For the bulk of the campaign season, we've been keenly aware that the GOP establishment-types had some grave misgivings over the fact that Mitt Romney might end up winning the nomination. But at the end of last week, what basically amounted to a sense of free-floating despair flared into a hot flash of panic -- only this time, it was paced by fears that Mitt Romney might lose.
The focus, of course, of the past two weeks, has been the upcoming primary in Michigan, where Rick Santorum surged into the lead. All of that hype was perhaps premature -- after all, Santorum's poll peak came well ahead of Romney operationalizing his money-powered character assassination machine. But ABC News Jonathan Karl landed the scoop of the week, in the form of an anonymous -- yet "prominent"! -- GOP senator, who said, "If Romney cannot win Michigan, we need a new candidate."
Can: open. Worms: everywhere. Newt Gingrich: telling anyone who would listen that winning one's home state was of paramount importance. And the general feeling set in that Super Tuesday's fortunes might well be determined by the result in Michigan.
Right now, the Republican field has those GOP establishment-types in a knot of exquisite tension. The guy that's likely to carry the banner in the general election, Mitt Romney, is someone who's never been easy to pin down ideologically, and that makes Republican elites -- who are ever cognizant of the fact that John McCain failed amid numerous flip-flops, and the ever present "Republican In Name Only" label on the minds of the Republican base -- quite nervous. In Rick Santorum, the same key establishment figures know they have a "team player." Santorum himself, in this week's debate, famously copped to this. But with his tendency to never keep the "unadulterated Republican dogma" in dog-whistle form -- a matter that was examined hilariously by John Oliver of the "Daily Show" -- those same elites know that Santorum always puts the affections of independent voters at risk.
Meanwhile, their other choices are anything but team players. Newt Gingrich has burned bridges with his massive ego and boundless self-regard, and Ron Paul has staked out an entirely different patch of ideological territory. And he's got himself a delicate, deliberate plan to earn enough delegates through the primary process that, at the very least, could leave him in the position to play dealmaker.
Paul actually probably deserves some credit for being on the leading edge of the phenomenon that now has the GOP establishment cycling through various stages of grief. The elites have largely lost control of the process. They couldn't get the horses they wanted into the race to run. An eclectic group of flamboyant millionaires and billionaires now fund the machine through super PACs. The media has kept candidates who would otherwise have faded into also-ran status in January alive through debates. And the grassroots is up for grabs. The elites maintain a fantasy that they could still decide everything in some smoke-filled room, but look what that fantasy has been reduced to -- openly rooting for a deadlocked convention. That's what the comments of this anonymous GOP senator seem geared toward. Their ace in the hole is little better than a suicide pact.
But the GOP establishment still has one desire that could well unite everyone in the end: the desire to beat President Barack Obama in November. And that's why when a candidate finally emerges from this process -- and like Karl Rove, we believe that the "odds are greater that there's life on Pluto than that the GOP has a brokered convention" -- there's a good chance that everyone is going to look back on this time in their lives and their panic and their doubts and wonder why they made such a big deal about everything.
Providing they win, that is. As for who wins, so much depends on Michigan. For the rest of what went down on the campaign trail -- including third party titillations, Obama polling palpitations, and the Arizona debate conflagration -- please feel free to enter the Speculatron for the week of February 24, 2012.
