Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Dodging a Bullet: Quick Thoughts on the Romney Victory and the Problems Ahead

Romney dodges two bullets. His double wins in Arizona and Michigan ensure he is the frontrunner and forestall even more panic among the GOP. But more importantly, his win in Michigan saves him from embarrassment that he cannot win his home state.

But all is not well in Romney city. He was expected to win in Michigan, but barely hung on. In some ways his victory here was less impressive than four years ago.

In 2008 Romney won Michigan with 39% of the vote compared to McCain with 30% of the vote. In 2008 Romney won 20 delegates. In 2008 Romney did win a greater percentage of the vote with 41%, but Santorum came in second with 38%. Instead of a margin of victory of 9%, it was 3%, and with a much less crowded field than in 2008. This time Romney only won 11 delegates and Santorum received the same. The one bright spot is that in 2008 Romney won 338,316 votes, in 2012 it was 410,000. It is possible that without a contested Democratic primary Romney benefited from a larger turnout.

After Michigan there is still no indication that Romney has closed the gap with the social conservatives or the Reagan Democrats. His campaign demonstrates continued strategic ills such as his decision to do a rally in the near empty Ford Stadium, and Romney himself concedes that his gaffes are hurting him. His negative ratings continue to rise. Moreover, the negative attack ads all of the GOP are using are damaging the party badly. Unlike 2008 with Obama-Clinton, Obama came out a better and strong candidate. The opposite is happening with the Republicans and Romney.

Put simply: He is not sealing the deal with a large active base of his party and there is no indication that he is helping himself with the swing voters if he moves beyond the nomination to the general election. He cannot win over the right of his party and he cannot win over the moderate swing voters. He is caught in a political squeeze that is hard to escape.

Final thoughts: Super Tuesday next week. Polls now have Santorum leading but that may change. Gingrich has a chance in Georgia and Tennessee and that may add a new dynamic to the race. Romney ventures into a south full of white evangelical voters who do not like him, but who like Santorum. Even after Romney's two victories, it is too soon to call the race over.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Rod Stewart Is Right: Politics is about passion and why Mitt Romney lacks it

I am pleased to announce that my new book–Politainment: The Ten Rules of Contemporary Politics: A citizens' guide to understanding campaigns and elections–is out. It is available for sale on  in paperback with a Kindle edition forthcoming.

Written in an easy to understand format, the book is for political junkies, journalists and those exploring American politics for the first time. This blog post is an excerpt from the book:

Hear it on the radio (Passion)
Read it in the paper (Passion)
Hear it in the churches (Passion)
See it in the schoolyard (Passion)
—“Passion,” by Rod Stewart

No one is really passionate abut Mitt Romney and it shows. Consider his not-so rally at the Ford Stadium the other day.  It looked like a hollow funeral wake as Romney spoke to a near empty stadium.

But look at his polling numbers and his inability to break through and build a serious lead and finish off the other Republicans.

Romney may or may not be the GOP frontrunner and get the nomination, but he does not inspire voters and that will be his downfall in November if he makes it that far.  What is the problem with Mitt?

In 1980 rock musician Red Stewart had a number one hit with the song “Passion.” Life is about passion, and so is politics.

As Washington Post writer E. J. Dionne once declared (July 12, 2010), “But there is an intangible: Passion counts in politics. It motivates a movement’s most fervent followers but can also carry moderates attracted to those who promise change and profess great certainty about how to achieve it. Barack Obama got himself elected president by understanding this.”

Passion is the key. In 2008 people were passionate about Obama. Passion is what drives people to the ballot, to volunteer, to give. It is the buzz factor. Many candidates are competent, but no one feels passionate about them. Mitt Romney lacks passion, much like a previous Massachusetts governor—Michael Dukakis—who ran for president as a competent technocrat. He lost. He had no charisma and inspired no passion. No one seems really passionate about Romney, thus explaining many of his problems in sealing the deal to secure the GOP nomination and win over many to his side. As I have stated several times, Romney (at least for women) reminds them of their first husband. Conversely, at various times supporters of Bachmann, Perry, and Cain were passionate about them. No question that Ron Paul has passionate supporters.

