Failing Upwards
September 20th, 2012

Let me get this straight:

Tim Pawlenty fails at running for president. So he signs on as co-chairman of Mitt Romney’s campaign and starts running for vice president. He fails at getting the veep pick and the campaign he’s co-chairing performs, at best, not-so-hot.

And so, for his fourth gig in 18 months, Pawlenty gets hired as CEO of the Financial Services Roundtable. What does T-Paw know about financial services? Beats me. He worked for a law firm once and was a vp at a software company called Wizmo Inc. Maybe he did really well with his 401(k).

But hey, don’t worry. Free markets are awesome and executive talent is precious and never over-valued.


The 47% Solution
September 19th, 2012

Galley Friend X offers up an alt explanation for Romney’s Moocher Theory of American Politics. I’ll paraphrase:

Why does everyone suddenly believe that this is what Mitt Romney really believes? The whole rap against him is that he’s always telling audiences what he thinks they want to hear. Why should this dinner have been any different? Maybe the whole 47% thing is just the schtick that he thinks his big donors want to hear because it comports with their worldview?

Shorter version: To believe that Mitt Romney really thinks that way about 47 percent of America you have to believe that Mitt Romney really believes anything in the first place.

Well, it’s a theory!

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Talking Out of School
September 17th, 2012

I like AllahPundit a ton. However, I think he misses a point of analogy in this post trying to tell us that Mitt Romney’s fundraising comment about Obama voters isn’t a problem:

This was recorded awhile back at a fundraiser, just like Obama’s infamous “bitter/clinger” comments in 2008. Remember how big that blew up? That’s how we ended up with President McCain.

The bitter/clinger comment from Obama came during the Democratic primary–it was one of the great insights into Obama’s character that he wasn’t even talking that dismissively about Republicans, but rather about Democratic primary voters. And I’d argue that the bitter/clinger remarks haunted him all through the primary season, which is why Hillary Clinton won more votes than he did.


September 7th, 2012

Sean Trende has a typically smart and insightful column about what the two conventions tell us about how the campaigns see themselves. On the Romney team and Tampa:

[T]he Republican Party is still held in lower esteem than the Democrats. The last CBS News poll, for example, found the GOP with a 35 percent favorable rating vs. a 53 percent unfavorable rating. For the Democrats it was better: 43 percent favorable, 47 percent unfavorable.

This is actually perfectly consistent with the edge in registration that Republicans are opening up. It suggests that this isn’t a “real” advantage, but rather is a function of Republican-leaning independents increasingly calling themselves Republicans, rather than any change in mindset.

This is why the Republicans invested so much time and effort trying to reintroduce their party. It’s a rebranding effort, and I suspect it was meant to pre-empt any attempts to tie Romney/Ryan to the unpopular Bush administration, as well as to inoculate the ticket against a generic “Do you really want to put the Republicans in charge?” argument. I don’t think it was particularly successful, but that is what I think is going on.

I’d largely agree with his assessment both of their strategic goals and with their level of success. What’s striking is that there’s an obvious way Romney could have shown voters that his party is different than it was four years ago–and it’s something smart conservatives like James Pethokoukis have been urging for months: Break up the big-banks.

It’s populist. It’s a Republican Sister Soulja. And it’s also something that’s probably worth doing on the merits. Imagine how changed the RNC might have been if the twin centerpieces of the Romney plan were to break up the big banks and solve the fiscal crisis? Instead it was “we build this” and “we love women.” I’m not sure how well those messages go toward achieving what Trende sees as their strategic convention goal.


A Word on Bart Stupak
September 5th, 2012

I should say that I take no pleasure in noting that the pro-life Democratic caucus is crawling toward extinction. No matter how inadequate or compromised conservatives might think pro-life Democrats are, the truth is that if you really care about eradicating the scourge of abortion they’re absolutely necessary. Because without them, the argument about abortion switches modes from moral persuasion to pure partisanship. And because the latter is so devoid of reason, it’s much harder to win converts.

All of which is to say that I have a great deal of natural sympathy and affinity for Bart Stupak.

Yet at the same time, I think we can fairly lay a great deal of responsibility for the polarization and acrimony of the last four years at his feet.

Our political order is based around what voters believe to be a kind of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs for our elected officials. At the top of the pyramid are high-minded hopes about wisdom and judgment. But at the base of the pyramid–the foundation for our relationship with our officials–is that we trust them to be self-interested. That is to say, we trust them not to deliberately do something so abhorrent to us that they know for a certainty it will cost them their jobs.

I would argue that the passage of Obamacare damaged the political order because it broke this basic compact. And I don’t particularly blame President Obama or Nancy Pelosi. Sure, they drove the process. But that’s what their constituencies wanted from them. The engine governor for such radical change has always been guys like Stupak, who wouldn’t go along with it because they knew they couldn’t get away with it.

