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Chris Christie: Watercolor Memories Of A Candidacy That 'Peaked Too Soon'

Jason Linkins   |   March 1, 2015    7:30 AM ET

Every election cycle can be considered, first and foremost, a monument to hype. With every passing week, the political world is a blizzard of brash predictions, bold pronouncements, and bad advice. This year, your Speculatroners shall attempt to decode and defang this world with a regular dispatch that we're calling "This Week In Coulda Shoulda Maybe." We hope this helps, but as always, we make no guarantees!

chris christie bad month

As New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was still settling into his swivel chair at this week's Conservative Political Action Conference, his interlocutor for the Q&A session, conservative talk-radio host Laura Ingraham, began by asking about his "rough couple of months ... in the media."

"They just want to kill ya," Christie said, "but I'm still standing." Christie was, at the time, referring semi-explicitly to The New York Times. "I don't subscribe, by the way," Christie said, to a smattering of applause. Moments later, he had another quip for the Grey Lady. "I went to my parish priest and said I’m giving up The New York Times for Lent,” Christie joked. “Bad news: He said you have to give up something you’ll actually miss.”

Pro tip for anyone who wants to demonstrate that the media isn't living rent-free in your head: Maybe just pick one funny story about how you gave up reading The New York Times.

But Ingraham couldn't have been more right about Christie's recent woes. In the last two weeks especially, it seems as if the political press has decided en masse to start spading the graveyard soil over Christie's once-lush aspirations for higher office. There is varying enthusiasm for the duty.

NBC News' Perry Bacon has discussed the "growing skepticism from influential Republicans about his likely presidential run." Politico's "caucus" of Iowa insiders couldn't find a place for Christie in their deliberations. FiveThirtyEight's Harry Enten, after examining the ratio of name recognition and net favorability among the potential GOP candidates, offered up this 16-word coffin nail: "Chris Christie, the Republican governor of New Jersey, is well known, but not particularly well liked."

A charitable Peter Grier, writing for the Christian Science Monitor, suggests that Christie merely "peaked too soon," and reckons that the bad news is coming in heaps because the fix was in:

Do you think it’s a coincidence that The Washington Post and The New York Times and Politico all had stories running down Christie’s chances within days of one another? If so, we’ve got an exclusive deal to sell you a section of the Garden State Parkway.

"Christie can still come back," insists Grier. Tell that to The Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin, who says all that's left of Christie is to take "lessons" from his "collapse."

Perhaps the most telling description of Christie in this avalanche of bad news comes from The Daily Beast's Olivia Nuzzi, who typically noses out tri-state train wrecks with a sommelier's skill. Nuzzi catches Christie at a D.C. hotel, tending over an audience of soused New Jersey politicos who had just made their way to the nation's capital aboard the "Walk To Washington's" booze train: "Things are less existential at the Marriott," she writes, "where a disengaged Christie is walking to the podium. He is thinner, but looks tired. His marsupial face sags around his pronounced nose, making him take on an almost Nixonian quality."

Onstage with Ingraham, Christie sought to recapture some of his former brio. Presented with despairing poll numbers by Ingraham, Christie summoned some steel: “Is the election next week?” (To which Hot Air's Noah Rothman responded: "If that sounds a lot like 'the only poll that matters is the one taken on Election Day,' e.g. the universal declaration of a losing candidacy, it does to me as well.")

Indeed, it is not. And yet, this week, there's the knowledge that some opportunities have been lost. Christie took a swipe at Jeb Bush on the CPAC stage, quipping, "If the elites in Washington who make back room deals decide who the next president is going to be, then he's definitely going to be the frontrunner." Maybe so, but the uncomfortable truth is that Jeb has, by now, won over many of the elites that Christie was used to hosting in back rooms of his own. As has Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

And that story -- the one in which Christie's decline is twinned with Walker's rise -- has deep roots. Back in February, Politico's Anna Palmer described "Republican strategists" as being of the opinion that "no one [was] in a better position to get a boost from the Christie Bridgegate scandal than Walker." But even as Bridgegate failed to become the albatross that so many Christie critics promised, Walker kept on shining in comparatively favorable light. Flash-forward to Feb. 26, and you find The Fiscal Times' Liz Peek training her eyes far from Fort Lee. "Unfortunately for Christie, New Jersey’s finances are once again in crisis, and it could get ugly," writes Peek, in a piece titled "Scott Walker Stealing Christie's Playbook."

The Walker-Christie dynamic was explored further this week by Jonathan Martin and Maggie Haberman, but given the fact that Christie either hasn't subscribed to The New York Times in a long time or just gave up reading for Lent, there's a good chance he missed it.

But the comparison is irresistable. Christie versus Walker. How do you want to play it? Compare the governor with a sling of YouTube clips of him yelling at public sector employees to the governor who bested them in a series of political brawls? Place the guy who wanted a blowout win over nobody Barbara Buono next to the guy who zealously relishes the opportunity to brag about surviving close calls? You can't help but see Christie as the guy who went through much less, and has come out looking the more tired of the two.

