On Spec

A roundup of pre-election guesswork

Among the expected slew of same-same “Expect Big GOP Gains” stories running nationally today, there is a smaller cabal of reports asking “What Comes Next?” And on a day when that’s the big question everyone’s asking, we’re taking a look at some of the more interesting answers.

The big one doing the blog and cable rounds is Politico’s “Next for GOP: Stopping Sarah Palin,” in which Mike Allen and Jim VendeHei report that—lo and behold—Republican operatives, many supporting or working for Palin’s primary rivals, are working to stop her presidential momentum. From the very Politico story:

Interviews with advisers to the main 2012 presidential contenders and with other veteran Republican operatives make clear they see themselves on a common, if uncoordinated, mission of halting the momentum and credibility Palin gained with conservative activists by plunging so aggressively into this year’s midterm campaigns…

“There is a determined, focused establishment effort … to find a candidate we can coalesce around who can beat Sarah Palin,” said one prominent and longtime Washington Republican. “We believe she could get the nomination, but Barack Obama would crush her.”

The article itself is an interesting if flawed read, if you enjoy Beltway cloak and dagger stuff. But more interesting was Palin’s response to it on Greta Van Susteren’s Fox News program last night. Palin lamented that the use of unnamed sources was “disappointing,” and said the paper Politico was printed on was “not worth wrapping my king salmon in.” (Note: we encourage the purchase of newspapers for whatever purpose you may have in mind.) The myriad unnamed folks who fed Politico the story will probably be pleased to know they rankled the right’s new Jack Shafer; my colleague Clint Hendler will have more on the Politico-Palin fracas later today.

Of more substance from the day’s forward-leaning reports is The New York Times’s “Conservative Donor Groups Lay a Base for 2012 Elections,” by Jim Rutenberg. The big story here is that the Dems should be afraid, very afraid, of the coming cash onslaught GOP supporters are preparing for 2012—two of the largest conservative groups to bolster Republicans this year say the midterms were just a run-through.

Robert M. Duncan, the chairman of American Crossroads, which, like Crossroads GPS, was started with help from the Republican strategists Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie, said he also informed major donors late last week that “research and development” was under way to make the groups even more effective in the next election, part of a pitch for continued investment toward a larger goal.

“It’s a bigger prize in 2012, and that’s changing the White House,” Mr. Duncan said. “We’ve planted the flag for permanence, and we believe that we will play a major role for 2012.”

What’s most compelling—and for some, worrying—about Rutenberg’s report is the dilemma Democrats will face leading up to the presidential election: a party that has railed against undisclosed donors and the influence of outside interests on electoral politics may be forced to forego those concerns to remain competitive. You can hear the flip-flop ads being cut already.

And advocates for tighter campaign finance restrictions say they fear the groups’ plans for such an active role over the next two years are likely to open the door to a flood of new special interest money in presidential politics on both sides, as Democrats begin publicly calling on their big-money donors to consider responding in kind.

“If this is what the playing field is going to look like, then we need to play to win,” said Gov. Edward G. Rendell of Pennsylvania. Saying that “people are talking about it already,” he added that those talks “will begin with a lot more intensity after Election Day if we get beaten badly.”


But, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they did not want to engage in a public dialogue on the matter when they were so focused on Election Day, strategists for Mr. Obama said they were intent on avoiding a situation in which they would have no answer to millions of dollars — if not tens of millions — in advertisements from groups like Crossroads and Crossroads GPS.

As far as speculation goes—and we’re not going to drum on anyone today, when press spec is pretty much all the papers have to go on—it’s good stuff, and a continuance of the Times’s pretty solid work on campaign finance this season. My colleague Liz Cox Barrett, who has been following campaign finance reporting this season—see this, this, and this—will have more on the Rutenberg’s report and a similar piece in the Los Angeles Times later today.

Over at the Daily Beast, there’s a forward-looking double bill with Tina Brown’s op-ed—a pining for a post-midterms Obama who isn’t afraid to get a little more theatrical—and new guy Howard Kurtz asking what’s next for the media. Kurtz argues that glowing coverage of the resurgent GOP this Wednesday might be as short-lived as Obama’s own media honeymoon period. Tracing Obama’s decline in media fortunes, and linking it to the similar falls from grace of Jimmy Carer and Gerald Ford, Kurtz concludes:

The temptation, once the polls close Tuesday night, will be to portray Republicans as tenacious leaders who overcame incredible odds and are poised to rescue the country from runaway government. Well, maybe. Time will tell. We shall see. And by the way: Barack Obama, the day after the midterms, still gets an incomplete grade. The president who soared after 100 days and stumbled after 21 months may look very different by 2012.

Oh, where to begin? At least Politico had some sources to speak of—this is Kurtz typing out a hunch. Since when did it become inevitable that coverage of the GOP wave will be glowing, outside of Fox News? Pre-election day coverage has not taken that tone. Tenacious and shrewd, sure, the GOP is getting it’s due for that; but “poised to rescue the country”? “Well, maybe,” at best. From the coverage I’ve been reading, the narrative (fair or not) seems more likely to read: Welcome to Crazy Town, population Rand Paul and Sharron Angle. Or: Obama’s Failure to Communicate. Or: Where’s the Tan Man’s Plan? Or: The Tea Party’s in Congress, Now What? But that’s just my hunch. So let me not dwell on it.

McClatchy, in its newspapers today, is asking that last Tea Party question in a forward-looking piece by Anna M. Tinsley of the Star-Telegram. Like a lot of Tea Party pieces, there’s not much effort to note the differences between the individual and often localized groups that make up what’s now being called the Tea Party movement, but it does sound a warning for troubles newly elected Republicans might face when it comes time to legislate. It turns out there will be more Tea Party caucuses on the way, Tea Partiers will be out in force watching the polls, and the movement is here to stay.

“A line has been crossed between all levels of government and the American people,” said Angela Cox, president of the Johnson County Tea Party. “We are not shy when it comes to raising our voices when need be and also praising those and their actions that actually do the ‘will’ of the American people.

“We will be keeping a watchful eye on all in Congress and state legislatures and maintaining open communications with those that are smart enough to listen,” she said. “Those who neglect the voice and opinion of the American people will be repaid with very short terms in office, and their political careers will quickly come to an end.”

…Tea Party members say they’ll be watching voters “to make sure that our elections are fair and honest.” Then after the election, they’ll watch the legislators, said Konni Burton, a member of the Northeast Tarrant Tea Party steering committee.

“The general election on the 2nd is when we can begin to put a stop to the complete and utter bankrupting of our country and the absolute overreach of this federal government,” she said. “On Nov. 3, we will begin the process of keeping those elected accountable and will begin working toward the 2012 election.

Just how the Tea Party will hold its candidates accountable is a question that isn’t answered in the piece. On this day before the GOP earthquake/tsunami/storm/Armageddon, I guess we will just have to speculate.

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Joel Meares is a former CJR assistant editor.