Friday, February 12, 2016


Ben Terris of The Washington Post writes about South Carolina's reputation for below-the-belt presidential politicking:
“The hallmarks of the South Carolina dirty tricks are: high impact, low tech, high deniability,” said Joel Sawyer, a GOP consultant based in Columbia. “The more salacious the better. And the people that do these kinds of things know their audience -- they are going to play to the fears of the blue-collar South Carolinians and know these tricks are going to be impactful.”

The late GOP campaign consultant Lee Atwater is remembered as the patron saint of aggressive South Carolina politics. In 1980, he used push polls to link Democratic congressional candidate Tom Turnipseed to the NAACP -- a scary notion for some white suburbanites -- and spread rumors that as a depressive child Turnipseed had been “hooked up to jumper cables.” Atwater later became an adviser to Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush and chaired the Republican National Committee.

His tactics are still very much in play. It feels like just yesterday when anonymous phone calls went out around the state asking primary voters in 2000 if they would be “more likely or less likely to vote for John McCain for president if [they] knew he had fathered an illegitimate black child?”
Curiously, it's also the state where candidates -- and, presumably, voters -- get the vapors when people use bad words:
Mr. Rubio expressed disgust with Mr. Trump’s use of obscene language earlier this week, describing how his two young sons had watched a news clip of Mr. Trump insulting Senator Ted Cruz on the eve of Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary. When the boys, age 8 and 10, asked their father what word had been bleeped out, Mr. Rubio said, he was at a loss.

“The commentator said it was another word for cat,” Mr. Rubio said in an interview on Thursday aboard his campaign plane, which touched down here for a rally. “My boys wanted to know, ‘What was the word? What was the word?’ I said, ‘I can’t tell you.’ I had to make something up. And it bothered me.”

“I think you can be a straight talker,” he added, “but yet do it in a way that doesn’t offend.”
Meanwhile the head of Jeb Bush's communications team is trying to paint Rubio as anti-family because he denounces certain aspects of pop culture despite being a self-proclaimed hip-hop fan, as noted in a McClatchy article:

Why do dirty tricks and loud proclamations of "family values" coexist so well in South Carolina?

I'm a Northerner. I say if a state or locality is going to be nasty and sleazy, it should be that way across the board -- don't craft the best sleaze and then act all holy the next day.


This is news:
First Nevada Poll In Weeks Shows Sanders Tied With Clinton
Or is it?
A Washington Free Beacon/TargetPoint Consulting poll released Friday shows between Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sander (I-VT) in Nevada. It's the first poll conducted in the state this year.

The poll showed support for Clinton and Sanders tied at 45 percent of respondents.
This is, to put it mildly, an outlier:
In December, a Gravis Marketing survey showed Clinton up by 23 percent.
Should we believe this poll? It's from the conservative Washington Free Beacon. The pollster is TargetPoint Consulting, a GOP linked firm that's provided microtargeting data to the Republican National Committee, Bush Cheney '04, and Mitt Romney's 2012 campaign. Nate Silver has said that, as a polling firm, it "has a pretty strong Republican lean." At one point in 2008, it published a poll showing John McCain beating Barack Obama in Colorado by 12 points, at a time when all other polls of the state showed Obama leading. (Obama ultimately won Colorado by 9 points.)

And while the first half of the poll seems legit, with no controversial questions leading up to (and thus biasing the results for) the "whom do you think you would vote for?" question, the survey finishes up with questions intended either to turn voters against the two Democrats or to test lines of attack that can be used by Republican opponents. Here are those questions:
While Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State, the Clinton Foundation received millions in foreign donations and did not disclose them, despite her promising President Obama that she would do so. Does this make you more or less likely to support her?

Bernie Sanders says he wants to increase taxes on corporations in order to improve income equality, while other say this money would go to pay for new government spending programs. Does this make you more or less likely to support him?

Hillary Clinton supported the Wall Street bailout and big banks have given her over $1.6 million dollars in campaign contributions and speaking fees. Does this make you more or less likely to support her?

Bernie Sanders has proposed trillions in new government spending, including $15 trillion dollars more for a government run health care program. Does this make you more or less likely to support him?

Recently several news organizations have reported that the FBI could indict Hillary Clinton over her handling of her email server. How concerned are you that she could actually face such an indictment?
(If you care, the first two Clinton items are a matter of concern for respondents, though the final Clinton item and the Sanders items aren't.)

This is a poll conducted in the service of the GOP. It might be reliable. But I take it with a grain of salt.


This clip is a few days old, but it's delightful. In it, Michael Savage -- right-wing radio host, Donald Trump fan, and borderline personality disorder poster child -- tells us that he thinks Fox's Megyn Kelly is mentally ill, the evidence being ... her hair.

SAVAGE: I can't wait till the hag gets at them, at the next debate. What is she doing, that one, the one from Fox News? What is the hairdo?

The hairdo indicates derangement. The hairdo that she has -- and I have studied women, and I've studied men, my whole life -- the hairdo that Kelly has right now indicates derangement to me. She looks herself in the mirror, she rips her hair out, then they have to cut it short in order to not show that she tore it out, because she knows that her face is changing like a portrait of Doriana Gray.

Have you seen the nostrils on her? Her face is changing. The meaner she gets, the more porcine she looks. Underneath that beautiful persona there was actually a porcine individual. So now, what, is she trying to become Rachel Maddow?

I don't know how meaningful this rant is. I want to see it as a sign of a huge conservative crack-up, or at least a right-wing rebellion against Fox News for being only partly in the bag for Trump, but I know that Savage routinely lashes out this way, even against the people who should be his political allies, and conservatism has survived. Still, if you're a connoisseur of derangement, it's choice stuff.

