January 1, 2012
Witnessing European menace invading Des Moines
Three days in Iowa, three more to go, and nine quick comments:
Friday morning, drizzle, freezing wind, but 300-400 crazies still show up for a Mitt Romney event. Crazies in a good way. People who care enough about politics and about their vote to withstand the cold. To be precise, one has to mention that about half of them are working reporters, cameramen, columnists. For every Iowan there’s at least one man or woman with a pen, or a camera, or a microphone. This could have been very impressive had I not been here four years ago to witness the thousands of people daring much colder weather to see Barack Obama.
Is there any other American President worth quoting that is not Ronald Reagan? In the three days I’ve been spending here I’ve heard more than two dozen Regan quotes and quips and anecdotes, but I can’t recall any other President that merited mentioning – except, of course, for Obama. A newcomer visiting Iowa these days would have gone back home with the following impression: America had two presidents, the good one, Reagan, and the bad one, Obama. It is now about to elect a third.
Mrs. Romney promised the crowd that her husband, the candidate, is going to be “one of the greatest presidents ever”. In this election season, politics and understatements don’t seem to mix.
Foreign affairs are not on the radar screen of either voters or candidates. I spoke to more than a dozen Iowans in different rallies and most of them – quick to be intrigued by my foreign accent – were somewhat baffled to hear that an Israeli would be interested in this election cycle. Look, one of them told me, “there’s nothing for you here, it is all about jobs. Why won’t you go hunt for some news in Washington DC?”
The only real foreign reference made by Romney in the Friday event was not about the Middle East or even China. Romney – and some of the other candidates as well – have made Europe a topic of political conversation. As in: If we continue to have policies like we have now we might risk “ending up being like Europe”. Or, a couple of minutes later: “Our President takes his cue from Europe”. In short: Some Republican candidates have decided that Middle East menace is outdated and it is time for them to find some other global punching bag with which to sway voters. Somewhat surprisingly, this week they were trying to see if the Europeans could play that role (a choice that should make the Israeli Foreign Minister quite happy).
When Romney blames Obama for taking his cue from “Europe”, he essentially borrows a Newt Gingrich line. The only difference: Gingrich was aiming this European charge at Romney. “The fact that he’s willing to look at European Socialism shows just how far out of the conservative mainstream he is”, Gingrich campaign spokesman R.C. Hammond said not long ago, referring to Romney’s toying with ideas related to Value-Added Tax and Co-Insurance.
Rick Santorum has also made Europe a political tool, among other things to inform voters that he is “very concerned about us using IMF funds from America and other countries to try to bail out a group of countries that have lived way beyond their means and seem to be not particularly serious about fixing their problems” (you can watch him do it here). In fact, Santorum made these comments long before a National Review column demanded that GOP candidates would raise the issue of bailouts: “No one can predict with certainty just how bad the euro’s problems will become, but it’s safe to say that further involving the U.S. taxpayer in yet another bailout of Europe would only be putting a Band-Aid on the problem. Republican presidential candidates would be wise to highlight the efforts of the GOP Congressmen fighting U.S.-taxpayer exposure in Europe’s mess, and given the continued public bitterness over the TARP bailout of 2008, it would certainly be smart politics”. If it’s good politics or not we might see Tuesday.
Two campaign advisors agreed to talk to me about this denigrate-Europe campaign of sorts, but not on the record. Here’s what they both said: Europe is in big trouble. If something happens there before Election Day, the ability of the Republican nominee to tie Obama to this new round of trouble can be of great service. Thus, Republicans have already started reminding the voters that Obama and Europe have many things in common. If Europe ends up dragging the American economy down yet again, the stage will be already set for a Romney (or any other GOP candidate) to put the blame on the incumbent.
So I asked them both: Can GOP candidates not do the same thing with Arab Spring upheaval? And again, both gave me similar answer: the Arab Spring is too complicated for Americans to think about. And at least for now, it doesn’t seem to have much impact on the American economy – the only real issue on voters’ minds.