Election 2012

Romney's "Boring" Choice

(Flickr/Austen Hufford)
Politico nabbed an incredibly unsurprising scoop this morning: Mitt Romney will probably select an "incredibly boring white guy" as his running mate. That's the description attributed to one unnamed Republican official, stating the obvious. Much of the VP speculation has centered on the exciting young politicians from the class of 2010. Perhaps Romney would select Suzanna Martinez or Marco Rubio in the hopes of peeling away some of the Hispanic vote. Or South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley in an effort to rebut charges that Republicans are waging a war on women. Who knows, maybe Romney could even tap Senator Rand Paul if he wants to make sure the elder Paul doesn't use his delegates to cause a ruckus at the Tampa convention. None of those choices would fit Romney's standard modus operandi. He's the cold calculating consultant, disinclined to any flashy decisions, tending toward the safe bet. The VP selection typically has only a minimal impact on boosting the overall ticket's...

Mitt Romney Reads Rob Portman's Amazon Reviews

Not whom Mitt Romney will pick as his running mate. (Flickr/Marc Nozell)
I don't know about you, but when I have to make a large consumer decision — pretty much anything over $100 — I put way too much thought into it. This is partly the curse of the internet, where there is a near-infinite amount of information available about everything. So I read a million reviews, obsessing over every detail, trying in vain to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of every conceivable feature, eventually reaching a point where every option seems like the wrong one and I'm sure I'll be disappointed no matter what I choose. The last time I bought a smartphone it took me about six months. I suspect that Mitt Romney is going through something similar right about now. Romney is a famously methodical thinker, and I picture him with a ten-page pro/con list for every possible vice-presidential candidate, going over and over them all until none of them looks like a winner. All his options have weaknesses, and none of them seems to have the ability to do anything but make Romney...

Dems Use Walker "Divide and Conquer" Remark to Their Advantage

(Flickr/WisPolitics.com)
After he pushed laws to limit collective bargaining for public employees, sparking mass protests last year, it's hardly surprising to discover that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker told one of his biggest contributors that he favored right-to-work laws and would take a "divide and conquer" approach to union power. But when a video clip surfaced late last week, showing the governor saying just that, it offered his opponents a major opportunity. In the film, shot before Walker introduced his anti-union legislation last year, billionaire Diane Hendricks asks Walker if there's any chance Wisconsin can become "a completely red state, and ... become a right-to-work state." Walker responds by saying "The first step is we're going to deal with collective bargaining for all public employee unions, because you use divide and conquer." The clip appeared as part of a trailer for an upcoming documentary film. Since the exchange took place last year, Hendricks has given more than $500,000 to Walker...

Obama Hits Mitt Where It Hurts

(White House/Flickr)
The latest advertisement from the Obama campaign—which will air in Iowa, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Colorado, and Virginia—is, so far, the most important one of the president’s re-election effort. Take a look: This is a brutal attack on Mitt Romney’s record at Bain Capital, and far more effective than anything launched by the former Massachusetts governor’s Republican opponents in the GOP primary. The workers are given space to speak for themselves, and the result is a focus on the human toll of Romney’s career. The ad insinuates that this is what a Romney presidency has in store for America. When coupled with continued emphasis on Romney’s opposition to the auto bailouts, it presents Romney as a cold, cruel plutocrat. Here’s why this is crucial. If President Obama has built his“ brand” around honesty and likeability, then Mitt Romney is trying to center his on competence; you may not like the former Massachusetts governor—you may not even trust him—but you know that he can fix the United...

You Like Me! You Really Like Me! Or Maybe You Don't.

Flickr/DonkeyHotey
In an excellent column over at The Daily Beast , former Prospect czar Michael Tomasky points out Mitt Romney's enormous likeability deficit, which seems to grow worse with each passing week. It's not only true impressionistically, polls back it up: Gallup recently found 60 percent of Americans saying Barack Obama is likeable, compared to only 31 percent for Romney. Tomasky does a good job of breaking down all the reasons why, and points out that the last time the candidate considered less likeable won the presidency was 44 years ago, when grumpy Dick Nixon edged smiling Hubert Humphrey. This could well be one of those interesting-but-probably-meaningless correlations, like the taller candidate always winning (which held true for many years until 2004). But given the preponderance of "gut" voting among the American people, it's likely to make a significant difference in November. But what is it that makes a person—not a politician, but someone you meet face to face—likeable? There are...

