From Hanover, N.H., five things we learned from Tuesday's Republican debate on the economy
HANOVER, N.H. -- Five takeaways from the GOP debate:
1. So much for the big Perry comeback. Coming off a streak of debate performances so notably shaky that they threatened to torpedo his high-flying campaign, the Texas governor needed to rally in a big way. His advisers promised he was getting more practice -- and more sleep -- in order to turn things around.
It didn't work.
Perry stammered through his answers, missed obvious gimmes and seemed strangely absent from much of the discussion.
Late in the debate, Perry got perhaps the biggest fat pitch of the night: a question about Solyndra, the bankrupt solar-energy firm that has become conservatives' touchstone for Obama administration incompetence. Instead of teeing off on the president, environmentalists and pork-barrel spending, Perry replied, "Well, I don't think the federal government should be involved in that type of investment, period. If states want to choose to do that, I think that's fine." It was the perfect cue for the moderator's follow-up on similar projects funded by a controversial Texas investment office -- and though Perry has been defending that for years in debates back home, he had trouble clearly explaining it.
Early on, Perry noted his short time in the race compared to two-time candidate Mitt Romney: "Mitt has had six years to be working on a plan. I have been in this for about eight weeks." It seemed like he was making excuses -- and not very convincing ones considering his nearly three decades in public life.
With all the training he's supposedly done, Perry's campaign now faces a proposition that, if true, would be insurmountable: It's not the preparation that's the problem. It's the candidate.
2. Romney is in command. The former Massachusetts governor has an assurance, deftness and poise that have eluded him at the beginning of his presidential-candidate career more than four years ago. Maybe it's practice. Maybe it's the delicious feeling of his solidifying front-runner status. Maybe it's the lingering glow, and instructive aggressiveness, of his big endorsement from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie earlier Tuesday.
The Mitt Romney of 2007 tended to get impatient and flustered when confronted. This Romney stays cool and doesn't take slights personally. Most important, he seems to be in his comfort zone: He's not afraid to be the smart guy, the geek, the Harvard Business School guy. That's what he's running on now. The voters who prefer heart to head have been written off as unwinnable.
Romney was willing to venture into very dangerous territory -- defending the Bush administration's much-reviled financial-system rescue. He name-dropped academic economists both alive (Greg Mankiw) and dead (Milton Friedman). He spoke in favor of progressive taxation. He mounted a nerdily stirring justification of complexity against Herman Cain's 9-9-9 tax plan, which he deemed overly simplistic: "Herman, I have had the experience in my life of taking on some tough problems, and I must admit that simple answers are always helpful, but oftentimes inadequate."
Romney even went on offense on health care, his biggest conservative heresy, touting himself as the only candidate to propose a reform plan for once Obamacare is repealed, as they all have sworn to do.
3. They're gunning for Herman Cain next. Cain has floated to a healthy second place in numerous national polls, picking up steam based on his personal charisma, his business background and Perry's crash to earth. His "9-9-9" plan was mentioned so often in the debate you'd think it was American voters' No. 1 concern rather than an obscure -- and, it turns out, intermediate -- plot to dynamite the tax code.
Cain showed how he got this far: He's quick on his feet and likable. To a moderator's assertion that his plan wouldn't raise enough tax revenue to fund the government, he replied -- without snapping or growling -- "The problem with that analysis is that it is inaccurate," drawing a big laugh. He patiently endured the other candidates' condescension, such as when Jon Huntsman said he "thought [9-9-9] was the price of a pizza when I first heard about it." After the debate, Cain appeared in person in the spin room, drawing a huge media throng and showing he's able, and unafraid, to face questions.
But Cain also showed signs he'll have trouble as the probing deepens now that he's in a competitive position. He named as his chief economic adviser an Ohio wealth manager who is not a trained economist. He said he had two candidates in mind to head the Federal Reserve, but refused to name them. And his praise for Alan Greenspan, coupled with his onetime service on the Federal Reserve Board of Kansas City, are likely to alienate some of his tea-party supporters as they come to light.
4. It's crowded in the second tier. With Romney seeming to pull away from the pack and hope fading for Perry, the would-be giant-killer, a vacuum has been created, and we know how nature feels about those.
Even as the media were rushing to anoint Cain as the new No. 2, there was a sense he wouldn't own the spot for long based on the boom-and-bust cycles of Perry and Michele Bachmann before him. Bachmann also had a good debate, showcasing her command of policy with answers that drew on her experience in Congress. So did Newt Gingrich, whose campaign is staffing up in key states and hoping for a rebirth. So did Rick Santorum, who's proven over and over that he's the field's most adept verbal combatant, skilled at spotting the logical flaw in an opponent's argument -- and fierce in calling him on it. So did Ron Paul, who got served softballs on Fed policy without getting drawn into his less orthodox views on foreign policy. Even Huntsman, who's been gaining in New Hampshire, had a decent debate.
