Monday, February 20, 2012

Showdown At The Tax Cut Corral

Even as President Obama is savoring the temporary extension of the payroll tax cut through the end of the year, reporters already see blood in the water, warning us about the "perfect storm" that will occur at the end of this calendar year when that tax, along with the so-called "Bush tax cuts" that were originally enacted in 2001 (and extended at the end of 2010 for 2 years by the President and Congress) expire. A Washington Post headline on February 19, 2012 warns of a "Taxmageddon" that will hit working Americans on December 31, 2012, when things like the child tax credit, various income tax rates, the payroll tax and others revert to their "pre-cut" rates.

So how did we get here?  Policy postmortems are as helpful as they are disfavored for shedding light on these types of questions.  The media far prefer to focus on today's food fight instead of dissecting the problem, but in this case, it's particularly important not only to understand why this "Taxmageddon" looms, but also to see it as an opportunity for the President to frame, in terms far sharper than the simple, but ill-defined "Buffett Rule," why tax policy needs to be fundamentally changed. 

Back in 2001, we were a nation awash in budget surpluses.  The Fiscal Year 2001 budget surplus Bill Clinton left for George W. Bush was roughly $236 billion and projections indicated that our entire national debt would be paid off by 2014.  Pretty sweet, right?  In the name of the American people, Bush famously went to Congress "asking for a refund" - namely a massive tax cut that disproportionately favored the wealthy that had 2 quirks in it that were underreported at the time but would turn out to be highly relevant years later: (1) the legislation passed through a procedure called "reconciliation," which meant that in the Senate, it was immune from the filibuster (this same procedure would ultimately be used to pass the Affordable Care Act, with the same Republicans who advocated its use for the tax cuts bemoaning its use for health care.  Go figure.); and (2) the bill included a "sunset" provision - that is, it automatically expired on December 31, 2010.  The sunset provision allowed the bill to avoid two thorny problems: the "Byrd" rule, that allowed legislation to be blocked if it substantially increased the deficit after 10 years and it lowered the "sticker shock" of the tax cut to roughly $1.6 trillion, something that, at a time of massive surpluses, avoided making the cuts look reckless. 

Two years later, an additional round of tax cuts were passed that accelerated certain parts of the 2001 bill and also utilized reconciliation without changing the sunset provision of the initial legislation. Of course, these acts of Republican political sleight of hand (or perhaps the more accurate term is "bait and switch") were ticking time bombs that landed in the laps of the President and Congress in late 2010, in the middle of a deep recession and hot on the heels of a Republican blowout in the mid-term elections. Republicans successfully leveraged Democratic weakness into a 2 year extension of all the Bush tax cuts, now set to expire at the end of this year and although the bill only provided a one year payroll tax cut, the President turned the tables on Republicans and, between some brinksmanship in December and earlier this month, got that cut extended until the end of this year as well. 

Whether or not to extend none, some or all of the Bush tax cuts will be a big discussion both at the Presidential level and in other national races this year; however, the issue also highlights three basic contradictions in Republican rhetoric: First, Republicans claim that tax increases on the wealthy will stunt growth; Second, they claim job creation is stunted so long as "job creators" (a wonderfully slick, if misleading label) don't have certainty in the tax system; and finally, that fiscal responsibility is needed because of our rapidly increasing national debt.  

Let's consider these arguments in turn.  The one thing rich people always "do," regardless of the tax rates, is "well." Tax rates were level from 2001-present, yet growth was anemic for everyone but the very wealthy throughout the Bush Administration, which ended with, oh, the closest we have come to a Great Depression Part II.  George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton raised taxes on the very wealthy and Clinton presided over the largest peacetime expansion since World War II, an expansion that was broad and deep and reached the middle class. Which is all to say that conflating tax and economic policy is sketchy at best.  

Ok, but what about those vaunted "job creators."  Surely we cannot have this type of uncertainty in our tax policy and expect to grow, right?  Well, not so much.  Private sector job growth over the past two years has been robust, with more than 3.5 million jobs created, at precisely the time of greatest "uncertainty" about tax policy.  The Bush years?  Not so much.  After the Great Recession hit, almost the entire net private sector growth that had taken place under President Bush (which was not that significant in the first place) was washed away.  Of course, it goes without saying that during the Clinton Era, when taxes were raised on the very wealthy, more than 22 million new net jobs were created.  

So if tax policy and economic growth are not correlated, and the uncertainty of tax policy has nothing to do with whether jobs are created, we do have that $15 trillion debt to pay down, some amorphous Social Security deficit way out in 2036 and a Medicare problem later this decade.  We need austerity, right? On this point, both parties are being disingenuous. Most Republicans have come out for a complete, permanent extension of the Bush tax cuts at a 10 year cost of $4 trillion.  President Obama wants an extension for everyone but those married couples earning more than $250,000 and single people earning more than $200,000 at a cost of about $3.3 trillion.  Of course, because President Bush did away with "pay as you go" rules, no rational politician wants to pony up a dollar for dollar cut in government spending to pay for all of this.  

And here is where the rubber meets the road and where the President (or some forward thinking Republican for that matter) has a golden opportunity to frame the way tax policy will look on January 1, 2013.  For the President, it has not been for a lack of trying that taxes on the "rich" have not been raised; however, even in that debate, the knee jerk nervousness Democrats have to the idea of higher taxes has shown its head - first, when the President agreed to extend the Bush tax cuts and second, when prominent Democrats in Congress started moving the bar up on the income level at which income taxes should be raised (Senator Schumer ultimately landed on $1 million and up).

The majority of Americans favor taxing "the rich" (which at the $250,000 mark accounts for about 2 percent of wage earners in our country) and I include myself in that group.  The wealthy have gorged on easy credit, corporate profits and the decades long run up in the stock market.  Wealth inequality is at its highest point since 1928 and the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans own 40 percent of our nation's wealth.  The President should rightly insist on higher rates for those in the $250,000 to $1 million range; however, I would suggest that he go further and look at several other ideas: (1) add tax brackets at the "super wealthy" levels, say of $1 million, $5 million and/or $10 million, $20 million, etc.; (2) take a page from Mitt Romney and exempt people earning less than $100,000 (Romney has a $200,000 floor) from capital gains taxes; (3) raise taxes on carried interest and on capital gains among those earning more than $500,000 from income, interest or dividends; and (4) raise the maximum taxable earnings ceiling on Social Security (currently at $110,100) paid by employees to $250,000 (allow employers to retain the ceiling as currently constructed).  

