This week, the 2012 landscape was rocked by a couple of big announcements and one very bizarre news development. First, the field: it has changed. Haley Barbour, who had us more or less convinced he was going to take a run at the White House, surprised everyone by announcing that he had decided against mounting a campaign. Now, the insider knowledge and deep connections that Barbour has spent his career cultivating are hot commodities -- as is his endorsement. Will Barbour lay his kiss of approval on the brow of Mitch Daniels? Or will he back his fellow southerner, Mike Huckabee? Or could it be Tim Pawlenty? One thing's for sure, Barbour will not try to kiss Rick Santorum, lest Santorum vomit up his duodenum in revulsion.
Also, Ron Paul has formed his own presidential exploratory committee, edging closer to another run for the White House -- probably the last before he passes the "someone named Paul running for President" baton to his son, Rand. With Paul in the race again, the classic Paul issues -- ending foreign wars, dismantling the Federal Reserve, returning to the gold standard -- will get a hearing on the stump and in debates. And Paul's going to have no trouble getting his hardworking posse of libertarian devotees back together. Speaking of, that whole Gary Johnson campaign: man, that was sure fun while it lasted.
Of course, the crazy news of the week was that President Barack Obama released his long-form birth certificate, and now Donald Trump -- simultaneously the GOP frontrunner and the man voters least want to see become president (try wrapping your head around that!) -- is taking credit for the fact that Obama has again confirmed what hundreds of millions of Americans, save for a few determined nutters, have already known for years: that Obama was born in the United States, duh. But will it even matter, if Obama has lost an important part of his base, by which we mean "hedge fund managers?"
And by the way: Mike Huckabee is not out of this race yet. A day of wild rumors flying hither and yon got sorted out in such a way that it actually looks like Huck is closer than ever to getting into the race. (On the other hand, it's reached the point where it's hard to believe Sarah Palin is going to run.)
That's the overview of yet another wild week in the 2012 race. Still a big field full of people whose American citizenship is something for which we cannot officially vouch. But we'll take them all at their word. Except for you, Trump! We demand that the season finale of Celebrity Apprentice feature a live re-enactment of your emergence from the womb, featuring NeNe Leakes and Meat Loaf. Now there's a mental image to carry with you, as you enter the Speculatron for the week of April 29, 2011.
It's been a pretty slow week for the Minnesota Representative, who is, at the moment, not expected to participate in the May 5th GOP debate in South Carolina. And Dave Weigel notes that in Iowa, Bachmann-mentum is flagging. That's actually surprising: just a month ago, Bachmann was being hailed as the "breakout star" of Iowa Representative Steve King's Conservative Principles Conference. Also giving speeches that day were Haley Barbour, who's dunzo, plus Newt Gingrich and John Bolton, neither of whom are in the race. The good news is that Bachmann was recently honored as one of Time magazine's "100 people that we write about that we also wouldn't mind attending a gala with." There, she was apparently very excited to meet the kids from Glee. As Daily Intel's Jada Yuan and Chris Rovzar note, Bachmann's kids may be way into Glee, but it's possible that she doesn't know what the show is about: At the event last night, at Jazz at Lincoln Center, Bachmann and her husband posed with Glee star Darren Criss and e-mailed the pictures to their children. "We looked for Chris Colfer," she said, but they didn't find him. "We don't watch TV, generally speaking. But the kids were thrilled. What kids don't watch Glee?" Well, maybe the children of potential presidential candidates who think God sent them to stop gay people from having equal rights? Maybe Bachmann doesn't know that the main message of the popular teen hit is tolerance, respect, and equal treatment -- particularly for gay people. She doesn't watch TV, after all. Oh, and it wouldn't be a day of the week ending in "-y" if Bachmann wasn't butchering American history in some way.
