Taking a gentlemanly, congratulatory phone call from Sen. John McCain after he stuffed former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney in the Iowa caucus in January of 2008, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee is reported to have chuckled — with a little too much venom — “I beat Romney here, now you take him in New Hampshire.” Which is exactly what happened. And Huckabee meant it, too.  That shiv neatly sums up the animosity Republicans who run for president tend to feel towards the feckless Romney, now 1-0 in 2012, and on the verge of being 2-0 if his firewall in New Hampshire holds firm next week and new polls in South Carolina showing him with a strong lead there turn out to be correct.

But before New Hampshire votes next week and makes Romney 2-0 and the presumptive nominee, it’s worth asking one question: Can he be stopped?

Big answer: Maybe, maybe not, because the same five reasons Romney has the nomination locked up are the exact five reasons he could still lose.

 

Lock.

He’s got so much money — that of his campaign, his Super Pac that spent $3 million destroying Newt Gingrich in a matter of weeks on Iowans’ TV screens, and his own private fortune estimated at over $200 million. After New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada comes Florida — an expensive market in which to campaign.  And no other candidate can hit the airwaves with us much force or range as Romney.

He’s got the establishment falling into line behind his candidacy. The Tea Party has already put a noose around the House of Representatives, and establishment conservatives are desperate that it not do the same to the presidential standard-bearer, what with President Obama’s approval still stuck slightly below 50 percent. In state after state, governors and representatives are falling in line to support Romney with party stars like New Jersey’s bully of a governor, Chris Christie, leading the way. As Romney’s wins pile up, elected Republicans will endorse so as not to lose favor with their party’s eventual nominee.

The other candidates will continue to split the right wing vote. Rick Santorum, Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich, and Ron Paul divvied up some 75 percent of the vote in Iowa and, because of that split, they each lost to Romney — albeit by a “landslide” of eight votes in Santorum’s case. That might be Romney’s low ceiling, true, but if the other candidates continue to vie for three-quarters of the GOP pie, Romney’s 25 percent slice could be enough in state after state to rack up delegates and be crowned the nominee in Tampa. And 25 percent probably isn’t his ceiling.

Santorum and Perry want to be the Vice Presidential nominee. Gingrich and Paul couldn’t care less about their future in the Republican party (though Paul surely is interested in protecting his fringe of the nutty wing for a future presidential run by his son, Kentucky’s junior senator, Rand Paul). But Santorum and Perry both can hope to make an argument that they would bring right wing enthusiasm with them into a fall campaign (much as George Bush, Sr. made the same, but reverse, argument to Ronald Reagan in 1980, that Bush could bring the moderate and establishment wings to unite with the conservative Reaganites). Jack Kemp, Dan Quayle, and Sarah Palin were all figureheads for the right wing of a party that was simply holding its nose for the more moderate top of the ticket. Santorum or Perry could vie to be next in the VP in that fated line.

The GOP is full of amateur pundits. Even if they don’t like Romney, Republicans have told pollsters that they believe he is the most electable. Of all the GOP candidates, he still polls best nationally against Obama, trailing the president by just 2.2 percentage points, according to Real Clear Politics’ average of a dozen of the most recent national polls. And in state by state polling — because the only number that matters in the general election is 270, the number of electoral votes needed to win the presidency — Romney is running competitively against the president in the bell weather battleground states of Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, all states Obama won in 2008 and needs to win in 2012.

 

Lose.

He’s got so much money — but the populist revolts that gave rise to both the Tea Party in 2010 and the Occupy movement in 2011 have hardly abated. And rich white guys are their target. Santorum is hitting hard the Tea Party, Buchananesque, blue collar argument that government is ruining industry, manufacturing, and the social fabric of America. Romney’s personal wealth and what he represents as a corporate businessman running for high office may be the very totems of ultra-affluence that work against him — especially if he makes another bizarre statement like “corporations are people.” This is why Gingrich has taken to saying that Romney is trying to buy the nomination. It’s an argument that may take hold if the race tightens.

He’s got the establishment falling in line — but the leading figures of that endorsing establishment are George Bush, Sr., Bob Dole, and John McCain, who combined lost three out of the last five presidential races. And none were favored by the conservative-I-hate-you reactionaries in the Republican party. If the reactionaries rally behind a single candidate — say, Santorum — and ditch Gingrich, Perry, and Paul, then Romney’s 25 percent threshold will not hold against a party eager for a happy, reactionary warrior to run against Obama.

