Sunday, January 29, 2012

How Important Is Florida In 2012?

I just returned from almost two weeks in Florida where the next
primary will be held in the contest for the Republican nomination
for president. In the rapid up-and-down performance of the leading
GOP candidates, Mitt Romney seems to have pulled ahead to a
comfortable lead over his major remaining challenger, Newt Gingrich,
in the opinion polls just prior to the voting on January 31.

Only a month ago, such a prospect was viewed as the likely final
electoral episode of the 2012 GOP nominating campaign. After
winning Iowa and New Hampshire, and leading in South Carolina,
it was then thought that Mitt Romney would be the presumptive
nominee of his party.

What happened subsequently, however, has shaken this presumption.
First, Rick Santorum, following a recount of the Iowa caucus ballots,
was declared the winner in Iowa. Perhaps this has little substantive
meaning, but in the words of Mr. Romney, "A win is a win." Second,
Newt Gingrich, following stunning debate performances in South
Carolina, came from behind to win the state's primary by 13 points.
Third, Mr. Romney, who had been rarely attacked by his rival previously,
became a target on issues of his work as CEO at Bain Capital, and for his
failure to make public his tax returns.

Now, with South Carolina in the past, Mr. Romney has provided his most
recent tax returns, defended his record at Bain Capital while accusing his
attackers of betraying conservative principles, and counterattacked Mr.
Gingrich again (as he did in Iowa) with tough ads and comments. Whereas
Mr. Romney has seemed on the defensive in South Carolina, it is Mr.
Gingrich who seems to be spending too much time defending himself in

And so it goes. First Romney, then a succession of poll "bubbles" for
Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Gingrich and even Rick
Santorum. Then Romney again. Then Gingrich again. And now Romney
again. Is there any reason to think this is the end of the contest?

While four straight wins for Romney might have overwhelmed the field
and made his nomination inevitable, the present "standings" do not
indicate inevitability. The winner of Florida wins all 50 delegates, but
Florida, one of the largest states, originally had 100 delegates before it
was penalized for scheduling its primary so early. Mr. Romney will also
win all of Virginia's 40 delegates because most of his opponents,
including Mr. Gingrich and Mr. Santorum failed to qualify for the
Virginia primary ballot. But more than 40 state primaries and caucuses
remain, and most of the national delegates have not been chosen. "Super
Tuesday" is about a month away, and many of its primaries are Southern
states where Mr. Gingrich might yet do well (as he did in South Carolina).
A campaign calendar with a contest not dissimilar to Barack Obama vs.
Hillary Clinton in 2008 is quite possible.

Why is this so? It is so because the the 2012 contest for the GOP
presidential nomination has become a contest between the basic factions
of the Republican Party. Mr. Romney, it has become obvious, is the
candidate not only of the Republican "establishment." but of the more
moderate wing of the conservative base of the party. Not all of these
were necessarily his supporters at the beginning of the contest. Mr.
Gingrich has become the candidate of most of the grass roots
conservative wing of the party, including many in the powerful "Tea
Party" movement. Not all of these were necessarily his supporters at the
campaign outset, but with the other major conservative candidates
withdrawing, he has received most of their support. Mr. Santorum, who
is now a distant third in the race, continues to receive a large share of the
religious and social conservative vote, but it remains to be seen how long
he can stay in the race without sufficient funds and organization. Ron
Paul, the only other remaining candidate, is in fourth place, and seems to
be stuck at a popular vote that is under ten percent. He occasionally does
better than that, especially in caucus states, but he has no reasonable
chance to win the nomination.

So it will be two-person race, with two other and trailing candidates, from
now until June. One of the two leaders is likely to clinch the nomination
by then, as Mr. Obama barely did over Mrs. Clinton in 2008. but the
Florida results, even if Mr. Romney wins by double digits. are not likely
going to resolve the GOP nomination.

High profile Republicans associated with grass roots conservative and
"Tea Party" voter sympathies, including Fred Thompson, Herman Cain,
Rick Perry, and perhaps most significantly, Sarah Palin, have endorsed
Mr. Gingrich. Leading conservative voices such as Sean Hannity and
recently, Rush Limbaugh, have defended him. Each of them have
reinforced the notion that Mr. Gingrich is being unfairly attacked by the
"Republican establishment." The "Tea Party" supporters played a significant
role in the landslide victories of Republicans in the 2010 midterm elections.
In order to win in 2012, Republicans need these grass roots voters and
activists to be enthusiastic not only for their presidential candidate, but for
their congressional candidates as well.

Mr. Romney remains the favorite to win the nomination. Republicans are
still favored to keep control of the U.S. house of representatives and win
control of the U.S. senate. The economy, seemingly enjoying a short-term
upswing, remains problematic, especially its chronic unemployment. World
economic and political conditions remain perilous. Yet none of this leads
automatically to Republican victory in November. Mr. Romney needs to
gain the trust, as well as the enthusiasm, of his party base and of more
independent voters if he is to prevail.

