The 2012 election, Republican politics and conservative media.
On Wednesday I wrote about how Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI), does not adhere to his supposed limited government principles when it comes to civil liberties and social issues. But there is another major policy area in which Ryan is a doctrinaire Republican rather than a libertarian: foreign policy and national security. Ryan is a full supporter of interventionist, imperialist foreign policies and the national security state’s encroachments on individual liberty.
Ryan subscribes to extreme, cruel-hearted economic theories, but he is no Ron Paul Republican. Neoconservatives are rejoicing over his selection as Mitt Romney’s running mate. Neocon weathervane William Kristol of The Weekly Standard wrote that Ryan’s selection reminded him of John F. Kennedy’s famous inspirational inaugural address. His colleagues at The Weekly Standard have lavished slobbering coverage on Ryan, calling him “the ideal running mate,” and fawning over his “electric campaign appearences [sic].” They’ve even praised his ability to catch a baseball and earnestly reported that the current president of his former college fraternity says they are “good guys, fun guys.”
Ryan is a hawk’s hawk. As Eli Lake reports on The Daily Beast, “The selection of Paul Ryan as Mitt Romney’s choice for vice president tilts the ticket closer to the neoconservatives on key questions about America’s role in the world and the size of the military. In recent months, Ryan has been receiving briefings from Elliott Abrams, George W. Bush’s former Middle East director at the National Security Council, and Fred Kagan, one of the architects of the military surges in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
It should come as no surprise that Ryan would turn to the war-mongers behind Bush’s foreign policy. As Daniel Larison demonstrates in The Week, Ryan’s views are basically identical to Bush’s: he supported the Iraq War and every extension of the occupation and he expresses no misgivings about its failures, or the thousands of lives lost due to lies about nonexistent weapons of mass destruction.
Even Ryan’s supposed great passion, reducing the size of government, takes a back seat to enlarging the military industrial complex. Like most of his co-partisans in Congress, Ryan has duplicitously and hypocritically decided that the very same defense cuts he agreed to as part of a deal to reduce the deficit while raising the debt ceiling are now unacceptable. And Ryan’s 2011 budget actually proposed to increase defense spending. Danielle Pletka, vice president for foreign and defense policy at the American Enterprise Institute, summarized Ryan’s more-guns-no-butter priorities in an interview with Lake: “Unlike a lot of fiscal conservatives, one of the great things about Paul Ryan is he is not omni-directionally a budget cutter,” said Pletka. “He understands the primary role of the federal government is the national defense and not the handing out of food stamps.” Pletka articulates exactly the myopia of Ryan’s ideology: that feeding hungry children is completely unrelated to, even at odds with, national defense. Apparently they’ve never bothered to ask whether the nation might need well-nourished teenagers when it goes to war.
Nor does Ryan care to promote US foreign policy objectives through investments that can complement, or obviate the need for, military intervention. While Bush coupled his military adventurism with more cost-effective forms of international engagement, such as foreign aid, Ryan does not. His budget would cut funding for foreign aid and the State Department by one-fifth over four years. As Larrison writes, “Ryan gives every indication that he favors exporting our political principles abroad and using strongly moralizing rhetoric to berate other governments that reject them. Yet Ryan seems remarkably uninterested in funding diplomacy and development aid, and seems to conceive of US power abroad mostly in terms of military strength.”
Ryan even comes up with a way of perversely squaring his military profligacy with his penny-pinching, making the case that defense may one day suffer if budget deficits are not reined in. “Our fiscal policy and our foreign policy are on a collision course,” said Ryan at the opening of a foreign policy address in 2011 at the Alexander Hamilton Society, “and if we fail to put our budget on a sustainable path, then we are choosing decline as a world power.” Ryan gets the causality backwards, since our deficits are largely the result of our enormous military spending.
Since that speech is one of the few clues to Ryan’s foreign policy worldview, reporters are poring over it. The results are not encouraging, even just in terms of assessing Ryan’s basic familiarity with facts. For example, Ryan complained that defense spending makes up a much smaller portion of the budget than it did when he was born in 1970. But as Slate’s John Dickerson points out, that was at the height of the cold war. The United States had 400,000 troops fighting in Vietnam and a massive military infrastructure in Europe to defend against Soviet invasion. The portion of the budget devoted to defense should be much smaller now. And in actual dollar terms, it has not shrunk nearly as much from the cold war era as one might hope.
Domestically, Ryan supports unlimited expansion of the national security state. As Glenn Greenwald notes in Salon, “Ryan has continuously voted in favor of measures to expand all sorts of intrusive federal power, including making the PATRIOT Act permanent, enacting the Military Commissions Act to provide indefinite detention with no habeas corpus rights, implementing the Protect America Act to massively expand the U.S. Government’s power to eavesdrop on Americans without warrants.”
In his foreign policy address, Ryan talked up the virtues of promoting freedom abroad, but offered no actual plans to do so. And when it comes to freedom at home, Ryan’s rhetoric is worse than merely empty, it’s hypocritical.
Throughout his career Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) has proudly touted the influence of philosopher Ayn Rand on his political beliefs. Rand’s most devoted followers are returning the favor. “I think the announcement is great news,” Aaron Day, the CEO of the Atlas Society, an organization dedicated to promoting Rand’s Objectivist philosophy, told POLITICO in an email. “The influence of Rand on Ryan as it relates to the role and nature of government is a huge step forward for the liberty movement. Ryan highlighted the principles of liberty, freedom, free enterprise, and self-determination (all consistent with Ayn Rand’s philosophy).”
This, alas, is false. It is true that Ryan, like his mentor Jack Kemp, subscribes to Rand’s heartless belief in refusing to aid the less fortunate. But Ryan does not share any of Rand’s commitments to freedom, other than the freedom to be selfish.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) issued a report on the Republican vice-presidential contenders. Ryan’s record is just as bad as the others’, and his running mate’s. Writing in the Huffington Post, ACLU president Anthony Romero observed, “There’s no constitutional daylight between Ryan’s civil liberties positions and Romney’s and that means a pall of darkness over our Constitution and the rights it guarantees.”
Here are some examples:
-§ Immigration: Libertarians believe in open borders, but Paul Ryan doesn’t. Ryan opposes the DREAM Act and he voted in favor of building a fence along the US border with Mexico.
