But as important as the win in Illinois was for cementing Team Romney's delegate realities, the most critical turn in the race wouldn't come until Wednesday, when Jeb Bush -- a critical member of the still-dreamed about group of GOP contenders that never were -- offered Mitt Romney his endorsement, and bestowed a new blessing from the Republican establishment. Bush personally delivered the news to Romney and his trusted aide, Eric Fehrnstrom.
"Well, Jeb, we're very glad to have your support! Ha. Ha." said Romney. "I think your endorsement could be a real GAME CHANGE."
"What are you doing there?" a perplexed Bush asked.
"What do you mean?"
"The way you said 'Game Change,' right there, like you were italicizing it, or something?"
"Oh!" said Romney, "That was nothing. Ha."
"And then you did, like, this take to an imaginary camera, or something?"
"Ha. Don't worry about it, Jeb!" Romney took a thoughtful pause. "Jeb Bush, eh? Is that French-Canadian, or something?"
"Not really," replied Bush. "I think we're from Texas? Anyway, I wanted you to see the draft of the statement I'll be giving out concerning this endorsement."
Fehrnstrom looked it over, and was immediately hit in his psychic solar plexus by what he read.
"I hate to be a nudge, here, Jeb. But the language, here ..." Ferhnstrom trailed off.
"What's wrong with it?" asked Bush.
Fehrnstrom cleared his throat and dove in. "Well, it's not too terribly enthusiastic, is it? You talk about how it's time to unify the party and come together around -- and I quote -- 'the guy who is basically going to win, anyway.'"
"I think that if you read on, you'll see I'm very full-throated in support for your candidate," countered Bush.
"Well, I'll tell you, Jeb, I'm reading further down, and I come to this section which you've titled, 'Making The Best Of It.'"
"Right! See. I call your candidate 'the best.'"
"And there's the way you keep saying 'your candidate,' that sort of troubles me," Fehrnstrom said, adding, "And I see the second page is just ten paragraphs of how great a vice president Marco Rubio would be."
"Gotta think about the long game, Eric."
"It's just that you seem boundlessly enthusiastic about Marco, and not so much into Mitt."
"Eric, I promise you, I am very excited about this endorsement."
"Jeb, everywhere Marco Rubio's name appears in your draft, it's written in red ink," Fehrnstrom said, pointedly. "And instead of the o's in his name, you've drawn hearts."
"I think you're reading into it," Jeb replied.
At this point, Romney interjected. "Let's not turn this into a thing, Eric. Here let me see it." Fehrnstrom handed him the draft statement, which Mitt hefted in the air and studied meticulously.
"Jeb," Romney enthused, "This is great. Just the right weight for an endorsement. We thank you."
"I'm glad to hear it," said Bush, relieved. "And look, guys, you can keep your own counsel on who your running mate will be. I just think that Marco is a solid conservative, a good spokesman for the party, and he could be a real game change for your ticket."
Romney immediately froze, mugging for an unseen eye offstage.
"You're doing it again."
The above passage, which we have imagined for "Game Change 2: The Changening" (the sequel to "Game Change," a book of invented scenes about the 2008 campaign), perfectly encapsulates the state of the race this week. Mitt Romney continues to win the slog through the primaries, and continues to accrue the delegates necessary to win the nomination.
But even as Romney wends his way to almost certain triumph, his favorable ratings continue to submerge. He's acceptable, but not particularly well-liked. The brain likes his odds in November, but the heart can't get very pitter-pattery about it. And Jeb's endorsement sort of underscores this. What reason does he cite for endorsing Romney? He leads with this: "Primary elections have been held in thirty-four states." Translation: "This is pretty much going to happen, so, meh ... I guess."
Meanwhile, the candidate that appeals most to the conservative heart, Rick Santorum, may be growing in the estimation of voters, but -- well ... primary elections have been held in thirty-four states, you know? Santorum may have peaked at the right time to become Romney's main co-competitor, but it doesn't look like he did it early enough to actually win. With time running out and opportunities drying up, the Santorum campaign released its own version of delegate math in an effort to convince the media of his viability. But it was pretty clear, upon a cursory examination, that the Santorum team's logic was mostly constructed from gossamer and the daydreams of kittens.
