Sunday, November 27, 2011

Gingrich: The new Clown Prince of the GOP circus

The Republican presidential field is so screwed up and incompetent, even a buffoon like Rick Perry can climb to the top of the polls. And like Donald Trump and Michele Bachmann before him, a series of gaffes and just plain strange behavior has brought him crashing down.

After Perry stumbled, Herman Cain, the former CEO of Godfather's Pizza, rose to the top. He came up with the bold “9-9-9” tax plan that was so stupid it almost made Perry look competent. Even though conservatives realized that his tax plan wouldn't work, Cain rode high in the polls just because he wasn't Mitt Romney, and people liked his straight talk. He continued to stay on top of the polls by the Republican voters, who seemed to be saying: “He's stupid, but so are we.”

Bold idiotic solutions and plain talk, however, could not keep Cain on top. After allegations of sexual harassment surfaced, Cain's promise to keep a “hands-on” approach to politics took on a whole new meaning.

Cain's fall from grace has caused the GOP to find another anybody-but-Mitt-Romney candidate. This time, it's former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. After surviving Trump, Bachmann, Perry and Cain, you would think that Romney might start capitalizing on all the craziness going on around him and begin to build the support needed to capture the nomination. After all, he is the candidate with the best match-up numbers against Obama.

Although Romney's been holding steady at or near the top of the polls, he is not liked by the base of his party. Many leaders in the GOP seem to want to throw the election rather than see Romney as president, and then try again in 2016. The main problem is that many Republicans are distrustful of his recent public reversals on gun control, abortion and gay rights. And then there's the health care overhaul law that he pushed through as governor of Massachusetts, which is similar to Obama's.

The rise of Gingrich is surprising because he was written off as recently as last spring. He is a polarizing figure, often controversial and prone to contradictory statements. Obama would love to run against Gingrich, who would most likely self-destruct over the course of a presidential campaign. However, it seems unlikely that his bid for the nomination will survive the close inspection given a newly appointed front-runner. That's been the problem for the other GOP rejects.

The common thread running through this highly unusual campaign season has been the series of gaffes, inconsistencies, and inept behavior by all the candidates, even though Romney kept the gaffes to a minimum. And although Romney may look presidential, his proclivity to change sides on seemingly every issue has not helped his cause. The only reason Romney has remained consistently near the top of the polls is because he has stayed under the radar. In other words, he has had solid debate performances and no meltdowns regarding the location of Libya or how many women he has groped.

Gingrich has a few personal and political problems to overcome. Most recently, reports have surfaced that he received $1.6 million in political consulting fees from the embattled mortgage giant Freddie Mac, one of his favorite targets on the campaign trail. However, there is one major difference between Gingrich and the other challengers to Romney. He has been around for a long time, and he may be many things, not all of them good. But politically inept definitely isn't one of them, which is what separates Gingrich from Bachmann, Cain, et al.

Being the front-runner has put a spotlight on Gingrich's stance on immigration, an issue he raised during the recent GOP debate. He broke from the majority of his party when he called for “humane” treatment for otherwise law-abiding immigrants who have been in the United States for decades, establishing deep family and community ties.

The GOP response to Gingrich's compassionate position on immigration was swift, and some conservatives asserted that he had wounded his candidacy, perhaps fatally. The position Gingrich took on immigration has proven to be political risky for Republicans trying to appeal to the party's conservative base. Rick Perry had to apologize for saying that critics of in-state tuition for illegal immigrants “did not have a heart”. So much for compassion. There doesn't seem to be much room for that in the Republican party.

Gingrich may have upset his base, but he's not stupid, and he has stood by his position, with no apologies. What looked at first like a debate gaffe has, on closer inspection, seemed to be a calculated tactic to draw a contrast with Romney, who has been tough on immigration while running for president, but not so much when he wasn't. While Romney is taking the politically expedient immigration stance, Gingrich's aides say that he was saying the same thing at forums and town halls long before he was running for president.

It's getting late in the campaign season – just a month-and-a-half remain until the Iowa caucuses – so it's possible that the weakest field of candidates in memory may come down to Romney and Gingrich.

