This week, the 2012 campaign took a trip to Simi Valley, California, where the Reagan Library played host to another of the 382 debates that are scheduled between now and All Saints Day. How did it go? Basically it went like this:
MODERATORS: Hey, Mitt Romney! What do you think about this Rick Perry fellow? My, he is shiny, and Texan!
ROMNEY: I have some qualities of my own that actually distinguish me as the better candidate.
MODERATORS: Oh, ho! Rick Perry, you're not going to just sit there and take it, are you? You are Texan after all, and are supposed to have 'swagger.'
PERRY: Well, you know. I also have some qualities that I think distinguish me as the better candidate.
MODERATORS: You don't say?
PERRY: No. I did say.
OTHER CANDIDATES: Hey, are you going to ask any of us any questions?
MODERATORS: Sorry! We forgot about all you other guys! So, other guys, what do you think of Mitt Romney and/or Rick Perry?
OTHER CANDIDATES: Seriously? I mean, we came all the way here to participate in this.
MODERATORS: Sure, sure. But we established yesterday that this was the narrative. That today would be about Rick Perry and Mitt Romney? Many of us actually predicted that this is what would happen today.
OTHER CANDIDATES: We're just saying.
MODERATORS: Did we mention that Rick Perry has presided over the executions of hundreds of people?
[WILD APPLAUSE FROM THE AUDIENCE]
That was the general thrust of the evening, anyway. But when all was said and done, members of the media got what they came for -- commotion, contention, and talk of last night's troublemakers and dealbreakers. Mitt Romney's campaign team left the library certain they'd found Perry's Achilles Heel: Perry's stance on social security, which he called a "Ponzi scheme" and a "monstrous lie." And the post-game chatter reflected a consensus mindset -- Romney was the winner, because he was more "presidential" or "adult" or "electable." Did Perry really do himself in, though, given the state of the GOP base today?
Maybe not. But he definitely did himself in with Ron Paul supporters. Paul came to the debate having taken a shot at Perry's party bona fides. The Perry camp had answered by questioning Paul's own fealty to the Reagan legacy. Normally, you'd expect that to be the extent to one of these internecine contretemps, but the tension spilled over at the debate, and when the television cameras were off, photographers captured the confrontation on film. The resulting images angered the Paulites -- it all but ensured that they'd add cash to Paul's coffers. (Paul's own statements that night, however, which included the contention that a Mexican border fence could be used to fence in Americans, all but ensured that Paul wouldn't be adding too many new supporters to his ranks.)
Through it all, Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann were practically forgotten -- by the moderators and their opponent Jon Huntsman, who, having bought his way back into the media's graces by calling his opponents' "cranks," shrunk from making that charge to their faces. Newt Gingrich, as he had at the Fox debate, objected to the moderators' attempts to get the candidates to enunciate the differences between them. Like the Fox moderators, the MSNBC moderators recognized that this was a debate, not a campfire sing-a-long, and went on to demonstrate that zero was the number of craps they gave about Gingrich's criticism. (Their very next question was directed to Herman Cain, who answered by discerning the difference between himself and Romney, so the Cain Train wasn't docking at Gingrich's "let's all agree to get along" station.)
By the end of the week, Romney and Perry were cemented as frontrunners, and the other candidates were cemented as afterthoughts. And we have to say ... September 2011 is a strange time for the media to picking winners in a primary contest that's only now getting underway. Gary Johnson, a candidate who was excluded from the debate, best articulated this in a statement he proferred from exile: “If Republicans and Independents were looking for new ideas and decisive plans in the debate, they were disappointed. That’s what happens when the media decides, six months before the first ballots are cast, who should be allowed on the stage...There is much to debate in this country today, and within the Republican party. But we didn’t see or hear a debate tonight. We saw business-as-usual wrapped in a bunch of different packages.”
Johnson has a point. For the rest of this week of campaign trail sturm und drang, please feel free to enter the Speculatron for the week of September 9, 2011.
