Move over, George Clooney.
It will be hard for Sarah Jessica Parker to pull in the record-setting contributions (nearly $15 million) that the Clooney event did last month. Clooney's dinner came right after President Obama came out in favor of gay marriage. Are New York's glitterati more generous than Hollywood's? There's no question that the Obama campaign is now rolling out the celebrities as to boost the 2012 campaign coffers.
On Monday night, former president Bill Clinton was the headliner as Obama and Clinton raised at least $3.6 million at three New York City events.
The evening opened with an exclusive reception hosted by billionaire investor Marc Lasry. It was followed by a gala at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel, where rocker Jon Bon Jovi was the headliner for a post-dinner concert. He sang the Beatles anthem "Here Comes the Sun." And the evening in New York closed with "Barack on Broadway" at the New Amsterdam Theater.
For their June 14 event, Parker and Wintour will reserve some seats for winners of a sweepstakes. Parker began promoting the dinner in a TV spot during the MTV Movie Awards on Sunday night.
Mr. Romney’s economic policies would mimic some of the austerity programs now in place in Europe, added the most recent former Democratic president. At the moment, that belt-tightening does not seem to be working.
“Who would have ever thought that the Republicans who made a living for decades deriding Old Europe would embrace their economic policies?” said Mr. Clinton.
Well, that’s a pretty quick about-face, isn’t it? Only last week Clinton referred to Romney’s “sterling” business record. The remark was made in the context of an interview in which Clinton criticized Romney’s economic record, but it undercut the Obama team’s attack on Romney’s leadership of private equity firm Bain Capital, and led to days of fact-free pundit analysis of the possibly tense relationship between the past and current Democratic Party leaders.
So why has Clinton brought the harsh now? On Monday he was tougher on Romney than Obama himself has been, going after the man personally, by name.
For one thing it’s likely he thinks he needs to make up for the “sterling” remark. We have no idea whether he knew what he was doing with that – predicting Clinton’s motivations has always eluded us. But if he’s going to serve as a Surrogate Number One (sorry Joe B.) for the coming campaign, he’s got to stay on board the Obama train. And all indications are that the reelection team wants Clinton to be their biggest non-Obama political weapon.
Second, Clinton was making a particular economic argument to a sophisticated audience at the home of Obama campaign bundler and billionaire hedge fund guy Marc Lasry. Presumably there were lots of other Wall Street types who paid the $40,000 necessary to get in, and they follow what’s happening in Europe at the moment. It isn’t good. Liberal economists such as Paul Krugman have continually insisted that budget-cutting policies instituted by such conservative leaders as Britain’s David Cameron are making things worse, not better. The European nations that are best weathering the storm are those traditional big-government social democracies that Republicans love to deride, according to Krugman.
Finally – and we just can’t help ourselves here – Clinton may have been thinking ahead to Hillary 2016. DC was abuzz with yet another Clinton boomlet on Sunday after House minority leader Nancy Pelosi gave an interview to the San Francisco Chronicle in which she predicted a female president in her lifetime – Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Asked about a Clinton 2016 race, Pelosi said “Why wouldn’t she run? She’s a magnificent secretary of state. She’s our shot [that election cycle].”
If that is ever going to happen, Bill Clinton needs to refrain from offending important Democratic constituencies. If Obama loses and his supporters think Clinton did not help enough, things would be that much tougher within the party for Hillary Clinton in coming years.
Democrats on Monday took to the press to try to drum up support for the Paycheck Fairness Act, a bill to ensure equal pay in the workplace between men and women of equal qualification, despite expectations that Republicans will filibuster its passage.
President Obama, White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, and Sens. Barbara Mikulski (D) of Maryland and Chuck Schumer (D) of New York all joined conference calls to talk up the legislation on Monday ahead of its scheduled vote in the Senate on Tuesday.
Why the outreach, even though the bill is widely expected to fail to hit the 60 votes needed to beat a Senate filibuster? First, the legislation is near and dear to Democrats' hearts. Senator Mikulski and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D) of Connecticut have been introducing versions of the measure for more than a decade.
