Paul Waldman

To the Spin Room!

A primary debate spin room, only a fraction as busy as what we'll see in Denver. (Flickr/WEBN-TV)
Barack Obama and Mitt Romney will be debating on Wednesday night, and as Michael Calderone tells us , an absolutely incredible 3,000 journalists will be trooping out to Denver to be there when it happens. They won't actually be in the hall, though. They'll be in a nearby gym, watching it on TV like everyone else. But after the debate ends, they'll decamp to the "spin room, where partisans will dispense utterly predictable remarks on what just happened. "Governor Romney hit it out of the park, while President Obama couldn't justify his failures," a Romney staffer will say. "President Obama hit it out of the park, while Mitt Romney only reinforced the doubts the American people have about him," an Obama staffer will say. "Ooo, that's fascinating—give me more of your interpretation of what I just saw, campaign staffer," no one in the world will say. Calderone asks one relevant question—Should they bother? (Answer: No)—but I'd like to address another couple: Why do they do it in the first...

Foreign Policy Is Hard

"If this Romney is elected, we will obviously have to shut down the nuclear program. He is so strong and resolute!" (Aslan Media)
In today's Wall Street Journal , Mitt Romney takes to the op-ed page to offer his vision for a new American policy in the Middle East. Apparently, the tragic recent events in Benghazi have convinced Romney and his advisors that something is going on over there, and though they aren't sure exactly what, it's definitely something, and therefore Romney ought to come and say something about it, to show everyone how wrong Barack Obama is. If you thought Romney was being vague about his domestic policy, that's nothing compared to what he has to say about foreign policy. The first half of the piece is the standard criticism of the Obama administration (he's weak!), and here's the part where Romney lays out in specific detail exactly what he'd do differently: In this period of uncertainty, we need to apply a coherent strategy of supporting our partners in the Middle East—that is, both governments and individuals who share our values. This means restoring our credibility with Iran. When we say...

Friday Music Break

XTC, Skylarking
For today's edition of Catchy Yet Blasphemous 80s Pop Tunes, we have XTC, with "Dear God." Have a good weekend, everybody.

Who's to Blame for Mitt Romney?

Old white conservative guys pretending to be excited about Mitt Romney. (Flickr/Newshour)
Who's to blame for Mitt Romney? That seems to be the question of the day out there on the interwebs. Politico tells us that the answer conservatives give when you ask them is, Mitt Romney is to blame: "Slowly and reluctantly, Republicans who love and work for Romney are concluding that for all his gifts as a leader, businessman and role model, he's just not a good political candidate in this era." Steve Kornacki counters that the problem isn't so much Mitt himself, it's the Republican party, which "never actually bothered to create a comprehensive post-Bush blueprint." Jonathan Chait notes that although some conservatives are now claiming Romney was foisted upon them by the establishment, nobody within the GOP really wanted Romney: "He won by default." So who's right? They all are! Every factor has worked against a Republican victory this fall. Terribly unlikeable candidate? Check. Paucity of plausible primary alternatives? Check. Absurdly unpopular party dominated by crazy people?...

"You Didn't Build That" vs. the 47 Percent

Remember when "you didn't build that" was going to be the ticket to the White House for Mitt Romney? Seems like a long time ago, but for a while there the entire Romney campaign reoriented itself around this alleged gaffe that Barack Obama had committed. They printed banners about it, they organized events about it, they made TV ads about it, they made it the theme of their convention. And what happened? It just didn't work. The contrast with the Obama's campaign's favorite Romney gaffe, the secretly recorded "47 percent" video, is so striking it sums up everything that has gone wrong for the Romney campaign and right for the Obama campaign. Let's start with "you didn't build that." The first reason the attack failed was that it relied on ripping Obama's words from their context and giving them a reading that was so tendentious it bordered on the absurd. Could anyone who didn't already think Obama is a socialist believe that he said to himself, "I'm going to go out and say that people...

Will Wednesday Be a Game Changer? That's Debatable.

(AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)
(AP Photo) Vice President Richard Nixon and Senator John Kennedy of Massachusetts, rivals for the presidency, engaged in an informal discussion in the television studio in Washington on October 8, 1960, after going off the air on their nation televised debate. Nixon holds a handkerchief in his hand as he talks with Kennedy. The debate was the second in the pre-elect series to discuss campaign issues. T he first debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney will be Wednesday at 9 p.m. Eastern. To get everyone ready, we answer some questions you may have. How did we get here? For most of American history, the idea of two presidential candidates debating was unheard of, though candidates for lesser offices did debate. James Madison and James Monroe traveled Virginia together debating for a House seat in 1788, and of course Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas debated during their 1858 Senate campaign, though the Lincoln-Douglas debates resembled a pair of speeches much more than the debates...

No, We Can't All Get Along

Change - get it? (Flickr/Rakka)
Mitt Romney seems to have decided to run an entire presidential campaign on quibbling semantic arguments, which is certainly a novel approach, but not one I'd recommend for future candidates. It's not that every campaign doesn't spend way too much time complaining about the words their opponent says, but he really has taken it to a totally different level; every day seems to bring a new expression of feigned outrage at something Barack Obama said. Over at MSNBC's "Lean Forward" blog, I have a new piece about one of these inane back-and-forths that happened last week, when Obama said he learned you couldn't change Washington from the inside, and Romney got really peeved and promised he would change it from the inside. My point was essentially that if I hear one more pundit talk about the good old days when Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill would argue during the day, then share a beer and bellow some old Irish sea shanties in the evening, I think I'm going to lose it: Let's look at the...

Obama Insufficiently Audacious for Press Corps

Barack Obama, lazing about. (White House/Pete Souza)
There are few deeper ironies than to hear campaign reporters complaining that candidates are not being substantive and detailed enough, and it seems that they now may be turning their wagging finger toward both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. Don't get me wrong—I'm all for substance, and there are some kinds of vagueness that have to be confronted. For instance, the fact that Romney says he can cut taxes but keep things revenue neutral by also cutting loopholes, yet steadfastly refuses to say which loopholes he'll eliminate, is just absurd and should be called out. Yet if he came out tomorrow with a dozen new lengthy policy papers, would the campaign reporters on his bus stay up late studying them so they could produce one policy-dense analysis after another? No, they wouldn't. Just as candidates often want to seem substantive without actually being substantive, the reporters want to judge substance without having to actually examine substance. Which is why this Politico article is so...

We Never Liked You, Anyway

(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
As often as not, parties nominate candidates for president that pretty much all their own partisans acknowledge are less than inspiring. Democrats were so excited about Barack Obama in 2008 partly because their previous two nominees, John Kerry and Al Gore, rode to the nomination on a stirring sentiment of "Well, OK, I guess." The same happened to Republicans, who adored the easygoing George W. Bush after the grim candidacies of Bob Dole and Bush's father. And now that Mitt Romney has suffered through an awful few weeks—a mediocre convention, an embarrassing response to the attacks in Cairo and Benghazi, then the release of the "47 percent" video in which Romney accused almost half of America of refusing to "take responsibility for their own lives"—the knives have come out. First it was a widely shared Politico story full of intramural Romney campaign sniping, most directed at chief strategist Stuart Stevens (the article full of anonymous backstabbing is the hallmark of a struggling...

The Republicans' Foreign Policy Problem

textsfromhillaryclinton.tumbler.com
Pop quiz: if you had to describe the Obama foreign policy in one sentence, what would you say? Not easy, is it? Back in 2008, it was pretty simple: "Not Bush." Now back then, there was something called the "Bush doctrine," which may have had a subtle meaning to those working in the administration, but as far as the public was concerned mostly meant "invading lots of countries and making everyone in the world hate us." So it was easy to imagine Obama as a breath of foreign policy fresh air. He'd use a less-bumbling combination of diplomacy, "soft power," and carefully restrained force. He'd get us out of Iraq. Things would change for the better. But now that Obama has been president for four years, "Not Bush" has lost its relevance. Obama's actual foreign policy is too complicated to sum up easily, and probably therefore too complicated for most voters to understand. We did get out of Iraq, but things don't seem to be going too well in Afghanistan; Obama has dramatically increased the...

