Romney Riding High After Launch

"Sarah has not been serious over the last couple of years. She got the vice presidential thing handed to her. She didn't go to work in the sense of trying to gain more substance. She gave up her governorship."

-- Michele Bachmann political adviser Ed Rollins on the “Kilmeade and Friends” radio show Tuesday hosted by FOX News colleague Brian Kilmeade

Mitt Romney is starting to look less like the nominal Republican front-runner and more like the real deal as a lousy economy and riled up business community shape the GOP’s 2012 field.

The latest Quinnipiac University poll shows Romney 16 points ahead of the closest declared candidate, leading Herman Cain 25 percent to 9 percent. Sarah Palin is holding steady with 15 percent support despite her bus tour and increased public visibility of late.

Romney has mostly been stuck under 20 percent in polls, but a media blitz following his official announcement last week and the growing realization among Republicans that the 2012 election will be a referendum on President Obama’s economic policies has given businessman Romney a boost.

The poll is sobering news for former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who remains at the back of the pack with 5 percent. Only former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and former Obama Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman scored lower in the poll.

But Pawlenty is running like a man possessed. His economic speech in Chicago Monday got good marks (Larry Kudlow called in “Reganesque”) and Pawlenty is now embarked on a bid to show he can outmatch Obama on the economy (in a radio interview Tuesday he called the bailouts of GM and Chrysler “crony capitalism”).

Pawlenty needs something to happen for him very soon, though. Because if he can’t show viability in the next two weeks and show some reasonable second-quarter fundraising numbers, donors may decide to cut bait.

His best hope is that the additional attention to Romney produces additional scrutiny that reminds Republicans of their misgivings about the moderate Mormon.

While CNN’s Piers Morgan showed a characteristically British misunderstanding of American spiritual mores in his questioning of Romney about his faith, Romney showed a bit too much agitation over the line of inquiry. Perhaps envying fellow Mormon Huntsman’s louche Mormonism and his ability to deflect questions, Romney told Morgan to take up his questions with the folks at the Tabernacle in Salt Lake City.

Romney also left hanging exactly where he stands on the issue of gay marriage/civil unions. While Republicans are increasingly open to the idea, it’s still an explosive subject, especially in Iowa.

Romney is also attracting attention for his reaffirmation that he believes in man-made global warming and that America must regulate the emissions of carbon dioxide. Speaking in New Hampshire, Romney allowed that while the earth has had warming and cooling trends before the industrial revolution, he believes the current warming trend is a result of pollution.

Romney is winning admiration from the left and the press establishment for bucking GOP orthodoxy, but those are the kinds of reviews that could kill off Romney’s bid.

Maybe the best news for Romney in the poll is that Huntsman has gained no ground. The biggest problem for Romney would be having the unexpected challenge of dealing with a threat from his left. If Huntsman – who now says his candidacy is an “when” not “if” question – can’t threaten Romney in New Hampshire and Florida, the former Massachusetts governor will feel less obliged to talk about things like global warming and gay rights.

Meanwhile, Rep. Michele Bachmann is stoking the talk of a feud between her and the other favorite Mama Grizzly of the Tea Party movement. Bachmann is bringing on 2008 Mike Huckabee adviser Ed Rollins to guide her run and Rollins immediately took a poke at Sarah Palin as an unserious person. The intensely defensive Palin organization will not likely forget such a slight.

The winner of this fight is likely Texas Gov. Rick Perry. If Perry runs, he’ll need the Tea Party united behind him and anything that prevents Palin from blessing Bachmann’s run (or vice versa) redounds to Perry’s advantage.

Bad Economy Strengthens GOP’s Hand on Debt Deal

"I'm not concerned about a double-dip recession. I am concerned that the recovery that we're on is not producing jobs as quickly as I want it to happen."

