Archive for February 8th, 2012
WASHINGTON — It was a very bad night for Mitt Romney Tuesday, no matter which way you sliced it, another harsh blow undermining his argument that he is the strongest Republican candidate for president.
It happened in Iowa on Jan. 3. It happened Jan. 22 in South Carolina. And on Tuesday night, Romney was again rejected by a large portion of the Republican electorate, this time in Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado.
Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) won Missouri and Minnesota by large margins, capturing 55 percent of the vote in Missouri to Romney’s 25 percent, and winning Minnesota — a state Romney won in the 2008 primary — with 45 percent of the vote. Romney came in third there with only 17 percent of the vote, finishing behind Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), who got 27 percent. Santorum won all 114 of Missouri’s counties.
“Conservatism is alive and well in Missouri and Minnesota,” Santorum crowed, at a rally in St. Charles, Mo. “Tonight was a victory for the voices of our party, conservatives and Tea Party people.”
In Colorado, where Romney won the 2008 caucuses with 60 percent of the vote, Santorum also won. The state Republican party called the race for Santorum a few minutes after 11 p.m. (1 a.m. Eastern Standard Time), giving him a 40 percent to 35 percent win over Romney.
Romney has suffered setbacks before in this primary — and Santorum has had a burst of momentum before, after his win in Iowa. But the former Massachusetts governor’s losses Tuesday were the worst yet, even if technically no delegates were awarded. No amount of spinning by the Romney campaign about delegate counts could obscure what the night made crystal clear: their candidate remains unable to excite passion in the GOP and remains a long way from closing the deal with voters.
Romney is still in the best position to win the nomination, purely because he is the best equipped for a drawn out primary that requires organization and money. He can outlast Santorum, and former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), who had such a terrible showing that he didn’t even hold an election night rally and gave no speech, but is nonetheless looking ahead to southern state contests in March.
“We’ve got a long way to go,” Romney said as he closed his speech in Denver. He betrayed no anxiety about the night’s results, appearing relaxed and confident.
But to Romney’s chagrin, Santorum’s largely symbolic victories Tuesday will bring him grassroots enthusiasm and money. And Santorum already has at least one wealthy benefactor willing to give big money to a super PAC supporting him. As Santorum spoke, billionaire investor and businessman Foster Friess stood behind him, reminding those who noticed of the $331,000 he gave the Red, White and Blue Fund even before Santorum narrowly beat Romney in Iowa on Jan. 3.
Santorum’s big wins also injects real importance and potential for great political theater at a large gathering of conservative activists in Washington on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Santorum, Romney and Gingrich will all speak Friday at the Conservative Political Action Conference, and the 10,000 or so attendees will take part in a straw poll, the winner of which will be announced on Saturday.
The Maine caucus results also will be announced on Saturday. And then, after this weekend, the campaign will hit a lull. There are no more contests until Michigan and Arizona hold primaries on Feb. 28.
If Santorum continues to gain altitude, the dead time in February could present a challenge for Romney. But conversely, the Romney campaign is well prepared for a messaging war, and will have plenty of time to wage a back and forth with Santorum over the TV airwaves and through the media.
The question now is how Romney responds. He gave a small taste in his remarks just before clocks struck midnight on the East Coast.
“Washington will never be reformed by those who have been compromised by the culture of Washington. This is a clear choice. I’m the only person in this race, Republican or Democrat, who has never served a day in Washington. And where I come from, leadership is about starting a business, not trying to get a bill out of committee,” Romney said, drawing a contrast between himself and Santorum, and Gingrich too.
The Romney campaign also devoted an unusual amount of energy to attacking Santorum on Monday, a clear sign their own internal tracking numbers showed the coming drubbing.
But Santorum, who spoke before Romney on Tuesday night, signaled he was not going to step aside.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I don’t stand here to claim to be the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney. I stand here to be the conservative alternative to Barack Obama,” Santorum said.
And Santorum cast Romney, as has Gingrich, as a moderate.
