After three weeks of watching Rick Perry flail around in confusion and exhaustion, this was the week that something that had to finally give.
It began in Florida, with Herman Cain winning the state's Presidential 5 Straw Poll. It may seem hard to believe that another straw poll, at this late date, smaller in scope than August's big throwdown in Ames, Iowa, was going to have any sort of game changing effect on the race. But Perry had put his marker down on the Florida contest, working hard for a win. It didn't work out as he planned. So it makes a kind of sense that by week's end, Romney had re-emerged as the front-runner, Cain had risen to third place, and Perry was in a very shaky second.
But GOP elites just haven't cottoned to Romney's candidacy -- the problem he's had since the race began. And with time ticking off the clock for a new contender to get into the mix, a clarion call -- led by Bill Kristol -- went out for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to enter the race. Now, Christie's made his lack of interest abundantly clear, but this week, he was set to deliver a speech at one of the GOP's holy sites -- the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Calif. And in that space, Chris Christie stood before his fellow Republicans and boldly declared -- well, he basically directed them to watch a video of him saying "no" to running for President over and over again.
Christie said other stuff, too, we bet, but it didn't matter. The media was dead set on the Christie candidacy story, and they went about the business of squinting their eyes and shaking their head and trying discern the hidden message that signaled Christie was actually trying to communicate intentions that contradicted what he was actually, literally saying. It got pretty exciting!
Soon, other people who are not running for President, like Sarah Palin (who created a tesseract of irony in deep space by referring to "Herb [sic] Cain" as the "flavor of the week") and Rudy Giuliani, stepped forward to claim some of that sweet, sweet, media attention for themselves. By the end of the week, we even had to endure a few minutes of speculation that Mike Huckabee was going to get back into a race he never really joined in the first place.
Smash cut back to Florida, Friday morning: the Florida GOP decided that their presidential primary would take place on January 31, leapfrogging the early primary states and their scheduled February dates. All four of those states -- Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada -- instantaneously made it clear that they'd be moving to even earlier dates. December 2011 was on the table. This raised a question: if you're eliminated from the 2012 race in 2011, were you ever a member of the 2012 race at all? More important, it caused a problem -- by shaving a month off of the pre-primary campaign, it made it much less likely that a newcomer would join the field. And it made life much, much harder for anyone not on, or near, the top tier.
So if you're Romney, you're not sweating how slowly the elites are warming to you. With each passing week, they're coming around. In the meantime, it needs to be said: For all of Romney's storied flaws -- he's the awkward robot-candidate running the flip-flop subroutine, remember? -- his campaign strategy is the best thing going. When he's around his fellow competitors, he makes a point of showing them that he's got them in his rear view mirror. Then, when they exert themselves to get his attention or raise his pulse -- as Rick Perry has striven to do -- Romney just breezily dismisses them. "Nice try," he said, over and over again, to a tiring Perry. And that's all that he's needed to say! We deserve to catch some hell for this comparison, but Romney's sort of co-opted some of that "Jay-Z" attitude from President Obama. "Got some dirt on my shoulder, Rick Perry. Could you brush it off for me?"
Elsewhere in the 2012 race, Newt Gingrich gets testy with reporters, Ron Paul's getting air support -- literal air support, Barack Obama has reason to love geography, Herman Cain wrote a book FROM THE FUTURE and Michele Bachmann knows what's going on with the lasers. For all of this, and much more, please enter the Speculatron for the week of September 30, 2011.
