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Obama Better Suited To Fight Invaders, According To Poll That Was Conducted For Some Reason

Jason Linkins   |   June 27, 2012    2:00 PM ET

Who would be the better commander-in-chief to have presiding over our army of drones in the event of an alien invasion? This is a not-real question that we are not-really asking ourselves all the time these days.

But, given the fact that we now celebrate President Abraham Lincoln as the original vampire slayer and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now asked to account for its strategies for a zombie rampage, it seems natural that the folks at the National Geographic Channel would poll Americans on their feelings about extraterrestrial enemies ahead of the debut of their new "Chasing UFOs."

(Premiering this Friday, "Chasing UFOs" follows three UFO hunters, proving once again how extraordinary the United States is, considering that in a period of economic downturn, three people can still do UFO chasing as their actual job.)

What have National Geographic's polling exploits discovered? First of all, lots of people believe in extraterrestrial life: "More than 80 million Americans are certain that UFOs exist." What's more is that most of these citizens are predisposed to believe that the aliens mean us no harm, despite the fact that Stephen Hawking has warned that this is not likely.

According to National Geographic, "most citizens would not mind a minor alien invasion, because they expect these space-age visitors to be friendly -- like the lovable character depicted in Steven Spielberg's popular film 'E.T.'"

What is a "minor invasion," anyway? Probably the interplanetary version of the Iraq war, in which Lrrr of the planet Omicron Persei Eight tells his people that conquering Earth will be a cakewalk, only to discover how easy it is to get bogged down in all the ensuing sectarian violence. Don't worry, Lrrr! "Counterinsurgency strategy" will probably prove to be feasible, one of these days!

The poll also found good news for President Barack Obama, I guess!

In regards to national security, nearly two-thirds (65%) of Americans think Barack Obama would be better suited than fellow presidential candidate Mitt Romney to handle an alien invasion. In fact, more than two in three (68%) women say that Obama would be more adept at dealing with an alien invasion than Romney, vs. 61 percent of men. And more younger citizens, ages 18 to 64 years, than those aged 65+ (68% vs. 50%) think Romney would not be as well-suited as Obama to handle an alien invasion.

It's interesting that the male-female "gender gap" in most of 2012's polling doesn't show up as strongly in the event of an alien invasion, so perhaps this could be the inspiration for the most awesome "October surprise" in the history of the country.

The topic of alien life doesn't often come up during the presidential cycle, but it's worth recalling that during the 2008 campaign, Congressman Dennis Kucinich was forced to answer questions about a claim he made about seeing a UFO while in the company of Shirley MacLaine. That question was put to Kucinich at a presidential debate by Tim Russert, a celebrated professional journalist.

(The "UFO Lobby," which is a thing that exists in America, told our own Sam Stein that it preferred a Hillary Clinton-Bill Richardson presidential ticket, despite Kucinich's vital experience with their issues.)

On "The Daily Show," John Oliver asked former presidential contender Herman Cain to "role-play" what he would say to the American people if he, as president, had to address the populace from "the smouldering remains of what used to be the Oval Office." Cain was really, really good!

Cain responds to the aliens question at the 4:58 mark.

National Geographic also learned that in the event of an alien invasion, the poll's respondents would probably seek assistance from the Hulk, instead of Batman or Spiderman. This demonstrates that the simplicity of the Hulk's messaging ("Smash!") has broader populist appeal than that of the rest of the Avengers, who largely approach national security emergencies by having a lengthy, internecine debate over leadership and the nature of power sharing.

What would happen if friendly aliens arrived, bearing the gift of universal health care? This is not something that National Geographic polled, but I think it's pretty certain that should that scenario arise, powerful health care lobbies would team up and murder all of the ETs.

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Romney's Air Of Mystery Has Diminishing Returns

Jason Linkins   |   June 27, 2012   12:35 PM ET

As Mitt Romney's campaign has pursued its strategy in these late spring-to-early summer months, there's been one glaring gap: specifics. No one really has much of an idea what Romney wants to do in terms of policy or what issues he particularly wants to prioritize.

Pundits have noticed. Let's recall Peggy Noonan's admonishment to Romney: "Mr. Romney has to give us a plan. He has to tell us his priorities. To lead is to prioritize, to choose." This is a sentiment that's filtered into the Sunday morning political discussion.

And reporters have been bedeviled by Romney's studied avoidance of precision: Check out Alexander Burns' chronicle of grade A stonewalling that reporters received from Romney spokesman Rick Gorka after the Supreme Court issued its ruling on Arizona's immigration law.

For the time being, I've seen Romney's avoidance of these matters as a delaying strategy. By putting off the moment he announces his plans, priorities and promises for as long as possible, he denies Team Obama Re-Elect a target at which to shoot, while he can pummel away at the economic downturn. That's left the Obama campaign with a few options: attacking Romney's record as the governor of Massachusetts (a tricky proposition, given that this record includes the health care reform idea Obama borrowed) and his record at Bain Capital (equally tricky, as the Democrats have plenty of people in their ranks who seek campaign cash from private equity titans).

But NBC News Political Unit's First Read pulls some interesting data from the guts of the most recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll that might force the Romney camp to challenge its assumptions:

Romney remains largely undefined, according to our poll. Although it shows that only 6% of respondents don't know who Romney is, just 20% say they "know a lot" about him, versus 43% who say the same about Obama. (To be sure, Romney's percentage here is comparable to Obama's when he was running for president at this same point in 2008.) In addition, a majority of Romney supporters -- 58% -- say their vote is more AGAINST Obama than FOR Romney. That's compared to a whopping 72% of Obama supporters who say their vote is more FOR Obama than AGAINST Romney. "[Romney's] a known name but an unknown person," says NBC/WSJ co-pollster Peter Hart (D). "They just haven't related to him."

You can pretty much hear Noonan saying, "I told you so." What makes matters worse for Romney is that the vacuum he's been permitted to open has been very well filled by the negative ads that Obama has launched in the swing states, ads that went heavy on attacking -- that's right! -- Romney's record at Bain, as First Read reported:

Among swing-state respondents, 18% say what they've seen and heard about Romney's business record gives them a more POSITIVE opinion about the Republican candidate, versus 33% who say it's more NEGATIVE. That's compared to the national 23%-to-28% margin on this question. The obvious conclusion here is that the negative TV ads pummeling Romney in the battleground states -- like here and here and here -- are having an impact.

Now, part of Romney's calculus here might be the confidence he has that on a long enough timeline, he's going to be able to inundate these swing states with more ads than Obama and his affiliated super PACs can match. But it still seems that Romney is going to have to risk defining himself, for himself, sooner rather than later. This could be a big lift for the risk-averse Romney.

By the way, remember back when the Obama team launched those Bain attacks and the Beltway media completely dismissed them as a total bust in advance? The folks at First Read never got on that bandwagon, recognizing that those attacks weren't pitched to an audience of media elites. They were right, props to them.

At any rate, this all gets potentially exciting tomorrow after the Supreme Court renders its decision on the Affordable Care Act and we're either left with a void to be filled or a re-energized GOP bent on repealing the bill. What does Romney want to replace the health care reform law with, if anything? This could force Romney's policy specifics into the light or it could be the next great 20 question stonewall from a campaign representative.

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Below, a Spotify playlist to guide you through some of Romney's greatest hits:

The Sorrows Of Young Jeb: The 2012 Speculatron Weekly Roundup For June 15, 2012

Jason Linkins   |   June 15, 2012    6:00 PM ET

During the primary season, it was impossible to ignore the loud lamentations from prominent GOP figures that the field of the pre-primary season was not the one for which they had hoped. And it took a while for them to learn to accept that Mitt Romney was going to be their party's 2012 standard-bearer.

There were very late calls for some savior candidate to enter the race -- such as Gov. Chris Christie, Gov. Mitch Daniels, Sen. Marco Rubio or Rep. Paul Ryan. This was the party's talent -- a mix of experienced veterans and emerging stars -- and for various reasons, they all had opted to stay on the bench.

For the most part, those guys have not done much lamenting of their own. If they regret not having jumped into the race, they haven't expressed it in depth. They have all stood up to be good soldiers in the fight to have Romney elected in November, and none of them seem to want to dwell on what might have been.

That is, until this week, when another member of 2012's benchwarmer class opened up about the experience of not jumping into the race: former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. He had much to say about the state of the GOP and its antipathy toward his cherished policies, like immigration reform -- all of which interrupted the narrative. And Bush presented President Barack Obama with an opportunity to respond tactically, which he did today (see below).

All those guys, Jeb included, had reasons to sit this one out, though some were more obvious than others. Marco Rubio made it repeatedly clear, for example, that he was not going to abandon the Senate career he has just begun for the White House. And Paul Ryan doesn't really have any use for the Oval Office; he's projecting a considerable amount of political power from an easily defended House seat.

