Kasich gets his, but Trump begins to pull away

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Photo by Dave Davidson – Prezography.com

While the news media continues to report on how Republicans can’t stomach Donald Trump, the New York billionaire continues to rack up wins and accumulate delegates. Reaching the necessary 1,237 delegates to claim the nomination may be difficult for Trump, but he is the only candidate with a reasonable shot at winning the nomination outright.

Trump won contests in Florida, Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina, and the Northern Mariana Islands on Tuesday.  The only blemish on the night was Ohio, where John Kasich, the current governor of the state, won with 47 percent of the vote and took home all 66 delegates. Even still, Trump was able to hold the home state governor under 50 percent and garnered 36 percent of the vote for himself.

Kasich, who finally won a state on Tuesday, has no possible route to accumulate the necessary delegates to win the nomination. Regardless, by preventing Trump from getting Ohio’s 66 delegates, Kasich makes it more difficult for Trump to get the delegates he needs. The problem for Kasich is that he probably can’t post a win anywhere else. On Tuesday night, he announced he was headed to neighboring Pennsylvania. While the move makes plenty of sense, a quick look at the Ohio results map shows that Trump won counties all along the eastern portion of Ohio that borders Pennsylvania.

If Trump was again the big winner, Florida Senator Marco Rubio was the big loser. Rubio was trounced in his home state, losing to Trump by 19 points. In fact, Rubio only carried Miami-Dade County. It was evident that Rubio wasn’t surging in his home state, but such a lop-sided loss has to sting. Rubio clearly saw the writing on the wall and announced he was suspending his campaign early in the night.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz repeatedly says that he is the only credible alternative to Donald Trump in the Republican presidential race. He also likes to say that he is the only candidate who has “repeatedly” beaten Trump. While both statements are factual, Cruz continues to fall behind Trump in the delegate count, and there doesn’t appear to be a roadmap that would actually allow him to edge out the New York billionaire for Republican nomination. Once again, Cruz was competitive with Trump in states like Illinois, Missouri, and North Carolina, but he failed to pull out an actual victory.

Despite not winning any state on Tuesday, Cruz will continue to accumulate delegates, but he needs to beat Trump in a primary contest if he ever hopes to derail Trump. The upcoming calendar also isn’t favorable to Cruz. His best chance to post a victory will be next Tuesday when Utah voters caucus, but Trump is expected to win Arizona. The month of April is comprised of only primaries and the friendliest turf for Cruz is Wisconsin.

Even though it currently appears possible to prevent Trump from getting the1237 delegates he needs, the pressure is still on Kasich and Cruz to find places to win. The month of April, in which New York, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin vote poses a difficult obstacle for the Cruz campaign to maneuver. With every win Trump gets, the more he is able to pull away from Cruz in the delegate count, and the more inevitable Trump becomes.

Rubio Visits Iowa: Beware of the Tease

By Craig Robinson

Before we even knew the 2012 election results from Florida, beltway reporters were already busy assembling lists of potential 2016 presidential candidates and watching their every move.  The person garnering the most attention is Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who is Iowa-bound on Saturday to speak at Iowa Governor Terry Branstad’s birthday bash.

It’s only appropriate that Rubio’s post 2012 visit to Iowa will happen at a place named Adventureland.  After serving only two years in the United States Senate, Rubio is dipping his toe into Iowa’s presidential waters whether he likes it or not.  Being one of the more high-profile Republicans in the country, every move that Rubio makes will be scrutinized.  Showing up in places like Iowa or New Hampshire will cause sirens to go off and the press to grab a flight to Des Moines.

The attention being given to Rubio’s brief trip to Iowa is understandable, but those who think that it is a sign that the Florida Senator is about to begin making preparations for a presidential campaign are likely to be disappointed.  I’m not about to exclude Rubio from the 2016 discussion, but here are some of the reasons I’m skeptical.

Timing Matters

Governor Branstad announced that Rubio would be attending his birthday fundraiser two days after the election.  If you really believe that all of those arrangements were made the day following the election, you are being foolish.  Rubio’s attendance at this event was probably confirmed long before he knew that Mitt Romney wasn’t going to be the next President of the United States.

Why does that matter?  Because it means that Rubio’s decision to come to Iowa on November 17th has absolutely nothing to do with his presidential ambitions.  The conspiracy theorist may conclude that Rubio was somehow hoping that Romney would lose so he could be the first to return to Iowa to put his marker down, but I don’t buy that.

