All presidential candidates are tested to the breaking point. Bill Clinton endured adultery accusations just days before the New Hampshire primary. Barack Obama, seemingly cruising after an Iowa victory four years ago, found himself losing to Hillary Clinton the very next week in New Hampshire. Both recovered.
Mitt Romney has had a nightmare of a week heading into Saturday’s South Carolina primary. At Monday’s debate, in addition to the little stuff, like confusing the big game he was hunting in Montana, he also gave one of the world’s longest and meandering and confused responses ever about the release of his tax returns. Maybe in April. If that’s the tradition. He was going to release them eventually sometime. It was quite the exhibit of red-faced tap-dancing. Meantime, Newt Gingrich played the conservative and vocal audience in the debate hall like a Stradivarius.
Then Romney hinted his tax return just might reveal he paid a fairly low 15% tax rate and then basically declared that his $350,000 in annual speaking fees was chump change. Which, of course, it is, compared to his estimated $25 million annual income from investments, but still enough to put him in the top 1% of American wage earners.
He then wakes up Thursday morning to find out he may actually have lost the Iowa caucus to Rick Santorum- trailing in the final but incomplete vote count officially released today. Not sure it’ll help Santorum- but it takes the luster off the Romney camp’s brag about being the first non-incumbent Republican presidential candidate in history to win both Iowa and New Hampshire. He is no longer undefeated.
Meantime, recent polling finds a large erosion in Romney’s South Carolina and national leads. As I write, Rich Perry is getting out of the race and apparently headed toward a Gingrich endorsement.
The only bright spot for Romney is anticipating the possible damage that might be done tonight when ABC News releases an interview conducted with Newt’s ex-wife Marianne on Nightline. Careful what you wish for. A “lame-stream” media interview with a surging conservative candidate’s ex-wife 48 hours before the voting- seems to me to be the perfect storm for a voter backlash against the establishment media- and a potential boon for Newt Gingrich if he plays it right.
Mitt Romney is still formidable. He still has a lot of money and the best and deepest campaign organization. He still has a large lead in the Florida primary set for Tuesday, January 31st. History has shown that politicians in a seeming free fall can correct and conquer.
I’m not in the business of advising presidential candidates on tactics, but Jon Stewart offered Mitt some advice on the Daily Show last night that might be his ultimate answer to surviving this critical juncture in the campaign. That advice: stop pretending not to be rich. Embrace your wealth. Embrace your success story. Lose the pretenses about being middle class and once having worried about getting a “pink slip.” Nobody believes that stuff.
Americans strive to be rich no matter what their circumstance or background. They can respect that. What they pick up on fast is phoniness and a lack of authenticity. He ought to release his tax returns, tell people he did everything lawfully available to him to save on his tax bill, and proclaim himself rich and proud of it. “You know what?” the New Romney might say, “I earned everything I have. Maybe it’s time America had a President who knows how to create a little bit of wealth.”
Why, it’s so crazy, it just might work.
He’s supposed to make South Carolina his third straight victory and head to Florida with a full head of steam, at which point Mitt Romney would be the certain Republican nominee. About 99 out of 100 pundits told us it was all over after the New Hampshire primary. That chorus of prescience from the talking heads should have been our first clue.
Mitt Romney is fighting for his political life in South Carolina. The latest polls have Newt Gingrich just 2 points behind the prematurely anointed former Massachusetts Governor. Sarah Palin went on Fox today demanding that he release his tax returns and offer definitive proof about the 100,000 jobs he says he created when he was at Bain Capital.
Gingrich is unapologetically continuing the theme the party elders begged him to stop this week, unrelenting in his attacks on Romney’s investment banking days. He is joined by Texas Governor Rick Perry who lost a big GOP donor over the approach but didn’t seem to care much, saying, “If somebody wants to cut and run that’s their call.”
There will have been a full nine days of negative ads from Gingrich before South Carolinians finally take to the polls Saturday after next- a withering attack that may well have the same effect on Romney that Romney’s onslaught did to Newt in Iowa. Looks like the Super Pacs are going to make this a contest after all.
What is interesting about the path being taken by Gingrich, Perry and Palin in making these attacks on Romney is that it really does reflect a populist “main street” wing of the Republican Party. It must be horrifying to the “Wall Street” wing of the party.
