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Hot Hot 2016 Scoop: Hillary Clinton Might Wait To Do Some Stuff, Say Random People

Jason Linkins   |   January 29, 2015    3:47 PM ET

Good morning, everyone, I come before you today bearing a distant early warning of incoming 2016 speculation and hype. Secure your stocks of bread and toilet paper right now, because a blizzard of breathlessness may be moving into your area.

Today's campaign susurrations involve former senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whom I'm contractually obligated to remind you is the presumed Democratic frontrunner in the upcoming Democratic primary. Via Politico's Mike Allen (courtesy of a "Democrat familiar with Clinton's thinking" and "one adviser") comes the news that Clinton is "strongly considering delaying the formal launch of her presidential campaign until July." Unless she doesn't! (More on that in a moment.)

A Democrat familiar with Clinton's thinking said: "She doesn't feel under any pressure, and they see no primary challenge on the horizon. If you have the luxury of time, you take it."


"She doesn't want to feel pressured by the press to do something before she's ready," one adviser said. "She's better off as a non-candidate. Why not wait?"

The argument for waiting, apparently, is that by doing so, Clinton has time to avoid the spotlight and stay out of the fray. "Polling by both Democrats and Republicans," writes Allen, "shows that one of her biggest vulnerabilities is looking political." Which is kind of a problem, since no one in the recent history of America has quite managed the trick of running for political office without looking political. (Though virtually every person elected to any office erroneously believes that they have done exactly that.)

What's more, the apparent danger in waiting is that she could "fuel complaints that Clinton sees the nomination fight as a coronation." Though it should be noted, the only people making such "complaints" would be her opposition, in an effort to generate "optics" on the basis of which political reporters and pundits could use their ersatz eyeballs to make broad assumptions about public opinion as a substitute for actually engaging with the public and its collective opinion.

Still, it's worth noting the tendency among purported "political experts" to say hilariously vacuous things, such as, "She's better off as a non-candidate." If we presume that this person plans to support her candidacy in some material way, this is a deeply strange thing to say! (Which makes me think this source has no such plan, to be honest.) Every so often you get a hot campaign story that features people who do not talk as if they are actual human beings with a meaningful connection to our shared tradition of spoken language.

We can, however, ferret out a few grains of real significance. For instance, this is a good occasion to re-familiarize yourself with our new, byzantine campaign finance laws and recall that as long as you have not declared yourself a candidate, you can coordinate with whatever super PACs you want, in any way you please. For more on this, please see Mother Jones' Patrick Caldwell's explanation of this teensy little loophole in the alleged "firewall" between candidates and super PACs.

Another impact of Clinton delaying her announcement, to which Allen never really alludes, is that the Democrats will field a nominee in any event, whether or not Clinton runs. But Clinton's leviathan presence, lurking outside the universe of "candidates who have announced their intentions," casts a shadow over any other would-be nominee's ability to run a credible campaign of his or her own. This is the whole "freezing the field" phenomenon -- in which Clinton's potential candidacy keeps other campaigns from attracting top talent and the tallest dollars, because those resources presumably want to wind up with the candidate who has the most advantages.

People first started talking about Clinton's field-freezing back in January 2013. That was way too early to have that discussion, but now that we've really officially entered that time period when would-be Democratic contenders really are competing for the best staffers and top donors, this matters. Should July roll around and Clinton decide not to run, all the other Democratic hopefuls will have to scramble to ramp up their campaigns, starting the race many months behind the GOP field in a multitude of ways.

That is: if Clinton waits until July. Remember when I said, "Unless she doesn't?" Let's circle back to that part. Allen reports, "One option being considered would be to announce an exploratory committee earlier -- perhaps in April, at the beginning of a new fundraising quarter, in the timeframe when insiders originally expected her to launch her campaign."

So one of the options being considered is to get Clinton into the campaign while leaving her with an escape hatch. In this way, Clinton is no different than, say, Jeb Bush. The thing is, once she forms an exploratory committee, all that talk about remaining a "non-candidate" and avoiding "looking political" goes right in the bin, because like it or not, she'd look political and effectively be a candidate.

As if she isn't those things already. I mean, come on, now.

[Would you like to follow me on Twitter? Because why not?]

Trail To The Chief: Ultra-Premature VP Edition

Lauren Weber   |   January 26, 2015    5:54 AM ET

Ultra-Premature VP Edition

When we started "Trail To The Chief," the first question we got was: "Are you sure it's not too soon to start ranking presidential candidates?" And that's fair: We don't really know what the field looks like. Maybe it pays to be circumspect.

So, naturally, for our next trick, we're going to rank the vice presidential candidates. How's that for premature coverage?

Now, of course, we're many hundreds of days away from having actual nominees, so pondering whose name might appear on the ticket after the slash and before the number "2016" is nothing but guesswork. But the truth is, we already have some feel for the type of person who might end up on a Veep shortlist. And this exercise, speculative though it is, can focus attention on some of the deeper themes of the race ahead.

When nominees really start considering who they want to share the ticket with, the usual rule of thumb is to pick a running mate who can confer some electoral advantage. Maybe there's a guy or gal who can lock down a few crucial swing states. Maybe there's a partner out there with expertise that can plug a gap in the nominee's own experience. These considerations will still play a role in 2016 -- or at least, we're pretty sure that Ohio's Rob Portman, an Ohioan from Ohio with deep roots in Ohio, hopes this is the case. Ohio.

But the American electorate is changing; it's hungry for renewal and fresh ideas. So there's a real opportunity here for a vice president who can project youthful vitality, or who reflects our ever-diversifying country. And if someone named "Bush" or "Clinton" ends up rising to the heights of our political competition, there'll be an even greater need for someone who seems plugged into the current moment, someone who can lighten the weight of dynasty and suggest by their very presence that this presidential candidate, you know, thinks about the future and stuff.

Of course, that's not to say that some middle-aged white dudes don't have a shot. (This is America, after all.) And we'll remind you that when George H.W. Bush sought somebody young and fresh for his running mate, he brought the world Dan Quayle. The mileage, it may vary! But for our opening peek at this race, here's what we got.

Why mess with a good thing? America’s favorite uncle should be VP for life
Almost too perfect a ticket-balancer for Hillary. Young, optimistic HUD secretary injects much-needed newness just by being there
Almost too perfect a ticket-balancer for Jeb, Mitt or any establishment GOP candidate. Young, optimistic New Mexico governor injects much-needed newness just by etc, etc
Ostensibly a presidential contender, Rubio has a knack for putting his head down and working the ground. A good man-behind-the-man type
Ohioan is available, eager for a love connection
Mergers not her strong suit, but the GOP desperately needs a woman on the ticket
NFL needs her more, but she's the perennial, one-stop fixer for GOP demographic woes
Gonna get talked about regardless. The question is, could he end up on Rand Paul’s ticket -- starring in buddy-buddy actioner?
Evangelical version of everyman Rob Portman
A lot depends on how much Mitt Romney wants to put the band back together
Seems destined for something bigger, but either she or Hillary would have to move out of New York
Why fight with Warren when you can co-opt and contain her?
O Wisconsin, cradle of Vice Presidents
Could be on either ticket and bring his billions with him
Probably shouldn’t be on this list either

Candidate Photos: Getty, Associated Press

The 10 Best Months For Presidential Election Poll Accuracy, Ranked

Jason Linkins   |   January 23, 2015    5:37 PM ET

This week, you probably saw some headlines that said things like, "Poll: Clinton clobbers potential GOP foes." Which sounds pretty definitive. But! You may have also noticed that the Republican National Committee did not publish a press release that read, "Piss it, we're conceding the race and regrouping for 2020." Why is that?

