This is our last Speculatron Slideshow of the calendar year, everyone. When we next have the opportunity to relate all of the week's campaign highlights, the Iowa caucuses will have happened, actual primary voting will have commenced, and delegates will have been assigned to a few lucky GOP contenders. Some will "have their ticket punched" to New Hampshire. Some will lay claim to [ENTER LAST NAME HERE]-mentum. And one or more will have called it quits and said some awfully nice things to the frontrunner, hoping to perhaps be considered for the V.P. slot, or have some campaign debt offset in return for an endorsement.
But most importantly, we will finally be discussing the "2012 race" in a year that's not actually "2011." This has always been a little strange, we know! So, in the spirit of the New Year, we'll leave you with an ever so brief recap of what's already happened.
When you get right down to it, the 2012 race pretty much began the morning after the 2010 elections ended, but the real action didn't get started until mid-spring, when Fox News scheduled the first of what would turn out to be several thousand candidate debates, some of which looked as if they might end in actual bloodshed or something akin to that scene in Scanners where that guy's head explodes. The candidates present at the contest were Ron Paul, Rick Santorum, Tim Pawlenty, Herman Cain, and Gary Johnson. Slim pickings, but more than a few pundits imagined that they might be looking at a future winner of the Iowa Caucus. (None likely realized at the time that the candidate they had in mind was Ron Paul, however.)
Eventually the field of candidates began to swell. Michele Bachmann joined the fray, gunning for an Iowa win. Mitt Romney jumped into the race, and eventually proved impossible for Tim Pawlenty to confront, face-to-face. Newt Gingrich ended his interminable dithering with the idea of running for president, and, after many false starts, finally got a handle on it and jumped in. He then went on vacation, and his entire staff quit on him. Also, Jon Huntsman decided that he, too, would run for president, for some reason.
But the people who seemed to matter the most in the early part of the campaign season were often those who were opting to not run for president. Mike Huckabee, who was considered a heavy favorite, opted to stay on at his Fox News show. The appealing Mitch Daniels declined a run after getting a taste of what the grueling slog might do to his family. John Thune bowed out, because of the book "Game Change," and its sexism. And the oddest non-candidate of all was New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. He kept telling reporters "No," and those reporters, like date-rapists, kept hearing "Yes." Eventually, Christie had to hold a press conference in which he repeated his intention to not run for a solid hour, until everyone in the room was weeping.
Donald Trump ran a fake campaign for president! Remember that? Mark Halperin, long after the rest of the world was laughing at this fake campaign, said things like "I think he’s much more serious about running," and "I don’t know why he would have gone through hours and hours of meetings if it were all just a charade," and, in an example of what low self-awareness gets you, "if you’ve got the ability to manipulate the media ... you could imagine a scenario of getting in late and riding a populist wave to the Republican nomination." Ha, ha, ha, people should remember these things that Mark Halperin said.
Sarah Palin also, famously and predictably, did not run for president. Though she did successfully stage a fake campaign bus tour that ... uhm ... took "hours and hours" of planning and "manipulated the media." Heh. She eventually bowed out on Mark Levin's radio show, earning her a scolding from Roger Ailes, who hired her as a Fox News contributor for the precise reason that he wanted her to do her in-or-out routine as an exclusive to his cable network.
The Ames Straw Poll happened! People rode buses to a parking lot at Iowa State University and ate deep-fried, fully be-sticked food items. Tim Pawlenty finished third, quit, and became a Mitt Romney surrogate who walked around lamenting leaving the race so soon, which is not very surrogate-y! Michele Bachmann won the straw poll, edging out Ron Paul, and immediately took a dive in the polls, because that's when Rick Perry entered the race. Then Rick Perry took a dive in the polls when everyone learned that he couldn't count and had the propensity to make odd noises when he was supposed to be forming sentences.
Then Herman Cain rose to front-runner status, on the strength of his basso profundo profundities and his ability to say the word "nine" over and over again, whenever he was stuck for needing to have something to say. Eventually, however, he took a dive, due to a combination of his handsy-lady problems and "Uhh, Libya, what is that now? I know this! Uhhh. Ummm. Freeen."
And so Newt Gingrich became the belle of the ball, despite all of his vacations and his lack of campaign staff or infrastructure, and this time we all thought, "Okay, this is maybe the guy who will rise as the challenger to Romney." That was before the entire conservative establishment unleashed the hot flames of Hell upon Gingrich, and Romney and Paul used their actual campaigns and their actual money to mount a slew of negative attacks on him, driving his poll numbers back from whence they came.
So now it's looking more like Mitt Romney -- the robot who had all the luck -- and Ron Paul, who is again surviving a flap over old crazysauce newsletters that went out into the world under his name, and maybe ... just maybe ... Rick Santorum, who gets to start his own upward climb into the boom-and-bust cycle at the precise moment he needs to. And at the margins, we still have various excluded candidates, like Gary Johnson, Buddy Roemer, and Fred Karger, who are switching parties, building movements, and/or making their last stand.
Also, Jon Huntsman. Still doin' some stuff somewhere, probably.
That's where we leave things at the end of this year. One of these people -- or more! -- will challenge the incumbent, President Barack Obama, for the White House in 2012. The Obama reelect team is clearly betting on Romney. Will they be right? For the non-Romneys, there are still obstacles to surmount. This week, the Bachmann campaign suffered another round of quit-fits. Newt Gingrich compared his ballot access woes to an American tragedy. Buddy Roemer finally got added to some polls. Huntsman mocked some corn-pickers, Perry got lost on the 45th parallel, Santorum's wardrobe choices got a moment in the sun, and one of our lucky contenders received the coveted "my life would suck without you" endorsement from an unlikely source. To find out who, please enter the Speculatron for the week of December 30, 2011, and we'll see you next year!
