Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Republican Roulette

Even on past occasions when the result of the Iowa caucuses appeared to be an aberration—and whether eight votes divides relevance from irrelevance this year remains to be seen—it has set the tenor of the subsequent campaign. Four years ago, both Democrats and Republicans had a sense of voting for something (which itself was an aberration), with Mike Huckabee and Barack Obama representing the prospect of new national possibilities to different people in different ways. It’s hard to imagine how Tuesday’s result could establish more viscerally the sense of people voting against something. For the last six months, Republican Presidential Candidates Not Named Romney have played an electoral version of Russian roulette, one after another spinning the chamber and blowing him- or herself away until Senator Santorum was left alone holding the gun, corpses strewn before him. There has been about the nomination race so far the quality of a Dark Ages ritual for choosing a king, while lacking the...

The Clean-Election State

While officials in other states struggled to balance their budgets in 2011, Governor Dannel Malloy and the Connecticut General Assembly closed a deficit of historic proportions one month early, agreeing on a mix of tax hikes and union concessions. That topped a list of unmatched legislative accomplishments: Connecticut passed in-state tuition for illegal immigrants, a transgender-rights bill, a major genetic research initiative, a bipartisan job-growth package, and the nation’s first paid sick-leave mandate. In a year of reactionary politics and partisan gridlock nationwide, what made Connecticut so different? One-party control over both the governor’s office and the legislature for the first time in 21 years played a role. But the secret behind the Democrats’ success was sweeping campaign-finance reform enacted six years earlier. Reeling from the embarrassment of a corruption scandal that landed a governor in federal prison, Connecticut legislators grabbed the national spotlight in...

Paul Revolutionaries

ADEL, IOWA —Caucus chair Jon McAvoy faced an awkward situation right before his townsfolk were set to vote. Surrogates for each candidate—save still-on-the-ballot Herman Cain and Iowa absentee Jon Huntsman—had stepped up to the microphone for one final pitch. Michele Bachmann’s campaign had sent some star power in the form of her 21-year-old daughter Elisa; though her mom faded fast and left the race the following day, the younger Bachmann won praise for her eloquence from the caucus voters. She was the closet thing to a celebrity at this site 23 miles west from the heart of downtown Des Moines, with locals stumping for the other candidates. McAvoy introduced each of the speakers, an easy task when it came time for Perry: McAvoy was that designated supporter. The proceedings went in alphabetical order, so a Rick Santorum supporter would be the final one to pitch his man before the vote began. But when McAvoy called Santorum's representative forward, he was met by silence. A few...

Earning Their Hatred

Thank God for elections and election years. An election gives our president, who must face the voters in November, permission to think and act like a partisan. It’s long overdue. President Obama has boldly made key recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). The Republican strategy has been to destroy these agencies by failing to confirm appointees. In the case of the new CFPB, that meant nobody in charge to make key decisions to make the new bureau operational. In the case of the NLRB, it meant the lack of a quorum would paralyze the agency altogether. In naming Richard Cordray to head the CFPB, the president has called the Republicans’ bluff. This was the agency that Elizabeth Warren invented and dearly hoped to lead. Republicans made clear they would block her appointment. When Obama passed her over in favor of the less-well-known Cordray, former Ohio Attorney General and also a strong consumer advocate,...

The Enthusiasm Gap

The most important number on Tuesday night in Iowa wasn’t eight—the miniscule margin by which Mitt Romney edged out Rick Santorum for first place. It was 3,255 —the negligible estimated increase in turnout over the 2008 GOP caucuses. Given the sizable number of independents — 23 percent of the total —who showed up to (mostly) vote for third-place finisher Ron Paul, it looks like fewer Iowa Republicans actually voted this year. To say the least, this complicates one of the most popular story lines about 2012—that Republicans are simply wild to unseat President Barack Obama and that the Democrats are facing a serious “enthusiasm gap” against their fired-up foes. (In fact, a Gallup poll in December already began to puncture this myth.) In 2008, the Democratic caucuses in Iowa attracted 239,000 voters, almost twice the number as in 2004—a portent of the rising tide that would lift Obama to the White House ten months later. Of course, the Democrats had three candidates that year (Obama,...

