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Ben Adler | The Nation

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Ben Adler

Ben Adler

 The 2012 election, Republican politics and conservative media.

What Would Tim Pawlenty Bring to the GOP Ticket?

It briefly looked as if former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty had ruined his career. Just a few years ago Pawlenty was seen as a potential future Bill Clinton for the GOP: the affable governor from a politically challenging region who could make his party more broadly appealing. An evangelical Christian from a working class background, Pawlenty was hailed as the avatar of a GOP more in touch with its downscale, socially conservative white electorate than the corporate plutocrats who have historically ruled it. In 2005 Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam, then two rising stars of conservative punditry, wrote a Weekly Standard cover story praising Pawlenty, in a phrase they borrowed from him, as a beacon of the “party of Sam’s Club, not the country club.” In 2008 Pawlenty was one of John McCain’s top choices for the Republican vice-presidential nomination.

So it seemed when Pawlenty started running for president in this election cycle that he had a lot of promise. But his campaign sputtered. He looked weak on the debate stage for refusing to offer the same criticism of Mitt Romney’s healthcare reform that he did in a television interview. After finishing a distant third in the Iowa Straw Poll, an early beauty contest in a neighboring state whose caucus he had to win, Pawlenty dropped out. Had he not run he would have surely been on the vice-presidential shortlist again, but perhaps by running so ineffectually and criticizing Romney he had damaged his brand value.

But now he is back. After quickly endorsing Romney and working hard for him as a surrogate, Pawlenty is in every top pundit’s list of possible vice-presidential candidates. Romney may feel that he needs a Protestant, preferably an evangelical. That gives Pawlenty a leg up over Catholic rivals such as Bobby Jindal, Bob McDonnell and Chris Christie. His humble roots would provide some much needed ballast to Romney’s extremely privileged upbringing and adult life. And he hails from the Upper Midwest, the crucial swing region where Romney must make inroads.

A closer examination, though, show that like putative working-class Republicans before him, such as Mike Huckabee, Pawlenty offers nothing of value to working-class Americans. His proposals are just as plutocratic as those of other Republicans and his appeal outside the Republican base is hardly overwhelming.

Pawlenty’s record as Governor leaves much to be desired. As I explained when it happened last summer, Minnesota’s government shutdown was largely the result of Pawlenty’s policies. Pawlenty refused to raise taxes, and the result was a revenue shortfall. I wrote:

Pawlenty was unable to cut spending sufficiently to balance the budget. Instead, “Pawlenty used every budget gimmick and shift,” says Kristin Sosanie, communications director for the Minnesota Democratic Farmer-Labor Party. “He borrowed money from K-12 schools and put off payments to falsely balance the budget.” Specifically, since Minnesota budgets on a biannual cycle, the state had given 90 percent of funding for education to localities in the first year and 10 percent in the second year. Pawlenty shifted the balance to 70-30, making his last budget seem balanced but leaving a $1.4 billion hole in the budget that Governor Mark Dayton is trying to balance now. Other “budgetary duct tape” used by Pawlenty in his last year in office, according to the Minnesota Taxpayers Association, includes delaying $152 million in tax refunds. All told, when Pawlenty left office there was a projected $6.2 billion budget shortfall, which Sosanie notes is “the largest in our state’s history and the fourth largest among all states as a percentage of our state budget.”

Thanks to Pawlenty’s policies, Minnesota lost its Triple AAA bond rating, the very same debacle that Romney routinely attacks President Obama for presiding over nationally.

In terms of his current policy profile, Pawlenty is basically a carbon copy of Romney: someone who showed streaks of moderation when appealing to a more liberal electorate but adopted doctrinaire right-wing extremism on the national stage. During the primaries, Pawlenty’s erstwhile booster Douthat complained that Pawlenty’s budgetary proposals were nothing more than a “Supply-Side Time Warp.”

Douthat wrote: “Most of Pawlenty’s agenda is a mix of ‘half-remembered bits of Reaganism,’ transparent gimmicks (a balanced-budget amendment that caps spending at 18 percent of G.D.P.) and straightforward magical thinking, in which cutting taxes on business, investment and high-earners leads to 5 percent growth every year for a decade—something that neither the Reagan nor the Clinton booms came close to achieving — which in turn goes a long way toward closing the budget deficit, happily, before we have to start in on painful cuts.”

As I wrote back in July, when Pawlenty was running for president he flipped his stance on several major issues to appease the right wing. And he began recalibrating his position rightward while he was still Governor of Minnesota, putting his national ambitions ahead of his state’s best interests, just as Romney did in Massachusetts. I wrote: “Pawlenty is running to the right on every issue. He has completely abandoned and abjectly apologized for his support for cap-and-trade and come out for an aggressively neoconservative foreign policy.” He also vetoed a bill that would have addressed bullying in public schools, and that comported with what he had previously pledged to support, because the religious right feared it would protect gay children.

Nor should Romney count on Pawlenty to deliver Minnesota’s ten Electoral College votes. As I noted in the same piece, Pawlenty never actually won a popular majority in his gubernatorial races. Both times he benefited from the presence of a third-party candidate who drew more from his Democratic opponents than from him. “He never won a mandate,” says Sosanie. “People are not happy with the mess he left us.”

The mess goes deeper than just the budgetary crisis. For decades Minnesota had what was called “the Minnesota Miracle” and the “smart state strategy.” These were bipartisan agreements to amply fund education at all levels. Recognizing that Minnesota could not compete with Sunbelt states on, say, pleasant weather or plenitude of golf courses, they invested in having the most educated workforce to remain economically competitive. In recent years that agreement has been abandoned. In 2001 Minnesota eliminated its “general levy” on property for education funding. The state was supposed to make up the shortfall, but under Pawlenty it never did.

In the long run this could endanger Minnesota’s economic vitality. “There has been a repudiation of a bipartisan agreement for a smart state strategy,” says Larry Jacobs, director of Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the University of Minnesota. “At this point I’m not sure what the distinctive macroeconomic model is for Minnesota. Are we going to compete with Texas? Why are we going to win that battle? People in the business community are wondering that.”

Romney claims that his business experience makes him the best-qualified candidate to be president, so you might think Pawlenty’s record on Minnesota’s budget and economy would concern him. But since Romney’s record in Massachusetts is very similar, it probably won’t hold him back.

Romney's Latino Problem

President Obama executed a political masterstroke on Friday morning. He announced that undocumented immigrants brought here as children would be allowed to stay indefinitely if they complete high school or serve in the military. This is essentially the promise of the DREAM Act that Obama has urged Congress to pass and Republicans have blocked. The DREAM Act would offer the security of permanent residency, whereas Obama can only offer renewable work visas without legislation. (The executive branch can decide which undocumented immigrants to deport and which not to, but it cannot unilaterally create a path to citizenship.)

