How Citizens United Helped Newt Gingrich And Hurt The Republican Party

Sheldon Adelson is the man behind Newt Gingrich's anti-establishment success

Newt Gingrich is a Washington insider but he’s not in the good graces of his party’s elite. And yet he manages to stay competitive in the GOP primary.

Jon Chait makes an interesting point about the competitiveness of the Gingrich campaign:

Money is the primary mechanism that parties use to herd voters toward the choices the elites would prefer them to make. The nomination of George W. Bush offers a classic example. Bush and his network had organized so many Republicans to donate so much money that the contest was essentially over well before a vote had been cast. The Bush fund-raising network didn’t involve a handful of billionaires in a room. It required thousands of fairly affluent people working together.

He points to the GOP marching orders on Gingrich:

If Gingrich does win, veteran GOP strategists tell CNN to expect pressure on Senate Minority Leaders Mitch McConnell, House Speaker John Boehner and other Republican leaders to call key GOP donors and ask them not to contribute to Gingrich’s campaign.

Chait notes that ten years ago “this sort of edict would have suffocated Gingrich. But under the present system, Gingrich can simply have a single extremely wealthy supporter, Sheldon Adelson, write a series of $5 million checks.”

Now I draw a very different conclusion than Chait from this. Here’s Chait:

Conservatives may not care much about the good-government problems that this scenario raises. (I care! Imagine a sitting President trying to make a fair judgment about a policy decision impacting the businessman who single-handedly financed his entire election.) But they may come to care about the problems arising from a system that now allows one very, very rich man with very, very poor political instincts to overturn their own best laid plans.

On the other hand, I’m sort of thrilled to see the duopoly threatened. Our two-party system really is a threat to American democracy. No power bases are more entrenched than the Democratic and Republican parties. Money be damned, if the party is going to unite around Bush in 2000 then McCain’s chances are null and void. In 2012, the rules have changed.

Is this the first crack in the GOP’s thick armor – an even more stunning change of fortune than the Tea Party sweep in 2010? I wrote recently about how Citizens United helped take at least a little power away from traditional media corporations. Is it also weakening the two-party grip on the political system? Could this be the beginning of the end for lesser-of-two-evils democracy in America?

To Chait’s fretting over good government, why should we be more concerned with the influence of one billionaire over the decisions of a hypothetical president Newt Gingrich than with the amassed influence of corporations over the Republican party itself? After all, if Gingrich did anything explicitly to help Sheldon Adelson we’d know about it rather quickly. Everyone would be paying close attention. But the machinations of the Republican party itself and the money which keeps the back-scratching mutual between the party and its benefactors is largely opaque – a perpetual process that, like breathing, we barely notice at all.

Follow me on Twitter or FacebookRead my Forbes blog here.


Marco Rubio positions himself for a Romney ticket

Marco Rubio would be a smart veep pick for Romney

Rubio is a charming young congressional freshman and son of Cuban immigrants, is a popular conservative and  once-darling of the once-great Tea Party, and he’s taking Romney’s side in the Romney-Gingrich Florida fight:

In a Spanish-language ad airing in Florida paid for by the Gingrich campaign, Mitt Romney is called “the most anti-immigrant candidate.”

Sen. Marco Rubio blasted Newt Gingrich today for describing Romney that way. “This kind of language is more than just unfortunate,” Rubio told the Miami Herald. “It’s inaccurate, inflammatory, and doesn’t belong in this campaign.”

“The truth is that neither of these two men is anti-immigrant,” Rubio added. “Both are pro-legal immigration and both have positive messages that play well in the Hispanic community.”

Rubio has indicated he has no plans to endorse.

No plans to endorse, but this is still picking sides. Rubio would make a smart pick for Romney’s VP for numerous reasons. He’s more reliably conservative than Romney. He’s a good speaker, likable and eloquent. He’s young and good-looking. And he’s a minority who would appeal to that much-alienated Hispanic vote.

Is this his first move to position himself in Romney’s good graces? What happens if Newt wins Florida?

Follow me on Twitter or FacebookRead my Forbes blog here.


