So, yeah, this campaign season is getting ridiculous. Credit the candidates, we guess! From one week to the next, we have seen the race seesaw between these four candidates we are left with -- some winning primaries, others winning bragging rights -- as the lesser lights of the GOP field have faded away. But this week, the seesaw became a whipsaw as Newt Gingrich went from standing proud to stumbling in a matter of days.
The alacrity of how the race at the top flipped was pretty staggering. In South Carolina, Gingrich hadn't merely grabbed the affection of South Carolina voters. He successfully made Romney look timid. When the two candidates found themselves coincidentally booked for appearances at the same eatery, Gingrich -- who at the time didn't need to do any more work to win the primary -- suggested that the two men have an impromptu debate. That put the fear in Romney -- he rushed through his appearance and skedaddled like Gingrich was going to snatch his lunch money.
And in a way, that's what Gingrich had been trying to do all week. Mitt's hesitancy to release his tax returns became the key issue on the trail, and as Romney bumbled his way through the week, South Carolina voters smelled a phony.
But over the next few days, Romney regrouped and put Gingrich back on his heels. To be sure, Romney outspent Gingrich by the length of Interstate 4. But what really helped is that the GOP establishment, concerned that Gingrich might prevail and become the party's nominee, once again unleashed the forces of darkness. Dredging up criticism and ridicule, Gingrich came to Thursday night's debate with his mojo tapped. His attempts to recreate some of that blame-the-media outrage fell embarrassingly flat.
Now, Mitt Romney is surging in Florida, and along with that comes the ability reclaim that mantle of inevitability. And if you watched the State of the Union address, President Barack Obama's opening salvo in the campaign season, you can see who he's imagining as his opponent. We'll briefly summarize the address: "Hi. I killed Osama bin Laden, this Congress is obstructing me at every turn, Mitt Romney is wrong about everything, Seal Team Six, I'm out." It was pretty clear that the only reason he had to take Gingrich seriously was as the guy who helpfully framed the Democratic argument against Mitt in the first place.
But can Obama take the Gingrich playbook and run it himself? The folks over at 1115.org are skeptical:
Despite the attention it is getting now, Mitt’s status as a businessman will not hurt as much as some think. Certainly, the narrative of Mitt Romney as a 1%er will be good for energizing Democrats, but Romney does not need to win Democrats. As always, the election will hinge on each candidate’s ability to attract moderates/independents. His involvement with Mass. health care and Obamacare only makes him seem more moderate, and the big opportunity for that to hurt him (the primary) has since passed without great consequence. His income tax rate, which is a result of his semiretirement and reliance on capital gains, is an overblown non issue (although capital gains tax in general might enter as a liberal talking points). In general, attacks on Romney as a businessman have not and will not land.
There's a lot at stake in next week's primary -- for everyone except Ron Paul, who isn't trying to win Florida and who spent large portions of the week shoring up his effort in the caucus states to come. If Romney wins, the cash that's been keeping Gingrich afloat may dry up. If Gingrich wins, you can expect the GOP establishment to fly into a berserker rage. And if Santorum doesn't manage a strong enough finish, he may come to the end of the line. And how things end up next Tuesday may become frozen in time -- it's a long, lonely month between now and Super Tuesday. For all the news you need to know for now, please feel free to enter the Speculatron for Jan. 27, 2012.