The DREAM Act is wildly popular among Latinos. The GOP has alienated most Latino voters by harboring an intensely anti-immigration movement on its right wing. Mitt Romney has been shameless about pandering to that element: he won anti-immigration crusader Tom Tancredo’s endorsement in 2008. In the recent Republican primaries he attacked staunch conservatives such as Newt Gingrich from the right on immigration, complaining that Gingrich admitted he had no intention of deporting grandmothers who have been here for over twenty-five years.

But now Romney is trying to win over Latinos. He recently announced the formation of a Latino outreach team and began sending out press releases in Spanish.

Obama’s move, however, leaves him with an impossible task: satisfying both Latinos and the Republican base on a new issue that divides the two groups. Romney is already on record as opposing the DREAM Act. To appease the right wing, which is expressing outrage over Obama’s supposedly unconstitutional power grab, he must oppose this move as well.

Here’s a typical missive on the conservative Red State blog, cross-posted from the Madison Project, which raises money for conservative candidates: “King Barack Hussein Kardashian Obama thinks that he gets to invent laws where they don’t exists and disregard the ones that are already on the books.… This is not the time for Republicans to reward Obama for violating the law with their own version of amnesty.”

But for Romney to say he would like to deport law-abiding residents brought here as children risks alienating Latinos and moderates. So Romney is taking the same tack as relatively pro-immigration conservative pundits such as The Daily Caller’s Matt Lewis: opposing Obama’s move on the grounds that is politically motivated and an inadequate substitute for the immigration reform Obama promised but has not delivered.

This was Romney’s initial statement: “I believe the status of young people who come here through no fault of their own is an important matter to be considered and should be solved on a long-term basis, so they know what their future would be in this country. I think the action that the president took today makes it more difficult to reach that long-term solution because an executive order is, of course, just a short-term matter—it can be reversed by subsequent presidents.”

This raises an obvious and important question: Would Romney reverse the order? It is bizarre, dishonest and tautological to say that Obama’s move is inadequate because future presidents could reverse it. The next president will either be Obama, who won’t reverse it, or Romney himself, who does not have to if he does not want to.

CBS’s Bob Schieffer tried to nail Romney down on this point over the weekend, and Romney refused to say. If Romney thinks these young people should be allowed to stay in the United States, as he suggests he does, then he should say he would keep the order in place until a law is passed.

John Podhoretz, the editor of Commentary, snarked on Twitter, “No question, if you want a lot of illegals to vote for you, Obama’s move today is brilliant. Oh, wait.” But, of course, the move is popular with many Americans who can vote. It also put Romney in an awkward position with no way out.

The rising vote share of Latinos, a progressive and Democratic-leaning constituency, is posing problems for Republicans all over the country, not just on the presidential campaign.

In Texas, Republicans are simultaneously vying to court Latino voters while conspiring to screw them out of fair political representation.

In the runoff for the Republican senatorial nomination, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst has challenged former state Solicitor General Ted Cruz (who is Cuban-American) to a Spanish language debate. It’s a clever move, because Dewhurst is actually fluent in Spanish and Cruz is not. It does risk alienating the xenophobes in the GOP, but it also could make Cruz look weak for refusing the offer. “Unfortunately, for the Texas Republican primary voters, hearing Spanish is like hearing nails on a chalkboard, so it might not sit well with them,” says one veteran Texas Democratic activist. “But in the eyes of a Texas Republican, if there is one thing worse than a guy speaking ‘Mexican,’ it’s a coward.”

At the same time, however, the Republican state legislature has passed a redistricting plan carefully designed to minimize Latino political power. Texas gained four new House seats after the 2010 Census, and that is almost entirely thanks to the population growth among Latinos and African-Americans. But the Congressional districts have been carefully gerrymandered to disperse Latinos and African-Americans in rural districts dominated by white Republicans, or to lump them together to compete against each other. According to Michael Li, an election law lawyer based in Dallas who follows redistricting, Latinos account for 66 percent of Texas’ population gain over the last decade and African-Americans about 23 percent. If the white population growth had been all the growth that occurred in Texas, it would have gained no seats. And yet under the new map, Latinos, African-Americans and Democrats will gain a net of zero seats. (The map is currently in federal court, and could be thrown out, because it may violate the Voting Rights Act.)

Meanwhile, the Latino community, which is supposed to be a bastion of social conservatism, is showing signs of moving leftward. For example, in El Paso, Mary Gonzales, 28, recently won the Democratic primary for an overwhelmingly Latino State House of Representatives district. When Gonzales wins in November, as she is certain to since there is no Republican candidate in her district, she will become the first openly gay woman in the Texas legislature.

Republicans, meanwhile, are stuck trying to win a higher and higher proportion of older white voters to compensate for their unpopularity among non-whites. That creates a vicious cycle whereby they must stake out more intolerant positions to ensure the support of people who fear the future that people like Mary Gonzales represent. That, in turn, makes Republicans even more unpopular among other constituents and even more dependent on older whites for votes. Romney may be able to walk the tightrope enough to win this election, but it is not a winning strategy for his party in the future.

Republican Spending on Dishonest Ads Increases

Every week brings more news of the growing Republican advantage in raising money and spending it on advertising.

The most widely discussed donation this week was the $10 million gift from casino mogul Sheldon Adelson to the pro-Romney Super PAC Restore Our Future. As The New Republic’s Alec MacGillis notes, “For Barack Obama’s campaign to match the $10 million, it would need to get checks from 181,818 donors giving at the average Obama donation amount of $55.” The scary thing about Adelson’s donation is not even its massive size; it’s the fact that Adelson could give much more. Adelson had said he was willing to give his initially favored candidate, Newt Gingrich, up to $100 million. He could easily afford to give Romney far more than that. As Forbes pointed out, “Adelson is worth $24.9  billion.… Given that he’s one of the 15 richest people in the world, the Sands chairman could personally bankroll the equivalent of entire presidential campaign—say, $1 billion or so—and not even notice. (The $10 million donation he just made to Romney is equivalent to $40 for an American family with a net worth of $100,000.)” Indeed, since he has said that this is the most important presidential election of his lifetime, it makes sense that he would.

Democrats have little power to combat this disproportionate influence given to the very wealthy. The best they can do is try to explain to the public that Republicans receiving such generosity from individuals like Adelson are effectively in their pockets. “Instead of United States of America, maybe he wants it to be ‘United States of Adelson,’ ” said Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (N.Y.) on MSNBC. It’s better than nothing, but it’s not better than $10 million.

