Is Ron Paul ending his official campaign for the Republican presidential nomination? That seems to be case, as he announced Monday that he won’t be spending any more money in states that have not yet voted.
That would mean no Ron Paul ads in Texas, no Ron Paul travel to California, no Ron Paul pamphlets in Kentucky, and in general no Paul presence on the stump.
Continuing on “with any hope of success would take many tens of millions of dollars we simply do not have,” said Congressman Paul in a statement posted Monday on his campaign website.
However, does the end of the Ron Paul campaign mean the end of the Ron Paul 2012 effort? We would argue that it does not. Paul will continue to look for ways to make headlines and press forward to some sort of appearance at the GOP’s August convention in Tampa, Fla.
Why do we think this? First, Paul said so. In his statement today, he noted that “we will continue to take leadership positions, win delegates, and carry a strong message to the Republican National Convention that Liberty is the way of the future."
Obviously, the Paul campaign will continue with its strategy of urging supporters to swamp state conventions and get themselves elected delegates to the national confab. As we’ve written before, this is a clever, cheap way of using complicated delegate-allocation rules to Paul’s advantage.
What the Texas libertarian may be doing is amassing “stealth delegates” – delegates bound by primary or caucus vote to Mitt Romney, or one of the withdrawn GOP candidates, who are personally in favor of Paul. It’s hard to count how many such delegates there are – or whether they’ll abstain in the first round, or otherwise cause some sort of disturbance, in Tampa.
OK, Paul is not exactly winning the nomination this way. The 192 delegates at stake in California – a state Paul is no longer contesting – are more then he’ll pick up with his state convention-packing approach.
But – and this is our second point – we think Paul will still continue with a quasi-campaign. Sure, he may take time off, but for the most part he was already appearing at college campuses and other places where he might have gone in any case to push his libertarian agenda. There was something sly in his announcement Monday – he said he didn’t have the “tens of millions” of bucks needed to keep going. He has millions in the bank, however, as near as we can determine, and that’s enough to keep him from fading away this election cycle. If he doesn’t want to, that is.
Just look at his most recent money figures, as crunched by the Center for Responsive Politics. At the end of March, Paul had $1.8 million in cash on hand, with no debt. He’d raised more than $2 million in the preceding 30 days.
Yes, that was a month and a half ago. It’s still plenty of cash for him to jet around and appear where and when he wants to, particularly since we suspect he’s still raising a steady stream of cash from small donations to his online “money bombs.”
So what’s ending? Ron Paul TV ads. Look at Paul’s expenditures this campaign cycle, and you’ll see that he has spent $15 million on communications and media services. That figure is equal to about 40 percent of the total $37 million he’s raised.
Mr. Romney is going to be the GOP nominee, so there’s really no point in Paul wasting money on expensive air time in upcoming primary states. Instead, he can now husband his resources to continue to build his base of committed supporters. He’s spent less than $2 million on air charters in the whole campaign, so continued travel to selected appearances shouldn’t be a financial strain.
So the official Ron Paul presidential campaign may be over. But we don’t think that’s the same thing as an end to the Ron Paul effort to push his agenda in the months ahead.
RECOMMENDED: Take our quiz: Are you a Ron Paul supporter?
President Obama’s reelection campaign has a new ad up that portrays Mitt Romney as a heartless, job-destroying financier. It’s an attack on Mr. Romney’s record as head of Bain Capital that’s similar to some of the stuff Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, and other ex-GOP presidential hopefuls produced during the primary campaign.
Will this line of assault work for Mr. Obama, where it didn’t for Mr. Gingrich, et al.?
Well, the context is different – Obama is trying to reach the whole electorate, as opposed to conservative Republicans in a few states. The timing is different, too. Obama’s ad has come out months prior to the general election. Romney’s primary opponents were trying to influence GOP state voters only days or weeks before they went to the polls.
RECOMMENDED: Mitt Romney's 5 biggest assets as GOP nominee
But before we dive into this, let’s look at the ad itself, shall we? At first glance, it’s brutal.
