The real reason that we put up with the idea of the Iowa Caucus, despite the quadrennial concerns that it allows a few people from a small state to have an outsized influence on electoral outcomes (concerns which are somewhat overstated, but not completely dismissable!) is the simple fact that it is a really pretty thing to look at. For a few days in our lives, we immerse ourselves in the wonderment of seeing middle Americans, who we imagine are not far removed from the hard labor of working the soil for their daily keep (Iowa's population is largely urban, but we don't send TV cameras to those caucus sites), take those first fitful and uncertain steps in a long political process. They gather in community centers and school gyms and sit in folding chairs, and they use a pen to write a name on a slip of paper, and all is right with the world. Really right with the world! By the time everything is over in November, we'll have been exposed to every last dose of venality and cynicism our political culture has to throw at us, so we need this tonic, right at the outset, to preserve our constitutions from the coming toxins.
In exchange for this balm, we accept that the Iowa Caucus has a story to tell. The Iowa Caucus, we tell ourselves, may not be that great at picking a president, but it has a purpose to serve in winnowing down the field and eliminating those candidates who can't perform the basic tasks of retail campaigning. How did we do this year? Well, it winnowed out Michele Bachmann. It probably should have freed us from the further ministrations of the "Rick Perry campaign," but Perry has decided to soldier on. As Bachmann had already essentially eliminated herself from competition at the end of September, this seems a woefully inefficient way of getting a candidate to quit the race.
Nevertheless, Iowa generated something that felt like excitement, even if that hectic feeling was created by nothing more than two counties being dreadfully slow at counting. At the end of the night, three candidates claimed a sort of victory. Third-place finisher Ron Paul probably would have preferred to have ended the night much nearer to the leading vote-getters -- he really needed a first-place finish to prevent the media from dialing back their coverage of his campaign -- but he ended the night on an optimistic note, riding out of Iowa on a substantial amount of money and enthusiastic support, armed with a long-game plan to navigate his way to a high delegate count.
Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, as you well know, battled to a photo finish, with Romney eking out a thin, eight-vote victory. But Romney couldn't claim the night. Not with Santorum's shoe strings-and-chicken bones operation nearly matching the Super PAC-enabled Romney vote for vote. Santorum, sensing that he was poised to claim something that would seem more like victory than the actual win, had a chance to capitalize on the moment and, as Rachel Sklar pointed out in Mother Jones the next day, he utterly nailed it:
Last night, after enough of a delay that pundits took note, Santorum took the podium for his speech and sheepishly apologized for reading from his notes. He proceeded to positively kill it. He spoke earnestly and with real emotion about his wife and family, his grandfather who had worked in the Pennsylvania coal mines into his 70s, and the American working class. He spoke of his daughter, born disabled with a life expectancy of just a year, who, against those odds, was now three years old; he spoke of another child lost, and of his passionate belief in the dignity of human life. His tone was strong, though at times wavered with emotion. He fed off the audience, acknowledging a zinger about Romneycare with a grin. He shouted out the New York Times for recognizing his Chuck Truck. He was humble, impassioned, patriotic, and filled with conviction. If you didn't know anything about Santorum before last night, you'd be impressed.
How could Romney have followed that? Well, the answer was pretty much "any way other than the way he did." When Romney finally took the stage, his speech had the tone and tenor of a man who was either in the throes of amphetamine mania, or was told seconds before going on stage that if he didn't finish within a certain time, someone, somewhere was going to start killing hostages. Romney paused for audience responses that never came, raced through his remarks at a breakneck pace and went back to his stump speech for that awful recitation of "America The Beautiful" that included his "corn is an amber wave" joke that never ever worked, as Stephen Colbert's brilliant next-day montage demonstrated:
Nevertheless, what's so bad about a little inability to seem human when your organizational strength and war chest dwarfs that of your next opponent several times over? Those are the challenges that Santorum has to surmount -- along with Romney's big lead in the upcoming New Hampshire primary -- which, again, is part of the important election year tonic: Dixville Notch! Hart's Location! Snow! Maple syrup! Live free or die! A reporter saw a moose!
And that's where this is all heading -- to the Granite State! There, Jon Huntsman lies in wait, hoping to remind people of his existence. Ron Paul rides a moneybomb wave, hoping to forge a deeper connection with New Hampshire's storied independents. Newt Gingrich -- barking mad at Romney for his vicious Super PAC attacks -- is threatening to rain down hellfire on the favorite. And there will be two debates in the 72 hours, including one at nine in the morning on Sunday, which is apparently sponsored by Satan. For everything you need to get caught up on the week that was, please feel free to enter the Speculatron for the week of January 6, 2012.
