This week the attention that's mainly been lavished on covering the 2012 campaign got reoriented, slightly, in the direction of the steps of the Supreme Court, for three days of oral argument concerning what amounts to the Obama administration's chief accomplishment -- the Affordable Care Act -- and the relative constitutionality of the individual mandate that underpins its mechanics. So, chances are you already know that things did not exactly go well for the Affordable Care Act.
"Train wreck," is the term CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin used as a catch-all review of the government's lawyering, before he amended it to "plane wreck," and then went searching for the proper maritime disaster to reference if the government's lawyer, Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli, managed to somehow set the court on fire by accident, whilst arguing severability. (We would have gone with the USS Eastland, in which more than 800 people were killed while the ship was still moored.)
So the phrase of the week is definitely the term for the thing that Verrilli argued inadequately: limiting principle.
Should the Affordable Care Act fall -- and it really now depends on where the egos of Justices Roberts and Kennedy take them either in the direction of historic judicial activism or defining their own day-saving limiting principle -- the limitations placed on many of the candidates could outpace the freedoms they offer. For the Obama administration in particular, it presents the high-tension challenge of running for a second term after your biggest accomplishment has been snatched from your pocket. Will the absence of Obamacare make the Democratic base's heart grow galvanized, or more despondent? And what's the individual mandate-free Plan B that you get passed through a hostile Congress in the second term?
For Mitt Romney, not having to run for office with the similarity of Obamacare and Romneycare shining spectrally on the larger debate, having the issue essentially struck from the stage probably feels freeing at first. Nevermore will he have to parse the puny distinctions between the two health care reforms as if they were wide philosophical gulfs, or have to answer interrogations over whether he truly meant Romneycare to be a "model for the nation." But the freedom comes with a limit -- presumably someone is going to remember to ask him what he plans on replacing Obamacare with, seeing as he's running on "repeal and replace," and the SCOTUS was nice enough to do half the work. Does Mitt Romney have a second health care innovation -- a mandate-less one at that -- to pull from his Bain brain?
Rick Santorum, of course, came to Washington, stood on the steps of the Supreme Court, and declaimed his desire to see the Supreme Court strike it down. To which someone should have said, "Rick, what are you doing, man?" If the SCOTUS knocks down the Affordable Care Act around the time the primaries are wrapping, and Santorum's been successful at keeping Romney from hitting the magic number of 1,144 delegates, then he only has one argument he can make to the party's elite -- that Mitt Romney's insufficiently equipped to argue health care against the incumbent. That's his case, in its entirety. (And you have to get it right, or else he'll swear at you.) If the Supreme Court makes the matter moot, there'll be no convincing anyone that Romney can't carry the banner.
The truth is, the Supreme Court can alter the tenor and course of the race in any number of terrifying and interesting ways, and we're not really convinced that anyone has a plan for what to do if they fail to find in favor of the current law. (Well, except for Gingrich, who we expect is planning on winning the nomination by chloroforming all of delegates in Tampa and performing inception on them.) The decision could create new urgencies, fresh problems or sudden escapes from harm. It's hard to say, and harder still to know anything other than the fact that even on a week where you're put on the newscycle's back-burner, you can still get scorched.
Elsewhere on the campaign trail, Newt Gingrich took a trip to the zoo and hatched a new plan, Ron Paul stayed true to his alliances, Mitt Romney got new endorsements to go with new entanglements, Rick Santorum took a second round of bull droppings from the media, and Barack Obama's great polling numbers ... are also his campaign's new cause for alarm? To find out about all of this week's goings on, please feel free to enter the Speculatron for the week of March 30, 2012.