A lot of what could undermine Santorum's reasoning played out in Missouri, where Mitt Romney's alliance with Ron Paul managed to rob Santorum of delegates that he would have liked to have out of a state he won. But Santorum's cash-strapped campaign had trouble competing with Romney and Paul's well-oiled machines. And yet! The mere fact that Romney needed help from Paul only proved what Santorum's been saying all along -- that Romney's a weak candidate who's growing weaker and who can't earn the nomination on his own merits.
But there's nothing to be done but look ahead. Romney sees a slew of eminently winnable states on April 24th as his next best chance to clear the race of the dead weight. Santorum looks ahead to a more immediate contest in Louisiana, where he hopes a big popular vote win will play louder than an almost certain tiny share of the delegates. And Newt Gingrich? He's looking all the way ahead to Tampa, where he hopes he can tear everyone's hopes asunder with his knack for sowing discord. That's where we are.
Elsewhere, Gingrich tried to feud with a film star, Gary Johnson outlined some bold promises, Rick Santorum got rooked by the media, a pair of long-shots won consolation prizes in Puerto Rico, and the Romney camp said something it might regret -- and we're not referring to "Etch a Sketch." For all your campaign news and notes, please feel free to enter the Speculatron for the week of March 23, 2012.
Mitt Romney's week began with some big primary victories, first in Puerto Rico, and then in Illinois --- where he blew out the upset-minded Rick Santorum. Once again, he had seized the mantle of inevitability and bent the media narrative back into his favor. Now...all he had to do was NOT MESS THIS UP and everything would be fine and -- wait! What is top Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom saying over there? Hopefully not something inexplicably stupid! JOHN FUGELSANG: Good morning, sir. It's fair to say that John McCain was considerably a more moderate candidate than the ones that Governor Romney faces now. Is there a concern that the pressure from Santorum and Gingrich might force the governor to attach so far to the right it would hurt him with moderate voters in the general election? FEHRNSTROM: Well, I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes. It's almost like an Etch a Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and we start all over again. And with that, the week of Etch a Sketch began. And with this excellent metaphor for Romney's well-known ability to switch his positions at a moment's notice and demonstrate his fungible convictions on command, his opponents seized on it. The DNC put out a video ridiculing him. Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum immediately began waving Etch a Sketches around. Fehrnstrom's head was called for. And Romney's campaign was forced to put out a lame walkback that no one really believed. Evan McMorris-Santoro noted that this was sort of a trend -- Romney following up big primary wins with odd statements and unforced errors that helped steel the hopes of his opponents. And Jonathan Chait cited Fehrnstrom's gaffe as another example of the Romney campaign's inability to "hide its cynicism." Your Speculatron, however, was not convinced that the Etch a Sketch moment, or Romney's failure to keep his cynical take on the election under wraps, was going to be too terribly costly. On that score, there was some agreement. Kevin Drum noted that most of conservativeland was pretty mute on the matter: Here's the interesting thing about this comment. It's provoked loads of mockery from liberals. It's provoked a bunch of attacks from the other candidates. But among the conservative commentariat, it's mostly just been sighs. I haven't seen much outrage along the lines of "This just goes to show what a fake Romney is." It's mostly been disbelief that Fehrnstrom could say something so dumb; wan defenses that he wasn't really saying anything we didn't know already; and explanations that obviously Fehrnstrom was talking about campaign mechanics, not issues. And as far as Romney gaffes go, Etch a Sketch may not have been the worst. Some time after Fehrnstrom's remarks took over the world, Romney appeared at a town hall meeting in Maryland, where he praised the Bush-era bailouts that are largely hated in conservative circles. Chait remarked: [T]he Wall Street bailout is actually a huge political liability for Obama because it's incredibly unpopular and most Americans think Obama, not Bush, signed it. So having Romney run around reminding people that Bush bailed out Wall Street is actually Obama's prayer answered. Jamelle Bouie added his own history-backed historical skepticism: If the economy continues to improve, then the next best option for Romney--shorting of abandoning an economic message altogether--is to minimize the degree to which President Obama is responsible for the recovery, or anything else. This is something of a time-honored strategy for challengers who find themselves in unfavorable territory. In 1996, for example, Bob Dole gave Ronald Reagan credit for the improving economy... [...] Of course, as Dole demonstrates, while other candidates have tried this strategy, it hasn't ever worked. If the economy sees substantial improvement this year, voters will reward the president with another term, regardless of how much Romney tries to minimize Obama's role in the recovery. This is basically what Romney does now: he takes the good and takes the bad and eats them both and those are the facts of life in the 2012 primary. He's getting more super PAC support, but he's earning more scrutiny. He received Jeb Bush's endorsement, but it was hardly glowing -- more like, "Okay, since this guy is going to win, I'mma get behind him." (It also may have come with a price tag, in that Jeb Bush seems to be more enthusiastic about Marco Rubio becoming Vice President than he is about Romney. And while Romney continues to bring more self-described conservatives to his side (as well as beating away a largely apathetic Tea Party threat to "stop" him), and has the enthusiastic support of Matt Drudge, significant holes in his support remain. Romney remains weak with evangelicals, is staring into a cavernous gender gap, and he's still not done enough to keep Bill Kristol from going all emo. But Romney's path to 1,144 delegates is nevertheless the only one left that makes much sense. So he remains in attack mode. He's been hitting Rick Santorum for being the unwitting ally of Obama. And he's attacking Obama as well -- though it's unclear what good he's doing by reminding everybody that Obama's spent copious amounts of time studying the Constitution. More importantly, Romney is adapting to the changing circumstances in the nation's economic situation. As Kevin Drum wrote: "Instead of the economy sucks and it's Obama's fault, it had morphed into the economy's recovering but it would be recovering even faster if not for Obama." This is probably his best defense against Santorum at the moment, as Santorum has already positioned himself as the conservative choice in an America that's headed toward recovery. Of course, Romney will probably have to leave out a portion of that post-recovery argument that Newt Gingrich has made the centerpiece of his campaign -- the high price of gas. Newt can get away with hammering on that (and making ridiculous promises about the low prices he'd deliver) -- but it's a third rail for Romney, who has encouraged high gas prices (and raised the gas tax himself to get them).
Rick Santorum fared far worse in this week's primaries than the guy he was trying to put a move on. Romney beat him very badly in Puerto Rico, which was sort of to be expected considering he'd long locked up the endorsement of Puerto Rico's governor Luis Fortuño, and benefited from Santorum's insistence that people on the already-English proficient island territory learn English if they wanted to become a state. Of course, the die being cast for Romney early on in Puerto Rico, you might expect that Santorum would have opted to return to Illinois and attempt to make a game of it, but he instead opted to chillax in Puerto Rico for extra days instead. So, none of the results of the week should have been all that surprising. What was mildly surprising was Santorum's re-emergence after the dust had settled in Illinois, with a new and novel way of looking at the delegate math. To his campaign's reckoning, he wasn't that far behind Romney. Oh, really? Sure, the Santorum campaign said! All you have to do is imagine that Florida and Arizona will give up being winner-take-all states, for some reason, and that Santorum will snag a lot of the unbound delegates out of the states that have already had contests, and then squint at the math just so, and maybe wave your hands in front of your face for a few minutes until you're lightheaded and ready to pass out, then, VOILA! NEW DELEGATE MATH! Of course, the RNC responded by saying that it did not expect Florida and Arizona to revert to proportional allocation any time soon. And the Romney/Paul team-up went to Missouri and said, "HEY RICK, WE ARE UP IN UR CAUCUSES STEALIN UR DOODZ." And finally, Rick Klein of ABC News said, no-no, what Santorum needs, point blank, is an upset win in a big state in which Romney is currently favored, the end. And actually, Santorum may need more than that. While he is expected to do quite well in the upcoming contest in Louisiana and his home state of Pennsylvania, those wins may end up yielding Santorum considerably fewer delegates than he currently expects. Santorum needs to not just win Louisiana, he needs to hold Romney to under 25 percent of the vote, otherwise his delegate win will be miniscule. (Plus, 26 of the delegates out of Louisiana won't be bound in the primary.) And in Pennsylvania, Santorum's inability to get full slates of delegates in place is going to continue to cost him: The lack of an early organization has haunted Santorum all year. In state after state, whether he would have won or lost the popular vote, he hasn't qualified for all the delegates available... But it's particularly embarrassing for Santorum that in Pennsylvania, a state he represented in Congress for 16 years, he failed to utilize his connections to flush the ballots with old friends and supporters. Santorum also took a round of bad press when he said, "I don't care what the unemployment rate is gonna be. It doesn't matter to me." This was reported on as if it were a gaffe or a lack of sensitivity, but if you ask us (or Dan Amira or Dave Weigel), Santorum got rooked here. He's long been making the argument that if the unemployment crisis continues to improve, it's Romney's problem, because Mitt's whole raison d'etre is that he's the economic manager who can solve unemployment. Santorum -- who has long been campaigning on restoring the manfacturing sector, remember! -- has countered that by saying that if recovery comes to fruition, wonderful! But at the end of the day, he's the guy who can make convincing conservative policy arguments in a time where the economy is stronger. It's not that he doesn't care about unemployment -- it's that he's not exclusively focused on it as the reason to run for office. Reporters should have known better! Instead, Santorum got cheap-shotted. The folks at 1115.org have done a very fine job explaining this even more deeply: What is