Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Already Down To The Final Four

The Bigger Picture

Published on February 1st 2012 in Metro Éireann By Charles Laffiteau

And then there were four. First Herman Cain was driven from the race for the 2012 Republican Presidential nomination by a litany of adultery and sexual harassment allegations before the first votes were even cast in Iowa. Then Michelle Bachman followed suit after her dismal showing in the Iowa caucuses. But after the results from the second primary contest in New Hampshire were announced, Bachman and Cain were soon joined on the political campaign sidelines by Texas Governor Rick Perry and former Utah governor Jon Huntsman.
Huntsman was the first to go even though he finished a respectable third with almost 17% of the votes in the New Hampshire primary. But with less than 1% of the vote a week earlier in Iowa, Huntsman had been counting on a second place finish in New Hampshire to breathe some life back into his presidential campaign. So given his poor prospects with the much more conservative voters in South Carolina’s third Republican contest, Huntsman decided to call it quits rather than continue a futile campaign for the Republican nomination.
As I have noted in my previous columns, Huntsman never really had a chance of winning the Republican nomination in 2012 largely because he was also the only Republican candidate who resonated with moderate Republican and independent voters like me. But the Republican Party of today is dominated by anti-abortion, anti-immigration, anti-government and anti-tax social conservatives and Tea Party extremists. As a result, any Republican candidate who demonstrates willingness to compromise with Democrats or President Obama is vilified by right wing activists who also condemn the very idea of political compromise.
When he announced his withdrawal from the 2012 Republican Presidential contest, Huntsman also noted the chilling effect that the extremely negative political views of these Republican activists were having, not only on the Republican Party but also on the American people. Huntsman’s withdrawal announcement says, “At its core the Republican Party is a party of ideas, but the current toxic form of our political discourse does not help our cause and is just one of the many reasons the American people has lost trust in their leaders.”
The other big loser in New Hampshire was Texas Governor Rick Perry, who followed up his 10% of the vote and fifth place showing in Iowa with an abysmal sixth place finish and less than 1% of New Hampshire Republicans’ votes. But even though Perry’s withdrawal just two days before the South Carolina primary wasn’t a surprise, his subsequent endorsement of Newt Gingrich for President did help Gingrich win the South Carolina primary by a much larger margin over second place Mitt Romney than most political observers expected.
Gingrich has been surging in recent Republican polls so his resounding 40% to 28% victory over Mitt Romney in South Carolina now sets up what will essentially be a two horse race for the Republican Presidential nomination. The other two candidates, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul, don’t have a chance of winning the nomination because they don’t have the campaign financing or a broad enough base of support beyond their core constituencies.
But even though it only took a few weeks and the results from the first two Republican Presidential primaries to cut the Republican field of presidential candidates in half, since Mitt Romney is sinking in the polls I expect it to take at least another couple of months before we see any of the four remaining contenders withdraw from the race. Rick Santorum narrowly won the Iowa caucuses thanks to his support from social conservatives and has no compelling reason to drop out of the race so long as they continue to support him. Ron Paul has an equally supportive base of libertarian voters who have thus far shown no inclination to vote for the other candidates so there is no reason he should quit the race either.
So I will discuss why the pre-election favourite, Mitt Romney, is now in trouble, the other reasons why both Santorum and Paul are likely to remain in the race, and the results of the Florida primary as well as the Nevada and Maine caucuses in my next column.

