Mitt, for God’s Sake, the Flop Sweat … .

I don’t know why I thought the final hours might be different — better — than Mitt Romney’s previous six years of campaigning, but they’re not. They’re worse.

As the man prepares to draw the closing curtain on one of most disgraceful campaigns of the modern era, rather than summoning some reservoir of moral courage and leaving the stage with a semblance of self respect, Romney has gone out of his way to remind everyone who despises him, alleged political allies and half the voting public, that he really is someone incapable of the common decency of personal dignity.

Four years ago, John McCain ran a campaign that was, put simply, inept. The fundamental factor between him and Barack Obama was judgment, and McCain blew his feet off with the choice of Sarah Palin. He then traumatized the stumps with his confused, tremulous response to the financial collapse. But McCain at least had a reservoir of good will to draw down. For a time, on the Straight Talk Express, he was confident enough in his own thinking and brave enough to take flak to say what he was actually thinking.

Romney, on the other hand, isn’t a man anyone other than his own family appears to like, and he doesn’t have the confidence or courage to go on Bill O’Reilly’s show much less allow himself to take questions from an actual reporter. And now …

… after the truly painful-to-behold ads about Chrysler moving “all” Jeep production to China, (an assertion more flagrant for its desperation than its dishonesty)

… after getting slapped down by top executives from both Chrysler and GM,

… after his repeated non-response to his current thinking on FEMA, (which he said should be privatized),

… after that pathetic, bogus “storm relief” rally in Ohio

… and now after weekend full of talk about Obama seeking “revenge”, Romney has only 72 hours to promise everyone a pony, accuse Obama of conspiring with Mullah Omar to impose Sharia law, or take a bungee dive off Trump Tower in his magic underwear.

At this point he’s done and said everything else dishonest and absurd.

I’m not one of those who sees Chris Christie going over-the-top effusive in compliments for Barack Obama, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg specifically mentioning Romney’s indifference to science and George W. Bush suddenly popping up at an investors conference in the Cayman Islands as happenstance.

Guys like that always calculate.

Christie needs federal help bad to save his career in New Jersey. But he didn’t have to go on … and on … like he did to keep FEMA focused. He knows Romney is a lost cause, and, I (very) strongly suspect he isn’t all that broken up about it. Sure 2016 looks like a cleaner shot with no Romney incumbency. But Christie, the uber Springsteen fan, prides himself in having a moral core, being loyal to the place he grew up and saying what he thinks. How much of ethical vacuum like Mitt Romney can a guy like that take before saying, “I’ve done enough for this team”?

Likewise, it may be years before we know what Bloomberg, the quintessential high finance politician, thinks of a guy who you and I imagine as a kind of peer-in-arms. But Bloomberg made a fat chunk of his dough in the news/media business, where reporting and interpreting reality is an essential virtue, not something to be ignored and distorted at will.

And then there was the business with Bain Capital and Delphi, the big auto parts supplier. A vulture move if there ever was one, but one that really begins to curdle in the wake of Romney’s revolving campaign duplicities.

As for George W., aka The Man Who No Republican Dares Ever Mention , several pundits thought it exceedingly curious that he would leave whatever gilded bunker he’s been in and show up … in The Cayman freakin’ Islands … practically dragging a banner behind his Gulfstream reminding voters that Mitt Romney’s entire fortune is based on slippery-to-sleazy and defiantly opaque tax manipulations.

Will anyone in the Bush family be all that sorry to see Romney defeated? Jeb’s options, such as they are considering intense, lingering Bush fatigue, are certainly brighter with no Romney to deal with.

The post-mortem on the Romney campaign will be far more interesting, and potentially illuminating, than McCain’s. Romney, a product of a highly insular “prosperity”-driven religious sect, with primary loyalties to its own kind, and an implicit discursiveness, bordering on misanthropic disdain for “others”, embodied almost nothing most Americans could relate to or admire… except of course that he wasn’t Barack Obama.

And Now for Something Completely Different…

Well, that was different.

I’m not much of a Rachel Maddow sycophant, but I have to agree with her that Clint Eastwood’s 11-minute performance at last night’s RNC was the most bizarre thing I’ve seen in a major party convention.  Maddow was left speechless – for once – and so was I by the surreal sight of Mr. Eastwood rambling and ad-libbing to an empty chair.  Between the mumbling and the fly-away hairdo, Mr. Eastwood came off less like Dirty Harry and more like the old guy down the block who was pretty normal and neighborly in a curmudgeonly way until the day he started cutting the lawn in his underwear with a katana strapped to his back.

