Monday, April 30, 2012

Election 2012: Explaining the Ron Paul Victory in the LA Caucuses

Back in January, I read an article on Politico that Texas US Representative Ron Paul was going to skip actively competing in the Florida presidential primary to focus on other contests, including the far distant Louisiana caucuses. I guess people should have taken him at his word. After Mitt Romney defeated Rick Santorum in the Wisconsin primary in early April, the fight for the GOP nomination ended. The former Massachusetts governor's victory in dairyland forced Santorum out of the race prior to what probably have been a second-place finish in his homestate of Pennsylvania. After Romney swept the bundle of northeast primaries last week, ex- House Speaker Newt Gingrich will likely end a campign he's been "phoning in" since placing a distant (and delegate-less) third in Louisiana's presidential primary. Yet Paul has shown no indication of bowing out, or at least pulling the plug on his presidential operation. After a lead-off crash in Iowa, the Paulistas have met frustration in most corners of the country. Maine was the high-point, though Paul still fell short in his efforts to finally claim a victory. And then came Louisiana, The Sequel. Just as Santorum ran up the score in the March primary, Paul did the same in the caucuses, taking 4 of 6 congressional districts. You could say the Death Stars aligned for the partisans of the Texas libertarian. Let me preface this analysis by stating that in no way do I wish to take anything away from Paul or his supporters in Louisiana. He invested in the state and his operatives and volunteers worked hard to pull off an impressive tactical victory. That said, it could not have happened with some help from the opposition (and a bit of dirty ops from Team Paul). First, the withdrawal of Rick Santorum created an enthusiasm vacuum that many of his state supporters could not transfer from the primary (where Santorum almost won an outright majority against three major opponents that spent time and resouces here) to a leaderless coalition of social conservatives. A number of Santorum delegate candidates bailed with the presidential candidate seeing no point in trudging forward. Newt's quasi-surrender last week depressed his folks as well. Secondly, Romey and his Super PAC sat out the caucuses. Were they gunshy after dropping loads of dough in attack ads and direct mail pieces and receiving no return or were they simply conserving all primary funds for a pre-convention general election operation? Or did they simply get caught with their Brook Brothers britches down, assuming that Louisiana would merely go the way of Rhode Island and Delaware? If the third, then such an assumption shows a lack of understanding about politics in general. The northeast states that voted has congressional primaries on the ballot in addition to the presidential contest. With the former driving turnout of the latter, Romney benefited from incidental votes for "the leader". However in the case of the Louisiana caucuses, the delegate selection was the only thing on the ballot, which also had restricted polling times and locations. Many voters did not see the point of participating, assuming they even knew about the caucuses since Romney is the de facto nominee. The Paulistas easily took advantage of not only a vacuum of interest and awareness, but, in the case of the New Orleans area, competition with Jazz Fest (the second largest public event after Mardi Gras) and the Zurich Classic, which is a major sporting event. Had Santorum remained as an active candidate, had Romney tried (he did receive 4x's the vote Paul garnered in the state primary) or had the caucuses been held on a weekday evening, the results would have been different. Santorum won 63 of 64 parishes in March while Paul got 6%. So where do things go from here? First, the Paul win will have political consequences. The Washington Post rcently ranked Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal 8th on its list of probable veep contenders for Romney and I suspect the caucus result will do to those odds what Arizona US Senator John McCain's surprise victory in the 2000 Michigan primary did to then-Governor John Engler's hopes of being George W. Bush's running mate. Governor Jindal has stated he has the job he wants and has no interest in being vice-president. Like the Paul Florida deal from January, we should take him at his word. Secondly, the Louisiana GOP has likely held its last delegate caucus or at least anything resembling this setup. The state GOP has had a tumultuous record with caucuses since 1996 and this one was likely the kill-shot. I'm not stating policy here, just making a prediction. Third is more inside baseball but still important: delegate selection. According to state party rules, presidential candidates that met the 25% threshold in the primary are entitled to proportional share of the 20 delegates up for grabs in the March contest, thus awarding Santorum 10 and Romney 5. Though the former suspended his camoaign, his national operation has stated they want those ten delegates and Romney also wants his five delegates. The rub is that those delegates will be selected by Paulistas elected in the caucuses at the state GOP convention in June. Will the Paulistas settle for the five uncommitted delegates unclaimed from the primary plus the 18 from winning 4 of the 6 congressional district caucuses or will they get greedy and hijack the 15 Santorum/Romney delegates from the primary? If there's an overreach, they could run into a seating problem at the Republcan National Convention via a challenge before a Romney-controlled credentials committee, where the "ballots controversy" from the caucuses could be factored into the committee's final decision as to whether the results of the caucuses were tainted through an organized effort by a camp to create systematic confusion to manipulate the outcome. It remains to be seen if the will of 91,321 Louisiana Republican voters who cast a ballot for Rick Santorum and the 49,758 Louisina Republican voters who cast a ballot for Mitt Romney in a tax-payer funded election could be erased by 150 people chosen in a caucus that drew less than 10,000 participants.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