But Stupak didn’t keep up his end of the bargain. He violated basically every tier of the politician’s Maslow hierarchy: He didn’t believe in Obamacare, he didn’t like Obamacare, and he knew that voting for it would cost him his job because his constituents hated it. But he did it anyway because pure partisanship overrode every other concern. That’s not supposed to happen.

I’m sure Bart Stupak is a kind and gentle soul. But he failed as an elected official, with terrible consequences for the body politic. He abandoned even the old pro-life Democratic line, which may have hardened the fight over abortion into political amber. And his failures are not merely personal. They are a national tragedy.


Further Thoughts on Clint Eastwood
August 31st, 2012

I’ve been offline most of the day haven’t kept touch with the congealing opinion on Clint Eastwood’s performance last night. But with 20 hours of distance, the following two thoughts occur to me:

1) The further I get from it, the more I like it. His timing wasn’t perfect, but it was perfect in all the critical spots. And the parts where he missed his timing actually built a sense of mild danger about the performance. I don’t know how it played on TV, but in the arena I kept thinking, Dear God, this thing could go completely off the rails any second. That frisson of disaster narrowly avoided lent the thing a kind of extra spontaneity and power.

Also, I’ve never seen anything like it at a convention. It completely broke the form. That, all by itself, made it interesting and memorable.

2) I think there’s the potential of real political danger in it for the Obama campaign. You could easily–really easily–imagine a world in which the Dems try to rebut it or mock it in Charlotte and instead they actually make the bite deeper. You could also imagine a world in which the empty chair becomes a pop symbol of Obama’s failed presidency. Romney and Ryan could leave an empty chair on every stage they mount. It could be a kind of iconic short-hand for popular disillusionment with Obama’s job performance.

Or, it could just fade into nothing. If I were in the Obama campaign or on the revamped JournoList, I’d tell Democrats and their partisans to pretend the entire thing never happened. Don’t mention it. Don’t mock it. Just ignore it and hope that it evaporates with the rest of the convention ephemera.

Oh, I’ve also got some reconsideration on Dark Knight Rises, having seen it, um, subsequently. That’ll have to wait until Monday.


RNC Day 3 Notes
August 30th, 2012

Two quick kudos:

1) I didn’t catch the name of a cappella group which sang the national anthem, but it was one of the most beautiful arrangements I’ve ever heard. Phenomenal.

2) The law enforcement people in Tampa this week have been wonderful. Professional, helpful, friendly, even. A sterling, exceptional job they’ve done this week.

* I poked fun at the RNC set design–it looks like the Windows 8 tiles. But they’ve really grown on me during the week. I actually kind of love it now.

* Early prediction: Unless Mitt Romney passes out, the immediate CW on it will be that it was an excellent, strong speech–a forceful case for his presidency and a better speech than anyone expected him to give. The performance of his life!

Because that’s what people almost always say immediately after the nominee gives his acceptance speech. It takes a couple days for a more considered appraisal to settle in.

* That said, this has been a very competently-run convention. Probably the most impressive GOP convention I’ve been to, in terms of messaging and production.

* As Clint Eastwood ad libs, Venus Williams dropped the first set and it looking terrible. Roddick announced he’s retiring. We could be heading into the nuclear winter of American tennis. After Serena it’s a waste land.

* I’d never seen Rubio live before. I’m now a believer in his native political skills. His drop-in line as he walked out onstage–“I think I just drank Clint Eastwood’s water”–was incredibly deft and showed a totally intuitive sense of theater. As he speaks, I’m watching the teleprompter and he’s occasionally dropping in lines. And they all work. It’s a very impressive display of political gifts.

That said, his speech would have been twice as powerful if he had pressed through some of the applause lines, as Condi Rice did last night when she put on a clinic.

* Instant reaction to the Romney speech as it’s in process (I read ahead through the transcript for the rest): Whatever you think of the text, or the delivery–this is a pre-Ryan speech. It’s absolutely the speech he would have given a month ago when his theory of the campaign was “jobs-jobs-jobs, make the election a referendum not a choice.” So if you thought that strategy was smart then, then you probably think this speech is well conceived.

On it’s own merits, though, it struck me on first-blush as a good effort with some great moments.

Possible updates to follow later in the night; either here or on the Twitters.

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RNC Day 2: Speaker Report Card
August 30th, 2012

Last night there were three big speeches: Rice, Martinez, and Ryan. All three were above average, but my own sense was that Ryan’s was the weakest of the three. Quick thoughts:

1) Condi Rice had both the best speech and the best delivery.If you read it as an essay it hangs together with a beginning, middle, and end. It both an arc and a point and had just enough poetry sprinkled in (“America has a way of making the impossible seem inevitable”) to make me think that Peggy Noonan may have taken an editing pass on it. And she even challenged her audience slightly. “But today, today, when I can look at your zip code and I can tell whether you’re going to get a good education, can I honestly say it does not matter where you came from, it matters where you are going?”–that’s not just a rebuke of teachers’ unions. It’s a rebuke to Republicans who deny the problems we’re having with class mobility.

