Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Romney avoids disaster

The results from Michigan are in. Romney won his home state by a score of 41%-38% over Santorum.

It is a result that perfectly fits with the story of the primary campaign so far. Romney won, but he didn't win by much, and he didn't inspire much confidence (or anything else, for that matter) while he was at it. He'll likely march his way to the nomination, but it will take a good while, and if Santorum/Gingrich can get out of each other's way, they might still stop him.

Despite his failings, he is a better general election candidate than a primary candidate, given the ever-increasing conservativism in the GOP electorate. Romney's task has been to move far enough to the right to win the nomination without alienating the . While he seems to be more or less succeeding at the first part, he is miserably failing at the second.

Here (fair warning; look at the y-axis) a graph of Romney's favorability ratings over the past 2 years. Since the start of the year, his net favorability rating (% who view him favorably minus % who view him unfavorably) has moved from +8.3% to -13.1%. That's a big drop.

Much of this drop has to do with the tone of his campaign. Much of the ad spending during the primaries has been negative attacks launched by the Romney campaign and his Super PAC. With the cycling of temporary frontrunners, Romney has had to launch multiple rounds of attacks, leading to a perception that his campaign is mostly negative. Which it is.

If he wins in Ohio next week, he'll have much more freedom to talk more about his 59 point economic plan, or his plan to slash income tax rates by 20%. If he loses, he'll have to continue funding his attack machine, driving down his ratings even further.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Cross-party primary voting

Michigan appears to be coming down to the wire. One poll released today has Santorum up by 1%, and the other released today shows Romney up by the same margin. The race, with its great potential to impact the rest of the primary campaign, will likely be decided by secondary factors. One factor that bears discussion, particularly with much of my readership being located in Ohio, is the issue of cross-party voting. In Michigan, as in Ohio, any voter is allowed to vote in either party's primary. The Santorum campaign has been using robo-calls to encourage Democrats to ask for a GOP ballot and vote for Santorum to stick it to Romney.

It would certainly be in the interest of the Democrats to see Romney lose in Michigan. And the race will likely be close enough that it wouldn't take too many mischievous union autoworkers to vote Republican to change the outcome. While Romney has been decrying such tactics in the past day, his record of admitting to voting in Democratic primaries in Massachusetts for the "weakest opponent for the Republican" undercuts his claim. So, given his personal history of doing the same thing, Romney deserves what he gets.

But I'm genuinely torn about whether or not voting in the other party's primary is an abuse of voting rights (disclosure: in 2000, my first official vote I ever cast was for John McCain, despite being a solid Democrat even then). On the one hand, it seems dishonest to say you're a supporter of one party when you're not. On the other, the parties are more or less able to make their own rules for primaries, and if they didn't want fake Republicans voting, they could change the rules to prevent it.

So I don't know what to recommend for Democrats and independents in Ohio and Michigan. It seems wrong to vote for the expressed purpose of sabotaging the other party, like Romney says he did in '92. But if, come the PA primary in April, there's a candidate who I think would be a better President than the others, I think I'd be ok with pulling the lever for him.

As far as tonight goes, if Romney loses but is able to point to Democratic shenanigans as an excuse, it might limit the effect of a Santorum win. I doubt that enough Democrats would be persuaded by the robocalls to make up for this cost, but we'll see. It's gonna be a long night; the last polls in Michigan close at 9pm ET, so there might be a late post tonight.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Why Michigan Matters

(note: sorry about the horse-race post)

Tomorrow, Michigan and Arizona have their primaries. The polling in each state indicates a likely Romney win in Arizona and a close finish in Romney's home state of Michigan. With these expectations set, Arizona won't matter in terms of bounce and/or impact on other races. Michigan, however, has a chance to have huge influence over the remainder of the primary season. There are two possible outcomes:

1. Romney wins, even narrowly. This blunts Santorum's momentum and gives Romney a bounce into Super Tuesday, one week later on March 6. He'll probably lose Georgia (to Gingrich), Tennessee and Oklahoma (to Santorum) regardless, but a win in Michigan will give him a decent shot at Ohio, along with likely wins in Massachusetts, Virginia and Vermont. and he'd probably be able to hold off Ron Paul in the caucuses in Idaho, Alaska, Wyoming and North Dakota. He re-establishes himself as the inevitable nominee. Like Obama in '08, he'd have a long primary season before he'd finally vanquish his foes, but with the eventual nomination in hand, he can kind of float above the fray, using the free media of the ongoing primary to rehabilitate his image and lay off the harshest attacks on his opponents.

