Apparently unsatisfied with the current crop of GOP presidential hopefuls, some big names on the right have been pushing Jeb Bush, former Florida governor and younger brother to George W., to launch a 2012 bid for the White House. But according to a new Fox News poll (PDF), Bush would get crushed by President Barack Obama in a 2012 presidential match-up.

Fox's bipartisan pollsters found that Obama would defeat Jeb Bush by a whopping 20-point margin, 54 percent to 34 percent. That's a healthy gain for Obama since last September, when the same pollsters put Obama ahead 45 percent to 37 percent. The Fox poll results, then, throw some cold water on all the Jeb hype of late, suggesting that Jeb might be smarter to look to 2016 rather than 2012.

Unfortunately for the Republicans, the rest of the party's possible presidential field didn't fare much better against Obama. The Fox poll shows Obama beating Mitt Romney by 7 percentage points, Mike Huckabee by eight, and Newt Gingrich by 20. The only possible GOP candidate whose loss margin is greater than Bush's or Gingrich's? Sarah Palin, who the poll finds would get trounced by Obama by 21 points, 56 to 35.

It's very early in the president race, to be sure, but the poll shows that the Republican Party faces an uphill battle.

Glenn Beck conservatives and less-nutty observers of the Middle East have worried that the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings could end up leading to much instability—and trouble—throughout the region. But Thomas Lippman, a former Washington Post reporter who is now adjunct senior fellow for Middle East studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, sees reason for optimism. He recently posted the below note on a listserv for Middle East experts:

It is certainly understandable that the events in Egypt and Tunisia would inspire a great deal of concern, and a lot of alarmist commentary, about the possible negative effects on the rest of the region. It seems to me that there is a positive side to these developments—aside from sheer jubilation over the downfall of autocrats—that might be worth examining in this forum.

The uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt have demonstrated decisively that the quest for freedom and the people's aspirations for liberty can be satisfied by a secular, non-religious movement—and they cannot be satisfied by movements based on religious extremism, intolerance or violence. Consider the difference between what happened in Egypt this week and what happened when Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula tried to rouse the people of Saudi Arabia to rebellion in the name of Islam. The secular movement succeeded, the religious one failed because it did not promise liberty, it promised the absence of liberty.

The jihadists and extremists who have been telling their compatriots for years that the salafi path to liberty is the only path have been shown to be completely wrong. The spontaneous people power of secular uprisings has toppled two regimes in a month. How many regimes have the Islamists toppled? There is no indication that the demands of the crowds in Tahrir Square included restoration of the Caliphate.

The monarchical regimes of the region,and especially those of Saudi Arabia and Jordan, may have many political liabilities, but the popular appeal of jihadist sentiment should no longer be one of them. It is a path not to freedom but to oppression, and everyone from Pakistan to Morocco can now see that—including the people of Iran.

In other words, there is a battle of ideas in the region, and the evildoers are not faring well.

None of the Republican Party's potential 2012 presidential candidates can match the fat Rolodex and fundraising prowess of Mississippi governor Haley Barbour. A former Republican National Committee chairman, Barbour enjoys deep ties in the party infrastructure. A former lobbyist who started his own DC firm, Barbour Griffith & Rogers (now BGR Group), Barbour can call up his K Street buddies to raise cash for his campaign war chest. And a former chairman of the Republican Governors Association, Barbour has friends in statehouses from Arizona to Maine who can marshal national support.

Now, as the Center for Public Integrity's Peter Stone writes, Barbour is mobilizing those connections to raise big bucks and lay the foundation for a 2012 presidential run. A small cadre of Babour backers have, in recent months, briefed the governor on the deadlines and process for launching a White House bid, Stone writes, while also wooing GOP contacts around the country and building a base of potential Barbour backers in the GOP. That cadre includes lobbyists, former RNC director Ed Gillespie, pollster Ed Goeas, and a handful of other well-connected politicos. "Haley is reaching out to finance teams, political operatives, and policy experts across the country, emphasizing early states and right-of-center leaders," one of those politicos, Scott Reed, a former RNC executive director, told Stone.