Sometimes pundits like to read too much into things like this.  If you want an idea of how Rubio was invited to attend the event, just look at Governor Branstad.  Branstad likely pulled him aside at a Romney event and asked for a favor.  As the wise old sage of Iowa politics, it’s hard to refuse the governor’s request.  Best-case scenario for Rubio was that Romney wins and he can celebrate with Iowans.  Worse case scenario, he secures a place for himself in the 2016 discussion.

What Rubio Says Matters More Than Where He Goes

Someone’s mere presence in the state of Iowa doesn’t make him or her a potential presidential candidate.  Need proof? Just ask Sarah Palin or Mike Huckabee who made numerous trips to Iowa in 2010 and 2011.  George Allen was the featured breakfast speaker at the 2006 Republican Party of Iowa State Convention.  That was before most Americans where introduced to the word, “macaca.”

If you want to figure out who is serious about 2016 you need to focus on what they say, not necessarily where they say it.  Palin and Huckabee were busy selling books.  Huckabee also showed up to help his friend and 2008-caucus advisor Bob Vander Plaats with his political campaign and Family Leader events.  Each spent time speaking to Iowans about the issues the country was facing, but they were not laying out a case as to why they were the ones who can best fix them.

I expect Rubio to speak about the future of the Republican Party on Saturday night, but I highly doubt he is going to lay a foundation on which he can run for president.  Like many, I’m intrigued by what Senator Rubio will say on Saturday night, but I’m not expecting a speech about his credentials or even his vision for America.

If you are looking for an example of someone who is talking 2016 candidate, check out Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal.  He combed through Iowa with Rick Perry before the caucuses and then again as a Romney surrogate this fall.  Now he’s speaking his mind.  Watch him.

Rubio Has a Big Decision to Make

Having been elected to the U.S. Senate in 2010, Marco Rubio is going to be forced to make a decision between running for re-election and running for President.  Rubio doesn’t need to make that decision now, but he will need to make it immediately following the 2014 mid-term elections.  There is also risk in looking too much like a presidential candidate in waiting to the people back home.  A delicate balance between exploring national options and representing your state is always difficult to achieve.

What the Media Should Be Talking About but Are Ignoring

While the media focuses on Marco Rubio, they are ignoring a more significant political story.  Governor Branstad looks very much like a governor who’s running for re-election.  A formal announcement is probably still months away, but in the last two months, Branstad has held fundraisers for himself with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and now Rubio.  Branstad running for re-election has never been a sure bet, but if he does, it’s a good thing for Iowa Republicans.

Final Thought

Rubio’s visit to Iowa on Saturday night is a good thing for Iowa Republicans.  He’s an up and coming leader in the Republican Party that people are right to be excited about.  If anything, Rubio will help Iowans move past a disappointing election that most Republicans didn’t see coming.  As a presidential candidate, Rubio might be a tease, but for now, he is serving as our rebound date following our relationship with Mitt Romney that we would like to forget.

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The Love Story Behind The Boswell Attacks

In a debate last week, Congressman Tom Latham asked Congressman Leonard Boswell when he had last run a positive campaign ad.  Boswell avoided answering the question, probably because he either knows the answer and is embarrassed by it, or he honestly doesn’t remember because it’s been so long.

Iowans have grown accustomed to Boswell’s negative campaigning.  While going negative has helped Boswell defeat tough Republican opponents in Stan Thompson, Jeff Lamberti, and Brad Zaun, it’s hard to believe that an eight-term Congressman doesn’t have any accomplishments that he would want to tell voters about.

If Boswell’s personal attacks were not bad enough, he and the Democrat Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) have run some inaccurate ads that anyone with a conscience would have trouble airing.  Earlier this month, TheIowaRepublican.com reported that the ad featuring Lynne Carter of Winterset was misleading because the job she blamed Latham from losing was in Florida, not Iowa.  The ad was also inaccurate because Latham never voted to give government contracts to companies that outsource jobs to other countries.

Now the DCCC is running an ad against Latham that features Randy Parcell, who is also from Winterset.  It’s more than a coincidence that both Parcell and Carter are both from Winterset.   According to Facebook, Randy is in a relationship with Lynne.  It seems as if Lynne and James are the modern day Bonnie and Clyde of DCCC attack ads.

While the two DCCC Iowa lovers blame Latham for everything under the sun, one has to wonder if he is responsible for bringing the two of them together.

Boswell and the DCCC should be ashamed of themselves for running these ads against Latham.  It’s pathetic.

 

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Devastatingly Inaccurate

By Craig Robinson

A couple days ago, the Democrat Congressional Campaign Committee began airing an ad against Congressman Tom Latham titled, “Devastating.”

The ad features Lynne Carter of Winterset, Iowa.  Carter tells a tail about her job being shipped overseas.  She says that some people were literally left out in the cold with no retirement or health benefits.  To make matters worse, Carter says that she was forced to train her replacement from India.

