In case you haven't heard, this was the week the "Newtening" began. Months ago, Newt Gingrich was more or less left for dead -- his campaign in debt, his staff long gone, his prospects for mounting a serious campaign in the toilet. But this is the year that the dead keep on walking, mainly from one debate appearance to another, shambling around in a season where no goner ever quite gets gone, and the undercurrent of antipathy to Mitt Romney has everyone running from one of this year's models to the other, to kick the tires. They sampled that loud muscle car from Texas. Then they took a look at that Caddy with the "black walnut" finish. Now, they may as well take that old throwback sedan -- the one with a backseat big enough to maybe test out a new wife or two -- for a spin. Anything to keep from having to drive that family wagon with the vague stench of terrified dog.
Gingrich has soared in the polls of late. In some, he's claimed the top spot. In all, he's back in the mix. And Iowa is looking like it could be ripe for the taking. There was a brief period where Mitt Romney, who began the campaign knowing he didn't need to win in Iowa to claim his party's nomination, was looking like he might make a go of it -- if his competitors' support broke just right, he might have been able to steal the state. And then his coronation was all but a done deal, as the primary calendar had basically aligned to his advantage. But Newt's sudden strength has Romney backing away, once again setting expectations downward.
But do you think that Romney's all that worried about Newt Gingrich? We'll tell you straight up: he's not. We'd be surprised if the Romney campaign has spent a single dollar developing an opposition strategy to Gingrich. Part of the reason is that with Gingrich, the attack ads practically write themselves: there's the serial infidelity, the long history of clashes with party elites, his declaration that Paul Ryan's budget plan was "right wing social engineering," his even more recent incoherence on Libya, the vacations, the Tiffany account, the idea that he has become the anthropomorphic ideal of effete condescension. And, of course, there are the fundamentals: his campaign debt, his thin staff, and the fact that he's mainly campaigning at book signing events at airport hotels.
But the biggest reason Romney doesn't fear Gingrich is that he knows Gingrich didn't earn his way back into the top tier because of anything he did. Gingrich, let's face it, has fallen upward. He's the "Hudsucker Proxy." Gingrich's successes are solely founded on the fact that Herman Cain failed to exploit Rick Perry's failure to exploit Michele Bachmann's failure. Outside of Gingrich being the next in line to inherit the ruin of those who came before him, there's no there there, as they say. And now Gingrich is being dogged by his past affiliation with Freddie Mac, and the fat bankroll he received to give the now-roundly despised organization positive acclamations to his fellow Republicans. If the GOP is looking for a guy who'll slash and burn the budget and punish the party's bugbears, Gingrich hardly comes off as the solution to the problem. He looks like the cause.
Mitt Romney likely believes that all he needs to do is pop some corn and watch Gingrich fade from view. He's sure acting like he's won the primary and Obama is his opponent -- and this week's Romney-Obama FOIA war indicated that Obama thinks Romney's won it too. Maybe Romney will come to lament this. Maybe Gingrich somehow gets over. But if you look at the way this primary season has run, as Mark Blumenthal has, you'd know that there's a clear driver goosing all of the not-Romneys' fortunes this year -- news coverage. And the way it's run is that positive press precedes the build-up, and negative press follows the peak. With Newt's Freddie Mac story all over the news, he could be in for the same ride.
But that's not all that went down on the campaign trail this week. Herman Cain spent all week firing one round after another into his feet. Michele Bachmann got dissed by CBS News, but couldn't get many supporters to care. Rick Perry, playing what one scribe called a game of "Hail Mary," made an odd debate request. Gary Johnson lost his staff, Buddy Roemer found his calling, Ron Paul gained a new sign of life, and in the opinion of one MIT professor, one of these candidates is "lying" about the "f--king bill" that was once the centerpiece of his political portfolio. For all of this and more, please feel free to enter the Speculatron for the week of Nov. 18, 2011.
Michele Bachmann's week got off to a righteously indignant start when a stray email, accidentally sent to the Bachmann campaign from CBS News' political director John Dickerson, tipped Bachmann off to the fact that CBS News did not take her seriously enough to score a special post-debate interview with her. Dickerson's reply to the request for a postgame chat on this email thread was: "Okay let's keep it loose though since she's not going to get many questions and she's nearly off the charts in the hopes that we can get someone else." Sane people in the news business recognized that Dickerson was predicting that Bachmann would not be a staple of that night's debate, and he'd rather score time with those who were more significant players. But to the Bachmann camp, this was a clear example of "media bias." (Bachmann's campaign manager was heard calling Dickerson a "piece of shit" in the post-debate spin room, as he raged on to no one in particular.) Bachmann's complaints didn't really go anywhere. First of all, as the Columbia Journalism Review pointed out, the media's decision to start giving the cold shoulder to Bachmann didn't start with CBS News last Saturday. And it wasn't spearheaded by the "liberal media." Back in September, Walter Shapiro noticed that it was Fox News that had instituted the "Bachmann Blackout." In addition, the campaign's attempt to make hay of the issue on Twitter was an embarrassing failure. From there, Bachmann spent the week saying daffier and daffier things, like that Obama likes Occupy Wall Street more than Israel (which is weird, because Obama did not secretly supply Occupy Wall Street with bunker buster bombs), and that the ACLU was running the CIA (which is weird, because I'm pretty sure the ACLU doesn't approve of using drones to kill American citizens in Yemen without judicial oversight). The hits just kept on coming. Bachmann now thinks the Iraqi people owe the United States "several million dollars" per every American life lost in the costly and incompetent invasion that ruined Iraq's infrastructure. She believes that Obamacare will force veterans out of their current government-funded and managed health care system...when the Affordable Care Act actually won't affect veterans' health care at all. She even went back to HPV vaccine fearmongering! She wants America to be more like Communist China, George W. Bush to be less like a socialist, South Carolina to think about re-seceding, and...we don't even know what to do with this headline about what some seven-foot-tall doctor told her about the Affordable Care Act and the IRS. We just don't. Sorry. This is just too much to absorb while we're sober.