Going Meta

Tamron Hall about to bring the hammer down on Tim Carney.
Since I wrote a couple of pieces about the story of Mitt Romney possibly being a high-school bully, I've gotten some unsurprising responses. The first, perhaps predictable one, is from conservatives complaining that Barack Obama was never "vetted," and the fact that we've learned about Romney's youthful "hijinks" just shows the media's double-standard. Needless to say, this is just absurd; there were hundreds of articles written in 2008 (and since) about Obama's family and his youth, not to mention the fact that he wrote a pretty frank book about it himself before he ever ran for office. The second complaint—less silly, but related—is that this is all a distraction, and we ought to be talking about real issues. I've already said most of what I have to say about what kind of meaning we should ascribe to the bullying story, assuming it's true. But even if I disagree with the conservatives who are saying that The Washington Post should never even have pursued the story or that it shows...

Romney's Lost Opportunity to Demonstrate Empathy

Mitt Romney's high school yearbook photo.
Allow me one more point on this whole Romney bullying thing. If you haven't read my previous post on it, that's here , but today I have a piece on CNN.com arguing that this was a real missed opportunity for Romney. Here's the key passage: A candidate who has struggled with seeming human, as Mitt Romney has, could have done himself a favor by using this as an opportunity to show a little more of himself. He could have said: Yes, it happened. It was stupid and cruel. I wish I could go back and undo it. But part of growing up is realizing where you failed when you were young, and learning from your mistakes so you can become a better person. Most importantly, Romney could have said something that indicated he had a conception of how horrible the assault must have been for John Lauber, the victim. His only mention of Lauber, who died in 2004, was to say "I had no idea what that individual's sexual orientation might be." By referring to Lauber as "that individual" he makes Lauber a...

Supporters of Marriage Equality Need to Quit Whining

(Flickr/rudisillart)
You know how I felt about President Obama declaring himself in favor of same-sex marriage. I was gobsmacked . It’s politically risky . It’s symbolically powerful , in ways that Melinda Hennenberger noted sharply at the Washington Post . It pushed Senator Harry Reid, the next-highest-profile Democratic laggard on the issue, to support marriage equality, making full marriage rights pretty much the official platform of the entire Democratic Party. So I've been surprised by the number of people declaring that the announcement was too little, too late. Maybe, yes, it would have been better for him to have made his declaration a few days before, when his opinion might have influenced the appalling vote in North Carolina, which on Tuesday joined all the rest of the former Confederate states—and, actually, most of the country —in writing its opposition to marriage equality into its constitution . Okay, it's worse than that: The North Carolina law bans any recognition of same-sex partners or...

Every Time He Thinks He's Out, They Pull Him Back In

Jerry Falwell, on whom Mitt Romney will be heaping praise tomorrow.
There was a time not long ago when Democrats feared the culture war. They'd try to make campaigns about things like economic fairness, and just when things seemed to be going their way, Republicans would jump out from behind a bush and shout "God! Guns! Gays!" Voters would scream in alarm and pull the lever for the GOP. But here we are today, with Republicans desperately trying to change the subject away from gay marriage and back to the economy. Whodathunkit? Just a few days ago, most people thought it would be too risky for President Obama to come out and support marriage equality. But now not only has he come out in support, his campaign has released a web ad touting his support for it and slamming Romney for not supporting even civil unions. It uses George W. Bush (!) saying he supports civil unions, and hits Romney for supporting a constitutional amendment to forestall marriage equality. "President Obama is moving us forward," the ad concludes. "Mitt Romney would take us back."...

How Gay Marriage Might Hurt Romney

(WEBN-TV/Flickr)
If same-sex marriage will harm anyone in this election, it’s not President Obama; his position is supported by most Democrats and independents, as well as important portions of his liberal base. By contrast, Mitt Romney is in a serious bind. If he shifts his rhetoric to emphasize opposition to marriage equality, he could energize the conservative base, and deepen his support among evangelicals and other members of the religious right who doubt his commitment to the cause. Already, he’s made steps in that direction. Yesterday afternoon, Romney reiterated his stance on marriage: “You don’t change your positions to try and win the states or certain subgroups of Americans, you have the positions you have,” Romney told Fox News’s Neil Cavuto on Thursday afternoon. “And as you know, for a long time, I think from the beginning of my political career, I’ve made it very clear that I believe marriage should be a relationship between a man and a woman. “ The problem, of course, is that—in the...