Carter then blames it all on Congressman Tom Latham.

There is just one problem: Carter probably didn’t have a clue who Tom Latham was when she lost her job.  You see, Lynn Carter lost her job when she was working in Florida, not Iowa as the ad makes it seem. Even worse, the vote that the DCCC mistakenly claims Latham took to “outsource” her job took place six years after the company closed after being purchased by a Texas company.

The ad claims that, “Latham voted to keep giving government contracts to companies that outsource our jobs.”  However, the vote they cite is a motion to recommit on a non-binding resolution.  Neither the motion to recommit nor the underlying bill it applied to could do anything to affect government contracts at all, let alone “keep giving government contracts to companies that outsource our jobs.”

Iowans have come to expect the worse from Congressman Leonard Boswell and his friends at the DCCC when it comes to campaign ads, but their latest attempt at smearing Congressman Latham is a new low.  While the Boswell campaign continues to scrape the bottom of the barrel for attacks on Tom Latham, Iowans are still wondering if Leonard Boswell will ever run a positive ad about his own accomplishments.

Below is the DCCC ad blaming Latham for something that occurred in Florida that he had nothing to do with.

What: DCCC/Boswell Says… “When our jobs were shipped overseas, some people were literally left out in the cold.”

Truth: Woman in the ad (Lynne Carter) worked for a company called Excell Agent Services that was located in Brevard County, Florida – that closed in 2004/2005 was bought by a Texas-based company in January 2005 (see below). It was never located in Iowa. She is from Florida – her parents still live there.

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Proposed RNC Rule Change Would Wreak Havoc On Nominating System

By Craig Robinson

The boys over at Buzz Feed got my attention with a headline that reads, “Republicans Plot Assault On Iowa Caucuses.”  The article focuses on a proposed RNC rule change that will be debated in Tampa on Friday.  What the boys at Buzz Feed forgot to mention in their headline is that the rule change will effect more than the Iowa Caucuses and other caucus states if adopted.  In fact, at least 36 states would be substantially affected by the proposed rule change

The rule change being proposed by Ohio GOP Chairman Bob Bennett reads as follows.

Proposed Change to Rule 15(c)7

Any process authorized or implemented by a state Republican Party for selecting delegates and alternate delegates or for binding the presidential preference of such delegates shall use every means practicable to guarantee the right of active duty military personnel, and individuals unable to attend meetings due to injuries suffered in military service the opportunity to exercise their right to vote in that process.

A couple things to note:

1. The phrase, “shall use every means practicable” is not as forceful as a simple compulsory statement such as “must” or “shall.”  This means this rule would be up to much interpretation.  Who decides what is “practicable”?  What if there isn’t a “practicable” way to accomplish this?  This rule could be interpreted to have no teeth whatsoever, in which case, it is simply a political ploy to make caucus states look bad by voting against something that is perceived to be pro-military.

2. The proposed rule change has nothing to do with directly voting for a presidential candidate.  It only deals with military personnel being able to vote in delegate selection.  That means a caucus state like Iowa doesn’t have to make absentee ballots available in its presidential preference poll, only in the selection of delegates, which happens in most states after the primary or caucus.

Only six states and territories would be totally unaffected by the rule change.  Ten other states would have to make slight changes in how they select alternate delegates.  Thirty-six states would have to make major changes in how they elect delegates and alternate delegates.  Since the only way to comply with the new rule would be to put slates of delegates on a primary ballot, this also means it would cost states a substantial amount of money.  In essence, it would be an unfunded mandate from the Republican National Committee.

The Buzz Feed article makes it seem like Iowa is the main target of the rule change, but primary states like Texas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, Oregon, and Washington would be impacted as much as Iowa.  If this is an “assault” on Iowa and other caucus states, it sure creates a lot of other casualties.

States that would not be largely impacted by the rule change include:

Alabama
California*
District of Columbia*
Hawaii*
Illinois*
Maryland*
New Hampshire*
New Jersey
New York*
Ohio
Pennsylvania*
Puerto Rico
Rhode Island
Tennessee*
West Virginia
Wisconsin*

*State committee selects a portion or all the alternate delegates, which would not be allowed under the proposed rule change.

