Today marks the last day new posts will appear on Top of The Ticket at latimes.com.
In the Ticket’s 51 months of existence, lead blogger Andrew Malcolm and a host of contributors have posted more than 8,800 stories, drawing nearly 67 million page views, including slightly more than 2 million in September, its last month. Readers kept up a steady dialogue with the Ticket, responding with about 142,000 posted comments.
Malcolm, a veteran foreign and national correspondent and author of 10 nonfiction books, has decided to move to other pastures. He’ll be writing a blog and a column for Investor’s Business Daily.
Herman Cain upset the Republican presidential apple cart with an impressive win Saturday in the Florida straw poll. Now it looks like the Sunshine State could once again disrupt the march toward picking an opponent for President Obama.
According to published reports, Florida's presidential primary could move to Jan. 31, more than a month ahead of schedule. A panel named by Gov. Rick Scott and GOP legislative leaders is expected to complete the move Friday, and that could put the state in hot water with the Republican National Committee.
According to RNC rules designed to prevent a chaotic rush during primary season, only Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina can hold elections before March 6.
But Florida, which will play host to the 2012 Republican National Convention, in Tampa, wants to have a more central role in picking the nominee. To achieve that, it would run afoul of the RNC, which will dock it about half of its 116 convention delegates.
Speaking to the Miami Herald, Florida Senate President Mike Haridopolos (R-Merritt Island) said: "That's the price we have to pay. I feel bad for those folks who might not be able to be delegates. But ... we'd love to give the entire Republican Party membership in Florida the ability to have an influence on who the nominee would be."
Florida also pulled a similar move in 2008, moving its primary to Jan. 29, and helping to lock up the nomination for Sen. John McCain. Though all the Florida delegates made it to the convention floor in Minneapolis-St. Paul -- with about half being characterized as "honored guests" -- the RNC seems in no mood to make a deal this time.
Also speaking to the Herald, RNC spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski said: "Any state thatviolates the rules will lose half their delegates. This is not a negotiation. These are the rules."
The current schedule has the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 6, followed by the New Hampshire primary on Feb. 14, the Nevada caucuses on Feb. 18, and the South Carolina primary on Feb. 28.
Determined not to be knocked off its perch as the first-in-the-nation caucuses, Iowa will do what it takes to keep its place of honor.
In a statement, Iowa Republican Party Chairman Matt Strawn said: "The four sanctioned, early states have been very clear that we will move together, if necessary, to ensure order as outlined in RNC rules. If we are forced to change our dates together, we will."
In a Sept. 29 interview on Fox News' "On the Record with Greta Van Susteren," GOP candidate Sen. Rick Santorum (obviously not a disinterested observer), said: "For the life of me, I don't understand what Florida's trying to accomplish, because whatever they're going to accomplish, they're going to fail. ... All you've effectively done is cut off one month of the lead-up time to this primary process."
He also defended the role of the smaller states, saying: "They've had a pretty good track record of taking the responsibility very seriously. ... These states are smaller states. It's manageable for them to meet the candidates, to kick the tires, to find out who these people really are."
Theoretically, Iowa could go as early as the first week of the year.
Democrats avoid all this hullabaloo by having their incumbent run unopposed (at least so far). But if former Clinton advisor Dick Morris is to be believed, the Democratic race could become as complicated as the GOP's.
In a Sept. 21 article on his website, DickMorris.com, the former Democrat strategist writes: "As bad news piles up for the Democrats, I asked a top Democratic strategist if it were possible that President Obama might 'pull a Lyndon Johnson' and soberly face the cameras, telling America that he has decided that the demands of partisan politics are interfering with his efforts to right our economy and that he has decided to withdraw to devote full time to our recovery.
"His answer: 'Yes. It’s possible. If things continue as they are and have not turned around by January, it is certainly possible.' "
Though Morris is leaning toward prediction territory, he's not the first person to publicly suggest the same thing.
On Sept. 18, Steve Chapman, a columnist for the Chicago Tribune (a sister paper of the Los Angeles Times, under the Tribune Co. umbrella), wrote a piece called "Why Obama Should Withdraw."
He wrote: "In the event he wins, Obama could find himself with Republicans in control of both houses of Congress. Then he will long for the good old days of 2011. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner will bound out of bed each day eager to make his life miserable.
"Besides avoiding this indignity, Obama might do his party a big favor. In hard times, voters have a powerful urge to punish incumbents. He could slake this thirst by stepping aside and taking the blame. Then someone less reviled could replace him at the top of the ticket."
And who did he think that someone should be? The answer can be found in the picture at the top of this post, a shot from the New Hampshire primaries of 2008.