Meanwhile, continuing a trend I first reported on back in December, Wall Street is investing heavily in the Romney campaign. In 2008 Wall Street finally came to realize that the Republican Party’s habit of irresponsibly mismanaging the economy and budget—and the unwillingness of much of their coalition to do logical things to prevent global economic meltdown, such as lending banks money to boost liquidity—means they are better off with Democrats. They overcame their historical affinity for the GOP and gave more to Obama than McCain. Obama has rewarded them with more bailouts, soft regulation, no prosecution of the malefactors behind the mortgage-backed securities crisis, and extension of the Bush tax cuts. Their way of thanking him has been to donate far more to his opponent, who says he would not have voted to raise the debt ceiling, and thus forced the United States to default on its debts and send the bond markets into a tailspin. Politico reports, “Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign and the super PAC supporting it are outraising Obama among financial-sector donors $37.1 million to $4.8 million. Near the front of the pack are 19 Obama donors from 2008 who are giving big to Romney. The 19 have already given $4.8 million to Romney’s presidential campaign and the super PAC supporting it through the end of April, according to a POLITICO analysis of Federal Election Commission filings. Four years ago, they gave Obama $213,700.”

Most of this money is being quickly spent on television commercials. As the Washington Post reports, “Romney’s campaign is spending $3.3 million to run television ads this week in seven general election battleground states. The ads began running Wednesday and will continue through the week in Colorado, Iowa, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Nevada, Ohio and Virginia, according to officials who track ad purchases.”

While there is no question that swing-state voters will be inundated with ads that inaccurately portray President Obama’s record, the more significant Republican spending advantage may ultimately be in down-ballot races. While Obama will be outspent by his opponents, he will certainly have enough money to get his message out as well. But in House and Senate races, where spending levels tend to be much lower, an infusion of outside money can give a candidate a real leg up.

And Republicans are already working on giving their candidates that advantage. The Post reports, “The National Republican Congressional Committee has reserved $18 million worth of ad space in 17 media markets spanning 25 competitive districts — one of the first windows into which districts the committee plans to pursue and defend this fall as they seek to retain control of the House.”

Now, thanks to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. FEC, there will be a whole other national source of ad spending for Republican Congressional candidates besides the NRCC and its counterpart for Senate races. As Politico reports, “The GOP independent spending goliath American Crossroads and its affiliate group Crossroads GPS are launching a new barrage of attack ads in six competitive Senate races, assailing a range of Democratic candidates.”

The ad attacking Tim Kaine in Virginia is a good example of the kind of dishonesty that pervades ads from Karl Rove’s Crossroads empire. It is based on the bizarre premise that Kaine, a former governor of Virginia, “went to Washington,” when he served as chair of the Democratic National Committee. (Strangely, it shows footage of someone flying to illustrate the point, even though Richmond and Washington are just a few hours apart by car or train.) Kaine was not in a national elected office, and yet the ad blames Kaine for what it considers to be unpopular actions taken by President Obama and Congress. The specific examples? “Medicare spending cuts” and “a huge energy tax.”

The complaint that Democrats cut spending on Medicare is a particularly disingenuous piece of Republican partisan hackery. What they are referring to is the removal of wasteful subsidies to private insurers through the Medicare advantage program. No cuts in actual benefits to Medicare recipients have been enacted. Moreover, it is Republicans, not Democrats, who advocate drastically cutting spending on Medicare, even privatizing it.

It is also not true that Democrats proposed an energy tax. That presumably refers to the cap and trade legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. That was not a tax but a system for buying credits, and it would have fallen equally on all sources of greenhouse gases, not merely energy.

In a perversely hilarious twist, Rove himself went on Sean Hannity’s radio show on Tuesday to accuse President Obama of trying to buy the election. As Media Matters writes, “Rove said that the Obama campaign will attempt to win the election by ‘trying to take their wallet and buying it.’” The election may indeed be bought, but not by Obama.

 

Romney's Healthcare Plan That Isn't

If someone asked you to come up with a good reason that Mitt Romney—the boring one-term governor of a state he left with high debt, poor job-creation and low approval ratings—became a credible national candidate, you might have a hard time doing so. The fact that he is wealthy and could self-finance his way into the top tier of Republican presidential contenders helped, as did the fact that he had won in the bluest of states, Massachusetts.

But the main reason, ironically, is that he was associated with a policy achievement—healthcare reform—that he has completely come to oppose. Back in 2007, Republicans still pretended to care about the crisis of 45 million uninsured Americans and costs that keep spiraling upwards. And so they looked to the one Republican who had tackled that problem at the state level and had done so with a program that harnessed the private sector rather than creating a massive new entitlement program. Conservative organs such as National Review, which would later inveigh against the Affordable Care Act (ACA), cited Romney’s experience with reforming the health insurance system as one of his most valuable credentials.

Throughout this campaign Romney has walked a tiny tightrope on healthcare: he attempts to make amends for passing the state level template for the ACA by issuing over the top denunciations of socialist, unconstitutional “Obamacare.” Meanwhile he has studiously avoided saying anything of substance about how he would address the massive market failure that defined the pre-reform American healthcare system.

On Tuesday in Orlando Romney gave a speech intended to create the false impression that he intends to replace the ACA with something that would provide the same benefits through other means. Here is how the Washington Post summarized the speech: “Romney fleshed out a plan he proposed earlier that would apply free-enterprise principles to the nation’s health-care system rather than operate it like a ‘government-managed utility,’ letting competition drive down prices and increase quality.” The “earlier” they refer to is Romney’s big healthcare speech last May that was meant to make it clear how different he is from Obama on the subject.

That was the main thrust again on Tuesday. Romney repeated the usual right-wing shibboleths: that the ACA has hamstrung the economic recovery by placing “unaffordable” cost burdens and new taxes on families and businesses. He has been at this for a while, using misleading anecdotes, such as his blatant misrepresentation of a passage from Noam Scheiber’s book that he claims shows the White House knew healthcare reform would damage the recovery, when it only shows that it knew more stimulus might have been more valuable to the short-term recovery. Of course, had Obama proposed more stimulus spending instead of healthcare reform in the fall of 2009, Romney and other Republicans would have opposed it.

In fact, the Romney campaign appears to disagree with the Post that Romney offered much more substance than he did last May. When I asked for details of what he is proposing, the campaign said he laid it out last year and the program is available on the campaign website.

The healthcare page on Romney’s site does not, in fact, tell you much about what Romney would do. Instead it mostly offers vague, inoffensive sounding principles such as “Ensure flexibility to help the uninsured, including public-private partnerships, exchanges, and subsidies” and “Offer innovation grants to explore non-litigation alternatives to dispute resolution.”

Some of the principles are more blatantly ideological and potentially quite troubling, such as “Limit federal standards and requirements on both private insurance and Medicaid coverage.” Those federal standards and requirements are in place to protect citizens from rapacious companies and miserly state governments that would deprive recipients of necessary treatments. Any given federal requirement might be too costly or unnecessary. But Romney doesn’t specify which federal requirements he would eliminate so as to avoid inviting scrutiny of what his policy would do to the vulnerable.

The few specifics Romney offers could reduce, rather than expand, medical coverage. Romney would turn Medicaid into a block-grant program. That way, if poverty increases the federal government would not be on the hook for covering more Medicaid recipients. It would be the state’s problem. And what would the states do? Reduce the quality of coverage, or tighten eligibility rules to reduce the number of people covered.

