Posts Tagged ‘ mitt romney ’

What do Mitt Romney’s low poll numbers mean?

Mitt Romney currently has a problem. No, not the Republican nomination, he has that locked up. He has a general election problem. Namely, people don’t seem to like him. Romney is currently sitting on a historically unprecedented unfavorability rating. Here is his standing in Pollster’s “poll of polls“:

Romney  is viewed unfavorably by almost half the electorate. In many polls, that number tops 50% and in no recent polls does it drop below 40%. His net fav/unfav rating is minus 9. That does not bode well for Mitt. He appears to be the most unpopular Presidential nominee since 1976. In contrast, President Obama’s fav/unfav rating is a *positive* 7.5%, according to RealClearPolitics, a right-leaning site.

Now, some of Romney’s weakness is due to lingering Gingrich and Santorum supporters having a bad  impression of Romney. Romney’s weakness among conservatives and Republicans will be gone by the fall, especially after he picks a conservative running mate. Obviously, these people will not back Obama over Romney. But crucially, Romney is running very poorly among groups he cannot count on to come around by November.

In a recent ABC News-Washington Post pollRomney’s fav/unfav rating among the electorally crucial bloc of independent voters is 35-52 (that’s a negative rating of minus 17!)  and among moderates its a similar 35-48. That this many independents have already made up their minds (negatively) about Romney is a very bad sign for the Republicans. You can’t win the Presidency if this many independents view you unfavorably. Its just not possible.

Of course, the most relevant poll numbers  right now are President Obama’s job approval ratings. Unlike favorability ratings, which measure how well voters  like you as a person, job approval ratings show how much they approve of your time in office. (Obviously, Mitt Romney doesn’t have approval ratings because his job for the past 5 years has been running for President.) People will tend to focus on the President more than his challenger when they think about who to vote for.

The President’s approval rating is currently 48% approve to 46.5%  disapproving (positive 1.5%). This number will tend to harden as we get closer to the election. It’s not strong enough to guarantee re-election, but its also not weak enough to put him in a real danger zone. There remains a significant bloc of people who remain undecided about the President and who will consider him against his challenger in November. For these people, personal feelings about the candidates are crucial. If they are undecided about the President’s performance, but know that they like him personally and dislike his opponent, then they will swing toward the President in the election.

Romney’s numbers will rebound through the summer as he gains Republican supporters, so conservatives should not worry too  much about his overall favorability numbers right now. What they should worry about are  Romney’s numbers among independents. These numbers are bad and could sink him in November.

Romney responds to Obama’s Kansas speech

Readers might recall that one of my favorite writers is a man named Jonathan Chait,  who now writes for New York Magazine. Today he made an excellent post on Romney’s rebuttal to Obama’s economic speech in Kansas earlier this week. In that speech, Obama decried the growing wealth inequality in America and called for more of a “fair deal” for the nation’s middle class. Obama also tore down Republicans’ supply-side economics saying that plastering the rich with money only helps, well, the rich. Mitt Romney, Obama’s likely GOP opponent next year, responded with the typical Republican boilerplate of calling anything he doesn’t like “communism,” and “redistribution of wealth.” Chait says:

In a speech today (excerpts of which have already been released by his campaign), Mitt Romney accuses President Obama of trying to create complete economic equality:

“President Obama is replacing our merit-based, opportunity-based society with an entitlement society,” Romney is expected to say. “In an entitlement society, everyone is handed the same rewards, regardless of education, effort and willingness to take risk. That which is earned by some is redistributed to others. And the only people to enjoy truly disproportionate rewards are the people who do the redistributing — the government.”

Really? Obama’s plan is for everybody in society to have the same rewards? So, under Obama’s plan, I get to have the same stuff that Mitt Romney has?

This accusation is approximately as accurate as claiming that the Republican party wants to pass laws forbidding poor people from making more money. Yet this absurd claim is so common nobody even thinks to challenge it anymore….

Obviously, not even the most left-wing Democrat proposes anything of the sort. The actual Democratic platform is to impose a slightly more progressive tax code, close to what prevailed under the Clinton administration, and to finance some basic public provisions while doing very little to stop rampant rise in income inequality. The right’s inability to argue against that actual program, continuing instead to pretend that they’re arguing against a world in which nobody can have more money than anybody else, is deeply revealing of its lack of confidence in its own argument.