Lord knows that the volatile fortunes of the 2012ers hasn't always made it possible to use the term, but it's pretty clear that on the eve of the Iowa Caucuses, Mitt Romney definitely has his swag back. Come to think of it, was there ever a more unswaggy person to maintain a reservoir of swag than Mitt? Swag has probably lost all meaning. Quick! We need sevently fresh Soulja Boy mixtapes! (Kidding! Please, do not produce these!) But here's the story. In Iowa, everything is heading in a right-enough direction for Romney. He'll likely vie with Ron Paul for the top spot in Iowa, and then head to New Hampshire, where it still looks like Romney's a lock. Romney doesn't even really need to win in Iowa, but he's reaching for it now, decidedly playing for a victory -- a win that many now expect to materialize. It surely doesn't hurt that Romney's posting his best quarter of fundraising in what was probably the most uncertain period of his candidacy. The reviews from this week are all pretty positive, and Romney is back to contemplating the possibility that he'll win the next two contests in historic fashion, and wrap up the nomination quickly. (The fact that Joe Biden took to the editorial pages of the Des Moines Register to assail Romney is even something that Romney can see as a positive development -- it's the most recent "game recognizes game" moment that's gone on between Mitt and the Obama administration, and it all adds up to something like inevitability.) So, then, let's find out how Romney can still blow this. Nate Silver? Still, Mr. Romney's numbers are not those of a traditional frontrunner. He's at only about 25 percent in national polls, which is improved from two weeks ago but only barely. He's still an underdog to win Iowa. His favorability ratings with Republican voters are adequate but not more than that. A lot of Republican voters remain dissatisfied with their choices. Usually, those numbers improve as the actual voting draws nearer, but if anything they've been getting worse lately. This disconnect between expectations and performance is potentially quite dangerous to Mr. Romney. Consider Iowa, for instance. Mr. Romney currently projects to about 22 percent of the vote there, but the history of Iowa is one of volatile polling right up to the last minute -- and sometimes huge surprises on election night. Our state-by-state forecasts, which account for this uncertainty, say that Mr. Romney could finish with as much as 36 percent of the vote in Iowa, but also as little as 8 percent, which could drop him all the way down to fifth or sixth place. That such scenarios are plausible does not mean they are likely. But there is not all that much margin separating the candidates, and Republicans with Mr. Romney's profile have historically underachieved their polls on caucus night. Meanwhile, expectations seem to have gotten a little ahead of themselves. "I don't see any scenario where we're not the nominee," one of Mr. Romney's strategists told New York magazine's John Heilemann. Actually, the scenario is pretty easy to articulate. As I frequently remind our readers, the momentum that candidates get out of the early states has historically had as much to do with expectations as the actual results. Even a third-place finish in Iowa, much less something worse, might now be viewed as disappointing for Mr. Romney, increasing the risk of either a loss in New Hampshire or a close call that made Mr. Romney vulnerable heading into South Carolina and Florida. Okay, that'll do the trick. And that's why Mitt Romney is still working hard to fine tune his campaign. This week, for instance, we learned how he was tweaking the operational parameters of his operating system to better facilitate organic, relatable relationships with the various homo sapiens he encounters. More significantly, as Jonathan Chait points out, Romney has upgraded his system with a little dash of "Glenn Beck": A few weeks ago, Mitt Romney abruptly changed his main campaign message. Before that point, he had been lambasting President Obama as a likable failure, well intentioned but sadly unable to revive the economy. When asked if Obama was a socialist, Romney would deny it outright, insisting he was merely in "over his head." But starting December 7, Romney began to paint Obama as a sinister radical who had not failed, but had succeeded all too well, in transforming the basic nature of America. At the time, I thought Romney's sudden switch was a response to Newt Gingrich's sudden (and apparently short-lived) challenge from the right, positioning himself to speak more directly to the fears of a freaked-out Republican electorate. But I now think Romney's campaign has concluded that his old campaign message wasn't strong enough for the general election. Chait goes on to note that Romney's technocratic heart has always been at odds with conservative orthodoxy, which holds that ideology must persist even in the face of contrary data -- a position that's never been more firm among the voters Romney hopes to reach and the legislators he hopes to rule alongside. But, Chait says: "The irony is that Romney approaches campaigning the way he approaches governing, obeying the data above all else. If the data tell him to start wildly accusing Obama of abolishing all economic inequality, then that is what he will do." And that's exactly what he's doing, by the way! It matters not a whit to Romney that he's lying when he says that President Barack Obama hasn't created any new jobs. He knows that's a lie, but he knows it's a lie that will yield him votes. And it matters not a whit to Romney that it is barking-mad-crazy for a candidate to personally promise someone that the only way they're guaranteed to have a job in the future is to vote for him. He knows that's an insane promise to keep, but it's a promise that will yield him votes, so he'll make it. Romney also knows that the media is not going to aggressively call out this stuff, because in the context of a campaign horserace, this is all just "interesting messaging." We had the occasion to say this back when Romney was just cold putting straight up falsehoods in his ads, but Romney is setting the stage for a campaign in which lying is encouraged...indeed, to not lie repeatedly in a campaign with Romney is to disarm yourself prior to battle. In case this isn't clear, let's recall that "I'm not going to change my positions by virtue of being in a presidential campaign," is a thing that Mitt Romney said just this week.
