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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Month: January 2012

TDS Co-Editor William Galston: Warning To Democrats: Romney Is a Stronger Candidate Than You Think

This item by TDS Co-Editor William Galston is cross-posted from The New Republic.
Mitt Romney’s strong performance in the second Florida debate deprived Newt Gingrich of his last chance to maintain the boost he got from his South Carolina victory. Unless something significant happens before January 31, Romney will beat Gingrich in the Sunshine State by a double-digit margin and regain his standing as the front-runner for the Republican nomination. After a quiet February, he’ll deploy his edge in money, organization, and preparation to defeat Gingrich the way Grant defeated Lee–by inexorably grinding him down. And when he does, the Republican Party will have dodged a bullet, because the evidence indicates that Romney would be a much stronger general election candidate. It also suggests that President Obama faces a tougher reelection campaign than many now think.
Consider a January 26 Quinnipiac survey of the Florida electorate, beginning with President Obama’s standing in a state he carried by 3 points (51-48) in 2008. Forty-six percent of registered Florida voters approve of the way Obama is handling his job, while 52 percent disapprove. Forty-seven percent believe that he deserves to be reelected, while 49 percent do not.
Given this terrain, whose contours are perilous for the president, the difference between the two main Republican contenders is dramatic. Obama holds an 11-point edge (50-39) over Gingrich but musters only a tie (45-45) against Romney. The crucial different comes among Independents, where Obama leads Gingrich 50-33 but trails Romney 41-42. Forty-three percent of Florida voters rate Romney favorably overall, versus 37 percent unfavorable; for Gingrich it’s 32-50. On the issue voters regard as the most important–the economy–Romney has a 50-41 advantage over Obama (51-40 among Independents) while the president leads Gingrich 47-45 (52-39 among Independents). On what historically has been a key presidential trait–strong leadership–Obama leads Gingrich 51-41 but musters only a statistical tie (46-45) against Romney. And the president’s modest 5-point edge (47-42) over Romney on trustworthiness swells to an astonishing but hardly inexplicable 22 points (57-35) over Gingrich. I could go on, but you get the point: in the largest swing state, Obama is the odds-on favorite to demolish Gingrich but could well lose to Romney.
And Florida is no outlier. An average of major national surveys conducted in January gives Obama a modest 2.3 point edge (47.2 to 44.9) over Romney. Against Gingrich, the president’s margin swells to an average of 11.7 points (51.3 to 39.6). Bottom line: while Romney may be able to take advantage of the incumbent’s vulnerabilities, Gingrich almost certainly can’t.
The conventional wisdom is that the Republican nominating contest has already damaged Romney severely. There’s some evidence to support that view. According to the most recent NBC/Wall Street Journal survey, Romney’s unfavorable ratings among Independents have increased by 20 points over the past two months, and Obama now leads him by 8 points in this crucial group. But it’s hard to find much evidence of that trend in Florida, a state whose voters have much more information about Romney, negative as well as positive, than they did two weeks ago, and far more than do voters nationally. Romney’s support among Floridians is identical now to what it was three months ago. Voters interviewed after his defeat in South Carolina viewed him just as favorably as did those interviewed before that contest. And even nationally, adults interviewed in the most recent NBC/Wall Street Journal survey give Romney exactly the same share of the vote as they did last November (or last June, for that matter). As of now, anyway, Romney may be bruised, but the primary fight has not administered anything like a knockout blow to his general election prospects.
The other side of the conventional wisdom is that Obama enters 2012 in a strengthened position. There’s something to this: Many key indicators have risen measurably from the lows they reached last fall. For example, the NBC/WSJ poll found that 30 percent of Americans think the country is on the right track, up from only 17 percent in October. But that increase just takes us back to the split that prevailed in June of 2011. This is something of a pattern for Obama. His job approval is up 4 points since October but only stands where it was last June. The same is true for his personal favorability ratings. Approval of his handling of the economy stands at 45 percent–exactly where it was last April. And so on.

