With two primary contests in the books, we've arrived at the point where everyone has so much to say about so little and only a few more minutes before all of the major media organizations blow through the budget they've allocated for the entire pre-Super Tuesday calendar. But let's take a minute to size up your remaining GOP 2012ers and how their individual "paths to the nomination" stand.
MITT ROMNEY: It's kind of amazing that a thin win in Iowa, coupled with the blowout victory in New Hampshire that everyone had been predicting, could do so much to restore former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's inevitability, but that's the power of perception for you! It surely helped that right up to the eve of the New Hampshire primary, the fierce attacks that everyone was assured were sure to come from Mitt's rivals only materialized after the votes were counted and the scene switched southward. (And then, Mitt's chief tormentor, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, went a little bit crazy, but more on that later.)
Dave Weigel made a game attempt at "putting things in perspective" by pointing out that the number of delegates Romney had actually won could all fit in his car-top dog-defecation chamber, but let's face it, it's one thing for a political observer to urge restraint. The minute you hear that argument coming out of the mouth of an also-ran, you immediately recognize it as sucker's talk. The bottom line is that Mitt has the inside track to the nomination, a slight lead in South Carolina, a large lead in Florida, tons of money, the Not-Romney vote still getting split in multiple directions, and if no one manages to break his stride, soon he'll start gulping down heaping mouthfuls of delegates.
RON PAUL: If the first goal of Texas Rep. Ron Paul's campaign was to expand upon the support he'd gathered in 2008, then he can hang the "Mission Accomplished" banner. But it nevertheless feels like gaining the GOP nomination is going to remain just past his fingertips. Had he scored an outright win in Iowa, it would feel different. As it stands, Paul needs to either start grabbing some surprise wins, or at the very least, manage his caucus strategy to perfection. Even if he does this, it still may leave him short of the mark.
We don't doubt that Paul is trying to win. This week, he gamely demanded that all of the other also-rans quit the race and leave him to fight Mitt on his own. (A demand that was enthusiastically ignored.) But if Paul can't win this thing, his strategy seems designed to leave him in a position to extract concessions in return for his delegates -- in the form of platform or procedural changes. Naturally, his popularity has left alive the notion that Paul might do something unconventional. Will he, for instance, mount a third-party or independent run for the White House? Read on: we think we've found the answer to that question.
RICK SANTORUM: We accept former Pennsylvania's Sen. Santorum's premise that there are three mini-primaries going on in the large race: an establishment primary, a libertarian primary and a "classic" conservative primary. Santorum might be able to claim the third position and battle Romney and Paul in a long three-way contest, but he needs some help -- either in the form of everyone else getting out of the race, or that secret social-conservative confab deciding to swing behind Santorum and quickly outfit him with money, endorsements, air cover and footsoldiers.
Santorum is on an upward swing in South Carolina, and just might have enough time to notch second place. It will, in all likelihood, not be the close second-finish he had in Iowa, but it could be sufficient to chase some of his rivals from the race, leaving their votes for him to claim. Santorum is also in desperate need of real campaign funding and infrastructure. As it stands, the further he goes into the calendar, the less the "Rick Santorum campaign" looks like the work of professional strategists who've staked out the game in each state, and the more it looks like "dudes with Facebook fan pages."
NEWT GINGRICH: We understand that many observers consider Gingrich to have the better shot at second place in South Carolina, and thus could be the person who ends up achieving the best case scenario we describe for Santorum. And at the moment, he's a lot closer to Mitt in the polls than the former Pennsylvania senator is. We just feel that Santorum is doing a lot with very little and expanding his possibilities, while Gingrich's campaign grows more threadbare, frantic and desperate.
Besides, Gingrich's decision to nuke Mitt Romney by disseminating an anti-Bain Capital mini-documentary was a big mistake. The 30-minute movie, bought and unleashed via Newt's super PAC, plays like the album Occupy Wall Street would produce for Adele if she ever broke up with capitalism. Gingrich's conservative colleagues freaked out at the sight of the damn thing, and condemned Gingrich for making the Democratic Party's argument against Romney for them. The whole episode caused Gingrich to suffer a physiological experience -- a moment of self-doubt -- that's so rarely felt by the former speaker that there's no telling whether he'll be able to recover.
JON HUNTSMAN: Going into the New Hampshire primary, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman was the candidate who was supposed to be able to maximize his (strangely earned) center-left appeal, turn out different voter coalitions, and hold down Romney's win to single digits. But when all the votes were counted, Huntsman was proven to be the worst blowout-preventer since BP destroyed the Gulf of Mexico. Nevertheless, Huntsman put on an almost-convincing display of not-at-all-forced jubilation, declaring third place to be a "ticket to ride"...to South Carolina, where voters do not like him.
Huntsman's path to the nomination basically involves riding his motorbike to some town named "Nomination."
RICK PERRY: Why is this guy even still running? His path to the nomination involves a time machine and a cache of firearms.
BUDDY ROEMER: Buddy is struggling right now because none of the elite media want to invite him to debates to decry the influence of corporate money on politics, and his insistence on taking donations no greater than $100 is keeping him from dropping the super PAC bombs that everyone else is launching. It's a pity that the campaign with the most dignity is faring the worst, but we can at least re-extract an important lesson about American politics: If you don't sell out, get the hell out.
We warned you that watching this stuff up close was going to make you deeply cynical. Didn't we? Okay, well, we're warning you now.
