Let's see, what can we say about this week in the 2012 race? Frankly, we're tempted to just say, "What we said last week, except more intense, and maybe a twist ending in Iowa? Or not!" This was the week where the seesaw that sawed Newt Gingrich into the top spot in polls in Iowa suddenly was seen to be see-ing back in the opposite direction. To the benefit of Mitt Romney? Maybe.
Romney could not have possibly started this week worse. First, he gets into a manhood measuring test with Rick Perry over the part of his book he changed and its context and significance, by daring Perry to make a bet. It's a bet that Romney would have won, if the matter had been judged by Politifact. But it was the swaggering amount of the bet -- $10,000 -- that had everyone's jaws dropping, and every Romney opponent reaching to stamp him with the patrician elitist label. (Let's be clear, of course, Rick Perry could have covered that bet. He's not exactly a tenant farmer anymore.)
With that, Team Romney began The Campaign To Humanize Mitt, and it was announced in a Politico feature story that unfortunately came with a picture of Romney poised to envelop some poor gray-haired lady in his robot arms. "Let me gently grind you with my upper body grasping pincers, human female!" was the message the image conveyed. Later in the week, Romney accepted and touted the endorsement of Delaware political grifter Christine O'Donnell, who for some reason is a person who journalists talk to. Her praise sounded like an epitaph: "He's been consistent since he changed his mind."
And yet somehow, this was actually a much, much worse week for Newt Gingrich. Why? Because all of his Republican pundit friends just cannot stand him. They hate him like they hate a bowl of cream of tapeworm soup. The Washington Post allowed George Will to be the centerpiece of a "page of Newt Hate," in which the denim-hating columnist teed off on Gingrich for daring to denigrate capitalism. But the National Review, said, "Okay, WaPo, we'll see your page of hate and raise you by a whole magazine worth of anti-Gingrich venom." By mid-week, the polls suggesting that Gingrich's support in Iowa was starting to crumble had begun their steady march.
Also aiding in the crumbling of Newt? Ron Paul! And not getting damaged by the relentless negative attacks? Ron Paul! Paul's never been closer to winning the Iowa Caucus, and succeeding there would be a critical "proof of concept" test for his movement, and a sanity-wracking event for everyone else in the GOP. Chris Wallace went so far as to say that such a result would "discredit the Iowa caucuses." Most people simply figured the win would be a boon for Romney. A few probably sized up John Huntsman's sudden strength and darkly wondered about the possibilities of a brokered convention. Maybe we should re-read that Mayan calendar we heard so much about, and see if it predicted the Donald Trump debate. (Which is not happening, thankfully.)
In short, bonkers bonkers nuts bananas times infinity plus one! But remember, all rides soon come to an end, and after Jan. 3, it's likely that one or more of our beloved candidates will be joining Tim Pawlenty and Herman Cain in the sweet bye-and-goodbye.
But for the moment, we roll on. This week Michele Bachmann teed up the easiest entry that Politifact has ever posted in its life. Rick Perry's campaign jumped the shark with a comparison to a sports hero. Ron Paul saw an old scandal take new life. Rick Santorum waited by the phone for his evangelical friends to call him back. Gary Johnson mulled a destiny-changing decision, someone you wouldn't believe is ahead of a big-name contender in New Hampshire, and you will never guess what candidate suddenly might win a single delegate from the Iowa caucuses if he plays his cards right. To find out, please enter the Speculatron for the week of Dec. 16, 2011.
Mitt Romney got the message -- the primary battle he once thought he could snatch at the outset was looking more and more like it was going to be a long, grueling battle. Unfortunately, he stumbled at the beginning of the week by asking Rick Perry to take him up on a $10,000 cash wager. Everyone opposed to Romney, from Perry, Gingrich, Huntsman, right down to the folks at the DNC, delighted in one more example of Mitt Romney coming across as the out-of-touch, privileged rich kid. And so, Team Romney undertook a mission to demonstrate that Mitt Romney was an actual human being, and not some sort of gold-plated android struggling to learn humanity's customs and emotions: Rushing to fend off the sudden strength of Newt Gingrich -- a candidate who usually avoids delving into his own personal story, and has vulnerabilities there because of his two divorces -- Romney has engaged in a humanizing effort. He's casting himself as more personable, connecting with the economic struggles of the voters despite his own multimillion-dollar fortune, and even taking a new route to talking about American exceptionalism. "Most of the apartments I lived in had no refrigerators," Romney told a crowd of 300 at a VFW hall here Sunday afternoon, launching into a long anecdote about life as a Mormon missionary in France that touched on the difficulties of shopping before every meal and living in buildings without a shower. "If we were lucky, we actually bought a hose and we stuck it on the sink, and we'd hold there with the hose and the big bucket underneath us in the kitchen and wash ourselves that way," Romney said. "And so, I lived in a way that people of lower-middle income in France lived and said to myself, 'Wow, I sure am lucky to have been born in the United States of America.'" Yes, America, Mitt