2. Santorum beats Romney in Mitt's home state, where his father was a popular governor. Romney's aura of electability/inevitability is destroyed forever. He goes on to lose Ohio next week. Conservatives in Virginia, where only Romney and Paul are on the ballot, line up behind Paul to deny Romney a win. He finishes third in Georgia, Oklahoma and Tennessee and loses a couple caucus states to Paul. The race is blown wide open, and we don't know the name of the nominee until the convention in August.

So it'll be a big night. I still think Romney wins both states tomorrow and will be the eventual nominee, but I'm not nearly as confident now as I was in November.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Great article by John Heilemann

Great summary of the last several weeks of the Republican campaign.

The "too long; didn't read" or tl;dr version of the article is that Romney has alienated both independents and the Republican base, meaning that he likely can only win a general election if Europe or Iran fuck things up for Obama. He might even lose the nomination if he is unable to destroy Santorum in the same way he destroyed Gingrich. If Santorum wins the nomination, his mostly-inevitable loss to Obama would cause the GOP to move in a more moderate direction in 2016. If Romney is the standard-bearer who loses in November, it would drive the party into the waiting arms of 2016 nominee Sarah Palin.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Perfectly awful

Close your eyes (briefly... you still gotta read) and imagine the worst Republican candidate possible. What would be some of the characteristics of that candidate? Here's my guess at some main ones:

1. In an atmosphere of hatred from both sides (Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street) for the super-wealthy, he should have hundreds of millions of dollars.
2. It would be even better if he was born into money and influence. A self-made man, say a man born to parents of different races and given a funny name who writes a book and earns a few million, might inspire good feelings, but a man who was born at third base and thinks he hit a triple would really be a focus of ire.
3. Taking his money and doing something useful with it might make for a popular origin story. It would make him a more perfectly ridiculous candidate if he were to be a personification of corporate capitalism, required by law to be solely dedicated to making even more money.
4. Rather than letting his wealth be a tertiary bit of trivia in the campaign, he should constantly bring it up in increasingly ridiculous and tone-deaf ways, like "I'm also unemployed", "I like being able to fire people who provide services to me", "I'm not concerned about the very poor", or that his wife drives a "couple of cadillacs".
5. While a horrible personal history makes for an unappealing vessel, he and his campaign need to be really bad at the business of campaigning.
6. But beyond the optics of back-story and campaign theatrics, it's important that he speak out against popular practices like contraception, causing his standing amongst women to fall dramatically.
7. Lest any conservative actually be inspired by his superhuman ability to spout the the conservative talking point of the day, his rhetoric must be balanced with a long history of statements that he "is moderate, and my views are progressive."
8. History is not enough. We need new bits of evidence that he's not a true believer, like "If you just cut, if all you’re thinking about doing is cutting spending, as you cut spending you’ll slow down the economy."
9. For objective proof of his political impotence, he needs to finds himself locked in an existential struggle with Rick fucking Santorum.
10. Finally, we need to discuss his position on the issue that most animates his party's base. For the modern Republican Party, that issue is the individual health care mandate, which fueled the 2010 landslide. So our hypothetical worst candidate possible would have to be literally the one Republican out of the 35.9% of the entire country who are Republicans who is most tied to the individual mandate.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Biology, not Obama, forces involvement in health care

The individual mandate used to be a conservative idea. As discussed in this piece which appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the mandate was originally pushed by conservative leaders like the Heritage Foundation, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich. Richard Nixon supported an employer mandate, an idea to the left of Obama's plan. Even Milton fuckin' Friedman, a very conservative (and, to be fair, a very insightful and influential) economist, advocated for "a requirement that every U.S. family unit have a major medical insurance policy."

