Oh, Newt Gingrich! For four presidential cycles you have been teasing us with the idea that you are running for president. I think that two ladies have been your potential "First Lady" during that time, and dude, seriously, have you thought about that? I mean, it's going to be really hard for you to talk about the "First" Lady, right? Whatever, you probably have a PAC that's specifically dealing with that issue, so I'll let it go.
But seriously, Newt, you got really close this time, didn't you? And damned if we weren't warned about your waffling ways but nevertheless bought into the notion that you might get this 2012 campaign party started in earnest. You'd think we'd learn. (Actually, I'm pretty sure you basically count on us never to learn.)
Hey, at least you didn't get yourself all Mau-Mau'ed up like Mike Huckabee, 2012's burgeoning "post-birther" genius. And you seem to be taking getting cut from Fox News' roster of candidates in stride. Your pal Rick Santorum is wondering why Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee aren't in similar straits.
John Thune leaves the Speculatron this week, to spend more time with the United States Senate. But we welcome a new and unexpected contender in his stead. For more of the candidates you should following, and the candidates that haven't yet figured out what they're doing, please feel free to enter the Speculatron for the week of March 4, 2011.
Barbour went on the offensive against the White House this week, accusing the Obama administration of fostering policies "designed to drive up the cost of energy in the name of reducing pollution, in the name of making very expensive alternative fuels more economically competitive." One complication: Barbour was speaking precisely the way you'd expect an energy lobbyist to speak. Barbour also got tagged by Washington Post factcheckers after he spun a tale of BMW-driving "Medicaid queens": Given that you have to be rather poor to get on Medicaid in Mississippi, it seems highly unlikely the state has many Medicaid recipients driving around BMWs, even used ones. Note that Barbour said "we have people" -- suggesting this is not a rare event. The failure of Barbour's aides to provide any documentation for this claim is rather suspicious. At least Reagan's anecdote was based on a real, though poorly remembered, newspaper article. We would welcome further explanation from Barbour, but until then this qualifies as a whopper. Barbour did manage to deftly fend off the revival of a past controversy. When the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, going back over Barbour's memories of Martin Luther King coming to Yazoo City to speak in 1962, reported that that the event never happened, the campaign was able to point out that Barbour simply got the year wrong.
While Wisconsin continues to roil over Governor Scott Walker's "budget repair" bill and his unwillingness to budge on reinstating collective-bargaining rights even after the unions involved have agreed to the pension and benefits reforms Walker wanted, Mitch Daniels cut a different figure in neighboring Indiana. There, he withdrew his support for a similar bill, and immediately caught flak from his right flank. Perhaps it's not surprising then, to see Daniels start to slowly step back from making a run for the White House. It's probably just as well: Jon Stewart thinks he's too short, anyway.
GOOD LORD, NEWT GINGRICH. The former Speaker spent the entire week confusing reporters everywhere with seemingly hourly shifts in his presidential disposition. First he was jumping into the race, officially, in Georgia. Then he wasn't. Then he was "seriously considering" a bid! Then he was just going to "explore" the possibility of "exploring" forming an "exploratory committee" to do further "exploring." At long last, he launched a website. Fox News, acting much more decisively than Gingrich has proven capable of, decided that all the talk of his presidential aspirations was serious enough that they suspended his contributor contract (as well as Rick Santorum's) for the next 60 days. Gingrich's antics aren't likely to impress Senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla), who, while praising Gingrich for his "vision," nevertheless averred that America needed "somebody that's soft and [eyes-wide] open and is stable and learned and is going to consistently bring us together." South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley (R) was more blunt in her assessment: "There was a place and time for him."
Huckabee's last two weeks have primarily been defined by his attempt to offer a dog-whistle to the birther-paranoiac set that relied primarily on historical illiteracy and belief in various urban legends involving a bust of Winston Churchill. Rather than find a quiet and/or humble way to take his lumps and move on, Huckabee just kept digging and digging and digging a deeper and deeper hole for himself. Naturally, he complained bitterly that the media had dared to follow him around and cover his actions, as if he were a frontrunner for the GOP nomination or something! Sorry, Huck! You were the Charlie Sheen of politics this week! There was some good news, however, as polls showed that Huckabee was performing stronger than the rest of the presumed field in the South. But on a nuts and bolts level, the Huckabee campaign is still behind the curve. A trip to Iowa only underscored the lack of groundwork that had been done in the state to forge connections and build the sort of campaign you need to kick off a national run. Huckabee insisted, however, that he was "talking to some folks." "It may not be as obvious," said Huckabee, who insisted that Iowans would be perfectly content if the 2012 campaign got off to a "late start."
Jon Huntsman's PAC has a shiny new website of emo poetry, but his campaign remains in suspended animation as he plays out the string as President Obama's ambassador to China In the meanwhile, it's come to light that Huntsman, while in China, is being shadowed by a film crew that's making a documentary. But isn't that a violation of the Hatch Act? No, it's not: Huntsman's cinematic pursuits have been cleared by the State Department, so chill.
Palin has spent the better part of the week warblogging about all sorts of things that have been bothering her, like the recent SCOTUS decision on the Phelps freak church of bigots, Tucker Carlson's tweets, and Obama's DOMA decision. She's also been trying to explain away her fake Facebook and Twitter accounts. It's a lot of noise without much underlying gravitas. That would make for an appropriate campaign slogan, actually: "All noise, no gravitas, forever." It's no wonder that her fortunes in Iowa are waning, and that a tens of thousands of people are banding together to ignore her completely.
Tim Pawlenty continues to campaign hard for the favor of the Tea Party faithful, and to that end he's cut a new web video designed to boost his appeal. Also, in true Tea Party form, he's developed a wonderful incoherence on corporate tax policy, in which he maintains that major corporations who pay no taxes really need to have their tax rate lowered. All of these efforts to pander might get complicated if the Tea Party's Lady of the Glassy Gaze Michele Bachmann enters the race, a move that would absorb some of Pawlenty's home state support, as well. Pawlenty is technically undeclared at this time, but he promises that if he makes a big announcement, he will not use balloons. So sleep easy, helium hoarders!
Everyone take a moment to welcome Buddy Roemer to the 2012 Speculatron! Roemer is the former Louisiana governor best known for switching from the Democratic to the Republican party in 1991, only to receive fewer votes than white supremacist dandy David Duke. God, do you remember that whole chapter in our American Lives? Roemer is hoping that you remember only the best parts, and have worked out all of your complicated feelings. Oh, hello, here is some more interesting stuff from Tim Murphy at Mother Jones: As part of a very public mid-life crisis, Gov. Roemer began wearing blue jeans and adopted the slogan, "Goodbye to me, hello to we." Here we'll quote from Charlie Trueheart's 1991 Washington Post story: "[H]e and his erstwhile Roemeristas (so called because of the much-touted but since-wilted "Roemer revolution") have been reduced to mouthing the ridiculous platitudes of Robert Fulghum and other New Age shamans. Cook reports, "He packed himself and his staff off to motivational treats dubbed 'Adventures in Attitudes,' where they learned to banish negative thoughts by snapping a rubber band against their wrists while uttering 'Cancel, cancel.'" O-kay, well! I am sure that the country is ready for some of that!
Your putative front-runner has had something of a low-key week, actually! That said, the emerging intra-party criticism against Romney continues to take shape: hate for Romneycare, for spawning ObamaCare. Haley Barbour bashed RomneyCare this week, but the unkindest cut of all may have come from fellow organic hair-farmer Paul Ryan: "I just don't think the mandates work," Ryan said. "I haven't studied in depth the status of it, but I think it's beginning to death spiral, they're beginning to have to look at rationing decisions. I don't think this kind of a system works." Burn! But Mitt can take some comfort in the fact that Ryan is a very unserious policymaker. Elsewhere, Utah Senator Orrin Hatch said that he supported Romney over Jon Huntsman, to which Romney probably said, "Great! The support of a Senator in political trouble is precisely what I need right now, thanks!"
Rick Santorum's quixotic Presidential maybe-candidacy continues to spin its wheels without accruing much regard or acclaim. In fact, voters in his home state of Pennsylvania continue to be not all that into him in general, something he might have surmised from that time they didn't send him back to the Senate. On top of all that, Dan Savage, whose "Spreading Santorum" site has bedeviled the former Senator for years, and which has contributed to a Google problem that gets worse every time he mentions it, is looking to be a thorn in Santorum's side again. Santorum, along with Newt Gingrich, was suspended from his contributor contract from Fox News, this week, and frankly, I think Santorum made a pretty good point in protest: Appearing on CNN's "John King USA" the same day, Santorum said the decision to sever ties came after never being asked by anyone at Fox News about his plans for 2012. According to the network, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee and former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, who both contribute to the network and are believed to be mulling presidential campaigns, have not been suspended in their roles. "I don't know why Fox differentiated, whether there's been conversations," he said. "They didn't talk to me and ask me whether I'm running or not. It wasn't something that we had a conversation about. I don't know whether other people have had conversations." Maybe there's a reason Fox isn't taking the presidential aspirations of Huckabee and Palin very seriously.
