In a sign of progress, Republican appointees to Vice President Joe Biden's debt limit talks announced late Wednesday that they were pulling out of negotiations. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl denounced the president and Democrats for wanting to raise taxes. Added House Speaker John Boehner: "The president is going to have to engage."
It sure doesn't sound like progress. But if you view these negotiations using the Saturday serial movie construct, (and all right-thinking Americans should), this is simply the drama necessary to advance the story. When the heroine is tied to the tracks and the train is approaching, the audience's blood starts to race. But in the back of our minds, we know that she's not in real danger. Whether the brakeman steps in or Shazam swoops down to snatch her, we know the situation will resolve itself.Continue »
This post originally appeared on Slate.
For a political party that talks so much about "American exceptionalism," Republicans don't feel that their crop of presidential candidates is. In a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, 45 percent of Republicans said they are unhappy with the field. This is not unusual for political parties out of power. It was true in 1991, 1995, 2003 and 2007.
Republicans have reason to celebrate, though. In at least one way, the field of candidates is exceptional. The current GOP field has more B-movie presidential lookalikes than at any time in modern history. Mitt Romney, John Huntsman, and Rick Perry have movie-star looks--and not just any movie star, but those guys who play the president in the movies that run in endless loops on cable. The B-movie president is a very specific type: He is not the hero. He is the actor in front of whom the hero dives to stop the bullet. He is essentially a stock character, and he must look like the stock photo of a president. In short, he is the guy who comes from central casting when the director sends word he needs someone to play the part of the president.
Mitt Romney and Cotter SmithContinue »
MANCHESTER, N.H. -- Newt Gingrich likes American Idol." Tim Pawlenty is a Coke fan. And Mitt Romney, demeanor notwithstanding, likes it spicy. These tiny gleanings emerged at the first major Republican debate, when moderator John King asked whimsical this-or-that questions before the commercial breaks. The two-hour forum raised a few of those types of questions itself: Current field or Rick Perry? Obamneycare or Minnesota mumbles? Michele Bachmann or Sarah Who? Is it me or is it hot in here?
Scorecard analysis or thoughtful collection of paragraphs? Romney won the debate in that he didn't lose. There was nothing spicy about Romney (despite his answer), but he didn't hurt himself by seeming on all sides of the issue. Indeed, his explanation of the health care law he signed as governor of Massachusetts was one of his best yet. Not likely to satisfy theNational Review but likely to satisfy voters who want to get back to talking about the economy. When Romney's opponents were given a chance to wallop him on his flip-flops on abortion, no one took up the chance. "Case closed?" asked John King "Case closed," said Herman Cain.Continue »
In presidential campaigns, we learn where candidates stand on the issues, but we also learn whether they have the attributes necessary for the office. (We've learned that Newt Gingrich has trouble with staff, for example.) One of the things a president must know is when to stand by his plan and when to adapt based on new information--and that includes knowing when to feed the media and when to ignore the pundits. For Mitt Romney, the Iowa caucuses are a test of these attributes.
Romney spent a lot of time and money in Iowa during the 2008 campaign. He came in second. This time, he says, he's going to run a lean campaign. Iowa GOP veterans read that to mean that Romney will try to do enough in the state to stay viable for future states where he's stronger but not risk time and resources that he can spend elsewhere. Focus too much on Iowa, and he'll raise expectations in Iowa, which would set up a repeat of what happened in 2008.Continue »
Newt Gingrich's presidential campaign, always a long shot, may be over. The top leadership in the campaign, at both the national and state levels, quit en masse Thursday.
Sources close to the campaign say that it has been a disorganized mess for weeks, with Gingrich offering no direction and not taking the advice of his aides. With no sense that the candidate wanted to do the hard work necessary to win, one source said it was foolish to work long hours, sacrifice time with family, and beg friends for campaign cash if the candidate himself wasn't committed.