lost in scandalization is a critical evaluation of what Santorum is doing right. If I can say anything positive about Santorum, it is that he is a strong and credible embodiment of a vocal and powerful intellectual wing of republicanism. More so, in many ways he is actually unapologetically principaled. For instance, Santorum has been the only candidate that is actively rejecting the widespread narrative that this presidential election is about jobs. Time and time again he has rightly asserted that the president has an extremely limited ability to create jobs, and any suggestion otherwise is fundamentally contradictory to conservative assumptions about how the economy operates. Not only is this an impressive display of disregard for populist rhetoric in favor for anti-Keneysian ideological coherence, it is also true. While virtually everyone else in American politics is touting their ability to create jobs, Santorum is the only one (other than Ron Paul) who rejects the rhetoric and says what everyone knows to be true. Presidents have almost no ability to create jobs. Ezra Klein's piece on this issue outlines how both liberal and conservative economists alike agree. One could reasonably argue that the president's overall stewardship over the country as a whole and provide for an environment and conditions which are conducive to economic/job growth, however the results of this would be seen long after their term in office. And, if you're really really conservative, you probably don't even have confidence in stimulus as a tool to boost aggregate demand! The idea that presidents can have massive short to medium term impacts on the economy is the bogus-claim cousin to the claims that Obama's policies have increased gas prices. It is just less obvious. Naturally, the same argument has been made to excuse Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom's "Etch a Sketch" line, but we don't think the same rule applies. By the way! Neither does Santorum, for what it's worth.
As Jonathan Martin and Ginger Gibson noted this week, Newt Gingrich is running what amounts to "two campaigns" at the moment. In the first, he and his wife Callista are on a merry tour of the United States, bringing the people the big ideas they didn't know they even wanted amid "guided tours of zoos and museums, Friday lunch at New Orleans' Galatoire's and detours off the trail to take in Washington's early-blooming cherry blossoms and a long French dinner in Adams-Morgan." In the second campaign...well, that's where everything else lives, like grim realities and dwindling prospects and not a lot of delegates. Oh! And lest we forget, lots and lots and lots of debt. All of which undermines the opportunities that are left to turn this campaign around. And yet on sashays Gingrich, as steeled as ever by his acute lack of self-awareness. The American Prospect's Paul Waldman, riffing on the Martin/Gibson piece, concludes that Gingrich is nevertheless in the springtime of his voodoo: Even Newt, who is utterly convinced of his world-historical importance, knows this thing is lost. Even if he's not ready to admit it to himself, at this point he's just wandering about the country, fitting in a few speeches between trips to the zoo. His campaign is basically broke, his staffers are surreptitiously reaching out to their friends on the Romney campaign just to let them know that they're available once the general election staff-up comes, and even his voters are probably losing interest. But hey, why pack up his bags now? There are more zoos to visit, and even though Kansas already held its caucuses, it might be worth another trip there to check out the world's largest ball of twine. And to challenge that ball of twine to a Lincoln-Douglas debate, no doubt! Of course, no man is perfect, and this week, there were certain events that managed to shake Gingrich's sense of destiny and bring out his inner whiner. One involved Robert DeNiro, who made a joke about America not being ready for a "white First Lady," forcing Gingrich to pretend to be offended. The other, of course, was the Illinois primary, which failed to provide his listing candidacy with succor. And so, Gingrich complained that even though Romney had technically "won," the important thing was that he was being outspent and no one was paying attention to his Newty-Tooty $2.50 per gallon gas fantasia, and it JUST WASN'T RIGHT. Gingrich has been left with not much else to do, other than to set his sights on Tampa and try to cause a contested convention with his collection of delegates and his remaining stamina. He claims to be convinced that the convention could change everything...that the GOP could even end up with "a series of brand new players." And he's been reading up on how to stoke chaos, looking for historical examples from which to draw inspiration. Unfortunately for Gingrich, there are some RNC rules he might want to bone up on, instead: But an RNC rule stipulating that candidates seeking the nomination must have won a plurality of votes in at least five states could complicate Gingrich's already far-fetched strategy. RNC rule No. 40 states: "Nominations(b) Each candidate for nomination for President of the United States and Vice President of the United States shall demonstrate the support of a plurality of the delegates from each of five (5) or more states, severally, prior to the presentation of the name of that candidate for nomination." Of course, in reality, it's extremely unlikely that Gingrich is going to pick up three more states. But Newt Gingrich is America's first post-reality candidate, capable of bending fortune and circumstance to his will and shaping his own destiny. You'll see. (SPOILER ALERT: No you won't.)
