Obama got what he needed from last night’s debate.
President Obama needed to step up and dig in at Tuesday night's second presidential debate, and that’s exactly what he did, I write over at CNN. Insistent jockeying for time, his fumble of the Benghazi question, and furious Etch-a-Sketch moments on everything from Pell Grants to the Dream Act may have hurt Romney with swing voters – exactly the ones he needs to hone in on in the coming weeks.
And he just came across as a bully:
“Mitt Romney followed a great debate with a fail. His constant interruption of Candy Crowley and the president – his peevish, ‘Hall Monitor Mitt’ persona – was not just a loss in terms of style points. It was revealing in terms of character. The CNN focus group found that the intense awkward interjections alienated swing voters and women in particular. Tweets to me used words like ‘entitled’ and ‘bully.’ Bottom line, it wasn’t presidential. It was small and self-important rather than big and magnanimous. And it will cost him momentum.
“The president started the debate hot rather than warm; he seemed almost too amped up. Romney did a better job relating to the audience as individuals at first. And then the insistent jockeying for time came, and the wheels started to come off his initially steady performance.”
It was a win for Obama, and Romney might not just have lost, he might have done himself substantive damage.
Read more at CNN.
The day’s essential reads for independents and centrists.
Watch our live debate coverage on The Daily Beast with John Avlon, David Frum, Michelle Cottle, and special guests.
1. “Rules for Craftsmen,” in The New York Times
What would it take for a politician to really break through the Washington gridlock? So asks David Brooks in this insightful and timely column. Some of the suggestions seem simple (Read Robert Caro on LBJ in the Senate if you want to know why “the ability to count” lends power) but they could add up to a leader who can deliver on what he promises.
Read it at The New York Times.
2. “Against Our Debate Obsession,” in The New Republic
Word is there’s some sort of debate planned for Tuesday evening. Alec MacGillis of The New Republic argues that we could all afford to be a bit more blasé about what’s at stake in the debates, however. “Debate preoccupation is no new thing,” MacGillis writes, and we’d all do well with a dose of perspective. Perhaps taken while watching the Beast’s live debate coverage.
Read it at The New Republic.
3. “Dem Strategists See Campaign in Peril, Says Obama Must Step Up,” in the Los Angeles Times
The human rights abuses in Sudan continue—and a harrowing new video captures the attack on a Nuba Mountain village in real time.
The Satellite Sentinel Project, working with the Sudanese journalist group Nuba Reports, brought the video to an international audience this morning, providing indelible evidence of the kind that rarely exists when villages are burnt and looted. This time, though, the camera phone of one of the attackers—members of the Sudanese Central Reserve Police—captured the bloodlust. The 18-year old high school student named Niam who is captured and then tortured was subsequently interviewed on camera about his ordeal, after a $30 ransom was paid.
This is a video that cuts through all the abstractions and obfuscations. In the United States, news organizations are focused on the second presidential debate tonight—but that event should not keep this documentation of an attack in real time from reaching a wider audience. In the past, the absence of cameras meant this violence could be ignored. Now, we have evidence that demands attention and accountability.
Mitt Romney is a Rorschach test, with voters seeing what they want to see. And that, writes John Avlon, is the secret to his surge in the polls since the first presidential debate.
It’s a conundrum for conservatives—Mitt Romney couldn’t get traction while he was playing to the base with his vice-presidential selection or his convention speech. But once he broke out the big Etch A Sketch in his first debate against President Obama, Mitt started soaring in the polls.
Mitt Romney looks at the crowd after arriving at a recent rally in Asheville, N.C. (Evan Vucci / AP Photo)
Of course, the reaction is not really a mystery—it’s a tried-and-true lesson of American politics: a more centrist candidate moves swing voters into his column, while a more extreme candidate alienates them. Mitt’s gains among moderates, the middle class, and women voters since the first debate are a direct result of this self-conscious re-centering of his presidential campaign.