The spot, labeled “Steel,” focuses on a Kansas City, Mo., specialty metals firm that Bain acquired in 1993. The company, GST Steel, eventually filed for bankruptcy in 2001.
Most of the two-minute ad is taken up with the personal tales of veteran GST steelworkers. They accuse Bain of vacuuming as much cash out of the firm as it could, then leaving the company for dead.
“It was like a vampire. They came in and sucked the life out of us," says 31-year steelworker Jack Cobb in the Obama spot.
The ad accuses Bain of closing the company pension plan and seeking the elimination of retiree life and health insurance.
“Those guys were all rich. They all had more money than they’ll ever spend. But they didn’t have the money to take care of the people who made the money for them,” says 30-year company veteran Joe Soptic in the ad.
Ouch. The main point of this, in political terms, is obvious: The Obama campaign is trying to define Romney to crucial segments of the US voting population, as early as it can.
The “Steel” spot is set to run in five swing states over the next few weeks. The underlying message is that Romney is not a successful businessman who knows how to create jobs, but someone for voters to be afraid of, a rich guy who cares little about the prospects of the little people.
“The message of Obama’s ad attacking Bain couldn’t be clearer. Romney = middle class insecurity,” tweeted liberal blogger Greg Sargent of the Washington Post on Monday.
Will voters buy it? Some may. The spot plays into powerful stereotypes of US capitalism, after all. The Gingrich and Perry attacks on Romney’s business record were targeted in only a few states, for a limited period. Much of the nation may be unaware of Bain Capital’s record, and the fact that Romney has spent much of his business career in venture capital.
But we’ll note that Obama has had trouble attracting white, lower-middle-class voters, who are precisely the sort who would presumably feel most threatened by Gordon Gekko-style corporate raiding.
Plus, the ad elides some facts: Romney left Bain shortly after it acquired GST Steel, though he continued to receive profits from Bain payouts. He wasn’t around when GST went under. Also, it was an era when cheap foreign imports were hitting US steel firms hard, in general. It’s not clear whether GST would have survived in any case.
And some conservatives say the Obama team rolled out this line of attack too early. It gives the Romney camp plenty of time to respond prior to November.
“And while it’s a natural attack on the One Percent for Team Obama, it highlights Romney’s business experience and economic acumen at the expense of their own man,” writes Ed Morrissey on the conservative Hot Air website.
Might Mitt Romney not remember if he bullied someone in high school? That question arises as more reports surface that the former governor of Massachusetts led a “posse” that held down and forcibly cut the long blond hair of a nonconformist student at suburban Detroit’s Cranbrook school in the mid-1960s.
Mr. Romney has said he does not recollect this incident. However, he has not disputed Thursday’s Washington Post story, which broke the news of the alleged attack on then-junior John Lauber.
RECOMMENDED: Facing up to bullies
Romney’s defenders have pushed back against the Post account, saying Romney might not remember it because it’s possible it didn’t occur. They note that one of the main sources for the Post story, a Cranbrook friend of Romney’s named Stu White, did not say he saw the haircut take place. In addition, Christine Lauber, the sister of the alleged victim, has said her brother never mentioned it to his family. (Mr. Lauber died in 2004.)
“It is pretty clear that the Lauber incident did not unfold in the way the Washington Post describes, if, indeed, it happened at all.... [T]his is all part of a process to brand Romney as a vicious, thoughtless, out-of-touch rich guy,” writes streiff on the conservative RedState blog.
But other news organizations have begun to publish reports that confirm key elements of the Post account. ABC News on Thursday reported that a Romney classmate named Phillip Maxwell says he saw Romney wield the scissors as John was held to the ground by other members of a boy “pack.”
“It’s a haunting memory ... because when you see somebody who is simply different taken down that way and is terrified and you see that look in their eye, you never forget it,” said Mr. Maxwell, according to ABC.
