Romney's coattails, Obama's puff piece
September 21, 2012By Dick Polman
Maybe it's just mere coincidence - nah, it's not - that Republican senatorial candidates have been suffering poll erosion while Mitt Romney has seen his own numbers slide southward. This non-coincidence has become yet another source of Republican grievance.
During the summer, it appeared that a key GOP trio - Tommy Thompson in Wisconsin, Scott Brown in Massachusetts, and George Allen in Virgina - were well positioned to win their Senate races and thus give their party a fighting chance to retake the chamber. But in the past week alone, their fortunes have taken a tumble in multiple polls. Allen is now trailing ex-Democratic national chairman Tim Kaine, Brown is running second to Elizabeth Warren, and, most strikingly of all, ex-Wisconsin Gov. Thompson now finds himself far behind Tammy Baldwin, a congresswoman who is openly gay.
All three Republicans could still win, of course, but let's stick with the here and now. It's hard to escape the conclusion that Romney, one of the worst presidential candidates in modern memory, is weighing them down. Wisconsin is perhaps the best example. It seemed that Romney had a shot at winning the state; after he tapped homeboy Paul Ryan as his running mate, he was neck and neck with Obama in state polls. Concurrently, Thompson was far ahead of Baldwin. But Obama has since surged to a robust lead in Wisconsin, and, concurrently, so had Baldwin.
Take a guess who Thompson faults for his predicament.
And so begins the latest salvo from the GOP's circular firing squad.
In a Wisconsin TV interview on Wednesday, the ex-governor and ex-Bush Cabinet official minced no words while accusing his own presidential nominee of having reverse coattails: "The presidential thing is bound to have an impact on every election. If your standard bearer for the presidency is not doing well, it's going to reflect on the down ballot."
The Romney team was ticked off about that, so it fired back at its own guy. John Sununu, the ex-New Hampshire governor and ever-irascable Romney surrogate, took the airwaves yesterday and said: "My good friend Tommy Thompson sounds like Barack Obama, blaming it on somebody else." Inside the conservative bubble, there is no greater insult than likening one of their own to Barack Obama.
The fight for the Senate has predictably been overshadowed by the presidential race. The GOP needs a net gain of four seats in order to win a majority. But if Romney loses in November and the "down ballot" does the same, the intramural finger pointing will be seriously fierce. That little skirmish between Thompson and Sununu could be merely a taste of what's to come.
And speaking of the circular firing squad, we have a new participant this morning. Michael Gerson, who served as George W. Bush's chief speechwriter, is quite upset about the Romney's remarks on that fat-cat fundraising video. He calls the remarks "stupid and callous." He calls them "nonsense." Over to you, Mr. Gerson:
"Romney was appealing to a common Republican belief that the expansion of government has produced a class of citizens who live off the sweat of others, regard themselves as victims and refuse to accept responsibility....Yet a Republican ideology pitting the 'makers' against the 'takers' offers nothing. No sympathy for our fellow citizens. No insight into our social challenge. No hope of change. This approach involves a relentless reductionism. Human worth is reduced to economic production. Social problems are reduced to personal vices. Politics is reduced to class warfare on behalf of the upper class."
Class warfare on behalf of the upper class...Obama couldn't have said it better.
Speaking of Obama.
Last night, during a visit to Washington, I was talking politics with a guy and I asked him, "Hey, have you read that Michael Lewis piece about Obama in the new Vanity Fair?"
As you may already know, Michael Lewis, the celebrated author, hung out with Obama for six months and has now written a insider's opus that takes roughly 90 minutes to read - and that's without bathroom breaks.
The guy I was talking to replied, "As a matter of fact, I have."
I prompted him: "And?"
"And, actually, I didn't like it."
To which I said, "Me, either."
We agreed on why. Lewis (whose article is still worth reading) is so obsequious to Obama that you want to squeal.
For instance: "His desire to hear out junior people (in meetings) is a warm personality trait as much as a cool tactic, of a piece with his desire to play golf with White House cooks rather than with CEOs, and basketball with people who treat him as just another player on the court; to stay home and read a book rather than go to a Washington cocktail party; and to seek out, in any crowd, not the beautiful people but the old people."
There are moments when Lewis asks questions like, "Teach me how to be president." There's a moment when he asks Obama to "take me to his favorite place in the White House," which turns out to be the Truman Balcony, but once Lewis is up there, he says to Obama: "I feel a little creepy being here. Why don't I get out of your hair?"
Along the way, we learn that Obama gets six hours of sleep per night; writes with a number two pencil; watches a lot of ESPN on Air Force One; works out in the gym every morning at 7:30; wears red-white-and-blue Under Armour high-tops on the basketball court; yearns to body surf in "six or seven good waves" at a favorite Hawaii beach; and veers wildly from leisure fun to deadly deliberations (one day, he announced his March Madness tournament picks; one day earlier, he'd strategized about killing Osama bin Laden).
All told, it's an extended existential riff on what it probably feels like to occupy what Lewis calls a "deeply weird" job. And not surprisingly, Obama comes off as the wisest and most awesome dude on the face of the planet.
But what’s truly and deeply weird is the deal that Lewis had with White House. In exchange for getting all that access, he had give the White House “quote approval.” Prior to publication, in other words, he had to submit all his quotes to the powers that be, and they decided whether he could use them - or whether he should alter them, in accordance with their wishes. (Lewis insists that little was changed, although he was told to excise a few things.) Apparently, quote approval is now an endemic practice in Washington, and, frankly, as I argued today in my newspaper column, it stinks.
Maybe it’s just mere coincidence that Obama comes off so favorably in part because the White House had quote approval...nah, it’s not.
Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1