Palin Endorsement? …

Sarah Palin has given a non-endorsement/endorsment:

If I had to vote in South Carolina, in order to keep this thing going, I would vote for Newt, and I would want it to continue — more debates, more vetting of candidates because we know the mistake made in our country four years ago with having a candidate that was not vetted, to the degree that he should have been so that we knew what his associations and his pals represented and what went into his thinking.

More debates? Ugh…I’m not sure what this means in the long term, but Palin is still trying to throw her weight around. It does seem that Gingrich is picking up momentum again.

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State By State: A Panoramic Portrait Of America- A Review

 

If you like McSweeney’s and Believer products then you’ll probably really like this book; and, likewise, if you hate both brands then you should probably stay away from this. State by State is not officially a McSweeney’s publication, but Sean Wilsey is an editor at McSweeny’s Quarter Concern so it pretty much is. A bunch of people from the McSweeny’s and Believer crew appear in this book.

I’m fairly agnostic about McSweeney’s publicans (there seem to be some pretty divergent opinions on them), and I ended up feeling the same about State by State. The book isn’t bad, but It’s not great.

With 50 different writers there are bound to be some ups and downs, but I just couldn’t get into this book. I’d hit an interesting essay, but I’d go through a draught of boring ones. I can’t believe that the contributors to this book are the finest writers from their respective states.

There are just some really bad essays in here. Rick Moody pens an awful essay about his drugged up friends. Will Blythe writes about New Hampshire–of course he isn’t from there and only manages to write about the New Hampshire primary and reflects on the Salem Witch Trials. Jim Lewis writes a three page essay on Kansas, in which he reminisces about a time he got laid there. Lydia Millet writes about moving from Manhattan to live in Arizona, only to bemoan the locals. David Rakoff whines about the Mormon church in Utah.

As others have mentioned, the worst essay in the book is by William T. Vollmann, who writes about California. Vollmann writes about environmental degradation and curses our materialistic society for about 12 pages. At the end of the essay, he celebrates his love of freedom by going to an S&M club.

Now, I grew up on the West Coast and spent a bit of my childhood with relatives in California. I could think of dozens of topics to write about, so I scratch my head at why the editors decided to go with Mr. Vollmann’s screed.

As others of noted, the common themes of most of the books essays are: environmental degradation, the destruction of native Peoples, materialism, and the Reagan Administration. My problem with this isn’t that these writers are liberals/ progressives and are choosing to write about topics dear to their heart; It’s just that most of the writers are so mirthless and dull. Why would I ever want to sympathize with them? Clearly there are problems with America, but most of these people make me want to jump off a cliff; equally, in such a diverse country, could the editors not find any conservatives, moderates, or libertarians to write anything? Surly they could have found a couple writes.

On that note, I expected some political discussions in the book, but I didn’t want to bludgeoned in the head with politics. I wanted this book to be an escape from our 24/7 election cycle and culture wars; instead, Mr. Vollmann and others wrote about politics in the most uninteresting manner possible.

So, that’s the bad.

There is a lot of good in this book. The book had a few gems that I would encourage anyone to read. Ha Jin writes an essay about his time in Georgia that is wonderful. Mohammed Naseehu Ali writes a heart warming reflection on immigrating from Africa to Michigan. Jacki Lyden writes about Bosnian immigrants in Missouri. And, as usual, Jhumpa Lahiri writes a wonderful essay about her home state of Rhode Island.

Other essays aren’t great, but they are generally entertaining. Carrie Brownstein does a fairly decent write-up on my home of Washington State. John Hodgman (the PC from the older Mac vs PC commercials) writes about his home state of Massachusetts. And, Dave Eggers, someone who I’m not normally a fan of, writes a pretty funny, and somewhat convincing, argument in favor of Illinois being the greatest of all the states.

So, I give this book a generous three star rating. A few great essays hold up many mediocre minds. I’m not sure if I would recommend buying this book; I checked it out from a library. If you do, I would just recommend not reading too many of these in one sitting.

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Republican Debate Wrap Up

Last night the Republicans had their 15th debate in South Carolina. The debate was hosted by the Fox News Channel and The Wall Street Journal.

This is the last debate, I think, before the South Carolina primary on Saturday. And, I have to say, this was probably the best debate I’ve seen.

Over at the Weekly Standard, Bill Kristol agreed with me.