“Well, I’m just about at the elevator up to the family quarters. But bear with me for just a minute more as I confirm who I am. It’s obvious; I’m the president of the United States of America!"
The memoir, due out next week from Threshold Editions, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, takes Cain from his childhood in Georgia through his career and his battle with Stage Four cancer to his hoped-for triumphant arrival in Washington, D.C., and imagined first term in office.
It's not rare for a candidate to have a book. In fact, Michele Bachmann has her own book coming out in November. But most -- like Perry's and Romney's -- deal with policy positions andpolitical philosophy. Cain takes it a step further by, according to Politico, even discussing the first lady plans of his wife of 43 years, Gloria.
Cain also takes on the assertion that he is not knowledgeable about foreign policy, a charge that could also be leveled at his fellow candidates, former governors Rick Perry and Mitt Romney (and, for that matter, at former presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter -- governors all, plus Obama).
"I like Herman Cain," said O'Reilly. "I like his spirit. I think he presents himself very well. But when he came on 'The Factor' a few weeks ago, he had no clue about foreign affairs. None.'"
Miller responded with a reference to President Obama, saying: "Oh, like the guy in there now does?"
O'Reilly countered with: "Aren't we supposed to improve upon that?"
Take a look at the whole exchange:
Cain also caused some controversy elsewhere on Wednesday, while talking to anchor Wolf Blitzer on CNN's "The Situation Room" (click here for the full transcript).
First, Cain addressed the issue of why most African Americans won't vote Republican, saying: "Because many African Americans have been brainwashed into not being open-minded, not even considering a conservative point of view. I have received some of that same vitriol simply because I am running for the Republican nomination as a conservative."
Cain also said he believes a third to 50% of black Americans are "open-minded," saying: "More and more black Americans are thinking for themselves. And that's a good thing."
It's a position Cain also discussed during a Monday appearance on Fox News Channel's "On the Record With Greta Van Susteren," saying:
"And because the unemployment rate for black people is nearly 17%, instead of the 9%, they're looking for something that's going to boost this economy. And they see that possibility in my 9-9-9 plan.
"That's what's going to peel off the black vote: results, not rhetoric."
Also addressed during the CNN interview was the issue of Perry's support, along with the Texas legislature, for giving in-state tuition discounts to children of illegal immigrants.
This policy got the Texas governor in some hot water in the last GOP debate -- in which he characterized those who disagreed with him as "heartless" -- and earned him a rebuke from his fellow Republican, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, during his speech at the Reagan Library on Tuesday.
In opposing Perry's use of taxpayer funds to subsidize the lower tuition rates, Christie said: "Let me be very clear. From my perspective, that is not a heartless position. That is a common sense position."
Perry even had to do a bit of backpedaling on his "heartless" claim. He told Newsmax in an exclusive video interview posted on Wednesday, that, "I was probably a bit over-passionate by using that word, and it was inappropriate."
Asked on CNN if he agreed with Perry's position, Cain said: "No, absolutely not. Because I happen to believe that that puts children of illegals in front of citizens, in front of soldiers. I don't agree with that. We must first secure the border for real. That's the real problem we need to make sure that we solve. Then, decide later.
"Now, I do agree that it's a state's issue. It's a state's decision. But I don't believe in putting children of illegals, because of compassion, in front of citizens."
Cain also said that, as of right now, that position would prevent him from supporting Perry if he becomes the GOP's eventual nominee:
"Today, I could not support Rick Perry as the nominee for a host of reasons. Him being soft on securing the border is one of the reasons. I feel very strongly about the need to secure the border for real, the need to enforce the laws that are already there, the need to promote the path to citizenship that's already there.
"But, more importantly, empower the states to enforce the national federal immigration laws because the federal government didn't do it, can't do it, and they never will do it. So, that's where I think he and I have a basic fundamental difference of opinion."
Cain did say though, that while he does not support the individual mandate put in place by Mitt Romney in his Massachusetts healthcare bill, he could support Romney as the nominee so long as he vowed to repeal Obamacare.
A new Fox News phone poll is out, placing Cain in third place now with 17%, trailing Romney, who has 23%, and Perry, who has 19%.
Cain is even making the apparently obligatory visit to New York City to talk with businessman and reality show star Donald Trump on Oct. 3, following the lead of fellow hopefuls Perry, Romney and Bachmann.
A top former White House aide to Barack Obama sees a "titanic struggle" emerging as the Democratic incumbent confronts awful economic numbers and Republican political opposition that seems bent on defeating the guy for some reason.
David Axelrod, who used to work in the White House but has since fled back to Chicago as the reelection campaign's top political strategist, uttered his unfortunate floating metaphor to a New Hampshire audience Tuesday.
