Monday, November 28, 2011

Prospects For Iowa And New Hampshire

Although Mitt Romney has been the frontrunner for most of the 2012
pre-primary/caucus season, and Newt Gingrich has made a remarkable
comeback to become his major challenger, it might be useful, less than 40
days from the first voting in Iowa, to take a look at the other candidates and
see how they might do before time and resources run out on them.

In Iowa, Michele Bachmann is pulling out all stops to remain viable for
the rest of the campaign. An Iowa native who won the August Iowa Straw
Poll, and with a significant Iowa organization, especially in the socially
conservative religious community, her low current poll numbers may not
accurately predict her true strength on January 3. She no longer appears to
be as well-funded as she was several months ago, and she has to do well,
that is, a second-place finish or better, in order to keep her effort credible
going into New Hampshire and South Carolin where she also has serious
organizational and media efforts.

Rick Perry was not too long ago expected to win the Iowa caucus, but
following poor performances at several candidate debates, his poll
numbers have nose-dived, and he is no longer considered a first tier
candidate. Nevertheless, Mr. Perry has lots of money in his campaign
treasury, and if he could somehow convince Iowa voters to take a
second look at him, he might do better than expected., and be able to
compete in later primaries.

Herman Cain was a media target for allegations about his private life as long
as his polling “bubble” showed him to be a contender. Now that his numbers
have fallen, the media stories have seemed to stop. Perhaps the larger reason
for his polling decline, however, was his performance in the debates where he
seemed not to have the grasp of the issues displayed by most of his rivals.
It is now unlikely that Mr. Cain will regain his former standing in any of the
upcoming primaries.

Ron Paul has his greatest base of support in Iowa, has run there well in a
previous cycle, has a loyal libertarian following who are likely to turn out
for the caucus. His results are the most difficult to predict. There is a chance
he could win in Iowa, a better chance he might come in second, an odds-on
chance he will come in third or fourth. Beyond Iowa, however, he has only
a small (albeit loyal) following in most other states. His successful fundraising
means, however, he can stay in the race until the end. If he did win Iowa, it
would mean that the caucus results here would become regarded mostly as
irrelevant. Iowan voters probably will not to choose such a self-inflicted
political wound to their "first in the nation" status.

Rick Santorum does have some conservative support, and has spent much time
in Iowa, but even if he does better than expected, it will not be enough to enable
him to compete credibly past New Hampshire. John Huntsman has, more or less,
ignored Iowa, and concentrated on New Hampshire where there were signs he
was receiving some attention from Granite State primary voters. Newt Gingrich’s
recent comeback and endorsement from the state’s most influential newspaper,
however, may have torpedoed Mr. Huntsman’s opportunity to thus gain vital
traction in the early voting.

Most likely, we are coming to a critical contest in the next six weeks between
Mr, Romney and Mr. Gingrich. The timing of the rise of the latter in the polls
could not be better, and there is little question that Mr. Gingrich will be the
darling of the news headlines for the next several weeks. But now he must face
an aroused Mitt Romney and his campaign staff who now realize that they must
compete seriously in Iowa and try to head off the Gingrich phenomenon before
it gains unstoppable momentum.

I think the first round of this battle went to the former speaker when he stated
his broad immigration policy that called for long-time illegal residents who have
become positive members of their communities to remain in the country. I
believe that strategist/historian Gingrich wanted Mr. Romney to attack him for
this, which the former Massachusetts governor promptly did, thus putting
Romney on the wrong political side of an issue that will be vital to Hispanic
voters in 2012. It was therefore a sophisticated “chess” move, and has given Mr.
Gingrich an advantage as the primaries head south and west. I also don’t think
the Gingrich stand will hurt him very much in Iowa and New Hampshire, as
conventional wisdom might suggest it would, but only actual results will decide
this question.

Although Mr. Romney’s support has not gained much from his poll numbers
in the 20s, he has shown much resilience in the campaign so far, holding his own
in the debates, and successfully portraying himself as someone in charge. His
campaign caution has proved a good strategy to date, although with a major
challenger now of Mr. Gingrich’s stature, he will need to come out of these
safe political shadows and engage fully in the contest if he is to prevail.
Friends and foes of Mr. Gingrich have lately been making the point that he is
capable of self-destruction and fumbles, but so far he seems carefully
pursuing a strategy that fuels his sudden rise in the polls.

This is an election cycle with incessant ups and downs, It is also a cycle
in which the Old Media dominance has been overtaken by considerable
impact from New Media, including internet networking, conservative
radio talks show hosts, as well as a more independent and skeptical

International economic circumstances, revolutions in the Middle East, and
political upheaval in Europe, as well as the chronic domestic U.S. crisis, all
make surprises very possible in the eleven months before Americans
choose their next president.

Iowa and New Hampshire should be interesting overtures in the U.S. 2012
election opera, but there will likely be several dramatic acts to follow.

Copyright (c) 2011 by Barry Casselman
All rights reserved.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

"Occupy The White House" Now In Full Throttle

I'm surprised that no one, at least that I have read or heard, has noted
the most prominent (and outrageous?) "Occupy" protest in the nation,
that is, the "Occupy The White House" being led by none other than its
current occupant, President Barack Obama.

It should come as no surprise that Mr. Obama has now twice warmly
endorsed the "Occupy" movement currently taking place (but waning) across
the nation. Of course, no one would deny Mr. Obama's right of free speech
(in fact, ex officio he has more of it than perhaps any other American), but
one might be amazed that the Lincoln bedroom and the West Wing have
become the headquarters of the movement. I hope at least that the president
will forgo pitching any tents in these historic rooms, and I trust that he and
his family, and Vice President Biden and his family, continue to take daily
showers in the White House and Admiralty House deluxe bathrooms.

