Posts Tagged ‘Newt Gingrich’

The GOP’s Contraception Fiasco

Saturday, March 10th, 2012

Last week’s Limbaugh fiasco was the culmination of a month of hell for the Republican party.

It started with the Obama administration’s decision that employers would now be required to provide contraception coverage for women in the health plans they provided. As part of this ruling, there was an exception given to churches, but not to charities or schools affiliated with churches. The Republican presidential candidates quickly jumped on this one, with Newt in the lead, declaring that the Obama Administration had basically “declared war on the Catholic Church.” In reality, it wasn’t as dramatic as Newt made it out to be, since there are similar laws in 28 states and 20 of those states (including Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts) do not exempt Catholic affiliated institutions.

Still, not much penetrates the Republican bubble, and to a party that still contains people who are fighting the social battles that were settled 50 years ago, this seemed like a good issue to start a partisan debate over. As one of their first actions, Darrell Issa’s House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, convened a panel to discuss the issue. The panel consisted of 6 male clergy members of varying faiths. Democrats requested to let Sandra Fluke, a law student at Georgetown, speak but were told that she would not be able to speak since the hearing was about “religious freedom” not contraception. Democrats were quick to pounce on the ridiculous scene of an all male panel discussing a contraception mandate, with Democratic Senator Patty Murray saying that “it was like stepping into a time machine and going back 50 years.”

The Obama Administration responded with what could only loosely be defined as a “compromise” measure: instead of requiring the church affiliated organizations to negotiate with providers to offer contraception, the health plans themselves would be required to extend this coverage. Surprisingly, this new measure was enough to split the Catholic community, with Sister Keehan of the Catholic Health Organization declaring that it resolved the controversy while the Bishops continued to protest. On an issue that close to 98% of Catholics disagree with the Church’s teaching, this was enough to take the pressure off of the Administration. 

But Republicans decided to press their luck and they quickly coalesced around a provision offered by Senator Roy Blunt, who proposed a broadly written provision that would allow any employer to refuse to provide any health coverage for treatments that they had “a moral objection” to. As many pointed out, this amendment would effectively gut the Health Care Law, in theory allowing employers to refuse to provide coverage for any number of things including immunizations, HIV treatment, pre-natal care for unmarried mothers as long as they could claim any moral objection to the treatment.

On February 28, Mitt Romney won the Michigan primary. The very next morning he was asked his position on the Blunt Amendment and responded “I’m not for the bill, but look, the idea of presidential candidates getting into questions about contraception within a relationship between a man and a women, husband and wife, I’m not going there.” It took him about an hour and a half to flip-flop on this one. “Of course I support the Blunt Amendment” Romney said later that day, protesting that he just misunderstood the question.

Blunt added his provision to a Highway Funding Bill and Harry Reid called his bluff, scheduling a day’s worth of debate on the measure. Amazingly, only one Republican senator voted against the Amendment, effectively putting them all (including two who are facing reelection in swing states) on record against public opinion in a debate that was increasingly defined as being about contraception.

To be fair to the Republicans, if you don’t think that the government ought to be mandating any health care, then it follows that you wouldn’t want government to force employers to provide health insurance that somehow violated their morals, but that was becoming a hard position to defend since Republicans have a long history as the party of moral scolds, the Republican Presidential “Front Runner” of the week was on record publically stating his opposition to contraception, and the Virginia Legislature was simultaneously debating whether to require what is referred to as a “trans-vaginal ultrasound” before they could get an abortion in the Commonwealth. Still, despite the public black eye, this might have been a plausible argument.

That is until Rush Limbaugh opened his big fat mouth.  

Speaking on his radio show he attacked Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown student who was denied the ability to speak before Congress on the contraception issue. Limbaugh called Fluke a “prostitute” and “a slut” for arguing that women should be allowed access to contraception under their health plans and said that his proposition for her was that they could have access to those contraceptives if they posted videos of themselves having sex online. In a brilliant political move, as the outrage spread, President Obama called Fluke just as she was about to appear on Andrea Mitchell’s show on MSNBC to inquire about her wellbeing and tell her that her parents should be proud of her.

