Saturday, December 31, 2011

Iowa Notebook: Paul Cooks Up a Makeover

Le Mars- The self-proclaimed "ice cream capital of the world" (by virtue of being the home of Blue Bunny Ice Cream) was an afternoon stop for Texas US Representative Ron Paul's barnstorm of western Iowa.

Leading in some Hawkeye polls, Paul attracted a crowd of over one hundred people to Le Mars Convention Center. Paul was relatively soft spoken in his address, covering many of his signature promises concerning an overnight reduction in foreign aid, the establishment of a new national monetary policy and shrinking the US military presence around the globe.

What was interest in was how he presented himself. Surrounded by a retinue of suit-clad aides, the Paul operation looked very bit part of the establishment they seek to overturn.

Waiting in attendees chairs were specific instructions concerning the process of the precinct caucuses (an indication that they're counting on the participation of first-timers) and paperback copies of The Ron Paul Family Cookbook(!).

Now let's delve into this unique piece of campaign literature.

Inside the pamphlet, which resembles a copy of a Thanksgiving edition of Better Home and Gardens, are recipes for Oreo Cake, Razzle Bo-Dazzle Pork Tenderloin, Sicilian Supper, assorted casseroles and other homemade culinary creations.

In between the recipes are family photos of Paul, a picture of the congressman while he ws in the service and Bible verses.

Something tells me this literature was not also dropped in the Iowa State University Student Union.

Paul has spent the last year trying to portray himself as a sound messenger of radical ideas. His setup at the Ames Straw Poll resembled a church picnic, complete with a wholesome looking family who handcrafted dresses out of campaign t-shirts (they also made the cookbook).

Paul made a point of stressing his commitment to the pro life agenda and touted the strong support he enjoys from active military. No mention was made of his opposition to the war on drugs.

There was some political hatchetry on the stop as one of the state legislators supporting Paul took not so subtle shots at Newt Gingrich's infidelities and stressed Paul's devotion to his wife Carol ( who is not only prominently pictured on the cookbook's cover but is listed as Mrs. Ron Paul).

Judging by his advertising, Paul sees Gingrich as his biggest threat to having the opportunity to face off with the candidate who personifies the political establishment: former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.

Though he won delegates, Paul didn't carry a single state in his 2008 presidential bid and seems poised to claim the opening contest for the GOP nomination. He ran 5th four years ago with 10%.

His supporters in Iowa have increased and diversified beyond the conspiratorial and ganjistas. The crowd in Le Mars consisted of the elderly, young families and a smattering of young people. Take away the Paul signs and you would have thought it was a Huckabee rally.

In 1996, conservative commentator Pat Buchanan came within 3% of defeating Kansas US Senator Bob Dole. Buchanan's supporters consisted of religious evangelicals and anti-establshment types. It seems Ron Paul is trying to borrow a recipe from Buchanan's 1996 political cookbook by throwing a splash of pro life, Bible talk to his pepper steak.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Sympathetic to Newt But Still for Santorum

Over the past few weeks, establishment conservatives (George Will, the National Review, et al) have increased the ferocity of their jihad against Newt Gingrich’s presidential bid.

It is surprising to see so much vitriol aimed at the leader of the national conservative counter-revolution after the country club wing of the party practically surrendered the White House to Bill Clinton and seemed to be in no hurry to end a GOP exile from control of Congress that dated back to the Eisenhower administration.

Is the anti-Newt frenzy sparked by a personal vendetta or concerns about his electability?

If the latter, I don’t understand the panic since the party has been represented by far worse than Gingrich in previous elections.

Take John McCain.


McCain championed a plan that increased the “established” media’s role in “interpreting” federal elections while simultaneously handicapping Republicans’ financial capacity to compete against Democrats, to say nothing of his campaign finance legislation’s infringements on the First Amendment.

But McCain has never let principle get in the way of a favorable write-up. And come 2008, we found out who was the real useful idiot to whom.

After emerging from a relatively brisk primary battle (it was over after Florida- the eighth contest on the GOP calendar), McCain promptly bided his time, not preparing for the general election or initiating a running mate vetting operation.

In a move that was tantamount to giving his Democratic opponent a spread, McCain stubbornly refused to recognize the obsolescence of matching funds and chose to not make the effort of competing with Barack Obama in general election fundraising, believing that the Democratic nominee’s recanting on an obscure pledge would trump a severe financial disadvantage.

At the end of the day, it could be said that Hillary Clinton worked harder to stop Obama from becoming president than the Republican nominee.

Gingrich would have to campaign in a powdered wig and breeches to be anywhere in the same zip code as the disastrous McCain campaign.

I have a tough time believing that the driving force behind the Republican take over of Congress would be any worse of a nominee than McCain, Bob Dole, Bush 41 or Barry Goldwater (who was agreeable in principle but disagreeable as a politician).

And to futurist’s credit he had the foresight to see exactly what George H.W. Bush would reap politically with his tax deal with the Democrats. That old man Bush has embraced Romney and recently publicly “tut-tutted” Gingrich for taking issue with the “Read My Lips” repeal exhibits the former House speaker’s conservative credentials.

That said Newt Gingrich is not my first choice for the Republican nomination. And he’s not my second either.

And if I find myself eventually supporting Gingrich in the course of the primary calendar, it will be because I consider him a superior alternative to others and not because he is a good candidate.