It can be no coincidence that the stated critique of the "Occupy" protesters
is almost identical to the critique of the U.S. by Mr. Obama and those who
run his administration. This critique includes "taxing the rich," punishing
"Big Business" (except, of course, those big corporations who contribute big
bucks to the president's re-election campaign), requiring universal health
care paid for by taxpayers, and the mandated redistribution of wealth in

I have visited two different "Occupy" sites now in two cities, and have noted
the enthusiasm and sincerity of most of the protesters, although I have been
unable to determine just what it is they are protesting, other than abstract
entities such as "Wall Street" and "big business." Since most of the protesters
seem to be young, college students, and from affluent home neighborhoods,
I am not sure they even realize the consequences of being so negative to these
abstractions. I do acknowledge that the hard core leftist leaders of this
movement do know what they think they are doing, that is, trying to foment
an economic revolution in the country along radical and neo-Marxist lines.

Unlike Mayor Bloomberg, and mayors of many urban areas where protests
have taken place, and continue to do so (albeit with fewer and fewer
protesters), Mr. Obama's patience with the unsanitary, sometimes violent,
often pretentious conditions of the Occupy movement cannot be
overruled. His occupation of the White House cannot be cleared by any
police forces, or any other authorities, unless the ultimate authority in our
Republic, the voters, choose to do so next November.

Copyright (c) by Barry Casselman
All rights reserved.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Next Forty Days

Forty days from now the formal part of selecting the next president
will begin. On January 3, Iowa caucus voters will signal which of about
eight major Republican contenders for the job it favors. Each four-year
cycle is distinctive, and the 2012 cycle has seen the emerging feature of
candidate debates become the new powerful force in the nomination
process. I have even described this series of pre-primary/caucus debates
as the "first primary" of 2012.

Unlike in previous cycles, this "debates primary" has reduced a large field
of contenders to a few, possibly only two, finalists even before voting has

It was always assumed that 2008 runner-up Mitt Romney would be one
of those finalists, and indeed he has run a cautiously near-flawless
campaign so far, demonstrating he has learned from his campaign
mistakes of 2008 while showing his competitive mastery in the debates.
He has garnered far more endorsements from local, state and national
GOP officials than any other candidate, and clearly has the funding to
contest all the primaries and caucuses. For all these advantages and
accomplishments, however, Mr. Romney has not "closed the deal" so far
with Republican voters. For those voters who give highest credence to
past records, and there are many of these, Mr. Romney's positions on
many issues, while currently in line with conservative public opinion,
are suspect because he has held contrary views to many of these in the

As the "debates primary" and other preludes to actual voting have taken
place, a notable number of Mr. Romney's rivals seemed poised, albeit
briefly, to be his major challenger in Tampa in September, 2012. Not
counting candidates who ultimately chose not to run for president this
cycle, Michelle Bachmann, Rick Perry and Herman Cain took turns in
the spotlight with high poll numbers, Their "moment," however, each
turned out to be relatively brief. Now, just before actual voting is to
begin, Newt Gingrich has risen to the top of many polls, and appears to
be the other finalist for the nomination.

Barring the unforeseen, it will now be primarily be a contest between Mr.
Romney and Mr. Gingrich in the early voting that will occur in Iowa, New
Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada and Florida (in that order).

The question, of course, is whether Mr. Gingrich (unlike rivals Bachmann,
Perry and Cain) can stay in contention for more than a few weeks, and then
possibly prevail for the nomination. I would suggest that if he cannot, Mitt
Romney will quickly secure the nomination.

A lot of conventional wisdom about both Mr Romney and Mr. Gingrich,
spoken aloud at the outset of the 2012 campaign, has turned out, in my
opinion, to be false. It was said that Mr. Romney's "flip-flops" on issues,
his Mormon religion, and his lack of personal "warmth," would be major
obstacles for him. I would suggest that his forceful espousal of conservative
issues and an obvious effort to become more personable have minimalized
these drawbacks, and polling suggests as well that only a few GOP voters
will be unable to vote for him because of his religion.

It was said that Mr. Gingrich was too old, too much associated with the
past (when he was a backbencher congressman and later, speaker of the
House), that he had too much personal "baggage" associated with his
personal life, and that he was too professorial to be nominated in 2012.
In fact, through the debates, Mr. Gingrich's knowledge and experience has
been as asset, his innovative ideas has made him seem the more original
(and thus youthful) candidate, his speaking skill has seemed inspirational
rather than academic, and his candid and blunt approach to his past
mistakes has seemed to dilute some voter questions about his personal life.

Nontheless, my interpretations above remain to be translated into votes.
I continue to think that Mr. Romney's advantages make him the likely
winner. He is unlikely to make a big mistake, and he has a very large
organization wherever he wants to compete. That now apparently includes
Iowa where he had earlier not engaged, including taking a pass on the Iowa
Straw Poll (which he had won in 2008). Now sensing that he could wrap up
the 2012 nomination with a previously unexpected win in Iowa, followed by a
win in New Hampshire (where he is the heavy favorite), and taking the
double win into South Carolina and Florida. Many party activists and media
observers are already sensing the possibility of this sequence of events.

