The struggle between House Republicans and the Obama administration over the former’s investigation into the latter’s failed “Fast and Furious” gun-tracking operation escalated dramatically this week. Will the House probe uncover an Obama administration scandal as profound as Watergate, as some in the GOP believe? Or is it an election-oriented fishing expedition, as White House spokesman Jay Carney contends?
In a Washington, D.C., long riven by partisanship, the split over this issue is now as deep and bitter as they come.
“This is about getting to the truth for the American people,” said the Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner on Thursday.
“This is an attempt to score political points,” replied the Democratic administration’s Mr. Carney later in the day.
Two moves on Wednesday helped power this new polarization. President Obama asserted executive privilege to withhold from the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee requested documents dealing with the “Fast and Furious” operation. The House panel then voted to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress.
Mr. Obama’s move to try to cloak documents with his executive privilege power infuriated many on the right. The administration has already turned over to Congress some 7,600 documents dealing with “Fast and Furious” – an operation in which federal agents based in Arizona lost track of guns they had allowed criminals to obtain in an attempt to trace them back to gang leaders. But Rep. Darrell Issa (R) of California, chairman of the House Oversight panel, in particular is trying to figure out why the Justice Department sent him a letter in February saying the operation hadn’t used such a “gun-walking” technique – then withdrew that same letter, saying it was inaccurate.
Republicans suspect that the documents the White House is withholding show that administration higher-ups knew what was happening all along. That’s where some draw parallels with Watergate.
Rep. Steve King (R) of Iowa, in a Wednesday appearance on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show, noted that the original Watergate break-in occurred 40 years ago this week. Eventually, President Nixon asserted executive privilege in a (failed) attempt to prevent the White House tapes from becoming public.
“The president has mirrored that now,” said Representative King. “That means that implies very strongly ... that this information that Darrell Issa is searching for and trying to subpoena links inside the White House itself, most likely that the information was prepared for the president’s eyes and perhaps it was seen by the president.”
The administration, for its part, replies that it has made available to Issa’s committee virtually all documents dealing with “Fast and Furious” per se. What Issa wants now, according to White House spokesman Carney, are “after the fact documents” that don’t bear on the failed sting operation itself.
Mr. Holder has offered to share much of the information in those after-the-fact papers with the committee, say Democrats. Yet Issa turned that offer down – meaning he’s not really after facts, in the Democratic view.
“Instead of creating jobs or helping the middle class, congressional Republicans are focused on this politically motivated, taxpayer-funded, election-year fishing expedition,” said Carney at his Thursday briefing.
For their part, Republicans complain that Holder’s sharing offer rested on the assumption that the administration would get to pick the documents and information shared, and that in return the House would have to drop contempt proceedings against Holder.
“This is not hardly a rational basis for negotiation,” said Speaker Boehner on Thursday at his weekly press conference.
Then House minority leader Nancy Pelosi doubled down on Democrats' criticism of the House process, saying on Thursday that the real aim of the GOP’s “Fast and Furious” investigation is to get rid of an attorney general who has fought state efforts to introduce more stringent identification requirements for voters. Democrats have long charged that such requirements are actually attempts to keep their supporters away from the polls.
“These very same people who are holding him in contempt are part of a nationwide scheme to suppress the vote,” charged Representative Pelosi.
Mitt Romney’s five sons were on “Conan” Wednesday night. That’s kind of an unusual grouping for a late-night talk show – five guests can’t fit on the requisite couch, so two sons (Ben and Matt) had to stand behind the others. But enough about the logistics. How did it go? Did Team Mittster fare OK with Team Coco?
Well, Conan O’Brien himself was fairly gentle. There weren’t any jokes about "RomneyCare," dressage horses, car elevators, or family dogs strapped to the roof of a car. In that sense, we think Romney campaign officials should be pleased.
However, in a section devoted to true/false questions, Conan did ask if their dad’s hair “is chiseled out of imported mahogany.”
“That is true,” said a son. We think it was Josh. They all look alike, which is why Conan had them wear name tags.
