The past two weeks on the campaign trail have been plumped up by goings on at two consecutive debates, and while those were contentious, they seemed ordered. Cain had edged up to the top tier, so it made sense that the field would go after his "9-9-9 Plan." Romney and Perry sport the deepest pockets and the best shots at longevity, so it made sense that the two would get heated with each other. In the ensuing days, the media marveled at the fireworks that they had helped to stage, wrapping up the state of the race in a neat little bow -- Romney as unwanted frontrunner, Cain as the incomplete contender, Perry as the pending comeback, and Obama as the real target of all.
But this week? Man, this is the week that everyone just went crazy!
It's possible that Ron Paul was the only guy who saw this week coming -- he was the one who was urging more substance and fewer discussions about who was tending Mitt Romney's lawn many years ago. All we can say is that this week, everyone went in a different direction than Paul suggested. The field was no longer staging some sort of contest about the economy and who could produce a better jobs record than Obama. (Rick Perry, the one guy who tried, somehow managed to promise in an advertisement that he'd be less effective at creating jobs than the incumbent he'll be running against.) Instead, the candidates dealt with all manner of internal desperation and strayed way off message in many interparty disputes, while the media spent whole days fascinated by the sight of this one dude smoking a cigarette.
The Bachmann camp, which hasn't managed to do much in the past month, lost an entire operation in New Hampshire and had to learn about it in a radio interview. Rick Perry decided to retest the theory that a sinking ship can be righted if you only reshuffle the deck chairs hard enough. The world learned that Herman Cain's staff lives in a constant state of chaos and unfriendliness, where people are directed to not speak to the candidate unless directed to do so by Cain himself. Cain probably has food-tasters and eunuchs who sing the popular songs of the courtiers to him! (We're guessing "Pumped Up Kicks" by Foster The People.) A New York Times article on the subject made readers painfully aware of how desperately Cain's staffers must cherish their smoke breaks.
Meanwhile, what was going on with Rick Perry? Was this really the week to start allying himself with Donald Trump's clown-faced birther nonsense and telling people that he was going to just skip the debates instead of working to master them? Did Rick Santorum go over the top in making as big a deal of Herman Cain's confused brain-fugue over abortion? Why is Michele Bachmann accusing Rick Perry of stealing her tax plan when she hasn't actually released one yet? And how did Mitt Romney manage to forget that he supported Ohio Governor John Kasich's union-busting bill when he was in Ohio, getting asked about it? That earned Romney a prompt pile-on and the opportunity to notch another historic flip-flop.
Newt Gingrich has, for a long while, castigated the media for seeking to get the candidates all at each other's throats when all the candidates wanted to do was mount an attack against Obama (who spent his week, by the way, losing his 2008 donors in droves). But with the field giddily tearing each other to shreds, Gingrich's complaint isn't really applicable anymore. (It won't stop him from making it, over and over again, though -- it's the best schtick he's got.)
Elsewhere on the campaign trail, there were things that made more sense. Jon Huntsman demonstrated that he might be just unfunny enough to kill the "Colbert bump." Ron Paul showed once again that his devotees can gin up a pile of dollars at the drop of a hat. Herman Cain found that his sudden success had earned him some powerful detractors. Gary Johnson nearly missed an important deadline. A "tea party leader" had some dire words for Michele Bachmann. President Obama found the least appropriate lobbyist in the world and hired him for his campaign. And just how much are people going to pay for the privilege of seeing Newt Gingrich spew balloon juice? For all of this and more, please enter the Speculatron for the week of October 28, 2011.
Michele Bachmann has spent the last few weeks being bedeviled by terrible poll results and being belittled by former campaign manager Ed Rollins in the press. She's responded to the hardship by working Iowa hard in an effort to resurrect her once promising candidacy. But did anyone tell Michele Bachmann that she had this whole "New Hampshire staff" that's all this while been attempting to "staff" her in "New Hampshire?" Evidently not, because this week, that same New Hampshire staff basically got up and said, "Yeah, guess what? We quit." Bachmann found out about it during a radio interview. Bachmann initially told Radio Iowa that the report of her New Hampshire staff's exodus was a "rumor" and "not true" and that it was probably something another campaign fed the press. Because that makes sense: some other campaign had to have been thinking, "We're crushing Michele Bachmann in the polls, dude! Let's say -- for fun! -- we call up the Union Leader and tell them her staff is leaving? Who cares that it's not true? I'm sure those journalists will continue to treat us as highly credible off-the-record sources when they find out we made this up!" Indeed, for a while, Bachmann courted denial, saying that the rumor of staff defections was something the media had invented just to get at her. But that staff eventually released a letter explaining why they were all taking it on the arches: The manner in which some in the national team conducted themselves towards Team-NH was rude, unprofessional, dishonest, and at times cruel. But more concerning was how abrasive, discourteous, and dismissive some within the national team were towards many New Hampshire citizens. These are our neighbors and our friends, and some within the national team treated them more as a nuisance than as potential supporters. Don't mince words, thesaurus-toting former New Hampshire staff of Michele Bachmann! Through all this chaos, Team-NH was never involved in the shifting strategy discussions. Team members were repeatedly ignored regarding simple requests, sometimes going weeks with little or no contact with the national team. Yet the members of Team-NH remained committed to Congressman Bachmann, often at peril to their own personal and professional reputations within New Hampshire. They supported Michele Bachmann at their peril! In their letter, the staff said that they "would like to stress that pay was not a primary motivation," and that seems fairly evident given the fact that they hadn't been paid for a month. Bachmann tried to get reporters to not pay attention to the statements her former Granite State team were making, but it was hard to do, given the fact that the end result was that Bachmann had to mail in her paperwork to get on the New Hampshire