That last sentence is what  I really liked about Chait’s article. If Obama’s and Democrats’ plans are so bad, then why don’t we ever hear any intelligent discussion about why the rich cannot possibly afford to pay more money in taxes than they do now? Instead we always get an earful about how Democrats want to make the US into a communist utopia. Give me a break.

What Mitt Romney has to do to win the nomination

Mitt Romney has a problem. A solid majority of the Republican base does not want him to be their nominee  for President. He has been either the most or second-most popular Republican in the field since this campaign began, but that hides his underlying weakness. The conservative  base of the Republican Party does not trust him because only a few years ago he was pro-choice, pro-gay rights, pro-stem cell research and pro-universal healthcare. *Miraculously,* Romney had a change of heart on these issues as soon as he started running for President, but that doesn’t fool most conservatives (nor should it). These are among the several reasons why there is a solid bloc of Republicans who are searching for someone, anyone to nominate but Mitt.

For the purposes of this discussion, there are two principle blocs of Republican voters. There is the establishment wing of the Party, who comprise the staunchly pro-business, pro-defense Republicans and most of the moderates in the party. The other wing is the conservative wing. This part of the party is dominated by socially conservative evangelicals and the economically conservative Tea Party. Mitt Romney does very well with the former and very poorly with the latter. For an illustration, let’s look at the poll data:

Romney and Jon Huntsman are the two current candidates who appeal to the establishment wing of the party, while all the rest more or less appeal to the conservative wing of the party(with the exception of Ron Paul, who appears to have his own constituency). Note that there are far more voters in the “conservative” wing than in the “establishment” wing.

Romney has maintained a fairly constant level of support between 15 and 25 percent of the Republican electorate. Romney’s support rose from about 17 to 25 percent early in the summer after Mitch Daniels, another contender for the establishment vote, announced he was not running. Romney maintained 25 percent support through the summer. Crucially, the rise of Bachmann this summer did nothing to dampen Romney’s numbers. This appears to indicate that few of Republican establishment deserted Romney to support the rising Michele Bachmann.

Romney did start dropping once Rick Perry entered the race. Perry was initially billed as the one candidate that could unite the establishment and conservative wings of the party. After his poor showings in the debates, Perry has dropped somewhat and Romney has risen. That tells me that Romney’s establishment defectors have retreated from the Perry camp, back to Romney. It also seems that Perry’s debate flubs don’t bother the conservative wing of the Party.

So what do all these roving poll numbers mean for Mitt Romney? First they show that Romney has a base of support such that about 15 percent of Republicans definitely think he should be the next President. Second (and more importantly), three-quarters of the Republican electorate desperately want someone other than Romney to be the Republicans’ nominee. Look at how his support dropped by a third at the mere prospect that there could be a  nominee who was just as respectable as Romney, but twice as conservative!

Seventy-five percent of Republicans want someone other than Romney to be their nominee. If a credible conservative can consolidate that vote after the Iowa caucuses or the South Carolina primary (even assuming Romney wins New Hampshire), then Romney is in big trouble. Once their first-choice candidates drop out, Santorum, Bachmann, Cain and Gingrich supporters will look to support another conservative candidate, rather than Romney.

To win the nomination then, Romney has to either win over conservatives who seem to want anyone but him (not likely), OR he has to prevent a credible conservative challenger from emerging. Right now, Romney’s greatest strength is that he can say this: “I can beat Barack Obama.” If there is anyone else in the field who is both more conservative than Mr. Romney and can also say that, then they will win. Romney’s path to victory is as the last man standing.

Rick Perry fading after the last Republican debate

Texas Governor Rick Perry got hammered on the Fox News/Google stage last night. If someone were just tuning into the Republican Presidential contest for the first time last night, it might even have looked like Perry was the moderate on the stage. Mitt Romney came after Perry for supporting in-state tuition for the children of illegal immigrants while Michele Bachmann continued her line of attack on Perry for supporting giving the HPV vaccine to young girls. These attacks put Perry on the defensive and forced him to defend positions he has taken outside of mainstream Republican orthodoxy. That’s not a good thing for the candidate who is trying to be THE conservative in this race.

The press has been nearly unanimous in labeling Perry the loser in last night’s debate.  Politico/Yahoo wonders if this is the beginning of the end for Perry, saying that Perry’s performance will convince Republicans that the Governor is “not ready for the big leagues.” Chris Cillizza also suggests that Perry is not ready for prime time, putting him in the “losers” column, while Romney sits comfortably on top of the “winners” column.

