Conservatism

Love Only Thy Neighbor

It's hard to keep a straight face when Rick Santorum says he is the most electable of the Republican candidates. "We need bold colors, not pale pastels," Santorum said last week in Iowa. "Ladies and gentlemen, be bold. Do not have a pyrrhic victory next November, where we elect a Republican, but we don't elect the person who can do what's necessary for America." He touts his experience winning in a swing state while maintaining his conservative credentials, an implicit ding against Mitt Romney's left-leaning record as governor of Massachusetts. It's a dubious claim for Santorum that's little related to reality considering he lost his last election by a historic 18 points. In today's Washington Post , Michael Gerson somehow manages to concoct an even more ludicrous framework to describe Santorum's appeal: He's a compassionate conservative. But perhaps the most surprising result of the Iowa caucuses was the return of compassionate conservatism from the margins of the Republican stage to...

Santorum the Moderate?

AP Photo/Elise Amendola
Windham, New Hampshire— Rick Santorum, the darling of the cultural-religious right, came here last night for a town-hall question-and-answer session with 500 eager listeners, only to find that his questioners were so far to his right that he was compelled to sound moderate by comparison. The disappointment— Santorum’s and the crowd’s—was mutual. The event—which was moved to a high-school auditorium three times larger than the venue originally scheduled, and where every seat was nonetheless filled— was hosted by a radical-right local group called the 9/12 Coalition. Alas for Santorum, the 9/12ers selected the first seven questioners, who peppered him with queries at once so arcane and so fantastical that Santorum must have harbored suspicions they’d been planted either by Mitt Romney or Ron Paul. Two of the questions were libertarian, even civil libertarian, though suffused with a conspiracy theorist’s fear that the government in general and Barack Obama in particular was on the verge...

The Wrath of Newt

AP Photo/Eric Gay
Concord, New Hampshire— As the wrath of Achilles was kindled by the slaying of his best friend Patroclus, so the wrath of Newt Gingrich has been set ablaze by the slaying of his own best friend—his ego. Finishing a distant fourth not just to Mitt Romney but also to Rick Santorum and Ron Paul, after Romney’s Super PAC had run a brutal ad campaign against him, Gingrich was fairly blazing in his concession speech last night in Iowa. He not only declined to congratulate Romney but attacked him and his ads, making clear that he’d hang in the race if only to bring Romney down. It was a more subdued and tired-looking Newt who came before a group of college students and then answered questions from reporters this morning in Concord. What was striking about his first appearance was his lack of interest in creating any rapport between himself and the students. What Newt delivered was a lecture, not a speech, on the duties of citizenship as he saw them, which consist chiefly of the duty to...

Bye Bye Bachmann

AP Photo/Chris Carlson
WEST DES MOINES, IOWA —Less than 12 hours ago, Michele Bachmann seemed determined to prove all the haters wrong and vowed to waste the next several weeks of her life in South Carolina. Turns out it was all a ruse to gather the media for one last headline-grabbing event. Bachmann announced that she would suspend her presidential campaign this morning at the Marriott in west Des Moines. For the first time in her career, Bachmann seemed to have landed on planet Earth. "Last night, the people of Iowa spoke with a very clear voice, so I have decided to stand aside," she said. Boy, they sure were clear. She came in second to last, just ahead of Jon Huntsman, who drew 5 percent of the vote. That equals 6,073 votes, only a slight increase from the 4,823 people who supported her at the Ames Straw Poll in early August. Back then it looked as if Bachmann could threaten Mitt Romney for the GOP nomination. But the entry of Rick Perry into the race stole her momentum, and she never recovered. Her...

Party Crasher

Rick Santorum supporters marked their candidate's surprise Iowa finish with a subdued celebration.

AP Photo/Charlie Riedel
JOHNSTON, IOWA—The conference room at the Stony Creek Inn in this suburb of Des Moines isn't your typical setting for a winner's party. Then again, Rick Santorum isn't your typical successful politician. The candidate, who had languished at the bottom of the polls for most the year, rose meteorically over the last week before the Iowa caucuses and finished eight votes shy of first place last night. The room was a tight space, but only a small crowd of supporters—around 150—bothered to stop by anyway. It was a calm scene around 9 p.m., when the early results started to favor Santorum. The Iowans milled about, celebrating and waving their signs only when it was necessary to mug for the TV cameras. Besides the two TVs set up without volume on the sides of the room, there was no reliable way for the crowd packed near the stage to receive the results; instead of relying on televised news reports, supporters got the latest caucus numbers from the reporters packed near the exits of the hall...

