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Posts Tagged ‘Rick Perry’

Plight of the Republican Presidential Race’s Zombie Candidates

January 19th, 2012


This piece first appeared in The Daily Beast.

“We want Matt! We want Matt!” The first (and likely last) time a crowd has chanted my name, I was barricaded inside a hotel suite with the rest of the senior staff of Wes Clark’s presidential campaign. It was Feb. 10, 2004, the night of the Tennessee and Virginia primaries, and Clark had suggested (but not confirmed) that he would end his campaign if he failed to win either one.

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Happiness is Divided Opposition

January 11th, 2012


This piece originally appeared in Politico.

Happiness in politics is a divided opposition.

That’s what Confucius would say if he were around to analyze the race for the Republican nomination. Jon Huntsman is probably saying it in Chinese.

By that standard, the happiest person around is Mitt Romney. He’s coasting to the Republican nomination on the strength of a divided opposition. In the Gallup tracking poll, only 30% of Republicans nationwide say Romney’s their choice. But look at the rest of the field: Newt Gingrich 18%, Rick Santorum 17%, Ron Paul 12%, Rick Perry and John Huntsman in single digits.

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Paul’s Power Play in Iowa — But What’s Next?

December 27th, 2011


This piece was originally posted on the Huffington Post.

Ron Paul is likely to win the Iowa Republican caucuses next week. What can that possibly mean?

Ron Paul is something of a crank. He’s a libertarian with extreme anti-government views. He wants to abolish the Federal Reserve system. And the federal income tax. And cut spending by one trillion dollars in the first year. And end all foreign aid (including aid to Israel). And bring home all U.S. forces stationed overseas.

He dismisses a nuclear-armed Iran as a threat to the U.S. He has said he would not have voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In 2007, he was the only Member of the House of Representatives to vote against creating a National Archives exhibit on slavery and Reconstruction. He was also the only Member to vote against giving a Congressional Gold Medal to Pope John Paul II, Rosa Parks, the Dalai Lama and Mother Teresa.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Paul published newsletters that included inflammatory contributions by white supremacists, anti-Zionists and far right extremists. The newsletters bore his name — The Ron Paul Political Report, The Ron Paul Survival Report — but he says he was not responsible for the contents and may not have even read the articles.

Paul ran for President in 1988 — 24 years ago! — as the candidate of the Libertarian Party. He got less than one half of one percent of the vote.

Paul is ahead in the Iowa polls right now. But, at age 76, he is never going to be President of the United States.

So what does it mean?

There is not much evidence that Paul has moved toward mainstream Republican conservatism. Instead, the Republican Party has moved toward him. The Tea Party insurrection has certainly pulled the GOP in that direction. But Paul is not a Tea Party favorite. In a recent CNN poll, 53 percent of Republican Tea Party supporters nationwide said they would not support Paul for the party nomination “under any circumstances.”

Paul is to the right of the Tea Party, particularly on foreign policy. The Republican Party has moved so far to the right, it is in danger of falling over the edge of sanity. Because Paul says such outlandish things, voters think he’s honest. Asked by CNN which Republican candidate “is the least likely to act like a typical politician,” Paul was ranked first.

The simplest explanation for Paul’s strength in Iowa is the weakness of the rest of the field. Iowa Republicans have had six, count ‘em, six frontrunners in the last eight months: Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich and now Ron Paul. It’s like a game of whack-a-mole. Every time a frontrunner sticks his head up, he gets pounded down. Paul just has the advantage of being the latest.

Paul’s led also says that organization matters in Iowa. And Paul doesn’t just have an organization. He has a cult. His cultish following — which includes a lot of young people who like his antiwar views and his opposition to drug laws — gave him a strong second-place finish in the Iowa straw poll last summer.

