Politics, media and the politics of media.
Republicans from Bobby Jindal to Chris Christie to Kelly Ayotte are fleeing from Mitt Romney after he tried to excuse his defeat by telling donors Obama had bought the votes of blacks, Latinos, women and youth with “extraordinary financial gifts from the government.” Which sounded a lot like Romney’s secretly recorded assertion during the campaign that “47 percent” of the electorate are living off of government goodies, and, try as he might, he could “never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
Romney himself will always be one of the greatest gifts the Democrats will ever get.
But is it possible that Romney’s gift doctrine isn’t quite as bad as it sounds nor as pejorative as the 47 percent insult? Maybe Mitt Romney is saying—in his own tongue-tied, convoluted, plutocratic, and incredibly insensitive way—that Obama’s voters are no different than… Mitt Romney.
That may seem insulting in itself. But Romney, so practiced at the art of telling people with money the bad news he sees in their spreadsheet, was talking turkey: that as much as he, or any rich Republican money man, is a self-interested, rational actor, so is the American voter. And Romney’s telling the people who bankrolled him that in a competitive market, this democracy thing is always going to be a loser for them if they can’t sweeten the deal.
Granted, you may have to dig deep, as deep as a proctology exam (to use the visual Haley Barbour[!] inflicted on the GOP) to find this ever-so-slightly more enlightened Mitt. And you have to probe behind his offensive use of the term “gifts” for what are commonly known as “policies.” But grab a scope, and look at what he said in one of the two recent conference calls with yet more high-level, wealthy donors, as The New York Times listened in. Obama, Romney stated, won the election by pulling out the
“old playbook” of using targeted initiatives to woo specific interest groups— “especially the African-American community, the Hispanic community and young people.”
“With regards to the young people, for instance, a forgiveness of college loan interest was a big gift,” Mr. Romney said. “Free contraceptives were very big with young, college-aged women. And then, finally, Obamacare also made a difference for them, because as you know, anybody now 26 years of age and younger was now going to be part of their parents’ plan, and that was a big gift to young people. They turned out in large numbers, a larger share in this election even than in 2008.”
And, wow, how that healthcare can bribe poor folks and “illegals”:
“You can imagine for somebody making $25,000 or $30,000 or $35,000 a year, being told you’re now going to get free health care, particularly if you don’t have it, getting free health care worth, what, $10,000 per family, in perpetuity—I mean, this is huge,” Mr. Romney said. “Likewise with Hispanic voters, free health care was a big plus. But in addition with regards to Hispanic voters, the amnesty for children of illegals, the so-called Dream Act kids, was a huge plus for that voting group.”
Pity the poor quarter-billionaire candidate of austerity, because “giving away free stuff is a hard thing to compete with.”
Shades of Moderate Massachusetts Mitt: If he were a Dem, he says, he’d throw dental coverage into the mix! I’m all in!
Of course, it’s cowardly of Romney to blame poor people for his electoral failure, rather than his ideas, organization, lack of vision or prostration under the heel of the far right. But just possibly Mitt is saying: Let’s face reality. Our old tax-cutting default position doesn’t work anymore. Those days are over. We’re outnumbered. And unless we start tossing out “gifts” to the masses, too, we’re over.
Romney was talking to his fundraisers—not the crazies, but the elites, for whom bribery is honorable, in fact, a sound business plan. These are his people. And though he lost the election, he doesn’t want to lose touch with them.
The Times writes that during the conference call, Romney suggested that the group meet annually and start up a monthly newsletter to, in Romney’s words, “stay informed and have influence on the direction of the party, and perhaps the selection of a future nominee, which, by the way, will not be me.”
That was a joke. You had to be there.
This election has been an emotional roller coaster, but over the past week it’s really jumped the shark—I mean, what kind of melodrama ends with a hurricane devastating New York City just days before a few undecided Ohioans choose the leader of the free world? Is this the oldest democracy on the planet or an open-air production of The Tempest?
It certainly has us caught up in its titanic, almost mythic coils. All things being fair and equal (which they’re not), it looks like an Obama victory. Of the twenty-one battleground state polls published on Saturday, Obama is winning sixteen, two go to Romney, and three are tied, according to Nate Silver, who bumped the president’s chances of winning up to 85.1 percent, the highest figures since the Denver debate.