The problem is that it goes against conservative chapter and verse, which says that a centrist Republican candidate all but guarantees a general election loss for the GOP.
This has always been a Catch-22 for Mitt Romney.
If he loses the general election, as he seemed likely to do before his first debate performance, conservatives will say that it was because he was a moderate from Massachusetts.
If he wins, they will say it was because he campaigned as a committed conservative who checked the box on every litmus test.
But President Romney would be seen as ideologically suspect by the far right from day one. The Tea Party caucus would announce their intention to hold his feet the fire and the first likely showdown would be on whether to raise the debt ceiling, pitting the businessman against the ideologues. The evidence suggests that Mitt would overcompensate to satisfy conservatives in Congress, but maybe the Oval Office would liberate him.
The day’s essential reads for independents and centrists.
Independent Nation gives you the 6 must-reads for independents and centrists for Monday, October 15.
1. “True Progressivism,” in The Economist
It’s time for a “radical centrist politics” (Amen) that seeks to reinvigorate America like the Progressive movement did in the late 19th century. The right and left alike are stuck in default settings that produce our current “failure of ideas.” In tough times but with our values intact, Americans deserve better.
Read it at The Economist.
2. “Making Mitt: The Myth of George Romney” at BuzzFeed
The key takeaway from this 11,000-word departure from BuzzFeed’s standard digital brew of cat GIFs and political scoops? That the origin myth Mitt Romney has harkened back to of a moment his father strode boldly out of the 1964 Republican National Convention in protest of Barry Goldwater’s extremism may the product of an overheated campaign’s imagination.
Read it at BuzzFeed.
3. “Groups’ Funders Often Reported Long After Spending Has Occurred,” at the Center for Responsive Politics
Both President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney owe it to the American people and the world to be clear about their foreign policy positions.
It is time for the presidential candidates to say what they see as America’s place in the world. Few aspects of the president’s job have as large an impact on as many people as his role as commander-in-chief, and while voters can look to President Obama’s record on the foreign stage, the Romney-Ryan ticket needs to make a clear, coherent statement of its own positions in the next debate.
In my latest column for The Sunday Telegraph, I write on how so far both campaigns have danced around some of the most important international issues that will determine America’s course over the next four years:
“Like Senator Obama four years ago, Governor Romney has little foreign policy experience. At least we knew then that Obama opposed the Iraq war and wanted to ramp up drone strikes against al-Qaeda instead – and now, in regard to killing bin Laden, the phrase ‘mission accomplished’ actually applies.
“To date we haven’t been told whether Mitt Romney supports the Bush doctrine of pre-emptive unilateral intervention – a sticky subject even for conservatives these days. In 2008, Obama tried to compensate for his lack of foreign policy experience by tapping the Senate foreign relations committee chairman, Hillary Clinton, to be his VP. Romney picked the House budget committee chairman Paul Ryan, a Tea Party policy wonk with no foreign policy expertise.”
In the vice presidential debate, Paul Ryan performed a misleading tap dance around his ticket’s foreign policy positions. Romney will have to do better. He says he wants to increase America’s military spending to four percent of the gross domestic product, and while this sends a sanguine shudder up spines in the Republican base, most Americans are tired after a decade of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan and distressed by warmongering when it comes to Syria and Iran.
Read more at The Sunday Telegraph.
Joe Biden kept his foot out of his mouth and Paul Ryan in his sights during Thursday night's debate in Kentucky.
Joe Biden didn’t just meet expectations Thursday night, he completely surpassed them.
“Before the vice presidential debate, I’d thought that Paul Ryan would have the upper hand – a young smart policy wonk and great communicator paired off against an out-of-practice, aging politico with a recurring case of foot-in-mouth disease,” I write in my latest column for CNN.
“I was wrong.”
Read more of what I (along with a host of other good folks including Daily Beast contributor Paul Begala and my wife Margaret Hoover) have to say about Thursday night’s debate at CNN.
