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“Do You Like Me Now?”: Money Changed Everything For Mitt Romney In Florida Primary

It was money that won the primary for Mitt, but it didn’t make voters like him—and it won’t make the GOP rank and file show up to the polls in November.

Romney and the super PAC supporting him spent more than $15 million on television ads. Team Gingrich spent about $3 million. Both ran almost entirely negative campaigns. One tally estimated that 93 percent of all the ads were negative. The other 7 percent were wasted.

Victory is always sweet, but this one could leave Romney feeling a little sour. Gingrich called Romney’s strategy “carpet-bombing.” Fair enough. But what then do we call Gingrich’s strategy? Kamikaze? Gingrich strapped on his helmet, slugged down some sake, jumped in his Zero, and dive-bombed into the SS Romney. He didn’t sink Romney’s aircraft carrier, but he did some serious damage. Romney is likely to list even farther to starboard, as he is forced to pander even more to the far right.

Gingrich and his allies called Romney “despicable,” “breathlessly dishonest,” and, worst of all, “liberal.” It was not enough to win, or even to make it close, but it was enough to damage Romney in November, should he emerge as the GOP standard bearer. One in four GOP voters in Florida expressed dissatisfaction with the field; a full 53 percent of Gingrich voters said they would not be happy with a Romney-led ticket. To be sure, they’re not going to jump ship and vote for Obama. But they could stay home. They could refuse to give money or make calls or turn out their friends and neighbors. If Romney is the nominee, a lot of Republicans are going to sit on their hands.

As Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama battled across 50 states and seven districts and territories in 2008 there was some bitterness, to be sure. But it was mostly confined to the upper echelons of Hillaryland and Barackistan. At the grassroots you heard time and again, “I’m for Barack, but I’m not against Hillary.” Florida Republicans voted against Newt Gingrich; they did not vote for Mitt Romney.

Money begets money. Romney not only has the greatest personal fortune in the GOP field, he has the most well-funded campaign. And perhaps even more important, the super PAC supporting him dwarfs those of his competitors. An analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project shows outside spending on Campaign 2012 is up 1,600 percent over 2008. Romney’s allies have mastered this new tactic. (Full disclosure: I advise the pro-Obama super PAC, Priorities USA Action.)

The campaign will now stagger through the February doldrums. Romney is very likely to win the Nevada caucuses, which he dominated in 2008. He will almost certainly continue to carpet-bomb Gingrich over the airwaves. But there’s a difference between persuading voters to hate Newt Gingrich—which, frankly, is pretty easy—and getting them to love Mitt Romney, which appears to be well-nigh impossible.

 

ByL Paul Begala, The Daily Beast, January 31, 2012

February 2, 2012 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Election 2012, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Monster Of GOP Creation”: Now Newt May Get Even Nastier

Thirty-four years ago, Newt Gingrich summed it up. In a speech to College Republicans—shortly before he would win his first election to Congress—the future speaker had a piece of fundamental advice for the young and impressionable GOPers: “I think one of the great problems we have in the Republican party is that we don’t encourage you to be nasty. We encourage you to be neat, obedient, and loyal, and faithful and all those Boy Scout words.”

Nasty—that was a critical component of Gingrich’s formula for political success. And through the 1980s and 1990s, as Gingrich wielded his nastiness to overturn the Democratic order in Congress and seize the people’s House for the GOP, he was hailed by Republicans. Now, following his 47 to 32 percent loss to Mitt Romney in the Florida presidential primary and Gingrich’s promise—make that, threat—to pursue this nasty nomination contest all the way to the convention in sweltering Tampa in August, the Republican Party has a monster-of-its-own-creation in its china shop. (Imagine a Tasmanian devil in Tiffany & Co.) Despite Romney’s 15-point comeback victory, it seems that the GOP will still be burdened and discombobulated by the Wrath of Gingrich. During his concession speech Tuesday night—which was light on the concession—Gingrich vowed to contest every primary and caucus, as his supporters held up signs that said, “46 STATES TO GO.”

