This week, seven GOP candidates went to New Hampshire to face off in a televised debate on CNN. And by the time all was said and done, those seven candidates had sent a message, with one clear voice. And that message was: "Hey, you know, it would be totally cool with all of us if Mitt Romney just won this thing!"
Okay, okay, don't get us wrong: the candidates also seemed to be very aggrieved with this President Barack Obama fellow. But the amazing thing was that the anticipated "tear Mitt Romney a new one" debate didn't happen. And that's in spite of the fact that two of the candidates -- Rick Santorum and especially Tim Pawlenty -- had, along the way to New Hampshire, offered serious criticism of Romney, his lack of authenticity, and most of all, his whole "giving birth to Obamacare" thing. That was his biggest vulnerability -- well, that and Romney's acknowledgement of perfectly mundane facts on climate change. But no one went on the attack during the debate.
John King set up a direct confrontation between Pawlenty and Romney, and instead of standing by the term he coined -- "Obamneycare" -- Pawlenty went limp, and for the second debate in a row, he went on a prolonged groveling jag. His campaign spokesman would later "blame the media," but it wasn't until TPaw was safely away from Mitt's presence that he took to Twitter to resume mildly rebuking Romney. So pathetic. I mean, even Anthony Weiner showed more sack on Twitter. (Literally.)
Why did no one take the opportunity to take a shot at Romney, save for a small dose of snark from Ron Paul on Afghanistan? Maybe the 11th Commandment was in effect. Maybe everyone had mutually agreed that this one occasion would be about attacking the White House. Maybe Mitt Romney's such a commanding presence that it clouds the mind. Who knows? But now Romney's front-runner status is firmer than ever. He owns the term "electable," and he's well on his way to owning the term "inevitable."
This is not to say that other candidates failed to make gains. Bachmann's initial public offering beat expectations. Herman Cain's upward trajectory remains intact. And outside the debating hall, you have the Tea Party, who strongly dislike Romney and have cash ready to spend on sabotaging his campaign. And there remains a strong dissatifaction with the field as a whole -- as well as a strong desire for a new entrant. Maybe Rick Perry. Maybe Rudy Giuliani. Maybe Sarah Palin. (Probably not George Pataki, though.)
It's hard to say that the failure to go at the front-runner was anything other than a missed opportunity. And let's recall that in 2008, the guy who most relished every single opportunity to attack Mitt Romney was the guy who ended up winning the nomination. (Hmmm. Maybe Mitt Romney should attack himself!)
But the debate was only the beginning of another week in the 2012 campaign season. Progressive activists are openly discussing "breaking up" with Barack Obama. (How will they divvy up their Common CDs?) Sarah Palin had herself a good laugh at all us journalists who spent their Friday leafing through her old emails, but she faces a new betrayal that she might not find to be so funny. Jon Huntsman's pending announcement is being previewed with another inscrutable art project and a story in Esquire. Gary Johnson's making his case in the pages of Rolling Stone. And you'll never guess what Saturday Night Live character Tim Pawlenty is starting to resemble. To learn all there is to know about this week on the trail, please feel free to enter the 2012 Speculatron for the week of June 17, 2011.
