Saturday, January 21, 2012

Live-blogging the 2012 South Carolina primary: Newt rising, Mitt stumbling, the GOP in disarray


7:22 pm - It being Saturday evening, and with other things to do (like spending some quality time with the family), I won't be live-blogging quite to the extent I did for the Iowa and New Hampshire votes. But I'll be back with updates throughout the night.

7:25 pm - The polls were showing a potentially big win for Newt, and today the exit polls are showing very much the same: Gingrich 38, Romney 29, Santorum 17, Paul 15. (Wouldn't it be something if Newt passed the 40 percent mark?) I was predicting an 8-point Newt win, but with so much momentum on his side, with the tide turning so dramatically in his favor, I wouldn't be surprised if he won by 10 or more.

7:31 pm - Only 2 percent of precincts are reporting. For what it's worth, which isn't much, it's 40-32 for Romney. You can follow the returns here.

7:32 pm - As I won't have much time tonight to much in the way of analysis or lengthy commentary, let me point you to a few posts I wrote in recent days:

Needless to say, the answer to the questions posed above, in the second and fourth posts, is a resounding No.

7:40 pm - And that's it. CNN has called it for Newt. Looks like all the drama in South Carolina was in the days leading up to today. There no drama tonight, and I suppose now all we have to focus on is the margin of victory, specifically: Will Newt hit 40 percent? And/or will he win by 10 points? A thorough drubbing of Romney would certainly make things a whole lot more interesting as we turn our attention to Florida, with the primary there coming up in 10 days, on January 31.

More questions: Will Santorum drop out after this? If so, will he endorse Newt? And if Newt is the only viable anti-Romney alternative left (because Paul isn't a viable contender), will conservatives rally behind him? (Newt will certainly need more money and better organization if he hopes to contend in Florida and beyond.) Or will they hold their noses and turn to Romney?

And what of the generally pro-Romney party elites? At what point does panic set in? Or has it already?

4:04 pm (the next day) - Well, obviously, I didn't get back to blogging last night, nor, until now, today. There just wasn't much to say (and I was too busy to say it anyway). Newt won. By a lot. And he hit those two artificial marks I identified: 40 percent of the vote, 10+-point margin of victory -- with a 40-28 win over Romney, with Santorum in third at 17 and Paul in fourth at 13. It played out as expected, or at least as it had come to be expected with Newt's late surge. He just won by a few more points than I thought he would.

4:07 pm (watching the Ravens-Pats game) - So what does it all mean? Well, it means that Newt has established himself as the largely unchallenged conservative alternative to Romney (Santorum doesn't have much left), that Romney is incredibly weak (with an overwhelming majority of Republicans looking for someone else, even a tainted blowhard like Newt), and that the race will go on, which is exactly what's best for the media, if not the GOP.

4:10 pm - Here's Chait:

My view all along has been that any remotely plausible candidate could beat Mitt Romney. My current view is that there are no remotely plausible candidates, which leaves us with Newt. So we have the immovable object meeting the irresistible force, except the exact opposite. Like almost everybody outside Gingrich's immediate family, I had already written him off twice. But he really seems okay. If some really crazy rich conservatives decide to write him some seven- or eight-figure checks, who knows?

Right, who knows?

Unless the Romney-leaning elites are prepared for a brokered convention, they'll have to do even more to try to derail Newt. Apparently what they did to him in Iowa wasn't enough. And yet, the reality of the GOP right now is that it's deeply divided and unhappy with its options. Even if the elites succeeded in knocking off Newt, the risk is that they'll further alienate the party's conservative base, everyone from Dear Leader Rush all the way down to your average right-wing redneck in South Carolina.

Basically, the situation is perfect for the emergence of a compromise candidate -- sufficiently conservative but also with appeal to independents, and hence electable -- who can bring the party together. But can that even happen? Such an alternative, if one could even be found, couldn't get on primary ballots, and of course it's not like Romney would ever play along. Jeb Bush? Maybe, if his last name weren't Bush. But who else? Christie? Jindal? Ryan? Rubio? No one other than Jeb seems to have what it would take. And so the party remains deeply divided without a clear resolution in sight.

4:20 pm - Here's Marshall:

Newt Gingrich isn't going to be the GOP nominee. I'm not saying Romney will be, though I think it's still very likely. You can never say never in politics. But I think the anchor point for understanding where we are right now is that the institutional GOP, the establishment Republican party, won't let Newt get the nomination.

Look at these numbers: nationwide Newt Gingrich’s favorability number is 26.5%, unfavorable 58.6%. (see the chart here.)

It would be quite difficult for Newt Gingrich to beat President Obama. The bigger story is that he would likely devastate the congressional Republican party. He'd probably weigh down the GOP up and down the ticket. And that puts the whole thing in much sharper relief for Republican officeholders, committee chairs and money folks.

If I'm right about that, that means they have to and will do virtually everything possible now to crush Gingrich and make Romney the nominee.

My best guess is that Gingrich will come on strong or even win Florida. And it'll be bad for Mitt for a while. But eventually Mitt and really the GOP establishment will just grind him down. Do I know that? Not at all. Unless Mitt can totally shut Gingrich down in Florida, it's really all bets are off territory. But again, the one thing I think you can rely on is that Gingrich isn't the nominee — simply because I think the costs to the GOP are simply too grave to let it happen.

