Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Arizona and Romney’s great divide


Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney won the Arizona Republican presidential primary in a walk on Tuesday, handily defeating his closest challenger, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, by at least 20 points.

Romney claimed the state's 29 delegates and, combined with a razor-thin victory in the Michigan primary the same day, fully re-established himself as the uncontested front-runner in a horse race of a campaign.

Romney was widely thought to have had a triple advantage in Arizona before the primary began. The state's controversial governor, Jan Brewer, endorsed him on Sunday. Although Romney was Sen. John McCain's nemesis in the 2008 presidential campaign, the Arizona senator has spent time on the trail as his champion.

And Romney on Tuesday capitalized on his affinity with Arizona's Mormon population. More than 380,000 Mormons live in the state, just under 6 percent of the population, according to the Arizona Republic, citing figures from the Mormon Church.

Arizona Mormons supported Romney in his 2008 quest for the presidency. Kyle Kondik, a political analyst with the University of Virginia Center for Politics, told the Chicago Tribune that 2008 exit polling showed that about 80 percent of the state's Mormon community voted for Romney.

Ironically, should Romney win the nomination, the same identity issues that lifted him in the primary season could be a stumbling block to the presidency. Specifically, it's the issue of immigration, something that Romney has only marginally addressed on the campaign trail.

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Republican State Sen. Russell Pearce sponsored Arizona's harsh immigration law, SB1070, which was signed into law by Brewer in April 2010. The law makes it a crime to be in the state without proper immigration papers, and requires police to request a person's immigration status if there is "reasonable suspicion" that the person is in the country illegally.

The law, which went into effect after a judge's temporary injunction, has been a lightning rod for criticism by civil rights groups, who believe its application would make Arizona fertile ground for state-sanctioned racial profiling, particularly of the state's nearly 2 million Latinos.

Pearce is a member of the Mormon Church.

The schism between Mormons and Latinos can be expected to complicate Romney's drive to duplicate in the general election season the lopsided win he enjoyed in the state on Tuesday night.

That Grand Canyon of a divide is reflected in comments by Kenneth Patrick Smith, leader of a Spanish-speaking Mormon congregation, who told The Arizona Republic that missionaries from his church weren't welcome in Latino communities after the law was signed. Some had doors slammed in their faces.

"They say, 'Why would we want to hear anything from a religion that would do this to the Hispanic community?' " said Smith, who said he spoke for himself, not on behalf of the Mormon Church. "It's a great disconnect, because on one hand the missionaries are out there preaching brotherly love, kindness, charity, tolerance, faith, hope, etc., and then they see on TV a quote-unquote Mormon pushing this legislation that makes them not only ... terrified but terrorized."

Image credits: Russell Pearce: Gage Skidmore. Originally published in The Root, Feb. 29, 2012.

Michigan for Mitt


Maybe those trees were the right height after all.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney made good on his plan to be the prodigal son come home in triumph on Tuesday night, winning the Michigan primary and besting former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum with a victory that was close but convincing.

"We didn't win by a lot, but we won by enough. And that's all that counts," Romney told supporters late Tuesday in Novi, Mich., about 30 miles from Detroit.

Romney won by 3 percentage points, 41 percent to 38 percent, a slim margin of victory that may have been different if not for Democrats who voted in the state's open primary -- Democrats encouraged to vote for Santorum in a series of so-called robocalls bankrolled by Santorum's super PAC supporters. (Update: As of Wednesday evening a number of news outlets, including NBC News, were reporting that even though Romney won the popular vote, he and Santorum would split the number of Michigan delegates, 15-15.)

About 9 percent of primary-goers Tuesday identified themselves as Democrats, according to Washington Post exit polls, and more than half of those cast their ballots for Santorum.

Romney's victory may not completely rebuild the scaffold of inevitability his campaign has been constructing since his campaign began. But the win in Michigan, where Romney was born in 1947, fortifies a presidential bid recently beset by gaffes of campaign optics and by a late Santorum challenge.

Now the challenge for Romney is to go beyond the expected cohorts of his support -- something that may prove problematic as the campaign rolls into Super Tuesday next week.

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In a nutshell, Romney did well where he should have done well. His support among higher-income Michigan residents was understandably strong, coming as it did among the people who share Romney's wealth and his concerns for the deficit and the wider economy.

Sandhya Somashekhar and Nia-Malika Henderson, reporting late Tuesday in The Washington Post and sampling from voter exit polls, found that Romney "performed well among declared Republicans, voters with incomes above $100,000 a year, those whose top concerns were the federal deficit and the economy, and those keen on beating President Obama in the fall, according to preliminary exit polls in the state.

"But he fared less well among 'very conservative' voters, evangelical Christians and those who strongly support the Tea Party movement -- groups that have been slow to warm to the former Massachusetts governor."

Romney also didn't bring the message with the blue-collar voters of Wayne County, home to Detroit and the U.S. automotive industry -- the same industry that Romney seemed to abandon in a November 2008 New York Times op-ed that called for Motor City to face the ignominy of bankruptcy.

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Flush with victory, Romney offered a laundry list of pledges to the supporters in Novi: repeal of the alternative minimum tax; "an across-the-board, 20 percent [tax] rate cut for every American"; a promise to make the R&D tax credit permanent; and "I'm gonna end the repatriation tax … there's a lot of money offshore that ought to come back to America."

Never mind the inconvenient fact that some of that offshore money is apparently Romney's own. The candidate came under fire late last month for parking millions of dollars in accounts in the Cayman Islands, Ireland and Luxembourg. Regardless, on Tuesday night Romney doubled down on previous pledges to shrink the federal government and put Americans back to work.

"I'm going to deliver on more jobs, less debt, smaller government," Romney said.

The Santorum campaign faces a need to retool its message, and maybe shake up the messenger. In previous primary contests, Santorum prevailed with an accessible, direct strategy of retail politics delivered by a candidate praised for connecting with voters in a personal way.

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Buoyed by wins in the Iowa caucuses, and a sweep of the Colorado and Missouri caucuses and the Minnesota primary, Santorum threw caution to the wind in recent weeks, honing an attack-dog strategy that alienated some voters and confused others. The easygoing retail style of Santorum that prevailed in January gave way recently to arch, mean-spirited politics. Santorum the scold called President Obama a "snob" for proposing that Americans seek to advance their horizons with pursuit of higher education.

