Michelle Obama has been campaigning hard in recent days, in case you haven’t noticed. Last week, chanting supporters waited hours in late-summer heat for a chance to hear her speak at a high school in Milwaukee. Then she flew to Indiana for a big event at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Once there, she suffered an affliction common after a long day on the stump – a glitch in her space/time continuum.
“It is just so wonderful to be here and to see all of you this afternoon, evening – what time of day is it? I’ve lost track of time,” she said. The audience laughed in response.
Then there’s her constant presence in nonhard news media. She was on Jay Leno’s “Tonight Show” two weeks ago and is set to appear on David Letterman’s “Late Show” this Wednesday to discuss back-to-school issues. (Gee, that’s right in the middle of the Republican National Convention. Do you think that’s on purpose?)
This week she’s taping a “Dr. Oz” appearance for broadcast in September. She’s been all over iVillage, a women-oriented website where she has served as guest editor, talking about everything from whether she believes women can have it all to a recent present she’s received from her hubby: gardening gloves.
Does the Democratic Party consider the first lady a secret weapon in its attempt to keep control of the White House? Maybe. If nothing else, we think there’s a good chance her husband’s campaign considers her one of its most important means of reaching out to independent voters.
Why? Well, for one thing she’s very popular. First ladies generally are – Laura Bush had high favorability ratings, too. In a Gallup poll from May, 66 percent of respondents said they had a favorable opinion of Mrs. Obama, as opposed to 52 percent who felt that way about President Obama. (His numbers have slipped below 50 percent since then.)
Plus, she’s popular with more than core Democratic voters. A Pew Research Center survey from January found that 61 percent of independents had a favorable view of the first lady. Moderate and liberal Republicans shared this view. Such voters viewed Mrs. Obama favorably by a margin of 62 percent to 25 percent, according to Pew.
And here’s the kicker: Her causes may reflect current public opinion. She’s well known for the White House garden, her Let’s Move campaign to get kids exercising, pushing healthy eating, and so forth. She’s fighting obesity – and that’s a public health problem the public at large now ranks as a major concern.
In a July Gallup poll, 81 percent of respondents judged that obesity is an “extremely” or “very serious” problem. That’s up significantly from the last time Gallup asked that question in 2005. According to this survey, Americans now view obesity as a bigger problem than smoking.
“First lady Michelle Obama’s high-profile nationwide anti-childhood obesity campaign, launched in 2010, may have ... affected Americans’ perceptions of the severity of the issue,” wrote Gallup’s Elizabeth Mendes last month.
In this context it’s easy to say why the first lady’s appearances, in which she talks about her own middle-class upbringing, the difficulties of raising Malia and Sasha, and so forth, perhaps humanize the president while reaching out to voters otherwise disenchanted with his policies.
But there are limits to how far this approach might go. It’s true that first ladies generally have high approval ratings, but those can drop if the public perceives their actions as overtly political. Hillary Rodham Clinton was a rare first lady whose favorability ratings dipped below those of her husband, in part due to her role in designing President Clinton’s failed attempt to reform health care.
And many in the GOP disapprove of Mrs. Obama's public campaigns, considering them the sort of nanny-state lecturing that defines unnecessary big government. Pew found that conservative Republicans had an unfavorable view of her, by 46 to 44 percent. Rush Limbaugh and other conservatives criticized her this month after she chided Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas for eating a fast-food breakfast in celebration of a gold medal triumph.
Switching sides is always awkward in politics. But Charlie Crist’s endorsement of President Obama Sunday puts Florida’s former Republican governor in opposition to his party on the eve of the Republican National Convention in Tampa.
That’s a whole different level of cold.
And Republicans are dropping bombs on the man many thought had a future on the national GOP stage in the same manner that Democrats recently blasted one of their own.
“Make no mistake about it: This is Charlie Crist trying to shed his skin for a political comeback,” wrote Florida GOP Chairman Lenny Curry in an e-mail to Florida Republicans.
How do political parties excoriate their Judas-es? In short, by questioning the heretic’s sincerity by citing the individual’s past statements whacking the newly favored political team.
“Calling him a liberal will only play into his hand,” Mr. Curry wrote. “He hopes it will divert attention away from his record and his years of calling himself a Conservative. You should take every opportunity with the media to remind Floridians that Crist has made a career out of bashing the Democrat Party and everything President Obama stands for.”