Santorum and Perry want to be the Vice Presidential nominee. Unless one or the other is the Presidential nominee. In 2008, pundits were certain that Barack Obama was only running for — and could only win — the Vice Presidential nod against Hillary Clinton. What they didn’t know was that Obama’s campaign had developed a February strategy to sweep the caucus contests that immediately followed Super Tuesday. Santorum could quickly become the darling of the right — and Perry has the fund-raising chops to stay in the fight — so if the campaign drags on past Florida and Romney can’t sew it up and no surprise candidate enters late, then playing hard but respectful in order to get the number two spot may fall away. In its place? Playing all out for the win.

The GOP is full of amateur pundits — but only a very few predicted Santorum’s amazing Iowa finish. So for all the windbaggery, attention must be paid to the voters, no? And God love them for that. Given all the loopy twists of the 2012 primaries so far, and knowing that GOP voters down the line just don’t seem to like Mitt Romney, anything could happen.

 

Man oh man oh man oh man. It’s what, FOUR months until the first primary and the Republican field has been bludgeoning itself like a bunch of  tweens at a razor party listening to My Chemical Emo-mance.

When we last met I thought it was the clash of the titans, more specifically, the clash of the V05 hair Product between Mitt Robotney and Rick Perry. But this was not to be. Rick Perry falls apart in debate!  His iron-clad hair shield has been tainted by the Massachusetts I mean Michigan I mean where does Mitt Romney live now anyway?

*answer: he lives in any one of the following states:  California, New Hampshire, Massachusetts
But he is another wealthy regular man-robot hybrid just like you and me.

I was disappointed by Perry’s recent performance. Sure the guy is dumber than a can of paint but he’s a canny politician with a long winning streak, and he was trounced by a guy who makes the GPS voice in your car sound authentic. And Mitt Romney, the most pretend of all pretend Republicans, attacked him from the right on immigration.

We’ve only lost one candidate so far, rendering the debates crowded and pointless. Nine people yapping on stage isn’t a debate. It’s a Facebook wall. And nine people times fifty-eleven debates is not doing anyone any good.

If Sarah Palin has taught us anything, aside from remembering to keep the receipt when we buy a half a continent sparsely populated by lunatics from Russia, it’s that constant media exposure may actually harm one’s chances for the presidency. The continued debates threaten to turn the candidates to caricature, aside from Newt Gingrich, who is a cartoon, and Ron Paul, who’s actually a character from an Ayn Rand novel.

Can anyone tell me where these audiences come from? Were they stocked entirely by Democrats working to make Republicans look bad? I’d say yes if a) Nixon were still alive and switched parties, b) Democrats were organized or c) James O’Keefe  would return my phone calls. This audience was the real deal. First the Republican pro-lifers cheer “Let ’em die” in a question about health insurance and second the Support Our Troops Pro Military party boos at a gay soldier after he asks about the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.

You can at least rest knowing that legally married gay partners of veterans are not allowed to receive pensions after their spouses die. As a personal note, I’d like to mention that my mother, who had been divorced from my dad for over twenty years, is still qualified to receive his Naval pension. Because straight divorce is all about American values.

Straw Polls Suck

These straw poles: enough. They cost the candidates a lot of money and time and they’re meaningless. Kind of like baseball’s All-Star game. Or the Move-on.org petition you just sent me.

On the plus side, the straw polls add some fake drama, because they let an unhinged outlier win something, so political journalists can pretend to write serious articles in which they imagine Herman Cain, who won the Florida straw poll, will take over the world until they notice that the Pizzafather has no money or endorsements. He does have a sweet tax plan though, which is abbreviated as 9-9-9, and is something as likely and sensible as the Nine Ringwraiths of Mordor playing Nine innings of baseball against Nine Inch Nails.

Mitt Romney won the Michigan straw poll, because that’s where he’s from. He’s also from Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri and the Moon.

Nothing more than a sad seventh place in Florida for my personal fave Jon Huntsman, who has said that he believes in crazy talk like global warming and evolution and at this point to garner any traction in the polls he’s going to have to set fire to Rick Perry.

