Archive for category 2012 Presidential Race

Mitt Romney as Adlai Stevenson

These comments by Mitt Romney’s son Tagg have gotten a lot of attention in the last couple of days:

In an interview with the Boston Globe examining what went wrong with the Romney campaign, his eldest son Tagg explains that his father had been a reluctant candidate from the start.

After failing to win the 2008 Republican nomination, Romney told his family he would not run again and had to be persuaded to enter the 2012 White House race by his wife Ann and son Tagg.

“He wanted to be president less than anyone I’ve met in my life. He had no desire… to run,” Tagg Romney said. “If he could have found someone else to take his place… he would have been ecstatic to step aside.”

By coincidence, I happened to be reading Joseph Epstein’s profile of Adlai Stevenson in his new book, Essays in Biography.  To the extent that these revelations can be taken at face value, the resemblance to Stevenson’s approach to power is remarkable.

Let’s start by acknowledging some differences between Stevenson and Romney.  While both were bright, Romney is probably more intellectual than Stevenson was (Stevenson played the part of the intellectual better, but the only book on his nightstand when he died was the social register), and Stevenson was probably a better governor.  He could have had the 2nd term in Illinois if he had wanted it instead of the presidential nomination, whereas it’s not clear at all that Romney would have had a 2nd term if he had run, rather than prepare for his 2008 run.

But both Romney and Stevenson appear to have had a healthy, philosopher-king style distrust of power, enough that it evidently made them each uneasy about having it themselves.  That’s not necessarily the reason they lost, but in Stevenson’s case, his public prevarications seem to have projected enough weakness that the public went the other way.  At least Romney had the sense to keep any doubts private.  And while he made the strategic error of not answering the personal attacks sooner, nobody really thinks that’s because he was trying to take a dive.

Stevenson, like Romney, also seems to have lacked a coherent governing philosophy.  In Epstein’s telling:

The style, it is said, is the message.  But in the case of Adlai Stevenson, the style seemed sometimes to persist in the absence of any clear message whatsoever.  He preached sanity; he preached reason; his very person seemed to exert a pull toward decency in public affairs.  Yet there is little evidence in any of his speeches or writing that he had a very precise idea of how American society was, or ought to be, organized. His understanding of the American political process was less than perfect, as can be seen from his predilection for the bipartisan approach to so many of the issues of his time.  One might almost say that Stevenson tried to set up shop as a modern, disinterested Pericles, but that he failed to realize that the America of the 1950s was a long way from the Golden Age of Athens.

Ultimately, Stevenson was better at not saying much; his rhetoric influenced both Kennedy’s New Frontier and Johnson’s sale of the Great Society; whomever the Republicans nominate in 2016 will likely owe little to Romney’s campaign talks.

I don’t want to overdraw the comparison.  Romney only ran in one general election; in some ways, his 2012 race contains elements both of Stevenson’s initial 1952 run and his rematch with Eisenhower in 1956, but in other ways, was completely different.  Having never been the party’s nominee in 2008, Romney couldn’t lead the party in-between elections.  The Republicans as a whole are coming to understand what Stevenson learned in 1952 – that a Presidential campaign is a terrible place to define issues and educate the public; individual personalities simply play too large a part in any single-office election.

But the biggest difference is how Romney will react after his loss, compared to how Stevenson reacted after his.  Stevenson desperately wanted the nomination in 1960, only couldn’t bring himself to say so until it was too late.  He wanted it, but he wanted to be asked, rather than having to ask.  Romney really does seem done with politics, except for the inevitable post mortems.



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Regionalizing Collar Counties – Another Reason for the Suburbs to Reject Obama’s Entreaties

Much of the election this year has focused on the suburbs, or, as Joel Kotkin calls them, “America’s last politically-contested territory.”  Republicans have attempted to appeal to their economic concerns over mounting debt and the threat of joblessness to their middle-class security.  Democrats have attempted to appeal largely to their independent women’s vote, focusing on reproductive issues.  But there’s another reason for suburbs to be wary of a second Obama term – the possibility that they’ll be denied the benefits that they moved to the suburbs for in the first place.

Stanley Kurtz, a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, has written a book, Spreading the Wealth, about Obama’s desire to remake the political structures of metropolitan areas, to tie suburbs governmentally to the cities at their urban core through regional arrangements.  Such arrangements would, in Kurtz’s estimation, act both to shore up the Democratic Party’s urban base and political machines with suburban tax dollars, and align the political interests of the suburbs with those cities, as well, making them more dependent on federal largesse.