Speaking at a college in Manchester, Axelrod also used a sailing metaphor:
"In 2008, we had the wind at our backs. Now, we don't have the wind at our back. We have the wind in our faces, because the American people have the wind in their faces."
With two out of three Americans thinking the country is on the wrong track under Obama and more than half disapproving of Obama's overall job performance, exactly what winds Axelrod had in mind are left to wild speculation.
Unemployment above 9% when an 8% maximum was promised? A healthcare bill that was supposed to reduce costs but hasn't and waivers for special Americans with connections? An unfolding scandal over a half-billion dollar loan to a fundraiser's company? A fondness for regulation and a desire to raise taxes and a kind of chronic indecision over many things except giving more speeches at fundraisers appealing for more time because so much is undone?
Axelrod, a recovering newspaper reporter who used to cover Chicago politics, did not have time in his remarks to explain that those winds in Americans' faces came from his boss' failed economic stimulus and growing business fears of rampant regulations.
Because he lives and works in Chicago and helped elect Democrats of the machine that has ruled that city for 80 years, Axelrod is apparently unfamiliar with the role of a competitive opposition political party to, well, oppose incumbents with its own plans.
The Obama strategist kept a straight face as he feigned surprise that Obama opponents in Washington would actually, well, oppose the Real Good Talker's plans to spend trillions more dollars that the country doesn't have.
That kind of phony naivete sounds normal in the Windy City where uncooperative citizens can find themselves and their licensed businesses enduring a plethora of building and health inspections and citations, along with unexplained stoppages in garbage collections, etc.
In the interests of bipartisanship and passing the president's doomed jobs bill, Axelrod called the D.C. opposition "the most ideological, partisan group of Republicans in my lifetime." Axelrod was born Feb. 22, 1955.
Still, despite all those adverse winds in the Windy City and across the country, Axelrod said he was confident that President Obama would sail through these troubled waters and not become yet another Democratic president like Truman, Johnson or Carter, who were terminated by popular demand after one elected term.
“We’re on the right side of the fight and I believe we’re going to win that fight,” he said.
Chris Christie, the wildly popular northeastern governor -- at least in GOP circles -- spoke in soaring terms on the subject of American exceptionalism Tuesday evening at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Foundation in Simi Valley.
The theme of the official speech was American exceptionalism -- delivered to an audience that included Nancy Reagan, former California Gov. Pete Wilson and conservative activist Andrew Breitbart.
But the theme of the Q&A that followed was about whether the New Jersey governor would jump into the 2012 Republican presidential race.
(Ciick here andhere for a two-part video; and here for the full text, courtesy of The Weekly Standard.)
But first, he was asked about a subject that caused some trouble for a declaredcandidate, Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, in the last GOP debate down in Florida. Defending his decision with the Texas Legislature to grant discounted in-state tuition rates to children of illegal aliens, Perry had said:
"If you say that we should not educate children who have come into our state for no other reason than they've been brought there by no fault of their own, I don't think you have a heart."
Christie took exception to that:
As for the education expense, I've dealt with this problem in New Jersey, and I need to be crystal clear about it. I want every child to be educated, but I do not believe that, for the people who came here illegally, that we should be subsidizing, with taxpayer money, through in-state tuition, their education.
Let me be very clear, from my perspective, that is not a heartless position. That is a common-sense position.
The next questioner addressed the presidential campaign: "Gov. Christie, you're known as a straight-shooter, not one given to playing games. Can you tell us what's going on here? Are you reconsidering or are you standing firm?"
"Listen," said Christie, "I have to tell you the truth -- you folks are an incredible disappointment as an audience." That got big laughs. "The fact that it took to the second question shows you people are off your game. That is not American exceptionalism."
That got bigger laughs.
But then the governor referred his listeners to Politico.com, which today posted a video compilation of Christie's denials that he's running.
Check it out below:
But that didn't retire the subject.
A few minutes later, after Christie told a story about his entitlement curbs earning him boos from some firefighters, ending with, "Real leaders, they don't read polls; they change polls" -- it came up again.
A former New Jersey resident, now in California, praised the governor, said he made her proud and then told him, "My Italian mother, she told me to tell you, you gotta run for president."
After a big burst of cheers and applause, Christie said, "Well, I'm going to press my luck here and respond to that. If I make you proud to be a New Jerseyan and proud to be an American, and your Italian mother wants me to run for president, what the hell are you doing in California? Get back to New Jersey.
"Let's go. Come home, for God's sake. What are you doing out here? I got a plane, you can come right back now if you want. Yeah, come on, meet me by the side over there, we'll take you home ... Getting more taxpayers, one at a time."
