Tales from the Trail

Santorum: backer’s contraceptives comment was bad joke

“It was a stupid joke,” Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum says about a wealthy backer’s “aspirins for contraceptives” comment.

Whatever it was, Santorum — a staunch social conservative – said he’s not going to be responsible for what his supporters say.

“I’m not going to play that game,” the former Pennsylvania senator told Fox News host Greta Van Susteren Thursday night when asked about what Foster Friess said earlier in the day.

Friess, the chief donor to the pro-Santorum SuperPAC, was asked whether he had any concerns about the candidate’s views on social issues. Part of his response raised eyebrows.

“Back in my days, they used Bayer aspirin for contraceptives. The gals put it between their knees and it wasn’t that costly,” he told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell.

Washington Extra – Peace by piece

Not since Vietnam has the United States sat down with an enemy it was fighting on the battlefield and negotiated an exit from war. That long-standing policy might end this year if a carefully choreographed diplomatic dance takes U.S. and Afghan officials to a negotiating table with the Taliban.

As Reuters Washington correspondent Missy Ryan explains, President Obama’s peace gambit has the potential to be a significant development for U.S. foreign policy. But it turns out it is a policy borne out of necessity: two years ago, the Pentagon thought the Taliban could be defeated militarily, and today, it’s all too clear they aren’t going away.

There are many hurdles and not insignificant push back here at home to overcome. And Obama may want to don a helmet for the incoming fire… from Capitol Hill. As soon as he notifies Congress of plans to move Taliban detainees from Guantanamo to get the ball rolling, he is sure to face a torrent of attacks.

Romney’s misguided attack on the automotive bailout

Michigan’s upcoming GOP presidential primary lends itself to automotive analogies. So here’s one. If Mitt Romney were a car, he’d be the Mitt-subishi Eclipse.

That might well be the upshot of Romney’s op-ed in the Detroit News this week deriding the 2009 automotive bailout as “crony capitalism” and calling it a sop to the United Auto Workers union for supporting President Barack Obama’s campaign. Romney wins points here for courage and consistency (he has taken this position before), but not for political smarts or judgment.

Romney has found himself in the shaky position of defending Romneycare, the government-financed healthcare plan in Massachusetts, while criticizing the government-financed rescue of GM and Chrysler. It’s hard to see a consistent political philosophy in this, which is why conservatives don’t trust Romney. It’s also hard to understand why, on the eve of Michigan’s critical primary, Romney is criticizing the only Obama domestic-policy initiative that actually has worked.

“Linsanity” hits the White House


President Barack Obama is well-known to be a huge basketball fan, and he hasn’t missed the biggest story in the NBA — the rise of Jeremy Lin, the Harvard-educated, Taiwanese American guard whose record-setting scoring run has led the New York Knicks to six straight victories.

Lin added to his legend on Monday night by making a three-point shot as time expired that gave the Knicks a 90-87 victory over the Toronto Raptors.

White House press secretary Jay Carney said he and Obama had talked about Lin on Tuesday on the helicopter ride from the White House to catch an Air Force One flight to Milwaukee.

Gingrich offers “dream team” to supporters

For a $100 donation, this free poster of Newt Gingrich and his conservative “Dream Team” can be yours.

The poster — featuring the Republican presidential candidate flanked by endorsers of his White House bid  — was offered to supporters Tuesday in a new fundraising appeal.

The Dream Team photo was unveiled at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington last week. The Gingrich campaign said it was hit, and now conservatives across the  country are clamoring for a copy of their own.

Washington Extra – Post script

You’ve heard about the income divide and the digital divide. Now, get ready for the postal divide.

Nearly 80 percent of the 3,830 U.S. post offices slated for closure later this year are in sparsely populated areas where poverty rates are higher than the national average, according to our findings in the special report “Towns go dark with post office closings.”

One-third of them fall in areas with limited or no wired broadband Internet, leaving 1.7 million people in the lurch. One of them is Carlos Sandoval, a rancher in Trinchera, Colorado, who relies on his post office for everything except groceries.

Tending to China-US relations

Valentine’s Day is as good a day as any for China and the United States to work on the kinks in their relationship.

Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping signaled beforehand that tending to the state of the  “dynamic and promising” U.S.-China connection would be the at the heart of his White House visit on Tuesday.

The economic and trade relationship between the two countries is far too important to be frayed by “frictions and differences,” Xi wrote in a Q&A submitted to the Washington Post and published on the eve of his White House meeting with President Barack Obama.

Washington Extra – A Deng Xiaoping Moment?

By Warren Strobel

Maybe it’s the careful, consensus-oriented system that produces them, but China’s leaders in recent years have not exactly exuded personality. President Hu Jintao is famous for his stiff manner and scripted speaking style. Jiang Zemin was slightly more relaxed, and enjoyed showing off his English language skills and knowledge of U.S. history.

Washington on Tuesday will get its first close look at China’s next president, current Vice President Xi Jinping, who has a reputation for being more open and refreshingly direct than some of his predecessors. It may be too much to hope for a “Deng Xiaoping moment,” a 1979 turning point in Sino-American cultural relations when the diminutive Deng, China’s great modernizer, attended a rodeo in Simonton, Texas, donned a giant cowboy hat and wowed the crowd. Deng was then China’s vice premier.

Xi has conflicting needs on this visit. He wants to show peers and the public back home that he can handle the American account, China’s most important relationship. He visited Iowa in 1985 and, by all accounts, the experience affected him. He also wants to strike a good working relationship with the White House and Capitol Hill, which could help both sides handle a daunting array of disagreements: human rights, the South China Sea, China’s currency, and Obama’s more aggressive posture in Asia, to name a few.

“Dogs Against Romney” keeps barking on Seamus

It’s an anti-Romney movement five years in the making, and now it’s a large and growing “Super Pack” that even plans to crash the legendary Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show this week.

Dogs Against Romney is an ad-hoc group that likes dogs (and even, when pressed, some cats) but does not like Mitt Romney. It was brought together by the now well-known story of how Romney, the Republican presidential candidate, once drove from Boston to Canada with his dog in a carrier strapped to the roof of the speeding family car.

For those unfamiliar, the story –- unearthed by the Boston Globe in 2007 — goes something like this: In 1983 Romney, then a rising star in the private equity world, loaded up the family station wagon with sons and luggage for a long trek from Boston to Ontario, Canada. Seamus, the family’s Irish Setter, was put in his dog crate and strapped to the top of the car. Poor Seamus, whether terrified or over-excited or just not given a chance for a potty break, at some point soiled himself, as the Romney boys discovered when they saw brown liquid running down the window. Romney, the turnaround and efficiency specialist, quickly pulled into a nearby gas station to hose down the car, and the dog, and get back on the road.

Santorum calls Romney “desperate,” downplays wins

Republican presidential contender Rick Santorum on Sunday called recent attacks by his rival Mitt Romney “desperate,” as the two face off in an increasingly contentious battle to become the party’s White House nominee.

Santorum, a former senator from Pennsylvania and social conservative known for his staunch positions on abortion and gay marriage, is competing to be the conservative alternative to Romney, who faces resistance from Republicans skeptical of moderate stances he took when he was governor of the liberal state of Massachusetts.

Asked about Romney’s recent efforts to highlight times when Santorum sided with Democrats while in Congress, including votes to raise the federal debt ceiling, Santorum appeared amused.