Thursday, January 26, 2012

Newt Gingrich, the Conservative Media Elite, and the Romney Express

It seems sort of surreal, like a classic episode of the old game show "What's My Line?" where contestants listen to people trying to convince them that they are a well known person by answering questions about the person.  In this case, however, we can all see that the person is Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House and conservative icon in the mid 1990's until his precipitous fall from grace after the 1998 midterm elections, which resulted in a net gain of 5 seats for Bill Clinton's Democrats, something that hadn't happened since 1934.  That Newt Gingrich was a fiery orator who fiercely defended the Republican majority and attacked President Clinton whenever and wherever possible, endearing him to the conservative flock.  By the end of 1998, Newt's speakership was in jeopardy, he resigned as Speaker knowing he couldn't muster the votes for another term and then abruptly resigned from Congress altogether.  He spent much of the next decade peddling access to a former Speaker, meeting with members of Congress, writing (or ghostwriting) books, consulting for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, promoting climate change initiatives (with Nancy Pelosi), arguing in favor of the Heritage Foundation's individual mandate (THE key component of the Affordable Care Act, AKA Obamacare), and pontificating on conservative issues for the American Enterprise Institute.  After toying with a run for president in 2008, Newt decided to take the plunge in 2012, ostensibly to retake the nation from the current president with the Kenyan, anti-colonial mentality, Barack Obama.  To do so, Newt has had to rewrite the past in many ways.

First, Speaker Gingrich would have the faithful believe he is the candidate most like Ronald Reagan in the field of four remaining Republicans.  In some ways, it is true.  Reagan was a pragmatic leader who knew when to stand his ground and when to compromise.  Newt has shown similar qualities, particularly after losing the battle with Bill Clinton over the budget in 1995-96 that resulted in two government shutdowns and a huge boost in Clinton's favorability ratings.  But Newt is not Reagan and, in fact, often criticized Reagan's foreign and domestic policy choices.  The conservative media have recognized this and begun a concerted effort to ensure that Newt Gingrich is never the Republican nominee.  For example, the conservative Washington publication National Review Online runs a story by Elliott Abrams in which the author points out that not only did Gingrich not help Reagan defeat the Soviet Union but referred to Reagan's summit with Mikhail Gorbachev as "...the most dangerous summit for the West since Adolf Hitler met with Neville Chamberlain in 1938 in Munich."  Ouch!  Gingrich is also quoted as saying that President Reagan has "failed" on both domestic and foreign policy.  This in the spring of 1983 when unemployment was still over 10% in the longest such stretch since the Great Depression.  In contrast, unemployment hit 10% under President Obama for just a single month, October of 2009.  Using his Reagan standard, Newt should be singing the praises of President Obama for stopping the rise of unemployment as quickly as he did.

Second, even conservative blowhard Ann Coulter, famous for her defense of the late Senator Eugene McCarthy and McCarthyism, has gone on the attack against the former speaker.  Speaking about his 'doodles' during the House ethics investigation into Gingrich in the '90's she says that Newt saw himself at the " of the universe" and "...the designer of civilization."  She also called him "pompous and boring" when participating in debates without cheering audiences.

Meanwhile, over at the American Spectator, Emmett Tyrrell, Jr. calls Newt Gingrich the conservative version of Bill Clinton without the charm.  Other attacks from the conservative media elite have come from the editors of National Review, Glenn Beck, and even Rush Limbaugh.  For his part, Limbaugh urged the Speaker to lay off the media saying it will play well with conservatives, who have bought the lie of a liberal media hook, line, and sinker, but it will alienate moderates whom the GOP will need to attract if it hopes to defeat President Obama in November.

Why has the conservative media elite turned on Newt Gingrich so ferociously?  Simply put, Newt's upset win in South Carolina has scared the hell out of them.  They understand that Newt Gingrich is a loose cannon, extremely arrogant, and more than likely unelectable.  Though they're not in love with Mitt Romney, they're not even in like with Newt Gingrich.  In fact, many see him as a grave danger to the conservative movement and someone that could do the kind of damage that Barry Goldwater did to the party in 1964 (ensuring Republicans would be a minority in the House for another 30 years).  It's not that Republicans couldn't recover from a disastrous flameout and landslide to win the presidency in 2016.  They certainly could since Americans rarely award either party more than three consecutive terms (and that hasn't happened since 1988, before that 1932-52).  No, the reason conservatives are so nervous about Newt Gingrich is many realize that this election is the only chance they will have to stop the forward progress put in motion by President Obama.  If they do not win the White House the Affordable Care Act will be fully implemented by 2014, barring an activist decision by the conservative wing of the Court to override the will of the people and their elected representatives.  Further, as the economy continues to recover from the ditch it plunged into in 2008 President Obama, not the GOP, will get credit for the growth.  That means 2016 would favor the Democratic candidate, though only slightly as evidenced by the 2000 election and the defeat of Al Gore in spite of a record of economic growth from 1996-2000.  Once a law or program is fully implemented and the people come to like it, the possibility of repeal diminishes rapidly.  Just ask the Republicans who oppose Social Security and Medicare.