First there was the sour, self-involved and hurricane-lashed Republican National Convention in Tampa (“The Key Largo Convention”). Then there was the joyous wonkery of the Democrats in Charlotte, which was soon followed by the media breakthrough of Romney’s “47 percent” comment on video, which together seemed to set the election on a trajectory as sure as the Martian Rover’s.
Then came Obama’s abysmal debate performance in Denver, which seemed to give the lie to his whole campaign depicting Romney as an out-of-touch plutocrat who didn’t give a hoot about anyone else. Suddenly, our young, slender hero looked like he didn’t give a hoot and couldn’t be bothered with making an argument for his own policies.
But Joe Biden rode in to laugh off Paul Ryan’s entire career in politics, reasserting Democratic dominance on the issues, and Mitt walked into his own gotcha question in the second debate. When Romney all but conceded the foreign policy debate, the election seemed to revert to its pre-August stasis, with Obama holding a narrow lead in the battleground states that would give us at least the same deadlocked government we’ve suffered for two long years.
And then Sandy hit, and Mitt’s loyal thane Chris Christie seemed to jump ship for a minute, and we had the sharp, effective, compassionate president we all need once again—and “now I will believe that there are unicorns,” as Shakespeare put it in The Tempest.
But no, we may see yet more extreme plot reversals. Hurricane Sandy, by possibly preventing hundreds of thousands of people from voting at all, may in fact accomplish what voter suppression has aimed at all along: losing the popular vote for Obama and rendering his Electoral College victory suspect. One political scientist figures that Sandy alone will cost Obama as many as 340,000 votes, mostly from storm-ravaged blue states like New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. But could Sandy even cost Obama the electoral vote by depressing turnout in the Democratic strongholds of swing states, like Ohio and Pennsylvania, where Sandy-caused confusion and power outages could provide cover for the suppression already sown by voter ID laws, True the Vote, and computer “glitches”? (For anyone who thinks the courts have neutered voter suppression, you must read Ari Berman’s piece today and “Rampant Suppression Threatens Already Tight Race,” the latest report by Voting Rights Watch at The Nation.com.)
And the whole thing is made only more mythic, more like the Scottish play, by its female subplot full of menstrual blood and eyes of newt, punctuated by Republican spear-carriers saying women’s plumbing can shut down rape-borne conceptions that “God intended.”
Who writes stuff like this?
None of it budges my conviction that Mitt Romney is a CGI character, or that the entire plotline of American democracy hangs in the balance. When I close my eyes and imagine a President Mitt Romney, all I can think is there be dragons. No Drama Obama? Not anymore. One more last-minute reversal, and Chris Matthews won’t be the only one having a stroke.
Read Ari Berman's latest on how a last-minute suppression effort could swing Ohio's electoral votes.
Alison Harbaugh for Maryland Film Festival / Everett Collection
Folks on the right are shocked, shocked over that bit of innuendo in Lena Dunham’s ad for President Obama. Her “first time” was amazing, she says, because she voted for “somebody who really cares about and understands women” (somebody, she goes on, “who brought the troops out of Iraq” and signed the Lilly Ledbetter Act).
“If you need any further proof we live in a fallen world destined for hell fire,” writes Red State’s Erick Erikson, “consider the number of people who have no problem with the President of the United States, via a campaign ad, ridiculing virgins and comparing sex to voting.”
But thanks to Eric Kleefled at TPM, we now know that Dunham’s isn’t the first time the “first time” joke’s been made: In 1980, Ronald Reagan cracked wise about sex and voting, and he did it at the very moment of conception of millions of Reagan Democrats. On November 1, almost thirty-two years ago to the day, The Washington Post reported that candidate Reagan told a group of blue-collar workers at a Bayonne, New Jersey, bar:
“I know what it’s like to pull the Republican lever for the first time, because I used to be a Democrat myself, and I can tell you it only hurts for a minute and then it feels just great.”
How many other politicians will we find who’ve made the same, rather obvious joke? And even though Reagan expressed it in raunchier terms (levers! pain! pleasure!) than Dunham did, Republicans do not consider his “ridicule” of virgins to be proof of fallen worlds and hellfire.
Dunham, on the other hand, is a girl.
For more on Lena Dunham’s Obama ad, read Ari Melber’s latest post.
