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Jason Linkins   |   October 6, 2015   10:18 AM ET

The New Hampshire primary is four months away, and as any political wag will tell you, it's a contest that tends to "break late." Back in 2008, in fact, the primary broke late very memorably, with Hillary Clinton prevailing just a day and a half after being all-but-completely written off in the state. Flash forward to today, and New Hampshire has, in the early days of the campaign, turned into the testing ground for Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-Vt.) presidential viability.

So what should Clinton do? Well, according to "one small contingent of family allies," who are also idiots, she should panic and do something rash for no real good reason.

Politico's Gabriel Debenedetti has the story:

The group — veterans of the family’s old campaigns and people close to Clinton’s fundraising — see little reason to support a strategy that continues to pour resources into the state where Bernie Sanders’ already surprising lead shows no signs of shrinking.


Despite confidence emanating from the campaign’s paid leadership team that Clinton is well positioned with more than four months to go before the primary, this circle of informal advisers is whispering about more aggressively looking beyond New Hampshire after a summer that saw her polling advantage evaporate. These confidantes are not only granting the possibility that Sanders could win here: they see it as a near-certainty, and in some cases wonder about the usefulness of flooding the state with precious resources.

There are so many things to unpack here. "Veterans of the family's old campaigns" is basically code for "the people who in 2008 were mainly responsible for campaigning with the intelligence and elegance of downer cows." These people apparently believe that the Clinton team cannot campaign "aggressively ... beyond New Hampshire" without quitting the state, or that she's dealing with such a stringent limitation in campaign cash that continuing to compete in the state she won eight years ago represents a tremendous opportunity cost. Perhaps they've not heard that New Hampshire is not a winner-take-all state, but rather, awards delegates proportionally. (That was basically the sort of error that made "veterans of the family's old campaigns" such galactically famous cock-ups.)

But really, all that needs to be said is that these oh-so-savvy "veterans of the family's old campaigns" are of the mind that the best thing to do to respond to Bernie Sanders' hardy challenge in New Hampshire is to freak out, pull out of an early primary state and get every news organization in America a-twitter with headlines like "Clinton Panics in New Hampshire" and "Sanders Has Clinton On The Run" and "Clinton Campaign Now Just A Disheveled Bundle Of Sweaty Hair And Confusion."

Having the political media light up with stories about your fear and weakness four months ahead of the first nominating contests is definitely a good idea. Total veteran move. Obviously, these people know best, but if you want a differing point of view, Debenedetti helpfully brings in Clinton supporter and former New Hampshire Democratic Party chairwoman Kathy Sullivan: "That's craziness."

But that's American politics, where even if a political campaign doesn't want to follow your bad advice because of the terrible way it will play in the press, you can still get the press to publish your terrible advice and basically achieve the same outcome. 

Jason Linkins   |   September 25, 2015   11:59 AM ET

In this broken future of ours, it makes me happy that we could be on the precipice of a golden age of reporters ferreting recordings out of political fundraisers and onto the web. Yes, please! There's almost nothing more valuable than documenting the weird people who'll spend thousands of dollars on our political figures and what our political figures promise these oddballs in return. We need more of this, across the board, to keep emphasizing the extent to which our political system is drowning in plutocratic boodle and, hopefully, to propel a popular movement to reform this corrupt system.

But here's the thing: Not every recording can be Barack Obama's "clinging to guns and religion" or Mitt Romney's "47 percent." You know, the hits! Those moments when a conversation between a politician begging for money and the people with deep pockets takes a sudden, crazy turn to points unknown and out of touch with the American people.

So what do you do with a piece of audio that's, well, more or less ho-hum? That's the position that the Washington Free Beacon's Alana Goodman and Lachlan Markay find themselves in today.

The two reporters obtained surreptitiously recorded audio from a Hillary Clinton fundraiser in New York City, which is all to the good. But what they've offered up from the effort is a 68-second clip in which Clinton ... professes support for a national infrastructure bank?

Wait. Seriously? That's it? I'm only asking because Clinton's been promising a national infrastructure bank for some time and with astonishing regularity. At this point, proposals for national infrastructure banks are so commonplace that they're all blurring together. So why is this noteworthy? It would seem that it's noteworthy because Clinton also mentioned the Clinton Global Initiative. From the audio:

"The Clinton Global Initiative that my husband started has a project with a lot of labor union pension funds. They have put $15 billion into a fund to train workers to be able to do energy efficiency and other clean energy work. ... Think of what we can do on a national scale. ... This is a win-win."

The Free Beacon calls the Clinton Global Initiative a "controversial non-profit," which, well, sure. I tend to think of CGI as a potentially potent campaign weapon and a cagey quid-pro-quo mechanism. You shouldn't underestimate how much favor will be showered on the leaders of an organization that can launder the karma of a corporate brand by helping it to perform a bit of high-visibility, celebrity-zazzled philanthropy.

The Beacon reporters' problem is that they aren't using this audio to further the idea that CGI is controversial. They trust that's self-evident. All the audio has proven is that Clinton will happily keep talking about CGI, regardless of anyone's free-floating opinions about the organization.

The odd thing is, the audio does suggest a way to bedevil Clinton, demonstrate a controversy and potentially get Clinton to stop talking about CGI as a personal asset. Why not find out whether the project Clinton mentions is actually doing anything constructive or worthwhile? Because imagine if you can demonstrate that it's a flop -- or worse, a boondoggle! Then you get to write about a conspicuous CGI failure (which puts a bit of meat on that bone of controversy) and discuss how Clinton is selling a failed project to donors on the campaign trail as an example of something she'd do as president. And if her campaign said no such salesmanship was occurring? Bang, you drop the audio.

Shouldn't have blown that wad, guys! Because what's left is sort of threadbare. There are, as Goodman and Markay cite, some people in the Clinton orbit that could benefit from a national infrastructure bank. Robert Wolf, CEO of consulting firm 32 Advisors, is a Clinton and CGI donor who has teamed up with CGI donor and noted infrastructure bank enthusiast Michael Likosky. They could potentially make some money if there's a national infrastructure bank. So could CGI donor Mary Scott Nabers, who runs her own consulting firm and who specializes in public-private ventures.

So they're out there, Clinton boosters who run consulting firms. Or at least two of them. Of course, a lot more than two people could benefit from an infrastructure bank, but it all depends on the details of how the bank is set up -- what it could finance, what its lending terms would be, how it was capitalized, et cetera. It could be an opportunity for good, constructive policy, or it could be a monument to cozenage and pillaging, or it could be both.

Also, unions would benefit! Per the Free Beacon:

Labor unions, which represent a major voting bloc and well of financial support for Clinton, would also benefit significantly from a national infrastructure bank.

Sure, and they'd also benefit significantly from repealing the Affordable Care Act's "Cadillac tax," which is another thing that Clinton has promised to do. But yeah, breaking news: Labor unions tend to find Democratic candidates to be less hostile to their political and economic interests.

Here's the thing, though. This is a discussion that doesn't require the "EXCLUSIVE! LEAKED! AUDIO!" cloak-and-dagger melodrama to be relevant. I keep looking for the way in which this 68 seconds pays off, above and beyond Clinton's already well-recorded public statements and long-known political connections, and it never reveals itself.

You know what also had some potential? As the Free Beacon reports, Clinton had this fundraiser at the home of John Zaccaro, son of one-time vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro and a guy who was convicted of selling cocaine but didn't exactly do hard time for the crime. Maybe Zaccaro's super-lenient punishment is the inspiration for Clinton's campaign stance against mass incarceration? Maybe Zaccaro would say that it's crazy that people who hail from a less-privileged background receive a lot more jail time for the crime he committed? Or maybe he won't.

I'm just trying to think about what they talk about. Man, all I know is that it would have been pretty cool to get a recording of that conversation!

Anyway, this was a lot of effort to find out that Clinton was serious the first six times she said she supported a national infrastructure bank and that such a bank would probably financially benefit some people. Probably the worst thing about trying to costume this meager scoop as a major controversy is that it comes at a cost for the Free Beacon, which has now tipped its hand to the Clinton campaign -- "Hey, we'll be up in your fundraisers, with our recording devices."

So! If everyone in attendance at those events suddenly becomes a lot more circumspect from here on out, now you'll know why.

Jason Linkins   |   September 25, 2015   11:58 AM ET

Something is going on with Jeb Bush's campaign these days. Maybe something bad? But maybe something good -- the intel is fuzzy. Luckily, we have journalists to sort it all out. Journalists like Politico's Eli Stokols, who reported on Tuesday that the Bush campaign is working very hard these days to relieve the "angst" of its donors -- one of whom rates the level of "panic" at "six or seven" out of 10.

