Did the 2012 race finally get real this week? Maybe just a smidge, actually! A week ago, Haley Barbour was staking out a position outside the coverage, but he jumped back into the fray in a big way this week. After a momentary hiccup that cost one Barbour staffer their job after sending out an email with bad jokes about the Japan tsunami, Barbour stepped forward and started engaging the debate. He aimed some barbs at the White House, but he also staked out unique territory among his fellow GOP colleagues by expressing skepticism about the War in Afghanistan, questioning whether or not there isn't substantial bloat in the Defense Department, and calling for caution on intervening in Libya.
And suddenly, we're interested.
The rest of the GOP field chose to be less bold this week, most simply participating in what The Plum Line's Greg Sargent sees as the voguish pastime among GOP presidential aspirants: sticking it to Mitt Romney. Elsewhere, the conservative smart-set began their "Stop Palin" campaign. Donald Trump, perplexingly, leapt on board the Birther crazy-train. And after a week-and-a-half of bleating out all sorts of crazy nonsense, Mike Huckabee took a week off from attention-getting. This was a smart move, obviously, because it's precisely what we advised him to do last week. That's right: heed the Speculatron. We see all, know all. (Actually, we're pretty much making it up as we go along, like everyone else.)
This week, we've elevated Herman Cain's status. And while we've decided to stand pat otherwise, it should be noted that Mitch Daniels and Jon Huntsman are starting to look like they won't be running in 2012. For more of this week's campaign trivia, please feel free to enter the Speculatron for the week of March 18, 2011.
After staying largely quiet last week, Haley Barbour hit the newscycle this week in a big way, going on the offensive against the White House and cutting some interesting contrasts with the rest of the GOP field -- and the GOP establishment itself. The week mostly went the way he wanted it to, and for Republicans who have grown to dislike the War in Afghanistan, they've got a friend in Haley. "What is our mission?" Barbour asked, according to Politico. "How many Al Qaeda are in Afghanistan? ... Is that a 100,000-man Army mission? I don't think our mission should be to think we're going to make Afghanistan an Ireland or an Italy" or a Western-style democracy. [...] On the issue of the budget, Barbour said, "Anybody who says you can't save money at the Pentagon has never been to the Pentagon. We can save money on defense and if we Republicans don't propose saving money on defense, we'll have no credibility on anything else." Barbour wasn't to het up to get all upside Libya's head, either. Elsewhere, Barbour got in some shots at Obama, and made it clear that America won't be getting trains or health care or Wall Street reform or regulated deep-water drilling, criticizing "government boondoggles like taxpayer-subsidized high-speed rail" and "having government take control of our automakers, financial sector, health care system and energy industry." More and more, speculators are starting to feel like the Barbour campaign is the real deal. The only low point for Barbour came when he had to get rid of a campaign staffer for sending out not-very-hilarious email jokes about the Japan tsunami. Comedy equals tragedy plus TIME, people!
Bachmann made a serious bid to prove that she knew less about history than Mike Huckabee this week when she misplaced the location Lexington and Concord and their famed Revolutionary War battles, placing them in New Hampshire instead of Massachusetts. Naturally, she blamed the media for paying attention to her utterances and reporting them, as if she hadn't appointed herself the Queen Of Congressional Lecture Series On the Constitution. Later, she had an epic dustup with Anthony Weiner on Fox. Elsewhere, Bachmann is certain that she's not going to have any problems proving that she was born in the United States, and why would she? What other nation on Earth would claim her?
You may not be that familiar with Herman Cain, but the former CEO of Godfather's Pizza appears likely to shake up the Republican presidential primary in the next election cycle should he run. Cain is not one to mince words and appears to have a tendency to make inflammatory remarks. Last weekend, he told the Union Leader in New Hampshire that if he does follow through in mounting a campaign, he'll rely on his business credentials and radio talk show host experience to advance his ambitions. The potential contender, however, also said to the local outlet: "Now people are over this first black President thing," he said. "But there are some people who will say, 'I'm not going to vote for another black guy because this one didn't work out.' "And my response is, 'Well, what about those 43 white guys you put in there? How did they work out?' "Don't condemn me because the first black one was bad," Cain said with a smile. To be sure, it seems Cain could emerge one of the most authentic contenders in 2012 if he runs. He recently broke the Republican mold when he suggested "the United States has got to stop being Uncle Sucker" in its military efforts overseas. He asked, "We put things on the line, we lose lives, and what do we get in return?" It remains to be seen whether or not Cain will run, but if recent trips he's made to early primary states and remarks he's made on trail foreshadow what's to come, the possible candidate seems increasingly likely to jump into the race and shake things up while he's at it.