Passion and charisma are related. Some candidates have a special charisma that inspires others. John F. Kennedy, in truth or legend, is one example; perhaps Ronald Reagan is another. They have the ability, as presidential scholar Richard Neustadt declared in Presidential Power, to persuade others. The essence of presidential power is the power to persuade. One cannot simply order others around—one has to be persuasive and convince people to support your ideas. Neustadt’s book opens with an interesting story. When contemplating General Eisenhower winning the presidential election, Harry Truman said, “He’ll sit here, and he’ll say, ‘Do this! Do that!’ And nothing will happen. Poor Ike—it won’t be a bit like the Army. He’ll find it very frustrating.” Successful presidential candidates are the same—they have to be able to persuade people to vote for them. But something more is needed. James David Barber wrote about it in his famous book, The Presidential Character.

Presidents bring to office their personality, which helps mold their real power to persuade. Successful presidents such as Roosevelt, Kennedy, and Reagan inspired passion. Each of them possessed an elusive trait that made their followers excited. This is passion.

Passion may be the trait of a politainer. Obama certainly was one in 2008 in the sense that he became a commodity marketed across many media venues. He was also a rock star. In 2008, I attended two rallies in Minneapolis—one for Hillary Clinton and one for Barack Obama. Clinton’s rally was flat; Obama’s was like a rock concert (held, incidentally, at the Target Center—a frequent forum for real rock concerts). The Obama event was electric; I could feel the passion in his speech, in the crowd, and in all that he did and said. It paid off by driving many voters to the polls and gaining a sweeping victory for him and the Democrats.

Yet the Obama presidency has been devoid of passion. His speeches are mostly flat and uninspiring; they have failed to persuade or inspire. Speeches are long on facts and figures and short on compelling stories and narratives. This lack of passion hurt Democrats in 2010 at the polls, both because their supporters did not feel it and failed to show up and because Republicans had it and did show up. The result was a reversal of fortunes for the two parties in 2010. The challenge for 2012 is about passion—can Obama get his base, and especially the liberals, to be passionate about him? Will passion deliver the swing voters to him? Conversely, will passion bring Republicans out to vote, especially for Romney, in 2012?

Passion needs to be distinguished from anger. Anger is a passion. We hear a lot about the angry voter, and anger seems to be why Democrats did well in 2006 to take back Congress and why the GOP did so well in 2010 too. In 2009, the Tea Party was birthed from anger and perhaps resentment when Rick Santelli of CNBC stated on February 19: “No they’re not, Joe. They’re not like putty in our hands! This is America! How many of you people want to pay for your neighbors’ mortgage that has an extra bathroom and can’t pay their bills? Raise their hand. President Obama, are you listening?” Anger is what drove the Tea Party confrontations against Democrats in town hall meetings in August 2009, and anger seems to be the reason many Tea Party members are upset with Obamacare and the president.

Anger brews demand for political change. The two are related. Anger can be a powerful passion, but it is not the only passion. Patriotism, fear, greed—they too are passions. Some may be more effective than others as political forces at different times in history. But the most important point to realize is that Rod Stewart was correct in saying passion is needed. Without it, political candidates are unsuccessful.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Protecting Shareholder Rights: The case for the Minnesota Shareholder Freedom of Choice Amendment

Minnesota voters might see their November 6, 2012 ballot crowded with constitutional amendments. Among their choices could be the Minnesota Freedom of Employment ("Right to Work") Amendment. As presently worded, the Amendment would ask Minnesotans:

     Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to guarantee all citizens the individual freedom to decide to join or not join a labor union; to remain with or leave a labor union; or to pay or not pay dues, fees, assessments, or other charges of any kind to a labor union or any affiliated third party or charity, without having it affect their employment status?

Proponents of the amendment contend that its purpose is no more than to give individual workers the right to decide whether they wish to join or support a union. As a backup supporters also argue, as did Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin or Mitch Daniels in Indiana, that such an amendment or legislation will facilitate a business-friendly environment that will help the economy and produce jobs.

Conversely, opponents contend–and some proponents secretly or not so secretly concede–that the real purpose of the amendment is partisan. It is an effort by Republicans to break the financial back and political power of the unions which have historically supported Democrats in elections or in lobbying for specific types of legislation such as minimum wage laws and workplace safety regulation.