Romney knows what it's like to have had to poop in a bucket, even if he doesn't fully grasp what it's like to dream of being able to toss 10 grand around at a whim. Of course, that humanizing effort hit a snag when he tried striking up a conversation with Bob Garon, a Vietnam veteran, only to discover that the man was gay and happily living his life married to his partner in New Hampshire. Their exchange was awkward enough, but Garon's overall take on Romney really encapsulated the entire knock on Mitt: "The guy ain't going to make it...you can't trust him. I can see it in his eyes." Then, more bad news came in the form of an endorsement from Christine O'Donnell, whose decision on which candidate she was backing was treated by Sean Hannity as an actual important thing that mattered in our lives, and not, as it should have been captured, as a small reminder of the level of embarrassment we should feel about ourselves as a society. O'Donnell's key quote: "[Romney's] been consistent since he changed his mind." Lordy! And yet, for reasons beyond all human understanding, the Romney campaign actually touted her endorsement, instead of ignoring it, as they should have done. (Perhaps they were hoping it would take attention away from the fact that human trashcan and Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder was also a supporter.) But as Jonathan Chait points out, O'Donnell kind of has a point. As he relates, Jonathan Weisman wrote a piece on Romney last month that very deftly "chronicles the degree to which Romney simply flipped a switch in 2005, deciding virtually overnight to stop courting moderates and liberals he needed to get elected in Massachusetts and to start courting the right." The switch, Chait says, "occurred across the board, on social as well as economic issues": The positive interpretation of this narrative, if you're a conservative, is that Romney will stay bought -- he decided to ingratiate himself with the right, and he needs to retain the right's support to accomplish anything. That's more or less the argument Ramesh Ponnuru made in his National Review cover story endorsing him. The negative interpretation is that Romney is essentially running a con, though it's impossible to tell if he was conning Massachusetts then or is conning Republicans now. (My guess, based on Romney's admiration for his moderate father, is that he's conning conservatives now, but I can't really be certain.) When you're running a con, of course you stay consistent - you have to keep up the front, no matter what. The robotic consistency of Romney's newfound conservatism does contrast sharply with Gingrich, who lurches between hysterical right-wing paranoia and bouts of bipartisanship. And yet the erratic character of Gingrich's swings suggests that they're unplanned, and thus that they spring from actual conviction, albeit momentary convictions. Gingrich actually believes what he is advocating at the moment he is advocating it. Nobody can plausibly say the same of Romney. The issue grew larger during the week when C-SPAN archive diver Andrew Kaczynski pulled footage of a Romney interview from 2002 in which he said, "I'm not a partisan Republican...I'm someone that is moderate, and my views are progressive." In a more recent interview with Politico, Romney offered a sanguine take on the race that he appeared to be losing: I'm not in trouble. I'm in a great spot. I could become our nominee, or someone else might become our nominee and I could go back to business and go back to my family. Either one of those is a very nice outcome. But isn't he running with the idea that only he can restore the "American century" and his management skills were needed to ensure the nation's welfare? Well, it's great to hear that things are going to work out for Mitt no matter what, right? Dan Amira, hearing this, responded: "So maybe it's a bad sign for Mitt Romney's chances that he doesn't seem to give a shit about the possibility of losing. If he wins, great. But whatever." But if Romney had anything to be thankful for, it was the way Newt Gingrich ended up getting royally savaged by the GOP elite all week in the papers, the way he was attacked by Ron Paul in Iowa, and the fact that Newt just doesn't have a functioning campaign to respond to and contend with these pressures. Somehow, late in the week, things started turning around for Mitt. He pulled the endorsement of the Washington Examiner -- and given the way its editorial staff really put him to a first-rate grilling, it was a hard-won prize. And Friday, he earned the backing of South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley -- whose conservative cred makes her one of 2012's crown jewels, and the fact that she can provide critical support in a state Romney could stand to win doesn't hurt either. (Also, by anti-endorsing Newt, hasn't the National Review essentially endorsed Romney? If it intends to, you know, back Rick Santorum or something, it would help if it made that clear really soon!) And Romney's campaign got its swag back, in large measure by finally getting him out to interviews, and ending the media blackout that everyone had been calling the "Mittness Protection Program." He also took some of his hardest shots at Obama this week, ended up very deftly parrying Newt Gingrich's "Bain Capital" attack, and he smartly flipped the script on Newt's promise to run a positive campaign by releasing a video filled with footage of Gingrich praising Mitt. Just like that, the Romney campaign that we'd at one point suspected was crazy-brilliant was back. And at the end of the week? He got word that he was back atop an Iowa poll.
