Ed Kilgore

Like much of his career, Rick Perry’s entry into the presidential campaign was exceptionally well-timed. Announcing the very day that his main rival for the “electable conservative alternative to Mitt Romney” mantle, Tim Pawlenty, was driven from the race by a poor third-place showing at the Iowa Straw Poll, the Texan has a lot of open political space to occupy.

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Thursday night’s Fox News/Washington Examiner GOP candidate debate featured more combative exchanges between conservative journalists and candidates than we’d seen thus far, and some fireworks between the contenders themselves. The debate-point winner was probably Newt Gingrich, who bashed his media tormenters effectively and was generally smooth and fluid, and the strategic winner was probably Mitt Romney, who had some good moments and again escaped any serious damage from his rivals.

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During the last few weeks, Texas Governor Rick Perry, who is said to be on the very brink of launching a presidential bid, has said and done some things that would have been big trouble, and perhaps mortally damaging, to most politicians. On two separate hot-button issues (gay marriage and abortion), he first identified with hard-line Tea Party “10th Amendment” interpretations that states should be responsible for sorting out such matters, only to then obsequiously flip-flop to hard-line Christian Right positions favoring the passage of a federal constitutional amendment.

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Just days after Congress averted a much-discussed debt limit crisis that some feared would produce a market crash and an economic catastrophe, older fears of a “double-dip” recession have quickly reemerged. So what, if anything, can our gridlocked political system, already ensnared in the complex deficit-reduction doomsday machine created by the August 1 deal, do to head off or mitigate another crisis?  Some observers are predicting that an aroused public or chastened politicians will suddenly rediscover the merits of good old-fashioned Keynesian fiscal stimulus measures.

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With the passage of the debt limit increase package this week, many political activists and observers have undoubtedly heaved a sigh of relief and either headed off on vacation or refocused their attention on the “normal” business of American politics.

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When I last wrote about the schedule of Republican presidential nominating contests back in April, there were two dynamics that appeared to be shaping the calendar: first, the usual “frontloading” temptation of states to run to the front of the line in order to have an impact on the results, which both national parties have been fighting in recent years with less than brilliant success; and second, a more unusual “backloading” phenomenon, where other states were delaying primaries or caucuses for their own reasons, often the money savings associated with holding the contests in conjunction wi

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There are two warring insider narratives in Washington right now over what Republicans really want in the negotiations over the debt limit. One is that the content of any deal is less important than how it is framed politically. The other is that the GOP is just driving a really hard bargain in order to gain maximal policy concessions.

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In a remarkably short period of time, Representative Michele Bachmann has been transformed from a fringe figure, known mainly for her abrasive and often inaccurate attacks on the president and other Democrats, into a legitimate presidential candidate. The latest national poll of Republicans (from Public Policy Polling) shows her pulling ahead of long-time front-runner Mitt Romney. The latest poll of likely Caucus-goers in Iowa has the same result. She’s even gaining rapidly on Romney in New Hampshire, and making a splash in many other states.

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House Republicans voted on Tuesday to pass a legislative version of “Cut, Cap, and Balance,” one of the newest and most disturbing of the many conservative oaths currently being sworn by large swaths of the GOP. Of course, the bill is not going to be enacted, and for some congressional Republicans, it will just serve as cover for some ultimate debt limit vote that will anger the conservative base. But the “Cut, Cap and Balance” measure explains a lot about the actual priorities of conservatives at a time when they are supposedly fixated on eliminating deficits and debts.

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Let’s say you are Mitt Romney, or Tim Pawlenty, or Michele Bachmann, or Rick Perry, and, on November 6 of next year, you are elected the forty-fifth president of the United States. For the sake of argument, let’s say your party still controls the House of Representatives and has taken control of the Senate as well (under the presidency of your running-mate Marco Rubio) by one seat. Maybe the economy has even begun growing at a slightly faster rate and unemployment is down a bit, though neither improvement occurred fast enough to give Barack Obama a second term.

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