Romney’s IA immigration piece and his strange cynicism

Jonathan Martin posted the PDF of Mitt Romney’s immigration contrast mail piece in Iowa. He compares himself to the other top 4 GOP candidates. But look at the dates.

The thing that strikes me…. Romney’s position on immigration is defended with 2 quotes from 2007 and one from 2003 and 2004.  His quotes for Rudy Giuliani involve one from 2007. And a bunch from earlier. His quotes for Fred Thompson involve a 2007 analysis of much earlier facts. And earlier quotes. And his quotes for Mike Huckabee and John McCain are not of recent vintage at all.

It is undeniable that Mitt Romney flip-flopped on a whole bunch of things. And a number of people are comfortable with that. What I find so cynical about Romney is that he attacks people for formerly holding positions that he formerly held. Again, "flip-flopping for me, but not for thee." Thompson, especially, no longer holds the views that he was advocating back in the day. Huckabee has shifted to the right, something that I have blasted him on.

But you know? Romney has more money, and has done better polling. My gut is that he is going to pull this off. Not because his ideas are better. Simply because he is running a better operation. (Hillary Clinton, of course, is doing the same thing) That makes me sad.

State of the race

There’s a lot of uncertainty in the race right now. The biggests questions are probably:

First, will there be a Mitt Romney-Rudy Giuliani murder-suicide? Luntz focus groups suggest that Romney might have done better on immigration in the debate.

Second, will Giuliani’s scandals continue? There’s Placa, Shag Fund, and others. Will they drive votes? Perhaps at some point?

Third, will attacks on Mike Huckabee stick? ARG’s polling suggests that 89% of his support in IA is solid  While the most recent attack has focused on immigration, that seems unlikely to stick. I also suspect that taxes won’t work. The only attack that Romney probably has a chance with is ethics. And he probably can’t be the guy to do it.

Third, will flip-flop attacks work on Romney? Ultimately he has a big, big character problem if someone can explain it, but it is unclear that a good messenger will. I thought that the Right-to-Life endorsement might result in an attack on Romney, but Fred Thompson’s race to face-plant seems to make that more unlikely.  In any case, polling indicates that Romney’s supporters are not rabid pro-lifers. Ultimately, exposing Romney’s tax record or ethical problems is probably the solution.

Fourth, does John McCain have a chance in New Hampshire? Polls are mixed, but he seems to be in second. If Romney comes out of Iowa with a bad story and/or there is a sustained attack on Romney, then McCain could move up. It seems fair to say that there will be a sustained attack on Giuliani from Romney. His strategy needs that. Isn’t the murder-suicide a blessing for McCain?

Fifth, will McCain and Huckabee be able to take advantage of their opportunities?

Sixth, electability. McCain has a powerful electability argument. Giuliani has been making a similar one, although less in recent days. I wonder if the ethics scandals are going to drive down Giuliani’s general election numbers, opening up a gap even more clearly in McCain’s favor. Will this get reported? Will it sink in?

Seventh, what happens with the whole Western Watts, anti-Mormon phone calls? Everyone I know seems to think that Romney associates will be implicated. Will it matter? If Romney comes in second in Iowa, and then was somehow complicit in the phone calls… That could blow the race open in New Hampshire.

Eighth, we have nasty Giuliani client stories. My gut is that there are some nasty Romney client stories of an earlier vintage. Will they come? My sense is that the Dems would have to push them. They are clearly playing, although they don’t seem to be clearly picking favorites.

This is going to be very interesting. Keep your seat belts on kids. The next 40 days are going to be a wild ride.

links for 2007-11-30

The base, the groups, and the candidates

On November 19th, Ramesh Ponnuru and Rich Lowry published a very interesting cover-story in National Review. They argued that the situation that the party is in is much more dire. First, the diagnosis:

So while Republicans are depressed these days, their condition is actually worse than they think it is. The deepest cause of the party’s malaise is not the inadequacies of the presidential field. It is that the party’s base is out of step with the public. On issue after issue, polls find independents lining up with Democrats.

This is part of the problem. And:

For most of the year, the Republican presidential debates have featured barely a word about health care, the public’s most pressing domestic concern. The leading GOP candidates have belatedly put out plans (except for Thompson, who still hasn’t)—to the seeming indifference of rank and file conservative voters.

More broadly, the key to Reagan’s victory in 1980 (and not, perhaps in 1976 or 1968) was that he offered conservative solutions to contemporary problems. The central issues of the conservative movement matched the central issues of the country.

They don’t now. The central issues of the conservative movement mostly match a bunch of entrenched interest groups in Washington which have grown increasingly transactional. And in the desire to suck up to groups of questionable power, like today’s endorsement of Mitt Romney by David Keene of the American Conservative Union. This results in a truly banal politics:

Giuliani has broken with the base of the party, but only in ways that will not help with the larger electorate. And to make up for those deviations on social issues, he is projecting a bring-it-on bellicosity that conservatives like but that most voters simply do not feel. Romney and Thompson, meanwhile, are fighting over who is the most conventional, paint-by-numbers conservative circa 1987. Creative domestic policy is off the table.