Last week, the last media embed that had been keeping up with Paul's campaign was called home, leaving the Paul campaign without a whole lot of media coverage. As David Weigel points out, it wasn't like the media was going to end up missing much: But what is the hated MSM ignoring? In the last week the Paul campaign has held two public events -- a town hall in Columbia, Missouri, and a town hall in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. Both are college towns, which makes a good deal of sense for Paul. But that's it. The next Paul appearance on the calendar is a Tuesday night Late Show interview. The last statement from the campaign, a comment on the CBO, was released Friday. Contrast that with Rick Santorum's campaign, which will cross off four public events today alone in Illinois. If Paul has a problem these days, it's not with the media...it's with his war chest. Turns out that this past February, Paul's campaign spent more money than it took in. As Dave Levinthal reports, Paul is currently "bleeding cash" and now has "less cash on hand than during any other point this election cycle." Time for a moneybomb, maybe? Still, it's too bad that there weren't more assets on the ground with the Paul campaign, because this was the week that one long-discussed aspect of Paul's candidacy finally got interesting: his "alliance" with the front-running Mitt Romney, which showed what it is capable of doing in Missouri. As you may recall, Rick Santorum won that state's non-binding primary about a month ago. But as The Daily Beast's Ben Jacobs reported, Missouri's rules for binding delegates "are uniquely confusing and uniquely prone to exploitation by a well-organized campaign," and the Paul campaign, being well-organized, "stepped into the void left by Santorum's underwhelming operation." The result? Santorum ended up being "shut out from receiving delegates at some of the local caucuses that occurred over the weekend after Romney and Paul supporters combined to advance their own slate of delegates." But, like all of Romney's rivals, Paul is eyeing the possibility that a contested convention might provide some opportunities. In a guest spot on Jay Leno's show, Paul explained that if the nomination remained up in the air in August, he might be able to win the backing of delegates: "The second go-around, they can go with their conscience...then, I believe, we'll get a lot of the votes." (He also declared, in that interview, that Secret Service protection amounts to a to-be-abhored "welfare" program. Which is neat!) Of course, for someone who has a mistrust of government and a dislike of welfare, Paul is one of the best at using government as a means of keeping his family enriched. A study by the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington measuring the nepotism of legislators found that Paul was one of the "top five representatives paying the most money in salaries or fees to family members." Six members of his family had received $304,599. So there's some government expenditures that Paul is happy to endorse, it seems.
Like Fred Karger, Buddy Roemer did better in Puerto Rico then he has in any other primary contest so far this cycle, and like Karger, Roemner can claim to have done better than a couple of the GOP candidates who have been invited to the debates and are still considered contenders. In Roemer's case, he managed to beat Newt Gingrich: Former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer finished third -- behind only former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, and ahead of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and with nearly twice as many votes as Texas Rep. Ron Paul. In fact, Roemer, without spending a penny or any time in the island commonwealth, trailed Santorum, who spent two crucial days last week campaigning there, by less than six percentage points, while Santorum trailed Romney by nearly 75 percentage points. Honestly, this was not a bad showing from someone who up and quit the GOP, unless you're going to be a stickler and point out that "Roemer's vote total was not monumental. He received 2,638 votes, or 2.21 percent of those cast." Fine. Be a stickler.
Fred Karger spent time and resources in Puerto Rico last week, in an effort to gain some steam midway through the primary process, and...well, he managed to beat Ron Paul, anyway! This was a good enough finish to inspire a celebratory tweet: "LOOKS [sic] WE BEAT RON PAUL IN TODAY'S PUERTO RICO PRIMARY." That was basically the positive he could take away from a fifth place finish. Still, at least Karger can say he beat someone who was still actually running for president. What's up next for Karger? Mainly, peripatetic travels across the country ahead of some of the remaining primaries where he's gotten on the ballot. A campaign email describes his future schedule: "This week we hit the ground running. Today, it's back home to California (June 5th Primary), Las Vegas (Republican Jewish Coalition Meeting), New York (Media Interviews) and Maryland (April 3rd Primary). We definitely have some Big Mo = Momentum, going into the remaining state primaries."