"There is a sort of intramural going on between all the non-Romney [candidates]," observed Perry strategist Dave Carney. "Very few Cain people are going to be for Romney when it comes down to it. ... All voters are shopping around right now. They'll light on a name, but most of them are not going to lie down in front of a bus for anybody."
5. Broad agreement on economics. After the last few intensely acrimonious debates, Tuesday's was marked by broad comity -- probably because it was exclusively focused on economic issues.
Sure, there was sniping. But the social and cultural issues that cause so much intensely personal friction, like immigration and religion, weren't in the mix. And foreign policy, where the candidates have real disagreements, didn't much enter in either, though Romney's plan to confront China on trade drew a substantive rebuke from Huntsman, the former ambassador to Beijing.
For the most part, though, they endorsed each other's points, extended each other's arguments and echoed each other's ideas. At one point at the end of the debate, while Gingrich was talking, Bachmann chimed in to feed him lines that would help his argument, smiling and nodding, "I agree, I agree."
This is, after all, the field of candidates who all agreed that they would not raise taxes even if offered a bargain whereby 10 times as much would be cut from government as the amount of new revenue raised. When it comes to economics, they may disagree about the means, but they agree on the ends -- reduce the size of government, don't raise taxes.
And of course, they agree on the ultimate end: Get rid of a once-popular president made vulnerable by a staggering economy.
Why Nixon's former lawyer John Dean worries Trump could be one of the most corrupt presidents ever—and get away with it
Sometime early last fall, John Dean says he began having nightmares about a Trump presidency. He would wake in the middle of the night, agitated and alarmed, struggling to calm his nerves. “I’m not somebody who remembers the details of dreams,” he told me in a recent phone call from his home in Los Angeles. “I just know that they were so bad that I’d force myself awake and out of bed just to get away from them.”
Few people are more intimately acquainted than Dean with the consequences of an American presidency gone awry. As White House counsel under President Richard Nixon from 1970 to 1973, he was a key figure in the Watergate saga—participating in, and then helping to expose, the most iconic political scandal in modern U.S. history. In the decades since then, Dean has parlayed that resume line into something of a franchise, penning several books and countless columns on the theme of presidential abuses of power.
“Trump’s wall is already under construction,” Wole Soyinka says. “Walls are built in the mind.”
Wole Soyinka, the first African writer to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, once fled to the United States from Nigeria. Now the fickle winds of politics are pushing him in the opposite direction.
Back in the 1960s, jailed for alleged associations with rebels amid the outbreak of the Nigerian Civil War, Soyinka composed protest poems on toilet paper in solitary confinement. “The man dies in all who keep silent in the face of tyranny,” Soyinka wrote in the collection of prison notes he later published. In the 1990s, the Nigerian strongman Sani Abacha confiscated Soyinka’s passport after the playwright urged Nigerians to stop paying taxes in defiance of military rule in the country. Soyinka managed to sneak out of his homeland and take refuge in the United States—a period he described to me as his “political sabbatical, because I never accepted, really, that I was in exile.”Abacha sentenced Soyinka to death in absentia. Soyinka’s crime was said to be treason.
In its fourth season the BBC show turned its main character into a superhero, and lost everything that made it special in the process.
This story contains spoilers through the most recent episode of Sherlock.
Christopher Nolan is a truly brilliant British creative talent, which makes it all the more ironic that his work seems to have (at least temporarily) unmoored two of that nation’s greatest fictional heroes. In dampening the palette and tone of superhero movies so spectacularly with his trilogy of Batman movies, Nolan created a domino effect that stretched all the way across the ocean, transforming James Bond from a louche, debonair intelligence agent into a tortured, self-medicating hitman, compelled by the death of his parents to hunt down a series of increasingly psychopathic villains. And, as “The Final Problem” revealed on Sunday, Nolan’s influence has similarly transformed Sherlock. A wry detective drama with a twist has turned into a superhero origin story, complete with agonizing childhood trauma, terrifying antagonists with improbable powers, and a final showdown in an ancestral home burned to the ground.
The Michigan billionaire’s confirmation hearing was heavy on partisanship and light on substance.
Donald Trump advocated on the campaign trail for a $20 billion federal school-voucher program. But during her confirmation hearing on Tuesday evening, Betsy DeVos, the president-elect’s choice to lead the U.S. Education Department, said school choice should be a state decision. She framed school choice as a right for students and families. And she said during the hearing that she was committed to strengthening public education for all students.
While the Michigan billionaire has backed charter schools and vouchers, which let families use public money to pay for private schools, DeVos would not, she said, try to force states to embrace school choice. But a number of organizations, largely Democratic, that had raised questions about DeVos’s commitment to expanding charters and vouchers and about her family’s financial holdings and religious causes were unlikely to find much more of the hearing reassuring.
Surfing the app on a trip back home can be a way of regressing, or imagining what life would be like if you never left.
My parents moved out of my hometown almost as soon as I left for college, and therefore I am obsessed with the idea of other people’s hometowns. Over any major holiday or break from a work schedule, hometowns become a sort of time travel, a way for people who have made adult lives elsewhere to return to their origin story.