Savage has built a great career on this kind of drunk-at-the-end-of-the-bar vitriol, aimed most of the time at Democrats and liberals -- a decade ago he was the third most listened-to radio talk show host in America, and by 2009 he'd moved into second place -- but if you were a respectable media figure, you weren't supposed to notice or acknowledge this. In those days, when Keith Olbermann routinely named Savage "the worst person in the world," or at least a runner-up, it was Olbermann who was denounced for intemperance. "Worst person in the world"! That's the kind of hateful talk that's dividing America! And meanwhile, it was people Savage and his right-wing media allies who were working the hardest to divide us. (Here he is, for instance, in 2007, denouncing a liberal critic of his show as "the type that stuffed ovens in Hitler's concentration camps.")

In one of the rare moments when Savage got mainstream media attention at all at the peak of his career, he was profiled by The New Yorker's Kelefa Sanneh -- and portrayed not as a hatemonger, but as a deeply complex existential hipster:
Even in this world of born-again refuseniks, Michael Savage is an anomaly: a heretic among heretics.

... Savage’s regular listeners ... know him to be, more days than not, a marvellous storyteller, a quirky thinker, and an incorrigible free-associater. He sometimes sounds less like a political commentator than like the star of a riveting and unusually vivid one-man play ... or a fugitive character out of a Philip Roth novel. Savage seems resigned to the fact that the majority of Americans, including many of his own listeners, just don’t get it -- just don’t get him -- and never will. He is a permanent resident of the political wilderness, sending daily dispatches back to the diseased civilization that the rest of us call home....
(Sanneh is the same reporter who recently told The New Yorker's readers that Martin Shkreli isn't really that bad a guy.)

A culture that ignored or downplayed the vileness of talk radio for decades is now shocked that there's an audience for Donald Trump. But the audience was always there, sitting by the AM receiver every day. Alternet's Adam Johnson has argued that Trump stole his entire act from Savage, and he notes that Trump gave his first radio interview to Savage after he joined the presidential race. But to the mainstream media, Savage was too vile to fit the narrative of a spirited but ultimately responsible conservative movement, so he was just ignored. And now maybe Savage has birthed Trump, and the GOP and Fox are in Trump's crosshairs. So now we're paying attention.

Thursday, February 11, 2016


There have been whispers of a possible Jim Webb third-party presidential bid this week:
Former Democratic presidential contender Jim Webb is speaking in Dallas today, and he may be ready to re-enter the race -- as an independent.

Speculation that Webb, a former Viriginia senator, might attempt such a bid began soon after he left the Democratic race in October. He’s appearing before the World Affairs Council of Dallas/Fort Worth today and will reportedly announce his decision.
But it's not going to happen:
Former Virginia Senator Jim Webb, who ran a brief campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2015, said Thursday he won't mount an independent presidential bid.

“Theoretically it could be done, but it is enormously costly and time sensitive, and I don’t see the fundraising trajectory where we could make a realistic run,” Webb planned to say during a foreign policy speech in Dallas, according to prepared remarks provided by spokesman Craig Crawford.
I'm sorry he won't run -- simply because, even though he now considers himself a Democrat, he would have taken far more votes away from the Republican candidate than the Democratic candidate. Yes, Webb can occasionally be skeptical of the use of military power, and yes, he can be an economic populist. But he's also a guy who posted this on his Facebook page a week after Dylann Roof massacred nine black churchgoers:
This is an emotional time and we all need to think through these issues with a care that recognizes the need for change but also respects the complicated history of the Civil War. The Confederate Battle Flag has wrongly been used for racist and other purposes in recent decades. It should not be used in any way as a political symbol that divides us.

But we should also remember that honorable Americans fought on both sides in the Civil War, including slave holders in the Union Army from states such as Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland and Delaware, and that many non-slave holders fought for the South. It was in recognition of the character of soldiers on both sides that the federal government authorized the construction of the Confederate Memorial 100 years ago, on the grounds of Arlington National Cemetery.

This is a time for us to come together, and to recognize once more that our complex multicultural society is founded on the principle of mutual respect.
Max Rosenthal and Tim Murphy of Mother Jones have noted that this is a hobbyhorse of Webb's:
Webb ... has two relatives who served in the Confederate Army.... In a 1990 speech at the Confederate Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery, which Webb called a "deeply inspiring memorial," he argued that Confederate soldiers' "enormous suffering and collective gallantry are to this day still misunderstood by most Americans."

... In his 2004 book Born Fighting, a popular history of Scots-Irish immigrants in the United States, Webb complained that present-day attacks on the Confederacy and the Confederate flag were part of "the Nazification of the Confederacy."
This is a fixation Webb shared with a long-time political adviser:
Webb's longtime strategist, Dave "Mudcat" Saunders, is an even more ardent fan and defender of the Confederacy. As the New Yorker reported in 2008, Saunders "sleeps under a Rebel-flag quilt, and when challenged on such matters he has invited his inquisitors to 'kiss my Rebel ass' -- his way of making the point that when Democrats are drawn into culture battles by prissy liberal sensitivities they usually lose the larger war." Saunders is currently advising Webb on his potential presidential campaign.
Both Democratic contenders embrace a multi-ethnic America. Both were opponents of the Vietnam War, in which Webb served. It's hard to imagine that there are very many Americans who would have voted for Webb but said Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders was the second choice. Webb, I'm sure, would've taken votes from the GOP candidate, whoever it might be -- especially Trump, a guy at least some cultural conservatives recognize as a Johnny-come-lately to both conservatism and militarism, particularly given his avoidance of the Vietnam draft.

Webb would have been a second Republican in the race. He wouldn't have run up much of a vote total, but maybe, like Nader, he would have flipped a close state or two to the Democrats. (Virginia? North Carolina?) Too bad he's out.


This is not a post about Marco Rubio -- I've done enough of those lately -- although Rubio figures prominently in it. His campaign is not the only one talking like this:
... Marco Rubio suddenly faces a path to his party's presidential nomination that could require a brokered national convention.

