I’ve been desperately hoping the President would get back to doing the things we expect Presidents to do. Negotiating trade deals, trying to work with Congress, yada yada. But Trump, being Trump, has now spent a week in full grievance mode, blasting everyone and everything. It is the type of behavior that anyone with any sense expects from a preschooler – not the President of the United States.
His visit to Ohio yesterday was the last straw. At what was a campaign event hidden inside a rally to celebrate a tank factory, he said this:
It’s worse than it was 19 years ago? 19 years ago, Al-Qaeda was in the middle of prepping for 9-11. 19 years ago, we were enforcing a no-fly zone while Saddam Hussein was gassing his citizens and giving both material and moral support to terrorists. You can take issue with how the war was conducted (I have) and the fact we never figured out what winning looked like (I have), but to definitively say the region is worse off because of the US is unconscionable. To even insinuate that the millions of US servicemen who volunteered and served in that theater made things worse is to trample on every single one of their legacies. For the President of the United States, the commander-in-chief, to make a statement like that is beyond the pale and should never be supported by anyone who considers themself a patriot.
The President’s most recent temper-tantrum began last week, as I mentioned. Among the long list of grievances he aired, this was the one that pretty much grabbed everyone’s attention:
Now here’s the thing: John McCain has been dead and buried for 7 months. Was McCain a saint? No. In fact, the McCain/Trump feud extends to well before Trump took the oath of office – in fact, it dates to the Clinton administration. Like Trump, McCain was a man who had a hard time letting grudges go. However, the man is dead and you triumphed. The persistent, continual attacks on him convey that you are nothing more than a spiteful, miserable little old man.
Of course, Trump is not content with just punching down at dead people. One of his principal aides is Kellyanne Conway, who’s husband is a long-time Democratic operative. Outside of political circles, George Conway isn’t well-known. His comments on the President’s behavior haven’t received much airplay, aside from ten-second blurbs as Kellyanne is interviewed. Still, that doesn’t stop President Trump:
Now, I don’t know what exactly that’s supposed to do other than cause all kinds of trouble in the Conway’s marriage. I’m not sure what the President think it does for him, except get what should have been a “meh” moment off his chest.
There are talking heads pronouncing the President’s mental health in decline. I disagree with that assessment. This is the worst of Trump, the Page Six Trump, the man who has never been able to handle losing very well. And let’s face it, he’s been losing “bigly” since November. His signature issue – the border wall – was soundly rejected by Congress. The GOP abandoned him again on the issue just last week. His grand bargain with North Korea ended in a very public disaster. His promised trade deal with China is not only hanging by a thread, but the Chinese premier told Trump to stay out of it and let Robert Lighthizer handle the negotiations.
Oh, and let’s not forget the number one issue in the districts lost to the GOP as the Democrats resumed control of the House was the President’s demeanor. Now, add in that the Democrats have begun really to put the screws to not only the President but the the President’s business empire, and his rage is predictable.
As has been his lifelong pattern, when pressured, he lashes out at everyone and everything. The raging temper-tantrums (and that’s what they are), once cute when he was Donald Trump, billionaire playboy, are beyond unseemly for the man who holds the most powerful position in the world. They remind us of the 8 year old whose parents never told “no” picking on the kindergartners during recess because the teacher gave him an F on his homework.
Well Mr. President, I’m giving you the same advice I give those petulant 8 year olds. Do your homework and stop punching down.
Regardless your personal feelings about Paul Ryan (R-WI), two things clearly came to the fore with his speech last night:
First, the man is a much more polished politician than his naysayers would have you believe.
Second, mainstream media analysts be damned, he’s perfectly comfortable being Mitt Romney’s pit bull.
