Harold Meyerson

Miracle in Vegas

Flickr/Gage Skidmore
On Saturday night, as CNN’s wall-to-wall coverage of the Nevada caucuses was wilting from lack of anything to cover (candidates had yet to appear, vote totals were both low and unchanging, commentators had nothing to say), the network decided to air the one caucus still ongoing: the post-Shabbat Vegas caucus that the state GOP had set up to accommodate those observant Jewish Republicans who couldn’t turn out till the sun set. But the caucus was unbearable. Under caucus rules, the moderator was compelled to call on anyone who raised his or her hand to speak, and an inordinate number of Ron Paulistas, when duly recognized, droned on about the apocalypse to come now that we no longer peg the dollar to gold. (Of course, we ceased such pegging during Richard Nixon’s presidency, so the apocalypse has been a long time comin’.) When one speaker finished, another rose to repeat the previous speaker’s points—so much so that the event’s moderator politely suggested that if prospective speakers...

Gingrich the Spoiler

(AP Photo/Evan Vucci) Republican presidential candidate and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich speaks during a news conference after coming in second in the Nevada caucuses. T he most important rule in Nevada is don’t bet against the house. The guys who got it wired tend to win, and Mitt Romney, candidate of the Mormon majority, didn’t disappoint in Saturday’s caucuses. Equally unsurprising was the low turnout, which probably fell short of the number of people dropping their paychecks in the MGM Grand Casino on Saturday night. The best efforts of the media to drum up a story notwithstanding, the Nevada caucuses yielded no surprises and barely anything of interest. Barring some unforeseen upheaval, all that matters in this race is how long Newt Gingrich soldiers on. The campaigns will largely lie fallow for the remainder of February—the upcoming primaries in Arizona and Michigan are on Romney’s turf, and he’s expected to do well. (In Arizona, Mitt’s Mormons will boost his prospects, as...

Wall Street Backs One of Its Own

Flickr/Matthew Knott
Bankers are supposed to be the personifications of economic reasoning, but anyone looking at the financial reports of the presidential candidates and super PACs that have come out this week might conclude that there’s more to their political calculations than dollars and cents. Indeed, what these reports fairly shout is that Wall Street’s political picks have been swayed by offended egos and tribalism. Of course, there’s a straight dollars-and-cents rationale for the bankers' flight from Barack Obama to Mitt Romney. Obama wants to raise taxes on the rich; Romney wants to lower them. But the sheer extent of Wall Street’s support for Romney suggests that there’s even more in play than that. As Sam Stein and Paul Blumenthal of the Huffington Post have documented , Goldman Sachs employees, who gave Obama more than a million bucks in his first White House run, gave Romney $106,000 in the final quarter of 2011 and Obama just $12,000. Citigroup’s bankers, who gave Obama $730,000 in 2008,...

Newt's Vegas Odds

AP Photo
By one measure, at least, Nevada should be Newt Gingrich’s kind of state. Like the Newtster himself, it’s grown comfortable with divorce, having had the highest divorce rate of any of the 50 states in a succession of decennial Census reports. In a state full of weather-beaten tumbleweeds, Newt’s peregrinations should be distinctly no big whoop. Whether a man can build his campaign on his divorce record isn’t likely to be tested by the former speaker, however. In the state’s Republican caucuses coming up on Saturday, Gingrich’s base is clearly made up of the same Tea Party activists who inflicted Sharron Angle on state Republicans in 2010’s Senate contest. But caucuses don’t reflect or necessarily reward anger. They reward organization, of which Gingrich, by all available evidence, has none in Nevada, unless we count Sheldon Adelson. Both Mitt Romney and Ron Paul, by contrast, have more clearly defined constituencies behind them and, more important, actual organizations. Romney’s core...

Obama's History Channel

AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
After months in which the Republican candidates for president have dominated the nation’s political discourse—likely, to their own detriment— President Barack Obama retook center stage last night with a State of the Union address that was the overture to his own re-election campaign. His theme was the indispensability of collective action—of national purposes advanced by public commitments to such mega-goals as the reindustrialization of America, with the burdens and rewards shared equitably by all. (At times, the speech sounded like a rebuttal to Maggie Thatcher’s assertion that there is no society, just individuals.) At the same time, however, Obama vowed to go it alone, if needs be, in reaching those goals—or, more precisely, that if congressional Republicans weren’t going to help him, he’d call them out again and again. The speech mixed Thomas Jefferson (attacking finance) and Alexander Hamilton (fostering domestic manufacturing, making the case for public investment in new energy...

