the circus

Frank Rich on the National Circus: Overestimating Mitt

YOUNGSTOWN, OH - MARCH 05: Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks during a campaign rally at Taylor-Winfield Technologies on March 5, 2012 in Youngstown, Ohio. With one day to go before Super Tuesday, Mitt Romney is making one final push through Ohio. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Despite Santorum’s victories, the consensus the morning after seems to be that nothing has really changed. So does it matter what happened in Alabama and Mississippi?
Let’s not forget American Samoa, where Romney romped, taking all nine delegates. (Never mind that its inhabitants — a disproportionate number of them Mormons, by the way — cannot vote in an actual presidential election.) But anyhow: No, Alabama and Mississippi didn’t matter, not even to Newt, who, despite losing both his “must-win” Southern states, has decided to ignore the verdict and soldier on. Although perhaps on an austerity budget: Callista was conspicuously bling-free during her husband’s “victory” oration.

So Romney will still be the nominee, although he might not quite get to 1,144 delegates?
So it seems. But look, he is making real progress. It used to be that he couldn’t break the 25 percent mark in his own party. Now he often breaks 30. He’s gone from three-quarters of the GOP wanting anyone but Mitt, to only two-thirds of the GOP feeling that way. That’s the kind of love that a bottomless campaign war-chest can buy for you. Presumably it will also purchase any stray delegates still needed as the convention approaches.

But aren’t skeptical Republicans warming to Mitt at last?
They are certainly coming up with ever more inventive rationales of how he is the right man at the right time. The latest Republican meme has it that Americans, in reaction to Obama, crave the dullest white guy they can find. “Romney needn’t dazzle with his personality” is how Rich Lowry, the editor of National Review, recently made this case. “People have to like Romney the way they like their accountant.” (But what if their accountant is TurboTax?) How the argument for Mitt’s technocratic competence differs from the one Democrats once made for Michael Dukakis is beyond me, but I guess it’s better than talking about “cheesy grits.”

Nate Silver, the Times poll authority, gave Santorum a 9 percent chance of winning Alabama and a 2 percent chance of winning Mississippi. Santorum won both. Why did he outperform the polls so drastically?
Silver also wrote on primary day that a double Santorum win was the “least likely permutation” once the votes were counted. To quote a departed candidate from the race, “Oops!” In the same vein, Politico ran a primary-day piece titled “Mitt Romney could seal deal in Dixie,” noting that he was “the only candidate who has a sophisticated operation on the ground in the two states.” This month-after-month overestimation of Mitt’s ability to close the deal only confirms that he is the Tom Dewey of this campaign cycle, the constant beneficiary of “Dewey Beats Truman” headlines even if, in this case, the Truman in question is Santorum.

Obama’s approval ratings are way down from a month ago. Is this something he should be worried about?
They certainly are bouncing around. After two successive polls showing Obama falling below a 50 percent approval rating, hitting a low of 41 in the Times–CBS News survey, he returned to 50 percent in a new Reuters-Ipsos poll out today. It also showed him beating Romney 52-41 and Santorum 52-42 in the fall. Hard to know what any of this means — if it means anything at this point. The one consistent note in all these polls, however, is that Romney and Santorum perform roughly the same in matchups with Obama. Given that the Republican base is far more enthused about turning out for Santorum than it is about holding its nose to vote for Romney, you still have to wonder if Rick might be the stronger GOP candidate, despite all the conventional wisdom to the contrary.

Obama’s Priorities USA super PAC is still not competitive with its Republican rivals. How a big a problem is this for him?
Not something to lose sleep over. The numbers Obama should worry about most – and presumably is – are the unemployment rate and gas prices.

Goldman Sachs executive Greg Smith resigned today by very publicly flipping the bird at the firm in the form of a Times op-ed. Does it matter at all?
Every American should read this powerful piece. Here is a bright young rising Goldman star – one of ten people (out of more than 30,000 employees) chosen to appear in Goldman’s college recruiting video – saying that he is quitting because of the firm’s “moral fiber.” He describes a workplace where executives openly deride their own clients as “muppets” and pursue any ethical shortcut at hand to make a buck: “Today, if you make enough money for the firm (and are not currently an ax murderer) you will be promoted into a position of influence.” This is not just a Goldman problem. This is the larger culture that caused the meltdown of 2008 and will cause the next. The Obama administration’s failure to hold the financial sector to account for its last round of shortcuts still haunts it. That the president is likely to run against an actual representative of that tarnished sector, the Man from Bain, remains his luckiest political break.

Frank Rich on the National Circus: Overestimating Mitt