Musings on Sports, Politics and Life in general

Posts tagged “Newt Gingrich

5 Things Iowa Taught Us


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.

Rick Santorum Celebrates Iowa Win (courtesy: Politico)

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.


Iowan Insanity


Cherokee Hospital for the Insane - Cherokee, Iowa

Here we go again. In four days, the nation is going to let a state representing 7 electoral votes set the tone for the quadrennial Presidential Election process. This  state is hardly representative of the nation as a whole, either. The residents of Iowa have more disposable income than the rest of us. Demographically, Iowa is less ethnically diverse, less educated and more rural than the country in general. The state’s largest city, Des Moines, is ranked 106th in total population and 98th in population density – making it more a large suburb than an actual city.

Why do we do this? Why do we allow 1.2% of the nation’s populace decide the fate of the Unites States for the next four years? I can’t think of a particularly good reason. But I can think of a particularly good way to end the charade. Have all primaries conducted on the same day.

To be clear, I am NOT advocating for federal administration of primary elections. The states have done a fine job running them. If they would rather have the circus atmosphere of a caucus than an election, fine. If they want restrictive and onerous ballot rules, okay. This is directed at the national parties, who are responsible for creating the primary schedule and have perpetrated the insanity of allowing a very non-representative portion of the population to determine their candidates for President. (After Iowa comes New Hampshire, with its four electoral votes and even less representative of the nation).

But a National Primary Day does several things to help end the confusion common to Presidential primaries. First, it effectively ends the candidacy of people with marginal appeal. Let’s face it, by focusing all of their energies on one small state, some pretty marginal people have been able to enter the national conversation based on one position – only to fade into political oblivion. Mike Huckabee won Iowa, only to become a talk show host. Pat Buchanan used Iowa to re-energize a fading career as a political pundit. Howard Dean made plenty of noise in Iowa, only to become a punch-line on late night television. This year, can anyone really imagine that the race baiting history of a Ron Paul wouldn’t be a political albatross in states with more than a 5% minority population? Or that single issue candidates Michelle Bachmann or Rick Santorum would be players on a national stage?

Second, having all Presidential primaries contested at the same time would require candidates to create a national political organization. Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry were surprised by their inability to get on the Virginia primary ballot. Yet the underlying reason is their inability to properly organize. Gingrich can be excused, in a sense; his campaign is underfunded and was largely seen as a joke until last month (although, residing in Virginia probably means he should have understood the rules better than any other candidate). Perry, however, has oodles of money – more than anyone in the race not named Romney – and his inability is due simply to a lack of campaign oversight. Seriously, do we want a President who can’t organize well enough to ensure he’s on every state ballot? Or hire someone to do that for him? Making speeches is one thing, but ensuring the basics are attended to is an essential leadership trait. The United States federal government is a much larger enterprise than any political campaign. A candidate who can’t assume the responsibilities of Chief Executive of a political campaign certainly can’t be trusted to be the Chief Executive of the United States.

Finally, a National Primary Day ensures that every primary vote carries the same weight. The essential element is this: by giving various states an initial say in the nominating process, the citizens voting later have less input. Odds are that by the time “Super Tuesday” rolls around, the parties have already settled on a presumptive nominee. By the time I get to cast a ballot in June, the nominee has been decided – voting becomes nothing more than a pro forma exercise in civic responsibility. The effect, of course, is suppressed turnout in those states, which has dramatic effects on down ballot candidates and initiatives.

It is time to end the madness. Allowing the voters in Iowa (or New Hampshire) to have more input than voters in California (or us poor New Jerseyans) is one 19th century idea whose time has passed.


Mr. Perry, Only serious candidates need apply


In a way, I feel sorry for Texas Governor Rick Perry.

Is Rick Perry really just another Bozo?

When Sarah Palin decided not to run for President, Perry was anointed as the only real conservative with any political heft running for President. After all, he is the longest serving Governor of the nation’s second largest state, a state that remains prosperous despite the national economy generally being in the tank for the past four years. He announced his candidacy to the thunderous roar of making the federal government “as inconsequential in your life as I can.” I’m hoping that statement isn’t a result of introspection – because right now, a Perry presidency looks like an even bigger disaster than the Obama presidency became.

