Elections

Gingrich's Debate Pledge

Survey a room of Newt Gingrich supporters and one main common theme always arises; they eagerly await the general election when Gingrich will easily waltz past Barack Obama in every debate. Newt has always thought highly of his skill at the podium. Throughout the fall and winter his stump speech has included a promise that, should he gain the nomination, he will challenge Obama to a series of seven Lincoln-Douglas style debates with no moderator. He took that pledge a step further on Thursday, stating that he would bypass the normal debate commissions. "I would reject the so-called debate commission this fall," he said," because we have had enough of newsmen deciding what the topics are going to be." Colonel Michael Steele of Black Hawk Down fame introduced Gingrich at the event and threw out the suggestions that broadcasting the Gingrich general election debates on pay-per-view could help solve at least a part of the national debt problem. The crowd largely agreed. "That's the one...

Romney Donates to Anti-Gay Groups

As it turns out, Mitt Romney’s donations in 2010 and 2011 include a non-trivial gift to several organizations that could be charitably described as viciously anti-gay: The Human Rights Campaign points out a report by CNN that says Romney’s charitable foundation gave at least $35,000 to antigay groups in 2010, with $10,000 going to the Massachusetts Family Institute, which ran radio ads last year warning parents that a transgender civil rights bill could lead to all manner of danger in bathrooms. One woman said in a radio ad that if the legislation passed (which it did), she wouldn’t let her daughter use the restroom alone anymore. And the group’s website showed a restroom door with the provocative message, “Who’s going to be waiting for your wife and daughter?” Considering how much LGBT-rights have been mainstreamed, I’m not sure that this won’t hurt Romney among Republicans, at least the moderate Republicans most likely to vote for the former Massachusetts governor. That said, this...

Everybody's (A Little) Happy Nowadays

If this most recent poll from NBC News and the Wall Street Journal is any indication, the public is feeling a little better about our economic situation: [R]esults from the poll, released Wednesday, found voters feeling more positively about the economy and of Mr. Obama’s handling of it. Some 30% believed the country was headed in the right direction, up eight percentage points from a month ago. Some 60% said the country was on the wrong track, down from 69% in December and from 74% in October. […] The poll found that more voters are encouraged by recent signs of economic improvement: 37% said they expected the economy to get better over the next year, while 17% said they expected it to get worse. Expectations have risen since last month, when optimists outnumbered pessimists 30% to 22%. For as much as we focus on political strategy, continued improvement in the economy is the single most important variable in this year’s election. If the economy continues to pick up and these numbers...

Romney's Mormon and Evangelical Divide

COCOA, FLORIDA —In the Republican nomination contest, where evangelicals represent a broader segment of the voting population than the general election, it's widely accepted that Mitt Romney's Mormon faith could cost him. Romney's tax returns brought his faith back into the limelight when it was revealed that he does in fact tithe around 10 percent of his earnings to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as dictated by church rules. Yet, in the weeks preceding the Iowa caucuses, I didn't run across a single Republican who had ruled out Romney on the basis of his religion—or at least no voters willing to admit as such to a reporter. The worst I would get from the Iowans was concern that other people in the general election would be hesitant to cast their ballot for a Mormon, though they themselves were of course not influenced by that factor. I arrived in Florida this week to cover the last few days of the Sunshine State's primary, and at the very first event I attended, one...

Pop Goes Obama

The competition is stiff, but there may be no more abused word in political discourse than “populism.” (“pop·u·lism. A political philosophy supporting the rights and power of the people in their struggle against the privileged elite.”) It came in for a special flogging today, as pundits groped for ways to describe President Obama’s eloquent-but-mishmashy State of the Union address. Even The Hollywood Gossip was asking , “Will Populist Message Help Obama?” The answer is that it certainly could—if he had one. While Obama nodded toward populist themes last night—chiding the irresponsible financial sector, lashing out at the do-nothing Congress, pledging to make the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes—you’re hardly on Huey Long terrain when you frame a speech around the military virtues of everyone being in it together, or make a point of quoting Abraham Lincoln saying that “government should do for people only what they cannot do better by themselves, and no more.” Certainly, this re-...