What we are witnessing is a coalescense of the conservative establishment around Mitt Romney and against Newt Gingrich.  Some argue that there is no conservative establishment.  I disagree.  I think there are two wings to the establishment, however.  There are the party insiders, who have mostly been pushing Mitt Romney for the past year or so, contributing to his campaign, helping his ground organization in Iowa (it's why he finished a close second while spending very little time in Iowa), and so on.  Then there is the conservative media elite, the 'echo chamber' of Fox News, Rush Limbaugh (and other conservative talk radio hosts), and the Wall Street Journal.  The media wing has been all over the board, searching for the one 'true conservative' heir to their idol, Ronald Reagan (the myth, not the actual Reagan).  That's why we heard speculation about Haley Barbour, Mitch Daniels, Paul Ryan, Chris Christie, and others.  It's why Gov. Rick Perry was going to 'change everything' if he got into the race.  He did, but not in the way they expected.  He made the insider choice the most palatable of what by most accounts has been a very weak Republican field this year.  And now the elite conservative media have begun to climb aboard the Mitt Romney express.  No, they'll never fall in love with Mitt Romney.  No, he'll never be the next Ronald Reagan (there will never be another Ronald Reagan).  He'll just be Willard Mitt Romney.  And if he's lucky enough to get elected in November, the conservative media will tolerate him. It's what conservatives do.  Liberals grumble at their presidents for not being liberal enough.  Conservatives embrace and defend theirs, even if privately their hearts pine for a true conservative hero.

In just 5 days, voters in Florida will either choose the Republican nominee or throw the GOP race into chaos.  If Mitt wins, there won't be much in his way to stop his coronation by Super Tuesday (March 6th).  If Newt wins, chaos ensues and the likelihood of a lengthy nomination fight increases.  Why is Florida so important?  Simply because Florida is the first winner-take-all state.  The winner gets all 50 delegates to the National Convention.  That's 49 fewer than Florida is supposed to have because the state violated RNC rules by holding it's primary before March 1st and leapfrogged Nevada, which was supposed to be 4th.  Nevertheless, 50 delegates is a little less than 5% of what is needed to secure the nomination (1144).  Who will win on January 31st?  Watching the two wings of the conservative establishment coming together over the past week, my money's on Mitt Romney.  If so, the party will do just as it always does...nominate the guy whose turn it is.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Blogging the State of the Union address

