Ron Gone

Texas Congressman and Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul has announced that he won’t be spending resources to contest Republican primaries in any states that haven’t yet voted.  It’s just another reason why Mitt Romney is now described as the “presumptive” Republican nominee.

Paul always seemed like somebody’s batty uncle.  Now that he’s called a kind of end to his campaign, he can go back to the House of Representatives, where he has served for years and accomplished virtually nothing.  (Of course, the people who support Paul probably think that is a good thing.  When you take a libertarian approach to the issues, you don’t want the federal government doing much of anything.)  Still, Paul was entertaining, and his views clearly resonated with a quirky core of voters.  Accordingly, he deserves a bit of farewell doggerel:

Bring all troops home, so Ron Paul said,

And while we’re at it, shut down the Fed

Time to get government off our backs

Which means we end the income tax

And there’s one other thing we hate

Yes, that would be the welfare state

We’ll also strongly protect our borders

While we all become gold hoarders

So anti-government Ron is done

Now he’ll head back to . . . Washington?

The Candidate Who Wouldn’t Leave

Yesterday Newt Gingrich indicated that he was finally ending his presidential campaign.  The announcement caught most knowledgeable observers by surprise, because they thought his campaign had ended months ago.

In this campaign cycle, Gingrich became the candidate who wouldn’t leave.  In recognition of his long overdue decision to face reality and get the heck out of Dodge, I offer this bit of doggerel:

Let’s raise a glass to our friend Newt

It took months to give him the boot

A white-haired whiz, great in debate

He somehow lost state after state

A stubborn cuss, he kept attacking

Only to take one more shellacking

His glibness was his main asset

That’s why he ended deep in debt

His campaign just went on and on

Long forgotten, he’s finally gone.

Santorum Sits

Today Rick Santorum announced that he was “suspending” his campaign.

Apparently “suspending” is the new word that political candidates use when they have lost, run out of money, or are otherwise unable to continue their campaigns.  They don’t withdraw, they don’t concede . . . they just “suspend.”  The word suggests that, at some indeterminate point in the future, Santorum’s campaign could suddenly spring to life again, along with the other “suspended” campaigns that might rise, zombie-like, and start chewing through the skulls of American voters hoping to consumer more of that delicious brain tissue.

There is value in an old-fashioned concession speech.  You show grace and class.  You acknowledge that the winner beat you, fair and square.  Such speeches tend to legitimize the process.  After a hard-fought campaign, a well-prepared and well-delivered concession speech ends the acrimony, emphasizes common values and interests, and pledges to work together toward common goals.

“Suspension” speeches, in contrast, just allow the loser to pat himself on the back and try to frame the narrative for a failed campaign — without accomplishing any of the classy and salutary  benefits of a graceful concession speech.

In this case, for example, Santorum’s “suspension” speech apparently did not even mention, much less congratulate, Mitt Romney, the man who beat him.  That tells me a lot about Rick Santorum.

Inexplicable Vanity, And Santorum’s Folly

Last night Mitt Romney won three more primaries, in Maryland, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia.  He is now even farther ahead in the race for delegates — so far ahead, in fact, that his nearest challenger, Rick Santorum, would need to win 80 percent of the remaining delegates to win the nomination.  Does anyone — outside of the Santorum family, perhaps — seriously think we are on the brink of the tidal wave of previously undetected support for Rick Santorum needed for that to happen?  Nevertheless, Santorum has vowed to continue the race.

That kind of stubborn and inexplicable vanity, I think, is one thing that distinguishes politicians from normal human beings.  Why does Santorum think that he is so special that he must continue a race that is, for all practical purposes, already ended?  He was crushed in his last general election, when he sought reelection to his Senate seat in Pennsylvania.  He’s now been beaten in the majority of the primaries and caucuses in this 2012 primary season.  Why doesn’t he go gently into that good night?

The problem, I suspect, is that politicians spend most of their time in a cocoon of staffers, supporters, and sycophants.  They go to rallies where people cheer their every word.  Everyone they encounter tells them they are great, and they come to believe it.  And when election results are inconsistent with that belief, the results are rationalized away as the result of unlucky national trends, or being outspent, or ineffective advertising, or other factors that don’t reflect on the politicians themselves.  They cling to the belief that if only voters really knew them and truly understood their positions, they would be elected by acclamation.