He’s not and that’s why I am supporting someone else not named Ron Paul or Mitt Romney.

Former Pennsylvania US Senator Rick Santorum remains the most consistent, credible and accomplished conservative in the Republican presidential field. Thus Santorum remains my choice for the Republican nomination.

Santorum was part of the Gingrich Revolution in Washington but unlike the movement’s leader, the young senator proved to possess the self-discipline to effectively advance conservative causes in the halls of Congress if not always in the limelight.

Though Santorum is a longshot, he’s also the best choice. As a conservative not tied into the system, I have no problem betting on the side that ends up losing so long as it’s the right side.

Santorum represents a very different visual for conservatism and of all the candidates seeking the GOP nod. In terms of his national image Santorum’s a blank slate who has not been unflatteringly framed by the media or by mush-mouthed debate performances or high profile gaffes.

And while nominating Santorum does not in itself lock up the Keystone State for the GOP, his presence on the ticket will make Pennsylvania competitive, taking the fight to the Democrats’ turf.

Santorum has wagered all of what few chips he has on a strong showing in the Iowa caucuses.

Due to the expectations game, he does not necessarily have to win that contest- just do better than Minnesota US Representative Michele Bachmann and Texas Governor Rick Perry.

Only one of the three self-described social conservatives will be going on to New Hampshire without a pronounced death rattle.

Iowa Republicans a huge favor on caucus day by not creating the Paul-Romney duel that will inevitably lead to the latter’s nomination by stepping up for Santorum.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

My Choice for President

It’s been many years since I’ve been excited about an announced Republican candidate for the presidency. And judging by the crop of the current field, it will be a few more.

In late 2007, I campaigned for ex-Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee. I knew he had no chance of being nominated, though I suspected he could make things interesting in Iowa. Furthermore, my support for Huckabee was intended to be a social conservative protest vote as the one-time Baptist minister was the closest thing to that in the race.

The person I wanted to see run in 2012 is New Jersey governor Chris Christie.

While he is not an ideal conservative, Christie is conservative enough and, pardon the pun, had the guts to challenge the entrenched special interests who have wrecked the Garden State.

Christie personifies the kind of boldness both the Republican Party and the country needs.

But alas, Christie isn’t running and worse yet has endorsed the last candidate not named Huntsman I would support in the primaries.

So I once again find myself in social conservative protest mode.

Ex-Speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich has largely resurrected his candidacy through the free medium of the debate circuit and watching the political corpses of better-funded and better-organized candidates float past him.

Though he possesses 100% name recognition amongst likely primary voters and is the smartest presidential candidate in the room, Gingrich carries personal baggage that might make his nomination an act of party seppuku.

And then there was the Scozzafava endorsement, when Gingrich backed the candidacy of Republican Party-endorsed moderate Dede Scozzafava over Conservative Party nominee Doug Hoffman in a special election for a New York congressional seat.

While conservative notables embraced Hoffman, Gingrich made waves lining up behind Scozzafava, defending his choice in a “finger wagging” internet post to conservative critics of the move.

What really made the Scozzafava endorsement toxic was her decision to drop out the race and support the Democrat over Conservative candidate. To Hoffman’s credit, he put out a statement asking conservatives not to hold Gingrich’s “toe the party line” position against him.

That said, the Scozzafava endorsement is unsettling in that when the base of the Republican Party was going in one direction, Gingrich chose to stand with the politically tone-deaf country club.

Congresswoman Michele Bachmann’s campaign has the distinction of its high-water point being in the same 24-hour news cycle that it crashed. After an impressive demonstration of strength at the Ames Iowa Straw Poll, Bachmann had the rug yanked out of her by a candidate that didn’t even show up. While I agree with Bachmann on many of the issues, there seems to be more showmanship than substance in her candidacy.

Texas Governor Rick Perry, the one who yanked the rug out from under Bachmann, went from being instant frontrunner to Texas toast. Though his hazing of Romney is appreciated, I just can’t get past “PerryCare’s” mandatory HPV vaccinations and the bumbling debate performances.

We’re going to need more than an arrogant ambler facing off against Barack Obama next November.

Ron Paul is the ultimate protest candidate, but I don’t want my social conservative protest statement to get caught up with 9-11 truthers.

And that leaves me with the individual I had hoped George W. Bush would have picked to be his running mate in 2000: the man whose name none dare Google.

Former Pennsylvania US Senator Rick Santorum is the only candidate who has unapologetically carried water and produced results for social conservatives.

Santorum is relatively telegenic and his youthfulness represents a departure for a party with a tendency to nominate “seasoned” (or “out of touch”) establishment candidates.

He’s won two statewide contests in a state that Democrats must win in order to reach 270+ electoral votes.

The two biggest knocks on Santorum are his blowout defeat for re-election in a terrible year for Republican congressional candidates (2006) and his endorsement of then-Republican/then-US Senator Arlen Specter against conservative Pat Toomey’s insurgent primary challenge.

But compared to the ideological gaffes and personal/political shortcomings of the rest of the candidates, I can easier look past Santorum’s.

Iowa will hold the GOP’s first actual delegate contest just after New Year’s Day and if Santorum doesn’t finish first or second in Iowa, his bid won’t leave the Hawkeye State’s frozen fields.

And if that happens it’s back to the drawing board for this social conservative. And perhaps a few more.

Until then, Rick Santorum is a presidential candidate I can support with a clean conscience.