TPM News

Mitt Romney is again slamming the White House for its handling of the auto bailout, calling it "crony capitalism on a grand scale" in an op-ed in The Detroit News. And once again, Democrats are responding that if Romney had been in charge, the auto industry would be dead and millions of jobs with it. Lost in all the infighting is this: Romney's proposal, in some of the particulars, was not so different from what wound up happening.

If you're confused, you should be.

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Mitt Romney's current situation is not unlike that of the GOP overall. The party has long sought to make the 2012 conversation all about the economy, identifying that as President Obama's weak spot. But with polls now showing Americans growing more confident in an economic recovery, the GOP -- and Mitt Romney -- has a problem.

So far the solution has been to pivot back to the culture war. It doesn't seem too much of a coincidence that the GOP picked a fight on birth control and "religious freedom" shortly after economic indicators picked up. Nor does it seem a coincidence that Romney -- who based practically his whole campaign on the economy -- is now touting his culturally conservative bona fides. And it really doesn't seem a coincidence that he's doing it now that he's facing down a brand new surging opponent: the proudly hardcore Catholic Rick Santorum.

Romney devoted much of his speech at CPAC to telling people he was the guy who kept Massachusetts from "from becoming the Las Vegas of same sex marriage." He's using that line on the stump now, too, as this clip from a Romney rally in Mesa, AZ Monday shows.

You can almost hear the Santorum campaign doing a spit-take.

"Gov. Romney going toe to toe with Rick Santorum on social issues is like Ryan Seacrest going toe to toe with Mike Tyson," Santorum communications director Hogan Gidley told TPM in an email Tuesday.

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Glenn Beck is borrowing a line from Mike Huckabee to launch a new campaign aimed at helping Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) get his bill allowing employers to decide whether or not they want to cover contraceptives amended to the transportation bill. Blunt has said he would "like to get it on a bill the President has to sign," and Beck seems determined to help him.

Beck -- a Mormon, for the record -- is launching a "We are all Catholics now" campaign that will urge his listeners and followers to lobby Congress to attach the amendment to the transprotation bill. Details here

From the guide to the campaign for Beck listeners: 

4. When you call, be sure to tell them “We are all Catholics now”. This key phrase will let them know you are part of a larger, organized movement working in support of religious freedom.

At CPAC last week, Huckabee debuted the "we are all Catholics now" line in his speech to the conservative audience. 

Rick Santorum is leading in Michigan. Nate Silver at the New York Times gives him a 77% chance of beating Romney in the state he grew up in. Still, Santorum seems to be tamping down expectations. In Boise, Idaho yesterday, Santorum told reporters, "I'm used to running in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania and Michigan have a lot of similarities. We hope we can plant our flag there and do well, and hopefully finish a good strong second." Santorum has a point; you never know what will happen after two weeks of negative ads against you. 

Republicans have taken to describing President Obama's budget as "deficits built to last" -- a play on Obama's call for an economy built to last. The implication: hand the government over to us, and we'll rid the budget of this deficit scourge. Put aside for a moment that wiping out deficits too fast would be economically disastrous, leading to rocketing unemployment rates. The truth is there are plenty of budget proposals out there, including Paul Ryan's "Path To Prosperity," which was endorsed by nearly every Republican in Congress. And these also project significant deficits well into the future.

Of course, Obama's budget is very substantively different from Paul Ryan's Path to Prosperity. Obama's would draw down deficits over the coming decade with a mix of proposed tax increases on high income earners and corporations, already enacted spending cuts, and additional cuts to health care spending and other programs. But it maintains the basic shape of the existing safety net over the long term. Ryan's calls for huge cuts to the safety net, for making Medicaid a block grant program, and, after a decade, for phasing out Medicare. But he proposes significant tax cuts at the same time.

And even with all that slashing, just what does that do to the projected deficit? The chart below tells you quite starkly:

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The new Quinnipiac poll of Ohio, a big state that is holding its primary on the March 6 Super Tuesday, shows Rick Santorum with the lead in a three-way fight.

The numbers: Santorum 36%, Romney 29%, and Gingrich 20%, followed by Paul with 9%. The survey of Republican voters was conducted form February 7-12, and has a ±4.2% margin of error.

In the previous Quinnipiac poll from mid-January, Romney led with a very similar number of 27%, followed by Santorum 18%, Gingrich 17%, Paul 10%, Perry 4%, and Huntsman 2%.

Iran has begun loading fuel rods into its own nuclear reactor in northern Tehran, reports the AP:

The official IRNA news agency said President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad inserted the first Iranian-made rod into the reactor in northern Tehran, and state TV broadcast live images from the ceremony with Iranian nuclear experts briefing Ahmadinejad on the process.



The Rick Santorum campaign is up with a new 30 second spot in Michigan, but it seems made in such a way as to buy free air time on cable news and by going viral on the internet. 

The ad, which is backed by the raucous overture from Carmen, depicts a Mitt Romney lookalike running through what seems to be a disused factory or warehouse (a subtle reference to Bain "asset-stripping"?) trying to shoot a moving cardboard cutout of Rick Santorum with mud fired from a rifle. Ultimately, the weapon backfires, covering Romney's white shirt in the grime.

You can watch it below:

At least 272 people were killed after a fire tore through a prison in central Honduras, the AFP reports

"The situation is serious," prisons director Danilo Orellana said Wednesday. "Most have suffocated"

Orellana said the fire did not appear to have been caused by a riot.