Elections

Running on Faith

AP Photo/David Goldman
Jamelle Bouie Rick Perry seemed more like a preacher than a politician at a campaign stop in South Carolina Monday morning. Anderson, South Carolina —Five months ago, when Rick Perry announced his campaign for the Republican nomination in Charleston, South Carolina, he was the hottest kid on the block. The three-term governor of America’s second-largest state, he promised a credible Tea Party alternative to the opportunistic conservatism of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. But Perry wasn’t prepared for the rigors of a presidential campaign, and it showed. His campaign stumbled through debates, and alienated potential allies with tone-deaf rhetoric on immigration, and his position on the HPV vaccine as governor of Texas. By the end of year, his failures were a national joke and his campaign was abandoned by conservatives looking for someone to deliver them from Romney. After his fifth-place finish in Iowa, it looked as if Perry would drop out. Instead, he opted to renew his...

Romney's Jobs Claims Come Under Scrutiny

Mitt Romney's pitch to voters relies heavily on his executive experience. He doesn't spend much time dwelling on his time as the chief executive of Massachusetts (a more fitting selling point for someone seeking the presidency) but rather concentrates on his experience in the private sector as chief executive at Bain Capital. Romney claims himself to be a "job creator." "In the business I had, we invested in over 100 different businesses and net-net, taking out the ones where we lost jobs and those that we added, those businesses have now added over 100,000 jobs," he said over the weekend. There's no reliable way to vet that number unless Romney or Bain release supporting documents (which they have of course refused to), but the AP's Calvin Woodward offers good reason to be skeptical. "His campaign bases its claims on recent employment figures at three companies—Staples, Domino's, and Sports Authority—even though Romney's involvement with them ceased years ago," Woodward writes . "By...

Mitts Off

AP Photo/Charles Krupa
T he non-Romney Republicans had ten hours to stew over their abject failure to lay a glove on the Mittster in Saturday night’s lackluster prime-time debate. Nudged on Sunday morning by moderator David Gregory, who launched the proceedings by asking the aggrieved Newt Gingrich to make an argument against Romney’s electability, they came out with guns blazing at the Meet the Press debate. But it was almost certainly too little, too late, to bring down the frontrunner. Romney’s ludicrous pretense of being a non-politician was deflated at last, as Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich ganged up on him effectively. When Santorum asked why Romney didn’t run for re-election as governor of Massachusetts, given his great passion for improving the state, Romney revived his hoary rhetoric: “Politics is not a career. My life’s passion has been my family, my faith, and my country.” Gingrich parried: “Can we drop a little bit of the pious baloney? The fact is, you ran for Senate in 1994 and lost … you...

Mitt the Unassailed

AP Photo/Elise Amendola
Manchester, New Hampshire —Well, that was unremarkable. The last presidential debate until another begins ten hours from now saw none of Mitt Romney’s challengers actually challenge him. His toughest challenge probably came from George Stephanopoulos, who asked him if his assertions on Bain Capital’s job creation were really on the level—neither Newt, Ron, Jon nor the two Ricks, confronted Romney with anything as potentially threatening to his lead. Part of the problem, as my colleague Jamelle Bouie has pointed out, is that a number of these guys don’t really seem to be running for president. Ron Paul, who took off two-and-a-half days between the Iowa caucuses and his arrival in New Hampshire yesterday afternoon, is simply running to spread the libertarian word, and take shots at his inconstantly conservative rivals (focusing tonight on Rick Santorum—not Romney). Paul had a good night pitching to libertarians and anti-warriors. Santorum had a good night, too, but it’s not likely that...

What Can Replace Social Security?

AP Photo/Evan Vucci
Manchester, New Hampshire— Last night, some of Ron Paul’s younger supporters—and Ron Paul supporters are disproportionately young—held a pub crawl through the bars of downtown Manchester. During the first two hours (after which time I crawled away), about 50 largely male Paulists, behaving far too decorously for serious pub crawlers, drank and munched and yacked. Paul himself had arrived in the state just that afternoon—electing, for some mysterious reason, to spend Wednesday, Thursday and Friday morning back in Texas. At a welcome rally at Nashua’s small-plane airport, he spoke in his usual generalities about libertarian values, interspersing occasional anecdotes about unnamed congressional colleagues who had voted to fund one damned project after another. He was hailed, of course, as a conquering hero—Paul’s supporters are the only true zealots among the Republicans this year. One such zealot who turned up at the pub crawl was Nick, who’d driven all the way from Boston. Like many if...