The only other major change to the health insurance delivery system Romney offers is this: “End tax discrimination against the individual purchase of insurance.” That’s a euphemism for creating an expensive new tax deduction. That’s pretty hypocritical coming from someone who promises to cut tax rates and somehow magically make up for the lost revenue by eliminating tax expenditures.

Currently employer-provided health insurance is not taxed as income. Consequently, we overspend on health insurance by favoring that compensation over money employers pay to workers and the workers spend on anything else. This is actually not a very good policy for anyone. Employers are stuck with escalating healthcare costs, employees see their wage increases get diverted to healthcare, and the individual insurance market offers inferior, expensive coverage that unfairly disadvantages the self-employed and thus discourages risk taking.

These are all good reasons to get rid of our current system and switch to a universal, single-payer approach, such as making everyone eligible for Medicare. The alternative way to eliminate the current market distortion would be to end the tax deductibility of employer-based health insurance. That’s the program John McCain ran on in 2008. Back then, conservatives made sensible arguments in favor of doing so. For example, the Family Research Council complained in 2007 that employer-sponsored health insurance enjoys the single largest subsidy in our tax code.

But Mitt Romney is not John McCain. He is a coward, who lacks an iota of McCain’s political bravery. Consequently, Romney fears the backlash that would ensue if he took the principled position in favor of removing this inefficiency. So instead he proposes to equalize the treatment by making it also tax-deductible for individuals to buy their own insurance. That’s good for them, but it does nothing for the market. (The advantage to the market of McCain’s proposal was that it would move millions of health working-age Americans into the individual insurance market, much as the individual mandate would.) The ACA creates a flat tax credit for buying insurance. Romney would repeal that and offer a tax credit based on how much you spend on health insurance, so it would disproportionately benefit richer people who can afford more expensive tax plans. 

In a similar act of falsely telling voters they can have their cake and eat it too, Romney promises to keep the most popular provision of the ACA, the rule preventing insurers from excluding prior conditions, without explaining how he would prevent the insurance market from a death spiral of cost increases. (The current mechanism for preventing that, the individual mandate, is the core of what Romney promises to repeal if the Supreme Court doesn’t do so first.)

As a freelancer who pays for his own insurance, I stand to benefit. But as American citizens, we all stand to lose.

Meet Bob McDonnell, the Right’s Fallen Rising Star

You have to sort of feel bad for Bob McDonnell. Coming up through the ranks of the Virginia Republican Party, it was never a liability that he took the most reflexively right-wing position on social issues. And yet he now may be denied the prize he has desperately sought, the Republican vice-presidential nomination, because of his anti–women’s rights extremism. 

McDonnell was elected governor of the mid-sized swing state next to the nation’s capital in 2009 and he was pegged as a future leader of the GOP. Just months after he won the gubernatorial race over Democrat Creigh Deeds, he was selected to deliver the Republicans’ official response to President Obama’s 2010 State of the Union. Like most responses to the State of the Union, it wasn’t very memorable, but he managed not to embarrass himself and damage his national prospects in the way that Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal did in 2009.

McDonnell was primed to be a top contender for the vice-presidential slot. He is known in his state as a canny political operator and his Southern accent lends folksiness to an affable but otherwise slightly staid speaking style. Unlike some other potential vice-presidential prospects—Jindal, for example, Rick Perry—McDonnell endorse Mitt Romney and campaigned with him in early primary states such as South Carolina.

Among ardent conservatives, McDonnell’s star has continued to rise. On Friday he gave the keynote address at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Chicago, which The Atlantic’s Molly Ball writes, “served as a cattle call of sorts for a handful of potential vice-presidential contenders from across the country.” Unlike many speakers McDonnell made a full surrogate’s case for Romney. He also has the virtue of being gray enough that, unlike, say, Chris Christie, he won’t generate too much excitement among the right wing base and outshine the top of the ticket as Sarah Palin did to John McCain. “If the veepstakes are indeed to be a competition to be the most inoffensive possible choice, McDonnell ought to be in the running,” Ball concludes.

But this weekend Politico reported that McDonnell isn’t in the running at all. Citing “the thinking of people that Romney listens to on every other question,” Mike Allen reports that there are four leading finalists: Senator Rob Portman (OH), Tim Pawlenty, former Minnesota governor and presidential candidate, Senator Marco Rubio (FL), Senator John Thune (SD). And, Allen adds, “Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, on WTOP’s ‘Ask the Governor’ on May 29: 'I am not being vetted by [Romney’s] campaign.'”

What happened? It's certainly not for lack of effort on McDonnell’s part. He recently went so far as to buy time for positive ads touting his record, in the hopes of boosting his approval rating, despite not being up for re-election. Political reporters suspected he was trying to burnish his vice-presidential credentials.

Rather, he got boxed in by his own party’s extremism. “One of the main reasons he’s been successful in Virginia is he’s come across as someone who has mostly gone after pragmatic goals,” says Geoff Skelley, political analyst at University of Virginia Center for Politics. “Of course, that’s changed in the last few months.” Skelley is referring to the new law in Virginia that will infantilize adult women by making them submit to a medically unnecessary ultrasound examination before getting an abortion. The bill triggered national outrage before McDonnell signed it into law and, as Skelley notes, “it would be brought up a lot if he was chosen for vice-president.” Given Romney’s and the Republican Party’s problems attracting women voters, that is the last thing they need.

A Catholic, McDonnell attended parochial schools, Notre Dame University and Pat Robertson’s Regent University for Law School. At the time McDonnell attended Regent it was known as the Christian Broadcasting School of Law. It is so intensely theological that it is considered a politically risky statement for a presidential to merely speak there, as Mitt Romney recently did. As part of his master’s thesis, the Washington Post reported in 2009, “[McDonnell] described working women and feminists as ‘detrimental’ to the family. He said government policy should favor married couples over ‘cohabitators, homosexuals or fornicators.’ He described as ‘illogical’ a 1972 Supreme Court decision legalizing the use of contraception by unmarried couples.”

These are the values McDonnell brought to public office. “He’s a believer,” says one Virginia Democratic operative. “I think it was a large motivation of his to get into public life.”

As the Post noted in 2009, he transferred these views directly into legislative proposals. His thesis laid out:

A 15-point action plan that McDonnell said the Republican Party should follow to protect American families—a vision that he started to put into action soon after he was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates.
During his 14 years in the General Assembly, McDonnell pursued at least 10 of the policy goals he laid out in that research paper, including abortion restrictions, covenant marriage, school vouchers and tax policies to favor his view of the traditional family. In 2001, he voted against a resolution in support of ending wage discrimination between men and women.