It seems that Michele Bachmann has become all but forgotten since winning the Ames Straw Poll, despite the fact that for at least one weekend, we were told that there was nothing in America more important than a few thousand Iowans tromping around Iowa State University, eating fried cholesterol and cold straw pollin' themselves to death. Since then, we've been locked in Perry-Romney-palooza, and Bachmann has become an afterthought, her presence barely recognized at this week's debate. But while the media's tendency to pick winners and baste themselves into an obsession over the next big storyline has played a role in Bachmann's decline, her campaign's had some internal troubles, too. Earlier this week, Ed Rollins, the campaign vet, the guy expected to impose some strict message discipline on a candidate often bound for left field, stepped down from his day-to-day role with the campaign into an advisory position. Rollins cited health concerns, but one can't help but recall that he once expressed some hope that Rick Perry would "stay in Texas" and opt out of the presidential run that polling wonks predicted -- accurately, it seems -- would cut dramatically into Bachmann's support. Rollins' deputy, David Polyansky, also took his leave of the campaign, and so far as anyone knows, is a hale and healthy fellow, save for a case of the Sudden Onset Perry Campaign Oh Noes! Rollins is being replaced at the top by campaign strategist Keith Nahigian. Why did Rollins take his leave? It's possible that he thinks Perry's entrance into the race really does doom Bachmann's bid. It's also possible that with Bachmann showing no signs of refraining from saying batty things about God sending messages via hurricanes, the job of keeping her reasonable-sounding is a hopeless task. As 1115.org points out, "the replacing of top aides has been a defining characteristic of the bottom tier of GOP primary candidates," and has been seen in many campaigns already, including those of Jon Huntsman and, most notably, Newt Gingrich. But Paul Waldman points out that with Rollins, you get a guy who's not known for sticking things out: Rollins is made out to be one of the savants of Republican operatives (his decision to work for Bachmann helped boost her from the fringe to the crème of the crop candidates), but he has a checkered past with few actual successes. Rollins struck it big by managing Ronald Reagan's 1984 reelection campaign that won 49 of the 50 states. Yet after that, his candidates went nowhere. He advised Jack Kemp's 1988 campaign that failed to win any primaries, resigned just two months into helming Ross Perot's 1992, and led Mike Huckabee's 2008 campaign that went little further than winning the Iowa Caucuses. He goes on to note that Bachmann is well-known for staff turnover. And many of her old staffers are of the opinion that she shouldn't be president! So what's Bachmann to do? Stay in the spotlight as best she can, which is part of the reason that she did another one of her rebuttal speech sessions last night (she is apparently against anyone becoming employed as long as there is an "Obama administration"). She can also take on the frontrunners -- so far she's opted to battle Mitt Romney, but not Rick Perry ... for now. And with no Ed Rollins to corral her, Bachmann is free to let her Bachmann flag fly! So she's speaking out against many of the things she hates, like the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Supreme Court, whose legal rulings haven't always met her standards. Some good news: she's apparently no longer in favor of slashing benefits for America's veterans, probably because someone told her that they tend to vote in elections. We also learn this week that the people behind the "Dump Michele Bachmann" blog have planned to release an anti-Bachmann book of their own, titled "The Madness of Michele Bachmann: A Broad-minded Survey of a Small-Minded Candidate," near the November release of Bachmann's own campaign tome. Of course, by November, who knows? Maybe neither book will be necessary. Save some trees maybe!
We don't know what to tell you about Herman Cain other than the fact that he participated in a debate this week, during which time he demonstrated the fact that he was not Rick Perry or Mitt Romney (that is, not one of the people in whom the debate moderators took much of an interest). He was not photographed threatening Ron Paul, which was good news! He did, however, put out this strange ad. How to explain it? Uhm ... apparently Herman Cain enjoys the support of some actor, because Cain has "authenticity." What's weird is that the setup, wherein an actor who is clearly some sort of asshat -- he tells off the production assistants for not adequately performing their services and lazes around while another guy does his light stuntwork -- clashes with the whole "in praise of Herman Cain's authenticity" theme of the ad. If Herman Cain wants to demonstrate his "realness," why not appear in the ad himself? And people, we need to call a halt to these three- and four-minute campaign ads, especially the ones that use strange metaphors to say next to nothing. Ben Smith's quip -- "It is, in some way, Fred Davis' fault" -- is 100 percent correct.