I think I agree with all that. Unless the party turns to someone like Jeb, the race is still Mitt's to lose. And we know he's in it for the long haul, with money and organization well beyond anything Newt has.

It's certainly possible that Newt will win Florida, or at least finish a close second, but beyond that he'll say something or do something that reminds voters just who he is. It's just hard to imagine that he'll be able to make it through the long primary season without somehow imploding. And of course Mitt and the elites -- the so-called "establishment" -- will do everything in their power to make that happen.

So I think it's still fairly safe to say that it'll be Romney in the end -- but, by then, just how damaged will he be?

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Courage of conviction: President Obama's exemplary military leadership

Guest post by Rob Miller 

Rob Miller is a US Marine Corps combat veteran who served in Iraq in 2003 and 2004. A Charleston native and a graduate of the University of South Carolina, Rob and his family currently reside in Beaufort, South Carolina.

Having served over thirteen years in the United States Marine Corps, from enlisted infantry Marine to Company Commander, serving twice in Iraq to include the Battle of Fallujah in November 2004, I know leadership is the one quality every military service member and veteran wants to see from our Commander-in-Chief.

As Marine Corps Lieutenant General John A. Lejeune said, "Leadership is the sum of those qualities of intellect, human understanding, and moral character that enables a person to inspire and control a group of people successfully." Leadership requires skill, finesse, and unwavering conviction.

Our Commander-in-Chief, President Obama, has very strong convictions. President Obama never faltered on the war in Iraq. He was against the war in 2002, pledged to end the war as a presidential candidate, and kept that promise by ending the war with honor and bringing our troops home last month. Through his leadership, the United States helped liberate Libya and put an end to the Qaddafi regime. President Obama has upheld his promise to our veterans by passing the Post-9/11 GI Bill, increasing funding to the Department of Veterans Affairs and working tirelessly to put returning veterans to work in the private sector.

President Obama believes in justice, strength, and action. Under his leadership, the United States has decimated the leaders of al Qaeda and critically hampered their global terror network. Still not convinced? Let's take a quick look at some of the numbers: 

Drone strikes under President Bush: 44

Drone strikes under President Obama: 240+

Everyone knows about the special operations raid to kill Osama bin Laden or the targeted killing of Anwar al-Awlaki. But few realize the sweeping success of our military's more targeted operations and its drone campaign, which have led to the capture or death of scores of top al Qaeda operatives from Pakistan and Iraq to Yemen, Indonesia, and Somalia.

Defense spending, which in 2010 equaled nearly five percent of our entire GDP, has surpassed the peak of Cold War spending and is at its highest level since World War II. In contrast, this new wave of precise, targeted attacks embodies the direction in which President Obama and our military leaders wish to take our overarching defense strategy. 

The President, the Secretary of Defense, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs recently unveiled a new course for our military, a transition away from the two-war doctrine or Desert Storm X2 concept. This change has been a long time coming. In Joint Force Quarterly in Spring 2000, the Brookings Institution's Michael O'Hanlon stressed the need to transition away from a "two-Desert Storm paradigm" to a more mobile expeditionary force structure that encompassed one war and multiple other threats.

Ignoring the wisdom of our national security experts and military leaders, Governor Romney has been quick to say he would continue to grow our military, even suggesting that he would not be against war with Iran. Romney's reckless, short-sighted rhetoric illustrates that he is willing to sacrifice the well-being of our military, our economy, and our country to win cheap votes.

In stark contrast, our Commander-in-Chief has diligently upheld his office and executed his duties with conviction and action. As President Obama prepares our forces to meet the needs of the future, his courage of conviction, decisiveness of action, and steadfast leadership will undoubtedly ensure America's continued success.

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Friday, January 20, 2012

Is Newt poised for a big win in South Carolina?


Via twitter: 

Gingrich led today's interviews in the PPP survey by 14 points. Could be headed for big win in SC. 

-- Nate Silver (@fivethirtyeight)

The world is a crazy place, and I defy anyone to make sense of it.

As Chait writes, we're witnessing the re-re-Newtening. And what fun it is.

Democrats for Newt! Let him feel our wind in his sails!

(Even if things are lined up nicely for Romney after this: FL, NV, ME, MI, etc. Even if Mitt has the money and organization to win it all. Even if the party elites will make sure he wins. And even if Newt will surely find some way to implode. You just never know, what with conservatives still looking for a way, any way, to stop Romney from being the nominee. Like it or not, Newt is their last hope.)


UPDATE: PPP has Newt up 37-28 over Mitt, with Santorum in third at 16 and Paul in fourth at 14. That's a pretty healthy lead.

Another Silver tweet: "There's a lot of disagreement in the SC polls so we cannot rule out a Romney upset. But also cannot rule out double-digit Newt win."

Predictably, Romney is lowering expectations on the eve of the vote. Quite the formidable frontrunner he is, eh?

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Newt Gingrich isn't racist at all

Via twitter: 

Gingrich says "work" is a "strange" concept to Juan Williams. (link)

-- ThinkProgress (@thinkprogress)

If only Juan had labored as a non-unionized janitor when he was in grade school...

(Anyone else get the sense one of Newt's main objectives is to put these "uppity" minorities in their place? Like, you know, Obama. Isn't this the ugly message he's sending with his dog whistling to the right?)

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What are you hiding in those tax returns, Mitt?