For the rest, we'd posit that their decision to stay out was pretty simple since 2012 has been shaping up to be a heated, unforgiving slog in the Tea Party trench and that was no place for these men, who shared something in common: a slight bend toward conciliatory politics. Mitch Daniels, for example, floated the idea of a "social truce" -- in which the most divisive subjects in right wing politics would fall by the wayside so a debate could be forged on deficits and tax reform.

And while Christie had the reputation of being a tough talker, he would commit the unpardonable sin of conciliation as well; he's not against collective bargaining, for example, and he had appointed and defended a Muslim judge.

If these benchwarmers needed evidence that they had made the right decision, they got it when they watched how Rick Perry got treated in the primary debates. Perry was the guy who everyone thought could knit up the different strains of the GOP base, all while attracting mega-donors. Problem was, Perry had convictions, many of which concerned the humane treatment of Mexican immigrants. For this sin, he was punished. And somewhere, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush was probably watching.

In terms of his presidential portfolio, Jeb Bush has ample baggage, a lot of which he has obtained by dint of the fact that he shares a last name with two other former presidents. Naturally, his brother's presidency -- which isn't much held in high regard these days, even by his nominal ideological allies -- is a problem for him. But Jeb's been more or less successful in maintaining his brand as "the smarter son." The larger difficulty, of course, has to do with timing and the electorate's fatigue with family dynasties. But Jeb was facing headwinds that went far beyond the familiarity with his bloodline.

Jeb's larger problem was twofold. First, he remains deeply committed to immigration reform, at a time when the GOP base has become swollen with nativist crackpots. Second, he still feels a deep longing for the age in which his father governed, when heated debates forged compromises and the system had not been corrupted by naked brinksmanship. You can be quite sure that Jeb remembers that his father raised the debt ceiling nine times. His brother did so on seven occasions. Neither was ever faced with the prospect of the opposition destroying the global economy to score cheap political points.

So Bush decided to open up about this stuff at a breakfast with reporters, sponsored by Bloomberg View:

"Ronald Reagan would have, based on his record of finding accommodation, finding some degree of common ground, as would my dad -- they would have a hard time if you define the Republican party -- and I don’t -- as having an orthodoxy that doesn’t allow for disagreement, doesn’t allow for finding some common ground," Bush said, adding that he views the hyper-partisan moment as "temporary."

"Back to my dad’s time and Ronald Reagan’s time -- they got a lot of stuff done with a lot of bipartisan suport," he said. Reagan "would be criticized for doing the things that he did."

Bush did mention -- and later had to re-emphasize this point -- that he felt that both parties were reponsible for the "hyper-partisan moment," but the larger point about his party's lacking a place for people like him was the obvious takeaway. And he pointedly picked a fight with anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist and his famous pledge that now governs the GOP: "I ran for office three times ... The pledge was presented to me three times. I never signed the pledge. I cut taxes every year I was governor. I don’t believe you outsource your principles and convictions to people.”

Naturally, rather than ponder the truth of what Bush was revealing, his comments became the latest story of the Off-Message Surrogate (Jeb is, nominally, a Romney endorser) who was a drag on the horsey race. And there was an ample dose of speculation that Jeb was setting himself up for 2016 -- an idea that implies a lack of confidence in Romney's ability to win.

New York magazine's Jonathan Chait argued that Bush is "clearly engaged in an effort to position himself as the next leader of the Republican Party."

To understand what Bush is saying, you need to anticipate how the party might diagnose the causes of a loss in 2012, and then you can see how he is setting himself as the cure. Bush has been publicly urging Republicans to moderate their tone toward Latinos and to embrace immigration reform. Here is the one issue where Republicans, should they lose, will almost surely conclude that they need to moderate their party stance. The Latino vote is both growing in size and seems to be tilting ever more strongly toward the Democrats, a combination that will rapidly make the electoral map virtually unwinnable. Indeed, the body language of the Romney campaign suggests it already regrets the hard-line stances on immigration it adopted during the primary.

Chait made the best possible argument here, but we're not sure that the GOP is going to be allowed to act on this diagnosis. Obviously, if Romney prevails, he will be the GOP's nominee in four years (barring, of course, the possibility that Romney experiences some terrific political misadventure).

But if Romney loses, Bush has nowhere to go, either. Should Romney fail to unseat President Barack Obama in November, the howling for a True Conservative standard-bearer will grow beyond the means of measure. This howling began when the RINO of the GOP base's nightmares, Sen. John McCain, failed to win in 2008. Romney, with all his past forays into moderate policymaking, has to walk a very fine line. If he fails, it will only confirm what the Tea Party has been saying all along. And they'll remember all of Jeb Bush's heresies.

“This was probably my time," Bush said in an interview on "CBS This Morning," "There’s a window of opportunity, in life, and for all sorts of reasons.”

Jeb Bush missed his window -- if he even really had one. He remains a political figure with pedigree, accomplishments, passions and convictions. But he can't go anywhere with them. Jeb Bush is now a man without a time, without a place, and there's nothing left for him to do but join Dick Lugar in the Fraternity of Stranded Men and sing sad songs about the world they once knew.


Bush's criticisms caused something of a sensation in the media and sparked infighting within the GOP. How can Team Obama Re-Elect respond tactically? You just saw how: Friday morning President Obama announced that by executive order, the deportations of young, DREAM Act-eligible immigrants will cease and they will be granted work permits instead.

It's a gutsy move on the part of the administration. The obvious criticism will come in references to the larger unemployment crisis: It will be argued that Obama is compounding the matter by introducing new competitors into the job market. These competitors are, of course, already in the job market competing, but that's not likely going to matter much to the GOP, who will label this as a naked grab for the Hispanic vote. (We're guessing it will be largely lost on everybody that Obama has already won this voter bloc.)

How to respond to this criticism? Maybe by playing clips of Jeb Bush, over and over again. Obama's action today goes right to the heart of Bush's lamentations. Bush believes in a humane approach to immigration and he sees GOP obstruction as an impediment to policymaking. Obama's move advances the former while circumventing the latter. (Obama also pulls a classic "co-opt the other side" move, effectively neutralizing Marco Rubio's ownership of the issue, leaving Rubio no way to criticize anything other than the process. "We can't wait," is how Obama will respond to that.)

Obama's move also comes at a time where Time magazine is about to send an issue to the newsstands carrying (our former Huffington Post colleague) Jose Antonio Vargas' cover story on the real lives of undocumented immigrants. Between Jeb Bush's comments at the beginning of the week and the conversation that Vargas is likely to spark at week's end, Obama had the perfect opportunity to make this move.


As we mentioned before, we're long past the part of the election season when the GOP establishment's general distrust of Romney can be measured in constant calls for a savior. Romney's won the primary, and he's looking more and more like a guy who will push the race to a close finish. Romney is basically out of the "proof of concept" phase of his campaign. But before he fully hits the marketplace, Republicans still have some tires to kick and some suggestions to make.

Politico's Maggie Haberman rounded up what she termed "The Republican family Feud" this week, noting that "Republicans are beginning to realize Romney can win, but acceptance of that is coming slowly." Jeb Bush figures prominently in her explication. Strategists swarm and make their case and William Kristol is waiting to see something specific from Romney, she said:

The Weekly Standard’s William Kristol suggested the intraparty critics are simply giving voice to what many in the party feel right now -- that Romney needs to work harder to build his own case.

“At some point, people do look up and say, ‘OK, I’m convinced that President Obama doesn’t quite get it … Time to look at Mitt Romney. I’m worried they may not have quite enough in place when it’s time to look at Mitt Romney where there is a coherent set of policies.”

Kristol echoed Peggy Noonan in that regard, and as we've noted previously, Romney is biding his time and withholding these specifics in order to deny Team Obama Re-Elect an avenue of criticism.

But the aspect of all this that we'd like to emphasize is that the emerging intra-party critique of Romney is a concern over how bold he's willing to be. This past Sunday, Gov. Mitch Daniels and Gov. Scott Walker took care to give this urging voice. On "Fox News Sunday," Daniels said, "The American people, I think, will rightly demand to know something more than he's not President Obama."

And Walker added to this on "Face the Nation" by invoking a specific concept. During his appearance on "Face the Nation," Walker sounded similar themes. "I don't think we win if it's just about a referendum on Barack Obama ... I think people like [Wisconsin Rep.] Paul Ryan and others hope that he goes big and bold." Later, he added, “Romney’s got a shot if the R next to his name doesn’t just stand for Republican, it stands for reformer, if he shows my state and he shows Americans that he’s got a plan to take on those reforms.”

This is an old worry, revived -- that Romney is too risk averse and vision impaired to be much more than a guy who'll tinker around the edges. Walker, having been victorious in what's been deemed to be the second-most important election of 2012, gets to put the pressure back on Romney. Of course, what Walker terms to be "reform" also includes policies that aren't too terribly popular.