primary. Today, Bachmann received some more dispiriting talk from some guy named Ned Ryun, who the Post describes as a "Tea Party Leader." He is the president of "American Majority," which sounds fairly impressive, but given the fact that the media is habitually prone to calling just about anyone a "Tea Party Leader," the term loses all distinction. But, hey! Let's generously assume that Ned Ryun is a pretty big wheel for the moment, if only to frame his remarks as deeply grave: "It's time for Michele Bachmann to go. For the last two years, I've been cautioning about the dangers of individuals or organizations trying to present themselves as leaders of the Tea Party movement," he writes. "Every day [Bachmann's] campaign flounders, it risks hurting the credibility of the movement. If she really is about the tea party, and making it successful, it's time for the Congresswoman to move on. "The Tea Party doesn't have a spokesperson, and it's certainly not Michele Bachmann." Aww, snap! Well, even before that, Mother Jones' Tim Murphy pretty much figured that Bachmann's presidential race is just about over, and gives odds on what Bachmann might do next. While a "Dancing With The Stars" turn is considered a possibility, he says that the obvious "even money" choice is that she returns to the House of Representatives. Should be an easy effort: Minnesota laws prevent Bachmann from running for the House and presidency concurrently, but she doesn't have to file her paperwork for re-election until June 5, by which point she'll almost certainly be out of the presidential race. Working in her favor: So far, no Sixth District Republicans have stepped in to announce they're running for the seat, and her 2010 Democratic opponent has switched districts. For the time being, however, Bachmann still has plenty of motions to go through on the way to losing the Iowa Caucus. And many of those motions include going on the offensive against rivals -- she rapped new frontrunner Herman Cain this week for his "muddled abortion remarks." Also, now that she's free of anyone who could remotely be called a professional campaign handler and the need to be even remotely serious, we can probably expect more of the raw and uncut Michele Bachmann. And this week, she managed to really dig deep in her playbook of extremism and fantasy, pushing a bonkersauce NRA conspiracy theory suggesting that millions of Americans without access to health care should just look forward to getting below-par care from various charities, and proclaiming that if she was president now, Gaddafi would still be in power in Libya, and what of it, who cares? The fact is, there's another group of people that Bachmann is even more steamed about than her former New Hampshire staff. We're talking about the Iraqi people, who this week found out that American forces will be leaving the country in the manner their government agreed to in the Status of Forces Agreement they signed with President George W. Bush. Bachmann told Bob Schieffer on "Face The Nation": And here the United States has expended forty-four hundred lives, over eight hundred billion dollars in toil and blood and treasure. And while we're on the way out, we're being kicked out by the very people that we liberated. ... And to think that we are so disrespected and they -- they have so little fear of the United States that there would be nothing that we would gain from this. She went on to express what's become a new complaint of hers -- that the Iraqi people owe us money from that time we destroyed their country and staged "Operation Iraqi Rubble" in the name of finding weapons of mass destruction that didn't exist in a country that didn't attack us on September 11th. "That's the thanks that the United States is getting after forty-four hundred lives were expended and over eight hundred billion dollars?" It reminds us of a joke. What's the difference between the Iraqi people and Michele Bachmann's New Hampshire staffers? Her New Hampshire staffers all live in homes with electricity and potable drinking water that aren't part of a war-torn hellscape!
Anyone who's expecting Herman Cain's campaign to begin fading is going to have to wait another week. Sure, as Steve Kornacki explains, Cain's success is largely due to the weaknesses of the field in which he's running, but Cain's still going to take pride in every national poll that has him leading that pack, and he continues to have plenty to choose from. The question, of course, is what can Cain do about it? For the past couple of weeks, on-the-ground observers have noted that Cain hasn't built out a plausible campaign infrastructure or generated the sort of fundraising that he'll need to get from Iowa to the Super Tuesday contests. But at the beginning of the week, there were signs that something was stirring: robocalls were going out in Iowa, hires were made in Florida and a Super PAC -- named the "9-9-9 Fund" -- was formed. And while the long term question of how well Cain can fundraise is an open question, he's managed some short term success: in the month of October, Cain's brought in $3 million. That's more than he raised in the last quarter, and it comes solely on the strength of his sudden rise in the polls. Oh, and did you hear? Apparently the Cain campaign released some kind of campaign ad? Brought to you by a dude who can boast having Andrew Breitbart and Troma Studios on his resume. Someone smoked in it! It was pretty wild. A real game-changer...especially if you were in the business of parodying campaign ads. The ad, which featured campaign chief of staff Mark Block, had a pretty clear subtext: "Yes, Herman Cain does have a campaign staff, you just haven't noticed it yet." All well and good! At least until yesterday, when The New York Times gave everybody an inside look at what it's like to work for the Herman Cain campaign: If Herman Cain feels his management skills are up to any challenge, some of his former staff members think he should have started with the disorder in his own campaign. Mr. Cain has hardly shown up in New Hampshire and Iowa, they said, spending the bulk of his time on a book tour through the South. He occasionally mishandled potential big donors or ignored real voters. His campaign churned through the small staff; last week, his campaign announced the appointment of the veteran campaigner Steve Grubbs, his third Iowa leader in four months. Even bumper stickers have been hard to come by. And then there was that e-mail to the staff about traveling in a car with Mr. Cain: "Do not speak to him unless you are spoken to," the memo said. "It was like they were running for sophomore class president," is a statement that figures prominently in the piece, which goes on to detail chaos and mismanagement that -- wait for it! -- "are at odds with a central theme of his candidacy." You know that theme, right! Herman Cain will surround himself with the right people and take their advice and solve "the right problems." Only in practice, Herman