Newt Grinchich has released a television ad that has many commentators thinking it is reminiscent of the Reagan “Morning in America” ads. I don’t know about that, but it is interesting that in Gingrich’s “America We Love” ad, there are no people of color. It must have really taken some work to get a clip of about 20 Marines in their dress blues without including a single non-white face.
Just as I was dealing with withdrawal from no Republican debates for 17 days I learned on Friday there would be one last night. It turns out it wasn’t a debate after all, but a “forum” in which three Republican Attorneys General questioned each of the candidates separately. There was no audience, no journalists and the candidates never appeared together. Jon Huntsman declined wisely to not attend, and Herman Cain was home with his wife.
It may have been because I was coming down with an illness, or maybe it was the format. Or, maybe, it was listening to three right-wing AGs question six candidates competing to be the most right-wing of all, but I found the event totally lacking in interest. I took two notes during the two hours. The first was that Virginia’s AG, Ken Cuccinelli, is a very effective questioner. I guess that should not be surprising given that he is an attorney general, but the same could not be said of the other two.
The second note was of a question. I thought I was listening to one of Stephen Colbert’s no-choice silly questions, but one of the AGs asked Rick Perry whether he would prefer overturning Roe v. Wade or a human life constituional amendment. I guess those are the only two choices in this gathering.
The next debate is scheduled for this next Saturday night. The real buzz in debate circles, however, is the announcement that two days after Christmas there will be a debate moderated by Donald Trump. Yes, just as one clown leaves the circus we are bringing back one of the party’s preeminent fools. Alexander Burns of politico.com reports that Ron Paul’s campaign has already said it would not participate: “The selection of a reality television personality to host a presidential debate that voters nationwide will be watching is beneath the office of the Presidency and flies in the face of that office’s history and dignity.” Burns observes that the Trump debates poses “kind of a dignity test” for the Republican field, with Paul and Huntsman already indicating they will not appear. Newt Gingrich has said he would. Would I watch such an event? Yes, although I hope it doesn’t occur because of declinations. I assume I would with the same feeling that causes people to watch “reality” television, except that this is actually reality and one of the participants could be out next President.
We only have to go back to Wednesday for today’s quote of note by the GOP’s new front-runner. Apparently taken aback by Mitt Romney’s complete distortion of a statement by Barack Obama, Gingrich came up with this beauty according to a blog by ABC News that I learned about from Andrew Sullivan’s site:
“This is the best food stamp president in history so more Americans now get food stamps therefore and we now give it away as cash. You don’t get food stamps. You get a credit card and the credit card can be used for anything. We’ve had people take their food stamp money and use it to go to Hawaii. And you know, they give food stamps now to millionaires.”
There are not many issues I have direct knowledge of, but the Food Stamp Program (now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) is one of them. Here are the actual facts:
- Food stamps have not been used in decades. For years, benefits have been issued by an Electronic Benefits Card (akin to an ATM card).
- The card can only be used for food products, and it has a defined limit. It is not a credit card.
- Benefits are for those with low income, not millionaires. In Massachusetts, for example, a family of three with net income of $600 per month would get SNAP benefits of $346 per month. Benefits disappear altogether when net income reaches $1750 per month.
If Gingrich’s point is that there is fraud in the program, that is not a shocker. Of course, there is fraud in the program just as there is fraud in every government program. To take just one example — say Freddie Mae and Freddie Mac — there is undoubtedly fraud in their contracts. Is there fraud in the private sector, say on Wall Street? (That one is rhetorical.)
I do not know what his point is. The ABC blog notes that expanding eligibility for food stamps began during the Bush Administration, and I know that efforts to expand accessibility to the program go back at least that far.
Perhaps his only real point is that he is not going to allow Mitt Romney to be the only one making outrageously false statements.
It appears that the Herman Cain implosion and the concurrent rise in the polls of Newt Gingrich may have narrowed the GOP primary race down to Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney. While I thought that Rick Perry’s money would enable him to be a player in Iowa, he consistently polls in the low single-digits and has simply done nothing right in his campaign.
The Iowa caucuses are a big wild card. The GOP side has a heavy presence of evangelical Christians and caters to those spending lots of time on the ground there. It would not be a major surprise if Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum or even Perry were able to convert their religious views into electoral support there. Ron Paul has a committed and vociferous cadre that could also produce caucus goers. Jon Huntsman chances of springing a surprise are only slightly better than mine, and he has already said he is banking everything on New Hampshire. It is very difficult, however, to see any of that quintet doing well enough in both New Hampshire and South Carolina to become factors down the road. Am I prematurely writing off Cain? When I heard on the radio this morning that his first “in-person” meeting with his wife following Monday’s allegations of marital infidelity would not be until tomorrow, I did not get a good feeling about the future of his candidacy. Actually, it was a good feeling since, as a candidate for the Presidency, the man is a clown.
