Monday, August 13, 2007

The Opinionator

August 14, 2007, 3:29 pm
Christmas Polling in Iowa
By Chris Suellentrop
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The Christmas shopping season for Iowans is about to become a lot more hectic: Democratic pollster Peter Hart tells First Read, the blog for the political unit of NBC News, that ­ in the words of First Read authors Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro ­ “the revision of the primary calendar — moving Iowa forward to the first few days in January — is really the most important political event that has happened in the past few months.” Hart explains, as paraphrased by First Read:

From his point of view, it changes the entire rhythm of the political cycle in a way that cannot be fully appreciated, maybe not until after the nominating contests are over. Hart says it would be interesting to re-play many of the past caucuses if they were held on January 5th or 7th; his guess is that Dean would have won in 2004, and that Reagan would have defeated Bush in 1980. Perhaps most significant of all is that no one will know who’s up and who’s down right before Iowa. No self-respecting polling company, he says, does polling between the 20th and 25th of December. So we very well might have no idea how Iowa will break until after the results are in. If Hart’s right and the leader before Christmas is the leader on Caucus day, does that make the window between Thanksgiving and December 20 the three most important three weeks of the primary campaign?
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August 14, 2007, 12:41 pm
Justices Denied
By Chris Suellentrop
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Karl Rove can’t even take credit for remaking the Supreme Court: Conservatives who are dissatisfied with the presidency of George W. Bush can comfort themselves with the knowledge that the Supreme Court nominations of John Roberts and Samuel Alito secured the court for legal conservatism for a generation.

But don’t thank, or blame, Karl Rove, or even George W. Bush, for the Roberts and Alito nominations, says Jonah Goldberg in his Los Angeles Times column. Grass-roots conservatives imposed the Roberts and Alito nominations on Rove and Bush, Goldeberg suggests, against the two men’s “first instincts.” He writes:

Meanwhile, Bush’s two most important domestic accomplishments in the second term have been the appointments of John G. Roberts Jr. and Samuel Alito Jr. to the U.S. Supreme Court. But even these masterstrokes ran at least partly against the first instincts of Bush and Rove. If they’d had their druthers, Miers and Alberto Gonzales would be on the court today — a calamity from which neither the republic nor the Republican Party would soon have recovered.
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August 14, 2007, 9:54 am
Message From Iowa
By Chris Suellentrop
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Who else besides Karl Rove should consider quitting this week? After former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s surprising second-place finish in the Iowa Republican Party money-raiser known as the Ames straw poll, National Review editor Rich Lowry thinks Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, who like Huckabee is a Christian conservative, should consider dropping out of the race. Lowry writes at The Corner:

As for Huckabee, he’s not going to be a top tier candidate, but he’s going to be a big factor in Iowa. His nosing out of Brownback should have the Kansas senator thinking about the rationale of his candidacy. Before, it seemed that he was going to split Romney’s vote, the newly pro-life candidate with credibility problems with some conservatives. That’s fine if you think Romney is a fraud and an unreliable pro-lifer. But now what is he going to do? Split Huckabee’s vote, the solid pro-lifer? Does Brownback really just want to be a pro-life spoiler? The fact is that — for all his principle and commitment — he doesn’t have a lot of appeal as a presidential candidate, unfortunately.
Smike Brownbuckabee,” the fearsome amalgam of the Huckabee and Brownback candidacies, beat Mitt Romney in the straw poll with 33 percent of the vote to Romney’s 31.5 percent, The New Republic’s Noam Scheiber notes at The Plank.

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August 13, 2007, 6:38 pm
For Rove, Last Disrespects
By Chris Suellentrop
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The good must have been interred with Karl Rove’s resignation letter, because there’s not a lot of love for him in blogland today, nor much respect for his reputation as a political mastermind.
National Review Online editor Kathryn Jean Lopez hopes that Bush’s political fortunes improve with Rove’s absence. “If it’s a successful last year, the myth of ‘Bush’s brain’ may be laid to rest,” she writes at The Corner.