Yes We Can ... Watch Something Else

Obama gave his 2012 State of the Union address last night, and all the eyes in the media and political world were tuned in. During the address, 766,681 SOTU-centric tweets were fired off , with 548 coming from inside the chamber. Despite the frenzy that takes over news rooms and congressional offices, the rest of the nation was more likely watching The Real Housewives of Atlanta or Wizards of Waverly Place . Ever since cable started competing with the networks for the hearts of the American public, ratings for primetime presidential addresses have plummeted, as shown by research conducted by Matthew A. Baum and Samuel Kernel of Harvard and the University of California, San Diego, respectively. Richard Nixon—not known for the most stirring rhetoric outside of defending questionable pet gifts—had 59 percent of households with televisions watch a routine press conference he gave in 1969. In 2010, Obama only had 41 percent of households watch him give the most important presidential...

Florida Kingmaker

AP Photo/Jae C. Hong
Each time Mitt Romney's campaign enters a tailspin, the former Massachusetts governor rolls out a major endorsement to right his establishment-approved ship. He announced Chris Christie's endorsement on the eve of a debate when Herman Cain was cresting in the polls, and last week he brought Bob McDonnell out to South Carolina in a last-ditch effort to rebut Gingrich's rising tide. Almost the entire roster of would-be vice-presidential nominees has been at Romney's beck and call. As Romney flounders in the latest Florida polls, now would be a prime opportunity for another red-carpet rollout of a big-name local surrogate. But Jeb Bush pulled back from an endorsement after apparently being on the edge of backing Romney. And the most pivotal potential supporter in the Sunshine State has split loyalties between Gingrich and Romney. Freshman Senator Marco Rubio could be the rare single endorsement that creates a discernable shift in election outcomes. He is one of the few politicians whose...

Politifact Gives Up on Actual Fact-Checking

I’ve written before about Politifact’s approach to fact-checking, which seems to swing between actual consideration of the facts and embarrassing attempts to curry favor with conservatives and establish “credibility.” Last night’s “ fact-check ” of President Barack Obama’s State of the Union falls into the former category. Here’s the line in question from last night’s speech: “In the last 22 months, businesses have created more than three million jobs. Last year, they created the most jobs since 2005.” Considering the depth of the recession, three million jobs isn’t good enough for a robust recovery, but there’s no doubt that this is a true statement. That, however, didn’t stop Politifact from labeling it “half-true.” Say what? In his remarks, Obama described the damage to the economy, including losing millions of jobs “before our policies were in full effect.” Then he describes the subsequent job increases, essentially taking credit for the job growth. But labor economists tell us...

Try Again Next Time

AP Photo/APTN
The most you can say about Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels response to the State of the Union is that it was better than Bobby Jindal’s attempt in 2009. To be fair, responding to the State of the Union has never been an easy task. The president has the advantage of pomp, circumstance, and ritual. At best, the opposition party can present a simulacra of these things—see Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell’s response in 2010—and hope that the actual message is strong enough to reach viewers. The problem for Daniels is that the Republican message just isn’t very compelling. Other than its usual prescription—cut taxes on “job creators”, cut regulation, cut spending—the GOP doesn’t have a plan for the problems facing the economy. It has no interest in regulating Wall Street (and in fact, wants to return to the glory days of 2008), it has no interest in providing support for lower-income families, it has no interest in bolstering public services (other than the military), and it sees class...

Other Things You Can Do with Rich People's Tax Dollars

On the heels of a State of the Union that promises to address income inequality and a broken tax system, National Journal reports on the Democratic plan to revive a surtax on annual incomes greater than a million dollars: Democratic members of a conference committee working on a long-term extension of a payroll-tax holiday and other programs will urge a surtax on incomes of more than a million dollars a year to pay for the bill when talks officially start today, said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., on Tuesday. It should be said that if Democrats are going to push a tax increase—even a popular one—they should aim to do a little more than just offset the cost of stimulus. Unemployment is still above 8 percent and the bond markets are happy to lend us money at historically low rates. Rather than offset the cost, we should just pay for the payroll-tax holiday with debt and use the funds raised by a millionaire’s tax to boost food stamps and unemployment insurance. Even better,...