If Gingrich is to have any chance, he needs to transform his image. He's been married three times, and some Republicans think that this alone could disqualify him. But there are also the contradictions and reversals in his record, including past support for an individual health insurance mandate and for government action to combat climate change. These things make him seem just as inconsistent as Romney, the notorious flip-flopper. And Gingrich isn't helping himself by waffling on the nature of his services to Freddie Mac, where he received the aforementioned $1.6 million for doing nothing more than lending his name for political purposes.

Even with his excess baggage, Gingrich is the only candidate to seriously challenge Romney who doesn't seem deranged or just plain stupid. He's able to give a speech without sounding drunk, unlike Perry, and can hold his own at a debate, unlike Perry and just about everyone else. So Gingrich may have a chance at the nomination, unlike the previous front-runners who have crashed and burned.

Obama is vulnerable in 2012 because of the economy, and there is little expectation that it will improve significantly. The President, however, has the advantage of being the incumbent, has had recent success in foreign policy, and has been looking more presidential since last summer's debt ceiling debacle. The fact that the polls show the actual candidates scoring lower than a “generic” Republican when matched against Obama shows that maybe the Republicans just don't have a qualified candidate running.

While the Republican party continues to lose credibility with every debate, Obama continues to do his job quietly and without much fanfare. The fact that he's been blocked by Congress on pretty much every major piece of legislation is bad for the country, but the approval rating for Congress is in single-digit territory, and that's a good sign for Obama. Although his own ratings are not great, the fact that the Republican party has failed to come up with a nominee who is a viable alternative is good news indeed for Obama.

While Obama waits for Gingrich to push the self-destruct button – as have all the previous Republican front-runners – he is waiting for Romney to be the last man standing, and is preparing for that. Is Gingrich the Clown Prince of the GOP circus, or is he a contender? Regardless of the answer, the President can relax and enjoy his holiday season knowing that the Republican Party may have run out of options.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

GOP hijinks ensue: Election is Obama's to lose

The 2012 election is Obama's to lose: he's running against himself. The GOP field of candidates is looking a lot like they were turned down by the Society of Village Idiots for being too idiotic.

Obama has proven to be skilled at dealing with matters concerning foreign affairs. After eliminating Osama bin Laden, Obama continued his reign of terror on the terrorists by eliminating a bunch of bad guys with little more than unmanned Predator drones and a few SEAL Team 6 members. Killing terrorists with surgical precision is one thing, but fixing the economy can be more problematic.

Conventional wisdom would have Obama losing because of the slow pace of the country's economic recovery. But conventional wisdom does not seem to apply, since the GOP candidates are not conventional, nor do they have any wisdom.

The current state of the GOP’s idiot parade can be traced back to Donald Trump, who ran a fake campaign to boost the ratings of his reality TV show, and based the whole charade on promising to reveal Obama's true birthplace, which he assured was somewhere very far away.

Before dropping out of a race in which he wasn’t actually running, Trump left us with the term “birther”, which should have been his last contribution to society. However, Trump has turned out to be the clown prince of the GOP, giving political advice to all GOP candidates who pass through New York, or wherever Trump happens to own a hotel. Most recently, Trump has come to the defense of Herman Cain, suggesting that Cain probably settled the allegations of sexual harassment made against him by at least three women to avoid legal fees.

The sexual harassment charges against Cain date back to the time when he was the head of the National Restaurant Association, leading many to wonder what the head of the National Restaurant Association is doing running for president. The fact that Cain was leading in many GOP polls prior to the allegations, and his numbers haven't changed as a result, shows that either the pollsters are drunk or that the voters don't care or believe the allegations, and are also drunk.

Since the harassment allegations, Cain is bringing in wads of cash, even more than before, in addition to staying on top of the polls. The sex scandal has evidently given Cain the credibility to call himself a politician. Cain has never actually been elected to public office, a fact that might be working in his favor. The voters seem to like his straight talk, even though his political ideas are laughable. His “9-9-9” tax plan was devised by some guy who couldn't pass the CPA exam, and it has been criticized by pretty much everybody. Cain has also espoused some radical views regarding electrified fences, abortion, and negotiating with terrorists, only to say that he was “just joking” when confronted with specifics.

Rick Perry came into the race late and jumped to the top of the polls. After plummeting back to earth when people tried to understand what he was saying, he was polling as low as single digits. Trying to get things back on track, Perry recently revived the “birther” issue. When he realized this was not getting him anywhere in the polls, Perry explained that he was “just having some fun with Donald Trump”.