Sources say that Gingrich intends to stay in the campaign, what's left of it. Indeed, on his Facebook page, Gingrich posted: "I am committed to running the substantive, solutions-oriented campaign I set out to run earlier this spring. The campaign begins anew Sunday in Los Angeles."Continue »
DES MOINES--Sarah Palin says George Washington is her favorite founder because he was reluctant to serve but answered the call of duty. She likes to think of herself this way, answering the needs of a clamoring electorate. That is part of the cinematic beauty of her bus tour: The crowds that greet her can represent that call to take up their standard and head into presidential battle on their behalf.
There's only one problem: The call isn't coming. That's the clear message in a new CBS News poll of the Republican field. Taken after the Palin bus tour started rolling, it asked Republicans whether Palin should run. By a 20-point margin (54 percent to 34 percent), Republicans said she should not run. Among Tea Party supporters, where Palin has her strongest following, she is also waved off against a run. Half say she should not run; 38 percent say she should.
The biggest challenge to a Palin candidacy has always been that her image within her own party has been getting worse. Some 36 percent of Republican voters have an unfavorable view of her, compared to the 37 percent that have a favorable view. Her favorability rating has declined since April.Continue »
DES MOINES -- Iowans think of themselves as particularly discerning voters. They like to tell reporters how they like to meet candidates a few times before coming to an opinion--on this trip I hadn't even gotten to my rental car before someone made this point--and candidates tell this story back to voters at nearly every stop as a way of buttering them up. But Iowa also has another political truth that is supposed to be equally iron-clad: Voters are so wedded to ethanol subsidies that if you oppose them, it won't matter how many times you shake a voter's hand and look him in the eye--he won't support you.
The first truth may be overblown, and the second one is wrong, or at least more complicated than portrayed. The politics of ethanol have changed in Iowa from the days when ethanol was regarded as some kind of newfangled invention. Unwavering support for ethanol tax credit is no longer the secret password required for success in Republican politics.
You wouldn't know this from the Republican candidates running for president. Two weeks ago, Tim Pawlenty came to Iowa to announce his candidacy and call for the phasing out of ethanol subsidies. He said it was a sign of the hard truths he was willing to tell the voters. Ambassador Jon Huntsman said it wasn't even worth campaigning in Iowa because he opposes the subsidy, and as a result voters won't even consider him. "I understand how the politics work there," he said. Mitt Romney said he supported the subsidies and was quickly denounced by former Sen. John Sununu of New Hampshire for "pandering" to voters.Continue »
Mitt Romney was once a businessman. If you paid no attention to his campaign except to absorb this fact, the Romney team would probably be OK with that. The one thing Romney wants you to know is that he means business.
Naturally, then, he announced his campaign Thursday at the head of a vast blond wood conference table, in a gray suit with two Mont Blanc pens. No: He appeared in shirtsleeves with no tie at a chili cookout. On a farm. This disconnect is a problem, argues Republican strategist Mark McKinnon, who says the no-tie approach exacerbates questions about Romney's authenticity. (Don't mingle with plows when your true love is PowerPoint.) But that's not quite right, either. For a candidate trying to remind voters of his CEO past, the 1990s-era "casual Friday" uniform may actually qualify as authentic.
Romney has nearly 25 years of business experience. In 1984, he was one of the founders of Bain Capital, where he helped to turn around companies. In 2002, he helped to turn around the debt-ridden Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. In 2011, his presidential-campaign pitch is that he'll be able to do the same for the economy.Continue »
The Mama Grizzly is coming out of hibernation. This weekend, Sarah Palin is launching her "One Nation" bus tour, visiting historical sites across the country. Palin will start on Memorial Day at the Rolling Thunder weekend motorcycle rally that starts at the Pentagon. Where it will end has yet to be announced. But given Palin's other recent move--the announcement of a feature-length film on her tenure as governor--it looks as if her ultimate destination may be the White House.
