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Election 2012

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...

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...

How We'll Talk About the Affordable Care Act in the Fall

Since these are the Republican primaries, the GOP candidates talk about the Affordable Care Act as though it were making your life a living hell, getting you fired from your job, and maybe kicking your dog as well. They all pledge to repeal it the instant they get into office, though they're vague on how exactly they'd go about it, since in our system, the president doesn't get to cancel duly elected laws he doesn't like. This is obviously what the Republican base wants to hear. But what about when we get to the fall? The broader electorate's views on the ACA are both more positive and less clear than those of the GOP base. They don't have the same kind of visceral reaction against it, but neither are they likely to believe it's been a boon to them. That's because most of the key provisions, particularly the mandate to carry insurance, the subsidies for people to get it, and the creation of the insurance exchanges, won't take place until 2014. But that doesn't mean the ACA hasn't...

Ron Paul's Threat to Gingrich

With his vast trail of scandals and long list of enemies, Newt Gingrich is unlikely to win the Republican presidential nomination, even if he’s leading the polls. But if you were to imagine a path to the nomination for the former House speaker, it would begin in Iowa. A strong win in the Iowa caucuses would provide Gingrich with the momentum necessary to place well in New Hampshire (or win it, under the right circumstances). With the momentum of two primaries behind him, Gingrich would cruise to victory in South Carolina and Florida and finish January as the presumptive nominee. Iowa is a must-have for Gingrich, which is why Ron Paul’s surge—he is tied with Gingrich in the latest survey from Public Policy Polling—is so dangerous. A Ron Paul win in Iowa would both derail Gingrich and help Mitt Romney as he navigates through the New Hampshire primary. In that sense, Paul is Romney’s greatest ally in the Republican presidential primaries. If Paul can keep Gingrich from building momentum...

Ron Paul Ties Gingrich in Iowa

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. Gingrich notches just 22 percent support in the poll, with Ron Paul in second place at 21 percent. The survey, conducted between December 11 and December 13, encompasses the days immediately following the last GOP debate. Gingrich's likability plummeted during that time. When PPP polled Iowans the previous week, the former speaker had a net favorability of 31 percent; that's now dropped to just a 12 percent margin, with 52 percent of caucus voters having warm feelings for Gingrich and another 40 percent having negative views. Mitt Romney placed third in the poll with...

No One Can Win the Republican Nomination

AP Photo/Eric Gay
With the air going out of the Newtster’s balloon—not surprisingly, as everyone who has ever worked with him (possibly, everyone who has ever met him) has declared him too unstable and egomaniacal to win—the latest smart-money bet in Iowa is Ron Paul, whose libertarian delusions render him unelectable as well. Mitt Romney, having entered that phase of the campaign where he has to campaign among actual people, is trending downward, too. That leaves Jon Huntsman, who can take votes from Romney but not likely from anyone else, and Rick Perry, who can still boast of impressive credentials but who’s still saddled with an unimpressive brain. None of these guys can win, yet one of them must, unless the gods decree that most unlikely of outcomes, a deadlocked convention. None of these candidates has been substantially damaged by his rival candidates. Their unelectability is the result of their own failings and marginalities—theirs, and their party’s, which has required of its nominees a...

Welcome to Iowa

NORTHWOOD, IOWA—The Welcome Center rest stop on Iowa's northern border lives up to every stereotype associated with the Hawkeye State. The barn-styled building has a cowhide pattern in every corner, and the coffee shop serves delicious apple pie and cheap drip coffee. Brochures tout a range of local attractions, from the American Gothic House to a Maize Maze, Matchstick Marvels (a museum of matchstick art), and the World's Largest Truckstop (one of my personal favorites). Noticeably absent: any indication that in exactly three weeks Iowans might decide whether Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, or one of the other Republicans takes on Barack Obama in 2012. This largely rural state of three million plays an outsized role in selecting the man or woman who will run the country thanks to Iowa’s first-on-the-calendar caucus. By the time most states hold their primary or caucuses, the field will have been winnowed down to only a few possibilities—if that. Iowans (and New Hampshirites after them)...

No Labels Comes to Washington

For its panel on “mak[ing] Congress work” this morning, No Labels—a group that bills itself as “a voice” for the “silent majority”—assembled a group of current and former lawmakers to solve the problems of partisanship and polarization. Among the members present were Senators Joe Lieberman, Joe Manchin, Bill Nelson, and Dean Heller; Congressman Jim Cooper; former Senator Evan Bayh; former Congressman Micky Edwards; and David Walker, the former comptroller general. There was a standard issue list of bipartisan reforms: an end to negative campaigning against fellow members, filibuster reform, pay for performance, and nonpartisan primaries. If these sound unremarkable, it’s because they are. Even if the large crowd (it filled a chamber in one of the House office buildings) was enthusiastic, there’s something banal about an event where politicians speak in gauzy platitudes—“Back in the day, friendship mattered more than party, and common purpose mattered more than ideology,” Evan Bayh...

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