Novak: Pawlenty Not Popular Among GOP Governors

Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty has a high profile when it comes to potential running-mate options for John McCain. Pawlenty endorsed McCain early and stuck with him during hard times midway through 2007, and his center-right governance of blue-state Minnesota shows some real political talent. However, even Minnesotans question his conservative mien, and Robert Novak today reports that the unease extends to some of Pawlenty’s colleagues:

Minnesota’s Republican governor, Tim Pawlenty, carefully prepared his plan for controlling greenhouse gas emissions to present it at the annual winter meeting of governors in Washington. That effort coincided with Pawlenty’s fast-rising prospects to become Sen. John McCain’s choice for vice president. But behind closed doors, governors from energy-producing states complained so vigorously that Pawlenty’s proposal was buried.
Pawlenty’s position as chairman of the National Governors Association may prove to be his undoing. While party insiders sing his praises as ideal to be McCain’s running mate, leading conservative Republican governors have been less than pleased with him. Pawlenty has collaborated with the association’s Democratic vice chairman, Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell, on a fat economic stimulus package as well as the energy proposal.
Hours after Pawlenty’s energy plan was derailed, McCain himself was privately urged by GOP governors not to appear to be anti-coal or anti-oil. The upshot of a busy Saturday at the J.W. Marriott Hotel downtown was that Pawlenty came across as somebody considerably different from what McCain needs to calm conservatives. He left the nation’s capital as a less attractive vice presidential possibility than he was when he arrived.

Pawlenty has a tough job here in Minnesota, and he has chosen his fights carefully — a little too carefully for some of the state’s conservatives. He has survived a Democratic upsurge in 2006, holding onto his office by 20,000 votes. That forced Pawlenty to work more with the political opposition, including a hike in cigarette taxes, supporting a smoking ban in restaurants and bars, public financing for the Twins baseball stadium, and repudiating his earlier no-taxes pledge with the Taxpayers League.
None of this has endeared him to the state’s conservatives, nor has his flirtation with global-warming activists. The latter has extended that unpopularity to other Republican governors, which creates a big problem for John McCain. He will need the strong and public support of the dwindling number of GOP governors if he expects to unify the party. They have strong influence in their own states and can transmit enthusiasm or apathy to the Republican establishments there — and McCain can’t exactly count on grassroots efforts to bolster him among conservatives.
If Novak reads the temperature correctly, McCain can’t afford Pawlenty as a running mate. That would tend to point towards Haley Barbour or Mark Sanford as alternate choices. Either would work, and both would substantially raise his stature among conservatives. Of the two, Sanford would be the wiser choice. He seems more temperamentally suited to McCain — a pork fighter who has an independent, libertarian streak. Sanford could present a winning profile to those who want a strong candidate for 2012 or 2016, and who could appeal to independents and moderates as well as conservatives.

Bloomberg Shifts From King To Kingmaker

Michael Bloomberg has decided not to run for president, but he will likely decide on an endorsement in the next few weeks. The mayor of New York City opts out in today’s New York Times, but he makes clear that he will remain engaged as an independent voice — and that he’s looking to see which candidate displays that kind of party-independent leadership:

I believe that an independent approach to these issues is essential to governing our nation — and that an independent can win the presidency. I listened carefully to those who encouraged me to run, but I am not — and will not be — a candidate for president. I have watched this campaign unfold, and I am hopeful that the current campaigns can rise to the challenge by offering truly independent leadership. The most productive role that I can serve is to push them forward, by using the means at my disposal to promote a real and honest debate.
In the weeks and months ahead, I will continue to work to steer the national conversation away from partisanship and toward unity; away from ideology and toward common sense; away from sound bites and toward substance. And while I have always said I am not running for president, the race is too important to sit on the sidelines, and so I have changed my mind in one area. If a candidate takes an independent, nonpartisan approach — and embraces practical solutions that challenge party orthodoxy — I’ll join others in helping that candidate win the White House.