Newt Gingrich may have more political lives than the proverbial cat. His
challenge in 2012 touches the heart of the conservative impulse in American
politics, and in the desire, across party lines. for dramatic change in the way
government does business.

The true secret in modern American presidential politics is the story a
candidate tells voters. That story includes his or her past, but it vitally also
tells his or her story of the future. Part of the reason Mr Gingrich keeps
coming back, with all of his personal "baggage" and controversies, is not just
that he is the best debater. It is also because he is, as was Mr. Obama in 2008,
a superb storyteller.

The Romney campaign, and its candidate, has to learn to tell a better story if
they want the keys to that certain residence on Pennsylvania Avenue next

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

Monday, January 23, 2012

A New Variety of Populism?

Populism in the United States is older than the republic and its
unprecedented constitution. It was a vital ingredient of the American
revolution in 1776, and provided much of the natural organizing
energy for the American colonists to overthrow the regime of
George III and his British army.

After the short "non-political" period of George Washington's two
terms as president, the revolutionaries of the 1770's split into two
camps or parties of the nation's political leadership, and created an
inchoate "establishment" that lasted until Andrew Jackson, renewing
some of the spirit of the colonist revolutionaries, initiated a then-new
populism that grew in the states and frontier regions further from
New York and Washington, DC. This early American populism evolved
into an agrarian populism which, although having anti-establishment
and radical elements, took on, at the same time, isolationist and
discriminatory elements of anti-Catholic, anti-Black and anti-immigrant
prejudice. This variety of populism flourished in the South and the
Midwest until the beginning of the 20th century.

Before World War I and just after it, there appeared a left wing
populism, much of it inspired by the appearance of radical and Marxist
ideology and regimes in Europe. This new populism was both leftist and
isolationist, and produced several governors and U.S. senators from the
West and upper Midwest. The coming of the New Deal saw the decline
of this populism, and its marginalization when liberals such as Hubert
Humphrey, campaigning against its Marxist and Soviet ties, reduced it
to fringe status.

In recent years, populist-styled movements, left and right, have
occasionally arisen, usually behind an opportunistic figure. Examples
of this have been George Wallace, Ross Perot, and Ralph Nader.
Most recently, and including this cycle, Ron Paul has offered an
economically libertarian-styled campaign combined with foreign
policy isolationism. Populist movements have influenced U.S. domestic
and foreign policy in the past, but rarely changed electoral outcomes.
Ralph Nader probably cost Al Gore the presidency in 2000, and Perot
may have altered the result in 1992. A notorious example of when
both right wing and left wing populist candidates tried to change a
presidential election at the same time was in 1948 when Strom
Thurmond, from the right, and Henry Wallace, from the left, used
populist appeals to try to defeat Harry Truman. Each of them received more
than a million votes, and Thurmond even received a notable number of
electoral votes, but Truman still won.

In 2012, however, we see a revival of an old populism, and the appearance
of a new one. The "Occupy Wall Street" movement is the new face of the
old far-left radical populism of the past. But the Tea Party movement may
be something new, i.e, a CENTRIST economic populism. This group had a
huge influence in the 2010 midterm elections, and helped fuel the big
Republican sweep of U. S. house, senate, gubernatorial and state legislative
contests. When I discuss this Tea Party movement, which is decentralized,
I am not speaking of its elements which advocate social and religious
issues. I am instead speaking only of the Tea Party's initial preoccupation
with economic and security issues, issues about taxes, deficits, enlargement
of government bureaucracy and spending, and advocacy of a strong military
and an engaged international foreign policy. Just as one hundred years ago,
the "new" left wing populism has now become isolationist, as has Ron Paul's
otherwise more conservative libertarianism.

Although his political background is as a backbench traditionally conservative
congressman, and later "establishment" speaker of the U.S. house, the
presidential campaign of Newt Gingrich has taken on elements of the new
conservative and centrist populism introduced by the Tea Party in 2010.
To the list of movement "villains" which include Obama social welfare and
tax-raising theorists, the federal bureaucracy and its regulations-obsessed
policies, and reduced defense and national security-weakening advocates and
legislators, Mr. Gingrich has added a relatively new "villain" into his policy
mix, the Old Media, including most of the national TV and radio networks,
cable networks and liberal establishment newspapers and magazines. Noting
the indisputable and measurable "bias" of this part of the media against
Republicans, conservatives and outspoken centrists, Mr. Gingrich has
tapped into a long-brewing grass roots resentment in the 2012 GOP
presidential debates, climaxing in the two debates just prior to the South
Carolina primary.

Populist movements, as I have suggested, sometimes influence American
policies in the long-term, but rarely take control of contemporary policy.
That is because they have been either left-wing or right-wing movements;
whereas the majority of American voters, some liberal and some conservative,
reside in the general political center. The question of the 2012 campaign is
becoming increasingly whether a new CENTRIST populism, responding to
the aggravated economic frustration of very large numbers of voters, many
with no allegiance to either major party, could possibly elect a president of
its own.