Well, there's a quirk in the science of polling, which holds that leading up to any presidential election, there will be months in which the head-to-head polling of the race is very accurate and other months in which it's very inaccurate. I've prepared a little guide here, ranking the 10 best months for polling accuracy for the next presidential election, in order from least to most accurate:

10. March 2016

9. April 2016

8. June 2016

7. May 2016

6. July 2016

5. August 2016

4. September 2016

3. October 2016

2. November 2016

1. December 2016

As you can see, if you're a reporter and you want to obtain the most accurate possible snapshot of who is going to win a presidential election from a pollster, the best time to call him up is between twenty and fifty days after the election. You will ask, "Who is going to be the next president?" and he will say, "The guy who won the election last month." You can't go wrong.

You may have also noticed a trend, in which the nearer you are to Election Day, the easier it gets to predict an outcome. And, indeed, past experience bears this out. A week before the 2012 election, most pollsters were uncannily predicting that the winner was going to either be Barack Obama or Mitt Romney.

But the further back you go, the murkier it gets. And look, here's some math from political scientists Christopher Wlezien and Robert Erikson, helpfully provided, with zen-like patience, by Brendan Nyhan of the Columbia Journalism Review. Think of this as my ranked list in chart form (you'll note I've accounted for the odd quirk that seems to hold that May polls are slightly more accurate than June polls):

wlezian and erikson

The bottom line, as Nyhan notes, is that "polls conducted even 300 days before an election have virtually no predictive power."

From there, we can extrapolate. How accurate are 2016 head-to-head polls in November 2015? They are zero accurate. What about July 2015? They equal "not accurate." April of 2015? They are wholly antipodal to accuracy. And thus, in January 2015, these polls will be the null set of accuracy.

I bring this up because "political science Twitter" -- one of the few Twitter subcultures that do not essentially promote deleting your Twitter account as the path to a better life -- is hard at work calming people down about the polls that generated all these hot, hot, headlines. Listen to the nice political scientists, you guys! I promise that unlike virtually everyone else who writes about politics (including on occasion myself), they mean you no harm.

At this point, you may be wondering, "Well, if polling is so inaccurate until you get very close to an election, why do they continue to do it?" The short answer is that pollsters ask many questions that are more interesting than "Who would you vote for in this head-to-head matchup?" The answers just don't make for banner headlines.

We will know more in 20 months than we do now. Feel free to relax.

[Would you like to follow me on Twitter? Because why not?]

Trail To The Chief: Dirty Dozen Donor Edition

Lauren Weber   |   January 20, 2015    5:46 AM ET

The Dirty Dozen Donor Edition

Our inaugural Trail to the Chief ranked presidential candidates. Now we’re free to focus on the real stars of the 2016 race: billionaires.

Five years ago this week, the U.S. Supreme Court built a pipeline for the Biggest Boys to pour their cash directly into campaigns. Now these guys are standing at their spigots, having their rings (or other parts) kissed by would-be presidents eager to fill their campaign tanks at a single stop.

For the candidates, it’s less messy and time-consuming. Why bother with thousands of donors or hundreds of bundlers? It is easier to sell yourself wholesale, and in bulk. And it is so much more efficient for the ridiculously rich to purchase an entire candidate, rather than just one or two of his or her issue positions.

Not that a brazenly beneficent billionaire alone can make you president. In 2012, the Biggest Money could only keep you on life support long after your candidacy was dead (read: Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum). These were the “zombie” candidates, and they were annoying.

Still, a sugar daddy or two can turn the improbable or the obscure into the impossible-to-ignore, especially early on (read: Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum). In a long and crowded Republican race (estimated MSRP for a nicely equipped campaign: $500 million), a billionaire has become indispensable. More than one is nice, if you can manage it.

On the Democratic side, the calculus is the reverse. Hillary Clinton’s aim (and that of her wealthy buddies) is to make sure that no would-be primary challenger can latch onto a billionaire of his or her own. Hillary wants -- and needs -- them ALL for herself. That could ultimately present another novel problem: keeping peace among the big-ego control freaks of big money.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), the Hamlet of the Hub, doesn’t seem to want a billionaire, which is lucky for Hillary, until someone such as Warren proves that it is not: That is, until this whole mess of money madness is hosed off the streets by a new era of reform.

But, hey, this is America, where talk is cheap but TV time is expensive. With guidance from Paul Blumenthal, HuffPost's unparalleled expert on campaign finance, we offer this Dirty Dozen list of some of the most powerful (i.e. loaded and connected and, in most cases, still available) Bigs:

Need we say more? Stayed out of 2012 primary, but they love Scott Walker’s anti-union populism
Republican Scott Walker
Can he find someone even more likely to waste his money than Newt? Shows clout by getting Christie’s apology
Republican Benjamin Netanyahu
Trying to make Argentina cry billions for him; pro-gay marriage vulture Wall Street investor
Republican Bush/Romney/Christie
Pro-Israel Mighty Morphin’ Power Ranger says he’ll spend “whatever it takes” for Hillary
Democrat Hillary Clinton
Tough Home Depot founder said to have taken down Eliot Spitzer. You got a problem with that?
Republican Chris Christie
Family owns the Chicago Cubs, therefore he's used to losing; he’s loaded and earnest
Republican Up for grabs
Top super PAC donor in 2014 might try to eliminate the middle man by buying himself CA Senate seat
Democrat Himself
Cowboy stock picker already breaking out the sweater vest for Santorum 2016 events -- the very definition of optimism
Republican Rick Santorum
Master Hollywood bundler was ready for Hillary before there was a Ready for Hillary
Democrat Hillary Clinton
We don’t know anything, let alone anything funny, about this Club for Growth superquant
Republican Rand Paul/ Ted Cruz
$33 billion wildcard could back Hillary, establishment Republican or … himself
Independent Wildcard
Played by the book (Goldman, KKR, own PE firm) and now taking Republican RNC Finance Chairman spot to avoid making a (i.e. any) choice
Republican Republican nominee

Donor Photos: Getty, Associated Press

CORRECTIONS: We originally misidentified Tom Steyer as a Republican; he is a Democrat. The chart has also been updated to indicate that Joe Ricketts' family owns the Chicago Cubs; his children are those principally involved with the team.

RNC Announces New, Vastly Less Insane Primary Debate Schedule

Jason Linkins   |   January 16, 2015    6:26 PM ET

WASHINGTON -- The Republican National Committee, in its after-action report on the 2012 election (known by its nickname, the "RNC Autopsy"), made it a goal to do something about the long-winded primary process that its leaders believe did their efforts more harm than good. The process of "de-suckifying" the presidential primaries has been long developing -- the broad strokes came to light back in December 2013, in a report from CNN's Peter Hamby -- but are now beginning to find form. The RNC has already decided to stage an earlier convention, and to run a disciplined primary calendar. On Friday came news of the third prong of these reforms: making the debate schedule less insane.

There is, perhaps, no worthier goal. If you can bear to recall the last time there was a GOP presidential primary, the debate season was baffling and horrible to all living creatures. When I look back on the schedule from that cycle, I still feel the dread, deep in my bones, lurking like a Korean water ghost.

