Thus far, we have been watching the campaign season in its age of innocence. We've enjoyed watching these candidates edge slowly into the race. The fake candidacies of Donald Trump and Sarah Palin gave us all some chuckles. We stood by and watched heartbreak ensue after everyone realized that Mitch Daniels wasn't going to run. And we wondered why anyone scheduled debates so early in the process. But now, it's time for us to dedicate Neil Diamond's "Girl, You'll Be Woman Soon" (or, if you prefer, the beloved Urge Overkill version of the same) to this campaign, because after this weekend, everything changes.
Well, that's what the media will say, anyway. But they sort of have a point. This weekend's Ames Straw Poll will play a hand in reordering the field and resetting the competition, even if we don't quite understand why that should be. At the very least, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty knows he has to do well -- and do well in a way that leads a consensus of political thought-havers to agree -- or he may not last much longer.
The field, for the most part, treated Thursday night's pre-poll debate as a thing that had some high stakes. And Pawlenty, needing to go on the attack against someone, let the simmering feud he'd been having with Michele Bachmann finally boil over. He said she didn't have his record of accomplishment. She said his accomplishments made him look like Barack Obama. He went back at her for serial distortions. She insisted she was a fighter.
And yet, it all looked so small! Especially after Ron Paul and Rick Santorum broke with each other over serious differences in foreign policy philosophy. Their fight was the more riveting, the more substantive. Pawlenty and Bachmann, on the other hand, were locked in a death battle over...a picayune cigarette tax levied against Minnesotans? Was this the epic battle we'd signed up to witness?
On a night where everyone either held serve or lost ground and no big winner could be crowned, Mitt Romney stayed focused on criticizing Obama, the guy he expects to face next summer. Herman Cain said that America needed to get his jokes. Jon Huntsman said his economic plans were coming -- because who knew he'd be asked what his economic plan was on his first debate, at a time where the economy was terrible? Ron Paul got his supporters roaring as reliably as ever. Bachmann continually advocated in favor of the United States defaulting on its debt and the economic calamity that would ensue -- and only Rick Santorum kind of called her on it. Just about everyone had something unkind to say about gay people. Newt Gingrich has something unkind to say about the super Congress and Fox News' "gotcha questions." The audience had unkind things to say about Byron York's question about Bachmann being a "submissive wife."
And it was pretty good television, crisply presented and devoid of the substanceless "this or that" inquiries with which CNN wasted America's time. But one couldn't help but notice the absence of an important figure -- a guy who Fox asked about, despite his absence: Texas Governor Rick Perry.
That's the other way this race is going to change. After this weekend, all signs point to Perry joining us in the Speculatron, because he's fixing to bigfoot all of this week's Iowa festivities and seize the newscycle for himself. Perry's entrance is expected to alter the terrain significantly. We'll know pretty soon whether all of the support that Michele Bachmann has won during these first few weeks of campaigning will stick with her, or drain away in Perry's direction. And down the line, we're going to find out whether Perry can knit up the disparate parts of the GOP base, and -- with perhaps a touch more authenticity -- knock off Mitt.
But the week was not just about the debate, Ames and the coming of Rick Perry. Michele Bachmann was the focus of two big profiles -- but only one drew attention for its reporting. Jon Huntsman touted a huge endorsement that ended up impressing no one. Fred Karger's debate exclusion may have paid off in a different way. Herman Cain got beat up for doing something nice, Newt Gingrich got way into science, Mitt Romney related to "people" in a new way, and Barack Obama may to worry about the guy who was in The Adjustment Bureau. All of this and more is waiting for you, so please feel free to enter the Speculatron for the week of August 12, 2011.
