‘George Romney deserved a better son’

George Romney opposed Barry Goldwater's extreme rhetoric

This exchange between Mitt Romney’s father – then Michigan governor George Romney – and Barry Goldwater, the Republican nominee at the time, is fascinating.

Actually, it’s especially fascinating given that Ron Paul is in the race against Romney-the-younger this time around, and Paul shares many of Goldwater’s more unfortunate views on the Civil Rights Act. He also has some of the same dubious associations.

Don’t get me wrong, I still think Ron Paul comes off as a heck of a lot less crazy than someone like Santorum, and leaps and bounds more honest than Romney, but the Ron Paul newsletters raise many of the same concerns about Paul’s past choices as George Romney raises about some of Goldwater’s associations.

Meanwhile, Mitt Romney displays none of his father’s courage or frankness, none of his honesty whatsoever. The younger Romney comes across as a fake, through and through.

It’s too bad, really. Reading George Romney one does realize how badly this country needs two grown-up parties and not one grown-up party and one party throwing a perpetual temper tantrum.

At a time when the Republican ticket consisted of a man who opposed the Civil Rights Act, George Romney was saying things like: “The assassination of Martin Luther King is a great national tragedy. At a time when we need aggressive nonviolent leadership to peacefully achieve equal rights, equal opportunities and equal responsibilities for all, his leadership will be grievously missed.” George Romney even marched in civil rights marches.

Of course, these days we have Newt Gingrich saying that the first black president is the “food-stamp president” and that black people are all dependent on government largess. And we have Rick Santorum saying that women really ought to be governed by the laws of Christ rather than the laws of America when it comes to their own bodies.

Wouldn’t it be nice if George Romney’s son could speak out against this sort of nonsense the way his father spoke out against similar nonsense several decades ago?

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What Obama’s Up Against

Not-Romney is one candidate with two heads, one of which is very large.

Nate Silver thinks the GOP primary is going to be a long, protracted race, noting that it bears a “resemblance to something like the 1984 Democratic contest or the 1976 Republican race.” Mondale won in 1984, and Ford beat Reagan in 1976, but both primaries were close calls, and neither Mondale nor Ford inspired their respective parties.

Still, I’m not sure either one had as abysmal an outlook as presumed front-runner Mitt Romney does in this race:

Meanwhile, the two not-Romney candidates – Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum – are nipping at Romney’s heels making sure that neither one has any real chance at stealing the nomination.

And of course Ron Paul has his base of support which will likely neither grow nor dwindle in the coming months.

Now, it’s almost not even worth talking about anyone in the Republican field except Romney – the race is still his to lose as far as I’m concerned. All that Santorum’s win Tuesday achieved was to further split the not-Romney vote. That doesn’t hurt Romney – if anything it helps him. So long as both Gingrich and Santorum keep winning primaries, neither is likely to drop out. And Romney is flush with cash, a well-organized campaign, and the support of the Republican Establishment. He may not have the adoration of the now all-but-defunct Tea Party, but that hardly matters.

Romney’s real problem is President Obama.

Rest assured, the president will be well-armed with Super PAC money, campaign contributions, and a well organized network of volunteers both online and in the trenches. As the economy starts to warm up, Romney’s key selling points begin to wither. The private sector businessman routine won’t resonate if unemployment is falling, at least not with moderates and independents. He can’t really drum up culture war issues, either, given his Mormonism and his history as a moderate on social issues. And his extremism in the primary will hurt him with independents in the general, as will the negativity of his rivals, none of whom are likely to stop throwing punches any time soon.

If Ron Paul goes third party, this will almost certainly hurt Romney more than Obama.

So it’s no wonder Obama seems happy these days. The Republicans, for all their bizarre hatred of the president, have failed to field even one candidate that has a chance at unseating him, and the lack of enthusiasm among GOP voters stands in stark contrast to the 2010 mid-terms and the Rise of the Tea Party. It’s hard to imagine that this will change much in the general, though Romney could, theoretically, pick a Palinesque VP to help grind up some red meat and inspire the uninspired base.

Meanwhile, for pundits and bloggers and late-night talk show hosts, and all the political junkies out there, at least we should be in for an entertaining ride.


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Santorum sweeps Minnesota, Missouri, and Colorado further fragmenting the not-Romney camp

Santorum's wins Tuesday may have hurt the not-Romney cause.

When you think about it, there’s really only three candidates in the race: Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, and not-Romney.

Santorum pulled a string of wins in Minnesota, Missouri, and Colorado Tuesday evening, but it may as well have been Gingrich. The point is someone other than Romney (or Paul, for that matter) won.