In addition to several examples that Curry noted – Mr. Crist urging a Democratic congressman to vote against the health-care reform law and Crist signing a petition calling for a ban on gay marriage and civil unions – there are hits by Democrats themselves portraying Crist as a conservative. Consider an advertisement cut by his Democratic challenger in the 2010 Senate race, Rep. Kendrick Meek (D) of Florida.
Crist had been routed in the GOP primary by eventual winner Sen. Marco Rubio (R), but went forward in the Senate race by mounting a campaign as an independent. With Crist threatening to siphon moderate Democratic voters from Representative Meek, Meek cut an ad with quotes from Crist professing his stance as a “pro-life, pro-gun, anti-tax Republican” who was “impressed” by Sen. John McCain of Arizona’s selection of then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin on the GOP presidential ticket in 2008.
“As the mainstream media rush to portray this as a victory for Democrats, please join me in reminding reporters and the people of Florida exactly what you and I already know; this is political opportunism, plain and simple,” Meeks said in the ad.
Democrats recently went down an almost identical path with former Alabama Congressman Davis. Davis, an African-American who had seconded Mr. Obama’s nomination for the presidency at the 2008 Democratic convention, had been scheduled to speak at the Republican National Convention on Monday evening. (Monday’s events have been canceled due to the impending storm, Isaac, and it's not yet clear who all will get to speak later in the week.)
In response to that announcement last week, however, the Democratic National Committee released a web video of Davis’s remarks from the 2008 convention. Therein, he effusively praised Obama and the Democratic Party.
“Artur Davis’s speech at the GOP Convention isn’t about Barack Obama,” the ad reads at its conclusion. “It’s about Artur Davis.”
Crist announced his support for Obama in an op-ed in the Tampa Bay Times, in which he heralds the virtues of Obama initiatives such as the economic stimulus of 2009 and the health-care reform law that Republicans abhor. Crist even goes to bat for the president’s treatment of Medicare within the health-reform law, which Republicans have attempted to define as a “raid” on Medicare funds.
That’s in contrast to how Crist portrayed Republicans. In his op-ed, he said that “an element of their party has pitched so far to the extreme right on issues important to women, immigrants, seniors and students that they've proven incapable of governing for the people. Look no further than the inclusion of the [Rep. Todd] Akin amendment in the Republican Party platform, which bans abortion, even for rape victims.”
“The truth is,” Crist concluded, “that the [Republican] party has failed to demonstrate the kind of leadership or seriousness voters deserve.”
“Now I love being home in this place where Ann and I were raised, where both of us were born,” the presumptive GOP nominee told a big crowd at a picturesque Commerce Township farm. "Ann was born in Henry Ford Hospital. I was born in Harper Hospital. No one’s ever asked to see my birth certificate. They know that this is the place that we were born and raised.”
As you might expect, Democrats and Republicans reacted to this development in, uh, different ways. To Democrats, the remark showed how Mr. Romney is cuddling up with Donald Trump and the "birther" crowd, trying to subtly portray President Obama as un-American, and so forth.
“Throughout this campaign, Governor Romney has embraced the most strident voices in his party instead of standing up to them.... But Governor Romney’s decision to directly enlist himself in the birther movement should give pause to any rational voter across America,” said Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt in a statement, according to Politico.
To Republicans, the whole thing exposed the hypocrisy of Democrats who stood by while a pro-Obama "super political-action committee" ran an ad implying that the actions of Romney’s Bain Capital led to a woman’s death from lack of health insurance. Plus, it was just a joke, see?
“The joke wasn’t so funny, but the mock horror of the left and the Obama campaign along with the furrowed brows of news anchors is hysterical,” writes conservative Jennifer Rubin Friday on her Washington Post Right Turn blog.
But we think there’s a genuine problem with the joke that neither side has yet touched on. It was made in Michigan. Why is Mitt Romney wasting time appearing in a state that he is very likely to lose?
Yes, it is his home state. Yes, he won the Michigan primary. But we’ll remind you that his victory over Rick Santorum was a squeaker. Michigan leans blue, Romney opposed the auto bailout, and he moved away long ago to Massachusetts and other pastures. His father, George Romney, was a beloved Michigan governor – over 40 years ago.
