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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Month: August 2011

Tea Party Disarray

I guess this is one of those glass-half-empty, glass-half-full situations for the Tea Party Movement. If it wants to maintain its reputation as an unbought, unbossed decentralized grassroots movement of citizen-amateurs, the shenanigans embroiling Tea Party groups in Iowa and New Hampshire over their Labor Day weekend plans could be just what the spin doctor ordered.
If, on the other hand, the Tea Folk treasure their image as a lean, mean fighting machine that stands athwart the political system, said shenanigans are not going to help.
In case you’ve missed it, Sarah Palin and her team have been engaged in a Keystone Cops struggle with local Tea Party organizers in Iowa over the big rally on Saturday she has long been scheduled to headline. Seems the big sticking point has been the invitation to speak, that has now been twice extended and then withdrawn, to fallen Tea Party favorite Christine O’Donnell. Palin, of course, played a role in making O’Donnell the Republican U.S. Senate nominee (and landslide general election loser) in 2010, but seems to have been put off by the wacky abstinence crusader’s recent disastrous book tour.
Meanwhile, in New Hampshire, Mitt Romney got a rare Tea Party prop by being invited to headline an event sponsored by the nationally prominent Tea Party Express. But the very invitation created a rift between TPE and Dick Armey’s FreedomWorks, which has made the defeat of Romney in 2012 a major institutional objective.
Dave Weigel reports a Tea Party Express statement calling the FreedomWorks “protest” against Romney’s appearance a “stupid stunt” that “[h]elps feed the false impression that the tea party is a bunch of unreasonable people.”
Imagine that!

Towards a Louder Labor Day

For many years the May Day celebrants of other nations have dissed America’s Labor Day, with its laid-back picnics and tame tributes to the laboring classes, as a flaccid imitation of a real workers’ celebration. Amid mounting anger about joblessness, however, some are now calling to transform America’s Labor Day celebration on September 5th into an energetic outpouring of worker solidarity and mass protest.
Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich makes a case for a day of protest in his recent blog (via Christian Science Monitor), “This Labor Day We Need Protest Marches Rather Than Parades.”:

Labor Day is traditionally a time for picnics and parades. But this year is no picnic for American workers, and a protest march would be more appropriate than a parade.
Not only are 25 million unemployed or underemployed, but American companies continue to cut wages and benefits. The median wage is still dropping, adjusted for inflation. High unemployment has given employers extra bargaining leverage to wring out wage concessions.
All told, it’s been the worst decade for American workers in a century. According to Commerce Department data, private-sector wage gains over the last decade have even lagged behind wage gains during the decade of the Great Depression (4 percent over the last ten years, adjusted for inflation, versus 5 percent from 1929 to 1939).
Big American corporations are making more money, and creating more jobs, outside the United States than in it. If corporations are people, as the Supreme Court’s twisted logic now insists, most of the big ones headquartered here are rapidly losing their American identity.
CEO pay, meanwhile, has soared. The median value of salaries, bonuses and long-term incentive awards for CEOs at 350 big American companies surged 11 percent last year to $9.3 million (according to a study of proxy statements conducted for The Wall Street Journal by the management consultancy Hay Group.). Bonuses have surged 19.7 percent.
This doesn’t even include all those stock options rewarded to CEOs at rock-bottom prices in 2008 and 2009. Stock prices have ballooned since then, the current downdraft notwithstanding. In March, 2009, for example, Ford CEO Alan Mulally received a grant of options and restricted shares worth an estimated $16 million at the time. But Ford is now showing large profits – in part because the UAW agreed to allow Ford to give its new hires roughly half the wages of older Ford workers – and its share prices have responded. Mulally’s 2009 grant is now worth over $200 million.
The ratio of corporate profits to wages is now higher than at any time since just before the Great Depression.
Meanwhile, the American economy has all but stopped growing – in large part because consumers (whose spending is 70 percent of GDP) are also workers whose jobs and wages are under assault.
Perhaps there would still be something to celebrate on Labor Day if government was coming to the rescue. But Washington is paralyzed, the President seems unwilling or unable to take on labor-bashing Republicans, and several Republican governors are mounting direct assaults on organized labor (see Indiana, Ohio, Maine, and Wisconsin, for example).
So let’s bag the picnics and parades this Labor Day. American workers should march in protest. They’re getting the worst deal they’ve had since before Labor Day was invented – and the economy is suffering as a result.