Santorum may have gone a bridge too far when he said last week that a 1960 speech by John F. Kennedy promising to support the separation of church and state made him want to "throw up." The candidate has since expressed regrets for the comments.

The campaign now moves to Super Tuesday, with its 10-state bumper crop of more than 400 delegates up for grabs in seven primaries and three caucuses.

Image credits: Romney: The Huffington Post. Santorum: CNN. Originally published in The Root, Feb. 28, 2012.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Sonny Boy Who?: Blues and the absence of memory


At a blues concert at the White House on Tuesday, honoring both the music and the occasion of Black History Month, Rolling Stones frontman and force of nature Mick Jagger gave a history lesson.

Between tearing into “I Can’t Turn You Loose” (an Otis Redding classic) and “Commit a Crime” by Howlin’ Wolf, Jagger briefly regaled the crowd that gathered in the East Room, talking about the blues, “something I fell in love with when I was about 12 years old.”

“The thing was, we were in England and there was a great blues performer called Sonny Boy Williamson ...”

Crickets from the crowd. One or two tentative claps from far back in the East Room ... but no more recognition than that.

Jagger tried to awaken some memory from the crowd. “I don’t know if you remember Sonny. He was a great harmonica player. Anyway ...”

It wasn’t a huge moment, and in the greater scheme of things, Jagger’s aside will be forgotten. The bigger shame is that, the performer he mentioned at the White House on that night well into Black History Month was already long forgotten. Or just plain overlooked.

Commenting on YouTube, The911 Shaman got it right: “One person clapped in the back row. You know the world is upside down when white folks know more about black history than black folks.”

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Sonny Boy Williamson was born Aleck (Rice) Miller in Mississippi in December 1912. He’s not to be confused with John Lee Curtis Williamson, a blues artist and harmonica player who was the original “Sonny Boy” and who died in Chicago in June 1948. (Blues scholars often distinguish between the two with Roman numerals I and II.)

Sonny Boy Williamson II started his career on the King Biscuit Time show on KFFA radio in Helena, Ark., and later performed on a program on KWEM radio, working with blues greats before they were greats — Elmore James and Arthur (Big Boy) Crudup among them.



He developed his own signature harmonica style. In liner notes for “Boppin’ With Sonny,” producer and blues scholar Marc Ryan observed that “[t]he tone of Sonny's harmonica was unusually full, the result of a combination of virtuosic breath control and an especially large resonating chamber created by cupping his hands around his ... harp.”

Williamson II played and wrote songs throughout the 1950s and 1960s, and was a direct influence on the emerging blues scene in England.

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He toured frequently, recorded with early incarnations of the Yardbirds and the Animals. He died of a heart attack in May 1965, but not before inspiring legions of young Brits hoping to make their mark in the world of music.

Brits like one Michael Philip Jagger, who took the time to remember him at the White House last Tuesday night.

Black History Month is often punctuated with ritual observances of singular figures in black American history and how their exploits dovetailed with the development of a nation that reviled them. We know the names by heart: Harriet Tubman. Frederick Douglass. Rosa Parks. Martin Luther King Jr.

But it’s regrettable, to say the least, when other names from that history go begging — now much as they did when the people behind those names were alive. It’s a sad sad sad commentary on the immediacy of our attention span when we revere the usual suspects, but fail to remember others whose contributions run deep in the American cultural soil ... others who matter ... other links to our history, just above our heads.

Image credits: Sonny Boy Williamson top: via sonny boy.com. Jagger: whitehouse.gov/PBS. Sonny Boy Williamson bottom: via YouTube.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Note to GOP on gas prices: Don’t go there


With spring right around the corner, prices for gasoline have begun their annual northward migration as refineries make changes in gasoline grades to accommodate warmer temperatures, and other variables, in the United States.

It’s a regular thing and has been for years, but the Republicans in Congress and on the campaign trail would have you believe that President Obama is the boogeyman responsible for pain at the pump.

To that end, the GOP is employing a contortionist rhetorical fiction, ramping up a blame-game strategy to lay the price increase at the feet of the Obama administration. Be prepared to know better. There’s not nearly as much there there as the Republicans think.

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For all but the most ardent ideologue, the facts have long been clear: American presidents have little or no control over the price of gasoline; this fact arises from the status of crude oil, gasoline’s parent component, as a global commodity, most of which isn’t produced in the United States.

This is lost on some of the Republican candidates seeking President Obama’s job next year. With the economy beginning to rebound and the party itself grappling with its own identity, they’re doubling down on the hope of crippling Obama’s chances for re-election by shackling him to the increase in gas prices.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, the King of Ideas, jumped in the game on Thursday, making a typically windy, high-handed promise to bring back the good old days. “Americans have every right to demand $2.50 gas — we are an oil-rich country,” Gingrich told Newsmax. “My plan will have the price of gasoline at $2.50 a gallon so that Americans aren’t penalized every time they go to the pump.”

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum came out on the issue earlier in the month at a campaign stop in Colorado, suggesting that Obama is intentionally pushing up prices as a way of reducing carbon emissions by getting people to drive less, a theory too utterly counter-intuitive for words. Or serious debate.

At a closed-door meeting, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) recently called on Republicans to do what Republicans do very well: get angry, this time over gas prices. “This debate is a debate we want to have,” Boehner told his conference earlier this month, according to a Republican aide communicating Boehner’s remarks to The New York Times. “It was reported this week that we’ll soon see $4-a-gallon gas prices. Maybe higher. Certainly, this summer will see the highest gas prices in years. Your constituents saw those reports, and they’ll be talking about it.” The implicit wishfulness of some of Boehner’s comments speaks sadly for itself.

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Some in the media have endorsed this crude-oil schadenfreude as something like sagacity, or even wisdom. Chrysta Freeland of Reuters was among them, speaking on MSNBC’s “Hardball” on Monday.

“Tactically, this is a smart issue for the Republicans to be focusing on,” she said. “[T]he culture wars have gone so far to the right in the Republican Party that in the general election … that kind of focus could really kill them. They’re gonna have to try and find a way to return to the economic debate, but with economic numbers looking a little better, it’s hard to find something to peg that on. So the oil price really could be the issue.”

This argument, sophistry at its best, anticipates the Republicans’ next collective j’accuse of the Obama administration, but it fails (as the Republicans themselves will fail) at finding a direct, causal connection between the Obama White House and the price of oil on the global market.