The RealClearPolitics rolling average of Michigan polls has Obama up by four points. That’s not a huge margin, but in the New York Times FiveThirtyEight polling blog election model, Mr. Obama’s chance of winning Michigan is pegged at an overwhelming 89.6 percent.
If Romney is going to campaign in the upper Midwest, he should spend every second in Ohio, the most important of all the swing states. He should buy a vacation home in Ohio, or move to Ohio. Maybe he could rename his son Tagg “Tohio.” The point is, he should be maximizing his opportunities and making the best use of his time.
So why was he there? Maybe he just wanted to be photographed in front of the iconic red barn at the Long Family Farm in Clarkson, where he appeared. Maybe he was paying back a campaign debt from primary days. Farm owner Chris Long is a GOP county commissioner.
But we think he’d have been better off south of the state border. In Ohio.
Attention voters: We’re taking a break from breathless coverage of every development of the 2012 campaign to alert you to the fact that if one word described the race so far, it would not be “roller-coaster." It would be “stable."
Yes, we nattering nabobs in the media like to pretend otherwise. In the press, every compelling story becomes a potential game-changer, and there’s a compelling story almost every day.
Remember “Etch-A-Sketch?” We didn’t think so, so we’ll remind you: An aide suggested that Mitt Romney might reset his positions for the general campaign. It seemed important at the time. Since then it’s been a regular Gaffe-a-palooza, from President Obama’s maladroit “the private sector is doing fine” comment to the current uproar over GOP Senate candidate Rep. Todd Akin’s statements on abortion.
But the polls aren’t whipsawing in response. In fact, they’re just bouncing around within a narrow range, taken as a whole. On June 1, Mr. Obama led Mr. Romney by 46.8 to 44.3 percent in the RealClearPolitics rolling average of major polls. As of Aug. 23, that measure was 46.3 to 45.3 percent.
The Huffington Post Election Dashboard shows a similar drift over approximately the same period. Obama led 46.5 percent to Romney’s 44.2 percent on May 31 in this major poll average. Currently, it’s Obama 46.0 percent to Romney’s 45.1 percent.
Romney gained a bit in both those polls, but the gain is within their statistical margin of error. For extra credit, we’ll kick in The New York Times FiveThirtyEight polling blog prediction of the popular vote, which over the corresponding almost-three-month period has jumped from Obama 50.6 percent, Romney 48.3 percent to ... Obama 50.6 percent, Romney 48.3 percent.
“Not much has changed in the last two months,” writes George Washington University political scientist John Sides on the Monkey Cage political blog. “In fact, explaining the lack of change – namely the stability in the polls – is probably the most important task here on the eve of party conventions, which should finally produce at least some change.”
Mr. Sides has studied the statistical fundamentals of the 2012 campaign in depth for his new e-book on the election, “The Gamble.” (You can read a chapter for free here.) In the book, he concludes that polls show that Obama has persistently performed well in voter measures of likeability. In addition, he’s benefited from the rise of partisan identification – among Democrats, he’s the most-liked president since John Kennedy.
These are advantages with which Obama entered the campaign. Since then, poor job numbers have weighed on his reelection chances. But other economic measures, including the stock market, haven’t been so bad.
“The unemployment rate is pretty unusual for an incumbent, but other aspects of the economy are just positive enough to give him the edge,” said Sides on a recent MSNBC appearance.
Meanwhile, veteran political prognosticator Charlie Cook writes in National Journal that given current economic conditions it is shouldn’t be close. Why isn’t Obama losing? That’s the mystery of the polls so far, according to Mr. Cook.
Perhaps voters just can’t relate to Romney, he writes. Cook also says the Romney campaign should have begun running biographical spots much earlier, to try to establish a bond between the candidate and American voters. And Romney could have done more to reach out to Hispanic voters.
Still, incumbents just don’t get reelected with unemployment over 8 percent and poor GDP numbers, according to Cook.
“Romney may still win this election. It’s awfully close,” he writes.
OK, enough substance. Back to GaffeWorld! Has Joe Biden said anything interesting today?
Former President Bill Clinton is the star of a new Obama campaign ad that directly addresses the issue voters say is their top priority: the economy.