Mitt Romney continues to look ahead at the primary schedule and see plenty of opportunities to widen his lead over the rest of the field -- beginning next week in Wisconsin and Maryland. And he still sees in his opponents an opposition determined to deny him the nomination, even if it means no one gets it. And while Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich have big liabilities of their own, it's not like Romney doesn't have weaknesses to exploit. Begin with the main problem: No one seems to like Mitt Romney. His favorable/unfavorable ratings are crazy upside-down right now, and at the moment, independent voters and moderates are just turned off. And within the GOP base, Romney remains unloved by evangelical voters. Romney does have "superfans," but at the moment, they are significantly outnumbered by people who continue to cast votes for Rick Perry, for some reason. Here's some good news: Romney is more popular than the war in Afghanistan, which has cost a lot of money and killed a lot of people! But we imagine he's less popular than retired Senator and Old Dutch Cleanser-user Arlen Specter, who is apparently going to be doing occasional gigs as a stand-up comedian now? Which would be wonderful. And he's got bits like this: "Mitt Romney has changed positions more often than a pornographic movie queen." But look! People do like Romney, sort of. This week, he assembled an impressive team of endorsers, like Marco Rubio and former President George Herbert Walker Bush, who, like Jeb Bush last week, have spoken with resounding passion about how Romney looks like he's going to win, and everyone in the GOP should unify behind him, because it looks like that's what they're going to have to do anyway, so let's get on with it. (Fun fact: "Let's get on with it" is the last line of Jean Paul-Sartre's No Exit, which is about three frenemies who will have to spend an eternity in Hell together!) As Dave Weigel notes, whilst coining the term "Mitthusiasm": "Real Romney fans exist, but the median Romney endorser is someone who can settle." While Romney looks for an endorser who can pack a room and bring it down like Ted Kennedy did for Obama, he's getting himself into some pretty interesting entanglements. He's pretty upset that, after he (and his Bain buddies) used their IRAs as a vehicle to bring about leveraged buyouts galore, he'll now have to pay the same tax penalty as normal humans, who do not, as a matter of course, strategically lard up their retirement accounts with millions of dollars as some ornate private equity strategy. He's also getting pretty firmly associated with Paul Ryan and his "let's speed up the process by which America becomes the place where The Hunger Games takes place" budget plan -- which is awkward because his new pal Donald Trump absolutely trashed the Ryan Plan. Romney also, for reasons that are extremely difficult to fathom, seems to think that Russia is "without question our number one geopolitical foe." That's the same Russia whose military reach currently amounts to an occasional bothering of Georgia. And, of course, with the health care reform bill's fate in the hands of the Supreme Court, Romney's own entanglements with the individual mandate may swim back into view. Especially if SCOTUS scuttles the Affordable Care Act and forces Romney to explain how he'll replace it. What we've seen from the way he talks about health care indicates that he'd rather not have to talk about it -- because when he does, he's never too far away from the belief that the mandate is the sensible solution. (Actually, it's pretty clear that as much as possible, Romney would rather not talk about what he'd do as president if he can avoid it, because if he says nothing of his plans, no one can object to them.) But these are all matters for another day. Tepid though they may be, the flood of endorsements from significant GOP figures indicates that the party has finally given up their dreams of an 11th-hour savior and decided to get behind Romney and see how far he can take them. Acceptance is finally starting to happen, and there will soon come a moment where a lot of observers will get to see if they've been underrating Romney all along. And the Romney camp is starting to catch hold of the moment, and may soon decide to orient themselves permanently in opposition to Obama and start the general election with or without the nomination. Now, if Romney can just stop demonstrating how ridiculously wealthy and out of orbit he is with ordinary Americans.
