On the First Night of the Republican National Convention

It’s convention season!  Wiesman was too busy blissfully ignoring the fact that 90%+ of  fantasy football outcomes are determined by blind luck to even watch the speeches last night, so it seems the task of recapping and analyzing what those crazy Republicans got up to last night falls to me.

The GOP actually had an incredible number of speakers on their schedule last night (click here for the full lineup), but since I was watching on MSNBC rather than C-SPAN, I can only give commentary on the following speakers: Ohio governor John Kasich, Virginia governor Bob McDonnell, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, First Lady hopeful Ann Romney, and the convention’s keynote speaker, New Jersey governor Chris Christie.

The predominant theme for the early speakers was clear: Republicans are better than Democrats at creating jobs and balancing budgets.  John Kasich talked enthusiastically about the economic turnaround in Ohio; Scott Walker went on ceaselessly about how business owners are more confident in Wisconsin; Bob McDonnell treated us to a litany of statistics both about his own state of Virginia, but successful Republican governorships across the land; and everyone touted how they had balanced their budgets.

I don’t really want to wade too much into the substance, or lack thereof, in these speeches.  You can read pretty much any other liberal blog on the internet to hear about how Kasich cheerfully ignored the fact that much of Ohio’s good economic fortune can be attributed to the auto bailout Kasich opposed, or how Wisconsin has actually been bucking the national trend and losing jobs, or any of the myriad reasons Virginia has become recession-proof thanks to federal spending.  Republicans have trouble with facts and intellectual honesty, nothing new.

Instead, I’d like to focus on whether or not these early Republican governors speeches were successful or not.  If we accept the premise  that the primary purpose of a modern nominating convention is to serve as three days of free, prime-time advertising for the nominee, then each speech should serve at least one of two goals: promoting the nominee and bringing down his rival.  Were the governors successful in that?

A common criticism coming out of the first day of the convention is that the Republicans on display seemed far more interested in self-promotion than in helping Romney.  Indeed, at times the convention seemed like a series of auditions for the 2016 nomination, with Bob McDonnell in particular reminding me of how terrified I am that Republicans will be smart enough to nominate him one day.  The majority of the speeches were dedicated to the speaker’s own accomplishments, with the only connection to Romney being “Imagine what we could do with an advocate in the White House!”  I suppose this message is OK, but if the states are already doing well, why should I care who the President is?

As for attacks on Obama, there was nothing that made me stop and go “woah,” as I did during Paul Ryan’s speech two weeks ago.  It was rote stuff that honestly could have been levied against any Democratic nominee ever.  Probably the best attacks came from Nikki Haley, who used the federal government’s various lawsuits against her state as fodder for the now-standard “Obama hates success” line of attack.  If you didn’t know what she was talking about, it was an effective conceit.

However, I’d like to entertain a different idea.   What if this convention is not so much about promoting Mitt Romney specifically as it is about promoting Republicans and Republicanism generally, in hopes that Romney would get swept up in that wave?  I can’t help but think of the polls from the primary season that found “generic Republican” would defeat Obama by a couple points.  I also can’t help but remember Rick Santorum’s attacks on Romney, when he called Romney “uniquely unqualified” to prosecute the case against Barack Obama, a view I happen to wholeheartedly agree with.  The strength of the modern Republican Party has never really been in its individual leaders, but in its collective discipline and unity.  Mitt Romney has lots of problems as an individual candidate, but if they can turn this into an election of Obama vs. Republican rather than Obama vs. Romney, they may stand a better chance.

Viewed from that perspective, I think a case can be made that last night was a reasonably good one for the Republicans.  With no exceptions that I saw, these were rousing speeches from solid performers.  If I had no prior information, I would have come away from those speeches feeling good about Republicans, confident in their competence at governing, and with the impression that they had a definite – if not specifically articulated – vision for what they wanted the country to be.  Rick Santorum, of course, put the capper on this with a speech made dynamic by his apparent earnestness, passion, and particular brand of conservative populism.

