The 2012 election, Republican politics and conservative media.
Mitt Romney has slightly better than even odds of winning the South Carolina Republican presidential primary on Saturday. Then it’s on to Florida where Romney currently holds a big lead in the polls and has the largest paid media presence. After Florida comes the Nevada caucus, where Romney and Ron Paul are way ahead of their competitors in terms of organizing local support. If Romney wins on Saturday, his nomination prospects will go from very good to almost certain.
Polls in South Carolina showed Romney with a consistent, if slightly shrinking, lead until Wednesday. Some of the polls released Wednesday showed Gingrich ahead, but Romney continues to hold a slim lead in both the weighted and unweighted polling averages. It’s possible that a surging Newt Gingrich could catch Romney.
Thursday morning brought good news and bad news for Gingrich. The good news? Rick Perry dropped out and endorsed him. Perry’s supporters are staunch social and fiscal conservatives who may be suspicious of Romney. But Perry was polling at only 6 percent. Even a full swing towards Gingrich of Perry’s supporters might not be enough for him to catch Romney. And, of course, Perry’s voters won’t all necessarily go where he tells them to, especially given Perry’s somewhat tepid endorsement. Perry said, “We have had our differences, which campaigns inevitably bring out. And Newt is not perfect, but who among us is? The fact is, there is forgiveness for those who seek God and I believe in the power of redemption, for it is a central tenet of my own Christian faith.” It’s not clear if Perry thinks Gingrich needs divine redemption for his past indiscretions in the realm of politics, his personal life or both. And it is odd to see Perry, who staked his campaign on being a Washington outsider proposing to make Congress part time so congressmen could go home and “get real jobs,” endorsing Gingrich, a former Speaker of the House who consulted for Freddie Mac after leaving office.
The ideal reverberation from Perry’s endorsement for Gingrich would be if some supporters of Rick Santorum see it as a sign that conservatives are coalescing around Gingrich and switch over to his side.
But another event Thursday morning might remind social conservatives why they don’t trust Gingrich. Marianne Gingrich, his second wife, gave interviews to the Washington Post and ABC News about their marriage. Her comments are incredibly damning. She says that Gingrich called her at the home of her 84-year-old mother on her mother’s birthday to ask for a divorce. When they then sought marriage counseling Gingrich admitted to having an affair with his current wife, Callista, and asked for an open marriage so he could continue to cheat on Marianne. At the same time, he was traveling the country giving speeches about the importance of family values. And this is not an isolated incident. Gingrich cheated on and divorced his first wife as well, when she was seriously ill. (If you want to read the definitive piece on Marianne Gingrich, which contains a lot more damaging revelations about Newt, check out Esquire’s article from 2010.) The Gingrich campaign is not contesting Marianne's version of events.
Romney has sensed the challenge from Gingrich and he has returned to the playbook that worked well at fending off Gingrich the last time Newt surged: attacking Gingrich’s conservative credentials. The Romney campaign has returned to organizing daily conference calls with Romney surrogates, often current and former legislators who served with Gingrich in Congress, calling him “unreliable.” Romney is also running ads to the same effect.
If Romney comes in a close second—and it’s virtually impossible that he’ll come in a distant second—it would hardly be a fatal blow to him. As a formerly moderate Mormon from Massachusetts, Romney was never expected to necessarily win South Carolina. And he has acted accordingly, spreading his resources around elsewhere and jetting up to New York Tuesday night for a fundraiser while his opponents packed in South Carolina campaign events.
Given Romney’s apparent weaknesses in South Carolina—which include not just his religion, home state and past positions but his stiff personality and the fact that his company laid off South Carolina workers—it’s remarkable that he is performing so well here. Here are five reasons why.
Divided opposition. Gingrich and Rick Santorum are competing for the votes of more ardent conservatives, particularly social conservatives. Both of them are on the receiving end of withering attacks on their record from Ron Paul. If you combined Gingrich and Santorum in Nate Silver’s weighted polling average they’d receive 46.8 percent to Romney’s 33.7 percent. If there had been one clear alternative to Romney all along, that candidate might have been able to compete with Romney more effectively. Romney is trouncing his opponents nationally in fundraising and endorsements. Donors and politicians like to back a winner, and the absence of a unified alternative has helped Romney enormously.
Electability. Republicans hate President Obama. South Carolina Republicans especially hate Obama, for the obvious reason. “The hatred for Obama wouldn’t be half as bad if he were white. They think he’s uppity, his wife even more so,” says a staffer for a Republican statewide elected official.
Whether or not you’re motivated by race, you’ll want someone who can win in November if you think Obama is a terrible president. Daniel Farra, 29, a general manager for Applebee’s from Lexington, South Carolina, encapsulates that mindset. He also happens to be the husband of Danyele Gardner, the current Mrs. South Carolina. Farra told me he is supporting Romney because he is “looking for someone who can beat Obama.”
“Realistically, 45 percent of the electorate will vote one way and 45 percent the other, so you need someone who can get that 10 percent in the middle,” says Farra. “Romney, because he is more moderate could do it. Newt maybe could do it because of his intellect.”
South Carolina’s strange affinity for the establishment. The nostrum that Republicans always choose the candidate next in line, typically someone who contended for the presidential nomination before, as Romney did in 2008, is perhaps mostly attributable to South Carolina. Oddballs such as Pat Robertson, Steve Forbes and Pat Buchanan have over-performed in the quirky Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary. South Carolina, despite its staunch conservatism, is less amenable to insurgents.
Luck. If Republicans had been able to find a respectable conservative alternative to Romney, South Carolina’s primary campaign would have unfolded quite differently. But instead they were stuck with a group of half-wits, amateurs and has-beens. In the first category, Michele Bachmann and Perry dropped out, as did the unprepared Herman Cain. In the last, Santorum lost his last race by eighteen points and Gingrich resigned as a remarkably unpopular Speaker of the House.
Money. Romney has raised vastly more than his opponents, even during periods when they surged past him in the polls. Romney has used that advantage to buy television and radio ads. He and his Super PAC have spent the most on ads in South Carolina of any candidate. Of course, money isn’t everything. Rick Perry spent the second most in South Carolina.
Here’s one factor that did not much matter: Governor Nikki Haley’s endorsement. Haley is not nearly as popular in South Carolina as outsiders imagine her to be. She beat her Democratic opponent in this heavily Republican state, in a Republican wave election year, by only a few points. She could face a primary challenge when she is up for re-election. Haley’s endorsement certainly did not hurt. She’s an articulate surrogate on Romney’s behalf and it might have helped at the margins. But she has hardly achieved kingmaker status in the state GOP.
Indeed, we know Haley’s touch isn’t golden, because if it were Romney would have South Carolina locked up. Instead, despite all his aforementioned advantages, he could very well lose or end up in a virtual tie with Gingrich.
The national media like to cite the fact that a majority of Iowa Republican caucus-goers are evangelical or born-again Christians (57 percent this year) as evidence that Iowa is a bastion of social conservatism. In South Carolina, evangelical Protestants account for not just a majority of Republican voters: they are a majority of religiously active residents in the state. And not all evangelicals are the same. There is a depth and intensity to the social conservatism here. And the candidates are behaving accordingly. They aren’t changing their positions, but they are offering religious frames and justifications for them. After hearing constantly about jobs and the budget deficit, we’re starting to hear a lot more about morality, family and values.
If you drive west on Route 378 from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, to the State Capitol in Columbia, you’ll pass more churches than businesses. These aren’t mega-churches in the feel-good Rick Warren mold, with their Christian rock bands and squishy environmentalism. These are typically small, plain white buildings, not much larger than the trailers and ranch houses that surround them, with modest signs advertising their Baptist or Methodist faith. This isn’t the suburban West; it’s the rural South. The gospel churches here preach is old-time religion. In the words of a lifelong resident of the region, “It’s fire and brimstone: repent or you’ll burn in Hell.”