Walker, of course, arrived at CPAC on the last gusts of balloon juice vented over Rudy Giuliani's infamous contention that President Barack Obama doesn't "love America." As Giuliani was sharing that particular moment with Walker, the Wisconsin governor faced a fusillade of inquiry as to whether he shared those sentiments. Walker merely shrugged and took advantage in a way that put fresh veneer on his status as a conservative folk-hero -- by using the contretemps as one more instance of being targeted unfairly by the liberal media.

Meanwhile, here's Chris Christie, at CPAC, begging Laura Ingraham to be allowed to take a piece of that narrative for himself.


So what is the 2016 election about this week?

Fighting ISIS! Robert Kuttner: So, like it or not, the 2016 presidential election will be about national security. And most Americans and most voters will be very fearful of the threat that the Islamic State represents and confused about how we should respond.

Security and stability! The Cook Political Report's Amy Walter: "All of this is coming together for a lot of voters, in the sense that nothing seems to be going right. Domestically, again, there are some of the immediate problems, but still the big underlying problems about jobs not coming back, an economy that is well for some people, not everybody. So, I think that what voters are looking for is somebody to come in and say, 'I know we have an unstable world that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Let me tell you how I’m going to do that, both internationally, but here at home, to stabilize it and make you feel more secure.'"

The family-friendly workplace! Syndicated columnist Robert Samuelson: "If you're wondering what the 2016 presidential election will be about, here's one dark-horse possibility: the family-friendly workplace. As millions of Americans struggle to balance family and job demands, proposals requiring paid maternity leave and emergency sick leave have an obvious appeal for Hillary Clinton or any Democratic candidate. The subject is thornier for Republicans, who have resisted new taxes and regulations while also favoring pro-family policies."

How to read a poll, Scott Walker edition

scott walker

Public Policy Polling had the hot, hot scoop: "PPP's newest national Republican poll finds a clear leader in the race for the first time: Scott Walker is at 25% to 18% for Ben Carson, 17% for Jeb Bush, and 10% for Mike Huckabee." Quinnipiac University's poll numbers showed up a day later, with fearful symmetry: "An early look at likely Iowa Republican Caucus participants shows a strong conservative tilt as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker leads the pack with 25 percent, twice as high as his nearest rival."

Now, it wasn't long ago, in these pages, that we discussed the matter of way-too-early polls, and their way-too-off tendencies in corresponding with reliability and predictability. There's political science that backs this up, and what the science says sort of reads as the cover story in the recent issue of the Journal Of Obvious Studies: the polls get more reliable and accurate as we get closer to Election Day. It makes you wonder why pollsters even conduct these polls. Do they need the practice? Are they trolling us? Actually, the answer is probably yes.

But remember: A lot of what pollsters do is about the journey, not the destination. Those top-line numbers, where the candidates are matched head-to-head and someone is allowed to seize the mantle of "frontrunner," are just the entry into another layer of data with their own stories to tell. Here, New York magazine's Jonathan Chait shows you how it's done:

A new Quinnipiac poll showing Walker leading in Iowa is more telling. The revealing data is not so much the top line numbers (Walker stands at 25 percent, with the next-highest candidate, Rand Paul, pulling 13 percent, and Bush at 10 percent). What’s more interesting is the favorable numbers. Walker receives 57 percent favorable ratings, against just 7 percent negative. Jeb Bush has a miserable 41 to 40 percent favorable rating among Iowa Republicans. That is a plus 50 percent favorable rating for Walker against plus 1 percent for Bush.

The way Walker has paid to conservative doubts in Iowa tells you a lot more about the vitality of his candidacy then the fact that he's staked out a slight lead over Ben Carson.

The Week In Predictions

Hillary Clinton: Hillary is totally going to raise $1.7 billion to run a 2016 campaign, according to an oddly specific Spencer Zwick. That suggests that there is a real hunger for a Clinton candidacy, right? Wrong, says Charles Krauthammer.

Rand Paul: "Sen. Rand Paul will likely get what he wants in Kentucky ... a way around state law preventing him from appearing on the ballot twice," writes Fred Lucas in The Blaze. But will Sheldon Adelson's promise to bankroll the effort to stop Paul's candidacy succeed? Ask Newt Gingrich, the horse that Adelson backed last time around (and who dropped serious coin on Bain Capital-themed oppo to stop Mitt Romney), how that worked out.

Lindsey Graham: Here's a bold prediction from former South Carolina Republican Party Chairman Katon Dawson: "If the Republicans win the White House, Lindsey Graham will have his choice of being Secretary of Defense or Secretary of State, if he [campaigns] right.” O-kay!

All The Advice That's Fit To Aggregate

Hillary Clinton should talk about income inequality. Jeb Bush should take a position on the wars his brother started. Rand Paul should gird his loins for a challenge from Wall Street's elite. Scott Walker should "resist the pull from the right to define himself in ways that make him less attractive to other segments of the party and to a general electorate."

And Joe Biden? Well, some say he should run for president, others would like to see him stay the vice president until the end of time. Either way, he has got to stop touching people in weird ways.

We'll Leave You With This, Whatever This Is

There's no doubt that Jeb Bush dreamed of the day he would tweet about having to follow the dude from Duck Dynasty at CPAC.