Given this confirming evidence, it might be worse if it is true that Romney does not recall what happened, according to the generally liberal Talking Points Memo. TPM editor Josh Marshall on his blog quotes a reader as saying that would mean Romney committed the act without feeling very much about it or reflecting upon it later in life.
Mr. Marshall himself says he has been struck by Romney’s “intense equivocation” about the event. Although the presumptive GOP nominee has said he doesn’t recall it, he apologized to anyone whom he offended and added that he had no idea Lauber was gay.
“None of that really adds up. And I think this is long enough ago that if Romney just came clean and said it was almost 50 years ago and he regrets it that would be sufficient for most people,” Marshall writes.
For our part, having attended a boarding high school a few years after Romney, we find it hard to believe that he's forgotten this hazing – if it in fact happened. Dorms for teenagers are kingdoms run by boys, and the hierarchies, fights, bullies, and victims of that unusual realm remain vivid memories decades later.
That said, some of the worst offenders from our experience are today not just different, but successful and admirable members of society. It’s hard to see their youthful activities reflected in their personalities today.
How will ordinary Americans feel about all this? As the Post’s Chris Cillizza says on his Fix blog, a voter’s choice for president is heavily personality-dependent. It’s about who the candidates are, as much as what policy positions they hold.
We don’t know how voters will weigh Romney’s alleged bullying against other aspects of his personality, or whether they’ll care about something that occurred so long ago. We may never know.
“But the quickness of Romney’s apology is a signal that his campaign recognizes the potential political peril in an extended litigation of what he did or didn’t do in high school,” writes Mr. Cillizza.
Whether you call it Taxageddon, the "fiscal cliff," or just a big mess, the list of crucial decisions Congress has been putting off unitl the two months after November’s election is imposing.
The potential demise of the Bush tax cuts, the crush of the budget-slashing sequester, the decision whether to extend unemployment benefits and a payroll tax cut, and a looming battle over the national debt ceiling are an apocalyptic passel of issues.
Or, on the bright side, you might call them “action-forcing events.”
“I’m not predicting that all of that is going to be resolved during the lame duck session,” Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D) of Maryland said at a breakfast for reporters hosted by the Monitor on Tuesday. “What I’m suggesting is in the month after the election, those action-forcing events could help bring the parties together.”
From Democrats’ perspective, however, “coming together” means the GOP bending on its iron-ribbed resistance to any form of tax increases. And to get there, Congressman Van Hollen and his colleagues may have to take a page out of Republicans’ playbook. That is, they may have to act as if they’re willing to drive off that fiscal cliff to get what they want – and that’s not something they’re showing at the moment.
Let us explain.
Van Hollen, the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, is widely regarded as one of the best strategic thinkers among congressional Democrats. He was the head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which coordinates House Democrats' election efforts, for two election cycles. He also is known for his keen grasp of fiscal issues – by virtue of his own wonky predilections and his spot on the budget committee.
By demeanor and by ideology, he’s no Evel Knievel.
But when asked why December will be different from today in terms of its dealmaking climate, Van Hollen lays out a political Grand Canyon separating the parties.
“By law, all those tax cuts expire. That’s about $5 trillion over 10 years,” Van Hollen said. “I would hope our Republican colleagues would agree that $2 trillion in revenue is better than $5 trillion in that respect. And, so, that, at least, creates a forcing mechanism.”
The effectiveness of this “forcing mechanism,” however, is dependent on Democrats' willingness to drive the car off the cliff. Or at least to make Republicans believe they would be willing to terminate all the Bush tax cuts if they don't get their way.
But no one in the Democrats' national political leadership has endorsed such a stance. President Obama argues for taxes to rise for those with incomes over $250,000, for example. But not the whole tax kaboodle.
Then there’s Democrats' other potential leverage over Republicans: the sequester.
The sequester would cut more than $900 billion from federal budgets during the next 10 years, starting Jan. 2, 2013. It was formed by the Budget Control Act as a sort of “sword of Damocles” to compel Congress to approve $1.2 trillion in savings over 10 years. But Congress failed, and the sequester looms.