This week, the Democrats can point to Ron Barber's victory in the special election for former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' old seat as one in which they prevailed by making the argument that they would fight to preserve Medicare and Social Security. So as much as Romney's semi-skeptical allies may hope Romney risks going bold, the Democrats also share those same hopes.


As we've said, over and over again, one of the ways the economic crisis has been exacerbated is the failure of the Beltway media to get beyond their bubble long enough to understand that the economic downturn is not just something that affects the electoral hopes of affluent politicians who, while they may or may not get elected (or re-elected) to office, will generally not be exposed to the grinding, grueling realities of economic dislocation. Your prominent media figures see no value in having "access" to poor, ordinary Americans, so they remain background abstractions in the horse race melodrama.

Another great example came in the aftermath of twin economic speeches by Obama and Romney this week. As the Washington Post's Greg Sargent pinpointed, your world-famous political media types couldn't be bothered to do much more than offer pithy pans or praise for whichever speech they hated or liked. They engaged mainly in a polite game one-upsmanship -- a battle of "I'm so effing savvy" meditations that emphasized how the "message" might shape the horse race.

Fortunately for everyone, the media on the ground in Ohio felt a particular reponsibility to serve their readers, and so there was a completely different type of journalism that got practiced. Per Sargent:

Interestingly, the local papers in Ohio covered Obama’s speech yesterday, and Romney’s rebuttal to it, as a clash of economic visions. This is how it was framed on front page after front page, according to a roundup of front pages forwarded to me by a Democrat frustrated with Washington coverage of the speech.

Now, Sargent figures that the local reporting might favor Obama. We're not as concerned by that as we are impressed how the consituents of this journalism were served. Discussing the twin speeches as a clash of different ideas, actually grappling with underlying issues, helping readers to make choices -- this is all more important than a lengthy, no-stakes chitchat session in the cable news salons. You don't need to watch the cable newsers twiddle their desiccated wit glands for another round of "who has the prettiest mouthgasm." These local papers have websites; please go visit them. They will welcome your custom.

(Let's remember, of course, that the Beltway media thought those attacks on Bain were just terrible! Ordinary human Americans disagreed.)

BERKLEY TO OBAMA: CALL ME MAYBE: Here's a story that breaks a trend: In Nevada, Rep. Shelley Berkley is running neck and neck with Republican Sen. Dean Heller in a race for his Senate seat. And unlike many Democratic senatorial candidates we could name (including some former BFFs like Sens. Claire McCaskill and John Tester), Berkley is actually hoping that Obama will come and campaign with her. Slate's Matt Taylor explained the dynamic:

Polls show Obama quite strong in the Silver State, whereas Berkley is stuck in a tie. Her strategy will be to latch on to the president at every opportunity, hoping some of the energy (and massive support from young and African American voters) behind his re-election bid rubs off on her own campaign.

Convenient! After all, Obama still has a good chance of winning Nevada, so he'll probably spend all kinds of time out there. Missouri and Montana? Yeah, not so much.


Sen. Rob Portman continues to look like the ideal partner for Romney, at least in terms of his finances. The Hill's Kevin Bogardus reported that according to the recent round of financial disclosures that were released this week, Portman's wealth has climbed, his debts have decreased, and that looks good for the second name on the ticket. Paul Ryan's also getting rich off his government job, with a personal wealth that's into "the seven figures."


This week, we continued our complicated process of electoral map projections, which as we said last week is a mix of careful poll study, an analysis of prevailing economic trends, druidical divination, and at least one session where we take peyote and go on a "spirit journey."

It seems clear -- to everyone, frankly -- that the five states to watch are Colorado, Iowa, Nevada, Ohio and Virginia. In general, we had a better feeling about Obama's chances in Virginia this week. But while we more or less thought that Romney's good polling news out of Wisconsin was more noise than signal, we decided that we wouldn't ignore it. So this week, we throw Wisconsin back in Romney's column, and WHAT DO YOU KNOW, LOOK WHAT HAPPENED!


Admit it, if this happened, you would probably be all, "Well, that figures."

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Late Returns: The Diminishing Returns Of Bush Blaming

Jason Linkins   |   June 13, 2012    8:15 PM ET

Jonathan Capehart took a look at the same Karen Tumulty piece I discussed earlier today, and reaches some of the same conclusions -- "No one does panic like Democrats" -- that I did. But Capehart takes the time today to drill one of Tumulty's contributors in particular, Emory University clinical psychologist Drew Westen, for a diagnosis of President Barack Obama's messaging that gives Capehart an "eyeroll."

As Tumulty wrote:

Obama’s “fundamental error,” Westen said, was not blaming former President George W. Bush and conservative lawmakers early enough and often enough in his term for creating the country’s economic troubles before he got into office.

Capehart notes that Republicans have been "hammering Obama for his propensity to blame President George W. Bush" for at least as long as Obama has been hammering his predecessor for wrecking the economy, which has been more or less "for all time."

He goes on to cite two examples of the ample coverage that's been given to Obama's blaming Bush, and concluded by noting that "poll after poll after poll showing that the American people and Obama are in sync on the question of blame."

So, Capehart proves his point, and I will confirm that Westen's conclusions are, indeed, eyeroll-worthy. But let's also note that Capehart has hit on what is actually something of a puzzling component in Obama's messaging -- as the country is now "in sync" with blaming Bush, what value is there in continuing to harp on it?

I don't really believe that there's any pulpit that's "bully" enough to move the masses in a single speech, but I do think that if you repeatedly take to the bully pulpit to repeat and reinforce basic ideas convincingly enough, this painstaking effort can gradually shift opinion. Which is all the more reason to stop using the bully pulpit to continue to try to convince people to believe something that they already believe. Around the 3,467th time you're told that the Obama administration inherited a recession, you get a case of the eyerolls, too.

Obama is set to deliver a big speech on the economy tomorrow, and Greg Sargent has suggestions of his own on how to draw the right contrast. Blaming Bush, and the dilemma it poses, figures prominently in Sargent's analysis:

The problem Obama faces: He must talk about the past, at least to some degree, in order to explain (1) why the recovery has been slow and difficult; and (2) why what he intends to do about it is better than what Romney would do about it, i.e., a return to policies that have already failed us. In other words, to draw the very contrast Democrats want to see, Obama needs to look backward and forward. This will give Republicans something to attack (he’s blaming Bush!) and it could give nervous Dems something to second guess further. But this strategic dilemma seems unavoidable.

Sure, it may seem unavoidable, but I think that if Team Obama Reelect wants to succeed, they should challenge themselves to avoid continually pointing back to the year 2008 on the calendar and focus on what's at hand. It's a hard task to undertake, sure. But what can I say? It's not supposed to be easy!

The Make-Up Call: Michael Barbaro was roundly crapped upon for that story about how all of Mitt Romney's La Jolla neighbors thought Romney was a jerk. So, he quickly adjusts and pens a big water-carry piece about how Romney's totally going to "turn the tables" on Obama and paint the incumbent as the guy who's really the owner of a gargantuan mansion with a car elevator out of touch with normal Americans. Yes, I'm casting aspersions, but not without cause: As Jonathan Bernstein points out, Barbaro pretty clearly excused himself from doing any critical thinking. [New York Times; The Plum Line]

This Day In Meaningless Political Data Points: John Avlon notes that Mitt Romney is going to lose all of his "home states," which are Massachusetts, California and Michigan. Avlon says this is "uncharted strategic territory" because "never before has a presidential candidate written off their home state." Okay. So what? Can he still very capably get to 270 in the electoral college? Yes? Okay, cool, I don't care. [Daily Beast]

On The Other Hand: Romney's inability to cope with the phenomenon of intermittent doughnut appearances will actually matter slightly more than the fact that he's from Massachusetts. [Slate]

Book Of Mormon: Alex Pareene has this funny feeling that when liberals say they don't want a Mormon president, they mostly mean they don't want Mitt Romney to be president. But, you know, I'll have to check my sources to make sure Senator Harry Reid won re-election in 2010 to be certain. [Salon]

That's A Clown Kicker, Bro: There are many pieces of reporting out there that might include a statement like, "A spokeswoman for Massachusetts Senate hopeful Elizabeth Warren did not immediately return an email seeking comment." But this is the only one that includes that line for the purposes of pointing out that you should not take the reporter seriously ever again. [The Daily Caller]

Political Mythbusting: Jonathan Bernstein debunks five myths about "swing states." (Though I'm going to still disagree with No. 3.) [The Plum Line]

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Romney Campaign Trashes Iowa Diner

Jason Linkins   |   June 13, 2012    1:55 PM ET

I think it's safe to say that political campaigns should make a concerted effort to tread lightly when visiting Iowa dining establishments on the trail. Especially after the Romney campaign's ill-fated visit to the Main Street Diner in Council Bluffs, which ended in a lot of damaged property, broken keepsakes, and hurt feelings. Dianne Bauer, who owns the diner, opened up to Nicole Ebat of KPTM News, and didn't have anything kind to say about her restaurant being used as a campaign stop:

"Stuff got broke. My table cloths they just got ripped off, wadded up and thrown in the back room,"

She says the boom truck she allowed the campaign to borrow to gain access to the roof now has an 8-inch gauge [sic] in it that she'll have to take the time to repair.