Mitt Romney's bad South Carolina weekend began with a near incident at Tommy's Country Ham House, where an event timed too closely with a Gingrich visit prompted Newt to make an impromptu debate challenge. This would have cemented this Ham House as the site of an important geopolitical event, but a reeling Romney showed up early, rushed through his remarks, and then bolted. It was going to be that sort of day. By the end, Romney had lost the state, the delegate lead (such as it is), and his momentum. It didn't help that a lot of the support that he'd been greeted with had been the bused-in-from-BYU variety. South Carolinians rejected Romney almost wholesale -- though he did succeed with his own kind: the super-wealthy. While some Romney aides put a good spin on the results, Romney left behind a bruised Nikki Haley with his national lead in tatters and his standing among independent voters diminished. He also renewed many questions about his ability to reach the Republican base. As Politico put it: "The widening gap between Romney in theory, a man who oozes plausibility as a potential president, and Romney in practice, a candidate who just might be missing some kind of intangible something, is now a dominant storyline in the GOP presidential race." And yet despite all this, Jonathan Bernstein still figured Romney was the real frontrunner: One-on-one, over the long haul, it's highly unlikely that Newt Gingrich can beat Mitt Romney. It's also unlikely that Rick Santorum, with a third place finish tonight, will have the resources to compete in Florida and beyond...it wouldn't be surprising if he dropped out in the next few days, although it also wouldn't be surprising if he stayed in just in case everyone else melted down. He may still be barely viable. Meanwhile, yes, lots and lots of Republican voters aren't very enthusiastic about Romney, just as they weren't very enthusiastic about John McCain in 2008, in Dole in 1996, or in George H.W. Bush in 1988. And with all of those unenthusiastic voters out there, it's not all that surprising that we can see a lot of undecided voters swing one way or another in reaction to campaign events. But Newt Gingrich remains almost as implausible a nominee as he's been from the beginning of the campaign. He's still the guy who has flipped on issue after issue after issue, including individual mandates on health care and climate change. He's still someone who has ethics problems, and marital problems (yes, still). He's still someone who isn't much liked or trusted by those Republicans who worked with him when he was in office. He's still someone who rarely goes a week without saying something that gets him in trouble. He's still someone who has shown no ability to run a proper campaign -- and while that doesn't always matter, as we saw Saturday night, it's apt to matter in some states, and in a hypothetical tough delegate battle, that matters. Nevertheless, adjustments were in order. And first among them was renewing the battle and demonstrating a willingness to fight. He went at Newt, calling him a disgrace, erratic, mentally unstable. He hit him for his connections to Freddie Mac and brought up his past ethics charges. And he put to rest the notion that he'd opt out of future debates (even going so far as to get a new debate coach), and made it clear that he'd be willing to dog-whistle sweet nothings into the ears of the GOP base just as much as Gingrich. And critically, he also decided to disarm the trap that caught him up in South Carolina by releasing his tax returns. And while observers generally agreed that he had not released enough documents to tell the whole story, and that his reasons for not doing so were dumb, Romney managed to clear the hurdle labelled "the bare minimum." He hoped that by releasing this information on Tuesday, it would largely get swamped out of the news cycle by the State of the Union address -- however, the themes of President Obama's speech actually ended up casting them in sharp relief. What did we learn? Well, we learned that Romney's tax rate is comically low, he pays nearly nothing in payroll taxes and has accounts in all sorts of (tax) dodgy places, he made use of strategies that can typically only be used by the wealthy, and that while none of this was wrong or illegal, it still demonstrated that when you're a person as wealthy as Romney, you can make use of the disproportionate advantages afforded to the super-rich. We also about learned some new controversies, like that no mention was made in Romney's ethics forms about his numerous off-shore tax havens. And we found out that Romney makes all this money for essentially doing nothing. Warren Buffett pointed out Romney in fact learned his living that way -- by essentially doing nothing: He makes his money the same way I make my money. He makes money by moving around big