Elections

Charles Portis's Guide to the GOP

An obscure book that just might explain the GOP race better than any pundit could

(Flickr/Austin Kleon)
Does today's Republican Party baffle you? Then I can help. A too-little-known book called Masters of Atlantis explains absolutely everything: They're Gnomons. Gnomons, every last one. While this is an inflammatory charge, I don't think I'm being reckless. If Masters of Atlantis can be trusted—and for reasons that will soon be apparent, I see no reason why it shouldn't be—Gnomonism, or Gnomonry, was introduced to the United States soon after World War I by Lamar Jimmerson, an ex-doughboy reared under Indiana's placid blue sky. While serving in France, he came into possession of a rare copy of the Codex Pappus: the only surviving repository of Atlantean wisdom, "committed to the waves on that terrible day when the rumbling began." Swiftly converted from his dabblings in Freemasonry, Jimmerson—whose utter sincerity is in no doubt, by the way—founded the American branch of the Gnomon Society. His proselytizing for Atlantis's teachings won few adherents at first, but Gnomonry's vogue among...

Romney's Trouble On The Ground

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I've been arguing over the last few days for journalists to be wary of the Santorum bubble, which I think will pop before it amounts to much, despite the current bounce in the polls. But Nate Silver raised an important point I missed earlier this week: It is not clear, however, how much emphasis Mr. Romney has placed on this part of his campaign. When I visited the various campaign headquarters in New Hampshire, Mr. Romney’s office was the busiest and the best run (although Ron Paul’s was reasonably close). Still, Mr. Romney’s office in Manchester was the only one he had in the state. In contrast, Barack Obama, Hillary Rodham Clinton and John Edwards each had 16 field offices in New Hampshire in advance of the 2008 primaries there. I noticed a similar dynamic when I was on the trail in Iowa and Florida. Romney certainly outpaced his rivals when it came to campaign organization, even on the basics. It was at times bewildering covering Gingrich events without knowing where to park,...

The GOP Must Really Want to Lose this Election

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This, via The New York Times , seems like a huge strategic miscalulation on part of conservative activists: The National Association of Evangelicals, which represents thousands of churches in 40 denominations, “will be working vigorously” against the mandate, said Galen Carey, the association’s vice president for government relations — lending substance to the statement last week by Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor and a Baptist minister, that “we are all Catholics now.” Evangelical leaders say they would be outraged by the mandate in any case, but many also believe that it will bring them political gains. Mr. Reed, the conservative strategist, said that even if a majority of Americans expressed general support for requiring contraceptive coverage — and even if, as he believes, the economy remained the primary issue — getting conservative and religious voters more fired up could make a difference. It’s not just conservative activists; at the moment, House Republicans—led by...

Romney: Plain and Unpopular

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Unlike Newt Gingrich, who can claim a regional base, Rick Santorum, who has a solidly defined political persona, or Ron Paul, who has something of a cult of personality, there’s nothing unique about Mitt Romney as a candidate. He is the definition of a generic Republican—a blank slate for the public to register its frustrations. Like Thomas Dewey—who played a similar role in the 1948 election—he is “the little man on the wedding cake.” Indeed, if there is anything close to a reason for his presidential campaign, it’s his vanilla appeal to the broad public, and undecided voters in particular. Since the beginning of the year, however, that advantage has completely evaporated—the public has gone from slight approval of the former Massachusetts governor, to outright loathing. Talking Points Memo details the slide: In less than two months, Romney has gone from a positive rating of +8.5—43.5 percent favorable to 35 percent unfavorable—to an astonishingly negative one of -17.4, or 31.2...

Republican Haves and Have Nots

(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Republicans have reached their 1984. I don’t mean this in the Orwellian sense, though Republicans have more than their share of Orwellian impulses. Rather, I mean that the kind of divisions that have characterized Democratic presidential primaries since the 1984 contest between Walter Mondale and Gary Hart have now popped up in GOP primaries as well: This year, Republicans are dividing along lines of class. According to data compiled by the Wall Street Journal , in all the states that have voted thus far, Mitt Romney has won 46 percent of the counties with incomes higher than the statewide median , and just 15 percent of those with incomes beneath the statewide median. Rick Santorum, by contrast, has won 39 percent of the counties with higher income, and 46 percent of those with lower income. These numbers—a product of the kind of residential-sorting-by-class that Charles Murray documents in his new book, “ Coming Apart ”—reinforce exit polling that shows Romney’s strongest supporters...