Newt Gingrich began the week on top of the world, posting big national polling leads, demonstrating strength in later primary contests, getting a big Super PAC-enabled ad buy, and garnering evidence that the GOP base was finding him to be the more "electable" candidate in the battle with Mitt Romney. And at this week's debate, Gingrich kept his wits about him and performed excellently. As John Heilemann summarized, he landed blows without taking any, managed to survive the entire segment of the debate given over to offering each of his rivals an opportunity to slag him for his marital infidelities without losing his cool (and that whole "let's get Gingrich" segment seemed to exist solely to bait Newt into lashing out with -- at the very least -- one of his standard, "pox on the moderators" rants), and got critical assistance from rivals when he needed it. Were it not for the fact that Rick Perry went pretty hard at Gingrich during the "marital infidelity" section of the debate, we'd almost have believed that Perry had come to the debate with the intention of being Gingrich's wingman. Mitt Romney followed up the debate by going negative. And Gingrich briefly stumbled -- when Romney suggested that he return the money he'd earned repping Freddie Mac, Gingrich responded with something out of the Occupy Wall Street canon, demanding that Romney give back the millions he'd earned at Bain Capital, killing companies and jobs before he'd even consider a discussion. That earned him opprobrium from George Will, who slagged Gingrich for criticizing capitalism. Gingrich got the message, and quickly shifted tactics, doubling a public effort to run a "positive" campaign. This, he backed up with deeds, publicly calling for supporters to withhold donations to "attack-oriented super PACs," promising to stop running negative ads, and firing his Iowa campaign director for referring to Mitt Romney's faith as "the cult of Mormon." The "Lincoln-Douglas style" debate Gingrich staged with Jon Huntsman certainly helped to anchor this new theme of positivity, as the pair largely spent the time in near-total agreement with one another, frequently showering each other with praise. Of course, a really great way of looking at that debate is to call it a high-concept way of attacking Mitt Romney without actually seeming to attack him. If you're wondering why Gingrich would take the chance at elevating Huntsman to his own detriment, that's your answer. By the end of the week, Gingrich had managed to consolidate his standing sufficiently to win the coveted center seat at the debate in Sioux City. And that would be the story of a terrifically good week on the campaign trail, if that's where we stopped. Unfortunately for Newt, his week would end up taking some dramatic turns. A University of Iowa poll released mid-week suggested that Newt's standing in the Hawkeye State was already starting to fade. It wasn't enough on its own to suggest that the quick rise and reliable cratering that had befallen each of the not-Romney candidates was repeating itself at Gingrich's expense, but days later, polls continued to confirm this slide. And even if he had managed to parry the matter of his marital infidelities well enough to impress coastal elites, many Iowa evangelicals weren't seeing it that way. And Ron Paul may have been partly to blame with the way he was torching Gingrich in ads on Iowa television -- managing somehow to go negative without dragging himself down along with his target. But Ron Paul was just a tiny portion of the criticism that came Newt's way this week, as the conservative establishment unleashed hell. George Will accused him of committing a "capital crime" by "fault[ing] Mitt Romney for committing acts of capitalism." Joe Scarborough ripped him, saying, "If Newt Gingrich is the smartest guy in the room, leave that room." In Iowa, Gingrich lost a pair of key influencers. Gov. Terry Branstad told the Associated Press that he questioned whether or not Gingrich had the "discipline and the focus" to be president -- a criticism that ended up being a debate question in Sioux City. And Cary Gordon of the Cornerstone World Outreach (who is a Santorum supporter) slagged Gingrich on his marital infidelities, suggesting that he needed to "run for mayor, run for Congress again, get some time and prove to us that you're a changed man." But the worst came from the influential conservative magazine the National Review, which went at Gingrich like Force 10 From Navarone: We fear that to nominate former Speaker Newt Gingrich, the frontrunner in the polls, would be to blow this opportunity. We say that mindful of his opponents' imperfections -- and of his own virtues, which have been on display during his amazing comeback. Very few people with a personal history like his -- two divorces, two marriages to former mistresses -- have ever tried running for president. Gingrich himself has never run for a statewide office, let alone a national one, and has not run for anything since 1998. That year he was kicked out by his colleagues, the most conservative ones especially, who had lost confidence in him. During his time as Speaker, he was one of the most unpopular figures in public life. Just a few months ago his campaign seemed dead after a series of gaffes and resignations. That Gingrich now tops the polls is a tribute to his perseverance, and to Republicans' admiration for his intellectual fecundity. Both qualities served conservatives well in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when Gingrich, nearly alone, saw the potential for a Republican takeover of Congress and worked tirelessly to bring it about. Even before the takeover, Gingrich helped to solidify the party's opposition to tax increases and helped to defeat the Clinton health-care plan. The victory of 1994 enabled the passage of welfare reform, the most successful social policy of recent decades. Gingrich's colleagues were, however, right to bring his tenure to an end. His character flaws -- his impulsiveness, his grandiosity, his weakness for half-baked (and not especially conservative) ideas -- made him a poor Speaker of the House. Again and again he combined incendiary rhetoric with irresolute action, bringing Republicans all the political costs of a hardline position without actually taking one. Again and again he put his own interests above those of the causes he championed in public. Hitting the stands this week is a whole edition of the magazine that's geared toward hating on Newt. And worse still, Newt lost the endorsement of Gary Busey! Still, Gingrich managed to gain some allies. Dick Cheney stands behind him! And Rudy Giulani has been bleating out support for Newt as well, telling reporters that he "jumped up out of [his] chair and cheered" when Gingrich described the Palestinians as an "invented people." More importantly, Newt got a tremendous infusion of cash in the form of Sheldon Adelson's $20 million super PAC loan, which is apparently all quite legal, though obscene. Newt also decided to provide Iowa evangelical conservative Bob Vander Plaats a written promise to no longer run around cheating on his wife, probably. As president, Gingrich will probably ask all married couples to submit forms to Vander Plaats, in triplicate. Nevertheless, Newt continues to do much to make Romney look smart for calling him "zany," along with giving Democrats lots with which to work. This week, we were reminded of all of Newt's oddball-apocalypto science fiction fantasy policy positions when he rolled out his plans for a "brain science initiative." His Freddie Mac defenses continue to be untethered from reality, he's spinning tall tales of a legacy of budget success, has a tax plan that would explode the deficits sky-high while putting the middle class on the hook, and is still facing the possibility that he'll come under fire for supporting the costly 2003 Medicare Modernization Act. It's not for nothing that David Axelrod, in reference to Newt, this week quipped: "Just remember the higher a monkey climbs on a pole, the more you can see his butt." Thanks for that mental image.
