Mojo - August 2011

Newt Gingrich is Still Chasing the Asian-American Vote

| Fri Aug. 19, 2011 6:10 AM EDT
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.

Although his presidential campaign has all but imploded, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich has at least one more big plan to boost his chances in the Republican primaries: an appeal to Asian-American voters. His staff already has him committed to a new batch of outreach efforts in Asian American and Pacific Islander communities in Hawaii, California, and—at the end of August—Virginia. Politico reports:

"We are still new with the Asian-American community, so we're just starting to break in," said Michelle Selesky, Gingrich's deputy press secretary, who is heading up his Asian-American outreach…

Gingrich has been talking for months about the untapped potential of the Chinese community in Iowa, thanks to a local Chinese activist who told him in January that as many as 10,000 Chinese Americans live in the state — a number the Census Bureau pegs at 1.7 percent of the [state's] population. Gingrich also sees what could be the state's next immigrant boom in the University of Iowa's large number of international students from China, though it's not clear how many of them are citizens and able to vote.

(Emphasis mine.)

Jonathan Chait poked fun at this strategy back in early June, when he wrote about the improbability of Gingrich emerging victorious in Iowa after "mobilizing a wave of Chinese-Americans" to attend a "caucus that notoriously caters to a small cadre of motivated partisans."

Newt Gingrich's master plan has just one major shortcoming: He has no real appeal to Asian-American voters. It's not him, really; it's his party affiliation (though the whole "we would never accept the Japanese putting up a site next to Pearl Harbor" thing from last summer certainly didn't do him any favors). These days, Asian-Americans vote overwhelmingly Democratic: In 2008, they helped put Barack Obama over the top, and thanks to the moderately liberal (as well as pro-immigration) consensus growing among the demographic's young generation, the right lost out on those votes over half a decade ago.

In trying to seize upon the conservative sliver of an already tiny ethnic population, Newt's strategic gamble just comes off as an exercise in the kind of futility that the Gingrich campaign has come to typify. Then again, if you're going to fall flat, you might as well do it in Hawaii.

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This Week in Stripper News

| Fri Aug. 19, 2011 6:00 AM EDT

August is generally a slow news time in Washington. But things seem to be picking up steam everywhere else—this week, for example, has brought us an abundance of stripper-related political news:

  • In Texas, a Ron Paul supporter placed a full-page ad in a local paper seeking women who have had sex with Gov. Rick Perry to spill the deets. The ad specifically calls for women who identify as a stripper, escort, or "young hottie."

  • In Missouri, Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, who's expected to run for governor next year, sought to dismiss rumors about a relationship with a "Penthouse Pet" by arguing that he only watched her dance. Apparently, objectifying a woman is worlds better than actually carrying on a relationship with her.

  • And last, but not least, the college student who drew attention last year when he was detained for stripping to his skivvies at a TSA checkpoint in the Richmond, Va. aiport to reveal the 4th Amendment written on his chest is suing the feds for mistreatment. Aaron Tobey's lawyers allege that the "overbearing, heavy-handed and unfounded actions of security personnel violated free-speech and other constitutional rights." The judge in the case said he will decide within the next two weeks whether to let the case go forward.

Politicians, Meet Your Constituents: Top 10 Awkward Moments

| Fri Aug. 19, 2011 6:00 AM EDT

We journalists fancy ourselves quite good at asking probing questions of politicians. But as Rick Perry reminded us on Monday, sometimes queries from the crowd reveal the most about a pol's true colors. It all began with a simple enough question during a backyard gathering in Iowa: What would Perry do about the Federal Reserve? To which Perry said this:

 

It remains to be seen what impact, if any, Perry’s suggestion of Texas-style justice for Fed chief Ben Bernanke will have on his nascent presidential bid. It was, however, a reminder of one important way ordinary people can impact the political process (and perhaps an explanation for rumored presidential aspirant Paul Ryan's decision to start charging constituents $15 to attend his town halls). From the inspiring to the depressing to the downright bizarre, here's a look back at some great moments in citizen-pol encounters.  

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for August 19, 2011

Fri Aug. 19, 2011 5:50 AM EDT

A soldier with the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division pulls security during air assault training with the CAB Aug. 3 at Fort Riley. UH-60 Black Hawk and CH-47 Chinook helicopters from the Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Inf. Div. have been used to train ground troops, as well as its own crews, for combat missions. US Army photo by Sgt. Roland Hale, CAB, 1st Inf. Div. PAO.

Huntsman Campaign Slams Rick Perry's Grasp on Reality

| Thu Aug. 18, 2011 3:12 PM EDT
Jon Huntsman.

