Sipping Some West Coast Tea
If you are interested in a provocative and enjoyable hour of discussion on tea party politics, then I encourage you to check out my appearance yesterday on To the Point with Warren Olney. The syndicated public affairs program originates from NPR station KCRW-FM in Los Angeles. The show provides a comprehensive overview of the ways in which the tea party movement is having an impact on the politics of the new Congress and on the 2012 Republican presidential race. You can listen to the podcast here.
Note: Back posting on Wednesday. -Dean
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I watched President Obama’s State of the Union address last night, and like a lot of political observers, I thought he struck the appropriate tone with his remarks, given the recent tragedy in Tucson and the changed legislative environment he now faces in Congress. I was also relieved that Obama eschewed the standard laundry list of presidential initiatives (which usually have little chance of passage) in favor of a more thematic approach to the speech. Given the current fiscal reality of deficit and debt, a long presidential wish list would not have been particularly well received anyway.
I must say that with each passing year these State of the Union addresses hold less allure for me than they once did. I’ve thought about why this might be the case, and my sense is that it has something to do with both the saturation coverage by the media, and the fact that presidents are now so frequently in the public eye that these special events no longer offer the same high profile drama. They are increasingly just another component of the White House’s multiple platform communications strategy, and in response opponents gird for the occasion with a predictable plethora of prebuttals and rebuttals.
Since the delivery of a speech by the president is not actually mandated by the Constitution, I would love to see the chief executive simply brief Congress on the state of the union (a duty which is constitutionally required) by instead submitting a formal letter to the legislative body. That alternative would have saved us the whole ridiculous prom night bipartisan seating storyline, which was unfortunately beaten into the ground along with every other aspect of the evening’s festivities.
Note: Back posting on Friday. -Dean
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Jack Be Nimble
When I first heard that Jack Kimball was running for chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party, I recall thinking that he actually had a reasonable shot at winning the position. As a gubernatorial candidate during the 2010 midterm elections, Kimball seemed to connect with conservative activists in the state, and notably made a lasting impression on them with his feisty performance in the party’s televised primary debate. Still, it was fascinating to see the national, tea party-enhanced split that exists between movement conservatives and institutional elites in the Republican Party replicated in the local balloting here on Saturday.
Even though tea party activists often talk about the ideological diversity of their group’s membership, I continue to believe that the true political power within the tea party movement rests with social and religious conservatives like Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, and Jim DeMint, rather than with Ron Paul libertarians. Given that Mitt Romney and Ron Paul were the top two finishers in the presidential straw poll also conducted at the party meeting, I can’t help but wonder whether despite Kimball’s victory, the tea party’s core political dynamic will continue to be an uneasy fit for the New Hampshire GOP, and especially for the politics of its presidential primary.
Note: Back posting on Wednesday. -Dean
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Simon Says What?
I often enjoy hearing what political reporter Roger Simon has to say about presidential politics, but I was disappointed to read his surprisingly predictable don’t count Sarah Palin out column over at today. I assume he was compelled to write the piece by the critical drubbing Palin has taken in the press and polls recently for her controversial remarks on the Arizona tragedy. The clincher for me is Simon’s closing statement that, “Palin still has time to both educate herself and grow more skilled at handling the non-adoring media.”
I have been hearing basically this same comment from nervous Republican political elites for over two years now. I have seen zero (and I do mean zero) evidence during that time that Palin has any intention of improving her grasp of the issues, or of making overtures to anyone she considers to be adversarial media. Those factors are just not central to her conception of political power. As a result, this all Palin needs to do argument has become an easy cliché among political analysts who want to keep her in the 2012 presidential narrative, and I was surprised to see Simon wield it.
As I have written many times before, Palin also needs to show some interest in stepping out of her political comfort zone to build a broader electoral coalition. I don’t think she will, so I don’t see any way that she can conceivably win a general election. Palin may be able to influence the political discourse in the Republican primaries, and perhaps even win her party’s nomination (although I'm skeptical), but that’s about all. As more Republicans come to accept this (and some seem to be), Palin’s path to the nomination will become increasingly difficult.