The First Vote Tallies Are In & Bachman Is Out

The Bigger Picture

Published on January 15th 2012 in Metro Éireann By Charles Laffiteau

Now that the results of the Iowa caucuses are in, today I will discuss the results of the Iowa caucuses and their impact on the Republican field and then begin a more in depth analysis of each of the remaining candidates for the Republican Presidential nomination.
One of the first casualties of the Iowa Republican primary was actually an Iowa native Representative Michele Bachman. Ms. Bachman had spent most of her time and campaign money barnstorming the state where she grew up, hoping that the combination of her evangelical Christian and Tea Party bona fides would allow her to finish as one of the top two or three Republican candidates. Instead, her rather dismal sixth place finish with a measly 5% of the vote effectively ended her campaign for 2012 Republican Presidential nomination.
In fact the only active Republican candidate Bachman finished ahead of was former Utah Governor, Jon Huntsman, who barely spent any time or money campaigning in Iowa. However, even though Bachman has now suspended her 2012 Presidential campaign, because she is both photogenic and a favorite of Tea Party and evangelical Christians, I strongly suspect she will try to run for President again in 2016 and or 2020.
As for Governor Huntsman, even though he finished dead last with only 1% of the Republican votes, Huntsman didn’t expect to do well in Iowa and had focused his time and resources on the 10 January New Hampshire primary. Although Huntsman is far and away the best Republican candidate in the field, I simply don’t believe his more moderate positions on issues like the economy, taxes, and climate change to resonate with enough Republican voters to give him any real chance of winning in 2012. However, given Republicans general lack of enthusiasm for the rest of the field of Republican candidates, if Huntsman finishes as one of the top two vote getters in New Hampshire he may indeed still have a chance in 2012.
Besides Bachman, the other two Republican candidates who had to be most disappointed with the Iowa caucus results were former House Speaker, Newt Gingrich, who finished fourth with 13% of the vote, and Texas Governor Rick Perry, who finished fifth with only 10% of the vote. Perry in particular had to very disheartened by his poor showing given all the time and money he had spent in Iowa, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him be the next candidate to follow Bachman’s lead and head for the exits.
On the other hand, Newt Gingrich’s fourth place finish wasn’t all that bad considering the fact that he had been targeted by a series of very negative campaign ads paid for by ‘independent’ PACs aligned with Mitt Romney and Ron Paul. I therefore fully expect Gingrich to continue his 2012 Presidential campaign for at least a couple of more months provided he can finish among the top three vote getters in the remaining January primaries in New Hampshire, South Carolina or Nevada. But if Gingrich fails to crack the top three by the end of January, then I believe his 2012 Presidential campaign will be doomed.
As for the other Republican candidates, unlike many other political pundits, I wasn’t surprised by the close finish of the top three vote getters because I understand how each of the three appeals to their particular base of voters.
Ron Paul’s third place showing with 21% of the vote is a reflection of his attractiveness to the libertarian wing of the Republican Party. Paul’s libertarian philosophy resonates with Republican libertarians who comprise about 20%-25% of Republican voters.
Former Senator Rick Santorum’s virtual tie for first with the best funded candidate, Mitt Romney, is likewise a reflection of his appeal to evangelical Christians and Tea Party activists. As for Romney, he appeals to more pragmatic Republicans who comprise about a quarter of Republican voters and favor the best organized and well funded candidates. I will discuss Romney as well as the New Hampshire results next month.
The Bigger Picture