In a 1998 Brookings Institution forum on the State of the Cities, then-State Senator Barack Obama (D-Chicago) discussed the need for the state government to start forcing these arrangements on metropolitan areas:

“At some point, these are real political fights. And I think that you can’t avoid the fact that there are winners and losers in the current economy, in the current way that we arrange local government, zoning issues, land use, and so forth. And that if we’re going to change these systems, then somebody’s going to be resistant, because somebody’s benefitting from the current structure. But the question is whether we can patch together coalitions that can win, particularly at the state level.

“One of the things that’s interesting to me – I’m relatively new to state government – but I think that when you look at some of these issues, state government has not picked up the ball in terms of moving in, and not micromanaging what happens at the local level, but providing some basic parameters, particularly around issues like transportation where the state is pouring a huge amount of money.
Same thing with education, the state is investing greatly, but has this sort of hands off attitude, and permits this sort of balkanization to move forward. And state government is going to be an important partner in this entire process. They’re not currently serving that role, but I think we may see some changes, at least in Illinois.”

There is good reason for suburbanites to resist this maneuver.  Kotkin notes that recently, the suburbs have been picking up people who are moving there from the cities for better schools or more space.  But the roots and culture of the suburbs are more than just a lawn and a nice school.  In 1992, William Schneider wrote in The Atlantic:

“A major reason people move out to the suburbs is simply to be able to buy their own government. These people resent it when politicians take their money and use it to solve other people’s problems, especially when they don’t believe that government can actually solve those problems. Two streams of opinion seem to be feeding the anti-government consensus as American politics enters the suburban era. One is resistance to taxes, which is strongest among middle-class suburban voters. The other is cynicism about government, which is strongest among the urban poor and the poorly educated.

“Upscale voters are the most likely to say that government has too much power and influence, that taxes should be kept low, and that people should solve their problems for themselves. That’s the ‘elitist’ suburban view. Downscale voters express doubts about what government can do. They are the most likely to say that public officials don’t know what they are doing, that most of them are crooks, that they don’t pay attention to what people think, that government is run by a few big interests, and that you can’t trust the government to do what is right. That’s the cynical, “populist” view. Put the two together and you have a powerful, broad-based, anti-government, anti-tax coalition.

“Polls show that people want government to do more about education, the environment, the infrastructure, and health care. But they trust it less than ever. The more expansive view of what government should do has been canceled out by the more constricted view of what government can do. No one wants to give politicians more money to spend, even if the nation’s problems are becoming more serious.”

That was twenty years ago, and while Kotkin argues that the suburbs have become more competitive politically, it’s also true that the reasons people move there in the first place have a lot to do with dissatisfaction with and distrust of urban government and political machines.  Schneider goes on to note that these qualities of wanting to “buy their own government” obtain regardless of the race of the voter.  Black suburbanites feel the same way that whites do about that.  And it’s quite likely that the growing Hispanic and Asian suburbs share many of those views.

Kurtz argues that Obama would leverage federal dollars to push those collar counties into regional government arrangements, subverting and replacing the statutory and chartered city/county structures that we have now.  The would likely be done through the creation of special governmental structures, like RTD, where the cities and suburbs would have some leeway in how they cooperated, but whose boards would be elected outside traditional city & county authorities.

The sales pitch is that since the Denver Metro area, for example, needs to function economically as one unit, it should also function politically as one unit, and that infrastructure and education and housing decisions should be made regionally.  I remember reading a Sunday opinion piece in the mid-80s – I can’t remember if it was in the New York Times or the Washington Post – arguing that political structures need to be on the same scale as economic ones.

There’s some merit to that.  The US prospered in large part because the Commerce Clause made sure that the country was essentially one large free trade zone, with uniform laws when the commerce crossed state lines.

Thinking regionally makes sense in certain obvious cases.  Cars don’t stop at a city or state lines, for instance, but buses often do.  At the eastern terminus of the Kansas Turnpike, the rest area features a picture from the road’s construction, showing it ending at surface level in a farmer’s field in Oklahoma.  A lack of coordination between the two states did that, although the highway was eventually completed.  And Maryland is still standing in the way of both a Western Bypass and an Eastern Bypass to the Capitol Beltway, projects that anyone looking at a map can see make simple common sense for an area drowning in traffic.  One frustration of living in Omaha for the year was the lack of regional bus service.  RTD has unified bus service around the Denver region, and because of partial privatization, has plenty of suburb-to-suburb routes that avoid the city center altogether.