Political Strategy Notes

The GOP’s Social Security and Medicare privatization policies are not the only thing Florida seniors are angry about. Writing in the AFL-CIO Now Blog, Laura Markwardt, senior communications associate at the Alliance for Retired Americans notes that “Hundreds of Florida seniors and others turned out for a rally in Tampa Friday against voter suppression….Recent changes in Florida’s election rules will have a dramatic impact on Florida’s seniors and other voters. The new law passed in the Florida legislature cuts early voting from 14 days to seven days before the election, which hurts many seniors who vote early because they are physically unable to stand in a long line or make it to the polls on Election Day.”
Nate Silver’s “Polls Diverge, but All Point to a Romney Win” crunches the polling numbers and estimates that “Odds are, instead, that Mr. Romney will win by somewhere in the range of 10 points to 20 points, meaning that many networks are likely to declare him the winner shortly after polls close.”
Milking the ‘liberal media’ meme for the very little that it’s worth outside of his right flank, The petulant bomb-thrower chucks a heat-seeking grenade into the discussion about debate formats in the fall campaign: “As your nominee, I will not accept debates in the fall in which the reporters are the moderators,” Gingrich bellowed at a Pensacola rally. “We don’t need to have a second Obama person at the debate.” Millions yawn.
Most pundits are skeptical about Democrats’ chances of re-taking the House. But a couple of opinion polls suggest otherwise, reports Deirdre Walsh at cnn.com’s Election Center. “Two polls released last week bear that out: An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll showed that 47% of voters preferred a Democratic-controlled Congress, compared to 41% who supported a Republican-controlled one; and a National Journal poll indicated a wider margin — 48% said they supported a Democratic Congress and 37% said they wanted Republicans to keep control.”
Steve Roth’s “Social Security: The Elevator Pitch” at Angry Bear spotlights a few stats Dems should master for shredding GOP arguments, among them: “The extra revenue needed to make SS solid far beyond the foreseeable future (75 years) is tiny: 0.6% of GDP…Coincidentally, Scrapping the Cap on SS contributions — so high earners paid payroll tax above $110K — would deliver … 0.6% of GDP.” Roth adds, “Worried about our fiscal future? It’s the health care costs, stupid…U.S. providers charge two to five times what they charge in other countries, and it’s rising faster — and faster than wages, GDP, inflation…If you’re not talking about that, you have nothing useful to say about our fiscal future.”
Eric Boehlert has an interesting take at Alternet , “How Fox News Is Destroying The Republican Party.” Says Boehlert: “For Ailes and company, that slash-and-burn formula works wonders in terms of super-serving its hardcore, hard-right audience of three million viewers. But in terms of supporting a serious, national campaign and a serious, national conversation? It’s not working. At all.”
It’s all caucuses and no primaries for the GOP field during the the next month, according to “What’s Next After Florida: Entering the Dead Zone” by Chris Good of ABC’s the Note. Then the primary action picks back up on Feb 28 in Arizona and Michigan, with ‘Super Tuesday’ a week later (March 6), when 35+ percent of the GOP delegates will be selected in ten states in one day. Good believes “…it’s unlikely any candidate will be able to win the delegate race before May” and California’s 169 delegates (June 5) should clinch the Republican nomination if it isn’t a done deal by then.
February could be Ron Paul’s big month, with all the caucuses slated. But recent revelations about Paul’s hands-on involvement in producing his racist newsletters could be damaging. As WaPo’s Jerry Markon and Alice Crite point out “…People close to Paul’s operations said he was deeply involved in the company that produced the newsletters, Ron Paul & Associates, and closely monitored its operations, signing off on articles and speaking to staff members virtually every day….”It was his newsletter, and it was under his name, so he always got to see the final product…He would proof it,” said Renae Hathway, a former secretary in Paul’s company and a supporter of the Texas congressman.”
Meredith Shiner and Steven T. Dennis have a Roll Call report on “Rust Belt Democrats Trying to Manufacture a Win,” explaining that “Democrats believe manufacturing job growth, especially in the auto industry, has been one of the bright spots of their résumé and that it’s about time the administration touts that success…Senate Democrats, in particular, have the opportunity to make the manufacturing message their own, or at least use it on the floor with symbolic votes designed to put Republicans in a tough spot.”
Expect an uptick in howls of ‘Class Warfare’ from the GOP as Dems increasingly hitch their 2012 campaign to the growing popular demand for fair taxes. Senate Majrity Leader Harry Reid is planning votes on tax reform throughout spring and summer, according to Lisa Mascaro of the L. A. Times D.C. Bureau’s “Democrats in Congress step up tax-the-rich efforts: They see it not only as a way to reduce the deficit, but also to lay down a populist line in the election battle for Congress and the White House.”