So it's on to South Carolina, Florida and beyond. Mitt Romney is hoping that his "win quickly" strategy is back on track. Rick Santorum is hoping that he can prove by contrast that he's the more appealing candidate. Ron Paul just wants CNN to stay out of his way. President Obama's fending off a new book, Rick Perry's in a tiff with Sean Hannity, Jon Huntsman may lose to a teevee comedian in the days ahead, and one candidate's endorsement from a psychic monkey did not pan out like he'd hoped. To find out who, please feel free to enter the Speculatron for Jan. 13, 2012.
For all the hype of the coming blood-fury that was heaped on Mitt Romney in the run-up to the New Hampshire primary, the truth was that he got into and out of the weekend's debates pretty much unscathed. The attacks that came were fairly tepid, and with Ron Paul as a target for similar attacks, Romney got to spend long periods of the debate relaxing and observing the melee going on around him. Which didn't mean he got through to the New Hampshire primary without taking some heat. It was just that the best attacks on Romney came after an unforced error allowed the rest of the field to take advantage. The most notable example this week came when Romney told Matt Lauer, "I like being able to fire people who provide services to me." The first into the fray -- which included both Democratic opponents and rivals like Jon Huntsman, took that one statement and removed it from its context in order to take their shots. (Though, to be fair, the Romney campaign has specifically said that removing remarks from context is fair game in this election -- Romney did the same to President Obama in one of his ads, and his camp said that the tactic was entirely above board.) That said, when you restore Romney's remark to its original context... "I want people to be able to own insurance if they wish to, and to buy it for themselves and perhaps keep it for the rest of their life and to choose among different policies offered from companies across the nation...That means the insurance company will have an incentive to keep people healthy. It also means if you don't like what they do, you can fire them. I like being able to fire people who provide services to me. If someone doesn't give me the good service I need, I'm going to go get somebody else to provide that service to me." ...it's still daft as all hell. As Igor Volsky notes, Romney's desired repeal of the Affordable Care Act restores the conditions in the insurance market where insurers can shed their customers, not the other way around. And Ruth Marcus points out that the way the Affordable Care Act actually empowers customers is one of the things that was directly taken from Romney's own health care reform innovation. His line actually highlights the insufficiencies of his current health care vision, especially the fact that costs would go up for consumers under his direction. But Brad Phillips warns that no matter how you litigate the context, Romney's stray remark about the enjoyment he takes from firing people, could be damaging in the longterm: "Wait a minute," you might think, "that's taken totally out of context!" That may be true, but it doesn't matter. Gaffes that reinforce an existing narrative about a candidate are almost always the most harmful ones, and Gov. Romney is already enduring increasing attacks from opponents and Democrats alike for being more of a job "cremator" than job creator during his tenure at Bain Capital. And while Romney shed the perception that he was "slipping" in New Hampshire with a big win, that's precisely where the conversation turned. As Romney rolled into South Carolina, his past at Bain swung into the spotlight, paced by a blistering 30-minute mega-ad (chopped and screwed into bite size portions for South Carolina televisions) that was purchased by Newt Gingrich's super PAC. It depicted Romney as profit-sucking lamprey who took over companies, gulped up everything of value, and left unemployed workers and shuttered facilities trailing behind him. But once again, Romney actually benefited in the short-term from the attack, because conservatives of all stripes were so aggrieved at the way Gingrich had adopted an argument out of an Occupy Wall Street working group and trained it at Mitt that they rose to his defense, in order to defend capitalism. This group even included Mike Huckabee -- the guy who originally said that Romney looked like "the guy who laid you off." (Oddly enough, the strongest dissenting voice -- dissenting in that she insisted that Romney back up his Bain record and his jobs claims, which also received some scrutiny -- was Sarah Palin.) If these attacks have damaged Romney's standing among conservatives in South Carolina and beyond, it has yet to register. Nevertheless, Gingrich really did the Democrats a solid by opening the Bain attack with his own money and putting his own stamp on it. And that won't be the only thing that Democrats will store away for the general -- there was also this exchange, again with Lauer: LAUER: When you said that we already have a leader who divides us with the bitter politics of envy, I'm curious about the word 'envy.' Did you suggest that anyone who questions the policies and practices of Wall Street and financial institutions, anyone who has questions about the distribution of wealth and power in this country, is envious? Is it about jealousy, or fairness? ROMNEY: You know, I think it's about envy. I think it's about class warfare. When you have a president encouraging the idea of dividing America based on the 99 percent versus one percent -- and those people who have been most successful will be in the one percent -- you have opened up a whole new wave of approach in this country which is entirely inconsistent with the concept of one nation under God. The American people, I believe in the final analysis, will reject it. LAUER: Yeah but envy? Are there no fair questions about the distribution of wealth without it being seen as 'envy,' though? ROMNEY: I think it's fine to talk about those things in quiet rooms and discussions about tax policy and the like. But the president has made it part of his campaign rally. Everywhere he goes we hear him talking about millionaires and billionaires and executives and Wall Street. It's a very envy-oriented, attack-oriented approach and I think it will fail. That's not going to play well next to all the Bain victims depicted in Gingrich's ad, who do not envy Romney's wealth as much as they wish they could have simply been left to their comfortable, middle-class lives instead of the desperate straits into which they were plunged thanks to Bain's shenanigans. Matt Yglesias takes it further: This is the real issue here. There's a sense that a lot of us have that our public policy ought to be aiming to produce large gains for everyone. You often