On the other hand, if Mr. Gingrich wins Iowa, comes close in New Hampshire,
and wins in South Carolina (where he is now leading), this timetable could be
turned upside down. A follow-up win in Florida might make Mr. Gingrich
unstoppable. Mr. Gingrich's past indicates he can become over-confident and
make verbal mistakes when he is ahead, but if the self-control he has shown
so far can be maintained, he might be very formidable in the days and weeks

It is always possible that one of the other candidates could either revive their
campaigns or finally make a breakthrough, but it is very late in the process for
this to happen. To their credit, most of the other candidates have improved
during the "debates primary." and some of them have made valuable
contributions to the discussion. In spite of the unfair and obvious bias of the
Old (liberal) Media, I think the public at large, and independent voters
specifically, have a generally positive impression of the Republican field, even
if they disagree with their views. (I do agree, however, that some of the best
GOP candidates chose not to run in 2012.) The recent inappropriate insult to
Mrs. Bachmann on national television only backfired on what seems to be
widespread media efforts to demean conservative candidates.

Forty days (and forty nights) from now, this 2012 race will begin to become
clearer and clearer. It does not seem that the GOP contest will be protracted.
Voters will soon know who it will be who will run against President Obama
in November. Then attention will shift back to the Democrats and their
many problems with the economy and foreign policy. The fact that some
Democratic activists, incumbents and media sympathizers are now openly
criticizing Mr. Obama tell us that all may not well on the liberal side.

The November campaign will begin earlier this cycle, just as the nominating
process is likely to be shorter than usual. There will be the usual fireworks
on the 4th of July, 2012, but they will likely seem pale to the political rockets
and flares on the campaign trails that will follow.

Copyright (c) 2011 by Barry Casselman
All rights reserved.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Off The Radar Near And Far

With the 2012 U.S. presidential election increasingly capturing the
attention of the American public, as well as the gyrating stock market
(with its impact on virtually every adult's pension plans and net worth),
the Green Bay Packers so-far undefeated march to the Super Bowl, the
probable (and indefensible) cancellation of the the whole pro basketball
season, the "Occupy" phenomenon by small numbers of protesters who
are a rebuke to Procter & Gamble's soap products, and the usual celebrity
suspects filling up the pages of gossip columns and magazines seen at
every grocery check-out counter, it is understandable that some
important events and stories, near and far, are off the American media
radar as we head into the Thanksgiving holiday of 2011.

In Washington, DC a few days ago, I attended a program at the
distinguished Heritage Foundation think tank at which the deliberate
ignoring by the U.S. media of recent intensification of human rights abuse
in Cuba was discussed. Congresswoman Ileana Ros Lehtinen, the powerful
chair of the House Foreign Affairs committee (she also represents
the south Florida district where so many Cuban refugees have settled)
was the main speaker, along with an impressive panel of Latin America
experts. Their assertion? That the Obama administration, in its hurry to
re-establish U.S. relations with a hostile Marxist regime in Cuba, is silent
about these human rights abuses, and that the uncritical U.S. liberal
media are going along by not reporting what is happening, even as U.S.
sanctions are being relaxed. To be fair, the repressive conditions are not
being much more widely reported by many in the conservative media as
well, even though these media are normally critical of the Castro brothers
totalitarian regime. (Do I need to point out that Cuba is less than 10o
miles from Florida, and was almost responsible for setting off a world
war in 1962 when it invited the Soviet Union to place missiles in Cuba
with nuclear weapons aimed at the U.S.?)

Getting media attention, but not much public attention, is the continued
quest, apparently near completion, of Iran to begin making nuclear
weapons with which to threaten Israel, its own Arab neighbors and
Europe. (They already have long-range missiles with which to deliver
them.) The Obama administration, to its credit, has been consistently
opposed verbally, and with sanctions, to this development, but it is
increasingly evident that the Iranian dictatorship will not stop unless it
is physically prevented from doing so. This leaves the tiny state of Israel,
explicitly threatened with extinction by Iran, to take risky unilateral
action to protect its citizens from a new Holocaust. Israeli officials have
in recent weeks and months been warning that such action is inevitable,
with or without U.S. or European support. Is anyone paying attention?

Most dramatic of all, however, is the velocity of the break-up of the
European Union and its unitary currency, the euro. Using the word
"contagion" (a word usually reserved for a deadly pandemic of disease),
European media is filled with horrific stories of imminent collapse of its
various member states, punctuated by temporary (and superficial)
efforts to rescue the post-World War II experiment to avert the historic
conflicts and violence between that nations of Europe. U.S. media
attention has made focus on the problems of the smaller European
states such as Greece, Portugal, Spain and even Italy, while the
underlying vulnerability of the major European nations, including
Germany, France and Great Britain is passed over. I might point out
that it is not only a failure of U.S. media to adequately cover and
explain the European crisis, but also the political leaders of both
major U.S. parties. I might ask the question: Which of the GOP
presidential candidates, including the frontrunners and "experts" on
foreign policy, have bothered to address seriously the European crisis
and its likely impact on the U.S. economy? I realize that the crisis in
the U.S. economy is a priority, and is being addressed, but can it be
adequately discussed without understanding the impact of the
European and worldwide crisis being taken into account?

Recent political and natural crises in the Korean peninsula, Japan
and Central America also impact the United States, and continue to
unfold quietly (and disturbingly), but public attention to them is

Some of this is normal, of course, in the sense that most Americans
are not naturally preoccupied with world affairs and far-away events,
nor, in more ordinary times, should they be. But these are not ordinary
times, and any one of these crises, near or far, that I have mentioned,
and perhaps some I have not listed, could explode into a catastrophe
of dimensions not experienced in the (relatively brief) history of our
human civilization. That is the destination to which the explosion of
human global population and that the uncontrolled growth of human
technology seems to be taking us to.