Mitt Romney’s calling card has always been his corporate crispness, at least from the chest up. His finely tailored suit jackets made his shoulders look broad and his chest solid; he was all jaw with a slap of bracing aftershave that you could almost smell through the TV. Fresh and ready to command his morning board meeting, Romney “looked like a president,” as pundits repeatedly declared and as he did, in fact, look in the first debate.
Last night, he was crumpled and rumpled. He forgot Rule #1 for males who sit before TV cameras: sit on the tail of your jacket so it doesn’t bunch up around your shoulders. It bunched. And instead of Old Spice, he wore fresh sweat.
Particularly above his upper lip. Most TV viewers have never seen Mitt Romney sweat before, but it was hard to miss. (It may have “started glistening on Romney’s forehead,” Roger Simon writes, when Obama brought up Yad Vashem.) Often when speaking, his facial expressions seemed to flit around; he visibly gulped. At many moments he seemed to be pleading with Bob Schieffer to understand him, to listen to him harder.
Romney’s flag pin was larger than Obama’s, but it seemed to grow larger still as the night went on and the man wearing it shrunk. On the split screen, Romney appeared ever so slightly smaller than Obama, filling the rectangle by a fraction less than the higher-sitting, forward-leaning president.
Obama came across less like a skinny guy with big ears and more like a rock-solid boulder. That is, for once he looked more Romney than Romney: his head all simple planes above the smooth lines of a well-fitted suit. The only wrinkles that jumped out were those from the sides of his nose to the corners of his mouth, the kind of deep lines that suggest worry over grave responsibilities.
The way the two men spoke mirrored their physical presence. Never sinking to his professorial drone, Obama spoke calmly and in short, to-the-point declarative sentences. Romney was often to-the-point, too, but he spoke fast, a little frantically, and he couldn’t help but give off a kind of verbal sweat with one of his signature tells—declaring that he likes or loves something. “I love teachers,” he said, twice. Schieffer tried to calm him down, saying, “We all love teachers.”
At the end of the debate, Obama was the first to stand up. Romney stood a beat later, and started to come around the back of the table for the ritual handshake and shoulder grab. Obama quickly pointed to the front of the table and walked there.
Romney took his directions and followed.
John Nichols points out that besides body language, Mitt Romney had some serious problems in last night debate.
Two phrases popped out of the second presidential debate as verbal keepers, and both were from by Mitt Romney: his proud recollection of using “binders full of women” when looking for cabinet members as Massachusetts governor, and his denunciation of President Obama for supposedly failing to say the words “act of terror” to describe what happened to our consulate in Benghazi.
The first sounds like just another instance of Mittspeak, one of his weird word salads (“The trees are the right height,” athletes engage in “sport,” his wife flies on an “aircraft”). It is the lingual oddness of a man used to prevarication (as Ari Melber points out about the “binder” meme, Romney “signed an executive order banning equal opportunity programs for women in 2003”), for whom language is more a form of selling than telling.
But the “act of terror” line was something else altogether.
Romney’s invocation of “act of terror” was the “gotcha” moment that turned into a “got me,” because Candy Crowley confirmed that, despite Romney’s insistence to the contrary, the president had indeed used those words the day after the attack. Awkward! Being called out as flat wrong seemed to both astound and infuriate Romney, as the now-famous still shot of his expression shows (and as you can see in motion here, from The Daily Show starting around 2:43):
The moment was so awkward, in fact, that the right has been busily trying to wipe it away ever since, by asserting that Crowley has taken it back (she hasn’t), or that Crowley was “biased,” or that Obama wasn’t talking about Benghazi (as Colbert asked: “How do we know he’s talking about Benghazi in that Benghazi speech the day after the Benghazi attacks?”), or by insisting that Obama’s words “act of terror” didn’t really count because he didn’t invoke the truer word, “terrorism.” “Declaring something an act of terror does not necessarily mean you are declaring it a terror attack,” declared Fox News’ Megyn Kelly. (There are other variations on this last cavil, which FAIR cooly rips to pieces.)
To the liberal mind, GOP spinners look desperate and petty when they bore down like this. But what we libs don’t understand is that Mitt Romney was at that moment citing a kind of scripture.
Words like "act of terror" are recited as a litany by the itinerant preachers of the right (known to the rest of us as “political consultants”) to drive their ideas into mainstream discourse. They are taught like new hymns and secured in the mind by rhythm and repetition. That’s why wingers so often display a punctiliousness about words—the right words, they know, can keep reality at bay, especially when chanted by a group.