Obamacare Opponents Should Pick One Weird Conspiracy Theory And Stick To It

Jason Linkins   |   February 26, 2015    4:56 PM ET

As you may have heard, congressional Republicans have embarked once again on their six-year mission to eventually one day get around to coming up with their own plan to replace the Affordable Care Act. At the same time, they're also keeping a hopeful eye on the Supreme Court, where a looming court case, King v. Burwell, could threaten the existence of critical health insurance subsidies.

But what if the Obama administration has a secret plan to thwart these efforts? A pair of Republican legislators have recently suggested that a conspiracy is afoot. Or rather, two conspiracies are both afoot, simultaneously, each of which seems to contradict the other. Maybe just pick one, guys?

Over at The Hill, Sarah Ferris reports on how a House subcommittee chairman is hot on the trail of a secret Department of Health and Human Services plan to rescue the law in the event that the Supreme Court rules for the plaintiffs in King v. Burwell:

Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee, says federal officials are hiding a roughly 100-page document on the looming court case. The case, King v. Burwell, could cut off ObamaCare subsidies in three-quarters of states and potentially collapse the national marketplace.

Pitts confronted the head of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) about the plan, which he says is being circulated among senior officials, for the first time on Wednesday.

"HHS secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell said she does not know of a planning document," Ferris reported. But perhaps there is an explanation! According to HuffPost's Sam Stein, Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) was discussing the Affordable Care Act at the Conservative Political Action Committee on Thursday when he pointed to an even more nefarious scheme:

So what are the people at the Department of Health and Human Services playing at here? Do they have a secret plan to save the Affordable Care Act, or are they rubbing their palms together, hoping that the Supreme Court kills the law so they can spring their single-payer trap?

Can this contradiction be squared? Perhaps. Maybe this was Obama's plan, all along:

1. Pass a law called the Affordable Care Act, after a long, grueling, and political-capital absorbing legislative battle.

2. Bury some ambiguous language in one section of the bill governing the subsidies to state exchanges set up by the federal government.

3. Sit back and wait for the law's opponents to find that instance of ambiguous language and bring a lawsuit alleging that members of Congress always intended the law to do something they never actually intended it to do.

4. Hope that the Supreme Court will ignore multiple past instances in which they've had to make similar interpretative calls and rule in favor of the opposition, effectively gutting the subsidies and stripping beneficiaries of the means to "afford" this "care act."

5. Then there is this whole middle part I haven't quite figured out yet. Maybe it's what's in the secret 100-page HHS document.


It's the perfect plan. The conspiracy goes all the way to the bottom and then back to the top of the slide where it stops and turns and goes for a ride till it gets to the bottom and it does it again.

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Overused Management Bromide Now The Exclusive Property Of Carly Fiorina, Apparently

Jason Linkins   |   February 25, 2015    3:40 PM ET

Those who closely followed the 2014 midterm elections were treated to any number of compelling stories about candidates poaching one another's ideas and passing them off as their own. Well, here in the early stirrings of the 2016 campaign, we have our first similar accusation, and -- my, oh my! -- it establishes a near-unmatchable standard for silliness. Per The Daily Caller's Al Weaver:

During her speaking event in Silicon Valley, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton seemingly snagged a campaign line from potential GOP 2016 candidate Carly Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard.

Clinton, the presumptive 2016 candidate for the Democratic Party, called on attendees at the conference to “unlock their full potential,” a line Fiorina uses.

That's right -- for whatever reason, the Carly Fiorina campaign has decided to claim exclusive ownership of one of the hoariest phrases in the universe of vapid corporate platitudes. All political campaigns are hopelessly trite, but it's a rare one indeed that chooses to go to war over its triteness. "Back off," the Fiorina camp seems to be saying. "Banalities are our shtick."

Some backstory: Fiorina has been, at various times, a tech CEO, an adviser to John McCain and a contender for the U.S. Senate -- activities that she performed to varying degrees of "meh." Now she's a 2016 presidential hopeful, in the sense that she hopes to gin up enough interest in her candidacy that someone will come along and insist she be "drafted" into the presidential race. To that end, she has set up a political action committee called "Unlocking Potential."

That is, at the very least, a unique name for a political action committee. Where the names of most PACs seem to suggest "we threw a particularly patriotic set of magnetic poetry tiles at the Frigidaire to see what stuck," Fiorina's PAC name tells a different story. And that story is: "Yo, Cory says the whole development team is going to a yoga retreat in Palo Alto this weekend."

The real purpose of Fiorina's PAC, of course, is to "unlock" the "potential" of the savings accounts of various elite mega-donors. In fact, this is the real purpose of every PAC. So in a way it's nice that Fiorina's camp is sort of winkingly honest about it. However, according to Sarah Isgur Flores -- formerly the deputy communications director for the Republican National Committee, and now a member of Fiorina's team -- it is objectionable for anyone else to use the term "unlocking potential," because this is a concept the Fiorina campaign has decided it owns.