Getting to Know You, Getting to Know All About You

She's getting a bit displeased. (Flickr/Josh Janssen)
Seven months ago, I wrote a column explaining that my increasing irritation with Mitt Romney had made me understand how Republicans probably felt about Al Gore 12 years ago. The politician with the "authenticity" problem whose goals you share just seems awkward—undesirable from a strategic perspective, but hardly morally blameworthy—while the one from the other party seems irredeemably phony and dishonest. But I'm guessing lots of liberals, maybe most, feel the way I do, which is that is seems I like this guy less and less every day. This has happened before. Before John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign, he seemed like a fairly reasonable person for a Republican, extremely conservative to be sure, but with an admirable willingness to buck his party every now and again and a refreshing honesty. But by the end of the race, I couldn't stand him, and I'm sure most liberals felt the same way. He had revealed himself to be unprincipled, petty, mean, and a whole bunch of other things. I...

Nine Is the Loneliest Number

(Flickr/Paul Downey)
I try to resist the temptation to argue that any particular statement a candidate makes represents his "true" self, revealing what he wants to conceal the rest of the time. This is something that campaigns say whenever their opponent makes a "gaffe," but in general what matters isn't what someone says once off the cuff, but what they repeat multiple times. That's why I have pointed to something Mitt Romney said repeatedly when asked about his taxes, that "I don't pay more than are legally due and frankly if I had paid more than are legally due I don't think I'd be qualified to become president." He really seemed to be saying that if you don't game the system as much as you can, then you're a sucker, a chump, and you wouldn't want a chump to be president. This quote—and he said variations of it on more than one occasion, remember—is now coming back to haunt him, because Romney is releasing his 2011 tax returns, and his team of accountants and tax lawyers has fashioned them in a very...

Could Romney Have Been a Different Candidate?

Flickr/Donkey Hotey
Mitt Romney has made a lot of mistakes in this campaign, not all of which came in the last couple of weeks. Now that we've moved into the "Is he doomed?" phase of campaign coverage, the always thoughtful Ron Brownstein wonders if Romney sowed the seeds of his own undoing by the way he ran his primary campaign: Romney's biggest general-election problem is that he did not believe he could beat a GOP primary field with no competitor more formidable than Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, or Newt Gingrich without tacking sharply right on key issues. Romney repeatedly took policy positions that minimized his risks during the spring but have multiplied his challenges in the fall. His fate isn't sealed, but the choices he made in the primaries have left him with a path to victory so narrow that it might daunt IndianaJones. "To secure the nomination, they made … decisions about immigration, tax cuts, and a whole host of other issues that had no strategic vision," said John Weaver, a senior strategist...

Friday Music Break

Virginia Coaltion, "Home This Year"
For today's Music Break, we're doing kind of a swaying-back-and-forth-with-gentle-head-bob thing. This is Virginia Coalition, doing "Home This Year" in somebody's back yard. The guy in the back is the keyboard player, who, having no keyboards, decides to make the most out of that tambourine.

Our Bipartisan Future?

Is that Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid? No. Definitely not. (Flickr/Go Splat)
Pretty much every presidential candidate in the last couple of decades has said that he was going to bring Republicans and Democrats together and end the partisan bickering in Washington that Americans so dislike. Bill Clinton said he would. George W. Bush said he would. Barack Obama said he would. All of them failed, and the one that tried hardest to do it—Obama—had a harder time than any of them. Despite the partisanship of their eras, both Clinton and Bush had significant pieces of legislation they passed with cross-party support, like Clinton's welfare reform and Bush's No Child Left Behind. But everything important Obama did was accomplished despite unified resistance from Republicans. Conservatives might argue that the reason is that Obama is a uniquely partisan and vicious president, so cruel to Republicans that he's impossible to work with. But the real reason, as anyone who has been paying attention the last four years knows, is that Republicans made a decision upon his...

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