Rick Santorum managed a blow-out win in Louisiana, but discovered that the prize was almost not worth having -- due to the vagaries of the way Louisiana allocates delegates ... well, let's just say it's kind of FUBAR and move on to the next thing, which is Rick Santorum's discovery that the "primary process" is actually composed of many different states with many different rules: "Here's one of the things that I can tell you I didn't know," Santorum told a small group of reporters at a breakfast in Washington on Monday. "Every single state is different. Every state. Every single state is different. It's different on how you get on the ballot. It's different on their structure, how they allocate delegates, whether they are bound, whether they are unbound, when they're committed, how long they committed, how they're selected. Our math is actually based on the reality of what's going on in the states." Great catch, we guess? It all leads one to wonder: What's Santorum's plan? Beyond hoping Florida and Arizona do something they clearly won't do and hoping that his delegate-catching campaign proves better suited to the task than the Romney and Paul campaigns. Well, he's staying in the race and will continue to batter Romney over RomneyCare. And he's determined to get to May, when the geography of the primary battlefield could turn in his favor. But this won't be easy. NBC News has already declared Wisconsin to be a "win or go home" state for Santorum. Romney might be catching up with him in Santorum's home state of Pennsylvania. And he's having real trouble keeping Catholics on his side. As he campaigns, he's making a lot of the same mistakes that have dogged his past efforts. As our own Sam Stein and Jason Cherkis report: Interviews with more than a dozen former aides, adversaries and close observers of the '06 contest ... show that important lessons -- about the need to stay on message, convey warmth to voters and appear less patronizing -- haven't been learned at all. The senator who stumbled so badly six years ago, many say, is the same candidate now locked in a hotly contested race for the Republican presidential nomination: pugnacious and unscripted, talented at retail politics, but often his own worst enemy. "As you have seen in this campaign, Rick has a tendency to get off-message and say things that he believes, but things that better wisdom would have left unsaid," former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (D) tells The Huffington Post. "The parallels [between the two races] are shockingly similar, shockingly similar." And this week he had trouble with the media, beginning the moment he said that Mitt Romney was "the worst Republican in the country to put up against Barack Obama." Immediately, the media erupted and it all came to a head when he was confronted on the matter by the New York Times' Jeff Zeleny, who asked him to explain his remark. Santorum had already explained this, saying: "On the issue of health care. That's what I was talking about, and I was very clear about talking about that. OK? ... Come on, guys, don't do this. I mean, you guys are incredible. I was talking about Obamacare, and he is the worst because he was the author of Romneycare." Santorum's explanation was the correct one, and the media were hanging him out to dry on the one occasion when he stated a standard line about Romney inartfully -- a repeat of the exceedingly dumb "gotcha" game they'd played the week before with Santorum's "I don't care about the unemployment rate," when reporters had to pretend willfully and affirmatively to forget the many times they'd heard Santorum execute the line successfully, and then act like he'd said something new and controversial because he dropped a word or left out a clause. When Zeleny forced the issue, Santorum said, "Stop lying ... quit distorting my words ... if I see it, it's bullshit." Well, in this instance, Santorum is right and Zeleny should own up either to being ignorant of Santorum's standard stump speech or to playing a dumb horse-race reporter game. For his part, Santorum actually had to explain to people that he would not, in fact, support Obama over any Republican candidate, which should have been painfully obvious to anyone who's ever heard of Rick Santorum. How much does Santorum dislike Obama? Well, let's consider the fact that he came all the way to Washington to speak out against ObamaCare at the Supreme Court, despite knowing that if he gets his way and the SCOTUS strikes down the law, he'll lose his primary argument for why he's a better presidential candidate than Romney. This does make his willingness to be Romney's vice presidential candidate awkward to the point that it must be a complete non-starter. But it's asinine to suggest that Santorum is going to encourage people to vote against Romney if he ends up in the general. Come on, political reporters! This stuff isn't that hard!