-§ Gay rights: Ryan has voted in favor of amending the US Constitution to ban gay marriage. He supported banning gay marriage in Wisconsin and opposed letting gay soldiers serve openly in the military. It is impossible to support individual freedom and limited government while trying to amend the Constitution to take away the rights of consenting adults to marry the person they love, and to take away the rights of more civilized states to recognize such unions.
-§ Reproductive rights: Ryan has all the usual right-wing positions on abortion. He has voted to ban federal funding of abortions and even for training healthcare providers in abortion care. He also opposes requiring insurers to provide coverage for contraception. One could justify that on libertarian grounds by arguing that granting the freedom to get an abortion or obtain contraception is not the same as requiring companies or taxpayers to pay for it. But some of his positions are indefensible. For example, Ryan has voted to ban abortion in Washington, DC. The notion that Wisconsites in Congress should tell the more progressive citizens of DC how to live their private lives is the epitome of heavy-handed federal authoritarianism. Ryan also co-sponsored the “Protect Life Act” which would trample on states’ rights and individual economic liberty by preventing women from using their own money to buy an insurance plan that covers abortion on state exchanges under the Affordable Care Act.
-§ Voting Rights: Ryan supports laws that require voters to show photo identification. This imposition on the constitutional right of every citizen to cast a ballot could disenfranchise millions of low-income Americans, amounting a modern-day poll tax.
Reporters and pundits are raising Ryan’s long history of praising Rand and requiring his staffers to read her books. They also note that Ryan has more recently repudiated her, especially her atheism, in an effort to appeal to religious social conservatives. Unfortunately, Ryan has actually never supported many central tenets of libertarianism. Unless it is an excuse to support a policy benefiting the wealthy at the expense of the poor, Ryan has no interest in individual liberty.
Mitt Romney has mastered the art of an impressive maneuver worthy of an Olympic gymnast: the double reversal. Within two days he has changed positions twice on why Palestinians in the Occupied Territories live in abject poverty.
After initially walking back his comments attributing Israel’s prosperity and its neighbors’ lack thereof to their respective cultures, Romney has decided to double down, posting an item on National Review’s website defending his statement.
It all started on Sunday, when Romney said the following at a fundraiser in Jerusalem:
The GDP per capita for instance in Israel which is about $21,000 and you compare that with the GDP per capita just across the areas managed by the Palestinian Authority which is more like $10,000 per capita, you notice a dramatic, stark difference in economic vitality. And that is also between other countries that are near or next to each other. Chile and Ecuador, Mexico and the United States.… Culture makes all the difference. And as I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things. One, I recognize the hand of Providence in selecting this place.
Naturally, some Palestinians took exception to the implication that they are culturally deficient or disfavored by God. Speaking to the Associated Press, Saeb Erekat, a senior aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said: “It is a racist statement and this man doesn’t realize that the Palestinian economy cannot reach its potential because there is an Israeli occupation.”
Romney ignored the much more obvious culprits than culture, such as security restrictions, in suppressing Palestinian economic growth. As Ashley Parker wrote in the New York Times:
The Palestinians live under deep trade restrictions put in place by the Israeli government: After the militant group Hamas in 2007 took control of Gaza—home to about 1.7 million Palestinians—the Israelis imposed a near-total blockade on people and goods in Gaza. The blockade has been eased, and now many consumer goods are allowed in. But aid organizations say the restrictions still cripple Gaza’s economy. The West Bank, where 2.5 million Palestinians reside, is also subject to trade restrictions imposed by the Israelis.
The International Monetary Fund has observed the correlation between Israeli restrictions on trade and movement in the West Bank and Gaza and economic growth in the territories.
Even the people Romney was trying to compliment, Jews, might have been unnerved. Shalom Goldman wrote in Religion Dispatches, “It’s not only the Palestinian leadership that should be aghast at his remarks. Essentially, what the GOP’s candidate for president was saying is that ‘Jews are good with money.’… Students of Jewish history, and of Christian-Jewish relations, can’t help but being horrified by the tone-deafness of such language.”
Romney responded to the criticism by doing what he always does: he changed his position and lied about what he had said before. In an interview with Fox News on Tuesday morning Romney said, “I did not speak about the Palestinian culture or the decisions made in their economy.… That is an interesting topic that perhaps can deserve scholarly analysis but I actually didn’t address that. I certainly don’t intend to address that during my campaign.”
But by Tuesday night Romney had changed his mind again, deciding that the effect of culture on economic outcomes is, in fact, central to his campaign. At 8 pm National Review posted a commentary by Romney:
What exactly accounts for prosperity if not culture? In the case of the United States, it is a particular kind of culture that has made us the greatest economic power in the history of the earth. Many significant features come to mind: our work ethic, our appreciation for education, our willingness to take risks, our commitment to honor and oath, our family orientation, our devotion to a purpose greater than ourselves, our patriotism. But one feature of our culture that propels the American economy stands out above all others: freedom.…
Israel is also a telling example. Like the United States, the state of Israel has a culture that is based upon individual freedom and the rule of law. It is a democracy that has embraced liberty, both political and economic. This embrace has created conditions that have enabled innovators and entrepreneurs to make the desert bloom.
Romney redefines cultures to include precisely the external factors—democracy, the rule of law, economic freedom—that liberals would agree are sources of prosperity. So now the Palestinians’ lack of economic freedom, at the hands of the Israeli occupation, is categorized by Romney as somehow a failing of Palestinian culture.
There are countries under no foreign occupation that also lack democracy, the rule of law and economic freedom, and their economies suffer accordingly. But to describe that as a national cultural characteristic—sort of the inverse of American work ethic—is absurd. North Koreans aren’t poor because their culture abhors economic freedom, while South Korean culture celebrates it. They are poor because they live in a totalitarian state that restricts it.
It is hilarious to see Romney pretend that Israel is some Republican paradise of free market policies. While in Israel Romney praised Israel’s healthcare system for being innovative and far more cost-effective than America’s. Israeli healthcare is, of course, completely socialized.
Romney’s intellectual dishonesty aside, it is curious that he even chose to do this at all. Why would he want to extend the life what is widely considered a gaffe? I’ve come up with three possibilities.