It’s not uncommon for political losers to hang on longer than they should. (See Rick Perry.) So Gingrich’s vow to ignore the play-nice-and-get-out pleas of the Republican establishment and battle all the way to the summer is not surprising. But if he is serious about vengeance, he will have to cling on for longer than a week or two. February’s primaries—Nevada and Maine (February 4); Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri (February 7); and Arizona and Michigan (February 28)—hold few opportunities for the goblin of Georgia. These states are Romney-friendly and not well-suited for Gingrich’s fire-breathing and not-so-coded rants against food stamps and Saul Alinsky. If he wants Romney’s blood, he will have to stay in the hunt until at least Super Tuesday, where he can try to work his dark magic on his home state of Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Idaho. Alabama and Mississippi come a week later.

This means another five or six weeks at least of Gingrich’s  not-so-creative destruction, with him hurling his patented nastiness at  Romney—and Romney both firing back and, more important, trying to keep  up with Gingrich’s extreme anti-Obamaism.

The latter may be more of  the problem for Romney than Gingrich’s direct slams on him. Candidates  often pound at party comrades during hard-fought nomination contests,  and the winner, even though dinged, usually ends up able to compete  effectively in the general. (Barack Obama survived Hillary Clinton’s  barbs.) But Gingrich is dragging Romney to the right in terms of, yes,  nastiness. (During his victory speech in Tampa, Romney declared that Obama represents “the worst of what Europe has become”—of course, without explaining what that meant.)

The GOP primary electorate is in a foul mood. Many of  these voters seem to want a candidate who feels their hatred for the  president. (See Rick Santorum’s exchange with  that lady who maintained Obama is a Muslim.) This whole primary  campaign has been a game of revolving Obama-loathers. While Romney has  tried to come across as not a hater—he’s disappointed in Obama;  he doesn’t despise him—one by one, fire-breathing Obama-bashers who  represent the dark and angry mood of their party’s base have risen to  be the non-Romney of the GOP race, only to fall down due to their own  limitations. And Gingrich is the last of these. (Ron Paul is  essentially operating in an alternative universe; Rick Santorum is  running on the fumes of Iowa.)

With his mean-spirited and extreme  rhetoric, the former House speaker does embody the soul of his party at  this point. Though Gingrich is burdened with a ton of baggage that  obviously undermines his chances to win a general election—and many  Republican voters do care about that—Romney still has to ensure that  Gingrich does not run away with the hearts of GOP voters. Consequently,  he has to keep the meanness/Obama-hatred gap that exists between  him and the former Freddie Mac historian/consultant/strategic adviser from becoming too wide. Yet doing so makes Romney less acceptable to those fickle independent voters  who yearn for candidates who can solve problems in Washington without partisan fighting. If Romney has to engage in such  Newt-neutralization for weeks, if not months, he will further define  himself in a manner likely to alienate independents and  middle-of-the-road voters.

There’s an old-saying: Don’t get into a  fight with a skunk; you’ll only come out smelling. Romney cannot remain  in combat with Gingrich—even if he continues to win delegates—without  being tainted by the stench of this skirmish.

Gingrich’s  nastiness—now aimed at Romney—is an accurate reflection of the  Republican Party. In recent years, Gingrich-style extremism has become  its norm. Sarah Palin (who has been egging on Gingrich) claimed during  the 2008 race that Obama had been “palling around” with terrorists. When  the Democrats were poised to pass a health care reform bill in the  House, GOP leaders of that body sponsored a Tea Party rally, where  demonstrators chanted “Nazis, Nazis” in reference to the Dems. Donald  Trump made GOP voters swoon with his birther talk. Gingrich himself  claimed that Obama could only be understood as a fellow who  holds a Kenyan, anti-colonialist view of the West. Death panels, a  government takeover of the health care system, socialism—it’s been nasty  for years in GOPland. Romney’s challenge is to win over these people,  without fully endorsing the malice. (Thus, Obama=Europe.)