Why Loudoun County is a Must-Win for Obama and Romney
This election will be decided by swing voters in swing districts of swing states. The second installment of OutFront's election series The Final Factors took me to the key swing district of Virgina - Loudoun County. This is the heart of the new northern Virginia - fast growing, increasingly diverse and wealthy after a decade of defense spending. It voted for President Obama by 11,500 votes in 2008 - making him the first Democrat to win the Old Dominion State since LBJ. Unemployment is now 4% - half the national average. But the swing voters here are feeling the heat from the looming automatic defense cuts set to kick in next year.
"This is going to be as serious a problem to our north Virginia region as the fallout of the car industry was to Detroit," Hammler says. "It will be small businesses like ours that are going to be hit the most. Two million jobs will be lost, half of which will be from small companies. We'll be hit earliest and hardest."
Hammler blames sequestration on congressional division and dysfunction: "It's as if there are certain factions within the parties who are setting things up where because of the pressure of the next primary, because of the pressure of the election, there's no incentive for compromise and collaboration to find meaningful solutions to complex problems."
Will Biden get through the night without a gaffe, and still land a couple punches on Ryan? Or will the policy wonk prevail?
Margaret and I weigh in at CNN on what Ryan and Biden need to accomplish in tonight’s vice-presidential debate.
With Pew showing “slippage” among voters under this year, Margaret advises Biden to aim his pitch directly at them:
"Millennials understand that the spending policies of the last four decades amount to "generational theft," that debt and deficits are unsustainable.
"They understand that at the current rate, the promises that have been made about Social Security and Medicare won't be available to them when they are ready to retire -- and what's worse, they will be expected to pay for the baby boomers' party in the form of higher taxes, a more sluggish economy, or both.
"That's why Paul Ryan should look at the camera and make the case that fresh thinking can save the next generation from missing out on the economic prosperity they expect. We don't have to accept diminished economic prosperity for the next several decades."
And, of course, the 27-year age difference between the 69-year-old vice president and his 42-year-old challenger should help drive that point home.
At the other podium, Biden has the heavier lift tonight, in my opinion:
"Biden is best when talking to a union hall in Ohio or Pennsylvania, but this debate will be watched by undecided swing voters across the nation. That's the audience Biden has to reach and resonate with in an effort to shift momentum away from Team Mitt and bring passion, clarity and contrast back to the Obama campaign."
Romney’s pledge to increase military spending by 4 percent of GDP would add at least $2 trillion to federal spending over 10 years. That invalidates every specific cut he has proposed—and the math doesn’t begin to add up, says John Avlon.
In the wake of Mitt Romney’s deft first debate there’s been a lot of belated questions about whether his promises make sense in terms of, you know, math.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks at a campaign event at the Shelby County Fairgrounds in Sidney, Ohio, Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012. (Mike Munden / AP Photo)
After all, a core claim of the Romney campaign is this: “Getting our fiscal house in order has become more than just an economic issue; it’s a moral imperative.” As a Bowles-Simpson-style deficit hawk, I appreciate the sentiment about reducing the generational theft of deficits and debt. It’s the policy hypocrisy I can’t stand.
So for the moment, let’s put aside the very reasonable question about whether Mitt can simultaneously cut taxes 20 percent, and keep the cuts revenue-neutral by closing unspecified loopholes, all while progressivity in place. Let’s assume he’s a wizard, as Jon Stewart suggests and move to something even more contradictory and concrete—military spending.
This week, Mitt reiterated one of his most expensive and longstanding political panders—a commitment to increase military spending to 4 percent of GDP—adding at least $2 trillion to federal spending over 10 years.
The audacity of the etch-a-sketch meant that this specific budget-busting promise was so big that it almost went unchallenged—and certainly it hasn’t yet reached the level of mainstream, Main Street debate.