But we do have a question about this attempt to humanize the presumptive GOP presidential nominee via family appearance. Why the emphasis on pranks? On Father’s Day the Romney camp put out a video that emphasized Romney père’s alleged penchant for playing fun on folks. That was a big theme on "Conan," as well. Tagg told a story about his dad painting letters on a friend’s shoe heels at that friend’s wedding. When the friend in question kneeled for a blessing (that would make it a Roman Catholic wedding, not a Mormon one), the letters spelled “HELP” to the audience.
“I’m not sure they’re still friends,” said Tagg. Or was it Ben?
It’s possible that the prank emphasis was Conan’s idea, but we don’t think so. It seemed like something his staff had discussed with the Romney clan in the pre-interview. The Romney sons even had tape of an incident in which they had imitated ex-California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on a phone call to their dad, who at the time was trying to land a Schwarzenegger endorsement.
Then they talked about the senior Romney’s fondness for holding up, say, butter, and asking victims to smell it to see if it had turned. Then he smashes it into their faces.
“Is he going to be doing that kind of thing if he’s elected president?” said Conan. “’Mr. Bernanke, I’m worried about these figures.’ Then, mush!”
We’re not sure talking about pranks really works for Romney, image-wise. First of all, he’s been accused of taking them too far when he was a youth, and shaving off the hair of an unwilling fellow student at Detroit’s Crankbrook School.
Second, as Conan implicitly noted, is prankstering a presidential quality? (OK, it is probably just as presidential as the ability to “slow jam” the news. Which still doesn’t fully answer the question.)
Just the appearance of the obviously hearty Romney sons was perhaps a more humanizing touch for their father. No slouchers, gum-chewers, or obvious malcontents among them. Of course, they all have families of their own, so in a sense they’re past that stage. They’re not boys, as Conan noted. They’re a posse.
Holding up a photo of the entire Romney extended family, which is big enough to fill an Applebee’s, Conan noted that the one touch of rebellion was Ben’s shirt, which was striped.
“When you guys get together there’s a global khaki shortage,” quipped Conan.
A House committee has voted to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress for failing to turn over documents related to the failed “Fast and Furious” gun law enforcement operation. Does that mean he now risks going to jail unless he complies with the document request?
Technically speaking, it’s possible he could end up in the slammer. But don’t hold your breath – it almost certainly isn’t going to happen. In the modern era, citing an administration official for contempt is often just a tactical maneuver in a larger Congress-White House dispute. It can put some added pressure on the administration, sure. But the executive branch has lots of ways to delay the resulting legal proceedings.
“Efforts to punish an executive branch official for non-compliance with a subpoena through criminal contempt will likely prove unavailing in many, if not most circumstances,” concludes a newly issued Congressional Research Service report on Congress’s contempt power.
Just ask Nancy Pelosi. She was Speaker of the House in 2007 when the chamber issued a contempt citation against ex-White House counsel Harriet Miers. A lawsuit aimed at compelling Ms. Miers to produce documents pertaining to the mass firing of US attorneys by the Bush White House lasted past the end of the Bush administration itself.
Eventually the House received much of the information it wanted, and it agreed to dismiss the Miers suit. But by then,19 months had gone by, and a Democrat had won the Oval Office.
“The change in administrations and the passage of time could be said to have diminished the [House’s] ability to utilize the provided information to engage in effective oversight,” says the CRS report.
As for Attorney General Holder, he is not yet in contempt of the House. Yes, on Wednesday the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee voted along party lines to hold Holder in contempt. That’s a necessary step in the contempt procedure, but the citation can’t take effect until it is approved by the full House. House Speaker John Boehner indicated Wednesday that’s a step that may take place soon.
“While we had hoped it would not come to this, unless the Attorney General reevaluates his choice and supplies the promised documents, the House will vote to hold him in contempt next week,” said Speaker Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R) of Virginia in a joint statement.
The House Oversight panel has been probing who in the US government knew what, when about the botched Fast and Furious gun sting. Firearms linked to the operation have been implicated in the death of a US border agent.
