Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Is Newt the ONLY Candidate Who Can Debate Obama?

Newt Gingrich thinks he's the only candidate in the GOP field who can stand up to Barack Obama in a debate. Now I'd LOVE to see Newt square up against the big O, to be sure. I think he'd absolutely skewer the incumbent President. But is Newt the ONLY man who's up to the job? And is that the ONE reason to select a candidate? I don't think so.

For all his intelligence and strength as a debater, he's not perfect. He often appears arrogant, condescending, and unlikeable. Obama, on the other hand, gets high marks for likeability (go figure!) despite the unpopularity of his policies and "ideas." Romney, on the other hand, scores fairly well in likeability.

Frankly, Newt brings far more political baggage with him as well, having been driven from office and proven himself as an establishment insider and opportunist. Further, he's been plagued by disorganization in his campaign. His top staffers defected last summer. He wasn't prepared to mount a defensive in Iowa--to the extent that he lost his cool and became, momentarily, an anti-capitalist! And he failed to even get on the ballot in his HOME STATE of Virginia! Is that the executive leadership that will contrast with the turmoil that is the Obama Administration? It's practically Obamaesque!

Since Newt compares himself, primarily, with Romney who he dubs the "Massachussets Moderate," let's take a look: As the front-runner with an arguably "moderate" record, Romney supported the healthcare mandate in his state. So did Newt, nationally. Romney eliminated his state's deficit spending--as did Newt in Washington. Kudos to both. Romney acknowledged some level of man-made global warming when it was politically expedient, but he never supported Cap and Trade. Newt cozied up with Nancy Pelosi to advance the curse. Romney supports civil unions for gay couples, but fought to keep the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman. I assume Newt agrees. Newt has created a few jobs in his personal business activities--mostly the result of his Washington career. Mitt has created thousands through his private enterprise career. Mitt has laid off people, too. A talent ardently to be desired of the Cheif Executive Downsizer of the behemoth National Government. Newt upheld jobs and federal spending that were clearly outrageous--including his complicity with Fanny Mae and Freddie Mac fiasco both during and after his time in office. I could go on.

Mitt Romney has stayed on message throughout his campaign, focusing on the failures of the Obama Administration and a positive message of restoring America to its former free enterprise glory. His message is Reaganesque in its faith in the American people vs. power to the national government. His delivery has become more polished in his delivery and more effective in his rebuffs. He still comes across a little stiff, corporate, and maybe even a touch disingenuous, but that belies his true character, I believe.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Gloves Off Mitt in New Hampshire Debate

Tonight's Republican debate in New Hampshire was a yawner! But what do you expect with Democrat partisans Diane Sawyer and former Clinton Adviser and Strategist, George Stephanopoulos at the helm? Not that they were in particularly bad form but it was just a pewter debate with a dull finish.

That's good news for frontrunner, Mitt Romney, who emerged as the clear winner simply because no blows were laid on him that would knock him off his perch. As the pundits later pointed out, it's a little surprising that the rest of the field didn't try harder to take him down. But I wasn't so surprised.

They've got a dilemma: If they spend their air time throwing arrows at the front runner, they run the risk of coming across angry and petty--as dividers, not uniters. They also fail to deliver a distinctive positive message about themselves.

On the other hand, if they focus on the nuances of their policy differences in order to position themselves as the legitimate "anti-Romney," they leave Mitt untouched and quite possibly, the electorate unconvinced. That's what happened in the debate tonight. There were a few soft punches thrown at the "champ" but they were scarcer than he was prepared for. And none of them landed a significant blow. In fact, Mitt stayed largely above the fray and was able to focus on attacking Obama, rather than his Republican colleagues. That's rational!

You see, Mitt Romney and Ron Paul occupy unique positions in this race. Romney is the "establishment candidate" and front runner; considered the most moderate but also, the most electable and most likely to defeat Obama. He has a solid base of support that includes many Republican party insiders. He also has plenty of money and a well-organized ground game.

Paul is the REAL Anti-Romney; As unconventional as Romney is "conventional," but widely considered the LEAST electable in the field (although I'm not sure he should be--a topic for another blog). Paul's zealots are unlikely to defect until or unless the candidate does.

The rest of the field, Santorum, Gingrich, Perry, and Huntsman are all competing for the same "anti-establishment, Tea Party conservative but-not-so-far-gone as Ron Paul," anti-Romney vote. Trouble is, there are too many candidates splitting that constituency, which is why none can score a significant KO. Any ground they gain, is at the expense of one or more of the rest which leaves Romney and Paul unscathed.

After listening to the pundits tonight, the also-rans will probably revise their strategy and fire heavier artillery at Mitt in tomorrow's debate. But it may well backfire or at best, be a little too little, too late. At least for New Hampshire.

So what's your take?

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Two Angry Men: Gingrich and Santorum

After staggering negative campaign ads effectively blasting Newt Gingrich out of contention in Iowa and driving down his support from 35% to 13%  in the nation's first Republican stand, the former Speaker is now blazing mad. Mitt Romney's "unofficial" PAC and Ron Paul's campaign combined in an unprecedented $17 million onslaught against Gingrich, provoking the Speaker's infamous ire.