The best critique of Obama’s State of the Union so far

The Republican party has taken a page from The Daily Show’s playbook:

Of course all politicians – or at least most of them – engage in the same sort of repetitive rhetoric. Call it a leftover from the Halcyon days before YouTube mash-ups, when our short memories were enough to shelter politicians from their own talking points.

Times have changed. Our political institutions – and leaders – have not.

(via BuzzFeed)

Follow me on Twitter or FacebookRead my Forbes blog here.


Gingrich threatens to sit out next debate if audience can’t participate

Newt Gingrich is threatening to sit out the next debate

Want more proof that Gingrich’s entire shtick is completely dependent on riling up the audience? Look no further:

Mr. Gingrich, a former House speaker, on Tuesday morning threatened not participate in any future debates with audiences that have been instructed to be silent. That was the case on Monday, when Brian Williams of NBC News asked the audience of about 500 people who assembled for a debate in Tampa to hold their applause until the commercial breaks.

In an interview with the morning show “Fox and Friends,” Mr. Gingrich said NBC’s rules amounted to stifling free speech. In what has become a standard line of attack for his anti-establishment campaign, Mr. Gingrich blamed the media for trying to silence a dissenting point of view.

“I wish in retrospect I’d protested when Brian Williams took them out of it because I think it’s wrong,” Mr. Gingrich said. “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.”

I don’t blame him for being upset. His extraordinary victory in South Carolina was built on the back of his demagoguery there in the debates. Newt managed to whip up the crowd’s anger and frustration into a frothy mix of, er, well fervor. Fast-forward to the last Florida debate and Newt was off his game. No whooping or cheering from the audience. No opening to stick it to Brian Williams. And the former speaker fell on his face, taking blow after blow from Romney.

Could Newt actually sit out the next debate? I don’t buy it. It’s a lot of sound and fury from a man who expects such a threat will move mountains. And perhaps it will. The networks want to put on a good show. This is reality television at its very best. Why not let the crowd run wild?

This isn’t 1980, after all. We’re not watching Reagan debate Carter. We’re just watching a bunch of guys who want to be Reagan debate each other so that they can beat the “worst president since Carter” or some such nonsense.

Doug Mataconis has more.

Follow me on Twitter or FacebookRead my Forbes blog here.


Mitch Daniels and ‘trickle down government’

Mitch Daniels gave the 2012 State of the Union GOP response.

Mitch Daniels actually gave a pretty decent SOTU response tonight. None of Jindal’s tragic, loping performance, though that’s a low bar to cross. Perhaps I was too quick earlier to dismiss the Indiana governor. His line about “trickle down government” was extremely clever. Kudos to his speech writer.

Daniels manages to be folksy and fairly likable without sounding insincere. That’s a good quality to have in a politician. Romney would give his left leg to have a bit of that natural, low-key charm.

Still, I find the opposition response to the State of the Union address mind-numbingly boring and, perhaps more importantly, extremely unnecessary. Even a pretty good, pretty positive, upbeat response has me nodding off. After sitting through an entire speech from the president, it’s hard to muster the strength to sit through yet another – albeit shorter – follow-up. Besides, you never know when you’ll pull a Jindal.

If I believed that Republicans were serious about actually reforming entitlements the way they say they want to, I might even find a few things to agree with in Daniels’ response. We do need entitlement reform. We do need smart government and pro-growth policies. The problem is that the grown-ups have by and large abandoned the Republican party. I have many quibbles with the Democratic party but at least they attempt to govern well.

I have no doubt that Daniels qualifies as a grown-up in his party, but it must be an awfully lonely experience.

Instead we have Newt Gingrich toppling expectations in South Carolina – a man whose ego is childlike in its grandiosity.

Daniels did fine, but conservative dreamers like Bill Kristol should avoid getting their hopes up. A fine SOTU response doesn’t build a political organization out of thin air. Daniels still has no organization. He’s still leagues behind his would-be rivals in just about every sense except, perhaps, sounding and acting like an adult. We should know by now that qualities like maturity are hardly important when electing a president. We elected George W. Bush twice, after all.

Follow me on Twitter or FacebookRead my Forbes blog here.