§ He wants to show strength. Romney has a well-earned reputation for flip-flopping and lacking core convictions. The current issue of Newsweek features a cover story by Michael Tomasky arguing that Romney is a wimp. Perhaps Romney wanted to show that he is capable of confronting critics and defending his turf for once. The only problem with this theory is that he would have been much wiser to do so on an issue where he had not already backed down.
§ He really believes this. It’s hard to fathom, since Romney seems to believe so little. But it’s the answer I got from every political professional I asked. Perhaps Romney does not lack a political spine but simply has his in an unusual place. Romney clearly lacks convictions on social issues, foreign policy and regulatory questions, so he makes the most politically expedient pander. But he does show conviction on certain vague economic principles. For example, he will not back down from saying that corporations are composed of people and they are not some evil abstraction. Perhaps the idea that economic benefits accrue to societies that are blessed with cultural virtue, rather than advantageous circumstances, is a similarly deeply held belief for Romney. It would make a clear corollary to his view that his own vast wealth is attributable to personal virtue rather than luck or greed.
§ Conservatives really believe this, and so Romney is trying to excite them. Typically, Romney reverses himself under pressure from conservative pundits. In this case, while conservatives were defending Romney’s original statement, there had not been a right-wing backlash against him for going wobbly on it. But perhaps Romney realized that standing on this principle would energize his base. “This is something that conservatives actually believe,” wrote Soren Dayton, a Republican political strategist, in an e-mail. “And, in many ways, it is clear that Arabs do too, reading the UN’s 2002 Arab Human Development Report, in which Arab scholars ask the same question that Romney did. To run away under pressure from Saeb Erekat and the political correctness police would be intellectually bankrupt and counter to a decade of debate within the Arab world itself.” (You can find a summary of the report Dayton references here.)
As the late, great Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY) observed, “The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society. The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself.”
There is a famous saying, frequently misattributed to Albert Einstein, that "insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” If that is true, then the GOP’s current pitch for the Jewish vote looks like another example of their detachment from reality. But looks can be deceiving. While Mitt Romney has no realistic chance of winning the Jewish vote in November, he could conceivably achieve his two real goals: winning Florida and shoring up support on the religious right.
Every four years conservatives hopefully assert yet again that this may finally be the election where Jews start voting like rich white people. As Milton Himmelfarb famously noted, “Jews earn like Episcopalians and vote like Puerto Ricans.” The circumstances that would encourage Jews to switch parties—they are more assimilated, Republicans are less overtly anti-Semitic—keep improving, but the GOP’s performance among Jews does not. In every election since 1992 Democrats have received between 76 and 80 percent of the Jewish vote. In 2008 President Obama won 78 percent of the Jewish vote, to John McCain’s 22 percent.
And yet Republicans are trying again. Romney just went to Israel to pledge fealty to the Likud Party’s agenda and hoover up donations from a handful of rich Jewish-American donors like billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who flew out to join Romney for the occasion.
Meanwhile, the Republican Jewish Coalition has, thanks partly to generous donations from Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS, launched an effort to capitalize on “buyer’s remorse” among Jews who voted for Obama. They have devoted $6.5 million to air commercials targeting Jewish voters in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida. Why would Jews regret voting for Obama? Because of his supposed snubs to Israel, which are really just trumped-up Republican talking points. The first ad quotes a supposed former Obama supporter named Michael Goldstein, who says:
I was a big Obama supporter. I had a fundraiser in my home, gave money to his campaign. I really believed in him and believed in what he stood for. When he gave the speech about the ’67 borders, it was nothing that had come up in his campaign originally. That really changed my mind about him. When he had the prime minister of Israel, [Benjamin] Netanyahu, to the White House…he was disrespectful to him to the point that I’d never seen.
Goldstein, it turns out, donated $250 to Rudy Giuliani in 2007. But even if he is telling the truth about his political history, it just shows how easily he is snookered by misinformation from Republicans. The right-wing hysteria about Obama’s speech was much ado about nothing. American presidents have always called for using the 1967 borders with land swaps to make a peace deal. Obama did not specifically say Israel should be allowed to keep the settlements outside the Green Line. But then, he shouldn’t. As for Obama’s supposed mistreatment of Netanyahu, Glenn Kessler, who writes The Washington Post’s Fact Checker blog notes, “Netanyahu also has been publicly tough with Obama, especially after the president’s speech on the 1967 boundaries. He in essence lectured Obama in full view of television cameras, suggesting the president had an unrealistic view of the region.” Kessler also points out, “By virtually all accounts, the Obama administration has been especially strong in bolstering security ties between Israel and the United States.”
Last week the Emergency Committee for Israel—a right-wing foreign policy advocacy group—launched two ads attacking Obama’s record. On Thursday they bought a print ad in twenty-three Jewish newspapers citing prominent American Zionists, such as Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League and Martin Indyk of the Brookings Institution, who say Obama has disappointed them on Israel. They also put out a thirty-second commercial on Friday complaining that President Obama has not visited Israel. It will air on cable news networks in Washington and New York and in Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. I e-mailed ECI executive director Noah Pollak to ask why this matters, in light of the fact that President Bush did not visit Israel until the last year of his second term. Pollak responded that the ad, “criticizes Obama not simply for failing to visit Israel as president. It criticizes him for visiting the Middle East repeatedly but intentionally skipping [emphasis his] Israel as part of his ‘daylight’ policy that seeks to distance the U.S. from Israel.” I remain unconvinced that this is more than petty politics of symbolism.
Liberals are gleefully pointing out that Obama remains overwhelmingly favored in the Jewish community. A Gallup poll released Friday has Obama leading Romney 68 percent to 25 percent among registered Jewish voters.
So why are Romney and company even trying? Because winning the Jewish vote nationally is not the purpose. Thanks to the monstrously complicated strategic calculations brought about by the Electoral College, even a significant shift in votes in most states can be irrelevant, while a tiny shift in a swing state can decide the outcome of the election. In 2000 Al Gore won the popular vote but lost the election because he nominally lost Florida by 537 votes. There are more than 600,000 Jewish voters in Florida. It doesn’t matter to Romney if the millions of American Jews in blue states like New York, California, Illinois, Massachusetts and New Jersey vote for him. But a few voters switching sides in Florida can make all the difference in the world. And luckily for Romney, Florida’s Jews are disproportionately elderly, an age group that Obama struggles with and Romney appeals to. If Romney were to hold that 25 percent of the Jewish vote and pick up a few more points among the undecided, that would be the best Republican presidential performance among Jews since 1988. If we held national popular vote elections, as we should, this would hardly matter. In Florida, it could matter a great deal.
