Category Archives: Current Events

It’s Primary Day: The View From the Ground in New Hampshire

It’s primary day in New Hampshire!  As he did in Iowa, Bert Johnson has spent some time on the ground in the Granite State, soaking and poking.  Here’s his report:

“When you drive into New Hampshire the atmosphere is very different from that of Iowa. For one thing, the Granite State was obviously more of a challenge to highway engineers – Iowa is so flat that laying out a road system seems to have required only a ruler and a pencil. New Hampshire’s mountains, rivers and forests present significant design obstacles, and make driving between campaign events much less monotonous. On the weekend before the New Hampshire primary, the campaigning taking place is also quite distinct from the campaigning for the Iowa caucuses. As you cross the border it is immediately clear that the primary is engaging a larger percentage of the population than the caucuses were. Signs are everywhere – at intersections, in yards, and on highway overpasses. All the campaigns have signs, but if the election were decided based on a sign count, the winner would be Ron Paul. His signs are all over the place, in all different shapes and sizes. There are even Ron Paul signs without Ron Paul’s name on them. (“Liberty: Too Big to Fail.” The fact that this is obviously a Ron Paul sign must be part of the point the campaign is trying to make.)


First on my itinerary is the candidate that I could not have seen in Iowa: Jon Huntsman. His campaign has scheduled a 9am town hall meeting at a senior center in Haverhill. I arrive when the parking lot is about half full, but the campaign already has a volunteer at the door eager to sign me up for their list. Inside we wait in what appears to be the main activity room. There are two artificial Christmas trees and a wicker basket full of peppermints. As befits a senior center, most people present have grey hair.  Each time a young person enters I try to guess whether that person is a staffer or a member of the media.

Huntsman walks in and gets a brief introduction from the local chair of his campaign. After a few pleasantries, he turns the floor over to his wife, Mary Kaye. Dressed in a purple sweater and light jeans with a giant belt buckle depicting a longhorn steer, Mrs. Huntsman makes the case for her husband. Focusing on what the campaign clearly believes to be Huntsman’s strengths, she begins by arguing that Huntsman is the most level headed, rational candidate. In fact, she says, the best word to describe him is “honorable.” She then segues into a story about a Utah national guardsman who was killed in Afghanistan while Huntsman was governor, and how Huntsman handled the wrenching task of consoling the widow and children. Mrs. Huntsman is terrific – her presentation is passionate, frank, and genuine. Should *she* be running for president?

When Mr. Huntsman takes the floor he makes the standard politician’s joke about “marrying up,” which gets a laugh, but he’s frankly not as good at being passionate as his wife is. When he tries to get riled up, his voice goes up a register, but it seems as if he’s holding back, restraining himself. When he describes a situation that seems really astounding to him, like the current national debt as a percentage of GDP, or the rising cost of health care, he pauses and says some variation of “What is that about?” It’s like watching an observational stand up comic talk about politics.

Huntsman’s stump speech is nevertheless very polished and clear, and it gets a good reaction from the audience. He lays out his themes of the “twin deficits,” one economic and one having to do with trust. He makes specific proposals in both areas. (Economy: The Simpson-Bowles Plan, reform the tax code, “If you’re too big to fail, you’re too big!” Trust: term limits for members of Congress, ending the practice of lobbying by former representatives and senators.)

Huntsman answers audience questions on “Obamacare,” on why he didn’t campaign in Iowa, and on the Northern Pass power transmission project, which would run new power lines across New Hampshire to connect the New England grid with Hydro Quebec. He ends on a question about religion. Noting the religious diversity in his own family, he jokes “We’re all screwed up!” The audience laughs appreciatively, but what would an audience in, say, South Carolina think about that?


The Huntsman crowd seemed pretty big to me, having just been in Iowa: between 100 and 150, plus media. Certainly nothing to be embarrassed about. I arrive nearly an hour ahead of time for the Santorum event in Hollis, and it’s clear that I need to revise my opinion of what constitutes a big crowd. The event is being held in the historic Lawrence Barn, a 2000-square-foot space that according to its reservation policy “can legally accommodate 130 persons at tables or 278 persons seated theater style.” There are obviously more than 278 people here, and I feel lucky to have secured a spot standing at the rear, near a CSPAN camera.