The Paycheck Fairness Act (PFA) would offer several additional protections for women in the workplace, including increased ability to pursue punitive damages for unequal pay claims; prohibit employers from retaliating against employees who inquire about payment practices or who disclose their own salaries; and require businesses to prove that differences in pay between genders were rooted in business requirements.
Second, even with the outcome looking certain, the bill provides Democrats with the opportunity to further push the narrative of what they call the Republicans' "war on women."
"The gender gap is not only about how we vote, but how we are treated. And how we are treated in the workplace is when we try to find out about our pay, we often face harassment, humiliation, or retaliation," said Mikulski on a call with reporters. "American women are mad as hell, and they are ready to fight."
The president, on the other hand, described the issue in economic terms.
"And we've got to understand this is more than just about fairness," Mr. Obama said Monday. "Women are the breadwinners for a lot of families, and if they're making less than men do for the same work, families are going to have to get by for less money for child care and tuition and rent, small businesses have fewer customers. Everybody suffers."
But conservatives say it's not that simple. They argue the legislation is little more than a give-away for "litigators and aggrieved women's groups," as Christina Hoff Sommers, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, wrote in a recent op-ed. She argues that the statistic most frequently marshaled by the bill's backers – that women earn only $0.77 for every dollar paid to men – "is mostly, and perhaps entirely, an artifact of the different choices men and women make – different fields of study, different professions, different balances between home and work."
Democrats see that as thinly veiled sexism.
"They’re basically saying women choose to be paid less than men," Senator Schumer said Monday. "This is as false as it is insulting – and it's inaccurate."
The issue is clearly a bit awkward for Republican lawmakers. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky didn't mention the issue after comments by his counterpart, majority leader Harry Reid (D) of Nevada, when the Senate opened its weekly business Monday afternoon.
"Most if not all of them are likely to vote no," Schumer said. "But you won't see them making any big floor speeches against the bill. They don't want to be drawn into a conversation on this issue, and they're hoping the vote gets drowned out."
Of course, knowing that "most if not all" of the Senate's GOP lawmakers would move against the bill makes its moment in the legislative sun Tuesday afternoon a bit of a moot point. But that won't stop Democrats from trying to take political advantage along the way.
"It appears Republicans will wind up on the wrong side of this issue, as well," Senator Reid said on the Senate floor Monday, "sending the message to little girls across the country that their work is less valuable because they happened to be born female."
Does Ron Paul want his supporters to cool it? Reading between the lines of recent campaign missives from Paul HQ, he does. The Paul forces got into heated confrontations at several GOP state conventions over the weekend – in Louisiana, security guards manhandled a leading Paul delegate, sending him to the hospital. But the Texas libertarian’s campaign is urging Paulites to turn the other cheek and make civility their watchword.
“Establishment Republicans sometimes claim that Ron Paul supporters occasionally get out-of-hand. This has been true, and to the extent that some Paul supporters have exhibited poor behavior [it] not only reflects badly on the individuals involved, but Dr. Paul,” wrote Paul campaign blogger Jack Hunter on June 2.
What Congressman Paul wants to avoid is an overt fight of some sort at the GOP convention in Tampa, Fla. Mitt Romney’s won and will control the agenda. It would do Paul’s forces no good to fight that, although some die-hards are still passing around e-mails that show how Paul could win via a complicated strategy in which delegates bound to Mr. Romney just don’t vote on the first round, then switch and vote for Paul.
Paul’s campaign has said it has some platform planks it wants to push, including Federal Reserve restraint and Internet freedom. But the real goal is to try and take over the Republican Party from within by out-organizing the opposition. That’s the reason Paul supporters have devoted so much effort to learning obscure rules and then using that knowledge to make strong showings at caucuses, state party conventions, and other local meetings.
“The GOP is an ideological vacuum that is currently being filled with our people right before our eyes. Our superior philosophy will win the day,” wrote Mr. Hunter.
In the long run that could be an interesting contest in which lots of other Republican Party participants, such as tea party supporters, elected officials, and Romneyites, will have a say. In the short run, this effort has led to some hurt feelings, and worse.