John Weaver, the chief strategist for Republican presidential hopeful Jon Huntsman, was just saying aloud what we were all surely thinking: Rick Perry sure doesn't know squat about science. Weaver had some rather uncharitable words for the newest addition to the GOP presidential field in an interview with the Washington Post on Wednesday, this time about the Texas governor's denial and conspiracy theories when it comes to climate science.

Here's the Weaver quote (emphasis my own):

"We're not going to win a national election if we become the anti-science party," John Weaver…said in an interview Wednesday. "The American people are looking for someone who lives in reality and is a truth teller because that’s the only way that the significant problems this country faces can be solved. It appears that the only science that Mitt Romney believes in is the science of polling, and that science clearly was not a mandatory course for Governor Perry."

Huntsman, meanwhile, has more than once accentuated his modest climate change bona fides. His staff has shown little apprehension about going after Romney's record as Massachusetts governor, so as Perry picks up more steam on the campaign trail, one can reasonably expect similarly strong criticism of Perry's questionable economic claims and his ultra-conservative brand.

With Weaver's statement, the Huntsman camp continues its attempt to distance their candidate from hardline right-wing positions. Along with his acceptance of the reality of anthropogenic climate change, Huntsman has also openly expressed his respect for the president, his support for same-sex civil unions, his sympathy for more dovish foreign policy, and other things deemed anathema by his Republican rivals.

Unfortunately for Huntsman, there seems to be "no demand for Huntsman's brand of moderation in today's GOP," as Jacob Weisberg notes in his Vogue profile of the candidate, published online Thursday. But is there a larger, long-term strategy at play here? It is widely acknowledged that his comparatively centrist positions give Huntsman a lump-of-Cherry-Garcia-in-Hades' chance of locking down the 2012 Republican nomination. Thus, his run serves to highlight his qualities as a moderate Republican unlike the current leaders of his party. It may be wishful thinking, but perhaps his strategy is to wait it out until the party burns out on extremists and returns to a more sane equilibrium—at which point Huntsman will be ready and waiting to assume a leadership role.

Bachmann: The Soviets Are Coming!

| Thu Aug. 18, 2011 2:52 PM EDT
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) is running for president.

For Michele Bachmann, there are a lot of things Americans should be afraid of—efficient lighting, public schools, the gays, just to name three. And in an appearance on Jay Sekulow's radio show on Thursday, the insurgent Republican presidential contender argued that Americans should also be afraid of the revenge of the Soviet Union.

Via Right Wing Watch, here's the pertinent portion of the interview:

I would say it's a unified message. It really is about jobs and the economy. That doesn't mean people haven't [sic] forgotten about protecting life and marriage and the sanctity of the family. People are very concerned about that as well. But what people recognize is that there's a fear that the United States is in an unstoppable decline. They see the rise of China, the rise of India, the rise of the Soviet Union and our loss militarily going forward. And especially with this very bad debt ceiling bill, what we have done is given a favor to President Obama and the first thing he'll whack is five hundred billion out of the military defense at a time when we're fighting three wars. People recognize that.

(Emphasis mine.)

The Soviet Union hasn't existed for two decades. I'm sure, though, that there are some among Bachmann's base that are still worried about the Soviet Union reforming, regaining power, commandeering the supercommittee, and propelling the US into an unstoppable decline.

Bachmann has long worried that the US may become like the Soviet Union, particularly in her campaign against public school curriculum that she believed would lead to a "state-planned economy." But fear of the actual USSR is a new one.

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Elizabeth Warren vs. Scott Brown: It's On

| Thu Aug. 18, 2011 12:42 PM EDT
Harvard Professor Elizabeth Warren has launched an exploratory committee to challenge Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.)

Speculation has been mounting for a while now, but on Thursday Elizabeth Warren appears to have made it official: She intends to challenge Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) in 2012. The Harvard professor and architect of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has launched a website for her exploratory committee, the likely prelude to a full-scale campaign.

Warren rose to national prominence when President Obama tapped her to run the Congressional Oversight Panel monitoring the TARP bailout in 2009. When the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform bill created a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau—an idea that Warren first developed—she was considered the obvious choice to head the agency. Obama tasked Warren with implementing the new agency, but she quickly became a right-wing target and Obama ultimately nominated former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray for the post.

Brown, who pulled off a stunning upset of Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley in 2010 to replace the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, is one of the Democrats' biggest 2012 targets. And Warren, with her reputation as an anti-Wall Street crusader, has been floated as a dream candidate since the day Brown was sworn in. As Glen Johnson noted, Warren has already staffed up in advance of a run, and picked up the support of a third-party fundraising outfit based out of Washington.