“Inspired” But Not Read

(Flickr / Rhubarble)
“I happen to believe that the Constitution was not just brilliant, but probably inspired,” Mitt Romney told a town-hall meeting in Euclid, Ohio, on Monday. It may be that, like many who like to thump sacred texts, he has simply never read it. Media commentary has focused on Romney’s flat-footed refusal, or inability, to talk back to a questioner who suggested that President Obama should be “tried for treason” because he is “operating outside the structure of our Constitution.” But it’s worth taking a moment to note that “treason” is a term Americans seem to take lightly these days (Witness Rick Perry’s remark that Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, a former George W. Bush staffer, would be “almost treasonous,” and perhaps guest of honor at a Texas necktie party, if he used the Fed’s legal authority to try to prevent the economy from falling back into recession). The Framers didn’t take the term lightly, and their care is reflected in one of the Constitution’s most important, though little-...

Connecting With the People

The President communing with ordinary Americans.
Any speechwriter knows that in constructing persuasive rhetoric it's important to take big, abstract ideas and communicate them through the stories of people. It isn't always easy, and you can't make every speech one long story about your Aunt Gladys, but if your speeches are nothing but facts and figures then they make it very hard for your audience to connect to what you're saying on an emotional level. From what I've seen, Mitt Romney doesn't do this very often when he's on the stump. When he does touch on individuals, it's often vague and brief, the "I met a guy the other day..." who illustrates a point and then is quickly abandoned. This is notable because the whole connecting-with-people thing is something Romney has a bit of a political problem with. And it's certainly something the Obama campaign is emphasizing. Look at this ad the campaign just released discussing the auto bailout: You'll notice, first, that Obama is in shirtsleeves. Then we see him, dressed similarly...

Is Mitt Romney a Bully?

Students at Mitt Romney's alma mater.
The presidential campaign story of the day is Jason Horowitz's lengthy portrait of Mitt Romney's days as a student at the elite Cranbrook prep school in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. While the story contains a lot of detail that paints the picture of who the youthful Mitt Romney was and what kind of environments he grew up in, the headline-grabbing part is Romney's leading role, corroborated by several witnesses, in a vicious assault on a classmate whom everyone thought was gay. Partisan Democrats are certainly going to use this to make the case that the incident gives us important insight into Romney's character. I'll get to what I think this does and doesn't tell us about him in a moment, but here's the key passage: Mitt Romney returned from a three-week spring break in 1965 to resume his studies as a high school senior at the prestigious Cranbrook School. Back on the handsome campus, studded with Tudor brick buildings and manicured fields, he spotted something he thought did not...

Bring On Less Democracy

(Flickr / afagen)
Is anybody else as depressed as I am about the next four years? No matter who wins, we face the prospect of bitterly divided government, savage partisanship in Congress, and increasing executive desperation. Even if Republicans win the Senate and retain the House, they will not have a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate; even if Obama holds on to the White House, he will face filibusters in the Senate and outright defiance in the House. A Congress that cannot deal with the tiny student-debt problem in orderly fashion is unlikely to be able to tackle big problems at all. The response to legislative paralysis is, of course, executive aggrandizement. Charlie Savage of The New York Times laid out recently the turn by the Obama administration to executive authority as its means of governing the country. It’s entirely predictable; legislative fecklessness has led to presidential power-grabbing for more than a century. And if Mitt Romney becomes president, he is already poised to follow...

Why Obama Won't Be Punished For His "Evolution" On Marriage Equality

President Obama discussing same-sex marriage.
If you were Mitt Romney right now, you'd probably feel like you're the victim of a double-standard. When you have changed your position on an issue in the past, everyone took it as proof that you have no core of beliefs and you'll flip-flop whenever the situation demands. But when Barack Obama does the same thing, he gets to say he has "evolved" and nobody takes it as proof of a character flaw. Surely, Mitt might be saying to himself, Americans will see this for the craven, politically motivated flip-flop it is and punish Obama for it, no matter what they think about gay marriage. I'm afraid Mitt is going to be out of luck on this one. Obama's evolution will be treated differently than Romney's changes in position, for one important reason: because millions of people have gone through a similar evolution in the last few years. Most of us haven't changed our opinions about abortion or cap and trade or gun control recently (if ever), but most Americans have changed the way they think...

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