Of course, as most residents of Earth probably know, "unlock your potential" is basically a banal utterance, used by any number of management consultants, life coaches, personal trainers and ashram owners. It's what the personal growth guru tells his audience in the Radisson ballroom right before he has his assistants, Parker and Trish, come out with the T-shirt cannon.

In fact, "unlock your potential" may actually be the most banal phrase these Thought Leader types employ. You know how in the last puzzle of every "Wheel of Fortune" episode, the contestant is just given the five most popular consonants and the letter "E"? Well, "unlock your potential" is the management-speak version of that. Attempting to claim exclusive rights to the phrase suggests an interesting combination of mile-high chutzpah and pride in clearing the lowest bar imaginable.

If you think I exaggerate about the ubiquity of potential-unlocking, I'll note that Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan have all used the phrase at one time or another. The savvy Amazon shopper can also get similar advice from Todd Wissler, C. James Jensen, Brian Tracy, John Mattone, Mark McDonald, Michael Hera, Phil Parker, Dominic Carubba, Patrick Bunker and Joyce Handzo. Winston Churchill has talked about it. Deepak Chopra has talked about it. Even Confucius has, apparently, discussed this. Has New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman used the phrase? It insults me that you'd even ask me to check.

Honestly, I feel bad for everyone involved in this story -- The Daily Caller for writing about it, the Fiorina camp for whining about the issue, Hillary Clinton for sounding like an instructor at a Bikram studio, everyone with a political action committee who won't bite the bullet and just call it "Give Me Money So I Can Win An Election And Get Connected To The Gravy Train Of Corporate Lobbyists." I feel a great pity for the lot of them. But I am glad that this somehow, against the grain of good sense, became a thing, because this was hilarious. Imagine if the Fiorina campaign had just done something like, I don't know... substantively rebutted Hillary Clinton's policy ideas and decisions with well-reasoned arguments? They might have managed to unlock their hidden potential.

If I could offer some advice to the Fiorina campaign, there's something that I always say in these situations: Politics ain't beanbag. It's a dog-eat-dog world out there and you've got to wake up pretty early in the morning if you want to go big or go home. Go ahead and use those lines, guys -- just cut me a check first.

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Anonymous Sources, Political Reporters Courageously Forge On After Criticism

Jason Linkins   |   February 23, 2015    5:33 PM ET

A few days after the over-reliance on anonymous sources in coverage of Hillary Clinton's proto-campaign was sharply criticized on the record by actual intimates of the campaign -- raising questions about whether political reporters should install higher standards for citing anonymous sources -- anonymous sources and political reporters bravely forged ahead, ensuring the continuance of the practice.

From today's Washington Post:

In 2016, a challenge for Clinton will be adapting to the political moment with a fresh image while remaining true to her settled identity. “Look at Budweiser,” said a former campaign adviser to President Obama, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk candidly. “That’s what Hillary Clinton is. She’s not a microbrew. She’s one of the biggest, most powerful brands ever in the country, and recognizing that is important.”

This is a thing that happened: A person who simply wanted to offer the opinion, "This politician is a powerful brand, as big as it gets," had to conceal their identity to speak "candidly" about it. What a world!

Anyway, "We've got to include the banal observations of this nobody in this hot, hot story about whether Hillary Clinton is a fast-food burrito or a bottle of beer," reporters Philip Rucker and Anne Gearan told their editor, who for some reason agreed.

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Hillary Clinton And The Not Too Bitter, Not Too Smooth, Just Right Primary

Jason Linkins   |   February 22, 2015    7:30 AM ET

Every election cycle can be considered, first and foremost, a monument to hype. With every passing week, the political world is a blizzard of brash predictions, bold pronouncements and bad advice. This year, your Speculatroners shall attempt to decode and defang this world with a regular dispatch that we're calling "This Week In Coulda Shoulda Maybe." We hope this helps, but as always, we make no guarantees!

This week: We focus on one specific question -- what if they have a Democratic primary, and only one presidential candidate shows up?

the empty primary

It shouldn't be controversial to say that at this point in the 2016 race, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton enjoys virtually every possible advantage in the Democratic primary field. She's the best-known candidate with the highest level of name recognition and visibility. She has a long-nurtured campaign apparatus and the ability to call campaign infrastructure into being on the fly. Against the rest of the Democratic field, she's the overwhelming favorite in every poll that's ever been conducted.

Of course, anytime we talk about a "Democratic field," we should really say, "insofar as one exists." Her competition -- so far a dimly lit constellation of long shots (and perhaps the current vice president) -- isn't shaping up as a particularly robust challenge. Clinton plays a role in that simply by looming on the landscape. As has been discussed previously, Clinton has the power to "freeze the field" -- meaning that her dominance is such that Democratic party elites and mega-donors are loath to invest in a competitor, creating a sort of vicious cycle in which no viable competitors can truly present themselves.

There is a very real possibility that Clinton could face only a nominal challenge in a Democratic primary, and potentially none at all. And that's produced an interesting phenomenon among the members of the political media who, expecting a competitive primary to generate monetizable content and grist for "The Narrative," find themselves somewhere in the middle of a story that doesn't seem to have started. This is how you can understand the constant attention given to Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren -- a woman who is not running for president -- as a "foil" for Clinton. Every great protagonist needs an antagonist, and the political press would dearly love, if possible, to will one into being.

