Last week, we took a break from chronicling the lives of your presumed 2012 candidates because all anyone wanted to talk about was the crazy Friday night near-shutdown of the federal government. That's okay, it was as good a time as any to take a week off.
Of course, having been away for a week, we returned to find the whole 2012 situation in grave disrepair. Did you know that Donald Trump is somehow his-last-naming the entire GOP field at this point? It's true! That is the price you pay when you raise the curtain on the 2012 campaign season four months before any of the major players want to throw their hat into the ring.
And so, it comes as no surprise that at the beginning of the week, a large portion of America's population was actively "dreading" the upcoming election.
And so, some people made some cautious moves. Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney advanced themselves to the "presidential exploratory committee" stage. Tim Pawlenty made an important hire, and for a brief, mad moment had people convinced that he was making a formal announcement candidacy. Mike Huckabee made a few tentative steps that his backers have been begging him to make, Mitch Daniels allowed some new speculation to form around his intentions, Ron Paul began testing the waters and Fred Karger -- the only person who has actually formally announced his intention to run -- started to gain a little more traction, and started to get a little more aggressive.
Nevertheless, this campaign season continues to move by inches -- mainly downward, dragged ever further into the depths by Donald Trump. For all the things you need to know, and some things you'll wish you could forget, please enter the Speculatron for the week of April 15, 2011.
Steve Kornacki noted this week the extent to which Michele Bachmann, and her candidacy, is a "useful tool for the Republican establishment." But that's the beauty of a Bachmann candidacy: Nobody seriously believes she has a chance to win the GOP nomination. The establishment has seen candidacies like hers before, fringe ideologues with devoted followings -- and clear ceilings on their support. The best-case scenario for Bachmann is that she somehow tops a splintered field in Iowa's caucuses (where cultural conservatives hold disproportionate sway). But even then, the rest of the party would quickly rally around her most broadly acceptable (and viable) opponent. The obvious parallel is to 1996, when Pat Buchanan won the New Hampshire primary with 29 percent of the vote -- then watched the other 71 percent of the party flock to Bob Dole in panic. Thus, the GOP establishment has high confidence that it can contain a Bachmann candidacy, if need be. What Bachmann can do, though, is steal attention, money and votes from Palin -- potentially closing down whatever remaining victory scenario exists for the Alaskan. And Bachmann doesn't disappoint. This week she was promising to run for just one term, and that God told her to stop same-sex marriage (not war or poverty though!), and that she wasn't sure if gay people were a "public health crisis," and then she was saying that she was okay with running for two terms and that Al Franken stole the election and passed Obamacare illegally, and finally she's ended up in a feud with Lenscrafters, so roll on, clownshow, roll on!
Haley Barbour has kept to the background this week, courting assistance in New Hampshire and landing the endorsement of Ohio Governor John Kasich (which I do not think is as good a thing as Haley Barbour thinks it is, seeing as how Ohioans are learning to dislike John Kasich). He's also decided that it's not a terribly smart idea to be going around telling people about what an awesome lobbyist he was, since Americans hate lobbyists like they hate feline leukemia. To that end, he's talking up that time he totally "bucked" Big Pharma, but don't worry, I'm sure he'll get along with Billy Tauzin when it really counts. Elsewhere, Matt Yglesias surveys some recent InTrade speculation and wonders, "Is It So Hard To Imagine A Southerner Winning The GOP Presidential Nomination In 2012?" Personally, I think that the InTraders are selling Barbour short and are way more bullish -- at this point, anyway -- on Mitch Daniels, Michele Bachmann, Donald Trump, Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin, and Jon Huntsman than they really ought to be. Then again, Barbour reps a state that apparently has a sizable number of residents that think interracial marriage should be criminalized. (To which we say, "Yikes!")