But the power of labor unions politically is dwarfed in comparison to corporations and their treasuries. The 2010 Supreme Court decision Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission has unleashed corporations to spend tens if not hundreds of millions of new dollars in politics, with its impact already well documented in this and the last election cycle. This money, plus the millions if not billions of shareholder dollars spent by corporations for lobbying, gives them a significant advantage in the political process. As former chief Justice Rehnquist once stated in First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti: “A State grants to a business corporation the blessings of potentially perpetual life and limited liability to enhance its efficiency as an economic entity. It might reasonably be concluded that those properties, so beneficial in the economic sphere, pose special dangers in the political sphere. . . Indeed, the States might reasonably fear that the corporation would use its economic power to obtain further benefits beyond those already bestowed.”

The corporate form gives some business unique advantages economically. But as Rehnquist aptly observed, these advantages need to be regulated to prevent corporations from using the resources they acquired in the economic marketplace to benefit themselves unfairly in the political marketplace.

So what is to be done? If an amendment is going to be offered to the Minnesota Constitution to give workers freedom of choice and to reign in the power of unions, fairness only suggests a similar measure be introduced to apply to corporations. Thus, Republicans and Democrats should join together and support the Minnesota Shareholder Freedom of Choice (“The Right to Personal Profit”) Amendment. The amendment would ask Minnesota voters:

     Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to guarantee all shareholders in publicly-traded       corporations incorporated or registered to do business in the state, the individual freedom on an annual basis to decide if any of money of the corporation shall be expended, given, donated, or otherwise used for any political purposes directly or through a third party, without having it affect their dividends or rights to profits in that corporation?

Freedom of choice is a beautiful concept. It is the essence of the American ethos and a powerful moving force in politics. Shareholders should be given the same rights within corporations that workers enjoy if the Right to Work amendment is adopted. If we are so worried about the political clout of unions, one should similarly fear corporate clout.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Assessing the Minnesota Caucuses–Final Thoughts On Why It is Times to Scrap Them

Minnesota’s February 7, political caucuses meant something this year...sort of.

This year they were part of a trifecta of non-binding events that included the Colorado caucus and the Missouri primary that awarded no delegates but nonetheless had a significant media impact in rendering Rick Santorum a viable challenger to Mitt Romney. In winning these three states the political world heralded that the party activists had again repudiated Romney. Thus, Minnesota’s caucuses had a signal effect even if no delegates were awarded.

But there are real problems with the caucus process in Minnesota and across the country. Criticism of the Iowa caucus is growing as arguments are again mounted that it should not be first in the nation since no delegates are awarded and its demographics are not representative of the country.

Similarly, the recently concluded Maine caucuses will be read in two ways–evidence that Romney is again a frontrunner after his win there or that he is in trouble after eeking out a narrow victory in his backyard again a weak Ron Paul in a state where no one else really campaigned against him. Yet with fewer than 6,000 Republicans participating in the Maine caucuses, one probably should not read too much into the results.  Moreover, Ron Paul has a good argument in suggesting that there is a difference between winning caucus straw polls and collecting delegates and that despite his showing in the latter, he may be doing better with the former.

There are lots of problems with caucuses and straw polls. Beginning with the Iowa Straw Poll and up to the CPAC one over the weekend, one can make the argument that they are simply self-promotional media events that really mean nothing in the larger scheme of things. However, in a world of politianment where politics and media converge in a 24/7 cable news cycle and every state or group wants its 15 minutes of fame, they get reported on in a way disproportionate to their importance.

Some will defend these straw polls and caucus systems as important tools to judge political strength and organization (Santorum’s wins might argue against that) or that they are great ways to activate the political base. But let me offer six final criticisms of the Minnesota caucus system.

1.  The Minnesota caucuses is exclusionary and non-participatory. The criticism here is that at best 2-2.5% of the population participate in a caucus. Compare us in 2008 to Wisconsin where its presidential primary had a 37% turnout. We have pitiful attendance. Excluded from participating are those in active duty in the military, those working second shift, ill, elderly afraid to go out at night in the cold, those with child care issues, or a host of other matters. Caucuses are great to deepen political commitments and participation, but as Garrison Keillor once stated: “Democracy is a form for government for people with too much time on their hands.” Given how few people can and do show up, effectively it is not a system that really encourages civic engagement on a scale that makes it a really net contributor to social capital building.