Elsewhere, there are the Hot Takes, suffused by the media's drug of choice, counter-intuition. Are all the advantages that Clinton secretly holds actually disadvantages in disguise? Is Clinton's ability to quelch all viable contenders for the Democratic nomination actually the Achilles heel that will lead to her undoing? A better question might be: Are all the people offering that opinion simply planting a flag for a future "Told ya so" story down the line?

I think it's fair to say that most of us, if we wanted something important (like, say, a job), wouldn't spend much time regretting the news that we were the only person in the running. Just about everyone would prefer to win in a blowout. At the same time, there is something that we all understand instinctually about the nature of competition: It tests mettle. And the old eyeball test informs us of the virtues of tested mettle. When we look at the 27-1 Gonzaga University men's basketball team alongside the other basketball teams in the top four of the NCAA's national rankings, many of us downgrade the Bulldogs because we know that they didn't play against the same level of competition as Kentucky, Virginia and Duke did. So, in the back of our mind, Gonzaga looms as a paper tiger.

That said, eventually Gonzaga is going to have ample opportunity to show that they're superior to their competition -- just like Clinton will, even if she runs in an uncontested primary.

Of course, the fact that there isn't already vigorous competition for Clinton to face tells us a few potentially ominous things. First and foremost, it shows that the Democratic Party's bench is not terribly deep right now. Elections are, at bottom, a competition of ideas -- one in which a losing candidate's vision may persist beyond the candidate's own electoral hopes. That's a good thing for any political party. Furthermore, a quickly decided primary could negatively impact state-level political organizing, which in turn would impact the vitality of down-ticket campaigns.

But let's stick with the question: Is Hillary running virtually unopposed a bad thing? As Vox's Matt Yglesias points out, having a competitive primary means "real debates, real media strategy, real policy rollouts, and all the other accompaniments of a presidential nominating congress." He goes on to note that "competition" in this instance goes well beyond simply having other credible opponents:

A vigorous primary campaign is a means through which, among other things, the key potential vulnerabilities in a candidate's biography get aired. Was Clinton lying about her opposition to gay marriage the way David Axelrod says Obama was? Have too many years at the pinnacle of American politics left her out of touch with middle class struggles? Can she distance herself from Obama administration foreign policy initiatives that didn't work out (settlement freeze? Russia reset?) without sounding disloyal or ineffectual? Can she answer questions about the complicated finances underlying her husband's foundation?

As long as she's "not running," we just don't know. And the closer she gets to obtaining the nomination without answering the questions, the more vulnerable the position she leaves herself in for the general election.

Here's the thing: All of that is smart-sounding stuff. It's thoughtful argument that appeals to our instincts. You can take that to a Beltway soiree or the set of a Sunday morning talk show, and with a little charm, you'll hold up. And yet, it's still really just gut feelings. It's still that instinct that pushes you to take an at-large team from the ACC deeper in the tourney than the one-loss Western Conference champions -- a good enough gamble that could, nonetheless, leave your bracket in tatters.

And it's worth pointing out that over on the GOP side, Republican elites are making their own set of gambles with their primary. The Republican National Committee's interpretation of their 2012 cycle woes has led them to believe that the long primary cost them dearly. The RNC believes that their primary afforded too many fleeting also-rans too much media coverage, that the length of the competition provided too many opportunities for their party to be shown in a bad light, and that ultimately, everything conspired to force their nominee into a bunch of positions from which the extrication was too difficult. They have, subsequently, undertaken a number of moves to "fix" this problem, and while they've not created a situation in which one candidate has a massive advantage over everyone else, it's still a drive toward limiting the competition, all based on some gut feelings.

Can we get closer to the truth of how, if at all, a competitive primary brings benefits -- or pitfalls -- to candidates? Well, if we turn to political science, there seems to be one constant notion: A competitive primary is very good for candidates, right up to where the competitive primary becomes a divisive primary, at which point the benefits of competition tend to fade.

The virtues of competitive primaries are hotly debated, as it turns out. Back in February of 2008, The Monkey Cage's John Sides embarked on an exploration of the topic, noting that the most relevant research at the time pointed to other factors as being far more determinative of success in a general election. From a gambler's point of view, the health of the economy and the popular regard for the presidential incumbent matter a lot more than what happens during a primary.

But Josh Putnam, proprietor of Frontloading HQ, nevertheless saw something interesting in the notion that a competitive primary could take a dark, blowback-producing turn. Just as the RNC concluded after the 2012 cycle, the factor that fascinated Putnam in 2008 was timing -- the notion that on a long enough timeline, a competitive primary eventually, maybe inevitably, turns divisive. Per Putnam:

At what point does the positive competitiveness of the race for delegates turn into the negative, party-splitting divisiveness? Should Clinton do well in Ohio and Texas on Tuesday, then 2008 may have reached that point for the Democrats. But in the Super Tuesday era (1988/1992-2004), no challenger has been afforded such an opportunity. That era was marked by frontrunners who were able to snuff out insurgencies before competitiveness turned to divisiveness. ... [Walter] Mondale quelled Gary Hart before a movement started (No, this isn't within the era I defined above but it is a good example.). George W. Bush kept [John] McCain at bay. And [John] Kerry silenced John Edwards. Competitiveness yielded to reality in all three cases before divisiveness took hold or could attempt to take hold.