A look back at Barbour's success in drumming up cash for the Republicans shows how powerful he could be in the 2012 presidential race, says Stone:

Barbour’s legendary fundraising prowess was demonstrated again in the last election cycle when he chaired the Republican Governors Association and helped corral a record-setting $115 million. The RGA, a 527 committee that can take unlimited donations, received seven-figure checks from such giants as Koch Industries, News Corp., the Las Vegas Sands and others, according to the independent Center for Responsive Politics.

The RGA’s record haul was instrumental in winning a net gain of six GOP governors and mounting a huge get-out-the-vote effort that helped federal candidates too, earning Barbour lots of political chits that he could call in if he runs.

"Barbour has a tremendous base of people who can raise $25,000, $50,000 and $75,000,” adds one top GOP fundraiser who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is helping another potential candidate. "He recruited them into the RGA. That’s an important category of fundraising."

Barbour's cozy relationship with the moneyed elites of Washington comes with risks, of course. Electing an ex-lobbyist to the White House would amount to the ultimate instance of the Washington's revolving door culture, and there's some doubt whether Americans would elect a K Street veteran to run the country:

"The scarlet letter L that is attached to high profile lobbyists will be a challenge for a potential campaign and a net negative with the public," predicted Sheila Krumholz, the executive director of the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

When Barbour became governor in 2004, he promised that his lobbying career was behind him and that he had put all his assets in a blind trust to avoid conflicts of interest. But media accounts have since disclosed that Barbour’s assets include 50,000 shares in Interpublic Group, which purchased his old lobbying firm in 1999—before Barbour left.

Documents filed with the Mississippi Ethics Commission peg the market value of that blind trust at $3.3 million and indicate that Barbour gets periodic payments from it. Documents from its initial 2004 filing indicate that the trust takes care of Barbour’s stake in BGR “profit sharing” and pension plans.

In recent years, BGR has witnessed a boom in work representing high paying foreign governments, political figures and businesses, some of which have unsavory or controversial reputations. For instance, BGR’s foreign clients have included: the Eritrean government, which has been allegedly linked to terrorism and human rights abuses; Iraqi opposition leader Ayad Alawi, who was trying to oust Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki; and the government of Kazakhstan, which has been ruled for almost two decades by strongman Nursultan Nazarbayev and has a poor record on human rights.

With Barbour almost surely eyeing the presidency in 2012, it's well worth reading Stone's article in full.

Flying in the face of skeptical Democrats and Republicans, Robert Gates' Defense Department today is expected to unveil the largest military budget proposal in United States history: $553 billion $670.6 billion for what Gates calls "the minimum level of defense spending that is necessary, given the complex and unpredictable array of security challenges." That comes on the heels of a major overhaul, announced last Tuesday, in the military's bedrock guidance, the "National Military Strategy." Its gist: We face new challenges in the Middle East and Asia. (More money, please.)

Funny thing is, plenty of stuff will be missing from the Pentagon's "bottom line"...and plenty more questions will go unanswered. That's pretty much the norm: Pro-military politicians, defense contractors, and military brass alike tend to defend their federal dollars with patriotic rhetoric and confusing bureaucratese. The hope, it often seems, is to push journalists and laypeople into complacency on national-security spending. But Winslow Wheeler, director of the Straus Military Reform Project at the Center for Defense Information, has a democratizing antidote to this military-industrial fever: a new e-book titled The Pentagon Labyrinth: 10 Short Essays to Help You Through It. "How did the American political system maneuver itself into such a destructive straightjacket?" he writes in the preface. "This handbook is intended to provide readers—particularly students of defense, young military professionals, new Capitol Hill staff and concerned citizens—with the tools to understand the Pentagon's contribution to this mess and what might be needed to clean it up."

A U.S. Army Special Forces Soldier, with Special Operations Task Force – South, scans the horizon for enemy activity in Shah Wali Kot District, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan during a clearing operation Feb. 8, 2011 alongside Afghan Commandos from 2nd Company, 3rd Commando Kandak. The commandos, along with District Chief of Police, Bacha Khan, detained 20 suspected insurgents for questioning. The partnered units also found 80 pounds of homemade explosives and various improvised explosive device making components on the operation. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Jeremy D. Crisp)(Released).