Herman Cain has had rough go of things lately, but despite his many troubles -- which are legion, and mainly involve sexual harassment allegations -- we couldn't have imagined that the man would have managed to stuff so much failure into one week of his life. This is the week that Cain, standing at rock bottom, reached for a jackhammer to plow even further down the trench. Cain is still doing okay in the polls, and even leading in some states. But even before he went sort of mental this week, the cracks were appearing. He's started a decidedly downward trend, in terms of polling. His unfavorable rating has shot up. And he is predictably having trouble with women voters. And that widely-touted poll from this week that claimed to show Cain holding steady in Iowa turned out to be based on some ridiculously stale data. Cain was doing what he could to plug all the holes. He went to Iowa to do some retail campaigning. And Gloria Cain emerged from her hideaway for the first time to defend her husband against the sexual harassment charges that have been levied against him. And all of that might have worked, had it not been for the whole slow-motion "meltdown" that followed. First there was his videotaped interview with the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. And on that videotape, Cain is asked about whether he supported the president's decision to go into Libya, and answers with a rambling monologue. What makes this all the stranger is that on previous attempts, Cain had an answer to the question. Cain blamed a lack of sleep, and criticized the paper for subjecting his answer to "flyspecking," which earned him a rebuke from the Journal-Sentinel's editor. Somewhere in there, Cain thought it would be a good idea to tell people he'd offered Henry Kissinger, who is 88 years old, the job of Secretary of State. (Kissinger said "no.") At the foreign policy debate, Cain said that we'd defeat Iran's nuclear ambitions by strangling its economy by no longer importing their energy exports. The only problem with that is we do not currently import oil from Iran. He said he believes that most Muslims are extremists because that's what this one Muslim dude told him that one time. He thought "Cuban" was a language, and was completely at sea when asked about the "wet foot/dry foot" policy. He said that attacking Iran was not a good idea because it has mountains. And Iran does have mountains. Here's the thing: so does Afghanistan. You can look it up. (Google "Hindu Kush," for example.) "I'm not supposed to know anything about foreign policy. Just thought I'd throw that out," Cain said, apparently under the impression that this would absolve him. Finally, Cain managed to get into a whole huge fiasco with the New Hampshire Union Leader, after the paper would not accede to his demands -- one of which, a request that the interview not be videotaped, stemmed from the fact that the videotape of his interview with the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel caused him so much humiliation. Cain refused the interview, which earned him his second rebuke from a newspaper this week. Said the Union Leader's Joe McQuaid: "I think it's crazy for a guy who want to be a major presidential candidate here in New Hampshire not to take the opportunity for a full length interview with the state's largest newspaper. The window is drawing to a close and my guys have other things to do...I don't think the guy is going anywhere now anyway. More and more, the place that people want Herman Cain to go is "away." Blogger Daniel Drezner invoked the Little League's "mercy rule," saying he was done covering Cain "unless and until Herman Cain surges back in the polls again, or manages to muster something approaching cogency in his foreign policy statements." Tea Party Nation's founder Judson Phillips was even more direct: Forget the sexual harassment allegations. Forget [campaign aide] Mark Block's gross incompetence. Herman Cain needs to leave the race because he is not qualified to be President. The video is painful to watch. It is obvious Cain is in over his head and simply clueless. [...] In the debate last Saturday night, Herman Cain's foreign policy philosophy seemed to be, 'I'll surround my self with people who have a clue because I do not.' Earth to Herman Cain. You cannot subcontract out the duties of President. A growing number of voters agree with Judson Phillips.
