The results of the Wisconsin recall election weren’t surprising; for the last month, polls had shown Walker with a solid lead over his Democratic opponent. What was interesting—and a little surprising—was the extent to which President Barack Obama has maintained a strong position in the Badger State. Among the 2.4 million people who voted in last night’s election—a slight decrease from presidential turnout—52 percent support Obama. Obama’s performance is down from 2008, when he captured 56 percent of the vote, but Mitt Romney hasn’t captured the difference.
I try not to pay as much attention to politics over the weekend—it’s how I keep my sanity—but I couldn’t help but notice this when it popped in my inbox yesterday morning:
[Eric] Fehnrstrom, pressed by George Will on Romney’s view of House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s budget: ‘He’s for the Ryan plan. He believes it goes in the right direction. … At least the Paul Ryan plan puts us on a path toward a balanced budget. It gets those annual deficits down, in a way that this president has been unable to do.’
In March 2003, a then fairly obscure former Vermont governor and presidential candidate named Howard Dean stood up in front of a meeting of the California Democratic Party, opened his speech by criticizing the timidity and fearfulness of Democrats in Washington, and said to hearty cheers, "I'm Howard Dean, and I'm here to represent the Democratic wing of the Democratic party!" Rank-and-file Democrats were amazed and excited. Dean perfectly captured their frustration with national leaders whom they felt were wimps and capitulators, failing to stand up to a Republican president whom they disliked more than any other in their lifetimes.
In short order Dean became the candidate of the most partisan Democrats, and the news media portrayed him as some kind of wild-eyed liberal busting into the race from the extreme fringe. But the truth was that Dean was actually a moderate Democrat. He had opposed the Iraq War from the start, that was true. But he had also been endorsed by the National Rifle Association, and generally cut a profile in Vermont as a pragmatic center-left governor. Voters and reporters mistook his pugnacious style for a policy liberalism that wasn't really there, or at least wasn't any different from any of the establishment candidates against whom he ran.
I don't know whether or not they were inspired by Dean's story, but Mitt Romney and his advisors seem to have figured out that in this model there lies the key to securing the conservative base of the GOP that has distrusted Romney for so long.
In another hard-hitting investiation, POLITICOreports that right-wing billionaires are shocked—shocked!—that people are opposed to their lavish support for politicians who promise to slash services and cut taxes for said billionaires. I mean, who knew that people would have a problem with plutocratic efforts to take the country back to the Gilded Age?:
In their view, cutting a million-dollar check to try to sway the presidential race should be just another way to do their part for democracy, not a fast-track to the front page. And now some are pushing back hard against the attention, asking: Why us?
For the last 40 years or so, conservatives have undertaken a carefully planned and sustained campaign to "work the refs," complaining constantly about "liberal media bias" in an attempt to bully reporters and obtain more favorable coverage for their side. That isn't to say they don't sincerely believe that the establishment media is biased against them—they do—but they also understand that the complaints, no matter how silly they are in a particular instance, keep pressure on reporters and have them constantly bending over backwards to show that they're not biased. And when it works really well, you get stories like this one from Politico honchos Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen. "To GOP, blatant bias in vetting," reads the headline. Apparently, Republicans are angry that Mitt Romney's life is being investigated by reporters, while Barack Obama, who has been president for almost four years and went through all this in 2008, isn't getting precisely the same scrutiny in precisely the same ways. Stop the presses!
This morning, the Obama campaign released its first video on Mitt Romney’s tenure as governor of Massachusetts:
There are a few obvious problems with this line of attack. Even with its fiscal problems and slow job growth, Massachusetts wasn’t a terrible place to live under the Romney administration. The point is to show that Romney is offering the same “robotic” line to voters, but how does that resonate when few people associate Massachusetts with “bad governance?”
Not an actual billionaire. (Flickr/Rainforest Action Network)
Is there a group of people you can think of who have thinner skin than America's multi-millionaires and billionaires? Wall Street titans have been whining for a couple of years now about the horror of people in politics criticizing ineffective banking regulations and the favorable tax treatment so many wealthy people receive (you may remember the time when hedge fund billionaire Steven Schwarzman said that President Obama suggesting that we eliminate the "carried interest loophole," which allows hedge fund managers to pay taxes at only the 15 percent capital gains rate instead of standard income tax rates, was "like when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939"). America's barons feel assaulted, victimized, wounded in ways that not even a bracing ride to your Hamptons estate in your new Porsche 911 can salve. And now that the presidential campaign is in full swing, their tender feelings are being hurt left and right.