The panel has subpoenaed thousands of Justice Department documents pertinent to the operation. Holder has declined to provide all that information – hence the contempt citation. On Wednesday, President Obama asserted that executive privilege allows the administration to withhold the documents, further complicating the situation.
Congress’s contempt power isn’t in the Constitution. (Neither is executive privilege.) But courts have long found it an implied power derived from the legislative branch's ability to investigate government operations.
If the House does hold Holder in contempt, it has an inherent power to send the sergeant-at-arms to arrest and incarcerate him until he complies. But that’s largely theoretical – it hasn’t been used since the Senate jailed a former Assistant Secretary of Commerce in 1934. It would be so inflammatory as to destroy relations between the two sides.
Under a 19th century statue, the House and Senate can both pursue criminal cases against those held in contempt. But those cases are prosecuted by the Department of Justice. See the problem? DoJ is unlikely to eagerly pursue itself. In any case, presidents faced with the issue have declared as a matter of policy that they will not proceed with such cases in the face of an administration claim of executive privilege.
That leaves civil proceedings. And civil proceedings take a long time – perhaps too much time to serve as a useful threat to a sitting president. Nor are civil penalties likely as frightening as jail to any administration official held in contempt.
However, the “contempt” label could have meaning in the court of public opinion, and that may be the source of its modern power. It dramatizes the nature of a congressional-executive branch dispute and can express the real contempt of lawmakers for administration actions.
President Obama on Wednesday invoked executive privilege to withhold from a congressional committee some documents dealing with the failed gun enforcement operation “Fast and Furious."
Can he do that? What’s executive privilege, exactly?
Well, executive privilege is not mentioned in the Constitution, per se. But since the founding of the republic, presidents have, on occasion, claimed a right to withhold information from Congress in the name of confidentiality. Their theory is that, without this right, it would be much more difficult for US chief executives to get the unvarnished advice they need to run the nation.
George Washington, for instance, in 1796 refused to let the House of Representatives see presidential papers dealing with negotiations over the controversial Jay Treaty with Great Britain. Some years later, Andrew Jackson said Congress couldn’t have documents detailing negotiations over the shape of Maine.
In the 1950s, President Eisenhower refused to allow his attorney general to testify before the McCarthy-era House Un-American Activities Committee. It was at this point that the concept got the name “executive privilege” and expanded to cover more than direct presidential papers.
Watergate gave executive privilege more legal heft. President Nixon asserted that he had broad powers to withhold from Congress executive branch documents, testimony from officials, and (most crucially) his White House tapes. Federal judges ruled that presidents did indeed have a presumption of executive privilege. But they also held that this power isn’t limitless. Executive privilege could be overruled if Congress showed an overriding public need for the information. In Nixon’s case, that’s what happened.
According to an authoritative Congressional Research Service history of executive privilege, at least three important elements must be present for a legally correct assertion of the power. First, the communication the president wishes to withhold must bear on a core power of the presidency, such as the right to grant pardons or conduct law enforcement. Second, the communication must have come from or to the president or a close White House adviser. Third, the communication can’t contain info so unique that investigators can’t figure it out by looking elsewhere.
In the 2009-10 “Fast and Furious” case, Arizona-based agents of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were trying to build a case against smugglers suspected of supplying violent Mexican drug cartels with weapons. The US agents allowed these suspects to purchase upwards of 2,000 guns without intervention. Some of these weapons were later implicated in a 2010 shootout that killed a federal border agent.
In February 2011, the Justice Department sent Congress a letter stating that top officials had only recently learned about the “Fast and Furious” operation. Justice officials later withdrew that letter as inaccurate. GOP members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee now want documents pertaining to the reasons for that withdrawal. It’s this request that the administration is attempting to block with its executive privilege claim.
In a letter to Mr. Obama asking that he assert executive privilege in this case, Attorney General Eric Holder wrote that releasing the papers in question would “inhibit the candor of executive branch deliberations in the future and significantly impair the ability of the executive branch to respond independently and effectively to congressional oversight."