hear that for one reason or another the United States "can't afford" this or that. We "can't afford" to pay people Social Security benefits. We "can't afford" to build high-speed trains. We "can't afford" to give everyone early childhood education. But why can't we afford this stuff? Are we a poor country? No, we're not. We're one of the richest countries that's ever existed. Are we a poorer country than we used to be? No, we're not. But a very large share of the gains we've made over the past three decades have gone to a relatively small number of people. If the gains had been broadly shared, then the burden of paying for that basic infrastructure and public services would have to be very broadly shared. But the gains have been very concentrated, and so if we're going to afford that stuff, a large share of the revenue has to come from the people who've gotten the money. That's not envy, that's math. Romney comes into South Carolina with a narrow lead, but with money to burn. In Florida, he's even stronger. And between now and Super Tuesday, he'll be favored to win in Nevada and Colorado and Michigan. He's got the inside track to the quick wrap-up he wants, and is stacking up new endorsements every day. But can he still lose? Andrew Sullivan believes it's still a possibility: I just watched the Bain documentary featured below and being broadcast throughout South Carolina by Newt Gingrich's SuperPac in full. It's loaded with out-of-context quotes and heavily biased; it focuses on the specific human suffering of the necessary "creative destruction" of capitalism not its general benefits to the economy. It does so through the voices and stories of ordinary Americans. And, as an emotional bludgeon, it's devastating. But what makes it so dangerous to Romney, it seems to me, is that the Bain Brahmin didn't just fire thousands of working class people in restructuring and in closing companies. He made a fucking unimaginable fortune doing it. That's the issue. Other Republicans can speak about the need for free markets in a sluggish economy. But with Romney, we have a singular example of someone who made a quarter of a billion dollars by firing the white middle and working class in droves in ways that do not seem designed to promote growth or efficiency, but merely to enrich Bain. No matter what happens, however, Romney will be able to take satisfaction that this was the campaign that got everyone really excited about his penis.
Ron Paul's third-place finish in Iowa didn't end up damaging his standing with the political media at all as his campaign arrived in New Hampshire to make one last swing through the state to shore up support. If anything, Paul-hype had built to something of a fever pitch, as his campaign stops were thronged with a crush of reporters. This new media-driven claustrophobia made it harder for Paul to interact with voters in the manner to which he's been accustomed. But Paul's supporters seemed to train their ire on CNN's Dana Bash. On Monday, Paul's spokesman Jesse Benton grew weary of Bash's line of questioning and cut her interview with the candidate short. It was the second such incident in recent weeks involving Bash. Only this time, Paul's supporters struck back: On Tuesday, Revolution PAC, a Super PAC dedicated to supporting Paul's candidacy, issued a press release calling for Bash to be removed from covering the campaign. The PAC cited comments Bash made earlier in January. "I'm sure you talk to Republicans who are worried as well, just like I am, that Ron Paul will continue on long into the spring and summer," Bash said to husband and CNN colleague John King. Revolution PAC seized on the "just like I am" comment to say that Bash exhibited "strong" and "disturbing" bias against Paul. It seems likely that Bash was telling King that, "just like" him, she was hearing from worried Republicans. Paul supporters, however, are clearly choosing a less charitable take on her words. Most of Paul's negativity, however, was trained on his opponents. In the days leading up to the campaign, Paul assailed Newt Gingrich for being a "chicken hawk" who dodged serving the country in Vietnam. And he continued to take a particular interest in ridiculing Jon Huntsman (Paul's twitter feed, if you recall, ragged on Huntsman during the Iowa caucuses), telling reporters that there was "no way" Huntsman was going to beat him in the Granite State. The one exception: Paul chose to defend frontrunner Mitt Romney in the wake of his "I like to fire people" statement and the ensuing feeding frenzy. In the end, Paul proved to be right about Huntsman, as he finished second to Huntsman's third in New Hampshire, having more than tripled the number of votes he received from the state in 2008. Steve Kornacki put Paul's finish in perspective: Clearly, Paul speaks to a significant and growing number of Americans, and it's worth trying to understand what specific aspects of his platform are energizing each component of his coalition. How big a factor, for instance, is his support for relaxed drug laws in the enthusiasm of young voters? Does the surprising level of evangelical support he won in Iowa (18 percent -- or second place) suggest there may be more room for dissent on Israel and the Middle East on the Christian right than is commonly assumed -- or are Paul's religious conservative backers simply ignoring his foreign policy views and supporting him for other reasons? And so on. Paul's coalition is as funky as his platform, and Paul-ism is a political force that isn't going away any time soon. And now for the insignificant part: In terms of understanding which candidate the Republican Party will nominate for president in 2012, Paul's performance Tuesday doesn't really tell us much. There remains plenty of evidence that he faces a unique and relatively low ceiling within the Republican Party, and winning 21 percent in Iowa and 23 percent in New Hampshire doesn't really change that. His coalition is composed of a large number of independents (among actual Republicans, he won only 16 percent in the Granite State) and his unfavorable scores among Republican voters nationally and in key primary states are poisonously high. This is a function of his breaks with GOP orthodoxy on several sensitive issues, most notably foreign policy -- breaks that the party's opinion-shaping elites, who are largely hostile to Paul because of his apostasies, are happy to point out to rank-and-file Republicans in blunt, alarmist terms. Thus, Paul's candidacy seems most akin to previous efforts from Jesse Jackson, Jerry Brown and Pat Buchanan -- message/cause campaigns that attracted real followings but that didn't grow their support as other candidates dropped out during the race. It makes sense, then, that Paul would press the issue after the fact, urging all of the not-Romney candidates to get out of the race