For the many months leading up to the Iowa caucuses, Mitt Romney's campaign team played a complicated strategic game with expectations, depending on how the not-Romneys were splitting their share of the votes and whether or not one of them had surged high enough to keep him off the top spot. So, one day, the campaign would be in it to win it, and another day it would be playing aloof and downplaying Iowa's importance. As everything came to a head, however, team Romney upped its investment, seeing an open opportunity to snag the early contest. And snag it they did...by eight votes. (Or did they? Thursday afternoon, it was reported that a typo accidentally accorded Romney 20 votes he didn't earn, but Rick Santorum said late Thursday night that these gains were offset by another mistake.) But whatever. Could Romney, with a week of additional effort, have won the battle more decisively? Perhaps. We'd also suggest that because the most annoying thing about Mitt Romney's candidacy is the presence of Mitt Romney, it's possible that he might have won it more decisively if he'd gone all ghost protocol and stayed out of sight. This theory will be tested in New Hampshire, where he's maintained a constant presence and is up big, and in South Carolina, where he'll hope that being able to get to the state early and on the shoulders of Palmetto State Gov. Nikki Haley will earn him a victory. Still, it must be said that Romney's hectic, charmless post-caucus speech was a poor partner to Santorum's heartfelt performance, and this artificiality carried over into Romney's endorsement event with John McCain, which Dana Milbank characterized as a mess. Oh yeah! John McCain endorsed Mitt Romney, which was fun for everyone who remembers the "seething disdain" that Mr. Maverick had for Mitt back in 2008. It's like nothing that happened in the past has any meaning anymore, or something! But seriously, these two anthropomorphic weathervanes are actually perfect partners. But the endorsement from McCain did not go well, unless of course Romney wanted McCain to say, "President Obama will turn this country around!" and "I guarantee you [Romney] will not lead from behind like Ronald Reagan. He will lead from in front." Which are two things that McCain actually said, for some reason. But the elite endorsements, at this point, are just as good as primary victories for Romney, as they baste his candidacy in prestige along with locking in some of that flavor of inevitability. And the sooner they come, the better, because Romney wants this contest to be over fast. He has stacks of money to burn through to make it happen, a hoped-for crushing win in New Hampshire around the corner, and a slew of favorable primary locations bridging the gap between South Carolina and Super Tuesday in the form of Nevada, Colorado and Michigan. Blocking his way are numerous enemies. And while Rick Santorum has emerged as the main contender to the "Not Romney" title, it's anticipated that over the weekend, it will be a scorned and seething Newt Gingrich who unleashes white hot fury all over Romney. He'll be joined by Jon Huntsman -- who desperately wants to claw back some Romney support into his corner in order to get his ticket punched out of the Granite State, and is willing to paint Romney as a bankers' bootlicker to do it. (This is, I guess, how two white guys steeped in family money go all Kill Bill on one another.) Along the way, Romney can expect to spend the weekend getting decked by the Gingrich-endorsing Union-Leader as well. And next weekend, there will be an "emergency meeting" of Romney haters, hoping to finally coalesce around an alternative candidate, in the hopes of elevating one of Romney's many 2012 kneebiters into a candidate who better matches Romney in terms of dollars and support. And of course, beyond the nomination, the Democrats lay in wait, preparing to make the case that Romney's patrician upbringing and a career spent Bain Capitalizing on other company's misfortunes make him chronically out of touch for these times. Here, Romney's own tax plan is offering up plenty of attack fodder. As you might have expected, the wealthy make out like bandits. Per Greg Sargent: Here's the bottom line. When comparing how people are doing under today's tax policies to how individuals would do under Romney's plan in 2015, these are the changes you'd see: Individuals in the top 0.1 percent, or those making over $2.8 million, would get an income tax cut of nearly half a million dollars. Individuals in the top one percent, or those making over $629,000, would get a cut of over $80,000. Meanwhile, people in the other percentiles would see a tax reduction, but a far smaller one. Those in the 95-99 percentiles would see a tax cut of around $7,500. Those in the 90-95 percentiles would see a tax cut of around $2,500. And those in the 80-90 percentiles would see a cut of around $1,100. Broken down by quintile, those in the fourth highest would see a tax cut of roughly $6,900; those in the third highest would see a cut of around $500; and those in the bottom two would see a slight increase. And as Kevin Drum points out, this might not even be good enough for conservatives: [C]onservatives are right to believe that Romney isn't to be trusted. Sure, he lowers tax rates on millionaires by 9 percentage points, and you may think that's a pretty sweet deal for the rich. But come on. Newt Gingrich would lower them by 24 percentage points. (No, that's not a typo.) Rick Perry lowers them by 20 percentage points. Herman Cain lowers them by 15 points. Frankly, Romney is hardly even trying here. So this is the worst of all worlds for the Mittster. For the 95% of us who earn less than $100,000, his plan is almost laughably tilted toward the plutocrat set. There's just no way for him to pretend that he really cares about the middle class. But for the plutocrat set itself, his plan seems downright miserly compared to the rest of the GOP field. So in the end, everyone is uneasy about him. Romney's tax plan, it turns out, is a metaphor for the man himself. It's a tough gig being Mitt. And Jonathan Chait points out that while Romney's been touting this as a revenue-neutral plan, it's not: "It would add $180 billion to the deficit in 2015." What makes this report tougher for Romney is the timing. He's already under pressure from conservatives upset with his pledge not to cut taxes for the rich. If he had already wrapped up the nomination, Romney could just say, "oops, we screwed up the plan," and release a new one that holds taxes for the rich at their Bush-era levels and doesn't raise them on the working class. But that would be a tricky move in the midst of a primary. Anyway, the changes he'd have to make would be very large -- $180 billion a year is big money, requiring a major revamp of his plan. Beyond that, Andrew Sullivan notes the way that Romney's efforts to appear to be electably normal are making him look even more strange than his competition: We've been so used to the weirdness of the island of misfit toys that is the GOP primary season that we may have missed the real story: the weirdest man in the whole race might actually be ... the one not supposed to be weird. This takes us back to caucus night, and the inevitable comparison between Santorum's post-game comportment and Romney's. Between his weird post-caucus oration, the forced speed of Romney's speech, the hamhanded artificiality of his jokes, his tendency to pause for audience reactions that never come, the oddly cuckoo-bird and yet entirely canned recitation of "America The Beautiful," and that forced-looking, perfunctory victory "celebration" that confused Fox News' Carl Cameron as it swelled without warning behind his camera set-up, almost everything Romney is and does feels ersatz. Still, he remains a formidable opponent, if only because his campaign team seems to outpace the competition by miles. Kevin Drum believes that if Romney gets his quick win, many of his primary season liabilities will diminish in the setting of the general election: I'll be surprised if the GOP primary race goes much beyond the end of February, and I'll be shocked if Super Tuesday on March 6 doesn't end it completely. This means that the Republican base will have six months to resign themselves to their fate and come to the conclusion that Romney is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being ever to run for president. And they will. When Job 1 is beating the anti-Christ, learning to love Mitt Romney will be a piece of cake. So what does this mean for Team Obama? My guess: the flip-flopper charge probably won't get much traction. It's mostly a problem for conservatives, who don't fully trust that Romney is one of them, but by the time summer rolls around they're going to be his most fire-breathing supporters. They'll have long since decided to forgive and forget, and independents won't care that much in the first place as long as Romney seems halfway reasonable in his current incarnation. It's possible that Obama can do both -- Romney is a flip-flopper and a right-wing nutcase! -- but if he has to choose, my guess is that he should forget about the flip-flopping and simply do everything he can to force Romney into the wingnut conservative camp. Hopefully, Romney will update his programming so that he is no longer making that "corn is an amber grain" joke by the time he gets to New Hampshire.