Republicans denounced the action. House Speaker John Boehner questioned whether the move means that the White House itself, not just the Department of Justice, was involved in “Fast and Furious” decisions.
“The administration has always insisted that wasn’t the case. Were they lying, or are they now bending the law to hide the truth?” said Mr. Boehner’s press secretary Brendan Buck.
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Wow. A new poll out Wednesday shows President Obama with a big lead over presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney. The Bloomberg survey has Mr. Obama in front by 13 points among likely voters, 53 percent to 40 percent. Can that possibly be true?
Well, it could be right. Anything can happen in politics. But the preponderance of evidence indicates that this poll is an outlier – a statistical glitch. The latest RealClearPolitics rolling average of major polls has Obama up by a much narrower 2.3-point margin. And that average includes the Bloomberg results.
Similarly, Gallup’s daily tracking poll has Mr. Romney up by one point Wednesday morning. Some polling experts suggest that Gallup’s results have leaned Republican this cycle. But even if that’s true, it is unlikely it would account for the big difference with Bloomberg.
The Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling firm agreed, saying on its own Twitter feed that it’s unlikely Obama is up by 13 percentage points. The president leads the race, though, and “he’s in far better shape than the conventional wisdom,” according to PPP’s Tom Jenson.
The firm that conducted the Bloomberg survey, Selzer & Co., is well regarded by polling experts. The margin of error for its likely voter results was 3.6 percentage points.
The poll did not include an over-representation of Democrats, or African-Americans – both groups that skew heavily toward the incumbent. One thing that might account for its result, as compared with other surveys, is that it shows Obama doing better among white voters. The Bloomberg survey has him with 43 percent of the white vote, as opposed to 50 percent for Romney.
Despite the poll's overall result, there are some signs of weakness for Obama within the Bloomberg numbers. Only 31 percent of respondents said the US is on the right track. Sixty-two percent said it is on the wrong track.
Only 43 percent of respondents approve of Obama’s handling of the economy. Fifty-three percent disapprove. And Romney has a slight edge among the most enthusiastic voters, 49 to 48 percent.
“You can see in these data how important turnout will be,” pollster J. Ann Selzer of Selzer & Co. told Bloomberg News. “Those most enthusiastic about the election are more supportive of Romney, but Obama’s voters are more locked into their candidate than Romney’s. Building resolve to vote and making the vote stick is job one, and both candidates face obstacles getting that done.”
Ron Paul had a pretty good May, money-wise. According to his just-filed Federal Election Commission financial disclosure form he raised $1.78 million during the month, despite the fact that Mitt Romney is now the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. And Mr. Paul entered June with no listed debt and $3.28 million in the bank. That’s $800,000 more in cash on hand than he had at the end of April.
So the Texas libertarian is in decent financial shape as he heads into the summer. He’s certainly better off than, say, Newt Gingrich, whose defunct campaign still owed over $4.7 million to various vendors last time we looked.
But what’s Paul’s spending pattern? As it happens, we think where his money goes is as interesting as how much he has, if not more so. Compare Paul’s balance sheet with Mr. Romney’s, and one might come to this conclusion: Paul’s campaign is more efficiently run.
You don’t see this just flipping through the line items in the latest report. (Although we would like to know who in the Paul campaign is spending all that money at Whole Foods. WalMart has groceries, and they’re cheaper.)
In May, Paul’s biggest expenditure was $297,852 in credit card payments. Next was $116,338 in airfare. His campaign spent $104,795 on hotels, then $81,750 on political consultants.
The picture becomes clearer when these payments are grouped into larger categories. The experts at the Center for Responsive Politics have done this for the whole 2012 cycle. (For the record, they haven’t yet patched Paul’s May report into their findings.) What they found is that overall 26.7 percent of Paul’s expenditures have gone to campaign administration. The comparable figure for the Romney campaign is a bit better, at 23.8 percent. Twenty-nine percent of Paul’s spending has gone to media – ad production, airtime, and such. That’s almost the same as Romney’s comparable 30 percent.