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On Tuesday, Santorum accused the president of hamstringing the nation’s energy independence, at a campaign stop in Phoenix, Ariz: Obama, Santorum said, “has done everything he can to the regulatory process to shut it off -- offshore; deep water. ... Not granting permits. Not building the Keystone Pipeline.”

There’s that key phrase. You knew it was coming: “Keystone Pipeline.” Count on the Republicans trotting out mention of the Gulf Coast and Steele City XL expansions of the Keystone Pipeline, an environmental disaster-in-waiting Obama has blocked until 2013, pending more environment review.

You watch. Other Republicans will weigh in saying that Obama “laid the groundwork” for the current gas-price rise by not approving the Keystone extensions, when those projects wouldn’t have pumped an additional drop of crude into the United States for another three years.

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Accusing the Obama administration of having this kind of influence over U.S. gas prices is a fatuous argument. That fact, fairly obvious right now, may never be more obvious than when — or hopefully, IF — Israel decides to take military action against Iran for the regime’s long-suspected nuclear weapons program.

If such a strike ever goes down, the day after it happens, oil futures will go through the roof, the price at the pump will go up dramatically overnight, and the American people will discover the hard way that any conservative linkage of the Obama White House to influencing oil prices is a fictional one.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Stone Age in three acts:
Women’s reproductive rights and the GOP


Brazen ineptitude and unbridled arrogance have never been in short supply this political season. There’s maybe never been clearer evidence of this year’s bumper crop of those commodities than three events last week, courtesy of the Republican Party. While you weren’t looking, the Republicans took a trip back to the past.

The GOP’s obsession with gender politics as a paleontological experience revealed itself in three demonstrations of how thoroughly the Republican Party has abandoned women as citizens and as a core constituency, and how, just as thoroughly, the GOP has retrenched to the relative comforts of the white-male past as a way of facing the future — a future likely to be convened without it.

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On Thursday, in a scenario worthy of Kafka or Orwell, Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, convened a hearing on birth control, this in the wake of the recent controversy over an Obama administration regulation requiring health insurance coverage for contraception.

But this first Issa hearing on women’s reproductive health care, focused as it was not on that health care not from a medical or policy perspective but solely on the basis of “religious freedom,” was convened with no women on the panel. Five men of various faiths appeared, and there wasn’t an ovary between them.

Obviously, it didn’t go unnoticed. “Where are the women?” New York Democratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney asked at the hearing. "When I look at this panel, I don't see one single woman representing the tens of millions of women across the country who want and need insurance coverage for basic, preventative health care services, including family planning … where are the women?”



Rep. Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the Oversight Committee, asked to invite a witness, Sandra Fluke, a third-year Georgetown University Law Center student, but was rejected before the hearing even began.

“Rather than inviting witnesses on both sides of this issue to engage in a reasoned and balanced discussion, you have constructed one of the most one-sided hearings I have ever seen, stacking it only with witnesses who agree with your position,” Cummings wrote in a letter to Issa the day before the hearings.

Three Democrats — Maloney, D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and Rep. Mike Quigley — finally had enough and walked out in protest, Holmes Norton telling reporters that Issa’s hearing was going down like the work of "an 'autocratic regime," The Daily Kos reported.

Issa’s office defended his decision to bar Fluke from his hearings’ first panel (there were two on a second, chosen by Republicans) on the grounds that “the hearing is not about reproductive rights but instead about the administration’s actions as they relate to freedom of religion and conscience,” adding that the California congressman “believes that Ms. Fluke is not an appropriate witness.”

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Clearly, the past is a comfortable place for conservatives. For Foster Friess, über-wealthy former investment manager and Rick Santorum SuperPAC sugar daddy, it’s the fount of cherished memories. Mr. Friess (yes, sounds just like you think) lent his cogent, informed voice to the birth control debate-that-shouldn’t-be-a-debate in a Thursday interview with Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC:

“This contraceptive thing, my gosh, it’s such inexpensive — you know, back in my days, they’d use Bayer aspirin for contraception. The gals put it between their knees and it wasn’t that costly,” Friess said to a flabbergasted Mitchell.

Santorum, gaining in the polls, understandably did his best to put distance between himself and his benefactor, disavowing any knowledge of his actions. “This is someone who is a supporter of mine, and I’m not responsible for every comment that a supporter of mine makes,” Santorum said Friday on CBS’s “This Morning.” “It was a bad joke, it was a stupid joke, and it is not reflective of me or my record on this issue.”



Chastened, Friess apologized online: “I can understand how I confused people with the way I worded the joke and their taking offense is very understandable. To all those who took my joke as modern-day approach, I deeply apologize and seek your forgiveness. My wife constantly tells me I need new material—she understood the joke but didn’t like it anyway—so I will keep that old one in the past where it belongs.”

Friday, February 17, 2012

Pat Buchanan’s long goodbye


On Thursday, about four months after he was absented from the political analysts’ bullpen at MSNBC, Pat Buchanan was formally separated from employment at that network. The former Nixon speechwriter, presidential candidate and champion of white Christian supremacy vacated his pundit’s post in the wake of the content of "Suicide of a Superpower: Will America Survive to 2025?," published Oct. 18.

In the obligatory Tersely Worded Statement, the network said that "after 10 years, we have decided to part ways with Pat Buchanan. We wish him well."

On Friday, Buchanan, a syndicated columnist and the author of 11 books, wrote in his column at Human Events: “My days as a political analyst at MSNBC have come to an end.

“After 10 enjoyable years, I am departing, after an incessant clamor from the left that to permit me continued access to the microphones of MSNBC would be an outrage against decency, and dangerous.”

Buchanan was taken to task for statements in the book, including advancement of the idea that racial, ethnic and cultural diversity have polluted the American ideal and corrupted what, in his view, is now and always essentially a white Christian nation.

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Buchanan’s Friday column condemned advocacy groups like the Anti-Defamation League and (maybe the loudest) Color of Change, Color of Change, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization involved in lobbying, public education and grassroots political action on behalf of black and minority Americans.

In an Oct. 25 e-mail to supporters, calling for Buchanan’s ouster in the wake of his latest book, Color of Change said Buchanan was advancing “a vision of America that portrays white people and ‘white culture’ as genuinely American, and diversity and multiculturalism as a threat to America. Buchanan tries to blame the country's economic problems on programs like affirmative action, welfare, and food stamps — programs which help vulnerable and disadvantaged Americans of every race, but which Buchanan and others on the far right have portrayed as only helping lazy and undeserving minorities. He takes every opportunity to stoke the racial anxiety and fear that exists among some white people ...

