Doubling Down on Santorum

With two more polls out today showing Rick Santorum moving up in Iowa, I think I can go a little farther in terms of where I think this thing may be heading. Most of the punditry is talking about the Santorum surge in terms of a strong third-place finish, or a surprising move into the top tier. Given Santorum’s dismal polling up to this point, that in itself is enough for breathless wall-to-wall coverage – but I don’t think they’re taking it far enough. I will:

Santorum could very easily win Iowa, possibly by a big margin.

Here’s why I say that. Santorum is in third in all of the polls, but he is the only candidate moving up, and he’s going up steeply. Two polls have him at 16% and a third puts him at 13%. Romney’s numbers are consistent but flat in the low 20s, while Ron Paul’s numbers seem to be peaking and possibly dropping off (Insider Advantage’s numbers show Paul dropping 7% in the last ten days). Either way, neither Romney nor Paul seem capable of cracking 25% in any poll. Furthermore, almost all of the reports I’ve read indicate that a high number of voters say that they could change their mind, so the situation remains fluid. With the media going nuts over Santorum, conservative undecideds are likely to break heavily in his favor, and soft supporters of Perry, Bachmann, and Gingrich are likely to shift to Santorum on caucus night. With this dogpile effect, Santorum could quickly consolidate the same type of bubble previously enjoyed by Bachmann, Perry, Cain and Gingrich. This floating block of ”wave voters” seems to constitute between 25% and 30% of the Iowa electorate, as all of the previous wave-riders peaked in that range in the RealClearPolitics Iowa average (Bachmann’s top score was 27%, Perry hit 25%, Cain just over 30%, and Gingrich 31%). All four waves were driven by exact same voters, and when one bubble deflated, the voters moved en masse to whoever was the “new conservative not-Romney”. Those same voters are now driving Santorum, they are coalescing quickly, and the media is helping. With less than a week to go, the only question is whether the bubble has enough time to fully inflate before caucus day. If it does, Santorum will finish with between 27% and 35% of the vote – at least 3 points clear of the others and possibly winning by as much as 10%.

Now, I’m not going to guarantee a Santorum win, as there are still a lot of variables. Anything could happen, and the bubble could easily pop. It’s also possible that Santorum’s relative lack of charisma will keep his bubble smaller. However, as things stand right now, I would put my money on Santorum to win Iowa. That may change tomorrow, and whether that translates into a shot at the nomination is a whole different question, but that’s the state of play.

Rick Santorum Meets Bigfoot

The idea of Rick Santorum pulling a late surge in Iowa was the political equvalent of Bigfoot. Lots of people were talking about it, a few people claimed to have seen it on the ground, but no reports could be verified and the hard evidence just wasn’t showing up. He put in tons of effort in Iowa, and he was the last conservative also-ran not to have had his moment in the sun, but the polls weren’t moving and the money wasn’t coming it. Everybody was talking about the possibility but nothing was showing up.

Well, today we caught Bigfoot on camera. A CNN poll found Santorum surging past Newt Gingrich and into third place in Iowa, behind Mitt Romney and Ron Paul. Now, he’s got a way to go to get into the top two, but just the fact that he pulled down 16% of the vote is amazing. There are questions about the poll’s accuracy given that they only polled registered Republicans (non-Republicans often switch on caucus day) and that PPP’s numbers from the same time period showed Santorum at only 10% (which is still upward movement but not as dramatic). However, I don’t think picking apart methodology is important here.

What’s important is that the media is going ape over a “Santorum surge”. Santorum’s face was the top picture on Drudge Report, CNN is patting itself on the back for finding the data, and a narrative is taking shape. Voters tend to respond to narratives and turn perception into reality, so the reports are likely to serve as a dog whistle to drive conservative voters into the Santorum camp. Very similar narratives drove up Bachmann, Perry, Cain, and Gingrich – but the difference here is that we are six days away from the Iowa caucuses. Hence, the votes will be cast before the bubble can deflate.

Now, the time crunch may also mean that the votes will be cast before Santorum’s bubble is fully inflated, so he may still finish a distant third despite moving up very quickly. However, given the level of coverage, I would be pretty surprised to see him finish lower than third at this point, especially given his strong organization in Iowa.

Can he win? I don’t know, but I wouldn’t put it outside the realm of possibility. He’s enjoying the exact same media love-in that preceded the previous booms, so there’s no reason to think he won’t see the same results. The only question is how many people can dogpile onto the bandwagon in one week.