That is why the campaign of Newt Gingrich, in spite of whatever flaws and
controversies of the candidate himself may have, bears special watching in
the next phase of the presidential campaign.

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

Saturday, January 21, 2012

O.K. What's Next?

The results are in from the South Carolina primary, and Newt Gingrich
has won a very large victory over Mitt Romney, the man who had led in this
state's polls by double digits only a week before.

Although it might be characterized as an upset victory because the
turnaround was was so rapid, it was not unexpected after the former
speaker scored clear victories in the two televised debates that were held
in that last week. Recent polls had telegraphed a sudden reverse in Mr.
Romney's numbers downward, while Mr. Gingrich's were rising even
faster. In the end, Mr. Gingrich won by 12 points over Mr Romney, 23
points over Rick Santorum, and 27 points over Ron Paul.

The worst news for Mr. Romney was that he lost to Mr. Gingrich in almost
every demographic category, and the few he did win were by small margins.
Mr. Gingrich has apparently carried all of the state's congressional districts
and all of the state's delegates to the national Republican convention. Each
of the four candidates have said they will continue on to Florida, and
then to the primary and caucus states that follow.

In this, the most volatile nomination contest in memory, anything can still
happen, but it would seem that the race is now down to Mr. Gingrich and
Mr. Romney. In spite of the loss, Mr. Romney still has the upper hand on
paper. He has much more money, much more organization, and a much
larger staff of campaign senior staff and advisers than Mr. Gingrich. Dr. Paul
has a substantial fundraising base and a national grass roots organization.
He is expected to remain in the race until one of the other candidates
clinches the nomination. Mr. Santorum, who won the Iowa caucus narrowly
(but it was decided almost three weeks after the balloting), has not been
able to follow his surprise early success with much more than some
increased campaign contributions and endorsements from some
conservative leaders and groups. In the states that follow Florida, Mr.
Santorum will have to begin winning again, or his funds will dry up and he
will continue to be overshadowed and outpolled by Mr. Gingrich. Rick
Perry gamely went to South Carolina after doing poorly in Iowa and
New Hampshire, but soon found out that his moment in the sun had
passed, and had to retire from the field. Mr. Santorum faces a similar
prospect unless he can do much better than he has in the past two

Mr. Gingrich has now made three major political comebacks in his
recent political career. The first took place over a dozen years following
his resignation as speaker, and from the Congress, in 1998. He left then
under a cloud of controversy, and went into a private public life, giving
speeches, serving as a consultant, and founding and leading non-profit
public affairs corporations. He made a lot of money, and managed to
keep himself in the public eye. By the time the 2012 presidential election
had begun, he had recovered enough stature to be a major candidate.
After carelessly criticizing a GOP congressional leader, however, and
when most of his paid staff left him, his campaign virtually collapsed in
early 2011. But after a series of remarkable debate performances
between then and the beginning of the caucus/primary season, Mr.
Gingrich's poll numbers began to soar and even exceeded Mr. Romney's
lead as well as the other candidates. The opening of voting, the Iowa
caucus, proved to be a second disaster for Mr. Gingrich, especially after
he was made the target of a great many ads by some of his rivals,
including Mr. Romney, bitterly attacking him. As a result, he trailed
the field badly in Iowa and New Hampshire, and was considered
finished in the contest.

During this period, five of the nine major candidates, Tim Pawlenty,
Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Jon Huntsman and Rick Perry
withdrew from the race. Conservatives who found Mr, Romney
unacceptable had to either coalesce around another candidate before
South Carolina, or face the fact that the former Massachusetts governor
would have so much momentum, he could not be prevented from
winning the nomination. It was in this context that Mr. Gingrich made
his third major comeback.

Newt Gingrich arouses strong feelings, even in his own party. He is said
to have much political "baggage" arising from personal and political
controversies in his past, and this, it is alleged, makes him unelectable
in a general election against President Obama. His past, however,
seemed to be ignored by South Carolina voters. It may not be ignored
in Florida or other primaries and caucuses which follow, but if it is,
and his momentum continues, he will likely take this race all the way to
the GOP convention in Tampa, or until Mr. Romney (or another
candidate) secures enough delegates to secure the nomination.