Note: Back posting on Monday. -Dean
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Georgia on My Mind
This little item caught my attention earlier today. It sounds like the Georgia state legislature is flirting with the idea of moving its presidential primary from a Super Tuesday grouping of states in March 2012 to a separate earlier date of its choosing. You may recall that Georgia moved its primary up by one month in 2008, in order to join the many states that held contests on February 5th that year. So, the Georgia primary would still occur later in 2012 than it did in 2008, but the legislature’s intention would be to select a date on which the Peach State would not need to share the spotlight with any other contests.
What I find fascinating about this particular scheduling enterprise, is that Georgia is considering moving its primary up by just a few days, perhaps to the Thursday before a big multi-state Tuesday event in March, but not so far that it would impinge on the protected scheduling status enjoyed by Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina. This way (the logic goes) the state could play more of a kingmaker role in the South, without risking delegate penalties from the national committees of the sort levied against Michigan and Florida in 2008.
Sound like a reasonable plan? Perhaps to the Georgia state legislature, but even a small scheduling move like this has the potential to set off a legislative chain reaction in other states, prompting them to start leapfrogging each other in small calendar increments. This is not necessarily something about which New Hampshire should be overly concerned, but if sufficient calendar frontloading ensues, we could end up with another quasi-national primary day shortly after the official primary contest window opens (following New Hampshire et al.). While it doesn’t sound like anything final has been decided in Georgia, this could turn out to be the start of an interesting political drama to watch in the coming months.
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Minnesota's Other Presidential Hopeful
I have already gotten used to chatting with Minnesota media about the New Hampshire Primary. Former Governor Tim Pawlenty has been a regular visitor to our state for over a year now, and he will return soon on his book tour. Folks out there believe it is only a matter of a few months before he announces a presidential run, so I think we’ll be seeing a lot more of Pawlenty over the next year. But this week another name entered my conversations – Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann, who represents Minnesota’s Sixth District. Bachmann recently announced plans to visit Iowa later this month, but has been suitably noncommittal about any presidential aspirations.
We’ll see whether Bachmann includes the Granite State on a future travel itinerary, but given that she shares a very similar political profile with Sarah Palin, I’m not expecting her to arrive here anytime soon. If Bachmann does decide on a presidential bid, it will likely focus on the social and religious conservatism of the Republican caucus environment in Iowa. Bachmann is best known as a leader of the tea party movement in the House, and recently organized a related caucus in the chamber. She also briefly floated a bid for a spot on the House Republican leadership team, but that attempt didn’t get much traction. She is probably best known to progressives for her highly entertaining appearances on Hardball with Chris Matthews.
If ever there was a candidate to join former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum at the top of my list of presidential hopefuls who will never be the Republican nominee, it would be Bachmann. That being said, she certainly could (like Santorum) have a significant impact on conservative discourse within the primary process. She is also politically savvy enough to know that the enhanced visibility that comes along with these kinds of public presidential machinations can help her consolidate personal power within the tea party movement, and perhaps even elevate her stature within the Republican caucus in the House.
Note: I will be away from the website for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend. I’ll be back with new content for you on Wednesday, January 19th. See you soon. -Dean
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A Head Start for Huckabee?
I guess this makes two consecutive posts about the presidential primaries prefaced with a question mark. This is because we can only speculate about the nature of the Republican presidential field at this point, although I expect it to quickly take shape over the next three months. Look for candidacies to drop like cascading dominoes, in which the official announcement of one major player spurs the entrance of many more into the race in rapid succession. I’m starting to hear regularly from media outlets in the home states of various presidential hopefuls, with questions about how their favorite son or daughter might play in the Granite State. This is always a sure sign that the contest is finally gearing up for takeoff.