“On those issues -– health care, the environment, cap and trade, and on the Wall Street bailouts — Mitt Romney has the same positions as Barack Obama, and in fact would not be the best person to come up and fight for your voices for freedom in America,” Santorum said.
A Republican consultant opposed to Romney said that “voters want a real conservative who isn’t ashamed to campaign as one.”
Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz gloated as well.
“Republicans are giving the field of candidates another look, demonstrating that the more people get to know Mitt Romney, the less they like him,” Wasserman Schultz said.
But Romney’s political director, Rich Beeson, wrote a memo earlier in the day that laid out why the campaign is confident in its prospects over the long term.
“Speaker Gingrich’s and Senator Santorum’s campaigns have resource challenges. The remaining February states may not be kind to them, and their hopes for a comeback in March may be very difficult and based on an incomplete understanding of the delegate selection rules. Even ‘success’ in a few states will not mean collecting enough delegates to win the nomination,” Beeson wrote. “In contrast, Governor Romney will be competing across the country and collecting delegates in state after state, even if other candidates pick up some wins.”
“This is exactly the sort of methodical, long-haul campaign we planned for, and we are well on the way to victory,” Beeson wrote.
© 2012, agentleman.
Pro-choice Republicans are begging their party to drop this fight over contraception before it’s too late. Turning to a discussion about access to birth control will be nothing short of a disaster, they say.
The new and unexpected war over contraception may not end up as only a battle between the White House and the Republican party. It could end up as a fight between the GOP and itself. As we saw during the 2011’s push to defund Planned Parenthood — when some Republican Senators rebuked their colleagues in the House for attacking the organization — Republicans on Capitol Hill do not speak with one voice on matters of women’s health. Now, as Speaker John Boehner seemingly prepares to turn the House GOP’s attention to contraception, pro-choice Republicans are warning that the GOP may become the next Komen For The Cure.
“I think this week’s outrage over the Komen decision should be a warning to the Republican party about how quickly there was a mass outrage over further and further attacks on general women’s health,” Kellie Ferguson, executive director of Republican Majority for choice, told me Wednesday. “You could see the same backlash on attacks on contraception.”
Ferguson calls the Republican rhetoric on contraception “crossing the line” — taking the discussion away from choice issues (where Republicans can find some broader, if still national minority constituency) and into the realm of the fringy extreme.
“For the last number of years, we in the pro-choice community in general — and we specifically as Republicans — have been saying as this pandering to a sort of social conservative faction of voters continues, you’re going to see the line pushed further and further and further,” she said. “And we’re now crossing the line from discussion of when we should regulate abortion to when we should now regulate legal doctor-prescribed medications like birth control, which is woven in the fabric of society as an acceptable medication.”
She pointed to widely-reported polling showing that a majority of Americans — and a majority of Catholics — support the White House policy and urged her party to take a step back before it’s too late.
A high-profile debate over contraception will only serve to alienate voters and deny Republicans the White House in the fall, Ferguson suggested.
“There’s a big leap between people who vote at a Republican caucus and the majority that will vote in a general election,” she said. “I think pigeon-holing the party as against women’s health in general not only hurts the party, but it hurts our key candidates.”
© 2012, agentleman.
1) Boston, we have a problem
Romney is still by far the likely nominee. He is still the only candidate with resources and an organized team. Tuesday’s elections were “non-binding beauty contests.” And this is likely a temporary stall: Mitt Romney will regain momentum heading into Arizona, Michigan and Super Tuesday.
But Romney was locked out of first place in all three races Tuesday night, including Colorado, a state where he won more than 60 percent in 2008. He was expected to win two of the races a few days ago and viewed as the likely victor in Colorado a few hours before voting began.
Even with the Romney campaign’s pre-spinning of the losses, the Rick Santorum clean sweep was a stinging rebuke of the front-runner. In the end, he got just over half the percentage he took in Colorado four years ago.
The expectation heading into February was that this would be a strong month for the former Massachusetts governor.
But his Florida momentum evaporated with his comments about concern for the “very poor,” which may have turned off conservative voters in these races.
