“I’ve Got a Lot to Lose and I’m Betting High So I’m Begging You…”

“…Before it ends, just tell me where to begin.”

With apologies to Fiona Apple, at least three of the candidates in tonight’s GOP debate are probably humming the Criminal lyrics right now as they do their final debate prep.  What’s at stake tonight for Speaker Gingrich, Governor Romney and Senator Santorum is nothing less than their chance to become the Republican nominee. Should be worth tuning in.

Lest you think I exaggerate, consider the state of play for each of our doughty soldiers who are still marching toward the fall battle with Team Obama.

Newt Gingrich.  The former speaker needs desperately to recapture some of the lightning in a bottle that helped him win the South Carolina primary after two strong debate performances.  Failure to deliver tonight means that Georgia – the Speaker’s mountain redoubt, his last bunker – is almost certainly lost.  Without Georgia, the case for a Gingrich candidacy is non-existent even to Sheldon Adelson (and Mr. Adelson, if you’re reading, feel free to drop that $100 million off at my house; I’ll burn it – most of it anyway – in the back yard just as colorfully as Newt can do it).

Mitt Romney. A bad debate performance tonight and Governor Coiffure can take the next 6 days off because he’ll have lost Michigan and – possibly – Arizona as well.  Most polls have Santorum up in Michigan (albeit with the margin of error) and closing in Arizona.  This is just the latest in a series of bad news moments for Romney that include getting swept two weeks ago in three state contests, being out-fundraised and having members of the Republican establishment (Mike DeWine for example) jumping ship or are sitting on their hands.  He’s been off-message so long while fighting fires about his relations with conservatives, his lack of connection and authenticity and more that I doubt he knows what his message is supposed to be at this point. Lose Michigan and/or Arizona and Romney loses the only things that got him here in the first place – a shitload of money and some unfocused perception that his winning was inevitable – are gone.

Rick Santorum. Senator Sunshine needs a strong debate performance as well, both to prove that he’s got more staying power than his predecessors as leader of the “I’m Not Mittt” club and to walk back some of his wacky moments over the last couple of weeks.  You know, things like Satan is undermining America, it would be legal to stop the sale of birth control products, Protestants – and the President – are outside mainstream Christian values, public schooling is obsolete, prenatal testing is form of eugenics. Stuff that probably couldn’t  get majority support from the House GOP caucus.  Failure to do so means that the tide has crested and what we’re seeing is the bathtub ring of his candidacy.

I’m popping an extra-big bowl of popcorn.

– Austin

PS – No, I didn’t forget about Ron Paul, just don’t care.  He’s in it no matter what, he still has no chance of winning, tonight he’ll once again be treated like Uncle Teddy in Arsenic & Old Lace whereby the moderators will every once in a while throw him a question just so he can talk about San Juan Hill or digging the Panama Canal or whatever it is we should be doing under his worldview.

Media Pulls Metaphorical Condom Over GOP

Who needs protection?
To state the obvious, any policy position that causes a candidate to lose more political support than they gain constitutes a politicial liability. For instance, any policy position that causes 23% of Americans to say they’re more likely to support you, while almost twice as many (40%) say they’re less likely to support you is a significant political leg iron in a close election.

Those are the recent findings of a Public Policy Polling (PPP) survey of Americans on the issue of the Obama Administration’s policy requiring employees to provide health insurance that covers contraception.

But despite such findings, the news coverage of the issue leads you to believe that it is President Obama, not Republican critics of the policy, who is suffering mightily from the issue. If you search Google News with “Obama contraception controversial,” you get 1,100 stories. The USA Today headline screams “White House to address controversial birth control policy.” Politico says “Obama tries to quell birth control firestorm‎.” The Seattle Post Intelligencer notes “Obama contraceptive mandate has a price.”

It sounds like Obama is getting destroyed on this issue. But the polls suggest his opponents are more endangered.

GOP frontrunner du jour Senator Rick Santorum had this to say about the issue:

“Many of the Christian faith have said, well, that’s okay, contraception is okay. It’s not okay. It’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.”