The Republicans have been promoting new liturgy and reviving old standbys throughout this campaign, with varying degrees of success: “apologizes for America,” “I’m not a bump in the road,” “Simpson Bowles,” even 2008’s “drill, baby, drill.” Some words, like “Bush,” have been banned, while some formerly verboten coinages, like “Romneycare,” have received special dispensation to be used in limited circumstances, like when reinventing yourself as a moderate. It’s semi-OK now, but when Romney spokesperson Andrea Saul simply mentioned the Massachusetts health care system back in August, Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter demanded an excommunication. Coulter:
if Andrea Saul isn’t fired and off the campaign tomorrow, [big donors] are not giving another dime. Because it is not worth fighting for this man if this is the kind of spokesman he has to respond to this by citing health care in Massachusetts.
Once these phrases become part of the canon, any variation can become the mark of an apostate. Think of how a magic spell in Harry Potter must be spoken precisely to work, or how, in ancient Rome, the pontifex maximus couldn't flub a word in his public prayer without having to start the whole elaborate ceremony all over again. When Crowley said Obama had indeed uttered what Holy Writ had been declaring for two weeks that he had never said, she was not only humiliating Mitt, she was speaking sacrilege. Romney was shocked as well as angered. There just aren't words odd enough to express how it made him feel.
How often will Paul Ryan refer to himself at the debate tonight as a wonk? Drinking-game wise, the words wonky, wonkish, a numbers guy, even a policy freak will also count. A half shot for each mention of Power Point and double shots if moderator Martha Raddatz or even Joe Biden refer to Ryan’s superior brain power in anything but skeptical tones.
Ryan is super-amazing smart. Take his word—namely the word wonk—for it: He knows budgets like nobody’s business, he bathes in details, he walks on statistics like hot coals. Republicans and the media love portraying him as wack on wonk (a Politico headline today: “Paul Ryan's wonk appeal”): it lets them off the hook of having to repeat, defend, or even understand the details, because the Grand Master Wonk has taken care of it.
Especially since Team Romney told him to shut up about details—on Medicare, abortion, budgets, taxes or how long it takes him to run marathons—Ryan has also let his numbers-oriented image stand in for actual numbers. Now, whenever Ryan evokes wonkery it operates as a trap door to escape the snake pit of specifics. His most notable evasion was from Fox News’s Chris Wallace, who repeatedly asked for the math behind the Romney/Ryan tax plan. “I don’t have the time,” Ryan said, “—it would take me too long to go through all of the math.” (Others have had the time to do the math.)
It’s been cute, but the jig is up. “Look, I know wonks. Ryan is not a wonk,” Paul Krugman writes. “Yes, he likes charts and slides. But he very clearly doesn’t know what his numbers actually mean.” Dave Weigel explains how the media is “[d]efining wonkishness down.” And it’s true: displaying charts are to Ryan the Wonk as clearing brush was to Bush the Cowboy. (W, if you’ll recall, was afraid of horses.)
One reason we’ve fallen for Ryan’s wonkery is, paradoxically, that he’s so good looking. If a very attractive man, or woman, is also brainiac, it can make you wish they’d just whip off their nerd glasses and let their hair hang down. It provides that cast-against-type frisson.
And in Ryan’s case, with all his heavily promoted body-building, the cerebral wonk suggests its opposite, the carnal hunk.
Maybe Ryan will surprise us all tonight with a raft of verifiable facts and specifics, much as Romney last week surprised us by coming out as Maximum Moderate Mitt. Otherwise, expect a mention or two or three of Ryan’s magnificent policy powers rather than a display of them.
So, did Ryan prove his wonkery last night? John Nichols says no.
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I’m not sure if I like the way Mitt Romney likes things. As the newly empathic candidate was promising to kill Big Bird at Wednesday’s debate, did you notice how he backed into it?
“I like PBS,” Romney started out. “I love Big Bird. I actually like you [to moderator Jim Lehrer] too. But I’m not going to—I’m not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for it. That’s number one.”
