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Archive for October, 2011

Continuing our increasingly popular GOP debate tradition, tonight’s awards upon the conclusion of the Dartmouth debate. Notably, we offer for the first time our…

Actual Debate Strategy Award: Herman Cain. The story here is not simply that Cain got plenty of mentions of the 9-9-9 plan into his and everyone else’s answers (20, by my count). The debating success was that over the course of the session he was able achieve the rhetorical equation of his plan with himself as candidate. Hence when 9-9-9 was mentioned–not necessarily Cain by name–Cain was given a chance to respond. Cain now is 9-9-9. Thus he dominated and was given large amounts of time to explain and amplify his message. #999 emerged on twitter as its own hashtag, and when people were tweeting about #999 they were also tweeting about #HermanCain. The next messaging challenge is for Cain to attach positive values to the Cain999 brand; he rolled these out tonight: Fair, Neutral, Visible, Simple, Transparent.

Lorne Michaels Thanks You/Saturday Night Live You-Can’t-Make-This-Up Award: Tie, Rick Perry for apparently napping through the entire debate (paging Alec Baldwin); and Michele Bachman (paging Dana Carvey, who better get busy dusting off his Church Lady costume after the Congresswoman suggests the 9-9-9 plan is an inverted Mark of the Beast. Could it be….Satan?)

Remember the Maine! Historical Obscurity Award: Michele Bachmann, for referencing the Spanish-American War Tax. Close second to the questioner from Bloomberg who cited the costs of building the Erie Canal.

Tim Russert Is Rolling Over Award: Shared by all panelists. After playing a damning clip of Ronald Reagan clearly endorsing the principles of Obama’s so-called “Buffett Tax” on the wealthiest Americans, the moderators allowed every respondent to dodge, bob, and weave; Mitt Romney even appeared to say he preferred the tax policies of fellow Massachusetts Democrat John Kennedy to the president we otherwise would be led to believe was the greatest Republican of the century. Russert would never, ever, have let this slide.

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Senator Fred Dalton Thompson Unfortunately High Expectations Award: Rick Perry. ‘Nuff Said.

John Williams Best Versatile Soundtrack Award: Bloomberg News. Musical interludes during the fade ins and outs to commercials included a potpourri of bongo war drums befitting Rick Santorum’s battle cry against China; a Philip Glass-like serialist electronic rhythmic figure suited to Rick Perry’s peaceful absence; an Ennio Morricone thriller passage capturing Herman Cain’s vigor and insurgence.

Admiral James B. Stockdale Memorial Who Am I, And Why Am I Here Award: Jon Huntsman. An earlier recipient of the Your Twitter Feed Is Making Me Sad Award, Gov. Huntsman (whose twitter feed is still making me sad) now seems completely irrelevant. Please, just let it go.

Barry Goldwater Memorial This Isn’t a Conservative Movement I Recognize Award: Rick Perry. One of his three Reagan references was to the President’s bombastic, radically conservative son Michael. We consulted the experts at ReaganCount.com, who sadly denied credit for this junior-Reagan mention. But after listening to every single candidate engage with the real Reagan on his centrist position on taxes and fairness, it was less than encouraging to hear Michael Reagan invoked by a leading candidate for his father’s party’s nomination.

Justin Bieber Twitter Team Award: Rick Perry. Within 30 seconds of a bumbling answer on “opening up our energyexploration areas” his team had two nicely worded, succinct tweets out on energy independence. Go interns!

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Chris Christie sure looked like Mitt Romney’s running mate this afternoon

But obvious hurdles remain, including those same concerns that probably motivated his choice not to run for the top spot, policy differences with the base, and physical appearance. As Chris Matthews has pointed out, it also would seem that pairing a Mormon with a Roman Catholic isn’t the most obvious way to mollify skeptics on the evangelical right.

Still. Christie is my dollars-down candidate for VP pick, for a largely rhetorical reason: He’s a tough guy from Jersey, and he plays the part. It’s how he looks, how he sounds — it’s his persona.
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He looks the part, and acts it, and speaks it. He isn’t afraid to sound pissed off.
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And it’s done intentionally. Here’s Christie talking about his rhetorical style:
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Christie’s pugilistic style places him squarely in the tradition of recent VPs — particularly on the right — who will say the things the C-in-C can’t be heard to say. It’s an effectively proven line that goes back from Dick Cheney to Spiro Agnew, heard here in 1968 telling the “hippies and the yippies to shut up and work.”
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And if the current president would only unleash him, that line of VP soldiers-for-the-cause might include Joe Biden. Christie would make a formidable VP attack dog and effective asset for the GOP ticket regardless of who heads the bill. But no one could benefit more from the New Jerseyite’s working-guy image and brash rhetorical style than Mr. Clean, Mitt Romney.

Postscript: In searching for the Agnew clip, I came across this amusing remix, a lovely piece of po-mo pop culture:

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There has been a boom of chatter in the media today, coming on the heels of comments from prominent Texas Pastor Robert Jeffress over the weekend. Jeffress, who is closely associated with Rick Perry, referred to Mormonism as a “cult” and explicitly said he does not consider Romney a Christian. And that while he considers Romney a “moral man,” he would prefer a Christian president to a non-Christian one. Jeffress is not backing down, continuing a media barrage and not issuing backtracking “clarifications.”

So here we go.

Comment was solicited promptly from the other candidates, including Perry, whose only response thus far was to answer “no” when asked if he believes Mormonism is a cult.

Michele Bachman refused to answer any questions in a CNN interview. Herman Cain, on ABC and then CNN later Sunday morning, revealed a bit more. Candy Crowley: “Is Mitt Romney a Christian?” Cain: “He is a Mormon. That much I know. I am not going to do analysis of Mormonism versus Christianity.”

Versus. This was not a dodge.

So what’s the upshot going to be? On POLITICO today, there’s an interesting debate over whether the anti-Mormon rhetoric could create a Romney sympathy vote. I said no — at least among hard core evangelical Christians. After all, isn’t it the position of the right wing that squishy moral-relativistic ideas like religious diversity are destroying civilization? And if Romney wants to play the victim-of-intolerant-theocrats card, the most he should hope for is a cameo spot in Bill Maher’s sequel to Religulous.

Maher had an insightful (and of course irreverent) comment on the matter on his most recent HBO programIn typical fashion, he asked: What is the difference between accepting latter-day revelation (e.g. Joseph Smith) and earlier-day revelation (e.g. Moses)? In the interest of intellectual consistency, there are only four positions one can take on the matter: 1) Accept the concept of religious revelation and allow for its variation across time and among faiths; 2) Accept religious revelation and do not allow for its variation; 3) Reject the concept of religious revelation; 4) Reject the relevance of the question.

Unfortunately, presidential politics places a limited emphasis on intellectual consistency. What we are witnessing and will continue to witness is a rhetorical criss-crossing of these four positions, particularly among those competing for Romney’s front-runner status. As epitomized in the Cain interview, people will take position 4 (the question isn’t relevant) but implicate positions 2 (Pastor Jeffress).

And wait for it: Just as some on the right respond to the Obama-is-a-Muslim conspiracy theories, “If he says he’s a Christian, I take him at his word.”

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