Stephen Hayes , Rich Lowry , Terence Jeffrey, James Antle all seemed to agree that Gingrich knocked this one out fo the park.

However, to be fair, Charles Blow at the New York Times found much to be disgusted about with Gingrich’s tirade.

As far as the front-runner, Mitt Romney seemed to have a rough night. Hugh Hewitt still carried the water for his man, but Charlotte Hays at National Review pretty much summed up Romney’s most annoying characteristic of last night:

Romney has time to prepare to debate Barack Obama. The general-election viewers won’t want as much fire as the South Carolina Republicans. That will be to his advantage. But he does need to get used to being under attack. He also needs to drop the smile. Nothing wrong in looking serious in serious times (emphasis mine, B.E).

Romney does have a tendency to sit smile when he’s in the hot seat. My wife pointed this out when Bachman would rail against him. He’d just stand back and smirk.

The most sailent fact from last night is that the debate hasn’t changed the big picture. Jennifer Ruben, at the Washington Post, sums this up nicely:

Romney has done a respectable job defusing three potential weaknesses. First, the flip-flop dig no longer seems all that potent. He’s pretty much mastered the telling of his conversion to a pro-life position and insisting that he is against discrimination but also against gay marriage. Second, he has been aided greatly by the media in debunking the Bain attacks. Coming from sources outside the campaign, the fact-checking has, to a large degree, confirmed his success and also damaged his opponents’ credibility. Finally, when Santorum accused Romney of being too timid in the debate on entitlements, it didn’t quite ring true, given Romney’s position on Medicare reform (a modification of Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan that later became the Ryan-Wyden plan) and his forthrightness on Social Security. Is Santorum heading into Florida with the position that you have to maintain benefits for current retirees?

Romney is winning and, step-by-step, moving toward the nomination both because his opponents have been ineffective (and self-defeating) and because, for all the eye-rolling in the media and the distaste for him among right-wing pundits, he has developed a solid conservative agenda. With those positions, adept speaking skills and very flawed opponents, he will win the nomination unless one of his competitors starts drilling down on Romney’s weaknesses

I’m pretty much with Ruben. Nothing happened last night that Romney can’t overcome. He’s still going to win the nomination.

So, on that note, here are some of my thoughts about the others from the debate:

Gingrich: It’s superfluous to say that he did a great job. Gingrich soars at these events. Too bad the best debater doesn’t end up as President. Last night doesn’t change the fact that he’s been running a weak campaign.

Santroum: He needed a boost last night after his disappointing finish last week in New Hampshire, and I don’t think he closed the deal. In the end, Santorum  is a passionate guy who speaks about a lot of issues I’m concerned about, but he just doesn’t have the charisma.

Perry: I was fairly impressed with him last night. It was his best debate performance of the season. I only wish he’d come out like that six months ago. I don’t think last night debate is going to change his poll numbers; in the end, he’s just going to drag support away from Gingrich and Santorum.

Paul: Well, as I said in my other post, The GOP and the Paulites are not going be making peace any time soon. It’s not that Paul gives the other Republicans much to like. He had a solid debate performance, but he didn’t change any minds.

With four days until the primary, Real Clear Politics has Romney averaging a 10 point lead over the rest of the field.

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Exit Huntsman

According to the New York Times, Jon Huntsman announced that he’ll be dropping out of the race and endorsing Mitt Romney.

It’s a sad end to a sad campaign. Huntsman deserved a shot to the big time, but he mismanaged his campaign and now will never be President.

My guess is that he’s hoping to be Secretary of State in a Romney administration.

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The Ron Paul Factor

The big question on the minds of Republicans is how to handle the Ron Paul problem.

To use professional wrestling terms, In the 08 primaries Ron Paul played the Republican heel in the debates. He would spout off unpopular things and rile up the audience, then a faithful Republican baby face would hulk up and give a massive leg drop on issues like the surge and the patriot act. Republicans and Conservatives would cheer that they’d smacked down Paul for bringing up issues like blowback into a Republican debate.

But, unfortunately for McCain, Romney, Huckabee and Thompson they all lost in one way or another. And, while they were body slamming Ron Paul, their campaigns lacked had the intensity of an NPR special on the effects of global warming on the Siberian tundra.

Four years later, Romney is officially “winning”, but his victory has a hallow feel to it. None of the Republican campaigns have any life in them. The only bits of life seemed to bubble up around the Santorum campaign after the 2nd place finish in Iowa but that seemed more like desperation than momentum. All the while Ron Paul has been steadily chugging along.