Herman Cain, America's President of "non-scientific straw polls," continues to stalk the fringes of the race. This week, he's let it be known that labor unions "are trying to bring down the United States of America," because people who want workplace fairness would totally want to destroy the country in which they've had large success making workplaces fair. Makes perfect sense. Cain is also apparently "the first Republican presidential hopeful to take his campaign to Foursquare." He can be the mayor of himself, and keep Muslims from unlocking the sharia badge! He's not without his defenders: "I like Herman...he doesn't want Muslims on his cabinet, he wants Americans." That's from Joe The Plumber, folks! (Note that when I said Cain was "not without his defenders," I didn't say they were particularly effective defenders.
Is Mitch Daniels going to run for president or isn't he? It all depends on which person at the Indianapolis Star you happen to ask. (Both basically say "maybe (so/not).") It's all so terribly exciting! At least it's the consensus of everyone whose blogs I read that Daniels has probably hit upon his campaign slogan (and it's not "AMERICA: PREPARE TO GET BEIGED!"): In fact, in recent days the talk has seemed to center more around the political sideshow led by Donald Trump, who has renewed questions about whether Obama is a U.S. citizen. That, among other things, led Time magazine columnist Joe Klein to beg Daniels to get into the race, calling the rest of the GOP field a "freak show." Asked about that portrayal of the Republican choices, Daniels laughed. "It's always good to be held to a low standard," he said and envisioned his campaign being praised with the words: "At least he's not a freak." (Also, political reporters, it's not necessary to keep reminding us that Cheri Lynn Daniels is going to be a factor in Mitch's decision-making process. OMG! The woman in a political couple has some sort of autonomy or something!)
Gingrich was one of the central figures in the last government shutdown, so it makes sense that he used the events of the past week to weigh in on the ongoing budgetary battles. On taxes, Gingrich was sharply criticial of the Obama administration, saying that the White House's "proposal to couple spending cuts with tax hikes on the wealthy" was "a job-killing big-government defending avoidance of responsibility" that was worthy of a "Herbert Hoover award," and that overall, Obama had an "absence of seriousness." At the same time, he urged his GOP colleagues caution in how they approached the Medicare debate: Republicans' proposed overhaul of the Medicare system is a "dangerous political exercise," former House Speaker Newt Gingrich says. Gingrich, who is considering a 2012 presidential run, believes making changes to the Medicare system isn't as politically risky as it was in the past but should still be handled with care, the New York Times reports. "This is not something that Republicans can afford to handle lightly," Gingrich said. Gingrich is not likely to participate in the first GOP Primary debate scheduled for May 5, because he is having his traditional difficulties in figuring out if he's actually going to run for President.
It's been months of worry and wait for fans of Mike Huckabee, who emerged early on as a potential frontrunner and then managed to do nothing to capitalize on it -- like build a campaign, form an exploratory committee, keep donors in his pocket, etc. Now, his most faithful backers in Iowa are trying to keep the fire lit for their indecisive hero: As other potential conservative contenders roam Iowa's presidential testing grounds and scoop up ace Iowa strategists, Huckabee fans began to feel anxious about the lack of organizing here for their guy. So they pulled out the four-year-old campaign lists and have contacted about 540 people who helped catapult Huckabee to a top finish in Iowa's first-in-the-nation caucuses in 2008. "We're just saying, 'don't get caught up with the new girl in town, stay true to the girl you've been engaged to for two years,'" said Dave Davidson, 42, a Des Moines photographer. "He's not blowing off Iowa. He's got 50 states to think about." Ha, yes. At this point, of course Mike Huckabee is really worried about running a national campaign! The only thing we know right now is that Huckabee apparently had a quiet powwow with Donald Trump, where they probably cuddled and read emails from birthers. The end result was that Laura Ingraham asked if there was a potential Huckabee/Trump ticket in the offing, Huck said, "Never say never." Which I'm sure fills Huckabee's God-fearing Iowa backers with gladness!