Via twitter: 

Romney tells Fox why he won't release his tax returns now: "I don't want to give the Democrats a nice little present." (link)

-- ThinkProgress (@thinkprogress)

Is he such a privileged rich douchebag with such an oversized sense of entitlement that he thinks he can tell us he's hiding something without really giving a shit, or is he just a clueless politico with severe foot-in-mouth disease?

Fair question, I think.

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Thursday, January 19, 2012

Another win for Newt: Observations while not live-blogging tonight's Republican debate in South Carolina

I'm not live-blogging, but I'm watching closely, with another eye on American Idol, on this perhaps the most important day of the 2012 Republican presidential race so far.

Quick impression: Newt, as expected, is doing exceptionally well, while Romney, as usual, is playing what in football would be the most preventative of prevent defences, doing everything he can to avoid a gaffe, saying nothing of substance, resorting to his usual talking points, most of them ridiculously anti-Obama (his default position to deflect attention away from his own positions and appeal to the anti-Obama right) being anything but a persuasive, dynamic leader -- anything but genuinely presidential and more like some sort of presidential caricature as performed by some sort of robot programmed by aliens who base their understanding of what is presidential on two-dimensional stereotypes.

(UPDATE: Here are my grades for the debate -- In a vacuum, Santorum (A-) won. But Newt (B+) did what he had to do to keep his surge going and to deflect attention away from Marianne and his even worse past than we thought. Romney (C) was typically mediocre and unimpressive. Paul (B-) was okay but seems less and less relevant. In the end, Newt was the winner if only because he will benefit the most from a strong performance.)

I'm also following Andrew Sullivan, who is doing some very fine live-blogging tonight (as usual). Here are a few of his finer observations, in reverse chronological order, with my comments in blue italics.

-- "Why can't Romney once - just once - directly answer the question asked, instead of insisting on saying what he wants to say first? It's deeply irritating and underlines his too-polished, too arrogant affect. And then he forgets even what the actual question was in the first place. Then he segues into a bizarre attack on Newt's relationship with Reagan. He lost it back there. It's his worst performance yet - at the very moment he needs to deliver his best." (It was just Romney being Romney. What else is new?) (9:00 pm)

-- "Buzzfeed says that Newt won the debate in the first five minutes. There's still some time to go but that's my impression as well. Romney is being flattened tonight. Santorum's brutal, relentless attacks, Newt's ccontempt, Paul's jocular indifference... they all contrast with classic, mindless robo-speak from Mr Plastic." (That's a shorter way of saying what I said above: "classic, mindless robo-speak.") "Now Gingrich has ambushed him on his tax returns. This is what South Carolina always does. It's sometimes necessary to look away before the feeding frenzy ends. But the result is always bloody. Romney's sinking. He's sinking." (But will he sink far enough for Newt to win on Saturday? With such a decisive win here, there's hardly any doubt the Newt surge will continue. But what about the Marianne G. interview later? That could quickly derail his astonishing comeback.) (8:48 pm)

-- "A classic Gingrich phrase: 'Mildly amazing.' Classic passive aggression from the 'shy boy' who's now so angry he explodes spontaneously. Then Newt tickles the Southern g-spot, by saying that his debating Obama will be a battle between 'knowledge' and a 'TelePrompTer.' I don't think Newt realizes how his contempt and condescension toward Obama is riddled with racism." (He recoils in horror and then lashes out whenever he's faced with the racism charge, but he has a long record of this sort of racially-charged rhetoric.) (8:44 pm)

-- "Santorum hones his manufacturing working class economic chops in a very deft and indrect criticism of Romney's kind of capitalism. A very effective performance. They're all on tonight, it seems. But Gingrich's spirited, angry, anti-media rant at the start towers over the rest. (Yes, Santorum has been typically strong: confident and coherent. But I'm just not sure it matters anymore. At this point, unless Newt completely tanks as a result of the Marianne interview tonight, all Santorum will be doing by staying in the race is dividing the anti-Romney vote and hindering Gingrich's chances of knocking off the frontrunner. Still, while I don't agree with him on, well, on anything, I've got to credit him with an impressive performance ever since he surged up the polls pre-Iowa. He has way too much baggage, but if he'd been seen as a serious contender much earlier in the race, he might have been a potent conservative alternative to Romney, everything Perry and Bachmann were not.) (8:30 pm)

-- "Gingrich is on a roll - rattling off a list of South Carolina issues, including the port of Charleston. Then he quickly and effectively summarizes a core case against the dodgy practices of Bain Capital. Romney then tries to avoid answering the direct question about Bain and seems to conflate 'crony capitalism' with Democrats' relationships with the union. He does not address the core issue of how you make millions off bankrupting companies." (I don't see the Bain attacks hurting Romney all that much in the GOP primaries, given that he can position himself as a successful capitalist and where there is little concern for the poor and disadvantaged, or for income inequality, or for justice, but this could come back to haunt him in the general election, with independents particularly.) (8:20 pm)

-- "Newt's response to the open marriage is turned into a tour de force against the media. He calls John King's questions 'as close to despicable as I can imagine.' The crowd loves it. The first response as to whether he wanted to talk about it: 'No, but I will.' Perfect. Then he rounds on King and gets another standing ovation. I think he may have won the primary tonight with that response." (You knew this was coming, and I wrote about it earlier: Newt always tries to turn the tables by going after the media.) (8:12 pm)

The wildest day of the campaign so far keeps exceeding expectations. And we still have the interview to come. Crazy.