But what Obama is proposing in the clip above is something far more widespread.  Schools?  Housing policy?  We may all be in this together, but Colorado has the idea of local control of school built into its Constitution, we feel so strongly about it.  How ought they react that they need to subsidize the Denver teacher’s union?  After initially demanding a part of the federal pie in return for providing “affordable housing,” they would find themselves unable to break free.

Worse, allowing Denver to export high-density housing to the suburbs is not merely a lifestyle issue, it’s also a political one.  Jonathan Rodden has conducted considerable research showing that in the United States and indeed, throughout the Anglosphere, high-density housing areas, even at the precinct level, reliably and overwhelmingly vote significantly to the left of surrounding lower-density housing.  These results appear to be largely independent of income level, so it’s not simply a matter of the urban poor voting Democrat; the urban rich do so, too.  Extending “affordable housing,” which is almost always higher-density, into the suburbs, would infiltrate those voting patterns into this battleground area.

Localities would find themselves with less and less control both over the services they are expected to provide, and with less and less control over the taxing policy to fund those services.  They would find themselves more and more dependent on state and federal funding, and thus more subject to federal and state rules.  As power flowed from chartered cities and counties to these regional bodies, the rules under which they operate would also become less accountable to local control.  And the flow of money to services, and the public employee unions, would become increasingly political, as the region’s government began to resemble urban machines.

 Any sensible suburbanite should immediately see a threat to the very things he moved to the suburbs to enjoy, and feel pursued by the dysfunctions that he moved away from the city to escape.


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Tonight’s Surprise – China?

In trying to anticipate Monday night’s debate, we’re all thinking about Benghazi.  (Well, all of us except the New York Times, in whose Sunday edition the word does not appear.)  But the White House has more or less gone silent on Benghazi in the last few days, refusing to answer questions about it.  And they have to know that Romney will know the timelines backwards and forwards, ready to remind people of what they know they’ve heard.

What if, instead of trying to rebut the charges – surely a futile task – President Obama tries instead to divert attention?  Where would they turn.

I think the answer is China.  First, reports are that the administration is going to trot out a 5-year-old video from Mitt Romney’s last presidential run, showing him, ah, not hating China.  Here’s what he says:

You know, I think it’s important first for the American people and our leadership to understand that China is not like the Soviet Union of old.  The Soviet Union, Khrushchev in particular, wanted to bury us.  China doesn’t want to bury us, they want to see us succeed and thrive so that we can buy more Chinese products and they’re a competitor economically.  More power to ‘em, we know how to compete.  We want to make sure that competition is fair and legal, and that they protect our intellectual property rights and that they have a monetary policy that’s fair, so we’ve got some challenges to make sure that the playing field is level with China, but we can compete, we can be successful with China, and I will reach out to them, I’ve already met with their leadership and will do so again if I’m lucky enough to be president. Making China a partner for stability in the world will be one of my highest priorities.

China is really key in many respects as they become a very large economy; their GNP is going to surpass ours at some point just given the scale of the nation’s population.  We have to recognize that they’re going to be an economic powerhouse like us.  And with that reality we gotta make sure that we are friendly, that we understand each other, that we’re open in communicating, and that we’re collaborating on important topics, like keeping North Korea from pursuing the nuclear armament which they’ve begun, getting Iran to abandon their nuclear ambitions, China and we together will have a great deal of positive influence for stability if we’re able to work that relationship properly.

It’s unclear why the Obama campaign thinks this is damning, but I suppose you could take the words, “China doesn’t want to bury us, they want to see us succeed and thrive so that we can buy more Chinese products,” out of context, and try to portray Romney as a flip-flopper on China.  I don’t think it’ll work.  I think Romney knows what he said, and in his calm, smooth, reassuring style will remind us that he was insisting that we make China play by the rules, because it’s in everyone’s interest.

I suppose it’s also possible that they’ll use the second half of the statement to claim that Romney is naive on China.  But coming from a president whose naivete on the Middle East is unsurpassed in several generations, and whose “pivot to Asia” is about to be undermined by drastic budget cuts to the Navy, that probably won’t work too well, either.

