The Republican presidential race gets personal

In a desperate bid to knock frontrunner Mitt Romney off his perch, the other candidates got nasty.

 

It's already being called Las Vegas Fight Night -- the moment the Republican presidential rivals turned the heat on each other, and the moment it all got personal.

In a desperate bid to knock frontrunner Mitt Romney off his seemingly inevitable course, the rest of the pack piled into him during last night's GOP debate, attacking his stance on everything, from immigration to healthcare.

The man most desperate to restore some glitter to his rapidly fading star, Rick Perry, could barely contain his hostility. There were narrowed eyes. There was shouting. There was even some actual snarling.

It all came to a head over an episode in 2007 when Romney hired a lawn company which was later found to have employed illegal immigrants. Not so much a debate, more of a slanging match ensued, as Perry went in for the kill (see video above). "The idea that you stand here before us and talk about that you're strong on immigration is, on its face, the height of hypocrisy." Romney fired back, with a sort of hollow laugh: "Rick, I don't think I've ever hired an illegal in my life. And so I'm looking forward to finding your facts on that." That made Perry even madder: "It's time for you to tell the truth".

Outside, chief strategists for the two men were frantically trying to spin this loss of cool -- Perry's man accusing Romney of being "very rattled" -- while the Romney lot called Perry a desperate hothead.

And we haven't even got around to Herman Cain yet. The man who's been briefly enjoying his moment as the anyone-but-Romney favourite had an even worse night.

In the debate itself, he came under repeated questioning over his 9-9-9 tax plan, which wasn't helped by a report from the non-partisan Tax Policy Centre. They said his proposals would cut taxes for 95 per cent of America's millionaires, while raising them for most people earning less than $100,000. And the six other candidates siezed their chance, dubbing it dangerous and simplistic.

Asked about foreign policy, the former pizza mogul was stumbling all over the place. At one stage, he said he could see himself negotiating with al-Qaeda, if he were elected. He later had to back down on the Anderson Cooper show, admitting he had "misspoke", before blundering on: "Because I didn't, you know, things are moving so fast, I misspoke."

Turns out he'd got himself all confused between the whole al-Qaeda thing and Israel's decision to release hundreds of prisoners in exchange for the captured soldier Gilad Shalit. Which doesn't exactly inspire confidence in a man vying to be the figure with his finger on the nuclear button.

This, after FEC returns showed Cain spent $36,000 of his campaign funds buying copies of his own book, perhaps in an effort to keep it in the New York Times bestseller list.

Last night, though, was really all about Romney, or stopping Romney. As Politico put it, for his rivals "it's a strategic imperative to halt the frontrunner". Yet all the acrimony, the shouting matches, and the attacks on each other may not have impressed any wavering voters who tuned in. And one man -- President Obama -- got off relatively unscathed. He is deep in traditional Republican territory, trying to drum up support in North Carolina and Virginia.

On that note, perhaps the last word should go to one of those warring Republicans, Newt Gingrich, who warned that "maximising bickering" might not be the best way to win the White House.

 

Felicity Spector is a senior producer at Channel 4 News

 

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Emmanuel Macron's "moralisation of politics" comes at a heavy price for his allies

"Fake" jobs in French politics, season 3 episode 1.

Something is rotten in the state of France. No political party – at least none that existed before 2016 – seems immune to the spread of investigations into “fake” or shady parliamentary jobs. The accusations sank centre-right candidate François Fillon’s presidential campaign, and led to Marine Le Pen losing her parliamentary immunity in the European parliament (and proxy wars within her party, the National Front). Both deny the allegations. Now the investigations have made their way to the French government, led by Edouard Philippe, Emmanuel Macron’s Prime Minister.

On Wednesday morning, justice minister François Bayrou and secretary of state for European affairs Marielle de Sarnez announced their resignation from Philippe’s cabinet. They followed defence minister Sylvie Goulard’s resignation the previous day. The three politicians belonged not to Macron's party, En Marche!, but the centrist MoDem party. Bayrou, the leader, had thrown his weight behind Macron after dropping his own presidential bid in April.

The disappearance of three ministers leaves Emmanuel Macron’s cross-party government, which includes politicians from centre left and centre right parties, without a centrist helm. (Bayrou, who has run several times for the French presidency and lost, is the original “neither left nor right” politician – just with a less disruptive attitude, and a lot less luck). “I have decided not to be part of the next government,” he told the AFP.

Rumours had been spreading for weeks. Bayrou, who was last part of a French government as education minister from 1993 to 1997, had been under pressure since 9 June, when he was included in a preliminary investigation into “embezzlement”. The case revolves around whether the parliamentary assistants of MoDem's MEPs, paid for by the European Parliament, were actually working full or part-time for the party. The other two MoDem ministers who resigned, along with Bayrou, also have assistants under investigation.

Bayrou has denied the allegations. He has declared that there “never was” any case of “fake” jobs within his party and that it would be “easy to prove”. All the same, by the time he resigned, his position as justice minister has become untenable, not least because he was tasked by Macron with developing key legislation on the “moralisation of politics”, one of the new President’s campaign pledges. On 1 June, Bayrou unveiled the new law, which plans a 10-year ban from public life for any politician convicted of a crime or offence regarding honesty and transparency in their work.

Bayrou described his decision to resign as a sacrifice. “My name was never pronounced, but I was the target to hit to attack the government’s credibility,” he said, declaring he would rather “protect this law” by stepping down. The other two ministers also refuted the allegations, and gave similar reasons for resigning. 

Macron’s movement-turned-unstoppable-machine, En Marche!, remains untainted from accusations of the sort. Their 350 new MPs are younger, more diverse than is usual in France – but they are newcomers in politics. Which is exactly why Macron had sought an alliance with experienced Bayrou in the first place.

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