Merry Christmas, Brian Topp!

I’m really trying to work on my “Five Leaders to Watch in 2012 column, but once again my attention gets dragged back to my favorite socialist soap opera, the New Democratic Party of Canada. In this week’s episode of “As the NDP Turns”, the battle to lead this suddenly-relevant crew of radicals went sideways, as “prohibitive frontrunner” Brian Topp now appears to be in the middle of a full-fledged collapse – a full three months before the election. I saw this one coming a mile a way  Topp was famous as a leading backroom strategist, but he’s abrasive, awkward, and much more suited to managing campains than running himself. Running him for party leader was like running Karl Rove for president, and the voters responded with a collective “WTF?”

There are no public polls, but the leaks trickling out of NDP sources seem to indicate that Topp’s campaign failed to get of the ground and is now in a nose dive. Sun media national bureau chief David Akin’s sources tell him that Topp has fallen entirely out of the top tier, with Akin ranking Topp in fifth place behind the almost unknown Romeo Saganash. Meanwhile, leading NDP talking head Ian Capstick said that NDP Christmas functions included rumors that Topp might drop out and endorse fellow establishment candidate Peggy Nash. Now, I’ve suspected for some time that Capstick is in the tank for Nash, but to suggest that a “frontrunner” may drop out is too wild of an idea to suggest on a whim. Topp’s strategy was to use his clout and connections bully any other candidates out of the race, which he hoped would scare off the other top-tier contender Thomas Mulcair. He failed miserably, as the field ballooned to 9 candidates including not only Mulcair but party heavywieghts like Nash and Paul Dewar. He lacked the charisma to win a competitve race, and earned a reputation as a Machiavellian bully in the process – so this result should have been expected.

The anti-establishment Mulcair now seems to be leading the pack, with establishment support shifting from Topp to Nash – but “unknown also-ran” Romeo Saganash also appears to be gaining on the leaders (which was also predictable). Saganash is the first aboriginal Canadian ever to seek the leadership of a national party and cut his political teeth as a deputy grand chief of the James Bay Cree.  Nobody thought he would have a chance, but as I said at the outset of the race, Saganash’s compelling personal story and Cree identity could make him the Canadian Obama. He’s also smartly basing his strategy on the idea that he could come from behind if he gets second-choice votes from supporters of all the others – exploiting the NDP’s system of ranked-preference voting. He still has a lot of work to do if he wants to crack the top tier, and he REALLY needs help with his nervous debate performances, but still he seems to have momentum.

Daily Briefing – There are 5 As in RAAAAACISM!

Iowa: Ron Paul literally walked out on a CNN interview when they pressed him about raaaaacist views printed under his name in his 1990s newsletter. He says he not only didn’t writer them but didn’t read them and only found out their content 10 years later. So, if he’s being truthful he’s admitting to be ridiculously negligent in supervising his ghostwriters – and I still want to know why he hired a David Duke loving anti-Semite as a ghostwriter. But the bigger mistake is walking out – that’s something you NEVER do. It makes you look like your hiding something big (which I think he is). But hopefully this doesn’t make a big dent because I really want him to win Iowa, just for the sake of launching chaos theory scenarios and allowing new candidates to enter.

Finland: The Finnish authorities have impounded a China-bound, Isle of Man-flagged cargo ship carrying a bunch of surface-to-air missiles and explosives that they weren’t supposed to have (they had them marked as “fireworks”…but using them for that purpose would just be wasteful). No one has a clue who the missiles were bound, and the company owning the ship “expressed surprise” at what was found (because obviously it’s really easy to get 69 Patriot missiles onto a ship without the owners knowing!).

South Africa: Raaaaacist flame-thrower Julius Malema has been elected to a leadership position in the ruling African National Congress party, just a month after being thrown out as leader of the party’s youth wing for “bringing the party into disrepute”. He’s generally a nasty character, known for praising Robert Mugabe and referring to a black leader in a mostly-white party as a “tea-getter of the madam“. However, he’s an orator and has a following, and now openly setting himself up as a party rival to President Jacob Zuma. Zuma himself is bad enough, but if a bigoted nut like Malema starts consolidating power, heaven help us all.

