Need to Know Video

GOP’s Leading Ladies: Bachmann’s Her Own Woman

Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
May 31, 2011, 4:37 p.m.

A Rasmussen Re­ports (IVR) poll; con­duc­ted 10/4; sur­veyed 500 LVs; mar­gin of er­ror +/- 4.4% (re­lease, 10/9). Tested: LG Den­nis Daugaard (R) and state Sen. Scott Heide­priem (D).

Gen­er­al Elec­tion Match­up

- Now 9/8 8/3 7/6 6/10 5/26 4/21 3/25 2/23 D. Daugaard 57% 57% 59% 52% 52% 51% 53% 49% 41% S. Heide­priem 33 28 27 35 36 36 33 32 32 Oth­er 4 4 4 4 3 7 5 6 7 Un­dec 6 11 10 9 9 6 9 13 19

I’ve spent a fair amount of time this week pon­der­ing what it means to stand one’s ground.

The term has taken on a new, dis­turb­ing mean­ing as the story of the shoot­ing of an un­armed Flor­ida teen­ager took on a life of its own. I don’t know any­one who’s ever loved a boy who was not un­nerved by this. Flor­ida’s self-de­fense law, known as “Stand Your Ground,” al­lows cit­izens who feel they are in im­min­ent danger to pro­tect them­selves — with a gun, if need be.

The idea of pro­tect­ing one­self, one’s fam­ily, and one’s prop­erty from in­truders is so ap­peal­ing that 21 states have ad­op­ted some ver­sion of the law. In this case, the pro­tec­tions of the Flor­ida law ap­peared to have al­lowed 28-year-old George Zi­m­mer­man to es­cape im­me­di­ate ar­rest and pro­sec­u­tion for shoot­ing 17-year-old Trayvon Mar­tin dead late last month. Mar­tin was walk­ing through a gated com­munity with candy and a can of iced tea.

Cit­izens of San­ford, Fla., protest the death of Trayvon Mar­tin (CNN)

The up­roar con­sumed the blo­go­sphere, talk shows, news­pa­per front pages, black ra­dio, and in­nu­mer­able kit­chen-table con­ver­sa­tions. Does stand­ing one’s ground mean de­fend­ing one­self no mat­ter what? And when civil rights lead­ers in San­ford, Fla., later de­clared “the line has been drawn in the sand,” wer­en’t they too stand­ing their ground?

Stand­ing one’s ground sounds great. It sig­nals cour­age and back­bone. Politi­cians have been trad­ing in this cur­rency forever. They call it lead­er­ship, and voters usu­ally agree.

Stand­ing one’s ground has polit­ic­al as well as so­cial con­sequences, as we have seen this week — which brings us to Mitt Rom­ney. As I have writ­ten in this space be­fore, the former Mas­sachu­setts gov­ernor and still-likely GOP pres­id­en­tial nom­in­ee can­not shake his chief weak­ness — the per­cep­tion that he is too flex­ible.

This repu­ta­tion, rooted in his days as the Re­pub­lic­an gov­ernor of a no­tori­ously blue state, has dogged him throughout the primar­ies. Fueled by the de­term­ined pur­suit of Newt Gin­grich and Rick San­tor­um, the Rom­ney-as-un­re­li­able meme has now be­come a re­cur­ring top­ic on the trail.

And just when he seemed to re­gain the sense of in­ev­it­ab­il­ity that he wore as a front-run­ner’s cape by scor­ing a de­cis­ive win in Illinois, his chief spokes­man re­minded every­one of his can­did­ate’s chief weak­ness.

Ap­pear­ing on a CNN talk show, strategist Eric Fehrn­strom re­spon­ded to a ques­tion about wheth­er Rom­ney would be able to veer back to­ward the cen­ter dur­ing a gen­er­al elec­tion cam­paign after re­peatedly trum­pet­ing his con­ser­vat­ive bona fides dur­ing the primary sea­son.

