Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Onward Thru The Fog: Settling For A Mediocrity & Other Tales From The Crypt

And so we come -- perhaps inevitably -- to the moment in the battle for the Republican presidential nomination when party elders begin to suggest that settling for less than the best isn't so bad if the guy can somehow beat President Obama.

This pearl of wisdom comes from Grover Norquist, one of the key players in the marginalization of the GOP as a national force. Speaking last weekend at the annual CPAC sitdown in Washington, D.C., the head of the Americans for Tax Reform advocacy group all but called Mitt Romney, the presumptive nominee even after on-again, off-again thrashings by Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, a weak and passive mediocrity.

"All we have to do is replace Obama," Norquist said. "We are not auditioning for fearless leader. We don't need a president to tell us in what direction to go. We know what direction to go. We want the Ryan budget. . . . We just need a president to sign this stuff. We don't need someone to think it up or design it. The leadership now for the modern conservative movement for the next 20 years will be coming out of the House and the Senate."

Wait, it gets worse.

"Pick a Republican with enough working digits to handle a pen to become president of the United States.," Norquist continued. "This is a change for Republicans: the House and Senate doing the work with the president signing bills. His job is to be captain of the team, to sign the legislation that has already been prepared."

How sad. How very sad.

Meanwhile, approval ratings for the man who occupies the Oval Office -- no mediocrity he -- are back in positive territory while congressional Republicans double down on the dumb.

The Talking Points Memo Poll Average has Barack Obama at slightly over 50 percent while recent approval polls for Congress and Republicans in particular hover around 10 percent. Obama's bump is a result of two months of decent economic numbers as well as a completed Iraq troop withdrawal and accelerated Afghanistan troop withdrawal.

Even with Mitt Romney's ill-advised remarks that Detroit automakers should be allowed to fail, he was once a prohibitive favorite to win the Michigan primary on February 28 because he is, after all, a native of the state and his father was an extremely popular governor, but one poll now shows Rick Santorum leading him by a 15 percentage point margin.

More amazingly, Santorum leads Romney by a 40-21 percentage point margin among Democrats and independents who say they plan to vote in the state's open primary.

Slate's Dave Weigel finds this jaw dropping:

"What a difference a Republican primary makes! Now, Santorum is the de facto blue collar candidate (please pay no attention to his policies) running against a guy who gets the vapors when he fires people, an entertainingly pretentious figure from the 1990s Republican era, and Ron Paul. So of course he's the guy who appeals to moderates."

Nationally, a New York Times/CBS News poll released this morning shows Rick Santorum surging among Republican primary voters nationwide in large part because of support for him among conservatives, evangelical Christians and Tea Party supporters.

Some 30 percent of Republican primary voters say they support Santorum compared with 27 percent for Mitt Romney, and while Santorum’s lead is essentially a tie with Romney because it is within the margin of sampling error, it reflects a significant jump for him from earlier polls.

The two other major candidates are trailing badly with Ron Paul at 12 percent and Newt Gingrich at 10 percent.

Meanwhile, a Pew poll released Monday shows that those all-important independents are abandoning Romney and some are flocking to Barack Obama.

A month ago, 40 percent of independents said they would back Obama over Romney, while 51 percent now say they would support Obama with Romney slipping from 50 percent to 42 percent.

Politico has identified the five most vulnerable House incumbents, and it should be no surprise that four of the five are Republicans. Yes, 15 months after the GOP recaptured the House, it is scrambling to retain these seats and others as well.

The four most vulnerable Republicans aare: Spencer Bachus of Alabama, Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania, Fred Upton of Michigan, and Paul Gosar of Arizona. The most vulnerable Democrat is Edolphus Towns of New York.

Candidates have been distancing themselves from what they might have once said or written since forever, and Rick Santorum is no exception.

Santorum wrote in his 2005 book, It Takes a Family, that "radical feminists" are to be disparaged for giving women the idea that they might find greater fulfillment outside the home, but when confronted on that snippet on the ABC News show "This Week," he replied, "That's a new quote to me."

Which prompted New York Times op-ed columnist Frank Bruni to opine:

"To understand voters’ bottomless cynicism, look no farther than politicians’ boundless revisionism. Republicans have no monopoly on it, but they occupy center stage at the moment, shedding culpability for past deeds even as they ask us — as leaders do and should — to take responsibility for our own."

Photograph by Nicholas Kamm/Getty Images

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