Michele Bachmann, it seems, is not a big fan of all of the debates she's been asked to participate in lately. Don't get us wrong! Neither are we. We are relishing this relatively debate-free portion of the 2012 pageant. Bachmann is harrumphing about the debate format and the behavior of the moderators, and it's somewhat understandable -- after all, she was doing quite well in this nomination race before she started having to come to debates, where she says odd things about HPV vaccines and her new plan to not tax anybody for anything. (Bachmann never did respond to that $10,000 HPV-vaccine challenge, by the way.) Yes, the Bachmann campaign is having to endure another week in crisis mode. At this weekend's Florida Straw Poll, she came in dead last, touching off a new round of talk that she's dunzo. The campaign spun it by saying that they weren't seriously competing in the event in the first place. Of course, that sends a message that she's not that into competing in Florida at all. And actually, at the moment, she's not. For Bachmann, a campaign that began with an eye toward full-spectrum competition has become all about Iowa. Keith Nahigan, the campaign manager who replaced Ed Rollins, who in turn had said that it was win-Iowa-or-bust for Bachmann, is now saying the same thing. Bachmann says that she has "momentum" in Iowa, though typically, you don't use the term "momentum" when your state-wide polling numbers are trending downward. Though, strictly speaking, the slide into oblivion does require "momentum!" Bachmann's sell to Iowa is that voters need not "settle" for someone "electable." Which is kind of like saying that starving paupers need not settle for "food" that provides "sustenance." But that's the best she's got at the moment. One thing we're learning about why Ed Rollins suddenly quit the campaign because of "health concerns" is that those "health concerns" may be related to the fact that Bachmann is now close to being broke. So, what's Michele Bachmann to do? Continue hitting Rick Perry, hopefully with stuff that's not related to something some misinformed woman told her about in a parking lot. How about Pakistan? Yeah, Rick Perry had some word soup about Pakistan in that last debate, so that'll do. And Perry's "heartless" comment! No one likes being called heartless. And wouldn't donating to the Bachmann campaign prove that you had a heart? Or you can go to an animal shelter and adopt a kitten. Barring that, Bachmann can get way, way, way histrionic: "Don't settle with this gift He has given to you," said Bachmann. She imagined the wimpiness of Jews who didn't want to struggle on through the desert. "Let's go back to Egypt! Let's be slaves again, let's not press forward!" The metaphor got a little mixed, as she warned the students about "those who failed to trust in God, those who settled ended up wandering in the wilderness." But she closed with the main theme: "Don't settle for anything less than what this great and almighty God has planned for you." When Pharoah was in Egypt land, let my people go (to the Iowa Caucus)! Actually, the Middle East was something of a theme for Bachmann this week. In addition to comparing her efforts to win the lion's share of Iowa delegates to the liberation of the Jews, Bachmann came out against the whole "Arab Spring." Stupid Arabs! Shucking off the chains of repression under U.S.-friendly despots because they want "autonomy" and a "chance to shape their own future!" Closer to home, Bachmann's constant harping on how even the slightest bit of government regulation was job-killing neatly coincided with the nation's tainted cantaloupe outbreak, which has demonstrated that without certain government regulations, a "people-killing" environment is created. (Tainted cantaloupe does stimulate aggregate demand in the funeral sector of the economy, I guess?) And because it wouldn't be a week in Bachmannalia without the candidate getting animated by some sort of wild rumor, this week she got it into her head that Syria-based terrorist organization Hezbollah was stocking missiles in Cuba, and it was up to the X-Men to save us, or something. But that was actually just the shot. Here's the chaser: "I'm not sharing something I shouldn't, but China has blinded United States satellites with their lasers." If you had Friday, September 30th as the day that laser beams would finally become part of the 2012 discussion, collect your prize! (Warning: The prize is a free human papillomavirus vaccine!)
This weekend, Herman Cain won that Florida Straw Poll that has never failed to send the winner on to the nomination, and the media immediately went on what looked like a weekend-long self-moistening campaign over Cain's prospects. We didn't think much of the media getting fired up by Cain's win at the time. After all, as James Spader noted on last night's episode of The Office, "There's something about an underdog that really inspires the unexceptional." For his part, Cain says that Florida's straw pollers weren't casting a protest vote, and in the wake of his success, his poll numbers did spike dramatically, returning him to near top-tier status and putting him within a stone's throw of the frontrunners. This allowed Cain to afford himself the luxury of looking ahead to the general election, and got the Washington Post's Dana Milbank pondering a potential upset: There are 3 million people in Iowa, for example, of whom just more than 600,000 are registered Republicans. But the 2008 Iowa Republican caucus had 120,000 participants. Of those, 60 percent were self-described evangelicals or born-again Christians. Essentially, that means the Iowa caucus is a straw poll. In fact, Iowa's Ames straw poll this summer (the one Bachmann won) attracted 16,892 people -- a decent chunk of the primary-day electorate. The other early-voting states tend to have more primary voters, but that doesn't change the possibility that the Republican presidential nominee could be determined by a few thousand Iowans who aren't typical voters or even typical Republican voters. Most political observers rely on national polls or, at best, statewide polls to gauge the sentiments of presidential primary voters. But because the number of people who participate in the primaries is so small, the true sentiments of that electorate (and the likelihood of people to vote) are often less predictable than polls can handle. And those sentiments tend to be volatile and fickle. "For that reason," says Milbank, "it would be foolish to rule out any candidate -- even the former Godfather's Pizza chief executive." One guy rooting for this outcome? Saturday Night Live's Bill Hader, who is a fan of castmate Keenan Thompson's impersonation of the pizza mogul. This whole dynamic played out hilariously in the casual chit-chat that Sarah Palin offered up this week. She began the week by protesting that ol' "Herb Cain" was just the "flavor of the week." But as the hype coalesced around the pizza mogul, Palin changed her tune, saying that she didn't mean to insult Cain and of course he was totally awesome. (Everything was the media's fault.) We think that Palin actually had this right to begin with -- as a former "flavor of the week," she would know -- and that Cain's success has a lot more to do with Florida's high-proof straw poll participants remaining cool to Mitt Romney and somewhat buffeted by Rick Perry's recent failings. Sure, Cain's poll numbers have spiked, but so had Michele Bachmann's at one point. And her win in the Ames Straw Poll involved winning the votes of three times as many people as supported Cain in Florida. Cain did what he could to sustain the momentum, however, hitting Rick Perry for being "soft on securing the border" and for having some small amount of compassion for immigrants. He also confidently predicted that he'd win a third of the black vote, but later turned around and said that black voters in the America were "brainwashed," so we predict that he will not be all that successful with black voters after all, unless they've become far more amenable to being insulted. We expect Cain to keep on touting his secret 9-9-9 Plan To Do Economy Things, but he maybe should rethink touting the entitlement reforms in Chile -- or, CHEE-LAY, as he calls it -- because of recent events. Cain also set up a play-date with Donald Trump, because that is this month's thing to do if you are a Republican candidate, it seems. All the same, it's been quite a week for a candidate who was, at one point, contemplating quitting the race. If he's got one nagging problem, however, it's that he's relatively cash-poor when it comes to some of his closest competitors. But Cain fans can do him a solid and purchase his recently-published memoir. Spoiler Alert: he becomes president in his own book! (Also, Ned Stark dies just as you're getting invested in him as a character.)