Of course, the big Haley Barbour news from this week is that he won't be running for president this year, so we'll bid our farewell, and extend our regrets that the hope of one day having an American President who is a doppelganger of William Shatner remains unrealized. Time for the Barbour debrief! Jonathan Bernstein uses the occasion to argue that an "invisible primary" is going on at the moment, and Barbour failed to prevail in the early "winnowing" stage of the contest: Barbour clearly was doing the things that candidates do who are running for the nomination when we're a year and less away from the Iowa caucuses, and it's not unreasonable to conclude that it didn't go as well as he hoped. Now, again, we don't know what his threshold was. Some candidates (say, Chris Dodd) are willing to keep pushing up to the point where the voters get involved, even if it's clear that their once-promising hopes have been reduced to a sliver of vague possibility. Others aren't willing to continue -- and that's the correct word, continue -- unless they retain a good chance of winning. So what happened with Barbour (and Thune, and Mike Pence, and perhaps others)? Maybe he failed repeatedly to hit fundraising goals. Maybe some key endorsers notified him they were going with other candidates. Maybe the polling came back all wrong (not just the topline numbers, which we know stunk for him, but maybe they tested some attack lines and got bad news back). And, yes, maybe given the same bad or mixed news, Dodd or Joe Biden or someone else might have stuck around; it could be that Barbour really did lack a bit of "fire in the belly" as he said in his withdrawal statement. Barbour said early on that he was nervous about making a ten year commitment. But then he started doing some interesting things: offering a skeptical take on Afghanistan, hiring some top-flight staff, etc. He tried to get some ignition, but I suspect that the needle wasn't moving fast enough for him to get past that "ten-year commitment" fear, which he again cited in dropping out. Dave Weigel says that Barbour's absence takes away a critical "voice of compromise" and seasoned dealmaker. Without a doubt, Barbour was the most seasoned GOP insider in or near the 2012 race, and the only guy who made being part of the establishment a point of pride.
Not a whole lot going on in the world of Herman Cain this week, though he did come out against Mitt Romney's Massachusetts health care reform law, just like every other GOP candidate will. "I do not support the Massachusetts health care law," Cain said, adding, "I haven't heard one of the potential candidates say that they agree with ObamaCare," he said. "But former Gov. Romney is going to have to deal with the issue of what he did in Massachusetts." If he wanted to, Mitt Romney could probably step up and say that Cain is being a big old flippity-flopping pizza man, because back in 2008, Cain was all about Romney: I do not question the character, integrity or sincerity of either Mitt Romney or John McCain, nor do I question their desire to do what's best for the country if elected. I do not worry, as some people do, that they would fan the flames of social and religious differences. My focus is on their prospective leadership relative to national security, the economy, federal spending, free-market health care solutions and the elimination of dysfunctional programs. Mitt Romney's history is more indicative of the substance needed to make major progress on critical issues, and not just to make more politically palatable incremental changes in Washington D.C. Unfortunately, Mitt Romney is also now trying to figure out how he can be for and against his own health care plan. (He'll find a way! He always does!)
Mitch Daniels promised that he would crap or get off the pot as far as jumping into the 2012 race by the end of April, but going into this week, he was -- much like the mint in a mojito -- "muddled" as far as his decision went. Per Politico: Daniels has promoted a laserlike focus on fiscal issues and said that wouldn't change if he runs but ultimately fails to capture the GOP nomination. "I would choose to believe that doing it and failing, which is maybe even the likely outcome, would somehow [have] advanced things," he said. Aye, verily, this sounds like a guy who's poised to set the world aflame with his confidence! Well, "muddled" he might have remained, but then Haley Barbour dropped out of the race, and suddenly, for some reason political touts started declaiming, "OMGZ! All eyes on Daniels, because the four or five people who were backing Barbour are now up for grabs." (Basically, this had more to do with the fact that Barbour and Daniels were pals, and not likely to compete against one another, than it did for any natural cohesion between the two men's natural constituencies or policy similarities. At Barbour's decision, Daniels stated that he would have backed Haley, if he had chosen to stay in the race.) In other Daniels news, the governor's decision to sign off on a state ban on Planned Parenthood -- which will translate into Indiana losing $4 billion in Federal aid related to medical services for low-income women -- puts Daniels' "social truce" and his hopes to reach out to independent voters to the test. And elsewhere, Daniels is out in support of Paul Ryan's budget voodoo, but, as Jamelle Bouie points out, Daniels' own record as a deficit hawk is somewhat checkered.