But what really jumps out is the cost of soliciting all that cash to begin with. Six percent of Ron Paul’s spending goes to fundraising. Romney devotes almost a quarter of his entire budget – 23 percent – to the same thing.
The reason for this is obvious. Romney raises money the old-fashioned way, a meal-based fundraiser at a time. Paul runs online “money bombs” and gets contributions in small contributions via the Web. That’s cheaper and takes much less of the candidate’s time.
Perhaps due to this, Paul is able to devote a significantly larger share of his budget, 37 percent, to campaign expenses. Romney’s comparable figure is 21 percent. Yes, Romney is dealing in bigger sums – through April he raised just under three times as much as Paul. But who is running on their business acumen here – the Bain Capital honcho, or the lawmaker/physician?
Might Mitt Romney win Michigan in November? That question arises because the presumptive Republican presidential nominee is touring Michigan Tuesday and Wednesday at the end of his six-state “Every Town Counts” bus tour. Mr. Romney was born in the Wolverine State, of course, and his father was a popular Michigan governor. He predicts he’ll take the state despite the fact that it has gone Democratic for five presidential elections in a row.
“I’m going to win Michigan with your help!” Romney on Tuesday told a rally in the quaint vacation town of Frankenmuth.
Why the optimism? Well, at this stage in the race all candidates are optimistic about everything – they have to be. But here are three reasons Michigan might be an attainable goal for the Romney campaign.
FAMILY TIES. Michiganders of a certain age remember the state’s George Romney era fondly. A backslapping, genial ex-auto exec, Romney père presided over Michigan’s 1960s-era boom. His status as a moderate Rockefeller Republican could help counterbalance Romney the son’s drift to the right.
REAGAN DEMOCRATS. In the 1980s, Michigan autoworkers defined the term “Reagan Democrat.” The state voted for Reagan twice and for George H.W. Bush once. White working-class voters are a particular problem area for President Obama, and they were a “dominant element” in the state’s electoral equation in 2008, according to a Brookings Institution analysis of Michigan demographics.
DETROIT’S DECLINE. Big urban areas in general are Democratic strongholds, and Detroit is no exception. There’s a reason Democratic candidates often kick off their fall campaigns with a Labor Day rally in the union-centric Motor City. But Detroit isn’t what it used to be, Clint Eastwood Chrysler Super Bowl ads notwithstanding. The city’s population has fallen by 25 percent over the past 10 years, and its Democratic political machine is crumbling.
Still, winning Michigan would be a stretch for a Republican who himself was governor of Massachusetts and maintains homes in New Hampshire and California. Here are three reasons Romney might better concentrate on Florida or other swing states more within his reach.
WHAT FAMILY TIES? Nobody in the state under age 50 remembers George Romney anymore – that was a long time ago. The young Mitt went to Cranbrook, a private school as exclusive as any in the country. The auto industry's lovely car ads are filmed there. They aren’t doing that at public high schools in, say, Flint.
TWO WORDS: “AUTO BAILOUT.” Romney famously opposed Mr. Obama’s auto bailout, although he now argues that bailout followed a pattern he suggested. Whatever the details, this is an issue the Obama campaign will try to exploit throughout Michigan and the industrial upper Midwest. GM is alive, and it’s hard to exaggerate how much that means to Michiganders, even in the nonmean streets of Romney’s hometown of Grosse Pointe.
THE POLLS DON’T LOOK GOOD. The latest RealClearPolitics rolling average of major polls puts Romney 5.4 percentage points behind Obama, 42.6 percent to 48 percent. The most recent individual survey wrapped into those numbers, a mid-June poll from Rasmussen Reports, had Romney down by a whopping 8 points. That’s not a fatal deficit, but it’s a fairly deep hole from which Romney will have to extricate himself to win the state.
On Tuesday, however, came this report from ABC News's Jonathan Karl: Senator Rubio isn't even being vetted. Mr. Karl writes: "He has not been asked to complete any questionnaires or been asked to turn over any financial documents typically required of potential vice presidential candidates."