Newt Gingrich's campaign remains "mired in debt." But, man, if you are a campaign reporter, you better not ask him about it! Los Angeles Times reporter Seema Mehta found out the hard way that nothing puts Gingrich's knickers in a high-and-tight twist faster than asking about how terrible his campaign is at raising or spending money. "See, I knew you couldn't resist," Gingrich whined, "I'm not going to answer you. I think you should, you should really go home and think about why you would even ask that today." Yeah, Seema Mehta! You go to your room and think about what you've done to the political discourse in America! Gingrich is the "man of ideas," after all, and if you're going to engage him, you better come with the intention of getting hot and bothered about all the idea-having that he's been doing lately. Like, here's an idea! Why can't America's tax policy be specifically tailored to benefit Newt Gingrich? Has this even been tried? (Yes, by every Republican in the past 30 years, actually.) Or, why can't the poors get health care coverage that resembles Wal-Mart: super-cheap, super-limited, super-crowded, with coverage explanations provided by minimum-wage paupers who don't know anything about the products they're offering? Gingrich's biggest idea, of late, is to take an old idea, the "Contract With America," heat it up in a toaster oven and spackle it with enough of the moment cliche to make it "21st Century." You can learn more about it by reading here. Also, thrill to the knowledge that his new contract places him in opposition to the old one. Contradictions and fecklessness are the new, new thing in American politics, after all! We think that the AP's Shannon McCaffrey has called "Contract ver. 2.0" correctly when she suggests that it's more of a way for Gingrich to burnish his damaged brand then it is a bona fide offering of a legit presidential campaign. It's just hard to think of a guy who's entire campaign staff quit on him en masse as the sort of person who's seriously equipped to enter into a contract with anyone. Basically, just tell us when the "21st Century Contract With America" commemorative mugs and mousepads become available, and we'll link to the CafePress store, okay? And yet, in spite of all this, Gingrich won the endorsement of Tea Party Nation's Judson Phillips, and he can lay claim to doing okay in the polls. Not so much that the real contenders need to sweat it, but he won't be quitting the debate stage anytime soon. There, he can continue to yell at the media for asking questions designed to lay out the differences between the candidates. Gingrich did get critical of Rick Perry this week, saying, of the Perry tome to which he provided the foreword, "I just want all of you to know that I actually believe all the words that I wrote that are in my book." This seemingly defied his own emo admonition that the GOP candidates should think of themselves as a team. But let's note that Newt has a book for sale himself, and, as always, we remind you that Newt's priority in this campaign is to move his merchandise at the expense of everything else.