Most opposition to the mandate centers around the distinction between regulating economic activity and forcing economic activity. It is one thing, they say, for government to put rules in place regarding activity that you would want to do anyway (e.g., you want to buy a car, and the government can put rules in place about safety, pollution, etc.). But it's another thing, they say, to force you to participate in an activity you wouldn't otherwise choose to be involved in. And you know what? They kinda have a point.

But here's the thing: whether ObamaCare is repealed or not, simple biology mandates that everyone is involved in the health care industry. At some point, we are going to get sick and need medical care. Given that we will all eventually need care, and the costs to the system involved in such care, society has a role, via government, in regulating how that care is paid for.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Debate Takeaways

-Someone programmed Mitt Romney with a good Seinfeld reference. When the audience interrupted an answer of his with applause, he said "As George Costanza would say, when they're applauding, stop." He made the same reference at a debate in December.

-Rick Santorum missed a clear opportunity for another George Costanza reference, when he said a smart approach to some issue would be to find out the President's position and do The Opposite. If he'd have caught it, we could have looked forward to seeing Jason Alexander on the political talk shows this weekend. Who couldn't use more Jason Alexander in their lives? Oh well...

-The main takeaway from the debate for me was Ron Paul and Romney relentlessly attacking Rick Santorum throughout the debate. Santorum did flop around a bit making process-based defenses of previous votes (e.g., "I had to vote for X because I wanted Y", or "George Bush asked me to vote that way). But the real effect was that Paul and Romney forced Santorum to play defense, keeping his offense off the field in a debate where he needed to score some points against Romney. Romney seems to have stemmed the tide in Michigan, and by preventing Santorum from attacking him, I think Romney won Michigan yesterday.

-I can't for the life of me figure out what the hell Ron Paul is doing. His campaign is being very open about being clearly undemocratic in its efforts to game the caucus process to steal as many delegates as they can. It's an egregious violation of "one man, one vote."

But abusing the process isn't the confusing part. What I don't understand is why he wants all these delegates while also appearing to do everything he can to eliminate Romney's other competitors, guaranteeing Romney a clear majority of total delegates. He has been relentlessly attacking Santorum with a vicious ad in Michigan, even though Paul has given up on trying to win in Michigan. He similarly attacked Gingrich in Florida after Gingrich was the frontrunner after South Carolina. By thinning the field, Paul would win more delegates, but a minority of delegates doesn't matter if one candidate has a majority.

Ron Paul seems to want to amass as many delegates as possible in order to force concessions at the convention, perhaps earning a few planks in the party platform and/or a primetime speaking spot. But 500 delegates when Romney has 1,300 (with a threshold of 1,144 earning the nomination) wouldn't give Paul nearly the amount of leverage that he would have with 300 delegates if Romney has 900. In that scenario, Romney would give him anything he wants. Anything.

So I don't understand why Paul seemingly wants to clear the field for Romney. Yes, he would wind up with a few more delegates at the convention. But a minority delegation at a decided convention doesn't give him nearly the influence that a smaller number of delegates at a contested convention would give him. A contested convention would then seem to be the ideal circumstance for Paul, but he seems to be dedicated to letting Romney win without needing his delegates.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Why a brokered convention won't happen

The main reason that a brokered convention won't happen is that Rick Santorum is a terrible candidate. In the past few days, he has questioned President Obama's "theology" saying it is "not a theology based on the Bible, he has given a biblical basis for disbelieving global warming, he has come out against prenatal testing (amniocentesis), and an old speech from 2008 resurfaced in which Santorum says Satan is attacking the US and mainline American Protestantism is "in shambles". The 2008 speech was promoted heavily yesterday by the pro-Romney Drudge Report and represents the conservative establishment dogs coming out against Santorum like they did with Newt after he won in South Carolina. Unless Santorum can reverse the recent tide in Michigan that's seen Romney recover, he likely won't be able to stay with Romney over the long haul.

Another problem with a "white knight" like Jeb Bush or Mitch Daniels saving the party at a brokered convention is that a nominee from such a convention would be starting from a weak position. Why would Daniels or Bush want to get into this race when they can keep their powder dry for 2016, when they can run a full campaign and not have to face an incumbent. A "prominent Republican senator" told ABCNews that if Romney loses Michigan, "we need a new candidate". But unless they think Sarah Palin's better than Romney, they'll probably have to hold their noses and nominate him.