His performance makes two things abundantly clear:

1) Nobody – I mean NOBODY – vetted Eastwood’s remarks.  Not even so much as a “Mr. Eastwood, what do you need with the chair?”

2) Actors without good writers to give them good material are rarely worth listening to.

You are, of course, welcome to disagree with me on this point, but I am 100% sure that Team Romney counts this as a hot mess that is stepping all over the next-day coverage of what was supposed to be “All About Mitt.” Instead, The Big Speech (which in the words of Fox’s Chris Wallace was “workmanlike” at best) has to contend with headlines like:

  • “After a Gunslinger Cuts Loose, Romney Aides Take Cover” – New York Times
  • “Ann Romney: Eastwood Did “A Unique Thing” – CBS News
  • “Clint Eastwood Riff Distracts From Successful Romney Convention” – Washington Post
  • “Clint Eastwood Speech Backfires on Republicans” – Boston.com
  • “Clint Eastwood at the GOP convention: effective, or strange?” – Christian Science Monitor
  • “Clint Eastwood’s empty chair at RNC sparks Internet buzz” – NBC News
  • “Clint Eastwood puts liberals in full panic mode” – New York Daily News
  • “Eastwood mocked for kooky speech at GOP convention” – San Jose Mercury News
  • “Clint Eastwood speech with empty chair upstages Mitt Romney at GOP convention” – Newsday
  • “Eastwood, the empty chair and the speech everyone is talking about” – CNN

And on and on and on.  As of now, Google News is serving up more than 1,500 stories related to the Eastwood speech.  Every one of them distracts, detracts from or otherwise obscures the message Romney and company were hoping we’d be talking about today but aren’t.

Check out the New York Times‘ story this morning on who was responsible for this clusterfuck:

Clint Eastwood’s rambling and off-color endorsement of Mitt Romney on Thursday seemed to startle and unsettle even the candidate’s own top aides, several of whom made a point of distancing themselves from the decision to put him onstage without a polished script.

“Not me,” said an exasperated-looking senior adviser, when asked who was responsible for Mr. Eastwood’s speech. In late-night interviews, aides variously called the speech “strange” and “weird.” One described it as “theater of the absurd.”

Finger-pointing quickly ensued, suggesting real displeasure and even confusion over the handling of Mr. Eastwood’s performance, which was kept secret until the last minute.

A senior Republican involved in convention planning said that Mr. Eastwood’s appearance was cleared by at least two of Mr. Romney’s top advisers, Russ Schriefer and Stuart Stevens. This person said that there had been no rehearsal, to the surprise of the rest of the campaign team.

But another adviser said that several top aides had reviewed talking points given to Mr. Eastwood, which the campaign had discussed with the actor as recently as a few hours before his appearance. Mr. Eastwood, however, delivered those points in a theatrical, and at times crass, way that caught Romney aides off guard, this person said.

Mr. Stevens, in an interview, said he would not discuss internal decision making but described Mr. Eastwood’s remarks as improvised.

There’s some profiles in courage there. I can hardly wait for a Romney presidency in which the aides race one another to their iPhones to rat out their colleagues – anonymously of course – when real decisions go wrong.

Couple last  night’s mess with everything else that went wrong or off-message in Tampa (cancellation of Day 1, the Christie keynote (aka “It’s All About Me”), the cult of Paul Ryan, the peanut tossers, being upstaged by his wife and Condeleeza Rice, the untruths of the Ryan speech, the Ron Paul distractions) and this was NOT a good convention for Romney. Anne Romney, maybe, but not Mitt.

Yes, the GOP talking points would have us believe otherwise, but the reality is that Mitt Romney got less out of this convention than almost anyone. Instead of a bounce, I’m expecting more of a post-convention “thud” in the next set of polls.

Oh well, there’s still the debates.  Governor Romney was pretty good in the Republican debates where he could play Snow White to the Seven Dwarfs but I’m not entirely sure he’ll come across so well in a one-on-one comparison with Obama.

– Austin

 

Romney Rally Anthem

Don’t be angry. Don’t be sad.
And don’t sit cryin’ over good times you’ve had.
There’s a girl right next to you.
And she’s just waitin’ for something to do.

And there’s a rose in the fisted glove.
And the eagle flies with the dove.
And if you can’t be with the one you love,
honey, love the one you’re with.

Love the one you’re with.
Love the one you’re with.
Love the one you’re with.

– Stephen Stills

Recapping the Summer Campaign Season

Oh, what a difference a few months make.