In Iowa, the Great Ron Paulening may be at hand, and plenty of people are starting to take notice. With Romney coming into the week hobbled and Gingrich seemingly repeating the rise-and-ruin of all the not-Romneys that preceded him, Paul's poll numbers finally jumped, putting him in a virtual deadlock for first in the Hawkeye State. And the polling efforts may not truly be accounting for the entirety of Paul's support -- paced by a well-built Iowa campaign structure, they might be underselling Paul's ability to win the Iowa caucuses. (He's also faring pretty well in New Hampshire, by some measures.) It's been noted that Paul has built a coalition around disaffected libertarian types, critics of status quo monetary and military policy, and young voters. But John Heilemann intriguingly notes that Iowa's evangelical voters may divide themselves sufficiently among Paul's rivals to prevent any one of them from rising against his coalition. Not everything is swinging Paul's way. This week, the perennial controversy surrounding the old Ron Paul newsletters -- largely unbylined affairs awash in rancid, racist, homophobic, and xenophobic rhetoric that Paul has always denied having anything to do with despite the fact that all went out into the world under his banner -- swelled back into the news cycle. And Ben Smith caught a whiff of Paul's old guard strained at the sight of his slick new campaign from a piece at The Daily, in which some of Paul's "longest-standing loyalists" fretted that Paul would eventually prove to be a "sell out." And beyond that, the conventional wisdom continues to suggest that Paul's short-term successes will only prove, over the long arc of the primary season, to be a boon to Mitt Romney. Indeed, Paul has, of late, attacked Newt Gingrich with zeal -- it's fair to say he's played a role in popping last week's Gingrich bubble by excoriating him in ad after ad. This week, Paul went after Newt for his draft deferments and for "selling access" like a clapped-out Beltway stooge. Maybe this helps Romney in the main, but this is critical to Paul winning in Iowa -- he's fighting the guy who most recently seized the top spot, and, as luck would have it, it's a guy that Paul can both out-campaign and out-spend. If Paul succeeds, where does it go? Possibly to a brokered convention. Sean Trende at Real Clear Politics doesn't think that's where the campaign is headed, because there are too many failsafes in place. But the one guy he says can bring it about is Ron Paul: To understand the Ron Paul phenomenon, you first have to understand two things. There is a sizable chunk of the Republican electorate that would absolutely crawl over broken glass twice in order to vote for him. His forces are incredibly well organized, which is why he dominates online polls and has such successful "money bombs." It is also why he performs so well in straw polls. In scenarios where a small cadre of enthusiastic supporters can overwhelm the supporters of candidates who have broader -- but less-enthusiastic -- support, Paul excels. The other thing that you have to understand is that a much larger chunk of the Republican Party finds him absolutely unacceptable. Sixty-two percent of the Republican electorate considers him an unacceptable nominee, tying former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum. So in primaries, when you have a broad GOP electorate, Paul has very little chance of winning. Caucuses are another matter entirely. The Iowa caucuses involve about 100,000 participants, but this is by far the largest caucus state. Other caucus states are decided by a few thousand participants. In other words, this is fertile ground for a candidate like Paul, where he can gin up enough participants in a small state to win. [...] If, say, Perry and Gingrich are knotted up with about 1,050 delegates each, and Paul holds the remaining 200 and refuses to budge, you could end up with a deadlocked convention that eventually turns to a dark-horse candidate. Steve Kornacki notes that if Paul wins in Iowa, various GOP elites are likely to go apoplectic. He notes that in recent days, Sean Hannity -- as reliable a party hack as ever there was -- has shifted from ignoring Paul to desperately working to throw shade on his Iowa bid. He writes: If you have a mischievous streak, it's a fun possibility to consider, because the short answer is that guys like Bennett and Hannity will freak out -- and their freak-out could last for a while. An Iowa victory would make Paul the center of the political media world, flood his campaign treasury with even more small-dollar donations, and boost his prospects in subsequent states. He might be able to parlay it into an impressive showing in libertarian-friendly New Hampshire, weather losses in South Carolina and Florida (where the numbers just aren't very promising), then surge again in February, when his caucus state strategy kicks in. If the rest of the field remains unsettled then -- with, say, Romney winning New Hampshire and Newt Gingrich taking South Carolina and Florida -- Paul could find himself at or near the top of the delegate race, pushing the Hannity/Bennett panic level through the roof. Hilariously, as much as Paul sends some people running in panic, he's also successful at creating strange bedfellows. Consider the fact that this week, both Glenn Beck and Andrew Sullivan have endorsed Ron Paul. Have they ever agreed on anything before?
