* Another crack in GOP opposition to tax hikes on rich? Today the battle over the payroll tax cut extension will only intensify. The fact that Senate Republicans introduced their own proposal yesterday will not stop Dems from continuing to hammer them for refusing to fund an extension of the tax cut with a small surtax on millionaires, and a vote on the Dem proposal is set for tomorrow.
The GOP proposal is best understood as an effort to shift the terms of the debate that Dems successfully established. The Dem narrative is this: Either the super rich pay more, or workers and the middle class do; Republicans represent the former, and we represent the latter. Dem leaders want the public to understand the argument as a showdown between the 99 percent they represent and the one percent whose interests Republicans represent. Republicans — who proposed to pay for the extension with sacrifices from Federal workers and higher earning Medicare beneficiaries, and are boasting that their plan doesn’t raise taxes on anyone — want the showdown to be a more favorable one: Taxpayers versus government.
Dems have no intention of letting up, and most reporting suggests Republicans are worried that Dems are winning the politics of this fight. Is it true? Hard to say. One notable data point is that a third GOP Senator has now said the unsayable:
Senator Mike Johanns, Republican of Nebraska, said Wednesday that he was willing at least to consider a tax increase on high earners as part of a comprehensive deficit reduction package. “I sense a change in mood,” Mr. Johanns said.
Susan Collins and Pat Roberts have also sigaled an openness to funding the payroll tax cut extension with some form of high end tax hikes. Though this won’t ever happen, the fact that these Senators see a need to at least appear open to doing this is itself notable.
By the way: In Senator Johanns’ Nebraska, the millionaire surtax would hit just over one in a thousand of his constituents, to the average tune of 1/50th of their overall income, while the payroll tax cut extension would benefit around 1.1 million of his constituents.
* Dems see payroll tax cut as powerful campaign issue: Even though the millionaire-funded tax cut extension has no chance of passing, Dems are mounting an intense, coordinated effort to meld this issue with Obama’s “we can’t wait” campaign to drive the narrative about inequality and the parties’ lopsided priorites in key Senate and House races.
* Romney’s flip flops becoming a national narrative? Glenn Kessler has an epic look at the Dems’ attacks on all of Romney’s equivocations and distortions. Kessler finds that the DNC’s long video attacking Romney was correct in diagnosing three flip flops, but wrong in slamming many others, particularly the allegation that Romney flip flopped on Obama’s stimulus, which did seem like an overreach.
Still, there are other Romney equovications that the DNC video didn’t address, such as on deportation, and Kessler’s main opening point seems particularly relevant: “Slowly but surely, the conventional wisdom is solidifying that the former Massachusetts governor often has changed his position to suit the politics of the moment.”
* The Romney campaign hits a “new political low”: An absolutely brutal Boston Globe editorial tears into the Romney for hitting a “new political low” with its false ad, and rips his campaign’s subsequent boasts about the media attention it received as “nihilism.”
It’s refreshing, but all too rare, when news organizations get angry about being lied to in such a brazen way. Is it okay to say the ad’s dishonesty didn't exactly amount to the strategic brilliance his campaign claimed?
* Top columnists begin digging into Mitt’s character: Judging by Gail Collins’ latest, it does appear that Romney’s equivocations, flip flops and all around ideological malleability are beginning to take hold as a broader national media narrative.
* Mitt Romney’s nightmare scenario: Great stuff from Doyle McManus, who reports that Romney advisers are now officially worried about Newt surge and perplexed as to why conservatives simply refuse to coalesce around Romney:
Romney and his aides are having to contemplate nightmare scenarios: A Gingrich upset in New Hampshire, a Gingrich victory in South Carolina, a Gingrich endorsement from Sarah Palin — and a bitter, two-man race all the way through the 11 primaries of Super Tuesday on March 6.
Romney might still win a race like that, but he’s unlikely to come out unscathed. His supporters worry that a grueling negative campaign could weaken him for the ultimate battle with President Obama.
Footnote: If such a drawn out contest happens, Gingrich, who is nothing if not a seasoned attack politican, will relentlessly tag Romney for his equivocations and flip flops, giving Dems more fodder for the general election.
* When will Romney start seriously attacking Gingrich? When the Romney camp starts seriously engaging Newt, you’ll know the Romney camp is genuinely panicked about Newt surge. Scott Conroy suggests it may already be too late to stave off a grueling, months-long contest.
* But Team Romney is uncertain how to deal with Newt: The Newt surge has left Romney’s team flat-footed and uncertain how to proceed:
For this unexpected turn in what has been a steady and sure campaign, the Romney team has no road map. With just five weeks until the Iowa caucuses, the former Massachusetts governor and his advisers are trying to figure out what to do. Will they stick to their tried-and-true playbook and hope Gingrich falls on his own, just like the others? Or will Romney engage Gingrich directly and aggressively, either through ads or in a pair of upcoming debates?
* Gingrich’s good timing: Conservative observers agree that Gingrich’s surge is particularly well timed, because Herman Cain’s collapse is expected to benefit him even as we’re only weeks away from the first Republican voting in Iowa.
* Gingrich could win early states: Nate Silver says the following two scenarios are plausible: Gingrich wins all four early primary states — Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Florida — or narrowly loses New Hampshire but takes the remaining three.
* Conservative “grass roots” group of the day: Good Roll Call scoop (sub only): Say hello to “RetireSafe” — a group that has given House GOPers cover for supporting bills controversial to seniors, such as the Paul Ryan Medicare plan — but is run by former GOP officials and is partly funded by the drug industry’s chief lobbying group.
* And your sorely needed Thursday comic relief: Michele Bachmann wants you to know that she’d consider Donald Trump as her vice-presidential running mate.
Maybe Bachmann and Trump should mount an independent run on a newly-established Birther Party ticket!
What else is happening?