Craig Eisele on …..

February 26, 2012

It’s the 0.000063% of the US Who REALLY Deciding the Presidential Election

How US politics became the politics of the “super rich”.

New York, NY – At a time when it’s become a cliché to say that Occupy Wall Street has changed the nation’s political conversation – drawing long overdue attention to the struggles of the 99 per cent – electoral politics and the 2012 presidential election have become almost exclusively defined by the one per cent. Or, to be more precise, the .000063 per cent. Those are the 196 individual donors who have provided nearly 80 per cent of the money raised by Super PACs in 2011 by giving $100,000 or more each.

These political action committees, spawned by the Supreme Court’s 5-4 Citizens United decision in January 2010, can raise unlimited amounts of money from individuals, corporations, or unions for the purpose of supporting or opposing a political candidate. In theory, Super PACs are legally prohibited from coordinating directly with a candidate, though in practice they’re just a murkier extension of political campaigns, performing all the functions of a traditional campaign without any of the corresponding accountability.

If 2008 was the year of the small donor, when many political pundits (myself included) predicted that the fusion of grassroots organising and cyber-activism would transform how campaigns were run, then 2012 is “the year of the big donor”, when a candidate is only as good as the amount of money in his Super PAC. “In this campaign, every candidate needs his own billionaires,” wrote Jane Mayer of The New Yorker.


‘This really is the selling of America,” claims former presidential candidate and Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean. “We’ve been sold out by five justices thanks to the Citizens United decision.” In truth, our democracy was sold to the highest bidder long ago, but in the 2012 election the explosion of Super PACs has shifted the public’s focus to the staggering inequality in our political system, just as the Occupy movement shined a light on the gross inequity of the economy. The two, of course, go hand in hand.

“We’re going to beat money power with people power,” Newt Gingrich said after losing to Mitt Romney in Florida as January ended. The walking embodiment of the lobbying-industrial complex, Gingrich made that statement even though his candidacy is being propped up by a Super PAC funded by two $5 million donations from Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. It might have been more amusing if the GOP presidential primary weren’t a case study of a contest long on money and short on participation.

The Wesleyan Media Project recently reported a 1,600 per cent increase in interest-group-sponsored TV ads in this cycle as compared with the 2008 primaries. Florida has proven the battle royale of the Super PACs thus far. There, the pro-Romney Super PAC, Restore Our Future, outspent the pro-Gingrich Super PAC, Winning Our Future, five to one. In the final week of the campaign alone, Romney and his allies ran 13,000 TV ads in Florida, compared with only 200 for Gingrich. Ninety-two per cent of the ads were negative in nature, with two-thirds attacking Gingrich, who, ironically enough, had been a fervent advocate of the Citizens United decision.

With the exception of Ron Paul’s underdog candidacy and Rick Santorum’s upset victory in Iowa – where he spent almost no money but visited each of the state’s 99 counties – the Republican candidates and their allied Super PACs have all but abandoned retail campaigning and grassroots politicking. They have chosen instead to spend their war chests on TV.

The results can already be seen in the first primaries and caucuses: an onslaught of money and a demobilized electorate. It’s undoubtedly no coincidence that, when compared with 2008, turnout was down 25 per cent in Florida, and that, this time around, fewer Republicans have shown up in every state that’s voted so far – except for South Carolina. According to political scientists Stephen Ansolabehere and Shanto Iyengar, negative TV ads contribute to “a political implosion of apathy and withdrawal”. New York Times columnist Tim Egan has labelled the post-Citizens United era “your democracy on meth”.


The 0.01 per cent primary .

More than 300 Super PACs are now registered with the Federal Election Commission. The one financed by the greatest number of small donors belongs to Stephen Colbert, who’s turned his TV show into a brilliant commentary on the deformed Super PAC landscape. Colbert’s satirical Super PAC, Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow, has raised $1 million from 31,595 people, including 1,600 people who gave $1 each. Consider this a rare show of people power in 2012.

Otherwise the Super PACs on both sides of the aisle are financed by the one per cent of the one per cent. Romney’s Restore Our Future Super PAC, founded by the general counsel of his 2008 campaign, has led the herd, raising $30 million, 98 per cent from donors who gave $25,000 or more. Ten million dollars came from just ten donors who gave $1 million each. These included three hedge-fund managers and Houston Republican Bob Perry, the main funder behind the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth in 2004, whose scurrilous ads did such an effective job of destroying John Kerry’s electoral prospects. Sixty-five per cent of the funds that poured into Romney’s Super PAC in the second half of 2011 came from the finance, insurance and real estate sector, otherwise known as the people who brought you the economic meltdown of 2007 to 2008.