But let’s put it this way—a million dead Big Birds wouldn’t begin to compensate for this new expense. In fact, it single-handedly invalidates every specific cut he has proposed—which essentially consists of social conservative low-hanging fruit like “eliminating Title X Family Planning Funding” ($300 million), reducing foreign aid ($100 million), privatizing Amtrak ($1.6 billion) and reducing “Subsidies For the National Endowments for the Arts And Humanities, The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, And the Legal Services Corporation ($600 Million). And of course, we can’t forget the pricetag placed by the Romney campaign on the not yet fully-implemented Obamacare ($95 billion). You do the math.
Even if you believe Mitt on the magically paid for, completely painless $5 trillion tax cut, adding in this specific commitment to spend more than ever before on our military puts us on the path to further future deficits.
In Florida, Ohio, and Virginia, high-stakes Senate campaigns may tip the scales in the presidential contest, writes John Avlon.
As you nervously pour over swing-state presidential polls, don’t forget to factor in one crucial variable—the rest of the statewide ticket.
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney speaks during a campaign rally outside the Cuyahoga Falls Natatorium in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, Oct. 9, 2012. (Shannon Stapleton, Reuters / Landov)
Call it down-ticket coattails. Because President Obama and Mitt Romney are not running in a vacuum. They are going to fly with or against prevailing winds in each swing state. And if a statewide senatorial or gubernatorial candidate is riding high, it makes the hurdle the presidential candidate has to clear in a tight race that much steeper or easier, depending on the down-ticket dynamic.
Take a closer look at the three biggest swing states at stake this year: Florida, Ohio, and Virginia. All three have Senate races in play. And while the presidential polls are tightening, the Senate races are not nearly as close.
In Florida, Democrat incumbent Bill Nelson has enjoyed a steady lead over Congressman Connie Mack Jr. for months, opening an 11-point margin in the most recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, taken Oct. 3. If that lead holds, Mitt Romney would need to win at least one in eight of Nelson’s supports to split their ticket to win the Sunshine State’s 29 electoral votes.
Likewise, in Ohio, incumbent Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, has been holding off a well-funded Republican challenger, State Treasurer Josh Mandel. In the most recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, Brown leads Mandel by 9 points—meaning that Romney would need to win over at least one in 10 Brown voters to win the Buckeye State’s 18 electoral votes if the election were held today. Even with super PACs supplying 52 percent of ad spending in the state this cycle, convincing supporters of the proudly liberal Brown to vote Romney/Ryan is a trick.
Virginia offers what has been considered the most competitive Senate race in the country, pitting two former governors—Democrat Tim Kaine and Republican George Allen—against one another. For months this race had been deadlocked at about 45–45, in a war of attrition. The week after Mitt Romney’s 47 percent comments, the deadlock broke, with Kaine and Obama both gaining a brief 8-point bounce. In the wake of President Obama’s lousy first debate performance, presidential polls have tightened considerably and the Senate race will no doubt tighten up as well. But the most recent NBC/WSJ poll showed Kaine up by 5 points—and if that margin holds, it gives President Obama a cushion in Old Dominion.
Governors races can have down-ticket coattails as well. New Hampshire has long been viewed as winnable by Team Romney. The former governor of neighboring Massachusetts has a lakefront family home in the Live Free or Die State, and he easily won the Republican primary there. But state Republicans nominated a social conservative activist named Ovid LaMontagne—who’d previously lost a gubernatorial race to Jean Shaheen by 17 points and also lost a 2010 primary to the current senator, Kelly Ayotte—to succeed the popular four-term centrist Democrat Gov. Jim Lynch. In a state with a strong libertarian tradition, LaMontagne supports a constitutional ban on abortion and has promised to roll back the marriage-equality law upheld by bipartisan margins this year. His Democratic opponent, state Sen. Maggie Hassan, is leading LaMontagne by 2 points in both a WMUR and NBC/Wall Street Journal poll.
Centrists have drifted left this year, while independents have moved slightly rightward, reports John Avlon.