The other purpose of Romney’s Jewish outreach is a ricochet pander to evangelicals. Just like Romney spoke to the NAACP to appeal to moderate white swing voters, not black people, Romney pursues the Jewish vote as a proxy for a demographic he actually does need to, and can, win. Evangelicals are distrustful of Romney, due to his past support for abortion rights and gay rights. But another issue near and dear to their heart is Israel. They have become obsessed in recent years with supporting extremely hawkish stances on all Middle East issues. They favor settlement construction in the occupied territories and a pre-emptive strike against Iran. Romney has gone to Israel to declare his support for these pernicious policies—as well as the inane ones about visiting Israel as president and recognizing Jerusalem as its capital—to appeal to evangelicals as much as to Jews. Romney can never convince Christian religious conservatives that he is a true believer in their social agenda, but since he was a blank slate on foreign policy before running for president, he can at least try to do so on foreign policy.
For the last two weeks Mitt Romney’s campaign has incessantly attacked President Obama for the cuts to defense spending mandated by the agreement he made with Congress to lift the debt ceiling last year. Romney and his surrogates blame Obama, instead of their fellow Republicans in Congress, for this turn of events, and claim it will damage America’s national security. They are also playing hypocritical politics, and violating their own supposed principles, by complaining that the cuts will cost jobs in swing states such as Virginia. Here’s a sampling of their statements:
§ Mitt Romney, in his speech Tuesday to the VFW: “We are just months away from an arbitrary, across-the-board budget reduction that would saddle the military with a trillion dollars in cuts, severely shrink our force structure, and impair our ability to meet and deter threats.”
§ Senator Jim Talent (R-MO) on a Romney campaign conference call: “They’re planning to cut 200,000 troops. Given the state of the economy, it’s equivalent to laying them off and the military is sending them to the unemployment lines.… at a time when Iran is making progress towards a nuclear weapon, Syria is in the middle of a civil war, Chinese power is surging, we have men and women fighting and putting their lives at risk in the field in Afghanistan. So in all my years in and around Washington, it’s the most irresponsible thing a Commander-in-Chief has done.”
§ Tea Party hero and Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli in a Romney campaign statement: “For President Obama to play budgetary Russian roulette with national defense is shameful. The damage to our local economy here in Virginia will be enormous. But the damage to our national security is what really counts.”
§ Representative Scott Rigell (R-VA), in a statement for the Romney campaign: “The President must address—directly and decisively—the massive, violent reduction in defense spending that is headed our way. Pink slips are looming, Virginia will be reeling come January, and our Commander in Chief is eerily silent on this issue. That, in my opinion, is a breach of his duty as head of our armed forces.
§ Romney surrogate Governor Bob McDonnell (R-VA) said on CNN: “I’m worried not only about jobs in Virginia, but I’m worried about the security of the United States of America.”
As conservative Ramesh Ponnuru points out in a Bloomberg View column, Republicans are making a big-government Keynesian argument for defense spending, that it’s a necessary public employment program. They utterly reject this logic if applied to, say, retaining public school teachers or police officers. “The Republican position on federal spending could not be clearer: It doesn’t create jobs. Except when it goes to defense contractors,” writes Ponnuru.
As Dave Weigel notes in Slate, Romney and his supporters have taken to audaciously referring to “President Obama’s Massive Defense Cuts,” as if they were his alone. In fact, they are not Obama’s at all. Obama, of course, was perfectly happy to let Congress raise the debt ceiling as it always had in the past without attaching any conditions. Republicans insisted that only massive spending cuts, and no additional revenue, would have to accompany any such vote. They held the economy—which would have collapsed from a governmental debt default—hostage. So Obama gave in and agreed to spending cuts. The only concession he won in exchange for cuts to domestic spending was cuts to defense as well. But the defense cuts would have been avoided if Republicans had not been so irresponsible in the first place.
Where did Romney figure into all of this? As is typical of the coward who wants to lead the free world, he hid out, saying as little as possible. When the deal was finally reached, he simultaneously condemned it for not going far enough and for cutting defense spending. “As president, my plan would have produced a budget that was cut, capped and balanced—not one that opens the door to higher taxes and puts defense cuts on the table,” he said.
How one balances the budget without cutting defense spending remains a mystery no Republican has actually solved. Defense spending accounts for 24 percent of our total federal budget. Most of the rest is taken up by mandatory spending on entitlement programs and interest on our debt.
Republicans such as Romney make no effort to actually prove that the sequestration cuts will damage the military. They just assert it.
Any look at the statistics will demonstrate the absurdity of their claims. In 2011 the United States spent $698 billion on defense. That is 43 percent of the world’s share. China was number two, at $119 billion. Every other country in the top ten military spenders, except for Russia, was an ally. Russia and China combined, at $178 billion, spent vastly less than the United States. So which enemy is challenging us for global supremacy? How could the sequestration cuts of $500 billion over ten years, as we wind down the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, possibly make us unable to defend ourselves?
Romney doesn’t say, because he does not have an answer. Rather, he is simply flailing, looking for ways to attack President Obama on national security, when polls show Obama is more trusted on the issue. The American public is hardly known for its deep knowledge of global affairs, but they do know who killed Osama bin Laden and decimated Al Qaeda’s top leadership, and it wasn’t Mitt Romney.
(AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
The Romney campaign has floated the idea of choosing a runningmate well ahead of the late August Republican National Convention and speculation on who it might be has reached a fever pitch. It won’t be Condoleeza Rice, Matt Drudge’s credulous reporting notwithstanding. Here are seven possibilities.