Obama may also try to use China to salvage his Solyndra payoff investment, inasmuch as that company’s remnants are suing Chinese solar companies, trying to blame them for Solyndra’s failed business model.  Doing that would give him a two-fer: getting to play the Romney-the-outsourcer card, while saying that China is eating our lunch on green technologies, and that he’s the guy to put a stop to it.  (Never mind that China’s paying a heavy price for its own market interventions, even as they continue to blame the West for it.)

So keep an eye on China this evening.  That may be where the real fireworks come from.


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Obama Campaign Flying on Auto-Pilot

There’s a saying among pilots: Plan your flight, and fly your plan.  If you’ve done your homework beforehand, your plan is the surest way out of trouble and to your destination.

Nevertheless, any good flight plan includes alternatives in the case of, say, unexpected headwinds.

For several months, it has been clear that the Democrats’ closing argument was going to be about abortion and birth control.  With the economy still in the tank, and foreign policy not a top-line issue for most voters, there was no place else for them to turn.  Now that foreign policy has turned obviously and embarrassingly sour, all the moreso.

The demographic reasons for this are obvious – abortion and “free” contraception are largely issues for younger, single women, and the “gender gap” is as much as “marriage gap” as anything.  The Democrats know that the best way to get a woman to start voting Republican is for her to get married (which also probably explains about 95% of “Julia”).

The Democrats knew this at the beginning of the year, when George Stephanopolous asked Mitt Romney repeatedly about states banning contraception in that debate, and when the HHS issued its mandate that employers buy contraception for their women employees.

They knew this because they were trying to replicate the success that Michael Bennet had here in Colorado in 2010, winning re-election to his Senate seat in a Republican year, and doing it by beating his Republican opponent Ken Buck up on abortion.  Guy Cecil – his campaign manager and now head of the DSCC – repeatedly said so.  Bennet himself said so at the DNC, and more recently when introducing Joe Biden up in Greeley.  The NY Times said so.  Rachel Maddow said so.  From the beginning of the year, they’ve made no secret of the fact by this point in the election cycle the cries of “contraception” and “abortion” would be so loud you couldn’t hear the math.

My wife used to be a registered Democrat, and so ends up getting almost all the Democrat mailers.  Four mailers, all about abortion and contraception.

And it’s not just the race for president where the Dems have adopted this carpet-bombing strategy.  The only ads I’ve seen attacking incumbent Republican Congressmen Scott Tipton and Mike Coffman have centered on abortion and contraception.

The problem is, it’s not working.

Yes, there’s still a gender gap, but with women only giving Obama a slight plurality, and men overwhelmingly supporting Romney, the numbers just don’t seem to be there for the Democrats at the Presidential level.  And if this is their primary attack in Senate races – so far, I’ve seen it used in Ohio, Virginia, Connecticut (with a woman Republican nominee), Montana, North Dakota, and of course, Missouri – there’s good reason to think the Dems are setting themselves up to lose the Senate, too.

To return to the flight metaphor, the Democrats are flying their plan, but they didn’t count on those headwinds, and they’re now running out of fuel without any alternate airports around.  They have no alternative strategy except to continue to amp up the volume, with cries of “Romnesia” by the President, and the possibility of a an October Surprise not in Iran or Libya, but by Gloria Allred.  I’d be surprised if that works, mostly because it’s already been factored into people’s votes.

The Democrats are flying their plan, but instead of remaining engaged, looking for alternatives, staying abreast of the weather reports, they’re flying it on auto-pilot.

Which as any pilot will tell you, is a great way to not reach your destination.

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Two-and-a-Half Cheers for Romney

Some time back, I wrote a post that John Andrews characterized as, “Two Cheers for Romney,” an explanation of why I had finally climbed on board and was supporting him for President.  And while I’m obviously strongly backing him over President Obama, it’s important to remember just what we’re getting.  We’re not getting Ronald Reagan.  We’re getting, I think, Nixon without the paranoia, someone who’s by nature conservative, but not a movement conservative.  We’re getting someone who won’t actually start turning back the debt and reducing the mission of government.

But he will try to stop the abuse of executive branch authority.  He understands how economies actually work, and what it takes to create wealth rather than destroy it.  While he’s without foreign policy experience, he’s not without a foreign policy, and he understands that the world craves and needs American leadership, and that American values can’t thrive even at home without that leadership.

Barack Obama, depending on whom you listen to, either understands none of that, understands all of it and doesn’t care, or understands all of it and wants to use it as a bludgeon to implement the next stage of Progressivism.  To me, what he understands is less important that what he’ll implement, and the next stage of Progressivism is fearsome enough as a policy.

