So with a victory in New Hampshire and a
win tie close second in Iowa, Mitt Romney’s got it all sewn up, right? A victory in South Carolina and it’s all over.
Because just at the moment Mittens got a hammerlock on the nomination, he went and had arguably his worst week in the six years of hiscampaign for the presidency — a week of gaffes, missteps, and a transformation into a caricature of a rich, obnoxious, out-of-touch plutocrat, which replaced his previous image as a flip-flopping, kind of geeky, out-of-touch plutocrat.
So what does this do to the power rankings? What about Ron Paul? And where does Colbert debut? It’s time to play power rankings.
1. Fmr. Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney (Last Rank: 1)
Mittens is still in a commanding position to win the nomination. He’s still got the best national organization, the most money in the bank, and a field that is still incredibly weak. He even had Jon Huntsman drop out of the race, which should earn him all 73 of Huntsman’s national supporters, not to mention Huntsman’s cadre of fluffers inside the Beltway. Even if he drops South Carolina on Saturday, he’s still the odds-on favorite to win the nomination. That hasn’t changed. But in many ways, Mitt Romney has never been in a more precarious position in his six years of campaigning for this office.
It didn’t have to be this way. All Mitt really had to after winning New Hampshire was to not screw things up. If he just could get through the week without some kind of disastrous misstep, he would win South Carolina going away, and the race would be over. Yet even before the votes were counted in New Hampshire, what did Mitt do? Start acting like the rich, out-of-touch guy he is.
He said that he “liked to fire people” who provide services to him — yes, it was said about insurance companies, but the words weren’t the ones a former takeover king needed to say. He declared, in all seriousness, that discussions of income inequality were only driven by envy, and should be discussed, not by politicians, but away from the public in “quiet rooms.” He said that he didn’t make much money on speaking fees — fees that were running around $360,000 a year. He admitted that he pays just 15 percent in taxes — a rate about half of that paid by most Americans, that, yes, is legal, but certainly doesn’t make him seem like a man of the people.
And worst of all, as his opponents on the right attacked him for being out-of-touch, Romney flailed, trying to argue that the attacks were driven by a hatred of capitalism. He said that he’d created one hundred thousand jobs while at Bain, then ten thousand, then “thousands,” then back to one hundred thousand. He simply could not find a counterattack that worked.
And remember — this is, was, and always will be Mitt’s Achilles heel. He comes across as an out-of-touch plutocrat because he is an out-of-touch plutocrat, a guy who really does think $360,000 is not that much money.
A better politician could cover that. A better politician would work to learn, if only by rote, that average Americans aren’t nearly as well off as they are, and that they have to learn to communicate in ways that don’t advertise that fact.
But Mitt is not a good politician. He has a glass jaw. And while he probably will still win the Republican nomination — after all, look at the craptacular field he’s running against — he’s looking more and more like a fatally flawed candidate.
Now, Mitt is in serious trouble. Newt is leading — and likely to win — South Carolina, which was always Mitt’s firewall. Mitt’s national support is in freefall. If he loses South Carolina, he could be in jeopardy of losing the nomination. And even if he somehow muddles through, he’s now viewed as seriously damaged goods by Republicans and Democrats alike.
Throughout Obama’s term, I’ve argued that we are essentially living a mirror-universe 1980s, with Obama playing the part of alternate Reagan. If that’s the case, then we’ve entered mirror-1984. And if the economy is indeed picking up — as it appears to be — and it Mitt wins the nomination — as he still probably will — this could end up echoing that election. If Mitt loses the nomination — well, then Obama could do nothing but sing Al Green songs until 2013.
2. Fmr. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga. (LR: 5)
But with Perry departing the race, and Santorum unable to get his campaign into gear, Newt is really the only quasi-viable candidate left who can take out Mitt. And while I don’t know as “take out Mitt” is quite enough for Newt to win by itself, it’s definitely enough to make life very hard on Romney in the interim.
