Tea Partiers

Four or eight years from the next GOP primary, it's already hard to keep track of the talented potential candidates.

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So let me get this straight. JP Morgan loses more $2 billion, reportedly thanks to the recklessness of a trader nicknamed “the London Whale” and “Lord Voldemort,” and all Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon has to say is “it was bad strategy, executed poorly”? Well, no, that isn’t precisely correct. Dimon also says he remains only “barely” a Democrat because the Democrats want excessive regulations, including the so-called “Volcker Rule” banning some types of proprietary trading.

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Has there ever been a bigger gap between a party’s enthusiasm for its presumptive nominee (very low in this case) and the ease of his path to the nomination? Romney emerges from New Hampshire with a win that won’t impress anyone, given his ties to the state and the relentlessness he showed in courting it.

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If you do some quick math based on the Iowa entrance poll, you see Ron Paul and Mitt Romney bunched in the low 20s and Santorum slightly behind them at 19 or 20. But there are reasons to think the entrance poll understates Santorum's support. That's because a caucus is a much more public act and than the typical balloting exercise. People vote in front of their friends and neighbors, not in the privacy of a voting booth. That arrangement would seem to favor a candidate with momentum, like Santorum.

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Organization Man

Just four years after he slid out of the White House as the embattled Rasputin to a flailing president, Karl Rove has reinvented himself as the dominant private citizen in the Republican Party. He is today a driving force behind both the powerful advocacy organization Crossroads GPS and its even more influential sibling, American Crossroads, the largest SuperPAC on the right.

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In his pursuit of a presidential nomination that a majority of his party’s voters clearly do not want to give him, Mitt Romney has been extraordinarily lucky. Aside from the sheer number of potentially formidable opponents who chose to forgo a run in 2012, the rivals he has actually faced each seem to possess qualities that cast Romney’s own shortcomings in a more favorable light.

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Last week was a difficult week for the Tea Party. Tuesday’s election results firmly rebutted the idea that the movement had touched off an irresistible rightward wave in American politics, one that would not subside until it submerged the Democratic Party and its union/liberal allies once and for all. Meanwhile, the process of choosing a champion to drive Barack Obama out of the White House is not going well at all.

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The Newtonians

Every politician needs a base. Mitt Romney has the business establishment. Ron Paul has libertarians. Rick Santorum has social conservatives. Michele Bachmann had Tea Partiers for a while, before Herman Cain won them over. But who’s behind Newt Gingrich? ’90s nostalgics? People with a penchant for shoddily researched history? His rise in the polls—from about 6 percent to 12 percent—has only made the question more intriguing.

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Concord, New Hampshire—With the choreographed precision of a giant amoeba, the crowd of blue-shirted Mitt Romney supporters stopped listening to the speaker on the stage and squeezed its way toward the Tea Party Express bus.

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Twenty-six years ago—as part of the price for raising the federal debt ceiling to a shocking $2 trillion—Congress, in a wave of fiscal self-flagellation, approved the Gramm-Rudman bill. If a spendthrift Congress failed to meet prescribed deficit targets, then Gramm-Rudman would slice the budget with the across-the-board subtlety of Sweeney Todd.  That was the theory anyway, although legislative maneuvering left about half the budget (including Social Security, Medicare, and Defense contracts) off limits to meat-cleaver deficit reduction.

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