Monday, January 30, 2012

Margin of Victory: Florida

Polls of Florida Republicans have reverted to showing a double-digit lead for Mitt Romney. Newt Gingrich's moment in the state seems to have slipped away, even as he is taking his largest lead in national polls to date. Most of the pundits have only one question left to ask: how big will Romney's margin be?

It's a completely uninteresting question, however. In the end, it doesn't matter whether Romney wins the state by 1 vote or 1 million. The state's GOP decided that it would allocate all of its delegates to the winner of the most votes in the primary. Romney will get 50 delegates from Florida as long as he wins. The margin doesn't matter. Winner takes all.

What does matter is voters' perception who watch Romney's victory speech and see the media coverage. If Romney has a good night on Tuesday and gets to make his victory speech during prime time, that's probably good news for him. Big wins usually produce a bump in polling. However, these bumps are pretty limited time-wise, and will likely dissipate before the next primary. The bump may help Romney secure a couple more delegates in Nevada, where a binding primary takes place on Saturday with 28 delegates at stake. Maine and Minnesota both have preliminary caucuses in the following week. A big win for Romney, again, might motivate his supporters in these caucuses to turn out or deflate Gingrich's supporters. A few more caucus dates are scheduled at the very end of February, but the next big action after Nevada is on March 6th.

There simply aren't enough caucuses and primaries in between Nevada on February 4th and March 6th to keep momentum going for Romney. The winner's bounce will be too short-lived to have much of an effect, Romney will be ahead by at most 50 delegates coming into Super-Tuesday, a lead that Gingrich could vaporize by winning his home state of Georgia with 50% of the vote.

I would be much more curious about polling in Arizona, Maine, Minnesota, and Washington than Florida right now.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Willard's Loophole

Mitt Romney's tax returns from the last two years show that Romney pays in taxes a fraction of what Americans with one hundredth of his income pay. Because Mr. Romney's income is largely from investments, he pays a lower tax rate than if his income came from wages. This highlighted one of the great injustices of the tax code: wealthy people pay much less in taxes than the middle class.

Obviously, this has caused a lot of handwringing among Republicans, who have fought for this unfair tax system for decades. Romney's boosters are seeking to find a way to inoculate him against the "tax issue." Jed Graham
thinks that Mitt Romney has a way out of his tax return problem. If he promises to change the tax law, maybe that would help him.
Perhaps there is a route by which Romney can propose to end the tax break as part of a deal that lowers tax rates while broadening the tax base. That would narrow the gap between taxes on regular income and investment gains, thus making favorable treatment of carried interest less meaningful.
Andrew Sullivan piles on to this idea, concluding that if " Romney were to roll out a serious tax plan, President Obama could be in trouble." is wrong that this could work for Mr. Romney politically: proposing "a serious reform tax plan" would weaken his credibility, hurt him with his base, and reduce his contrast with the President.

Any effort to gain offense against Obama on taxes will be a losing strategy. The Democrats own this issue, and they have Romney's tax accounts, off-shore trusts, and Swiss bank accounts to prove it. The President has conspicuously fought for middle class tax cuts against a congres that was only concerned with lowering the marginal rate for the the highest-earning 1% of Americans. The problem for Romney is that he has long fought for lower taxes for the rich, more loopholes, and the carried interest preferred rate in particular. He has very publicly supported lowering capital gains taxes. If he were suddenly to campaign against his tax rate, it would be a visible and haunting flip-flop. Americans so far have reacted very negatively to Romney's tax revelations. Reinforcing the narrative of Romney (popular in conservative areas, no less) as a purely expedient politician would add fuel to the fire.

This change of heart would cost Romney the enthusiasm of his base. Romney's cores supporters would not be willing to support a candidate that publicly dismissed the exceptions that make wealth self-perpetuating. The reason that they're Republicans to begin with is to lower the effective tax rate for themselves and their aspirations. If they're lining up behind Romney, they're not evangelical, they're not foreign-policy oriented; they're either self-interested or deluded-self-interested economically. Taking away the core of Romney's policy promises would eviscerate his support.

