Well, I'm back with another set of comments on politics. This is what happens when a fella like me has too much time on his hands due to convalescence, I'm afraid. Just to be clear, I'm feeling better, but when I'm really better, probably won't have time to blog. It's kind of like the guy who said he was "calling in well", and that you would know he was sick because he'd be back in the office, nursing what made him unwell in the first place.

In an earlier post, I had made a couple of predictions about the ever-entertaining GOP primary season under way....

1) A new pro-Santorum super PAC begins media buys highly critical of Romney in South Carolina.

I'm looking pretty good here. The Senator's main source of funding prior to last month was his own "leadership PAC", called America's Foundation. As of June, they had spent slightly more than half a million on Santorum's campaign, but during the buildup to the caucus Santorum's, um, sympathizers have quietly moved the major donors to a new super PAC called Red White and Blue Fund, which has ponied up for ads in South Carolina, while at the same time using an increasingly-popular accounting trick to delay revealing their donors list.

2) The conservative elites will go back to attempting to ignore Congressman Paul, because he doesn't need their money and isn't going anywhere.

This is very interesting, because all the candidates but Romney have suggested that Paul and his supporters need to be treated with respect. But the fallout from increased media scrutiny over Paul's fringe-feeding newsletters seems to have deprived him of his hoped-for bubble:

The blue bubble is Gov. Perry, who was undone by gaffes in public appearance that reflect a lack of preparation. The red bubble is the meteor named Herman Cain, who simply wasn't prepared to handle media scrutiny of his personal life. The green bubble is the reinvention of Newt Gingrich, who for nearly a month portrayed himself as a happy warrior and changed man, and the likely nominee. Super PAC money, mostly from Mitt Romney's, um, sympathizers, must have missed the memo, crushing Gingrich with a slew of negative (and to some degree misleading) ads.

Paul, with a solid Iowa operation, did go up a tad, but he never peaked the way the previous three "ABM's" launched, plateauing before the caucus, which allowed Sen. Santorum a means to seize what was essentially the best part of a three-way tie. There is no yellow bubble, and there's not going to be one. From this moment on, the story is going to be of three lines moving roughly in parallel: Romney, Santorum and Gingrich.

Interestingly enough, the independent or moderate-minded Republican who might've been intrigued by Paul seems to be shifting their attention to Huntsman, who has a make-or-break, all-or-nothing strategy in the Granite State. Whether it is the lack of coverage by conservative media, an endorsement by the Boston Globe, or just a juvenile episode is hard to say, but at this critical juncture the Paul and Huntsman campaigns have turned a lot of their attention towards sniping at one another, rather than attempting to make inroads against the front-runner (Gov. Romney).

3) All the major media will do their "Who is Rick Santorum, really?" story and for the most part, he will gain traction because he has a pitch that distinguishes himself from the rest of the GOP field, one that resonates with blue-collar voters without the populist rhetoric that alienates establishment Republicans.

The first half of that "prediction" is comically easy to demonstrate, I won't bore you with it. The second part is up in the air: so far Santorum hasn't gotten more press (mostly bad) for combative exchanges with college-age voters, most of whom are in school or who don't seem to be blue-collar in orientation. As with everything else in the next 48 hours, debate heroics (or the lack thereof) will probably determine who gets traction, and who fades.

As for my big prediction, that evangelicals are looking for a conservative they can back against Romney, at least one of the heavy hitters I alluded to earlier (Gary Bauer), just came out with an endorsement of Santorum, less than 24 hours after being quoted as being opposed to any conclave to diss Romney. If it walks like a duck, and talks like a duck.....



So, I had my surgery on the 28th and am still recovering. Every day is different. I came home the day after the surgery and so far have made strides far more rapidly than I would've imagined. Many sites on the web discussing ACDF make far more conservative projections for recovery than what I've experienced, but my surgeon's more assertive estimate seems to be on target. I have to say that so far I am really impressed. My scar is smaller. My voice largely feels unaffected, even when wearing the dressing (which I took off yesterday). I've worn a collar as a precaution, especially when a passenger in a car.