Ron Paul essentially remains in a good position to pull off the most significant feat in his career as a peripatetic presidential hopeful -- winning the Iowa caucuses, where polls have him either in first or second place and are potentially underselling the strength of his support in the state. Of course, what Paul could really use to seal the deal is snow. A lot of snow. Basically, the only voters in Iowa who can truly be counted on to survive a sudden ice-apocalypse are Ron Paul's diehards. They will also turn out to caucus in the event of a nuclear attack, a plague of locusts, or a "Cloverfield" event. Paul's been hitting his rivals pretty hard and pretty steadily on the airwaves the past few weeks, but now that he's in the catbird seat, those rivals are punching right back. Rick Perry has been warning that Ron Paul will invite a nuclear confrontation with Iran. Rick Santorum believes that "the more Iowans look at Ron Paul the less attractive he will become," and that he's a fusty old man who will never change his mind about anything (which is pretty hilarious coming from Santorum, the younger, closed-minded candidate of choice.) Newt Gingrich puts it more bluntly, saying that Paul's "views are totally outside the mainstream of virtually every decent American." And Bachmann gets even blunter: "Ron Paul will not defend the United States of America in the event of a nuclear attack." (Of course, if nuclear missiles do start flying toward America, what's Paul supposed to do about it, short of revealing that he is actually Magneto?) Paul is approaching these last critical days in Iowa by ramping up the effort to run a disciplined campaign -- laying down the law with campaign volunteers to keep themselves shaved and showered, their tattoos covered, and as far away from social media sites as they can possibly get. Probably they've been advised to, you know, refrain from publishing crazy newsletters in the next few hours or so, also. Speaking of! This week, Ron Paul won the endorsement of (The One True) American Idol Kelly Clarkson, who tweeted out a blast of support for the Texas Congressman. (In the most random act of pop star coattail riding, forgotten pop-tart Michelle Branch followed suit.) Clarkson's support was met with dim views from her fans, who very quickly pointed out the news du jour concerning those aforementioned newsletters. Ultimately, Clarkson moderated her support, saying, "I do not support racism. I support gay rights, straight rights, women's rights, men's rights, white/black/purple/orange rights. I like Ron Paul because he believes in less government and letting the people (all of us) make the decisions and mold our country. That is all." (Someone should maybe tell Clarkson about this other dude who supports Paul, then!) Yes, it was another week of scrutinizing and discussing Paul's newsletter output and past remarks that he may or may not have been fully aware of, back when the paleolibertarians were on a mission of marketing synergy with disaffected American right-wingers. The issue took on a new sheen when former Paul campaign staffer Eric Dondero published a lengthy commentary on his time with Paul, revealing where he feels Paul's heart and mind truly is. Is Ron Paul a "racist." In short, No. I worked for the man for 12 years, pretty consistently. I never heard a racist word expressed towards Blacks or Jews come out of his mouth. Not once. And understand, I was his close personal assistant. It's safe to say that I was with him on the campaign trail more than any other individual, whether it be traveling to Fairbanks, Alaska or Boston, Massachusetts in the presidential race, or across the congressional district to San Antonio or Corpus Christi, Texas. He has frequently hired blacks for his office staff, starting as early as 1988 for the Libertarian campaign. He has also hired many Hispanics, including his current District staffer Dianna Gilbert-Kile. One caveat: He is what I would describe as "out of touch," with both Hispanic and Black culture. Ron is far from being the hippest guy around. He is completely clueless when it comes to Hispanic and Black culture, particularly Mexican-American culture. And he is most certainly intolerant of Spanish and those who speak strictly Spanish in his presence, (as are a number of Americans, nothing out of the ordinary here.) Is Ron Paul an Anti-Semite? Absolutely No. As a Jew, (half on my mother's side), I can categorically say that I never heard anything out of his mouth, in hundreds of speeches I listened too over the years, or in my personal presence that could be called, "Anti-Semite." No slurs. No derogatory remarks. He is however, most certainly Anti-Israel, and Anti-Israeli in general. He wishes the Israeli state did not exist at all. He expressed this to me numerous times in our private conversations. His view is that Israel is more trouble than it is worth, specifically to the America taxpayer. He sides with the Palestinians, and supports their calls for the abolishment of the Jewish state, and the return of Israel, all of it, to the Arabs. Dondero goes on to say that Paul's relative relationship with gays is that he supports their civil rights, but isn't particularly comfortable hanging around with them. Dondero provides some examples of this discomfort in recalled incidents, including this one: "Bobby," a well-known and rather flamboyant and well-liked gay man in Freeport came to the BBQ. Let me stress Ron likes Bobby personally, and Bobby was a hardcore campaign supporter. But after his speech, at the Surfside pavilion Bobby came up to Ron with his hand extended, and according to my fellow staffer, Ron literally swatted his hand away. Again, let me stress. I would not categorize that as "homo-phobic," but rather just unsettled by being around gays personally. Ron, like many folks his age, very much supports toleration, but chooses not to be around gays on a personal level. Of course, even as Dondero was trying to put Paul's entire life into the context he felt was being missed by the "ferociously attacking" media, the media was still pulling out instances of high weirdness from Paul's past and present, like his bizarre "doomsday" investment portfolio, his Ron Paul survival kit (which came in an "official World War II U.S. Army Ammo-Holder") and his 1993 direct mail item, which warned of a "homosexual cover-up" on AIDS and the coming "race war." Paul continued to maintain that most of the cray-cray was the fault of "ghostwriters" -- perhaps literal writers, who were actual ghosts at the time of the writing, who knows? -- and that while he wrote some stuff for the newsletters, it wasn't the gross, divisive stuff. Of course, the $64,000 question is: Is any of this actually hurting Paul in Iowa, you know...with voters? Dave Weigel, citing the current polling internals, is pretty skeptical that it is, saying, "one week after James Kirchick's Weekly Standard 'ahem, remember this?' story kicked off the new wave of Paul stories, it's either a boutique issue that isn't connecting with people, a confusing issue that raises 'liberal media bias' hackles with conservatives, or both." Right now, the whole newsletter scandalette has become more about adjudicating whether or not CNN aired the "Ron Paul walk off" interview in a fair context, and who, between Julian Sanchez/Weigel and the New York Times, deserves the most credit for diving into the intricacies of ancient libertarian kremlinology. And that's the only reason we bring up Kelly Clarkson's twitter endorsement, because it demonstrates that to the extent that the Ron Paul newsletters have become a big thing again in the media, it still hasn't filtered down to low-information voters, and Paul's legions of shaved, disciplined high-information supporters all side with the candidate, and will argue his side of the story, tattooes covered. Still, it seems that it's still not a good idea to buy the people you love a Ron Paul book for Christmas, unless it's that cook book, maybe!