As people continue to pour in, many of us eye a partial loft near the back, 7 feet off the ground and measuring about 20 feet square. The difficulty is that the loft area has no flooring, and is defined by log crossbeams spaced about three feet apart. Climbing up there looks risky. Naturally, the media takes the lead. Soon half a dozen people with press badges are sitting astride the crossbeams, pleased at their unobstructed view. Bravest among them is Tucker Carlson of FOX News, who actually stands up on two crossbeams – one loafered foot per beam – and convinces someone who appears to be his son to do the same. “This is great!” he exclaims. What agility! No wonder he was on “Dancing with the Stars.”

The crowd becomes so big that nobody else can fit. I spy several people I recognize from the Huntsman event trapped on the outside, and gloat to myself.

Santorum’s ascent has been so sudden that certain of his staff appear bewildered and shocked.  A staffer in a sweatshirt who bears a resemblance to the late comedian Chris Farley pleads with us to sign up for volunteer work as we leave after the event. He moves the American flag behind the podium four feet to the right. Then he moves the podium. Then he moves it again. The staff passes around cookies in baskets lined with American flag napkins.

Santorum enters the building a half hour late, in part because he pauses to do a 10-minute “press availability” outside. This is no doubt the venue in which candidates make the most news – the rallies are largely just repeats of the same stump speech. Someone near me expresses surprise that the candidate wants to linger outside when there are more people inside. Of course, by doing the “press avail” Santorum is speaking to the whole state, and, if he makes some real news, to the whole country.

In a wise move, considering New Hampshire’s paucity of social conservatives, Santorum downplays social conservatism in his speech. He reminds voters that with Ronald Reagan, you might not always have agreed with his positions, but you knew he was principled and you knew where he stood. Vote for me for the same reasons, he argues. He focuses on a vision of the United States as bound together by the values in the Constitution, regardless of each individual’s background. In the question-and-answer session, Santorum is quite impressive, reciting facts and figures about Social Security’s solvency from the 1930s until today, for example.

As has been the case at several of Santorum’s events here, he gets several pointed questions about church and state, abortion, and gay rights. In contrast to his debate performances, which can sometimes seem plaintive and defensive, he responds calmly to each question, articulating a rationale for his beliefs rather than spouting dogma. In response to a question about same-sex marriage, for instance, he articulates essentially the Scalia position from Lawrence v. Texas. Santorum’s critics may have underestimated the depth of his understanding of the issues.

No Gingrich

Last on my list is Newt Gingrich, a candidate who prides himself on running a “non-traditional campaign.” When I arrive at an event in Manchester I find that Gingrich’s campaign is so non-traditional that it is holding an event billed as a “town meeting” that is in fact a private function not, strictly speaking, open to members of the town. Nor is it open to me, although I give it the old college try. And by that I mean that I argue to the guard that I ought to be allowed in because I teach political science at a college. This does not work.

Undeterred, I drive over to the next Gingrich “town meeting” on the schedule. Same story. As I’m headed to the door, I catch a glimpse of someone on the inside that I recognize from the Santorum rally. Ah, I see – this is my punishment for being so smug to have gotten into that one.

At the end of the driveway are about a dozen Ron Paul volunteers waving signs. I jokingly tell them that since Gingrich wouldn’t let me in, I’m on their side now. They give me applause and a bunch of thumbs up as I pull onto the road for the drive back to Vermont.”

Remember that 3 A.M Phone Call? Robocalls and the Draft Hillary Movement

Remember the 3 a.m. phone call?  Now you can get one at all hours!

One of the more controversial (in terms of invoking readers’ comments) posts I’ve published was this one  (cross-posted here) arguing that from a Democrat’s perspective, there were good reasons why Hillary Clinton should challenge Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination in 2012.  The post elicited a good deal of give-and-take among readers, and I thought the issue was thoroughly vetted.

But it won’t die.  Every once in a while I’ll get a spike in readership, and it is almost always driven by a republishing of that post somewhere that attracts new viewers.

Two days ago it happened again.  This time I suspect the initial culprit was this op-ed piece by Democratic pollsters Pat Caddell and Dough Schoen advocating a nation-wide “Draft Hillary” movement, beginning in New Hampshire.  (Caddell used to be Jimmy Carter’s pollster, and Schoen worked for Hillary in 2008).  This follows an earlier piece they published in the Wall St. Journal suggesting that Obama emulate LBJ’s 1968 decision to step down for the good of the party.  In the latest publication, they argue:  “It’s clear that Obama has been unable to build consensus and, with the polarizing campaign he is now running, will be unable to govern effectively even if reelected. Only Clinton can commit the Democratic Party — and, indeed, the nation — to a unification and healing process. This could allow Washington, in a bipartisan manner, to finally address the economic and governmental crises that now grip America.”