It's almost as if there's a sort of "uncanny valley" phenomenon happening, in which competition elevates everyone until it gets too hot or turns too personal. There's a sweet spot: Ideally, you want your level of competition to be challenging, but not bedeviling. You want the primary race to look like a collegial bit of tire-kicking, not a campaign in which you're sending arsonists out to torch the rival dealership. So maybe all of the people who continually pen that "Elizabeth Warren versus Hillary Clinton" fan fiction are onto something, instinctually: They have a sense that the Jim Webbs and Martin O'Malleys of the world might not make it out of Iowa and that Clinton needs someone who can stay in the game long enough to make it to Super Tuesday. But not much further than that.

In the end, that data-driven conclusion about competitive primaries that we really want remains elusive -- or at the very least, not strong enough to talk us out of our horse-sense feelings on the matter. But let's return to one last study, cited by The Monkey Cage's Jonathan Robinson, about that 2008 competition between Clinton and Barack Obama:

Using a survey that tracked individual voters from the primary to the general election, Michael Henderson, D. Sunshine Hillygus, and Trevor Thompson ... examine whether and why Clinton supporters did or did not support Obama in the general election. They find that 71% of Clinton supporters ended up voting for Obama. Moreover, supporters of Clinton and the other Democratic candidates were no more likely to stay home on Election Day. The most important factors that predicted a vote for McCain among supporters of the other Democratic candidates were not frustration with the primary election’s outcome but ideology and political issues, especially the Iraq War.

All of that suggests that even though the 2008 Democratic primary got fiercely competitive, it still stoked an energy that lasted throughout the election cycle, ensuring that Democratic voters stayed engaged over the long haul. Perhaps what a political party, ideally, wants out of a primary is a contest where the competitiveness fosters some amount of voter engagement without tipping into a grotesque spectacle that leaves those who had engaged with it feeling nauseous, discouraged and just plain done with politics for the year.

Handled the right way, a contested primary creates a number of "products" organically that would need to be manufactured by other means in a non-contested primary. Competition helps to present those Big Ideas to the electorate, a vision of the future for which to fight. It breeds passion and gets voters to start using those muscles of commitment, which eventually get them out of the house and to the polls on Election Day. Perhaps most importantly, it allows the candidates to make connections with those activist members of the electorate, who'll use their muscles to make sure those committed voters know how to get to those polls on time.

At this point, it sure looks like Hillary Clinton can grab the nomination without too much trouble. Trouble is, some trouble might be a nice thing to have.

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Does Hillary Clinton Have An Anonymous-Sources Problem? We Asked A Bunch Of Anonymous Sources

Jason Linkins   |   February 19, 2015    5:22 PM ET

Over at National Journal, Emily Schultheis reports on a problem that's been bedeviling those who are closely tied to the proto-campaign of former secretary of state and presumed presidential aspirant Hillary Clinton: the bewildering welter of sources and commenters who show up in news reports, using the veil of anonymity to pass themselves off as bona fide "Clintonland" insiders. Schultheis notes that Clinton is basically cursed by her long history in politics and in Washington, since there's now virtually no end to the number of people who can semi-credibly claim to be "familiar with her thinking" or have "deep knowledge of the Clinton campaign," or who are simply "Clinton allies."

All of which has created a mess for the people who are really running the show. Per Schultheis:

"There are three parties to this equation: We're one, the source is two, and the media is three. And arguably we have the least amount of influence on any of this," said longtime Clinton aide Philippe Reines. He conceded, though, that there's no real way for her team to control it. "We just have to sit back. We just have to grin and bear it."

The issue is singularly frustrating for people who work and have worked in Clinton's press operation and dealt with the issue first-hand -- enough so that several of whom, like Reines, were willing to give rare on-the-record interviews for this story.

That Schultheis actually got these on-the-record interviews is itself significant -- it means she's done the virtuous work of ensuring that her readers know who is opining on this matter. The whole episode raises an interesting question: Sure, this is a mess for the Clinton campaign, but... should it really be their mess? Isn't the onus on the actual reporter to ensure that the people they quote, the people speaking for, to, and about Hillary Clinton -- about anyone or anything, really! -- are in fact legit? Wouldn't there be less of a mess if journalists simply exercised some judgment about whom they allow a platform?

To help answer the question, I have solicited a bunch of anonymous quotes from people whose tenuous claims to knowledge on these matters are probably no better and no worse than most of the anonymous people you see in political reporting -- all of whom sound much better when you don't know who they are.


Here in the way-too-early part of the 2016 campaign -- when not much is happening, but political reporters act as if every micro-event is of sea-boiling significance -- anonymous sources of the most loopy varietals flourish. It's a time when that "long-time GOP foreign-policy expert who is not yet part of the Bush team but has consulted with the candidate informally" gets to hold court. A period in which "every talk" you've had with the close confidants of a would-be candidate leads to an embarrassing game of media telephone and hastily discarded headlines.