At the end of May, loyal readers may recall that I gave you my sense of how the Republican field for president was shaping up.  At the time, I put four white guys – Romney, Huntsman, Pawlenty and Santorum – in the small category of candidates who could win their party’s nomination and could win in the general.

Turns out I was too generous by half.  Former Governor Pawlenty packed it in a day after a disappointing performance in the Ames straw poll and former Senator Santorum’s performance over the last couple of months suggests to me that he’s in it for the ideology not the office.  That leaves only former Governor Romney and former Governor Huntsman still in the sweet spot (with Huntsman there only out of courtesy as he hasn’t done much of anything since declaring in June).  Jeez, there’s a lot of former officeholders looking for work, isn’t there?

Overall, however, the dynamics of the Republican race haven’t changed much.  Romney is still considered to be the frontrunner by most pundits and many Republicans are still looking for someone else.  In just this year alone, we’ve seen flirtations with Donald Trump, Chris Christie, Mitch Daniel, Michelle Bachmann and – most recently – Rick Perry.  Even with the actual candidacies of the latter two, we’re still hearing wistful longing for more choices such as Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio and others.

As a result of all of this churn, my graphic representations of who’s best positioned to win the nomination and who’s best positioned to win the general have changed a little bit:

Among the most noteworthy changes:

  • The rise and fall of Michele Bachmann.  I hope Ms. Bachmann has enjoyed her star turn because her best days on the campaign trail are behind her.  The entry of Rick Perry sucks away too much of her oxygen and her regularly scheduled lunatic ravings (“”I don’t know how much God has to do to get the attention of the politicians. We’ve had an earthquake; we’ve had a hurricane. He said, ‘Are you going to start listening to me here?’) are not playing well on the larger stage.  While she’s still in the consideration set, my perception is that she’s rapidly falling out of it.  If Michele Bachmann’s candidacy were something actually important – like, say, a nation’s AAA credit rating – we’d have it “under review with negative implications.”
  • The entry of Rick Perry.  Governor Perry is an actual current governor so he’s got that going for him, but it’s interesting to note that after about a week’s worth of infatuation, the GOP intelligentsia started showing signs yet again of restlessness.  It will be interesting to see how the Aggie from west Texas holds up.
  • The fall, fall, fall…fall of Newt Gingrich. Not since 1980 have I seen a major candidate as unprepared for a presidential run as Newt.  You have to go back to Ted Kennedy’s famous Roger Mudd interview in which he blew the softest softball question in presidential political history – “Why do you want to be president?” – to find a candidate screwing up so badly out of the gate.  Kennedy never recovered and Newt won’t either.
  • The thud of Jon Huntsman.  Is he actually running for president?  Damned if I can tell.  Most days he’s invisible and when he does appear most of what he says is unmemorable.  Between his – relative – moderateness and his hesitancy to attack Obama as aggressively as others are doing, he’s often drowned out.
  • The splitting of the field.  Discerning readers will note that the GOP field is bifurcating into a big mass of names around the pole marked “No Way” in terms of winning the GOP nomination.  This is a reflection less of ideology than of logistics.  If you ain’t in it now, the odds that you can get in it to win it are shrinking every day.  Running for president requires money, organization and strategy; if you don’t have a least 2 out of 3 by Labor Day you’re hosed.  Even Sara Palin though she may be crazy enough to think otherwise (that said, I’m about 90 percent sure she’s smart enough to stay out of this melee.

The weakness of the Republican field and the continued inability of its candidates to demonstrate how they can walk the whipsaw of the nomination and the general election continue to be the best thing President Obama has going for him as a re-election strategy. Usually, a sitting president with 9+ percent unemployment, sub-three percent economic growth, high gas prices and an unpopular war would be a one-term shoo-in.  The inability of the Republicans to come together around a viable candidate is the strongest reason he’s still in the game. Well, there’s the billion or so dollars he’s likely to raise, too.

Labor Day marks the unofficial start of the election season and the Iowa caucuses are just about five months away.  As Hank Williams Jr. might say, “Are you ready for some football?”

– Austin

Handicapping the Pitter-Pattering Herd

My, my, my.Things are getting SO interesting over on the other side of the aisle.  Seems like not a day goes by but some GOP wannabe announces his/her intentions – or at least their intention to announce their intentions – regarding the 2012 presidential race.

By my count, we’ve got at least a dozen actual or likely candidates seeking the GOP nomination, a number not unheard of but certainly big enough to give debate organizers fits for at least the next six months (I expect the field will actually start to thin well before the first real vote is cast in a single Iowa precinct as candidates fail the fundraising challenge).

