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January 3, 2012 [LINK / comment]

Campaign 2012: All eyes are on Iowa

In a presidential nomination race that was even remotely rational, the Iowa caucuses would not be such a big deal. Unfortunately, in the crazy but all-too-real world in which we live, the selection process quickly degenerates into a farcical spectacle. And so tonight the big questions are, Will Rick Santorum's recent "surge" lift him into the Top Three? And, will Ron Paul's fervent base of supporters translate into an upset victory? I must confess that I am not exactly enthralled by the "drama," but there are definitely some candidates I favor more than others.

My candidate rankings

My opinion of the Republican candidates hasn't really changed much since I discussed each of them on November 21, but I guess I'd better weigh in before the Iowa caucuses get underway. Note that neither Herman Cain nor Gary Johnson are in the race any more, but their names are still on the Iowa caucus ballots.

  1. Unspecified Republican*
  2. Newt Gingrich
  3. Mitt Romney
  4. Jon Huntsman
  5. Ron Paul
  6. Michele Bachmann
  7. Rick Santorum
  8. Rick Perry

* I still wish Chris Christie were among the alternatives, though he is clearly not yet "ready for prime time." Veep? Johnson plans to run as a Libertarian in the general election, and depending on whom the Republicans nominate, I just might vote for him. If it's one of the lower-ranked candidates below, it's more likely I would do so.

I checked my blog archives, and noticed that I put Romney in last place as of November 2, 2007. His climb to the #2 spot does not mean I think that much better of him, but rather that I'm not very impressed by the alternatives. On some days I would probably pick him over the unpredictable Gingrich. Regarding the intriguing yet often-disquieting Ron Paul "insurgency," I noted on December 10, 2007 that his supporters "created a big ruckus at the GOP 'Advance' in Arlington."

I am especially wary of Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator known for being very conservative on social issues. I recently heard about a gay activist named Dan Savage who launched a cybernetic attack on Santorum, and I just Googled "Santorum" for the first time, out of curiousity. I really wish I hadn't. I recently applauded his observation that widespread obesity raises doubts about whether there is a hunger problem in America, but for the most part I find his political moralizing offensive and counterproductive. But since he may become a front-runner (ugh), it's a good idea to find out more about him at ricksantorum.com.

While watching C-SPAN on Sunday, I saw Michele Bachmann speaking at the Jubilee Family Church in Oskaloosa, Iowa. I was appalled, for multiple reasons. In the first place, using the House of God for blatant political purposes is just plain disgusting, under any circumstances. But when she started to lead a prayer, addressing God the Father, it got even worse. I'm sure she is sincere, but she really ought to know better than that.

Grover Norquist update

So what does anti-tax kingpin Grover Norquist think? His Web site has a comparison of the presidential candidates' tax plans: atr.org. I was disappointed that Jon Huntsman is the only GOP candidate not to have signed The Pledge.

Last October, Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) made a speech on the House floor in which he bewailed Grover Norquist's undue political power, and his association with various unsavory characters, foreign and domestic. For example, Norquist is an old pal of convicted felon Jack Abramoff and terrorist financiers Abdurahman Alamoudi and Sami Al-Arian. See wolf.house.gov.

Virginia primary: choice of two

Only two of the Republican candidates qualified for the Virginia primary, to be held on March 6, which is "Super Tuesday." As a consequence, the primary election is Virginia will receive very little national attention. What's more, according to Ford O'Connell & Matt Mackowiak at dailycaller.com (link via Facebook), the likely low turnout will make it harder to identify Republican-leaning voters, which in turn will make it harder for the GOP to take the state back from Obama in November. If the Republicans don't win Virginia, it will be extremely hard to defeat Obama.

This situation has precipitated numerous debates on Facebook, in blogs, etc. I pointed out something that seems obvious to me:

Need I remind everyone that this whole stupid issue would not even exist were it not for the fact that the state-funded primary elections in effect create two established parties? The subtle distortions that arise from this custom gradually accumulate to the point that voters are left with no good choices. Think outside the box, and you'll see that many of our most vexing political problems would quickly solve themselves.

Shaun Kenney spoke in (implicit) defense of Cuccinelli, wondering why it's such a bad thing for a politician to change his mind. My comment:

The problem is not so much that Cuccinelli changed his mind, but rather that his initial statement calls into question the laws that he is obligated to defend as attorney general. He is in a delicate position, being involved with the legal challenge to Obamacare and now planning to run for governor. I hope he is more careful about what he says in the future.

[And then in response to another comment:]

I fully agree the law needs to be changed, but the Attorney General should NOT express such an opinion. It's like when Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Justice Department would not defend the Defense of Marriage Act if it were challenged in court -- a flagrant subversion of constitutional principles. Whatever one's opinion on any given law, it's the responsibility of the executive branch in general to uphold and enforce the law, and the Attorney General in particular is obligated to defend it.