And then there’s Ron Paul who will keep getting his 20% and finishing 2nd or 3rd in these contests, piling up delegates along the way.
Here’s the reality of the Romney march to the nomination. Yes, he made history becoming the first non-incumbent Republican candidate to win both Iowa and New Hampshire. But he won Iowa by 8 votes and couldn’t hit 40% in the state where he owns a home and is next door to his native Massachusetts. South Carolina is Newt’s New Hampshire. Next to his home state of Georgia and a blue-collar conservative bastion that may well be receptive to the surprising populist message of the new main street Republicans.
This race may just be starting.
I’m going to have nightmares about this, I just know it. I’m standing on a stage bathed in hot television lights with 2 million people watching me when all of a sudden, the words just stop coming out. People start giggling. Next thing I know I’m standing in my underwear. I wake up in a cold sweat.
Oh, thank God, I’m just some anonymous journalist guy, not a politician who just watched his entire political career flash before his eyes. Oh Rick. Rick, Rick, Rick.
In case you missed it last night or haven’t seen it yet on YouTube, here’s the Washington Post’s take on The Gaffe:
In easily the most painful moment of an already uneven set of debate performances, the Texas governor on Wednesday night fumbled badly when describing how he would cut government in the CNBC Republican debate.
Perry’s lack of knowledge about his own political platform was awkward on the stage and immediately raised eyebrows in the Twitterverse, and could possibly be a pivot point in his campaign with longer-lasting implications for the race.
It went down like this. Perry began by saying “ I will tell you, it is three agencies of government when I get there that are gone. Commerce, Education, and the — what’s the third one there? Let’s see.”
After struggling for a while, Mitt Romney attempted to throw Perry a bone and volunteered “EPA” — the Environmental Protection Agency. But it wasn’t the EPA, so Perry struggled on to hit on the right answer.
“The third agency of government I would — I would do away with, Education, the…,” Perry continued to try and find his answer.
“Commerce,” an unknown voice volunteered, according to the debate transcript.
“Commerce and, let’s see,” Perry answered. “I can’t. The third one, I can’t. Sorry. Oops.”
The next time he was asked a question, Perry said the Department of Energy was the third agency he would eliminate.
The audience applauded politely.
Hey, I’ve done it. I’ve lost my train of thought before. I’ve seen the train careen off the tracks and tumble six times down a ravine before coming to rest in a fiery explosion. It’s happened once or twice. I think I was tired. Or maybe a little tipsy.
I’m going to say it just once. When a presidential candidate forgets one of the three government agencies he wants to abolish; forgets which set of 30,000 federal workers he’s going to lay off; forgets it’s the Department of Energy, which you’d think might be the agency most top of mind to the Governor of oil-rich Texas- it’s not a good thing.
Even Rick Perry’s supporters were sending out dispirited and demoralized tweets. “The campaign just ended,” said one of them. The folks who put odds on these things downgraded Perry’s chances of getting the nomination by about 30% by the time the debate came to an end.
For those Republicans concerned with winning the general election, all they saw last night in that one mortifying minute of debate history was the debate 10 months from now with President Barack Obama behind one lectern and a deer standing at the other. With bright headlights shining into its eyes.
One could go on but what’s the use?
I will say this- in all sincerity- about Rick Perry. In the spin room afterward, where representatives of the presidential hopefuls show up to tout their candidates fabulous night, Perry did the right and honorable thing. He came out to face the reporters himself.
He said he was grateful he was wearing boots, because he had really stepped in it. Kind of like an NFL quarterback who’s just lost the game after 5 interceptions and still goes out to the press room to face the music. I rather admire the character and humility he displayed with that move in the spin room. It may have been the most honest thing said there the whole night.
I think I now actually really like Rick Perry. I certainly feel for him. Unfortunately for his presidential aspirations, this was the sort of gaffe that goes down in political and television history and is open-and-shut unrecoverable. But I like how he manned up with the reporters afterward.
I’d like to have a drink with the guy. And if it turns out we have a couple too many, we’ll help finish up each others sentences.
Like I said, I’ve been there.