Look at this nonsense! If you include all the various forums and stunt appearances, the number of debates (or debate-like pseudo-events) add up to 27 occasions in which candidates had to meet and spar with one another. There was a debate on May 5, 2011. May 5, 2011! CNN, which is bad at debates, staged seven. In one particularly idiotic period, there was an ABC News debate on the night of Saturday, Jan. 7, 2012, followed by an NBC News debate on the morning of Sunday, Jan. 8. What could possibly happen overnight to necessitate such a thing? "Question to Rick Santorum, followed by a one-minute rebuttal from Jon Huntsman: What did you dream about last night? Did you sleep okay?"

That was a clown debate schedule, bro. The good news is that the RNC has actually maybe found a way to de-clown it. Per Politico's James Hohmann and Alex Isenstadt:

The Republican National Committee will announce Friday that it has sanctioned nine presidential primary debates, starting this August in Ohio and continuing through March 2016, with the potential to add a few more.


A committee within the RNC and top staffers have been working for nearly a year on an effort to cut the number of debates roughly in half from the 2012 cycle. There have been high-level conversations between party leaders and executives at the nation’s broadcast and cable channels.

What they've come up with makes a lot more sense. The schedule, as outlined, features nine debates, with the option to add three more if a competitive primary persists into the month of March. The earliest debate is August 2015, which is still too early, really, but at least it's not May. The RNC is going to limit the debates so they are more geographically diverse -- no state will host more than one debate. And CNN is only getting two debates (three if the race extends into March), thus reducing the role that Wolf Blitzer will play in all of this.

What of the other networks? Fox News will get the first crack at the candidates in the aforementioned August debate. In the nine-debate scenario, Fox News (or Fox Business) will get two more debates. CNBC, CBS, ABC, and NBC News (in partnership with Telemundo) get one each. Should the primary season roll into March, Fox and CNN would host additional debates, with the 12th debate being advertised as a "Conservative Media Debate."

Back in March 2014, the RNC was talking about imposing a greater amount of control over who gets to moderate the debates. According to Politico's Katie Glueck, RNC officals were mulling the demand to "hand-pick" the moderators. At the time, it wasn't clear what sort of role the big news networks would play in this process, as RNC chairman Reince Priebus seemed inclined to feature only ideological allies as debate moderators. As Hohmann and Isenstadt report, it's more clear that the RNC is pushing for a "partnership" between "mainstream media organizations" and "more conservative commentators and outlets."

What's to stop a candidate, thirsty for additional attention, from breaking with the RNC's plan and attending an unsanctioned debate? Here's where the RNC wields the stick. According to Hohmann and Isenstadt, "any candidate who participates in a non-sanctioned debate will not be allowed to participate in any more sanctioned debates."

What are the ramifications here? Well, there will be fewer opportunities for candidates on the fringes of polling, or who are short of money, to use these free media appearances to generate momentum. That likely means that this cycle won't become the wild tilt-a-whirl of flash-in-the-pan frontrunners for which the last GOP primary cycle is best known. However, it probably limits the ability of a candidate to do what Rick Santorum did -- slowly punch his way to relevance over the course of a long and varied debate season.

From the standpoint of the media, this process may be one step on a slippery slope. Good people can debate (though, please, not 20 times) whether seeking to have your candidates confronted by moderators that are more ideologically inclined in their direction smacks of smarts or cowardice. Speaking only for myself, I don't see any reason why conservative moderators in a GOP primary debate wouldn't ask substantive, hard-hitting questions, but I'm prepared to find out that I'm wrong. As far as this issue goes, the Democrats can't claim purity -- back in 2007, the Democratic candidates, by dribs and drabs, backed out of a debate on Fox News.

What's more concerning is the fact that this debate schedule's been set with memories of Priebus making broad threats about various outlets' editorial decisions still fresh in the memory. Back in 2013, Priebus -- angry about a Hillary Clinton miniseries in production at NBC, and a Hillary documentary by Charles Ferguson coming from CNN -- threatened to sanction the two networks. The punishment? Refusing to allow them to stage a sanctioned primary debate. (Worth noting again: It completely eludes me why Priebus thought that Charles Ferguson was going to do a Hillary hagiography, given his past work. Clinton's allies were, if anything, even more eager to get the documentary canceled than Priebus was.)

Those two projects, having been scuttled, no longer loom over the landscape as matters of concern. Still, if past is prologue, it's not hard to see how being extended the opportunity to stage a debate might color a news organization's editorial decisions. How much criticism of the candidates can, say, CBS News induge in before Priebus tells the network it's no longer allowed to join in any reindeer games?

Also at issue is the role of local news organizations and newspapers, whose involvement in the debate process is unclear at this time. It's very possible that future announcements will bring state-based media and publications into the fold as partners -- there's certainly a longstanding precedent for it. This is something Priebus should consider carefully: I consider it near-axiomatic that if you want a media that's disinclined to fixate on the Hot Gaffe Of The Week, look to the locals.

So there's no guarantee that this process won't, in the end, prove to be problematic. Still, not having 20-some-odd debates is something that we can all get behind. And here's hoping that the RNC will hand down strong sanctions on anyone who confuses a lectern for a podium.

[Would you like to follow me on Twitter? Because why not?]

Mitt Romney Will Have His Revenge

Jason Linkins   |   January 14, 2015    6:13 PM ET

There was a moment when it appeared that the next presidential contest was simply going to lumber into existence. A slowly emerging field would pace their way through the so-called invisible primary, sides would be chosen, teams selected, camps erected, and at the end, a kind of pecking order would emerge. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush surely played his part, dipping a toe in, letting the world know that he was sniffing at the brass ring, but not demanding an inappropriate amount of our time and attention. But that's over now. The trickle became a flood, and suddenly we're drowning.

And the man who loosed the blood-tide upon us? Mitt Romney. He's back, for backsies.

If you can find some kind of calm purchase to examine what the 2016 race -- at least, on the GOP side of the affair -- has become in just a matter of days since Romney, suddenly and (let's face it) unexpectedly opted to stake a claim for himself, you might be able to appreciate what Romney's done: unleashed a narrative-savaging, surrealist fever dream of pure Discordiana. Romney 2016, conceptually, seems like a hot lather of high, campy weirdness. It's a thing that cannot be. The Manic Pixie Dream Campaign. It gets you wondering if there's something to the fact that Romney looks a lot like the corporeal manifestation of the Church of the SubGenius' prophet, J.R. "Bob" Dobbs.

Romney's self-injection into a race from which most everyone had presumed he'd remain comfortably self-deported has had all of the effects of Eris' apple from "The Judgment of Paris." He's pushed other would-be candidates into a more aggressive space. He's awakened a faction of his own party, now determined to stop him, that couldn't have imagined one week ago that it would be necessary. And he's forced the abject chroniclers of the petty pacings of the election cycle to question what they are observing, and to wail at the seeming nonsense of a man, twice defeated, courting a third defeat amid conditions that will be even more difficult to surmount than they were the last time. "Where is the rationale for this?" they ask. "What's he playing at?" they wonder.

Maybe the truth is clearer if you stop wondering about what Mitt Romney is seeking to be, and focus on what he is: a bored, rich dude who, having been wronged, will now have his revenge.

