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Friday, January 27, 2012

Will Gingrich Flame Out Again?

Republican presidential candidate and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich laughs
while speaking during a South Carolina Republican presidential primary night rally,
Saturday, Jan. 21, 2012, in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

After his landslide victory over Mitt Romney in the South Carolina primary, Newt Gingrich is enjoying his latest wave of support. He's back on top in national polls, and he even looks competitive in Florida. It's just the latest surge in what may be the most bizarre campaign for the Republican presidential nomination in recent memory.

It also begs the question of whether the former House Speaker can capitalize on his latest triumph. He's been riding high before, only to crash and burn surprisingly quickly. Here's a brief recap:

Last fall, Gingrich succeeded Herman Cain as the top alternative to Mitt Romney. He was already rising in the polls when Cain dropped out of the race on December 3rd, and he peaked at 35% in the RealClearPolitics average of national polls ten days later. Arguably, there was no one single pin that burst the Gingrich bubble; he was under fire from all sides, and his campaign was clearly unprepared to handle all that came raining down on him at the end of the year. His poll numbers tanked, and he bottomed out at 16% in the afoermentioned RCP average on January 9th, the same day a surging Rick Santorum peaked (at 17.8%). Then he started rising in South Carolina polls, and ever since his victory there, he's been on an upward trajectory nationally, overtaking Santorum and eventually Romney. As of today, RCP has him at 31.3%, with Romney in second at 27%. It remains to be seen, however, whether the latest Gingrich surge will materialize into anything or if it will be just another dead end.

If Florida is any indication, then the latter is probably true. Republicans in the Sunshine State, which holds its primary next Tuesday, appear to have had their Wait-a-minute moment with Gingrich; after routing his competitors on Saturday, Newt found himself atop three different surveys of likely Florida voters. That was enough to propel him to the head of the pack in the RCP average of Florida polls, but his lead in that state vanished as quickly as it materialized; today, RCP has Romney leading Gingrich, 38.7% to 31.5%, and the trend looks good for Mitt.

A Romney victory in Florida should blunt Gingrich's momentum nationally, and the former Speaker won't have an easy go if it in February: the Nevada, Colorado and Maine caucuses should be easy wins for Romney, and I don't see Minnesota or Missouri being Gingrich country. There won't even be another southern state primary until March, by which time Newt's campaign will surely be running on empty if South Carolina remains his only blue ribbon. Yes, I expect Gingrich will once again flame out; the real question is, how long will he stay in the race?

Monday, January 23, 2012

How Not to Defend President Obama

Newsweek's latest cover story--a generous load of buls**t by Obamaniac Andrew Sullivan--has caused quite a stir, and for good reason. The article is provocatively titled "Why Are Obama's Critcs So Dumb?", an obvious jab at those who dare to call out our Dear Leader on his manifest incompetence/impudicity/hypocrisy, but it's the content of the piece that should really gall any right-thinking person.

Even-tempered conservatives have registered their discontent (I suggest you all read Joel Pollak's excellent column at, as have some of our more visceral brethren. If you're not familiar with Andrew Sullivan, then here's a brief primer. For years, he purported to be a conservative but in 2008 showed his true colors by enthusiastically supporting Barack Obama for president. In a particularly revealing display of malevolence, he called on Sarah Palin to produce evidence that she was in fact the real mother of her infant son Trig. (Trig Palin, you may recall, suffers from Trisomy 21 and was the subject of a vicious smear by people who ought to be flayed before a jeering crowd.) Unlike other so-called conservatives who made the mistake of jumping on the Obama bandwagon in '08, however, Sullivan has not acknowledged the error of his ways. Rather, he has doubled down on his mystifying support for this terrible, terrible president. This has led him to make some absurd claims and cost him credibility with virtually everyone whose respect is worth having, but his latest pile of tripe takes Obamania to levels not seen since 2008, and possibly ever.

Pollak's article covered a lot of what was wrong with the Sullivan piece. I would, however, like to offer my own analysis/critique of this so-very-inane attempt to make the case for re-electing a president with such an abysmal record.

Rather than launch right into a spirited diatribe, Sullivan hems and haws for a couple paragraphs before asserting that the attacks "from both the right and the left on the man and his policies [are] simply—empirically—wrong." I'm a big fan of empiricism; I'm all ears (or eyes, as this is a written article). In a rare bit of intellectual honesty, Sullivan discloses that he was "an unabashed supporter of Obama from early 2007 on," but in the very next sentence, he gives every reasonable-minded reader good reason to doubt his credibility, writing, "I did so not as a liberal, but as a conservative-minded independent appalled by the Bush administration’s record of war, debt, spending, and torture." (The first three were legitimate beefs with the former president, but to support a candidate who wanted to spend even more than George W. Bush did and continue waging the War on Terror makes no sense for someone who purported to be "appalled by the Bush administration’s record of war, debt, spending, and torture.") Sullivan had no credibility left with me to lose, so I kept reading. After making the prima facie over-the-top declaration that Obama’s "reelection remains ... as essential for this country’s future as his original election in 2008," Andy turned his attention to the right's criticism of his man-crush:  

The right’s core case is that Obama has governed as a radical leftist attempting a “fundamental transformation” of the American way of life. Mitt Romney accuses the president of making the recession worse, of wanting to turn America into a European welfare state, of not believing in opportunity or free enterprise, of having no understanding of the real economy, and of apologizing for America and appeasing our enemies. According to Romney, Obama is a mortal threat to “the soul” of America and an empty suit who couldn’t run a business, let alone a country.

Sounds fair to me. Statistically, Obama did make the recession worse, and even now, more than two years after it supposedly ended, there are over 1 million fewer people working in this country than there were when he took office. He has expanded entitlement programs and increased government handouts while calling for higher taxes on the most productive members of society. One need look no farther than his speech last fall in Osawatomie for evidence that he doesn't believe in opportunity or free enterprise, and his entire political career is replete with examples of how he doesn't understand "the real economy," if Sullivan means by that what I think he does. The "apologizing for America" charge is not one that I have personally leveled against Obama, but it's a fair criticism of a man who during the 2008 campaign implied that we were no longer a great country and who on one of his first trips abroad as president told a throng of Europeans that "there have been times where America has shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive." As for "appeasing our enemies," the fairness of that charge depends on who the person making it considers "our enemies." So what sounds like the lead-in to a straw-man argument is actually a series of perfectly defensible critiques of Obama's presidency thus far. Sullivan's response?
Leave aside the internal incoherence—how could such an incompetent be a threat to anyone? None of this is even faintly connected to reality—and the record proves it.
I think that first sentence was a rhetorical question, but it's so easy to answer that I'll indulge myself. When the awesome powers, duties and prerogatives of the American presidency are vested in an incompetent, that is a threat not only to our country but to the World. Moving on to Sullivan's bold assertion that "the record proves" that none of the aforementioned indictment "is even faintly connected to reality," he tries in vain to back this up with undisputed facts, but he can't even get those right:
On the economy, the facts are these. When Obama took office, the United States was losing around 750,000 jobs a month. The last quarter of 2008 saw an annualized drop in growth approaching 9 percent. This was the most serious downturn since the 1930s, there was a real chance of a systemic collapse of the entire global financial system, and unemployment and debt—lagging indicators—were about to soar even further. No fair person can blame Obama for the wreckage of the next 12 months, as the financial crisis cut a swath through employment.
"Economies take time to shift course," Sullivan insists. "But Obama did several things at once: he continued the bank bailout begun by George W. Bush, he initiated a bailout of the auto industry, and he worked to pass a huge stimulus package of $787 billion."