bucks, not by straining his back and going to work cleaning the toilets or whatever it may be. He makes it shoving around money. I make it shoving around money. [...] Nothing wrong about [Romney] doing that. He will not pay more than the law requires. I don't fault him for that in the least, but I do fault the law that allows him and me, earning enormous sums to pay over all federal taxes at a rate that is about half what the average person in my office pays. Of course, Romney moved some of that money into and out of Freddie Mac, and siphoned it from Florida foreclosures. In the immediate sense, Romney seems to have done enough to weather the storm of South Carolina and get back on his feet for the contests to come. And in Thursday night's debate, he turned in a strong performance against Newt Gingrich, especially on the immigration issue, where he hit Newt hard for putting out radio ads defaming him as "anti-immigrant," arguing his way to a clear win on the matter. He also deftly parried an attempt by Gingrich to launch an attack on CNN and their debate moderator, Wolf Blitzer. (There were nonetheless weak moments: Rick Santorum was largely successful at tying "Romneycare" to "Obamacare," and Mitt was momentarily flummoxed when CNN factchecked a claim about an ad in real time during the event. The poll numbers signaled a shift back in Romney's direction -- he retook the lead in some Florida polls and ends the week with the best numbers in terms of electability. But it was generally concluded this week that the issue of Romney's taxes, and the way they laid out the innumerable advantages of the idle rich, was destined to take center stage in an election year battle with Obama. You can make use of Slate's "class warfare calculator" to see why. Or, you can muse upon the fact that your big, bailed out banks see Romney as one of their own. Team Obama Re-Elect would love to exploit the wealth gap at a time when so many are struggling. And Romney does himself no favors when he goes on the Laura Ingraham show to tell her audience that the Obama economic plan is working.
Everything you need to know in order to understand the constant flux of the race can be learned from watching what happened to Newt Gingrich this week. This past weekend, Newt was ascendant. His win in South Carolina had resurrected his campaign. By harnessing the passions of the Palmetto State's electorate, and with a timely assist from Sarah Palin, he dispatched Mitt Romney, and threw a wrench into the machine that Mitt had hoped would be manufacturing momentum. Despite the fact that his marital misadventures had been the center of attention that week (along with some lame defenses of the same), Newt improbably won out with female South Carolina voters. Win in hand, Newt headed out of the state with the wind seemingly at his back. Early-week polls gave him a lead in Florida, and he was up nationally as well. More importantly, he was expanding his operation. He earned endorsements from Fred Thompson and Chuck Norris (in our strange world, the latter being the hotter), and raised more money for his campaign coffers -- and not just from Sheldon Adelson (though Adelson continued his bankrolling binge). Yet Newt still has glaring vulnerabilities. Practically speaking, the biggest obstacle he faces are ballot access issues and upside-down favorable ratings. His real problem is that his contemporaries all seem to not want to have much to do with him anymore. And that's putting it mildly actually, because many of the members of the GOP establishment seem to agree with Chris Christie that Newt has been an "embarrassment" to the Republican Party. Yet again, once the GOP elites caught a whiff of the possibility that Gingrich might actually win the nomination, they rained down white-hot hate from above. The Drudge Report bannered a headline painting Newt as a chief underminer of the Reagan administration, linking to a scabrous piece from Eliot Abrams in the National Review. The American Spectator compared him to Bill Clinton. Ann Coulter said that a vote for Newt was essentially a vote for Obama. Philip Klein painted Newt as an Alinskyite. Tom DeLay disowned him. Bob Dole tossed a grenade his way. And all of this went down in a matter of twenty-four hours. (Gingrich did get an offer of support from Duke Cunningham, which probably does more harm than good.) Over at Time, Michael Crowley explained what this sustained attack on Newt's candidacy is all about: To the extent Newt threatens the Establishment, it's because of his electability-or lack thereof. The GOP's mandarins see Gingrich's nomination as a sure way to blow their chance of deposing Barack Obama. They see Gingrich as the political equivalent of a Fukushima nuclear plant worker, with polls showing him to be lethally irradiated by his negative approval ratings. Whereas Mitt Romney is running