Mr. Romney now faces the most critical moments in his long-time
efforts to win the Republican nomination for president. He came in
second in 2008 to John McCain, but emerged as the frontrunner in 2012.
He now has by far the most endorsements of any GOP candidate,
including one from Mr. McCain. It is fair to say that he is the choice of
most who make up the Republican establishment. (It is quite ironic that
his major rival now is a former speaker of the house of representatives,
someone formerly considered a major leader of that establishment.)
Protecting his apparent lead, doing better than expected perhaps in the
first two voting states, Mr Romney has seemed overly cautious, and his
rivals seemed to attack each other more than criticizing him. But after Mr.
Gingrich soared briefly into a lead in the polls before Iowa, Mr. Romney
and his superPAC (which he did not directly control) played hardball
in their ads, as did the other candidates, against the former speaker.
This was intended to deflate his political "bubble" and it succeeded.
Mr. Gingrich, who had urged all his rivals to focus their attacks on Mr.
Obama and not on each other, reacted furiously, and even though he
might have directed his own attacks against all of those who had attacked
him, he chose to single out Mr. Romney. As is well-known, many find
attack ads distasteful (Ronald Reagan established an eponymous rule
that Republicans should not criticize each other), but it is equally
well-known that they often work. Mr. Gingrich then focused his attacks
on Mr. Romney on his record at Bain Capital. This, in turn, provoked a
storm of protest from many Republicans, who considered the tactic
"anti-capitalist" and unbecoming from a conservative. Nontheless, Mr.
Romney has so far not seemed to satisfy the questions raised in these
attacks, and combined with an unexplainable refusal to release his tax
returns, has seemed in recent debates to be defensive and weak.

The next primary, Florida, should provide Mr. Romney with an
opportunity to change his approach. Whether he has the personal skills
to do this successfully remains to be seen, but there seems to be much
agreement by observers that he must try. Now with some momentum
of his own, and with apparent major financial backing, it will also
be a significant opportunity for Mr. Gingrich to expand his own effort
and presentation. Finally, it may be Mr. Santorum's last practical
chance to reassert himself into the contest.

As it was becoming conventional wisdom that Mr. Romney might win
South Carolina and become unstoppable for his party's nomination,
so now that this scenario is apparently no longer viable, and a new
conventional wisdom has quickly arisen that the battle for the
Republican nomination will go on for a long time, possibly even to
the GOP convention. This commonplace, however logical, may soon
also be refuted. With only two, or even possibly three, major
candidates left, one of them could quickly establish a winning streak
in a series of primaries, and end the race sooner than expected.

This is the kind of political year it is. We just don't know what will
happen next.

Copyright (c) by Barry Casselman
All rights reserved.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Conventional 2012 Political Wisdom, R.I.P.?

Something very unusual is happening in South Carolina this
week, and by the time the votes are counted, the "unusual" may
be something "historic." As I always caution, wait until the votes
are counted before drawing conclusions, and be careful about the
practice of polling, but there can be little doubt that the conventional
wisdom that the 2012 Republican presidential nomination contest
was virtually over (I admit that I, contrarian that I try to be, indulged
in some of it myself) is now at least questionable.

If Mitt Romney somehow loses to Newt Gingrich, it will be a powerful
body blow to the commonplace, held almost universally only a week
ago, that his nomination was inevitable. Of course, a loss by Romney
does not prevent him from being nominated in Tampa. He still has
overwhelming resources, and there is no reason why he, too, cannot
stage a comeback of his own.

If Mr. Romney fumbles a double-digit lead in the South Carolina with
less than a week to go, and his national lead is "crumbling" (according
to a published account by a Gallup source) in the same time frame,
something must be fundamentally faulty in his campaign to date.

The 2012 GOP contest has been volatile since it began in earnest many
months ago. Mr. Romney has been the nominal frontrunner who saw
his lead fade briefly to a series of political "bubbles" which, one by one,
thrust his rivals ahead of him. But each, including Michele Bachmann,
Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, fell
behind him soon enough. His surprise "tie" in Iowa, his bigger than
expected win in New Hampshire, and his commanding lead in South
Carolina, coupled with his growing double-digit lead in national polls,
had many of his opponents and critics throwing in the political towel.

What happened?

I make no claim to an original insight here when I say that, when the
race came to South Carolina, and there were two televised debates,
he did not demonstrate that he was prepared to fight for a win. He
had debated well, spoken well, and organized well before South
Carolina; he had even played "hardball" against then-temporary
frontrunner Gingrich in Iowa, but with a big lead going into South
Carolina, he seemed to be coasting.

In the first South Carolina debate, it was Mr. Santorum who strongly
confronted Mr. Romney over the issue of voting rights for felons who
have done their prison time. It as not an issue likely to help Mr.
Santorum with voters, and many analysts concluded that Mr. Romney
had lost the battle but won the war. But had he? Previous to South
Carolina, Mr. Gingrich and Mr. Perry had challenged Mr. Romney on
his record as CEO at Bain Capital. Many conservatives, including many
who did not support Mr. Romney, immediately criticized Gingrich and
Perry for "questioning capitalism" especially as conservatives. Mr.
Romney himself took up this theme at both South Carolina debates,
suggesting questioning his business record was off-limits for fellow
Republicans. The conventional wisdom was that Mr. Romney had the
upper hand.

But apparently many Republican voters do not agree. Yes, most voters
are not obsessed with former felons' voting rights, nor are they
necessarily opposed to or resentful of Mr. Romney's self-made
fortune. The conventional wisdom was in looking at the surface only of
those discussions. What Republican voters, and independent and
disgruntled Democratic voters, really may care about is whether Mr.
Romney is prepared truly to fight for this nomination, and thus to do
battle in November against an incumbent president, and finally to be
the kind of president the nation needs in this historic hour when the
United States faces so many crises at home and all over the world.