Independence in political approach sounds terrific — but it has become more of a fetish than a real platform. Especially with Bloomberg, it descends into platitude when it doesn’t get accompanied by a defined set of policies. What constitutes independent thought? What policies does it entail? Or is it just another way of saying, “Why can’t we all just get along?”
It sounds like “hope and change”, and we already have that platitude in buckets for this cycle.
Bloomberg himself turned out to be more or less a liberal statist as mayor, with the questionable exception of law and order. The man who banned restaurants from using trans-fats doesn’t qualify as a moderate, at least not any more. He has governed the Big Apple as a typical center-left Democrat would, still a large improvement over the doctrinaire liberal David Dinkins, but more a return to Ed Koch, without the humor.
So who would get Bloomberg’s support? Given this essay, one can easily predict Barack Obama. It won’t make much difference that Obama’s agenda doesn’t show a whit of independence from the Democratic Party platform; Bloomberg wants platitudes, and Obama produces them prodigiously. Bloomberg’s talk about unity and change fits nicely with Obama’s campaign rhetoric.
However, Bloomberg as kingmaker will be much less effective than Bloomberg as candidate. If he ran as an independent, Bloomberg could use as much of his own money for the race as he liked, and he has tons of it. He could drop a billion dollars and make himself at least into the Ross Perot of 2008, and he might even win a couple of states, which Perot couldn’t do. He can’t drop that kind of money into someone else’s campaign, though he could prove a highly successful fundraiser. It will not have anywhere near the impact of his own candidacy, and what’s more, it will reduce his profile as an “independent” the moment he signs onto either a Democratic or Republican campaign.
Of course, Bloomberg can always change his mind, claim to be disgusted at the tenor of the campaign, and launch his own bid for the presidency. He could wait until the conventions to do that and catch the other campaigns flat-footed. He would have learned that much from Ross Perot.

Obama’s Sotto Voce To Canadians: I’m Demagoguing On NAFTA

Barack Obama has joined Hillary Clinton in trashing one of her husband’s major economic and diplomatic achievements on the stump. He has told Americans that he rejects NAFTA, the program that created a free-trade zone out of North America, hoping to ride protectionist fever to the White House. However, the man who runs as a different kind of politician has a different kind of message to Canadians about NAFTA:

Barack Obama has ratcheted up his attacks on NAFTA, but a senior member of his campaign team told a Canadian official not to take his criticisms seriously, CTV News has learned.
Both Obama and Hillary Clinton have been critical of the long-standing North American Free Trade Agreement over the course of the Democratic primaries, saying that the deal has cost U.S. workers’ jobs.
Within the last month, a top staff member for Obama’s campaign telephoned Michael Wilson, Canada’s ambassador to the United States, and warned him that Obama would speak out against NAFTA, according to Canadian sources.
The staff member reassured Wilson that the criticisms would only be campaign rhetoric, and should not be taken at face value.

Reportedly, lower-level Hillary staffers gave the same kind of warning to Canadian representatives, but Team Hillary flatly denies it. The same cannot be said for Obama’s campaign. They called the warning “implausible” but didn’t deny it.
If true, this would show Obama as the worst kind of demagogue. It would mean he’s telling people what they want to hear while rejecting it himself, or alternately that he has begun his diplomatic relations with Canada by lying to them. Either way if true, it paints a disturbing picture of the kind of politician Obama really is.
In case the Democrats don’t realize it, Canada is our most important trading partner — and they rely on NAFTA heavily. Canada is the number one importer for oil, followed by our other NAFTA partner Mexico. If we junk NAFTA, it will create a fairly large diplomatic rift and ripples throughout our economy. Instead of making us more popular in the world, the Democrats will start making us less popular on our own continent and alienate our closest friend, as well as damage all three economies.
Perhaps that’s why Obama’s campaign didn’t want the Canadians to take him seriously. Unfortunately, a lot of Americans are taking him seriously, even if Obama apparently doesn’t return the favor. (via CapQ reader Mark)

Jesse, O’Reilly’s Not On The Stump ….

Not much to add to this video from our friends at Eyeblast. Jesse Jackson gets asked to comment on Michelle Obama’s assertion that she is proud of her country for the first time, and can’t quite grasp the question:

Mostly, the clip is fun for watching Jackson splutter. He actually makes it worse by getting it wrong twice, and then trying to avoid the real meaning by shifting to Bill O’Reilly’s idiotic use of the term “lynch”. Chris Matthews seems amused as well.