This, of course, was a blatantly political move, but it worked in a number of ways for Obama. First, it cemented the belief of most people that this debate was more about women’s rights than religious freedom. Second, it guaranteed that most prominent Republicans would be given the choice of repudiating Limbaugh (and angering the legion of dittoheads that decide Republican primaries), or put them in the ridiculous position of defending Limbaugh’s statements.  Third, it put Obama on the side of every parent of girls (no matter what their gender), and fourth, it once again elevated the misogynist Rush Limbaugh as the face of the Republican party. On Meet the Press last week, Savannah Guthrie suggested that the gesture on the part of the president might have been a “a bit of an oveerreach” but Republican Mark Halperin called it like he saw it: “classic triangulation” and “a brash political move.”

Limbaugh complained last week that Democrats were doing a good job of “pretending they don’t have a sense of humor,” but I think that, if anything, Obama’s move proves that they do.

Rush just doesn’t appreciate that, this time, the joke’s on him.

Newt’s Campaign Leaking Hot Air Ahead of Florida

Monday, January 30th, 2012

After a rough week, Nate Silver now rates the chances of a Newt victory in Florida at about 5%.

Howard Fineman explains why.

Let the Brokered Convention Discussion Begin

Sunday, January 22nd, 2012

Watching Morning Joe’s Friday morning show, I had a real sense that the last South Carolina debate (and the Newt surge that was accompanying it) was a real turning point in this primary process. I knew that Newt’s surge would make the Republican nomination process drag on, but I also knew that he couldn’t win the nomination and I had assumed that this would mean that Romney would be the eventual nominee by default.

But watching Joe Scarborough talk about how he has been talking to “the most powerful conservative movers and shakers” in the party, and that “every single one I’ve spoken to is trying to figure out a way to get to a brokered convention,” I got the sense that the outcome could be very different. Mark Halperin’s suggestion that (presumably,  once this possibility becomes more overt) “we might see favorite sons get on the ballot in order to block anyone from accumulating enough delegates to get a majority” confirmed that this was more than just a possibility and that some party elites were already planning for such an eventuality.

Post-South Carolina’s drubbing of Romney, Nate Silver has some musings on whether this year will break the “momentum of early state victories propels the winner to victory” pattern. Of course, political junkies speculate on this possibility almost every time there is a contested primary process, but Silver draws on the work of Rhodes Cook and argues that it is not inconceivable for this race to break the mold of previous races.

Romney just had a horrible twelve days, and it’s certainly possible that he bounces back in Florida, regains his momentum and makes all this discussion seem quaint in a few months. But it’s also possible that the wounds he sustained over the past few weeks may increasingly make him look like a fatally flawed candidate. This, combined with conservative dislike of him, could  be enough to push Tea Party folks to risk it all in order to deny him the nomination.  This is, after all, the party that lost the Senate in 2010 by nominating people like Sharron Angle, Christine O’ Donnell, John Raese and Ken Buck.

As has been the case for every early state to date, we’ll watch the next primary for signs of what’s to come. As Silver notes, “South Carolina alone is not enough to be paradigm-breaking. But if (Gingrich) follows it with a win in Florida, all bets are off.”

Newt’s Big Week

Thursday, January 19th, 2012

Here are just a few of the things that happened in GOP Presidential Politics this week.

Facing an urgent need to rally around a candidate other than Romney, a group of social conservative evangelical leaders met in Texas and decided to endorse Rick Santorum. They did this just as Republican voters in South Carolina started to rally around Newt Gingrich  as the alternative to Romney, effectively affirming the Radical Right’s marginal status in a GOP process that always gives lip service to their cause, but never lets their looney candidates get elected.

On Monday, John Huntsman dropped out of the race and endorsed Mitt Romney, leading most people to ask “Is John Huntsman still running for president?” Mitt Romney was particularly grateful for the endorsement and expressed that gratitude by largely ignoring his former rivals endorsement, acknowledging it only with a written statement released by his campaign in the afternoon. 