It's been an amazing two weeks for Rick Santorum, who came up surging on the outside rail to close strong in Iowa. Along the way, he went from "can he win?" to "could he win?" to "will he win" to "he almost won" to "maybe he did win," and is now, we assume, firmly back in the mode where he's savoring a victory. For George Will, who was in a glass case of anxiety over the prospect of the nominating contest coming down to a choice between Mitt and Newt, Santorum's emergence has him positively giddy, and now he's touting how "fun" a candidate Rick Santorum is. Really! Rick Santorum is "fun" in certain circles! Rick Santorum has become central because Iowa Republicans ignored an axiom that is as familiar as it is false: Democrats fall in love and Republicans fall in line. Republicans, supposedly hierarchical, actually are -- let us say the worst -- human. They crave fun. Supporting Romney still seems to many like a duty, the responsible thing to do. Suddenly, supporting Santorum seems like a lark, partly because a week or so ago he could quit complaining about media neglect and start having fun, which is infectious. Shorter George Will: "Taste the fun infection that is Santorum." Well, if Santorum has new life, it comes along with new challenges and new levels of scrutiny as well. Santorum, having won a close second place in Iowa on pure guts and the ability to make a little bit of money go a long way, now needs to take on the other 49 states, and in order to keep up with the Romneys and Pauls, he'll need some support. Fortunately for Romney, in the days since Iowa, his donations have increased significantly. Unfortunately, now the media is invested in covering him. That's why Santorum's back-catalog of cray-cray is getting another turn in the sunshine. And Mitt Romney, in a move that few might consider to be among the classiest, is making a special effort to bedevil Santorum for his famous "Google problem." Santorum is hitting back at his rivals. He didn't take kindly to Newt Gingrich calling him a "junior partner." And this week, he told radio host Mark Levin that a Romney nomination would "destroy this country." And Santorum's not shy about looking ahead to the general, either -- his continual denunciations of the Affordable Care Act (from Santorum's point of view, the fact that millions of Americans cannot afford health care is actually a virtue) are clear signs of the fact that he's itching to go at Obama. Jim Newell says that now, "the future will be an eternal loop of watching Rick Santorum whine about gays." Pretty much! And this week, he continued to make the kind of addled comparisons between same-sex marriage and other examples of deviance that earned him his Google problem in the first place. He went on to claim that he hasn't "been talking a lot about" gay issues, which suggests that he may have some short and long-term memory problems. If Santorum can't remember talking about gay issues, over and over again, maybe it's because it's all just a blur now, and maybe it's because he has more prominent memories of talking in paranoid terms about Muslims, prudish terms about contraception, Gingrichian terms about abolishing whatever circuit court fails to please him, or off-the-wall terms about Obama's "treasons." But while all of this is available for scrutiny -- along with his own 1 percent-favoring tax plan that will blow up the deficit -- the Santorum snafu that's getting the most attention is a pretty hilarious one, so we understand why none of these other matters have been addressed. See, at a stop in Sioux City, Santorum went on a bit of a race-based bender against welfare programs such as food-stamps, saying that he didn't want "to make black people's lives better by giving them somebody else's money." Why he said this to a roomful of white Iowans is anyone's guess. When it comes to welfare recipients in that state, "only 9 percent of Iowans on food stamps are black -- and 84 percent are white" and nationally, blacks don't form the majority of people on this form of welfare: "39 percent of welfare recipients are white, 37 percent are black, and 17 percent are Hispanic." But, as they say, "it gets better." Thursday night, when John King confronted Santorum on this, Santorum denied ever using the word "black." So what did he say? Something that's a little hard to believe: SANTORUM: I've looked at that quote, in fact I looked at the video. In fact, I'm pretty confident I didn't say black. I started to say is a word and then sort of changed and it sort of -- blah -- mumbled it and sort of changed my thought. Hey! Some of our best friends are blah!
As Ron Paul's campaign approached the night of the Iowa caucuses, expectations were as high as the clamor around his campaign was outsized. At pre-caucus rallies, Paul was namedropping Kelly Clarkson and her surprise endorsement, which was surely a first for the septuagenarian candidate. Speaking of! You remember all those stories about how Paul's supporters went out and bought a whole mess of Kelly Clarkson CDs in response to her Twitter endorsement? Yeah...not so much. And the fur was still fying over his controversial, semi-ghostwritten, somehow-escaping-his-attention-allegedly newsletters: last week, Paul was fending off attacks from those who thought he was a bigot while simultaneously dealing with attacks from others who felt he wasn't bigoted enough. The prospects of Paul winning the whole kit and caboodle still had elites a-flutter. Washington Post columnist Marc Thiessen was pretty much freaking out, which is understandable when you consider the fact that Paul had taken committed stances against all of the things that traditionally get Thiessen pitching a pup-tent in his knickers, like bombing Iran and torturing people. Iowa Rep. Steve King was warning everyone he could that a Paul presidency would guarantee "Iranian nuclear missiles in Cuba." Jon Huntsman produced an ad that compared Paul's views to something out of the Twilight Zone. And Rick Santorum took the harshest and briefest road to denigrating Paul, simply terming him "disgusting." (Santorum's nephew, John Garver, disagreed, and endorsed Paul in the Daily Caller, calling him the "only candidate trying to win the election for a reason other than simply winning the election." Come caucus night, Paul's campaign was feeling confident, buoyed by entrance polls that suggested he might prevail in a dead heat race with Mitt Romney. In fact, some in the Paul camp might have been feeling a wee bit overconfident -- early in the evening, someone using the campaign Twitter account quipped at Jon Huntsman, "We may have found your one Iowa voter, he's in Linn precinct 5 you might want to call him and say thanks." That tweet was briefly deleted, then brought back, and we don't know what eventually happened to it because when we caught ourselves expending effort on what happened to something someone said on Twitter, we took a brief break to restore our sense of perspective. (Anyway, as we know, a lot of what gets ascribed to Paul is ghostwritten, right?) Paul would go on