This week, Michele Bachmann was the focal point of two profiles, one of which was a deep and interesting exploration of her political and philosophical underpinnings. The other was from Newsweek. Ryan Lizza, the author of the former, goes into great detail in the New Yorker, introducing us to some of the formative figures in Bachmann's past, including Francis Schaeffer -- who maintained that "Christians, and Christians alone, are Biblically mandated to occupy all secular institutions until Christ returns." -- and Robert E. Lee biographer J. Steven Wilkins, from whom Bachmann draws her conclusion that slavery in the pre-war South was some sort of mutually beneficial cuddle-puddle between plantation owners and their human chattel that's terribly misunderstood and not a bad thing at all. Of the latter, Alex Pareene sums it up the best when he calls it an "incredibly, incredibly generic Bachmann piece ... (the entire thing, summed up: Michele Bachmann is doing well in Iowa but sometimes she says funny things and her critics say she is extreme) with the crazy-eyes photo" on the cover of the magazine. And indeed, it was the cover photo -- which presented a cross-eyed Bachmann staring into space -- that drove most of the conversation regarding the Newsweek piece. Tina Brown disingenuously defended the photo at length, saying it captured Bachmann's intensity. We do not believe Tina Brown when she says this, and we wish she'd just said, "Yes, we wanted a photo that made her look like a nutter." But leaving that aside, a question: Is that sound editorial strategy, to write a whole cover story and then make a choice that all but ensures that no one will actually be talking about the story itself? Bachmann was defended by the National Organization For Women -- points for consistency without regard to political party, and shamed at length by Jon Stewart. In the world where reporters aren't relying on sexist tropes just to demonstrate that Michele Bachmann may not be ideally suited to be Chief Executive, we have our own Sam Stein and Jason Cherkis: Few candidates in the Republican presidential primary field have decried the federal government with as much gusto as Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.). The three-term congresswoman has belittled the stimulus package, deemed the Obama administration both corrupt and "gangster," and lamented the "orgy" of spending she sees happening in Washington. The contempt has served her well, helping her craft the type of fiscally conservative, anti-government message that has catapulted her into frontrunner status for the Iowa Caucus and, more immediately, Saturday's crucial Ames Straw Poll. But it's simply not supported by the Minnesota Republican's actual record. A Freedom of Information Act request filed by The Huffington Post with three separate federal agencies reveals that on at least 16 separate occasions, Bachmann petitioned the federal government for direct financial help or aid. A large chunk of those requests were for funds set aside through President Obama's stimulus program, which Bachmann once labeled "fantasy economics." Bachmann made two more of those requests to the Environmental Protection Agency, an institution that she has suggested she would eliminate if she were in the White House. And speaking of fantasy economics, we'll remind you that Bachmann has not wavered in her belief that what should have happened in the debt ceiling negotiations was that the ceiling should not have been raised, the country should have defaulted, beneficiaries of Social Security and our military abroad should have not been paid, and the global economy should have been put through the calamity that would have resulted had we torched the full faith and credit of the United States. That is Bachmann's position on the matter, and she will not stop touting it, despite the inherent anti-logic. What's more is that she's campaigning against Obama on the grounds that he's solely to blame for the S&P downgrade, which came about because S&P was shocked to see Washington was indulging in the debt ceiling kabuki in the first place. At the very least, a credit downgrade would have been among the milder effects of Bachmann getting her own way on the matter. And yet, she's still favored to win the Ames Straw Poll. What a world!
Previously, in the Herman Cain campaign train, the Godfathers Pizza mogul made a heartfelt apology to American Muslims. In this week's episode, conservatives of all stripes jump up and down on his head for it. Here's TPM's Evan McMorris-Santoro, who says that while Cain has 'been lauded by some supporters," it nevertheless "seems clear that, in aggregate, the new more tolerant Cain has not gone over well.": Over at the conservative network PajamasMedia, blogger Ryan Mauro raised the specter of the Muslim Brotherhood -- which he wrote is connected with the Northern Virgina mosque [known as the ADAMS Center] whose staff and imam Cain met with. The mosque is actually quite popular with government officials, having hosted Deputy National Security Adviser Denis McDonough in March. But as far as Mauro sees it, the place is a hotbed of sharia encroachment. "If Herman Cain wants to be the darling of the anti-Islamist voters in the Republican primary, he has shot himself in the foot," he wrote. Frank Gaffney, perhaps the best-known sharia-phobe out there, also questioned Cain's commitment to the cause after the Republican set foot in ADAMS. "It's one of those things, it's a very problematic departure from what I think had been a generally sensible... I don't agree everything he has said and some of the positions he has taken, but I think generally speaking he's been forthright in raising a concern that I think is warranted," he told a reporter from ThinkProgress in Denver. "And if in fact he's now changed his position in ways that are being reported, that's even more troubling than if he was spending time with Muslim Brothers." McMorris-Santoro also reports that Cain got beat up on his Facebook wall for daring to suggest that Muslim Americans were, on balance, pretty decent and patriotic people. Of course, things looked good mid-week, when we learned that Mike Huckabee would be playing bass guitar at Cain's Ames Straw Poll tent, but we later found out that Huck would be jamming with at least two other candidates, so it wasn't that special.