Later that night, Gingrich stole the show at the South Carolina debate, with his condescending response to Juan Williams’ questions about Newt’s outrageously racially charged statements on food stamps and black people’s work ethics. The exchange brought condemnation from familiar liberal quarters, but the rabid South Carolina crowd ate it up with a great big spoon, giving Newt an extended standing ovation. Newt and the other candidates hammered away at Romney, who gave halting answers to questions on topics ranging from his tax returns to his hunting habits. Under pressure, Romney agreed that he would release his returns in April.

This, in turn, led to another in a series of stumbles from Romney on Tuesday when he explained that his effective tax rate was “closer to the 15% rate” because most of it came from capital gains.

It’s probably closer to the 15 percent rate than anything. For the past 10 years, my income comes overwhelmingly from investments made in the past, rather than ordinary income or earned annual income. I got a little bit of income from my book, but I gave that all away. Then, I get speakers fees from time to time, but not very much.

That “not very much” number turned out to be $374,000, which-if you’re keeping score at home is about 9 times what the median South Carolinian makes a year.

On the same day, Sarah Palin said on Fox News that, if she were voting in South Carolina, she would vote for Newt, in order to “keep this thing going,” since four years ago we made a mistake with having a candidate “that was not vetted to the degree he should have been” (I swear to God she said that).  

But in a GOP primary process that has been entertaining (if nothing else) today was what Politico called the campaign’s wildest day. This morning, Rick Perry announced that he was suspending his campaign and endorsing Newt. Soon after this news broke, it was revealed that Newt’s 2nd ex-wife Marianne told ABC News that when Newt told her of his affair with Callista (whom he eventually married) he had requested an “open marriage” so that he could continue to keep Callista as a mistress while he was married to Marianne. Also, this morning it was announced that Rick Santorum actually won the Iowa Caucuses and Mitt Romney graciously called him (more than two weeks later) to concede the election.

John King apparently thought it would be a good idea to start the debate this evening with a question about Newt’s “open marriage” proposal and Newt once again used the “blame the media” argument that always works so well with GOP audiences, and again led to a standing ovation from the audience. Most pundits agreed that Rick Santorum out-debated Gingrich, but I am willing to bet that 90% of newscasts across America led with Newt getting a standing ovation for taking yet another debate moderator to the woodshed.

Within a half hour after the debate ended, Newt had surged from a 40% favorite to win the South Carolina Primary to a 65% favorite on Intrade and Nate Silver’s South Carolina forecast now shows Newt pulling even with Romney and ranks him as a 62% favorite to win South Carolina.

Not a bad week at all for the former Speaker, but more importantly, a terrible week for the presumptive nominee.

The South Carolina Gauntlet

Thursday, January 12th, 2012

Fresh from his victories in Iowa and New Hampshire, Mitt Romney now heads to South Carolina, which will either have the effect of effectively wrapping up the nomination for him, or presaging a long, drawn out primary process.

South Carolina has a deserved reputation as the most brutal states in the Republican presidential nominating process and could potentially pose serious problems for Mitt Romney. As Steve Kornacki notes:

On paper, the state embodies all of the demographic realities and intraparty dynamics that have made him such a tough sell to the party base. If Romney’s Mormonism really is a deal-breaker with the religious right, we will find out. About 60 percent of the state’s GOP primary universe is composed of evangelical Christians, a group that Romney has struggled with in both of his presidential campaigns. The state is also the unofficial capital of Tea Party Republicanism, with its emphasis on ideological purity and intense suspicion of the party establishment. Romney, with his economically moderate past and reputation as the “next in line” guy, reeks of the type of Republican South Carolina conservatives turned on in 2010. His Yankee roots surely don’t help, either. No wonder Romney won just 15 percent in the state in 2008 — by far his worst showing in any early contest that year.

Still, perhaps more important for the tenor of the campaign in South Carolina is the desperation of his rivals.  Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich know that this could be their last stand, and despite growing unease about their tactics among national Republican politicians, have continued to make Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital a top topic on the campaign trail. Newt is also out with the commercial above (did I mention abortion?) appealing to social conservatives by bringing up Romney’s flip flopping on the Holy Grail of Christian conservative politics, abortion rights.