Now this means two things. First – a problem for Romney. Second – a problem for not-Romney.

Here’s Romney’s problem: his favorability is capsizing and his unfavorability is shooting through the roof.

The problem for not-Romney is that not-Romney is not one, but rather two candidates neither of whom appears ready to drop out of the race. If not-Romney were just Newt Gingrich or just Rick Santorum, not-Romney could start raising serious money to push back against Romney’s very deep treasure trove.

But all that Santorum’s three wins did was make the Gingrich/Santorum division more pronounced. And that’s a win for Romney and a loss for not-Romney.

It’s also a win for Obama. For that matter, virtually every moment in the GOP primary has been a win for Obama. As the GOP fractures, the chances of Obama beating the eventual nominee grows.

It doesn’t help that the economy seems to be slowly dragging itself back to life – here and in Europe. The culture wars are great for the primary for GOP voters, but not so great for the general election.

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Sarah Palin wants back into the spotlight – but only on the losing side

Sarah Palin has more to gain from losing.

“I think that with $17 million purchasing some ads and some false narrative it was very, very difficult for Newt Gingrich and the other candidates to counter that bombardment of advertisements,” Palin said Tuesday night on Fox News. Yes, Palin has been popping up on Facebook and the conservative media circuit again, touting the former speaker and slamming Mitt Romney at every available opportunity.

The Grizzly wants a piece of the action, apparently, having fallen so far out of the spotlight. Romney’s big win in Florida is just another excuse from the half-term former Alaskan governor to insert herself in the political circus once again. What’s in it for Palin?

The same thing that was always in it for her: the spotlight and the buckets of cash on the other side. Still, if you’d told me three years ago that Palin would be talking up Newt Gingrich I would have laughed or cried or something of that nature. I certainly wouldn’t have believed you. Palin’s star was rising long after Gingrich’s had already come crashing to its fiery demise.

Then again, she was never going to be president saying things like this:

“Whomever it is to allow for the process to continue … I still say competition breeds success for the U.S.,” Palin said. “As it stands obviously it’s Romney and Newt are closest to be the front-running candidate, and so I would continue to vote for whoever it is to allow the process, and at this point it looks like it still is Newt. You have to kind of continue to level the playing field with your vote.”

Now this is Palinesque – the Sarah Palin we knew and loved those many years ago, at the height of her infamy. I’m not sure what she’s saying here but I sure do get a kick out of hearing her say it.

Romney won tonight, and I suspect that Palin picked the losing team on purpose. She plays the underdog well. This way she can be in that seat regardless of whether its Romney or Obama in the White House next year. The perpetual underdog, forever whining at the margins. She’s shrewd enough to see what Newt’s campaign represents – the resurgent grassroots conservatism that is propping it up; the remnants of the anti-establishment Tea Party, or at least that sentiment. It’s a sentiment of loss – of preservation against all odds.

See, Palin doesn’t want to win. She doesn’t even want her guy to win or her cause to win. There’s more to gain from losing. That’s her entire shtick, and she knows it.

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Newt Gingrich and Conservative Inc Take On the Establishment in Florida

Newt's fight represents the fight of Conservative Inc vs. the Establishment.

Florida voters are heading to the polls today. Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich have been battling it out in a fierce primary battle, but Newt’s initial lead in the state slipped badly after two lackluster debate performances and a flood of negative ads. Nate Silver’s final forecast for the state gives Romney a towering fifteen point lead over the former speaker as voters shamble toward the voting booth.

Yet Gingrich remains defiant, feisty, a fighter – depending on the news article you’re reading. Everyone agrees: in the face of almost certain defeat, Gingrich is staring into the steely eyes of defeat unflinchingly. As if he has some other choice.

What puzzles me about coverage of a moment like this is how obvious it is. Naturally Gingrich remains defiant. It’s not his character that demands this, nor is it the slim chance of a surprise victory. This is simply what all candidates do in a tight race. Do pundits and reporters really expect Gingrich to put his tail between his legs prior to the final tally in Florida?

What makes Gingrich unique, possibly, is his stubborn insistence on racing all the way to the convention. A losing and costly run would certainly be interesting, but I’m not sure that even as stubborn a candidate as Gingrich can make it actually happen. These things cost money, and Gingrich may not have enough even with his wealthy benefactors.