Newt Gingrich continues the hard work of doing whatever it is he is doing. Like, for instance, trying to not be such a jerk to Latino voters, while simultaneously trying to avoid alienating the sort of people who want him to be an even bigger jerk to Latino voters. It's a complicated "dance" for Gingrich, but then, there's no one quite as choreographic as the former House Speaker. Speaking of, he's up to the same hot-footing where Paul Ryan's budget plan is concerned -- there Gingrich opposes Ryan's plan to send seniors into the oblivion of vouchers that grow less valuable over time, and aligns himself more with Alice Rivlin and Pete Domenici's ideas on how to reform Medicare. But here's some good news for everyone who's been waiting for Gingrich to finally end his sixteen year period of mulling making a decision to explore the possibilities of maybe running for President. With Barbour quitting the field, the expectation is that he will "make his campaign official as early as next week." As always, don't die waiting around with your breath held. He's not going to escape all of his "entanglements" in time to participate in the May 5 debate, but people are tweeting that he might be close to deciding about how much more mulling about running or not running or semi-running or speed-walking for President. Regardless of what Gingrich decides, he'll still have his career of talking about Catholicism, making documentaries, and yammering about "secularism" on which to fall back.
When we last left Mike Huckabee, he had opened up a Fox News slapfest with Glenn Beck -- a war in which there can be no winners. (Think of how you are dividing the loyaties of world-famous plagiarist Chuck Norris, gentlemen!) Huckabee backers are probably thrilled to see their guy in fighting form with somebody, but still lament Huck's overall inaction where setting up some kind of formal campaign structure is concerned. (He lost a one-time supporter to the Rick Santorum campaign, for Pete's sake!) And yet Huckabee still polls strong! Recent numbers find Huckabee leading the primary field in South Carolina. It's been a trying few months for Huck's supporters, and things seemed to come to a head this week as some wild rumors began to rocket through the internet. First he was definitely not running! Then he was NOT not running! Jon Ward got it sorted out. The rumors of Huckabee's departure from the race were paced by reports that he was "releasing his political operatives in the state to allow them to work for other candidates." It's understandable why people took this as a sign that Huck was going to sit 2012 out. But as Jon reported, the release of these staffers may have been evidence that Huckabee was closer to mounting a race than ever: But the import of what is happening in the Palmetto State, if it is true that Huckabee is setting potential campaign workers free, may be that he is letting them go in order to instead snatch up operatives who were working for Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour until his decision Monday not to run. Scott Reed, a Washington-based consultant who was running Barbour's operation, told HuffPost that he had assembled a national network of 50 operatives spread across five early primary voting states who are all now available and ready to work. And by the next day, that's the direction the story was trending: "It looks like things continue to fall in place," former South Carolina Gov. David M. Beasley told The Huffington Post. "You know, like Haley Barbour getting out -- another southern governor who could take votes." This impact of Barbour's decision to quit matches some earlier campaign drama. At the end of March, Huckabee gushed over Barbour, "If he doesn't run, I would love to have him and his Rolodex be my chairman and develop my strategy should I run. No one I'd rather have on my side." And Barbour was like, "Meh." But who knows? If Mitch Daniels decides not to run, maybe Barbour will lend Huck a hand. Or not! If there was just a little bit more weeping and kissing and flouncing, this would all make a great telenovela.