So, in terms of the question, "Which 2012 candidate will be the first to complain about Fox News and their 'gotcha' questions?" how many of you had "Newt Gingrich, former Fox News employee" as you answer? I'd bet not many! Yes, this whole "Newt Gingrich campaign" continues to amble along into an uncertain future. What's he done to distinguish himself this week? Well, he's way, way into science now, and is calling for a "massive investment in medical research not unlike former President John F. Kennedy's race to the moon." That's pretty interesting on many levels, the first being that the GOP base is fairly science-averse, the second being that if President Barack Obama called for a similar investment, Gingrich would likely decry it as "big government" or "deficit spending" or "Kenyan anti-imperialism" or something. (This is because if Obama were to make a similar pitch, he would not likely tie it to the repeal of the Dodd-Frank bill, which provides what itty-bitty baby teeth the Federal Government has in bringing some degree of regulation to the financial sector, whose shenanigans nearly destroyed the U.S. economy back in 2008. Gingrich is also hopping mad at the possibility that the United Nations might choose, at some point in the future, to recognize a Palestinian state, an offense for which Gingrich's sentence would be to eliminate all funding for the United Nations. That's a pretty radical shift in position for Newt, who in 2004 co-chaired a study group that proposed "a smart, balanced approach that did away with 1990s vintage threats of withholding UN funding in exchange for USA-mandated reforms." Defunding the U.N. is maybe a big idea that Gingrich got from one of his fake Twitter followers. Speaking of, could some of those fake Twitter followers step up and lend the Gingrich campaign a hand? Because they are woefully, pitifully understaffed.
Jon Huntsman! He did some stuff this week. Like, say, occasionally answer questions at the debate Thursday night. Hmmm. Can all of his responses be tied to some easily packaged idea or theme? Oh, hey, thanks Liz Mair, on Twitter: "So, I'm not 100% sure, but I THINK Huntsman is proud of his background/record and is running on it." Also, he is handsome. And then it was, "Peace out, Iowa!" Yes, Huntsman is on the ballot for the Ames Straw Poll, but I don't think that anyone is under any illusion that he expects to do well. Huntsman has tied his hopes to New Hampshire and its independent voters. And they will have to be independent, because he continues to take positions that won't dovetail well with the rabid part of the GOP base. This week's nod to becoming the best-liked GOP contender among liberals was his hard line against corporate tax dodging: "It's criminal that you've got some corporations not paying taxes ... Like GE, for instance. That's got to come to an end." Well, he'll eke out some points for hitting at GE, run by President Barack Obama's Guy Who Is Supposed To Create Jobs And Promote Competition Whilst Outsourcing Work Which Seems Paradoxical Or At The Very Least Deeply Idiotic Jeffrey Immelt. But "criminal?" That won't sit well with the base. But Huntsman's big news of this week was the announcement of an amazing endorsement he was picking up. Huntsman won the backing of a member of the Bush family! Of course, you're probably thinking, "Well, which one, this could go in many different directions." So, we give you the next clue: "Jeb." And now you're saying, "Well, that's okay, he's an up-and-comer, and a guy that a lot of the GOP elite want to run for the White House themselves, so that comes with some cred--" And we stop you right there, and give you the last clue: "Junior." As in "Jeb Bush, Jr." And now you hate us, because we wasted your time. Time you'll never get back. The Miami Herald got veteral GOP pollster Tony Fabrizio to blow a hot load of "meh" all over the Huntsman campaign: "Jon Huntsman has a LONG way to go to win in FL nevertheless nationwide," Tony Fabrizio, a Republican pollster who worked on Bob Dole's 1996 presidential campaign and Gov. Rick Scott's campaign as well, said in an email. "His campaign apparatus appears ready to implode and his strategy is eerily reminiscent of Giuliani's from 2008 -- and we all know how well that worked out for Rudy. The polling data shows Huntsman stuck in the national and state-specific polling. That means endorsements aren't likely to change Huntsman's trajectory, only a radical campaign makeover will. And John Weaver, the campaign guru who was at the center of last week's "Huntsman in disarray" storyline, gets dinged as well: "This is vintage John Weaver. He goes for the treasury, misspends money and inevitably there's a staff shakeup...If Jon Huntsman is smart, he'll get rid of Weaver before he goes broke." Friends of Huntsman say he won't jettison Weaver, whom he stands by, because he thinks the consultant is key to winning in New Hampshire. One former McCain staffer said it sounds like Huntsman is under the same spell as the Arizona senator once was when it came to Weaver, who stokes inter-office rivalries and a climate of fear. "He brainwashes people. He convinces them they can't win without him. But they can," the staffer said. At least Weaver has brainwashed Huntsman into attacking Mitt Romney constantly, which is a strategy that more of these back-of-the-pack dwellers should consider maybe trying.
