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Media’s Yawning Deficit Gap

The culture war is news, our economic future not so much.

For all the talk about contraception, JFK, snobs, empty stadiums, and the number of Cadillacs per family, we seem to be missing one very important facet of the presidential campaign.

Would any of the Republican candidates really bring down the budget deficits that they keep decrying?

The answer appears to be no, but most of the media are not exactly focused on the subject. The deficit is too abstract, too dull, to compete with the culture war (Rush called a law student a “slut” for advocating contraception?) that now seems to dominate the 2012 race.

Floyd Norris, the veteran economics columnist for The New York Times, cites a study on Friday on the wide range of taxes that Rick Santorum is promising to slash, including  the marriage penalty:

The Demise of Moderation

Olympia Snowe is the latest to throw up her hands in disgust.

One by one they are leaving the public stage, complaining about a dysfunctional system. The moderates are having a meltdown.

Olympia Snowe, the Maine Republican who announced her retirement from the Senate this week, is only the latest to throw in the towel. There were also Nebraska’s Ben Nelson, Virginia’s Jim Webb, North Dakota’s Kent Conrad and Connecticut’s Joe Lieberman—people who don’t believe that making deals with the other party is an indictable offense.

Snowe, one of a vanishing breed of New England moderates, said she is bailing because she does “not realistically expect the partisanship of recent years in the Senate to change over the short term.” And who could argue with that?

The twin trends of polarization and redistricting have combined to produce a Congress largely populated by liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans. Both parties engage in fierce partisanship, using the filibuster weapon, for instance, against the White House of the other party. Though it must be said that the Tea Party lawmakers have set new records for intransigence, pushing the country to the brink of default in the budget showdown last summer, even against the urging of their own GOP leaders. That’s why President Obama has largely abandoned the consensus-building approach of his first three years.

David Brooks seems on the verge of divorcing the Republican Party.

The New York Times columnist has always been a moderate conservative and not a GOP loyalist, so this is hardly a spit-out-the-coffee moment. But in Tuesday’s column he calls out the party’s grownups for rolling over for extremist elements that Brooks believes could hand the election to Barack Obama.

Most journalists accept the basic assumption that it's OK—admirable, even—for a politician to bob and weave to accommodate an ideological movement for purposes of getting safely reelected. But why should we buy into such shape-shifting? Brooks points to Orrin Hatch and Richard Lugar as two perfectly conservative party war horses who have lurched further right to save their seats.

Viewed from a 2012 perspective, some in the GOP—Joe Scarborough has been particularly vocal in recent days—have been lamenting how their party came to be debating birth control, the usefulness of college, and JFK's 1960 religion speech. The overriding issue that should make this a banner Republican year, the economy, has been all but eclipsed.

In arguing that "the wingers have all but trashed the party's reputation,”  Brooks says: “But where have these party leaders been over the last five years, when all the forces that distort the GOP were metastasizing? Where were they during the rise of Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck? Where were they when Arizona passed its beyond-the-fringe immigration law? Where were they in the summer of 2011 when House Republicans rejected even the possibility of budget compromise? They were lying low, hoping the unpleasantness would pass.”

PREEMPTIVE STRIKE

Palin Posse Pans ‘Game Change’

A preemptive strike on the HBO film before it even airs.

Sarah Palin has exploded into the news again, thanks to Julianne Moore.

game-change-tease

The debate about Game Change, with the ex-governor portrayed by the redheaded actress, is heating up even though the HBO film doesn’t air until early next month.

Palin’s posse is upset about what looks to be a harsh portrayal of the Fox News commentator, and the role of Steve Schmidt, the former McCain campaign strategist who clashed early and often with Palin and is portrayed by Woody Harrelson.

HISTORY

Mitt's Mom, Political Loser

Richard Nixon and Her Long-Ago Senate Race

Reams have been written about Mitt Romney following in the footsteps of his father, George, a former governor who ran for president. But his mother, Lenore, also had a brief and spectacularly unsuccessful political career—thanks in part to Richard Nixon.

Lenore Romney, a onetime actress, ran for a Senate seat in Michigan in 1970, taking on incumbent Democrat Phil Hart, a high-profile critic of the Nixon administration. Romney, then 61, argued that “never has the voice and understanding of a concerned woman been so needed.” She strongly backed abortion rights and the Equal Rights Amendment.

“Republicans had hoped to oust Hart by using George Romney’s demonstrated charisma to catapult Mrs. Romney into office,” the AP reported. Instead, she was crushed.

Her candidacy was something of a historical accident. After the 1968 election, Nixon had appointed his old campaign foe, George Romney, the Michigan governor, as his secretary of Housing and Urban Development. “Nixon needed a few moderate Republicans to balance the Cabinet,” wrote John Ehrlichman, a former top aide who was later imprisoned for Watergate crimes. “What better revenge than to put Romney into a meaningless department, never to be noticed again.” (The passage is cited in the new book The Real Romney.)