Stop at a convenience store in Marion County, near the Pee Dee River, and you’ll see a few unusual signs. One, in the parking lot, warns that alcohol consumption is prohibited and adds “No Profanity.” (The sign says that the parking lot is under the supervision of the Marion County Police Department. A web search by this reporter could not ascertain what the penalty is for getting caught swearing in a convenience store parking lot.) In the men’s room you might find a strange admonishment on the condom dispenser: Hygeia Corp of Kannapolis, North Carolina, warns you that while they’ll sell you a condom for four quarters, the best way to avoid contracting HIV is to abstain from sex until marriage and to be monogamous within marriage.
Rick Santorum, a staunch social conservative who won a tie victory with Mitt Romney in the Iowa caucus, is not doing as well here. Polls show Santorum barely beating Ron Paul for third place. Religion, normally Santorum’s strength, may actually be the reason. “I think Santorum would be doing better if he weren’t a Catholic,” says one South Carolina political insider. Even Santorum supporters admit it could be a hurdle for him. “I’m sure here in the Deep South [Santorum’s Catholicism] would be an issue for some people,” said Al Phillips, who attended a Santorum town hall in Spartanburg on Wednesday. It’s possible that one reason Newt Gingrich is outpacing Santorum for second place is that many South Carolina Republicans may not know Gingrich converted to Catholicism when he married his third wife, Callista.
Nonetheless, Santorum is milking the religion and family values angle for all it’s worth. In Spartanburg he bent over backward to tie his renewed interest in moral values to the economic issues the campaign has focused on until now. “I talked about the importance of marriage and the family to our economy,” said Santorum. “People need to see the economy is inextricably linked to the strength of the family.”
Asked about drug policy Santorum nearly called for the reinstatement of the Volstead Act. Usually people invoke the nation’s miserable experience with Prohibition to argue for legalizing drugs. Santorum points to the fact that alcohol consumption declined under Prohibition to argue that legalizing drugs would lead to more drug use. “Legalizing alcohol was something that probably should have happened, but legalizing alcohol means more alcoholics,” said Santorum. “I absolutely oppose any legalization or liberalization of our drug laws,” he declared to applause.
Santorum does not think drugs should be illegal and users thrown in prison merely because it will protect the health of potential drug users. He explicitly argues that the law should make a moral statement against intoxication. “Morality is reflected through our laws,” said Santorum. And, of course, it all comes back to the same theme. Santorum blames drug abuse on the scourge of out-of-wedlock childbirth, noting that most drug offenders, like most prisoners in general, grew up with absentee fathers. Clearly, Santorum is unacquainted with the difference between causation and correlation. “If you want to do something about the drug problem, we’re going to have to do something about faith and family,” he said.
When Santorum was asked about gay marriage on the campaign trail in New Hampshire, his answer focused on the question of child rearing and promoting traditional marriage. In South Carolina, his reasons seem to come from a different place. “My duty as a Christian is to respect every individual,” insisted Santorum, a religious spin on his usual effort to inoculate himself against charges of homophobia. But, he was sure to add, “We can’t redefine what God has created.”
At the Personhood USA forum in Greenville, South Carolina, home of the infamous Bob Jones University, the candidates framed their staunch opposition to abortion rights in religious terms. Whereas usually the Republican candidates talk solely about their scientific belief that a fetus is a person, they all brought up religion at the Wednesday night event.
“The Obama administration is trying to impose its secular values on a country that deeply opposes it,” said Newt Gingrich in his introductory remarks. “With aggressive articulate leadership we could have a cultural revival.” When asked later about human cloning, Gingrich said, “This may be first time since leaving the Garden of Eden that we may have to address, What does it mean to be human? The greatest of all sins is playing God.”
Rick Perry reiterated his preposterous assertion that “this administration is in a war against religion.” Even Ron Paul uncharacteristically invoked the importance of “family and morality” in “solving our problems.” He also called for eliminating all federal funding for contraception and hospitals on the grounds that the organizations receiving the money may also provide abortions and thus is abortion is being indirectly subsidized.
Gingrich and Santorum have been battling over the support of religious and social conservative activists. On Saturday a group of 150 social conservative leaders gathered to pick a candidate and emerged on Sunday with an answer: Rick Santorum. It was a bad break for Gingrich, considering that on their first ballot he had lagged Santorum by only nine votes, fifty-seven to forty-eight. The Gingrich campaign did their best to put a positive spin on the event, blasting out a press release titled “150 Christian Leaders Unanimous in Their Support for Not-Romney.” Gingrich has continued to trumpet his own handful of endorsements from fire-breathing religious conservatives, such as Left Behind author Timothy LaHaye.
Meanwhile, Ron Paul is aggressively recruiting anti-gay pastors. At times since 2008 it has appeared that the religious right has been subjugated to the fiscal conservatism of the Tea Party movement. But that’s just the face Republicans present to swing voters. If you want to see the real Republican Party, listen to what the candidates have to say in South Carolina.
Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich speaks at Tommy’s Ham House, in Greenville, South Carolina, November 30, 2011. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro, File)
Columbia—Newt Gingrich looks poised to become the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney in the crucial South Carolina primary. The most recent state polls all have Gingrich in second, although some show the gap between him and Romney widening. And Gingrich’s campaign is quick to point out the most encouraging, if obscure, cross tabs, such as Public Policy Polling’ finding that Gingrich was the top second choice among voters and the candidate they most trust on foreign policy.
The anecdotal feeling on the ground is that Gingrich is picking up momentum, which may be reinforced by his strong performance in Monday night’s debate in Myrtle Beach. At the Faith & Freedom Coalition’s candidate forum across the street from the debate on Monday afternoon, Gingrich got the warmest reception of any speaker. There was palpable excitement to see him, with chants of “We Want Newt” breaking out. Once Gingrich started, his fans in the crowd frequently interrupted with cheers and shouts of “We need you, Newt,” and “You can do it, Newt.”
Gingrich knows the secret to his success among Republicans is his penchant for mocking and excoriating liberals. In South Carolina that approach has taken on a racially inflammatory element, and it seems to be working. The debate audience booed moderator Juan Williams for daring to ask whether Gingrich’s assertion that black parents should want “jobs instead of food stamps for their children” might be racially insensitive. Then Gingrich thrilled the crowd, bringing them to their feet, defending his remarks. Gingrich boldly promised to “continue to find ways to help poor people learn how to get a job,” as if the majority of poor people were not, in fact, employed and as if the unemployed lack knowledge rather than opportunity. By Tuesday he had cut an ad with the clip, titled in typically grandiose Gingrich fashion “The Moment.”
Liberal writers argue Gingrich’s rhetoric—calling President Obama “the best food stamp president in history” and so forth—is a dog whistle designed to appeal to South Carolina’s white Republican voters. This was the first state to secede from the Union. Surrounding the state capitol building there is a street named for slavery defender John Calhoun, a statue of segregation defender Strom Thurmond and a Confederate flag flying.
Veteran South Carolina politicos readily agree, off the record of course, that Gingrich is intentionally tapping into this long vein of racial animosity. In the years since the Civil Rights Act, white South Carolinians may have largely ceased pining for the days of segregated water fountains. And anyway, no politician can call for returning to them. But they often resent African-Americans and social welfare programs that they view through a racial lens. Gingrich, who held a Congressional seat in neighboring Georgia, is playing to that sentiment more effectively than his opponents.
On Tuesday afternoon Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Rick Perry each addressed the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce in Columbia. Gingrich easily outshone his competitors. Santorum raced through his speech, seeming ill at ease, and barely elicited any reaction from the audience. Perry was surprisingly fluid—his trademark awkward pauses were shorter and less frequent than usual—but he didn’t move the audience dramatically. Gingrich, on the other hand, was speaking to his people. These are the sorts of establishment Republicans among whom Gingrich must compete with Romney. He made them laugh and clap frequently, even sometimes at once, such as when he promised to eliminate the “death tax” because “it is immoral to make you go to the undertaker and the IRS in the same week.”
