Discuss as:

First Thoughts: Eyeing the general election

With nearly eight months until IA and NH, Romney is acting and sounding like the GOP nominee… But is this all a primary strategy?... Obama talks manufacturing in Pittsburgh at 11:00 am ET… The oil stimulus… Obama, as expected, didn’t back gay marriage last night, but came close… Christie once again says no to 2012… The importance of Grover  Norquist… Today’s National Right to Life convention in FL… And Des Moines Register poll comes out Saturday night.

*** Eyeing the general election… : A funny thing has happened in the past week: Mitt Romney, more and more, is acting and sounding like the GOP’s general-election nominee. In advance of President Obama’s visit to Pittsburgh today, Romney pre-butted the appearance giving an interview to the Pittsburgh Tribune ("The president has failed the American people on the economy," he told the paper.) We learned he’s holding an upcoming fundraiser in London (even though he criticized Obama in his announcement speech for taking his inspiration “from the capitals of Europe”). Politico reports what everyone expects: that Romney will lap the GOP field in fundraising for the second quarter. And yesterday came news that Romney allies are creating a Super PAC -- which can raise and spend unlimited money -- to go head-to-head with one formed by Obama allies. Romney even quipped last week to a New Hampshire lumber company owner that the next time he’ll be back is in four years, when he’ll “probably have Secret Service.” And these are just the latest examples of Romney appearing to look past the primaries…

***… with nearly eight months to go until IA and NH: Asked if Team Romney is already eyeing the general election, spokeswoman Andrea Saul didn’t deny it: “This election is a referendum on President Obama and his failure to create jobs. Mitt Romney … has made restoring American competitiveness and growing our economy to create good jobs the central goals of his campaign.” But as Howard Dean, Hillary Clinton, and even Romney himself know well, winning the summer before primary season isn’t a guarantee of winning the nomination. After all, we have nearly eights to go before Iowa and New Hampshire. And as one of us already asked this week, does Romney’s general-election focus risk alienating GOP primary voters? Pawlenty spokesman Alex Conant tells First Read: “Anybody who wants to be the Republican nominee needs to do well in the early states of Iowa and New Hampshire, and be able to make a sharp contrast with President Obama on issues like individual mandates and health care. Tim Pawlenty will.”

*** But is it all about primary strategy? Yet one Romney ally makes this important point: His acting and sounding like the GOP nominee is all about the winning the primary. “The candidate and the organization fully recognize that this is a nomination that has to be earned from Republican voters,” the ally tells First Read. “It's a wide-open race and it will be very competitive.” But: “To win the nomination, you have to prove to Republican voters you have the best message, best organization and the ability to beat President Obama and what is expected to be a billion-dollar campaign organization on his behalf. Bracketing the president in Pittsburgh and organizing financial support from supporters currently overseas shows a candidate and an organization promoting a contrast with Obama on the number one issue, the economy.” In fact, the same ally contended, Romney isn’t alienating primary voters, but connecting with them because of his focus on the economy.

*** The oil stimulus: As mentioned above, Obama delivers a speech at 11:00 am ET at Carnegie Mellon University's National Robotics Engineering Center in Pittsburgh. Per the White House, his remarks will highlight the importance of manufacturing, and he’s unveiling a new initiative (the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership), which will encourage industry and universities to work together to devise innovations in domestic manufacturing. Yet the biggest economic news for Obama came yesterday, when the U.S. -- along with the International Energy Agency -- decided to release a combined 60 million barrels of oil to bring down fuel prices. Make no mistake: This is designed to provide more stimulus to the U.S. and world economy. The Washington Post: “In a note to clients, Eurasia Group analyst Greg Priddy called the stockpile release ‘stimulus’ by other means.’ With a key Federal Reserve program that bolsters the economy coming to an end, he said, ‘it seems policymakers in the executive branch, in the U.S. and elsewhere, have decided to pull another arrow from their quiver.’”

*** Obama didn’t back gay marriage, but came close: As expected, Obama didn’t fully back gay marriage at last night’s LGBT fundraiser in New York City, but he got close. "Yes, we have more work to do. Yes, we have more progress to make. Yes, I expect continued impatience with me on occasion. But understand this -- look, I think of teenagers like the one who wrote me, and they remind me that there should be impatience when it comes to the fight for basic equality.  We've made enormous advances just in these last two and a half years. But there are still young people out there looking for us to do more." He concluded, "If you keep up the fight, and if you will devote your time and your energies to this campaign one more time, I promise you we will write another chapter in that story [of progress]."