Or maybe the panic level is not that high? The reason I am wondering is because Politico's Ben White also reported Tuesday that "Bush donors" are "not panicked." As in, you know, zero on the scale of zero-to-10. The null set of panic.

I don't know. Maybe the person who should be panicking is Eli Stokols, now reporting live from beneath the bus his colleague threw him under? Let's get this sorted out.

According to Stokols' report, the Bush campaign has, in recent days, gone to great lengths to assure the candidate's notoriously fainthearted donors that despite all the talk about his faltering poll numbers, that "low energy" barb from Donald Trump that seems to be sticking, and the simultaneous elevation of his Florida rival Marco Rubio, the donors are still backing the right horse because of Bush's clear "lead in the political prediction markets." Only... well, there was a bit of hiccup. Per Stokols:

Just one problem: Beginning Sunday night, PredictIt, the biggest of the online sites and the one referenced last week by top Bush advisers and confidants, placed Marco Rubio ahead of Bush at the head of the GOP pack.

The sudden evaporation of yet another data point in his favor explains the tension in and around Bush's campaign this week on the eve of the third quarter FEC fundraising deadline.

That's basically been the consensus reporting from this weekend, after The Washington Post reported that Bush's "top donors" were "warning that the former Florida governor needs to demonstrate growth in the polls over the next month or face serious defections among supporters."

Compounding this problem is the perception that Scott Walker's exit from the race has primarily benefited Rubio. By the way, this is one of my favorite aspects of the primary process: the part where the staffers and donors who'd backed early-flameout candidates are then mysteriously reborn as vital assets to be ravenously coveted and courted by the candidates who remain.

Both the Rubio and Bush camps have tried to position themselves as the primary haven for Walker's exiles, and apparently there is no former Walker personage too obscure to qualify as a "get." Here, for example, is Des Moines Register reporter Jennifer Jacobs tweeting about the Bush camp's success in landing the support of one of Walker's Iowa interns! But the media narrative is in, and Rubio is the winner, according to Politico and The Wall Street Journal.

So it's not surprising when Stokols reports that "the perception that Rubio is a stronger communicator has taken hold and is affecting fundraising at the quarter's end, according to sources in both camps." To counter the tidal force of these perceptions, Stokols says that the Bush camp is reminding its flighty donors about a couple of its own not-insignificant advantages: the Bush team has a lot of money, and it has a lot of organization.

Rather than view White's clashing report as a refutation of Stokols' newsgathering skills, perhaps we should simply see it as evidence that at least a few lucky Bush donors, having downed this particular batch of Kool-Aid, felt totally comfortable circling back to Politico with assurances that everything is going to work out. As one of "several" who talked to White put it:

“43 is a surrogate, Laura Bush is a surrogate, Barbara Bush is a surrogate, Columba Bush is a surrogate, so are Jeb Jr. and George P, plus others, each of whom can swing well north of $50K an event. This is a structural advantage that far outweighs the negative of the Bush name, especially given the reality that the Rs may be running against Clinton Inc, the most formidable money machine in history.”

Ehhh, you know, leaving aside the sliding scale value of each of those surrogates, the whole idea that Bush is the one candidate capable of raising money in the general election (at an oh-so-quaint $50K a pop, at that!) is frustratingly naive. Maybe it's just much easier to quell the panic of the frustratingly naive donors? Regardless, it appears the message from Bush's team is going down well enough that at least one donor was happy to parrot it right back to White: "Bottom line, Jeb is the only grownup with money, a message and organization. Time is, as the Stones say, on his side."

And that's fair: A large campaign war chest and a zealously constructed campaign infrastructure are the sorts of things that will pay much greater dividends in January than they're paying at the moment. Of course, perhaps the real story here is that beneath its confident veneer is a Bush campaign that's every bit as concerned about its current lackluster state as its donors are. As Stokols notes, the Bush campaign will be confronting its near-term problems by putting $25 million worth of ads on the airwaves beginning next month.

So hey, don't worry, Bush donors, everything is gonna be fine, like, so fine, it's probably not even a thing, man.


Also on HuffPost: 

Jason Linkins   |   September 21, 2015   12:02 PM ET

We woke up to a pretty extraordinary email this morning from CNN's PR team. It contained the results of their latest poll, conducted by ORC International between Sept. 17 and 19. This poll offered some good news for Hillary Clinton, advertised right in the email's subject line: "CNN/ORC Poll: Clinton's lead over Sanders grows." Unfortunately for Clinton, there was also some bad news, right in the headline of the post: "Clinton's lead over Sanders shrinks."

Huh, what? Yes, this is a real thing sent to the inboxes of real reporters. Let's go to the Eat The Press Telestrator:

As you can see, we've been invited to participate in some cognitive dissonance, in which two diametrically opposed concepts of statistical trends are happening at the same time. 

But here's the thing: In a way, they actually are happening at the same time. What matters is your perspective. Once again, let's go to the Eat The Press telestrator.

As you can see, if we look at the race as a series of snapshots, then we observe that from the last time CNN/ORC conducted a poll, Clinton's lead over Sanders grew from 10 points to 18 points. However, if we use the June 26-28 poll as our starting point, then Clinton's lead has shrunk considerably from 43 points. 

Is this confusing? It shouldn't be. This is all about freedom, my friends. The freedom to write whatever story you want, regardless of what's actually happening in a race that's still way too in its infancy to actually assign any real salience to polling. If you want to write that the Democratic primary race is widening, you can. You can also write that the race is tightening. You can also use the Aug. 13-16 polls as your starting point, observe that Clinton has maintained an 18-point lead, and declare that the race is static.

(You wouldn't do that, though. Instead you'd write the "Joe Biden Narrows Gap With Clinton" story. In fact, what's wrong with you? Why haven't you written that story yet? That would be such a sexy, on-trend thing to write right now!)

At any rate, the most accurate way CNN could have described this poll in a headline would be to write "Area Numbers Collected, Placed In Spreadsheet."

Also on HuffPost:

Jason Linkins   |   September 16, 2015    2:12 PM ET

What a difference an election cycle makes.

Back in the 2012 nominating contest, one couldn't help but be impressed with the way then-Texas Rep. Ron Paul and his campaign had undertaken a deep dive into the arcana of the nominating process, using an advanced study of the little-considered ins and outs of state conventions to give his campaign an outsider's shot at winning delegates.

The Paulites from 2012 were earning advanced degrees in politics on the fly -- they could talk your ear off about the process and you would learn something. Their counterparts who've followed Rand Paul, on the other hand, well ... they're getting their fill of stunts on the stump, anyway.

Hey, OK, it's good to have a little fun, but how many times is Rand going to go to this well?

It was back in late July that Paul first performed his vaudeville act with the tax code, in a video in which he gave people the choice of throwing the code in a woodchipper, shredding it with a chainsaw, or just burning it. He didn't offer to shoot it, though! I guess this schtick is evolving.

The problem for Paul is that it was around this time that reports began to surface concerning a deeper dysfunction within his campaign. Multiple sources told Politico's Alex Isenstadt that the Paul campaign was "badly hobbled" by an array of problems, staffed by people who'd been "beaten down by low morale." Per Isenstadt:

They described an operation that pitted a cerebral chief strategist against an intense campaign manager who once got into a physical altercation with the candidate’s bodyguard. And they portrayed an undisciplined politician who wasn’t willing to do what it took to win -- a man who obsessed over trivial matters like flight times, peppered aides with demands for more time off from campaigning and once chose to go on a spring-break jaunt rather than woo a powerful donor.

They sketched a portrait of a candidate who, as he fell further behind in polls, no longer seemed able to break through.

I guess I feel the worst for whatever staffer has to keep printing out and lugging around the tax code for Paul to destroy whenever the fever for a fresh stunt grips him. 

Paul goes into Wednesday's debate polling at about 2.5 percent and competing with Chris Christie to stay out of the relegation zone that would send one of the two to the next "kids' table" debate, should there even be another "kids' table" debate. (And there should not be another one.)

Hey, if Rand Paul is available to do some chores this weekend, could someone on what's left of his campaign tell him to DM me?

Jason Linkins   |   September 10, 2015    4:07 PM ET

Yesterday, I noted that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, after a long and troubled period in which he struggled to manage the day-to-day trials of being a presidential candidate (including such challenges as "taking a position on issues" and "answering questions from reporters"), had finally hit on a novel way of dealing with the stresses of the campaign trail. Instead of discussing what he would do as president in the face of various Oval Office crises, Walker declared all such inquiries to be unfair "hypothetical" questions, which he was not required to answer.

Walker basically stumbled upon this new technique after ABC News asked the governor if he thought the United States "should open its doors" to take in more refugees. "I'm not president today and I can't be president today," said Walker, before forswearing hypothetical questions entirely.

As New York Magazine's always-sharp Jaime Fuller put it, the Republican candidate had found himself a "secret cheat code that allows him to avoid all campaign questions." That really was something of an achievement for Walker, whose typical pattern has been to stake out a position on one day, only to reverse himself later

With that in mind, it will probably come as no surprise to learn that Walker is now reversing his previously stated position on not taking positions. As Wisconsin Public Radio reports:

Gov. Scott Walker said Wednesday that the United States should not take in Syrian refugees. Instead, he said America should focus on taking out the so-called Islamic State, also known as ISIS, to solve the humanitarian crisis in that country.

Walker was criticized Tuesday for dodging a question on whether the U.S. should admit more Syrians fleeing extremist violence and a bloody civil war. Wednesday, while speaking with reporters at the Governor's Small Business Summit in Eau Claire, he clarified his answer: "No, we shouldn't be taking on any more Syrian refugees right now."

Even if we leave aside the perhaps not-very-well-thought-out premise that increasing military strikes in Syria will somehow stanch the flow of terrified refugees out of the country (unless Walker means to specifically target the refugees, a possibility I probably shouldn't discount), some big questions remain: Why not just provide this answer the first time? What was with all that tortured reasoning over the nature of hypotheticals when the actual answer to that hypothetical was a quick-and-dirty "No"? Is there some broken connection between his mouth and the urgings of his donors, or does Walker just need a few hours to think about his answers to questions?

It's genuinely weird that Walker can't seem to get a grip on this, but it's been a constant and noticeable problem. As one anonymous Iowa Republican told Politico last week, "He can't seem to find his way on any given issue with a handheld GPS. ... For the last two months [he] hasn't made a single policy pronouncement that he or his staff hasn't had to clarify or clear up within two hours."

I have an open question to any of the people who lost an election to this guy: How did you lose an election to this guy?

Jason Linkins   |   September 10, 2015   12:21 PM ET

The American political process is, as we all know, an interminable parade of shame and desperation. But the current election cycle has been made a little more bearable thanks to the (relatively) limited number of primary season debates. The Republican National Committee has kept that number somewhere within the realm of rational thought -- they'll have at most 12 debates, and perhaps as few as nine. Their counterparts at the Democratic National Committee have gone a similar route, scheduling six debates beginning in October. This is a substantial improvement over previous election seasons, in which it was common to have debates on a near-weekly basis.

Obviously, the decision not to murder the American people with constant debate-bludgeoning is a net benefit to society. But wherever there's a gathering of nonviable presidential candidates, there will also be a loud call for additional debates, since it's the core belief of every candidate polling at 1 percent that if they could just have a bunch of free media appearances -- say, five or 10 more debates, no big deal! -- they could execute their master plan and maybe end up polling at 5 percent. Or even 6!

So it's no big surprise that over on the Democratic side, where there is one viable candidate (Hillary Clinton) and one viable challenger (Bernie Sanders), we're seeing a demand from other folks in the field -- namely, those who are trying right now to outpoll perennial favorite "Margin of error" -- to have more debates, more opportunities, more, more, more. On Wednesday, a pair of Democratic National Committee vice-chairs, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) and former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, released a statement badgering DNC head Debbie Wasserman Schultz about this very issue. As Maggie Haberman reports for The New York Times:

The party committee’s “decision to limit Presidential candidates to 6 debates, with a threat of exclusion for any candidate who participates in any non-DNC sanctioned debate, is a mistake,” Ms. Gabbard and Mr. Rybak wrote in their statement.


“It limits the ability of the American people to benefit from a strong, transparent, vigorous debate between our Presidential candidates, as they make the important decision of who will be our Democratic Presidential nominee,” they wrote.

In an argument that "echoes a speech given at the party’s summer meeting in Minnesota by [former Maryland governor, Democratic primary also-ran and totally not the inspiration for anyone on 'The Wire' Martin] O’Malley," the two call for "several more debates than the six currently scheduled" and ask the DNC to relax the rules that currently ban Democratic candidates from the official debates if they participate in any non-sanctioned events.

But as The Hill's Jonathan Easley reported Thursday, Wasserman Schultz has declared the debate over debates to be over:

Speaking at a breakfast with reporters hosted by the Christian Science Monitor, Wasserman Schultz, who has been under fire by Democratic presidential candidates and some within the DNC, said the debate schedule was final and there would be no changes.

“We’re not changing the process. We’re having six debates,” she said. “The candidates will be uninvited from subsequent debates if they accept an invitation to anything outside of the six sanctioned debates.”

Sanders also called for more debates earlier this summer, saying, "At a time when many Americans are demoralized about politics and have given up on the political process, I think it’s imperative that we have as many debates as possible." But as Time's Sam Frizell reported in August, the Vermont senator "has rebuffed at least one TV outlet's efforts" to draw him into an unsanctioned debate. It's not hard to guess why Sanders would do this: It doesn't really benefit him to sit in a room with a handful of candidates who are barely scraping by in the polls. Per Frizell:

“It is not in Sanders’ self-interest to give up the possibility of debating Hillary Clinton,” said Kathleen Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. “His advantage is to be in the same stage as her, demonstrating that he can hold his own. He is doing well enough in the polls that forgoing that would be foolish.”

Never let it be said that Sanders isn't capable of cold-blooded political calculus! 

We should note an irony: Back in 2008, when she was the candidate in desperate need of oxygen, Clinton was the one calling for more debates -- and running attack ads against then-Sen. Barack Obama for ducking them.

Sanders, Gabbard and Rybak notwithstanding, it would appear that the door has been shut on additional debates, leaving O'Malley alone with his complaints about the process and his accusations about the system being "rigged" in Clinton's favor. Which, to be fair, is a reasonable suspicion! As Jim Newell noted at Salon in May, "it’s not unfair to describe the Democratic National Committee as an informal adjunct of the Hillary Clinton campaign. She is the establishment front-runner -- the most establishment-y front-runner there has been in the modern era in either party, really -- and the Democratic National Committee is quite literally the Democratic Party establishment."

So no, it's probably not a coincidence that the current, limited debate schedule works out in Clinton's favor. Of course, she's been doing pretty well at the whole "win the support of influential party elites" thing, plus the "claim an overwhelming advantage with party donors" thing -- and maybe once you dominate those competitions, you don't really need Debbie Wasserman Schultz to help you further by arranging a debate schedule that gives your competitors few opportunities to shine. Perhaps that's why Clinton's campaign has "in recent days... suggested that she would be open to having more debates if that’s what the party committee decides to do," according to Haberman.

Then again, there's the distinct possibility that maybe O'Malley is just not great at the whole "being an appealing presidential candidate" thing. O'Malley's current poll average is 1.1 percent. He's never been within 40 points of Clinton, and the last time he was within single digits of Sanders was June 14. For a guy who's only doing slightly better at running for president than I am, how many extra debates is it going to take to fix this? 

Jason Linkins   |   September 9, 2015   10:28 AM ET

To my genuine surprise, no one seems to be wilting under the bright lights of the 2016 campaign trail more thoroughly than Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), who hasn't seemed to be able to put a foot right since his presidential campaign began in earnest. Whether he's allowing himself to get pushed around on staffing decisions, steering headlong into an avoidable hypocrisy, or enunciating policy positions without getting permission from his billionaire backers first, Walker's proved to be easy to intimidate and inept at communicating.

So perhaps it's no surprise that Walker's latest trick is to fall back on what New York Magazine's Jaime Fuller calls the "Secret Cheat Code That Allows Him To Avoid All Campaign Questions." Per Fuller:

ABC News asked Walker how he would respond to the massive influx of refugees from Syria if he were president today. He explained that the query was flawed. As he is obviously not president, Walker argued, there is no way that he would be able to answer that question. “I'm not president today and I can't be president today,” he said. "Everybody wants to talk about hypotheticals; there is no such thing as a hypothetical" -- a sentence that probably would have moved Socrates to set Walker's pants on fire himself.


This is the dodge that Walker's long been seeking, as he's found -- much to his dismay -- that running for president requires one to take questions from reporters about what your positions on issues are and how you'd act once you made it to the White House. You can basically see the Walker campaign as one long attempt to workshop the perfect, Zen-like utterance that not only confers on Walker the ability to avoid questions but subtly impugns the questioner for having the gall to inquire in the first place.

From the beginning, Walker has been working hard at innovating in the question-dodge space. Back in February, when Walker was asked if he believed in evolution -- a junior-high-level science topic -- Walker didn't offer up the "Hey, I'm not a scientist" line that so many other science-averse candidates proffer in that moment. Instead, he just said, "I'm going to punt on that ... That's a question a politician shouldn't be involved in one way or another."

"In some ways, this is an improvement for a politician," wrote Ars Technica's John Timmer, who continued, "But, much more realistically, Walker is punting not because he feels the question shouldn't be answered by politicians, but because he sees lots of political downsides to answering." And that's one thing that has evolved: Walker's ability to minimize the political downsides of his political opinions by keeping them under wraps.

It hasn't always worked out. When CNBC's John Harwood asked about Walker's position on birthright citizenship, Walker insisted he has no position on the matter, despite having clearly enunciated a position on the matter mere hours earlier. It would have been a pretty neat trick if no one had noticed that he'd done so, but unfortunately for Walker, people had.

Still, I guess it was worth a try? After all, now Walker has taken these lessons learned and made a tactical shift in his circumlocutions with reporters. Rather than take a position on a matter, only to have to later pretend to have not done so, Walker will now limit his position-taking by refraining from taking positions on anything that happened in the past, or that might happen in the future. That will leave every reporter with a very narrow range of questions they're allowed to ask, like, "You look handsome today. What is your secret?" This is probably all that Walker's frail heart can handle.

The Wisconsin governor has already begun field-testing his new technique. Earlier this week, he got a second chance to interview with Harwood, and during that time, Walker went on a rather lengthy disquisition about former President Ronald Reagan, his Reagany goodness and Walker's own aspirations to Reagan-ness. Things very nearly hit a snag when Harwoord brought up one of Reagan's own policy positions -- one that Walker could not afford to share. But Walker came up with a genius excuse to avoid the issue entirely:

Harwood: Ronald Reagan, as you know, strongly opposed the passage of Medicare, said it was an infringement of liberty, socialized medicine. Was he right about that?

Walker: Well, we're not going to take Medicare away. He gave that speech, as I remember, three years before I was born. So I can't judge what he meant at the time.

As Jonathan Chait points out, "It is actually very easy to judge what Reagan was saying about Medicare. He was calling it a socialist scheme that would lead to doctors being told where they could live, and would destroy freedom in America." But never mind that: If you go back and check out the Harwood interview, you'll see Walker shift seamlessly from confidently holding court on decisions Reagan made when Walker was a whelp to pretending to not be able to fathom Reagan's thinking.

Nifty trick. Niftier still is going from "Everybody wants to talk about hypotheticals; there is no such thing as a hypothetical" to "I'm talking about what I would do as president, that'll be a year and a half from now" in the same interview. By claiming exemption from doing the two things every presidential candidate has to do -- enunciate the origins of their political thought and describe the steps they'd take in governing the country -- Walker may have hit on a media technique that will keep his timorous candidacy alive. 

And, hey: If reporters respond to these dodges in the same pigeon-hearted fashion, Walker could yet go far.

Also on HuffPost:

Jason Linkins   |   August 24, 2015    4:20 PM ET

As we noted a few days ago, Scott Walker's been having a hard time doing this whole "running for president" thing, and people are starting to notice and wonder. What's a Wisconsin governor to do to "turn the page" and "change the conversation"? How about making an empty gesture of some sort?

Ehh, that'll do nicely, I guess! Monday afternoon, Walker  decided to call for President Barack Obama to cancel a state dinner with Chinese President Xi Jinping, on the grounds that the stock market had a bad day today, or something. As the Wisconsin governor said in a statement:

Americans are struggling to cope with the fall in today's markets driven in part by China's slowing economy and the fact that they actively manipulate their economy. Rather than honoring Chinese President Xi Jinping with an official state visit next month, President Obama should focus on holding China accountable over its increasing attempts to undermine U.S. interests. Given China’s massive cyberattacks against America, its militarization of the South China Sea, continued state interference with its economy, and persistent persecution of Christians and human rights activists, President Obama needs to cancel the state visit. There's serious work to be done rather than pomp and circumstance. We need to see some backbone from President Obama on U.S.-China relations.

Yes, there's serious work to be done, so let's do it some other time, after you've had time to sit and think about what you've done, China. You can just see how all of the problems Walker enumerates are going to get solved by snubbing China's leadership.

Is this, perhaps, the "Trump effect" (or as the Germans call it, "der Trumpeffekt") messing with Walker's message? Maybe so. After all, it was just two years ago that Walker was making his own flamboyant journey to China, to break bread with that nation's business leaders on a trade mission he gladly self-promoted. Walker palled around with Chinese fans of Milwaukee's own Harley-Davidson motorcycles, and waxed enthusiastically about the fundamentals of the Chinese economy. Per Forbes' Russell Flannery:

China’s slowing economic growth weighed down stock markets in Asia last week but one influential first-time visitor to the country views it as still holding plenty of business promise.


“In a lot of states in America, we’d like to have that kind of slow growth they are projecting” even in some of China’s slower-expanding regions, said Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker in an interview in Shanghai last week. “We’re still very big on doing business in Shanghai in particular, but throughout the country, “ said Walker, expressing confidence that commerce between China and his state would increase quickly in the future. “I just see it taking off,” he said.

Such backbone! Well, a lot has changed since then. For instance, Walker has fallen into the third tier of polling for the 2016 Republican primary! Also, he's said to be "struggling" in Iowa, a state whose governor, Terry Branstad, has worked hard to establish a good relationship with -- umm...China.

So perhaps this is about keeping up with the Trumpses, and using the reality-teevee mogul's trademarked anti-China rhetoric to do so. Or maybe this is just garden-variety desperation mixed with inexperience. Either way, it boils down to Walker demanding a president he's not running against do something that Walker himself wouldn't dare do if he became president himself -- a prospect that's lately dimming.


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Jason Linkins   |   August 24, 2015   11:41 AM ET

Over the past few months, the slate of GOP presidential candidates has gone from glowing reviews of the Republicans' "deep bench" compared to the scant participation of rival Democrats, to recognition of how big that bench actually is and the sight of Fox News struggling to accommodate all comers at the first important debate. One would imagine that what most party leaders and conservative pundits are hoping for now is some kind of winnowing of the field from the pretenders to the contenders.

But there is one obvious exception: Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol, who -- for some reason -- wants more candidates to enter the race. And by "more," I mean nine additional dudes.

What is it about the current field of 17 candidates that doesn't cut it for Kristol? Well, in this week's piece, "An October Surprise for the GOP" (in which the "October Surprise" comes one year sooner than a traditional "October Surprise"), Kristol doesn't actually get around to laying out any specific reasons. He can't say that "the GOP isn't on course to nominating their very own Dukakis," and he suspects Donald Trump has forced a "distorted view of the quality of the field," but that's about it. Kristol just ... isn't sure, man.

But there is one thing that he suspects to be true. "Well," writes Kristol, "it's not as if every well-qualified contender is already on the field."

O RLY? Per Kristol:

Mitch Daniels was probably the most successful Republican governor of recent times, with federal executive experience to boot. Paul Ryan is the intellectual leader of Republicans in the House of Representatives, with national campaign experience. The House also features young but tested leaders like Jim Jordan, Trey Gowdy and Mike Pompeo. There is the leading elected representative of the 9/11 generation who has also been a very impressive freshman senator, Tom Cotton. There could be a saner and sounder version of Trump -- another businessman who hasn't held electoral office. And there are distinguished conservative leaders from outside politics; Justice Samuel Alito and General (ret.) Jack Keane come to mind.

Won't some of these guys run for president? After all, if they don't get in the race and start competing, Bill Kristol might never get around to identifying the five or six people he really, REALLY wants to see run for president. Although maybe we're learning that Kristol's true dream ticket is "Diazepam/A Long Nap 2016."

(Sidebar: You have to feel a little bit bad for Carly Fiorina here, whom Kristol would pass over in favor of some "saner and sounder ... businessman who hasn't held electoral office." Gotta be one of those out there somewhere!) 

But look, this is old hat. Kristol's uncertainty about the quality of the GOP field is basically a return to the column-stuffing schtick he regularly deployed four years ago. As you may recall, Kristol spent most of the latter half of 2011 inside his Glass Case Of Emotion, constantly lamenting Mitt Romney's status as front-runner and constantly writing regular articles about how no one was inevitable, how better candidates were always available to join the race, and how there was always -- ALWAYS! -- enough time for a savior to make a late bid for the Republican nomination. 

On Sept. 23, 2011, Kristol reacted to that week's primary debate by saying, "Yikes ... maybe the GOP presidential boat needs rocking." In an Oct. 25 dispatch, he bragged that "81 percent of the GOP primary voters" were "in play" and that the "race seem[ed] to be more open and fluid than conventional wisdom has it." Kristol's post-Thanksgiving tryptophan hangover led to a brief screed denying that Romney was "inevitable" and insisting that "a late January entry by another candidate isn't out of the question." Come Dec. 8, Kristol was endorsing a Rhodes Cook piece about how it wasn't "too late for a candidate to enter the race" and suggesting there was a "window of opportunity" for such a candidate to get in around Valentine's Day. On Dec. 19, Kristol wrote a piece begging for some "non-Hughes, non-Dewey, non-Nixon, non-Dole Republican candidate to present himself" by Presidents' Day weekend to save the GOP from Romney. By December's end, Kristol was suggesting that the GOP's only hope was a brokered convention

During that time, Kristol never ran out of potential game-changing dark horse candidates, offering Rudy Giuliani, John Thune, Mitch Daniels, Mike PencePaul Ryan, Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and Chris Christie as the certain rescuers of the GOP's White House ambitions. And throughout it all, Kristol was inspired by the illustrious voices of history's specters, like the "ghosts of Lincoln and FDR" or Harry Truman or Alexander Hamilton or Geoffrey Chaucer or William Butler Yeats.

In fact, this ground has been so well trod by Kristol that poor Yeats is being conscripted into his second "Please, please somebody else run for president" tour of duty. This week, Kristol draws on Yeats' "The Second Coming" to wonder, "But what if come October all we have is Bushies lacking all conviction, Trumpers full of passionate intensity, and a bunch of uninspiring also-rans?" Now, let's flash back to Sept. 23, 2011:

A third e-mailer Thursday evening, watching the debate, was reminded of Yeats's "The Second Coming:"

"The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity."

There's some truth to that. But I can't help wondering if, in the same poem, Yeats didn't suggest the remedy:

"And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,/Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?"

Sounds like Chris Christie.  

There's a special irony there. The New Jersey governor is one of a handful of 2016 candidates whom Kristol desperately wanted to run in 2012. Now, Kristol isn't sure that Christie -- along with Rubio, Bush and Huckabee -- is worthy of seeking the nomination at all. The man is like Prince's mom: never satisfied.

One can only wonder how Kristol is going to hold it together this time out. Here he is, standing at the threshold of his mid-autumn anxiety attack and it's only August. But maybe it's not too late for Kristol to find some way to chill, if only for a few months. After all, the way he ends his piece suggests that he's not chosen the path of panic just yet.

It may seem odd to suggest that the solution to an already unprecedentedly large field is to expand it further. But politics is full of oddities. And what would be truly odd would be to go into battle in 2016 with a candidate we settle on rather than a nominee the country can rally behind. The presidency would be a terrible thing to waste.

One thing's for sure: I believe Kristol when he says that the presidency would be a terrible thing to waste because he ended his Dec. 19, 2011, column the exact same way.

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Jason Linkins   |   July 23, 2015    3:03 PM ET

Back in 2005, Jim Webb -- the former Secretary of the Navy under President Ronald Reagan -- was urged to take part in a new mission: enter the Virginia Senate race, dispatch the Democratic Party's bland establishment hopeful Harris Miller, and ride on to vanquish incumbent Sen. George Allen (R-Va.). At the back of this play was a coterie of progressive Virginia activists and bloggers who rolled out the first "Draft James Webb" website and offered fulsome encouragement from perches like the state's widely read Raising Kaine blog.

You know how this story ended. With a lot of work -- and, let's face it, a little luck in the form of a video of Allen enunciating his own career epitaph by saying "macaca" -- Webb prevailed and joined the Senate in the autumn of the Democratic Congressional takeover. Webb would serve one term before making way for Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.).

Now, nearly 10 years after Webb was drafted to embark on his political career, the former senator has set his sights on a larger prize -- the Democratic Party's presidential nomination. But some of the people who helped pave the way for Webb's electoral career won't be joining up for his presidential campaign.

"I don't support it in any way, shape, or form," says Lowell Feld, a Democratic political activist who maintains a kinetic presence on Blue Virginia, one of the state's most popular blogs for progressive politics. As recently as 2013, Feld was describing his work with the "Draft Webb" movement as the thing that made 2006 the best year of his career. As he put it, it was "undoubtedly the most wild, crazy, exhilarating, fun year I've ever had in politics." A year and a half on, whatever exhilaration he once felt working with Webb has fully diminished.

Feld's disaffection with Webb begins with a concise set of issues: "My focus is heavily on climate and clean energy," Feld says. "Webb just mostly doesn't talk about it. When he does, it's not in a compelling way. And I'm surprised he's not open to discussing it. To me, it's not an 'issue,' it's something that's game over for humanity."

But as Feld discusses Webb's recent campaign, his dissatisfaction over Webb's environmental stances -- or lack thereof -- inevitably leads to the discussion of an even deeper inconsistency with Webb as a presidential candidate: Webb's pointed break with the Democratic party at a time when the party's economic policies are seemingly swinging into greater alignment with the ones Webb articulated during his Senate run.

"One of the first things he said to me when I met him," says Feld, "was when I asked him why he had become a Democrat, he told me that the GOP had gone off the deep end, and that the Democrats were the only party with a set of viable economic policies. Now he's saying that the Democrats have gone too far to the left. In what way? This economic populism -- this is stuff you've been talking about."

Feld offers a wry chuckle, "Hey, correct me if I'm wrong here, but to run for president as a Democrat, you have to first win a Democratic nomination, right? Don't know how you get there insulting Democratic voters." (According to HuffPost Pollster's latest polling average, Webb is polling at 1.4 percent -- 57 points behind Hillary Clinton and 16 points behind Bernie Sanders.)

Lee Diamond, another veteran of the "Draft Webb" movement, echoes Feld's sentiments -- from his unhappiness with Webb's stated stances on the environment and energy ("I've prodded him on global warming, he hasn't taken it up"), to a confusion with Webb's seeming reluctance to embrace a party that has, if anything, moved in his direction on economic matters. "There is a consistency between [Elizabeth] Warren and Sanders and Webb, but he's keeping it vague," Diamond tells me. "But I don't know where he wants to go."

"Look, Jim is not a fan of class warfare," Diamond says, "I get that. I'm not either. But it's reality: Class warfare is being waged against the American people."

There was a time when Webb seemed perfectly capable of making his stance on the working class and their economic straits a lot more explicit. Take, for example, this passage from his 2004 book, Born Fighting: How The Scots-Irish Shaped America:

The ever-hungry industrialists have discovered that West Virginia, eastern Kentucky and southwest Virginia sat atop one huge vein of coal. And so the rape began. The people from the outside showed up with complicated contracts that the small-scale cattle raisers and tobacco farmers could not fully understand, asking for "rights" to mineral deposits they could not see, and soon they were treated to a sundering of their own earth as the mining companies ripped apart their way of life, so that after a time the only option was to go down into the hole and bring the Man his coal, or starve. The Man got his coal, and the profits it brought when he shipped it out. They got their wages, black lung, and the desecration of their land. ... Coal made this part of Appalachia a poverty-stricken basket case while the rest of the mountain region remained mired in isolation.


All this talk of "raping" and "sundering the earth" so that "The Man" (capital T, capital M!) might cart off profits, leaving Appalachia "desecrated" suggests that at one point, Webb at least was more florid in his class-war condemnations than either Warren or Sanders, if not bolder.

And there are certainly those who were with Webb when he launched his 2006 Senate run who remain convinced he hasn’t changed. Webb's former deputy field director, Josh Chernila, is keeping the faith. "I love Senator Webb," he tells me. "I think he is a unique and powerful presence in American politics. He once said that a revolution in American politics would take place if working class whites and working class African Americans could put aside their differences and find common cause. Truer words were never spoken."

But asked for his take on when Webb might start vocalizing the urgent need for this common cause on the campaign trail, Chernila suggested that it was something that was going to slowly and subtly reveal itself: "His strategy there has not been to talk directly about institutional racism in the judicial system, but to focus on the uniform abuses in for-profit prisons and sentencing.  He's not explicitly talking about race there, but everything there is about race."

"So, I don't think he'll actually speak directly to race," says Chernila, "even if it is likely he could be a powerful leader for bringing justice to communities of color."

But Webb is already off to a rough start on the common cause front. Earlier this month, while discussing his discontent with the Democratic party in an interview on "Fox News Sunday," he suggested that the reactions of those who sought to remove the Confederate flag from Southern statehouses in the wake of the Charleston shooting were not dissimilar from reality-TV star Donald Trump's comments on Mexican immigrants.

"This kind of divisive, inflammatory rhetoric by people who want to be commander in chief is not helpful. And we have seen from the liberal side as well this kind of rhetoric as it goes to Southern white cultures,” said Webb, enshrining this bizarre comparison.

This didn't sit well with some of Webb's former allies. As Feld reported in the comments of Blue Virginia, Conaway Haskins, who served as Webb's state director from 2007 to 2011, took to his Facebook page to condemn his former boss: "Making false equivalencies between people who oppose Confederate nostalgia and Donald Trump's anti-Mexican comments and insulting as 'far left' the very Democrats who fueled your 2006 Senate campaign surely is a curious way to run for the Democratic presidential nomination." (Haskins could not be reached for comment.)

Feld was left similarly unimpressed. "We saw some of this in 2006. We knew Webb had Confederate ancestors and a fondness for the heritage.” 

“But what does this have to do with Democrats being 'too far left?'” Feld said in exasperation. “It was [South Carolina Governor] Nikki Haley and Republicans who took down those flags."

Wherever Webb goes from here, he'll go without many of the supporters that first took his "Born Fighting" persona and fashioned it into a viable political candidate. The Huffington Post reached out to many of the people who worked prominently on Webb's campaign, but didn't hear back from many of them. One source with familiarity of the situation, however, tells The Huffington Post that a number of "people who were absolutely critical to Jim Webb's U.S. Senate run don't want anything to do with him."

"He seems to be serving as his own strategist," jokes Diamond, who adds, "I don't see him as presidential material. He has an impressive resume, but he lacks the necessary broad grasp of the issues."

"My understanding," says Feld, "is that a number of [Webb's early supporters] may have been helping early in his exploratory period, but they're mostly all gone now."

"He's lost me," Feld continues. "I can't follow him anymore. I don't know where he's coming from, don't know where he's going. Jim is a complicated guy, but this is beyond complicated -- it's just incoherent."

The Webb campaign did not reply to our request for comment.


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Jason Linkins   |   July 17, 2015    3:37 PM ET

Hillary Clinton's campaign has an office. It's in Brooklyn, a New York City borough famed for its high rents, like all New York City boroughs. People work in that office, at desks, with laptops, doing campaign stuff. When asked, those people all express a willingness to be there.

That's basically the "too long; didn't read" version of this week's important race to chase the big story, in which Bloomberg and Politico competed to be the first organization to get "exclusive" access to Clinton's campaign digs. The race ended in a draw. Why was the existence of a campaign office, and the need to be temporarily embedded within its prosaic confines, of such importance to these institutions? Therein hangs a semi-boring story!

See, a few weeks ago, a great hue and cry was raised after reporters at a Clinton campaign event in New Hampshire were corralled by Clinton campaign staff in an actual rope, held by those staffers for the purpose of keeping the press at arm's length from the campaign. This was, justly, a moment of marginal embarrassment for the Clinton campaign, as it reinforced an already existing meme about Clinton as a politician: that she is press-averse, and that this aversion has led to a toxic relationship with the media.

All of this happened over the Independence Day holiday weekend. Also happening that weekend: Hillary Clinton was meeting with the New York Times reporter and This Town author Mark Leibovich, a gifted profiler of public figures and media professionals. Leibovich's piece, which was published in the New York Times Magazine less than two weeks later, specifically burrowed into this meme, capturing Clinton as a veteran politician striving for a fresh start both with voters and with the media.

I think that part of the fun of being Mark Leibovich is getting to see what part of his article becomes the thing that everyone decides is "the big takeaway" and being amused by this decision. This time out, he was surely not disappointed. Upon the profile's publication, the hive mind of the political media, which broadcasts its collective unconsciousness on Twitter, decided there were two things worth remembering about Leibovich's story. The first thing was that Hillary Clinton had once eaten moose stew. And then there was this part:

In June, I visited Clinton’s Brooklyn Heights headquarters to interview Robby Mook, her 35-year-old campaign manager. The meeting had been arranged through Jesse Ferguson, a campaign press minder, who in advance of my arrival sent me an email that said the following: "The ground rules we’ve had with others in our office is that the office itself is OTR," meaning off the record. "I don’t want to get into a contest of people tweeting pic from our office to show they were there."

I wrote back that I was not abiding by any "office is off the record" provisions and that it was not clear to me how you could declare a 40,000-square-foot space off the record. I did agree not to tweet.

Ferguson came back asking me if I would "embargo" anything that I saw in the office until the time my article was published. He made it sound as if I were gaining access to the Situation Room. "Regardless when the story runs," he wrote, it "still means you’re the first reporter who can report anything from the office."

And that's how "visiting Hillary Clinton's Brooklyn campaign office" suddenly took on paramount importance with some campaign journalists. Which is weird! As Leibovich warned in his piece, "the office ... basically resembled a large insurance company." There's a great irony there, because political reporters could probably learn a lot more about contemporary American life and the people living it if they actually did visit the offices of a large insurance company.

Unfortunately for everyone involved, Bloomberg and Politico visited the Clinton campaign office instead, where they learned that "campaign offices" are full of eager people who come ready to dispense pleasing bromides about civic duty and the importance of playing a part in a big presidential campaign. Or, as Bloomberg's Mark Halperin enthused as he began a broadcast of his show "With All Due Respect" live and exclusive from Clinton HQ, "They've got it all ... computers, telephones, partial wall dividers."

Maybe I'm wrong to say that this battle of who could care the most about something insignificant ended in a draw, because I suppose that it is objectively "cooler" to get to broadcast your Internet television show from a previously well-guarded aerie than it is to merely tour the office and shoot still photographs, as Politico did. On the other hand, no one at Politico has to work for Michael Bloomberg, who is rumored to have taken a very dim view of Halperin's antics. So I guess it's a wash either way you look at it.

Politico's Annie Karni, who drew the assignment of wandering through Clinton's office, looking for meaning, comes home with a slideshow of images, documenting the existence of several offices and three sets of cubicles into which varying "teams" of the Clinton campaign have settled themselves. Clinton's communications director, Jennifer Palmieri, tells Karni that everyone who heard that reporters were not welcome at the office just got the wrong idea:

“We want to make sure people can do their work, but otherwise we’re happy to have people come check it out,” Palmieri said.

The original policy of prohibiting journalists from reporting on the campaign headquarters, she said, was misinterpreted as overly controlling. “When people come in for meetings, you want the operation to continue to function and that if something is overheard, or a memo is seen, it’s not going to get reported on,” Palmieri said. “It seems like that was received the wrong way.”

There is very little of interest that Politico discovers in the Clinton campaign office. Maybe the only interesting thing is that in campaign chairman John Podesta's office, there is "a dark painting of two suited men holding plates and silverware in preparation to eat another man, who appears to be dead."

"POLITICO was not allowed to document the memos and papers on his desk," Politico reports, in case anyone out there thought that this sort of thing would ever be tacitly allowed by anyone working in any office, anywhere.

Karni describes this visit as "part of a new effort [from the Clinton campaign] to engage with the national media that follows on the heels of Clinton’s first national television interview last week." Considering that this was just a guided tour of an office, conducted by Clinton's communications director -- the only person quoted in the piece -- this would seem to be an exercise in low-bar clearance.

Halperin seems to fare better in his foray into the Clinton office, as he and his cohost Margaret Talev at least get to speak to a number of fresh-faced Clinton campaign workers (including former Winter Olympian Michelle Kwan), all of whom seem to be well-prepared (probably because they were specifically prepped) to offer cheerful homilies about working on the Clinton campaign.

The centerpiece of the "With All Due Respect" broadcast is a sit-down interview in which Halperin and Talev talk shop with Clinton political director Amanda Renteria and campaign "director of states" Marlon Marshall, each of whom capably responds to each question with an array of safe platitudes. Asked about the "ethos of this particular campaign," Renteria offers, "It's interesting, it's creative, we really are trying to push the envelope of 'give us your ideas and let's try it out.'" They "work together, not in silos." They are "very deliberate about culture."

I'll say! When Halperin asks if they require the younger members of the campaign team to follow any specific "political rules," Renteria says that everyone is told, "Don't forget why you're here" and "Look around and breathe in and enjoy it." This probably goes without saying, but these aren't "political rules" -- they're "stuff people put on motivational posters."

Halperin asks about the success Sen. Bernie Sanders has had, making headway in the primary race while Clinton's other Democratic rivals haven't. "Can he beat Clinton in either Iowa or New Hampshire or both?"

Clinton campaign states' director Marlon Marshall responds: "First of all, we always expected a competitive primary --"

Halperin cuts him off: "I've heard that line."

"I'm repeating it," said Marshall. "It's a true line."

OK, well, we're really making headway now.

Here are other things I learned, thanks to Bloomberg and Politico:

  • The Clinton volunteers "work hard."