I sat next to State Senator Jake Knotts, who you may remember achieved brief national fame in 2010 for slurring gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley, who is Indian-American, by saying, “We already got one raghead in the White House. We don’t need another in the Governor’s Mansion.” Knotts told me he is undecided among the presidential candidates but he will support “the one who proves out to be a Reagan Republican.”
Gingrich seems to have the best intuitive grasp of how to appeal to voters like Senator Knotts. He invokes Reagan constantly, claiming at least partial credit for Reagan’s electoral victories in 1980 and 1984, the passing of Reagan’s legislative agenda and the economic boom of the 1980s. “I’m the only candidate who worked with Reagan,” Gingrich claims. And what would Gingrich do in 2013? “Pick up the Reagan cookbook.”
The chamber audience, composed of business leaders from around the state, was several hundred strong. But in state with a 28 percent African-American population, I counted only three African-Americans in the audience. (Only 12.1 percent of the firms in the state are black-owned, according to the Census.)
When I asked Governor Haley, who is supporting Mitt Romney, whether Romney’s Mormonism would be an obstacle to him winning South Carolina, she claimed her own election proved the state’s electorate no longer harbors any bias. “You’re talking to someone who was just elected in South Carolina as an Indian female,” said Haley, “I don’t think that’s going to be a problem.” But South Carolina Democrats say that Haley won by running against President Obama. The Republican Governor’s Association, for example, ran a commercial calling Haley’s opponent, Vincent Sheheen, “an Obama liberal in our own backyard,” that showed Obama, in shadow, transmogrifying into Sheheen. Those ads, they say, played to racial animosity towards Obama and were crucial to Haley’s relatively narrow win.
After the debate on Monday night, Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond offered me the “some of his best friends are black defense” for Gingrich, noting that he grew up as an Army brat in the desegregated military and is being supported by J.C. Watts, the African-American former congressman from Oklahoma. Hammond also argues that liberals and African-Americans should appreciate that Gingrich is raising the issue of poverty, even if they disagree with his solution. (Gingrich’s solution, naturally, is a bunch of tax cuts that will supposedly spur job growth.)
It’s actually a brilliant piece of jiu-jitsu: Gingrich plays to racial animosity while claiming credit for trying to empower poor minorities. When Gingrich says, as he does at every stump speech, that his message of “jobs versus [President Obama’s dispensing of] food stamps,” will appeal to “people of every background,” he sounds like he is actually offering a vision for a broader, more diverse Republican Party. Gingrich told the Chamber of Commerce that such a message would be so potent in the general election “there would be no safe states for President Obama.” But at the same time Gingrich is appealing to whites, particularly in South Carolina, who may tend to feel that minorities are freeloaders. When he says black parents will take him up on his offer of jobs instead of food stamps, some listeners might hear “get blacks off of food stamps,” particularly when it comes after his boast of having passed welfare reform.
Gingrich probably won’t win South Carolina, but he’s the only candidate who seems to have a chance of stopping Romney here. Gingrich certainly thinks so. His campaign downplays the necessity of winning the state outright. “We want to finish as well as well as possible,” said Hammond. “[If] we finish first Romney goes home. [If] we finish second we’ll get him in Florida.” But speaking to the Chamber on Tuesday Gingrich sounded more desperate. “Your support in the next four days can change history,” Gingrich said. “If I carry your state I will be the Republican nominee. If Romney wins this state, we’ll probably nominate a Massachusetts moderate who can’t beat Obama.”
At the Faith & Freedom Coalition candidate forum in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, on Monday, Rick Santorum’s introduction included a strange biographical note: “Rick Santorum is the only candidate running who was named by Time magazine as one of twenty-five most influential evangelicals in the US.” Santorum is Catholic, not evangelical.
But, as Santorum explained when he took the stage, evangelical experts identified Santorum in interviews as their “point man on Capitol Hill” in 2005, when the Time article ran. “We don’t look at what divides us but what unites us; issues unite us as believers,” said Santorum. “Of the twenty-five on that list, I was the only non-pastor on that list.”
Perhaps Santorum missed his true calling. Campaigning in South Carolina, Santorum has spoken about political issues as matters of theology rather than public policy. Taking a very different tack than he did in New Hampshire, Santorum is reminding voters of the polarizing social conservative whom Pennsylvania voters drummed out of office. That persona may not play well in more secular surroundings, but Santorum is hoping that it will catapult him to victory in the deeply conservative Palmetto State.
Monday afternoon Santorum chatted with Frank Luntz and Lindsay Ferrier of the website Café Mom in front of a small crowd of mothers and children in a coffee shop in Myrtle Beach. This is the same forum at which Newt Gingrich got teary discussing his mother in Iowa. It makes sense: questions from the moderators play to the worst stereotypes about “mommy politics.” They are all about the personal and emotional aspects of campaigning. “What was the hardest moment on the campaign trail?” Asked Luntz. “You think mothers should stay at home?” Asked Ferrier. Santorum interjected that he has no preference between mothers and fathers staying at home, before turning to his wife Karen, who quit her job to raise their children.
The Santorums had plenty to say about the benefits and challenges of spending time raising your kids, and how that should be socially recognized as much as work outside the home. They did not, however, even acknowledge that their domestic ideal is simply unaffordable for many families, much less discuss what public policy solutions they would advocate to make it feasible for more people. In the socialist hellholes of Europe, parents get to spend considerably more time with their newborns, because the law requires paid parental leave. Santorum did not mention that. He presumably would oppose such a law as meddlesome governmental interference in private enterprise. That’s a legitimate fiscally conservative viewpoint, but one that conflicts with his professed commitment to having a stay-at-home parent in every household.
The questions from the audience were more substantive, but began with a relevant factoid about the questioner’s personal life—a format that was no doubt encouraged, or even required—by the organizers.
The closest the Santorums came to a Gingrich moment was when a mother of a child with a congenital birth defect asked about what they would do for children with disabilities. The Santorums’ youngest daughter was born with a chromosomal disorder. They spoke movingly about their love for their daughter and Karen Santorum welled up. But as they went on, it became apparent that Rick Santorum has no policies to help the disabled. He argues that the families that can afford to should do everything they can to care for their children. But what about those who can’t afford to do so?
Santorum offers three options, each more unhelpful than the next. He suggests high-risk pools, state governments stepping into the breach and Medicaid. As president his ability to create high-risk pools would be limited, and he offers no policy proposal on how to create affordable high-risk pools. Nor does Santorum propose a federal program to subsidize state governments’ caring for their most vulnerable citizens. Indeed, state governments are cutting back on spending, and Santorum opposes aid to states to alleviate some of that pain. Santorum would cut funding for Medicaid and turn into a block grant program. Disability policy advocates and experts say this would be disastrous for the disabled.
Santorum complains that the Affordable Care Act will introduce comparative effectiveness measurements to reduce costs in the healthcare sector. He worries that will mean doctors making decisions not to treat the disabled. Santorum is wildly misrepresenting the purpose of comparative effectiveness research. The idea is to compare which ways of treating a given condition are the most effective and which are the most cost-effective. The purpose is to improve care and to reduce costs of treating patients, but only if you get the same medical outcome, or a better one. Nowhere in the law does it say that any bureaucrat should decide which illnesses are worth treating in the first place. Santorum is basically repeating a less catchy version of the “death panels” lie.
What the Affordable Care Act actually would do is require insurance companies to offer policies to everyone, regardless of whether they have a prior condition, and to cover the costs that may arise from such a condition. That, obviously, would be a boon to the disabled, who by definition have a prior condition. That, along with elements such as expanding Medicaid access, is why disability rights advocates strongly support the law.
Perhaps the most hostile thing Santorum said about disability rights came Monday night in the Fox News debate in Myrtle Beach. After saying he would now repeal No Child Left Behind, which he voted for, Santorum added, “We should repeal all of the federal government’s role in education.” A major component of the federal government’s role in education is the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act, which requires schools to meet the needs of children with disabilities and provides funding for doing so.