Romney’s campaign has raised twice as much as his Super PAC, which is more than you can say for Rick Santorum, whose Super PAC – Red, White & Blue – has raised and spent more than the candidate himself. Forty per cent of the $2 million that has so far gone into Red, White & Blue came from just one man, Foster Friess, a conservative hedge-fund billionaire and Christian evangelical from Wyoming.

In the wake of Santorum’s upset victories in Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri on February 7, Friess told the New York Times that he’d recruited $1 million for Santorum’s Super PAC from another (unnamed) donor and upped his own giving, though he wouldn’t say by how much. We won’t find out until the next campaign disclosure filing in three months, by which time the GOP primary will almost certainly be decided.

For now, Gingrich’s sugar daddy Adelson has pledged to stay with his flagging campaign, but he’s also signalled that if the former Speaker of the House goes down, he’ll be ready to donate even more Super PAC money to a Romney presidential bid. And keep in mind that there’s nothing in the post-Citizens United law to stop a donor such as Adelson, hell-bent on preventing the Obama administration from standing in the way of an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, from giving $100 million, or for that matter, however much he likes.

Before Citizens United, the maximum amount one person could give to a candidate was $2,500; for a political action committee, $5,000; for a political party committee, $30,800. Now, the sky’s the limit for a Super PAC, and even more disturbingly, any donor can give an unlimited contribution to a 501c4 – outfits defined by the IRS as “civic leagues or organisations not organised for profit but operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare” – and to make matters worse, that contribution will remain eternally secret. In this way, US politics is descending further into the darkness, with 501c4s quickly gaining influence as “Shadow Super PACs”.

“Forty per cent of the TV ads in the presidential race so far came from these tax-exempt ‘social welfare’ groups.”

A recent analysis by the Washington Post found that, at a cost of $24 million, 40 per cent of the TV ads in the presidential race so far came from these tax-exempt “social welfare” groups. The Karl Rove-founded American Crossroads, a leading conservative Super PAC attacking Democratic candidates and the Obama administration, also runs a 501c4 called Crossroads GPS. It’s raised twice as much money as its sister group, all from donations whose sources will remain hidden from US voters. Serving as a secret slush fund for billionaires evidently now qualifies as social welfare.

The ‘income defense industry’

In his book Oligarchy, political scientist Jeffrey Winters refers to the disproportionately wealthy and influential actors in the political system as the “income defence industry”. If you want to know how the moneyed class, who prospered during the Bush and Clinton years, found a way to kill or water down nearly everything it objected to in the Obama years, look no further than the grip of the one per cent of the one per cent on our political system.

This simple fact explains why hedge-fund managers pay a lower tax rate than their secretaries, or why the US is the only industrialised nation without a single-payer universal healthcare system, or why the planet continues to warm at an unprecedented pace while we do nothing to combat global warming. Money usually buys elections and, whoever is elected, it almost always buys influence.

In the 2010 election, the one per cent of the one per cent accounted for 25 per cent of all campaign-related donations, totalling $774 million dollars, and 80 per cent of all donations to the Democratic and Republican parties, the highest percentage since 1990. In congressional races in 2010, according to the Centre for Responsive Politics, the candidate who spent the most money won 85 per cent of House races and 83 per cent of Senate races.

The media loves an underdog story, but nowadays the underdog is less likely than ever to win. Given the cost of running campaigns and the overwhelming premium on outspending your opponent, it’s no surprise that nearly half the members of Congress are millionaires, and the median net worth of a US Senator is $2.56 million.


The influence of Super PACs was already evident by November 2010, just nine months after the Supreme Court’s ruling. John Nichols and Robert McChesney of The Nation note that, of the 53 competitive House districts where Rove’s Crossroads organisation outspent Democratic candidates in 2010, Republicans won fifty-one. As it turned out, however, that election was a mere test run for the monetary extravaganza that is 2012.

Republicans are banking on that Super PAC advantage again this year, when the costs of the presidential contest and all other races for federal posts will soar from $5 billion in 2008 to as high as $7 billion by November. (The 2000 election cost a “mere” $3 billion.) In other words, the amount spent this election season will be roughly the equivalent of the gross domestic product of Haiti.

