Romney acting a little too presidential?

Mitt Romney has gotten in some hot water because his "Director of Operations" seemed to be role-playing a secret service. Mitt Romney also said that "the presidency ought to be held at a higher level than having to answer questions from a snowman," and so he ducked out of the YouTube debate.

You see, Mitt Romney thinks he’s better than everybody and doesn’t have to play by the same rules as everyone else. Remember, his kids are serving their country by trying to elect him?

The most recent chapter is that he travels with full police escort, according to the AP:

The motorcade of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney exceeded speed limits and went through stop lights Friday as local law officers escorted him, blue lights flashing, to campaign events in two South Carolina counties.

Sheriff Jason Booth, a Romney supporter, led the candidate’s motor home and staff cars with his blue lights running from the Aiken County line through Saluda County to the Newberry city limits, according to an Associated Press reporter following the candidate.

The caravan traveled between 10 mph and 15 mph over posted speed limits. The posted speed limits were 45 mph and 55 mph.

The President travels by protected motorcade to protect him. Mitt Romney doesn’t need to be protected. And he doesn’t get to break the law because he is running late.

Thoughts on the Huckabee conference call

Excuse the disorder of my notes. This should have somewhat more organized thoughts. In some real sense this was my first exposure to Huckabee as a candidate. I had interacted with him previously through the Young Republicans, and I knew that he was doing what he was doing to move his candidacy. But I was never forced to process him in the same way that I did today. So please excuse the structure of this.

The first thing that struck me is that no one that I had heard of was asking questions. Huckabee said that they have 150 "Bloggers for Huckabee," and they are clearly different people. Every question, except mine, started with an expression of support or love. This is not how it works for Rudy Giuliani or John McCain. The people on those calls are high-traffic national blogs focused on politics. The people on the Huckabee call were, at least, local blogs, often focused on things other than politics. At the very least this is a different model than the McCain and Giuliani are taking. It is very possible that it is closer to what Mitt Romney’s campaign is doing online, namely developing a blogger community that talks primarily to supporters. Thompson’s seems some of a hybrid. This is interesting, although I am not sure what to make of it.

Second, I asked a question about Huckabee’s economic populism. The answer is pretty striking, and you aren’t likely to hear it from any other GOP candidate in the field. He attacked CEOs and hedge fund managers. Perhaps the most interesting passage was:

As a Christian, [this is] not just an economic issue, but a moral issue. When you have real success, you share it with the people who helped you.  … That’s the difference between capitalism and greed. … A President has to show the moral leadership of the country, not just policy leadership. …

And:

The basic way that the rules have been written to favor a few. …  You have a tax policy that encourages boards a huge tax incentive to give a huge salary to the CEO."

This language could have come out of Barack Obama’s or John Edward’s mouths with little trouble. It probably couldn’t come out of Hillary Clinton’s mouth. I don’t think that she does populism like that. Unlike many of the national blogs out there, I think that there is a real openness in the GOP base for this. The Fabrizio poll that examined the base of the party found an awful lot of people who are not economic conservatives or who view a more activist government as a good thing. Mike Huckabee could make a real play to turn Romney into the candidate of the country-club set, if he tried. And I’m not sure how much of the country club set is still Republican.

Third, he is quite serious about health care, and he talks about it differently than Rudy or Romney do. They are talking about tax credits and pools of risk, etc. These are, of course, tremendously important. However, it is hard to relate to that. Huckabee’s language, befitting a preacher, is much more grounded in the reality of a person’s experience. Look at what he said:

Giving people a $500 discount for doing a health risk assessment. … Free quit smoking classes… Free weight-loss classes. … Studies show that health costs are 60% or more, even 80%, lower after they reduce their obesity…  Turn this thing toward preventive health…

I might even agree with a lot of this. There’s plenty of evidence that preventative medicine pays back plenty over time. (that’s one of the reason that I have a certain sympathy to the Medicare Part D bill.) It is also notoriously hard to score (no way that the CBO or OMB got it right for Part D, and it is clear that, in some cases, they over-estimated the cost) and would be very difficult to get through in that context if there was real penny-pinching going on.

The way he talks about it also makes health care reform a problem of "helping the person" (especially the person acutely aware of their own problems) not "fixing the system." If I am the candidate, I want to be where he is. But can that be converted into a real plan? We shall see.