Jon Huntsman has promised that he'd do no active campaigning during the time it takes him to finish out his term as the U.S. Ambassador to China, but like it or not, the campaign is going to happen to him even as he stays on the sideline. In today's Daily Caller, Jonathan Strong reports on several emails they obtained that feature Huntsman exuberantly praising President Obama and various Clintons: "You are a remarkable leader," Huntsman wrote to Obama in an Aug. 16, 2009 note, underlining the word "remarkable," "and it has been a great honor getting to know you." The letter thanks Obama for "the graciousness and kindness you have shown me and my family - particularly your confidence in my ability to represent you in China." Huntsman said he was "leaving behind a state we love - but anticipating an extraordinary experience in Beijing." In an Aug. 10, 2009 letter to former President Bill Clinton, Huntsman was similarly effusive. "I have enormous regard for your experience, sense of history and brilliant analysis of world events. Please save some time for me when I'm next in New York," Huntsman said. In that same letter, Huntsman, who plans to leave his post in Beijing April 30, had kind words for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as well. "I must report that Sec. Clinton has won the hearts and minds of the State Dept. bureaucracy -- no easy task. And after watching her in action, I can see why. She is well-read, hard working, personable and has even more charisma than her husband! It's an honor to work with her," Huntsman wrote. Strong concludes: "The letters highlight two key political vulnerabilities of Huntsman in a Republican primary." That's basically right. But could the tiny sliver of my rotted heart that's not yet given itself entirely over to cynicism have a moment of your time? It's understandable that we'd imagine the fact that Obama and Huntsman seem to like and respect and trust one another make it difficult to imagine them campaigning against each other. But wouldn't it actually be good for the country if we had a campaign between two people who could say, "We respect and trust one another and believe that whatever happens, Americans are going to get a President who will work tirelessly for the nation they love. But we have some different ideas about how to get where we want to go, so let'd share them with you." I know that the media wouldn't know what the hell to do with that sort of race. But I like to think that it would be a fine campaign all the same. That's all I wanted to say. Feel free to send me emails with the subject line: "YOU ARE AN IDIOT FOR THINKING THAT WOULD BE A GOOD IDEA.)
Fred Karger soldiers on, projecting as optimistic attitude as he can while he remains on the outskirts of the presidential race. Despite being the first person to formally declare a presidential run, Karger is having enormous difficulty gaining access to the sorts of events that would help build awareness of his candidacy. This past week, he had to actually try to invite himself to the first scheduled debate: The official invitations haven't yet gone out yet for the May 5 debate being hosted by the South Carolina Republican Party, but there's one name sources say is most definitely not on the list: Karger's. But that didn't stop Karger -- an openly gay Republican operative who has said participating in just one debate would make his candidacy a success -- from announcing Thursday that he "accepts" an opportunity to appear at the debate. Sources close to the debate say Karger isn't going to be extended an invite, and the South Carolina GOP isn't particularly welcoming Karger's offer to participate. Difficulties aside, Karger's campaign continues to evolve, and this week, he jumped at the chance to criticize Mitt Romney. "I just don't think Mitt Romney is well-suited for the job right now," Karger said. "He's got a great record of flip-flops. I think we need some new, fresh ideas." But the anti-Romney antipathy has a deeper resonance with Karger. He says his "sidebar goal" is to push back on efforts led by the Mormon Church against marriage equality. "I've asked Governor Romney to use his influence to get the church to back away from that fight," Karger said. Shots fired!
Palin's prospects are on the big-time wane, so much so that her breathy admirer Glenn Beck is pretty sure she won't be running and has a "damaged brand" (he'd be the guy we'd trust to make those kind of assessments). But Jonathan Bernstein says she's not done yet and we like Jonathan Bernstein so, okay, here's Jonathan Bernstein: The truth is that Palin remains the only real first-tier presidential candidate the Republicans have -- the only candidate who has been on a national ticket. Should she decide to run an active campaign, she would likely recover a good bit of the ground she has lost, just by repositioning herself as a real politician and abandoning her current incarnation as a reality TV star. It's still not too late for her to give a series of serious policy speeches; not too late for her to put together a real campaign staff; not too late for her to crisscross Iowa and New Hampshire; and not too late, certainly, for her to raise tons of money for a campaign. Palin will spend this weekend rallying the Tea Party in Madison, Wisconsin. Oh, boy. There's going to be a counter-rally, as well, so get ready for a whole bunch of allegations of "union thuggery" to emerge by Sunday.