It would not take a big event to set one of these crises off into something
much bigger. One hundred years ago, an open carriage carrying some
celebrity passengers on a sunny summer day in the Balkans took a
last-minute and unplanned detour in the narrow streets of the Serbian
capital city, and a single deranged person by chance happened to be on
the route of the detour. What he then did set off a worldwide conflict
which has, in real terms, lasted (with brief periods of respite) since that
time, costing literally more than a hundred million lives and unspeakable

Copyright (c) 2011 by Barry Casselman
All rights reserved.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Now It Gets Much More Interesting

O.K., we're only six weeks from the Iowa Caucus and the first
actual votes in the 2012 Republican presidential campaign. The
configuration of the probable two finalists for the GOP nomination
was only half predictable a mere 90 days ago (just after Michele
Bachmann won the Iowa Straw Poll, Tim Pawlenty withdrew, Rick
Perry had just entered the race, and Herman Cain had not yet made
his move).

It was generally understood that Mitt Romney would be one of the
finalists. After all, he had been the s0-called "frontrunner" most of
the past year, and his poll numbers had held steady through the
ebb and flow of the pre-primary/caucus period. But Newt Gingrich?
Gingrich had earlier made a huge gaffe by criticizing congressional
leader and Tea Party favorite Paul Ryan. This had sent his poll numbers
down and almost off the charts. And then there was Newt's "baggage."
Finally, most of Newt's top campaign staff quit, complaining he was
not campaigning in the conventional way. Most importantly, perhaps,
his funds dried up, and he was reportedly $1 million in debt, with very
little coming in. It was, of course, hopeless.

The 2012 campaign had thus seemed to pass Newt Gingrich by. He did
not, however, have the decency to quit, as Pawlenty had. He declared he
would run an unconventional campaign. He moved long-time staff from
his private organizations into his campaign. And he waited.

But Gingrich was not "waiting for Godot." He was waiting for the
inevitable debates between the candidates. And he was lucky, too.
There were not a few debates scheduled. There were lots of debates
in August, September and November. Most of them were nationally
televised debates. He knew he was, by far, the best political debater
in his party, probably the best in any party, perhaps the best in
modern times.

Meanwhile, most of the major announced candidates, and a few who
did not announce, took their turns in poll-driven "bubbles." Donald
Trump, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, and then Herman Cain. None
of these bubbles lasted more than a political nanosecond, but they
did catch public the public's attention. Perhaps not all of these bubbles
featured political heavyweights, but they were interesting characters,
and included a woman, a black man, and a tycoon with a hairstyle to
match his braggadocio. The interaction between them became a blood
sport, with audiences, egged on by the media, expecting confrontations,
exposes and face-to-face combat.

Two of the eight-to-ten major candidates did not seem to participate
in the blood sport. They were rarely criticized. Only one of them even
mildly criticized the others. The also-rans alternated between bravado
and whining, i.e., they did get enough air time in the debates, only they
had always stood for true conservative principles, and so on and so on.

Of course, surprises can still happen, but it would seem that the political
pennant race is now between Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich. As he
knew it would happen, the media's long knives are now out for Newt's
hide. President Obama's operatives, storing up their ammunition for
Mr. Romney, now have to think twice about who they will face in
November. The Old Media, having done in Mr. Cain (after much "digging"),
now think they have an easy task with Mr Gingrich whose "baggage" is
well-known and plentiful. You can already hear MSNBC, The Washington
Post, The New York Times and the liberal pundits, licking their collective
lips. Poor Newt Gingrich! He doesn't have a chance, does he?

This all remains to be seen. Mr. Gingrich is not only a superlative debater,
he is, after three decades, one of the masters (along with Bill Clinton) in
dealing with the media. It wasn't always so. Mr. Gingrich's thin skin used
to be legendary, as was his public temper.

The outcome remains to be seen and experienced. Mr. Romney, if he can
unexpectedly win Iowa, expectedly win New Hampshire, do very well in
South Carolina and then win Florida, will be the nominee. But if Mr.
Gingrich somehow wins Iowa, comes close in New Hampshire, and then
wins South Carolina (now plausible), could be on his way to the November
presidential world series.

I have written consistently over the past three months that the race is Mr.
Romney's to lose, and I still think this is mostly the case. I think he may now
have to go all out in Iowa to block Mr. Gingrich from breaking out. Mr.
Gingrich will have to maintain unprecedented (for him) self-discipline and

I have known Newt Gingrich for 27 years now, and seen him up close. Like
John McCain in 2008, he has come from far behind. An army "brat" born in
Harrisburg, PA, Gingrich is a true expert in military strategy, a bona fide
historian, and in spite of his intellectual prowess, a political "gut fighter"
as well. The odds were long against him, and even now, do not favor him.
He has more political warts than any major presidential candidate in memory.
But, as I once told him, conditions in 2012 could become so extreme, so dire,
that anything is possible. With the United States in an extraordinarily long
period of unemployment and lack of business confidence, our military
strength and influence waning, China and India rising, petty dictators in
Venezuela, North Korea and Iran threatening, Europe seeming on the edge
of economic collapse, a widespread grass roots conservative "Tea Party"
movement emerging to change American politics, a radical left "Occupy"
movement erupting with tents and sleeping bags in many American urban
parks, and the American public (and its political center) more unsettled
than since the inflationary political paralysis of the late 1970's, might we
say that 2012 fits the category of an "extreme" time?