The essential problem with straw polls is they  waste resources. The candidates owe more favors to party hacks in each state and need more money from new donors. I don’t mind the GOP blowing its cash on these things, and it serves their own brand of social Darwinism, the only Darwin they let into the room. Survival of the richest. But in a larger way these straw polls are bad for democracy. As much as I enjoy cataloging the village idiots who are on the stage, as an engaged citizen I’d like the guy in the Oval Office, regardless of political party, to be competent enough to do the job.

“Mr. President we’ve confirmed that terrorists have stolen nuclear material from Pakistan. The poverty rate hit 25%, bacteria have developed a resistance to TB drugs and a tornado has leveled half of Kentucky.”

“Is this when I get to abolish the Departments of Energy, Education and anything else that starts with E?”

“That’s not going to help. What should we do?”

“Nothin. Government is not the solution.”

“What about the nukes, sir?

“I’ll let the states handle that.”

Next time: Why President Obama needs a primary challenge.

What a wild few weeks it’s been in the Republican Presidential primary race, AKA America’s Top Celebrity Presidential Candidate Rehab Survivor’s Got Talent!

First, a certain vote against raising the debt ceiling came back to haunt us. That vote was cast in 2006 by the junior senator from Illinois, Barack Obama. Sometimes even symbolic votes cause actual pain. You play politics with our ability to borrow money and pay bills and you get egg on your face. Did I say egg, or is that vomit being sprayed during the last week by investors suffering stock market motion sickness?

Because the Tea Party’s insistence on deficit reduction, just a mere eight months after everyone in Washington agreed to extend the Bush tax cuts, international trust is US debt has been downgraded from the Visa BlackCard to Diners Club. Sure it was a slight downgrade, given by those same criminals who just a few years ago gave AAA ratings to toxic assets, but still, don’t you just get sick when America isn’t the most awesome at everything? And then the US Women’s national soccer team loses the World Cup to Japan and isn’t this just the Summer of Shit?

If nothing else, this debt downgrade could spell the end of the dollar as the world’s reserve currency, in favor of the euro or the renminbi. I’ll admit to having a C-minus understanding of macroeconomics, which is why I write suppository jokes instead of running for public office, but Tea Party Congressional Caucus, if you don’t understand the previous sentence you should go back to complaining about President Obama’s birth certificate instead of reducing our economy to that of Kenya. Where Obama’s from.

Ames, Iowa played host to the debate between eight republican presidential candidates last week. The biggest point of the night: all eight pledged not to raise taxes never ever ever, not to lower the deficit, not even if the revenue increase were matched ten to one by spending cuts.

Democrats, sniffing out a chance to go on the defensive, offered a compromise of twenty to one spending cuts to tax increases. Then they offered a fifty trillion percent reduction in entitlement spending for no tax increases and threw in the state of Vermont.

The high point leading up to the Ames debate was when that far-out lefty Mitt Romney, munching on a plate of acid-laced “Fried Obesity on a Stick,” announced that “corporations are people.” I love that song from Free to be You and Me. But all of his perfect hair and free love could not win him the 2011 Straw Poll, where he came in at an awesome 7th place, just behind write-in candidate Rick Perry. The real winner, though, at the Iowa State Fair, was Fried Butter on a Stick. Rebuilding America, one pound at a time. We don’t need Medicare. We need wider ambulances.

It’s no real surprise that the Iowa Straw Poll’s winner was Sarah Palin I mean Michele Bachmann. Bachmann won a not critically important poll in the state where she was born which is right next to the state where she now lives. I’d like to now spend some time riffing on Michele Bachmann’s Yoda-like syntax, but save that for freedom liberty links in the freedom chain of liberty the right candidate for are I will in a later column.

But this spring training win cements her in the top tier group of candidates, along with Romney and Rick Perry. This is either a compelling narrative or more likely the media enjoys every chance they get to put the word “3-way” into the title of their articles to increase web traffic. Here at the Hustings Hustler I’ll keep watching Michele Bachmann, even though she’s not likely to make it to the Big Show, mostly because I’m fixated on her maniacal, Joker-like smile.

