Elections

Gingrich Campaign Math

ORLANDO, FLORIDA —"I think Florida did something very important coming on top of South Carolina," Newt Gingrich said last night after the results of his loss had already been confirmed. "It is now clear that this will be a two person race between the conservative leader Gingrich and the Massachusetts moderate." This is Gingrich's new line of defense: Mitt Romney may win elections but he has yet to prove he can win a majority of Republican votes. Gingrich used a similar variation during his press briefing on Sunday, arguing that the combination of support for him and Santorum dwarfed Romney's polling lead. Once Santorum dropped out, Gingrich implied, he would gain the full backing of the true conservative vote, and any remaining messy details would be sorted out through a brokered convention. The finals results bore out a different story. As expected, Romney won Florida by a wide margin. But it was such a wide margin that he did manage the feat that Gingrich had termed impossible less...

The Public Likes Populism

At the same time that liberals have praised President Obama for his embrace of populist rhetoric, mainstream pundits have attacked him for “divisiveness.” In October, David Brooks criticized Obama’s newfound populism as “ misguided ”—“It repels independents,” he wrote—and more recently, William Galston warned that his focus on inequality “may well reduce his chances of prevailing in a close race.” And while it’s true that the Democratic base loves this rhetoric, it’s also true that it has a home among moderate and independent voters, who are increasingly uncomfortable with the income stratification of American society. In a recent poll from CBS News and The New York Times , 55 percent of Americans agreed with the Democratic contention that the rich pay less than their fair share in taxes. And while 52 percent of Americans believe that capital gains and dividends should be taxed at the same rate as ordinary income, this amounts to a significantly higher tax rate than the status quo—...

His Own Worst Enemy

If Mitt Romney has a big problem in the Republican primary, it’s himself. The former Massachusetts governor can’t seem to keep his foot out of his mouth, and has—through misstatements—portrayed himself as a cold and heartless shill for the 1 percent. Here are some of the greatest hits: “ Corporations are people , my friend.” “I’m running for office for Pete’s sake !” “I like being able to fire people .” “I should tell my story. I’m also unemployed .” When heard in their full context, most of these aren’t as bad as they sound. But, as John Kerry learned in 2004, voters aren’t that attuned to the context of politicians, especially when they say things that leave a bad first impression. On CNN last night, Romney deepened this problem with another tone deaf comment which, fairly or not, will reinforce the image that he is a defender of the wealthy: “ I’m not concerned with the very poor . We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I’ll fix it. I’m not concerned about the very rich,...

Behold the Power of Newt

ORLANDO, FLORIDA —Newt Gingrich has publicly pledged to have the single most productive day in presidential history. Gingrich has taken to listing his first-day proposals during recent stump speeches, but he promised to take it a step further when he spoke last night. He promised to release a new Contract With America during his non-concession speech— "a personal one between me and you"—that would detail his plans once he enters office. "We're going to put this together in a way that you will be able to see in writing with my signature, and you'll be able to hold me accountable," Gingrich said. For Gingrich, it's not enough to promise voters that you'll bring change to Washington—you have to bring about that change in the span of a few hours. By my assessment, it seemed like far too ambitious of a plan, just given the taxing schedule of inauguration, what with changing tuxedos between each ball and whatnot. But Gingrich offered a rebuke to my timekeeper's cynicism last night. "All of...

Primary Battle Weary

Last night’s victory speech was familiar terrain for former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. Instead of asserting his conservative credentials or swiping at his Republican rivals, Romney focused his fire on Obama, with an extended attack on his leadership. “Mr. President, you were elected to lead, you chose to follow, and now it’s time for you to get out of the way," Romney said. This speech was his pivot to the general election—a generic message that can appeal to disgruntled voters and disaffected supporters of the president. And with his big, double-digit win in the Florida Republican primary, it makes sense to return to this terrain. Romney has regained the momentum he lost in South Carolina, and reestablished himself as the GOP’s presumptive nominee for president. The problem for Romney is that this should have happened much sooner. The conventional wisdom surrounding presidential primaries—at least, since 2008—is that competitive contests make for a better general election...