It says a lot about how stupid the whole Huntsman candidacy has gotten that the presidential bid that began with poetic concerns about "Whatever happened to actual, lasting solutions to problems?" and dreaming of a "someday" when America would "flourish" under a "new generation of conservative leaders," has devolved into a campaign that gets into pointless Twitter wars with the even-more-pointless Donald Trump. But that's basically where things are right now. Huntsman's inability to catch fire with voters who are not his own offspring became so pronounced this week that for a time it looked like he might become one of those candidates who are excluded from debates because their poll numbers are so terrible. By week's end, it looked like that wasn't going to become an immediate crisis, but it's still pretty apparent that Huntsman's campaign is having a hard time going anywhere. So, where will the Huntsman campaign go from here? To New Hampshire, apparently! Jon Huntsman, the other Mormon running for President, announced today that he's moving his campaign headquarters to New Hampshire, indicating he believes that the state's primary (the first in the nation) will be where he breaks out -- if he breaks out. Huntsman's campaign manager explained the decision to Reuters, saying that "success in New Hampshire is vital for our campaign to have the momentum we need to succeed in South Carolina, Florida, and the states that follow." But a more cynical observer could see in this a clever (and forward-thinking) ploy to position Huntsman for the vice-presidency. Ha! Who, exactly, is going to pick Jon Huntsman as their running mate and why? No, the Huntsman campaign is heading to the Granite State because right now, it's the only place that might punch his ticket onwards into the rest of the primary calendar. And by "might," we are being very charitable -- Mitt Romney remains far ahead of the field in New Hampshire, and it's hard to see that changing. The Huntsman camp is telling everyone who will listen, "Oh, it's always been about New Hampshire, trust us." We were fools to think that wasn't the focus when he based his campaign in Florida and imagined that Florida would be the decisive state for his nomination hopes. I'm sure this has nothing to do with the fact that Huntsman went to the Florida CPAC and hoped he could turn attendees on to some "moderation" and ended up impressing nobody. As Alexander Burns reported: "The CPAC audience is something of a lose-lose proposition for Huntsman: They don't want to hear a centrist-friendly speech like this one, but they'll also probably never trust him as a conservative messenger." Also, apparently this was the week the media noticed that liberal firebrand Michael Moore said some nice things about Huntsman, weeks and weeks ago.
Gary Johnson's return to the "allowed to debate" set appears to have been short-lived. CNN has a debate coming up in a few short weeks. They have similar criteria for participation that involve poll standing, and they've hit on a pretty novel way of keeping Johnson sidelined -- don't offer CNN poll respondents the opportunity to pick Johnson! It may be just as well, as the boo-birds that came out to denigrate an openly gay soldier left Johnson with a bad taste in his mouth: I was champing at the bit to be able to respond to that [the boos]. And, you know, in retrospect, I regret maybe not putting my fist down and pounding it, but I've been excluded from these debates and I'm feeling a bit like I'm walking on eggshells. I shouldn't have done that. If I have one regret from last evening, it's that I didn't stand up and say, you know, you're booing a U.S. serviceman who is denied being able to express his sexual preference? That's not right. That's not right, and there's something very, very wrong with that. There's something very wrong with a system that makes it so hard to participate in the debates that one of the debaters has to feel like he needs to hold his tongue for fear of not being allowed back. It's not all bad news for Johnson, however. He's got himself a Super PAC, for instance. Plus, he's earned a GQ profile that refers to him as "the sanest man running for President." And, uhm ... he's gotten the endorsement of Roger Stone ... which, if you know anything about Stone, is something that seems like it might be a trick. Of course, all of that is partially offset by this piece in the Daily Iowan, from Adam B. Sullivan, that asks, "Is Gary Johnson too awkward to be president?" Well, we had to ask ourselves, "Is the sight of walking in on our grandparents making love too awkward to be president?" Because "the sight of walking in on our grandparents making love" wants to end the war in Afghanistan and has some interesting ideas on how to tackle our long term-debt. Now, the sight of walking in on our parents engaged in "pony play," on the other hand ... that is pretty damned awkward. Scarring, even!
The good news for Fred Karger is that there were no debates this week that excluded him because there were no debates this week. (The good news for America is that we went a week without debates. It can be done, people!) The bad news is that polling organizations continue to leave his name off, making it continually difficult for Karger to get into the debates when they are happening. Outside of some appearances this week in New York, Karger didn't figure too prominently in the news. But! He does have a memoir out. (SPOILER ALERT: It's not the memoir where Herman Cain becomes president in the end.)