The campaign told her to send them an itemized list of anything that was broken, and they would pay for it, but Bauer says that won't fix everything.

"My dad's picture, an emblem my dad gave me, it got broke. Those aren't things you can replace."

Bauer added that for all the trouble she endured, she never even got to meet Mitt Romney -- a problem that Romney, to his credit, tried to make up for with a personal phone call. Still, Bauer says it wasn't enough to assuage her anger: "I took it as mocking." As Bauer tells it, former candidate Rick Perry sets a gold standard for the campaign diner visit, taking care to meet with his hosts and express his gratitude before heading out into the restaurant to stump for votes.

They do not forget and they do not forgive in Iowa, folks. Back in 2008, a primary campaign visit by the Clinton campaign to a Maid-Rite diner in Iowa turned into a massive kerfuffle after a forgotten tip for waitress Anita Esterday sucked her up into the political news cycle. Esterday was left feeling pretty down about Clinton, telling The Huffington Post, "I don't believe she can help out the working women of this world because I don't believe she gets it." That sounds a lot like Bauer, today, on Romney: "With how he treated me, is that how he's going to treat others? You know, if he gets in office is he going to be that way to us little people?"

It's worth pointing out that Esterday didn't have many nice things to say about the media (that includes us), either:

In this country, look at how many homeless people there are. There are millions. There are people just like me. I'm not the only parent who has had to raise two kids and barely makes $20,000 a year... This is supposed to be the United States of America, the strongest nation in the world, and we can't even provide places for our homeless. The media should be focusing on that.

Anita Esterday basically knows more about America's economic problems than every single person inside the Beltway. Prior to that, she offered up the most succinct and accurate description of the political media you can find anywhere: "You people are really nuts." This is a pretty fair assessment.

At any rate, to everyone out on the campaign trail, please remember to tip your waitresses and thank the people who allow you into their establishments. Do it twice as much in Iowa. And then maybe we won't be remembered as history's greatest monsters.

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Anonymous Democrats Agree With Other Anonymous Democrat That It's Time To Freak Out

Jason Linkins   |   June 13, 2012   12:52 PM ET

Yesterday, the chattering class was having a field day over the most recent Democracy Corps memo, which advised that President Barack Obama needed to do more to ensure middle and working class Americans that he had a plan to brighten their future. (If middle and working class Americans are reading leaked trade documents, that might be harder to do.) It's not hard to see the wisdom in the strategy memo, whose authors -- James Carville, Stan Greenberg, and Erica Seifert -- urge the president to ignore the conventional wisdom of "elites" and focus on the fact that voters are sophisticated enough to understand the causes of their economic dislocation, and are looking for a sign that the president understands it as well.

However, it's even easier to stop reading the memo after you get to the phrase "impossible headwind" and decide that it's a call for all-out panic. What to do next? Well, if you want to "confirm" the panic, all you have to do is call a random assortment of "Democratic strategists," who as a general rule, are almost always panicking. Here's Karen Tumulty, today:

"The bad thing is, there is no new thinking in that circle," said one longtime operative in Democratic presidential campaigns who spoke on the condition of anonymity to be candid.

Eight other prominent Democratic strategists interviewed shared that view, describing Obama's team as resistant to advice and assistance from those who are not part of its core. All of them spoke on the condition of anonymity as well.

That's about as far as it goes. These "eight other prominent Democrats" never speak on their own, we just learn that they all apparently said, "Yeah, whatever that first guy said." And what the first guy said was basically that Obama desperately needs to listen to what the first guy has to say. Though the first guy never discloses the powerful, game-changing political advice he has to offer, maybe because he doesn't have any? It's tough to say. One of the great things about being an anonymous political strategist is that you never have to be responsible for a strategy.

Can I get someone to do some realkeeping, here? Someone who can point to some simple electoral fundamentals that make this 2012 race unique? Fortunately, Tumulty provides me with Mark McKinnon:

"Now all the stories are about the flawed Obama team and strategy, which is ridiculous," said Mark McKinnon, who was a top campaign strategist for George W. Bush. "They are not any more or less smart than they were four years ago. The dynamics are just different. This time, the wind is in their face instead of at their back."

See, that's the sort of thing I would have led with, because I'm interested in making politics less complicated for readers, as opposed to more confusing. The point I would make is that no matter what "messaging" the Obama team comes up with -- and it has many months to do an awesome or a terrible job -- the dire economy is the dire economy.

Meanwhile, not too long ago, James Carville was on the record suggesting that Obama panic and start firing people willy-nilly. Now Carville is merely "worried." If anything, that's an improvement.

If we could take a trip together, through time and space, back to the 2008 Democratic Convention in Denver, I could introduce you to at least a dozen Democratic strategists who told me off the record that Obama was surely going to lose and his strategy was all wrong and that he needed to listen to their advice before it was too late. And I think you'd agree that writing the "anonymous Democratic strategists are panicking" story is a lot like writing the "darkness is likely to ensue as the sun sets in the west" story.

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In Wisconsin, Lessons Learned And Bridges Burned: The 2012 Speculatron Weekly Roundup For June 8, 2012

Jason Linkins   |   June 8, 2012    5:03 PM ET

Your mainstream media came out of Wisconsin with only one takeaway to their name -- that the Wisconsin recall election is a harbinger of the larger presidential race.

It's important to note that news organizations did not extract this idea from detailed analysis, thoughtful critique or an on-the-ground study of what was going on in the lives of Wisconsinites. And it didn't matter much that their conclusions were not supported by the evidence. It was simply the narrative that they had erected in the first place, which they were prepared to confirm in advance.

Which is too bad because there was a lot of important information to extract from Wisconsin's Season of Constant Recall. Here then, is our story of lessons learned and bridges burned.

Recall, not rerun. As we've already noted, there was never much reason to suspect that Tom Barrett was going to somehow prevail in a rerunning of an election in which he had already been defeated. Barrett's 2010 defeat was not a close one. His 2012 defeat wasn't even as close as the original. Barrett may need to run a third time for it to sink in, but it's pretty clear that Wisconsinites just aren't that into being governed by him.

It's pretty clear that Barrett really needed somebody who could explain to him that this particular election was not like any of the other ones he had been in and that very specific issues animated the anti-Scott Walker sentiment in the first place. Barrett seemed to be the only person in Wisconsin who didn't know it was a recall election. It's hard to seize the moment as its flood if you're playing in a puddle.

Fast money stays fast, slow money stays slow, and infinite money stays infinite. Beyond Barrett's deficiencies, the Wisconsin recall election is an object lesson in the power of money in the Citizens United era. Big labor unions fundraise for cycles; they marshal resources for the purpose of being there just when their candidates need them.

But Gov. Scott Walker's plutocratic patrons are ready to go anytime, and when Walker got his fundraising window, they made sure it was filled to the brim.

There is a lot of after-action silver-lining divining going on within the anti-Walker community that goes a little like this: "Hey, at least we forced them to spend tens of millions of dollars to save his job." This misses the point. The types of donors who backed Walker can spend that sort of money every Tuesday from now until the end of the year if they need to. The Barrett side can't. And that's the reality now.

Revising Citizens United. With that in mind, let's go back to the way the Citizens United decision was popularly described -- a means by which wealthy donors, corporations and labor unions can raise infinite sums of money for campaign contributions. We can effectively zero out labor unions as a beneficiary of the Citizens United ruling, as we now know that everyone else's money can be put to work to pass laws that limit their ability to raise money in the first place. Citizens United should get credit for being the mechanism by which forces against workers effectively killed their limited clout by executing a plutocratic pincer maneuver.

Recall elections aren't that popular. Howard Fineman brought back some critical intel from his contacts on the ground in Wisconsin that didn't end up getting a lot of attention: Lots of Wisconsin voters were just sour on the whole notion of the recall election in principle. Generally speaking, Democratic voters only support the notion of "recall for any reason" by a slight majority -- a sizable number prefer that it be used only in the case of misconduct. (We know that "misconduct" could be defined in relative terms. But the point is, the passion isn't there.)

And it showed: While the level of turnout was respectable enough compared with national turnout trends, it still lagged behind the turnout that Wisconsin voters achieved in 2008. The popular takeaway is that Barrett failed to turn out voters.

But we're going to suggest that the process actually succeeded in turning voters off. Most of the anecdotal accounts we were hearing going into the campaign's final week taught us that Wisconsinites were just miserable and sick of the recall season -- even those who participated in it.

And the fact of the matter is that lots of Wisconsinites -- even those who might ordinarily vote against Walker -- were of the mind that the will of the majority should be allowed to play out. And whatever you think of the stakes in the recall, this is not an indecent sentiment.

