Sunday, May 15, 2011

2012 - Who Is In and Who Is Out

With Mike Huckabee's announcement last night that he will not seek the GOP nomination in 2012, the shape of the field is becoming a lot more clear. Huckabee's decision makes a lot of sense personally - he has come into a great deal of wealth since the 2008 campaign as a national personality on Fox News and a Presidential bid would have taken a significant toll both personally and financially. His non-presence in the race shakes things up a bit, since he was certainly one of two defacto front-runners for the nomination (the other being former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.)

So let's take stock of who's in, who's out and who may be in for the GOP for 2012.
Definitely In (Have Declared)
Newt Gingrich - the former Speaker of the House and so-called GOP "idea man" is definitely having a go. He has national name recognition, but that's part of his problem - people don't particularly like Newt. He's a serious candidate, but I certainly don't see him as a favorite to either win the nomination or the general election.

Ron Paul - the perennial Libertarian Republican draws huge crowds and big fundraising everywhere he goes. But his brand of extreme defense of individual liberties doesn't resonate well outside of a small group in the GOP. Most of the Christian Conservatives that show up on primary day don't want legal drugs, recognition of gay marriage or a halving of the military. Still, Paul will make some noise and be a lot of fun. But no chance he wins the nomination.

Gary Johnson - the former Governor of New Mexico could actually split the Libertarian wing, as he is very similar in his politics to Paul. Sometimes more articulate on stage, although not as charismatic, Johnson will be fun to watch, but is not a serious player for the same reasons that Paul isn't.

Probably In (Have Formed Exploratory Committees)
Tim Pawlenty - the former two-term Governor of Minnesota used to be a moderate, a guy who favored cap-and-trade, moderate views on social issues and common-sense bi-partisanship. To win the GOP nomination, he is trying to walk back some of those views and appeal to the GOP base. Pawlenty is not the greatest speech-giver in the world, but he is a serious candidate and was a very respected governor. With Huckabee out and the field wide open, Pawlenty could be a player for the nomination.

Mitt Romney - the former Massachusetts Governor is almost certainly the prohibitive front-runner with the Huck out. Similar to Pawlenty, he has his own moderate demons. Interestingly, he was able to successfully walk back prior support for abortion rights and gay rights with ease in 2008, but is having a hard time explaining his support for a health care package in his home state that is very similar to the national reform enacted by the Democrats. Still, an attractive former businessman with loads of political experience and keen intellectual skills is a rare enough commodity, if I were placing a bet today on the GOP nod, it would be Romney.

Rick Santorum - the stridently socially conservative former Senator from Pennsylvania will attract some support from die-hards, but mainstream GOP members realize that he is as unelectable as they come in a general election race. I think Santorum will probably fade quickly after poor showings in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Herman Cain - the former CEO of Godfather's Pizza and talk-radio host lit up the other candidates in the first Presidential debate. An excellent speaker and debater, Cain will be fun to watch, but nobody expects a political newbie to be in serious contention for the White House.

Could Be Running
Mitch Daniels - the exit of Huckabee from the stage certainly opens up a door to the well-respected conservative Indiana Governor. Daniels is beloved among the party faithful, although not particularly charismatic for a guy hoping to tame a national stage. He will struggle with name recognition initially (he is virtually unknown outside of political circles and his home state), but I expect him to be a contender if he runs.

Donald Trump - America's favorite blow-hard real estate mogul has already jumped the shark in my opinion. If I were betting, I don't think Donald will run, I the he just likes the attention. And when it comes right down to it, it's hard even for conservatives to take this guy seriously.

Sarah Palin - her star is fading fast as legitimate, in-office politicians like Michelle Bachman and Rand Paul take up the tea-party mantle. She is also pretty well hated outside of the GOP. I can't see why she would want to run and suspend her lucrative media empire.

Michelle Bachman - the darling of the Tea Party movement gets a lot of love from a small cross-section of the GOP. She may run to make a point, but she isn't a serious contender.

Not Running
Basically, every other Republican in the US. Huckabee passed. So did Bobby Jindal. Rising stars Chris Christie and Marco Rubio have both declined as well. So did Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour.

The field is starting to take form. There are a dozen or so debates to take place over the summer, fall and winter, which should help some of the lesser-knowns level the playing field with the better-known candidates. It will be a fun ride.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Death Comes to the Most Evil Man on the Planet, A Blow to the Fringe, Presidential Resurgence (At Least for Now)

Code Name: Geronimo, Status: Dead
It was a long-delayed catharsis for those of us who have the awful day of September 11, 2001 etched into our memories, which is pretty much every American over the age of 10.

After 10 long years of at least two wars (three if you count Libya), countless American soldiers lost, trillions of dollars spent and stunning intrusions into our civil liberties, the man who started it all, undoubtedly the most hated and evil man on the planet, terrorist Osama Bin Laden is dead.

Bin Laden was nothing he claimed to be. He portrayed himself to be a man of the Arab people. But he was no revolutionary. Part of the reason he was located was that he was not, as many expected, hold up in some remote cave, but living a lavish life in a mansion outside of Abadabad, Pakistan.