That's according to Rubio's campaign manager, Terry Sullivan, who told The Associated Press that this week's disappointing performance in New Hampshire will extend the Republican nomination fight for another three months, if not longer....

"We very easily could be looking at May -- or the convention," Sullivan said aboard Rubio's charter jet from New Hampshire to South Carolina on Wednesday. "I would be surprised if it's not May or the convention."
This echoes what former senator Judd Gregg, a Jeb Bush backer, told The New York Times immediately after the New Hampshire primary:
Former Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire said Republican voters would either coalesce behind a single challenger to Mr. Trump and Mr. Cruz after the South Carolina primary or risk a free-for-all stretched out over 50 states. “We’ll know after South Carolina,” said Mr. Gregg, who is a Bush supporter. “I mean, if four people come out of South Carolina, we’re into a brokered convention.”
I know, I know: These are backers of two candidates hanging on by their fingernails. But it's conceivable that the two of them might persist, and make some headway, while Ted Cruz and Donald Trump also fight it out. Would Establishment donors keep funding Bush and Rubio in the desperate hope of forcing a brokered convention? Could they pull that off?

Meanwhile, on the Democratic side, it turns out that the blowout in New Hampshire was actually a tie:
Hillary Clinton is expected to leave New Hampshire with just as many delegates as Bernie Sanders, even after he crushed her in Tuesday’s presidential primary.

Sanders won 15 delegates with his 20-point victory Tuesday while Clinton won nine.

But Clinton came into the contest with the support of six superdelegates, who are state party insiders given the freedom to support any candidate they choose.
I still think Hillary Clinton is the prohibitive favorite to win the Democratic nomination, just as I think it's going to be Trump or Cruz on the first ballot for Republicans. But what if Sanders gets close, but not close enough? Could Clinton win just on the basis of superdelegates?

Chris Hayes thinks that possibility would set off a wave of outrage:

These are highly unlikely scenarios -- Clinton put over the top by superdelegates and Bush or Rubio (or Paul Ryan or Mitt Romney or...) picked by a brokered Republican convention. But they're theoretically possible. Maybe they add up to the across-the-board political system failure we deserve.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016


Marco Rubio may never bounce back from last Saturday's debate, but there are still folks in the media who are just aching for a miraculous recovery. Here's Jennifer Rubin at The Washington Post:
Rubio remains the best, and perhaps only, candidate who can unite all segments of the party around a smart, compelling and forward-looking message. He dug himself a hole, but in shoveling his way out he may demonstrate the sort of grit and authenticity voters are seeking.
And here's Michael Graham from The Weekly Standard:
Marco's Moment Is Now

No, not Saturday night’s debate: This is Marco's moment.

Getting knocked-down in New Hampshire does not have to be the end of Rubio's run for the GOP nomination. It could be the real beginning. It's all up to the junior senator from Florida....

The fact is, Marco Rubio probably needed something like this....

If Rubio can fight his way through this defeat and find a way to win, he could emerge as a stronger candidate than if he hadn't blown a key debate on the eve of the New Hampshire primary.
And hope springs eternal, as a CNN reporter tweets this:

That's a tease for this story, written by Raju and Tami Luhby:
Coming soon: Marco Rubio 2.0

The Republican candidate, who lost momentum this week after coming in fifth in New Hampshire, plans to take a more aggressive tone with some of his rivals -- especially if they attack him on the debate stage -- and is expected to showcase more of his affable personality in order to rebut criticism that he is a scripted candidate.

As one aide put it, "Let Marco be Marco."

Meanwhile, one of Rubio's best-known fans also weighs in, in despair:

Rubio may never rise from the dead, but if not, he will be mourned as a martyr.

(Graham link via Roy Edroso. Rubin link via Francis T.)


GOP establishmentarians seem to be completely demoralized this morning, as do the journalists who retransmit those establishmentarians' deepest hopes and fears. How demoralized? Check out this juxtaposition of headline and photo from Politico:

Rubio is the abyss? Rubio is staring at the abyss -- and the abyss is his prepared remarks? Your interpretation is probably as good as mine.

But shockingly, Jeb Bush, of all people, is doing a passable imitation of an alpha male. He's stolen one of the more successful pages from the Rubio playbook and is declaring that, if you really think about it, his fourth-place finish in New Hampshire was actually a victory. This is from The Hill:
Jeb Bush on Tuesday night touted his showing, now just 0.3 percentage points out of a tie for third place, as a win.

“Last Monday night, when the Iowa caucuses were complete, they said the race was now a three-person race between two present senators and a reality TV star,” the former Florida governor told a group of supporters at his primary watch party here....

The largely sedate crowd perked up when Bush took the stage, chanting "Jeb" when Bush bashed his Democratic and Republican rivals.

“And while the reality TV star is still doing well, it looks like you all have reset things.”

“We need someone who can defeat Hillary Clinton,” Bush told the crowd, again motivating his supporters to shout his name.
They're shouting his name! His own supporters! At his own rally! That must be a positive omen!

Meanwhile a Politico story by Alex Isenstadt tells us that Jeb's campaign is going to turn nasty:
Bush plans scorched-earth attack on Kasich, Rubio

Jeb Bush is already laying the groundwork for a brutal South Carolina campaign against establishment rivals John Kasich and Marco Rubio.

In an internal memo circulated late Tuesday evening, the campaign distributed talking points to top campaign aides and surrogates, highlighting lines of attack they plan to take against both candidates.

The memo suggests that Kasich, who campaigned extensively in New Hampshire, does not have a realistic path to winning the Republican nomination.

“Governor Kasich has little to no chance in South Carolina, and does not have a national organization that can compete,” the memo says. “Kasich has consistently supported gutting the military and has no viable path in the Palmetto State.”

The memo also outlines hard-hitting avenues of attack against Rubio, who for months has been in Bush’s crosshairs: “Senator Rubio has lost momentum and has been exposed as completely unprepared to be president,” it says, repeating an argument that Bush has used frequently against Rubio.