2.  The Minnesota caucuses are not representative of the party members. There is a real debate I election law over who is the party. Is it the party officers, candidates, caucuses or convention attendees, or primary voters? Good answers all. The problem here in Minnesota and perhaps elsewhere is that those who attend the caucuses do not seem representative of the broader voters in party primaries and instead are more conservative or liberal than the broader group of people who consider themselves Republicans or Democrats. Over the years in Minnesota we have seen successful candidates such as Arnie Carlson rejected by caucus and convention attendees only to win primaries and general elections. Democrats have a similar problem with Mike Freeman winning at conventions but losing in primaries. Thus, individuals selected via the caucuses process might not be the strongest party nominees, they might not enjoy the broadest support among the primary voters, and they ultimately might not be the strongest candidates for a general election.

3. The Minnesota caucuses conflict with our sense of privacy.  Minnesotans are a very private lot of people. We keep to ourselves on many topics, preferring discourse about family, weather, and the miserable Twins and Vikings to anything more personal.  Many Minnesotans do not attend caucuses because they do not want to openly identify their party affiliation or stand up and declare who they will vote for in an election. I know too many people because of professional work reasons (government workers ad journalists) who feel like they cannot attend caucuses because of how it identifies them politically. When we do have primaries it is a semi-open one that does not require you  to declare party preferences openly. Minnesotans are much more comfortable with this type of process.

4.  The Minnesota caucus process has a muted impact on national politics. Because we actually do not award any delegates at the caucuses, the impact that the state could have were it to have a primary is blunted. We are at best a beauty contest and generally their impact is more short-term and media-driven than real.

5.  The Minnesota caucuses deny choice and voice. Whatever the caucus results last week, they mean nothing.  In 2008 Romney won 41% in the presidential preference poll results in or caucuses. How many votes did he get from our GOP convention at the RNC in 2008? Zero! All the delegates voted for McCain. This is typical. By the time we select our convention delegates the contest for the party nominee is over and our delegation votes by acclamation and awards all delegates to whomever is perceived to be the party nominee (It does not help that at conventions Minnesota comes at the middle of the alphabet when called on to cast its votes). Think of how frustrated Ron Paul must be. He wins the Twin Cities and did well in the state but I doubt he gets any delegates who vote for him in the nomination is sewn up by convention time. Thus, caucus attendees really do not have their vote heard in terms of presidential preferences and it almost seems a waste of time for candidates to stump in a caucus state if they receive no delegates.

6.  The Minnesota caucuses insulate against orderly political evolution. Party leaders love caucuses because they can generally control them. But with caucuses mostly attended by party activists they insult against change and evolution. Conversely  many will say that the caucuses allow small numbers of people to alter the direction of the party rapidly. Both criticisms are correct.  Parties need to evolve to survive and remain relevant, especially if they are to grow their base and appeal to swing voters. Yet the Minnesota caucus system seems to discourage that, as evidenced by the growing numbers who consider themselves not to be members of the two major parties. The parties just do not seem to line up with the way many Minnesotans think about a range of political issues, instead producing polarizing alignments. Thus, the caucus system does not seem to yield a system a system that promotes healthy party evolution.

Last thought: There is a great Sesame Street routine that shows several objects and asks which does not belong. In Minnesota we have caucuses, primaries, and conventions. Which does not belong?

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Constitutional contempt: The GOP's rush to amend is out of keeping with traditional Minnesota values

This blog originally appeared on Minnpost.

What are we to make of the sudden rush by Minnesota Republicans to place several constitutional amendments on the ballot this November? Quite simply, they are out of character with Minnesota's history, true conservatism, and they demonstrate a contempt for the political process and a trivialization of the state’s Constitution.

Think about what we learned about constitutions in school. First, they are a general blueprint for the structure of the government. They describe the different officers or branches of government and how they are elected or organized. They define how a bill becomes a law, what powers each of the branches of government have (separation of powers), and the abilities of each to limit one another (checks and balances).

Second, constitutions not only declare the powers of government, but also limits on what it can do via a bill of rights. A bill of rights declares the rights of citizens, such as freedom of press or religion. Together, a constitution and a bill of rights define the rules of the game for governing. We think of a constitution as something more permanent, relatively stable, and not something that we generally amend unless there is a good reason to do so. This is at least how we think of our U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights.