We’re getting someone who will, in order words, buy us enough time and breathing room to start rolling back the welfare state and the bureaucratic state.

There are risks with this approach.  The most obvious is that the growth in government won’t stop or slow down enough, and we’ll be left as we were with George W. Bush – unhappy with much, but unwilling to contradict the leader of our own party.  And indeed, too unrestrained an objection to this or that policy could end up undermining a presidency that we ought to see as an opportunity.

But I think the greater threat comes from the forces that Prof. Paul Rahe identifies with the newly-minted Republican governor of Michigan, Rick Snyder:

But, like most businessmen, he is timid in the face of potential conflict, and he instinctively shuns anything that would really ruffle feathers. He did not have the courage or perhaps the imagination to stage a confrontation with the unions in the manner of Scott Walker, and so he nixed right-to-work. In effect, he opted for half-measures; and, in the process, he squandered a mandate to change things in the state.

If my fears are realized, it will be due to the fecklessness of a single Republican – who had a chance to set things right but failed to recognize that bad management is not the chief source of Michigan’s problems and that he had to confront more fundamental problems and articulate an argument appealing to justice in defense of what he intended to do.

This fact ought to give one pause. If Mitt Romney wins in November — and I still expect him to win by a landslide — I sure hope that he does not revert to the technocratic, apolitical bipartisanship that marked his tenure as governor in Massachusetts. If he does, we may see Barack Obama back in 2016 . . . or someone worse.

Romney makes much of his ability to work with Democrats.  But looking at the ferocity of the press assault, the intransigence and just plain disingenuousness of Harry Reid, and the magnitude of the task before us, it’s just as important that he know how to work against them, when necessary.  If he can do that, if he’s willing to do that, then we’ll have a chance to start turning this thing around.

Then, he’ll finally earn that last half-cheer from me.

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Obama’s Campaign Finance Loopholes

Newly-inaugurated Pres. Obama promised that transparency would be the hallmark of his administration in a statement on January 21, 2009:

“The way to make government responsible is to hold it accountable. And the way to make government accountable is to make it transparent so that the American people can know exactly what decisions are being made, how they’re being made, and whether their interests are being well-served.”

Unfortunately, the Obama campaign hasn’t been a model of transparency itself, and it now appears as though it may well have been exploiting loopholes in campaign finance reporting requirements to circumvent the law and collect foreign campaign contributions.

A report from Peter Schweizer’s Government Accountability Institute, “America the Vulnerable: Are Foreign and Fraudulent Online Campaign Contributions Influencing U.S. Elections?,” has as its centerpiece an examination of the fundraising practices of the Obama campaign.

The domain, “” is owned by a U.S. businessman based in Shanghai, with close ties to both the Obama administration and the Chinese government, and whose business, Acorn International, is involved in processing credit card transactions. The “” domain reroutes its traffic – roughly 2/3 of which is from overseas IP addresses – to, the fundraising site of the Obama campaign.  What’s happening is that a large number of foreign site visitors are being added to the Obama campaign’s email rolls.

The Obama campaign has been emailing campaign solicitations to foreign email addresses, often asking for contributions in the odd amount of $190. The cutoff is $200, below which campaigns are not required to collect or report information about the donor.

The campaign has only minimal Address Verification settings, making it possible for a foreign contributor to enter, undetected, a U.S. address for his credit card, and have the transaction processed. In addition, the campaign doesn’t ask for CVV (that three- or four-digit number on the back of your credit card) for campaign contributions, even though it does for merchandise purchases.

In essence, the campaign has disabled virtually all of the electronic safeguards that would allow it to detect fraudulent or foreign contributions, and it is under no legal obligation to collect or report information about those contributors, for future audit. Regardless of that, it is illegal for a campaign even to solicit contributions from foreign nationals.

Katie Pavlich has written a nice summary of the findings here. In the meantime, Schweizer’s dismemberment of the Obama campaign’s non-response to the findings can be found here and here.

It will – and should – be noted that many Congressional campaigns, including those of Republicans, are similarly at risk for failing to require CVV and to use the strictest AVS settings. However, few Congressional or Senate campaigns feature candidates of international star status, or offices capable of influencing, setting, and managing trade policy and its execution. This limits both the ability of those campaigns to solicit foreign donations, and the interests in foreign donors in contributing to them.  President Obama’s re-election campaign is, in this regard, something special.