to finish third, somewhat behind Romney and Santorum but well ahead of Gingrich and Perry. For Paul, it was enough to go on. For the media, it might be a different story that Paul didn't win the caucus outright. For his part, Paul is running a long game in these caucuses that is perhaps not getting as much attention as it warrants. As Business Insider noted: Ron Paul may have officially come in third tonight, but if the campaign's caucus strategy went off as planned, then Paul may actually be the real winner of the first Republican voting contest. That's because Paul's massive organizational push in Iowa focused on both winning votes, and also on making sure that Paul supporters stuck around after the vote to make sure they were selected as county delegates -- the first step towards being elected as a delegate to the Republican National Convention. That's because Iowa's Republican caucuses are non-binding -- they are technically just a straw poll, so once selected, delegates are free to vote for whichever presidential candidate they choose. "Part of what we've been training the Ron Paul people to do is not to leave after the vote," Dan Godzich, a senior campaign advisor, told BI. "Stay and get elected to the conventions and get us those delegates." Remember how Paul's campaign was imposing some rigorous discipline and requiring its footsoldiers to be shaved, clean and well-dressed in public? This is a big reason why. But Paul, overall, has something of a plan and so far, he's calling plays from that playbook. He's aided greatly by the fact that he's still raking in money by the truckload and using it to make ad buys in contests down the road. Paul has perhaps attacked Newt Gingrich in a more showy manner since the curtains came down in Iowa -- he labeled Gingich a "chickenhawk" -- but John Heilemann believes that Paul could, in the end, hurt Romney: But as Buchanan proved in 1996, the fact that a candidate is incapable of being the GOP standard-bearer doesn't mean he can't kick up a hell of a ruckus along the way -- and pose significant problems to the Establishment choice for the nomination. Buchanan, please recall, finished second in Iowa to Bob Dole with 23 percent of the vote that year, then went on to beat the front-runner in New Hampshire. It is true, to be sure, that Romney is a stronger Granite State candidate than the Bobster was, and if he wins in Iowa, the Paul threat will quickly recede. But if Romney were to slip to third behind Paul and Santorum, the situation in New Hampshire might fast become unstable -- and in South Carolina, even more so, as Romney would be forced to contend, in a state where he has never been strong, not just with Paul and Santorum but with Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich making what might be their last stands. And then there is another scenario: one in which Romney wins the nomination, but Paul refuses to disappear. The other day, one of the savviest political operatives I know e-mailed me out of the blue. The subject line of the message read "Romney's mistake" and its body said this: "He thinks that he is running against Paul for the nomination. What he needs to start focusing on is how to get Paul to not run as a 3rd party candidate in the fall" -- an eventuality that could cripple Romney's chances in the general election by robbing him of crucial conservative-libertarian votes. I e-mailed back: What would you suggest? "Stay away from him," came the reply. "Don't engage him and don't insult him. Maybe even find something to agree with. They are not competing for the same voters." Of course, this is all playing out against a larger debate as to whether Ron Paul's overall crackpottedness makes him a good messenger for the values and positions that don't get enunciated by any of the other candidates, such as his stance against militarism. Plenty of progressives carry a candle for Paul over his opposition to wars and empire-building, and they praise his stances on civil liberties (while perhaps misunderstanding that Paul's support for civil liberties have less to with a belief in strong individual rights and more to do with the fact that he believes the power of government should be radically limited). But his good points come with baggage: stuff like his opposition to helping victims of natural disaters, his belief that workplace sexual harassment isn't worth being concerned about, and the fact that he gets asked all the time about being a 9-11 truther crank. Kevin Drum says no: If you truly support civil liberties at home and noninterventionism abroad, you should run, not walk, as fast as you can to keep your distance from Ron Paul. He's not the first or only person opposed to preemptive wars, after all, and his occasional denouncements of interventionism are hardly making this a hot topic of conversation among the masses. In fact, to the extent that his foreign policy views aren't simply being ignored, I'd guess that the only thing he's accomplishing is to make noninterventionism even more of a fringe view in American politics than it already is. Crackpots don't make good messengers. In the end, Paul doesn't particularly think like he has much of a chance of winning. It's pretty clear, however, that he's somewhat averse to the rest of the people in the field, and may eventually choose not to support the winner.
Ol' Newt Gingrich came into the week of the Iowa Caucus with a big old sad look on his face and his reservoir for resentment fuller than it's ever been. "Politics has become a really nasty, vicious, negative business, and I think it's disgusting and I think it's dishonest," said Gingrich, who's contributed more than just about any other figure in the past half century of American politics to ensure that the political discourse in America was nasty, vicious, negative, disgusting and dishonest. Gingrich is essentially now spending his time on the trail overdosing on self-pity and lamenting the fact that the monster he nurtured throughout his career has risen up to sting him. No one appreciates Newt's achievements as a "amateur paleontologist" or his veteran status in the "war against the war against dust." The walking Oort cloud of grievance complained to anyone who would listen about how the vicious attack ads from Romney's Super PAC, enabled by Gingrich's beloved Citizens United Supreme Court decision, were tearing down his wonderful candidacy of positivity and big ideas. This despite the fact that his fall from his briefly mounted frontrunner perch had less to do with those ads than he cares to admit, and more to do with the fact that Gingrich lucked into a chance to win and just blew it. So for Gingrich, Iowa became a venue where the best he could hope for was some sort of third place finish -- whether outright or in some Lieberman-esque tangle with other candidates who performed equally well. To earn that spot, Gingrich tried pandering to Sarah Palin fans -- suggesting he'd repeat the mistake of giving her a shot at the vice presidency. But mainly he just went negative against Mitt Romney. He called Romney