Creamer: Character, Values Concerns May Sink GOP Nominee

The following article by Democratic strategist Robert Creamer, is cross-posted from HuffPo:
More than most elections, the contest for President this fall is likely to be decided less on “wedge issues” — or even candidate positions that are symbolic of who is on whose side — and more on the character and core values of the candidates — and for that matter on the question of the core values of the society we hope to leave to our children.
Last Friday, speaking to the Democratic Caucus Policy Conference, Vice-President Joe Biden told a story that speaks volumes about the character of Barack Obama.
According to Biden, the day before he ordered the raid that finally stopped Osama Bin Laden, President Obama met with his top national security advisers in the Situation Room. At the close of the meeting, he went around the room asking each person for his or her recommendation on whether to launch the risky nighttime mission.
As it went around the table, Leon Panetta recommended that the President proceed. Most of the others expressed reservations and handicapped the odds of success as only fair. Finally, the President got to Biden who said he recommended not proceeding until two additional steps were taken to enhance the odds.
Then the President stood and told his advisers he would let them know of his decision in the morning.
The next day, as Obama stepped onto his helicopter to leave on a day trip, he turned to his National Security Adviser, Tom Donilan, and issued a simple order: “let’s go.”
Much more was at stake in the Bin Laden mission than success or failure killing or capturing the most wanted fugitive of modern times. In some respects Obama’s Presidency itself was at stake.
To quote Biden, “The President has a backbone like a ramrod.”
Whether or not you like all of his policies — or all of his decisions — it’s hard to argue that Barack Obama is not a tough, decisive guy — a guy who is guided by solid core principles and has a disciplined, laser-focused will. This is not a President that flip-flops in the political wind or is swayed by the last person who talks to him. Above all, Barack Obama is centered. He has a solid core built around strong core values.
America — and the rest of the world — have seen those character traits over and over again during the last four years.
They saw them when he announced his candidacy to become the first African American president of the United States — and then organized the highly disciplined, leave-no-stone-unturned campaign that elected him 2008.
They saw that same inner toughness in his — at the time unpopular — decision that saved the American auto industry.
In early 2009, Obama simply refused to throw in the towel on health care reform, when the election of Senator Scott Brown made it appear impossible to succeed — and he won.
Later that year, Obama’s force of will guaranteed the passage of Wall Street reform and the creation of a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. And his willingness to just say no to Republican obstructionism last month by making a recess appointment of Richard Cordray, guaranteed that American financial institutions — for the first time — have a regulator dedicated solely to looking out for the interests of everyday consumers.
Obama has remained determined and unflappable in the face of the toughest economic and political environment in sixty years and has emerged from three years of battle ready to wage a highly organized, focused campaign this fall that will center on most fundamental question facing our society: whether we will have a nation where we look out for each other, and have each other’s back — or a society where we are all in this alone.
Obama intends to make this campaign a battle over core values — a choice between a society where we are all responsible for our future, and for each other — or a society where selfishness is our highest value — where “greed is good.” His campaign will frame the choice before America as whether we have a government dedicated to defending privilege — or one whose mission is giving everyone a fair shot, a fair share, and a guarantee that we all have to play by the same set of rules. His campaign will be about reigniting the values that underlie the American Dream and the hopes of the middle class and all of those who aspire to it. It will be about restoring fairness and opportunity and hope.
Contrast that kind of President — and that kind of campaign — with Obama’s likely opponent, Mitt Romney.
Right after the 2004 election I was riding in a New Jersey taxicab. The driver was a typical male New Jersey cabbie. “So what do you think of Corzine?” I asked.” “Oh, Corzine, tough guy. Like him,” he replied about the then-Senator.
“What do you think of Bush?” I said. “Like him too. Tough guy. Stands up for what he believes,” came the answer.
“How about Hillary Clinton?” I asked. “Tough gal. Like her,” he said.
“What about Kerry?” I asked. “Kerry? Can’t stand him. Flip-flopper–a phony.”
Ideology, policy positions — none of that mattered to this cabdriver who liked Corzine, Clinton and Bush. He wanted a tough, committed leader. But the Republicans had convinced him of its central message — “John Kerry is a flip-flopper–a phony.”
Bush strategist Karl Rove had sold that version of Kerry — a Senator who in fact has strong core values — largely because of his tendency to “Senate-speak.” He also realized that Kerry’s vote for the Iraq War, and then against continued funding in 2004, could be portrayed as the symbolically powerful flip-flop. The icing on the cake was Kerry’s explanation of the 2004 vote: “I voted for it before I voted against it.” Rove illustrated his flip-flop message with an iconic commercial that featured pictures of Kerry windsurfing and tacking one way and then another.
Kerry’s perceived lack of core values was the factor that, more than any other, led to George Bush’s second term as president.
Voters want leaders who believe in something other than their own election. Quite correctly they want leaders with a strong moral center. They want leaders who make and keep commitments to their principles and to other people. And they want to know that the candidates they support are the leaders they will get after the election — not, as John Huntsman said of Romney, “a well-oiled weathervane”.
Romney has never seen a position he couldn’t change if he determined it would be to his advantage to do so. He thinks of politics as a business marketing project, where you say what you think you need to in order to maximize sales. Romney doesn’t think of voters as citizens to be engaged — he thinks of them as customers to be manipulated.
As Massachusetts Governor, Romney was pro-choice — now he is anti-choice.
Romney was the author of the Massachusetts health care plan that in many respects served as the model for Obama’s own health care plan. Now he wants to repeal “Obamacare.”
Romney once refused to sign the “no new tax pledge.” Now he has signed the “no new tax pledge.”
Romney favored extension of the assault weapons ban. Now he opposes extension of the assault weapon ban.
Once he said the TARP “was the right thing to do.” Now he says he opposed it.
Right after the economy collapsed he said he favored an economic stimulus program; now he says he opposed the stimulus bill.
Once Romney said he believed that human activity contributed to global warming; now he says he doesn’t think we know what causes global warming.
One day he was emphatically neutral on Ohio Governor Kasich’s union-busting legislation — that was ultimately “vetoed” by the Ohio voters. The next day he one hundred percent supported that legislation.
Romney is a guy who, when called on his flip-flops and inconsistencies, said: “I’m running for office, for Pete’s sake.”
The reason Romney is having such a difficult time making the sale in the Republican primary contest is that many Republicans don’t think he has strong core beliefs, don’t trust him and think he’s a phony.
Wait until he has to convince swing voters that he’s anything more than a “vulture capitalist” who will say anything and do anything to make the biggest deal of his life — the “acquisition” of the government of the United States of America.
But, you say, maybe he will flip-flop back into a more “moderate” Mitt Romney if he becomes President. Don’t bet on it. People who have no core values will sell their services to the highest bidder. Romney’s Presidency has already been sold lock, stock and barrel to the big Wall Street banks, the CEO class, the multi-millionaires who are behind his super PAC and the Republican Establishment that have financed his campaign.
In fact, throughout his career, Mitt Romney has demonstrated that his only “core value” is his own financial and political success. In Romney’s view, both in politics and in business, every other belief or commitment can be thrown overboard if it weighs him down in his quest for success. And that goes for the people and communities that were impacted by the “creative destruction” of his corporate takeovers and leveraged buyouts at Bain Capital. To him, they were apparently nothing more than “collateral damage.”
In the end, it is likely that the ultimate irony of the Romney campaign will be that his own willingness to toss aside positions and values that might at one time or another have appeared inconvenient, will ultimately weigh him down more than anything else.

