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.

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.

My God, Are The Republicans Still Playing?

I haven’t paid much attention to the Republican presidential primary race lately.  In light of March Madness, has anyone?  The Republicans are like a Sweet Sixteen team that has played two dreadfully boring early-round games and then gets overlooked in the talk about the upcoming games.  You sort of think:  “Wow — are they still around?”

They are.  The Republicans just had a primary in Illinois.  Mitt Romney won and continues to slowly build a huge lead in delegates.  Ron Paul, Rick Santorum, and Newt Gingrich each advise the others to exit the race and then vow to continue to the convention.  In short, not much as changed.

You wonder what the Republicans really have to talk about, after so many debates and straw polls and caucuses and primaries.  An answer of sorts lies in the fact that today’s big news is about a comment made by a Mitt Romney advisor who said the general election is like taking an Etch A Sketch, shaking it, and then starting all over in the fall.  Romney’s rivals pounced on the remark and said it reflected Romney’s plan to reinvent himself for the general election.  Both Gingrich and Santorum took Etch A Sketches to their rallies today as props.

Really, guys?  Etch A Sketches?  The NCAA Tournament is a lot more interesting, and now it seems a lot less frivolous.

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.

Newtered

Today South Carolina Republicans vote in their state’s presidential primary.  Polls indicate it is a two-man race between Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich.

Gingrich apparently has been given a boost by the most recent Republican candidates debate.  Gingrich was asked about the recent comments of his ex-wife, who said he asked that she agree to an “open marriage” in which he could have both a wife and a mistress.  In response, Gingrich lashed out at the questioner and the media, generally, for focusing on irrelevancies and making the first question in a presidential debate one about his long-ago personal affairs.  The audience of Republicans, who apparently hate the media with every fiber of their beings, ate it up and gave Gingrich a standing ovation.

I don’t care about Gingrich’s past personal behavior — but I also don’t see why his set-piece smackdown of a question about it is such a great thing.  Some rock-ribbed conservatives seem to despise the media and love to see them publicly criticized for any reason; I don’t share that view.

To me, the little diatribe was an obvious, planned bit of political theater, and the fact that Gingrich palled around with the questioner after the debate just confirms it.  Gingrich has deep roots and connections in the Washington social milieu of politicians, lobbyists, reporters, and consultants.  When he gave his little angry performance, his inside-the-Beltway buddies no doubt leaned back, nodded to each other, and agreed that Gingrich was just doing the necessary political thing, knowing the rubes would eat it up — and they did.

Gingrich’s debate diatribe may well win South Carolina for him, but I think his performance really exposes him as just another calculated politician.

Newt, Or Nut?

Republicans are on pins and needles as the Iowa caucuses draw near.  They want the 2012 election to focus on President Obama and his record.  They think that if the election is about unemployment and the recession that won’t end, they’ll win.

This strategy presupposes the Republicans pick a reasonable candidate.  If they nominate somebody who seems like a nut, the focus will shift from familiar stories about the crappy economy to novel stories about the Republican’s nutty positions.  If that happens, President Obama’s chances of re-election increase dramatically.

Most people put Ron Paul and Michele Bachmann in the “nut” category.  The challenge for Newt Gingrich is to stay out of that category — but his comments about the federal judiciary aren’t helping.

Gingrich has railed against activist judges, has talked about abolishing entire courts to try to rein in the judiciary, and has even discussed sending marshals to arrest judges and bring them to testify before congressional committees.  His point seems to be that the federal judiciary is too powerful and the other two branches of government need to rein in the judges.  Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with that point, the notion of eliminating courts and haling judges before Congress is too nutty for most Americans.  It runs counter to notions of separation of powers, and respect for equal branches of government, that most Americans hold dear.  It also raises the specter of a President who might disastrously overreact in a moment of crisis.

I’m not surprised that Gingrich’s meteoric rise in the polls seems to be reversing itself.  He talks a lot — and often he seems to talk without really thinking things through.  When he does, he sounds like . . . a nut.

Eye Of Newt

There’s a new flavor of the month among the Republican presidential candidates — at least, according to the polls.  Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House and intellectual gadfly, apparently has become the frontrunner.

The Republican campaign, if you can call these tedious months of “debates,” fund-raising, straw polls, and polling a campaign, seems like an exercise in Fortune’s Wheel.  Every so often the wheel is spun, the candidates at the bottom move to the top, and the former front runners tumble to the bottom.  Right now, it’s Gingrich’s turn at the top of the wheel.

It’s not surprising that Gingrich should get traction.  He’s glib, has performed well in the debates compared to the stumbling performances of other candidates, and has a track record as Speaker of the House that features balanced budgets.  Of course, his record as Speaker includes other, less positive actions and ethics claims, he’s had some personal issues over his lifetime, and his activities during the years after his tenure as Speaker have yet to be fully explored.  We know he shopped at Tiffany’s, wrote books, was involved in some kind of work for Freddie Mac, and was part of the stew of consulting firms, advocacy organizations, tax-exempt groups, commissions, and task forces that are found everywhere in Washington, D.C., but that’s about it.

Now that Gingrich is at the top, his record as Speaker and his activities since then will get lots of attention — and we’ll see if the scrutiny causes another turn of Fortune’s Wheel.

Surveying The Republican Field

Last week Kish and I turned on CNN at 9 to watch the news and watched, instead, the second half of the Republican candidates debate.  Here are my observations based solely on that limited exposure, moving left to right on the stage.

Rick Santorum:  Desperate for attention.  Consciously staking out the most conservative position on every issue.  (Seriously, the defense budget can’t be cut at all?)  His boast that he was best suited to beat President Obama because he had been elected in a “swing state,” without noting that he got hammered in his bid for reelection, was an eye-roller.

Ron Paul:  Looks like an elf.  Every rational point — like questioning some of our defense spending — was undercut by a nutty statement that makes you wonder what he would do if he actually became President.  It’s a scary proposition.

Hermann Cain:  Not ready for prime time.  Wants to reform the tax code — who doesn’t? — but seems to lack knowledge of foreign policy and other areas of domestic policy.  Repeated himself when he didn’t have anything new to say.  Business experience is great, but political experience is important, too, and Cain doesn’t have it.

Mitt Romney:  Glib, polished, well-prepared.  Calculated, too.  One of the most comfortable candidates on stage.  Gives the impression that there isn’t a question you could ask him that he wouldn’t be able to handle reasonably well.  Acts like he is leading the pack, and he is.

Rick Perry:  Awkward, tongue-tied, and uncomfortable.  Struggled to get out coherent sentences.  Is he  over-prepared or under-prepared, tired, or just not suited to the debate format?  It’s hard to imagine him in a one-on-one meeting with a foreign leader.

Newt Gingrich:  Smart and well-spoken.  His answer describing the silly danger of making automatic cuts if an arbitrary deficit-cutting goal isn’t met was as good an answer as you will hear in an unrehearsed setting.  Capably steered the discussion back to President Obama’s performance, where the Republicans should want it to be.  The most impressive candidate on stage.

Michele Bachmann:  An afterthought.  The answer in which she launched into a naked appeal to women who are worried about losing their homes seemed programmed and over the top.   Trying hard to look like she belongs on the stage.

The part of the debate we watched actually was somewhat interesting.  I might watch the next debate, now that we are getting ever closer to 2012.