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Political Strategy Notes

A crack in the obstructionist front? Felicia Sonmez's "Payroll tax cut compromise further divides GOP" at the Post has a good report on the underlying politics behind the Reid-McConnell bipartisan compromise. Sonmez quotes House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD): "We are witnessing the concluding convulsion of confrontation and obstruction in the most unproductive, tea-party-dominated, partisan session of the Congresses in which I have participated."

Brendan Nyhan takes some reporters to the woodshed in his Columbia Journalism Review post "When Newt Isn't Newsworthy:The problems with news pegs in campaign coverage." Says Nyhan: "Unfortunately, reporters' dependence on news pegs means that they end up substituting opposing campaigns' judgments about what issues are important for their own, particularly when it comes to a well-known political figure like Gingrich...Reporters: John H. Sununu should not be your assignment editor!"

Barbara A. Perry, Senior Fellow in Presidential Oral History at the University of Virginia's Miller Center, addresses the possible political fallout of major decision facing the High Court's upcoming session, in "The Supremes v. Obamacare: Will the Court Decide the 2012 Presidential Election?" at Larry J. Sabato's Crystal Ball. "If the court upholds the entire act, Obama will emerge bruised but victorious from the judicial battle. On the campaign trail, he could then emphasize his efficacy in implementing a key pledge from 2008. The court's complete invalidation of the law, on the other hand, would deal the president a severe blow...A loss on health care could also prompt Obama to make Supreme Court appointments a campaign issue..."

The polls are all over the place about Newt and Romney, but it's good to see the President's approval ratings have reached a high since summer, according to a new ABC/WaPo poll conducted 12/15-18 reported by By Peter Wallsten and Jon Cohen in the Washington Post. Speculation, some of it supported by data, credits his new populist message, a lackluster GOP presidential field, congressional Republicans' obstructionism and a slight improvement in economic trends. It's just a hunch, but I'm thinking general likability -- in stark contrast to his adversaries -- may be worth a few points.

Of the 11 Governorships up next year (not yet including the Wisconsin recall effort) "in a decidedly light gubernatorial year", Crystal Ball wizards Larry J. Sabato, Kyle Kondik and Geoffrey Skelley rate 5 safe, likely or lean Republican, 2 as toss-ups and 4 as safe, likely or lean Democratic. The authors provide one-paragraph analyses for each race.

Paul Begala has a fun post up at the Daily Beast, "The GOP Candidates Read Wacky Books." Mitch likes such enlightening tomes as Bush, Jr.'s "Decision Points" and L. Ron Hubbard's "Battlefield Earth,' while Newt cozies up with "military texts like Sun Tzu to Buzz Lightyear-style future-babble from Alvin Toffler." Then there is Michelle Bachman who "cited J. Steven Wilkins's Call of Duty: The Sterling Nobility of Robert E. Lee...Ryan Lizza of The New Yorker tells us that "Wilkins is the leading proponent of the theory that the South was an orthodox Christian nation unjustly attacked by the godless North." Perry digs the Glenn Beck-recommended "The Five Thousand Year Leap: 28 Great Ideas That Changed the World" by W. Cleon Skousen, a John Bircher who has reportedly been called "an All-around nutjob" by Mark Hemingway of the National Review.

At last, a decent MSM report focusing on Ron Paul's racist newsletter, "New Focus on Incendiary Words in Paul's Newsletters" by Jim Rutenberg and Richard A. Oppel, Jr. in the New York Times. Still we wait for an interviewer to ask Paul point blank, "Mr. Paul, are you opposed to racial discrimination against African Americans?"

Looks like the GOP establishment is getting nervous about Ron Paul, as well as Newt. National Review senior editor Ramesh Ponnuru reports at Bloomberg on another worrisome indicator of Paul's racial views: "In 2004, the House voted 414-1 for a resolution celebrating the 40th anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Paul not only voted no but gave a speech arguing that the act should never have been enacted. Employers who wish to discriminate against blacks, in his view, should be free to do so. A federal government that claims the power to override their decisions, he said, could also impose racial quotas. "Relations between the races have improved despite, not because of, the 1964 Civil Rights Act."

We don't expect our politicians to be saints. But Carl Gershman's moving WaPo tribute, "Vaclav Havel's legacy to humanity" raises a question: Why can't we have politicians like this?

Charles Babington has an AP article focused on Romney's considerable vulnerabilities on the issue of jobs, spotlighting his profiteering from mass layoffs when he was at Bain capital, as well as his weak jobs record as Mass Governor. "Romney's record is a target-rich environment, since he threw people out of jobs to make a lot of money," said Doug Hattaway, a Democratic strategist. "Gingrich is harder to paint as a job-destroyer."...When Romney was endorsed by Delaware tea party activist Christine O'Donnell -- she once declared "I'm not a witch" in a Senate race ad -- Obama strategist David Axelrod jumped in. "If Christine O'Donnell really wants to help Mitt, maybe she can cast a spell and make his MA and Bain records disappear," Axelrod said via Twitter."