Published on January 1st 2012 in Metro Éireann By Charles Laffiteau

I hope all of you have enjoyed the Holidays and that the New Year of 2012 will bring you good health, happiness and the realization of your hopes for the future. But back in the states voters will troop to the Iowa caucuses this week to initiate the process of choosing the Republican Party’s next presidential candidate. So in this week’s column I will provide you with a snapshot of the Republican Party’s remaining presidential candidates and will provide a more in depth analysis of each candidate and their chances of success in my future columns.
I have already discussed the first casualty, former Governor Tim Pawlenty, in a previous column. Of the remaining candidates another three are also former governors, one is a sitting governor, one is a former member of the US House of Representatives and two are sitting members, one is a former US Senator and the other one has never held elected office.
Gary Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico, was the first to announce he was running for the 2012 GOP nomination. As governor, Johnson used his veto powers more often than the other 49 American governors combined to build a strong record as a fiscal conservative. Johnson was the founder of one of New Mexico’s largest construction companies before he became governor and although he has no chance of winning, is one of the more interesting candidates because of his socially liberal libertarian positions as a strong critic of the ‘War on Drugs’ and as an advocate for the decriminalization of marijuana.
Former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich, was the next Republican to announce he was running for President. Gingrich is currently running fourth and has been nothing if not controversial throughout his career with his conservative fiscal and social positions. He converted to Catholicism in 2009, has a PhD in modern European history and along with Ron Paul is considered to be one of the two intellectuals in the field.
U.S. Representative Ron Paul of Texas declared his candidacy on May 13th and is an intellectual who has adopted controversial positions on many issues. Paul was a physician prior to running for Congress and was a strong opponent of the Iraq War. But like Gary Johnson, he is a fiscal conservative and socially liberal libertarian with no chance of winning.
Herman Cain is the former CEO of Godfathers Pizza who announced he was running for President on May 21st of this year. Cain is also a former lobbyist who has a history of sexually harassing women while he was lobbying Congress and is now considering withdrawing from the race because he was exposed as an adulterer. In spite of this, Cain became one of the top four Republicans and a Tea Party favorite because of his strong anti-tax anti-government views. Although he was considered to be a fiscal and social conservative, Cain’s 9-9-9 tax plan was also widely derided by economists and the other GOP candidates.
On June 2nd, the former governor of Massachusetts and 2008 Republican presidential aspirant Mitt Romney made his long anticipated entry into the 2012 contest and is also one of the top four candidates. Romney is popular with establishment Republicans, but has been unable to gain traction with social conservatives despite his moves to adopt their positions.
Former Pennsylvania Senator, Rick Santorum announced he would run for the GOP nomination on June 6th. Santorum is a fiscal conservative but is much better known for his very strong pro Iraq War and anti-abortion, anti-immigration, anti-Islam, anti-evolution and anti-homosexual views. I’m happy to say he also has no chance of winning the nomination.
The former governor of Utah and US Ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman entered the race on June 21st and is the only Republican candidate whose views appeal to moderate and independent voters like me. He is a fiscal conservative but is the polar opposite of Tea Party favorites, Perry and Cain, on climate change, evolution, immigration and gay marriage.
Michelle Bachmann of Minnesota declared her candidacy on June 27th and is also one of the favorites of Tea Party activists. She is a fiscal and social conservative whose win in the August 13th Ames Iowa Straw Poll drove Tim Pawlenty out of the 2012 presidential race.
The sitting governor of Texas, Rick Perry, entered the race for president on August 13th and is currently in third place. He is another fiscal and social conservative, who joined the field late because of the dissatisfaction of Tea Party activists with the other candidates.
I will begin a more in depth analysis of each of these candidates and also discuss the results of the Iowa caucuses and their impact on the Republican field in my next column.

Sarah and Non-Candidate Republican Representatives

The Bigger Picture
Published on December 15th 2011 in Metro Éireann By Charles Laffiteau