Greater of Two Evils

What have we learned from the fact that it was Newt Gingrich, not Rick Santorum, who surged past Mitt Romney in Saturday’s South Carolina Republican primary? The voters who turned out, after all, sure fit the profile of Santorum supporters. Fully 65 percent described themselves as born-again or evangelical Christians, and Santorum was the candidate who most stressed the cultural and religious values in which these voters believe, even as Newt’s private life made a mockery of them. Fifty-three percent of the GOP voters had no college degree, and, again, it was Santorum who explicitly defended both the economic interests and cultural importance of blue-collar workers. But Gingrich won the votes of 44 percent of the born-agains and evangelicals, while Santorum won just 21 percent. And Gingrich got 43 percent of the non-college grads, while Santorum ended up with just 18 percent. The appeals that Gingrich made mattered far more to these voters than the religious and economic appeals that...

Geithner's Not-So-Terrific Forecasting Skills

Would Barack Obama have appointed Tim Geithner as Treasury secretary had he been privy to the minutes of the Federal Reserve’s meetings with its regional leaders, which became public yesterday? Geithner, who headed the New York Fed at the time, comes off as utterly clueless about the potential for the housing bubble to plunge the economy into recession, much less the Great Recession. “We think the fundamentals of the expansion going forward still look good,” he said at the December 2006 meeting. Three months earlier, he pooh-poohed the idea that the weakening of the housing market could have any spillover effects. “We just don’t see troubling signs yet of collateral damage, and we’re not expecting much,” Geithner said. And as a grace note to this sonata of obtuseness, here’s Geithner’s comment to Alan Greenspan at the February 2006 meeting at which Greenspan stepped down as Fed chair: “I’d like the record to show I think you’re pretty terrific, too." There were some economists in the...

The Tough Sell

AP Photo/Charles Dharapak
Nashua, New Hampshire— Mitt Romney is the sort-of acceptable man in this year’s Republican field. His strong victory here yesterday was rooted in his support from all quadrants of the Republican Party. He carried 40 percent of the voters who told exit pollsters that they supported the Tea Party movement, a far higher percentage than anyone else in the field. (Ron Paul finished second with 22 percent of Tea Partiers.) Romney also led the field among voters who said they were neutral toward the Tea Party. Only among voters who said they opposed the Tea Party—and that was just 17 percent of yesterday’s Republican electorate—did he come in second, to Jon Huntsman. Romney also carried all but one income category, doing best among voters whose annual income exceeded $200,000. The only income category he lost was those voters whose annual income was less than $30,000, a group won by Ron Paul. Paul’s voters were disproportionately young, male, low-income, unmarried—and not self-described...

The Spoils of War

AP Photo/Charles Dharapak
Manchester, New Hampshire— This year’s Republican primaries look increasingly less like a battle and more like a mopping-up action after the fight. The dominant fact of the 2012 GOP contest is the complete absence of plausible alternatives to Mitt Romney. When those plausible alternatives either failed to show up (Mitch Daniels, Chris Christie—though Christie’s manner is probably too thuggish to achieve genuine plausibility) or showed up and turned instantly implausible (Rick Perry), the contest was over even before it began. Ron Paul? Jon Huntsman? Rick Santorum? Newt? Compared to the rest of the field, Romney looks like a giant—which is why the turnout in tonight’s primary and last week’s caucuses was altogether underwhelming. Jon Huntsman’s attempt to anoint himself the Comeback Kid of this year’s New Hampshire primary took place in a small, jam-packed restaurant on Elm Street, Manchester’s main drag. It was a sub-Clintonian performance, however. Huntsman’s talk was too short and...

Same Schtick, Different Day

AP Images/Vince DeWitt
DERRY, NEW HAMPSHIRE— Newt Gingrich is a master of Stalinist history. In the New Hampshire campaign’s closing days, he made much of his own role in the job creation of the Reagan and Clinton years (though he never mentioned Clinton by name) and contrasted himself with his rivals by touting his ability to reach across the aisle during Clinton’s presidency. As Gingrich recounted it to a crowd of 300 gathered in a high-school auditorium in Derry late yesterday afternoon, he and Clinton both “concluded very early on that we really wanted to get together to do something for the country.” They would meet privately, he said, while bashing each other publicly. His account is notable for its obvious omissions. It makes no mention of Gingrich’s forcing Clinton to close the government down at the end of 1995 (Clinton wouldn’t accede to Gingrich’s demands to cut Medicare). It leaves out Gingrich’s decision to have congressional Republicans campaign for office in 1998 on a platform of impeaching...

Romney in Search of a Finish

(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak) Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, campaigns with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, center, and Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., right, at Exeter High School in Exeter, N.H., Sunday, Jan. 8, 2012. EXETER, NEW HAMPSHIRE— Pope Pious Baloney (or as his supporters call him, Mitt Romney) steamed into Exeter High School yesterday evening at the end of an uncharacteristically bad day. In the morning, his Republican rivals had finally gotten it together to go after him for the first time in umpteen debates. Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich had called him out for his protestations that his had not been a politician’s career, arguing that his choosing not to run for re-election as governor of Massachusetts was not about his desire to return to the private sector but the result of atrocious polling. (Of course, Santorum and Gingrich were themselves both bounced from their elected positions.) Jon Huntsman, whose old-line moderate...

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...

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...

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