True on the bank bailout, but the auto industry bailout was also initiated before Bush left office, and the stimulus cost far more than $787 billion (even if you don't count the interest). So, when Sullivan said, "All these decisions deserve scrutiny," I took it as a minor concession on his part that reasonable people could disagree with his analysis of Obama's actions, but apparently, the "scrutiny" of Obama's decisions that Sullivan desires is not the critical analysis that's always warranted when a president makes big, consequential decisions. Rather, says Sullivan, people just aren't giving Obama credit for how great his decisions were. "[I]n retrospect," he writes, "they were far more successful than anyone has yet fully given Obama the credit for. The job collapse bottomed out at the beginning of 2010, as the stimulus took effect. Since then, the U.S. has added 2.4 million jobs. That’s not enough, but it’s far better than what Romney would have you believe, and more than the net jobs created under the entire Bush administration."

That last part was just a bald-faced lie. Whether you follow the seasonally-adjusted or non-seasonally-adjusted numbers, the cold, hard reality is that there were millions more people working in the United States when George W. Bush left office than there were when he was inaugurated. It's also beyond dispute that there has been a net loss of jobs in the U.S. since Obama took office. Yet, Sullivan preposterously declares that "the stimulus did exactly what it was supposed to do," writing:

It put a bottom under the free fall. It is not an exaggeration to say it prevented a spiral downward that could have led to the Second Great Depression.
I think those two sentences are absurd enough on their face to stand alone. If, however, you think they might have a point, then I invite you to read my airtight debunking of the left-wing myth that President Obama's policies averted "the Second Great Depression."

From there, Sullivan just goes completely off the rails. In what is clearly a provocative statement with no basis in reality, he declares that Obama's spending record "is also far better than his predecessor’s." Granted, George W. Bush was no fiscal conservative, but listen to Sullivan's tortured logic in defense of the most fiscally irresponsible president since F.D.R.:

Under Bush, new policies on taxes and spending cost the taxpayer a total of $5.07 trillion. Under Obama’s budgets both past and projected, he will have added $1.4 trillion in two terms. Under Bush and the GOP, nondefense discretionary spending grew by twice as much as under Obama. Again: imagine Bush had been a Democrat and Obama a Republican. You could easily make the case that Obama has been far more fiscally conservative than his predecessor—except, of course, that Obama has had to govern under the worst recession since the 1930s, and Bush, after the 2001 downturn, governed in a period of moderate growth. It takes work to increase the debt in times of growth, as Bush did. It takes much more work to constrain the debt in the deep recession Bush bequeathed Obama.
Suffice it to say, I don't know what the hell Sullivan is talking about, and I'm starting to think that neither does he. President Obama has already added more to the national debt in nominal dollars than any of his predecessors. Also, even if this was "the worst recession since the 1930s," which it isn't, it's only that bad because Obama and the Democrats made it that bad. Lest we forget (as Sullivan and his fellow Obamaniacs would like us to), the U.S. economy was booming before the Democrats took over Congress and a majority of state governments in 2007. Saying--or even implying--that Barack Obama is a fiscal conservative is even more inane than saying that Adolf Hitler was a tolerant, even-tempered humanitarian.

Then Sullivan comes to what he calls the "great conservative bugaboo" that is Obamacare. His attempt to defend this budget-busting boondoggle fell flat with me right away, as he chose to begin with the now thoroughly discredited claim that "The Congressional Budget Office has projected it will reduce the deficit, not increase it dramatically." As Republicans have repeatedly pointed out, the deceptive shenanigans and budgetary gimmicks in the health care reform bill that the CBO actually scored led to an inherently flawed analysis by the CBO that made it appear as though the federal budget deficit would have been higher in future years had Obamacare not been enacted than it will with the law in place. Sullivan's abject ineptitude as a pitchman is underscored by his choice to lead with this ridiculous and totally unjustifiable assertion, rather than any of the correct statements he actually followed it with. He correctly pointed out that Obamacare "is based on the individual mandate," an idea proposed and advocated in years past by conservatives. He is also right to say that the law "does not have a public option" and "gives a huge new client base to the drug and insurance companies." As if to try and subtly remind his audience that he purports to be a conservative, he threw in a reference to "the Clintons’ monstrosity in 1993," and he compared the final version of Obamacare to "Nixon’s 1974 proposal," just to show he's a student of history as well.

To his credit, Sully acknowledges that Obamacare "needs improvement in many ways," (an extreme understatement, to be sure, but more than one would expect from a die-hard Obamapologist like Andrew Sullivan) yet he makes the uncorroborated assertion that "the administration is open to further reform and has agreed to allow states to experiment in different ways to achieve the same result." It would be helpful if I knew what he meant by that; the reality is that the administration has spurned states' attempts to opt out of this costly chimera.

Sullivan's defense of Obamacare boils down to this: Obamacare is not as far-left a socialist boondoggle as the Left wanted, so it should be viewed as a centrist compromise. It's kind of like me claiming that I should have gotten an "A" on a final exam because I turned in a series of coherent sentences and didn't just take a s**t on the paper.

On foreign policy, Andy attempts to defend the indefensible by making absurd statements that have almost no basis in reality. He claims that "Obama reversed Bush’s policy of ignoring Osama bin Laden, immediately setting a course that eventually led to his capture and death." (I'm sure this "policy of ignoring Osama bin Laden" will come as a surprise to the thousands of individuals who worked for the Departments of State, Defense and Homeland Security under George W. Bush, especially those who collected the valuable intelligence that made the capture and killing of Osama bin Laden possible.) I will give him credit for this, though: he was prescient enough to realize how inane such a claim would come off to the learned reader and saw fit to blunt the shock of it by following it with the correct statement that "when the moment for decision came, the president overruled both his secretary of state and vice president in ordering the riskiest—but most ambitious—plan on the table." (He laid it on a little thick by adding that Obama "personally ordered the extra helicopters that saved the mission," another dubious and uncorroborated claim, and he accused George W. Bush of "talk[ing] tough and act[ing] counterproductively" but didn't provide a scintilla of evidence to back up this outlandish charge.) In a rare display of brevity, I'll hold back from firing off a lengthy rebuttal of Sullivan's inflammatory rhetoric on this subject and borrow a tack from the Rules of Evidence: as the proponent of these claims, it's Sullivan's duty to back them up with evidence. If he doesn't, then I need not put on evidence supporting my rebuttal for reasonable minds to conclude that Sullivan's contentions are hogwash.