Recognizing the same patterns that I discussed the other day, they see where we can mine for more votes:

For three decades, the Republican party has absorbed increasing numbers of socially conservative working-class and middleclass voters while losing affluent social liberals—until the 2006 elections, in which Republican totals fell among every category of voter except for full-spectrum conservatives. The most plausible path toward a renewed center-right majority involves consolidating and deepening the trend of the decades before 2006: holding on to as much of the existing conservative coalition as possible while adding more downscale voters who lean right on social issues.

Now some people think that this means abandoning free market principles. One staffer for an interest group (of House members) told me today that voting for Huckabee was like voting for a "pro-life Democrat." But I don’t think that this ends up being true. Neither do Ponnuru or Lowry:

That task will force conservatives to explain how free-market policies can address the economic anxieties of this group of voters.

Politically, this will require blowing up the interest groups that protect the status quo. As a long-time campaign operative was telling me today, parties in power always lose ideas. Either they implement their ideas, which we did, or the new ideas fight against the established constituencies. The adoption of the new ideas would, in essence, "defund" the old constituencies. Thus the same staffer that attacked Huckabee attacked John McCain for "ha[ving] no constituency."

Let’s be clear. That’s the kind of attack that people make when someone is going after their lunch money. The problem with the conservative movement is that the people with the lunch money are driving the movement and the party into the ground.

Not let’s step back for a second. Which candidates in the GOP primary are actually trying to address these issues? It is clear that Huckabee is trying to reach out to these voters. Earlier, when Huckabee was beginning to really emerge, I characterized this as "Huckabee vs. the robber barrons." That sounds to me like giving up affluents.

McCain can also speak this language. From a semi-hostile 2005 interview in the WSJ by Stephen Moore:

But Mr. McCain is no antitax supply-sider himself. He grandstanded against the Bush capital-gains and dividend tax cuts and even co-sponsored an amendment with Tom Daschle to scuttle the reduction in the highest income-tax rates. Why? "I just thought it was too tilted to the wealthy and I still do. I want to cut the taxes on the middle class." Even when I confront him with emphatic evidence that those tax cuts have been an economic triumph and have increased revenues, he is unrepentant and defends his "no" vote by falling back on class-warfare type thinking: "We have a wealth gap in this country, and that worries me."

It is hard to imagine the other candidates making these kinds of statements. If Ponnuru and Lowry are right (and me, Ross Douthat, Reihan Salam, Patrick Hynes, and others) there are going to be more and more candidates making these arguments. And they are going to win.

Some of the Dems get this. One of them told me yesterday:

The thing is, I think a McCain/Huckabee ticket would effectively leap frog the painful part of the needed GOP learning process on candidate selection. You’d end up with a new winning formula without having to sit through a Clinton administration.

Wouldn’t it be neat if we could learn that lesson without putting the country through another 8 years of a Clinton? Good for the party. Good for the movement. And good for the country. As it should be.

Romney running scared? Playing expectation games

The day after a debate in which Mitt Romney does …. not so well, it seems that there might be a concerted effort to lower expectations. Jen Rubin had been noticing it for a while.

It seems that that strategy now includes raising Mike Huckabee’s expectations too. But I was struck by the crassness with which Dean Barnett, Romney’s former driver and self-described "Romney shill", did precisely this:

So was this a seismic night? I’ll give that one a big yes. Tonight heralded the arrival of Mike Huckabee as a force in this race. Not a spoiler, not a wildcard, but a force. Huckamania is still running wild. …

Not say, when he actually tied Romney in Iowa polling?

A personal note to all my sophisticated East Coast friends: Don’t wait for the Christmas rush – stop underestimating Huckabee now. Unless the other guys can be a lot more effective at landing some leather on him than they were last night, he may win Iowa by 20 points.

links for 2007-11-29

Thoughts on the debate

I didn’t get the chance to live-blog this, but I did take notes. There were some great moments. Rudy Giuliani’s slap of Romney with "sanctuary mansion" was outstanding. Mike Huckabee’s handling of the death penalty question was masterful.  The complexity of his answer to the literalism of the Bible question was even better, especially if you understand the denominational-political overtones. The John McCain-Ron Paul exchange.

There were also poor moments. Romney dodged the Social Security question, "the most important question for a generation."

But, ultimately, it doesn’t matter if you don’t remember it, it cannot be turned into an ad. And the moments belong to McCain and Huckabee. I won’t bother trying to order them.

There was clearly a second tier that contained Rudy Giuliani. I don’t think that he went backwards today.

And Fred Thompson and Mitt Romney? They looked bad. Bad.

McCain blogger conference call

McCain starts talking about his trip to Iraq.