But when running for governor McDonnell emphasized his fiscal rather than social conservatism. As Governor he has pursued the same failed policies of social disinvestment that Romney champions. “Economically he’s been a mainline Tea Party right wing Republican,” says Brian Coy, communications director for the Virginia Democratic Part. “He is staunchly anti-tax, anti-investment. He had four years to solve our transportation crisis: we need a sustained dedicated source of revenue and he hasn’t even proposed a solution. He just suggested borrowing $3 billion to build some roads. That won’t even meet our needs, and we’ll be paying it off for 25 years.” McDonnell has also failed to continue Governor Tim Kaine’s efforts to extend the Washington, D.C. Metro system further in the suburbs in Northern Virginia. Rather than ameliorating traffic clogged roads, aid economic growth, or do anything good for the environment, McDonnell is sitting on his hands.

Perhaps that’s why polls show adding him to the ticket would not help Romney in Virginia. Nonetheless, the Romney campaign continues to at least count on McDonnell as a valuable surrogate. They frequently deploy statements from him and use him on conference calls. The Democratic National Committee recently struck a preemptive blow against a national role for McDonnell, organizing a call for reporters with Representative Gwen Moore (WI) and Virginia State Senator Louise Lucas to “Expose Scott Walker, Bob McDonnell and Mitt Romney as Too Extreme for America.” But McDonnell already exposed himself and his national hopes may have been ended because of it.

Right Wing Raises Mega-Cash for Hypocritical Attack Ads

Sixty million dollars sure sounds like a lot of money. That’s how much the Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee raised in the month of May. Michele Bachmann figures it’s such a huge number that she can scare conservatives into giving her Congressional re-election campaign money by citing it. “Our victories this week have the Democrats on the run, but $60 million dollars in one month will help them fight back hard and I'm concerned they are preparing to dump their piles of cash on me and other Constitutional conservative candidates,” reads her latest fundraising e-mail.

There’s only one problem, for Bachmann and the Democrats alike. Republicans out-raised them by a comfortable margin. The Romney campaign and Republican National Committee together brought in $76.8 million in May.

Democrats are gamely trying to spin this by arguing that it is cyclical: Obama and the DNC were way ahead of Romney and the RNC because the Republicans had not settled on a candidate. Now that they have, a flood of donations will come in on their side, but in the end it will even out.

That’s true, but Obama has to vastly out-raise Romney if he is to compete on the airwaves this fall. That’s because the wave of unlimited contributions from corporations and eccentric billionaires unleashed by the Supreme Court is going much more to the right than the left. Last week Politico reported that right-wing groups are planning to spend $1 billion on the election. “Just the spending linked to the Koch network is more than the $370 million that John McCain raised for his entire presidential campaign four years ago,” noted Jim Vandehei and Mike Allen. “And the $1 billion total surpasses the $750 million that Barack Obama, one of the most successful fundraisers ever, collected for his 2008 campaign.”

What is that money going to? Some of it, including much of the $400 million being spent by the Koch-related groups, will go to grassroots field operations. But most will go to advertisements.

And what will the advertisements consist of? Intellectually dishonest attacks on Obama’s record. Consider this hit job from Crossroads GPS, one of the two groups run by Karl Rove that together will raise and spend $300 million on the campaign. The commercial, which is being distributed with a $7 million ad buy, features a ticking debt clock and a narrator complaining that Obama is “adding $4 billion in debt each day” and “borrowing from China to pay for his spending.”

Coming from Karl Rove, this is more than a little hypocritical and misleading. Rove, of course, was the political mastermind of the Bush administration. The national debt nearly doubled under Bush--who inherited surpluses and left office running a massive deficit—from $5.7 trillion to $10.6 trillion. That’s because he passed tax cuts and increased spending. Bush’s first Treasury secretary, Paul O’Neill, blamed the political operation in the White House—in other words, Rove—for being irresponsible and ideological rather than serious about governance.

While it is technically true that the debt has continued to rise under Obama, this is hardly his fault. According to the Congressional Budget Office, roughly half of current deficits are due to the tax cuts Bush signed and the two wars Bush started. Meanwhile, Obama inherited a recession caused in part by Bush’s reckless mismanagement. During recessions governments run deficits because tax revenues decline even if rates stay the same, and automatic spending on programs such as food stamps and Medicaid increases as more people become eligible. Moreover, anyone with a basic understanding of macroeconomics knows that tax cuts and stimulative spending are often required during a recession to boost demand and help generate economic growth. In light of all this, Rove is more responsible for the current deficit than Obama is. But Rove blames Obama for it anyway.

Crossroads GPS actually proposes to make the deficits worse. As Jonathan Salant points out at Bloomberg News: “For all the talk about the debt, Rove’s group wants to continue all of the Bush tax cuts, as well as eliminate the estate tax on multimillionaires. Crossroads GPS doesn’t offer any specific spending cuts to pay for these policies.”

Republicans hope to convince the public to blame Obama for the debt they created, and to vote for more of the same policies that created it. And with an enormous spending advantage, they may be able to.

 

GOP Declares National Victory in Wisconsin

Before the Wisconsin gubernatorial recall election had even been called Tuesday night by the news networks, conservatives and Republicans were gleefully celebrating Governor Scott Walker’s impending victory. If you were watching Fox News, you were informed that the hastily organized June race in one state is a near-certain predictor of the presidential election results November. Moreover, unions that opposed Walker had not only been defeated in this one specific race; they had been exposed as out of touch with their own members and decisively crushed throughout the nation from today to the End of Times.

Here’s a sampling of what conservative pundits and Republican politicians had to say:

“If I’m Barack Obama I think, ‘Do I need to defend Wisconsin now?’”
      —Sean Hannity, Fox News host

“With tonight’s victory, I think this is a state, not only can we win in Wisconsin, but Mitt Romney can also be very competitive, can win Michigan, Pennsylvania.”
      —Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal

“As Reagan followed Thatcher, Mitt Romney will follow Scott Walker.”
      —Hugh Hewitt, radio host

“This shows the irrelevance of the unions.”
      —Denny Strigl, former Verizon CEO

“Pack it in, Unions. It’s over.”
      Tweet from Brett Doster, Florida senior adviser to Romney for President. 

“Perhaps it’s those union leaders, those thugs… who need to be recalled…. Obviously [Obama’s] message has been defeated here in Wisconsin.”
      —Sarah Palin, Fox News contributor

“TONIGHT’S RESULTS WILL ECHO BEYOND THE BORDERS OF WISCONSIN”
      —Press release headline from Mitt Romney

The National Republican Campaign Committee asserted that the recall election results mean trouble for Democrats in unrelated Wisconsin congressional elections. “By rejecting [Democratic nominee] Tom Barrett [Wisconsin voters] also sent a message that they are ready to stay on a fiscally responsible, pro-jobs track and that means trouble ahead for Madison liberal Tammy Baldwin,” they declared.