Certainly the evidence is mostly circumstantial, but that will always be true in instances where the law simply doesn’t require the reporting necessary to trace violations. The evidence isn’t enough to convict, but it most certainly is enough to warrant the sort of investigation that can subpoena internal memos and emails, depose witnesses, and use normal prosecutorial techniques to get to the truth of the matter.

If you got here from WhoSaidYouSaid, here’s how you get back.


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Pitfalls in the Vice Presidential Debate

Fresh of Mitt Romney’s knock-out in the first Presidential Debate last Wednesday, Republicans are already licking their chops at the prospect of Paul Ryan going up against Joe Biden on Thursday.  Allow me to interject a note of caution.

There’s little question that Paul Ryan is both smarter and sharper than Biden.  His celebrated dissection of Obama’s fraudulent Medicare accounting at the Health Care Summit – which Obama had expected to run as an undergraduate-level seminar in political surrender – remains a classic, and as relevant to the Medicare/Obamacare debate today as it was then.

Biden, on the other hand, has trouble remembering what state he’s in, what century he’s in, and even counting to four.  If debates were all about pure policy wonk smarts, Biden would be better off sending an empty chair.  In fact, he might be the only national-level candidate to engage in a drinking game at his own debate.

But debates are also about personality and succinctly encapsulating issues in a way that resonates with the average voter, and Biden actually has some gift for that.  Consider the story he tells about his father, the one where he quotes him as saying, “Show me your budget, and I’ll show you what you care about.”  There’s a lot of common-sense, common-touch truth in that statement.  It takes considerable political skill and stage presence to pull off the obvious rejoinder – “Well, then, I guess we know what Harry Reid’s Senate cares about, or doesn’t.” – without coming across as a smart-aleck.  In this regard, Ryan’s relative youth, and his tendency to speak a little more quickly than Biden, could work against him.

The other trap is one that Romney deftly avoided in the first debate – the Democrats’ desire to turn this election into a public relitigation of Griswold v. Connecticut.   Romney so completely controlled the debate last Wednesday, that Obama could only weakly wave the e-word, “extreme,” at the train as it blitzed by his platform.  Biden will do everything he can to bring up contraception and abortion (and the Clinton policy of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”).  He’ll do this with the expectation that the press Democrats with bylines will pick up the theme, and prime the pump for Obama to do the same at the Town Hall debate on the 16th.  Any success in resurrecting what the Democrats clearly see as their closing argument will help stall the Republican momentum that’s picked up in the last few days.

At this point, there’s little doubt that Republicans are more eager to vote for their guy, and more eager to vote, than the Democrats are, but the Veep debate offers a number of chances for the Dems to do what they did in 2010 in Colorado, and negate a significant Republican edge in early voting by scaring younger, independent, suburban women into providing a razor-thin margin of victory.

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Democrat Disillusionment

Wednesday night, Mitt Romney punctured the balloon that was Barack Obama’s inflated reputation as a debater and communicator.  I guess having a hollow core and thin skin is a bad combination.

Romney did this largely by turning out not to be the stick figure that Obama had been running against for the last 18 months, and which he had apparently internalized as actually being the actual Mitt Romney.  So in some respects, the left’s and the Democrats’ disillusionment with Obama is a result of Obama’s disillusionment with the opponent his campaign constructed for him.  So far, his only response has been to complain that Mitt the Man is a better candidate than Mitt the Myth, and to argue that Mitt must have been lying during the debate.  Romney’s campaign has responded with an ad calling Obama on his own campaign’s admission that Romney’s proposed net tax cut won’t be any near $5 trillion, an admission echoed by the media “fact-checkers” that, up until now, Obama had held up as the Gold Standard of Absolute Truth.

That said, some of Obama’s own claims during the debate turn out to be at least misleading.  At one point, during an answer ostensibly about working across the aisle, Obama mentioned three free trade agreements passed in 2011:

“That’s how we signed three trade deals into law that are helping us to double our exports and sell more American products around the world.”

But of course, Obama inherited those free trade agreements – with South Korea, Panama, and Colombia – from the Bush administration, and he sat on them for over two years before submitting them to the Republican-controlled House, where they were approved, and the Democrat Senate, where they passed overwhelmingly.  In this regard, the comparisons with President Clinton are instructive.  One of Clinton’s first acts was to submit NAFTA for Congressional approval, where it passed a Democrat House largely on the strength of Republican backing, and against the wishes of the Democratic majority.  The Democrat leadership simply wasn’t going to submarine a brand-new Democrat president on one of his first initiatives.  Obama had the option to do the same thing anytime during his first two years in office, but chose to wait until the demands grew loud under a Republicans House to do so.

