Ames

Mitt Romney actually developed a following of sorts by the end of the campaign. What are we to make of this? A valediction from Ohio.

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So T-Paw ran for the big prize in 2012, and despite almost ideal positioning as a credentialed non-Romney who was acceptable to movement conservatives, he was the first significant candidate to drop out because he couldn’t convince a few thousand people to take a free bus ride and eat a free lunch on his ticket in Ames, Iowa, right next door to his own state. The early demise of his candidacy, however, meant that he had scant opportunity to offend Mitt Romney (or anyone else in the GOP)—and he blew his one effort to do so by so timorously mentioning “ObamneyCare” just once in a candidate deba

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Now that Mitt Romney is officially the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, and we have some distance from the primaries that decided it all, it’s time to consider the lessons. Otherwise, poor memories, shaky analysis and self-serving spin will combine to congeal a conventional “wisdom” that is anything but. As someone who obsessively chronicled every twist and turn of this very odd nomination contest for TNR, here are my five top takeaways: 1.      Mitt Romney is a very lucky man.

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Marcus To The Rescue

Not so long ago, it looked like Marcus Bachmann might be a liability for his wife's campaign, what with all the talk of his clinic's unusual therapeutic approach. But with its post-Ames buzz vanished, the Bachmann campaign has now apparently decided that Marcus is an asset to be deployed, based on this missive that just arrived in my in-box: Dear Fellow Conservative, Michele is the real deal. Not only does she continue to inspire me every day with her strength, but she is the same woman of character as when I first met her 35 years ago. Michele is not your typical politician.

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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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With enough political reporters in Iowa to cover both the Lindbergh kidnapping and the O.J. Simpson trial, Thursday night’s GOP debate had to be a defining moment, a game-changer so epic that it will shimmer in memory like Ronald Reagan. Yeah, sure.  Even though Tim Pawlenty and Michele Bachmann provided the expected fireworks, while Jon Huntsman made his muted entrance from stage center, the two-hour Fox News face-off mostly served as a reminder that we have only just begun. This was not a debate that triggered mass conversions to a single candidate.

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It’s hard to imagine a screwier and easier to criticize step on the way to pick a presidential nominee than the Republican quadrennial exercise in mobilization, purchased votes, and kitsch that is the Ames Straw Poll, in which candidates compete for the bragging rights for an event that will draw fewer than 15 thousand voters and has no formal relationship to actual delegate selection. And yet, the results are undoubtedly important.

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The campaign press seems to have decided that Tim Pawlenty has to win the Iowa straw poll: As the only mainstream Republican candidate actively competing in the Ames straw poll — thanks to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s decision to skip the event and Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s presidential race slow walk — former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty may never have a better opportunity to break through in the 2012 campaign than this Saturday.

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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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