Labor needs to rethink things. I'll not belabor -- ha, ha -- the point. When you come at the king you'd best not miss. Labor missed. The end. I'll simply recommend Left Business Observer's Doug Henwood's "un-sugar-coated" take on the matter. A year ago, he wrote:

It’s the same damn story over and over. The state AFL-CIO chooses litigation and electoral politics over popular action, which dissolves everything into mush. Meanwhile, the right is vicious, crafty, and uncompromising. Guess who wins that sort of confrontation?

As you can imagine, the recall results do not surprise him. And it's hard to argue with his reality check:

A major reason for the perception that unions mostly help insiders is that it’s true. Though unions sometimes help out in living wage campaigns, they’re too interested in their own wages and benefits and not the needs of the broader working class. Public sector workers rarely make common cause with the consumers of public services, be they schools, health care, or transit. That means that if unions ever want to turn things around -- and I’m old-fashioned enough to believe that we’ll never have a better society without a reborn labor movement -- they have to learn to operate in this new reality. Which means learning to act politically, to agitate on behalf of the entire working class and not just a privileged subset with membership cards.

At the same time, labor needed to put up some sort of fight. As Josh Eidelson noted, "While Walker’s survival will embolden other anti-union politicians, they’d be far bolder already if labor had just rolled over as rights were stripped away last year."

Fair enough. Still: Come at the king, best not miss, etc.

The bottom line is that divide and conquer worked. If representatives of the media had been of the mind that reaching out to ordinary Americans was a valuable thing to do, there might have been more reporting on what was really at stake in Wisconsin. But most political reporters don't see any currency in having access to poor people, which is why what matters to them is how this recall reflects what could happen to other affluent political elites.

The real story here is that the strategy of rechannelling all that post-crash, populist angst and anger away from the malefactors of the financial crisis and directing it back at the larger middle-class community worked like a charm in Wisconsin. Scott Walker performed to his patrons' expectations, successfully creating a zero-sum game in which one group of have-nots was pitted against another group of have-nots. You can distill Scott Walker's message down to this: "The reason you are suffering is because your neighbor takes home a pension and a health benefit."

Ideally, you would want the group that lacks these slight advantages to agitate for a leveling up. When those on the rung above join forces with those on the rung below, these agitations can succeed. Walker managed to get them agitating for a leveling down instead. And so, in Wisconsin, there is genuine enthusiasm among one group of working Wisconsinites that another group of working Wisconsinites have been impoverished.

As Jonathan Chait noted on New York magazine's site, "Walker has pioneered a tactic that will likely become a staple of Republican governance. Fortune favors the bold."


In the past week, we've seen the polls begin to tighten in the 2012 presidential race, as Mitt Romney has shucked off all those badly overhyped concerns that he would be unable to get the support of his party's base. Taken together, Romney's gotten out of the "does he even have a chance" cloud and is now enjoying the first real dawning of the notion that he could actually win in November.

Not coincidentally, we have also noticed that for the first time, political observers have started to wrestle with the question of how a President Romney might govern. Aside from the emerging electoral possibilities, the question is intriguing because Romney makes it geniunely difficult to answer. Romney's convictions, if he has any at all, are a mystery. He has a reputation for being risk averse. He doesn't seem to be all that interested in any sort of call to action or a national mission that America could undertake. And last week, even Peggy Noonan was urging Romney to "give us a plan."

Of course, by not "giving us a plan," Romney buys himself some critical time. Once Romney starts presenting priorities, Team Obama Re-Elect will have some tangible things to attack. In the meanwhile, Obama's troops are left to prosecute various ghosts of the past -- Romney's record at Bain and his tenure in the Massachusetts State House. Members of the Obama camp are also primed to paint Romney as a President Dubya 2.0. But at the moment, all they can do is point at the dot. Not until Romney offers up something will they be able to attempt to draw a line.

But, in the absence of these tangibles, we have some speculation. And it's not all unreasonable. For instance, there is the possibility that Romney is a "secret Keynesian." Joe Weisenthal made this point in April on Business Insider -- albeit in an intentionally sly and cynical way:

First of all, we know that Romney would be opposed to any across-the-board tax hikes. Now granted, technically the Bush tax cuts would expire before he assumes office. But you could surmise that he'd quickly work to make sure taxes stayed low (or went lower) the second he got into office.

Furthermore, you can be sure that the Republicans in Congress would quickly forget all about austerity and spending cuts. This is because austerity is purely the domain of opposition parties. Remember, Republicans were pro-deficit, and pro-entitlement expansion under Bush and Reagan. Deficit cutting only became part of the party's ideology under Obama. It's safe to surmise they'd quickly revert to form once there were no longer any political capital to be accumulated via undermining the President.

And though Romney himself his talked about favoring cutting, capping, and balancing the US budget, you don't have to ever take Mitt Romney's stated policy goals too seriously since he's, well, Mitt Romney.

Ezra Klein on the Washington Post's site added to this with an obvious point: If Romney is elected, the GOP will stop threatening to destroy the economy all the time. Romney is going to get clean debt-ceiling bills every time he needs to have one.

The GOP, after all, isn't sincerely concerned with the debt. And the Democrats aren't of the mind that their policy goals should be obtained by threatening to destroy the global economy. It's possible, I suppose, that the Democrats will pursue some sort of "turnabout is fair play" maneuver, but it's not really in their nature, perhaps to their lasting detriment!

So the "Romney is a secret Keynesian scenario" goes like this: Romney does all the same stuff Obama tried to do, only Romney gets lots of GOP votes. The prescription works, Romney gets the credit, the GOP dines out on saving the economy, everyone forgets and forgives four years of obstruction, and the Republican Party dominates elections for some time to come.

Of course, all this requires the GOP to return to its previous rut, and forego any of the ambitions that certain members may have undertaken to achieve in the meantime. And while Weisenthal has faith in the fact that "austerity is purely the domain of opposition parties," we mustn't forget about Paul Ryan, who has made the promotion of "Hunger Games"-style austerity his life's work. And unlike Romney, Ryan has convictions to which he is firmly wed.

That's where we get the scenario that Jonathan Chait identifies, in which members of the Republican Party, recognizing that demography is not on their side in the long term, have "concluded that they must strike quickly and decisively at the opposition before all hope is lost." This strike includes enshrining Paul Ryan's Randian True Believer vision as America's permanent alternative fiscal scenario:

The connecting thread of my last two print stories for [New York magazine] -- the first on the GOP’s almost panicked now-or-never focus on 2012, and the second on the rise of Paul Ryan -- is that the Republicans, led by Ryan, have made a strategic decision that the economic crisis offers them an expiring window of opportunity to pass the agenda of their dreams. Should they win the election, it is vital that they use their majority immediately and to maximal effect. That’s why Ryan insisted on boxing the party in by getting his fellow Republicans to take dangerous votes on his budget in 2011 and again this year despite having no chance of signing [it] into law under Obama. By making virtually all Republicans in Congress take the vote now, they will have a hard time claiming next year that voters don’t want such radical change.

This is why Grover Norquist sees Romney's lack of a core as his best quality. All Norquist wants from Romney is for him to bring to the White House a hand in which he can grip a pen.

These two scenarios are distinct in that in the first, Romney does something popular ("save" the economy) and everyone milks it for long-term power, while in the second, the GOP uses Romney to use that power to execute a final-stage plan. In the latter scenario, the relative unpopularity of Ryan's proposals could tarnish Romney in the eyes of voters, but in the latter scenario, nobody cares about Romney as anything other than the temporary handmaiden to the desired outcome. Romney might bring with him, to the White House, strong-willed advisers who'll have his ear on matters like earning a second term and cementing a legacy.

Either way, the one emerging consistency in all the different concepts of how Romney might govern if he becomes president is that he'll largely be doing a lot of shutting up and falling in line.

NOAM SCHIEBER WOULD LIKE MITT ROMNEY TO STOP LYING ABOUT HIS BOOK: Talking Points Memo's Sahil Kapur reached out to Schieber, author of "The Escape Artists," after Romney cited his book on the stump, and struck pay dirt:

“There are a couple of claims wound up together there in Romney’s remarks,” Scheiber said. “One claim is that [Obama’s team] knew that the Affordable Care Act itself -- something about the Act -- would derail the recovery … They do not believe that it’s substantively true. So it’s not something that they felt, and it’s not something I argue in the book.”

But by far the strangest lie Romney is telling people about Schieber's book is that it's "written in a way that’s apparently pro-President Obama." It's not. Right there on the cover are the words: "How Obama's Team Fumbled the Recovery." This is not a matter of ambiguity, so why Romney would allege that -- he clearly doesn't need to! -- is almost beyond our ability to explain.

We've found, on occasion, that when someone is so committed to lying, sometimes it's not good enough to tell the truth even when the truth is good enough to achieve the desired end result. That's probably what's going on with Romney, although it's also possible that he has such contempt for his supporters that he figures that they can't read the book on their own.

