Welcome once again to your Sunday Morning liveblog of the flickering teevee political yell-sessions and panel discussion freakfests that form the cornerstone of our democracy.

Well, good morning everyone, and welcome once again to your Sunday Morning liveblog of the flickering teevee political yell-sessions and panel discussion freakfests that form the cornerstone of our democracy. My name is Jason. This was a pretty strange week in Our American Life, huh? Maybe one of the most disconcerting weeks for women, in particular, in many years. And the GOP nominating process is now expected to go on until June? That's many more months of various super PAC's hurling tridents at one another. If you haven't read the way Jonathan Chait captured the race this week, it's good for many a laugh:

The unpredictable Republican presidential race has taken another surprising turn as recent numbers show Mongol warlord Genghis Khan seizing the lead in national polls of likely GOP primary voters. Benefiting from widespread doubts about Mitt Romney's authenticity and ideological commitment, Genghis has changed the shape of the race by sounding sharp populist themes that resonate with supporters of the tea party. "Mitt Romney wants to manage Washington, D.C.," he told an enthusiastic crowd in Scottsdale, Arizona. "I want to burn it to the ground, slay its inhabitants, and stack their skulls in pyramids reaching to the sky."

I mean, if it comes to that, then okay. Anyway, let us drink coffee and commence. As usual, please relax, I got this. But please feel free to hang out in the comments or drop me a line, or follow me on Twitter, for later.


Is this really the "most important stretch of the 2012 race?" The part where there's nothing to do except wait for the Michigan and Arizona primaries to happen? That's what Chris Wallace contends. So he'd better not come on the teevee in the middle of March and say THAT'S the most important stretch, or else...nothing. Nothing will happen to him. There are no consequences for anything, short of making racist headlines to recap Knicks games.

Anyway, Newt Gingrich is here today, to tell us all what a coward Mitt Romney is for skipping debates and getting them cancelled. But you see, that's actually the first heroic thing Romney has done for America! Plus Eric Cantor will yell about things and then there will be a panel discussion, about all the yelling.

But first, Newton LeRoy Gingrich is here. His middle name means, "the Roy." How's his campaign going? Not as well as it used to be going. So what happened? Gingrich says that he was outspent 5 to 1 by Romney and all his ads were lies. But he's obviously going to surge again, he says, because he's led the field twice, and past performance always correlates to future returns TRUST HIM HE IS A HISTORIAN. Now the race he "getting back to the way he wants it" where he talks about energy policy in a room with no teevee cameras and days go by before people ask, "Hey, whatever happened to that dyspeptic dude who looks like Casper the Friendly Ghost?"

What was up with that time he urged Rick Santorum to get out of the race? And will he tell other people to get out of things? Because that's working out great for those people. Gingrich says that he's just lining up opponents and knocking them down. He beat Tim Pawlenty, after all! And Herman Cain. So now there's Santorum. Newt says he is "more prepared to talk about fundamental change" and "break out of the Washington establishment model." He says he is going to "talk positively to all Americans." Sorry, "all Americans!"

Wouldn't it suck for Romney if he lost Michigan? Newt says he'd be really interested to hear Romney's rationale for continuing. "He's not a candidate of ideas, he's not a candidate of ideology, he's a candidate because he was supposed to be the eventual winner," says Newt. "He's damages by the negativity of his campaign, and he's driving down Tuesday."

Does Gingrich have to win Georgia? Gingrich says, "If any of the three of us lose our home state...you have a very, very badly weakened candidacy." But he won't necessarily drop out if he loses.

Wallace brings up the whole idea that was discussed by one random anonymous Senator, that if Romney loses Michigan the GOP will need a "new candidate." (Wallace makes it sound like this has been discussed by some group of GOP leaders, when it was just one guy, but nevermind.) I don't know how that's supposed to work, outside of a deadlocked convention, and I am seriously going to remain doubtful of a deadlocked convention right up until blood is being shed on the floor of the convention in Tampa.

How would Gingrich feel about a March entry, like Jeb Bush? Gingrich says Jeb is a great guy, but there aren't a whole lot of states whose ballots they can get on, but whatever, he's fine with whoever running, if they want to do so. "But it's very hard...very challenging."