For what by now seems like the thousandth time, Mitt Romney came into the week facing the same old headwinds that have dogged him all season long. Could he "close the deal"? Could he "retake the momentum"? Would he give GOP elites reason to come off their 2012 suicide watch? Facing the forthcoming contests in Arizona and Michigan, Romney was maintaining a slight lead in the former -- where he's not facing a lot of competition, because it's a winner-take-all state and the rest of the field have essentially conceded it -- and in Michigan -- well ... signs pointed to something of a rebound. Last week's gaudy poll numbers, which pointed to a possible Santorum success, were beginning to tighten. But the Romney camp was still downplaying the importance of winning the state all the same. (Though Stuart Stevens apparently did not get the memo and guaranteed a Romney win.) It's definitely possible to overstate the importance of Michigan in the long-term scheme of things. Nevertheless, that sort of overstatement dogged Romney all week, after a "prominent Republican Senator" told ABC News' John Karl, "If Romney cannot win Michigan, we need a new candidate." (Where such a new candidate would be found, short of making a command appearance at a deadlocked GOP convention, is unclear, but it's been a season-long fantasy of various GOP elites.) Of course, the Romney doubters have abundant cause for concern. Begin with Romney's greatest (perceived) strength: his capacity to raise money. Last week, tongues started yapping about Romney having a long-term problem in this area. The small donors that might ordinarily provide a constant income streak had, by and large, not yet materialized for Romney. And Romney's team was beginning to discover that even top-dollar donors could get tapped out eventually. And the prolonged nature of the race was forcing Romney to spend money. As Sam Stein reported: If January's trend lines held through February, Mitt Romney's presidential campaign ran out of money two days ago. The former Massachusetts governor announced Monday night that he had raised roughly $6.4 million in January. More significantly, however, he reported having only $7.7 million cash on hand. Which means that over the course of 31 days, his campaign spent approximately $18.7 million. This is a remarkable burn rate for a campaign that appeared to be a well-oiled machine not too long ago. Each day in January, Romney spent an average of $603,225 and raised just $206,451, meaning he was spending $397,000 more than he was taking in. If the campaign continued to spend at that rate unabated, it would have burned through the remaining $7.7 million on Feb. 19. It's perhaps no wonder that Romney's affiliated super PAC opted to recycle an old campaign ad in lieu of forking over the ducats to make a new one. (They may have violated the law by doing so, however.) Of course, the other major perceived advantage that the Romney campaign boasts are the litany of high-profile endorsements they constantly receive. By this metric, Romney has absolutely decimated the rest of the field. But Romney's endorsements -- whether they come from political figures or editorial boards -- seem to come with tripwires. We rounded up some of these problems last week, and this week, we can add more: --Romney's constant carping about Rick Santorum's history of voting to raise the debt ceiling (which was considered to be a responsible thing to do up until the GOP went crazy in the face over the issue and decided it was better to threaten to destroy the global economy) is hampered by the fact that "almost all of the current congressional members backing Romney" made similar votes in the past. --The co-chair of Romney's campaign in Arizona, Sheriff Paul Babeu -- well, let's just say he had some ironic problems this week. --In Michigan, Romney endorser Governor Rick Snyder keeps telling people that Romney is wrong to oppose the auto industry "bailouts." --Also in Michigan, Representative Fred Upton -- also a Romney endorser -- echoes Snyder and adds that Romney is wrong on foreclosures as well. --Actually, Michigan newspapers that endorse Romney continue to couple their praise of Romney with pointed criticism of his auto "bailout" stance, and Romney compounds the problem by excising those criticisms from his campaign press releases, and then making a phony "journalistic ethics" argument for why they did so. --And Jon Huntsman seems to have entirely forgotten the fact that a month ago, he endorsed Romney and called for "GOP unity." He now thinks the GOP is bereft of "bold ideas" and recommends a third-party challenge. "Thanks for that, that's awesome," we imagine the Romney campaign did not say to their friend and ally Jon Huntsman. --In fact, the guy who Team Romney has deployed to make his case of late is birther loon, reality teevee star and pretend candidate Donald Trump. How many people, do you imagine, actually wanted to receive a campaign robo-call from Trump this year? We're guessing not many. Maybe robo-call "completists." And Mitt Romney continues to make the kinds of statements that cause the dedicated corporatists that fill the op-ed pages of the Wall Street Journal to throw up their hands in despair. As Jamelle Bouie notes, Romney managed to make one of those gaffes that cause Republicans to question whether Romney has any "commitment to conservative values": Yesterday was one of those times: "Speaking in Shelby Township, MI, the former Massachusetts governor took a question about the Simpson-Bowles fiscal commission empaneled by President Obama to address the nation's deficit and debt issues. In his response, he said that addressing taxes and spending issues are essential. 