The myth of small donors

In June 2003, presidential candidate Howard Dean shocked the political establishment by raising $828,000 in one day over the internet, with an average donation of $112. Dean, in fact, got 38 per cent of his campaign’s total funds from donations of $200 or less, planting the seeds for what many forecast would be a small-donor revolution in US politics.

Four years later, Barack Obama raised a third of his record-breaking $745 million campaign haul from small donors, while Ron Paul raised 39 per cent from small dollars on the Republican side. Much of Paul’s campaign was financed by online “money bombs”, when enthusiastic supporters generated millions of dollars in brief, coordinated bursts. The amount of money raised in small donations by Obama, in particular, raised hopes that his campaign had found a way to break the death grip of big donors on US politics.

In retrospect, the small-donor utopianism surrounding Obama seems naïve. Despite all the adulatory media attention about his small donors, the candidate still raised the bulk of his money from big givers. (Typically, these days, incumbent members of Congress raise less than ten per cent of their campaign funds from small donors, with those numbers actually dropping when you reach the gubernatorial and state legislative levels.) Obama’s top contributors included employees of Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, and Citigroup, hardly standard bearers for the little guy. For obvious reasons, the campaign chose to emphasise the small donors over the big ones in its narrative, as it continues to do in 2012.

Interestingly enough, both Obama and Paul actually raised more money from small donors in 2011 than they did in 2008, 48 per cent and 52 per cent of their totals, respectively. But, in the Super PAC era, that money no longer has the same impact. Even Dean doubts that his anti-establishment, internet-fuelled campaign from 2004 would be as successful today. “Super PACs have made a grassroots campaign less effective,” he says. “You can still run a grassroots campaign but the problem is you can be overwhelmed now on television and by dirty mailers being sent out … It’s a very big change from 2008.”

Obama is a candidate with a split personality, which makes his campaign equally schizophrenic. The Obama campaign claims it’s raising 98 per cent of its money from small donors and is “building the biggest grassroots campaign in American history”, according to campaign manager Jim Messina. But the starry-eyed statistics and the rhetoric that accompanies it are deeply misleading. Of the $89 million raised in 2011 by the Obama Joint Victory Fund, a collaboration of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the Obama campaign, 74 per cent came from donations of $20,000 or more and 99 per cent from donations of $1,000 or more.

The campaign has 445 “bundlers” (dubbed “volunteer fundraisers” by the campaign), who gather money from their wealthy friends and package it for Obama. They have raised at least $74.4 million for Obama and the DNC in 2011. Sixty-one of those bundlers raised $500,000 or more. Obama held 73 fundraisers in 2011 and 13 last month alone, where the price of admission was almost always $35,800 a head.


An increase in small donor contributions and a surge of big money fundraisers still wasn’t enough, however, to give Obama an advantage over Republicans in the money chase. That’s why the Obama campaign, until recently adamantly against Super PACs, suddenly relented and signaled its support for a pro-Obama Super PAC named Priorities USA.

A day after the announcement that the campaign, like its Republican rivals, would Super PAC it up, Messina spoke at the members-only Core Club in Manhattan and “assured a group of Democratic donors from the financial services industry that Obama won’t demonize Wall Street as he stresses populist appeals in his re-election campaign”, reported Bloomberg Businessweek. “Messina told the group of Wall Street donors that the president plans to run against Romney, not the industry that made the former governor of Massachusetts millions.”

In other words, don’t expect a convincing return to the theme of the people versus the powerful in campaign 2012, even though Romney, if the nominee, would be particularly vulnerable to that line of attack. After all, so far his campaign has raised only nine per cent of its campaign contributions from small donors, well behind both Senator John McCain (21 per cent) in 2008, and George W. Bush (26 per cent) in 2004.

In the fourth quarter of 2011, Romney outraised Obama among the top firms on Wall Street by a margin of 11 to one. His top three campaign contributions are from employees of Goldman Sachs ($496,430), JPMorgan ($317,400) and Morgan Stanley ($277,850). The banks have fallen out of favour with the public, but their campaign cash is indispensable among the political class – and so they remain as powerful as ever in US politics.