Ron Paul supporters booed Romney’s son, Josh, last Friday at the Washington State GOP convention. In Shreveport, La., on Saturday, Paul supporter Henry Herford Jr. , who has a prosthetic hip, was injured when security guards attempted to prevent him from calling to order a re-formed convention approved by duly elected Paul delegates.
That is the Paul side of the story, in any case. According to the Paul campaign, Louisiana GOP officials “ignored the vast majority of duly elected delegates and attempted to use illegally adopted rules to deny Ron Paul supporters an opportunity to attend the Republican National Convention in Tampa.”
Paul supporters had packed the house by getting themselves elected as Louisiana state delegates at lightly-attended caucuses. Long story short, this led to disputes over who would represent which candidates where, and the convention split in two. Another Paul delegate was briefly detained by police and had some fingers broken, according to the Paul campaign.
In the end, the Paul people met with Romney’s state chairman and smoothed things over.
“Despite the divisiveness that characterized the Louisiana state convention initially, we are thankful that the Paul and Romney campaigns took the high road to guarantee the enfranchisement of Republicans whose candidate preferences differ,” wrote Paul national campaign manager John Tate on Sunday.
As to who now controls Louisiana’s 46 delegates to the national convention, the Associated Press counts five for Romney, 10 for Rick Santorum, one for Paul, and 14 unbound delegates that state party officials say they expect to go to Romney.
There were no nominations for 13 of the 16 remaining delegates. “The party says that was done to allow talks with Paul supporters who refused to participate in the convention,” according to the AP account.
"We've run probably $25, $27 million of advertising in this campaign, and virtually all of it has been positive," Mr. Axelrod noted.
That may be the case overall. But the campaign's recent ads have taken a sharp turn toward the negative, as gloomy economic news has made it harder for Mr. Obama to run on his own record.
On Monday, the campaign released a new ad attacking Mr. Romney's economic record as governor of Massachusetts.
Set to run in nine battleground states, the ad features footage of Romney during his 2002 gubernatorial campaign, claiming he knows how to create jobs. It then goes on to state that during Romney's tenure as governor, Massachusetts lost 40,000 manufacturing jobs and fell to 47th in the nation in job creation. The closing line: "Romney economics: It didn't work then, and it won't work now."
Given the lousy economic climate, attacking Romney may be the only card the Obama team has to play right now. As Axelrod said on Sunday, "when you hold yourself out as an economical oracle and say to people, 'trust me, I know how to move the country forward,' and your record says something else, of course you're going to be challenged for that."
But the Obama strategy carries some risks.
For one thing, any time an incumbent president goes negative, it can wind up making him look smaller – effectively bringing him down to his opponent's level.
And coming on the heels of last Friday's dismal jobs report, an ad focusing specifically on job creation – even though it's about Romney's poor record of job creation in Massachusetts – could wind up reminding voters how bad the national jobs picture is right now. That's certainly the discussion the Romney campaign wants to be having.
Finally, we're not so sure about the wisdom of showing Romney saying three times that he knows how to create jobs. Yes, the ad uses those clips to try to dismantle the claim – but who knows, in this age of channel surfing and multitasking, we think there's a decent chance that at least some voters who aren't paying attention could wind up focusing primarily on Romney's words, rather than the message of the ad. ("Hey, this Romney guy says he knows how to create jobs!") As the saying goes, in politics, repetition is king.
Mitt Romney’s reputation with US voters appears to be on the rise. That’s the implication of a new CNN poll, anyway, which shows that Mr. Romney’s favorable rating has jumped from 34 percent in February to 48 percent today.
Forty two percent of respondents to the CNN/ORC International survey say they have an unfavorable view of the presumptive GOP nominee. And President Obama still leads Romney in this particular rating race – his favorability number is 56 percent.
But voters’ views of Romney are becoming more positive at a time when the Obama campaign is doing its best to define him in a negative light. Attacks on Romney’s record at Bain Capital filled the political blogosphere there for a few weeks. Now the Obama camp is hitting Romney’s record at Massachusetts governor. What’s going on? After all, this CNN poll isn’t alone – as we pointed out last week, a Gallup survey now has him at a 50 percent favorable rating.
How can Romney’s favorable rise in the face of concerted attack?
For one thing, it’s mostly people who are intensely interested in politics who are paying attention to the campaign at this early stage. Polls show that in general only a minority of voters follow the political kerfuffles of the day – such as whether Romney should repudiate supporter Donald Trump for saying Mr. Obama wasn’t born in the US.
At this stage in the race (OK, maybe at all stages of the race) larger underlying forces are driving voter attitudes. What’s happening now could be the general rallying-around effect that occurs when a candidate wins a nomination.
Presidential candidates typically get a spike in their favorability ratings in the wake of winning the nomination,” wrote Gallup’s Jeffrey M. Jones recently.
But campaigns just gotta campaign, and in coming weeks we’re still going to see what the people involved believe to be a bare-knuckle battle over Romney’s and Obama’s reputations.
That means more dueling rallies such as occurred last week, when Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod held a press conference in Boston to attack Romney’s Massachusetts record, and Romney held an event in front of the shuttered Solyndra solar plant, which went under despite large government loan guarantees.
Of course, both sides claimed that they were the ones highlighting real issues, while the other guys were just making noise and cheap points.
Mitt Romney has had a good month, numbers-wise. That does not mean he’s suddenly become the favorite for November – the 2012 presidential horse race is fairly stable and remains essentially tied. Nor does it indicate that Friday’s stinker of a jobs report by itself makes a Romney victory more probable. Many other important economic indicators will be released in the months to come.
What it means is that Mr. Romney has improved on the margins in some important underlying indicators and thus may be less vulnerable than Democrats believe to some of the Obama camp’s favorite attacks.
(Yes, that’s a mouthful. We’re trying to keep pesky political scientists from blogging that we’ve gone wild and crazy and overinterpreted a few poll results.)
For the presumptive GOP nominee, the most important trend of May might be that voters are judging him a bit more positively. In the latest Gallup results, from earlier this month, his favorable rating hit a new high of 50 percent. His unfavorable rating is 41, meaning he’s at a plus-8 in this overall measurement.
As recently as February, Romney’s Gallup favorable was only 39 percent. What’s changed is that Republicans’ views of him have gotten much more positive, rising by 22 percentage points in the past three months. He’s doing better among independents, too, with a corresponding 11-point increase.
What’s fueling this? Perhaps it’s the simple fact that he beat all his GOP rivals. Winners look better just for having won.
“Presidential candidates typically get a spike in their favorable ratings in the wake of winning the nomination,” writes Gallup’s Jeffrey M. Jones.
Other polls show this same movement, though not all have Romney’s personal popularity at more than 50 percent. For instance, a new Washington Post-ABC survey has Romney with a 41 percent approval rating, up from 35 percent a month ago. President Obama still leads Romney in this measure – 52 percent of Americans view the incumbent positively, according to Post/ABC numbers. But the gap is narrowing. In April Mr. Obama led in approval by 21 points. Now it’s 11, according to this survey.
And this surge happened at a time when the Obama campaign was increasingly turning its attention to an attempt to define Romney in a negative manner. Remember all that stuff about Romney’s record at Bain Capital?
Plus, Romney has not exactly had easy treatment from the press. There was the Washington Post report about the teen Romney leading a hair-cutting bully attack, plus all the will-Mitt-repudiate-Donald-Trump stories. It’s possible all that will show up in a future survey or be taken into account in some longer-term manner. But at the moment it doesn’t appear to be driving Romney down in the polls.
While expected, “the recuperation in Mr. Romney’s favorability numbers ... reduces the risk that his personal qualities might cause him to lose an election that he otherwise would have won,” wrote New York Times polling analyst Nate Silver on his FiveThirtyEight blog recently.
The other number that’s looking a bit better for Romney is his rating with Republican women. In the Post/ABC poll, his approval rating among GOP-leaning women has jumped to 80 percent, up from 59 percent the month before.
Romney still rates poorly among Democratic women. That pushes his overall favorable rating among women down to 40 percent. But the gains among women in his own party have virtually closed his gender gap, at least in this latest survey. Women and men view him in about the same light.
Overall, the RealClearPolitics rolling average of major polls has Obama maintaining a slight edge over Romney of 2.5 percentage points.
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Why did Bill Clinton do it? We're referring, of course, to the former president's comments on CNN Thursday night, when he essentially cut the legs out from under the Obama campaign's attacks on Mitt Romney's record at Bain Capital.
Here's what Mr. Clinton said, vis-a-vis Mr. Romney's career at Bain: “I don’t think we ought to get in a position where we say this is bad work. This is good work."
And he went on: “There’s no question that in terms of getting up and going to the office and, you know, basically performing the essential functions of the office, a man who’s been governor and had a sterling business career crosses the qualification threshold.”
Now, we're sure there are all kinds of Machiavellian theories floating around about how Bill may be intentionally sabotaging President Obama in order to set Hillary up for a run in 2016. But we don't actually buy that.
Others suggest the former president simply misspoke. But we don't buy that either.
Here's the thing: Clinton's comments weren't just "off message." They were a declaration of war on the message. They underscore a fundamental split within the Democratic Party that's less about Romney's record at Bain than it is about whether the party as a whole is perceived as a friend or foe of Wall Street and the world of business and high finance.
Remember, Clinton went to great lengths as president to make the Democratic Party appear more pro-business than it had in decades – supporting free trade, ending "welfare as we know it," and explicitly courting more affluent supporters, particularly on Wall Street.
Since then, when Democratic candidates have seemed to push the party back toward a more explicit economic populism, or appeared to demonize big business, Clinton has often signaled his disapproval. After Al Gore ran on the slogan "the people versus the powerful" in 2000 and lost (though barely), Clinton later commented that he thought Gore's message hadn't worked.
Obama's relationship with Wall Street and the business community has undergone a notable shift between this campaign and the last, and the president's message has taken on a more stridently populist tone. While the last Obama campaign was about creating a new, post-partisan era of government, this one has centered on economic fairness, highlighting inequities in the tax code, and the need for regulations and other policies that protect the little guy. Over the past four years, many business leaders have bristled at what they perceive as unfair attacks coming from the president. And campaign contributions from Wall Street have fallen off precipitously for Obama.
Clinton's defense of Romney – or rather, his implied criticism of Obama's criticism of Romney – may seem like a slap in the face. But if Clinton truly believes that economic populism is a losing strategy for Democrats, his comments may actually have been an effort, in his view, to save the Obama campaign from itself. By undercutting so publicly the Obama campaign's attacks on Romney's career, Clinton may well have permanently – and, yes, somewhat humiliatingly – eliminated that line of argument from the campaign's arsenal. And we'd wager he thinks he was doing them a favor.
President Obama hosted ex-President Bush and Laura Bush on Thursday for the unveiling of their official portraits, and it was a real yukfest. Mr. Obama got things rolling by thanking his predecessor for good advice, kind words, and for outfitting the White House with “a really good TV sports package.”
“I use it,” said the current Oval Office resident.
Things went downhill from there. Or uphill, depending on your view of whether such events should be serious. Mr. Bush was in rare form, combining one of his old favorite comic tropes (calling George Washington the “first George W.”) with some new lines to produce perhaps the first ex-presidential stand-up routine.
“When the British burned the White House ... in 1814, Dolly Madison famously saved this portrait of the first George W.,” said Bush.
Then he pointed to his own painting.
“Now Michelle, if anything happens, there’s your man,” said Bush to general laughter.
Bush thanked his dad, the 41st president, and his mother, who were in the audience.
Then he said, “It is my privilege to introduce the greatest first lady ever ... sorry Mom.”
“Would you agree to a tie?”
(See, that’s funny because he’s introducing his wife, Laura, not his mother, Barbara. And Barbara Bush is not, you know, meek. Nothing like an explanation to suck the life out of a joke, is there?)