This was a very interesting call. I still don’t know what to make of Huckabee. There is a lot that I like about him, although I have a gut aversion to populism, and I think that he is wrong, wrong, wrong about how to deal with globalization. But if he continues to gain, he is by far the most credible social conservative and populist in the field.  Those are convertible to victory in Iowa and South Carolina, but probably not in New Hampshire and Florida, and he seems to know that. I wonder where he will go with this.

Huckabee blogger conference call

Mike Huckabee is holding another blogger conference call. This is my first. These are notes. I will have a seperate analysis post.

First, notes from his opening statement:

The last two weeks have been intense. "The straw poll has been phenomenal for us." "On a non-stop tour in terms of the scheduling and the media." Clearly been traveling a lot.

He called the Machinist union endorsement "phenomenal." Apparently, this is the first time in 100-and-some years that they’ve endorsed a Republican.

"Fundraising is going exceptionally well." Best-ever online contributions. People are volunteering to host fundraisers. "Website traffic has increased by 3-4 times. 150 bloggers for Huckabee."

The other story is the poll number pop. "Ahead of Fred Thompson and significantly ahead of John McCain in Iowa." "What we had hoped had happened did happen."

Then questions.

"Steven Nielsen." Colorado for Huckabee. "What is the plan now with Fred Thompson coming in on September 6th?" Huckabee responds,

"I am not sure how much momentum he is going to have. … Extraordinary expectations that will leave people underwhelmed. … I also believe that it will change the dynamics for him … The fact that he chose not to participate in the NH debate is somewhat telling. … I know the people in NH are not real happy about it. … Goals: doing well in the primary states and fundraising. … We still believe that we have to come out of Iowa and South Carolina."

Kevin Tracy.  Asks what Huckabee would do about sex slavery. Response: "Maximum protection to American citizens."

Holly. On the Right Side. York County, South Carolina. She asks about "inferior products made in China" and "balancing out the trade."

"One of the reasons that I got the endorsement of the machinist union. … Further complicated by the buying up of currency. … Free trade is a great thing … but if it is not fair trade, it is not free trade. … Violations of human rights and disregard of the environment. … We do expect them to treat workers with respect. … A regulatory system that is more effect and more like ours. …Protect this country."

John Rogers, With Huckabee. A former Pastor. Asked about the Iowa DOMA law struck down by a judge.

"If you elect liberals to the legislature … this is what you get. … This will light the hearts and minds and feet on this issue. … If you elect people who are a little squishy, this is what you get. … Iowa may need to do what Arkansas did, put it in the Constitution. … I am glad that we did that in Arkansas."

Tom Forbes. Polisticks? "How do you propose to bring as President personal responsibility back into healthcare?"

"Changing the rules… We don’t get benefits for being healthy, we get benefits for being sick. … Giving people a $500 discount for doing a health risk assessment. … Free quit smoking classes… Free weight-loss classes. … Studies show that health costs are 60% or more, even 80%, lower after they reduce their obesity…  Turn this thing toward preventive health…"

Joshua. "What will we do as president to curb government spending?"

"Turn the lights on on government spending. … Make every transaction made by the federal government posted on the internet. … Expenditures are out of control because they have been hidden. … Exercise the veto pen… Also work toward a balanced budget amendment. …"

I asked about his economic populism and why economic conservatives should support him. The response:

"I am supported by the true economic conservatives. … I believe that risk ought to be rewarded. .. The attacks come from special interest groups who have an interest in protecting a certain segment. … One of the reasons that I support the Fair Tax is that it doesn’t pick winners and losers. … When we have reforms on tax policy, it ought not be good for a few CEOs and hedge fund managers .. but for everybody. … Hedge fund managers make 2200 times what the average worker makes. … Hundreds of millions of dollars in instant profit… As a Christian, not just an economic issue, but a moral issue. When you have real success, you share it with the people who helped you.  … That’s the difference between capitalism and greed. … A President has to show the moral leadership of the country, not just policy leadership. … Get rid of most if not all of Sarbanes-Oxley. … The basic way that the rules have been written to favor a few. …  You have a tax policy that encourages boards a huge tax incentive to give a huge salary to the CEO."