In the 30-second spot the man some in the Democratic Party still call the “Big Dog” pretty much speaks constantly throughout. (That brings back memories, doesn’t it?) He says that “this election to me is about which candidate is more likely to return us to full employment."
He goes on to say that the Republicans want to cut taxes on upper-income people and deregulate industry, and “that’s what got us in trouble in the first place.” Meanwhile, President Obama has a plan “to rebuild American from the ground up, investing in education, innovation, and job training."
“That’s what happened when I was president. We need to keep going with his plan,” concludes Mr. Clinton.
Hmm. Will this approach help or hurt Mr. Obama? After all, some might say that talking about unemployment head-on could be dangerous for an incumbent when the jobless rate likely will top 8 percent for the foreseeable future. It’s a subject on which Mitt Romney has framed much of his campaigning.
The conservative web site Hot Air! hits this point Thursday with a post by Ed Morrissey titled “Clinton cuts ad touting Obama plan that Obama never talks about."
“Let’s give at least one cheer to former President Clinton – at least he’s talking about economic policy, even if he’s vague and misleading,” writes Mr. Morrissey.
Well, we think there are a number of things the Obama campaign is trying to accomplish with this spot. First is to simply associate the current president with Clinton nostalgia.
Plus, Americans now judge Clinton as among the best of recent US presidents. Sixty percent of respondents to a Gallup survey from February rated Clinton’s performance as outstanding or above average. Only Ronald Reagan ranked higher. No other chief executive from the last 40 years even comes close.
Seen in that context, the ad represents Obama running out one of his biggest weapons to talk about something central to the campaign.
Second, the ad reflects Obama’s long-term attempt to remind the public that the economy was already awful when he took office. That’s the purpose of the line “that’s what got us in trouble in the first place." (Of course, Republicans would argue that the 2008 recession stemmed from the collapse of a housing bubble partly created by federal government actions. That’s a part of the Clinton ad that Morrissey judges “misleading.")
Third, the half-minute spot presents the election as a choice between two existing and quite different approaches to the economy. That might sound obvious, but challengers to an incumbent president usually want the election to be a referendum on the incumbent’s job performance. Are things bad? Let’s fire this person and try someone else.
“What we’re seeing here, I believe, is the beginning of the Obama campaign’s pivot to a more concerted effort to draw a contrast between what an Obama second term would look like and what a Romney presidency would look like,” asserts liberal Greg Sargent Thursday on his Plum Line Washington Post blog.
Given a continued flat economy, it’s possible that this approach reflects a subtlety that will be lost on many voters. After all, polls have been remarkably stable for months, despite gaffes by both candidates, Romney’s pick of Paul Ryan as VP, Missouri Senate candidate Rep. Todd Akin's "legitimate rape" comment, and so forth.
Is Ron Paul getting a raw deal from the Republican National Committee? That’s the question among some of his committed supporters as Mr. Paul and the RNC near an agreement intended to ensure harmony on the floor at next week’s Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla.
Yes, the developing pact ensures that the Texas congressman, who was among the last to fall out of the GOP race for the party's nomination, will get 17 of Louisiana’s 46 delegates. Yes, Paul’s camp is working to settle outstanding disputes regarding delegates from Massachusetts and Maine.
But many Paul foot soldiers believed that they had already won control of the Louisiana, Massachusetts, and Maine delegations at state party conventions. They feel Mitt Romney’s campaign is now yanking away those victories by charging that they were the result of procedural irregularities.
In recent days, the Paul Twitterverse and message boards on Paul websites have lit up with angry comments about the emerging Paul-Romney détente.
“The GOP acts like this is some sort of game show,” wrote one commentator on the Daily Paul comment forum Wednesday.
“I remember a time, not too long ago, where WE would be the ones giving [Romney] 17 delegates and keeping the rest. And, now? NO MORE COMPROMISING!” wrote another.
For its part, Paul HQ is urging calm. Throughout the campaign Paul and Mr. Romney appeared to be the two GOP contenders with the best relationship. Paul’s aides have long said that they do not want their supporters to be disruptive in Tampa and that their long-term goal is to push the Republican Party in a more libertarian direction from within.
Settling the Louisiana dispute was a huge step forward, according to Paul campaign officials. The state party convention in Shreveport in June was chaotic. At one point a convention chairman elected by Paul supporters was injured by security guards intent on his removal. The Paul and Romney camps ended up holding separate conventions and submitting separate lists of delegates to the RNC.