Truth be told, on one level, I sort of enjoy the chaos. Romney is doing something genuinely unfathomable, and I'm embracing it. Elsewhere, that doesn't seem to be the case. The Washington Examiner's Philip Klein doesn't understand what Romney is doing here, and to make that clear, he titles his piece on the matter, "I can't believe I have to write this post on Mitt Romney." I can't blame Klein for feeling that way, and everything he puts under that banner pretty much adds up to what we conventionally refer to as "sense." For example:

The real question is how Romney 3.0 would do against a field of stronger candidates than just Bush. If Romney’s whole pitch will be that he’s a better combination of conservatism and electability than anybody else, how would he do against, say, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker? Romney’s claim to fame as governor was working with Ted Kennedy and Jonathan Gruber to pass a healthcare bill that provided the model for Obamacare. Walker is known for taking on unions to push conservative tax, spending, collective bargaining and education reforms. Romney lost three out of four of his political campaigns. Remember, he was too chicken to run for reelection as governor in Massachusetts in 2006, because he knew he would lose and it would kill his chances of winning the GOP nomination — which he lost to McCain anyway. Walker, in contrast, won three gubernatorial elections in four years in a blue state with the entire weight of the organized national Left lined up against him.

It's really hard to resist the comparison between Walker and Romney, given that Walker's the one who's been proving the maxim, "If you come at the king, you best not miss," while Romney's last campaign is the one that ended with the "RNC autopsy."

Of a similar mind is New York magazine's Jonathan Chait, who joins Klein in the first-person headline: "I Refuse To Believe Romney '16 Is Real." Chait's rationale is fairly ironclad. He notes that the GOP base, having "grudgingly submitted to a Romney nomination in 2012" has plenty of better alternatives this time around, and the desire to ensure the nomination doesn't fall to a squish. He observes that Romney has not "learned to suppress the traits that made him a figure of ridicule" last time out. Most damningly, Chait points out that one of the central pillars of Romney's campaign -- that the failure to elect him would inevitably lead to "fiscal calamity" -- has, in the ensuing years, collapsed.

"Nothing could convince me that Romney will actually run for president, not even Romney taking the oath of office," Chait writes, "My reasoning here is that another Romney candidacy would be insane, and Romney is not insane."

Sure, but Mitt Romney is still a super-rich guy with nothing better to do right now. So why not? What can he possibly lose from a third attempt at this? Failure means he returns to a lifetime of wealth and a family that clearly loves him dearly. Sounds good to me. Not doing anything means sitting back and watching all those candidates -- your Christies, your Jebs, your Rubios, your Walkers -- run for president. Those are the guys who the GOP's established pundits were begging to jump into the 2012 race, even as Romney was working hard to become the frontrunner. Those are also the guys who, apparently, didn't have the stones to face Romney at the time.

If you had nothing but time, and all the money you could want, why wouldn't you troll those clowns?

Let's talk real: Romney running a third time isn't insanity. Joe Biden might run for president a third time. Ronald Reagan did run for president, three times. A third Romney run isn't something that defies sanity, it simply defies convention. It stands apart from an accepted wisdom that suggests that the public, having rejected Romney twice before, would do so again. And yes -- that position makes eminent logical sense.

But here's the thing: what have Mitt Romney's critics, for as long as I can remember, begged him to do? They've begged him to be less robotic and less technocratic. They've filleted him for his aversion to risk. They've demanded that he "show his human side." Well, this is it, folks! Mitt Romney's human side is that he's a bored rich guy who wants to be president. A third run from Romney would be as pure an act of humanity as we've ever seen from Mitt -- it's gloriously illogical, impetuous, hubristic, and foolhardy.

So Mitt Romney is here to mess with your narrative, tip over everyone's tidy paradigms, and send those who had antagonized him into fits of apoplexy and fugues of confusion. Yes, this probably won't work out, but why should that trouble him? Mitt had strings, but now he's free, to become a real human boy at last.

[Would you like to follow me on Twitter? Because why not?]

Trail To The Chief: Inaugural Edition

Lauren Weber   |   January 12, 2015    5:00 AM ET

The Inaugural Edition

Hi there, and welcome to Trail to the Chief, HuffPost’s weekly trip through the folds of time-space to the peculiar world of the 2016 presidential horse-race and media coverage of it.

You probably have heard (because we are telling you) that the 2016 contest has begun, and that, like every other presidential contest, it will be THE pivotal turning point in American history.

We'll leave pivotal -- and watershed, seminal, sea change, groundbreaking, transformational, etc. -- to hype and history.

All we know is there IS a campaign, and attention must be paid. The question is how.

For depth, breadth and seriousness, nothing beats the political coverage of HuffPost.

Then there is Trail to the Chief.

Each week we will pre-ponder the ponderous and de-hype the hype. We will collect Data (Polling, Big and Meta), political science, research, media buzz and our own survey of conventional thinking (which we disdain and never propagate) -- and feed it all into artisanal algorithms devised by our team of Brooklyn-based quant-lumbersexuals, who do this work for us before band practice.

We will chart candidates and campaigns, flacks and fixers, pundits and the press, TV ads and position papers, donors and demographics. We'll talk about it on HuffPost Live each week at 12:20 p.m. EST.

We will take this process just as seriously as the candidates do. In fact, here is our firm promise to you: Should the candidates pull off the unlikely feat of staging a high-minded, responsible and substantive campaign, we will go away.

In the meantime, we will kid because we love. We love politics. We love democracy, even our flawed one. And, truth be told, we love presidential campaigns.

This week we set the stage by ranking leading contenders. Naturally, Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush top the charts, if only for the allure of a race larded with more '90s nostalgia than a season of "Portlandia." In our TTTC Image Of The Week, we show you the logo for Jeb’s new PAC. He calls it "Right To Rise." But is it to rise ... from the dead? (Basically, yes.)

A brace of GOP big dogs, Chris Christie and Scott Walker, primaried each other at Lambeau Field this weekend, each supporting an opposing team owner in the NFC Divisional Playoff. We're just sad we didn't get to see Christie execute a Lambeau Leap. And finally, as if the baby boomer theme weren't suffocating enough, let's all raise a glass of milk to Mitt Romney's return.

Ok, now here's our first list.

Hillary machine idles with nothing to do, but somehow minor foes are getting leaked on
Today's Mr. Sensible ran as wingnut in '94. Oops. And annoying Mitt won't quit
Media can’t help but hang on his every word because he could easily hang himself
Union-busting governor in birthplace of progressivism: a perfect theme for the '50s
Might have won in 2012 if they used “dynamic scoring” to count votes
It’s been weeks since she denied she was running. ... What is she hiding?
He 100 percent wants to be president, but only 47 percent wants to run
Mitt claimed kinship with NASCAR owners; bro-hugging N.J. governor does him one better
Holding first fundraiser at Manhattan restaurant; Yelp says oysters are subpar
Grandfathered into the top 10. Joe knew his way around a selfie long before the smart phone
Speaks blue collar, raised Catholic and from Ohio. Pre-tea party, that was enough
Enough with the Ivy League position papers, give us some “God, Guns, Grits and Gravy”
Enough with the “God, Guns, Grits and Gravy,” give us some position papers
We know you’re trolling us, but we can monetize that
Unlikely to get Democratic nomination, but shoo-in for a Ben and Jerry’s flavor
Independent Socialist Democrat
Hard-to-pigeonhole longshot, but reportedly got the attention of the Hillary machine
New glasses don’t make him look studious, more like Warby Parker spokesmodel
Wasted no time meeting at least one campaign requirement: a plagiarism apology
Can count on one softball CNN interview
We still have our ‘12 sweater vest, but has he lost the ‘16 evangelical play-in game to Huck?
Relentless dinner-circuit travel and self-promotion save him from teeny type list below

