Power Play

Eight More Months of GOP Demolition Derby?

Eight More Months of GOP Demolition Derby?; Focus on Payroll Squabble Overestimates Importance of Congress

Dissatisfied Republicans Dream of a Deliverer

"It's not too late for folks to jump in. Who knows what will happen in the future."

-- Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin on “Follow the Money” on the FOX Business Network when asked if she might consider a presidential run.

Americans are increasingly convinced that President Obama will win re-election, even as voters increasingly say that he doesn’t deserve a second term.

Look at the latest AP poll that shows 52 percent of all adults – a population generally more forgiving to Democrats than those composed of likely or registered voters – thought Obama should be voted out of office. That’s up 9 points since May and leads the percentage of adults who think Obama deserves a second term by nearly 10 points.

But when asked whether Obama would win a second term, the gap vanished, with 49 percent saying Obama would win and 48 percent saying he would lose.

That’s no paradox. That’s a reflection of Republican voters’ current verdict on their own crop of presidential candidates. Republicans, having watched the demolition derby of the pre-primary process in their party, have come to the conclusion that they have a bunch of clunkers on their hands.

The poll Gallup released on Monday provides further evidence. Newt Gingrich, the frontrunner for four weeks, has dropped 15 points since the beginning of the month and is now in a tie with Mitt Romney at, as ever, 24 percent.

While there are polls showing Romney’s belated media blitz are helping him break out of his narrow quarter of the GOP electorate, the Gingrich bust seems to be shaping up for Romney in many ways like the two busts that came before it. They’ve been good for Romney in that they knock out a challenger, permanently, in the case of Herman Cain. But they haven’t resulted in restive Republicans falling in line behind inevitable Romney.

The good news for Romney is that unlike Hillary Clinton in 2008, there is no blank-slate wunderkind onto whom frustrated voters can write their hopes and dreams. The bad news for Romney is that they are still looking for one.

One irony for Republicans is that the more formidable they believe Obama to be, the less satisfied they are with their own party’s offerings. While the effort to draw a winning image on Cain collapsed because of its own implausibility, the rest of the contenders have withered or stayed stunted as Republicans have imagined them confronting a $1 billion, scorched-earth campaign by Obama backed up by boosters in the establishment press.

In the case of Gingrich, while Republicans had forgiven him of the sins most offensive to them individually, they have been inundated with reminders of the breadth and variegation of his past transgressions. If you had just come to terms with the personal stuff, blam-o, you get reminded of the ethics problems. If you’ve gotten past the non-lobbying lobbying stuff, blam-o, you get reminded of the mercurial leadership from his days in the House.

With the Newt boom already over, the calls are increasing for a new deliverer who can lead them out of their misery. This being the season when most Americans celebrate the arrival of their spiritual savior, it is fitting that the overwhelmingly Christian Republican Party would have in mind the idea of a political savior as well.

Political notes far more knowledgeable than Power Play have proven conclusively that it is possible for a candidate to join the field even now and still win the nomination. Look at Robert Kennedy in 1968, they say. He didn’t join until after New Hampshire, and he would have gone all the way if not for Sirhan Sirhan. Or what about Gary Hart? Or Wendell Wilkie?

It is no doubt appealing for unhappy Republicans and the political press to fantasize about making history with either a late-arriving shoo-in or the first Republican convention to produce a surprise nominee since 1940.

But here, the problem is something like Newt’s transgressions: everybody sees something different. While Bill Kristol may be imagining Paul Ryan or Mitch Daniels, someone else is imagining Sarah Palin appearing in South Carolina.

But remember what Newt Gingrich will be doing on Wednesday. He will be in Virginia, not Iowa. The reason is that he is in danger of failing to qualify for the commonwealth’s primary ballot and must rouse his supporters to go out and collect petition signatures this week. Otherwise, Gingrich’s name will not appear on the ballot for the most important contest on Super Tuesday.

So certainly, a new candidate could still emerge, but he or she would not be able to seriously vie for delegates until late March and would still miss out on some big prizes, like Ohio.

That would set the stage for a brokered convention in which the various tribes of the Republican Party would battle for primacy. The libertarians, the evangelicals, the defense hawks and the moderates would do battle with someone, probably Mitt Romney, surviving to grasp the nomination with bloodied fingers.