The other thing working in Newt’s favor is that he is willing, as he always has been, to be precisely as evil as he needs to be to win the day. In South Carolina, that’s meant being flat-out racist (the code — “No, I just said ‘poor, inner city children are lazy bums.’ I never talked about their race.” — isn’t so much a dog-whistle as a foghorn). When he attacked Juan William with a dripping, condescending, “Now, Juan,” hitting his name as if it was an epithet, he was echoing the worst impulses of those who bought into the Southern Strategy.
Is Newt racist? Does it matter? He’s certainly willing to use racism to win in South Carolina. And all signs are that it’s working. It’s depressing, but racism, misogyny, homophobia, and religious bigotry are all that’s holding the right together these days, so I can’t say as I’m surprised.
Newt should win in South Carolina. Really, the only question is by how much. If he does…well, South Carolina picks Republican nominees. It’s done so every single time since Reagan. That could be tested if Newt wins; Romney is still the odds-on favorite to win, for a variety of reasons. But thanks to Mitt’s loss in Iowa, should Newt win South Carolina he’ll have won as many states as Romney. What’s more, if Santorum fades (more on him in a moment), Newt has a great chance in Florida. At the very least, Newt is back in the game in a major, major way. At best, Newt could win the nomination.
3. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas (LR: 3)
Paul continues to putter along, pulling about a fifth of the vote, not rising, not falling. Will he win the nomination? No. Will he send some Ronulans to the GOP convention? Sure. Will he run as a third-party candidate? Maybe. We’ll see soon enough.
What is interesting, I think, is that the Paul flirtation on the left seems to be dimming somewhat. I’ll get into the polling when we hit the third party section, but suffice to say that Paul is pulling much more from Republicans than Democrats. Of course, that makes sense: Paul’s politics are, at heart, the politics of Pat Buchanan, only not quite so anti-gay. Yes, that makes him anti-war, sort of. Pitchfork Pat is, too.
Paul will end 2012 like he did in 2008 — he’ll have his supporters, he’ll be a potential candidate in 2016 if he’s still alive — but he has no chance of actually winning the GOP nomination. He never did.
4. The Rev. Sir Dr. Stephen T. Colbert, DFA (LR: NR)
Colbert makes his debut in the rankings at number four, because he’s certainly driving a significant part of the conversation. Yes, as Chuck Todd managed to discover, Colbert is making a mockery of the post-Citizens United landscape. But it so desperately needs to be mocked. Indeed, what we have now is an almost worst-of-all-possible-worlds scenario, where companies are able to funnel money to shadowy groups that “don’t” coordinate with campaigns.
There could be changes made to the system that would at least mitigate the damage. The absurdly broad loopchasms could be tightened; reporting requirements could be improved; and frankly, campaign donation limits could be removed until we can find a way to overturn Citizens United, because it would be better if this money was going to the campaigns directly. At least they’d be accountable.
Colbert obviously won’t win the presidency, and he’s obviously not trying to. But at the very least, he’s shining a spotlight on the serious problems that plague our campaign financing system. And in so doing, he’s managed to explain the problems with our system far better than the media in this country. That’s to his credit. And it’s a serious indictment of not just our campaigns, but our media.
5. Fmr. Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Penn. (LR: 2)
The Frothy Mix won the Iowa Caucuses Thursday. Unfortunately, the good news came too late. South Carolina is clearly more for Gingrich than Santorum, and if he finishes a distant fourth there, as appears likely, it’s hard to see how he can continue on.
Santorum blew it, because Santorum really is a lousy candidate. He’s not especially adroit, he’s not especially charismatic, and his positions on contraception put him outside the mainstream of even the Republican Party. Moreover, he just doesn’t know how to shovel the red meat to the base the way Newt always has.
About the only way Santorum can continue on is if he surprises in South Carolina. The bad news is that if he surprises in South Carolina, it will probably be at Newt’s expense, and if that happens, Romney probably wins South Carolina and ends the race. At this point, I think it’s clear the GOP race is down to two men. Santorum is not one of them.
6. Sarah-Jeb B. Christie-Jindal (LR: 6)
The White Knight is still a possibility. Mitt clearly has the glass jaw that Republicans feared he had, and Newt…well, Newt is great for running a campaign that echoes George Wallace, but that’s kind of a problem if you actually want to win.