“If Buchanan didn't have a powerful media platform, he'd be just another person with outdated, extremist ideas. But it's irresponsible and dangerous for MSNBC to promote his hateful views to an audience of millions.”

Buchanan fires back via Human Events, bloodied but unbowed: “The modus operandi of these thought police at Color of Change and ADL is to brand as racists and anti-Semites any writer who dares to venture outside the narrow corral in which they seek to confine debate. …

"I know these blacklisters,” Buchanan wrote. “They operate behind closed doors, with phone calls, mailed threats and off-the-record meetings. They work in the dark because, as Al Smith said, nothing un-American can live in the sunlight."

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Buchanan had his defenders at MSNBC, as you could reasonably expect after 10 years at the network, rhetorically jousting with other thought leaders on the political scene. "Morning Joe" co-hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski issued a statement after the deal went down:

"Everyone at Morning Joe considers Pat Buchanan to be a friend and a member of the family. Even though we strongly disagree with the contents of Pat's latest book, Mika and I believe those differences should have been debated in public. An open dialogue with Morning Joe regulars like Al Sharpton and Harold Ford, Jr. could have developed into an important debate on the future of race relations in America.

Michigan and Mitt


Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder endorsed Mitt Romney for the Republican nomination on Thursday. If the voters of the state of Michigan were sitting governors, the former Massachusetts governor would be a lock to win the Michigan Primary on Feb. 28. As it is now, this best news Romney’s had in about a week may be the best news he gets for a while, as a wave of new polls indicate that the everyday people of Michigan aren’t as favorably inclined toward Mitt as the governor is.

Romney is thought to be in the fight of his campaign’s life, as former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum’s pay-as-you-go, pass-every-hat campaign is gaining ground with Republican voters in Michigan and around the country.

A Feb. 13 Mitchell/Rosetta Stone poll had Santorum over Romney, 34 percent to 25 percent. An MRG Michigan poll of likely Michigan voters (same date) gave Santorum a 10-point bulge, 43 percent to 33 percent. An American Research Group poll from Feb 11-12 gave Santorum a six-point edge.

Then came the heavyweights: By Thursday a plurality of state and national polls including Rasmussen, Gallup, Pew Research Center and PPP, all had Santorum outpointing Romney for the nomination, by a little or a lot. That’s a problem for Team Mittens; the breadth of the polling, not just in the state but nationally, suggests that whatever problems he faces in Michigan at the end of the month won’t end there or then.


For others still in this race, the rationale for going forward gets increasingly thin. Texas Rep. Ron (LibertyLibertyLiberty) Paul isn’t in it to win it anyway, merely hoping to run up the delegate count as a way to extract some kind of leverage at the convention in Tampa this August — a scenario that, given his poor showing in most every primary and opinion poll, gets more and more unlikely.

And for Newt Gingrich, the former House Speaker and philosophical pit-bull mandarin of the GOP, the way forward is murky at best. He Who Speaks With Index Finger Pointing Skyward has made this nomination a highly personal one, all but threatening to sacrifice any semblance of party unity on the altar of payback. There’s been some thought that Newt may be strategizing an exit, a departure from the race that would throw his delegates behind Santorum.

But not yet; Gingrich has vowed to stay in the race all the way to the convention. But with a campaign running on fumes and generating increasingly sad election results since South Carolina, the chance of Newt’s having any gravitas in Tampa is dropping to a very low order of probability. At the rate he’s going, Newt Gingrich may be at the convention — or outside it — selling snacks and sodas from a food truck in the parking lot.

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It’s a two-man race right now, and Romney is well on his way to losing it.

For now, much of the punditburo has hunkered down behind its insistence that it’s all still Romney’s to lose. Much of the argument comes down to an abiding faith in the power of the conventional armamentarium of American politics: ground game, money, oppo research, TV ad buys, an army of fresh-faced interns willing to work for pizza and pictures with the candidate. All of which Romney has had at his disposal for — what, two, three years now? — and none of which has apparently done him a bit of good.

Romney has still failed to put himself across to voters as a credible conservative candidate; his victory at the CPAC gathering a week or so ago notwithstanding, most Republicans didn’t believe him when he announced himself to be “severely” conservative. They aren’t buying his road-to-Damascus conversion, and neither is anyone else.

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The problem for Romney now is the fact that, once a negative trendline begins to build in the polls, it starts to take on a momentum of its own, one that doesn’t always respond to the deus ex machina salvations he’s privately counting on.

Up to now (and this is something else the chattering class recites), in Michigan, Romney’s campaign has been relying on the storied “home state” advantage. He was born there, in Detroit, and his father, George Romney, was a popular governor there for six years, after leading a major car company to profitability. That’s why, the punditburo concludes, Romney has that native-son edge that could make the difference in the primary on Feb. 28.

Grand Rapids consultant Greg McNeilly, a former executive director of the state Republican Party told the Los Angeles Tmes that "[i]f he were to lose Michigan, a state that has been considered a Romney stronghold for so long, it would be a significant blow to his campaign."

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But looking at it more realistically, it’s easy to see how this “native son” advantage may be an illusion. Romney doesn’t live in Michigan, and hasn’t for 46 years, the Times reported. While he was born in Detroit, he was raised in the tony, privileged neighborhood of Bloomfield Hills, 20 miles away. His father the governor left office in 1969; he died in 1995.

All of this means that Mitt Romney is banking on being the beneficiary of warm fuzzies from Michigan voters, a large percentage of whom don’t know the family backstory (not having been alive to hear it), and who therefore don’t have any resonating sentiments about Romney the Native Son, the prodigal come home at last. That’s not the Mitt Romney they know.

They only know that the Mitt Romney who stood Thursday at a Farmington Hills campaign rally and said, “I love this state, it seems right here” doesn’t hang his fur-lined hat in the state he his father once ran as governor. And he hasn’t lived there for almost half a century.

They only know the Mitt Romney who was ready and willing to kick the state’s major manufacturing industry, carmaking, to the curb three years ago.

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As we get closer to the Michigan Primary (and the other one that same day, in the Arizona Territory), we can count on Romney to continue making the social conservative pivot. We’ll watch with interest as Romney tries to shape-shift, to pull a Zelig move, to transform himself into something he never was.

