Entries Tagged as 'GOP primary'

For Trump, There’s No Bad Publicity

April 14th, 2011 at 11:24 am 44 Comments

Say what you will about Donald Trump, treatment but the man is nothing if not creative. Trump’s not the first uber-wealthy person with an outsized personality to run for President (see Perot, view Ross). The country hasn’t, no rx however, seen a candidate like Trump before. While Perot was content to spend his money running for President, Trump is becoming the first man in American history to actually run for President in order to make money. On Thursday, Trump told CNN that will announce his 2012 intentions on the season finale of his reality television show, Celebrity Apprentice.

No, that’s not a joke. Donald Trump is a marketing genius. Normally, television programs have to pay for their own advertising. Ever the businessman, Trump figured out a better way to boost his show’s ratings: by running for President. By injecting himself into the Presidential race, Trump has made sure that not a day goes by where the eyes and ears of the cable news audience doesn’t see or hear the name “Donald Trump.” His interviews boost his relevance. And his outrageous personality, obvious intelligence and charisma will lead scores of viewers to watch his outrageous reality television show on NBC (In fact, I’m giving the man more free advertising as we speak).

Follow Jeb on twitter: http://twitter.com/JGolinkin

Romney: Not Cynical Enough?

April 14th, 2011 at 8:29 am 10 Comments

Is Mitt Romney’s biggest problem that he’s just not cynical enough? It seems like a ridiculous conclusion since the man is notorious for changing his positions on issues (such as abortion). Yet when you compare the answers Romney is giving to the media in comparison to the other leading Republican with an exploratory committee, Tim Pawlenty, Romney seems to be too eager to say what he believes to be true rather than what he should say to win points with the conservative base.

Recently, both Pawlenty and Romney were interviewed by Larry Kudlow on CNBC. He asked them both similar questions. The differences in their responses help show how Romney isn’t being nearly as cynical as he could be.

Here is Pawlenty’s interview.

Here is Romney’s interview.

How did each candidate respond to the topics raised? (Kudlow did not ask both candidates the exact same questions, so this post will focus on answers that dealt with similar lines of questioning.)

1. Low Taxes and a Flat Tax: Kudlow loves lower and flat taxes, but do the candidates love them at much as Kudlow?

Pawlenty: “Whether it’s corporate rates, whether it’s individual rates, whether it’s dividends, whether its capital gains, whether it’s the death tax, whether it’s capital equipment and I’m down the list, we need to take all of those rates and reduce them as far as we can. We need to simplify the tax code, make it pro-growth, make it more transparent, and make it more friendly for investment and deployment of capital. We need to go back to a Gramm-Rudman style approach like Reagan did.”

Note that Pawlenty even managed to get a line in praising Reagan. And on Flat Taxes:

Pawlenty: “Of course I support a flatter tax rate. I don’t know if we can get there in one leap, but there in a flatter direction absolutely.”

This is all very non-objectionable and makes Kudlow happy.

When Romney was asked about this, Romney also said he wants low taxes. He even wants to make the Bush tax cuts permanent.

But that’s not all he said:

Romney: “I’d love to see much flatter tax rates, but one thing I can also say is that I am not looking for a way to take the top 1% of earners and have them pay a smaller share of the total burden.”

He doesn’t come out and say it, but Romney is coming out against the regressive taxation that a flat tax would bring by its design. Romney is implicitly in favor of some sort of progressive tax scheme, or is at least opposed to regressive taxation.

2. The dollar isn’t strong and Kudlow is not a fan of Bernanke, the Fed, or quantitative easing. Do the candidates share his concern?

Pawlenty: “We need a strong dollar” “The Federal Reserve has to stop what it’s doing.”

FrumForum’s already discussed the problems with Pawlenty’s anti-Fed stance. This wasn’t the interview where he criticized the Fed for printing “fiat money” but he has joined with Kudlow on the anti-Fed bandwagon.

Romney however didn’t share the talking points:

Romney: “I think Ben Bernanke is a student of monetary policy. He’s doing as good a job as he thinks he can do at the Federal Reserve. But look, I’m not going to spend my time going after Ben Bernanke.”

Romney seems to have not gotten the anti-QE2 memo. It’ll be interesting to see how long it takes before he joins with the current anti-Fed sentiment in the GOP.