Cain has surrounded himself with a bunch of shifty nic-fitters and then failed to set up their email accounts. Whoever Cain has building his campaign isn't doing that good a job at keeping Cain out of peril on the campaign trail. Last week, he made absolute hash out of his attempt at explaining his position on abortion, in which he seemed to take two diametrically opposed positions at the same time, the end result being that now no one on either side of the abortion debate likes him anymore. (He apparently managed to confuse Piers Morgan with his explanation, but we can't help but feel like this is actually a pretty simple thing to achieve.) He's compounded that by flipping back to supporting a constitutional ban on gay marriage, which he apparently believes that he would sign as president,/a>, because he hasn't actually endeavored to learn the basics of American civics. The really great news is that Cain now fancies himself to be a foreign policy expert, so we expect there to be no end to the coming amusements. Here's a taste: "I can now explain right of return to any reporter better than they understand right of return. Because, you know, you get caught off guard, you go to school and you learn. So I challenge them to try to explain it to me." Right! Weeks after going on television and demonstrating that he was unaware of that concept, he's now prepared to lecture the people who have dealt with the issue for years! You'd think that a more modest approach to ascending the learning curve would be expected from a guy who says that you need "to be looking at the right problem." For the moment, however, Herman Cain believes he has a new problem: Karl "Milhous" Rove, who says -- shockingly! -- that Cain "may not be up to the task" of running for President. Cain isn't taking this perfectly sensible criticism very well: Cain accused Rove of bias in favor of candidates with big organizations, lots of money, and prior experience in political office -- all things Cain doesn't have. "What has Karl Rove done?" Cain continued. "If I become the nominee, he has given Democrats talking points for a commercial to attack me. It makes no sense unless it's a deliberate attempt on his part to try to push me down so that the candidate he wants rises to the top." It's like Cain only became familiar with Karl Rove yesterday, or something! At any rate, the real problem Cain is facing is perhaps best seen in the commentary of a focus group of Ohio voters, empaneled by pollster Peter Hart: What was most striking was the genuine interest expressed in Cain and his candidacy. Time and again he rose to the top of the conversation about the Republican candidates. He was described in far more positive terms than either Perry or Romney. When Hart asked the group who intrigued them most right now, no one came close to Cain in the number of mentions. Confirming Gallup polls, Cain was viewed as the most likable of the candidates, a people person, a hard-working businessman, a potential problem-solver and someone who many said would be a good neighbor. "He's Main Street," said Becky Leighty, a Republican. "He's not Wall Street, and he's not a politician." Which sounds great until you get to this part: Toward the end of the evening, Hart sat down at the table and braced the group with perhaps the most telling question of the night for Cain's candidacy. "Here's what I don't get," he began. He noted that Cain had been described as down to Earth and a good neighbor, but he also recalled how the group had described the country as being in terrible shape and noted that Cain is running a campaign with little staff or infrastructure. "Do you think this person could be president of the United States?" he asked. "Is anybody willing to raise your hand and say, 'I would be comfortable if he became the next president of the United States?' " Not a hand went up. Smoke 'em if you got 'em!
Lots has been said about how many people believe former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is currently enjoying a "comeback" It's true: he's starting to edge up into double digits in polls, and this has touched off a lot of predictable talk about how Newt's unconventional campaign is working, somehow. But Gingrich's lack of an organization and his campaign's large debts keep us real-keepers from drinking this new drowsy elixir that the media is peddling. When Saturday Night Live captures the Gingrich candidacy by joking, "We're calling your bluff: you don't really want to be President, do you?" the truth is that they have nailed it. We believe that Gingrich believes that he is on a comeback, though. That's seen in the way Callista is back window-shopping at Tiffany's. (Gingrich laughs this off by reminding people that he is a member of the aristocracy.) We also get amused when Gingrich applies his own metaphors to this "comeback" of his: Later in Maquoketa he compared himself to a character in the movie the "Sixth Sense," whom everyone else knew was dead but him. He said the "elite media" may have written off his campaign but he's the candidate with the most experience and solutions and that he believes the campaign will be resurrected. Ha, yes, remember "The Sixth Sense," where Bruce Willis' character had been written off by the elite media and was eventually resurrected, because of his experience and solutions? Ooops! I guess we totally just ruined the movie for those of you who haven't seen it! Gingrich is also telling people that "running against the press" has been a key theme to his comeback, which I guess is enough to convince everyone who hasn't yet caught on that "running against the press" has been a key theme to his EVERYTHING for the past thirty years. Frankly, the new "key themes" of the Newt Gingrich campaign are all extremely pretentious ones. He's going to "bear witness for America" at the debates, as if America was incapable of doing so itself. And he's going to add debates to the process, specifically a "modified Lincoln-Douglas" whatsit in Texas with Herman Cain, in which the two men will jaw at each other about tax policy and entitlement programs. (M. Night Shyamalan spoiler alert: Gingrich will offer a winding, hectoring lecture, as is his wont, Cain will struggle to fill an hour of conversation with his ten-minutes worth of ideas, and in the end, it will turn out that the trees are using the wind to kill people.) If you're wondering why the GOP is even pretending to tolerate Gingrich at this point, Jonathan Bernstein has pretty much figured out that "for a party without policies, the faux-candidate supplies the illusion of ideas": It could be that Republican lack of interest in most areas of domestic policy is simply a consequence of an ideology that opposes government involvement (although on things that Republicans do care about, such as abortion, they're not hesitant to get the government involved). More likely, it's a consequence of the group composition of the GOP. Organized Republican groups simply have fewer