The former Minnesota governor has it all, except for charisma. Maybe even that is a plus, since it means he won’t challenge the wooden top of the ticket for the limelight. He’s an evangelical. He’s from the Midwest. He’s reliably conservative and on his few apostasies, such as support for cap-and-trade, he has already abjectly apologized when he was briefly a presidential candidate himself. By quickly endorsing Romney and serving as a loyal surrogate for him, Pawlenty has curried favor in Romney’s camp. After being nearly selected as John McCain’s running mate, Pawlenty may finally get his turn.
Senator Rob Portman (R-OH)
When it comes to experience, Portman would seem to be the full package. He’s been a congressman, a US trade representative, a director of the Office of Management and Budget and is now a senator. He hails from the crucial swing state of Ohio. The only problem is that he worked in the Bush administration, and who wants to be reminded of that? Romney is emphasizing deficit reduction and Portman presided over some serious deficit spending at OMB. Meanwhile Romney is being hit for his record of offshoring jobs while at Bain Capital, and Portman did nothing to curb that as US trade representative Still, Romney appears to think he can win by running on Bush’s platform, so why not do it with a veteran of Bush’s tenure?
Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL)
Every conservative in the country loves Rubio, and maybe that’s the problem. Rubio is an immensely talented politician, an inspiring stump speaker who has an Obama-esque ability to turn his life into a patriotic story of America itself. The contrast with Romney could not be starker. Rubio’s parents are immigrants from Cuba, which Rubio loves to discuss. Or he used to. Rubio would claim they fled Castro’s Cuba, although it turns out they left before Castro took power and actually briefly returned afterwards. The Tea Party movement from across the country actively supported his Senate candidacy in 2010. The nationally obscure former Florida State Senate majority leader became a right wing icon. Many conservative leaders and pundits have talked up Rubio as a vice-presidential nominee. Republican candidates in the primaries, such as Romney and Newt Gingrich, praised Rubio and hinted that he’d be on their running mate shortlist. Rubio is Cuban-American, and he has sought to find a middle ground between the xenophobic right and the mainstream on immigration policy. So Republicans hope he would help reduce their deficit among Latinos.
But Latinos are not a monolith: Mexican-Americans in the Southwest won’t necessarily see much in common with a Cuban-American from Florida. Rubio is only 41, so his experience in national politics is very short and his private sector experience is virtually nonexistent. All of that would undermine Romney’s main argument against Obama: that he lacks the experience to revive the economy. And Rubio has an unknown number of ugly skeletons in his closet: his best friend, Representative David Rivera (R-FL), has been under investigation for many potential ethical and legal lapses. ABC News reports, “Featured prominently in the non-partisan Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington 2011 ‘Most Corrupt’ list, Rivera has been ‘under investigation by at least five different law enforcement agencies for a range of violations,’ including payments he allegedly received in connection with the successful campaign (led, at times, by his mother’s consulting firm) to legalize slot machines at horse and dog-racing tracks.” His brother-in-law, with whom he is also close, was convicted of drug trafficking. And the Florida GOP had numerous corruption issues during Rubio’s rise. There may yet be a lot we don’t know about him. Then there’s the risk that his charisma and popularity among the base would overshadow Romney, as Sarah Palin did John McCain. He would be a high-risk, high-reward pick, like Palin. And we all remember how that turned out.
Governor Bobby Jindal (R-LA)
Louisiana isn’t a swing state, Jindal is not a Protestant (he’s Catholic) and he didn’t endorse Romney in the primaries: he vociferously backed Texas Governor Rick Perry. And yet his name keeps bubbling back up to the surface. The reason? He was Marco Rubio before Rubio: the smart, young, staunchly conservative great non-white hope (he’s Indian-American). Social conservative leaders say that they like Jindal and his selection would enthuse them. Rachel Maddow jokes that maybe Jindal’s cuts to Medicaid for children in his state will compensate among conservatives for Romneycare in Massachusetts. So Jindal would go over well with the base, while Romney would hope his background would make him more appealing to swing voters than a white man with the same record.
Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI)
Ryan offers some of the same costs and benefits as Rubio. His radical right-wing budget proposals have thrilled the Tea Party. He is a hero to them and would increase their enthusiasm for the ticket. Unlike Rubio, he also has gotten the undeserved reputation among the mainstream media as some sort of responsible advocate of deficit reduction. Like Pawlenty, he hails from a slightly Democratic-leaning upper Midwest swing state. He is young and handsome, and he has more experience in national politics than almost any of the other contenders. The problems with Ryan are that his popularity among the Republican base might highlight Romney’s lack of the same, and the unpopularity of his actual ideas. While mainstream pundits praise Ryan for offering a plan to balance the budget over the long term, his way of getting there is to block grant Medicaid and food stamps, privatize Social Security and turn Medicare into a private premium support plan. None of this polls well, especially among Republicans’ single most-important constituency: the elderly. He also would make enormous cuts to all other domestic discretionary spending. Although he refuses to specify what they would be, there would be no way for him to meet those targets without virtually eliminating popular federal programs from Section 8 housing vouchers to support for special education. Democrats could have a field day dissecting those proposals. They could also point out that Ryan’s supposed fiscal responsibility is belied by his votes for every budget-busting initiative under the Bush administration.
Senator John Thune (R-SD)
Romney is notoriously risk-averse, and Thune would be a very safe choice. He’s good looking in a generically all-American way. He’s middle-aged. He’s an evangelical from the Great Plains. Although he’s reliably conservative he has never made alienating, divisive comments the way, say, Rick Santorum, has. But the career politician undoubtedly hails from the establishment wing of the GOP. The Tea Party might object to his penchant for earmarking and his votes in favor of the bank bailouts. But if they can live with Romney’s much greater apostasies, they will surely reconcile themselves to Thune’s.
Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ)
Reports on Wednesday that Christie had been tapped to give the keynote address at the Republican National Convention were apparently premature. If true, that would mean Christie is out of the running for the vice-presidential slot. Christie’s chances are looking slim, in any case. Christie’s greatest asset is also a major liability: his obnoxious, bullying attitude. Tea Party Republicans love it, but swing voters might not. Romney’s aides dished to the New York Times that Christie’s temper concerns them. Picking Christie would also disappoint some social conservatives, who complain that he has been reluctant to oppose gay marriage.