And it wasn’t just his opponents attacks that took a toll on Perry. The candidate also made some unforced errors. Perry showed that he had never given any thought to national security issues. He was asked about what he would do if Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal fell into Taliban hands. Even though this is kind of a ridiculous debate question, requiring only boilerplate filler about always being prepared and acting decisively, Perry was clearly shaken and caught off-guard. He rambled his way through a “response” that trailed over to our weapons sales to India and Taiwan and was just painful to watch.

Romney and Perry are the two front-runners in this race for the Republican Presidential nomination, so Perry’s bad performance is good for Romney, right? Actually, several commentators have a different take on the  dynamics of this contest. Even though Perry was not acquitted himself very well lately, he is the most credible conservative in the race. Romney gives clear and crisp answers to the questions while Perry often fumbles around and misses opportunities, but conservatives don’t trust Romney.

Romney has an appearance problem. He’s only ever won one election in his life, but he comes across as the quintessential politician. His biggest accomplishment in his one term in political office is the health care plan that became the model for President Obama’s healthcare plan. He has a problem connecting on a personal level with Tea Partiers and conservative voters. The straight-shooting Gov. Perry has always been able to connect with the Republican Party’s base. He speaks their language in a way that Romney can never hope to.

The conservative base of the party wants a nominee they can be excited about. They haven’t really come to see Romney as that person. Perry, though, can fill the mold. As long as the questions about Perry’s candidacy don’t become too serious, the conservatives can carry him through. He has wide latitude for mistakes just because Republicans don’t seem to want to give this to Romney.

Reaction to the Sept 7th Republican Presidential debate

We heard lots of information and opinions get thrown out on stage at the Republican Presidential debate last night. Here are my opinions, corrections and commentary on what the aspiring Presidents said.

Job Creation

All three of the former governors (Rick Perry, Jon Huntsman and Mitt Romney) claim that their record shows  they would be the best job creator as President. They have also found ways to trash the job records of  their opponents. How can all of these guys have simultaneously been both one of the best and one of the worst job creators as governor?

Its because these “job creation rankings” are just junk. Depending on how you measure, anyone could be the best job creator in the nation! There are so many different ways to measure “jobs created” that doing so is meaningless. Do you measure net jobs or total jobs created? Do you measure over the entirety of a governor’s tenure or only certain portions? Should you compare a governor to his predecessor or take into account the national picture? You can judge the numbers in any way to make yourself look good. Romney actually made a good point in the debate when he noted that economies states are very different and governors really have little control over how well the economy does under their tenure.

Ben Bernanke

Both Newt Gingrich and Romney took shots at the Chairman of the Fed, Ben Bernanke, saying that he should be fired because (in Gingrich’s words) “I think he’s been the most inflationary, dangerous, and power-centered chairman of the Fed in the history of the Fed,”  and in Romney’s words “I think Ben Bernanke has overinflated the amount of currency he’s created.” (video here) So here’s the question: has inflation even been that bad under Bernanke?

I certainly don’t think so. Sure the price of gas is up, but the Fed doesn’t have much to do with that and most other prices seem to be stable. But let’s look at what the experts have to say. According to the consumer price index (CPI) numbers from the OECD, the US has had less inflation over the past four years than the average industrialized country and less inflation than Europe as an average. We can also compare inflation over the six years of Bernanke’s term to the previous six years under his predecessor, Alan Greenspan. Using data from the St. Louis Fed, (Bernanke started in early 2006), we can see that inflation has been roughly the same over six years of Bernanke as it was over the previous six years of Greenspan.

Then after you think back to the inflation of the 1970s, it is clear that these criticisms of Bernanke are completely false and misleading.

Rick Perry

Perry seemed to be the big story of the night, considering he is now the front-runner for the nomination and this is his first time on the debate stage. Perry got plenty of questions and made many juicy comments. Among them, he again called  Social Security a Ponzi scheme. I really don’t know how that’s a good way for a politician to describe one of the most beloved and useful programs in US history, but there it is.

Perry also stumbled when he said that the science wasn’t settled on global warming, going as far as to say that global warming deniers are like Galileo. I would say that people who deny scientific evidence because it conflicts with their economic views are more like the people who denied Galileo’s scientific evidence because it conflicted with their religious views, than they are like Galileo. That seems to have been a terrible analogy.