'If you just cut, if all you're thinking about doing is cutting spending, as you cut spending you'll slow down the economy,' he said in part of his response. 'So you have to, at the same time, create pro-growth tax policies.'" In other words, Romney just admitted -- in a momentary lapse of judgment -- that some form of government spending can grow the economy during a recession. Nevermind that this is the accepted position of most economists, conservative and otherwise. It runs counter to the core dogma of the conservative movement, that spending cuts (and tax cuts) always grow the economy. Romney made a bid for elite affection by releasing a new edition of his tax plan this week, which he momentarily suggested would be a plan that "make[s] sure the top 1% keeps paying ... the current share they're paying or more." Not to worry, though, rich folks! That was a bit of a fib! According to preliminary analysis of that tax plan, though, Romney's assertions are as absurd as they were the first time. According to Center for American Progress Tax and Budget Policy Director Michael Linden, Romney's tax plan contains budget-busting tax breaks for the richest Americans in the form of a permanent 20 percent across-the-board cut to marginal rates and a repeal of the Alternative Minimum Tax, which prohibits the wealthy from artificially lowering their tax rates. "The enormity of these tax cuts is mind-boggling," Linden said. "Even more unbelievable is how skewed they are to those [at] the very top of the income ladder." And by the time Romney got to the end of the Arizona debate, he'd flipped: "Number one, I said that we're going to cut taxes on everyone across the country by 20 percent, including the top 1 percent." Kevin Drum called Romney's plan "smoke and mirrors." And the folks at Baseline Scenario tweeted: "Extreme fiscal irresponsibility: Mitt Romney wants to keep national debt on unsustainable path." Romney largely was able to claim a victory at that debate, though it had less to do with the way he mounted an affirmative argument for his candidacy and more to do with the success he and Ron Paul had at tearing down Rick Santorum. Romney and Paul led the crowd to boo Santorum vigorously and continued to mock the former Pennsylvania senator after the debate had ended. But even in this effort, Romney did not entirely excel. Romney's decision to berate Santorum for supporting President George W. Bush's "No Child Left Behind" Act only worked because everyone seemed to have forgotten that Romney was a vocal supporter for NCLB as well. Ultimately, however, Romney managed to use the debate to right his unsteady ship. He now has a pretty good chance to overcome Santorum's lead in Michigan and stave off a GOP-wide panic attack. But Romney's primary debate victory may come with a general election cost. Despite having previously supported "self-deportation" as a strategy to reduce illegal immigration, in Arizona, Romney went full Arpaio and told the crowd that Arizona's draconian immigration law was a "model" for the nation. Smash-cut to Latino voters turning out for Obama en masse.
Rick Santorum's recent primary season successes and the polling surge that followed understandably excited the media, who could once again start dreaming of a real horserace, if not some kind of chaos at the Republican National Convention. But even as Santorum's support picked up -- he opened leads in Michigan as well as a slew of states with primaries yet to come -- it was hard not to notice the fact that there was a yawning gap in the timeline between the Missouri-Minnesota-Colorado contests and the big showdown in Michigan, where Santorum might really damage Romney's hopes. In the primary season, two weeks is an eternity, and the clock was giving Romney -- and his money -- ample opportunity to creep back into the game. As Jonathan Bernstein suggested, Santorum's major challenge was getting through this week without losing the standing he'd obtained. And getting there required that Santorum avoid making a momentum-killing gaffe, transcend the shortcomings of his shoestring operation, and perhaps pick up some endorsements. And one last thing: He had to prevail in the debate. As far as endorsements went, Santorum could at least brag about the fact that he'd won over former Romney supporter Mike DeWine -- but DeWine's not exactly a personage who sets the world on fire. And as Jonathan Chait noted, Santorum's basic profile doesn't exactly help attract the support of influential elites: In a nutshell, it's that being loathed by disproportionately influential people is a big problem. Reihan Salam, a writer for National Review, makes a really sharp point, in an interview with Dave Weigel: "Santorum, in particular, is a candidate who, leaving aside the question of his substantive virtues or drawbacks, is a lightning rod for Postmoderns, media professionals, and many other influential people who will sway the way others vote." And of course this is a problem for Santorum not just as a nominee but in getting the nomination in the first place. To win you need money, and the big money donors in the Republican Party are motivated by economics, not social issues. Case in point: billionaire Sheldon