Mitt, the unpopular winner

For many months, an odd trend has held sway in the GOP and the media reporting on the presidential campaigns as they shaped up: calling the weekly Mitt Romney polling strength and the Not-Mitt Candidate of the moment who shared or even overtook the lead in those polls. That Not-Romney Candidate has rotated through the ranks over time, but the position has remained important to a major faction of the GOP. Even on election night in the New Hampshire primary.

Jonah Goldberg’s article on NRO says that ‘despite his lead, the not-Mitt mood is intensifying.’

Mitt Romney is the most improbable of presidential candidates: a weak juggernaut.

He is poised to sweep every primary contest — a first for a non-incumbent. And yet, in Republican ranks there’s an abiding sense that he should be beatable — and beaten.

It’s not that Romney doesn’t have fans. His events in New Hampshire were packed to the rafters and felt like general-election rallies. He’s surging in polls in South Carolina and Florida.

And yet the non-Mitt mood just won’t go away. Indeed, it’s intensifying. One reason for that is people are starting to doubt whether he is in fact the best candidate to beat President Obama. For instance, you hear conservatives wondering more and more whether all of the attention from the White House is a head fake. Romney certainly makes a convenient foil for a presidential campaign already in populist overdrive. The desperate attacks from Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry on his career in the private sector are indefensible, but Romney certainly has a gift for inviting them. You can be sure President Obama is grateful to Gingrich and Perry for making them bipartisan critiques.

No kidding. For months now, I’ve been picturing an Obama campaign collecting and saving sound and film clips of the Republicans tearing into each other, but mostly the field of candidates tearing into Mitt Romney. It’s all going to come back in the general election campaign, so why do they do it?

I asked on my Facebook page the rhetorical question ‘Why do attack ads work?’ And got a range of interesting opinions. But not one person said they don’t work.

Goldberg continues:

Romney was at his best swatting away the swarm on inanities at the debate…He’s weakest, however, when discussing himself. In this he is the anti-Obama. The president is never more eloquent and heartfelt than when he is talking about himself; it’s his ideas he can’t move.

Romney, meanwhile, has the opposite problem. Voters can buy his policies; it’s the salesman that leaves them unsure.

That’s true. Voters don’t buy his salesmanship, even if they buy his policies. It’s weird.

His authentic inauthenticity problem isn’t going away. And it’s sapping enthusiasm from the rank and file. The turnout in Iowa was disastrously low, barely higher than the turnout in 2008 — and if Ron Paul hadn’t brought thousands of non-Republicans to the caucus sites, it would have been decidedly lower than in 2008. That’s an ominous sign given how much enthusiasm there should be for making Obama a one-term president. It’s almost as if Romney’s banality is infectious.

None of this says anything about core fundamental values, competing worldviews, the conviction of human dignity that should be the center of gravity for anchoring the politics of the moment. It’s all cosmetic, or pragmatic.

The most persuasive case for Romney has always been that if he’s the nominee, the election will be a referendum on Obama. But that calculation always assumed that rank-and-file Republicans will vote for their nominee in huge numbers no matter what. That may well still be the case, but it feels less guaranteed every day.

Every four years, pundits and activists talk about how cool it would be to have a brokered convention. This is the first time I can remember where people say it may be necessary.

One of my guests on radio, a political expert in Washington, said we’re living in unprecedented times, and this election is even more consequential than the last. That rings true. But what threw me was what she said next, and with conviction: We’ve never had a moment in time when we could have more hope.

Little more than a week ago, the worldwide headlines rang in the new year declaring the populist mood to be ‘cautious optimism.’ We are a people of hope, but we are wiser and more discerning in extending it.

The emergence of social moral issues

The media don’t quite know how to handle this.

GOP presidential candidates are talking, and more boldly, about the sanctity of life, the definition of marriage, human dignity and ‘rights endowed by the Creator’, especially in their debates. Partially because they’re being prodded by media moderators.

Shortly after last weekend’s ABC debate, some top stories on my news aggregator recounted a particularly odd and persistent exchange between questioner George Stephanopoulos and candidate Mitt Romney. That story disappeared quickly and was replaced by boilerplate rundowns of the debate and especially from the angle of who was attacking whom on stage over political and business track records. Where did that story go?

It turned up here, which is pretty thorough in describing the snip and then publishing the video and transcript.

During Saturday’s Republican presidential debate in New Hampshire, hosted by ABC, co-moderator George Stephanopoulos bizarrely pressed candidate Mitt Romney on whether the former Massachusetts governor believes the U.S. Supreme Court should overturn a 1965 ruling that a constitutional right to privacy bars states from banning contraception.

