Mitt Romney’s financial and organization advantages in the 2012 Republican primaries were commanding, but conservatives who opposed him had faint cause for hope: Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich combined for more support than Romney for most of the primary season. If one of them conceded, then the other could consolidate Romney’s conservative opposition.
These hopes were far-fetched. Polls showed that Romney would have maintained his lead if either Santorum or Gingrich departed the race, since Romney was actually the second choice of many of their voters. Still, the theory was nearly put to the test. On Friday, Business Week reported that Santorum and Gingrich apparently discussed an unprecedented “unity ticket” to block Romney from winning the nomination. A Santorum-Gingrich ticket could have won critical primaries and led the national polls, but it still probably wouldn’t have won the nomination—a fact that should alarm conservatives heading into 2016.
The plan failed, not surprisingly, because Gingrich and Santorum couldn’t agree which one of them should be on top of the ticket. But let’s assume that they had. A unity ticket would have presumably done better than either candidate would have on his own, since a Gingrich voter who preferred Romney to Santorum might still support the combination of Santorum and Gingrich. But even if the unity ticket didn’t immediately consolidate the Gingrich-Santorum vote, the formation of an unprecedented primary alliance would have received tremendous media attention, potentially generating momentum. Indeed, polls can’t really predict how candidate dropouts will affect a race: In 2008, polls said that Hillary Clinton would maintain a clear lead over Barack Obama if John Edwards dropped out. Yet Obama surged in late January, after his win in the South Carolina primary, Edwards’ departure, and a wave of high profile endorsements.
The combination of a unity ticket and a few big primary wins could have given Santorum-Gingrich the lead in national polls. According to the article, Gingrich and Santorum mulled a unity ticket before three critical primaries in Florida, Michigan, and Ohio. Realistically, a Gingrich-Santorum ticket would have struggled to win Florida, since Romney’s 46 percent of the vote actually exceeded Santorum and Gingrich’s combined 45 percent. But a unity ticket would have done better in Michigan or Ohio.
After sweeping Minnesota, Missouri, and Colorado, Santorum actually led the national polls until he lost the Michigan primary by a narrow 3 point margin. But Santorum held a lead in Michigan polls until just 5 days before the primary and Gingrich won 6.5 percent of the vote—the combination of Gingrich voters and momentum from a unity ticket announcement could have easily given Santorum a narrow win. Regardless of whether Santorum carried Michigan, a unity ticket probably would have won Ohio, where Romney won by just 1 point and Gingrich, who won nearly 15 percent of the vote, probably played the spoiler—especially since Gingrich excelled in the socially conservative southwestern part of the state. Either way, Santorum-Gingrich would have exited Super Tuesday with plenty of momentum and a lead in the national polls heading into a wave of favorable primaries and caucuses in Kansas, Alabama, and Mississippi.
Whether momentum would have allowed Santorum-Gingrich to breakthrough a Romney firewall like Illinois is hard to say. And it would have still struggled to actually win the nomination, even in the best case scenarios: The delegate math was stacked in favor of Romney. Romney would still have been favored to win a disproportionate share of the winner-take-all states, like Florida, Arizona, and New Jersey. The same was true for the big states using modified or conditional winner-take-all systems, like California and New York. In contrast, Santorum-Gingrich’s biggest wins would have been diluted by various methods of proportional delegate allocation in Texas, Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee (footnote: Tennessee is actually a conditional winner-take-all, but it’s condition is far more difficult than the other conditional winner-take-all states, since a candidate would need 66 percent of the popular vote). Neither Gingrich nor Santorum made the ballot in Virginia, giving all but 3 of Virginia’s 46 delegates to Romney. Unless Romney’s national support completely collapsed, Santorum-Gingrich would have been hard pressed to overcome the GOP primary system’s bias toward Romney’s coalition.