United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard argues in his post at In These Times, that this Labor Day the emphasis should be on building hope. Parades are fine, Gerard argues contrary to Reich, but Labor Day 2011 should be an occasion to “Build esprit de corps among your fellow workers” and adds.

This is one day devoted to labor, to the middle class, to the majority. One day out of 365. On this holiday, everyone gives an obligatory nod to workers. So don’t fret this Labor Day. Don’t waste it away in apathetic doldrums. Don’t let the minority rich and their purchased politicians take this celebration away from us too…We must develop some self-confidence before we start protesting. Achieving the change we want requires an uprising of hope and anger…
…Frances Fox Piven counsels in her book, Challenging Authority: How Ordinary People Change America that hope is crucial, that constructive change arises from the mix of hope and anger. In places like Libya and Egypt this Arab Spring, wealth proved insufficient to overpower the majority invigorated by hope and anger.

Gerard cites the “combination of anger and hopelessness” that “produces destruction and self-destruction” which exploded in London, clearly concerned that many American communities are ripe for similar unrest. He concludes, “So let’s put some effort into fostering optimism. Let’s strengthen each other this Labor Day. We must raise that hope before we organize Reich’s protests.”
Gerard may be right that some communities, where potentially explosive anger about joblessness and expanding income inequality is seething, are not prepared for disciplined nonviolent protests on such short notice. But recent protests in Madison and elsewhere indicate that other cities are well-prepared for Labor Day protest marches, and they can do some good. It’s up to responsible community leaders to make the call.
Both Reich and Gerard are calling for making Labor Day an occasion for building solidarity and hope among working people, and that should happen everywhere, whether we have marches or parades. And either way, Labor Day should also serve as a nation-wide teach-in on what state and local elected officials have or have not done to create jobs and provide help for the unemployed and underemployed.

God and the Founders Said So!

This item is cross-posted from The New Republic.
While few in either the mainstream media or the conservative commentariat have been so bold as to deny that the Republican Party is a lot more ideologically rigid than it was four or twelve or thirty years ago, there has been some regular pushback against attaching such terms as “radical” and “extremist” to the party’s views. Some conservatives like to claim that they just look extreme when compared to a Democratic Party dominated by a radical socialist president. Others admit their party is in an ideological grip unlike anything seen since Barry Goldwater’s 1964 campaign, but argue the whole country’s moved with them. (Just observe Michele Bachmann’s recent statement that the Tea Party represents the views of 90 percent of the U.S. population). But more common is the effort, which extends deep into the media, to push back against charges of Republican extremism on grounds that, well, a party that won over half the ballots of 2010 voters cannot, by definition, be anything other than solidly in the mainstream. And so it becomes habitual to denigrate even the most specific text-proofs that something odd is going on in the GOP as “liberal hysteria” or mere agitprop.
This 45-million-Americans-can’t-be-wrong meme has been deployed most recently to scoff at those progressive writers who have drawn attention to the rather peculiar associations of presidential candidates Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry. The most typical retort came from Washington Post religion columnist Lisa Miller, who deplored those scrutinizing Bachmann’s legal training at Oral Roberts University or the “dominionist” beliefs common among many key organizers of Perry’s recent “day of prayer and fasting” as “raising fears on the left about ‘crazy Christians.'” New York Times columnist Ross Douthat offered a more sophisticated but functionally equivalent rebuke, suggesting that Bachmann and Perry were representing a long Republican tradition of co-opting religious extremists with absolutely no intention of giving them genuine influence.
But the recent resurgence of militant Christian Right activism, alongside its close cousin, “constitutional conservatism,” is genuinely troubling to people who don’t share the belief that the Bible or the Constitution tell you exactly what to do on a vast array of political issues. From both perspectives, conservative policy views are advanced not because they make sense empirically, or are highly relevant to the contemporary challenges facing the country, or because they may from time to time reflect public opinion. They are, instead, rooted in a concept of the eternal order of the universe, or in the unique (and, for many, divinely ordained) character of the United States. As such, they suggest a fundamentally undemocratic strain in American politics and one that can quite justifiably be labeled extreme.
Consider the language of the Mount Vernon Statement, the 2010 manifesto signed by a glittering array of conservative opinion-leaders, from Grover Norquist to Ed Fulner to Tony Perkins:

We recommit ourselves to the ideas of the American Founding. Through the Constitution, the Founders created an enduring framework of limited government based on the rule of law. They sought to secure national independence, provide for economic opportunity, establish true religious liberty and maintain a flourishing society of republican self-government. …
The conservatism of the Declaration asserts self-evident truths based on the laws of nature and nature’s God.

An agenda speaking with the authority of “self-evident truths based on the laws of nature and nature’s God” and advancing the “enduring framework” of the Founders is, by definition, immutable. And in turn, that means that liberals (or, for that matter, their RINO enablers) are not simply misguided, but are objectively seeking to thwart God and/or betray America. Think that might have an impact on the tone of politics, or the willingness of conservatives to negotiate over the key tenets of their agenda?
From this point of view, all the recent carping about liberal alarm over the religious underpinnings of contemporary conservatism seems to miss the big picture rather dramatically. Both Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry have conspicuously offered themselves as leaders to religio-political activists who, whatever their theological differences, largely share a belief that God’s Will on Earth requires the repeal of abortion rights and same-sex relationship rights, radical curtailment of government involvement in education or welfare, assertion of Christian nationhood in both domestic and international relations, and a host of other controversial initiatives. Does it ultimately matter, then, whether these activists consider themselves “dominionists” or “reconstructionists,” or subscribe to Bill Bright’s Seven Mountains theory of Christian influence over civic and cultural life? I don’t think so.
Similarly, the frequent mainstream media and conservative recasting of the Tea Party as just a spontaneous salt-of-the-earth expression of common-sense attitudes towards fiscal profligacy is hard to sustain in light of the almost-constant espousal of “constitutional conservative” ideology by Tea Party leaders and the politicians most closely associated with them. Perhaps Rick Perry, just like his Tea Party fans, really is personally angry about the stimulus legislation of 2009 or the Affordable Care Act of 2010, and that’s fine. But no mainstream conservative leader since Goldwater has published a book challenging the constitutionality and morality of the entire policy legacy of the New Deal and (with the marginal exception of the Civil Rights Act of 1964) the Great Society. Ronald Reagan, to cite just one prominent example, justified his own conservative ideology as the reaction of a pure-bred New Deal Democrat to the later excesses of liberalism. Reagan also largely refrained from promoting his policy ideas as reflecting a mandate from God or the Founders, and he treated Democrats with at least minimal respect.
In that sense, major presidential candidates like Perry and Bachmann really are something new under the sun. They embody a newly ascendant strain of conservatism that is indeed radical or extremist in its claims to represent not just good economics or good governance, but eternal verities that popular majorities can help implement but can never overturn. They deserve all the scrutiny they have attracted, and more.