Lord knows that Michele Bachmann has a history of saying things that are dotty and fringe. But while you'd never mistake her for an intellectual, she's not to be underestimated because she's canny and cunning and has learned to work this game called politics like a pro. Don't believe me? Check her fundraising records. So, in her debut on the Presidential debate circuit, she very quickly came up with a way to matter -- she made her public announcement that she was running for president. Forget the fact that her very presence implied that this was the case. By taking that step, she ensured that the first big news of the night would be made by her. The rest of the time, she was disciplined and assertive. And while she gets compared to Sarah Palin as often as there are sunrises, they are worlds apart on the debate stage. Bachmann doesn't toss word salad like Sarah from Alaska. When she starts a sentence, she usually knows where she's going. After the debate, she was quickly declared a success. Here's Kevin Drum, who's no Bachmann acolyte: Bachmann, alone of the candidates, occasionally gave genuinely interesting replies that drew on specific knowledge she has from her service in Congress. Her replies were clear, easily understandable, and she avoided sounding crazy. In fact, she often seemed like the best briefed candidate on the stage. Dana Milbank adds on, saying that Bachmann "stole the show," and has, so far, "emerged as the anti-Romney from the otherwise drab field." For my part, I'm inclined to agree -- with the caveat that Romney was the clear "winner" and Rick Santorum was often the better debater, by a hair. Yeah, sure, she said she'd defund the EPA because their regulatory work was a burden on the ability of polluters to give people jobs, but that's not a position that's going to dismay Republican voters, who are generally pretty happy with pollution. Now, in this instance, Bachmann was probably the beneficiary of the soft bigotry of everyone else's low expectations. The next time she takes the stage at an event like this, people may expect more. But she accomplished her mission Monday night. By the time the next day rolled around, Bachmann was the hottest thing going. And in the wake of her performance, she ascended to second place in the Rasmussen poll. So there's ample reason to sort of take her seriously. Her campaign manager, Ed Rollins, has pledged that her every utterance will be "100 percent fact-checked," which we take to mean that there's an enormous effort underway to keep Bachmann from saying the sorts of batty things that we've all come to know and love. The other takeaway is that the candidate herself is ready to put on a very disciplined performance. Bachmann also holds a key advantage pointed out by Christopher Rants -- the support of Representative Steve King (R-Iowa): "Nobody fires up a room of caucus-Republicans like King." On the other hand, Bachmann is still the "gay-curing theocrat" who says she was once held hostage by lesbian nuns in a bathroom. So ... you know. Anyway, Bachmann has a memoir on the way, which could sort a lot of this out.
My feeling on Cain's debate performance was that he probably will maintain the ground he's gained. Will he advance? Possibly. His performance was really no different in New Hampshire than it was in South Carolina. But with Mitt Romney clearly comfortable atop the food chain and Michele Bachmann both taking up new space in the mix and capably exploiting her moment so that she left the debate as its breakout star, there just didn't seem to be as much opportunity for Cain to impress. But man, did he offer up some lulus. Cain has been tripping up constantly on the issue of whether or not he'd be willing to appoint Muslims to his cabinet. It's pretty clear that the answer is "no." It's also clear that the people who'd be willing to vote for Herman Cain are basically the sorts of voters who would exclude Muslims from their constitutional right to practice their religion, so there are limitations to voicing concerns about it. But basically, Cain would want Muslims to take some sort of loyalty oath -- and in the debate, he revealed it's because he can't separate the ones who are peaceful and the ones that are trying to kill him. (Here's a hint: Only the peaceful ones aspire to be a part of Herman Cain's cabinet.) Cain got some cover on this when Newt Gingrich went full-on McCarthyist in answering the same question. The Consititution of the United States strictly bans religious litmus tests, but that's probably not in the version that the Tea Party is selectively reading. Cain is also very worried about Sharia law becoming the law of the land. This is, of course, the product of basic ignorance as to how the American legal system works -- which is something that only Mitt Romney seemed to understand. (Cain is also not too terribly clear on the 14th Amendment. If he carries around one of those pocket Constitutions, it's obviously just for show.) We did penetrate the mystery of Cain's pizza preferences, however! In any event, Cain's doing his best to fit in with the GOP establishment, and this week offered as stern a defense as any you'll see about supply-side economic claptrap: "Keep in mind, whether it be the Bush tax cuts, the Reagan tax cuts, or other tax cuts, they always produce an increase in revenue. There's no dispute about that." Awww, Herman Cain wuvs the tax fairy! (He also, puzzlingly, believes that if we start drilling for oil everywhere, Iran will take a look at us and ... I guess, get so depressed, that they'll stop trying to manufacture nuclear weapons. Which is weird, to say the least. But what does any of that matter now that Cain has secured the endorsement of Alabama viral-video star Dale Peterson?