Mitch Daniels is still being awfully Hamlet-y about whether he's going to jump into this race or not. That led Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake to question what role, if any, Daniels intends to play this election cycle: Daniels added that he had no real timetable to make a decision, noting that he was "completely committed" to being governor of Indiana at the moment; "We're planning some very exciting things in Indiana to make our state better," Daniels said. "And that comes first. And if deadlines pass, they do." It's hard to read those comments -- particularly when compared to the far more forward-leaning remarks made by other GOPers thinking about running for the Senate -- and think that Daniels is overly excited about the prospect of a national bid. So, what exactly is he after? Looking back at Daniels' recent public comments -- and, he has made quite a few -- it seems he is more interested in impacting the debate going on in the party as it heads into 2012 than in leading the GOP as its presidential nominee.
Gingrich went after the POTUS this week, saying that he "talks loudly and has no stick." Then, of course, in sizing up where he's currently at in his presidential-run-decision-making process, he offered up this bowl of pure gibberish: "If we find enough volunteer support and enough financial support, we'll almost certainly run." And then: "We're in the process of assessing that now." And finally, "I am contemplating the possibility of thinking about under some circumstances exploring the potential." So he's considering the possibilities of contemplating further considerations that have the potential to lead to possibilities, potentially. Maybe. In other news, Gingrich stepped up his yelling because he's super-duper mad that Obama did an NCAA Tournament Bracket, like a common Bolshevik. Also, it was reported that Gingrich gave $350,000 to anti-gay groups this past year in an effort to get rid of some of the Iowa Supreme Court justices who "had unanimously ruled in favor of marriage equality," because, you know, gays ruin marriage for everyone -- right Newt Gingrich's ex-wives?
Outside of criticizing Florida Senator Bill Nelson, for some reason, Mike Huckabee mostly broke from his recent gaffe-tastic ways by keeping his mouth mostly shut this week. Smart move! Of course, now the speculation that he's not actually interested in running for President is getting louder than ever. CBS News' Brian Montopoli and Robert Hendin offered up the most comprehensive piece on the topic yet. Huckabee is so well-known at this point that he can move slowly with a presidential rollout - for one thing, he doesn't need to make himself better known to key Republicans, as Pawlenty has been working to do for more than a year. But as CBS News political consultant John Dickerson points out, there are limits to that luxury. "He's very close to the point where his delay places him in a tight spot if he does run," he said. "He doesn't have the money and he doesn't like raising it. The GOP nominee will need to be able to raise a lot of money to run against Obama's $1 billion. Lack of aptitude on this score will matter." Dickerson also noted that Huckabee's recent controversial comments - he erroneously suggested President Obama grew up in Kenya and suggested the president's worldview had been shaped by growing up around madrassas - point to the need for the very sort of staff he has pointedly not put together. "It's fine to have quips be a part of your charm, but if you're going to run and be folksy then you need to have staff to help clean things up," said Dickerson. "He is not putting together a staff. His staffers are going to other campaigns, which means even if he did start there would be no one left to build an organization."
It's starting to look like Huntsman may hold off until 2016 before mounting a run for the White House. Ben Smith reports: The Chairman of Horizon PAC, which has described itself as a "campaign-in-waiting" for Ambassador Jon Huntsman, suggested in a fundraising email that Huntsman might run in 2016, not 2012. "While Governor Huntsman, currently the U.S. Ambassador to China, is not associated with the PAC at this time, the PAC is ready to assist him if he decides to run for the presidency in 2012 and/or 2016," wrote Zions Bank President and CEO Scott Anderson, the Huntsman ally who chairs the PAC, in the email, sent earlier this week. "While the potential GOP field of presidential candidates is getting crowded, Ambassador Huntsman stands out as an individual who reveres the U.S. Construction, and believes in limited government and maximum individual freedom." No, I do not know what the U.S. Construction is, but it's nice that Huntsman reveres it!