and let him take on Mitt, one-on-one. (Obviously, the rest of the field had no intention of doing this.) Controversy and criticism continued to dog Paul, who having referred to Martin Luther King as a "hero," was reminded of a Ron Paul-branded newsletter that referred to the Civil Rights leader as a "world-class adulterer" and pedophile. Paul defended himself vigorously, and ended up drawing the defense of minority supporters. As Jamelle Bouie reported: ...one of the great things about Ron Paul is that he attracts a surprisingly diverse group of people. After the event, as Paul was making his way through his crowd of admirers, I spoke to a few of them. Reuben Booker was one of the "Veterans for Paul" who attended the rally. With four years in the Army, Booker is proud of his service, but he is against the GOP's support for wars in Iran and elsewhere. Which is why he supports Ron Paul. "Whenever I hear Republican politicians bang the drum for the next war," says Booker, "I worry that they don't have the best interest of soldiers at heart." Booker is a registered Republican, but he also admires Democrats--like Dennis Kucinich--who take an anti-war stance. Booker is also African-American, and is self-aware about the fact that he is a minority in Republican circles. I asked him about his thoughts on Ron Paul's newsletters--which seem to condone, if not support, racism--and he took a nuanced approach. "I understand that they contain things that you might call racist, but as far as Ron Paul goes, you can't be for liberty and racist against minorities. He's for individuals," Booker said, "And if you go back to the debates, you see that he's against the drug war and other policies that are unfair to minorities." And, perhaps critical in South Carolina, he was defended in a more general sense by South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint: I'm glad you asked about that because I think one of the things that have hurt the so-called conservative alternative is saying derogatory things about Ron Paul. I don't agree with him on everything, but he is right about the out-of-control and unaccountable Federal Reserve. He's right about the need for limited constitutional government and the importance of individual liberty. And I really think the Republican who is going to win this thing--if the capture some of what Ron Paul's talking about for years. What does the road ahead look like for Paul? In the immediate sense, he is planning on skipping the Florida primary. It's a risky move, given the fact that Florida is positioned as the state that could end up deciding what candidate receives the permanent momentum in the race. But Florida is a winner-take-all primary, not a state that doles out delegates in proportion, and Paul, who's launched a long strategy designed to capture stray delegates and compete using the vagaries of the caucus process, probably figures that Florida is something in which it's worth investing a whole lot of effort. Longer term, there's likely to be a lot of speculation that Paul may end up running some sort of independent campaign for the White House. Don't count on it -- as Rosie Gray noted this week, an independent run would damage the prospects of passing the Paul movement to his son Rand after this election cycle.
Rick Santorum had hoped that his near victory in Iowa would translate into some kind of significant surge and a third-place finish in New Hampshire, but the surge didn't materialize and his finish -- which was technically fifth place but close enough to Gingrich to allow him to lay claim to a share of a fourth place tie -- has dulled his shine a bit as he heads south. His challenge now is to get to South Carolina, get something that looks like a campaign there up and running, and outcompete Perry and Gingrich for the conservative vote he'll need to continue to make his case that he is the True Not-Romney of the field. South Carolina is definitely favorable terrain, but Santorum doesn't have the luxury of time and has little room for error. Fortunately for him, though, he continues to get support. Gary Bauer has given him his endorsement, and Bill Kristol, who's never cared too much for the field of Romney rivals, is indicating that Santorum should be given some consideration. Yet Santorum is going to have to prove that he can attack Romney wisely and well -- and do so in a fashion that allows people to realize that he did it in the first place. Showing good instincts, Santorum smartly avoided joining the Bain Capital pile-on and the critical cloud that came on the heels of Romney's "I like firing people" comment. Instead, Santorum is banking on the fact that he can simply draw enough distinctions between himself and Romney to make it clear that he is the true conservative in the race. "We need contrasts," Santorum urged this week, "not just a paler shade of what we have." Let's face it, Santorum's policy positions are plenty ... let's say "vibrant." He's made Iran a pet cause/crisis, and has steeped the issue in overtones that range from merely bloodthirsty to outright apocalyptic, at all times dogging the Obama administration for failing to make the country feel sufficiently threatened. Other positions Santorum has taken have seemed a little weird. At one debate, he was insistent that nobody should use the term "middle class" anymore, and not merely because his policies are geared toward speeding its elimination. To Santorum, the use of the term meant that the GOP was buying "into the class warfare arguments of Barack Obama...something that should not be part of the Republican lexicon." But at other times, it's actually Santorum that reveals his bottomless well of class resentment -- whether it's slagging Romney for being able to afford a private jet, or declaring that aspiring to be able to send all young Americans to college was "snobbery." (As 1115.org noted, Santorum was making an excellent "case against American exceptionalism" in decrying a college education.) Another way Santorum sets up a contrast with Romney is that he's much, much more hostile to members of the LGBT community. Strangely, Santorum finds it inexplicable that people keep asking him about his views on gay rights. (Here's a hint: It's because of things like this and also this.) Santorum attempted to argue that his position on marriage equality was the same as President Obama's but we sort of have to throw a flag on that play: while President Obama doesn't seem to particularly want to help the cause of gay marriage, he has not done what Santorum has vowed to do, which is roll back the gains that those who are fighting for marriage equality have achieved. One nice thing that the Santorum campaign has done for America is touch off a sweater-vest craze. Sadly, he's only proven that he could not create jobs without first receiving some sort of crazy new tax break.