And we’ll watch the Michigan poll numbers, which suggest that Mitt Romney may pay the price for being today what he’s been for some time: A man who loved a state so much, he decided not to live there anymore.

Image credits: Romney: via MSNBC. Poll snapshots, Michigan primary projections: Five Thirty Eight blog at The New York Times. Gingrich: via The Huffington Post.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Whitney Houston:
One nation, two minutes in Tampa, indivisible


Whitney Elizabeth Houston soared yesterday, effecting her transit from this world shortly before 4 p.m., in a fourth-floor room at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. She was 48. I never had every album in her catalog, the way a diehard fan did. I never saw her live in concert. And all too often in recent years, I seemed to track her career by the 128-point tabloid scream of her latest brush with human frailty. My hand to God, I saw it at the end of a checkout counter on Wednesday: WHITNEY COLLAPSES

But I believed she had a lot of mileage left on the meter. So much of Whitney Houston the public persona was built for the long distance. Her music, her sound, her voice — incandescent, churchy but sexy, with a commanding range — was always a part of the ether, the understructure, the musical furniture of our daily lives. To hear one of her classics — “I Will Always Love You,” “How Will I Know,” “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me),” “So Emotional” — was to hear a voice at the upper register of emotional expression, a voice that seemed to embody liberation and the possible, even in the worst of her times. Like Michael Jackson, similarly imprisoned by the relentless demands of a ravenous profession, when she was singing, she was free.

Whitney maybe never better distilled that sense of freedom than when she did so on behalf of a grateful nation. It was at Super Bowl XXV, after the beginning of the Persian Gulf War, and Whitney Houston was there to sing the National Anthem, with support by the Florida Orchestra.



A lot of times what makes history is a deliberate accident, a concatenation of planned events that, when put together, yield an unexpected result. That’s what happened in Tampa, Fla., on Jan. 27, 1991. The patriotic spirit of the Super Bowl is evident in any year, anyway; that year, with the nation on a war footing, it was even more obvious (American flags everywhere, the flyover of jets). But it took Whitney Houston to distill that patriotism to an indelible rendition of our song into a lapidary event.

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The National Anthem in recent years has become a kind of celebrity indulgence, patriotism filtered through comic relief, accidental and otherwise. Who can forget Roseanne Barr’s epic fail at a San Diego Padres game in 1990? Professional singers Michael Bolton and R. Kelly each did their bit to lacerate the song; so did Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler at an NFL playoff game earlier this year, and Christina Aguilera at last year’s Super Bowl.

All due props to Bolton, Kelly, Tyler, Aguilera — and with multiple Grammys on the mantelpieces at home, props are definitely due — but with the flamboyant way they wield their vocal instruments, all swoops and screeches and arabesques, their performances often seem to be all about the singer. And sometimes, it’s really all about the song.

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Whitney Houston understood that in 1991, understood it in a way that was unmistakable. The liberation embodied in her clarion mezzo-soprano on that evening in Florida mirrored our own sense of liberation, that which we enjoyed as Americans, and (faint hope) that which we sought to ensure for a subjugated people in another country.

Rendered in a clear voice, with no histrionics or multi-octave acrobatics, the national anthem on that night became Whitney’s own. Never mind the troubles that beset her in later years; on that night in Tampa she was a conduit, a medium, a vessel through which was channeled for two electric, galvanizing minutes the ideals of a nation, transmitted in a version of the national anthem no one’s done better than, before or since.

I wept when I first heard it watching the game in 1991. And I can’t listen to it now, today, without tears, but for very different reasons.

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Whitney Houston earned two Emmy Awards, six Grammy Awards, 30 Billboard Music Awards, 22 American Music Awards, and sold more than 170 million albums and singles worldwide (a number certain to climb now). But for all her international achievements, for this listener, a brief but always shining moment, two minutes at the Super Bowl, best revealed what the American national anthem could be, what it could mean to anyone from any vantage in the American mosaic.

For me, that’s what weds me to Whitney Houston’s voice. When she sang the anthem, she was one with this country. And we were one with this country. All of us. And thanks in part to her gift to the nation — bigger than legislation, more charitable than politics, immune from party and spin — we still are.

Image credits: Stills from the ABC broadcast, via YouTube.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Campaign 2012:
Past, via Patch, may be prologue


Former McCain campaign brain Steve Schmidt has a reputation for sound campaign strategy (his former candidate’s fortunes notwithstanding). But Schmidt, now working with MSNBC as an analyst, recently proposed an outcome for two of the Republican campaigns that’s already common knowledge for readers of a news Web site in Lexington, S.C.

Speaking on Wednesday, in the wake of three Rick Santorum blowouts in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri, Schmidt said:

“Now, Rick Santorum needs Newt Gingrich to either get out of the race or he needs those Gingrich voters to collapse Newt Gingrich’s support and come over to him pretty decisively, because if there are two candidates 
splitting the conservative vote, looking ahead at the remaining contest and 
going on to Super Tuesday, I still think it means that it’s big trouble for those candidates.”

The same thinking was reported on Jan. 10 by Andrew Moore of the Lexington, S.C. Patch, who wrote that sources inside the Santorum campaign say that Newt Gingrich intends to support the former Pennsylvania senator, should Newt opt out of a race he’s increasingly unlikely to win.

“While Newt Gingrich campaign staffers are calling such talk premature, there are indications that should the former House Speaker bow out of the GOP race, he would throw his support behind rising Rick Santorum in a last-ditch effort to stop frontrunner Mitt Romney,” reports Moore, writing for Lexington Patch, part of the Patch community Web site network owned by AOL and The Huffington Post.

“Multiple South Carolina sources affiliated with Santorum's campaign said Gingrich's campaign has contacted Santorum's campaign to discuss endorsing the former Pennsylvania senator should he drop out.”

“One source, speaking to Patch on the condition they not be identified, paraphrased Gingrich's stance as delivered by high level campaign staff this way: ‘If it can't be me, I want it to be Rick Santorum.’ ”

◊ ◊ ◊

What Schmidt is strategizing about could well happen organically whether Newt quits the race or not. The process of candidates being winnowed from the field started months ago. There’s months to go before the nomination process ends and, at this point, only about 12 percent of the 1,144 delegates needed to win the nomination decided. There’s a lot of primaries left.