It adds: “Rubio has demonstrated no respect for the nomination process and expects this to be a coronation.”
Now, none of that sounds particularly nasty -- personally, I don't think you have to be a particularly tough guy to threaten John Kasich, or, post-robot, even Marco Rubio -- but Isenstadt has clearly swallowed the Bush campaign's spin. If Jeb has the media thinking he's tough and nasty, that's half the battle.

Now that he's left perhaps the only state in America where being a nebbish will actually win you Republican primary votes, maybe he should leave the campaign trail altogether and just let his attack ads and surrogates do the job for him. Maybe Chris Christie will quit the race and be a Thug for Jeb. The press really might start writing Jeb comeback stories if Wincing Jeb himself doesn't get in the way.

And then there's George W. and his new radio ad for Jeb, with this text:
This is President George W. Bush. We live in troubled times with the military deployed around the world. We need a strong leader with experience, ideas and resolve. There’s no doubt in my mind that Jeb Bush will be a great commander-in-chief for our military. Jeb has dealt with crises as the governor of Florida, and he did so with steadiness, and a calmness necessary in a good leader. He respects the military -- he honors their families. He can make the tough decision to keep Americans safe and our country free. And in a time of crisis, he will be a steady hand.
Who knows? Maybe that will play in South Carolina and, after that, in other Southern states. But if I were Jeb I'd try to go for the notion that "they" don't want "us" to acknowledge what a great commander in chief W. was, something Jeb will say even though it's "politically incorrect." Given the GOP electorate's addiction to self-righteous rage, it just might work.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016


Yeah, you're right -- at this moment Rubio's in fifth place, behind Trump, Kasich, Cruz, and Bush. Exit polls say that 65% of GOP primary voters said the last debate was important in their decision, and that clearly hurt Rubio. So, sure, the Establishment and media were rooting for him, but he's toast now.


Wait a minute...

Are we at that moment in the rom-com when the woman has totally written off the guy because he's done something stupid and unforgivable, but then you see her hand reach out toward him because the flame isn't really out, and then the next thing you know they're passionately making out?

And meanwhile, over at Fox:

Yeah, he'll get a do-over.


I keep telling you that -- Robotgate notwithstanding -- the Chris Hayes is right about how much the press wants Marco Rubio to succeed:

You can see it again in this post by Evan Osnos of The New Yorker. Yes, Osnos realizes that Rubio went all glitchy on Saturday night -- but it's only because there's a profound existential conflict taking place deep within Rubio's soul, a battle between Rubio's pragmatic, goal-oriented self and his thoughtful, world-embracing other self:
To watch Rubio up close is to see a man torn between two political identities. One of them is adventurous and charismatic: the promise that it offers is that his rare gifts as a speaker and a judge of the public mood could be employed to revitalize the Republican Party. By demonstrating that a young Latino son of immigrants can be its standard-bearer, he would point the way forward for Republicans in a country of growing diversity. This is Rubio the Natural. The other is self-conscious and risk-averse: this version of Rubio sticks as closely as possible to the script, doesn’t overplay his minority status (at least through the primaries), and avoids making firm commitments for as long as possible: Rubio the Player.... on the debate stage, he chose the latter identity, and paid a price.
Osnos urges us to recall the talking point Rubio kept repeating on Saturday night. It was an assertion that President Obama "is undertaking a systematic effort to change this country." Osnos says that -- alas! -- Rubio feels he has to keep saying that, because he really wants to make it, and that's what the voters he seeks want to hear:
That line represents the triumph of Rubio’s second identity and also of the instinct that formed it: his calculation that conservative voters don’t want him to embrace the reality of a changing country, or to make the case that he, in his first identity, is a sign that Republicans may not have to be afraid of the future.
But Osnos is cheering on that other Rubio, the one who surely knows how to "point the way forward for Republicans in a country of growing diversity."

That Rubio once gave an empathetic answer to an interview question about Black Lives Matter. That one wrote in his memoir that his best friends on the high school football team were black, and that he wasn't resentful when he was benched in high school in favor of a black player because that player was stronger than he was.

Rubio rarely talks about any of this these days. In Saturday night's debate, Rubio repeatedly denounced change and repeatedly disrespected a black president. You and I might conclude that that's the person Rubio has decided he really wants to be.

But Osnos knows that, darn it, there's a good Rubio in there, crying to be let out:
Somewhere, buried behind the layers of political self-protection, Rubio the Natural knows that America is changing whether Republicans like it or not. And, at rare times, he acknowledges that it’s not a reason for fear. But, more often, as he did on the debate stage, Rubio the Player pretends not to know it, and he takes on the role of a man who is hellbent on returning America to a time when he and his story would never have been possible at all. As a politician, he is skilled enough that, if he could summon the will, he could make a powerful case for change. By Wednesday morning, we may know if he’ll get the chance.
Yes -- he's only posturing as a blinkered reactionary now. Vote for him! Surely someday we'll see his better self!


FiveThirtyEight's Harry Enten thinks Marco Rubio is at risk today:
It’s hard to say what people expect of Rubio now, but he’s in a pretty precarious position. Even before Saturday’s debate, Rubio’s hold on second place wasn’t especially secure, and with Rubio, John Kasich, Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush all huddled with support in the low teens or high single digits, even a small post-debate dip could push Rubio from second to third ... or fourth ... or fifth....

It’s ... quite possible that one of the legs of his three-legged stool gets kicked right out from under Rubio in New Hampshire if he finishes third or worse. If that happens, who knows how the media will go after him.
Nahhh, the media won't keep going after him. Oh, sure, he'll be damaged if he finishes third or somewhat worse, but as long as he's somewhere in the midst of that group fighting for second place (Cruz, Kasich, Bush), well ahead of the true losers (Christie, Carson, and Fiorina), he'll get a media do-over.