Jon Huntsman, we were reliably told at the beginning of the week, was "surging" in New Hampshire. Or at least acquiring some reservoir of surge-like substance. Really, anything that was more than a few percentage points in the polls was, essentially, a "surge," relatively speaking. Huntsman, who moved his campaign from its Florida Fortress of Solitude to New Hampshire midway through the year after he realized that the entire primary season was likely to pass him by completely if he didn't make an effort in an early primary state, was counting on New Hampshire's voters -- typically a strong mix of conservatives and independent voters -- to demonstrate that his candidacy has legs. He pressed his case -- going after the frontrunning Romney for his statement that he liked to fire people and labeling the former Massachusetts governor as "completely unelectable" and "out of touch with average working people." And, perhaps recognizing that John McCain did really well in the Granite State four years ago, his campaign went out and nicked the Arizona senator's "Country First" slogan. But before votes were even cast, the on-the-ground view was that Huntsman's efforts weren't going to get the job done. As Andy Kroll reported: Huntsman is peaking at just the right time. A recent American Research Group poll showed him in second place in New Hampshire, surpassing Ron Paul, while others show him further back but still surging. Yet there was an inescapable feeling in Exeter that this is as good as it gets for Jon Huntsman. This is Peak Huntsman. Here's why. Huntsman has staked his entire campaign on a strong showing in New Hampshire; anything less than second place and poof, all of his momentum here in the Granite State is gone. A second-place finish behind Mitt Romney, not unlike Rick Santorum's near-win in Iowa, could bring in some much-needed donations to help him compete in South Carolina, the next primary fight. But even then, Huntsman's prospects are dim. Huntsman has little, if any, campaign infrastructure in South Carolina--or anywhere else, for that matter--and notched 1 percent there in a recent CNN/Time poll. And Salon's Steve Kornacki wondered if Huntsman's surge was nothing more than "an infatuated media cooking up fake drama": When Huntsman's SUV pulled up in front of Crosby's shortly before 4 p.m., he was instantly surrounded by about two dozen cameras and reporters, forming a blob that slowly pushed its way to the bakery's entrance, past a collection of high school-aged Huntsman volunteers chanting "Country first!" and a throng of Ron Paul supporters (a presence at every rival candidate's events this week). The onlookers included no shortage of media members, and reporters on the sidewalk looking for quotes were as likely to run into one another as real voters. "It's all cameras and no people," an older woman who identified herself to several reporters as a Huntsman supporter complained as she tried in vain to make contact with him. Nate Silver suggested that for all of Huntsman's momentum, it looked as if the clock was going to run out on him in New Hampshire before he managed to max out. But Huntsman's spirits would not flag. In his closing argument to New Hampshire voters, Huntsman boldly declared: "I have no idea what it's going to be tomorrow night, but I do know this: We're going to surprise a whole lot of people in this country." 'Kay, well, SURPRISE! You finished third! This was, somehow, something that Huntsman decided to celebrate as if he'd just won a heavyweight prize fight on the moon. In a post-primary speech, Huntsman strode out on stage, arms lifted aloft like a champion, as confetti fell from the ceiling. And Huntsman declared that New Hampshire had given him a "ticket to ride!" He said that twice, in order to convince himself that this was actually true, and to forget the fact that his "ticket to ride" was going to take him to South Carolina, where he is currently polling behind cable teevee comedian Stephen Colbert. (At least he's on the ballot there -- he failed to get on the one in Arizona.) Jonathan Bernstein says that the New Hampshire primary has essentially eliminated Huntsman, whether he chooses to believe it or not. "If he couldn't break through in the state he's been camped out in and that seems to suit his candidacy, he likely won't top even 10 percent in any of the upcoming states." And in another troubling development, Daddy has apparently decided to cut off Huntsman's allowance -- Kroll spoke to the senior Huntsman, and he wouldn't signal a future commitment to help fund his son's campaign. It looks like Huntsman, who said that America needed a "candidate who's going to lead a Grateful Dead tour of this country," will soon have a lot more time to follow his favorite bands across the U.S.
This week, Newt Gingrich had plenty of unkind things to say about plenty of people. He said that people who ran adoption services should feel free to discriminate against gays, for example. And he got so miffed at having to skip an event because of a Ron Paulite/Occupy protest, that he decided that the mere presence of people who aren't aligned with him was an infringement on his First Amendment rights. Yet, in all likelihood, if you'd ask any of these folks if they thought that Gingrich was being mean-spirited, they'd tell you, "Sure, but you know, compared to the way he treated Mitt Romney, this was almost like receiving a valentine." Yes, this was the week where Gingrich, who considered himself an outsized victim of Romney's political machine in Iowa, was to have his revenge on Romney. He was going to finally let him have it. Empty the chamber. Scorch the earth. Except in New Hampshire, the Gingrich that showed up was almost too restrained. In the days that preceded the New Hampshire primary -- which included a pair of debates -- the Gingrich