Conservative intellectuals have ramped up their warblogging against sometime Alaska governor Sarah Palin this week, in an effort to cut the legs out from under any potential Presidential run. This got the Jonathan Martin/John Harris treatment in Politico: where the insults just pile up. George Will says Palin would cost the GOP the "party of ideas" label! Krauthammer implies she represents "unhealthy populism!" Matt Labash compares her to Al Sharpton! Peter Wehner compares her to SPIRO AGNEW! (And Daniel Larison points a finger back at the same intellectuals.) But what if the GOP primary season turns into a long and baffling death march to certain ruin? ADVANTAGE TRIXIE KLONDYKE, says Judd Gregg (who is suddenly a guy that knows stuff about GOP primaries, I guess?): Because the nominating process has become so dominated by primary elections, with the vast majority of the delegates chosen by direct vote, it is entirely possible that with no presumptive winner or even favorites, a candidate who runs second or third in a great many primaries could go into the convention with a sizable block of delegates. Who would this favor? Does Sarah Palin come to mind? Although she is not viewed by most as strong enough to win, she is viewed by many as a person worth voting for to make a statement. And primaries tend to be populated by people who go to the polls with the purpose of making a statement. Significantly, independent voters prefer Charlie Sheen's brand of cray-cray to Palin's. (Which means independent voters prefer just about ANYTHING to Palin.)
Tim Pawlenty's plan? DON'T BE MITT ROMNEY: "Mr. Pawlenty is positioning himself as a leading alternative to Mr. Romney." Or, who knows? Be something else: "I want to be every person's candidate -- that's my goal." (Maybe he will use this campaign season to find out who "Tim Pawlenty" is, exactly.) So far he's a guy who hates teachers' unions and loves defense spending. Ho-hum, right? Well grab a hat, and hold onto it for dear life, because TPaw is cooking up some plans to make mind-shattering videos that help him with "his charisma deficit."
Michael Shear reports that Roemer is positioning himself to be "an outspoken, sharp-edged irritant to members of his own party." Sort of like a Mike Gravel without all of the awesomely weird web videos: But by the end of a long primary campaign, Mr. Roemer could be the Republican equivalent of the pea under the mattress -- the one who makes everyone uncomfortable. Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, is likely to raise millions of dollars from big donors, as is Jon Huntsman, the former governor of Utah, if he runs. Both are wealthy and well connected. Haley Barbour, the governor of Mississippi, is a former Washington lobbyist. Mr. Roemer promises to ask them a single question at the presidential debates. (He's still waiting for the invitation to the opening debate on May 2.) "I'm going to ask, 'Where did you get your money?'" he said. By contrast, Roemer is going to troop around America in a Winnebago.
Greg Sargent notes today that the best way to "burnish your conservative cred" in this long, pre-pre-pre-primary process is to just stick it to Romney, over and over again, because why not? "Really, is there anything more amusing in politics today than watching conservatives abandon Mitt Romney at a furious rate because he had the misfortune of passing a health plan with a Republican idea at its core that, unbeknownst to him, Obama would shortly adopt as his own?" Check Rick Santorum's style out: Earlier this week, the conservative former Pennsylvania senator, who also appears to be running for president, had this to say about how Romneycare should render Mitt a nonstarter for the 2012 GOP nomination: "He called Romney's health care plan 'a failure' and touted himself as a 'consistent conservative.' 'We need someone who is a strong, principled conservative who believes not in government mandates, not in government control of the health care system, but in a patient-centered approach to health care,' Santorum said." According to Santorum, Romney believes in "government control of the health care system." It doesn't get dirtier than that. This was seen most comically this week in the flips and flops of Jim DeMint, who patted Romney on the back in the morning, then returned to stab him in the same spot later in the day.