But it wasn't over yet.
The very next questioner, an older woman in the balcony, made an earnest plea for him to get into the race.
"Go home and really think about it," she said at the end. "Do it for my daughter, do it for our grandchildren, do it for our sons. Please, sir, don't ... we need you. Your country needs you."
The crowd roared and rose to its feet, while Christie stood, with a stricken and emotional look on his face. But, stricken or not, he had an answer, and here it is:
"This is all I'll say about this tonight, is that I hear exactly what you're saying, and I feel the passion with which you say it. It touches me. I can tell you, I'm just a kid from New Jersey who feels like I'm the luckiest guy in the world to have the opportunity that I have to be the governor of my state.
"So, people say to me all the time now, when folks like you say those kinds of things, for as many months as it's been said, 'Governor, why don't they just leave you alone? You've already given your answer. Isn't it a burden?'
"What I say to you tonight and say to everybody else who was nice enough to applaud what she said, is that it isn't a burden.
"The fact of the matter is, anybody who has an ego large enough to say, 'Oh, please, please, please, stop asking me to be the leader of the free world, it's such a burden. If you could please just stop.' What kind of crazy egomaniac would you have to be to say, 'Oh, please stop, stop.'
"It's extraordinarily flattering. But by the same token, that heartfelt message you gave me is also not a reason for me to do it. The reason has to reside inside me.
"And so, that's what I've said all along. I know, without ever having met President Reagan, that he must have felt deeply in his heart that he was called to that moment, to lead our country.
"And so, my answer to you is this, I thank you for what you're saying, and I take it in, and I'm listening to every word of it and feeling it, too. Please don't ever think for a second that I feel like I'm important enough in this world that somehow what you're saying is a problem for me. It's a great, great honor. I'm extraordinarily flattered, and I really appreciate you being willing to stand up and say it with the passion that you did.
"That's why this country is a great place, because of folks like you. So, thank you very much."
And with that, the governor left, perhaps finally putting this issue to rest -- or so he hopes, anyway.
Meanwhile, Rep. Ron Paul, who's on his third presidential run, and Gov. Mitt Romney, who's been running steadily since before the 2007 primaries, have to wonder, Where's the love? as the GOP faithful rush to Perry (at least they did, for a while), beg non-candidates Christie and Sarah Palin to run, and deliver longshot Herman Cain a decisive win in the Florida GOP straw poll.
There still seems to be a hole in Republican hearts.
Yes, we are a few days late getting through an accumulated pile of reading. But better late than never in this case.
These are the worthy remarks of Robert Gates, the newly-former secretary of Defense and former numerous other things in government and the intelligence community.
They are not very long, as Washington remarks go. But then Gates didn't give them in Washington. He spoke in Philadelphia on Sept. 22 at the National Constitution Center upon receiving its Liberty Medal.
You should read them because of the man's intelligence, thoughtfulness and long experience in our troubled national capitol. Freed from the team loyalty obligations of serving one administration or another, he speaks more candidly than we've seen him on the Sunday talk shows.
Gates, an Eagle Scout from Kansas who just turned 68, has some pointed observations to make about why Washington has become so dysfunctional. (You can skip over the divisive media part; he obviously doesn't know what he's talking about.)
-- Andrew Malcolm
Liberty Medal Acceptance Speech by Robert Gates, as provided by the National Constitution Center
First of all, I am deeply honored. Thank you, Captain Odierno and Sergeant Graham.
Captain, I’ve had some interaction with your father over time; you follow in a great tradition. And I thank you for both of your service to your country and for the outstanding work of the organizations you represent.
First of all, I would say that this evening is a reminder that astrology exists to give....
The news wasn't so good for the Republican presidential candidate who occupies the governor's office down there in Texas.
With their space-age podiums, cheering (or booing) audiences and their gotcha questions from media folks with their own makeup assistants, debates realistically have nothing to do with anything any president of any party would ever face in the Oval Office.
Debates do, however, have everything to do with how American voters perceive a candidate for president. How informed, well-spoken, straightforward, candid, quick, attentive do they look?
The Texas governor had suffered through two debate performances that could charitably be described as mediocre. He hardly looked presidential on the stage or up to the executive expectations that had pushed him to the front of the pack in polls.
Now came new polling showing his prime competitor surging to the lead in the important first primary state of New Hampshire.
Was this the end of his short presidential campaign? Or the end of the beginning in a very long presidential campaign for the White House?
No, this isn't the story of Gov. Rick Perry's presidential campaign, which turns 45 days old today.