Yesterday, I even drove to my favorite bakery---with the collar on. It had been recommended that I wait 5-7 days before doing that, but the recommendation was predicated on regular use of the prescribed narcotic, which I jettisoned after using only two pills in the first six days, largely due to the lack of acute pain. I sat at the bakery for two hours and made notes on a pet project of mine that I've had on the back burner, and consumed a chocolate croissant....and three cups of coffee. That last proved to be the road to a modest setback.

I returned home, somewhat tired, and caught the imminent caucus coverage from Iowa. After it had begun, I indulged myself in a little Skyrim action. Around eight in the evening my time, I began to feel a tad queasy with the coffee sitting in my empty belly and had a little more food. After about an hour of TV viewing with the wife, I tried to relax enough to sleep but the queasiness returned. My sleeping was fitful, and I awoke at 5:30 this morning unprompted, with my head full of thoughts (see, I'm blogging for a reason).....and many of my muscle groups twitching in a mild and irregular way while laying in bed.

I mean, seriously. Little twitches in my calves, shoulders, eyelids, forearms, feet. Not painful, not predictable....just, you know, there. I literally lay in bed for about an hour with various thoughts percolating and, like an old telegraph line, twitchy twitchy twitch twitch twitch, the neurological dots and dashes of my apparently sephamoric (and sophomoric) recuperation.

So, today began not so much with discomfort as annoyance and mild puzzlement. I am going to make a repeat of the coffee shop at some point with a little more solid food in play. If I've become newly sensitive to caffeine, then I might as well determine that now as I go forward. With the best of intentions, I hope to work on the garage today and perhaps do a little walking. Certainly, my post-operative water weight drop (gasp! five kilos) encourages me to slog forward. So, we'll see how things go today. Based on the last five days, I expect the unexpected.

Speaking of which....the caucuses. Let me go on record with my predictions for the next two weeks for the GOP field, which has been the most unexpectedly entertaining political spectacle of my lifetime. A Massachusetts moderate with deep pockets and national campaign experience, a career conspiracy theorist out-of-step with his own party's establishment wing, a distrusted former Speaker of the House, and various "social conservatives" of one stripe or another, in an evolving political marketplace increasingly more defined by national media than pressing the flesh. The phrase "retail politics" has become quite the catchword, with former Sen. Santorum proving that door-to-door (or at least county-to-county) pitchmanship can at least temporarily surmount vast disadvantages in cash flow, organization and media coverage. Personally, I think the notion that such politics is "retail" is a pretty revealing turn of phrase where politicians and media outlets are concerned, particularly conservative ones.

Still, Santorum's late push makes him the latest non-LDS flavor of the week, and thus he will finally get a window to build a campaign that could have national significance...if the money and organization will just manifest itself. And, frankly, with enough money, you can build quite a bit of organization. It really comes down to this: going to all 99 counties allowed Santorum to position himself as a viable alternative to Iowans in the closing days before last night's caucus, but to go the next mile, he's going to need money. He's got a week to make a solid impression on New Hampshire voters and needs to finish in the top three. He'll have slightly more than a week before what will be his biggest debate opportunity in South Carolina, followed in just a few days by the primary that he will need to finish at least second.

To do those things, he will need cash from the outside. What worked in Iowa (essentially stalking the entire state for more than a month) won't work in the rest of primary season, where the pace accelerates.

But.....here's where things get interesting. Michelle Bachmann just threw in the towel, while repeatedly dropping her equivalent of the F-bomb ("socialism!"). Seems the people of Iowa have spoken with a very clear voice, Rep. Bachmann said, and, you know, the voice of the people is the voice of God. Her evangelical rhetoric, which had been dialed back dramatically in the last two weeks, was back in full force Almighty God was invoked constantly, but more subdued in a presser attended largely by the media and Bachmann's immediate family.

Meanwhile, the conservative 'oopsy', Texas Gov. Rick Perry (your 5th-place finisher) has suspended his campaign this morning, and is returning to the Lone Star State to, and I quote, "to determine whether there is a path forward" to winning the White House. Perry has spent a lot of evangelical cash in the past month, and still has a war chest estimated at $3.5 million, but I can read between the lines......because of the next news item:

A group of movement conservatives has called an emergency meeting in Texas next weekend to find a “consensus” Republican presidential hopeful, POLITICO has learned.