In place of substantive discussion of these actual disability issues on Monday afternoon, the Santorums discussed how their religious fervor helped them through the days after their daughter’s birth. “When we got the diagnosis I was very angry… I was never going to leave my faith,” said Karen Santorum. “I love the Lord.”
Santorum executed a similar dodge on gay rights. A woman from Greenville, South Carolina, said she supports Santorum, but her youngest son is gay. Her son has no problem with Santorum’s opposition to gay marriage, she claims, but he hears from his friends that Santorum hates gays.
Karen Santorum reassured her. “It’s very sad what gay activists have done to Rick: they’ve vilified him. Rick doesn’t hate anyone. He just said [gay] marriage shouldn’t happen.” Karen Santorum even had the audacity to accuse said “gay activists” of “backyard bullying” of her husband. Apparently, the irony that denying certain people equality under the law is bullying did not occur to her.
Then Rick Santorum explicated why he opposes gay marriage. What he did not address is his stance on other gay rights issues. Santorum opposes letting gays serve openly in the military and he opposes protecting gays from discrimination in the workplace. And while he might not hate gays, he’s at least willing to implicitly dog-whistle to those who do. When speaking to the Faith & Freedom Coalition later Monday afternoon, Santorum invoked the specter of “immoral activity,” without specifying what such activity is, leaving it to the imagination of a group Southern social conservatives. What do you think they were imagining?
Santorum’s new favorite talking point, which he trotted out at the coffee shop, the Faith & Family event and in the debate, is theology disguised as social policy. Santorum complains that the Obama administration does not allow organizations receiving federal funding to encourage young people to marry or to remain abstinent. Citing a study from Brookings, Santorum notes that waiting until you have kids to get married is one of the most important ways you can stay out of poverty.
And he is highly selective even when it comes to the studies he cites. He clearly didn’t read the Brookings report too carefully, because it also notes “the concentration of income and wealth at the very top of the distribution” and “the importance of both personal responsibility and government assistance in helping people get ahead.”
Santorum complains that the Obama administration “is so dogmatic [they] can’t look at evidence. Just because it’s a traditional value [they] have to reject it.” But it is he who ignores the relevant evidence. There are many ways to avoid having children out of wedlock, including using contraception or having an abortion. Santorum opposes the constitutional right to access both of those health services, and in the case of abortion he favors federal and state prohibitions. Would Santorum like it if organizations receiving federal funding counseled pregnant young women to have abortions to stay out of poverty? As far as the evidence goes, abstinence-only education are usually ineffective. Santorum’s priority isn’t keeping people out of poverty; it’s discouraging people from having sex. He is not approaching the problem of poverty or inadequate family planning with an open mind.
It is this sort of imposition of his personal religious values on society as a whole that earned Santorum the endorsement of 150 social conservative leaders on Saturday. And it’s at the root of Santorum’s appeal to many voters. At the coffee chat I met Angela Urkle, a Santorum supporter from Lancaster, South Carolina. She said she supports Santorum because “his beliefs and his values, that’s me.” What beliefs and values? “Religion, family, education.” Desperate to get some specific idea of what tangible policy improvements a President Santorum would offer her, I asked Urkle what aspects of his education policy she likes. “Prayer should be back in school,” she said. “Since we got rid of prayer in school, things have been going downhill.”
Coming on the heels of Santorum’s endorsement by social conservative leaders, Ferrier said, “Some South Carolinians think God may be on your side.” Usually, politicians deflect such questions with Abraham Lincoln’s famous quote that “It is my constant anxiety and prayer that I and this nation should be on the Lord’s side.” But Santorum, as befits a man who is supremely confident that he is on God’s side, didn’t bother with such modesty. Instead, he demurred that “hopefully, God’s on all of our sides.” Karen Santorum added, “We pray for our opponents in every campaign, Republican and Democrat.” Let’s hope their prayers are answered.
Myrtle Beach, SC—As soon as news broke Sunday night that Jon Huntsman would be dropping out of the Republican presidential race on Monday, the mainstream media narrative took hold: Huntsman was a candidate for 2009, when Republicans were willing to reconsider their approach, rather than 2012. As Reid Wilson wrote in National Journal, “After winning control of the House in 2010, a Republican electorate bullish on its own chances for 2012 was not interested in a message of moderation and pragmatism. Instead, that sort of refocus typically finds better resonance in a party that has just suffered major defeats and needs to recalibrate its image, rather than a party that sees itself on the rise.” Ben Smith wrote in Buzzfeed, “Jon Huntsman had his moment. It was, unfortunately for his presidential bid, the late winter of 2009.”
The only problems with this narrative are that Huntsman isn’t really a moderate and Republicans were never willing to move to the center. From its inception, Huntsman’s campaign seemed to be built more around the notion that he would hold an appeal that was above ideology. He speaks Mandarin, rides motorcycles and was in a high school rock band! Some campaign consultants might think that combination would prove irresistible to voters. That’s not the same thing as being centrist.
It is certainly true that Huntsman was insufficiently conservative for the Republican base at the moment. As Obama advisor David Axelrod said, “He was simply unwillingly to make the Faustian bargains with the Right that Romney has so willingly made.” But those bargains were mostly about style rather than substance. Huntsman’s economic plan was actually to the right of Romney’s. The difference is that Romney, like Newt Gingrich, overcompensates for past signs of sanity by indulging in absurd rhetorical pandering, mainly by painting a totally false image of President Obama. Huntsman, to his credit, took a more measured tone.
But he was hardly above pandering. Huntsman pandered shamelessly to New Hampshire’s sense of self-importance, hoping that he could win their votes through sucking up the most assiduously.
Knowing that his votes would come out of Romney’s flank, he attacked him constantly. But he didn’t attack Romney from the left as such. Rather he claimed Romney’s record of flip-flops raised questions about Romney’s character and rendered him unelectable.
Today, Huntsman endorsed Romney. In fairness, Huntsman may have gone after Romney so aggressively because he genuinely dislikes Romney. He was awfully skimpy in praising the man he thinks should be president, saying merely, “It is time to unite the Republican Party around the candidate best able to beat President Obama. Despite our differences and the space between us on some issues, I believe that candidate is Mitt Romney.”
Huntsman gave the nominating speech for Sarah Palin at the 2008 Republican National Convention, and he still says, “Absolutely she was capable of being vice president.” As to whether he agrees with her views, he took the dodge that, “I don’t know her views in foreign policy, I don’t know what her views are in terms of tax policy and economic policy, but I assume this would be in the tradition of conservative governance.” This is not placing responsible governance ahead of partisan politics or ideology.
Huntsman himself said it best on “Meet the Press”: “I don’t think people should confuse a moderate attitude with a moderate record.” Huntsman has been consistently opposed to gun control and abortion rights, in favor of cuts to taxes and spending.
Nor should people confuse a moderate attitude with a moderate platform. In his efforts to win over the Republican base, Huntsman embraced the extremely right-wing Paul Ryan budget plan to privatize Medicare and block grant Medicaid. He says an individual mandate to buy health insurance is unconstitutional and that he would have voted against TARP. The area in which he was most notably moderate and sensible was foreign policy. He supported reducing our imperial troop presence, cutting our bloated defense budget and withdrawing from Afghanistan. But Huntsman took some disconcertingly foolish positions in foreign affairs too, most notably saying he would launch a ground invasion of Iran to prevent it from building nuclear weapons. Did he already forget how well that worked out in Iraq?
What made Huntsman so refreshing to liberals is that he was a Republican who would say the earth is round even if Rush Limbaugh declared it to be flat. He believed in evolution and climate change and he supported civil unions. Obviously, liberals would rather deal with Republicans who accept the Enlightenment than those who don’t. But to accept Huntsman as a substantive moderate is defining deviance downward.