The evidence is in this post from Erick Erickson:
The Marco Rubio Robot Bull—-

Much of the political press leans left and has zero experience in politics. Perhaps they graduated Ivy League, did a tour or two at Salon or some lefty blog, then got in on the ground floor at a national media outlet covering politics. They can afford to split rent with five other bros or gals, buy a couple pairs of skinny jeans that they’ll refer to in the singular as a pant or a jean, and silently mock all the people they encounter on the campaign trail who are not cool or sophisticated or dressed like they robbed a Goodwill store in Bangkok. These political reporters have decided that Marco Rubio is a robot because they hear him repeat his lines all the time. They are idiots and Marco knows what he is doing....

For eight years the GOP elite and pundit class have bitched and moaned that the GOP needed to stay focused and on message. Along come Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio who both relentlessly stay on message and the GOP have decided one is unlikable and the other is a robot. It is all nonsense. It is a mutually sympathetic circle jerk of pundits and press racing each other to come up with the wittiest stereotype to capture the imagination of bored politicos tired of the cold in Iowa and New Hampshire. It is a game to the press, but is a life and death, daily struggle to the voters who yearn for something more and something else. Just as the “Cruz is not likable” line is unfair to Cruz, the “Rubio is a robot” line is unfair to Rubio. Cruz may be unlikable to Washington politicos and Rubio a repetitive robot to the same group, but the American public have not seemed to notice.
Erickson published this last night, even before the polls opened in Dixville Notch. He was already working the refs: If Rubio tanks in New Hampshire, it's because the liberals want to destroy him, along with collaborators in the GOP Establishment. Never mind the fact that Rubio was tripped up by Chris Christie, not some bearded sous-chef from Brooklyn. Never mind the fact that members of the GOP Establishment fall on their knees every night and beg the Republican Jesus to give them a Rubio nomination. And never mind the fact that the mainstream press would love a presentable Republican nominee who can challenge the hated Hillary Clinton or that old guy who threatens the wealth of journalists' hedge-fund pals.

A Rubio loss will be blamed on liberal sabotage. Erickson is already assessing blame. Fox will undoubtedly follow up, given Rupert Murdoch's clear preference for Rubio. And the press -- already favorably disposed to Rubio -- will urge him to get back up on the two-wheeler and show us all that he can ride without falling down. His press after a New Hampshire loss will be "Can Rubio Come Back?" -- and hints that the answer is yes will be spotted everywhere. We'll be told he's sharper and crisper and clearly poised for a comeback if he just gets through a campaign appearance without repeating himself.

He'll still struggle to win the nomination, especially because several Establishment favorites are likely to stay in the race after New Hampshire. But he'll start getting great press again very soon.

Monday, February 08, 2016


Old conventional wisdom: Jeb is toast. New conventional wisdom: Marco Rubio is fading, and Jeb is making a comeback. Here's Slate's Franklin Foer:
... Bush may have ... an actual shot at the nomination....

Nobody -- not the media, not the GOP establishment -- can now consider Rubio a fait accompli....

As Republicans scrounge for their center-right tribune, they will find themselves coming full circle. Christie has no cash and no organization beyond New Hampshire. Kasich is out-of-synch with his party; his moderation won’t play outside a few suburban pockets. Which only leaves one....

Bush has bought himself more time, at precisely the moment that he’s corrected his candidacy. Watching him in New Hampshire, it’s possible to see a candidate who has stopped overthinking things, who has learned to be something resembling himself....

Seeing Bush press his case on the trail in New Hampshire, I was stunned by how he seemed high-energy, forceful, and confident.
And here's Ed O'Keefe of The Washington Post:
Something has clicked for Bush in New Hampshire in the past few days. What has transpired by no means guarantees him a top-tier finish in Tuesday’s Republican primary here, but the crowds turning out to see him are bigger, his delivery on the stump is crisper and some of his key rivals have stumbled....

Across Bush World ... there’s a growing sense of relief. Finally, after enduring months of bad news reports, tepid debate performances and two rounds of campaign budget cuts, some believe they’re on the verge of a good night.
This is being reinforced by an Emerson College poll that has Bush in second place in New Hampshire:

But here's the problem: Emerson's previous New Hampshire poll, conducted well before the Rubio-glitch debate, was a huge outlier in Bush's favor -- and, in fact, Bush did better in that poll than in this one:

Emerson had Jeb at 18% in New Hampshire at the end of January. No other poll conducted in New Hampshire in January had Jeb higher than 12%.

Now, maybe this means Emerson is right about Jeb and all the other pollsters are wrong -- after all, Emerson predicted the Rubio surge in Iowa:

But when you hear that Jeb's surging, remember: only one pollster really thinks he's going to beat the other not-Trumps. And also remember: Rubio won't drop out after New Hampshire unless he totally craters, so the Establishment still won't have a single candidate to rally around. The party decides? Not yet, in that case.


My first reaction to Marco Rubio's robot moment in Saturday's debate was to join with the herd and declare him seriously wounded. However, I think Nate Silver has a point:
... a lot of caution is also in order. Pundits haven’t misgauged the impact of a debate since … well, since only about a week ago, when the “smart take” was that Trump had won the final Iowa debate by not having shown up for it, and that Ted Cruz had a poor evening. Instead, Cruz won the Iowa caucuses a few days later, with Trump in second with a vote share well below where polls had projected him.

... Some of the reason we reporters thought Rubio’s answer was so awful is because it confirmed some of our gossip about Rubio, namely that he tends to give pat, repetitive answers. But we tend to be more sensitive about that stuff, because we watch every debate from start to finish, and then we see lots of the candidates’ stump speeches and town halls on top of it. There’s a fine line between a candidate who seems stilted and repetitive and one who seems “on message” instead.