He was no courageous warrior. By all accounts, his last minutes were filled with cowardice, not bravery.

He was no true believer, even in the distorted principles of the radical sect of Islam to which he belongs. A true believer would have welcomed the chance to enter the afterlife a martyr and join his harem of virgins. But Bin Laden resisted like a man who, rather than being a religious man, was a deceitful, cynical man, who used religion to gather the poor and the downtrodden to his evil cause.

The political punditry have already begun the debates -- who gets the credit - George W. Bush or Barack Obama? Should the photos be released? What does this mean for 2012? I will talk about all these things in the months ahead. Politics is an important part of preserving our democracy. I wouldn't spend so much of my time writing about it if I believed otherwise.

But before you read the next two sections, which rejoin the political discussion, take a moment, or an hour, or a week and savor the vast improvement that human race has undergone by no longer having Osama Bin Laden within its ranks. He was a disgrace to Islam and the Arab world, but most importantly to humanity. I am not a religious person, but today, I hope gravely that I am wrong, so that there is a hell for Osama Bin Laden to burn in.

I'm also not a believe in the death penalty, but I can't think of a better exception to the rule than the most evil man on the planet.

Good riddance, Osama. Congratulations, Navy Seals.

Conspiracy Theories That Are Dead
It's been a rough couple of weeks if you are a wing nut conspiracy theorist. If you were one of the so-called "birthers", the release of the President's original birth certificate struck a blow to your cause. In fact, a new CNN poll reveals that a mere 3% of the population believes the birther nonsense, down dramatically from earlier polls that had the numbers well into the double digits.

If you are one of the so called "truthers", those who believe that the government was complicit, or even behind, the events of September 11th, your theory took a pretty hard blow with the surgical killing of the man who really did it.

In a Democracy, there will always be wing nuts. Some wing nut theories are harmless, like the fascination with Area 51. Some are vicious and evil, like the Ku Klux Klan. And some are just plain stupid. Birthers and truthers fit somewhere between the second and the third.

Surges Aren't What They Used to Be

I had mentioned in my last post that the President's numbers had been sagging. This, of course, was prior to the successful killing of Osama Bin Laden. Prior to the killing, the President's approve minus disapprove had slumped to the range of -2, which, while not the absolute lowest of his Presidency, basically meant that the entire "lame duck bump" that he got following the success of the lame duck session of the last congress, combined with improving economic conditions, had entirely faded. Very predictably, the President, got a bump from the killing of Bin Laden. His daily numbers since my last report are below.

With the killing occurring right at the beginning of May, you see exactly the same pattern in his monthly numbers.

What is interesting is that while the President certainly got a bump from getting Bin Laden, it is nowhere near the bumps that past Presidents have seen in uniting moments like this for the country. George Hebert-Walker Bush saw his approval rating climb to over 90% in some polls following the success of the first Persian Gulf War. The same was true for George Walker Bush following the immediate aftermath of September 11th. By that standard, Obama's poll bump seems pretty modest.

But times are different. For one thing, we've been at war for 10 years, so the unifying effects of a military operation have been significantly muted. For another, the economic is still very tough for a great many people. Unemployment, while well down off its high, is still a painful 9.0%, a full 1.5% higher than the worst it got during H.W. Bush's administration, when his approval sank as low as the 20s. Thirdly, we are clearly more polarized -- the days of a President having 90%+ approval may be gone for good. And finally, and this is a good thing, voters actually seem to be viewing this through a sophisticated lens. The President's approval on foreign policy matters has jumped to multi-year highs as has his approval on the war on terror. In other words, people give the President credit for a job well done getting Bin Laden, some just don't approve of him overall because of our economic and budgetary troubles. That is a completely fair, well-reasoned point of view.

As I say just about every week now, election 2012 is all about the economy. Killing Bin Laden is a crowning achievement for President Barack Obama's legacy. But the things that build legacies are not necessarily the ones that win elections.

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Sunday, May 1, 2011

I Demand to See Donald Trump's Birth Certificate, Hoping for the Gang of Six, A Presidency in Crisis?

Birthers Are Racist Idiots
Barring some kind of dramatic event unfolding, my sincere hope is that this is the last time I have to write about this topic. I've spilled enough virtual ink on this nonsensical topic. Let me try one more time to rehash things:
In 2008, when then-Senator Barack Obama was running for President, rumors from the conservative blogosphere emerged that he had not, in fact, been born in Hawaii, but had been born in Kenya. In response, his campaign released a "Certificate of Live Birth", the current legal copy of a birth certificate issued in Hawaii, which should have put the issue to bed. But there is no convincing idiots with logic, and the rumors have persisted, buoyed in recent days by the incoherent ramblings of one Donald Trump.

Let me review the facts one more time:
* The "Certificate of Live Birth" is the current legal standard for birth certificate copies in Hawaii, it is accepted as proof of birth in all 50 states and by the U.S. State Department for the issuance in passports.
* Microfiche evidences proves positively that the birth of Barack Obama in Hawaii was reported by the hospital in two papers the day after it occurred.
* Several news organizations including and CNN had viewed the original of his birth certificate in Honolulu and reported that fact.
* Even if one were to ignore the obvious facts as to the location of his birth and choose to continue to believe he was born in Kenya, President Obama would likely have been eligible anyhow as he was entitled to U.S. citizenship at birth based on the citizenship of his mother. This is no different from Senator John McCain, who was born in Panama while his father was serving in the military.