Wallace says that the problem with his tax plan lowers revenue by a significant amount and "blows a hole in the deficit." Gingrich says that his number one goal is to jumpstart economic growth and "unleash" American energy, and probably a Kraken. Wallace also says that his $2.50/gallon goal for gas is unrealistic, because the OPEC cartel will cut production to keep prices up. Gingrich doesn't so much answer the question as he does yell about Obama's failure to get gas prices down, and something about migratory birds? O-kay!

Is Sheldon Adelson keeping Gingrich in the race? Gingrich says that Sheldon is really terrified about "an Iranian nuclear weapon" and he's helping to offset Romney's many rich donors. But the short answer is "yes," he is.

Will Callista "soften" Newt's image? Newt says sure. She is "attractive" and "gives good speeches" and Newt's golf game is terrible, and you know, I'll never get the time back that I had to spend listening to those questions, Chris Wallace.

Now Eric Cantor is here, to contribute several screenshots to this blog, in his honor. Wallace sets the table: Obama approval is up to 50%, Congressional approval is down at 10%, what's the deal? Cantor says that nobody is happy with the economy right now and they want more jobs and money and are frustrated, and the frustration is evident in the numbers. He says that they came to town last year to "change the way Washington works" and Obama and Harry Reid have not gone along with that.

Ha, ha. "When we came to town last year." Brother, you've been in this town a long time! But, you know, one thing I think we can all say we've learned from the Obama administration is this: don't ever promise to "change the way Washington works," okay!

Cantor says that the Reid/Obama just doesn't want to cut spending, and he's sorry about that. Of course, Cantor likely had a hand in rejecting the White House's plan to make $4 trillion in cuts and reform Medicare, because of the $1 trillion in new revenues it would raise, despite the fact that John Boehner was clearly ready to take the deal and declare victory.

Wallace points out that the payroll tax cut extension were not paid for...doesn't that mean he caved? Cantor says that the GOP are the party that "never wants to see taxes going up on anybody." They are, however, the party that really, really publicly regrets the fact that middle class Americans got some tax relief, because it steals away an opportunity to give wealthy Americans some tax relief.

Is the Congress done legislating? Cantor says that he thinks everyone can still get stuff done and work together. There is a coming "package of measures" that are supposed to goose small businesses and start-ups, and a cut to taxes for small businesses. (It will be interesting to see how "small business" gets defined in the bill...it looks like it will be "500 employees are less.") Wallace sort of scoffs, saying, "So, a lot of people making $250,000 a year are going to get a tax cut?" Cantor gets the vapors: "The suggestion that I shouldn't be going home to by district and telling a small business owner that I can't help them grow their business just because someone else will benefit...we're all in this together." (Probably some of us are in this together much harder than others.)

Wallace points out that the American people want taxes levied on millionaires and do not want Medicare to be cut. Cantor says growth, growth, yadda yadda, window of opportunity, entrepreneurship, etc.

Is the President's budget dead? Cantor says it's "not serious" and they won't pass it. Will tax reform have to wait until the lame duck session? Cantor says they will continue to try to get tax reform passed and the President/Reid have not led on the issue. He also says that the whole debate over contraception is a "question of religious freedom" and they'll do "everything to restore it." (It was restored by the White House's compromise, brother. You guys are sort of too late to do anything more than further add to the chattelization of women.) And, apparently, the transition in Egypt is uncertain enough that there might be a debate over cutting off aid.

Oh, hey, and Maxine Waters called Eric Centor a "demon" this week? That is something we are now apparenly doing, in America? Okay well, Cantor says, "Actually, my name is Baalsogrohoth and I rule the Plains Of Hopelessness in Hell, kneel before me, Wallace of Fox!" Ha, kidding, though that would have been awesome. Cantor is like, "that's evidence again that any time we try to promote growth, that's what happens." You get called a demon.

As for the Presidential primary? Cantor isn't worried. It's not a troubling amount of negativity and "it's still February."