This past week, House Republicans launched an all-out war on Planned Parenthood, vowing to cut $327 million in federal family planning funding.The organization, of course, does not use federal money for abortions—the Hyde Amendment forbids that—but nonetheless House GOPers have Planned Parenthood in their crosshairs.

Here at the conservative CPAC conference, I spoke with Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) about the Planned Parenthood battle. King rivals Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), who has led the charge to deny federal funds to the organization, in his loathing for Planned Parenthood and his zealotry on the issue of abortion, among others. (At a hearing last Tuesday, King went into gory detail describing what he called "fetal dismemberment" when debating a tax-centric bill on federal funding for abortions.) He told me the group's practices are "ghoulish and ghastly and gruesome," and that Planned Parenthood engages in "child prostitution and illegal immigration."

We talked briefly about an undercover video from a pro-life group showing a Planned Parenthood counselor giving a fake "pimp" advice about health services for his supposed under-age prostitutes (a set-up similar to one orchestrated by James O'Keefe that targeted the now-defunct ACORN). That counselor was summarily fired, and the organization reported the incident to the authorities. But when I asked King about the funding fight and the video, he said Planned Parenthood "is deserving of something far more severe than Congress will be able to deliver to them before the videos came out."

Planned Parenthood has admitted that one counselor made a mistake, but correctly asserts it handled the issue properly. King didn't agree. "I believe that the videos we saw of ACORN accurately reflected the activities of ACORN and the culture of ACORN, and the videos we have seen of Planned Parenthood accurately reflect the culture and the activities of Planned Parenthood." On the funding battle, King pledged a "smackdown vote to shut down every dollar going to Planned Parenthood."

But does the bill have any chance whatsoever in the Democratically-controlled Senate, I asked. King didn't miss a beat:

Harry Reid can defend those ghoulish and ghastly and gruesome practices that Planned Parenthood is advocating along with child prostitution and illegal immigration. He can play defense on that. They didn't do very well in the Senate when they tried to defend ACORN. I don't think they'll do any better this time.

No matter what happens in the Senate, he concluded, the fight will rage on in the House. "Mike Pence is determined," King said. "I don't think he's going to back off. And I will not."

Here at CPAC, the annual three-day shindig for the conservative movement, Republican bigwigs rarely, if ever, take public shots at their fellow party members eyeing a run for the presidency. But one prominent GOPer, former Virginia governor Jim Gilmore, blasted many of the potential Republican candidates, calling them "clowns" who engage in "political theater" and who "place more emphasis on flamboyance than they do on thinking and policy and trying to make more serious proposals."

Gilmore, a former Virginia attorney general and long-shot presidential candidate in 2008, now runs the conservative Free Congress Foundation think tank, and he was moderating a panel here at CPAC titled "The End of Productivity: The Growing Tax Burden." His criticism of the 2012 presidential field came during a question-and-answer period at the end of the seminar. Asked by an audience member whether he thought the 2012 contenders have what it takes to turn around the country, Gilmore had this to say:

Here at CPAC, you have seen a lot of people running for president. I guess you've seen seven or eight. I made my personal list; it was 23 and I stopped counting. Some of them are real, some of them statements, some of them clowns. And that is the reality.

The fact is, many of the people running for president are running for their own self-interest. Because they want to be something.

I caught up with Gilmore after the panel and asked if he really meant to call certain GOP presidential hopefuls "clowns" that care more about themselves than the country. "Yeah, yeah," he eagerly replied. "Some people place more emphasis on flamboyance than they do on thinking and policy and trying to make serious proposals. It falls to think tanks like us and others, Heritage and people like that, that actually offer decent proposals." Gilmore paused a beat, then added, "And you know what, political theater's OK. But when it's all theater, the public suffers."

I pressed Gilmore on which GOP candidates here at CPAC he specifically thought were clowns. He smiled, looked at my press pass, then said, "They're very smart people, your readers. I'm sure they can figure it out."

