Beltway Briefing

The top five stories from US politics today.

Michelle Bachmann

1. Michele Bachmann is just as well-known for her gaffes as fellow Tea Party icon Sarah Palin. This morning, she defended herself on CNN's American Morning show.

"People can make mistakes and I wish I could be perfect every time I say something, but I can't," she said. "But one thing people know about me is that I'm a substantive, serious person and I have a strong background."

She also explained her recent slip up, when she said of her hometown that "John Wayne was from Waterloo" and "that's the kind of spirit that I have, too." The actor was born nearly 150 miles away, although the serial killer John Wayne Gacy Jr. lived in Waterloo at one point. She told CNN that these comments "were just misspeaking", and she meant she identified with his patriotism.

Unfortunately, she also managed today to claim that John Quincy Adams was a founding father on ABC's Good Morning America (he was a president, but not a founding father).

2. Mitt Romney's Utah advisers are reportedly attempting to get the date of the state's Republican presidential primary next year moved from late June to earlier in the spring, because it might play a bigger role in the nomination process.

The Salt Lake Tribune's Robert Gehrke writes: "If the Romney camp is successful, it could set up an early showdown between Romney, chief of the 2002 Olympics in Utah, and former Gov. Jon Huntsman in Huntsman's old backyard -- and it is a contest that, according to recent statewide polls, Romney would likely win."

However, he also notes that it could also end up costing taxpayers between $2.5 million and $3 million to stage the primary. Holding it on 26 June 2012 as planned would mean it could be held on the same day as the statewide primary election for other Utah offices. Despite this extra cost, the change has not been ruled out.

3. Rod Blagojevich, the former governor of Illinois and one-time presidential hopeful, has been found guilty of corruption. After 10 days of deliberation, a jury found him guilty of 17 charges, including trying to sell or trade President Barack Obama's old Senate seat and attempting to shake down executives for campaign cash. He was acquitted of another bribery charge, and the jury was undecided on charges of attempted extortion. The convictions carry a combined maximum prison sentence of around 300 years, although the judge is expected to sentence him for around 10.

As governor of Illinois, it was Blaojevich's responsibility to name a senator to replace Obama after he was elected president in November 2008. He planned to sell the seat. Federal agents were tipped off and recorded hundreds of hours of tapes. He was arrested two years ago, but an earlier trial ended in deadlock.

4. Bristol Palin said today that her mother "definitely knows" whether she will run for president next year. "We've talked about it before," the 20 year old told Fox and Friends. "Some things just need to stay in the family."

 

This comes on the same day as the older Palin travels to the key primary state of Iowa for the premier of Undefeated, a documentary about her time as governor of Alaska. This has renewed speculation about whether she will put herself forward for the presidency.

5. The powers of social media have long been something that those at the top of the political game wish to harness. Tim Pawlenty has become the latest to try, with the somewhat bizarre Pawlenty Action.

PawlentyAction

Jason Linkins at the Huffington Post is unimpressed:

See, back in the day, the average voter might sign up with a presidential candidate because of values they had in common and the shared belief that grassroots action could facilitate sweeping political change. But the Pawlenty campaign understands that deepening the connection between campaign and volunteer requires much more. That is, it requires points and badges!

You get 10 free points for signing up to help "T-Paw" (yes, the website really refers to him as that), 10 for connecting your Facebook, five for connecting your Twitter, and so on. It's not clear exactly what you can do with all your points, but perhaps that is besides the...point.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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The failed French presidential candidates who refuse to endorse Emmanuel Macron

While the candidates of the main left and right parties have endorsed the centrist from nowhere, others have held back. 

And breathe.

At 8pm on Sunday night France, Europe, and much of the West let out a huge sigh of relief. After over a month of uncertainty, scandals, rebounds, debates and late surges, the results of the first round of the French Presidential Election was as predicted: Emmanuel Macron (24 per cent) will face off against Marine Le Pen (21 per cent) in the second round of the election on the 7 May.