Now, Santorum has more statewide wins than Romney, and Arizona — which has a sizable Mormon population but also a conservative-leaning GOP electorate — is the stage of the next big Republican battle.
Romney’s ongoing struggles with the conservative base of his party may not matter once he becomes the nominee. But it’s going to be awfully hard for Romney boosters to argue those problems are being overhyped by the news media in light of Tuesday night’s outcome and the lack of enthusiasm it speaks to.
This is not a near-death experience for Romney like his loss in South Carolina. But it underscores the fact that his team is still searching for a message — and for a candidate who has done limited conservative outreach.
His election night speech — his wife, Ann, was not on hand for this one — was muted. He spoke in platitudes and campaign slogans but offered up little that was new — save for anecdotes about his father as a from-the-ground-up success, which was noticeable given how often Santorum speaks about his own humble beginnings.
Romney’s campaign, as the results in Minnesota and Missouri came in, sent out an op-ed he has written focusing on deficit reduction, an issue that will play well with fiscal hawks. But given how little meat he’s put on the bones of his own message, he’s going to be pressed to put out more by way of policy and his ideas for how to lead the nation.
2) Santorum pressed the reset button with gusto
Santorum’s wins Tuesday night let him claim some of the spoils he lost when he was called the runner-up in Iowa on caucus night, only to be declared the winner well after the fact.
Santorum’s task now is to try to get any semblance of a bounce out of his win. That eluded him after Iowa, despite the fact that he made the race extremely close on a shoestring budget and after being largely ignored by the political press throughout 2011.
Working heavily in his favor are two things: His election speech was a reflection of the message he’s honed, one with a dash of working-class appeal, and one that could resonate in some of the upcoming Super Tuesday contests.
Also working in Santorum’s favor? Events beyond the candidates’ control are playing toward his issue set — namely, social issues.
The headlines about the Susan G. Komen/Planned Parenthood controversy, as well as the Proposition 8 court ruling in California, are terrific message points for the 1990s-era culture warrior. And the fact that the economic markers seem to be trending positive moves the fight away from Romney’s turf. Santorum has also been the most effective critic in the GOP field of ‘Romneycare,’ which the front-runner still struggles to explain in debates and when pressed.
It is late in the game for anyone to stop Romney, but this is Santorum’s best shot at it. He has had difficulty sustaining relevance driving a message and raising money, but he now has a strong shot of momentum and credibility with which to try to do both of those things.
Also important for Santorum now: keeping Newt Gingrich on the mat, and maybe wooing some of his backers to his team, in the hope of consolidating the anti-Romney conservative vote.
If past is prelude, Santorum is about to face a deluge of negative ads and mail from Team Romney and the super PAC backing him, which will focus on his career in Washington, earmarks and even his work after he lost his last Senate race.
But for Romney, repeatedly going negative on the two candidates who represent the wing of the party he’s having problems connecting with has its downside — and unlike Gingrich, Santorum is less likely to get rattled by the attacks.
3) The absence of cash on the airwaves played a role
Santorum’s top adviser, John Brabender, told NBC’s John Harwood that Missouri proved Romney can be beaten in a one-on-one fight.
There’s something to that.
For the first time in any of the early contests, Romney and his affiliated super PAC did not blanket the airwaves with ads. Having done so in earlier races may not be the only reason Romney won some of them, but it certainly was a big one — and it helped in a paid media state like Florida.
Romney’s team made a point of noting earlier Tuesday that the campaign had barely invested in the three races that played out last night. And that, his critics will argue, is the point.
The flip side — that Romney is the only candidate besides Paul on the ballot in every remaining contest, and the only one with stockpiles of cash — is also true. And Romney backers will argue there’s a measure of sour grapes in underfunded, unorganized candidates complaining about his team being effective.
Still, the resources issue is hard to overlook.
4) Romney 2008 versus Romney 2012 is a bad narrative for Mitt
One of the themes from pundits throughout last night was how much better Mitt Romney had fared in the 2008 versions of the states where he either lost or was running neck-and-neck with Santorum.