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Sarah Palin says Newt will "soar," but will his ex-wife's allegations finally be his undoing?

By Michael J.W. Stickings


I'm beginning to think this may be the most important single day of the 2012 Republican presidential race so far, with the race tightening in South Carolina, key conservatives backing Newt, the Marianne Gingrich interview later, another debate (possibly meaning a boost for Newt, who does so well in debates), a retro victory for Santorum in Iowa...

It may certainly be the wildest day.

Romney is still the frontrunner and likely nominee, but today may prove, in retrospect, to have been a turning point, one way or the other.

Read on...


Via twitter: 

Palin: Ex-wife's allegations will help Newt "soar" (link) (story)

-- Talking Points Memo (@TPM)

Palin may be right that a lot of what Marianne Gingrich has to say is "old news," and I was thinking earlier today that the damage to Newt might be minimal if she avoided the more sordid details -- in part because those who like Newt do so not because they think he's a saint but because they think he'll punch President Obama in the face (figuratively but maybe also literally) and in part because Newt has already owned up to much of his bad behavior, "found God," and been largely absolved by conservatives.

But now I'm not so sure. The talk all day in the media is about the "open" marriage Newt wanted as a way of enabling his cheating, and basically about his self-righteous, egomaniacal bullying of his wife, about how he was out to get what he wanted, largely disregarded her, and ruined her life. This wasn't just bad behavior. This was abuse.

There are still many who will excuse him his ugly transgressions, like Palin and Dear Leader Rush (who thinks Newt's a victim), but there are surely a lot more, even among Republicans, who will recoil in disgust.

There may yet be a way for him to get out of this -- by admitting again to some things, denying others; by saying he really is a different and better person now; by using it as an occasion to bash the media (always a favotite Newt deflectional tactic); by taking the high road with respect to his wife (I loved her, she's a great person, but we had our problems, common to many married couples) while implying that she's crazy, a liar, or both; by alleging that Romney's behind this "attack" somehow, just days before the South Carolina primary -- but it's getting more and more difficult to see how this doesn't hurt him badly, if not destroy what's left of his campaign.

And somewhere, whether he's behind this or not, Romney, who otherwise has been having a terrible day (Santorum certified the winner in Iowa; Perry dropping out and endorsing Newt; new polls showing his lead dwindling rapidly in South Carolina, and even Newt ahead; Newt getting a big-time Tea Party endorsement; another debate coming up tonight, another occasion for Newt to shine), must surely be thinking he's one of the luckiest people in the world.

If he isn't, he should be. As terribly weak as he is, everything seems to be breaking his way, with the nomination all but his by default.


I see Jon Chait has a post up on Romney's run of incredible luck (or incredible run of luck, however you want to look at it):

Everything has gone Romney’s way. A slew of credible opponents all declined to run, or dropped out prematurely (poor, poor Tim Pawlenty.) He was mistakenly credited with winning the Iowa caucuses. The opponents who have challenged him all self-destructed, and when persistent unease with Romney resurrected them, they self-destructed again.



Here's the full Palin quote, via ThinkProgress:

I call them dumbarses. They, thinking that by trotting out this old Gingrich divorce interview that's old news — and it does feature a disgruntled ex, claiming that it would destroy his campaign — all it does, Sean, is incentive conservatives and independents who are so sick of the politics of personal destruction, because it’s played so selectively by media, that their target, in this case Newt, he’s now going to soar even more. Because we know the game now, and we just won't put up with it.

So, good call media! Way to go to covertly hype this, even Gingrich opponents, for being so brilliant they sure are dumb. 

Ah, yes, when in doubt, attack the media. But even if the media is guilty of taking advantage of a salacious story, Marianne Gingrich isn't the media. She has every right to be heard.


ABC News reports on the interview:

Newt Gingrich lacks the moral character to serve as President, his second ex-wife Marianne told ABC News, saying his campaign positions on the sanctity of marriage and the importance of family values do not square with what she saw during their 18 years of marriage.

In her first television interview since the 1999 divorce, to be broadcast tonight on Nightline, Marianne Gingrich, a self-described conservative Republican, said she is coming forward now so voters can know what she knows about Gingrich. 

As I suggest above in how Newt can effectively respond to all this, he is indeed taking the high road, with his two daughters from his first marriage providing useful cover:

Gingrich declined to comment to ABC News for this report, but told NBC's Today Show Thursday morning he would not "say anything negative about Marianne."

"Now, I'll let my daughters speak for it... I'm not going to comment beyond that because I'm focused on the big issues that concern the American people, which are the current challenges we have, largely because of the failure of the Obama presidency," he said.

It's not terribly responsible of him to let his daughters be his surrogates on such a deeply personal matter, but he's obviously doing what he can to minimize the likely negative impact of the story. And you can see how he's trying to minimize the importance of the story and trying to position himself as above it all, and trying to guilt the media into not taking it seriously -- what do his past marital problems matter compared to "the big issues that concern the American people"?

I'm not sure it'll work, but it's all he's got.

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Privileged rich douchebag: The Mitt Romney narrative for 2012

Last week, I wrote that, should he win the nomination (as seems likely), the various attacks on Romney by his fellow Republicans, notably by Gingrich, would cling to him like gonorrhea. What I really meant to say was, like a really bad case of gonorrhea.