Especially in light of Romney’s many flip-flops, whoever he ultimately picks will have to be a fairly consistent conservative. But merely being a conservative is not good enough: Sarah Palin is conservative, but she was a disaster, and Romney wants to avoid repeating John McCain’s mistake in picking her. Click here to read all of The Nation’s coverage of the 2012 race.
Karl Rove seems determined to make a mockery of the notion that nominally independent political organizations raising unlimited funds are not really just adjuncts of the major presidential campaigns. His two groups, American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, have already raised and spent tens of millions of dollars on misleading ads that inaccurately attack President Obama’s record.
Now they are going a step further, by cutting a commercial that actually gets involved in a spat between Obama and Mitt Romney. As the Tribune Washington Bureau reports:
After getting pounded by President Barack Obama’s campaign with slashing ads about his business record and finances, Mitt Romney is getting some back-up support on the airwaves.
The conservative super PAC American Crossroads is weighing in with a new $9.3 million television buy in nine states accusing Obama of lobbing unfair attacks to distract from his economic record.
“What happened to Barack Obama?” asks a female narrator, as ominous music plays over still frames of Obama’s anti-Romney ads. “The press and even Democrats say his attacks on Mitt Romney’s business record are misleading, unfair and untrue…. So why is Obama attacking? He’s added $4 billion in new debt every single day. Unemployment’s [sic] stuck above 8 percent. Family incomes—falling. Barack Obama can’t run on that record.” The ad is schedule[d] to air for 11 days on broadcast television in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Nevada, Ohio and Virginia.
This is a major shift. Until now Super PAC’s and 501(c)4 organizations have tried to maintain the fiction that they are promoting a policy agenda, and merely doing so by criticizing Obama’s record. The new ad, though, has no pretense of being anything other than a commercial for the Romney campaign with money he could not raise himself due to individual donation limits. As Nicholas Confessore explains in the New York Times, this ad demonstrates, “how super PACs and outside groups can synchronize with the candidates they support without violating federal rules that prohibit direct coordination.”
This synchronized Romney campaign spending will bolster Republicans’ dramatic spending advantage in this cycle. As the Washington Post reports, the Romney campaign itself has just passed the Obama campaign in cash on hand. The Wall Street Journal attributes this to Obama’s higher burn rate and suggests the result may be that Romney will outspend Obama in September and October, when low information swing voters finally start paying attention. The Journal reports, “Henry Barbour, a Romney fundraiser and Republican National Committee member from Mississippi, said: ‘Given my druthers, I’d rather outspend someone in September and October than June and July. I think they [the Romney campaign] are putting themselves in a strong position to outspend Obama in the fall.’ ” All of that will come on top of the $300 million that Rove’s twin groups are expected to spend by Election Day.
Naturally, the Romney campaign commercials are just as disingenuous as those produced by Rove’s groups. He just released one called “These Hands” that distorts Obama’s recent, self-evidently true, comments that even successful entrepreneurs could succeed only in a functioning democracy with basic social investments (public schools, public roads etc) such as ours. The Washington Post writes:
These Hands” is now a 30-second ad going after President Obama for telling small business owners to remember the government and community that helped them get where they are.
Like the Web video, Romney’s ad truncates Obama’s words to make them more damaging.
“In the ad, the video jumps from the president saying ‘If you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own’ to ‘If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that.’ In his speech, Obama spoke in between about the infrastructure and education that help, making it more clear that he was saying individuals didn’t build that system, not that individuals don’t build their own businesses.
Romney and Rove are assisted by the conservative media, much of which acts as a purely partisan campaign adjunct rather than journalists with an ideological perspective. Within two days of Obama’s speech last week, Media Matters noted, Fox News had aired forty-two segments, adding up to nearly two hours of airtime, distorting Obama’s comments. The Republican and conservative propaganda complex will do everything it can to defeat Obama, and it appears that they can do quite a lot.
The left and the right don’t agree on much, but increasingly they agree on one thing: Mitt Romney is completely failing to address public concerns that he may have a shady personal and professional history of tax avoidance. (Romney refuses to release more than his returns from 2010 and 2011.) Liberals and conservatives have different reasons for taking this view.
Liberals believe that Romney’s established history of using foreign bank accounts to shelter money and bet against the dollar, as well as his bizarre history of being paid by Bain Capital long after he supposedly stopped working there, raises valid questions about Romney’s values and potential conflicts of interest. Therefore, the public has a right to know what else is in Romney’s financial history. How much lower has his tax rate been than of the average working stiff? How much does he give to charity? How did he amass a preposterously large IRA?
Conservatives, on the other hand, are mostly just concerned that Romney is making a political error. He already is perceived by much of the public as an out-of-touch fatcat. Every day Romney is forced to play defense on his secretiveness is a day he spends reminding people that he is far richer than they are and still pays a lower tax rate, since his income is mostly capital gains. He, and his supporters, would rather he was talking about the high rate of unemployment. If Romney is going to ultimately cave on his taxes anyway, he would do better to get them out now, while swing voters are not yet paying close attention to the campaign, than in September or October.
Presidential candidates always release several years of tax returns. Romney’s father George set the modern precedent, with twelve years, in 1968. On Thursday morning ABC’s Robin Roberts asked Ann Romney—noting that Obama released seven years of returns and both Bushes at least ten—why her husband won’t follow the bipartisan tradition. Romney offered at first the completely irrelevant talking point that they tithe to their church and that Mitt chose to forgo a salary as governor of Massachusetts. When pressed by Curry, she admitted that they fear there will be fodder for attacks in their tax history.
Romney’s own personal history on the subject is mixed. He never released any returns in his previous campaigns. Bain sources told the Huffington Post that he did not think he would have to in a presidential run and wouldn’t have run for president if he thought he would.
It’s unclear why he is so afraid, since he gave twenty-three years of returns to the McCain campaign when he was being vetted for vice president. McCain says there was nothing in Romey’s taxes that disqualified him from being chosen as running mate. On the other hand, as TPM’s Brian Beutler points out, former top McCain advisor Steve Schmidt said on MSNBC that it is not worth the cost to Romney to give up the returns. Schmidt, of course, would know better than anyone else what was in them.
