This week was an important week for American democracy, as the GOP met in South Carolina for a grand debate, in which
all most some a handful of longshots and holographic screensaver of Tim Pawlenty, competed to win the GOP nomination make an impression with voters win the approval of Frank Luntz's focus group.
It was a wondrous occasion. The four Fox News moderators operated at a breakneck pace that ran in inverse proportion to the debate's importance, and there was a constantly dinging bell that kept us all wondering if we had finally come to "Final Jeopardy" at the appointed time when Watson the Computer was to be wheeled out on stage to take on all comers in the category of "Potent Potables."
The clear winner turned out to be Godfathers' Pizza magnate Herman Cain! He bowled over the Luntz focus group, and honestly, it was easy to see why. Cain's got one of the best speaking voices in politics -- a room-filling baritone that seems to escape from Cain's throat as if it were as easy as breathing. And his feel for clever ripostes compared well against the typical candidate blather.
Sure: most of his "plans" for America were to sit down and come up with "plans" -- something many critics found absurd, but I think it's definitely possible to overstate the extent to which politicians present "plans" at debates. And as far as Cain not having a fully-realized strategy for Afghanistan, I'm a little lenient in this regard, because it's not like the Joint Chiefs and the CIA are giving security briefings to dudes who own pizza delivery companies. (Or are they?)
The rest of the field competed for second place, and mostly lost to Rick Santorum. Ron Paul's full-throated supporters hooted and clapped for their man, but it didn't leave much of an impression on the pundits in the post-debate spin room. But so what? While everyone was talking, Paul's supporters were raising insane amounts of campaign cash for their hero. Gary Johnson mostly came off like a libertarian dude who likes to toke up and philosophize.
And the moderators were really adversarial to Tim Pawlenty. At one point they actually played a video clip to embarrass him, and it led to the weird spectacle of Pawlenty giving a cringing apology for what seemed like forever.
That's basically it! Begun these drone wars have! (Also, President Obama whacked some guy over the weekend? Can't remember the details, but everyone was telling me how important it was.) For all the rest of the vital campaign activity of the last seven days, please enter the Speculatron for the week of May 6, 2011.
If everything goes according to Michele Bachmann's divine plans, she will have the only campaign staff personally assembled by God. Take that, Rick Santorum! We're in the process of planning an office decision; we're putting our team together. Ask that the Lord will give us a special anointing on how to put our team together, who those team people will be, that He would bring those people to us. No need to provide a cover letter or resume to the Bachmann campaign. Just show up with stigmata and you're all set for the phone banks! Also this week, there was a mini-boomlet of 2012 hopefuls comparing stuff they don't like, to -- you know -- the Holocaust, no big deal. And that was followed by a mini-boomlet of Anti-Defamation League telling them to knock it off. Bachmann was one of the politicians caught up in this, when she referred to...uhm, taxes, in these terms: "I tell you this story because I think in our day and time, there is no analogy to that horrific action ... But only to say, we are seeing eclipsed in front of our eyes a similar death and a similar taking away. It is this disenfranchisement that I think we have to answer to." Yes, because investing money in the nation is exactly the same thing as being gassed to death and having your gold fillings extracted from your teeth by the Nazis. No difference! In other Bachmann news, it would seem that Michele Bachmann has only a tenuous grasp on much of the policy discussion in Washington. In this case, for example, she seems to have missed the point of federal student loans.