Somehow, Newt Gingrich managed to skate through his first debate appearance without anyone asking about that time he went on a cruise for two weeks and then came home to find himself totally abandoned by everyone who had been working on his campaign. That's now what his entire candidacy is best known for -- well, that and his whole prolonged period of getting beat up for calling Paul Ryan's budget plan "right-wing social engineering." He's basically the walking dead, now, compared to just about everyone in the field, so discussing his debate performance in terms of highlights is now almost beside the point. But, okay: highlights! Let's see. Well, he loves McCarthyism! And he believes that getting rid of unions is the key to fixing the unemployment crisis, and, what can I say? His logic isn't very logical: In fact, a side-by-side comparison shows that 10 of the 22 right-to-work states had unemployment rates above the national average in April. Of the other 28 states and the District of Columbia, only nine had unemployment rates that exceeded the national average. Moreover, eight of the 17 states with statistically significant employment growth from March to April were states without right-to-work to laws. The total number of jobs added in those states was 131,700 compared to only 108,400 jobs added in the nine right-to-work states with statistically significant job growth during that time. He's also still insisting that somehow he was "taken out of context" when he called the Ryan Plan "right-wing social engineering. But for the real debate highlight, you need to take your game to outer space. "If you take all the money we've spent at NASA since we've landed at the moon and you applied that money to incentives for the private sector, we would today probably have a permanent station on the moon, three or four permanent stations in space, a new generation of lift vehicles," Gingrich said. And, no, I have no idea why a private sector company would find operating a moonbase to be a profitable vehicle for corporate shareholders. But according to Gingrich, NASA has been the problem here. You know, NASA, one of the few organizations on Earth that's successfully left it. Oh well, maybe Gingrich should just smile some more, and the whole world will smile, too! (After they, too, quit his campaign en masse). The thing is, there's just no reason for anyone associated with Newt Gingrich to smile: once again, he's suffered a major collapse in post-debate polls -- even among Republicans, he is deeply unpopular. Nevertheless, Gingrich is unbowed. The only person that he regrets losing in the exodus of disgruntled staffers seems to be Rick Tyler -- though I imagine that's less regret and more like shock that Rick Tyler didn't understand that this was just a campaign to move the sort of Gingrich-branded merchandise that Tyler's been helping move for quite awhile. Gingrich says that he feels "liberated" now that everyone's quit on him, which is a pretty optimistic take on being left high-and-dry, but whatever! If he's angry about anything, it's the way his "back-stabbing" ex-supporters did a lot of Callista-bashing on the way to the exits, and he says he still has big plans: "This is going to be a philosophical campaign. This is going to shock the news media. This is going to be longer than 9 second soundbites," he said Thursday. His tax policy changes alone, he claimed, would create 25 million new jobs and generate $800 billion a year in new government revenue. Also: You will all have new homes on the moon! (No Medicare though.)
We here at the Speculatron don't know if we can convince any of you to support the Jon Huntsman campaign for President, but at the very least, we hope you can support a campaign to get the Jon Huntsman campaign for President entered into the Whitney Biennial or something. The former Utah Governor/U.S. Ambassador to China's existential art project rolls on this week, with postmodernist ad-man Fred Davis cutting a new, bizarre video spot teasing Huntsman's forthcoming announcement that features Evel Knievel riding his dirt bike through Monument Valley. Because: Nature, dude! Huntsman is set to make that forthcoming announcement, by the way, this coming Tuesday in New Jersey's Liberty State Park, with the Statue of Liberty in the background, just like Ronald Reagan once did. At least that's how the Huntsman team hopes it will happen: at the moment, the candidate-to-be is feeling under the weather, so much so that he'll be skipping this weekend's Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans. Huntsman also missed out on this week's Granite State debate, which is odd considering the fact that he'll need to make a strong showing in the New Hampshire primaries -- real talk: he'll have to win that sucker outright, actually -- to have even a slim shot at taking home the nomination. We still maintain that the GOP base in 2012 is seriously not inclined to support a moderate. And if Huntsman's chief strategist, John Weaver, is a reflection of the candidate's mind on the matter, then it's clear that Huntsman just doesn't give a #%$!. Weaver, in an Esquire interview rolling out the campaign, said, ""There's a simple reason our party is nowhere near being a national governing party...No one wants to be around a bunch of cranks." Does that explain why Huntsman skipped out on the debate? Ha, probably. Still it was a pity that he didn't show, because elsewhere in that interview, Weaver does something none of the other candidate did this past Monday night: squeeze off shots at the front-running Mitt Romney, with some stray fire aimed at Tim Pawlenty, the other guy competing with Huntsman as the "reasonable" GOP candidate: Weaver sees Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts and the presumed front-runner, as a man afraid to take a stand -- or, more accurately, as a man unafraid of taking every stand. "What version are we on now?" Weaver said. "Mitt 5.0? 