Ann Romney sort of threw a wrench into these works.  I thought hers was a good speech, and it seemed clear that the crowd received her with great enthusiasm.  But I fear that Ann may have been sent on a fool’s errand.  I’m sorry, but her stories about how she and Mitt used to live in a basement apartment with an ironing board for a kitchen table fell completely flat in my opinion, and I don’t see how she can achieve any real resonance with that kind of message.  At this point, I think the image of Romney the born-rich plutocrat is too firmly entrenched to be dispelled with tales of the only tight 4 years in either of their lives.  Rather than incessantly trying to pretend that they are normal people, Ann and Mitt would be better served to embrace their 1%edness and project an aspirational image, as the Kennedys did.  They have tried to do some of this, but every time Mitt awkwardly goes through an interview pretending that he “loves Costco” and buys dress shirts there, or does a bizarre photo op at a grocery store (skip to 2:31 to avoid the obnoxious douches that open this video), the image of him as the hyper-competent executive who’s going to sweep into Washington and Get Things Done is severely undercut.  Part of the reason the Obama campaign was so successful four years ago was that Obama was not afraid to appear “above” normal people; people idealized him and he threw himself wholeheartedly into that embrace. If Romney weren’t so fixated on trying to be something that he’s not, I think things would be going much better for him.

Finally, Chris Christie.  There’s a lot of commentary out there today criticizing Christie’s speech as being too aggressive, too mean, too ego-driven, and too stiff in comparison with Christie’s normal performance.  I hear these criticisms, and I understand them, but I have to disagree; as I was watching the speech – and I do try to just watch speeches as they air, I don’t like to try and intellectualize them until after I’ve formed initial impressions – I found myself liking what was going on.  Christie may not have been quite his usual self, but he was still energetic, emphatic, and triumphant in his delivery.  As Chris Matthews said afterward, it was a barn-burner of a speech.  It certainly didn’t make me think very much about Mitt Romney – an interesting analysis being frequently repeated on MSNBC finds that Christie mentioned himself 62 times and Mitt Romney only 8 times, and that it took 1800 of the speech’s 2600 words before the first of those Romney mentions – but it did make me think good things about Christie and, by extension, Republicans.  It was the perfect distillation of everything that went on on the first night of the Republican National Convention.  The only question, I suppose, is whether this strategy can work.

Republicans declare victory in the War on Women

Let’s review a bit.

In previous months, Republicans have introduced legislation that includes forcing women seeking a legal procedure to undergo an unnecessary transvaginal probe, sought to define personhood in such a way that would make hormonal contraception illegal, tried to prevent regulation that would mandate insurance companies cover contraception, voted for an amendment to the highway bill that would allow any employer to refuse to cover any procedure for which the employer could invent any plausible objection, and voted to allow employers to fire women who are using contraception for birth control.

In previous months Rush Limbaugh called a law student who tried to testify before Congress about the importance of contraception coverage a slut and a prostitute, demanded she post sex videos online, and falsely claimed she wanted taxpayers to subsidize her sexual activity. A Rick Santorum billionaire funder longed for the good old days when women used Bayer aspirin squeezed between their knees to keep from getting pregnant.

Those things happened. It wasn’t a hallucination. But then this happened:

In case you can’t (or don’t want to) play that video, here’s what Hilary Rosen said:

But he doesn’t connect on that issue either. What you have is Mitt Romney running around the country saying, ‘Well, you know my wife tells me that what women really care about are economic issues and when I listen to my wife that’s what I’m hearing.’ Guess what? His wife has actually never worked a day in her life. She’s never really dealt with the kinds of economic issues that a majority of the women in this country are facing in terms of how do we feed our kids, how do we send them to school and why do we worry about their future. […] He just seems so old-fashioned when it comes to women and I think that comes across and I think that that’s going to hurt him over the long term. He just doesn’t really see us as equal.

So, I guess Republicans win. Wait, what?