As you know, a key element of Newt's attack has been the mostly accurate allegation that Romney made a massive fortune as a job-destroying, life-ruining vulture capitalist. This has some appeal among non-elite Republicans, who, like most non-elite Democrats and independents, have a healthy suspicion of ruthless, blood-sucking corporate malfeasance. But Republicans generally respect the rich and don't much care for anything that smacks of an attack on capitalism, which in its unregulated form is, in their black-and-white world, the only alternative to totalitarian socialism. In the Republican primaries, therefore, such an attack can only go so far. In the general election, however, Romney will face an enormous obstacle. Can he avoid being brought down by his own image, the image of Romney, rooted firmly in reality, that Newt and others have been drawing on the national stage?

Even if he avoids the vulture capitalist label, and even if some of Newt's attacks don't stick, Romney faces another perhaps even more enormous obstacle: himself. It's not easy to distinguish between Mitt Romney (the man) and "Mitt Romney" (the candidate), and perhaps the two have become one and the same, merged into a single soul-less being that isn't quite human anymore, a political cyborg, but what seems abundantly clear -- because he has made it abundantly clear -- is that Romney is a privileged rich douchebag who has no connection to and little regard for anything or anyone "ordinary," a man who profited off suffering, has a tax rate of about 15 percent, thinks that $374,327.62 is "not very much," and sends a lot of his money to the tax haven known as the Cayman Islands. (If you can relate to all that, you too may be a privileged rich douchebag. Congratulations.)

Now, "douchebag" isn't a nice word and may not be all that fair, I admit. But it seems accurate in Romney's case. As Jon Chait writes:

The utter failure is that Romney has come to be defined, through a recurring series of off-the-cuff gaffes, as a callous, out-of-touch rich man...

Romney declared "I like to be able to fire people who provide services to me." He described concern about rising inequality as "envy," suggested only people who are independently wealthy should run for office, suggested inequality should be discussed only in "quiet rooms," laid down a $10,000 bet in a debate with Rick Perry, deemed corporations to be people, and jokingly referred to himself as "unemployed." He has done the work of an opposition researcher on himself.

Yes, much of what Romney has said has been taken out of context, if not as ridiculously as he attacked President Obama way out of context, but the narrative of Romney as privileged rich douchebag has been coming together for some time:

Whatever the merits, the total self-portrait Romney has helped craft is utterly devastating: the scion of a wealthy executive, who helped create, and benefited from, revolutions in both the market economy and in public policy in the last three decades that favored the rich over the middle class, and who appears blithe about the gap between his privilege and the lot of most Americans.

Douchebag (Wikipedia): "The term usually refers to a person, usually male, with a variety of negative qualities, specifically arrogance and engaging in obnoxious and/or irritating actions, most often without malicious intent." If we weren't required to be all civil when talking politics, wouldn't we call Romney a douchebag? Or something similar?

Indeed, the only problem with the word, according to the Wikipedia definition, is that it suggests intent that isn't malicious. In the sense that Romney is an entitled asshole -- which, again, we would say about most people doing the things he does and saying the things he says -- sure, it may be that he's just being himself, that he can't help himself. Like when he talks about firing the people who serve him or pushing $10,000 bets. But there's more to him than that. Consider, for example, that under his tax plan he would find his taxes cut in half. Yes, here's a rich guy who thinks that politics should be for rich guys who has a plan to make rich people like himself even richer and who dismisses the rest of us as envious.

Douchebag? You make the call. Feel free to suggest a more appropriate word for him.

Anyway, whatever we call him, this narrative of Romney as "a callous, out-of-touch rich man" is sticking. And, Romney being Romney, it will continue to stick through the campaign. Democrats can help it along by pointing to Romney's plutocratic, self-interested agenda, as well as to his work at Bain Capital, but he is his own worst enemy in the sense that he is feeding this narrative all by himself, just by being himself.

The concept of the "narrative" is overused, I agree, but narratives really do drive electoral politics a great deal. They shape the stories that the media tell and that voters base their decisions on. Sometimes they're about trends or issues, but sometimes they're about people. Obviously, the key "issue" narrative for 2012 is the bad economy and Obama's handling of it, for better or worse. But especially in presidential elections voters choose a candidate more than a platform, and so in this case the narrative about Romney is Romney's story, from his upbringing to Bain and beyond, and what it says about who he is a person and how he would be as president. This story, this narrative, is how Romney will be presented to the public by the media, how voters will come to know him and understand him, and ultimately there isn't much anyone can do about it. Once a narrative takes hold, it's hard to replace.

It's early, but Romney is already defined. And he's done it largely by, and to, himself.

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Marianne Gingrich interview tonight: Is this the end for Newt?

The race in South Carolina appears to be tightening, with Gingrich solidifying his position as a clear #2 behind Romney, if still well back (Mitt 33, Newt 23), likely to narrow the gap with another stand-out debate performance tomorrow, and positioned to pick up further support should Santorum, currently running third, fade in the remaining days before Saturday's vote, but there are some ominously dark clouds on the horizon for poor Newt, and his campaign might just be on the verge of exploding (or imploding, if you prefer) into oblivion.

And why would that be?

Two words: Marianne Gingrich.

His second wife (of three), that is, who once said that she could destroy The Newt's career with a single interview... and who has given an interview to ABC News that is scheduled to be aired on tonight's Nightline (after the GOP candidates' debate).

It's not like she courts the media's attention. She gave an interview to Esquire in 2010, but that was pretty much it. To her credit, perhaps, she hasn't tried to bring Newt down with salacious stories of his past.