about even with Barack Obama in head-to-head polling, Newt loses by double-digit margins. Sure, those numbers could change if Gingrich beats Romney and wins the nomination, with all the accolades it entails. On the other hand, his grandiosity syndrome may kick in, as it has before, and render him a laughing stock. Hence the many Establishment Republicans now saying things like, "Newt means losing 45 states." As strong as the establishment vitriol is, Gingrich has played a hand in his own problems as well. His past as a lobbyist for Freddie Mac is the equivalent of Mitt Romney's tax records -- it's the biggest target on his back and the biggest drag with voters. (It doesn't help that he's done some Romneyesque tax-dodging of his own.) And when Gingrich put out a radio ad characterizing Romney as "anti-immigrant," it turned into an unforced error as it drove the neutral Marco Rubio to come to Romney's defense. Gingrich continues to hit Romney hard on his vulnerable points. This week, he criticized Romney's Goldman Sachs investments, excoriated him for profiting off of Florida foreclosures, and criticized him for his Swiss bank accounts and his "no work" lifestyle. But Gingrich never managed to pull off the debate grandstanding that spurred him to his win in South Carolina. He was really peeved when NBC kept the audience in check at Monday's debate. When he got to Jacksonville, he tried to do to Wolf Blitzer what he did to John King, but failed. And making matters worse was the fact that for all the grief he gave John King for asking about his marital problems, Gingrich lied like a rug about having offered ABC News sources to dispute his second wife's account. And with Romney riding shotgun with a GOP establishment that was giddily painting Newt as an impossible-to-work-with egomaniac, drunk on his own sense of grandiosity, you might imagine that Newt would do the smart thing and dial it back a notch. You'd be wrong! Newt was going to declare cyberwar on China, and overthrow Cuba. AND GOOD LORD THE MOON STUFF WE CAN'T EVEN. He wants to spend billions of dollars in the public/private partnership to found a space-based state on the moon's surface. The fitting word here is "lunatic." And so look for Mitt Romney to win in Florida, folks!
Well, if you thought that Rick Santorum's only purpose in running for president was to add enough new results to Google to shift down all of the ways his name has become associated with silly sex stuff, think again. This week, his new campaign gambit was to launch Conservatives Unite Moneybomb or...well, you know. But Santorum does need a hot, wet injection of sweet, sweet cash right about now. He continues to debate well, present a consistent message, and draw sensible contrasts with his opponents, but in Florida, as in South Carolina, his voice is getting drowned out in the super PAC din. And unlike his opponents, he's not always willing to show up before a crowd and pander. In Florida, he made it clear that he supported increased offshore drilling in the Gulf -- a position that doesn't always wear well in the Gulf State that long ago opted to center its economy on tourism. And last night, amid the battle over who was going to defend the wealthy the best, Santorum was willing to admit that under his tax plan, the wealthy weren't getting as big a break as Romney and Gingrich were willing to give. Quin Hilyer noted that in many ways, Santorum was becoming the "unpolitician" in the race: "No matter what state he is debating in, he refuses to find some wiggle room on issues where his position is at odds with a deeply held local position." Of course, he also continues to show limitations in his character. This week, when a town hall attendee asserted that President Obama was "an avowed Muslim" who had no right to be president, there was no McCain moment, where personal courage took precedence over crypto-political nonsense. Instead, he chickened out, let it pass, and then later defended his right to his own cowardice. And of course, with every week of the Rick Santorum campaign, his limited successes with conservative voters are offset by the constant airing of positions that weird independent voters out and limit his appeal. Like his strange new stance against college education, which doesn't prevent him from going to colleges to stump (nor has it led him to renounce any of his own three degrees). Plus there's all the abortion and rape and gay marriage stuff, for which he was glitterbombed. (No stranger to irony, Santorum said that the glitterers were "intolerant.") Nevertheless, Santorum says that he plans on staying in the race for a long time to come. And with Gingrich and Romney wildly threatening to consume one another in their mutual, super PAC-enabled rain of fire, who knows -- the steady Santorum may end up the only non-Ron Paul candidate left standing upright.