In other news, there's a big debate tonight in Arizona. It's the last one before Super Tuesday on March 6th. It's Newt Gingrich's last chance to make a splash, and a good moment one way or the other could decide between Romney and Santorum in Michigan. Expect a post on the debate either tonight or tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

What's a Brokered Convention?

Primaries don't elect candidates; they elect delegates. The goal of this whole thing is to get 1,144 delegates at the Republican National Convention, to be held in Tampa, FL in August. Each state gets so many delegates at the convention, and each primary/caucus decides who each delegate is sworn to vote for. But the delegate's obligation is only for the first vote at the convention. If no candidate reaches the 1,144/50% threshold, then all delegates are free to vote for whomever they please for the remainder of the convention. Voting continues until one candidate gets a majority.

Here's the thing: the delegates can vote for whomever they damn well please. They can vote for any eligible American. ANY! They could vote for Jeb Bush, or Brad Pitt, or my mother, or ANYONE!

Usually, each state's Republican Party chair attempts to control his delegates' votes by making various promises to the delegates, such as party support in future elections. Each candidate attempts to make deals with other candidates; e.g., Ron Paul would offer his, say, 300 delegates to Romney in exchange for a promise to return to the gold standard, and if he's able to actually deliver those 300 votes, he might put Romney over the 1,144 threshold. So a brokered convention can devolve into influence-peddling, with the expressed will of the voters rendered essentially irrelevant after the first ballot.

Next time, we'll discuss why/how a brokered convention could happen, and also why it probably won't.

Thanks, IT department!

Just figured out that if I add an "s" to make become, it gets around the surf blocker at work. So that's nice. No more poorly-typed unformatted posts tapped out on my phone.

Santorum as Republican Id

Despite polls showing Rick Santorum leading nationally by as many as 12 points, most still think Mitt Romney will win the nomination, with his odds as predicted by the market at still hanging relatively strong at 72%. But Rick Santorum seems well-placed to do a lot of damage to the Romney brand before he's done. Santorum's greatest asset is that he embodies the Republican Party more than any candidate, and he finds himself locked in a battle with an opponent whose biggest weakness is his lack of conservative bona fides.

On social issues, Santorum is more extreme than any candidate in modern history. His social views are defined by an open hostility to anything other than a Christian heterosexual marriage that produces hordes of children. He would use the office of the Presidency to rail against "the whole sexual libertine idea". His views on homosexuality are famous, comparing gay relationships to incest, bigamy, "man on child [and] man on dog." While it's tempting to thing such views would disqualify him from the nomination, such views are regularly spouted on talk radio stations around the country.

When it comes to economic policy, his record is a microcosm of Republican thought. His economic proposals focus on ruinous tax cuts coupled with draconian cuts to social programs. But he also has a record, like the rest of the 21st century Republican Party, of voting for a huge expansion of government programs in his vote for prescription drug coverage in Medicare. He rails against any federal involvement in K-12 education, but he voted for No Child Left Behind, which greatly expanded Washington's role.

These elements of Santorum make him the perfect foil to cause damage to Mitt Romney. The primary season has more than anything been defined by a reluctance of Republican rank-and-file to accept Romney due to his history of running as a liberal against Ted Kennedy in 1994, as a moderate for governor in 2002, and now as a conservative. Each Herman Cain or Donald Trump who rose to the top of the polls represented a desperate hope amongst the electorate for a true conservative. They were repeatedly disappointed by the failures of these flashes in the pan. Rick Santorum has a 20 year history of down-the-line conservatism (or at least what passed for conservatism at the time). This allows him to provide a reliable conservative alternative to Romney. If he can pull off a win in Michigan, where he currently leads in the polls, he can bring down Romney.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Obama exploiting Santorum to destroy Romney

Say what you will about Rick Santorum, the man is a true believer. While some just talk the talk on social issues, Santorum backs it up. For example, his wife gave birth at age 48 to a child with Edwards Syndrome, which has a pretty grave prognosis. It's something that most women, particularly at that age, would have prenatal testing for this and other conditions, and the vast majority of families would have had an abortion in the Santorums' situation. Gotta at least give them props for being consistent.