I can’t psychoanalyze Rick Santorum.  The same goes for Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul, who also are continuing their quixotic campaigns.  They all need to realize, however, that they aren’t essential to the future of our republic.  Voters do understand them and their positions and have decided to vote for someone else.

They also need to consider one other point:  voters make judgments not only on the basis of TV commercials and debate blunders, but also because they weigh whether the candidate’s conduct seems to reflect the qualities we think a President should possess.  Being unable to recognize reality isn’t one of them.

Ohio, Ready To Swing

Tomorrow Americans across the land will vote in Super Tuesday primary elections.  Ohio — the prototypical swing state — is once again ready to swing.

The latest polls show that the race between Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney in the Ohio Republican presidential primary is too close to call.  The polls indicate that Romney has made up a fair amount of ground over the past few days and is doing well with late-deciding voters. There also are indications that Ohioans are not exactly straining at the leash to address “social issues” and would rather that the focus remain on the economy.

I’m not surprised by any of these results.  Although Ohio has some folks at the extreme ends of the political spectrum, in my experience most Ohioans are middle-of-the-road, pragmatic people.  They don’t seek out conflict.  They are fully capable of having a political conversation with a friend or co-worker who has a different political viewpoint without seeing the discussion devolve into name-calling or cheap shots.  Ohioans largely keep to themselves and expect their neighbors to do likewise.  And, if they think there is a problem, they just want to fix it, without paying too much attention to who gets the credit.

This year, Ohioans know all too well that the economy has been poor, and they are interested in seeing how that problem can be fixed.  I expect that tomorrow’s results will give the country a pretty good idea of which Republican candidate middle America thinks is best suited to that job.

Santorum And Satan

I’ve been hearing Rick Santorum ads over the past few days.  It’s clear that his focus — and the means by which he attempts to distinguish himself from his Republican rivals — is “social issues.” Even his economic plans are couched as a way of “helping families,” by which he clearly means traditional, married, husband-and-wife led families.

I don’t subscribe to Santorum’s ultra-traditional views of how life should be lived or families should be structured.  I’m also concerned by the overt nature of his religious beliefs.  I heard clips of a speech he gave some time ago in which he talked about “Satan” targeting and attacking the United States and its institutions, and it made me very uncomfortable.  When was the last time we had a presidential candidate talking openly about “Satan”?  If a random guy at the airport was talking about “Satan” in the way Santorum did in that speech, wouldn’t most of us give that guy a very wide berth?

Santorum is of course entitled to his views, but his emphasis on religion and issues like gay marriage and contraception are a problem for me.  I’m not quite a libertarian, because I do think there is a limited, appropriate role for government under certain circumstances, but I don’t think the government should be lecturing us or or directing us or judging us so long as we live lawfully.  I suspect that any government led by Santorum would be as intrusive and overreaching into our daily lives as the Obama Administration has been — just in a different way and with a different focus.

In my view, we don’t need a President who fancies himself a spiritual leader.  We need a President who will roll up his sleeves and deal effectively with our enormous, structural deficit and debt problems.  Achieving that goal requires someone who can bring people together, not someone whose forays into “social” issues — and ruminations about the latest nefarious activities of Old Scratch — push people apart and prevent us from achieving the consensus necessary to do the job.

I Don’t Get Robocalls

Now that the Republican primary campaigns have moved to Ohio and other Super Tuesday states, I’ve started to get robocalls at work.  But, although I’m getting robocalls, I don’t quite get robocalls.

By that I mean that I don’t understand the value of a robocall.  I’m sure there are studies that dispute this, but I just cannot believe that robocalls persuade voters to vote for a candidate.  They are so silly, and at the same time so irritating and intrusive, they can’t possibly be effective.  It’s bad enough to get a solicitation call from a human being; one that comes from recording is just deeply insulting and disrespectful of my time.