Finally, Mitt Romney needs to win in a general election against President Obama. The President has co-opted nearly every centrist position in the American political pantheon. If Romney also begins to play towards the center, it would be hard for him to make the case that he's different. Sure, "Leadership" will be his campaign theme, but the Bain attacks call into question Romney's ability to care about his subordinates, and President Obama has quite the leadership record of his own (see: Bin Laden, 1957-2011).

Of course, Romney's crack team of postmodernist advisors have devised a strategy that doesn't have these pitfalls: claim that Romney pays an astronomically high tax rate by adding the tax rate of his firm with his personal tax rate. Mathematically, it makes no sense. Anyone who gets their paychecks from a corporation can pull the same trick. Warren Buffet's secretary still would have a tax rate 20% higher than Warren Buffet or Mitt Romney. It's clear that this kind of silliness is the Romney campaign's path forward; instead of acknowledging that there is something wrong with self-perpetuating wealth being taxed at a lower rate than labor, they've decided to simply make up numbers. Mitt Romney pays 13.9% of his income to taxes, 0.1% to Social Security and Medicare. There's something troubling the American people about that, and they won't be fooled.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Flagged by Powerline

This is a record week in bipartisanship for me. First I found something admirable about Chris Christie, and now I'm agreeing with the Power Line blog: "Worst News Story of 2012?". Reuters wrote an article arguing that Marco Rubio won't 'vet' as a Vice Presidential candidate. Campaigns historically have gone through great pains to carefully pour through Vice Presidential nominees' financial, political, and personal history to find anything remotely disqualifying. In 1972, McGovern's campaign failed to fully vet Tom Eagleton before nominating him. Soon after the convention, a history of treatments for clinical depression were discovered, causing a firestorm of national media attention. The McGovern campaign asked Eagleton to withdraw.

Both parties learned the important lesson: Vice Presidential candidates can become distractions that overshadow the message of the campaign. That's the central assumption of the Reuter's piece; that the Republican party will carefully select the most qualified- or minimally, the least embarrassing- candidate to be the VP nominee.

PowerLine believes that the Reuters article was the worst news story of 2012 because there were a couple of corrections that Reuters had to issue (certainly, an embarrassment to the wire service). I think it's the worst news story of 2012 because the central assumption is ludicrous: Republicans are unconcerned with appearing to play by the rules, tell the truth, or be prepared to govern.

In 2008, the McCain campaign selected Sarah Palin as his running mate, and the Republican party is still suffering from that move. I don't see any evidence, however, that the Republican party is interested in or likely to learn from their mistakes. Marco Rubio, like Sarah Palin, would surely be a disastrous pick for Vice President. Like Sarah Palin, he would also certainly outshine the nominee.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Romney's Tax Problem

Mitt Romney has a tax problem. It's not your typical political tax scandal, which usually begins and ends with missed filing deadline, or underreported assets. The problem is that Mitt Romney pays less in taxes on each dollar than many middle-class families.
Jeanne Johnson, a political independent and owner of the Lake Alfred Barber Shop, said that when she heard the news of Romney's taxes on TV, "I thought I was going to throw up."
And that was probably before we realized that Mitt Romney's money was sheltered in foreign bank accounts. He placed money in Swiss Bank accounts and Cayman Islands trusts, banking havens known for their willingness to flout other countries' tax laws.

Also missing from Mitt Romney's tax payments is money that most Americans put into Social Security and Medicare. The average American pays over 7% of their income to support these safety net programs. Only 0.1% of Romney's income goes to support them.

What's the problem exactly? There's nothing illegal that's been proven, even if the traces of Swiss Bank accounts and Cayman Island trusts are fishy.

Work is important. Work builds not only our personal wealth, but the wealth of those we work with. America is built on hard work, innovation, and a can-do spirit. Romney's problem is that his income doesn't come from hard work. Romney believes that we should celebrate his wealth no matter where it came from. Americans know that some wealth is earned with hard work, and some wealth simply isn't.