So can she win? Well, she'll first have to navigate a crowded Democratic primary which includes Newton mayor Setti Warren (no relation), City Year founder Alan Khazei, and (possibly) Rep. Michael Capuano. Brown, for his part, remains quite popular in Massachusetts, although with Obama on the ballot and an opponent who's willing to shake hands outside Fenway Park, that could change.

Earlier this week, Brown previewed his likely line of attack against Warren, noting in a fundraising email this week that "They are so obsessed with winning this seat back that Washington elitists are trying to push aside local Democrat candidates in favor of Professor Warren from Oklahoma." (Warren has lived in Massachusetts for two decades.)

How The White House Risks Being a "Disinterested Analyst" Toward Syria (Updated)

| Thu Aug. 18, 2011 12:00 PM EDT
Anti-Assad graffiti in Syria reading "Down with Bashar."

Update: On Thursday morning, The White House called on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down. In a written statement, President Obama decried the Assad regime's "flagrant disrespect for the dignity of the Syrian people." Here's an excerpt from the statement:

[President Assad's] calls for dialogue and reform have rung hollow while he is imprisoning, torturing, and slaughtering his own people. We have consistently said that [he] must lead a democratic transition or get out of the way. He has not led. For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside...It is time for the Syrian people to determine their own destiny, and we will continue to stand firmly on their side.

The announcement comes more than a week after senior officials first told reporters that Obama was preparing a speech that would demand Assad's speedy resignation. On Thursday, the White House also issued a new round of trade sanctions and froze the assets of the Syrian government within the jurisdiction of the US. The UN investigative unit and leading European Union powers also issued related announcements on Thursday. While some have interpreted this latest move as ripped from the "Libya playbook," Thursday's statement appears to rule out any US military intervention in the country:

The United States cannot and will not impose this transition upon Syria. It is up to the Syrian people to choose their own leaders, and we have heard their strong desire that there not be foreign intervention in their movement.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton followed up with a televised speech, in which she further condemned Assad for "[torturing]...opposition leaders, laying siege to cities, [and] slaughtering thousands of unarmed civilians, including children." Here's the video of her speech:

These calls for resignation from the international community come a day after Assad claimed his military and police forces had halted the crackdown on what his government has called "terrorist" insurgents, and a day after he cautioned his central committee against caving to "foreign pressure."

What remains to be seen are the reactions from involved parties and what, if any, positive effects may come from the Obama administration's statement and sanctions. As of Thursday morning EST, Syria's state-run media and the foreign ministry have not issued responses to the various demands for an end to Assad's rule. Considering that certain members of the right-wing punditry have even accused the president of using the recent deaths of 30 US soldiers in Afghanistan as a wag-the-dog-style distraction from economic troubles, it'll be interesting to see how this plays out among conservative commentators and politicians.

Original post (Fri. August 12, 2011): However gradual or overly cautious the process has been, the Obama administration appears to be laying the groundwork to call for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down after over a decade of ironfisted rule. Senior officials have been hinting to reporters all week that the president is gearing up to deliver a speech that would go beyond sanctions or merely condemning the regime's crackdown in the "strongest possible terms."

The hint-dropping started during the same week the US Treasury Department slammed major Syrian companies—including major telecommunications company Syriatel and the Commercial Bank of Syria—with new sanctions that David S. Cohen, Treasury's under-secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said "tak[e] aim" at the "financial infrastructure" of Assad’s dictatorship. On Thursday, President Obama and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan were reported to have agreed over a phone call on the need for a "transition to democracy" for the Syrian people.

The Washington Post reports:

[A] senior administration official said "the policy decision has been all but made" on telling Assad to leave office. "It is his actions that have done it," the official said...

White House spokesman Jay Carney on Wednesday reiterated that Syria "would be better off without President Assad" and said he had lost his legitimacy.

Beyond the chaos of Syria's large-scale Arab Spring protests and the government's sustained and brutal clampdown on the uprising, there are other salient factors the Obama administration is weighing as it comes to a decision.

Obama, ever the pragmatist, has no doubt taken into account the ideological outlook for the Syrian opposition, which (thankfully) looks rather promising (i.e. friendly to the West, peaceful, and secular). The fact that the Syrian resistance robustly rejected a recent endorsement from Ayman al-Zawahri, Al-Qaeda's new leader, only makes them seem more like an ally worth having. And despite the insistence of certain American politicians, Assad is, with every passing slaughter of peaceful protesters, simultaneously demonstrating that he just isn't a devil worth sticking with:

"Especially since the violence during Ramadan there has been recognition among those in the United States government that there is no possibility of working with Assad over internal reform," Michael Doran, senior fellow and Middle East security expert at the Brookings Institution, told Mother Jones. "But I don't think there is going to be a dramatic change in taking the lead...[in building] a coalition of states that is interested in planning for a post-Assad future. The whole experience in Libya has given the Obama administration a once-burnt-twice-shy attitude in Syria. Every informal conversation I've had [about this] with people in the government stresses the lack of levers of influence. I don't agree with that, but there is that strong perception in the administration."