Dude, Where's My Party?

Peterborough, New Hampshire —As the Republican Party continues its mad dash rightward, it’s good, if at times difficult, to remember that not every Republican has been swept along. Such Republicans haven’t been much in evidence in Iowa of late, but they were out in force in New Hampshire last night at a town hall for Jon Huntsman, whose platform makes clear he knows the radical right’s words but whose attitude is that of one who plainly refuses to learn the music. Speaking one hour before the Iowa caucuses commenced, Huntsman directed barbs at both Republicans and Democrats. What was notable was that the crowd—several hundred well-heeled and –coiffed GOPniks and independents—responded chiefly—actually, only—to the barbs directed at their own side. The country suffers, Huntsman argued, from two deficits, one fiscal, the other of trust. Huntsman isn’t much of an orator—he repeatedly sets up the basis for an attack, then can’t deliver the zinger—and his tales of the horrors that flow...

Paul on Track to Win Iowa

GRINNELL, IOWA— It looks as though we can safely dismiss a Santorum surge or a Perry reboot. For Romney, the polls hang steady just under a week before the Iowa caucuses, according to Public Policy Polling . Ron Paul maintains his lead over Mitt Romney by a 24-20 margin, statistically unchanged from the 23-20 percent gap last week. But Newt Gingrich's support has disappeared. The former House Speaker held a lead in the Midwestern state two weeks ago, but has now dropped down to third place at 13 percent, only slightly above Michele Bachmann at 11 percent and the two Ricks at 10 percent. In Gingrich's case, it's clear that his opponents' onslaught of negative comments—during stump speeches but also in TV ads attacking his characters—brought about his downfall. Gingrich's favorability was at 62 percent when he jumped to take the lead in PPP's Iowa survey at the beginning of the month, with just 31 percent of Republican voters disapproving of him at the time. Those numbers have now...

Governing on Empty

(AP Photo/Evan Vucci) House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio walks of the floor of the House chamber on Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2011, in Washington. The House rejected legislation to extend a payroll tax cut and jobless benefits for two months, drawing a swift rebuke from President Barack Obama that Republicans were threatening higher taxes on 160 million workers on Jan. 1. T he Senate, having struck its compromise, has gone home. The House, controlled by delusional Republicans, has gone home. Payroll taxes are slated to rise, and unemployment insurance is set to expire before they return in January. The compromise wasn’t just between the two parties in the Senate, apparently. According to Wednesday’s Washington Post , House Speaker John Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor met with Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell on Friday and told him they’d get the votes to pass the two-month extension deal he’d worked out with Harry Reid. Boehner and Cantor now say they made no promises, but...

The Social-Conservative Frontrunner

FORT MADISON, IOWA —Rick Santorum's campaign staffers must have fallen asleep with smiles on their faces last night. The former Pennsylvania senator has spent more time than any other candidate visiting Iowa, yet he has struggled to gain traction in the polls even among the evangelical base that led Mike Huckabee to victory in the 2008 Iowa caucus. A string of new endorsements from the state's evangelical leaders might have provided Santorum with just the boost he needs to move out of the bottom rung, but they also carry the risk of reminding voters of Santorum's history of incendiary comments against the LGBT community. Chuck Hurley, president of the Iowa Family Policy Center, endorsed Santorum yesterday. I met with Hurley earlier this summer in the basement cafeteria of the Iowa State Capitol to discuss the state's judicial politics and the campaign against three state Supreme Court justices who in 2009 ruled that denying same-sex couples marriage rights was...

Could Santorum Be the Next Boom?

Rick Santorum secured the most coveted Iowa endorsement earlier today when Bob Vander Plaats lent his support to the former senator's presidential bid. Howeve,r the Family Leader—the organization he created at the start of the year—will remain neutral after the group's board members could not come to a consensus. Chuck Hurley, president of the anti-same-sex marriage Iowa Family Policy Center, also endorsed Santorum this morning. Since his group folded into the Family Leader at the start of the year, the combo's announcement operates as a de facto group endorsement. Vander Plaats' word carries wide sway among Iowa's social conservative base as a result of his frequent (and unsuccessful) gubernatorial runs and the campaign he led against three state Supreme Court judges last fall. Mike Huckabee selected Vander Plaats as his 2008 Iowa campaign chairman, so the endorsement could be an indication that Huckabee's former supporters are shifting Santorum's way. All of the candidates competing...