Remembering WFB

Today on Heading Right Radio, Jim Geraghty and I discussed the passing of William F. Buckley and what he meant to conservatives, the movement and its participants. We both agree that we will not see his like again soon, or perhaps ever — but that the foundation he left us will serve us well in his absence.
I recalled later that I had an opportunity to interview one of Buckley’s biographers, Linda Bridges, who partnered with John R Coyne Jr to author Strictly Right. Back in September, Bridges talked about how Buckley unified conservative factions into a coherent movement. It’s especially appropriate to replay that episode of Heading Right Radio today, and perhaps to revisit Bridge’s book.
Bonus: I have an interview with Tom Coburn in the second half.

Sixty-Six Percent Say ‘Smear!’

The New York Times marks another milestone on its journey to National Enquirer status. The Gray Lady’s smear piece on John McCain got 66% of Rasmussen respondents believing that the paper deliberately trying to kneecap the Republican frontrunner. Only 22% think that the paper had clean motives in publishing the unsubstantiated gossip:

The Times recently became enmeshed in controversy over an article published concerning John McCain. Sixty-five percent (65%) of the nation’s likely voters say they have followed that story at least somewhat closely.
Of those who followed the story, 66% believe it was an attempt by the paper to hurt the McCain campaign. Just 22% believe the Times was simply reporting the news. Republicans, by an 87% to 9% margin, believe the paper was trying to hurt McCain’s chances of winning the White House. Democrats are evenly divided.

Let’s take a look at the crosstabs. Among age groups, a majority in each demographic believe that the NYT deliberately set out to damage McCain’s reputation. The youngest give Bill Keller and company the most credit, with 34% believing that the Times was just reporting the news, as opposed to 53% who believed that the paper aimed to smear McCain. No other age demographic has more than 23% who believe that the Times operated with pure motives, and two-thirds across all other ages believe that they acted out of malice.
It doesn’t get better in the other demographics, either. Whites, blacks, and “others” all strongly believe that Keller and his reporters acted maliciously. Sixty-nine percent of independents joined 40% of Democrats and 85% of Republicans in that belief. Only self-professed liberals believe that the Times used sound news judgment in running the piece; conservatives and moderates overwhelmingly blame bias and malice. And only liberals and 18-29 year olds view the Times more favorably than unfavorably.
The Times, under the management of Bill Keller and especially Arthur “Pinch” Sulzberger, has reduced what had been the nation’s premiere newspaper to the credibility of a supermarket tabloid. People used to think conservatives overreacted to the attack memes of the Gray Lady. Now only liberals defend the paper — and only then by the barest of majorities.

Heading Right Radio: Remembering WFB

Note: This post will remain on top until show time; newer posts may be found below.
Today on Heading Right Radio (2 pm CT), Jim Geraghty joins us for his weekly Ledge Report — but the Campaign Spot blogger will also be on hand to remember the late William F. Buckley, who died today at 82. Join us, and share your own take on his legacy.
Call 646-652-4889 to join the conversation! And don’t forget to join our chat room! This show is now sponsored by Lifelock — and listen to find out how you can save 10% on their services.
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AOL Hot Seat Question Of The Day

Listen to AOL Hot Seat on internet talk radio
AOL and BlogTalkRadio have partnered on the Hot Seat poll, extending the debate to our listenership. I will host a 15-minute show weekdays at 1:00 pm ET to review the poll, interview the blogger, and take calls from the participants. We’ll speak to a wide spectrum of bloggers and callers alike for each day’s poll — including today’s:
[Poll expired.]
Be sure to tune it at BlogTalkRadio — and don’t forget to cast your votes! We will also take your calls at (347) 205-9555.