Perry probably won a lot of conservative backers with his defense of his state’s use of the death penalty. Texas executes more people than any place this side of Iran, so the moderator, Brian Williams, asked Perry if he was ever kept awake at night wondering if he had sent an innocent man to the execution room. Perry responded he has absolute faith in the system. So Perry has absolute faith in a government bureaucracy to be right 100% of the time when it comes to life and death, but distrusts the government at all other times? The only thing the government can do perfectly is kill people? Talk about a contradiction. O, and here’s an innocent man put to death in Texas in 2004.

Finally, Perry was assaulted by Rep. Ron Paul, former Sen. Rick Santorum and Rep. Michele Bachmann over trying to mandate that young girls in Texas receive the HPV vaccine (there was an opt-out for opposed parents). Laying aside for a second the fact that Perry received a few thousand dollars in campaign contributions from the maker of the vaccine, this was a good idea of Perry’s. The best way to prevent cervical cancer is to get an HPV vaccine and I believe this was a good public health decision by Perry.

Michele Bachmann

And I saved the most laughable for last. Michele Bachmann repeated her assertion that as President she would get gas below $2.00 a gallon. Oil is a freely traded, global commodity and no amount of drilling in the United States is going to significantly lower the price of gasoline, certainly not in the short term. Huntsman called Bachmann out on this at the debate because there is no way a President can seriously make a promise like this.

All in all, it was an entertaining debate. If I had to pick, I’d say that Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman both looked Presidential on the stage and acquitted themselves the best. They would be formidable opponents for Obama.

Is Mitt Romney the Rudy Giuliani of 2012?

I’ve been thinking recently about the possible similarities between Rudy Giuliani’s 2008 Presidential campaign and Mitt Romney’s 2012 Presidential campaign. Both were/are the national poll leaders more than six months out from the actual primaries, both were Republican executives from the Eastern US, both were/are favorites among big donors and both had/have taken stances or possessed attributes that are anathema to the Republican party’s base. In Rudy Giuliani’s case, it was his stances on gay rights and abortion (as well as his several divorces) and in Mitt Romney’s case, his past support for an individual health care mandate and his Mormon faith could make him unacceptable to many Republican voters.

Giuliani, as you might remember, fizzled out despite his large initial polling lead because he didn’t draw a significant vote total in any of the early primary/caucus states. He was nationally popular, but couldn’t build any momentum once the actual voting started because he was not popular in the first few states to nominate a candidate. Could Romney follow the same path? Continue reading

GOP Presidential Candidates Series: Tim Pawlenty

Tim Pawlenty is conservative to the core. That’s the message his campaign has been screaming from the rooftops. Every single ad, policy proposal, or public statement seems to be designed to tell the Republican electorate that this former 2-term governor of Minnesota is the “real deal” when it comes to conservative bona fides. But no, his campaign will tell you, Pawlenty is not one of the “crazy” conservatives (like Michele Bachmann or Herman Cain) that make corporate CEOs and Republican party elites very nervous. He is the kind of candidate that is both exceedingly conservative (let me tell you) and also a dependable good ‘ole boy.

Pawlenty has a long record as a fairly successful and mostly uncontroversial politician. He has risen through the ranks of the GOP, rising from the city council to become governor, while notably foregoing a a US Senate run to make the higher-ups in the party happy. He is unremarkable in demeanor, has taken almost no controversial stances (his past support for cap-and-trade, now repudiated, is a notable exception), has picked limited fights with democrats in the past, and has good relations with the party elite.

In short, Pawlenty is an extremely generic and uncontroversial Republican candidate. In many years, the Republican nomination goes by default to such a candidate.

However, the Republican party already has a default heir apparent for their nomination-Mitt Romney. Romney ran for the nomination four years ago, has  a considerable donor base, experience running a national campaign, high name-recognition and a national network of former supporters  to call on. However, he also has a flaw–the health reform he signed into law as governor of Massachusetts is nearly identical to end-of-the-world law Obamacare!

Hence the Pawlenty campaign’s focus on his conservatism. Pawlenty is trying to present himself as a credible alternative to Romney among voters who are concerned about Romney’s past support for an individual mandate, health reform, abortion rights and gay rights. Pawlenty is showcasing his conservatism at every turn so that he becomes the anti-Romney in this campaign among establishment Republicans and party elites.