This is a cautionary tale about reading too much into the early debate showings of any party's candidates, no matter how good or bad. Our esteemed and shall we say very veteran colleague Mark Barabak, calls our attention to a news story written almost 12 years ago, by him, as a matter of fact:
After his less-than-commanding performance in two presidential debates, George W. Bush faces a tougher race than expected amid growing signs of Republican discontent--including a new poll that shows major slippage in the key primary state of New Hampshire.
As it turned out, of course, John McCain did stay ahead of Bush in New Hampshire that cycle and whomped him good on primary day by about 15 points. The next morning, with aides vowing to get serious, the Bush campaign moved on to South Carolina, where the Texan won.
And the rest, as they say, is history that Barack Obama reminds us all about every few hours.
These campaigns are long and grueling, as they should be to determine the minds and mettle of the wannabes. John F. Kennedy announced his candidacy on Jan. 3 of that 1960 election year. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama announced in February, 21 months before the election.
Just as the substantial early TV audiences watch and study the 2011 debates, so do the candidates and their advisors. Besides the content, they're advised on how not to look bored, how and when to move a hand, when to point, how one particular expression dangerously resembles a sneer. (Remember Al Gore's infamous sighs from 2000?)
Watch Romney. This is his second rodeo. He's always paying attention to the others, often graciously grants part of their point and then moves to drive his home. Another respected colleague, Robin Abcarian, examined Perry's studied motions apparently mimicking Reaganesque movements.
Who's got a big enough DVR memory? But if anyone compared these early Republican debates to ones coming next winter, they'd see radically improved performances by the surviving candidates.
Top economic advisors to President Obama warned him a year ago about the serious political and financial risks of the Energy Department's loan guarantee program that has resulted in taxpayers likely being responsible for the loss of $527 million loaned to the politically-connected California solar firm Solyndra.
That loan is currently under investigation by a House subcommittee and the FBI, which raided company offices earlier this month.
Obama visited the Solyndra plant in 2010, touting it as a shining example of his program to simultaneously boost the U.S. green-energy industry and create new jobs. Last winter the Energy Dept. restructured the more than half-billion dollar loan to the troubled firm.
But on Aug. 31 the company, whose major owner was also a major fundraising bundler for the 2008 Obama-Biden campaign, filed for bankruptcy and eliminated most of its 1,100 jobs.
In a detailed story posted overnight, The Times' Tom Hamburg, Kim Geiger and Matea Gold outline the danger signals set off in October 2010 when secretary of the Treasury Tim Geithner and chief economic advisor Lawrence Summers warned the president that Energy's vetting process was not stringent enough to weed out troubled applicants in advance.
Energy Secy. Steven Chu, who like Obama holds a Nobel Prize, was eager to push through applications by 30 companies for the program's $17 billion. He wanted even less oversight from Treasury.
The story has developed legs for two reasons:
One, it hints at possible high-level political favoritism using taxpayer dollars in risky ventures with well-connected business people, what some have labeled "crony capitalism."
And, two, it's a classic example of the fundamental ongoing D.C. debate over government's proper role in the economy and the financial dangers to taxpayer funds inherent when officials and bureaucrats, not free market forces, pick corporate winners and losers.
Pencil this into your calendar for future political debate throughout 2012.
Whenever a White House makes it easy to photograph a president doing something, the first question is always, "Why this?"
Most of the scores of times President Obama has gone golfing with aides and pals, the media pool is kept waiting out of camera range in a food court.
Some silly people have suggested that instead of staying secluded with well-paid staff who already like him, the aloof Obama could put such recreational buddy-buddy time to good political use by issuing prestigious presidential invites to a variety of people to come along and get to know each other better. And, who knows, maybe let them lift a presidential golf ball or towel.
Remember, Obama tried this one time last summer with House Speaker John A. Boehner.
It's the sort of social networking regularly used to cement friendships and sales in private business, about which, to use Mitt Romney's colorful phrase, Obama is "clueless."
Saturday, surprisingly, the pool media representatives were ushered to a convenient green just in time to catch two famous guys putting out.
In this photo above, the successful husband of secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is obviously explaining to the struggling Obama how a capitalist society works.
It's the economy, stupid.
Bill Clinton, who's publicly disagreed with a few Obama ideas like raising taxes at this time, is the only Democrat elected to two White House terms in three-quarters of a century. Next year, Obama would like to become the second. At the moment, the odds of success aren't looking too good.
Hence, the Obama White House's willingness to show the beleaguered No. 44 seeking advice from the far more popular No. 42.
A veteran foreign and national correspondent, Andrew Malcolm has served on the L.A. Times Editorial Board and was a Pulitzer finalist in 2004. He is the author of 10 nonfiction books and father of four. Read more.