Senator Santorum sounds like he is talking about the most deviant of sexual practices, but he is talking about something that 99% of sexually active American women, and 98% of Catholic women, use or have used. Why aren’t political reporters questioning the political exposure this creates for him and his party?

In GOP caucus echo chambers, maybe this works as a proxy for the claimed “war on religion.” But in the General Election, the polling shows that banning access to contraception constitutes an extremely dangerous politically transmitted disease.

– Loveland

Go Mittens, Go.

Post-Iowa the factoid that flashed more red and brighter than every other was this: Turn-out was barely 5% greater than four years ago. Call me crazy but I can make the argument that the press and pundit corps — always in need of something to cover and gas on about — is far more interested in the GOP primary circus than the Republicans themselves. After over a year of visits and six solid months of freak show mania, not to mention the $10-plus million Mittens Romney and Rick Perry alone dropped on Iowa media, the so-called rank and file, (in actuality the semi- and totally batshit) couldn’t muster any more anger, rage and enthusiasm than 6000 more people — out of 608,000 registered Republicans. Call it a “record turn-out” if you’re into the whole hype thing. But the percentages tell a much different story.

Since last Tuesday we’ve heard (too much) about the “Rick Santorum surge”, a sudden frothing movement which in the end presents a very odd man as viable competition for Mittens and a credible candidate for … President of the United States.

Please. Neither Santorum nor anyone else is going to get anywhere close to Romney and the nomination. As Robert Reich blogged today, Romney is if nothing else, an avatar for Citizens United.  In a moment when the imbalance of wealth and influence is more vivid than any time in maybe 100 years the Republicans are moving inexorably toward another very odd guy — palpably twitchy in his own skin — who is the walking talking embodiment of “the 1%ers”. Taken further, if the Democrats want to frame the campaign as a referendum on how Republicans have responded to the beat-down of the middle-class over the past decade they could not have invented a candidate more perfect than my guy, Mittens. (My nephew in Denver uses “Mittens”. I like it. It suggests cossetting and protection against harsh elements … with a dash of parental supervision.)

You want a sense of how “odd”? Read this live-on-the-plane report from The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank.

The divide between Santorum’s social conservative crowd and Romney’s “he might be able to beat Obama” crowd is stark … deep and wide. But the social conservatives, the anti-gay, you’ll-be-marrying-turtles, or going all “man on dog” and maybe polygamist to boot bunch has no standing in Romney’s Citizens United Super PAC wonderland. Santorum’s Biblically-directed tinfoil hat brigade wouldn’t even recognize Romney’s $500k per pop hedge fund Super PAC-ers as being of the same species … and vice versa.

This of course is old news. The inevitability of Romney has been established for months, despite all the bovine bloviation on cable TV. Likewise the stunning lack of enthusiasm for Mittens.

But as this thing gets serious (post the comedy candidates like Bachmann, Cain, Trump, Palin and, hell, Rick Perry) we are getting a much better feel for … the terms of the choice.

Despite three solid years of hyperbolic messaging not even the Republican base is convinced enough that Barack Obama is a Kenyan Muslim anti-christ to drop everything and spend two hours with their like-minded neighbors voting to stop the apocalypse. More significantly, with the economy showing some actual green shoots (Mitch McConnell has to get back to D.C. and stamp that crap out ASAP!) in terms of manufacturing and employment, Obama has every good reason to double down on, as I say, a referendum on the Republican Congress … the Congress that out-nothinged the Do Nothing Congress of Harry Truman’s era … at a time when more middle class voters than ever expected it to do something … other than obstruct and play sophomoric procedural games.

I say again; clear, visible, bona fide support for the plight and interests of the middle class will be the crux of the choice. Who can make the most plausible case that they’ve done everything they can?