That leaves Newt as the sole non-Mitt candidate. Will he experience this year’s remarkable string of boom-then-bust candidacies that began, remarkably enough, with Donald Trump? I do not think so. The man is smart — as he would be the first to tell you — which immediately distinguishes him from some in this year’s field. He is used to national exposure, much of which is negative, but I think that works to his advantage. He has already been through what could be called a rough patch and is still around. (He called that period in the spring as the worse two months of his life, which I am sure is of great comfort to each of his first two wives.) Unlike the Bachmann, Perry and Cain boomlets, he was already well-known so that his weaknesses — of which there are many — are well-known. So I think he is here to stay.
How is Mitt doing? As I said in an earlier post, I think his shtick is starting to wear thin. He is reminiscent of a sporting coach who feels comfortable with a lead and takes his team out of their rhythm by “holding the ball.” That analogy admittedly breaks down because Romney’s “lead” was support in the polls of 20 to 25 per cent, and a cast of opponents more akin to the bar scene in “Star Wars” than a roster of future leaders of the free world. But it holds up when we look at his first televised ad, an attack of Barack Obama (with its distorted “quotation”), instead of a reason why Republican primary voters should back him. He is also remarkably thin-skinned. In a rare interview with a news organization, he later complained that the Fox (sic) interviewer was unduly aggressive. He further displays the haughtiness of a prep school debater when he harps on following the rules during the seemingly endless debates of the GOP primary run-up.
One thing is certain. This is going to be very interesting leading up to the first actual vote by a human in just over one month from now.
I did not do a post immediately after the first GOP debate on foreign policy on November 12 (I was in Montreal for that Saturday night debate) nor for the most recent one on November 22. Both events were interesting, in part because of the differences among the candidates, but also because of the surprisingly (to me) nuanced positions of candidates such as Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann, neither of whom has displayed that trait on domestic issues. It would have been truly surprising, if not jaw-dropping, if I could say the same about Rick Perry or Herman Cain.
Perry and Cain are simply out of their league in discussing international matters, not that they are evoking memories of William F. Buckley when the topics are closer to home. CBS and The National Journal, sponsors of the earlier event, labeled it “The Commander-in-Chief Debate,” an appellation that gives one considerable pause when viewing this entire group of candidates.
Cain, for his part, seems to have the same answer to every question. He would assemble the best possible people, listen to their advice, and make a decision based on common sense. There is nothing wrong with that answer, of course, other than that he is using it to mask a total lack of knowledge on any subject. The first debate preceded his embarrassing response to the question on Libya. By the time of the second debate he demonstrated that he did know a fact, in this case that Iran is a mountainous country. The purpose of sharing that knowledge with us is that it would make an Israeli strike on Iran highly unlikely. He did not go on to explain, however, the implications of his insight for the American military action in Afghanistan. Presumably, he would not even have embarked on George Bush’s lukewarm attempt to track down Osama Bin Laden in the Tora Bora mountains.
Perry is simply hopeless in a debate format, although it is becoming increasingly clear that debates are doing a very good job of demonstrating his level of knowledge and capabilities. What does he think is the preeminent security threat to the United States? It is the 35,000 “forced abortions” that occure in China every day (according to him). Commander-in-Chief qualifications? He is the only one on stage with such experience since he commands the Texas National Guard. This Palinesque answer did not explain how the other two former Governors did not also have the experience. Finally, he revealed the startling information that Hamas and Hezbollah are both active in Mexico.
Rick Santorum surprised me in his ability to address the complexity of certain issues with a level of sophistication. Although he opposed President Obama’s elimination of torture and supports profiling of Muslims, he spoke in favor of the necessity of foreign aid for strategic reasons, and opposed a “cowboy” response to a nuclear weapon ending up in the wrong hands in Pakistan. Unfortunately, his idea of the most serious threat to the United States is socialism in Central America. (Even Herman Cain referred to cyber-attacks.)
Michele Bachmann continues to mix occasional bouts of lucidity with downright zaniness. She also recognizes the strategic importance of foreign aid and the complexities of dealing with a Pakistan that has dozens of nuclear weapons. She rightly criticized Rick Perry for naivete in saying he would zero out foreign aid until the Pakistani government came around to his way of thinking (a scary thought if ever there were one). But in both debates she talked about the President allowing the ACLU to run the CIA on interrogating suspects, even though the Army’s Field Intelligence Manual is the source for such matters.