Since Republicans will begin voting in their first presidential primaries in January, I will be devoting my future 2012 columns to Republican candidates who are still running for President. But in my final column of 2011 I’m going to discuss the other three Republican presidential hopefuls and their stated as well as their real reasons for declining to run in 2012.
Republican Representative Mike Pence of Indiana was a darling of the anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage Christian right wing who also won a presidential straw poll held at the annual Values Voters Summit in September 2010. But Pence was also the number one Republican presidential choice of the former House Republican leader from Texas, Dick Armey, who is also the leader of Freedom Works one of the right wing billionaire Koch brothers’ favorite Tea Party political action committee campaign fundraising ‘charities.’
But despite the anxious prodding of Dick Armey and the Koch brothers, on January 27th Mike Pence also became the first Republican contender to announce he wouldn’t run for President in 2012. While Pence did not deny his interest in running for President at some point in the future, he said his wife and three young children as well as the state of Indiana needed him more than his country. What he didn’t say was that since Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels couldn’t run for governor again because of term limits, Pence would also have an easier road to the Indiana statehouse than he would have to the US White House.
The other Republican contender from the House of Representatives was Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the architect of the Republican plan to slash America’s budget deficit by cutting Social Security and Medicare benefits without raising taxes or cutting defense spending. But despite his credibility with fiscal conservatives Ryan was also a Catholic who never aroused the passions of Tea Party activists and Christian conservatives.
So on August 22nd I wasn’t surprised Paul Ryan dashed the hopes of many Republican fiscal conservatives by announcing he would not run for President in 2012. But I also believe that another factor neither Pence nor Ryan care to acknowledge, is the fact that no serving member of the US House of Representatives has ever been elected President.
Last, but certainly not least, was Sarah Palin’s announcement on October 5th that she would join the list of Republican governors who had decided not to run for President in 2012. Although I have always believed Sarah Palin lacked the intelligence and emotional stability one needs to be President of the United States, I have never doubted her abilities as a political campaigner. But in the aftermath of McCain’s loss to President Obama, Palin’s over the top responses to complaints by Republican campaign staffers about her actions as a vice presidential candidate showed that she also had a very thin skin. It was at this point that I began to have doubts Palin would ever run for President because a thick skin is a necessary prerequisite for a Presidential candidate due to the intense media scrutiny they endure.
Those doubts were reinforced in July of 2009 when, in the midst of a legislative investigation of her conduct as governor, Palin announced she would not run for re-election as governor and then resigned with a year and a half remaining in her first term as governor. This was followed by her eleven state bus tour promoting her bestselling book, a six figure job as an occasional contributor for Fox News and then a starring role in highly rated cable TV show, Sarah Palin’s Alaska.
But any doubts I still had about Sarah Palin’s presidential aspirations were finally put to rest when it was revealed in June of this year that Sarah Palin had purchased an 8,000 square foot luxury home in Scottsdale Arizona for a tidy $1,700,000. That was when I knew that no matter how long Palin strung out her announcement, she was never going to run for President in 2012. Palin’s brief turn as a vice presidential candidate had transformed her into a national celebrity and while Palin may not be Presidential material, she is also nobody’s fool. You don’t have to be a genius to figure out what Palin did; that a national celebrity can cash in on their fame without ever having to endure the rigors of running for President.

More Faint of Heart Republicans

The Bigger Picture

Published on December 1st 2011 in Metro Éireann By Charles Laffiteau

In my last column I discussed the impact Tea Party activists and Christian ‘values’ voters had on the 2012 presidential campaign aspirations of three Republican governors who were held in high regard by the GOP establishment, but who are also no longer involved in the 2012 Presidential campaign. This week I will pivot to a discussion of the markedly different reasons why two other Republican governors declined to run for President in 2012.
The current Governor of Mississippi, Haley Barbour, surprised many Republicans when he announced he had decided not to run for the GOP nomination on April 22nd of this year. Although Barbour cited the physical strain of a 63 year old man running for president as well as the family and duties as governor concerns expressed by Mitch Daniels and Chris Christie, Republican insiders claim his real reason was a more pragmatic one. Despite his fund raising prowess and numerous political and business connections, Barbour concluded that he simply couldn’t win the General election because of his racial segregationist past.
Barbour grew up in Yazoo City Mississippi during the 50’s and 60’s. In the wake of the US Supreme Court’s 1954 decision to overturn state laws favoring racially segregated education, a Citizens Council led by William Barbour, Haley Barbour’s father figure uncle, was formed in Yazoo City. So when 53 African-American residents signed an August 1955 petition in favor of desegregating Yazoo City’s local schools, the Citizens Council retaliated by publishing their names and asking whites to stop dealing with them. Over the next four months 51 of the petition signers asked to have their names removed from the petition due to their loss of jobs and business.
But in an August 2010 interview with the Weekly Standard Barbour ignored this fact and claimed that the Citizens Council was an organization of town leaders that facilitated integration in Mississippi because “they passed a resolution that said anybody who started a chapter of the (violent white racist) Ku Klux Klan would get their ass run out of town.”
Mind you, Haley Barbour had other political liabilities as a lobbyist for business special interest groups in Washington DC and Mississippi’s ranking as the worst of fifty states in a wide range of areas including, economic development, education and healthcare. But even though Barbour had been able to develop persuasive arguments for why those things shouldn’t be held against him, the fact is he was never able to come up with a satisfying response to charges about his segregationist past.
Much more surprising to this political commentator was former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee’s May 14th announcement that he would also not run for President in 2012. Huckabee is an ordained Baptist minister who had used his Christian ‘values’ credentials to become a favorite of the Republican Party’s anti-abortion and anti-gay marriage Christian social conservatives. Despite John McCain and Mitt Romney’s huge cash advantages, he used their support to win the first Republican primary in Iowa and then ran a surprisingly close second to the eventual winner of the 2008 Republican nomination, John McCain.
Unlike Romney and most of the other Republican presidential candidates, Huckabee, is was very personable candidate who used his quick wit and self-deprecating sense of humor to good advantage with audiences out on the campaign trail as well as on the TV tube. His affability subsequently led to his current jobs as ABC’s replacement for legendary radio commentator Paul Harvey and as the TV host of Fox News weekend show “Huckabee”.
Huckabee was a consistent leader in polls of Republican voters so I was surprised on May 14th when he announced on his TV show that he would not run for President saying “All the factors say go, but my heart says no. But after further reflection I think he was telling the truth, just not the whole truth. Huckabee’s heart wasn’t in it because he has always hated trolling for campaign funds and he preferred drawing a seven figure annual income from a few hours of TV and radio work every week to the rigors of campaigning for President.
I will discuss the real reasons why three other Republican hopefuls decided not to run, including my favorite Republican diva Sarah Palin, in my next and last column of 2011.