I know, I must sound like some wild-eyed hippie who just defrosted with a McGovern '72 button on his bead jacket, but the reality is that we will not pay down our debt, or reduce our long-term deficit, without generating more revenue and yes, by revenue I mean "tax increases."  If you are feeling bad for the 1%, don't, like I said, they do well regardless of what tax policy is, it may just be they are not dirty, filthy rich, just filthy rich.  After all, in addition to 40 percent of the nation's wealth, that 1 percent receives 24 percent of our income, owns 50 percent of all stocks, bonds and mutual fund investments and hold only 5 percent of our nation's personal debt.  In other words, they won't go broke by having to dig a little deeper into their wallets, especially when, as noted before, income inequality is at its highest point since just before the Great Depression.  

The other thing rich people like being is rich.  So the idea that somehow raising taxes will stop them from working, hiring others to work for them, or, laughably, moving out of the country, is pure political non-sense.  At one point in our not too distant past, people at the top of the income ladder were taxes at 91% - trust me, there was no massive outflow of people to third world tax havens or Europe.  Indeed, Republicans constantly beat the drum for American exceptionalism - the idea that our most successful people would pack up and leave for parts unknown runs counter to this thought.  Moreover, our current tax system is regressive - it taxes things like capital gains (which the wealthy earn in spades) much lower than ordinary income (which the middle class and poor rely on).  This is the genesis of Obama's so-called "Buffett Rule," and it makes sense.  Taxes should be more progressive so that the more you earn, the more you pay.

Unfortunately for President Obama, he has his own credibility deficit when it comes to fiscal prudence because the extension of Bush tax cuts for the rest of us will cost more than $3 trillion over 10 years.  Of course, suggesting that taxes be raised on the "bottom 98%" will not sit well, and would probably not be prudent in an election year, but the reality is that any compromise that asks the wealthy to pay significantly more in taxes will require some concessions on the other end of the spectrum.  One possibility would be the insertion of a new tax bracket within what is currently the 28 percent bracket ($85,651-$178,650) at say, $150,000 and another within what is currently the 33 percent ($178,651-$388,350)(figures are for married couples filing jointly) at $250,000.  These increases would hit very few households relative to the population but would spread the pain a little more broadly.  

Another suggestion would be to examine the option of allowing people under the age of 65 to buy into Medicare for a premium that they would continue to pay after they reached 65 - basically, the opposite of how Social Security works by lowering your pay out if you retire early and apply for benefits. Medicare delivers quality coverage at far lower overhead or administrative costs and would also benefit private insurers who are less eager to carry older, but non-Medicare eligible Americans on their plans because of increased costs.  
But what about that bloated federal budget?  You know the one Republicans are railing against as littered with waste, pork barrel spending and foreign aid.  Again, a brief primer is instructive.  Only 35 percent (roughly $1.3 trillion) of our budget is "discretionary" - that roughly one-third of the budget pays for all of our defense spending and the other cabinet agencies, Congress, and the courts.  The other 65 percent ($2.5 trillion)?  About 59 percent of that is for "mandatory" spending (e.g., Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Food Stamps, Unemployment Insurance, etc.) and the other roughly 6 percent is payment on the national debt. In other words, if we eliminated the federal government (settle down, Ron Paul), we would run a small budget surplus, but would not have a military, environmental protection, national parks, federal law enforcement, a way to pay for transportation costs, or about 1000 other things that the federal government funds through our tax receipts.  

So what is there to do?  How can the President show that he's not just about raising taxes and pay some lip service to the need for budget cutting (even though the federal government is pretty lean as it is?).  If the President wanted to offer some concessions, he could cap agency growth (including defense), or even call for across the board reductions.  Some modest tweaks to things like backfilling of retired employees or modest increases to pension contributions will not make a big difference in the big scheme of things, but could show negotiating good faith.  The President has also called for tax incentives for "insourcing" by companies willing to bring jobs back to our shores and even a modest reduction in the corporate tax rate should be considered since the 35% rate is one many corporations avoid as it is.  Moreover, were the ceiling raised on wages subject to Social Security, depending on how high the ceiling was raised (or eliminated altogether), the actuarial deficit in Social Security would be eliminated for 75 years (although this would require the employer match to go up, something I do not advocate).  Cool!

Ok, now that I've shown myself to be the right wing fantasy of a "tax and spend" liberal, let me ask what the alternative Republicans have offered is?  If history is any guide, it's something far more fiscally reckless - "borrow and spend."  We hear a lot about this $15 trillion debt, but we hear less about how it was accumulated.  For example, President Bush cut taxes, passed into law a prescription drug benefit for seniors under Medicare and launched 2 wars on the government's credit card - those policies, which cost (literally) trillions of dollars were all implemented by borrowing money which has to be paid back.  In fact, nearly 43 percent of our accumulated national debt is attributable to President Gentleman's "C" with another roughly 24 percent still being paid off from our first flirtation with supply side economics under Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.  President Obama's contribution?  About 16 percent.  Bill Clinton? A little less than 10 percent (with the balance being debt prior to 1981).  So the next time a Republican goes off about our debt problem, remind them that roughly two-thirds of it was rung up by Reagan and the Bush family.

In terms of actual plans, Congressman PX-90, I mean Ryan, put forward a budget plan last year.  What did Congressman Ryan propose?  First, a permanent extension of the Bush tax cuts (we've seen how fiscally reckless that is). Second, repeal of "Obamacare" (at a cost of $1.4 trillion over 10 years and no plan for helping to cover the 32 million who will be covered under the Affordable Care Act). Third, a 4 percent unemployment rate in 2015.  Evidence?  None.  Just magical budget mumbo jumbo to help him justify his numbers.  Finally, and most controversially, eliminating Medicare as a guaranteed, government provided medical plan and replacing it in 2022 with vouchers that seniors would use to buy private insurance in the marketplace.  The cost to seniors?  Double what they pay under Medicare with no cap on the rate of inflation in health care, resulting in an even greater imbalance between the voucher provided and the coverage offered over time.  All in all, Ryan would tack on $6 trillion to the national debt over 10 years while doing away with a hugely successful (and popular) health care program for the elderly while redistributing even more wealth to the already wealthy. Kind of speaks for itself, no?