The rest of the presentation included Laura Bush’s reference to a Laura Bush bobblehead doll and Michelle Obama’s promise to hang the Bush portraits in place she could easily reach if the British show up to torch the place again.
Why did an episode of “The Daily Show” break out at this simple White House ceremony?
For one thing, George W. has always been a funny guy. Opponents used to complain about his smirk in office, but now that he’s out of office, he can let loose without fear of being accused of inappropriate levity.
For another, both Bush and Obama had ample time to prepare. They scheduled this unveiling a long time ago. We would not be surprised if speechwriters from both sides collaborated on the lines. (You think that’s cynical? Come on, they take the time to poll test how voters react to individual words. Like “Bain” and “Solyndra.”)
Finally, the humor defused what could have been an awkward situation. An ex-president from one party appears on a podium with the new president from another party who complains constantly about the mess he inherited – that sounds like a situation that could get ugly fast if somebody throws an insult. Humor is safer. Even if “Washington humor” is an oxymoron, like “New York humility,” or “L.A. gravitas.”
For a day, at least, the roles in the "war on women" were reversed.
Republicans, for once, backed Democrats into a politically tenuous corner over a hot-button social issue – abortion – while Democrats cried foul, arguing that legislation before the US House was more political ploy than policy change.
The House rejected a measure Thursday that would explicitly ban abortions undertaken on the basis of the fetus's gender, by a vote of 168 against to 246 in favor. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Trent Franks (R) of Arizona, did not carry because it was subject to a legislative rule that required approval of 60 percent of House members to pass.
Democrats, who previously knocked Republicans for their stances on the Violence Against Women Act and who are pushing legislation requiring equal pay for men and women, called the vote a political charade.
Democrats also took a page out of House Speaker John Boehner's book by redirecting discussion of a social issue to the economy.
"We should be talking about jobs, but instead we're spending time on this divisive issue," said Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D) of Oregon, on the House floor Thursday.
But conservative groups sensed they had found a way to cast their frequent tormentors into their own choppy political waters with the vote.
"It is to be hoped that even many Members who deem themselves 'pro-choice' will recoil at the notion that 'freedom of choice' must include even the choice to abort a little unborn girl, merely because she is a girl," wrote Carol Tobias, president of the National Right to Life Council (NRLC), in a letter to House members that urged passage of the bill. "Members who recently have embraced contrived political rhetoric asserting they are resisting a 'war on women' must reflect on whether they wish to be recorded as being defenders of the escalating war on baby girls."
While the bill fell short, its defenders and critics disagreed sharply about what exactly the measure would have accomplished. The bill would make it illegal to perform an abortion "knowing that such abortion is sought based on the sex or gender of the child." However, the legislation tilted culpability toward doctors, noting that "[a] woman upon whom a sex-selection abortion is performed may not be prosecuted or held civilly liable for any violation."
"[T]he end result of this legislation would be to subject doctors to criminal prosecution if they fail to determine the motivations behind a very personal and private decision," said White House spokesman Jay Carney on Thursday.
The NRLC, however, pointed to language in the bill that absolved health-care providers from having "an affirmative duty to inquire as to the motivation for the abortion, absent the healthcare provider having knowledge or information that the abortion is being sought based on the sex or gender of the child.”
At the issue's core is this question: Are many sex-selection abortions performed in the United States?
The bill's proponents pointed to a study showing that analysis of the third child born to Chinese, Indian, and Korean parents in the United States "strongly suggest[s]" prenatal sex selection. However, a review of the legislation by the Guttmacher Institute, which backs abortion rights, argues that such practices are not widespread in the the United States overall and that the studies offered by Representative Franks and allied lawmakers cannot prove that abortions for the purpose of sex-selection are a significant problem even in particular immigrant communities.
"What is conclusively known," wrote Guttmacher's Sneha Barot, "is that the U.S. sex ratio at birth in 2005 stood at 105 boys to 100 girls, squarely within biologically normal parameters."