Staying on the topic of foreign policy, Sullivan turns his attention to the Left, who he says "is less unhinged in its critique" of the President (which of course they would be, as he is one of theirs). Here, the author tries a different vein: rather than mix a handful of truisms and justifiable assertions in with a big pot of crazy, he instead starts off with a series of agreeable statements (e.g., that "liberals projected onto Obama absurd notions of what a president can actually do in a polarized country" and decried "his too-small stimulus, his too-weak financial reform, and his too-cautious approach to gay civil rights.") and then descends into incoherent drivel.

In defending Obama to the American Left, Sullivan need not stick to truth or reality, as ardent left-wingers characteristically refuse to accept reality. Thus, he reiterates his ridiculous claim that a “depression was averted” and throws in a few more. “The bail-out of the auto industry was—amazingly—successful,” he says. (I’m not sure how he defines success, but I doubt it’s the same as Merriam-Webster’s definition.) “Torture was ended,” he declares, as if the U.S. had tortured anyone in decades. (For the record, I think having to suffer through an Obama-Biden administration is more than any decent citizen of this great country deserves.)

Touting the president’s record on “gay issues,” Sullivan, who is openly gay, rightly gives Obama credit for ending DADT and directing his Justice Department not to enforce DOMA, but he also mentions New York’s legalization of same-sex marriage, as if the president had anything to do with that. He similarly mentions the end of the War in Iraq, conveniently omitting that Obama opposed everything that allowed our valiant troops to wrest victory from the brink of defeat. (Yes, that’s a mixed metaphor; deal with it.) The rest of his pitch to the Left consists of reciting things that sound good to progressives and bad to the Right: obscene sums of public money spent on “noncarbon energy investments;” increased fuel-emission standards; the nominations of Justices Sotomayor and Kagan to the Supreme Court.

Sullivan chatters and babbles for a couple of paragraphs before finally producing a couple of sentences I can agree with:
Obama was not elected, despite liberal fantasies, to be a left-wing crusader. He was elected as a pragmatic, unifying reformist who would be more responsible than Bush.
True on all counts. Unfortunately, rather than continue this rational prose, Sully returns to his crazy talk:

And what have we seen? A recurring pattern. To use the terms Obama first employed in his inaugural address: the president begins by extending a hand to his opponents; when they respond by raising a fist, he demonstrates that they are the source of the problem; then, finally, he moves to his preferred position of moderate liberalism and fights for it without being effectively tarred as an ideologue or a divider.
I'm going to cut that paragraph off right there. Again, I think any reasonable person should notice the manifest absurdity of that last sentence. I'll once more try to contain myself; suffice it to say that history is clear: Obama never extended the olive branch to conservatives, at least not in good faith. From the moment he took office, he cast himself as a partisan ideologue, intent on getting his way at all costs. The Republicans who were foolish or naïve enough to think he was sincere about wanting to build bridges soon discovered this. Those who stood up or dared to challenge him were to be castigated, derided and marginalized. In spite of all this, Sullivan has the gall to blame Obama's failure "to end Washington’s brutal ideological polarization" on "Republican intransigence." Recall that it was only after Americans registered their disapproval of the president's bridge-burning m.o. at the polls in November 2010 did that Obama began to pivot toward a more centrist approach. Query whether the president would have made this shift had the Democrats' Washington monoply remained intact.

The crux of Sullivan’s puff piece seems to be that the president's long game will, as Sullivan puts it, “outsmart his critics.”

This is where the left is truly deluded. By misunderstanding Obama’s strategy and temperament and persistence, by grandstanding on one issue after another, by projecting unrealistic fantasies onto a candidate who never pledged a liberal revolution, they have failed to notice that from the very beginning, Obama was playing a long game. He did this with his own party over health-care reform. He has done it with the Republicans over the debt. He has done it with the Israeli government over stopping the settlements on the West Bank—and with the Iranian regime, by not playing into their hands during the Green Revolution, even as they gunned innocents down in the streets. Nothing in his first term—including the complicated multiyear rollout of universal health care—can be understood if you do not realize that Obama was always planning for eight years, not four. And
Did you notice how Sullivan surreptitiously slip in an explanation for his hero’s unforgivably ham-fisted handling of the Iranian regime? Apparently, we’ve just misunderstood his “long game”: he was just playing it cool. Calling out the Iranian government for their flagrant human rights atrocities would’ve just been “playing into their hands.” I’m sure that sentiment will comfort the families of those who were slaughtered in the streets for daring to speak out against a brutal, backwards theocratic oligarchy.

I would be remiss if I did not commend Sullivan for one thing that impressed me about this article, and that his how he outdid himself when it seemed impossible. Despite all the foregoing absurdity, Andy managed to take his ludicrous pitch for Obama's re-election to a new level, postulating that an Obama victory in November would be "a mandate for an eight-year shift away from the excesses of inequality, overreach abroad, and reckless deficit spending of the last three decades."

Yes, let's reject "reckless deficit spending" by re-electing a president who has added more to our National Debt than any of his predecessors and who, should he get his way, would double that debt by the end of his second term. Sullivan then fully detaches himself from reality, weaving a tapestry of delusional prose, a tale so tall that Rod Serling would find it far-fetched. He calls himself a civil libertarian, despite having just defended the liberty-threatening, Constitution-defying power grab that is Obamacare. He once again brings up “torture,” reminding attentive readers that he has repeatedly used such a loaded term without once providing an example of the U.S. government torturing anybody. He calls Obama “a man of peerless eloquence,” while tarring his predecessor as “a tongue-tied dauphin.” (For the record, I don’t recall George W. Bush ever forgetting how many states there are or the age of one of his daughters, and while the former presidents propensity for malapropisms is well-documented, you won’t find an instance of him mispronouncing a simple word like “corpsman.”) He claims Obama “has offered to cut entitlements” (I must have missed that, though Sullivan rightly notes that the president “has already cut Medicare”.).

Andy concludes by admitting his bias, but insists that he is "biased...toward the actual record, not the spin; biased toward a president who has conducted himself with grace and calm under incredible pressure, who has had to manage crises not seen since the Second World War and the Depression, and who as yet has not had a single significant scandal to his name." I'm not sure what Sullivan considers "spin," but as I have made abundantly clear in this and other posts, I disagree that President Obama "has conducted himself with grace and calm". Similarly, I'm not sure what Andy considers a crisis, but I don't think the challenges this president has faced (to the extent they were not of his own making) were/are greater than anything seen since the 1940s. Is Sullivan not familiar with the Cuban Missile Crisis, when the U.S. sat on the brink of a nuclear war with the U.S.S.R. for nearly two weeks? Did he forget about 9/11? Also, at what point does a scandal become "significant" in his mind? Evidently, Fast & Furious, Solyndra and the revelations of corruption within the Justice Department under Attorney General Holder don't qualify.