-- President Obama speaking at a joint press availability with German Chancellor Angela Merkel

The Obama economic team now seems to amount to one very anxious-looking Treasury secretary. With the departure of Obama economic guru Austan Goolsbee, everybody else from the team that Obama summoned to save the world is gone.

The White House got embarrassed when reporters called Press Secretary Jay Carney on discontinuing the daily economic briefings added in the post-inaugural days as a show of President Obama’s concern.

The CEO Obama picked for General Motors was quoted in a Detroit News interview saying that what the auto industry needed right now was a $1 a gallon gasoline tax to get Americans interested in buying cars they otherwise wouldn’t want.

The Washington Post’s fact checker column described the president’s speech last week touting the bailouts of GM and Chrysler as “one of the most misleading collections of assertions we have seen in a short presidential speech. Virtually every claim by the president regarding the auto industry needs an asterisk, just like the fine print in that too-good-to-be-true car loan.”

Labor bureau statistics confirm that long-term unemployment is now worse than even the Great Depression and there is no hope that job creation will be fast enough to reduce the numbers in a significant way before the general election season begins.

The chairman of the Federal Reserve offered bankers a dimmer forecast for the rest of the year and sent the stock markets tumbling.

And you thought Anthony Weiner was having a bad week!

Obama goes to a Northern Virginia community college today to talk about the importance of career training, but the president needs something much more than a grip-and-grin with retrained workers to reshape American attitudes about his handling of the economy.

Obama has limited options, though. Certainly there will be no more stimulus spending coming from the new tightwad Congress, and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke made clear Tuesday that the economy had to start rolling without cash-pumping training wheels, saying that monetary policy was no “panacea.”

Unable to produce the “demand-side” solutions on which Obama has relied, the president’s remaining options are all on the other side of the aisle.

Republicans are getting slightly more optimistic about the possibility of a large-scale deal on spending, debt and even taxes. That’s all because the administration can ill-afford to look mired down on the economy or to have investors feeling nervous about a looming government shutdown.

Only the most ardent class warriors could feel sanguine about pushing for a tax hike just now.

That’s not to say that Obama will be able to bring himself to complete the kind of Clintonian move to the middle the president attempted last winter, but the temptations will be great.

Watch how Obama restaffs his depleted economic team. If the selections look more like Chief of Staff Bill Daley, a Clinton veteran and Democratic door opener from the banking world, and less like John Bryson, the global-warming activist president tapped to run the Commerce Department, you’ll know Obama is making ready for a sprint to the center.

NATO Pounds Tripoli Neighborhoods as War Deadline Draws Near

"Who will take revenge for the death of this martyr? This is a man with children. Who will take care of his family?"

-- “Ali” a Libyan official leading a tour of civilian casualties following a barrage of NATO airstrikes on Tripoli, as quoted by the Los Angeles Times

The families of the civilians getting killed in Tripoli by allied air attacks are asking for a little less humanitarian help from NATO.

President Obama and the other NATO leaders who backed entry into the country’s tribal war are in a very tight spot. The authority on which they have based their mission is a U.N. mandate that calls on powerful nations to prevent a slaughter. But the mission now is an effort to kill Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi and drive his tribe from power. That’s regime change, not humanitarian relief.

But as Congress becomes increasingly agitated over the fact that Obama began this adventure without approval or even consultation, the president finds himself without any controlling authority for such a mission. This adds a sense of real urgency to end combat operations soon. The president has until June 20 before he is in open violation of the War Powers Resolution and needs to be able to make his case that the war is done.

He needs a mini-bin Laden moment in which he can present the scalp of an enemy to validate his foreign policy.

This is what the brass warned Obama of when Hillary Clinton began militating for air strikes against Qaddafi by warning of tribal genocides like the one that occurred in Rwanda while her husband was president. A no-fly zone is joining a war, not some hermetically sealed, high-altitude operation. People die and missions creep.

