On Friday, barring a last-minute deal between Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and GOP lawmakers, the Minnesota state government will officially go into shutdown mode. Portions of interstate highways will close. So will state parks, rest areas, DMVs, and the Minnesota Zoo (the animals will still be fed, per a judge's order).
The immediate source of the impasse centers on how to close the state's $6.2 billion budget deficit—the fourth largest in the nation, as a percentage of the overall budget. In many ways, it's a microcosm of the larger debate that's playing out in Washington, DC, with a wrinkle: The man who helped put the state into this mess is now running for president.
Over at the Plum Line, Jonathan Bernstein takes the media to task for spending so much time focusing on Michele Bachmann's embarrassing slip-up on Monday, in which she confused American icon and Iowa native John Wayne with serial-killing clown and Iowa native John Wayne Gacy. He's also irked that ABC's George Stephanopolous wasted precious time grilling Bachmann about her assertion that the Founding Fathers worked to end slavery:
So what counts as a "gaffe" in the eyes of the press corps?
We're getting an excellent lesson in it this week, with the formal rollout of the Michele Bachmann presidential candidacy. Bachmann is taking heat for what seems to me to be a relatively minor mistake in Americana and for a misstatement of early American history.
You know what's not getting nearly the same treatment? Bachmann has been going around for some time now, including on her Sunday TV appearances, spouting absolute nonsense about the debt ceiling. She's claiming that somehow it would be no big deal if the limit wasn't raised.
That's a fair point (and, ahem, here's our coverage of the debt ceiling fight). But I'd expand that much, much further to cover a whole range of other issues that inevitably get buried once the campaign kicks into gear. The relevant point, after all, really isn't that Bachmann says crazy things; it's that she believes those things, and that those ideas are a fundamental part of her political ideology. For instance, as Bachmann noted in her kickoff speech, she launched her political career by opposing Minnesota's state curriculum standards. What was the nature of her opposition? She and her allies argued that the standards were part of a United Nations plot to acclimate children to a pantheistic, pro-abortion, Soviet-style, one-world state—and George H.W. Bush was in on it! Given the current heated debate over education reform, that seems like a pretty ripe topic to bring up in an interview. Certainly more so than the debate over slavery, which has been dormant for a while.
Bachmann's detractors, particularly in Minnesota, tend to believe that her rise has been aided by the failure of mainstream news organizations to look critically at her political views and associations. Her supporters, meanwhile, suggest that she's a victim of the sloppy tendency to focus on trivial verbal slip-ups rather than substantive issues. Two weeks into her presidential campaign, at least one thing is clear: They're both right.
Is Republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty secretly pro-choice? That's what a long-time acquaintance maintained today in an MinnPost op-ed. Shawn Lawrence Otto, a Hollywood filmmaker, writes that in the late 1990s he was considering a run for public office and Pawlenty, an occasional golfing buddy, sat him down to offer some friendly advice—and that's when the truth spilled out:
[Pawlenty's] first question was, "What's your position on choice?" I hadn't ever been asked the question quite so pointedly. "You've got to take a stand on that first," he said. "Well," I said, "OK. I don't like abortion; I think it's a really tough personal decision, but not something the government should be getting into one way or the other, so I guess I'm pro-choice."
He looked at me over his lunch and said, "Well personally, so am I, but here's the thing. You've got to find a way to get your mind around the language of saying 'pro-life.' It's in how you phrase it."
That's a sharp contrast to Pawlenty's current rhetoric. Pawlenty has taken a strong stance on the campaign trail against abortion rights, raising money for pro-life groups and suggesting, through a spokesman, that doctors who perform abortions ought to face criminal penalties. And when he was governor of Minnesota, Pawlenty pushed for and signed a controversial 2003 law mandating a 24-hour waiting period for women seeking abortions. Last April, he issued a proclamation declaring a statewide "Abortion Recovery Month," to raise "awareness of the aftermath of abortion experienced by individuals and families."
But for Pawlenty, who is lagging in the polls in Iowa and struggling to shed a reputation as dull, the accusation that he's flip-flopped on abortion—or been covertly pro-choice all along—could place another road block on his already difficult path to the GOP nomination. It would also, crucially, undermine one of the key distinctions between Pawlenty and front-runner Mitt Romney, who supported abortion rights during his 2002 Massachusetts gubernatorial campaign and has struggled to convince socially conservative voters he's one of them.
Romney's about-face on abortion (which paralleled reversals on gay rights and gun rights) has long caused social conservatives to be suspicious of his commitment to their causes, and in recent weeks he has received a poke or two from the right for not being a reliable abortion foe. (New-to-the-field contender Rep. Michele Bachmann, for one, has questioned Romney's anti-abortion credentials.)
Will Otto's article lead to similar problems for Pawlenty? Or will this be just a he-said/he-said matter that T-Paw can essentially ignore? Mother Jones contacted Pawlenty's campaign to ask for a response to Otto's piece. So far, there's no reaction.
One day after being grilled by Fox News' Chris Wallace about whether she was really a serious presidential candidate, the Minnesota congresswoman formally kicked off her 2012 campaign for the GOP nomination in Waterloo Monday morning with a fiery address that should put to rest the idea that she is anything less than a bona fide contender. She also once again signaled there is a new Bachmann, one who no longer harps on divisive social issues—at least not in public.
"My voice is part of a movement to take back our country, and now I want to take that voice to the White House," she said. "It is the voice of constitutional conservatives who want our government to do its job and not ours and who want our government to live within its means and not our children's and grandchildren's."
Every presidential candidate talks about the importance of "independent" voters. But in an interview with Kasie Hunt, former ambassador to China Jon Huntsman takes it a step further:
In an interview with POLITICO, Huntsman made clear that he plans to capitalize on election rules in New Hampshire and South Carolina that allow independent voters to cast ballots in the GOP presidential primary.
"These are wide open primaries, we forget that," Huntsman said, predicting an independent turnout in New Hampshire as high as 40 percent. "[I] think, given the fluidity of the race in these early states, that we stand a pretty good chance, and we're putting that to the test."
The former Utah governor's strategy is an attempt to make a virtue out of necessity. His moderate positions on the environment, immigration and civil unions —and his time as Barack Obama's ambassador to China—are formidable obstacles to victory in a party where the energy is concentrated in the conservative core.
By Huntsman's own admission, his party's shift to the right has left him considerably out of step with the conservative base—a problem that's been reinforced by a string of polls, which show him bringing up the rear. So what's a professed Obama admirer and former moderate Republican governor to do? Nate Silver, riffing off of Huntsman's new anti-war push, tweets an unlikely scenario: "Independents want quick withdraw from Afghanistan too. Does the possibility of running as an independent enter into Huntsman's calculus?"