It wasn’t just her text, though. Rice seems to have gone to the Christopher Walken School of Speechifying. Her delivery was marked not by changes in register or dramatic pauses for applause lines. What she did was tinker ever so slightly with cadences (“we know it was never, in . . . evitable”) and even pronunciation (“a-lies” instead of “allies”). It was as though she went through the speech, took out all the punctuation, and then re-punctuated it on her own with an eye toward making the delivery just slightly unexpected.

Also–and this is a lesson every speaker ought to take from Zell Miller’s epic 2004 speech–she didn’t let the audience bog the speech down with applause. People kept clapping, but Rice pushed through these pauses. (See that “Today–today” example above.) That’s how you sustain tension in a speech. If you let the audience interrupt you with cheers throughout, it has the effect of deflating the balloon slightly each time. But if you power through, the pressure builds. And the release at the end of the speech is then cathartic. I doubt we’re going to see a better speech either here or in Charlotte.

2) Martinez did well not to be blown off the stage by following Rice. Her demeanor is pleasant and sunny, but tough. She was a conversational speaker and that’s hard to pull off.

3) Ryan’s speech was good enough; his presentation was good enough. I suspect it was just fine as a national introduction. But it seemed to me that there was no through-line to the speech. There were some great moments and very good lines. But the speech itself was just kind of an amorphous set of remarks. It didn’t really go anywhere and I don’t know that it accomplished any specific rhetorical or narrative goal. As a performance I’d say it ranked far below Sarah Palin’s 2008 convention speech.

One final note about Ann Romney’s Tuesday night speech. It didn’t really do anything for me, though people seemed to love it. But one question: When’s the last time we had a presidential candidate’s spouse gave a convention speech and people didn’t declare how fantastic her performance was? The general verdict on all spouses is that they’re amazing, attractive women who are so eloquent and appealing and they are (almost invariably) their husbands’ secret weapons. So in this sense, Ann Romney is no different from Michelle Obama, Cindy McCain, Laura Bush, Liddy Dole, Hillary Clinton, and Barbara Bush before her.

This isn’t to say that Ann Romney didn’t do a marvelous job–just to point out that we always say how wonderful these women speakers are.

(Funnily enough, the one spouse over the years who struck me as being genuinely attractive as a person was Theresa Kerry–because she was (a) not particularly into the election and (b) candid and emotionally accessible in a way I found utterly charming.)


Conventions as Rorschach Tests
August 29th, 2012

One of the more surprising lessons I’ve learned about electoral politics over the years is that political conventions play very differently depending on the vantage point. In 2004, for instance, I left Boston and New York convinced that the Democrats had put on an incredibly slick, highly effective production while the Republicans looked tired and ineffectual. That’s what I took away from watching them in person. Watching from the vantage point of TV, viewers seemed to think differently. And stepping back even further, to the point of the broader, less-engaged political audience, John Kerry actually lost a point or two in the polls following his convention while Bush ticked upwards.

These things just look different depending on how you’re seeing them.

So for whatever it’s worth, in the room last night, Artur Davis gave a heck of a stemwinder that people loved and Chris Christie executed a really difficult task–giving a rah-rah speech about deficit reduction that subtly tied our collective fiscal unseriousness to the unserious 2008 election. I thought it played very well. But I’m curious to see what the (more important) reaction will be from TV viewers.



Honest Question about Todd Akin
August 27th, 2012

I agree with nearly all of the analysis which says that Todd Akin should drop out of his Missouri senate race: Akin is likely to lose; his presence could drag down other Republicans on the ticket; that seat should be winnable for a competent candidate; etc.

The only bit I don’t agree with is the notion that Akin should get out for his own good. James Taranto, for example, says that Akin is probably getting bad advice from people such as Mike Huckabee.

Sure, it would be better for the GOP, Mitt Romney, and all of America for Akin to get out of the race. But from Akin’s perspective, would dropping out be good for Todd Akin?

There are three possible outcomes:

(1) Akin drops out like everyone wants him to.

(2) Akin stays in and loses.

(3) Akin stays in and wins.

Under scenario #1, it’s not clear what Akin gets out of the deal. I suppose he avoids the calumny of #2, but he’s so radioactive it’s not like the Missouri GOP is ever going to do him a favor down the line. If he drops out, his politically career is over.

Under #2, his political career is also over. Maybe there’s more bitterness on the part of his fellow Republicans. But at the end of the day, there’s not much less than zero.