Why the president succeeded with his State of the Union address tonight

Obama cut a presidential figure, especially compared to his rivals.

President Obama gave a pretty good speech tonight. American exceptionalism and the emergence from darker times were the interwoven themes of the evening. Scattered throughout were some decent ideas on Senate reform and tax policy, but overall it was still a pretty low-calorie affair. Nothing too wonky or deep. Nothing to sink our teeth into.

Still, I think it’s important to remember the intended audience when we listen to these sorts of speeches. Most Americans, after all, don’t obsess over politics the way we bloggers and denizens of the internet do. Most Americans like to hear a positive, rousing speech that isn’t too long.

Just as importantly, it’s remarkable to watch Barack Obama speak about his vision for America. He cuts a striking contrast with his opponents in the GOP primary. There’s not a lot of visionary material in the speech itself – nothing particularly detailed – but he sure looks like a president doesn’t he?

After several months of the GOP primary circus, listening to Obama give a rousing speech about the American dream, the American promise – the indispensable nation that is us – well, it’s hard not to compare him to the dimensionless Mitt Romney, or the bristly Newt Gingrich and his aura of self-importance. Obama looks dignified. He has gravitas. He’s eloquent.

Still, Andrew Sullivan was disappointed:

I was hoping for a vision. I was hoping for real, strategic reform. What we got was one big blizzard of tax deductions, wrapped in a populist cloak. It was treading water. I suspect this will buoy liberal spirits, but anger the right and befuddle the independents. It definitely gives the Republican case against Obama as a big government meddler more credibility. I may be wrong – but the sheer cramped, tedious, mediocre micro-policies he listed were uninspiring to say the least.

We voted for Obama; now we find we got another Clinton. The base will like this. I’m not sure independents will. As performance, he did as well as he could with the thin material he had in his hands. As a speech, I thought it was the worst of his SOTUs, when he really needed his best.

Josh Barro wanted Obama to talk about monetary policy and was disappointed when he didn’t. Indeed, there was little policy meat in tonight’s speech.

But isn’t hoping for a vision sort of missing the point? Isn’t hoping for concrete policy a little like wishing for unicorns?

This is the first of many campaign speeches Obama will give. Will it anger independents? I don’t think so. Most independents are actually just undecided low-information voters.

The point of a speech like this one – an election year State of the Union Address – is not to lay out a grand vision. To be honest, the time for grand visions is over. What the president needs to do – and what he didn’t do enough tonight – is lay out in stark terms why his presidency is important and distinct from the hypothetical presidency of Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich.

But none of that really matters. Obama looked like a president tonight. He sounded like one, too. For that matter, Mitch Daniels actually sounded a bit like a president.

Both men sound a lot more like presidents than Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich. This is a really bad sign for the Republican party. And since it’s too late for Daniels to get into the race, it’s a really good sign for Obama.

Follow me on Twitter or FacebookRead my Forbes blog here.



Is Mitch Daniels giving the SOTU response to sabotage all this presidential speculation?

Mitch Daniels is not really presidential in any way.

At Library Grape, Lev makes a smart observation:

Mitch Daniels is the man of the moment—he’s been selected to respond to Barack Obama’s State Of The Union address, which essentially means that he’s about to kiss any sort of rising star status goodbye if history is any guide. And it should be: Daniels is soft-spoken and not terribly magnetic, and my hunch is that the Republicans devoutly wishing he’d gotten in will not be wishing it this time tomorrow. SOTU responses are a lose-lose situation, the only decent ones in recent years were (1) the one given by Sen. Jim Webb in 2007, which was packed with gravitas, toughness, and dignity, and (2) the one given by Gov. Bob McDonnell last year, which ramped up the cheesy atmospherics (cheering crowds, speaker walking down the aisle and shaking hands) to turn the whole thing into an ersatz State Of The Union, but which somehow worked because it turned the whole thing into a joke that McDonnell was entirely in on. It was actually kind of amazing to watch. Daniels, though, will likely shoot for the first and see his buzz evaporate faster than Bobby Jindal’s did

Frankly, I can’t for the life of me understand why the opposition still gives a response to the State of the Union. Everyone has already had to sit through a long, boring speech once. Now we have to sit through an even less meaningful speech? Seriously? Do we at least get free beer?

