Pawlenty’s Moment

Can Republicans Love the One They’re With?

"We need a President who will tell the American people the truth about the severe challenges facing our nation and how we can get America back on track. President Obama won't do that. I will."

-- Video from Tim Pawlenty previewing his presidential announcement today.

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels’ Saturday night decision to not seek the Republican nomination for president set the stage in dramatic fashion for former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty official candidacy announcement today.

But the question remains: Will Republicans come to embrace the low-key conservative Pawlenty or will the quest for fresh blood in the race begin anew?

Pawlenty is best positioned to take advantage of Daniels’ surprise decision to not run, citing family concerns. Pawlenty has the fiscal bona fides, Midwestern roots and the campaign organization in place to woo the many influential Republicans who had been gearing up to back Daniels.

But so far, he doesn’t have the sizzle.

“I think people feel like right now that we don’t need nice, we need authoritative,” a Republican strategist and veteran of the winning 2000 and 2004 campaigns of George W. Bush told Power Play. “That’s what I’m waiting to hear.”

The dominant question in the Republican world remains whether any candidate can emerge to block former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s path to the nomination. Romney has deep pockets and has kept a potent campaign organization in place for four years. But conservatives have deep misgivings about his mandatory health insurance plan in the Bay State as well as his position shifts on social issues over the years.

Many in the establishment press continue to look to Romney’s doppelganger, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman – a moderate Mormon backed by a massive fortune and high-powered campaign operatives. But Huntsman so far has been a dud with the Republican electorate. But by hitting the trail in New Hampshire, a must-win state for Romney, and preaching the need for a more sophisticated dialogue, he seems to be doing his best to steal base voters from the presumptive frontrunner.

While the Mormon family feud plays out (Huntsman even mocked Romney’s infamous line about enjoying “varmint” hunting), the rest of the party is wondering whether Pawlenty is enough.

Some are rooting for Texas Gov. Rick Perry to take the plunge, while others are reading Arizona real estate listings for signs that Sarah Barracuda is making ready for a campaign in the lower 48. When Rep. Paul Ryan left open a potential candidacy in some future year, his words were instantly parsed for signs of a 2012 run. Reports that the massive Obama dirt-digging machine was snooping into New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s past caused some to wonder whether he was about to dive in. And what about Rudy? Giuliani has been cracking the door wider and wider to a 2012 run.

While Newt Gingrich’s campaign is unlikely to recover from his disastrous debut, the rest of the second tier is still looking for a way to break into the big leagues. Tea Party Conservatives continue to swoon for pizza magnate Herman Cain while Ron Paul’s libertarian legions are betting that this year is the time when their man goes from being influential to being viable. Rick Santorum avoided Gingrich-style mistakes after a gaffe about John McCain and torture. He’s keeping his head down and building his grassroots. Those considerations, though, will still have to wait until Rep. Michele Bachmann gets into the race. She will soak up a lot of support on the right and Cain, Paul and Santorum may lose their place in line when she makes her decision, likely in the next week.

But the concern is growing in every precinct of the GOP that the hour is getting late. Daniels’ lengthy fan dance delayed the sorting process, but many Republicans now believe the time has come to get serious and start advancing rather than sifting through the universe of all the people who might yet run.

That’s why today is such a big day for Pawlenty. There is a void in the field, a deepening sense of Republican anxiety about the calendar and lots of campaign cash up for grabs. If Pawlenty can deliver on the tough talk he previewed in his announcement video, he has a shot to start locking up supporters.


Obama: Libya Not Even Kinetic Anymore

“$480 billion.”

-- Estimated cost of post-war reconstruction according to Libyan rebel leader Mahmoud Jibril in an interview with Al-Jazeera.

Lawmakers are weighing their options today as U.S. involvement in the Libyan civil war enters its 63rd day.

President Obama wrote a letter to Congress Friday in which he said, opaquely, that the War Powers Resolution of 1973 did not apply to the mission because it was now limited to “non-kinetic support to the NATO-led operation” and just the occasional bombing run.

Obama is now on a weeklong European trip where, aside from being badgered about public debt relief and how quickly our Continental allies can get out of Afghanistan, the president will be looking to develop some consensus about the way forward in Libya. The war is at a stalemate and continues to devolve into something of a bloody tribal feud.

The Cyrenaicans, seeing the moment of their international recognition drawing near, have started talking about the sums they will need to get set up and start the oil flowing again. In the short term, they want bigger guns to kill their enemies. In the long term, they’re looking for some venture capital.

The European Union, eager to restart the oil supplies that fuel its Fiats, has gone all in for the rebels (a coalition of Cyrenaican tribes and Islamists), who have promised that whomever gives them the guns and money to subdue their hated enemies in the rival tribes will reap the petro rewards. Obama, despite a hard push from Sen. John McCain and the House of Clinton, has so far kept the rebels at arm’s length.