I am sure that Andrew Sullivan wants to see President Obama re-elected. He may even believe everything he wrote in this article (in which case, I'm surprised that he has the intellectual capacity to churn out such prose), but his failure--whether it was a concious refusal or just an inability--to base his case for returning this president to office in reality makes me think he knows that the truth is not on Obama's side, and his re-election hopes depend on surrogates like Sullivan disseminating their specious sophistry into our political discourse in the hopes of drowning out cogent arguments to the contrary. Then again, he may just have written this in the hopes of provoking guys like me so that our energy would be redirected from campaigning to replace Obama with someone who will actually know what he's doing, in which case I consider myself PUNK'D.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Why Newt Gingrich Will Win the South Carolina Primary

Former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich held
center stage at last night’s debate in North Charleston, S.C. (David Goldman/AP)

It's not because he's surging in the polls going into the election. It's not because his performances at two conveniently-timed debates this week were phenomenally well-recevied. It's not because so many South Carolina voters who fancy themselves "conservatives" are yearning for an electable alternative to Mitt Romney. It's not because he was lionized as the target of a beyond-despicable hit by the drive-by media involving one of his ex-wives. It's not because his two daughters' increased presence on the campaign trail and in the press have quelled voters' misgivings about his personal transgressions. It's not because the revelation that Romney did not actually make history by placing first in both the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary dispelled the aura of inevitability that had previously surrounded the frontrunner. It's not because of his unique ability to make a regional appeal to voters in a way that his opponents--who aren't from the Southeastern U.S.--can't. It's not because he was able to wrest control of the narrative from the news media, while Romney got knocked off course by the persistent questions about his tax returns.'s all of those things. Newt Gingrich, who led the Republican field by double digits in South Carolina until this month, when he saw his poll numbers crater as they had throughout the country, has come roaring back in the state that has picked the eventual Republican nominee for president in every election since 1980. The question at the front of my mind is not whether he'll win the primary tomorrow, but rather, how big will his margin be? (Actually, it's more like, "Why are you blogging when you have more important and consequential things to do?") My prediction: Gingrich will win tomorrow, and he'll win big. Probably by double digits. It will be a win so big that Romney may not be able to put him away in Florida. It won't be enough to make him the new frontrunner, but it will most likely compel Santorum to call it quits, and it's pretty hard to envision the former Pennsylvania senator throwing his support to anyone but the former Speaker.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Romney's S.C. Win in Jeopardy?

Photo Courtesy

Mitt Romney's presidential campaign was dealt a triple whammy today. It turns out he may not have won the Iowa caucuses; the latest count gave Rick Santorum a 34-vote edge, but votes from eight precincts remain uncounted. However, the Iowa story was just the first shoe to drop. Yesterday morning, I glanced at the screen of my classmate's laptop in Individual Taxation and saw that Rick Perry was dropping out of the presidential race. In a final slight at Romney, the Texas governor threw his support behind former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Also today, some new polls showed Gingrich surging in South Carolina, where voters will go to the other kind of polls in just two days to make their choice clear in the race for the Republican presidential nomination. Insider Advantage released the results of a survey that found Gingrich leading Romney, 32% to 29%, in the Palmetto state, a 14-point swing from their previous South Carolina survey. Rasmussen has Gingrich ahead by two, 33 to 31 percent, a 16-point swing from where the two candidates stood just a few days ago. Public Policy Polling gives Newt his largest edge, their latest poll shows him leading Romney by six points. (Gingrich has fared better in PPP surveys; in their previous poll, conducted last week, he trailed Romney by only five points.) If you count each poll as a separate development in the campaign, then I guess it's actually a quintuple whammy for the guy who looked unstoppable less than a week ago.

It wasn't all bad news for the former Massachusetts governor today; he still leads Gingrich by seven points in a POLITICO survey of likely South Carolina voters taken by the Tarrance Group, and an NBC News/Marist poll has him leading by double digits, 34% to 24% for Gingrich. The combined effect of these polls, however, is this: Romney's lead over Gingrich in the RCP average of South Carolina polls has been cut to 1.2 percentage points; yesterday, that lead was eight points.

Gingich has momentum, but he's also got a lot of liabilities that have scared off Republican voters in Iowa and New Hampshire; Romney has organization, money and a commanding lead in national polls, but he no longer has a clear path to the nomination. I have six final exams to study for. Guess where my attention will be focused Saturday evening.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

And Then There Were Two

There’s not a lot I fear in life, mostly because everything I have reason to be afraid of can be categorized as either (1) unknown or (2) inevitable. If the former, then I’m pretty good about just not thinking about it. If the latter, then I can’t help but think about it but am usually able to convert my worry/anxiety into something constructive. Sometimes, though, I am overcome by a fear I can’t shake.

I am compelled to admit that I fretted about our men’s basketball team travelling to Kansas to take on the No. 7 Jayhawks. It was arguably the biggest challenge yet this season for the 17-0 Bears, who until last night were one of only three undefeated NCAA-I men’s basketball teams. Sure, KU’s 14-3 record wasn’t exactly daunting, but the reigning Big 12 Champions did not look like the same team that had suffered an embarrassing defeat at the hands (paws?) of the unranked Davidson Wildcats last month.

Just ask Iowa State. In Lawrence on Sunday, the Jayhawks overcame a 12-point deficit in the second half to beat the Cyclones 82-73. Senior guard Tyshawn Taylor led the way with a career-high 28 points. It was Kansas’s 15th straight victory at home.

The Jayhawks have now extended their home-game winning streak to sixteen. They handed my beloved Bears their first loss of the season and now sit alone on their perch atop the Big 12. (None of their three losses were conference losses.)

Baylor's defeat means that only No. 1 Syracuse and 12th-ranked Murray State remain undefeated this season. Coach Jim Boeheim, recently the subject of some negative press following the revelation of another sex abuse scandal involving an NCAA coach, racked up his 876th career win last night with a 71-63 victory over the Pittsburgh Panthers, who had bested the Orange in the teams' previous five meetings. Syracuse's 20-0 start is unprecedented in the team's 111-year history, and Boeheim is now tied with the late, great Adolph Rupp of Kentucky for fourth place all-time in Division I. The Racers, meanwhile, managed to cope with the loss of its leading rebounder (to a broken hand) just fine, handling Tennessee Tech on Saturday for their 18th win in a row. Tomorrow night they get to host the 9-10 Morehead State Eagles, whom they defeated, 70-62, the last time the two did battle.

Can either team finish the regular season undefeated? (The last NCAA-I men's team to do so was UNLV under legendary Coach Jerry Tarkanian.) If so, then will either make it all the way to the championship, something none of their peers have accomplished since 1976, when the Indiana Hoosiers went 32-0 under temperamental head coach Bobby Knight? Frankly, I don't care all that much. What matters to me, now that the Baylor men have lost, is whether the Lady Bears can go the distance. Not only are they ranked No. 1 in the nation, no other team received any first-place votes in either the AP or USA Today/ESPN polls this week...or last week...or the week before that. Okay, I'm pretty sure they're been alone at the top for over a month now. Maybe two months. The point is, we've got two kick-ass basketball teams, and the women are 17-0 with only six games left in the regular season. Also, the men can enjoy being ranked 3rd in both major polls for a whole week, thanks to Florida State's shocking upset of then-No. 3 North Carolina this weekend.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Can the Packers Snap the 15-1 Curse?

You are probably aware that the New England Patriots are the only NFL franchise to finish the regular season undefeated since the League went to a 16-game regular season in 1978, but do you know how many teams have finished the regular season with only one loss since then? So far, five. Only two went on to win Super Bowls, the last being Mike Ditka's Chicago Bears, who romped to a 46-10 victory over, of all teams, the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XX. Since then, no 15-1 team has even made it to the big game. Will the Packers break that streak?