The perfect tax policy storm that will occur at the end of this year offers the President a great opportunity to reframe the broader debate about fairness and equity as it relates to our tax policy.  If Republicans attempt another "hostage taking" of the 98 percent to get tax extensions raised for the 2 percent, I would encourage him to call their bluff.  One of two things will happen - either the Republicans will cave and taxes will actually go up on the wealthy or all the tax cuts will expire, which will allow the President to blame Republicans for raising taxes while also putting him in a strong position to advocate for a more progressive reform in 2013.  

Additional Reading: 

Fun facts about rich people:

For more on the debt accumulated by under recent Presidents:

For more on tax rates: Income_tax_in_the_United_States#Year_2012_income_brackets_and_tax_rates

For more on the annual budget: and

For more on the Social Security Trust Fund & the effect of raising the ceiling on taxes subject to taxation:

For more on Ryan's Budget:, and

Twitter: @scarylawyerguy

Friday, February 17, 2012

The "Refs" Rig The Game - Political Journalism In 2012

After Newt Gingrich won the South Carolina primary, New York magazine writer John Heileman observed that Gingrich's victory would result in several days of significant (and free) media  coverage because "the media want this race to go on …" that the coverage Gingrich would get would be "more favorable  … than he would ordinarily [get] from people who would normally give him tougher scrutiny."  These observations led the colorfully named "Balloon Juice" blogger John Cole to note that Heileman's comment confirmed that the media views itself as not needing "to inform or deal with facts - it is to horse race and get page hits." To which Heileman, in his February 6, 2012 column for New York observed "I'm not endorsing this reality, I'm just describing it." 


Shakespeare might think that Mr. Heileman doth protest too much.  In fact, the ready excuse many in journalistic circles use to defend their reporting is precisely the same - do not blame us.  We are just the flies on the wall observing the event and describing it.  We hold no position pro or con about it.  When the New York Times Public Editor asked (rhetorically, one hopes) whether Times reporters should be "truth vigilantes," the feedback was both immediate and intense among those who think the media has, in recent years, fallen down on the job of reporting facts (and fiction) instead of the "he said/she said" that passes as balance.  

More than 40 years ago, Walter Cronkite crystallized the anti-war movement by calling the Vietnam War unwinnable.  A declaration like that would have gotten Cronkite branded anti-American when George W. Bush was President.  Indeed, Republicans happily ran two campaigns (2002 & 2004) explicitly challenging those who did not support the President's foreign policy adventures as just that.  When Bush's Chief of Staff Andrew Cards famously said, in reference to the lead up to the Iraq War that "from a marketing point of view, you don't introduce new products in August," his comment barely made a ripple even as the Administration baldly did exactly what Card said they would - roll out their "product" (the war) that fall, with speeches, strategically leaked quotes to journalists and dark visions of smoking guns turned to mushroom clouds.  

Lost in that marketing campaign was a small, but concerted effort by some reporters to actually *gasp* investigate the claims that were being trumpeted by Judy Miller on the front page of The New York Times and the largely unchallenged assertions of a cavalcade of Administration officials in places as diverse as Meet the Press and the halls of the United Nations.  The fog of that long war has resulted in a fair amount of revisionist history and spin by the people who launched it to pretend like everyone was sucked into some weird group think and that no one questioned, at the time, how specious the arguments for going to war actually were, but the reality, as uncovered by journalists like Tom Ricks, was quite the opposite.

The years since President Bush directed the invasion of Iraq have seen the media hoard become more active performers in what now passes for political theater.  Where opinion columns were once reserved for august "wise men" they are now turned over to snarky polemists like Dana Milbank and pendants like David Brooks.  Reporters who were once memorialized in the seminal book "The Boys on the Bus," are now tweeting in real time about their very own "wheels up" from destinations on the campaign trail and dropping zingers about poor music choice and crowd size.  Lastly, the inside the Beltway zeitgeist is captured in the dishy Playbook written by Politico ace Mike Allen, who serves as his own one man PR machine by promoting its headlines on morning talk shows and then amplifying his (and his colleagues) reporting throughout the day via yet more appearances and of course, his Twitter feed.  Allen frames the "conventional wisdom" for each day, around which campaigns and elected officials prepare responses and rebut charges.  Of course, the amplification of the very issues Allen highlights merely serves to reinforce their veracity, unless, of course, the facts change, in which case the media scrum moves as one to the new way of thinking, without ever recognizing its error in the first place. 

To what end this all comes is unclear.  As newspapers have closed down, those that have survived have consolidated their newsrooms and, in many cases, reduced staffing in critical areas, the type of investigative reporting that used to drive journalism and helped uncover graft, scandal and wrongdoing at all levels of government and throughout the private sector is going by the wayside and being replaced with an endless supply of cable TV talking heads who parse political tempests in tea pots while all too often missing more important stories that have a greater impact on people's lives.  For example, while there is no question that the recent debate about federal health care policy regarding contraception deserved attention, the media was all too quick to be sucked into the swirl of the back and forth instead of doing the hard reporting that, after more than a week, sussed out important points, including the fact that Republicans from George W. Bush to Mitt Romney had supported such policies in the past, that the policy itself was broadly supported (including by Catholics) and that even so, relative to other issues of the day, it was barely a blip on the collective radar screen of the American people.  But instead of calling out Republican hypocrisy, or, even better, not feeding the story the oxygen it needed to survive, media outlets gorged on the story by reporting on the conflict it created far more than they did on the policy itself. 

In this way, the chattering class has largely absolved itself from doing any actual reporting, and instead has become a combination Greek chorus, high school clique and professional wrestling angle where everyone is in on the joke and knows that the outcome is predetermined - the spokesperson for candidate "x" you are questioning in the afternoon will be the same guy you are socializing with at that evening's book release party.  Rare is the journalist equipped to ask, or express interest in, drilling below the canned talking points of politicians who are generally given free rein to hit their marks with little in the way of interruption or contradiction by their supposed interrogators.  It's all very incestuous because those same journalists rely on those same politicians to appear on their programs.  Cut too quick in your questioning and your booker is unlikely to receive a call back the next time a guest slot is open.  On the other hand, push just hard enough to create acceptable tension, without making things too uncomfortable, and everyone goes home happy. Everyone has their role to play in the staged performance of political theater, but rarely are any blows struck, reputations harmed or straw men debunked.  Instead, it is all just get fed into what Jon Stewart aptly called the "conflict-in-ator" with Americans serving as the lazy Roman audience collectively lifting or lowering their thumbs.  

