Need-to-Know Video

4 Keys to Immigration Reform: Be Realistic

Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
May 17, 2011, 2:32 p.m.

Ex-Sen. Rick San­tor­um (R-PA) “heads the lineup” for Corner­stone Ac­tion NH, which cel­eb­rates its 10th an­niversary with a fun­drais­ing din­ner on 10/15.

The event will hon­or re­tir­ing GOP state Sen. Sheila Roberge (Landrig­an, Nashua Tele­graph, 10/8).

{{ BIZOBJ (video: 3454) }}

Re­pub­lic­ans, who only weeks ago could not ima­gine how Pres­id­ent Obama could be reelec­ted, sure are try­ing hard to make it hap­pen. Through 11 primar­ies and caucuses go­ing in­to Su­per Tues­day, Mitt Rom­ney had ac­cu­mu­lated more del­eg­ates than Rick San­tor­um, Newt Gin­grich, and Ron Paul com­bined. Again on Tues­day night, among the 10 states vot­ing or hold­ing caucuses, Rom­ney won more del­eg­ates than the oth­er three can­did­ates com­bined. There is no longer a plaus­ible math­em­at­ic­al pos­sib­il­ity for San­tor­um, Gin­grich, or Paul to reach the 1,144 del­eg­ates needed to win the nom­in­a­tion; it is also too late for someone else to get in­to this race and win it. And yet, Re­pub­lic­an voters seem either un­will­ing or in­cap­able of bring­ing this to a close. Yes, Rom­ney is win­ning, but in a polit­ic­ally de­bil­it­at­ing way. His pain­ful slog raises the ques­tion: Will he be in any shape to com­pete in the fall?

A long fight is not, by defin­i­tion, de­struct­ive. The epic Barack Obama-Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton battle was mean and per­son­al. It came down to the fi­nal primar­ies in June. But it was very dif­fer­ent from this fight, be­cause it was much less about ideo­logy. It was not really a con­test to see who could out­flank the oth­er on the left; neither Obama nor Clin­ton needed to ali­en­ate the between-the-40-yard-lines in­de­pend­ent voters who mat­ter so much in pres­id­en­tial elec­tions. It was more a fight over vis­ion, gen­er­a­tions, demo­graph­ics, and style. It was more an in­tern­al party fight over per­son­al pref­er­ence. And neither of them ap­peared to be more elect­able in Novem­ber than the oth­er.

This fight is very dif­fer­ent. This year, it seems that Re­pub­lic­ans have be­come self-ab­sorbed and ob­sessed with their con­ser­vat­ive base. They seem un­able to ac­know­ledge or un­will­ing to care that the rest of the elect­or­ate is watch­ing and get­ting turned off by over­heated rhet­or­ic al­most guar­an­teed to ali­en­ate all but the most con­ser­vat­ive voters.

At the start of this cam­paign, most in­de­pend­ent voters, who gen­er­ally fol­low polit­ics less avidly than par­tis­ans do, saw Rom­ney as something of a blank slate. Now, poll after poll shows that his num­bers among in­de­pend­ents have taken a beat­ing. In an ABC News/Wash­ing­ton Post na­tion­al sur­vey earli­er this month, Rom­ney had a healthy 60 per­cent fa­vor­able and 29 per­cent un­fa­vor­able rat­ing among Re­pub­lic­ans. Among in­de­pend­ents, it was 32 per­cent fa­vor­able and 48 per­cent un­fa­vor­able. In the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journ­al poll among Re­pub­lic­ans, 58 per­cent had a pos­it­ive view of Rom­ney, with 23 per­cent neut­ral and 18 per­cent neg­at­ive. But among all voters, it was 28 per­cent pos­it­ive, 28 per­cent neut­ral, and 39 per­cent neg­at­ive. When this hap­pens to the most “elect­able” can­did­ate, it is not good for the party.

If you sub­scribe to the ref­er­en­dum school of pres­id­en­tial polit­ics, as I do, you be­lieve that when a pres­id­ent runs for a second term the elec­tion is first and fore­most about the in­cum­bent. It only be­comes a choice elec­tion if the chal­lenger is either an in­cred­ibly strong can­did­ate or very po­lar­iz­ing. When that hap­pens, the in­cum­bent’s per­form­ance and the state of the na­tion, par­tic­u­larly the eco­nomy, no longer are the main fo­cus.