Romney, though not a member of Congress, is a Central Casting caricature of the class that owns Congress. I see Karl Rove is delighted to see Romney set up so well. Rove, now arguably the country’s premier Super PAC salesman has to regard a Romney presidency as a kind of restoration for him and the whole crowd of hedgie-cronies who installed and sock-puppeted George W. Bush for eight years.

This particular choice, Obama (with his billions for Super PAC) or Romney presumes that the Republican social conservatives will allow themselves to be stuffed back into their sound-proof kennels, as they are every election cycle when the Republican money machine has finished exploiting them. Given Rick Santorum’s absolute fealty to the K Street powers that restored him to an upright and lucrative position after being destroyed in his Pennsylvania reelection bid, I can’t see him playing spearchucker for a third party.

Ron Paul, 76 years old and figuring he’s riding the biggest wave he’s ever going to get, is a whole other story. The social conservatives appear to be leery of the geezerly old doctor. Legalize heroin!?  But he has enough semi-anarchic, pot-loving, middle class college kids willing to rattle cages for him that he might just say, “WTF? It’s now or never!” (Lacking Paul’s fans — 21% — the Iowa turn-out would have been a complete face-plant for the party.)

At which point the geezerly doctor will get a call from one of Mittens’ and Karl Rove’s hedge fund guys offering to pay off all his campaign debts if he changes his mind … for health reasons, you understand, or to spend more time with his family.

Incredibly Religious

I recently returned from a week at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Hiking the back trails of the great ancient gorge has been a nearly annual ritual for the past 39 years. There were five of us this year and a lot of nervous jokes about knee replacement surgery, the miracle of Flexeril, Vicodin drips, failing memory — “I don’t remember this thing being this deep … ” — and recollections of characters we’ve run into in years past. Like the rafting party nine or ten years ago led by, swear to God, some creationist preacher describing in ludicrous detail to his dozen or so wide-eyed client/chumps how the various layers of sediment, 5000 feet of them, were cut by the hand of the Lord Almighty in six short days, pretty much exactly as it says in the Bible.

The list of reasons for this hiking ritual is pretty long. But quietude is high up there. I like places where if you stop, calm your breathing and listen, the only sound is that of your own blood pulsing in your ears. The combination of that kind of tranquility and the long hours of exposure to blistering sun, jagged rock, flesh-ripping yucca and cactus gives the mind uninterrupted opportunities to mull … on the rampant, appalling bullshit up beyond the rim.

Prior to leaving, in fact in my bag on the plane to Las Vegas, was a copy of my nominee for the Post of the Year. Titled “Goodbye to All That: Reflections of a Republican Operative Who Left the Cult”, it was written by Michael Lofgren a 30-year staffer for the Republican House and Senate Budget Committees. No fan of Democrats or Barack Obama, Lofgren’s view from inside the belly of the modern Republican beast — a creature vastly different and devolved than the one he joined up with three decades earlier — is vivid, spot-on and unsparing.

His indictment of what the Republican party has become will of course outrage every conservative wedded more to electioneering than caring if what the party is selling these days makes any sense, Social Contract-wise. But among Lofgren’s indictments of his party was this:

3. Give me that old-time religion. Pandering to fundamentalism is a full-time vocation in the GOP. Beginning in the 1970s, religious cranks ceased simply to be a minor public nuisance in this country and grew into the major element of the Republican rank and file. Pat Robertson’s strong showing in the 1988 Iowa Caucus signaled the gradual merger of politics and religion in the party. The results are all around us: if the American people poll more like Iranians or Nigerians than Europeans or Canadians on questions of evolution versus creationism, scriptural inerrancy, the existence of angels and demons, and so forth, that result is due to the rise of the religious right, its insertion into the public sphere by the Republican Party and the consequent normalizing of formerly reactionary or quaint beliefs. Also around us is a prevailing anti-intellectualism and hostility to science; it is this group that defines “low-information voter” – or, perhaps, “misinformation voter.” …

It is my view that the rise of politicized religious fundamentalism (which is a subset of the decline of rational problem solving in America) may have been the key ingredient of the takeover of the Republican Party. For politicized religion provides a substrate of beliefs that rationalizes – at least in the minds of followers – all three of the GOP’s main tenets.