Barack Obama's favorability ratings over the last year, from pollster.com.
One of the most dangerous temptations of the political reporter is over-interpretation of polls, the need to explain every apparent movement in this week's poll with reference to events that just happened. The result is a whole lot of utterly unsubstantiated claims explaining things lots of reporters don't even understand or that may not actually have occurred at all. Only coverage of the stock market, where every news report confidently explains even the tiniest movement in share prices ("Apple shares fell one-tenth of a point today, with investors expressing concern after Billy Wilson of Saginaw, Michigan decided to buy a Droid to replace the iPhone he dropped in the toilet"), comes close. There are two reasons why: the first is that most reporters don't understand, or willfully ignore, what a "margin of error" represents (meaning they talk about movement within the margin of error as though it represents something real, when it isn't). The second is that when you have to write every day, you have to say something and explain to your readers/viewers/listeners what's going on, so there's an impulse to link effects (poll blips) with purported causes (events on the trail).
That’s according to Time magazine’s Michael Scherer, who cites a new survey from Public Policy Polling showing that one of Mitt Romney’s improvised campaign appeals is making big inroads into Barack Obama’s base in electoral-vote-rich Michigan.
The PPP robo-poll of 500 Michiganders asked, ”In Michigan, do you think the trees are the right height, or not?”
Congress is deadlocked on a host of issues that will need to be solved before the end of the year lest the country plunge off a fiscal cliff at the start of 2013. If no action is taken, all of the Bush tax cuts will expire, the payroll tax will return to higher rates, and the full-sequester spending cuts will go into effect, with the debt ceiling hitting its limit shortly thereafter. Estimates from the Congressional Budget Office released early this week paint a horror story for the start of 2013, with the economy contracting by 1.3 percent.
Perhaps Newt Gingrich's presidential campaign wasn't meaningless after all. During the Florida primary, I tracked Gingrich and his ludicrousproposals to overhaul the entire federal government so quickly upon taking office that he would barely have time to change into a tux for the inauguration parties. His extensive list of promises for day one was absurd, yet it seems to have influenced Mitt Romney. Romney's first general-election ad was titled "Day One," and now the Republican nominee revisits the same idea in a new ad, unimaginatively called "Day One, Part Two."
Mitt Romney is unsettled by your questions. (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
I've been on a long crusade, which began before this campaign and will probably continue after it, to get everyone to think more clearly about what it means when a politician says "I'm not a politician, I'm a businessman." It's particularly important this year, of course, because one of the major party candidates is putting forward his business experience as the primary rationale for his candidacy. I don't know if that's ever happened before, and it certainly hasn't happened in the modern era. We're still waiting to hear what stunning business insights Mitt Romney will bring to the White House that no other person could possibly have. And yesterday, Time's Mark Halperin — himself the target of a lot of well-deserved derision over the years — made an admirable effort to try to pin Romney down on this question in an interview. Unsurprisingly, he failed. Let's read an excerpt:
There’s been a growing sense over the last month that Barack Obama is winning battles but losing the war—until this past week, when he lost the battle too. Governor Mitt Romney, repudiating an effort by the former chairman of a major online brokerage firm to underwrite a $10 million advertisement that raises anew questions about the president’s former minister, equated the tactic to the “character assassination” represented by questions about Romney’s experience with the private-equity company Bain Capital.
The debate over Mitt Romney's tenure at Bain Capital has moved through a number of phases, from "Did Mitt Romney do awful things at Bain Capital?" to "Should the Obama campaign be criticizing Mitt Romney for what he did at Bain Capital?", and now, "Is private equity a good thing or a bad thing?" Shockingly, people in the private equity business think the answer to the last is that it's quite good. The predominant opinion from other people is that it's sometimes good and sometimes bad, which from what I can tell is a pretty good summation of Romney's PE career. At times, he helped start companies that went on to thrive, or helped companies perform better and survive. And at other times, he acted as what Rick Perry called a "vulture capitalist."
But while it may be an interesting discussion for economists and economic writers to mull over, "Is private equity good or bad?" really isn't a question we need to answer in the context of this presidential campaign. The question we need to answer is, "Does running a successful private equity firm mean you'll be a successful president?"
Polls remain essentially tied between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney as the campaign heads into the pre-convention summer slog. That gives pundits plenty of time to chew over various scenarios for how each candidate could reconfigure their campaigns before the general election. The veepstakes is already the dominant story on Romney's side, but some have also begun speculating about Obama's running mate.