Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Maybe Herman Cain's just clueless

Herman Cain's been getting a lot of shit from me recently. I think it's mostly justified, as his policies would be terrible for the nation. But it's becoming increasingly clear the more I hear him in interviews and debates that the man just has no idea what he's talking about. A sampling;

-His previously-discussed ignorance of the Palestinian Right of Return, a fairly major element in the Israel-Palestine conflict.
-His ignorance of neoconservatism, the dominant foreign policy idea in the Republican Party in the past 15 years.
-His proud ignorance of details of foreign countries and foreign leaders; "Uzbeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan".
-Most damning are his fumbles of questions on abortion, a topic he should be strong on given the prominent role it played in his 2004 run for Senate. In an interview with John Stossel about 3 months ago, Cain gives completely contradictory answers in back to back sentences. The clip really is worth watching; it's just over a minute, and the other guest's response to Cain's literally-jaw-dropping answer is worth the price of admission.
-On Meet the Press, he said he did not support abortion under any circumstances but then said abortion in the case of a threat to the life of the mother would have to be made by the family. Not as self-contradictory as the Stossel interview, but not crystal clear either.
-He further muddied the waters on his abortion stance in an interview with Piers Morgan, where he again seemed to indicate it wasn't the government's role to make the choice on abortion.

What concerns me most about the repeated poor responses on abortion is that neither the candidate nor his team thought to tighten up the answers. After the Stossel interview months ago, an intelligent/savvy politician would have spent some time to figure out a way to clearly convey his stance on this issue, which is a particularly important one in Iowa and throughout a Republican primary.

Republican voters should be hopeful that Cain's campaign mirrors that of Ross Perot. By making tax reform a central issue in his campaign, he is influencing the debate, just like Perot did in '92 on deficit and spending issues. But should Cain's lead in the polls carry him to the nomination, I'm supremely confident of four more years for Obama, and likely big gains in Congress as well.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Herman Cain thinks he's helping poor people

Today's Herman Cain news is that he says "if you are at or below the poverty level, your plan isn't 9-9-9. It's 9-0-9." Then, being the fucking asshole that he is, he follows that up with "Say Amen, y'all", as if to put an exclamation point on the tremendous gift he's given the poor among us. The middle number is the income tax, so people in poverty are excused from that portion.

So, let's fire up the arithmetic machine and see what effect 9-9-9 would have on the average family of 4 living at the poverty line. For a family of four, the poverty line is at $22,050, so let's look at a family making $22,000 a year. Sneak preview, they will be $6,878* worse off should 9-9-9 (which is 9-0-9 for them) come to pass:

-McDonald's has to pay 7.65% in payroll taxes, so they have to spend $23,683 to hire a worker with a $22,000 salary, with the extra $1,683 going to Uncle Sam
-The family also must pay 7.65% in payroll taxes, so there goes another $1,683
-The standard deduction for a married couple is $11,400, dropping their taxable income to $10,600
-The personal exemption ($3,650 per family member) drops their taxable income to $0
-As you might expect, this drops their owed income tax to $0
-Not only do they not owe any income taxes, they get additional, refundable credits, including:

-Earned Income Tax Credit (.pdf, Page 46): For a family of 4 making $22,000, they would get a tax credit of $4,917. This credit is refundable (i.e., they get a check from the government for $4,917 every year
-Child Tax Credit: Under current law, after the stimulus peters out, our family would get a $1,417 refundable tax credit (it'd be $2,000 today)

So the family's total tax bill would be $1,683 in payroll taxes, plus $1,683 that their employer pays. They get a credit of $6,334. So their personal tax bill is currently a net credit of $4,651, or $2,968 when you include the employer's portion, which you should.

Now President Cain institutes 9-9-9 (or 9-0-9 for the poor). In the process, he completely eliminates the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit. Here's the math:

-McDonald's is still willing to spend $23,683 to employ the family's breadwinner ($22,000 + employer's contribution toward Social Security and Medicare)
-Under Cain's plan, McDonald's has to pay a 9% tax on that money, reducing the gross pay of the family to $21,551, since 9% is more than 7.65%, with the other $2,132 going to Uncle Sam.
-The family will, according to the Consumer Expenditure Survey, be expected to spend even more than their income (i.e., go into debt) every year. Let's assume they just spend their income.
-If you were to spend $21,551 including a 9% sales tax, you'd spend $19,772 on stuff and $1,779 in taxes.

So our family pays $1,779 in direct taxes, or $3,910 if you include the employer's portion, which you should.

Herman Cain's 9-9-9 plan, even with the 9-0-9 change, changes the tax bill for a family in povery from a $2,968 credit to a $3,910 liability. This is $6,878 less that a family already IN POVERTY would have every year if Cain's plan becomes the law of the land.

Say Amen to that, you fucking asshole

(*an earlier version of these calculations used a wrong poverty threshold, which was taken from Herman Cain's website (.pdf, table 6). Serves me right for taking numbers from a source I spend the entire post attempting to rip to shreds.)

Fun with Math, or, Herman Cain is a Fucking Asshole, Part 2

In Part 1, I showed my work behind my assertion that Herman Cain's plan would be terrible for the average American family. While I have endeavored to do the same for a family making $1,000,000/year, the accounting is frankly beyond my meager abilities. So here's a graph from The Washington Post that quite succinctly sums up the relative effects of Cain's plan on the Rich and everyone else. It's worth the click, I promise...

note: the difference between the effect on the middle 20% and my calculation Part 1 relates to my effort to include the poverty exemption that Cain's website mentions.

So how on Earth could Cain ever expect to get elected and get this thing passed? The answer appears to be through flat-out lying to voters. In this interview with MSNBC last week, at the 2:00 mark, Cain discussed the tax situation of a family of four making $50,000/year. He states:

Cain: Today, under the current system, they will pay over $10,000 in taxes,
assuming standard deductions and standard exemptions. I've gone through the math. $10,000

In Part 1, I showed that their tax bill, including the employer's Social Security/Medicare contributions, would be $8,416. So, how does he arrive at "over $10,000"? By leaving out the child tax credit, which is $1,000 per kid, or, for a family of four, $2,000 for two kids. This credit, which goes away under 9-9-9, accounts for much of the hit that middle-class families will take if Cain's plan is ever instituted. But, since he's a fucking asshole who is apparently comfortable with lying to people to make the current system look worse and by extension make his own plan look better, he overinflates the family's current tax bill. The interview continues...

Cain: Now, with 9-9-9, they're going to pay that 9% personal, that
9% tax on income, so that's only $4,500. You still have $5,500 left
over to apply to the sales tax piece.

Bullshit! Bull. Shit.

In order to get to $10,000 under the current system, you have to, in addition to ignoring the child tax credit, include the employer's Social Security/Medicare contribution, which is almost $4,000/year in addition to the $50,000 salary. 9-9-9, while it eliminates these contributions, also no longer allows businesses to deduct wages/salaries from their taxable income. So companies will have to pay a 9% tax on the money they want to pay their employees. Essentially, 9-9-9 replaces the current 7.65% employer payroll tax with a 9% employer payroll tax.

So, since we've established in the $10,000 number that we're gonna count employer contributions, and we don't want to compare apples and oranges, you have to include ~$4,900 in payroll taxes, in addition to the $4,500 in income taxes that Cain mentions. So you only have $600 to apply to the sales tax piece, not $5,500 as the fucking asshole claims. And that assumes you buy the $10,000 number, which itself is bullshit. Paying $600 in sales taxes assumes less than $7,000 in spending annually. That's less than what a household with that income would pay just for transportation, according to the Consumer Expenditure Survey.

Extra taxes for working families while The Rich get a tax cut that's literally off the chart. Several screens worth of off the chart. What an asshole...

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Fun with Math, or Herman Cain is a Fucking Asshole, Part 1

While there have been a number of analyses of the tax implications of Herman Cain's 9-9-9 Plan, I haven't seen one that breaks things down enough for the layperson to understand exactly what the implications will be for an average American family. So here's my humble attempt to fill that gap; it's long but I think it's pretty easy to follow. If you don't feel like working through it, a typical family of four would pay just under $3,000 more in taxes under Cain's plan, while the rich would pay lower rates on income and zero taxes on capital gains and inheritances. Cain covers this up by flat-out lying about how much an average family pays in taxes. We'll address the lying and the effects on the rich in part 2.

-Let's consider a family of four making $50,000 a year, which is pretty close to the median household income.
-Their employer must pay 6.2% of that amount in Social Security taxes and 1.45% in Medicare taxes (source), meaning that their employer really spends $53,825 to employ that person.
-Of that $50,000, the family must also pay 6.2% toward Social Security and 1.45% toward Medicare, dropping their total to $46,175.
-They must also pay income taxes. This first involves figuring out their taxable income, which depends on several factors:
Total Gross Income: $50,000
Standard Deduction in 2010 for a married couple is $11,400
So their taxable income is now $38,600
They also can claim a Personal Exemption of $3,650 per family member. $3,650 x 4 = $14,600
This drops their taxable income to $24,000
For couples filing jointly, the tax tables (massive .pdf, relevant bit on page 77) work out to a total liability of $2,766
But the family of four would get two $1,000 child credits, dropping their bill to $766
-So their take-home after payroll taxes, $46,175, minus $766 in income taxes, makes their total post-tax income $45,409.
-Their total tax bill is $4,591
-If you want to count the employer's portion of payroll taxes, which I think is totally legitimate and indeed preferred, as if there were no taxes the employer would be happy to give that cash to the family, their bill is $8,416

As shown in Table 10c of this pdf, the actual tax rate under the 9-9-9 plan would actually be 9.1%. 9's more catchy, but we'll do the calculations with the actual number of 9.1%.

Now, under Cain's plan, let's assume that same employer still wants to spend a total $53,825 to employ the employee. What will be the family's total after-tax income under Cain's plan?

-Payroll taxes go away under 9-9-9. But, employee wages/salaries, which are currently tax-deductible, are no longer so under Cain's plan. This means that the employer has to pay taxes equal to 9% of your wages before they can give the rest to you. So 0.091 x $53,825 = $4,898 is how much they pay in taxes before they give you your salary.
-The family's gross pay is thus $53,825-$4,898 = $48,927
-While Cain hasn't discussed it on the campaign trail, his calculations (.pdf, Table 6) allow for a deduction equal to the poverty rate. For our family of 4, this means they can claim a deduction of $15,006
-Their total taxable income is therefore $48,927 - $15,006 = $33,921
-Paying 9.1% of that in income taxes takes out $3,087
-Their total take-home, after corporate and income taxes but before sales taxes, is $48,927-$3087 = $45,840
-Based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Expenditures Survey, a household with that after-tax income would be expected to spend about $41,000 each year.
-With the proposed sales tax, our family would have to pay a 9.1% sales tax on purchases. This would mean an additional $3,420 in taxes ($37,580 in spending plus 9.1% of that amount equals $41,000)

Got all that? Great, we're almost to the end!

Total tax bill under 9-9-9 = $3,087 (income tax) + $3,420 (sales tax) = $6,507
Including the employer's portion = $6,507 + $4,898 = $11,405

Currently, the family would pay $4,591 in federal taxes. Under 9-9-9, it goes up to $6,507, for an increase of $1,916. Counting the employer's contribution, which I think is really the more valid comparison, the family's tax bill increases from $8,416 to $11,405, an increase of $2,989.

For families who currently make less than $50,000, the change is proportionally worse, as they pay an even lower rate under current law, thanks to other deductions and credits like the Earned Income Tax Credit, all of which go away under 9-9-9.

As Cain points out, the plan is intended to be revenue-neutral (i.e., raises the same amount of taxes in total as the current system). So, if the average family and poorer families are paying more, that means the rich will pay less. A lot less. We'll look at just how much less in Part 2.

See what I mean about Cain being a fucking asshole?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Tips for the 99%

As previously discussed, I support the Occupy Wall Street movement. But as much as we need changes to the political system, there are many things we can do to help bring about the goals of the 99% that don't require a corporately-supported politician to do anything. Here are some suggestions:

-Boycott the bad guys.

-Buy local and buy small. Mom and Pop's shop doesn't put them in the 1%. If you don't want CEOs to make 500 times what their employees make, don't buy from big companies. If a privately-owned company, such as Koch Industries, won't tell you what their executives/owners make, don't buy from them. Same thing for environmental protections, providing health insurance to their employees, or whatever else is important to you.

-Ignore political ads. The only reason political donations matter is that people allow biased (i.e., sponsored) media to influence their vote. If the 99% ignored ads, Karl Rove and the Koch Brothers could spend all the money they wanted and it wouldn't make much difference in the outcome of elections, so then politicians wouldn't feel like they owed their rich sponsors anything. Other forms of electioneering (voter canvassing, mailers, etc.) would still have a role, but these aren't nearly as effective or expensive as TV ads.

-Ignore ads in general. While you're at it, ignore all ads. If a company's big enough to buy an ad on a national network, it's probably big enough to hideously overpay its management.

We have more money than them. We have more votes than them. They can only maintain the current system by keeping us from using our power. Political protest is one way to fight back, but it's not the most direct or the most effective.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Stunning poll numbers for Cain, Romney

Two new national polls released today. Both show Herman Cain in the lead over Mitt Romney, Cain taking the lead is interesting enough in itself, though his weaknesses as a candidate make me confident that he won't be the nominee. Of course, with the current state of the Republican Party, one can never be too sure.

The truly fascinating and important result come from comparing the new NBC poll with the previous one, conducted at the end of August. At that point, Rick Perry was in the lead with 38%, followed by Romney with 23%. Cain was tied for 5th at 5%. In the new poll, Perry's support has fallen to 16%, Romney is stuck at 23%, and Cain surged to 27%. His 22% rise perfectly mirrors Perry's 22% fall. Essentially, a fifth of the electorate decided to switch horses, and, statistically speaking, none of them decided to switch to Romney!

This is yet more support for the idea that most Republican voters just don't want to vote for the most electable (i.e., least conservative) of the major candidates. Romney's path to the nomination is to keep as many conservative candidates in the race to split the anti-Romney vote, allowing his 20-some percent to carry the day. Once he racks up wins in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada, he'll ride the inevitability/electability wave to the nomination. If 2 or 3 out of Perry/Cain/Bachmann/Gingrich drop out of the race before Iowa, one of the survivors might be strong enough to overcome Romney. But if everyone stays in and stays relatively even, Romney will cruise to the nomination.

This dynamic helps explain Romney's approach in last night's debate to Michele Bachmann. A feature of the debate was that each candidate was allowed to ask one question to another candidate. Most used this as an opportunity to try to nail Romney. When it was Romney's turn, he chose to lob a softball to Bachmann, who launched into an excerpt from her standard stump speech. Romney needs Bachmann, the weakest of the 2nd tier candidates, to stay competitive to draw support from other conservatives, so he used his question to help her out.

It will be very interesting in the weeks before Iowa (less than 3 months away) to see if there's pressure on conservative candidates to get out of the race. We know Ron Paul's in it til the convention, but will any of the others bow out to keep the more-moderate Romney from being the nominee?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Quick reactions to GOP debate

-Herman Cain said in response to the very first question that he would, in his first year as President, pass a balanced budget. Given that military+medicare/medicaid+Social Security+interest on the debt = total tax receipts, I would be very interested how Cain would go about achieving a balanced budget so soon. Republicans always preface their plans to cut Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security by saying current beneficiaries would not be affected. It's impossible to get a balanced budget next year without making cuts to these programs next year.

-Rep. Bachmann repeated the standard Republican claim that the federal government is responsible for all those bad loans. Banks were forced, so the line goes, by the government to give $500,000 loans to janitors. This is, of course, pure bullshit. Looking at how hard it was to pass Dodd-Frank, which is a very weak regulatory structure for banks, it is ridiculous to claim that the poor, oppressed banks were forced to give all those subprime loans.

-Bachmann also repeated the bullshit that increasing the debt limit gave Obama a "blank check". The President can't spend a nickel without Congress's specific say-so. It's not a blank check for Obama; it's a check that Congress had already written and signed.

-Much of the debate centered around Herman Cain's 9-9-9 plan. Bachmann chose the line of attack that, by adding a whole new kind of federal tax (a 9% sales tax), Cain would open the door to the sales tax being increased in the future. Cain is prevented from using the best defense to this claim, which is that neither Democrats nor Republicans would ever increase a sales tax. Republicans wouldn't raise a tax, period, and Democrats would never raise a strongly regressive tax. Using this line of defense would highlight the regressive nature of sales taxes, so Cain can't use it.

-Cain continues to demonstrate a lack of understanding about how laws work, as previously discussed here. He wants to include in his 9-9-9 bill a requirement for a 2/3 vote by the Senate to raise taxes. Because one act of Congress cannot bind another, a future Congress could just come along and say "Fuck that 2/3 thing", and vote a tax increase with a simple majority.

-Cain continued the tactic of portraying the participants in the Occupy Wall Street movement as being distinct from "real Americans". He claimed his recent remarks that those who aren't rich only have themselves to blame were only directed at OWS, not at the 14 million who are unemployed through no fault of their own. It is a false distinction aimed at marginalizing the OWS protesters.

-Rep. Paul rightly laid the smackdown on Cain after Cain claimed Alan Greenspan was the best Fed chair of the past 40 years. Greenspan's Fed bear much of the blame for inflating the housing bubble.

-Gov. Perry ignored a question about why the income gap is growing so much, choosing instead to launch a non-specific attack on Obama. It's not surprising that he avoided the question, as there is no answer a supply-sider can give to the question. Ron Paul could have pointed to crony capitalism as a cause, but none of the other candidates has an answer.

-Perry needed to land some punches on Romney to revive his campaign, and he wasn't able to do it. But he also didn't "throw up on himself" as he did in the previous debate.

-Romney had a good night. The format of sitting around a table together made for a more cordial, less-attacking debate, which benefits the guy with the biggest target on his back. I think Romney would be fine with everyone spooning throughout the next debate.

Boycott the Bad Guys

I sympathize with the Occupy Wall Street movement. The fabulous growth in income over the past 30 years of the top 1% of earners while millions of Americans are without health insurance is a sign of a dysfunctional system. It's unfortunate that the actions of OWS participants seem focused on asking the government to intervene on their behalf, rather than doing what they can as private individuals to bring about change. One action that the 99% could undertake, without requiring any help from the government, is to boycott those products/companies owned by the worst actors of the 1%. I'd humbly suggest that we start with Brawny paper towels, owned by the Koch brothers (massive funders of right-wing causes, main force behind the efforts in several states to strip union rights from teachers and cops, tied for 4th-richest Americans. Read Bloomberg's article on their non-political corporate misbehavior).

Even with all the gains made by the 1% in the past 30 years, they only make about 20% of the total reported income. Unless you're Rolls Royce, your company depends on customers from the 99%. A customer base making purchasing decisions based on corporate behavior is a much bigger threat to the 1% than marching in the street begging politicians to help you.

With their power to obliterate brands and companies, motivated consumers can force changes in how the 1% treats the 99%. Koch Industries paid $21 billion a few years back for Georgia-Pacific, the company that makes Brawny paper towels, along with Dixie cups, Quilted Northern toilet paper, and many other products. The threat of zeroing out that investment would go a long way toward stopping the Kochs' campaign to blame all the ills of society on teachers making fifty grand a year.

Libertarians/conservatives argue against government regulations by advocating for the free market. This approach depends on informed consumers making rational decisions based on their personal values. We can depend on government to fulfill this role for us, but in the post-Citizens United world of one dollar/one vote, it's unwise to count on politicains to do this for us. Fortunately, we don't need them. We're powerful enough to do it ourselves. We are the 99%.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

27,000+ Americans wrong on forgiving student loan debt

The Obama White House recently introduced a petition feature on its website, where Americans can digitally sign on to various policy proposals or questions. If a certain threshold is reached, the White House promises to give an official response to the petitioners. Depending on how seriously the White House takes these petitions, it could be a great way for voters to voice their concerns to the government.

As you might expect, the clear champion amongst the petitions in terms of number of signers concerns the end of marijuana prohibition. The second-most popular petition advocates the forgiveness of all student loan debt in order to put money in people's pockets and stimulate the economy. As a holder of significant loan debt, I would greatly benefit personally were this to be done. However, it is terrible fiscal/economic policy.

While most college graduates have taken a hit in the past few years, they are still doing better than non-grads. Most immediately, that should disqualify them from being a preferred group to receive government benefits, as there are people (some of whom are themselves college graduates, to be fair) who are struggling for the essentials of living. In terms of stimulus, forgiving student loan debt is an inefficient use of government resources because college grads are less likely than their poorer counterparts to spend any money they have and stimulate the economy. People who already can afford the essentials might save some of the windfall from the government, but those in poverty will spend it.

Student loan forgiveness is a waste of government resources, giving benefits to people who are less likely to need them and less likely to use them to stimulate the economy. It's better to give money to the janitor than the secretary. Of course, either is better than giving money to the boss, which is the Republicans' plan.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The GOP candidates, Part 6: Herman Cain

First, some news: looks like Chris Christie is going to stay out; he's holding a press conference at 1pm today, if the rumors are to be believed. Mitt Romney's a very happy man.

The other big news this morning is an ABC/Washington Post national Republican poll which confirms the findings of the previous poll, by Fox. The relevant bits are:

-Rick Perry's taken a big hit, losing over a third of his support, dropping from 28% to 17-19%.
-Despite the wide fluctiations in the support of Perry and others, Romney continues to chug along in the low to mid twenties, lending further support to our recent discussion of his position. He has now passed Perry in the polls, according to the rolling average of polls compiled by
-Herman Cain is the new flavor of the month, picking up just about all the voters Perry lost. He is tied with Perry in 2nd place in hte new poll.

Cain's strength means it's time to revisit his candidacy. His shortcomings in foreign policy were discussed previously. As a successful businessman and former chairman of the board of directors of the Kansas City Fed, he has significant and politically-attractive economics/business experience. He also has mastered stating his positions with an upbeat tone that stands out at debates.

His main policy proposal is his 9-9-9 plan, which would scrap all federal taxes and replace them with a 9% flat corporate tax, a 9% flat income tax, and a 9% national sales tax. Cain has not released, so far as I'm aware, a detailed analysis of his plan. Here's an analysis that shows, as one might expect with a flat tax structure, that the taxes for the poor would go way up and the taxes for the rich would go way down. By eliminating capital gains taxes, an estimated 23,000 millionaires would pay no taxes on their income at all. In total, the plan would bring in roughly $300 billion less than the current plan, which would require more debt.

But, Herman Cain is not, at least at this point, a serious or viable candidate for President. On a superficial level, he appears to be more interested in building his name and selling books than winning the nomination. His list of upcoming events includes nothing in Iowa and New Hampshire, instead holding events in later-voting states like Texas, Virginia, Ohio and Arizona. He's taking 2 weeks away from campaigning to sell his book. He also has very little campaign infrastructure in place (pollsters, Iowa caucus captains, etc.), though with the increased attention/donations, he might be able to build a real campaign.