First, Perry proved everyone right when they said he was a lousy debater. Along with the rest of the nation, I can handle a guy who flubs an occasional fact (it happens to everyone). I can stomach the person who comes across as a walking stiff; nobody should be overly confident on a debate stage. But Mr. Perry managed to come in even below the already low expectations set by his campaign and supporters. When Perry was awake enough to pay attention to what was happening on the stage around him, he demonstrated an incredible inability to articulate even the simplest thoughts, much less explain policy decisions a Perry administration would make. In the end, his only recourse was to lash out angrily (a lá Newt Gingrich, but without Newt’s wit) at his competitors. The resulting image is of a slightly dim-witted bully, not a future President of the United States.

Now, we have the Perry economic plan. In announcing this plan, Perry declared it to be “bold.” If by bold, you mean “schizophrenic,” then I agree with you, Mr. Perry. This is nothing more than pandering to various interest groups. If meant as a way to kick-start the conversation about the role of government, then it might be acceptable. But I think he actually meant it as an economic outline, in which case it will only work to drive millions of Americans into destitution and despair. Why? Look under the hood and here’s what you find:

  1. Tax policy: Perry proposes a 20% flat tax, except it isn’t. It is a 20% personal income tax policy, with deductions for mortgage interest, state and local taxes, and charitable gifts. Worse, for those with incomes under $500,000 the personal exemption increases to $12,500 per person. Taxes on business profits are also reduced to 20%, with no deductions – save for a one-time reduction on off-shore profits to 5.6%, intended to lure overseas profits here to spur job growth. Still, even if you get past the misnomer (a flat tax is just that; one tax rate without any exemptions) then you’re tempted to say this seems reasonable.The biggest complaints regarding the current tax code are the complexity and that the current distribution of the tax burden predominately falls on the middle class. How does the Perry Plan address these two problems? My best guess is by ignoring them. For starters, any taxpayer can opt to keep the current tax plan instead of the new one. Imagine running a business under those circumstances: now you have to track two different tax codes and try to determine which works best for your company (I suppose accounting firms will love it).An entire new level of complexity just got added into your business model, because no business I know is going to arbitrarily choose one plan over the other without doing a full cost-benefit analysis. As to the personal taxes, Perry is correct in assuming most Americans will opt for his single rate plan. After all, a full 50% of American households won’t pay any taxes under it. The remaining half will bear the brunt of the tax burden – which is roughly the same distribution as we currently have, just with less money coming in. Unless you’re in the middle class, in which case you’ll probably wind up paying more in taxes. Brilliant election year strategy (see: Cain, Herman for how well raising taxes on the middle works).

    This is no gain, all loss. (You can find the data used to compute tax distribution here).

  2. Social Security: Perry proposes relieving income taxes on those receiving Social Security, while making it an opt-in program for current workers. Sounds great, except the only people currently paying taxes on Social Security benefits are those with over $50,000 in personal income per couple (how many retired couples do you know with $50,000 in annual income?). As for making Social Security an opt-in program, there’s a very big problem with that plan: current workers actually pay for existing retirees. The. idea that the government takes your money, then invests it into a “trust fund” from which you draw your retirement benefits is patently false. What happens is the government takes those payroll taxes we all pay and uses those funds to pay current retirees. If there’s a surplus, then the government uses that money to purchase T-Bills and then uses those funds to help the general ledger; if there’s a shortage, then the reverse is true. This is a month-to-month accounting system, not an annual line-item budget item. So, imagine what happens if even half of current workers opt out of Social Security? Yes, you guessed it: the entire system goes belly up, threatening in one fell swoop to turn us into Greece, with a national debt ballooning by the billions every month and an unfunded national pension plan. Worse, you and your employer is still obligated to pay those pesky payroll taxes, but with an entirely new level of complexity. Is this now income, since it is being deposited into an investment account? What type of account is it? Who manages it? What level of accountability is there, and to whom?Social Security does need to reform to keep it solvent. But nuking the entire economy in order to do it isn’t very bright.
  3. Health Care: One of the greatest threats to economic growth, both now and in the future, is the dizzying rate of increase in health care costs. Nobody has yet to put forth a proposal that actually does anything to reduce that curve and Perry joins right in. His plan is little more than “reduce fraud in Medicare.” Lovely idea and it should certainly be part of the agenda. Except we’ve been hearing about that for 25 years now. It seems to me that with that much emphasis on reducing Medicare fraud, it should amount to $1.30 or so by now. 
  4. Balancing the budget: Well, of course. Everyone I know agrees the federal budget should be balanced (except for a few die-hard Keynesians, but they’ve been proven wrong on this so many times over the past 60 years I find it hard to believe they’re still around). But Perry doesn’t offer any specifics aver how he would do it. He does offer platitudes, such as “Pass a Balanced Budget Amendment” and “Cap Federal Spending at 18% of GDP.” He suggests freezing federal hiring – not a bad idea, but we’re not running $1.4 trillion deficits because of federal hiring. He also wants to do away with earmarks. While that is certainly an admirable goal, the President (as leader of the Executive branch) can’t do much about it: appropriations bills are still written by Congress. If some Congressman from Bum Rush wants $800 million for a road to nowhere and can convince a majority of his peers to go along with the idea, it’s getting added into an appropriations bill somewhere.