Adelson is now pumping money into Newt Gingrich's dead-in-the-water campaign as a favor to Mitt Romney, because Adelson is horrified by Santorum's positions on social issues and he wants to prop up Gingrich, who can split the conservative vote and whose continued viability now aids Romney. What about Santorum avoiding momentum-killing gaffes? Here's where Santorum's long history, coupled with the newly intense media scrutiny, really hurts him. This week, a Matt Drudge trip in the wayback machine brought some circa-2008 Santorum comments back into the light, in which Santorum ranted about Satan setting "his sights on the United States of America." Santorum, of course, never backs down from the things he's said, and he offered no apology for going on and on about Satan. (If anything, he sort of amped up that religious rhetoric by decrying President Obama for adhering to a "phony theology.") Of course, Santorum compounded all of that by making an oblique comparison (followed by an equally oblique denial) between Obama and Adolf Hitler, which always goes well in contemporary politics. Dana Milbank quipped: "Rick Santorum sees Nazis everywhere." You know, except for those spaces in which he sees Satan. Oh, and gays! He sees gay sex everywhere -- mainly in the Democratic party -- and he doesn't like it. (Fox News' Bill O'Reilly suggested that Santorum should get a pass on the anti-gay rhetoric because he's "inexperienced," but come on -- Santorum's had a lengthy political career! And if anything, he's basically become a leading expert on how to spout anti-gay rhetoric.) And finally, Santorum reached the most important moment of his week: that Arizona debate. And there, he sort of fell apart. Which was unexpected, in a way. It's been Santorum who's lately been the master of the elegant argument and setting of forensic traps. But before a crowd that many observers felt had been packed to the gills with Romney and Paul supporters (that's the shortcomings of your shoestring campaign showing up in a place where you least expected it), Santorum was ganged up upon by Romney and Paul, who each seemed to have spent the week boning up on the relevant opposition research. They strung Santorum up by his lengthy senatorial career, his fealty to the GOP establishment, the vagaries of the legislative process (that's how they hung support for Planned Parenthood around his neck), and his previous endorsement of Arlen Specter -- who resonates negatively with the GOP base because he was a critical vote in favor of the Affordable Care Act. After the debate ended, the consensus that Santorum had been beaten and/or squandered his opportunity came quick and deadly, and it set Santorum off on a furious spin mission. His remarkable failure? Somehow, he'd managed to cede the "true conservative" title to Mitt Romney. If there was any good news, it came in the form of a late-developing poll that still had Santorum ahead in Michigan. But the post-debate numbers are yet to come in. And there's still so much time left for Santorum to wait and worry.
We know we've been talking about Ron Paul's strategy in terms of a slow and steady delegate acquisition operation, paced by his campaign's knowledge of caucus minutiae, that will likely result in some sort of late-game favor-trading between Paul, the GOP frontrunner and the Republican Party. But it's worth pointing out that Paul himself hasn't ruled out the possibility that he might win the whole shebang. On CNN's "State Of The Union," Paul was unwilling to concede the nomination: "The bottom line is who is going to get the delegates," he added, "and we think we're doing pretty good." Host Candy Crowley, however, pressed back. "It's hard to see how you put together enough delegates," she said. "You don't know until the end," Paul retorted. "There's every reason to believe this momentum will continue. It's still relatively early. ... Nobody actually knows the future." Well, in terms of how Paul's future might come to pass, this week there was some intensified coverage of Paul's major millionaire backer (all the cool presidential aspirants have them!), Peter Thiel -- of PayPal and Facebook fame. Thiel is the primary financial underwriter of Paul's affiliated super PAC, Endorse Liberty, having provided it with $1.7 million in January. As the Atlantic's John Hudson reports, Thiel's January binge, coupled with previous donations, means that Thiel "has given the PAC $2.6 million, accounting for 76 percent of its total fundraising." Hudson goes on to explain Thiel's affinity for Paul: That the Paul campaign, well-financed but not well-received by voters, would be bankrolled by Thiel makes perfect sense. Thiel, who is openly gay and Christian, has spent his considerable wealth on a number of mainstream and unorthodox causes including the Methuselah Foundation, a research organization that seeks to extend the human lifespan to 1,000 years; the Committee to Protect Journalists; gay-rights groups such as the American Foundation for Equal Rights and GOProud; the Seasteading Institute, an organization set on building small floating countries in the middle of the sea for a "vivid, wilde-eyed dream" of a Libertarian island; and the Thiel Fellowship, which give grants of $100,000 to people under the age of 20 who drop out of school to pursue entrepreneurial projects. But while Thiel can lay claim to providing Paul with some always-welcome financial support, this week the media was all abuzz