His claims to being open to Republican ideas have always been a sham, but in this case, they’re little more than an attempt to cover up for the fact that he all but ignored economic growth and job creation for his first two years in office.  The difference between Clinton’s & Obama’s trade policy lies in contrast to the similarity in their politics, though.  Clinton has tried mightily to take credit for the benefits of a welfare reform bill that he only adopted once his party lost control of Congress. Likewise with Obama and these bilateral trade agreements.  (In what would be a bizarre claim for an actual news organization, the Washington Post at the time tried to spin this as a win for Obama, rather than his bowing to reality.)

Closer to Colorado, Congressman Ed Perlmutter apparently never got the message, and was the one member of Colorado’s Congressional delegation to vote against all three agreements.  Colorado’s trade with Panama and Colombia is relatively small, but we export hundreds of millions of dollars a year in goods to South Korea, an economy which, while running a trade surplus, isn’t nearly the export-driven economy that it used to be.  Perlmutter was the only Colorado representative who professed to see a threat to local jobs in these agreements.  Even Diana DeGette, long in the tank for the unions, only opposed the Colombian agreement.

As we progressively disabuse ourselves of illusions regarding Democrats, perhaps the next two to fall will be that Obama deserves credit for free trade, and that Perlmutter understands the topic at all.


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Reaction to the Debate

The consensus view going into tonight’s debate was that Mitt Romney needed, if not a knockout win, at least a technical knockout.  With the President leading in most of the polls, although probably not by very much, a win on points probably wouldn’t change enough of few remaining undecided voters, nor would it re-energize Romney’s supporters.  Obama needed to try to run out the clock, looking Presidential, reminding people of why they elected him in the first place.  Given the results of just about every poll of viewers, I think it’s fair to say that Romney achieved that.

His demeanor was that of the Alpha Male: calm, confident, relaxed, explaining without condescending, having mastered not only his own talking points but those of his opponent.  Obama reminded me of a fighter who, when he tried to throw punches, did so laboriously and dropped his other hand, leaving himself open far too often.

Obama look ill-at-ease, saying “uh” and “um” far too many times in what should have been well-rehearsed opening remarks.  Romney breezed through those, and was prepared for Obama’s claims about the $5 trillion tax cut (if only!), and slyly compared the President to a young boy who repeats the same thing over and over, hoping for his father to accept it as true.  Having already established himself as having more rhythm with his punches, rhetorically turning Obama into his son was brilliant.  From there on, Obama looked physically smaller on the the screen, his cramped hand gestures emphasizing his own discomfort more than the points hwas failing to make.  And when bringing up a list of failed green energy “investments,” he noted that, “Someone told me, you don’t pick winners and losers, you just pick the losers,” scoring a direct hit.

Romney left his own openings, of course, but Obama was never really able to connect.  Those of us who picked another candidate in the primaries rightly suspected that Romney’s Achilles Heel was health care reform, and while Obama seemed to recover a little of his game there, he didn’t bring anything new.  Romney kept bringing the discussion back to jobs and growth, and Obama really had no answer for that.  By the time the debate wound down to the final two questions, Obama looked beaten, frustrated, and resentful.

The reason was clear.  Romney controlled the pacing and the direction of the debate.  Jim Lehrer looked like the overmatched substitute teacher trying to deal with a roomful of 10-year-olds who’ve just come back from a week’s worth of snow days.  He brings with him about 40 years of goodwill dating back to the 70s and the MacNeil/Lehrer Report, but for all that, the debate may as well have had a timekeeper rather than a moderator.  Lehrer decided that the theme of the night would be to get the two men to draw distinctions between themselves and the other man, and Romney simply determined from the beginning that he’d oblige, but on his own terms.  So well did he use his time that while Obama actually had the ball longer (42 minutes to Romney’s 38), it seemed as though Romney talked longer.

(Regardless of who won, I think this format is a winner, allowing the candidates to have some real give-and-take, and determine where they want the debate to go, rather than the stiff, answer-rebut-rebut-next question format that we’ve seen for 40 years.  We’re never going to get Lincoln-Douglas, but this is close to it for Short Attention Span Nation.)