6.0?" And in former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, another leading candidate, Weaver sees what he considers the worst tendencies of his party -- pandering to the G.O.P.'s hard-right margins at the risk of falling out of serious presidential contention. "Tim's a nice guy," Weaver said, "and there's nothing worse than seeing a nice guy pretend that he's angry. Is that really what we want to be? Is that how we're going to define ourselves? When's the last time an angry man ever solved a problem without using a gun?" Huntsman himself continues to stand by some policies that run against the tide of the 2012 GOP base. He continues to stand in support of civil unions, and organizations dedicated to bringing LGBT-rights into the GOP are starting to flirt with support. He's also out as a dove-ish type on Afghanistan. In that same Esquire interview, Huntsman says: ""If you can't define a winning exit strategy for the American people, where we somehow come out ahead, then we're wasting our money, and we're wasting our strategic resources... Should we stay and play traffic cop? I don't think that serves our strategic interests." However, Huntsman picked up a new vulnerability this week, and it hits right at the nexus of the unemployment crisis and fears over Chinese economic gains. Per Jon McCormick: An early 1970s photo in a Huntsman Corp. (HUN) annual report shows a smiling young Jon Huntsman Jr. holding a dozen eggs in polystyrene packaging, an innovation that helped make a fortune for the family business. The chemical company and Huntsman name would later help the family scion win Utah's governorship, make him a multimillionaire and position him for White House appointments, including as President Barack Obama's ambassador to China. The company also is fodder for opponents as Huntsman prepares to formally announce his Republican presidential bid next week. Huntsman Corp.'s revenue in China surged 57 percent from 2009 to 2010 during his ambassadorship, almost two decades after its entrance there, data compiled by Bloomberg shows. Its expansion in the world's second-largest economy offers a target for rivals when U.S. unemployment is shaping the 2012 presidential race. "China has become a bigger and bigger issue in recent elections, especially exporting jobs to China," said John Feehery, a Republican strategist in Washington who isn't working with any of the presidential campaigns. "If I were an opposition researcher, I would have a field day with this."
Gary Johnson spent the past week living with the indignity of being shut out of CNN's debate. Despite the fact that he's an accomplished office-holder -- the two-term Governor of New Mexico -- CNN wouldn't let him appear onstage because of his low showing in the polls. The polling requirement has worked to the detriment of other candidates as well -- Buddy Roemer and Fred Karger come to mind. But even when Karger was left out of the first debate in South Carolina, he was favorably inclined toward Johnson's presence, telling The Huffington Post that he was "glad that Johnson was up there." Johnson gave his lamentations in a wide-ranging interview in Rolling Stone magazine: What happened Monday night? Why weren't you on stage? I got screwed. Running for president, I never envisioned not being a part of the debate. A former two-term governor of New Mexico... Did CNN offer any explanation? That I didn't meet the two-percent threshold [in the polls]. We argued that until we were blue in our faces. But the best revenge is to be successful, and that's the course that I intend to pursue. There's a lot to set Johnson apart from the field, and it comes out in that interview, so go read the whole thing. As a taste, here's Johnson's take on the War On Drugs: I'm opposed to drug war A through Z. Half - half! - of what we spend on law enforcement, the courts, and the prisons, is drug-related. And to what end? We have the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world. "America, land of liberty and freedom?" You know, that's baloney. More than 2 million Americans are behind bars now. Communist China has four times the population and they have 1.5 million people behind bars. Elsewhere, MSNBC First Read reports that Johnson is part of a "growing Republican split emerging on foreign policy, especially on Afghanistan." In New Orleans, at the Republican Leadership Conference, Johnson came out against that war as well, telling attendees: "Let's get out of Iraq and Afghanistan tomorrow." Johnson's fans continue to show up and lend their support, both for his candidacy and against the shabby treatment he received at the hands of CNN. Perhaps their support signals better days ahead for the aggrieved candidate. In the meantime, Johnson might want to consider not being a participant in his own humiliation, by not doing things like agreeing to debate an Obama impersonator on uber-crank John Stossel's teevee show.