Mitt Romney's Entitlement Problem

Jamelle Bouie/The American Prospect Mitt Romney address a crowd in Columbia, South Carolina. Obviously, Mitt Romney’s tax returns are gold for the Obama campaign, which can accurately describe the former Massachusetts governor as emblematic of the extreme wealth disparities in the United States. His income of $20.9 million in 2011—nearly all of it from profits, dividends, or interest from investments—is a staggering amount of money. For context, as Bloomberg ’s Richard Rubin points out , “In 2008, according to the IRS, the median adjusted gross income was $33,048, which Romney made in less than a day.” Thanks to the Occupy movement—with the help of opportunistic politicians—income inequality is on the political agenda, and in this environment, immense wealth is a huge political liability. A smart candidate would use this fact and retool his message away from the glories of free-market capitalism and toward one that—at the very least—acknowledged that Americans were uncomfortable with...

None of the Above

Mitt Romney cruised through 2011 on the idea that he was the most electable conservative candidate. And, for the first two weeks of 2012, it looked as if he were about to prove it. He won a narrow victory in the conservative stronghold of Iowa and a landslide in the more moderate New Hampshire. But that’s when everything changed. Opponents began to question his record and his ideological bona fides, with attacks on his former company, Bain Capital, and his past as a moderate governor of Massachusetts. His victory in Iowa slipped away after a recount, and voters in South Carolina rejected him—by a double-digit margin—in favor of Newt Gingrich, a son of the South. More important, Romney handled himself poorly throughout, with a major fumble on the issue of his tax returns, and his low, low tax rate ( 13.9 percent on an income of $45 million, if you were wondering). In a little more than a week, Romney lost his lead in the Palmetto State, lost the state itself, and lost his lead in the...

All the Taxes Owed

AP Photo
Mitt Romney's reluctance to reveal his income and tax information received center-stage attention once again at last night's debate. After weeks of immense scrutiny and criticism from his opponents, Romney caved and agreed to release his tax returns from 2010 and the projections for his 2011 return. "I pay all the taxes owed. And not a penny more," Romney said at the debate. "I don't think we want someone running for president who pays more taxes than he owes." Thanks to leaks from Reuters , we now know Romney's exact figure: $6.2 million over the course of 2010 and 2011 . That's an unimaginable sum to most Americans, but it represents a pittance of Romney's annual earnings, which total more than $45 million over those two years. He paid an effective tax rate of just 13.9 percent last year, with the majority of his income taxed at the capital-gains rate of 15 percent. That's about the same level as a couple making less than $70,000 per year. To Romney's credit, he might not chip in...

Quiet Time

AP Photo/Paul Sancya
Whether intentionally or not, NBC News handicapped Newt Gingrich by asking the audience to stay quiet during the Republican presidential debate in Tampa, Florida. In South Carolina, the audience was a source of energy for Gingrich. With their whoops and hollers, they emboldened the former House speaker and cowed his competitors. By contrast, without an obvious sign of support from the crowd, Gingrich was surprisingly vulnerable to Mitt Romney’s attacks on his record. And as the candidate with the most to lose in Florida, Romney was relentless, aggressively pressing Gingrich on his ties to Freddie Mac. Here’s the exchange in full: Because there wasn’t an overall direction to Romney’s attacks, it’s hard to say that there was a knock-out moment. But in a state hard hit by the foreclosure crisis, it’s enough for Romney to raise the issue and present Gingrich as an inside man for an industry that ruined life for thousands of Floridians. What’s more, this exchange illustrated the extent to...

Dark Horse Victory

AP Photo/Matt Rourke
In one of the most startling turnarounds in presidential-primary history, Newt Gingrich scored a double-digit victory in South Carolina over Mitt Romney on Saturday. When the week began, Romney was coming off an easy win in New Hampshire and had a comfortable-looking lead in every state poll. Every political forecaster in America saw him as the inevitable Republican nominee. But his worst debate performance of the campaign on Monday night was followed by a week of fumbles that gave the lie to his campaign’s legendary “discipline.” Romney, cast as a “vulture capitalist” and out-of-touch one-percenter—in a state with high unemployment—could not even muster a clear answer to questions about releasing his tax returns. Gingrich, who finished fourth in both Iowa and New Hampshire, eased up on his denunciations of Romney’s record at Bain Capital—with the damage already done—and made the most of his local knowledge from next-door Georgia to deliver rabble-rousing performances at Monday and...

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