As you've probably heard, the Newt surge has begun! From the back of the pack, from the wreckage of his former staff, from that cloud of billowing tweets, we are all witness to the Newt-ron Bomb (which is a term we'd kept in reserve for a future Newt Gingrich-Ron Paul dance party we were going to have if our ecstasy dealer ever comes through with the connect). Suddenly, Newt Gingrich tops the field. He's dogging Romney. He's putting Cain in his rear-view. He's polling really well in Iowa. And most Americans would pick Newt to safeguard our nukes, probably because they know that we could defeat any enemy with just the power of one of his weaponized, condescending lectures. But can Newt actually win the nomination? It's an ongoing dialectic among political pundits, which we can sum up as: "Hmmm, possibly? Naaaaah. Or is it? Probably not. Unless! No, no, definitely not." And when you get to the bottom, you go back to the top of the slide where you stop and you turn and you go for a ride, till you get to the bottom and you do it again! Nevertheless, Gingrich has his liabilities, like being the guy with his name on the source code for the much-hated individual mandate, which is something that capable historians have proven able to remember. And, yeah, speaking of historians, that back-of-the-book question from John Harwood at the CNBC debate two weeks ago is proving to be the most persistent thorn in Gingrich's side, and the most likely reason that his bubble, so recently inflated, might turn out to be subprime. Bloomberg News has subjected Gingrich's claims that he served as a "historian" to Freddie Mac and urged Freddie to reconsider its business practices. In the first place, this is not what anyone at Freddie Mac remembers Newt doing: Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich said during a Nov. 9 debate that he earned a $300,000 fee to advise Freddie Mac as a "historian" who warned that the mortgage company's business model was "insane." Former Freddie Mac officials familiar with the consulting work Gingrich was hired to perform for the company in 2006 tell a different story. They say the former House speaker was asked to build bridges to Capitol Hill Republicans and develop an argument on behalf of the company's public-private structure that would resonate with conservatives seeking to dismantle it. If Gingrich concluded that the company's business model was at risk and that the housing market was a "bubble," as he said during the debate, he didn't share those concerns with Richard Syron, Freddie Mac's chief executive officer at the time, a person familiar with the company's internal discussions said. Here's something you can put in your book of Gingrich quotes: "Fannie Mae is an excellent example of a former government institution fulfilling its mandate while functioning in the market economy." That's basically what Gingrich took money to say. And about that money! Yeah, Bloomberg says that $300,000 figure is a little bit of a lowball: Newt Gingrich made between $1.6 million and $1.8 million in consulting fees from two contracts with mortgage company Freddie Mac, according to two people familiar with the arrangement. The total amount is significantly larger than the $300,000 payment from Freddie Mac that Gingrich was asked about during a Republican presidential debate on Nov. 9 sponsored by CNBC, and more than was disclosed in the middle of congressional investigations into the housing industry collapse. Joe Klein says it's no wonder Newt was so "glum" in Iowa this week. It's hard to sell yourself as a sensible budget cutter in a government gone mad when you're taking seven-figure payments to promote the madness. The matter has incredible salience for the GOP base, for whom this sort of hypocrisy and influence peddling (for Freddie Mac!) is typically out of bounds. And speaking of hypocrisy and influence peddling, Newt may rue the day he scolded others for taking money from Freddie, and come to regret further scrutiny of his record as a political fixer. In short, when Jack Abramoff is appalled by your corruption, you are doing something wrong.
This week, Jon Huntsman took another opportunity to attend a debate and give another one of his "adult in the room" performances. And what can you say? It's his best look. And if the GOP base that will vote in the 2012 primary was an entirely different group of people, with an entirely different worldview, that wasn't in the uniquely riled up position it's in, Huntsman might stand a ghost of a chance. But it isn't and he doesn't, and that's too bad because Huntsman is, at least, a non-kooky adult who comports to all the appropriate standards of human engagement and possesses an impressive base of knowledge. You could not want, for instance, a more measured or restrained or sensible voice on the issue of China's role in the world and how it relates to U.S. ambitions. Of course, the problem here is that in a match-up with President Obama, Obama says, "Yes, this is precisely why I tapped him as my ambassador to China," and the effect is immediate alienation from the GOP base. It doesn't help that when Huntsman talks about foreign policy, he demonstrates that he is often literally on the same page as Obama. It is perhaps, for this reason that Huntsman tweaked the GOP base's amygdala, just a touch, in raising alarms over Iran: MORGAN: What is the right way to deal with Iran if they are going to flagrantly ignore any form of international community opinion on this? HUNTSMAN: Well I think that's exactly what's going on. You can layer sanction upon sanction and I think in the end the sanctions aren't going to have much of an impact. Sanctions have already been taken to the U.N. Security Council. You can go for another round of sanctions and that probably should be tried. You can go after their state bank. You can sanction the elite. You can sanction those travelling in and out. You can tighten the noose in ways that will make life a lot more difficult from an economic standpoint. But my sense is that their ultimate aspiration is to become a nuclear power, in which case sanctions probably aren't going to get you there. And that means [it's] likely we're going to have a conversation with Israel at some point. So, maybe we get a little war going with Iran guys? It's a pity that he said all of this to Piers Morgan, who no one watches. But seriously, it must be pretty effing weird to be Jon Huntsman, on that stage, with those other candidates, talking about foreign policy! Right, Spencer Ackerman? You're Jon Huntsman. You were a successful and conservative governor of a very conservative state. These are your heresies, according to the Washington Times: you endorsed creating a market for pollution to combat catastrophic climate change instead of sneering at those who consider it a problem; you support civil unions for gay couples -- not even gay marriage! -- ; and you weren't willing to bar the children of illegal immigrants from public education. You have the audacity to believe there's no contradiction between being a conservative and being an adult. You also are a classic non-doctrinaire Republican realist, the type of person who, a generation ago, wasn't just in the mainstream of American foreign-policy statecraft, but was its default steward. In a coming Pacific Century, you were ambassador to China, in part because that was a massively important job to have, and in part because you think you ought to serve your country even when you'd like to unseat your president. You argue that America is overleveraged with respect to the Middle East, a position that gets more sensible the more anyone thinks about it, and you are unintimidated to say so. You have the audacity not to care about the elements of the Republican Party that ruined America's global standing during their moment of ascent. And then you realize you will never, ever be more popular within your party than [Herman Cain]. Yeah, Jon Huntsman really does not deserve this sort of torture.