The following states would have to make wholesale changes in how they select delegates and alternate delegates:

Alaska
Arizona
Arkansas
Colorado
Connecticut
Delaware
Florida
Georgia
Idaho
Indiana
Iowa
Kansas
Kentucky
Louisiana
Maine
Massachusetts
Michigan
Minnesota
Mississippi
Missouri
Montana
Nebraska
Nevada
New Mexico
North Carolina
North Dakota
Oklahoma
Oregon
South Carolina
South Dakota
Texas
Utah
Vermont
Virginia
Washington
Wyoming

Allowing active duty military personnel to participate in the presidential nominating process is a noble and worthwhile goal.  The problem is that this proposal doesn’t ensure that they can vote for their candidate of choice.  Instead, it focuses on allowing them to vote for delegates.

There are other ways to make sure that active duty military personnel can participate in the process.  In regards to delegate selection, states can and should take steps to ensure that the caucus or primary results are reflected in their delegate selection process.

There is simply no way to allow an absent individual the opportunity to vote on delegates in states that use a convention process.  Moving to an Ohio system where people must run campaigns to become delegates does nothing to make the system more accessible, accountable, and open.  Instead it would increase the cost of being a delegate to a point where only someone of means or high name ID could participate.

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Who Will Be Mitt’s Mate?

The speculation surrounding who will be Mitt Romney’s nominee for Vice President is at an all time high.  The media and political pundits have been analyzing potential nominees’ strengths and weaknesses since Romney has secured the Republican nomination.  Reporters and political analysts are watching every move that Romney makes as they try to read the tea leaves for clues as to who his selection will be.

A few weeks ago while Romney was traveling overseas, the Romney campaign dispatched a numbers of surrogates to battleground states.  The conclusion that the media came to was that the campaign was kicking the tires so to speak on eight prospective vice presidential nominees.

The names included New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte, Ohio Senator Rob Portman, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, South Dakota Senator John Thune, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan, and Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty.

Since most people don’t purchase an automobile before test-driving it, the idea of testing out a potential running mate makes sense to a lot of people.  The problem is that there is nothing practical about politics, especially at the highest level like a presidential campaign.

As you may have noticed, I have not participated in the vice presidential speculation game.  The main reason is that it doesn’t make any sense to start making guesses in May and June since the Republican National Convention isn’t until the end of August.  Following the media down countless rabbit trails means you invest a lot of time writing about perspective nominees that will never even be considered.

The other reason I have not weighed in on whom Romney’s Vice President nominee should be is that, frankly, it’s not my decision to make.  The selection will tell us more about Mitt Romney than anything else.  It is my belief that a running mate should be someone with whom the presidential nominee is comfortable.  More importantly, it is my belief that a running mate should help the ticket win in November.  So many times the media and the pundits forget that the main objective of a campaign is to win.  Frankly, some of the names floated would not provide Romney with any additional advantage.

It’s not that I have not given a lot of thought to this subject.  I have.  I just realize that I’m more likely to be wrong than right.  Take, for instance, the last two Republican selections for Vice President.  Both Dick Cheney and Sarah Palin where non-conventional picks that surprised the media and Republican insiders.  Both selections had nothing to do with winning the states that they called home.  Instead, it was a personal decision by George W. Bush and Senator McCain.

Senator McCain’s selection of Palin caught many off guard.  While a number of conservative media outlets became smitten with Palin after she defeated incumbent Governor Frank Murkowski in the 2006 primary and went on to win the general election by seven points, any mention of McCain picking Palin was typically greeted with plenty of doubters.  That is, until he actually picked Palin.

If you follow the logic that the media is using today, mainly that no candidate who has been given a confirmed speaking slot at the Republican Convention will be the nominee, that means Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum, former Governor Jeb Bush, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez, and Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are not in the running to be Romney’s vice president.

That may very well be the case, but Cheney was tasked with leading the Vice Presidential search for George W. Bush in 2000, a position that one would have thought excluded him from being a possibility, and yet he served as the 46th Vice President of the United States for eight years.  That is why the more convinced that the media becomes that it’s not going to be somebody, the more validity I give that person.

So am I going to make a guess or just continue to blather on?

I think there are a number of people who deserve to be on the list.  I would never count out names from the critical battleground states of Florida and Ohio.  Face it, Romney can’t win the nomination without winning both of those states.  For that reason alone, I refuse to eliminate both Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, and Senator Marco Rubio of Florida.

I also refuse to dismiss someone who has been talked about the most.  In Romney’s case, that is former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.  Rice apparently stole the show at Romney’s big donor retreat in Utah a couple of months ago, and while some have shown displeasure in the possible Rice selection, she is a respected and accomplished individual.

The other factor that one shouldn’t overlook in regards to Rice is recent polling data.  A hypothetical Rice VP nomination helped Romney in Florida in these polls in large part because of an outstanding favorability rating of 59 percent favorable, 28 percent unfavorable.  With Republicans, her favorability was +65 (76/15), with independents it was +36 (62/26), and with Democrats it was +1 (42/41).  Rice helped Romney go from being down in Florida to leading the state.  The same was true of Rubio, but Rice isn’t from Florida, which means she would likely have a positive effect in all battleground states.