There are a few inconvenient facts being ignored by all these chest-beating proclamations. Democrats were at a distinct disadvantage in this particular race. They had only a few weeks between the primary, when Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett was selected, and the election, while Walker had months to organize. They were wildly outspent by Republicans, who brought in massive infusions of cash from corporations and wealthy donors. In total, the GOP side spent $45.6 million to $17.9 million on the left. And the exit polls showed that this very same electorate that favored Walker 54-45, favors President Obama over Mitt Romney, 52 to 43. Voters from families with a union member chose Barrett 62–37. (There was no breakout available for just union members themselves, but they tend to be even more Democratic than all voters from union households.)

Before the votes were even cast, sharper minds cautioned against overestimating their national significance. Here’s Slate’s Will Oremus listing the reasons this race is not a test-run for the presidential election:

1) It’s a recall. 2) It’s happening in June. 3) The incumbent is a Republican. 4) Neither Barack Obama nor Mitt Romney is running. 5) A significant number of states (49 by my count) will not be participating. 6) Need I go on?

Drawing inferences about a national election on the basis of a state election is almost always tenuous, but it’s particularly so in the case of a gubernatorial recall, where the main issue is not the U.S. economy, health care, or national security, but the character and specific track record of the individual in office.

And, as The New Republic’s Alec MacGillis notes, an uptick in the economy will help all incumbents regardless of party. That means both endangered Republican governors such as Ohio John Kasich and President Obama.

Make no mistake, this is bad news for progressives and Democrats. But it does not prove what conservatives say it does. Rather, it merely shows that the unlimited spending unleashed by the Republican appointees on the Supreme Court has given Republicans a tremendous spending advantage and that does make a difference. Whether or not President Obama and other Democrats can overcome that is an open question.

Herman Cain to Replace Neal Boortz on the Radio

Wags who predicted that Herman Cain was really running for a talk show sinecure during his farcical presidential have just been vindicated. The popular conservative talk radio host Neal Boortz announced on Monday that he is retiring and that Herman Cain, the former restaurant executive who briefly led the Republican presidential field, will replace him. According to the press release on Boortz’s website, “[Boortz’s] last day hosting The Neal Boortz Show, which premiered on News/Talk WSB in 1993 and now airs on more than 200 radio stations with six million weekly listeners, will be January 21, 2013.” That, of course, is Inauguration Day. “If it’s Barack Obama, then I’m going to disappear into the mountains and come out after he has destroyed this country. If it’s Mitt Romney, we’ll start drinking as the show begins,” Boortz said on his Monday program.

Cain offered fulsome praise for Boortz, saying in a statement, “Neal has spent his career as a bold, vocal advocate of what is right in this world and condemning that which is not. I promise the torch Boortz is handing off to me will blaze as bright, as bold, and as loud as ever. Also, I am ecstatic that Neal has kept the radio host’s chair warm for me all these years. He may be ‘The TalkMaster,’ but Neal’s listeners know I’m the ‘The Dean of the University of Common Sense.’ ”

It is ironic that Boortz has chosen an African-American successor, given that he has a long history of overt professional racism. Before he got into broadcasting, Boortz worked as a speechwriter for Georgia Governor Lester Maddox, an ardent segregationist. Maddox first gained political prominence by chasing African-American would-be patrons out of his restaurant with a handgun. In 1976 Maddox challenged his nemesis Jimmy Carter for the presidency by running on George Wallace’s former American Independence Party line. Time called Maddox a “strident racist.”

On his Atlanta-based radio show, Boortz has frequently indulged in vulgar race baiting. In a 2009 disquisition that would have made Maddox proud, Boortz called for removing the voting rights of certain recipients of government aid. “Everybody still living in a hotel or a trailer after Hurricane Katrina: no votes,” he declared. “Can’t vote again ever, ever. Nobody living in Section 8 housing should be allowed to vote.” Boortz seems to harbor a particularly strong antipathy for Katrina victims. As Media Matters reports, in 2008, “Boortz made disparaging remarks about Hurricane Katrina victims, stating, ‘When these Katrina so-called refugees were scattered about the country, it was just a glorified episode of putting out the garbage.’ Boortz also described New Orleans as ‘a city of parasites, a city of people who could not and had no desire to fend for themselves.’” In 2006, Media Matters noted a sexist and racist attack Boortz made against Representative Cynthia McKinney (D-GA). “Boortz said that McKinney’s ‘new hair-do’ makes her look ‘like a ghetto slut,’ like ‘an explosion at a Brillo pad factory,’ like ‘Tina Turner peeing on an electric fence,’ and like ‘a shih tzu.’”

Cain will make an interesting replacement for Boortz in other ways as well. Whereas Boortz delivers his curmudgeonly assertions in an angry, dyspeptic growl, Cain puts a happier, more comical face on hard-right conservatism. Their politics are not identical. According to a slobbering, wholly uncritical profile from Monday’s Atlanta Journal Constitution, “Younger listeners have no way of knowing, but Boortz has actually mellowed over the years.” Boortz claims to be a libertarian who has given up his “doctrinaire” social conservatism. He says he has no problem with gay marriage. Clearly, race is an exception to Boortz’s supposed mellowing, although Boortz’s record of making racially inflammatory remarks is not mentioned in the Atlanta Journal Constitution story. Cain adheres to all the mainstream socially conservative bigotries, including those against equal rights for gays and lesbians.

Cain has previously hosted his own radio show on the same Atlanta station as Boortz, and he currently appears twice weekly as a guest on Boortz’s show and has served as a guest host for Boortz in the past.

Cain’s path to media stardom has become a regular feature of modern Republican politics. Just as Mike Huckabee skyrocketed to the top of the Republican presidential pack in 2008 on the strength of his affability and cockamamie tax plan, so did Cain. And just as Huckabee has a talk show, now so too does Cain. And if you think Cain—who repeatedly demonstrated an alarming lack of knowledge or even respect for knowledge on important global issues during the campaign—is unqualified to be a prominent political commentator, just look at the ranks of conservative talking heads he joins: former disc jockeys like Rush Limbaugh and political celebrities like Sarah Palin.

The only strange thing at all about Cain’s current situation is his remarkable resiliency. Here is a married man who was accused by multiple women of having affairs and sexually harassing employees. In the same week that the entire country chewed over its disgust with John Edwards, Cain got a new talk show. That probably tells us something about the difference between conservatives and liberals. While the former supposedly stand for family values, they’ve repeatedly shown that they don’t care at all whether their own leaders practice what they preach. Just ask one of Cain’s former rivals in the campaign, like Newt Gingrich, or one of his future rivals on the airwaves, like Rush Limbaugh.

Tea Party Flexes its Muscles in Texas

Texas is a very different state than Maine, where the Tea Party displaced the moderate establishment. The Texas Republican Party is about as conservative as any state party in the country. If the GOP establishment could feel safe anywhere it would be Texas, where the party platform adopted in 2010 opens with a declaration of support for “state sovereignty reserved under the Tenth Amendment.” In just the first page the platform goes on to hit Tea Party erogenous zones such as “review and revision of those portions of the USA Patriot Act... that erode constitutional rights” and to issue this unusual declaration: “We demand elimination of presidential authority to issue executive orders.” We’ll see if they feel that way when there is a Republican in the Oval Office.

