Romney, Exasperated

Romney, Exasperated; Watch Paul for Iowa Upset; How Boehner Jammed Obama on Taxes… Again

Romney: What the Heck Do You People Want?

“Christine has been a leader in the conservative movement for many years. Christine recognizes that excessive government threatens us now and threatens future generations, and I am pleased to have her on my team.”

-- Statement from former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney announcing the support of three-time Delaware Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell.

SIOUX CITY, Iowa – What Mitt Romney really wants to know is: What, exactly, do you people want from him?

Romney is now embracing the endorsement of Christine O’Donnell, a woman whose spectacularly bad Senate run in 2010 cost the GOP a seat and whose name has come to be shorthand for the missteps of the Tea Party movement.

Just as Rand Paul and Marco Rubio have become synonymous with the success of the outside-in approach to politics for younger conservatives, Christine O’Donnell, along with Sharron Angle in Nevada, serve as cautionary tales for those looking to shake up the GOP.

O’Donnell, who aside from being Bill Maher’s onetime punching bag, is a thrice-failed Senate candidate in the deep-blue state of Delaware. She is the antithesis of Mitt Romney. He’s the sobersided seeker of the GOP establishment’s banner, and she’s the woman trying to make a career out of being allegedly victimized by the same establishment.

Compare this with just a couple of weeks ago when Romney was touting the endorsement of Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski. Murkowski lost the Republican primary to Tea Party Express-backed Joe Miller, and then ran as a write-in candidate, defeating Miller. Murkowski still caucuses with the GOP, but she has been a persistent thorn in the side of conservatives as she is one of the Senators most likely to vote with Democrats and the Obama administration. She is one of Sarah Palin’s oldest and most bitter home state rivals and strenuously disliked by the Tea Party movement.

Endorsements generally don’t matter much except for what it says about how a candidate sees himself or herself. Whose favor do they seek? But Romney doesn’t seem sure which way to go: The revenge of the establishment, a la Murkowski, or the outsider, O’Donnell.

Power Play suspects that just a few weeks ago, Romney wouldn’t have been calling O’Donnell “a leader in the conservative movement,” let alone welcoming her to his team. But with his numbers sinking and his napalm-hot attacks on Newt Gingrich yet to seriously singe the former speaker, Romney seems willing to try just about anything.

The twist here is that Gingrich, ahead of a make-or-break debate on Thursday, is being a tremendously disciplined campaigner. He slipped up Monday and attacked Romney from the left for excessive capitalist zeal, but from top to bottom he and his campaign are clutching the rudder with grim resolve. They are determined not to be blown off course.

Can Gingrich resist the diversions that have so often capsized his ambitions? Will Romney’s new desperation strategy actually win the favor of Republicans who thought he was a snob unwilling to humble himself for their votes?

We’ll know a lot more Thursday night.

Could Ron Paul Win Iowa? Absolutely

“On caucus night, all our people will be there. Can Gingrich or Romney say the same thing?”

-- One of the Iowa operatives for the Ron Paul campaign talking to Power Play.

With Republicans not overjoyed about the two men in their two-man race, Texas Rep. Ron Paul has become a serious contender in Iowa and is even getting some love in New Hampshire.

Polls show that Paul has moved well beyond his loyal core of libertarian GOPers – about 8 percent of the party nationally – to register just behind Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney in the first two nominating contests.

Paul’s absolute conservatism has made him the most popular protest vote in straw polls and surveys since the end of the last election cycle when members of the GOP base sought to register their dissatisfaction, and something similar seems to be happening here.

In Iowa, the combination of those core supporters with disaffected mainstream conservatives could be enough to deliver a caucus win for Paul. The caucuses are low-turnout affairs and could be Paul’s perfect time to shine.

Mitt Romney may succeed in convincing conservatives that Newt Gingrich is not one of them, but he does further damage to his own brand with attacks that many Iowans see as too rough – particularly squeezing the speaker on his marital woes.

That two-car pileup leaves room for Paul or another candidate to move to the front. The other contenders: Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann.

Some Toast With Your Jam, Mr. President?

“Our bill is done, and it should go to the president immediately. We’re not holding it up. ... I can’t speak for Harry Reid. I can’t speak for him. As far as I’m concerned, it should be done.”

-- Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., talking to Roll Call about the House-passed bill to extend the current partial holiday on payroll taxes.

President Obama jumped back into the fray on spending and taxes because he thought he had Republicans on the run and that a divided House GOP caucus would give Senate Democrats the advantage.

The scenario the president had in mind was that Speaker John Boehner could not pass a bill to extend the current payroll tax holiday because of conservative objections. Without a bill, Boehner would have been forced to the negotiating table with a broken caucus and heavily reliant on Democratic votes to pass the host of year-end legislation that must be enacted to keep the government running, fund Medicare and maintain current tax rates.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Obama had sugarplum visions of forcing Boehner to whip up Republican votes for a millionaire surtax to fund the Social Security tax holiday. Not only would it have been an ideological victory, but it would have cost Boehner dearly with his own members, weakening the speaker for future battles.

And they had good reason to think so, since Republican defections have been on the rise in recent votes and there were lots of complaints about a tax stimulus that robs money from an insolvent Social Security trust fund for a modest help to the economy.

But then Boehner pulled another rabbit out of his hat and held his caucus together, passing a Republican alternative with lots of negotiating chips included, like a measure that would force Obama to render a now-stalled decision an oil pipeline from Canada hated by environmentalists.

Boehner lost only 14 of his members, gained 10 House Democrats and passed the bill with more than a dozen votes to spare. Senate Democrats can’t answer with a bill of their own because their own caucus is divided on the issue. They could bottle up the bill, but then who’s risking “a tax increase for every American worker?”

That means the final version of the bill is unlikely to include tax increases, since, as he did in previous battles this year, Boehner comes to the table with passed legislation while Senate Majority Reid and Obama can only threaten to kill the tax-cut extension.

How did Boehner keep his team together? By making a straightforward argument on political advantage to crabby conservatives.

Power Play got the following strategy outline from a senior leadership aide:

1) The House has passed a bill - Unlike Senate Democrats, Republicans, along with ten House Dems, have passed what the President asked for. We have the moral high ground. And every day the Senate fails to pass a bill, ours starts looking better and better.

2) The President allowed the fight to shift from his terms to ours - When he objected to the Keystone pipeline, a project with broad bipartisan support in both chambers, the debate shifted from the payroll tax and UI to energy policy - an issue that we have owned.

3) Democrats’ plot to block funding for the government isn’t sustainable - It’s crystal clear who is threatening a shutdown and holding funding hostage: Democrats. And, meanwhile, appropriators in both parties and chambers aren’t going to sit by and allow arguably the most bipartisan bill of this Congress, the minibus, to be blown up in an ill-conceived attempt to gain leverage on an unrelated measure.

4) Democrats haven’t coalesced around a unified line attack on the House bill. Objections to spending cuts that have been fact-checked as fictitious and meaningless charges of playing “political games” just aren’t credible.

5) Democrats have no plan - It’s becoming evident that the reason no one knows Democrats’ next move is because they don’t know themselves. And after months of partisan attacks, they shouldn’t count on Republicans to bail them out of the box they’re in.

And Now, A Word From Charles

“I think what is so remarkable, and, if you are a Romney fan, alarming, is the fact that the one consistency in the two polls is Romney at 17, which is quite a drop from where he was through most of the year, around 25 percent. This is a significant erosion. It shows how the vote is getting split every which way.

Perhaps, it might be early, I'm not sure, but it could be a response to some of the negativity we're seeing, attacking Gingrich.”

-- 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