What's Ron Paul been up to this week? For starters, he's been stacking that green: Paul's campaign asked supporters to celebrate the Texas congressman's Aug. 20 birthday with a donation - and they gave him $1.6 million on that day alone. It's a pattern for Paul, who can seemingly turn on the money spigot when he needs to; his loyal libertarian backers have delivered like that on five occasions, to the tune of a million or more at a time. That ability allows Paul to stay in the "well-funded candidate" conversation with Perry and Romney. And with many of his traditional issues maintaining so much salience in the political debate, Paul believes that his candidacy is close to making that next-level leap that eluded him in 2008. In an interview with Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, Paul said that he could sense that an "explosion" of support was in the offing: "I think that once you get to 10%, you have the number. We're 10%, 14%, 15%, so I think we very well could be, and most likely are on the verge of an explosion of interest in this country." Though, it is possible to get too caught up in the hype. Over at the National Review, Katrina Trinko said that while Paul was in New York City, he "wowed the East Village" and was like a "rock star" -- all because he managed to turn out 1,900 people to a campaign event. Hey, that sounds nice, but in New York City, 1,900 people is some small potatoes. We'd wager that if Trinko's colleague, Jonah Goldberg, announced that he was going to take a crap on the Webster Hall stage this Saturday night as an opening act for the Panda Bear show, he could turn out at least 500 people to see that. Call us when Ron Paul is doing LCD sound system numbers. If you want to get a better sense of Paulite devotion, consider the fact that a bunch of die-hard Ron Paul supporters are apparently planning on leaping out of planes: Skydivers will jump from a helicopter over Derry on Sept. 29 for an aerial display and then land in a residential yard, highlighting a special question-and-answer session about the future of the nation with Presidential Candidate Ron Paul. "When you sky dive, ultimately, you take responsibility for yourself. There's a reward, but also risk," Erica Layon said. "That's the essence of Paul; if people expect to have rewards, they should be willing to take risk." Skydiving is self-regulated, she said, not mandated. Aren't parachutes held to certain government standards, as far as quality and safety regulations and ratings go? We're pretty sure they are. So, in order to fully experience the true taste of liberty, we remind Paul's skydiving supporters that they should probably fashion their own chutes out of household materials.
Rick Perry's woes, of late, have been legion, but he began the week still in the catbird seat, atop the polls. But from there, things wound down in a hurry, and he limps into Friday having ceded an awful lot of ground to Mitt Romney and Herman Cain. The bad news began with the Florida Straw Poll, something that he needlessly raised the stakes for in his campaign, only to see Cain walk away with the win. He's also had to do some damage control, walking back his earlier "heartless" criticism of the rest of the field. Saturday night, Alec Baldwin was portraying Perry as a tongue-tangled fatigue-ridden incompetent. (That the show hasn't yet decided what cast member will portray him in the coming season says a lot about what they think of his staying power. If this week's host, Melissa McCarthy, gets the nod, it will say even more.) Pretty soon, everyone was talking about Chris Christie in the same way they talked about Rick Perry before Perry jumped into the race. Kevin Drum explained what's going on, using the concept of the "invisible primary": Basically, I'm piggybacking on the views of political scientists Martin Cohen, David Karol, Hans Noel, and John Zaller, who wrote an influential book a couple of years ago called The Party Decides: Presidential Nominations Before and After Reform. Their contention is that the key fight isn't so much the primaries themselves, but the "invisible primary" that's fought for several months before voting ever starts. During this time, candidates fight for the attention and endorsements of party insiders, as represented by interest groups, state party leaders, funders, media bigwigs, and others whose support is either important in its own right (because lots of people take their cues from them) or whose support is an important signal of acceptability. Hans Noel explains: "Our argument is that the party is not just the formal DNC and RNC chair and the official hierarchy. It's all of the people who have made a commitment to be part of the group that's coordinating together to try to advance the party's interests. You could say the voters count too, because they're doing some type of coordination and trying to encourage their friends. But their contribution is much smaller, because they don't have as much influence. So we focus more on the high-profile actors, but we have an expansive definition to encompass all the elite actors who are trying to help the party achieve its collective goals. And those goals are to find a nominee who can win, but who is also someone they can trust. Whether they can trust them because they're in the right place ideologically is part of it, but it's richer than that. It's someone who they think will advance party goals over their own personal goals." If you buy this argument, it means that although tea party unhappiness with Perry over immigration is what's getting lots of attention, it's really just a superficial sign of a deeper danger. Perry's real problem is that his inability to address an obvious and predictable problem with the base -- which reveals either laziness, ineptitude, stubbornness, or all of the above -- makes him an unreliable candidate. If this view starts to harden among party insiders, they'll eventually start to signal their support for Romney or some other candidate, and the rank-and-file will follow their lead. And here comes a taste of your elite signaling. Tom Tancredo emerged from his rage-cocoon to harp on Perry's "connections to Muslim groups in Texas." Joe Scarborough dinged Perry for not being able "to complete a sentence." This week's political celebrity, Chris Christie, took Perry to task on immigration, in a "strangely aggressive swipe." Huntsman took the opening to take a shot at Perry, as did Bachmann, and Cain, and Gingrich. Even President Obama felt comfortable squeezing off a zinger at Perry's expense -- and he has been largely playing aloof from the GOP's side of the 2012 contest, thus far. Who does Perry have on his side this week? Well, he's got Bobby Jindal, his wife, this idiot pundit and these terrible white girl rappers. Someone made a giant, Chia-Head version of Rick Perry, too, so he's got that going for him. These rabbis seem to having a good time with Perry, too. L'Shava Tova, Governor! Facts keep pricking holes in Perry's "Texas jobs miracle" as well, unless there's something "miraculous" about 49,000 teachers losing their jobs and 43,000 students losing the financial aid they need to get the college degrees that are essential to getting the jobs. And while the Perry camp has stated that they want to put the debates behind them with a shift to policy wonking, that's kind of hard when he hasn't elucidated many policies. Besides being a total cronyist, that is! So what's Perry to do? He will keep smacking Romney about, for starters. Then he'll talk his early state supporters down from their trees, break bread with important New Hampshire figures, and most importantly, keep raising campaign cash hand over fist. Oh, and Rick Perry will totally save a pretzel for the gas jets!