This quote from Newt Gingrich says it all: "I have people tell me on a regular basis, 'Gee, are you still running?'" This is, according to Newt Gingrich, the media's fault, because remember that time the media forced Newt Gingrich to go on two vacations and that time the media convinced his entire staff to quit? The dark powers of the media are boundless.
Jon Huntsman caught a touch of the ol' sinus infection this week, and for a time found himself worried that he might lose his voice. It was a fitting concern for a week in which he was trying everything he could to be heard. Huntsman set the stage by going hard at Mitt Romney's jobs record in an ad that made it clear that Huntsman's record was the best, while Mitt's was more in the 47-out-of-50 range. What the ad made less clear was the fact that Huntsman's prescriptions for the economy were a carbon copy of Romney's. (The reason he did not make this clear is that it would have defeated the whole premise of his argument, don't you know!) He also went after Sarah Palin. So far as I know, Huntsman's criticism of other people not running for president was limited to Palin. Of course, the Huntsman campaign came into the debate on a wave of hype they'd earned by calling the rest of his competitors "cranks" and "extreme" weirdos who had been doing nothing but serving up a "buffet of crazy and inane comments," in the words of Huntsman's campaign manager, John Weaver. Huntsman was, by contrast, the "maverick" candidate who liked evolution. (Reflect on this moment, America, in which you can be considered a "maverick" for believing in evolution.) But when Huntsman was asked to account for his remarks -- the remarks that had bought him a new opportunity to compete -- he pulled a Tim Pawlenty and wouldn't defend them in front of the people he'd called out behind their backs. At one point, the guy who'd spent the evening telling anyone who would listen that he was ready to lead directed moderator John Harris to call his campaign manager on the phone, which would have been a fun thing to witness! Of course, the larger hypocrisy here is that Huntsman has not used all of this media attention he's garnered by calling his competitors "cranks" to make a powerful case for the role of science in policymaking. He's put the spotlight to use in an effort to assure the GOP base that he thinks the same things about the economy and what to do about it as the people he was calling "cranks" five minute ago. It's a nifty trick, but it's a trick all the same. And it's not working. Huntsman's plan to forge a path to the nomination from New Hampshire to South Carolina to Florida took a big hit this week when South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley emphatically ruled out backing Huntsman's bid. The good news, we guess, is that Huntsman won the Internet this week. Now, tens of people will finally get to hear all of his specific thoughts about the Captain Beefheart discography. This is turning into a pretty dumb candidacy, when you get right down to it!
Count Gary Johnson as one who's not happy about President Obama's jobs plan: "Government is absolutely a big part of the jobs problem, but it is not the solution -- other than by getting out of the way. Congress and the Administration have almost helped us to death. What we heard tonight is that they are going to help us some more. Please, please, just stop." Of course, you have to go to Johnson's site to find out his feelings about the issues of the day. He's been excluded from the debate scene, because he's not one of the cool kids, like Newt Gingrich. So Conor Friedersdorf asked him what he'd say if he were. Here's a taste: Afforded an opportunity to question Perry and Michele Bachmann, he'd press them to reveal whether they intend to balance the federal budget, and if so, over what period of time. "More specifically, how would they treat Medicare, Medicaid, and military spending?" he said. "Because you cannot balance the budget without those three." Johnson said he would submit a balanced budget to Congress in 2013, and that he would veto expenditures that exceed revenues. "You could argue that they'd just override me," he said, "and I would argue that the resulting budget will be closer to being balanced than if you elect a president who is vowing to balance the budget over a 15 year period, which to me is code for 'I have no intention of balancing the budget.'" As for the former governor of Massachusetts, he'd press him for details on any part of his platform. "I just haven't heard anything specific about anything from Mitt Romney," he said. How would Johnson distinguish himself from fellow libertarian Ron Paul? Glad you asked! He told Friedersdorf that he would go right at Paul for luxuriating in his consequence-free "no" vote on everything: "Unlike Congressman Paul, who got to make his principled no vote and move on the next day, I had to defend my actions as the guy directly responsible for the legislation not going through -- and I managed to do it successfully and get re-elected in a state that was 2-to-1 Democrat. My experience shows that you can veto this stuff, be principled, defend it, and that people recognize the value of what you're doing for the state." Lots of people wondered at the outset how Johnson could get some support from the constituency that's been in Paul's corner for a long while. To our estimation, that's a very good answer!