Frankly, the entire Perry candidacy so far has shown him to be a man whose ambitions far outstrip his talents, ability, intelligence and demeanor. As such, I think his current poll standing is about right (barely treading more water than Michelle Bachman or Rick Santorum). The American people are interviewing candidates for the Presidency, Mr. Perry. Only serious applicants will be considered.


The Scarlet Knight to the Rescue?


The GOP is finally starting to get it’s act together. Some of the “headliners” are throwing their hats in the ring for the upcoming primaries. Over the past week, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul have officially launched campaigns. They join Herman Cain, Tim Pawlenty and Rick Santorum as officially declared candidates. By  this evening we’ll know if Mike Huckabee is running and by the end of the month, we’ll have Donald Trump’s decision. Mitt Romney hasn’t officially declared yet, but he certainly acts as though he’s in the race. Then there are those who are playing coy and may yet run, such as Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann, Jon Huntsman and Buddy Roemer.

Color most rank-and-file Republicans unimpressed by their options. Each of the above carries significant baggage. The staunchest conservatives, such as Palin, Bachmann and Santorum, have negative ratings among the general electorate as high – or higher – than their positives and are generally considered “unelectable.” Romney and Gingrich are know commodities but known for the wrong reasons, namely, they change positions so often they’re perceived as standing for whatever will get them elected. Pawlenty and Huckabee are seen by many Republicans as not being conservative enough. Paul is a libertarian at heart; his stances on drug and foreign policy leave many Republicans cold. Everyone else in the race is a virtual unknown – except for Trump, who’s considered so Loony even Bugs Bunny wouldn’t vote for him.

So, the Republican base is still casting about for their dream candidate: someone who embodies conservative principles, wins in liberal regions and has the national name recognition needed if entering a national race. The names most often floated in conservative circles are Chris Christie and Mitch Daniels, governors of New Jersey and Indiana respectively, and Marco Rubio and Col. Allen West, Senator and Representative from Florida respectively. West would be a long-shot; while he meets the first two criteria, he doesn’t have national name recognition.

Of the remaining three, the rank-and-file and power brokers may be coalescing around one potential candidate in particular: Christie. Why Christie? He’s been on the national stage and fought many of the battles that others are now wading into. Public employee unions, school reform, budget reform; check, done all that. Additionally, his blunt speaking style and deft humor have drawn favorable comparisons to another Republican icon, Ronald Reagan. And like Reagan, regardless of where you align politically, the man is genuinely likable – the kind of guy the average Joe could picture himself having a beer with after a long day at work.

We’ll soon find out if the rubber is meeting the road here. A delegation of Iowa donors is coming to New Jersey at the end of the month to meet with Christie, presumably to persuade the New Jersey governor to enter the primary campaign. This is unique in recent political memory. Where once the primaries were mere formalities and the actual candidate was selected during the convention, that hasn’t been the case in a couple of generations. This could be the ultimate play for Christie, as well. He’s been adamant about not running for President, despite numerous speaking engagements around the country (including a memorable one in which he lambasted politicians for refusing to acknowledge the need to cut entitlement spending). But if he jumps in at the behest of party and country, then abandoning his first term could actually be cast as a positive: I didn’t want to, but was convinced the country needed me – and I can best serve my state by serving my country. Already, the establishment Republicans are lashing out at Christie, as evidenced by this article I came across. They know if he is in the race, then their chances are immediately dwarfed by a Tea Party darling.

Will Christie answer the siren song sung by the Iowans? Time will tell. And this story won’t be over before the convention, especially if the current field continues to uninspirationally march through the primaries and caucuses of 2012.