Conservatives should take note. The RNC’s Growth and Opportunity Project report’s proposal to end conservative caucuses for the purpose of allocating convention delegates has been panned as an attempt to help establishment candidates win the GOP nomination. But the RNC explicitly took “no position” on whether contests should be winner-take-all or proportionate, since “both methods can delay or speed up the likelihood of a nominee being chosen [depending] on who is winning and by what margins.” That’s technically true: A uniformly winner-take-all or proportionate system wouldn’t necessarily favor any type of candidate. But 2012’s mix of winner-take-all and proportionate states favored an establishment candidate. The same delegate allocation rules that would have doomed a hypothetical Santorum-Gingrich unity ticket could again doom a competitive conservative candidate.
By: Nate Cohn, The New Republic, March 25, 2013
Members of Congress don’t know anything about “the issues” and they spend all their time fundraising, according to both a new Huffington Post story and “an easy inference to make after observing Congress for almost any length of time.”
The HuffPo’s Ryan Grim and Sabrina Siddiqui obtained a PowerPoint presentation given to incoming Democratic freshmen legislators by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and the DCCC’s recommended schedule for House members includes four hours spent on the phone begging rich people for money and one hour spent begging rich person for money in person. This is the daily schedule.
As Kevin Drum notes, this leaves no time for studying or homework. Members rarely know much about anything, policy-wise. An unnamed member confirmed to HuffPo that these guys basically are exactly as ill-informed as you feared:
One member of Congress said that the fundraising takes up so much time that members don’t even have time to become experts on bills they sponsor. “One thing that’s always been striking to me is even the members playing a leading role on specific issues actually could not talk about the issues,” said the member, who didn’t want to be quoted by name. “They didn’t have enough knowledge on their own issues to talk about them at length. I’m probably guilty of that.” He recalled one meeting early in his career, where he brought several members together to try to hash out a compromise, just as he had done earlier as a state legislator.
“Staff members were all twitching at the discussion, because their principals were saying things that were just flat-wrong or uninformed or wondering aloud about what the industry practices really were,” he recalled. “The staff members of course had a pretty good idea. … The members were sitting around the table having a remarkably uninformed and unproductive discussion.”
This, as much as anything else, is why our Congress is both dysfunctional — legislators have no clue what they’re voting for or against most of the time — and so attentive to the priorities of the very wealthy.
Newt Gingrich completely dismantled the internal institutions that used to provide Congress with objective information and research, both because that information frequently contradicted conservative dogma and because he knew that doing so would force Congress to rely on outside (ideological) organizations for information, which would strengthen the corporate-funded policy shops and think tanks that powered the conservative movement. Now nearly everything Congress “knows” about policy comes directly from self-interested, industry-funded groups. Simultaneously, as Lorelei Kelly recently wrote, congressional staff began shrinking, which means expertise was, once again, outsourced — now, increasingly, lobbyists perform the educational function that well-versed staffers used to.
So: the constituents members of Congress have the most direct contact with, and the ones they see themselves as reliant upon to remain in office, are the ones who have the ability to write massive checks. And the people the members talk to to understand the issues are either think tank ideologues or paid representatives of industry or both.
The result is Congress as it’s been since the second Clinton term: Hundreds of dim bulbs, a couple of brilliant-but-evil guys, and a handful of dedicated and intelligent people who frequently do weird and inexplicable things like “voting for the horrible 2005 bankruptcy bill.”
The annoying thing is that the solutions to these problems are incredible simple: public financing of elections and huge increases in congressional staff budgets. But you might notice that both of those solutions involve spending more money on the government, making them non-starters in our age of bipartisan agreement that government spending is unseemly.
The alternative to constant fundraising by the members is for outside groups to take care of it for them, which is a model conservatives already sort of practice. In their “Behind the Caucus” column on Rep. Tom Cotton, an Arkansas freshman who will vote against raising the debt ceiling because he explicitly wants the United States to default, Politico’s Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei explain that Cotton won his primary because the ultra-conservative Club for Growth simply sent Cotton “a FedEx envelope full of checks that he didn’t ask for.” And that certainly saves some time. Allen and VandeHeil also note that Cotton, and his peers, explain why we are probably about to induce a recession for no reason:
Many in the media — us included — often underestimate just how conservative and how impervious to criticism and leadership browbeating these members are when appraising the chances for change in the next two years.