Fightin' Fred Karger continues to do what he can to get some attention for his campaign. And this week, he took aim at the candidate that is his bete noire, Mitt Romney, by filing papers seeking to determine whether Romney committed voter fraud in Massachusetts when he cast his vote for Senator Scott Brown. Mother Jones has the story: In his complaint, Karger lays out a chronology of Romney's real estate moves since his failed presidential bid in 2008. According to Karger's timetable, Romney and his wife, Ann, bought a $12.5 million home in La Jolla, California, in May 2008. ("I wanted to be where I could hear the waves," Romney told the AP of his move to the West Coast.) Thereafter, Romney became a regular at California political events, even campaigning for Meg Whitman during her gubernatorial bid. A year later, in April 2009, the Romneys sold their home in Belmont, Massachusetts, for $3.5 million, and registered to vote from an address in the basement of an 8,000 square-foot Belmont manse owned by their son Tagg. But where the Romneys really lived these past couple of years seems to be a bit of a mystery. While Romney was appearing at so many California political events people were speculating he was going to run for office there, the National Journal reported in May 2009 that the Romneys had made their primary residence a $10 million estate in New Hampshire. The discrepancies in the news coverage prompted Karger to take a closer look, in part because he found it dubious that a guy worth $500 million would really be living in his son's basement. Investigating this mystery was right up Karger's alley. He spent 30 years working for one of California's preeminent GOP consulting firms, doing opposition research for candidates, as well as the tobacco industry, so he has plenty of experience digging up dirt on political adversaries. It's not entirely clear this effort will lead to much. Belmont Patch talked to the Belmont town clerk, who said that 'Romney is not only a registered voter and resident of the town since 1972, he actually has been one of the town's most active voters since 1976." Karger's not just taking aim at Romney, however. In his most recent ad, he criticizes the oil industry and ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, accusing Big Oil of hurting America economically while raking in record profits and promising reform. Karger was, once again, shut out of the GOP debate. But once again, he was willing to share his thoughts on the matter with The Huffington Post. Karger, who's is primarily known for being the first openly gay man to run for the White House, was especially despondent watching the assembled candidates discuss marriage equality. He told HuffPost: "Gay marriage. Wish I was on there! Wish I was on that stage to continue to fight bigotry within my party. It's really turning into a right-wingathon."
Read any good massive caches of utterly quotidian emails between a Governor and the people who primarily support that Governor? Because I have, and I got to tell you something, the one thing I know for sure will never happen in our lifetime is the occurence of the phrase: "For their exhaustive work documenting Sarah Palin's emails, here is the 2012 Pulitzer Prize." Unless they're giving Pulitzer Prizes away for pointless busy work. One of the more key findings was that the writing in her emails was at an eighth-grade level -- but before you start mocking, you should know that when it comes to email writing, that's actually pretty good -- "an excellent score for a chief executive." Mike Huckabee said, "You almost have to feel sorry for all the reporters and leftwing bloggers who spent the weekend slogging through 24,000 pages of Sarah Palin's old emails from her years as Alaska governor." Thanks for the support, Huck! That's fine talk from someone whose own gubernatorial records have been destroyed, but, I'll give it you: that's a pretty good burn. The folks at Crasstalk said it better, however: Here's an idea, boys: don't cover her. You'll see how fast she manages to hand out where she'll be next and what she'll saying when she's not getting any attention. I wish we - as a profession - paid this much attention to explaining health care reform, or the NATO situation, or the debt ceiling, or the budget, or the economy. Just because it's Sarah Palin, doesn't mean it's news. That's the way I'm looking at the whole experience: as a dry run sort of exercise for a document dump of greater importance. And for what it's worth, I actually thought the emails provided some interesting insight into those first forty-eight hours after Palin was named the Vice Presidential candidate -- the shock that the politerati felt at the choice was mirrored by her own colleagues and supporters. Email-mania aside, Palin more or less faded back into the distance after the winding down of her gaudy "Griftin' Around America Tour," and she went back to not at all resembling a Presidential candidate. However, one guy who absolutely thinks she's going to run for President is one of her most famed sycophants -- but the twist is, he's decided to be the next in line to betray her. Per John Cook: John Ziegler, a talk-radio host and filmmaker whose zeal in defending Sarah Palin's every move and utterance over the past two years zoomed past advocacy and into creepiness has now done what all stalkers do eventually: He's decided if he can't have her, no one can. [...] Well now he's decided she can't be president and has written a lengthy tell-all-ish (tell some?) story in the Daily Caller arguing that she's going to destroy the Republican Party if she runs--which, he says, she will--and is surrounded by yes-men. He's also launched a site called "The Sarah Palin I Know" as a future vehicle for damaging information about her. Ziegler is the second high-profile denizen of Palinland to defect: Earlier this year long-time aide Frank Bailey wrote a tell-all based on thousands of e-mails with Palin that he'd kept. Nevertheless, non-candidate Palin continues to remain in second place in most GOP primary polls.