In the following video, Caddell expands on those points:

They note that there have been previous successful write-in candidates in New Hampshire (Henry Cabot Lodge in 1964, and LBJ in 1968) which, because of its open primary, makes it easier for independents in participate.

The Schoen/Caddell opinion piece was published just as a people across several states began reporting that they were receiving automated calls urging them to support a draft Hillary movement, and directing readers to this draft Hillary site.  It is unclear who is behind the website, and who is sending out the robocalls. Here’s the audio version of the robocall, as recorded on one person’s answering machine:

As I noted in my initial post on this topic, there are (or at least were!) legitimate reasons why Democrats should support a Hillary challenge. The most important one, I said at the time, is that it would increase the likelihood that a Democrat would be in the White House in 2012.  Since I posted that argument, however, I would suggest that Obama’s reelection chances have improved, at least slightly.  This is mostly because there are indicators that the economy is stabilizing, and perhaps even beginning to grow.  Unemployment has dropped (and yes, I realize this partly reflects seasonal hiring and the fact that many have stopped looking for jobs), Obama’s approval ratings, while not good, may be inching up and he’s at least settled on a campaign theme that might have some bite.  All this is not to say his reelection is assured; right now the forecast models put it at about 50/50.  It is to suggest, however, that the “Draft Hillary” movement may be mistimed – if it was to have any traction, it probably should have been put in place a few months back.

A final note to those of you who have already emailed me asking that you be taken off my robocall list – believe it or not, I’m not running the draft Hillary campaign.  Nor do I have any idea who is.  But whoever is organizing the movement –  at some point you should probably check with the candidate herself.  She may have other plans.

Live Blogging the Republican Debate (Nevada Version)

Do you think Rick Santorum gets style points for singing the national anthem?

Perry looks energized – in the introductions.  Let’s see if it lasts.

Gingrich has the best opening introduction, one that targets Obama, not other Republicans.  Right from the Gingrich debate playbook.

Looks like Cain is the early target.  Welcome to frontrunner status.

Here’s a new twist: Cain’s 9-9-9 plan will lower birthrates!  Gotta love Santorum.  And comparing it to European value added tax – ouch! Socialism!

Looks like the sales tax will be the target tonight.

Perry is ready – so far.  (And what’s this “brother” talk from Perry?)  Perry also makes a nice gesture to New Hampshire voters.

By the way, this is the first time I’ve heard Cain acknowledge that he might make concessions to low income earners in his sales tax provisions. (Jack – this answers the question you raised today).

Romney has been strangely silent.   Ooops – now he piles on.  Mixing his fruit, but it is the line everyone is using against Cain’s plan.

Poor Herman – wonder how he feels about leading the polls now?

Gingrich continues to play elder statesman, and does it effectively.  And yet he takes a gentle jab on Cain’s lack of experience too, in noting that significant policy change takes years, and that we should be focusing on plans that are feasible and have an immediate impact.

Part of the problem with this format is that it’s hard to distinguish the various economic plans being discussed.  Bachmann is particularly vulnerable here.

Perry is back on the energy kick.  I’m not sure what’s driving this, unless he links it to his yet to be revealed economic plan.  Meanwhile he continues to trip over his own words.  Does anyone know what he just said here?

Santorum also has the Bachmann problem – his plan sounds pretty much like the other plans.  Finally, someone takes on Romney on Romneycare.  Will they come to blows? Will Mitt’s hair get mussed?  Santorum looks ready to blow here.  Good stuff!

The best attack on Romney yet – and Romney now seems to defend his plan by saying Massachusetts voters like it – not the best political defense when you have to rest on support from a Democratic state.

(Ever notice how Bachmann laughs at everything Newt says?)  Newt also takes on Mitt in more subtle fashion than Rick, but perhaps more effectively.  Mitt is ready with a nice retort, throwing Newt’s past support for individual mandates against him, but the longer this goes on, the more it focuses on the wrong issue for Mitt.  He needs to get off this topic.  Ah, saved by Bachmann.