Mitt Romney has accused everyone of envying his wealth. He believes that his 'wealth problem' is a result of populist anti-1%-ers. But he's wrong about the fundamental issue: Romney doesn't have a 'wealth' problem; he has a work problem. Last summer, Mitt Romney sat down with a group of uninsured Floridians. "Well, I'm unemployed too," he joked. Of course, he hasn't gotten a job since then, hired any workers, innovated, or done any of the things that "job creators" supposedly do. He's campaigned, and made $20 million a year while doing it. He didn't work for that money. Why should he pay less in taxes on it than someone who would have?

Mitt Romney knows there's a problem here. His tax code furthers the gap between what he would pay and what everyone else would pay. Mitt Romney paid less in taxes than he was letting on. Romney's tax rate was far lower than what a middle class earner pays, whose productivity is the highest it has ever been. Investment is productive for the economy, but Mitt Romney's not doing any actual work.

Keeping Track of the 2012 Republican Delegate Race

I whipped up a little tool to help us keep everything straight with the Republican nomination race. This spreadsheet of the Republican delegates will attempt to keep track of pledged and unpledged (or Super) delegates that have either endorsed or been awarded to candidates based on voting. You'll notice that I've gone ahead and 'awarded' Iowa delegates even though the actual delegates won't be known until June 16 as the Iowa State Convention wraps up.

This is going to be a lot of work to keep accurate, up-to-date, and clean, so please help me out. If you notice any inaccuracies, chances for an update, or if you have some questions about a judgment call, please let me know in the comments.
I focused on trying to keep a consistent description of how delegates will be split up, for instance, whether awarded proportionally across the At-Large (A-L) statewide level or within each Congressional District (CD). The contests are organized by scheduled date. Caucus events are listed separately to reflect when delegates are actually pledged to a candidate. After all, Santorum's supporters who were elected at the precinct caucuses could decide to back other candidates at the next level if he decides to drop out. The level of fluidity in the race means that even activists who have cast their lot with a campaign might become convinced that their vote could be more important tactically in support of another candidate.

Creative Commons License
Spreadsheet is licensed for use under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Liveblogging the State of the Union Address

Love that the night is ending with media simply reading twitter to audience. Social media saves these news corporations money, while also bringing down the quality of their product. It's an amazing and cynical capitulation. It also creates a weird superiority of social media over traditional media, one that the major networks is going to regret in the long run.

Who am I kidding? News networks won't regret slashing quality along with their budgets. They've done it for years. I didn't hear a single piece of interesting analysis on substance tonight from MSNBC. At least they weren't having anchors drone on over the speech like ABC. Someone is fired behind that debacle.

10:56 Romney's messaging is incredibly inconsistent. On the one hand, claiming that "These people want help. They want someone who knows how to help them," yet he attacks the idea that we should help middle class Americans if it means he would pay his fair share.

10:56 Romney appearing tonight guarantees that he'll be asked about his Swiss bank account.
10:55 Romney is seriously being questioned by Brian Williams twice in two nights. Is he politically suicidal?

10:41 Romney wants to weigh in on NBC tonight. You'd think that he would be smart enough to duck direct comparisons between himself and the President at this moment.
10:41 Mitch Daniels didn't hurt himself with that message. He would have if any media members bothered to go beyond the rhetoric, but those are the breaks, kid. Also, did he even touch on foreign policy?