The president arrived right on time and began with some compliments to the Rmed services, pointed out that Osama bin Laden is no longer a threat to the United States, and that for the first time in 9 years American soldiers are not fighting in Iraq. Moving on to the economy, the president speaks about job growth in the private sector, obstruction by Republicans, and a promise to fight any return to the failed economic policies of the (Bush Administration). Tepid applause from Speaker Boehner and a standing ovation from the Democrats. President moves on to vindicate the bailout of GM as a positive and points out that GM is once again profitable and the largest automaker in the world. Hundreds of thousands of new jobs created in the industry and over 3 million in the private sector in last two years. President urges cut in the corporate tax rate and rewarding companies for bringing jobs back to America. Rah, rah, America is great, America is the best. Our union is getting stronger. (Presidents are obligated to say something like that). Proposes a new trade investigation board to look into unfair practices in China and other trading partners. Urges Congress to help train 2 million people for new jobs, turn the unemployment system into a reemployment system that puts people to work (bipartisan applause). Moving on to education...president talks about race to the top, great teachers who make a difference in people's lives, proposes incentives for good teachers, stop teaching to the tests. (teachers unions won't like this). Asks states to mandate students remain in school until age 18 or graduation. HS dropouts are highest level of unemployed and in poverty. Turning to colleges, urges costs be kept down, Congress prevent interest rates on student loans from increasing. Turns to comprehensive immigration reform and talks about increased law enforcement, decreased illegal border crossings, and urges Congress to pass a bill allowing students brought here through no fault of their own to embark on a path to citizenship. Asks Congress to stop sitting on its hands and help create a prosperous society. Talks about the millions of acres of oil resource areas opened to new exploration and announces plans to open up to 75% of America's potential resources. Urges development lof natural gas resources, reminds Republicans that government expenditures helped develop the technology to mine these resources. Promises to stand by clean energy and support companies committed to develop those resources. President issues directive to allow clean energy development on public lands to power 3 million homes. Defense department commits to purchase enough to power 3/4 of a million homes. Talking about infrastructure investment, rural broadband development, invokes the great projects of the past such as the Hoover Dam, the Golden Gate Bridge, and other projects. Urges Congress to devote half the savings from the end of Iraq war to rebuild our infrastructure and the other half to pay down debt. Oops, a new 'fee' on bailed out banks...that won't fly. Republicans will obstruct any attempt to use the funds to allow homeowners to refinance at lowest rates. Hits Republicans on regulations and says he has approved fewer regulations in first three years than President Bush did. Tells joke about milk being classified as an oil and a rule that required farmers to prove they could contain a spill and says if milk is an oil then maybe it's worth crying over spilt milk. Rumble of laughter. Recognizes head of consumer finance protection bureau, Richard Cordray. Most pressing priority is stopping a tax hike on 160 million working Americans next month. President says we can't afford extending tax cuts on the wealthiest Americans and funding medical research, education, and rebuilding our nfrastructure. Calls on Congress to do what the American people have said is right and raise tax rates on those making over $250,000 a year. Moves on to talk about how Washington is out of touch with the rest of the country. Urges a ban on insider trading by members of Congress. Calls for an end to obstructionist tactics in the Senate and require an up or down vote within 90 days for all nominations. Requests authority to consolidate bureaucracy to improve government. Calls for an end to hyper partisanship and gets applause for invoking Lincoln's mantra about government only doing what people cannot do for themselves. Calls on Congress to put aside partisan differences and work together to achieve all that we can. Appeals to our better angels (SOTU addresses are required to end on hopeful, high notes). Hawks applaud president's committment to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Says all options are on the table. Hits Republicans in the gut about all their America in decline nonsense. Back to the beginning and praise for the military for defending our freedom. Standing ovation from all in attendance. Urges companies to hire vets as they return from serving the nation. Eloquently calls on Americans to get each others backs. America was built not by Republicans or Democrats but by the greatest people in the world embarking on a common mission to ensure the state of our nion is always strong.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

South Carolina...They Pick Presidents...

...or so they like to say.  The reality is that Iowa and New Hampshire have usually chased away all the underfunded klingons suffering from delusions of grandeur about someday occupying the Oval Office by the time the genteel people of South Carolina get a chance to vote.  Not so this year, although Michelle 'Snow White' Bachmann and Jon 'Doc' Huntsman have already exited the race after less than stellar performances in the early states.  This year there are still five presidential contenders as the Mitt Romney Express rolls into the Palmetto State (is that for the tree or the bug or both?)  South Carolinians will have their say this coming Saturday (January 21st) and though it is all but certain a majority of them will vote against the presumed nominee it is likely that Gov. Romney will carry a plurality of voters in the state.  Even after the votes have been counted and the circus train has moved on to Florida for the January 31st primary, it is likely three of Romney's challengers will continue their campaigns.  Odds are that the candidate to be dismissed will be Gov. Rick 'Dopey' Perry come Sunday or Monday.  Yet, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, and perhaps Rick Santorum are liable to continue the fight into the southern states, a region not quite so fond of the 'Massachusetts Moderate.'  Newt 'Happy' Gingrich will just go on running oblivious of the fact that his campaign is broke...unless he pulls the upset in SC and gets a new surge of cash donations. Ron 'Sleepy' Paul can count on his band of supporters to launch another money bomb soon that will fund him through February (he's really running so he can have a say in the party platform).  Rick 'Sneezy' Santorum will need a better than expected 2nd or very close 3rd in SC to continue his insurgent campaign.  SC is a socially conservative state and should do better here than in NH, but the Romney Express may have already left the station.

What is it about a nomination system that places the choice of a party nominee with so few voters?  After SC the total number of votes cast in the first three states will still be less than the number of votes that will be cast in Florida alone.  The process deliberately places emphasis on the ability to create a ground organization that turns out supporters.  Only Romney and Paul have been effective in that regard.  Barring an upset win by 'Happy' Gingrich, Mitt 'Bashful' Romney ought to be crowned with the GOP nod Saturday evening.  If Newt does pull off the upset then all bets are off as the south is much more favorable to Gingrich/Santorum than to Romney or Paul.  So go ahead SC, pick a president, or at least a nominee.  America is watching.