Republican Field Shaping Up Fast after Huck, Trump

“Get out now before you make a bigger fool of yourself.”

-- Republican voter Russell Fuhrman of Dubuque, Iowa to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich upon his arrival at that city’s Holiday Inn to speak at a Kiwanis Club luncheon. The Des Moines Register, which reported the confrontation, said that Fuhrman later attributed his outburst to anger over Gingrich’s attacks on Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget plan.

Get ready, Republicans. Hurricane Michelle is heading toward your primaries.

Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, a Tea Party favorite and something of a surrogate for Sarah Palin, is getting ready to jump into the presidential contest. Her advisers put out the word on Monday that a run was “very likely” and a D.C.-based consultant tells Power Play that Bachmann associates have been shopping for services.

“This is now beyond speculation. They are doing this,” the consultant said.

While Bachmann is a polarizing figure in the party, her candidacy is quite logical. With Mike Huckabee bowing out of the race, Palin showing no outward signs of launching a campaign and Newt Gingrich seeming to burn up on entry into the race, that leaves former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum with an almost unobstructed view of the social conservative voters who dominate Iowa’s caucuses.

Bachmann’s candidacy is also helped by the fact that Donald Trump has renewed his contract with NBC and ended the most successful publicity stunt of his career. His appeal had been based on blunt, pungent attacks on President Obama, stock in trade for Bachmann. Plus, she gets similar attention from establishment media outlets that like to bring her on for bearbaiting sessions and then mock her afterwards.

As Bachmann has expanded her national profile and become more outspoken, her chances for reelection to her congressional seat have somewhat dimmed. Redistricting, a prospective romp by President Obama at the top of the ticket and the aversion to confrontation inherent in Minnesotans leaves Bachmann vulnerable to what would surely be a serious effort by Democrats to unseat her.

With two lanes open and trouble brewing in her home district, there’s no reason for Bachmann not to take a run. Plus, she’s from a state neighboring Iowa and has been a longtime congressional ally of conservative hardliner Rep. Steve King from the key western part of the state. Why not give it a try?

The obvious losers will be Santorum, who has been cultivating Iowa social conservatives for months and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Iowa is a make or break state for Pawlenty. If Bachmann catches fire there, she could block Pawlenty’s path to the nomination right out of the gate.

Meanwhile, less excitable Republicans are giving a look to Mitt Romney’s $10 million one-day fundraising haul in Las Vegas. The phone-a-thon highlights Romney’s fundraising prowess and his strong stature in the Mormon-heavy Silver State, which is again holding its caucuses right after the New Hampshire primary. Big money and Mormons are givens for Romney, but it never hurts to remind people.

But, the GOP mainstream is still watching the next two hopefuls getting ready to slip into the presidential pool – former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman and Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels.

Huntsman is continuing to snatch up talent, a move that demonstrates he is willing to use his multi-billion family fortune to try to overcome his anemic name recognition among Republicans and his controversial stance on gay civil unions. As if Romney didn’t have enough headaches, now he has a 2008 version of himself getting ready to fire a broadside at him.

Daniels continues to play Hamlet in Indianapolis despite a successful coming out party for his wife (she of the mid-1990s breakup and remarriage) and the ardent urging of heavy hitters like Jeb Bush. If he doesn’t decide soon, the anticipation could turn into resentment and unreasonable expectations.


Dem Conundrum: Medicare Changes or 2012 Attack Plan

"It's about the solution to controlling costs in Medicare. And if I could sum up that disagreement in a couple of sentences, I would say this: Our plan is to give seniors the power to deny business to inefficient providers. Their plan ...is to give government the power to deny care to seniors."

-- Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., speaking at the Economic Club of Chicago.

Democrats are softening a bit on their hard line against Medicare changes – House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told Bloomberg Television that her caucus was “open to many changes” in the program, including how it is funded.

While Democrats (and Newt Gingrich) are still calling Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan to turn the program into an individual insurance subsidy for seniors “radical,” party leaders also must bow to the following: The program is rapidly bankrupting and their health care law requires slashing $500 billion from the program to pay for a new entitlement program.

It’s a tricky two-step for Democrats. The current impasse over the now-breached debt limit provides an opportunity.

By cutting off wealthy retirees, increasing taxes or imposing new government powers to restrict access to services, Democrats might forestall Medicare insolvency and also push off some of the most unpopular cuts in President Obama’s health care law.

But, Democrats don’t want to abandon the chance to fillet Republicans for supporting Ryan’s plan. As Republicans showed in 2010, Medicare only works as a third rail if only one side touches it. If both sides grab a hold, the attacks become harder and harder to make.

Ryan is continuing to sell his plan, and, with reports that former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson will seek the Republican nomination for the Senate seat left open by the retirement of Sen. Herb Kohl, Ryan will face less pressure at home to abandon his entitlement crusade to start running for Senate.