Even More Obscure Candidates

Cory Booker, Jerry Brown, Steve Bullock, Julian Castro, Mitch Daniels, Rahm Emanuel, Russ Feingold, Carly Fiorina, Newt Gingrich, Lindsey Graham, Luis Gutiérrez, Nikki Haley, John Hickenlooper, Amy Klobuchar, Joe Manchin, Jack Markell, Susana Martinez, Jay Nixon, George Pataki, Deval Patrick, Mike Pence, Rob Portman, Ed Rendell, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Joe Scarborough, Brian Schweitzer, Donald Trump and Mark Warner

Candidate Photos: Getty, Associated Press
TTTC Image: Right to Rise logo via, Day of the Dead poster via Imp Awards

Headline Of The Day Takes Huge Chance With Hillary 2016 Prediction

Jason Linkins   |   January 8, 2015    4:57 PM ET

Here's your 2016-related headline of the week, courtesy of MSNBC's "The Rundown with Jose Diaz-Balart":

hillary clinton

So, Hillary Clinton will make her campaign announcement soon, unless she makes her campaign announcement later. Really risky limb you've crawled out on there, guys.

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Jim Webb's Old Novels Re-Emerge As 'Oppo' In Latest Sign That 2016 Will Be An Unrelenting Storm Of Garbage

Jason Linkins   |   January 7, 2015    2:49 PM ET

The thing about any presidential election is that it could be an event in which sober and intelligent men and women stage a thoughtful and serious debate on the high-stakes issues of our time, guided by the principle that the American people, if nothing else, simply deserve it. On the other hand, it could also be a welter of low-blow stupefaction and soul-exsanguinating venality that leaves you with the feeling that this American experiment should be mercifully drowned in a bucket of ranch dressing. What path will 2016's looming civic pseudo-event take?

Well, let's consider the strange controversy that recently embroiled the nascent proto-campaigns of former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as an amuse-bouche before the meal to come. On Dec. 30, the U.S. News and World Report's David Catanese published a lengthy profile of Webb, seeking to elucidate the Democrat's possible motivations for jumping into the 2016 race. Well down in the piece, Catanese reported that "Clinton loyalists are keeping an eye" on Webb, and that in the days before the Thanksgiving holiday, "staffers of Philippe Reines, Clinton’s longtime communications guru, pitched talk radio producers on the racy, sexually charged writings in Webb’s novels, according to a source."

There was, as you might suspect, some immediate pushback. Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill told Catanese that his source had told "an unmitigated lie." Catanese granted his source both anonymity and the final word on the matter, reporting that he or she "stands by the account." This week, the contretemps ended up as the basis for a Media Matters post. In large part, Media Matters simply took Merrill's denial at face value and declared the matter to be closed -- which, when you think about it, is a strange position for a media watchdog organization to take, and one that I have severe doubts will be applied in consistent fashion going forward. (Catanese, by reporting that his source stood by the earlier claim, stands accused by Media Matters of "doubling down," proving once again that the term "doubling-down" has become tragically untethered from it's original meaning.)

But look, I'm not interested in doing a twelve-part podcast investigating who was shopping Jim Webb oppo to whom back in November. What I am interested in pointing out is that using the contents of Webb's novels as some sort of brickbat in 2016 is stupid as hell. I am astonished and bewildered to have to confront even the potential that this could be a thing that gets litigated as a part of 2016's festival of nonsense.

Or, to be more precise, re-litigated, because Jim Webb's novels were the subject of desperately dumb political horseplay back in 2006. Let's take our wayback machine to this Oct. 27, 2006, CNN report:

The bitter Senate campaign in Virginia turned uglier Friday when the Republican incumbent pulled up sexual passages from novels written by his Democratic opponent, who called the move baseless character assassination.

In a news release and list of quotes posted Friday on the Drudge Report Web site, Sen. George Allen accused his opponent, former Navy Secretary Jim Webb, of "demeaning women" and "dehumanizing women, men and even children" through his fiction writings. At least two of the listed passages include children in sexual situations.

Allen's campaign did not include the press release and list of passages on its Web site, where press releases are generally posted.

There was, however, a Thursday statement from Chris LaCivita, general consultant for the Allen campaign, saying some references in Webb's novels are "disturbing" and "portray women as servile, subordinate and promiscuous."

At the time, Webb defended his fiction writings, to what should have been to the satisfaction of anyone who's ever read a pulpy potboiler. But let's consider the first reason why dredging anything like this up in 2016 is well beyond idiotic: This was the desperation play run by George Allen, for Pete's sake. To be more specific, a play run by a post-Macaca George Allen. It staggers my mind that I find myself having to point out that going to George Allen's October 2006 playbook for some hawt 2016 strategery is just not a good look for anyone.

But even if Allen had never existed, this is still garbage politics. Diming out Jim Webb on the sex scenes from his novels? In a world where middle America is content to contemplate a full "Fifty Shades Of Grey," concern-trolling over Webb's books seems to be hardly of the moment. Anyone dishing it around looks like a prudish scold -- a throwback creep cultural prosecutor from a half-century ago. And unless you're authentically a cultural conservative -- like, say, Mike Huckabee or Rick Santorum -- then you don't even really harbor genuine grievances with novelised erotica. If the person in Catanese's original report is telling the truth, then they have painted themselves as an unserious and insincere person.

Again, I can't speak to the authenticity of Catanese's original source on all of this mishegas; neither do I want to cast aspersions on his reporting. But in terms of distant, early warnings of disasters to come, I take the mere fact that this past-its-sell-by-date "oppo" even came up in the discourse at all as a sign of an impending crap-aclysm. There's still time for everyone to resolve to do better, of course. Surely the voters deserve some seriousness. Still: Better get used to the dust in your lungs, my little canaries.

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Ben Carson's Camp Disputes Union-Leader's "Hefty Fee" Story [UPDATED]

Jason Linkins   |   January 6, 2015   11:58 AM ET

UPDATE, 1/7/2015: Carson's camp, as well as the New Hampshire Union-Leader's original source for the story, now dispute the Union-Leader's original account. The Granite State newspaper carries this development in a staff report, following on the previous article. From that report:

Dr. Ben Carson was unable to speak at a New Hampshire dinner later this month due to a previously scheduled event, and it had nothing to do with any speaker’s fee, according to his business manager.

Armstrong Williams said Carson, a possible Republican presidential hopeful, was in the process of being booked for a live town hall event at Howard University on Jan. 19 and was unavailable to speak at a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. dinner celebration in Manchester on that day.

All of which would have made perfect sense at the outset. In reporter Dan Tuohy's original, the MLK event's organizer, Wayne D. Jennings, explained that the "barrier" to Carson's participation was a "hefty" speaking fee. The Union Leader's follow-up addresses that like so:

Williams shared an email exchange between the speakers’ bureau and Carson’s office, which refers to the Jennings’ inquiry for a speaking engagement as a “pro-bono request.”

Jennings, in a follow-up interview Tuesday, said he recalled being told there was a fee. In any event, Jennings said, he has great respect for Carson. He said he has watched a biographical movie of the famous, retired neurosurgeon several times and he looks forward to hearing him speak at some point in New Hampshire.