Buddy Roemer continues to press his case for inclusion, telling New England Cable News that as long as he's not given the chance to speak at a debate, he's not being given a chance to tell America what he's all about. And, as we've mentioned repeatedly, America might well warm to what's driven Roemer into the race: Two of the centerpieces of his campaign are job creation and the corrupting influence of modern day politics. "You have to run a different campaign. You can't start with a big bag of money and buy votes," Roemer said. "You have to earn the right to be heard. Debates are important to me." "I need a stage," he said, "because without it, no one knows me." He made a similar case to the Concord Monitor this week: "My day will come, and when it does, I'll talk about a person who's free," Roemer told his audience at New England College in Henniker. Like his fellow Republicans, Roemer spoke of the strangling effect of the national debt. But he also had harsh words for corporate America, criticizing oversized executive salaries as an example of "unfettered greed" and lamenting the subsidies that allow corporations to lessen their tax burden even as they shift jobs overseas. "It's like Swiss cheese, riddled with holes of unfairness and inequity," he said of the tax code. And Roemer kept it up at the Greater Salem Rotary Club, where the Salem, N.H., Patch captured Roemer taking on his opponents, calling out Romney for pocketing million-dollar checks, and Huntsman for, in Roemer's estimation, making apologies to China. These are among the reasons Alexander Burns is right when he says that Roemer, at the very least, deserves some sort of "honesty award" for his contributions to the 2012 discourse -- as sidelined as those contributions are. Buddy Roemer continues to press his case for inclusion, telling New England Cable News that as long as he's not given the chance to speak at a debate, he's not being given a chance to tell America what he's all about. And, as we've mentioned repeatedly, America might well warm to what's driven Roemer into the race: Two of the centerpieces of his campaign are job creation and the corrupting influence of modern day politics. "You have to run a different campaign. You can't start with a big bag of money and buy votes," Roemer said. "You have to earn the right to be heard. Debates are important to me." "I need a stage," he said, "because without it, no one knows me." He made a similar case to the Concord Monitor this week: "My day will come, and when it does, I'll talk about a person who's free," Roemer told his audience at New England College in Henniker. Like his fellow Republicans, Roemer spoke of the strangling effect of the national debt. But he also had harsh words for corporate America, criticizing oversized executive salaries as an example of "unfettered greed" and lamenting the subsidies that allow corporations to lessen their tax burden even as they shift jobs overseas. "It's like Swiss cheese, riddled with holes of unfairness and inequity," he said of the tax code. And Roemer kept it up at the Greater Salem Rotary Club, where the Salem, N.H., Patch captured Roemer taking on his opponents, calling out Romney for pocketing million-dollar checks, and Huntsman for, in Roemer's estimation, making apologies to China. These are among the reasons Alexander Burns is right when he says that Roemer, at the very least, deserves some sort of "honesty award" for his contributions to the 2012 discourse -- as sidelined as those contributions are.
