Romney Bypasses Iowa at his Peril

“Still right there in the middle, Chris, still trying figure out what the lay of the land will be as these weeks and months go by.”

-- Sarah Palin to Chris Wallace on “FOX News Sunday” on whether she’s leaning towards a 2012 run.

Both Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman have shown signs that they intend to bypass the Iowa Caucuses in their quest for the 2012 Republican nomination. Romney said he may not participate in the make-or-break straw poll at Ames in August and Huntsman flattered himself saying that he wouldn’t be viable there because of his opposition to ethanol subsidies.

But Tim Pawlenty has loudly announced his opposition to corn-fuel freebies and he’s still the top contender for Iowa votes. So what gives?

The name of the game in Iowa, as Mike Huckabee and Pat Robertson have shown, is mobilizing the large community of evangelical Christians in the state. As Mormons with socially moderate records, neither Romney nor Huntsman has much of a shot there.

The Romney/Huntsman plan is to avoid the Bible-thumpers in Iowa and focus on fiscal/economic issues in New Hampshire and Florida and thereby downplay the importance of the state. The thinking is that if the frontrunner and the moneyed “it” candidate of the Washington press corps aren’t in the mix, Iowa won’t matter as much.

But as Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani both found out in 2008, looking past Iowa can be a very dangerous business. Barack Obama and Huckabee both caught on in a big way in Iowa that year and ended up leaving better-funded, better-known candidates behind.

And for Romney and Huntsman, the decision to ditch Iowa comes as serious contenders are queuing up for the evangelical vote. Recall the lesson that George W. Bush learned from his father’s Iowa struggles and battle with Pat Buchanan: Earn the support of the religious conservatives first and then take your case to the fiscal folks.

Gov. Rick Perry of Texas is calling all of his fellow governors to Texas to participate in a day of prayer, saying: "Right now, America is in crisis. We have been besieged by financial debt, terrorism, and a multitude of natural disasters. As a nation, we must come together, and call upon Jesus to guide us..."

Perry has the fundraising ability. If he turned on the conservative base (which is already smitten with his Tea Party credentials) Romney could quickly find someone running alongside him in what his campaign warns will be a marathon contest.

Same goes for Sarah Palin. If Sarah Barracuda decides to run, giving her an open shot at Iowa (and South Carolina) would only give her the chance to ramp up before the long battle.

And so it goes for the second tier too.

Rick Santorum is announcing today in Pennsylvania and is making an all-out push to get social conservatives up on their hind legs. The message is that the base of the party has been neglected by “truce” talkers and that there should be nothing irreconcilable about social and fiscal conservatism. The growing interest in his candidacy reflects the fact that these folks feel left out of the current discussion.

If Romney blows off Iowa, where Santorum is grinding out support county by county, it will certainly make it harder to convince the Jesus people to come aboard later on. It will be more of the same when Michele Bachmann (presumably) jumps in later this month.

Romney benefits from having an unsettled field, because it lets him establish his frontrunner status with a small plurality. The danger, though, is if someone like Perry or Palin comes in and takes advantage of the groundwork laid by the Santorum Team.

Are Republicans Ready to Take on Agribusiness on Immigration?

"We are headed toward a train wreck. The stepped up (workplace) enforcement has brought this to a head."

-- Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif. warning the Associated Press that the agriculture industry faces collapse if new proposals on immigration are enforced.

It has taken two parties to create a failed immigration policy in America.

When Democrats look at illegal immigrants, they see potential voters to help offset the rise of the Republican south. When Republicans look, they see cheap workers for big business donors.

It’s because of those bits of political self-interest that the country has struggled to tame a problem that is currently gnawing its way through the largest state and causing serious concerns across the nation.

The two clearest answers for dealing with the problem would seem to be first securing the border and then preventing illegal immigrants from taking jobs in a shadow economy. Whatever one’s position on how to deal with the millions already here illegally, it would be an easier discussion to have if the problem were not growing.

But while Democrats may be holding the line against securing the border (President Obama recently mocked Republican requests for a fence by saying they would next want an alligator-filled moat), Republicans seem to be warming up a bit to the idea of “workplace enforcement” that is to say requiring employers to verify workers’ citizenship.

But employers are already required to verify their workers’ citizenship. In order to have tax withholding and submit payroll taxes, bosses are already obliged to collect IDs and Social Security numbers from workers. What the new proposals gaining traction in Congress would do is make it easy to detect forgeries and fake Social Security numbers and then punish employers who hire workers anyway.

The insidious silent agreement now is that as long as illegal immigrants offer some kind of identification, employers can say they checked and were hoodwinked. It’s kind of like the bouncer at the underage bar in Power Play’s hometown who made sure to mention his sideline making fake IDs to the teenagers he turned away at the door.

Democratic defenders of the status quo and Chamber of Commerce-allied Republicans are expressing increasing alarm over the sentiment in the House in support of doing whatever is available to crack down on illegal immigration, even if it means slaughtering the GOPs sacred cow first.