Romney Is in Trouble, Just Not for the Primary

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In an otherwise sharp article about Mitt Romney's sudden troubles in Michigan, The Atlantic 's Molly Ball opens with an analysis that's been parroted by many in the media since Rick Santorum's sudden rise last week: In one view, Mitt Romney has had it effectively wrapped up for weeks. Rick Santorum's freak victory in three contests last week was a meaningless blip -- a speed bump. Sure, Santorum now leads in some polls, but he's fundamentally a small-time candidate who's about to get crushed like a bug by Romney and his allies. What we're witnessing now isn't drama -- it's death throes. The other view: Romney has never been weaker. The conservative brushfire that powered Santorum in Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado is now a raging inferno that threatens to engulf the fragile front-runner. Desperate and flailing, Romney is on the verge of total collapse. With a natural and specific appeal in many of the upcoming primary states, Santorum is poised to sweep into Super Tuesday and become...

Mitt Romney's Money Problems

AP Photo
The big assumption about Mitt Romney’s campaign for the Republican presidential nomination is that he has limitless pockets. After all, with the support of the Republican establishment and an immense fortune, it shouldn’t be too hard for him to generate funds through the contest. But according to a few (anonymous) Republican donors—and a source from within the Romney campaign—there’s growing worry that the former Massachusetts governor might run out of money from direct donations before the race is over. Buzzfeed’s Zeke Miller has the details : [R]omney has proved unable to tap into the emotion-driven small-dollar contributions that helped power Barack Obama in 2008, and which fueled even his more Establishment rival, Hillary Clinton, this time four years ago when she too began to run out of big donors. The result: Republican fundraisers say that despite his success so far, they think Romney is fast approaching a wall, and that he will likely be forced to pay for the campaign out of...

Zombie Politics

Zombie politics—a play on Zombie Economics —refers to ideas about politics that have become so cemented in conventional wisdom that it is virtually impossible to dislodge them. It doesn’t matter what the data says, or what published research says, or what this blog or any blog says. Zombie politics means that even though the ideas are dead, they just can’t be killed. I regret using the by-now-hackneyed zombie metaphor, but it remains apt. And so, George Packer : Perhaps the biggest political puzzle of our time is why, as the lives of working-class whites have descended from the stability and comfort of “All in the Family” to the chaos and despair of “Gran Torino” and “Winter’s Bone,” these same Americans have voted more and more reliably Republican. This would be a puzzle, if it were really true. From Larry Bartels : The graph only the merest hint of a secular trend in the voting behavior of whites without college degrees. It also shows that there is not much of a difference between...

Mitt Romney Brings the Weaksauce

(Jamelle Bouie/The American Prospect)
It’s no exaggeration to say that the Romney campaign has developed a reputation for political ruthlessness. In Florida, with the help of super PACs and a massive fundraising advantage, they crushed Newt Gingrich—they drove him from the state and relished in the lamentations of his supporters. With Rick Santorum, they plan to repeat the performance. The pro-Romney super PAC, Restore Our Future has already released its first ad against Santorum, which assails him for votes to increase the debt ceiling and spending. The ad includes a Romney surrogate, former Missouri senator Jim Talent, who attacks Santorum for his votes on legislation like the Medicare prescription drug benefit. The problem, as you can probably see, is that these attacks are bloodless and unconvincing. It’s hard to think of a senator who didn’t vote to raise the debt ceiling during the Bush presidency; most Republican members of Congress were eager to sign off on Bush’s priorities, even if they involved massive spending...

The George Washington Candidate

For a time, it looked as though Newt Gingrich would be the Romney alternative that the religious right and Tea Partiers would coalesce around. Now Rick Santorum has taken that spot after a string of victories in primaries last week and a huge rise in national polls. In a new ad, Santorum challenges Gingrich on another front: Which candidate can claim the most historical gravitas . The ad features a series of quotes over soaring orchestral music as images of Santorum flash across the screen. "I adore Rick Santorum's conviction," the ad quotes Mike Huckabee, despite the former Arkansas governor's neutral stance on the 2012 race. "Santorum … one of the 25 most influential evangelicals in America," the ad quotes Time . But the best quote is pulled from a now forgotten former Fox News host. "'Santorum is the next George Washington,' ~ Glenn Beck." Republican candidates always rush over one another to claim the mantle of Ronald Reagan, and they gleefully highlight their history as the party...