Panel time, and today we have Kimberly Strassel, Joe Trippi, Karl Rove, and Kirsten Powers.

Wallace notes that there are a lot of good things happening for the White House right now, but maybe Karl Rove would like to throw some shade on that? Sure thing! Rove points out that his Gallup rating is 46%, and no one's ever gotten re-elected at that level, and no one cares about the CBS/NYT poll. Also, Rove has discovered the U6 unemployment numbers that he honestly should have given more consideration during the time he was actually advising a President.

Is there a parallel with Clinton? A "watershed or a blip?" Trippi disagrees with Rove and says that all the numbers "are turning now" in Obama's direction -- save for gas prices. The question is: even if they start trending in the right direction, will they get to the place they need to be to secure re-election. Rove points out that Obama is only ahead of "generic Republican" on the "generic ballot" by one point. Trippi counters by saying, well, y'all aren't running Generic Republican or Magic Republican Unicorn and Obama's well ahead of the field that is running (which, for this week, is true, but TUNE IN WHENEVER because there's still a lot of volatility).

Of course, maybe there will be a deadlocked convention and they will nominate "Generic Republican."

Rove says that Obama should be beating the field and over fifty percent against a group of Republicans that are "bleeding all over the floor." (Well...as it happens, that's precisely where he is at the moment. But remember: [INSERT STANDARD CAVEAT ABOUT THE LOW RELIABILITY OF HEAD-TO-HEAD POLLS IN FEBRUARY.])

Will the good economic news last until November? Strassel says that everything is very fragile, and that Europe remains a big problem to the global, interconnected economy. That said, Obama, in her opinion, has found a message that's worked, and the GOP is in a fight with each other at the moment, and can't counter it. Powers notes that Romney's chased away independent voters (this is also, at the moment, true) and that those voters aren't likely to find a home with Santorum.

Rove is very surprised that Obama is not going to do much legislating, and is mystified that he'd rather campaign, because he is, I guess, not been tipped off to the fact that the legislative process is really broken? And maybe can only be fixed by Obama marshalling more public esteem, to pressure legislators into not erecting impasses?

At any rate, remember: if you are really, really concerned about the deficits, like Fred Hiatt and hsi gang of illiterates at the Washington Post are, then you need to grab you pom-poms and head to Capitol Hill and join me in a cheer of "DO NOTHING! DO NOTHING!"

Strassel says that Romney losing the state of Michigan would be a "very big deal" and would "change the narrative of the race." That said, Santorum is going to get hit by a lot of money in the next week or so, and has a tough road ahead organizing for Super Tuesday. Strassel says that Romney might be able to get behind his patented campaign strategy of emphasizing biography and using super PAC cash to tear down his opponents in his big economic speech this week. But Wallace says, despite the fact that there's been so much interest in this speech that it's been moved to Ford Field, Romney does not plan to make any major economic announcements. Strassel says that would be a huge disappointment.

Wallace asks Powers if Romney's carpetbombing campaign won't eventually blow black on him. She says no, and even if it did, he's got no choice.

Rove says that he doesn't need to give some new exciting policy speech as long as gives an "ardent defense of capitalism." He then goes on to suggest that there will be a lot of Democrats and Independents voting against Romney in the open primary, just to specifically scuttle his hopes. I'd be surprised if they manifested themselves in significant numbers, but hey, whatever, I love surprises.

What about a late entry into the GOP race? NOT GOING TO HAPPEN, SERIOUSLY. (Unless there is some cracked up barking mad person who'd risk their entire political brand at forcing a deadlocked convention.) Rove says that the idea is still pretty stupid -- of the remaining states you could still get ballot access to, there's still only a couple hundred delegates available in winner-take-all states, the rest are awarded proportionally. At best, you might get your deadlocked convention. Plus, how do you roll out your candidacy? There are only two more debates to introduce yourself. And you have to start fundraising from zero. "The possibility is as remote as life on Pluto."

Trippi, somehow, thinks it's "very possible" that someone else gets in the race if Romney loses Michigan. Oh, man, I have to agree with Rove on this one. I just think you'd have to nutlog to parachute into this race. (Also, Romney has not "lost Michigan" yet, so let's calm down.)


