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Posted at 08:54 AM ET, 01/30/2012

The Morning Plum: Obama stakes out `the populist center’

With Congress set to get cracking on some key items on Obama’s agenda, this assessment of the state of the presidential race by Paul Begala is a very good way to start the week:

If his predecessor cursed Obama by handing him a depression and two wars, the Good Lord has blessed him with the weakest field of opponents in memory. I stand by my early assessment: when I look at the economy, I think Obama can’t win, but when I look at the Republicans, I think he can’t lose. The economy is starting to get better; the Republicans aren’t. The president has moved to the populist center, smoothly co-opting the legitimate grievances of the Occupy Wall Street movement and ensuring that he wouldn’t face a primary challenge from the left. “Barack” means blessing in Swahili. Perhaps “Obama” means luckier than a dog with two tongues.

The “populist center” is an apt way to describe the ground Obama is staking out, given what the polls tell us about the public’s support for tax hikes on the wealthy, its concern about inequality, and its apparent belief that the GOP prioritizes the wealthy’s interests than those of the middle class. But it’s even more interesting when you consider what’s next in Congress, and how that will play in the presidential race.

Today, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse will unveil a new proposal — first reported on this blog — to bring the tax rate of millionaires paying less than middle class taxpayers up to 30 percent. While we don’t know if the Dem leadership will act on this particular proposal, the “Buffett Rule” will get some sort of Senate vote. Republicans are all but certain to oppose it, perhaps unanimously.

Meanwhile, Congressional Republicans are grappling with how to respond to two other Dem proposals that dovetail with Obama’s agenda. Over the weekend, Mitch McConnell said he would not rule out tax hikes to fund the one-year extension of the payroll tax cut — even as Republicans are still threatening to tie the Keystone pipeline to the extension. And Republicans are still debating whether to put up a major fight against Obama’s recess appointments, including the appointment to head the new consumer protection bureau.

If Dems have their way, Congressional GOP foot-dragging in the face of all these proposals, or outright opposition to them, combined with the ever-rightward drift a long, drawn out GOP nomination process will entail, will further drag down the GOP brand and reinforce the hold Obama and Dems have on the “populist center.” The big challenge for Dems will be to prevent the eventual nominee from ultimately achieving separation from the unpopular Congressional GOP.

* Low-road attack of the day: RNC chair Reince Priebus, on CNN yesterday, described President Obama as “our own little Captain Schettino,” a reference to the captain who has allegedly fled in the wake of his cruise ship getting wrecked off the coast of Italy.

Hmmm. I seem to remember that Republican strategists recently made a big show of leaking word to the press that they would not adopt a strategy of attacking Obama personally. Guess that’s no longer operative.

The DNC’s one-word response to the Schettino barb: “Shameful.”

* Gingrich fights on in Florida: All indications are that Romney is heading for a comfortable win in the state, but Michael Warren reports from on the ground that energetic and sizable crowds keep turning out to see the former Speaker. With Herman Cain set to campaign for Gingrich today, his supporters are not quite ready to cede the state yet.

* Gingrich’s Florida chances dwindling: Nate Silver on the batch of weekend polls that show his chances for an upset in the state are fading away. Caveat: The two latest polls show Romney’s lead narrowing to five and seven points.

* Can Newt still derail Romney over long haul? Big picture: GOP strategists explain to Chris Cillizza why it’s still not too late for Gingrich to derail the “Romney-is-inevitable” storyline.

The two possibilities that still have the GOP establishment uneasy: Billionaire Sheldon Adelson continues writing Gingrich checks, while Gingrich successfully sells himself as the real conservative alternative to Romney heading into southern-heavy Super Tuesday.

* Gingrich hints at convention strategy: Relatedly, Gingrich sets the bar in a new place, predicting that Romney will not control a “majority” of the delegates at the end of the battle, the closest Gingrich has come yet to threatening a brokered convention.

Key dynamic to watch: The Romney camp’s increasingly brutal attacks on Gingrich could end up stiffening the latter’s resolve to continue this fight as long as possible, perhaps even through the convention, the cost to the GOP be damned.

* Gingrich could make Romney’s life miserable indeed: Rick Klein has an interesting look at the ways the delegate math could enable Gingrich to make good on his threat to take this all the way to the convention:

The proportional allotment of delegates in early-voting states, coupled with a scattershot primary schedule where Super Tuesday is only half as supersized as it was four years ago, means it’s extraordinarily difficult for a candidate to amass enough delegates to clinch the nomination until at least late April. That means the chief rivals to the frontrunner would have to go away quietly for the nomination to get wrapped up early. There are no signs of that happening.

* The case against Romney’s inevitability: Relatedly, Taegan Goddard flags some reporting on an internal Gingrich campaign memo that makes the case against Romney’s inevitability in terms of delegate numbers.

* Gingrich and Romney agree on one thing: As Adam Serwer notes, they both agree on nixing bilingual ballots, which would disenfranchise untold numbers of the Floridians who will head to the polls tomorrow.

* The latest on Schneiderman and the mortgage task force: Robert Kuttner has a useful and detailed look at all the key questions, at what’s next, and why the task force’s reactivation is significant.

* And the GOP can’t get its message straight on the economy: Over at his new digs, Steve Benen flags a key moment: Marco Rubio claiming that Obama made the economy “worse,” which would seem to be at odds with Romney’s new line that the economy is improving despite Obama’s policies.

What else?

By  |  08:54 AM ET, 01/30/2012

 
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