A deal to seat a portion of Paul’s Massachusetts delegates is also close, Paul campaign strategist Jesse Benton told the Associated Press. Maine? Well....
“Maine is still unsettled, but talks are continuing and the conversation remains respectful,” Mr. Benton told the AP.
The bottom line is that presumptive nominee Romney has just about ensured that Paul won’t bolt and hold a separate protest rally outside the convention venue, as he did in 2008 in St. Paul, Minn. That means he can present the picture of a united GOP to the nation during the Republican convention.
Meanwhile, Paul has been able to influence the party platform, via language calling for an audit of the Federal Reserve, and a plank on Internet freedom that reflects Paulian views.
But as Mr. Putnam and other experts have pointed out, there’s been something of a divergence developing in recent months between Paul and some Paul supporters. While the Paul campaign has been urging decorum, some Paulites have gone rogue, urging confrontation with the GOP powers-that-be in the name of libertarianism.
In May, for instance, Paul supporters at the GOP convention in Nevada's Clark County pushed through a resolution calling for RNC chief Reince Priebus to resign because he’d merged party fundraising with Romney’s efforts.
That’s why it’s going to be interesting to see what the tone will be at Paulfest, or Paulstock, or whatever you want to call the Aug. 26 Paul “We Are the Future” rally scheduled for the University of South Florida’s Sun Dome. Beginning at noon, the proceedings will run for five hours and feature speeches from former congressman Barry Goldwater Jr., son of the 1964 Republican standard-bearer, and grass-roots Paul campaign leaders.
Noted blues guitarist Jimmy Vaughan is scheduled to play, and the master of ceremonies will be Doug Wead, a former Bush official and often-cited chronicler of presidential family history. Could be fun! “Ronvoys” are carrying supporters from many states to the festivities.
“Ron Paul’s rally will enable supporters, the public, and media to further witness the ideas and people that are the future of the Republican Party," said Benton, the Paul aide, in a statement outlining the Paulfest program.
Todd Akin says he’s not quitting. The GOP congressman insists he’s in the Missouri Senate race to the end, despite the fact that most of the Republican Party hierarchy is pressing him to step down. He hasn’t done anything morally or ethically wrong, and the furor over his use of the phrase “legitimate rape” when talking about pregnancy and abortion is an overreaction, Mr. Akin said Tuesday on Mike Huckabee’s radio show.
“What we’re doing here is standing on a principle of what America is,” said Akin.
OK then. It appears he’s going to continue his quest to unseat Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill. Could he actually win?
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The conventional wisdom is “no.” Many professional political prognosticators feel this flap has sealed his fate. Over at the Cook Political Report, analyst Jennifer Duffy judges that his comments about rape have “rendered him unelectable.” Democrats will repeat them no end, and Republican campaign organizations have all withdrawn financial and political support.
“As long as he remains the nominee, this race is no longer a Toss Up and McCaskill is a strong favorite for re-election,” writes Ms. Duffy.
But the race still poses a dilemma, Mr. Sabato tweeted in the wake of Akin’s announcement that he’s staying in. “Hard to imagine either McCaskill or Akin winning,” he wrote. “Maybe Akin gets out later on.”
Unsurprisingly, that’s not how Akin himself sees the election unfolding. In a number of interviews on Tuesday he defended himself in part by portraying himself as a candidate who’s now outside the party structure, and thus more appealing to “political bravehearts” (his words) who judge themselves independent.
Given current national attitudes about the poisonously partisan atmosphere in Washington, it’s at least possible that Akin is right. After all, current polls show that his gaffe hasn’t – or hasn’t yet – taken a toll. A Public Policy Polling survey conducted Aug. 20 showed Akin leading McCaskill by 1 percentage point, 44 to 43.
“Akin has certainly been damaged by this whole thing ... but he’s by no means out of it – it looks like Missouri’s increasing Republican lean over the last few years would give him a decent chance at victory in spite of this major controversy,” writes PPP’s Tom Jenson.
Missouri’s GOP tendency might indeed be Akin’s last, best chance at winning a Senate seat. As New York Times polling analyst Nate Silver notes, the Show-Me State has trended Republican in presidential votes since 1996. In 2008 it was the only battleground state Sen. John McCain (R) won.