Now on the receiving end of vicious blasts, Gingrich has taken to whining that he’s the victim of  lies and extreme attacks. After all his years of practicing gangster  politics, he hardly warrants sympathy. (And many of Romney’s assaults on  him have been accurate.) But he also has been trying  mightily in recent days to depict himself as the personification of the  conservative movement, arguing that an attack on him (by  Romney, the Republican establishment, or the media) is an attack on the tea party. (This is a right-wing version of identity politics.) And he’s  been saying that the conservative movement simply won’t stand for a “Massachusetts moderate”—or a “liberal” who supports abortion rights and  gun control, as he dubbed Romney this week—as the Republican Party  nominee.

It’s his last play—to try to ignite a civil war within  the GOP. At the moment, with the smell of his Florida defeat still in  the air, he seems rather serious about this endeavor. With his own  record of flip-flops and his less-than-inspiring personal history, he’s  certainly not the perfect leader for such a crusade. But if the  dissatisfaction on the right is deep enough, perhaps he can be a  sufficient vehicle.

Notwithstanding the loss in Florida—and with  only 5 percent of the GOP delegates selected—Gingrich is still  positioned to inconvenience, if not undermine, Romney. And he has  choices. Will he try to rally conservative foot soldiers and lead a  Pickett’s Charge against the front-runner, hoping to do better than Lt.  General James Longstreet? Or will he go the way of a suicide bomber and  become the doomsday device of the GOP?

With his Florida success,  Romney is back on that path to the nomination. But Gingrich is a problem  for the front-runner and the entire GOP establishment—and that’s  because he’s following the scorched-earth playbook that he long ago  developed for the party and that the party has embraced for years.

 

By: Davis Corn, Washington Bureau Chief, Mother Jones, January 31, 2012

February 2, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mormons, Mitt and Conservative Evangelicals

At Rolling Stone, the distinguished political historian Rick Perlstein provides some history about the regular trumping of theology by politics in the process of making his case that fear or hostility towards the LDS faith won’t keep conservative evangelicals from pulling the lever for Mitt Romney in November (or earlier than that in the primaries, once he is the putative nominee).  Evangelicals used to say the same things or worse about Catholics, Perlstein notes, until they found a common cause—and common enemies—in the culture wars.

I definitely agree that Christian Right types will support Mitt against Obama, though I do not necessarily share Rick’s belief that the main factor at play here is unreflexive obedience of the rank-and-file to their political and religious leaders. So long as Gingrich and Santorum are still in the race, a few of their theocratic backers will use anti-Mormon prejudice as a tactical weapon.  And some (though not many) low-information evangelical voters may refuse to go along in the general election.

The key factor here is the common-enemy issue. Conservative evangelicals may not like Mormonism, but they tend to like “Mormon values” a lot. And more importantly, the LDS and its believers are a lot less threatening to Christian Right foot soldiers than the “secular-socialists” they believe are hell-bent on eventually wiping out Christianity as we know it—less threatening, in fact, than the mainline Protestants that many evangelicals don’t consider actual Christians (e.g., the President of the United States) insofar as they deny biblical inerrancy and don’t understand that legalized abortion is the Second Holocaust.

As the old proverb says, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Whether politically active conservative evangelicals are entirely comfortable with Mormons or with Mitt, they qualify on those grounds.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Washington Monthly Political Animal, January 31, 2012

February 2, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012, Religion | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Empathy Gap”: Mitt Romney Rejects Concern For The “Very Poor”

Just two weeks ago, Mitt Romney told voters in South Carolina, “I’m concerned about the poor in this country.” This morning, Romney reversed course and said the exact opposite.