demands on the government than do organized Democratic groups; if there's no organized group demanding the Republicans develop a policy on poverty or education or housing, then they're not all that likely to do so. That's where Newt Gingrich is helpful. He has ideas -- oh, so many ideas. Well, not really, but he says that he has ideas, and that's the next best thing. In fact, he won't shut up about it. There's no policy area for which Newt isn't prepared to recite a list of buzzwords and then explain how whatever others are saying, it's not nearly radical enough; no, things need to be entirely and completely rethought, because no one else is willing (as Newt will be happy to tell whoever is stuck listening to him) to utterly and completely rethink all the old assumptions. Frankly (as Newt will be sure to say), the others just aren't willing to do it. To be sure, it's all snake oil. Saying that you have ideas, even if you use lots of power words in doing so, doesn't actually constitute having ideas, much less specific policies that could be passed and implemented. But since Republicans aren't much interested in the substance of all of those areas, it's good enough. It allows Republicans to think: Yes, we too are policy innovators. We too have big plans. By the way, in keeping with the fake campaigns of two dudes who really got into the race to sell books and get posh new media gigs, it will cost attendees between $200 and $1000 to see this Lincoln-Douglas Debate Re-Enactment For Bearing Witness To America in person. Those are, believe it or not, recession-era price points, as one would ordinarily expect to part with eleventy thousand dollars for the privilege of hearing how Newt Gingrich is going to save America by creating a special government panel to yell as judges that he doesn't like.
So, in case you've missed the multiple occasions in which Jon Huntsman has attempted to be humorous in debates, only to end up causing Thalia, the Greek muse of comedy, to turn to black market anti-depressants for relief of the pain, the former Utah governor's appearance on the Colbert Report only underscored something that's been self-evident for many months. Take it away, Nia-Malika Henderson: 2012 GOP presidential contender Jon M. Huntsman is not a funny man. In fact, he is painfully unfunny. But, sadly, the former Utah governor is still convinced that he has comic chops. The irony, of course, is that Jon Huntsman's campaign is nothing if not hilarious. The subtle side to the comedy comes in the form of Huntsman's policy portfolio, which manages to combine things that are geared to make him appear like a reasonable person -- which angers the GOP base he needs to win the primary -- with extreme positions that alienate the moderate voters that he'd clearly rather court. This week, Huntsman fulfilled the first side of the juxtaposition by calling for a significant drawdown of forces in Afghanistan, and the latter by signing on in support of Ohio's assault on its working class -- using the phrase "union-busting" as the sought-after goal at a time when the actual union-busting governors have the good sense to couch their desires in euphemistic terms, like "budget austerity." (The latter was likely linked to his rivalry with Mitt Romney, who flopped around this week in clarifying where he stood on the matter.) Every presidential candidate has to go through the process of catering to the base in the early campaign stages and then re-orienting themselves more moderately for the general. But no one seems to be as big a ham-handed failure at the process than Huntsman. Another example of the comedy: desperation, borne of the nation's extreme disinterest in the idea of Jon Huntsman becoming president, led to a decision a few weeks ago to move his campaign operations from their Florida oasis to New Hampshire. It was the zero hour, and Huntsman needed to take the New Hampshire primary by any means necessasry. So, he's concentrated all of his efforts in the Granite State. How have the residents of New Hampshire responded? New Hampshire residents aren't even donating to his campaign. In the last quarter, Huntsman's campaign reported just two donors in the entire state who gave a combined $1,000. For his part, Huntsman says that he is surprised he's even raised that much money, from the residents of the state he now desperately needs to win. Like we said, this candidacy is very amusing.
The big news in the life of the Gary Johnson candidacy is that after making it clear that New Hampshire was the state in which he was going to live or die, he very nearly failed to even get on the ballot for the New Hampshire primary: Friday is the final day of the two-week filing period for candidates to land on the New Hampshire primary ballot. The requirements are simple, and intentionally so: just submit a one-page declaration of candidacy and the $1,000 filing fee. But as of Thursday evening, Johnson had not yet completed that task. State law says that the documents can be submitted by mail or by proxy. But if they are not received before the final day, the candidate must deliver them in person. Johnson was scheduled to start a three-day visit to Arizona beginning Thursday. But his campaign quickly changed plans when the embarrassing mixup was pointed out. Yeah, well, whoopsie-daisy, you know? Maybe this is the product of constantly having to elbow your way into the discussion, a pursuit that the Johnson campaign has had to continue this week, as it presses the RNC for invitations to the debates. "We're having a hard time taking Johnson's campaign seriously," said MSNBC's Chuck Todd, in response to this mix-up. What we find funny about Todd's inability to take Johnson seriously is that we can't recall a single time where Todd even attempted to intellectually engage Johnson's policy proposals or governing philosophy. OMG HE MADE A CLERICAL/LOGISTICAL ERROR! (Meanwhile, we imagine that Todd will continue to take Mark Penn -- a campaign advisor who didn't have the slightest clue how the primary process even worked -- super-seriously. For some actual seriousness, here's Gary Johnson, grappling with the death penalty, in a critique of Rick Perry: In a wide-ranging interview with editors and reporters at The Washington Times this week, Mr. Johnson, who is mounting a long-shot bid for GOP nomination, said his current opposition to the death penalty stems from having once pushed a bill to curtail appeals that he modeled on Texas law, but which, he now says, would have led in at least one case to the execution of innocent persons in a gang-murder case. "If my legislation would have passed, they would have been put to death, and they would have been innocent. And I believe Texas has done the same," he said, pointing to the neighboring state run by Gov. Rick Perry, who is also running for the presidential nomination. Johnson says he is "convinced Texas has executed innocent people," and he has very good reason to believe that, as it turns out.