And conservative voters desperately seeking the anti-Romney may well gravitate on their own to Santorum. If that happens, we may find that Schmidt’s scenario isn’t either/or, it’s both/and.

Voters may decide to go Santorum’s way on the basis of a building wave of support, his perceived fidelity to conservative principles, a compelling personal narrative, and the belief that Newt Gingrich is running more for himself than out of any sense of national mission.

If that happens, Newt’s likely to finally see the light, take a hard look at the brutal arithmetic facing him, and decide he cannot possibly win. At that time — certainly after Super Tuesday but not long after — Gingrich decides that the next best thing to not winning the nomination is making sure Romney doesn’t win either. At that moment, Newt throws his support to Santorum.

Which is exactly what Patch reported a month ago.

◊ ◊ ◊

That’s something that’s more likely to happen now, with the news that Romney won the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) straw poll today, with 38 percent of the vote, followed by Santorum with 31 percent … followed by Gingrich, a distant third (15 percent).

If Newt stays the course through Super Tuesday, more out of obstinance than anything else, the calls will grow for him to step aside. If he decides that enough's enough, that’s when Gingrich can be expected to be a signatory to the ABM (Anyone But Mitt) Treaty conservatives hope to ratify between now and the convention in August.

Image credits: Lexington Patch logo: © 2012 Patch Inc. Gingrich and Santorum: CNN.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Mitt's bad day


On yesterday’s date in 2008, Mitt Romney abandoned his quest for the Republican nomination. Last night, Romney may well have wished he’d done the same thing this year.

The inevitable one, the candidate who many in the chattering class and in the Republican party still insist is the one to beat for the nomination, got served. Schooled. Politically punk’d in three states. When the results from caucuses and primaries in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri were in, the former Massachusetts governor was handed a serious defeat in three acts, losing all three to a candidate that had fallen off the radar for the media and everyone else.

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, this campaign’s reigning king of retail politics, had won all three contests, effectively resetting the Republican race. Again.

“Inevitable candidates don’t have nights like this,” Steve Kornacki of Salon said on MSNBC.

◊ ◊ ◊

These were no skin-of-the-teeth victories. In the Missouri primary, Santorum crushed Romney by almost 30 points (51 percent to 23 percent). Texas Rep. Ron (LibertyLibertyLiberty) Paul placed a distant third. Newt Gingrich inexplicably failed to get on the ballot altogether. It got worse in Minnesota. Santorum notched 45 percent, Paul placed second (27 percent) and Romney limped in with 17 percent support in the state’s nonbinding caucus. Gingrich reoccupied familiar territory in fourth place (11 percent).

In the closest contest of the night, the Colorado caucus, Santorum bested Romney, 40 percent to 35 percent, with Gingrich and Paul in third and fourth place, respectively.

Justifiably puffed up by his stunning trifecta, Santorum appeared at a victory rally in St. Charles, Mo., and made a full-throated gauntlet throwdown to his real opponent. “Ladies and gentlemen, I don’t stand here tonight to claim to be the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney. I stand here to be the alternative to Barack Obama.”

◊ ◊ ◊

The alarm bells are going for some in the conservative brain trust. “It was a huge night for [Santorum],” said Steve Schmidt, former McCain 2008 campaign strategist and now an MSNBC analyst. “It starts to collapse the inevitability storyline around Mitt Romney.”

Schmidt was half right. That Romney storyline is collapsing, but that process didn’t begin last night. It started months ago, with towering missteps from the candidate; a series of policy flip-flops; a gradual but steady improvement in the economy he presumes to rescue; and the dogged and personal door-to-door retail ground game Santorum has been playing since before his win in Iowa. Now Romney faces the prospects of coming to the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) convention this weekend with the smell of a loser, forced to pivot away from the economy, compelled to confront the frailties of a campaign that was a one-trick pony from the jump.

◊ ◊ ◊

Tim Pawlenty, the former governor of Minnesota who abandoned his quest for the White House last year and who since signed on as Romney’s deputy campaign manager, tried to spin the three losses as no big deal. He took the expected approach on “Piers Morgan Tonight” on CNN.



“They were smaller turnout states, they were nonbinding states, so I don’t think they change fundamentally the trajectory or the direction of the election,” Pawlenty said tonight.

“In cases like Minnesota, the small turnout traditionally means that caucus attendees gravitate toward the candidate who’s perceived to be the most conservative. That presents a more challenging environment for Mitt Romney, as they turned, apparently, to Rick Santorum tonight.”

◊ ◊ ◊

But sorry, T-Paw, all of that comes across like an excuse masquerading as an explanation. At this point in the campaign, if someone purports to be the frontrunner, he or she begins to see an acclimation of support starting to build, and build consistently.

All rationalizations aside — it’s just a caucus, they’re nonbinding, this was a beauty contest, no delegates were awarded, blah blah blah — there are some contests a frontrunner is supposed to win, in spite of their value in the overall metrics of the outcome. If you’re really the frontrunner.

No less a conservative partisan than Dick Armey, former House Speaker and one of the progenitors of the Tea Party movement, calls that status for Romney into question. “Clearly there is no front-runner in the field right now,” Armey told The New York Times. “I guarantee if Romney had come in first, he would have said those three contests are the most important in the country.”

If a small turnout “means that caucus attendees gravitate toward the candidate who’s perceived to be the most conservative,” why wasn’t that candidate Mitt Romney? The people of at least some of the states that just caucused could have backed Romney on that basis, but they didn’t. If caucuses are the canaries in the coal mine, if they in any way point to a bigger trend of voter sentiment that’s coming, Romney’s in trouble.

◊ ◊ ◊

That trouble’s even more obvious in a campaign-by-campaign comparison. In each of the three states that caucused yesterday, Romney’s 2012 totals were worst than he recorded in 2008. In Colorado four years ago, Romney won in a landslide with 60 percent of the vote. This year, 35 percent. In Minnesota 2008: 41 percent; this year, just 17 percent.

Team Romney has other challenges, too. A Washington Post/ABC News poll on who voters trust to protect the middle class finds President Obama handily outpointing Romney, 56 percent to 37 percent. That’s likely to be an issue for the rest of the primary season, and a disparity hard to overcome in the general.

Romney’s next obstacle is this weekend’s CPAC convention, where he’ll attempt to establish his conservative bona fides for an audience of probable skeptics. The candidate seemed to grasp what’s ahead of him when he talked to the media today. “There’s no such thing as coronation in presidential politics,” he said. Last night’s events would indicate he doesn’t know how right he is.

