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Who's Gonna Snort the Ants?

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   In 1984, when Ozzy Osbourne kicked off his Bark at the Moon Tour, someone at
Epic Records, clearly not in the legal department, decided it would be a good
idea to have Motley Crue accompany him on the tour as the opening act. Not
surprisingly, what followed was a months-long, drug-fueled contest to see who
could out-crazy each other. It ended one afternoon when a drunken Osbourne
stumbled out of the tour bus. Landing on the pavement below Ozzy was confronted
by a line of fire ants, which he promptly snorted up his nose. While the fate of
the ants is unknown, Osbourne returned to normal, relatively speaking.
However, what they just witnessed was enough to make Motley Crue wave the white
            Now, 28 years later, the Republican Party has
embarked on their own Bark at the Moon Tour. The similarities are striking.
You've got the tricked-out buses, enthusiastic crowds, big venues and three gentleman whose
primary means of appealing to those crowds is the same as Motley Crue and Ozzy
Osbourne, see who can act crazier than the other guy. Hopefully it will be a few
more months before we find out what social conservatives, or the Christian
Taliban as I like to call them, consider to be their equivalent of snorting a
line of ants. Right now I would consider Rick Santorum a shoo-in to win the
crazy contest, except for the fact that Newt Gingrich has probably already
bitten the head off a bat at some point in his life. I have less hope for Mitt
Romney, who has responded to the heavy metal level of crazy by sounding like a
cross between Lee Greenwood and the guy playing the guitar on the stairs in
Animal House.
       Over the the last few months the Republican Party has
been intentionally suckered into most of their irrational behavior by the very
foe that they are trying to defeat, the Obama Administration. It seems David
Axelrod and the rest of the Chicago operation have realized that Republicans
will immediately start reflexively screaming in opposition to anything the
President does without ever considering the political ramifications of what they
are doing. For Democrats, this is the gift that keeps on giving. It allows the
Obama Administration to constantly define what issues are going to be discussed
and it enables to them to steer the conversation away from things they don't
want to talk about.
       There are no shortage of similarities between
military and political campaigns. History is full of examples of an inferior
force defeating a superior force simply by defining how the battle was fought.
Napolean at Waterloo, Lee at Gettysburg, Custer at Little Bighorn, and the list
goes on and on. Despite having the superior forces, all suffered defeat because
they allowed themselves to be maneuvered into battles that were fought on
terrain of the other side's choosing. Historically, an unemployment rate that is
above eight percent has been a poison pill for any incumbent president.
Statistically speaking, President Obama should be a dead man walking. However,
at this moment, he is on a trajectory to be reelected.
      The Obama
campaign team is so good they have done two things I would have never have
thought possible. They have managed to get to the right of Republicans on the
issue of taxation and they are dictating political discourse in this country so
well that it is even enabling them to control the ebb and flow of the Republican
nomination. Republican opposition to Obama's payroll tax proposal, while
credible from a policy standpoint, was a major miscalculation from a political
standpoint because it enable the President to portray them as opposing tax cuts
for working-class Americans while protecting tax cuts for the rich.

      The President's recent confrontation with religious groups over the providing of
reproductive health services has been another big winner for the White House.
Instead of spending last week focusing the conversation on Obama's shameful 2013
Federal Budget, the Republicans again took the bait, engaging in a contraception
debate that, while red meat for the base, is suicide in the general election.
Took make matters worse, House Republicans held a hearing about women's
reproductive health featuring an all-male panel of college professors and
religious leaders, including one Catholic bishop. Are you serious? I'm sure a
least one Republican Congressman knows a call girl who dresses up like a nurse
that would have been willing to testify.
       By pushing social issues into
the headlines, the Obama campaign has reshaped the entire Republican race. After
big wins in both Florida and Nevada it appeared that Mitt Romney was going to
have an unbreakable hold on the nomination by the end of this month. However, as
soon as the conversation was turned away from economic issues, Romney has begun
to fade and Rick Santorum has once again surged. A narrow Romney victory in Michigan, one
of his many "home" states, has raised new doubts about his ability as a closer. With the nomination still very much in doubt and Newt Gingrich due
to make another Rasputin-like rise in the southern states on Super Tuesday, the
Republican race will remain muddy for a long time.
     As a result, most
of the Republican candidates will do exactly what the Obama Administration wants
them to do, appeal to the base by seeing who can snort the biggest line of ants,
metaphorically speaking of course. However, the longer the nomination process
goes, the less time the future nominee will have to pivot his message for the
general election. Also, there will be a lot more soundbites for the Obama
campaign to paint the eventual nominee as a right-wing extremist, although, in
Santorum's case, that train has already left the station.
    In 2004,
George W. Bush won an election he had no business winning for two reasons, Karl
Rove and message discipline. Republicans would do well to remember that lesson.
The terms debt, deficit, and spending should fly out of Republican mouths like
they have Tourette's Syndrome. If a Republican falls asleep at a campaign
appearance he should wake up screaming those words. Policy-wise Republicans are
just as useless when it comes to fiscal issues, but politically it is a much
bigger liability for the President. If social issues are still at the forefront
come November, President Obama and David Axelrod will be dancing over another
set of Republican graves. With "Crazy Train" playing in the background, no doubt.
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