The traditional roles for the Vice Presidential nominee are simple. They should deliver his home state’s electoral votes to the party’s nominee. And they should be able to attack the other party’s nominee, without seeming impossibly mean-spirited. Four years ago, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin got the nod in what was one of the most curious choices ever made by a Presidential candidate. Alaska is a solid Republican state, so Mrs. Palin wasn’t going to deliver an additional 3 electoral votes that John McCain likely didn’t already have. While she proved a willing attacker of all things Democrat (and that includes, to this day, Barack Obama), she always seemed…snarky is probably the best way to describe it.
Ryan, on the other hand, may prove to a much more capable VP pick. Even before his speech last night, his selection helped turn what has been a traditional bastion of Democrat electors into a battleground state. (Both CBS/NYT and PPP latest polling in Wisconsin has the Presidential race as statistical tie, where once the President had a commanding 11 point lead). But what may prove even more dire for Mr. Obama’s re-election chances is the way Mr. Ryan demonstrated that you can attack even a likable candidate on pure policy issues, and do so in a way that makes the target still seem likable – but hopelessly inept.
Time and again in his speech, Mr. Ryan pointed out the failures of the current administration in terms of policy: a ragged economy, a sense of hope lost and a looming fiscal crisis that has been worsened by profligate spending and partisanship. Yet at the same time, Mr. Ryan did not attack the President as person. Indeed, he praised Mr. Obama’s rhetoric and ability to connect with voters. In a line certain to get considerable airplay in a commercial near you, he said:
“College graduates should not have to live out their 20s in their childhood bedrooms, staring up at fading Obama posters and wondering when they can move out and get going with life.”
That one statement provides a stark contrast between Senator Barack Obama in 2008 and President Barack Obama in 2012. In 2008, those millions of college freshmen turned out in droves to vote for the senator. In 2012, they are now recent graduates – unable to put their degrees to work, living back home with their parents and thoroughly disillusioned with their former champion.
There were other great soundbites as well (imagine a political speech without a soundbite!). My personal favorite was this, just a few moments later in talking about his beginnings:
“When I was waiting tables, washing dishes, or mowing lawns for money, I never thought of myself as stuck in some station in life. I was on my own path, my own journey, an American journey where I could think for myself, decide for myself, define happiness for myself. That’s what we do in this country. That’s the American Dream. That’s freedom, and I’ll take it any day over the supervision and sanctimony of the central planners.”
For me, that statement IS what the subcontext of this election is about. What is the “American Dream?” Is it, as Mr. Ryan describes, the pursuit of one’s individual goals and the freedom to make them a reality? Or is it, as described by Mr. Obama, the assurance of an equal experience for all Americans, regardless of innate abilities, talents and desires?
If the Republicans succeed in framing the 2012 election in this context – and not Mr. Obama’s preferred context of blame the other guy, rich vs. poor – then I believe they will also win this election. In Mr. Ryan, they found a capable point man, one the Democrats should fear over the next 70 days.
In case you hadn’t noticed, yesterday New Hampshire had a primary. Mitt Romney won. Here’s five other things you should know.
- Mitt Romney may be inevitable: Romney wasn’t running so much against the other Republican candidates as against expectations in New Hampshire. Since the state is a second home for the front-runner, he was expected to win – and win big. Earlier, I wrote that anything less than 40% of the vote would be disappointing for his camp. Well, Romney met and possibly beat expectations. 40% of the vote? Check. Double digit lead over number 2? Check – second place finisher Ron Paul finished 17 points back. Increase in share over his 2008 run? Check – he even beat 2008 winner John McCain’s share. On top of all that, he pulled off a feat no non-incumbent Republican has managed: first place finishes in both Iowa and New Hampshire. That’s pretty impressive. One can forgive Mitt if he’s feeling a bit smug today.
- Then again, maybe not: Now comes the hard part for Romney. The campaign shifts to the South, with the South Carolina primary on January 21 up next, followed by Florida on January 31. Yes, South Carolina, home to the Tea Party and where over half the Republican electorate identifies as being evangelical. The state is about as diametrically opposed to New Hampshire as one gets. Look for the attacks to come fast and furious now, as the various conservative alternatives pile-on in an attempt to paint Romney as nothing more than Barack Obama in Mormon clothing. If he falters at all, it could open the door to one of the other challengers to get a crucial win and pull the shine off the campaign’s front runner.