If there's a candidate in the race who actually prefers the atmospherics of running for office to the nuts and bolts of building a campaign infrastructure and gritting it out on the trail with substantive ideas, it's Jon Huntsman. So it's no surprise at all that Huntsman became the latest candidate to participate in one of Newt Gingrich's "Lincoln-Douglas style" debates. The two met earlier in the week, and by all accounts, were not even remotely interesting. They spent the whole time largely agreeing with one another and showering praise at each other's feet. It may have been something of an improvement over Gingrich's last "Lincoln-Douglas" outing, but that's only because Huntsman, unlike Herman Cain, is not a vapid monger of rinky-dink catchphrases. Nevertheless, it was dull enough that Huntsman joked about his daughter nodding off in the middle of the proceedings. We are reliably told that she was not alone. (Huntsman might have livened things up if he'd used that venue to announce that he'd initiate a ground war in Iran to stop that nation from getting a nuclear weapon, instead of waiting to go on CNN.) Nevertheless, Huntsman's got a taste, now, for the empty-headed pageantry of pretending to stage Lincoln-Douglas debates, so he'd really like to do one now with Mitt Romney. We think that Huntsman, who clearly doesn't think much of Romney, would relish the opportunity to just have Romney acknowledge his existence -- for the most part, Romney has put Huntsman and his entire campaign on fade. There was some salt rubbed in this wound this week when Susie Wiles, an early manager of Huntsman's campaign, endorsed Romney. The Huntsman team went so far as to put up a whole website about Romney's ill-advised $10,000 bet offer, which is sort of what you'd normally expect from the DNC. One headline on Huntsman's site reads, "Romney's $10,000 bet highlights his personal wealth," almost as if Huntsman has somehow forgotten that he is also from a staggeringly wealthy family. But leaving all that aside, Huntsman's candidacy has begun to show some signs of life, so much so that Nate Silver -- after summing up Huntsman's problems in 10 paragraphs, found a way to map out a "path to victory" for the former Utah governor. The reason why I've become less skeptical about Mr. Huntsman's chances is that he might have found the perfect foil in the current Iowa front-runner, Newt Gingrich. Mr. Gingrich is enough within the Republican mainstream that he can compete directly for some of Mr. Romney's voters, something which by and large did not appear to be true for candidates like Mrs. Bachmann and Herman Cain who had surged previously. But Mr. Gingrich nevertheless faces a number of fundamental challenges -- including, most notably, that the party establishment is extremely reluctant to nominate him. Mr. Gingrich is exactly the sort of candidate who could substantially harm Mr. Romney's campaign without locking up the nomination for himself -- and the odds of this will increase the more that Mr. Gingrich and Mr. Romney go after one another. We personally think that Silver's theory is complicated enough to be the screenplay for a Christopher Nolan movie, but the health of Huntsman's campaign -- while primarily being a factor of everyone disliking all the other available options as opposed to some sort of affirmative case for Huntsman -- is showing up in some measurable ways. In New Hampshire, Huntsman's must-win state, he's moved into third place ahead of Ron Paul and behind Romney and Gingrich. This is exactly what Huntsman had hoped for when he moved his campaign from Florida to go all-in in the Granite State. And while Huntsman has barely competed in Iowa, look what is happening there: Jon Huntsman, who is effectively skipping the state, is at 5 percent in Rasmussen's latest; that's 1.5 percent more than Rudy Giuliani finished with in 2008. Ron Paul won two delegates in Iowa with 9.93 percent of the vote, so if Huntsman can maintain his current level, he could achieve the improbable goal of winning a delegate . . . having made one stop in the state for one day so far. Dude! You're getting a del...egate! Huntsman's major problem is that he can't seem to totally disabuse people of the notion that he would not run as an independent candidate if he fails to get the nomination: "I'm not running as an independent. I'm not running as an independent...I don't know how many times I have to say that." Somehow, the media will find a way to characterize this as "leaving the door open."
As the day of Iowa caucuses draws near, the Michele Bachmann campaign has entered its most desperate hour. While the endless debates have been sufficient to keep her candidacy on life support, they have not really moved the needle for her. Her polling remains low and it seems that fundraising remains a weakness as well. Dave Weigel chanced upon evidence of this in the form of a campaign flyer that offered a comparison between her opponents and herself -- except that the opponents who were highlighted were Mitt Romney and Rick Perry. As Weigel points out, it's "been clear for around a month that Perry is only a theoretical, if-everyone-else-implodes threat," and Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul are currently part of the top tier that Bachmann is trying to reach. Bachmann's last two debates have been among her best. Last Saturday, she scored by coining the term "Newt Romney" -- a smart way of characterizing her top opponents' similar flaws (flip flops, support for the individual mandate). And her performance in the "closing argument" of the Fox debate in Sioux City happened to be one of her stronger ones. There, she remembered that Gingrich was the foe she needed to engage, and she did so robustly. She also aggressively attacked Ron Paul for saying that "the U.S. has no legitimate claim to block Tehran from developing a nuclear weapon," a position she described as dangerous. She did make an embarrassing misstep while beating back Newt Gingrich's criticism that she was constantly saying things that weren't true. "After the debates that we had last week, PolitiFact came out and said that everything that I said was true," she said. Politifact did something of a spit-take over that one: Actually, that's not what we said. At the Dec. 10 debate she was referring to, PolitiFact checked two claims from Bachmann and rated them Mostly True and Pants on Fire. The fact-check she may have been referencing was, "In 1993, Newt Gingrich 'first advocated for the individual mandate in health care. And as recently as May of this year, he was still advocating' for it." We rated that one a Mostly True. But we also rated her claim that Mitt Romney, as governor of Massachusetts, "put into place socialized medicine." We found that was ridiculously false and rated it Pants on Fire. Her comment about our ratings was also a bit of a non-sequitur. Neither of the two items we checked addressed the subject at hand -- Gingrich's work for Freddie Mac, what he thinks of Freddie Mac today, or whether Gingrich was ever a lobbyist. Ultimately, it's clear that Team Bachmann knows that it won't achieve the result it needs in Iowa -- it really needs to win, or at least come in second, to get to move on -- through television appearances, which is why it plans to undertake a hardcore last-minute tour of the state, visiting all 99 counties in 10 days. The "down in the polls candidate makes last-ditch endurance stunt in a desperate attempt to win" scenario rarely succeeds, but there's little else to do now. If Iowa is really as wide open as some suspect, she perhaps has a chance, but it's more than likely that Bachmann will be the next GOP contender to quit the race. Which is why she's getting the "who would you endorse" question -- as of right now, she's pointedly declined to say whether she'd support Gingrich or Romney.