Fred Karger keeps getting excluded from debates, but he's nevertheless opening up more and more, this week about his particular political journey. In a profile in the Times Of London, he gets very personal: For 35 years he was a behind-the-scenes Washington player. By day he advised three presidents -- Ford, Reagan and George Bush Sr -- on political strategy. At night he went home to his secret partner. He hid his homosexuality from his family, took lesbian friends to office parties and worried constantly about being discovered. "It's not a lifestyle I'd recommend," he said of his former subterfuge, his wit as dry as the parched canyon in the Hollywood Hills in which his secluded home sits. "But I wasn't like some -- and I know plenty -- who got married, had kids and had to sneak off." When his parents died Mr Karger finally went public about his sexuality. It was 2006 and he was 56. Now, as if to make up for lost time, he says he is on a crusade to save the party, to which he devoted his life, from the clutches of "hateful, evil" intolerance. Of his main rivals for the Republican nomination he is scathing. Rick Perry, the Texas Governor, Michele Bachmann, the Minnesota Congresswoman, and even the relatively moderate Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, are in thrall to a Republican extremist fringe that has lurched to the far Right on social issues, he claims. "They are gay-bashing for political gain," he said. "It has fuelled religion-based bigotry to a great extent, and there's a lot of money and influence in it." He continues in the personal vein in a profile with The New Civil Rights Movement: Today people compare it to a witch-hunt party, or one that keeps equality and progress down. If we look through history we see movement of people as the nation moved east to west. One of the largest changes to party platforms began with southern Democrats to the Republicans. With that switch we started to see Democratic intolerance of the time influence what most people try to claim is a Republican idea. No matter where we stand, analyze, view history or vote presently we must acknowledge that the leaning towards one side or the other too heavily will bring about inequality for others. Equality and the fair treatment of others is not a party issue - it is a human issue. And, of course, we were glad to have him comment on the debate he missed out on: Thanks to MSNBC and Politico for not bringing up the divisive social issues. It was a very spirited debate. Cannot believe that we are still discussing the legitimacy of science. I was very disturbed that I was completely left out of this particular debate. I just know that with all my experience working for President Reagan, he would have wanted me on that stage tonight. My name is on the plaque in that very Pavilion, so I was at least there in name only. No one spoke to bringing back that Reagan spirit and optimism to America. That is far better than any 160 page economic plan.
Thad McCotter spent the debate live-tweeting stuff he was watching on the History Channel and the DIY network. From time to time, he checked in on the debate, and found it wanting. He still probably had a more enjoyable evening than most of us.
If there's one thing Ron Paul can take away from this week, it's that he is apparently living rent-free inside Rick Perry's head. This is probably what the Paul campaign intended when they leveled a shot at Perry in an ad this week -- an ad that ran just before the debate began on MSNBC, in fact -- that painted Perry as a "cheerleader" for Al Gore. Targeting Perry as a shifting political opportunist is music to the ears of Paul supporters, who must hear Perry's endless Fed-baiting and federal government-hating political philosophy as a cheap, microwaved version of ideas that Paul has been articulating for years, and not just because he had a book to sell (a book which Perry is now trying to partly disown). And if there's one thing that can get Paul's ardent supporters in a fighting mood, it's the photos, snapped while the teevee cameras at the debate weren't rolling, in which Rick Perry was seen angrily confronting Paul, even making physical contact. Jim Newell rounded up some online reactions to the photos from Paul's faithful. There was a range of responses! For example, you have: "Wow Perry, staying classy and physically assaulting Congressman Paul." And: "What's that about? He looks like he's going to assault Dr. Paul." As well as ... this: "I'm actually getting scared for Ron's safety. I rarely believe conspiracy theories, but like Ron I have to remind us of some tonight. Perry is an establishment Bilderberg puppet and may very well have been chosen to be our next president. Ron is becoming VERY threatening to the status quo as of late and if they can't silence him with the media, they may try a bullet. God I need to sleep..." Yes, yes, best catch some sleep, because you don't want to risk coming off as bonkers, as it will only make your political movement look-- "Perry would do well to keep his hands off Dr. Paul in the future. We do have some less stable members of this movement that may take things like that against Dr. Paul personally. You are not untouchable Rick." Oh, dear. How about everyone just calm down and, if so inclined, send Dr. Paul a campaign donation?