Tea Party Christians and Republican Non-Candidates

The Bigger Picture
Published on November 15th 2011 in Metro Éireann By Charles Laffiteau

In my last column I discussed the extraordinary influence that right wing evangelical Christians and the anti-tax Tea Party movement currently exert on the Republican Party and its political leaders. Today I will begin discussing the impact these ideologically doctrinaire groups have had and will continue to have on the field of Republican Presidential candidates.
I will begin by first discussing several Republican presidential candidates who either withdrew from the race or decided not to run. The first casualty was Tim Pawlenty, who actually began his campaign for the GOP nomination well before the end of his second term as governor of Minnesota in 2010. Pawlenty had been on John McCain’s short list as a possible vice presidential running mate in 2008, and establishment Republicans had been talking about him as a possible presidential candidate in 2005, even before he even ran for a second term as governor in 2006. So it came as no surprise when Governor Pawlenty also started showing up to speak at Republican Party functions in the early Republican primary states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina during 2008 and 2009.
Pawlenty continued his meticulous preparations to run for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination by announcing in June 2009 that he would not run for a third term as governor and by creating a political action committee (PAC) to raise money for his campaign called Freedom First. He then hired respected Republican presidential campaigners such as Vin Weber, former Republican National Committee spokesman Alex Conant, and Sara Taylor, the former Director of the Office of Political Affairs for President George W. Bush.
So by the time Pawlenty formally announced he was running for President in May 2011, the only real surprise was that he had waited so long to make it official. But while Pawlenty had the necessary conservative Republican credentials, he could never become a Tea Party favorite because he wasn’t a fiery public speaker and he had a reputation for being able to strike compromises with Minnesota’s Democratic controlled state legislature.
As a result, another candidate from Minnesota was able to use her oratory skills and legislative track record of never compromising with Democrats to capture twice as many votes as Pawlenty from the Tea Party activists and evangelical Christians who dominated the voting in Iowa’s August 13th Republican caucus straw poll. Since Pawlenty had invested a great deal of his time and money in Iowa, he quickly realized that his dismal finish behind Minnesota’s Michelle Bachman also signaled the end of his Presidential campaign hopes.
Although Tim Pawlenty may have become the first formal casualty of the Republican Party’s antagonistic ideological extremists when he ended his presidential bid on August 14th, he is by no means the only one. Several other Republican governors with conservative credentials but a track record of compromising with Democrats or state legislatures controlled by the Democratic Party, wisely decided not to even bother to run for President in 2012.
Second term Indiana governor Mitch Daniels, who isn’t eligible to run for governor again in 2012, refused to yield to heavy pressure from establishment Republicans when he announced on May 22nd that he would not run for President. After Daniel’s opted not to run, his first term counterpart from New Jersey, Chris Christie, then came under heavy pressure from long time Republicans to jump into the 2012 presidential race. But with time running short, on October 4th Christie put an end to the speculation by saying “now is not my time.”
While both Daniels and Christie cited their families and duties as governor as reasons why they decided not to run in 2012, GOP insiders have also speculated that both men felt it would be difficult to win the Presidency in 2012 if they forced to stump on a GOP platform that reflected the views of Tea Party activists and Christian evangelicals. Both governors were also well aware that they owed their previous General election successes to their ability to attract more moderate independent voters, rather than just the support of the Tea Partiers and Christian conservatives that currently dominate Republican Party primary politics.
In my next column I will discuss several other Republican governors, as well as their reasons for deciding not to run for the GOP nomination for President in 2012.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Koch and Tea (Republican) Party