Another potential nominee that’s been discussed at length is Ohio Senator Rob Portman.  Politico is reporting that Portman has raised a half million dollars for Romney at two recent Ohio fundraisers.  There is immense value in having a running mate that can help raise funds.  Portman might not be a high profile selection, but he’s safe and dependable, and he’s from a critical battleground state.  Portman might not excite many activists, but he seems like a great fit for Romney.  Romney is a straight-laced guy who does his homework, makes investments that he thinks will pay off, and doesn’t like surprises.  That tends to lead me to Portman.

The recent chatter surrounding CIA Director General David Petraeus also intrigues me.  Straight-laced?  Yep.  Will follow orders?  Yep.  From a battleground state?  Yep, New Hampshire.  He’s kind of the combination of Rice and Portman in some ways.   The idea that Romney’s running mate would be Obama’s former CIA Director is simply rich.  I would camp out to buy tickets to a Biden/Petraeus Vice Presidential Debate.  How on earth could Biden and the Obama campaign attack the man and his positions?

A selection of Rice or Petraeus would provide Romney with a foreign policy trump card, and that is already one area in which I think Romney is particularly strong.  So, why double down on foreign policy?  One, it would ease any fears of removing a sitting president in a time unrest around the world.  While foreign policy isn’t discussed enough in the campaigns, it is of critical importance to voters, if not consciously, then subconsciously.

Two, the selection of a strong foreign policy running mate for Romney almost ensures that the election will focus on economic issues.  Still, the unknowns about Rice and Petraeus on domestic policies and their personal lives could be a sticking point.  On paper, both are outstanding, but in reality, they might not have what it takes to be politicians.  A presidential campaign isn’t the best place to get your feet wet so to speak.  Just ask General Wesley Clark.

Long story short, I think the obvious choice is Portman.  If Romney is feeling frisky, then maybe it’s Rice or Petraeus.

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New RPI Committee Needs to Focus on the Future of the Caucuses Not the Past

Earlier this week, the Republican Party of Iowa announced the formation of a committee that is tasked to review and make recommendations to improve the Iowa caucuses. In addition to making improvements to the caucus process in Iowa, the committee’s larger focus is to make recommendations that will help Iowa retain its privileged First-in-the-Nation status for the 2016 presidential election and beyond.

The 17-member committee includes seven current members of the Republican State Central Committee in addition to its Executive Director, Chad Olsen. The committee also has representation from most 2012 presidential campaigns, including paid staffers from the Bachmann, Cain, Paul, and Santorum campaigns who all have a seat at the table.

The creation of a committee to review the caucuses is not only necessary following the fiasco that ensued between caucus night and the end of the certification process, but it is also something that the Republican Party of Iowa should have been doing for years. While there have been major technical advancements made in the last twenty years, caucus procedures remain largely unchanged.

Iowa Republicans conduct caucuses every other year, but they have only had to organize five contested presidential caucuses since Ronald Reagan left office. It is also difficult to implement major changes to the caucuses because they historically occur in early January or February, only a year after a new party chair is elected and staff is hired. Complicating things even more is that the caucus date in recent caucuses has not been set until just a few months before the caucuses occur.

While it is smart of the Iowa GOP to take an in-depth and prolonged look at the caucus process, actually getting any recommendations implemented may prove to be difficult. This is because there is no way to know who will chair the Iowa GOP in 2015, who the staff will be, or what the makeup of the State Central Committee will be. Those are the people who will implement any of the recommended changes, not some committee that gathered in 2012.

The 2012 nomination process is already full of examples of how the wishes of a committee are just that, wishes. On August 6, 2010, the Republican National Committee adopted rules in Kansas City that protected Iowa’s First-in-the Nation status by only allowing four states, Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada to hold their contests in February of 2012.

Only one of those states, Nevada, held a contest in February. The rest held contests in January, and the state of Florida, which was never granted a waiver to hold its contest in February, let alone January, messed up the entire calendar by ignoring approved RNC rules. Not only have states violated the calendar, but they have also ignored RNC rules regarding how delegates are awarded.

It’s important to bring this up because, just as it has been proven to be impossible for the RNC to enforce its own rules on the states, the same is true for this committee. The good news is that, if the committee produces well thought-out proposals and solutions to problems, whoever is leading the Iowa GOP three years from now will likely want to include them in their caucus preparations.