Hey, Mike and Jim, that’s what we’ve been saying for a while now. We’re screwed, because the people who spent thousands getting Cotton elected are the ones explaining the issues to him and his dumber peers.
By: Alex Pareene, Salon, January 9, 2013
With a major storm and presidential election arriving within a week of each other, the penultimate batch of Sunday morning political talk shows before the election were dominated by talk of how Hurricane Sandy might impact the election. But abortion and Libya also made appearances. Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson wins our award for hackiest political analysis of the week (and there’s a lot of competition) for saying people care more about the GOP’s pet Libyan conspiracy theory than about abortion.
As for the storm, everyone of course said their focus is on the well-being of people in the storm’s path, but pundits couldn’t help but try to find the political angle as well. There seem to be two main theories: One is that the race will essentially be frozen in place as the media and everyone else shifts focus away from the election for the next few days. Since Obama remains slightly ahead in key swing states, this scenario is seen as helping him by preventing Romney from gaining traction. Obama could also earn points by “looking presidential” while leading a successful federal response to the disaster, pundits said.
On the other hand, Obama is crushing Romney in early voting, which is already going on in key states, especially Ohio, and any obstacle to getting people to the polls this week could be bad for the president. Likewise, if the storm lowers turnout in general on election day, that’s also seen as hurting Obama, since he needs strong support from demographics that tend to vote in lower numbers, like young people and Latinos.
But here’s how the storm will actually affect the election: No one knows. Anything else is pure speculation, but apparently both the Obama and Romney campaigns are concerned. For what it’s worth, Bob McDonnell, the Republican governor of battleground Virginia, which is expected to get hammered, said on CNN that they’re prioritizing election infrastructure in their response to the storm, so everything should be normal by election day.
Leave it to Newt Gingrich to politicize the storm to an almost comical degree. “You’ll notice he’s canceling his trips over the hurricane. He did not cancel his trips over Benghazi. And so you have to wonder, between Benghazi, the price of gasoline, and unemployment, just how much burden the president’s going to carry into this last week,” Gingrich told George Stephanopoulos on ABC. From there, it was quick jump to: “I think [Romney's] actually going to end up winning around 53-47.”
Benghazi, of course, refers to the attack on American diplomats in the Libyan city, over which Republicans have been hammering Obama. It almost sounds like Gingrich doesn’t think Obama should cancel trips to deal with the hurricane, but it’s also unclear why Obama would have canceled a trip to deal with Benghazi, as the whole incident lasted a matter of hours, not days like the hurricane will. As for Newt’s political forecast, it seems only slightly more plausible than a moon base. Real Clear Politics’ polling average has Romney less than a percent ahead of Obama nationally. Nate Silver projects Obama squeaking out a two point popular vote victory over Romney on November 6. It’s entirely possible that Romney wins the popular vote, but not by six points, sorry Newt.
But Benghazi did come up a lot today, suggesting the GOP has decided to concentrate its fire on the topic. Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, on CBS’ Face the Nation today, suggested it was even worse than Watergate. “This tragedy turned into a debacle and massive coverup or massive incompetence in Libya is having an effect on the voters because of their view of the commander in chief,” he said. “Somebody said to me the other day, ‘This is as bad as Watergate.’ Nobody died in Watergate,” McCain added.
While there’s no doubt officials made some tragic errors around the attack, the Republican narrative against Obama just isn’t based in reality, as Candy Crowley’s real-time fact check of Romney in the second debate demonstrated. Their smoking gun is an erroneous bit of early intelligence that ended up being wrong and it’s not even clear what they’re accusing Obama of doing anyway. Mostly, their obsession with the topic comes off as little more than party-endorsed conspiracy theorizing that seems to be dog whistling that the president actually wanted the Americans killed, or at least didn’t mind much that they died.
It’s interesting that Romney surrogates and allies are going all in on Libya considering that the man himself has been largely avoiding it. Libya disappeared from Romney’s stump speeches in recent days. And in last week’s foreign policy debate, he completely passed on every opportunity to slam Obama on the attack. In that debate, moderator Bob Schieffer’s first question was on “the controversy over what happened” in Libya. But Romney’s response almost completely ignored Libya, spending more time on Syria and Mali instead.