Organization matters in Iowa because the Iowa contest is not a primary. It’s a caucus. A primary is an election. A caucus is a meeting. It takes a lot more effort to attend a meeting on a freezing winter night than to stop by a polling place and cast a ballot. Organized groups — churches in the Republican Party, unions in the Democratic Party — arrange rides and provide babysitters in order to get their supporters to the caucuses. According to one independent Iowa voter interviewed by the Des Moines Register, Paul “has an amazing organization, no question. . . . They’re out there giving out signs, signing people up, following up with supporters and it’s paying off.”

Many observers idealize the Iowa caucuses as the ultimate expression of democracy: good citizens gathering in their neighborhoods to decide the fate of the country. That’s nonsense. Caucuses are public voting. You have to stand up in front of your friends and neighbors and God and everybody and declare your support for Ron Paul or Michele Bachmann or Rick Perry or whoever. Ideological activists love to do that. Normal people don’t bother.

The former chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party recently wrote this characterization of Iowa Republican caucus participants: “It’s hard to talk about real issues when three quarters of the audience wear tin foil hats.”

Compare turnout in the Iowa Republican caucuses and the New Hampshire Republican primary. In 2008, Iowa had more than twice as many registered voters as New Hampshire (1,630,000 in Iowa, 756,000 in New Hampshire). But turnout in the New Hampshire Republican primary was about twice as large as turnout in the Iowa Republican caucuses (235,000 in New Hampshire, 119,000 in Iowa).

Reports suggest that some of Paul’s biggest applause lines in Iowa come when he denounces foreign aid and U.S. military intervention overseas. He may be tapping into a long tradition of Midwestern isolationism. In the 1930s, the Midwest was a hotbed of American First sentiment opposed to U.S. involvement in World War II. That sentiment never entirely died on the right. More recently, it has been joined by left-wing antiwar sentiment generated by Vietnam and Iraq. That strain of isolationism horrifies mainstream conservatives.

If Paul wins Iowa, he is unlikely to go much farther. The Republican establishment will stop him, just like they stopped Patrick Buchanan in 1992 and 1996. The one establishment Republican who will be happy to see Paul win Iowa is Mitt Romney. Paul is his least threatening opponent on the right.

Iowa is where Republicans get their thrills. They date flashy suitors who have sexy come-ons. But in the end, they settle for a good provider. That’s what Romney is counting on.

Ideal Candidate is an Oxymoron

October 3rd, 2011


This piece was originally published by Politico.

“Oxymoron” sounds like something Mitt Romney and Texas Gov. Rick Perry have been calling each other. But it’s not an insult. It’s a contradiction in terms — like “working vacation.” It may be the key to victory next year.

For Democrats, oxymoron means a tough liberal. President Barack Obama toughened up his image with the drone assassination of Al Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki, as well as the assault on Osama bin Laden. This gives Democrats hope that maybe, just maybe, Obama can pull through in 2012 — despite a deteriorating economy and sagging job ratings.

For Republicans, oxymoron means a nice conservative. Is New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie the answer to their prayers, as so many in the party now hope? Christie is a tough guy. Even a bully. But a nice guy? Not so much. Read the rest of this entry »

President Obama the Warrior

September 27th, 2011


This piece was originally posted on the Huffington Post.

President Obama the problem-solver is turning into President Obama the warrior. It just might save him.

Politics is the enemy of problem-solving. That’s common knowledge. Why can’t the country deal with the national debt? Politics. Why can’t we do something about climate change? Politics.

We see more evidence of it every day. Why is the country on the brink of another government shutdown? Politics. Why can’t we get disaster relief to people who desperately need it? Politics. President Obama told a rally this month in Richmond that the American Jobs Act could pass if Republicans “set politics aside for a moment to deal with America’s problems.”

Set politics aside? Not on your life. House Speaker John Boehner made that clear when he said, “Tax increases… are off the table.” Obama’s response a few days later: “I will not support — I will not support — any plan that puts all the burden for closing our deficit on ordinary Americans.” In other words, “Go ahead — make my day.”

President Obama is by nature a problem-solver. That hasn’t changed. The president’s two big speeches this month were aimed at solving the nation’s two big problems — jobs and debt. He insists on a “balanced” solution that cuts government spending (“but not… with spending cuts that would hamper growth”) and also raises taxes on the wealthy (“We can’t just cut our way out of this hole”).

