Fred Karger's longshot bid for the White House typically doesn't get much attention, primarily because he was deemed too unpopular in polls to compete at debates alongside such titanic presences as Jon Huntsman and Tim Pawlenty. But he's running what campaign he can in his home state of California, and has managed to kick up something of a stir with the ad he released on YouTube, "Sexy Frisbee."
Karger has used his trademarked "Fred Who?" frisbee in ads before -- one of his first spots, "Demon Frisbee," gently spoofed an infamous Carly Fiorina ad. For the California effort, the spot features young and comely beachside frolickers, tossing the frisbee around as Karger discusses what his candidacy is all about.
However, not long after the "Sexy Frisbee" spot was placed on YouTube, the Karger campaign received word that the higher-ups had pulled it down, citing "inappropriate" content. If you watch the spot, I'm guessing you can pick out the moment that ran afoul of some YouTube watcher.
I find it hard to be surprised that the candidate most closely identified with supporting marriage equality included a brief kiss between two men in his campaign ad. Naturally, it's not shocking that someone out there in the world took offense, and flagged it for being inappropriate. What is surprising is that YouTube, a site that's supposed to be on the vanguard of some modern video content platform, got goosed by this, and took it down. But that's what they did, at least temporarily. Here's the notice that the Karger campaign received:
The YouTube Community has flagged one or more of your videos as inappropriate. Once a video is flagged, it is reviewed by the YouTube Team against our Community Guidelines. Upon review, we have determined that the following video(s) contain content in violation of these guidelines, and have been disabled:
"Sexy Frisbee" Viral Video - (fredkarger)
Your account has received one Community Guidelines warning strike, which will expire in six months. Additional violations may result in the temporary disabling of your ability to post content to YouTube and/or the permanent termination of your account.
So, it was in the estimable judgment of the higher-ups that there was adequate cause to censor this video. The Karger campaign mobilized supporters and petitioned YouTube with a complaint. And Karger, who is better connected than most give him credit for being, emailed the lead lobbyist in Sacramento for Google, YouTube's owner, asking for a meeting. The wheels spun, and the spot was reinstated. (During this time, I am guessing a YouTube user could have found an abundant number of videos of people beating the crap out of each other.
How many years until we all look back in embarrassment at a time when we allowed ourselves to be bothered at the sight of two men kissing? Five? Ten? Twenty seems too long. But that's part of the reason Fred Karger is running.
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This week, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum decided that the time to quit his upset bid had finally come. He shuttered a campaign that had risen from the depths to become a surprising success and, for a time, a real burr in former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's side. But with the heavy risk of flaming out for a second time in his home state, Santorum opted to go out on as high a note as possible, and in so doing, he officially made the primary season a secondary concern.
Yes, Texas Rep. Ron Paul still has some leverage to wield, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has some shout left in him, but this race has ended up where we mostly thought it would, with Romney as the GOP standardbearer and President Barack Obama as the incumbent hoping to hold forth. Neither man is unprepared for this matchup. Romney has, almost from the beginning, spent more time looking past his fellow GOP contenders and kept his eyes on his eventual general election opponent. And the Obama campaign never indulged too heavily in the speculation that one of Romney's competitors was going to end up tripping Mitt at the finish line. Each has anticipated the other, and by and large, so have we all.
Now, the question that gets raised is what sort of race we should expect from here. On that regard, Politico's John Harris predicts that the coming campaign will be a model of "self-restraint in an age of rage."
The general election will pit one exceptionally self-contained, self-disciplined, self-motivated man against another with precisely the same traits.
Voters have a choice between two men whose minds gravitate to rationality and logic — both of whom have expressed disdain for the disorder and surliness that pervade modern governance.
There may be more than coincidence at work with this seeming paradox. During a time when politics is defined by media saturation and relentless attacks, there is a premium on politicians who live by an ethic of constant self-control.
It sure is pretty to think that this is what's likely to happen. But this week's "Rosengate" flap suggests otherwise. This is a matter we've already opined at length about, so we won't repeat ourselves. But the whole incident demonstrated that civility can go out the window entirely when the right buttons get pressed. In this case, we had Romney's yawning gender gap, and the vulnerability that poses for him, intersecting with the traditional "leave the spouses out of it" rule of decorum.