Televangelists have long espoused the health-and-wealth/name-it-and-claim it gospel. If you are wealthy, it is a sign of God’s favor. If not, too bad! But don’t forget to tithe in any case. This rationale may explain why some economically downscale whites defend the prerogatives of billionaires. …

It is the apocalyptic frame of reference of fundamentalists, their belief in an imminent Armageddon, that psychologically conditions them to steer this country into conflict, not only on foreign fields (some evangelicals thought Saddam was the Antichrist and therefore a suitable target for cruise missiles), but also in the realm of domestic political controversy. It is hardly surprising that the most adamant proponent of the view that there was no debt ceiling problem was Michele Bachmann, the darling of the fundamentalist right. What does it matter, anyway, if the country defaults? – we shall presently abide in the bosom of the Lord.

The drive from Vegas to the North Rim of the Canyon requires passing through tiny, otherwise unremarkable Colorado City, Arizona, best known as Ground Zero for hyper-conservative religious Mormon pedophile/convict Warren Jeffs and his cult of uber-Mormon like believers. It’s a place where Old Tyme Religion has allowed a few ruthless alpha males to collect themselves a comely flock of child brides … under the banner of heaven, as Jon Krakauer put it in his book. (Being damned funny guys another ritual of ours requires our lone female hiking companion to get out and stroll about at the Merry Wives convenience store, just to see if she’s still got the magic to attract a suitor, wear a bonnet and submit to some good old fashion gender servitude.)

The cult of Colorado City is of course ridiculously medieval, yet little different from the credulous rafters soaking up the claptrap theo-geology lessons from their no doubt nicely remunerated float leader. But Warren Jeffs’ Colorado City is also only a couple of microns off the beam from the now normalized religiosity of Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum and the whole evolution-denying, gay-intolerant, climate change scoffing modern GOP.

Not that mainstream religion offers any hope of tamping down this fear-borne nonsense.

Flash ahead to Neal Conan’s “Talk of America” show of last Thursday, with his guest panel of “Biblical scholars”. Submitted for our consideration as credible experts on religion, it produced instead a “Twilight Zone”-like spasm of dumbfoundedness. Here were a handful of America’s serious thinkers on religious matters arguing over the historical veracity of creation and original sin … you know, Adam and Eve and the talking snake. In fairness, one panelist was struggling to assert the compatibility of science and Biblical doctrine. But he was pretty well smothered by the “scholarly” view that faith — which could be your devout belief in a week of Creation, a stable of child brides or talking snakes — is every bit as valid, and in moral terms more valuable than science.

A concluding point was that to challenge the concept of original sin — which required Christ you see to die for our sins — is to challenge, in a mortal way, the bedrock foundations of Christianity. To which all I could say, as I drove along, was … “Are you fucking kidding me?” It’s a talking snake or bust? If Christianity (or Judaism, or Islam) can’t survive on the ethos inherent in The Golden Rule (or The Sermon on the Mount) it deserves to wither and die.

There are books worth of material within the convergence of religious superstition and politics, but at the moment only the modern Republican party has entered into an unconditional compact with a form of preposterously anachronistic, anti-intellectual religiosity. Democrats and liberals aren’t players in this game, and they may well be losers because of it.

You want religion? Let me tell you about the Milky Way over the Grand Canyon.

A (Heavily Medicated) Live-Blog of the GOP Debate.

True, I had to have my restraints re-tightened a couple of times, and I was heavily tranquilized. But I watched the entire GOP debate from the Ronald Reagan Library last night. With the big applause line, that the state of Texas has executed 234 people, still ringing in my ears, I’ve combed back through my live-blog style comments for the highlights of the night, the moments most representative of credible, responsible, America-first, conservative messaging and marketing.