Fred Karger has a pretty good trope going in his recent campaign ads, where he spoofs the fact that he's been excluded from he debates by digitally inserting himself into the Fox/Google debate and answering the questions he wasn't afforded the privilege of being asked. Having done it once before in defense of the gay soldier that was booed by members of the audience during that debate, he returns to the form in his new spot, in which he tells the rest of the field that they "should be ashamed of themselves" for fostering an air of "doom and gloom" on the campaign trail, instead of forging some sort of optimistic path. (He also restages the funniest part of his last commercial endeavor, where Michele Bachmann is depicted giving approving applause.) In a week where the field descended into birther nonsense and internecine abuse, his spot is pretty fortuitously timed. Now, the question is, can he get the spot on the air? To that end, he's seeking contributions, with rather amusingly named scale levels ($125 gets you the "Law And Order" pledge...shouldn't that be "Law and Order: SVU," though?) Karger also has a memoir out, because that's something you are supposed to do when you run for president. Our favorite part of the Amazon blurb is the part that says, "Customers who bought this item also bought" Walter Isaacson's Steve Jobs book.
Another week, another Ron Paul money-bomb, this time netting the Texas Congressman a cool $3 million. And Paul's putting the money to use as best as he can -- he's practically carpet-bombed the state of Iowa with ads. He's best in class in that regard, but something to remember is that by and large, the rest of the class hasn't yet shown up for homeroom: Ron Paul has spent the most in presidential advertising so far this year in Iowa's largest television market, a Des Moines Register review shows. But the total spent at the Des Moines CBS and NBC affiliates - nearly $500,000 so far - is far lower than the total $8.6 million spent in caucus advertising four years ago at those stations, the review shows. Paul's putting forth a mighty effort, and his campaign insists that the effort is leading to "steady, growing support...in the key early-voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina." The evidence for this, however, is scant: he's got 12% in Iowa and New Hampshire, where he trails Romney and Cain. He is showing growth in South Carolina, where he's gone from 4% to -- guess what? -- 12%. The problem here is that at 12%, Paul is pretty much where you'd expect him to be. The big task of this try at the White House is to move that needle and demonstrate that the grassroots support Paul has earned -- which is not anything to sneeze at, those "money-bombs" are impressive -- can be built upon. So far, this is not happening. Though it hardly helps that the media continues to give Paul short shrift. New York magazine's Dan Amira caught Michael Shear of The New York Times doing what the political media does best: forgetting about Paul's existence. In a piece centered around the possibility that Rick Perry might opt out of the debates, Shear wrote: "Mitt Romney, in particular, would probably pounce. Mr. Romney, who is the only veteran of a previous presidential campaign on the stage each time, has gotten the better of Mr. Perry in nearly every televised exchange." As Amira pointed out, Ron Paul actually was a veteran of a previous presidential campaign who showed up at debates. Google it, it's there! (The Times subsequently slipped in an adjustment. Can you spot the difference? "Mitt Romney, in particular, would probably pounce. Mr. Romney, who is one of only two veterans of a previous presidential campaign on the stage each time, has gotten the better of Mr. Perry in nearly every televised exchange." As Amira notes, this was changed without the paper acknowledging the mistake or the fix. Hell, they didn't even mention Ron Paul's name!) As far as the debates go, Paul has some complaints of his own: "I mean, arguing over who mows Mitt Romney's lawn," Paul said. "In the midst of a crisis, a sovereign debt worldwide crisis, the biggest in the history of the world, and the financial system of the world is about to collapse. We're about to have another devaluation of ... our credit rating. This is serious, and no control in the spending." "We're going to have to get a hand on this," Paul added. "We have to quit worrying over who's mowing Mitt Romney's yard." Having Perry out of the debate would actually free up more time for Ron Paul to actually speak at the debates, and who knows? Maybe 12% gets you seated next to Mitt.