Joining Chris in his discussion of the various Saturday Night Live clips he pulled this week, because of politics and LULZ, are Michael Duffy, Liz Marlentes, Kelly O'Donnell, and Major Garrett.

So, how did it come to pass that Mitt Romney's advisors programmed the Mitt-bot to perpetually communicate as if he were an alien virgin who woke up on earth two hours ago with a deadline to open a chain of boutique hotels by the end of the day? "THE TREES ARE THE RIGHT HEIGHT IN MICHIGAN," says Mitt. "GO #%@& YOURSELF," reply all other trees in all other states.

Mitt, he is a weird guy. By contrast, Rick Santorum is sincere and geniune and real and he really, sincerely, genuinely wants a Big Government Speculum in your ladyparts at all times, coldly probing and allowing the state to have necessary access. He is sincere like David Cronenberg movies are sincere. And his pally-wally, Foster Friess, is apparently crazy!

O'Donnell says that Santorum isn't that into talking abotu social issues on the stump, and it's only the collision of the news events of the past week that have dragged it out of him. He'd rather talk about manufacturing and how awful Mitt Romney is, but the conversation has been largely about birth control. Garrett notes that Santorum's positions are anathema to women, and alienating women is a "death knell" for Republicans. Women, he notes, "have out-voted men by proportion in every election since 1980, and that trend is only going to continue...you drive them away, you can't win, period."

Duffy says all the same, it's "likely" that Santorum will win Michigan. Marlantes agrees, and adds that what Santorum benefits from is that everyone already knew he's completely retrograde on social issues -- everything else there is to learn about Santorum is new, and to a certain extent, intriguing.

Garrett says that when the pressure builds on Romney, Romney wilts -- his rhetoric "shrinks," his ideas get small, he tends to duck behind his advertising...and that has Republicans really concerned.

Matthews says that Romney says a lot of odd things, and Duffy notes that this is what Romney looks like under pressure and stress. He goes on to note that Romney, when he's under the gun, "does things he doesn't need to do," citing his op-ed in the Detroit Free-Press, which I thought was really not good and the folks at The Economist evidently concur. But, yeah! Duffy makes a great point: WHY DO IT IN THE FIRST PLACE? Let alone a day before all the auto companies celebrate record earnings.

Marlantes says it's another contrast with Santorum -- he sincerely seems to want to be President for a reason. Romney seems to want to be President because it seems like something he's supposed to seem to want.

Garrett says that driving from the 2010 elections, the age of party bosses and smoke-filled rooms are over -- as far as the nominating process goes, it's a new ballgame. And I imagine that aspect of this fuels the discontent of the elites at least as much as the field that they perceive to be substandard.

Is Romney wounded for November? Duffy and Marlantes say he's damaged. O'Donnell says that Romney looks anxious. Garrett says that Romney, like a lot of candidates who've come before him, needs to learn how to adapt.

Hey, wasn't John Glenn awesome? Chris Matthews says he totally was, and maybe now we need a new John Glenn to raise our spirits, and destroy Sputnik again. Duffy agrees that John Glenn was awesome, but maybe wasn't the greatest Senator in the world. O'Donnell says that he was her Senator, and he was neat, like the Olympic torch. Chris Matthews says that Glenn was like Michael Jordan. Major Garrett smartly came to the table with a quote from Tom Wolfe, and DUH, of course you win when you bring a Tom Wolfe quote to the Chris Matthews Show.

But are we "ready for an iconic figure" like Glenn to "lift the country again?" Marlantes notes that we are very cynical about the government now, and our "big lifters" are private sector people like Steve Jobs who seem to represent something other than American ingenuity. So, no? I don't know, that's the extent of the conversation: John Glenn was awesome, Tom Wolfe was great at rhapsodizing about how awesome he was, and we're doomed forever, with cynicism.

Anyway, let's yell at the moon with Buzz Aldrin and Tina Fey, because there's no such thing as Astronaut Mike Dexter, Chris Matthews.