For Gary Johnson's campaign, the struggles are mounting and the window is closing. This week, Johnson missed out on an opportunity to speak at a candidate forum in Concord, N.H. because of what he termed a "total miscommunication" that stemmed from the fact that there was a significant shake-up on his staff. As the Concord Patch reports: Johnson was scheduled to appear at the Primary Patch at The Draft series of conversations with the candidates today at 4 p.m. But his campaign scheduler said this morning that his national campaign did not have the event on the candidate's calendar due to recent changes in Johnson's New Hampshire campaign staff. "We let go of a few of our New Hampshire staff that we were working with in late October," said Grant Huihui, Johnson's campaign scheduler. Today's event had been confirmed with Matt Simon, Johnson's New Hampshire communications director, but Huihui said Simon and the rest of Johnson's New Hampshire campaign team, including State Coordinator Brinck Slattery, are no longer with the campaign. The Portsmouth Patch continues with a report on the "frustrations" that were felt by many on the Johnson state-wide staff: The former New Hampshire communications director for Gary Johnson's presidential campaign said all five of the candidate's staffers in the Granite State quit last month over "frustration with the national campaign." Matt Simon, who joined the Johnson campaign early on, said he was the first to leave, but he was followed by the four other paid New Hampshire staffers, including State Coordinator Brinck Slattery. Grant Huihui, Johnson's campaign scheduler, said in an interview this morning that all of Johnson's New Hampshire staffers were "let go" in late October, but Simon said that is inaccurate. "It's more accurate to say everybody quit," Simon said. "We don't want a big public thing like the (Michele) Bachmann campaign had, but definitely the New Hampshire staff quit out of frustration with the national campaign." Simon said he personally was frustrated with the lack of organization and the lack of money that was being put into the campaign in New Hampshire. Not good for the struggling candidate, who this week filed another complaint with the RNC over the persistent debate exclusion he's faced this year: Johnson also blasted the Republican National Committee for what he saw as a failure to ensure that GOP primary debates are fair and inclusive. Of the 10 so far, Johnson's only been on stage for two -- most recently one in late September. "I have been a Republican my entire life, but I feel like the Republican party has left me," he said. "Reince Priebus, I don't think you're listening, but come on man!" Johnson tells Politico that he plans to "reboot the campaign in New Hampshire," but with scant time remaining before the primary process kicks off, he's got precious little time and no margin for error.
The good news that Fred Karger is celebrating is that this week he was put on Michigan's ballot for the GOP presidential primary. This comes coupled with some bad news, however: he's been excluded from Florida's ballot. This snub generated a letter to Florida GOP Chairman Lenny Curry: I am deeply disheartened that you and the Republican Party of Florida decided to keep me off the Florida Republican Primary Ballot, especially in light of the fact that Michigan just announced that I will appear on its Republican Primary ballot next year. My campaign staff and I called and emailed your office and you repeatedly for several weeks before you made the decision which candidates to include on the Florida ballot and which to leave off. Our phone calls and emails were never returned. Debate exclusion seems to have played a role in Florida's decision: According to news reports, you chose to only include those Presidential candidates who participated in the most recent Florida Fox News Debate. I qualified for that debate. I met the criteria of achieving 1% in five national polls. I filed a 158-page complaint with the Federal Elections Commission against Rupert Murdoch and Fox News because I was excluded. By your criteria, I should be on the Florida Republican Primary Ballot as well. This is all somewhat awkward, as Karger's currently trying to wage a boycott against orange juice. Meanwhile, Karger is spending all of his available time in New Hampshire, where he's received the distinction of being the candidate who's spent the most time in the state, according to the Boston Globe: By the count of New-Hampshire-based WMUR Political Scoop, the first openly gay presidential candidate has spent 74 days in the Granite State, more than any other Republican candidate for president. Jon Huntsman, who has staked his campaign on a strong New Hampshire showing, has spent 49 days in the state. Mitt Romney, who has a summer home on Lake Winnipesaukee, has spent 33 days, two fewer than Rick Santorum and Buddy Roemer. At the back end, Michele Bachmann has spent 14 days in New Hampshire, Herman Cain 17, and Newt Gingrich 18. As the Globe points out, "If retail politics alone were what it took to win the primary race in New Hampshire, the candidate to watch would be Fred Karger." Unfortunately, it seems that retail politics isn't enough -- you have to be invited to some of the debates.
In the past, while other candidacies have been imploding under gaffes or inflating because of hype, Ron Paul's been well served by laying low and pressing along at a relative distance from the spotlight. But this week, Paul really wanted to set up some distinctions between himself and his rivals at CBS' debate. The problem was that CBS rogered him, but good. Paul only got a scant amount of time actually to speak at the debate, which led campaign spokesman Jesse Benton to say that CBS "should be ashamed" of how little attention they gave Paul. And Paul's getting pushed to the edges again for next week's CNN debate. Of course, at the last debate, Paul did get to say that he is against waterboarding and is worried about a conflict with Iran: Ron Paul found himself, as he has in the past, ideologically isolated from the rest of the field, arguing vehemently that waterboarding is a breach of law. On the Iran question, with many of his opponents alluding to or outright invoking the military option, Paul came out with this loaded one-liner: "I'm afraid what's going on right now is similar to the war propaganda that went on against Iraq." (It should be mentioned that Herman Cain did say the solution had to be more economic sanctions.) But beyond Paul's debate woes, this was probably one of the most fortuitous weeks of his candidacy. We've been waiting and watching for any signs that Paul has been successful of growing his support beyond his ardent admirers, and this week, in Iowa, Paul's needle finally twitched: Twice this week, a survey shows Paul on the rise and in second place among likely Iowa Caucusgoers, finishing within the margin of error with poll leader Herman Cain. The Iowa State University/Gazette/KCRG survey of 377 Iowa Republicans out today had Cain at 25 percent and Paul at 20 percent. Bloomberg's Iowa poll out Tuesday had Cain at 20 percent and Paul at 19 percent. Paul has been the first choice among at least 10 percent of Iowa Republicans since this summer, and has been between 10 and 12 percent since October. Of course, whether that result precedes a groundswell or remains an outlier remains to be seen. Though maybe, just maybe, a future Gingrich collapse would finally lead to Paul at least ascending to "flavor of the month" status within the GOP base. If that doesn't happen, Paul can at least content himself with knowing that schoolchildren seem to love Paul to bits and bits. (Of course, by the time they are eligible to vote, they'll likely be casting their ballots for Rand.)