Matt Schultz. God, Politics, Lesson. Article and endorsement from New Man Magazine. "Most important endorsement." Magazine of Promise Keepers.

Republicans, Democrats, and taxes

I am really surprised that the tax fight hasn’t been engaged really. There was some, but not too much, noise when the tax-raising budget was passed by a Democratic Congress. But this is going to come back.

In theory, the Bush administration helped the 2008 GOP nominee because imminent, steep tax increases are on the horizon. One question will be how these will be presented over the next couple of years as this debate winds down. Capital Commerce has some great thoughts on this:

The Republican presidential candidates seem to be assuming that their Democratic rivals are going to push for repeal of all the Bush tax cuts. That’s why they are always talking about a potential $2 trillion-plus tax hike when those reductions expire at the end of 2010. More likely, Democrats will call for only the tax cuts on wealthier Americans to be repealed—such as raising the top rate from 35 percent to 40 percent—and for keeping most of the middle-class tax cuts, including rate reductions and a higher child tax credit.

The flip side of this is that the Democrats are going to propose lots of new spending, in the form of health care, etc. How are they going to pay for it? Especially, if they keep the middle-class tax cuts, etc.? Again, Capital Commerce:

Of course, Democrats are going to have to explain how they will pay for keeping the Bush tax cuts after 2010. Even if a Democratic president and Congress let them all expire, none of the new tax revenue—assuming there is any and the economy doesn’t tumble into a recession—could be spent on new programs like healthcare under current congressional budget rules.

Somehow, a circle is going have to get squared in this debate.

More on Huckabee’s endorsement by Machinists

I think that this is fascinating. Here’s what the Machinists say:

Mike Huckabee was the only Republican candidate with the guts to meet with our members and the only one willing to figure out where and how we might work together,” said Buffenbarger. “He is entitled to serious consideration from our members voting in the upcoming Republican primaries.”

Mike Huckbee’s campaign fills out a little what they talked about:

Huckabee spoke before over 700 members of the IAM in Orlando, Florida on Monday about jobs, globalization, health care, and other 21st century domestic issues.

What does that mean? Specifically, on trade, or "fair trade" as Huckabee calls it:

Huckabee also said he believes in fair trade. “Free trade has to be fair trade. We are losing jobs because of an unlevel, unfair trading arena that has to be fixed. Behind the statistics, there are real families, real lives, and real pain. I’m running for President because I don’t want people who have worked loyally for a company for 20 or 30 years to walk in one morning and be handed a pink slip and be told, ‘I’m sorry, but everything you spent your life working for is no longer here.’"

What does this mean? Why aren’t we losing jobs because the skill sets and technology are changing. Protectionism isn’t going to help that. New skills are.

I repeat. Mike Huckabee is running as an economist populist, the likes of which this party has not seen in a while. BTW, he is going to suck up lots of oxygen from Duncan Hunter with this. And this is going to be very, very, very powerful in South Carolina, where the main division in the last US Senate race was between free-trading Jim DeMint and (now coke-head) Ravenel. Between that and the whole Southern Baptist thing, Huckabee could really do well. Especially if his numbers keep going up in Iowa.

Foreclosure rates going up, but mostly investors

The AP has a story on Bush’s proposals on housing and the subprime mess. I am glad to see that "no bailout" is part of the answer. A lot of people are saying that we have pulled out of it. There were two sentences that should remind people that the worst, at least on the subprime side has yet to come:

Mortgage foreclosures and late payments are expected to worsen. Some 2 million adjustable rate mortgages are to reset to higher rates this year and next.

Perhaps this reality has been priced in, but I don’t think so. In the short term, things can be done to make these ARM resets less painful, as Bush is proposing. But foreclosures and late payments mean continued weakness in liquidity, lower home prices, etc. This situation is not going away.

Now the question of the political impact is still up in the air. The WSJ has a story that is important to notice:

A survey by the Mortgage Bankers Association found that mortgages on properties that aren’t occupied by the owner — mostly investment homes — account for between 21% and 32% of the defaults on prime-quality home loans in Arizona, California, Florida and Nevada, states where overdue payments are mounting fast.

We are still talking about massive numbers of people.

Also, the Big Picture has some great points about the timing of all of this.