When Rick Perry jumped into the race, it was supposed to be an OMG GAMECHANGE! because he was the guy who was going to jump to the top of the field, vanquish Mitt Romney -- the flip-flop squish nobody likes -- and ride the Sure Thing Slam Dunk Express all the way to the nomination. It hasn't worked out! The guy who everyone just knew was going to successfully unite the "three legs" of the "GOP stool" has done little more than unite the commentariat in the opinion that his campaign has been a stool sample. So, the new three part plan for Perry: 1. Time to get help! Yep. Ol' Rick spent his week refurbishing his campaign, making the sort of hires that you make when you want to get a bunch of headlines that read "Rick Perry Is Hiring Awesome New People," and not ones that read, "Christ, This Rick Perry Fellow's Campaign Sucks Canal Water!" So we got "new guns," "revamps" and"rebuilds." He's getting the people who got Rick Scott elected in his corner. He's getting a new campaign manager. Allbaugh! Fabrizio! Blackwell! Plus tons of monetary support from the children, because they are the future, provided they've had their state-mandated HPV vaccine. (Not that the Perry campaign is emphasizing that anymore, no no! The basic message: It's okay that we have zero points, because we done pressed the reset button.) 2. Time to get back to basics! What got Perry elected all those years ago and kept getting him elected thereafter? Simple ideas, simply executed. So Perry's led a path back to his roots and the tactics that earned him success: "What, what, y'all? Instead of going up in Iowa with an ad packed with Lucas Baiano's action-cinema slurry -- let's just do something simple. An old school ad, with old school b-roll, made the way my old school ad team used to make 'em back in Texas. We'll promise 2.5 million jobs, because people like jobs! "What else used to work? Heck, y'all, we spent a considerable amount of the last gubernatorial election calling for our opponent's tax returns, so let's do that again! Patronage pays, so let's woo Jim DeMint, the Tea Party don. "And what's with all these debates, in which I appear to be sucking? Did I used to do these things? Actually, no, I didn't. I hate them! Debating sucks! So let's maybe explore our options, by which I mean, maybe not doing these debates anymore. I'm sick of having to look at Mitt Romney's dumb face!" 3. And most of all -- time to get kee-ray-zee! Oh, you guys KNOW that Rick Perry was just the guy to bring back full-on birther dementia. You could tell by the way he cozied up to Donald Trump, who took him to New York Fashion Week, which is, like, totally Trump's third-date move. Perry's roll-out as a birther was, at first blush, super-awkward. First he was all about the birtherism, then he was walking it back and telling people it was just fun, then he was beating the drum again, and pulling back once more. The media was confused -- they almost unanimously declared it a failure. But the truth is, that was some good cross-tab pandering to everyone in the GOP base, and most importantly, it brought back all of those teevee cameras just when it was time to drop his tax plan. Of course, the downside to going birther is that you tend to draw a little more scrutiny, in light of the sudden leave you have taken from your senses. And the tax plan is getting a once over. As well it should, because when you distill it to its essence it's basically a plan to force everyone who is not already super-wealthy to have to do their taxes twice, in order to see what the better deal is. (Here's a hint, members of the 99%: you are going to want to opt for not-Perry's plan, in order to save money.) Naturally, a lot of people understand that this will put the federal government on the revenue diet of an anorexic. (Though to be fair to Perry, he does have a whole book about how much he hates the Federal government, so you really can't claim this is a surprise.) And when we imply that the super-wealthy will make out great under this plan, we aren't kidding. And neither is Perry! Asked why his tax plan seems to exacerbate the already dire levels of income inequality, Perry said, "I don't care about that." And he doesn't! This should have been obvious. (Though, admittedly, it does get a little confusing when he calls Mitt Romney a "fat cat.") Also getting scrutiny? Perry's jobs promise. Remember that ad where he promises to add 2.5 million jobs to the economy? He maybe should either think about dreaming a little bigger, or admitting that the financial collapse really hamstrings the president to do very much about it. Either way, he runs up against a little reality, as Steve Benen explains: Let's consider the jobs data. Over the last year and a half, as the economic recovery has slowly progressed, the economy has added 2.56 million private-sector jobs. Over that same period -- March 2010 through September 2011 -- the overall economy has added 2.1 million jobs, and should reach the 2.5 million mark by early next year. Now, no one is saying these totals are good enough. Indeed, given the job losses in 2008 and 2009, generated by a Great Recession that began in 2007, they're not even close to what's needed. The fact that the private sector has added 2.56 million jobs over the last year and a half hasn't been nearly sufficient to bring the unemployment rate down in a hurry or end the jobs crisis. But for the purposes of evaluating the Texas governor's first campaign ad, the bottom line is nevertheless interesting -- Rick Perry believes he'll able to create the same number of jobs in four years that Barack Obama has created in a year and a half. Maybe Perry would be better off not attending any further debates, as we can now confidently predict how the field will attack him.
So, Rick Perry doesn't want to debate anymore? Buddy Roemer, along with Gary Johnson, isn't feeling particularly benevolent to the Texas governor, for essentially punking out on an opportunity that they are desperate to have, on the grounds that Mitt Romney is hurting his wee little brain and making his poll numbers fall down go boom: Former Louisiana Governor and presidential candidate Buddy Roemer, who has so far been excluded from every debate, had little sympathy for Perry's point of view. "We have Jon Huntsman who boycotts a debate just to show his convenient loyalty to New Hampshire, even though he originally showed more love to Florida," he told The Daily Caller. "Now we have Rick Perry whose not trying to pander to any state, but realizes he's just not ready for prime time. To the upcoming sponsors, if you want an intelligent, energetic and no BS debate, I will gladly replace any of the dropouts." And Roemer has the potential to energize the debate by bringing some of that Occupy Wall Street spirit, which has done enough to earn him at least one fan, in Jenny Williamson, staff writer of the Eagle News at Florida Gulf Coast University: No candidate, however, has been as supportive as Buddy Roemer, who not only spoke out publicly in support of the movement, but actually took part and visited the Occupy Wall Street protesters on Oct. 11. Furthermore, Roemer is the President and CEO of Business First Bank! That's not a typo. He's a banker who supports a movement that condemns predatory practices in the financial sector. He's a politician who supports a movement that condemns politicians being heavily influenced by corporate donors. Clearly, Roemer understands not only what the Occupy movement is about but also what America needs--a governing system that is less about the corporations and banks and more about the people. And that's precisely the message that Roemer is seeking to instill in people, which he'd have a better chance at doing if someone would put him on teevee, to make that argument.