The troops are happy with the success that we have achieved. They know that this strategy has been succeeding. In Anbar things are quiet. In Baghdad, things are better. … Petraeus believes that there could be an uptick in al-Qaeda activity because they are on the run. … How anyone can ignore the situation on the ground is beyond me. The Democrats continue to try to cut off the funding … in total disregard of the facts on the ground. … If we continue to make the progress we have made in the lase couple of months in the next 7 or 8 months … We should not be dictated by a schedule for troop withdrawal

Questions:

Bull Dog Pundit. Asks about "economic philosophy" and "judgment". Tax cuts and boxing (that’s the judgment question). McCain picks Mayweather as the boxing champion. (huh?) On taxes:

The major reason why I imposed [the Bush tax cuts] was to put a control on spending. For the next one, it was clear that we were going into a War in Iraq… I am for tax cuts of all kinds. … There hasn’t been a real income increase for lower income Americans, like there has been for more wealthy Americans. … The majority of our problem is out of control spending. … I believe in lower taxes

Jen Rubin . Campaign questions. "National poll numbers have risen, but … Iowa? Do you still intend to compete fully in Iowa?" Question on Romney’s Muslim-gate

We have a lot of work to do. … I am against ethanol subsidies … We have an excellent ground game. … We are struggling in the polls …  We’ll keep working out there. … All of us want to be the comeback kid. …

On Gov. Romney’s comment about the Muslims, my only comment is that we need to take the best qualified people. … If they are qualified to serve in the Armed Forces then are qualified to serve in any position …. Governor Romney’s appointment of a judge … best qualified people

Michael Goldfarb about the funding running out on Iraq.

It can inhibit our long-term planning and long-term equipping. … If you throw everything up in the air … it has ripple effects that can be dangerous. … You might want to mention that the Defense Authorization Bill is hung up in conference … because of the Hate Crimes Bill. … And the Wounded Warrior Bill. … It still hasn’t been signed into law. That’s disgraceful.

Matt Lewis asks about Bill Clinton’s line about Iraq.

I don’t understand former President Bill Clinton … It is all co-incidental. … What this is going to lead to is an examination of his handling of Osama Bin Laden, North Korea, etc. … I am sure that it is all coindicence that this is happening as Barack Obama closes on Hillary in Iowa.

Ed Morrissey asks about the White House’s release/agreement with Maliki on troop draw down:

I was briefed by Crocker and Petraeus while I was in Iraq. This agreement is basically an extension of the status quo … After a year, we would revert to a kind of status of forces agreement that we have with Korea and Germany.

Doug Lambert. Lincoln-Douglass style of debate between nominees of two parties

I would favor such a format. Sometimes campaigns agree on a concept, but then disagree on a format. … There are stark differences between me and Senator Clinton, and I intend to draw them. … Senator Clinton is a liberal Democrat, and I am conservative Republican.

Liz Mair asks about electability in Washington:

Environment … military … I am not an expert on Washington’s electoral history, but they like an independent streak … And the fact that I campaigned there heavily in 2000.

Jim Geraghty follows up on Rubin. Would it be helpful to have a high-ranking Muslim

It would be helpful to call on people in the Muslim community. … Positions should be dictated by [quality] … Bring in experts.

Follow up is Zalmay Khalilizad. Would a person of that expertise have a place in a McCain cabinet?

Sure. But he was hired for his experience. I would add that Ambassador Crocker is also highly qualified. … I don’t think that the decision would rest on that … Qualifications are enhanced by ones knowledge of the Muslim religion and the Middle East. …

Philip Klein asks about the Annapolis Conference:

I have not heard as much about it as a I should ….

James Joyner. "The surge is working as you pointed out… What hope do you have the political side?"

There is oil sharing. … They thought that they could get this reverse-deBaathification done. The Sadr people immediately raised hell. … There was never a Thomas Jefferson in Iraq.

[I have to run to lunch. i will come back and fill in links in a bit.]

Mitt’s Muslim Mess: The larger problem

UPDATE: TPM has another source. This is getting bad for Romney.

Yesterday, the blogosphere was all up in a tizzy about a Christian Science Monitor op-ed piece that claims that Mitt Romney said he would not pick a Muslim for the Cabinet because there aren’t enough Muslims. Naturally, the Romney campaign denied. It seemed that the story was going to be tied to Romney’s affirmative-action appointment of a judge.

However, TPM dropped a bomb. Apparently two NV GOP officials had asked a similar question several months ago and gotten a similar answer. One of them even described the comments as "racist."

Romney has two problems now. The first is that the press is not going to let up. As Marc Ambinder points out:

Answering the subject by challenging the premise and challenging the credentials of the person who made the accusations are debating techniques, but they won’t the get media to leave the story alone.

And second, as the Economist points out:

Why not simply say at the outset that prospective appointees will be treated as individuals, rather than representatives of groups?  Certainly that seems the more congenial position for a candidate who is himself a member of a minority sect.

This may open the door to a more open discussion of Romney’s religion. If he is discriminating on the basis of religion — perhaps even a wrong-but-politically-useful position in an Iowa Republican caucus — then why can’t other people drill down on his religion? Arguing "no bigotry" is a lot easier than arguing "bigotry for me but not for thee." A combination of hypocrisy and implausible repeated non-denials is good material for a feeding frenzy. At the same time as he’s getting drilled for other things. There’s a lot of bad synergy going on right now for Romney.