Gingrich Campaigns Until the Last Minute

CELEBRATION, FLORIDA —A candidate's election-day schedule can sometimes be as good a predictor of the results as polling. This is the case with Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich on Florida primary day. Romney, whom polls forecast will walk away with a large victory today, hosted an early morning rally in Tampa, then took the afternoon off. Gingrich, on the other hand, kept his day packed, crisscrossing central Florida to try to scrounge up extra votes. Yesterday, the Gingrich campaign ditched its normal bus for a chartered plane. Even with jet fuel behind him, Gingrich couldn't keep with his schedule; he was at least an hour late to most of his events yesterday. Today, his campaign stayed on schedule, much to my surprise. I arrived (late) at Fred's Southern Kitchen in Plant City about 20 minutes after Gingrich's bus had pulled away but, according to one bystander still milling about, I didn't miss much. Gingrich had rolled through greeting each table and briefly interacted with each voter...

Gingrich Goes After Goldman

ORLANDO, FLORIDA —Newt Gingrich often rails against the establishment elites who have conspired to sink his campaign. Sometimes it is Mitt Romney; others times he targets the liberals (an unlikely tag-team combination), but there is always someone to blame other than himself. I heard a new formulation of this theory at his "Crossing the Finish Line Rally" in Orlando last night. The event, held on the final eve before the primary, was intended as a pre-victory rally of sorts but took a much more subdued tone, as Gingrich's standing in the polls has evaporated over the past week. But angry Gingrich was in true form, lashing out at his opponent's vast wealth and the conspiracy to prevent Gingrich from gaining power: Goldman Sachs is a company that has taken billions from the American taxpayer, and they had a handpicked candidate in 2008 named Barack Obama. They have a handpicked candidate this year named Mitt Romney. They want to make sure that they keep the establishment in charge so...

And One More Thing from Newt

TAMPA, FLORIDA —Newt Gingrich yesterday laid out an ambitious plan for his first 24 hours, speaking before a geriatric crowd in the Villages. His first day in office would include signing a repeal of three separate bills—because of course the weight of his victory would compel Congress to work past their differences for his grandiose vision—and a series of executive orders. He upped the ante on Monday in Tampa, adding even more items to this already-busy hypothetical agenda. "I would sign an executive order authorizing construction as of that day," he said, referring to the new conservative hot-button issue of the Keystone pipeline. An executive order mandating an embassy in Jerusalem was included as well. Gingrich's most severe condemnation was saved for the Obama administration’s decision to include birth-control coverage as part of the basic requirements for health-insurance companies. He referred to his Catholic faith and said that Obama was violating the tenets of the...

Newt's Old-Time Religion

LUTZ, FLORIDA — On the last Sunday before the Florida primary, Newt Gingrich bowed his head at Exciting Idlewild Baptist Church, a megachurch in a suburb north of Tampa. As the remaining Republican candidates scramble to reach as many voters as humanly possible before Tuesday's all-important primary, every chance to preen before a captive audience is a golden opportunity. And no audience is more glued to their seats than devout Christians on a Sunday. Most parishioners appeared unaware that a celebrity was scheduled to be in their midst. When Gingrich stepped off his bus, reporters formed a swarm that enveloped him as he rushed inside the sanctuary. He walked in quickly, ignoring the media flock as he huddled in close conversation with the church's senior pastor, Ken Whitten. Gingrich made no remarks once inside the church, but he sat in the front center pew where the thousands of congregants could see him sing and sway. When Pastor Whitten recognized Gingrich, the church cameraman...

Winning Big by Going Negative

Talk to Newt Gingrich's supporters in Florida, and you'll likely hear someone bemoan the negative tone of the presidential campaign. They're sick of the attacks, both against Gingrich by the super PACs and Romney himself, but some also say they dislike the idea of negativity in general, even when it's done by their preferred candidate. Peg Bradley was "infuriated" when I spoke with her after a Mitt Romney rally on the Space Coast last Friday. In her view, Romney and Gingrich are ripping apart the Republican Party with their "divisive" attacks both "twisting the other one's record." She wanted to hear what Romney had to say in person but considered her vote pretty much decided. "Because Romney's super PAC started it all, I'm voting Gingrich." Romney's supporters did, indeed, start the fight, and they're also the ones who have continued throwing punches at Gingrich even after it became clear that he was down for the count. Democratic sources gave Talking Points Memo 's Evan McMorris-...