The most charitable read of all of this is that some sort of breakdown in communication occurred, either between Carson's handlers and Jennings, between Jennings and the Union-Leader, or both. This doesn't fully explain how this became a story in the typically reliable Union-Leader. Nevertheless, the fact remains that Carson cannot be in two places at once, which renders any discussion of speaking fees moot. It also effectively voids the premise of my original post, below.

Should this all require any additional rounds of sorting out, this post shall be updated.


The New Hampshire Union Leader's Dan Tuohy reports that would-be presidential candidate Ben Carson is maybe not the savviest person to ever run for president:

Dr. Ben Carson was briefly considered as a speaker for a Martin Luther King Jr. celebration this month in New Hampshire, but the organizer says a "hefty" speaker’s fee proved a barrier.

Wayne D. Jennings, the organizer of the 13th annual "Keeping the Dream Alive" Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dinner Celebration on Jan. 19 in Manchester, said he initially reached out to try to line up Carson -- the retired neurosurgeon, author and former Fox News contributor who is mulling a bid for the Republican nomination for president.

Let's enumerate the cock-ups here, folks. First and foremost, GOP opposition researchers spent a goodly part of 2014 trolling perennially-presumed presidential candidate Hillary Clinton for her exorbitant speaking fees. Clinton's allies could point to a number of plausible mitigating factors -- those fees went to the Clinton Global Initiative, and in some cases her appearances raised money for the events' organizers -- but it wasn't hard to understand the motivation of critics, using Clinton's six-figure speaker fee to paint her as an elite one-percenter at a time where economic populism is a cresting wave.

Now, the GOP has one of its own telling a nonprofit organization that they can't afford him. This blunts those criticisms.

Secondly, you have to show a little bit of character and recognize when you're dealing with an organization for which you should really waive your fee. As Tuohy reports, this is one such case:

Jennings declined to say how much the speaker’s fee was. He described it as "hefty" in the sense that the National Cultural Diversity Awareness Council he founded in 2000 is a non-profit organization that relies on volunteers and corporate and community sponsors.

Yeah, so this organization isn't really in the business of paying anyone, so even bringing up a speaking fee is pretty crass. If you don't want to do an unpaid public appearance in this instance, just say you're busy that day and wish them the best. But look, here's the good news: There are no hard feelings here. Jennings told Tuohy that he's "got nothing but respect for" Carson. Jennings' event is going to be fine.

But that still brings us to the last and most important part of all of this: We're talking about New Hampshire in 2015. If you're running for President, you're itching for these opportunities to get in front of influential primary voters and show them what you're all about. This would have been a great earned media opportunity for Carson. Fox News would have covered it. Carson's remarks would have filtered out over social media. New Hampshire's media would have treated it like a campaign stop. It would have garnered the attention of influential state party elites. And Carson would have earned a few good quotes from locals talking about his presidential timber.

Instead, we have this story in the Union Leader about how Carson's speaking fee was "hefty" and a "barrier." Maybe Carson is just new at this? Maybe you should just not take him seriously as a presidential candidate -- almost as though he's staging a quixotic presidential run to give his speaking fees a nice boost, or something.

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The Harkin Steak Fry: A Meta-Critical Media Pseudo-Adventure!

Jason Linkins   |   September 18, 2014    3:45 PM ET

A man stands in a field in Iowa. His name is Peter. Peter is standing in a field because there are "200 other reporters" standing in that field. Those "200 other reporters" are observing an event. The event is called the "Harkin Steak Fry." Peter is observing those "200 other reporters" observing the "Harkin Steak Fry." For Peter, these meta-observations are the event.

The intrinsic nature of the Harkin steak fry changes because it is being observed by 200 other reporters. Otherwise, it would just be a bunch of people, cooking steaks in a field. By dint of the fact that 200 other reporters are witnessing the steak fry, the value of the steak fry increases. It becomes the Harkin Steak Fry, with capital letters and such.

The people staging the Steak Fry and the reporters observing the Steak Fry have entered into a tacit agreement, in which their presence turns the act of cooking steaks in a field into a significant, politically charged event. The steaks being fried are, therefore, not steaks in the conventional sense. Rather, the steaks are a distribution mechanism for political content. The reporters observing the event will ingest this content. They will not, however, ingest any steaks. This is one of the many central ironies of this event.

Another irony: the steaks are not being fried, they are being grilled. But everyone has agreed to the fiction that this steak fry, which is not a steak fry, is a Steak Fry.

Peter observes the reporters observing the Steak Fry. By observing the reporters, he changes the nature of the reporters. The reporters become a "madcap media mob." They might not have become a "madcap media mob" had Peter not been on hand to observe them and assign this value to them.

To wit: Peter observes one reporter getting "whacked in the head with the butt of a big television camera." He sees that a "photographer dramatically toppled off his ladder while straining to get a shot." Peter deems this to be "a little absurd." This is, in a Platonic sense, absurd, because neither of these accidents would have happened had the 200 reporters assembled in the field not been there, assembled, in that field. However, the nature of these accidents might never have been deemed absurd, despite their intrinsic absurdity, had Peter not been there to observe them, and deem them as such.

The reporters, however, are assembled in that field because there is a candidate, also in that field, participating in the Steak Fry. Her name is Hillary. Hillary is running for president. Hillary is also not yet running for president. Hillary currently exists in a constant state of simultaneously running, and not running, for president.

Hillary is observed cooking a steak at the Steak Fry. However, according to those observing the event, the steak that Hillary is observed cooking is actually already cooked. That steak lives forever, in a constant state of being cooked, and simultaneously not being cooked, by Hillary. The person who actually cooked the steak, having not been observed cooking the steak, is erased in favor of a person who did not cook the steak.

Peter ponders whether or not the event he is observing 200 reporters observe is being observed by other people. In so doing, Peter questions whether or not the event he is observing 200 reporters observe has the intrinsic value he'd previous assigned to it by participating in the observation of the observers. Peter says, "I joined more than 200 other reporters who swarmed the scene and tweeted away, even though most Americans on social media that day probably cared more about Robert Griffin's ankle."

Robert Griffin, also known as "RG3," is a football player in the National Football League. While Peter is observing the people observing the Steak Fry, other people are observing Robert Griffin's body slowly breaking down. The slow dissolution of Robert Griffin's body is in most ways not distinct from the slow dissolution of anyone's body. However, as thousands of people are observing Robert Griffin's frail flesh give way to the depredations of time, wear and mortality, the nature of Robert Griffin's slow disintegration is changed. Indeed, the destruction of Robert Griffin's body will prove to be far more lucrative for Robert Griffin than will the destruction of many other people's bodies.

Peter becomes aware that other people are observing the reporters observing the Steak Fry, from an even further vantage point than Peter. Peter describes these other people as "politicos and press critics," who "[point] to the event as another example of lazy 'pack journalism' with little journalistic upside." These observers have changed the value of the event being observed once again, by diminishing it. Peter describes these observations like so:

The sniping had some credibility. What was the competitive advantage of being there, just one more reporter among the herd, all of us racing around to get the same quotes and the same pictures?

This was especially true for the many journalists in attendance who rarely travel outside of Washington or New York to cover politics but decided to open up their travel budget for this one trip.