And that’s the key to what should be the focus whenever this topic is raised. Whether it’s intended as a ‘gotcha’ question or whatever. NRO’s Kathryn Jean Lopez brings clarity to the media distortions and confusion.

The problem with the headlines is that they are untrue.

What Santorum has said is that the Supreme Court’s 1965 decision in Griswold v. Connecticut — which dealt with a case that was a Planned Parenthood official’s stunt — was a bad precedent and bad law. It created a constitutional right for married persons to use contraceptives. Writing for the majority, Justice William O. Douglas declared that ”specific guarantees in the Bill of Rights have penumbras, formed by emanations from those guarantees that help give them life and substance,” and that “various [of these] guarantees create zones of privacy.” That would be the basis for the Roe decision eight years later, which relied on a similar constitutional stretch.

All of which provides another opportunity to point to this critical understanding of Roe as bad law and wrongly-decided law. Let’s just look at the first three ‘pro-choice scholars’ quoted here:

Laurence Tribe — Harvard Law School. Lawyer for Al Gore in 2000.
“One of the most curious things about Roe is that, behind its own verbal smokescreen, the substantive judgment on which it rests is nowhere to be found.”
“The Supreme Court, 1972 Term—Foreword: Toward a Model of Roles in the Due Process of Life and Law,” 87 Harvard Law Review 1, 7 (1973).

Ruth Bader Ginsburg — Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court
“Roe, I believe, would have been more acceptable as a judicial decision if it had not gone beyond a ruling on the extreme statute before the court. … Heavy-handed judicial intervention was difficult to justify and appears to have provoked, not resolved, conflict.”
North Carolina Law Review, 1985

Edward Lazarus — Former clerk to Harry Blackmun.
“As a matter of constitutional interpretation and judicial method, Roe borders on the indefensible. I say this as someone utterly committed to the right to choose, as someone who believes such a right has grounding elsewhere in the Constitution instead of where Roe placed it, and as someone who loved Roe’s author like a grandfather.” ….
“What, exactly, is the problem with Roe? The problem, I believe, is that it has little connection to the Constitutional right it purportedly interpreted. A constitutional right to privacy broad enough to include abortion has no meaningful foundation in constitutional text, history, or precedent – at least, it does not if those sources are fairly described and reasonably faithfully followed.”

Let’s have this debate. But let it be honest, respectful, and open to core beliefs and truths.

Catholic Charities in the presidential debate

Three days ahead of the New Hampshire primary, ABC moderated yet another debate Saturday night among the GOP candidates. Questioners asked about the economy and foreign policy. But they provoked candidates pointedly on social moral issues. In response, they got an earful.

Especially from Newt Gingrich.

He siezed the opportunity to blast the media for anti-Christian bias. Which moderators teed up with their pointed questions.

New Hampshire TV’s anchor Josh McElveen first posed the question to former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum:

“Your position on same-sex adoption, obviously, you are in favor of traditional families, but are you going to tell someone they belong in — as a ward of the state or in foster care, rather than have two parents who want them?”

Mr Santorum answered, “My — my feeling is that this is an issue that should be — I believe the issue of marriage itself is a federal issue, that we can’t have different laws with respect to marriage. We have to have one law. Marriage is, as Newt said, a foundation institution of our country, and we have to have a singular law with respect to that. We can’t have somebody married in one state and not married in another.”

“Once we — if we were successful in establishing that, then this issue becomes moot…

Speaker Gingrich, however, answered the question another way asking the media:

“I just want to raise — since we’ve spent this much time on these issues — I just want to raise a point about the news media bias. You don’t hear the opposite question asked. Should the Catholic Church be forced to close its adoption services in Massachusetts because it won’t accept gay couples, which is exactly what the state has done? Should the Catholic Church be driven out of providing charitable services in the District of Columbia because it won’t give in to secular bigotry?”

He went further:

“Should the Catholic Church find itself discriminated against by the Obama administration on key delivery of services because of the bias and the bigotry of the administration?

“The bigotry question goes both ways. And there’s a lot more anti-Christian bigotry today than there is concerning the other side. And none of it gets covered by the news media.”

Mitt Romney noted that Massachusetts Catholic Charities was out of the adoption business because of the Church’s fundamental beliefs. Rick Perry jumped in and criticized the Obama administration for stigmatizing Catholic Charities because of its principles on marriage and abortion, driving them out of important social services.

At the end of the debate, ABC moderators George Stephanopoulos and Diana Sawyer turned to a panel of pundits in their studios for analysis. She addressed one of them saying ‘You’ve spent a lot of time covering these charac….’ and then caught herself and adjusted her comments and said ‘covering these candidates’…and proceeded to ask the question.

The candidates debate again on NBC Sunday morning.