This might seem like small potatoes in a media environment that has become ever more consolidated, but the deleterious effect on our national polity is far greater when reporters and journalists are not skeptics and instead become too close to the stories (and people) they cover.    For many years, the trope of a "liberal" slant in the media was either taken as an article of faith among conservatives or, if you are a bit more cynical, was one of the most effective means of, as then-RNC Chairman Rich Bond admitted in a moment of candor in 1992, "working the refs," a phrase that is familiar to any sports fan as a means of influencing future calls by coaches through pestering of the referees to show them how they screwed up prior calls.  The signal achievement, in many ways, of the modern Republican Party is not that they have successfully worked the refs to get "fair" treatment (that term long ago lost its meaning and became quite elastic) but rather, that the refs stopped being impartial a long time ago and are now fixing the game for the benefit of the combatants.  

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Right Wing Calculus For Abandoning Mitt Romney

At this year's Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) conference, the one thing all attendees agreed on was a desire to beat President Obama.  The conundrum for conservatives is who they think would be best able to carry the fight to the President.  Conservatives were never warm to John McCain and his selection of Sarah Palin notwithstanding, the electoral defeat he suffered was massive.  A similar discomfort now exists about Mitt Romney, who, for someone with such a thin political resume, has generated a terabyte's worth of sound bites that show him to be on both sides of many issues and making other statements that portray him as anything but "severely" conservative.  The unease that the party has with Romney is mitigated by the fact that the political chattering class and the GOP establishment is not sold on either Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich as a viable alternative.  While there is some low level buzz around the idea of a brokered convention, the idea of the party exposing itself to that level of dysfunction and throwing an untested candidate into the crucible of a general election with a huge fundraising disadvantage and no policy portfolio is simply not going to happen, no matter how badly talking heads fantasize about it.

So what does all of this mean for Republicans.  The collective hissy fit surrounding the Administration's decision about requiring employers to provide contraception was curiously timed, coming hot on the heels of the January jobs number, which showed 243,000 private sector jobs created (another 14,000 public sector jobs were lost, but Republicans don't really care about public workers) and upward revisions to the job numbers from November and December.  In all, the United States is closing in on 2 straight years of positive job growth (even with nearly 1 million fewer public sector jobs) and an economy that appears to be turning the corner.  Republicans' response?  It would be even better if Obama's policies were not in place and it was worse than it had to be before it got better.  Yeah, have fun with that.  

Unfortunately for Romney, who has pegged his entire campaign on the economy, these numbers, and more importantly, the longer-term trends, do not auger well for his ability to litigate a case of economic failure in the general election (his "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt" op/ed is probably not helpful either).  His inability to articulate a broader vision for the country or a legitimate rationale for his own candidacy can be seen in his ever changing stump speeches and messaging. Moreover, as Santorum appropriately mentioned, Romney's success in the primaries has been predicated in part on his huge financial advantage, something that won't exist in the general election.  

While there is a chance that Romney could collapse and Santorum (or Gingrich) could beat him, Romney must still be considered the betting favorite if for no other reason than the reasons the conventional wisdom continue to cite - money and electability.  The problem Republicans will find in putting their chips on the Romney bet is that it's unlikely to pay off and in fact, as the election draws closer, I would not at all be surprised if conservatives decide to sit on their hands and wait things out until 2016.  

Why would conservatives backtrack on their stated goal of making Obama a one-term President?  A few reasons quickly come to mind:

First, the fate of "Obamacare" will be determined before the election.  The Supreme Court is hearing oral argument on the Affordable Care Act in late March and will, unless something extraordinary happens (e.g., death of a Justice), issue its ruling in June.  If the Court upholds the individual mandate, the matter will be resolved and running to "repeal" Obamacare will lose a lot of its steam.  Conversely, if the Court strikes down the individual mandate (or the Act in totality), that too, would take the issue off the table.  If anything, the Court's striking down, whether its partial or full, of the ACA might hurt Republicans because parts of the law that are widely popular, like allowing kids to stay on their parents' health care plans until age 26 and prohibiting insurers from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions, would potentially go away.  In short, the heat that is generated by health care is going to be dramatically less come the end of June. 

Second, if anything has been learned from Obama's first term in office is that Republicans can successfully stonewall the President's agenda from Congress.  In 2012, even if the House falls back into Democratic hands, the Senate is likely to be even closer to 50-50, or, potentially switch to the Republicans, but one thing it will not be is anywhere close to a filibuster-proof 60-vote majority. If the top of the ticket is weak, conservative Republicans can comfort themselves knowing that Mitch McConnell will still pull every parliamentary trick in the book and that Harry Reid, if he is still the majority leader, will refuse to tweak the rules to stop him from doing it.  While any President in his second term can start solidifying the policy gains made during the first term, a Republican Congress, or even a minority in the Senate, can slow that momentum.  Moreover, the party out of power tends to gain seats during the off-year election (2014) in the other party's second term (think Democratic gains in 1986 and 2006), which would slow Obama's policy efforts even more.  

Third, Republicans perceive that their political bench is deep in 2016 and may be uncomfortable committing to Romney until 2020 (if he wins and then runs for a second term).  If conservative Republicans are not sold on Romney's bona fides, why would they want him to be their standard bearer for the next eight years when a litany of politicians, Chris Christie, Paul Ryan, Mitch Daniels, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush and others are waiting in the wings to run in four years.  As long as Congressional Republicans fight a rear guard action to slow Obama down, conservatives might be willing to hold off until 2016 when they can help nominate someone who truly shares their values and beliefs.  

Finally, and this ties in closely to the third point, winning a general election against the other party is usually easier when there is no incumbent on the ballot.  Conservatives may come to the simple conclusion that recent history indicates that the American people generally do not award either party a "third" term (GHWB in '88 notwithstanding), that the Democratic field in 2016 may not be that strong (Martin O'Malley? Mark Warner?) unless either Hilary Clinton or Governor Cuomo runs and thus, holding off until 2016 makes sense.  For those who think this type of "long war" philosophy may not hold, keep in mind that the conservative ascendency that occurred with Reagan's win in 1980 was predicated on Barry Goldwater's annihilation in the 1964 general election.  Conservatives felt snubbed by George H.W. Bush and then got a more than acceptable President (from their point of view) in his son, eight years later.  Indeed, Bush's loss in 1992 may have been good for the right wing cause because it removed a politician they did not see as sufficiently conservative.  The same may be true this year. 