However, there are also challenges for Pawlenty on the “conservative” front. There are several other candidates in the race who have much stronger conservative  credentials than Pawlenty, among them Bachmann and Cain. If the nomination becomes a race to see who is the most forceful conservative, Pawlenty can’t hold a candle to the charismatic and absolute conservatism of Bachmann and Cain. So, Pawlenty has to present himself as comparable to those Tea Partiers on the conservative front, but much more electable, and with a proven record as a public servant.

If it seems like Pawlenty is defined as a contrast to other candidates, its because that is what his campaign is based on. He is running as everyone’s second-option. He wants to be everything to everyone in the Republican party. Pawlenty’s own story is acceptable, but not compelling, he is conservative, but not unproven and unpredictable. He will be the electable alternative to Bachmann and Cain among conservatives and Tea Partiers and he will be the true conservative for establishment Republicans who may worry about Romney.

Now let’s look at how Pawlenty has tried to showcase his conservatism. He recently released an ad bragging about causing the first-ever government shutdown in Minnesota state history by refusing to sign a budget raising taxes on the richest Minnesotans. Instead, he and the legislature compromised on raising taxes–oops! I mean raising “fees”–on cigarettes (conservatives don’t raise “taxes,”  they increase “fees”). The ad also says he fought unions by causing one of the longest transit strikes in the nation’s history. The ad portrays Pawlenty as a fighter who will harm thousands of innocent people–do anything really– in order to stick it to unions and protect the richest Minnesotans from paying a bit more in tax. I guess the image of a governor who is willing to sacrifice the most vulnerable in order to score cheap ideological points plays well in Republican circles.

Pawlenty was one of the first candidates to urge the government not to increase the debt limit (see? he’s sooooo conservative). Why? He says it will “force hard choices now” and keep America from becoming Greece. Well, doesn’t Pawlenty know that failing to increase the debt limit will mean the government has to discontinue 40% of its spending this year? Does he have a plan to do just that? Absolutely not. No one does. Doing so would be impossible and unthinkable. No one has a plan to do that. Pawlenty says that this “hard  choice” on the debt should involve cutting nothing from defense while “means-testing the cost-of-living increase in Social Security benefits,(this is actually a good idea, but it won’t do anything to keep us from hitting the debt ceiling) capping and block-granting Medicaid payments to states,(cutting Medicaid) and moving Medicare to a more efficient, pay-for-performance model (already being done through Obama’s ACA, and no one knows how well it will work).” Note that the savings from these action would NOT solve our debt ceiling problem or even come close to it. But Pawlenty has released a detailed economic plan, so let’s take a look at that.

Pawlenty’s economic plan is sheer madness. Pawlenty proposes to solve all of our nation’s problems by (you guessed it) LOWERING TAXES! Its a plan so incredibly simple, he can’t believe more people havn’t thought of it! In his plan massively lowering taxes on the rich will both solve our deficit problems and launch us into a period of prosperity unknown in modern American history. It will cause 5 percent growth for a decade. Never mind that America hasn’t seen 5% growth for any 3 consecutive years in modern history, let alone 5% growth for a decade. Pawlenty has found the secret: tax cuts for the rich. So what will these magic tax cuts look like? Let’s compare them to the Bush tax cuts:

No one will ever be able to out-conservative Pawlenty on economics. As Ezra Klein says, Pawlenty makes Bush look like Robin Hood. Pawlenty basically looked at the Bush tax cuts and said “the problem with them was that they didn’t give enough money to the rich, if they would only have shoveled MORE money to the top 1%, we would be in an economic paradise now. O, and these tax cuts will actually raise revenue.” How does cutting taxes raise revenue? I don’t know, but that cognitive dissonance makes about as much sense as anything else in his plan. The right-leaning Economist completely trashes Pawlenty’s plan saying

And no matter what party you belong to, you should find it troubling that Mr Pawlenty’s ridiculous economic plan could ever be considered acceptable by a large portion of the population.

But of course Pawlenty has a response to these reality-based critiques of his plan: anyone who doesn’t think it will work just doesn’t believe in America!

Though he has an interesting political strategy, if any of the things that Pawlenty says he wants to happen actually do happen, America is in trouble. I can’t endorse someone who glorifies shutting government down, wants the US government to default, backs the Republicans’ terrible balanced budget amendment, claims to be a serious candidate while laying out completely unfeasible economic plans, and proposes to balance the budget on the backs of the poor while passing massive tax cuts for the rich.

For past entries in the series, see: Herman Cain.