It was designed to burn both Republicans and Democrats, with cuts to defense programs (dear to Republicans) and discretionary spending (dear to Democrats) alike.
House Republicans this week offered an alternative to the sequester, but in the apparent tradition of this Congress, it may actually be more distasteful to Democrats than the sequester itself. That’s because the Republican alternative, developed under the guidance of Democratic bête noire and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, relies on slashing health-care and food programs that are exempted from cuts under the sequester.
Asked if the GOP’s proposal for ending the sequester was worse than the sequester itself, Van Hollen said, “Well, yes."
So are Democrats willing to opt for the straight sequester over the Republican alternative?
“I don’t want a sequester, no,” Van Hollen said. “The answer is, given a choice between the Republican proposal to replace the sequester and the Democratic proposal to replace the sequester, I support the Democratic proposal.”
"As long as Republicans refuse to consider a more reasonable approach – one that asks every American to pay his fair share while making difficult choices to reduce spending – the sequester is the only path forward," Mr. Reid said on the Senate floor Thursday.
At a minimum, Democrats have divided ideas about how to attack the sequester. Will they eventually be willing to push their sequester leverage to the max?
Going all-in on taxes or threatening to take their lumps with the sequester over the objections of the (Democratic) secretary of Defense would show a level of rigidity and brinkmanship that has come to characterize House Republicans in this Congress.
Van Hollen speaks for the public position of both parties when he says that simply pushing back December’s fiscal cliff through an extension of a year or more is untenable.
“I’m very much opposed, personally, to kicking the ball way down the road,” he said. “I think that would be a big mistake. I think that would create more uncertainty.”
But how will December be any different from May?
Republicans won’t raise taxes. Democrats say they’ve gone as far as they can go with cuts without raising taxes. Stalemate.
Unless, however, Democrats put on their crash helmets.
Does it matter if Mitt Romney misbehaved in high school? That question arises due to a report in Thursday’s Washington Post that when he was a senior at suburban Detroit’s Cranbrook school, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee led a “posse” that held down and forcibly cut the long blond hair of a nonconformist junior.
“He can’t look like that. That’s wrong. Just look at him!” an incensed Mitt said at the time, according to fellow student Matthew Friedemann, quoted in the Post.
Mr. Romney himself said Thursday that he cannot remember the incident. The longhaired student in question, John Lauber, is now deceased. But Romney gave some legs to the story by apologizing repeatedly for any pranks he may have pulled in high school that hurt or offended his fellows.
“As to pranks that were played back then, I don’t remember them all. But again, high school days – if I did stupid things, I’m afraid I've got to say sorry for it,” said Romney in an interview on Fox News Radio.
Romney’s opponents say they are torn by the relevance of an alleged incident that would have occurred some 50 years ago. But they forge ahead nonetheless, saying that if true, the forcible haircut could provide some insight into the character of a man who wants to sit in the Oval Office.
“Romney was 18 – old enough to vote, old enough to serve in the military, and old enough to know not to attack a vulnerable teenager unprovoked,” wrote Steve Benen on Thursday on Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC blog.
Even some liberals who believe the incident too old to be relevant say it’s fair game for the press. Romney shouldn’t be surprised that the media remain interested in what happened during his time at a school so upper crust it looks like Hogwarts – if Hogwarts were designed by world-famous architect Eliel Saarinen.
“Every aspect of [Romney’s] life is going to get picked over. It comes with the territory. It’s a deeply reported piece. In journalistic terms, the story is totally legit,” notes liberal Washington Post blogger Greg Sargent at The Plum Line on Thursday.
Romney supporters, on the other hand, were furious, saying that 90 percent of voters will agree that the ex-governor’s prep-school actions aren’t relevant today. The Post story is a subtle attempt to shape Romney as a gay basher at a moment when President Obama has come out in favor of same-sex marriage, they add.