In this vein, you may recall a post from about a month ago, in which I discussed former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee’s growing irritation with being left out of the 2012 presidential hopeful discussion. This frequent omission occurred despite Huckabee’s strong polling numbers in key early states like Iowa. New polling results continue to show Huckabee way out in front there, yet as I’ve talked to a variety of seasoned political observers over the past month, the most frequent comment I hear on this matter is Huckabee probably won’t run for president in 2012. I don’t think any of these folks have inside knowledge on the likelihood of a Huckabee candidacy, but the responses have been pretty uniform.
Huckabee clearly has a perception problem on his hands, and it’s one in which political elites largely believe the former governor is more interested in continuing to cultivate his political media celebrity and the increasingly sizeable paycheck that goes along with it, rather than actually jumping back into the political fray as a candidate. The speculation is that Huckabee is more likely to observe the 2012 race from the comfort of his Fox News studio than from a campaign headquarters. We will soon know whether political observers are correct, but in the meantime Huckabee is in the unusual position of being a frontrunner that needs to work harder than others to keep his name in the game.
Note: Back posting on Thursday. -Dean
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A Rudy Awakening?
The latest entry in the presidential sweepstakes rumor mill has former New York Governor Rudy Giuliani contemplating another run in 2012. The article reports that Giuliani believes there is room for a moderate Republican to compete in a field likely to be dominated by social conservatives. The article also correctly notes that Giuliani is savvy enough to know that merely floating the idea guarantees heightened public visibility, which is the central currency of modern political celebrity.
I have previously written that New Hampshire would be an ideal place for some Republican to set up shop as the moderate alternative to whichever social conservative emerges victorious from Iowa. Some political observers thought Giuliani fit that bill in 2008, but it just didn’t happen for his campaign during that election cycle. I heard a fair bit of criticism back then that Giuliani didn’t put in the retail politics legwork necessary to win in the Granite State. A concentrated effort might have helped him develop a more organic (and winning) campaign message.
So, we may see Giuliani up here again throughout 2011, although I’m not sure what would be different for him this time around. Perhaps having John McCain out of the way would help him get traction as the preferred alternative. But given the tenor of the 2010 midterm election, I imagine that surviving the Republican primaries will be even more difficult for a self-described political moderate in 2012, even one with Giuliani’s high name recognition.
Note: Back posting on Tuesday. -Dean
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Lynch's S.O.S.
You get a political analysis twofer from me this week. On Thursday afternoon, I’ll be providing color commentary for New Hampshire Public Radio’s live coverage of Governor Lynch’s State of the State address, starting at 12:30 p.m. Then you can catch me again on Friday morning as a guest on NHPR’s The Exchange, where we’ll be breaking down the speech and providing additional reaction to Thursday’s proceedings. You can listen to both programs live on the web here, and the Exchange podcast is here.
Note: Back posting on Friday. -Dean
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A Brief Retirement for Senator Gregg?
Ever since the Concord Monitor ran this editorial on retiring Senator Judd Gregg yesterday, I’ve received a flurry of calls from reporters about whether there are any legs to the “Gregg-for-President” scenario. The short answer is no. For better or worse, the political reality is that presidential campaigns are now the domain of movement politicians who can capture and hold the imagination of voters for the better part of two years. Mix in a hefty required dose of personal celebrity, and my guess is that Gregg would probably agree that his name doesn’t fit this particular bill. While I’m not sure just how much cheekiness I should read into the Monitor piece, I do think Gregg could fill the vice president as trusted advisor role for any number of potential Republican nominees, much in the tradition of Joe Biden or even Dick Cheney.
Finally, in response to the question of whether Gregg could be a New Hampshire Primary powerbroker in 2012, the answer is yes, maybe. Given the almost obligatory outsider patina of your typical presidential campaign, candidate affiliation with a veteran legislative insider can bring mixed results. I’m reminded of former Republican Congressman Bill Zeliff, who ushered Sen. Bob Dole around the Granite State in 1996, and served as a frequent surrogate for him in the national media. Even that close affiliation didn’t help Dole beat Pat Buchanan in the New Hampshire Primary that year. I’m sure Gregg knows there are risks and rewards to choosing sides, and will judiciously use his political clout accordingly.
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