So, another week, another thousand million reminders that Rick Perry is the frontrunner. You can't stop Rick Perry! You can only hope to contain Rick Perry! He is the very best frontrunner in the history of people who were once frontrunners in the very early and meaningless months of the 2012 campaign, a coterie that included, for a brief mad moment, Donald Trump. He's Kid Double Digits! Except in those cases where he's only leading by single digits! And he's the greatest thing in Iowa since corn, or fried corn, or fried ethanol. He's raising lots of money. Lots and lots and lots of sweet, sweet Super PAC boodle. And his supremacy is confirmed by "bio-index forecasting models." Y'all mofos best be respectin' some bio-index forecasting models now! Of course, some still doubt the awesomeness of our new Rick Perry Overlord, whose executions of human beings are cheered madly by crowds. Take Iowa Rep. Steve King (R): "He's the candidate now that has taken a leap up to the top of the polls, and as people get to know him, that momentum will diminish some. And can the substance hold his lead in the polls?...That's the question: Will a substance of Rick Perry hold his lead in the polls?" Yes! What will "a substance of Rick Perry" do? What if we add "a substance of Rick Perry" to our tacos? Will they taste like the burnt soil of Texas itself? ("Add a substance of Rick Perry to your carne asada and you will enjoy that rebel taste of scorched earth and state budget failure," says the Food Network's Tyler Florence!) Well, there are many other people who predict that Rick Perry will slowly shrink from today's dizzying heights. Chief among them: people who work for Mitt Romney's campaign! After this week's debate, where Rick Perry called Social Security a "Ponzi scheme" and a "monstrous lie" for the umpteenth time, Team Mittens basically declared Perry dunzo, plastering campaign reporters with press releases reminding them that no one's won a GOP nomination saying such mean things about Social Security. Team Romney was joined by Karl Rove, who said that Perry's Social Security remarks were "toxic." But this is a bit of a different election year than all the others. Is it really so unreasonable to think that this year's version of the GOP base won't just come out and support the notion that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme? Dave Weigel took a look at an attempt made at polling on the question, and from our eyes, the issue seems to be more of a toss-up than Romney and Rove realize: "Rasmussen Reports actually tried to ask, coming up with a poll on that question: Is Social Security a Ponzi scheme? So 27 percent say yes, 36 percent say no, and 37 percent, confronted with a weird Italian name and a concept that only comes up when Rick Perry or Bernie Madoff is in the news, are not sure." Jonathan Bernstein says "there's a bit of oversell on this": First, the record on these things is that perceived ideological extremism hurts in presidential elections -- but only by a few percentage points. If we're really in for a true double-dip recession, Barack Obama isn't likely to be saved by such things, and if the economy winds up hitting the upside of economists projections, he won't need to be saved by them. What's more, there is still plenty of time for Perry to blunt charges of extremism by modifying his positions and, especially, emphasis. Yes, the Obama campaign has the debate footage saved and ready to deploy. And yes, it will make no sense at all when Perry says (if he wins the nomination) that despite still believing what he's said in the past, he remains committed to delivering every dollar of Social Security benefits to absolutely everyone who has ever paid into the system. It won't make sense -- but if the economy is awful and Obama is at 35% approval, it won't matter because no one will be listening to the president any more. In fact, Perry is starting to modify those positions, saying that it's just "misinformation" to suggest that he "wants to abolish Social Security." (You know, despite the fact that he thinks it's a "monstrous lie.") For his part, Jon Stewart figures that this year's GOP base is not going to have any problem with a candidate who wants to burn Social Security down to the rafters. And we'd point out that the old-school way of framing your support for cutting entitlements is to tell the olds that they won't be made to suffer any changes to their benefits, and that it will only affect the younger generations (who have already paid for their forebears' benefits anyway). The more significant takeaway here may be that Karl Rove, like many of the Bush 43 family, really, really dislikes Rick Perry. And Rove is raising lots of money!