The reigning Super Bowl champs are only the third team to go 15-1 since the Bears. Their immediate predecessor was the 2004 Pittsburgh Steelers. Rookie QB and dormant sexual predator Ben Roethlisberger earned his Offensive Rookie of the Year title passing for 2,621 yards and rushing for another 144 in a season that included a particularly memorable game on Halloween night 2004, when the Steelers snapped the Patriots' 21-game winning streak. The Pats got their revenge, though, taking down the Steelers to win the AFC championship game, 41-27. (I lost a dollar betting on Pittsburgh; it was the last time I ever bet money on a football game.)

The 1998 Minnesota Vikings hold the unusual distinction of being the first team to go 15-1 and not win the Super Bowl. They were remarkable for a few other things, too. The Vikings' offense shattered the single-season scoring record with 556 points, a record broken by the aforementioned 16-0 Patriots in 2007. According to something I saw on another web site and didn’t bother to check out: "The Vikings led the league with 52 plays of 25+ yards. They had 22 offensive plays of 40+ yards; no other team had more than 16 plays of that length." That record-breaking offense carried them to to their first NFC championship game since 1987. You may recall the Vikings lost that game to the Atlanta Falcons in OT. So why did they lose, and how? More importantly, will a similar fate befall the Vikings' longtime rival in the 2012 postseason?

I'm no sports expert (so maybe I should've found a better use of my time than writing this column), but I can offer a couple simple explanations for the losses of the Steelers and Vikings in their respective conference championships. Big Ben's rookie nerves got the best of him against New England's seasoned defense and QB Tom Brady, who had already earned a couple Super Bowl rings. The '98 Vikings may have been the highest-scoring team in NFL history, but their defense was far from the best, and while it sure seems like an upset when a 16-1 team loses a home game, remember that the Falcons came to the Metrodome with a 15-2 record, not exactly a Cinderella team.

If the Packers can get past the 9-8 New York Giants, then they'll play a 14-3 team in the NFC Championship game. (The Patriots, like the '98 Falcons, were 15-2 when they beat Pittsburgh on their way to Super Bowl XXXIX.) My prediction? Green Bay will be upset, either today, next weekend or in the Super Bowl. To me, the 49ers look damn near unstoppable. I know most avid football fans are hoping for a Saints-Packers showdown next Sunday, but I must be honest: the Pack is not perfect, as Kansas City showed us.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Ripping Romney's Record

The attacks themselves were nothing new; we've all heard the hits on Mitt Romney's past--the millions he made at Bain & Co. and Bain Capital, the businesses they tried to save but couldn't, the people who were thrown out of work--that have become a familiar rallying cry for political hacks trying to gin up popular opposition to what was in reality a record of leadership and job creation. What was different about this round of attacks was the source(s). The latest round of smears on Romney's private-equity exploits came not from the White House or the Obama re-election campaign, nor from MSNBC or some leftist blog. (I guess it's kind of hard to tell the difference between these different entities though.) Rather, they came from Mitt's fellow Republicans--specifically, his rivals for the GOP nomination, their campaigns, their surrogates in the media and independent groups who run ads on their behalf.

Following a pathetic showing in the Iowa caucuses, Gingrich and Perry had started grumbling about Romney's past in advance of the New Hampshire primary, but things really got heated after Romney himself dropped a catalyst into an already volatile elixir of eleventh-hour barnstorming. On the eve of the critical New Hampshire primary, Romney made an unfortunate statement that, when taken out of context, sounds really, really bad (I'm not going to come up with a colorful way to say everything.):

"I like being able to fire people who provide services to me."

Actually, it's the first seven words of that sentence that stirred up so many talking heads across the political spectrum. Mitt Romney, already under fire for not being able to save every job in every business Bain invested in while he was CEO (and, according to his detractors, thereby "firing" a bunch of workers) and anticipating a similar line of attack in the general election, said that he liked "being able to fire people."

On the surface, that remark wouldn't seem to be problematic for a presidential candidate, but because of Mitt Romney's background and the image of him as a ruthless corporate baron that his enemies are trying so hard to cultivate, his words gave pols, pundits and pettifoggers the world over something to fuss about.

"Mitt Romney likes to fire people," declared the Daily Beast, an online symposium for talentless hacks seeking a repository for their insightful prose that most of us common folk are too stupid/unsophisticated to appreciate.

Loony Larry O'Donnell told his audience that night, "I think Bain Capital is the greatest ... private equity firm in the World ever." (You can never really be sure where that guy is coming from.)

DNC Chairwoman and part-time gargoyle Debbie Wasserman-Schultz said ... well, who cares what she said? The point is, we expected the left to pounce on (and distort) Romney's words, but the most distrubing vitreol spewed from the mouths of those who seek to carry the mantle of a party that is supposed to be pro-capitalist, pro-free enterprise, meritocratic and, above all, honest. Newt Gingrich accused Romney of "looting a company, leaving behind behind broken families and broken neighborhoods and ... a factory that should be there." Rick Perry called the former Massachusetts governor a "vulture capitalist". (His campaign even turned Romney's words into a ring tone.) Even Jon Huntsman, Jr., got off his high horse and said, "Governor Romney enjoys firing people. I enjoy creating jobs."

The above-listed quotes are just a sampling of the many, many shots Mitt Romney took this past week, and the stinging disappointment I felt at seeing so-called conservatives (or "classical liberals", if you'd prefer) attack one of their own for his successful career in the private-equity business was mitigated by the outpouring of support for Romney, not just from the voters of New Hampshire, but from conservative journalists who were rightly disgusted by the Obama-style tripe being peddled by so-called Republicans who for months had been denouncing similar rhetoric by Democrats. Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin wrote that the "anti-capitalistic pandering" by Romney's Republican rivals "will likely go down as a text-book example of political stupidity." Michelle Malkin (definitely not a Romney fan, for those of you who didn’t know) blogged that "incompetent non-Romneys have morphed into Michael Moore propagandists — throwing not just Bain Capital under the bus, but wealth creators of all kinds who take risks in the private marketplace." The Wall Street Journal excoriated Gingrich and Perry "for their crude and damaging caricatures of modern business and capitalism." To be fair, Gingrich and Huntsman later walked back their comments lambasting Romney for his work at Bain Capital.

All of this would warrant concern beyond this week if anyone other than Mitt Romney stood a fighting chance of winning the GOP nomination. This is not the case, however, so we must turn our attention to the irritating chatterboxes who we will have to put up with in the general election campaign and who will continue to attack Romney, fairly or unfairly, for anything they can connect him to, no matter how manufactured the tragedy or how tenuous the link.

To the extent that Mitt's business background is a liability, it poses a grave threat largely because most Americans don't know the details of it, and hence it is ripe for distortion. From my vantage point, it appears that most of the people using Bain to attack Romney don't even understand what the company does/did. This is evident in their nonsensical, absurd and often incoherent criticisms of the firm's investment ventures in the 1980s and '90s, while Romney was C.E.O. Most of them pile on Mitt for shuttering unprofitable businesses and laying off workers while drawing a hefty salary for himself. Sometimes, though, whatever reasonable shot his detractors might be able to take at him is clouded by their visceral dislike of the man and everything he stands for. As Matt Bai wrote on his New York Times blog, "the attacks lobbed at Mr. Romney have been disparate and not terribly persuasive."