over a different strategic compact -- the one between Paul and his ostensible rival, Mitt Romney. As Amy Gardner reported at the beginning of the month, the two men have long adhered to something that combines a reality-show contestant alliance and a non-combat treaty. This week, Paul honored this arrangement by really going out and wingmanning for Romney against Rick Santorum. When Romney wanted to flip the script and paint Santorum as the faux conservative, Paul coincidentally had an ad up in Michigan making the same case: The ad comes one week before the state's primary, which, until recently, Romney had been widely expected to win. His father served as Michigan governor, and Romney has worked to play up his Michigan roots, but Santorum has surged in the state, climbing to the top of some polls there. Titled "Fake," the Paul ad highlights Santorum's support for raising the debt ceiling, his backing of the expansion of the Department of Education and his support for No Child Left Behind. It even accuses him of sending billions of dollars in aid to North Korea. And Paul was only too happy to join in the antagonism toward Santorum at this week's debate where, as Elise Foley reported, "Romney took shots at Santorum, but in many instances Paul went after him harder, questioning his leadership and small-government bona fides." Still, that often boiled down to Paul going after Santorum, and almost never attacking Romney. He dealt one blow on No Child Left Behind, former President George W. Bush's education reform bill that Santorum voted for and now opposes. "You know, politics is a team sport, folks," Santorum said. "And sometimes you've got to rally together and do something. And in this case, you know, I thought testing was -- and finding out how bad the problem was wasn't a bad idea." That led Paul to question Santorum's leadership and to insist he is a Washington insider, a message candidates have been trying to pin on Santorum as his campaign gains steam. "He calls it a team sport," Paul said of Santorum. "He has to go along to get along and that's the way the team plays. But that's what the problem is with Washington. That's what's been going on for so long." It's an argument that only Paul is in the position to make -- after all, Romney was subject to criticism of his own for nagging Santorum over earmarks when Romney himself sought a "team effort" from GOP allies in Congress to deliver him some favorable earmarks for the Winter Olympics. But now that Paul's managed to put Santorum in a bind over his record of "team playing," Romney's ended up with a stronger hand. Santorum's camp was left grousing after the debate Thursday night: Said Santorum: "You have to ask Congressman Paul and Gov. Romney what they've got going together. Their commercials look a lot alike, and so do their attacks." [...] Said strategist John Brabender: "Clearly there is a tag-team strategy between Ron Paul and Mitt Romney. There've been 20 debates, right? Why don't you go back and see how many times Ron Paul has ever criticized anything Mitt Romney has done." Of course, as Jennifer Rubin points out, there might be too much of a big deal being made about a Romney-Paul alliance, when the reality is that Paul's larger motivation might simply be the fact that the Santorum campaign and the candidate himself have routinely treated him very shabbily. That's a cause that Paul's numerous fans are only too happy to take up. Apparently, the Paul enthusiasts are even unhappy with the quality of the handshake that Santorum offered Paul after the debate.
It seems clear now that Newt Gingrich's inability to garner momentum after his win in South Carolina -- which inevitably ceded the role of Mitt Romney's Chief Antagonist to Rick Santorum -- has really dealt him a tremendous setback. With the pageant days of January in the rear-view mirror, and the media entourages and embeds of that period largely withdrawn, the Romney-Santorum matchup has gotten the lion's share of attention. Ron Paul may be in the fortunate position of running a sub rosa delegate strategy that does not depend on a lot of constant attention, but Gingrich has only really thrived while he's had the cameras on him. And that was never more clear than it was this week, when it took a debate to remind people that Gingrich was still sort of running. Prior to the four-way match-up in Mesa, Arizona, there were only two big takeaways on the state of the Gingrich campaign. First and foremost, he's up to his eye-teeth in debt. And second, his biggest opportunity to take home some additional delegates is probably in his home state of Georgia. There, his lead is narrowing. And there's almost no getting around the expectations game in Georgia, especially with Mitt Romney facing a similar challenge in Michigan, one of his many "home states." Gingrich was pressed on this matter on "Fox News Sunday" by Chris Wallace, and Gingrich allowed that anyone losing their home state would be in a tough spot: "If any of the three of us lose our home state ... you have a very, very badly weakened candidacy." That said, Gingrich said that losing Georgia wouldn't necessarily cause him to drop out himself, saying, "Given the chaos of this race, I'm not willing to say anything. I think it's extraordinarily important to win your home state." Which leaves one to speculate: what would it take? Gingrich's basic case -- that he is the authentic conservative to Mitt Romney's mushy moderate -- continues to be complicated by the existence of Rick Santorum. As Dave Weigel points out, you could see that playing out in Arizona, where Gingrich's super PAC was working to make that case: Winning Our Future, the Adelson-funded pro-Gingrich Super PAC, bought 30 seconds for a commercial that listed the names of lame moderates foisted upon Republican voters. "Will we let the establishment pick our nominee again? They gave us Bob Dole." BOOM. "They gave us John McCain." BOOM. The ad ended with ... no mention whatsoever of Newt Gingrich. If I wasn't a Super PAC fanboy, I would have pegged it as a Santorum ad. Going into Arizona's debate, the key strategy for Gingrich, as reported by the New York Times, was to get clear of his recent debate failures and just "let Newt be Newt": In the debate on Wednesday in Mesa, Ariz., the first in nearly a month, Mr. Gingrich will not be center stage. His advisers believe that will allow him to remain unscathed while Rick Santorum, the current leader in national polls, and Mitt Romney do battle. "They can be the Chihuahuas, and he can be Churchill," said Kellyanne Conway, a senior adviser to Mr. Gingrich. But that debate wasn't quite the dogfight that Newt's circle had envisioned. While Newt's performance wasn't deemed a failure, it wasn't anything like a "game changer" -- to use that loathed term. While Gingrich, at times, mounted effective attacks on Romney -- dinging him for his stances on contraception and earmarks -- his most memorable moment was accusing President Barack Obama of supporting "infanticide" (and the media for not covering it), which really only resurrected a far-flung criticism from the 2008 campaign's loony fringe that was a "stretch" then and now. Brad Phillips of Mr. Media Training hit it on the nose: "Speaker Gingrich had a decent night tonight, but didn't fundamentally do anything to help resurrect his flagging campaign." Most of the night's action was between Santorum and the Romney-Paul team-up, dedicated to taking Santorum down. Gingrich suffered, in the short term, from being on the outside of that battle. But his long-term goal at this point seems to be to get back to being his old "combative" self, and continue to try to punish Romney for his crimes against conservatism. Which is all well and good, but the debate season -- and those chances to actually engage Romney in televised combat -- is basically over now. And Gingrich still actually needs to win some states. That means Gingrich is in something of an ironic position: He has to root for the field to continue to fall into disarray, which means he has to hope Rick Santorum wins in Michigan. (Unfortunately, Gingrich's super PAC sugar-daddy Sheldon Adelson, is calling plays from a different playbook.)
Well, after months and months of attempting to get a seat at the table with his fellow GOP contestants and being shown short shrift by the organizers of some 20-odd debates, Buddy Roemer has up and followed in Gary Johnson's footsteps, abandoning the Republican party and electing to pursue his presidential hopes as a third-party candidate. The only question is: What third party wants to take him? Roemer has not, at this point, ruled out the possibility of running under the banner of Americans Elect. However, the likelihood of that organization -- essentially a secretive cabal of hedge fund managers and aristocratic "centrist" fops -- actually allowing the anti-corporate/anti-corruption candidate to serve as their standard bearer is pretty far-fetched. So Roemer is smartly hedging his bets by signing on to wear the mantle of the Reform Party: Tomorrow, I will formally end my bid for the GOP nomination for President of the United States. As the GOP and the networks host debate number twenty-something this evening, they have once again turned their backs on the democratic process by choosing to exclude a former Governor and Congressman. I have decided to take my campaign directly to the American people by declaring my candidacy for Americans Elect. Also, after many discussions with The Reform Party, I am excited to announce my intentions of seeking their nomination. It is time to heal our nation and build a coalition of Americans who are fed up with the status quo and the partisan gridlock that infects Washington. Together, we will take on the special-interests that control our leaders and end the corruptive influence of money in politics so we can focus on America's top priority -- jobs. The Reform Party -- remember those guys? They rose to prominence back in the '90s when Ross Perot mounted his insurgent bid for the White House. And that's about where they peaked. Quick, can anyone name the person who ran under the Reform Party banner in 2008? (This is not a trick question: somebody actually did.) Of course, it's by no means a done deal that Roemer will emerge as the Reform Party's nominee, as there are two other declared candidates: fitness guru Andre Barnett and economist Dick McCormick. But let's face it, Roemer's finally found himself in a group of contenders among whom he has the highest profile. And the Reform Party has extended Roemer a warm welcome in return: This has been a long time coming! The GOP virtually shunned Gov. Roemer this entire primary debate season, not inviting him to any of that party's debates for dubious reasons, such as he had not raised enough money (since when is that a legitimate criterion?) and did not rank high enough in the polls (though at