When we last left Newt Gingrich, he was quickly becoming the latest in a long line of contenders to rise in the ranks against Mitt Romney, only to collapse in a heap a few days later. Those trends continued this week, both in Iowa and nationally. And on top of that, his campaign produced a strange video that nearly destroyed Christmas. (It has since been removed, but Christmas-themed Gingrich hilarity lives on at McSweeney's.) We also learned this week that Gingrich has a chandalier in his master bathroom, like the rest of working class America, and that he only went on that summertime pleasure-cruise to Greece to "provoke a confrontation" with his campaign staff (you know, those people who had gladly volunteered many hundreds of hours of their lives to get him to the White House) and to get a close-up look at the Greek debt crisis (all economists are examining the intricacies of foreign currency markets over a round of caipirinhas on the Lido Deck of luxury cruises these days, after all). Yes, Gingrich literally said those things in an interview with Matt Bai, who learned that everything is just hunky-dory in the Gingrich campaign these days, thanks for asking! The candidate himself, though, seemed almost jaunty when he arrived for breakfast, dressed in the Republican-issue uniform of red tie, white shirt and indeterminate dark suit. Soon he was scooping yogurt and blueberries into his mouth and ruminating on the question of why his own party's leaders thought he would be a disastrous nominee. "I think I'm a mortal threat to their world," he said. "First of all, how would they know? These are the same people who said I was dead in June, the people who said Reagan didn't have a prayer, O.K.? The Republican establishment is anti-intellectual and anti-change. They're for winning as long as it's meaningless. But meaningful victory would mean really big risks. "I'm running because I want to change the old order," he told me. "They are the old order." Of course, it's Gingrich's history of challenging the old order and needlessly provoking confrontations that has the establishment GOP thwacking him with every opportunity, though it's possible that no one knew about this secret history of Gingrich until airheaded Bob Woodward got around to remembering some of the reporting he did back in 1992 that would have been useful to know about at any point in the past twenty years. Now flailing, Gingrich is trying to fight back against his opposition while simultaneously trying to keep a positive attitude about everything. He's promising jobs for everyone, through tax cuts, tax cuts, magic, and also tax cuts, with a good mix of lifting the regulations that probably keep miners alive and minors from being exploited in the workplace for good measure. Meanwhile, he remains incensed that Mitt Romney is daring to run ads against him that are funded by Super PACs, and that Paul keeps dinging him as a "serial hypocrite" Washington insider. (Though Paul does have a point, because when Republican lawmakers are asked if Gingrich had ever lobbied them, they are pretty quick to say oh yeah, that guy totally was a lobbyist.) But what choice does Newt have? Having run off most of the people providing his campaign infrastructure through that totally necessary confrontation that he provoked by swanning off to float around in the Mediterranean, all he can do is disparage the other campaigns for having the means and the money and the wherewithal to, you know...CAMPAIGN AGAINST HIM. And those negative ads are doing real damage. Hey, you know what else one of those guys who Gingrich chased away from his campaign might have been able to do for the former Speaker? Maybe get on the ballot in his home state of Virginia. Instead, Gingrich joins Rick Perry and others in the group of candidates who failed to get the 10,000 signatures necessary to get on the Virginia primary ballot, which Larry Sabato says is "a disaster." Of course, when Sabato called it a "disaster," he didn't mean this: Campaign director Michael Krull went on Facebook to convey that Newt told him "this is not catastrophic -- we will continue to learn and grow." Then, in the very next paragraph, Krull employed a "catastrophic" metaphor to suggest the campaign is now recovering from a calamity: "Newt and I agreed that the analogy is December 1941: We have experienced an unexpected set-back, but we will re-group and re-focus with increased determination, commitment and positive action. Throughout the next months there will be ups and downs; there will be successes and failures; there will be easy victories and difficult days - but in the end we will stand victorious." Ha, yes, remember that time the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and FDR said, "This is a day that will live in infamy, just like that time that guy failed to get on the ballot for the Virginia primary!" and a nation wept? That's from the campaign of Newt Gingrich, millionaire historian! Gingrich would go on to vow to run a write-in campaign in Virginia, which is illegal. (Betcha one of those dudes who quit Gingrich's campaign over the summer knew that, as well!) The rest of the week was pretty much Classic Newt (TM) as well. For instance, last Friday, Gingrich took the position that the payroll tax cut deal worked out in the legislature was a "complete failure," two days after saying that the Republicans should take that very deal and do so "calmly and pleasantly and happily." (Maybe this was the moment Bob Woodward realized, "Oh yeah! Newt Gingrich! That guy is kind of a d-bag to the members of his own party!) Gingrich would also end up being hampered by his previous support for the once-beloved, now-despised individual mandate. Andrew Kaczynski pulled out another golden oldie YouTube clip of Newt saying, "I think you gotta require that everybody have insurance or post a bond," noting that the video was "a reminder of the degree to which a mandate was conservative orthodoxy a decade ago, and of the degree to which it's now a target of convenience, not principle." Meanwhile, Gingrich was left to claim this week that a "Newt Note" praising RomneyCare as an "exciting development" wasn't penned by him, the same way -- Dan Amira notes -- that Ron Paul claims his infamous newsletters were ghostwritten. And so, with his prospects dimming, Pearl Harbor analogies in full swing, and criticism coming from all quarters, we are quickly returning to where we began with Newt -- a guy running a fake campaign to sell books and movies and move Newt-themed merchandise off of shelves. Perhaps that's why a lengthy paean to "Ellis the Elephant" takes center stage in that Matt Bai interview: "The months of June and July were the hardest in my career," he told me. "You had people you thought you knew and you liked, at places like Fox News, asserting enthusiastically that you were dead. Not sadly -- enthusiastically, happily." He sipped his coffee but looked as if it tasted bitter. "One of the things that actually saved us," Gingrich told me, "in addition to Callista's stubbornness, was Ellis the elephant." I checked to make sure I heard this right. Ellis the elephant is the main character in Callista's new children's book, "Sweet Land of Liberty," a New York Times best seller. In what way had a fictional elephant salvaged his presidential campaign? "Happy, positive," Gingrich replied, searching for the right words. "Interesting. Creative. It gave you an oasis psychologically. Literally, Ellis was sort of a ray of light." The Washington Examiner's Tim Carney, we think, has this nailed: To judge the success of Newt Gingrich's presidential campaign, don't look at the number of county delegates he wins in next Tuesday's Iowa's caucuses, or even where he places in New Hampshire's primary the following week. Gingrich delegates to the Republican National Convention will not be the proper measure of the former speaker's bid. The increase in Newt's net worth will be the true gauge. As the voting begins, Gingrich's presidential campaign looks even less like an effort to actually become president of the United States and more like the latest business venture by a politician -- the former speaker of the House, no less -- who has made millions exploiting conservatism and the Republican Party. That's probably why Gingrich looks less and less interested in actually mounting his campaign. As Jim Newell noted, Newt's recently announced 44-stop Iowa bus tour went, in mere days, to a 22-stop tour. "He'll have fled the country by tomorrow night," says Newell. Probably back to Greece.