The long-term political advantage for Democrats lies in capitalizing on this moment to save the program that is perhaps their most important avenue to elderly voters. But that means sacrificing the short-term advantage of torching Republicans for dealing with the issue.


Was That the Reset Button or Self-Destruct?

"Upon arrival the helicopter received fire from across the border but did not immediately return fire. Upon receiving fire from across the border a second time, the helicopter returned fire."

-- A NATO official speaking to Reuters about an incident in which an allied helicopter fired on a Pakistani military installation, injuring two soldiers.

Sen. John Kerry continued his long audition to be the next secretary of State with a trip to Pakistan in which he said it was time to press the “reset button” after the killing of Usama bin Laden.

Kerry brushed off speculation about the degree of official Pakistani complicity in bin Laden having hidden in plain sight for six or more years in a filthy, polygamous pad just down the road from a major military installation. He called on Americans to instead “recalibrate” the relationship with Pakistan instead of engaging in such fruitless considerations.

Meanwhile, Congress is getting ready to recalibrate Pakistani aid downward. As the Wall Street Journal reports, the Pentagon has already been dialing back on specious requests for compensation for Taliban hunting activities. (Case in point: we paid to refurbish two helicopters that were then sent to Sudan on a peacekeeping mission for which the Pakistanis were already getting paid by the UN, to which we are the largest contributor.)

In Pakistan, the main recalibration seems to be increasing the bore of the attacks continually leveled against American interests by the country’s politicians. Anti-Americanism is at an all-time high, which is saying something about a country in which Christian missionaries are subject to the death penalty and bin Laden was able to operate with relative impunity.

Remember, President Obama’s plan for the region involves escalating the covert war in Pakistan while slowly winding down the U.S. presence in Afghanistan. Note the American efforts at rapid reconciliation with the Taliban in Afghanistan even as the Taliban in Pakistan is escalating its bombing campaign.

So, while U.S.-Pakistani relations are circling the drain and the already weakened government of President Asif Ali Zardari looks weaker still, a NATO gunship opened fire on a Pakistani military outpost near the Afghan border, injuring two soldiers.

Were the Pakistani soldiers firing at the gunship? That such a thing is even possible is testament to how wretched the U.S.-Pakistani situation has become, but the answer is yes. Was the fire coming from some nearby jihadis and the Western forces got mixed up? It’s certainly possible.

Whatever the case, the country is seething. Already angry over the gunship raid on bin Laden’s house, the ongoing covert air strikes in the border provinces and the presence of so many CIA folks, the population will be even more susceptible to calls from the Islamists to boot out the U.S. and start deepening ties with China.


RNC Member Plans Rival Group to Crossroads

“We are harnessing the fundraising operations of those entities, the RNC and all the state parties and federal candidates, who will be raising money first for themselves and then they would tell their donors, if they have extra money, to send it to the Republican Super PAC.”

-- Republican National Committeeman James Bopp talking to Politico about his plan to create a new soft-money fund.

James Bopp, an RNC member from Indiana, pro-life activist and adviser to the 2008 Mitt Romney campaign, is trying to build support for an Republican National Committee-allied independent expenditure group.

Bopp’s plan, circulated to members of the committee, would have the RNC, state parties and federal candidates direct contributors who want to give in excess of candidate or party limits to give the money to a Super PAC, a vehicle for unlimited contributions and unlimited expenditures under the terms of a Supreme Court decision barring restraints on outside expenditures.

The success story of the 2010 elections was the effort by Republican operatives to start issue-advocacy groups like American Crossroads, which could raise unlimited sums and then deliver them swiftly into targeted races. It was especially important when the RNC was in disarray during the ongoing struggles of former Chairman Michael Steele.

Bopp’s plan would be to create a vehicle for the RNC to have its own new spigot for soft money. While many believe the plan runs afoul of the existing laws that limit party contributions, Bopp argues in his memo and to Politico that the court decision creates a loophole as long as the funds are spent without coordinating with the campaigns or parties. The argument is that the money can be raised together but must be spent separately.

While there are certainly legal hurdles, the largest problems may be logistic. Crossroads is still running and donors like their efficiency, record of success and personnel – former Bush adviser Karl Rove, former RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie and 2010 Political Director Carl Forti are all in the mix.

If Bopp’s plan survives the skepticism of his fellow RNC members (one told Power Play the idea was “intriguing but kind of weird”) the organization might struggle to achieve critical mass given the head start Crossroads, the U.S. Chamber and other established groups enjoy.


And Now, A Word From Charles

“This is a big deal. He's done. He didn't have a big chance from the beginning, but now it's over… Reagan had the 11th commandment, ‘thou shalt not attack fellow Republicans.’ This is a capital offense. He won't recover.”

-- Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier” discussing Newt Gingrich’s statements in support of government-mandated health insurance and bashing the House Republicans’ budget blueprint as “radical” and as “right-wing social engineering.”