a "robot," and bitching about how campaign-like the Romney campaign was. But more significantly, Newt called Romney a liar: Asked point-blank in a nationally broadcast network interview if he was calling the former Massachusetts governor "a liar," the former House speaker replied, "Yes." [...] "I just think he ought to be honest with the American people and try to win as the real Mitt Romney," Gingrich said. "He ought to be candid and I don't think he's been candid." [...] "I wish Mitt would just level with the American people and be who he really is and let's have a debate between a Massachusetts moderate and a real conservative," Gingrich said. Gingrich took the matter a step further, saying he'd been "Romney-boated" by all of those Super PAC ads. The virtue in this is that Gingrich is correctly characterizing the original "Swift Boat veterans" as the dirty, venal, lying scumbags that they truly, truly were. And in a perfect circle of soul-destitution, one of those scumbag liars complained about being criticized by Gingrich in this fashion. (Also, can we join Jim Geraghty in wondering: Is this going to be a thing now? Sticking the suffix "-boating" onto other words like we do with "-gate"? Let's please strangle this particular baby in the crib, okay?) And all of this went down before a single vote got cast in the Iowa Caucus, which Gingrich conceded early in the week, only to walk it back later, saying that he could still score a win. Obviously, his first instincts were correct: Gingrich got neither an upset win or a third-place finish. Instead he finished in fourth, far enough behind the leaders that lots of people wondered if he wouldn't be better off quitting the race. But quit the race Gingrich shall not. Instead the preview of coming attractions involves Newt Gingrich throwing everything but the kitchen sink (he will wait until the kitchen sink is filled to the top with spider venom before hurling it) at Mitt Romney, in an awesome spectacle of vindictiveness and wrath. Relatively speaking, we mean. Let's recall that Gingrich's outward displays of pure anger will be muted by the fact that he is a corpulent sack of effete fussbudgetiness, so expect something more like Thurston Howell and less like Tyler Durden. Of course, Gingrich in wrath-mode can hardly be contained to Romney as a target, so it seems like he'll be acting out his anger in his most typical way -- pompously mansplaining everything to everybody. He's already indicated that he'd like to mansplain poverty to the NAACP. And this week, he mansplained the Founding Fathers take on the Drug War to New Hampshire voters. Now that Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown has slammed Gingrich for his bonkers attacks on the judiciary, he can count on having some sort of tiresome session of mansplanation, too. And all of America will be punished, by Gingrich, if he has any say in it. As Buzzfeed's Rosie Gray reported yesterday, Gingrich vowed that "as [the] nominee, he'll challenge Obama to seven debates, Lincoln-Douglas style." And "if [Obama] doesn't want to, he will speak [for four] hours after every [Obama] speech." Clearly, the countering move from Obama would be to triple the number of his four-minute speeches.
Rick Perry's brief tenure as a member of the top-tier was all but over by the time autumn bled into winter. But with the accelerated cycle of rise and fall that all of the "not Romneys" were experiencing, there were plenty of people who thought that by having built his way back to the double digits, there might be enough juice left in Perry to score a surprise showing in Iowa. So Perry -- who was able to score a few weeks of not having to show up for a debate -- essentially made a big wager in Iowa: his infrastructural strength and presence in Iowa against the rest of the field, his well-funded war chest against the rising Rick Santorum's campaign-on-the-cheap. Perry did what he could to hold his followers together, alternately going after his rivals and attacking the White House -- a fight he imagined to be the historical equivalent of fighting the British during the Revolutionary War or the Nazis on Normandy Beach. Perry did what he could to seize the mantle of the Romney-alternative by slagging Romney, but he also went out of his way to try to tear down Rick Santorum -- the better to swipe some of Santorum's surge. The problem was that Perry's campaign staffers were telling tales out of school. Tales like this one: Said one Perry adviser, on background: "There has never been a more ineptly orchestrated, just unbelievably subpar campaign for President of the United States than this one." That led to a confrontation with Politico's Mike Allen, in which Perry endlessly repeated "You got a name?" to all of Allen's inquiries on the matter. By the way, let's just call this now: Rick Perry versus Mike Allen is essentially the "Frost/Nixon" that the 2012 race deserves. (Perry, surprisingly, is the "Frost.") At any rate, the Iowa Caucus results came in and Perry had only managed to best the hapless Michele Bachmann. Speculation began almost immediately that Perry would drop out of the race after his showing, and, indeed, Perry himself said that he would be returning to Texas to "reassess" his campaign. The period of reassessment did not take long -- by the next morning, Perry tweeted a picture of himself in jogging gear, telling his fans that he was taking his game to South Carolina. Nate Silver posits that Perry had two possible decision-making scenarios, which Perry likely combined into one large SuperScenario: Hypothetical Scenario A: Although most of Mr. Perry's strategists were urging him to drop out of the race, he prayed on the decision, talked it over with his wife, and decided to ignore their advice. There was a strong emotional element to the decision: Mr. Perry felt embarrassed by his performance in Iowa and wanted the opportunity to redeem himself and go out on a better note. Hypothetical Scenario B: Mr. Perry was prepared to drop out of the race, but his advisers saw a credible path to victory and urged otherwise. Moreover, he received a string of phone calls, text messages and e-mails from major donors, Republican elected officials and conservative activists who expressed their support and told him that he should press on. These party elites were concerned that Mr. Romney was going to waltz to the nomination, and they were either poorly disposed toward Rick Santorum or convinced that Mr. Santorum lacked the resources to seriously challenge Mr. Romney. Regardless of how he came to the decision, the South Carolina primary now looms as the place of Perry's last stand (he'll go to New Hampshire to debate but has not campaigned there with any vigor). As Silver points out: "Mr. Perry's polling in South Carolina has not been good recently. But if you need only 20 percent of the vote to lead the field there, or if the number of undecideds or weakly committed voters remains high, you would not need all that much momentum to contend." Well, he doesn't have much momentum, that's for sure.