The latest polls show Mitt Romney leading a fractious GOP field in South Carolina, and if he wins decisively, it will be increasingly difficult for his rivals to continue their campaigns. Gingrich, meanwhile, is hoping he can capitalize on a potential Romney stumble in South Carolina. If Romney loses, it will allow Gingrich to argue that he has a glass jaw and can’t be trusted to take on Obama.

Fasten your seatbelts, folks.

The Fight for 2nd Place in New Hampshire

Saturday, January 7th, 2012

Students at St. Anselm College in Manchester serve as stand-ins for presidential candidates during rehersal for the ABC/Yahoo debate Saturday evening in Manchester, N.H.

Here’s Real Clear Politics Scott Conroy on the four way fight for 2nd place in New Hampshire. With Mitt Ronmney expected to win New Hampshire walking away, the focus now shifts to who will emerge as a possible challenger to him in South Carolina and beyond. Now that Perry’s support has collapsed in New Hampshire and throughout the country, the race for 2nd in NH comes down to Ron Paul, Rick Santorum, Jon Huntsman, and Newt Gingrich. To date Ron Paul has held 2nd place in New Hampshire, but is something close to a consensus that Paul’s floor of 15% isn’t far from his ceiling of about 25%. Meanwhile, Santorum, Gingrich, and Huntsman are all clustered at around 10%. 

If Paul comes in 2nd, this is good news for Romney, almost guaranteeing that the 2nd tier will continue to be divided bwtween a number of candidates, allowing Romney to continue to win primaries with pluralities.

If Santorum takes 2nd place by a large margin, that’s also not a bad scenario for Romney. It is possible that you will see the cultural right coalesce around Santorum as the social conservative in the race much as they did Mike Huckabee in 2008, with probably a similar outcome, a short run of primaries with Santorum making a symbolic stand against eventual nominee Romney.

If Newt comes in 2nd, look out. He’s taking the drubbing he took at the hands of Romney surrogates in Iowa personally and he’s on a one man mission to wound Romney. A head of steam going into South Carolina could once again make this a Gingrich-Romney race.

Perhaps the most interesting outcome would be a 2nd place finish for Huntsman in New Hampshire. While Huntsman isn’t expected to compete seriously in South Carolina, a strong Huntsman finish would setup a dangerous situation for Romney, with the conservatives continuing to snipe at him as the race moved on to other states and Huntsman waiting in the wings as the heir apparent of the “most electable” title. Just yesterday the idea of a Huntsman surge seemed unlikely, but a new ARG poll out today puts Huntsman in exactly that spot. Whether this is an outlier or a trend is still to be determined, but one thing is sure: New Hampshire is make a break for Huntsman. He’s staked his campaign on it and, if he doesn’t have a strong performance there, he’s done.

The stakes can’t be much higher for Romney’s four challengers. A new Time/CNN Poll shows him pulling away from the field in South Carolina and losing the nomination after wins in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina would be unprecedented for a Republican candidate.

Should make for an interesting debate tonight.

Gingrich Keeps It Interesting

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

Here’s Newt Gingrich’s Iowa “concession” speech in which he basically declares war on the Romney campaign along with MSNBC’s analysis of the statement. I love Howard Fineman’s quote that a wounded Newt Gingrich might be more dangerous to Romney than a winning Newt Gingrich. Obviously Gingrich took the deluge of attack ads that Romney’s surrogates dumped on him over the last few weeks a little personally.

Gotta say that I was waiting for the vindictive SOB version of Gingrich to emerge. I’m afraid that he might have shown up a little too late for Newt’s candidacy, but between the debates and the media appearances, his emergence should make the next week interesting.

Does Newt’s Collapse Clear The Way for Romney?

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012

As the caucuses are just about to begin in Iowa, we need to face the possibility that this entire wacky Republican campaign has been the equivalent of what Shakespeare might have called “a tale of sound and fury told by an idiot signifying nothing.” To put it less melodramatically, as EJ Dionne did last week,

what’s most astounding is that a Republican contest characterized all year by melodrama and comedy now seems headed toward the most conventional and predictable conclusion possible.