Problem-solving is cool, rational, and technocratic. It sees issues as problems to be solved, not fundamental conflicts of interests and values. But politics is not just about problem-solving. Politics is also about causes and values that stir the blood: “us” versus “them.”

Republicans have become totally committed to that ideological style of politics. Problem-solving is secondary. Every issue is a battle between “us” and “them.”

The minute President Obama called for higher taxes on the wealthy, Republicans denounced him for “class warfare.” A spokesman for the conservative American Crossroads political action committee told Politico, “The president is explicitly driving a wedge between Americans. That’s not leadership, that’s borderline demagoguery.”

The president’s response? “That’s not class warfare. I’m not attacking anybody. It’s simple math.” What could be more bloodless than math? Math is problem-solving.

It will probably be impossible for President Obama to make deals with Republicans to pass his jobs plan or his debt-reduction plan. That’s fine with many Democrats, who believe that every time Obama makes a deal with Republicans, he gets rolled.

The jobs problem and the debt problem are not likely to be solved in the next year. Which means that any attempt by President Obama to run for re-election as a problem-solver is likely to fail. So what can he do?

He can do what he did in 2008: stir the blood. Run as the passionate leader of a cause. In 2008, it was “hope” and “change.” This time, it’s “fairness.”

President Obama mentioned “fairness” 11 times when he introduced his debt reduction plan: “Anyone who has signed some pledge to protect every single tax loophole so long as they live, they should be called out. They should have to defend that unfairness.”

“Fairness” gets Democrats’ juices flowing. But it doesn’t always work.

In 1984, it was a flop for Walter Mondale — who also promised to raise taxes. Mondale’s error was timing. The “fairness” theme paid off for Democrats in the 1982 midterm. That year, unemployment peaked at 10.8%. When the economy is bad, middle-class people are receptive to the argument that there’s something wrong with the system. They say, “People like me are hard-working and have the right values and we still can’t make it. It isn’t fair.”

In 1984, however, it was “morning in America.” When the economy is good, middle-class Americans say, “I’m doing O.K. and so are people like me. If there are some people who still can’t make it, it must be their own fault.” The fairness issue falls flat.

Right now, it’s not “morning in America.” It looks a lot more like 1982 than 1984. “When everybody went up, it was a lot harder to make [the fairness] argument,” Sen. Charles Schumer told the Washington Post. Now another recession seems imminent. “I think the time is ripe again,” Schumer said. “I think the president sensed that.”

President Obama can run for re-election on two messages. Why are our problems not solved? Because Republicans put politics first. They refused to compromise. The other is “my values are better than their values.” Fairness trumps smaller government. After all, solid majorities of Americans support raising taxes on the wealthy.

What will the Obama campaign sound like? Like President Obama in Cincinnati last week: “I’m a warrior for the middle class! I’m happy to fight for the middle class! I’m happy to fight for working people, because the only warfare I’ve seen is the battle against the middle class over the last 10 or 15 years!”

Fighting isn’t problem-solving. It’s politics. Sometimes good politics.

It’s Perry vs. New Deal

September 14th, 2011


This piece was originally published in Politico.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry made his views pretty clear at the CNN-Tea Party Express debate Monday when he told Mitt Romney, “If what you’re trying to say is that back in the ’30s and ’40s that the federal government made all the right decisions, I disagree with you.’’

Perry doesn’t have a problem just with Social Security. He has a problem with Franklin D. Roosevelt and the whole New Deal.

Only one thing stands between Perry and the Republican nomination for president: the polls.

Not the polls of Republicans. Perry has already conquered those. He became the front-runner for the nomination the minute he got into the race.

Perry is the un-Obama. Republicans instantly recognized the Texas governor as total opposite of the Democratic president. President Barack Obama is cultivated, intellectually complex, cool, deliberative and not particularly forceful. Perry is tough, straightforward, anti-intellectual and something of a hothead. Read the rest of this entry »