10:40 You can pronounce "mature" like that, but it makes you sound like an effete fool.
10:38 Mitch Daniels will say we're friends, but he'll still work tooth and nail against any compromises or policies that might actually help struggling Americans if it means the rich have to pay their fair share.
10:36 Sadly for Mitch Daniels' rhetorical device, the President never actually placed the blame for obstructionism where it belongs. Of course, Mitch Daniels did: Congressional Republicans.
10:34 I'm concerned that Republicans never learned the meaning of "save." A sentence after pandering to seniors, Daniels is promising to fasten "a new safety net." Not much being saved there.
10:34 "Pro-growth" approach, in this case, means pro-tumors, I suppose. That's what happens when you let oil and chemicals seep into drinking water.
10:33 The problem with Republicans saying Steve Jobs is an American job creator is that he created all of those jobs in China. Has Daniels never heard of Foxconn?
10:32 For someone who has spent his life doing math really poorly, Mitch Daniel's head is shaped like a surprisingly perfect egg.
10:31 The real entitlement complex comes from Republicans assuring us that our futures will certainly be brighter than our parents' generation, regardless of us actually having to do the hard work that they did.
10:31 Tim Pawlenty?
10:30 Mitch Daniels knows something about an exploding deficit. He's the one who designed the Bush Tax Cuts that got into this hole.
10:29 Praising the Obamas' marriage is going to cause some problems for Daniels among Newt Gingrich's base.
10:29 Mitch Daniels wants to remind you that there's a football game coming up in his state.
10:21 Can we please bring back partisan seating so it's easier to discern when applause is sarcastic?
10:16 Brian Williams.