who showed up was almost timid, when one considered all the hype leading up to the events, which we were reliably told were going to be claws-out affairs. Daniel Schulman, on the ground in New Hampshire, recalled Gingrich's "nuclear de-escalation." "How many of you have noticed that the state line seems to have a really significant, almost mythic, impact on behavior?" he asked, referring to Massachusetts, where Romney had served as governor, to hoots from the audience. "On one side more taxes and bigger government, on the other side lower taxes and less bureaucracy... There really are very different psychological mindsets." He arrived at the point: "The only reason I raise that is that I think there's a remarkable difference between a Reagan conservative and a Massachusetts moderate." Was Newt--as some in the media had predicted--about to explode in a supernova of anti-Romney vitriol? It seemed this could be the moment. No. Having taken a quick swipe at Romney, he pivoted, directing his fire at President Barack Obama and acting much more like a front-runner than a 4th-place finisher in Iowa. Trotting out a controversial line he has deployed before, Gingrich dubbed Obama "the best food stamp president in American history." And he framed the November election as a battle for the soul of America, which he claimed would not recover for "two generations" should Obama be reelected again. Where has the fury of the previous week gone? That "soul of America" line is actually a regurgitation of Romney's own stump speech. Well, as the weekend wore on, Gingrich did amp up the criticism a little. Primarily, Gingrich tried to shine a light on Mitt's record of fair-weather fealty to the Republican Party, painting him as a Massachusetts moderate. At the debate, Gingrich got into a verbal tiff with Romney about the decisions he'd made throughout his electoral campaign, dubbing his excuses on whether or how he decided to run for office a load of "pious bologna." He took out a full-page ad in the Union-Leader, and released an ad that compiled a highlight reel of Mitt-themed foolishness. And when the votes came in, Gingrich finished in a depressing two-way tie for fourth place. He had tried tepid and restrained and tepid and restrained didn't get the job done. So South Carolina would have to be different. And sweet sassy molassey, it was. Because it was in the latter half of the week that Gingrich decided to deploy his Doomsday Device -- a thirty-minute-long documentary feature, produced by former allies of Romney, that described in searing detail the tragic aftermath of Romney's years at Bain Capital. The long-form political ad -- essentially paid for by wealthy Gingrich donor Sheldon Adelson and distributed through a Gingrich-backing super PAC -- spins a tale of vulture-capitalist doom. It portrays Romney as a heartless corporate raider, harvesting out profits from companies for himself and his friends while leaving joblessness and destitution in his wake. The problem for Gingrich -- besides the fact that he'd wet his own beak in the carrion of vulture capitalism in the past -- was that the attack he was articulating was one that the Democratic Party, or Occupy Wall Street, would have loved to have made against Romney. He was as Kevin Drum described, "light[ing] the GOP on fire." Yes, that's a site affiliated with Newt Gingrich arguing that there are boundaries to "real" capitalism. What's more, those boundaries are largely ones that liberals have been talking about for years. There's are also attacks on Romney's 11,000 square-foot house and his "corporations are people too" quote. Romney even took "foreign seed money from Latin America"! This is brutal stuff, and as Chait points out, it plays directly into Obama's hands. If you didn't know better, in fact, you might think this video was created by the DNC. In other words, Newt Gingrich is now doing exactly what everyone in the Republican Party was afraid he was going to do: destroy them utterly if they decline to nominate him. It's no surprise really, since this has been Newt's MO for decades, but it sure is a helluva spectacle. He'd essentially gone out and did the Democratic National Committee's work for them, and it forced the elite Republican punditocracy to have to make a choice between their antipathy for Romney and their love for unfettered capitalism at its most amoral heights, which Newt was now suddenly and shockingly against, somehow. Horrified at what they were witnessing, they chose the latter. As Rick Klein describes, a "murderer's row" of GOP figures -- many of whom had never expressed much interest in helping Romney -- condemned Gingrich. Club For Growth President Chris Chocola said, in a statement that "Speaker Gingrich should apologize to Governor Romney and to the Republican party for his attack on a basic tenet of economic freedom." Rush Limbaugh, who's never shown much of a kind disposition to Romney, said of Gingrich, "He sounds like Elizabeth Warren." At first, Gingrich greeted this criticism by deflecting it -- at one point suggesting that it was President Obama's fault that his assault on Mitt was being taken by conservatives in the way they were taking it. And midway through the week, Gingrich's campaign spokesman was standing behind the decision to release the ad -- shorter versions of which went up on the air in South Carolina. But by the time the week reached it's end, Gingrich was starting to regret his decision, saying that he "crossed a line." It was a rough end to a week that began so promisingly, with the endorsement of Todd Palin (for those of you who don't recall, Todd Palin is this guy who zooms around Alaska on a snowmobile while his wife composes long, polemical Facebook status updates), as well as one from a psychic monkey from Staten Island. That's right, you read that correctly!