Couldn't their time have been better spent reporting on an undercovered Senate or governor's race in some other part of the country, far away from the rest of the media scrum? Of course, the academics would say. But the incentive structure of today's click-driven news economy begs to differ. Hillary gets eyeballs. Arkansas' Tom Cotton does not. This is the world we live in.

Peter now finds himself in an existential crisis. Previously, his observations of the people observing the Steak Fry had value, because his observations were unique. However, Peter now understands that his observations, having been simultaneously made by many other people, are actually rather quotidian. As the presumed sui generis nature of his observations were the precipitating event in recording them in the first place, he now finds himself in a quandary of his own design, having allowed himself to acknowledge and observe the similar observations of other observers.

He begins to question whether his previous observations, which aligned themselves with these "politicos and press critics," are as valid as he once thought they were. He concludes that they are not, and switches his alignment to the "200 other reporters," previously deemed to be "a little absurd":

As much as I believe in straying far, far away from the rest of the media pack -- this was a lynchpin argument in "Did Twitter Kill The Boys on the Bus?," the Harvard Kennedy School study I wrote last year about the hyperactive political news media -- I did find value in covering the Steak Fry.

The central irony is that Peter had previously found value in covering the Steak Fry by observing that there was no value in covering the Steak Fry. Of course, that's an inescapable contradiction. The logic cannot hold. Thus, Peter erases himself.

I observe all of this and present all of these ideas using a coy parody of post-structuralist literary meta-fiction. By using this cheap device, I present the contradictory nature of this exercise -- in which I mock something for lacking value while assigning it value by spending all of this time writing about it -- while simultaneously dodging responsibility for it. I then disclose the nature of this trick to the people reading it. I erase myself.

You probably feel that none of this has been worth your time. You probably feel cheated.

Here is a story about a woman named Jen. Like many women, she has a butt. Unlike many women, her butt is observed by thousands of people. Their observations change the nature and value of her butt. Perhaps you'll like this story more. There is a butt in it, after all.

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Here Are The 55 People That Pollsters Have Included In 2016 Polls (So Far)

Jason Linkins   |   September 3, 2014    5:34 PM ET

We've gone back over all of the 2016 presidential polls that have been conducted so far and discovered that as of this moment, pollsters have already included 55 people in various and sundry polls, for some reason.

Who are these people?

People Who Can Reasonably Be Said To Be 2016 Presidential Contenders:
1. Joe Biden
2. Jeb Bush
3. Chris Christie
4. Hillary Clinton
5. Bobby Jindal
6. John Kasich
7. Martin O'Malley
8. Rand Paul
9. Marco Rubio
10. Paul Ryan
11. Scott Walker

People Who Are Maybe A Tiny Bit Of A Stretch To Think Of As Running In 2016, But Who Knows?:
12. Ted Cruz
13. Andrew Cuomo
14. Peter King
15. Rob Portman
16. Bernie Sanders
17. Rick Santorum
18. Brian Schweitzer

Time Is A Flat Circle Where These People Are Always Running For President:
19. Michele Bachmann
20. Herman Cain
21. Howard Dean
22. Mike Huckabee
23. Jon Huntsman
24. John Kerry
25. Tim Pawlenty
26. Rick Perry
27. Mitt Romney

These People Are Not Running For President, But We'll Show Them By Putting Them In Polls, Anyway:
28. Cory Booker
29. Julian Castro
30. Kirsten Gillibrand
31. Deval Patrick
32. Elizabeth Warren

Pollsters Remember These People's Names Because They Did A Thing That One Time, Remember That Thing They Did?:
33. Kelly Ayotte
34. Tammy Baldwin
35. Evan Bayh
36. John Bolton
37. Jan Brewer
38. Ben Carson
39. Mitch Daniels
40. Rahm Emanuel
41. Nikki Haley
42. John Hickenlooper
43. Amy Klobuchar
44. Susana Martinez
45. Condoleezza Rice
46. Michael Steele
47. John Thune
48. Antonio Villaraigosa
49. Mark Warner
50. Jim Webb

LOL, Pollsters Are Straight Up Trolling You:
51. Scott Brown
52. Bob McDonnell
53. Sarah Palin
54. Joe Scarborough
55. Donald Trump

Most of these people, if history and common sense are any guide, will not come remotely close to running for president, let alone being elected. By our count, in 2008 -- the last presidential election without an incumbent -- 55 politicians were also mentioned in at least one poll. Of those, just under half ended up even briefly becoming candidates, while fewer than a third made it to the Iowa caucuses.

That list includes some less-than-serious options, from Bill Clinton (who was term-limited) to Arnold Schwarzenegger (who was born in Austria) and Stephen Colbert (who already had a better job). This serves as a reminder of the futility of trying to predict the winners of a contest before knowing who the contestants actually are.

FUN FACT: If you stacked all of these people end to end, the middle class would still have no future in America.

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Media People: Polls Say It's Throwback Thursday To That Time Romney Ran For President

Jason Linkins   |   August 28, 2014    3:37 PM ET

A few days ago, former Massachusetts governor and two-time presidential aspirant Mitt Romney told Hugh Hewitt that he was not going to run for president in 2016. What everyone seems to have heard, however, is that he might run for president in 2016. And so, Mitt Romney 2016 is now a thing. It's August. This is what happens in August.

The words that everyone is citing to suggest that Romney is "leaving the door open," as they say, to a run, are "circumstances can change." Go ahead and Google "Mitt Romney circumstances can change" and you'll see what I mean. (The Huffington Post is quoting those words, too, though we are at least really clear about Romney's stated intentions.) It's worth taking a look at the relevant transcript (emphasis mine):

HEWITT: Now I'm pressing, and I'm pressing an advantage of long acquaintance, and so forgive me for this, but that's subject to change, right? People's candidacies implode, circumstances change. People who organized campaigns approach you. And so I'm not asking you to -- I wouldn't presume to ask you to say, "Yeah, I'm in the race." But circumstances change. And if you thought that in fact it were not that way, that you thought you were the only one who could do this, you'd change your mind, wouldn't you?

ROMNEY: I'm not going there, Hugh. I know you're going to press, but you know, this is something we gave a lot of thought to when, early on, I decided we're not going to be running this time. And again, we said, "Look, I had the chance of running. I didn't win. Someone else has a better chance than I do." And that's what we believe, and that's why I'm not running. And you know, circumstances can change, but I'm just not going to let my head go there. I remember that great line from "Dumb and Dumber," where the...

HEWITT: "So you're telling me I have a chance?"

ROMNEY: There you go, you remember. You're telling me I have a chance? That's one of a million.

So all those headline writers probably should have attributed the "circumstances change" language to Hugh Hewitt, with whom Romney was politely playing along.

Or they could have gone with, "Romney: 'If Everyone Else's Candidacies Implode And A Well-Organized Campaign Comes To Me, Maybe I'll Run,'" as an alternative. Because those are the conditions to which Romney is agreeing here: Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal, John Kasich, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Rick Santorum, Scott Walker, and whoever else suffers an "implosion," and then a bunch of people who are well-positioned to support a campaign -- financially and infrastructurally -- but who have not joined a campaign in the meantime suddenly decide to approach Romney.

I mean, it could happen. Giraffes from space could cure leukemia. The Detroit Lions could go to the Superbowl. Tupac could be alive. The world is full of possibilities. But likelihoods are more scant, by comparison. This is really just Romney funnin' around with Hewitt, who -- back when it was chic in establishment conservative circles to beg any Republican with a pulse to jump into the 2012 GOP primary and prevent Romney from winning it -- stuck by Romney. (He is, after all, Romney's biographer.)