10:16 "No one built this nation alone." Take that, fictional Ayn Rand characters.
10:15 "That mission only succeded because every member of that unit..." didn't tell the Pakistani intelligence service.
10:14 DADT repeal and Bin Laden in adjacent sentences. That's about right.
10:13 We're training Afghan an Iraqi police forces with our Military, and now our Military will be encouraged to become police here. I'm not sure I like that.
10:09 Sharp: "Anyone who tells you that America is in decline..." i.e. Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich ... "Doesn't know what they're talking about."
10:09 Maybe I'm being paranoid, but all of the close-ups during the President's speech has been on Jews. And that's coming from a Jew.
10:08 Cameraman: President Obama will send Joseph Lieberman to Iran. That's a heavy threat.
10:07 Mr. President, the Republicans can't even stand for decency towards you. What makes you think they'll extend an open hand to democratically elected leaders in other countries?
10:06 That's regime change we can believe in.
10:05 Bookending with defeating al Qaeda. What did Congress have to do with that? Oh, right, absolutely nothing.
10:05 Good cut to Mitt "Our biggest priority is to make sure that Barack Obama is a one-term President" McConnell.
10:05 Definitely feeling the wrap coming here.
10:03 The largest applause line of the night is for Obama taking up the mantle of Lincoln. Of course, that's where most of the resistance will be starting tomorrow.
10:02 The President is moving into process, but he got here with strength: by making sure people listening knows that process is why Americans aren't getting results from Washington.
10:00 The President is taking steps to allude to a lot of things that network anchors are going to have to unpack for the audience. Keeps it from looking like he's throwing punches. However, the pundits are simply going to say that he was on the attack, instead of actually discussing the merits. Telegraphing the attacks isn't enough anymore because the media is too lazy to actually engage the substance of these speeches.
10:00 "The biggest threat to our economy" came from House Republicans.
9:59 Different views? A third of these people have a whole different set of facts!
9:59 It does seem like only Congressional Republicans don't know that's not right. It's too bad they're not persuaded by 'what the American people think.'
9:57 Boehner: 'That old, tired idea of having billionaires to pay their fair share?'
9:57 My mistake- the hiccup was the NBC live video feed.
9:56 Speaker Boehner just hiccuped when the President mentioned his name. Water or vodka in front of him?
9:53 So far, the President has launched three special investigative units: Trade in China, Financial Crimes, and one for better joke writers.
9:53 Back on the hunt for a watchable feed. Any suggestions?
9:52 Switched to ABCNews feed. Big mistake; an anchor just sniffled in my ear, then talked over the speech. Big Mistake, ABC News.
9:49 There's one really terrible joke from each of President Obama's State of the Union. Last year, it was Salmon, this year, milk.
9:48 Breaking news: "Never Forget" used for the first time since 2001 without pandering about the War on Terror.
9:47 Housing market doesn't have to follow the velocity of Alcoholics Anonymous.
9:45 Just read that New York Magazine article about how the President had given up on creating the ambitious projects that would ensure America's competitive advantage into the future. Guess he just gave up on this Congress doing the work.
9:44 Apparently energy costs money. Never thought about it like that. More efficient energy means a more efficient economy. It's as if you can measure efficiency across different disciplines.
9:43 Centuries of subsidies versus 40 years of social safety net programs. Which do you think has bred more dependence on Government? Hey, where are all of the conservatives going?
9:41 Good news/bad news on fracking. Good news is that you'll know what your drinking water is being polluted with, but the bad news is that there's a lot more of it coming.
9:40 We also have a supply of natural gas that could, if burned, create massive climate instability. Wait, it's the same supply? Damn.
9:39 Tepidest applause of the night: expanded oil drilling.
9:38 "Oil, just like mom used to make!"
9:38 Help us build invincible Robocops.
9:37 Not a lot of men standing up for equal pay for equal work. Who elected these congressmen? Looking at you, gerrymandered backwards districts.
9:35 The Republican solution to having our schools training kids who are going to leave the country? Keep the schools from teaching anything anyway.
9:34 President calling for state action. It's an interesting moment; doesn't happen often in the State of the Union. Can anyone think of a similar cajoling?
9:33 Lost the feed from the White House. Switching to Youtube in Google+ stream. Not doing much better. Anyone have any suggestions about streaming sites that would work?
9:30 "It is time to turn our unemployment system into a reemployment system that puts people back to work." Speechwriters not concerned about saying the U-word.
9:30 I would also support hiring people to a job that leads directly to skills.
9:29 First personal story, but given that it's been about openings and Siemens, I'm not sure I like where this is going.
9:27 "New markets like Russia." I mean, Russia's been around for a while. It's newly captured by oligarchs.
9:27 Law and Order: Special Workers Unit.
9:26 We're working the WTO refs.
9:25 "Send me these tax reforms, and I will sign them right away." Kind of naive thinking that Congress can or will do anything. Does anyone else think the President should just focus on what the Executive branch has been able to accomplish by itself in the last year?
9:22 "Companies get tax breaks for moving jobs and profits overseas. Meanwhile companies that stay in America get hit with one of the highest tax rates in the world. That makes no sense, so let's change it." Boehner's response: 'that's the same tired idea that we've been fighting tooth and nail for the last three years!"
9:21 "We bet on American workers. We bet on American ingenuity."
9:18 That's a lot of job growth that Obama has presided over in the private sector. Let's recap Obama's policies for the last three years: stimulus spending, responsible regulation, and shrinking government waste.
9:17 House of cards metaphor for the housing collapse. Too close to home?
9:16 Anyone think "Fairness" is going to be the theme of the President's reelection campaign?
9:16 "My grandmother who worked on a bomber assembly line turned out some of the best products on earth." Yeah, but try sneaking a WWII bomber under the Chrismas tree.
9:14 Newt's not going to be happy that someone else is talking about history.
9:13 "Too many of our institutions ahve let us down..." I wonder which ones he's talking about, Congress. #Suckerpunch.
9:12 Obama playing to tire the opposition by putting the applause for soldiers up front. Will really take the volume out of the intemperate GOP screaming later.
9:11 A little late on the into..
9:10 Really enjoyed the manila folder hand-off. It's a nice, cartoony touch.

9:08 White House stream seems to be having some difficulties. Overwhelmed by the clapping, perhaps.

I'm watching the Standard Broadcast- is anyone watching the augmented speech?

9:06 Behind the podium, Biden warming up his clapping muscles, Boehner warming up his distant frown.

9:04 Squirming down the aisle between government officials is as close as many of these congresspeople have gotten to "real people" in months.

9:02 Going to try something new here. Not much of a live-blogger, but things change.