In Defense of the Electoral College

When you vote for president in the general election this November, take a close look at the ballot and you’ll notice a number of names in smaller type below that of the presidential candidates. Those listed in the fine print are the people you are actually voting for, since we do not have direct election for president in the US. In 2004 I had the privilege of serving as a Republican presidential elector when I (and eight others) received 1,102,169 votes on November 2, 2004. A few decades ago, Louisiana voters actually cast votes for individual electors who were grouped by party and the names of the presidential and vice-presidential nominees. A voter could apportion the state’s electoral vote total amongst the various candidates and electors, which is why popular high-profile people were sought by the major political parties to stand as presidential electors. In 1976, a well-known physician on the Republican slate ran ahead of his fellow Gerald Ford electors in Louisiana, though Democrat Jimmy Carter fared well enough to avoid creating a split in the state’s electoral votes. And as mundane and simple as the duties of being a presidential elector are, civics books contain a handful of asterisks denoting the occasions when individuals failed to do the easiest of constitutional tasks. One of the best attributes of the electoral college is its default recognition of the importance of states. In this respect, the electoral college is a monument to federalism. Eradicate the electoral college and a restructured US Senate based upon population instead of sovereign states will not be far behind. Secondly, the electoral college does a better job containing election fraud than national popular vote. For example, tainted votes in say Illinois can at no worse throw that state’s electoral votes to a candidate as opposed to providing the margin of victory via direct election. Thirdly, the electoral college system compels candidates to politically invest in regions instead of just population centers. In direct election, California, Texas, Florida and New York would dominate while Delaware, New Hampshire, Nevada and other small to medium sized swing states would be ignored. The electoral college system also tends to philosophically moderate candidates as they cannot just gin up turnout by playing hard to their respective bases. The electoral college forces candidates to develop and present more of a national message as opposed to a Dallas, San Francisco or Phoenix message. The faithless elector is the electoral college’s greatest weakness, though that same flexibility is also part of the genius of this process (keep reading). Though the late Fox McKeithen had his staff type George W. Bush and Richard B. Cheney in the appropriate blank on the official electoral vote ballot, I technically could have objected and written in the name of any American legally qualified to serve as president, though to have done so would have betrayed the wishes of the over one million Louisiana voters who expected to see the state’s electoral votes go to Bush. That is a problem though the remedy would be to enact legislation on the state level that would obligate electors to follow the will of the people. The real genius in the system pertains to a “doomsday” scenario should tragedy befall the winning presidential and/or vice-presidential nominees between the November election and the casting of the electoral votes. In that situation, the death of the president-elect or vice-president-elect would not result in the second-place ticket ascending to the White House but would simply throw the decision to the presidential electors to choose substitutes who reflect the philosophy of those who were elected. This happened in 1872 when Horace Greeley (who was the de facto Democratic candidate against President U.S. Grant) died after the presidential election but before the electoral votes were cast. Though this scenario would hopefully be rare in the future, it would be difficult for a national popular vote system to incorporate such a critical contingency. While Americans take for granted the peaceful transfer of power from one political faction to another (instead we should take great pride in this), laws should be crafted to anticipate the maximum of applications, including dreaded worst case scenarios. Abandoning the electoral college would mean far more than the abolition of a system viewed by critics as political anachronism but a major restructuring of the relationship between the federal government and the states and between presidential candidates and the people.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Why I'm for Newt and Not Mitt

After learning that the candidate I had been advocating for since August 2011 was going to suspend his campaign that same afternoon, I was faced with a personal political dilemma.

Rick Santorum had only two weeks before triumphed in Louisiana’s Republican presidential primary though the loss in Wisconsin quasi-officially ended the actual fight for the Republican nomination and put the champion of social conservatives in a fiscal position where he could no longer conduct a viable campaign without doing to his children what profligate spending by the Obama Administration has done to four generations of children not yet born.