SO MUCH FOR THE BELTWAY CONVENTIONAL WISDOM, PART MMCCCLXXXVII: When Team Obama Re-Elect launched its round of attacks on Mitt Romney's Bain Capital legacy, the Washington media -- aided by Acela-stan Democrats beholden to private equity donors -- declared them to be a failure. They forgot that they weren't the intended audience. They also forgot that the messaging wasn't put out there for a snap judgment. And they were wrong, which is hardly surprising, as this Salon post shows:

Despite all the hand wringing and recriminations from Cory Booker and other Northeast elites about the Obama campaign’s attacks on Mitt Romney’s record at Bain Capital, a new poll shows it could work well in the industrial Midwest. In 12 battleground states, 47 percent said they think private equity firms “care only about profits” and often create layoffs, while just 38 percent said they think the firms “help the American economy grow.” That margin is even bigger in places like Ohio, where the gap is 16 percentage points.

The intended audience got the message.

BETTER KNOW A THIRD PARTY: The Green Party is still a thing and Jill Stein -- "mother, housewife, physician, longtime teacher of internal medicine, and pioneering environmental-health advocate" -- is its nominee. She beat out, among other people, television comedienne Roseanne Barr, who does not seem to have been aware that there was a nominating process going on all this while.

THE ROMNEY VEEPSTAKES: This week's political figure who wants to remind us that he does not want to be Mitt Romney's vice president is Jeb Bush. Again, we think? The point is, Jeb has sort of recognized that this is, at the moment, no country for conciliatory men. And in giving voice to that conciliatory spirit, he basically eliminated himself from contention. (But perhaps he's kept something more important alive.)

In other news, it really appears that we are headed for the Great Rob Portman Anti-Climax. (We realize that "Rob Portman" and "anti-climax" are essentially synonymous.)

THE SPECULATRON ELECTORAL MAP PROJECTION: Everyone else is making custom-made electoral map projections, so we will, too. And if you go to the Huffington Post election dashboard, you can, too. This is our first foray into this sort of thing this year, so some important notes up front.

You should not use our projections as the basis of an important wager. You should not interpret our projections as something that's necessarily wedded to rigorous statistical science. We are not Mark Blumenthal. His projection is here. We do our best to take good polling data and stir in our relative optimism or pessimism about the economy. But sometimes, we make calls because our Aunt Linda in Ohio says her basset hound has been behaving strangely. You should feel free to yell at us about how wrong we are. In fact, this wouldn't be any fun unless you did.


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Romneynomics And The Problem Of Aggregate Demand Denialism

Jason Linkins   |   June 7, 2012    5:01 PM ET

Over at the Plum Line, Greg Sargent -- in an effort to touch off some amount of grappling with the cumulative effects of Mitt Romney's economic policy proposals -- talks with two economists and asks them to rate the relative prognosis of the economy under Mitt Romney's leadership. The news is not all bad. His sources -- Macroeconomic Advisers chairman Joel Prakken and Moody's Analytics senior adviser Mark Hopkins -- say that Romney's proposals are "reasonable" and both offered support for his "long-term goals."

But the short term is a different story entirely, and in the sixth paragraph of the piece, a red flag shot up:

“Are [Romney's proposals] going to reduce the unemployment rate from eight to five in two years? No,” Joel Prakken, the chairman of Macroeconomic Advisers, tells me. He described Romney’s ideas as a “a bundle of reasonable policy proposals that could well stimulate the economy from the supply side over a number of years, but would do little to stimulate aggregate demand in the short run. The reason that unemployment is as high as it is is inadequate aggregrate demand, not inadequate supply.”

Emphasis mine. One of the problems that I feel we've been having is that unless you are Paul Krugman, or an actual small-business owner (as opposed to the phantom, straw-men small business owners whose mysterious existence actually forms the spine of policy discussions), or just someone who is generally enthusiastic about things that are painfully obvious, there's little attention being paid to the fact that we are in a crisis of aggregate demand -- by which I mean people are unemployed and/or struggling to stay in their homes, cannot purchase goods, and thus cannot spin the economy out of its rut.

Or, as Rick Poore, owner of Designwear Inc., told The Huffington Post's Zach Carter a year ago: "If you drive more people to my business, I will hire more people. It's as simple as that." (He adds, "If you give me a tax break, I'll just take the wife to the Bahamas," which is worth noting because even President Barack Obama is in Las Vegas today suggesting that the government can inspire hiring with tax breaks.) To "drive more people" to businesses, the government has the option of pursuing short-term economic stimulus policies that put money in the hands of consumers.

But there seems to be widespread aggregate demand-crisis denialism, which flourishes because the media tends to treat these matters as being subject to an epic debate among political elites, and because they have a strange and untimely obsession with the long-term deficit, a crisis we would better manage once we're out of the darkness in which we're currently submerged.

In general, when your house is on fire it's best to put off the larger philosophical debate over the long-term trajectory of household expenses and instead just pour water on the flames. In Hopkins' view, however, Romney's policies “on net ... do more harm in the short term. If we implemented all of his policies, it would push us deeper into recession and make the recovery slower.” So, a recipe for inferno, in the short term.

Unless, of course, Romney is a secret Keynesian, who -- unlike Obama -- can get a bunch of GOP votes for his Keynesianism where Obama can't. This is another part of the problem with Romney -- it's hard to pin down who he is exactly.

Which means the only thing to do is for the media to relentlessly press him on these matters. Will they do so? Sargent's economists sure provide the inspiration. (For more of their diagnosis of Romney's specific proposals, go read the whole thing.)

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The Relative Salience Of The Etch A Sketch Quip

Jason Linkins   |   June 6, 2012    5:27 PM ET

As you may have heard, way back in March, as Mitt Romney was widening his delegate lead and locking down the GOP nomination, his adviser Eric Fehrnstrom uttered what was widely reported to be a "gaffe."

In a conversation with John Fugelsang, Fehrnstrom responded to a query about the challenges of tacking to the center in the general election by saying that after the primary had concluded, Romney would have the luxury of resetting his campaign. Speaking off the cuff, Fehrnstrom referenced an Etch A Sketch to make this more relatable. But because Romney has a well-established reputation for fungible convictions, the political world seized on the metaphor and used it as a brickbat.

As you might expect, the phrase Etch A Sketch immediately became popular with Romney's Democratic opponents. In mid-April, President Barack Obama's campaign manager knocked Romney's high negatives by quipping, "He is going to have to do his Etch a Sketch very quickly here."

Last week as David Axelrod was facing Romney hecklers at a campaign rally in Massachusetts, he invoked the toy again, shouting back, "You can chant down speakers, my friend, but it's hard to Etch A Sketch the truth away."

On Wednesday, the Obama campaign responded to Romney's creation of a Hispanic steering committee with another repetition: "Unfortunately for Governor Romney, an advisory council can’t Etch A Sketch away his extreme positions on the issues that matter to Hispanic families."

The Atlantic's Molly Ball jumped on that with an ace observation:


Actually, there is considerable evidence to suggest that the Obama campaign is trying to make Etch A Sketch happen in vain. Let's recall that after Fehrnstrom's statement touched off all that hullabaloo, the Pew Research Center reported that this "gaffe" that had been so, so important to the people who write and talk about politics was not something that normal people actually noticed:

Though the 2012 presidential campaign was the second most closely followed story last week, 55% of the public says they had not heard about one of the week’s more prominent election stories: a gaffe by a top strategist for Mitt Romney who said that the candidate would recalibrate his campaign once he wins the GOP nomination, shaking the slate clean like an Etch A Sketch toy.

Just more than four-in-ten (44%) say they heard about the remark, which critics used to hit Romney for shifting his positions on certain issues.

Critically, only 47 percent of independent voters -- the sort of people who you would imagine might not like Romney's weather-vane tendencies -- had heard about Etch A Sketch. Where is Etch A Sketch getting the most traffic right now? Intense supporters of Obama definitely trade the quip back and forth, but they don't need to be convinced of Romney's foibles. You'll also see it used on a regular basis on on Obama-allied blogs and by left-leaning activists. But within that audience, "Etch A Sketch" is insider jargon, a shibboleth, a short cut.

Out in the wide world, where low-information voters and independent fence-sitters live, it likely does sound, as Ball put it, like "gobbledygook." Team Obama Re-Elect probably needs to pick a better weapon.

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Late Returns: A Supreme Court Strikedown Of Health Care Reform Would Not Be A Boon To Obama

Jason Linkins   |   June 5, 2012    6:57 PM ET

Because political discussion is primarily forged in the flames of a pointlessly crazy news cycle, by a profoundly decadent set of pundits farting into a bag all day long, it was only inevitable that someone would argue that losing ObamaCare to the Supreme Court might secretly be an awesome thing for President Barack Obama, who ran on a promise to enact it, and the Democrats, who strove mightily to see it through.