House GOP gives in

As if they were deliberately trying to alienate every single independent-minded voter in America, the Republicans in the House of Representatives botched yet another big showdown on Capitol Hill just before Christmas. After first taking a defiant stand, voting against the Senate-amended bill (which provided for just two months of extended benefits, as opposed to the one-year extension ), the Republican-led House of Representatives conceded to reality and handed President Obama and the Democrats a great big Christmas present. My December 20 observation on Facebook:

Kudos to Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) for candidly declaring on the House floor today that the payroll tax relief measure was wrong in the first place, and it's wrong to extend it now -- whether for two months OR for one year. Too bad so few Republicans are willing to risk their political careers by saying unpopular things like that. As for the Democrats, I'm even more disgusted than usual by their demagoguery. flake.house.gov

In a similar vein, I wrote on the same day:

I think I'll be using the Dec. 14 "Non-Sequitur" comic strip in my Spring semester syllabus: "Government of a myopic extremist base, by a myopic extremist base, for a myopic extremist base." If Honest Abe Lincoln could hear the polarized, disingenuous, demagogic debate going on in the House chambers right now, he would be rolling over in his grave.

See the strip for yourself at gocomics.com.

Then when the House Republicans finally gave up on December 24 I wrote:

I sure hope the disaster which the Republicans inflicted upon themselves on Capitol Hill this week isn't a foretaste of Campaign 2012. What were those people thinking of??! Does anyone really believe that the Republicans wanted to extend the payroll tax reduction more than the Democrats, as Speaker Boehner suggested? They must have a very low opinion of voters' intelligence. The truth is, they were trapped by their no-tax-hike-no-matter-what pledge to Grover, and couldn't figure a way to get out of it.

Happy Holidays? NOT!

January 9, 2012 [LINK / comment]

Who can stop Mitt Romney?

On the eve of the New Hampshire primaries, the emergence of Rick Santorum as the leading conservative (? -- see below) challenger to moderate Republican Mitt Romney changes the complexion of the 2012 campaign. As the candidate most closely aligned with the Christian Right, Santorum will turn the spotlight on the uneasy issue of religion and politics once again. Are Americans ready for a Mormon president? That is exactly the kind of thing that could widen divisions within the Republican Party, just when they need so desperately to find something they can all rally behind to stop Barack Obama from "transforming" this nation.

Santorum has the advantage of a pleasant, sincere nature, whereas Romney remains uptight. Santorum speaks very well off the cuff, and thus far is not known for committing verbal gaffes. But the fact that he was a lower-tier relative unknown until recently means that he has a very thin pocketbook with which to wage a successful primary campaign. He will need endorsements from at least one or two other candidates (Perry? Cain?) in the near future, if he is to raise the necessary funds.

Can Newt Gingrich rebound? First it was Michele Bachmann, then Rick Perry, then Herman Cain, and then Newt. In each case a conservative candidate emerged to excite The Base, and then he (or she) quickly got shot down, due to self-inflicted flubs and/or negative attack ads by rivals. (Or by one of those new anonymous "Super PACs" tacitly operating on behalf of a candidate.) Newt's well-known personality shortcomings were on display on the night of the Iowa caucuses, as he barely contained his rage at Ron Paul and Mitt Romney for going negative and/or (he says) twisting the truth. I think he still has plenty of opportunity to prove himself as the most worthy and electable candidate, but his margin for error is shrinking rapidly.

Romney is widely expected to win New Hampshire, and the only question is by how big of a margin. Perry has bypassed the Granite state, and putting all his marbles in South Carolina. It's probably just a show, to use up the accumulated campaign donations.

Santorum's upset in Iowa

To paraphrase Thomas Frank's Book (What's the Matter With Kansas), I am tempted to ask "What's the matter with Iowa?" Obviously, there is a strong social conservative component in the Hawkeye State, but I tend to think Rick Santorum's surge was more of a reflection of his tireless campaign efforts there, as well as the yearning among Republicans for "someone else." (See below.)* Here are the totals, courtesy of CNN.com.

Candidate Votes Percent Delegates
Mitt Romney 30,015 24.6% 7
Santorum 30,007 24.6% 7
Paul 26,219 21.5% 7
Gingrich 16,251 13.3% 2
Perry 12,604 10.3% 2
Bachmann 6,073 5.0% 0
Huntsman 745 0.6% 0

For some reason, each of the top five candidates picked up one or two delegates since the preliminary caucus vote totals were announced last week.

Is Santorum conservative?

Definitions of words change over the years, so that question is in a sense rhetorical. The following article reinforces my impression that the Pennsylvanian is just like "Dubya" in many ways. Michael Tanner writes on "Santorum's Big-Government Conservatism" at cato.org; hat tip to Doug Mataconis.

* Are there more choices?

According to a Pew Research Center poll, 44 percent of likely Republican voters said the field of candidates is fair or poor, while 51 percent of them said the candidates are excellent or good, See politico.com.

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