’12 tourney tidbits

    The latest on the 2012 presidential race:Newt Gingrich says he intends (finally) to announce his exploratory candidacy on Wednesday. I truly, madly, deeply hope he sticks to the plan. Nobody in the Republican race has yet filled the ’90s-retread niche, and Newt is ideal. And even though, in the end, his bid will be the most entertaining crash-and-burn of the ’12 campaign, in the meantime let us imagine the possibilities:Rudy Giuliani said on NBC yesterday that he’s weighing a presidential bid of his own, and the vulgarian-in-chief, Donald Trump, is still threatening to take the plunge. If only we could receive such gifts. I envision a primary season debate where Newt, Rudy, and The Donald vie for the allegiance of right-wing family-values voters, while hoping that nobody notices their combined track record of nine wives.No wonder so many establishment Republicans are pining for the serious-minded Mitch Daniels. Sooner rather than later, some grownup will have to step in and stop this circus before the clowns run rampant.——-Elsewhere on the Republican front, potential grownup Jon Huntsman road-tested an important stump line during his Saturday commencement address at the University of South Carolina. Huntsman, who has just returned stateside after serving several years as the U.S. ambassador to China, has been weighing a Republican bid (with the help of a nascent campaign team that has been working the grassroots and schmoozing with donors) despite his obvious baggage – namely, that his boss these past two years has been Barack Obama.That fact alone could be enough to irrevocably freak out the Republican primary voters. Which is why ex-Utah governor Huntsman appears to hewing to the old political rule, “Hang a lantern on your problems” – in other words, publicize your own liabilities in order to spin them favorably. Which is what he tried to do on Saturday, in his advice to the college graduates (although the line was really aimed at the conservative voters of South Carolina, which hosts a key early primary):”Work to keep America great. Serve her, if asked. I was, by a president of a different political party. But in the end, while we might not all be of one party, we are all part of one nation…”Translation: Working for Obama was not a traitorous act, it was an act of patriotism.If Huntsman decides to run (he’s promising to ponder for a few weeks), would the South Carolina primary electorate buy his flag-waving message? Is it possible that these voters – many of whom are evangelical Christians – would support a guy who worked for Obama and who supports gay civil unions and who happens to be Mormon? (Notably, fellow Mormon Mitt Romney continues to avoid South Carolina.)Of course, it’s theoretically possible for a Republican to win the nomination despite losing the South Carolina primary. But guess what: Since 1980, no Republican has ever won the nomination without first winning the South Carolina primary.——-Mike Huckabee, who remains in Hamlet mode about a ’12 bid, was ruminating about Ronald Reagan on Friday – but, actually, he was saying something quite revealing about himself.Huckabee told Fox News: “Ronald Reagan would have a very difficult, if not impossible, time being nominated in this atmosphere of the Republican party…Because he raised taxes as governor, he made deals with Democrats, he compromised on things in order to move the ball down the field…You have to govern in a way that is different than the way you campaign.”Huckabee is right about Reagan, of course; in today’s Republican party, Reagan’s record as California governor would have prompted the base to assail him as a flaming liberal. But Huckabee was also signaling why he remains wary about running in ’12:Because he knows that the party’s tax-averse extremists (led by a vocal special interest group, The Club for Growth) would seek to eviscerate him for the track record he compiled as governor of Arkansas. They went after him in 2008, and they’d do it again. Fact is, Huckabee raised taxes 21 times during his long tenure; all told, he presided over a net tax increase of roughly $501 million. Many of those hikes were defensible, given the fact that Arkansas had deficit woes and he was constitutionally required to balance the state budget, but Huckabee well knows that a Reaganesque gubernatorial record is viewed by today’s conservatives as (in his coinage) “anathema.”No wonder Huckabee hesitates. Who needs the grief? Kicking back and making money must seem like very tempting alternatives.——-My Sunday newspaper column implicitly says to Democrats: “Don’t get cocky and assume that the hit job on Osama bin Laden makes President Obama a shoo-in next year.” Obama’s re-election strategists are surely aware of what happened to George H. W. Bush one year after winning the Gulf War – as well they should be.——-Speaking of the terrorist who sleeps with the fishes, much has been written in recent days about the “9/11 generation” – the kids now in their early ’20s who were pre-teens on that terrible day. One of my UPenn students, journalist-in-training Matt Flegenheimer, wrote his own mini-memoir for online publication. Matt’s family lived in an apartment only a few hundred yards from Ground Zero, but never slept there again. And that’s not the half of it. His piece is worth reading, here.

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