Gary Johnson, who as the former governor of New Mexico has some experience dealing with border issues, says that there's one phrase that Mexican drug cartels "fear the most" -- "U.S. Legalizes Marijuana." Right, right, you say. Ol' Gary Johnson and his weed. But the more salient part of Johnson's effort is to draw some distinctions between immigration policy and the issue of border violence, two matters that Johnson feels have become hopelessly enmeshed. He made his case in a Washington Times op-ed: First, inflamed by politicians who have chosen to use illegal immigration as the ultimate wedge issue, far too many people see a connection between a lack of so-called border security and border violence. Let us be clear: The border war is not an immigration problem - illegal or otherwise - and even if it were, fences and troops would not solve it. If anything, the crackdown measures of recent years, while doing little or nothing to address illegal immigration, have had the unintended consequence of upping the ante for the cartels trying to move drugs across that same border, resulting in greater crime and violence. Immigration is a different issue - and one that must be addressed not with fences, but with a system for legal entry and temporary work visas that works. Real border security is knowing who is coming here and why. Border violence, on the other hand, is a prohibition problem. Just as we did for Al Capone and his murderous colleagues 90 years ago, our drug laws have created the battlefield on which tens of thousands are dying. By doggedly hanging onto marijuana laws that make criminals out of our children while our leaders proudly consume wine at state dinners, we have created an illegal marketplace with such mind-boggling profits that no enforcement measures will ever overcome the motivation, resources and determination of the cartels. One thing Johnson points out: Legalizing marijuana will not "put the criminal cartels out of business." And Mike Riggs, over at Reason, offers this critique: "The other problem is that while weed may provide up to 60 percent of their revenues, the cartels also make and sell meth, and coordinate and protect shipments of cocaine coming from South America. Within Mexico, the cartels are engaged in many of the forms of organized crime that plagued the U.S. long after alcohol prohibition was repealed. To say that they'd lose interest in the U.S. if we legalized marijuana is, I think, to severely underestimate their flexibility and interest." In any event, Johnson did not have much of a chance to make his case to Iowa voters -- he wasn't invited to debate the field in Iowa ahead of the Ames Straw Poll. Johnson will be skipping that affair as well: Instead of joining the festivities in Ames, the dedicated outdoor sportsman will be "spending Saturday competing in a 100 mile-long mountain bike race in Leadville, Colorado."