State Constitutions such as Minnesota's serve the same purposes, but also differ in several ways. Minnesota's Bill of Rights offers more protection for individuals than found at the federal level. We protect freedom of conscience and privacy more vigorously than does the U.S. Bill of Rights. We also protect some rights — hunting and fishing, and peddling farm produce — that are not found at the federal level. We have constitutionalized our commitment to education, the construction and maintenance of a highway system, and support for the environment and the arts. Such rights reflect our culture and who we are.

119 amendments adopted in Minnesota
Finally, Minnesota's Constitution is different from the federal one in the ways and numbers of times amended. The federal Constitution has been amended 27 times (including the Bill of Rights) and it is done by a combination of two-thirds votes in both Houses of Congress and ratification by three-fourths of the states. Since ratification of the Minnesota Constitution in 1858, there have been 211 constitutional amendments proposed to the voters, with 119 adopted. Until 1898, constitutional amendments required a majority of both houses in the Legislature to propose them to the voters, with a simple majority of those voting on the amendments to approve them.

In 1898 the amending process was changed, thereafter requiring a qualified majority of all who voted in a specific election to ratify an amendment. Voting in the election, but not on the amendment, counts as a no vote. Amending the Constitution was made more difficult because critics claimed special interests and groups were using the process to further their politics. The argument also was that amending the Constitution should be done sparingly, and not used as a tool that substituted for normal lawmaking.

What does all this say about the rush to amend the Minnesota Constitution this year?  Let's look at the proposed amendments. Already on the ballot is one to ban same-sex marriage. Others would require a photo identification to vote, change the legislative voting procedure to make it harder to raise taxes, make it more difficult for poor women to terminate a pregnancy, and declare Minnesota to be a right-to-work state and thereby make it more burdensome for unions to collect dues. With the exception of the tax proposal, the rest are all policy and not about structure and process. They are about efforts to make permanent specific policy views of the Republican Party and its supporters. They are partisan preferences raised to the level of constitutional permanence.

Sure, this has happened in the past. Minnesota's history reveals times when clusters of amendments are offered at the same time, often pushed by one party. But there is something unique in what the Republicans are doing now.

Rights usually expanded, not contracted
Minnesota history reveals that most amendments expand and do not contract rights. Of all amendments adopted, only one has restricted voting rights and five expanded them. The current amendments to require voter identification and limit the rights of privacy of poor women are out of character with Minnesota history.

Moreover, among the 50 adopted amendments dealing with finance, 17 authorized new taxes, bonding authority, or spending, and only six restricted or made it more difficult for public spending.

Minnesota has a tradition of facilitating government investment to help the state. The current proposal to make it more difficult to tax is out of step with that tradition, and it runs Minnesota down the road toward the same problems encountered by California and Colorado, which adopted similar proposals years ago and which have contributed to their current fiscal problems. Third, the right-to-work amendment restricts rights of unions and it aims to make constitutional another policy that best should be left to the legislative process. Overall, these amendments are out of step with a Minnesota tradition of respecting and enlarging rights and supporting individuals.

But more important, what is upsetting about the amendments is that they display contempt for the political process. Instead of trying to use the normal legislative process to push these ideas, they want to bypass it. Because they cannot win by normal politics they want to take their political bat and ball and go home. In effect, they cannot win under the normal rules so they are changing the rules.

A go-for-broke strategy
It is, moreover, a go-for-broke strategy: If we cannot win by normal politics let us try to do so by way of the Constitution and then if we are ousted in November, we have cemented in place policies that live beyond our majorities in St. Paul. Moreover, this contempt for individual rights and disrespect for our constitutional tradition is the very opposite of what conservatism is about. True conservatives should be loath to change the Constitution in this way.

Finally, what is disturbing about this kind of politics is that it not only plays to prejudice but it interjects divisive social issues into constitutional battles. Amending the Constitution should be done for noble reasons, not cynical ploys to pander to constituencies or make permanent partisan preferences. Minnesota is a better state than that.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Mini-Tuesday Results: Where do the Republican Nominees Stand Now?