Doran also argued that the Obama administration knows that the United States will have to be a major player in any change in Syria, whether it's something they desire or not.

"At this point, it is all a question of tailoring American policy to the reality...that the regime in Syria will fall; it may be a slow motion fall, but it's happening," Doran said. "And with the Iranian regime trying to shape things to their advantage, the United States cannot afford to just call the game like a disinterested analyst."

As of late Friday afternoon, there has been no new announcement made by President Obama pertaining to the situation in Syria, or one calling for Assad to step down from power.

(Meanwhile, Assad met with Indian, Brazilian, and South African diplomats and made what could be considered the understatement of the year.)

Rep. Allen West to Muslim Group: "NUTS!"

| Thu Aug. 18, 2011 10:47 AM EDT

The Miami New-Times says that this letter, from Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) to the Florida chapter of the Council of American-Islamic Relations "might be the dumbest thing ever written on congressional stationery," which is serious charge in a legislative body that also includes Joe Barton:

 Courtesy of CAIRCourtesy of CAIR

The full context here is that West has been locked in a war of words with CAIR, a group he believes is aiding and abetting the Muslim Brotherhood's efforts to destroy America as we know it. West has asserted that Islam is a "totalitarian theocratic political ideology" and, when confronted by a CAIR spokesman at a town hall meeting this spring, said "Don't try to blow sunshine up my butt." When it was revealed that the gunman in the Norway massacre was an avid fan—like West—of some of America's leading Islamophobes, CAIR wrote to the Congressman to ask him to dissociate himself from folks like Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer.

The one-word reply from West, an Army veteran, was a reference to this incident, immortalized in Band of Brothers:

Rick Perry's Overhyped Immigration "Soft Spot"

| Thu Aug. 18, 2011 6:00 AM EDT
Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

One of Texas Gov. Rick Perry's biggest alleged weaknesses in the Republican presidential primary is his less-than-draconian record on immigration. Although Perry has talked a lot about cracking down on undocumented immigrants, he has done little to change Texas' status as a "sanctuary state" and, indeed, he's explicitly rejected the idea of implementing Arizona-style immigration reform. The reason for this is pretty simple: Texas' economic "miracle" is built on on a continued influx of people, as well as a preponderance of low-wage jobs, especially in the housing sector.

That's pragmatic, but today's conservative base isn't looking for pragmatism. So will any of Perry's rivals for the nomination take the bait and attack Perry from the right? Well, here's Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) today in South Carolina:

Bachmann said lax enforcement of immigration laws was a threat to the nation's security. She agreed with a town hall questioner at a Greenville stop that US troops should be redeployed from South Korea to south Texas.

"How do you solve it? You build a barrier, a fence, a wall—whatever you want to call it. You build it," Bachmann said. "As president of the United States, every mile, every yard, every foot, every inch will be covered on that southern border."

The "problem is not our laws on immigration," Bachmann said. "The problem has been in our unwillingness to enforce the laws that are on the books." South Carolina legislators this year passed one of the nation's toughest illegal immigration laws. It goes into effect in December.

What, no alligators? The conservative group Americans for Legal Immigration, for one, concluded that "Michele Bachmann is the first presidential contender of the 2012 race to make border security and illegal immigration a top issue for her campaign."

But without telling anti-immigration groups how to do their job, this doesn't seem quite right. For one, Bachmann hasn't made this a top issue for her campaign; her comments came because she was specifically asked a question about enforcement of immigration laws. Herman Cain, meanwhile, has already made the exact same point, calling for a Great Wall of China-style barrier to be constructed along the southern border. And take a look at this guy:

Hey, that's Rick Perry!

The larger issue here is that every GOP presidential candidate is going to say more or less the exact same thing when it comes to immigration: Secure the border first, and then talk about reform. Enforce the existing laws. Get tough with employers. Etc. Perry's defense of his nonaction in Texas is that it's Washington's fault—which is also his argument about everything else. There are policy differences on immigration between Perry and other members of his party, but I imagine Perry's response will just be to run for B-roll footage of him standing by the border in a big brown jacket. It hasn't failed him yet.