Maybe the biggest critique that could be made of the 17-member committee is that activists and party officials dominate the make up of it. While it is important to involve people who implement every phase of the caucus process, the committee lacks much diversity. There are a few people who add either a unique perspective or provide some actual expertise, but not enough in my opinion.

Including seven State Central Committee members as well as a staffer on the committee also seems to be a little much. These are the same people who had the authority to oversee the 2012 caucuses that need to be reformed. It’s not fair to lay the blame at their feet, but if they have ideas to improve the caucuses, they should have been active in improving the caucuses before they were held, not after.

It also seems that the committee was assembled to react only to what happened in the 2012 caucuses. There is little representation from people who were involved in previous caucuses. While most of the members have participated in multiple caucuses, including members who can speak to caucus practices from previous caucus cycles might shed light on things that were either over looked in 2012, or were implemented in the past and should be resurrected.

The mission of the committee is critical. I have no doubt that committee members will take their job seriously, but they also need to be open to discussing major changes to the process, not just tweaking the process or doing a better job of communicating the process and results. The goal is not to fix what went wrong in the 2012 caucuses, but to help make sure Iowa retains its First-in-the-Nation status and make Iowa a state where candidates want to campaign for our support.

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Romney Wins Big in Florida

Mitt Romney got his campaign for the Republican nominations back on track with a big win in the Florida primary last night. With 98 percent of the precincts reporting, Romney won with 46 percent of the vote, fourteen points ahead of Newt Gingrich, who finished with 32 percent of the vote. Rick Santorum finished in third and Ron Paul finished fourth. Neither candidate had campaigned in Florida in recent days.

Immediately following the South Carolina primary, it seemed like Gingrich had the momentum that he needed to defeat Romney in Florida, despite all of the advantages Romney had due to his financial resources. However, it was Gingrich’s campaign that faltered, mainly due to his decision to make the campaign about petty personal attacks, not issues.

Gingrich was the one who could control the subject matter of the campaign in Florida. After his big South Carolina win, Romney was on defense, and instead of using a number of issues to explain to voters why Romney is a Massachusetts moderate, Gingrich instead chose to make the campaign about Romney’s tax returns, blind trusts, off shore accounts, and highlighting a Romney veto that denied paying for Kosher foods for seniors in nursing homes.

Not only was Romney ready to respond to those allegations, he was ready to get down in the mud with Gingrich in the two debates. Romney was far from flawless in the debates, but he out-maneuvered Gingrich at every turn. Making matters worse for Gingrich is that he picked a fight with a candidate who basically had unlimited resources. All told, Romney and his super PAC out-spent Gingrich $15 million to $5 million. Gingrich basically picked a fight he could never win.

By the middle of last week, it became clear that Romney had gotten Gingrich off of his message. While the Gingrich super PAC was running ads claiming that a Romney run company was guilty of Medicare fraud, candidate Gingrich spent days defending his claim to the Reagan legacy. Gingrich never seized on the Medicare argument because he lacked message discipline. While also a negative attack, it was one that might have hurt Romney in Florida given the number of retirees in the state.

Looking ahead, February should be friendly for Romney. Four years ago, he won the Nevada caucuses going away. The two big contests at the end of the month, Arizona and Michigan, are states that he should do well in as he grew up in Michigan and won the state four years ago, and he has been endorsed by Arizona Senator John McCain.

The other contests like Missouri, Minnesota, Colorado, and Maine could present problems, but they would be nothing to knock him off track. Plus Romney has plenty of staff and resources to compete in each of them. If February is a problem for anyone, it’s Gingrich.

Gingrich told his supporters last night that the race is between him and Romney. That’s an argument that he has been making for weeks now, but one that only sets him up to fail. Gingrich needs to make it to Super Tuesday on March 6th, a day where he could do very well. However, to get there, he needs to find a win or two along the way. If Paul or Santorum can find wins, which is not out of the question, and Gingrich can’t, he’s got a real problem.

An alternative option would be for Gingrich, Paul, and Santorum to divide and conquer in the month of February. Instead of trying to campaign everywhere, the three non-Romney candidates could focus on states where they each have the best shot of winning. Paul is already doing this, but by Gingrich proclaiming that it’s him versus Romney, he’s basically committing himself to campaign in states that are both costly and stacked against him.

Romney is well positioned after winning Florida. As the clear frontrunner, he will do well wherever his name on the ballot. It’s the job of the other candidates to try and trip him up, but Gingrich seems more interested in continuing to attack Romney than actually finding a state in which he can beat Romney.