Cooper so far is moderating with a very light touch, which has allowed the food fight to break out.

By the way, what happened to Cain?  Is he still on stage?  It’s tough with 8 people to get equal input. 

Here’s Cain on health care – let’s see how he does when he gets off 9-9-9.

Perry has got to be careful on the immigration issue here – because Romney will come back here.  Wow, bringing up hiring illegal immigrants – this is an old story. Did he say the “heith” of hypocrisy?   

This was the obvious opening, and Romney didn’t miss it: back to the illegal immigrants tuition issue again.  Perry should have seen this coming. 

Interesting exchange here.  Mitt sounds miffed.  He’s giving a pretty good defense here to Perry’s accusations which seem a little forced, frankly.  Perry seems overly amped this time – what medication is he on?

Perry is doing a little better on the immigration issue, although the Predator drone idea can be easily misconstrued.  

Bachmann is back on Obama’s case with the red meat for her base:  build a fence, English only language, etc.  It gets applause, but is it feasible? 

Perry just isn’t a smooth debater.  And the immigration issue just isn’t a winner for him anymore than healthcare is for Romney. Frankly, Perry’s attack on the Romney lawn care crew just doesn’t seem to be resonating.

Cooper questions the 14th amendment, but it is a stupid question and no one wants to respond, and rightly so. Instead, Cain pivots to jobs and Perry to energy and mining in Nevada.  That will teach Cooper not to play professor.

Santorum continues to hammer away at the family values angle, but so far without much to show for it.

(Kate – Romney, I think, is vulnerable on Romneycare, but at this point he has his defense down pat, so it’s not clear to me how much his opponents are going to gain on this issue.  But that won’t stop them from trying.)

Yucca Mountain – Newt has come the closest anyone on the panel will in endorsing Yucca as a nuclear waste site. This is a sensitive issue for the locals, and there’s no payoff tonight for endorsing Yucca.  Move on.

Did Perry just forget which amendment deals with states rights?

The argument is getting a bit bogged down here on who supported TARP, and why. 

This is probably Bachmann’s strongest point tonight – she’s coming across as relevant rather than extremist in discussing the impact of foreclosure on families and women.

Here’s Cain’s chance to walk down the “Blame Yourself” quote, and he doesn’t take it – instead he doubles down on the quote, to big applause. Cue Paul and the attack on the Federal Reserve.   It’s deja vu all over again.

Paul’s on pretty strong ground in playing the “don’t blame the victims card” and pointing the finger at “Wall St”, which is a pretty convenient target.

Break Number 2.  If pundits are waiting for “the moment” that begins to whittle the field, it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen tonight. Everyone is playing their familiar roles.  Romney is holding his own, Cain remains unflappable, Perry is struggling once again, Paul is attacking the Federal Reserve and Bachmann promises to fight the good fight. I think Newt slipped a bit when he went negative on Mitt, but otherwise he’s been strong.  Santorum, meanwhile, remains angry.

Interesting response here by Santorum to the “Mormon cult” question – he seems to be defending Mitt, but in some respects he refocuses attention on the tenets of the Mormonism.  Newt, in some respects, does the same – he defends Mitt but invites further questioning of Mitt’s beliefs.   It will be interesting to see what Mitt says here. 

Mitt’s response is both a defense of his faith but also a political attack on Perry for not taking a stronger stance against the Pastor.  But Mitt doesn’t want to linger on this issue either.

Haven’t had much foreign policy discussion this electoral season.  Bachmann gets on her horse here, without bothering to answer the question of how much to cut defense.   Newt gets a chance here to reprise his attack on the “super committee”, but this time by laying out a basis for making foreign policy decisions.  Good job Newt, even if we’ve heard the “amputation” metaphor before.

Here’s the obligatory “foreign aid” question – people continually overestimate how much this country spends on foreign aid.  It’s a pittance, but it’s always the first place people go to when looking to cut “waste” from government.  This is another red meat question. 

Interesting differences arise on the foreign aid question.  Bachmann is on her game tonight when it comes to foreign policy issues.

Does anyone in the audience remember the Iran-contra affair?   I’m not sure this example resonates with very many of them.   


Santorum’s response on the electability question is pretty darn good.  Not that it changes his chances much.

Pretty heated exchange here between Perry and Romney, but I’m surprised Perry doesn’t go after the flip-flopper issue a bit more.