As with every week since Rick Perry arrived on the scene and actually started talking, this week renewed all of the old questions as to whether Rick Perry can actually win the nomination. Over at Time, Jay Newton-Small figures that he's still got a shot, though many of her "five reasons Perry will survive" don't really speak to his prospects of winning. Yes, it would be "so much worse" for Perry if "he backs out now," but that's not a reason to suspect he might actually succeed. (Also, how bad would it really be for Perry? A humiliating footnote in the history of the election? Maybe his endorsement wouldn't be as valuable? Tim Pawlenty dropped out a long time ago, and he's doing fine.) Still, it's not like the Perry campaign is entirely bereft of competence. At the very least, he's showing some charming self-deprecation about his campaign gaffes. And the retail operation seems plenty robust. He's putting more ads up in New Hampshire, dropping direct mail in South Carolina, and accompanying that effort with radio ads that tout the support of Rush Limbaugh and James Dobson. Perry's PACs continue to aid the air war, and a $1 million ad buy on Fox News will reach all the right voters. Now he needs to work on doing a better job on his ads. Perry went after Barack Obama for his "lazy" remarks this week, but somewhat undercut himself with the finished product, in which Perry was too lazy himself to actually complete sentences in the English language. As Daily Intel's Dan Amira remarked: Of course, taking things out of context is hardly new ground for a political campaign. What is new ground is a candidate mangling the English language in a TV ad, which he presumably had the opportunity to tape as many times as necessary. "Can you believe that?" Perry asks in the opening moments of the ad. "That's what our president thinks wrong with America?" We imagine the ad team doing 97 different takes of this line, then finally saying, "Eh, screw it," and giving up. Maybe expecting Perry to say every word in a 28-second script is asking for too much. Amira went on to mock Perry's strange attempt to characterize Obama as a product of a "privileged" upbringing: "If being abandoned by your father, raised largely by your grandparents, and relying at times on food stamps is privileged, then we guess Obama was privileged." Perry needs to think these things through! But Perry is just trying whatever he can to reclaim some of his past reputation as a man who wants to boldly reshape the mechanics of Washington, and this week, he harkened back to his "Fed Up!" days when he announced his intention to "uproot and overhaul" all three branches of government. As the AP reported, "Perry said Tuesday that if elected he would end lifetime appointments for federal judges and slash the pay for federal lawmakers, effectively turning Congress into a part-time institution." That's certainly one way to move away from merely cutting three government agencies, one of which he cannot remember. But as Matt Yglesias points out, making the Congress a part-time body would only further and deepen the extant corruption: You can see this along a number of dimensions. One is that if members of Congress need to work second jobs, their business relationships will involve conflicts of interest. A second is that to the extent that earning extra income takes up more of members of Congress' time, they'll become more dependent on lobbyists and special interest groups for information and assistance with their projects. A third is that lower pay tends to induce legislators to retire sooner, and less-senior legislators are more dependent on lobbyists and special interest groups for information and assistance with their projects. A fourth is that to the extent you cut legislators' pay, a larger share of the real compensation for doing legislative work is the opportunity to "cash in" after you leave office. A fifth and related consideration is that to the extent you cut legislators' pay, a larger share of the real compensation for doing legislative work is the ability to raise PAC and campaign funds that you spend on yourself. Last, but by no means least, to the extent that you reduce the desirability of winning re-election, you encourage members of the legislature to ignore their constituents in favor of pleasing others. Jonathan Capehart sees Perry's recent attempts at manufacturing bold ideas as an indication that Perry is now left to make one "Hail Mary policy pronouncement" after another: "Once the sugar high of the rhetoric wears off," he writes, "you're right to wonder how any of what he proposes will change things." Perry's odd decision to challenge Nancy Pelosi to a debate over his plan to "uproot" Washington seems to be part and parcel of Perry's new "Hail Mary" offense, as well. Of course, the biggest reason why Perry may be striving and straining to impress people may be the fact that he has some cashflow worries. As the Houston Chronicle reports: Texas Gov. Rick Perry's campaign fundraising has gone into a tailspin as a result of poor debate performances and plunging poll numbers, jeopardizing his position as the best-funded Republican presidential candidate of 2012. Perry's associates and supporters say his campaign has redoubled its money-raising efforts in the past week to ensure that his campaign will have enough money to survive the first three contests of the 2012 election calendar: Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. But Perry's loyal backers are running into resistance from Republican donors. One Perry fundraiser, who asked not to be named, said he received 15 RSVPs for a recent event from potential donors saying they might attend. But after a gaffe-marred Perry debate performance, none showed up. "The debates have taken a toll," the fundraiser said. "The national numbers have taken a toll. People see the campaign on a negative trajectory." We've been saying for weeks that the best thing Perry had going for him is the fact that unlike rivals like Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain, Perry was having no problem stacking dollars. But if that's changed, then all Perry has left to fall back on is a pretty decent haircut. You know, in this context, maybe it is fair to suggest that Obama is the more "privileged" candidate.
