Power Play

Newt Boom Next?

Newt Boom Ahead?; Senate Dems Fall in Line for Obama

Defiant Gingrich Shines at GOP Debate

“Everybody in the media who wants to go after the business community ought to start by going after the politicians who have been at the heart of the sickness which is weakening this country and ought to start with Bernanke.”

-- Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich at a Bloomberg News/Washington Post debate answering a question about the need to arrest bankers.

If Tuesday night’s Republican debate is a sign of things to come, the next campaign boom might be coming from Newt Gingrich.

The former speaker turned in his best debate performance so far in a New Hampshire forum hosted by Bloomberg News and the Washington Post, and Gingrich might already be experiencing the kind of surge that lifted Herman Cain to the top of the polls in the weeks since the Sept. 22 FOX News/Google debate if more Republicans could have seen the show.

It makes sense, because it was the ideal environment for him: a policy-driven discussion on fiscal and economic matters with questioners who were coming from the heart of the establishment press.

Gingrich went hard after the premise of the very first question to him, which was a restatement of the core grievances of the Occupy Wall Street movement: “Do you think it's right that no Wall Street executives have gone to jail for the damage they did to the economy?”

Frontrunner Mitt Romney and others did not want to kick the same tripwire that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor did when he referred to “mobs.” Romney explained that “the reason that you're seeing protests, as you indicated, on Wall Street and across the country is, middle income Americans are having a hard time making ends meet.”

Gingrich stipulated that there were some legitimate protesters but then hammered “left-wing agitators who would be happy to show up next week on any other topic” and leave trash and disruption in their wake. Gingrich then explained that, “in both the Bush and the Obama administrations, the fix has been in. And I think it's perfectly reasonable for people to be angry. But let's be clear who put the fix in: The fix was put in by the federal government.”

Gingrich launched a withering attack on Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and told questioner Karen Tumulty of the Washington Post: “If you want to put people in jail -- I want to second what Michele said -- you ought to start with Barney Frank and Chris Dodd and let's look at the politicians who created the environment, the politicians who profited from the environment, and the politicians who put this country in trouble.”

And he had big bang-boom answers all night: defending Sarah Palin on “death panels” when asked (again by Tumulty) about the need to reduce spending on end-of-life care; using his candidate-to-candidate question with Romney to ask why he chose $200,000 as the break point in his tax reduction proposal, alluding to President Obama’s “class-warfare approach”; and using his closing argument to go around the table and praise his one favorite thing about his opponents’ economic agendas.

Cain, meanwhile, lost some of his rocket boost. Not only did he have to face lots of questions about his 9-9-9 plan for a flat income, corporate and national sales tax, but he even faced open mockery from Michele Bachmann who said that the plan would be 6-6-6 (the biblical mark of the Antichrist) after Congress turned it upside down, as well as from former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman.

Huntsman may well have ended his woebegone campaign with his attack on Cain, snarking that Cain's proposal was "a catchy phrase. I thought it was the price of a pizza when I first heard it.” When the somewhat brittle, well-born son of a chemical magnate snickers at the idea put forward by the sympathetic self-made black businessman you know that you are seeing someone who is not ready for Prime Time. Like school on Saturday…

The debate was probably Huntsman’s last chance to be viable in New Hampshire, where the debate was aired widely, and it seemed he pretty well disqualified himself.

And in that way, Romney got a big win. With Huntsman – or anyone else on the stage – still unable to lay a glove on him, Romney looked coolly presidential and sounded very much like the moderate Republican voters of the state as he stressed the need to work with Democrats and defended the TARP program.

Add to that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s endorsement earlier in the day, including a vigorous defense by Christie of Romney’s Massachusetts health law, and it was a very good day for the frontrunner. The moderate wing of the party has started to coalesce and the conservative press in Washington and New York is starting to wheel around in his favor. An aura of inevitability has always been Romney’s greatest asset, and unlike the inevitability candidate of 2008, Democrat Hillary Clinton, there has been no emergence of a giant killer.

Conservatives had hoped that Texas Gov. Rick Perry would be the one, but that so far hasn’t been the case as Perry has been as bad in debates as he has been good on the stump. In this cycle, debates are even more crucial than usual with a wide open field and early primaries. Perry, now in third place, was an ancillary figure in the debate Tuesday, which seemed to be a relief to the candidate who spent his first three debates taking brickbats to the head and then adding his own self-inflicted wounds for good measure.

The good news in this debate for Perry: He didn’t blow it and gave plausible answers. The bad news: There will be a nationally televised debate next week and laying back won’t feed the bulldog. One can go too far in trying to get into the conversation (Rick Santorum shouldn’t complain so much) but Romney and Gingrich always look interested and up for the fight – ready to be heard and to take command. Perry surmounted the very low bar he set for himself in the third debate, but will have to be substantially better to convince skeptical voters on the Republican right to unite behind him as the most conservative candidate who is electable.