Mitt Romney’s debate debut of his new, centrist political persona may be no deeper than an Etch-a-Sketch drawing, but it might prove effective. After all, elections in America are won by the candidate who connects best with centrists and independents, the quintessential swing voters.
President Barack Obama greets supporters after delivering remarks at a campaign event at Kent State University, Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2012 in Kent, Ohio. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP Photo)
But in an important and little-noticed new trend, centrists and independents this year have changed from nearly identical to become two very different groups.
For months, the once and apparently future Massachusetts Moderate has been getting crushed by President Obama among self-identified centrist voters—trailing by about 20 points, 36 percent to 58 percent, according to the mid-September Pew Survey and and 39 percent to 57 percent according to a late September poll by ABC News and The Washington Post.
But self-identified independent voters—who now make up 40 percent of the electorate—have been evenly divided or edging toward Romney. So the mid-September Pew Survey showed independent voters breaking 44 percent to 42 percent for Obama, while the late-September ABC-Washington Post poll shows 49 percent to 45 percent for Romney. And all that was before the Denver debate.
In the past, independent and centrist voters have been broadly aligned (think of the two most successful independent politicos in office, Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Senator Joe Lieberman, as well as Senate candidate Angus King in Maine). Overall, independents are closer to Republicans on economic issues, closer to Democrats on social issues and they are the least religious voter cohort overall. Not incidentally, registered independents now outnumber Democrats and Republicans in five states up the northeastern seaboard, thanks in large part to the rightward drift of the national GOP over the past decade.
But now, due to the rise of the Tea Party, an increase in the number of independent conservatives have moved that cohort slightly to the right, even as centrist voters are leaning Democratic in reaction to the rightward march of Republicans in Congress. Those underlying dynamics driving swing voters in the 2012 election helps to understand why the last debate could have an outsized impact on polls, at least over the next week.
“Independents are right-leaning voters who were angry at Republicans and Bush in the past. They will punish Republicans if they are too extreme,” says former Clinton pollster and Daily Beast contributor Doug Schoen. “And a lot of moderates are Democrats who wouldn’t go as far left as Obama. But until Tuesday’s debate, they saw Romney as a right-wing extremist.”
Big surprise: Right-wing super PACs overwhelm liberal groups, according to new data released today. And that means Romney can hold on to his cash and spend big in the final weeks. John Avlon reports.
Brand new data on super-PAC spending is out courtesy of the Wesleyan Media Project, and conservative groups are still considerably outspending liberal organizations, despite an overall ad-buy advantage from the Obama campaign over the Romney campaign as the Tsunami of Sleaze rolls through our airwaves on to Election Day 2012.
TV ads by nondisclosing dark-money 501(c)(4)s are keeping up with super-PAC spending in these final weeks, with the combined totals almost matching Team Mitt’s overall ad spending.
And in several key swing-state Senate races, independent groups account for more than 50 percent of all the advertising money spent.
For example, in September the Karl Rove–backed super PAC American Crossroads and its 501(c)(4) arm Crossroads GPS spent almost $15 million in ads, compared with $19 million spent by the Romney campaign and dwarfing the $2 million spent by the Romney-affiliated super PAC Restore Our Future, which had previously raised more money than any other group this cycle.
Interestingly, Restore Our Future went from Aug. 23 to Sept. 21 without spending any money on ads, according to OpenSecrets.org. It could be argued that Karl Rove and his Crossroads Empire are basically propping up the Romney campaign at this point, where onetime Crossroads cofounder Ed Gillespie is a senior adviser.
“August was the first month in which liberal super PACs outraised conservative super PACs,” said Robert Maguire from the Center for Responsive Politics. “Coincidentally, August also saw the beginning of a nearly monthlong dry spell in ad buys on the part of Restore Our Future. Whether the two are related, no one will know until mid-October, when September's donor totals are filed with the FEC.”
