Tales from the Trail

Then came social issues and ‘morality’…

RTR2CNMS_Comp-150x150The Tea Party’s November victories and the ensuing Republican drive for spending cuts are in large part the result of a political strategy that focuses tightly on fiscal and economic matters, while minimizing rhetoric on moral questions and social topics. But for how much longer can Republicans keep a lid on the culture war?

The 2012 presidential race, though lacking in declared GOP candidates, may be about to pry open a Pandora’s box bearing the name of social issues that have long divided Republican and independent ranks. And such an occurrence could work against the interests of fiscal conservatives, just as the GOP girds itself for a showdown with Democrats over spending cuts and the debt ceiling later this spring.RTXXP42_Comp-150x150

Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, one of those Republicans who are running for president without actually running for president, tells NBC’s Today show that social conservatism is what built America and made it strong.

And if a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows 65 percent of GOP primary voters preferring candidates who focus more on the economy and the deficit, and less on social issues?   ”I think we can walk and chew gum at the same time,” he replies.

Even the battle of the budget shows signs of becoming a Republican morality fight.

Hillary wants a break, but maybe just a little one

RTXUT4X_Comp-150x150Hillary Clinton is committed to remaining U.S. secretary of state through Barack Obama’s first term. What will she want then? The answer seems to be “spare time”. But maybe just a little.

Hillary’s future has long been the subject of swirling speculation. Would she run for president against Obama in 2012? Join his ticket as the vice presidential nominee? Replace Bob Gates at the Pentagon?

The only sure bet is that she’s content to remain in the Obama administration through 2012.

Bachmann for president? Tea Party darling blames media

RTXQELN_Comp-150x150Minnesota Republican Michele Bachmann, champion-in-chief of the House Tea Party caucus, blames the media for all the recent chatter about her status as a potential presidential candidate.

“I’m not concerned about my own personal ambition,” she tells NBC News. “Right now, too many people in the media are concerned about who will be the nominee in 2012.”

That’s a wee bit odd given that the speculation began after her office announced a trip to the presidential field of frolic known as Iowa, with guidance that a White House run is not off the table.

Jindal’s not running for president, but…

LOUISIANA GOVERNORS ELECTIONFirst, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal says he isn’t running for president. Then out comes his prescription for righting the national economy. 

“What I’m saying is, if we actually focus on the real challenges facing our country, not get diverted into taking over car companies and healthcare (but) cut taxes, create jobs, our country can get back on the right path, right direction,” the rising Republican conservative star of the South tells NBC in an interview.

Political oracle Karl Rove has anointed Jindal as one of 10 potential GOP presidential candidates for 2012.  Seven others on the list are also current or former state governors. But the 39-year-old son of Indian immigrants is the only one who is his state’s first nonwhite governor since the Civil War era, whose popularity among voters that has scored one decisive election victory after another.  

Obama sounds note of optimism about Democrats and November

AFGHANISTAN/OBAMAPresident Barack Obama sounded an optimistic note about the Democratic Party’s prospects in upcoming congressional midterm elections, saying in an NBC interview  that Democrats would “do just fine” if they could keep the focus on issues of substance.   

“The question for voters over the next five weeks is: Who is putting forward policies that have a chance to move our country forward so that our schools have improved, so that we have a world-class infrastructure, so that we’re serious about helping small business, we’re serious about getting a handle on our spending, and who’s just engaging in rhetoric?” the president said near the end of a half-hour interview devoted mainly to education issues.

“And I think that if that debate is taking place over the next five weeks, we are going to do just fine,” he said. 

Republican wants more Massa exposure but Democrat says it’s over

House Republican Eric Cantor thinks Congress should get to the bottom of Eric Massa’s bizarre tale of congressional nudity, satanic White House advisers, the groping of men (or not) and a congressional healthcare putsch by Democrats. But House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer says the case is over. 
 

“I know that Steny joins me in hoping that the ethics committee in Congress looks into this adequately and can get to the bottom of all of this,” said Cantor, who appeared along with Hoyer on NBC’s Today show. ”The best place for this to be resolved is in the ethics committee and let’s get to the bottom of it.”