The result: a silly vendetta. The Romney team went full-teeth after someone who's got nothing at all to do with the campaign. The Obama team ordered its allies to go out with a baseball bat and not return until they'd managed to get a Hilary Rosen-shaped dent embedded in the wood. Whatever value there was to be had in a discussion about women or moms or the economy got lost. The only thing Romney gained was an opportunity to push the assassination joke by his new backer, Foster Friess -- and the sixth birthday of "Romneycare" -- out of the headlines. The only benefit to Obama was a cheap scoring of a "Sista Soulja moment." And in the end, the entire contretemps only really had salience with the cosseted elites of the Beltway and the media by which it is served.
But one of your Speculatroners' regular readers emailed in with a good point: If Hilary Rosen had made the same comments two months ago, no one would have said a blessed word about it. And that's the difference between the primary season and what we're on to now. We're no longer in the part of the process where Romney gets shot at and he has to abide by Reagan's 11th Commandment and stay his hand. It's open season on everybody now.
We'd like to believe in the fantasy that Harris is describing, but we don't. (In fact, we think that all Harris is doing is setting up the "I'm so disappointed in the direction the election has taken" article that he already plans to write.) This week's sharp turn into rage was predictable, considering last week's kerfuffle between Reince Priebus and Democratic rapid-responders, who bypassed arguing a substantive point and went straight to trying to score cheap points arguing Priebus' metaphor.
But here's all you need to remember. Obama is happy to wage a negative campaign. Romney has already calculated that lying will need to be a key feature of his campaign (and his surrogates have actually admitted this). And both of these guys will be backed by stacked super PACs, that only really exist to allow someone affiliated with the campaign to get elbow-deep in the dank.
So we're at a crossroads here, and the candidates have choices. They could wage a high-minded campaign, rooted in substance, and wage a valuable debate that edifies and empowers voters. Or they could choose a nasty, brutish, interminable slog to November. We'd love to see the former, but we predict the latter.
Elsewhere on the campaign trail, the smooth road for Gary Johnson's quest for the Libertarian Party nomination hit a roadblock, Newt Gingrich expanded his fight with Romney to a fight with a former employer, Ron Paul's campaign waged an unseen battle in Missouri that could presage his future, Obama's campaign battled ts own sense of cockiness, and Rick Santorum had a surprisingly potent bid for respectability. For all of this and the rest of the news from the rapidly receding campaign trail, please feel free to enter the Speculatron for the week of April 13, 2012.
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So, did you hear? This week, the GOP nomination pretty much became a settled issue. Barring some accident or emergency (or some freaktastic alchemical wizardry that his opponents have yet to deploy), you can pretty much pencil in Mitt Romney as your GOP nominee. Actually, you should have penciled that in a long time ago. If you have, go ahead and write over it in ink.
So now, all that matters is how soon the rest of the parties involved in this electoral process realize that part one, The Primarying, is over. President Barack Obama clearly has -- his campaign released its first anti-Romney ad, touching off what you should expect to be a very harsh and brutish campaign season. Newt Gingrich, while continuing to maintain that he'll be a presence in the GOP primary all the way to Tampa, briefly allowed reality to penetrate his skull, admitting that Romney is basically going to be the winner. And those "all the way to Tampa" plans? Well, they've gotten considerably more modest.
We wait now for Rick Santorum to decide what he's going to do. The presumption is that a religious man like Santorum likely knows what it means when big block letters appear on a wall. And he did decide, in the wake of his primary losses this week, to take a break. Special significances were attached to that decision. And then it came to light that Santorum was meeting in conference with conservative leaders in Virginia, to hatch a last-minute plan to wreck Romney. Those special significances followed him there. But in less than three weeks' time, Santorum -- should he decide to stay in the race -- will have to demonstrate that he can still win something. Those prospects are not looking good.
Besides, it says something that your best case scenario is one in which you get drubbed in New York, Delaware, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. But that's what's going to happen. The only variable for Santorum is whether he gets drubbed in Pennsylvania as well, and whether Santorum really wants to come out of this election cycle having had his ass kicked in his home state ... again.