He claims liberal pressure as the network drops him after a decade.

To hear Pat Buchanan tell it, he was booted off MSNBC because of a vast left-wing conspiracy.

The reality is a bit more mundane: The network moved sharply left, Buchanan’s boss felt uncomfortable with him, and he was road kill.

In announcing his departure Thursday after being off the air for months, the former GOP presidential candidate said he is leaving “after an incessant clamor from the left that to permit me continued access to the microphones of MSNBC would be an outrage against decency, and dangerous.”

He adds: “I know these blacklisters. They operate behind closed doors, with phone calls, mailed threats, and off-the-record meetings. They work in the dark because, as Al Smith said, nothing un-American can live in the sunlight.”

Mitt Romney's Car Wreck

The son of an auto executive has some explaining to do in Michigan.

Mitt Romney, son of Michigan, is trying to speed away from a car wreck of an issue.

So far, it’s not working.

With the Michigan primary coming up on Feb. 28, Romney was thought to be the favorite in a state where his father was not just governor but a top auto executive. But there’s this teensy problem of a New York Times op-ed piece that Mitt wrote in 2008 after Barack Obama was elected, headlined: “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.”

Not the most popular stance to have to defend these days, especially since the Obama administration revived the American car industry with a bailout package that was, like all federal rescues, controversial at the time.

Roland Martin’s hardly the only one to tweet his way into trouble.

In case you haven’t noticed, Twitter can be dangerous to your professional health.

As someone who spends a lot of time trying to inform and entertain my followers, I’m well aware that there’s a line that professional journalists shouldn’t cross. The problem is it often seems invisible.

Roland Martin, as you probably know, got zapped for a couple of errant tweets during the Super Bowl. CNN suspended the liberal radio talker as a contributor for “regrettable and offensive” remarks after gay groups complained that his jokes were homophobic. (He declared, for instance, that any man pumped up about David Beckham’s H&M underwear ad should be smacked.) Martin has apologized, saying he meant no offense, and met with the GLAAD organization on Tuesday.

But what should the standard be? Another CNN contributor, Dana Loesch, recently said that she too would have urinated on those dead Taliban soldiers. There was a bit of an outcry, but nothing happened to her.

The latest GOP hearthrob and the volatility of polling.

What explains Rick Santorum’s sudden surge in the polls?

Yes, I know he won Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri last week, stunning the pundits (who had all but written him off) and revitalizing his candidacy. But still, the numbers are amazing.

Here’s a Pew Research poll that has Santorum edging Mitt Romney, 30 to 28 percent, with Newt at 17.

A Public Policy Polling survey has Santorum rocketing to a 38-23 drubbing of Romney—and a 39-24 lead in Mitt’s kinda-sorta home state of Michigan, where his father was governor.

John Brabender knows 2012 success is fleeting.

As Rick Santorum’s chief strategist, you might think John Brabender would be feeling pretty smart for reviving his man’s candidacy.

But, he said in an interview here at the CPAC conference, “we’re not that brilliant.” Working for a candidate who recently was way back in the pack, “We’re not giddy by any means.”He knows full well that a hot GOP candidate can quickly turn icy in 2012.

Brabender allowed that “there’s an excitement we didn’t anticipate” after the former senator swept Minnesota, Missouri and Colorado on Tuesday, while admitting he had no idea they would win the caucuses in Colorado. “There is obviously a Romney excitement gap,” Brabender said. And he noted that a new poll has Santorum up by 7 points in Tennessee, seemingly out of nowhere.

But Santorum’s consultant refused to pick a fight with Gingrich, even though Newt and Rick are splitting the anti-Romney vote. “I do think Newt is extremely committed to the conservative cause and will do what he thinks is helpful to the conservative cause. He and Rick are very good friends.” The former senator, he told me, thinks “you do not ask someone to get out of the race” because that decision is so “personal.”

Foster Freiss’ checkbook raises an issue for the Daily Caller.

Foster Friess, the man helping bankroll Rick Santorum’s Super PAC, was right behind him on the stage Tuesday night as the former senator basked in the glow of having won Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado.

Friess also has another sideline: funding the Daily Caller.

The Wyoming mutual-fund executive helped conservative commentator Tucker Carlson launch the political website in 2010 with a $3-million investment, and has since funneled more cash to the Caller in a second round of financing.

Does that create a problem for the Caller, whose lead story on Wednesday featured a picture of a beaming Santorum under the headline “Tuesday Treble”?

The politics of a non-endorsement.

What does Sarah Palin want?

I would say three things at this point.