Newt gets a chance to finish up by bashing the media and offering to reprise the Lincoln-Douglas debate.   Which is a fitting way to end this debate!

 Ok, let the spin begin.

I was surprised by how personal some of the exchanges were, but substantively, there wasn’t alot of new ground broken here.  Perry was more energized, but his energy struck me as sometimes used to push petty issues, or issues that have been vetted previously (the illegal workers issue has been covered pretty well in the last election cycle).  I thought Cain got through relatively unscathed considering that it started out as “gang up on the Herminator night”.  But he seemed a bit shaky on the foreign policy issues and his comments earlier today suggesting he would negotiate with Al Quaeda if they held Americans came back to bite him a bit.  He had to backtarck on that.  I’m still dubious that he has staying power, but he did nothing to hurt himself tonight.  Whether he can turn this early support into a stronger infrastructure in key states remains an open question.

Since the next debate won’t be for a month or so, it will be interesting to see whether any of the second-tier candidates will be reassessing their candidacies.  Note that Huntsman didn’t bother showing up. 

That’s it from here.  I’ll try to get a follow up post tomorrow..

Live Blogging the Republican Debate

We’ll be on at about 7:50.  Stay tuned…

7:53. Update on the Senate jobs vote – Olivier Knox notes that there are now 2 Democrats who have voted no.  My early projection was it would probably lose 4 Democrats in addition to the Republicans.  Note that this is a vote to invoke cloture – not a vote on final passage.   Since the outcome was a foregone conclusion (Democrats were never going to get the 60 votes need to end the threat of a filibuster), many Democrats who might have opposed the jobs bill have in effect a free vote, knowing that voting with the party won’t really matter in this case.  Behind the scenes, many Senate Democrats were not keen on going on record supporting any legislation that raised taxes.

7:59  Charlie Rose will modeate this tonight.  Note the different format – the candidates are seated around a table, rather than standing behind a podium.  It will be interesting to see if this changes the dynamics regarding how candidates interact.  Note that Rose is prone to going off the deep end in terms of questions, so look for some unusual  queries – look for lots of touchy/feely type inquiries.

His co-inquisitors are Tumulty, from the Post and a Bloomberg correspondent with whom I am not familiar.

And we are off…. first question to Cain, and he trots out the 9-9-9 plan faster than it takes to deliver pepperoni on cheese.  Let’s see if Perry and Romney take Cain on directly….

2nd question to Perry – and he reminds us that he’s the only candidate not to release an economic plan as yet.

3rd question – Romney.  Rose starts with the big three, as measured by the polls.  Romney appeal to crossing the aisle to work with Democrats will play well in New Hampshire.

4rth question – back to Perry.  There other five Republicans twiddling there thumbs.  Perry takes a jab at Romney’s 6-year quest for the presidency.

Tumulty’s on.  5th question is a softball to Bachmann.  First wasted question of the night.  She’ll use it to attack government – no one is going to say arrest bankers.  Sheesh…..Strong, detailed answer by her.  It may be too late.

6th Questions – Tumulty is pushing the Wall St. protest angle.  And Gingrich links some of them to the Tea Party movement.  And he too pivots to use the question to attack Democrats and the government.  Jail Frank and Dodd?  Newt’s on a roll – and the first applause line of the night.  Go, Newt, Go!

7th question – Newt has stolen some of Paul’s thunder with his attack on Bernanke. Still, there’s room to pile on the Fed, and Paul doesn’t miss the opportunity.

8th question – Bloomberg to Santorum.  How to bring back the jobs?  Santorum – lower corporate taxes, manufacturers bring jobs back, we get to tax them.  It’s so easy!   And Santorum takes a shot at Cain while pushing his own jobs bill.  Basically says Herm is unrealistic.

9th Question – Finally, poor Jon Huntsman is brought in.  Can you spell “last”?   Huntsman cracks a good one – first time I’ve ever heard Bachmann laugh!  It’s only one question, but Huntsman looks on his game.  He’d better be….

10th question – this is a potentially tricky one, that could elicit cheers for letting old people die.  Let’s see how Newt handles an end of life question.  Careful Newt… And he turns it around to attack those faceless bureaucrats sitting on Palin’s “death panels.”   My sense is Newt is not talking to the New Hampshire audience, but instead is focusing on the southern states – South Carolina and if he’s still in the race, Georgia.