It's looking more and more like the Paul we'll be getting for the 2012 presidential race will be Ron and not Rand. This week, Ron Paul edged closer to the Rubicon by moving to the "testing the waters" stage of candidacy: His spokesman, Jesse Benton, said Friday that the congressman is "beginning to lean more strongly toward running" and this new step puts the machinery in place to move quickly if Paul gets into the race. Paul, who sought the GOP nomination in 2008, is expected to say in May whether he's running again. "He remains undecided and won't be making a final decision until, probably, mid-May," Benton said. "But we want to have things in place so that he can hit the ground running if he decides to run." If you want to, you can buy his house and eat and sleep where the Ron Paul ReLOVEution began. As far as other Pauls go, Rand Paul made news this week when he became a cliched version of himself and talked about Ayn Rand novels while railing against modern advances in lightbulb technology. And wow, there's another Paul that might run for office? Yes. Robert Paul is mulling a bid for Congress, to take over Kay Bailey Hutchison's seat.
Tim Pawlenty made some big almost-news today when he went on the Piers Morgan Show and said, "I am running for President," and everyone was like: WOO, YEAH! PAWLENTY IS IN, and then they braced themselves for the mind-erasing cinematic jump-cut super-jam that his video guy was sure to roll out for the occasion. But sadly, very soon after he said he was running for President, his campaign started walking it back, telling reporters that no, he was not making a "formal announcement" and everyone needed to calm down. And when you think about it, we shouldn't have believed that was going to be his formal announcement, because: LOL, Piers Morgan? The only formal announcement Tim Pawlenty is going to make on that show will concern the release of his "TPaw"-brand barbecue sauce. ("Not so bland that it annoys me." --Anthony Bourdain.) It may have been a good idea to get TPaw back into the front and center because the bigger TPaw news of the week (besides the fallout of his drunk stumblebum staffer who attempted to break into an Iowa family's home to talk budget reform) was the fact that he signed up Nick Ayers as a campaign manager. WOO-HOO, AYERS MANIA is what ensued. At some point, Pawlenty will want to maybe enjoy the same kind of hype as the people who work under him (without having to go drunk-nuts on Iowa voters).
Oh, my. The only big news about Buddy Roemer is that having promised "to limit campaign contributions to $100," he's so far raised only $54,990. Why isn't this quiet man in a Winnebago who's been out of politics for a quarter century not catching fire?!
The problem Mitt Romney faced this week is that this was the week that all the Democrats were going to heartlessly celebrate the creation of RomneyCare, the Massachusetts health-care plan that begat ObamaCare, which in turn begat a whole bunch of problems for Mitt, because the rest of the GOP field was just going to dig out his eyes on the health care issue. So Romney took a firm grip of the newscycle and announced that he was going on to the full-on Presidential Exploratory Committee stage of his life. And so, armed with John Kerry's campaign slogan and Aqua-Fresh's nurdle, Romney jumped in to the jumping in. Hooray! He immediately got into a Twitter spat with Conan O'Brien, because that is something that now happens in American politics. Romney greeted the love for his health care innovation by noting that Obama never called him up to find out "what worked and what didn't." But, as Taegan Goddard points out, Obama didn't have to call up Romney, because the people who helped Romney create CommonwealthCare also helped the White House with the Affordable Care Act. In other Romney news, Matt Yglesias noticed that he inadvertently made a good case for boosting aggregate demand in his roll-out video, while his ThinkProgress colleagues noted that while at Bain Capital, Romney "took advantage of offshore tax havens to shield investors from having to pay American taxes." But it's all good, because all the liberals love him for creating the Affordable Care Act!