While Obama is one of the luckiest politicians in American history, it seems improbable that even his luck could be so good that despite having the worst numbers of any incumbent since Jimmy Carter (and not much better than him), Obama would get to see Republicans continue demolishing each other for eight more months and only get started on the general election with two months to go.

Payroll Debate Overstates Importance of Congress

"You have to wonder whether some folks over there think somehow -- think screwing up the economy, throwing a wrench in the works is a good political strategy for them. Somehow if they can slow the recovery down, if they can cost a half million or delay a half million jobs, that that will hurt the president."

-- David Axelrod, campaign strategist for President Obama, talking to FOX News colleague Ed Henry about Republican opposition to a two-month Senate plan to extend current payroll tax rates.

There’s something funny about the polls that say voters support Democrats on extending the payroll tax holiday.

While big majorities support the extension of the holiday – 58 percent in last week’s AP poll – that tells us very little about the issue. What would you expect from a poll that asked Americans if their taxes should be maintained at a lower rate or if they should go up on January 1. Unless your survey was at a “Billionaires for Obama” fundraiser, there are no surprises there.

But Democrats are convinced that they have really got Republicans in a bind on this issue and, accordingly, the Senate has suggested that the issue be re-litigated every two months until Election Day. And why wouldn’t Chuck Schumer want to be able to ask every eight weeks why Republicans were imperiling tax relief for the middle class to protect “millionaires and billionaires?” It may be his best way to preserve a Senate majority or at least a 50-50 split in the upper chamber.

Republicans have rationalized their way into the tax holiday extension on the grounds that the Social Security Trust Fund is really a faction and that the money collected by the payroll tax is really just general revenue under a different name. Take any tax break you can get, they say, even if it doesn’t add up to much. But they would not like to have to repeat that rationalization in February and every two months thereafter until September.

Now, the political press and the Obama campaign are hyperventilating over the fact that the Democrat-held Senate and Republican-held House disagree on the construction of this holiday extension. They express stunned amazement that “radical Tea Party” Republicans would vote down the Senate version after the senators went home for vacation – Vacation! – and are demanding another round of negotiations. Unprecedented partisanship, they say. Dangerous brinksmanship, they say.

Phooey.

Power Play recalls when the House actually impeached a President of the other party less than 20 years ago and recalls just two years ago when the Senate used some of the most amazing procedural mumbo-jumbo to jam through a hugely controversial national health care law. An impasse over a 2 percent tax break on payroll taxes is historic partisanship and brinksmanship? C’mon.

But the message – that Republicans are deeply rent by divisions and headed for a crisis – is a much needed talking point for Democrats who are eager not to discuss their own squabbles and who are looking for any way to undermine House Speaker John Boehner who, as recently as last week, keeps jamming the Obama Democrats by winning must-pass votes.

Democrats are helped in this effort by the support of blue-state, moderate Republicans like Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts who say that House Republicans should accept the Senate passed deal and let everyone go home.

But, while the discussion drags on, Democrats are hurt by the growing conclusion that worse than a small tax break would be one that dribbles out two months at a time with a massive political fight at each step.

Yes, this is a good issue for Democrats. But they are overplaying their hand. This is not even an issue as big as the debate a year ago when all American taxpayers faced a big tax hike at midnight.

The idea that voters are watching Congress intently on the question of a two-month versus 12-month extension of current tax rates on the week before Christmas is perhaps the best example of Washington’s self-importance so far. If the average worker sees his or her paycheck shrink by $19 in the first week of 2012, you’ll see interest. But this sausage making is no big deal for Americans with better things to worry about.

And Now, A Word From Charles

“This bill passed by the Senate is an abomination. It's one of the worst ever crafted by the hands of man. Saying that in this Congress is saying a lot. It can't be administered probably in time, and fairly. It's nuts as tax policy, a two-month extension. A one-year extension isn't even a tax cut, it's a tax holiday. This is a -- to do two-month extension is essentially a long tax weekend. It's not going to have any effect whatsoever on hiring practices. The idea that Obama saying that this is a ‘jobs provision’ – it is not going to have any effect on jobs whatsoever. So it's a terrible bill."

-- Charles Kruathammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”

Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on FoxNews.com.

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C.