This week, we had occasion to learn that Jon Huntsman has a lot of money. More than you, probably! But not so much money that he'd have enough to self-fund a campaign for President in the style that Michael Bloomberg or Meg Whitman has made famous. That's actually good news for Huntsman, because self-funders have a high rate of failure. But here's news! We're getting closer to knowing something about what Huntsman plans to do, because today is the day he arrives home from China. According to the Wall Street Journal, Huntsman promises to end our suspense: "His intentions will be clear within a week, aides say -- even though no one in the political operation says he has actually talked to the potential candidate... Huntsman's ambassadorship does not end until midnight Saturday, known as 'the witching hour' to Team Huntsman." WOO, YEAH! And once Team Huntsman finishes its witchcraft, the only thing left to do (besides mount an entire campaign, or not) is to figure out what we're going to call him: Everything about Jon Huntsman lately has labeled him as U.S. Ambassador to China, but when he becomes a private citizen on May 1, he'll shed that title in formal correspondence. His scheduled return stateside this weekend, then, begs the question: "Mr. Huntsman, are we supposed to call you Governor, or Ambassador?" Or should we call him "the Govbassador?" Or "the Ambagoverator?" Or "Doragovabassanor?" Just don't call him late for dinner, as they say, if by "they," you mean, "my father, for some reason."
I think that the 2012 Speculatron continues to be the only media organ anywhere in the world that at least wants to cover the Fred Karger campaign. That's probably great news! I mean, what Republican candidate doesn't want his major source of coverage to come from the guy at the Huffington Post who makes sex jokes about politics, right? Well, that leads us to the oddest news of the week, actually! See, the Karger campaign is trying to fulfill all of the dumb requirements that the South Carolina GOP has thrown in front of them before he can "accept" their invitation. One of the requirements was that he had to hit 1% in five major polls before he was eligible to debate. But national polling had completely ignored his candidacy. What to do? Tout what you can tout, like the St. Anselm College Republicans, and -- what's this? -- why it's the Speculatron Weekly Roundup. That's right readers, you have been playing a role in the grand drama of American political futility for weeks now and didn't even know it! But look, here's some good news: Fox News finally conducted a poll with Karger's name in it and he hit 1% on his very first try! KARGERMENTUM IS THUS ENGAGED. And it's all thanks to you!* *Please note, I've no idea if it's "all thanks to you," but look, why not?
We're pretty much at the point now where there's very little out there that convinces us that Sarah Palin is running for President. This week on This Week, birther pastor Franklin Graham said that Palin "likes speaking on the issues, and I agree with many of the issues she brings up. I don't see her as running for president." Does Franklin Graham have the gift of prophecy? Maybe about this he does! Turns out that Sarah Palin's entire political team "on the ground" in Iowa are a 56-year old lawyer from Menlo Park and a 56-year old "retired potato chip salesman." So, yeah, I'm pretty sure Graham is right! In other Palin news, the makers of the movie GAME CHANGE released a photo of Julianne Moore dressed as Sarah Palin, and I have to say the likeness has been strikingly achieved. Basically, all of this week's Palin news points to a clear winner -- Tina Fey, who probably never has to worry about impersonating her on Saturday Night Live ever again.
Well, that was a fun couple of days. Gary Johnson formally announced and people speculated that he might be a natural fit with the libertarian leanings of the voters who traditionally backed Texas Representative Ron Paul. Then, Monday afternoon came and with it came the announcement that Paul was moving toward the "exploratory committee" stage of his candidacy, and Johnson's prospects halved in an instant. So, what to do? Well, Johnson got some credit this week for having the "Most Pro-Immigrant Position In A Right-Wing Presidential Field." "I happen to think immigration is a good thing," affirmed Republican presidential candidate and former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson. A few years ago, it wouldn't have been news for a Republican candidate for major office to declare such a thing. These days, it's hard to name a single member of the GOP who is willing to campaign on anything but a restrictionist platform of attrition through enforcement, no "amnesty," and "build the dang fence." Johnson, however, would like to find some way to allow undocumented immigrants to legally work in the U.S. and doesn't believe building a border wall is going to solve any of the country's problems.