The Bigger Picture
Published on November 1st 2011 in Metro Éireann By Charles Laffiteau

On November 6th 2012, exactly fifty three weeks from today, Americans will troop to the polls to cast their ballots in an extremely important Presidential and Congressional General election. While all elections involving the selection of America’s next president are usually considered vital for the future of the United States, in 2012 America truly stands at a crossroads because American voters will not only be choosing who the next President will be, they will also be making a decision about what they want their government to be.
After surveying the field of Republican Presidential candidates and their respective positions on a range of domestic as well as foreign policy issues, it is very apparent that regardless of who eventually emerges as the Republican nominee for President, Americans will still have a clear choice between either voting to elect a backward looking Republican Presidential candidate backed by an assortment of right wing political ideologues, or voting to re-elect a more forward looking Democratic President with a centrist legislative agenda.
But what makes the 2012 election even more significant, is what the American voters’ choices will say about what they believe our government’s role should be in stimulating the economy as well as its role in providing for and protecting the needs of American citizens. That is because the positions of the Republican presidential candidates reflect the narrow interests of Tea Party activists, evangelical Christians and other special interest groups.
The Tea Party minions claim that the solution for America’s economic ills is to eliminate the federal budget deficit by cutting government spending but they also refuse to countenance tax increases of any kind. However, most of the anti-tax Tea Partiers also don’t want to see any cuts in their Social Security and Medicare benefits, which together account for roughly 50% of government spending. Furthermore, a majority of them also don’t want to see any cuts in America’s defense spending which comprises another 25% of the budget.
The fact that no reputable economists agree with the Tea Party activists’ contention that America can eliminate its budget deficit by cutting government spending in other areas and without raising taxes is beside the point. Tea Partiers are wedded to their angry fantasy that federal government spending is the problem and cutting both spending and taxes is the solution. As a result, rather than risk the ire of these anti-tax extremists, all of the Republican presidential candidates have now adopted the Tea Party’s hard line stance and none of them will even agree to a compromise such as $1 in tax increases for every $9 in spending cuts.
But all of the Republican candidates must also appease socially conservative white evangelical Christians, many of whom were hoping Sarah Palin would run for President. Given their equally rigid anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage and anti-immigration positions, it should come as no surprise that many of these so called “Christian Values” voters are also supporters of the rigidly anti-tax, anti-government spending Tea Party movement.
However, something the Tea Party and evangelical Christian movements don’t like to acknowledge is the extent to which they both rely on support and funding from corporate special interest groups to spread their antagonistic and ideologically extreme message. Fox News supports them with in kind donations of media publicity and Rupert Murdoch then reaps profits from advertisers using Fox employees like Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck to hawk gold and books that are aimed at this segment of the American public.
But the ultimate symbol of right wing hypocrisy is the billionaire Koch brothers funding and sponsorship of groups such as Americans for Prosperity and Freedom Works that also train Tea Party activists and provide funding for the Republican candidates they support. These organizations support the Koch brothers’ opposition to an extension of unemployment benefits and federal regulation of the oil, finance, food and drug industries, but then ignore the fact that the Koch brothers’ companies also head the list of America’s biggest corporate beneficiaries of federal tax breaks for the oil and agriculture industries. I will discuss the effect they have had on the field of Republican presidential candidates in my next column.