This contraception fight, which has brought social issues back to the forefront, couldn't have come at a better time for Santorum. In an environment where large swaths of voters have decided to vote for the most conservative candidate possible, kicking things into the social realm massively damages Mitt Romney. It is impossible for him to run to the right of true-believer Santorum on social issues without murdering himself in the general election. How do you run to the right of someone who emphasizes his opposition to the "whole sexual libertine idea"?

I am amazed by how well the President is playing this issue. He initially came out with a more or less reasonable proposal, which was more moderate than contraception mandates in several states. He then made it even more moderate by shifting the mandate to insurance companies. But the timing of when he raised the issue played right into Santorum's hands in his fight against Romney. By raising social issues right in the middle of a contested primary season, Obama forced Romney to either cede conservative ground to Santorum or make himself unelectable in the general.

Things have degraded for Romney to the point where he is in real danger of losing Michigan, the state where he was born, where his father was a popular governor, and which he won comfortably in 2008. The rising prominence of cultural issues in the primaries helps Rick Santorum at a critical time, and he got a big assist from the President.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Who are the extremists?

In Part 1, we discussed that objections to the contraception mandate aren't really about money, and in Part 2, I looked at the unreasonableness of religious objections to the proposal. Today, we'll arrive at the true motivation of the opposition, which is opposition to contraception, and more generally, modern sexual norms.

This is not to say that this motivation if every single person who opposes the policy. There are millions who reject the policy out of a true belief that it conflicts with freedom of religion. But as we've shown, to follow the religious freedom argument to its logical conclusion requires complete banning of all contraception; that is, it's no different to limit how one uses their health insurance policy than it is to limit how they spend their paycheck. The continuation of the political attacks on the President's policy requires that people continue to be unable to make this connection. Were the true implications of the line of reasoning behind the "religious freedom" argument laid bare, survey after survey shows that they would be resoundingly defeated.

Perhaps it's cynical to attribute this motivation to opponents of the policy. But the actions and stated intentions of many on the Right betray their true intentions (which, again, aren't necessarily the conscious intentions of every opponent).

Most flagrantly, Foster Friess, the multimillionaire who's by far the main source of funds for Rick Santorum's Super PAC, said that "back in [his] days, they used Bayer aspirin for contraception. The gals put it between their knees, and it wasn't that costly." Friess's comment is of course awful, and it's tempting to dismiss it as simply a bad joke from a loony rich guy. But it's not THAT much more crazy than comments by the Republican Presidential national frontrunner.

Rick Santorum's views on this issue which are undeniably and admittedly extreme. He stated:
One of the things I will talk about that no President has talked about before is I think the dangers of contraception in this country, the whole sexual libertine idea. Many in the Christian faith have said, “Well, that’s okay. Contraception’s okay.” It’s not okay because it’s a license to do things in the sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be. They’re supposed to be within marriage, they are supposed to be for purposes that are, yes, conjugal, but also [inaudible], but also procreative.
This is stunning. It is fine that Rick Santorum is personally opposed to contraception. I could theoretically vote for a Catholic with 12 kids who is personally opposed to abortion. But I cannot respect any political support for a man who would talk about this issue as President using language like this. He says, openly, that he will use the office of the Presidency to push his anti-contraception agenda. It is a terrible reflection of the modern Republican Party that such an extremist is getting such support.

It's possible that Santorum is being taken out of context. Judge for yourself. At the bottom of the article linked above (and here is the entire interview the quote is taken from. The section with the quote is at around 18:00. Prove me wrong, kids. Prove me wrong.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

My health choices can't damn you to hell

You go to work and get paid. You can spend your money on whatever you want. Even if you work at a Catholic hospital, you can take your paycheck and blow it on pentagrams, Sam Harris books, abortions, or a hamburger on a Lenten Friday. No one claims it to be an affront to anyone's religious liberty if you do these things with your paycheck.

You earn a health insurance policy via your job. Should a religiously-affiliated company desire, that policy need not include contraception coverage. Under President Obama's proposed mandate, your insurance company must offer you a free option to cover contraception (which can be free for reasons discussed in Part 1), but Notre Dame isn't forced to sully itself by paying for contraception.

Just like you're free to use your paycheck on whatever you want without endangering anyone's immortal soul, so too can you make changes to your own health insurance policy without damning anyone. If you and your insurance company decide to modify your plan by adding contraception coverage, it's no business of your employer, who is not involved in the transaction any more than they are involved in your pentagram purchase.

One might point out that there are Catholic institutions which self-insure, as well as Catholic insurance companies. If you really wanted to be extra careful, you could tweak the proposed mandate by allowing these Catholic insurance companies to give their beneficiaries a voucher for the value of their girl-parts insurance (for pregnancy and such), which they could take to another insurer who would provide girl-part insurance which includes contraception. If some think that such accounting gimmicks might save their souls, I suppose we can accommodate them.

So no one's or religious freedom is endangered by Obama's proposal (or a similar proposal with only a very minor tweak on the accounting). Tomorrow we'll discuss that resistance to the proposal is really based in a desire to ban contraception altogether; that is, to ban you from spending your paycheck on contraception. Gotta give 'em credit for at least being internally consistent.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Pills are cheaper than pregnancy

ObamaCare includes an individual mandate to buy, or have provided by provided by government or their employer, health insurance coverage. The plan they get must meet certain criteria; otherwise, they could buy a "policy" for $1 which provides no real coverage. One of the criteria is that health insurance plans must include contraception without any co-pays for the beneficiary.

Initially, Obama's proposed rule would have required any employer that's not a church to provide their employees with insurance that meets the above requirement. This mandate included religiously-affiliated organizations, like the University of Notre Dame and Catholic hospitals. Given the Church's teachings against contraception, this proposal met resistance. In an effort to appease the Church, the mandate was modified to require health insurance companies to offer the coverage. Notre Dame would purchase a plan from Insurance Company X that doesn't include contraception coverage. Insurance Company X would then send letters to each beneficiary offering free contraception coverage. Notre Dame doesn't have to pay for contraception, but women still get access.

Where does the money come from to provide this contraception? It turns out that medical care for unintended pregnancy is pretty darn expensive. The average normal pregnancy costs $7,600, and that assumes everything goes well. Then there are the costs of paying vast sums to all those super-rich pediatricians to care for the kid afterwards; well-child checks cost about $100 each, and about $85 for the average sick visit. On the other side, contraception ranges from about $140 to $800 per year, depending on the type used. An abortion at Planned Parenthood costs $300-$950. One unintended normal pregnancy, birth and childhood can pay for lots of care under the mandate.

Opponents of the bill point to a survey of 15 health insurers which shows a plurality saying that the mandate would increase costs. 6 said it would increase costs, 3 said they budget for contraception anyway, 1 said the change would not increase costs, and 5 said they didn't know. But the question asked of these companies only considered their costs in the first 1 or 2 years of the mandate. Funny thing about kids is that they usually need medical care for more than 1 to 2 years. If it's debatable whether the mandate costs anything in the first 1-2 years, it's a fairly safe bet that it doesn't cost anything at all on a longer time-frame.

Tomorrow, we'll look at who really pays for coverage under the mandate, and why it's ridiculous for Church bishops to have anything to say on the matter.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Deadlines and Issues

This is the final rebirth of The Political Doctor. As I don't have the best history when it comes to sticking with this, I make the following new rules:

1. I will post everyday between now and Election Day in November. That's at least one post every midnight-to-midnight period. It might not be more than "hey, this Rachel Maddow clip is great", but there will be something. Exceptions to this would include days on which a close friend or family member dies, is born, or is seriously injured.
2. More Oxford commas.
3. Should I break Rule 1, I will close down the blog for good.
4. I will attempt to focus more on the issues rather than the horse-race aspect of the campaign. They matter more, they're definitely more interesting, and they might be more thought- and conversation-provoking.

Anyone who knows me knows that, well, that I can be kind of a lazy guy, so I haven't been posting even though I've been following the election as closely as ever. But a deadline will force me to actually sit down and start typing. It will make the blog easier to follow; check back each day for a new post!. I also think regular posting on broader issues will allow for multi-day series of bite-sized, related posts.

Check back tomorrow for the first in a series of posts on the mandate that all health insurance companies provide contraception coverage to all employees. Sneak peek: it's a big winner for the President.