Here are things Chris Matthews does not know:

Duffy says that after Super Tuesday there are 600 delegates up for grabs in states you can still get on the ballot, "which means if the chaos continues there's still room for one, maybe more, people to get in the race." UGH, IDIOT, NO, YOU'RE WRONG, SHUT UP. Like Karl Rove pointed out, most of those states divvy up their delegates by proportion. And it takes an organization to ensure that you GET all the delegates you THINK YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO GET. I'll allow, it's possible for people to jump into the race. I mean, you are allowed to do it. But no one with a real hope of being President one day is going to risk their brand on a fool's mission. And the fools that might jump into the race in two weeks would be the absolute DREGS. You would be able to pick more dynamic Republican candidates out of your stool, seriously.

So, GAH, shut your dumb face, Michael Duffy.

Marlantes says that Paul Ryan "did not really shut the door on the vice-presidency." O'Donnell says that there will be another round of birth control madness -- maybe Darrell Issa will literally shrink the Oversight Committee down to microscopic size and take a Fantastic Voyage into someone's Fallopian tubes. She also says that Elizabeth Warren is going to "eat [Scott Brown] up" over birth control and that image just makes me feel weird inside. Garrett says that a "scoop that's hiding in plain sight" is that the Obama campaign is already well ahead of the GOP as far as organizing and social networking goes ahead of the election. Apparently, there are hundreds of campaign meetups taking place in the battleground states beginning in March.

Have Republican men in Congress and on the trail forgotten about the importance of the woman vote, and the extent to which that show up at the polls in greater proportion than men? Marlantes says everyone in the GOP got "a little overexcited" about the contraception rule change, and they've lost the thread of the argument. O'Donnell says that there aren't a lot of women who head up religious organizations, and this week, the GOP only reminded everyone of that fact. Garrett recalls a young Mitt Romney who many weeks ago got into a long conversation with George Stephanopoulos about contraception and he said, "Contraception is working just fine. Leave it alone." Duffy says the GOP has forgotten how much women loved the way George H.W. Bush reached out to them, and are now campaigning as if "it were 1920."


This Sunday, by the way, has been really dull as dishwater for guests, and I went back and forth on whether to watch John McCain and Robert Gibbs on this show or Paul Ryan and Chris Van Hollen on Meet The Press, and ultimately concluded that Meet The Press had done the better job conceding their own unwatchability today. We'll see! I could soon regret this.

(LOL. Who am I kidding? I am actually brining in regret this very minute.)

Oh, hey, it looks like we're actually watching...


Oh, ABC, just pull the trigger on this already!

Anyway, John McCain is here in his capacity as a surrogate for Romney, which is great, because McCain, deep down, really hates Mitt Romney. McCain is actually in Afghanistan at the moment, so this interview is pre-taped.

So, Santorum criticized Romney for asking for an earmark to "bail out" the Salt Lake City Olympics, and he cited McCain for saying at the time that it was the "biggest boondoggle in history," and man, I don't know, I think we need to show more respect for boondoggles, okay? Anyway, Santorum called McCain a hypocrite. McCain says that he "of course" opposes earmarks and he just wanted Romney to go through the Congressional process, and anyway, Rick Santorum is a big fan of earmarks and lobbyists and K Street projects. In the end, he would have supported the Olympics, anyway. So, I guess that McCain considers himself to have placed "off the podium" in the 400-meter hypocrisy.

What about Mike DeWine, switching his support from Romney to Santorum? McCain doesn't really have an opinion, because COME ON how big a deal are we going to make over Mike DeWine? As for the "tenor of the campaign" switching to a place that's gotten so negative that it benefits Obama, McCain says, "I am concerned about it." He then goes on to trace the negativity that's helping Democrats back to the existence of Super PACs. Well, bravo to John McCain, who could not possibly be endorsing the candidate with the largest and most corrupting Super PAC of all, right? OH WAIT, SORRY, THAT'S RIGHT. Weren't we just talking about Santorum's charges of hypocrisy? John McCain being "concerned" about Super PACs and endorsing Romney is like a liver being "concerned" about cirrhosis and endorsing alcoholism.

