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Mike Huck Down: The Battle for Iowa

May 22nd, 2011 1 comment
Mike Huckabee

With the electric bass-playing, Iowa-winning, obesity-fighting, charismatic former governor and Southern Baptist minister Mike Huckabee declining to run, who will fill his void?

The most important event to date in the 2012 GOP nominating process occurred last weekend, and I believe it has already passed for most of the public with relatively little fanfare. That event was the announcement by former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee that he would not be running for president. As the two runners-up from the Republicans’ last presidential nomination, and the two most consistently high in the polls, I was fairly certain that the race would come down to Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee if they both ran.

Now the race is essentially: “Is there anyone better than Mitt Romney? Please? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Anyone?”

Perhaps most importantly, Huckabee’s exit means that the race for Iowa (the first contest and one of the most important) is wide open. Huckabee surprised everyone by coming out of nowhere to win Iowa last time. His sincerity, populism, and religiosity played well among the heavily evangelical voters that represented around 60% of Republican caucus-goers in 2008 Iowa. Without the anointed Huckabee, however, these heartland evangelicals are now casting around for a Romney-alternative who can speak to their hearts and their guts.

Why is this such a big deal? Because almost every candidate besides Mitt Romney has only one path to the nomination, and it runs through Iowa.

Let me lay it out for you. There are three early contests that matter for Republicans: Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina (sorry Nevada – no one cares). Historically, Iowa has voted for a candidate, then New Hampshire has said, “Screw Iowa,” and chosen a different one, and then South Carolina has decided between the two, with the rest of the country following suit. Since Romney has a pretty strong lockdown on New Hampshire, the other contenders are counting on Iowa to catapult them into the front of the pack. Furthermore, for the candidates without national name-recognition (pretty much all of them), Iowa is their last chance to gain the limelight, without which, they are just yesterday’s toast.

Obviously, the process doesn’t have to follow the expected script. A second-place winner in Iowa or New Hampshire could leverage that to unexpected wins over a still-undecided base, like Bill Clinton did in 1992, but I wouldn’t bet on it. Nominations for the Democratic Party tend to be much less predictable than for the Republicans.

So who has the best shot at snatching Iowa now? A flashy, socially-conservative populist who appeals to the base and doesn’t mind coming off as a dick to most rational people. Hey – is Donald Trump still in? No? Ok, basically I’d watch these four: Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, and Newt Gingrich…. ok, ok, and Sarah Palin if she runs, but honestly I just don’t see it happening at this point. She would have to have at least the skeleton of a possible operation in Iowa, which does not seem to be the case.

As far as other candidates, don’t be surprised if Ron Paul does better than expected, considering that he was a libertarian before it was cool. That being said, his consistent principles pretty much guarantee that he’ll still go nowhere in the Republican primaries. I guess Tim Pawlenty still has a chance if the Republican Party spends months arguing about what flavor to choose before giving up and just going with vanilla. Wait, you don’t know who Tim Pawlenty is? Bummer, because he doesn’t even interest me enough to find a link to insert.

That leaves Jon Huntsman as the only other candidate worth mentioning. He’s a competent, reasonable, moderate Republican who accepted Obama’s offer to serve as ambassador to China. Sadly, the very things that make him (in my opinion) the most viable opponent against Obama are the same ones that will doom his chances in Iowa. I guess if he weren’t Mormon, he could at least make a good running mate for Romney.

Jan Luyken's illustration of the Rapture described in Matthew 24:40, from the Bowyer Bible.

The Rapture: the real reason Huckabee decided not to run?

And that, to be honest, is how I see the whole shindig at this point: tryouts for Mitt Romney’s running mate. Because as awful a candidate as Mitt Romney is, he’s all that the Republicans have got now that Huckabee’s out. So I wish all the no-name candidates good luck in their battle for Iowa. It probably won’t matter.

In other news, I was thinking about getting raptured today, but I used God’s name in vain earlier just to be sure I could finish this blog post. You’re welcome.

Death and Politics Part II: Foreign Policy

May 17th, 2011 No comments
Portrait of Pakistani ambassador to U.S., Hussein Haqqani

Hussein Haqqani, Pakistan's ambassador to the U.S., has been talking tough since the bin Laden operation violated Pakistan's sovereignty, but he still doesn't want the U.S. to cut aid to his country.

For my second post on the political impact of Osama bin Laden’s death, I’d like to address foreign policy and the War on Terror, or whatever we’re calling it these days.

In terms of foreign policy, there are two obvious countries in my periscope: Pakistan and Afghanistan. Back during the 2008 presidential debates, Barack Obama stated that if he knew Osama bin Laden was in Pakistan, he would go in and get him, even if it meant violating the sovereignty of an ally. McCain called him naïve. Fast forward two and half years, and Obama did exactly that. And Pakistan did not like it.