On Intrade, the online prediction market, Rubio's odds of being on the ticket have plunged from about 21 percent Monday to just over 5 percent Tuesday.
Now, as the ABC News report goes on to say, this doesn't necessarily mean Rubio won't be vetted at some point in the future. And as MSNBC's First Read points out, at least two other much-talked-about potential candidates – Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels – have also recently acknowledged they have not yet been asked to turn over any paperwork.
Still, why would the Romney campaign want it known that they are not currently vetting Rubio (assuming that this story has, in fact, come from the Romney campaign)?
First Read suggests it could be a way of quietly lowering expectations for Rubio, to pave the way for his not being chosen.
We suppose that could be a necessary move. Rubio has in some ways occupied an odd space this campaign season: He's been the most buzzed-about vice-presidential candidate almost from the get-go, yet he has not been seen as the actual favorite for some time.
He has obvious strengths – a charismatic speaker who hails from a key swing state and could put in play a voting bloc that Mr. Romney is clearly struggling to connect with. Still, lately, Washington insiders have tended to dismiss Rubio as a Sarah Palin-like choice. Too young, too flashy, with too many unknowns in his background that could prove problematic or even embarrassing.
But the risks of not even vetting – and thereby appearing to snub – the GOP's most prominent Latino seem awfully high.
On the other hand, the move may reflect a simple reality: Romney's path to the White House probably has less to do with improving his performance among Hispanics than with running up big numbers among white voters.
As National Journal's Ronald Brownstein recently wrote, polling suggests Romney could win by overperforming among whites (rather than by improving his share of the minority vote). He would essentially have to match Ronald Reagan's performance by winning two-thirds of working-class whites and men with college degrees – a tall order, but one that may, in fact, be doable. As Mr. Brownstein puts it: "all evidence suggests that it's not beyond Romney's reach."
This certainly isn't a long-term strategy for success, given demographic trends. But Romney isn't trying to put the GOP on a path to a permanent majority; he's just trying to win this election.
Which may explain why Romney is currently on a bus tour through the Rust Belt, campaigning with Ohio Sen. Rob Portman and Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, while Rubio is hawking his autobiography – and watching his veepstakes odds fizzle.
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Ron Paul won Iowa! At the Iowa GOP convention over the weekend, supporters of the Texas libertarian walked away with 23 of the state’s 28 national convention delegates. Under state Republican rules, those delegates are unbound, meaning they can vote for Congressman Paul in August in Tampa, Fla., if they please. It’s another example of how Paul’s strategy of getting his people organized at the grass-roots level has (somewhat) paid off in the end.
But does this Hawkeye State victory come too late to really much matter in the larger scheme of GOP politics?
We’d say yes, no, and no. But before we explain that, let’s stop for a moment to consider Iowa’s multiple 2012 Republican caucus results. We don’t know what they’re putting in the pork cutlets there these days, but looked at as a whole this year’s Iowa vote was positively hallucinatory.
Remember? The first announced result following Iowa’s traditional caucus kickoff to the presidential nomination cycles was that Mitt Romney won by eight votes. Then two weeks later Rick Santorum was certified as winner by 34 votes.
But those caucus votes were a straw poll. Now, months later, it turns out that the people who stuck around and get themselves picked to go to this week’s state convention were overwhelmingly Paul supporters. So that brings us to the third and final Iowa victor, Ron Paul. (Too bad they couldn’t figure a way to let Newt Gingrich win it for a few days, too, just as a gesture to GOP inclusiveness.)
Ron Paul’s campaign is hailing the Iowa results as a big win. “Dr. Paul’s victory in the Hawkeye State affirms his delegate-attainment strategy and it has the added benefit of having occurred in the first-in-nation voting state, also a swing state,” asserts a campaign press release.
But we’d argue the straw poll results had a bigger impact on the GOP horse race than this late-in-the-day delegate win. Michele Bachmann had to do well to survive, and didn’t. Rick Santorum, by contrast, did do well, and kept rising.
However, we’d also argue that the final Iowa results could have an impact on how Ron Paul’s army views their candidate – and that in turn could influence the tone of the pro-Ron Paul rally in Tampa now scheduled for Aug. 26.
Paul himself announced Paulstock (our term) in a video to supporters last week.
“We’d really like a large turnout for this. Numbers are important... We should not be disruptive but neither should we be pushed around,” he said.
The Iowa results could also affect how hard Paul's forces push inside the convention to get some of their pet issues – control of the Federal Reserve, Internet freedom – recognized in the party platform.
Interestingly, the Paul forces may have identified an adversary in this effort, and it isn’t Mitt Romney. It’s Rick Santorum.
In the aforementioned video to supporters, Paul mentioned that Santorum has vowed to rally conservatives to oppose some of Paul’s moves. At this, Paul took umbrage.
“It is true the Santorum people are principled. They’re also authoritarians. They want to use the government to impose their will on us as individuals,” said Paul.
Paul generally has refrained from punching at Romney, and his son, Sen. Rand Paul (R) of Kentucky, has endorsed Romney. Holding up Santorum as an opponent could give his supporters someone on whom to vent their ire without jeopardizing a possible Ron Paul speaking slot at the convention or Rand Paul’s future in the party.
We're referring, of course, to Mr. Obama's decision on Friday to direct that young illegal immigrants brought to America as children be allowed to remain and work in the country – a move that is expected to strengthen Obama's already-considerable edge among Hispanic voters.
In 2008, Obama won the Hispanic vote handily, beating Sen. John McCain (who had notably gone against his party's conservative base on immigration reform) by a lopsided 67 to 31 percent. This year, the Hispanic vote may play an even more important role, representing a larger share of the electorate overall and in a number of key swing states, with as many as 2 million more eligible voters. So far, polls indicate that Obama is on track to match or even improve on his 2008 performance. A recent Gallup poll – taken before Friday's executive order – showed Obama leading Mr. Romney among Hispanics by 67 percent to 26 percent.
As conservative George Will put it on ABC's "This Week" Sunday: "[Republicans] spent the primary season competing to see who could build the longest, thickest, tallest, most lethally electrified fence. And Hispanics listening to this detected hostility – they're funny that way. And so Romney has a big hole to dig out of, because if he gets under, say, the 31 percent of Hispanic voters that McCain got, he's going to lose."
Monday morning, the Obama campaign continued rubbing it in by announcing the endorsement of popular TV host Cristina Saralegui, who has been referred to as "the Latin Oprah."
All of which leads us to ask: Has Romney's Hispanic problem become so glaring that he now has no choice but to try to one-up the president with a high-profile move – like putting Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida on the ticket with him?
It just so happens that this is a big week for Senator Rubio, whose autobiography, "An American Son," will be released Tuesday. (Scheduling note: Rubio will be the guest at the Monitor Breakfast on Thursday.) Another biography of Rubio, by Washington Post reporter Manuel Roig-Franzia, will also be released this week.
While experts have pointed out that Rubio, whose parents emigrated from Cuba, may not automatically appeal to all Hispanic voters, polls have shown that his hypothetical presence on the ticket does increase Romney's lead in Florida – a state Romney almost certainly will need to win. Rubio also has strong tea party credentials and a magnetic presence on the stump (something Romney himself lacks).
But most important, he would give Romney an instant voice of authority on Hispanic issues. And the historymaking nature of the pick should not be underestimated in its ability to energize Hispanics.
Tellingly, Romney essentially allowed Rubio to speak for him in reacting to the president's move last week. (The Miami Herald called it "Romney's what-Rubio-says immigration stance.") Rubio spoke first, calling the move "welcome news for many of these kids desperate for an answer" but also "a short-term answer to a long-term problem." Then Romney weighed in, saying, "I happen to agree with Marco Rubio." On CBS's "Face the Nation" Sunday, Romney refused to say whether he would overturn Obama's executive action if elected.
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