Tuesday, February 28, 2012

What Happens if Romney Loses Michigan?

Looking over the past several months of the 2012 GOP Presidential Primary, I've learned a few things, had a few laughs, and generally bored the hell out of my readership.  But as we look into the crystal ball for the future, here are a few things I expect to happen:

1) If Mitt Romney Loses Michigan: Romney's father not only was the former Governor of Michigan, but used Michigan as the base of operations for his failed 1968 Presidential Bid.  In other words, losing Michigan is going to hurt.  Now, it won't hurt Romney as bad as losing Massachusetts or Utah, but it will hurt.  Romney's biggest and best argument for the nomination is the electability issue - that he's the best match-up to Obama.  If he loses Michigan, along with his losses in Missouri, Wisconsin, South Carolina and Colorado, Romney shows real weakness in the Midwest and in the South, two areas a GOP nominee has to carry to win.

Now, does this mean that Romney will drop out if he loses Michigan?  Nope.  Romney has a ton of money, has organizational resources, and has been running for President since 2007.  If he doesn't grab the nomination now, he never will.  I expect him to fully napalm the entire GOP field, except for Ron Paul (more on that below).  Oh, and if there's a brokered convention, Romney will do his damnedest to blow the whole thing up.  He literally has nothing to lose.

Santorum, on the other hand, further gains momentum if he wins Michigan.  For a guy who has to rely on contributions, momentum is key.  Big funders are more likely to send money to Santorum, or his Super PAC, and because he's a contender, he gets more free press time than he knows what to do with.  For Newt, he stays in until Super Tuesday to see if his win in South Carolina is indicative of his strength in the South.

For Ron Paul, the status of the race doesn't matter whatsoever.  Paul is sort of like Dennis Kuchinch in 2008 - he's there for his own reasons.  Those reasons, by the way, have nothing to do with libertarian ideology.  Ron Paul may be an ideologue, but he's also practical.  He knows that he has no chance at getting the nomination, but he also knows that, by virtue of running, he's building an organization outside the GOP.  And the only reason to build that kind of operation is to run for President and win.  My guess, is that Paul is laying the groundwork for his son, Senator Rand Paul, to run for President in the future.  In this light, even Paul's reluctance to attack Romney makes sense - why make enemies with the GOP leadership? 

Interestingly, that makes Paul the one guy in the room with something to lose.  Think about it - neither Romney, nor Santorum, nor Gingrich, have anything to lose.  They do not have jobs.  They have few, if any ties to the current GOP leadership, and in the case of Gingrich and Santorum, they know that they have one guy in their corner who will give them employment post-election.  Given that reality, no one will drop out, and no one will go easy on the other candidates (again, except for Paul).  This is going to be a bloodbath.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

What to do about Iran. . .

As the drumbeat for war against Iran continues, I figured that I would add my two cents.  Now, by any stretch of the imagination, I am no expert in Iran.  I know some of the main players, I am aware of some of the history, but Juan Cole I am not.  But I have a pretty good understanding of history and politics, and it is my blog, so. . .

I think bombing Iran is just about the dumbest thing ever.  Now, don't get me wrong - the Iranian government is atrocious.  It horrifically tortures its people, it brutally suppresses freedoms, and it sponsors terror groups.  The Supreme Leader Khamenei is an awful, awful person, who hopefully will burn in Hell for his crimes against his people.  Also, notice I don't mention Ahmadinejad?  Yeah, that's because he has almost no power whatsoever.  An Iranian regime with nuclear weapons would be terrible.

But, and this is a big but, Iran would never, ever use nuclear weapons against anyone.  Ever.  The reason is simple - using nuclear weapons is an automatic death sentence.  Israel, the U.S., Great Britain, China, and Russia all have the capability to wipe Iran from the map.  And while some front-line soldiers might be willing to martyr themselves, the powers that be in Iran would never be willing to join in the martyrdom.  Nor would they be particularly interested in having their families join them in the martyrdom.  No, the reality of nuclear weapons is that they are used as a defensive weapon to protect against invasion.  So, if the Iranian regime were to acquire nukes, it wouldn't use them to destroy other countries (like Israel), but would use them to prop up their own power.