When I watched Obama’s speech announcing the event, one thing I noticed was that the intended audience seemed to be the Pakistani government just as much as the American people. The President made explicit overtures to the continuing friendship of the two countries, and seemed to be implying, “I understand this isn’t going to go over well in Pakistan, but please understand my position and stick with me.” I don’t know if they will. Obama had the option of pursuing a joint operation with Pakistani forces, but nixed it, signaling mistrust either of  their abilities or their intentions. Some Pakistani politicos seem mostly willing to stand with Obama, while also criticizing the operation out of political necessity, but others are angrier. Pakistan’s spy agency, for example, leaked the name of a local CIA chief, seemingly in retaliation, and there have also been increasingly harsh words and saber-rattling. I don’t know whether this is just a necessary “cathartic” process in response to a violation of sovereignty, or whether it really will deteriorate relations further. A recent firefight between U.S.-led NATO helicopters and Pakistani troops near the border suggests more problems on the horizon. Some voices here in America are calling for us to cut off aid to Pakistan, suspecting that the government was at least complicit in hiding Osama. That would be naïve because it is still better to have a duplicitous Pakistan as a half-hearted ally than to not have them on our side at all.

Tanks and soldiers in rugged Afghanistan

Since the death of Osama bin Laden, the pressure has been mounting to bring the troops home from Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, a chorus is also growing for the U.S. to start leaving Afghanistan ASAP. The thought process goes that we got bin Laden, so our work is done. This is simplistic because it overlooks the strategic importance of our presence there: first, to prevent an al-Qaeda-supported Taliban from taking over and turning the country into a terrorist launching ground; and second, to be prepared and in the neighborhood for an emergency situation should nuclear-armed Pakistan take a bad turn. Now, at the same time, the argument could be made that police-style intelligence and sting operations like the one that got Osama are a more effective way to combat terrorist networks. They would certainly cost less. However, contrary to popular belief, the nation-building in Afghanistan has actually seen progress since Obama took over from Bush. I still believe it’s possible, with more time and money, and the new emphasis on building the Afghan police force, to leave Afghanistan as a stable, if deeply flawed, nation. Unfortunately, I have no idea if it’s worth it.

Lastly, the killing of Osama has reignited the debate over the use of torture for intelligence gathering. Conservatives have been on a media frenzy to argue that torture helped lead us to bin Laden, so liberals should get over their wussiness already. This idea is so stupid and debunked that I really thought it could be relegated to the domain of frat guys fresh off of the latest episode of 24. Silly me. Despite interrogation experts from right and left agreeing that torture doesn’t provide accurate information, and evidence that torture may have even delayed our progress catching bin Laden, conservatives continue to play up this myth. In many cases, torture only hardens the detainee’s resolve against his captor, and repeated torture yields only, “either limited information, false information, or no information,” to quote the former senior US military interrogator, Matthew Alexander. Case in point, eight years of waterboarding Khalid Sheikh Mohammed brought him no closer to revealing the name of Osama’s courier. He was waterboarded 183 times without giving up any leads to the one man that led us to bin Laden. Interrogation techniques based on building rapport have proven to be much more successful. Even John McCain is making it clear that torture did not lead to Osama bin Laden:

Moving beyond its demonstrated ineffectiveness, do we really want to be a nation that tortures? When terrorists “attacked our American values” did we really think the best way to respond was by abandoning those values? If Osama bin Laden says the United States is a cruel, moraless nation, and we respond by torturing all of his friends and shooting him in the face, who wins?

I hope the answers to these questions are obvious, because if not, we have a lot of soul-searching to do on what it really means to be American.

Death and Politics Part I: Osama and Obama

May 15th, 2011 2 comments
President Obama looking tense and pensive

President Obama made some difficult decisions in the lead-up to killing Osama bin Laden. At least domestically, they are sure to pay off.

Now that the world has had a little time to digest the news of bin Laden’s death, I’d like to touch on what I believe are the major political implications of it. In this first post, I’ll discuss the domestic politics.

The media has been obsessing over a “post-Osama bounce” in poll numbers for President Obama: did it actually occur; if so, how much; how long will it last; and, finally, does it even matter? While different pollsters and pundits are arguing in different directions on all of these, I generally agree with Nate Silver’s opinion, which is that the “bounce” itself will wear off reasonably quickly, but that the long-term impact for Obama (though impossible to isolate and measure) will undoubtedly be positive. Nate points out that even if the net gain come election time is only 1/2 a percentage point for Obama, that’s nothing to scoff at. Remember Florida 2000.

Most pundits are probably right when they say that the 2012 election will be decided on the economy, but the killing of Osama bin Laden takes away a few favorite strategies for Republican attacks on President Obama. Opposition leaders have taken to the narrative of labeling Obama as indecisive, ineffective and weak. After discovering the word “dithering” in the thesaurus, conservative politicians and pundits all over the Fox News network have been using it for months. That argument is much harder to make now. Since Republicans have traditionally been viewed as the “tough” party on national security, the successful raid ordered by Obama is a major blow to such an advantage. That means that Obama’s future challenger will have to win decisively on economic issues in order to move votes. The usual security-based fear-mongering will not be as salient.

In a nutshell, there are plenty of possible upsides for Obama out of this, and virtually no downsides politically. On the other hand, there will be plenty of complications from the killing of bin Laden, specifically in foreign policy, which I plan to concentrate on in my next post.

Categories: Elections, Obama Tags: ,