3. Regulation: Kudlow doesn’t like regulation, or Obamacare.

Pawlenty: “We have unbelievable delays, costs and burdens visited [on] the private economy because of regulation. They need to be reduced, cut and eliminated.”

This comparison is a little harder to do since Kudlow saves the real hard questions on this topic for Romney when discussing Romneycare in Massachusetts.

Romney argues with a federalist defense: he had a solution for Massachusetts, he thinks Obamacare is unconstitutional, and he would repeal Obamacare if elected.

So far so good, but when Romney is describing his Obamacare repeal plan, he adds this odd sentence at the end:

“[you need] to have legislation in to make sure that people with preexisting conditions are not refused the ability to get insurance and that people have access to coverage.”

Romney’s not an idiot. He knows that if you pass a law that ensures people with preexisting coverage are not refused health insurance, then the incentive is to wait until you develop a preexisting coverage before getting your insurance. This is very problematic and it’s the problem the individual mandate is meant to solve. Either Romney was hoping Kudlow wouldn’t catch him on this (which he didn’t) or Romney has a new plan to provide insurance to people with pre-existing conditions without the use of a mandate.

It’ll be interesting to see how long Romney can keep talking about the issues while still avoiding the temptation to be as cynical and as willing to jump on conservative red meat as some of his opponents. It’s also worth asking whether this is the right strategy for Romney to pursue when he hasn’t yet secured the Republican nomination and still has many conservative primaries to win.

Follow Noah on Twitter: @noahkgreen

2012 GOP Favorites: Too Wonky to Win?

April 10th, 2011 at 6:53 pm 45 Comments

In Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, Jonathan Chait argues that the GOP has a “Dukakis problem”: none of the candidates being drafted to run looks very presidential.  But will voters really dismiss a candidate because they don’t like their look?

Chait writes:

Republicans have generally understood that an agenda tilted toward the desires of the powerful requires a skilled frontman who can pitch Middle America. Favorite character types include jocks, movie stars, folksy Texans and war heroes…  [But the frontrunners for the 2012 Republican nomination] make Michael Dukakis look like John F. Kennedy. They are qualified enough to serve as president, but wildly unqualified to run for president… [Mitch] Daniels’s drawbacks begin — but by no means end — with his lack of height, hair and charisma… [Jeb Bush] suffers from an inherent branding challenge [because of his last name]… [Chris] Christie… doesn’t cut a trim figure and who specializes in verbally abusing his constituents… A former tobacco lobbyist and occasional pre-civil-rights-era nostalgic, [Haley] Barbour is the comic embodiment of his party’s most negative stereotypes. A Barbour nomination would be the rough equivalent of the Democrats’ nominating Howard Dean, if Dean also happened to be a draft-dodging transsexual owner of a vegan food co-op.

Chait continues:

The impulse to envision one of these figures as a frontman represents a category error. These are the kind of people you want advising the president behind the scenes; these are not the people you put in front of the camera. The presidential candidate is the star of a television show about a tall, attractive person who can be seen donning hard hats, nodding at the advice of military commanders and gazing off into the future.

Geddit? Mike Dukakis was short, ethnic-looking, and didn’t look good in a tank. (He did his military service in peacetime.) And did I mention that his middle name was Stanley? Who would vote for such a jerk?

All I can say is that Dukakis performed about as well in 1988 as would be predicted from the economy at the time. Here’s a graph based on Doug Hibbs’s model:


Sorry, but I don’t think the Democrats would’ve won the 1988 presidential election even if they’d had Burt Reynolds at the top of the ticket. And, remember, George H. W. Bush was widely considered to be a wimp and a poser until he up and won the election. Conversely, had Dukakis won (which he probably would’ve, had the economy been slumping that year), I think we’d be hearing about how he was a savvy low-key cool dude.

Let me go on a bit more about the 1988 election. Suppose it’s true, as Chait believes, that Americans want their Presidents to look like Clint Eastwood rather than Danny DeVito. How come Dukakis was way ahead in the polls at the start of the general election campaign? The starting point is when people have the least information, when they’re the most superficial. It was by the end of the campaign, at which point voters focused more on party and ideology (see this article) and learned more about the candidates’ ideologies and issue positions, that they decided to go for the preppie from Connecticut over the wimp from Massachusetts.