Buddy Roemer, if nothing else, seems to have won the Comedy Central primary, following up a genial appearance on "The Colbert Report" with another good-humored interview with Jon Stewart on "The Daily Show." The good folks at the Iowa Independent have a definitive writeup of the latter exchange, in which Roemer took on the way he's been excluded from the debates: "They have some rules of engagement that include a national poll that has you at 4 percent or higher," explained Roemer, who added that he has a different campaign approach by only accepting small donations, has only been actively campaigning for a month and only recently began appearing in national polls. "We've tried to get in every debate," he added, but the way the policies governing the debates are decided is "purposefully vague" and it has been difficult to determine who sets the rules and who can change them. "It's a process that makes no sense," Roemer said of the debate qualifiers that seem to exclude certain candidates while favoring others. He also got around to his campaign refrain -- the pernicious effect of corporate money in politics: "You can't tackled the jobs problem, the budget problem, the tax problem or American rising without tackling the first problem -- money in politics," Roemer said. "It is corrupt. It is institutionally corrupt. They spend their time getting big checks from big special interests. It's the special interests that write the tax code. ... And nobody does anything. You know why? Corporations have never made any more money than they are right now. "They wrote the tax code and they really don't give a damn about the rest of America." Roemer's primary message resonated with Stewart, who said, "That seems to be the crucial fight that's at the base of all of this." He ended the interview with the suggestion that Roemer would be welcomed back to the show, and Roemer said, "I'll come back. Scream late at night and I'll be here the next day." Stewart should do so! The issue of money in politics is right in Stewart's wheelhouse, his show could take a nice next step in its evolution by taking on this matter with more intensity and Roemer would make for a compelling partner. We'll see where that goes.
Mitt Romney spent the earlier part of this week trying to make nice with the factions of the GOP base that have been historically averse to his candidacy, owing to the fact that they see him as a bit of a flip-flopping moderate squish. So he broke bread with Jim DeMint and made like an evangelical at DeMint's Palmetto Freedom Forum. He also showed up at a New Hampshire Tea Party rally, with mixed results: as Daily Intel's Caroline Bankoff notes, he didn't "charm" the Tea Partiers, but he also didn't get hit with too many headlines about his appearance getting protested; whatever Romney-targeting actions were afoot essentially slid into the background. As of now, we have to say that the vaunted anti-Romney forces in the larger Tea Party movement have failed to leave much of a mark. Romney rode into this week's debate doing just fine -- and keeping his "Don't Panic" strategy more or less in tact. And he left the debate convinced he'd gained the upper hand against Rick Perry after Perry excoriated Social Security. ThinkProgress' Scott Keyes was in the spin room that night: After the debate, one of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's (R) top advisers, Stuart Stevens, discussed the matter with ThinkProgress and others. Stevens minced no words, declaring that if the Texas governor were to win the nomination, Democrats would see major gains in Congress because every Republican candidate in the country "would have to run on the Perry plan to kill Social Security." After noting that "the vast majority of Americans" did not want any major changes to Social Security - 64 percent according to a CNN poll, including 57 percent of Republicans - Stevens called the Perry platform of wanting to "abolish Social Security" a "disqualifying position." STEVENS: We're talking about every House candidate that runs, every Senate candidate that runs, would have to run on the Perry plan to kill Social Security. We might as well just admit it now that Nancy Pelosi is going to become Speaker again and the Senate we'll never get. It's a position that, in his book he argues for and reasons out well, it's just a position the vast majority of Americans don't agree with. We're talking about a president who will abolish Social Security. It's not a question of how it's funded, it's a disqualifying position. As we've noted, there's reason to doubt whether this is truly the issue on which Romney can win -- the GOP base may be perfectly amenable to aligning themselves with Perry's thoughts on the matter. Another wrinkle: Mitt Romney himself has long supported dismantling Social Security and turning it into a big onetime windfall for Wall Street fund managers (which is very "Bain Capital" of him, when you think about it!). The big news from the Romney camp this week, however, was not his debate performance or his early-week outreach attempts -- it was the unveiling of his economic plan. He debuted the plan in Nevada without once mentioning the issue of housing, which is pretty extraordinary given that the state is one of the hardest-hit by the foreclosure crisis. What can be said about Romney's vision for the economy? Well, outside of some pay phone/smart phone metaphors, it's not exactly new. The rich make out great: they get the Bush tax cuts extended, capital gains and estate taxes eliminated and corporate taxes slashed. In fact, Mitt Romney's economic plan seems tailor-made ... for Mitt Romney! Romney did gamely attempt to present the elimination