To back Newt Gingrich without formally endorsing him.

To reclaim her spot as a conservative force in the Republican Party.

With Andrea Mitchell taking the lead.

It was a classic exercise in raw media power.

In just 72 hours, the pressure of the press forced the Susan G. Komen Foundation to abandon its plans to cut off funding for Planned Parenthood, apologize for its conduct and seek forgiveness.

The conventional narrative is that Komen’s supporters rose up in unison, but it was the big news organizations that turned up the heat until the breast cancer organization had no choice but to melt. The original eruption occurred on Facebook and Twitter, but it was the mainstream media that provided the megaphone.

Komen executives handled the situation horribly, with shifting explanations to cover for the agenda of the woman who led the effort to defund Planned Parenthood, a former pro-life candidate for Georgia governor named Karen Handel. It was a PR debacle, badly handled.

matt drudge

Drudge's Anti-Newt Assault

There's no subtlety in the online avalanche against Gingrich

Matt Drudge, who’s been a monster traffic-driver since the Clinton-Lewinsky era, has never hidden his conservative leanings.

While he’s open to hot stories of all kinds, Drudge seems to take a special glee in linking to stories that boost Republicans or embarrass Democrats.

But now, in the midst of a hard-fought GOP primary, Drudge is going all out against Newt.

On Thursday, the Drudge Report featured an explosion of headlines raining mud down on Gingrich, which of course helps Mitt Romney.

The screamer: “INSIDER: GINGRICH REPEATEDLY INSULTED REAGAN.” (So says Elliott Abrams in National Review.)

Then there’s “Dole Assails Gingrich in plea to conservatives. (Indeed, Bob Dole says many of Newt’s ideas were “off the wall” and that his nomination would produce an Obama “landslide.” It’s clear the ex-senator is still steamed about Newt screwing up his 1996 campaign, when Bill Clinton’s ads constantly attacked the Gingrich-Dole Republicans.)

The avalanche continues with “CNN: Gingrich admits his ABC claim was false during debate.” (Which, by the way, I reported last week, when Gingrich’s spokesman said there was nothing to back up Newt’s charge that ABC News refused to interview surrogates—other than his daughters—to challenge the “open marriage” claim by his ex-wife Marianne. Which is why I was surprised that Gingrich doubled down by repeating the charge on John King’s show. Yes, he apparently still talks to John King.)

And just for good measure: “FL Poll: Romney stronger than Gingrich in general election vs. Obama.”

Now you might say that this is another sign that the conservative establishment is joining forces against Gingrich. After all, Ann Coulter, a Drudge pal, just dropped a pro-Romney column titled “Reelect Obama: Vote Newt!”

But Drudge, a quirky crusader who lives in Florida, has never been part of any establishment. He must have concluded that Gingrich would be a disaster as the Republican nominee. And he’s using his considerable firepower to make sure that doesn’t happen.

NEWT GINGRICH

Newt Mocks 'Desperate' Mitt

Kicks off Florida attack by slicing rival's 'baloney'

Newt Gingrich has moved to the mockery portion of the program.

Campaigning outside an evangelical church in Tampa, he said Monday that Mitt Romney had moved from dishing out “pious baloney” to “desperate baloney”—enough, he said, to “open a delicatessen.”

This is the sort of back-of-the-hand campaigning that comes easily to the former House speaker but is more labored for Romney. Of course, it’s easy to be loose when you’ve just won the South Carolina primary and one poll is showing you jumping into the lead here in Florida.

Wearing a suit, white shirt and red tie despite the hot sun, Gingrich wasted little time unloading on his chief Republican rival, explaining to a crowd of under 200 that he’d heard Romney was saying “unkind things” about him. Mitt has taken to calling Gingrich a failed leader who was forced from power by his own GOP colleagues. “If you’ve been campaigning for six years and you begin to see it slip away, you get desperate. And when you get desperate, you’ll say anything.”

Newt is so keen to identify himself with Ronald Reagan that he told the crowd he’d been practicing the line “there you go again” for Monday’s NBC debate.

The rest of the talk featured Gingrich’s greatest hits—Obama as a Saul Alinsky radical, promising to repeal Obamacare, saying it’s similar to Romneycare—and a new line about how the president is “driving Canada into a partnership with China” by temporarily rejecting the Keystone pipeline from our neighbor to the north.

A sign of the times: the loudspeaker played How You Like Me Now by a group called The Heavy.

About the Author

Author headshot

Howard Kurtz

Howard Kurtz is The Daily Beast and Newsweek’s Washington bureau chief, and writes the Spin Cycle blog. He also hosts CNN’s weekly media program Reliable Sources on Sundays at 11 a.m. ET. The longtime media reporter and columnist for The Washington Post, Kurtz is the author of five books.

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