In a recent segment of his show, Stephen Colbert noted that half of the money ($67 million) raised by Super PACs in 2011 had come from just 22 people. “That’s seven one-millionths of one per cent,” or roughly 0.000000071 per cent, Colbert said while spraying a fire extinguisher on his fuming calculator. “So, Occupy Wall Street, you’re going to want to change those signs.”

February 23, 2012

Romney Continues to Bring Yawns to GOP aka BORING

If Mitt Romney wins the Republican nomination for president, he’ll face the urgent task of inspiring the party’s conservative core and rallying them to beat President Barack Obama.

Judging by his performances in the primaries and caucuses so far, and the challenge he faces next week, he’s got his work cut out for him.

Even Republicans who think he’ll be the nominee worry about whether he can generate the intensity required to beat the Democratic incumbent.

These party leaders and activists, from the states voting Feb. 28 and the most contested ones ahead in the fall, say Romney has made strides toward addressing this problem. But, they say, he needs to do more to convince the Republican base that he’s running to fundamentally reverse the nation’s course, not simply manage what they see as the federal government’s mess.

“I think Romney will be the nominee, but there is still tremendous work to be done,” said Sally Bradshaw, a Florida Republican and adviser to former Gov. Jeb Bush. “He has got to find a way to unify the party and increase the intensity of support for him among voters who have supported Newt Gingrich, or Rick Santorum or Ron Paul or someone else. And that is going to be the key to how he does in the fall.”

Romney leads in the delegate count for the nomination, and by a wide margin in private polling ahead of the Arizona primary Feb. 28. But the rising challenge from former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum in the contest also that day in Michigan, where Romney was born and raised, underscores doubts about Romney’s ability to ignite fervor in the GOP base.

He nearly tied Santorum in Iowa, although entrance polls showed that more of Santorum’s backers than Romney’s said they were strongly behind their chosen candidate.

Romney lost the primary in South Carolina last month to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. More of Romney’s supporters in that state said they would support him with reservations in the general election than would support him enthusiastically.

Santorum swept caucuses Feb. 7 in Colorado and Minnesota, and the nonbinding Missouri primary.

Romney’s challengers have risen by sounding more conservative and displaying sharper differences with Obama, while nipping Romney’s appeal as the most electable against Obama.

Romney, a former Massachusetts governor with a moderate past, has campaigned more as the likely GOP nominee, portraying himself as acceptable to swing voters in a race where polls show voters prizing most a candidate’s perceived ability to beat Obama.

Romney has pivoted toward the GOP’s conservative base in light of Santorum’s surge.

He dove into the debate over whether birth control ought to be covered by health insurance provided by church-backed employers by faulting the Obama administration’s original push to do so as an “assault on religion.” But Romney was accused of overreaching after recently telling influential conservative activists, “I was a severely conservative Republican governor.”

“In Romney’s case it’s like the difference between someone who grew up speaking Spanish and someone who went to school to speak Spanish,” said Constantin Querard, an Arizona Republican operative. “The moment Romney starts speaking, people know the difference.”

A Pew Research poll taken last week shows the Republican voters nationally who think Romney is a strong conservative has dipped to 42 percent from 53 percent in November.

Romney’s campaign aides say it’s unrealistic to think conservatives staring at the possibility of a second Obama term will not unify behind Romney. “President Obama is the best unifier the Republican Party could ever hope for,” Romney’s political director, Rich Beeson, told The Associated Press.

The campaign points to recent conservative opinion leaders who have signed on to his campaign, and his support from popular rising conservative figures such as South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley as evidence of Romney’s newfound buzz.

Michigan Republican Holly Hughes, who supported Arizona Sen. John McCain in the 2008 primary, said Romney is more passionate than during his failed bid that year.

“He’s a different candidate than he was four years ago,” said Hughes, a Republican national committeewoman from Muskegon County. “There wasn’t the excitement there.”

Hughes and others also point to Romney’s winning the straw poll at the recent Conservative Political Action Convention in Washington, which attracted thousands of the nation’s most ardent conservative activists.

Yet Michigan GOP consultant Tom Shields said Santorum, now ahead of Romney in polls Romney’s native state and where his father served as governor, is exciting people where Romney isn’t.

Establishment Republican figures are lining up behind Romney in Michigan, including Gov. Rick Snyder. But in 2000, Gov. John Engler promised to deliver the state as George W. Bush’s firewall; McCain won the primary that year.