Have you ever looked at someone’s wedding pictures and noticed that the bride flashes an identical smile every in every single photo, because she’s obviously practiced it in front of a mirror since she was a little girl? That’s Bachmann’s smile, the ecstatic bride, but twisted slightly with the mania that says I KNOW HE’S GAY BUT I’M GOING TO MARRY HIM ANYWAY.

The one casualty of the current field was T-Paw. Tim Pawlenty put all his eggs in one cow stomach (I’m not very good with the rural metaphors) and came up three rooster cocks short.

But like the Hydra, you cut off one head and another grows in, now featuring the face of Governor Rick Perry, who just announced he’ll run. Now everything gets exciting, because I get to use more rural metaphors like “all hat, no cattle.” You think America won’t rush to elect another conservative Texas armadillo-smoking nut job? In 2012 the George W. Bush presidency will have ended four years ago. We remember how bad that was, right? The most brutal terrorist attack on American soil ever, two foreign wars, a five trillion dollar shopping habit, criminal negligence that led to the destruction of New Orleans and the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression? We wouldn’t make the same mistake because America Never Forgets.

Amount of time between the IPO for Pets.com, a San Francisco dot-com that actually sold stuff and the IPO of LinkedIn.com, a website that lets total fucking strangers send me their useless resume? Eleven years.

Amount of time between the collapse of Enron, when politicians demanded more regulation so it wouldn’t happen again and the collapse of the banking industry because of the appalling lack of financial regulation? Six years.

Amount of time between the popping of the speculative dot-com bubble to the beginning of the speculative housing bubble? Three years.

Amount of time it took for Twitterers who were irate that people were making fun of Amy Winehouse’s death to completely forget there was such a person as Amy Winehouse? One week.

So yes, it’s entirely possible that we will hand the keys to the ship of state over to a guy who holds giant prayer rallies to make it rain.

Just so we can all agree how ridiculous this nominating process is to the political junkies I’ll share with you this bit from the Times’ Caucus Blog, which felt it super important to spend column inches on the official sighting of Rick Perry’s new tour bus, the NASCAR Suppository, which will let me end with the following question: what’s black, blue and red all over?

[for lack of a better name I’ve decided to dub my sporadic political column the “Hustings Hustler.” Because I adore alliteration.]

The second GOP debate took place this week in New Hampshire, also known as the Granite State, which is a peculiar name, considering that you could carve seventeen full size New Hampshire sculptures out of the granite in California and still have some stone left over to add Barack Obama to Mount Rushmore.

New Hampshire is important to the Republican Party both because it holds the first primary and takes a serious anti-tax stance. You might believe the state’s motto is “Live Free or Die,” but it is in fact “Live Fee or Die.” The state makes up for lost tax revenue by imposing fees on everything. It’s a crucial difference: with taxation, the government takes money from its citizens. In the fee system, the government takes money from its citizens. New Hampshire also derives income from beating up Vermont for its milk money.

Mitt Romney has solidified his position as GOP front runner, which is pretty easy to do when several candidates have yet to enter the race and it’s a whopping eight months from now until the New Hampshire primary. Do you know how many penis pictures Anthony Weiner could tweet in eight months? I don’t know. More than you could shake a… never mind.

Since we last met there have been some minor changes to the field. Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum are definitely in, Mike Huckabee and Donald Trump are out.

The highlight of the Granite State Debate was T-paw attempting to weasel his way out of prior statements concerning the mutant hybrid “ObamneyCare,” a hard-to-pronounce sleight against both the President’s and Mitt Romney’s health care plans. T-paw has a point: it’s totally fair to question how Mitt Romney could be against Obama’s health care plan even as he signed into law its very model as Massachusetts governor. When Pawlenty was asked at the debate if he would “come and say that to my face,” the former Minnesota gov ran away with his big bushy squirrel tail between his legs. That’s right: he ran away from Mitt Romney, who has never done anything worse to anyone than naming his son Tagg. If T-paw’s plan to differentiate himself from Romney was to establish that a) he’s a former governor from a different state that starts with M and b) he’s a coward, Mission Accomplished!

Herman “The Godfather” Cain skirted around his prior demand for loyalty tests for Muslims in his administration. It’s too bad that he was caught showing off both his prejudice and his inability to waffle effectively when he should have talked about the economy. Cain knows about the economy because he used to sell pizza. To reduce unemployment Cain plans to offer pizza delivery jobs to every unemployed man and woman with a 1981 Toyota Cressida and a solid weed connection.