Here’s the breakdown as it currently stands:

Declared

  • Herman Cain, former Godfather’s exec, radio host
  • Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House
  • Gary Johnson, former Governor of New Mexico
  • Ron Paul, Member of Congress
  • Tim Pawlenty, former Governor of Minnesota

Likely to Declare

  • Michelle Bachmann, Member of Congress
  • Jon Huntsman, former Governor of Utah, former Ambassador to China
  • Sarah Palin, former Governor of Alaska
  • Mitt Romney, former Governor of Massachusetts
  • Rick Santorum, former Senator

Might Declare

  • Rudy Giuliani, former Mayor of New York
  • Rick Perry, Governor of Texas

Probably Won’t Run*

  • Haley Barbour, Governor of Mississippi
  • Jeb Bush, former Governor of Florida
  • Chris Christie, Governor of New Jersey
  • Mitch Daniels, Governor of Indiana
  • Jim DeMint, Senator
  • Mike Huckabee, former Governor of Arkansas
  • Bobby Jindal, Governor of Louisiana
  • Mike Pence, Member of Congress
  • John Thune, Senator
  • Donald Trump, businessman

*Yes, a number of these individuals have said, “No, no, no” but if you really think they won’t change their mind and run over their grandmother if they see a plausible path to the Oval Office, you are too trusting for the rough and tumble of this blog.  Try this instead.

If you notice one common theme in this list, there’s a lot of people looking for something to do with their time.  Not many of the “frontrunners” are current officeholders. To the contrary, for most of those already in the pool or standing on the deck in their skivvies, running for president is their job.  Maybe that’s just good sense or maybe its an indication how underwhelming the current crop truly is.  When you think of Mitch Daniels as your off-stage savior, that’s a pretty good sign you’ve done a pretty piss-poor job of casting.

I suspect some of those who have decided to be out are staying in their cabanas because they contemplated the near impossibility of navigating both the Republican nomination process and the general election campaign in a single year.  The qualities and positions that seem most likely to attract and energize “the base” of the Republican party are guaranteed to be buzz kills for most of the general electorate (which, if you remember, is composed in near-equal numbers of “people who hate liberals,” “people who hate conservatives” and “people who hate everybody”).

For most of the last 40 years or so, electoral politics in the US has consisted driving hard to the edge to capture your party’s nomination (witness John McCain shedding everything that made him a “maverick”) and then trying to come back to the center for the general election.  If you do this successfully, you turn out your base of “people who hate the other guys” while simultaneously convincing – temporarily at least – most of the “hate everybodies” that they hate the other guys more than you (witness Bush 2004 and Obama 2008).

2012, however, promises to be an exceedingly difficult year in which to pull off this maneuver, particularly for the Republicans.  The party’s base has skewed so far to the right in this cycle that a “right-then-left” swerve looks to be almost neck-breaking.  By contrast, Obama – who almost certainly will have no intraparty opposition – can have a very gentle “S-curve” that reminds his base why he’s their man and still play to the middle.

Not many candidates in the current crop of “ins,” “outs” and “maybes” can manage such a maneuver, but there are a few to my eye.  To help us all visualize this, I’ve plotted each on two left-to-right scales that go from “no way” on the left to “could do it” on the right.  The first one looks at the possibility of capturing the nomination, the second at the possibility of winning the general election and the third highlights the only candidates who are on the right side of both scales.

(Click on the graphic to get a version you can actually read);

Quibble all you want with my placement of your favorite candidates.  I have my reasons for each which I’ll spare you here (this is already long enough). Suffice it to say that nearly all of the candidates gobbling up the media coverage these days can’t be nominated, can’t win a general or both.

Romney, Huntsman, Santorum and…Pawlenty (much as it pains me to admit it though he is the least likely of the three).  Two Mormons, a Catholic and an evangelical Baptist who used to be a Catholic.  A Westerner, Two Eatsterners and a Midwesterner.  Four white guys.  Three lawyers and a guy who played keyboards for Wizard (and, yes, did get an undergrad degree in international relations). Barely a pulse among them.  No wonder “none of the above” is polling so well.

I’m not sure America is ready for an all-Mormon ticket so the most likely combinations are Huntsman/Santorum or a Romney/Pawlenty ticket (assuming the nominee doesn’t go rogue with a Palinesque pick).

A lot can happen in the next year, of course, but right now I’m guessing the A-team oppo research teams in Obama’s Chicago HQ are on these four guys.

Personally, I think a Trump/Bachmann ticket is perfect for the Republicans.  I’m totally serious. Go for it, gang.  America will thank you for it.

– Austin