CEDAR RAPIDS, IOWA—Newt Gingrich's redefinition of separation of powers from the understanding of the past few centuries continues to come under fire from his fellow conservatives. "His comments about the justices and the Congress, sending the Capitol police to bring in judges—that’s not exactly a practical idea or a constitutional idea,” Mitt Romney said on Fox News last night.
A little bit of sanity has returned to the GOP presidential field, with the latest polls from Iowa indicating that quasi-frontrunner Newt Gingrich has fallen back. Yet, Gingrich has been replaced by yet another shock frontrunner: Ron Paul is now on track to win the Iowa caucuses.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
Voters in most states have little recourse to combat the onslaught of restrictive voter-ID laws Republican majorities have passed in 2011. For the most part, they'll have to wait until the 2012 election to replace their legislators and hope that these laws (such as photo-ID requirements and repeals to same-day registration) can be taken off the books. But a number of states will tackle voter suppression directly via ballot referendums.
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.
I missed this last week, but a recent Gallup survey shows the public’s disdain for the current Congress and its members:
A whopping 76 percent of Americans do not believe that most members of Congress deserve to be reelected. This is in addition to Congress’ historically low approval ratings — 13 percent approval in the last Gallup survey — and the public’s intense dislike of Congress; 64 percent of Americans rate the ethics and honesty of congressmembers at low or very low.
The US Supreme Court issued a surprise stay late Friday evening that in effect could decide which party controls the US House majority after the 2012 election. A little over two weeks ago, a three-judge panel in San Antonio threw out new congressional maps drawn by the Texas legislature earlier this year. One of the fastest growing states in the country, Texas gained four additional US House seats after the 2010 census. Most of that growth can be attributed to the state's booming Hispanic population, which now represents almost 40 percent of the state.
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.