Apparently, the Karzai government and the U.S. are in talks with the Taliban. McCain doesn't disown those talks -- he says that we need battlefield successed to "motivate" the talks and to stop acting like we may one day want to bring Americans home from Afghanistan. Tapper points out that he and Romney disagree on the matter of negotiating with the Taliban, but McCain says the real problem is Obama "declaring withdrawal dates."

How long has that war been going on, by the way? Eleven years? You know, that's great. The next time an eighteen year old soldier dies in the Af-Pak theater, let's remember that he or she was seven years old when the war was starting, and that all the adults in his or her life had eleven years to get things sorted out so he or she could, you know, NOT BE DEAD. And let's be really proud of that, I guess! And then this time, the year after that, we can talk about six year old kids and the adults in their life having twelve years to figure some things out. And when's the earliest withdrawal date, from the people who actually pretend to want to withdraw? 2014, I think? Well, go ahead and do the math on that. Math is awesome. It's too bad that so many people won't be alive to study it in greater depth!

Anyway, how about going to war with Iran? McCain says that when Iran has a nuclear weapon creates an existential threat to Israel and that they are good at determining the risks they face. McCain says that there "may come a time" that the Rubicon gets crossed and Iran ends up in a state where they have a weapon, and that's "unacceptable."

Tapper asks McCain about the guy who appeared in his "build the danged fence" ad, Paul Babeu, who is dealing with a wee bit of trouble this weekend. McCain says that Babeu is a friend and he doesn't know all the details, but there will probably be a thorough investigation and that Babeu deserves to be treated as innocent until proven otherwise.

Okay, now here's Robert Gibbs, who I suspect will probably tell us about how awesome the Obama Administration is...just a hunch.

So, Rick Santorum said President Obama has a "phony theology." Gibbs says that he'd prefer it, in our politics, if we could all agree to disagree with each other without ripping everyone apart on their religious faith. (Store that away, by the way, if Romney wins the nomination and we start hearing from Obama's super PAC that Romney is "weird," by which they'll mean "Mormon," by the way.) Gibbs says that Santorum went "over the line," and that the GOP race in general has been a "race to the bottom." And Gibbs' theory is that the negativity is driving down GOP turnout.

With oil prices on the rise, the GOP does get an avenue of attack that's not founded in the personal or religious. And Santorum has attacked that -- though he seems to believe that Obama's master plan is to make gas unaffordable. Gibbs says that during the State of the Union, Obama went all "drill baby drill," expanding domestic oil production considerably. (That move, in that address, was a classic "co-opt the other side and steal a line of attack," and it was why Democratic lawmakers were warned in advance that they wouldn't like everything that was proposed in the State of the Union).

What about Tom Harkin's criticism of the payroll tax cut extension, that risks "the unraveling of Social Security?" Gibbs says that this doesn't endanger Social Security and it helps the economy. But as Tapper points out, $100m is now directed away from Social Security, and that Tom Harkin speech will make a great attack ad.

What about the promise to halve the budget deficit in four years? Well, as Jonathan Chait points out, that was sure a dumb promise to have made, but it had a lot to do with some estimations that were accepted at the time, which did not bear out over the long term:

Actually, in real fact, it was not clear how deep the hole was in February or even December of 2009. The economy was initially estimated to have contracted at a 3.8 percent annual rate in the last quarter of 2008, but the figure was subsequently revised downward several times, and not until 2011 did we realize that the economy shrank at a staggering 8.9 percent annual rate that quarter.

Now, it’s true that Obama eventually will have to do more to address the long-term fiscal imbalance, which was wrecked before he took office by Wehner and his colleagues in the Bush administration. Raising taxes for the rich and squeezing the discretionary spending budget is a start, but eventually Obama is going to have to coax the public into accepting either middle-class tax hikes or deeper entitlement cuts. In the meantime, the actual problem with deficits over the last three years is not that they’ve been too high but that they’ve been too low. Had we run higher deficits to this point, the recovery would be on more certain ground and we could be moving on to long-term fiscal balance.