I hope not to give the impression that I think Ron Paul will ultimately win the Republican primary or even play a major role at the convention. But, I do think Republicans, especially disappointed Tea Parties like Jim DeMint and even Sarah Palin are waking up to the fact that Ron Paul has stolen their mojo.

Sarah Palin openly voiced these concerns after the Iowa Caucus:

“The GOP would be so remiss to marginalize Ron Paul and his supporters as we come out of Iowa tonight and move down the road to New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida, et cetera. If we marginalize these supporters who have been touched by Ron Paul and what he believed in over these years, well, then, through a third party run of Ron Paul’s or the Democrats capturing those independents and these libertarians who supported what Ron Paul’s been talking about, well, then the GOP is going to lose. And then there will be no light at the end of the tunnel.”

“So, the worst thing that the GOP machine can do is marginalize Ron Paul and his supporters.”

Palin is absolutely correct. But, the question remains, is this even possible?

Well, in the short-term, probably not…Politicans and parties often are short-sighted, but the conservative movement has the opportunity. Lets look at how this could potentally be accomplished.

The modern GOP/conservative movement of reminds us that the coalition is held up by three legs of a stool or three legs of a tripod.

1.) National Security hawks 2.) Fiscal conservatives 3.) The social cons/prolifers.

The first two legs of the tripod have largely proved the Republican parties intellectual ideas for the past 30 years. Whether this was the threat of the Soviet Union or radical Islam to Supply Side Economics. The third leg of the tripod, the social-cons, are provided a majority of the legwork for the party. It’s the people who take part in the march for life and events like that, which supply the GOP with army of foot soldiers, because we know economists and military strategists haven’t been rousing the troops.

The Ron Paul coalition, if you can even call it that, seems to consist of three major factions:

1.) The anti-war doves 2.) The End-The-Fed types 3.) Civil Libertarians.

We could probably do a vin diagram to make this process much more detailed, but I’m going to paint with a broad brush.

First, the problems:

1.) National Security Hawks vs. Anti-War Doves:

How deep do I really have to go into this one? I’m sure you can figure it out. Next…

2.) Fiscal Conservatives/Supply Siders vs. End-The-Fed

While both sides proclaim to take inspiration from Austrian Economists, The main problem is that Republicans have shown themselves to be just as eager to print money as Democrats. The truth of course is that Republicans love to spend money and have generally has loose monetary policy while in power. Meanwhile, Ron Paul and his supporters are on a singular mission to take down the Federal Reserve, because it represents inflation and out of control government. Ron Paul would like us to go back to a gold standard. Even the most ardent Conservatives (i.e Weekly Standard, National Review, American Spectator) would be reluctant to take down the Federal Reserve.

3.) Social Conservatives vs. Civil Libertarians

Well, on the face of it these two subjects seem pretty far apart. Especially for Republicans, Social-Cons exist in a pretty broad group and often represent a broad range of supporters. You may find rock-ribbed-right-wing evangelicals marching with fairly moderate Catholics who in an earlier time would have been Democrats. On the Paul side of things, issues we label “social” have not been a prominent feature of the campaign. Ron Paul has personally spoken out for pro-life issues, but his base of support hardly seems motivated by social issues. At the same time, many of the main social-con groups have largely seemed to avoid questions about civil liberties.

So, there are the problems…But, I see quite a few was to bridge some of these gaps.

1.) Ron Paul will never win over Dick Cheney or Sen. McCain, but Americans have generally grown more skeptical of foreign engagements; for example, in this election cycle Romney has been fairly quite on foreign policy (no doubling Gitmo this time) and Huntsman has called for the return of troops from Afghanistan. Also, regarding Huntsman, he’s also come out strongly in favor of soft-power incentives throughout the campaign, the same kinds of things that would be necessary for some of Paul’s policy ideas.

The question really is, does Ron Paul see American having a foreign policy presence? I see both parties pivoting to a more skeptical role on this matter.

2.) Fiscal issues are the strongest bond between Paul and Republicans. This of course is because of earlier conservative attempts at fusionism. But, Republicans will never support eliminating the Fed.

If we can’t do away with the Fed, is there any way of convincing Paul supporters? I doubt it, but I do think supporting more transparency at the Fed and implementing realistic goals for monetary policy is a fresh start. Scott Sumner at the Money Illusion has been advocating this for a while.