Newt Gingrich was Newt Gingrich, although perhaps because of his significant rise in the polls replacing Herman Cain as Romney’s main challenger, he may be tempering his Newtness. There are still, however, moments. In the first debate, he referenced the “mess” we got into with the Church Committee in the 1970’s as a reason why we have some many international problems. Senator Frank Church was a liberal Democratic foreign policy leader. Newt does not mention that since the Church Committee, there have been 20 years of Republican Presidents, 11 of Democratic ones and a period when Newt himself was Speaker of the House. When asked in that debate for examples of “thinking out of the box,” he cited the views of Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Pope John Paul II. I do not know what box he is in, but clearly it is not one of conservative orthodoxy. Notwithstanding his typical rhetorical excesses, he did have at least two memorable statements. He said that because of the threat of terror, “all of us will be in danger for the rest of our lives.” While I think that is, regrettably, true, it was nice to hear Newt not blame this reality on Barack Obama or the socialists in the Democratic Party. The other one, of course, is his comment that there may be a “subset” of undocumented immigrants — defined by Gingrich as in the country for 25 years, taxpayers, church-goers — that the “family-friendly” GOP will not want arrested and deported but allowed to remain in the country. If this limited humane approach results in his disavowal by GOP voters, I am not sure we would need to know much more about the people controlling the Republican Party.
Mitt Romney was also Mitt Romney with, unfortunately, none of the surprises we got from Gingrich. While engaging in his ritualistic assertions of the President’s inadequacy, he ended up stating positions remarkably similar to Obama’s. Use of drones was acceptable, killing the American al Qaeda member was OK, and he was concerned about the low approval of the United States in Afghanistan. This concern about America’s image abroad seems to run counter to what he calls Obama’s “apologizing” for the United States. I think Romney may have been either off his game in the second debate or he is, not surprisingly, starting to wear thin. He said little of note, relying on his standard (and factually inaccurate) shots at the Administration. He continues to zing at Rick Perry as if he is the primary threat to his nomination, even though Perry has been consistently polling in the low single digits after his meteoric rise evaporated. What does Romney think is the biggest threat to American security? Hezbollah in Latin America.
There were two beacons of hope in these debates. Ron Paul continues to strike his theme of the importance of personal liberty, usually in the context of the abuses from the Patriot Act and the torturing of prisoners. Jon Huntsman also shares these views and has the additional appeal of having actually thought about foreign policy issues (although I do not often agree with him). Paul’s appeal appears to be limited to a hard core percentage of the Republican base, and does not seem to have much upside. Huntsman, while not polling well, is the lone candidate who goes after the sophistry of the front-running Romney. Because each of these candidates fails to adhere to the strict ideology of the Republican base, it is unlikely that either of them will move forward.
Finally, a brief word about the broadcasts. The first debate, sponsored by CBS and The National Journal featured several questions I thought werer emarkably inane. Santorum was asked not once, but twice, what he would do if a terrorist acquired a nuclear weapon in Pakistan. While that may be a useful question for a hopeful screenwriter for “24,” — and is an unquestioned threat of considerable importance — it is a matter of tactics on a one-time matter. I do not recall a single question on Israeli-Palestinian relations which has the potential for much more considerable influence on international policy. CBS also televised only the first 60 minutes of the 90-minute debate because of the importance of cutting to a re-run of one of their regular programs. The second debate, televised on CNN and sponsored by the conservative think tanks Heritage Foundation and American Enterprise Institute, was notable for its audience. It was a polite reserved group, most of whom were dressed in — yes — conservative suits. When Wolf Blitzer went to the audience for a question, in at least half the instances I recognized the questioner. While I am not exactly a Washington insider, if I know something about members of the audience asking questions, it is not exactly a Tea Party gathering. But the debate format was interesting. No defined speaking limits and a chance for some real back and forth.
Mitt Romney has released his first television ad. It is troubling that in his initial effort out of the box he totally distorts what Barack Obama is saying. The statement “if we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose” is actually Obama during the 2008 campaign quoting John McCain. While Romney is no stranger to distorting facts, I had at least hoped this type of misrepresentation would not begin almost one year from the election. (The clip is copied from Andrew Sullivan’s blog today.)
On the same day that Herman Cain opined that the Taliban was going to be part of the new government in Libya, Mitt Romney joined the Republican StupidFest on the question of whether the Environmental Protection Agency should regulate carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. According to The Boston Globe, Romney stated, “I exhale carbon dioxide, I don’t want those guys following me around with a meter to see if I’m breathing too hard.’’
Now perhaps Romney was channeling Ronald Reagan and his much-ridiculed statement that trees give off carbon dioxide, thereby obviating the need to do anything about pollution. Or maybe he wanted to join in the fun with his Republican competitors by showing that he too can make asinine statements, especially since someone like Herman Cain can stay near the top of polls without any evidence that he knows anything about anything a President should know.