For many weeks, John Thune threatened to unleash the power of his ability to make up his mind on America, and since we last ran down your 2012 candidates, he finally came to a decision: he's out of the race. Here at the 2012 Speculatron, we bid Senator Thune farewell.
Whatever fervor there might have been to take on President Obama in a Democratic primary has all but subsided. And along with it, the "Obama comeback" narrative continues to percolate. It's not without substance. The Hill's Sam Youngman, for instance, finds that the delayed start to the GOP primary melee is only helping the President: "First and foremost, the late start by modern standards to the 2012 race has enabled Obama to focus on being president... Note the reaction when former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) criticized Obama, saying because the president is black he should have more sympathy for the civil rights of fetuses. If Santorum said that as an announced candidate, it's a safe bet that the White House would have been forced to respond. Instead, the comment was not even asked about at the next day's White House briefing." And Steve Kornacki suggests that the field of potential GOP aspirants are staying out or delaying their decision out of fear: Thus, the Republican presidential field for 2012 is now most notable for its lack of depth. No one, it seems, wants to be the first to jump in, and those who seem most interested in running have clear, significant liabilities. Meanwhile, potentially stronger prospects like Huckabee, Chris Christie and (maybe) Jeb Bush seem content to wait for 2016. Granted, what looks like a weak GOP field today could seem much different six months or a year from now, if the modest economic improvement we've seen recently stalls and unemployment begins rising again; then, even an underwhelming GOP nominee would be well positioned to beat Obama. But for now, the consensus of the political class seems to be that Obama will be reelected in 2012 -- and Republicans seem to be buying into it.
Michele Bachmann is of the opinion that she may be "in the wrong house." Still, there's no reason to believe the presidential noises she's making are anything other than an attempt to keep her profile high. For his part, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad (R) is itching for a Palin-Bachmann battle, preferably inside some sort of ethanol powered ThunderDome. Ron Paul is still undeclared, but he's recently been at odds with Hillary Clinton over foreign policy and our support for dictatorial regimes. Gary Johnson wants you to know that he's different from Ron Paul in many ways, depending on what your definition of "no" is. Fred Karger was shut out of the first Iowa debate because it is being sponsored by Ralph Reed's new Faith and Freedom Coalition, and Reed apparently doesn't want Karger tracking the gay all over the place or suggesting that LGBT citizens deserve to be treated as human beings and whatnot. Herman Cain won a straw poll at a Tea Party conclave in Arizona. His prize? A profile in The Fix! John Bolton isn't sure that economic issues are even all that important, and anyway, how can he bomb a recession into submission? Wouldn't you like a job, destroying Teheran, with joystick controlled robot-drones? He's pretty sure you'd like to get paid to do that. Finally, Rudy Giuliani went to lay the groundwork for the Israel caucus, like a lot of other, more credible candidates for President, and also George Pataki.
Chris Christie, if you recall, very explicitly stated that if he ran for president, his wife would strike him down in murderous fury, so please stop asking him! But in case you were wondering, if he wanted to run for president -- WHICH HE TOTALLY DOES NOT WANT TO DO! -- he would win it easily. He also said that he loves him some collective bargaining, so maybe ask him if he wants to be president later, like, at a time when the GOP wasn't fully invested in promoting the notion that collective bargaining is something that happens in the orgy dungeons at the Church of Satan. Rick Perry has been spending his time getting basic geography wrong and blocking reporters on Twitter. We kind of don't have sympathy for the blocked reporters. I mean, did you guys really think you could cover the Perry beat by following him on Twitter? Jim DeMint -- ALARUMS AND EXCURSIONS! -- gave a speech in Iowa...you know: the Iowa? Anyway, he hates collective bargaining.
Donald Trump became the first person in or near or adjacent to the Presidential race to contact the Speculatron (probably because he is under the impression that we are important people that need to be called) to tell us that his campaign is not being represented in any way by famed trickster Roger Stone. We appreciate him reaching out to us, and so we'll offer him some non-political advice: say something nice about Greg Giraldo at your Comedy Central Roast. All the other comics in the room will say, "Attaboy." Michael Bloomberg is not going to run for President, and will instead pay a bunch of scribes a lot of money to translate his ideas and opinions into Broderism (a.k.a. "centrist Pig Latin.") Jimmy McMillan says that he will save the GOP, by repeating the catch phrase "too damn high" over and over again. Andy Martin, the "King Of The Birthers," is apparently running for president, and will go down in 2012 lore as being the first to launch an ad in New Hampshire (the ad is about birtherism, duh.)
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