Rove talks on the floor of the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa. (Glen Stubbe, Minneapolis Star Tribune / MCT / Landov)
In the general-election season overall, Crossroads GPS has outspent American Crossroads in ads by a more than 2–1 margin, $41.4 million to $17.8 million. Since GPS is nominally the “social purpose” and nonprofit arm of Rove’s empire, it doesn’t have to reveal its donors—meaning we won’t ever know who gave the $41.4 million to produce and air those dark-money ads.
The right has trotted out a ‘race’ video as a surprise tool against Obama this month, but the president has enough real-time issues that could unexpectedly damage him—from Iran to the Benghazi attack aftermath, to new unemployment figures.
October Surprise. It’s defined by Safire’s Political Dictionary as a “last minute disruption before a November election; unexpected political stunt or revelation that could affect an election’s outcome.”
America was treated to a lame attempt to manufacture just such a stunt last night with the live re-release on Hannity of a speech the president gave in 2007, promoted all day with banners at the Drudge Report and housed on the Daily Caller website.
The speech—originally broadcast on Fox on June 5, 2007—caused a minor stir at the time, commemorated in this column by Roland Martin, but it had largely been forgotten in the wake of two presidential campaigns and almost four years of actions in the White House.
Let’s be honest: It is a naked attempt to reinsert race into the election, trying to stoke the fires too many folks on the far right have been fanning since Obama first ran for president—arguing that he is not a “metrosexual black Abe Lincoln” (in the immortal words of Fred Davis’s emotionally aligned super-PAC pitch to Joe Ricketts) but a Black Panther radical in disguise who secretly hates white people and America (which is why he’s always apologizing for it). The alternative is to “let America be America again”—by any means necessary.
In the prepartisan media days, there were two traditional ways of conjuring up an October surprise.
Campaigns certainly did their bit of dirty tricks, ranging from Nixon supporter Anna Chennault’s 1968 outreach to the North Vietnamese to convince them to back away from peace talks, to the Gore campaign’s preelection weekend leak that George W. Bush had an undisclosed DUI from back in his drinking days.
External events provide the other known unknown—the kind of a foreign or domestic disaster that suddenly refocuses the mind and reframes the debate.
That is the subject of this column. Because while attempts to one-up Mother Jones’s damaging “47 percent” video are preoccupying the right, there are plenty of real-world October surprises potentially looming with a look at the news. Here are five.
The president’s recent speeches have not always lived up to his reputation for dazzling oratory. But his U.N. address exceeded expectations. John Avlon on why this was one of his best.
President Obama can be, if anything, overrated as an orator. Some of his heavily hyped speeches—such as his Charlotte convention address—fall flat or fall short.
That was not the case with his U.N. address Tuesday.
Certainly, the stakes were high—two weeks after the murder of the first American ambassador since 1979, his killers still at large, and the hope of the Arab Spring given to shadows and fog.
Against this backdrop, while world leaders met yesterday at the General Assembly, the president seemed in campaign mode—making time for the ladies of The View but not for Prime Minister Netanyahu or Egypt’s newly elected leader Mohammad Morsi. Moreover, his administration’s statements in the wake of ambassador Chris Stevens’s death have been confused and at times contradictory.
President Obama speaks at the U.N.
But President Obama’s fourth speech to the United Nation’s General Assembly rose to the occasion and to the heights to which he is capable. It was a vision and values speech grounded in the tumultuous facts on the world stage today, using the legacy of the slain Stevens as a narrative frame for the American spirit and the spirit of freedom that extends beyond borders.
Today we must reaffirm that our future will be determined by people like Chris Stevens, and not by his killers. Today we must declare that this violence and intolerance has no place among our united nations.
Barack Obama addresses the General Assembly of the United Nations on Sept. 25, 2012, in New York. (Brendan Smialowski, AFP / Getty Images)
Last week's tragic fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas, has brought the issue of government regulation back to the forefront. On Friday night's Real Time with Bill Maher, The Daily Beast's Political Director John Avlon denounces deregulation rhetoric.
The strange, opaque world of politically minded nonprofits. By John Avlon and Michael Keller.