At the beginning of the week, the clearest sign that Newt Gingrich's campaign had begun its slow march around the circumference of a drain was that the candidate himself had been largely reduced to trolling the world with outrageous statements just to see if anyone would maybe throw him a little bit of attention. "Please, someone, please," Gingrich begged, "Won't somebody listen to these dog whistles?" And so he did some Obama-is-a-Muslim trolling, and some let-me-inject-myself-into-the-Trayvon-Martin story trolling. On the latter, Gingrich raised some screechy objections to President Obama pointing out the perfectly banal fact that a male child from the union of his wife and him would look African-American. Those objections were weird! And, as David Plouffe noted, more or less "reprehensible." But what else was Gingrich to do to get some attention? Of course, the lesson he seemed to have learned was that his best chance to get people to listen to him was to sit down with Piers Morgan and listen to him explain what that Robert DeNiro joke that he was bitching about meant. And talking with Piers Morgan is the media equivalent of talking to a hole in the ground. You are, as they say, off the radar. So, something had to change. And after Gingrich spent a day at the zoo, chilling with the tamarins and listening to the red wolves howl, he came up with his next big idea: he would hire those tamarins to run his campaign. Ha, just kidding! But seriously, he did decide to abruptly fire most of his staff, reduce his campaign's footprint, and redouble his efforts to do some internet stuff. It was probably his staff's fault that he wasn't more successful. Anyway, meet the new Newt Gingrich campaign: DeSantis said the former Speaker will continue to visit states with primaries, but will have a less intense campaign schedule. DeSantis promised that the campaign will be "more positive and ideas-focused," eschewing attacks on Republican rivals. The aide said the campaign will be more digital, focusing on low-cost communications tools, including informational videos, social media and the web. "We think that a big part of how we succeed is getting back to core Gingrich, which is a focus on big ideas and positive solutions - having someone who is intimately aware of Newt's policy positions and the way things are framed, and has been working with Newt for so long on the policy front. We think that having him as the campaign manager is very important." "Getting back to core Gingrich" sort of sounds like something you send a ragtag team of spelunkers to do without guaranteeing that they'll all come back alive, but never mind! Gingrich is on a war footing now, and that war, if all goes according to his master plan, will be fought at the Republican National Convention, where Gingrich is still promising to wreak havoc. To Gingrich's mind, a convention battle is really a great gift for America. It will be really good teevee, too! He even floated the idea of using the convention as a venue to stage one last debate battle-royale. This is an idea Gingrich gleaned from a nightmare he stole from a sleeping Reince Priebus. But maybe Gingrich really isn't all that interested in sowing discord at the convention! After all, this week, it came to light that Gingrich recently had a secret meeting with Mitt Romney in a New Orleans hotel room. What did they talk about? What was Gingrich's angle? Well, since Gingrich is deeply in debt while Romney is building a vacation home that comes with its own car elevator and lobbyist, we're guessing that maybe it was money? Gingrich denies this. He also denies that some sort of "deal" was reached. So who knows what was going on. It could have been the first meeting between Newt and Mitt's "Let's Gang Up On Santorum" club. On the other hand, that club might have been formed a long time ago, and Newt was just giving an update. One thing's for sure, of all the secret stuff that went down at hotel rooms in New Orleans that day, this was the least interesting. But maybe Newt just has nobody else to talk to these days. After all, his main Super PAC benefactor, Sheldon Adelson, has decided that he's done with Gingrich. The print media reporters that had been embedding with his campaign up and abandoned him as well. Even former child janitors are done listening to Gingrich. (No matter: Newt Gingrich will continue to mansplain to former child janitors that he knows a lot more about janitoring than they do.) And so, we have really reached the end of Gingrich's presidential campaign. Per Walter Shapiro: Despite Newt Gingrich's best efforts, it looks like the world is going to have to save itself. A humiliating third-place finish in Saturday's Louisiana primary should have extinguished the last embers of Gingrich's wildfire dream of a second-ballot victory at the GOP Convention. Any Newtonian fantasy about stopping Mitt Romney in Tampa requires the former House speaker to continue to accumulate convention delegates. But Gingrich--after winning a combined 9 percent of the vote in Louisiana and the prior Illinois primary--is now in the goose-egg phase of his descent into irrelevance. In the meantime, Gingrich will sell you a photo of himself for $50, as a reminder of his amazing contributions to America's modern political discourse. This may have been the entire point of his candidacy, actually.