“Like” is a decaffeinated form of “love” when Mitt uses it, but it’s also a mild protest, a plea for understanding. He usually lays a slight stress on the word, as if he’s revealing some vaguely surprising truth—“You may see me as an unfeeling, uncaring, bottom-line guy, but let me tell you, I enjoy life. I like things.” This man, who is so buttoned-up he can’t be honest about what he’s running on—like whether or not he’d cut taxes for the rich or cover pre-existing conditions in his health plan—uses like to establish his personal bona fides. I’m like you, he’s saying, I have “likes.”
Of course, it helps that like is such a flexible word, meaning “similar,” “approve” and just acting as a rhetorical placeholder, like, well, whatever. Mitt does like (indeed, he requires) a certain flexibility about what he means when he uses words. And because some of his most awkward moments during the campaign have hung from his “I like” tic, you have to wonder what he’s really saying:
“I like grits,” he said, “Strange things are happening to me.”
“I like seeing the lakes. I love the lakes. There’s something very special here. The Great Lakes, but also all the little inland lakes that dot the parts of Michigan…”
At Wednesday’s debate, we learned a few more of Mitt’s most likable things:
“And by the way, I like coal.”
“I like the way we did it in Massachusetts. I like the fact that in my state, we had Republicans and Democrats come together and work together.”
“Now, I like green energy as well…”
And it’s true, all those things are meant to be slightly surprising, particularly when listed by a man at a podium who’s running for president, and worthy of the faint stress he lays upon the word. He’s often pandering, as any politician will. But I also think Mitt is working hard to redefine the word. The most famous example is, of course:
“I like being able to fire people who provide services to me.” And as PBS, Big Bird, and surely now even Jim Lehrer know, every man destroys the thing he likes.
As you may have sniffed out by now, Paul Ryan has not really been going around calling Mitt Romney “the Stench,” as Roger Simon wrote in his Politico column on Tuesday:
Though Ryan had already decided to distance himself from the floundering Romney campaign, he now feels totally uninhibited. Reportedly, he has been marching around his campaign bus, saying things like, “If Stench calls, take a message” and “Tell Stench I’m having finger sandwiches with Peggy Noonan and will text him later.”
…Ryan reportedly said, “Let Ryan be Ryan and let the Stench be the Stench.”
It’s all satire, Simon said late yesterday. It may not be particularly good satire when it’s located inside false quotation marks. But the significant thing is that so many people so easily believed that either Paul Ryan would call his boss “the Stench” within earshot of reporters or that his entourage would eagerly leak such roguishness. From MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell, who devoted a thirteen-minute segment to the Stench (“Yeah, he said that,” said O’Donnell with glee) to Craig Robinson, a former Iowa GOP political director, who inadvertently inspired the fracas, almost no one, including me, saw this as mere truthiness.
It all started when Robinson was quoted in Sunday’s New York Times saying, “I hate to say this, but if Ryan wants to run for national office again, he’ll probably have to wash the stench of Romney off of him.”
On Wednesday, when Robinson saw the Simon story, he took pains to explain what he meant on TheIowaRepublican.com: “I used the word stench to basically say that Paul Ryan will have plenty of baggage to deal with should he and Romney come up short on November 6th. I don’t think anyone would disagree with that, but my choice of words has elevated my comment to something I didn’t necessary [sic] intend it to be.”
Simon eventually fessed up to Buzzfeed that the column was “satire,” and late last night wrote not an apology, exactly, but an explanation for confused readers:
Jonathan Swift did not really want Irish people to sell their children for food in 1729; George Orwell did not really want the clocks to strike thirteen in 1984; Paul Ryan, I am sure, calls Mitt Romney something more dignified than ‘Stench’ and Microsoft did not invent PowerPoint as a means to euthanize cattle. At least I am pretty sure Microsoft didn’t.
But the Swift and Orwell examples seemed clearly over the top even in their time (and the PowerPoint dig is hyperbole, not satire, as Mediaite pointed out). The Stench nickname, however, simply rang true to a lot of people. Why was everyone so ready to believe it?
First of all, we have the indelible precedent of Sarah Palin going “rogue” four years ago. Other VP candidates may have wanted to break from the head of their ticket, but she’s the first one to do it in such a single-mindedly, nakedly ambitious way (and make a demi-career of it afterwards).