On a more serious note, Daniels must know this isn’t the proper forum for a soft-spoken guy like him. What gives? Maybe he knows that this will shatter any hopes that he’ll enter the race and can think of no better way to shake the speculation.

I’m still curious why so many on the right seem to think Daniels would make such a good candidate. He’s short, soft-spoken, and not particularly “presidential” in any sense of the word. Worse still, he can’t really appeal to the base. He has none of Newt’s flare. He’s good on some policies – prison reform, for instance – but he adds very little to the current line-up. Indeed, if he had run I suspect he would have already disappointed those calling for him to run now. Some other dream candidate would be hypothetical number one.

Follow me on Twitter or FacebookRead my Forbes blog here.


Noah Millman Is Blogging At The American Conservative

Some of my favorite conservative writers blog for The American Conservative – Rod Dreher, Daniel Larison, Daniel McArthy to name a few – and now one of my favorite liberals is blogging there, too. Noah Millman has been blogging at The American Scene for years and now has his very own digs at AmConMag.

As pleased as I am by this, the comments on his introduction post make me a little sad. Frankly, as good as the publication is on war, it’s still got a pretty solid portion of anti-immigration advocates in its readership. And while the really questionable voices on the right tend to flock to publications like Taki Mag or Alternative Right or VDare, etc. there are obviously still some of that contingent at The American Conservative.

It’s too bad, really, but it is what it is. I still think there really isn’t a great liberal, anti-war, broadly pro-market publication out there. There are market-friendly rags like TNR, but they’re generally more hawkish. The more anti-war liberal pubs out there are typically very anti-market. Then, of course, there are the libertarian magazines but they’re hostile to things like universal healthcare and other issues that liberals tend to care about.

Is this a niche we could exploit?

Follow me on Twitter or FacebookRead my Forbes blog here.


Mitt Romney is the best Republican candidate to take on Barack Obama

In the first Florida debate, Romney got his groove back. (Image via CBS)

Romney bounced back in the first Florida debate, with a much-subdued Newt Gingrich on the defensive after his South Carolina win.

Part of the problem, argues Aaron Goldstein, was the silence of the crowd:

The debate audiences at NBC, CBS and ABC behave like they’re at a tennis match. The audiences at Fox News and CNN are far more expressive and that works to Newt’s advantage. A sedate audience like the one tonight at NBC doesn’t play to Newt’s strengths. I suspect Newt will fare better at Thursday night’s debate which airs on CNN. What will also help him is that the debate is co-sponsored by the Hispanic Leadership Network and Newt is perceived as more sympathetic to Hispanics than Romney.

I’m not sure Romney’s tax returns will actually hurt him that much. Yes, his earnings over two years top $45 million, but we knew he was rich already. Yes, his taxes are low, but we knew already how low capital gains taxes are compared to income tax rates. The wealth of hedge fun managers isn’t exactly breaking news.

Romney hasn’t handled any of this well, but it’s not damning. And frankly, the more I think about it, Republicans really need to realize something: Newt is a demagogue, and that may make people feel good – by letting Newt tap into that anger, conservatives allow themselves to feel validated. But Romney is a better candidate. He can appear soulless at times – heartless at other times. His personality isn’t exactly compelling.

But who else in this race has been a governor? Who else has a long private-sector track record? Who else can appeal to moderates?

Look, I’m with Andrew Sullivan in my admiration of Ron Paul, but I see him more as a prophet than a politician at this point. He’s railing against American empire, and seriously we should all thank him for that. But his campaign is a campaign against empire and against arrogance more than it is a campaign for president. I think Ron Paul knows this, which is why he says things like, “How can you be conservative and cut food stamps, but not cut a penny over-seas …?”

But let’s be honest: Ron Paul won’t be president. That’s not even the point of his campaign. This thing is between Romney and Gingrich, and Republicans would be making a really big, really tremendously bad mistake by nominating the former speaker.

To be quite honest, all these dream candidates people keep swooning over – Mitch Daniels, Chris Christie, etc. – aren’t all that much different than Romney. Governors, somewhat more moderate than the vanguard of the conservative movement. The big difference is that they have no organization, they aren’t on any ballots, and they don’t have any money raised.