Pawlenty's story so far is that he's really done a lot of hard work and diligent campaigning, but continues to fall through the giant cracks left by all of the Donald Trump Distraction. Last week, he went on Jon Ralston's show for an interview, and that was a gutsy move, folks. Ralston is a tough interviewer. There were safer havens. It should have rung more bells, indicating that Pawlenty really is operating on a level of seriousness that the rest of the field hasn't yet approached. He'll get another chance to break through next week, at that May 5 debate -- an event where he'll be the only GOP figure there with a right to claim A-list status. Meanwhile, TPaw has been on the attack. Here he is, taking on the White House over our Libya engagement. And here he is, criticizing Obama's energy policy. Oh, and apparently, he says that Minnesota's gigantic budget deficit isn't his fault. I mean, he was just the governor of the state! How much management of the budget was he expected to do? Well, former Minnesota Republican Governor Arne Carlson isn't happy about TPaw's stewardship: Gimmicks replaced the reforms of the Carlson years, Carlson said. Tobacco settlement money was used as a one-time budget-balancing fix. School funding aid was shifted. Federal stimulus money was used. "Under Tim Pawlenty, it became deficit heaven," said Carlson. "All the things we did were undone. Now, what bothers me is you get these holier-than-thou attitudes. Oh, we're all to blame. But that's just not true. There's one person who has the power to insist on a balanced budget. That's the chief executive officer, the governor." But Pawlenty did preside, briefly, over a budget surplus...thanks to federal stimulus money!
After weeks of wondering what Paul was going to run for President, we finally got our answer! It's Ron! Again! Fire up the blimp! Here's a first take from Dave Weigel, who's followed Paul's career closely: This will be Paul's third presidential bid, and his second as a Republican candidate. When I talked to Gary Johnson about his own presidential bid (when was the last time there were two libertarian candidates in a GOP presidential race?), he dismissed the idea that Paul would stop him from getting momentum, and said he'd studied Paul's 2008 campaign to learn how to improve on it. But Paul's done that, too. He ran a fairly low-key campaign in 2008 (the enthusiasm of his crowds besides), hitting the trail far less than the frontrunning candidates. There were multiple reasons for that, and one of them was Paul's reluctance to miss any votes in Congress. Congress, under GOP rule, has a somewhat lighter schedule now. What to expect from the 2012 version of Ron Paul? Basically, the same thing you can expect from every version of Ron Paul: a voice against our various foreign wars, and a voice in favor of launching one against the Federal Reserve. You know how Ben Bernanke gave a speech this week and took questions? Ron Paul wasn't having it, player: "Today's staged press conference will not be enough to stop the growing demand for real Fed transparency, and I hope to build on that grass-roots demand by passing legislation that will result in a true audit of the Fed's activities," Paul said in a statement. "Support from my colleagues was vital in the last Congress in making progress towards Fed transparency, and I hope to build on that support in this Congress," he added. "It is well past time that we begin to rein in the Fed."
Roemer continues to be nowhere and do nothing. He's straight up disappeared! He could resurface next week at that debate in South Carolina, though. If he doesn't show, though, shouldn't we form some search parties or something?
There's no better improv comedy setup in the world than the words "foreign policy" and "Mitt Romney." That became especially apparent this week, when Ol' Mitt decided to write himself an op-ed, for the Manchester Union-Leader, in which he said: Barack Obama is facing a financial emergency on a grander scale. Yet his approach has been to engage in one of the biggest peacetime spending binges in American history. With its failed stimulus package, its grandiose new social programs, its fervor for more taxes and government regulations, and its hostility toward business, the administration has made the debt problem worse, hindered economic recovery and needlessly cost American workers countless jobs. Wait. What? Have we NOT been at war all this time? That's great news! Someone tell all the dead soldiers that they're actually okay! CLASSIC ROMNEY, am I right? Steve Benen quipped: I realize Romney struggles to keep up with current events, but this isn't "peacetime". There are still wars ongoing in Afghanistan and Iraq, and U.S. forces joined coalition partners in an offensive against Libya last month. Sure, foreign policy and national security aren't Romney's strong points -- remember that humiliating op-ed he wrote on nuclear arms policy? -- but as slow as he is on the uptake, I'd like to think he knows what "peacetime " is, and what it isn't. Benen also notes: "Romney 'faced job losses' when he 'took office'? As it turns out, he was governor of Massachusetts for one term, and during that time, his state's record on job creation was "one of the worst in the country.'" LOL, CLASSIC-ER ROMNEY! Naturally, a little while later, Mitt Romney was doing that thing where he walks back whatever it was that guy "Mitt Romney" said earlier in the day/in his career. And that's the CLASSIC-EST ROMNEY OF ALL.