Gary Johnson's been taking his message to both coasts this week, campaigning in Washington State, with a trip to Connecticut planned for next week. In Washington, as is his wont, Johnson defended marijuana legalization, endorsing a measure that will be on the ballot in November seeking that very goal. In his statement of support, Johnson wrote: "We should regulate and tax it like alcohol and tobacco instead of propping up black market profiteers," Johnson explained. He also expressed concern about the thousands of marijuana arrests that occur every year. "We have better uses for our police, courts, and jails." He also won some kind of straw poll that was actually some kind of key party thingy (West Coast Libertarians, y'all!), and this apparently was sufficient to make him "Washington's choice in the Libertarian caucuses." And he's still very excited to have made his party switch -- he says that you can tell this by his T-shirts: Being Libertarian, Johnson said, is "coming out of the closet for me." A few months ago, he wore his first "Libertarian t-shirt. I've never worn a Republican t-shirt. Not once. Because I didn't want to have to defend Republican dogma." His personal stories were intended to convince the room that he's not just a fly-by-night Libertarian, that he's finally come home. It seemed to work. But Johnson's eyes remained fixed on mounting a competitive third party candidacy in November, with the hope of getting to the presidential debates. To that end, he has made three campaign promises for voters to consider: He'd "slash annual federal spending by 43 percent ... largely by reducing military/security spending and converting the largest health-care programs into block grants to states," veto any "legislation that promises to cost more than can be afforded," and ask "Congress to convert federal personal and corporate income taxes to a 'consumption tax' at a flat rate.'"
This week, the tide of the campaign seemed to largely recede from the incumbent's shores. There were a lot of reasons for that -- there was no oddball week of polling in which doomy re-elect or approval numbers and their opposites collided headlong in the newscycle, and the action at the White House largely concerned wonky budget politics and the anticipation of the Supreme Court's taking up of the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act. Yeah, Obama surrogates still slung their slang and did their thang, but it all seeemed to go down with considerably less clatter and bang. And President Obama got through a week looking largely sanguine about the goings-on. He spent part of St. Patricks Day with the crew at the Dubliner, pulling pints. And according to the FLOTUS, Obama is "always upbeat, particularly about Congress." Really? Is he thinking of the same Congress that we are? Still, campaign pressures were there. Obama came out against North Carolina's Amendment One, which would "ban same-sex marriages, civil unions, and domestic partnerships in North Carolina's Constitution." He ended up getting pressure from all sides. The Catholic bishops of Charlotte and Raleigh called Obama's decision a "grave disappointment" because he expressed some support for marriage equality. Meanwhile, Obama got criticized by Elizabeth Warren because he hasn't expressed enough support for marriage equality. Karl Rove also attempted to declare the killing of Osama bin Laden to be, you know, ho-hum! No big deal! The fact that Rove had to say some comically false things while saying so, all while sweeping his own boss' administration's lack of interest in bin Laden under the rug, is a tragicomic bungle of reasoning. (Besides, had Bush managed to get bin Laden, we'd still be cleaning up the ticker tape parade Rove would have planned today, and referring to Bush as the "Sun King" or something.) But, this presages some of the coming 2012 campaign rhetorical back-and-forth, and one should always expect it to come with a generous schmear of cognitive dissonance and "spin without limits." But Jonathan Bernstein says that there are some pitfalls to running a campaign "against a fantasy version of Obama," in which he is simultaneously an inexperienced, teleprompter-reliant "fraud" AND a "scheming, nefarious, stealth left-winger who any day now is going to unleash his radical socialist agenda." If Romney keeps up these themes after he nails down the nomination he may be surprised at how poorly they play to swing voters. And Romney might well do that if his team really has come to believe these images are damaging and if his team has lost touch with just how far out of the mainstream they really are. How much of a difference any of this might make in November is hard to say. But if spending three years in a world created by conservative media leaves Republican operatives ill equipped to see what swing voters outside that bubble really care about, it could matter. Or, it could not! After all, this is America, and in American politics you are allowed to say anything you want, whenever you want, as long as you say you said so in the cause of trying to win, and chances are, not many people will call you on it.
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