William F Buckley, RIP

William F Buckley, a giant among political pundits and the man who gave modern conservatism its intellectual foundation, died today at age 82. Fittingly, he died at his desk, probably working on his next column, as his son said in his announcement (via Hot Air):

William F. Buckley Jr., who marshaled polysyllabic exuberance, famously arched eyebrows and a refined, perspicacious mind to elevate conservatism to the center of American political discourse, died Wednesday at his home in Stamford, Conn.
Mr Buckley, 82, suffered from diabetes and emphysema, his son Christopher said, although the exact cause of death was not immediately known. He was found at his desk in the study of his home, his son said. “He might have been working on a column,” Mr. Buckley said.
Mr. Buckley’s winningly capricious personality, replete with ten-dollar words and a darting tongue writers loved to compare with an anteater’s, hosted one of television’s longest-running programs, “Firing Line,” and founded and shepherded the influential conservative magazine, National Review.
He also found time to write more than 45 books, ranging from sailing odysseys to spy novels to celebrations of his own dashing daily life, and edit five more.
The more than 4.5 million words of his 5,600 biweekly newspaper columns, “On the Right,” would fill 45 more medium-sized books.
Mr. Buckley’s greatest achievement was making conservatism — not just electoral Republicanism, but conservatism as a system of ideas — respectable in liberal post-World War II America. He mobilized the young enthusiasts who helped nominate Barry Goldwater in 1964, and saw his dreams fulfilled when Reagan and the Bushes captured the Oval Office.

Conservatives of all stripes owe Buckley a great debt, and not just for his columns and books that provided a call to arms for individual liberty and property rights. He brought together the disparate factions of the Right into one umbrella and made conservatism a potent political force. His great legacy will be National Review, the magazine that served as the center of the movement, and to this day features vigorous debate among the various stripes of conservatives.
Buckley will be missed, but his work will remain as lively and vibrant as ever. Few men and women can claim that kind of intellectual achievement and impact on society. Godspeed, sir, and thank you.

Superdelegates: Because The Establishment Is Smarter Than The Voters

The Democrats have discovered just how badly they have constructed their college of delegates in this cycle. They have used the superdelegate structure since the mid-1980s, but no one foresaw how that could appear when two candidates split the vote almost equally. Now one the architects of the Democratic delegate structure defends the concept in today’s Washington Post by saying what no one else will — the Establishment is smarter than the electorate:

In presidential election years, Americans see the face of a political party most clearly in the personality, views and character of its presidential candidates. But a national political party is about more than just the president. Its senators and House members pass the nation’s laws and budgets. Its governors lead the states. All must work together for progress in America.
I chaired the 1982 Democratic Party Commission on Presidential Nominations that created certain automatic delegates to the Democratic convention — the “superdelegates.” It was a good idea then, and it is still a good idea. The superdelegates will be crucial to Democrats winning the presidency in November and governing successfully for the next four years.
In creating superdelegates, the Democratic Party recognized the expertise that its top holders of public office have gained by running for office themselves. They are experts at winning. They know the issues. They are in a unique position to evaluate presidential candidates. They have a well-honed instinct for how candidates will be received in their own states and districts. In short, they can help the Democratic Party pick a winner.
But the superdelegates’ value extends beyond the convention. If they play a role in picking the nominee, they will be more likely to campaign actively for the nominee in the general election.

Does everyone understand that? Hunt tries to explain it in small words, so that Democratic primary voters can understand it. The Establishment understands winning better than the voters. Voters gave the Democrats George McGovern and Jimmy Carter. Thankfully, the Establishment produced Walter Mondale and Mike Dukakis.
Hunt has a tough job here. He’s essentially defending the indefensible. If a party wants to offer primaries and state caucuses to produce nominees, then they should structure the race so that the results determine the winner. By reserving 20% of the delegate vote for the Establishment, they have almost guaranteed that any primary with two credible and popular candidates will wind up in an open convention. That means that the Democrats will either have to limit themselves to one attractive candidate per cycle by having big donors and party leaders chase other candidates away, or will need to play kingmaker at the conventions.
The Republicans do not have this problem. Only 5% of their delegates represent the GOP Establishment, which presents few problems for a determinative primary race. They also force pledged delegates to vote for their pledged candidates on the first ballot, which the Democrats apparently do not. Although some complain about the winner-take-all states on the Republican side, the overall result reflects the popular vote — which the Democratic superdelegates can reject at whim, and Hunt argues that they should have that leeway.
It’s ironic that the Democratic Party seems to have the bigger problem with democratic results.