Daily Archives: January 23, 2012

Thinking Like a Partisan

By John Stang

The above video showing a question and answer back and forth between Rick Santorum and a birther is telling for a few reasons.  First, unlike John McCain, Santorum does not put down the myth that Obama was not born out of the country or that he is a Muslim.  Second, Santorum almost embraces the question to play towards political rhetoric.  Notice how he ties into into a bigger theme of the president usurping the Constitution and violating the founding values of the U.S.  He is careful not to endorse the woman’s crazy conspiracy theories, but at the same time he uses them as a transition into other topics.

This is what makes Santorum a good politician.  In the back of his head, Santorum, and politicians like him, understand that the they must keep the nuts, sorry that I don’t have a kinder, more term, of his party on his side to get votes.  This is especially true if Santorum wants to reach out to other voters that are not Evangelical Christians.  While Santorum may not believe in birtherism, which I would like to think he is a more intelligent man than that, he knows that it is possible to use that language to create a narrative about the president as unAmerican because of his policies.

For the mind of an extreme partisan, both right and left, that give into wild eyed conspiracy theories, there is a latent attempt to criticize a policy.  Instead of getting into the wonky world of policy discussions, a catch all doctrine is developed.  For instance, “9/11 trutherism” says the U.S. government instigated the terrorist attacks on that fateful day to invade Iraq and curb civil liberties.  A “birther” will say President Obama was not born in the U.S., therefore he brings ideas that are not American to start out with, such as universal healthcare or Keynesian stimulus spending into the conversation.  It would be easier to just criticize George W. Bush’s War on Terror strategy or make 4th Amendment arguments against the Patriot Act.  The same could be said about attacking Obama’s policies as unworkable on the economy and healthcare.  However, creating the narrative with these fantasies provides a clout of justification, helping the world make a little more sense. There are also crazy people in the world that believe these things.  Neither is helpful for intelligent political discourse.

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Filed under 2012 Election, Rick Santorum

Could Florida Be Mitt Romney’s Waterloo?

By Luke Brinker

Had you told me six months ago that Mitt Romney would lose the pivotal South Carolina primary by a margin of 12 points, I’d have felt safe in pronouncing his prospects for the GOP nomination nil. After all, every GOP winner of South Carolina since 1980 has gone on to claim the party’s nod. If Romney couldn’t eke out a victory in a white, conservative, Southern state, how could he possibly stand a realistic chance of leading a largely white, conservative, Southern party?

But as the GOP primary process has progressed over the last several months, Romney has shown himself to be an incredibly lucky man. Each candidate who appeared to be his chief challenger – Donald Trump, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum – experienced spectacular falls that eclipsed their spectacular rises. For all his flaws, Romney looked like he would be the last man standing. And given the GOP base’s visceral antipathy toward President Barack Obama, the party would surely rally behind Romney as the candidate most likely to defeat the president.

Alas, Romney’s path to the nomination has been diverted, if not necessarily derailed. Capitalizing on his combative debate performances, his questioning of Romney’s conservative credentials, and voter unease with Romney’s massive wealth, Gingrich staged a remarkable comeback in South Carolina. Not only did the former speaker beat Romney there, but he did so by a margin of 40 percent to 28 percent. While I’ve been skeptical of the conservative Stop Romney movement, I can’t simply write off Gingrich’s decisive victory in the Palmetto State as a fluke. The GOP base’s suspicion of Romney appears to be catching up with him, and if conservatives coalesce behind Gingrich, Romney is finished. Whether that happens remains to be seen.

For now, I stand by my prediction that Romney will ultimately pull this thing off. I do so not out of a stubborn refusal to admit I was wrong, but out of a profound skepticism about Gingrich’s staying power. If Romney had to pick a candidate to emerge as his main challenger, why wouldn’t he pick the baggage-laden Gingrich? A candidate with a complicated marital history, a record of policy flip-flops (on health care, climate change, and private equity, for example) almost as egregious as Romney’s, a $1.6 million deal for advising housing giant Freddie Mac, and a controversy-tainted tenure as House Speaker that ended in disgrace and a $300,000 ethics fine does not have the ideal resume for a party standard-bearer. Now that Romney has no choice but to take Gingrich seriously, he’s sure to highlight these stains on Gingrich’s record, and it may be enough to vanquish the Gingrich challenge. (There’s a case to be made, though, that conservative voters have already priced in these risks in their assessment of Gingrich, and that they still support him as the most viable conservative alternative in the race.)

What will it take for Gingrich to overcome his formidable obstacles? If he manages to defeat Romney by a convincing margin in Florida’s winner-take-all primary on January 31, all bets are off. Romney may yet prevail after a Florida loss, but he would certainly lose his status as the favorite, and party elites would begin to wonder how strong a general election candidate Romney would be if he couldn’t fend off as troubled a candidate as Gingrich. Ominously for Romney’s campaign, there’s ample reason to believe he could blow it in Florida. The latest polls in the state have Gingrich leading by a fairly large margin. More fundamentally, Florida could be the state where Romney’s shameless pandering to the far right causes significant political backlash. Hispanics will be a key voting bloc in the state, and even more conservative Hispanics will not appreciate Romney’s hard-line immigration stance. (As Massachusetts governor, Romney sounded a more moderate note on the issue.) Gingrich, on the other hand, has been the most immigrant-friendly candidate in the GOP contest, as evidenced by these remarks in a CNN debate on November 22:

I don’t see how the party that says it’s the party of the family is going to adopt an immigration policy which destroys families that have been here a quarter century. And I’m prepared to take the heat for saying, let’s be humane in enforcing the law without giving them citizenship but by finding a way to create legality so that they are not separated from their families.

Add in the fact that Gingrich, a Catholic convert, shares the religion of an overwhelming majority of Hispanics, and there’s a very real chance that Gingrich could harness his policy positions and cultural appeal to dominate among Hispanic voters. With Romney poised to enter attack dog mode this week, the next few days will be critical in determining whether Gingrich will be well-positioned in the Sunshine State a week from tomorrow.

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Filed under 2012 Election, Mitt Romney