An economic recovery poses messaging problems for the Republican field. A gruesome massacre of civilians, including children, in Afghanistan by an American soldier presents more.
The to-the-ramparts stance that many Republican candidates have adopted this cycle doesn’t just ignore the isolationist strains within their own party – recall last year’s House vote rebuking President Obama over the mission in Libya, and the 87 House Republicans who backed Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich's (!) measure forcing an end to U.S. military involvement there within 15 days.
The GOP's foreign-policy rhetoric and the Afghan unraveling have wedged the party into an unenviable political crouch.
Aside from the ghastliness itself of Sunday’s incident, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, and Newt Gingrich must figure out how to finesse their own positions on Afghanistan: how to critique a president who is to the right of much of his own party and the nation as a whole.
Santorum’s remarks this morning on NBC’s Today underscored the difficulty of acquiring the required agility: “We have to either make the decision to make a full commitment, which this president has not done, or we have to decide to get out and probably get out sooner.”
That’s a muddle wrapped in a quagmire.
-- Jim O’Sullivan
NATIONAL JOURNAL’S PRIMARY REPORT
Welcome to the Crawl Campaign
[Washington Post, 3/11/12] Chris Cillizza takes a look at the calendar for the next couple of months and concludes that Santorum looks strong for March and May, while Romney looks strong for April and June. It’s a campaign with no apparent end in sight.
Santorum Concedes: He Can't Win The Nomination Outright NEW!
[BuzzFeed, 3/12/12] Romney's campaign keeps saying that the other candidates in the race can't possibly amass enough delegates before the convention to win the nomination, and the Santorum campaign finally seems to have accepted that. But they're not giving up, instead eyeing a contested convention.
Strong Voter Turnout Expected in Alabama
[Montgomery Advertiser, 3/12/12] Alabama's chief election official is estimating that turnout for Tuesday's primary will be high due to the GOP presidential candidates’ emphasis on the Heart of Dixie, but will fall short of the record set four years ago when Alabama had one of the biggest turnouts in the country.
Early Bird Gets the Delegates NEW!
[Slate, 3/12/12] Early votes are immune to swings of fate or public fancy in the days and weeks leading up to election day, which may explain in part why Romney's been able to amass so many delegates -- his organizational strength has offered him a better opportunity to snag those early votes.
Tight GOP Primaries Suggest Unpredictable South
[New York Times, 3/11/12] National polls reveal a volatile contest in Alabama and Mississippi, the two states to vote on Tuesday. The race is a near toss-up among the three leading GOP candidates, with the party's base voters in the Deep South not as predictable as they once were.
Candidates Struggle to Connect With Conservative Southern Voters
[Washington Post, 3/11/12] At rallies in Mississippi and Alabama over the past week, all three candidates awkwardly fished for something they might have in common with Southern audiences. Romney’s “I like grits” moment speaks for itself, but even Gingrich and Santorum have struggled to bridge what voters perceive as a cultural disconnect.
Why Gas Prices Aren’t Likely to Decide the 2012 Election NEW!
[Washington Post, 3/12/12] At the Washington Post, Brad Plumer writes that for all the talk of high gas prices in the political sphere, they alone won't be the deciding factor in the 2012 elections. The White House and Congress can do very little to affect gas prices, and they don't really become a political issue until they begin to affect other aspects of life.
The Super-PAC Paradox
[Roll Call, 3/12/12] Federal Election Commission rules define “improper coordination” between super PACs and the candidates they support so narrowly that political players would have to step far over the line to violate them. What’s striking about 2012 spending is not what’s illegal – it’s what’s now permitted.
Understanding Romney’s Base
[National Journal, 3/12/12] Romney represents suburban, white-collar voters focused on revitalizing the economy, not fighting the culture war. These voters are far less noisy and visible than the tea party faithful, but if Romney claims the nomination, it will be due to them.
As Rivals Divide, Romney Gains
[Wall Street Journal, 3/12/12] A day ahead of two crucial Southern races, Romney is finding himself within striking distance of improbable wins in Alabama and Mississippi, thanks to the divided loyalties of conservatives in the deep South. As long as both Gingrich and Santorum are in the race, neither can amass enough delegates to overtake Romney.
Adding Up Team Romney's Pluses, Minuses NEW!