Now, Newt has taken off the gloves and sworn revenge. Already this morning, the Gingrich campaign pummeled Romney in a double truck, head-to-head comparison ad in the Union Leader in New Hampshire. The ad is fair, but Newt has to walk a fine line. His anger, as expressed in his speech to supporters last night, is palpable and unbecoming. Newt's hot-head reaction will backfire on him if he's not careful.

Despite his campaign's likely complicity in the Romney PAC's assault on Gingrich, Mitt has managed to stay above the fray. He can point the blame finger PACward and congratulate his opponents for their achievements maintaining the air of dignity people expect from a Presidential candidate. He demonstrated his savvy by doing just that in his impassioned victory speech, and then refocusing on the real object of conservative ire, Barack Obama. He completely ignored the negative barbs fired at him by both Gingrich and Santorum in their prior speeches.

Rick Santorum has a somewhat different anger management problem. Although there was no sense of wrath in his moving "victory" speech last night, he can definitely come across as a small-minded "angry young man." As a friend reminded me this morning, that's the image he portrayed in the debates. While his conservative chops may be unmatched in this field of candidates, and his credentials as a legislator, impressive, despite months of boots-on-the-ground campaigning, Santorum only caught fire AFTER the rest of the field had been cleared--Perry, Cain, and Gingrich all had their respective rises and falls. I, myself, dismissed Santorum as too whiny and weak based on his debate performances. So the question now is, can he enlarge his persona and appeal to a broader cross-section of voters? That remains to be seen but the odds are against him. If he fails as the anti-Romney the slot will be wide open for Gingrich or Paul.

Santorum the Underestimated

Rick Santorum deserves high praise for his massive victory in Iowa last night. He proved that values conservatisim is alive and well--at least in Iowa, and that there is a strong current in the Republican base pulling for an alternative to the so-called establishment moderate, Mitt Romney. The question now is, "Is he a legitimate contender for the nomination, or simply the last man standing in Iowa?"

The problem is, both the labels of "Constitutional Conservative" as applied to Santorum and "Establishment Moderate" as applied to Mitt Romney are misnomers.

Despite his protestations to the contrary, Santorum appears to me to be a big government conservative. He would likely be as aggressive pursuing his values agenda at the federal level as modern liberals are at pursuing their redistributive collectivist "morality." It would merely be an exchange of one set of values for another. True, Santorum's principles are likely more attractive to a broader swath of center-right Americans, but that misses the point. Values legislation does not fall within the enumerated powers of the US FEDERAL government. These are issues for the several states to decide. Even Santorum's manufacturing jobs initiatives at the federal level, represent over-reach into the free market. That said, he is likely to be more fiscally responsible than the left under any Democrat administration. But he's no anti-Federalist! Further, Santorum has been a Washington "insider" and professional politician since he was elected to the US Congress at the age of 30. He would also likely extend the US military presence around the globe, the wisdom of which is highly debatable.

Romney, on the other hand, is mischaracterized in the media on both sides of the aisle as a "moderate;" a virtual RINO. This is wildly overstated when objective measures are applied. Despite his notorious "flip-flops" on abortion and gay rights, and his use of a mandate at the state level to provide private health insurance for all MA citizens, Romney is far more conservative than the media would have you believe and his actual policy positions more consistent. Similar to Ronald Reagan, Mitt's position on choice, has evolved (though I wonder why it had to) and he has a strong pro-life record--including opposition to public funding of embryonic stem cell research. Not only does his personal life reflect an exemplary fidelity to family and faith, he defended traditional marriage in a state that changed the definition of the term to include same-sex unions, while also supporting appropriate civil rights for gay couples. (In fact, his public policy ACTIONS mirror Santorum's rhetoric.) Romney's defense of the public healthcare mandate in Massachusetts as an appropriate solution for the state but not for the nation, while disconcerting to conservatives, also demonstrates a commitment to state-centered solutions. Romney is a state's rights champion--not a big government Federalist. He appears to believe in free market solutions and has spent most of his life in the private sector as a maestro of "turn-around" management. Unfortunately, he too, may have a more "imperialistic" view of America's role in the world than that established by the Founders.

Although you can see my leaning, I'm still wide open to both of these guys, as well as to Ron Paul, Newt, Perry and Bachmann although the latter 4 appear significantly less electable to varying degrees. Time will tell whether Santorum can stand the heat in the kitchen and arise as a legitimate contender, but for now he deserves kudos for peaking at the right time and winning his share of the Iowa electorate at about one-tenth the cost of Romney's expense. Now THAT's rational!

Above all, remember who they're running against; arguably the most partisan, divisive, radical, collectivist, anti-capitalist, big-spending, incompetent, misguided activist ever to occupy the Oval Office. A conservative of any degree will be light years better than the travesty that is Obama.