Well, it just wouldn't be the 2012 GOP primary without one more person getting a turn at the "suddenly surging fortunes" carousel, so at long last, here comes Rick Santorum, who has spent the most time in Iowa of any of the candidates, and, indeed, some of the actual caucus-goers. Rick Santorum can now say he's likely to finish third in Iowa, unless he doesn't. That's where the polls have him, and he's certainly picked a great time to start peaking. Naturally, Bob Vander Plaats is taking all the credit for Santorumentum. We'll again wonder what took him so long to make his endorsement. Santorum continues to work just as hard in the waning days of the run-up to the Iowa caucuses as he did when he launched his bid. And he's taking dead aim at Mitt Romney, busting his chops on relying on hoping the states will opt to waive out of the Affordable Care Act rather than just...we don't know...killing Obamacare with guns or something. Santorum has only promised to quit if he finished dead last in Iowa, which he won't, because of Jon Huntsman, so should we contemplate the possibility of him somehow snaking the nomination? Jonathan Bernstein gives it a try: He certainly has orthodox conservative views. The reason I've written him off is that there are no successful presidential candidates in the modern era with a similar resume. Santorum was crushed in a bid for reelection six years ago. I can't think of anyone else with a similar pattern who came anywhere near a nomination. Richard Nixon, of course, lost two elections and spent eight years in the wilderness, but a two-time vice president and former nominee is in a whole different league from a senator. For someone whose credential was statewide office to lose reelection and then bounce back and seriously contest the nomination would be something new. And there's good reason to believe that's a systematic effect, not just luck. Party actors are unlikely to back someone like that for higher office because they don't want to support a loser. Indeed, I'd guess that examples in lower offices (say, members of the House who lose their seats but then become senators) are quite rare, too. There may be one in the Senate right now, but I can't think of any. However, suppose that Santorum manages to rally to third place in Iowa, something that isn't impossible to imagine. What then? It's possible that conservatives who aren't excited about Romney might look to him. And if he surged, then his main drawback - that there's solid evidence that voters don't like him very much - would suddenly look a lot less important. And here's Nate Silver: It might be instructive to compare Mr. Santorum's position to that of another social conservative, Mike Huckabee. Mr. Huckabee was in a much stronger position outside of Iowa than Mr. Santorum is right now, polling at about 17 percent in national surveys at this point four years ago. Mr. Santorum, by contrast, is at only 4 percent support nationally in the latest Gallup poll. That Mr. Huckabee was not able to capitalize on his Iowa victory, despite seemingly being in a more advantageous position to do so, is one reason to be skeptical of whether Mr. Santorum would be able to, either. With that said, there are two factors that Mr. Santorum has going for him that Mr. Huckabee did not. First, whereas Mr. Huckabee's win had been expected in Iowa for some weeks in advance of the caucuses, Mr. Santorum's would be a come-from-behind victory, something which has historically been associated with a larger post-Iowa bounce. Second, Mr. Santorum could potentially benefit from consolidation in the field if other conservative candidates like Mrs. Bachmann and Mr. Perry were to drop out of the race after a poor finish in Iowa. And Jim Geraghty helpfully notes that Santorum needs to only pull 8.3% of the New Hampshire vote to leave the state with a delegate. So, there are possibilities. But whatever happens, at least Santorum will have a sizable collection of sweater vests to fall back upon as a cushion.
As you know, we at the Speculatron think Huntsman is a nice enough fellow, but his whole campaign has been a mistake from the outset. First, let's remember that he comes to the race, running to win the favor of a GOP base that hates President Barack Obama, as a guy who served in the Obama administration, and did so happily. Americans in general are pretty amenable to Huntsman, but Americans in general are not who votes in the early GOP primaries. And Huntsman hasn't been very serious about winning those voters over -- you don't do that with atmospherics and Vogue profiles and Kurt Cobain jokes and having daughters who make fun of Herman Cain's campaign manager. And you don't win the contest by holing up in Florida and letting the entire campaign process pass you by, as Rudy Giuliani famously did in 2008. Now, Huntsman was smart enough to abandon that plan, and move his campaign to New Hampshire earlier this year. There, he's established a small beachhead of support -- enough to allow his candidacy to be taken seriously for a while. Unfortunately, this week, the entire she-bang moved to Iowa, where Huntsman has no presence. As Jonathan Bernstein points out, ignoring Iowa remains a big mistake: The reason Iowa is necessary is that there are two complementary paths to the nomination. One is through winning the support of party actors; that's why high-visibility endorsements predict the nominee better than pre-Iowa polling does. But as important as that path has been since at least the mid-1980s, the winner of that path still has to translate that resource into actual votes and, therefore, delegates. Where mass electorates are involved, the mass media and their various biases are involved. And those biases, from the way reporters are assigned to what counts as "news" to the norms of covering presidential campaigns, all mean that Iowa gets a lot more attention than New Hampshire. Not to mention that, you know, linear time means that Iowa will influence New Hampshire -- sometimes in massive ways -- but not the other way around. All of which adds up to a tiny semi-surge in Iowa becoming a big story for Rick Santorum, while similar movements in New Hampshire really haven't done the same for Jon Huntsman. The dynamics just don't work for an Iowa skipper. Had Huntsman parked himself in Iowa, odds are still good that his campaign wouldn't have taken off, but the odds were very much against surges from Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum, and yet the first two of those definitely got theirs, and Santorum still might. Or perhaps Rick Perry will be in third place in the next poll, and then he'll get a surge. All we know is that Jon Huntsman isn't going to be the big story coming out of Iowa, and that's bad news for his campaign. The one way Huntsman managed to worm his way into the news cycle was by dissing Iowa, saying, "They pick corn in Iowa. They actually pick presidents in New Hampshire." Ha, well! By our reckoning, then, New Hampshire is going to pick Mitt Romney as the president. And Romney, who shifted from being an Iowa skipper to aggressively contending for their delegates, may end up being chosen by the Corn People as well.