What both Mr. Santorum, to a lesser degree, and Mr Gingrich, to a
greater degree, have demonstrated over the campaign season so far,
and in the South Carolina debates in particular, was the strength of
their sense of mission in the 2012 election. Yes, they have shown lots
of ego and sense of self, but it has always seemed to be tied to
deeply-held principles that each have espoused consistently over time.

I happen to think that Mr. Gingrich's overall vision is the larger, more
experienced one, but I have to give Mr. Santorum credit for his tenacity
and consistency. In the South Carolina debates, it was Mr. Gingrich who
showed the most combative and eloquent presentation of himself and
his ideas. Mr. Santorum called Mr. Gingrich "grandiose" (although
some might say that Mr Santorum's oft-repeated claim of "being the
only person on this stage who is a true conservative" does not lack
grandiosity), but Mr. Gingrich embraced the word by saying that it was
what the next president needed to confront and resolve the problems
the nation faced.

And this is the nub of it.

The next person to be nominated by the Republican Party to be
president, and then if successful in the November election, to serve as
chief executive and commander-in-chief, will need extraordinary
abilities, perspectives, judgment and temperment. 2013 to 2017 is
almost certain to be a time of domestic problems and international
challenges without precedent.

I am not saying that Mitt Romney is not this person. But I am saying,
if he loses South Carolina, he will have to present himself anew in the
remaining contest and demonstrate not only that he has the resume
and skill to be president, but the will and passion to do the job.

My readers know that I have been a constant critic of President Barack
Obama over the past two years. But I do remember during his campaign
for the Democratic nomination in 2008, after his initial successes and
early lead in delegates from the primaries and caucuses, his principal
rival, Hilary Clinton, began a remarkable comeback of her own, and it
seemed possible she could still win. I remember reading an account of
Mr. Obama, at this time, personally rallying his staff and showing the
grit to keep his lead. It worked, and he not only won the nomination,
but he won the presidency. I knew then, though I may not have agreed
with his politics, that he was a formidable political figure.

The Republican who is nominated in Tampa, and takes his party's case
to the voters of America, will have to be no less formidable.

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

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Vander Meer Redux? In South Carolina?

A rookie pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds named Johnny Vander
Meer pitched a no-hitter against the Boston Braves in Boston on
June 11, 1938. A no-hitter in baseball is a rare feat, and it occurs
usually only once or twice a season in both major leagues. It must
have been exciting therefore for the young pitcher, but on his next
outing, four days later at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, he did something
no major leaguer has done, before or since, he pitched a second
consecutive no-hitter. This is a record that will probably not ever be
equaled, and almost certainly not ever be exceeded as long as the
major leagues exist.

Last Monday, in the first South Carolina presidential debate, Newt
Gingrich scored another of his successes in the format, the very
vehicle which has propelled him from the near bottom of the pack
of challengers to frontrunner Mitt Romney to be the last person
standing between the former Massachusetts governor and the
Republican nomination. A lot of the baseball analogies used by
commentators said that Mr Gingrich hit a home run or even a
grand slam in his performance, and that is fair and apt, but there is
a second and final South Carolina debate scheduled three days later.
At least one poll taken after the first debate has Mr. Gingrich closing
the double-digit gap between Mr. Romney and himself, but he still
trails. The Romney campaign has now turned on the former speaker
ferociously, and the sparks are sure to fly at the second debate.

But can Gingrich, the master of modern political debate, pull it off
again, and pitch himself to a totally unexpected upset win in the
Palmetto State primary? Unlike Johnny Vander Meer (who pitched
for fourteen years with a mediocre record and did not make the
Hall of Fame), Newt Gingrich is already assured of a berth in the U.S.
political history Hall of Fame. He has also already made one
dramatic comeback in the 2012 presidential nominating contest, but
faded again through his own missteps. Twice the punditocracy has
written him off. His egotism and apparent arrogance have made him
an easy target.

Yet if he accomplishes in the second debate what he accomplished in
the first, the equivalent not of home runs but of two consecutive no
hitters, and thus somehow wins the South Carolina primary, the GOP
contest is not over and proceeds to Florida and beyond.