Perry’s Immigration Problem

There’s an interesting (if rather premature) debate unfolding in the chattering classes about Rick Perry’s phenomenal surge in the polls. Is he, thanks to the buzz about him and his very fortunate positioning in a limited Republican field, close to becoming a lead-pipe cinch for the nomination unless he says something really self-destructive in the near future?
John Ellis thinks so, and Jonathan Chait is inclined to agree. Neither of them really get into the vulnerabilities Perry has already shown. I’d say his nasty comments about Social Security in his recent book Fed Up! present a potentially very serious problem, but probably more in the general election than in the primaries. If he can stick to the line that all he was really talking about in the book was the need to “protect” Social Security’s solvency via partial privatization, he can likely dodge that bullet for a good while. It’s not as though Mitt Romney or Michele Bachmann is going to dwell on it.
But hardly anyone is bringing up his position on an issue that could actually help him in the general election, but could be a real deal-breaker for some conservative voters during the nominating process: immigration. As you may have heard, Perry’s history on immigration is pretty much the same as that of his predecessor, George W. Bush (or any other Texas Republican who wants to win general elections in that state). He favors a “guest worker” program and a “path to citizenship” for the undocumented. He signed into law and still defends a state version of the DREAM Act. He refused to support a Texas version of Arizona’s “crackdown” law.
These credentials could all help Perry improve on what may otherwise be a dreadful and potentially fatal GOP performance among Hispanic voters in November of 2012. But they certainly are outside the current national conservative mainstream on immigration policy. He’s done some recent growling and demagoguing on illegal immigration, and is considered relatively tough on border enforcement. But his basic, longtime stance will be impossible to shed without an egregious flip-flop.
And that could be a problem for him beginning in his first real challenge, the Iowa Caucuses.
Iowa’s a fertile ground for immigrant-bashing because it has just enough of a Hispanic presence to make immigrants generally visible, but not enough to represent (particularly among Republicans) a serious voting bloc. More importantly, one of the Big Dogs in Iowa GOP politics is Rep. Steve King, who, now that Tom Tancredo is no longer in Congress, is the A-number-one immigration firebrand in Washington. King is also very, very close to Michele Bachmann. He has promised not to make an endorsement until after the Labor Day weekend. But should he come out with guns blazing at Perry for being a wimp on immigration, it will definitely have an impact in a state that Perry has apparently decided to seriously contest.
And why is King holding off until after Labor Day? He’s serving as a panelist (along with Jim DeMint and conservative professor Robert George) at a debate/inquisition being held in South Carolina that weekend in which all the major Republican candidates other than Mitt Romney will be tested for conservative ideological purity. If King has decided to torment Perry on Bachmann’s behalf for his views on immigration, you couldn’t imagine a better opportunity to launch the attack. Aside from its strategic position in the presidential nominating contest, South Carolina is another state where GOP politicians tend to be pretty uninhibited in attacks on immigration “amnesty” and related heresies.
Perry better be prepared.

Republican “Jobs” Philosophy In a Nutshell

Anticipating the president’s “jobs speech” next week, congressional Republicans, led by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, are trotting out their own “jobs agenda.” And it is heavily focused on firmly positioning the U.S. economy at the north end of a southbound brontosaurus when it comes to the emerging global energy and environmental sectors. Steve Benen sums it up nicely:

Cantor sees an economy lacking demand, a public sector shedding jobs, workers with stagnant wages, and anemic growth, and has apparently concluded, “What we really need right now is deregulation.”
And what kind of regulations are being targeted? High on Cantor’s list are measures that limit the amount of mercury and other toxins that boiler and incinerator operators can burn into the atmosphere.
In case this isn’t obvious, Cantor’s plan is a poor jobs agenda. Indeed, it’s not really an agenda in any meaningful sense at all. Republicans have been pushing for deregulation efforts like these for decades — Cantor isn’t responding to a changing economic landscape and new demand-driven challenges with a tailored package of policy solutions; Cantor is just listing a bunch of safeguards Republicans want to scrap anyway.
There’s just no depth of thought here. The GOP leadership believes businesses might hire more if, for example, they were allowed to pollute more, while Democrats believe business might hire more if they had more customers.

It’s reasonably clear Republicans are worried that their anti-government agenda isn’t exactly coming across as responsive to the country’s economic concerns. But they are, to use a legal term, “estopped” from promoting stimulative efforts, even those involving the kind of tax cuts that might have an immediate impact, by their deficit rhetoric. So it’s not surprising they are dusting off lobbyist-driven “pro-business” initiatives that continue the attack on government but in a way that can be advertised as directly helping “job creators.”
This GOP “jobs agenda” will probably be worth a few points in areas of the country that could theoretically harvest some jobs from exposing the rest of us to poorer air and water quality, while ensuring our energy sector remains far behind the cutting edge of innovation. It ain’t much, but it’s all they’ve got.