And yet, we shouldn’t underestimate the power of hate. Gingrich has developed a deep and abiding hatred of Mitt Romney. Hate may indeed fuel him where money cannot. The broad and persistent conservative distrust and dislike of Mitt Romney may imbue Newt’s campaign with the energy it needs to nip at Romney’s heels much longer than we’d normally expect.

This reveals an interesting divide in the conservative movement, outlining a puzzling dichotomy within the Republican party that has been emerging these past four years. On the one hand there are the conventional party elites, and on the other there is the vanguard of the conservative movement – what Sean Scallon has described aptly as Conservative Inc. Neither of these tribes holds a monopoly on influence or power and both sit uneasily on the same side of many issues.

It’s never easy to tell who inhabits which faction. Each side holds so much sway over the other and uses the other to further its own designs that it’s easy for a casual observer to see them as a monolithic entity. The divisions may be inscrutable, but that doesn’t mean that the party or the movement is at all unified.

The Tea Party was largely a manifestation of Conservative Inc., fueled by talk radio and Fox News. Sarah Palin quickly became a figurehead of Conservative Inc. whereas her running mate, John McCain, remained a creature of the establishment despite his claims to Maverickiness. Now long-time Washington insider Newt Gingrich is donning the mantle of Conservative Inc. and running against the establishment candidate, Mitt Romney.

But where the chips are falling is what’s really revealing about this primary season. Ann Coulter – a Conservative Inc. pundit if ever there was one – has slammed Gingrich as no true conservative. Plenty of talking heads on Fox have said the same. Meanwhile Rush Limbaugh has come to the former speaker’s defense, while Mormon talk-show host and Tea Party hero Glenn Beck has taken the side of the establishment.

All of which is to say that the division between Conservative Inc – the talk radio and grassroots wing of the conservative movement – and the capital-”E” Establishment wing of the GOP is not so bright and clear as we may have once believed. Perhaps this is a symptom of the candidates themselves. Gingrich and Romney both have records that should make conservatives and moderates alike grimace. No clear representative of either camp remains in the race, and certainly this election season no unity candidate has emerged.

Whatever the case, the divisions between the Republican party and the conservative movement have never been at once so clear and so confounding.

Either way, Democrats are very, very lucky this year. Barack Obama is perhaps the luckiest recession president who ever ran for reelection.

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The Political Circus We Deserve

The political circus gets a bad wrap. Maybe it shouldn't.

The political circus may have finally come into its own this primary season.

We’ve all heard that phrase before of course. Last September the president used it in his jobs speech when he urged congress to “stop the political circus and actually do something to help the economy.”

H.L. Mencken once wrote that “A national political campaign is better than the best circus ever heard of, with a mass baptism and a couple of hangings thrown in.” Elections are inherently competitive, and for those who care about the outcomes of our democratic process, the stakes are compelling – entertaining even. But it’s hard to recall a time when the sport of politics has been so aptly described as a political circus. A sports game? Sure. A circus – 2012 is already taking the cake.

Indeed, for reasons partly manufactured and partly inevitable no election year has felt so much like a season of reality television. Think about it: reality-TV star and real-estate mogul Donald Trump flirted with a presidential run early on. Once-action-movie-star Chuck Norris has waffled between endorsements of Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich. Herman Cain joined Stephen Colbert for a mock rally in South Carolina. The lines between entertainment and politics are only getting more blurry as the race goes on.

The Fine Line Between Entertainment And Politics

In some ways, this has played right into the hands of politicians who can capitalize on the entertainment factor to shore up support. Newt Gingrich in particular has relied on audience participation to gain momentum in the debates. In South Carolina, Newt’s surge in the polls followed two rowdy debate performances in which the former speaker was able to galvanize the conservative audience with his angry denunciations of the liberal media, turning critical questions from debate moderators into attacks on the media.

After a subdued performance in the first of the Florida debates, in which the crowd was prevented from cheering and clapping by debate rules, Gingrich threatened to sit out the next debate if audience participation was kept to a minimum. Likening the silencing of the audience to a stifling of free speech, Gingrich complained that NBC’s decision to keep the crowd quiet was an attempt to clamp down on dissenting opinions.

“I wish in retrospect I’d protested when Brian Williams took them out of it because I think it’s wrong,” Gingrich said on Fox and Friends. “And I think he took them out of it because the media is terrified that the audience is going to side with the candidates against the media, which is what they’ve done in every debate.”

As Aaron Goldstein notes, this is hardly the case of the media attempting to clamp down on free speech. The rules in place at NBC are old ones. “The debate audiences at NBC, CBS and ABC behave like they’re at a tennis match,” he writes. “The audiences at Fox News and CNN are far more expressive and that works to Newt’s advantage. A sedate audience like the one [in the first Florida debate] at NBC doesn’t play to Newt’s strengths.”

