Hounds of love meet Mitt’s mutt

March 15, 2012

Dogs have, remarkably, taken centre stage in the race to become the next president of the United States.

Not as candidates, mind you, but as the defining mammalian metaphor in a contest usually dominated by elephants and donkeys.

First we have the leading Republican candidate with his image further tarnished by the story (which refuses to go away despite having been first aired years ago) of cruel treatment meted out to Seamus the family pet, an Irish setter. I was as shocked as I’m sure you were or will be by the surreality and meanness of the image of the Romneys’ dog being penned on the roof of a station wagon over a long distance journey, with the torture only stopped once canine vomit began to seep into the car itself.

If that weren’t bad enough for Mitt, our very own prime minister is at it too! As a result of the bromance on display at the recent state visit Dave has become – the Post’s Dana Milbank suggests – the current president’s attack dog, where a predecessor could only hope for poodle status:

British Prime Minister Tony Blair famously became President George W. Bush’s “poodle” after he followed the United States into Iraq. Now it’s the opposite relationship — an American politician from the left and a British prime minister from the right — but a similar dynamic is developing. This time, Cameron seems to be serving as Obama’s guard dog, defending his American master against the Mitt Romneys and the Rick Santora.

Which just leaves Newt Gingrich who, after failing to win the only remaining primaries he possibly could, must be feeling as sick-to-the-stomach today as poor Seamus did all those years ago.

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The show’s not over till Santorum swings?

February 2, 2012

So Romney thumped Gingrich in Florida as much if not more than Newt walloped Mitt in South Carolina.

Most commentators seem to share the view espoused by Ezra Klein in the Post that the deal is done, with the race turning into a GOP primary campaign much like 2008, when Republicans also rallied round someone they didn’t particularly like.

It’s hard to know whether those who demur are – as I often find myself – just hoping for prolonged excitement in a race that’s probably sewn up.

Perhaps the most obvious and last remaining opportunity for Gingrich is if Santorum drops out and his ‘natural’ voters (an oxymoron there?) switch to the Speaker in droves. But I’m not sure this would be a one-to-one translation.

Further high profile endorsements – Donald Trump is apparently going to swing in behind Newt today – may help, but it’s hard to escape the feeling that a window somewhere is rapidly closing.

For a (very) detailed analysis of five possible scenarios for the rest of the campaign, including extensive evidence and historical precedent, Nate Silver has it covered.

The bit from this piece that made me chuckle was when evaluating scenario two Nate says ‘Romney would only be in danger if he committed some game-changing gaffe’. Like saying he’s not bothered about very poor people, for instance?


Make or break or take a break?

January 30, 2012

Tomorrow’s GOP primary in Florida, the fourth of the schedule, brings to a close a first phase which has, frankly, been absolutely bonkers.

The question is whether the quieter and less significant weeks between the 1st of February and Super Tuesday on the 6th of March will spell the certain end of the Gingrich campaign, or simply breathing space before another tumultuous period in Spring.

I didn’t realise until reading this post on Chris Cillizza’s The Fix (I am a Wannabe Yank, after all) but only three of the eight contests between Florida and Super Tuesday will result in delegates being allocated. And because of large Mormon populations or Mitt’s local roots, Romney is likely to win all of these three.

There’s also the question of Newt’s money and other resources running out, a point made by Cillizza too: Gingrich is substantially dependant on a millionaire Las Vegas casino owner (as classy a backer as it sounds, one would assume, as well as a risky one if the Florida result doesn’t meet expectations).

The problem with this argument, I think, is that it doesn’t account for the sheer speed with which Newt recently (if briefly) established himself as the front-runner, nor the depth and breadth of support he showed himself able to command. And whilst the Speaker’s surge is at an end for now, he has also managed to secure the backing of Tea Party darlings Palin, Perry and Cain.

And the basic calculus won’t shift: most Republicans do not love Romney, and one suspects that all Gingrich needs is another crowd-pleasing media moment in the last week of February or first week of March like the one in the run-up to South Carolina for things to be up in the air again. There is, for absolute certain, more than a smidgeon of wishful thinking at play here on my part too.