I could dutifully line up with Mr. Inevitable (who I have always believed to be the inevitable nominee and still believe will be an inevitable loser this November) or go with someone else as a protest vote, US Representative Ron Paul of Texas or ex-House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Allow me to quickly dispense with the Paul option: I’m not going to support a candidate for president who does not see a difference between Iran and Luxembourg.

My problems with Romney are copious.

Romney is not a sincere conservative and his clumsy political tacking does not inspire much confidence that he will be able to hang with Mr. Smooth in a debate.

I’ve always maintained that conservatism was not rejected in the 1996 and 2008 presidential elections since conservatives were not listed on the top half of the ballot.

Conservatism was misrepresented with tired Beltway pols who struggled to talk like a conservative with a straight face. They didn’t believe in the message and thus could not effectively sell it to the public.

Secondly, Romney has the least Republican cred of any GOP nominee since Wendell Willkie. The same politician who hyperventilated over Santorum’s attempts to get registered Democrats to support him in states with cross-over voting had himself voted in the 1992 Massachusetts Democratic Primary.

Third, there’s the giant rhinoceros in the room: RomneyCare. Expect Obama to lecture Romney on health care the same way Bill Clinton lectured President George H.W. Bush on taxes after the latter violated his once famous then infamous “read my lips” pledge.

Please feel free to check out RomneyCare in its full coercive and punitive glory on the Massachusetts Department of Revenue website,

Consider it a preview of the ObamaCare horror experience waiting for Americans just around the corner.

It was with good reason why the words “health care” didn’t leave Romney’s lips during his speech at the 2011 CPAC.

Fourth, I have a tough time believing Romney will do a decent job building a rapport with the average American. Democrats will paint Romney as a bad Republican stereotype, or put more succinctly, a GOP version of John Kerry.

Let’s hope Romney doesn’t celebrate winning the Pennsylvania primary by windsurfing in Boston Harbor.

Finally, there was the obnoxious manner he has handled his political business, as an individual and presidential candidate and through his Super PAC cronies.

Romney associates were fingered as the source of unflattering leaks about Sarah Palin while she and John McCain were on the campaign trail in 2008, with the goal being to damage the Alaskan enough so she would have a tough time seeking the GOP nomination four years later. You can read more of this here:

It seemed Romney’s 2012 interests took precedent over the party’s and America’s interests in 2008. But that’s how the Romney people play.

Savage first, co-opt later.

While Gingrich is neither perfect nor ideal, the Georgian has done far more for the Republican Party than Romney has ever done or will ever do.

Two years after Romney “heroically” voted for Paul Tsongas, Gingrich orchestrated and led a Republican takeover of the US House of Representatives. That Gingrich’s very real contributions to conservatism and the GOP were misleadingly marginalized in pro-Romney Super PAC hits was disgusting.

Newt deserved better and Romney and his ilk should have behaved better.

Though he will not be our party’s nominee and will not be president, Speaker Gingrich has my support and I hope others who see Romney for what he is will send a signal through caucus contests and primaries remaining on the calendar that conservatives do not want to see the achievements of the TEA Party movement cavalierly discarded, the party platform eviscerated of conservatism and a running mate selected more to appease the New York Times than the party base.

Though the fight to have a true conservative representing our party in the November election is over, the fight to keep our party conservative continues through Gingrich’s candidacy.

Every strong showing by Gingrich means one less shake of the etch-a-sketch.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Election 2012: Folding the Sweater Vest

Note: Forgive this gonzo journalistic exercise as I pen this column from the first person, as I was personally involved in the Santorum campaign as a state director in the Louisiana effort.

Early Tuesday afternoon I received an e-mail from the Santorum campaign informing me of that an impromptu conference call was slated with less than fifteen minutes warning.

Having opened the e-mail late, I got on the conference call a bit tardy though was told they were waiting for Rick to join in.

At this point I assumed the candidate was going to briefly breakdown the state of the campaign and give his state leaders a pep talk about going forward.

Instead Rick opened up with a thank you for all of our hard work before then stating that in a few minutes he was going to announce the suspension of his presidential campaign.

At that point I logged on to the Drudge Report (or as I called it the Romney Report) to see if I missed some pretty big news but there was no mention of Santorum’s imminent departure, just a small image of the candidate with the words “staying in” (or something along those lines) below it.

I don’t recall whatever else the candidate said as I was somewhat stunned by the news, though appreciative that he had the courtesy to personally brief his staff and state leaders about the development before hearing it on the news.

That Santorum was not going to be the party nominee was obvious for a while, even amongst his supporters.

The social conservative’s best hope of knocking off former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney was missed in the Michigan primary. A Santorum triumph over Romney in the most important of his several “home states” would have been a mortal blow to the frontrunner.

That’s not to say a Santorum win in Michigan would have meant he would have been nominated, but it would have virtually ended any hope of Romney serving as the party’s standard bearer in the general election.

A new candidate would have emerged from the establishment fold to challenge Santorum, though the Pennsylvanian would have had the upper hand.

After Michigan, the expectations game worked against Santorum. The story wasn’t that Santorum came close to an unthinkable upset against Romney in Michigan but that the latter had rallied from an absurdly large polling deficit to win.

To paraphrase Romney’s election night speech, he truly did win by enough.

Ohio became the next battleground.

Once again, Santorum entered the contest with poll numbers in the political stratosphere before the Romney Super PAC and a few rhetorical gaffes brought him back down to earth and as the last numbers came in from Cincinnati and Cleveland once again below Romney, even if by a hair.

After Ohio, it was apparent that the new objective was not to surpass Romney in the delegate count but to deny him a majority going into the convention and trying his luck appealing directly to the delegates (a novelty in this political era).

From that point, Santorum had to focus his energies and resources finishing off not Romney but former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich to consolidate the split conservative vote.

Had Santorum won in Ohio and Michigan, Mississippi and Alabama would not have been the close calls they were.

On the night of the Deep South primary, I was in the war room with Santorum observing his facial expressions change with the numbers in Mississippi. When his lead was razor thin, I was somewhat amused to see him lament about the possibility of “another Ohio” to which I blurted out “a 1500 lead with 20% still out is a win. There is no Cuyahoga County in Mississippi”.

I don’t recall the candidate being amused by my wisecrack though my familiarity with the Magnolia State proved accurate.

Louisiana was the high water mark of the Santorum effort. He crushed both Romney and Gingrich, finally won the Catholic vote by a big margin and carried 63 out of Louisiana’s 64 parishes, losing only Orleans Parish.

The must win state for Santorum wasn’t Pennsylvania but Wisconsin. A victory in Wisconsin would have made a win in Pennsylvania beyond Romney’s reach.

And as Wisconsin went, so went Santorum’s capacity to conduct a viable campaign in an expensive media state such as Pennsylvania.

Though I have supported Rick Santorum since August of last year and have spent countless hours working on the Louisiana primary and caucuses, I don’t blame Rick for ending his bid.

At best a win in Pennsylvania would have caused him to take on considerable campaign debt that would have handicapped his efforts elsewhere. At worst, Santorum would have suffered the indignity of being rejected once again by Keystone State voters while piling up expenses.

. Too many politicians often let their ambitions delude them into spending beyond their means with consequences that linger long after the election.

Dropping out was the responsible thing to do for him and his family.

And with Gingrich running a scaled down though active campaign, the termination of the Santorum bid does not deprive conservative voters an alternative in the caucuses and primaries remaining on the calendar.

Rick Santorum wasn’t my first choice, though I got behind his candidacy earlier than most.

After ex-Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty fell prey to the Ames Straw Poll, I believed that Santorum was the most viable conservative standing even though he was polling 1% nationally when I cast my lot with him.

The long odds never bothered me as I don’t bet on candidates, I believe in them.

And I did not want to make the same mistake my candidate made four years ago when he “settled” on Romney.

It was apparent from the beginning that the Massachusetts moderate was going to be the party nominee, though Romney wasn’t going to get it with my vote.

Santorum’s candidacy was a reflection of the frustration that conservatives have with the Republican Party. And though the candidate has left the stage, I suspect many of his votes will transfer over to either Gingrich or Texas US Representative Ron Paul.

Romney may have lost an opponent, the court is out as to whether he gains many new supporters.

In conclusion, I’d like to thank Rick and his family for enduring those many lonely nights in Pizza Barns across Iowa in October and November while the party base hopped from one flavor of the month to the next.

It could not have been easy to believe that there would be a day when the dozens that would show up to hear his message would eventually grow to hundreds.

As a conservative I am grateful for the sacrifices he and his family made to give us a real choice.

As an individual, I am grateful that I was allowed to be a part of a campaign.

Though it wasn’t always a pleasure, it truly was an honor.