Is there any evidence that home viewers saw Rubio’s performance differently? Well, maybe. On Google Trends, there was a huge spike in searches for Rubio during the debate -- but it came not during his glitchy moments but instead after an effective answer he delivered on abortion about two hours into the debate. Meanwhile, a Google Consumer Surveys poll conducted midway through the debate found respondents thought that Trump, Rubio and Cruz (in that order) were winning the debate.
We're reading at Politico that a snap poll shows Rubio slipping and John Kasich rising to second place, but it's an internal poll from the Kasich campaign, so grains of salt are in order. The same goes for the internal poll with similar results from a candidate who's not even identified, which we're told about at the oh-so-authoritative Breitbart.

Back in the world of real surveys, this morning's edition of the daily UMass-Lowell tracking poll shows Rubio slipping, but only by a point, to a second-place tie with Ted Cruz. And while anecdotes aren't data, check out what voters say in this NPR story about Rubio:

One supporter says with a laugh, "I know he got a little beat up, but he stayed on message!" She adds: "He was just talking about Obama, and that's kind of what he feels about it, and they always say that stuff over and over and over again, so of course he's going to say it over and over again." Another supporter, we're told, thinks Rubio was "bullied unfairly" ("He got taken by a very good prosecutor"). Yet another explains the glitch moments away by saying that Rubio's not an attack dog and that's OK ("We're not looking for someone who's able to necessarily attack"). An undecided voter hears him speak at a campaign appearance and says, "Better than the debate."

I think Silver might be right about political pros scoring this more poorly than voters. Voters expect politicians to do politician-y things ("they always say that stuff over and over and over again"). Maybe some are sick of it, but those people are probably voting for Trump or Carson or Cruz anyway.

David Corn believes that newfound media wariness is trouble enough for Rubio:
The narrative was Rubio gaining an edge in the so-called establishment lane of the race and being in the position to pull away from Jeb Bush, John Kasich, and Chris Christie....

Post "Marcobot," the media tale is quite different. Is Rubio ready? Is there any there there? Can this guy think on his feet? Does he have the smarts to be president? He can expect the press to keep a watchful eye on his words and note his penchant for repeating a series of well-honed lines. (Which is, after all, what a stump speech is.) What this means is that Rubio's best asset could turn into a liability....

Poof. That magic is gone. Or at least we now see the strings.
Yes -- but if he does well in New Hampshire, the Marcobot narrative will be gone. "Rubio, King of the Establishment Lane" will be the narrative once again. In fact, he'll have lowered expectations and then exceeded them.

Or he could come in fifth behind Trump, Kasich, Cruz, and Bush. In which case, the CW was right.


We know that Hillary Clinton has moved to the left on a number of issues to try to ward off a challenge from Bernie Sanders. But Byron York tells us that Donald Trump was talking like Sanders, too, in a campaign appearance yesterday in Plymouth, New Hampshire:
In a nearly one-hour speech, Trump railed against pharmaceutical companies. He railed against oil companies. And insurance companies. And defense contractors. And he set himself against a political system that he said allows big-money corporate "bloodsuckers" to control the government with campaign contributions....

Trump promised to allow the government to negotiate drug prices.... He said he would not raise military spending, arguing that the nation's defenses can be improved without increasing its already huge Pentagon budget. He promised tough sanctions on American companies that move jobs overseas....

"We're not allowed to negotiate drug prices, can you believe it?" Trump said. Noting that Woody Johnson, of the Johnson & Johnson family, is a big Jeb Bush fundraiser, Trump asked, "Do you think Jeb Bush is going to make drug prices competitive?" Everyone knew the answer. Trump went on to accuse the insurance industry of buying laws that suppress competition and keep prices high, and the oil companies of doing something similar.

On defense ... Trump promised instead to go after waste and profiteering in the defense industry. "I hear stories, like they're ordering missiles they don't want because of politics, because of special interests," Trump said. "Because the company that makes the missiles is a contributor."
Is Trump going to keep talking like this after New Hampshire, where many Republicans are moderate and independent voters can choose which primary they vote in? I don't know. I also wonder whether the voters who like Trump would rather hear him bring the hate against the usual enemies -- Muslims, Mexicans, Hillary Clinton, Establishment Republicans. But for now, this is what he's saying. And he's still leading in the polls. Is it possible that the Sanders message is having an impact that will still be felt in American politics even if his campaign ultimately fails?

One nagging thought: If Trump and Clinton are the nominees, and if Trump is still (selectively) populist, will there be issues on which Clinton attacks Trump from the right? She does favor allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices, but she's been vague on military spending; on that subject, the most I can find is this:
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton called on Thursday for the creation of a high-level commission to examine U.S. defense spending.

Speaking at a town hall-style campaign appearance in New Hampshire, Clinton said: "I think we are overdue for a very thorough debate in our country about what we need, and how we are going to pay for it."

She added: "Very often, leadership of the Defense Department wants to eliminate certain spending, or wants to change it, and they're stopped by the Congress."
We know that Trump's insistence that we can have a strong, bomb-the-shit-out-of-them military at a lower cost is typical Trump magical thinking. But would Clinton get to the right of him, mired as she is in 1990s thinking, which still makes her think that the most important thing for a Democrat is not to sound like McGovern or Mondale or Dukakis? Who knows -- we might find out.

Sunday, February 07, 2016


Here's Maureen Dowd today on the absence of poetry in Hillary Clinton's campaign rhetoric:
As a woman, as a former first lady, senator and secretary of state, she’s uniquely equipped to deliver a big, inspiring message with a showstopping speech that goes beyond income inequality, that sweeps up broader themes of intolerance, fusing the economic, cultural and international issues at stake.

She could, as one talented political speechwriter riffed, say something like this: “We’re a stronger country when more people have higher incomes; when women get paid the same as men; when we draw on the diverse talents of immigrants; when we show the world that America is a place that embraces all religions, that offers refuge to the persecuted and the terrorized. When a few old rich white men are the only ones who succeed, that’s not just unfair, it’s untenable.”
Yeah! Why won't Clinton say something like that in a speech? Or like this?
While many of you are working multiple jobs to make ends meet, you see the top 25 hedge fund managers making more than all of America’s kindergarten teachers combined. And, often paying a lower tax rate.