Ron Paul's debate appearance in New Hampshire probably did more to keep his fervent fanbase excited than it did move the needle for his candidacy. Yes, all of Paul's trademarked consistency on policy matters was there. He still cuts a contrast to the rest of the field. He still very admirably refuses to pander. But Paul looked adrift in the debate's semi-free-for-all format. With candidates like Rick Santorum quickly jumping into dead air to seize more opportunities to answer questions, and Romney presiding over the room as the front-runner with leonine calm, Paul struggled to get a word in edgewise and create a presence for himself that might resonate with anyone other than the people with whom he's long resonated. This is not to say he didn't have his moments. And this time, none of them involved emulating a heroin addict. Paul came the closest of anyone to firing a shot at Mitt Romney when after a paragraph of Romneyian equivocation over what he'd do in Afghanistan, Paul came back with this: I served five years in the military. I've had a little experience. I've spent a little time over in the Pakistan/Afghanistan area, as well as Iran. But I wouldn't wait for my generals. I'm the commander in chief. I make the decisions. I tell the generals what to do. I'd bring them home as quickly as possible. And I would get them out of Iraq as well. And I wouldn't start a war in Libya. I'd quit bombing Yemen. And I'd quit bombing Pakistan. Paul did have a major head-scratcher of a moment, however, during the conversation on Tim Pawlenty's economic plan, which assumes that a thing called "sustained 5% growth" is possible when, in fact, it's never been achieved. Paul insisted that 5% was too low a goal for an economic plan, and insisting that the free market could deliver 10-15% growth if you let it. Paul also took some time to throw some cold water on the suddenly renewed interest in Texas Governor Rick Perry as a presidential nominee, painting Perry as an establishment figure. (At the moment, Texans are more favorably inclined to supprt Paul than they are Perry.)
Once upon a time, Pawlenty's problem was that he was boring and plain. As Arizona Representative Ben Quayle joked, "Actually, Tim Pawlenty could win the general election and serve two consecutive terms before anyone noticed." This week, Ally Millar provided the internet with the best "evocative rendering" of TPaw that I've ever seen. But after a second debate performance, it seems you have to add a new descriptor: he's a wimp. On Fox News Sunday, Pawlenty did what he must do to win -- attempt to tear down Mitt Romney. To that end, he coined the term "Obamneycare" to describe the lack of distinction between Romney's health care reform -- that the GOP loved in 2008! -- and Obama's Affordable Care Act, which is a de rigeur object of derision for GOP candidates in 2012. Then, Pawlenty got the chance to bring his criticism to the debate and lay it right at Romney's feet, and he opted to do the thing that will ensure his candidacy's failure: he chickened out. Even with John King essentially asking if it wouldn't be too inconvenient for his other testicle to drop, seeing as Romney was standing right there, Pawlenty refused to stand by his own words, and with a mealy mouth, he claimed over and over again that he was actually saying something else. It truly was a sight to behold. Salon's Steve Kornacki said, "The world's most boring candidate never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity." Mike Huckabee offered some advice: "Walk into the hall with your heart," that is, sack up, and lose the consultants: "I saw this with Romney four years ago and I am seeing it with Pawlenty now. Overcoached. Overconsulted. Get rid of them." Huckabee may have a point: it was the Pawlenty campaign that suggested before the debate that their candidate was going to "pull his punches" with Romney, which is just an extraordinary thing to say and/or do after you've finally made some news going aggressive. And it was Pawlenty aide Nick Ayers who rather lamely blamed Pawlenty's woes on CNN for asking the question in the first place. Ohh, jeez! Sorry, Nick, you know, it was only the most interesting thing your candidate had going for him! By all means, have another round of this-or-that questions. Say, how about "toasted white bread or toasted whole wheat bread?" You think your guy can take a firm stance on that? Compounding the absurdity of TPaw's decision is that yesterday, on Twitter -- where he could say what he wanted, I guess, without having to physically confront Romney -- Pawlenty started bashing his rival again. A guy that just shrinks from the alpha dog in scaredy-cat shame? Wow, we think we know who Pawlenty is, now: he reminds us of Andy Samberg's Saturday Night Live character "Shy Ronnie." Why did we think you could do this, Tim? Well, maybe Pawlenty's ambitions are running more in the direction of the Vice Presidential nomination, as Jonathan Capeheart suggests. Well, maybe. But he's still doing running-for-President-y things, like proposing a tax plan that's like the Bush give-to-the-rich slush-scheme on creatine, and telling reporters that even though he's all for the debt-ceiling hostage taking that's going on today, as President, he'd expect the debt-ceiling to be raised without complaint, should he ask. (Though it seems that any tough talk from Pawlenty can be defeated by just standing in front of him and suggesting that you disagree.) The good news, I guess, is that even if Pawlenty's the "fold like a cheap suit" candidate, he still looks great covered in glitter!
