He may still be slogging it out in the Republican primary, but he used a speech in Chicago to try to shape his general-election message.
Mitt Romney hasn't yet made it out of the Republican primary, but in a speech on the economy at the University of Chicago Monday, he didn't mention Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich. Instead, Romney did his best impression of a Republican presidential nominee, contending that President Obama has sought to erode Americans' "economic freedom."
The speech didn't roll out any new policy proposals or open any broad new themes for Romney, but it offered a preview of how he'll approach his tricky general-election challenge -- arguing that the president is egregiously mishandling the economy even as, for the moment at least, the economy is improving.
Earlier in the day Monday, Romney acknowledged as much, telling a crowd in Springfield, Ill.: "I believe the economy is coming back, by the way. ... The problem is this [recession] has been deeper than it needed to be and a slower recovery than it should have been, by virtue of the policies of this president."
In the Chicago speech, Romney pointed to the "weak recovery" as "proof" that the current administration has squelched growth. "This administration thinks our economy is struggling because the stimulus was too small," he said. "The truth is we're struggling because our government is too big."
Romney's speech had a highbrow cast, beginning as it did with a hoary anecdote about Milton Friedman, whom he referred to chummily by his first name. (The story: Watching workers on a government project in Asia building a canal with shovels, Friedman wondered why they didn't use machines; he was told it was a jobs program. "If it's jobs you want, then you should give these workers spoons, not shovels," he supposedly said. Though Romney used the story to demonstrate that "government does not create prosperity," this is not necessarily an argument against government's ability to create jobs -- nor is it clear that Friedman is the true source of this well-worn economic anecdote.)
Romney proceeded to cite the Harvard historian David Landes' The Wealth and Poverty of Nations -- a work that looks to explain the economic miracle of the development of Western Europe, a region whose oppressive socialism Romney routinely laments.
In this speech, though, Romney didn't use that particular bit of red meat, another potential sign he's moving on from the GOP base-baiting of the primary. He used Landes' theory that "culture" is the fundamental underpinning of economic success to argue that America's culture of economic freedom is what "drives our economic vitality." Those who would raise taxes or expand burdensome regulation, he said, threaten that fundamental freedom.
Taxes and regulation are bad -- a pretty boilerplate Republican notion, and Romney didn't go into too many specifics about his own plans. Instead, he related folksy anecdotes of suffering Americans: a guitar-amp-maker in St. Louis who claims the government skims 65 percent of his business's profits; a couple in Idaho who the EPA wouldn't allow to construct a home on their residential property.
Romney quoted from Obama's own words, citing his speech last week that Americans "are inventors, we are builders, we are makers of things, we are Thomas Edison, we are the Wright Brothers, we are Bill Gates, we are Steve Jobs."
Actually, Romney claimed, "the reality is that under President Obama's administration, these pioneers would have found it much, much more difficult, if not impossible, to innovate, invent and create." Regulators, he said, "would have shut down the Wright Brothers for their dust pollution," while "the government would have banned Thomas Edison's light bulb -- oh yeah, they just did." (In fact, legislation increasing light-bulb efficiency standards passed under George W. Bush and didn't ban incandescent bulbs.)
Curiously, Romney didn't mention gas prices, which many Republicans see as Obama's biggest economic vulnerability at the moment. He took three questions. To a query about his proposed tax cuts increasing the deficit, as independent analysts have claimed, he argued that he would make up the difference by cutting spending and increasing economic growth. To a question about urban poverty, he vowed to send federal welfare money to be administered by states and localities instead, then turned to education, which he vowed to fix in part by paying teachers more.
To a question about youth concerns, Romney got a bit flustered. "I don't see how a young American could vote for a Democrat. I apologize for being so offensive in saying that," he said, as if abashed by the way he just couldn't help being so partisan. Democrats, he said, are threatening future generations' prosperity by piling up debt and threatening the long-term sustainability of entitlement programs.
Not so long ago, it was Obama who was in the unenviable position of arguing a counterfactual: Sure, the economy is bad, but it could have been so much worse! Trust me! Now, it's Romney who is in that position: Sure, the economy is OK, but it could have been so much better! Either way, it's a tough argument to make.