The Atlantic's John Hudson figures that after a few months of sustained presence in the newshole, the "Ron Paul blackout is back on": After a brief spike in interest, the mainstream media coverage of GOP candidate Ron Paul is back to nearly nothing, according to the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism. This week, less than 5 percent of all campaign stories focused on Paul, the lowest point since Dec. 11. when strong performances in Iowa and New Hampshire helped stoke some interest. Over the same period, Paul's performance in the polls has only improved, going from the single digits to 12.7 percent, putting him nearly even with Rick Santorum, in the current RealClearPolitics average. But in Pew's weekly study, Paul has been heading in the opposite direction. Pew tracks a list of 52 mainstream news outlets across broadcast television, cable news, newspapers, radio and the 12 most popular news sites to measure exposure. As you can see from the graph below, the downward trajectory of coverage volume has been steep for Paul, as the star of New Gingrich rose following his decisive victory in South Carolina and strong polling in Florida. We've made note of this and criticized it before. And one particularly egregious moment of the media throwing shade on Paul occurred, which we'll get to in a minute. But there's a pretty logical reason why there isn't a whole lot of news coverage of Ron Paul of late -- he's not going to where the story is, and he's not making any news. He doesn't have to. He doesn't want to. (And frankly, all of the press that his son Rand earned in his contretemps with the TSA should be considered de facto "Ron Paul coverage," as it ignites the passions of the very people that the candidate wants to come to the polls.) Paul got a significant enough share of the vote in South Carolina, and he'll likely do the same in Florida. Enough to keep reminding people he's out there and viable. But these two states aren't part of his strategy. He's looking to max out his organizational strength in the caucus states, and seize delegates that the others are taking for granted. So while everyone was in Florida, he went to Maine, and as Dave Weigel noted, that is the right thing for Paul to do. Florida is a winner take-all primary. Paul's not going to win it, so there's no point in expending anything but a minimal amount of resources. As a consequence, Paul isn't where the action is, but as long as he's doing the organizational work he needs to do, there's no disadvantage to not participating in the Romney-Gingrich flamewar. However, there is harm done when you show up to a nationally televised debate -- which reach those crucial caucus state voters -- and spend the entire time standing around. That was what happened in the first debate of the week, where NBC News' Brian Williams spent almost as much time speaking as Paul did. (For the first half-hour of that debate, it was like Paul and Santorum had simply stopped existing.) At CNN's debate, he fared much better, and turned in one of his better debate performances. Starved of time (and applause) by NBC, Paul made up ground by making sure to state the principles of his campaign firmly and often. And just as importantly, he showed charm and humor, getting off some of the night's best lines. And after all the hype about the way Gingrich seemed to need to feed on the audience reaction, the crowd that showed up in Jacksonville seemed to be one of the more Paul-friendly groups of debate-watchers of the campaign season, and they had their man's back with ovation after ovation. Paul continues to express the fact that he does not want to pursue a third party bid (he does this by saying "I DON'T WANT TO" when asked, in a statement that the media still finds way too difficult to parse for its obviousness). He also still gets questions about who among the other candidates he'd support, and he continues to treat these with coyness -- though this week, he did praise some of Newt Gingrich's policies, while adding that Newt needed to change his foreign policy platform wholesale. This has been stretched into stories that suggest Paul supports Newt somehow, but if you pay attention to Paul's criticism of the former speaker, it's clear that he doesn't think much of him.