Whatever Mitt Romney had on his plate for Memorial Day, he'd better make room. If we assume--for the purposes of page views--that Palin is getting into the race, the Republican contest immediately becomes one between Palin and Romney, with other candidates circling for a way to break into the conversation. A recent Gallup poll shows Romney (17 percent) and Palin (15 percent) essentially in a tie among Republican voters. The third-place candidate, Ron Paul, has only 10 percent support.Continue »
The Republican presidential narrative is taking shape, and it's the story of a child's birthday party when the magician doesn't show. The audience is glum. Now it's someone's frantic job to find entertainment from the limited resources at hand and then convince everyone they're having a good time.
Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana has decided not to enter his family into the freak show. This proves he may well be a sensible person. It is a paradox of the modern presidential campaign that we both demand our candidates to be likable yet also force them to submit to a process that bleaches all likable qualities out of them in order for them to be successful.Continue »
Republicans are upset that Newt Gingrich used the word "radical" to describe House budget Chairman Paul Ryan's Medicare plan. But wasn't radical the whole point of Ryan's plan? It'sthe P90X of plans--something extreme to boast about. Radical was the promise of the Republicans who are now in charge of the House. Tea Party patriots didn't elect them to be timid. Never mind, though, you're not allowed to use the word radical. It has negative connotations.
Who helped radicalize the word radical? Newt Gingrich. In a 1996 memo to members of GOPAC--the political farm team he created and nurtured to grow a new conservative majority--Gingrich lists it among those "powerful words" candidates should use to "create a clear and easily understood contrast." It's one of his favorites. In a speech last year, for example, he used seven different variations of the word to describe Obama and Democratic perfidies (a word not on the Gingrich list but used occasionally by the literati).Continue »
Allow me to go out on a limb here and predict that President Obama and Republican leaders will agree to raise the debt ceiling, averting an economic crisis. This prediction is based in part on reports I am hearing of tentative progress: Administration sources say both sides are agreeing to cuts in spending in a cordial and serious process, and that the cuts are distributed among the constituents of both parties. If they continue making progress, they'll be able to win the votes from House Republicans and nervous Senate Democrats to pass a debt ceiling increase.
But you don't need to know any of that to make this prediction. You simply need to recognize exactly where we are in the midst of a familiar storyline. The debt ceiling fight is just like the fight over funding to keep the government from shutting down, which was just like the fight over extending the Bush tax cuts, which was just like ... well, you get the idea.Continue »
Presidents must show empathy during difficult economic times. It's in the office handbook. There's only so much any one president can do though about the immediate condition of the economy, and he must be careful not to exaggerate his impact. So he emphasizes that he understands the plight of regular Americans. The problem with empathy, however, is not just that there's never enough of it to go around. It's that by offering it, presidents raise unrealistic expectations of a different sort.
The empathy tactic is most associated with Bill Clinton, who famously said, "I feel your pain" during the 1992 campaign, but the phrase actually dates to Jimmy Carter, who promised to be "a president who's not isolated from the people, but who feels your pain," in the 1976 campaign. Even John Kennedy shot a superbly stiff commercial where he plunked himself on the sofa like an insurance salesman to chat with a regular American family. The master was FDR, whose polio helped him convey a heartfelt connection with those struggling through the Depression.Continue »
Almost seven days to the hour that President Obama announced that Osama Bin Laden had been killed, he appeared on 60 Minutes in his only interview about the operation. The week had been full of disclosures about the mission, but the president still made news. He was only about 55 percent sure beforehand that Bin Laden was in the compound. That he was there suggests some Pakistani officials knew Bin Laden was in the country. Obama never told his family about the operation. Perhaps the most fascinating part of the interview was watching Obama try not to admit that he was watching the 40-minute operation unfold in real time.Continue »
The operation that killed Osama Bin Laden has improved President Obama's poll numbers. In the CBS/New York Times poll released Wednesday morning, the president's approval rating jumped 11 points from the previous month. In the Washington Post/Pew poll released Tuesday and taken after Obama announced Bin Laden's death, his approval rating shot up nine points.
Now if the president could only order a commando strike to bring down gas prices.Continue »