This is a narrative that has little to do with whether Romney will actually be the nominee (which is still likely) and more to do with a negative meme in the news media that underscores the resistance of the conservative base to the front-runner.
The problem for Romney is that four years ago, when he won Colorado and Minnesota, John McCain was the likely nominee, and the former Massachusetts governor was seen as the electable conservative alternative.
But the conservative base is not static. While Romney was seen as a conservative against McCain four years ago, in a field that includes Santorum and Gingrich, he is viewed by the base as a centrist.
Other than today, when his team sent out a memo to pre-spin anticipated losses in Missouri and Minnesota (Colorado was still expected to be a win for him before voting began), Team Romney has done little since Iowa to manage expectations in earnest.
At least, they did little prior to Nevada, when they made the point that the entrance polls showed Romney steadily winning over conservatives and tea party voters. There were no entrance polls last night, but it’s safe to surmise that Romney did not score victories with those subsets.
5) Paging Newt Gingrich
The candidate who trounced Romney in South Carolina was a footnote in the three contests last night, not making the ballot in Missouri and coming in fourth place in Minnesota. He finished a distant third in Colorado.
It’s a bit hard to see how Gingrich is going to keep himself relevant in the coming weeks after Santorum’s decisive wins, which were fueled by a GOP base to which the former House speaker has been selling himself as the one electable alternative. Gingrich’s campaign cash reserves have been depleted, and his close friend Sheldon Adelson, sources say, has no plans to give more money to the super PAC backing him.
That doesn’t give him a whole lot of options for getting attention — other than the dreaded “elite media” — to sustain his candidacy.
Santorum now has won four states to Gingrich’s one, a message point that is meaningless in terms of the delegate count but could matter a great deal in terms of momentum.
Short of setting himself on fire at CPAC this week, Gingrich is low on options to make himself part of the conversation. Of course, the one person who might want Gingrich to linger is Romney, who needs a fractured conservative base.
6) Ron Paul’s caucus strategy is taking on water
As in Nevada, the Texas congressman fell short of expectations in at least one of the two caucus states last night.
Paul had one glimmer of hope in Minnesota, where he ended up in second place but finished behind Gingrich in fourth place in Colorado.
Paul himself reminded his supporters at his election night rally that he’s in it for the delegates, and he looked forward to the Maine caucuses this weekend.
But even he acknowledged earlier Tuesday to radio host Scott Hennen that he needs to win a state at some point. It’s easy to argue that he needs to win more than one, given all the hype and attention around his approach and the fact that his supporters are the closest thing to an organized movement that exists this cycle.
He still has time to show he can do better — but third- and fourth-place finishes were not the expectations for him.
7) Low turnout is becoming a storyline
There was no turnout drop-off in the first three contests this cycle: It was about the same as in 2008, with mild increases.
But in Nevada, Florida and all three of last night’s contests, turnout has gone down.
There had been local factors at play in Florida in 2008, such as ballot initiatives, that increased turnout. There are often local factors in primaries that affect affect how many people vote.
And an argument could be made that, with Romney generally viewed as the main electable option heading into last night, voters are not excited to turn out because they think the outcome is predetermined.
Still, in a year when Republicans are hungry to trounce Obama, the numbers have been a surprise.
That said, the same voters who didn’t turn out to vote in the Romney-Santorum-Gingrich-Paul primary are much likelier to head to the polls when it’s a one-on-one contest with Obama in the fall.
But those turnout numbers will be used, fairly or not, to underscore the fact that the GOP’s likely nominee has had trouble generating enthusiasm with the party faithful.
© 2012, agentleman.
Where Are the Romney Republicans?
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
The most embarrassing moments to watch this political season have occurred as Mitt Romney has pretended to be an angry, fire-breathing true conservative. The evidence suggests that in his soul he’s a moderate pragmatist, but he has flip-flopped like a frantic fish in hopes of hiding his reasonableness.