Buddy Roemer is doing what he can to criticize his super PAC enabled competitors -- often by just pointing out the core corruption and unfair electoral advantages that unlimited money confers on those who wield it. This week, he took his case to "Real Time With Bill Maher," cementing his standing with the political satire set. There, he gave the audience this bon mot: "Mitt Romney is the One Percent, and Newt Gingrich is their lobbyist. So it's no difference between the two." But if there's someone in the race for whom Roemer is willing to admit to having an affinity for, it's Ron Paul, with limits. This week, Roemer told politics website The State Column: "Ron and I, if it were funny, we would laugh. We're good friends, we served in Congress 30 years ago and I believe in what he believes." However, there is one point of view that Mr. Paul and the former Louisiana governor do not share. "I'm not an isolationist, that's our big difference, but I believe in liberty," Mr. Roemer said. Although Mr. Roemer has never attended a Republican presidential debate, the former Louisiana governor's campaign seems to be moving forward at full steam. "I don't like politics that much, particularly Washington politics," Mr. Roemer admitted at the beginning of his interview. Unlike Ron Paul, Roemer continues to suggest that he may opt to make a third party run at the White House. Walter Pierce of the Independent reported this week that Roemer is still eyeing the possibility of running on Americans Elect's ticket. We've been down this road before, and pointed out the many ways in which Americans Elect is a bad fit for Roemer, but we understand that he has to keep options open and hope alive through whatever means he can. For his part, Roemer has vowed to opt out of using Americans Elect's assistance if it turns out that they're getting funny with their money. (SPOILER ALERT: They totally are!)
Gary Johnson spent the week sizing up the competition, both the candidates he left behind when he jumped from the GOP primary to run as a Libertarian, and the candidates he may face in a general election. In an interview with Capital New York's ace political reporter Azi Paybarah, Johnson sounded off: On Romney: "I only have one issue with Mitt Romney ... I have no idea where he stands on the issues." On Gingrich: Johnson took issue with this little notion Gingrich got into his head marijuana possession should be punishable by ... uhm ... well, death. "That was in 1996 ... That was one of his big ideas. The death penalty. And he smoked marijuana." Oh, and CNN can go die in a fire: "Five months ago, CNN did their national poll and I was at 2 percent of the national vote, which, at that time, put me ahead of [Rick] Santorum, and [Jon] Huntsman and tied me with [Herman] Cain," said Johnson. "Well," he added, "after I appeared at 2 percent in that poll, did not appear in one single CNN poll since then." "I don't care how you measure it, that's unfair," he said. Johnson said "we obviously pounded on the door" but "were given no response." Elsewhere, he critiqued President Obama's State of the Union address: "If the idea tonight was that the President would fulfill his constitutional duty to give us 'information of the State of the Union', we should be able to expect some truth. I didn't hear much truth. Truth is that the real unemployment rate is probably still above 10%. Truth is that after all the hand-wringing and deals of the past couple of years, instead of cutting spending, the President and Congress are going back to the well for another $1.2 Trillion debt limit increase. And the truth is we are seeing nothing from either the President or the Republicans that will really change any of those unacceptable realities. "Only in the twilight zone that is Washington could a President who has bailed out and stimulated our economy to death stand in the Capitol and declare there should be 'no bailouts, no handouts, and no cop-outs'. Can anyone spell GM or TARP or Solyndra? And in an interview with The Huffington Post, he ridiculed the likely contenders of the major parties, saying, "Mickey Mouse would poll 15 percent against Obama and Romney." Of course, the context here was his belief that his third party run was plenty viable: "I think there's a real opportunity that a third party candidate could poll significantly enough to be on the stage in what would be the national debates," said Johnson, the former New Mexico governor. "I think that's a possibility, and if that happens, I would hope to be that third party nominee to be able to do that." [...] "I believe that the fastest growing segment of the Republican party are those that are Libertarian-leaning," Johnson said. "I have issues with the extreme right of the Republican party. I do. I always have," he added. "And I have issues with the extreme left of the Democrat party. I always have. But I don't know if I really have issues with what you'd call the extreme segment of the Libertarian party." To that end, Johnson continues to promote his support for marriage equality, asserting that "he's the best presidential choice for gay voters." A shot at openly gay presidential hopeful Fred Karger? Nah, those two actually get along nicely.