Which brings us to our Sunday Best, which has to do with the intersection of Benghazi and abortion, which apparently exists somewhere. A frequent topic of discussion today was Indiana Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock’s comments on how a pregnancy from rape is actually a “gift from God.” But according to the (almost all male) representatives of the Republican Party on TV today, no one cares. “I think the reality is, Candy, overwhelmingly, I promise you, people out there are not talking about what Richard Mourdock said,” RNC Chairman Reince Priebus assured CNN’s Crowley.
Gingrich again gets the prize for going too far. Asked by Stephanopoulos to respond to Obama deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter’s comments on Mourdock, Gingrich told Cutter to get over it. “OK, so why can’t people like Stephanie Cutter get over it? We all condemn rape,” Gingrich helpfully explained. As we’ve noted, conservatives seem to have a thing for dismissing Cutter in personal ways.
But Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson won the day. Abortion is “not even an issue here in Wisconsin,” Johnson said on Fox News Sunday after being asked about Mourdock’s comments. “It doesn’t even move the radar at all… What people are concerned about, like I said yesterday — it was amazing how many people are coming up to me demanding answers on Benghazi,” Johnson said.
Considering that barely half the country even knows about Benghazi, according to a recent Pew poll, that seems hard to believe. The Pew survey found that 56 percent said they were following news about the attack, and that almost 30 percent had no opinion about the administration’s handling. Contrast that with polling on abortion, which regularly shows that upwards of 97 percent of Americans have strong opinions on the issue.
Abortion is by far the “most important issue for women in this election,” according to women polled by Gallup. A plurality of 39 percent listed it as their top issue, while jobs came in a distant second at 19 percent, followed by healthcare at 18 percent. Not even one percent of women listed national security as their top concern. Among men, just 4 percent did.
By the way, after a week dominated by talk of abortion in the wake of Mourdock’s comment, who did the Romney campaign and the GOP send onto the major Sunday shows? About a dozen Republican men and just one woman. The one woman was Carly Fiorina, the former HP exec and former California GOP Senate candidate. On Meet the Press, she denounced Murdock’s comment, but said they don’t really matter. “Women care about the role of government. Women care about their children’s education,” she said.
That’s all true, according to the polls, but they care about abortion more and it will only hurt Republicans as long as they pretend that’s not true.
By: Alex Seitz-Wald, Salon, October 28, 2012
Mitt Romney’s campaign is seizing on a story that’s been percolating on conservative blogs for weeks, rolling out a new attack today against President Obama for “unilaterally dismantling” the bipartisan welfare reform regime signed into law by President Clinton. A new ad from the campaign states: “President Obama quietly announced a plan to gut welfare reform by dropping work requirements. Under Obama’s plan, you wouldn’t have to work and wouldn’t have to train for a job — they just send you your welfare check.”
As has already been widely noted, the line of attack is complicated by a few problems. First of all, it’s not true, or at least wildly misleading. Obama’s plan doesn’t end work requirements, but rather grants waivers to states that propose alternative requirements that suit them better than a one-size-fits-all federal plan, something conservatives usually support. As the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein wrote last month, when the story first started gaining traction on the right, “The Obama administration is not removing the bill’s work requirements at all. He’s changing them to allow states more flexibility. But the principle that welfare programs must require recipients to move toward employment isn’t going anywhere.”
Secondly, it’s a little tricky to slam Obama for handing out waivers when Romney himself supported the exact same proposal as governor of Massachusetts in 2005. That year, 29 governors, including Romney, signed a letter from the Republican Governors Association asking Congress for broader welfare waivers. Romney’s signature is the second one listed, right under a passage calling for “increased waiver authority” in the welfare program to provide more flexibility in “allowable work activities.” The Romney campaign doesn’t mention this in the ad, nor in a fact sheet distributed today intended to push back on charges that Romney has changed his position.
It would be fair for the Romney campaign to note that the 2005 letter was addressed to Congress and asked for legislative changes, as opposed to executive action, but Romney isn’t taking issue with the process, but rather the substance of the policy. Arguing that Obama’s changes should go through Congress would be fair, but arguing that Obama is a “big-government liberal” because he wants to give governors, like Romney, more flexibility is not.
