Power Play

Team Obama Wants Super PAC Spending… So Obama Can Stop Super PAC Spending; Romney Attacks Elevate Santorum

Chris Stirewalt and guests discuss today's contests in Minnesota, Colorado and Missouri.


Team Obama Wants Super PAC Spending… So Obama Can Stop Super PAC Spending; Romney Attacks Elevate Santorum

Obama Fluent in the Language of High-Minded Regret

“Last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests -- including foreign companies -- to spend without limit in our elections. Well, I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, and worse, by foreign entities.”

-- President Obama in his Jan. 27, 2010 State of the Union address, chiding justices of the Supreme Court in person for the court’s decision to overturn the McCain-Feingold campaign finance laws.

“It could be the oil industry, it could be the insurance industry, it could even be foreign-owned corporations. You don’t know because they don’t have to disclose. Now that’s not just a threat to Democrats, that’s a threat to our democracy.”

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-- President Obama railing against outside political groups at a campaign rally in Philadelphia on Oct. 10, 2010

“We’re not going to fight this fight with one hand tied behind our back. With so much at stake, we can’t allow for two sets of rules. Democrats can’t be unilaterally disarmed.”

-- Obama Campaign Manager Jim Messina in an interview with the New York Times published Monday explaining why the president was now encouraging donors to support outside groups.

In a major reversal, President Obama is endorsing the activity of Super PACs, outside political action committees whose unlimited spending the president previously called a threat to democracy and a vehicle for foreign powers to influence American elections.

Just as during the 2008 presidential campaign, when Obama opted to become the first major-party presidential candidate since Watergate to eschew public financing, the Obama campaign offered its endorsement of pro-Obama Super PAC Priorities USA Action with a tone of high-minded regret.

Obama campaign manager Jim Messina explained to supporters in emails and a posting at America Online’s popular liberal news Web site, Huffington Post, that his plea for big donors to split their contributions between the campaign and the Super PAC run by former Obama aide Bill Burton is a matter of necessity. Without the unlimited contributions and spending from the Super PAC side, Messina warned that the good work the president is doing would be wiped out in “an avalanche” of “special interest” cash.

Obama’s message in 2008 when he abandoned partial public funding in order to remove limits from his fundraising and spending was essentially that he had to break the system in order to repair it. Obama explained that because outside groups, known as 527s in those days, would smear him as they had “Swift Boated” John Kerry in 2004, Obama had no choice but to dodge limits on his own fundraising.

The message here is the same: How can President Obama get re-elected and end the corrosive influence of Super PACs if you don’t support his Super PAC?

Obama hasn’t done much on the issue of election reform since taking office. He has worked to block Republican efforts to force voters to show identification, but that’s really just a defense of the status quo. But in terms of making the subject a priority beyond a campaign talking point, he’s been mostly absent.

If Super PACs and outside groups were as wicked as Obama said they were in 2008 and 2010, one might think that he would have done more on the subject than exhort Congress and chide the Supreme Court. If shadowy figures and foreign nationals really are polluting the political process, wouldn’t that be worthy of some “we can’t wait” action or even some legislation during the time that Democrats held a supermajority in both houses.

The Obama campaign is not the tower of political genius that friends and foes alike believe it to be (A fashion show fundraiser with Scarlett Johansson in Manhattan? Really?) but on this subject, they are very shrewd.

Obama is getting to have his Super PAC cake and eat it too.

Why is Mitt Romney Messing With Rick Santorum?

“This just might be the same administration that said that the churches and the institutions they run such as schools and adoption agencies, hospitals, that they have to provide for their employees free of charge contraceptives, morning after pills, in other words abortive pills, and the like, at no cost. Think what that does to people who are in faiths that do not share those views. This is a violation of conscience. We must have a president who is willing to protect America’s first right, our right to worship God.”

-- Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney campaigning in Centennial, Colo.

Mitt Romney’s campaign this week has given Rick Santorum a blast of top-tier negativity despite the former Pennsylvania senator’s declining stature in the GOP race.

What’s up with that?

Following his surprise showing in Iowa, a belatedly awarded 34-vote victory over Romney in that state’s caucuses, Santorum has been on the schneid. He’s carded two fourth-place finishes and a pair of distant thirds. In Nevada’s caucus on Tuesday, Santorum brought in less than 10 percent of the vote, half of what Gingrich did.

Romney has received three times as many popular votes (a 705,855 vote lead) as Santorum. In pledged delegates, Santorum is in fourth place with three behind Texas Rep. Ron Paul with eight. Romney has 73 and Gingrich has 29.

Even factoring in the current preferences of un-pledged delegates from Iowa, as the Associated Press does, Santorum holds 16 delegates compared to Romney’s 85.

But the right side of the Internet is abuzz today with talk of another Santorum surge ahead of straw polls in Colorado and Minnesota and a non-binding primary in Missouri.

No delegates will be awarded today.

In Minnesota and Colorado, there will be precinct caucuses that start the process of picking people who will pick the delegates at springtime events. In Missouri, the event is an accident of political dysfunction. The state staked out an early primary date before the major parties agreed to punish claim jumpers with heavy sanctions. But because the state’s Democratic governor and Republican legislature couldn’t agree on how to cancel the event, they have instead just opted to make it meaningless. It will cost Missouri taxpayers an estimated $6 million to hold this vestigial early primary. Turnout should be miserable.

Though these unusual contests are hard to poll, Santorum has shown strength in Missouri and Minnesota, but the serious stuff doesn’t start again until Feb. 28 when Arizona and Michigan vote. In scanty polling there, Santorum looks far out of contention.

But on Monday, Santorum got bashed by a top Romney surrogate, the long-suffering former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, as an earmark abuser and the Romney campaign has reminded reporters of Santorum’s throaty 2008 endorsement of the former Massachusetts governor.

So why pick a fight with a guy running in third or fourth place just ahead of three beauty contest non-elections in which he will perform well? These quasi-contests will be swallowed up by the news cycle long before the elections on the 28th.

The answer is likely twofold: The Romney campaign wants to make sure that they are well-equipped in case the race is roiled yet again and there really is a Santorum surge. The Romney siege engine is a fearsome thing. But elevating Santorum above his actual standing in the race is also smart politics.

Romney’s greatest asset in the Republican race has been the division on the right side of the party. With Super Tuesday looming, it behooves Romney to make Santorum as much a part of the contest as possible.

Santorum’s real battle is with his polar opposite in the field, non-interventionist, libertarian Paul, to see which of them might have the chance to play kingmaker at the Republican convention. Romney may yet win the nomination outright, but it could be Romney + Santorum = 1,144 or it could be Gingrich + Paul = 1,144.

An eventual Santorum partnership would also be good for Romney. Santorum is an orthodox Catholic with unquestionable social conservative bona fides and exudes the kind of blue-collar attitude that patrician Romney struggles to project. Santorum could be Romney’s Biden, sans f-bombs.

Either way, the better Santorum does now, the better it will be for Romney later on.

And Now, A Word From Charles

“If we cut off all the of aid [to Egypt] we have no leverage, and that means that we have no way to influence a government, meaning to the military government, which is now completely incompetent. It doesn't know how to run a dictatorship. And of course, it's beholden to the Brotherhood, the Islamists, who won three-quarters of the seats in parliament and will inherent the government in the end if the military collapses.”

-- Charles Krauthammer 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. 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.