The Wrath of Newt

AP Photo/Eric Gay
Concord, New Hampshire— As the wrath of Achilles was kindled by the slaying of his best friend Patroclus, so the wrath of Newt Gingrich has been set ablaze by the slaying of his own best friend—his ego. Finishing a distant fourth not just to Mitt Romney but also to Rick Santorum and Ron Paul, after Romney’s Super PAC had run a brutal ad campaign against him, Gingrich was fairly blazing in his concession speech last night in Iowa. He not only declined to congratulate Romney but attacked him and his ads, making clear that he’d hang in the race if only to bring Romney down. It was a more subdued and tired-looking Newt who came before a group of college students and then answered questions from reporters this morning in Concord. What was striking about his first appearance was his lack of interest in creating any rapport between himself and the students. What Newt delivered was a lecture, not a speech, on the duties of citizenship as he saw them, which consist chiefly of the duty to...

It's the Flop that Kills

One of the things that might not be immediately clear about Iowa is the extent to which it complicates Mitt Romney's general-election campaign, if he’s the nominee. After all, it’s clear that his strategy relies on a shift back to the center, where he’ll run on his record as governor of Massachusetts. For this to work, however, Romney needs to avoid the kind of right-wing rhetoric that defines candidates like Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich, which in turn, requires a quick and decisive path to the nomination, where he can avoid outsized commitments to right-wing priorities. If Romney had walked away from Iowa with a decisive win, this wouldn’t be a concern. But the fact is that Iowa underscored the extent to which he is unpopular with the right-wing of the Republican Party, even if they’re willing to support him (which they will, eventually). In all likelihood, Romney will have to shore up the right flank of his campaign with a renewed emphasis on conservative rhetoric and a promise to...

Bye Bye Bachmann

AP Photo/Chris Carlson
WEST DES MOINES, IOWA —Less than 12 hours ago, Michele Bachmann seemed determined to prove all the haters wrong and vowed to waste the next several weeks of her life in South Carolina. Turns out it was all a ruse to gather the media for one last headline-grabbing event. Bachmann announced that she would suspend her presidential campaign this morning at the Marriott in west Des Moines. For the first time in her career, Bachmann seemed to have landed on planet Earth. "Last night, the people of Iowa spoke with a very clear voice, so I have decided to stand aside," she said. Boy, they sure were clear. She came in second to last, just ahead of Jon Huntsman, who drew 5 percent of the vote. That equals 6,073 votes, only a slight increase from the 4,823 people who supported her at the Ames Straw Poll in early August. Back then it looked as if Bachmann could threaten Mitt Romney for the GOP nomination. But the entry of Rick Perry into the race stole her momentum, and she never recovered. Her...

Bachmann Leaves, Perry Stays, and Gingrich Goes in for the Kill

After a disappointing sixth-place finish in the Iowa caucuses, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann—who won the Ames Straw Poll last summer—has suspended her campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. “I have no regrets, none whatsoever,” she told the media, saying “I look forward to the next chapter in God’s plan” adding that Republicans “must rally around the person that our country, and our party, and our people decide to be the standardbearer.” Rick Perry, who placed fifth in Iowa, was poised to suspend his bid for the presidency; last night, he announced a return to Texas to re-evaluate his campaign. If recent news is any indication, it didn’t take long for the governor to set a course; according to the campaign , Perry plans to continue with a renewed commitment to South Carolina. Even still, by floating a possible end to his candidacy, it’s likely that he’s harmed his standing with Republicans in the state. As for the other candidates—Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Rick Santorum...

This Time, It's Personal

Every candidate knows what you're supposed to say when you come out to speak to your supporters after a loss. This was a great effort! I'm so proud of everyone who worked so hard! Whatever happens, our fight for the things we believe in goes on! As trite as it may be, having been repeated so many times, it actually does make the staffers, volunteers, and supporters feel a little bit better. But Newt Gingrich is no ordinary candidate. So after coming in a distant fourth place in the Iowa caucuses, he emerged swinging . He said he was "drowned in negativity," and that the negative ads targeted at him were "shameful." He attacked Ron Paul, saying his views are "stunningly dangerous for the survival of the United States." He called Mitt Romney a "Massachusetts moderate" (horrors!) who "would be pretty good at managing the decay" but won't change Washington. He also said that while he won't run "nasty ads," "I do reserve the right to tell the truth. And if the truth seems negative, that...

