jon Huntsman turned down the invitation. Each of the candidates in attendance used the opportunity to make outlandish claims and...

Good Ol' Iowa

Ever since Jimmy Carter door-to-doored his way to an eye-opening Iowa victory in 1976—he actually finished second to “uncommitted,” but he beat the other candidates—the first-in-the-nation caucuses have played a supersized role in both parties’ nomination processes. In spite of quadrennial grumblings about Iowa becoming “less relevant,” it never happens. The charm of Iowa isn’t just that it’s usually won with old-fashioned, shoe-leather campaigning; it’s also that the state’s caucus-goers, in both parties, are so full of surprises (see: Pat Robertson, John Kerry, Mike Huckabee). And with the media’s collective binary brain desperate to boil down the GOP race to Gingrich versus Romney, Iowa just might be poised to uncork another shocker in 20 days. Ron Paul, anyone ? So They Say "I don’t want to be called a xenophobe. I want to be called intelligent.” —Rick Santorum, explaining his support for airport profiling at a campaign event in Des Moines Daily Meme: Ron Paul Revolution Could...

To Flop or Not to Flop: That is the General Election Question

Time to take an intermission from predicting paths to the GOP nomination and imagine what the GOP's general election campaign could look like. Let's take the two most likely nominees. It's relatively easy to imagine how Gingrich would campaign if he became the GOP candidate: the same way he's campaigned for the last few decades. One of Newt Gingrich's defining qualities as a politician is his unwavering confidence in his own ideas. Part of Gingrich's appeal is when you vote for him, you know what you're going to get. This appeal is also why many assume Gingrich will not ultimately be nominated—the Democratic and Republican elite both think the general public won't like what they see. It is much harder to imagine how a Romney candidacy would unfold. As noted by Christine O’Donnell , who endorsed Mitt Romney last night, Romney's platform has been ideologically consistent since the GOP primaries in 2008. The reason Romney has been been “consistent since he changed his mind” is a symptom...

One Small Step for Newt

AP Photo/Bill Ingalls
GRINNELL, IOWA—The emerging narrative for Newt Gingrich is that that he is an unstable politician prone to indulging in crazy theories more fitting a fantasy author than a presidential contender. He's been doing his best Chicken Little impression for years, running around warning about the threat of an EMP attack knocking out the nation's electrical grid (hint: it's not much of a threat). And, he is such a Steven Spielberg fan that he became convinced that the U.S. should invest in building a real-life “Jurassic Park.” During the debate last weekend, Newt's stance on space policy got Mitt Romney chuckling. "Places where we disagree?" Romney said in response to some prodding from debate moderator George Stephanopoulos. "Let's see, we can start with his idea to have a lunar colony that would mine minerals from the moon, I'm not in favor of spending that kind of money to do that." The Republicans in the crowd laughed it up with Romney, who had used a similar line of attack the day before...

Important Election News from Across the Pond

Over the last week, there has been a torrent of stories illustrating the extent to which the Obama re-election team is observing the Republican presidential contest and developing their strategy for the general election season. And while I’m sure that the Obama team has devoted a fair amount of attention to events in the GOP, I’m also sure that they’ve devoted even more time to events across the Atlantic, where—as Carmel Crimmins and Gavin Jones note for Reuters —austerity has pushed Europe to the edge of another recession: With the crisis spreading like wildfire through the currency bloc’s core, pushing up borrowing costs to unsustainable levels, countries are relying more on blunt budget cuts, than time-consuming and difficult structural reforms, to get results. The upshot is ballooning dole queues, shuttered businesses and public services stretched to breaking point. There’s no question that a second European recession would trickle down to the United States and compromise our...

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