Image credits: Romney top, caucus result snapshots: The Huffington Post. Santorum, CNN election result image: CNN.

Monday, February 6, 2012

'Halftime in America’:
Clint Eastwood’s sudden impact


You have to watch it more than once to fully get it, to appreciate the deeper universalizing subtext, the nuances of language and image, and its perception of something almost beyond language, that warm crimp in your solar plexus that tells you when you’ve been moved. Or manipulated.

At halftime in Super Bowl XLVI, on Sunday, one of the ads we often watch instead of the game came on. We see a man walking in shadow, coming in our direction at the edge of the stadium, stretching his legs from watching the actual game himself. We hear the voice of Clint Eastwood talking about a generic halftime locker-room strategy.

And in the next ninety seconds, with a marriage of images and exactly 250 words, the actor-director — his face weathered and rough-hewn as a woodcut, his voice its own indelible cultural marker — speaks about “halftime in America,” and in the process, makes a bid to reframe the national debate, and to do so from his presumably conservative perspective.



It’s halftime. Both teams are in their locker room discussing what they can do to win this game in the second half.

It’s halftime in America, too. People are out of work and they’re hurting. And they’re all wondering what they’re going to do to make a comeback. And we’re all scared, because this isn’t a game.

The people of Detroit know a little something about this. They almost lost everything. But we all pulled together, now Motor City is fighting again. ...

All that matters now is what’s ahead. How do we come from behind? How do we come together? And, how do we win?

Detroit’s showing us it can be done. And what’s true about them is true about all of us.

This country can’t be knocked out with one punch. We get right back up again and when we do the world is going to hear the roar of our engines.

Yeah, it’s halftime America. And, our second half is about to begin.


◊ ◊ ◊

The Chrysler ad has a certain “Rashomon” aspect, its script and visuals combined in a story that was oddly generic in its specificity — linking the United States of now with previous eras of discontent — but still able to be seen and interpreted through the multiple prisms of the public and the media, with equal validity. Although conservatives reviled the ad, it went over big at the White House.

The CAPS LOCK commentariat loved and hated it with equal fervor. More than a few of that crowd noted how Eastwood’s paean to the resurgent U.S. automobile industry in a Chrysler ad obliquely refers to that industry’s greatest triumph: the return of General Motors — Chrysler’s competitor — to the status of No. 1 carmaker in the world.

The ad stands out for reasons beyond any usual bottom-line-driven objective of selling something. Eastwood is in it, but what makes the ad work so well is the fact that there are only scarce appearances of any Chrysler. They’re in there, of course, but they’re where they belong in an ad of this emotional gravity, as bit players in this two-minute survey of the nation. This ad for a car company doesn’t sell cars. It doesn’t really sell anything. It advances an idea, and maybe the only idea that matters right now: that in this time of test, this period of crisis, enlightened self-interest calls us back to common sense.

With 250 words, Clint Eastwood seems to have offered us an emancipation proclamation wrapped in a pep talk — not a gesture meant to benefit or enable any single part of the American mosaic, but an anodyne statement of what we have in common, an avowal of national principles and pride, a muted but doggedly determined cri de Coeur that calls on us to be, simply, better than we’ve been in quite a while.

◊ ◊ ◊

Like anything else these days, the Eastwood Chrysler ad went under the political microscope. Conservatives went batshit almost immediately, with everyone from Bush #43 Prince of Darkness Karl Rove to former recreational pharmaceutical enthusiast Rush Limbaugh to the National Review piling on. The thrust of the message to Eastwood, a longtime conservative, was plain: You’re outta line, you’re not reading from the hymnal … blasphemer!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Newt doubles down in Nevada


The Nevada caucus came off today more or less as expected; it was Mitt Romney’s second straight win and, as such, more reason for the former Massachusetts governor’s campaign to start crowing about his inevitability again. For other challengers for the nomination, the way forward is hard to see. Just don’t tell Newt Gingrich.

For the former House Speaker, it’s personal. Correction: it’s been a personal matter for some time now, with Newt grousing long and hard about negative Romney SuperPAC ads used against him in previous primary contests. Now it’s even more so.

You could see that today, in the wake of a drubbing at the hands of Romney to the tune of 29 percentage points. In a news conference at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas, Newt Gingrich engaged in that storied action of the last-ditch gambler: doubling down on the bet he’s already made.

◊ ◊ ◊

In that newser, Newt returned to form: typically combative, prickly, even combative with the media as he said there was no quit in him. “We will go to Tampa,” he said, reaffirming his blood-oath vow to stay in the race for the nomination. “We intend to complete in every state in the country,” he said. “There are underlying factors in this race, and I’m quite happy to continue campaigning. …

“I think there’s a clear contrast,” he said of political distinctions between he and Romney. “I think that the clear contrast is really important. And I think that over time, we’re gonna drive home that clear contrast in a way which will be enormously to his disadvantage.”

That’s Newt Gingrich’s way of saying that, as the primary process unfurls between now and March 6, Super Tuesday, he intends to do what he can, whatever he can, to run up the delegate counts in states thought to be more in his social and political orbit (read: states in the South), and do his utmost to bloody the patrician head of Mitt Romney by any means necessary.

◊ ◊ ◊

This, of course, includes the ritual Newt accusation that Romney is a “pro-abortion, pro-gun control, George Soros-approved Massachusetts moderate.” George Soros filled in for Saul Alinsky, who apparently got the night off.

It’s hard to say which trait is worst, Gingrich’s barely contained outrage or his equally barely-contained desperation and a willingness to try anything. It didn’t escape the attention, for example, when Newt announced the stealing a march on the viral crowdsourcing approach to campaign fundraising successfully used by Team Obama in 2008.

“We have over 160,000 donors, 97 percent of whom have given less than $250,” Gingrich said today. “We have an obligation to them to stand up for their values …”

Whichever trait dominates in the Gingrich psyche doesn’t really matter. They’re both equally the evidence of a man in love with the politics of scorched earth, even if the earth being scorched is his own.

◊ ◊ ◊

Gingrich has also doubled down on his faith in a singular, unalloyed brand of Reagan-era conservatism that he and others believe is deeply muddied and compromised by the man from the Republic of Massachusetts. It’s this conservatism he says he’s fighting for.