My nascent blogging renaissance has focused largely on delegate counts for the Republican nomination, so I think it's important to keep this number in mind. 1,144 is a simple majority of delegates's votes needed to win the Republican nomination at the convention this summer. The candidate who wins Florida won't be able to claim a knockout punch. Even after Florida, the winner will still have less than 7% of the delegates he'll need to win the nomination.

NB: Romney can count Huntsman's 2 delegates, effectively giving him 9 from New Hampshire on top of his 6 in Iowa. That's 15 to Gingrich's 29. As an interesting note, if we're only interested in delegates that are pledged via some sort of democratic process (either Primary or Caucuses), and we don't count super-delegates, the soonest that a candidate can amass the 1,144 delegate simple majority is on April 3rd. In order to pull that off (without help from superdelegate endorsements), a candidate would have to win every single delegate between now and then.

Florida has a 50 Delegate Pot

The Florida primary is winner-take-all 50 delegates next Tuesday. That's a pretty large pot, even after being sanctioned for moving to an early date on the calendar and losing 50% of its delegates in the process. Florida has more delegates at stake than South Carolina and Iowa combined.

Also, a brief update on South Carolina while we're talking about delegate numbers: Mitt Romney did score two delegates from the Palmetto state with Gingrich taking the 23 others.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

How Bad will the Budget Be?

The administration is making big policy for its base this week with the Keystone XL pipeline and the requirement that insurance companies cover birth control medications without a copay. At the same time, the administration is going around telling stakeholders and advocacy groups that they are going to hate the budget.

So how bad will the budget be? It has to stay within very strict topline contraints that were signed into law last year. Since medicaid, food assistance, and almost all other safety net programs cost more to fund during periods of high unemployment, the mandatory spending is going to cut into discretionary spending. The President's budget proposal is going to be the subject of sore disappointment.

Not that it really matters. Liberals wouldn't get anything better of an ideal budget that truly reflected American values, invested in the country's future, and put a little more life into an economic recovery. No matter what the President asks for, Republicans are still in control of the House.

We are seeing, however, that the President was serious when he said he would accomplish as much as he can by executive action alone. He has shied away from go-it-alone maneuvers, especially frustrating his base with the slow pace of legislating an end to Don't Ask Don't Tell. Now that the Congress is openly forcing him to act unilaterally (see: Keystone XL), the administration appears confident about their ability to do so.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

One Reason to Like Chris Christie

He actually manages to speak in complete thoughts on drug abuse and addiction policy. Maybe he should be the Republican candidate if the race goes to a brokered convention. He's not as bad as Romney or Gingrich.

Gingrich Sweeps South Carolina Delegates

I'm taking this on faith from Cook's Dave Wasserman, calls the SC-01 for Gingrich. Gingrich wins the state with about 40% of the vote and every one of its congressional districts for a total of 25 delegates. Gingrich now leads the delegate race for the Republican nomination.

As it stands (and remember, this is a rough estimate still), Gingrich has 32 delegates to Romney's 15 and Paul's 9. Santorum also has 6 delegates.

Delegate Math in the Republican 2012 Race

It seems like there's not going to be a knock-out punch Mr. Inevitable in the Republican race, so it's time to switch the focus from intangibles to the real machinery behind the nomination process: delegate counts.

There is no inevitable candidate, as much as the Romney campaign has sought to build the inevitability myth around Willard Romney's operation. Santorum won Iowa, Romney won New Hampshire, and it looks like Gingrich is cruising into a strong win in South Carolina tonight. Most importantly, Florida will be voting in ten days, and while Romney has a large lead in the Sunshine State, Gingrich could conceivably earn a huge bump from a South Carolina win. Early voting in Florida started today; votes will be locked in over the next week. While that should favor Romney's better-organized campaign, a strong bump for Gingrich might push undecideds to jump into the voting booth early for him. We'll see. This is all speculative, and assumes a big Gingrich win tonight.

No knock-out punch could mean a long slog for delegates.