In a gen­er­al elec­tion, San­tor­um, Gin­grich, or Paul would def­in­itely be “choice” can­did­ates: stark con­trasts with Obama who prob­ably wouldn’t work out so well for the GOP. Rom­ney is con­ven­tion­al enough that an Obama-Rom­ney fight would be more a ref­er­en­dum on Obama.

Rom­ney has spent the last six months try­ing to be a hard-core, “severely con­ser­vat­ive” ideo­logue. But he’s not very good at play­ing that role, simply be­cause that’s not who he is. It re­quires far great­er dra­mat­ic tal­ent than Mitt Rom­ney pos­sesses to ef­fect­ively pre­tend to be something he’s not. This is one reas­on why he has had such dif­fi­culty put­ting this nom­in­a­tion away. Quiet, main­stream com­pet­ence is not a qual­ity that Re­pub­lic­ans are fall­ing all over them­selves to em­brace in 2012, even if it’s un­doubtedly the best tick­et to win­ning over the key swing voters in the middle.

 The eco­nomy is bet­ter than it was four months ago. Obama’s ap­prov­al num­bers, con­sumer con­fid­ence, and the key right-dir­ec­tion/wrong-track poll num­bers are bet­ter than they were last fall. But if you just look at those met­rics, Obama is any­thing but a cinch to win reelec­tion. For the months of Janu­ary and Feb­ru­ary, he av­er­aged an ap­prov­al rat­ing of 45 per­cent and a dis­ap­prov­al rat­ing of 47 per­cent. For the week of Feb. 27-March 4, Gal­lup gave him 45 per­cent ap­prov­al and 48 per­cent dis­ap­prov­al. Yes, oc­ca­sion­ally, there is a poll that shows him reach­ing 50 per­cent ap­prov­al, with 45 per­cent dis­ap­prov­al, as the new NBC/WSJ poll did. But 50 per­cent ap­prov­al is the bare min­im­um rat­ing a pres­id­ent can have if he ex­pects to be reelec­ted.

Those num­bers point to a situ­ation where Obama’s odds of reelec­tion are bet­ter than they were but not where they need to be. The only way you can pro­nounce Obama the fa­vor­ite is to factor in the rather con­sid­er­able dam­age that the GOP is in­flict­ing on it­self. And right now, Re­pub­lic­ans don’t seem in­clined to stop.

There are so many land mines between now and Elec­tion Day for Obama: Ir­an and Is­rael and else­where in the Middle East; the im­pact of Middle East troubles on oil and gas­ol­ine prices; the sov­er­eign-debt crisis and re­ces­sion in Europe; a glob­al eco­nom­ic slow­down; and the pos­sible col­lapse of a European fin­an­cial in­sti­tu­tion or two. But when you look at what is hap­pen­ing on the Re­pub­lic­ans’ side, you kind of won­der wheth­er they want to win or are hap­pi­er just fight­ing among them­selves.

What We're Following See More »
Report: U.S. Ill-Equipped to Detect Dirty Bomb
10 hours ago

A DHS report "found gaping holes in domestic nuclear detection and defense capabilities and massive failures during covert testing." A team put in place to assess our readiness capabilities found significant issues in detecting dangerous radioactive and nuclear materials, failing to do so in 30 percent of covert tests conducted over the course of the year. In far too many cases, the person operating the detection device had no idea how to use it. And when the operator did get a hit, he or she relayed sensitive information over unsecured open radio channels."

White House to Give McMaster Carte Blanche
13 hours ago
Russia Compiling Dossier on Trump’s Mind
15 hours ago

Retired Russian diplomats and members of Vladimir Putin's staff are compiling a dossier "on Donald Trump's psychological makeup" for the Russian leader. "Among its preliminary conclusions is that the new American leader is a risk-taker who can be naïve, according to a senior Kremlin adviser."

Pruitt Confirmed As EPA Head
4 days ago
Harward Turns Down NSC Job
5 days ago

"Ret. Vice Adm. Bob Harward turned down President Donald Trump's offer to be national security adviser Thursday, depriving the administration of a top candidate for a critical foreign policy post days after Trump fired Michael Flynn." Among the potential reasons: his family, his lack of assurances that he could build his own team, and that "the White House seems so chaotic."


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.