Michelle Malkin, normally a reliable Republican cheerleader, wishes Rove hadn’t waited so long to resign. “Imagine how much better off the White House and the Republican Party might be now if he had, in fact, left a year ago,” she writes on her personal blog. Among the heresies committed by Rove, Malkin cites “the Harriet Miers debacle, the botching of the Dubai ports battle, or the undeniable stumbles in post-Iraq invasion policies.” She also disapproves of what she calls “the spectacular disaster of the illegal alien shamnesty, which will be the everlasting stain Rove leaves behind.”

Moving from far right to impossible-to-place-on-a-continuum on your blogosphere dial, Andrew Sullivan calls Rove “one of the worst political strategists in recent times.” Sullivan continues:

He took a chance to realign the country and to unite it in a war - and threw it away in a binge of hate-filled niche campaigning, polarization and short-term expediency. His divisive politics and elevation of corrupt mediocrities to every branch of government has turned an entire generation off the conservative label.

And on the center-left, Time magazine columnist Joe Klein, writing at Swampland, advises Democrats to abandon the search for a liberal Rove: “A smart Democat will study Rove and do the opposite.”

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August 13, 2007, 1:39 pm
Actually, Winning Isn’t Everything
By Chris Suellentrop
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Karl Rove’s reputation rests, in part, on the “Cult of the Consultant” among Washington journalists, notes Joshua Green, a senior editor at The Atlantic, in his well-timed September cover story on The Architect, headlined “The Rove Presidency.” (Though Green’s opening sentence is less well-timed than his subject: “With more than a year left in the fading Bush presidency, Karl Rove’s worst days in the White House may still lie ahead of him.”)

“A big paradox of Bush’s presidency,” Green writes, “is that Rove, who had maybe the best purely political mind in a generation and almost limitless opportunities to apply it from the very outset, managed to steer the administration toward disaster.”

For all his reputation as a campaign strategist and a genius at political tactics, Rove proved incompetent at the sort of bureaucratic politics that are required to succeed within the White House, Green suggests. He writes:

Rove’s greatest shortcoming was not in conceptualizing policies but in failing to understand the process of getting them implemented, a weakness he never seems to have recognized in himself. It’s startling that someone who gave so much thought to redirecting the powers of government evinced so little interest in understanding how it operates. Perhaps because he had never worked in government — ­or maybe because his standing rested upon his relationship with a single superior­ — he was often ineffective at bringing into being anything that required more than a presidential signature.

Rove also made at least one calamitous political judgment: He insisted that President Bush not land in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, which led to the photo of Bush as he “gazed down from on high at the wreckage,” Green writes. An anonymous “Bush official” tells Green, “Karl did not want the plane to land in Louisiana.”

“A corollary to the Cult of the Consultant is the belief that winning an election -­- especially a tough one you weren’t expected to win -­- is proof of the ability to govern,” Green writes. “But the two are wholly distinct enterprises.”

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August 13, 2007, 10:08 am
Rove on Rove
By Chris Suellentrop
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Karl Rove tells Paul Gigot, the editorial page editor of The Wall Street Journal, that he’s resigning from the White House “effective Aug. 31.”Rove seems to think — or at least his comments to Gigot logically suggest that — his departure will right everything that is wrong with George W. Bush’s second term. Gigot writes:

“He will move back up in the polls,” says Mr. Rove, who interrupts my reference to Mr. Bush’s 30 percent approval rating by saying it’s heading close to “40 percent,” and “higher than Congress.”

Looking ahead, he adds, “Iraq will be in a better place” as the surge continues. Come the autumn, too, “we’ll see in the battle over FISA” — the wiretapping of foreign terrorists — “a fissure in the Democratic Party.” Also in the fall, “the budget fight will have been fought to our advantage,” helping the G.O.P. restore, through a series of presidential vetoes, its brand name on spending restraint and taxes.

As for the Democrats, “They are likely to nominate a tough, tenacious, fatally flawed candidate” by the name of Hillary Rodham Clinton. Holding the White House for a third term is always difficult given the pent-up desire for change, he says, but “I think we’ve got a very good chance to do so.”