But the president now has 27 days to either be shed of the Libya conflict or face a Congressional rebuke that could put into jeopardy his plan for Afghanistan. If dovish Democrats and constitutionalist Republicans believe Obama is flouting Congressional authority in Libya, they may be less charitable about the president’s slow shrugging of a nation-building effort in Afghanistan, especially as Pakistan seems poised to descend into chaos.

Obama doesn’t allow that the War Powers Resolution governs his participation in the Libyan war, but the law gives the president 30 days to extricate himself from the conflict now that two months has elapsed since he committed U.S. forces. It would be much easier for the president if even the current level of kinesis had abated by June 20.

Part of his mission on the trip will be finding a way to end the operation and get on quickly to the part where Western governments start propping up the rebels into some kind of plausible regime. The latter is more expensive, but can be done with less difficulty from the Nosy Parkers in Congress.


Dems Anticipate Victory in New York Special Election

"Our message has gotten out there loud and clear about who's going to protect upstate New York...and I'll tell you right now, who will keep Medicare for seniors and future seniors the way it is."

-- Democrat Kathy Hochul campaigning for Tuesday’s special congressional election in western New York, as quoted by the Wall Street Journal.

A Democrat turned Tea Partier drawing Republican votes, a withering series of attacks on Rep. Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan in a district loaded with elderly voters and lots of outside money.

If Erie Country Treasurer Kathy Hochul prevails in Tuesday’s special election to replace Craigslist trawling Rep. Chris Lee, expect to see this strategy play out over and over again in Republican leaning districts in 2012.

A weekend poll from Siena College puts Hochul with a 4-point lead over Republican Rep. Jane Corwin and Democrats are bursting with anticipation to start reversing the 2010 storyline of dramatic defeat. With an expected special election win in California and an expected special election loss in Nevada, Democrats have pushed hard on the 26th District of New York as the narrative-setter.

Corwin would be cruising to victory is it weren’t for Tea Party candidate Jack Davis, who ran as a Democrat in 2010, and is still drawing in the low double digits with his message of a pox on both political houses. Tea Party politicos have denounced his candidacy, but he may deliver the election for Hochul.

The only hope for Republicans now seems to be that their registration advantage carries the day in the low-turnout special election.


Conservatives Unite in Whacking Obama on Israel

“The Cain doctrine is: don't mess Israel. You mess with Israel, you are messing with the U.S.”

-- Presidential Candidate Herman Cain on “FOX News Sunday.”

The opening to President Obama’s speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee sounded like he was channeling Moshe Dayan: lots of uncharacteristic tough talk and avowals of eternal support for Israeli military dominance.

It seemed that the president underestimated the severity of the response to his call for Israel to give back land taken in the Six Day War in 1967 in order to restart negotiations with the Palestinians. His message was that by “pre-1967 lines” he did not mean “pre-1967 lines” at all, but rather a new set of boundaries that gave land to the Palestinians, but only just enough to make everyone happy.

The president’s other message was that if Israel did not make the first concession, the country’s international standing will be further eroded and he will be unable to prevent Europeans and the UN from more deeply taking the Palestinians side.

This is further evidence that the talks remain dead in the water. With terrorist group Hamas back in the tent of the Palestinian government and the Israelis now sensing that the storms of the Arab Spring mean trouble for them both from regional unrest and in new sympathy for their enemies from Obama and the rest of the West, it seems unlikely that Tel Aviv will be taking the first step.

Meanwhile, Obama’s call for concessions has given conservatives a new avenue of attack on the president’s foreign policy. While Republicans disagree about how much aid should be provided to Israel, almost everyone on the right agrees that Israel should be allowed to do whatever it wants to defend itself.

Obama’s position that Israel has to earn the respect of its enemies close at hand and its longtime detractors across the Mediterranean gives everyone in the GOP a chance to pile on.


Another Chance for Debt Limit Deal?

“What we need to acknowledge that no single group, Gang of Five or Six, Joe Biden, can come to this conclusion. But maybe, just maybe, bringing together the best ideas of all of them we're going to find a solution to this problem.”

-- Sen. Dick Durbin on “State of the Union” about ongoing budget talks.

Just a helpful reminder: There are 72 days until the government starts shutting down because it can’t borrow any more money.

With hopes for a large-scale, bipartisan compromise all but erased, Senate Democrats are expected this week to get down to brass tacks about what kind of deal they want to put forward to lift the federal debt load.

The first question to be answered is how big a bite. It would take more than $2 trillion to get through the 2012 election before reconsidering the direly unpopular subject, but a deal of that size seems like too big a lift. The alternative, a more modest sum, would be more attainable, but also increases the stakes for the looming conflict over the budget for the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. Remember – the debt limit can be set by dollars or by date.

That’s why there is some bipartisan sentiment in favor of a short-term debt hike until the end of the fiscal year and then making the new limit part of what already promises to be the massive fight over the budget.

As one Republican budget staffer told Power Play: “Democrats need more bargaining chips because they don’t have many on [the debt ceiling].”

The idea has some appeal to the GOP because it would stop a summer of Democratic warnings about debt default and could revitalize plans for entitlement reform now facing relentless attacks.