Rick Perry is spending his last week before the Iowa caucuses stuck in a holding pattern, neither improving nor losing hold of his middle-of-the-pack, low double-digits polling position. What Perry has is money and organization and will, what he lacks is an establishment blessing or evidence of competence (the two are related). So, Perry can survive any likely outcome in Iowa and soldier on, but whether those efforts will have any meaning is debatable. We think he's basically lost the nomination -- the all-out collapse of everyone at the same time he'd need to facilitate a resurrection isn't happening -- but he will perhaps roll onward to save a little face. It's significant that he's spent the past week punching up at Rick Santorum -- the latter Rick is having precisely the sort of timely boomlet that the former Rick would love to be having. One of the ironies here is that while Perry was uniformly regarded as being terrible in the many GOP debates of the past year, he's really needed those fora as a means of reminding people that he exists. Now that they're over and all the pre-Iowa endorsements have been handed out, Perry can do little more than tinker around the margins of his campaign to generate some news. This week, that came in the form of reworking his abortion position, twice: first he came out against abortion in all cases, and later relented if the mother's life was in danger. Like Gingrich, Perry failed to get on the ballot for the Virginia primary. And like Gingrich, there are some levels of hilarity to how he's addressing that problem -- in his case, he's utilizing the federal government he so despises to seek relief. (The Virginia Primary is March 6, so Perry should just chill out and stop worrying about it, as it's doubtful he'll actually have a shot at the nomination by then.) That reminds us ... for all of Perry's talk about despising Washington, it turns out that when he comes to D.C., he takes to the city like any old clapped-out Beltway insider -- making the scene, dining out like a swell, and traveling with a large entourage. In fact, it's almost like D.C. is a pleasant refuge from Texas: Just days before voters reelected him in 2006, Perry appears to have headed to D.C. to avoid the rigors of the campaign trail. "He brought some border sheriffs to D.C. to complain about border patrols," said Jason Stanford, campaign manager for Chris Bell, Perry's Democratic rival that year. "It got him away from the Texas press. He was able to sit on a lead and make news on the big issue of the day ... I thought it was brilliant." During the trip, Texans for Rick Perry paid for rooms at Washington's Capital Hilton, situated just a short walk from the White House. The total cost was more than $3,600. Along with all of Perry's myriad ironies, we'll have his many, many gaffes to remember him by as well. This week, he notched two more of those: he blanked on the historic Supreme Court case Lawrence v. Texas, which overturned a sodomy law that Perry defended, and he seems to believe that the United States has somehow annexed the entire nation of Canada. We still think that in the next few weeks, we're going to learn that Perry's entire political career has been some sort of long-running improv comedy stunt.
We know that we're perpetually saying, "Wow, think of how different things might have been if Roemer had managed to catch fire, even in the small way he has recently, back in June." But once again: Wow, think of how different things might have been if Roemer had managed to catch fire, even in the small way he has recently, back in June. This week, we're starting to see a new phenomenon in the horse race: actual polls attempting to actually account for Roemer. Here he is, at 2% in Iowa. And folks, he has not done a lot of campaigning there. But two percent is the sort of support that you've historically needed to gain entry at the debates. Critically, however, the polls have to include your name in their questions, and for the large part, Roemer was not afforded this luxury. Of course, Iowa is wrapping up, and the debates of the past are in the can. But let's look a little bit ahead: A new poll out this morning by Public Policy Polling shows former Louisiana Governor Buddy Roemer registering his first significant blip of support in the Granite state. With little more than a week to go before voters head out to vote, it's doubtful this is the start of any significant surge of interest in the Roemer campaign. Rather, it's probably a product of the former governor's aggressive pressing of the flesh in advance of the nation's first primary. That poll has Roemer at 3 percent. There are two debates scheduled for January 9th and 10th. He's tied on that Granite State poll with Perry and Santorum. Will they be invited to participate, and not Roemer? The debate intrigue never seems to end. Regardless, Roemer's bid in general is stymied by the same thing plaguing Fred Karger: ballot access. He's not on the Florida or South Carolina ballot. Roemer doesn't suffer any grand delusions about his chances, but he still believes that debate access is the key to boosting his candidacy: "I've seen no evidence that it's picking up steam. I mean, I'm honest about that. But the shock has been no debates, that's what I looked forward to," Roemer says. He's convinced that if he'd been allowed to participate in even a few of the 16 televised debates and forums held so far things might be little different. "When I get an audience, I move them to my side. I do it every day but they are 15 people, there are 5 people, there are 18 people, there are 30 people. In a debate you've got 8 million," he says in his raspy Louisiana drawl. Now, the editors of the Boston Globe are rooting for Roemermentum: The constantly shifting formulas for which candidates get included in the debates have so far left him off the stage, live-blogging as his rivals get camera time. But he's making a dedicated effort in New Hampshire, where he polled ahead of Texas Governor Rick Perry in one recent survey, and should be included in the Granite State debates on Jan. 7 and 8. Roemer is capable of bringing fresh energy to the long-running GOP show: It's even possible to imagine him catching fire for at least a moment, the way the tag team of Trump-Bachmann-Perry-Cain-Gingrich have all taken turns as Mitt Romney's sparring partner. Roemer is running on both John McCain-style campaign finance reform and a promise, as president, to break the logjam in Congress by imposing his own legislative agenda. On both counts, he could gain some traction, if given a chance to make his case. Debate organizers have a difficult job, and have tried using poll numbers, fundraising totals, and evidence of national reach to separate the debate participants from the fringe contenders. This is a necessary task, but the unusual roster of candidates this year - some heavily credentialed but inert, others capable of juicing up a crowd but poorly prepared to be president - has made it especially difficult. There's no magical formula, but by dint of background, freshness of approach, and commitment to New Hampshire, Roemer should make the cut. Of course, the larger question remains: can Roemer salvage a movement from a failed bid for the White House? Ron Paul is proving that it can be done. Roemer's presence on social media -- his Twitter account blends humor, warmth, and fury in a winning way -- suggests that he could, potentially, manage some sort of longer term career as the Last Honest Man in Politics. But first, we'll see if some unexpected plot twist happens in New Hampshire.