But this is television, not a magazine, and it's the height of the political season, with Newt challenging for the Republican nomination for president. Even if she doesn't say anything new or even all that remarkable in the interview, the damage to Newt is potentially enormous.

Of course, it's fair to ask, why now? I suppose an interview before Iowa would have been damaging, but this could finish him off for good, and just when he's showing a few signs of life. (Rasmussen has Newt just three points behind Mitt nationally. Rasmussen is hardly the most credible pollster, and this would appear to be an outlier, but still.)

As my good friend Joe Gandelman notes, "[t]he real story here will be less about what his ex-wife says: what can she tell people about Gingrich that people already don't suspect or think he is capable of? The REAL story is a) how did this story come about; b) did she contact ABC out of the blue; c) did ABC seek her out; and d) was she encouraged to come forward by the Romney camp?"

Good questions. Romney is clearly worried, and he's going negative: "He released two new negative web videos, unleashed attacking surrogates and even went after the former House speaker himself. And that was all before lunch on Wednesday." (Yikes.) Given how brutally the Romney Super PAC (which may not coordinate with the candidate but which certainly does his bidding) went after Newt in the lead-up to Iowa, helping to crush his short tenure as frontrunner, would you really put it past Romney to play the Marianne card now?

Maybe he has, maybe he hasn't. But suspicions of playing dirty will hound Romney and provide a subtext to tonight's interview. Perhaps Newt can even turn it to his advantage: "Yes, I did bad things. I've admitted that, and apologized. I'm a different man now. A good, god-fearing man. And" -- pointing at Romney -- "all this moderate from Massachusetts can do is try to smear me. For shame!"

Needless to say, we shall see. The next couple of days promise to be one long fireworks display. And not in a good way. Unless you happen to like watching Republicans try to destroy each other.

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BREAKING NEWS: Perry quits

By Michael J.W. Stickings

CNN and others are reporting that Rick Perry will announce later this morning that he's withdrawing from the Republican race for president.

It was really only a matter of when, and all that was coming was yet another embarrassing drubbing, this time in South Carolina on Saturday.

Speculation is that he'll endorse Newt, but does it matter? Most of his support has already left him, and he's been polling even behind non-candidate Stephen Colbert in S.C., well down in the single digits. (This may help a bit, but what Newt really needs is a Santorum withdrawal and endorsement so that he can be the only viable conservative option left.)

Anyway, so much for the one-time frontrunner and even favorite. But at least he was entertaining, whether he intended to be or not.

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Whither MicroSoft?

By Carl
There's a cautionary tale to be told today.
Once upon a time, not so long ago, in fact, there was a company which manufactured the software that an overwhelming number of people used. They made a good, no, a great product, except for roughly ten percent of people who felt it wasn't good enough for them.
This product could be installed in nearly any hardware, and apart from user glitches and the occasional manufacturing screw up, produced consistent results that could be reproduced over and over again.
Its product made the machinery available to the general public. No longer did you need a big bulky box. Indeed, you could carry your data and software around in your hand with you. You could be as wildly creative as you wanted to be, or you could be as utilitarian as you needed to be with it. Everyone from photographers and artists to insurance claims adjusters would use this product in their day-to-day activities.
It was truly universal, relatively cheap and easily used.
This product has disappeared. And now, so has the company that made it.
(crossposted to Simply Left Behind)

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Newtopia: freedom with guns

As Michelle Goldberg (michelleinbklyn) tweeted:

Newt says US should have goal to "teach people around the world why right to bear arms is central to their liberty."

Yes, because if there's one big takeaway from world history, from the invention of gunpowder to the present day, it's that everyone would have been a lot better off with guns in their hands.

And certainly the world would be a much better place today, freedom triumphant, if only everyone had a gun.

Nothing like living in fear, nothing like a fearful, fully-armed populace threatening the veneer of civility that already barely keeps society together.

So obvious, yet so not. Thanks, Newt!

All hail America!

Peace... out.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Photo of the Day: The wreck of the Costa Concordia, from space

Via Brad Plumer, check out this awesome photo, taken from space yesterday, of the half-sunken Costa Condordia, the cruise ship that ran aground, and capsized, off the coast of Italy last Friday:


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Is it any wonder Mitt Romney has been hiding his tax returns?

Well, under pressure from all sides, he's finally going to release them, and they will show, as he admitted yesterday, that his effective rate was about 15 percent.

Think about that all you middle-class earners out there, all you ordinary Americans. A whopping 15 percent. For a multi-multi-millionaire. What's surprising, actually, isn't that he paid so little but that he paid so much, being a plutocrat and all:

"It's probably closer to the 15 percent rate than anything," Mr. Romney said. "Because my last 10 years, I've — my income comes overwhelmingly from investments made in the past, rather than ordinary income, or rather than earned annual income."

Mr. Romney added: "And then I get speaker's fees from time to time, but not very much."

In fact, in the most recent year, Mr. Romney made $374,327.62 in speaker's fees, at an average of $41,592 per speech, according to his public financial disclosure reports.

The vast majority of Mr. Romney's income this year came in the form of investment income, whether dividends or capital gains on mutual funds and retirement accounts, or his post-retirement share of profits and investment returns from Bain Capital, which would be subject to the same 15 percent tax rate.

President Obama paid an effective federal tax rate of just over 26 percent on his 2010 returns, the most recent available.