To political scientists, this perspective — that presidential elections turn on issues and the economy, not on charisma or superficial perceptions of the candidates — is not new. Steven Rosenstone made the argument in his classic 1983 book, Forecasting Presidential Elections. And the political-science view of presidential campaigns has been gaining ground among knowledgeable reporters as well. Unfortunately it hasn’t made its way to the New York Times Magazine yet, but give it time.

My goal is not to mock.  Chait is making an understandable error. He’s close to the action and focuses on the details of the candidates. And candidate effects are complicated. His article concludes:

In an old Simpsons episode, the unlikable brainiac Artie Ziff is elected prom king. “Instead of voting for some athletic hero or a pretty boy, you have elected me, your intellectual superior, as your king,” he says. “Good for you!” It’s funny because it hardly ever happens in real life.

Fortunately (or unfortunately), politics is not like the school prom. In the general election for president, the candidates are well-financed, are clearly distinguishable in ideology, and there are only two of them–thus none of the instability, associated with strategic voting, that we see in the primaries.

I don’t know what’s gonna happen in 2012, but political science research suggests that the Republicans could nominate a goofy short guy with glasses, or a rude fat guy, or whatever, and it wouldn’t make much of a difference. (Haley Barbour is a different story: a conservative from Mississippi could be far enough from the national mainstream to get hurt on ideology. But even then we’re talking a percentage point or two.)

It really irritates me when pundits trivialize politics and insult the voters. I’m sure Chait means well and, yes, I know that most voters don’t know anything about the federal budget, probably half of them can’t find Miami on a map, etc. But there’s no evidence that people vote based on candidates’ looks. Certainly not in presidential elections where the stakes are high and their party identification is clear.

If you want to rail at the mistakes voters make and the problems with our political system . . . fine, go for it! There’s a lot to complain about. But please don’t slam the voters for something they don’t do.

Here’s a rule of thumb. When thinking about “the voters,” think a bit about yourself. Do you vote based on a candidate’s looks? No. So why are you so sure that the ordinary undecided voter is doing so? Sure, many undecideds know less about politics than you do. But if they went out to vote, they might have some preferences. To think that they’re voting based on looks is just silly. And, more to the point, it’s not borne out by the data.

Check out Hibbs’s graph above. Chait also pulls out this line:

A series of experiments has shown that subjects, even young children, can reliably pick the winners of races based solely on candidate photos.

No! As I wrote a couple years ago about a study that claimed an impressive 70% accuracy in predicting winners based on their looks:

It’s a funny result: at first it seems impressive–70% accuracy!–but then again it’s not so impressive given that you can predict something on the order of 90% of races just based on incumbency and the partisan preferences of the voters in the states and districts. I can’t be sure what’s happening here, but one possibility is that the more serious candidates (the ones we know are going to win anyway) are more attractive.

I’m not saying that the study that Jonathan Chait is citing is wrong, exactly, but I don’t think it provides evidence that Mitch Daniels would be dead meat in the presidential election. What matters is the economy.

Here’s why this annoys me so much: There’s some political science research on the importance of the fundamentals in presidential elections. But that’s pretty obscure stuff. You can’t very well expect a political pundit to be reading back issues of the British Journal of Political Science (yep, that’s where our article appeared, even though it was all about the U.S. We first submitted it to the American Political Science Review but they rejected it. Too many graphs and not enough tables, I think.) So, sure, I can’t blame Chait for not being up on the research consensus. And, as I wrote above, I’m sure he means well. In this case he’s trying to give Republicans the advice to nominate a pretty-boy rather than someone serious. OK, fine. But making a mistake that simultaneously (1) insults the voters, (2) mocks those political insiders who favor substance over style, and (3) brings up the old politics-as-high-school analogy, but this time in all seriousness… well, that’s just annoying.

It’s snarkworld at its worst, and I’m sad to see it in my local paper. Especially when so much real politics is going on.

Reading Romney’s Mind

David Frum April 7th, 2011 at 4:38 pm 18 Comments

This has been my best week in politics since John McCain lost to Barack Obama.

I face two huge problems: getting nominated and getting elected.