Campaigns have always been negative – they  just haven’t always had Twitter, 24 hour news cycles, and the blogsophere.

All The World’s A Stage

Note even the language we use to describe the debates. We talk about debate “performances” as if all the race is a stage and all the candidates merely players. Blogs and new media only add to the 24/7 cable news with headlines emphasizing how one candidate has “demolished” the other, or describing debate wins as “smackdowns.” Violent imagery accompanies our descriptions of the political circus and talking points and video clips mimic the reality-TV strategy of emphasizing only the most dramatic or controversial moments of any debate.

Add to this the flood of attack ads, YouTube video mash-ups, and talk-radio coverage and it’s not hard to see how this primary season is redefining the role of entertainment in politics. Super PACs are relentlessly attacking our airwaves and television screens. One Super PAC associated with the Gingrich campaign even produced its own Michael Moore-esque documentary to attack Mitt Romney for his time at the helm of Bain Capital. Meanwhile talk-radio and the rest of the conservative entertainment complex has grown into a seriouspolitical force during the three years of the Obama administration.

The line between political commentary and entertainment is a fuzzy one on both Fox News and talk-radio figures like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. Controversy sells tickets and makes many of these pundits bags of money. Almost as troubling, many young people have described The Daily Show as their number one source for news. As politics and entertainment grow more indistinguishable, are we losing our ability to tell the one from the other?

Stupid Rules Are Meant To Be Broken

Even the rules of the Republican primary have been changed to make the race more engrossing.

Jealous of the edge-of-your-seat quality the Hillary Clinton-Barack Obama Democratic 2008 primary, and the political enthusiasm it inspired in many Democrats and liberals, the Republican party has changed its own rules to try to capture some of that magic for their own party’s primary. Rather than a winner-take-all system, candidates in the 2012 race receive proportional delegates. This ensures that every candidate who remains in the race gets at least a few delegates, increasing the likelihood of a protracted, competitive race.

It’s a win-win for the party, the candidates themselves, and the media. Increased enthusiasm leads to more voters at the polls and a better chance that the eventual nominee can topple Obama. Candidates like Gingrich have a better chance of stealing the show from the presumptive front-runner. And the big broadcasters get more debates and more controversy to report on. Meanwhile bloggers and online media can capitalize on the extended race with more eyeballs and page views.

Newt’s threat to sit out thelast debate was indeed a childish temper tantrum but it makes sense if we look at the big picture. After all, we’re all engaged in this circus. Newt is just one of many willing participants. Reality television has been successful because enough people are willing to watch it week after week. The same is true of reality politics.

The Political Circus We Deserve

Critics of the political circus argue that it’s denigrating our political system, our leaders, and the national dialogue. All of this may be true, but I’m not convinced it’s such a bad thing. Chuck Todd complained recently that Stephen Colbert’s fake candidacy made “a mockery of the system” and the media. But a mockery is exactly what the system needs. It’s what the media needs, for that matter.

If candidates make fools of themselves in national debates then the debates have done voters a great service. If the political circus has candidates bending backwards to pander to the conservative base, well at least we have good examples of why the candidates may not be fit for political office, let alone the highest office in the land. If Newt’s demagogic acrobatics are the only thing that can propel him to victory, then at least the voting public can have examples of this at their fingertips.

It’s often said that Americans get the politicians we deserve. I couldn’t agree more. Reality politics can function as a window into the shortcomings and failures of our political class, our government, and our political system more broadly. Of course, none of it is a laughing matter. But there’s no better way to vet our future political leaders than to let them run this gauntlet of their own making.

Besides, do we really want to return to the debates of the past? I watched a Reagan-Carter debate from 1980 the other day and came away no more informed about the character of either man. The debate was certainly more substantial, but it was also a lot more boring. And there is something discomfiting about the pomp and circumstance surrounding these old debates, as if these men deserve our adoration more than our criticism.

The media has changed radically since 1980. For the most part, this is a good thing. The big broadcasters have lost some of their vice-like grip on the political discussion. The old white men who droned their questions out three decades ago to the old white men on stage no longer have a monopoly on the news.

Maybe this will someday translate into more voter participation, less apathy, and a more critical approach to how we view both our political leaders and the news. Of course, it may have the opposite effect. But the political circus is here to say. It’s the inevitable result of endless news, social media, and the internet – a true evolution of democracy playing out right before our eyes.