Is this the most patently false, biased and dishonest headline the Washington Post has ever run?

Look at this home page headline in today’s Washington Post:

Is Obama the most polarizing president ever?”

When you click to go to the column, the question is flatly answered in the affirmative:

Obama: The most polarizing president. Ever.

But now read what the text of the column actually says:

Out of the ten most partisan years in terms of presidential job approval in Gallup data, seven — yes, seven — have come since 2004. Bush had a run between 2004 and 2007 in which the partisan disparity of his job approval was at 70 points or higher.

As a chart that accompanies the article makes clear, Bush had the highest partisan gap in 4 of those 7 years. Moreover, in the three years where the partisan disparity was over 70 points, It was Bush and not Obama who was president.
As the article then notes:

“Obama’s ratings have been consistently among the most polarized for a president in the last 60 years,” concludes Gallup’s Jeffrey Jones in a memo summing up the results. “That may not be a reflection on Obama himself as much as on the current political environment in the United States, because Obama’s immediate predecessor, Bush, had similarly polarized ratings, particularly in the latter stages of his presidency after the rally in support from the 9/11 terror attacks faded.”

In addition, as the article also notes:

Democrats will point out that Republicans in Congress have played a significant part in the polarization; the congressional GOP has stood resolutely against almost all of Obama’s top priorities. And Obama’s still-high popularity among the Democratic base also exacerbates the gap.

In fact, the only way the article manages to slice the data to support the headline is by comparing presidential first year to first year, second year to second year and so on – a Bush vs. Obama comparison that just happens to include the huge national rally behind Bush after 9/11.
This is really outrageous. Some headline writer over there at the Post oughta get fired over this. It’s not only blatantly and dishonestly biased against Obama but it does not even pass the standards for a tenth grade high school journalism class.