Secondly, there’s the circumstantial similarity that people are beginning to see the Romney campaign circling down the drain, just as they saw McCain’s snake-bit campaign getting flushed four years ago. It seems the temptation for Ryan to wear a T-shirt printed with an arrow and “I’m with the Stench” must be nigh on overwhelming. Ryan’s far-right confreres have been dumping on Romney for his incompetence for weeks now, and it’s only natural to expect Ryan to at least make some sort of hand signal to his constituency that he knows he’s trapped and wants out.
And finally, there’s the future of the whole “movement conservative” idea at stake. Ryan was chosen to suggest that there’s a rising tide of low-body-fat young people who can’t wait to join the GOP, help update Ayn Rand, and gently ease Medicare off a cliff. But the minute Ryan seems like he’s leading a conga line into a roach motel instead, he becomes toxic. He could come to represent the abject failure of those ideas with the Republicans’ own base.
We have the additional example of the faded careers of most losing GOP vice presidential candidates. Bill Miller, Goldwater’s running mate, Bill Miller, for instance, disappeared so completely he did one of those “Do You Know Me?” American Express ads a few years later. Even Sarah Palin was a no-show in Tampa this year—for a minute I thought Clint Eastwood’s empty chair was for her.
That’s what Lawrence O’Donnell (whose Last Word blog apologized for taking the Stench story at face value—we’ll see if he does so on air, too) has been saying all along: that by throwing his hat in ring with Romney, Ryan is throwing away his political future.
If the Stench calls, take a message, please.
That’s not just a rhetorical question: In Mitt Romney’s heart of hearts, maybe all he really wanted was the Republican nomination.
Every time Romney gets an opportunity to reset the narrative of the election, he makes some psychologically revealing mistake. Giving Clint Eastwood his spotlight, rattling a rubber saber over a tweet from the US embassy in Cairo while it was under attack, writing off half of all American voters as moochers—you only have to tilt your head to see each of these “gaffes” as a cry for help. And Republicans themselves are grumbling about Romney’s skimpy schedule of public events, where real voters might take his measure and enthusiasm for a ground campaign could be generated.
“There’s not really a campaign here,” one Republican close to GOP fundraisers complained to Real Clear Politics. “He’s getting ready for the debates, and he’s out fundraising. You’ve got enough money!” Lindsey Graham and Peggy Noonan have also bemoaned his semi-AWOL schedule.
I can think of three good reasons Mitt might be psychologically satisfied with attaining the GOP nomination alone: avenging his father, legitimizing his religion and, well, winning the Republican nomination is generally very good for business.
When Mitt was 20 years old, he watched as his father, Michigan governor George Romney, blew his chance at the nomination in 1968 by saying he had been “brainwashed” into supporting the Vietnam war; that gave the far right all they needed to demolish Richard Nixon’s only progressive rival. For Mitt to win the nomination this year—despite his term as governor of Taxachussetts and his creation of the pilot version of Obamacare—is a remarkable accomplishment. During the primaries, the Tea Party crowd couldn’t stand him of course; they repeatedly elevated “anybody but Romney”—Trump, Gingrich, Perry, Cain, Gingrich again, Santorum—above him in the polls. But wielding his money and his “electability” Mitt eventually beat back just the sort of “muttonheads,” as he called the rabid right in ’68, who had humiliated his dad.
So even if he’s sputtering out now, Mitt nevertheless has the best of both worlds: he has vindicated his father before the people who count, and he wouldn’t have to actually govern. He can avoid the years of “gaffes” and words “not elegantly stated” and “you people” prying into his finances that his presidency would surely entail. And as Michelle Obama said: the office doesn’t change who you are, it reveals who you are.
Anyway, Romney’s nomination has already done something very real for one of the few American institutions he truly seems to care about: the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. He helped to finally establish Mormonism as a legitimate part of the Republican Party hierarchy, not to mention American political history. Maybe he won’t be invited to speak at the 2016 GOP convention, but he did get Christians to at least nominally accept his once-persecuted faith.
And maybe, after all we’ve seen this past week, we should take Romney at his word when he says he’s not really in this as a politician. In the January 8 debate in New Hampshire, he gave us a big fat hint of his reluctance to actually be president. He claimed he was not a career politician but something more honorable—a smart businessman, a Cincinnatus from the first-class section, who made the wealth these politicians merely spend. When Santorum asked Romney why, if he’d been such a great governor, he didn’t run for re-election, Mitt answered:
I went to Massachusetts to make a difference. I didn’t go there to begin a political career, running time and time again…. Run again? That would be about me. I was trying to help get the state into the best shape as I possibly could, left the world of politics, went back into business.”