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Gingrich’s gift to the media: a primary bloodbath

"Mitt Romney would only cut the budget this much…"

Newt Gingrich isn’t going to stop, even if Romney beats him bloody in Florida. Don’t get me wrong, the former speaker is finished. He’s not going to topple the party establishment. He doesn’t represent the hope and change he pretends to represent. He’s no transformational figure at all.

The reason the GOP elites dislike Gingrich isn’t because he’s too conservative it’s because he’s a disgrace to the Republican Party. His personal life is an embarrassment and his lobbying for Fannie and Freddie is just one of many toxic items in his record. By comparison, Romney is squeaky clean even with a mini-Obamacare in his past. As far as we know he’s been a faithful husband and father. His Mormonism is problematic, and for some reason his tenure at Bain Capital has him on the defensive, but beyond that his main liability is that people just don’t like him that much. Well when it comes to favorability, Newt scores even worse.

John Heilemann thinks that in spite of all of this, Newt is just crazy enough to keep fighting through the convention:

Pledges to continue the fight unabated in the face of harsh and/or humiliating outcomes are staples of presidential campaigns. And they are also patently meaningless. (Please recall Jon Huntsman’s feigned brio on the night of the New Hampshire primary — and his departure from the race a few days later.) But in Gingrich’s case, he might be serious, so much has he come to despise Romney and the Republican Establishment that has brought down on him a twenty-ton shithammer in Florida, and so convinced is he of his own Churchillian greatness and world-historical destiny.

I suppose this depends largely on whether he can fund a losing campaign or not, in the face of all odds. Andrew Sullivan, no fan of Romney, notes:

I guess I’m biased as I really enjoy a good political bloodbath. And during this campaign, I’ve come to loathe Romney almost as much as his Republican peers do.

Kevin Drum adds:

But here’s the real question: if Romney builds up a big enough head of steam, he’ll declare victory and withdraw from future debates. Without Romney, no one will be much interested in airing the debates, and no one would watch them even if they were aired. So all three of the also-rans would have to keep up their campaigns even though they weren’t getting regular time to yak on national TV and the press corps was no longer taking the race seriously.

Therein lies the rub.

Gingrich’s gift to the media is a long fight – a bloodbath, as Sullivan put it – which keeps all of us pundits happy, and the broadcasters with a steady stream of news. If Santorum bows out and endorses Gingrich, we could see a pretty intense three-way race all the way to the convention. What a glorious bit of persistent news that would be.

It’s ironic, really, that the man who so scorns the media at every possible turn would be the one to give them such a lovely present this election season. Of course, if Romney does sit out the debates that changes the equation to some degree. Debates, however vapid they  may be, spark lots of news. They even change the outcome of races (see e.g. South Carolina.)

Then again, we could all be wrong. Gingrich could bow out suddenly and inexplicably after Florida. He could spin his antagonism toward Romney around 180 degrees and back the former Massachusetts governor. The GOP elites and the conservative movement elites could make nice and rally round the nominee.

How dreadfully boring this would be.

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Wolf Blitzer Strikes Back

This is the moment that cost Gingrich the debate and the nomination. You just can’t be a one-trick pony in this day and age.

Ta-Nehisi Coates writes:

Newt Gingrich has repeatedly hidden behind a veil of Republican unity when it was to his advantage, while pulling out daggers when it wasn’t. I don’t begrudge him that. He’s running a campaign to be president of the United States. That’s his interest. In a debate setting, the interest of reporters (among others) is to make candidates defend their statements in detail.

Often those two interests collide. That’s a feature, not a bug. It was good to see Wolf Blitzer–even with the crowd turning on him–lean into that collision a bit last night. The ref isn’t there to make sure the crowd cheers for him, or to make sure the combatants “approve” of him.
Nobody really likes Wolf Blitzer anyways, right? So he had nothing to lose.

More seriously, Romney took advantage of this moment beautifully, dealing Newt the killing blow. Once Gingrich lost his footing it was just done. And this race is done. Romney is the nominee – or he will be soon enough.

More damning revelations about the Ron Paul newsletters probably won’t hurt Paul too badly at this point, but the congressman really doesn’t have a chance at winning at this point anyways. He’d be wise to go third party at this point, even though it guarantees Obama’s victory.

Obama is still better – in spite of his many civil liberties shortcomings – than Romney or Gingrich on innumerable issues of war and peace and torture. Paul going third party makes sense because sinking the real hawks in the Republican party makes sense, even if Obama is way to the left of Paul.

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