6:59
With a minute to go MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, who is working some kind of raconteur emeritus act these days tells the story of Bobby Kennedy’s pre-debate advice to brother Jack, namely, “Kick ‘im in the balls”. Good lord Chris, there’s a lady present.

7:00 Wait a minute. There are still eight of these cartoons walking around? Rick Santorum is still running? Who is giving him money?

7:03 Rick Perry gets the first question and goes right to his “jobs creator” shtick. Someone will be fact-checking that “95% above the minimum wage” business. But even if 90% of Texans are making 10 cents over the minimum wage, those are “real jobs” in the minds of The Base, not elite-y, college-trained government career-like jobs. I notice he doesn’t mention, nor does Brian Williams follow-up with the inconvenient fact that the fattest chunk of Texas’ job growth has been in … government jobs.

7:04 Mitt Romney, the guy who, to quote David Letterman, “looks like the guy who turned your dad down for a loan” doesn’t like the “buy out specialist” tag Williams puts on him. I assume Team Romney will create some new facts for a 2012 campaign that will call out the numbers of “hard-working middle class Americans” Bain Capital laid off as it stripped companies for assets and quick sales. Note to GOP: If Romney is a viable candidate why not Carl Icahn?

7:10
Rick Santorum … wait I need to Google some info on this guy … is arguing that he is someone who “has done things”, which could mean tieing his own shoes, although frankly he looks like a Velcro slip-on guy to me. He is of course saying that the path to job creation is through a zero percent corporate tax. Not that there’s anyone on the stage — other than Herman Cain — who’ll disagree with that.

7:11 Oh, here’s Herman. And yeah baby, “flat tax”. Did Godfather’s Pizza see a lot of tax-deductible business lunches?

7:12 Jon Huntsman has by far the best tan.

7:14 Our girl Michele finally gets some camera time. Watch her lay in to that fraudulent Tea Party in Name Only Rick Perry … oh wait, she’s talking about federal regulations stifling her small, family business. Is this the farm she gets federal tax support from, or her husband’s pray-the-gay-away front business, for which he’s taken government money? I won’t wait for Williams to ask her how the hub’s small business managed to make “between $50,000 and $100,000 in net income” last year and … still keep the gay away. And, uh what? The Congressional Budget Office has said “Obamacare” is a jobs killer? How did I miss that?

7:15
According to a scientific study Ron Paul makes lucid sense 41.3% of the time. It’s his 58.7% foaming street prophet thing that makes trouble for himself. I notice in this rant about federal regulations, which I guess would have pilots handling their own landing queues, he doesn’t get into the mortality rate of private industry testing out drugs on the general public until they get the formulas right.

7:17 Oh shit … I just blew a quart of high dose sedative formula out my nose. Did Newt Gingrich just give himself credit for the “bi-partisan” way HE created 11 million new jobs in the 1990s? These could not possibly be the same 1990s where a guy named Newt Gingrich obstructed every attempt at budgetary discipline proposed by Bill Clinton, withheld every vote on the budget act that set up government surpluses, threw a tantrum that shut down the entire government and then, as an elder statesman, happily fomented a witch hunt that impeached the most successful jobs creator/deficit reducer of the past hundred years over a sex fling, all while atop a desk boinking his own secretary? That has to be a different Gingrich, right?

7:25 Michele is back. I think her hair has been over-teased. But then Mitt’s looks like a non-government worker applied a quart of marine spar varnish. She is still claiming that “Obamacare” which goes into effect in 2014 has taken over one-sixth of the American economy, which can not be good news for UnitedHealth and all those other companies who struggle against great odds every day to maintain such a clean, straight unimpeded line between you and your doctor.

7:31
Santorum and Perry have just finished explaining how they’d treat poverty in America. Essentially it’s this: Stop the government from doing anything and these malingerers will show some initiative. And they make it sound like they care.

7:35 Michele’s $2 gas promise is not playing too well. But, boy does she have big numbers. I think I have this right. If we set fire to the EPA we would create 1.2 million new jobs, increase energy productions by 50%, and goose the economy by $800 billion. I’m not sure if this also involves turning North Dakota into a sludge pond and burning the homes of 5th District liberals for heating fuel, but if I’m a Tea Partier living on Social Security and Medicare I love the thought of getting the government off my back.