CNN ran a report on Feb. 2 that presumed to have the goods on the internal debate within the Clinton campaign about when she should announce her candidacy. That piece included this amazing attribution: "Democrats on both sides of the debate spoke to CNN on the condition of anonymity so they could make their case without upsetting Clinton or those close to her for talking openly about internal deliberations."

If you don't want to upset Clinton by speaking out of turn about internal deliberations, isn't the simplest solution just to not talk to CNN? HuffPost asked some knowledgeable parties for their opinion. "It's crazy. It's like saying that you're really worried about your cocaine addiction, and so you've decided to just do all the blow you have on hand so that it's not there to tempt you anymore," replied one political writer, who asked for anonymity in case that hastily constructed metaphor didn't land.

Earlier this week, the rabbit hole of anonymous sourcery opened up after former Obama adviser David Axelrod, currently promoting a book about what a big ol' Obama adviser he was, offered up some unsolicited advice for the Clinton campaign, including the tip that Clinton needs to "define herself." From there, The Hill's Amie Parnes wrote a story -- "Axelrod quips irritate Clintonland" -- that opened with a flurry of anonymous sources digging at Axelrod for his "rash of recent comments." It went like so:

“It's not helpful, and it's definitely not appreciated,” said one Clinton ally. “The last thing we need is another round of headlines about lingering tension, and this is doing exactly that.

“When he speaks, it gets picked up, and people listen,” the ally added.

Another supporter added: “I think a lot of us are scratching our heads. Why is any of that necessary?” A third added, "She's been a great team player, she's been very supportive of the president and she hasn't gotten in front of him on a lot of issues so what's he trying to do?"

Were any of these people claiming to be "allies" and "supporters" actually, in fact, deeply embedded with Clinton's inner circle? Given the progression from Axelrod's commentary, to Parnes' reported rebuttal, to Schultheis' reporting today, it's hard to avoid the suspicion that, uh, no, they were not. Schultheis says as much in the headline of her piece: "When a Clinton 'Ally' Isn't an Ally at All." As she puts it:

The thing is, a Clinton "ally" could be anyone: a top donor or a former staffer in the know, sure, but also a Democratic strategist on the outside who is just sharing an opinion, wants to feel important, or is hoping to settle a score. What's more, it's far harder for the campaign to chastise someone for saying things they shouldn't -- or stop telling that person privileged information -- if they're quoted anonymously and you don't know for sure who said what.

But why would anyone who's not part of Clinton's inner circle want to offer an anonymous defense? What's in it for them? Once again, HuffPost sought the opinions of learned parties. "I don't have the faintest idea what you get in return for defending her if no one knows who you are. And these quotes could come from anyone. It could be Lanny Davis, for all I know. Doesn't he have a column at The Hill? I bet it's just Lanny Davis," said one Washington-based reporter who requested anonymity to avoid a phone call from Lanny Davis.

Others suggested that anonymous sources can sometimes wrangle benefits for themselves if they play their cards right. "There's always the prospect of maybe outing yourself as an anonymous defender somewhere down the line," said one political reporter with knowledge of these matters. "You know, you're at a party, you collar someone in the real Clinton universe, tell 'em, 'I felt like I had to go to bat for you guys.' Maybe you get a favor out of that."

But the Clintonites that Schultheis gets on the record sure seem to be signaling that this is not the way to earn a favor. In fact, they say it's a "constant problem" that's "never helpful."

It's an open question, of course, how much this will all ultimately matter. Some say that this is an overblown non-story. "The idea that Clinton has a problem with anonymous sources is overblown. It's a complete non-story," said an anonymous source who requested anonymity so as not to offend other anonymous sources by diminishing their importance to the campaign.

And if you take a data-driven approach to this conundrum, and really examine the numbers, you find evidence for that. "The numbers for Hillary look great," said a D.C.-based pollster and former Clinton campaign consultant.

So, whose responsibility is it? Should the Clinton campaign police this stuff, or should reporters stop passing off non-insiders as intimates for the sake of good copy? This is where opinions diverge.

In the words of one experienced Capitol Hill reporter, who spoke to me on condition of anonymity to avoid the repercussions of trash-talking her colleagues: "Sometimes I think people think it makes them sound better and more impressive to have anonymous sources. I'm so important that I can get even people who don't want to talk to reporters to talk to me! It's like when people begin tweets with Sources tell me... Congrats, you have sources! You are a reporter. Good job."

But you'll find other experienced newsroom hands who blame the Clinton insiders themselves, suggesting that their current problem with anonymous sources is no one's fault but their own.

"The Clinton campaign isn't an official campaign and therefore has no official spokespeople, so for them to complain that reporters aren't getting on-record quotes from nonexistent people is a little too clever. But it's all familiar: People around her have historically been hostile to the press, closed off and mistrustful, in love more with playing games, lying and settling scores than actually communicating openly, always amplifying their non-candidate's worst instincts. I can't imagine why reporters go to people who both have access to Clinton and speak with some frankness," said one top Washington editor who just can't fathom that "we have close to two years of this to endure, if not more."