Herman Cain showed up at the South Carolina GOP debate this past Thursday and essentially ran away with the whole thing. Per Sam Stein: Conservative messaging guru Frank Luntz polls crowds after big events for their instantaneous reaction. And in the case of the GOP presidential debate, the results were pretty remarkable (even though the whole thing is entirely unscientific). The crowd of roughly 30 unanimously said that pizza magnate Herman Cain won the debate. Only one of them went into the evening supporting Cain. A clear majority -- citing his "straight talk" on the economy and his capacity to criticize the president -- said they would now support his presidential campaign. "I have never had this kind of reaction until tonight," said Luntz. "Something very special happened this evening." Pretty impressive, especially considering that one of the questions Cain got essentially asked him to justify his presence in the race at all. He took pride in the fact that he'd had no prior political experience, quipping of the many candidates who've come to office boasting of it: "How's that working out for everyone?" (That lack of government experience was helpful when he had to explain why he didn't have a plan for winning the war in Afghanistan, citing the fact that as the CEO of Godfathers Pizza, he wasn't exactly privy to classified intelligence. It was perhaps a mite contradictory when he said that he would defer to "experts" in forming the foundation of his Afghanistan policy.) Nevertheless, an impressive performance has given Cain something on which to build. In other Herman Cain news, the pizza magnate found a brief point of agreement with President Obama over his decision to not release the Osama bin Laden snuff photos: "I think all it would do is to basically fuel a lot of unnecessary discussions and, most importantly, unnecessary distractions."
If the elite pundits of the center-right had their own Tiger Beat magazine, Mitch Daniels would be their Justin Bieber. And it's their fondest hope that the mild-mannered, non-confrontational, milquetoast governor will jump into the race and straight up wow the madding crowds in Iowa and New Hampshire with the force of his ordinariness. This week, he reached a bit beyond that base of support on a trip to DC, where he gave Hendrick Hertzberg, Josh Marshall, and Michael Kinsley some face time. Success! Hertzberg for one, is willing to attest to the fact that Daniels is not some sort of complete lunatic! "Daniels is unobtrusively friendly. He doesn't get defensive or suspicious. He is relaxed, and being around him is relaxing. He doesn't throw off the crackles of craziness -- or weirdness or megalomania or suppressed something (rage, fear, insecurity, resentment) -- that, to a greater (Palin, Bachmann, Gingrich, Trump, Paul) or lesser (Huckabee, Romney) degree, you get from all the rest... To all appearances, his temperament is undoctrinaire even if some of his economic views aren't. When it comes to red meat he seems to be a vegetarian." The Indianapolis Star reports that Daniels is "on the verge of his biggest decision of his life: mayo on the sandwich or on the side whether or not to jump into the 2012 race: Cook and others say Daniels has what it takes to successfully launch a campaign: an enviable political Rolodex that includes contacts from his years working for two presidents, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush; a business background coupled with a laid-back political style that makes him as comfortable in the boardroom as in a diner; and a tight-fisted, reform-oriented record from two terms as governor. Combined, they give Daniels the ability to raise the money he'll need to build a political campaign almost overnight. Of course, in order to win the nomination, Daniels is going to have to impress someone other than David Brooks. To that end, he ditched his "social truce" and announced that he will sign into law "legislation stripping federal funds from Planned Parenthood in Indiana." Once he does, it'll suck to be a poor woman in Indiana, looking to stay healthy: We do around 500 pap tests a week," Indiana Planned Parenthood President Betty Cockrum told TPM in an interview earlier on Friday. "We will be making phone calls to Medicaid patients all over the state and telling them, either you have to pay for that pap test out of pocket, or you need to find someone else who can take you as a Medicaid patient. We can't do it anymore." Almost 60 percent of patients seen at Planned Parenthood in Indiana last year were living under the poverty line. But there's nothing that curries favor with the base more than letting 'em know you hate women.
People! It could finally be happening! Newt Gingrich has had sixteen years to ponder the possibilities of running for President, and undertake a full consideration of the binary dialectic between "shitting" or "getting off the pot." It could be that he will finally make up his mind, perhaps even favoring the former possibility. Per Jim Galloway at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Entry requirements required a declaration of candidacy that Gingrich was not prepared to make, Tyler said. "We decided to stick to our timeline." And what is that timeline? Tyler wouldn't say much, but Gingrich is scheduled to speak to Georgia Republicans at their state meeting on Friday, May 13. "By the time Newt speaks to the Georgia convention, he'll be a candidate," Tyler said. Be prepared to get excited, America! (Maybe.) Elsewhere, the Basilica of St. John in Des Moines, Iowa announced that they were canceling a planned appearance from Gingrich at a religious event honoring the late Pope John Paul II. The reason? They were worried thet Gingrich's presence would make the event too political. Which is weird! This is Newt Gingrich. Did you think his presence would make something more religious?