Must be nice to be able to pay so little in taxes -- and to be able to say that about $375,000 is "not very much." Think about that, all you people out there having trouble paying the bills and putting food on the table and taking care of your kids and worrying about your job, if you're even lucky enough to have a job right now.

Here's Steve Benen making much the same point:

The political significance of Mitt Romney's hidden tax returns almost certainly has to do with his tax rates. The Republican frontrunner has been reluctant to admit he pays much lower tax rates than middle-class workers, despite the vast wealth he made during his vulture-capitalist career.


The politics of this are awful for the likely GOP nominee. Working families probably won't be amused to learn Romney — the guy who got rich laying people off, and has been a professional candidate for the last six years — pays a lower tax rate than they do. They'll be even less pleased to know Romney, if elected president, will fight to keep it this way, even when he calls for tax increases on those struggling most.

"Remember when Rachel Maddow compared Romney to Thurston Howell III? It was well grounded."

You really want this guy as your president?

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Behind the Ad: Colbert Super PAC identifies Romney as a "serial killer"

(Another installment in our "Behind the Ad" series.) 

Who: Stephen Colbert, or rather "Stephen Colbert," or rather the pro-Colbert Super PAC known as Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow, now run by Jon Stewart, attacks Mitt Romney. 

Where: South Carolina. 

What's going on: There's no need to go behind this one. If Romney really thinks that corporations are people (Citizens United!), which he does, and if he really has a long history of destroying companies for profit, which he also does, then, ipso facto, he's a serial killer.

That's some indisputable logic.

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By Capt Fogg

"With regards to immigration policy, that those that come here illegally should not be given favoritism or a special route to becoming residents or citizens that's not given to those people that stayed in line legally,"

-Willard Mitt Romney-

One would think, if one had the fortitude to spend more than a moment watching what passes for television news, that for the last half decade or so there were nothing of more than momentary interest happening than the American political circus and perpetual campaign. Geological and meteorological calamities do get reported, but the vast bulk of air time is given over to "the candidates" and the unchallenged lies they perpetrate. There are no pauses between campaigns, no half time shows and no seventh inning stretches.

I say circus although circuses are intended to be family entertainment these days and freak shows have gone the way of Times Square peep shows, cock fights and lynchings -- and sadly, the traces of any sense of shame, decency and honesty that ever had the audacity to interrupt or question the ragemongering has disappeared.

At the South Carolina Fox News debate Monday last (and I call it debate with all awareness of the inherent dishonesty of the appellation) Mitt Romney was booed, not because of what discernible policies he may be espousing at the moment, but because his father was born in Mexico. I don't recall any booing in response to John McCain's having been born in Panama, but of course anything done or said more than ten minutes ago is irrelevant in today's Republican world and that hobgoblin called consistency is always foolish.

George Romney, Mitt's father, entered the US illegally from Mexico, which might have given a better, more decent, less ambnitious Mitt pause before making such harsh statements about not tolerating any mercy for illegal Mexican immigrants, but of course it's a racial and ethnic issue, not an immigration one despite assurances to the contrary. The name is Romney after all, not Ramirez -- and this was South Carolina, Glossolalia, Holy Ghost Power and Rebel Flags, just he way God likes it.

But the mood of the South Carolinian Republican Rabble was ugly and when moderator Juan Williams asked if it wasn't a bit insulting to minorities when Newt Gingrich spewed that nonsense about black people needing to demand jobs instead of food stamps, as though the unemployment problem were caused by laziness and a president that encourages it, the ugly mob conservative citizens booed the black moderator just as Republican snake pits at previous "debates" have booed Child Labor laws, booed a serving US soldier and cheered the killing of prisoners in large numbers.

Is it any worse that they insist on being called 'conservatives' and not snarling beasts and that our only sources of news collaborate in that farce? Is it surprising that the state of South Carolina, still unrepentant for having been the first to take up arms against the United States, would once again boo at Ron Paul's suggestion that the 'Golden Rule' so often quoted as a core Christian value be applied in US foreign policy?
" Quit warmongering, stop going to war, and treat other nations like we want to be treated. "

Hell, no! Boo the bastard! Ask not what Jesus would do, ask what Attila the Hun would do, what a tribe of savage head hunters and cannibals would do, what a pack of giggling, stinking hyenas would do while ripping and tearing at the corpse of America.

It's been suggested to me, that I should approach such people with a more polite demeanor -- that the people who have made most of human history a horror story need to be given a chance to discuss things, to debate things and that monsters and the people who promote monsters can be persuaded by kind words and reason to change.


(Cross posted from Human Voices)


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Newt gets Palin's endorsement... sort of... well, not really... but maybe...

As she told Hannity:

I can tell you what I would do if I were a South Carolinian... If I were a South Carolinian though, and each one of these primaries and caucuses are different, Sean, I want to see this thing continue because iron sharpens iron. Steel sharpens steel. These guys are getting better in their debates. They are getting more concise. They are getting more grounded in what their beliefs are and articulating what their ideas are for getting America back on the right track and getting Americans working again. If I had to vote in South Carolina order to keep this thing going, I would vote for Newt and I would want it to continue. More debates, more vetting of candidates.

So it's a qualified endorsement, at most. Unlike Todd, Sarah isn't decidedly pro-Newt, but clearly he's generally to her liking -- likely more than Romney is:

I do think that Newt is the one that won the debate if you will, because Newt came out like South Carolina's own Smokin' Joe Frazier. He came out there swinging, talking about work, talking about jobs and work ethic and how government needs to get out of the way in order for all Americans to have a sense of opportunity to work, and I think that's what a lot of voters have been craving to hear.