Gibbs says that if you give Obama another year or so, he'll probably meet that goal. Lots will depend on Congress and the President coming together to successfully DO NOTHING AT ALL, however.

Will the President back same-sex marriage in 2012? Gibbs says that he doesn't know, and hasn't talked to the president about it...but the way he talks about the issue -- he focuses on job discrimination -- indicates that there won't be a backing of same-sex marriage, until, maybe, he's re-elected? Yeah, that's when we'll probably see this full "evolution" -- as soon as there's no political risk involved.

Panel time, with George Will and Clarence Page and Dee Dee Myers and Lou Dobbs and Jonathan Karl.

Is it possible that Romney could lose? Will says the Santorum is running strong in the Midwest, and Michigan has a Detroit Metro area where Romney is strong, and an entire rest of the state that might be more Santorum's flavor.

Myers notes that one curious thing is that the GOP primary is being fought on inter- and intra-party wedges issues, driving enthusiasm down, while the Obama team sets up a campaign infrastructure and pounds home that the economy is doing well (for now!). Dobbs dissents and says the Romney's message is "powerful" and -- I guess? -- should keep talking about how Michigan's trees are just the right height. Yes, that's it. Per Dobbs, Romney would have made a huge mistake if he'd told Michganders that their trees were terrible.

Tapper points out...that there are a lot of political ads? "Are they important?" he asks. "Yes, they're important," says Clarence Page. Page and Dobbs are in disagreement over whether the rhetoric of the race is hurting the GOP overall, but allows that it's too early to count Romney out in Michigan. Karl says that if Romney does lose Michigan, he's "done." And there's a Mystery Senator who thinks that Romney, if he loses Michigan, will force the GOP to pick a new candidate.

Karl says: "The point is that top Republicans are saying that if Romney can't win Michigan, he is so damaged that even if he could somehow go on and win the nomination he's not going to be the guy to win in November." How has one anonymous Senator become "top Republicans?" There's no reason for the plural there, and who knows? Maybe the Mystery Senator is a terrible Senator?

George Will points out the Meg Whitman spent a lot of money, but was terrible and she lost. So money won't save you if the electorate decides you're terrible.

Dobbs says that the race is on for any of the candidates to find an "aspirational message," and that's what'll either get a GOP candidate elected, or get Obama a second term.

How about crazy ol' Foster Friess and his 1940's courting habits? Dee Dee Myers says that it's a "winning issue for Democrats," and that the GOP -- heh. -- is on the "Mad Men side of the equation." Dobbs thinks Friess' "joke hasn't improved with age," and then sort of goes weird -- he says that there's nothing that Friess said in his interview with Andrea Mitchell that's more risque then you'd see on primetime teevee. Huh? What? I didn't realize that was an issue. Dobbs has sort of misunderstood what the controversy here is. Myers explains that it's not about "vulgarity, it's about the mindset" -- and it's damaging to Santorum because it "gets close to what Santorum actually believes." Page adds that everyone on the Friess side of the equation looks "out of touch."

Dobbs says, "Doesn't it take hard work" to make Friess' statements into a big deal? NO DUDE, IT'S EASY. They became a big deal when the camera pointed at Foster Friess successfully recorded his words and broadcast them on television for a waiting world that said, "Wow, that guy is bonkersauce!"

Will quips that Santorum is the sort of candidate who is only happy when he's gloomily asserting the certain moral demise of mankind. He then notes that Santorum discussed a statistic about -- and I'm quoting Will, now -- "more than half of the children born to women in this country of all enthicities under 30 are born out of wedlock." WHAT ABOUT THE CHILDREN NOT BORN TO WOMEN, THOUGH? Are they marching on Dunsinane Woods, to tear the trees down? Because dude, CARBON FOOTPRINT. THINK ABOUT IT.

Tapper notes that the whole matter has shifted from a debate about religious liberty to a debate about contraception, and the latter is not a winning debate. Will says that there's no one running for President who wants to ban contraception, but here's Rick Santorum, in his own words:

One of the things I will talk about that no President has talked about before is I think the dangers of contraception in this country, the whole sexual libertine idea. Many in the Christian faith have said, “Well, that’s okay. Contraception’s okay.”