In recent days, the release of thousands of emails hacked from the server of an online security company has revealed a plan to entrap and discredit prominent foes of the US Chamber of Commerce. I give more background here, and ThinkProgress has details on specific union groups, bloggers, and activists  targeted by the security company, HBGary Federal, and its executive, Aaron Barr.

While the Chamber on Friday denied any knowlege of the entrapment plan or any other "questionable actions," emails that I've perused suggest that the Chamber clearly was involved on some level in a scheme to investigate and discredit its opponents. According to the emails, the Chamber's law firm was looking for groups that could help it prove—or at least hint at—a liberal conspiracy against the Chamber. 

Chamber law firm Hunton & Williams wanted to hire digital sleuths that could demonstrate that the business group's opponents had been working as a "single entity instead of a true 'grasroots' campaign." That phrase and others suggest that the Chamber's ultimate goal was to openly accuse its foes of a left-wing form of astroturfing.

HBGary Federal and two other IT security firms, Palantir, and Berico Technologies, were working on a presentation scheduled to take place at the Chamber this upcoming Monday. In the meeting they planned to pitch their services as a "Corporate Information Recoinassance Cell." The cell would supposedly collect online information on the Chamber's foes from social networking sites and other sources and organize it to demonstrate previously hidden relationships. 

Early emails sent by Berico Technologies analyst Pat Ryan outline the proposed project as described by the the Chamber's law firm: 

David Corn and Richard Wolfe joined Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball to discuss the future of US-Egypt relations in light of Omar Suleiman's announcement today that Mubarak has stepped down.

David Corn is Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief. For more of his stories, click here. He's also on Twitter.

Though CPAC ruffled some feathers by bringing pro-gay GOProud into the tent, such social inclusiveness didn't extend very far. Taking center stage on immigration were the Republicans' biggest flamethrowers, who issued dire warnings about the evils that immigrants could inflict upon the US. "I'm worried, because most of them are lawbreakers—in fact, most of them are criminals," Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) told conference-goers on Thursday. But former Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo upped the ante even further. Speaking to Mother Jones on Friday after his CPAC speech, he warned that Muslim immigrants would never be able to assimilate and posed a perilous threat by bringing Sharia law to America:

Then you got the issue of Muslim immigration. In every other case I've described, you can assimilate. If you come here as an atheist or a Christian or a Jew or a Hindu—there's no inherent…conflict between that person and what it means to be an American, because the Constitution is the kind of document that wraps up all up. 

But what do you do with people coming for the purpose of advancing sharia law, which is not compatible in any way with the constitution of the United States? How do you deal with that? That's another very scary thing because demographically the numbers are on their side.

Tancredo's warnings echoed recent efforts by right-wingers to ban sharia law in states like Oklahoma, and he drove home the link between immigrants, deadly crime, and terrorism in his CPAC speech as well—going so far as to equate open borders with treason. "Plenty of people coming across that border want to do very bad things to us—we know it's been an entry point for terrorists. Why would that not be a cause for impeachment? I think it's treasonous to not secure your border," he told the crowd, to wild applause. Tancredo also denounced multiculturalism and ethnic enclaves as "the dagger pointed at the heart of Western civilization."

Asked whether President Obama was encouraging such freedom-crushing Muslim separatism, Tancredo told Mother Jones, "Yeah, I certainly believe [it]." He also agreed that Obama shared his Kenyan father's anti-colonial views—a theory originally promulgated by conservative writer Dinesh D'Souza.

To prove his point, Tancredo pointed to a bust of Winston Churchill on loan to the White House during the Bush years that the Obama adminstration returned to the British embassy. "Remember that bust of Winston Churchill? They sent this bust back to the British…because [Obama] considers them to be colonial powers. These are our best allies, you know." (Tancredo also told reporters that in Egypt, Obama's "schizophrenic" positions had increased the threat to the US. "No matter what happens now, we lose. No matter what, whether Mubarak steps down, whether he stays… ElBaradei's worse.")

Finally, Tancredo criticized his fellow Republicans for failing to come down harder on immigrants for fear of driving away Hispanic voters. "It drives me nuts," he said during the CPAC panel, encouraging the crowd to force the issue upon the GOP. "Don't let politicians skirt—force them to get in there and duke it out."