Mitt Romney is looking more and more like he's weathered the initial burst of hype and success that Rick Perry enjoyed when he jumped into the race. He began this week winning the Michigan Straw Poll, and closed it out with a slew of good-news polling numbers. Fox News has him back on top of the national polling picture. In the critical state of Florida, he's polling at the top as well. He's even lucked into an opportunity in Iowa, a state his campaign originally thought they'd pass on in favor of making New Hampshire his early primary stronghold. Everything looks good, though there is a caveat: But just looking at the topline numbers doesn't tell the full story. As Nate Silver points out, Perry's fall in the polls hasn't been matched by increased support for Mitt Romney. Instead, Perry's early backers have switched their allegiance to the fringe conservative candidates who appear to have little shot at gaining the nomination, folks like Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich. Say what you want about Romney's propensity for flip-flopping and awkwardness, but his campaign's low-panic strategy is paying off. And Romney has done a deft job fending off Perry's attacks -- when Romney breezily responds to Perry's debate exertions with a pointed "nice try," you're not shaming yourself by admitting that it's a little bit baller. What Team Romney seems to want to do now is, as best they can, chill out and wait for Republicans to come around to seeing him as their candidate. David Frum makes the case that they should come around: Attention, Chris Christie fans. If you are looking for a Republican nominee who could actually do the job of president, who does not repel independent voters, who can survive a 90-minute debate without saying anything foolish, why the hell not Mitt Romney? For three years, Republican activists, strategists, and donors have tried to find a plausible alternative to Romney, and again and again they have failed. For about 15 minutes, that alternative seemed at last to have materialized in the form of Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Perry still leads the national polls and is still raising money. Yet it's hard to miss the loud hiss of air escaping this particular balloon. With good numbers and big money, he's buying himself that time. Romney's dollars are tall. As in Wall Street stature. As it turns out, continually promising to restore the unregulated, loosey-goose casino conditions that Wall Street financiers used to get mega-rich on while destroying the economy for the rest of us pays serious dividends. Wall Streeters who previously backed President Obama, only to find out that he was occasionally unkind in his rhetoric to them while simultaneously enacting policies that made them crazy profitable during America's recession, are flocking to Mitt. Romney's doubled up Obama's Wall Street donations, and reportedly earned some consideration from lifelong Democrat Jamie Dimon. Just as Rick Perry is getting the wrong end of the elite signaling in the "invisible primary," Romney's making gains. Jonathan Chait, who'd previously been pessimistic about Romney's chances, is reconsidering. And Chait's probably put forward the best articulation of the Romney strategy that's been written so far this cycle: Three moments during the last two debates captured the mentality of the Republican base. The first came in the previous debate, when some crowd members shouted that an uninsured man with a fatal illness should be allowed to die. Another occurred when a gay soldier serving in Iraq appeared on the video board to ask if he could be allowed to continue serving and was booed. These expressions clearly reflect the straightforward policy implications of conservative principles. At the same time, I don't think they ought to be taken purely at face value. I believe few conservative Republicans feel visceral hostility toward sick, uninsured people or gay soldiers. Rather, their booing is an expression of tribal partisan solidarity. These people are presenting challenges to the Republican dogma -- living, breathing examples of the failures of their stance. They represent a challenge to the tribe, and the crowd is booing them for this, but not necessarily thinking through the substantive merits of their position. This is essentially the way Romney is treating the conservative mood. Yes, conservatives have developed a series of policy stances -- say, that subsidizing and regulating private health insurance is the greatest threat to freedom in American history. Rather than treat this as a principled view, Romney simply treats it as an atavistic expression of hostility toward Obama. He defends his Massachusetts plan by pointing out that it involves private insurance. That makes it exactly the same as Obama's plan, but Romney probably figures most conservative voters don't know that, and he's probably right. If Romney can last long enough, then once all the talk of saviors and alternatives has quieted, your typical Fox News watching Republican voter is going to have a moment of recall, where they realize that Romney's been articulating their grievances all along. Now, even Tea Party types -- who greeted Romney's official announcement with the news that they were going to take him out -- are giving him a second look. This is a smart campaign -- though the single smartest thing the Romney camp did this week was to make sure there were no pictures out there of Mitt hanging out with Donald Trump. If you feel like you have to meet with a guy who's universally regarded as a buffoon, don't allow a public record of the meeting. And yet, with each week, there are still those quintessential Romney moments -- like his decision to decry Harvard -- a university Romney attended, graduated from, donates money to and from which he solicits money. And it remains amusing to hear a guy who's been running for president for years tell people that he "[doesn't] have a political career." (We suppose that you need to convince voters to give you one of those.)