“For whatever reason, Romney’s not objectionable. But people just haven’t fully warmed up to him,” said Shields, who conducts public opinion polling in Michigan. “They’ve just refused to take the next step and marry the guy.”

It foretells problems assuring the die-hard GOP activists will be lining up in November, when their phone-banking and door-knocking could make the difference in a close election against an Obama re-election campaign projected to have $1 billion to spend.

“I voted for him. I don’t want to screw around because he’s who we’re going to end up with,” said former Arizona GOP Chairman Mike Hellon, referring to his absentee primary vote for Romney. “But I talk to people who are generally reluctant to pull the trigger for him. More than anything else, that’s’ a problem of intensity which could be a problem in the fall.”

Romney could spice things up with his running-mate choice, although some say an August announcement might be too late to lock in the GOP foot-soldiers.

“There’s a lot of speculation that Marco Rubio could be the vice presidential nominee,” Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad told the AP, referring to the freshman Florida senator and tea party favorite. “I think somebody like him could add some real excitement to the ticket, would be kind of a help to Romney if he does wrap up the nomination.”

Candidates historically do not win close elections based on their running mate, although they have in recent elections received a temporary bump in their national poll standing. The choice can ignite passion among the party base, as did McCain’s selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin in 2008.

Concerns about the enthusiasm Romney generates correspond with a general dip in excitement among Republicans in a nominating campaign that has lurched one way and another in nine contests over the past six weeks.

A CNN/ORC International poll published Wednesday showed 51 percent of Republicans nationally were extremely or very enthusiastic about voting for president in the election, down from 64 percent in October.

But the dip in GOP enthusiasm, and especially Romney’s three-way loss this month, is a stark warning to Romney that he cannot wait or rely on public unpopularity with Obama to provide momentum for him.

“He cannot bank on the anger against Obama among Republicans to create the turnout we need in the Fall,” Florida’s Bradshaw said.

February 9, 2012

Romney Will Struggle to Gain Conservative Backing

The resurgence of social and cultural issues in voters’ minds poses new challenges for GOP presidential front-runner Mitt Romney as he reels from surprising losses Tuesday to conservative favoriteRick Santorum.

The economy remains the No. 1 issue of concern for a majority of Americans. But the recent hoopla surrounding the Obama administration’s support of contraceptives, the court ruling against California’s same-sex marriage ban and heated debate aboutabortion access has created a perfect storm that has pushed these seemingly dormant issues to the surface.

“They’ve never been far from the surface. A lot of people thought the social issues had disappeared but that has never been the case,” said Karlyn Bowman, a senior fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute who focuses on polling data and public opinion. “These issues are obviously very important within a conservative party, the Republican party.”

Even the general public has increasingly leaned to the right. In a Gallup poll last month, 40 percent of Americans identified themselves as conservative, 35 percent as moderate and 21 percent as liberal. The numbers marked the third straight year that conservatives outnumbered moderates, which have declined steadily since the early 1990s.

An overwhelming number of Republicans – 51 percent – dubbed themselves as “conservatives” while 20 percent classified themselves as “very conservative,” far outweighing moderates. The poll also found that independents, who make up the largest political group in the country, were mostly conservative-leaning, with 41 percent putting themselves in that category.

“In recent years, conservatives have become the single largest group, consistently outnumbering moderates since 2009 and outnumbering liberals by 2 to 1. Overall, the nation has grown more ideologically polarized over the past decade,” the analysis stated. “The increase in the proportion of conservatives is entirely the result of increased conservatism among Republicans and independents, and is also seen in Americans 30 and older — particularly seniors.”

Santorum, with his staunch anti-abortion stance and Christian ideology, has strong backing among conservatives who still view Romney and his record with skepticism. Newt Gingrich was able to attract some of that conservative support in South Carolina but his personal record, including two failed marriages and an affair with his current wife while he was still married, has come under much public scrutiny.

Santorum “has been a consistent conservative in the debates. He’s raised a lot of social issues that haven’t been the focus of Romney and Gingrich in the debates,” Bowman said.

The former senator from Pennsylvania supports a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, as well as banning abortion even in the case of rape and not allowing homosexual couples to adopt children.

Romney, meanwhile, has struggled to convince the Republican base of his conservative credentials. Most recently, he came under fire for allowing “abortion pills” as governor of Massachusetts. In 2005, Romney signed a law that required all Massachusetts hospitals, including those owned by religious groups, to provide emergency contraception to rape victims.