Fred Karger is now primarily competing in Michigan, but he showed up in a profile in the South Florida Gay News, in which he expressed his hopefulness, despite the hurdles he continues to face: "Being the first openly gay candidate running for president and doing it as a Republican has been a huge hindrance for me on two fronts," Karger said. "One, the Republicans have been uneasy with me, and two, the gay community has been very slow to come around and many still have not come around." Even gay Republicans haven't been quick to jump on board with his candidacy. "I can't wait for the day when a qualified, credible, gay conservative candidate is running for president of the United States. Fred isn't it. He doesn't have the experience or the credibility to make a legitimate run for the presidency," said co-founder and executive director of GOProud Jimmy LaSalvia. "His campaign has made its point, and now it's time to move on so that the Republican Party can choose our nominee from the remaining credible candidates. For the record, I know and like Fred, but I don't agree with him on this." As Jason Parsley reports, "it's the small victories he's taking pride in," victories like ballot access. But access in general continues to be a problem. At the upcoming CPAC confab in Washington, he's been denied a booth, and the Advocate's Lucas Grindley reports that he's considering taking "legal action because he believes he's being discriminated against because he's gay." Grindley notes that there's context for this: CPAC also voted in July to prevent GOProud, a group for gay conservatives, from cosponsoring the event. GOProud has been involved before but was told in a letter that it "will not be invited to participate in a formal role." Karger was denied a spot last year, but shared a table with former Republican presidential candidate Gary Johnson. This time, he says he applied for space when CPAC was offering its "early bird discount," so they couldn't have been sold out. "They clearly don't want anyone who is LGBT or any LGBT organization to sponsor or be a party of CPAC," he told The Advocate. "It's undeniably bigotry and homophobia and I will not rest until they come into the 21st Century and obey the laws designed to protect minorities." Karger is threatening to file a discrimination complaint under the District of Columbia's Human Rights Act if he's not let in. (At the last CPAC, Gary Johnson -- always the nice-guy candidate -- shared booth space with Karger.) None of this is preventing Karger from getting in his licks and staying with the broad themes of the news cycle. This week, Karger -- who has aimed to be a persistent burr in Mitt Romney's side -- responded to Mitt's limited release of his tax information by disclosing 12 years of his own taxes, on the steps of the George Romney Institute for Law and Public Policy at Adrian College in Michigan. There, he challenged the other candidates to make similar disclosures. As of yet, none have done so.
This week Barack Obama went to Capitol Hill to deliver the annual State of the Union address, deploying two lines of argument. In the first, citing the Navy Seals' mission to take out Osama bin Laden (and, unbeknownst to everyone, the Seals had earlier in the day carried out another daring mission), he called for an end to pointless political obstruction and a renewed sense of mission-focused teamwork. In the second, he made a case for rebuilding the middle class and tax fairness, in language that any fan of Elizabeth Warren would recognize. And there were some compelling economic policies contained within the speech. If these two conceits seemed in conflict -- the president's economic message was largely termed "class warfare" by the rebutting Mitch Daniels -- well, that was the point, because the larger theme of the SOTU was a pitch for re-election. Brian Beutler notes that the speech was basically a "point by point refutation of Mitt Romney": His speech was peppered with the sorts of proposals that play well across the country. But after executing a three year plan of partisan opposition to his full agenda, Republicans can't possibly support them -- and that puts them on the steep side of an election Obama is framing while Republican presidential hopefuls tear each other down. It was also sharp-elbowed. It read in a way as a series of critiques of the GOP's most prominent rhetorical attacks on Democratic priorities, and as a piecemeal rebuttal of the talking points his most likely general election opponent Mitt Romney has levied against him in a bid to shore up support among Republican base voters. Romney has raised eyebrows for opposing the auto-industry bailout. In his address, Obama chided, "[s]ome even said we should let it die." This is largely true of many Republicans in Congress, who could not bring themselves to applaud a proposal to reverse tax incentives that encourage outsourcing and discourage repatriating jobs