The New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin has heard these arguments about the Affordable Care Act case, and he responded Tuesday by saying, No, shut up, all of you, for the love of God:

It’s been said that Obama might somehow be better off politically if the Court were to strike down the unpopular parts of the law (or even all of it). According to this reasoning, he could then avoid the problem of defending the law on the campaign trail and concentrate instead on issues on which the Democratic view is more popular.

This is nonsense. In the first place, in politics and the rest of life, it’s always better to win than lose. Winners win, and losers lose. Moreover, the invalidation of such a central achievement of his Administration would taint Obama’s Presidency forever. To casual followers of politics (and the Supreme Court), which is to say most people, it would look like Obama overreached in the way that the stereotype suggests that liberals often do -- in expanding the size of government. In the event of a loss, Obama would blame the Court, perhaps for good reason, but for better or worse the Justices will have the last word. In the famous words of Justice Robert Jackson, “We are not final because we are infallible, but we are infallible only because we are final.”

But a loss in the A.C.A. case would be even more costly to Obama, and to Democrats, than the electoral calculus may suggest. If fully enacted, the A.C.A. would achieve a cherished progressive goal that has gone unfulfilled for two generations: to bring health insurance to tens of millions of the uninsured. The A.C.A. case is less about winning elections than about why elections matter. A loss in the Supreme Court would send the Democratic Party back to square one on the issue.

If the Supreme Court rules against the Affordable Care Act, however, it will be a tremendous benefit to Mitt Romney, who still hasn't sufficiently answered the question of what he would put in the Affordable Care Act's place. It is a highly anticipated event, if only because he's already come up with a health care reform innovation (RomneyCare). Surely, his future thinking on the matter is likely to look a lot like his previous thinking.

But if the Supreme Court gives it a no-go, Romney no longer has to answer to whether he believed his Massachusetts reform was meant to be a "model for the nation" or when he believed that. The court makes it moot; everyone has to move on.

[Related: "How Pro-‘Obamacare’ Is Romney’s New Transition Honcho?" by Brian Beutler]

Your Complete Guide to Tonight's Primaries: Wisconsin takes the headlines tonight, but there are races elsewhere of real significance in California, Montana, New Jersey and New Mexico. Jonathan Bernstein can bring you up to speed on tonight's undercard. Want to know if your teevee pundit has spent real time in Wisconsin? Check their pronunciations of tricky county names like Waukesha, Shawano, Manitowoc and Outagamie against this official guide. And if you want to read the most complete overview on everything that's happened in Wisconsin and why everything is broken and why nothing will ever be good again there, ever, read Abe Sauer's exegesis on the new permanent state of recall, "As Goes Wisconsin, So Goes Hell." [The Plum Line; MissPronouncer; The Awl]

Utah Senate Debate Update: Drawing inspiration from Mickey Kaus' (rather thin) book of political tactics, Tea Party hopeful Dan Liljenquist will debate a cardboard cutout of the no-showing Utah Senate incumbent Orrin Hatch. The irony is that many years ago, cardboard cutouts of Orrin Hatch had a 74 percent approval rating in Utah. [National Journal]

Missing in Michigan: CJR's Anna Clark has noted that in the wake of Rep. Thad McCotter's recent woes -- he failed to qualify for his own primary because his campaign filed fraudulent signatures, briefly flirted with a write-in campaign and then just pulled the plug altogether -- Michigan's "local media has given almost no attention to the perspectives of citizens in McCotter’s district." [CJR's Swing States Project]

A Confederacy of Dumb Wealthy Centrists: It's pretty amazing that after giving money in equal measure to Republicans and Democrats, without any thought of what those people would actually do with that money, rich moron Ted Waitt has concluded that something is wrong with the system. So now he's funding a new project to help make it so California districts filled with voters that express their political preferences according to their shared values never ever get a nominee that represents their interests ever again. [Alex Pareene @ Salon]

Don't Get Too Excited About The Possibility That Wisconsin Democrats May Retake The State Senate

Jason Linkins   |   June 5, 2012    4:34 PM ET

Based upon the way polls are shaping up, it looks like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has a better-than-even shot at holding off tonight's gubernatorial recall attempt and Democratic hopeful Tom Barrett. But that's not the only thing that's technically at stake tonight in Wisconsin. Why, the Democrats could retake a majority in the state Senate, after all! Over at the Washington Post, Rachel Weiner says that the "more likely scenario" tonight is one where "Democrats lose the governor’s race but win control of the state Senate." Here's how she sets the stage:

Last summer, Democrats ran recall campaigns against six Republican state senators in response to the collective bargaining reforms championed by Walker and passed by the the GOP-controlled legislature. Two Republicans were unseated, so while Democrats failed to take over the state Senate, they narrowed the GOP majority from 19-14 to 17-16.

When they filed petitions to recall Walker himself last fall, Democrats also filed papers to recall another four state senators — Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, and Sens. Pam Galloway, Terry Moulton and Van Wanggaard, (Galloway resigned earlier this year; Republican state Rep. Jerry Petrowski is running for her seat.)

They need only win one race to take control.

Weiner rates the races against Moulton and Wanggaard -- who are opposed by former state Rep. Kristin Dexter and former state Sen. John Lehman, respectively -- as the ripest pick-up opportunities for the Democrats. A third race, between Petrowski and state Rep. Donna Seidel (D), also has switch potential. As for the clean sweep, Weiner says it's an outside possibility: "Fitzgerald is likely safe given his heavily Republican district, although Lori Compas, his Democratic rival, has attracted a lot of media attention."

Weiner's Post colleague Greg Sargent says today that tonight's recall could end up being a "split decision," in which Democrats retake the state Senate and gain the power to "hobble Walker’s agenda." Well, not so fast. As HuffPost's John Celock explains, retaking the state Senate actually doesn't get the Democrats anything in the short term:

If Democrats retake the Senate with Walker remaining in the governor's mansion, the victory may be hollow. The state legislature has adjourned for the year and the Senate cannot return to Madison without the consent of the Republican-controlled Assembly, unless the governor calls them back. Half of the Senate faces voters in November. Democrats have said winning the majority in June can help with momentum for the November race.

It's kind of hard to hobble Walker's agenda when you're sitting at home, waiting for Walker or his Assembly allies to give you the chance to do so.

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Obama's Battleground-State Economic Silver Lining May Be A Mirage

Jason Linkins   |   June 5, 2012    2:35 PM ET

Back in late April, even as the nation's economy began to pitch and yaw in the wrong direction after a robust mini-recovery in the winter months gave hope for a turnaround, the Associated Press' Paul Wiseman pointed to 2012's battleground states, where the unemployment rate was edging downward in spite of the larger economic headwinds. Wiseman captured the electoral stakes right from the jump: "The improving economy is swinging the pendulum in President Barack Obama's favor in the 14 states where the presidential election will probably be decided."

Conversation grew from there around the notion that whatever was happening in the swing states economically, was favoring Obama, and primarily explained why he was polling better than Romney in many of these states. One month to the day after Wiseman first reported on this, Bloomberg swung in for a pass, and arrived at the same conclusion:

The unemployment rates in a majority of the 2012 battleground states are lower than the national average as those economies improve. Coupled with the growth of adult minority populations in those states, the trends create a higher bar for presumed Republican Party presidential nominee Mitt Romney in his quest to unseat Obama.

Flash-forward to the end of May, however, and the press was given something new to chew over -- a slate of NBC/Marist polls from the same battleground states where the job picture was rosier (and Obama's path to electoral college wins presumably more certain) told a different story: The race was tightening. In Iowa, Obama and Romney were deadlocked, despite the state's relatively nice 5.1 percent unemployment rate. In Colorado, Obama was up by just 1 point. In Nevada, the incumbent was up by 2. For all the talk about the favorable economy in these locations, the results on the ground were shaping into a set of dead heats.

Over at Salon, Steve Kornacki's takeaway was that Obama had lost this widely reported "silver lining," noting that Obama was not "getting any extra credit" for these states' "relatively strong economy." True to his ethic, Kornacki went searching for what explanation political science had to offer on the matter:

A team of political scientists investigated the effect of state-level unemployment on presidential popularity and concluded that it has one-fifth the effect of national-level jobless data. That is to say:

"[a] one percent increase in the national unemployment rate is associated with a roughly 3 percentage point-decrease in presidential approval. Controlling for national trends, an additional 1 percentage point state-level increase in unemployment is associated with roughly a 0.6 percentage point decrease in approval."

This may help explain why clear majorities in Iowa and Colorado say the country is heading in the wrong direction.

Admittedly, I originally found the notion that Obama might catch a lucky break in the battleground states to be a pretty compelling theory, and I gave it its due. That may have been a myopic mistake on my part however, because once I started considering the matter from a distance other than 30,000 feet in the air, I could see why positive state-level unemployment numbers in the middle of a nation-wide employment emergency wouldn't be all that valuable to voters.