Can anything happen?

Copyright (c) 2012 by Barry Casselman
All rights reserved.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Diversion On The Sidelines

I have suggested that the sum of all the pre-primary/caucus debates
this year has constituted, in real terms, the first virtual primary of the
2012 presidential campaign cycle. I realize no actual votes have been
cast, but the "debates primary" has, in effect, reduced the relatively
large field of major candidates (including 10 announced and a half
dozen unannounced hopefuls to two or three. I suspect that, by the time
Iowans vote in their caucus on January 3 (only a few weeks away),
the field will only be 3-5 active candidates, and only two finalists. The
race may be over following the Florida primary in February (or sooner).

The most recent debate (in South Carolina) only reinforced my view,
as frontrunner Mitt Romney and emerging final challenger Newt
Gingrich performed the best, and strengthened their positions. To be
fair, Rick Perry, after a series of poor and finally disastrous debate
performances, did the best he has so far, but, like Tim Pawlenty (now
withdrawn), Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain, Mr. Perry's
moment in the political sun has likely set, at least for this cycle.

The odds for the eventual nominee in Tampa next year still greatly
favor Mr. Romney who has run a cautiously flawless campaign so
far. Mr. Gingrich, as I and many others observed, has staged a
remarkable comeback, thanks primarily to his debate performances,
but he will have to demonstrate extraordinary self-discipline and
skill from here on to have even a chance to pull an upset.

One of the signs that the Republican nomination is settling into a
climactic stage before the voting has begun is that the liberal Old
Media institutions have begun a drumbeat of personal attacks on
Romney and Gingrich. These attacks, immediately previously
directed at Herman Cain, appear to be concentrated, in Mr.
Romney's case, on his management of the companies he ran in
the private business world; and, in Mr. Gingrich's case, on his
personal life more than 15 years ago. In the latter instance, many
of the old "scandals" have proven to be myths (most notably his
divorce confrontation with his first wife on her "cancer deathbed."
Not only is that first wife still alive, but her daughter, an eyewitness,
says the confrontation never happened.) Mr Romney's "scandals," it
would appear, are based on his successful management decisions
that included firing employees and consolidating operations.

Following the Cain allegations, and the fact that the Old Media have
virtually ignored serious allegations made about Senator Obama
before the election, and the increasing number of scandals tied to
him as President (the Solyndra case being only one of these), it has
been suggested that the voting public, particularly the all-important
independent and centrist voting public will pay less and less
attention to media attempts to stir up sensational gossip and
allegations against only one side.

It is an interesting irony that most of the many GOP presidential
debates so far this year have been broadcast and managed by Old
Media outlets, producers and media stars acting as moderators.
Overwhelmingly, they are liberals who make no attempt to hide their
preference for the Democrats and Mr Obama. Much of their efforts
have thus been perceived, especially by Republicans and more
neutral observers, as biased and unfair. Yet the debates' frequency
has drawn increasingly large audiences, and their impact has been
to give the underfunded candidates and their underfunded party an
enormous amount of free "advertising" and publicity. Mr. Gingrich,
particularly, had no money after his early flub over Paul Ryan, and
yet he was able to regroup until the debates have now brought in a
flood of campaign funds (reportedly $1 million last week alone) just
in time to finance serious efforts in Iowa, New Hampshire and South

In spite of all of this, it is critically important to remember that the
presidential election of 2012 will not be about nominee Mitt Romney,
nominee Newt Gingrich, or if by an unexpected turn of events, any
other Republican nominee. A second-term election of a first-term
president is almost always about the incumbent, that is, the voters'
evaluation of whether or not the incumbent president merits another
four years in office. We can turn out endless analyses of the candidates
in an election, but the journalists who do this are really writing for their
own small community. It won't just be the economy alone, but the
whole condition of American life, including unemployment levels,
degrees of inflation, pension fund stability, affordability of health
care, Obamacare, interest rates, the stock market, crises in Europe
Asia and the Middle East, and the reputation of the U.S. as a world
leader that will determine how Americans feel about Barack Obama
and his presidency.

That is where the ball is in play. The rest is diversion on the sidelines.

Copyright (c) 2011 by Barry Casselman
All rights reserved.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Debates Primary of 2012

The unusual number of Republican presidential candidate debates
so far has, in effect, served as the first primary of the 2012 cycle. The
number of debates has grown since 1960 when the televised debate
between GOP nominee Richard Nixon faced Democratic nominee John
F. Kennedy. The impact of television was decisive that year inasmuch as
polls indicate that the majority of those voters who heard the debate on
radio thought that Nixon had won, but more of those who saw the debate
on television thought Kennedy had won.

Since that time, the number of debates has increased significantly, and
soon became vital part of the nomination process itself. This year, with
only a contest on the GOP side, there have been an astonishing number
of debates, and their audiences beyond the live attendees (via radio, TV,
and podcasts) have grown to significant numbers.

This immediate and repeated exposure has clearly influenced opinion
polls (perhaps most dramatically last week when Texas Governor Rick
Perry had a brief memory lapse during a debate in Michigan). This
became the biggest national political story, even eclipsing the non-debate
crisis in the campaign of Herman Cain following sexual harassment
allegations against him.

It is true that no actual votes are cast in the "debates primary," but it is
now inescapable that by means of the polls, and the seemingly endless print
and broadcast analyses of the debates, there is an equivalent primary/
caucus process provided by the series of debates that precede Iowa and
New Hampshire.