Bernanke's Burn Book

Fed Chair Ben Bernanke has decided to release senior officials' short-term interest-rate forecasts, opening a window into the collective mind of the Federal Reserve. The forecasts will be released after the next meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee on January 25. It will include forecasts for the "likely timing" of the first hike of the federal funds target rate and "qualitative information" on the Reserve's war chest of bonds and securities. The Fed likely hopes that by releasing this data, it can encourage much-needed economic growth by guiding investors' expectations and staving off worries about interest-rate changes. Many economists are cheering the transparency of this move, but some—including those who didn't vote for the change of policy on the board—think that publishing forecasts could confuse instead of educate the public and that the Federal Reserve's forecasts are often no more accurate than its peers'. “You run the risk of every other forecaster, and that is of...

Unlikely Outcomes

The New York Times takes a look at Rick Santorum’s campaign in Iowa and deems it a “lean” but “muscular” organization: Now, as the campaign moves beyond the long-shot-friendly borders of Iowa, Mr. Santorum’s campaign can no longer count on the candidate’s pluck and retail political prowess to make up for its lingering handicaps. He is seriously outgunned by the national fund-raising and organizational operations of his chief rivals, Mr. Romney and Mr. Paul, and he will face much heavier scrutiny from the news media and attacks from opponents. And while he has visited New Hampshire repeatedly (more than 30 times) as well as South Carolina (25 visits), his campaign still has a relatively tiny staff and is only now developing its advertising strategy. Yes, it’s possible that the former Pennsylvania governor could compete with Romney for votes in New Hampshire and South Carolina; Santorum will almost certainly benefit from the shrinking field, as Michele Bachmann ends her campaign and...

Santorum Beats Truman

*/ After last night's unprecedented near-tie in the Iowa Republican caucuses, it's easy to think that the GOP nomination contest is somehow up in the air. After all, the two top candidates in last night's election—former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum—are very different brands of Republicans. Mitt Romney is a well-heeled, patrician creature of the establishment, who—after almost a decade of planning—is the "next man in line" for the nomination. Rick Santorum, by contrast, is an unpopular former lawmaker who lost his last election in a colossal landslide and was on his way to renewed obscurity until his surge in Iowa. If Santorum can tie Romney for the first-place spot in Iowa—despite Romney's tens of millions of dollars and two separate presidential campaigns—then who knows what could happen in New Hampshire or South Carolina, the next two contests. But the truth is that this race is still as volatile as it was before the Iowa caucuses...

Branding the Old Party

DES MOINES, IOWA —The event was already running behind schedule when Chuck Laudner made his way to the front corner of the Pizza Ranch restaurant in Boone, Iowa. He struggled to kill time as Rick Santorum struggled to reach the podium. Over the past weeks, Laudner, a former executive director of the Iowa Republican Party, had been introducing the onetime Pennsylvania senator across the state. At first it was at small gatherings little noticed by the media. But that transformed overnight. On Monday, a crowd filled every inch of floor space, forcing Santorum to slowly trudge to the front, handshake by handshake. Laudner reiterated his standard pitch. "Tomorrow night at about seven o'clock, Iowans are going to gather," he said. "They're going to take two votes. At the beginning of the night, they're going to take a vote and tell the world who they think the next president should be. By the end of the caucus, they're going to take votes on all of those platform planks that create all of...

The Most Informative Campaign?

Now that the actual primary campaign (with voting, I mean) has begun, it might be worth taking note of a real benefit this crazy campaign has had for the electorate. With no fewer than six national front-runners at various times (Romney, Trump, Bachmann, Perry, Cain, Gingrich), we've had a chance to get a close look at more candidates than ever. Ordinarily, the press will find only one or two candidates worthy of a good sifting through their past. But this time, nearly all the candidates have been subject to close examination, and the harsh national spotlight reveals all flaws. If you're wondering what skeletons John Huntsman has in his closet, it's because he's the only candidate who hasn't been ahead (or nearly so). Everybody else has had their moment, so we've learned in detail about Perry's Texas record (not so impressive), Gingrich's entrepreneurial career (quite impressive in its way), Bachmann's religious beliefs (a little scary), Ron Paul's newsletters (both nutty and scary),...

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