Duke Study Shows Confusion About Wealth Distribution

Even though strong majorities favor higher taxes on the wealthy, Americans still grossly underestimate the gap in wealth distribution, according to “Sweden: Home of the American Dream,” a post by Rachel Black at the New America Foundation website:

In a survey conducted by a psychologist at Duke University, 7,000 people across America were given three pie charts displaying different distributions of wealth and asked which they thought was the United States. 92 percent chose the distribution of wealth in Sweden (where the top fifth owns 36 percent of the wealth, the bottom fifth owning 11 percent) over that in the United States where the richest fifth owns 83 percent of the wealth, leaving the bottom 40 percent with .3 percent of the wealth. The number that chose the third chart where each fifth held 20 percent amounted to a rounding error.

All of which suggests that Dems could gain even more public support for tax reform, if they put more effort into educating the public about the facts of income distribution in the U.S.

New Model, Old Coalition

This item, by Andrew Sabl, Associate Professor of Public Policy and Political Science at UCLA, is cross-posted from Samefacts.com.
What do you get when you cross a Jehovah’s Witness with a Unitarian? Someone who knocks on your door for no particular reason.
I thought of that joke when reading James Wimberly’s recent comment alluding to his (excellent) post from 2008 about how Obama’s grassroots movement was like the New Model Army. In both cases the movement’s unprecedented breadth and power, once unleashed, was fearsome in battle–but one couldn’t ride that Army into power and expect anything less than revolution. As James put it: “What [Obama] won’ t be able to do is shelve his sweeping promises and govern from the technocratic, establishment centre like Bill Clinton. He will have to be a great reforming president or fail.”
I think this is half right, in the way the joke implies. Obama for America had the tone of a movement: it relied on faith- and hope-based rather than instrumentalist motivations, adopted the cadences of the Civil Rights movement (much against Obama’s own personal inclinations), built a pretty successful ethos of fellowship and organization for their own sakes, and yes, could be very moralistic. But while the movement’s tone expressed zealotry, its purpose had no trace of Puritan precision.
Obama for America wanted Change: a thorough repudiation of the policies of George W. Bush. And we lived by Hope, i.e. an irrational belief, which by self-fulfilling prophecy became rational, that we could through new communication techniques–not unlike the Puritans’ sermons, camp meetings, and pamphlets–defeat the formidable hierarchies of [Charles] Bush and Clinton, [Laud] Rove and Penn. But to what end? In hindsight, we can see that there were several competing Puritan agendas. To some of Obama’s supporters, purging the polity of Dubyan corruption meant, above all, ending wars and restoring civil liberties. To others, it meant ejecting the corporate money-changers from the political temple by freeing politics from lobbying and campaign money. To a third group (more numerous than many progressives realized), it meant what Obama very often said it meant: overcoming the bitter partisanship of the Bush years so that we could all seek common-sense solutions in measured tones. To a final group, the one most likely to listen to Obama’s policy proposals while discounting his rhetoric, it meant repudiating the politics of oligarchy and putting governmen back on the side of equal opportunity and social welfare.
The first group has been the most disappointed by Obama in office; the last, most impressed. (If Obama has turned out to be less of a populist than many of his supporters hoped, he’s also been much more of a classic New Deal/Great Society advocate of the welfare state.) But it is clear now, as it was not clear in 2008, that not all of these Puritans could be right about what the movement was most centrally about–and that it was almost certainly impossible for all of us to get the kind of (incompatible) revolutions that we wanted.
Michael Walzer, who read the New Model Army as the first modern ideological movement to take over a regime, called the English Civil War the “Revolution of the Saints.” But the saints had a common purpose, that of purifying the true Church and ending its liturgical and political corruptions. And they had a common enemy–a King asserting Divine Right and an Anglican Church that backed him–that united them in spite of splits between Presbyterians and Independents, burghers and Diggers, Rainsborough’s democrats and Ireton’s elitists. Obama’s movement had a common feeling of sainthood without the common theology that would render that feeling a source of unity rather than division. As a result, each of its sects has ended up convinced both that it contains the true saints and, just as dangerously–but wrongly–that we once did agree on the True Religion and that it’s Obama’s fault that we no longer do.
This is Obama’s fault in a sense, but not the sense that Obama’s most fervent critics normally intend. The problem is that Obama for America objectively speaking was, always was, a garden-variety political coalition, with all the common and cross-purposes, shared and clashing interests, that any catch-all political party inevitably contains. But Obama, half-knowing the costs, fooled us into thinking we were a movement.
We were Unitarians who thought we were Witnesses. The question now is whether anything will get us to knock on doors the way we used to.