Back in 2009 the Obama administration was so afraid of Huntsman as a 2012 competitor that they offered him the Ambassadorship to China. Huntsman was willing to accept that bargain until Obama looked beatable. Where Huntsman got the idea that a reality-based candidate who worked in the Obama administration would excite Republican electorate is a bit of mystery. The most likely candidates are the consultants who profited from his short-lived campaign.
The Huntsman campaign launched with a carefully choreographed event in front of a tiny crowd, and a large contingent of reporters, in Jersey City in June. On Monday he ended his campaign at a quickly thrown together press conference that was reasonably well attended, but by no means jam-packed.
Huntsman emphasized his dignified statesman shtick. “The race has degenerated into an onslaught of negativity unworthy of the American people. The current toxic form of our discourse does not aid [America’s] cause…. Today I call on each campaign to cease attacking each other…. Let’s invest our time and resources in building trust with the American people and uniting them around a common purpose.”
The problem is that Huntsman misidentifies the source of our divisiveness. “Three years ago the President promised to unite the American people. Yet his class warfare has left us more divided than ever.” This is simply false. And this is where the argument that Huntsman could have won in 2009 breaks down. Obama faced a hostile opposition from before he even took office. Remember all those videos of McCain supporters calling Obama a terrorist? Remember the claims that he was not a natural born citizen? Remember when Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said his number one priority was beating President Obama in 2012? Remember how not a single Republican would vote for moderate proposals Republicans used to support, such as an individual mandate to buy health insurance? How one of the Republican candidates for president, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, talked about seceding from the Union? Remember how Republicans routinely blocked unobjectionable nominees to federal appointments merely to impede the nation’s governance? It is these actions that have polarized the political process. And it is the economic inequality itself, not President Obama’s recognition of it, which divides the public. To blame President Obama for the toxicity of our discourse is neither moderate nor honest.
When Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain dropped out, the Huntsman campaign issued statements praising them. They even prematurely did that when Rick Perry announced he was assessing whether he would stay in the race. None of Huntsman’s competitors blasted out a statement on his departure except for Newt Gingrich, who churlishly crowed that “With Governor Huntsman dropping out, we are one step closer to a bold Reagan conservative winning the GOP nomination.” In that narrow sense of affability and statesmanship, Huntsman certainly does have his Republican competitors beat.
It was no surprise that Huntsman dropped out before South Carolina voted. Ten days before the New Hampshire primary, the Huntsman campaign told me that he needed to finish in second in New Hampshire—where he was making his big stand—to continue onward. When he didn’t immediately drop out after coming in third it was perplexing. Huntsman may have finally found his campaign’s theme, but it was too little too late. After defending his service in the Obama administration at a debate in New Hampshire he made his slogan “Country First.” A plea to patriotism above partisanship might have played well in New Hampshire and catapulted him to a higher place in the polls if he had pushed it all along. But he didn’t. When Huntsman spoke Monday he anachronistically recalled that his campaign launched with “simple theme of ‘Country First.’” If only he had done so, and meant it.
One little-noticed fact of the high-profile New Hampshire primary is that it allocated only twelve delegates, half of its original total. The reason? Because it is being penalized, as will upcoming primaries in South Carolina and Florida, by the Republican National Committee for holding its primary before March.
In preparation for this election cycle the RNC adopted a set of rules designed to slow the mad rush to move primaries ever earlier. States were penalized for holding their primary before March, and required to allocate at least some of their delegates proportionally if they held their primary before April.
New Hampshire was happy to accept the penalty as the price of retaining its position as the nation’s first primary. Since New Hampshire is a small state that never had too many delegates anyway, its power is determined by the media’s frenzied coverage, which was not dimmed by its even smaller than usual number of delegates.
The proportional allocation element of the RNC’s rules that was designed for the same purpose as penalizing states that push their primary way up—to slow a frontrunner’s steamroll—will affect a greater number of states. (None of these rules apply to caucuses.) Thirty-one states (including the US Virgin Islands, but not including Washington, DC) will hold a Republican nomination contest before April 1. Of these, thirteen are caucuses. The remaining eighteen primaries are subject to the RNC’s proportional allocation requirements. However, some of the states, such as Arizona and Florida, which are losing half their delegates for voting before March, are planning to allocate all their delegates to the winner. Since they are unlikely to be punished a second time and lose all their delegates, they figure they are exempted from the proportional allocation requirement. South Carolina is, in fact, exempted—although it is having its delegates’ vote at the RNC halved—so it is using its traditional winner-take-all system as well.
The idea, according to David Norcross, a RNC member who helped draft the rules, is to prevent someone from speeding through a series of early primary wins and racking up a majority of delegates too quickly. In 2008 Norcross supported Mitt Romney, and he thinks that Romney would have made a stronger candidate in the general election that John McCain. He blames the early winner-take-all states such as New Hampshire and South Carolina for catapulting McCain to the nomination. Just generally slowing the process down would be better, regardless of who benefits, says Norcross.
“If we spread it out it would give a candidate an opportunity to stumble and recover or come in late and raise money and be viable, and not just have it be all over in February,” says Norcross. “Proportional allocation slows it down. That was the purpose: to try to convince states that they ought to wait until at least March or April. If they didn’t the side effect would be to slow down the process of attaining a winner.”
The number of delegates each state receives varies, depending on two factors: how many people live there and how Republican they are. Each Congressional district is worth three delegates. So that corresponds to population. Then states get bonuses of at-large delegates for having a Republican governor, senator, a Republican majority in a house of the state’s legislature, and whether the state was carried by the last Republican presidential nominee. You can see a table of each state’s delegate allotment here. Republican National Committee members are also delegates, but some of them are bound by state rules to vote for the state’s winner, unlike the famous super-delegates of the Democratic National Committee.
The details of proportional allocation are left up to the states. Generally, states have chosen to allocate the at-large delegates to the plurality winner of the statewide primary vote. Some allocate those proportionally, but often with the caveat that if the statewide winner attains an actual majority—meaning more than 50 percent of the statewide vote, not just more than any of his opponents—then he wins all the at-large delegates. Some states also require a minimum threshold to get a share of the proportionally allocated delegates. That threshold is often 20 percent, but in New Hampshire it is only 10 percent. Therefore Jon Huntsman, who placed third with 17 percent of the vote, won two delegates. Once you’ve dropped the candidates who failed to meet the threshold, the ones who met it end up with a greater proportion of delegates than their actual share of the vote. You can look at a full breakdown of each state’s plans to apportion its delegates here.
Most states allocate the Congressional delegates to the winner of the vote in their respective Congressional districts. In a large state such as Ohio that means an awful lot of delegates will be awarded to a candidate who wins a plurality that is roughly evenly distributed across the state. In other words, if Mitt Romney carried every Congressional district in Ohio with 35 percent of the vote, he would win all the Congressional delegates—forty-eight of the state’s sixty-six total delegates—and many of the at-large delegates. In the end, he’d get a large majority of the state’s delegates without having won a majority of the votes.
Still, relative to the old system, proportional allocation helps candidates who have a narrower appeal stay in the race for longer. Say Rick Santorum wins roughly 45 percent of evangelical voters but only 5 percent of all other Republicans, while Romney wins 30 percent of evangelicals and 40 percent of non-evangelicals. That would give Romney more overall supporters, and he’d win a plurality in most states. Under the old winner-take-all system, that would have given Romney all the delegates outside of states where evangelicals constitute such a large majority that Santorum would win them. Under a proportional system Santorum would pick up a small slice of delegates in many Romney states. In other words, if evangelicals were a big majority in some Congressional districts in states that Romney carries, Santorum would get some Congressional delegates, and he’d also get a handful of at-large delegates in states where there are enough evangelicals to put him over the state’s minimum threshold, or where there is no minimum percentage.
But this is unlikely to change who the nominee ends up being. In the above hypothetical, Mitt Romney would still be the Republican nominee, it would just take him longer to win the nomination than in a winner-take-all system. As Aaron Blake of the Washington Post notes, Romney’s supporters in the RNC backed the rule change, so they clearly think it is unlikely to hurt his chances. And if Romney wins South Carolina, other candidates may drop out. That could allow Romney to get over the 50 percent threshold to win all the delegates in subsequent contests.