I suppose you can argue that robocalls increase name recognition for candidates, but if that is the point then why not hire town criers to walk the streets shouting candidate names, or revive the old, screechy sound trucks that used to roll through neighborhoods in the days leading up to an election?  How are they materially different from a robocall?

So, I’ve vowed not to pull the lever for anyone who sends me a robocall.  If they can’t show some respect for my valuable time, they’re not going to get my vote.

What Price Political Endorsements?

One good thing about this year’s seemingly endless Republican presidential campaign — it has demonstrated, clearly and conclusively, how empty and meaningless political “endorsements” really are.

We know this because Rick Santorum endorsed Mitt Romney in 2008, saying that Romney was the clear conservative candidate who could be trusted.  Now Santorum is arguing that Romney is a wimpy flip-flopper who couldn’t possibly be expected to govern in accordance with conservative principles.  What has changed?  Not much — other than that now Santorum is running against Romney for the 2012 Republican nomination.

We should all be grateful to Santorum for giving us such a powerful demonstration of how silly endorsements are.  Which really reflects Santorum’s beliefs — his wholehearted statements of support for Romney in 2008, or his strong criticisms of Romney in 2012?  The correct answer, in all likelihood, is neither.  In 2008, Santorum probably wanted to weigh in on the race — because it is hard for any career politician to remain fully on the sidelines — and to have a chit in the bank if Romney won.  In 2012, Santorum has been possessed by his own lust for national office, and he’s not going to let his past statements get in the way of his ambitions.

It’s hard for me to believe that any voter attaches much weight to endorsements.  After Santorum’s abrupt about-face, no voter should.  Whether they come from Republicans or Democrats, political endorsements are the product of calculation, not conviction.

Wimping Out In Florida

The big news out of Florida is that Mitt Romney soundly defeated Newt Gingrich in a contest that, by all accounts, featured lots of “negative advertising.”  I think the more interesting story, however, has to do with Rick Santorum and Ron Paul.

Santorum and Paul got clobbered in Florida.  Santorum ended up with 13 percent of the vote, and Paul got 7 percent.  However, they both have a “talking point” at the ready — they explain that they simply chose not to compete.  They’ve decided that they have better prospects in “caucus” states like Nevada that are coming up on the schedule.

It reminds me of the Seinfeld episode where Jerry, after winning a footrace by a fluke as a kid, avoids later contests by declaring “I choose not to run.”  It’s as if an NFL team like the Cleveland Browns looked at the schedule in advance and decided they won’t show up for that ball-busting away game at New England.

Santorum and Paul likely don’t have a chance to win; this strategy allows them to hold on to their money, play out the string, and get a few more moments on a stage before an adoring crowd.  But doesn’t it say something about how ridiculous our presidential selection process has become that purportedly viable candidates can pick and choose where they fight and simply skip contested elections in large states like Florida that will be crucial in a general election?  Given the experience in Iowa — where some caucus “results” were lost and Republican Party officials couldn’t even say for sure who won — why are caucuses even used to allocate delegates rather than a primary election?

The presidential delegate selection seems to get tweaked after every election.  How about a rule that says declared candidates have to actually compete in every contest where voters will go into a voting booth and pull the lever for the candidate?

Newt And Freddie

It’s amazing that Newt Gingrich has been able to depict himself as a “Reagan conservative” and surge to the top of the Republican field.  After all, soon after he left public office he began to do “consulting” work for Freddie Mac, the mortgage giant at the center of the housing crisis that crippled our economy.  Freddie Mac paid Gingrich’s consulting firm at least $1.6 million from 1999 to 2008.  It’s not the kind of resume that you would expect to find in a Tea Party favorite, given the Tea Party’s disdain for the cash-soaked, insiders culture of Washington, D.C.

Gingrich’s firm has now released one, but only one, of its contracts with Freddie Mac.  The contract covers only one year, which is curious.  Has the Gingrich Group really misplaced the other lucrative contracts?  If so, what does that tell you about Gingrich’s managerial abilities?  And if he really has misplaced the other contracts, why not just get copies of them from Freddie Mac and produce them all, so we can see what the entirety of the arrangement was?