Nevada Caucus:
Romney out front, Ron Paul in second


Interesting times: The doors haven’t officially closed yet and there are too few returns to give a clear picture. But early indicators point to a compelling night in the GOP race for nomination. Expected news may have sidebar stories that no one saw coming.

Right now, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney leads (as forecast forever) with 37 percent of the 5 percent of the total vote that’s in. Nothing to see there, folks. The bigger story may be what’s happening in the fight for second place. At this posting, Republican Texas Rep. Ron Paul is in second, with 30 percent — well behind Romney but clearly Paul’s best showing yet.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is at 20 percent right now, back in the third-place territory he’s occupied before. But there’s the suspicion of change afoot, possibly a sub rosa narrative among party poobahs that says it’s time for the Newt Train to head for the siding. The candidate is reportedly having a campaign event later tonight at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas — the hotel owned by Gingrich’s billionaire benefactor Sheldon Adelson. Could Adelson be hedging his bets? Stay tuned.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Donald backs Mitt:
When an endorsement isn’t an endorsement


This is my mistake,
Let me make it good

— "World Leader Pretend," R.E.M.



Today in Las Vegas, putative billionaire and walking reality show Donald Trump endorsed Mitt Romney for president. At the Trump International Hotel, a physical setting with more cosmetic gravity than it probably deserved, Trump offered his full-throated, blow-dried support: “It’s my honor, real honor and privilege to endorse Mitt Romney. Mitt’s tough, he’s smart, he’s sharp. He’s not going to allow bad things to continue to happen to this country that we all love.”

Most of the TV phalanx of the punditburo delivered this news with barely suppressed smirks, or like Chris Matthews, with a twinkling smile attached, as though they were getting ready to offer up the day’s entertainment news. So far, at least, they’re generally caught up in the comic relief aspect of this (and there’s plenty of that around) or the ways it indicates Romney currying favor with the far right wing of the Republican Party.

But for all its political bling value, despite being worth its weight in unearned media, Trump’s endorsement is the worst thing that could happen to Romney right now.

◊ ◊ ◊

One rich guy backing another: That’s the shorthand takeaway from Trump’s support. The meme of Romney the Rich Guy had already gotten plenty of reinforcement on Wednesday, when the candidate, flush with victory in Florida, stepped in it when he offered CNN’s Soledad O’Brien his rationale for seeking the presidency.



“I’m in this race because I care about Americans,” he said. “I’m not concerned about the very poor; we have a safety net there; if it needs repair, I’ll fix it. I’m not concerned about the very rich, they’re doing just fine ...”

He went on to describe how his deepest convictions of passion were with “the very heart” of Americans, the middle class. But O'Brien gave him a chance to tweak his comment. Romney basically repeated his initial assertion and, as you can see when you watch the video, the damage to be done was never undone.

Romney’s Wednesday comment got the soundbite treatment; the offending passage was isolated from the rest, but it needn’t have been. Any part of it was bad enough.

We have a safety net there; if it needs repair, I’ll fix it, the candidate says with the same flat, dutiful alacrity a husband might use to tell his wife he’ll fix the garage-door opener the following weekend. Taken in its entirety, Romney’s comment partitions his concerns according to economic demographic, just the kind of stratification a bitterly divided country doesn’t need.

◊ ◊ ◊

And now an anointing in Las Vegas. At a moment when Romney’s populist bona fides are seriously under fire from the right he’s embraced and the moderates he’s abandoned, the former Massachusetts governor doubles down on that wealth thing that’s got him in trouble already. This is coals to Newcastle.

Sometimes politicians can be adroitly, brilliantly counter-intuitive, steering head-on into the same winds that could capsize a campaign, but navigating those winds just so, falling down a potentially destructive force and emerging stronger. This ain’t one of those times.

Romney’s unblinking acceptance of Trump’s endorsement is dumb counter-intuitive; In fact, it’s not counter-intuitive at all. It’s utterly predictable, This perceptual merger and acquisition of what’s left of Romney’s credibility follows directly from what we’ve seen of Romney before.

It’s all of a piece with the arrogance of the optically foolish $10,000 bet with Texas Gov. Rick Perry; the brazen insensitivity of his statement that “corporations are people, my friend!” on the campaign trail in August; and the breathtaking indifference of yesterday’s comments on CNN. It reflects nothing more or less than a tone-deafness to the lives and problems of the American people; to the subtleties and nuances of political alliances, and to the perception of those alliances by the people he’s trying to reach.

◊ ◊ ◊

It wasn’t even especially strategic. If Romney’s acceptance of Trump’s support is a bid for the base of the Republican base (the Tea Party crew, the birthers and acolytes of political personality Sarah Palin®), it may be wasted time. Newt Gingrich, the former House Speaker and blood enemy of Romney, has by conservative necessity pitched for exactly the same cohort of support — hell, Gingrich can’t afford not to, at this point.

And courtesy of CNN, we got some idea of what the Tea Party thinks of Romney, back when South Carolina was in play:



What’s it all mean? Just that Romney’s bid for the base of the base will likely be a wash with Gingrich’s bid for the same wing-within-a-wing of the party. No advantage confers to Romney for doing what Gingrich, his closest opponent, has been doing for months, and doing aggressively for weeks. Since before he won the South Carolina Primary.

And since Donald Trump isn’t exactly known for being either a pillar of political consistency or a fount of wisdom on the nation’s economic and geopolitical ills, Romney gains no real advantage there, either. We got proof of that last year. A Fox News poll on the influence of a Trump endorsement on voters nationally found that only six percent of voters thought a nod from The Donald was more likely to have an effect on their vote. Thirty-one percent said it was less likely to do so. Sixty-two percent said it’d make no damn difference at all.

This was from a Fox poll in September, mind you, when the field of GOP contenders was about twice what it is now — well before Romney surged to the front, and a Trump endorsement for him would mattered more, would have been more of a real stand on principle, rather than a bet on a sadly probable sure thing.

Or maybe not. Maybe Trump’s bluffing, maybe he thinks something else again. Like back in long-ago 2011, when Trump had issues with Romney’s stature as a businessman.

You never know what you’ll get with Donald Trump; his political constant is unpredictability; publicity is the North Star he guides by. In that much, Trump and Romney seem to deserve each other. For both men, empire is a reason for being. For both men, achieving the common touch is important. For both men, that common touch is the farthest thing from reality.

Image credits: Trump, Romney: CNN
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