Specifically, there is a chance that Mitt Romney just might win not only Iowa, but New Hampshire, which, if past is prologue, might secure the nomination for him. Perhaps more significant than the electoral victories is the total lack of viable alternatives to Romney for conservatives. To summarize the race, Perry effectively demolished his chances after appearing less intelligent than the village idiot, Bachmann turned out to be too crazy for even the GOP, no one seemed to mind that Herman Cain had never heard of a neo-con, but a few too many sexual harassment allegations did him in, no one is willing to make Ron Paul the Commander in Chief and, until last week, no one took Senator Santorum seriously.

The pattern of non-Romney candidate surges is now apparently continuing with the most recent not-Romney candidate to falter being Newt Gingrich, who just a few weeks ago looked like the not-Mitt candidate that would dog Romney for the rest of the race. But Gingrich’s descent turned out to be about as meteoric as his ascent was. Over the past few weeks, Gingrich has dropped precipitously in the polls as a barrage of Romney-allied Super PAC spending buried him in Iowa and (for whatever reason) Newt seemed incapable of responding to the attacks. In a period of less than a month, Gingrich went from the low 30′s to the low teens in Iowa as voters in the state learned that he was an erratic Washington insider who took money to lobby on behalf of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, supported the individual health care mandate and shot commercials with Nancy Pelosi warning about global warming.

The Gingrich surge has been replaced by the Paul surge, which increasingly looks in danger of succumbing to the Santorum surge. The Santorum surge is perhaps the most unlikely development of the campaign, and the fact that the former Pennsylvania senator (who lost by 14 points in his last statewide election) may be on the verge of becoming the Romney alternative must have Romney’s team popping champagne corks. If Newt Gingrich was (to put it mildly) an unlikely candidate to defeat Romney, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul are even less likely to pose a threat to him.

Perhaps the strangest aspect of this race is the fact that Romney has not seemed to surge significantly across the country. Throughout the process, Romney has had a ceiling at about 25% both nationally and in Iowa and he seems to have maintained this ceiling throughout the process. In fact, his polling numbers are not far off from the 25% of the vote Romney received in the 2008 Iowa primary, but the key difference is that his opponents are now splitting the not-Romney vote, and a 25% vote share in this years election might be enough to propel him to a victory in Iowa. From Iowa, the race would then shift to the Northeast where Romney has surged over the past few weeks, with polls showing a significant bounce in New Hampshire, a state that borders Mitt’s homestate of Massachusetts.  To be sure, Romney would do well to expect the unexpected and there’s still a chance he could lose this one. Newt promised to turn all of his fire on Romney beginning today but this could turn out to be too little, too late. The pattern in this election has been that no candidate has been able to surge again after their initial surge was beaten back. Barring a major John Huntsman surge in the next week or so, that chance of anyone mounting a credible challenge to Romney looks slimmer and slimmer.

Sarah Palin, Mitch Daniels, Tim Pawlenty and Chris Christie must be having some serious regrets about not getting into this one.

The Appeal of Newt Gingrich

Wednesday, December 14th, 2011

Great discussion on Hardball with Chris Matthews, Howard Fineman and David Corn about Newt Gingrich’s appeal to the Republican base.

It all comes down to four words: He’s a bomb thrower. That’s been what the Republicans were after all along. That lack of political correctness was a main reason they fell for Cain’s schtick, Michele Bachmann’s wild eyed craziness, Rick Perry’s faux gunslinger persona, and Donald Trump’s thinly veiled racism. They’re not looking for someone like Romney, who says “I think this president is over his head…but I don’t think he’s a bad person, I don’t think he’s an evil person,” they’re looking for someone who might stand on a stage with President Obama and say “you’re a closet socialist from the Saul Alinsky school and the only way I can explain your policy positions is through the lens of a Kenyan anti-colonialist.” They want a guy who, no matter how wrong he is, can stand on a stage and say of Palestinians “these people are terrorists.” and “they are an invented people.” Most Republicans (right along with most Americans) wouldn’t even be able to point out Palestine on a map, but they sure like Gingrich telling them they’re “an invented people” and painting their whole population as terrorists. You tell em Newt!