But Tuesday’s primary in Texas showed that the Tea Party movement remains suspicious of candidates who are favored by the party establishment. In a number of races, they upset the incumbent or favorite. As Abby Rapoport reports in The American Prospect, a number of Republican state legislators who voted for draconian budget cuts were targeted, and in some cases taken out. “Several incumbents suffered—but not in a manner you might expect,” writes Rapoport. “Take Rob Eissler, the Republican chair of the Public Education Committee who pushed for some of the big budget cuts. He lost his primary Tuesday night in a big upset. But he didn't lost [sic] his seat to a candidate pushing back against cuts. Nope. Eissler lost his seat to a Tea Party insurgent because—get this—Eissler had been too moderate and was too closely aligned with House Speaker Joe Straus.”

The Texas race that garnered national attention is the race for the state’s open US Senate seat. Since Texas is so overwhelmingly Republican, winning the primary is tantamount to winning the general election. The establishment favorite is Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst. Dewhurst is hardly the second coming of Nelson Rockefeller. As the Washington Post notes, “A Rice University study found that the lieutenant governor is about as conservative as two-thirds of the Republican state Senate delegation.” That’s a pretty conservative group.

But Tea Party activists say Dewhurst has not been aggressive enough in opposing illegal immigration and opposing intrusive government. “David Dewhurst, has consistently failed to fight for Conservative [sic] principles,” Katrina Pierson, board member of the Dallas Tea Party, writes in an email. “In Texas, there are three boxes you have to check. The first being pro-life. Second, you have to be pro-guns. Third, you have to be against increasing Taxes [sic]. Having checked all three of those boxes, most Republican voters overlook the other and more important virtues of Conservatism [sic] until now. The Texas budget has been smoke and mirrors with illegal immigration being a large contributing factor…. Dewhurst, along with Governor Perry, do the bidding on the cheap labor lobby as requested of their top donors.”

The Tea Party, both locally and nationally, has mobilized to support former state solicitor general Ted Cruz. Cruz is a Cuban-American lawyer who has excited right wing activists, leading the Post to wonder, “Is Ted Cruz the next Marco Rubio?” (Even though conservatives often express contempt for educational success such as President Obama’s, they tend to excitedly boast that Cruz attended Princeton and Harvard Law, where he founded the Harvard Latino Law Review before clerking for William H. Rehnquist.)

Dewhurst finished with the most votes in the four-way primary, but Cruz succeeded in his goal of holding Dewhurst to lower than 50 percent, which means that the top two finishers—Dewhurst with 45 percent and Cruz with 34 percent—will compete in a run off on July 31. Public Policy Polling has Dewhurst ahead 59 to 34 in a head-to-head match up with Cruz, but Cruz’s Tea Party supporters are predicting victory. “We’re confident we can win one on one,” says Adam Brandon, spokesman for FreedomWorks.

There is a distinctly libertarian flavor to the movement supporting Cruz over Dewhurst. Pierson, for example, cites Dewhurst’s failure to protect civil liberties as one of her primary objections to him. “David Dewhurst had the opportunity to take the lead last year with the TSA anti-groping legislation,” she writes in an email. “Dewhurst was the presiding officer in the Senate and he personally worked against the passage of that legislation by seeking a threatening letter from the TSA…. Ted [Cruz] has the experience and the energy to fight alongside proven Conservative Senators such as Jim Demint and Rand Paul.”

The mention of Paul is not coincidental. As Rosie Gray reports in BuzzFeed, the Pauls have built a right wing–libertarian machine within the Republican Party that is promoting like-minded candidates all over the country. “A few high-profile candidates, like Ted Cruz in Texas, have been particularly successful at profiting from the Paul anointment,” writes Gray. “Father and son appeared with him at a rally in Texas and conducted a moneybomb for him.”

This is hardly the only instance of overlap between the Paul apparatus and the Tea Party insurgency. Terra Eclipse, the technology firm that builds Web platforms for FreedomWorks, among other conservative clients, grew out of Ron Paul’s 2008 presidential campaign. They have recently outfitted FreedomWorks with Freedom Connector, an online platform that allows someone on the ground in any state to engage directly with activists in his or her area without the intermediation of a staffer in Washington. “FreedomWorks understands ground up rather than top down,” says Martine Avila of Terra Eclipse. “We learned that first hand from the Ron Paul campaign.” So far that model seems to be working for them. 

Return of the Birthers

Like political kudzu, no matter how many times they have been destroyed, birthers keep coming back. The last week has seen a sudden re-emergence of the once-marginalized racist, xenophobic, Islamophobic notion that President Obama was not born in Hawaii. And the Republican presidential nominee is cozying up to leading birthers such as Donald Trump.

Obama’s natural-born American citizenship has been amply documented by the release of both his short- and long-form birth certificates. Researchers have also found historical evidence such as birth announcements in Hawaiian newspapers. When Obama released his long-form birth certificate in April 2011, a Gallup poll showed the percentage of Americans who said he was “definitely” or “probably” born in another country dropped from a shockingly high 24 percent to a merely disturbing 13 percent.

But now the birthers are back. One of their main hubs is World Net Daily, a popular website on the conspiracy-minded far right. Through WND Books they have recently published a compendium of discredited and newly invented birther assertions called Where’s The Birth Certificate: The Case that Barack Obama is not Eligible to be President, by leading birther Jerome Corsi. On May 17 WND reported that Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, who has become famous for his mistreatment of prisoners and his distaste for immigrants, is investigating the president’s citizenship but being met with “stonewalling” from federal authorities. “Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s Cold Case Posse says Selective Service System officials apparently are trying to dissuade the Arizona investigative team from attempting to obtain original documentation to determine whether Barack Obama’s draft registration form is authentic,” wrote WND’s Art Moore.

On the same day Breitbart.com produced the dramatic revelation that a promotional material from 1991 from Obama’s book said he was born in Kenya. The Breitbart editors claimed that they believe Obama was born in Honolulu but that this bizarre little factoid tells us something about Obama’s ideological past.

Other conservatives, such as those at WND, got the hint, though. Rather than making the logical inference that the obscure brochure was incorrect they jumped to the conclusion that this shows Obama was born elsewhere. “The biography is one of numerous published reports as well as personal claims that Obama was born abroad, including the recent testimony of a Chicago-area postal worker who reported he was told by the parents of Bill Ayers that Obama was a foreigner,” writes WND. A postal worker who talked to Bill Ayers parents! Since, as every WND reader knows, Ayers and Obama have been best friends for decades, that’s conclusive, proof, right?