Mini-Tuesday is over and done in Minnesota, Missouri, and Colorado. Santorum sweeps the three states. Who were the winners and losers in it?  Do the numbers.

There have been 8 primaries and caucuses:






With the three wins yesterday Santorum’s victories raise big questions about Romney’s inevitability and momentum. After Florida and Nevada Romney supporters said he was clearly the frontrunner. However, as I argued, only his Florida victory is a real one and he underperformed in Nevada compared to 2008.

Romney definitely underperformed in MN yesterday (third) compared to a 2008 victory. Overall, there is little Mitt can point to yesterday that indictes victory, momentum, or that he is consolidating his support among conservatives. The three states yesterday featured the hardcore conservative base and they are still not with him.

Yet Romney can point to a different fact–no delegates awarded yesterday. Romney still leads in this category.

Name Delegates

Romney     91

Santorum     44

Gingrich     29

Paul      8

Doing the delegates, Romney has about as many delegates as the other three candidates combined.
Going forward there will be several questions:

1) Can Santorum transform yesterday’s results into money and political donations?
2) Can Santorum transform yesterday into real delegates?
3) Is Santorum the leader?
4) Can Romney close the deal with conservatives?
5) Where is Gingrich and is he now the third candidate?
6) Can Gingrich survive February and make it to super Tuesday?

My sense is that these four candidates remain in the race at least through March. No one is exiting soon.  If when delegates are again rewarded we see all of these candidates winning in the double-digits, it will be impossible for any of them to enter the convention with a majority. It may be too soon to discuss brokered convention but that is still a possibility and getting more real everyday.

No I do not think there is another candidate about to emerge. Money, organization, and time are against that. However, do look for a long campaign with no quick resolution in sight.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Romney Wins Big in Nevada? Not Really.

So with Romney’s big win in Nevada he is yet again the frontrunner?  Yes to perhaps being the frontrunner but declaring him as having won big is a matter of opinion.  Consider the numbers.

In 2008 Mitt Romney won the Nevada caucus with 51.1% of the vote.  He received 22, 646 votes.  Ron Paul was second with 13.7% of the vote and John McCain was third with 12.7% of the vote.

In 2012, Mitt Romney won the Nevada caucus with 47.6% of the vote.  He received 11,822 votes.  Newt Gingrich was second with 22.7% of the vote and Ron Paul was third with 18.6% of the vote.

Let’s put his victory into perspective.  In 2012 Romney received half the votes he garnered compared to 2008 and both his total percentage of vote and margin of victory were significantly less.  In 2012 he received 3.5% less of the total vote than he did in 2008, and his margin of victory compared to the second place finisher decreased from a 37.5% difference to a 24.9%.  Thus, by all measures, his performance in Nevada in 2012 was worse than in 2008.  Remember also while Romney won Nevada  big in 08, McCain won the nomination.  Nevada is no bellwether.

Yes exit polls do suggest that he won over major constituencies in Nevada, winning over those who considered themselves Tea Party members and very conservative.  But again, remember this is a state he won four years ago, a state sympathetic to him because of its Mormon population, among other reasons.

The Nevada victory must be understood in context.  So far Romney has had only one victory in 2012 compared to 2008-Florida.  As I noted in a recent blog, he performed almost identically in Iowa in 2008 and 2012.  He was expected to win big in New Hampshire in 2008 and 2012 and he did.  He lost big in South Carolina in 2008 and 2012.  Yes he did win Florida in 2012 but it was due in larger part to Super-PAC money and attack ads.

The mainstream media is quick to pronounce Romney the leader in 2012.  It’s all relative.  He actually does not look as strong this year as 2008 and he still faces all the problems of lack of passion and excitement for his candidacy.  He may be the frontrunner but he is a weak one.

Romney will do well in a month of February noted for its lack of awarding significant delegates.  Let us see what Minnesota bodes for him.  I suspect a tight race with Ron Paul my sleeper longshot to win.  Betcha $2 on this (not $10,000)!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Truth About Taxes: A talk hosted by River Valley Action

Contemporary American politics is dominated by too many myths.  On January 31, 2012, the River Valley Action hosted a talked at the Woodbury Peaceful Grove/United  Methodist Church entitled "Debunking Common Myths."