 

Daily Briefing – Ron Paul and Other Things That Make No Sense

So the “Daily Briefing” format is back, if for no other reason than it motivates me to post daily – but as the past week demonstrates, the rundown of world events will be discarded on a whim if I go off on some flight of fancy. That is all.

Iowa: GOP Governor Terry Branstad is flat-out telling people to ignore his own state’s first-in-the-nation caucus if Ron Paul wins. Good luck with that, buddy. I know a lot of people are saying we’ll just disregard the Iowa votes if Paul wins and it will be a blip – and some pro-Paul people seem to think the media will ignore them on purpose. This is rubbish. If Paul wins, the headlines all the next day will be, “HOLY CRAP! RON PAUL WON!”. This will send his numbers up in New Hampshire (which is actually more receptive to him than Iowa) and generate panic in the establishment. So, no, Governor -won’t be ignoring the caucuses.

Falkland Islands: The South American trade bloc Mercosur has announced that Falklands-flagged ships will be banned from their ports in solidarity with Argentina’s claim on the British territory. This is getting ridiculous. There’s never been a serious Argentine presence there, the inhabitants are as British as tea and crumpets, and there’s a high likelihood that the citizens are outnumbered by sheep anyway. What the deuce do they think they’re going to accomplish by making it impossible for 25 harmless fishing boats (the totality of the global Falklands-flagged fleet) to dock anywhere in Southern South America? Get over it, already.

Outer Space: For the first time ever, man has discovered planets the same size as Earth orbiting other stars. This is made possible by the shiny new Kepler Space Telescope. Now, these planets are incredibly hot, because fast-orbiting planets close to stars are the easiest to find as they repeatedly cross in front of their stars. It will take a few more years to find earth-sized planets with potentially habitable climates, as they take longer to orbit and don’t appear as often, but we’ve proven that we can do it – and it’s just a matter of time until we confirm many of the slower orbiting bodies that have already been identified.

Australia: Australia’s most prestigious wine award has surprisingly gone to a Shiraz from a tiny winery in Tasmania….an area that has never won these things before. Tasmania is an up and coming region but NOT among the titans of the Australian wine industry – and what it is known for is Pinot Noir and other cold weather varieties rather than the Shiraz dominant on the mainland. Before today, “Tasmanian Shiraz” would have been seen as oxymoron, and now people are tripping over themselves to get it. I’m not a wine snob (although I have a real soft spot for a good Georgian Saperavi), but I love a good underdog story – even when it comes in a bottle.

Too Good To Check: Palin Says There’s Still Time…

Actually, the idea that one or more candidates could get in after Iowa and New Hampshire has been coming from a lot of people lately - including people who normally are too respectable to say such things. The only difference today is that it came from an actual object of speculation in Gov. Sarah Palin. Am I sold on it yet? No, but we’re 15 days out from Iowa, the GOP field is in ruins, and Ron Paul of all people could end up leading the pack out of the first turn. We are dangerously close to passing through the looking glass, so it’s becoming mildly less crazy to talk about what happens if the entire field self-destructs.

If that happens, if the early results are so insane that nobody can tolerate them, everything – and I mean EVERYTHING – will suddenly go back on the table. Palin? Why not? Same goes for Mitch Daniels, Tim Pawlenty, Jeb Bush, Allen West, Paul Ryan, Chris Christie, Nikki Haley, Marco Rubio, Jim DeMint, and any number of others. Any of those people would have become the object of rabid courting by the establishment if, say, a harmless-but-disliked Newt Gingrich swept the early primaries and Romney imploded….and now we’re looking at a doomsday scenario involving RON PAUL?! There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that all sorts of garbage, possibly involving Sarah Palin, is going to hit the fan if that man gets anywhere near the nomination. The establishment hates Palin’s guts, and thinks she’s sure to lose, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t use her as a last ditch hail-Mary to keep the nomination away from a 76 year-old man with a lot of crazy ideas about the money supply, conspiracy theories about the Federal Reserve, a history of dealing with racists, and a firm belief that Iran has a fundamental right to own nuclear weapons.

Look – I’m not jumping on the crazy train yet, and I am NOT  saying the whole process is going to blow up. Romney’s not in bad shape, Perry’s making a late go in Iowa, and Santorum could catch a media boom. I don’t currently think Palin (or anyone else) is able to get in right now. However, with two weeks to go, we are staring the nightmare, Armageddon scenario square in the face – and it would be stupid not to plan for the apocalypse. The field is now closed, but if we really go that far through the looking glass, there’s absolutely no good reason to think it won’t open back up. And if it opens up, Palin would be near the top of the list of potential entrants.