First of all, be honest: did you know who Hilary Rosen was before any of this happened? I didn’t, and I spend way too much time watching and reading about politics. How did she go from CNN contributor to Obama adviser? She’s not an Obama adviser. She doesn’t work for the DNC. She’s a CNN contributor. When asked about this issue by CNN’s John King, David Axelrod (an actual Obama adviser, fwiw) said, “She’s your employee, not ours.” But suddenly right wing blogs and commentators are doing everything they can to link Rosen to Obama. As AngryBlackLady says:

At the rate the wingnuts are going, by day’s end, Hilary Rosen will be Obama’s Special Ambassador to Ladyholes.

Secondly, Rosen was responding (badly) to Romney’s insistence that he understands what women care about because he listens to his wife, and she listens to women. Okay, well, I’d kind of like a president who will listen directly to women, but aside from that, Rosen’s point was that Ann Romney might not be the best person to explain what working mothers care about since she doesn’t have (or need) a job outside her home. The Republican freakout suggesting that this reveals a “war on motherhood” is ridiculous on its face.

I have nothing against Ann Romney and I think it is wonderful that she had the ability to choose to stay at home to raise her children. My wife left a job that she loved when our first son was born to be a stay-at-home mom, and it doesn’t make her any less liberal. We are fortunate enough that she can make that choice. Some women aren’t as fortunate, and mothers who must work outside the home and be full-time mothers (is there any other kind?) might have experiences and struggles that are not obvious to someone in Ann Romney’s position. Recognizing that is not an attack on motherhood.

Republicans might want to consider that one of the reasons that they are tanking with women isn’t just their policies but the obvious fact that they seem to think women are stupid. The language around these ultrasound bills that force women to view a sonogram seems to imply that pregnant women might not understand they are pregnant. Or that they haven’t already thought long and hard about their decision. Or that they are so emotionally volatile that a picture might change their minds.

This belief that women are stupid led John McCain to think that picking a VP candidate that took positions completely antithetical to the majority of women would still help him with women because that VP candidate had a vagina.

The belief that women are stupid is what led the Romney campaign to send out two female Republican House members to vouch for Romney’s support for the Ledbetter Fair Pay law, even though those two women voted against the law. (But they have vaginas, women! It’s all good, right?)

And it’s the same stupidity that makes national Republicans think that women around the country will look at Hilary Rosen’s badly worded point and conclude that Obama hates motherhood and that women would be better off with Romney.

Rosen’s gaffe was bad. Thinking Rosen’s gaffe should make women prefer Romney over Obama is worse.

Santorum Drops Out

Breaking news from CNN.com: Rick Santorum will speak live from Gettysburg, PA in a few minutes to “suspend his campaign,” or, as the not so euphemistically inclined among us would say, he’s dropping out.  And so ends one of the more truly remarkable dark horse candidacies in recent political history.  I’m struggling to think of a more unlikely presidential run in recent years and not really coming up with anything.   To the extent that Santorum had any national profile when this race began, he was known for two things: radical social conservatism, particularly in the form of rabid homophobia, and a certain highly successful Google seeding campaign.  For most of the pre-Iowa campaign, he polled in the single digits nationally, raised very little money, and was completely written off by every pundit.  In his last race prior to this one, Santorum was absolutely slaughtered in his 2006 Senate re-election bid, suffering an 18-point defeat that stands as the worst for any incumbent Senator since 1980.

Still, perhaps we shouldn’t have been so taken aback by Rick Santorum.  In this primary season, he proved himself to be a powerful retail politician with a genuine passion that could ignite his supporters.  He was extremely competitive with Romney despite a crushing financial disadvantage and no significant support among GOP power brokers.  I think its very safe to say that if the money were even between Santorum and Romney, the Man with the Sweater Vest would be the presumptive nominee right now.

But this is a cruel, inequitable world devoid of meaningful campaign finance controls, and so it is Romney who will bear the GOP standard against President Obama.  Game on.

Please don’t make me defend Santorum

Please don’t make me defend him. It makes me feel dirty. Frothy even. But, anyway, this is making the rounds on the liberal blogs (including this one, technically).

I think Rick Santorum would be an absolute disaster for this country if he got anywhere near the executive branch of government, and I plan on doing everything I can (which isn’t much, obviously) to make sure that doesn’t happen.

