I've been thinking about the term "capitalism" since Frank Luntz, the renowned pollster, told Republicans to quit saying it. The Occupy Wall Street movement has turned "capitalism" into a dirty word, he said. If Republicans want to win in 2012, they'd better stop worrying and learn to love "economic freedom" instead.
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.
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.
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.
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.
So you think congressional Republicans are the only right-wingers who like to append their pet (and sometimes, wedge) issues—like the Keystone pipeline—to must-pass legislation like the payroll tax-cut extension? Guess again—it looks to be a trans-Atlantic syndrome.
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.”
GRINNELL, IOWA—That sure didn't last long. The Newt Gingrich boomlet appeared to have at least a bit more staying power than the month-long GOP love affairs with Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, and Herman Cain. Instead, it might already be over. A new survey from Public Policy Polling puts Gingrich dead even with Ron Paul in Iowa, a crucial state that Gingrich will need to win if he hopes to clinch his party's nomination.
Rick Perry finally found a sense of vigor and cowboy swagger when he took the debate stage at Drake University this weekend. In previous debates, the Texas governor either stumbled his way through inept and forgetful answers, or would just assume a sleepy gaze during the second half with nothing to add to the proceedings. But in the latest contest, he ripped into Mitt Romney, instigating the night's most memorable moment when Romney reached his hand over and offered a $10,000 bet against Perry.
There are plenty of reasons to remain skeptical of Newt Gingrich's surge over the past few weeks. Sure, he's ahead in recent polls out of Iowa, South Carolina, and Florida. But Republican voters have proved fickle this election, bouncing from one candidate to the next gaffe after gaffe. After his campaign almost ran out of money and his staff fled over the summer, Gingrich had one of the thinnest field operations of any candidate—it was so disorganized that he won't even be on the primary ballot in Missouri after missing the filing deadline.
While most of the Republican presidential candidates have bypassed the typical ground game route, Rick Santorum has practically moved to Iowa, hoping that he can shake enough hands to convince the state's social conservatives that he is the real deal. But so far, it hasn't paid any dividends. He wallows near the bottom of Iowa polls, never breaking out of the single digits.
Once Newt Gingrich accepted the invitation to Donald Trump's debate, the oh-so-wise political pundit class predicted (well, I predicted) that what was supposed to be a sideshow event would turn into a full-on debate. After all, Newt is currently leading the polls, so what candidate would pass on the opportunity to attack the former House speaker exactly one week before the Iowa caucuses?
Yesterday I noted that the pro-Mitt Romney Super PAC Restore Our Future was launching its ad campaign on a positive note. Sure, their commercial started off by attacking Barack Obama's early career as a community organizer, but it refrained from vilifying Newt Gingrich. That was somewhat unexpected; all signals indicate that Romney's campaign has entered panic mode over Gingrich's unexpected rise in the polls. But disparaging an opponent can backfire. So far the Romney campaign has avoided going negative.
The 2012 Republican nomination has been defined as much by what it lacks as its actual substance. At the start of the year, it was about a lack of any official candidates. Unlike the last presidential election, when Tom Vilsack announced his candidacy just after Thanksgiving 2006, and both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were running by February 2007, no one wanted to take the early plunge this year. Gary Johnson was the first to officially enter the field in April this year, and most candidates didn't file their paper work until May or June.