Going home for the holidays can act as a kind of regression. Most of us know people, whether our friends, our partner, even our own parents, who suddenly turn into their teen or pre-teen self once they step foot in the house where they grew up. My mom used to say that whenever my dad got within 50 miles of his mom’s house, he suddenly became a teenage boy. Our hometowns become a kind of permission and hideaway, a place where we don’t have to be ourselves, where our actions don’t count and we get to be briefly less visible than we are in the adult homes we’ve made for ourselves elsewhere, the places where we expect ourselves to take action and achieve things and move upward through each day. For many of us, hometowns allow the luxury of a brief period of stasis, a rare few days of doing nothing.
A history of the first African American White House—and of what came next
In the waning days of President Barack Obama’s administration, he and his wife, Michelle, hosted a farewell party, the full import of which no one could then grasp. It was late October, Friday the 21st, and the president had spent many of the previous weeks, as he would spend the two subsequent weeks, campaigning for the Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton. Things were looking up. Polls in the crucial states of Virginia and Pennsylvania showed Clinton with solid advantages. The formidable GOP strongholds of Georgia and Texas were said to be under threat. The moment seemed to buoy Obama. He had been light on his feet in these last few weeks, cracking jokes at the expense of Republican opponents and laughing off hecklers. At a rally in Orlando on October 28, he greeted a student who would be introducing him by dancing toward her and then noting that the song playing over the loudspeakers—the Gap Band’s “Outstanding”—was older than she was.
Narcissism, disagreeableness, grandiosity—a psychologist investigates how Trump’s extraordinary personality might shape his possible presidency.
In 2006, Donald Trump made plans to purchase the Menie Estate, near Aberdeen, Scotland, aiming to convert the dunes and grassland into a luxury golf resort. He and the estate’s owner, Tom Griffin, sat down to discuss the transaction at the Cock & Bull restaurant. Griffin recalls that Trump was a hard-nosed negotiator, reluctant to give in on even the tiniest details. But, as Michael D’Antonio writes in his recent biography of Trump, Never Enough, Griffin’s most vivid recollection of the evening pertains to the theatrics. It was as if the golden-haired guest sitting across the table were an actor playing a part on the London stage.
“It was Donald Trump playing Donald Trump,” Griffin observed. There was something unreal about it.
How the FSB's loyalty to Russia's president made it the country's most powerful intelligence agency
It’s tempting to look to the playbooks and historical traditions of the late Soviet Union to explain the audacity of today’s Russian intelligence activity, from its meddling in U.S. elections, to apparently killing Kremlin opponents abroad. But these activities are not just products of old ways or new geopolitics. They also stem from a shift in the activities of Russia’s political police force, the infamous Federal Security Service (FSB). Originally established to protect the Kremlin’s rule at home, it has increasingly moved into Russia’s foreign operations.A new cohort of secret policemen, ignorant of the traditions of spycraft and secure in Putin’s protection, has fundamentally altered the nature of Russian intelligence.
The president-elect has yet to name a secretary of agriculture, a delay that has caused controversy and illustrated the difficulties governing will pose.
Three days before Donald Trump is to be inaugurated as America’s new president, just one Cabinet agency lacks a nominee to lead it: the Department of Agriculture.
The pick has become mired in politics and drama, unsettling the agriculture industry and potentially imperiling Trump’s standing with some of his most ardent supporters—the residents of rural America. In the process, it has become a case study in the difficulty Trump will face as he begins to govern, as his sweeping promises and catchy slogans run up against competing interests.
Already, the delay in picking an agriculture secretary has caused alarm. “The lack of quick and decisive action on picking a new Secretary of Agriculture by the Trump administration has given rise to charges that agriculture is not a high priority for the incoming president,” columnist Gary Truitt wrote recently in Hoosier Ag Today. “While this may or may not be true, the fact that this was the last cabinet post to be filled has raised concerns and will produce some challenges for the new nominee.”
Billy Barr moved to the Rocky Mountains four decades ago, got bored one winter, and decided to keep a notebook that has become the stuff of legend.
It was a year into his life alone in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains when Billy Barr began his recordings. It started as a curiosity, a task to busy his mind during the winter. By no means, Barr told me, having skied down from his cabin to use the nearest phone, did he set out to make a vital database for climate change scientists. “Hell no!” he said. “I didn’t know anything about climate change at the time.”
In 1973 Barr had dropped out of college and made his home an abandoned mining shack at the base of Gothic Mountain, a 12,600-foot stone buttress. The cold winds blew through the shack’s wood slat walls as if they didn’t exist; he shared the bare dirt floor with a skunk and pine marten, his only regular company for much of the year. Barr had moved from the East Coast to the Rocky Mountains precisely because of the solitude, but he couldn’t escape boredom. Especially that first winter. So he measured snow levels, animal tracks, and in spring the first jubilant calls of birds returning. He filled a notebook with these observations; then another notebook. This has continued now for 44 years.