*** Christie once again says no on 2012: In an appearance on “TODAY,” where he talked about his bipartisan budget deal in New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie once again said no on a 2012 presidential bid. “There is no different answer,” he said. “I am governor. I want to be governor.” When NBC’s Matt Lauer followed up if this means “no,” Christie answered in the affirmative. He said he wants the GOP to have a strong general-election nominee in 2012. “But it is not going to be me.” Also in the interview, Christie suggested his bipartisan deal should serve as a model to President Obama and congressional Republicans. “Everybody needs to take risk; everybody needs to bring skin in the game.” And he took this shot at Obama when Lauer asked what should be taking place on in the debt negotiations: “First, the president can show up.” Christie also appears on “Meet the Press” this weekend.

 *** The importance of Grover Norquist: When House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and GOP Sen. Jon Kyl walked away from the bipartisan debt talks yesterday, they didn’t blame Vice President Biden and the Democrats for negotiating in bad faith. They also didn’t cite an unwillingness to offer cuts or touch entitlement programs like Medicare. Instead, both Cantor and Kyl walked away because of tax increases. “The Democrats continue to insist that any deal must include tax increases,” Cantor said in a statement. House Speaker John Boehner later added, "These conversations could continue if they take the tax hikes out of the conversation." How did any kind of tax increase become non-negotiable -- when both Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush raised taxes, when tax levels are a decades-long low, when the U.S. is fighting three wars, and when polls show that tax hikes are acceptable to the public? Enter Grover Norquist.

*** His objective: to shrink government: Norquist is president of Americans for Tax Reform, and he created an anti-tax pledge beginning in 1986 for federal and state political candidates. The pledge bars them for supporting ANY tax increase on individuals and corporations, as well as any other revenue increases like eliminating certain tax credits. (The exception: It allows changes in deductions and credits if the same legislation offers an equal or greater tax reduction.) As of this month, 236 House members, 41 U.S. senators -- almost all of them Republicans -- had signed the pledge, including Boehner, Cantor, and Kyl. And Mitt Romney signed it yesterday once again. Norquist’s objective: to shrink the size of government by denying it tax revenue. “I don't want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub,” he told NPR in 2001. In an interview yesterday with First Read, Norquist said the drowning part was hyperbole. “I want it so small it could fit in the bathtub.”  

*** Democrats and Simpson fight back: Norquist doesn’t take credit for Cantor and Kyl walking away from the debt talks. But he says that the pledge makes politicians accountable for saying they won’t raise taxes. “He can’t weasel out of the pledge… Voters know the guy put it in writing.” Democrats believe Norquist and his pledge are chiefly responsible for blocking any kind of “grand bargain” on deficit reduction, with Democrats putting entitlement programs on the table and Republicans offering a compromise on tax revenue. So does one Republican, ex-Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson: “Grover needs to get some rest, and I'd love to see him somehow come out for something instead of against,” Simpson said last year. Norquist’s retort to Simpson: “He just name calls. He just wants a tax increase. He can’t have one.”

*** But are extra revenues on the table? Yet what Simpson called for when co-chairing Obama’s deficit-reduction commission -- eliminating some tax deductions and subsidies as a way to boost revenues -- is still being considered by some Republicans. On MSNBC yesterday, Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo, who has been working with other senators on deficit reduction, said: “Revenue does need to be brought to the table.” But Norquist says that any focus on tax deductions and subsidies should be part of a separate tax-reform effort. “Tax reform is one issue, and spending reform is another issue.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office agrees. “It’s a big, complicated effort that [McConnell] said will be done separately, as it can’t be done by Aug. 1,” said spokesman Don Stewart.

*** Addressing National Right to Life: A few Republican presidential hopefuls today will address the National Right to Life convention taking place in Jacksonville, FL. Herman Cain, Rick Santorum, and Ron Paul are scheduled to directly address the audience, while Bachmann and Pawlenty will speak via skype.

*** Weekend heads up: The Des Moines Register poll gauging the early 2012 GOP Iowa field will be released at 10:00 pm ET on Saturday.

*** On the 2012 trail: Elsewhere today, Huntsman campaigns in Nevada.

Countdown to Iowa GOP straw poll: 50 days
Countdown to NV-2 special election: 81 days
Countdown to Election Day 2011: 137 days
Countdown to the Iowa caucuses: 227 days
* Note: When the IA caucuses take place depends on whether other states move up

Click here to sign up for First Read emails.
Text FIRST to 622639, to sign up for First Read alerts to your mobile phone.
Check us out on Facebook and also on Twitter.