Of course, all of this speculation will be moot if Romney does not win the nomination, but an improving economy and foreign policy successes (killing of Bin Laden, Libya, Iraq withdrawal, etc.) will leave very little for Republicans to run on against Obama. In that case, I have no doubt the right wing "tea party" types will happily sacrifice Romney on the electoral altar to get a chance at nominating who they think is a "true" conservative four years from now.  

Friday, February 10, 2012

Escape From Alcatraz

The worst phrase for my television viewing sanity is "from J.J. Abrams, creator of LOST."  I was consumed by LOST for years, exhaustively watching and re-watching episodes, hoping to find some easter egg clue in the DVD releases and then got a whopping nothing burger of a final season that sucked so bad, anytime the show's name comes up, I react like a Muggle hearing the name of "he who must not be named."  Of course, like a bad relationship that ends, but does not really end, the next time a J.J. Abrams-blessed show starts, I get sucked right back in.

Wisely, I watched the premiere of Person of Interest and bailed immediately.  A crime procedural wrapped around Ben Linus and the guy who played Jesus in The Passion of Christ was a total no-go for me.  When the promos for Alcatraz started running, I was mildly intrigued, but wary of getting involved in another bad romance with J.J. and the crew from Bad Robot.  The premise was LOST-ish  in that it has a LOST star (Jorge Garcia a/k/a "Hurley"), a sassy, yet street-wise female heroine, a mystery (inmates disappeared from Alcatraz in 1963 and are re-appearing in 2012) and an ambiguously good/bad male lead (Sam Neill).  

Unfortunately, the producers at Bad Robot took all the wrong lessons away from the fan backlash at the shitty ending to LOST.  The conventional wisdom said that "mythology" shows like LOST could not succeed because the mystery itself was what made the show interesting (not the answer) and therefore, continuing to build mystery upon mystery only made the show more byzantine and unbelievable, until it collapsed under its own weight.  To me, the take away was much simpler - don't produce shitty endings that piss off your fan base.  But hey, that's me.  

So what did the Bad Robot crew do?  They followed the conventional wisdom and dialed down the "mythology" aspect of Alcatraz to an afterthought and gave us what is basically a cops and robbers show with little in the way of compelling story telling, substituted the iconic LOST flashback "WHOOSH" with the more predictable (and overt) "rattling of jail cell" sound (and visual) just in case you didn't realize WE ARE FLASHING BACK IN TIME.  It's not even LOST 101, it's more like a remedial course in how to both submarine a good genre (mythology) and attach it, like a barnacle, to the lowest common denominator TV drama (the crime procedural).  

The mythology portion of the show - what happened to the inmates and guards that were on Alcatraz in 1963 - is touched on so elliptically (and briefly) this viewer sometimes forgets why it is we even care that random people with Brylcreemed hair are aimlessly roaming the streets of San Francisco.  Garcia's role as a "brilliant" (is there another kind in TV these days?) Ph.D and author is basically a warmed over version of his LOST character and Neill's FBI Agent Hauser is shifty and secretive but because so little time is invested in sprinkling clues about the mythology of why this is all occurring, he just comes off as dickish.  Yes, there is a hidden prison and some supporting tech geeks that can seemingly track down information and locations at the push of a button, but unlike LOST, which so deftly wove in the Island as a part of the story, especially in the first season, Alcatraz cannot seem to decide what kind of show it wants to be - a drama that is accessible to regular viewers or a new age LOST that will but attract the "fan boy" crowd.  Unfortunately, in trying to split the difference, the show is aimless and not particularly interesting.  

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Nobody Likes Mitt

The ragged march to the 2012 GOP nomination took another turn on Tuesday when Republican primary and caucus voters in Minnesota, Colorado and Missouri handed wins to former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum.  Just a week ago, Mitt Romney was basking in the glow of a big Florida win and a few days later, a win in the Nevada caucus.  The political chattering class was firing up the general election machine in preparation of a Romney vs. Obama contest while writing off Newt Gingrich and barely noting the presence of Santorum.  The dirty little secret the mainstream media seems to want to ignore is that the Republican electorate, or at least that portion that is showing up during the primaries and caucuses, simply does not like (or support) Mitt Romney.

The right's ambivalence toward Romney was apparent even before the voting began.  The run-up to the primary season was described by one wag as a "speed dating" experience for the GOP.  In the span of 6 months or so, polls variously showed everyone from Donald Trump to Michelle Bachmann leading the GOP race.  A boomlet for Rick Perry quickly faded, Gingrich rose and fell (under a barrage of Romney's negative ads), even Herman Cain had his moment in the sun.  Through all of this, polls showed Romney's support as steady and flat - somewhere between 18 and 25 percent, never spiking above, or dropping below, that level.  

The media's narrative seemed to bake into the primary cake the idea that Romney was "inevitable," for no other reasons other than what political hacks gauge things by - money, organization and whose "turn" it is.  While those explanations can be helpful, they can also be self-reinforcing even in the face of evidence to the contrary.  Even if Romney's 8 vote "win" in Iowa was not ultimately overturned, little was made of the fact that Romney received fewer votes in 2012 than he did in 2008 against a weaker, and more splintered field.  

Reporters underplayed Romney's performance in Iowa for two reasons: first, they knew he was likely to do well in New Hampshire and second, they did not see a "way forward" for the eventual winner of that caucus, Rick Santorum who didn't have those things that matter to the cognoscenti - money, organization or the "turn" at bat.  When Romney did win New Hampshire, the mainstream media simply fell back on its conventional wisdom of inevitability, ignoring the fact that in both contests, Republican turnout was lower than 2008 (a red flag if we are to believe Republicans are as eager to remove Obama as the media wants us to believe) and that Romney's "backyard" victory was expected.

When the race turned to South Carolina, Romney's weakness with the base of the Republican party became obvious.  He was trounced all over the state by Gingrich, who he had crushed before Iowa under a multi-million dollar wave of negative ads.  Indeed, Gingrich's defeat of Romney was so absolute that Romney's campaign "broke the glass" and pushed the emergency button between South Carolina and Florida - carpet bombing the Sunshine State in more than $15 million in negative attack ads and aggressively attacking Gingrich in the two debates that occurred in the week before Floridians voted.  The tactic worked and Romney easily won the contest.