Edsall: Newt’s Desperation Shows Fragility of GOP Coalition

Thomas B. Edsall’s NYT op-ed, “Newt Gingrich and the Future of the Right,” suggests that the Republican Party may be in for a period of internal convulsions in the not-too-distant future. Edsall explains:

…The Gingrich campaign reveals the current state of the Christian right, its status anxieties, its desperation, its frustration and in particular its anger. The extreme volatility of Gingrich’s primary season bid reflects not only the success and failure of his own tactical maneuvers and those of his opponents, but also the ambivalence of the Republican electorate in choosing between ideology and pragmatism — an intra-party struggle dating back to the candidacy of Barry Goldwater in 1964.

Edsall adds that, Romney has taken the lead in the eight most recent public opinion polls after Newt’s big upset in SC. “What does this political volatility say about the conservative movement and the Republican Party?,” asks Edsall, who then notes the marginalization of the religious right, now about “roughly 35 to 40 percent of the Republican primary electorate.”
However, warns Edsall, “…Its preoccupations are less and less those of Americans taken as a whole” and “as the movement shifts to the periphery, it becomes more of a liability to the party than an asset.” Edsall believes that,

Gingrich’s swings from low to high to low to high to low — his success in South Carolina and his increasing desperation in Florida — suggest that his candidacy is more a burst of light before the candle dims than the latest iteration of a vital conservative insurgency.
The larger issue facing the Republican Party is how it will respond to political market forces, to the pressure of changes in public opinion. The party could open up beyond its core believers to accommodate old-school Republican moderates and hold on to its libertarians and still have decent size, strength and power.
But the country is going through a profound restructuring in moral and economic thinking and the danger for Republicans is that their current coalition might become obsolete. If the party doesn’t adapt, the alternative is that its power centers — the Christian right, anti-immigration forces, and proponents of policies that benefit the affluent at the expense of the less well-off — will refuse to adjust, in which case the party risks going the way of the Studebaker.

And, watching Romney and Gingrich groping wildly for credibility with an increasingly suspicious middle class, there is reason to hope that it will happen sooner, rather than later.

MSM Lightweights Give GOP Field Free Ride on Key FL Issues

Turns out two major issues in the Florida GOP presidential primary, Social Security and Medicare, are getting scant coverage by both candidates and the media. As Tracy Jan observes in her Boston Globe article “Fla. seniors hear little from candidates on entitlements“:

When talk turned to Medicare and Social Security in the days leading up to tomorrow’s Florida Republican primary, this critical voting bloc voiced disappointment that the issues disproportionately affecting seniors have been notably absent from debates and candidates’ stump speeches here. Most older voters say they don’t know what distinguishes the GOP contenders from each other when it comes to the future of the two programs.
“I think the candidates want to stay away from it, keep it quiet until after the primaries,” said Ralph Lawson, a 71-year-old retired financial planner from Dracut, Mass., in between dancing to live jazz. “They don’t want to upset seniors, the majority of the voters here.”

The issue is a political minefield, with disagreements even among the more conservative seniors. As Jan notes:

Elders who are supporters of the Tea Party divide sharply on proposals for reducing Medicare and Social Security, said Theda Skocpol, a Harvard government professor who coauthored a book about the movement…The well-funded national Tea Party organizations pushing for lower taxes strongly support Medicare privatization, yet grass-roots supporters worry about losing benefits they feel they have earned by working hard their entire lives, said Skocpol.

While Romney has supported raising the eligibility age for Medicare qualification and favors a privatization option for the program. Gingrich, who has blasted Rep. Paul Ryan’s privatization plans as “right-wing social engineering,” has tread a little more carefully:

While Gingrich was lambasted by some in the Tea Party movement for his critique of the original Ryan plan, Skocpol said, the former House speaker’s sentiments did not hurt him with the grass-roots movement. And his move during last Monday’s debate in Tampa to show his support for the Medicare prescription drug benefit – despite its expense and amid Romney’s accusations he was guilty of influence peddling in promoting the proposal in 2003 – may have won him even more favor with Florida seniors, she said.

While Jan notes the lack of substantive discussion about Medicare and Social Security in the Florida GOP primary, Richard Eskow, a senior fellow at The Campaign for America’s Future, doesn’t shy from assigning blame. As Eskow notes in his HuffPo post, “Do GOP Candidates and the Press Have a “Gentlemen’s Agreement” Not to Discuss Social Security in Florida? “:

You’d think Social Security would top the list of subjects for a Presidential debate in Florida. How many questions did Wolf Blitzer ask about it during Thursday night’s Republican debate in Jacksonville?
Answer: None. The words “Social Security” never passed his lips.
It was almost as if there were a “gentlemen’s agreement” among the five people on the stage. And we use that phrase advisedly, since Blitzer sealed the boy’s club atmosphere by asking each of the candidates why his wife would make the best First Lady.
The candidates did mention Social Security a couple of times, but only in passing and only in the most misleading ways possible. It’s too bad there wasn’t, oh, a journalist nearby – one who was inclined to ask follow-up questions.