Newt Gingrich, Romney’s main rival for the Republican presidential nomination, is denouncing Romney with one of the ugliest slurs in the Republican lexicon: a Massachusetts moderate. Other moderate Republicans are savaged as RINOs — Republicans in name only — as if they emerged from an ugly mutant strain.
Yet, in fact, as a new history book underscores, it is the Gingriches and Santorums who are the mutants. For most of its history, the Republican Party was dominated by those closer to Romney than to social conservatives like Rick Santorum, and it is only in the last generation that the party has lurched to the hard right.
The new book, “Rule and Ruin,” by Geoffrey Kabaservice, a former assistant history professor at Yale, notes that, to compete in the primaries, Romney has had to flee from his own political record and that of his father, George Romney, a former governor of Michigan who is a symbol of mainstream moderation.
“Much of the current conservative movement is characterized by this sort of historical amnesia and symbolic parricide, which seeks to undo key aspects of the Republican legacy such as Reagan’s elimination of corporate tax loopholes, Nixon’s environmental and labor safety programs, and a variety of G.O.P. achievements in civil rights, civil liberties, and good government reforms,” Kabaservice writes. “In the long view of history, it is really today’s conservatives who are ‘Republicans in name only.’ ”
After all, the original Massachusetts moderates were legendary figures in Republican history, like Elihu Root and Henry Cabot Lodge. Theodore Roosevelt embraced progressivism as “the highest and wisest form of conservatism.” Few did more to promote racial integration, civil rights and individual freedoms than a Republican, Earl Warren, in his years as chief justice.
Dwight Eisenhower cautioned against excess military spending as “a theft from those who hunger and are not fed.” Richard Nixon proposed health care reform. Ronald Reagan endorsed the same tax rate for capital gains as for earned income. Each of these titans of Republican Party history would today risk mockery for these views.
Republican history is also populated with harder-line conservatives, like Senator Robert Taft of Ohio, dubbed “Mr. Republican.” But he worked closely with Democrats, was willing to raise taxes and disapproved of anti-intellectual populism. Consider the time Taft’s wife was asked at a rally whether her husband was a common man.
“Oh, no,” Kabaservice quotes her as responding. “He was first in his class at Yale and first in his class at Harvard Law School.” The crowd gave the couple a standing ovation.
That’s a long and gradual story beginning with Senator Joe McCarthy’s success in galvanizing working-class suspicions of government elites and continues with an angry backlash at changing mores and liberalized abortion laws. Conservative Southern whites moved into the Republican Party. Newer media voices like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck made extremism seem congenial — while making bipartisanship feel treacherous.
I grew up in Oregon at a time when the state was dominated by Republican progressives like Gov. Tom McCall, a passionate environmentalist, and Mark Hatfield, an opponent of the Vietnam War. At that time, political paranoiacs tended to vote Democratic for candidates like George Wallace; over time, they migrated to the state’s Republican Party — and swallowed it up.
My first editor, Jeb Bladine, of The News-Register in McMinnville, Ore., describes his newspaper as “independent Republican” in the spirit of earlier Republicans. But then social conservatives staged a grass-roots overthrow of the moderate Republican apparatus in the late 1970s and early ’80s, and focused on abortion and gay rights.
“Moderates simply gave up participating after being ostracized,” Bladine remembers. “It became almost impossible to nominate a Republican for statewide office who had any chance of winning in a statewide vote.”
Yet political parties are not suicidal. When they overreach, they (often) learn. The Democrats did that when they embraced a Southern centrist named Bill Clinton. The British Labor Party was marginalized when I lived in Britain in the early 1980s, but Tony Blair transformed it and revived it about 15 years later. And in Oregon over the last decade, Bladine notes, social wedge issues have lost their force, and moderate Republicans have re-emerged.
Could the same happen nationally? Sure, it seems impossible at the moment. But if Romney somehow manages to make the Republican Party safe for moderates again, that’ll be a triumph for his party — and for the country.
© 2012, agentleman.