As the rest of the field spent the week in a roil, Mitt Romney continues to enjoy the catbird seat. Cain's leading in those national polls? Ain't nothing but a thing, because check the scoreboard in all the early primary states. Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida: Romney's ahead in all of them. And Romney is stylin' and profilin' -- literally. He's the subject of three big newspaper profiles this week. The New York Times depicts Romney as a guy who's managed to shed all of the hang-ups and baggage of his previous campaign and turn his new enterprise into a efficient, yet-flexible simple machine. That sounds nice. But the Washington Post counters with a piece that shows him as lacking the ability to connect with voters. And that sounds bad, but let's face it, that's an old story. Then we come to Benjamin Wallace-Wells of New York magazine, who goes after the Bain Capital roots of Romney's political philosophy. Suddenly, we're interested: What separates Romney's plan from Obama's--and gives some clues about his potential presidency--is its almost-accidental origin. Romney did not begin with a philosophical quest to improve American health care. He began with the idea of himself as a problem solver and asked those around him for a problem that he might usefully solve. I remembered, when I was told this story, an anecdote I'd heard from a former political staffer of Romney's. On even basic philosophical questions like abortion, the staffer said, Romney did not try to resolve the question in the abstract, as a matter of principle, and would consider instead various hypothetical cases--for instance, a late-term abortion--and build from them a politics. The line that Romney is a flip-flopper may vastly understate the depth of the condition. It is arresting to imagine a Romney White House, inevitably filled with as many former Bain colleagues as each of his other public ventures have been: The PowerPoints, the 80-20 jargon, the clinical separation of decision-making from ideology, the detachment of those decisions from moral consequence, a persistent blind spot for people as people. It would represent the final ascension of a perfectly American type, one that has already remade the culture of business. I once asked a Bain colleague of Romney's how Romney thought of his own core competence. "I think Mitt thinks he's good at being Mitt Romney," the colleague said. But beyond his standing in the polls, there remain big problems and awkward moments where he fails to cleanly perform the floor exercise routine that the GOP demands of their 2012 candidates. This week, the awkwardness arose out of Romney's inability to say the right things about Ohio Governor John Kasich's union-busting bill. Romney knows that he's supposed to support his fellow Republicans and destroy the organizational infrastructure through which the working class leverages their numbers in pursuit of tolerable work conditions and fair pay. But Romney also knows that Kasich and his proposal are both insanely unpopular with Ohio voters. So those two subroutines collide inside his robot brain and you get this: "I'm not saying anything one way or the other about the two ballot issues, but I am supportive of the Republican party's efforts here." See, back when the dislike of Kasich wasn't sufficient to initiate the second logical response from Romney's synthetic thought cortex, he was more direct in his support: "My friends in Ohio are fighting to defend crucial reforms that the state has put in place to limit the power of union bosses and keep taxes low...I stand with John R. Kasich and Ohio's leaders as they take on this important fight to get control of government spending." But when conditions changed, Romney started getting fatal error messages. At any rate, after a day of being heartily abused by the rest of the Republican field, Romney initiated his survival protocol, and produced a walk-back. "Bleep blorp," Romney said, adding, "boop!" The episode made this question from Jonathan Bernstein all the more timely: "How much longer can Mitt Romney go without embracing the crazy?" Mitt Romney's strategy is different: he's more-or-less staked out a conservativism without the crazy. Oh, he's campaigning as a hard-line conservative all right. But there's no birther nonsense there. He's either avoided or played down many of the positions that might play well among the 20 percent or so most conservative and ideological Republicans, but are vastly unpopular in the nation as a whole. But how long can Romney refrain from embracing the crazy? If Perry breaks through and winds up seriously challenging Romney in the primaries and caucuses next year, Romney is going to be pushed hard to match him step for step: in a Republican nomination battle that gets defined as moderate vs. conservative, the moderate has no chance. On the other hand, if Romney can dominate from the start, or if his only challengers are fringe candidates such as Cain, Michele Bachmann, or Newt Gingrich, then Romney will be able to emerge from the primaries with relatively little general election baggage, and Republicans will have reason to be quite happy with how the nomination battle played out. Of course, there's one way in which Romney has embraced the crazy -- by signing up Islamophobe nutlog Waild Phares to his foreign policy team. Adam Serwer has the soup-to-nuts treatment of Phares in Mother Jones this week, detailing the life of this one-time thought leader of a violent Lebanese Christian militia, who loved themselves a massacre. Phares may have never taken up arms himself against Muslims, but he got his fellow travelers trained up real good: Régina Sneifer, who served in the Fifth Bureau in 1981 at the age of 18, remembers attending lectures where Phares told Christian militiamen that they were the vanguard of a war between the West and Islam. She says Phares believed that the civil war was the latest in a series of civilizational conflicts between Muslims and Christians. It was his view that because Christians were eternally the victims of Muslim persecution, the only solution was to create a national home for Christians in Lebanon modeled after Israel. Like many Maronites at that time, Phares believed that Lebanese Christians were ethnically distinct from Arabs. (This has since proven to be without scientific basis.) Sneifer, now an author in France who wrote a 1995 book detailing her experiences in Lebanon's civil war, recalls that in his speeches, Phares "justified