“You and your spouse are cordially invited to a private meeting with national conservative leaders of faith at the ranch of Paul and Nancy Pressler near Brenham, Texas, with the purpose of attempting to unite and to come to a consensus on which Republican Presidential candidate or candidates to support, or which not to support,” read an invitation that is making its way into in-boxes Wednesday morning.

Many of the individuals on the host list attended a previous closed-door session with Rick Perry this summer, but Perry’s candidacy stalled out, and he returned home to Texas after a disappointing fifth-place finish in Iowa.

Movement conservatives are concerned that a vote split between Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum among base voters could enable Mitt Romney to grab the GOP nomination. A source who shared the invitation said the meeting was about how to avoid such a possibility.

Yet time is short, with New Hampshire Tuesday and both South Carolina and Florida contests in January. In many ways, the Texas meeting is an 11th-hour version of the conversation that many conservative activists have been having for more than a year, how to find a down-the-line conservative to stop Romney — and until now, they’ve come up short.

Romney edged out Santorum by eight votes in the Iowa caucuses, and Gingrich placed a distant fourth, behind Ron Paul.

Santorum seems best positioned to take on the mantle of Romney-stopper, particularly given his own appeal to evangelical voters in Iowa, but his sudden surge in Iowa left him heading into future contests short of cash and on-the-ground organizations in upcoming states.

Gingrich praised Santorum in his concession speech Tuesday in Iowa, but showed no sign of dropping out of the race — pledging to assail Romney as a “Massachusetts moderate” while campaigning in New Hampshire and South Carolina. Michele Bachmann, who never caught fire with conservative elites, suspended her campaign Wednesday.

On Tuesday night, a prominent Iowa conservative, Bob Vander Platts, called on Republicans to unite behind Santorum in hopes of stopping Romney. Vander Platts, who has backed Santorum, suggested Gingrich should reassess his candidacy.

If Republicans are going to put up a “pro-family conservative against Mitt Romney, some decisions need to be made,” the former gubernatorial candidate told reporters at a Santorum rally.

Let me spell it out for the people who can't read the tea leaves. Bachmann's political career has been an arc of a true believer, with much of her funding coming from the groups above. Perry is less beholden to Dobson and the like, but got into the race late after a fairly secretive group of evangelicals in Texas offered to pony up much of the seed money for a late entry. Both of them have crashed and burned, and now the various players on the Christian Right are essentially converging on Texas to talk strategy? Let's tell it the way this really is: both Bachmann and Perry got the word late last night from the money men on this side of the equation, and the word was "thanks, but no thanks." Be a good soldier, Michelle. Time to go home, Rick. And time to decide between Newt or the newly-emergent Santorum (both Catholics) to carry the voice of the social conservatives. My guess is that Santorum is going to win, because he has more real cred with the social conservatives

My predictions? A new pro-Santorum super PAC begins media buys highly critical of Romney in South Carolina. The conservative elites will go back to attempting to ignore Congressman Paul, because he doesn't need their money and isn't going anywhere. All the major media will do their "Who is Rick Santorum, really?" story and for the most part, he will gain traction because he has a pitch that distinguishes himself from the rest of the GOP field, one that resonates with blue-collar voters without the populist rhetoric that alienates establishment Republicans. Romney will win New Hampshire, but he will have to fight a three-front war against the other remaining contenders, who will largely lay off each other and concentrate on the front runner. Santorum doesn't need to win, he just needs to place in the top three. All four will head to South Carolina, even though there will be a concerted effort to get Speaker Gingrich out of the race a week from now when he finishes behind John Huntsman, who will score his only significant showing by finishing in the top four.

I think the best part of this is that the evangelicals are forced to choose between four candidates, none of whom are what both Perry and Bachmann actually were, which is to say, evangelicals. That they still believe that they can be kingmakers at this late hour says as much about the wild, fluid field as it does about their hubris.