Sarah Palin

The God-Off

On Monday night, the 2012 Republican primary kicked off in earnest. The occasion was an Iowa forum sponsored by Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition, which is eager to ensure that the Christian Right (and Ralph Reed, who is launching his own comeback) maintains a prominent—indeed, an absolutely overweening—place in the decision-making process of the GOP. This “cattle call” was held in a brightly colored suburban megachurch in Waukee, Iowa, known locally for having a rockin’ pastor and praise band.

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It’s never easy to extricate yourself from a fling that got way too serious. But that’s exactly what many conservatives are trying to do after a few heady years of Sarah Palin infatuation. In the wake of Palin’s deeply unserious reality TV show and her embarrassing “blood libel” video, the bloom’s worn off the rose, rather definitively. In fact, those incidents may have provided just the convenient excuses the GOP establishment was looking for. Now, with the 2012 election looming, Palin’s former backers are fleeing left and right.

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With few declared candidates and no clear frontrunner, the Republican presidential primary appears to be as muddled as ever. But I actually think things are shaking out in a way as to clear the path for Tim Pawlenty. My view of the primary selection system is that it consists of two basic constituencies, the elites and the base. The elites want to find a candidate who is electable and committed to their policy agenda.

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[Guest post by Isaac Chotiner] I won't be able to improve upon the harsh critiques of Piers Morgan that have already been written by James Wolcott in Vanity Fair and Anna Holmes in the New York Times this morning. And my colleague Laura Bennett ended her own recent piece on talk-show hosts by noting Morgan's fondness for fawning over celebrities. Last night, Morgan took this talent to new heights, in an interview with Matt Damon. Morgan had mentioned Damon's decision to criticize Sarah Palin during the last presidential campaign. Damon then made a few more comments about the former governor.

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Chameleon

After many feints in this direction dating back to 1996, Newt Gingrich seems to be finally preparing a run for president. Generally, he is not being taken as seriously as potential candidates like Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney, and Mike Huckabee—or even D.C. insider heartthrobs such as Haley Barbour, Mitch Daniels, and Chris Christie. I agree with this assessment of Gingrich’s potential, to an extent; he’s the opposite of a fresh new face, and the guy’s baggage rivals Charlie Sheen’s.

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Man on Book

“I want to contribute to the world of ideas.” That was how Rick Santorum envisioned his political future back in 2007, two months after losing his Pennsylvania Senate seat by 18 points. The sentiment may have sounded strange coming from a Republican best known for his in-your-face social conservatism—the guy who chalked up the Catholic Church’s abuse scandal to Boston’s “cultural liberalism” and suggested that gay marriage could usher in “man-on-dog” relationships.

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Very interesting new PPP poll of likely GOP primary voters. First, birthers comprise an outright majority of the likely primary electorate: Birthers make a majority among those voters who say they're likely to participate in a Republican primary next year. 51% say they don't think Barack Obama was born in the United States to just 28% who firmly believe that he was and 21% who are unsure. The GOP birther majority is a new development.

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Brendan Nyhan cautions everyone today to pay little attention to the straw poll results at CPAC or to early horse race polling for the GOP presidential nomination: At this point in the election cycle, the preferences that matter are those of the activists, elected officials, donors, and party elites who take part in the so-called “invisible primary.” Media hype of public opinion surveys and straw polls only serves to obscure where the meaningful action is taking place. I agree with him that the front-line numbers for both of these indicators are very easy to overhype.

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Politico's Kenneth Vogel reports on the Koch brothers' campaign to push back against media characterizations of them as secretive billionaires funneling vast sums of money to make the political system more congenial to rich people in general and carbon polluters in particular:   Inside the resort at the beginning of the conference, “there was an atmosphere almost of paranoia,” said Gary Ferdman, a Common Cause official.  Ferdman had reservations at the resort and stayed there Thursday and Friday night.

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On February 13, 1903, a peasant in the Russian town of Dubossary found the body of a 14-year-old boy, Mikhail Rybachenko, in a garden by the Dniester River. Rybachenko had disappeared the Sunday before, after attending church with his grandparents. His corpse was strikingly thin and pale. The body bore multiple bruises and stab wounds; holes appeared by the main arteries. Quickly, a rumor spread that someone had systematically drained his blood.

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