To get nominated, I need to discredit the Tea Party before it can veto me.

To get elected, I need a double dip recession in 2012.

Thanks to Paul Ryan, both these outcomes have just come a big step closer.

Here’s how Ryan helps me win the nomination:

This budget proposal will end in tears, especially if there is a government shutdown tomorrow. The Democrats know that few Americans understand the difference between the 2011 Continuing Resolution and the 2012 budget. The Democrats will pound home the message that Republicans shut down the government so that they can cancel Medicare for everyone under 55, gut Medicaid, and cut taxes for the rich. Ryan is the hero of the party today. Six weeks from now, Republicans will feel about him the way the Confederacy felt about George Pickett six weeks after Gettysburg. Battered and chastened, Republicans will be less resistant to the safe choice demanded by big party donors: i.e., me.

Of course, winning the nomination is the easy part. Incumbent presidents are hard to beat. But they can be beaten if the economy suffers badly enough. And happily for me, there is lots of bad news: rising oil prices for example. Look for a bad economic growth report at the end of April. Monetary policy is exhausted, it’s hard to imagine the Federal Reserve daring a third quantitative easing – harder to imagine the quantitative easing working.

So: fiscal stimulus? No way! Remember, the payroll tax holiday expires December. Do you think House Republicans will agree to renew it? Especially after Obama beats them up all this year over Ryan’s Medicare cuts?  As born-again conservative Donald Trump would say: fuggedboutit. (By the way – thanks Donald, for killing Newt Gingrich’s candidacy. I owe you.) Which means we’ll start 2012 with a big tax increase on every working person – and very possibly a second tumble into recession.

Republicans want tighter monetary policy and tighter fiscal policy. They may get it too. That means recession. And recession means: me.

It’s Time for a Florida-First Primary

David Frum April 4th, 2011 at 10:44 am 37 Comments

At the end of World War II, a new secretary of state faced a tough management decision.

The State Department’s old quarters had become desperately cramped and crowded. What should be done? An aide proposed moving the department to a new building. The secretary of state asked: “Arguments in favor?”

New quarters would be more spacious, better adapted to modern technology.

“Arguments against?”


The secretary snapped: “Move.”

The secretary happened to be George C. Marshall, one of the greatest military men in U.S. history. Decisions came naturally to him.

The U.S. presidential election system could use a Marshall today.

Florida has proposed shifting its primary into January, making the state the first primary in the nation.

Other early primary states have protested ferociously. South Carolina’s Republican Party chairman has demanded that Florida abandon its plans — or be punished by having the 2012 Republican National Convention move from its currently planned site, Tampa Bay.

Florida seems doomed to lose its bid. Too bad. A Florida-first primary is a fantastic idea.

The current American primary schedule is not the work of the Founding Fathers. The schedule is the unintended consequence of a hodgepodge of habits and coincidences. But this unintended schedule has terrible real world consequences.

Consider this: If you were to ask a panel of Democratic and Republican economists and policy analysts to name the single most wasteful, foolish and destructive public policy of the United States, they would almost certainly identify the ethanol subsidy high on the list.

The U.S. pays a huge subsidy to transform corn into motor fuel. Not only does the subsidy waste money, but it artificially drives up the price of food all over the planet. Many economic studies have cited ethanol production as the single most important driver of recent world food price increases.

Why does this ridiculous program exist? The short answer is: the Iowa caucuses. You want to be a major party nominee for president? You’d better convince yourself that ethanol is indispensable.

Take Barack Obama for example: As a U.S. senator, he was one of ethanol’s most reliable defenders. So much so, that the American Corn Growers Association endorsed him for president in 2008, only the second endorsement in the group’s history.

It’s possible to win a presidential nomination without winning the Iowa caucuses: Ronald Reagan did in 1980.

It’s possible to win without coming first in New Hampshire: Obama did in 2008.

But it’s near impossible to win without either. The Republicans and Democrats of these two states have been granted radically disproportionate sway over their parties’ presidential selection process.

This sway biases the nation’s politics in unhealthy ways:

This is an urbanized country; 80% of Americans live in metropolitan areas as defined by the census. Iowa contains two cities of more than 100,000 people (Des Moines and Cedar Rapids), New Hampshire only one, and that barely (Manchester).