But if Romney's a shoo-in at this point, he's probably going to learn very quickly that the mantle of inevitability can be weighing. After all, he hasn't exactly managed to set the world of conservatives on fire. The money quote of the week comes from MSNBC's Joe Scarborough:
Nobody thinks Romney’s going to win. Let’s just be honest. Can we just say this for everybody at home? Let me just say this for everybody at home. The Republican establishment — I’ve yet to meet a single person in the Republican establishment that thinks Mitt Romney is going to win the general election this year. They won’t say it on TV because they’ve got to go on TV and they don’t want people writing them nasty emails. I obviously don’t care. But I have yet to meet anybody in the Republican establishment that worked for George W. Bush, that works in the Republican congress, that worked for Ronald Reagan that thinks Mitt Romney is going to win the general election.
Of course, no one but Joe Scarborough knows how good Joe Scarborough's sources are, but his salient point is an oft-repeated one: the establishment GOP is going to take to Romney like it's a forced marriage instead of a grand love affair.
But we urge caution, here. It is definitely possible to overrate the significance of these initial feelings of "meh" that the Republican elites and their base are demonstrating for Romney at the end of the primary season. There's a pretty great curative for that called the general election, and once this matter gets clarified into a Romney vs. Obama contest, you might be surprised who picks up the pom-poms for Mitt. Or not! The point is, we want to encourage you readers to be alert to all possibilities, rather than get blindsided when the March-April vintage of the conventional wisdom turns sour.
Besides, it's possible that Romney has this exactly where he wants it. You're going to hear a lot about Romney's tricky "pivot to the center," and what he stands to gain or lose. The conventional thinking, of course, is that he'll have to snap leftward, and when he does, he'll activate all the old agitation over his past moderate stances. But Romney's opponents have been warning all along that he's a squishy moderate. So much so that you'll hear plenty of reporters from now till November opining with a variation of Alex Altman, who observes: "A very conservative party is on the verge of nominating a relative moderate whom nobody is very excited about, largely because none of his rivals managed to cobble together a professional operation."
What we do know is that when he ran in two races in the extremely liberal state of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney was a moderate. Then when he ran in two races to be the Republican nominee for president, Mitt Romney was and is extremely conservative. There is simply no reason—none—to believe, let alone to assert as though it were an undisputed fact, that the first incarnation of Romney was the "real" one and the current incarnation of Romney is the fake one.
Every single issue position that might mark Mitt Romney as a "relative moderate" is something he has cast off, whether it's being pro-choice, or pro-gay rights, or not hating on immigrants. If you're going to say he's a relative moderate, you have to explain how the Massachusetts Romney was an expression of his true beliefs, and the national Romney is the product of cynical calculation, and how you know this to be the case.
It's actually pretty intriguing, the way Romney could be poised to turn his greatest liability -- ideological pliability -- into a strength. If conservatives observe Romney taking conservative positions, that could make Romney more endearing. If moderate voters keep hearing Romney described as a moderate, from reporters and critics, they'll could lose their fear of his extremes. And if he's nakedly cynical about the process, where's the harm? There are plenty of voters for whom an extremity of cynicism in an effort to defeat Obama is no vice.
We are, as always, prepared to be wrong. But we think that the general election is going to be closer than most people expect, less conforming to convention than most people imagine, and just as ugly as most people fear.
For more on the slow transition from the primary season to the general election, and all your news from the trail this week, please feel free to enter the Speculatron for the week of April 6, 2012.
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The secret documents that show the divisive, racially-driven strategies of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) have received enormous media attention since they were unsealed a day ago by a federal judge.
Receiving much less attention, however, is the fact that it all began with Fred Karger, the openly gay man who is running for the Republican nomination for President and has used his campaign to try to focus on the issue of marriage equality while criticizing the networks for not allowing him in the televised presidential debates.
Appearing on my radio program on SiriusXM OutQ on Monday, Karger explained how he'd filed a complaint, as the head of Californians Against Hate, with the Maine Ethics Commission back in 2009 regarding NOM's refusal to disclose the names of its donors. NOM contributed money to the ballot initiative in Maine in 2009 to ban gay marriage and under Maine election law the group was required to disclose its donors.
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.
Listen to the full interview below:
Last week, after the dust had settled on Super Tuesday, we surmised that you couldn't really call the 2012 GOP primary contest a battle between Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul. Rather, it had become a race between Mitt Romney and a contested convention.
Well, we may have performed inception, folks. Our little idea could be on its way to changing everything. At the moment, we're starting to see the thought of post-June wranglings, brokered deals, even the possibility of a bona fide floor fight start to creep into the minds and campaigns of Romney's opponents. Now, they're still facing very long odds -- Romney's path to a clean 1,144-to-notch the nomination delegate count remains the likeliest outcome of the primaries. And even if Romney can't get there by the time the curtain comes down on the final contests, GOP party bigwigs have plenty of time to hash out a deal that ensures his coronation. So don't go wild on InTrade betting on a tilt in Tampa just yet.
Where the idea currently lives is in the mind's eye of Romney's opponents, who all have to face the reality of his advantage, weigh their own wants and needs, and game out the best possibility of success.
If you're Ron Paul, convention wrangling is what you're all about, only you're doing it at all the state conventions that have yet to meet and decide what to do about the delegates voted out of their early caucuses. This is where Paul wants to cause the most trouble -- grabbing unexpected delegates, messing with his competitors' projections. But Paul's long game isn't about burning bridges -- he wants to deepen the connection between the movement he's built and the Republican Party. So he'll probably use what leverage he has long before delegates arrive in Tampa. In that way, he cements a legacy for others to follow. Like his son. Or, like the many Paul acolytes who are getting a master class in presidential politics in the caucus states.
By contrast, Newt Gingrich has no intention of finishing this battle with a genial deal reached ahead of the convention -- he's out for pure havoc. He's already made it clear that his aim is to stop Mitt Romney from reaching the nomination. But that doesn't really capture it all. According to Robert Costa's "go read the whole thing right now" latest, Gingrich is looking to do something historic -- and it's no less than sowing total "convention chaos."
Coupled with Gingrich's ambition to be a Reagan-like player at the Tampa convention is a lingering sense that this presidential campaign could easily be his last. At 68 years old, he is keen to plod on because, quite simply, he relishes being in the arena -- not merely sitting outside of it, talking about politics on cable news, as he did for the past decade.
Over the past few weeks, [conservative activist Richard] Viguerie has been calling his influential friends within the conservative movement, asking them to join with him in urging their old friend to respectfully withdraw. But after working the phones, he is resigned to the fact that Gingrich will make this decision alone, and probably at the last possible moment. "I'm not optimistic that he's going to get out anytime soon," he says wistfully. "He's hoping for a deadlocked convention -- for lightning to strike."
And then you have Rick Santorum. He's not looking to summon lightning from the skies, but he nevertheless has correctly surmised that he'll need an "act of God" to win the nomination. Though ironically, he's the guy who's actually in the position to pull off Newt Gingrich's "stop Romney" strategy. But as George Stephanopoulos points out, he "would have to basically sweep all the big states left" to pull it off:
Illinois next week. (And even that win might not get him most of the delegates because Santorum’s off the ballot in a few districts.)
Then he needs upsets in Wisconsin and Maryland on April 3rd – plus a sweep of New York and Pennsylvania at the end of the month.
In May, he’d need to win big on the 8th: Indiana, West Virginia and North Carolina – and hope that gives him enough momentum to win three of the five contests on June 5th. One of those wins would have to be either New Jersey or California.
All that would cripple Romney heading to Tampa.
But would Santorum go with Gingrich's nuclear option at the convention? Here's where things get murkier. Not long ago, Santorum might have been inclined to force the issue. As recently at this week, he was imagining that he might be the candidate to finally catalyze a union of conservatives on the convention floor. But while Santorum's success hasn't provided him with a clear path to the nomination, it's nevertheless provided him with some intriguing options: talk of being next in line in 2016 (or 2020), as well as talk of being on the ticket. Those prospects could convince him that staging a melee in Tampa is not in his best interests.
Of course, Mitt Romney has an entirely different take on all of this: "Look, we're not going to go to a brokered convention." He's probably right. He hopes so, anyway.
Elsewhere, Ron Paul achieved a historic win that was also somehow a blowout loss, Gary Johnson made plans to break bread with a key kingmaker, Mitt Romney's battles continue to put strain on his warchest, Rick Santorum got snippy with Fox News, and does anyone know what was going on with President Obama's polling this week? Probably something terrible/wonderful that will make him sorry/grateful when his campaign reaches its regretful/happy conclusion. For all the good things getting better and the bad things getting worse, please enter the Speculatron for the week of March 16, 2012.
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