Which leaves us with #3. Let’s say the chances of Akin winning are really, really short. Maybe 1-in-10 or 1-in-20. Well if he somehow does win, all of a sudden he becomes basically a Republican in good standing again. After all, he’ll be a United States senator, with quite a lot of power, and the GOP will need his vote. Look how Lisa Murkowski was welcomed back inside the tent after she defied the party by pursuing a write-in campaign against the GOP. Once you win, the leverage completely shifts–the party needs you as much as you need it.

So if you’re Akin, maybe it makes sense to take the really, really long shot because while the odds are terrible, the payoff is big and the practical difference between losing and leaving is negligible.

Again, none of this is to argue that Akin should stay in the race. (If I were his consigliere I’d tell him that there are worse things than failing at electoral politics.) It’s only to suggest that doing so may not be the product of bad advice or a misunderstanding of his strategic options.


Thoughts on Paul Ryan
August 13th, 2012

Beyond my Paul Ryan as Harvey Dent riff (and why has no one picked up the subtext?), I haven’t had any deep thoughts on the veep pick yet. But Galley Friend X has. Here’s GF X tossing a little grenade into the room:

In re: Ryan v. Biden.  (Or, “I question the gi sometimes.  It seems to get in the way.”)

OK, obviously I’m absolutely gleeful over Romney’s pick of Ryan.  But . . . why is every Republican so completely certain that Ryan will mop the floor with Biden at the debate?

Ryan’s a smart dude, and a very good speaker.  But his speeches always fight on home turf, before audiences that share his assumptions.
In a debate, by contrast, an opponent will challenge those assumptions — or even disregarding them altogether, and steering the debate to completely different turf — can we be so certain that Ryan will win?
Think back to the Ryan-Brooks debate at AEI.  David Brooks held his own against Ryan (even after Ryan ducked out early, to return to the Hill).  After pointing out that Ryan’s (and Arthur Brooks’s) freedom-versus-socialism dichotomy simply caricatured much more difficult policy realities, he pinned Ryan down on the specific question of trade-offs and compromise.  Ryan simply had no response to the utterly predictable question, what if President Obama offered you big spending cuts for a relatively small (i.e., six-point) top marginal tax increase?  Brooks completely nailed him on his inability to seriously consider compromise even when necessary to avoid fiscal disaster.
And Brooks and Ryan even came from more or less the same foundations.  I suspect that when Biden faces Ryan, he’ll take a relentlessly populist position, hammering Ryan on cutting Medicare, and endorsing tax cuts that disproportionately favor the rich.  And some of what Biden says might even be somewhat true.  What will Ryan do then?
In other words, Ryan and Biden will come to the debate with two completely different styles of fighting.  Like Severn v. Gracie (1994).  Or Megashark v. Crocosaurus (2010).
Or, perhaps most relevantly, like Buckely v. Beame v. Lindsay (1965).  As WFB recounted in his post-campaign memoir . . .

“My associates urged, particularly in my opening and closing statements, that, instead of tangling with Beame and Lindsay, I should speak over their heads (as they were continually doing over mine and each other’s) directly to the voters, giving them reasons why they should vote the Conservative ticket.  I tried to do that, as often as it occurred to me; but often it didn’t occur to me, my ungovernable instinct being to fasten on a weakness in the opponent’s reasoning and dive in, or on a weakness in my own, and apply sutures, on the (Platonic?) assumption that voters will be influenced by the residual condition of the argument.  A good debater is not necessarily a good vote-getter: you can find a hole in your opponent’s argument through which you could drive a coach and four ringing jingle bells all the way, and thrill at the crystallization of a truth wrung out from a bloody dialogue — which, however, may warm only you and your muse, while the smiling paralogist has in the meantime made votes by the tens of thousands.”

Buckley lost his campaign.
On the bright side, Gracie won his fight, and in terms of forensic analogy I guess Ryan is probably Gracie, and Biden is Severn.  Still, Severn put Gracie through 16 minutes of hell, before Gracie seized on Severn’s mistake and got Severn to tap out.
Gracie, like Ryan, dresses the part of the pro.  Still, as one of the commentators noted about Gracie’s attire, “I question the gi sometimes.  It seems to get in the way.”

I Believe in Paul Ryan
August 11th, 2012

He’s the white knight, the hero entitlement reform needs. What’s that you say? Mitt Romney’s negatives in the swing states show almost opportunity to make up lost ground? Remember, it’s always darkest before the dawn. And I promise you, the dawn is coming.

Let’s just hope the experience of running in a presidential campaign–with Mitt Romney and against Barack Obama–doesn’t leave him wandering around Washington muttering to himself and flipping a coin.

(I don’t do Photoshop, but surely this has to happen. Internet, make it so.)

Updated: Courtesy of the great Katherine Miller: