POLITICS

The 2016 Election Cycle Bids A Fond Farewell To April's Shiny Nonsense!

05/01/2015 08:01 pm ET | Updated May 01, 2015
MSNBC

Friday is the first of May, which means there's only 550 days or so until Election Day 2016. It's a winding road ahead, into an uncertain future, but oh! The places we've already seen! The people we've already met! The memories we've already shared!

Right now, we have people who have decided to run for president, people who have not yet decided to run for president, and people who are definitely running for president, but not making it official because there are still so many campaign finance rules that need to be circumvented.

We've been told that people are hungry for "change," and "newness," and "authenticity." We've watched as candidates prostrate themselves before billionaire head-cases. We've observed various "listening tours." Lincoln Chafee might do something, you don't know! And you probably don't know who Lincoln Chafee is, exactly. (Here is a Wikipedia page about Lincoln Chafee. Does it ring any bells?)

Now, it's time to bid farewell to April. But as we head into May, let's take a moment to say goodbye to the people, places, and things that made April 2015 the Best Month Of The 2016 Election Cycle.

***

Goodbye, CNN's Candidate Emoji! When Ted Turner founded the world's first global news network, he imagined that his creation would serve the public, with dignity and intellect, right up until the end of the world. Did he ever imagine that CNN would one day actually put resources behind the creation of candidate emoji, so that people could "show ... support for your favorite campaign hopeful by saving his or her emoji to your phone to share with your friends?" He did! In his nightmares.

Fare Thee Well, Gay Hoteliers Who Met With Ted Cruz! In the clearest sign yet that this campaign season is going to be riven with pointless acrimony over the most inconsequential of events, let's look back at the incredible story of the gay hoteliers who talked to Ted Cruz, the Texas Republican senator.

According to The New York Times, on April 20, Mati Weiderpass and Ian Reisner, "longtime business partners who were once a couple and who have been pioneers in the gay hospitality industry," did what a lot of very rich people are doing these days: having audiences with presidential candidates. On this occasion, the two men hosted a reception for Cruz at their Manhattan abode. There they talked, about various and sundry matters. Cruz said that he would "love [his daughters] just as much" if they were gay, among other things.

Somehow, this meeting touched off no small amount of pain and misery. Some LGBT activists -- apparently of the belief that meeting a person with particular political views was tantamount to approving of, or being infected by, those views -- cried havoc, threatened boycotts, and put various charitable initiatives at risk. It was pretty strange! Know what one fairly effective way to soften the heart of a political opponent of the LGBT community is? Meet with 'em. Chat with 'em. Build some bonds, hopefully and gradually wearing down the fragile edifice of learned prejudice. It's been known to work!

The two hoteliers had, in any event, hosted a similar wing-ding for the "Ready For Hillary" PAC, but it was of no use. Impossibly forced-sounding apologies soon flowed, this one from Reisner:

I am shaken to my bones by the e-mails, texts, postings and phone calls of the past few days. I made a terrible mistake. I was ignorant, naive and much too quick in accepting a request to co-host a dinner with Cruz at my home without taking the time to completely understand all of his positions on gay rights. I've spent the past 24 hours reviewing videos of Cruz' statements on gay marriage and I am shocked and angry. I sincerely apologize for hurting the gay community and so many of our friends, family, allies, customers and employees. I will try my best to make up for my poor judgement. Again, I am deeply sorry.

These guys had no knowledge of the views of a man whose basic purpose in life is to bring the world Total Ted Cruz Awareness? They must work really hard at running hotels!

Auf Weidersehen, Chipotle! It's a conversation that any of us might have had on a road trip. "Hey, anyone getting hungry?" "Yeah, I could stop and get some food." "There's a Chipotle at the next exit, that work for everyone?" "Yaaasssss, Chipotle." This is the sort of repartee that took place in the van transporting Hillary Clinton to Iowa this past month.

Or, I don't know, maybe the entire campaign team did some deep dive into polling data and demographic trends and made the calculated determination that stopping at Chipotle would be worth one-15th of a point in the Iowa caucus polls! The point is, you have to be a real grinning idiot to add needless complexity and breathless fascination to a burrito bowl. But as it happens, the election is being covered by the people who grinned themselves to death. And so, when Clinton came to Chipotle, it touched off multiple days of nonsense.

The New York Times ferreted out a security camera still of the stop, lest the historic moment be lost to the indifference of memory. Reporters who still don't quite understand how everyone suddenly got so unemployed in the late aughts tracked down Clinton's lunch order with exacting specificity. All of which salted the earth for the think pieces to come. Was Hillary Clinton's Chipotle order authentic enough? Was the burrito bowl not just a conveyance for meats and rice, but really a vessel for hidden messages about her campaign? What if she had stopped at a more centrist restaurant? You know that's a thing now, right, that food literally has an ideological foundation, and that everything you eat reflects what your long-term budget priorities are?

Ah, Politico's Michael Kruse! He packed up his hobo bundle, put on his straw hat, and hit the dusty roads to do a bit of Tom Joad pantomiming, introducing us to the "everyday people" who slopped sofritos into recyclable bowls for on-trend semi-fast food customers. It was a pretty good imitation of a Dale Maharidge dispatch, with the only drawback for the reader being the certain knowledge that this "care about the working class" act was as temporary as a cloud of dandelion fluff in the breeze.

Of course everyone who prated on and on about Chipotle for a week had a tidy excuse to explain their actions. The Clinton campaign wasn't giving them substance! When will she lay out her policies? Where's the meaty stuff?

That's a good point. Or it would be, had the lion's share of these complainers actually taken up the opportunity to cover the substantive part of the Clinton campaign when it arose.

Adieu, Freddie Gray! Obviously, most of the world will not be saying a metaphoric goodbye to Freddie Gray -- the Baltimore man whose mortal injury in police custody has led to the state's attorney filing charges against six members of the Baltimore Police Department -- anytime soon. What happened to Gray will continue to be of great concern to a substantial number of people. But in the parallel universe of the 2016 campaign, it seems that Gray is already well on his way to being ethered into abstraction.

At least, that's the impression one gets from this dispatch from The New York Times, which describes would-be Democratic presidential candidate and former Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley's return to "an angry Baltimore." In the piece, we learn that O'Malley "just wanted to be present" and was able to discern the fact that there was "a lot of pain in our city right now." We also hear O'Malley was heckled by many bystanders, hugged by one, and struggled to recall another who had actually worked for him. O'Malley offered generic support to Baltimore's current mayor, but demurred on talking about the deeper "issues of urban crime and race bubbling up in the presidential race," saying, "I'm going to talk about that another day."

One name that never appears in this story: Freddie Gray, the ostensible reason for this brief diplomatic visit.

But that's how horse race reporting does, folks! This isn't a story about a man's mysterious death, or about the core economic problems of the ordinary people living in Baltimore, or what policies might improve the lives of those who live in this community. This is a story that reminds you that what's really at stake here is the electoral hopes of an affluent political celebrity. If you actually want to know about O'Malley's stake in this situation because you'd like to be informed, skip this doggerel and read Bill Keller's interview with David Simon instead.

Cheerio, To The Guy Who Tapped Hillary's Van With His Car! "A New Hampshire legislator backed into Hillary Clinton’s 'Scooby Van' during a meeting in Concord, New Hampshire, on Tuesday."

So begins an important Politico story about a New Hampshire state legislator who, after attending a meeting between Hillary Clinton and his legislative colleagues, accidentally tapped the empty van that's being used as ground transportation for the former secretary of state on the campaign trail. There was no damage to either vehicle. There wasn't anything that doesn't happen anywhere else in America, where people are parking cars. This is a story with no content.

Well, almost no content. The legislator in question, state Rep, Chip Rice (D-Merrimack 27), was asked who he was backing in the New Hampshire primary. "We'll just have to see how the campaign plays out," he said. The New Hampshire primary is tentatively scheduled to take place in 270 days, on Jan. 26, 2016.

To review: Every reporter dreams about breaking a story like that time two cars briefly bumped each other.

Toodle-oo, Rand Paul's Mystery Choo-Choo!: During an interview with Laura Ingraham, Rand Paul, the Kentucky senator and Republican presidential candidate, expressed how relieved he was when the train on which he was traveling did not alight in the center of an ongoing news story with enormous political ramifications, especially for a candidate who might sincerely believe that America's "War On Drugs" has been a failure, or that the criminal justice system in general is in dire need of reform.

Treating his prepositions with the liberty he is known for espousing, the senator told Ingraham, "I came through the train on Baltimore, I'm glad it didn't stop." Yes, what a relief it must have been for Paul to have raced through Charm City, speeding him home to his secure Beltway redoubt, where there was no doubt a hot cup of lapsang souchong and a pile of fluffy pillows awaiting him.

But there was an inconsistency in Paul's story, one that Gawker's Ashley Feinberg just couldn't let pass:

But Paul, who was traveling from New York to Washington, would have been strictly limited to Amtrak in terms of train-based options. Reached by phone, a spokesperson for Amtrak, the owner of Baltimore’s rail transportation hub, confirmed that all Amtrak routes that travel through Baltimore make stops in Baltimore. “Amtrak continues to operate and make all scheduled stops at Baltimore Penn Station [and] the station remains open to ticketed passengers.”

So, how, exactly, did Paul pull this off? Maybe he stood up in the middle of the Acela's first class car and shouted, "Good conductor, take this train to the Capitol with all deliberate haste!" Maybe the train stopped in Baltimore and Paul didn't notice. Or maybe Paul travels the country on magical ghost trains, staffed by the exploited workers of the Pullman car era! We may never know. The important thing is that for one day, as disaffected Baltimore residents expressed their anger, Rand Paul found something, at last, to love about living in the Washington bubble.

À bientôt, j'espère, Mark Halperin's Report Cards! In mid-April, the GOP candidates were summoned forth to New Hampshire to attend the "First In The Nation Leadership Summit," and Bloomberg's Mark Halperin was there to observe the proceedings and render his verdicts, which he did in the form of report cards.

First, let's acknowledge that this was brilliant and innovative. There's a term, in fact, for what it is ... can't recall it at the moment ... rhymes with "shame danger," I think? But sincerely, this is a master stroke that will disrupt the Hot Take Content economy, because why write paragraphs and paragraphs of sentences when a series of letters will suffice? As emoji technology advances, we might one day be able to broadcast Hot Takes directly to the amygdala with psychic cartoons, perhaps coupled with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors to dull our anxieties.

Secondly, these takes lost none of their spiciness for having been rendered in report card format, mainly because Halperin studiously refused to hew to the standard notions of what "grades" actually mean. Halperin rated everybody according to "style" and "substance," with the two grades combining to make "overall," and as many quickly noticed, the overall grades were loosed from the need to do what we traditionalists refer to as "making sense."

To wit: Marco Rubio's performance earned him an "A minus" for "style," a B for "substance," leaving the Florida senator with an overall grade of ... "A minus?" Yes! The substance downgrade didn't hurt Rubio a bit. Which I guess is pretty revealing about Mark Halperin, in that he is probably the political pundit most likely to recommend the country be turned over to the tender mercies of a handsome sociopath.

Princeton University political scientist Sam Wang took Halperin's grades and performed a regression analysis -- by which I do not mean a "regression analysis" as mathematicians would use the term, but rather as an analysis of a thing that is literally regressing -- and made some interesting observations. Perhaps the most hilarious one is that Scott Walker (B+ style; B- substance; B overall), a well-liked governor who is leading many polls and earning quite a bit of elite support, received the same overall grade as Donald Trump (B+ style; D+ substance; B overall), who is a bronzed reality-television clown.

But look, if I was asked to grade this exercise in the same way, I'd probably give it the grades Trump got and call it a day, because this at least saves everyone a lot of time. But on my own expanded, proprietary grading scale, here's how the Mark Halperin Report Cards measure up:

STEEZ: B-double plus

FLUBSTANCE: C-tilde

HANDSHAKEFULNESS: As firm as an unripened avocado

SHININESS: 8000 foot-candles

MOUTHFEEL: Like a vanilla-diazepam milkshake

Godspeed You, Flock Of Running Reporters! It was in a field in Iowa that the election season really, truly began. That is where a large group of campaign reporters -- or if you prefer to use the English language's collective noun, "a bewilderment of campaign reporters" -- spotted Hillary Clinton's van arriving for a campaign appearance in Monticello, Iowa. Once they realized that Clinton had come, they chased after the van, each hoping to be the one to maybe shout an unheard question at the candidate, or snap the defining image of Clinton leaving a van or entering a building.

Off they ran, each more desperate than the next, with whatever news they scooped or images captured lost to recorded history. Only they know what they saw, because nobody else cared.

running

What you may not know is that those reporters continued to run, ever westward, searching for meaning at a dead sprint. Not long ago, Eat The Press caught up with the bewilderment near the Nebraska-Wyoming border, where we spoke to the group's de facto spokesman, The Guy In Orange Pants:

Do you guys know where you are heading?

Once we started running, we realized our purpose. This is who we are -- who we are meant to be. So we're lighting out for parts unknown, heading out as fast as our feet can take us.

Have you all given any thought to the idea that maybe you are running from something, not toward something?

Could be, could be. All we know is that, either way, we are on a journey now. We are becoming something different than we were before. So we'll keep running as fast as we can, as far as we can. The mountains won't stop us. The oceans won't stop us. Only God can stop us.

That's a good question, though. What happens when you finally arrive at the Pacific and have nowhere left to run?

I believe ... No! No! I know, at that moment ... we shall fly.

Nah, they drowned.

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