So, buckle your seat belts, and remember that Iowa is not the beginning of the end, it’s the end of the beginning.

Oh…and one more thing. I never thought I would say this, I would never support him in a general election, and this is purely for my own sadistic Machiavellian reasons – but…

RON PAUL! RON PAUL! RON PAUL!  I could kiss you – you beautiful, crazy old man!!!!

The Last Stalinist: Kim Jong Il 1941-2011

It seems a bit odd writing a semi-respectful obituary for Kim Jong Il – when a “rot in hell” screed might be more appropriate. However, this is a solemn occasion in that we are writing the epitaph not only of the “Dear Leader”, but also of Stalinism itself. Communism as a whole is still very much alive, and a number of petty dictators aspire to be Stalin – but Kim Jong Il was that last remaining strongman who was able to keep total control of a hard-line, totalitarian, all-penetrating Communist society. That’s something that cannot be claimed by the Castro regime, it’s been given up on by the Chinese, and petty despots like Lukashenko in Belarus cannot achieve it despite their best efforts. Kim was the last (or at least I think he was) – and thank G-d for that.

This is not a happy day, nor a day for gloating. A first step toward progress, maybe, but progress in North Korea is likely to be a very bloody and volatile process indeed. We have no clue who will be running the place now, or whether they will be half as effective as Kim. Of course, the anointed successor is Kim’s youngest son,  Kim Jong Un. However, Jong Un is only in his late twenties and has only recently been groomed as a successor, whereas his father was groomed for decades before Kim Il Sung’s death in 1994. It seems highly unlikely to many observers that the younger Kim will be able to hold control. A more likely outcome would probably be that forces within the military will wrest power away from the Kim family – either that or Jong Un will become a puppet of the generals. Then again, nobody really knows what goes on inside North Korea, so judging Kim Jong Un’s potential is next to impossible.

If there is a power struggle, it could be the beginning of the end for North Korea as we know it. It’s not at all unlikely that the regime could canibalize itself as aspiring despots struggle for power. If anyone does manage establish themselves, it still may be dificult for them to cling to the sort of fierce isolationism and Orwellian media control that defines the country at present. That said, one thing I am NOT prepared to predict is some kind of people-power revolution. The North Korean population is starved, brainwashed, and likely incapable of revolt - I hope they surprise me on that front, but I am not optimistic.

Finally, for those of you hoping the regime collapses, be careful what you wish for. The day the North Korean government falls will mark the beginning of the biggest humanitarian crisis of our century – and likely in all of history. When the outside world is finally allowed in, we will be shocked and horrified beyond our wildest imaginations. It will be like flinging open the gates to Auschwitz – an Auschwitz with 24 million inmates that has been operating since 1945. Imagine a death camp so massive and enduring that entire generations of people have grown up not knowing that there is life outside the hell they are living - that’s North Korea. Feeding these people and trying to heal their psychological trauma will be an impossible task.

That doesn’t mean that we should hope for the dictatorship to continue - heaven forbid. However, we should be ready for what is about to hit us, and perhaps hope for a gradual transition rather than a sudden one. This regime will likely collapse in our lifetime, whether that’s now or in ten or twenty years. The question will be what will replace it. Will the Chinese take over, making it a puppet state, or will it be a brighter future aided by South Korean and the rest of the world? How we answer those questions, and how we deal with the ensuing humanitarian disaster, will be a major factor in determining how history remembers our generation. Today’s events began the countdown to the day we, as a world, will face this task - I pray to G-d that we are ready.

Final Hammerman Thoughts

I wasn’t able to blog yesterday, so before I do a global news round-up I wanted to put up one last response on Rabbi Joshua Hammerman’s now-withdrawn attack on Tim Tebow’s faith. Daily Briefings will hopefully return Monday, although after this week I may drop the label – as occasionally they are going to get superseded by more focussed or intellectual pieces.

As for Hammerman. he issued an apology, his column is gone from The Jewish Week, and he’s wiped both the column and his follow up thoughts from his personal blog. His apology is sincere, and unlike most apologies of this sort, he actually apologizes for his actions instead of just apologizing that people we’re offended (which is actually a way of saying your audience is stupid). Here’s the important bit.