How does Jon Huntsman feel about the results of the Iowa Caucus -- which he did not partake in despite knowing that this entire week would be devoted to covering them in earnest at the expense of anyone doing anything anywhere else? "Nobody cares," Huntsman said. That was the same answer he gave when asked how he felt about Mitt Romney getting the endorsement of Senator John McCain. "Nobody cares." Did he steal that line from the yawning realization that America was arriving at a two-word assessment about all of the efforts Huntsman had made thus far in the 2012 race? Probably! Huntsman spent the week campaigning in New Hampshire, where he needs to do well. At the moment, he is not doing well at all -- Romney has a seeming hammerlock on the top spot. But Huntsman is hoping to be the Rick Santorum of New Hampshire (providing that the Rick Santorum of Iowa doesn't beat him to it). Nevertheless, as Sam Stein reported, Huntsman remains confident. In the same way that Michele Bachmann remained confident, frankly, though without all of the histrionics and Tim Tebow references: "I think we are a high-growth stock," Huntsman told The Huffington Post in an interview after his second appearance on Tuesday. "We are an undervalued stock. So our price-to-earnings ratio would be a little lower than it ought to be. And I think in the hours and days ahead, our PE ratio is going to change considerably and we will cease being that undervalued stock and we will be an appropriately valued stock." Huh! Maybe that's why Huntsman is planning on investing his own money, in himself, in the form of donation matching. (He should really consider short-selling himself though.) Stein points out that Huntsman's stock market lingo is ironic, seeing as it's "from a candidate hoping to portray the Republican frontrunner, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, as a stooge of the financial sector." And indeed, this week, Huntsman painted Romney as a stooge for the big banks: "It is the fact that he has raised so much money from the large banks, the banks that need to be right-sized. If you are the largest recipient of funds from Wall Street, and in particular the large banks, you are not going to be inclined to want to change that model. Because those who run those banks want no change, they profit off the status quo and clearly they are not going to be inclined to want to bring about any change." But does anyone care about Huntsman? Well, apparently so! In the most significant bit of good news Huntsman has received in the past few weeks, the former Utah Governor won the endorsement of the Boston Globe: Whoever gets the Republican nomination could easily become president. Among the candidates, only two stand out as truly presidential, Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman. Both have track records of success, and both, through their policies and demeanors, have shown the breadth of spirit to lead the nation. But while Romney proceeds cautiously, strategically, trying to appease enough constituencies to get himself the nomination, Huntsman has been bold. Rather than merely sketch out policies, he articulates goals and ideals. The priorities he would set for the country, from leading the world in renewable energy to retooling education and immigration policies to help American high-tech industries, are far-sighted. He has stood up far more forcefully than Romney against those in his party who reject evolution and the science behind global warming. With a strong record as governor of Utah and US ambassador to China, arguably the most important overseas diplomatic post, Huntsman's credentials match those of anyone in the field. He would be the best candidate to seize this moment in GOP history, and the best-prepared to be president. Still, it remains unknown the extent to which the Globe's endorsement will move the needle in New Hampshire. For his part, Huntsman surrogate Tom Ridge is setting Mitt Romney's expectations bar pretty high, saying that Romney should be expected to win "60 to 70 percent of the vote" in the New Hampshire Primary. (The last Republican to pull that off in a New Hampshire primary in which they did not run unopposed was Richard Nixon, however. Besides, Huntsman remains the GOP candidate who keeps saying things that can only alienate the GOP base he needs to come out for him. This week, Huntsman said that he would not promise to "repeal Obamacare," and instead take a "balanced view" on the matter. But in the past, Huntsman had expressed a desire to facilitate its repeal. Asked to reconcile the old position with the new, Huntsman spokesperson Tim Miller indicated that he wanted to have this both ways, saying that Huntsman "supports the repeal of Obamacare and would assess reinstating certain provisions once repealed." At any rate, we feel that there is a strong possibility that Huntsman will be the next 2012er to quit the race, perhaps after next week's New Hampshire primary.
Buddy Roemer did not do much to compete in, let alone win, the Iowa Caucus, but he might take some special satisfaction that he managed to scrape together enough votes to make the two men at the top of an eight-vote decision wish they could have tapped Roemer's totals. Roemer watched the events of the night unfold, occasionally firing off witty Twitter dispatches. We've had the occasion to praise Roemer's social media activity before. Whether his Twitter account is his to manage alone or if it's run by a committee of allies, they've done a great job capturing the candidate's underdog wryness and Cajun-country disposition. For a guy who is only taking in small donations, he's needed a fleet digital platform to squeeze value out of every penny. As Mashable points out, here, Team Roemer has largely succeeded: The Governor's campaign is unlike that of any other Republican presidential hopefuls. As a staunch supporter of campaign finance reform, he's refusing donations from Super PACs and he has limited contributions to $100 per individual. A whopping 98% of Roemer's donations were made online. Roemer's team has spent virtually all its advertising budget on digital ads, eschewing traditional media with the exception of radio (Roemer is using Fundly, an online donation tool, to raise money for more radio airtime). The campaign instead has turned to social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to start spreading their message. The team recently bought a week of Facebook ads in New Hampshire, and they're waiting to see if that was the right choice. It brought in a Twitter manager to assist the Governor with his personal account, @BuddyRoemer. Roemer's official campaign Twitter account, @ElectRoemer, is managed by Zach Green of 140elect. And on Twitter, Roemer's camp is absolutely ace: "The big story that has been missed is Governor Roemer spiked in all major Twitter numbers," Green says. "This isn't a random mistake. Govenor Roemer's campaign has been doing very innovative things on Twitter that no other campaign has thought of and the press has yet to cover, such as allowing volunteers to donate tweets every day. So far 121 people have donated their accounts, allowing his campaign to tweet through their accounts daily to 62,664 unique followers. Using hashtags, his supporters are strategically taking over streams such as #iacaucus." All of this is stuff to keep in mind, should Roemer decide to continue movement-building after his involvement in the 2012 race ends. He's laid the foundation for Roemerism to be something like Ron Paul built -- without all the crank newsletters. But Roemer is still fighting to keep his 2012 hopes alive, and New Hampshire is key to those hopes. Roemer desperately wants what slight momentum he's built to get him over the hump so that he can appear in one of this weekend's debates. Roemer believes wholeheartedly that a chance to debate equals a chance to move millions to his camp. But the vagaries of debate qualification makes it a tough haul, and it seems right now like it won't happen. That doesn't mean he's lacking allies. Jim Splaine takes up Roemer's cause in the Concord Patch: The WMUR/ABC debate in Manchester this coming Saturday and the NBC-Facebook debate in Concord on Sunday, could show our state to be the special decision-maker that it is. But to do so, those debates have to change the game a bit, rather than become merely a re-run of the dozen debates held during the past six months. This is a time to make our primary more relevant than any of the other forums and debates to this point, and rewrite the contest - which we often do. By inviting former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer to the table, an issue that he has been focusing on - that of campaign financing and where money to buy the presidency comes from - will get attention. It's long overdue. And it can be done by just an invitation. [...] It takes a bit of daring to invite a "new" candidate to the debates at this point, but our state is different than others, and it's about time other issues come to the forefront. In addition to Gov. Roemer, Fred Karger has also been running a serious statewide campaign, and he should be invited to the table as well. He has a different view on social issues than the rest of the Republican field, and that could generate a broader, more meaningful dialogue - which should be the goal of any debate. Ronald Reagan, who earned national attention when he reminded people "I paid for this microphone" when he wanted to include others in a 1980 debate just before our primary, would be proud of our state being more inclusive. The editors of the Nashua Telegraph aren't as optimistic that Roemer will get included, but they're nevertheless strongly critical of the exclusion, on the grounds that Roemer "is talking about something his Republican colleagues have virtually ignored: the corrupting influence of money in American politics": Roemer made that point loud and clear when he sat down with our editorial board Nov. 8. "This isn't a campaign about ideas - it's a campaign about money," he told us with all the passion he could muster. "It's a government run not by its leaders, but by their money sources. They're addicted to the money." Roemer doesn't just talk about it; he lives it. Shortly after announcing he was creating a presidential exploratory committee back in March, he announced he would not accept any contributions from political action committees or any individual donations in excess of $100. That's $2,400 less than what federal law permits. "And that's exactly what he's done," say the editors of the Telegraph, "much to his credit and political detriment."