Rick Perry finds himself in similar straits as Michele Bachmann where Iowa is concerned -- his best option to win over voters is to go all out in a retail effort. (Though, unlike Bachmann, Perry's got the resources to keep fighting after the Iowa result, if he chooses.) To that end, he's doing the whole bus tour thing. But, he's actually got a ghost of a chance -- if Romney and Gingrich manage to wreck one another, and no one opts to go with Ron Paul, Perry could be the "ahh, screw it" candidate. Perry didn't opt to take Mitt Romney up on his $10,000 bet, but this unforced Romney error nevertheless bought Perry new ammunition and put a swing back in his step. The next morning, Perry took to Fox News Sunday to nail Romney for being out of touch, observing that he doesn't pass by too many homes in Iowa whose denizens can make casual $10,000 bets. Perry ramped up the assault on Romney, decrying him as a "progressive" who'd flipped and flopped in service of his own ambition. He took a shot at Newt Gingrich in an ad that featured Perry saying, "Washington is the capital of political correctness, where doublespeak reigns and the truth is frowned upon....you can't say that Congressmen becoming lobbyists is a form of legal corruption." Curiously, in the same ad, he complained that "Washington insiders are bankrupting Social Security." Which is weird, considering he is a Washington outsider who wants to end Social Security. And that's what's keeping Perry back. He's just a weird guy who gets caught again and again saying things that sound dumb. Not all are fair -- under pressure, we might not be able to name all nine Supreme Court Justices. Let's see...Roberts, Alito, Scalia, Thomas, Kennedy, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, Kagan, and...yep! Sure enough, we forgot Breyer. YOU ALWAYS FORGET BREYER. We are however, able to name all the members of the Wu-Tang Clan: RZA, Inspectah Deck, GZA, Raekwon, U-God, Ghostface Killah, Method Man, Old Dirty Bastard, and Masta Killa. (Masta Killa is the Wu-Tang Clan's Breyer.) The fact that this is true probably doesn't speak well about the things we've been using our brains to remember, or our priorities as campaign chroniclers. But at the same time, we at least know that there isn't an imaginary country called "Solynda." (We do know that "Svenborgia" and "Greynarnia" are the two countries in Europe that only rich people know about, per the show 30 Rock.) We also sort of think Rick Perry's part time Congress is a bad idea. But what does that matter. RICK PERRY IS TIM TEBOW NOW, so, "game change!" (Here is the new Rick Perry bus, we think.)
Back when Buddy Roemer started this well-meaning campaign to get to the White House as the last honest man in politics, we were thankful for the effort he was making but couldn't help feeling it was quixotic. There were numerous weeks when the campaign was seemingly missing-in-action. Naturally, we knew that Roemer was stumping, somewhere, but let's face it, one's presidential chances are reflected in the amount of coverage one obtains, and in the early months, Roemer might as well have been campaigning in Narnia. But last week, we'd noticed that Roemer's persistence was getting him somewhere. He had developed a sort of "stickiness"...a stirring of sorts. He started to take on some mass. Roemer was becoming someone with whom folks had to contend, and who could garner his own notice. No, we're not at the point where Roemer is some sort force with whom the more established candidates must reckon. But at the moment, he's got no reason in the world to go away. And that is something of a victory, in a campaign that's literally living day-to-day on $100 donations. What you see in the media coverage now is an admission that Roemer deserves more attention. Jill Sherman of the Concord Monitor penned a piece this week that alleges an "Anti-Roemer conspiracy": Roemer, a moderate GOP candidate, is running for president and is calling foul on corporate special interests and Congress's addiction to campaign money. Having spent eight years in Congress himself, he has dedicated his run for office to exposing corruption, outing corporations and congressmen who are taking advantage of the system. He also publicly promises to prosecute corporate and congressional lawbreakers to the fullest extent. Listen to one of his speeches, or spend a day following his Twitter feed, and you'll walk away feeling both enlightened and overwhelmed by the darker side of money in politics. Not surprisingly, Gallup and Rasmussen have systematically left him off national polls. And he's not been invited to a single GOP debate, even when he ranks at par with his counterparts in independent polls. With rules like, "You must raise $500,000 in 90 days" for inclusion in a televised debate, the system is clearly rigged against a candidate that doesn't take PAC money and limits individual contributions to $100. Roemer is trying to run a clean campaign without special interest money, and it would appear that some unseen power is making sure he stays off the radar with its arbitrary rules. Consider this piece in the Conway Daily Sun, which begins: If the political playing field were level, you'd know a whole lot more about former Louisiana Governor Buddy Roemer, who is seeking the Republican Party nomination for president. In that article, Roemer has a pretty cagey critique of the current debate regime: "The power of the debate has really diminished the role of New Hampshire in my opinion," Roemer said. "In the book that I'll write I'll say that, and it surprises me." [...] "In these debates there has not been a single question about campaign reform," he said. "Not one, as if there's not problem here." And he goes on to relate how he's working the give-and-take with the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street -- adding his perspective, contending with disagreements without alienating anyone: "Here's what they have in common: They both smell the same smell, institutional corruption. They smell it. They phrase it differently. The Tea Party is less monetary driven and more structurally driven. The Occupy Wall Street has the wrong answer. They think we need bigger government and I whisper to them that we need better government. But they both smell something is rotten in Denmark and it's somewhere between Wall Street and K-Street. I'm glad it's happening. I share with both of them their concerns. Most of my adult life I've been concerned about corruption in high places. I think it's the biggest potential tyranny to our freedom. I think we Americans have just become spectators and allowed it to happen." This, we feel, has a lot to do with Roemer's slow rise -- he's going to where the ground-level engagement lives, rather than coasting above it all on wings provided by super PAC cash. Roemer earned an endorsement this week from the National Catholic Reporter, which calls his message timely and manages to condense it into the proper brief, sharp sentence: "Roemer is basing his campaign on the message that big money has essentially ruined the U.S. political system." And hey! What's this? Remember when Rick Perry was the Republican presidential frontrunner? A new poll now shows him trailing former Louisiana Governor Buddy Roemer in New Hampshire. Though Roemer lacks an entourage of Texas Rangers mumbling into their collars and can walk the length of a Main Street in New Hampshire unrecognized, he can, it seems, still spin with the top tier candidates. "I am encouraged by the strong support from Granite Staters" Roemer said in a press release. "We've held over 200 campaign stops in New Hampshire, by far the most out of any presidential candidate, and my message is resonating very well with voters here." Well, Perry is no longer "top-tier," but it's still worth marvelling at -- months ago, it was just straight up inconceivable that Roemer might get ahead of Perry in any poll, anywhere. Like we said last week, if only all of this had happened for Roemer five months ago, instead of the middle of December. But it's clear that the word "Roemermentum" is no longer a joke. It's becoming a thing, and we're starting to get plenty intrigued about where it might be going.