So why choose to fight on an issue where the campaign has such weak footing? The debate over welfare and welfare reform has always been tied up in race, and a cynical observer might argue that Romney is picking up where former House Speaker Newt Gingrich left off in the ’90s and earlier this year when he repeatedly called Obama a “food stamp president.” As University of California Santa Cruz professor Michael K. Brown wrote in the 2003 collection “Race and the Politics of Welfare Reform,” “The 1996 welfare [reform] law is the culmination of conservatives’ success in manipulating the backlash to the Great Society’s centralization and expansion of social welfare during the 1960s, a campaign based on the political exploitation of vulnerability of poor African Americans, who became scapegoats for the ‘failures’ of the Great Society.” These are the infamous “welfare queens” of the Gingrich and Reagan-era.
When Gingrich, in his second life as a presidential candidate, made welfare a consistent line of attack against Obama, he often winked at race, and sometimes mentioned it overtly. “If the NAACP invites me, I’ll go to their convention and talk about why the African-American community should demand paychecks and not be satisfied with food stamps,” he told a crowd in New Hampshire. Then-candidate Rick Santorum used a similar argument a few days earlier. Noting that an official in Iowa told him the state’s welfare rolls were up, Santorum said, “I don’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money; I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money.” Of course, there are far more whites than blacks on welfare, but the attacks resonated and sparked a backlash because the stereotype of an inner-city minority mooching off the government’s dole has been salient for decades.
All campaigns lie and all politicians change positions, but Romney’s attack on welfare stands out for its brazenness in hitting the trifecta: It’s false, contradictory and fraught with racial undertones.
By: Alex Seitz-Wald, The Nation, August 8, 2012
In the wake of tragic gun violence, most politicians realize the decent, responsible thing to do is send sympathies to those affected while leaving politics out of it. Others aren’t as sensible.
After the Columbine massacre, for example, then-Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) blamed science textbooks for the murders: “Our school systems teach the children that they are nothing but glorified apes who are evolutionized [sic] out of some primordial soup.”
In 2007, after the Virginia Tech massacre, Newt Gingrich blamed liberals for supporting “situation ethics,” adding, “Yes, I think the fact is, if you look at the amount of violence we have in games that young people play at 7, 8, 10, 12, 15 years of age, if you look at the dehumanization, if you look at the fact that we refuse to say that we are, in fact, endowed by our creator, that our rights come from God, that if you kill somebody, you’re committing an act of evil.” Gingrich, explaining the VT tragedy, went on to condemn Halloween costumes and the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance law.
And this morning, after the slayings in Aurora, Louie Gohmert weighed in with some stupidity of his own.
Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) said Friday that the shootings that took place in an Aurora, Colo. movie theater hours earlier were a result of “ongoing attacks on Judeo-Christian beliefs” and questioned why nobody else in the theater had a gun to take down the shooter.
During a radio interview on The Heritage Foundation’s “Istook Live!” show, Gohmert was asked why he believes such senseless acts of violence take place. Gohmert responded by talking about the weakening of Christian values in the country.
“Some of us happen to believe that when our founders talked about guarding our virtue and freedom, that that was important,” he said. “Whether it’s John Adams saying our Constitution was made only for moral and religious people … Ben Franklin, only a virtuous people are capable of freedom, as nations become corrupt and vicious they have more need of masters. We have been at war with the very pillars, the very foundation of this country.”
“You know what really gets me, as a Christian, is to see the ongoing attacks on Judeo-Christian beliefs, and then some senseless crazy act of a derelict takes place.”
I see. So, in the mind of this strange Republican congressman, a madman killed 12 people because of … the separation of church and State? The First Amendment is to blame for a shooting spree in a movie theater?
If decency had any place in American politics, this would be an immediate career-ender for the ridiculous congressman from Texas. Some political missteps are simply unforgivable.
Update: Gohmert also wondered aloud why no one else in the theater was armed, complaining that the victims should have shot back.
By: Steve Beneb, The Maddow Blog, July 20, 2012