So, you have to wonder: “When does my hard work pay off? When does my family get ahead?”


I say now.

Prosperity can’t be just for CEOs and hedge fund managers.

Democracy can’t be just for billionaires and corporations.

Prosperity and democracy are part of your basic bargain too.

You brought our country back.

Now it’s time -- your time to secure the gains and move ahead.

And, you know what?

America can’t succeed unless you succeed.
Or this?
I believe that success isn’t measured by how much the wealthiest Americans have, but by how many children climb out of poverty...

How many start-ups and small businesses open and thrive...

How many young people go to college without drowning in debt...

How many people find a good job...

How many families get ahead and stay ahead.
Or this?
... I believe we have a continuing rendezvous with destiny. Each American and the country we cherish.

I’m running to make our economy work for you and for every American.

For the successful and the struggling.

For the innovators and inventors.

For those breaking barriers in technology and discovering cures for diseases.

For the factory workers and food servers who stand on their feet all day.

For the nurses who work the night shift.

For the truckers who drive for hours and the farmers who feed us.

For the veterans who served our country.

For the small business owners who took a risk.

For everyone who’s ever been knocked down, but refused to be knocked out.

I’m not running for some Americans, but for all Americans.
Oh, wait -- she did say all that, in her campaign kickoff speech last June.

Clinton's campaign has been too prose-y since then -- and, in some moments, worse than just prose-y:
Hillary Clinton’s older feminist supporters have a message for young women who are not backing her candidacy: Shame on you....

While introducing Mrs. Clinton at a rally in New Hampshire on Saturday, Madeleine Albright, the first female secretary of state, talked about the importance of electing the first female president.... she scolded any woman who felt otherwise.

“We can tell our story of how we climbed the ladder, and a lot of you younger women think it’s done. It’s not done,” Ms. Albright said of the broader fight for women’s equality. “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other!”

... Gloria Steinem, one of the most famous spokeswomen of the feminist movement, took the sentiment a step further on Friday in an interview with the talk show host Bill Maher. Explaining how women tend to become more active in politics as they become older, she suggested younger women were just backing Mr. Sanders so that they could meet young men.

“When you’re young, you’re thinking, ‘Where are the boys? The boys are with Bernie,’” Ms. Steinem said.
But before that, there was an optimistic vision. There was some poetry. Clinton said exactly what Dowd insists she hasn't said. If Dowd had done a minimal level of due diligence before writing her column, she'd know that.


I share the widespread belief that Chris Christie wiped the floor with Marco Rubio last night -- and for that we may owe him a debt of gratitude. Rubio's struggles last night could be the "Oops" moment that will haunt him forever -- and so the guy who was potentially the strongest general election candidate of the three Republican front-runners might struggle in New Hampshire and fade. That's good news.

(And here's a bonus: If that does happen, and if Donald Trump or Ted Cruz goes on to lose the general election this fall, Chris Christie will be, in the eyes of many members of the Republican Establishment, the man who cost the GOP two straight presidential elections, the first one by cozying up to Barack Obama after Sandy, then this one by going after Rubio. Yes, I know that the polls all favored Obama even before Sandy, but a lot of Republicans still believe, erroneously, that Romney had it in the bag until Sandy hit. Will the Establishment hate Christie for this? Look at how angry the insiders have been at Jeb Bush for pounding on Rubio all this time, in a doomed effort to save his own campaign. Christie's campaign is almost certainly doomed as well, and now he might be blamed for tarnishing Golden Boy. Smooth move, Chris.)

Rubio's problem was the robotic repetition of a single talking point -- five times, as you can see in the clip at the end of this post, starting at 0:47. But what did Christie say to get Rubio wound up? What was his argument for himself and against Rubio? It was this:
“You see, everybody, I want the people at home to think about this,” he told the debate viewers. “This is what Washington, D.C., does. The drive-by shot at the beginning with incorrect and incomplete information, and then the memorized 25-second speech that is exactly what his advisers gave him. See, Marco, the thing is this: When you’re president of the United States, when you are a governor of a state, the memorized 30-second speech where you talk about how great America is doesn’t solve one problem for one person. They expect you to plow the snow. They expect you to get the schools open. And when the worst natural disaster in your state’s history hits you, they expect you to rebuild their state, which is what I’ve done. None of that stuff happens on the floor of the United State Senate.”
Christie put everything into this. It was well delivered. It left Rubio so rattled he repeated a talking point.

But what was Christie saying here? He was saying that being required to deal with strictly domestic problems makes him more qualified to be president that a U.S. senator, even though senators deal with foreign as well as domestic policy. He was saying that getting the streets plowed is all the job experience a potential president needs.

How is that significantly different from what was widely deemed to be Scott Walker's big, possibly campaign-derailing gaffe a year ago?
In response to a question about how he would deal with global threats such as the one posed by ISIS, Walker drew from his personal experience.

"If I can take on a 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the world," Walker said on the CPAC stage, after giving a longer answer about how he would handle ISIS if he were the president.

... Walker has faced bipartisan criticism for the comment...
National Review called that "Scott Walker's awful answer on ISIS." An NBC reporter asked whether it was "the first major blunder of the presidential race." But now, coming from Christie, it's a devastating attack.

What Rubio should have done was to summarize the complexities of, say, the war in Syria -- ISIS and Assad and Putin and the Kurds and Turkey and so on -- and than asked Christie, "And you think what qualifies you to take this on is that you know how to get six inches of snow plowed in Bayonne?"

But Rubio stuck with his talking point:
“But I would add this,” he said. “Let’s dispel with this fiction that Barack Obama doesn’t know what he’s doing. He knows exactly what he’s doing. He is trying to change this country. He wants America to become more like the rest of the world...”
And then shortly afterward,
“Here’s the bottom line. This notion that Barack Obama doesn’t know what he’s doing is just not--”

“There it is!” Christie interjected. “There it is. The memorized 25-second speech. There it is, everybody.”