Case in point: Forbes columnist Robert Lenzner accused Romney of "firing more people than he hired." Not only is this not supported by the facts, Lenzer didn't even try to back it up. Matt Bai's fellow New York Times blogger Paul Krugman made a similarly unsubstantiated (and oversimplified) claim when he wrote that Romney "was a buyer and seller of businesses, often to the detriment of their employees." (This was still less inane than his assertion in an earlier column that “Mr. Romney and those like him ... enrich themselves while helping to destroy the American middle class.”) The aforementioned Debbie Wasserman Schultz took the attacks on Mitt and his work at Bain to a new level of crazy when she claimed that Romney “bankrupted companies deliberately.” (She also echoed a new Democratic talking point that “Mitt Romney said ... that he likes firing people,” a lie so blatant that even Andrea Mitchell called her out on it.)

I’m not sure if Congresswoman Wasserman-Schultz has some mental disorder that just compels her to lie, or if she just doesn’t understand what bankruptcy is or why companies enter Chapter 11, but no matter. This is, again, just a sampling of the left-wing lunacy on display in the media coverage of Romney's past. I've noticed that a lot of Romney's critics cite a recent Wall Street Journal piece in support of their attacks, which they laughably maintain are neither anti-capitalist nor anti-business. I read the entire Journal story, which was written by Mark Maremont, and I was a little surprised at some of the information that no one--not even Romney surrogates--had trumpeted in defense of the candidate and his former employer. Here's the gist of the article: The Journal examined 77 businesses Bain invested in while Mitt Romney led the firm from 1984 until 1999 "to see how they fared during Bain's involvement and shortly afterward." A figure repeated (and distorted) by the haters was that "22% either filed for bankruptcy reorganization or closed their doors by the end of the eighth year after Bain first invested, sometimes with substantial job losses." Another "8% ran into so much trouble that all of the money Bain invested was lost," according to the Journal, which means that 70% of Bain's ventures during the time frame of the study were successful. If our president had a 70% approval rating, then he'd be viewed as unbeatable.

Another point that those propagating the Romney-got-rich-killing-jobs-and-destroying-lives meme have omitted is something that really should be widely known but doesn't always dawn on your simple, self-styled blue-collar, working-class voter who might be swayed by this rhetoric: companies can emerge from bankruptcy. Often times, bankruptcy is not the end of a business; it's a reorganization. Seeking the protection of a bankruptcy court isn't necessarily a sign of long-term business failure. As Maremont noted: Not only that, but a lot of the businesses that entered bankruptcy despite Bain's involvement went bankrupt after Romney had left the company. One such company, American Pad & Paper (a.k.a. AmPad), has been a favorite of the Left as an example of the ruthless, cutthroat capitalism that is apparently bad. After Bain's initial investment in 1992, two of AmPad's American plants were closed and hundreds of employees were laid off. Bain and its investors made a lot of money. The company went bankrupt.

Many of the Bain companies emerged from reorganization healthier, just as, for instance, General Motors did a few years ago. But while bankruptcy filings aren't a perfect measure of performance, they provide a way to assess a disparate array of target businesses that in many cases weren't required to make public financial filings.

If that doesn't exactly make sense to you, then it's because I've omitted several relevant facts, just like the anti-Romney prattlers have. One of the plants was shut was shut down because of a union strike, not exactly something the Romney-bashers, most of whom carry a lot of water for big labor, would want the public to know. Also, everyone who lost their job was offerred a job at one of the other facilities. Perhaps most importantly, AmPad was acquired out of bankruptcy. It is now owned by Esselte, a Connecticut-based global office supplies manufacturer, and still employs thousands of people.

As for the companies that didn't make it out of bankruptcy, a quote from one of Romney's former co-workers sheds some light on why so many of Bain's business ventures went belly-up. There are two paragraphs in the Journal article that everyone--and I mean everyone--who has heard it referenced in any context ought to read: In other words, Mitt Romney was not a ruthless corporate shark who did whatever he could to make money, as so many pinkoes are trying to make him out to be, but he was the very thing they're trying to convince people he's not, "an excellent CEO."

Marc Wolpow, a former Bain Capital executive, said the frequency of trouble did indeed stem largely from the firm's strategy early on of investing in smaller, troubled firms it hoped to turn around.
"I don't think you can hold Mitt out as a great investor per se," Mr. Wolpow said, "but he was an excellent CEO of an investment firm, and the results speak for themselves."

Others who actually worked with Mitt Romney and got to know him have similar praiseworthy things to say about him. Before I get to my next example, I need to bring up what appears to be a good-faith but still misleading analysis of Romney's business record. Earlier this week, the Washington Post published their "fact check" of Romney's claim that Bain “invested in over 100 different businesses and net, net, taking out the ones where we lost jobs and those that we added, those businesses have now added over 100,000 jobs.” They called the 100,000 jobs figure "untenable" and gave Romney's comments three pinocchios, which indicates "significant factual error and/or obvious contradictions." While acknowledging that "Romney certainly has a good story to tell about knowing how to manage a business, spotting opportunities and understanding high finance," writes that, "if he is to continue to make claims about job creation, [then] the Romney campaign needs to provide a real accounting of how many jobs were gained or lost through Bain Capital investments while the firm managed these companies — and while Romney was chief executive. Any jobs counted after either of those data points simply do not pass the laugh test."

Among other examples, Kessler points to Staples, one of Bain's most successful ventures, which has added 89,000 jobs since Bain's initial investment. Says Kessler, "Bain may have provided management expertise or money when others would not, but a company such as Staples — one of the biggest contributors to Romney’s job figures — was largely the brainchild of entrepreneur Tom Stemberg." I'm sure Stemberg appreciated that backhanded shout-out, but I know he would dispute the implication that Romney doesn't deserve some credit for Staples's growth and success. How do I know that? Let's just say I can see the future.

I realize that, no matter how much research I do or how many sound, logical arguments I make, there are some people I just won't get through to because I have no credibility with him. So, if you're a Lefty who still thinks Mitt Romney made a fortune as the head of a heartless, avaricious corporate raider that lined its investors' pockets with the gains it reaped from slashing and burning companies, then you ought to read an opinion piece written for POLITICO by none other than Steven Rattner, the investment banker/financier and big-government booster who recently served as the Obama administration's "car czar". While making it clear that he's "all in favor of piling on Mitt Romney for any number of reasons," Rattner makes it clear that, "with modest exceptions (keep reading to learn more about these), Bain Capital was a thoroughly respectable — nay, eminent — investment manager that successfully discharged its responsibility of earning high returns for its investors by deploying capital in companies privately rather than by buying shares in the public market."