If Romney can pull out of his nosedive, I think the powers that be will leave well enough alone. Romney will probably lose in November, but he (probably) won’t embarrass himself, or blow the party up with him. But if Mitt struggles, and it looks like a long and bloody fight is going to engulf the party, or — worse — that Newt’s gonna win, I could see, say, Jeb Bush stepping forward as a healing figure. Likely? Probably not, for a variety of reasons. But possible.
Now, if someone does jump in, it would have to be someone who could plug into a national organization. That’s a very short list. McCain could, but he’s already been tried and found wanting. Sarah Palin has a bit of national organization, kinda-sorta, but nothing that’s capable of running an actual campaign. The other oft-touted candidates — Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal — would all have to build a national organization on the fly, while undergoing a seriously intensive vetting by an outraged Romney and/or Gingrich.
For that reason, I really think that if there’s a white knight, it will have to be the former governor of Florida, Jeb Bush. He could plug into his brother’s and father’s network, he’s got good name recognition, and he meets threshold credibility. Of course, Jeb would lose badly, because there’s really no way Jeb can pretend his brother was never president, which has been the strategy of all GOP candidates so far. But Jeb could at least lose with dignity, unlike Newt. He is the only option if the GOP decides on a “somebody else” strategy. For that reason, I doubt he’s gonna be the guy, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility yet.
7. Fmr. La. Gov. Buddy Roemer (LR: 9)
Will Roemer be a factor there? Well, he certainly won’t be any less of a factor than he has been in the Republican race. But while he meets the main Americans Elect criteria — he’s old! he’s white! he’s sort of moderish! — he doesn’t really have the name recognition or national interest to make that party anything more than the pretend sideline that it’s been.
That doesn’t mean Roemer’s going away, of course. Candidates like Roemer never go away. He’ll be running well into 2014. Running as fast as he can, far beyond the horizon. Godspeed, Buddy. Godspeed.
8. Fred Karger (LR: 11)
Karger continues to be the least interesting candidate in the field. It’s not just that he’s not in the debates. It’s not just that he’s not planning on a third-party run. It’s this: can you think of anything Fred Karger’s done over the course of this race? Anything? I mean, Buddy Roemer’s complained that he didn’t get on Twitter. Gary Johnson got some non-endorsement love from Glenn Greenwald.Vermin Supreme’s glitter-bombed He Who Must Not Be Named. He Who Must Not Be Named is running graphic anti-choice ads during the Super Bowl.
But what has Karger done? What has he accomplished? Where is his influence on the race? Yes, he’s a gay Republican. So how has he pushed the causes of gay rights? How has he influenced the campaign?
And don’t tell me to look it up. First, I’ve been following the race far closer than anyone should. Second, it’s not my job to get Karger’s message out. It’s Karger’s. Say what you will about Buddy Roemer, but he’s marketed himself very well. Karger? Not so much.
And so Karger can go on, or not; it doesn’t really matter. He’s not influencing the campaign in any way, shape, or form. He’s an insult to hopeless vanity candidates.
Falling Out: Rick Perry (4), Jon Huntsman (7), Michele Bachmann (8),
Jimmy McMillan (10)
1. President Barack Obama (LR: 1)
I really don’t know how Obama could be having a better campaign season so far. The Republicans have been hammering Mitt Romney — their only candidate with a chance of beating Obama — and doing so using liberal memes. The GOP attacking Mitt is great, but attacking him for firing people while at Bain? For being elitist? For not paying as much as we plebes? That is a dream come true.
Add to it Mitt’s never-ending series of gaffes, Newt pushing the party into Bircher territory, and the fact that this trainwreck appears to be gathering steam, and Obama is really in about as good a position as he could possibly be in. And that’s before you factor in the slow-but-steady improvement in the economy, one that’s starting to register with people in the country at large.
Obama will win the Democratic nomination; that much is assured. This week showed that, while it will take a lot of work, if that work is undertaken, Obama is likely to win reelection. It’s not certain, of course — nothing ever is in politics. But it’s more likely than not, and it’s more likely today than it was in December.