In the strangest report on Ron Paul we've read in a while, the Washington Post's Felicia Somnez writes, "If you've been thinking that Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) has taken a lower profile of late in the GOP primary race, you're not alone." Uhm...Felicia? You do understand that Paul's "low profile" can be directly attributed to your paper joining the rest of the media in withdrawing the reporters who once covered his campaign, don't you? Come on now, Felicia, this stuff isn't hard! But since she is asking, Paul met "adoring," foot-stomping fans at the University of Maryland this week, and played to a similar group of supporters at the University of Wisconsin, as he swung through those two states in a short-term effort to make more of an impact in their upcoming primaries and a long-term effort to keep young voters engaged in his particular political movement. And before you ask, no, Paul has no current intention of dropping out of the race, no matter how poorly he fares in the upcoming primary contests. According to the Associated Press: Paul, speaking to reporters after a speech at the University of Maryland, said he wants to debate "as long as possible, as long as there's a primary." He shrugged aside any pressure to drop out in order to unite behind frontrunner Mitt Romney. "I want to talk about the Fed," Paul, who is a critic of the Federal Reserve's policies. "I want to talk about personal liberties. I want to talk about the war, and they're not talking about it, so unity is very secondary to debating issues in a serious way." That message came out pretty clearly in a new ad he released this week, which dovetailed off of last week's "Etch A Sketch" flap -- but didn't actually uniquely fault Romney for the remark made by his aide, Eric Fehrnstrom. Instead, it piled on the other candidates for devoting so much of their time to waving Etch A Sketches around with them: The ad opens with the now-ubiquitous CNN clip of Eric Fehrnstrom, a Mitt Romney aide, saying of a general-election campaign, "Everything changes. It's almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and restart it all over again." Then it moves through cuts of Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich holding up actual Etch A Sketches, interspersed with media Etch A Sketch mentions. "We're talking about big things here, folks!" says Mr. Santorum, while waving the fine Ohio Art product in the air. Then the ad turns sober. "$15 trillion in debt" flashes across the screen, followed by "12 million Americans unemployed." At the end, "Tired of the games?" comes up, just before, in even bigger letters, "Ron Paul." Of course, with Paul taking some heat for reportedly being in some manner of cahoots with the Romney campaign, the ad can just as easily be read as an attempt to deflect some of the criticism from the frontrunner as it is a call for everyone in the field to return to a substantive discussion. And his Etch A Sketch ad isn't the only way in which Paul has seemingly lent Romney some support: "I think Mitt Romney is more likely to be more willing to listen to his advisers," he said on Bloomberg Television. "If he decides he wants to go and bomb Iran, maybe he might listen to somebody else. I'm afraid the other ones would just go do it anyway." Nevertheless, Paul's campaign is still pressing ahead with its delegate strategy, which Rick Santorum has also recently adopted as his campaign's strategy as well. The difference now, however, is that while the Santorum campaign has done so with a sort of last-ditch optimism, the Paul camp is sounding decidedly more downcast: His strategists are searching for answers, and one may be that many who turned up for his rallies were less eager to take part in Republican primaries or argue Mr. Paul's case at Republican caucuses. Even Mr. Paul cannot entirely explain why the passion he generated, especially among young people and those his campaign identified as motivated supporters, did not translate into more votes. "I don't have a full answer for that," says Mr. Paul, who says he believes ballot irregularities have chipped into his numbers in some places. Alex Pareene has a "full answer for that" that may help the Texas Congressman: Or maybe, and just hear me out here, maybe Ron Paul has always been a niche candidate with a small but incredibly vocal base of support? Maybe the rallies full of thousands of college students represented essentially the entirety of his following and not just the most committed element? Maybe a cantankerous lifelong congressman who combines a steadfast antiwar position with long-discredited crank monetary ideas was never actually remotely likely to come close to winning the Republican nomination. "When the campaign wonders how it could possibly receive only 100 more votes in a given county than it had rally attendees," says Pareene, "they should perhaps consider than all of the area's Ron Paul supporters attended the rally."
Buddy Roemer joined NPR's Melissa Block for a wide-ranging discussion about his campaign -- which is currently seeking a ballot hook either through the Reform Party or Americans Elect. Block gave him the opportunity to sound off on his competition. Roemer explained that he would have to "hold his nose," but his summary judgments are actually quite gentlemanly: BLOCK: But here we go: Mitt Romney. ROEMER: Know him, like him, honest man - that's important. Mr. One Percent and that's what's wrong with this nation. One percent run America. The 99 percent should. BLOCK: OK. Number two: Rick Santorum. ROEMER: Good values, I just don't need to be dictated by government as to what my values are. BLOCK: Newt Gingrich? ROEMER: He's the lobbyist for the 1 percent. He and Rick Santorum, both, served in the Congress and they didn't go home. They went into lobbying. BLOCK: What about Ron Paul? ROEMER: Good issue on the Federal Reserve, everything else he's off kilter. BLOCK: And what about President Obama? ROEMER: Good intentions, gifted in terms of speech; just totally ineffective - no leadership. Well, "gentlemanly," except