And, of course, perception matters as much as reality. If Romney is widely accepted to be rolling along to acquiring a delegate majority he will become the presumptive nominee long before he actually acquires all those delegates.
As of yet, no one has identified a major shift in strategy by any candidate that can be attributed to the proportional allocation rules. The only example would be that the two best-funded candidates—Romney and Ron Paul—have prepared for a long slog similar to the Democratic contest in 2008. So that’s something to look forward to.
It’s not often that I find myself to the right of Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry. But here we are: Gingrich, Perry and their allies are attacking Mitt Romney for the fact that Bain Capital laid off workers and closed businesses when he was in charge of it.
Gingrich invented the attack in December in response to Romney’s suggestion that Gingrich return the millions of dollars Freddie Mac paid him. “I would just say that if Governor Romney would like to give back all the money he’s earned from bankrupting companies and laying off employees over his years at Bain, that I would be glad to then listen to him,” Gingrich said. In recent weeks he has sharpened the attack, which his affiliated Super PAC Winning Our Future lays out in detail in a twenty-eight-minute propaganda film, “When Mitt Romney Came to Town.” The movie shows cigar-smoking capitalists counting money while laid-off workers from companies Bain owned, such as the Ampad paper company and UniMac washing machines, complain of the hardships they’ve endured. The “documentary” makes xenophobic accusations that Romney took “foreign seed money from Latin America” and twice shows him speaking French. The Washington Post’s Fact-Checker column gave the movie four Pinocchios for the various misleading ways it has played fast and loose with the factual details. Now Gingrich is calling on Winning Our Future to correct the film or pull it off the airwaves. But Gingrich hasn’t retracted his argument that Romney is somehow different from, and worse than, most entreprenuers, whom Republicans such as Gingrich typically lionize.
The other Republican candidates have been repeating Gingrich’s argument. Jon Huntsman, whose campaign’s obsessive hatred of Romney seems to border on pathological, made the absurd claim that “Romney enjoys firing people. I enjoy creating jobs.” Texas Governor Rick Perry, who like Huntsman and Gingrich is normally a champion of capitalism and free enterprise, attacks Romney with the meaningless distinction between “venture capitalism and vulture capitalism.”
To say that there is something inherently wrong with Bain laying people off or closing factories to increase its profits is not a persuasive political argument in and of itself. But what anyone—Democrat or Republican—should note is that it contradicts the central rationale of Romney’s campaign. Romney has made his business background the chief selling point for his candidacy. He constantly blames President for the unemployment rate and argues that Obama’s lack of private-sector experience is the underlying culprit. Romney says that his business experience will imbue him with magical powers to lower the unemployment rate despite his poor record on employment as Governor of Massachusetts. “This president doesn’t understand how the economy works, it’s time to get a president who does,” says Romney in his stump speech.
Romney claims to have created 100,000 jobs while at Bain. This requires a lot of what George W. Bush would have called “fuzzy Washington math,” mainly because Romney takes credit for jobs that were created by businesses in which Bain was a partial investor years after the investment ended. If you used the same approach to tallying up all the job losses from companies Bain invested in and subtracted the losses from the additions, you wouldn’t find anywhere near a 100,000 net job increase. That’s why the Washington Post dubs Romney’s 100,000 jobs claim “an untenable figure.”
The other context in which it is appropriate to criticize layoffs under Bain ownership is to note that Romney opposes paying his fair share in taxes to social programs that would ameliorate the suffering he caused. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to say that one company, chosen at random, should not lay people off. That’s no way to ensure everyone in America has his or her basic needs met. Rather, it is best to allow capitalism to create the maximum wealth possible, but to impose progressive taxes to provide for people who are not adequately cared for in the free market. This, however, is a valid argument only when it comes from liberals who believe in such a system. Conservatives who advocate for low, regressive tax rates and eliminating the social safety net can’t make that argument. So instead they just attack Romney for laying people off as if that were a bad thing. It’s intellectually dishonest.
“Criticizing one businessman for one set of practices is not an assault on capitalism,” says Gingrich. But it is. And Perry’s dichotomy is false. As Matthew Yglesias explains in Slate, the entrepreneurs who start a business and add jobs to the economy are often responsible for job losses at the companies they out-compete. For every iPad designer employed by Apple, there might be someone getting laid off from a company that manufactures CDs. Ultimately, Romney was no more a force for good or ill than any other capitalist who seeks simply to create wealth. Gingrich and Perry are being opportunistic and hypocritical. That’s why Ron Paul, the only Republican candidate with consistent intellectual integrity, has called them out for betraying their supposed beliefs. “The principle of restructuring is a good thing in the marketplace,” said Paul.
Liberals, on the other hand, should raise this issue, but not merely in and of itself. Complaining that Romney was responsible for some people losing their jobs is an anti-capitalist trope that is at odds with liberal values. Liberals don’t believe there is anything wrong with companies seeking to be efficient and profitable. Rather they believe that those companies and their owners should be regulated and taxed to benefit the public good. Romney’s behavior is relevant only insofar as one is also noting that he does not couple his massive wealth creation with a sense of social obligation in public policy.
On his MSNBC program Wednesday night, Lawrence O’Donnell attempted to demonstrate the supposed distinction between Romney’s behavior and that of a virtuous capitalist by way of analogy. Even Republicans, argued O’Donnell, would agree that a stripper’s earnings are not of the same moral value as a nurse’s. But Romney was neither a stripper nor a nurse. Presumably O’Donnell would agree that running a paper company is neither good, like nursing, nor bad, like stripping, since paper is morally neutral. (That is, of course, if like O’Donnell you object to stripping: I personally think there’s nothing immoral about stripping.)
If Romney’s companies were making products that are morally neutral the question is simply about jobs. Should he have allowed inefficiencies that would reduce his profit margin? Perhaps it would have been nice of him to do so. But laying them off doesn’t make him a bad person.
“Mitt Romney fired people to make profits… massive profits,” intoned O’Donnell. That may sound unpleasant, but to argue that such behavior is immoral is to argue that capitalism itself is as well. If he didn’t fire people his competitors may have, and that would leave him with no choice but to do the same to stay competitive.
Gingrich suggests that Romney’s behavior might have been “exploitative.” Herman Cain led the National Restaurant Association (NRA), a trade group that represents the interests of the fast food industry in Washington. These companies pay their workers minimum wage or just above it, typically without benefits such as health insurance. The NRA lobbies Congress to keep the minimum wage low to keep profits high. Neither Gingrich nor Perry criticized Cain for that, because it is the nature of capitalism that companies will typically exploit workers as much as they legally can.
And that’s what gives the criticism of Romney some legitimacy, not from conservatives like Gingrich and Perry, but from liberals like O’Donnell.
It is the duty of government to protect and care for workers, to prevent exploitation and ameliorate its effects. That means allowing unions to provide a counterweight to corporate profit motives. It means imposing progressive taxes with high rates on the massive profits and of firms like Bain Capital and the large compensation packages of its top employees. And then it means using that government revenue to provide a basic social safety net. That is both a humanitarian obligation and wise investment in our labor force and future economic growth. Such a safety net would consist of affordable universal health insurance, good free public schools, adequate retirement insurance and subsidies for housing and food, among other things. That would have helped the workers in the film who complain of having lost their health insurance and their home and even skipped meals to feed their children. Unfortunately, Romney opposes this entire agenda. He wants to kneecap the National Labor Relations Board, repeal the Affordable Care Act, cut funding for Medicaid, food stamps and welfare, privatize Medicare and cut Social Security. It is this agenda that shows Romney to be greedy and heartless, not the way he made his living.