Romney had initially opposed that requirement but later said that “in my heart of hearts, is that people who are subject to rape should have the option of having emergency contraception or emergency contraception information.”

That same year, Romney vetoed a law allowing the disbursement of the controversial morning-after pill by pharmacists without a doctor’s prescription, but the state Senate overrode his veto.

Romney’s business record has worked in his favor, with exit polls in early states showing that most primary voters viewed it with a favorable eye. But his changing views on highly volatile social issues, including abortion, have yet to win him favor among conservatives. Such hesitancy was in full display Tuesday in Minnesota, where Romney did not carry a single county even though its former governor, Tim Pawlenty, campaigned for him.

“Romney has to go back to mollifying that base, which is not something he wanted to do,” political analyst Norm Ornstein said. “What it means for Romney is that he’s going to have to make more and more sharply conservative pledges and try to trigger even more of that conservative antipathy [against President Obama].”

But that could be a challenging task for the former governor who faces a more difficult road to the nomination than many expected. “The more he does this, he looks phony,” Ornstein said.

The focus on social issues among the U.S. electorate doesn’t bode well for Obama either. He has taken much heat for his administration’s decision to require religious schools, universities, charities and hospitals to provide contraceptive services in their insurance plans.

House Speaker John Boehner today became the latest Republican to jump into the showdown, saying that if the administration doesn’t reverse the policy, Congress will.

“In imposing this requirement, the federal government is violating a First Amendment right that has stood for more than two centuries, and it is doing so in a manner that affects millions of Americans and harms some of our nation’s most vital institutions,” Boehner, R-Ohio, said on the House floor. “If the president does not reverse the department’s attack on religious freedom, then the Congress, acting on behalf of the American people and the Constitution we are sworn to uphold and defend, must.”

The House, comprised of a number of freshman lawmakers who won based on their firm opposition to abortion, has already introduced a number of bills tightening abortion restrictions and defunding Planned Parenthood.

Still, if the Republican race goes into the summer, as many now expect, even the focus on social issues would bode well for the president, experts say.

“Certainly one of the things that’s happening now is people are feeling less frantic about the economy and so other issues do emerge more,” Ornstein said. “Are they going to supersede the economy? If they do, that’s great news for Barack Obama, even if he suffers some with the decision on contraception, because it’s a signal that the economy is receding as an issue and if the economy is receding as an issue that means things are going well.”

Way What?? Romney HAD Mojo… WOW

Romney Losing His Mojo After Caucus, Primary Losses to Santorum

 Rick Santorum’s sweep exposed glaring weaknesses in Mitt Romney’s candidacy. Howard Kurtz on whether the ex-senator can capitalize on conservative qualms about Romney.

It’s easy to wave away Santorum’s triple triumph in Minnesota, Missouri, and Colorado as an exercise in symbolism that netted him no delegates. But as a snapshot of the state of the GOP race, it’s a rather dark picture for Romney.

“These results are a serious blow to Romney that crystallized the conservative questions about his bona fides and punctured it,” says Ari Fleischer, the former Bush White House spokesman. “If your campaign is built on inevitability, a puncture can take you down.”

Ed Rollins, the veteran GOP strategist who briefly ran Michele Bachmann’s campaign, says Romney “has been running for six years and never quite connected. He’s spent no time talking about his years as governor, which is not exactly an all-star four years. He now wants to pretend he’s a right-winger, and it’s just not believable.”

Adds John Feehery, a former House Republican official: “Santorum doesn’t have any organization or money—he’s able to win based on the idea that the base doesn’t like Romney.” Romney “struck a bad chord” with his gaffe about not being concerned about the very poor, says Feehery: “Many conservatives, especially Christian conservatives, actually care about the poor.”

Romney is still the likely nominee, of course, but these and other GOP analysts are saying for the first time that Santorum has a shot. They see him as having eclipsed Newt Gingrich, whose fortunes have sagged since his brief, shining moment in South Carolina.

Given that Romney was coming off solid wins in Florida and Nevada, his vote totals on Tuesday were stunningly weak, even if social conservatives form the backbone of the electorate in the three states.