Last week, it seemed pretty clear that Michele Bachmann has all but been reduced to a 2012 campaign footnote, with only a few remaining confrontations with gay robots left to go before her candidacy finally flamed out. But when the week began, there were social conservatives in Iowa who still held out hope that Bachmann would regain her footing, despite the fact that Bob Vander Plaats -- one of the top dogs in social conservative circles -- had bestowed his blessing upon Rick Santorum. And Bachmann does continue to flirt with a double digit finish in Iowa, so it's clear that some people find it very hard to quit her. Some people, anyway. For a lot of others, quitting Bachmann is actually pretty easy. Take Kent Sorenson, for example! For the bulk of the year, Sorenson served loyally as Bachmann's Iowa campaign chair. That came to an end this week, when Sorenson abruptly up and left for the sunnier, smells-like-winning confines of the Ron Paul campaign. Sorenson's break up was a fly-by affair -- he didn't inform his boss of his new allegiance until he was on the way to give Paul some rah-rahs. As Brett Smiley reports: "I adore Michele Bachmann," Sorenson said at the Paul event before a crowd of about 500, "but the fact of the matter is I believe we have an opportunity to take Romney out here in Iowa and I believe that person is Ron Paul." He added about his decision, "It's difficult, but it's the right thing to do. Because he fights for the values that I hold dear as well." Sorenson hasn't just admired Paul from afar, by the way: Paul campaigned for the state legislator last year. "I thought it was my duty to come to his aid, just like he came to my aid during my Senate race, which was a very nasty race," Sorenson said. Perhaps a sentiment to which he should have given greater thought earlier. Bachmann pretty much flipped out at the defection, accusing the Paul camp of wooing Sorenson away with the promise of money. "The Ron Paul campaign has to answer for its actions," Bachmann said, momentarily forgetting about how the free market works. Sorenson denied that he was in it for a payday, and in the ensuing contretemps, Bachmann ended up losing the assistance of her Iowa political director Wes Enos, who also quit. Hey, at least all of this kept Bachmann in the news cycle, right? Bachmann kept right on insisting that Sorenson's motives weren't pure, showing reporters her iPhone's record of Sorenson's last call to her as if that had some particular meaning, other than the fact that she was getting great mobile phone coverage in Iowa. Eventually, Bachmann was even abandoned by the super PAC that had been supporting her, as well, leaving her to lament, "You don't care about me, you left me for a better job! Your daughter left me for a better guy! Carlotta left me for Guatemala, and my dad left me for a damn war! Everybody leaves me. What's wrong with me?" Oh, whoops. That's not Bachmann. That's Friday Night Lights' Matt Saracen. The big difference between the two is that Saracen actually won things. At any rate, the campaign epitaphs are already coming, and perhaps that's for the best, as it seems that one of the reasons that Bachmann never seemed willing to take a full bore charge at Mitt Romney was because she was holding out some naive hopes that he might eventually name her as his running mate. Of course, that's coming from Ed Rollins, the guy who quit Bachmann before Kent Sorenson made it the hot new thing to do. Seeing as how Bachmann is cash-strapped, organizationally hobbled, and still mired in the bottom half of the polling tier, it's not clear how she moves on from the Hawkeye State after next week's caucuses. Though, with her extolling the virtues of the AR-15 rifle in radio interviews, who knows? This Iowa race could still get very edgy. Get a gun, get a gun, we're losing altitude.
Last week's big news was that Gary Johnson, after being largely shut out of the GOP debates, was jumping ship to the Libertarian Party...who don't have any televised debates coming up either, but never mind! This week's big news is that -- uhm...Gary Johnson is still jumping ship to the Libertarian Party! Of course, one of the unique problems that Johnson faces is that he's sort of the LP's version of a lovely parting gift. Most libertarians hold out hope that if Ron Paul fails to win the GOP's nomination outright, he can take his talents to Galt's Gulch and run under their banner instead. As a measure of this sort of devotion, consider the fact that Johnson's five staffers in New Hampshire have all gone the way of Kent Sorenson. As the Concord Patch reported this week: Gary Johnson's five former New Hampshire staffers announced Friday that they are now endorsing Ron Paul for president. "Like many political observers, we see clear and compelling differences between Congressman Ron Paul and the other candidates who will garner significant support in New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary," the five former staffers said in a statement. The five staffers include Brinck Slattery, Johnson's former state coordinator; Matt Simon, his former communications director; Nick Murray, his former Seacoast field coordinator and college coordinator; Andy Hauger, his former Merrimack Valley field coordinator; and Eric Jackman, his former Southwestern New Hampshire field coordinator. All five quit the Johnson team earlier this year due to frustration with the national campaign. Their endorsement of Paul comes just two days after Johnson announced that he was no longer seeking the GOP presidential nomination, and would instead be running as a Libertarian. "It's something we'd talked about, and we discussed the timing, and certainly his announcement Wednesday made it easier to go ahead with this," Simon said Friday morning. So, Johnson's presidential bid -- which we remind you, was primarily centered in New Hampshire -- begins with a setback. This is not to say that he couldn't make the 2012 contest interesting, running on a third party ticket. As a former -- and well-liked -- governor of New Mexico, he now stands to muddy the waters of the Electoral College in a not-insignificant way. As April Reese reports for the Atlantic: Johnson is expected to do well in his home state, where he is still fondly remembered by many voters. His term as governor coincided with a boom in New Mexico, when the state's coffers were overflowing and jobs were plentiful. "You see a lot of name recognition among New Mexicans for Johnson -- frankly, those were the good times," said Lonna Atkeson, who heads the Center for the Study of Voting Elections and Democracy at the University of New Mexico. "It was the '90s, there was lots of money, the economy was booming, and people were really happy. They know him much better than they know Gingrich or Romney." A survey conducted by Public Policy Polling earlier this month showed that in a three-way race with either Romney or Gingrich as the GOP nominee, and Barack Obama as the Democratic nominee, Johnson would draw between 26 percent and 30 percent of the Republican votes in New Mexico, between 12 percent and 16 percent of Democratic votes, and a majority of independent votes. Crucially, the poll found that Johnson could siphon enough votes from the GOP candidate to help Obama win New Mexico by a huge 17-point margin. He could also draw one or more electoral votes. Many caveats apply, according to Reese, from the fact the polls that suggest Johnson may have success aren't terribly reliable to the fact that New Mexico went to Obama pretty cleanly anyway in 2008. Nevertheless, Johnson seems like he could considerably improve upon the showing of the Libertarian Party's last candidate, Bob Barr, whose campaign slogan, if we recall correctly, was: "Bob Barr 2008: Wait, so, he's a Libertarian now, for some reason?"