“When long investigative pieces on Obama’s last three years (i.e. his presidency) start appearing on the front pages of newspapers, maybe the press has justification for going back decades to explore his opponent’s childhood,” writes conservative Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin at Right Turn.
Others on the right go even further. At RedState, editor Erick Erickson said the Post story is “just silly.” He questions the truth of incident, saying that the alleged victim never mentioned the haircut to his family, among other things.
“After four years of ignoring Barack Obama’s bullying of religious groups and others from inside the White House, it’s fair game to go after Mitt Romney as a supposed high school bully,” Mr. Erickson writes on Thursday.
Should this story matter today? Does it slightly alter the image of Romney that biographers have been piecing together, as David Weigel asserts in Slate?
Leave a comment below and tell us what you think.
What do you get when you combine Barack Obama with George Clooney? You get a political fundraiser that is quite possibly the most lucrative such event ever. Also, a confluence of the White House and Hollywood that Republican opponents of the administration think they may be able to exploit.
Let’s back up a bit here, shall we? In the wake of his pronouncement that he supports gay marriage, President Obama on Thursday evening is set to attend a sold-out fundraiser at the Los Angeles home of actor George Clooney. The appeal of Obama to wealthy Left Coast liberals is such that the star power assembled for the dinner would be able to illuminate a large swath of Ohio, Florida, or any other swing state you choose.
Barbra Streisand. Robert Downey Jr., sans Iron Man outfit. Tobey Maguire. Jeffrey Katzenberg. And so on – they’ve all paid the $40,000 price for the VIP ticket allowing them to cram into Clooney’s undoubtedly superpendous Studio City pad. (Originally, the event was to be at DreamWorks CEO Katzenberg’s house. But it’s being renovated, and the work’s not done. Nice to know that even a billionaire can’t get plumbers to work on schedule.)
Full-price tickets will raise only about $6 million of the $15 million organizers expect from the event. The rest will come from small donations averaging $23 paid by entrants in a raffle for two seats with Clooney and Obama. The offer was worded like this: “For a chance to hang out with President Obama at George Clooney’s house, donate $3 or whatever you can to be automatically entered to win.”
Fifty finalists in this contest have already been identified and run through background checks. The two winners will be announced at some point prior to hors d’oeuvres. Both get to bring a guest. So, not too late to cozy up and try to arrange a date!
But here’s the question: Does hanging out with the Hollywood glitterati make Obama look cool? Or does it make him look like a snob who doesn’t understand the problems of people like you?
The Obama reelection team believes the former, of course. They’ve promoted the event heavily via emails to supporters. The president’s political team has long believed that his savoir faire is a selling point – that’s why he appeared on Jimmy Fallon to “slow jam the news.”
But Republicans aren’t ceding this ground. They’ve continued to try to frame Obama as the “celebrity-in-chief,” someone more interested in chatting up Barbra then figuring out how to lower the unemployment rate. Plus, they say the president is just after show biz bucks.
A Republican National Committee press release depicts Thursday night's event as “The Celebrity-in-Chief Fundraises with Celebrities,” and notes that the dinner will be studded with big names. The word “Hollywood” figures prominently in the release – they must have poll-tested it and found that Hollywood evokes a negative image of la-la liberals among Republican voters, at the least.
It is possible that associating the president with movie stars energizes some portion of the GOP base. It might also make him appear out-of-touch at a time when the economy is still struggling and jobs are issue number one.
It might also be an attempt to address Romney’s empathy gap. In a recent Washington Post/ABC poll, 49 percent of respondents said that Obama “better understands the economic problems the people in the country are having.” Only 37 percent said the same thing about Mitt Romney.
Still, Republicans tried to portray Obama as an out-of-touch celeb in 2008, and he won anyway. It remains hard to see how it helps Romney to highlight that his opponent is having dinner with George Clooney – someone whose approval ratings probably equal Obama’s and Romney’s, combined.