One Strapped Santorum

AP Photo/Donald Traill
Manchester, New Hampshire— The fact that Rick Santorum doesn’t have much of an organization or an appreciable number of dollars has been increasingly apparent during the past several days in New Hampshire. Late yesterday afternoon, his campaign had scheduled a town hall in the back room of Belmont Hall, a modest restaurant in a working-class neighborhood of Manchester. The room was far too small for the crowd that turned out but everyone who’d turned out managed to squeeze in nonetheless. But shortly before the event was scheduled to begin, the restaurant owner stepped to the podium and announced that a fire marshal had shown up and ordered all but 100 of the attendees to leave, which would have meant 150 people would have to go. (Who called the fire marshal? Someone from another campaign, or someone who doesn’t like Santorum?) The volunteer representing the Santorum campaign called a campaign staffer and the decision was made to move the event into the restaurant’s parking lot. And...

Love Only Thy Neighbor

It's hard to keep a straight face when Rick Santorum says he is the most electable of the Republican candidates. "We need bold colors, not pale pastels," Santorum said last week in Iowa. "Ladies and gentlemen, be bold. Do not have a pyrrhic victory next November, where we elect a Republican, but we don't elect the person who can do what's necessary for America." He touts his experience winning in a swing state while maintaining his conservative credentials, an implicit ding against Mitt Romney's left-leaning record as governor of Massachusetts. It's a dubious claim for Santorum that's little related to reality considering he lost his last election by a historic 18 points. In today's Washington Post , Michael Gerson somehow manages to concoct an even more ludicrous framework to describe Santorum's appeal: He's a compassionate conservative. But perhaps the most surprising result of the Iowa caucuses was the return of compassionate conservatism from the margins of the Republican stage to...

Santorum the Moderate?

AP Photo/Elise Amendola
Windham, New Hampshire— Rick Santorum, the darling of the cultural-religious right, came here last night for a town-hall question-and-answer session with 500 eager listeners, only to find that his questioners were so far to his right that he was compelled to sound moderate by comparison. The disappointment— Santorum’s and the crowd’s—was mutual. The event—which was moved to a high-school auditorium three times larger than the venue originally scheduled, and where every seat was nonetheless filled— was hosted by a radical-right local group called the 9/12 Coalition. Alas for Santorum, the 9/12ers selected the first seven questioners, who peppered him with queries at once so arcane and so fantastical that Santorum must have harbored suspicions they’d been planted either by Mitt Romney or Ron Paul. Two of the questions were libertarian, even civil libertarian, though suffused with a conspiracy theorist’s fear that the government in general and Barack Obama in particular was on the verge...

The Clean-Election State

While officials in other states struggled to balance their budgets in 2011, Governor Dannel Malloy and the Connecticut General Assembly closed a deficit of historic proportions one month early, agreeing on a mix of tax hikes and union concessions. That topped a list of unmatched legislative accomplishments: Connecticut passed in-state tuition for illegal immigrants, a transgender-rights bill, a major genetic research initiative, a bipartisan job-growth package, and the nation’s first paid sick-leave mandate. In a year of reactionary politics and partisan gridlock nationwide, what made Connecticut so different? One-party control over both the governor’s office and the legislature for the first time in 21 years played a role. But the secret behind the Democrats’ success was sweeping campaign-finance reform enacted six years earlier. Reeling from the embarrassment of a corruption scandal that landed a governor in federal prison, Connecticut legislators grabbed the national spotlight in...

The Wrath of Newt

AP Photo/Eric Gay
Concord, New Hampshire— As the wrath of Achilles was kindled by the slaying of his best friend Patroclus, so the wrath of Newt Gingrich has been set ablaze by the slaying of his own best friend—his ego. Finishing a distant fourth not just to Mitt Romney but also to Rick Santorum and Ron Paul, after Romney’s Super PAC had run a brutal ad campaign against him, Gingrich was fairly blazing in his concession speech last night in Iowa. He not only declined to congratulate Romney but attacked him and his ads, making clear that he’d hang in the race if only to bring Romney down. It was a more subdued and tired-looking Newt who came before a group of college students and then answered questions from reporters this morning in Concord. What was striking about his first appearance was his lack of interest in creating any rapport between himself and the students. What Newt delivered was a lecture, not a speech, on the duties of citizenship as he saw them, which consist chiefly of the duty to...