To put it simply, this is not how normal people experience and react to economic dislocation. Sure, if you're in Iowa, you might be prospering with that 5.9 percent unemployment rate (you may not have stopped prospering, actually -- as Kornacki points out, "unemployment never spiked in Iowa in 2009 and 2010 the way it did in other states"). But one's economic world doesn't stop with yourself. Your Iowa voter may have a sister stuck in an underwater mortgage in Southern California. His wife's brother might be long-term unemployed in North Carolina. Maybe his best pal from college, who he's keeping up with on Facebook, got laid off and is now commuting three states away to the only job he can find. And if he's got kids of his own, he's likely spent more than a few quiet hours contemplating the high stakes of student loans.

So, even if we're lucky to have Americans doing better than most in places like Iowa, Colorado, Nevada, Virginia, or Ohio, they still have people they love throughout the nation. And they know that their prosperity may eventually be their loved ones' cushion against disaster.

When things are tough all over, then things are tough even in the happiest of homes. So that battleground state "silver lining," was probably a mirage.

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Mitt Romney's Successful Wooing Of GOP Elites Deemed To Be 'Unthinkable,' For Some Reason

Jason Linkins   |   June 5, 2012    2:01 PM ET

Politico's big feature story Tuesday does a pretty good job chronicling the GOP's fears of what could go wrong in the Romney campaign between now and November but it begins jarringly, with with a very strange assertion:

Mitt Romney has done the unthinkable: silenced the legions of conservatives who saw him as too starched, too ideologically wobbly and too Richie Rich to win a few months ago.

Did legions of conservatives sweat the possibility that Romney's career-long flirtation with off-brand political convictions or his staggering wealth might be a turn off to voters? Sure. They sweated this stuff at great length. But was it unthinkable that those same conservatives would inevitably gather in full-throated support of their nominee? Of course not! And it hasn't been unthinkable for quite some time. In fact, here's Politico, back in November 2011, clearly thinking about it:

Conservatives don’t like him. They really don’t like him.

But as Mitt Romney continues to outshine his rivals in every debate and looks more and more like the last man standing in the Republican presidential primary, even longtime critics are slowly -- and in some cases, bitterly -- coming around to the idea that he may end up as the GOP nominee.

If you can admit that longtime, bitter critics are coming around to supporting Romney in November, then it is not "unthinkable" to believe they would do so in the spring of 2012. In fact, this was an eminently predictable scenario. After all, what Romney may have lacked in "true conservative" bona fides, he more than made up for with basic strategic competence and an unimaginably superior war chest -- ever-present advantages in a race where he never trailed his competitors.

Here's a general rule, when you are sitting at home, decoding the political media: When you see the word "unthinkable" deployed in a story like this, it simply means that someone made the mistake of biting down too hard on some hype, got caught, and so they now have to call "unthinkable" the scenario they knew would happen but didn't want to admit would be the case.

Yes, at various points during the GOP primary, there were loud lamentations from the not-Romney crowd. Bill Kristol made a cottage industry out of begging other Republican luminaries to join the race. George Will wrote a column suggesting that the GOP should divert its attention from Romney's White House bid and concentrate on capturing a Senate majority and preserving its advantage in the House. Various Tea Party factions made gaudy declarations that they were going to "stop Romney." And there were a couple of secret, emergency meetings of social conservatives in the late stage of the primary season that were supposed to invigorate the flailing campaigns of Romney alternatives.

There was never any evidence that there was any heart or gumption in these efforts, which I have done my best to not take seriously. Mitch Daniels and Chris Christie resisted Kristol's entreaties. In the days between the leak of his op-ed and its publication, Will did a little bit of walk back, saying that he was not suggesting that Romney could not win the election. FreedomWorks, the organization that was supposed to be leading the Tea Party in its lusty insurgency against Romney's inevitability, attempted one tepid August protest and then largely surrendered. And those last-minute social conservative urgent care cabals ended up producing bupkes.

In our regular Friday evening Speculatron wrap-ups, we very consistently urged people to tune out the hyped-up stories of intractable alienation between the GOP and Romney. There was a simple, fundamental reason: For career conservatives, there are strong incentives to support a Romney presidency. Everyone's cause goes a little further with Romney in office, and everyone in the GOP establishment machine ends up a little more prosperous during a Republican presidency.

All you really had to do was listen to what Conservative Political Action Conference attendees were saying about the race. Was Romney their ideal candidate? Absolutely not. But the strong consensus among the young and hungry conservative activists who spoke to our reporters was that they would strongly support his candidacy, if for no other reason than their opposition to Obama. (With this in mind, you can easily understand why the establishment-to-the-core FreedomWorks went away quietly and quickly after all of its bold "not Romney" pronouncements.) Romney was also invited to deliver the commencement address at Liberty University, so there's no need to write another story about Romney's inability to win the support of social conservative elites again, either.

Politico, of course, is currently in a process of retrenching on the matter of Romney's viability, and it's not pulling it off with the subtlety for which it had hoped. After many months of lumpen concern over Romney's problems -- including this classic bit of WTFery that described how Romney's smashing success was, in itself, a worrisome sign -- Politico is trying to muscle in as much beat-sweetening as it can.

As the month of May dawned, all of Romney's perceived primary problems were now suddenly robust strengths. By June, Romney was depicted as a master political shot caller. (And if you weren't entirely convinced, no worries, because his aide-de-camp, Mike Leavitt, is a total "stallion.")

And, of course, all of this culminated in last week's comical attempt at a media takeout, in which Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen alleged that the press was engaged in an effort to "[scare] up stories to undermine the introduction of Mitt Romney to the general election audience," which, when you think about it, is basically Politico calling Politico out for its Politiconess. ("We are terrible," says Politico, in a Politico exclusive.)

I suppose it would be interesting if the current political scenario actually did feature some sort of intractable, paralyzing discontent between the Romney campaign and his party's elites. But as it turns out, all of these various political actors have behaved precisely as you would expect them to, happily following along with a predictable set of political incentives. So there's nothing "unthinkable" about this. Some people just stopped thinking for a while, that's all.

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Karl Rove Would Like You To Believe That He Is Against Fearmongering Now

Jason Linkins   |   June 4, 2012    1:50 PM ET

Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS super PAC is out with a new ad today, decrying the Obama campaign for "going negative," which for our purposes basically means registering objections with the premises that underlie Mitt Romney's campaign.

But, the Crossroads folks imagine themselves to have a good case, based upon the fact that earlier as a candidate Barack Obama made a bunch of high-flown promises about creating a new sort of politics -- promises made contemporaneously against a fantastically negative campaign that attacked Sen. John McCain. As we noted in our wrap-up post last Friday, Obama's success in assembling the reputation of an "above-the-fray" politician in 2008 is having some blowback in 2012, precisely because of the media's amnesia on the matter of Obama's being a negative campaigner.

Well, here it comes. Rove et al, in this new ad, avail themselves of many statements made by people on Obama's side of the ideological spectrum professing to be upset with the negative tone of the Obama campaign. This includes my boss, Arianna Huffington, who makes an appearance criticizing the ad Bill Clinton made for Obama on the Osama bin Laden mission, which she termed "despicable." (Ed Rendell and Cory Booker also show up in the ad: They are here to defend against attacks on private equity, an industry that provides each with political patronage and donors. Obama and Clinton also court the same donor base, for an added layer of irony and confusion.)


Karl Rove coming out against the politics of "fear" is a truly vertigo-inducing phenomenon. It's like the pope coming out against Communion wafers. It's like Ian MacKaye making an ad for malt liquor. It is difficult to believe.

And, in fact, you shouldn't believe it. Six months ago, Crossroads was cutting fearmongering ads painting Elizabeth Warren as a buddy to bailout fat cats. In mid-May, Crossroads did much the same with Obama -- releasing a negative ad that strikes the same tone of any of the ones we've seen from Team Obama Reelect.

What's happened since then is that Crossroads had its sins washed clean in a New York Times story that depicted the group as taking a kinder, subtler tone in the campaign. What was particularly ridiculous about this is that this piece in the Times was written by the same reporter who a week earlier wrote about Crossroads contributions toward "an unusually heavy and vicious air war as outside political groups assume a larger role than ever."

Huffington stands by her earlier criticism of the Bill Clinton-Osama bin Laden ad but also finds it ironic that Rove is trying to trade on the high road. She told me today, "I consider all political fear mongering despicable, whether it comes from Republicans, who elevated it to an art form during the last Bush administration -- including American Crossroads' co-founder Karl Rove and former Vice President Dick Cheney, with his patented 'what if' scenarios of mass murder -- or from Democrats, as in the 3 a.m. call ad Hillary Clinton used against Obama in their primary battle, or in the insinuation that Romney would not kill Osama in this latest ad."

You can read my take on the Obama team's bin Laden ad, along with a historical compendium of fear-stoking ads through several generations of politics, here.

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