The talk was attended by nearly 100 individuals.  Three myths were tackled that night-- that taxes are a major detriment to economic growth, that regulation kills jobs, and that voter fraud is rampant.   I spoke on the topic of  taxes.  My Powerpoint presentation is on my web page.

A great summary of the meeting is provided by Dick Bernard.

The crowd was terrific except for a few hecklers who came not to listen but to disrupt the meeting.  The huffed and puffed and shouted and in general acted like goons.  One big guy kept badgering me and just simply refused to let me talk.  He proved an old adage--but to keep you  mouth shut and have people think you are stupid  than open your mouth and prove it.

The MN League of Women Voters produced a lethal video on why we do not need voter ID.  It is a must for all to watch.

Great forum.

Romney in Florida: Was it really a victory?

It was an ugly pyrrhic victory  for Romney in Florida.  While he did win the state by an ample margin, he may have lost more in the process, thereby damaging his long-term presidential bid.

What did Romney accomplish?  He reversed doubts for many after South Carolina that his campaign was in danger.  Coming out of SC Gingrich looked to be the frontrunner and he had closed the poll numbers gap in Florida.  But then Romney went to work.  He went aggressive against Newt again, much like he did in Iowa.  The difference here was not simply that the Romney and pro-Romney Super-PAC ads were negative, Romney went on the offensive in debates and in personal appearances.  Mitt finally demonstrated a capacity to street fight and it paid off. Exit polls suggested he won across many constituencies too.  He leaves FL with lots of momentum and a primary and caucus schedule that seems to favor him in states such as Nevada and Michigan over the next few weeks.  If Gingrich holds on to Super Tuesday on March 7, then he may see some big wins for him in the south again.  However, Romney’s win was solid and now we look to MN, Nevada, and Missouri to see if the Romney momentum continues.

But think about the strategy that Romney used to win.  In part it benefitted from a weak Gingrich debate performance twice last week, but the elements were overwhelming money, organization, and nasty attack ads.  This appears to be the formula Romney and his supporters will use in every state–simply crush the opposition with force.

But the strategy has problems.  First, compare this GOP primary process to Obama-Clinton in 2008.  As Obama campaigned on he became a stronger candidate who was more popular.  Now as the GOP process goes on Romney’s negatives are increasing.  Romney won less because people liked him and  more because money and attack ads repelled them from Gingrich.  Clearly the one real winner in Florida was Super-PAC and Romney Romney money that outspent Gingrich $16 million to $4 million.  Thus, the primary victory demonstrated Romney as the lesser of two evils.  He still has not won over the conservative and Tea Party base, and one still does not see a passionate flocking to Romney.  He is just the strongest surviving.

The negatives that Romney has achieved will hurt him in a general election. But also while Romney may have superior money and organization against the other GOP he will not have that against Obama.  He needs more than that–he needs the passion and so far it is not there.  But then again, the same is true for Obama, thus pitting two candidates who will have great organization and money, limited appeal to swings, and varying levels of passion among supporters.

But the Gingrich-Romney battle is also about the future direction of the Republican Party and what it stands for.  It is about orthodoxy. (See my blog post from July 25, 2012 discussing this issue in more detail) But it is orthodoxy in a different way.   Conventional wisdom–as defined by the political pundits, pollsters, and party leaders–believe Romney to be a better candidate against Obama than Gingrich.  These are the same people who thought Romney had it nailed down after New Hampshire, only to see Romney collapse and lose South Carolina.  Romney is no stronger a candidate today than four years ago.  Both times he finished second in Iowa with 25%, both times won as expected in New Hampshire, and both times was trounced in South Carolina.  Except for last week, his debate performances have been average at best, and Romney’s only claim to superiority–money and organization–have been repeatedly challenged.  He now has dramatically higher negatives than before, and he is typecast as an out of touch rich guy...which he is. Obama can destroy this guy who is so conventional and boring.

My point with all of this?  Romney won but the primary is tearing the Republican Party apart at a time when a united one is needed if they want to win in November.  It seems as if the GOP is looking a lot more like the Democratic Party usually does.

Last thought:  On to Minnesota?  Romney is in MN today after Florida.  Let us see how well the post Sunshine state momentum  flows and whether next Tuesday he can win our presidential preference poll at the caucuses.