“Can we drop a little bit of the pious baloney?” Newt famously replied. “The fact is, you ran in ‘94 [against Ted Kennedy] and lost…. The fact is, you had a very bad re-election rating, you dropped out of office, you had been out of state for something like 200 days preparing to run for president.”
That’s true: he’s always seemed more interested in running for office than in governing. And maybe now that he’s headed the conservative ticket and spent millions of his own money on Republican causes and auditioned before the billionaires who make up his finance committee, he’ll go on to join their ranks, too.
It’s like that clip Rachel Maddow has been using to tell school kids who Thurston Howell III is, where he says, “Lovey…I’ll appeal. I’ll take it to the Supreme Court! I’ll go even higher—the rules committee of the Newport Country Club!”
The Republican Party is counting down its own "127 Hours," and it’s getting ready to cut off one of its arms with a dull blade. As poll numbers rise for Obama and other Democrats down-ballot, it’s sinking in that the victory the GOP thought it would achieve with obstruction and falsehoods will probably turn into a defeat for both the presidency and the Senate.
Here are three headlines from just this morning that sound to me like desperate self-mutilation (and none of this is to even mention the Romney campaign’s complete meltdown over events in the Mideast):
“Kansas Goes Birther: State Board Considers Removing Obama From Ballot”
“House GOP Bill Would Actually End Welfare Reform Work Requirements”
“Romney predicts Obama will lie in debates”
Each of these actions is more likely to hurt than help the politicians in question. But it’s panic time for the GOP and they can’t help it.
In Kansas, Secretary of State Kris Kobach, an informal adviser to Romney and author of Arizona’s and other states’ harsh immigration laws, says he needs more proof that Obama is a natural-born citizen before he’ll let Kansans vote for him. (Even though Obama’s mother and grandparents hail from Kansas.) A similar birther block briefly threatened to keep the president of the United States off the Arizona ballot last spring, but it got laughed off the national stage, and one of the more conservative Republicans in Kansas has already said the same fate awaits any attempt by Kobach to block Obama. But even winking at birthers at this late date has got to signal to voters that the GOP has lost touch with reality.
In the welfare case, we have Mitt Romney running a series of racially tinged ads based on the lie that Obama is “gutting” welfare’s work requirements only to have House Republicans pass through committee a proposal that, remarkably, would gut those same work rules. The legislation, as Talking Points Memo explains, would slash funds for one welfare program with work requirements and fold it into another program without them, effectively abolishing the reforms that Romney falsely insists Obama is so eager to ax. This isn’t just incoherent and hypocritical—it’s a form of self-cannibalism.
The last of the three headlines, in which Romney predicts Obama will lie in the upcoming debates, highlights the sterling businessman’s political incompetence. “I think the challenge that I’ll have in the debate is that the president tends to, how shall I say it, to say things that aren’t true,” Romney told George Stephanopoulos on Good Morning America. Coming from a campaign that refuses to “be dictated by fact-checkers,” not only is this a painfully obvious psychological projection but it puts Romney in a weak position for ever winning the debates. Romney went on: “It’s difficult to say, Well, am I going to spend my time correcting things that aren’t quite accurate? Or am I going to spend my time talking about the things I want to talk about?” Mitt even gives Barack a tip: he said he’s tempted to use the old Reagan line “There you go again.” “But you know,” added Romney, “I doubt we’re going to pull something from Ronald Reagan. He’s one of a kind.” Likewise, Reagan might tell him.
There was a time when the GOP’s more out-there moves made Democrats stop and wonder if there were some sort of hidden genius in their gambits, so bold they were at manipulating facts and rewriting reality. But maybe they never were that smart, and, in a country that’s seen their show before, their wedge-issue snarks are beginning to backfire.
Republicans may like to fire people, but whom do they hire to make up for the series of self-destructive moves from Clint Eastwood’s upstaging Romney at the RNC to Romney’s blathering on about the Egyptian embassy and Obama’s “disgrace.” Laura Ingraham’s advice—"If you can't beat Barack Obama with this record, then shut down the party. Shut it down. Start new, with new people"—sounds all tough, but it begs the question: Who they gonna call?