Ouch. Harsh, but not undeserved.
Eskow explains that Santorum and Paul “attacked Newt Gingrich from the right on Social Security” in the last debate, and then “Gingrich attacked Obama from the left…” However, notes Eskow:

What Gingrich doesn’t say is that he wants to privatize Social Security with a plan that would ultimately cut benefits and put what’s left at risk for the next financial crisis, while making trillions of dollars for Wall Street. He also keeps pushing the widely disproved notions that it’s a “Ponzi scheme” and “a fraud.” (The best takedown of those ideas was done in 1958 by a bipartisan panel convened by Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower.)

As for the media blackout of the issue:

So why wasn’t it a topic that Blitzer and CNN considered important enough to discuss? When Santorum first mentioned Social Security, Blitzer said “We’re going to get to that in a moment.” Iit sounded like the “it” in question was Social Security, but Blitzer never mentioned it again.

Eskow has a plausible explanation why the candidates dodge the issue:

I can certainly understand why the candidates didn’t want the subject raised. More than three and a half million Republican voters rely on Social Security, including seniors, disabled people, and surviving spouses. In fact, the candidates in Tuesday’s primary would be crazy not to hide their opinions on the topic:
Mitt Romney’s been pushing to privatize Social Security for years. After the financial crisis of 2008, Americans understand how risky it would be to place their financial security in the hands of greedy, reckless, and irresponsible financiers – or as Mitt probably thinks of them, “the fellas.”…Ron Paul says Social Security is “unconstitutional.”
With proposals like these, who wouldn’t want to keep the Sunshine State in the dark? An AARP survey showed that likely Republican voters in Florida oppose Social Security cuts by more than two to one. As the Christian Science Monitor reports, a slight majority would favor raising the retirement age, but more Republicans favor the solution that’s typically called “progressive” – lifting or raising the cap on payroll taxes so that higher income levels are subject to the tax. All four Republican candidates strongly oppose this idea, which is their voters’ preferred option.

Jan and Eskow are not alone in commenting on the free ride in big media being enjoyed by the GOP field and Eskow concludes with this blistering observation:

Some voters noticed the omission. As USA Today reported on the morning before the debate, “people are frustrated that the Republican presidential candidates have largely avoided the issues of Medicare and Social Security.” You’d think that would have made the subject even more important for CNN to raise. A news organization’s job is to ask candidates the questions they don’t want asked. Surely they could have squeezed one in, perhaps after asking the First Lady question? (Gingrich graciously said they’d all be wonderful at the job.)
Remember the movie “Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead”? This week’s Florida primary should be renamed “Don’t Tell Grandma Social Security Will Be Dead – and Medicare Too – If We’re Elected.” Mitt Romney’s already on record as saying income inequality shouldn’t be discussed openly. Was there some sort of “gentleman’s agreement” to ignore Social Security too?

The kindest interpretation is that Blitzer was somehow distracted from asking the hardball questions on Social Security and Medicare, which is the news anchor’s equivalent of whiffing in the bottom of the ninth inning with two outs in an important play-off game. But his softball question about the role of the candidates’ wives as first ladies suggests a lightweight posture toward the debates at best.
No doubt other journalists have contributed to the problem with weak coverage of the candidates positions on Medicare and Social Security. In any case, the Florida presidential primary is way too important for any major media to function as lapdogs, whether by oversight or design. Voters have a right to expect better.

Kos campaign director Chris Bowers and People for the American Way launch petition drive to investigate O’Keefe voting fraud

Chris Bowers, the online campaign manager of Daily Kos — working together with People for the American Way — has launched a petition drive to call for the investigation of the attempted voter fraud committed by right-wing activist James O’Keefe. This is a deeply troubling fraud covered here at TDS last week.
Here’s the text of Bowers appeal:

please sign the petition calling for an investigation of James O’Keefe for committing voter fraud in New Hampshire.
James O’Keefe, the right-wing prankster who became famous for a doctored video that led to the downfall of ACORN, recently coordinated a stunt to obtain ballots in the New Hampshire primary using the names of dead people.
His goal was to prove that strict voter ID laws are necessary. However, what he and his associates did was illegal:
Hamline University law professor David Schultz told TPM that there’s “no doubt” that O’Keefe’s investigators violated the law.
“In either case, if they were intentionally going in and trying to fraudulently obtain a ballot, they violated the law,” Schultz said. “So right off the bat, what they did violated the law.”
O’Keefe and his co-conspirators were also incredibly insensitive:
Activist filmmaker James O’Keefe secretly recorded video showing his operative using Roger Groux’s name and address to obtain a Republican ballot at Manchester polls Tuesday. The U.S. Navy veteran died Dec. 31 at an assisted living home. His family held funeral services Monday, his widow said. “Oh my God, I know what he would say, ‘Call the cops, call the police,’ ” Rachel Groux said.
James O’Keefe has made a living using lies to ruin the lives of others. Now he should be investigated for a repulsive, open-and-shut case of voter fraud.
Sign the petition calling for an investigation of James O’Keefe. We are working with allies to deliver it the New Hampshire Attorney General next week.

John Nichols: Wisconsin Recall More Popular Than Republican Primaries

The Nation’s Jon Nichols does a simple but striking bit of math comparing the Wisconsin Recall Campaigns with The Republican Primaries:

So here’s what we know:
1. If you add up all the caucus and primary votes that have been cast so far for Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Rick Santorum, the former Rick Perry, the former Jon Huntsman, the former Michele Bachmann and the eternal Buddy Roemer, they still have not attracted as much support as has the drive to recall Scott Walker.
2. If you compare the percentage of the electorate in the three caucus and primary states that has expressed support for all the Republicans who would be president, it is dramatically lower than the percentage of the Wisconsin electorate that wants to recall Scott Walker.
3. If you add the total number of names on petitions filed January 17 to recall other Republicans in Wisconsin–Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, state Senate majority leader Scott Fitzgerald and three of Fitzgerald’s colleagues–the total number of signatures filed in support of the recall of Walker and his cronies is close to 1,940,000. That figure is just about double the number of votes cast in all the Republican presidential contests for all the Republican presidential candidates so far this year.
Conclusion: if the Republican presidential race is a serious endeavor, the Wisconsin drive to recall Scott Walker, Rebecca Kleefisch, Scott Fitzgerald and their compatriots is doubly serious. And far, far more popular with the available electorate.

Reich: No Newt is Good Newt

Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich has a wake-up call for Dems who hope for Gingrich’s nomination by the GOP. Says Reich:

…No responsible Democrat should be pleased at the prospect that Gingrich could get the GOP nomination. The future of America is too important to accept even a small risk of a Gingrich presidency…I warn you. It’s not worth the risk.
Even if the odds that Gingrich as GOP presidential candidate would win the general election are 10 percent, that’s too much of a risk to the nation. No responsible American should accept a 10 percent risk of a President Gingrich.

The why of Reich’s warning should already be clear to most politics-watchers. But just in case, Reich explains:

It’s not just Newt’s weirdness. It’s also the stunning hypocrisy. His personal life makes a mockery of his moralistic bromides. He condemns Washington insiders but had a forty-year Washington career that ended with ethic violations. He fulminates against finance yet drew fat checks from Freddie Mac. He poses as a populist but has had a $500,000 revolving charge at Tiffany’s.
And it’s the flagrant irresponsibility of many of his propositions – for example, that presidents are not bound by Supreme Court rulings, that the liberal Ninth Circuit court of appeals should be abolished, that capital gains should not be taxed, that the First Amendment guarantees freedom “of” religion but not “from” religion.
It’s also Gingrich’s eagerness to channel the public’s frustrations into resentments against immigrants, blacks, the poor, Muslims, “liberal elites,” the mainstream media, and any other group that’s an easy target of white middle-class and working-class anger.
These are all the hallmarks of a demagogue.

Reich understand the pro-Newt argument of many Dems, including, reportedly, at least some Obama campaign strategists:

Yet Democratic pundits, political advisers, officials and former officials are salivating over the possibility of a Gingrich candidacy. They agree with key Republicans that Newt would dramatically increase the odds of Obama’s reelection and would also improve the chances of Democrats taking control over the House and retaining control over the Senate.

Reich doesn’t dispute the odds that Obama and Dems would win big against Newt. It’s just the disastrous potential of him winning the long shot that is too gruesome to test:

…I’d take a 49 percent odds of a Mitt Romney win – who in my view would make a terrible president – over a 10 percent possibility that Newt Gingrich would become the next president – who would be an unmitigated disaster for America and the world.

It’s not hard to imagine the confusion, chaos and uncertainty that would likely come with a Gingrich Administration. Democrats rooting for Newt should give Reich’s point due consideration.