I am not predicting this. In fact, I have consistently written for most
of the past year that Mitt Romney will be his party's nominee. Being a
baseball fan as well as political observer, however, I could not help but
bring that now forgotten Cincinnati hurler to mind as the dramatic and
critical South Carolina voting is only days away, and perhaps the most
extraordinary candidate debate of all will be before us in only a few

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

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Getting Closer, Becoming Clearer

With only days away from the South Carolina primary vote in the
Republican contest for president, the final choice may be approaching
a conclusion much sooner than expected. Former Massachusetts
Governor Mitt Romney seems to be expanding a previously narrow
lead in this state, as the polemical and advertising attacks on him by
most of his rivals do not yet appear to be taking hold. Already, a number
of tough ads, many supporting him, some attacking him and his major
opponents are airing in Florida, but they might be moot exercises if the
long-time frontrunner for the GOP nomination wins big in South
Carolina, thus transforming him from mere frontrunner to presumptive

The final word, of course, will come from actual votes counted, and with
a sizable number of undecided Palmetto State voters, nothing is yet
certain. On the other hand, the early skirmishes among the GOP hopefuls
have clarified some of the basic issues concerning voters and their
attitudes to the conclusion of the election in November.

While Romney is clearly not the first choice of evangelical and socially
conservative voters, he is doing much better with them than predicted in
voting so far. If he wins in very conservative and evangelical South
Carolina, this trend will have been confirmed. If he does not, Romney
remains in the driver's seat in Florida, the first large state primary
where cash and organization is necessary to doing well. (On the other
hand, should Gingrich or Santorum win in South Carolina and Florida,
the momentum in this race could change dramatically.)

The primary criticisms of Romney have been his "flip-flopping" over
conservative issues, and his record as CEO of Bain Capital. A third issue,
his being a Mormon, seems not to be a notable factor, especially in light
of the surprising support he is receiving from some social conservatives
and some evangelicals. While it is clear that Romney took different
positions on abortion and other conservative issues earlier in his political
career, many Republicans seem to be convinced that his now strong
conservative views are what he would take to the Oval Office.
Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry each have tried to make Romney's
stewardship of Bain Capital a liability. This aroused some negative
feedback from economic conservatives, including many who were not
supporting Romney. They contended that these attacks were
"anti-capitalist," and uncomfortably similar to expected attacks from the
Democrats and the Obama campaign. Mr. Gingrich argued that it was
better for Mr. Romney to defend himself now on this issue, rather than to
wait until the end of the campaign in October. An anti-Romney video
featuring the alleged consequences of his Bain stewardship has run in
quite a bit in South Carolina, and seemed to have some effect, but if the
latest polls showing Romney beginning to pull away continue to primary
day, the issue will have turned out not to be as serious as some have
predicted, and may give the Obama second thoughts about using it.

Super Tuesday is soon ahead, and then a number of large northern state
primaries. If the race is to continue much past South Carolina, a very
large amount of cash will be necessary and effective organization will be
necessary to compete in them. Some of Mr. Romney's rivals have cash,
at least for now, but none of them can match him for organization.

Republican voters seem so far deeply troubled by the policies of the
Obama administration, and by the failure of the Congress, including the
GOP-controlled house of representatives, to control spending and to
stop increasing the debt limit. All the Republican candidates are pro-life,
pro-gun and for cutting taxes, views not shared by most Democrats. But
these views may be shared by a majority of independents, and for this
reason, the re-election of President Obama is in trouble.

The Republican majority in the house may have to turn up its political
courage, and finally block further expansion of the debt limit (the next
one has already been requested by the president), and the Republicans,
in both their presidential and congressional campaigns will have to find
a way to successfully expose the numbers game the administration is
playing with the unemployment figures. (Since Mr. Obama has taken
office, his administration has arbitrarily reduced the number of workers
counted as "unemployed," thus conveniently reducing the full impact of
the percentage of Americans who are out of work. Currently, that number
is listed as 8.5 percent, but based on the worker pool counted when Mr.
Obama took office, the real percentage is over 10 percent. In short, Mr.
Obama is "cooking the unemployment books.") The economy
and jobs have clearly emerged as prime issues for 2012, and Republicans
have so far been talking to conservatives who see the world as they do.
Their challenge, with whomever their nominee will be, is to speak
clearly and effectively to independents and disgruntled Democrats on
these and other issues in September and October.

[SPECIAL NOTE: After this was posted, it was reported that former
Utah Governor Jon Huntsman will withdraw from the presidential race
tomorrow morning and endorse Mitt Romney. If this is true, it is likely
to further create momentum for Mr. Romney.]

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

Monday, January 9, 2012

Tony Blankley, Requiescat In Pace, 2012

If punditry were like many religions, and had saints, my late and dear friend
Tony Blankley would be one of the very few from its ranks to be named one. As
it is, if there is a real heaven, Tony is. as I write this, checking in at the gate to
receive well-earned eternal rewards for an exemplary and full, if slightly
abbreviated, life.

I count myself as one of his friends, but there are family members and other
friends who knew him longer and better. His life story is as varied and rich as few
others I’ve known, and I know few others who simply enjoyed it more thoroughly
and with such lifelong awe at its civilized pleasures, its frightening dangers and its
sheer unpredictability.

But I began by citing Tony’s saintliness, and that’s because beyond his unlikely
and marvelous resume, the fascinating characters and figures he knew and
worked with, his always distinctive manner, and his eloquent voice, aloud and
in print, Tony was one of life’s rare totally decent and good men, an old world
gentleman because he cared to be so, and a loving family member or friend
because it was in his DNA.