of the capital gains tax as something that would benefit the middle class, which was hilarious. It's also not clear what cutting corporate taxes under his plan is supposed to achieve. Oh, and there were also some hilariously misleading charts from Captain Mitt And The PowerPoint Rangers! (Though they weren't hilariously misleading in the way many progressives initially thought they were hilariously misleading.) In a blow to Romney's economic plan rollout, the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal didn't care for his plan very much. Their editorial allows up front: "His ideas are better than President Obama's." But they then go on to question whether he has "any core beliefs beyond faith in his own managerial expertise" and argue that Romney's "policy potpourri won't change that perception." On spending, Mr. Romney joins the GOP's "cut, cap and balance" parade, setting a cap on spending over time at 20% of GDP. What Mr. Romney doesn't do is provide even a general map for how to get there, beyond cutting spending on nonsecurity domestic programs by 5% upon taking office. He praises Paul Ryan for making "important strides" on Medicare but says his plan "will differ," without offering details. He also says there are a "number of options" to reform Social Security without endorsing any of them. We are told those specifics will come later. It's hardly unusual for candidates to avoid committing to difficult proposals, but it won't help Mr. Romney contrast his leadership with Mr. Obama's. By far the most troubling proposal is Mr. Romney's call for "confronting China" on trade. This is usually a Democratic theme, but Mr. Romney does Mr. Obama one worse by pledging to have his Treasury brand China a "currency manipulator" if it doesn't "move quickly to bring its currency to full value." He'd then hit Beijing with countervailing duties. Starting a trade war is a rare policy mistake that Mr. Obama hasn't made, but Mr. Romney claims it is a way to faster growth. His advisers say he doesn't favor a 25% tariff on Chinese goods as some in Congress do, but once a President unleashes protectionist furies they are hard to contain. His economic aides say this idea comes directly from Mr. Romney himself, which is even less reassuring. It looks like a political maneuver to blunt the criticism he'll receive because some of Bain Capital's companies sent jobs overseas, or perhaps this is intended to win over working-class precincts in Pennsylvania and Ohio. But giving Americans the impression that a trade war will bring those jobs back to the U.S. is offering false hope. It also distracts from the other fiscal and regulatory reforms that are needed to attract capital and create jobs. Of course, one of the dumb things going on with the Wall Street Journal's criticism of Romney's plan is that when the same plan was known as the "Jon Huntsman plan," they were pretty giddy about it. What can we say? The GOP establishment just doesn't like Romney very much! But if they agree that Rick Perry's stance on Social Security is a bridge too far in terms of electability, then they are basically stuck with Mitt.
Rick Santorum, as you know, isn't a fan of the LGBT community. Week in and week out, he makes that clear. But for one blessed week, at the debate, the matter didn't come up, and Rick Santorum was instead able to talk about his economic plan, the Department of Homeland Security, Rick Perry's HPV vaccine decision, immigration reform, and the Libyan intervention. And not much else! After all, he wasn't named "Mitt Romney" or "Rick Perry." So why was Chris Matthews badgering him for not talking about gay marriage? MATTHEWS: You know senator, candidates know how to take a question and give the answer they want. The smart politician gives a quick answer to the question than says what They want to say. Nobody used that technique tonight to bring up Don't Ask, Don't Tell and to support it, nobody came out against same-sex marriage tonight....Why did no Republican, no Republican on that stage, really included you, wanted to focus on those hard social, moral issues.... SANTORUM: Well, as you know Chris, I think I only had four or five questions.... MATTHEWS: No, nobody turned the question to same-sex. You never turned it to to same-sex, you never turned it to Don't Ask, Don't Tell. SANTORUM: Well, I did turn on one social issue when I had the chance... MATTHEWS: But not the [other] social issues? SANTORUM: Well, but they weren't asked me -- those questions. And you know, we only have one minute... MATTHEWS: But nobody wanted to bring them up, Senator. It seems like your party believes that you can't win this general election if you talk about same-sex marriage... SANTORUM: Wait a minute, whoa, whoa! Your station didn't ask any... Sorry, but Rick Santorum has a point! Does Chris Matthews not understand that debates have these things called "moderators," who ask "questions" about "various topics," to which the candidates provide "answers?" This is sort of a very basic concept. I'm not sure what Rick Santorum was expected to do, under the circumstances! Chris Matthews is essentially asking, "Why didn't you take the opportunity, apropos of nothing, to say some crazy stuff, so that we could have reported on some crazy stuff you said?" Oh, and the segment ended with Matthews asking, "Do you believe in evolution? Do you believe in evolution? Do you believe in evolution? Do you believe in evolution?" Four times! Man, don't get between Chris Matthews and the low hanging fruit that won't win the nomination in our lifetime that he actually has the guts to pursue with inquiries! (For what it's worth, Santorum said he did in a "micro sense.")