The last we heard from Buddy Roemer was that he was going to make some kind of announcement in June, and now, ten more days of June have passed without him saying or doing anything. So, okay, even we are starting to think that this candidacy might not end up being a worthwhile venture at all.
If you were wondering what it would take, in our lives, for Mitt Romney to walk into a room as a milquetoast candidate and then leave the room looking like LL Cool J, we now know the necessary ingredients: Tim Pawlenty, Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, Tim Pawlenty, Ron Paul, Herman Cain, Tim Pawlenty, Newt Gingrich, Tim Pawlenty, and CNN's John King asking him if he preferred "Spicy or mild?" Romney answered "spicy," and I do not believe him for a minute, but for one night in America, at least, Mitt Romney got to walk like a panther. Our own Jon Ward's got the hook-up: Mitt Romney waltzed off the stage after his first presidential primary debate here Monday night with the huge red and white target on his back completely untouched. The former Massachusetts governor entered the seven-person debate having extended his lead in the polls over the last week, and he did nothing during the two-hour quiz show to impede that trend. The fact that the six other candidates didn't lay a paw on him helped. The defining moment came 25 minutes in, when former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty was asked about his criticism just 24 hours earlier of Romney's health care law in Massachusetts. Pawlenty had called it ObamneyCare on "Fox News Sunday," but when asked to expand on that criticism, he scrambled for cover. As Jon reports, "That set the tone for the night, and Romney knew it." And folks, he pretty much just coasted, with the one moment of eyebrow raising coming when he offered a statement on Afghanistan that started spicy and ended mild (and briefly confused the Taliban with the Afghan government, but that was really of secondary importance). Romney very magnanimously praised TPaw for his economic plan, showing the audience that he was unruffled and above the fray, and very systematically mounted attacks on the Obama administration, confidently predicting he'd prevail in the primary by saying, "I can't wait to debate him." In the immediate wake of the debate, Romney could bask knowing that everything was trending in his direction. His "Bumps In The Road" ad was a top-notch attack ad and the talk of the media. He came into the debate as the frontrunner and only cemented that status after the fact. And it seems more and more likely that he's going to take a pass on testing his brand in the madding crowds of the Iowa caucus. But the Manchester Union-Leader detected a little bit of smug over-confidence in Romney, and tried to prick his balloon by reminding him that he "won a debate, not an election." As Romney went strolling on his Granite State meet-and-greets, his awkwardness, weird jokes, and off-putting conversational style reminded me of the candidate I once called "Dunder Mifflin Infinity." This behavior reached an apotheosis in Tampa, where Romney undid a lot of the goodwill he'd earned highlighting the plight of the unemployed in his "Bumps" ad by glibly trivializing the matter. "I should tell my story," Romney said. "I'm also unemployed." No, no, Mittens! Your story is that you were born into a political family and have lived a life of intense privilege, and don't actually need to have a job. But all of that is maybe the least of Romney's problems, because the most important obstacle he faces at the moment is that the Tea Party hates his guts, and they're telling people that he's not that different from Obama.
