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?

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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?

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.

Another Turn Of Fortune’s Wheel In Iowa

Thankfully, the Iowa Republican caucuses are tomorrow.  I don’t think I could take even one more day of breathless reports about the latest polling data.

I’ve written before about how the Iowa polls seem like Fortune’s Wheel — constantly turning, with always-new, surging would-be frontrunners who quickly crash and burn and then are replaced with latest darling.    Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain, and now Newt Gingrich have all had their time at the top of the wheel, followed by speedy tumbles to the bottom.  According to the final Des Moines Register poll, the latest candidate to catch fire is Rick Santorum, the former Senator from Pennsylvania who is popular among social conservatives.  The poll reports that Santorum has broken into the top three, trailing only Mitt Romney and Ron Paul.  Gingrich, the former flavor of the month, apparently has talked his way back into the pack of also-rans.

The polls make voters in the Hawkeye State seem as silly and fickle as a crush-addled teenager.  Given that, perhaps reporters should stop writing critically about how Romney can’t seem to be break through the 30 percent barrier and write admiringly instead about his ability to steadily retain a solid core of support among an undecided and capricious Iowa electorate.

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.