Since we last left Johnson, the former New Mexico Governor has become so disaffected with the Republican Party's process -- which in large part only help to facilitate Johnson's exclusion from the process itself -- that he finally decided to quit the GOP race and announce a run under the banner of the Libertarian Party. And he earned a plaudit this week that went a long way to solidifying his bona fides with the LP set, earning the ACLU's top spot on its "Constitutional Report Card." Former New Mexico Governor and presidential candidate Gary Johnson ranks highest of all major presidential candidates in a "Liberty Watch" report card just released by the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU report ranked candidates according to their positions on issues of civil liberties and adherence to the Constitution. Johnson ranked higher than both President Obama and Texas Congressman Ron Paul in the ACLU Liberty Watch ratings. The report card included candidates' positions on issues ranging from immigration to gay rights to a woman's right to choose. On the ACLU Liberty Watch website, ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero said, "Republican-turned-Libertarian Gary Johnson scored even better than Paul, Huntsman and Obama, earning four and three torches on most major issues. They stand in stark contrast to the other major GOP candidates, three of whom -- Michele Bachmann, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum -- didn't earn a single torch in any of the seven major categories." For Johnson, that's a decent feather in the cap and nice way of ingratiating himself with his new constituency, who might otherwise long for Ron Paul to quit the Republican field and come over to their side. Unfortunately, Johnson's thunder was stolen somewhat when a caucus night rumor began to circulate that he was dropping out of the race entirely. (He wasn't.) As Chris Ariens reported: During Iowa Caucus coverage last night, just after 9pmET, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow who was leading the network's coverage reported that one-time GOP presidential candidate Gary Johnson who dropped out of the race to run as a Libertarian candidate, "has dropped his bid for the Libertarian nomination and instead will be endorsing Ron Paul." "That's fascinating," chimed in Chris Matthews. And it would be. If it were true. Five minutes later, Maddow corrected her report, calling it "a hoax. Sorry. That'll happen." This matter eventually became a big media story, with Baltimore Sun critic David Zurawik coming out as highly critical of MSNBC for allowing the rumor out of the box in the first place. We think that by and large, the Washington Post's Erik Wemple has refereed the whole matter in the most convincing fashion, dinging MSNBC for a workflow problem but noting that they were the first to debunk the rumor alongside being the first to disseminate it. Perhaps the most telling line of Wemple's piece is the last: "Perhaps the Fox News folks played it the smartest. According to a source with the network, they didn't scramble to confirm or run anything on air." Right. The best way to avoid spreading Gary Johnson-related hoaxes is to not care two tugs of a dead dog's tail about Gary Johnson's candidacy in the first place.
Fred Karger continues his aggressive courtship of voters in New Hampshire, the state where his thin hopes rest almost completely on a decent showing. On the plus side, those voters are starting to become familiar enough with the candidate to be helpful: "We will find the voters wherever they hide," he said with a grin. Earlier in the day, Karger made a handful of stops in Portsmouth where he visited the Golden Egg restaurant, the Friendly Toast restaurant and stopped at Federal Cigar to shake hands. After a long night waiting for the results of the Iowa Caucus, he said he was unfortunately delayed, putting him about an hour late into his schedule. "I was putting up some lawn signs this morning when a lady drove by and asked if I was Fred Karger," he said. "She told me I was supposed to be at the Golden Egg." "My major battle," Karger added, "is [in New Hampshire]." To that end, he has released a new ad in which he touts the many ways he's divorced himself from the current GOP orthodoxy by supporting reproductive rights, gay marriage and an end to the war in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, this is not the sort of news Karger wants to hear: The latest Suffolk University/7 News poll shows Texas Gov. Rick Perry tied for dead last in New Hampshire with, of all people, openly gay candidate Fred Karger. I mean...at least he's tied with Perry, right?