Comedian In Chief

Public Policy Polling has been a boon for political journalists over the past few years, partially for their extensive and accurate numbers—they were the only ones noting the rise of Rick Santorum in Minnesota last week—but also for their sense of humor. In addition to surveying the major political races, PPP tackles the all-important topics such as which NFL player is more popular than all of the presidential candidates (Tim Tebow of course ) or how Stephen Colbert would perform in the South Carolina Republican primary. When the latter question produced a 5 percent result for Colbert—putting the comedian ahead of former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman—he rolled out a joke candidacy that culminated with a joint rally with Herman Cain in Charleston. Now it seems that PPP has found another celebrity who registers a solid base of support. Rosanne Barr, who recently announced that she would be seeking the nomination of the Green Party, drew 6 percent of the vote when PPP polled the national...

Republicans' Deceptive Payroll Tax Compromise

(Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
Republicans finally came to their senses yesterday and realized they were waging a losing battle with their opposition to a payroll tax extension. The two-month extension Congress passed in December was set to expire by the end of this month, and Republicans were adamant that any further extension be paired with equal spending cuts. Democrats balked, instead suggesting a surtax on millionaires that the Republicans would never accept, and another last minute legislative showdown appeared inevitable. Then out of nowhere yesterday afternoon Congressional Republicans announced that they would drop their resistance: “Because the president and Senate Democratic leaders have not allowed their conferees to support a responsible bipartisan agreement, today House Republicans will introduce a backup plan that would simply extend the payroll tax holiday for the remainder of the year while the conference negotiations continue regarding offsets, unemployment insurance, and the ‘doc fix,’” said GOP...

The Inexplicable Rise of Rick Santorum

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(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson) Republican presidential candidate, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum answers questions at a news conference at the statehouse Monday, Feb. 13, 2012, in Olympia, Wash. A s recently as last month, I couldn’t have predicted that Rick Santorum would be leading national polls for the Republican presidential nomination. That’s not to say that I didn’t think about it, but it seemed unfathomable. Not only does Santorum have the dubious distinction of having lost a re-election race by 17 points , but he’s been synonymous with extreme social conservatism for at least a decade. In 2002, he blamed sexual abuse in the Catholic Church on “secular liberalism” and “moral relativism,” and in the following year, gained national notoriety for comparing same-sex marriage to “man-on-child” or “man-on-dog” sex. Even now, with his full-throated attack on contraceptives, he insists on alienating the vast majority of Americans who don’t hold to an idealized version of Victorian...

Republicans Risk Their Future in Opposing Gay Marriage

(Flickr/Marissa Babin)
Marriage-equality advocates notched a major win yesterday when Washington became the seventh state—and just the second west of the Mississippi River—to legalize same-sex marriage. There was less jubilation when, on the same day, the New Jersey Senate passed a marriage-equality bill by a 24-to-16 margin. The legislation is expected to pass the state Assembly when it comes up for a vote later this week, but Governor Chris Christie has promised to veto the bill when it comes across his desk. The Senate vote didn't meet the two-thirds threshold to override the governor's veto, likely leaving same-sex marriage stalled in the Garden State until the next crop of legislators are elected. Christie's likely veto is a clear attempt to gain stature among national Republicans rather than appeal to New Jersey voters. A Quinnipiac poll last month found that New Jersey residents favor legalizing same-sex marriage by a 52-to-42 percent margin. But Christie pictures himself as a national figure poised...

Ron Paul's Endgame

(Jamelle Bouie/The American Prospect)
(Jamelle Bouie/The American Prospect) Ron Paul speaks to an audience in Charleston, South Carolina. In the race for delegates in the Republican presidential primary, Ron Paul isn’t ahead , despite his solid support in nearly every contest. The Texas congressman has 18 delegates to Newt Gingrich’s 29, Rick Santorum’s 71, and Mitt Romney’s 105. But as The Washington Post' s Felicia Sonmez reports , these results don’t tell the whole story: [S]ome caucus states in the current GOP race award delegates in a process that’s completely separate from the presidential preference poll. That means that a candidate could in theory win the caucus-night straw poll – as Romney did on Saturday – but lose the battle for the state’s delegates. Ron Paul’s strategy, she notes, is to dominate the delegate-selection process, so that he wins delegates that—if the vote were binding—would have gone to the winner of the actual caucuses. What this means is that Paul could have significantly more delegates than...

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