Reporters fell back on the "firewall" idea after Florida.  That no competitor to Romney could gain traction because the Governor had these "firewalls" set up where even if he lost a contest or two, another one was in the offing that he would win.  Moreover, Romney's clear financial advantage was still looked to as the ultimate difference maker.  Romney's win 4 days later in Nevada seemed to take care of matters, but again, there was a story going on underneath the surface that the media were not covering.  Turnout in both Florida and Nevada was down, and while Romney did much better in Florida than he did in 2008, he did so at the cost of spiking his unfavorability rating, had no positive message (other than his inevitability) and seemed to rely not on personal popularity but making the other candidates appear unelectable.  Short-term, that might have helped, but even if he were to win the nomination, would put him in a bad spot in a general election.

And then came last night, where Romney did not leverage his money advantage or blitz the airwaves with negative campaign ads, he got crushed.  His voting total in Colorado (which he won in 2008) was down more than 32 percent and in Minnesota, a whopping 68% (he finished third, behind Santorum and Ron Paul).  In Missouri, he was swamped across the state, losing every county and showing again that the conservative base simply does not support him.  Even more alarming for the GOP, turnout in Minnesota was down by more than 20 percent from 2008.  

Ultimately, Romney's campaign is being propped up entirely by big donor money.  A candidate who has not even won the most caucuses and primaries trying to paint himself as inevitable is slowly withering on the vine.  Romney is disliked by the base of the Republican party, and his wins in 2012 have been confined to a "backyard" primary in New Hampshire, a state where he could destroy his opponent on the airwaves (Florida) and relied (in part) on a large Mormon population (Nevada).  Further, turnout among Republicans is down in every state except places where Romney lost (South Carolina and Colorado) and there, Romney's support was modest at best.  While the media may enjoy an extended primary season if for no other reason than it makes good copy, the longer the race goes on, the more it shows that the Republican electorate simply does not like Romney and the more the establishment of the party tries to reinforce his inevitability, the more the people who actually vote in these contests reject him.  

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Five People Who Will Help Decide The 2012 Presidential Election

Regardless of who the Republicans pick to go up against President Obama, the 2012 general election will pit two very well funded politicians against each other with the aid and support of small armies of supporters, surrogates and volunteers (not to mention deep pocketed fundraisers).  Here are 5 people to keep your eye on as we get closer to Election Day:

Karl Rove.  You thought "Turd Blossom" went away when W slithered out of office?  Not so.  In fact, Rove's influence over the modern Republican Party is if anything, greater than it was when he was performing dark arts out of the West Wing.  Rove now oversees American Crossroads and American Crossroads GPS.  Two groups, that if you have not heard of them yet, you will soon.  Rove now has former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour helping him fundraise what his organization claims will be $240 million for the 2012 cycle.  Whether they reach that goal or not, these two groups will be dropping huge sums of negative advertising on President Obama and vulnerable down-ballot Democrats.  Rove is a master of the negative attack ad and slash and burn politics that turned a decorated war hero into an effete flip flopper and an environmentalist and forward thinking computer wonk into a soulless beta male. 

Joe Biden.  Sheriff Joe has been the do-everything guy in the Obama Administration.  If Dick Cheney re-defined the role of Vice President in a way that was dangerously undemocratic, Biden has elevated his position into an all-around policy troubleshooter and trusted elder statesman role that history will likely look kindly on.  He's taken on every tough task the President has asked of him, from keeping an eye on Recovery Act funding to drawing down troops in Iraq and negotiating last year's tax extension.  People forget though that when Biden was picked to run with Obama, it was largely to shore up Obama's perceived weakness among so-called "Reagan Democrats" - blue collar folks who are socially conservative and went for Hillary in states like Pennsylvania and Ohio during the 2008 Democratic primary.  In 2012, Biden will continue wearing two hats.  On the "official" side, he will likely be leaned on in any negotiations with Congress over everything from the payroll tax cut extension to the FY13 budget, and on the "re-election" side, he will be deployed to the Rust Belt to trumpet the Administration's commitment to manufacturing, union rights and protecting public workers.

Scott Walker, John Kasich & Rick Scott.  Speaking of the Rust Belt (and Florida), I am counting these three deeply unpopular Governors as one because they have, in their own ways, mobilized opposition to them in ways Democrats could not have foreseen when each was voted into office in 2010.  In Wisconsin, Walker will be subject to a recall vote sometime next year, offering Democrats a great trial run to mobilize in advance of November.  In Ohio, unions took the lead in overturning a union stripping law passed under Kasich's signature.  In Florida, Scott is just plain unpopular, having lavished corporations with tax cuts as he cut social services.  It goes without saying that winning these 3 states is critical to both parties and my guess is you won't see too many photo ops that include the GOP nominee and any of these elected officials.  Whether Obama and the Democrats will be able to tie the national GOP to the deeply unpopular policies these three gentlemen have passed will go a long way to deciding who wins the election.

Angela Merkel & Bibi Netanyahu. Ok, I'm cheating again, but while there are many foreign policy hotspots, Germany's pre-eminent role in the European debt crisis and Israel's flirtation with attacking Iran stand out as "known knowns" (to paraphrase Rummy) 1A and 1B for the Obama team.  If Germany is able to facilitate a soft landing for Greece (and possibly Spain, Portugal and Italy) that makes the European recession shallow, or perhaps even results in a modest rebound, that will accrue to our economy's benefit.  If not, we could be in trouble, or at best, not experience the economic growth we otherwise would.  Obviously, the former outcome would be quite helpful to the President; the latter, to his opponent.

How Israel responds to the continued Iranian push for nuclear weapons is a total wild card.  If United Nations sanctions choke off Iran's exports and force them to the negotiating table, perhaps the threat dissipates.  If scientists continue to mysteriously die by car bombing or computer systems mysteriously become infected with computer viruses, perhaps the threat dissipates.  But those are big "ifs" and the drumbeat from Republicans to get tougher on Iran has been a hallmark of their primary season.  It is also a way for them to try and mitigate one of Obama's strengths - a muscular foreign policy that is difficult to criticize.

Antonin Scalia.  I wrote previously about the decision the Supreme Court will issue, probably around the third week in June, about the Affordable Care Act.  (You can read it here:  If Justice Scalia rules, as I think he will, to uphold the individual mandate, it will be both devastating for Republicans and an enormous vote of affirmation for President Obama.  To have the role model for "strict constructionism" (even though he's only that way when it's convenient for him) uphold "Obamacare" will not take the issue off the table entirely but it will, if Romney is the nominee (and not inclined to push the issue since the national model was based on one he helped pass in Massachusetts), move it into the periphery.  