Bye Bye Bachmann

AP Photo/Chris Carlson
WEST DES MOINES, IOWA —Less than 12 hours ago, Michele Bachmann seemed determined to prove all the haters wrong and vowed to waste the next several weeks of her life in South Carolina. Turns out it was all a ruse to gather the media for one last headline-grabbing event. Bachmann announced that she would suspend her presidential campaign this morning at the Marriott in west Des Moines. For the first time in her career, Bachmann seemed to have landed on planet Earth. "Last night, the people of Iowa spoke with a very clear voice, so I have decided to stand aside," she said. Boy, they sure were clear. She came in second to last, just ahead of Jon Huntsman, who drew 5 percent of the vote. That equals 6,073 votes, only a slight increase from the 4,823 people who supported her at the Ames Straw Poll in early August. Back then it looked as if Bachmann could threaten Mitt Romney for the GOP nomination. But the entry of Rick Perry into the race stole her momentum, and she never recovered. Her...

Party Crasher

Rick Santorum supporters marked their candidate's surprise Iowa finish with a subdued celebration.

AP Photo/Charlie Riedel
JOHNSTON, IOWA—The conference room at the Stony Creek Inn in this suburb of Des Moines isn't your typical setting for a winner's party. Then again, Rick Santorum isn't your typical successful politician. The candidate, who had languished at the bottom of the polls for most the year, rose meteorically over the last week before the Iowa caucuses and finished eight votes shy of first place last night. The room was a tight space, but only a small crowd of supporters—around 150—bothered to stop by anyway. It was a calm scene around 9 p.m., when the early results started to favor Santorum. The Iowans milled about, celebrating and waving their signs only when it was necessary to mug for the TV cameras. Besides the two TVs set up without volume on the sides of the room, there was no reliable way for the crowd packed near the stage to receive the results; instead of relying on televised news reports, supporters got the latest caucus numbers from the reporters packed near the exits of the hall...

Minimizing Special-Interest Power by Maximizing Participation

Fighting back against restrictive voting-rights laws and empowering small donors can help reclaim elections.

This is a dark time for those who worry about big money’s outsized role in American politics. Radical Supreme Court rulings, a comatose Federal Elections Commission, and ever more shameless political operatives have obliterated the campaign-law edifice that stood shakily for four decades. The 2012 race will be dominated by secret funds, unlimited special-interest gifts, and massive independent expenditures. Expect corruption not seen since Watergate. Will all this stir a backlash? Perhaps. I am more skeptical than many that the current mood of disquiet will translate into a reform moment. What can we do to tip toward positive change? Yes, we need to organize—lobby better in D.C., rabble rouse better in the countryside. And assuredly we must mount a long-term legal drive to overturn Citizens United. But these things are not enough. Let’s face it: Campaign-finance reformers have not engaged in serious rethinking in decades. We need a revitalization of policy goals as well. A compelling...

Calling for a Convention

Amending the Constitution is our best bet for fixing Congress.

To keep money from corrupting our democratic politics, we need constitutional change. No doubt lots can be done by statute alone—meaningful transparency rules, such as the Disclose Act, and small-dollar public funding, such as the Fair Elections Now Act. The Supreme Court, however, has all but guaranteed that these won’t be enough. Transparency by itself won’t build trust; public funding can only be voluntary; and independent expenditures are all but certain to swamp even the best reforms tolerated by the Court. If we’re ever going to get a Congress “dependent,” as James Madison put it in Federalist Paper No. 52, “upon the People alone,” and not “the Funders,” it is clear that Congress will need new constitutional authority. Yet it is also clear that Congress won’t ask for this authority itself. The chance that this Congress, or any Congress elected in the current environment, could muster 67 votes in the Senate to alter Washington’s economy of influence is zero. Congress is the...

Toppling the Money Empire

Grassroots movements can lead the way in taking big money out of politics.

Election Day 2012 looks like it is going to be Groundhog Day 2012. Another election dominated by money. Another series of promises made on the campaign trail, broken as soon as donors and lobbyists come calling when legislatures convene. For the public and most lawmakers, the problem is clear. Our present system has long rewarded politicians who rely on deep-pocketed supporters to provide massive amounts of cash to pay for increasingly costly campaigns. A string of recent Supreme Court decisions has exacerbated the problem, allowing corporations nearly free rein to attack candidates who present a threat to their bottom line, pushing officeholders to seek even more money. This adds to the pervasive sentiment that our elected officials’ primary function is to raise money. Large numbers of voters have disengaged from a system in which they don’t seem to matter. With no end in sight and increasing frustration driven by a stagnant economy, American democracy is in peril. The good news is...

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