When Buddy Roemer first jumped into the race, we remember weeks when the candidate disappeared entirely, taking his message of fighting the corrupt influences of corporate power and big money in politics with him. But with the advent of Occupy Wall Street, Roemer has truly found his lane. All week long, Roemer's twitter account has been sending out a steady stream of support for the Occupiers -- lauding them for their stance against entrenched corruption and defending their First Amendment rights against the onslaught of police raids they've faced this week. Supporting #OWS may not be a way for Roemer to move up in the polls or get invited to the debates (come on, debate organizers, it's got to be tempting!), but for a guy who says he wants to do the right thing before he even has an argument on how to do the right-versus-left thing, the demonstrators have lent Roemer a palpable energy and a "niche" from which he can project some creativity: Unlike his rivals, Roemer enthusiastically embraces the protest movement and shares its frustrations over the so-called 1 percent's outsized influence.[...] "Listen to Occupy Wall Street," he urges in a web-only television ad. "You know what they're saying? No one went to jail after trillions were taken from the taxpayers. We have billion dollar companies that don't pay a penny in taxes. It's not right." Roemer also doesn't think the actions that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg took this week were right, either: "The mayor of New York City is standing on the wrong side of history. His actions in the midnight hours against the Occupy Wall Street protestors are unjust, uncalled for, and unconstitutional," said Roemer in a statement on Tuesday. "The First Amendment right of assembly and speech exists to protect America from this kind of government power abuse. "His actions will be a stain on America's long history of peaceful assembly. I encourage Mayor Bloomberg to read a history book on America and he will see, from the civil rights marches to the Vietnam protests, our young Americans have stood up to injustice and in the end were right in their actions. "Was there no common ground to maintain health and safety while allowing for assembly, protestations and debate? And to raid the assembly in the wee hours is so typical of abuse and cowardice," added Roemer. "These young people of Occupy Wall Street have my total support. I have walked among them and listened. I support, with my actions, their contention that something smells of corruption in America when the few who give large sums of money to politicians receive special favors in return, while the average citizen is foreclosed-on and forgotten. They are asking questions about injustice, and special-interest control, and institutional corruption that need to be asked, that must be asked in a nation headed in the wrong direction. And if you're thinking that there might not be any quit in Roemer, well, you might be right. It seems he's mulling over a third-party challenge: Former Louisiana governor and Republican presidential candidate Charles "Buddy" Roemer has not been invited to participate in any major debate, and said he may just have to consider becoming a third-party candidate to get noticed. "If I'm going to be shut out of every debate, I suppose that's something I'm going to look at," he said. "I'm a proud Republican, but I'm a prouder American. This is not about my party, this is about my nation. Just don't expect him to be the "No Labels" candidate.
Mitt Romney remains in or near the position he would like to be to win the nomination -- at the top of the polls or otherwise in the top-tier mix, countered on his flanks by two people running fake campaigns (Cain, Gingrich), one guy who's still imploding in slow motion (Perry), and Ron Paul, who may be ticking in the right direction in Iowa but isn't yet a threat to Mitt. Buried within poll results, you continue to see the kinds of numbers that indicate that while the GOP isn't falling in love with Romney, they're more than inclined to settle. And he continues to have the luck of the Irish at these debates -- this weekend, once again, Romney emerged none the worse for wear after battling it out over foreign policy. Though as Steve Benen points out, when it comes to foreign policy, Romney is merely an expert in faking expertise (something that's re-affirmed in every foreign policy op-ed he's ever written, frankly): Indeed, Saturday night's debate was a disaster for Romney, at least for those who gave his answers meaningful scrutiny. The former Massachusetts governor effectively called for a trade war with China, which is hopelessly insane, and is based on Romney's confused understanding of what's procedurally possible at the WTO. He also called for U.S. support for "the insurgents" in Iran, apparently unaware of the fact that there are no such insurgents. Romney went on to say he would never negotiate with the Taliban in Afghanistan, which is naive and at odds with the assessments of all U.S. military leaders, and added that he's both for and against withdrawal timetables. For all the jokes about the clowns that make up this year's Republican presidential field, the conventional wisdom is flawed. Romney, we're told, is the "serious" one, in large part because he speaks in complete sentences, and isn't bad at pretending to be credible. Ultimately, though, Romney's efforts don't change the fact that he's faking it -- and those who understand the issues beyond a surface-level understanding surely realize the GOP frontrunner just doesn't know what he's talking about. Worse, Romney keeps failing these tests. Remember the time Romney told ABC News he would "set a deadline for bringing the troops home" from Iraq -- but only if it's a secret deadline? How about the time Romney, more than four years into the war in Iraq, said it's "entirely possible" that Saddam Hussein hid weapons of mass destruction in Syria prior to the 2003 invasion? Or the time Romney pretended "Hezbollah and Hamas and al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood" were all the same thing? How about my personal favorite: the time Romney made the bizarre assertion that IAEA weapons inspectors were