11th question – Bachmann one up’s Newt on the death panel.  Not necessarily going to play well in New Hampshire, but perhaps it will in Iowa?

12th question – to Huntsman.  who do you go to for economic advice?   This is a classic Charlie Rose question.  Huntsman segues into praising government service.   Rose presses – and Huntsman launches another joke!  He’s definitely amped up for this.   And he takes a shot of Cain’s 9-9-9 pizza plan – and the Herminator jumps right in to protect his pizza…er… his economic plan.

13 th – Who does Cain go to advice?  Who are these mysterious economists that Cain went to?

14th – Romney gets a “hypothetical” and gets testy about it.  Answer the question Mitt.  He does – but not very well.  If the system was going to collapse, he would take action.  Swell, Mitt.   followup – would Mitt support another bank bailout?   Of course not.    Mitt trots out his economic advisers.

How  confident does it make you feel to know most of these candidates have trained economists advising them?  As a ph.d., I can tell you it scares the heck out of me!

Newt jumps in to gang up on Obama, his advisers and the bank bailout.  Part of the problem with this debate is that the Republicans agree on more than they disagree on when it comes to the economy.  Paul piles on….


Biggest loser so far?  Rick Perry.  He’s been too passive – he needs to interject himself into this format the way Cain and Gingrich have done.

Ok, part 2 – throwing Reagan’s words back at Republicans on the need to compromise.  Perry is given the unenviable job of saying the Gipper is wrong.  Perry trots out the red meat – a balanced budget.  Gets some applause, but otherwise not a great answer.

I’ve lost track of questions, but Tumulty is trying to bring Romney back to earth by forcing him to choose.  He doesn’t bite – his answer is animated, but lacks any specifics.  Rose pushes – only cuts?  No revenue raised?

Once again Gingrich interjects himself into this fight by attacking the supercommittee and Congress abrogating its responsibility for making hard choices.  Gingrich, as always, is on his debate game.

Bachmann’s answers by this point seem tired – if I hear one more time that she was a lone voice in the Washington wilderness, I’ll pay to fly her to some real wilderness.

Second clip: Some free pub for Cain, but let’s see if the others rise to the bait.  Instead, “Bloomberg” goes after Cain – and he’s not buying it.  Cain is, so far, up to the front-runner challenge.  I think he’s solidifying his support so far.  He insists his plan will be revenue neutral.   Julie “Bloomberg” is not buying it – won’t beer prices go up?   (Dartmouth students gasp!)

Finally, some disagreement!  Bachmann attacks the sales tax portion of 9-9-9.   Game on!   Uh oh – did I just hear Bachman compare Cain to the antichrist!!!!!   is this a subtle (or not so subtle) appeal to the evangelical vote?

Huntsman clearly sees that Romney is his primary concern, and he has to take Mitt down.  Let’s see how Mitt responds.  Mitt stands strong – intellectually, Huntsman may have the best of this exchange, but Romney stand tall approach on rectifying the trade imbalance is politically the better approach.  Huntsman needs to respond….finally, Perry jumps in.

(Is Rick Santorum still here?)

Perry mangles the language, but eventually get his point out, but I don’t think it is all that effective.  He’s still tongue tied.  He has a record to run on, but he just doesn’t sell it well.

Santorum hammers the Herminator on the sales tax and on his income tax.   His appeal to NH voters is a nice touch.  and he takes time to jump on Mitt too – this is a desperate candidate whose time is running out.

Cain sticks to his persona as the “non-politician” at the table.

Huntsman attacks Mitt again!  Says Mitt is wrong that he can repeal Obamacare.

Wow, somewhere a real debate has broken out!  This is a great format, and promises to get better with candidates questioning one another.   Can Charlie maintain control?  stay tuned…

Ok, here’s what we have so far:

Huntsman is targeting Romney.  Cain and 9-9-9 have become everyone’s target (that’s what being a frontrunner will  do).  Paul and Santorum are not getting face time, and Santorum in particular is ready to pop.  Perry remains strangely subdued – he’s not doing much so far to resuscitate his campaign.  And Romney remains his annoying self – not quite pulling off the presidential demeanor.  gingrich continues to sparkle, but does it matter?

Bachmann targets Perry – interesting choice of targets, and a great question that plays to his weakness: he has a record and he had to work with Democrats to get things done.  But he handles this pretty well, for once.