Years from now, when we look back on Rick Santorum's 2012 run for the White House, we're going to wonder why, exactly, he decided to go ahead with this. Did his doctor write out a prescription for cynicism for him? Was he looking to indulge in a high-concept act of self-loathing? We ask because whether you agree with him or not, you have to give Santorum credit for having a iron-firm set of convictions -- convictions that he's been told that if he honors them completely, will result in him having success as a conservative politician. But this race is proving daily that all firm convictions will buy you is a pat on the head and a kind word. When Bob Vander Plaats composed the Family Leader's Marriage Vow, he produced a document that read like he had had Santorum in mind when he wrote it. Everything from the pledge to uphold one-man-one-woman marriage, to the rejection of Sharia Law, to the battling against pornography, to the pro-life absolutism, to the requirement that the candidate admit that fiscal issues are social issues and vice versa, is straight from the Santorum hymnal. So much so that you half expected Vander Plaats to sweep him up in his arms and anoint him the minute he signed the pledge (which was the minute the pledge became available). Instead, Vander Plaats is bending over backwards to accommodate serial philanderer Newt Gingrich, because he so obviously would rather back a winner than an ally. Head pat! Well, with time ticking down, time for Santorum to throw everything he can against the wall again! This week, we have dire warnings of coming assassination plots, insistence that Obamacare was the last step before America becomes "fascist Italy," and, of course, SCARY SCARY MUSLIMS OMG! And, you guessed it! Got some gay stuff, too, that doesn't make any sense at all! Santorum this week insisted that the gays were responsible for the declining marriage rate, which would only get boosted if they were allowed to get married. But! According to Santorum, marriage equality would only lead to the "normalization of same-sex values." Chief among those values is the desire to get married, so why not normalize this? Oh, and do you remember how President Obama chose to uphold restrictions that limited the access to the Plan B contraceptive pill? You would think Rick Santorum would praise that, but no -- he's mad at Obama for even thinking about the issue. Jesus wept.
The big speculation in Gary Johnson's end of the political universe this week came in the form of some hot rumors that a Johnson switch from the GOP to the Libertarian Party was imminent. Johnson's team shot those rumors down rather quickly, but they've left everyone with the impression that the only thing they were actually denying is the timing of such a switch, not the switch itself. For the time being, Johnson remains a Republican, but perhaps not for long: Although Mr. Johnson has not officially confirmed the switch yet, he met with Liberterian Party officials this week, "and was happy with the meeting," according to one of his political advisors, as reported by The Miami Herald. The Liberterian Party is the third largest political party in the U.S. behind the Democratic and Republican parties, with 225,000 registered voters across 30 states. The former New Mexico governor has been absent from 15 of the 17 Republican presidential candidate debates thus far and isn't much a factor at all in any of the recent polls of Republican primary voters. "The party left me," Mr. Johnson said Wednesday in an interview with The Miami Herald. "The Republican Party hung me out to dry," the GOP presidential candidate added. A fine example of the widening philosophical gap between Huntsman and the Republican party flared this week, when Newt Gingrich announced that he'd support the death penalty for marijuana smugglers: Gingrich "proposed the death penalty for marijuana -- for possession of marijuana above a certain quantity of marijuana -- and yet he is among 100 million Americans who smoke marijuana," Johnson told MSNBC's Alex Witt over the weekend. An outspoken critic of federal drug control policy, Johnson added he "would love to have a discussion with [Gingrich] on the fact that he smoked pot, and under the wrong set of circumstances, he proposed the death penalty for something, potentially, that he had committed?" Johnson doesn't quite have this right, but it's close enough: Even under Gingrich's draconian proposal, nobody could be sentenced to death for smoking pot. But Johnson does effectively highlight one of the more outrageous pieces of drug policy to be introduced before Congress, and pushed by the GOP presidential front runner no less. In 1996 the former House Speaker sponsored the Drug Importer Death Penalty Act, under which importing more than two ounces of certain illegal substances -- including marijuana -- can be punishable by life imprisonment or the death penalty. Nevertheless, it's this kind of thing that leads us to say that it is highly likely Johnson will end up switching parties.