So why not just endorse him already? Doesn't she have, or think she has, significant influence over the Republican electorate, and specifically over the right-wing base? Why not give poor Newt the boost he needs to emerge as the clear anti-Romney, particularly as he's calling Santorum and Perry to get the hell out?

Can't she play kingmaker for once?

Oh right, she can't. Because, unlike the media, Republicans really don't pay her that much attention.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

This day in music - January 17, 1990: The fifth class is inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

By Richard K. Barry

The class included Hank Ballard; Bobby Darin; The Four Seasons; The Four Tops; The Kinks; The Platters; Simon & Garfunkel; and The Who. It also included Louis Armstrong; Charlie Christian; Gerry Goffin and Carole King; Holland, Dozier and Holland; and Ma Rainey.

I like to tell the story about the time I went to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, or, I should say, the time I walked past it. A good buddy had invited me down to see a Cleveland Browns game and, to get to the stadium, you have to walk right past the Hall of Fame. I do love football, but I could just as easily have made the right-hand turn and spent the day checking out Rock and Roll history.

It was a beautiful day at the stadium and a good time was had by all, though I haven't been back to Cleveland since. Some day.

From the class of 1990, I'll pick a clip of The Platters doing "The Great Pretender," performed in 1955.

Though there were many personnel changes for the group, the most successful line-up was lead tenor Tony Williams, David Lynch, Paul Robi, Herb Reed, and Zola Taylor.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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To defecate in terror: Mitt Romney gets Google-bombed

While the 99 percenters are destined to play a significant role in the 2012 presidential election, there is now another percent that very well may undermine the candidacy of Republican primary frontrunner Mitt Romney.

Let us call it the 39 percent movement. 

Perhaps more damning than Bill Clinton's "zipper problem," George W. Bush's "cocaine problem," John Kerry's "Catholic problem" and Barack Obama's "progressive problem" combined, Romney's "animal cruelty problem" has the potential to isolate a dog-lover demographic that cares so deeply for the 78.2 million canines in America that it spends more money pandering to pets each year than most countries claim in total gross domestic product.

The story itself isn't new. 
More than five years ago, Boston Globe reporter Neil Swidey wrote about how, in 1983, Romney strapped his Irish setter, Seamus, to the roof of his wood-paneled station wagon during a 12-hour road trip to his family's cottage in Canada. His eldest son, Tagg (not to be confused with Trig) "noticed a brown liquid running down the rear window" of the car. In what was spun as "a tiny preview of a trait he would grow famous for in business: emotion-free crisis management," Swidey reported that "Romney coolly pulled off the highway and into a service station. There he borrowed a hose, washed down Seamus and the car, then hopped back onto the highway."

From the Web site
"The overall idea here is that Mitt Romney is unfit to be president because of the way he treated his dog," MSNBC's Rachel Maddow remarked during a segment of her Jan. 12 show.


Fox News's Lanny Davis wrote exactly that in an article titled, "Why Romney's 'dog on car roof' story makes him unfit to be president": 
Anyone who puts a dog in a cage on top of a car for a 12-hour drive and then deludes himself or tries to delude others that the dog really enjoyed it -- to me, with all due respect, I feel such a man shouldn't be president of the United States. 
The resurgence of the late Seamus Romney's scatological mishap in mainstream media has led his primary opponent Newt Gingrich to use "Crate Gate" in an attack ad titled, "For the Dogs." Worse, Romney's "animal cruelty problem" has also become a "Google problem." 
From Maddow: 
You remember Rick Santorum's Google problem? Rick Santorum famously 
said that same-sex relationships were akin to man on dog relationships. In 
retaliation for that and other things, proponents of gay rights Google-
bombed Rick Santorum. They redefined his last name as a vulgar, sexually 
explicit term and then they pushed that redefinition of the word Santorum 
to the top of his Google search results via a website called There is now a Web site, which is about poor Seamus. And it defines the word Romney as a verb, which means... (to defecate in terror).

In Bill Wasik's 2009 book, And Then There's This: How Stories Live and Die in Viral Culture, the senior editor of Wired magazine recalls how MSNBC's Chuck Todd coined the term "A.D.D. Election" to describe the 2008 campaign, where "nanostories" such as John Edwards's $400 haircut "each followed the same pattern observable in the case of Seamus Romney -- the quick, breathless uptake and a slightly slower but inexorable decline into oblivion."

What is "most striking" about the Seamus Romney story, Wasik says, "is it's forgetability, how indistinguishable it seems in retrospect from the idiots' parade of meaningless stories that came to define the campaign."

Alas, it's not meaningless anymore. The story is back with such a vengeance that those who pooh-pooh poor Seamus's poo-poo story will face the contempt of the 39 percent of American households that own dogs.

For a Republican candidate who already has plenty of difficulty connecting with average Americans (his religious beliefs, his one percent status, his inconsistent stances on everything from abortion and women's rights to the auto industry bailout and TARP), this could be damning.

And how scary is that -- that a bunch of crazy dog lovers can undue the presidential ambitions of a man whose "emotion-free crisis management" skills could backfire in such a way as to disenfranchise millions of voters?

Romney's probably romneying himself just thinking about it.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

(Cross-posted at Muddy Politics.)

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