not allowed entry into Saddam Hussein's Iraq? Still, Romney is handsome and knows how to count and he will probably do whatever foreign policy stuff that the GOP wants him to do after yelling at him, so he's not without his charms. His charms, however, aren't winning over the folks in Iowa. This week, Romney was criticized by both Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, who reminded him that "Iowans don't like being ignored," and Iowa's Christian-conservative kingmaker Bob VanderPlaats, who suggested that Romney is perhaps "not smart enough to be president." That's the full spectrum of conservative leadership in Iowa not taking a shine to Mitt, which is why he's recently started downplaying his chances in the Hawkeye State again. (Romney's always been able to forsake Iowa, however, because of his consistently strong showing in New Hampshire.) Romney, who has essentially declared himself the winner of the "invisible primary," continues to mount a war-in-the-background with the Obama reelection team, who have engaged him in kind. Democrats continue to squeeze Romney's record at Bain Capital for opposition nectar, and Romney's camp is, in turn, keeping watch on the Obama campaign. This week, both sides got into a "war of FOIAs," with Romney seeking out information on how Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick (who, like Obama, is from David Axelrod's political circle) has been involved in generating opposition research for the 2012 contest. The DNC responded by seeking out Romney's gubernatorial records (which appear to have been blanked from existence on Romney's orders). Our heart goes out to whatever mid-level state employee has to process all of these FOIA requests. According to Daily Intel's Brett Smiley, riffing on this New York Times story, "The lack of heat on Romney from the other candidates has been a great frustration for Obama's aides ... as they would like to see Romney tarred, feathered, and have his hair messed up." Of course, this week, the guy who had the most success mussing Romney's hairdo was his old colleague from back in the Massachusetts health care reform days, Jonathan Gruber -- the MIT professor who went from advising Romney to advising Obama on the issue. Capital New York's Reid Pillifant brought home the money quote: He credited Mitt Romney for not totally disavowing the Massachusetts bill during his presidential campaign, but said Romney's attempt to distinguish between Obama's bill and his own is disingenuous. "The problem is there is no way to say that," Gruber said. "Because they're the same fucking bill. He just can't have his cake and eat it too. Basically, you know, it's the same bill. He can try to draw distinctions and stuff, but he's just lying. The only big difference is he didn't have to pay for his. Because the federal government paid for it. Where at the federal level, we have to pay for it, so we have to raise taxes." (It should be noted that Gruber also voiced frustration with Democrats, saying, "I really honestly feel in my soul that if I sat down and could talk to Democratic voters and explain what's in the bill, [polling support] would go from 52 to 75 percent ... I really do believe that. It's so consistent with Democratic ideals in so many ways that it's just a matter of misunderstanding and misinformation.") Another Romney policy idea that might wear thin very quickly is his recent suggestion that the Veterans' Administration should be privatized. Veterans don't favor the idea, as they would "lose the many safeguards built into the VA system." It was probably not the best idea for Romney to float on Veteran's Day, and there was some added embarrassment later in the week when a Navy vet wearing a shirt that read "Vets Against VA Vouchers" was kicked out of a Romney rally.
This weekend's foreign policy debate gave Rick Santorum one of those opportunities to demonstrate that he's not entirely bereft of wits, when he countered his fellow candidates' calls to zero-out foreign aid by saying that it would be a dumb idea in certain instances. "You don't cowboy this one," he said, referring to our fragile relationship with Pakistan, saying that the United States just can't ride into that nation to interdict a loose nuke, you have to exploit the admittedly strained alliance you have with the Pakistani government. This alone managed to earn Santorum plaudits from some traditional critics, like TPM's Josh Marshall, who said, "Yet another discomfiting moment in which Rick Santorum is far and away the most lucid and knowledgable person on foreign policy." (He's maybe not giving Ron Paul enough credit, but then again, Paul was barely allowed to speak at that debate.) Of course, Santorum joined Mitt Romney in asserting that there is some sort of "insurgency" in Iran, when there is actually a democratic movement to reform the regime, not take up arms against it. But Santorum is using Iran as an issue in new radio spots, which hits Obama and his GOP rivals for not paying attention to Iran's nuclear ambitions: The ad, titled "disaster," faults both the Obama administration and the rest of the GOP field for not focusing enough on the possibility that the Islamic state could develop a nuclear weapon. "A new report exposes how Iran is moving rapidly to develop a nuclear weapon and once again Obama has no plan," the narrator says, referring to an IAEA report released last week. "Unfortunately, the Republican presidential candidates aren't talking about Iran either, except one: Rick Santorum." The script continues: "But it's not surprising, Rick Santorum served on the Armed Services Committee for 8 years and he wrote tough legislation to help stop Iran's growing aggression. Even Newt Gingrich said, 'No one has done more than Santorum to alert America to the dangers posed by Iran.'" Of course, pretty much the rest of Santorum's week revolved around gay people, and how being gay is just a choice that people make (which is incorrect), and how Mitt Romney doesn't hate gays hard enough, and how Santorum will personally "turn back the clock" on gay equality with his own bare hands if he has to, because he loathes the thought of gay people being happy and living free lives in America.