British-born, Tony emigrated to the U.S. as a child with his parents. His father
had been Winston Churchill’s accountant, but decided after World War II to
come to Hollywood and establish a new successful career. Young Tony, in this
environment, was soon cast in movies and television series of the 1950’s,
appearing, with famous stars. But Tony was not destined for an acting career.
After attending law school he did go to work for another former actor, Ronald
Reagan, and after campaigning for him, served as a prosecutor in the
California attorney general’s office for ten years. When Reagan became
president, Tony went to work as one of his speech writers, and then
worked for the Secretary of Education. In that position he met a young
congressman named Newt Gingrich. Tony then became Gingrich’s press
secretary and adviser, serving Gingrich through his speakership. (There are
some of Tony’s friends who think if Newt had ALWAYS taken Tony’s
advice, he would still be speaker.) Tony soon had the reputation as one of the
best, as well as one of the most congenial, on either side of the aisle in his

After the Gingrich speakership ended, Tony was invited by John F. Kennedy
Jr. to join the staff of his new magazine George as an editor, and after that,
Tony was named as editorial page editor of The Washington Times. In full
disclosure, Tony soon invited me to contribute an almost weekly column to the
Times. We had met when Newt was speaker, and stayed in touch over time,
but I was a bit surprised, albeit very pleased, to become a contributor under
his editorship because I was known as a political centrist, and not as a
a Republican or doctrinaire conservative. It did not matter to Tony who
quickly filled the Times’ editorial pages with a variety of provocative
writers. Tony read everything I wrote in advance, but instructed his staff
to publish everything I submitted, after spelling and typo corrections, and
occasional shortening when I had gone on too long. In seven years of
writing op eds for Tony, only one was rejected, and that because a delay in
publication made it out of date. He was this freelancer’s dream editor.

My best memories of Tony, however, were the little adventures we had
together. Some were at the Hay Adams Hotel dining room, to where
on every visit I made to the nation’s capital, Tony would invite me for
breakfast. Breakfast with Tony Blankley at the Hay Adams Hotel was a
magical experience. He would arrive always impeccably dressed in one of
his custom-made suits (along with our mutual friend Michael Barone,
Tony was easily one of the best-dressed pundits in America), and we
would enjoy the Hay Adams lavish power breakfasts (the only restaurant I
know which serves fresh-squeezed guava juice). Ostensibly, the breakfasts
were for Tony to get my out-of-the-beltway midwestern perspective, but the
truth is I learned far more from him than he could have possibly obtained
from me. Our two-hour breakfasts covered Tony’s account of recent
political history of Washington, DC since the Reagan years. inside stories
of famous and often pretentious politicians, and most of all, as I had come
to learn, Tony’s incredibly well-informed and prescient insights about what
was happening in the world.

We had other great occasions together. One of them was an all-night phone
conversation on Election Night, 2000, especially in the wee hours as the
incredible result was becoming clear. Another occasion was when I hosted
Tony in the Twin Cities for the 2008 Republican convention held in St.
Paul, and I took Tony from party to party. (We were more like fun-loving
teenagers at Disnyeworld than two older blase pundits.) Most memorable,
perhaps, was a symposium I organized in 1999 on the theme of public
communication, and to which I invited Tony as Newt’s former press
secretary, and Mike McCurry, as President Clinton’s former press
secretary to share the podium and speak about media at the highest level
in Washington. The result was classic. It was broadcast on C-SPAN, and
someone from the major networks saw it, asking both Tony and Mike
subsequently to do a network show together for a time.

There was much more than can be retold here. Tony always carried with
him an impish and sophisticated sense of humor, a genuine intellectual
openness, a caring personality and old-world gentlemanly charm. I think
his history as a DC staffer (albeit for Reagan and Gingrich), and his talk
show appearances, may have led some to underestimate Tony’s original
and visionary mind. The best evidence of that are his recent books
"The West's Last Chance" and "American Grit" which, in my opinion,
will outlast a lot of books by "official" historians and analysts whose work
is currently trendy and popular. My sadness at his early loss is thus not
only personal and selfish (one gets to have few friends in a lifetime like
Tony), but also because he had more books with more profound insights
to give, insights I might suggest, that might have been critical to the
survival of a civilization and a republic whose best traits Tony Blankly
stood for and practiced every day of his exemplary life.

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

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Republican Voters Begin To Speak

DES MOINES - The results are in from the Iowa Republican caucus, and the
process of reducing the GOP field of presidential candidates has begun
beyond the virtuality of polling, candidate propaganda and pundit analysis.

There are certain obvious conclusions from these results, and there are also
some not-so-obvious consequences that might not be widely aired in the
national media discussion and analyses.