Fred Karger ended last week believing that he had made his best case yet for inclusion in this week's debate, with a Harris Interactive Poll giving him a 2 percent score he needed to notch the all important 1-percent-average-in-five-polls qualifier. But Fox News basically came back with the news that the polls weren't good enough -- they were too "online" for Fox's taste. Karger vigorously defended his position in a response he shared with his campaign mailing list, pointing out numerous occasions where Fox had cited the sort of polls that Karger was citing as good enough with which to make news. Ultimately, however, Karger found himself in a familiar position: on the outside, looking in. But the interesting thing is that waging a more public war for entry into the debates may help to move the needle in Karger's direction anyway, because the end result of the effort was that he got more media attention than ever before. This week, Karger scored a lengthy profile in the Los Angeles Times, and an even longer one in Gawker -- which took up his debate cause. As its author, Brandon K. Thorp, relates: I spoke with Karger last night, and he sounded agitated. This is not his usual state. Previously, I'd met him at a bar -- one full of gay liberal union members -- and despite the bluish glow of his surroundings, Karger was perfectly at ease. Not in that greasy, back-slapping political way that makes sane people feel dirty. He was just a friendly, extroverted dude in a suit and hair gel who wanted to make friends and talk shop. But Fox's behavior has gotten to him. And not only because it's unfair. Fox didn't come up with the no-online-polls rule until after Karger had fulfilled the other requirements. As he sees it, the Grand Old Party needs him at this debate. "I want to be in this debate because my centrist views aren't represented in that hall," he says. "The other candidates are very far to the right. The American people aren't." Of course, just about every underdog/everyman candidate thinks he represents a great, marginalized majority of the American public. But with Karger, it might actually be true. The L.A. Times piece resonated as well. Politico made mention, and drilled down specifically on Karger's "history of tension with the Mormon Church" -- their opposition to marriage equality in California, and his larger beef with Mitt Romney, of whom Karger often says could end the Mormon Church's campaign against same-sex marriage just by picking up the phone. Politico and the Des Moines Register also made note of his exclusion from the debates, and what he was going to do to reach voters. Karger tells Dave Weigel that he's hoping for a modest showing in the Ames Straw Poll, where attendees may write-in the names of candidates if they like: "I want to come in twelfth," he said. "Wait -- how many candidates are there? Twelve? Well, then, better than. I think we're going to work on getting some write-in votes, and I want to beat McCotter." From there, Karger's hope is to make it into a debate at some point down the road. But whatever anger or agitation he feels toward Fox News for keeping him off the stage Thursday night doesn't extend to the debate moderators themselves. Would he have preferred to have been up there with the other candidates? Oh, yes. But he told us that nevertheless, it was a "lively evening thanks to good tough questions from the panel."
Thaddeus McCotter can now, at the very least, claim the distinction of beating the endlessly-talked-about Tim Pawlenty in a single poll. The poll happens to be in McCotter's home state of Michigan. And it's just Tim Pawlenty we're talking about. But baby steps, people. And so, McCotter is off to Iowa, diverting his campaign away from the New Hampshire stand in which he'd previously been engaged. There, McCotter will take place in the Ames Straw Poll, a privilege for which he paid a handsome sum -- only Ron Paul put down a higher bid at the poll's "land auction" back in June. He'll hope to make his best case before the faithful who'll be thronging the grounds. And with any luck, he'll reach them just as deeply as he might have, had he been allowed to participate in Thursday night's debate. McCotter was the only person on the Straw Poll ballot who was excluded from that televised appearance. McCotter will not be the GOP candidate to take up the mantle of Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels and call for a "social truce" between fiscal and social conservatives. Instead, he's on the Santorum-lite path, aligning himself with the National Organization for Marriage/Susan B. Anthony List/Family Research Council "Values Bus Tour," and telling people on the campaign trail, "We understand that we can only have a prosperous economy if we have a virtuous citizenry." And on the economic front, McCotter is calling for a rethinking of bank reform in order to get capital flowing to investors and entrepeneurs again: He also wants to fix the economy. McCotter said restructuring of major Wall Street "bailout" banks is key. "Unless the failed Wall Street "bailout" banks are forced to restructure and are forced to recapitalize, so credit can flow to the entrepreneurs, innovators, and workers to grow our economy, we're going to remain in a period of stagnation," he said. Meanwhile, McCotter is keeping his own campaign frugal, with Diet Mountain Dew apparently providing most of the "liquidity." (He could use about $15,000 though!)