Perry has jumped back into double figures in the polls, and is now running a solid third behind Cain and Mitt Romney. His sanity again came into question a few weeks ago, however, when he delivered a bizarre speech in New Hampshire, appearing to be drunk or stoned (or both). Comedians had a field day, but it's not really that funny when you think that this man was once leading in the race for the GOP nomination. He was a heartbeat away from being trounced by Obama, scaring the bejeebers out of some Republicans who know that Perry can't stand up to the rigors of a presidential campaign (i.e. debating Obama). As it stands, Perry is running third in most polls, so it's too early to count him out.

Perry could get the nomination because Republican voters might just give up and decide that if they have no qualified candidate, a debate between Obama and Perry would have as much entertainment value as a Charlie Sheen meltdown. I am definitely registering as a Republican for this election so I can vote for Perry, even though I've been a Democrat my entire adult life (except for the time I was in college and got stoned and went out and registered for the “Birthday” Party).

The most logical choice to be the GOP contender against Obama is Mitt Romney. He's in a statistical tie with Cain in most polls, with Perry a distant third, but in the end he'll probably win the nomination because he's the most presidential. Just because he looks like a president, however, doesn't mean he can win the nomination. First of all, conservatives have been reluctant to rally behind Romney, feeling that he's just too moderate for the Tea Party nut jobs who have hijacked the Republican Party. They cite the statewide healthcare plan similar to the Obama's national plan that Romney pushed through as governor of Massachusetts.

If Romney does win the nomination, Obama will be helped by the disruption caused by the Tea Party, in addition to the fact that Romney is well known for changing positions whenever it's politically expedient. To win, Romney will have to convince voters that he's not a complete and utter hypocrite.

In addition to the top three candidates, Michele Bachmann leads the pack in insanity and ridiculousness, but is at the bottom of the pack in IQ. The queen of the Tea Party has never been one to care about accuracy. She knows that telling her base what they want to hear will get her further than telling them the truth. Bachmann makes things up as she goes along, whether it’s about American history, the economy, or President Obama.

“Under Barack Obama's watch, we have expended $805 billion to liberate the people of Iraq and, more importantly, 4400 lives...He's been a disaster on foreign policy,” Bachmann told CNN's Wolf Blitzer in a recent interview. The fact that George Bush started the war, not Obama, is not important to Bachmann, although she's correct about it being a disaster. This is just one example of how Bachmann can distort the truth either because she's ignorant or she just wants to distort the truth because she thinks that it will get her votes.

Bachmann isn't the only Republican making things up as she goes along, to which Mitt Romney will attest every time he changes his mind on an issue. And while flip-flopper Romney continues to accuse Perry of flip-flopping, bit player Rick Santorum continues to hammer home his homophobic ideas and radical thinking, outlining a social policy reported this week in the Des Moines Register that would include reinstating “don’t ask, don’t tell,” pursuing a constitutional ban on abortion, enforcing the Defense of Marriage Act and abolishing the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which he obviously finds too liberal-minded.

That leaves Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman, who have enjoyed brief moments of weirdness and unintended lapses into comedy when left without their teleprompters, and of course Newt Gingrich, who is obviously going through the motions in order to increase his speaking fees.

With unemployment hovering around 9 percent and the economy in the doldrums, despite Obama's stimulus measures, it would seem that 2012 will not be the year of the incumbent. But how can anyone from this odd group of Republicans win? It is a reassuring thought for liberals, but also a potentially complacent and catastrophic one. Republicans do not have to win in 2012. They just have to watch Obama lose. If you stop looking at the obvious Republican weaknesses and instead look at Obama's problems, then the picture for 2012 doesn't look good for the Democrats. There will be only one winner if Obama loses, and that would be a Republican.

On the other hand, most voters realize that Obama inherited an economic catastrophe that could not conceivably be fixed in a single term. If the economy continues to improve even a little, and Obama can assure the electorate that he is the one to continue that trend, the White House will remain his.

Democrats are eying the GOP's current pathetic situation, in which Bachmann sees Hurricane Irene as a sign from God on government spending, Perry questions evolution, Romney changes his position more than his underwear, and the number of women accusing Cain of sexual harassment is sure to reach nine. But the Democrats in no way feel that victory is assured. The GOP does not have to win the White House, Obama has to give it away. And that won't be an easy thing, given the lack of a qualified opponent on the GOP side.