CAin – does he have a question?  Naturally, he targets the other front-runner: Romney. Hmm…did Romney just call Cain “simple”?  There’s something vaguely patronizing by how he responded to Cain.  I can see why Cain’s support is growing – he’s a straight talker who doesn’t waffle.

Gingrich also takes on Romney’s economic plan – this time taking a capital gains tax break to those who barely earn capital gains.   Romney turns this into a defense of the middle class.  Not great economics, and not a great answer substantively, but may it works politically.

Huntsman – another joke!  (no one laughs) and he also targets Romney!  Huntsman basically says Romney isn’t electable.

Romney…private sector,  job craetion, blah blah blah.

Paul to Cain: why not audit the Fed?  (Cain used to be in the banking business as part of the Federal Reserve system).  Is Paul going to ask a question?   Cain isn’t shy.

Perry, naturally, also targets Romney.  Finally, someone brings up Romneycare.   Romney has to have an answer ready.  Nice touch in bringing in Christie endorsement.   Ooooh testy exchange with Perry.  If Perry doesn’t get his dander up after this exchange, nothing will energize him.

Romney is very strategic with his question – he targets Bachmann, who is no threat at all.  Very nice choice.  Why give your real opponents a platform?  Very Reaganesque touch in trying stay above the fray.    It’s too bad Perry didn’t get a chance to respond to Romney – let’s see if he comes back to this.

Santorum – very effective “use” of his question.   Really a statement, and then a question targeting Cain’s lack of experience and support of TARP.  Cain ignores the question, and touts 9-9-9.  This guy knows marketing techniques and how to stay on message.

Where’s Newt?  The problem with this question format is it simply reinforces the implicit hierarchy among candidates since everyone asks questions of the perceived frontrunners.  That simply gives  them more free air time, and reduces the opportunity for second tier candidates to break through.  They really needed to open this segment up to a free for all.

Good.  Rose gives Perry a chance to respond to Romney’s attack on his health care record.  This may be the last opportunity for Perry to make an impression.  And he gives a decent response, but really misses the opportunity to respond to Romney directly.  Maybe he doesn’t want to give Romney more airtime?   This is actually turning into a pretty decent answer.

Cain’s favorite fed chair? Greenspan. And who would replace Bernanke?  Ah, the mystery candidates – who might they be?   The Herminator isn’t saying.   Paul is horrified that Cain likes Greenspan.

Romney once again is skating through this melee largely untouched.  If history is any guide,  he’ll get no boost in support but will remain the front-runner.  Is Romney going to get the nomination by default?

Bachmann riffs on Dodd-Frank, and this is largely an effective riff.  Score points for her – except everyone else wants to repeal Dodd-Frank as well.   Again there’s alot of agreement on this panel.

Perry’s turn to hit a softball – except it’s a trick pitch designed to trap him on the Texas’ version of the Solyndra scandal.  Perry parries it pretty well, but he’s still not doing so with the passion one might like.

Gingrich channels his inner Reagan – praising his fellow Republicans and talking up America’s future.

Cain gets a chance to defend his “get a job” statement.  He was ready for it.

Romney is a master at evading answers by speaking in platitudes, attacking Obama and touting his private sector experience.

Santorum  has the energy that Perry lacks, but Perry has the support Santorum lacks.

Final Question and this is a Charlie Rose special – touchy feely time:  Show me you feel my pain.

Bachmann: 23 foster kids

Cain: I was “Po” before I was “poor”.

Gingrich:  spouts the 11 the commandment (speak no ill of fellow Republicans).

Paul: liberty is caring.

Santorum:   upward social mobility.

Huntsman: family business, state government that says jobs=dignity.  (and don’t forget the shoutout to NH!)

Perry:  poor parents, military service, and job creator.  Likes apple pie too.  With a sprinkling of texas drawl on top.

Romney:   bellicose answer – interesting twist on a closing statement.

Ok, foks.  Thoughts?

My initial reactions:

Perry didn’t do enough to make up lost ground.

Romney held his own, but didn’t break out of the pack.

Cain didn’t falter, but didn’t show a lot of depth suggesting he could climb higher.

Huntsman was at his best, but it’s probably not enough.

Gingrich was sharp, but also surprisingly (given his standing in the polls) avuncular toward his opponents.  Does he want to win?