2. Vermin Supreme (LR: NR)
I had totally not realized that Vermin Supreme was running. I don’t have much to say about him, although I always have loved his boot-hat. And the fact that he glitter-bombed that anti-choice douchebag justifies his continued campaign for office.
Of course, Supreme rarely keeps up his race much past New Hampshire, because unlike Fred Karger, he realizes that once you’re made your point, you move on. So I doubt Supreme is going to mount a national campaign. But I wouldn’t mind if he did. He’s got better fashion sense
than Santorum, a better platform than Gingrich, and he’s less of a douchebag than Romney. Of course, that’s really true of all of us.
3. He Who Must Not Be Named (LR:3)
The anti-choice douchecanoe is still allegedly running, primarily so he can run graphic anti-choice ads during the Super Bowl. You know those really graphic anti-choice ads that they like to hold up outside of events? The ones that make everyone hate the anti-choicers, even moderate anti-choicers? Yeah, they’re going to do that, but on television, during the Super Bowl.
And I, for one, am glad. Nobody human wants those ads up during the Super Bowl. People want to be left alone. If the ads have any effect, it will be to anger America, not at abortion, but at the jerks who ran the ad. And so I guess we should thank He Who Must Not Be Named. He’s going to help the pro-choice cause with his run. That doesn’t make him not scum, of course. But at least he’s doing more for us than he did for his side.
Falling Out: Uncommitted (2)
1. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas (Libertarian) (LR: 2)
Paul edges up to the top spot on the independent list, based on the fact that people seem willing to poll about him being a third-party candidate, and not so much anyone else (other than Gary Johnson – more on him in a minute).
If Paul runs as a Libertarian, it would pretty much eliminate any chance for the GOP to win the presidency. In a hypothetical matchup of Obama, Romney, and Paul, Paul draws two-thirds of his support from Romney backers. Not only does this indicate that Paul is who we thought he is — a paleoconservative with a libertarian veneer — but it shows that reports of a huge liberal groundswell for Paul have been greatly exaggerated. It’s hard for liberals to support a guy who’s anti-choice, thinks gay marriage should be illegal if states want it to be illegal, and wants to zero out Social Security. And Paul most definitely is that guy.
Will Paul run? I don’t know. It would be foolish of him to do so. On the other hand, the guy has an ego, and he may run just based on that. As a Democrat, I’m obviously hoping he does.
2. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (Americans Elect) (LR: 1)
Bloomberg has given no indication he’s running, but I can’t shake the feeling that he’s Americans Elect’s dream candidate. He’s exactly the kind of guy that the Beltway folk love — vaguely authoritarian, willing to make the underclass knuckle under, happy to put the focus on deficits rather than pesky things like taxes.
But while I think Bloomberg is the guy that the Guys Who Dream of a Bland White Warrior dream of, I’m not sure if Bloomberg is willing to pull the trigger. He’s been here before, in 2008, and he didn’t run then, either. Will he decide that 2012’s the time? I kind of doubt it. But until he’s recruited by Americans Elect and turns them down, he’s on the list.
3. Fmr. N.M. Gov. Gary Johnson (Libertarian) (LR: 3)
Johnson pulls about 7 percent in national polls when run against Obama and Romney; that’s 7 percent more than he’d actually get if he were running. But it’s enough that Johnson should actually get a bit of publicity, assuming that Paul doesn’t steal it by making a third-party bid himself.
Would Johnson affect the race? Probably not much. He takes more from Romney than Obama, but given that he’ll probably take less than 1 percent of the vote, it probably won’t be decisive.
Johnson, of course, should be the Libertarian Party’s nominee, rather than Paul; Johnson is a much more traditional libertarian ideologically. But I’m guessing if it comes down to Johnson and Paul, the Ronulans will seize control of the Libertarian Party. Which would be…well, pretty indistinguishable from the state of affairs before.