Ron Paul's energetic defenses of his foreign policy positions at Thursday's debate were a product of his low-key, stay in the background efforts in the days leading up to the appearance. He's largely been conducting his campaign very quietly and away from both the media kliegs and the inter-party tensions between various warring candidates. It seems pretty clear that Paul would rather win an Ames Straw Poll than a newscycle. Though after last night's enthusiastic contretemps with rival Rick Santorum, he could end up with a sizable portion of the latter. Still, the most telling moment of Paul's week was when he made mention of the fact that much of the country had shifted in his direction and grown more inclined to treat the Federal Reserve with skepticism. That's the theory he's testing in Iowa, and his Ames Straw Poll performance may lend some insight into how successful he's likely to be. And whether he likes it or not, expectations are already being set. Representative Steve King (R-Iowa), for example, figures that Paul doing well is all-but-guaranteed: "The Ron Paul network here is stronger than I think the media has reported," King observes. "He's been working in thes tate a long time. He has a core of loyal followers. If there is no expectation that Ron Paul will do well in the straw poll, that'll be a surprise." Regardless of what happens in the Straw Poll, Paul will forge ahead in the process, buoyed by a devoted following who not only show up to roar their approval at debates, but form the backbone of an always-electric grassroots fundraising machine. Of course, in one of those "Ron Paul Goes Establishment" moments, it hasn't escaped our attention that Paul has got himself a Super PAC of his own, with which supporters are buying "$6,000 worth of billboards and print ads ahead of the Ames straw poll."
This quote, from ABC News, says it all: "My campaign is not a shooting star campaign," Pawlenty said, adding later: "I'm not doing this to get a cable TV show or some sort of gig down the road. I'm doing it because the country's in trouble, and we need real leadership to solve the real problems and that's what I offer." Truer words were never spoken. No, Pawlenty's not been any sort of star, shooting or otherwise, during this campaign. And we mean that in both the worst and best possible way. Pawlenty's never shined, never soared, never attracted the attention of the earthbound and inspired them to gaze heavenward. But he's never just hung there in the air and watched the worlds orbit him. Pawlenty has worked hard, tried hard, perhaps too hard. It's not working out. And now, he's literally got one shot left in Ames to justify his candidacy. This seems crazy, I know. But after giving himself completely to the people of Iowa, and all of the frenzied expectations management, Pawlenty is about to stand on the biggest stage of his life. You better believe that he never imagined that moment would come in August of 2011. And there's no way that he ever contemplated saying, "If we do really bad, we'll have to reassess" about the Iowa Straw Poll. Dave Weigel urges us to not "write off TPaw." We can't tell you we find his reasoning to be that convincing, but, okay: glimmer of hope. But we might be better off: As Matt Yglesias points out, Pawlenty just seems out of his depth, talking about the economy and -- oy -- U.S./China trade relations.
We guess that Buddy Roemer -- who is everyone's favorite anti-corporate money/anti-lobbyist candidate (because he's the only candidate who opposes those things) -- decided to take the week off. We're sure he's up to something. But there's no new news on his campaign website, or anywhere else, it seems. Roemer isn't on the Ames Straw Poll ballot, and he was excluded from this week's debate as well. And sadly, the important Iowa Corn Kernel Poll doesn't appear to have gone his way, either.
Somebody call Jarvis Cocker, because corporations are people, according to Mitt Romney. And we at the Speculatron want to live like common corporations! We want to do whatever common corporations do. We want to sleep with common corporations. We want to sleep with the common corporations, like the ones that Mitt Romney's friends keep setting up, that live for a few months time and funnel campaign cash to him. And who wouldn't want to live like common corporations! If they are actually people, then they are the people whose "profits hit an all-time high at the end of 2010." Did your profits hit an all-time high in 2010? Well, that's because you are a "person" that is just a "person." You probably watch your life slide out of view, and then dance and drink and screw, because there's nothing else to do. And then you lose your job and your home. Remember how slaves were once counted as 3/5ths of a person? Well, you should think of corporations as "people" who count as 7/5ths of a person. We really hope you can get in on some of this Mitt Romney action! (And never forget that this whole "Corporations are people, my friend" came in the context of Romney defending raising the retirement age for Social Security, so that he could give "people" -- you know, *WINK-WINK* "people" -- some tax breaks. In other news, were you planning on maybe saying that Mitt Romney is "weird?" You know, because you come HARD, and "weird" is the biggest daisy-cutting truth bomb in your political-rhetoric arsenal? Well, earlier this week, the Obama campaign -- or people who passed for the Obama campaign well enough to fool Politico -- were all, "Yeah, man! That guy Romney is weird. Weirdie McWeird, you know? Straight up unusual. YOU SEE WHERE WE ARE RIDING WITH THIS, POLITICO?" And, lo, Politico saw where they were riding with this, and so they wrote a whole story about how the Obama campaign was going to tell people that Mitt Romney was weird, and suddenly, everyone at the Romney campaign clutched their pearls and fell prone onto their fainting couches! A hue and cry followed, because who ever heard of a political campaign referring to their opponent with a mildly critical term, in America. And so it came to pass that David Axelrod decided that anyone calling Mitt Romney "weird" would be fired. (The Romney campaign, on the other hand, will go on their merry way, calling Obama "weird" to their heart's content.) And I guess that's why you should never ever tell Politico your political strategy, the end!