While polls have been predicting this face-off for a while, the shocks of Brexit and the election of Donald Trump had thrown polling predictions into doubt. But France has a good track record when it comes to polling, and their surveys are considered some of the most reliable in the world. The irony is that this uncertainty has meant that the polls have never been so central to a campaign, and the role of polling in democracies has been a hot topic of debate during the election.

The biggest surprise in many ways was that there were no surprises. If there was a surprise, it was a good one: participation was higher than expected: close to 80 per cent – on par with the Presidential Elections of 2012 – whereas there were concerns it would be as low as 70 per cent. Higher participation is normally a bad sign for the extremes, who have highly motivated voters but a limited base, and who often do better in elections when participation is low. Instead, it boosts the traditional parties, but here instead of the traditional right-wing Republican (Fillon is at 20 per cent) or Socialist parties (Hamon at 6 per cent), it was in fact the centre, with Emmanuel Macron, who benefited.

So France has so far not succumbed to the populist wave that has been engulfing the West. The contagion seemed to be spreading when the Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi lost a referendum on reforming the constitution, but the fightback started in Austria which rejected the far-right candidate Norbert Hofer in its Presidential election and voted for the pro-European, former-Green independent candidate Alexander Van der Bellen. Those hopes now rest on the shoulders of Macron. After having dubbed Angela Merkel the leader of the free world during his farewell tour of Europe, Barack Obama gave his personal blessing to Macron last week.

Many wondered what impact Thursday night’s shooting on the Champs-Elysées would have. Would it be a boon for Marine Le Pen’s anti-immigration platform? Or even right-wing François Fillon’s more traditional law and order approach? In the end the effect seems to have been minimal.

In the second round, Macron is currently predicted to beat Marine Le Pen by more than 60 per cent of the vote. But how does Le Pen almost double her vote in the second round, from around 20 per cent to close to 40 per cent? The "Republican Front" that saw her father off back in 2002, when he received only 18 per cent of the vote, has so far held at the level of the two traditional political parties. Both Hamon and Fillon have called to vote for Macron in the second round to stop the Front National - Hamon put it nicely when he said he could tell the difference between political opponents, and opponents of the Republic.

But not everyone is toing the line. Sens Commun, the anti-gay marriage group that has supported Fillon through thick and thin, said that it will not call to vote for either party – a thinly veiled invitation to vote for Le Pen. And Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, a conservative, Catholic and anti-EU right wing candidate, whose 5 per cent is the reason Fillon didn’t make it to the second round, has also abstained from calling to vote for either. It is within this electorate that Le Pen will look to increase her vote.

The other candidate who didn’t call to vote for anyone was Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who fell back on a demagogic position of saying he would follow the wishes of his supporters after having consulted them. But as a spokesperson for the FN pointed out, there are remarkable congruities between their respective platforms, which can be categorised as a populism of the left and a populism of the right.

They in particular converge over the question of Europe. Aping Brexit, both want to go to Brussels to argue for reform, and if none is forthcoming put membership of the Eurozone to the electorate. While Le Pen’s anti-Europeanism is patent, Mélenchon’s position is both disingenuous and dangerous. His Plan A, as he puts it, is to attempt reform at the European level. But he knows fine well that his demands, which include revoking the independence of the European Central Bank and putting an end to austerity (the ECB, through its massive programme of quantitative easing, has already been trying to stimulate growth) will not be met. So he reverts to his Plan B, which is to leave the European Treatises and refound Europe on a new basis with like-minded members.

Who those members might be he hasn’t specified, nor has he explained how he would leave the EU - at least Le Pen had the decency to say she would put it to a referendum. Leaving the European Treatise has been in his programme from the beginning, and seems to be the real object of his desires. Nonetheless, having set himself up as the anti-Le Pen candidate, most of his supporters will vote for Macron. Others will abstain, and abstention will only help Le Pen. We’ve been here before, and the last thing we need now is complacency.

 

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