Why is this? White, conservative, rural voters in the state have become increasingly Republican, as they have throughout neighboring Southern states, Mr. Silver writes. Missouri’s population growth has centered on such GOP strongholds as exurban St. Louis. Overall, Silver predicts that Mitt Romney has a 79 percent chance to take Missouri’s electoral votes.
So it’s possible Akin could ride into office on Romney’s coattails. But it’s also just as possible that the effects of his unfortunate language just have yet to sink in. A 2011 paper by political scientist Nicholas Chad Long of St. Edward’s University found that on average Senate incumbents involved in scandals of one kind or another lost 6 points at the polls.
But Akin isn’t the Senate incumbent in Missouri – that’s Senator McCaskill. [Editor's note: The last sentence of this story, which contained an error, has been omitted.]
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Country singer Hank Williams Jr. increased the volume on his anti-Obama rhetoric last week, telling a crowd at the Iowa State Fair, “We’ve got a Muslim president who hates farming, hates the military, hates the US, and we hate him!” according to an account of the concert in The Des Moines Register.
Mr. Williams’s political views have landed him in trouble before, in case you’ve forgotten: Last October, he compared President Obama playing golf with House Speaker John Boehner to Hitler hitting the links with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. After this, ESPN pulled his “All My Rowdy Friends” from its intro to "Monday Night Football," thus at a stroke depriving Williams of one of the most lucrative residual/promotional positions available on national TV.
Given the loss he’s already incurred, why more inflammatory words?
Well, we don’t know what Williams believes in his heart. But it’s worth remembering that a substantial number of Americans still hold to the incorrect view that Mr. Obama is a Muslim. In that sense, Williams is speaking to a constituency.
A July Pew Research Center poll of registered voters found that 17 percent of respondents say that the US president is Muslim. Forty-nine percent correctly identified Obama as Christian, while 31 percent said they did not know his religion.
Interestingly, the percentage of voters who think Obama is Muslim has actually increased a bit since 2008. That rise is particularly pronounced among self-identified conservative Republicans. Four years ago, 16 percent of GOP conservatives identified Obama as Muslim. Today, 34 percent do, according to Pew.
Seen in that context, Williams is speaking for a constituency that is substantial and growing.
Plus, at this point Williams’s rants might be good for business. He has a new album out, “Old School, New Rules,” which is highly anti-Obama. It contains such lyrics as, “Hey Barack, pack your bags, head to Chicago, take your teleprompter with you so you’ll know where to go.”
“More than half the songs ... are raging political commentaries,” wrote Rolling Stone’s Patrick Doyle in July.
Williams himself says ESPN did him a favor by dropping his song, as it pushed supporters to rally to his side. He told Mr. Doyle that the controversy sold $200,000 worth of T-shirts in cities such as Evansville, Ind.
Fans “have made me feel real special," Williams told Rolling Stone. "I’ve never had so many e-mails and letters. That’s what makes those songs easier to write.”
“This is nothing but pure hatred and racism and has no place in the US,” wrote Mr. Collender.
Is Joe Biden going to be a particular target for Republicans in the months leading up to the November presidential election? It sure looks that way at the moment.
Already this week, Team Romney has accused Mr. Biden of injecting race into the campaign, because he told a largely black audience that the GOP would “put y’all back in chains.” And on Friday, the "super PAC" American Crossroads is releasing an ad that mocks Biden for all manner of verbal slips, from the “chains” remark to his assertion that “jobs” is a three-letter word.
“Some people say Joe Biden should be dropped from Obama’s ticket, but we say Joe should stay,” says the narrator in a sarcastically earnest tone. “Joe Biden, America’s greatest vice president, when we need him most.”
Take the No. 2 person on a national ticket, highlight their gaffes and inapt word choices, and splash that against a background of photos in which they look goofy. Hmm. It’s almost as if Republicans are mirroring the way Democrats attacked Sarah Palin in 2008.
“This is staggeringly awesome. Go give them some cash so they can get that ad up everywhere,” Mr. Erickson writes.
At HotAir, conservative Ed Morrissey mulls over a report that Hillary Rodham Clinton was asked to replace Biden on the ticket. He finds that questionable and then raises what he calls the rhetorical question that’s been on everyone’s minds this week. Or at least the mind of everyone who’s enthusiastic about the addition of Rep. Paul Ryan to Mitt Romney’s ticket.