It's Too Late

At his blog Frontloading HQ, political scientist Josh Putnam notes that, after Florida, it becomes impossible for a candidate to enter and win the 1,144 delegates necessary to attain the Republican presidential nomination: If the list is constrained more simply to the states where filing deadlines have not passed, the total delegates open to a late entrant drops to 1157. After Tuesday, when Kentucky’s (and Indiana’s petition—see footnote 17 above) deadlines pass that total will drop below 1144 to 1066. That’s not to say that a candidate couldn’t win enough delegates to force a brokered convention, but—as Putnam asks—who is that candidate? To be successful, a late entrant needs to have considerable fundraising and organizational ability, a national constituency, and a message that can appeal to a broad swath of the Republican Party. Logistical difficulties aside, there is no one in the GOP who fits that bill and could cruise into the nomination race and “save” Republicans from their...

Beyond the Buffett Rule

AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais Debbie Bosanek, left, assistant to billionaire investor Warren Buffet, inspired the so-called Buffett Rule to tax income from investments at higher rates. Imagine you didn't know anything about President Barack Obama's potential opponents, and someone asked how Obama would do facing a former private-equity baron who made a fortune buying and selling companies, sometimes ruthlessly so. Also, this candidate hasn't held a job in five years, yet he still manages to "earn" around $20 million a year, on which he pays less in taxes than most Americans who work for a living. At a time when the country has become concerned about increasing inequality and the lack of opportunities for Americans who don't start life at the top, that candidate would seem like just about the ideal opponent. And it wouldn't hurt if that candidate were also stiff and robotic and had gone through so many changes of position in his political career that it was apparent to all that he...

Memo to GOP: Cold War's Over

Mitt Romney can be funny. Seriously. That's how I saw it when he confronted a protester during the South Carolina primaries. The young man asked how the former Massachusetts governor, as a member of the 1 percent, planned to support the 99 percent. Romney gave an answer that he'd been polishing for a week about the need for unity during our country's darkest hour and how demands of the 1 percent were attempts at division and rancor among the citizenry. Then he cited countries that we were supposed to understand were not better: "If you’ve got a better model, if you think China’s better, or Russia’s better, or Cuba’s better, or North Korea’s better, I’m glad to hear all about it. But you know what, you know what, America’s right, and you’re wrong.” It was an uncharacteristic moment of candor for the metabolically stiff Romney. We can't see the protester in the video showing Romney's answer, but I can imagine the look on his face. It's of total befuddlement, as if to ask: "Did he really...

Competing for Space

CAPE CANAVERAL, FLORIDA —Mitt Romney took a note from the Gingrich playbook Friday afternoon when he visited Florida's Space Coast. Beyond the photo-op in front of a space module that once went up on one of the now retired space shuttles though, Romney made no attempt to match Gingrich's grandiose vision. He laid out reasons why he will continue a basic investment in space exploration—namely commercial, national defense and Armageddon type catastrophes—but didn't lay out any precise ideas for what he would do if he becomes president other than a vague suggestion that more of the burden should rest on private enterprises. Instead he proffered an inspirational story of a time when he spoke at a Boston Boys Scouts meeting. They had invited a scoutmaster from Colorado, who relayed a story of how NASA had once taken a flag from the troop and would fly it to outer space. Only it never left the atmosphere; the flag launched on the shuttle Challenger, which exploded upon launch in 1986. As it...

Mom-and-Pop Bain Capital

ORLANDO, FLORIDA —Mitt Romney just can't drop his phony everyman act, and he added a new spin on it Friday night: the struggling young businessman. By this point anyone with even the slightest interest in politics is well aware of Romney's extreme wealth. Criticism from his rivals finally forced Romney to enter his most recent tax returns into the public record, and the figures were astounding. He earned $21.7 million in 2010; he earns the average median household income in less than a single day. Yet he continues to uncomfortably wear his regular-guy jeans over his Brooks Brothers suits, trying his hardest to convince voters that he can relate to their economic woes. When he was here in Florida last year he told a group of voters that he was also unemployed and, in New Hampshire, the Harvard MBA/JD said he had also had moments where he was concerned about getting a pink slip Romney included a new narrative of hardship at a rally hosted inside a pant factory plant in Orlando on Friday...

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