4. Donald Trump (Americans Elect) (LR:4)
He’s been bankrupt
He kinda sucks
Trump lingered last for humility
Thinks he could lead the country from sea to shining sea
He cut his pizza, after that he chewed
Is Trump gonna run? Well if his show isn’t renewed….
He bought his hair
He doesn’t care
Is this Trump running this fall? I think no.
Does this Trump have much of a chance? I think no.
Is this Trump kind of a dick? I think so.
If he runs, will he get his butt kicked? I think so.
5. Fmr. La. Gov. Buddy Roemer (Americans Elect) (LR: NR)
Roemer actually would make a good candidate for a new, moderate third party if it wasn’t Americans Elect. Roemer is pretty moderate, really does straddle the two parties ideologically, and wouldn’t be an altogether terrible fit for them.
Unfortunately, he lacks zazz, star power, a certain je ne sais qua. He’s no Joe Lieberman, I’ll tell you that. And so while he could, and probably should, be the Americans Elect nominee, something tells me they’ll find someone else — or quietly fold, just like Unity08 before them.
6. Robby Wells (Constitution) (LR: NR)
Robby Wells is a former head football coach at Savannah State University, an HBCU in Savannah, Georgia. Wells himself is white. After rolling up an impressive 7-15 record in two seasons, Wells was fired, and being the kind of guy who’d eventually seek the Constitution Party’s nomination, he sued for racial discrimination, ultimately settling out of court.
The main question at this point is whether Wells can win the Constitution Party’s endorsement. His platform actually puts him to the left of the Republican Party, although, to be fair, there really is no ideological space left to the right of the Republican Party. Wells benefits primarily from the fact that nobody else seems to be seeking the CP’s endorsement. Wait. What’s that? Is — is that — Alan Keyes’ music?
It isn’t? Oh well. A guy can dream.
7. Pastor Terry Jones (Independent) (LR: NR)
You may remember Jones from the time he tried and failed to burn a Qur’an. Well, he’s back, and this time he’s running for president. Or something. I assume he’s running on a pro-burning Qur’an platform.
The main thing Jones makes me think is this: both he and John Bolton have goofy white mustaches. Is that a thing? Is it that if you hate Muslims, you have to grow a goofy white mustache? Or does your goofy white mustache make you so mad that you lash out at the obvious culprit — Muslims? Maybe it’s a chicken-or-egg thing. I don’t know. All I know is that if my mustache ever goes simultaneously white and goofy, I’m shaving.
8. Kent Mesplay (Green) and/or Jill Stein (Green) (LR: NR)
Mesplay and Stein are running for the nomination of the Green Party, and I think this is a good thing. Not because I know anything about either Mr. Mesplay or Ms. Stein — I don’t, other than that they’re probably to my left on most issues. No, what’s good is that they’re unknown activists working on building their party, which is exactly who the Greens should nominate.
Three of the four Green Party tickets have been headed by gadflies — Ralph Nader in 1996 and 2000, Cynthia McKinney in 2008. And it’s badly damaged the party. Yes, Nader drew 2 million votes in 2000. But when Nader flounced out of the party in 2004, it became apparent that he really hadn’t built the party at all. McKinney’s bid was ineffective as well.
Mesplay and/or Stein are unlikely to draw a few million votes. But they will help build the party. Now, I think it unlikely that the Greens in America will ever be more than a fringe party — our system discourages third parties, generally. But they’ll grow a lot more from the grass roots than they will from the top down.
10. Roseanne Barr (Green Tea) (LR: NR)
I am not making this up. Roseanne Barr — last seen growing nuts in Hawai’i — has decided to run for president as a member of the “Green Tea” party. And for those of you who follow the Twitter, you know that Roseanne has launched her campaign by being kind of a puritopian jerk.
Will it play in Peoria? I strongly doubt it. Especially since it’s really easy to say you’re running for president, but much harder to actually run for president. I suspect Roseanne views this as a way to grab some cheap publicity and go.
Still, it’s early, so at least the run is entertaining. Of course, by November she’ll be elected President, only to tell us later that all of reality is a novel that she wrote, and really her kids are married to each other’s fictional spouses and her husband is dead. And that will be unforgivable.