As Ron Brownstein points out in National Journal, Romney got 25,900 votes in winning the Minnesota caucuses four years ago; this time, in finishing third, he won only 8,090. The same pattern held in the Colorado caucuses, which Romney won last time with 42,218 votes; on Tuesday he finished second with 22,875. And he drew just over a third as many votes in Missouri’s beauty contest as in 2008.

Maybe the results amounted to a giant protest vote. Maybe Romney does poorly when he doesn’t have much time to campaign or when he doesn’t pour money into attack ads. But there may well be something deeper that goes to both style and substance.

Romney comes across as overly scripted, and sometimes aloof, whether he’s hitting his talking points or reciting “America the Beautiful.” He’s a bit ill at ease among average voters. What was striking about his concession speech Tuesday night was that when he talked about his father struggling to make it as a carpenter, he seemed to be speaking from the heart. (Of course, Dad went on to become head of American Motors and Michigan’s governor, so that’s the closest Romney can come to a rags-to-riches narrative.)

And what, at its heart, is Romney’s message, other than that Obama is flailing and the former head of Bain Capital is the man to fix the economy? Romney lacks an animating idea that would bring voters to their feet and faces such complications as the similarities between Obama’s health-care reform and his own in Massachusetts.

“The conservative electorate of 2012 really is hungry for the authentic, Washington-changing candidate,” Fleischer says.

Perhaps that’s why the Romney camp is now going after Santorum as a Beltway insider. Top adviser Eric Fehrnstrom told MSNBC that Santorum and Gingrich are “two peas in a pod—longtime Washington legislators.” And a Romney email blast portrayed Gingrich and Santorum as wild-eyed earmarkers, with such headlines as “Santorum Brought Over $1 Billion in Pork-Barrel Spending Back to Pennsylvania” and “Santorum Voted for the Bridge to Nowhere.”

It’s no accident that Santorum, a favorite of religious conservatives, used his Tuesday-night speech to trumpet his opposition to the White House rule requiring Catholic organizations to offer contraception in health-insurance plans—an issue that has been heating up in recent days.

“If he becomes the champion of the conservative Catholic/Christian coalition, he could be very credible,” says Rollins. “He’s a tough debater. There are no liabilities to him. He’s every bit as knowledgeable as Gingrich, though not as articulate. He’s more disciplined in his message. He is the true-blue Catholic; Gingrich is a convert who’s had multiple marriages.”

Santorum “knows the issues better than Romney does,” Feehery says. “He’s got a better message and is more consistent.” One political weakness, says Feehery, is that Santorum is not a Tea Party favorite: “He’s a big-government conservative, a traditional Republican—a George W. Bush compassionate conservative.”

“Santorum doesn’t have any organization or money—he’s able to win based on the idea that the base doesn’t like Romney.”

Santorum’s ability to remain in the first tier depends in part on whether his big night triggers a flood of donations, so he doesn’t get buried in Michigan or Arizona by millions in negative ads. One question is the extent to which Wyoming financier Foster Friess, who has been bankrolling Santorum’s super PAC (as well as The Daily Caller), is willing to open his checkbook.

It may turn out that Santorum is only the latest in a series of Not-Romneys—Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich—who flash across the political landscape before burning out. But if Santorum can eclipse Gingrich and get Romney one-on-one, as in Missouri, or if they alternate tackling the frontrunner in states where each man is the strongest, this race isn’t over by a long shot.

Mitt WHO?? Don’t Think I Know That Fella.

Mitt Romney’s No More Of a Mystery Than Barack Obama

 Romney may take both sides on issues and encourage voters to project what they want onto him, but he is not hiding his “real” nature any more than the president is. With both men, it’s called politics, says Lee Siegel.

The current meme, taken up with a vengeance by the liberal media, is that no one knows who the real Mitt Romneyis. Why does that sound familiar?

True, I have no idea what Romney believes on virtually any issue. Like everyone, I am struck by his pattern of presenting inconsistent positions with no apparent recognition of their incoherence. The real conundrum is why this man seems so compelled to take both sides of every issue, encouraging voters to project whatever they want on him, and hoping they won’t realize which hand is holding the rabbit. He either does not know what he believes or is willing to take whatever position he thinks will lead to his election.

I am sure that no liberal would disagree with that assessment of Romney. I am as sure of that as I am of the fact that most liberals heartily assented to those very words when they were used to describe President Obama six months ago in the New York Times, in a scathing op-ed essay by Drew Westen. I’ve quoted them almost verbatim.