7:37 Huntsman is picking up some of Ron Paul’s disease. He’s talking again about the $13/gallon “true cost of imported oil”, taking into account the military we need to keep the juice flowing from the Middle East and Brunei. I think he hates the troops.

7:40 Ron Paul … in the sanctum sanctorum of the Ronald Reagan library points out that dottering old Ronnie ran up staggering deficits. But Paul stills loves his “message”, wholly bullshit though it was.

7:47 Ohhhh boy, here’s the takeaway for the group-think press herd. Perry is calling Social Security a “Ponzi scheme” again. ‘Wrong from the beginning” he says. “A monstrous lie”. Worse though, for him, he’s getting into it with Karl Rove who is connected to about as much undisclosed SuperPAC cash as the there is money in Social Security. But damn it, like W*, Perry is sayin’ it from his gut. He’s decidin’. He stickin’ to what he believes. Or at least what the Goldman Sachs lobbyist told him is a winning formula for the Americans that matter.

7:53 I am not comfortable watching any of these people talk about the HPV virus, especially the seven very weird middle-aged guys. Ron Paul tells everyone he’s an actual doctor. So why doesn’t he tell everyone how those Big Pharma sales guys — like from Merck — sweeten the pot to make their drug du jour the go-to for what ails “the people”. But really, aren’t we talking pre-marital sex? And why is Rick Santorum looking like he just had unnatural congress with some … thing?

7:59 Newt is reminding … an audience that needs reminding hourly … that “there are people out there who want to kill us”. Does anyone remember how it was back in Ronnie Reagan’s glory years, when no one did? Except those silly Russians? Only since Obama took over have the knives come out.

8:00 Ron Paul’s 58.7% batshit fever has flared up again. We’re spending $20 billion on air conditioning” in Iraq? Oh hell, close enough for debate work.

8:05
It’s really good to know that the 49,000 teachers Rick Perry laid off in Texas and his state’s Mississippi-like graduation numbers were all part of the “thoughtful reductions” he made in out of control, wasteful spending. Of course, we can all agree that the real culprit there was … Mexicans.

8:08 And on the subject of those violent brown people climbing fences to get into the better neighborhoods of Houston and Dallas, and getting the federal government off the states’ backs, Perry demands … the federal government step up and put “boots on the ground”, drones in the air and who knows, straight cash in the pockets of private contractors to seal off the Rio Grande.

8:10 Romney wants the whole enchilada, the 2600 mile fence. Does Bain Capital own a steel fabricator? He’ll have to check.

8:14
Apparently Michele didn’t hear the question. Instead of saying what she would do with the 11 million undocumented “illegals” already here, she riffs on “narco-terrorists”, completing missing her opportunity to link homocidal drug lords to the jobs creation aspects of American assault rifle manufacturers working overtime to build and smuggle heavy-duty firepower into Juarez and Tijuana.

8:17 Bi-polar Ron Paul is back on the 41.7% lucid side, talking about how our drug laws are driving narco-terrorism. BTW, where is my medicinal sensimilla?

8:23 Perry too is down on the negatory of even a 10 to 1 debt deal. He says a national balanced budget amendment would be the only way to “cut the snake’s head off” … just not until the damned pit viper sends out those boots, drones and greenbacks to stop the friggin’ Mexicans.

8:25 Bachmann invokes Ronald Reagan, without making the sign of the cross and kissing a rosary.

8:26
It’s “Malaise in America” time. Huntsman says, “we have lost our confidence as a country”. “Our core is broken … we are weak … “. Good lord man, wear a cardigan the next time.

8:28 Romney agrees. “We have a crisis of confidence … absolutely … .” Romney’s cardigan would be top dollar imported cashmere.