“Well, I think you hit a re­set but­ton for the fall cam­paign,” he said. “Everything changes. It’s al­most like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and start all over again.”

Let us pause here to say this made the folks at Obama headquar­ters in Chica­go very, very happy.

Rick San­tor­um holds up an Etch A Sketch in San Ant­o­nio, Texas (CNN)

By the end of the day on Wed­nes­day, Rom­ney was try­ing to clean up the day’s mini-storm by stat­ing flatly that his is­sues would be “ex­actly the same” in the fall gen­er­al elec­tion. But by then, the Rom­ney cam­paign had — not for the first time — com­mit­ted an­oth­er un­forced er­ror, and on the very day he should have been cel­eb­rat­ing his win in Illinois and a Jeb Bush en­dorse­ment. Gin­grich and San­tor­um promptly got hold of Etch A Sketches to bran­dish on the cam­paign trail. A San­tor­um aide even raced to a Rom­ney event in Mary­land to hand out the toys to re­port­ers.

We can­not res­ist a toy. And we can­not res­ist a ker­fuffle that plays in­to a pre­con­ceived no­tion.

But we do like con­sist­ency. I was re­minded of that this week when I sat down on Cap­it­ol Hill to in­ter­view re­tir­ing Sens. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, and Jeff Binga­man, D-N.M. As we chat­ted be­fore the in­ter­view began, it hit me how long it had been since I had been able to get sen­at­ors of op­pos­ing parties to sit down next to each oth­er for a joint in­ter­view. At best, we are only able to get Re­pub­lic­ans and Demo­crats to sit down “back to back,” rather than en­gage each oth­er dir­ectly.

Binga­man and Snowe, of course, who rep­res­ent the van­ish­ing middle in their parties, are on their way out of the Sen­ate. Their con­sist­ency is rooted in a firm be­lief in the value of bi­par­tis­an­ship. But Demo­crats on the left and Re­pub­lic­ans on the right have come to treat the search for com­mon ground as a sign of un­re­li­ab­il­ity.

“There’s not much of a cen­ter,” Snowe told me. “And we have to de­cide that the in­sti­tu­tion has to not only solve prob­lems, but the Amer­ic­an people have to give re­wards to those people and in­di­vidu­als who are will­ing to work across party lines. There are no polit­ic­al re­wards for that today.”

So of­ten our ideals clash with our ac­tions, wheth­er in life or in polit­ics or in stand­ing your ground.

What We're Following See More »
Trump’s Sanctuary Cities Order Blocked
11 hours ago
Dems Proposes Obamacare-for-Defense Deal
11 hours ago

"An emerging government funding deal would see Democrats agree to $15 billion in additional military funding in exchange for the GOP agreeing to fund healthcare subsidies, according to two congressional officials briefed on the talks. Facing a Friday deadline to pass a spending bill and avert a shutdown, Democrats are willing to go halfway to President Trump’s initial request of $30 billion in supplemental military funding."

Michael Flynn Remains A Russian-Sized Problem
11 hours ago

The Michael Flynn story is not going away for the White House as it tries to refocus its attention. The White House has denied requests from the House Oversight Committee for information and documents regarding payments that the former national security adviser received from Russian state television station RT and Russian firms. House Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz and ranking member Elijah Cummings also said that Flynn failed to report these payments on his security clearance application. White House legislative director Marc Short argued that the documents requested are either not in the possession of the White House or contain sensitive information he believes is not applicable to the committee's stated investigation.

Sally Yates to Testify on May 8
17 hours ago
U.S. To Conduct Exercises In Estonia
17 hours ago

The U.S. deployed "F-35 joint strike fighters" to Estonia on Tuesday. The "jets will stay in Estonia for several weeks and will be a part of training flights with U.S. and other NATO air forces." The move comes at a time of high tension between the U.S. and Estonia's neighbor, Russia. The two nations have been at odds over a number of issues recently, most of all being Vladimir Putin's support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in light of Assad's chemical weapons attack on his own people in the midst of a civil war.


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.