In 2011 we saw some impressive political moves. For example, Rep.Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) figured out how to make himself as the House Budget Committee chairman the chief opponent to President Obama on fiscal issues. But there were also some boneheaded plays. In the spirit of the holiday, I have 12 that stand out.
1. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) decides not to run for president. He would certainly be the front-runner by now and could very likely have galvanized disparate elements of the GOP.
2. Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) decides to run for president.Lacking preparation, policy ideas and verbal skill, he soon crashed and burned as a candidate. Barring a miraculous comeback, he will have permanently harmed his political stature.
3. Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich decides to attack Mitt Romney on his Bain Capital experience. This may have been the key turning point in the race, when Gingrich lost support of many on the right and Romney stood up for free market capitalism.
4. Right-wing media decide to buy into the racial conspiracy theory to defend presidential candidate Herman Cain. They looked like boosters, not journalists and damaged their credibility.
5. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan decides not to recuse herself on Obamacare litigation. She has done harm to her integrity at the onset of her judicial career and will, if she is the deciding vote, shroud the ruling in suspicion and controversy.
6. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas decides to short-circuit the Oslo Accords and go to the U.N. for a unilateral declaration of statehood. He didn’t get it, and in the process undermined his own leadership position and alienated his patrons in the Obama White House.
7. President Obama decides to ambush Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a speech ostensibly on the Arab Spring with a declaration that it was now U.S. policy for Israel to revert in negotiations to “1967 borders” with land swaps. He isolated himself even from liberal Democrats, worsened his problems with Jewish Democrats, gave Netanyahu the chance to upstage him in a Joint Session of Congress and turned the AIPAC conference into a referendum on Obama’s Israel policy. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Minority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) were among those giving a thumbs down.
8. The White House decides to play Mediscare rather than pursue Medicare reform. It thereby set up the 2012 election as one in which Obama is the do-nothing president who won’t make hard decisions. It also provoked most of the major GOP candidates to offer serious fiscal plans that include entitlement reform. Obama permanently lost the mantle of the “adult in the room.”
9. A faction of House Republicans decide to revolt on the speaker’s debt-ceiling proposal. Had it passed the House, the Senate would have been obliged to go along. The final bill, which included the now-dreaded defense sequestration provision, was worse for conservatives than Boehner’s proposed plan.
10. The conservative media and GOP presidential candidates decide for most of the year to ignore Rep. Ron Paul’s extreme associations, conspiracy theories and publications of racist, apocalyptic newsletters in the 1980s and ’90s. That allowed him to gain a huge following and successfully raise millions of dollars, and do so without any assurance he will forgo a third-party race.
11. The administration decides to delay a decision on the XL oil pipeline. Obama was pummeled as turning his back on thousands of jobs and gave the Republicans a consolation prize in an otherwise disastrous debate on the payroll tax cut.
12. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) pressures King & Spaulding to drop its defense of the House in the Defense of Marriage Act case. Lawyers on the right and left (including the attorney general) decry HRC’s tactics. When the partner handling the case, Paul Clement, leaves the firm in protest, K&S winds up bloodied, and the House gets its lawyer of choice.