one time he out-polled Texas Gov. Rick Perry in New Hampshire, who was invited to the debate in that state, and every other debate while he was running). Could it be that because Gov. Roemer refuses to take PAC money or donations over $100, he would expose the other GOP nominees (and President Obama) as political sellouts? Whatever the reason, the GOP ignored Gov. Roemer, and very wisely, he has moved on. Much like Ronald Reagan, when asked why he had left the Democrats to join the Republicans responded "I didn't leave the Democrats, they left me," the Republicans have left Gov. Roemer - and many, many others - and the Democrats have too, for that matter. The Reform Party is the ideal home for Gov. Roemer, because its platform so closely mirrors his own. And Roemer seemed to take some delight in making a dramatic exit from the GOP fray: "Last night the Republicans held their 23rd television debate. I have not been invited to a single one," said Roemer. "I am the only candidate who has been shut out by the Republican Party. Well, we're on a mission to take this country back from the powerful special interests. We are prepared to challenge both parties. Both parties are joined at the bill fold, they are just alike, they are addicted to money." Well, Gary Johnson and Fred Karger might take issue with Roemer's contention that he was the only candidate "shut out by the Republican Party," but we'll let that go. One thing, though, that we'll truly miss is Roemer's famously witty live-tweets of the GOP debates -- and he was just starting to get better known for those comedic efforts as well. Nevertheless, the Reform Party has gotten their hands on a commodity that they haven't had in a while: a camera-ready, quippy candidate whom a few people have actually heard of. What remains to be seen, of course, is whether Roemer might be able to configure the Reform Party as a vehicle for his "get the money out of politics" movement. He'll have to secure that nomination first.
Right now, no one is more dialed in to what's going on in Gary Johnson's Libertarian Party bid than Reason's Mike Riggs, who continues to provide intimate coverage of Johnson. And Johnson, in a refreshing display of frankness that's not often found in the spin-mad world of presidential politics, continues to reveal himself and speak with candor on the challenges he faces as he tries to earn the Libertarian Party's nomination and -- he hopes -- a place on the stage for this fall's general election debates. In the meantime, Riggs finds Johnson lamenting the fact that marijuana reform money isn't flowing his way and looking for a way to make his call for spending cuts stand out: "'How do you differ from Ron Paul? Ron Paul's proposing a $1 trillion reduction!' people say. Well, I'm proposing a $1.4 trillion reduction." Johnson seldom puts it that way, though. Instead he calls it a 43 percent cut in government spending. Over dinner, I asked Johnson how to make that message...sexier. "How do you?" he replied. "We talk about this all the time. That's kind of the crux. It's not a sexy message, but if we don't cut Medicare by 43 percent, there's not gonna be any Medicare." Reducing the size and scope of government is not a new mantra for Johnson. He vetoed bills with abandon while governor and left New Mexico with a budget surplus. His struggle to get traction at the national level occasionally makes him wonder what's changed. "I mean, how did I get elected in New Mexico in the first place? And get re-elected? I mean, I'm questioning that these days. How did that happen?" Despite Johnson's self doubt, support continues to trickle in. This week, GOProud's Chairman Christopher Barron became Johnson's most high-profile endorser when he took to the pages of the Daily Caller and declared himself to be done with what he's seen so far during the campaign season: The Republican primary fight has become a train wreck in slow motion. Instead of talking about fundamental reform, we are left to hear fighting over contraception and gay marriage. Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum have waged a campaign over the last few weeks that has been shameful and politically tone deaf. The Democrats want a culture war because they can't defend President Obama's failed record on jobs and the economy, and it seems like the Republican Party is hell-bent on giving them a culture warrior or at least -- in the case of Romney -- one who plays one on TV. Well, this where I get off. The truth is everything I said about Gary Johnson when I endorsed him in December is still true today. [...] Governor Johnson also is running a campaign that his supporters can be proud of. Unlike the GOP front-runners, he isn't demonizing gay people or talking about the dangers of contraception, nor does he believe the state should have the power to criminalize consensual sex between adults. And we've noticed a trend at the grassroot level as well -- look for Examiner newspapers that are specifically branded as "Libertarian Examiner" to continue to voice support for Johnson's bid at the local level. We've noticed that there seems to be some pro-Johnson editorials coming out of this particular niche on a weekly basis. This week, Craig Schlesinger of the Nashville Libertarian Examiner gave Johnson some timely kudos for his stance on religious freedom. In other news, Gary Johnson would apparently be very into Jennifer Aniston joining up as his running mate, for some reason.