The United States is a very unequal country. Iowa and New Hampshire look like an older and more egalitarian America. In the country as a whole, 13% are poor, the same percentage as in Florida — only 11% in Iowa and 7% in New Hampshire. In the country as a whole, 17% lack health insurance. Again only 10% do in Iowa and New Hampshire. Only one of the Forbes 400 lives in New Hampshire (No. 130); none of the Forbes 400 lives in Iowa.

The non-Hispanic white population of the U.S. has dropped to about 65%. New Hampshire is 92% non-Hispanic white, Iowa 90%.

Americans are hard-pressed by home foreclosures. Yet the foreclosure crisis has by and large bypassed Iowa and New Hampshire, both of which have foreclosure rates substantially below the national average.

There are other reasons of course beyond Iowa and New Hampshire why U.S. policy seems to favor farmers over city dwellers and why it cares so little about extremes of wealth and poverty.

But surely Iowa and New Hampshire are a big part of the answer.

Florida looks a lot more like the America in which most Americans live.

Even the one metric by which Florida looks unusual — the high number of elderly — is shared with the two existing first-in-the-nation states: 17.2% of Floridians are older than 65, but so are 14.8% of Iowans and 13.5% of New Hampshirites. (The national average is 12.9%.)

A primary system that started in Florida would press presidential candidates to talk more about issues about which most Americans care.

In 2012, for example, it will matter that Iowa and New Hampshire have unemployment rates well below the national average, while Florida’s is above.

Al Gore was ridiculed in 2000 for suggesting that the length of commute was becoming a major problem for Americans. Floridians would not find the issue laughable. Floridians on average face the ninth toughest commute in the nation, Iowans the sixth easiest.

Champions of the primacy of Iowa and New Hampshire often celebrate these states’ proud traditions of retail politics. But it’s those states’ retail politics that are precisely the problem. Cycle after cycle, presidential candidates spend two years in the living rooms of Iowa and New Hampshire answering the same questions (if Democrats) about ethanol, Medicare, the goodness of teachers’ unions and the badness of wars. Or if Republicans, they spend those years in living rooms answering questions about ethanol, Medicare, the goodness of guns and the badness of abortion.

Nobody ever asks a question about coral reefs. Or the future of the tourism industry. Or the issues facing communities that host military bases.

By the time candidates have to engage the voters in the 90% of the country where hockey is not a major sport, they have ceased to spend their time in living rooms — ceased to hear from anybody other than consultants and pollsters.

This system badly needs a shake-up. So count me as strongly in favor of Florida first in 2012. And then maybe — Michigan first in 2016?

Originally published at CNN.com.

Would the Real Birthers Please Stand Up?

March 29th, 2011 at 12:16 pm 62 Comments

When the first Republican presidential debate gets held, there is one question that should be asked by the moderator to perform preliminary screening on the candidates to separate the sane from the cynical and crazy:

“Raise your hand if you have any doubts that President Obama was born in the United States.”

Tim Pawlenty would not raise his hand.

Donald Trump would raise his hand.

Mike Huckabee should be able to keep his hand down, but he might not be able to contain himself if he starts talking about Obama’s adolescence.

Michele Bachmann will have to raise her hand or else some of her recent staff hires might defect.

Newt Gingrich will be torn. He has shown he can be cynical before, but is he willing to go the full nine yards and say that Obama’s “Kenyan, anti-colonial” mindset comes from being born in Kenya?

If the first debate is held in May then by asking the question as early as possible, you clear the air so that the issue is dealt with and everyone can move on to serious questions.

Follow Noah on Twitter: @noahkgreen

Trump’s Birther Obsession

David Frum March 28th, 2011 at 2:46 pm 158 Comments

Question to discuss: Is Donald Trump crazy? Or does he just hold a very, troche very, very low opinion of the Republican primary voter?

For GOP Nominee: 2012 Win Won’t be Enough

March 25th, 2011 at 6:45 pm 28 Comments

Any Republican contemplating running for president in 2012 has two formidable obstacles: November 2012 and what happens starting January 2013.