But, remember, it's August! And someone -- specifically, USA Today/Suffolk University -- polled Iowans, and this is what they found:

According to a USA Today/Suffolk University poll released Wednesday, 35 percent of likely GOP caucus voters would vote for the 2012 GOP nominee in 2016. When Romney's name was added to the pool, no other candidate received double-digit votes.

The survey comes as rumors have begun to swirl about a potential Romney bid for president in 2016. After months of insisting that he will not run again, the former Massachusetts governor on Tuesday acknowledged that "circumstances can change."

(In the second paragraph, a copyeditor should have changed "The survey comes as rumors have begun to swirl about a potential Romney bid for president in 2016" to "The survey comes at a time when we're desperate to find something to write about, got any ideas?")

Back in January, Ariel Edwards-Levy and I came up with a system of shorthand symbols that could be deployed for polls conducted well before anyone has any business conducting polls. In our system, this USA Today/Suffolk University poll would get the "ℑ" for "It's way too early to write about 2016, but here we are doing it anyway, like idiots" and the "Ñ" for "No, [name of candidate] is not running/cannot run/will not run, but what if [name of candidate] did/could/would run? Huh?! What then!?” We created a symbol for polls in which Public Policy Polling is just trolling people, as is their wont, but since PPP isn't implicated here we wouldn't do that. Same spirit, though!

Ariel and I failed to come up with a symbol for "absurdly teensy sample size," because we didn't think a poll with an absurdly teensy sample size would touch off a cuckoo-bird media frenzy. We forgot about what happens in August, and we apologize. More to the point, though, this poll has an absurdly teensy sample size! "How many Iowans actually support Romney for 2016?" asks Dave Weigel, "One hundred seventy Republicans were polled, and 60 chose Romney."

Why would 60 people do this? Well, if you recall, a bunch of Republican voters in Iowa voted for Mitt Romney not so long ago. That was a discrete, concrete decision that they made. If Romney had said to Hugh Hewitt, "YOLO, cuz, I am gonna go for it one more time in '16," it's very possible that Romney would bring many of them along again. In the meantime, however, we have Republican voters who, when presented with a hypothetical question about an imagined set of circumstances that won't take place for another year, retreat to the least abstract position: a decision they already made before about which they are probably still quite happy.

This would be a good time to point out that one thing Mitt Romney has never actually done, technically speaking, is win an Iowa Caucus.

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The 1 Mistake The Political Media Must Not Make In 2016

Jason Linkins   |   July 22, 2014    6:26 PM ET

We are now just a few short months before the midterm elections, after which the coverage of the 2016 presidential election and its attendant frenzy of nonsense and intellectual dystopia will kick in like a boot to your face. This is the perfect time to reflect upon the coverage of elections past, and offer some instruction on mistakes the press should avoid repeating.

And they are legion! I mean, where do I begin? The political media over-hyping an outlier poll to send everyone to the panic station? Or going wall-to-wall on a "gaffe" that no voter cares about? There's the ridiculousness of a primary contender briefly popping to a 3-point lead over the field and being dubbed "the front-runner." Or we can remember those days where everyone loses their sense of proportion and propriety entirely, for seemingly inexplicable reasons.

But no. While these are all mistakes the media should stop making, they are hard to remedy when the root of the problem is the simple fact that most political pundits and cable news blatherers are stunted, intellectually speaking, and have not managed to reach the formal operational stage of cognitive development. It's going to take many years of work to fix these problems. But there is an easy mistake that we can, and should, correct right now.

this is a podium
this is a lectern

These two things feature quite prominently during political campaigns and election-year events, and they are almost always confused. Stop doing that, everyone! This is easy. A podium is a raised platform, upon which one might stand. A lectern is a sort of reading stand, upon which one might put notes, that one stands behind.

You've seen a podium before. When athletes win medals at a big award ceremony, they stand on a podium.

athletes on a podium

If you've ever seen an orchestra perform, then you've seen the conductor, on a podium.

conductor on podium

In the picture above, you'll also see a thing behind the conductor, on which his music has been placed. I would usually call this a "music stand," but if you want to call that a "lectern" for the moment, that's fine with me. It helps establish that a lectern is something you stand behind, and that a podium is something you stand upon.

Which isn't to say that you can't "stand behind a podium." You can! But it's not the same thing as standing behind a lectern. Here's a picture that features "standing behind a podium."

In the image below, you'll see famous track and field star Usain Bolt and his Team Jamaica colleagues preparing to receive their medals in the men's 200-meter race in the London 2012 Olympics. The three athletes are standing behind the podium.

usain bolt

A few minutes later, Bolt and his teammates are on the podium.

also usain bolt

So, you see, you can "stand behind a podium." But if you're saying to yourself, "That can't be a podium! Where is the shelf for Usain Bolt's notes?" then you have confused the podium for a lectern. (Also, Usain Bolt doesn't need notes. Usain Bolt is the truth.)

Right now, you may be wondering, "Well, if you can stand behind a podium, can you stand on a lectern?" Yes, you can! But hardly anyone ever does, because it's a damn foolish thing to do, as you could topple over and get hurt. (For this reason, I wish more American politicians would stand on lecterns, but alas.)

another lectern

The thing is -- any time there is, say, a political debate, the lectern behind which the debater is standing is often referred to as a podium. Wherever lecterns crop up, there is discord and misrule. For example, here is an article entitled "Jay Carney's new gig: Cashing in on his years behind the podium." Jay Carney has never done anything noteworthy behind a podium. The author means "lectern."

this is not a podium

Look, I've made the same mistake. I wrote this sentence: "When Dana Perino took back the press room podium from Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt this afternoon, she sure imagined herself to be cock of the walk!" That's wrong. I was wrong. Now, I could be really defensive and point out that the White House press secretary, in addition to standing behind a lectern, actually does stand on a raised platform that we can call a podium. But I would be lying. When I wrote that sentence, I absolutely confused the lectern for a podium.

I want to do better, and I have. And now, every political reporter and on-air pundit can be better, too.

Fun fact! Here is an image from one of the GOP primary debates in 2012. In 2016, there are going to be more debates, and more scenes like this.

cnn depate

Someone asked to describe a scene like this in 2016 may say to themselves: "Oh, no! I think I need to ask an editor, or consult The Associated Press Stylebook, because I'm not sure what the plural for 'podium' is! Is it 'podiums?' Or is it 'podia?' I'm worried I might get it wrong!"

Stop worrying! The plural is spelled, "L-E-C-T-E-R-N-S." You're all set.

Now, at some point during your career of always getting "podium" and "lectern" right, you might encounter some smart-ass brandishing this sort of dictionary entry at you.

podium definition

Just ignore this. The only reason that dictionary entries have been adjusted in this fashion is because, after years and years of people getting it wrong, the people who make dictionaries just gave up and got on with the rest of their lives. The same sort of thing happened with the word "literally" very recently.

literally definition

You need to be the change you want to see in the world, and the change you need to be in this case is "a person who doesn't mistake a lectern for a podium, like an idiot."

Once you've mastered this stuff, you can graduate to things like "rostrum" and "dais." Here's an old article from David Mezzera of St. Ignatius College Prep in California to guide you on your way.

Okay, that's that! Get this one thing right and we can incrementally improve political coverage and America. The middle class is still basically screwed though, sorry!

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