Wait. Ex-governor. Ex-senator. Ex-governor. Ex-House speaker. Ex-pizza magnate.* Of the seven people on the debate stage, only Michele Crazyboots Bachmann and Rowdy Ron Paul have jobs. That’s right: you know who’s going to fix our economy and give everyone jobs? A bunch of unemployed people.

Meanwhile, Newt Gingrich’s entire staff decided to spend more time with their not Newt Gingrich. Apparently they realized what I could have told them months ago if I wasn’t busy tweeting junk pics around the internet: Newt isn’t really running for president, he’s running so his ideas can be injected into the greater Republican debate. The big reason Newt’s people have departed en masse is they don’t believe his social media-heavy campaign strategy, which looks something like this: “vote for me and I promise not to tweet you a photo of my penis. Which is called Big Newt.”

At least, unlike Gingrich himself, his campaign staff didn’t wait until he was hospitalized with cancer to dump him.

Former Ambassador John Huntsman plans to announce his campaign plans at New York’s Liberty Park, which most likely means he’s in the running, otherwise he’d make his statement at Who Gives a Fuck Field, which is home to the New York Mets. I didn’t include Huntsman in my writeup last time. He’s a moderate Republican from Utah and his face keeps freaking me out.

We’ve all been there: you see what you think is a beautiful woman from behind, she turns around and you hear the staccato reak reak reak sound from Psycho and she has the face of Freddy Krueger but he’s been burned with acid and run over with a lawnmower. You know what I’m talking about. And she still rejects you because you’re so goddamn superficial.

All I’m saying is that I first saw Huntsman’s face in profile and I thought damn, you’re JFK-handsome. Then you see his face straight on and he’s got all the inhuman charm of a baby wombat.
But the wombat face is the least of his problems. His most recent job has been as the Ambassador to China for President Barack Hussein Obama.

They will just call him Huntsman-Chinabama.

You might think that moderate Republicans have no place in the primaries but you have to realize that historically, the GOP has been much more likely to nominate the traditional old guard (no taxes, loves big business, only pretends to give a shit about abortion) than the crazies. Nixon and George H W Bush were definitely on the moderate side, as was John McCain, that is, until he and George Bush kissed and made up and Bush replaced his brain with a Bible and some oat bran while nobody was looking.

Hell, between Huntsman and Romney and the Book of Mormon winning its Tony, it’s a great year for the tribe of Joseph Smith. If people stopped confusing them with Scientology they’d be set.

The last shadow candidate is Rick Perry, who is the guitarist from Aerosmith, and used to play Dylan on Beverly Hills 90210, but since Aerosmith is on hiatus while Steven Tyler offers his enormous lips as shelter for contestants on American Idol, Rick Perry is now moonlighting as governor of Texas.

Governor Perry has been hinting that he might run for president, and kicked off his non-campaign with a prayer event which “received criticism,” according to the New York Times. A negative article in the Times for Perry’s fundraising team is like winning the big high school game, the chili cook-off and banging the entire cheerleading squad on the same day!

The gist of the article suggests it’s not appropriate for a sitting governor to hold a giant evangelical prayer rally to psyche people up for when they get to heaven so they can roast the bones of non-believers. Side note: Perry’s Houston prayer rally is co-sponsored by the gay-bashing group International House of Prayer. Yes: IHOP.

Rick Perry has become more likely to announce his candidacy for several reasons. The current field of candidates is unimpressive. Sorry Mitt, but you are boring. You don’t even say any crazy Mormon things! Also, there are signs that the economy is slowing, due to lots of circumstances outside the President’s control (see Japan), and the economy could easily crater again and then Barack will have to apply for Jimmy Carter’s job as “guy who became awesome after being president.”

The Texas Governor will rely on a tried and true script:  he will turn to God and ask him if he should run, and if God answers in the form of large campaign donations from oil companies, look to Rick Perry to crash the party. In which case I’ll have a good time writing about how as a sitting governor he wanted Texas to secede from the country.

*Romney, Santorum, T-paw, Gingrich, Cain. If you got all these right you get a gold star.

Dear Dust

Sarah Palin is officially running for president. Sarah Palin!

That is all.

Connie.