our fighting against the Muslims by saying we should have our own country, our own state, our own entity, and we have to be separate." That ideology, some experts say, helped rationalize the indiscriminate sectarian violence that characterized the conflict. "There were lots of horrendous, horrendous atrocities that took place during that civil war, in part fueled by that fairly hateful ideology," says a former State Department official and Middle East expert. The most well-known of those atrocities was the Lebanese Forces' massacre of hundreds, possibly thousands, of Palestinian refugees in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in West Beirut in September 1982. The Israeli military, which was backing the Christian militias, was present but did not intervene to stop the bloodshed. Phares was never a fighter, and he did not participate. "I can assure to you [Phares] never shot one bullet in his life," says Toni Nissi, who worked with Phares at the time. "He was an ideological man; he was a thinker." Spencer Ackerman astutely observes that it's an odd sight watching Romney -- who's a member of a frequently derided religion himself -- step up to taste Phares' rainbow. And Eli Clifton notes that Romney has frequently "called for the firing of public officials for far less than participating in war atrocities." Nevertheless, James Carville is confidently predicting that Romney is going to be the nominee, now. That makes sense, considering it will be Romney's Ohio flip-flop and not his war criminal buddies that get the media attention, because the former is more of the sort of horsey-race hee-haw issue that a Mark Halperin can understand and make sounds about, and the latter...well, who knows? Maybe someone who wants to commit wide-scale atrocities is only really expressing an exciting point of view!
Rick Santorum can be said to be running two campaigns. The first is a campaign against everyone else in the 2012 GOP field. In the case of Herman Cain, you have to imagine that the moment he started butchering up his "I agree with everyone and no one at the same time, as far as this issue goes" stance on abortion, Rick Santorum immediately felt a great tremor in his gut. He knew that someone had disagreed with his abortion stance! He always does! And so he put out a web ad, assailing Cain. Is this the first real ad the Santorum campaign has produced? And is this the first attack ad of the campaign cycle that specifically attacks newly-minted frontrunner Herman Cain? We have no idea! You'll have to ask someone who actually cares about those topics. Check Facebook, or something? In addition to going after Cain, Santorum pressed his other rivals. He's mad at Perry for mulling the possibility of skipping the debates. And here's video evidence proving that "zero" is the number of craps he could give about another one of Newt Gingrich's speeches. But mainly, Santorum is mad at Obama. This week, he's mad at Obama for that time he -- uhm...brought troops out of Iraq according the the precise schedule agreed to by President George W. Bush and the Iraqi government that's been a fait accompli for three years? Yeah, that. (Also, he's incensed at the fact that withdrawal has strengthened Iran's hand in the region, because he's too daft to understand that strengthening Iran's hand in the region is a natural and predictable consequence of the invasion of Iraq itself.) Of course, the other campaign that Rick Santorum is running is a campaign to criminalize the fun things you planned to do this weekend.
On the domestic front, President Barack Obama has decided that he's going to try to do what he can to goose the economy that doesn't require Congressional approval, because it will have three possible impacts: 1) it might help people who are struggling in the economy, 2) it might convince people to re-elect him, and 3) what number two said. He is, of course, making enemies, of Paul Ryan, and Mitch McConnell, and Kim Kardashian -- guess which one we find to be the most substantive opponent. (SPOILER ALERT: You will have to think about this one!) Obama's reelection campaign continues to struggle to hold its donor base together. This week, the Associated Press reported that he "has lost millions of dollars in support from former donors in Democratic strongholds and districts that he won narrowly four years ago" and that "tens of thousands of supporters who gave Obama cash in the early stages of his last campaign have held out this time," with a "handful" of former donors handing their ducats to Republican candidates. Some of Obama's disaffected former supporters showed up outside a fundraiser in San Francisco to yell at him, with this one lady being the person that the San Francisco Chronicle featured prominently: "I don't even know what he stands for," said Susie Tompkins Buell, a co-founder of the Esprit clothing company and one of the most generous Democratic Party donors in the nation - instrumental in backing such powerhouse progressive organizations as the Democracy Alliance and Media Matters. Tompkins Buell, who is a longtime friend of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and was among her biggest donors in the 2008 presidential race, has long played a starring role in San Francisco as a hostess for presidents, top legislators and world leaders at fundraisers for progressive campaign causes. But on Tuesday, instead of dining with the elite crowd of about 200 who paid at least $5,000 a head - and up to $7,500 for a photo with the president - at the two-hour luncheon, the Democratic activist, who could easily afford the fundraiser, said it was more important to stand outside with an estimated 1,000 demonstrators. Buell's beef is one that's growing in popularity -- protest of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. Of course, that evening's events conspired to show a wide disparity of how protests get treated by Bay Area police. Back a trendy boutique cause in San Francisco, and you come home unmolested. Demonstrate against wildly pervasive income inequality, however, and you'll get teargassed and shot up with rubber bullets. I'm sure Obama managed to make some money, though. And his campaign has hired a former lobbyist who's backed Keystone XL and Bank of America -- which is really, really magical, now that we've put all of this in the same picture. Also, Obama has a tumblr blog now, so everything is going to be fine real soon, poors!
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