Looking for signs that the endlessly indecisive Huckabee will finally jump into the presidential race? Uhm, okay! He's going to attend some big GOP to-do, in June. The Republican Leadership Conference? June 16? New Orleans? All the bigs will be there, including Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty. But Huck "got the jump on them." I but Mitt and Tim are really worried about that! But okay, what about the news that Fox News was finally insisting that Huckabee -- who is one of its employees, after all -- make up his mind? Republican operatives familiar with the deliberations at Fox News say that the network has told Huckabee he has until the end of the month to make up his mind about the race or he'll be cut off, just as Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum were when the then-contributors were still in the consideration phase. Oh, frabjous day, calloo, callay! Huckabee has got only a few weeks, then, to decide whether -- oh, wait. What's this? But Huckabee's top aide told POLITICO that the network has imposed no such deadline. "The governor has been clear -- his timeline for a decision is this summer and that has not changed," said HuckPAC executive director Hogan Gidley. "Fox is aware of the governor's timetable and he is aware of his limitations in considering another run." Drat! So close! Outside of the hemming and hawing, Huckabee made news this week after offering the most colorful reaction to the news of Osama bin Laden's death of any of the GOP candidates: "Welcome to Hell," Huckabee said, in the last scene of Sartre's No Exit, I guess? He also beefed with Superman, who will announce in the most recent issue of his comic book series that he will renounce his U.S. citizenship. Huck's not happy about that. Hey, Mike, cheer up! Clark Kent would have to remain American, in order to avoid attraction suspicion, so Superman is still going to technically vote and stuff. (Also: Superman is a fictional character? You should maybe reserve your antipathy for people who actually exist.)
I remain uncertain that 2012 is the year that Jon Huntsman should stake his claim to the Oval Office, but the newly returned former Ambassador to China has wasted no time in getting the machinery in place for such a run. This week he established a new political action committee, H PAC, in accordance with the rules of the FEC. He'll now be able to raise money toward a presidential campaign. It seems likely that Huntsman is going to try to get to the nomination without mounting a robust campaign in the Iowa caucuses. He'll instead count on a good showing in New Hampshire to catapult him onward into primaries in South Carolina and Florida. And having not competed in this week's way-too-early "Tim Pawlenty versus the Also-Rans" debate in South Carolina, he'll be making some stops in the state this weekend to confer with state GOP operatives, chat up Nikki Haley, and speak to graduates of the University of South Carolina. That will help him keep favor, lest anyone perceive his lack of participation in the debate as a snub. Huntsman is also a go for the upcoming Republican Leadership Conference, which will be taking place in Louisiana this June. Hopefully, the other Republican Leaders will not greet him with derisive comments, "Oh, wow, there's Jonny Huntsman, Jimmy Carter's favorite Republican!"
Gary Johnson made his first big televised campaign appearance at the South Carolina GOP debate this week, and in a field of mostly marginal candidates, it looked for all the world that the moderators had decided that Johnson was the most marginal of all. He drew few questions, the ones he did were stupid ones like "What sort of reality teevee show would you have?" (his answer: "I don't think it would be Sarah Palin's show, crawling on her hands and knees in Alaska.") and he was the only person on the stage who complained about receiving second-class treatment. He was probably the most against the War in Afghanistan of anyone on stage, though. Asked about what his timetable for withdrawal, Johnson waxed metaphysical: "I'm not in favor of a timetable. I'm in favor of tomorrow, and I realize that tomorrow may take several months." He was upfront about how he understood that his pro-choice leanings were going to cost him a lot of votes, and didn't try to convince anyone otherwise. Gary Johnson and Bret Baier did have themselves a little one-act play, that could basically be handed to Terence Malick as a treatment, out of which he could make a four-hour movie with six lines of dialogue: Baier: Gary Johnson, you've run thirty marathons. What are you running away from? Johnson: "I've also stood on top of the planet."