A week in the zoo

January 26, 2012

President Obama’s State of the Union speech (full text here, sample line: ‘So far, you haven’t acted. Well, tonight, I will.’ AND THE CROWD GOES WILD!!!) was, apparently, partisan; although I doubt any of the politicians and commentators making this complaint were really very surprised.

Because frankly who wouldn’t adopt a partisan tone when the men jostling to face him in November include current front-runner Newt Gingrich who judging by recent statements cares more about establishing a base on the moon than tackling Florida’s housing crisis.

In any case all the President is doing is – if recent research is to be believed – reflecting the fact that in a very basic physiological sense, Republicans and Democrats are different creatures.

The research in question is covered by The Economist in this entertaining piece. Dr Michael Dodd of the University of Nebraska probed the physical and emotional responses of self-identified right- and left-leaning Nebraskans when they were shown different vivid images (in two studies, one with undergraduates; as a footnote: anyone who follows popular science reporting will wonder, with me, how undergraduates find time to do any studying in amidst taking part in this kind of experiment on an apparently daily basis).

The short version of the findings is that Republicans obsessed about the nasty images and cared less about the nice stuff, and Democrats did exactly the opposite. And the more partisan, the more pronounced the effect.

We know from previous forays into blogging about US partisanship that party affiliation comes first: driving political views rather than the other way around. So, frankly, based on this new conclusive evidence, the President’s decision to thump his tub a little was the right one.


Obama: tried his best but failed, or probably evil?

January 24, 2012

I enjoyed this piece in the Washington Post today, which succinctly and accurately characterised the quite different strategies that Romney and Gingrich are adopting for attacking Obama, their choices based on whether they’re aiming at the Republican base (Newt) or the wider electorate (Mitt).

Romney is trying to reach a general-election audience, including many people who voted for Obama in 2008 and still like him personally. So he casts the president as an honest mistake, a low performer who simply needs to be replaced.

Gingrich, by contrast, is aiming at a Republican primary electorate that never liked Obama much to begin with. So he portrays the president as the representative of a whole poisoned way of thinking: an adversary who needs to be not just defeated, but repudiated.

These approaches also fit nicely with the respective candidates’ different styles: Romney appraising a failed job applicant, Gingrich crusading against a socialist evil. The obvious conclusion is that on the evidence of South Carolina the tougher Gingrich attack is the one which appeals the most to Republican primary voters, at the moment at least.


All hell breaks loose as Republican paradigm shifts

January 24, 2012

For every eager left-leaning Wannabe Yank, it couldn’t get much better than this. Three Republican primaries, three different victors. The one contender who could probably give Obama a serious run for his money walloped first by his hiring-and-firing past and, yesterday, by a vast income revealed against his will showing a tax rate roughly half that of the President.

Latest polls from Florida – the next GOP primary – show Gingrich’s surge continuing, which isn’t surprising really when you consider how thoroughly Newt won across almost all groups of voters in South Carolina. As John Heilemann writes in New York magazine:

…Gingrich beat Romney soundly across the board: 42–26 with men and 38–29 with women; by nine or more points in every age cohort; by double digits in every educational cohort except those voters with postgraduate study (which Romney won by a bare two points); among both married and unmarried voters; among the poor, the middle class, and the rich…

The list goes on (that’s not just a rhetorical device: I’ve chopped Heilemann’s paragraph in two!).

We shouldn’t assume that Florida will be as big a win as SC, not least because a large chunk of voters have already voted, when Romney was still the presumed won-already nominee.

But as Nate Silver writes on his consistently excellent FiveThirtyEight blog, the extent of the anti-Romney voting in South Carolina does suggest a genuine paradigm shift in what weighs most heavily in voters’ minds.

The theory is that the backing of party grandees and a well-organised campaign on the ground matters far less these days than personalities and ‘media moments’ (like the one Gingrich managed when he lashed out at the moderator in the last debate before the SC poll).

This is a win-win situation for Democrats. If – as unlikely as this seemed just a fortnight ago – the GOP chooses Gingrich (the bane of the Republican establishment from his time as Speaker of the House) then he will have a mountain to climb to beat Obama: current polls show the President with a lead of at least 10 per cent.

Irrespective of how quickly the party coalesces around a single candidate the race will go on, with Romney, Gingrich and Paul able and likely to continue, for different reasons. Further in-fighting, factionalism and bickering. Marvellous.


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