Rick Perry only managed to grab a fraction of one percent of the vote in New Hampshire, but as bad as that sounds, he wasn't really contending in the state. His only visit there this week was to participate in the two Granite State debates. That he was allowed to participate in them was questionable, given his low poll standing (debate access would end up being an issue that dogged him the entire week). These are basically some sad days in the Perry campaign. During the debates, he was often called upon to not so much answer questions as he was asked to provide reactions to the answers of other people -- like he was the debate moderators' sideline reporter. He also announced that as president, he would send troops back into Iraq -- something he's not allowed to do under the current Status of Forces Agreement between the military and the Iraqi government. But Perry -- whose days are, frankly, numbered -- at least got to be the subject of one last Lucas Baiano campaign epic. (He also got one more chance to count to three, and managed to actually do so this time.) Perry, looking for some desperate but likely-to-be-futile way of worming back into the race, leapt right on board Newt Gingrich's Bain-bash of Mitt Romney, decrying Romney's "I know what's it's like to worry whether you're going to get fired" comment and assailing him for being a "vulture capitalist." All of which gave Fox News' reliable GOP-party hack Sean Hannity the night terrors, and prompted one of Perry's fed-up staffers to defect to the Romney campaign. Perry was at least an equal-opportunity basher, slagging President Obama as a "socialist," over the objections of the actual Socialist Party of America, who want nothing to do with Obama. So that's the incredibly strange tale of how Perry ended up getting yelled at by Sean Hannity and socialists in the same week. Perry, of course, is making what amounts to a last stand in South Carolina. Why does he think that's a good idea? Evan McMorris-Santoro explains that it's his focus on government reform that Perry thinks gives him an edge: Indeed, South Carolina Republicans have a long history of backing the kind of candidates who want to turn their government upside down. Gov. Mark Sanford (R), who was popular before he took that Appalachian Trail trip, once brought live piglets down to the state house to protest what he said was the porky ways of state lawmakers. But if Perry really thinks he can ride this wave in South Carolina, that tactic hasn't yet been evidenced yet. His first ad in the state is a retread of a bio spot from November that doesn't even mention his government reform plan. But it does mention something else Perry backers say plays well in South Carolina: his military background and Christianity. Unlike New Hampshire, where Molly Ball showed how hard it can be for a values candidate to make a connection, South Carolina is a land where mixing in some ol' time religion into your stump speech is very much appreciated in a lot of places. In addition, the state is home to a lot of veterans and active-duty military. Perry is a vet himself, and can speak their language, too. But with an upcoming debate in South Carolina, crucial to Perry's chances, he once again came up against the thorny problem of the requirements for inclusion -- which has dogged some of the long shot candidates all year, and now dogs Perry, because he is now a long shot as well. At first, it didn't look like Perry was going to qualify. But CNN apparently decided that they could not go on without the hilarious entertainment he provides the audience at home. It was a funny bit of goalpost-shifting on CNN's part -- something they've never done for, say, Buddy Roemer, despite the fact that Roemer has managed to demonstrate his ability to not make the stupid mouth-sounds that Perry routinely makes. CNN insisted that Perry really, really did meet their criteria. We think CNN is basically full of crap. In other news, it now looks like Rick Perry's legal case against getting left off the Virginia ballot is something in which he may prevail, though it's kind of pointless now, given the fact that there's no way he'll still be running for the White House by the time that contest comes around.
Roemer spent the first part of the week in New Hampshire, tweeting up a storm and chasing after green shoots in the polls that suggested he might be able to -- at the very least -- best Rick Perry in the Granite State. Over the weekend, Roemer managed to get some media attention with a delightful stratagem: It was a stunt, and a well-executed one. Buddy Roemer announced late on Friday that he'd make "an announcement" about his campaign. "An announcement" is typically, responsibly translated as "I'm getting the hell out of this." But for the second time in a week, after Rick Perry's "assessment," a candidate's big announcement was that he had no announcement. The body language and the setting made this a surprise. For maximum media coverage, Roemer scheduled the event in the breakfast room of the Radisson in downtown Manchester, where everyone in the Fourth Estate who knows how to book a hotel early ends up. An Americans Elect bus was parked outside -- hint, hint, maybe he'd switch parties. Roemer entered the room, trailed by one camera, holding a typed-out speech and looking defeated. He spoke in the past tense as his supporters -- where had these people been? -- held man-sized "BUDDY" signs. Past tense, past tense, past tense, then: "I have decided NOT to suspend my campaign!" You know, when you're Roemer, you might as well! Part of Roemer's charm is that he can speak passionately about the problem of money in politics, without being a killjoy. He might be the only guy in the race who's actually having fun. And the fun aspect of Roemer's campaign is also its brave face, because setbacks continue to mount. Perry ended up finishing with more votes in New Hampshire. And on top of all of that, Roemer couldn't miss the fact that the organizations entrusted to stage the GOP debates were continuing to allow Perry and his all-but-failed campaign to participate in their televised spectacles. As Roemer told Dave Weigel, "Another example of the media (insert corporation here) choosing our president and not the average American, like those who give to my campaign...The media has an important role to play but they are taking advantage of this role by arbitrarily choosing who can participate in their debate." Joseph Cotto, over at BlogCritics, took up for Roemer calling him a "victim of reality": If we lived in an ideal world, former Louisiana Governor Buddy Roemer would be the undisputed frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination. However, as the world operates under anything but ideal circumstances, Roemer was sure to lose from the get go, though he has managed to surpass Texas Governor Rick Perry in a few recent polls. The reasons for this are many, but the central one is what late California Assembly Speaker Jesse Unruh described as the "mother's milk" of politics; money. Roemer has set a $100 limit on all individual contributions in an effort to raise awareness about fighting corruption, particularly that which is brought about by lobbyists and special interest groups. Indeed, campaign finance reform has been Roemer's main theme since announcing his candidacy early last year. Unlike most politicians who bring this subject up to score points with an embittered electorate, Roemer has lived by example, beginning with the institution of similar donation caps during his successful late 1980s run for the Pelican state's gubernatorial post. "Unfortunately," says Cotto, "the spotlight that he so richly deserves was snatched away from him. What a loss for candidate and country alike." Roemer, however, is determined to soldier on: "Off to Michigan, then Arizona!"
Fred Karger spent the early part of the week making one last effort to get out his vote in New Hampshire, the state in which he'd invested in heavily, in the hopes of winning enough sustained support to qualify for a GOP debate, if not shock the world by placing high on the leaderboard. So, how did he do? Wellllll...he did manage to get more votes than the recently-gone-from-the-race Michele Bachmann! That's good, right? Karger's happy about it, anyway: "My goal was to beat Rick Santorum or Michele Bachmann," he said. When he checked with New Hampshire's secretary of state Wednesday afternoon, he was 137 votes ahead of Bachmann, who dropped out of the race several days ago. "I finished eighth with just a fraction of the money spent by the other candidates," Karger said. "It was my first election, and the bar I set myself was to beat Santorum or Bachmann." Now, Karger will turn his attention to Michigan, where he imagines he might encounter a better scenario than the one he faced in New Hampshire: "Gary's gone and Buddy may not continue. With Michele and Herman out, we're down to seven. I'd say Rick Perry's not long for this world, and for Santorum and Gingrich, it's only a matter of time. That leaves me, along with Romney, Paul and Huntsman. And if there are only four of us on the ballot in Michigan, there's no way they're going to keep me off that stage," Karger said. And all he needs is a chance to be heard, he says. He has a good chance at beating Bachmann in Michigan too, we suspect.