So let’s please quit it with the pining over things that will never be: Gingrich will never be president, nor will Ron Paul. None of these Republican “dream” candidates will live up to their dream status and they couldn’t get into the race at this point anyways. Once-dream-candidate Rick Perry was always just a more boring, less charming George W Bush. Romney is the best Republican remaining in the race – at least if the GOP wants to win this thing.

Me? I say Run Newt Run!

Follow me on Twitter or FacebookRead my Forbes blog here.


Newt Gingrich and the politics of frustration

Jay Cost makes an astute observation:

Conservatives are very frustrated, and rightfully so. Their feeling is that they play by the rules – they work hard, pay their taxes, raise their kids right – but what do they get for it? Their values are mocked on television and the movies, the media castigates them as a bunch of extremists, they pay taxes while half of the country does not, and the Obama administration took to demagoguing them virtually from day one of his tenure. I know of what I speak – a few months back I was driving down the road and saw a sign in front of a business lamenting, “Where is the America I grew up in?” I nodded my head in approval.

Enter Newt Gingrich, the person on the debate stage who finally speaks truth to power. ‘Not so fast, John King!’ ‘Hold it just a damned minute, Diane Sawyer!’ ‘How dare you talk to me like that, Brian Williams!’ These are the sorts of thoughts that millions of conservatives have every week. And now here is Newt Gingrich actually saying it right to them. Never mind the fact that he is expressing indignation at liberals while sometimes offering not-so-conservative policies, or using it as a form of misdirection to turn attention away from his own questionable deeds. Conservatives everywhere love to hear somebody finally stick it to the elites.

This explains why they are excited about the prospect of an Obama-Gingrich debate. They love the thought of someone finally standing in front of Obama and saying, “How dare you, sir!”

The problem with Gingrich, of course, is that he comes with a cargo ship full of baggage – ideological, financial, and personal. Gingrich has made a career since leaving the House as a well-connected insider; he has bona fide ethical scandals on his resume. His personal life is a total mess, and he has turned off the broad middle of the country for the last 15 years. And on top of that, it’s doubtful that all of this outrage is genuine. Consider, for instance, Gingrich warmly complimenting John King after the CNN debate this week. How do we square that with King having done something so “close to despicable” just 120 minutes earlier?

You can’t because you can’t square Newt with Newt. He’s an imprint of the things conservatives want in a candidate, but he’s not in any way a good standard-bearer for the values and ideals which conservatives say they hold. He is merely a capsule for their anger and frustration. This is problematic for GOP voters. The question is whether they’ll realize this in time for the Florida primary.

I would quibble, naturally, with Jay’s argument that conservatives are “rightfully” frustrated. Is there really a reason for this? Huge strides have been made by conservative state governments across the country to turn back the clock on public labor unions, reproductive rights, and education spending. Meanwhile, taxes are lower than ever and the military is just about as big as ever. This secular-socialist-machine that Newt keeps warning about seems as much a figment of our imagination as anything else.

If anything, it’s civil libertarians and progressives who ought to be frustrated.

In terms of the broader culture, Jay does have a stronger footing. It’s true that conservatives are largely presented as caricatures in modern popular media, though this is far from universally so. Actually, I think the problem is that conservatives are trying too hard when it comes to pop culture. They want pop culture that explicitly advocates a conservative world view. Too often this leads to “conservative” films that are just awful, or bad Republican rap videos.

This is an unfortunate turn for conservatives in the arts. After all, many great works of conservative literature and music have been produced. The Lord of the Rings is in many ways a great tome of conservative fantasy (though perhaps a very different sort of “conservative” than what we have today.)

In any case, the politics of frustration certainly helps explain Newt’s appeal. Whether it will be enough to fuel him all the way to the convention is much harder to say. The conservatism of wanting-to-win might take over. In that case, Republicans will need to rally around Romney. Newt doesn’t stand a chance in the general, where the politics of frustration won’t play nearly as large a role.

Follow me on Twitter or FacebookRead my Forbes blog here.