Michele Bachmann began the week that ended up being the last of her presidential campaign in a state of desperate belief that she would somehow prevail over the conventional wisdom and her bad polling numbers and pull in a win at the Iowa caucuses. But we imagine that some doubt must have formed at the back of her mind when she appeared at a rally with Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa). See, Bachmann and King are sort of BFFs here in Washington -- their brand of hard-right, social conservatism and their tendency to give in to a hyperbolic rhetoric that sounds as mad as a box of cats in a tumble dryer are nothing if not a natural fit. But for all that, King withheld his endorsement in the run up to the caucuses, and Bachmann would have dearly loved to have had it at any time during the months she spent working the Hawkeye State. Still, in the pre-caucus hours, Bachmann plugged away, brushing off questions about her anti-gay positions as old news, telling people that she would respond to Iran by doing some stuff with missiles, and, of course, vowing to go at "Obamacare" with her teeth, if necessary. She made whatever hopeful comparisons to more successful figures that came to mind. For example, on the day before the voting, she called herself the "Iron Lady" in reference to Margaret Thatcher -- surely not the sort of synergy for which the filmmakers behind the Meryl Streep movie of the same name were hoping. She also made whatever hopeful comparisons she could to less successful figures -- or her super PAC did, anyway. They put out an ad comparing her to Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow (to whom Rick Perry had also, previously, attempted a mawkish comparison) -- which was more apt than they intended it to be, considering that, like Bachmann, Tebow enjoyed a few weeks of modest success before his opponents figured out how to stop him, miring him in a hopeless losing streak. Nevertheless, Bachmann woke up on the day of the Iowa Caucus believing that she was about to be witness to, and participate in, one of the greatest political miracles of her career. Her husband Marcus, on the other hand, spent the last day doing what many have done since ancient times when confronted by the looming certainty that the best of carefully laid plans was poised to come to ruin -- he went out and bought "doggie sunglasses." In the end, Bachmann's finish was as bad as everyone predicted: 6,073 votes, leading to five percent of the vote and a sixth-place finish. That night, Bachmann put on a brave face for supporters, vowing to fight on to South Carolina. But by the next morning, word got out quickly that she was going to quit the race. So, there was one more gathering of supporters and one more speech to once more rail against President Barack Obama's decision to expand the affordability and availability of modern health care as the inevitable end of all things. She thanked her supporters and quit the stage to the strains of Train's "Hey, Soul Sister," because no one ever told her the first lines of the song -- "Your lipstick stains on the front lobe of my left side brains / I knew I wouldn't forget you, and so I let you blow my mind." -- were about oral sex. What's next for Bachmann? Now that she's not running for president, she can once again run for re-election to her old Congressional seat without violating a state law the precludes anyone from seeking two federal government offices simultaneously. There's been some hint that she might make a mad and doomed run at Amy Klobuchar's Senate seat as well. As Alex Pareene points out, however: "If she couldn't beat Ron Paul in Iowa among Republican voters, she's not going to win a statewide election in more-liberal Minnesota against a popular incumbent." At any rate, during her last days in Iowa, Bachmann was fond of telling people that she had no aspirations to be a politician. If that's true, we have no earthly idea why she thought running for president was the best way of expressing this. And now we say bye-bye!
President Obama has been spending the majority of his post-payroll tax cut battle days on vacation with family in Hawaii. There's he's been joining Instagram (for some reason!) and batting down reports that he was part of some mystery space trip to Mars. But with the Iowa Caucus looming, vacation ended and Obama was rallying Democratic caucus-goers in Iowa at their mostly ceremonial Democratic Caucus. (Obama won, by the way, with 98 percent of the vote, but somehow that errant two percent will get spun into a story about how Hillary Clinton and Russ Feingold should still "primary" him). As Daily Intel's Brett Smiley put it, "campaign mode begins." And what better way to signal that than making a bunch of recess appointments, perfectly placed to capture the sentiment of the economically-distressed and labor organizers? This week, the big news was that Obama used a recess appointment to get Richard Cordray in as the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Cordray, who's generally seen as the next-best thing you can get when you can't get (or don't try to get!) Elizabeth Warren, is poised to swing into action. And the White House is poised to have what I imagine they hope will be a lengthy fight with the Congressional GOP, who immediately turned their hyperbole machines up to eleven to decry the perfectly banal task of staffing an agency as some sort of Soviet power-grab. Obama also made appointments to the National Labor Relations Board, which were also decried by the GOP, who do not believe that "relations" with "labor" are appropriate anymore. A common criticism of these moves was to suggest that Obama does this sort of thing all the time, but in reality, Obama's never been a big fan of recess appointments and has made very few. Which is weird, considering that the GOP just refuses to have straight up-or-down votes on any appointments, generically speaking. New York magazine's Jonathan Chait sees the Cordray appointment as a central part of Obama's re-election strategy. It seamlessly folds up "four important battles the Obama administration is waging," he wrote, including a battle against "nullifcation," the need to make the "we can't wait" slogan mean something, and creating an entrée for "Wall Street hatred" to flow against the president at the precise moment he needs populist sentiment to shift to his side. The fourth battle? Well, it anticipates drawing Mitt Romney as a general election opponent. Per Chait: Obama's primary charge against Mitt Romney is likely to be that he wants to return to the Bush era. The accusation will have several points to bolster it -- lock in Bush-era tax levels for the rich, let insurance companies discriminate against families with a pre-existing conditions -- but the most powerful is Romney's strong support for repealing Dodd-Frank. The accusation has resonance because Romney comes from the world of finance, has drawn extremely strong support from finance, and he simply looks like a stereotypical Wall Street shark. If I were Obama, I would want to set up financial reform as the number one contrast issue of the presidential election. Appointing Cordray to the post is a good step to establishing the contrast. And Romney, perhaps still concerned about a conservative primary threat, seems to be walking right into the trap. Beyond that, the recess appointments go a long way to knit back up a liberal coalition that fractured during the same time period when Obama signed the most recent National Defense Authorization Act into law, at which time the President offered a signing statement expressing concerns over the law's continued expansion of executive powers that Obama has always claimed to abhor without actually taking meaningful actions to express this abhorrence. This has been an issue that has divided progressives who have specific and principled complaints about these matters drawn from their past Bush administration criticism, and other Democrats who place a higher virtue in their team winning elections than they do in actually having principles. If one matter moves the needle more than the other, however, in terms of winning the election, then you should always pick the one that relates to the economy. Fortunately for Obama, there was other good news on that front today, as the unemployment rate dropped to a three-year low of 8.5 percent. Beyond picking the right fight and lucking in to favorable economic numbers at the right time (though we still have many months where things can worsen, by the way!), what else can Obama do to help his re-election chances? Abe Sauer says: why not put a baby in that wife of his? Americans love babies. Especially babies named "Aiden" for some reason. Can you imagine the "Aiden is Aidin' Obama" headlines?
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