Fred Karger didn't end up getting into the debate. Sorry, Speculatron fans! We know you tried! He did happily send me emails, snarking out the proceedings, though! "Looks and sounds like Jeopardy, even down to the bell," he said, of the ever present warning bell that, honestly had some solid ideas about how the country should be run and is now probably polling at 7%. Also: "Santorum just put me to sleep, sorry," and, "Seems like a lot longer than 80 minutes. What's on HBO?" No idea! Tim Pawlenty seemed to think he was on "Game Of Drones," though. Karger did appreciate the "issue diversity" that Gary Johnson and Ron Paul brought to the proceedings just by having their unique libertarian perspective in full flower. He was especially fond of Johnson: "If I can't be up there, glad he is." But enough about the debate! You are all invited to go play Frisbee with Karger, in New Hampshire!
The big news this week is that Sarah Palin has cut her ties with the C-list neocons that had been giving her "foreign policy advice," probably because of their ties to George Soros, who knows? So, instead of being told what to think by Randy Scheunemann and Michael Goldfarb, she'll be having some dude who blogs for Andrew Breitbart writing her material on flashcards, for her to learn phonetically and repeat again and again. I call it a wash. All of this is viewed by charitable people as a more "realist" foreign policy stance, but the most pleasurable effect of the move is that it will piss off Bill Kristol. It also means that she'll now be switching her previously held positions on foreign policy matters to brand new ones, but since she's not going to be able to personally discern the difference, it's hard to have strong feelings about this one way or another. Palin also drew attention when her post-Osama-is-dead statement failed to give President Obama any credit for the operation. This upset the usual earnest, sensitive types who support the President, but honestly, do you really think Obama comes even close to giving a [redacted] about having Sarah Palin's approval? Get "realist." She really, really wants to see those dead Osama bin Laden photos, though! Like, she wants it harder than ANYONE. (It actually concerns me a little!)
I think that Ron Paul's biggest newsmaking moment this week came in the South Carolina debate, when he took on the major issue that defines our time: heroin legalization. Also: legalized prostitution! Both of which Paul defended as "expressions of liberty." Paul got Socratic on stage, defending his position: "If we legalize heroin tomorrow, is everyone is going use heroin? How many people here would use heroin if it were legal?" This question elicited raucous cheers, because yes, South Carolinians definitely need some heroin, really bad. Paul basically stayed true to form: he argued against the legal abuses that were spawned in the Global War On Terror, he came out against waterboarding, and every utterance was greeted with loud cheers from the out-in-force Ron Paul faithful. Oh, and if you were wondering if Paul's base have lost their touch at packing an after-debate snap poll, wonder no more! Paul continues to lay the campaign groundwork, and lay it well. He became the first of the 2012 contenders to open up a campaign office in Iowa, and -- as promised -- pulled off another big "money bomb" right before the debate, netting his campaign a cool $700K. (That will buy you a lot of heroin, in Iowa.)