In addition to providing an accurate (and, impressively, concise) explanation of what the private-equity business is all about, Rattner's article chronicles the early history of Bain & Co. He provides specific examples of Bain's successes and failures, with objectively verifiable facts and figures detailing what investments the company made, the human cost of saving businesses that would otherwise have gone under, what "success" and "failure" meant in dollars and cents, and, perhaps most importantly, how Bain did right by its investors: So, to recap: Bain Capital, under the leadership of Mitt Romney, sought out struggling companies that needed saving (like AmPad), promising start-ups in need of seed money (think Staples) and older, more developed businesses ripe for leveraged buyouts (e.g., Domino’s Pizza). Some of the ventures were more successful than others, and a handful went into bankruptcy (though I've yet to learn of one that did while Romney was still at the helm). It's beyond dispute that, however incalculable the actual number of jobs created or saved by Bain during Romney's tenure, the net increase of jobs at the companies Bain invested in far exceeds the job losses at all those companies. Finally, and again most importantly, "Bain Capital more than fulfilled its responsibility to a gaggle of investors, who were mostly foundations, endowments, pension funds and the like."

Overall, Bain Capital’s record was extraordinary, among the best in the business. According to a Bain placement document, through the end of 1999 (effectively, when Romney left), the firm had achieved annual returns of 88 percent per year.
That is not only wildly more than the single-digit returns most investors achieve by buying stocks or bonds, it is far higher than those of typical private equity or venture capital firms.

Romney was the CEO of Bain Capital, not of the individual enterprises that Bain invested in, managed and tried to save. But if his critics won't give him credit for any of the jobs that were created in these companies after Romney left Bain, then they can't fairly blame him for anything that happened to these businesses or their employees after 1999, either. The key word there is, of course, "fairly." There's no doubt in my mind that Mitt Romney will win the nomination and the presidency this year if his opponents play fair, which is why they won't.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Romney vs. Paul Would Make Long, Protracted Primary Fight Worth It

AP File Photo

As the focus of the race for the 2012 GOP nomination turns t0 South Carolina, two apparent realities cannot be ignored: (1) Mitt Romney has the nomination all but locked up, and (2) Ron Paul must be taken seriously as a presidential contender. At least one of these will no doubt be hard to swallow for many Republican faithful, but acceptance of reality is a necessary characteristic of any true Republican in our country today. The facts are thus: Mitt Romney placed first in both the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, and he's leading all the national polls in the race for the GOP nomination. He also leads every poll I've seen out of South Carolina in recent days. Other than Romney, the only Republican to break 20% in both Iowa and New Hampshire so far this cycle is Ron Paul. None of this is up for debate. Now, what can we gleam from these facts?

What I've concluded is that Mitt Romney is going to be our nominee in the general election (barring his sudden death or some other unforseen act of God), and Ron Paul is not the loony-tune fringe candidate he was four years ago. If you're just going by vote totals so far, then Dr. Paul is the only candidate who should be regarded as a credible, serious challenger to Mitt Romney for the GOP nomination. Yet, he is the only one of the five alternatives who is not. Why? Many reasons, not all of which warrant mention here. I personally would not want our party to nominate someone who voted against the Patriot Act and still opposes it to this day, who declined to state that he would have authorized the Navy SEALs to kill Osama bin Laden, and who wants to get rid of the Federal Reserve. (The continued existence of the Fed is a debate worth having, but suffice it to say for now that I don't want to go back to the time when "panics" were a routine occurrence.) Nevertheless, there are substantive disagreements I have with at least one position taken by each of the candidates for president this year. I'm sure most Republicans feel the same way.

This brings me to my thesis du jour: if the race for the Republican nomination were to quickly come down to a two-man contest between two candidates who both had a realistic path to the nomination, then a Romney-Paul showdown would be the only protracted primary battle worth having. Think about it: An existensial debate, not just over the platform of the GOP in the 21st Century, but about the issues that will no doubt be litigated in the general election: the role of government in people's lives, the role of the U.S. on the world stage, how best to prosecute the War on Terror, how soon and how deeply to cut federal spending. Wouldn't that be more exciting (and more intellectually satisfying) than this hackneyed tripe about "vulture capitalism" or Super-PACs?

As ferociously as the Paul campaign has gone after his opponents, he rightfully came to Mitt Romney's defense after the others piled on him over his record as CEO of Bain Capital. This was just the latest example of Paul's maturity as a candidate and the Bohemian approach that has always characterized his campaign style. Romney, too, has refrained from the petty politics of drive-by attacks aimed at scoring cheap political points; he hasn't addressed Newt Gingrich's various personal transgressions, Rick Santorum's borderline-homophobic remarks or Rick Perry's obvious lack of ... well, let's just say "book smarts". He did take a cheap shot (in my opinion) at Jon Huntsman for the latter's service as Ambassador to China, but this was far from the ad hominem attacks that the others have engaged in.

A fervent, extended primary fight between Ron and Romney would be good for our party and our country. Sadly, it is not to be. Right-wing Genius out!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Why the Daley Resignation Is Significant

Three years ago, when President-Elect Obama was appointing his new administration, I noticed a curious absence from the list of people he was nominating to his cabinet and other high-ranking officials: William Daley.

The son and brother of former Chicago mayors had a résumé that made him as suited for a powerful position in a Democratic administration as anybody. He was Secretary of Commerce from 1997 to 2000, when he resigned to chair Al Gore’s presidential campaign. (He had previously chaired Bill Clinton' 1992 presidential campaign in Illinois.) He even co-chaired the president-elect’s transition team!

Of course, he also ran a couple of Fortune 500 companies, namely SBC Communications and JPMorgan Chase & Co. You would think this would be another asset for a prospective cabinet-level appointment, especially in an administration tasked with getting a flailing economy back on track, but having just won an election lambasting ... well, a lot of things. He was kind of all over the map. Let’s just say capitalism in general, Obama may have been weary about someone who seemed to exemplify the Wall St.-Washington liaison that he had disingenuously but convincingly decried in 2008.

In October, Daley told the press that he planned “to put the president through his re-election” and then return to Chicago, so it came as a surprise to many (including me) when the administration announced that Daley was stepping down as Chief of Staff this month. Suprising, that is, if you didn’t know about what happened last November (which I didn’t).

About two months ago, Daley is handed off “some of the day-to-day management” duties at the White House to Peter Rouse, a longtime Democratic hand in Washington who had served as interim Chief of Staff between the time Rahm Emanuel left in October 2010 to run for mayor of Chicago and Daley taking office the following January. According to Will Rahn at the Daily Caller:

Congressional Democrats had criticized Daley, a former commerce secretary under President Clinton, for what some described as his imperfect understanding of the legislative branch, and his tense relationship with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. This stood in marked contrast to his predecessor, Rahm Emanuel, a former Democratic congressman who is now Mayor of Chicago.
“Rahm Emanuel was not only a creature of the House, he knew many of the senators,” Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin
told The Huffington Post in September. “Bill Daley does not have that depth of relationship coming in.”
One senior Democratic aide was more blunt, saying that the party’s congressional leadership had “basically come to the conclusion that he’s not up to the job and doesn’t really get how Congress works. At all.”

Apparently, Daley’s pragmatic mindset had no place in an administration that has made a firm policy of deferring to congressional Democrats, who as we all know are led by a cadre of rabid ideologues.