The other big reason to not bomb Iran is more subtle.  Every regime in power rules through both coercion and through social networks.  The American Constitution, for example, gives the government the right to use force, while at the same time, gives special interest groups the right to influence the government's behaviors.  And every government has that balancing of the use of force and allowing its policies to be shaped by its people - and this varies by both the amount of force the government is willing to use, and the power of the various special interest groups.  When one interest group dominates, as it is in Iran, more force is needed for control.  But if you diminish the power of the lead group, without diminishing the power of the other factions, you get a change in regime, which is what we want here.

Now, the problem with bombing, and with a potential invasion, is that the bombing is not guaranteed to hit the faction you want.  In fact, more likely than not, bombing will hit the factions that you'd want to support - the democratic elements in Iran.  Bomb Iran, and you take away their capacity to topple Khamenei, which is precisely what you want.  Worse yet, that kind of attack would encourage patriotism, and bolster the regime. 

However, if you can draw the regime into a conflict that would not involve the killing of democratic elements - say fight over the Straits of Hormuz - you can both embarrass the regime, and sap its military prowess, perhaps enough to a new faction to take over.  This is exactly what happened to the Argentine junta in the 1980's.  Like Iran, the junta had no qualms about killing and torturing its people.  Then, it got drawn into a conflict with the U.K. over the Falklands, lost the war, and the junta was overthrown.  Similarly, you could engage Iran in a type of cold war, and slowly strangle its means of production and its economy - a la the Soviet Union.  In this scenario, you'd want to compel Iran to overspend on its military to bankrupt its economy.  That way the economic elites would step in and topple the regime.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Whitney, Santorum, Birth Control and More: Random Thoughts Blogging

Well, its been awhile since I last posted, and great googly-moogly, Santorum is up huge.  Santorum is spreading everywhere, much to everyone's dismay.  Well, it light of the current frothiness, I have a few thoughts that I probably post before the dynamics of the GOP nomination race pops up again (along with a few other thoughts).

Whitney Houston's Passing: Like everyone else, I was shocked to hear that Whitney Houston had passed last Saturday. . .actually, not really that shocked, more like shock-ished.  After all, Ms. Houston's drug problems were well documented, and that sort of thing isn't very healthy.  Still, it was a sad event, even for someone like me who despised all that Whitney Houston wannabes that she spawned.  Seriously, how many "American Idol" contestants sang "I believe the children are our future?" (Yes, I know that's not the name of the song).  What is also sad is that someone like Whitney, who's mother and aunt worked in the recording industry, fell prey to the worst excesses of fame.  Very sad indeed.

Santorum's Surge: My last post noted the inherent weaknesses of Mitt Romney (he matches up to his own caricatures too well), and the last few weeks have demonstrated this problem all to well.  Up to this point, Romney's campaign strategy wasn't to convince GOP voters to vote for him, so much as to convince GOP voters to not vote for anyone else.  He's engaged in mudslinging with Gingrich, Perry, Bachmann, etc., and his favorability ratings are in the tank for it.  Santorum, who despite winning in Iowa, was under the radar, has managed to take advantage of this strategy.

Now we all know that negative campaigning works.  But here's the thing, negative campaigning is a bit like chemotherapy - you hope the negative ads hurt your opponent (the cancer in this analogy), than it hurts you.  Now, this works in a 2 person race because one candidate has to win, but in a primary, where there are more than 2 candidates, this gets real tricky.  And there are numerous examples of candidates who ended up winning a primary because two well-financed candidates went purely negative - Gray Davis, for one, was elected Governor, after Al Checchi and Jane Harman duked it out in the primary - and Santorum definitely fits that mold.

The other thing that's going on here is that Santorum's views on social issues are probably closer to the average GOP voter than Mitt Romney's views.  Where Romney can be all over the place, Santorum is consistent.  And although Romney may, on paper, be a better match-up to Obama in the General Election, he has some real weaknesses in the Midwest and the South, both key areas for the GOP.  With Romney's key arguments being a job creator (side-tracked by the Bain experience), and electability (being sidetracked by his own unpopularity), he doesn't have much to offer the GOP.  Santorum does at this point.