Tim Pawlenty tries awfully hard out there, trying to garner some respect and attention, and it just hasn't happened yet -- this despite the fact that he's done a lot of things right. This week, he's just hoping that maybe he can get somewhere kissing a little ass. Like, say, entire state of Iowa, did you know how much you all mean, to Tim Pawlenty? "It seems to me that in Iowa, meeting people and retail politics matters," Pawlenty told The Associated Press after a meeting with about 50 activists. "Getting to know them, and them you, matters. Part of the process is showing up and getting acquainted." Pawlenty spent about an hour with the activists in a meeting room at a Pizza Ranch restaurant in Ames, speaking briefly and then taking questions. He planned a similar event Tuesday night in Adel and other events Wednesday in Des Moines suburbs. Tim Pawlenty would like to buy all of you a Coca-Cola, at the Pizza Ranch. Please come meet him? Friend him on Facebook? Beyond that, TPaw's hoping to at least catch the eye of Fox News' Roger Ailes, by going way out of his way to talk up the importance of this terrible debate that Fox News pointlessly decided to hold in May, that attracted nearly none of the important candidates: I hope all of the serious or even potential candidates are going to get in this debate because, look, this is a president who's got his challenges, but he's going to raise a billion dollars; he's a very gifted campaigner and we've got to start taking the case to the American people why he should be fired. Oh, yeah. That debate! Pawlenty ended up getting more than his share of questions, but if you aren't able to remember much of what he said in response, you probably shouldn't feel too bad about it. One moment that TPaw would like to forget himself was when Fox's Chris Wallace really upped the adversarial ante by showing a commercial in which Pawlenty spoke positively about the need to "cap greenshouse gas pollution." Seeing what Wallace was about to do, a pained Pawlenty squalled, "Do we have to?" He was then made to apologize, for what seemed like an eternity. Pawlenty did elicit a positive response from the crowd when he came out on the side of South Carolina in their dispute with the NLRB, but some of that enthusiasm was probably blunted when Pawlenty wouldn't go after unions with claws -- instead he talked about how he was from a family of union meatpackers. (I'm not at all sure what force compelled him to bring that up.)
After being touted as a confirmed participant in this week's debate, Roemer ended up not making it to the stage for the same reason Fred Karger was disallowed: a failure to hit 1 percent in five national polls. It's easy to see how that happened, since Roemer has been a missing man from the 2012 pageant for well over a month. He did, however, resurface this week, in an interview with ThinkProgress' Lee Fang. And when he did, he was making an awful lot of sense on the pernicious ways corporate money and lobbyists have destroyed our system of government. Hooray! FANG: You're running in the Republican primary. And some of the biggest players in the Republican Party are groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the NFIB, these big money, big corporate groups that are the reason the DISCLOSE Act died. They lobbied both Democrats and Republicans to kill the bill in the Senate. ROEMER: It's disastrous, it's dysfunctional, to their shame. You might look at the big unions on the Democratic side. The guys with the bucks want unfettered regulation. They want to run America. [...] The reason the tax code is four thousand pages long and paid no taxes last year and made five billion dollars? It's [campaign] checks. That's whats wrong with the American system. It's not free anymore. It's bought.
The big news in Romneyland is that the architect of his 2008 operation in New Hampshire, Bruce Keough, has decided against signing up for another go-round with Mitt in this campaign cycle. Oddly, the reason Keough cited for his falling out with the putative front-runner was over Romney's tendency to change positions on things depending on which way the political winds are blowing. That's particular quality of Romney's that I had previously thought just about everyone who'd worked with him had accepted as reality, if it wasn't a selling point in and of itself. It's this ever-changing persona that soured Keough on Romney. "I don't think the voters are looking for somebody who's going to be recasting himself," he says. "They want somebody who's been true to a certain set of political ideals for a while." Which isn't to say that Keough completely disagrees with Romney. He tempers his criticism by saying Romney "has been strong at times" and has "a lot of assets as a candidate." Still, Keough adds, Romney "manages to say things that cause people to think, 'Wait a second: I thought I knew him, and now I'm not so sure.'" Wow. So, Bruce Keough was the last person in America to figure out that Romney is a chronic flip-flopper. Well, look, I'm sure that Mitt's not sweating it too much: he remains up -- way up! -- in Granite State polling.