With the great number of these pre-primary debates that have occurred
(and will yet occur) in 2011, this "debates primary" now becomes an
institutional part of the presidential election cycle.

When Governor Perry, after his early poor performance in the first debates
he participated in, said he was not going to participate in further debates,
there was such a complaint in the media that he had to reverse himself.

Some have suggested that debating skills are not intrinsic to becoming a
good president. But now this point is moot, since it is an inevitable part of
the nominating and final election process.

Even as late as the first quarter of the 20th century, presidential candidates
did not campaign very much across the country. Part of the reason was that
the communications and transportation technology did not allow for it. The
airplane, radio, television and internet revolutions have each since enabled
candidates and nominees to reach more and more voters easily and rapidly.

The rise of the presidential primary and caucus in the past 50 years created
a more immediate and personal style of campaigning as presidential aspirants
were required to visit more individual states and, in the case of Iowa, New
Hampshire, and other smaller states, to perform so-called "retail
campaigning," that is, meet with individual and small groups of voters. A
recent variation of this, the town meeting format, has become a popular
campaign technique, and has required candidates to display certain skills
hitherto not part of presidential campaigns.

Now we have the debate format, and the skills it requires, to be a central, vital
and most important early component of a presidential candidate seeking his or
her party's nomination. But, while political advertising, straw polls, town
meetings and talk show appearances are still important parts of any campaign,
the debate cycle has emerged as a much more dispositive part of the presidential
campaign before the actual primaries and caucuses take place. In fact, these
debates have become the first actual primary, influencing large numbers of
voters before any votes are cast, reducing the number of candidates to only the
most competitive.

This also accounts for the standings of former Governor Romney and former
Speaker Gingrich at the top of current polls to date in 2011. Each of them has,
during the debates so far, shown the most skill, knowledge of the issues and
stage presence to be considered the "winners" of the debates, and in the case
of Mr. Gingrich, enabled him to recover dramatically from earlier campaign
mistakes and controversies.

Political figures who want to be president of the United States in the future,
and their campaign strategists, will have to take the "debates primary" into
consideration before deciding to step up to the national stage.

Copyright (c) 2011 by Barry Casselman
All rights reserved.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

A Report From The Reagan Dinner in Des Moines

DES MOINES - Five of the well-known candidates for the Republican
nomination for president of the United States spoke to the annual
Reagan dinner here in the capital of Iowa Friday evening. On January
3, (less than two months away) Iowans will cast the first actual votes in
the 2012 campaign cycle, and the race is shaping up to be one of the more
important Iowa caucuses since 1976 when they played an important role
in the election of Jimmy Carter.

GOP frontrunners Mitt Romney and Herman Cain did not attend the
dinner; they were speaking at another event in Washington, DC. Jon
Huntsman also was not in Iowa.

Before the dinner, I took a tour of several campaign headquarters in
the Des Moines area. Those of Herman Cain, Michelle Bachmann and
Rick Perry were in the relative early stages for their final efforts, only
a few days before finally determined to be January 3. Bumper stickers
and campaign brochures abounded, but as I discovered at the Iowa Straw
Poll in nearby Ames a few months before, campaign buttons, formerly a
political staple here and in other states, are in short supply this year.

All of the candidates had tables at the Hy-Vee Arena where the dinner
was held, and the crowd of Iowa Republicans paid $75.00 for the meal
and the opportunity to meet the candidates and shake their hands.
It was my first chance to meet Governor Rick Perry, who not surprisingly
turned out to be especially charming and engaged with all who came to
meet with him. Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, too, was
friendly and all smiles as a crowd, waiting to enter the hall, gathered
around him. Michelle Bachmann, Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich entered the
Arena just before the dinner began, so attendees had to wait until the event
was over to meet with them at booksignings and hospitality suites.

Most of the speeches were pedestrian, especially in light of the stage of the
campaign. One speech stood out, however, that of Newt Gingrich, and
once the program began, it was clearly his night. It should come as no
surprise, in light of how well he has performed (by general agreement) in
the candidate debates so far, and in his sudden and steady rise in the polls
from lower single digits, to noticeable double digits (and usually in third
place behind Romney and Cain);

Gingrich brought many to their feet in the Arena as he closed his remarks by
repeating his challenge to President Obama, should Gingrich be the GOP
nominee, for a series of three-hour Lincoln-Douglas styled debates in
September and October with a timekeeper but no moderator. Although he
has mentioned this before, Gingrich added in Des Moines that if Mr. Obama
declines to debate with him, he would do what Abraham Lincon did in 1858
to persuade the reluctant and far-better known Stephen Douglas to agree to
the debates. As historian Gingrich pointed out, Lincoln, rebuffed by Douglas,
then followed the senator around the state of Illinois where Douglas was making
campaign speeches, and after each Douglas speech, he would refute them before
local reporters. When Douglas realized that Lincoln was getting all the coverage,
he finally agreed to the debates. “If President Obama does not agree to debate
with me if I am the Republican nominee, I would then use the White House
schedule as my schedule and speak after him wherever he goes.” It was the best
line of the night (although it must be conceded it was not otherwise an evening of
sharp rhetoric).

In contrast to critical comments by most of the candidates against each other
in recent debates and campaign ads, Gingrich devoted the first part of his remarks
to praising the other candidates by name and singling out what Gingrich felt was
their best contributions to the campaign so far. Left out of the evening were the
recent sharp confrontations between Mr. Romney and Mr. Perry, and the current
hubbub over allegations of harassment by Mr. Cain. In regard to the latter,
wherever I went in Des Moines, I found no evidence that the charges against
Mr. Cain were hurting him so far with Republican voters.