“I’m not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I’ll fix it. I’m not concerned about the very rich, they’re doing just fine. I’m concerned about the very heart of America, the 90%, 95% of Americans right now who are struggling and I’ll continue to take that message across the nation. [...]

“You can focus on the rich, that’s not my focus. You can focus on the very poor, that’s not my focus. My focus is on middle-income Americans.”

The Republican frontrunner added, “We will hear from the Democrat Party, the plight of the poor.”

When Romney’s rivals were hammering him on Bain Capital — and the fact that he got extremely rich by firing American workers and leading a vulture-capitalist firm — he shifted rhetorical gears in order to seem sympathetic towards those struggling most.

With his new “I’m not concerned about the very poor” line, it appears Romney has abandoned this tack altogether.

Regardless, as a matter of substance, Romney’s line this morning is just a mess.

For one thing, it’s tone-deaf to a breathtaking degree. When a hyper-wealthy politician boasts about taking pleasure in firing people, he probably shouldn’t tell national television audiences he’s “not concerned about the very poor.”

For another, Romney’s candid admission underscores a larger policy problem: he’s not only unconcerned with the plight of the very poor, he also pursuing an agenda that would make their lives considerably more difficult. If elected, a Romney administration intends to slash public investments that benefit working families, while raising taxes on those at the bottom of the income scale.

Let’s also not forget that while Romney insisted this morning that he’s “not concerned about the very rich,” either, there’s ample evidence to the contrary. Indeed, the presidential hopeful has already presented a plan to give the very wealthy yet another massive tax break.

And as for Romney’s purported concern for the middle class, what the former governor neglected to mention this morning is that his tax plan largely ignores the middle class. By his own admission, Romney doesn’t plan to do much of anything for middle-income earners.

Taken together, in one interview, Romney managed to sound callous towards those struggling, lie about his agenda’s focus on the wealthy, and ignore the relevant details of his disregard for the middle class.

Not bad for a morning’s work.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, February, 1, 2012

February 2, 2012 Posted by | Economic Inequality, Election 2012 | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Compassion Deficit”: Mitt Romney, His Own Worst Enemy

If Mitt Romney has a big problem in the Republican primary, it’s himself. The former Massachusetts governor can’t seem to keep his foot out of his mouth, and has—through misstatements—portrayed himself as a cold and heartless shill for the 1 percent. Here are some of the greatest hits:

When heard in their full context, most of these aren’t as bad as they sound. But, as John Kerry learned in 2004, voters aren’t that attuned to the context of politicians, especially when they say things that leave a bad first impression.

On CNN last night, Romney deepened this problem with another tone deaf comment which, fairly or not, will reinforce the image that he is a defender of the wealthy:

I’m not concerned with the very poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I’ll fix it. I’m not concerned about the very rich, they’re doing just fine. I’m concerned about the very heart of the America, the 90 percent, 95 percent of Americans who right now are struggling.” [Emphasis mine]

It’s clear that Romney isn’t dismissing the “very poor” as much as he’s expressing confidence in the existing safety net for those mired in poverty. If that net isn’t strong enough, Romney notes, he’ll fix it as president. But the phrasing is incredibly awkward, and when voters hear this, they’ll latch on to the first sentence to the exclusion of the rest. And of course, Democrats are certain to use this in attack ads throughout the general election. Though, given Romney’s relationship with truth in advertising, that isn’t as unfair as it sounds.

It should be said that, if we go by his proposed policies, Romney doesn’t actually care much about the poor. The former Massachusetts governor has consistently voiced support for the draconian budget cuts of Rep. Paul Ryan, which would cripple the safety net and deprive low-income Americans of valuable assistance. What’s more, he plans deep cuts to taxes on capital gains geared toward the rich, who are most likely to collect income on investment. Like many on the right, his preferred economic policies would redistribute income to the wealthy, and destroy our fiscal future with a massive long-term deficit.

 

By: Jamelle Bouie, The American Prospect, February 1, 2012

February 2, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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