The conventional wisdom is that the fight for the Republican nomination is really down to two: Mitt Romney and Rick Perry. And damn, they have great hair. I can see either one in the pantheon of Presidents.
John Huntsman, who, based on the Washington Post’s instant blogging last night, is the one Republican Democrats would most want to vote for, should not be ignored. He was also nicely quaffed.
Michele Bachmann, however, had a very bad hair night. The hairdo was inexplicably gigantic. Big hair. Huge hair. Helmet-like, even. Most analysts seem to have reached consensus that she failed to stand out from the pack and then fell into the second tier of candidates. I think it is possible her standing has fallen, but she absolutely stood out from the pack. Same week Ed Rollins steps down from his role as her campaign manager she has the rotten luck of having a bad hair night. Coincidence?
Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul both sport the grizzled, veteran, white-hair look. Perhaps coincidentally, they both seem a little grumpy to me. Newt’s greatest applause lines come after his hyperbolic attacks on the given debate moderator of the evening. I like that whole scary, white-haired, angry Uncle thing. It works for him.
Ron Paul, we learned, wants to cut off air conditioning for the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan- but not to be mean. As I understood it, this would make the entire U.S. military intolerably hot, and they would just pack their bags and go home. I could go with that. Leave it to the crazy white-haired Uncle to find a formula for world peace.
I like Herman Cain. I like his 9-9-9 plan. He hardly has any hair, like me, which is another reason I like him. I can’t recall the details of the 9-9-9 plan, but I do like the symmetry of it and I have always been partial to the number 9. And if it fails for some reason, he can always go to the back-up 9-1-1 plan, in which people come rescue you.
And that leaves Rick Santorum who also has a very nice head of very dark hair, though not quite as spectacular as the Romney/Perry combo, which takes the competition hands-down for the impressive thickness and body. And these guys are no spring chickens either.
Tonight, it’s President Obama’s turn in the national spotlight. He’s got a great smile, if unfortunately, not much to use it for these days. But the hair situation with Obama is getting increasingly predictable and, frankly, a little boring. Grey. More and more grey.
I’m with the critics who are urging the President to come out big and bold tonight. Just For Men. And an earring. Blow their socks off, Mr. President.
The only recently successful one I remember was Bill Clinton and Al Gore’s bus trip shortly after the 1992 convention. It seemed a relatively low-tech, novel, charming little trip that actually stirred up interest and fairly sizeable crowds.
Now we have Sarah Palin’s on again-off again bus tours that enable her to essentially party-crash wherever some big Republican event is happening. And then there’s the President’s “non-political,” “non-campaign,” three-day bus tour in a scary looking super-fortified shiny black bus that looks like the kind of vehicle Darth Vader would have used if he decided to go on a listening tour.
The best moment of the Sarah Palin Iowa visit came when ABC News Correspondent, Jake Tapper tried to ask a couple of questions and the former Alaska Governor put him off because she had an appointment with a heifer in the nearby dairy pavilion; proof she really was there to pet the animals and was not seeking media attention.
Following the Sarah Palin mob scene at the Iowa State Fair, the media pretty much forgot about her as only NBC chose to keep covering her “bus tour” as it veered off into Ronald Reagan country with visits to the Gipper’s childhood home in Dixon, Illinois and his alma mater of Eureka College. That was followed by a stop at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum in Springfield, Illinois. It must have been an odd and empty feeling for the Palin’s to see the media mob gone, their attention sucked up by Texas Governor, Rick Perry and President Obama’s own bus tour. It actually turned into a real honest-to-goodness Palin family vacation, which I’m guessing was a somewhat unexpected development for them.
As for President Obama’s “regular guy,” “non-political” bus tour; it is immediately being followed by what has now become a controversial vacation for ten days in posh Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. Critics from the left and the right are saying the Martha’s Vineyard “optics” don’t look good with all the economic misery out there and what not.
Perhaps the First Family should forego the Vineyard and just hang out on the big shiny, fortified black bus for the next couple of weeks. Given all the anger permeating the nation, it may just be the safest option- plus it reportedly has really cool flat-screen TV’s.
Don’t accidently meander into Texas though, Mr. President. I hear it can get ugly down there for Federal Reserve Board Chairmen and presumably other government types as well. Then again, you can probably launch nuclear missles from that thing, can’t you?