Although Mr. Romney does not have a campaign office yet in Iowa, he did have
staffers at the dinner. I was assured by them that Mr. Romney would be making
a full effort in the next two months here.

In fact, although Mr. Romney is not leading in latest Iowa polls, his numbers
are strong. Most observers think that if he does win Iowa, followed by New
Hampshire where he is far ahead, the race for the nomination could be over
much sooner than anyone expected only weeks before this.

A final note about Mr. Gingrich’s prospects. He is still a very long shot to win
the nomination, although he probably will be the last candidate to challenge
the former Massachusetts governor seriously before the convention. As Mr.
Gingrich returns to prominence in the GOP campaign, there is little doubt that
the media forces which launched the current imbroglio over Herman Cain will
turn their attention once again to Newt Gingrich. How he handles this likely
assault will probably have much to do with whether he has only a “bubble”
or something more successful. In the past, he has been thin-skinned and
careless in response to the “smears” against him, however unfair or wrong
(I have known him and followed his career for more than 27 years), but this
time, with so much at stake, and with Mr. Cain’s poor responses as a fresh
example of what not to do, he will need all the skill and self-discipline he can
muster to be competitive in Tampa, and possibly, beyond.

Copyright (c) 2011 by Barry Casselman
All rights reserved.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Crisis In American Media

Many liberals and conservatives have been complaining about the
quality of choices they have for elected office these days, but I suspect
their complaints are often misplaced.

As the current hubbub over Herman Cain illustrates one more time
and exquisitely, the greater crisis in American public life at the present
time is an acute failure of the media to live up to the standards under
which a free press can not only thrive, but contribute positively to our
American way of life as the principle of a free press was intended to do.

In the case of Mr. Cain, which still is flaming in the print and broadcast
media, we have a manufactured "scandal" that, even to this moment,
has no substance, no specifics nor details of any wrongdoing, nor any
names or testimony of any accusers. One or two political consultants,
with obvious axes to grind, have come forward to say they were present
at alleged instants of "harassment," but even though they are not bound
by any settlement agreements, they can't tell us what the details are.
The main criticism of Mr. Cain, especially from the conservative side,
is that he has not responded "effectively" or "like a president" to the
charges leveled against him.

Assuming for the moment that the American legal principle is valid, that
is, one is innocent until proven guilty, let me ask: How is a candidate for
office to act if presumably false charges are made against him in the hellish
cauldron of our national media? Experienced politicians such as the late
Ted Kennedy, former President Bill Clinton, and others from both parties
apparently knew how to do this, even though they were accused, and guilty,
of far worse offenses. Yes, Mr. Cain has seemed to make contradictory
comments as the "scandal" revelations unfolded, and continue to unfold,
but an explanation for this could equally be that he was trying honestly to
recall the alleged incidents as it could be that he was trying to cover
something up.

Sexual harassment of women, and men, is wrong. It is also illegal. But
there are proper venues to deal with this matter. The media has every
right to report this, but the only acceptable standard for reporting this
is to publish facts, names and specific allegations. A responsible
newspaper, magazine, radio or television station does not report
rumor, gossip or any unsubtantiated news. Isn't is curious that, here we
are, after more than a week of reportage of this "scandal," and we still
have no details, no specific charges, no names of victims, no credible
first-hand accounts of any wrongdoing by Mr. Cain.

Perhaps Mr. Cain is indeed guilty as charged. Then he will receive the
opprobrium and consequences merited by the offenses. And the media
will rightly report those consequences. The time to report this will be
when names can be named, charges can be detailed, and facts can be
substantiated. This is not a game of canasta or mah-jongg. This is a
campaign for president of the United States. Yes, we have a right to
know as much as we can about the candidates, but we also have the
right to have accurate and unbiased information.

John F. Kennedy had a fatal disease the entire time he was president
of the United States; he was also a serial adulterer; and by today's
standards, a gross harasser of women. Much of this was known
while he was alive, but not a word of it was reported the major TV
networks, the New York Times and the Washington Post. Then and
today, he is regarded as an iconic hero by these media outlets.

There is a reason why the media today is regarded so poorly by the
public. You simply can't believe what you read or hear any more in
the Old Media (and in other media, too).

There are opinion journalists, of which I am one, and there are news
reporters. It is understood that opinion journalists are only expressing
an opinion. Many news reporters today think they, too, are opinion
journalists, and that they need to slant or adjust the facts to fit their
own bias. The worst offenders of this are not some unknown small
town reporters, most of whom I think still do their job honestly and
well. The worst offenders are some of the biggest names in journalism
who work for the biggest media outlets, and are encouraged to distort
the news. Thus, it is not only the reporters who are at fault. The editors,
producers, and media owners share responsibility for this sad state of
media affairs.

Historically, both conservative and liberal media have been guilty of
egregious bias. Today perhaps, much more of it takes place on the
liberal side in the Old Media, but no one should pretend that
conservatives are free from bias. And there are reporters, both liberal
and conservative, who yet maintain high standards. Alas, there are
fewer and fewer of them.

Today, the careful reader and consumer of media must take every news
report, every opinion poll, every account, with many grains of salt. That
includes not only news reports, but editorial and news opinion as well.
That includes me, and every one of us in the news business. Media
abuses today are a sorry state of media affairs, but it's, at least for the
time being, a reality.