Rove is “arguably the most influential White House aide of modern times,” Gigot writes. “The president calls him to chat about politics on Sunday mornings, and they have a contest to see who can read the most books. (Mr. Rove is winning.)”

Gigot adds, “I’ve known Mr. Rove for 19 years and spoken to him hundreds of times. Yet I can’t recall a single instance where he disclosed how his views differed from Mr. Bush’s.”

And like President Bush, Rove doesn’t admit error easily: “As for what his own White House mistakes have been, Mr. Rove winces and says, ‘I’ll put my feet up in September and think about that.’”

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August 12, 2007, 12:46 pm
A Questionable Straw Poll
By Tobin Harshaw
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“Obviously this was an incredible day and victory for us,” said former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee of Saturday’s Iowa Republican straw poll. “What happened for us today was stunning.” A curious statement, perhaps, given that Huckabee was soundly trounced by Mitt Romney — he finished with 18 percent of the vote to Romeney’s 32 percent — but then again, given the haphazard nature of the Ames event, perhaps close doesn’t only count in horseshoes.

Jonathan Martin, the Politico’s Republican-watcher, certainly thinks so:

Mike Huckabee picked up 18.1 percent to finish in second place, besting Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback, who came in third with 15.3 percent. The two social conservatives tangled here over the past two weeks, both vying hard for many of the same voters and battling for their political viability. Despite spending far less money to get his voters here, Huckabee came out on top, offering a fresh boost to his underfunded campaign and calling into question Brownback’s ability to continue in the race … Huckabee appeared to succeed through a combination of charm, guile and his chief rival’s negativity.

Some feel, however, that winning really was winning. “Rudy Giuliani and John McCain decided to sit Iowa out, which left the field pretty much to Romney,” writes the conservative blogger Jimmie at the Sundries Shack. “The only question was how much he’d win by. Given that he spent approximately a bajillion dollars on barbecue and pony rides, he did just about what he was supposed to do. It gives him some leverage on Giuliani and McCain, which he very much needs.”

Kyle E. Moore at Comments From Left Field thinks one of the major stories revolves around someone who’s note even running (yet). Moore writes:

I think it’s important to note how low non-candidate Fred Thompson placed, finishing even lower than the almost non-existant Tommy Thompson at seventh. The man who months ago was being lauded by a slew of conservatives as the savior of the field, the next Ronald Reagan, and the presumptive frontrunner did not back this up with performance at voting booths here. I think this can be an even further indicator that excitement over the former Law & Order star is starting to wane.

While Ron Paul’s fifth-place finish must be considered a disappointment to his campaign, one big supporter, Richard Barnes at Disinter, suspects skullduggery: “After a very long delay before releasing the Diebold results due to a ‘voting machine malfunction’ Ron Paul came in 5th place with 1,305 votes. Keep in mind the person charged with oversight of this poll is none other than one of Mitt Romney’s paid staffers, Mary Mosiman, who just happens to be the County Auditor. Convenient.”

“Now, who will be dropping out after this?” asks Brian at IowaVoice, who offers a good roundup from the center of the action. He continues:

Well, Tommy Thompson has already gone on record to say that if he didn’t win or take second he’d be dropping out, so he doesn’t count. Other than that, I’d have to say that Duncan Hunter and Tom Tancredo are certainly on the short list of who I would think would be dropping out soon. Both are one-issue candidates (Tancredo=illegal immigration, Hunter=China/trade), and while I like both of them a lot, I think they’d be a greater asset to us if they stayed in Congress.
Like many on the left, Steve Benen at Talking Points Memo feels that the big loser is the entire G.O.P.:

Keep in mind, organizers hoped for 20,000 straw-poll participants today, and the total was just over 14,000. Eight years ago, nearly 24,000 Republicans took part in the event. Some of this, it’s fair to say, is the result of some top-tier candidates deciding not to participate in Ames, but it also speaks to the ongoing lack of enthusiasm for the GOP field of candidates.

If that’s the true lesson, it’s hardly one that Mitt Romney wanted to spend an estimated $5 million to learn.

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