This is the essential difference between liberals and conservatives. “When Mitt Romney Came to Town” demagogues Romney’s large house, as if making money and living well is immoral. It isn’t, as liberal defenders of John Edwards pointed out when he was mocked and criticized for building a huge mansion and getting expensive haircuts. Nor was it fair for Republicans to impugn Edwards’ wealth as an ill-gotten gain because he earned it as a trial lawyer. As Republicans are so fond of arguing when it is to their political advantage, America has become such a prosperous and powerful nation precisely because we allow enterprising individuals—be they attorneys or private equity executives—to work hard and succeed.
The test of whether a wealthy person would make a good president is not whether he takes lower profits from his company to keep extra workers employed. Some commentators accused Edwards of hypocrisy because his huge house would not be energy efficient while he advocated a cap-and-trade program to limit greenhouse gas emissions. That was a stupid complaint. One rich person building a smaller house would not have appreciably slowed the rate of global warming. The entire United States accepting a cost for emitting carbon would, because the higher cost of energy would cause millions of Americans to reduce their energy consumption. But there would still be some people so rich that they would pay the cost without it affecting their behavior. Edwards was willing to pay more for energy in his house that would consume so much of it. That reflects a public spirit, not hypocrisy.
So it is fair to criticize Romney’s behavior at Bain in the context of his plutocratic policies. But since Gingrich and Perry share those policies, they are not doing so. When Rick Perry says, “When people can point to where you made a quick profit and kicked people out of their jobs, that is an issue that’s got to be addressed,” he is spouting nonsense. Of course people being unemployed and left without health insurance is a problem, but Perry, like Romney, has no plan to address it.
Correction: This article originally stated that Gingrich consulted for Fannie Mae as well as Freddie Mac. He only worked for Freddie Mac.
With Ron Paul’s consecutively finishing in the top three with more than 20 percent of the vote in Iowa and New Hampshire, pundits keep wondering where he will run as a third-party candidate in the general election. Polls show Paul draws more heavily from moderates and liberals and independents and Democrats than do his opponents in the GOP primary. Howard Fineman of the Huffington Post said on MSNBC on Tuesday night that Paul could very well get frustrated with the views of the eventual nominee and go the third-party route. Maddow agreed that this would be a major storyline to watch.
“Paul may well adjust his thinking on a third-party bid,” declares the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza. Rather, he speculates that Paul will be peeved if he doesn’t get sufficient concessions from the Republican Party in exchange for his endorsement. It’s true that Paul may not endorse the Republican. As I reported Tuesday night, Paul’s campaign readily acknowledges as much. But they deny that Paul would consider a third-party run. Paul can easily not endorse the Republican nominee but also not run as an outside candidate.
Cillizza also interprets a key data point incorrectly, writing, “Remember, he has already done it once: he ran as the Libertarian Party’s presidential nominee in 1988.” But Paul’s 1988 run is precisely the reason he is unlikely to launch another third-party bid. Back in 1988 Paul was a former right-wing Republican. He had been one of only four congressmen to endorse Ronald Reagan for president in 1976. But he saw his small government revolution hijacked by Reagan’s irresponsible deficit spending on excessive Defense programs.
Paul’s Libertarian Party bid garnered only 0.47 percent of the vote. Paul saw the futility of running as a third-party candidate in a winner-take-all system that will always create a two-party duopoly. Wisely, he decided to change the Republican Party from within. Other Goldwater conservatives have come to the same conclusion. In 1980 David Koch was the Libertarian Party nominee for vice president. Today he funds various efforts to pull the Republican Party towards stauncher fiscal conservatism.
The last few decades have seen Republicans succumb to various big-government movements. There is the religious right of Pat Robertson and Rick Santorum, who want to regulate private sexual behavior. There are the neoconservatives and national security hawks that want to increase military spending. We’ve seen the heyday come and go for empowerment conservatives like Jack Kemp and Newt Gingrich who wanted to give poor people the tools—in Gingrich’s case literally laptop computers—to make it out of poverty. None of the GOP presidential contenders, not even Gingrich, has a real social mobility proposal. And the national greatness conservatism of John McCain and David Brooks has fallen out of favor. When is the last time you heard a Republican argue for increasing the size of AmeriCorps? The answer is, not since 2008, when McCain and Mike Huckabee praised national service programs.
That’s because Paul and Koch have been vindicated in their recent efforts. Paul’s 2008 campaign, the subsequent right-wing hysteria over the Troubled Asset Relief Program, and the rise of the Tea Party, culminated in the 2010 elections. Conservative activists ousted mainstream incumbents in the Republican primaries for the most minor of offenses. The new Republican Congress is resolutely ideological. It routinely passes bills to repeal environmental regulations. It threatens to shut down the government on a regular basis. And, unlike Reagan, neither it nor the Republican candidates for president will sell out by accepting even token tax increases as part of a bipartisan compromise to reduce the deficit.
This doesn’t mean Paul’s agenda will be fully adopted by Republicans. As I’ve explained, his foreign policy views are simply anathema to most of the Republican base. Expressing militarism and bellicosity is a key component of the Republican Party’s white Christian nationalist identity politics and it is essential to their electoral strategy. On other issues where Paul’s opponents have begun to mimic him, such as attacking the Federal Reserve, you can safely bet that soulless hacks like Gingrich and Rick Perry will change their tune as soon as their political calculation shifts.
But Paul has seen the advantages of working within the two-party system. His strong showings in Iowa and New Hampshire are a testament to it. His son Rand is a Republican senator from Kentucky. As Cillizza notes, polls suggest a Paul candidacy would draw more from the Republican nominee than from President Obama, thus in effect aiding Obama’s re-election effort. Activists and policy experts at Tea Party aligned groups such as FreedomWorks and the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity say their views are closest to Paul’s but that they will support the Republican nominee because he will be closer to them than Obama is. Why should Paul think any differently?
CONCORD, NEW HAMPSHIRE -- In January 2008 I discovered a new phenomenon in the annals of transportation: the Obama traffic jam. Heading down the narrow roads of New Hampshire to a rally with Senator Obama, I would be stopped by an inexplicable back-up of cars. An hour before the event was to begin, and miles away from the site, I’d be sitting still, wondering how on earth there could be traffic in a small town in the middle of the day. Eventually it dawned on me: all these people were going to the same place I was.
This time I went to at least one Republican event every day for five straight days, and I never once got caught in a traffic jam. The closest I came was being stuck behind a small convoy on the winding roads of New Hampshire’s Lakes region. It turned out that I was following Gingrich’s campaign bus itself.
Given the language you hear from Republicans about Barack Obama—that this is the most important election in decades because Obama’s socialist policies will be irreversible after a second term—you’d think Republican turnout in the primaries would be high. But in the first two contests it has been underwhelming. In New Hampshire, only around 249,000 votes were cast in the GOP primary, barely an increase over the 239,000 four years ago. And because New Hampshire is an open primary and there was no competitive contest on the Democratic side, that includes Democrats and independents who came out to vote for the least bad alternative, typically Jon Huntsman, as well as Ron Paul supporters who won’t necessarily support the GOP nominee in November. A week ago in the Iowa caucuses Republican turnout was only about 3,000 participants higher than in 2008. As Ari Berman noted, Republican turnout in the Iowa caucuses was nowhere near the level of Democratic turnout in 2008. In New Hampshire in 2008 the Democratic primary drew 288,000 voters. Although that is only a little bit more than Republicans got this time, Democrats were competing for votes and attention with a competitive Republican primary. This time there was no contest on the Democratic side and so Republicans should have monopolized turnout among independents and outperformed the Democrats’ numbers from last time.
In 2008 Republicans were at a low point, worn out from the Bush years and its failings. Today they are supposedly energized, as the Democrats were in 2008. But when Democrats were excited to turn the page on the Bush era, they were jamming into events on the campaign trail. Hillary Clinton would draw 1,000 attendees to a rally that overflowed a high school gymnasium. Then Obama would draw 2,000 the next day.