More generally, his complete lack of experience in government will be a damning liability. This past weekend, he appeared on Fox News Sunday. He was asked whether, by adding a new kind of tax (federal sales tax), would he make it easier for the government to tax more. He said "In the legislation that I am going to ask Congress to send me, I want a two-thirds vote required by the Senate in order for them to change it. That will impede cavalierly raising it." The problem is that the legislation would be clearly unconstitutional. One piece of legislation cannot bind another. Cain and his advisors appear to be unaware of this fact.

Cain also has practiced the Republican pastime of lying about health care reform. In a recent debate, he claimed that he would not have survived cancer a few years back had Obamacare been in place. He stated that his care would have required a federal bureaucrat's approval. This claim was determined by Politifact to be "False".

Herman Cain, while not a serious candidate, is attracting significant conservative anti-Romney support. He will have to decide whether he wants to profit from this support by selling books (the Huckabee route) or actually try to be elected President. Given his significant weaknesses as a candidate and complete lack of government experience, he might be better off to try the former.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Ronald Reagan supports Obama's Buffett Rule

Even St. Ronald the First supports the Buffett Rule. Here's the video. It's only a minute long and very much worth viewing for Democrats and Republicans alike.

So now we have a "radical socialist anti-colonial" who as President has:

-advocated changes to the tax code that Reagan also proposed,
-passed a similar health plan to ones supported by Mitt Romney, mid-90's Senate Republicans, and leaders at the conservative Heritage Foundation, while refusing to fight for a public option or single payer,
-passed a stimulus bill that was too small and largely constituted of tax cuts,
-expanded gun rights, earning an F from the anti-gun Brady Campaign,
-extended the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy,
-kept Gitmo open, continued drone attacks and generally continued Bush's foreign policy.

You can agree or disagree with Obama's policies, but to call his Presidency anything other than centrist, or even conservative, is so laughable I couldn't take seriously anyone who would make the claim.

Mitt's "anti-Romney" problem

One of the main narratives assigned to the Republican primary season is the quest to be the "anti-Romney", the candidate who gains the most support among conservatives who think Romney is too moderate (and/or too Mormon, depending on your view of the Christian Right). With Romney running for the Republican nomination non-stop for the past 5 years, voters have already made their minds up on him, and his overall support is unlikely to change much, at least until actual primary and caucus results start shaking up the race.

The polling data pretty much supports this view. Despite big shake-ups to the race (Huckabee dropping out, the rise and fall of Trump and Bachmann (and Perry?), the rise of Herman Cain), Romney's support in polls has been pretty steady in the high-teens to mid-twenties.

His support is high enough to dominate a field of candidates who split the conservative votes among themselves. The goal of all the other candidates is to consolidate the anti-Romney vote behind him-/herself, climbing above Romney's steady but beatable support. Romney wins by keeping the field closely competitive with each other, allowing his more moderate voter base to carry him to victory. He is greatly helped by additional conservatives in the race; Sarah Palin entering the race would probably deliver Romney the nomination. She would pull enough conservatives from Bachmann and Perry in Iowa that Romney would likely win there. Following that up with a win in New Hampshire, where he absolutely dominates the polls, would pretty much end the race. In the past 9 election cycles, which more or less define the modern primary era, no Republican has won the nomination without winning either Iowa or New Hampshire, and wins there would coalesce support behind him as the most electable candidate. There would be immense pressure from anti-Romney conservatives on weaker conservative candidates to get out of the race before Iowa to keep that from happening.

However, the emergence of another moderate candidate, such as NJ Gov. Chris Christie, or the ascension to viability of former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, would likely devastate Romney's campaign. If either is able to peel 5-10% from Romney's total, he sinks from frontrunner to also-ran.

Christie will reportedly announce his decision in the next few days. We'll know a lot more about the shape of the Republican race, and Mitt Romney's chances, when he does.