If Republicans are going to look at a way to address issues with the Fed, I see some of Sumner ideas as a fresh start.

3.) Again, the issue of social-cons and civil libertarians is a unique one. This topic deserves a lot more coverage than I can devote to it, but I will say that Republicans and Paul supporters can find common ground here. I could see Social-Cons pivoting towards increased skepticism of torture and executive power issues.

The other problem is, does Ron Paul want to work more closely with the GOP? I think the answer to that will hang partially on how the GOP treats Paul at the convention later this year. He should be given a fairly prominent spot to speak; and, equally, he should come out and support the Republican ticket.

But, could anyone really see Paul campaigning for Romney?

As I said, in the short-term we’re looking at a pretty bleak picture for Republicans getting all the Ron Paul independents and youth. But, in the long-term, I do see some opportunities.

Do both sides have it in them to compromise?

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New Hampshire Results!

So, how did I do?

1.) Mitt Romney- 37%

2.) Ron Paul- 23%

3.)Jon Huntsman-17%

4.)Newt Gingrich-9.9%

5.)Rick Santorum-9.8%

6.)Rick Perry-0.7%

I wouldn’t say any of my picks, other than Romney, were exactly scientific. I thought that Paul would experience a lag in support in the last days, but Fox is saying that Independents seemed to break for him in larger numbers than Romney. I was expecting that to happen to Huntsman; if I were in the Huntsman camp, I would have walk away from this even more despondent than a week ago. Huntsman had to know that he wasn’t going to beat Romney, but he should have been able to beat Paul.

And, I would hardly say I was wrong regarding Gingrich and Santorum. New Hampshire voters were probably never going to be inclined to support Santorum in larger numbers, but I had assumed Gingrich had alienated people, guess not.

Poor, poor Rick Perry. I’m sure that New Hampshire would never be his strongest state, but you have to feel sorry for the Republican governor of the largest state in the lower 48.

So, where does this leave the race? Well, not much different than what I wrote about last evening. Romney is winning states but gaining no momentum.

Real Clear Politics had a bevy of articles about the Romney problem.

Jonah Goldberg, writing in the LA Times, had an article today entitled: “Romney’s Authenticity Problem“. Goldberg sums up quite well Romney’s major problem from the debate last Saturday night:

Romney’s claim that he’s just a businessman called to serve — Cincinnatus laying down his PowerPoint — is nonsense. Romney, the son of a politician, has been running for office, holding office or thinking about running for office for more than two decades. “Just level with the American people,” Gingrich growled. “You’ve been running … at least since the 1990s.”

For some reason, Romney can’t do that. Or at least it seems like he can’t. His authentic inauthenticity problem isn’t going away. And it’s sapping enthusiasm from the rank and file. The turnout in Iowa was disastrously low, barely higher than the turnout in 2008 — and if Ron Paul hadn’t brought thousands of non-Republicans to the caucus sites, it would have been decidedly lower than in 2008. That’s an ominous sign given how much enthusiasm there should be for making Obama a one-term president. It’s almost as if Romney’s banality is infectious.

First impressions are a killer. People decided four years ago that they didn’t like Romney, and he hasn’t done anything to change those opinions. Matt Bai, a political writer for The New York Times, equally sees problems with Romney’s past with Bain Capital:

Mr. Romney’s private equity firm routinely made money by buying struggling companies and shuttering their plants — including one in Gaffney, S.C., where more than a hundred steel workers were reportedly laid off…

Mr. Romney seemed plastic and programmed, an impression that could only be exacerbated by the idea that he was laying people off and sleeping just fine.

Read the whole thing. Bai is referencing comments Romney made over the weekend that he enjoyed firing people. Huntsman and Gingrich both pounced on the horror that a businessperson may fire people.

By the way, to be fair, here is the quote:

“I want individuals to have their own insurance, that means the insurance company will have an incentive to keep you healthy. It also means if you don’t like what they do, you can fire them. I like being able to fire people who provide services to me.

“You know, if someone doesn’t give me a good service that I need, I want to say I’m going to go get someone else to provide that service to me.”

Not exactly a radical statement, but It’s thin gruel in this economy.

So, anyway, Romney won with less than 50 percent of the vote in a state bordering the state where he formally governed. This isn’t an earth shattering win. I think Republicans are going to be throwing down some stiff drinks tonight or saying a few hail marys.