But Schmidt’s opinion is not that widely held, even on the right. Much of the Republican and conservative establishment is calling on Romney to release his returns, from former RNC Chair Haley Barbour to Texas Governor Rick Perry. The most respected conservative pundits, from National Review to Washington Post columnist George Will are saying the same. Think Progress compiled a list of twenty prominent Republicans who have urged Romney to do so.
It is notable how badly Romney has handled this whole issue, and how bizarrely unprepared for it he has seemed. During the primaries he was reluctant to release any returns, gave wishy-washy answers as to what he would reveal and when, and then gave up his 2010 return after being pressured by his opponents and the media. This only reinforced his reputation as a slippery politician. In an editorial this week, National Review debunked Romney’s pathetically unconvincing justifications for not releasing his returns, and made the campaign strategy argument for getting it over with:
The Romney campaign says he has released as many returns as candidate John Kerry did in 2004, and cites Teresa Heinz Kerry’s refusal to release any of her tax returns. Neither is an apt comparison. John Kerry actually released returns from 1999 through 2003, and also released tax returns during his Senate runs. As for Teresa Heinz, Romney isn’t the wealthy spouse of a candidate, but the candidate himself. In 2008, John McCain released two years of returns, but he had been filling out financial disclosure forms for decades as a senator. Romney protests that he is not legally obliged to release any tax returns. Of course not. He is no longer in the realm of the private sector, though, where he can comply with the letter of the law with the Securities and Exchange Commission and leave it at that. Perceptions matter.
Romney may feel impatience with requirements that the political culture imposes on a presidential candidate that he feels are pointless (and inconvenient). But he’s a politician running for the highest office in the land, and his current posture is probably unsustainable. In all likelihood, he won’t be able to maintain a position that looks secretive and is a departure from campaign conventions. The only question is whether he releases more returns now, or later — after playing more defense on the issue and sustaining more hits. There will surely be a press feeding frenzy over new returns, but better to weather it in the middle of July.
As The Daily Beast’s Andrew Sullivan notes, “This is such obvious advice that the real question becomes: what on earth could be so damaging that Romney would risk this agonizing twist in the wind? Did he pay no taxes at all in 2009?” The Romney campaign denied that on Wednesday, but in such a way that it’s still possible Romney only paid, say, 3 percent one year.
There is good reason for Republicans to fear swing voters’ response to Romney’s stubbornness. Public Policy Polling finds that 56 percent of Americans and 61 percent of independents think Romney should release his tax returns from the last twelve years, while only 34 percent of Americans and 27 percent of independents think he should not.
Barbour is not the only former RNC chair to call on Romney to release his returns. On Tuesday night Michael Steele and Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel appeared on The Ed Show and they agreed that Romney owes it to the public to follow the example set by his father. Sooner or later, Romney will come to accept this, or else he will hand Obama an issue with which to criticize him although the way to Election day.
The Romney campaign played the media for a bunch of saps last week. After the Boston Globe revealed that Romney had continued to work for Bain Capital for several years longer than he claimed, they wanted to change the conversation. Talking about how Romney may have lied to either the Federal Election Commission or the Securities and Exchange Commission about his time with Bain is not what his campaign wanted to do.
So on Thursday they leaked to the Drudge Report that former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice was at the top of his vice-presidential shortlist. The national media started chattering about this blatantly false claim. As Media Matters noted, ABC, NBC and the Wall Street Journal reported the Rice rumor as if it were a serious possibility. When Romney appeared on the Sunday morning talk shows he was asked about it.
The Beltway media have apparently never met any actual Republicans. Beltway Republicans are fiscal and social conservatives, but—being educated people—they are much less likely to oppose abortion rights and gay rights, and even less likely still to care deeply about the issues than are average Republican voters. Being too lazy to do any reporting on whether the Republican Party could conceivably nominate a pro-choice woman to be vice president—or to just read Game Change, which reports that John McCain and his staffers did not mind at all that Joe Lieberman is pro-choice but ultimately accepted that they could not pick him as McCain's running mate because the Republican National Convention would be in revolt—pundits took this preposterous notion about Rice seriously.
ABC’s Jonathan Karl said that Drudge “has been accurate on Romney before.” Well, how is Drudge’s accuracy on previous vice-presidential selections? Not too good, as The American Spectator’s John Tabin points out: “Four years ago, Matt Drudge reported that Barack Obama was likely to select Evan Bayh as his running mate. Eight years ago, Drudge reported that John Kerry was likely to select Hillary Clinton as his running mate. Twelve years ago, Drudge reported that George W. Bush’s likely pick was Frank Keating.”
Romney has pledged to select a reliable conservative on social issues, and his campaign has privately reassured conservative pundits that this is the rare promise he will actually keep. “We’ve gotten assurance that he’ll stick to his pledge,” says Bryan Fischer, director of issue advocacy for the American Family Association. Erick Erickson, editor of the blog Red State, tweeted on the very night of Drudge’s report, “Multiple assurances from Team Romney tonight that Condi is not happening for Veep.”
“I’m guessing the Romney campaign leaked it as a trial balloon to see how social conservatives react,” Fischer speculates.
They reacted with horror. The word “non-starter” comes up repeatedly. “She’s a non-starter because she’s pro-abortion and soft on homosexual unions,” says Fischer.
“The former Secretary of State would be a non-starter choice mainly because she doesn’t fit the criteria that Governor Romney set for his VP pick,” wrote Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, in a statement. “During the primaries, Romney made very clear that his vice president would be pro-life, pro-marriage and a strong defender of religious liberty – and while Ms. Rice is many things, her record shows those three she is not. When you look at the Republican Party, there is no doubt that the pro-life position is a non-negotiable.”
Richard Viguerie, one of the founders of the Moral Majority, picking Rice would be a “slap in the face” to conservatives.
Romney has even less room to maneuver on social issues when choosing a running mate than McCain did. Besides his being a Mormon, Romney supported gay rights and abortion rights when he ran for office in Massachusetts. Evangelicals remained skeptical of him throughout the primaries. As long as the race was competitive, Romney was virtually guaranteed to lose the evangelical vote in each state to Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum.
Social conservative leaders also emphasize that they want to see the ticket balanced by adding a vociferous social conservative to balance Romney’s squishiness. “Romney needs an unapologetic and unwavering defender of the right to life and traditional marriage,” says Fischer. “He cannot afford a pro-abortion running mate. That’s suicidal. Social conservatives have enough doubts about him. He needs a running mate who strengthens his social conservatives.”