Fred Karger continues to go after votes in Michigan, and Michigan, at the very least, is paying attention. Kathleen Gray of the Detroit Free Press caught up with the long-shot hopeful, who's hoping to bridge the gap between the GOP and the LGBT community and who has taken to courting Obama voters as a means of garnering some support: "I know it's a long shot," Karger said. He's hoping to blunt gay bashing, saying it's "driving away a generation of people" from the GOP. At MSU, he appealed to supporters of Obama to vote for him because Obama is unopposed. "It's a little unethical," he said. "But they can make history and send a message." Karger expanded on this in an interview with WMUK radio: Romney, he said, "is a disappointment" because he held more moderate views on gay rights. Rick Santorum, a vocal opponent of gay rights, is damaging the entire party. "He is driving hundreds of thousands if not millions of people from the Republican party," Karger said. "He is doing tremendous damage to get elected." And Karger's highest profile appearance came on the "Rachel Maddow Show," where he praised Dick Cheney for supporting marriage equality: "Dick Cheney stood up to George W. Bush in 2004, and opposed that federal marriage amendment. So he's always been a hero in the movement ... and now he's taken it up a notch and doing some lobbying, and I applaud him for that." And despite the fact President Obama is still "evolving" on the issue of marriage equality (whatever that means!), Karger allows that the work the Obama administration has done in the area of gay rights are an asset he could, and should, run on. (Though he also said that he'd give Obama a "C+" grade on the matter.)
President Obama spent the bulk of the week stumping for tax reform -- the basic thrust is that he's proposing cutting the corporate tax rate to 28 percent and coupling it with the closure of loopholes that encourage outsourcing. It's another campaign year plan that probably won't come to fruition, because this is a campaign year. As Brian Beutler reports: The political implications of the push will be complicated. Obama is effectively proposing to lower the tax burden on most businesses but to pay for it by ending entrenched benefits for particularly powerful interests. That's an approach Republicans have claimed to support (though they'd like to lower rates further, and diminish the amount of revenue the government takes from businesses). But they'll be hard pressed to support an Obama initiative in an election year. And if the fight plays out a certain way, Republicans may have to choose between their reputations as tax cutters and their overarching desire to end Obama's presidency. Administration officials are hopeful that Obama's growing popularity and a steady economic recovery will force Republicans to work with him on this and other historically bipartisan issues. But if Republicans balk, the whole issue will likely be pushed off until after the November election. (SPOILER ALERT: Republicans will balk. The End.) It's nevertheless important for Obama to keep up his populist streak on the campaign trail (though it's not clear what is "populist" about recruiting political insiders and celebrities to be your campaign's national co-chairs). Of course, the larger story for Team Obama Re-Elect is all the number-watching. From week-to-week, the game shifts from positive news to worrisome indicators so quickly that it's a wonder the entire campaign isn't loaded up on Cymbalta, 24/7. Last week, things were sort of looking up for the incumbent: his swing state numbers were up, his head-to-heads were in great shape, and his 2008 voter coalition seemed to coming back home. But man, last week was so seven days ago! This week, Obama still looks good head-to-head, but the numbers have tightened considerably. And while the Dow Jones has ascended to recent heights and the hopeful signs of recovery can still be occasionally viewed in the wild, there's a problem -- Voters are getting more optimistic, but are not yet inclined to give Obama the credit: According to the latest Gallup-USA Today poll, President Obama's favorable rating is 50 percent, "higher than the GOP presidential contenders but lower than every nominee in the past five presidential contests at this point except Republican Bob Dole, who lost in 1996," USA Today writes. Fifty percent said Obama's presidency has been a failure while 44 percent said they see it as a success. At the same time, three-to-one answered that the economy is expanding, and 60 percent said it will be growing a year from now. In a Quinnipiac poll released Thursday, 54 percent said they believe the economy is getting better, a marked jump from the 28 percent who said so in September. But according to the same poll, the president's approval rating has risen from only 44 percent in November to 45 percent now. If the economy improves without improving Obama's standing (or at least being tied to it), then the incumbent faces a set of difficult election year arguments. It may be, as Democratic pollster Celinda Lake contends, a simple "lag effect." But the upcoming challenge -- for both the economy and Obama's reelection hopes -- is the possibility of mounting gas prices and the politics that come with that. But the bottom line is: The fact that 50 percent of the country currently see Obama's first term as a failure is not good. (Perhaps Andrew Sullivan will pen a piece that details how this large portion of critical Americans are simply "dumb.")
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