Even if you've never said a kind word about former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, I think you have to give the man credit for one heck of a debate performance this past Monday night. Santorum was cool, composed, and answered questions with pugilistic vigor. When CNN's John King tossed up a jump ball, Santorum always managed to get his paw on it first. He filled the dead-air, spoke with swelling pride about his beliefs, and mounted his attacks on the current administration confidently. If there was a flaw in his performance, it was only that he, too, shrunk from hitting Mitt Romney, despite having gone at him aggressively in many instances before they squared off. But with Pawlenty getting his grovel on, it hardly mattered. The bottom line: Santorum debated like a champ. And yet, he's still stuck at 6% in the Rasmussen post-debate poll, and that's the one that's most likely to give him some favorable numbers. That's not much of a reward for sticking and moving all over the New Hampshire stage. I think that we're basically close to reaching an inevitable conclusion about Rick Santorum. Conservatives like him. They like his politics. They cheer his opinions. They'll lend a hand in helping Santorum overcome his "Google problem." They think he's a great guy! Even his gay friends say so, apparently. But very few are all that interested in Santorum becoming President.
President Barack Obama's troubles with the progressive wing of his party are legion, but so far, no one's stepped forward to take him on in an actual primary. (Obama has a fake primary opponent in the form of wild-eyed anti-abortion performance artist Randall Terry, but I'll trust that no one is confusing him for a candidate attacking Obama from his leftward flank.) Nevertheless, at this week's Netroots Nation conference in Minneapolis, the divisions between progressive and the White House are in pretty stark relief. Still, Obama has sent an emissary in the form of White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer. How did their encounter go? Here's Amanda Terkel: Pfeiffer tried to address the White House's occasional frustration with its critics on the left -- who, Gray was quick to point out, are also the President's supporters -- conceding that the administration has not always responded appropriately. "When Glenn Beck and John Boehner and Mitt Romney attack us, we expect that," said Pfeiffer. "Sometimes, when our friends attack us, we get frustrated. It doesn't mean it's the right thing to do to get frustrated. We want you to push us. We absolutely do. The President comes from a tradition of grassroots organizing, community organizing. A lot of the pushing that you guys are doing on a national level, he did on a local level in Chicago." "Every once in awhile, when you're tired, you're out there and you're swinging away, you think you're doing the right thing under tough circumstances -- and the people who you care about most, attacking you, sometimes you get frustrated. It doesn't mean it's the right thing to do," he added. Terkel goes on to report that there were "audible grunts of dissatisfaction from the audience on the topic of LGBT rights and the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, as Gray asked when openly gay soldiers will finally stop being kicked out of the military," and that Pfeiffer was "pressed" on marriage equality. But if the encounter Terkel describes suggests that it went down more-or-less diplomatically, there's nevertheless a deep vein of dissatisfaction to be found at the liberal confab. For more on that, here's Elise Foley: President Barack Obama is decidedly "not [the left's] boyfriend anymore," progressive supporters of gay- and immigrant-rights said on Thursday, rebuking the White House for breaking promises to the left while also asking them for money. The message to those in the room for "What to Do When the President is Just Not that Into You," a Netroots Nation panel, was be more demanding, don't take no for an answer and compromises aren't good enough. [...] The four panelists -- [Don't Ask Don't Tell activist Lt. Dan] Choi, immigration reform supporter Felipe Matos, America Blog writer John Aravosis and Fire Dog Lake Founder Jane Hamsher -- said they are planning to hold the White House's collective feet to the fire for its decisions on civil rights, whether it would hurt Obama's reelection chances or not. "I would probably vote for the president in the end, but I'd also do everything that I can to shame him," said Aravosis, who writes about gay rights issues. I wouldn't expect any of these people to go around casting Mitt Romney protest votes in November of 2012. And the consequences of their dissatisfaction are famously seen as minimal, as poll after poll shows that rank-and-file Democratic voters support the President's re-election in large numbers. But the impact this division could have is that the people who brought a lot of energy to Obama's 2008 campaign, and who currently fuel such movements as the recall of anti-union state legislators in Wisconsin, will apply their energies to other races and election year causes. Lots can happen to alter this dynamic. Obama could, as New York State wrestles with the issue, finally fully "evolve" and support marriage equality. Daily Intel's Chris Rozvar notes that Obama will attend a "a high-priced fund-raiser for LGBT leaders" in New York next week, and hints that it would be an opportune time for him to complete his evolution. Obama could also choose to seat Elizabeth Warren at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in a recess appointment, which would go a long way in mitigating the bad feelings that have arisen as he's courted Wall Street donations. For the moment, it seems that progressives are borrowing a line from the late, great Washington Social Club: "Let's call it the break up, and go from there."
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