The article linked above reprints the one contract that Gingrich’s firm produced.  It’s not scintillating reading — few contracts are — but it reveals that Gingrich’s firm reported to the Freddie Mac Public Policy Director, whom the Post article identifies as a registered lobbyist.  The firm was paid a retainer of $25,000 a month, which means its compensation wasn’t tied to how much work it actually did.  The description of what Gingrich’s firm was supposed to do is found in Exhibit 2, which states only that the firm was to provide “consulting and related services, as requested by Freddie Mac’s Director, Public Policy.”

However, Section 2(b) of the contract says that Gingrich’s group was to submit “an invoice that includes a detailed description of the Services performed” in order to get paid.  I hope a reporter somewhere is using public records requests and other methods to try to get those invoices, which might shed light on whether Gingrich really acted as a historian, as he states, or as a lobbyist and influence-peddler, as his opponents contend.  Interviewing the people that Gingrich reported to, and who requested the “consulting and related services,” would be a good idea, too.

I suppose it is possible that Freddie Mac paid more than $1.6 million for Gingrich to serve as a kind of historian.  After all, Freddie Mac was not exactly a paragon of fiscal responsibility, so it may well have spent $25,000 a month for unspecified historian duties even though its business involved mortgages, not histories.  Or, perhaps, Freddie Mac paid the former Speaker of the House to do other things.  It would be nice to know where the truth lies.

The Race Rolls On, And The Big Issues Linger

The Republican presidential primaries, already seemingly endless, roll on.  With Newt Gingrich’s big win in South Carolina, the race is in disarray.  Gingrich is on the rise, Mitt Romney’s shield of inevitability has been dented, and Ron Paul and Rick Santorum are hanging on.

The focus now moves to Florida.  As has come to be the pattern, that means another debate tonight (No!!!!!!), lots more negative ads, and probably some new revelations before Florida goes to the polls on January 31.  We’ll hear lots of buzz words and scripted retorts and talking points, but what we probably won’t hear is much substantive talk about exactly how the remaining contenders are going to tackle the budget deficit.

You can argue about how we select a President in our country, and whether beginning with states like Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina makes any sense.  The early primary voters never seem to share my perspective on the big issues of the day, but perhaps that is just a reminder that ours is a large and diverse land where people have many different views.  In Iowa, social issues always seem to take center stage.  In South Carolina, the votes for Gingrich seemed to be motivated, at least in part, by anger — anger at the news media, and anger at President Obama — and a desire to select a candidate who, the voters believe, will cut the President to ribbons in debates.

Social issues just aren’t on my radar screen, I’m not mad at the news media, and scoring debating points with glib jabs at the President isn’t important to me.  Instead, I just want to hear how specifics about the candidates will cut our spending, balance our budget, resolve our debt issues, and get our economy growing again.  Those are the issues that are most important to me and, I think, most important to our country.  Maybe — just maybe — some Floridians share that view.

Those Ridiculous Back-To-Back Debates

Last night, when we got back from dinner, we did some channel-surfing and saw there was a Republican presidential debate.  Today, there was another one.  That’s right — two separate debates, back-to-back.

I understand that the New Hampshire primary is Tuesday, but what possible rationale is there for having two debates less than 24 hours apart?  The issues didn’t change, and the candidates certainly haven’t.  The only difference was the questioners — and the fact that the candidates could get a kind of immediate do-over, after being coached by their staffs, while the prior debate was still fresh in the minds of the handful of pathetic political junkies and reporters who watched it.

And therein lies the point.  These Republican debates are so mind-numbingly frequent that I can’t believe most people actually watch them anymore.  In fact, my guess is that most people would rather gouge out their eyeballs with a salt-encrusted wiper blade than have to watch another one.  So, the filter provided by the media becomes especially important.  If the press says that Mitt Romney “won” the debate, or that Rick Santorum made a gaffe, is any voter actually going to go back and try to watch the debate to see if the characterization is accurate?  Only the most masochistic potential voter would want to endure the inept questioning or the windy discussions or the scripted applause lines.