Otherwise, the whole thing seems to make Cantor want to hold his nose. And he is not alone. “I’m a little taken aback and stunned,” the Virginia lawmaker confided. “I don’t know the facts of this at all. I know that the American people are sickened.”

Romney says Obama doesn’t deserve a passing grade

Mitt Romney gives Barack Obama an ‘F’ for his performance as president. But that’s not because the former Republican presidential candidate still wants the job — at least, he’s not ready to say yet whether he wants it or not. USA-POLITICS/

“I’m not going to give him a passing grade for the year,” Romney said of Obama on NBC’s Today show.

Sure, the economy was in free-fall a year ago and is now growing. Sure, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is back above 10,000. Sure, the U.S. no longer seems headed for a new depression.

Brzezinski sees encouraging signs emerging from Haitian catastrophe

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It might sound Pollyannaish coming from anybody other than Zbigniew Brzezinski, the hard-nosed intellectual who was Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser. But he says the gigantic catastrophe in Haiti may suggest some good things about the state of the modern world.

“As I look at this tragedy and as I look at this enormous human suffering, I’m also a little bit encouraged by the symbolism of the collective global response,” Brzezinski said in an interview with MSNBC.

Help has arrived quickly not only from the United States, the country’s biggest and richest neighbor, but also from other countries including Brazil and China. That could be a hopeful sign of an emerging international template for responding to turmoil around the world, including in hot spots like Afghanistan.

Obama’s security tweaks unlikely to quiet political opponents

President Barack Obama will tighten airline security today in a bid to thwart any future attack like last month’s plot to bomb a Detroit-bound airliner. But will that silence his political opponents? Not likely. With congressional elections looming in November, the stakes may be too high.

Take Republican Rep. Pete Hoekstra, for example. He’s running for governor of Michigan and criticizing Obama’s handling of the bomb plot in hopes of making Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, look soft on security.

“If you agree that we need a governor who will stand up the Obama/Pelosi efforts to weaken our security, please make a most generous contribution of $25, $50, $100 or even $250 to my campaign,” he said in a widely quoted letter to prospective supporters.
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The letter caused an uproar among critics who accused Hoekstra of playing politics with national security. But the security issue seems destined to become a leading theme for Republicans in this year’s election battle for control of Congress, which they hope to turn into a referendum on Obama’s policies.

The First Draft: White House “gate-crashers” say they’re suffering

They passed through layers of White House security to attend a lavish state dinner, got themselves photographed with the president and vice president and posted pix on Facebook. 
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It was supposed to be an experience to last a lifetime. But now, Michaele and Tareq Salahi, the couple at the center of one of the most embarrassing White House security breaches of all time, say their lives have been destroyed by falsehood and gossip.
    
“Devastated. Shocked,” is how beautiful, blond, former NFL cheerleader Michaele recalls her reaction to the morning-after headlines in an interview with NBC’s Today show. And Tareq? “Very saddened,” he says.
    
According to the White House, the Salahis were not on the invitation list. But they insist they were invited and predict that e-mails now in the hands of the Secret Service will exonerate them in the end. 
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In the meantime, their lives are a one-syllable word for perdition.
    
Tareq: “Our lives have really been destroyed.” 
    
Michaele: “Everything we’ve worked for — for me, 44 years — destroyed.”
    
The U.S. media have made the Salahis out to be self-promoting social climbers who crashed the White House dinner while Michaele was auditioning for a new reality TV show called “The Real Housewives of Washington.” There have even been reports they tried to cash in on their exploits by demanding big bucks in exchange for media interviews.
    
A camera crew from the cable-TV channel, Bravo, did follow them to the edge of the White House grounds on the night of the dinner. But the bit about paid interviews is dead wrong, says Michaele: “At no time … have we ever even talked about doing that with anyone.”
    
Whether the Salahis are charged depends on a Secret Service probe to figure out just what happened. The Salahis tell NBC they hope to clear their name by sharing those e-mails as soon as the Secret Service says they can. When might that be? “We hope within the next several days,” Tareq says. 

Photo Credits: Reuters/Ho New (the Salahis and Obama); Reuters/Jonathan Ernst (the Salahis)