Rick Santorum participated in the South Carolina GOP debate this week, and he fared pretty well -- his strongly stated conservative principles were generally cheered by the debate audience, and in Frank Luntz's post-game focus group, Santorum was the nearly unanimous second choice -- behind breakout star Herman Cain. The debate featured very few shots fired inside the GOP tent, but Santorum's biggest moment came when he violated Reagan's 11th Commandment, and took square aim at Mitch Daniels and his call for a "social truce": I think that anyone that would suggest that we call a truce on the moral issues doesn't understand what America is all about. America is a co-- [applause] America is a country based on this concept, on the Declaration of Independence. That we are endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights. Rights come from God and the first of which is life, the second of which is liberty. Those two concepts really transformed the world because it said government was going to be limited, allow people to be free and to pursue their own dreams, to serve their God and to serve their family and community. That is only possible if we have strong families. And strong marriage is at the root of strong families. And if we have a respect for human life, because of course we are all created equal. And so those founding concepts, what transformed the world in this United States of America was a belief in family, a belief life and the belief in the dignity of every person. If we abandon that, we have given up on America. Hey, Mitch! Rick Santorum says you've done nothing less than "give up on America." You want to jump into the race to respond to that?
This time last week, Donald Trump was crowing about how his birther-blather forced President Barack Obama's hand, precipitating the release of the President's long-form birth certificate. Then, over the weekend, his public stock took a straight up beating. It began at the White House Correspondents' Dinner Saturday night, an event he attended at the pleasure of the Washington Post, who inexplicably invited him as their honored guest. I've no idea why they did this! The Post's Ezra Klein and Dana Milbank, to their enduring credit, were willing to point out what a confounding and ridiculous embarrassment their employer was being with that decision. At any rate, President Obama and Seth Meyers of "Saturday Night Live" lit Trump up with jokes, as C-SPAN's camera stared him down for everyone to enjoy. Word is, he made a hasty exit. That was a personal disappointment to me, because I had managed to get people on Twitter to commit upwards of $2,000 to be awarded to any attendee who was willing to tousle Donald's combover. (Alas, WHCD attendees are dreary, unadventurous people.) The next day, of course, tension was building in the telecast of Trump's Celebrity Apprentice when suddenly the network cut away for news that Osama bin Laden was dead. It probably wasn't intentional, but it was hilarious, all the same. And so, Donald Trump closes out this week with hardly anyone taking him even a little bit seriously. If Trump was hoping to get his hands around some of that sweet, sweet Koch that many of the GOP's finest governors are milking, those hopes were dashed. And across the country, voters more or less refuse to take him serious, even a little bit: A Quinnipiac poll released on Wednesday finds that 58% of registered voters said they would never vote for Trump, compared to only 9% who would enthusiastically vote for him, and 26% who would consider voting for him. This score was the worst out of the whole potential Republican field tested in the poll, beating out the 58% who say they would never vote for Sarah Palin and 15% who would enthusiastically back her, plus 24% who would consider it. In addition, a new Rasmussen poll of likely voters finds that only 15% think Trump is seriously running for president, compared to 61% who think he is just seeking publicity, and 24% who are not sure. In other words, you got sonned, Trump! *drops mic*
Osama bin Laden was killed by several Navy SEALs and a dog, who invaded the terrorist's suburban, Pakistani Military Academy-adjacent, high-walled fortress, put some number of bullets in his face and dumped him in the ocean. That allowed Obama to announce a major Global War On Terror achievement, and spend the rest of Sunday night smoking cigars and listening to the Ohio Players in the Situation Room. But will any of this help Obama, politically? (And should we even set a precedent that one's electoral hopes might be enhanced by killing people? Because that makes me a little uneasy.) Jonathan Bernstein does some reckoning, so go read his whole thing. And after that, check out our own Mark Blumenthal, who figures that whatever bounce Obama receives from the bin Laden news isn't going to last until 2012. For what its worth, the release of the long-form birth certificate seems to have helped with that whole "birtherism" thing, at least for the time being.
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