8:29 After complimenting, sort of, Obama for getting Osama bin Laden, “but mostly the SEALS” Perry again reminds his target audience that “government spending will not create one job”. There was a noise outside so I’m not sure if he said, “If you don’t believe me, ask the Chinese”. But before anyone takes that too seriously, get those troops and contractors on permanent patrol down in El Paso, damn it. He’s also against sending troops anywhere without a clear intent. Hear that, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama?

8:31 Michele still doesn’t like what we did in Libya. But those tyrants in Iran … now that’s a whole different story.

8:33 Rick Santorum just called someone else “indecisive and confused”.

8:35 Huntsman is toast. You DO NOT stand under Ronnie Reagan’s airplane and say Republicans lose if they’re anti-science. Ronnie flewall over the world looking for a cure for AIDS, didn’t he?

8:37 Perry won’t buy that climate change bull. And he’s got Galileo on his side.

8:39
Michele reiterates that if we drill in the Everglades “of course we’d do it responsibly”. That’s BP’s promise.

8:44 I’m glad I lasted this long. Enthusiastic, spontaneous applause for 234 death row executions in Texas. That’s one way to keep The Base exclusive.

Damn! It’s over. Screw the sensimilla. Give me a triple Everclear and an appointment for electro-shock.

Expectations for Tonight’s Debate

Political junkies looking for an excuse to avoid organizing their sock drawers will be gathered ’round the tellies and laptops this evening to watch the latest GOP presidential debate.  You can watch it on MSNBC or streaming on  Politico.  Festivities kick off at 7:00 pm CST though there’s sure to be pre-game coverage beforehand.

Tonight’s debate will feature 8 candidates and because of the Crowd’s remarkable connections, we can give you access to the last-minute advice each one is receiving from their handlers and debate coaches about what needs to be achieved, what needs to be avoided and how to get there.  Let’s listen in:

Michele Bachmann: “…what we really need tonight, Congresswoman, is for you to show that you’re still relevant to this race.  Yes, we’ve lost all the momentum we had coming out of Ames.  Yes, we’ve lost our campaign manager and our #2 manager this weekend.  Yes, there’s a danger every time you open your mouth, but your job this evening is to own the stage like you did at the New Hampshire debate in June (boy, doesn’t that seem like a long time ago?).  We’re trying like hell to get the moderators to ask you a ‘gotcha’ question about Marcus or the counseling or the farm so you can do the moral outrage thing again, but we can’t count on it.  Ignore everyone except Romney and Perry and attack them whenever possible:  Romney’s a flipflopper, Perry’s governed Texas for 11 years by selling it off bit by bit to his buddies.  Steal Palin’s ‘crony capitalism’ line if you see the opening to use it.  Hit Obama as often as possible – it might be time to bring back ‘gangster government.’  And, please, please, please…try not to knock us off-message with a ‘freelance’ answer; if it isn’t in the briefing book, please don’t say it. Oh, and claim that you’re the one true heir to Ronald Reagan’s legacy.  After all, he’s from Iowa like you!”

Herman Cain: “Herman, just go out and enjoy yourself tonight.  Our best guess is that this might be the last debate you’re invited to; your polling numbers are down there with Gary Johnson.  Because of that, the moderators are probably not going to give you a lot of openings so you’re going to have to jump in whenever you have a chance.  You’re articulate, you’re good on your feet, so just roll with it.  Who knows, we might get a “this is my microphone Mr. Green” moment that will keep us alive another month or two. Oh, and claim that you’re the one true heir to Ronald Reagan’s legacy.  You were both on the radio!”

Newt Gingrich: “Mr. Speaker, I’m not sure what to tell you to do.  I mean, just a month ago I was a volunteer in your campaign’s New Hampshire office and now I’m your campaign manager so I’m a little over my head here.  I guess you could talk about your ideas…you always have really cool sounding ideas…and maybe quote some Greek philosopher… that always sounds good.  Does your wife have any advice? Oh, and claim that you’re the one true heir to Ronald Reagan’s legacy.  After all,  he was out of office for as long as you before he won the presidency!”