The Republican race this time is not like that. Republicans have their own Hillary Clinton—a polarizing veteran of the political battles of the 1990s—in Newt Gingrich. His crowds are in the hundreds and his advance team is a mess, canceling and moving events without warning. Indeed, Republican candidates expect such small turnout that they schedule events in small buildings with low capacities. Then they boast about how it overflowed.
Santorum claimed at Sunday’s NBC debate that his Saturday town hall meeting in Hollis drew 1,200 people, which is a vast overestimate, especially since about one in five attendees were members of the media. A show of hands demonstrated that half the crowd came from out of state. In addition to political tourists, there were a significant number of protesters. Visitors from Massachusetts and Occupy New Hampshire activists frequently pad Republican crowds. On Sunday, the future Republican victor in New Hampshire, Mitt Romney, used a gymnasium at Exeter High School that is half the size of the larger one at the same school that Obama filled in 2008.
Talking to the crowds at the events, roughly half the voters I interviewed remained undecided right up until the night before the primary. That too seemed like a sign of low enthusiasm. They want to beat Obama, but Republicans are simply not that into their candidates.
Perhaps the better analogy to a recent Democratic primary 2008 is 2004. Republicans loathe Obama the way Democrats loathed George W. Bush. But like the Democrats in 2004, Republicans have an imperfect field, led by a tall, lean, stiff, awkward, wealthy patrician from Massachusetts. Romney, like John Kerry before him, has the built-in advantage of having been the next in line. Against fields of weak opponents, both Romney and Kerry won in Iowa and steamrolled through New Hampshire. And Romney, like Kerry, wins over voters largely on an unemotional appeal: Kerry convinced Democrats in Iowa that his military experience meant he was best suited to combat Bush in an election that would hinge largely on national security. In an election year that will be more about the economy, Romney argues that his business background makes him the rational choice. The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth advertisements that sowed doubts about Kerry’s war record weakened Kerry’s putative biographical advantage considerably. Similarly, Romney’s business experience may prove more of a liability than an asset if the advertisements featuring workers who were laid off from his companies gain traction.
On Tuesday at two polling stations in downtown Concord, just blocks from the State Capitol, the only volunteers were for Ron Paul and John Huntsman. “’That’s because Romney has the money but not the people,” said Deb Johnson, 57, who was holding a Paul sign in the parking lot of the Ward 6 polling station. “The road is lined with signs for him, but that’s because he paid people to put them up.”
Over at Ward 5, one of the largest wards in the state, with over 3,000 registered voters, turnout was slow. Volunteers and poll watchers reported a steady stream of voters but never a line out the door. In 2008, according to Stephanie Leary, a Paul volunteer holding a sign out front who had done the same for John McCain four years ago, there were waits of up to fifteen minutes.
On the Democratic side roughly 54,000 voters came out even though President Obama faced no real opposition. Nearly 49,000 of those votes were cast for Obama, merely to send a message of support for Obama or opposition to the Republicans. If early returns are any indication, Republicans will not benefit from the same “enthusiasm gap” that catapulted them to victory in the 2010 midterms.
Manchester, NH—The career of Representative Ron Paul (R-TX), just peaked. The 76-year-old congressman never passed much legislation. He lived for this moment when he would bask in the glory of his maximum popularity. After performing surprising well in the Iowa caucuses, Paul has finished second in New Hampshire with 23 percent of the vote.
But it’s all downhill from here. The campaign will now head on to Southern states, where Republican voters are more hawkish and socially conservative than those in New Hampshire. The media will lose interest in Paul once Mitt Romney, who won both Iowa and New Hampshire, has the nomination presumptively wrapped up. Paul has said he won’t run for re-election to Congress this year, and he’s unlikely to run for president again in 2016. His maximum relevance was yesterday.
You’d never know it, though, from the demeanor of Paul and the majority of his supporters. At Paul’s election night celebration Tuesday night in Manchester, New Hampshire, he addressed a crowd that was younger, longer-haired and noticeably more boisterous than those drawn by his competitors at their recent campaign events. Where other candidates’ supporters have only cheers that reflect their candidate preference—“Mitt, Mitt, Mitt”—Paul’s have cheers for all his major platform planks. Whenever Paul hit the appropriate line in his speech, the crowd would break into a chant: “End the Fed!” “Bring them [our soldiers] home!” and “Ron Paul revolution, we support our Constitution!”
Paul proudly declared “a victory for the cause of liberty tonight,” and promised, “This effort will not go unnoticed.” But it probably will. In 2008 Paul performed surprisingly well in the primaries, but the Republican Party has hardly adopted his platform. Most of his opponents are as hawkish as George W. Bush. The only movement towards Paul’s position on one of his hobbyhorses is the mainstreaming of demonizing the Federal Reserve and fretting about the “soundness” of our money. But that’s only because there’s a Democrat in the White House and the Fed—which incidentally is still run by Bush appointee Ben Bernanke—taking action to boost the economy, could damage a Republican’s chances of winning the presidency. As soon as there is a Republican president, Republicans will rediscover the virtues of goosing the monetary supply when a recession hits.
The distinction among Paul supporters seems to often—though, of course, not always—break down along generational lines. Older Paul supporters, presumably lifelong Republicans and staunch fiscal conservatives, are typically willing to support Romney if he is the Republican nominee. In fact, many say Romney is their second choice among the Republicans.
State Senator Tom Deblois is a Romney supporter, but his business partners support Paul, so he was at Paul’s celebration. Deblois’s partners said Romney would be an acceptable substitute. “I think [Paul’s] reached his peak support,” said Steve Matthew. Matthew thinks concerns about Paul’s electability and foreign policy will make it hard for Paul to perform as well as he did here as the primaries continue. “There are a lot of people who won’t support him because of his age, worry about whether he can win, and his foreign policy,” said Matthew. “Although I agree with him on foreign policy, a lot of people don’t.” Matthew disagrees with Romney's foreign policy proposals, such as spending more on the military, and he disapproves of Romney's healthcare reform in Massachusetts. But he thinks Obama is “killing small business,” through regulations such as Dodd-Frank, rules issued by the Environmental Protection Agency and healthcare reform.
Younger Paul supporters who strongly support his foreign policy views are more apt to say that other Republicans are simply unacceptable. Some of the younger attendees Tuesday night said they would vote for Obama or for Gary Johnson, a libertarian running as a third-party candidate since he dropped out of the Republican primary. Ryan Howard-Stone, 19, who stood outside a Concord polling station all day holidng a sign for Paul, said he would vote for Johnson if Paul is not the nominee. Stephanie Leary, another young Paul supporter, said she wasn’t sure if she could vote for another Republican, although, “I could live with Romney more than Santorum or Gingrich.” Leary is gay, and she is troubled by Santorum’s and Gingrich’s histories of homophobia and their warmongering towards Iran. Robin Spielberger, a young Paul volunteer who came up to New Hampshire from Memphis, Tennessee, said she would write in Paul if he is not the Republican nominee. She summed up the standard view of Paul’s young supporters when she said, “I’m not voting for the lesser evil.”
Paul is likely to seek policy promises from the GOP nominee in exchange for his endorsement. When I asked Paul’s campaign manager Jesse Benton on Saturday night if Paul would endorse the Republican nominee, Benton said, “That’s not a definite. We’ll have to have a conversation about that. We’re open to a discussion. It depends on who the nominee is and it depends what they say.” No Republican nominee would be well advised to offer Paul too much in the way of policy concessions, as the endorsement won’t be terribly valuable. As you would expect from a group that is largely young and libertarian-leaning, Paul supporters are an ornery bunch, not likely to vote for anyone because someone else tells them to do so. Even some who might reluctantly vote for Romney themselves told me they would view Paul’s endorsing Romney as a betrayal. “After 30 years of standing for his principles, why would he abandon them?” demanded Shelly Temple, a Paul voter who attended his party on Tuesday.
If Paul wants to be remembered by his adoring young fans as the hero they believed in, he’ll fight to the bitter end and never make a compromise. But tonight is the beginning of the end for Paul.