Therein may be the impetus of the current bash-Biden boomlet. Four years ago when the talkative then-senator was plucked from the Foreign Relations Committee to run as VP, many Democrats were worried about his tendency to produce gaffes in bunches, like grapes. But then John McCain tapped Ms. Palin, and the rest is history. The media focused on Palin’s perceived faults. Biden looked statesmanlike by comparison.
Aaron Blake makes this point on The Washington Post’s political blog The Fix today.
“In large part thanks to Palin, the debate over Biden’s utility on the Democratic ticket is four years late,” writes Mr. Blake.
In 2012, Representative Ryan promises to be a different sort of veep opponent. His plan for Medicare might poll poorly, but nobody’s charging that Ryan is inarticulate. Next to him Biden appears older (because he is), chattier (he is that also), and perhaps more prone to say stuff he wouldn’t if he thought about it just a second longer.
But here’s another question: Does that matter? Biden’s not going anywhere. In the modern era, sitting VPs just don’t get replaced. In part, that’s because such a heave-ho would make the incumbent US chief executive look desperate. In part, it’s because VP candidates just don’t have that much effect on a ticket’s chances.
Seen in that context, Republican attacks on Biden may just be attempts to sow dissension in the opposition ranks.
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The Mitt Romney campaign has a new talking point that it’s hitting hard: President Obama “robbed” Medicare of $716 billion to help pay for his health-care reform legislation. Is this assertion accurate?
Well, it is true that the Affordable Care Act – known to some as Obamacare – would reduce spending on Medicare by $716 billion from 2013 to 2022, according to a Congressional Budget Office analysis. It is also true that this reduction is used to offset spending on other ACA provisions.
However, the ACA does not literally lop this figure off Medicare’s bottom line. Most of these reductions would occur due to the fact that the law makes changes meant to lower future costs for the big health-care program for seniors.
For instance, the ACA cuts many of the payments Medicare makes in its fee-for-service system to hospitals, nurses, and other health-care providers. (Doctors would not be affected by this payment squeeze.) According to CBO, over the 10-year period it measured, Medicare payments for hospital services would go down by $260 billion, for instance. Payments for skilled nursing services would go down by $39 billion and for home health services by $33 billion.
The other big category of ACA Medicare reductions is aimed at Medicare Advantage, a sub-section of Medicare plans run by private insurers. Medicare Advantage began as a pilot program under President George W. Bush, who pushed it as a means to save money by pitting private insurers against each other in a competition to cover Medicare beneficiaries.
This approach has not worked out as intended. Currently Medicare Advantage plans cost the government more on a per-person basis than traditional fee-for-service Medicare.
“The Affordable Care Act gives those private plans a haircut and tethers reimbursement levels to the quality of care administered, and patient satisfaction,” writes Washington Post Wonkblog writer Sarah Kliff in her analysis of the $716 billion reductions.
In essence, the Medicare cuts contained in Obama’s health-care reforms reduce the pay of providers within the system. That’s why restoring them could actually make the program less fiscally sound in the longer term. If the reductions are reversed Medicare’s cost structure would suddenly be higher, and it would be paying out cash faster well past the 2022 period, bringing its day of insolvency closer as a result.
Does all this mean Obama has looted Medicare? On “60 Minutes” last Sunday, Mr. Romney said: “There’s only one president that I know of in history that robbed Medicare, $716 billion to pay for a new risky program of his own that we call Obamacare.”
“The only element of truth here is that the health-care law seeks to reduce future Medicare spending and the tally of those cost reductions over the next 10 years is $716 billion,” writes Politifact. “The money wasn’t ‘robbed,’ however, and other presidents have made similar reductions to the Medicare program.”
However, on Thursday the Romney campaign released a video of the presumptive GOP presidential candidate in which he charged that Obama’s reductions would have a real effect on beneficiaries.
Due to the cuts, 4 million people would lose Medicare Advantage plans, Romney charged. (They would presumably still be eligible for the regular Medicare system). Plus, ever-shrinking payments to health care providers would cause them to drop Medicare patients, said Romney.
“The Medicare actuary estimates that 15 percent of hospitals and nursing homes will stop taking Medicare patients,” Romney said.