This interpretation conflicts with some basic facts and logic, including the birthers’ own imaginings. For one thing, Obama’s memoir itself is clear that he was born in Hawaii. For another, the ludicrous birther conspiracy theory holds that Obama’s family was busy creating the false impression that he was born in Hawaii at the time he was born, hence the public birth announcement. That can’t be true while it simultaneously is the case that Obama was openly admitting to his publisher’s publicists that he was born in Kenya back in 1991 because he had not yet decided to run for president. On May 21 WND reported that Arpaio’s “cold case posse” is going to Hawaii to investigate.

This may all sound like a big joke. And on some level it is funny. But it could have real implications. Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett said that he might not put Obama on the state’s presidential ballot in November unless he received evidence of Obama’s birthplace. On May 23, though, Bennett issued a statement saying he was satisfied. “Late yesterday, our office received the ‘verification in-lieu of certified copy’ from officials within the Hawaii Department of Health that we requested in March,” Bennett wrote. “They have officially confirmed that the information in the copy of the Certificate of Live Birth for the President matches the original record in their files.” So Obama will appear on the ballot. But the Republicans’ real agenda is not keeping Obama off the ballots, which they know is impossible, since they know perfectly well where he was born. The point is to create a media kerfuffle that reinforces doubts in voters’ minds about Obama’s American identity.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump, the reality-television star and washed up real estate tycoon who led Republican presidential polls before deciding to make another season of The Apprentice instead, is helping birtherism gain mainstream media attention and helping Romney raise money. As CNN notes, “The ‘Apprentice’ host has been a vocal proponent of the ‘birther’ conspiracy going back several years, at one point claiming he had ‘investigators’ looking into Obama’s records in Hawaii.”  

Is Romney, supposedly a sane technocrat from the GOP’s mainstream establishment wing, distancing himself from these bigoted clowns? No, of course not. Romney indulges them, as he does most odious elements of the right-wing base. On Thursday the Romney campaign announced that in exchange for a donation, you would be entered in a raffle to win a stay at the Trump International Hotel & Tower New York, a tour of Trump Tower and dinner with Donald Trump and Mitt Romney.

On Tuesday Romney and Trump held a fundraiser together in Las Vegas. But Trump continued to promote his bogus fantasies of Obama’s supposed ineligibility for the presidency. CNN neatly summarized the situation with the headline, “Trump sticks with ‘birther’ argument, Romney sticks with Trump.” CNN reported:

Donald Trump did not back down on Tuesday from his questioning of President Barack Obama’s birthplace, keeping the issue alive on the day he is to fund-raise alongside presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. “I’ve never really changed. Nothing’s changed my mind,” he said on CNBC of his skepticism toward Obama’s birthplace. “Is it the most important thing? In a way it is. You’re not allowed to be the president if you’re not born in the country.

As Media Matters noted, CNBC anchor Joe Kernan shamefully helped Trump burnish his claims by lazily citing an Internet hoax as an actual report. He said, “In that same report that was on some of the conservative websites and I haven’t even confirmed it, Donald, but there was a quote from one of [Obama’s] debates when he was running for state senator, I believe, and one of his opponents said, well, you know, you weren’t—this was at the time when it still—the Kenya thing was still on some of his biographies or something and the guy said, ‘Well, you know, you weren’t even born here,’ and he said, ‘Well, it doesn’t matter if I wasn’t born here, I’m running for—I’m not running for president’ at the time.” But, as Media Matters reports, this is simply a figment of someone’s imagination. They write: 

The CNBC anchor appears to be referring to an internet rumor about an exchange that allegedly happened during a 2004 Illinois debate between Alan Keyes and then-state senator Obama during their campaign for the state’s U.S. Senate seat.

However, an adviser to the 2004 Keyes campaign who attended the Keyes-Obama debates told Media Matters that the purported exchange is a “hoax.”

“It’s always been bogus,” said Tom Hoefling, who is now the chairman and presidential candidate for America’s Party, which was founded by Keyes. “It’s been passed around by some crazy sources out there. I’ve tried to put that fire out probably at least a hundred times.… All of the videos of those debates are up online. Show us where it is.”

Trump went on CNN later on Tuesday, where he was grilled with appropriate derision by Wolf Blitzer, and he doubled down on birtherism. Here’s part of the interview

BLITZER: But the state of Hawaii says it’s not an opinion, it’s a fact.

TRUMP: No, I don’t think so. I think if you look at the birth certificate, take a look and you tell me, really. You analyze the birth certificate. There are many people that don’t agree with that birth certificate. They don’t think it’s authentic, Wolf.

BLITZER: I don’t know when you say many people who don’t agree…

TRUMP: Many people.

BLITZER: Like who?

TRUMP: There are many people…

BLITZER: Give me an—give me a name of somebody…

TRUMP: There are many people…

BLITZER: —in a position of authority…

TRUMP: —that do not believe…

BLITZER: —in Hawaii who says—but give me a name.

TRUMP: There are many people—I don’t give names. There are many people that do not believe that birth certificate is authentic.

BLITZER: Well, you know what…

TRUMP: Many people.

I know many people who say Donald Trump is a liar pathetically trying to keep his name in the news and I’d be happy to provide some balance by going on CNN and CNBC to say so. Trump also contended that Obama’s birth certificate is invalid because the Governor of Hawaii who released it is a Democrat. As Blitzer noted, the governor who approved the release of Obama’s short-form birth certificate during the 2008 campaign was Linda Lingle, a Republican, to which Trump responded, “I know nothing about it.” Truer words were never spoken, at least not by Trump.

Anyone hoping that Romney would show some courage and confront Trump’s lies head on would be disappointed. CNN writes:

Although Romney and Trump are to fundraise in Las Vegas on Tuesday, the candidate on Monday chose not to rebuff Trump’s suggestions. "You know, I don’t agree with all the people who support me and my guess is they don’t all agree with everything I believe in,"Romney told reporters when asked about the issue. "But I need to get 50.1 percent or more and I’m appreciative to have the help of a lot of good people."

Even Romney’s nominal disavowals of birtherism contain a cowardly dodge with a wink towards the extremists. Romney’s spokeswoman, Andrea Saul, wrote in an e-mailed statement to CNN, “Governor Romney has said repeatedly that he believes President Obama was born in the United States.” The key word in that sentence is “believes.” Obama’s birthplace is not a matter of belief; it is a matter of fact. A true disavowal would be, “Romney has said repeatedly that President Obama was born in the United States.” Adding the unnecessary “he believes” qualification is a way of hinting to birthers that this is still a valid question to examine. It is the same trick played by Congressional Republicans who always say they believe Obama is a Christian, not a Muslim, or that Obama has said he is a Christian and they take him at his word.

Of course, some Republicans in Congress are happy to indulge birther fantasies as well. Colorado Representative Mike Coffman recently said at a fundraiser, “I don’t know whether Barack Obama was born in the United States of America. I don’t know that. But I do know this, that in his heart, he’s not an American. He’s just not an American.”

Remember that the next time someone says that Obama’s inability to work with Republicans in Congress—people who call him “not an American”—is his fault.

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