Could Romney be the first completely programmable running mate?

Notes from the political sidelines.
July 29 2008 12:51 PM

Romneymania

Could he be the first completely programmable running mate?

80_thehasbeen
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If Romney wanted to buy into a slumping market, his timing couldn't be better. San Diego real estate prices are down 18 percent from a year ago, making even La Jolla beachfront a bargain. When Schwarzenegger's term runs out, the California Republican Party will likewise be the political equivalent of a vacant lot.

Romney's staff quickly shot down any Golden State ambitions. A spokesman told the Associated Press, "Governor Romney has been looking at property on the West Coast because he has family in California, and because his wife, Ann, spends a good deal of time there riding horses." The AP noted that son Matt lives in San Diego, "while son Josh lives in Salt Lake City." That's  750 miles away—less than a month's ride on horseback!

Romney spent the weekend at John McCain's Western getaway with other vice-presidential hopefuls. The La Jolla purchase gives him one more advantage over the rest of the field: He now brings the most undisclosed secure locations.

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This isn't the first time homeownership has emerged as an important theme for Romney. When he ran for governor of Massachusetts in 2002, he had to amend his tax returns, which showed he had actually been a resident of Utah. His presidential bid made much of his vacation home on Lake Winnipesaukee, but a second home in New Hampshire wasn't enough to save him after he lost the first caucus in Iowa. If Romney had bought a summer place in Cedar Rapids instead, he might be the presumptive nominee today. Then he could have been the one to invite prospective running mates to spend Memorial Day weekend at his home, wherever that might be.

Last week, Mitt launched a new campaign vehicle, Free and Strong America PAC, which is backing candidates like … John McCain. He even has his own blog. While it's a far cry from the Five Brothers Blog, the Mitt blog brings welcome news of how they're doing. Ben is expecting his first child, Craig his second, Josh his fourth. Matt had his fourth a few months ago. Clearly, the Romney boys have put their blogging days behind them.

Remarkably, the Romney plan seems to be working. While housing prices plunge, Mitt vice-presidential futures are soaring. On Tuesday, Romney stock hit its highest price on Intrade in six weeks, moving into first place ahead of Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

Why the rebound? One of Romney's greatest weaknesses may also be his greatest strength: He's always making up for his last mistake. When Politico asked leading Republicans how to save their party, Romney had the best answer: new ideas, a better agenda, and "a very clear set of principles."

The GOP is in trouble if Mitt Romney is its go-to guy for principle. But if a house on your block is for sale, you have to admit: He'd make a great neighbor. ... 9:53 a.m. (link)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

On the Rocks:After years of comparing illegitimacy rates around the world—which were low in Italy, moderate in Germany, and astronomical in the United States—Sen. Pat Moynihan used to joke that out-of-wedlock birth rates increase in direct proportion to distance from the Vatican. Now another member of the New York delegation has gone out of his way to confirm Moynihan's theory. Vito Fossella Jr.'s office is a long way from Rome.

Moynihan offered an even more prescient explanation of Fossella's behavior in his famous essay "Defining Deviancy Down." Citing a sociologist's rationalization that "the number of deviant offenders a community can afford to recognize is likely to remain stable over time," Moynihan feared a vicious cycle of what another New Yorker, Fred Siegel, dubbed "moral deregulation": The more people bend the rules, the further some will go in bending them.

Human weakness may be a renewable resource, but public attention is not—so, no matter how many cads live in the tri-state area, only the most shameless can make the front page of the tabloids. According to the tabloids, Rep. Fossella's troubles began in December 2002, when he fell for Air Force legislative liaison Laura Fay on a junket to Malta. The Daily News marvels that their union could take root on such rocky soil: "Malta is not an obvious place for a love affair to flourish. Not unlike Staten Island, it tends to be a conservative place."

Of course, in those days, so was the House of Representatives. Speaker Dennis Hastert himself led that congressional delegation to Malta. The following summer, Hastert took Fossella and Fay along on another European junket. One person on the trip told the Daily News that the affair became an open secret in Spain, somewhere near the Alhambra. The newspaper claims that "word about the affair spread, and Republican officials soon became concerned, fearing it would be exposed, sources said." The tabloid implies that the Air Force dropped Fay as a legislative liaison because she was a little too good at it.

Obviously, Vito Fossella's personal life is not Dennis Hastert's fault. Perhaps the speaker had his nose in a guidebook or was rereading Washington Irving's classic Tales of the Alhambra. (Unexplored tabloid angle: The namesake for Irving's most famous character, Ichabod Crane, is buried on Staten Island—just like Fossella's political career.) Moreover, once you've accepted the ethics of congressional leaders and Pentagon staffers taking taxpayer-funded fact-finding missions to the tourist capitals of Europe, you don't have to be above the legal blood alcohol limit to have trouble seeing any bright lines.

Still, the leadership's avoidance and denial in this case is eerily similar to the last great House Republican sex scandal, involving former Florida Rep. Mark Foley. A House ethics committee investigation determined that Hastert's chief of staff, Scott Palmer, learned of Foley's page problem in 2002 or 2003, the same period as Fossella's budding romance. The House leadership did nothing about it. As the ethics committee report declared, "A pattern of conduct was exhibited among many individuals to remain willfully ignorant."

In time, those years may be remembered as the Era of Willful Ignorance. Mark Foley was busy IMing House pages. Jack Abramoff and Ralph Reed were busy e-mailing each other. Tom DeLay was busy hounding the FAA to track down Texas Democratic legislators who had flown to Oklahoma.

Today's New York Postreports that Scott Palmer, the Hastert aide, knew about the Fossella-Fay problem, too. He did something but not about the wayward congressman. Instead, Palmer called the Pentagon and reported Fay for unprofessional behavior. "I lost confidence in her and I'm not going to kid you," Palmer told the Post. "I was also concerned with this other relationship thing. It didn't look like it should."

Five years later, Republicans no doubt wish their leaders had lost confidence in Fossella after the Alhambra instead of waiting for the mistress, love child, and DUI. But as Pat Moynihan warned, there's a limit to the number of ethically deviant members any community can afford to recognize at one time. … 10:52 a.m. (link)

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

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