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Florida Contest Disintegrates Into Nothing More Than A Food Fight

If the most recent polls are accurate, it looks like Mitt Romney is going to get a much-needed victory in tomorrow’s Florida presidential primary.  Rasmussen has Romney leading Newt Gingrich by 16 points, NBC has him up by 15 points, and Public Policy Polling has Romney up by 8 points.

What’s fascinating is how similar the Florida contest is to what happened in South Carolina.  Two weeks ago, Romney came into South Carolina with all the momentum in the world.  Polls showed him leading, and the media begin pushing a narrative that Romney could essentially end the Republican nomination fight with a win in South Carolina.  Romney ended up getting beat badly by Gingrich.

Heading into Florida, the roles were reversed.  It was Gingrich with all of the momentum. He had the big crowds and strong poll numbers to back it up.  Yet after two lackluster debate performances, Gingrich’s momentum has stalled.   Once again, we are reminded that it doesn’t matter how well a candidate looks as they come into a state, it’s how strong they finish.

There are more reasons for Gingrich’s struggles in Florida than just two disappointing debate performances.  First and foremost, the state was never going to be easy for any of the Romney challengers.  Florida is big and expensive.  While Gingrich was putting it all on the line in South Carolina, Romney was advertising and implementing an early voter program in Florida.  It was reported on Meet the Press on Sunday that Romney and his Super PAC have spent $15.7 million in Florida compared to the $3.9 million by Gingrich and his Super PAC.

Just like he did in Iowa, Romney and his Super PAC have used most of their resources to run negative ads against Gingrich.  The Romney campaign has also dispatched surrogates to Gingrich campaign events in an effort to spin the media and talk to voters.  The aggressiveness of the Romney campaign is something we have not seen from the Romney camp this year.  While the tactics are questionable, it has been effective in knocking the Gingrich campaign off message.

The Florida campaign has disintegrated into nothing more than a childish food fight.  Instead of debating issues, Romney and Gingrich have focused on negative personal attacks.  Romney has called Gingrich undisciplined, unethical, and a risk for all Republicans on the ballot should he top the ticket in the fall.  Gingrich has returned fire by calling Romney a liar and Massachusetts moderate who is no different from President Obama.  Making matters worse is that backers of each candidate have also joined in to the fray.

Romney looks to be headed towards a victory, but it’s nothing that he or his campaign should be all that proud of.  There is more division within the Republican Party today than there was two weeks ago.  It’s not entirely Romney’s fault, but his quest to win no matter the cost may get him one step closer to the nomination, but in doing so, he could make winning in November more difficult.

In past campaigns, the party would quickly unite around its nominee even after a negative and nasty campaign.  That might be more difficult after this contest since there is a real divide between the party establishment that is backing Romney and grassroots conservatives/Tea Party activists who tend to favor Gingrich.

A win in Florida will get Romney’s campaign back on track.  A loss will hurt Gingrich’s standing in the polls.   If that happens, Gingrich will need to target states in February that he can win to remain relevant just like Rick Santorum and Ron Paul.  Some in the media will once again want to anoint Romney the Republican nominee in waiting.  However, the brutal nature of the campaign almost ensures that none of the remaining candidates are about to step aside.

With the upcoming contests including a handful of caucuses, Ron Paul will likely be a bigger factor.  There are also states where Santorum can compete, and since neither Romney nor Gingrich want to talk about conservative issues, there is no reason for him to step aside any time soon. Gingrich has hinted that Santorum should step aside, but after watching the tenor of the campaign when it comes to Gingrich and Romney, Santorum is probably looking like a better option to some voters since he’s not participating in the food fight.

It’s becoming clear that whoever wins the nomination will have won a war of attrition.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing since the general election will be very similar, but the first thing he will have to do is try to heal the wounds from the primary fight.

At this point, it is difficult to see how Romney or Gingrich will be able to bring the party back together.  Even though the nomination fight will continue past Florida, both Romney and Gingrich might be best served if they would engage each other on issues rather than personal attacks.  If they continue down their current path, the Republican nomination is just going to be a bloodbath.  And that is helpful to nobody.

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Newt’s Big Ideas Are Not A Problem

Coming off a huge win in the South Carolina, Newt Gingrich is riding high in the polls, drawing massive crowds in Florida, and could very well deliver a fatal blow to Mitt Romney’s candidacy should he win the Florida primary next Tuesday.

Despite all of his momentum, a Gingrich win in Florida is not certain. Even before the conclusion of the South Carolina contest, Romney had spent millions of dollars in Florida working an early voter program and running television ads all across the state.

With the massive amount of momentum he has coming in to Florida, Gingrich is once again being viewed as a huge threat to win the Republican nomination instead of Romney, the candidate who most insiders would have bet everything they owned on winning the nomination as recently as ten days ago.