Those are my five.  Who are yours?

Follow me on Twitter: @scarylawyerguy

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Why Mitt Romney & His Glass Jaw Are Limping To The GOP Nomination

Men of a certain age recall the classic arcade video game Punch Out.  As an up and coming fighter, you battled a string of contenders before making it to the champ.  First up, Glass Joe, so called because his weak chin invariably resulted in a knockout, provided you landed one clean punch.  When the story of the 2012 Republican primary season is written, the overarching themes will be the failure of a historically weak field to land that one clean punch that would have sent “Glass Joe” Mitt Romney to the canvas and the great “what if” of what the race would have looked like had a more formidable alternative to Romney decided to enter the race.  Instead, the GOP will send a deeply flawed and weak candidate up against President Obama where he will almost certainly go down to defeat.

Mitt Romney is literally being carried across the finish line by a well organized group of “establishment” political and thought leaders and a small group of very wealthy financiers who have pumped more than $30 million dollars into the Governor’s “Super PAC” Restore Our Future.  The candidate’s own fundraising lags the President’s, and he has benefited from a group of challengers who were strategically inept and unprepared for the rigors of a Presidential campaign.  That his consultants view these modest achievements as cause for celebration tells you something about the shameless spinning those folks do. 

So where did it all go wrong?  What counterfactual can legitimately be spun to show why Mitt Romney could have been defeated? 

The early debates.  First, conservative challengers spent far too much time elbowing each other in an attempt to gain the mantle as the alternative to Romney instead of just going after him directly.  In this way, Romney skated through many early debates, rarely having to do anything other than regurgitate his canned talking points without being challenged about the particulars of his policy, background or experience.  While conservatives attempted to “out conservative” each other, Romney looked like the adult in the room – a man, as he oddly put it, of “constancy” who was not going to sully himself with ugly and personal attacks. 

Instead of attempting to win the hearts of conservative voters, consider what would have happened had Rick Santorum launched his devastatingly effective debate attack on “Romneycare” and the fact that Romney voted for Paul Tsongas in the 1992 Democratic primary, 4 weeks before the Iowa caucus instead of a week before the Florida primary.  Not only did Romney bristle and stumble through this explanation, but a well-funded, strategically oriented campaign would have been able to make great hay out of these points through paid advertising.  There would have been no need to battle others to gain the conservative vote when so much more of the Republican electorate would have been more receptive to a message that reflected Romney’s weakness.

Of course, Romney put his foot in his mouth in other debates, the famous “$10,000 bet” gaffe against Rick Perry and his 184 word You Tube classic prevarication on whether he would or would not release his taxes are two that come to mind, but neither flub (or other odd statements Romney has made along the way) was ever taken advantage of by his opponents because none had either the financial backing or the broad-based campaign strategy to make these attacks stick.  While both errors were played up in the media as a form of “free” advertising against Romney, story of the day chatter is just that – story of the day – unless a candidate is able to amplify that message over and over so that the narrative becomes a more general indictment of an opponent’s weakness.   

Money Talks, Bullshit Walks. Speaking of money, to Romney’s credit, his campaign was well ahead of the curve when it came to understanding and leveraging the ability of Super PACs to do the dirty work of campaigning while allowing the candidate to remain above the fray.  For months, Romney successfully portrayed himself as positive while declaiming any role in the work of his Super PAC because federal law prohibits coordination.  That the Super PAC is run by his ex-aides and that Romney recited, almost verbatim, the allegations made in at least one of the ads it created, were two points that a better organized (and funded) opponent would have incessantly harped on to the point that the lack of coordination would have looked like a fancy bit of legalese and political fiction that was a distinction without a difference. 

More generally, no other campaign created a sufficient infrastructure to mount a nationwide campaign.  The failure of all the candidates except Romney and Paul to get on the Virginia ballot, missing delegate slates, poor advance work, lack of coordinated messaging and about 100 other things that a modern Presidential campaign needs simply did not exist.  While Santorum was driving around all 99 Iowa counties to eke out a 20 vote victory, Romney was already carpet bombing New Hampshire with ads and making phone calls to Florida Republicans who were voting absentee or early.  Newt won South Carolina, but from his victory speech through his crushing loss in Florida, his messaging was horrible, he was ill-prepared for the two crucial debates where more polished preparation from a well-funded candidate (Romney) was apparent, and he had events that were poorly attended.  In short, there was no strategic thinking going on months ago (or even in real time) because Gingrich simply does not have the infrastructure and resources to do the type of deep planning that Romney, with his far deeper coffers and staff, could do.  It matters. 

The Weak Field.  Ultimately, Mitt Romney is limping toward the GOP nomination against the weakest Republican field in modern history with lockstep (but unenthusiastic) support from the establishment GOP (politicians, media, talk radio) and his Super PAC, who, as the primaries have dragged on, focus less and less on Romney’s ideas and more and more on the idea that Romney is the only candidate who can beat the President.  Much ink has been spilled discussing the flirtation GOP primary voters had with Michelle Bachmann, Herman Cain, Donald Trump, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich (twice) but less about the fact that few (if any?) of these candidates was ever considered viable.

Consider Rick Santorum.  He’s held on largely because the primary roulette wheel landed on him with impeccable timing – just a week before the Iowa caucus.  While there is no question Santorum was doing the retail politics necessary to win Iowa, he was not running a meaningful campaign anywhere else.  That he lost his last statewide race by nearly 18 points and is best known for having his last name perverted into a definition for a rather graphic aspect of anal sex meant little within the tiny window of momentum that helped push him to a win in Iowa.  Now that Iowa is over, the gloss from that win (which itself was not even confirmed for more than a week afterward) is long gone.  Santorum was unable to leverage that momentum in subsequent contests because his campaign was not prepared for his being in the race after Iowa.  No fundraising, little infrastructure, no national advertising or any of the other hallmarks of a “real” Presidential campaign.