for Newt Gingrich, but there are limits, you know? Nevertheless, this is the field that Roemer hopes to be the "third choice" (or the fourth...mustn't forget Gary Johnson) to, in competition. And he continues to state his priorities quite clearly: "Here's what I'm for: tax reform, budget reform, health care reform, bank reform, immigration reform, trade reform, energy reform," Roemer tells NPR. "But none of them will happen until you do campaign reform." But one place this is not coming across clearly is at his candidate page on the Americans Elect website, which lists his main issue as "the Economy," a pretty generic and inaccurate way of describing what he's all about. But then, the American Elect gang probably hears "reform the system and end the corrupting influence of corporate money" and thinks, "What is that? Is that some foreign language?" Of course, Roemer's hopes with Americans Elect remain pretty dim, owing to the fact that Americans Elect has been something of a failure to get Americans to come Elect someone. Of the would-be candidates who have signaled a willingness to run under the AE banner, Roemer is the most successful. However, as Paul Harris reported this week, Roemer has "only 2,164 supporters" and "his biggest single state is California, where 218 delegates back him." To secure AE's "nomination," Roemer will have to have "1,000 people in each of 10 different states." But hey, Roemer is at least getting to do some interesting things, like chat with Jack Abramoff about corruption and influence peddling in Washington as a guest of the Committee for the Republic, where he told this story: "I got on a plane this morning in Houston after an early speech and I was headed to Washington and I always have my heart in my hand because I'm not a big Washington guy, but I'm headed to Washington and the first person I see on the plane sitting in first class as I'm headed back to where the other people are is Billy Tauzin, who represented the pharmaceutical industry. Billy's a great guy and a good friend who I served with in Congress. But I remember, Billy worked all those years on the Energy Committee and regulated pharmaceuticals and he quit his office one day and the next day was being paid $2 million to represent the pharmaceutical industry. You know the pharmaceutical industry in Obamacare is protected from Canadian competition. Did you now they're protected by law from price discounts? Is this a great country?" He was being sarcastic, ICYMI. Tomorrow, Roemer will participate in a "politically-minded webcast" with Rolling Stone magazine and musicians like the Grateful Dead's Bob Weir and members of The National, whose song "Bloodbuzz, Ohio" we think Roemer would love, as it's maybe the best depiction of life in contemporary post-crash America put to music.
Fred Karger got an excellent opportunity to jump into the news cycle and battle on behalf of the LGBT community this week when the Human Rights Campaign released some "previously sealed internal documents" from the notoriously anti-gay National Organization for Marriage (NOM), which detailed many deeply cynical political strategies for turning around the tide of support that's gathering for marriage equality. Karger's tangled with the NOMmer's before, and took this opportunity to fire away in multiple venues. Karger spoke to our own Michelangelo Signorile: Karger had previously exposed the Mormon Church's involvement in the campaign to pass Prop 8 in California, which led to an investigation in that state which found the LDC church guilty of political malfeasance. The Maine Ethics Commission took Karger's complaint seriously, he said, and determined NOM had to disclose the donors. NOM refused and challenged the Maine law in federal court, eventually losing after being rebuffed by the U.S. Supreme Court. Still pending is a separate appeal on another case; if NOM loses that case it must reveal the names of the donors, including three that had given over $1 million each. "I saw that NOM was putting about $400,000 into the campaign without reporting any of it," Karger said. "I sent a letter to the ethics commission. They asked me to specifically file a formal complaint. And then they asked me to come and testify. It was 3-2 that they agreed to investigate NOM." Karger explained confidential documents showing the racially-divisive strategies were among those that the Maine attorney general had collected from NOM after it decided to challenge the disclosure law in federal court. Now that the case is over, the federal judge in the case unsealed the documents. Karger says there could be more confidential documents coming. And in his own op-ed in the San Diego Gay and Lesbian News, Karger linked Rick Santorum to this controversy, blasting NOM's former head, Maggie Gallagher: One other question, Maggie. I have been getting email solicitations from you to give money to Rick Santorum's campaign for President. Coincidentally it is to the same email address that I receive all NOM's email alerts. I hope that NOM a 501(c)4 corporation did not turn over its entire email list to you for your Santorum fundraising, because that would be a violation of our federal election law. Karger has called upon "the Catholic and Mormon Churches" to "repudiate" NOM for the tactics that the release of these internal documents have brought to light, and "stop any direct funding of NOM as well as asking their members to do the same."