Overexposure is a bad thing.  People get sick of seeing you and tune you out.  Celebrities like the Kardashians have learned that, and let’s hope the Republican candidates now have learned that, too.  Go ahead and campaign, and run your ads in New Hampshire and South Carolina — but for heaven’s sake avoid any more of these silly televised “debates.”  We just can’t take any more.


Palin Says No, Thanks

Sarah Palin announced today that she won’t be running for President in 2012.  Palin said that her family comes first and added that, by not being a candidate, she would be “unshackled” and could be “even more active.”  I’m not surprised by her decision.  She makes a lot of money and has a lot of freedom in her current role as Fox News contributor, author, and conservative gadfly.  Why give that up?

I imagine that every Republican candidate for President breathed a sigh of relief, too.  Palin is probably the most polarizing American political figure that has existed during my lifetime; I don’t think anyone else even comes close.  People either love her and view her as the modern savior of traditional American values, or hate her with a deadly passion and consider her to be a mean-spirited, blithering idiot.  I’m sure the other Republicans think that the last thing they need is Sarah Palin saying provocative things during debates and campaign experiences and energizing the Democrats and independents who might otherwise vote against President Obama or just stay home.  (Of course, the eventual Republican nominee will be perfectly happy to accept any fundraising help that Palin can provide during the campaign.)

With Palin’s announcement, and Chris Christie’s recent reaffirmation that he will not be a candidate, the gym doors seem to be closed and the sock hop lineup is set.  Republicans will now take a closer look at the field as they try to decide who they want for a dance partner.

The Economics Of Early Primaries

Don’t look now, but states are jockeying to move up the dates of their primaries, caucuses, and other electoral contrivances.  Florida has indicated that it is going to move its primary to January 31.  If it does so, expect South Carolina, New Hampshire, Nevada, and Iowa to follow suit, so they can maintain their current positions in the presidential pecking order.  Such a result could mean the Iowa caucuses happen on January 9, 2012.  Happy New Year!  It’s time to vote!

It’s silly to be voting in January, 10 months before the actual election.  No rational person would want to front-load the process because it increases the risk that a flukey candidate might get on a roll and knock everyone out of the race, only to be exposed months later as a hapless lightweight who isn’t ready for prime time.  Rick Perry’s recent bumbling, fumbling, stumbling performance at a Florida debate aptly demonstrates why it makes sense to draw out the process, to give the candidates the chance to mature and to give the public a reasonable amount of time to get to know who they’re voting for.

So why is there this irresistible impetus to keep moving things up?  States might claim it’s to maintain a tradition or because they want to have a say in selecting the candidates, but I think the real reason is money.  Huge sums are spent on political campaigns these days, and the media flocks to the early primary states.  Early primaries have more candidates and more campaigns spending cash, and states want to get their share.  So why not schedule an early primary and then sit back and watch the hordes of candidates, staffers, consultants, pundits, and reporters descend, fill your hotels, restaurants and bars, buy the TV and radio spots and employ the printing presses, and pump up those hospitality and sales tax receipts?

Early primaries are good business.

Assigning Priorities, And Saying No To Jersey Shore

Today provided another reason why I wish New Jersey Governor Chris Christie would throw his hat in the ring for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.

Christie vetoed a $420,000 tax credit that the New Jersey Economic Development Authority was going to give to the MTV show Jersey Shore.  Christie’s veto message says, “[i]n this difficult fiscal climate, New Jersey taxpayers should not be forced to subsidize projects such as Jersey Shore” and adds, “as Chief Executive I am duty-bound to ensure that taxpayers are not footing a $420,000 bill for a project which does nothing more than perpetuate misconceptions about the State and its citizens.”

New Jersey, like other states, has been grappling with serious budget concerns that have required Christie and state legislators to make some tough decisions and decide where to put scarce government resources.  Giving tax breaks to a hit TV program — especially one that makes your state seem like a repository for perma-tanned, muscle-bound idiots — has to be at the bottom of the priority list, as Christie recognized and explained in clear, unmistakable language.

I like those qualities.  That’s why I’d like to learn more about Christie and hear his take on how to tackle the federal budget deficit.