This week was the week of Obama's Great Rescheduled Pre-Kickoff Jobs Speech Before The Joint Session Of Congress. Obviously, all of D.C. was moist with anticipation, because this was the confluence of their overall unemployment narrative: Unemployment Is A Problem That Primarily Concerns Obama's Reelection. (For more on this underreported story, check out my colleague Arthur Delaney's new ebook, "The People's History Of The Great Recession." You'll find out that there are many, many other humans affected by the unemployment crisis who do not have the luxury of falling back on a post-White House career as their worst-case scenario.) The occasion was a critical one for the two warring factions of the most active part of the Democratic Party's base, the "professional left" and the "policy-agnostic Democrats" -- or, as we like to refer to them, "The People Who Think Obama Can Overcome Very Real Legislative Hurdles By Using The Magic Powers Of The Bully Pulpit And Until He Does This Hogwarts Stuff He Is A Traitor" and "The People Who Think That The Policies That George W. Bush Was A Monster For Supporting Are All Well And Good As Long As A Democrat Supports Them And Who Will Go Back To Thinking They Are Awful As Soon As A Republican Is Back In The White House." (Yes, sometimes politics can get quite tiresome!) Anyway, how did it go? We think that last night's speech went a lot further in bridging that gap in the lefty base than many other things Obama has attempted. It had "bigness" for the "swing for the fences" set, and "aggression" for the "just always be fighting Republicans" set, and a well-articulated logic that demonstrated that most of what Obama called for wouldn't normally be thought unreasonable by Republicans -- which satisfied Obama's need to try to be liked by his political opponents. How you felt about the jobs speech basically breaks down to where your priorities are. If you think that Obama winning elections is the highest good, you probably liked the speech. A lot. It even had a passing refrain of "pass the jobs bill" that recalled Steve Benen's "Pass The Damn Bill" refrain from the health care reform fight. And the speech certainly had the stir and rhythm of a campaign speech: you could easily view last night as Obama's opening salvo in the 2012 fight. But what if you think that putting Americans back to work and righting the economy is the highest good? Well, you maybe found it to be a mixed bag. Here's Robert Reich: Two cheers for the President and his America's Jobs Act. Cheer Number One: In presenting it to a joint session of Congress, he sounded as passionate and determined as he's ever sounded. Second cheer: He laid out the problem correctly and effectively. He explained why jobs and growth must be the nation's first priority now -- not the federal deficit. The economy is in crisis. People are hurting. So government must act, and act quickly. It's irresponsible at a time like this to suggest that government should simply close down. But a jeer because the jobs plan he presented isn't nearly large enough or bold enough to make a major dent in unemployment, or to restart the economy. $450 billion sounds like a lot -- and is more than I expected -- but some of this merely extends current spending (unemployment benefits) and tax cuts (in Social Security taxes), so it doesn't add to aggregate demand. Nevertheless, it gives Obama something to run on, and it looks like he might be poised to do more barnstorming on this issue than any other. But the fundamentals remain the same -- sentiment and powerful campaign oratory isn't going to fix the economy, and unless it's fixed, the road to reelection will remain difficult. (And the extent to which this is effective is moot if the House won't pass it.) Still, I'm sure that all Democratic voters will be more amenable to this plan than they were to Obama's plan to concur that the debt ceiling was a matter that definitely demanded hostage-taking and down-to-the-wire negotiations.