Another prime example is Governor Rick Perry.  Had Perry started building a foundation for a run in the Summer of 2010 instead of 2011, he might have fared better.  While he came into the race with a splash, his thin policy chops and inability to debate were quickly exposed.  Indeed, Perry stands out as a candidate who will probably rue his campaign more than others.  His fundraising apparatus would have afforded him the ability to run a national campaign had it been done thoughtfully and with diligence.  If Governor Perry spent 6-12 months immersing himself in foreign and domestic policy, carefully planned a roll-out of his candidacy (including prominent endorsements and strong fundraising) and been drilled on a few basic message points, he would have been a serious contender.  Instead, his campaign was done on the fly, with little in the way of substantive policy and almost no preparation before he entered the candidate debates.  The initial impressions of Perry as a swaggering outsider quickly dissolved into a narrative of incompetence and buffoonery.  Once done, Perry was stuck between the push and pull of needing to campaign and needing to be properly briefed on policy.  Although he was able to get under Romney’s skin at several debates, his initial forays were so laughable that by the time he was able to find ballast, the rationale for his candidacy had disappeared. 

Other contenders, like Bachmann, Cain and Paul were never serious threats to secure the nomination and if anything, sucked up an enormous amount of oxygen that could have been directed at scrutinizing Romney (tax returns, anyone?) or thinning the debate field in a way that would have allowed for lengthier exchanges among candidates deemed to have a legitimate chance of contending for the nomination.  Finally, also rans like Pawlenty and Huntsman, although having credentials that might have made them reasonable alternatives to Romney, never articulated a clear rationale for their candidacies and failed to raise money sufficient to keep them afloat.  The sound of wallets closing when “T-Paw” came calling says something about how lightly regarded he was in establishment circles. That he whiffed on making a simple attack on Governor Romney at an early debate just confirmed that he was not ready for prime time.

And the result of all of these flame outs was an everlasting desire to launch trial balloons in the direction of everyone from Mitch Daniels to Haley Barbour to come and act as the conservative savoir.  As recently as the Florida primary, a robust 38% of those polled wanted other candidates to enter the race.  Perhaps those politicians who did not enter the race were on to something – they were experienced and savvy enough to know that you simply cannot launch a Presidential campaign in the middle of a Presidential campaign.  Daniels and Barbour both have long Washington experience and other potential candidates like Paul Ryan and Chris Christie no doubt understood that a campaign of this sort is not a turn key operation but rather, a complicated, expensive and highly sophisticated undertaking that takes years to plan, and even then, there is no guarantee of success. 

While the clamor for other candidates speaks to the field’s weakness, the coordinated and unrelenting attacks on Newt Gingrich in the wake first of his rise in Iowa (which was cut short through a blizzard of negative ads) and after his win in South Carolina (same strategy, just augmented by the collective hate boner of every establishment Republican from John McCain to Bob Dole and conservative pundit from Charles Krauthammer to Ann Coulter) reflected a coordinated takedown Republicans typically save for attacking Democrats.  Florida will no doubt receive its own chapter in every political junkie’s book about the 2012 campaign, but the 5:1 spending advantage Romney leveraged to bury Gingrich under an avalanche of negativity, combined with the coordinated amplification of “Gingrich is unelectable” messaging done in conservative media, is unlikely to be seen within the GOP anytime soon.  Essentially, the GOP establishment made a decision that Newt looked far more like Barry Goldwater in 1964 than Ronald Reagan in 1980 and that if Romney is Bob Dole in 1996 or John McCain in 2008, they are willing to roll the dice on eking out a narrow victory (or losing graciously) than risking a blowout for the low percentage chance Gingrich leads another conservative revolution. 

Even Romney’s purported comeback in Florida, which was based in part on what was spun as strong debate performances, is a trope that will come back to haunt Republicans.  While Romney was well prepared to use Newt’s background as a “lobbyist” for Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae against him, his contortions on other issues from the housing market to health care, from entitlements programs to immigration, added more fodder to the already considerable video library of flip flops, prevarications and outright contradictions Romney has made about policy depending on what the subject was and where he was speaking.  That Santorum so easily slipped the verbal knife into the soft underbelly of “Romneycare” and casually mentioned that Romney voted in the Democratic primary in 1992 without proper response from Governor Romney does not bode well for the barrage of negative campaign ads that will be unleashed against him by the Democrats.  Gingrich may be full of bluster and an air of self-aggrandizement, but the President is a far more measured and skillful debater who will move with ease around Romney and flummox him (which is not that hard to do) into misstatements that will reflect his inability to respond extemporaneously to criticism.  

Ultimately, all of this speaks to the unspoken – that Mitt Romney is being accepted in Republican circles with all of the enthusiasm of a trip to the proctologist’s office.  The deafening silence that accompanied Romney’s “I don’t care about poor people” gaffe says more about the establishment’s view of him than anything else.  Instead of hopping up and down and blaming the “liberal” media for misconstruing Romney’s words, instead we got disparaging articles about Romney from The Wall Street Journal and National Review Online.  Although Romney’s tax returns, once released, received little coverage in the swirl of the primaries, rest assured that his Swiss, Cayman Island and other foreign investment vehicles will be brought up over and over again during the general election.  While these investments may not, in a vacuum do him much harm, Romney’s other “made for TV” blunders, about corporations being people, about his enjoyment of firing people and other tone deaf statements are all feeding into a narrative of an out-of-touch elitist – the very embodiment of the 1 percent. 

The lack of enthusiasm for Romney is also seen in the raw voting figures.  Aside from South Carolina, where turnout was up from 2008, the other early caucus and primary states all showed self-identified Republican voters down 10% or more from the last election.  Overall, 100,000 fewer people have voted in the Republican primaries and caucuses than in 2008 and Romney himself underperformed his vote total in Iowa from four years ago, was absolutely hammered in South Carolina, where he lost every Congressional district, and needed more than $15 million in negative advertising against Newt Gingrich to win Florida.  In short, Romney is redefining the term “winning ugly” in 2012 and has stooped to do so against a field that is weak, underfunded and was, at least until recently, littered with “not ready for prime time” players who no one in the political chattering class took seriously. 

Romney’s aides have done yeoman’s work to protect their candidate’s glass jaw, but the longer this campaign goes, the harder it will be to hide it.  A weak field had Romney on the ropes on several occasions but could not finish the job.  That Romney barely survived these attacks does not make him a stronger candidate because his inability to “punch his weight” against mediocre competition will not make him any more equipped to defeat the President than his flameout in 2008 against Mike Huckabee and John McCain.  A political commentator once noted that over the course of a campaign, a candidate’s personality is inevitably exposed.  So it will be with Mr. 1%, who struggled to beat a ragtag group of competitors only to be portrayed as the poster child for the plutocracy – an out-of-touch elitist whose complete lack of core make him an easily caricatured politician – John Kerry without the war medals, Al Gore without the policy chops, Michael Dukakis without the tank.  In short, a loser.