The most important thing to recognize when processing the news of Daley’s departure is this: the last time an incumbent president replaced his chief of staff in an election year was in 1992, when Pres. George Bush swapped Samuel K. Skinner for Jim Baker. For all the presidents Obama has compared himself to, we don’t think the fate of George Bush’s '92 reelection is one he wishes to emulate.

Last month, I blogged about the premature excitement over Obama’s approval numbers. A new rash of polls out this week show him sinking yet again, and the gap between his approval and disapproval ratings has widened. Gallup pegs his job approval at 43%, while Rasmussen Reports has it at 46%. A Reuters/Ipsos survey gives the president a 47% approval rating, and CBS News says he’s at 45%. In all four polls, more respondents disapproved of the president’s performance than approved.

Obama’s in trouble. Swapping out his Chief of Staff won’t save him. If the Republicans get their act together, then we can swap out our president for one who will know what he’s doing and who actually cares about middle-class Americans.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Anything Can Happen

Let's start by acknowledging the inevitable: Mitt Romney will win the New Hampshire primary. I'll be stunned if he doesn't win by double digits. Having already placed first in the Iowa caucuses, Romney should have the nomination sewn up after a decisive win in New Hampshire, yet Pundits, pollsters and political junkies are buzzing about "the battle for second place" (as well as 3rd and 4th, if it's close). What I find especially interesting is that the air of mystery surrounding the first-in-the-nation primary this year is just as strong, if not more so, than it's been in previous years, despite Romney's incredibly strong poll position going into tonight and the paucity of doubt that he'll win by a sizeable margin. It's anyone's guess what order the runners-up will finish when all the N.H. votes are tallied. Ron Paul has consistently been polling in 2nd place since Newt Gingrich's collapse, but just like in Iowa, he seems to have plateaued. It's also worth noting that, while Santorum and Romney both outperformed their poll numbers in Iowa, Ron Paul's 21% of the vote was much closer to his position in the polls leading up to the caucuses. (A similar phenomenon occurred in 2008, where Romney and McCain both finished well ahead of their positions in the RCP average, while Paul underperformed.) For you empiricists out there, this portends and underwhelming finish for Paul in the Granite state, but he'll no doubt plod along.

The most exciting thing may be a last-minute surge by Jon Huntsman, who's arguably got the most to lose tonight (except for Mitt Romney). I pondered this possibility in a post last week, but by this weekend I was convinced that that ship had sailed. I may have spoken too soon; a spate of polls out of New Hampshire show real momentum for the even-tempered Mormon Sinophile. Rasmussen Reports has him at 15%, up from 12% in their previous New Hampshire survey. Public Policy Polling, which also had Huntsman polling at 12% the last week of December, released the results of a poll that pegged him at 16%. Perhaps most telling is the candidate's surge in the Suffolk University/7News tracking poll, in which Huntsman has doubled his share of the vote in the last week.

All of these polls have Huntsman in 3rd place, behind Romney and Paul, but a poll released over the weekend from American Research Group has him in 2nd place at 17%, followed by Ron Paul at 16%. Today the two are separated by three percentage points in the RCP average of N.H. polls, which for some reason does not include the ARG survey results; just five days ago, that gap was twelve points.

Huntsman won't win the New Hampshire primary, but there's a very real possibility that he could come in a strong 2nd. That would effectively quash Rick Santorum's momentum coming out of Iowa, and with a 10-day interim between today and the South Carolina primary, just about anything can happen.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Can Huntsman make a Santorum-style surge in New Hampshire?

The biggest story to come out of last night's Iowa caucuses last night--apart from Mitt Romney's unprecedented eight-vote margin of victory--has to be Rick Santorum's amazing (and, for most, unexpected) performance. The former Pennsylvania senator had been polling in the single digits in Iowa and barely registering nationally. Then, about a month ago, his poll numbers in the Hawkeye state began creeping up, and by last week, he was nipping at the heels of Ron Paul and Mitt Romney, who were locked in a virtual dead heat atop most surveys. In no poll did Santorum register more than 18% support, however, making the 25% of the vote he pulled in last night's caucuses all the more impressive.

Never taken seriously by the media and most primary voters, Santorum long ago decided to focus almost exclusively on Iowa, and he still had to stretch his miniscule campaign treasury pretty thin (as evidenced by the pickup truck he traveled the state in). He didn't have much, but he had a message--and an m.o. (Sorry for the alliteration; I can't help it.): visit every county; talk to anyone who will listen; speak from the heart; perform the occasional exorcism. (I might not have that exactly right, but I wasn't there. This is all being relayed secondhand.) It's a strategy reminiscent of Mike Huckabee's 2008 campaign, which peaked when the former Arkansas governor won the Iowa GOP caucuses, only to flame out like a supernova.

It's also strikingly similar to another candidate's strategy this year. Jon Hunstman, Jr., the former Utah governor and veteran diplomat, is trying in New Hampshire what Santorum tried (successfully) in Iowa. He's devoted more time to the state than anyone left in this race (which, as of this morning, does not include Michele Bachmann), but he still lags way behind Romney in the polls there. (Even worse, he hasn't even gained as much support in the state as Ron Paul.)

This is not to say that all of Huntsman's time and effort in the state has been for naught. As is so often the case, the numbers tell the tale: Eight weeks ago, Huntsman and Gingrich were tied in the RCP average of polls in New Hampshire. As Gingrich began to gain steam, he pulled away, and soon moved into a firm 2nd place behind Romney in the Granite State. One month later, the former Speaker peaked at 24.3% in the RCP average. (Romney was at an even 36%.) Huntsman, meanwhile, crept up to 11.8% by Christmas, by which time Gingrich was down to 20%. Since then, however, Huntsman hasn't gained much traction; he's actually down slightly, at 10.3% as of today. (Gingrich sits at 11.3% and will probably sink even further before next Tuesday's primary.)

Today, the media's primary focus shifts from Iowa to New Hampshire, and the results of a Suffolk Tracking poll did not provide welcome news for Huntsman, who I maintain is the best candidate we've got. He registered only 7% support in the survey of 500 "likely GOP primary voters," a distant 4th behind Romney, Paul and Gingrich. That's actually his worst showing in a New Hampshire poll in nearly two months. If Huntsman is hoping to pull off a Santorum-style surprise, then he's going in the wrong direction.

Huntsman's best argument against the plutonian picture painted by the polls (There's that alliteration again! Damn!) may be that all polls taken in the run-up to the Iowa caucuses greatly underestimated Santorum's performance there, by anywhere from seven to ten percentage points. He may also want to point out that, six days before the caucuses, Santorum was at 9.8% in the RCP average of polls there, half a point lower than Huntsman's current position in the New Hampshire poll average.

It's highly unlikely that anyone other than Mitt Romney will win the 2012 New Hampshire Republican primary, but there's still a very good chance that Jon Huntsman will finish a strong second. The days ahead will be critical; if no one even comes close to Romney in the polls and he wins the primary by double digits, then he'll be in very good position going into South Carolina, with a ten-day buffer to shore up his support there.

To the anybody-but-Romney crowd, I say: you've gone through everyone else; if you don't want to vote for Mitt, then your only choices are Santorum, Huntsman or Dr. Paul. (C'mon, do you really even need to think about this?)