How does Mitt Romney want persuadable voters to think about the upcoming presidential election? Yes, we know he’s emphasizing the economy, and putting voters back to work, and so forth. What we’re getting at here is the sort of emotional context the Romney camp hopes will prevail among the swing electorate in November.
As it happens, we think Mr. Romney’s latest campaign ad, titled “Silence,” is a pretty good guide to what might be his overall strategy here. So as the late great Washington sportscaster George Michael used to say, “Let’s go to the videotape!”
The ad begins with "CBS Evening News" anchor Scott Pelley saying, “Tonight, new evidence the economic recovery is slowing." Then it moves swiftly, cutting between clips of reporters bemoaning the state of the job market and short bursts of President Obama giving a speech.
The Obama appearances are so brief as to be mere impressions. At one point you hear him say, “Ask if you’re better off than you were before..."
Then the montage accelerates, and the kind of rising music featured in horror movie trailers comes up. You hear only phrases – “We’re not seeing a ton of sunshine,” and so forth. Just as the tension peaks, we see not a slasher attack but Mr. Obama again, this time saying, “It’s not just how we’re doing today. It’s how we’ll be doing tomorrow."
Boom. Halfway through the ad, the music and the clips stop.
“Today, millions of Americans are suffering in silence,” comes on the screen in large white letters.
What follows is a succession of quotes, interposed over shots of people looking very worried, in dead silence.
“Job growth not nearly fast enough to recover from the Great Recession,” says one quote. “More than 340,000 workers dropped out of the labor force,” says another.
The ad ends with this: “This is the Obama economy. It isn’t working.”
For those of you who don’t obsess over this sort of thing frame-by-frame, as if it were an “Avengers” outtake, we’ll make a couple of Politics 101 points.
Where's Mitt? Challengers generally want elections to be referendums on the incumbent. They themselves are simply the replacement, a relief pitcher out of sight in the bullpen, waiting to be called. That’s why there’s lots of Obama in this ad, but no pictures of a certain former Massachusetts governor. The only Romney reference comes at the end, when his last name appears in small type as having paid for the message.
How are you feeling right now? Romney might be better off if voters cast ballots based on their emotions of the moment. He likely would get more support from folks who are worried about their present circumstances – after all, the unemployment rate is at a daunting 8.1 percent. Millions of Americans who still have jobs go to bed at night worried about losing them. That’s why this ad ratchets up the anxiety level – or reminds voters of how high their anxiety level already is.
In contrast, Obama wants voters to think about a longer time frame. His message could be summed up as something along the lines of, “Remember how bad it was back when I took this job? I inherited a mess, and it’s getting better. Let’s not change horses in the middle of the race.”
Generally speaking, it’s the employment trend line, not the absolute unemployment rate, that matters most in presidential elections. It remains to be seen whether the current “meh” job growth numbers will generate enough optimism among voters to convince them to give the incumbent another chance.
This question arises because at a Romney town hall meeting in Cleveland on Monday, a female supporter told the crowd that Mr. Obama is “operating outside the structure of our Constitution” and should be “tried for treason.”
At the time, Mr. Romney let the comment pass. Later, asked by reporters about the “treason” incident, Romney said that “no, of course” the president should not be tried for that offense.
Too late, too late! Top Democrats ratcheted their umbrage meters up to “stun.”
Obama spokeswoman Lis Smith said in a statement, “Time after time in this campaign, Mitt Romney has had the opportunity to show that he has the fortitude to stand up to hateful and over-the-line rhetoric and time after time, he has failed to do so.”
Does the Obama team think Romney secretly sympathizes with the call to put their guy in the dock? No, they know better. They’re just maneuvering for a tiny bit of rhetorical advantage in a campaign that’s becoming more personal by the day.
Handling supporters who go over the line isn’t easy, after all. Sure, in the 2008 campaign Sen. John McCain did it pretty well. After a rally supporter called Obama an “Arab” who couldn’t be trusted, Senator McCain took the mike and said, “No, ma’am, he’s a decent family man.”
But it’s more common for candidates to look on with a strained smile that says, “I hope that person did not say what I think they just said.”