For the first obstacle: Republicans should not underestimate Barack Obama. He’s a vicious political fighter who seems to get a thrill from the campaign for power. His political team proved itself a master of media narratives in 2008, and many in the media will be willing to give Obama an assist against any Republican opponent. The president has already somewhat turned around his poll numbers from the nadir of November 2010; Republicans should keep an eye on that trend continuing. Moreover, recent polling shows him with a significant lead over a generic Republican in 2012.

Obama’s approval rating may still be under 50%, but Republicans would be premature in expecting a cakewalk in 2012. One of the big lessons of 2010 is that candidate quality does matter. There were numerous statewide races in 2010 that, by many metrics, Republicans should have won–but ended up going Democratic. If a Republican candidate cannot close the deal with voters, Barack Obama could end up being reelected, even with a sub-par economy and middling approval ratings.

If a Republican does win the presidency in 2012, he or she will have a host of problems to face. A Republican president in 2013 would likely inherit the longest-running economic stagnation since the Great Depression. The administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama have witnessed a massive expansion of the federal government; if a Republican president is serious about paring this government back, a lot of work lies ahead.

In the past, I’ve suggested some avenues for a rethinking of Republican policies, and what follows are some thoughts (in no particular order) about qualities a Republican candidate should possess, for both a successful campaign and a successful administration.

Articulate a vision. John McCain struggled to articulate a comprehensive vision for his campaign or a McCain presidency, a weakness Obama eagerly exploited. The “vision thing” is often crucial for successful presidential campaigns. This vision may not be enough (see Goldwater, Barry), but it is important, especially if a president wishes to build a longer-reaching legacy. There’s a fine line between a vision and a mere slogan, and it was not always clear on what side of the line George W. Bush’s notion of “compassionate conservatism” stood. Still, Bush was able to conjure some kind of purpose to his campaign. A successful Republican candidate in 2012 will have to do the same thing.

Take on the map. A candidate who has to reach for the “Bush” states is probably a candidate the party would be better passing by. Yes, a candidate could win with those states in the end, but those states should more be viewed as a last-ditch firewall than a goal. And it’s worth noting how fragile the Bush coalition of the 2000s was: the loss of one closely contested state (Florida in 2000, Ohio in 2004) would have cost Bush the White House. One of Obama’s greatest electoral strengths in 2008 was his ability to open up the map for Democrats; this led to an Electoral College victory greater than any Republican has enjoyed since George HW Bush in 1988. The actual contours of the new GOP coalition might vary depending on the eventual candidate. But there’s no reason to write off states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan, Oregon, Minnesota, or Wisconsin. Some of these states recently elected a Republican senator in 2010. And the GOP also needs to keep its eye on states Bush barely won (or didn’t even win in both elections): New Hampshire, New Mexico, Iowa, Colorado, and Nevada, to name a few.

Lower the temperature of social issues. This is not the same thing as surrendering on social issues. Social conservatives are a key part of the Republican coalition; many socially conservative positions are among the more popular parts of the GOP platform. Moreover, there is, I think, an often undervalued theoretical affinity between social conservatism and fiscal conservatism. But one can argue for socially conservative positions without sneering at those who disagree with them. Dualisms like “Heartland Real Americans” vs. “Coastal Elitists/Fake Americans” (or suggestions that Republicans don’t deserve the freedoms of the Constitution) are probably better left behind. A game-changing Republican presidential candidate will need to be able to show that he or she respects the views of a variety of other Americans, even if he or she doesn’t always agree with them.

Remember managerial competence. Unfortunately, the challenges that face this nation cannot be dissolved with a few easy votes or executive orders. Repealing Obamacare will not be enough to stabilize the nation’s healthcare system; cutting earmarks will not restore the nation’s fiscal health. In order to be successful, a Republican president has to have the ability to recognize and promote competent bureaucrats. The White House must be part of the “reality-based” community if it is to succeed.

Be willing to experiment. Government policy is often less about blind obedience to absolutes and more about being able to muddle through. Contrary to the wishes of some, the president–even at the peak of power–does not have a totally free hand to write policy. Various Congressional factions, public interests, and bureaucratic inertia all shape policy. Moreover, many policies can lead to effects completely unanticipated by their designers. All these facts will require an administration to be fluid, resourceful, and flexible. It’s worth noting, though, that flexibility in means need not require an empty faith in political ends. One can still have deep principles and be flexible in applying them.