- Kiss Jon Huntsman good–bye: Huntsman bet the ranch on if not a win, then at least a strong showing in the Granite State. A 17% third place finish doesn’t really meet the standard. Really, he has no one else to blame but himself (and maybe his campaign manager). I’ve been watching politics for over three decades and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a more disjointed campaign. His only concrete position seemed to be anti-everything Republican Party. He never adequately defended his diplomatic service in the current administration – and seemed pro-China in his foreign policy. Actually, I’ve never figured how he lasted this long, other than that the mainstream media loves the guy. Unless he’s willing to spend his considerable fortune to fly around the country bashing Romney (it’s possible), Iook for Huntsman to slip quietly away. And for David Brooks to write a column lambasting fellow Republicans for not giving Huntsman a fair shot.
- New Hampshire still hates social conservatives: Beware social conservatives in 2016. You may want to skip New Hampshire. The combined vote totals for the three social conservative candidates didn’t even match Huntsman’s total. This comes four years after social conservatives Mike Huckabee, Fred Thompson and Duncan Hunter split 13% of the vote. New Hampshire may be the home of fiscal conservatism and small government, but they don’t want their politicians dealing with personal matters of faith or family.
- Can Ron Paul keep the momentum moving? Paul has managed to harness large numbers of college students, independents and disaffected Democrats in both Iowa and New Hampshire, each time coming in with slightly more than 1/5 of the vote (21.8% in Iowa; 22.9% in New Hampshire). But neither electorate is as conservative as South Carolina’s. And Florida’s electorate is more than slightly older than college age. Can he continue to pull 1/5 of the vote (and be a thorn in the GOP’s rear at the same time)? If yes, then look for him to seriously contest Romney in the remaining caucus states. If his decidedly isolationist foreign policy scares the large number of military retirees in South Carolina and anti-Social Security/Medicare stance riles up the Floridians, Paul will be a footnote in a history text.
- Can conservatives rally in time? South Carolina is social conservatives last real opportunity to derail the Romney train. So far, it looks like a repeat of 2008, when Mike Huckabee and Fred Thompson beat each other up. McCain wound up winning the state; Thompson was forced to drop out and Huckabee was never a real factor again. This year, you can cast Rick Santorum as Huckabee and Rick Perry as Thompson – but the script looks awfully familiar. (The difference is this year we have Newt Gingrich, but more on him in a moment). Like Huckabee, Santorum pulled off a surprising finish in Iowa. Like Huckabee, he virtually disappeared in New Hampshire. Perry, like Thompson, was an also-ran in Iowa. Unlike Thompson, he didn’t even register as a blip in New Hampshire (really Rick? Less than 1% of the vote?). The conservative’s best hope is a pair of confab’s taking place this weekend, one in Texas and the other in South Carolina. If the powers that be can’t decide to back one of the conservatives left in the race, look for a replay of 2008.
- Newt Gingrich is now…a Democrat?!? We all knew Newt loathes Mitt. We all knew Newt was waiting for his chance to go “nucular” on Mitt after the way Romney and his SuperPAC demolished Gingrich’s chances in Iowa. None of us realized how far Newt would go. In fact, over the past 48 hours, Newt sounds more like Barack Obama than a Republican in his denunciation of free markets and Romney’s participation. He’s already been blasted by conservative media (see video below). And, his attack didn’t help him in New Hampshire, where he only polled 9% of the vote. Is Newt going to continue along this line, or will party bosses work to neuter him? If there’s one thing the past 25 years has taught us, it’s that Newt will always put himself above party. But still, it’s an amazing turn-around for a man who only ten days ago was chiding his fellow candidates for breaking the Reagan Commandment – even for Newt Gingrich.