With Gingrich hitting his stride on the debate stage, that may get harder for Perry to do.

But Cain should be happiest that this debate was mostly a local affair in a state that he has next to no chance of winning anyway. His expression of admiration for Alan Greenspan will be enough to put a lot of conservatives off of him anyway. Rep. Ron Paul nearly popped his top when Cain, a former chairman of the Kansas City Federal Reserve already in Paul’s crosshairs for being dismissive about the need to audit the central bank, endorsed Greenspan’s economic vision.

Many conservatives now blame Greenspan for paving the way for the current weakened dollar and stimulative practices of the Bernanke Fed, so he is an unhappy association for any candidate. Everyone around the table last night either attacked the Fed directly or declined to associate themselves with the leadership of the bank since the Reagan era.

Senate Dems Fall In Line on Stimulus Package

"The president's plan contains many ideas that Republicans have supported consistently over the years. I guess Republicans think if the economy improves it will help President Obama, so they oppose anything the president proposes."

-- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid discussing the failure of the president’s $450 billion stimulus package.

The bar was low for President Obama’s stimulus package in the Senate – he only needed to get the vast majority of his party on board in order to be able to fulfill campaign strategy of assailing Republicans for blocking any effort to revive the failing economy.

This is not legislation designed to become law but to use for a PR push against Republicans. The president has built his fall campaign push around the doomed legislation and has been out on the trail, mostly in swing states, touting the plan for most of the past six weeks.

The idea is that though economists agree that little can be done to change the lousy economy much before the 2012 election, Obama can spread the blame around by highlighting Republican opposition. The talking point, now well worn on the Blue Team, is that Republicans are unpatriotic because they are intentionally keeping people out of work in an effort to politically harm Obama.

There were signs of Democratic dissatisfaction with the plan, but once the Obama proposal for broader tax increases was replaced with a massive surtax on those who earn $1 million or more, many more in the majority obviously felt comfortable in aiding Obama.

Obama lost only two Democrats – perhaps the two most vulnerable members of the Senate majority Sen. Jon Tester of Montana and Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska – while other centrists like Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana climbed on board. Even vulnerable Democrats like Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio took the leap for Obama.

It may have helped that the administration’s effort to re-brand “stimulus” as “jobs bill” was widely absorbed in the establishment press and certainly it was better for Obama that there are very few folks to complain about voting to raise taxes dramatically on $1 million incomes. While 4 percent of tax filers would have fallen under Obama’s $200,000 tax hike, only .08 percent (350,000 filers out of 140 million) would be hit with the millionaire tax. Plus, nobody knows how to beat taxes like rich folks.

It also fits in with the party’s effort to show solidarity with the anti-corporate protesters in the streets.

But despite getting Manchin et.al. on board, the victory was only symbolic, with the vote falling far short of the 60 votes required for Senate passage. The question now: Will Obama build pressure on individual Republican Senators, especially New England moderates like Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts or Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine and keep hammering away on his Stimulus III idea or will Obama agree to break up the legislation and try to force votes on individual components in the House to maximize the media pressure on Speaker John Boehner?

The danger there is that Republicans would have the chance to counter with their own proposals, something Obama has worked hard to avoid, shutting the GOP out of the stimulus planning process and refusing to negotiate on any elements of his package. These defeats are vital to Obama’s underdog, declinist re-election strategy.

Whatever Democrats decide to do with their next gambit, they need to act fast. In a month’s time the debt-ceiling supercommittee must report its recommendation for finishing the leftover work from the August debt impasse and that will certainly preoccupy Congress right up to Christmas, if not beyond.

And Now, A Word From Charles

“I think this demonstrates the degree of brazenness on the part of the Iranian leadership. They have contempt for the United States and the leadership and they would do anything.

And what did we hear in moments of the announcement? As we heard earlier in the show, a statement this was not issue for Pentagon response. This was not going to be a tripwire for military action, but we'll hear the usual rubbish about the sanctions and isolation, which means nothing.

Even if we are not going to do an attack, say an attack on an al Quds camp, why do we announce it within hours? Why do we take it off the table? Why do the Iranians always have to know on this, on nuclear issues, on attacks on Americans in Afghanistan and Iraq, they can always act with impunity?”

-- Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C. Additionally, he authors the daily Fox News Halftime Report political news note and co-hosts the hit podcast, Perino & Stirewalt: I'll Tell You What. He also is the host of Power Play, a feature video series on FoxNews.com. Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on network programs, including America’s Newsroom, Special Report with Bret Baier and Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace. He also provides expert political analysis for FNC’s coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.