Obama Considers Deeper Cuts to Afghan Fighting Force

General Petraeus will make his recommendations and it will really depend on the conditions on the ground how many actually begin to leave. And, for my money, the question is, if it were up to me, I’d leave the shooters until last.”

-- Defense Secretary Robert Gates speaking to troops at Forward Operating Base Dwyer in Afghanistan, as quoted by the New York Times.

Today’s New York Times echoes a growing rumble inside the defense community that the Obama administration is considering a plan for a more rapid withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Thom Shanker reports today that the original plan of reducing the 100,000-troop presence by 3,000 to 5,000 as part of a very slow reduction en route to full withdrawal by 2014 may be substantially faster.

The piece suggests that incoming Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is allied with Vice President Joe Biden and others who have called for a speedy transition from large-scale military operations to covert fighting like the operations already being conducted in Pakistan. Plus, the administration has already let it be known that the high cost of the war is unsustainable in the time of fiscal restraint – that’s a message to liberals in advance of unavoidable cuts in other, more favored programs, ahead of the next debt talks with Republicans.

From a political perspective, the war continues to be unpopular despite the killing of Usama bin Laden and the stalemated Libyan civil war is proving to be another drag on the president’s interventionist foreign policy. (Former Obama foreign policy ally Sen. Richard Lugar rips the president in a Washington Post OpEd today, deploring his “go-it-alone attitude.”)

It is uncomfortable for the administration that they are floating this trial balloon on the premise of replicating the success of the Iraq drawdown on the same day that five Americans were killed by a rocket attack in Baghdad.

While precipitous moves might breed instability, it seems clear that the administration is looking to do something that shows voters back home that the drawdown, set to begin next month, is the real deal.

The conflict, though, seems bound to be over what kind of troops get pulled out first

Obama’s war cabinet is meeting today to lay out options. The expectation in Washington is that Biden’s call for a larger covert war and a smaller overt one is the inevitable conclusion.

Syria-Iran Backed Mobs Test 1967 Israeli Border

"The Secretary-General calls for maximum restraint on all sides and strict observance of international humanitarian law to ensure protection of civilians."

-- Statement from U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on violence on the Israeli-Syrian border. The statement included his condolences for the “families of the victims.”

Israeli defense forces repulsed an attack by Syrian/Palestinian rioters who tried to breach one of the key spots in the post 1967 borders of the Jewish state. The Golan Heights was the site of a major Israeli victory in the Six Day War that set the country’s current borders.

The Syrians, looking to distract attention from the ongoing repression of a rebellion by that country’s Sunni Muslim majority against an Iran-allied Shia ruling minority is lamenting and celebrating the conflict today.

The government in Damascus is saying that Israeli Defense Forces killed 23 “protesters.” The government in Tel Aviv, meanwhile, says that the hundreds of rock-throwing Arabs who tried to overrun the Golan Heights border were actually deployed by the Syrians as a distraction from the Assad family’s brutal crackdown.

One also wonders if the orchestrated protests, which follow a similar cross-border surge on May 15, isn’t also an effort to increase international pressure on Israel to accept President Obama’s call to give up disputed lands as part of a bid to restart the peace process with the Palestinians.

There is reason for the Israelis to fear many more similar incidents as the Palestinians militate for statehood at the U.N. this fall. Obama has told the Israelis that they will have to sacrifice some of their 44-year-old borders in order to show good faith to the international community.

However the surge developed, it is just the latest ominous sign to come out of the so-called Arab Spring, a series of revolts across the Middle East and North Africa that have unseated several U.S. allies and threaten many more. Egypt, the epicenter of the movement, has abandoned the good parts of Hosni Mubarak’s regime (stable relations with Israel, economic reform, opposition to Iran, protection of Christian minorities) and kept some of the bad stuff.

The rebels in Yemen’s civil war/uprising were dancing in the streets, and, according to press reports, slaughtering cattle in the central square of San’a to celebrate the fact that President Ali Abdullah Saleh had left the country to seek medical help in adjacent Saudi Arabia following his injuries from a rocket attack on his presidential palace, leaving a caretaker vice president in charge.

Whether Saleh returns or not now seems pretty much irrelevant. The tribal wars and al Qaeda activities kept somewhat in check by strongman Saleh have flared up and there is now no end in sight. With Saleh’s authority long compromised, the mountain Shia tribes backed by the Iranians have been making inroads as the rest of the country devolves deeper into chaos.

The great fear among the Saudis, who now see chaos on all sides, is that the Shia tribesmen form a Taliban-style relationship with the flourishing al Qaeda chapter there (some of whom are dropouts from the Saudi terrorist rehabilitation program). While the Saudis wanted Saleh out so the military could reunite and focus on putting down the larger, tribal insurrection, the future looks abysmal. Just as in neighboring Bahrain, the Saudis find themselves fighting a proxy war with the Iranians.

 

 

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as digital politics editor based in Washington, D.C.  Additionally, he authors the daily "Fox News First" political news note and hosts "Power Play," a feature video series, on FoxNews.com. Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on the network, including "The Kelly File," "Special Report with Bret Baier," and "Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace."  He also provides expert political analysis for Fox News coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.