Saturday, April 30, 2011

Race for the White House 2012

This past week, America witnessed both devastating tornadoes across the Southeast and the pomp and circumstance of a British Royal Wedding. However, it was also a week full of intriguing and potentially consequential developments in the 2012 Presidential race.

Over the weekend, a handful of GOP hopefuls surfaced in New Hampshire to speak to conservative conferences. Most of them are also expected to be in South Carolina this coming Thursday for what is being billed as the first debate of the Presidential campaign, airing on the Fox News Channel. Not expected to attend that debate is the candidate often mentioned as the Republican frontrunner, Mitt Romney. The news in the past couple of days though that Romney is staffing up in Iowa seem to signify that his campaign believes he can win, or at least do very well, in the First of the Nation Caucuses and that they plan to fully compete in the Hawkeye State.

The most significant potential long term news of the week is something I said I would be keeping my eye on. While the announcement came as a surprise to many, I began seeing signs earlier on that Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour would decide that he would not run for President after all. This week, he made that news official. My take is that Barbour, who is a smart and realistic politician, realized that he would have a hard time winning the nomination (perhaps in part to the money being raised by Romney) and that it was not an endeavor worth taking for him or his family.

While Barbour was not polling strongly at this early date, his departure now leaves a large opening for his friend, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels. Establishment Republicans who are reluctant to embrace the Romney and Tim Pawlenty campaigns, and who might have been on board with Barbour, could potentially be even more enthused with a Daniels entrance. The Hoosier Governor has now said that it was very unlikely he would have run had Barbour done so, as he would have been likely to support his friend.

Daniels is insisting that he will not seriously focus on making a decision to run until after legislative business is over in Indiana, but tons of speculation persist. The Governor has now signed a bill in his state to ban funding of Planned Parenthood, much to the delight of social conservatives, which could indicate that he might have political considerations in mind. However, Iowa Governor Terry Brandstad claims that after recently talks to Daniels, he feels that his fellow Midwesterner is unlikely to run and that he does not have the requisite fire in the belly.

Also giving mixed signals is former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. With Barbour deciding to not run, that leaves an opening for a viable candidate in the GOP field who has a southern accent. As it stands now, none of the major contenders are native to the south. Ed Rollins, the former Huckabee 2008 campaign chair is predicting that the current Fox News host will run, but there are also reports that Huckabee is telling his former South Carolina staffers that they are free to sign up with other campaigns.

All this news aside though, the story that by far got the most attention this week, in what was one of the most bizarre chapters in American Presidential history, is the "birther" controversy and the interaction between Barack Obama, the seemingly most powerful man in the world, and reality show star Donald Trump.

Much has been made since 2008 of the rumors surrounding Obama's birth and the completely unproven and illogical assertions that he may have been born in his father's native Kenya and thus ineligible to have ever become President. It is fair to say that all political ideologies have their share of nuts and conspiracy theorists, and when someone is elected against their will, they want to find a way to explain that result away. Despite any evidence presented, such as the document released by the Obama campaign in 2008 showing he was indeed born in Hawai'i, those people will refuse to accept that as truth.

Allies of the President, especially on MSNBC see sinister racism as the motivating factor behind the "birther movement" and have spent a great deal of time talking about them. I have always maintained that the birthers are somewhat nutty people, best left alone in their paranoia, and the focus on them by the left is a convenient way for Democrats to marginalize as irrational all those who oppose Obama on the issues.

The more the media has focused on it though, and the more rumors and allegations, (including doctored videos of Obama claiming in a speech to have been born in Kenya) spread through email, more and more people have come to believe the possibility that the relatively unpopular President might have been born in another country, or at least find the whole issue confusing. Recent polls have shown that more and more people, especially Republicans have been reluctant to state as a definite that Obama was born in the United States. (Whether or not those people care one way or another or are totally clear on the statehood status of Hawai'i in 1961) may be another story. The bottom line though is that the there was never any shred of credible evidence to suggest that Obama was not born in the United States, as as such, prominent Republican politicians have never sought to make an issue of it.

Donald Trump however, in all his public threatening to seek the Presidency as a Republican, has grabbed a hold of the issue like nobody ever had before, claiming that he had sent investigators to Hawai'i and had uncovered interesting things, which have not yet been revealed. Trump's bombastic talk have given the "birther" theorists even more fuel as to why Obama's long-form birth certificate had never been released and as to what might be on it.

I had theorized for some time that the Obama White House was secretly grateful to the birthers and especially to Trump as of late, but this talk must really have been bothering them, as this week, the White House released the official long term birth certificate, after obtaining special authorization from Hawaiian authorities to do so. The President spoke from a White House podium about the development, and while not mentioning Trump by name, made it clear that the star of "Celebrity Apprentice" had pushed him to finally take this step. Obama said that in releasing the document he had "no time for silliness" and that he "had better things to do." He then immediately hopped on Air Force One and headed out to the Oprah Winfrey Show.

My feelings on this whole matter are mixed and complex. If many of the birthers can now put their minds at ease as to Obama's birth place, I suppose it would be a good thing, and as a Republican, I think it will be a political plus to have this nonsense finally dispensed with, but I realize that there will be nothing that could ever be done to totally satisfy conspiracy theorists. The predictable internet screams of the certificate being a forged document are of course now upon us.

The best thing Obama could have done would have been to have released this document back in the 2008 campaign. What he did this week, especially as it related to actions and rhetoric of Trump were not a strong moment for the institution of the Presidency. In a way, it is sort of like negotiating with terrorists. If you give them a little, it either will not work, or they will demand even more. Since Obama had long ago made it clear that he had no qualms involved with negotiating with foreign terrorist governments, perhaps it all fits together.

Some Americans will now consider the "birther" issue to be a closed matter, while others, sensing the President's sensitivity on the matter, will now even clamor louder. Trump, immediately took to the cameras after the release to claim how "proud" he was of himself for forcing Obama to take such an unprecedented step, and is now calling for Obama's college grades to be released, spreading a theory that Obama was a "lousy student" who did not deserve to be admitted to the lofty academic institutions he did. Many find Trump's rhetoric to be pretty transparent racism. Late this week, Trump made even more headlines by speaking to a Republican group in Las Vegas, in which he dropped several F bombs into his remarks.

So, it has indeed been a curious and weird week. A book could probably be written about this whole saga, but if it were not so funny, it could be sad. I am especially saddened by the fact that Donald Trump has succeeded in almost making Barack Obama look like a sympathetic character to me. While I know they will not be the two men Americans will have to choose from next November, I cannot convince myself that I would actually prefer a nutcase and/or phony con man like Trump to an incumbent President with whom I disagree on most everything. If historians look back on this week one day, it should not have been a proud one for either man.

As for the matter of Obama's grades? I have never seen them of course, but he has always struck me as someone who probably did very well in school (before he became addicted to his teleprompter.) I do not think how well a politician did or did not do in school (provided cheating was not at play) is not the most important thing in the world. If this should have ever been a story, it should have been when Obama was first seeking the Presidency, not more than two years into his Presidency.

The only Obama grades that should matter now are what Americans give him on how he is conducting himself as President. In that regard, he is well on his way to flunking out.