Even some generally liberal commentators sounded as if they thought the blistering Democratic response seemed a touch ... sensitive.
“It would be nice if we could establish some kind of clear standard for when candidates are and aren’t responsible for the things their supporters say, but that isn’t going to happen anytime soon, since both campaigns seem to think they profit from jumping on such episodes, perhaps because they’re easy ways to motivate base supporters,” wrote Greg Sargent on his liberal Plum Line Washington Post blog.
Others added that the problem here is not Romney’s response per se, but the political culture that produced the woman’s comment. If Donald Trump can question whether the president is legally a US citizen, why can’t the rank and file yell “treason”?
“I’m not sure which is worse: the idea that we’re all supposed to care whether or not Mitt Romney adequately knocks down the crazy every time it’s thrust in his face ... or the fact that the crazy is constantly thrust in his face (and that he and other Republican leaders encourage it),” wrote Jonathan Bernstein on his A plain blog about politics.
Conservatives, meanwhile, charged Democrats with hypocrisy.
Interviewed afterward, White House adviser Daniel Pfeiffer said that “officials shouldn’t be responsible for everything said and don’t have to serve as the ‘speech police.’ ”
“So there you have it,” wrote Mr. Howe. “There is absolutely nothing worse than a man of Governor Romney’s stature staying quiet while awful things are said about his opponent. This is something that Obama would never find himself on the wrong end of. Unless of course when he was exactly on the other end of it just last year.”
Ron Paul scored big victories at the Maine and Nevada Republican Party conventions on Sunday. In both states his forces won the majority of delegates to this summer's national GOP convention in Tampa, Fla.
As we noted Sunday, this means Mr. Paul’s strategy of organizing the grass roots and working arcane delegate selection rules is paying off. And that could mean big trouble for Mitt Romney and his plans to smoothly pivot to a campaign aimed solely at incumbent President Obama.
Yes, Mr. Romney is still the presumptive nominee. It’s highly unlikely Paul will be able to deny the former Massachusetts governor the prize he’s sought for so long. But Paul’s forces aren’t lining up and saluting a Romney victory. When they show up in Tampa in August they may be strong enough, and prepared enough, to throw the convention floor into embarrassing disarray.
“All of this means the GOP can no longer ignore its libertarian ‘fringe.’ On the contrary, it will have to reach out to a new generation of activists who don’t regard religious piety or continual warfare as sacred tenets of conservatism,” wrote Oxford University historian Timothy Stanley in a CNN opinion column last week.
Let’s back up a bit and recap, shall we? On Sunday in Augusta, Maine, Paul supporter Brent Tweed narrowly won the election to chair the state’s GOP convention. From there, he presided over a meeting that ended up with Paul winning 18 of the state’s 24 delegates to Tampa.
Romney narrowly won Maine’s caucus straw poll earlier this year. But that was a nonbinding beauty contest. Sunday’s vote was what really counted.
In Sparks, Nev., the result was even more one-sided. Paul supporters won 22 of 25 delegates up for selection. But Nevada’s caucuses, unlike Maine’s, were binding on delegates. Some delegates were also awarded on an at-large basis. The bottom line: In the first round of voting in Tampa, 20 Nevada delegates are bound to Romney, and eight are free to vote for Paul, no matter their personal preference.
But that may not be the full story. Paul’s forces are not bound to make it easy for Romney to coast to victory, as delegate selection expert Josh Putnam, a Davidson College political scientist, writes on his Frontloading HQ blog.
Paul’s highly organized campaign continues to amass what Mr. Putnam labels “stealth delegates” – delegates pledged to Romney, or one of the withdrawn GOP candidates – who are personally in favor of the libertarian congressman from Texas. It’s hard to determine how many such folks Paul has, or what they’ll do in Tampa.
For instance, what if Paul supporters who are bound to vote for Romney in the first round by state rules simply abstain from casting their ballots? That might keep Romney under the 1,144 votes he needs to win the nomination – even if he actually (sort of) has those votes in hand!