But I just don’t think he was about to say the n-word here. (And yes, I realize that using the phrase “n-word” is just as bad as using the, you know, n-word, and I find this Louis CK bit every bit as funny and true as the next person, but I’m still not going to write the word, um, n-word, here.)

He’d been speaking for 30 minutes and he tripped up. And I’m not even going to make some half-assed defense like, “oh, he’d never say that in public because he knows better.” I don’t think Rick Santorum uses that word at all. I have no idea, obviously, but I have no reason to think that he does, and I’m not going to go out of my way to look for the worst possible interpretation of his actions, when the best possible interpretation is bad enough to disqualify him from ever receiving my support.

Just a distraction. We shouldn’t be getting distracted. We have the facts on our side.

GOP Primary Update – Another meaningless Romney defeat

So Rick Santorum won Louisiana yesterday, 49% to 27% for Mitt Romney. Santorum picked up 10 delegates while Romney picked up 5. There are still 31 delegates that have not been allocated for Louisiana. While this is somewhat humiliating for Mitt Romney, it doesn’t change the outlook much.

In the only GOP Primary race that matters, Brokered Convention picks up 5 more delegates than Romney, but still remains 108 delegates behind. Here’s the updated chart, with numbers from The New York Times, as always.

April should be a good month for Romney with contests in DC, Maryland, Wisconsin, Connecticut, Delaware, New York, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island. Aside from Rick Santorum’s home state of Pennsylvania, none of those states look to be upset opportunities for Team Froth.

Wisconsin joined states like Michigan and Ohio as a state that had shown early polls with a Santorum lead and then swinging back to a Romney lead as the primary approached. Nate Silver now projects a Romney with a 96% chance of victory there.

Romney, who has always been considered inevitable by political experts, will most likely wrap this up sometime in June, well ahead of the convention. Pressure is beginning to mount within the GOP for Santorum and Gingrich to stop this embarrassment, but neither seem inclined to do so.

Previous update here.

GOP Primary Update – Romney pulling away

Last night Mitt Romney moved one step closer to his inevitable Pyrrhic victory to be the GOP nominee to lose to President Obama. Romney easily defeated Rick Santorum 47-35 in Illinois. While the margin of victory in votes was not very impressive considering the spending differential, Romney dominated in the metric that counts: delegates. Romney picked up 43 delegates compared to Santorum’s 10, with 16 still unallocated.

While a 12-point victory might seem like a large margin, Romney remains a Continue reading “GOP Primary Update – Romney pulling away”

A Correction With Regard to Rick Santorum

As regular readers of Some Disagree know, I have been maintaining for a while now that among current Republican candidates, Rick Santorum would pose the biggest threat to President Obama’s re-election chances should he gain the nomination.  This idea is predicated on two notions: first, that Santorum would be able to excite and turn out the Republican base better than any other candidate; and second, that Santorum can make the strongest argument on the economic issues that will decide this election.

Well, this week, Santorum has tried to turn banning “hard-core” pornography into an election issue.   And so, I am having to entertain the idea that Santorum is simply physically incapable of shutting his trap on social issues and maintaining focus on an economic message.  If that’s the case, and Santorum truly just can’t help himself, then I think Santorum is the same completely unelectable nonsense candidate everyone thought he was before Iowa.

I should make the caveat that Santorum’s behavior in the primary election is not necessarily a reliable indicator of how he would behave in the general.  It’s possible that he keeps bringing up these ridiculous, long-settled social issues as part of his strategy against Romney and would drop all of it as soon as Obama was his opponent.  But I don’t think that theory really holds up to a lot of scrutiny.  If Santorum’s intention is to position himself to Romney’s right for the primary before a reversion to the center in the general, why would he go so far right?  Why litigate social issues that haven’t been hot topics since the Warren Court was in session?  You really don’t have to go very far to be recognizably on Mitt Romney’s right.

So no, I have to think that Santorum really can’t help himself on this stuff.  If that’s the case, then my previous electability argument was misguided.  Mea culpa.