If these were affluent, peaceful, and secure times, perhaps it would not
matter as much, it would not be so serious. But these are very dangerous,
unsettled and unpredictable times, and every citizen, and every voter,
needs accurate and reliable information to form their own opinions and
make their own judgments. A lot is at stake in the months ahead.

Copyright (c) 2011 by Barry Casselman
All rights reserved.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Some Short Thoughts In A Long Campaign

There are only about two months until the first voting in the presidential
election campaign, and the preliminaries are coming to a close. Here are
some thoughts about the campaign so far:

Former Governor Mitt Romney continues, as he has been since the 2012
campaign began, to be what has come to be called "the frontrunner." He has
not always led all the polls, but his numbers in most polls have been
strong and steady. One by one, many of his challengers have experienced
a surge (also known as a "bubble") in the polls. First, it was Donald Trump,
then Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, and most recently, Herman Cain. All
of these candidates, except for Mr. Cain, have faded in the polls, and there
are signs that Mr. Cain too has peaked. Although Newt Gingrich did not lead
in any early polls, he was considered a "first tier" candidate until some
political mishaps derailed his campaign over most of the summer. There are
signs, including higher poll numbers and increased fundraising, which
signal that Mr. Gingrich may have the next (and perhaps last) "bubble"
before the voting begins.

The latest "non-Romney" surge has been for Mr. Cain who, as soon as he
emerged as a serious candidate, has been subjected to what can only be
fairly described as a "smear campaign" in the media. The "smear" amounted
to anonymous, vague and unsubstantiated allegations of sexual harrassment
by Mr. Cain that are almost twenty years old, and amount to flimsy hearsay.
Rumors abound that the story originated from either a Republican opponent
or the Obama campaign, but these are far less important than the fact that
supposedly major and responsible media outlets gave them wide circulation.
Some have criticized Mr. Cain and his campaign for an ambiguous and weak
initial response, but considering his inexperience in national politics and
the flimsiness of the allegations, this criticism seems unfair. On the other
hand, if Mr. Cain continues to be a major candidate, other "smears" and
attacks on him are inevitable, and he and his campaign will need to handle
them more effectively. The real culprit is this whole story are those in the
media who think they are supposed to act like schools of piranha in the
Amazon River. These allegations, as now constituted, should not have ever
seen the light of day in major print or broadcast media. Furthermore, the
story stands as powerful evidence of aggressive liberal media bias that has
existed and grown over the past few decades in the U.S.

Sarah Palin, Mitch Daniels, Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal and other major
Republicans chose not to run in 2012, but they remain widely known
leaders in their party. Tim Pawlenty withdrew after the Iowa Straw Poll,
and he also is a major contemporary GOP figure. All of them, and other
top Republicans may yet play a role in determining the party's nominee.
Mr. Christie and Mr. Pawlenty have already endorsed Mr. Romney for

Speculation about the eventual nominee's vice presidential choice will
become a media pastime. The final choice, however, will be determined
with a hard-nosed evaluation by the nominee and his staff that will focus
on who contributes most electoral votes to the ticket, and who fits the
nominee's personal sentiments about who he or she wants as a working
companion in the White House. In recent years, vice presidential
nominees seem to contribute less to the electoral total, and more, if their
ticket is elected, to the work of an administration.

Mitt Romney is, so far, showing a lot of self-discipline and calculation in
his presidential campaign. It would seem that he and his staff have applied
the lessons learned from the mistakes of the Romney campaign in 2008.
Evidence of this includes the Romney campaign decision not to compete
in the Iowa Straw Poll, not to appear on Sunday network interview
programs, to be exceedingly well prepared for direct attacks during the
debates so far, and a general caution about getting involved in controversial
local issues. A decision not to campaign too overtly in the Iowa caucuses in
early January seems to be under revision as it has become clear that Mr.
Romney could win this important event, and combined with his expected
big victory in the New Hampshire primary immediately after it, could create
an unstoppable momentum for the former Massachusetts governor.

Just as John McCain's presidential campaign seemed prematurely over
in 2007, former Speaker Newt Gingrich was considered by almost everyone
to be finished after he made a series of blunders, most of his campaign staff
quit, and his fundraising dried up earlier this year. His poll numbers fell
to low single digits, he ran up a sizable campaign debt, and the media
continued to single out personal incidents for ridicule. Unlike Tim
Pawlenty who quit after similar circumstances, Gingrich persisted, recreated
a bare-bones campaign, and waited for the candidate debates to re-emerge.
Somehow, he has begun to do so, with rising poll numbers and increased
fundraising. Whether he can duplicate Mr. McCain's phoenix-like win for
the GOP nomination remains to be seen, but it should be remembered
that Mr. Gingrich's ideas, if not his personality, are acceptable to most voters
in the Republican Party, including the most conservative voters. Mr. Romney
is still heavily favored, but if there is a genuine coalition against him, it might
be Mr. Gingrich who could best put it together.

Anything can still happen. This is not just a pro forma caveat. Presidential
election years bring out all kinds of surprises, at home and from abroad.
Frontrunners sometimes do fade. The most spectacular example of this was
as recent as 2008 when Hillary Clinton had all but seemed to have clinched
the Democratic nomination as the voting began in Iowa.

It is no small irony that, in a recent poll, she would defeat any Republican
challenger in 2012, and enjoys much more popularity and voter respect than
the man who defeated her, and then became president.

Copyright (c) 2011 by Barry Casselman
All rights reserved.