Getting Gingrich's Goat

CEDAR RAPIDS, IOWA —Newt Gingrich appears to have finally realized that debates might not be enough to win him the nomination. After leaving the state following last Thursday's debate, Gingrich returned to Iowa yesterday, hosting two events and announcing a 44-stop tour in the lead up to the January 3 caucus. That might all be too little, too late, as his most recent poll numbers have dropped after Gingrich skyrocketed to the top last month. The former House speaker’s opponents have worked together to take him down, with Ron Paul's campaign and a pro-Romney Super PAC overwhelming Iowans with commercials and mailers. "Negative ads over the last few weeks have really chipped away at Gingrich's image as being a strong conservative," Tom Jenson of Public Policy Polling wrote after the latest survey showed Gingrich slipping badly. "Now only 36 percent of voters believe that he has 'strong principles,' while 43 percent think he does not." One would expect Gingrich to respond in kind,...

Gingrich's Campaign Finance Hypocrisy

Newt Gingrich returned to Iowa yesterday with a newfound distaste for Citizens United . Tapping into his inner Lawrence Lessig, Gingrich stumped against his opponents' Super PACs—primarily Romney's even if he doesn't recognize the name—for blitzing Iowa with a barrage of negative ads, such as this one: Gingrich is assaulting the prevalence of Super PACs now that his poll numbers have dropped as a result of recent attack ads, but he hasn't exactly turned that criticism on himself. Solutions 2012 was formed earlier this year by Becky Burkett, a former aide who had solicited funds for a Gingrich nonprofit. The LA Times reported that the group has penciled in an operating budget of $10 million to support the former speaker's presidential ambitions. A second pro-Gingrich Super PAC called Winning Our Future popped up last week and has already cut an ad touting Gingrich's conservative credentials (to be fair that ad does avoid the negative campaigning that has been Gingrich's main point of...

Gingrich's Judicial Attack Wins Over Religious Right

CEDAR RAPIDS, IOWA —Newt Gingrich's redefinition of separation of powers from the understanding of the past few centuries continues to come under fire from his fellow conservatives. "His comments about the justices and the Congress, sending the Capitol police to bring in judges—that’s not exactly a practical idea or a constitutional idea,” Mitt Romney said on Fox News last night. Former Bush Attorney General Michael Mukasey shared that sentiment, telling The New York Times that "it would lead us to become a banana republic, in which administrations would become regimes, and each regime would feel it perfectly appropriate to disregard decisions of courts staffed by previous regimes." The impractical proposal is doing Gingrich no favors with national conservatives, but I speculated yesterday that they weren't his true audience; he's instead signaling to evangelicals—particularly in Iowa—that he is on their side. Gingrich hosted a town hall in Davenport, Iowa Monday where a small crowd...

Ron Paul on the Rise in Iowa

A little bit of sanity has returned to the GOP presidential field, with the latest polls from Iowa indicating that quasi-frontrunner Newt Gingrich has fallen back. Yet, Gingrich has been replaced by yet another shock frontrunner: Ron Paul is now on track to win the Iowa caucuses. In the latest poll from Public Policy Polling, Paul has moved to the top of the field with 23 percent support. Mitt Romney jumped up to second place with 20 percent, while Gingrich is down in third with 14 percent. Two weeks ago, PPP's numbers put Gingrich clearly atop the field with 27 percent, but that level took a slight dip to 22 percent last week before bottoming out in the latest numbers. It's easy to dismiss Paul's jump to the top as yet another mini-surge that will fall back before the actual vote, but I wouldn't be so sure. Unlike Gingrich, Paul has actually built an Iowa infrastructure, and voters in the state are very familiar with his policy positions because he has traveled to Iowa more...

Friday Miscellany

A little bit of this, a little bit of that: So you're a conservative Republican mayor, deep in Mississippi, who ran for Congress in 2008 "on a conservative, family-values platform," according to the Memphis Commercial Appeal. Wouldn't you think you'd keep yourself from using your official credit card "at a visit to an adult store catering to gay men while on a recruitment trip to Canada"? #justsaying A review by The CA shows that Davis spent thousands of dollars at the Mesquite Chop House in Southaven and thousands more at local liquor stores. Also included in the receipts is a charge for $67 at Priape, a store in Toronto that is described by its website as "Canada's premiere gay lifestyle store and sex shop." New York City is reporting a drop in its schoolchildren's obesity rates. If the drop is real, and if Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Dr. Thomas Farley, the city's activist health commissioner, have really caused it with their recent multi-pronged anti-obesity campaign (bans on...

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