Why Gingrich Supporters Think He’s Electable

This item is crossposted from The New Republic.
Just when hardcore conservatives had seemed prepared to settle for Mitt Romney to avoid further exposure of intraparty divisions, Newt Gingrich’s unlikely recovery brought those divisions sharply and publicly into view. As Politico reported yesterday, conservative elites ranging from Tom Delay to Bob Dole have gone to the media en masseto warn voters of the perils of Newt. The Republican Party has rarely seemed more divided, and at the heart of those divisions is a disconnect between Republican elites and the voting base over the crucial issue of electability. Ironically, it is a disconnect that the elites are themselves partly responsible for creating.
Electability, of course, has long been Mitt Romney’s trump card, buttressed by a long series of general election polls showing him as the strongest candidate against Barack Obama. Beyond the polls, Romney best fits the entrenched Beltway conventional wisdom that candidates perceived as more moderate do best in close presidential elections. At the same time, most Republican opinion leaders think Gingrich could be a general election disaster, thanks to his long record of erratic public and private behavior and a personality that has often seemed unattractive to everyone other than stone partisans.

National Review‘s editors
tried to make it plain two days ago:

Amid all the tumult of the last 18 years there has been this constant: Gingrich has never been popular. Polls have never shown more than 43 percent of the public viewing him favorably at any point in his career. Gingrich backers say that he is inspiring. What he mostly seems to inspire is opposition.

But actual voters don’t seem to have gotten the memo. Exit polls in South Carolina showed that Gingrich beat Romney soundly (by a 51-37 margin) among the 45% of primary voters who said “can defeat Obama” was the candidate quality they valued most. The latest PPP poll of Florida, which gives Gingrich a 38 to 33 lead over Romney, shows the two candidates tied at 37 percent in terms of who has the best chance of beating Obama.
Rank-and-file voters, of course, do not typically spend time pouring over general-election polls, and likely they tend to view their own preferred candidate as most electable without taking polling date into account. (They also may not particularly trust polls, with the wild gyrations of primary polls this year perhaps proving them right.)
So something else may be going on to buttress broad-based assessments of Gingrich’s electability among non-elites. One theory, recently aired by Jonathan Chait, is that the regular drumbeat of conservative propaganda treating Obama as a national disaster and an ideological extremist (sort of a combination of Jimmy Carter and George McGovern) has convinced Republican voters that conventional electability is no longer relevant. What’s needed isn’t a reasoned appeal to undecided voters, but an assault against the forces conspiring to prop up Obama.
Gingrich doesn’t only benefit from this conviction–it’s at the center of his sales pitch.
A Newt-Obama debate would be a chance to expose the baleful realities of the president’s record and his un-American values. And voters would not be the only ones persuaded–one of Gingrich’s blogger fans suggested that even Obama himself might succumb to Newt’s powerful logic and communications skills:

[W]e need Newt as the nominee [because] he’s the candidate who has best been able to articulate just how bad Obama has been for the country. If he spent even an hour debating Obama, Obama would probably be convinced that his tenure has been a disaster.

This argument, unrealistic as it may seem, is in harmony with the conviction of ideologues everywhere that bold, uncompromising candidates have the power to conjure hidden majorities out of the morass of mushy-moderate politics. Indeed, some hard-core supporters of Howard Dean’s 2004 candidacy expressed similar views. What’s unusual is that such a baldly ideological argument has been wholly absorbed by the rank-and-file of a major political party, as evidenced by their decision to move further right in response to the two straight electoral defeats of 2006 and 2008. Of course, they were encouraged in this process by the explicitly ideological messaging of the conservative establishment, including media outlets like Fox News.
As a result, it is now a matter of fundamental faith among conservatives that the GOP went astray during the Bush years by betraying its conservative principles, competing with Democrats in the center, and blurring the differences between the two parties. The 2010 election results, which followed months of harsh Tea Party rhetoric in which virtually the entire GOP participated, seemed to confirm beyond reasonable doubt that lurching right is the way to win.
On the heels of that electoral success, the GOP rank-and-file is strongly disposed to project the move-righ-to-win doctrine onto 2012. In Gingrich some have seen a candidate who has positioned himself as the heir to movement conservative heroes from Goldwater on, and who has offered a very specific vision of how he will achieve that moment of national satori, when a conservative electorate finds its unapologetic champion. After the two Florida debates, it’s possible Gingrich’s case for being an invincible debater is now losing credibility; if so, his threat to GOP elites could lose steam as well. If not, the last hope of National Review and its co-conspiratorsis to convince Republican voters–who have spent the past four years hearing that far-right rhetoric–that a moderate Mormon is more electable than a strident ideologue. If they’re unsuccessful, they have no one but themselves to blame.