But, the President relented this past week and was able to convince the State of Hawaii to release his birth certificate. This was a poor move in my opinion -- there was absolutely zero credible evidence to counter from the birthers and frankly, if the right-wing of the GOP wants to behave like a bunch of braying jackasses, I'd be happy to let them. Karl Rove commented extensively on how this issue was hurting the credibility of the President's opponents, as had Bill O'Reilly and they were both 100% correct. But, in his continuing spirit of "ever backing down", the President conceded ground to the wing nuts and convinced the State of Hawaii to release his original.

So why do I think birthers are racist? Ask yourself a question. Has Donald Trump released a copy of his birth certificate? How about Mitt Romney? Michelle Bachman? Have any of the GOP candidates?

And why is no one asking?

You could say that it is because there is no credible reason to believe that any of them were born outside the United States and you'd be right. There is equally zero credible evidence that Barack Obama was born outside the US. Simply put, if you choose to believe that the President was born in Kenya, against all facts, then you are simply buying into the Muslim-Kenyan-Tribal image of our first black President. And you are doing so without evidence. And that is racism, period.

If you've been hawking this issue, get a life. I'm talking to you, Mr. Trump.

Will the Gang of Six Crack the Deficit Code?
We are a long way from a deal on long-term deficit reduction. It's a very strong possibility that, as has happened so many times in the past, all the talk will lead to very little action. There have only been a few times in my lifetime that the parties have come together to effectively address the deficit. The Gramm-Rudman deficit reduction act of 1985, which closed tax loopholes and implemented the original version of "pay as you go" comes to mind. So does the tax deal that President George Herbert Walker Bush struck with congressional Democrats in 1991, which was wildly unpopular with his party but set-up for the surpluses of the late 90s. But it doesn't happen much.

But I AM very encouraged with the bipartisan negotiations that are taking place between the so-called "Gang of Six" which include 1 liberal Democrat (Dick Durbin-IL), two moderate Democrats (Kent Conrad-ND and Mark Warner-VA) and three conservative Republicans (Saxby Chambliss-GA, Mike Crapo-ID and Tom Coburn-OK.) Using the deficit reduction commissions plan as a baseline, they are working towards a deal and making some progress. Coburn has even defended tax changes that would increase revenue (also known as tax increases) so long as the revenue-enhancement is achieved through closing loopholes and not through raising marginal rates (which is what the deficit panel had proposed.) I wish we'd gained alignment at the outset for an up-or-down vote on the panel's findings, but thanks the partisan flip-flopping of Senator John McCain and others, we didn't get that chance. But if these six Senators, who come from across the ideological spectrum, can agree on a plan, then I believe that a bipartisan bill can pass. And they are doing it the right way, putting things on the table, negotiating in good faith. We all should root for their success.

How Much Trouble is Barack Obama In?
I've been writing for a while that President Obama was an odds-on favorite for a second term. My theory has always been that the timing of economic recovery would create favorable conditions for an incumbent, regardless of any policy squabbles. But the economic recovery has become significantly less robust, with economic growth slowing to 1.8% in the first quarter of this year and inflation jumping up significantly, particularly on commodities such as oil and food. Incoming growth above the "mendoza line" of 1.5% (the line on linear regression analysis that generally correlates to the incumbent President's party receiving 50% of the Presidential vote) is not assured and the President's poll numbers, after a bump at the end of last year and the beginning of this year, have sagged again (a full update on those numbers next week.)

But the President is still polling favorable against would-be GOPers. Here is a quick average of his performance against possible GOP candidates:

Versus Mike Huckabee: Obama +2.5%
Versus Mitt Romney: Obama +2.4%
Versus Jon Huntsman: Obama +11.0%
Versus Michelle Bachman: Obama +12.0%
Versus Mitch Daniels: Obama +13.0%
Versus Tim Pawlenty: Obama +13.5%
Versus Newt Gingrich: Obama +14.3%
Versus Donald Trump: Obama +15.4%
Versus Sarah Palin: Obama +17.9%

Of course, these polls are not very predictive of final outcomes at this stage of the race - Jon Stewart did a great comedy piece on this on the Daily Show last week which relived the news reports of Hillary Clinton being a lock in 2008, Joe Lieberman being the front-runner in 2004 and Bill Clinton being in 7th in the Democrat running order in 1992. But they do give us some clues.

Clearly Huntsman, Daniels and Pawlenty are suffering from the fact that few people really know very much about them yet. And Gingrich, Trump and Palin are likely suffering from the fact that people DO know a lot about them. Romney and Huckabee are the two established, credible candidates that the public knows, and they poll pretty close to President Obama. Either one of the lesser-knowns will break out of the pack or those two, who have to be considered the front-runners at this point (regardless of Donald Trump polling well in some polls at this point), would run a very close, competitive race with the President next November.

So how much trouble is the President in? I've said it before and I'll say it again -- it's all about the economy.

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