There were dissenters, to be sure, but the chorus of hosannas that rose from the liberal media in response to Westen’s criticisms was almost unanimous. And now, with the presidential election looming, those very criticisms have been displaced from the president who was widely perceived, by his own supporters, to be an empty suit, onto his likely opponent in the fall.

Yet to say that both Obama and Romney are hiding their “real” natures beneath contradictory positions is to mischaracterize them. With rare exceptions, a modern democratic politician possessing a real, unalterable nature is an oxymoron. When someone is described to us as being very “political,” we know that we are being told to keep our guard up. Why, then, do we keep expecting our politicians to reassure us with their integrity? They are political, through and through, and we should stop being so shocked, shocked, when they act politically.

Romney Obama Comparison

With rare exceptions, a modern democratic politician possessing a real, unalterable nature is an oxymoron, writes Lee Siegel., Chip Somodevilla / AP Photo

In Romney’s case, no one wants to accept that he is merely being a politician. Instead, he is dangerously mystified. Several months ago when he said during a televised debate, using the exact same words, that the was “not concerned about the very poor,” no one made a peep—and he didn’t even add the bit about fixing the safety net if necessary that he did when he repeated the sentence last week. Now, however, he utters the very same words and a terrible uproar ensues. What did he mean? What did he really mean? Was he being accurately quoted?

Yet he was doing what just about every Republican politician does, which is to reassure the middle class that he was not going to shift his attention away from them to the poor. After all, the poor don’t vote in great numbers, and when they do, they usually vote Democratic. But the liberal media was, again, shocked, shocked, to find a Republican speaking like a Republican. Why does the “Mitt-bot” keep making such flubs, they asked? Endless analysis of his “enigmatic” character followed. The result was to deepen and mystify a simple political remark. By the time the analysis was over, Romney seemed to be sympathetic to the middle class, the rich and even the poor, whose safety net he was going to fix.

The unflattering comparisons being drawn between Romney and his father also only make him more attractive, by raising the hope that the apple will not fall far from the tree. The standard narrative now is that George Romney, as governor of Michigan, presidential candidate, and secretary of Housing and Urban Development, was an honest, decent man who stuck to his guns, no matter what. Maybe. And maybe that is pure nonsense.

The Republican George Romney is being celebrated for standing up to his party on civil rights, for example. He was indeed a staunch defender of civil rights. But he also was the governor of a Democratic state, at a time of growing liberal consensus. His anti-labor stance and business experience as CEO of American Motors Corporation guaranteed him the support of Detroit’s growing affluent Republican suburbs. His business-minded opposition to big-business—i.e. his former competitors, Detroit’s Big Three—and his strong civil rights stance guaranteed him much of the liberal vote, as well as a decisive black vote. In his successful second run for governor, he garnered 30 percent of Michigan’s black vote, something no Republican candidate in the state had ever done.

Romney pere’s powerful advocacy of civil rights policies at HUD was admirable and honorable. But it also undercut his former presidential rival, Richard Nixon, and strengthened his base among liberals and blacks in Michigan, should he have decided one day to run for Senate. (In the event, his wife Lenore ran for Senate instead, and lost.)

Even George Romney’s notorious change of heart on the war in Vietnam—the mother of all flip-flops—is being hailed as an example of courageous moral resolve. Running against Nixon for the Republican presidential nomination, Romney declared in August 1967 that he had been brainwashed into supporting the war during a 1965 trip to Vietnam, and now proclaimed his opposition to it. His reversal could have been on high moral principle. Then again, it could be that he was trying to make an end-run around Nixon using the same cut-both-ways strategy he had used to get elected governor of Michigan. In his campaigns for governor, he had appealed to the liberal wing of the GOP in order to win over Democratic voters. It had worked when Romney contrasted himself with the disastrously right-wing Goldwater in the early sixties. That it didn’t work as he tried to contrast himself with Nixon didn’t mean that Romney wasn’t hoping it would.

The saintly father, the complex, multi-faceted son—even as they are displacing their unhappiness with Obama’s “unknowableness” onto Romney, the liberal media is mystifying Romney in some weird inversion of its mystification of Obama three years ago. For liberals, of course, the mystique is a horrible one. But in some disturbing sense, by making him a mystery instead of treating him as a politician, they are doing Romney’s work for him. Voters who are tired of politicians and of “more of the same” love an exciting new mystery.

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