“This is a tricky maneuver, but not one that is prohibited by the Republican Party delegate selection rules,” writes Putnam in a lengthy post devoted to the ways Paul could make trouble for Romney.
Again, this would be unlikely to prevent Romney from actually winning the nomination eventually. But it would prompt an embarrassing floor fight and expose rifts in the party at the very moment the Romney forces would most want to show a united front to the world.
Another unknown here is whether Paul wants to push things this far. Does he just want a good convention speaking slot, or influence on the party platform? Or does he want to win?
“Is Paul after the nomination? I don’t know. But his supporters sure are,” writes Putnam.
In any case, Paul’s weekend victories have left Romney supporters in Maine and Nevada fuming.
In Maine, Romney backer Craig Cragin called the turn of events at the state convention “bizarre,” according to the Bangor Daily News.
Mr. Cragin also predicted that the Paul people had violated rules in Augusta and thus would not even make it to the national convention in late summer.
“They have so phenomenally screwed this up that they will go to Tampa and not be seated,” Cragin said.
Forget the Fed, for now – Sen. Rand Paul wants to shut down the TSA.
The Kentucky Republican is drafting legislation to end the Transportation Safety Administration and to establish a passenger bill of rights, according to a spokesman from his office. When those bills hit, they'll likely be accompanied by a deluge of signatures from a petition campaign launched by the Campaign for Liberty, the grassroots and lobbying organization once chaired by the senator's father, Ron Paul. Paul stepped down from his honorary chairmanship to mount his presidential campaign.
Paul the elder, the Texas congressman and gadfly presidential candidate, is famous for his campaign to end the Federal Reserve along with five government departments – Education, Energy, Interior, Housing and Urban Development, and Commerce – and has long called for abolishing the TSA, too. (For a "big dog" take on Ron Paul's proposed cuts, see this ad.)
Paul the younger's petition to end the TSA cites several mortal sins for the agency:
- The TSA does not make us more secure; it simply wastes time and money.
- The TSA has set up rules and procedures that harass ordinary citizens at the expense of actually finding terrorists.
- Private security should handle airport checkpoints.
- Toddlers, mothers with small babies, grandparents, and the disabled are all being harassed while simply trying to board an airplane.
- Our constitutional rights are being violated every day by an out-of-control agency that was created in a misguided attempt to interject government into a place it was not needed.
What's are the chances of Senator Paul's TSA-ending bill becoming law? About the same as his unsuccessful amendment to the postal reform bill that would have ended government tyranny over individual mailboxes.
Still, Paul might be onto something with the petition. On one libertarian issue, at least, a petition got the White House's attention.
The White House has its own petition site, We The People, where it responds to petitions that garner more than 25,000 signatures in 30 days. (Your blogger has signed one – and only one – asking the federal government to mandate the end of the notorious "check engine" light in favor of diagnostics that actually tell you something. Sadly, that petition didn't make the 25,000 signature mark.)
Poking through the petitions therein, it's pretty clear that ending the TSA is far from the most quixotic petition out there. Nearly 27,000 folks want the FDA to have nothing to do with regulating "premium cigars," more than 100,000 want the White House to respond to their argument that the Sea of Japan should be called the East Sea ... and so on and so forth.
The White House has responded to petitions on working to conserve and sustainably manage sharks, and urged responsible pet ownership to avoid pet homelessness, and explained why it can't intervene in the Casey Anthony case.
Yet petitions of a libertarian bent got the administration's attention on one of libertarians' pet issues: raw milk. Both Pauls have introduced legislation to lift an intrastate ban on the transportation of raw milk. So, FDA, your move:
"The FDA has never taken, nor does it intend to take, enforcement action against an individual who purchases and transports raw milk across state lines solely for his or her own personal consumption," writes Doug McKalip, a senior policy adviser for rural affairs in the White House Domestic Policy Council, in the White House response to the petition.
Take heart, Paul fans.