The Inside Dumb on Rick Perry

While interesting for its anecdotes, Jonathan Martin’s lengthy Politico piece today on the mind of Rick Perry is in some respects a maddeningly repetitive non sequitur. It asks the question (as its title puts it) “Is Rick Perry Dumb?” And the answer, generally, is “He Hasn’t Lost an Election!”
It’s unclear whether Martin’s main point is that book larnin’ isn’t essential to political success so long as you can follow a poll briefing, or that Perry is cunningly lying in wait for observers and opponents who underestimate him as the kind of guy who struggled to make C’s at Texas A&M.
I guess Martin pretty much does establish that Perry’s not some Chauncey Gardner figure who has no idea what he’s doing, being manipulated by smart and cynical advisers. But I’m not sure how many people really think there is some direct correlation between IQ and success in political and elected office.
For one thing, luck and timing are hugely important in public life, and by any measure Rick Perry is a very lucky guy with an extraordinary sense of political timing. For another, it’s a very open question whether it’s better for policymakers to be guided by their own powers of reasoning and deduction, as amplified by experience, or by a fixed set of principles that constituents have had every opportunity to understand and endorse–i.e., an ideology. One of the legitimate questions about Perry is whether his very clear ideology actually guides his decisions, as frustrated Texas conservatives have often observed when he does things like promoting a vast infrastructure project, supporting Rudy Giuliani for president, or using public funds to reward his political allies and cronies.
Like many other observers, Martin thinks it’s important to comprehend that whatever his lack of intellectual gifts, Perry is shrewd, tough, and power-hungry. These are qualities that typically inspire admiration among those who are allied with such a politician, and fear among everyone else. Since comparisons of Perry with George W. Bush are both ubiquitous and inevitable, it’s probably worth noting that W. often seemed bored with the exercise of political power; you didn’t get the sense he woke up in the middle of the night with his lower brain churning at images of his enemies screaming in pain and cowering in defeat. The same could be said, of course, about Barack Obama, and often is said by progressives who are beside themselves in frustration about the 44th president’s apparent lack of martial instincts.
So when conservatives talk about Perry being the “anti-Obama,” they probably aren’t just referring to the contrast between the Texas governor’s theories, such as they are, about how to grow the economy as opposed to the Obama administration’s. During the 1972 presidential campaign, Hunter Thompson once said that nominating Ed Muskie to run against Richard Nixon would be like “sending out a three-toed sloth to take on a wolverine.” It’s a matter of ongoing debate whether President Obama is really the weak and over-cerebral politician that his progressive detractors say he is, or instead someone playing a weak hand with a complex and multi-leveled strategy that may turn out to be brilliant or too clever by half. But there’s not much doubt that Rick Perry is one Republican presidential aspirant for whom subtelty in any form seems entirely alien. Whether you adjudge him as “smart” or “dumb” will probably depend on how you view the relative intelligence of a hammer-head shark.

Jesse Jackson on the Political Strategy of Martin Luther King:

“In 1960 Martin Luther King supported Kennedy instead of Nixon
to prevent America from going backwards.
Then he marched in the streets of Birmingham to pass the Civil Rights Act
to move the nation ahead.
In 1964 Martin Luther King supported Johnson instead of Goldwater
to prevent America from going backwards.
Then he marched in Selma to pass the Voting Rights Act
to move the nation ahead
For Dr. King there was no conflict between voting strategically
to prevent the triumph of reaction and leading a nonviolent mass movement
to pressure a president to achieve profound social change.
When we in the movement struggled for social justice we helped weak presidents become stronger.
When we in the movement struggled for social justice we helped good presidents become great.
Rev. Jesse Jackson Jr. at the evening reception of the joint AFL-CIO/Martin Luther King Center conference on Jobs, Justice and the American Dream.
To view a webcast of the entire conference, click here:

Why Romney Needs a New Strategy

This item is cross-posted from The New Republic.
In many respects, the “invisible primary” that precedes the formal delegate-selection phase of the 2012 Republican presidential nomination process has gone very well for Mitt Romney. Despite his status as the Establishment candidate, he has not become an unacceptable pariah to the ascendant Tea Party-Christian Right factions in the party and he has cruised through two televised debates without anyone laying a glove on him. The early insider favorite to emerge as the “electable conservative alternative to Romney,” Tim Pawlenty, has already withdrawn from the contest, and the two candidates who have survived the early skirmishing, Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry, seem to be pursuing the same right-wing constituencies. But clearly, all is not smooth sailing and blue skies for Romney ’12. The sudden boom in political stock for Rick Perry has not only instantly knocked Mitt from the top of virtually every national poll of Republican contenders; it has also created a set of new challenges for Romney, making his laying-in-the-weeds campaign strategy and his aloof, unengaged personal style increasingly perilous.
Mitt Romney’s original strategy, as explained by Nate Silver, was to lay low at the beginning of the campaign, keeping expectations reasonable and all but ceding Iowa:

Instead, the idea would be to pick up delegates in the early going in friendly territory, particularly in caucus states where his organizational and monetary advantages should give him some help. Although the race might remain tight for the first month or two of the primary campaign, Mr. Romney would then hope to grab some big prizes once states started to vote on a winner-take-all basis in the spring, including large coastal states where Mr. Romney’s relative moderation could be an advantage.

Now that Perry has entered the race, however, it’s an open question as to whether his lead in states like New Hampshire has enough padding to withstand a surge from Perry if the Texas governor wins a big victory in Iowa. Romney now must make the difficult decision of whether to double back on his strategy and seriously contest in the first caucus state after all.
But Romney’s problems are more than just a matter of whether he waits until Nevada and New Hampshire to make his play for the nomination. Expecting a demolition derby of other candidates that will allow him to glide to victory is no longer particularly plausible, and it runs a high risk of creating an early one-on-one competition with Rick Perry in which Romney is in an exceedingly poor position. Aggressively contesting Iowa or, for that matter, going for broke in South Carolina and other conservative states, will require that Romney change his passive Hail-to-the-Chief campaign message to something far more comparative, and that doesn’t necessarily play to his strengths as a candidate.
What, after all, are those strengths? Romney is thought to be well positioned as a candidate who can plausibly offer a different economic path from Obama’s. But that is now Rick Perry’s calling card, buttressed by a job creation record in Texas that Romney cannot match with any equivalent numbers in Massachusetts. And is Romney obviously more electable than other candidates? That, too, isn’t clear, as illustrated by the latest Gallup poll showing remarkably little differences in the performance of Romney, Perry, Paul, and Bachmann against the incumbent. Romney can raise a lot of money, but hasn’t shown so far that he can raise more than any of the other champion money-grubbers in the field. And while Mitt can try to make a more aggressively positive case for his candidacy, no one really believes that he can get excited conservative voters who dominate early contests snake dancing to the polls to put him over the top against carnivorous rivals like Perry and Bachmann. Romney is, at the very best, the New Nixon of the 2012 field–acceptable, but by no means lovable.
So at some point, and some time soon, Mitt Romney is going to have to begin making not only a more positive case for his candidacy but a comparative case by way of attacking his rivals. Bachmann and Perry are highly vulnerable to such attacks, but it’s not clear how well conservatives will react if it’s Romney making the case that the Minnesotan’s wacky religious views are beyond the pale, or that the Texan’s contempt for Social Security is a problem.
What Romney could really use is a sustained and abrasive attack on his rivals by the mainstream media and/or by Democrats. But will Barack Obama do the candidate his team allegedly most fears the service of tearing down the alternatives? And will actual Republican caucus and primary voters whose right-wing champions are under fire flee them to the safe haven of the anodyne Romney? Probably not.
But one thing is clear: Mitt cannot safely continue to just raise money and lie in the weeds hoping the 2012 nomination will be delivered to him. He’ll have to get out there and expose his personal shortcomings as a retail politician to mockery, and expose his positioning as a generic Republican above the fray to the ideological demands of a conservative base that wants the most right-bent nominee that can possibly win next November. The “invisible primary” has been kind to him up until now. The visible primary is about to become a much tougher proposition.