For Romney, it's even tougher when you're still taking incoming from your own side. In advance of Tuesday's Illinois primary, Santorum was stepping up his attacks on Romney from the right. But as Romney continues his grim slog toward the nomination -- he declined to mention it, but his introducer in Chicago read the tally of his delegate lead over his rivals -- he seems to be figuring that the best way to get the Republican Party to see him as its standard-bearer is to start acting like he already is.
The Fox host’s insistence that black laborers building the White House were “well-fed and had decent lodgings” fits in a long history of insisting the “peculiar institution” wasn’t so bad.
In her widely lauded speech at the Democratic National Convention on Monday, Michelle Obama reflected on the remarkable fact of her African American family living in the executive mansion. “I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves. And I watch my daughters, two beautiful, intelligent, black young women, playing with their dogs on the White House lawn,” she said.
On Tuesday, Fox News host Bill O’Reilly discussed the moment in his Tip of the Day. In a moment first noticed by the liberal press-tracking group Media Matters, O’Reilly said this:
As we mentioned, Talking Points Memo, Michelle Obama referenced slaves building the White House in referring to the evolution of America in a positive way. It was a positive comment. The history behind her remark is fascinating. George Washington selected the site in 1791, and as president laid the cornerstone in 1792. Washington was then running the country out of Philadelphia.
Slaves did participate in the construction of the White House. Records show about 400 payments made to slave masters between 1795 and 1801. In addition, free blacks, whites, and immigrants also worked on the massive building. There were no illegal immigrants at that time. If you could make it here, you could stay here.
In 1800, President John Adams took up residence in what was then called the Executive Mansion. It was only later on they named it the White House. But Adams was in there with Abigail, and they were still hammering nails, the construction was still going on.
Slaves that worked there were well-fed and had decent lodgings provided by the government, which stopped hiring slave labor in 1802. However, the feds did not forbid subcontractors from using slave labor. So, Michelle Obama is essentially correct in citing slaves as builders of the White House, but there were others working as well. Got it all? There will be a quiz.
His call on a foreign government to hack Hillary Clinton’s email account is a complete subversion of GOP ideals.
The first excuse for Donald Trump’s amazing press conference on Wednesday, in which he called on the Russians to hack and publish the 30,000 emails wiped from Hillary Clinton’s home server, was: He was only joking.
That excuse almost immediately dissolved. When Trump was asked by CNN’s Jim Acosta whether he would call on Vladimir Putin to stay out of U.S. elections, the presidential nominee answered that he would not tell Putin what to do. After the conference ended, Trump tweeted out a slightly tidied up request to the Russians to find Clinton’s emails—but to hand them over to the FBI rather than publish them.
The second excuse, produced on Twitter minutes later by Newt Gingrich, is that Trump’s remark, while possibly unfortunate, mattered less than Clinton’s careless handling of classified material on her server. That defense seems likely to have more staying power than the first—about which, more in a minute.
A former NATO general imagines a frightening scenario.
In 2014, shortly after Russia forcefully intervened in Ukraine and admitted Crimea into the Russian Federation, Richard Shirreff stepped down as NATO’s deputy supreme allied commander Europe, one of the highest-ranking positions in the military alliance. The British general proceeded to do something highly unusual. He criticized the government he once served, arguing that Britain’s cuts to defense spending were “one hell of a risk” at a time of renewed Russian aggression. Next, he wrote a startling account of what might follow from the failure of the United Kingdom and many of its NATO allies to, in his view, sufficiently invest in countering the Kremlin militarily. He describes the account as a “work of fiction,” but also a “realistic” and “urgent” warning.
The Republican nominee publicly asked a foreign government to leak emails from a cabinet secretary, dismissed the Geneva Conventions, and seemed confused about where Tim Kaine came from.
Just when it starts to seem that Donald Trump can’t surprise the jaded American media anymore, the Republican nominee manages to go just a little bit further.
During a press conference Wednesday morning that was bizarre even by Trump’s standards, he praised torture, said the Geneva Conventions were obsolete, contradicted his earlier position on a federal minimum wage, and told a reporter to “be quiet.”
But the strangest comments, easily, came when Trump was asked about allegations that Russian hackers had broken into the email of the Democratic National Convention—as well as further suggestions that Vladimir Putin’s regime might be trying to aid Trump, who has praised him at length. Trump cast doubt on Russia’s culpability, then said he hoped they had hacked Hillary Clinton’s messages while she was secretary of state.