Fight the big battles, even if they cause you to lose the small ones. Barack Obama did not win every news cycle as a candidate in either the primary election or the general. Yet some of these daily losses led to his overall victory. Consider, for example, the flap about his willingness to meet with the leaders of countries like North Korea and Iran without preconditions during the primary battle of 2007/2008. The Clinton people hit Obama hard on this, and he endured some rocky coverage in the media, but this admission also illustrated Obama’s break with some of the rhetorical tendencies of the Democratic past, at least during that part of the campaign. This break in turn helped solidify his image as the “change” candidate in a cycle in which “change” was very hot. A candidate, Republican or Democrat, must be willing to take the heat of taking a strong stand at times. This willingness to face criticism can strengthen the image of a candidate’s inner fortitude and also can allow the candidate to push the parameters of public debate.

The political pendulum has swung fairly wildly from one party to the next in recent years. It remains to be seen how much the Republicans will be able to make good on their significant gains in 2010 for the presidential race in 2012. There is the real possibility of a major victory in November of next year, but there is also the possibility of a major disappointment–in that month and in the months after it. The GOP currently has the benefit of a wide-open field, and Republicans should welcome this opportunity for debate, trial, and exploration.

Originally published at A Certain Enthusiasm.

Pawlenty Aces His Screen Test

David Frum March 21st, 2011 at 10:04 pm 36 Comments

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How much do I like this Tim Pawlenty exploratory video? I like it a lot.

Let me count the ways:

  1. I like the way Pawlenty talks about economic hardship from the inside out.
  2. I like the way he focuses on the broad national priority — jobs and prosperity — and identifies Republican ideas — limited government, tax relief — as effective means to serve national ends.
  3. I like his praise for his state as a laboratory of positive ideas. Northern Republican governors should express pride in their states’ accomplishments as unabashedly as southern and western governors do.
  4. I like his reference to Lincoln and the nod to the Republican tradition of advancing equal rights under law.

I like finally that the production values in this latest value serve the message – rather than crowding out the message as in some of the earlier Pawlenty videos. This video looked sleek and smart and modern, which is by the way how the Republican party ought to look.

T-Paw: The Generic GOP Choice?

David Frum March 18th, 2011 at 12:12 pm 37 Comments

Real Clear Politics offers a clear summation of the Kristol-Barbour spat.

But it’s easy to read this story upside down. The real news here is not the Kristol-Barbour falling out. It is the Kristol-Pawlenty falling in.

As for Pawlenty, he seems to be a sincere Reaganite, and has been for quite a while. What’s interesting is his leaping at the occasion to get in a little dust-up with Barbour. This suggests a degree of nimbleness and boldness that speaks well for his prospects to move from the second tier to the first. You could do worse than run as the heir of Reagan-Bush-McCain hawkishness, against a weak and dithering Obama administration, and you could do worse than bet that at some point in the primary process voters will remember they’re electing a commander in chief, not just (important as the budget issues are) an OMB director.

This is the same Tim Pawlenty who clears every utterance on tax policy with Grover Norquist, who has called for the reinstatement of Don’t Ask-Don’t Tell, and who has repudiated his own prior leadership on climate change. (“Have I changed my position? Yes.”)

What we are witnessing is the unfolding of a Pawlenty campaign strategy to occupy the spot that once seemed reserved for John Thune: the most generic of all Republicans, the sole remainder after every constituency in the GOP has exercised its veto: the tax people, the life people, the gun people, the defense people, the anti-Obamacare people, etc. etc. etc. Along the way, a successful, pragmatic Midwestern governor has had to reinvent himself, down to his own voice and accent.

Bill Kristol describes this as Reaganism. But Ronald Reagan imposed himself on a party, he was not the product of a party. Pawlenty’s current strategy might more aptly be compared to that of Reagan’s 1984 opponent, Walter Mondale: the party’s least objectionable man, or rather the man least objectionable to everyone in the party with the power to express an objection.

UPDATE: A special message to reader Couchmaster: I did not “rip” NPR for doing the Pawlenty accent story. I made a joke that this kind of reporting would further motivate Republicans to attack their funding. I should have remembered Bob Bartley’s rule of journalism: Never joke in print, you can always count on 20% of the readers not to get it.