It’s not okay because it’s a license to do things in the sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be. They’re supposed to be within marriage, they are supposed to be for purposes that are, yes, conjugal, but also [inaudible], but also procreative. That’s the perfect way that a sexual union should happen. We take any part of that out, we diminish the act. And if you can take one part out that’s not for purposes of procreation, that’s not one of the reasons, then you diminish this very special bond between men and women, so why can’t you take other parts of that out? And all of a sudden, it becomes deconstructed to the point where it’s simply pleasure. And that’s certainly a part of it—and it’s an important part of it, don’t get me wrong—but there’s a lot of things we do for pleasure, and this is special, and it needs to be seen as special.

Again, I know most Presidents don’t talk about those things, and maybe people don’t want us to talk about those things, but I think it’s important that you are who you are. I’m not running for preacher. I’m not running for pastor, but these are important public policy issues. These how profound impact on the health of our society.

Everyone argues over that. Dee Dee Myers says, "Know what, most women don't want Rick Santorum's advice on when to use birth control." Dobbs counters by saying that Obama is running behind his 2008 numbers with women and independent voters -- I don't know where the numbers are on the first score, but as to independent voters Obama is just a thin margin behind his 2008 coalition. (CAVEAT: IT IS, OF COURSE, FEBRUARY.)

What about the budget? Dobbs says that it's not meaningful and won't be voted on and it's basically a campaign document and that's essentially true.

Karl says that what's striking about the payroll tax cut deal is the there were no "difficult choices" being made. He then notes that as part of the deal, $100m was kept from the Social Security trust fund. I don't know...it seems to me that the perennial "difficult choice" on Capitol Hill involves Social Security getting less money.

Page says that Washington is just more geared toward short term problems than long term problems, but that's not right either! Instead of working on unemployment, they spent all last year threatening to not raise the debt ceiline as if they were complete nutters!

Will and Myers differ over government and the economy:

WILL: We're going to build this, it's the government, that's [Obama's] constant. We in Washington know best, we know how much manufacturing there out to be. We'll pick the winners and losers. Their record at this is appalling.

MYERS: I think it's different than that, George, it's saying, you know what, there are some inequities built into the situation. Why is it that the rich keep getting richer? Their wealth have grown by unbelievable amounts. There's only a couple of explanations. Either the rich people are smarter than the rest of us...or there might be something in the rules that's rigged....One of the reasons we're seeing the reaction that we're seeing in the country is because people feel like the rules are rigged. The playing field is no longer leveled. If you work hard and play by the rules you can no longer be sure if you do well.

Now, for some reason, we're talking about Whitney Houston, and whether or not it was right to fly flags at half-stalf, which was done by Chris Christie in New Jersey. OH YES, LET US SCOLD OR LET US DEFEND THIS GREAT NATIONAL ISSUE! Page says, "these are complicated questions." They are also boring ones! Dobbs says that Christie did the right thing by honoring Whitney Houston, but Michael Bloomberg is a monster for not having a parade for the troops fighting in Afghanistan. (What would the parade celebrate? "HOORAY YOU ARE STILL IN AFGHANISTAN!")

And everyone loves "Linsanity." This was an important consensus.

And that is all I can tolerate today today of Sunday chit-chat. Have a happy President's Day holiday, to everyone who is taking a holiday tomorrow. And for everyone else, have a wonderful week, we'll come back next Sunday, and maybe people will be so worked up at the possibility that Romney might lose Michigan that they'll have fashioned a new GOP candidate from mud and chicken bones and baling wire and hay and GOP strategists will be hollering: "Everyone please remember! If Romney loses Michigan, Chicken-Bone Hay McMudman is ready to jump into this race! We just have to keep Chicken-Bone Hay McMudman our of direct sunlight, because he will burn and/or melt. Who wants to contribute to Chicken-Bone Hay McMudman's super PAC, Set Your Damn Money On Fire To Polish Turds For America!"

So, yeah, it's still possible to have an exciting imagination about all of this. Ta ta!

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