Rick Santorum really went all out, expanding on his intense antipathy for gay people and why he wants to personally make their lives as unhappy as possible. It has something to do with the fact that water is not beer and napkins are not paper towels and how tea is not a basketball. OR SOMETHING. It got really confusing for a while, and then he said that being gay is like being incestuous, but we were like, "No, no, see, now you're the one comparing basketballs to tea. But there's no helping this guy, he just really, really dislikes the gays. What does Santorum like? Well, he really likes the idea of the GOP nominating a Roman Catholic. And guess who happens to be one, you know? Santorum would totally be that guy, if you wanted. Does anyone want that? Oh, and he's also way into earmarks. He also really hates caribou, for making it so that America can't have health insurance. Yes, yes, I know: this campaign makes less sense with every passing week.
The whole "PRIMARY OBAMA" meme got briefly out of control this week when Michael Moore went on the teevee and said, "Whatever, let's run Matt Damon against Barack Obama," and we were like, "LOL, WUT?" Look, it's no knock on Matt Damon, a fine actor and citizen -- one of our favorites. But the impetus behind Moore's enthusiasm appears to have been some low-key support of progressive causes and his famous response to some out-of-her-depths interviewer on teacher pay. Now, Matt Damon, he showed he has some game, we don't deny it. But does the Democratic Party not have, you know, a whole mess of people who are capable of defending public education, and who have, perhaps made that the primary focus of their education and career? Because if that's the case, and you just have to have a primary opponent for Obama, get one of those people! And if the best you can do is Matt Damon, maybe your political party has some deeper problems you need to address. But, who cares, because here's the sitch: Democratic voters aren't into the idea of giving the incumbent President a primary challenge. Let's kick it over to Dan Amira: According to a new Pew poll (PDF), only 32 percent of Democrats and Democratically aligned independents "would like to see" another Democrat challenge Obama. Even after a pretty awful year, that's down from 38 percent in November 2010. And while 32 percent is nothing to sneeze at -- Why would you even sneeze at a number to begin with? That doesn't even make sense. -- it's a vast improvement over Bill Clinton's intra-party support at a similar point in his first term, when 66 percent of Democrats/Democratically inclined independents backed a primary challenge. Clinton, of course, went on to demolish Bob Dole in 1996, with the help of 84 percent of Democratic voters. Of course, it helped Clinton immensely that the nation wasn't going through a massive economic downturn. If there's a candidate out there who can eat GOP filibusters and poop jobs, let 'em run against Obama! At any rate, even as it gets more and more certain that there'll be no primary opponent in the offing, it gets closer and closer to the time that Obama needs to start focusing on the electoral map. Ronald Brownstein at National Journal says that there are challenges ahead: Newly released state-by-state approval numbers for President Obama suggest that in 2012 he could face fewer options for assembling an Electoral College majority and increased pressure to capture racially diverse states. As a result, Colorado, Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida, among others, appear to be evolving into critical battlegrounds on the campaign map. The polling results, released earlier this week by Gallup, underscore both the stability of each party's Electoral College base and the shifting roster of swing states that could decide the 2012 contest. In all, the compilation shows that Obama's approval rating exceeds his disapproval rating in states with 301 Electoral College votes -- well down from his 365 total in 2008, but still enough to win. That total, however, includes North Carolina, where Obama's approval and disapproval ratings are virtually even, and Georgia, where Republicans remain skeptical that he can seriously compete, despite signals from his reelection campaign that it intends to. If those two are removed from the list, the states in which Obama's approval number exceeds his disapproval rating provide exactly 270 Electoral College votes, the bare majority needed to win. This is not all that important at the moment, because a lot will depend upon what nominee Obama draws from the GOP primary process. But it's not going to be any kind of cakewalk. (Because the economy, lo, it is wrecked!)
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