Santorum was passionate, but did it help?

Paul was Paul.

Bachmann was stronger than she’s been, but it’s not clear people are still listening.

It will be interesting to see how the media spins this.

I’ll be on tomorrow with an analysis of the after-spin.

Thanks for all your comments…..


























Much Ado About Nothing? The Post-Mortem On The Speech

The reaction among the pundits to last night’s much hyped speech broke down along predictable lines, with conservatives panning it as proposing “more of the same” policies that contributed to the current economic mess (see also here), while liberals generally hailed its tone and, to a lesser extent, the content (see also here.)  The reality, I suspect, is that impact of The  Speech, both politically and policywise,  will be much less than either Obama’s supporters or critics believe.

To be sure, the speech was a newsworthy event.  Much of the media coverage made note of Obama’s new-found feistiness. In listening to the speech last night, my first reaction was that the tone seemed excessively preachy at times, with the President trying too hard to convince us that we faced an economic emergency. Similarly, the paean to American values and the recitation of successful public-private partnerships, complete with the allusions to Lincoln, struck me as over-the-top rhetoric more fitting to an inaugural address. I confess that part of my aversion to the moralistic tone is that it evoked memories of Carter’s famous “malaise” speech, in which – at a time of soaring energy costs and rising inflation – he cited Americans’ “crisis of confidence” as the root of their problems. But admittedly these are criticisms of style, not substance, and I suspect others found Obama’s righteous tone quite appropriate for the occasion.  I do think the “pass this bill now” refrain, while hokey, nevertheless drove home Obama’s point regarding the need for immediate action.

Substantively, The Speech was part policy proposal, part campaign rhetoric.  Until the revenue shoe drops (which Obama promised will come in another speech), it’s hard to evaluate the substantive component.  Critics on the Left will no doubt point out that, at about $450 billion, the overall size of these proposals is only half of Obama’s first stimulus bill, and where did that get us?  As I noted during the speech, Obama’s advisers were not making the mistake of fixing a job-created projection to the proposal, but my guess is that most economists will say that it will provide a mild economic stimulus at best. But even a mild stimulus is perhaps better than the alternative. On the other hand, many conservatives (and not a few economists, I suspect) will disagree, arguing that this is simply more government spending that essentially throws good money after bad.

Again, however, I think it is premature to either embrace or reject the President’s proposals without first seeing how they will be paid for.   He hinted at the need for entitlement reform and pushed for an overhaul of the tax code based on lowering corporate tax rates and closing loopholes and deductions. These are proposals that, in theory, Republicans can accept.  That compromise, however, will be thrashed out, initially, in the joint congressional supercommittee created as part of the debt agreement.

And that is a reminder that, despite the media hype leading up to The Speech – in the end, it was just that: a speech.  Under our system of shared powers, it is Congress that drives the legislative process, not the President. Obama’s most potent policy tool is the power to set the legislative agenda.  But at this point, 14 months before national elections, and with Obama’s approval ratings at low ebb, even this tool has been blunted.  In listening to the focus groups (and I realize there are dangers in extrapolating from these groups to the public at large), I was struck by how many individuals were disillusioned by both parties, and wanted government to, in effect, get out of the way. Essentially, they said they were pinning their hopes for a recovery on market forces.  It was a reminder that the President is in a very weak bargaining position.  He can beseech Republicans to act, but they will do so only if it serves their political interests – not his. His thinly-veiled threat to take his case “to the people” should Congress fail to act likely raised scarcely an eyebrow among Republicans, and understandably so.  Obama is in no position to threaten to mobilize the public – indeed, the bigger worry is that they are tuning him out. That fear, I think, explains the marked change in his tone last night, from “no drama” to “high drama” Obama.

In the end, The Speech was but the first step in the legislative process and a not very important one at that. It is crucial  to remember that most of what Obama proposed last night will never even reach the congressional floor for a vote. And that’s quite typical for any President.  I think there’s a far greater chance that Republicans will work with him on the revenue side.  But even here the process will be driven largely by the interests of legislators, beginning with those on the supercommittee.

In the end, I believe the most important impact of The Speech will be to remind us that, as I have often said, presidents in our governmental system are weak and that this President, at this time, is weaker than most.  This says less about his leadership capability than it does about the scope of the problems, and the political context in which he operates.  But it is a reality that one speech, however hyped, cannot change.