  • They have a board that lists who rode around on the campaign bus.

  • "Each team has come up with its own slogan, which flies above the team’s seating area. The communications team, for instance, calls itself 'sources close to the campaign.' The policy team is known as 'wonks for the win.'"

  • They have an old, brown refrigerator.

  • When asked, the people who work on the Clinton campaign can briefly summarize their particular jobs.

  • Campaign manager Robby Mook's office has a "standing desk" and a "cheerful flowering plant," in case you thought he maybe had a really sulky flowering plant.

  • That brown refrigerator is apparently "infamous."

  • There is one "off-message" moment, in which Renteria seems to imply to Halperin that she'd punch Donald Trump if she ran up on him in the streets. Should that happen, The Huffington Post will cover it in our Entertainment section.

  • This one guy made an edible arrangement with berries that looked like the Clinton campaign logo and put it on Instagram, and this is "social media."

  • Halperin works really hard to get to the bottom of the whole berry thing. Where did they come from? Why berries? A dogged pursuit of the truth, about berries.

  • The brown refrigerator was donated, maybe?

  • "It's like a family."

  • Cedar Rapids, Iowa, is the "Brooklyn of the Midwest."

Per Politico, this is the most important thing I learned:

Clinton herself does not keep an office at the Brooklyn HQ -- she typically works out of a separate Midtown office and so far has visited the Brooklyn office just once.

So, that brown refrigerator has actually been a greater presence in this office than the candidate. Good thing all this effort was made to gain access to it. And yes, we have to thank Mark Leibovich for all of this:

Anyway, this was a nice trick. Candidate wants a fresh start with the press. The press sets terms: Let us into your office. This turns out to be the easiest, no-risk thing in the world for the candidate. So after a bit of prep and spit-shining (but not too much spit-shining -- that old brown refrigerator stands in testament to the campaign's middle-class frugality, after all!), the reporters enter, gather their quotes and depart, firm in the knowledge that they have done something special.

So what if the reader is left with no insight into the candidate or her policy preferences? So what if the content generated from these escapades ranges from poll-tested platitudes to annotated interior decoration? The point of this exercise is that the campaign press believes that they have a sacred role to play and that the Clinton campaign had sinned by not honoring that role with sufficient solemnity.

In the end, everyone got what they wanted. Quite cheaply, at that.

Former Virginia Gov. Might Also Run For President Because Why Not?

Jason Linkins   |   July 8, 2015    3:43 PM ET

If you were worried the GOP presidential field was going to top out at a measly 17 candidates, never fear: Jim Gilmore is going to be the next Republican to maybe run for the White House. This news comes to us by way of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, to whom Gilmore evidently spilled the beans in "an exclusive telephone interview."

Cool, cool.

But back up a minute! Who is Jim Gilmore, this potentially electric new entrant into the 2016 race? As a matter of fact, Gilmore is the former governor of Virginia. No, not the "macaca" guy. That was George Allen. And not the guy who was sentenced to federal prison earlier this year -- that was Bob McDonnell. Gilmore is the guy who succeeded Allen and who in turn was succeeded by Gov. Mark Warner (D), serving between 1998 and 2002.

Is that starting to ring some bells? Hey, if not, don't feel bad. I had a hard time remembering much of Gilmore's term, and I lived in Virginia for its entirety. Here's a refresher: Gilmore's big thing was trying to get rid of Virginia's personal property tax on automobiles. He nearly succeeded, until the state legislature balked at how costly the move would be. Gilmore also implemented a statewide education reform program called Standards Of Learning, a major legacy of which is that every teacher in Virginia now has one or two jokes involving the acronym S.O.L.

Gilmore is also the governor who gave Martin Luther King Jr. his own holiday in Virginia. Prior to that, the state had honored King as part of a thing called "Lee-Jackson-King Day," in which the famed civil rights leader was celebrated alongside noted Confederate guys Robert E. Lee and Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, because you can't spell "Virginia" without several of the letters in "irony."

"Gilmore... Gilmore," you're saying. "The one who sort of looks like Ed Asner?"

Yes! Yes, yes. That's the one. Good job!

Actually, Gilmore has run for president before. The year was 2007: Apple was set to unveil the first iPhone, the Police had announced plans for a reunion tour and Jim Gilmore was filing paperwork with the Federal Election Commission to create the Jim Gilmore Presidential Exploratory Committee. He made his candidacy official in April of that year, saying, "That's why I'm in this race, as a consistent conservative that the American people can count on, someone who won't waffle, waver, change or pretend they're someone else to get this nomination." He even had a pretty good quip, referring to the three GOP front-runners at the time -- Rudy Giuliani, John McCain and Mitt Romney -- as "Rudy McRomney."

Unfortunately, Gilmore never polled much higher than 2 percent in that campaign, and he eventually dropped out of the race owing to health complications from a detached retina. Not long after, he got waxed by Mark Warner in Virginia's 2008 Senate race.

What's he been up to since then? I don't know and won't check, but I'll update this story if anyone at his office feels like emailing me a condensed version. At the very least, it's safe to say that Gilmore hasn't spent the past few years being camera-hungry or seeking out opportunities to interject himself into the news cycle. He's not (yet!) associated with any of our country's various billionaire dandies who like to collect pet politicians. And while his previous run for president was accompanied by a groundswell of support, there doesn't appear to be any such thing this time around. (Here's how the website looked on Jan. 9, 2007, three months before Gilmore declared his candidacy. Today, appears to be a sad spam blog nominally dedicated to "Strong Booze, Fast Cars and Cool Stuff" -- which wouldn't be the worst presidential platform, actually.)

So, why is this happening? Per the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

He said he does not think any other Republican candidates have addressed what he considers the vital national security and economic concerns facing the nation.

"I don't think we're addressing the threat to the country," Gilmore said. He added: "I bring to the table experience that others don't have."

... The former governor said he is particularly concerned about "the emergency internationally," citing not just the so-called Islamic State, but Russia's ventures in Ukraine and China's moves in the South China Sea.

He also said he believes President Barack Obama's economic policies have undermined what should be a "foundation of strength" for the nation.

At last, we'll have a Republican candidate who will talk about Russia, terrorists and how much they hate Obama's economic policies. Truly, these have been hitherto unaddressed matters.

For some reason, Gilmore will wait until the first week of August to make his "formal announcement," the Times-Dispatch reports. University of Virginia political science Professor Larry Sabato predicts that Gilmore's candidacy will be "short or ineffectual."

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Say Goodbye To Another Ridiculous June On The 2016 Campaign Trail

Jason Linkins   |   July 1, 2015    7:37 PM ET

Well, kids, another month of presidential electioneering is in the books. We've made it to July of 2015, and what a frabjous day it is for our nation. At this point, just about everyone who is going to try to run for president in the 2016 election cycle is in the race. The lone holdouts are basically one guy who's been a presumed candidate since November of 2012 (Scott Walker) and two guys (John Kasich and Jim Webb) who are waiting to announce, probably because they think that after a sufficient amount of time passes, we'll all be nostalgic for that period of time when everyone was making announcements. And they'll probably be right.

Think about it. Just one year from now, the vast majority of these people will be just like George Pataki -- not their party's nominee. These are the halcyon days when it feels like anything is possible, including terrible, stupid things. This week, I woke from a fitful sleep, having dreamt that eight or nine GOP candidates were still going after the Iowa caucuses, having each taken about 8 or 9 percent of that vote. Everyone's a winner! Everyone gets a delegate! The state convention is an orgy of feverish backbiting and fisticuffs. I turned to Frontloading HQ's Josh Putnam to help me with these night terrors, and his assurances about this thing called "winnowing" are doing the trick for the time being.

Still, what a country we live in. It's a place where running for president is a thing that an ostensibly rational person does because he's desperate and has no other choice. It's an honest land in which a child might be more excited about a passing turtle than his father's impending presidential candidacy. It's a nation of dreamers, forever striving, knowing that if a Cheeto-colored bag of dead slugs and bluster can, even briefly, top the primary polls, so can they.

Who knows what marvels lie ahead? All I know is that it's time to say a fond farewell to June of 2015 and the things that made this month the Very Best Month of the 2016 Election Cycle.

Thus Endeth The "No Michael Bloomberg" Speculation Portion Of The 2016 Election. Much like Christmas or thoughts of your own impending mortality, the day that a bunch of people start grandly pontificating on how former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is the answer to a question that's never been asked seems to come earlier every year. This time out, it's June of 2015, paced by a weird, rationale-free USA Today op-ed from Michael Wolff and a New York Post piece that describes how "New York Dems friendly to Bloomberg have approached him to gauge his interest" in running for president.