Just like we experienced in Iowa when Gingrich surged in late November, the common criticism by his critics is that he’s an erratic leader who lacks focus. In one of last week’s debates, Rick Santorum blasted Gingrich for having “ten ideas a minute,” while being the Speaker of the House. Santorum made the argument that Gingrich’s constant flow of ideas made it difficult to accomplish anything since the mission was ever-changing.

Romney has used a whole host of surrogates to attack Gingrich in a similar way. Two different television ads in South Carolina featured former Missouri Senator Jim Talent, who also served under Gingrich in the House, and former New York Congresswoman Susan Molinari. The ad, titled “Undisciplined” featured Senator Talent saying, “He would make outrageous comments that would blindside us and undermine our conservative agenda. Chaotic decisions, erratic behavior, it’s a problem when your own leader is the biggest political problem that you’re dealing with, which is why we removed him as the Speaker.”

Even though the charge didn’t help Romney in South Carolina, it is becoming clear that painting Gingrich as an erratic figure is going to be one of the chief lines of attack for the remainder of the primary campaign and the general election should he win the nomination. The comments made by Talent and others cut right to the bone. Regardless of what you think about the ads and the message they convey, they are a full-frontal personal attack on Gingrich. What voters must decide is whether it really matters.

Before we delve too deep into this subject, the idea that Gingrich lacks focus is not entirely true. He helped lead the Republican revolution of 1994, which was no small feat considering that Republicans had not controlled the chamber in forty years. The game plan was clearly mapped out in the Contract With America, and the Gingrich-led House voted on each segment of the Contract in the first 100 days that they were in power. The Contract had created a clear mandate, and the Republican controlled House swiftly followed through with its promises.

The “undisciplined” or unfocused Gingrich that the Romney campaign is attacking or that Santorum has talked about involves the post-Contract with America Newt Gingrich. It’s a fair criticism if Gingrich were attempting to win his old job back, but he’s not. He’s running for President, and the job requirements there couldn’t be more different.

As the leader of the majority party in U.S. House, Gingrich needed to build a consensus with his Republican colleagues. Wanting to promote new ideas everyday would make finding a consensus impossible. The President has to cast a vision, lead an administration, and work with Congress to get it implemented. The difference is that the president’s job is rallying the American people around his agenda, not necessarily lining up the votes in Congress.

It’s likely that Newt Gingrich would be a far better President of the United States than he was a Speaker of the House as he is more of a visionary than an organizer. Sure Gingrich is still going to have all sorts of ideas, but he will need Congressional approval if any of these ideas were ever to materialize. What I’m saying is that Congress will be able to sort out the good ideas from the bad, thus providing a much needed check and balance on the ever-thinking Gingrich.

If Republicans maintain control of the House and take control of the Senate, there is no doubt that they would be able to advance a conservative agenda in a Gingrich administration. Where there is cause for concern it’s how a President Gingrich would deal with a Democratically controlled Congress. History provides conservatives ample reasons to be concerned under that situation. One only needs to watch the global warming ad Gingrich shot with Nancy Pelosi or his willingness to join forces with Hillary Clinton to advance to the discussion on reforming healthcare in America to see the potential problems.

If elected, it’s safe to say that a Gingrich presidency would be either boom or bust. As long as one branch on Congress is under Republican control, there would be little to worry about. If a President Gingrich woke up and said that he wanted to colonize the moon, which Gingrich said yesterday on the campaign trail in Florida, I trust that Congress would put the breaks on the proposal.

Despite all of Gingrich’s flaws, he has displayed an ability throughout the campaign to rally people around his vision for America. The American people want a President with an idea of where he wants to take the county. The American people are not afraid of the candidate who thinks big because that is what this country is all about. Sure, Gingrich has been undisciplined at times, but so to have many of our greatest leaders.

Romney attacks Gingrich for being undisciplined, but that’s what the Republican establishment also thought of Theodore Roosevelt when he was Governor of New York and then Vice President. President Eisenhower thought that General George Patton was undisciplined. Even Ronald Reagan was known for being undisciplined at times. Had it not been for his willingness to trump the advice of his advisors, he would have never demanded that Mikhail Gorbachev, “Tear down this wall,” when standing before the Brandenburg Gate.

The history books are littered with examples of undisciplined people being extraordinary leaders. Only time will tell if Gingrich wins the nomination, let alone is elected President. The make up of Congress after the next election is probably the most important factor in whether or not Gingrich would be the conservative leader that people are looking for. All the candidates have faults, and Newt may have a long list of them, but his big ideas and larger than life persona are not on that list.

Photo by Dave Davidson – Prezography.com

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