Rick Santorum began the week making a hyperbolic claim that Obamacare would kill his daughter, or something, with death panels. It was rather effortlessly shot down, but it hardly matters: everyone on the GOP side is going to claim that ObamaCare is about MURDER, though they may, for a time, claim that RomneyCare is much the same. Probably the old Reagan admonition about "speaking no ill" of their fellow Republicans will reduce RomneyCare's crimes to MANSLAUGHTER PANELS. Who knows? In addition, Romney charged that the Obama White House wasn't doing enough to "fight militant socialism," though that's basically a thing that you only see at certain food co-ops and occasional rock shows. Maybe there are some really socialist zines that the bike messengers are enjoying during their downtime? It's possible. But probably the White House shouldn't be shooting at this phenomenon, with guns. You know something the Obama White House is shooting with guns right now? The nation of Afghanistan. We're "building" that nation, with ten years of gunfire. Santorum gave a whole big speech on foreign policy -- one of those dealies where a candidate tells reporters he's going to be in a certain place and time, cold jawin' about a topic, and everyone reports, "So-and-so gave A MAJOR SPEECH on foreign policy/the economy/race/birdwatching/jorts" and that's how it's referred to forever after? -- and somehow (don't ask me how!) he managed to not say a single thing about Afghanistan. Santorum said afterwards that he wanted to be "forward looking" and didn't want to be "bogged down," but the whole thing with foreign policy is that we're literally "bogged down" in Afghanistan, forever. (Also, when Santorum says "forward looking," he means "putting sodomites in prison.")
Normally we reserve this space to talk about the challenge that Obama might receive from his left flank. But this week, he apparently lost the support of a group of people even more important to the Democratic party than actual Democrats: hedge-fund managers! As Brody Mullins, Susan Pulliam, and David Eder report for the Wall Street Journal: Hedge-fund managers made a big bet on Barack Obama and other Democrats in 2008. Now, with the 2012 contest gearing up, some prominent fund managers have turned their backs on the party and are actively supporting Republicans. Daniel Loeb, founder of Third Point LLC, was one of the biggest Obama fund-raisers in 2008, rounding up $200,000 for him, according to campaign-finance records. In the decade prior, Mr. Loeb and his wife donated $250,000 to Democrats and less than $10,000 to Republicans. But since Mr. Obama's inauguration, Mr. Loeb has given $468,000 to Republican candidates and the GOP, and just $8,000 to Democrats. Hedge-fund kings have feelings, too, and the president appears to have hurt them. "I am sure, if we are really nice and stay quiet, everything will be alright and the president will become more centrist and that all his tough talk is just words," Mr. Loeb wrote in an email about four months ago expressing frustration with the president's posture toward Wall Street. "I mean, he really loves us and when he beats us, he doesn't mean it." The email, sent to eight friends, was widely circulated on Wall Street. Don't they realize that Obama is a "moderate Republican" now?
Look. We know that you already know what Trump's main contribution to American politics was this week: that time he took credit and pronounced himself "proud of himself" and "honored" that had gotten President Obama to reveal the truth that every American not in need of a tinfoil hat to keep out the cray-cray-rays from outer space was already aware of: he was born in Hawaii. The rest of the week can be broken down thusly. He doesn't think Obama could have made it into an Ivy, even though personal experience should have better informed him. For all his bitching about the Chinese, it turns out he exploits their cheap labor when it suits him. He says he missed out on Vietnam service because of a high draft number; as it turns out, that's not true. The typical shit, you know? So, some say he is running. Some say he isn't. Some polls say he is the frontrunner. Other polls suggest that nobody wants to vote for him to be President. Daily Intel called him a "human centipede." I'm just throwing that in there, because it amuses me. Now apparently he is going to get out on the campaign trail and just curse like the dickens! As Wonkette quipped: "The word 'fuck' probably needs to distance itself from Donald Trump."
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