Birth Control: When referring to Obama's policies, Andrew Sullivan has written that Obama's greatest strength is getting his opponents to overreach.  Never has that been more true than with the birth control decision.  Somehow, he's managed to paint the Congressional GOP into the anti-contraceptive corner, and now Darrel Issa is holding Congressional hearings on the issue, but not allowing any woman to testify about the Pill.  Um. . .problematic much?  The more this goes on, the worse it gets for the GOP.  People may be ambivalent about abortion because they don't know anyone who's had an abortion, but everyone knows someone who's either on the Pill right now, or has used the Pill in the past. 

Linsanity: Okay people, let's get this straight - Jeremy Lin is NOT TIM TEBOW.  Lin was an undrafted 2nd year player who bounced around and found a great situation with the Knicks.  Not only that, but the kid is playing at a high level every single game.  Oh, and he makes almost no money in NBA terms, and has to sleep on his friend's couch.  Tim Tebow was a highly touted college quarterback who was drafted in the first round, got a big contract, and has managed to win multiple games in the NFL despite not being accurate on short and intermediate throws (but is freakishly accurate on deep passes).  There's a big difference here.  Also, the holes in Lin's game (not able to go left, too careless with the ball) are the kinds of holes that NBA rookies have, whereas the holes in Tebow's game (not being accurate with his throws unless he goes deep), are the kind of holes that end someone's career.  With any luck, Lin will end up as a poor man's Steve Nash, and good for him.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Grading the Should-Be Nominah:

After apparently kicking ass in the last two debates (especially Newt's ass), and then winning Florida by 15-20 points, Romney looks like he will be the nominee.  Of course, he promptly followed up that huge victory by declaring, "I'm not concerned with the very poor."  To which, most of America responded by saying "No shit. . ."

Anyway, the point of this post is a look at Mitt Romney, presumptive GOP nominee.  I remember watching Mitt Romney back in 2007, and was immediately terrified - he's telegenic, has a crooning anchorman voice, was a successful Governor of Massachusetts, and had few skeletons in his closet.  But after watching Romney in the past two elections, I have to say, the more I look at him, the less I'm scared of him.  But if you've been reading this blog, you know that - I've often said that Romney is weird. 

But what has been painfully obvious lately is that Romney has painted himself into the "rich guy who's out of touch" corner.  Now, every Democratic campaign since I can remember has had some element of painting the Republican as the out-of-touch rich guy.  And, for the most part, every candidate has been able to avoid that label.  Nixon grew up poor, Gerald Ford was the football star, Reagan was the man with the humble touch, Bush I in 1988 tied himself to Reagan (then lost in 1992 when he appeared like the out-of-touch-rich-guy), Dole was the war hero, Bush II had the commoner's touch, and McCain was a war hero.  Romney just doesn't have it.

Here's where I find myself in agreement with Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh - Romney doesn't have the lock on electability.  He seemingly can't go a single day without a major gaffe - seriously, today's news should have been entirely about Gingrich's ass-kicking in Florida - and his opponents can use a perfectly reasonable caricature of him that he seems to reinforce at every turn.  And that doesn't include his flip-flopping. 

Now bear with me on this, in the 2000 campaign, the attack on Bush was on his intelligence.  To many people, myself included, Bush was too stupid to be President.  But, as it turns out, Bush is not an idiot - he has some intelligence, and uses his brain when he wants to.  So, all he had to do was show he wasn't a complete moron, and boom, the attack loses steam.  Similarly, in 2008, Obama was attacked for being a foreigner, and all he had to show was that he was pretty normal and the attack lost credibility to everyone who didn't believe it already.  In contrast, in 2004, Kerry was attacked for being a flip-flopper, and then went ahead and said "I actually voted for it before I voted against it."  Kerry's rep was cemented from that moment. 

In other words, a campaign is all about caricatures, both positive and negative.  Positive caricatures, of course, are put forth by the candidate; negative caricatures are put forward by the opposing campaign. When a candidate plays into these negative caricatures, the caricature becomes more than just a caricature, it becomes a narrative.  Right now, the narrative on Romney is that he's an out-of-touch-rich-guy, which wasn't the hit on Romney until this campaign.  It used to be that Romney was called a flip-flopper (and there's plenty of evidence to prove that).

Moreover, and again, I agree with Newt and Rush on this*, Romney will also have problems arguing against Obama's health care reforms because those reforms are based on Romney's health care plan (the only difference is that Romney's health care plan pays for abortions). All this makes Romney beatable.