Jon Huntsman: “Governor, we really see this as your first appearance on the national stage.  Our polling tells us that a good percentage of likely Republican voters have forgotten you’re running for president.  Even worse, among those who do they don’t like you much because you’re seen as too moderate or are out of the consideration set because you worked for the Great Satan (Obama).  Tonight, you’re going to have really show a little leg in the sense of showing the base you can hate Obama and what he’s done to our country as much as the craziest, most jingoistic candidate out there.  You know who we’re talking about.  We need you to be aggressive and energetic – here take a couple of these…no, they’re perfectly legal (somewhere) – and to work as many of these words – “failure,” “bankrupt,” “traitor,” “un-American,” “disaster” – into your responses as possible.  Oh, and claim that you’re the one true heir to Ronald Reagan’s legacy.  After all, he was a governor just like you!

Ron Paul: “Congressman, we’ve seeded the audience with as many supporters as we could get into the building – our guys have been standing on line for two weeks to get seats in the hall – so you can count on applause every time you open your mouth.  Hell, they’ll cheer if you break wind!  Just keep doing what you’ve been doing at every debate – tell the truth that we’re bankrupt as a country, that drugs should be legalized, that we should pull every troop back to the U.S. border, that the Fed ought to be eliminated and the gold standard readopted – and it’ll be great.  You can’t count on the moderators giving you equal time – remember how they ignored us after Ames – but let’s all remember that we’re really setting you up for the 2020 race. Oh, and claim that you’re the one true heir to Ronald Reagan’s legacy.  After all, for years people thought he was an extremist just like you!

Rick Perry: “Governor, I know you don’t like debate formats so I know you’re not looking forward to tonight.  And, you can expect that everyone will be gunning for you.  Even so, our goals for tonight are easy: no mistakes, no gaffes, no scary language.  Keep your answers short, serious and to the point.  We’re lapping the other candidates in the polls among likely GOP voters so this approach will also help us with another long-term goal; persuading moderates and independents you’re a viable choice.  Work the brush fires into a couple of responses – how brave the people of Texas are, how resilient they are, how much they represent the best of America, something like that – but remember – as hard as it is to believe – not everyone loves Texas.   We’re also trying to position you as the outsider who can go to Washington and fix what’s wrong there, but this is a fine line to walk; the more we talk about that, the more we remind people of George Bush.  Oh, and claim that you’re the one true heir to Ronald Reagan’s legacy.  After all, he used to wear cowboy boots just like you!”

Mitt Romney: “OK, let’s all get on the same page here: the ‘running as the defacto nominee’ strategy is no longer working.  As page 17 of the Powerpoint clearly indicates, GOP voters are still ‘unenthused’ about the Governor as the Republican nominee.  Accordingly, if you’ll flip to page 27, we’ve set ought a 5-point plan for tonight’s debate: 1) be less scripted; 2) make more use of pre-screened one-liners to convey spontaneity; 3) include at least two key messages from focus group testing in each answer; 4) smile between 1.5 and 3 times per answer depending on content; 5) attack Governor Perry as unelectable, dangerous and clone of George W. Bush. Oh, and claim that you’re the one true heir to Ronald Reagan’s legacy.  After all, he ran for president twice just like you!”

Rick Santorum: “Honey, you know the kids and I are behind you 100 percent.  We love being with you in the RV, we love all the Motel 6s we’ve stayed at when we could afford them and – if it were up to us – you’d be the nominee in a walk.  After tonight, though, maybe we could take a couple of days off?  See Disneyland?  Take the tour here?  Then we can claim you’re just like Ronald Reagan.  You could get a pin from the gift shop.”

For those looking for something to do between the guffawing and sputtering, let’s do this:  let’s count how many times each candidate says “Reagan” and let’s put our bets down about how many minutes will pass before someone invokes Nancy Reagan as an American heroine.  I’m guessing 12 minutes in and it will be Perry.

– Austin

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