Like Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum made news this week when he announced that he, too, was going to form a Presidential Exploratory Committee. So exciting! He will "explore" and later "lose," but whatever! What's he all about? Hating America, apparently! Or at least what America has become: a decrepit place full of unemployed people and foreclosed homes undone by the failures of banking gangsters and several stupid holdover military misadventures that neither party has the good sense to bring to an end godless land of constant gay sexing and computer porn. And make no mistake! Santorum will jail the sodomites and burn the women witches and make America great again! But a funny thing happened with his whole rollout! Here's Lee Fang from ThinkProgress: I asked Santorum about the campaign slogan, which was already plastered at the front of the room under the official Santorum campaign posters. Santorum at first distanced himself from it, claiming "I had nothing to do with that." Asked for a clarification, the former senator laughed and added that his campaign staff "didn't inform" him about the origin of the phrase. However, Santorum said he has read "some" poems by Hughes: FANG: Today, you unveiled your new campaign slogan, "Fighting to make America America again." But was it intentional that this line was borrowed from the pro-union poem by the gay poet Langston Hughes? SANTORUM: No, because I had nothing to do with that so- FANG: Oh, alright thanks. Wait did you have a clarification there? Was it just a coincidence? SANTORUM: I didn't know that. The folks who worked on that slogan for me didn't inform me that that's where it came from, if in fact it came from that. FANG: Do you like Langston Hughes? Is he a favorite poet? SANTORUM: I've read some of his poems. I'm not a big poetry guy so I can't say I have a favorite poet, sorry. Maybe it just sags, like a heavy load, etc.
This week, in response to all the talk of how Paul Ryan was "courageous" for imagining an America in which the elderly would get terrible health care vouchers that would diminish in value over time to the point that they'd all eventually have to crawl into a poophole to die, President Barack Obama decided, "Hey, maybe I'd better talk about some other plan, for curbing the deficits." And so he went to GWU and gave the Simpson-Bowles plan a big old hug. But liberals! They be hatin'! The question with Obama is, can we afford not to primary him? If Obama continues on his present course and does not show real strength and leadership, he will lose. In losing, his ineffectualness and lack of spine will become that of the Democratic Party and Progressives. The Left will be redefined in terms of Obama's positions, as the Republicans try to roll back even those small accomplishments. And we will be out of power for another generation. In Isaac Asimov's Foundation, a far-sighted scientist can see that the Galactic Empire is crumbling and is to be followed by a thirty-thousand-year-long dark age-- Okay, I am not going to continue blockquoting now that we're citing Isaac Asimov sci-fi novels. Suffice it to say, there's great concern among the liberal commentariat that the entire progressive movement is in trouble with Obama. (Actual Democratic voters, for what it's worth, stick with the President.) But, hey, maybe Roger Simon will prove to be correct and next spring we'll be chilling out and watching the Great Obama/Kucinich Debates Of 2012. Meanwhile, Obama is out on the campaign trail, going to fundraisers, and unknowingly* having his off-the-cuff remarks recorded by reporters, only this time, he's not saying things that will force him to apologize to West Virginia. *Or was it?
Donald Trump and his Koo-Loo-Koo birther breakdown parade has, like an aggressive cancer, metastasized to the point that he now basically leads the entire GOP field, which is actually okay, because no real formal race is underway. This week, Trump's key advisor, Michael Cohen, confirmed to CNN that Trump would be making an announcement about his campaign plans on the season finale of The Apprentice. Trump himself had to unconfirm that, saying that he didn't know where that story came from, because he apparently doesn't talk to his key adviser all that often. He also can't wait to have reporters grip his "huge" financials. (We're going to have give Donald his own slide next week, aren't we?) Gary Johnson sent reporters an email titled "A Government Shutdown is the least of our problems," in which he went on to explain that a government shutdown is the least of our problems. Straight shooter, you know? Nothing much happened with perennial maybes Rudy Giuliani and John Bolton, but at least Steve Kornacki took up the question of Chris Christie's future and gave the piece a funny headline.
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