- The Obama Campaign better be nervous: Ok, New Hampshire really isn’t indicative of the country as a whole. But still, turnout in yesterday’s primary beat 2008 by better than 10% as unhappy Democrats and Independents showed up to vote Republican. Even taking away the pull of Ron Paul, that’s a lot of people who voted for Obama in 2008 who decided to vote for somebody else this year. The first referendum on the Obama presidency is in, and it isn’t good news for the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
The Iowa caucuses are over. As usual, they haven’t defined who will win – but they appear to have narrowed the field considerably. Here’s five things other things Iowans clarified last night.
1. The GOP establishment is in trouble: The Republican Old Guard has rallied around Mitt Romney, pitching him as the “electable” candidate who is “inevitable.” They may not say as much, but they have to be worried. Their inevitable candidate has yet to blast through his glass ceiling of support, ending up with only 25% of last night’s vote. Or, to put it in terms they don’t want to hear, 75% of Republican rank-and-file aren’t buying into either the electability or inevitability of Romney – margins eerily similar to the polling prior to the caucus in both Iowa and the national party. They’ll continue to pour in their support (see: John McCain), but Romney is in for a much tougher fight than he or his establishment backers originally thought. A real sign of trouble will be if Romney can’t get past 40% in New Hampshire. If that happens, expect the establishment to really open up with a full barrage – and risk alienating their party’s base of support.
2. Tea Party Conservatives are coalescing: around Rick Santorum. This is the big story out of the caucuses, and already the left is going off a cliff at the idea of a legitimate Santorum candidacy. The real question is how far can Santorum go? He has limited funding and a skeleton operation. He finished strong in Iowa based on old-fashioned retail politicking, a method which is impossible in a nationwide primary. Still, with Michelle Bachmann now officially out and Rick Perry sounding like he is, Tea Partiers are waking to the realization it’s either Santorum or Gingrich for them – and most have an understandable aversion to Newt. Romney may think Santorum will be easy pickings, based on the latter’s lack of political organization. But, the existing Tea Party groups (such as Tea Party Express) may give Santorum all the organization he needs to compete. If they publicly endorse Santorum in the coming days, look for his campaign to take off.
3. Newt Gingrich is back in his comfort zone: Newt as the peacemaker never really fit his temperament or his history. Based on his statements leading up to last night’s vote and his remarks after, it sounds as if Newt is going to happily stick around for as long as he can, if just to make life miserable for Romney. Lord knows hell hath no fury like a Gingrich crossed and it looks as if Mitt is about to discover that first hand.
4. The real “flavor of the month” was Ron Paul: No candidate needed a win in Iowa more than Paul. Although he tallied 21% of the vote, the stark reality is that among registered Republicans he only garnered 14%. This comes less than a week after leading all candidates among Republicans in Iowa. It seems once they became familiar with some of his zanier ideas and positions, GOP voters decided a man from Venus wasn’t their best option. Yes, Paul did well in bringing Democrats and independents in to vote for him and the fervor among his disciples is reminiscent of Obama in 2008, but his candidacy is basically over. Look for him to do well in New Hampshire’s open primary, then bolt to challenge Gary Johnson for the Libertarian Party nomination after getting whitewashed in South Carolina.
5. The key to the race is still held by Rick Perry: Perry is still officially in the race, although he has gone back to Texas to reexamine his candidacy. Politicians rarely return from self-imposed exile to resume a campaign. However, Perry still has the second largest war chest of any candidate and several PAC’s that were supporting him. Assuming he drops out of the race, the question is: does he keep his money for a potential bid in 2016, or throw that financial might behind a Santorum candidacy? Buoyed by Perry’s finances, Santorum becomes much more formidable – a fact that Perry, who harbors as much (if not more) animosity towards Romney as Gingrich should be all too aware of.
UPDATED 1:02PM: No sooner did I hit publish on this than I read this article from AP, insinuating Perry is going to continue at least through South Carolina. If that is the case (no confirmation yet one way or the other), than point number 5 becomes moot.