While Santorum didn't have kind things to say about the way Mitt Romney provided his constituents with health care, he did have Gingrich's back on the whole serial philandering thing, because that's the state of social conservative piety in 2011. He also criticized Obama for not unilaterally imposing a no-fly zone over Libya, and instead waiting for international involvement -- as if our military was already over-committed, and our entire political culture screeching about deficits, or something! "You want to see what America will look like going forward under a Barack Obama presidency? You've seen it here in Libya," he said. "He seems disinterested, detached, ambivalent, indecisive and waiting for the international community to take the lead, and do what they want to do, and he'll go along and execute their plan. New Hampshire's Democratic governor later would criticize Santorum for being disinterested, detached, ambivalent, and indecisive with regards to visiting his state.
Count Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders as being on board with someone taking on Obama in a primary: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who has criticized the president for -- among other things -- brokering a tax deal with Republicans, said that it is worthwhile to have a wide array of voices in the campaign. "If a progressive Democrat were to run, I think it would enliven the debate," he said during an interview on WNYC Radio. "They are free to do that." Count Hillary Clinton out as the person who will mount that primary challenge. A huge avenue of critique has opened up on the left, however. The dismissal of P.J. Crowley is going to leave a lot of the President's 2008 supporters feeling disaffected. For example, here's Andrew Sullivan: "By firing PJ Crowley for the offense of protesting against the sadistic military treatment of Bradley Manning, the president has now put his personal weight behind prisoner abuse. The man who once said that forced nudity was a form of torture, now takes the word of those enforcing it over a distinguished public servant... And in the military, as with Bush, so with Obama. As commander-in-chief, Obama is directly responsible for the inhumane treatment of an American citizen. And Crowley's firing will make it even less likely in the future that decent public servants will speak out against such needless sadism."
Ron Paul may be a ways away from jumping into the race, but he's nevertheless raising scads of cash -- his "Liberty PAC raised $1.1 million in the last month." Elsewhere, Paul continues to FIGHT! FIGHT! with Donald Trump, this time over his campaign jet. ALERT! Rudy Giuliani is actually in New Hampshire this week, for realsies! And he's been sharply critiquing the President as well as participating in the new GOP pastime, "Piling On Mitt Romney, Forever." There are some rumblings in the world of the Gary Johnson campaign this week: "Gary Johnson's political advocacy committee, OUR America Initiative, recently sent out a request for donations, which could indicate the former New Mexico Governor is moving closer to a formal run for the GOP nomination."
Chris Christie remains outside the race and largely gunning for reality-teevee spouses, lately, but Larry Sabato continues to pour gasoline on whatever embers remain in Christie's potential 2012 run: "The potential contender who insists he's not running but who has the most juice in his revved engine is Chris Christie. Should he change his mind later in 2011, it is possible he could storm the field." Rick Perry would, if he ran, definitely be able to cut a huge contrast with Mitt Romney. While Massachusetts sets the current standard for state-wide health care coverage, Perry's Texas is the worst of the worst.
Donald Trump decided that he might as well jump on the caboose of the birther bandwagon this week, saying, "He grew up and nobody knew him. You know? When you interview people, if ever I got the nomination, if I ever decide to run, you may go back and interview people from my kindergarten. They'll remember me. Nobody ever comes forward. Nobody knows who he his until later in his life. It's very strange." Dan Amira immediately posted Obama's kindergarten class photo. Alex Pareene immediately posted a link to a 1990 Spy Magazine story in which people from Trump's old neighborhood said: "I've been running this store for 28 years, and I don't remember him." (He has also now said that he would be willing to spend $600 million on his campaign. That's obviously crazy.) Michael Bloomberg's approval rating among New York City voters hit their lowest mark in eight years this week. But someone else probably loves him, right? Well, not in Buffalo. Bloomberg drew an irate reaction from Buffalo mayor Byron Brown after Bloomberg quipped: ""If you go to other cities, they don't have those problems. There's an awful lot of free space up in Buffalo, New York, if you want to go there. I don't think you do. Buffalo would love to have our problems." Bloomberg has since apologized. Jimmy McMillan couldn't get a toehold into the newscycle this week. But his old issue did! Too bad, though, because McMillan has moved on to yelling his catchphrase about the deficit.
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