Rick Santorum spent last week as the focal point over the whole booing of the openly-gay soldier thing that went down at the GOP debate. It makes sense, he was the guy who got the question, and people were surprised that he didn't have a reaction to it. Well, Santorum insists that he didn't hear the boos as they were happening. "Yeah, well, I condemn the people who booed that gay soldier," said Santorum. "That soldier is serving our country, I thank him for his service to our country. I'm sure he's doing an excellent job. I hope he is safe, and I hope he returns safely, and does his mission well. "I have to admit, I seriously did not hear those boos. Had I heard them, I certainly would have commented on them. But as you know, when you're in that sort of environment, you're focused on the question and formulating your answer. And I just didn't hear those couple of boos that were out there." Personally, we think Santorum's actions are defensible. After all, this is a guy whose brain fills with boos and jeers the moment he's confronted with a member of the LGBT community. How could he possibly have discerned the ones emanating from the audience? At any rate, Santorum is pretty much convinced that gay soldiers had it great under don't ask, don't tell: "We executed a policy that I think was detrimental to everyone, including them, in my opinion because sex and sexual preference should not be an issue in the military, period." Because the moment a heterosexual soldier says, in passing, "I really miss the woman I am in love with back home," aircraft carriers sink and stealth fighters crash. No one denies this! Santorum is also pretty much convinced that everyone had it great in the 2008 economy, and that the ultra-unregulated state of the Wall Street casino that ended up costing Americans their jobs and homes and sent untold billions of dollars to Money Heaven was actually too regulated. So he will make it even less regulated. You know...somehow! Probably he will just give Jamie Dimon a gun and a license to kill people making minimum wage. "I'm creating jobs...for pallbearers!" Dimon will say. But you know what's upsetting Santorum this week? Shills! Doing their shilly-shallying down in Florida! Moving up the Florida primary to squeeze him out of contention. (Though Fox News is doing what they can to keep him viable!) Politico's Dan Hirschhorn pulls the money quote from Santorum's conversation with Greta Van Susteren: "What I believe is going on is somebody in Florida is shilling for Mitt Romney, and probably Rick Perry. They want to shorten the playing field now that these guys are ahead. I'm sure they'd like to have the election tomorrow. So by moving up the calendar, you help the favorites. And there's somebody in Florida who wants to help the favorites. They certainly don't want to help the people, because they're gonna be denied their delegates." Actually, Santorum has a point! The reason Florida has moved their primary is because they see themselves as the state that will decide the race -- and by "race" they mean "Mitt Romney and Rick Perry." Luckily, Santorum has a shill of his own in the form of the Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin. As Dave Weigel noted this week, Rubin is running what amounts to " an open air experiment. What if a writer with a powerful masthead covered a GOP also-ran -- Santorum, in this case -- like a surging contender?" The Rubin-Santorum alliance is one of the best things the candidate has going for him. A couple of times a week, the candidate can point to The Washington Post's coverage as proof that he's being taken seriously. He has done that before; his campaign mail in Iowa informed readers that a previous Post story, by Karen Tumulty, labelled him a proto-Tea Partier. The alliance gives him space to attack other candidates, which has been the Santorum modus operandi for at least a year. It's fascinating to watch this unfold, a test of how much one member of the media can bend the narrative to boost a candidate. So there's some good news for the former Pennsylvania senator. Still, we imagine that he's hurting this week, after a study conducted by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy revealed that the young evangelicals who figure on the religious right, like Santorum, and have been preaching the benefits of chastity and abstinence all these years have been, all that time, freaking on one another's bones. If he hasn't asked about this, please, don't tell him!
It would have been hard for President Barack Obama to have a worse week than the one he had last week, so despite the fact that it started off with him being called the Antichrist by one of America's more addled hecklers, most of the news that came his way was of a more buoyant variety. Solyndra still droned in the background, sure. And there was nothing rosy to be said about the economy. Still, Team Re-Elect has to feel more optimistic. Perhaps the best news that came his way was a solid dose of favorable coverage for the American Jobs Act. Yeah, you can still read the decision to lay a bill the House GOP won't pass in front of them as an attempt at an election year wedge, but the bill itself nevertheless has merit. Per Bloomberg: President Barack Obama's $447 billion jobs plan would help avoid a return to recession by maintaining growth and pushing down the unemployment rate next year, according to economists surveyed by Bloomberg News. The legislation, submitted to Congress this month, would increase gross domestic product by 0.6 percent next year and add or keep 275,000 workers on payrolls, the median estimates in the survey of 34 economists showed. The program would also lower the jobless rate by 0.2 percentage point in 2012, economists said. [...] Some 13,000 jobs would be created in 2013, bringing the total to 288,000 over two years, according to the survey. Employers in the U.S. added 1.26 million workers in the past 12 months, Labor Department data show. Obama could point to other campaign season green shoots. There was the LinkedIn Town Hall questioner who asked for his taxes to be raised. There was a dose of polling that saw his House GOP opponents getting a public downgrade. And just days after the New York 9th District special election caused the White House so much agita, one of Obama's tormentors -- former New York City Ed Koch -- came back to the fold, saying, "I'm now on board the Obama Reelection Express." What did it take to get Koch back as an ally? Well, Koch, who like many others was incapable of recognizing that Obama's support for Israel was real, was so taken by some recent developments in Israel-U.S. relations that he swooned, without realizing that the developments reflect status quo ante White House policy. Also, Obama invited him to a fancy party. Sometimes, that's all it takes to earn the favor of some shallow, uninformed attention-craver! Maybe the most encouraging news for the Obama Re-Elect campaign came from Gerald Seib, who pointed out that the "Blue State Math" still favored the incumbent: Specifically, there are 18 states plus the District of Columbia that have voted Democratic in all five presidential elections since 1992. Combined, they carry 242 electoral votes--90% of the votes needed for victory. Republicans have a much smaller bloc of highly reliable electoral college votes. There are just 13 states that have gone red in each of the last five elections, and they deliver 102 electoral votes, less than half of the number needed. Oh, but grabbing that last 10 percent is going to be a dilly, trust us!
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