to the U.S. Where Romney has called for allowing the foreclosure crisis to run its course, Obama said that "responsible homeowners shouldn't have to sit and wait for the housing market to hit bottom to get some relief," before introducing a mortgage modification plan to Congress that will give "every responsible homeowner the chance to save about $3,000 a year ... by refinancing at historically low interest rates," which was met with silence by the GOP. Perhaps most famously, Romney has suggested that public appeals for addressing inequality and bringing equity to the tax code evince envy on the part of advocates who have pressed those issues into the national dialogue. And yet the speech wasn't entirely galvanizing for the president's liberal supporters -- the passage on energy production was light on progressive policy and more closely dovetailed with the typical Republican plan to increase domestic energy production. But again, remember, re-election was a big theme, and Obama positioned himself thusly precisely so he could head off a coming critique and co-opt the opposition's most popular ideas. Of course, these sorts of speeches rarely move the needle of public opinion, absent more reinforcement of the themes in speeches down the line. What many people will remember, in all likelihood, is the "spilt milk" joke that caused groans across the Twitterverse. Dan Amira says the joke was intentionally corny: [W]hy deliver a joke that you know isn't funny? Because it's a self-deprecating thing to do. Because it's endearing. Because it humanizes you. Because you'll remind people of their unfunny dad, who intentionally tells bad jokes for all of the same reasons. However, it turns out that Obama should maybe not have been making light of spilt milk. Gawker's John Cook found many instances of the environmental devastation unleashed by floods of wayward cow juice. In general, however, this was a speech that the president's supporters found inspiring and his detractors found barren. Though Andrew Sullivan ended up on the side of the disappointed: I was hoping for a vision. I was hoping for real, strategic reform. What we got was one big blizzard of tax deductions, wrapped in a populist cloak. It was treading water. I suspect this will buoy liberal spirits, but anger the right and befuddle the independents. It definitely gives the Republican case against Obama as a big government meddler more credibility. I may be wrong - but the sheer cramped, tedious, mediocre micro-policies he listed were uninspiring to say the least. This was also the first State of the Union address in which NFL wide receiver Chad Ochocinco managed to make news. So, you know, that happened. Beyond the president's public address, his week was defined by revelations as to the private workings of his administration. A Ryan Lizza New Yorker piece titled "The Obama Memos" took an in-depth look at the real struggle to foster that post-partisan environment that the president made it a goal of his first term to create. And an actual memo from Larry Summers that Lizza included in his reporting was termed by Ezra Klein as "the most authoritative guide we have to the way President Obama's first, and arguably most crucial, decisions were framed by his key policy staffers." Obama, having launched his campaign from the State Of The Union address, immediately hit the trail, and just as immediately made news when he was photographed on the airport tarmac in Arizona in a finger-pointy tiff with Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer. The backstory is that Obama took issue with part of Brewer's book, which he contends inaccurately describes a White House meeting between the two. Brewer, apparently took issue with Obama's issue-taking. There was a heated moment, and Obama walked away while Brewer was talking. Both sides are now managing and downplaying the incident. But the photograph of Brewer getting hot with Obama blew up the internet and ignited the right-wing blogosphere. Jonathan Chait says that this was just how the president drew up the play: The Republican strategy is sort of a miniature version of their broader legislative strategy. Republicans, along with a handful of conservative Democrats, blocked comprehensive immigration reform and then blocked even the modest DREAM Act, and their message is that Latinos should vote for them because Obama failed to carry out his campaign promise to pass those bills. It's actually quite clever. Since Obama can't get anything passed through Congress, one option is to simply clarify that he opposes the GOP's most draconian elements. So: A public shouting match with a governor who's unpopular with Arizonans in general and despised by Latinos. (Her job approval with Arizona Latinos is minus 40.) An accident? I doubt it. For the rest of the year, perhaps Obama will only be "post-partisan" on alternating Wednesdays?
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