Reports on civilian deaths in Tripoli vary, but the images beamed around the Arab world are no doubt unhelpful in terms of keeping the current foment in that region from taking on an even more anti-American flavor. Certainly the fact that Obama and the U.N. have been relatively quiet about the slaughter in impoverished Syria while bombing the bejeebers out of oil-rich Libya will be fodder for the conspiracy theorists of the region.

Congressional Republicans have put Obama on notice that the clock is quickly running out on their patience for the war, and there is bipartisan support for reining in the commander in chief.

Insurance Crackup Looming

“30 percent”

-- The portion of employers in a McKinsey & Co. survey who planned to drop health benefits for workers when President Obama’s health care law goes into full effect

States are screaming over the huge chasm ahead of them as the Obama stimulus money that funded a massive expansion of Medicaid in the aftermath of the Panic of 2008 is set to run out July 1.

Demand for the program, co-funded by state taxpayers and designed to serve poor Americans, is still way up. But states are forbidden to cut eligibility down to only the neediest cases ahead of full implementation because the law will be pushing millions of Americans into the program as it becomes more of a middle-class welfare program. Cutting now would mean harder implementation later.

Meanwhile, businesses are accelerating their efforts to shed employee insurance on the grounds that the new law will deem many plans insufficient to meet the requirements of the law. Rather than spending more and with the waivers currently being granted by the Department of Health and Human Services set to expire, businesses are getting ready to pull back in a big way.

Many of the workers who get dropped will be from low-end jobs that offered only catastrophic kind of coverage anyway. Those folks are headed straight to the already insolvent Medicaid rolls. The others are heading into a subsidized insurance exchange program, which constitutes the other part of the law’s middle-class welfare.

The legal battle is dragging on and may end up sometime next year with the Supreme Court striking down major swaths of the law – particularly the part that forces everyone in America to buy insurance or be enrolled in a government program. That’s the part that allows private insurance companies to operate profitably despite the new obligations placed upon them.

But companies aren’t going to wait to get ready when there are so many millions of dollars on the line. States can’t wait to fund Medicaid either.

The Democratic decision to delay implementation of the least popular parts of the law until after Obama’s 2012 re-election bid looked politically savvy at the time, but is now bringing some serious disruption and uncertainty to the private sector and to state budgets. That’s a pretty big potential backfire right there.

Conventional Wisdom Watch: Afghanistan

“In our national debate, the inconclusive effort was blamed on the diversion of resources to Iraq rather than on its inherent implausibility. The new Obama administration coupled withdrawal from Iraq with a surge of troops and material in Afghanistan - an effort I supported in substance if not in every detail. We have now reached its limit.”

-- Washington Post Op-Ed by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger

The Pentagon is winning the war of public opinion in Washington on the Afghan war.

The message from the war fighters is that the part of President Obama’s Afghan strategy that is working is the killing people and breaking things part but that the massive State Department-run nation building effort there is a bust.

You’ve heard outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates make the case for leaving the trigger pullers in the field as long as possible, a sentiment echoed across the military. The message is that if they have just two more summers to kill the bad guys, they can leave the militant Taliban crippled and Al Qaeda impotent.

Now, a Democratic report from the Senate reinforces the notion, suggesting that Obama’s multi-billion dollar effort to prop up a Western-style government in Kabul is a bust.

The ultimate foreign policy Mandarin, Henry Kissinger, echoes the sentiment in today’s Washington Post: keep the pressure on as you shimmy out the back door.

And Now, A Word From Charles

“I think up until now, the Republicans had an idea to rerun the midterm election and make it about ideology. Once the numbers come in, they will run this campaign on stewardship. Ideology is an element of overreaching government, high regulation, intrusion, the size of government, yes. But it will be largely now about the simple reality that he does not, cannot, and won't be running an efficient and reasonably growing economy.”

-- Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report w/ Bret Baier.”

Don't forget to tune into "Power Play Live w/Chris Stirewalt" every weekday at 11:30a ET at live.foxnews.com