It was on those final two questions – the one about healing the partisan divide that we hear every four years, and the closing statements – that we saw just how comprehensive Romney’s victory tonight had been.  Romney gave the typical challenger’s answer that he’d sit down and talk to the other side.  (One assumes that Washington Democrats play in good faith at one’s own peril, of course.)  But right at the end of Obama’s answer, he said that sometimes you have to say no to your own party, and that Romney hadn’t been able to say no to the more extreme elements of the Republican party.  The notion of “extreme” Republicans has, of course, been planted as the Democrats’ closing argument, and you see it all over just about every piece of campaign material they mail, post, or broadcast.  So thoroughly did Romney own the night, that Obama was reduced to sneaking in the code-word at the very end of the very last question.

The body language of the closing statements said everything.  Obama’s gaze was evasive, and mostly directly at the floor in the from of his lectern.  When he finally turned to the camera to ask for people’s votes, it was so halting you didn’t believe he meant it.  Romney spoke to the camera for the full two minutes, and ran through series of sharp contrasts defining the choice for the voters.  It was simply stunning.

While Romney’s caution on much of policy was in evidence – things he likes about Dodd-Frank, things he likes about Obamacare – he also said some thing that should have left conservatives gleeful.  His comment about the moral responsibility not to leave a debt to his grandkids could have come straight from AEI’s Arthur Brooks.  His appeal to the Declaration and the Constitution, instead of mere pragmatism, when asked about the role of government was noteworthy because it came in a general election debate, rather than in a Republican nomination debate.  And the repeated statements that the only way out of the deficit is to cut spending and grow the economy are the Reagan formula revived.

I thought at the time that Romney’s cementing himself in the primaries as the “centrist” candidate might give him more room to make a credible conservative case in the general election, if he chose to do that, and it looks as though he has.

All that said, once the euphoria of a strategic victory fades, there are some harsh realities the Romney campaign will have to face.  First, the press Democrats with bylines (a la Glenn Reynolds) will not be happy at the night’s events.  Having rushed to their man’s defense once before, they’ll spend the next few days “fact-checking” Romney’s statements, which will, naturally deserve greater scrutiny, since he is believed to have won the evening.  With Obama’s failure to bring home the “extremist” theme, count as well on the press Democrats with bylines to hammer that home, as well.

The big win also sets the bar high for Romney in the upcoming foreign policy debate, and lower for Obama.  Don’t think Obama won’t be better prepared, but don’t think Team Romney doesn’ t know that, too.

All in all, a good night.  One that will energize volunteers and perhaps put away a couple of the Senate races the Republicans should have sealed up long ago.

But Don’t.  Count.  Chickens.  They may not be coming home to roost, but they don’t hatch for another month, either.

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Polls You Won’t See On the MSM

The absurd over-sampling of Democrats has been one of the MSM’s favorite tools during the campaign, no doubt believing that they can resurrect the “inevitability” meme of other campaigns in the service of Obama’s re-election.  As Pat Caddell has pointed out, not only are they commissioning polls that seem to produce the desired result, they’re spending a lot of time and effort trumpeting the ones that support their favored narrative.  So in the interests of balance, here is some evidence that things are moving in Romney’s direction.

First, in Virginia, two new likely-voter polls have Obama up by 2, not by the larger margins earlier reported.

And in Pennsylvania, a new poll commissioned by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review has Obama up by 2, not by the double-digits or high single-digits that we’ve seen recently.  If true, this would be a shocking result, and one that would call into question Pennsylvania’s status as a safe Obama state.

Now in the interests of fairness, we should point out that the internals of this one are more favorable to Republicans that voter registration numbers would suggest.  The poll has 50% Dems, and 43% Republicans, which, according to the latest voter registration numbers from the Pennsylvania Secretary of State, significantly over-sample Republicans.  Actual voters registration is 50% Dem, 37% Rep, 7% Independent, and 6% Other, so the poll essentially ends up assigning all the Other to the Republican category.  Since the “Other” contains Libertarians, Greens, Constitution Party, and others, it’s probably more reasonable to assign that 50-50 in a two-race, which would put Obama up by 5 rather than 2.

That said, assuming this isn’t the R-leaning outlier we’ve all been waiting for, a significant result.   If combined with the Virginia polls, suggests that either the campaign may be moving back to the status quo ante the conventions, and means that contrary to our doomsayers and their cheerleaders, this isn’t over yet by a long shot.

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