Sunday, September 25, 2011

The "I Told You So" Edition

When you write about politics and specifically when you make political, economic and social projections, you get your fair share of things wrong.  I've gotten a few minor things wrong (see North Dakota's projection in 2008, not massively wrong, but wrong nonetheless) and a few major things wrong (see my blog during the height of the financial crisis about how the economic recovery would be strong -- oops.)  So, it's nice to know that I haven't lost my knack for identifying some of the things to come in the political world.  Two cases in point this week.

Perry Candidacy Already on the Rails
Frequent readers will know that I never believed the hype around Texas Governor Rick Perry's prospects of becoming the GOP nomination.  The media has been gaga over Perry and his sudden rise in the GOP field.  One can understand why.  Perry is a conservative, in line with the party faithful in his political beliefs.  Perry has a good track record economically in Texas.  On face, he looks like what today's GOP wants.  But, as I wrote a few weeks ago when Perry got into the race, I'm not convinced Perry is ready for prime time or capable of leading the GOP.

And so it was on full display in the latest Republican debate, a Fox News hosted affair, where Perry looked bewildered, spoke in sentence fragments, stepped in it on perhaps his one moderate political stance by alienating the GOP base when he had an opportunity to make a unifying statement and generally fell completely flat.  He hasn't been a rock star in the other debates, but this was, by far, his worst performance.

And GOP loyalists spoke.  In the Florida straw poll, a poll Perry had spent heavily and campaigned strongly for, he got scorched by conservative talk show host and businessman Herman Cain and barely finished ahead of Romney, who had not campaigned hard or spent heavily in the poll.  Now, I take these straw polls with a grain of salt.  This is a poll of loyalists, not a poll of representative voters in a GOP primary.  And you can certainly spend to up your standing.  I don't think Cain is in any way the favorite in Florida.  But let's analyze what it means.

The Tea Party wing isn't happy with Mitt Romney as a choice, primarily because of his moderate positions when he was Governor of Massachusetts, most notably his health care plan which looks a lot like President Obama's national plan.  Consequently, they were ready to flock to Perry.  The message from the Florida straw poll is that they are no longer happy with Perry as an alternative.  They weren't willing to cross and vote for Romney, so they voted for Cain as a kind of second-choice protest.  Of course, Cain has his supporters as well, but few believe a businessman with no political experience and a penchant for saying outrageous things will really be the nominee or could seriously take down President Obama.

So where does this leave the state of the GOP?  The right wing still isn't happy with Romney, but it is very fragmented, since there isn't a clear good alternative with Perry looking like a hack.  One possibility is that Perry ups his game and they decide to get behind him.  Another is that another candidate, perhaps one already announced (Newt Gingrich?  Michelle Bachman?) or one that hasn't (Sarah Palin?) is able to concentrate this support.  The third, and I still think most likely scenario is that the Tea Party wing stays fragmented and Romney is able to win by being just conservative enough and strong enough a general candidate to get the nod.

Nominations doesn't get decided in September the year before.  They will be decided in the first quarter of 2012, when everyone really tunes in.  But it's shaping up to be an interesting, competitive race.

Another Shutdown Showdown
I told you that we'd be back here.  We are a mere week before the start of the government's new fiscal year and there is no agreement on how to proceed with the Fiscal 2012 budget, leaving us at a logjam that yet again threatens a government shutdown.  The issue this time is the level of funding for FEMA and how it will be paid for.  Republicans want a less than $4B funding replenishment, paid for by offsetting spending cuts in other area.  Democrats want closer to $8B, without the offset.  The GOP plan passed the House narrowly and was soundly rejected in the Democratic Senate.  The Democratic plan has not been voted on in either house.

The budgetary dysfunction continues.  Even if they are able to come to agreement in the next week (expect another 11th hour deal that nobody likes), this will only kick the can down the road to Mid-November, right before the bi-partisan deficit commission is supposed to report back its recommendations.  So we will have at least 3 more fights that create uncertainty, make long-term programs highly inefficient and threaten to shut down the government.

Many have noted recently that Congressional approval is around 12%, by far an all time low.  The question is, who are the 12% who approve?  Does anyone else just feel like voting against every incumbent regardless of party?

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