The "President Bloomberg" fantasia is pretty old hat by now, but it's worth pointing out how this time something fundamental has changed. In times past, Bloomberg was floated as some kind of independent alternative to another round of Republican-versus-Democrat, a truly "centrist" candidate with gobs and gobs of crossover appeal. Some of our most failed political institutions (unless the point of them was to separate members of the private equity/hedge fund set from their money, in which case they were successful), like Americans Elect and No Labels, exist solely because the alluring force of President Bloomberg fan fiction is, for some, stronger than most designer drugs.

What's unique to this new swelling of Bloomberg mania, however, is that no one's even pretending anymore that the mayor has crossover potential. There's been a modicum of succumbing to reality, in that Bloomberg is now a punchline in conservative circles: He's the guy who is coming for your guns, or your cigarettes, or your trans fats, or your sodas. That truly "independent, centrist" dream is over.

What's been substituted in its place is that he's now an appealing candidate for the Democratic base, in the event that it becomes significantly less besotted with Hillary Clinton, as the Democratic base currently is. That leads to some weird contortions. Take, for example, Michael Goodwin's New York Post report, in which he wrote:

A dirty secret behind Hillary Clinton’s lead in the Democratic presidential race is the lack of a credible challenger. Despite rising voter disgust over sordid revelations about the Clinton Foundation, there is no appealing alternative.

The situation led some disgruntled Democrats to push Sen. Elizabeth Warren to run, an effort that folded [a month ago]. But now comes word of a bid to entice another big-name challenger, and this one is far more intriguing.

It aims to get former Mayor Michael Bloomberg into the race.

You aren't going to find many Democrats whose hearts' desire shifts seamlessly from anti-Wall Street crusader Elizabeth Warren to anti-Elizabeth Warren crusader Michael Bloomberg, unless you're somehow imprisoned with them in their homes on the Upper West Side or, maybe, Tribeca.

Wolff, to his credit, did not equate Bloomberg with Warren. His mistake was equating Bloomberg with someone who could compete in, and hope to win, the Democratic Party nomination. Except Wolff seemed to think that Bloomberg would somehow convince the aforementioned crossover voters, who are now alienated by Bloomberg's policies, to not just vote for him en masse but to do so as supporters of a Democratic presidential ticket. But those crossover voters have alternatives, colloquially known as "Republican candidates."

"Here is a counterintuitive take," wrote Gawker's Alex Pareene. "Given a choice between a conventional Democrat and Michael Bloomberg, Democratic primary voters will select a Democrat." Dunno, man, that sounds pretty out there.

Goodbye, "Run Warren Run"! In June, at least one of the various efforts to draft Elizabeth Warren as a presidential candidate conceded to the reality that she is just not going to run for president in 2016. In a piece in Politico, Ilya Sherman and Charles Chamberlain explained "Why We're Suspending the 'Run Warren Run' Campaign," but "still declaring victory" despite having failed to "achieve our central goal."

Cool, cool, only how does that work? They wrote, "Although Run Warren Run may not have sparked a candidacy, it ignited a movement." OK! How does that work? According to Sherman and Chamberlain, the organization engaged voters in early primary states on the issues central to Warren's policy brief, succeeded in getting Warren's message out to a wider audience, and "sent a message to Democrats: Take on the special interests rigging the system, and we'll have your back." (Since then, fast-track authority to ratify the Trans-Pacific Partnership passed, so I guess we'll see this back-having put to the test.)

At some point, one of the Draft Warren movements might consider whether Warren's popularity, and the readiness of Warren fans to fund these sorts of organizations, might provide the means by which other people who share Warren's point of view are identified and encouraged to run for state and local political offices, thus forming a deep bench of Democrats who think more like the Massachusetts senator and less like, say, Larry Summers. This is just an idea I had!

Hasta La Vista, Iowa Straw Poll! Iowa, so much to answer for ... the outsized influence on the electoral process, the ethanol pandering, the steak fries at which no steaks get fried. For as long as mankind has walked this earth, we have dreamed of diminishing Iowa's role in our presidential elections. This year, there finally came a breakthrough. The Iowa Straw Poll, which recently propelled Michele Bachmann to nearly eight full hours of game-changing dominance, is no more, a casualty of dwindling returns and overall "meh." Never again will a candidate be able to gain a brief advantage from being able to "buy enough voters" and "put them on buses" and "have the best funnel cake of any major candidate." (Sorry its demise came too late for you, Tim Pawlenty.)

See You Later, People Who Were Staffing Ben Carson's Campaign! Jeezy-creezy! It's only June 2015 and we're already getting our first taste of "campaign turmoil" and "mass staff departures"? In fairness, this has happened before: Back in June of 2011, Newt Gingrich's presidential campaign suffered the same sort of shake-up, with his campaign staff resigning en masse after the former speaker elected "to leave on an overseas vacation with his wife weeks into a fledgling campaign."

But what happened with Carson? As The Washington Post's Robert Costa and Philip Rucker reported, the former neurosurgeon's campaign team ended up crosswise with one another due to "widespread disarray among his allied super PACs." What a mess this was. Per Costa and Rucker:

Two independent super PACs designed to help Carson are instead competing directly with Carson’s campaign for donations and volunteers, while campaign chairman Terry Giles resigned last month with the intention of forming a third super PAC.

Giles said he intends to try to persuade the other two super PACs, called Run Ben Run and One Vote, to cease operations so that all outside efforts can be coordinated through the new group. But with Carson’s brand a galvanizing force on the right, there are potentially millions of dollars to be raised off his name, and the other super PACs are said to be reluctant to shut down.

It's no wonder these competing PAC-men would be hesitant to shut down their operations -- Carson has been, if nothing else, a cash cow for those who lucked into his unexpected success. Now, the Carson campaign is making good on the old Eric Hoffer misquote, "Every great cause begins as a movement and eventually becomes a racket."

This is probably not how the people who originally conceived the Carson campaign thought it would go. Unless, of course, this is exactly how they thought it would go!

We'll Miss The Brief Boomlet Of People Putting Jokes In The Source Code Of Campaign Websites. So, yeah. That was a thing.

We'll Always Remember That Amazing Debate Over The Metric System. As The Daily Beast's Betsy Woodruff reported, no one will be able to claim that Bobby Jindal and Lincoln Chafee failed to leave their mark on what's going to definitely be The Most Important Election In The History Of America:

Adorably optimistic presidential contenders Bobby Jindal and Lincoln Chafee are duking it out over whether or not the United States should move to the metric system.

Chafee, the former Democratic governor of Rhode Island, brought up this key issue when he announced his quixotic presidential bid to a half-empty room in the soulless suburb of Arlington, Virginia. He indicated that moving to the metric system could help right some of the wrongs committed during the Iraq War, as it would be “a symbolic integration of ourselves into the international community after mistakes of the past 12 to 14 years.”

Yes, this would definitely square us with the people of Iraq.

Bobby Jindal rose up, dusted himself off and said, "Yes. This. Here is where I make my stand. For God and country and Fahrenheit, the temperature scale invented by an 18th-century German physicist."

“Typical Democrat -- wants to make America more European,” Jindal spokesman Michael Reed told Politico. “Governor Jindal would rather make the world more American.”

Woodruff wrote the best possible kicker to her piece, commemorating this important debate.

Congratulations To Everyone Who Didn't Write This In June! The past month's big winners in political journalism are "everyone who isn't Alan Rappeport and Steve Eder, who provided The New York Times' readers with the definitive accounting of how Marco Rubio and his wife have accrued 17 citations for "incidents that included speeding, driving through red lights, and careless driving." Which, to the average Floridian, means that the Rubios are some of the Sunshine State's finest drivers.

Reflect, for a time, on why someone -- at The New York Times no less! -- felt like this was a critical piece of information you needed to know about Marco Rubio. Imagine, if you will, a moment where you'd say, "You know, I was having a hard time deciding who to vote for until I learned that Rubio failed to come to a complete stop at a stop sign back in 2012."

Now that you've done that, let's just enjoy the worst kicker written this month:

If Mr. Rubio is fortunate to make it as far as the White House, there will be many perks that come with the job. Chief among them, however, might be having a driver.

Pretty bad, right? Alas, I've lured you into a false sense of security, because this story's lede is immeasurably worse:

Senator Marco Rubio has been in a hurry to get to the top, rising from state legislator to United States senator in the span of a decade and now running for president at age 44.

But politics is not the only area where Mr. Rubio, a Republican from Florida, has an affinity for the fast track. He and his wife, Jeanette, have also shown a tendency to be in a rush on the road.

Congratulations to everyone who didn't write that!

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