When you have a week where one crazy person suggests that it would be "tempting" to shoot you, and you find out that a slightly crazier person actually tried, it's sort of a good week to stop worrying about poll numbers. But President Obama nevertheless had a lot of campaign 2012 on his mind. Though he's asserted that he was going to stay out of the campaign trail chitchat until the GOP settled on a nominee, he broke that vow of media silence this week to comment on the waterboarding fandom that went down at the GOP debate this last Saturday, referring to the practice accurately as "torture," and declaring that it was antithetical to American values. But while Obama may say that he's going to stay aloof from the campaign, the truth is that his reelection team is already heavily engaged in the process of gaming out a campaign strategy -- one that Obama himself alluded to when he suggested that he might just run verbatim clips of the GOP debates in order to shore up the Latino vote. Sam Stein reports that this time around, Obama is seeking out the help of the outside groups he'd previously not taken a shine to: American Bridge 21st Century is a relatively new Democratic operation -- conceived by David Brock, the founder of the highly successful progressive media tracking organization Media Matters, and run by former high-ranking Hill and campaign staffers -- but its ambitions, as exemplified by plans for that server, are far-reaching: The group aims to redefine the art of opposition politics. "I think I can do this better," Bradley Beychok, American Bridge's campaign director recalled Brock telling him just before Beychok came onboard. "I think I can do this smarter. I think I can do this on a larger scale." As the 2012 campaign gears up, outside groups like American Bridge are indeed working on a larger scale, certainly when viewed in the context of recent Democratic Party history. In 2008, the Obama campaign urged donors to funnel their contributions straight into their coffers -- thereby depriving other organizations of desperately needed funds -- but there have been no such directives this cycle. When two high-ranking White House officials set off to start a group of their own, no one stood in their way. The result was Priorities USA and Priorities USA Action, a non-profit and super PAC hybrid. "[Obama] shut us down when I tried to set up a super PAC in '08," recalled Paul Begala, the long-time Democratic consultant who helped those two former senior staffers, Bill Burton and Sean Sweeney, launch the Priorities USA enterprise. "I didn't agree, but he was my leader so I shut it down." And the Obama campaign team isn't really waiting for a winner to emerge from the GOP primaries. They've already decided that the candidate that they'll be facing will be Mitt Romney, and the Romney camp seems largely inclined to agree. While Romney surrogate Chris Christie is handling all of the important pre-war expectations management -- suggesting that the GOP will be the underdog to Obama in any event -- the Romney campaign is already taking shots at Obama. This week, he suggested that Obama's reelection would lead directly to a nuclear Iran, and he joined others on the campaign trail in dogging the President with criticism for calling Americans "lazy." Oh, sure, we fully understand that this is not what Obama actually said. Jamelle Bouie provides the real talk: Last weekend, in a meeting with CEOs in Honolulu, President Obama offered some mild criticism of himself and the business community when it came to attracting foreign investment: "I think it's important to remember that the United States is still the largest recipient of foreign investment in the world. And there are a lot of things that make foreign investors see the U.S. as a great opportunity -- our stability, our openness, our innovative free market culture. But we've been a little bit lazy, I think, over the last couple of decades. We've kind of taken for granted -- well, people will want to come here and we aren't out there hungry, selling America and trying to attract new business into America." It's hard to imagine something more straightforward than this; Obama doesn't think that American business is "lazy" as much as he believes that the country could do more to make the United States more attractive to new businesses and entrepreneurs. It's the usual boilerplate that you hear from politicians across the political spectrum. That's the sort of mild managerial criticism that you'd expect at any big company-wide meeting -- we at the Speculatron have heard much the same in our own adventures in the private sector. But it doesn't take much to become a campaign trail talking point, and while this doesn't rise quite to the level of outrage stoked by Obama's 2008 comment about rural voters clinging to "guns and religion," it will do the trick in November of 2011. Provided, you know, that no one recalls McCain surrogate Phil Gramm's "nation of whiners" line from 2007. (That line actually doesn't look better in context, considering the context was Gramm's rather loony belief that the recession was "mental," and not actually real.) In a more substantive vein, this week featured a slew of pieces on the relationship between the president and his loyalty to various staffers, which raised interesting question as to whether he was a good manager. Ezra Klein made note of two specific pieces: In the Financial Times, Ed Luce writes that Obama's "campaign inner circle is actually strengthening its grip on the White House. The group, which most prominently includes Valerie Jarrett, the longstanding Chicago friend and mentor to the Obamas; David Plouffe, the 2008 campaign manager; and David Axelrod, who is now shepherding Mr Obama's re-election campaign from Chicago, last week clipped the wings of Bill Daley, the president's hapless chief of staff." In Sunday's New York Times, Jackie Calmes explored the close relationship between President Obama and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. "The question for outsiders as varied as Tea Party Republicans and liberal Democrats," she writes, "is why Mr. Obama would be so insistent that Mr. Geithner stay. As Treasury secretary, he was the highest-ranking member of a team that underestimated the depth of the downturn, and he has managed both to anger Wall Street firms and to be a target of criticism at Occupy Wall Street rallies." Matt Yglesias, however, concludes that the story of Obama's limits as a manager can already be told through the prism of the administration's pursuit of policy outcomes in 2009 and 2010. Kevin Drum responds by wondering just how abnormal it actually is for new administrations to face a learning curve. Klein says that depending on how his reelection bid goes, Obama's managerial acumen and the faith he's exclusively placed in his inner circle will either be said to be a strength or a limitation. Which is ... okay ... we guess? That's sort of like saying, "We predict that if things go well, people will say things went well. Unless things don't go well. In which case they won't." Sometime next week, by the way, the super committee is scheduled to fail miserably. That will not be a good day in the life of the Obama administration.
[Programming note: There will be no 2012 Speculatron round-up next Friday. A Happy Thanksgiving Holiday to everyone!]
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