“Mitt Romney needs someone who undergirds the social policy positions that he has taken since he was governor of Massachusetts,” wrote Perkins. “He needs someone who has an impeccable pro-life record, not just someone who checks the ‘pro-life box.’ There are a number of better qualified individuals out there who have led on the life issues and would not deflate enthusiasm from his base.”
Which other rumored running mates would be considered too passive on social issues by the religious right? New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels. “Christie is just not strong on the homosexual agenda,” says Fischer. “Mitch Daniels would be a disaster because he’s the guy who called for ‘a truce’ on social issues. If you call for a truce and the other side doesn’t, that’s not a truce, that’s surrender.”
Fischer’s top choices for vice president include Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-LA), Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Representative Allen West (R-FL). Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, a Baptist pastor who now hosts a weekend talk show on Fox News and a new radio program, was also mentioned favorably as a vice-presidential possibility by every source for this story. Huckabee also is being touted by conservative commentators such as Maggie Gallagher and unnamed social conservative leaders talking on background to newspapers.
Huckabee says, though, that he is not being vetted. "There’s no indication whatsoever that I’m even on the list of consideration," Huckabee told me. "I assume I’m not. I think if I had been, there would have been some inquiry at this point, there hasn’t been."
Regarding Rice, Huckabee shares the concerns voiced by other conservatives. “I have great admiration for Condoleeza Rice, and I think she served her country well,” says Hucakbee. (Huckabee is always more diplomatic towards those he disagrees with than most conservative leaders.) “I do think her selection would be problematic for a number of conservatives. Governor Romney made it clear his vice-presidential selection would be a pro-life person. [Rice’s] comments in the past would make it very very difficult for people like me to be supportive. [I could be] supportive of her maybe as secretary of state or ambassador to any place, but not vice president.” Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention expressed a similar sentiment to CNN, saying, “I love Condi Rice, I’d love to see her in any role in Romney administration except vice president.”
Huckabee also issues a stern warning to Romney about the risk he would entail in picking someone who is not sufficiently conservative on social issues, although he avoids naming other names. “I think [Romney] is going to make his own decision and calculate the risk of picking someone who may cause the base of the party, which really is those social conservatives, to just not be that enthusiastic,” says Huckabee.
“What he can not risk, in my opinion, is anything less than high intensity. He needs someone who will rally those voters, not chill them. They’re highly motivated to replace Barack Obama. But I think it’s a great mistake to believe they’re automatically going to be as enthusiastic about knocking on doors and working phone banks if he were to place somebody in the position who wasn’t a stalwart leader and has all the credentials to give some comfort that those issues are not going to be set aside.”
Huckabee also suggested that a disappointing vice-presidential selection would signal to social conservatives that they will just be ignored after Romney has used them to win the election. “Conservatives have been burned way too many times,” says Huckabee. “Social conservatives get used every four years, trotted out at the rallies to stand there for five hours, scream and yell for the candidate, knock on doors, make the phone calls, carry signs. When the election is over, they’re promptly forgotten, put up in the attic and asked not to come out in public again for another four years. I think a lot of people have grown tired of that, so hopefully that’s not going to be the case this year.”
On Wednesday morning Mitt Romney addressed the NAACP, the nation’s oldest civil rights organization. In most recent years Republican presidents and candidates have avoided speaking to the NAACP. That makes sense, since they oppose civil rights.
But Romney is pursuing the ricochet pander approach to the general election that George W. Bush laid out in 2000. He pretends to reach out to blacks and Latinos, but the real purpose is making white suburban soccer moms feel like they are not intolerant if they vote for him. That’s why he released an education agenda that mimics much of Bush’s education rhetoric about offering a fair shot to disadvantaged youth.
Unfortunately, Romney did not tell the truth in his speech on Wednesday. Consider this key section:
The opposition charges that I and people in my party are running for office to help the rich. Nonsense. The rich will do just fine whether I am elected or not. The President wants to make this a campaign about blaming the rich. I want to make this a campaign about helping the middle class.
I am running for president because I know that my policies and vision will help hundreds of millions of middle-class Americans of all races, will lift people from poverty, and will help prevent people from becoming poor. My campaign is about helping the people who need help.
This is simply a lie. It is a demonstrable fact that Romney’s economic policies—cutting taxes on the rich and cutting spending on programs that aid the poor—is designed to help the rich get even richer. Now, Romney may subscribe to the discredited supply side theory that ultimately increasing wealth at the top will increase investment and generate economic growth that lowers unemployment. But there is no question he is running for office to help the rich. (If you don’t believe me, read today’s analysis of Romney’s tax plans from Wall Street veteran Henry Blodget.)
In his remarks Romney emphasized his education reform plan, something he has almost never talked about since he announced it. Rather than showing that he is serious about improving social mobility, this reaffirms that he is simply copying the Bush playbook on how to pretend you care about poor urban children while promising to cut programs they depend on, such as Medicaid.
The rest of Romney’s speech was the same pitch he makes to every group: the economy is stagnant, and I will grow it. You could do a find-and-replace for “Latinos,” “women,” “African-Americans” or, for that matter, “Inuits” and his speech would be the same.
There is no question that the economic downturn has been especially hard on black families. But Romney seems to either not know or not care that people have other political interests besides macroeconomic indicators. The NAACP was set up to advocate for legal equality for African-Americans. The last Republican president, George W. Bush, eviscerated legal protections against racial discrimination. His Equal Employment Opportunity Commission only concerned itself with “reverse discrimination” while he appointed federal judges who are hostile to civil rights. Will Romney do the same? He did not say.
Nor did Romney have anything to say about the fact that his own church, in which he became a prominent leader, openly discriminated against blacks until 1978. Romney never, to anyone’s knowledge, did anything to condemn the Mormon Church’s racism. The only thing he is reported to have ever said about it was that he thought it rude of other schools to boycott playing Brigham Young University in sports as an objection Mormonism’s racist policies. In other words, he was against using a classic device of the civil rights movement, a boycott, to promote integration.
No wonder he did not want to discuss civil rights on Wednesday. But the least he could have done is told the truth about his economic agenda.