Since tough questioning has failed to hold the candidate accountable, broadcast outlets need to apply pressure where it counts—to Trump’s ego.
The media is nothing if it can’t hold a presidential candidates accountable—if newsrooms and editorialists can’t force a White House aspirant to keep a promise, uphold precedent, and address suspicions that he’s a tool of Moscow.
Journalism is a joke if we let Donald Trump slide.
And so I have an idea for CNN, MSNBC, FOX News and the three broadcast networks:
Stop interviewing Trump, and stop paying his surrogates, until he releases his tax records.
I don’t make this proposal lightly. I understand as well as anybody that interviewing presidential candidates is an important way to inform the public, especially when the questioning is objective, tough, and revealing of the candidate’s character and policies.
In his convention speech, he suggested that Muslims need to earn the rights that all other Americans enjoy.
I love Bill Clinton. But I didn’t love his speech Tuesday night in Philadelphia. Given the job of humanizing his wife, he came across as genuinely smitten. But he failed to do what he’s done in every convention speech he’s delivered since 1992: tell a story about where America is today and what can be done to move it forward. He called his wife a great “change maker” but didn’t define the change America needs right now.
But the worst moment of the speech came near its end, when Clinton began to riff about the different kinds of people who should join Hillary’s effort. “If you love this country, you’re working hard, you’re paying taxes, you’re obeying the law and you’d like to become a citizen, you should choose immigration reform over someone that wants to send you back,” he said. Fair enough. Under any conceivable immigration overhaul, only those undocumented immigrants who have obeyed the law once in the United States—which includes paying taxes—will qualify for citizenship. Two sentences later, Clinton said that, “If you’re a young African American disillusioned and afraid … help us build a future where no one’s afraid to walk outside, including the people that wear blue to protect our future.” No problem there. Of course African Americans should be safe from abusive police, and of course, police should be safe from the murderers who threaten them.
The Republican presidential nominee appeared to suggest he’d recognize Russia’s annexation of the Ukrainian territory in 2014.
Donald Trump’s call on Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails Wednesday resulted in widespread criticism. But his comments on Crimea, coupled with ones he made last week on NATO, are likely to have greater significance if he is elected president in November.
The question came from Mareike Aden, a German reporter, who asked him whether a President Trump would recognize Crimea as Russian and lift sanctions on Moscow imposed after its 2014 annexation of the Ukrainian territory. The candidate’s reply: “Yes. We would be looking at that.”
That response is likely to spread much cheer through Russia—already buoyant about the prospect of a Trump victory in November. But it could spread at least an equal amount of dread in the former Soviet republics. In a matter of two weeks, the man who could become the next American president has not only questioned the utility of NATO, thereby repudiating the post-World War II security consensus, he also has seemingly removed whatever fig leaf of protection from Russia the U.S. offered the post-Soviet republics and Moscow’s former allies in the Eastern bloc.
With the (justified) flap over Donald Trump’s invitation to Vladimir Putin to intervene in U.S. politics, and with his continued stonewalling on tax returns, another aspect of Trump’s performance at the press conference just now has been under-appreciated. It involves a point of apparent ignorance that deserves note for the long-term record.
After nearly a week awash in news about Hillary Clinton’s vice presidential running mate Tim Kaine — current Senator from Virginia, former governor of that state, Democrat — Trump apparently confuses him with Tom Kean, former governor of New Jersey and a Republican. (Both names are both pronounced “kane.”) When someone corrects him on the state name, Trump switches that but goes on talking about events drawn from New Jersey politics (with which he’d naturally be more familiar) rather than Virginia’s.
Women are in fact more likely to choose lower-paying jobs, but numbers do a poor job of highlighting the cultural biases that can shape their decisions.
In discussions of the gender-pay gap, there’s one counter-argument that comes up a lot: The gap isn’t real, because after adjusting for the different types of jobs men and women tend to have, the gap shrinks to single digits. And so, the argument goes, men and women aren’t paid the same amount of money because they are choosing to go into different professions, and the labor market rewards their choices differently. In other words: unequal work, hence unequal pay.
There’s a lot of truth to this: Men and women do tend to choose different careers, so much so that researchers have a term for it: “gender occupational segregation.” And because of this occupational sorting, the most commonly mentioned figure of the gender-gap debate—that an American woman only earns 79 cents for every dollar a typical American man makes—is indeed too simple.