“That’s the reason why this campaign is so important,” Rubio protested. “Because I think this notion -- I think this is an important point. We have to understand what we’re going through here. We are not facing a president that doesn’t know what he’s doing. He knows what he is doing.”
I don't understand why this was supposed to be effective at all, even said once. Rubio was being accused of having the same level of inexperience that Barack Obama had in 2008 -- an experience deficit that some Obama-haters think put this country in peril. Rubio countered by saying that Barack Obama wasn't an incapable naif, he was a highly capable nihilist deliberately and capably destroying America by design. Conclusion: And I'm just as qualified as the America-destroyer!

Really, Marco? That was your message? Vote for me because I'm just as qualified to be president as the guy we all think brought America to his knees?

In this context, Rubio shouldn't have even said that once.

Saturday, February 06, 2016


I keep telling you that if Marco Rubio gets the Republican presidential nomination he will absolutely win the general election, in large part because the mainstream media hates both Democratic candidates and will embrace Rubio as a likable fratboy-turned-dad, just the way the press embraced George W. Bush in 2000. (Remember, this year the Democrat won't really be able to run on peace and prosperity, which kept Gore in the race sixteen years ago.)

Still don't believe me? Read this, from Michael Barbaro and Jeremy Peters in The New York Times, and watch the Rubio-media love affair begin:
Marco Rubio Turns Toward the Personal on the Campaign Trail

... as the presidential campaign enters its most intense phase yet, Mr. Rubio’s cautious style has quietly but unmistakably evolved, shedding its impersonal rime and offering intimate -- and increasingly improvised -- glimpses into his childhood, his family and even his finances.

... When a mother described the toll of raising an autistic child, Mr. Rubio spoke for seven emotional minutes about watching the 2-year-old daughter of a family friend wrestle with the disorder. And when a libertarian asked him about the excesses of the criminal justice system, Mr. Rubio told the story of his own run-in with the police when he was 18.

As he reconstructed a loud night of beer drinking in a Miami park, Mr. Rubio stopped himself and smiled. “Please don’t tell my kids,” he asked his audience playfully.

... As voting neared in the Iowa caucuses last week, Mr. Rubio’s speeches about America at the brink and the perfidy of President Obama suddenly contained a disarming detail about his father: Mario Rubio was a Cuban native, and his English was so poor when he arrived in the United States, his son recalled, that he needed a cousin to write down a phonetic message for him to recite to potential employers: “I am looking for work.”
He's empathetic! He's a regular guy! He has a compelling backstory! Oh, and did we mention the time he made a voter cry? A Democratic-leaning voter?
Carol-Ann Fitzgerald, 58, who describes herself as “more Democratic than Republican,” said she teared up on Thursday afternoon when Mr. Rubio recalled his father’s trouble finding work when he immigrated from Cuba. It was, she said, the story of her own father, a French-speaking immigrant from Canada.

“That’s what hit home for me,” Mrs. Fitzgerald said.
Even Rubio's weaknesses are discussed only in the context of his perceived strengths:
But the newly personal and unguarded approach to campaigning is a recognition that the assets he has worked hardest to develop -- mastery of foreign policy, and a bruising critique of the Obama era -- are not enough by themselves to capture the hearts of voters. And that the ones he was born with -- a compelling family history and an innate charm -- will only grow more important as he appeals to broader sections of the electorate.

It is also a reminder that Mr. Rubio, for all his dexterity as a public speaker, did not start campaigning for president full time until December. He required time, advisers said, to become comfortable with the daily rhythms of interacting with and fielding questions from hundreds of voters from morning until night.
So if he's been stiff and robotic on the campaign trail in the past, it's because he was working so hard to develop a "mastery of foreign policy" and a "critique of the Obama era" that's "bruising" -- oh, and you can't blame him for being less than brilliant in the past, because he "did not start campaigning for president full time until December," and it's hard, darn it, to spend one's days selflessly "interacting with and fielding questions from hundreds of voters from morning until night." And yet we mustn't forget that "a compelling family history and an innate charm" were gifts "he was born with," nor must we overlook his innate "dexterity as a public speaker."

Wow, New York Times. When are you popping the question?

This dovetails with what we learn from Mickey Kaus, who loathes Rubio, after he attended a Rubio campaign event:
Was Rubio really as slick and insubstantial in this setting as John Edwards? Answer: No. He’s slicker. He’s slicker, in part, because he at least seems a bit spontaneous, ... with a slightly goofy, human quality....

When it comes to substance, Rubio draws on an inventory of well-prepared rhetorical modules, with just enough policy to sound sophisticated.... There’s a heavy emphasis on electability.... Tellingly, however, Rubio has added a Trump Module, where he alludes to anger at stagnant wages.

He’s got an immigration module too. It ... adopt[s] what seems to be an Enforcement First framework, in which “nothing” happens, amnesty-wise, until the border is “secure.” ... Rubio prefaces all this with a digression on ISIS, and how it’s changed the immigration debate: Because our top priority has to be to “keep ISIS out of this country.” ... the audience loves it. The ISIS digression gets the biggest applause of the day.

All of this is mildly terrifying. If Rubio’s a “robot,” as many have charged, he’s a sophisticated new model robot with simulated humanistic elements and a charm algorithm.
Bernie Sanders can be charming, but even though you may have seen him be charming, you "know" -- because the press always reduces him to this -- that he's just an angry, fist-shaking old crank. And you "know" that Hillary Clinton is just a shrill, braying harridan, because that's what you're always told, even though she can be charming, too.

By November, if he's the nominee, everyone will "know" that Marco Rubio is the most likable Republican in a generation, and that he's smart as a whip, and that he has an extraordinarily moving life story. I'm going to keep saying it: Be afraid.