 I have the deepest respect for those who are committed to their faith, including Mr. Tebow. I realize the way in which I attempted to make my points was clumsy and inappropriate, inadvertently suggesting the kind of intolerance and extremism my article was intended to disparage. I sincerely apologize to Mr. Tebow, his family, the Broncos and Patriots and all those whom I may have
offended.

Now, again, I admire this sentiment. However, I do have to point out one thing that Hammerman is still missing. Clumsy phrasing was not his primary flaw – his phrasing was indeed clumsy, but the basic premise of his argument was so hateful that I cannot think of a way that it could have been phrased elegantly. The rabbi claims to be fighting for tolerance, but his worldview is such that anyone he labels “intolerant” is, in fact, not to be tolerated. The base argument that Tim Tebow NEEDS TO FAIL FOR THE GOOD OF SOCIETY is flawed, as is the contention that evangelicals’ strong faith makes them more likely to engage in violence than people who lack belief, that it is somehow a moral imperative to desire the failure of such people, or that their certainty of belief (or certainty itself, as Hammerman said) is to be considered an immoral and unethical act.

I reiterate that I accept Rabbi Hammerman’s sincerely offered apology – but in this case I would say that true and full repentance would require the Rabbi to take a very hard look at how he views reality – and to begin all future arguments by assuming no one, no class, should be considered somehow less intelligent or less human than him

No Daily Briefing – But Some Thoughts on the Hammerman Debacle.

I’m not posting a daily briefing today because I have expended a considerable amount of passion and brainpower on Rabbi Joshua Hammerman’s anti-Tim Tebow, anti-Christian column for The Jewish Week. For those that have not seen, I have a column on the subject posted at The Daily Caller, and anyone who is Facebook friends with me will know that I’ve had considerable debates in that forum as well. Hammerman’s column has since been pulled down after pile-on by punditry from across the political spectrum – most of it by Jewish authors – and the Rabbi has posted a brief apology on his personal blog (where he has deleted both the column and some of his earlier responses to criticism). As a minor participant in the pile-on, I’m willing to accept such an apology but will reserve judgement until after the Rabbi posts his promised “additional reflections”. I will probably have some additional reflections of my own after he posts them. In the meantime, I hope you all have a good night, and we will return to our regularly scheduled programming soon.

Daily Briefing – Prayers for Belgium, and Ditch the Neckties.

Belgium: At least four people werw killed and 123 injured in a grenade attack in the Belgian city of Liége. Terrorism has been ruled out and this is pretty much a “lone idiot” operation, but obviously it’s horrifying – and I’m watching for political ripple effects. Normally something like this would have no effect on politics, but Belgium is a ridiculously divided nation with a very unstable government situation. The Dutch speaking region of Flanders is increasingly gravitating toward independence, and French-speaking Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo sits atop a very fragile coalition of parties that took over a year to negotiate. This shooting was in the French-speaking region of Wallonia, and it could have the effect of rallying the country together – taking the wind out of the sails of the Flemish  separatists, at least for now.

CanadaDaniel Paillé has been elected to lead the Bloc Québécois party, which advocates independence for the province of Quebec. He inherits a party in shambles, as the Bloc lost 43 of it’s 47 seats in Parliament in May’s election and has seen membership plummet since. Paillé lost his own seat in that rout, and must now lead the party from outside Parliament. He has one heck of a task ahead of him if he wishes to rebuild the separatist cause and take back Quebec from the socialist but unionist New Democratic Party.

Peru: President Ollanta Humala swore in a new prime minister and cabinet today after Prime Minister Salomón Lerner quit. Whereas Lerner was a businessman who was seen as a moderating influence on the leftist Humala – the new PM is Oscar Valdés, who was a compatriot and instructor of Humala’s in the military. Note to Humala: Moving old military buddies into power positions is NOT helpful in your effort to convince people that you’re not the crazy Hugo Chavez clone they think you are! Up until now Humala has walked a moderate leftist line, re-assuring those who worried about his authoritarian and militaristic tendencies (he got his political start as a rebellion leader), but now people are getting jittery.

Chile: This one is just for laughs, but the Chilean government is launching a campaign to convince men NOT to wear ties to work. The idea is that wearing ties in the summer increases the need for air conditioning and drives up energy use.