[Wall Street Journal, 3/12/12] Many GOPers have complained that the drawn-out primary is giving the Obama campaign extra ammo to attack the eventual nominee when the general election rolls around. The Wall Street Journal's Gerald Seib reports on what the Obama campaign might find when assessing likely nominee Mitt Romney's strengths and weaknesses.
Romney: We’re Closing the Deal ‘State By State’
[National Journal, 3/12/12] Romney rejected criticism from rivals this morning on Fox News’ Fox and Friends that he is a weak front-runner who is losing among the Republican Party's more conservative wing: “We’re closing the deal--state by state, delegate by delegate.”
Poll: Obama Loses Ground to GOP Opponents
[National Journal, 3/12/12] Obama's approval ratings have slipped, and he no longer leads Romney in a general-election matchup, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll released early today that also shows Americans are split on the president's economic policies.
Foxworthy Says Romney May Be More Dangerous Hunter than Cheney
[CNN, 3/12/12] Jeff Foxworthy speculated that Romney might be more lethal with a gun than former Vice President Dick Cheney. The “You might be a redneck” comedian endorsed Romney last week; today, he’s making the rounds in three Mississippi locations to help bolster the GOP front-runner.
How Ron Paul Lost the Virgin Islands By Getting the Most Votes
[Slate, 3/11/12] How did Paul get 11 more popular votes than Romney but lose to him on delegates? The U.S. Virgin Islands system doesn't apportion delegates by popular vote; instead, voters elect delegates: The six with the most support get to go to Tampa. Paul’s campaign blog trumpets the outcome and accuses the media of "duplicity" in reporting on Romney's delegate win there.
Gingrich’s Provocative New Ad: Obama, Gas Prices, and the Saudis
[Los Angeles Times, 3/11/12] A new ad from the Gingrich camp has begun airing in Alabama that shows Obama bowing to Saudi King Abdullah, followed by an image of a white man with his hands up, as if being mugged at gunpoint, with the unseen assailant poking a gas pump in his back. “Some might perceive [the ad] as playing into ethnic stereotypes,” the L.A. Times writes.
Gingrich, Perry Deny Report of Joint-Ticket Announcement
[National Journal, 3/11/12]. A report by Fox News just two days before crucial races in Mississippi and Alabama cited “sources close to the Gingrich campaign” saying that a joint Gingrich-Rick Perry ticket might unite evangelical, tea party, and other conservative voters. But spokesmen from both campaigns have dismissed the speculation.
Santorum Downplays Expectations Ahead of Southern Primaries NEW!
[National Journal, 3/12/12] Santorum said his campaign is "playing catch-up" with his rivals in now-significant Mississippi and Alabama, so it will be tough for him to win there.
Santorum Clings to Team of Pals
[Politico, 3/12/12] Of all the candidates, none has kept his team of top strategists as insular as Santorum. But some strategists believe that if Santorum wants a fighting chance at becoming the GOP nominee, he urgently needs to assemble a more expansive, professional political operation.
Santorum Bucks GOP Message on the Economy
[Talking Points Memo, 3/11/12] Santorum deviated from the party line this weekend when he suggested that an improving economy could damage Republicans’ chances in November, saying that the economy might not be a winning issue – or even the main issue during the election. Iran and national security could leap to the fore, he suggested – and Obamacare is likely to be a hot-button issue as well.
U.S. Should Reassess Afghan Policy, Santorum Says
[National Journal, 3/12/12] Santorum said on NBC’s Today that the U.S. needs to reassess its strategy in Afghanistan after this weekend’s massacre in which 16 Afghan civilians were killed; an American soldier is accused in the slayings. And, despite his earlier criticism of Obama's apology to Afghan President Hamid Karzai over the burning of Korans, Santorum said on the trail today the U.S. should apologize for yesterday's shootings.
No One Came To Mitt Romney's Twitter Birthday Party
[BuzzFeed, 3/12/12] Romney turned 65 years old today, and his campaign wanted to hold a special Twitter celebration for their boss. The problem was that basically no one came. Over three days, there were only 19 tweets wishing the former Massachusetts governor a happy birthday (although the number is bigger if you perform a different search). Meanwhile, Romney asked voters in Alabama to give him a present in the form of delegates come Tuesday.
Discussing Manning, Romney Touts Ties to Football Team Owners NEW!
[New York Times, 3/12/12] He also told talk radio host Paul Finebaum that he had tried fried pickles in the South, which he found good but “a bit fattening.”