Gingrich is the worst kind of demagogue. He is bad for the country and bad for the national debate. But, just as I said about Herman Cain, if the Republicans would rather nominate a bomb thrower than a statesman, then I’ll be happy to help Barack Obama kick his ass in the general election.

Newt 2012!

Handicapping the Republican Race

Tuesday, December 13th, 2011


As Newt Gingrich has surged ahead of Mitt Romney in the Republican race for president, the Conventional Wisdom has become that the Republican Presidential Race now comes down to Romney vs. Gingrich. Like many others, I have always believed that Romney would be the eventual nominee. I thought that the Republicans would flirt with other candidates, but would eventually come around and support the heir apparent, as they do in most elections. Now, I’m not so sure.

Writing a few weeks ago, Ezra Klein’s blog post, “The Case Against Mitt Romney’s Inevitability” sums up some of the arguments on this topic. He cites Ron Brownstein, who has made the case that the Republican nominating race can be seen as “two races running along parallel but very distinct tracks,” the Tea Party Primary and the Non-Tea Party Primary. At the time of Brownstein’s writing, Romney had been dominating the Non-Tea Party primary, but losing in the Tea Party primary.

Last week brought more bad news for Romney. As Brownstein chronicles, polling from Iowa, South Carolina and across the nation has shown significant erosion of Romney’s position, not only among conservatives, but among less conservative Republican voters:

In all three surveys, Gingrich is not only lapping Romney among the ideologically conservative and religiously devout voters who have resisted the former Massachusetts governor throughout the race; Gingrich is also running step for step (or ahead) with Romney among the less ideological, more secular, voters who have been Romney’s base.

This pattern has been subsequently confirmed in national polls as well as the key primary states of Iowa, South Carolina and Florida, all of which show an amazing surge for Newt, from polling in the single digits two months ago, to polling over 30%, and even 40% in a some polls. All of this is bad news for Mitt Romney. While this has been a repeating pattern for Romney throughout the race, somehow this seems different. Even though Tea Party types have always been skeptical of Romney, his support among moderate Republicans kept him in the race. If this base is threatening to crumble, Romney could quickly go from front runner to also-ran.

To be sure, even if Romney stumbles out of the gate, he would still have time to recover. As Nate Silver points out, the schedule of primaries in this election is built for just such a comeback, with Super Tuesdday coming a full eight weeks after the New Hampshire Primary, instead of the two to three weeks which has been more common historically. Silver argues that this elongated calendar could dampen the “slingshot effect” that has often propelled candidates to victory after winning in Iowa, New Hampshire or South Carolina. Silver also points out that Romney would be ideally situated to mount this comeback, given the institutional advantages in fund raising, campaign infrastructure and institutional support he has.   

In the National Journal, Charlie Cook writes about the organizational and personal obstacles Newt will need to overcome to get the nomination:

From my perspective, I believe that fundamentals still matter. Someday, someone who has raised very little money may win a presidential nomination. Someday, someone with minimal campaign organization and infrastructure may become the nominee. Someday, someone who has served in Congress with hundreds of fellow party members and dozens of former staff but who has very, very few of them endorsing him and working on his campaign may win. But we are asked to believe that all of this is going to happen in 2012… I want to get further into the process before I am willing to concede that the political laws of gravity aren’t going to apply this time.

In many ways, Gingrich seems like an unlikely nominee. Ezra Klein provides a list of 21 reasons why Gingrich won’t get the nomination, writing that “Gingrich might generate sufficient momentum to win a few primaries. But he can’t survive seven months as the frontrunner. The more interesting question is whether he could damage Romney badly enough that the GOP needs to find a new candidate to serve as their nominee.” Klein goes as far a to say that, if Gingrich is close to getting the nod, establishment Republicans will do all they can to force a brokered convention and pick someone of their own choosing. I can’t think if what I’d like better, a Gingrich Nomination or a brokered convention where the Republican Establishment overturns the will of the Tea Party…

I’ve given up trying to predict this one. As history has shown, four weeks out from the New Hampshire Primary can be a lifetime in Presidential politics.

But fasten your seat belts folks, this is going to be an interesting one.