The fact of the matter is that Romney has won this thing. South Carolina is going to be a bare knuckle brawl, but, regardless, Romney is going to come out on top. He’s the only one with a large source of money and connections and party endorsements. It’s also just what the GOP does. At the American Scene, Noah Millman makes the case that this is just the standard GOP game.

The final thought on this for tonight is: What must those Tea Party voters be thinking? Did Sharon Angle and Christine O’Donnell kill the Tea Party? My later example, Christine O’Donnell, is a fairly interesting case. On one hand, she ran a hopeless senate campaign in Delaware, after defeating Mike Castle in a primary; on the other hand, she ended up endorsing Romney for President–Is she potentially looking for a job? By the way, I know this is old news, yes blogging is supposed to be timely and all that jazz, but you gotta love O’Donnell’s explanation on Romney’s flip flops: “He’s been consistent since he changed his mind.”

The South Carolina primary is Saturday, January 21st. Romney is polling at around 30 percent in South Carolina. Rick Santorum is the next closest with about 21 percent.

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New Hampshire Primary tomorrow.

Tomorrow night is the New Hampshire primary. This is the first such contest to select the man, it’s safe to say man now as the only woman in the race, Michelle Bachman, dropped out, who will ultimately go on to face Barack Obama this fall, so all eyes will be glued to the results.

Except, well, that’s probably an exaggeration. It’s more truthful to say that the majority of people who are actually paying attention will be relieved that the mess is nearly complete.

As I write, Willard Mitt Romney, the former Governor of Massachusetts will be costing to victory. According to Real Clear Politics, Romney is ahead by an average of 9 percent of the polls. This isn’t a major surprise as Romney was the governor of a nearby state and owns property in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire. With those factors in mind, it’s safer to say that tomorrow evenings results will hinge more on who gets second, third, and fourth place.

Last Tuesday former senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania surprised the world by coming in second place. Romney won the contest by eight votes, which this result is being disputed at the moment, but it hardly matters.

Santorum is running hard on a populist platform that promises no corporate taxes on manufacturing industries and increasing tax credits to families with children.

All of this sounds good to me. I’ve hoped that the Republicans would adopt a more family friendly tax policy. Others who much smarter than I have noted for years that the Republican base has taken in larger numbers of the so called “working class voters”. While Democrats describe Republicans in speeches in terms that would have been used in the gilded age, the reality is much more different. Republicans have been taking a much larger chunk of the traditional blue collar Democratic base in the past few Presidential elections. Our election bucked this trend, but those circumstances were mostly due to the financial crisis; overall, the larger narrative is that since Reagan the blue collar voters he brought in have made a home in the Republican Party.

Enter Rick Santorum. He’s made an honest case to appeal to these voters and has gained some serious traction. Santorum has also benefited from the fact that he’s in a weak file with incompetent competitors, but, to borrow from another blogger, Santorum has routinely punched outside of his weight.

So, while Romney has tomorrow night squared away, here are a few of my predictions:

Santorum:  He’ll come in fourth. This isn’t exactly great, but New Hampshire isn’t generally kind to social conservatives. I mean, ok, Buchanan won in 96, but that’s an anomaly.

Ron Paul: Good ole Dr. Paul! Expect him to do rather well , I’d say he’ll be in second or third place. This will probably be high tide for the good doctor. He could bank on some Midwestern isolationism/populism in Iowa, and he’ll be sure to get a big chunk of libertarian minded Republicans and Independents tomorrow. But, I don’t see him going much further than that. Sure he’ll be in the race, but where is Paul going to go from here?

John Huntsman: Poor Huntsman. He should have fired his campaign staff long ago, but he’s stuck it out this far. I expect him to do well tomorrow, he may even get second place, but he won’t make it much further than New Hampshire. I’d be shocked if we see him South Carolina. Which is a real shame. He may be a bit condescending, but he’s also been a fairly reliable conservative as Governor of Utah.

Gingrich: He’ll be in the bottom again. Poor Newt. In 08, I hoped and prayed that he’d jump in the race. What a fool I was! He’s just ridicules. Poor Newt. Stick to writing books Mr. Speaker.

Rick Perry: He’ll be a nonfactor tomorrow. Enough said.

So…my predictions again (which are pretty safe)…

1.)  Romney

2.)  Huntsman

3.)  Paul

4.)  Santorum

5.)  Newt

6.)  Perry

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