Gary Johnson continues to travel the country, letting people know that he's running as a libertarian. This week, he took that cause to Minneapolis, Minn., and Norwich, Conn., in an effort to shore up the needed support he needs to officially earn the Libertarian Party's nomination. He's sharpened and shortened his message: "I'm the only candidate who can advocate for gay rights and gun rights in the same sentence. I'm the only one who denounces war spending and welfare spending at the same time," Johnson explained to MinnPost's Eric Black. Challenges still remain for Johnson, such as gaining ballot access -- he has hit something of a snag in Oklahoma, for instance. But this is no shadow campaign. In recent polling results from Public Policy Polling, Johnson grabbed 7 percent "in a three-way race among himself, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney." This is honestly not bad for Johnson in March. Unfortunately, 7 percent is not as good as 9 percent -- and that's where Johnson was in the same poll a month ago. Ultimately, the goal remains the same -- get up to 15 percent, and get into this autumn's debates.
Team Obama Re-Elect may be used to the wild swing of dizzing highs and terrifying lows by now, but this week, its morale had to be bouncing wildly between ecstacy and despair. Its candidate polling numbers? All kisses and sunshine: His approvals went right-side up, his national lead over Romney is either in double-digits or in double-digits breaching the 50 percent barrier, and in some critical battleground states, his leads were either slight or significant. But the Obama campaign was not letting this good news go to its head. In fact, it's actually quite concerned that its traditional voters will come to believe that Romney's been so damaged by the GOP primary that they'll assume Obama has the election in the bag. Not the campaign's desired outcome, so -- as Zeke Miller reports -- it will be bringing the fear back in its messaging: The Obama re-election operation's silence in the face of good news is a mark of what may be their deepest fear: That their supporters won't be afraid to donate money, organize, and ultimately to vote on November 6th. The staff of the most powerful man in the world don't want to dwell on their candidate's apparently growing strength. They'd much rather be harnessing supporters' worries about a Mitt Romney presidency or, worse, a Republican takeover of the White House and Congress in 2013. Mitt Romney's repeated gaffes have made him an easy target for Democratic attacks, but Obama aides say they're concerned it has also reinforced the belief among some on the left that Romney is hapless and out of touch with his own party -- and that Obama will romp in the general election. And so the Obama campaign has launched a calculated effort to keep the base worried about what will happen if Romney wins the White House. But it may have bigger problems ahead, because even as the poll numbers swelled, the hopes of the Obama administration's signature policy achievement, the Affordable Care Act, sank. And just when it had decided to embrace "Obamacare," which had been used as a pejorative by the GOP for many years. This week, the Supreme Court heard arguments over the constitutionality of the AFA's individual mandate, For years, it was predicted that a SCOTUS showdown would center on the mandate. All it had to do was succinctly state a limiting principle on the mandate, so that Justice Kennedy (and maybe Roberts) could sign their name to an affirmative decision. Didn't happen! Let's all enjoy Jeff Toobin, raving about this: "This still looks like a train wreck for the Obama Administration, and it may also be a plane wreck. This entire law is now in serious trouble. It also seems that the individual mandate is doomed. I mean, Anthony Kennedy spent much of this morning talking about if we strike down the individual mandate, how should we handle the rest of the law? Now, it is less clear that they are going to strike down the whole law. There does seem to be some controversy in the court about that. Certainly there are some members of the court, Antonin Scalia, Justice Alito, who want to strike down the entire law, but it seemed almost a foregone conclusion today that they were going to strike down the individual mandate, and the only question is does the whole law go out the window with it?" This creates the possibility that SCOTUS will "create zombie Obamacare" or scuttle the law in its entirety. What happens then? Well, either the base gets galvanized or it gets terrifically depressed. And either the media cares about whether Obama and Romney have a "Plan B" for saving the lives of thousands of people or they don't. (And how much can Obama actually promise, given the fact that even if he wins re-election, he will return to office without a Congress that's predisposed to do much about a health care crisis.) For his part, James Carville predicts that if the law dies in SCOTUS, it will be a long-term boon to Democrats...but in the short term, it could be dicey. (Carville, who has an intense dislike of Obama, doesn't evince a whole lot of care for the Democrats' political fortunes in the short term.) It all makes for the possibility that the campaign season could take a wild turn that no one really expected. Instead of arguing over whether the Affordable Care Act should be kept or trashed, Obama the GOP nominee would instead have to spend the campaign arguing over an alternative plan that can be quickly installed.
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