Grasping new tools

As my friends Patrick Ruffini, Rob Bluey, and Justin Hart have pointed out, a bunch of us organized a new media training workshop at Heritage, sponsored by Google, on Wednesday. It was a success. About 200 people attended. It was truly extraordinary.

The goal, more than anything else, was to begin a discussion on how organizations, candidates, etc. can move move messages and engage people on line. We are planning to continue this in several forms:

  1. Smaller workshops for congressional staff, campaigns, and interest groups in Washington. We need to build their effectiveness.
  2. A road show. As a number of us have pointed out, the problem is less acute in Washington than it is in the state capitals and municipalities around the country. Simply put, if we had 100 more people like GraniteGrok and GilfordGrok — politically active, smart, technologically savvy, and very, very dilligent online activists –, Republicans and conservatives would be in a much better place.

Ultimately, this is a human resources and a skills question. We also need online tools like RightRoots, but you cannot produce information and framing of information. Ultimately, at all levels, the left is successfully framing the messages, especially at the local level, where the quality of reporting is lower, the amount of genuine news content is smaller, and the ability to speak directly to readers is larger.

One of the leading lefty blogs, Atrios, made an important point that we should keep in mind:

Now that’s not how I see things as I think blogs should be seen more as an opportunity to influence media coverage and narratives, as well as helping to stitch together a broader-based political movement.

But it isn’t very surprising the Democrats don’t really understand how blogs work within the media, as they’ve long failed to understand how the media works generally. So it’s difficult to communicate and explain the "good" the blogs can do when a lot of them just see us as a noisy sometimes-pain-in-the-ass. This isn’t true of everyone in DC, of course, but one has to remember that of congressional staffers are often shockingly young and really can’t be expected, no matter what their talents, to have a grip on all this stuff in a sophisticated way.

I think that we should take this and separate out his points.

First, blogs are a media tool. They have fundamentally changed the economics and ecology of all types of information in our society. The Democrats have an apparatus to move the media narratives to the left. Without a comparable force pushing back, the media and their narratives will go there. And the only way that we can apply that pressure is to develop bloggers at the grassroots and train staff to work with those bloggers effectively.

Second, movements use contemporary tools that match their constituencies. A number of liberal bloggers have told me that they feel like Barack Obama doesn’t care about them because he thinks that he can get his attention somewhere else. Well, he is getting the level of mobilization that he needs from  young, rich  activists through social networking tools like facebook and African-Americans through email. He is building a new movement. It looks like it may be going nowhere in the short term, but it may in the long-term. When conservatives figure out how to add to our coalition, we will use the tools of the day. And we will help build those tools and have the experience to maximize them.

In the end, football comes down to blocking and tackling. In politics, that means:

  1. GOTV. The RNC and the state parties are better at that than anyone else right now, if we can get the volunteers.
  2. Fundraising. We aren’t looking so good, but it is clear that "online" fundraising isn’t the answer, or the difference.
  3. Media. We are losing here big time.

Our effort on Wednesday is the beginning of a long, slow, necessary, and, ultimately, very valuable process to move on the third.

Romney’s “challenges” and “legs” ad

So Mitt Romney released a new ad. A number of people have commented on the "legs" side of Romney’s ad, but I thought the "challenges" side was more interesting. Consider some quotes:

  • "An Olympics hit by scandal and deficits"
  • "He turned around dozens of companies"
  • "State losing jobs with huge deficits … cutting spending instead of raising taxes"
  • "At every step, he’s met extraordinary challenges"

Several things about this struck me.  The Olympics quote could be a reference both to the GOP and the country. Is part of the message "I’ve handled scandal before, so I can do it again"? It strikes me that there’s a similar reading about the GOP in "turned around dozens of companies."

So what do Republican primary voters think needs to get fixed?
Republican primary voters think the country is basically "on the right track." They are mostly happy with the economic situation of the country. Perhaps they are unhappy with the party or the government?

Also, given the examples, I have trouble seeing how you leverage these particular examples into facing the challenges that most Republicans that I talk to think are the big ones faced by the country, namely terrorism and security. Isn’t there a fundamental disconnect there?

Or is "Turnaround" another whack at Bush, distancing himself from the administration, which the campaign makes very clear in private that they are trying to do?

Also, there are no personal challenges, just professionalized ones, in sharp contrast to John McCain’s video released today, which does address the security issue too.