Really not sure whether front-running Republican hopeful and eternal flip-flopper Mitt Romney has really done his campaign a lot of good with his not so subtle dig at the thrice-married Newt Gingrich in his current campaign ad. One political pundit analyses the vid and concludes that it might help Romney by focusing unforgiving conservative attention on the issue of 'character', but could backfire when the issue of 'stability' quickly translates from personal stability to political stability. There, says 'Allahpundit", Romney quickly sinks and Gingrich becomes most favoured candidate.
But as Gingrich becomes the most likely conservative alternative to Romney, there is some talk that a Gingrich-Obama contest could be a great ideological stand-off, focusing on genuine policy differences and with detailed back-up, rather than just rhetorical generalisations. The 'New Republic' pundit Michael Kazin posits just this situation, noting that Gingrich is determined to challenge Obama to lengthy debates. Policy might just hold the field in this putative contest.
That all assumes Gingrich's oft described 'colourful' private life can be kept off the burner. He might have less trouble from an Obama campaign on that score than from his own conservative supporters - the Washington Post reports continuing questions from Republican leaders about Gingrich's ability to steer a campaign that could focus on his 'personal life'. They're also concerned that Gingrich is not easily docketed as a straightforward Tea Party supporter.
I like the idea of a Gingrich candidacy. He's different, trenchant, original, intelligent and turns the identikit candidate notion on its head. And it really would be good to see someone whose flaws have been so publicised overcome the negative effects of such publicity; it could mark a real turning point in media reportage.
Hat-Tip to Andrew Sullivan's always excellent Daily Dish for the Allahpundit and Kazin links. Now, here's Mitt's smug little video ad -
Wednesday, December 07, 2011
The website politics.co.uk has got it right with their headline today, "The Conservative Curse: Cameron faces the Europe test." The issue that long ago became a latter day tariff reform menace has been warming up for some time to give Mr. Cameron the same unalloyed misery it passed on to predecessors John Major and Margaret Thatcher. Both were undone by Europe in the end - the converted eurosceptic and the europhile alike. Now it's back to haunt the eurosceptic but pragmatic David Cameron. His Prime Minister's Questions performance today was definitely not his finest hour, and while you might dismiss Boris Johnson's call for a referendum as just another piece of typical one-upmanship, it's a little different if your own Northern Ireland Secretary starts publically ruminating about the same issue.
When he became leader David Cameron, understanding the Curse of Europe as well as anyone, tried hard to hit it into the long grass once and for all. Part of that project was to appease the numerically far larger number of Tory eurosceptics by withdrawing from the federal right-wing party, the European People's Party. It caused a bit of a rumpus from amongst the two or three Tories who still professed some sort of attachment to Europe, but otherwise it looked like a domestically shrewd manouevre. A little bit of virtually cost-free eurosceptic action to buy a period of invaluable peace.
It worked, for a while. Europe really didn't raise its accursed head for most of Cameron's time in opposition and even in government, with a healthily eurosceptic Foreign Secretary in William Hague, it did appear as if Cameron had assuaged the beast. Fat chance. Even if the eurozone hadn't threatened an economic implosion that makes the finances of the Weimar Republic look positively sane, he should have realised the nature of the Conservative eurosceptic beast. It was never going to be satisfied with a sop, and the eurozone has given it enough red meat to keep it awake for months, probably years to come.
The heart of David Cameron's problem is that he recognises what most eurosceptics can't be bothered to acknowledge. No matter how populist and democratic the calls for people power to decide our future in Europe, there is no clear question to ask. A referendum about a treaty between 17 other European nations who have no interest in listening to Britain is no use at all. And as for the 'nuclear' option - "Do you want to stay in the European Union?" - the real problem is that no-one, on either side of the debate, has any very clear idea as to what full-scale withdrawal from all of Europe's embrace would really mean for Britain. It is a classic political timebomb. Festooned with a variety of legislative cables, some of which may well be redundant or low-level in their blast capacities, there will be one which could well explode the domestic economy sky-high. We just don't know which one. Cut them all, say the true eurosceptics, gung-ho and newly confident on the back of the eurozone difficulty, they're all bluffs. Ah, says the wise old bomb disposal expert, can we really be sure of that?
There is also the question of how much heft GB Inc will carry in the world outside the European Union, as a valiant little dependent island. One of Cameron's early decisions - his EPP withdrawal - is already coming back to haunt him, as Nick Robinson explains on his blog today. The leaders of eleven European nations are meeting in a private summit today. Not just France and Germany, even Romania and Poland will be there. Finland's going to be represented for crying out loud. But not Britain. Not David Cameron. Because he's not in the EPP club any more. And that was just a small decision. What happens when no-one wants the British prime minister at any summit because - well, because out of Europe and out on a limb he or she just doesn't matter any more.
David Cameron tried to sound decisive and eurosceptic and suitably Thatcherite in his Times article today, but the mischievous calling of 8 euro-unfriendly Tory MPs by the Speaker at PMQs this afternoon soon punctured that bubble. Of course the prime minister can't offer a referendum, much less the beginning of a process of withdrawal. Whatever the travails of the eurozone today, they remain unlikely to knock the political agenda of the European Union far off course. David Cameron, as a savvy leader, knows this perfectly well and has no intention of trying to hidebound any future international role he might want to pursue. His problem, as ever, is that in a wrathfully eurosceptic party, the only European policy the majority of his MPs, and certainly the majority of his grassroots members, want to see is one that would make UKIP utterly redundant. And hang what comes next.
With attention focused on the extraordinary - and to European eyes ludicrous - line-up of would-be Republican presidential candidates, we forget just how precarious the position of one-time saviour of the world, Barack Obama, is. In an on the money piece for online magazine 'Canvas', SGS alumni Joe Austin reminds us of Obama's undoubted successes - both domestically and in foreign affairs - and then examines why his second term should be so uncertainly viewed.