Gary Johnson, having quit the GOP contest, now has a ticket to ride of his own. And that ticket will take him to beautiful (we're guessing!) Wilkes-Barre, Pa., host of the 2012 Libertarian Party Convention, a move that is designed to "raise awareness of the Libertarian Party in the area." As it's unlikely that Ron Paul will make a similar move to the Libertarians, odds are good that the party will be crowning Johnson as its nominee, creating the possibility that he could be playing a spoiler role in the upcoming general election. As the Daily Caller reports, however, it's really easy to overstate the impact that Johnson is going to have on this race: "My sense is that he might win one percent or so," [Michael] Barone told TheDC. "And not all those votes would have gone otherwise to the Republican nominee. I think Trump or Paul or an AmericansElect nominee could win more votes, with more net disadvantage to Republicans." Nevertheless, Johnson is pressing ahead with a campaign that he cemented early on was going to be about "tolerance." To that end, he assailed both Rick Santorum and Barack Obama on gay rights. (Santorum got into something of a war of words with the White House this week over their respective positions on marriage equality, which Johnson supports.) In a campaign press release, Johnson said: Rick Santorum's position is unconstitutional. The Constitution requires that all citizens be treated equally and makes no reference to gender in assuring those equal rights...By any fair measure, equal access to marriage for all Americans is a right -- guaranteed by the Constitution. Senator Santorum's claim that legally recognizing gay marriage would be no different than legalizing polygamy, child molestation or bestiality is repugnant and insulting to millions of gay Americans. [...] The New York Times reports that while President Obama gives lip service to gay equality, the President will not support gay marriage before the election because of the opposition of African Americans, as reflected in his polling, and the need to assure maximum support from African American voters in November...Instead the President sends out surrogates to imply that he will support gay marriage in a second term. The Daily Caller notes that at the moment, "Johnson will likely be the only presidential candidate on the ballot in all 50 states advocating for the legalization of same-sex marriage, which he refers to as a constitutional right."
As Team Obama Re-Elect looks across the still-emerging landscape, it's clear that they have a lot of work to do if they want to win a second term. This week's portent came out of Florida, where Obama runs slightly behind Romney and slightly ahead of Santorum -- a spread that suggests the state, and its electoral votes, are wildly up for grabs. Fortunately for the Obama campaign, they continue to stack dollars -- $68 million of them, to be exact, in the last three months of the year. Along the way, the White House is quick to insist that they are not yet "in campaign mode," but a past year in which Obama staged 74 fundraisers tells a different story. This week, however, the administration had to turn its attention from waging a campaign and working to enact their policies, to fending off a book of hot gossip from the New York Times Jodi Kantor. Her book, The Obamas, blew up this week as details about strife between Michele Obama and Rahm Emanuel, depicted as two White House figures warring over the direction and dimension of the administration's policy goals, found their way into newspapers. Naturally, everyone at the White House denied that the contents of the book were true-to-life, but it nevertheless took on an odd resonance against the backdrop of a switch at the top of the White House pecking order -- where Jack Lew replaced the unloved (and soon to be un-missed) Bill Daley as White House Chief Of Staff. Meanwhile, it appears that the recess appointments that Obama made to the National Labor Relation Board and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau may result in the precise outcome the White House was seeking -- baiting the Congressional GOP into a big, sticky, contrast-drawing fight in an election year where union workers are trying to recall elected officials and middle-class sufferers are looking for a champion. But as worthwhile as a strategy as that is, the economy remains the issue that will likely decide Obama's re-election fate. Good employment numbers and a spate of sunny forecasts have allowed many to imagine that the long-delayed recovery might arrive in the nick of time to bail the administration out and force the eventual GOP nominee to have to build a more challenging case for themselves. We're not ready, however, to declare these recent green shoots to be a harbinger of an economic flowering. Finally, we had more speculation this week about the prospects of a Hillary Clinton-Joe Biden switch (everyone realized that "Obama-Biden 2012" swag has already been put on the shelves, right?), courtesy of the New York Times' Bill Keller, who wrote a column of speculation despite the obvious fact that he barely believes such a thing could ever happen. (Honestly, people who believe that the key to ending gridlock in Congress is moving Joe Biden to the State Department and demoting Clinton to the Vice-Presidency needs to soak their head in some scalding hot reality.) As Alex Pareene points out, the single dumbest, laugh-out-loud-and-point-at-the-mewling-idiot line in Keller's piece is this: But the idea that she should replace Joe Biden as Obama's running mate in 2012 is something else. It has been kicking around on the blogs for more than a year without getting any traction, mainly because it has been authoritatively, emphatically dismissed by Hillary, Biden and Team Obama. Pareene notes, "The 'bloggers' kicking this idea around, as I mentioned earlier, are New York magazine political writer John Heilemann, Washington Post living legend Bob Woodward, and former Newsweek senior editor and best-selling author Jonathan Alter." Yes. That's because this dumb notion has actually been kicking around fancy Beltway cocktail parties and the fever-dreams of demented hostess-in-chief Sally Quinn. If Keller doesn't understand that, pray tell, what does he understand?
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