Last week, Fred Karger's positive campaign veered sharply into a profoundly negative morass when he opted to start making fun of Mormons, a move that alienated many of the people he was angling to attract to his candidacy. So, this week, it's probably best that he kept his head down and got back to the standard work of retail campaigning. After a brief fundraising stop in Chicago, Karger returned to the Granite State to continue his hand-to-hand work in earnest. The singular problem he faces, however, is ballot access: Karger's longest of long-shot dreams now stands at two--two ballots, that is. He is on the ballot for the New Hampshire primary Jan. 10, where he has focused his campaigning, and in Michigan Feb. 28, along with 11 other candidates. "Every state is different [for getting on its primary ballot]," he said. "Some are very costly, so I'm picking and choosing which states to [try to] get on the ballot because we have limited resources." Still, Karger said, "the response has been incredible," to his ambitious dream. "In New Hampshire, I'm tied with Rick Santorum in one poll. I was tied with Michele Bachmann. I'm hoping to do better than one or both of those [candidates] in New Hampshire." Unfortunately, this comes at a time when the entire political horserace party shifts to Iowa, leaving Karger in New Hampshire with Jon Huntsman and Steve Forbes, who we assure you, is campaigning on behalf of Rick Perry, and not -- we repeat, NOT -- suddenly running for president again. When attention shifts back to New Hampshire, however, Karger will be in the mix, and may have the opportunity to match up with Newt Gingrich at the Hillsborough County Republican Committee's 2012 Primary Gala. New Hampshire remains the whole shooting match for Karger: "My strategy is to wait this out...We have a small operation, six staff members and me, and as the field narrows and the $1 million a month campaigns have left, then I'll have an opportunity there again." Karger should probably try to get Gingrich to do a "Lincoln-Douglas Debate" with him. Gingrich loves those things!
President Barack Obama, who finally got to append his signature on a short-term extension of the payroll tax holiday, said "Aloha" and was off on Christmas vacation with the family, where he spent his time ,a href="http://wonkette.com/458861/barack-obama-attempts-to-eat-fingers-off-a-small-child-video">devouring babies whole (it's how Dick Cheney stays healthy!) and perfecting the secret means by which his dog is mysteriously transported around the world, according to someone who has a blog somewhere. Obama took wing with the news of a continued uptick in his approval ratings, and it's got him feeling loose enough that he may finally appoint some people to the Federal Reserve Board of Governors. It's a move that's been long in coming, and a mystery why he hasn't attempted to do so sooner, seeing as the Federal Reserve is tasked with aiding in a massive unemployment crisis ... you know -- should one suddenly crop up or something. So, how seriously should we be taking his recent bounce in the polls? Dave Weigel offers caveats: "In late December, as voters turn a little less attention to politics (as they should, Washington is laying totally fallow), presidents often bounce a little bit. In 2010, after his party had just suffered an historic election defeat, Obama got a sort of Christmas bounce." And another thing to keep in mind is that head-to-head polling is all cloudcuckooland until the incumbent draws a defined opponent and the two start matching up in ways in which clear comparisons can be drawn. Once again, the Obama administration is seemingly happy to predict that defined opponent will turn out to be Mitt Romney, with Joe Biden going at Mitt in the pages of the Des Moines Register. For his part, Romney clearly feels the same way about the route this election is taking. But what of ol' Joe Biden? Obama's stated his commitment to Biden remaining on the ticket, but that didn't stop Robert Reich from indulging himself in the old Sally Quinn parlor game of contemplating a switch between Biden and Hillary Clinton at the Veep spot. My political prediction for 2012 (based on absolutely no inside information): Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden swap places. Biden becomes Secretary of State -- a position he's apparently coveted for years. And Hillary Clinton, Vice President. So the Democratic ticket for 2012 is Obama-Clinton. Why do I say this? Because Obama needs to stir the passions and enthusiasms of a Democratic base that's been disillusioned with his cave-ins to regressive Republicans. Hillary Clinton on the ticket can do that. Reich continues: Moreover, the economy won't be in superb shape in the months leading up to Election Day. Indeed, if the European debt crisis grows worse and if China's economy continues to slow, there's a better than even chance we'll be back in a recession. Clinton would help deflect attention from the bad economy and put it on foreign policy, where she and Obama have shined. And here's where he truly disappoints us, because surely Reich, of all people, can appreciate the primal effects that macroeconomic factors have on determining electoral results. This deflection of attention would occur primarily among pundits and commentators and touts. It would not be sufficient enough to arrest the attention of the voters who are really struggling in this economy. If that's really the whole campaign strategy, then there is no campaign strategy. Of course, it would be one thing if Obama could lay claim to a past winning formula of making oddly timed stunt moves that stirred passions and resulted in electoral wins. But that was John McCain's strategy, and it didn't get him anywhere. Obama won by playing the cool customer, unruffled by the vagaries of the campaign trail. Naturally, the move would get all sorts of attention from the media, but after a brief honeymoon period, that attention will inevitably curdle, and Obama would soon be characterized as vulnerable and desperate and reckless. Though it's worth noting that those recent head-to-head polls (that we should not yet be taking seriously but will for just a hot minute) have Romney up by six points, so who knows? Before this is over, President Obama might try something McCainey.
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