It is always better to win than come in second, even by less than 10 votes, but
the unprecedented closeness of the first and second place finishes in Iowa
is not substantively meaningful. Mitt Romney reaffirmed his frontrunner
status in the race one more time, and the conservative base of the party
began to coalesce around a candidate, their unlikely new poster boy Rick
Santorum. Mr. Santorum's late surge was the result of two primary factors.
First, he was the only major candidate who had not yet had his "bubble,"
or moment in the limelight; and there was no time therefore to subject him
to the usual scrutiny. Second, he had worked Iowa with commendable
persistence and diligence, criss-crossing the state with meet-and-greets,
speeches and other appearances. Iowa and New Hampshire are the two
early voting states where such hard work pays off, and it paid off big-time
for the former senator from Pennsylvania.

But it must be remembered that someone who pulled off a very similar
last-minute victory in Iowa in 2008, Mike Huckabee, did not fare that
well in subsequent GOP primaries. Huckabee, like Santorum, did not have
much money or previous national exposure, but the former Arkansas
governor did have assets that Santorum does not have, i.e., a charming,
ebullient personality, a good life story, and a record of winning as a
governor. Nontheless, he soon trailed eventual nominee John McCain and
then first-time presidential candidate Mitt Romney through most of the
remaining campaign.

Mr. Santorum has been a congressman and senator, but he lost his last
race (as an incumbent) several years ago by 18 points to a lackluster
Democrat whose main asset was that he bore a well-known Pennsylvania
political name. Mr. Santorum lost this race by such a wide margin because,
in large part, he ran far to the right of the Pennsylvania electorate, an
electorate, it should be noted that was strongly pro-gun and pro-life.
Pennsylvania is my home state, and where I grew up. I know that it is
difficult to lose a statewide re-election race there, even in a trend
election against your party, unless you are inflexibly too liberal or too

Nontheless, Mr. Santorum will now have his "bubble" going into New
Hampshire. One of the other conservative GOP candidates, Michele
Bachmann has now bowed out, and Santorum should receive many of
her votes. Governor Rick Perry, however, has not yet withdrawn
following his disappointing Iowa performance, and his share of the
conservative base might not yet flow to Mr. Santorum or anyone else.
Ron Paul, who came in a somewhat distant third in Iowa, will definitely
remain in the race, and he still commands a very loyal following among
certain conservatives/libertarians. Furthermore, Mr. Santorum will now
receive the scrutiny of his record and his views that did not take place
before his Iowa performance.

Proclamations that conservatives now have only one candidate to rally
behind are thus premature.

Newt Gingrich, who finished a distant fourth in Iowa, is also far from
retiring from this contest. He was the subject of an extraordinary
negative ad campaign against him in Iowa after his recent surge in the
polls, and he is obviously angry about this, directing his ire so far to
frontrunner Romney. Mr. Gingrich trails in New Hampshire, but has
done very well in polls in South Carolina and Florida, and conceivably
could still win those primaries. If he is to do so, however, he will have
to bring some order to his campaign, and self-discipline to his strategy.
Self-righteous anger from how most of his opponents ganged up on
him in Iowa will not be sufficient for hims to restart his campaign.
Gingrich is still the most articulate big-picture GOP candidate, and
through remaining debates and his own political advertising, he will
need to remind Republican voters what it is that only he can offer.
He now has substantial campaign funds, many more volunteers and
new professional campaign staff, but he must quickly put all of them
together into a serious "fighting force," or he will soon fade from being
a serious contender.

I think Mr. Romney's hand was, on balance, strengthened in Iowa
He has the resources, the organization and the self-disciplined
strategy to prevail, either with quick victories in New Hampshire and
Florida, and possibly in South Carolina as well. If all of these do not
materialize, he has in place the organization to contend seriously all
the way to Tampa, should that become necessary. Mr. Gingrich now
says that, because of the ads against him Iowa by Mr. Romney's
independent PAC, the gloves are off in New Hampshire and beyond.
This might not help Mr. Gingrich so much, but it could hurt Mr.
Romney as the campaign proceeds.

The commonplace about Mitt Romney in the campaign to date is that
he is a flip-flopper, too moderate, and not a true conservative. So far,
these arguments have not seemed to sway many voters outside the
party activist base. In Iowa, Mr. Romney, according to exit polls,
attracted a notable number of strong conservatives to his banner.
(It should also be noted that Mr. Paul's vote total in Iowa was notably
increased by non-Republican voters.)

Many Democrats seem to be enjoying the GOP battle, suggesting the
Republican field is weak and that conservatives are dangerously split.
This is transparently spin. There is no hard evidence yet that voters
who want to defeat President Obama next November will not strongly
get behind the eventual GOP nominee.

In fact, the road ahead for both parties is filled with pitfalls, dead ends,
and unplanned-for risks. The game is not only on, it is beginning to
heat up to a climactic confrontation of primal American political

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

Monday, January 2, 2012

Special Subscriber Advisory

[NOTE: Subscribers should check their e-mails for
a Special Subscriber Advisory on the Iowa Caucus.]