South Carolina

In that moment just before New Hampshire, when it was briefly possible to imagine Jon Huntsman fighting deep into the primaries, New York magazine’s John Heilemann made an astute observation. He pointed out that Huntsman’s real audience on election night wouldn’t be the country or the voters in other early states or even the political media. It would consist of exactly one person: Jon Huntsman Sr., the billionaire chemical magnate who, if the mood struck him, could take out his checkbook and completely upend the race. “An investment of, say, $10 million — a rounding error on the Huntsman Sr.

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Things are shaping up predictably enough in Florida today that I will venture my punditry in prebuttal form, like those congressmen who put out their responses to the State of the Union address long before it's been given. My aim now is not so much to look ahead to what comes after Florida as to correct some misinterpretations of the 2012 primary roller-coaster that I've seen floating around in recent days.

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Newt Gingrich is, in all likelihood, heading towards a loss tonight in Florida. It wasn’t so long ago that the Speaker was riding high off a double-digit victory in South Carolina, where he declared that “the centerpiece” of the campaign was “American exceptionalism versus the radicalism of Saul Alinsky.” Since Gingrich has promised to take his campaign all the way to the convention regardless of tonight’s results, we can expect to hear a lot more about Saul Alinsky. What was Alinsky’s legacy? A 1998 paper in Theological Studies argues that Alinsky played a central role in the history of U.S.

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Mitt Romney’s strong performance in the second Florida debate deprived Newt Gingrich of his last chance to maintain the boost he got from his South Carolina victory. Unless something significant happens before January 31, Romney will beat Gingrich in the Sunshine State by a double-digit margin and regain his standing as the front-runner for the Republican nomination. After a quiet February, he’ll deploy his edge in money, organization, and preparation to defeat Gingrich the way Grant defeated Lee—by inexorably grinding him down.

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During the 1960 West Virginia primary,  John Kennedy campaigned in tandem with Franklin D. Roosevelt Jr. to claim that he—and not liberal stalwart Hubert Humphrey—was the rightful heir to FDR. The biopic shown at the 1992 Democratic Convention showcased difficult-to-locate footage of Bill Clinton shaking hands with JFK at the White House in 1963 as an Arkansas delegate to Boy’s Nation.  Even by these bygone standards of the-torch-is-passed iconography, it is hard to top the battle for Ronald Reagan’s legacy being waged in the Florida primary.

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Back in October, I went up to Cambridge, Massachusetts to watch the eighth Republican primary debate of the season with Mark McKinnon, the Republican media strategist who had served as debate coach for George W. Bush, John McCain, and Sarah Palin. I was interested in McKinnon’s professional assessment of a Republican field whose succession of frontrunners, from Tim Pawlenty to Herman Cain, had nearly all been made or unmade by debate performances. At the time, Rick Perry was hurtling toward the abyss, Cain was bafflingly ascendant, and Mitt Romney was performing as advertised.

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Randy Lavallee is a proud member of the American working class. A New Hampshire resident, he works as a calibration inspector for a jet-engine plant just across the state line in Maine. Four years ago, the plant went through a downsizing that resulted in the layoffs of one-sixth of its 1,600 workers. After the cuts, Lavallee told me, the “CEO and management got big bonuses.” I met Lavallee, 58, recently in Rochester, New Hampshire, where he lives.

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The Inheritance

It’s not quite right to say that the hundreds of millions of dollars Mitt Romney amassed as a private equity baron were the cause of his South Carolina drubbing. But they didn’t exactly help, either. Newt Gingrich trounced the former Massachusetts governor among just about every demographic group that might nurse a grudge against a slick quarter-billionaire.

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On the night of his triumph in South Carolina, Newt Gingrich boldly announced: “The centerpiece of this campaign, I believe, is American exceptionalism versus the radicalism of Saul Alinsky.” Barack Obama did once work in a Chicago project inspired by Alinsky, the legendary community organizer who died in 1972.

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This is one of those Mondays with too much news to cover. South Carolina and the Republican primaries. The State of the Union. Ryan Lizza’s fascinating look inside the Obama administration. And two incredible football games. But I want to talk about a feature story from Sunday’s New York Times, which isn’t about any of those things except that, in a sense, it’s about all of those things. Well, all of them except football. The article is about the iPhone and why Apple, which once upon a time built its computers in the U.S., decided to manufacture the devices elsewhere.

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