Fred Karger's campaign strategy now boils down to trooping from town to town and event to event in New Hampshire in the hopes of meeting as many voters as possible, and ducking out of the state whenever a fundraising opportunity presents itself. He worked this mix this week, appearing as the first 2012er to talk at the University of New Hampshire's forums on child and family issues: When asked how he feels about schools cutting music, art and other noncore courses to save money, Karger said he felt those programs are important for children's education. He said he wants to see children get out of the classrooms and learn with hands-on experiences. To keep children in school, he said it is necessary to make courses fun. "We need to work to expose all kinds of things," he said. "Let's show them other parts of life that trigger excitement." He also said he would like to see the voting age dropped, to help get students more involved in the government and their futures at a younger age. It would make Americans look at nationwide issues earlier. He said he would advocate for increased employment opportunities within the U.S., hoping to put more Americans to work. He supports the idea of microloans to help startup businesses across the country, and advocated for a federal tax credit to allow people to move for a new job. But Karger's long shot appears to be getting longer, as this week, Austin Cassidy reported that he was missing filing deadlines for ballot access in many later states: What's odd about the super-longshot candidate's strategy, other than the fact he's a gay-rights activist running as a Republican, is that he isn't filing to be on the ballot in many of the later primaries. These are the contests where he might have been able to score a larger number of popular votes and additional media attention for his cause. Thus far, Karger has missed deadlines in Missouri, Oklahoma and Louisiana to secure placement on the ballot. He got lucky when Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson added his name, but failed to get on in Florida where the state party sets the ballot. All this leaves you wondering -- what is Fred Karger's plan? Is he considering following fellow fourth-tier candidates like Gary Johnson and Buddy Roemer by running as an independent in the general election? Or does he just prefer making funny videos for YouTube...over actually running a nation-wide campaign for president? Actually, we think that he'd rather not have to make those funny YouTube videos, because their subjects are either the lack of debate access that has rightly rankled him, or, in the case of this week's video, hateful remarks about members of the LGBT community from Rick Perry.
The President's polling news, which had recently taken a turn for the better, took one for the worse this week as numbers from swing states came in. They're not looking good: USA Today and Gallup polled Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin, and collectively, Obama trails Mitt Romney in those states by five points and Newt Gingrich by three points. Even more ominously, for Obama: "Consider the math: In 2008, when Obama carried the swing states by 8 percentage points, Democrats there swamped Republicans in party identification by 11 points. Now, that partisan edge has tightened to a statistically insignificant 2 points." And the latest CBS poll had more bad news, with 60 percent of respondents expressing disapproval of Obama's handling of the economy, and 68 percent saying that he had not "made real progress" since his term began. Greg Sargent bottom lines it: Obama will pay the highest price for the state of the economy, even if the American public fully believes the GOP is deliberately blocking his policies and is more to blame for government paralysis in the face of the crisis. They may see Obama as well intentioned, and agree with his general prescriptions, but ultimately decide he's too weak or ineffective to just, you know, get it done. Barring an economic turnaround, Obama can only hammer Republicans relentlessly as deliberate opponents of economic progress, run a scorched earth campaign to render the GOP nominee unacceptable, and relentlessly contrast the parties' larger visions, in hopes of making the election about something more than the current state of the economy. Whether all this can overcome the basic dynamic Obama's mired in remains to be seen. Obama's position was further complicated by the emergence of the Paul Ryan-Ron Wyden Medicare plan, a cleverly designed political trap, and his own decision to announce that he would not veto the coming legislation on indefinite detention. This, along with last week's Plan B decision, is the type of political moves that may seem smart in that it limits the amount of crap your opponents can hurl at you -- but there's no end to the crap that can be thrown one's way. This week, Obama was attacked for offering American troops too much praise, and celebrating Christmas too expressively. Not making this up! And when it comes to building a coalition of voters, these decisions are poison. Graydon Gordian profiles an old Obama field team, delving into the way these ardent supporters from four years ago are feeling now. They gave their all in 2008, but this year, there's some different stories being told: Jake: I don't know if I'm gonna vote for him. Emily: I will definitely vote for him. I will definitely volunteer for him. But I feel like I'm in a really different place in my life than having just graduated from college. If I was in a transition period and single and did not have a plan then I would work for him. But at this point it would be pretty hard to do that. I think it would be even harder the second time because of how difficult it was the first time. Rosy: I will absolutely be voting for him in 2012. I have toyed with the idea of working for him, but I'm just kind of at a different point in my life. I definitely imagine I will be getting involved at some point. I don't see how I can't keep my fingers in it. Justin: I will vote for him, I will say that. Unless, the only way I can see not voting for him is if Romney wins the nomination and then Romney runs as a centrist instead of hard-line. If he runs as a centrist, I might actually support him. Would I work for him again? That's a big question I've been struggling with. I'd rather work for someone I agree with more on a smaller campaign. I can say with all confidence I would absolutely not take another field organizing position. Lindsey: I firmly will vote for him. I won't work for him as a staffer. I will as a volunteer. My career is not going in that direction. I will definitely vote for him and volunteer and maybe even raise money for him. I am excited about the potential of a second-term Obama presidency. Neil: As far as working for him again, yes, I certainly would. There's a lot of work to be done. He will definitely put the country in a better place than any of the GOP candidates. Mike: Certainly I'm going to vote for him. I will be voting for him. 100 percent guarantee that. I'm currently pursuing the best opportunity that comes my way. It's entirely possible that will be with the re-elect. That has always been the plan, to go back and do that again. I feel like it was unfinished business. Andy: I'll definitely vote for him, I'll definitely volunteer for him. ... I don't want to work on the campaign again, I don't like the lifestyle. There are a lot of hungry 22- and 23-year-olds who are going to do a hell of a lot better job than I would do because, again, I just don't want to do it. I think the work itself is abominable. These are the young and hungry that Team Obama Re-Elect needs to re-recruit or replace. It's not a hopeless picture, but it's not exactly the same fervor of four years ago. In other news, something called the "Iraq War" is considered to have "ended" this week.
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