Others preferred to speak in confounding non sequiturs. "I was once alone in a Senate elevator with Hillary, and I'm pretty sure she winked at me in a 'Hey, I'm really into you... like into you into you' way," said one female Capitol Hill reporter who requested anonymity to protect everyone's relationships.

"What Ryan said," said one veteran political reporter and published author who requested anonymity and then also requested that he be allowed to identify one of the other anonymous sources in this piece by their first name, only to then disappear from the piece entirely, leaving behind a tantalizing but ultimately unsolvable mystery.

Schultheis' article seems to come down on the side of the Clinton camp, depicting this as a problem they can't solve on their own. Of course, one can't dismiss the possibility that Schultheis has penned a good old-fashioned "beat sweetener," siding with Clinton's real inner camp on this issue to smooth the way for future reporting. And so the rabbit hole continues.

Ultimately, the problem may be even more profound. "The real issue here is that no one knows the real Hillary," said one insider who requested anonymity because she couldn't prove she knew the real Hillary.

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Jeb Bush's 'Big Tent' Welcomes Iraq War Screw-Ups

Jason Linkins   |   February 18, 2015    1:01 PM ET

This week, the 2016 campaign takes us back to Iraq as the media grapples with the emerging foreign policy philosophy and advisory team of Jeb Bush. The potential presidential candidate is laden with the burden of memory -- specifically, the memory of his brother's misadventures in Iraq. The early indication is that Jeb reckons he may as well turn into the skid. As the Washington Post's Philip Bump explains, "If Bush's goal is to present himself as his 'own man,' that list of advisers undermines the point somewhat: 19 of the 21 people on it worked in the administrations of his father or brother."

As Bump notes, "the foreign policy team of any Republican president would probably draw heavily from the experience of the past three Republican administrations." This is, sadly, the drawback of a political culture that's insular in just about every way -- it's hard to simply excommunicate the incompetents. For the same reason, most Democratic administrations will inevitably be advised by the dim goobers that brought you the Commodity Futures Modernization Act.

One way of looking at this is to ponder the gleam of the polished turd and find virtue in the shine. That's what one of President George W. Bush's former Iraq advisers insists we do in another Washington Post piece from Ed O'Keefe and Philip Rucker, telling those reporters that Jeb is taking a "big-tent approach" to his foreign policy team. But unlike the approach taken by former GOP nominee Mitt Romney, who Bump reports at least "branched out" from the Bush era because "the Bush-era advisers on foreign policy were too damaged" at the time, what "big tent" means in this instance is big enough to find room for the cock-ups of yesteryear.

As Feaver explains: “He’s not giving in to the idea that anyone associated with the Iraq war is out of consideration. That’s not practical. Keeping them out would reinforce a cartoon critique of the former president’s Iraq policy.”

The one exception, according to O'Keefe/Rucker, is former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who we learn has had "more complicated" interactions with Jeb because "there's a sensitivity that it would be a carbon copy of his brother's administration," according to an anonymous "foreign policy expert" who is now in the running for the 2015 "You Don't Say!" Award.

Meanwhile, also in contention for the same award is this throwaway line from O'Keefe and Rucker: "Democrats have long blamed George W. Bush with a failed execution of the Iraq War."

That's a pretty curious way of putting it, considering the fact that the matter is not up for debate. But it's a construction that the media seems to want to use, nowadays. Here's a CNN report doing much the same (emphasis mine):

Democrats are vowing to tether him to the controversial decisions of his brother, President George W. Bush, who they blame for starting a war in Iraq on false pretenses and for presiding over a disastrous occupation that cost trillions of dollars, thousands of U.S. and Iraqi lives and destabilized the region.

Well, in the first place, it shouldn't be too hard to "tether" Jeb Bush to those controversial decisions, considering Jeb Bush literally signed his name to them. But more to the point, you sort of see why Democrats might have to make this Herculean effort (complete with vows!) to do so. It becomes necessary if the media is going to use that amnesiac construction in which Democrats "blame" Jeb's brother for starting the war in Iraq ... as if this weren't simply a fact beyond dispute. It's sort of like the way I blame the driver of a blue four-door sedan for side-swiping my car in a hit-and-run on Gallows Road back in 1998, because that driver was the guy who did it. It's not a great mystery. The problem I face is that they never caught the guy, so I run the risk of one day incorporating him into some future administration of mine.

Would that I had the luxury afforded Jeb Bush, who seems puzzlingly averse to taking it. There are undoubtedly some foreign policy minds Bush could tap who are not only untainted by the Iraq War, but who are also willing to acknowledge those failings and be informed by that critique. But this is not how our political meritocracy works: The existence of Iraq war critics -- conservative, liberal, or otherwise -- is a "cartoon," and they should be shunned as "not serious."

At any rate, I think the answer to the question, "Can Jeb Bush escape his brother's legacy in Iraq?" is, "Sure, he easily can if he wanted to, simply by not consorting with the people who brought about that legacy. But Jeb clearly doesn't want to, so he won't." This stuff isn't hard.

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Your 2016 Candidates Have A Secret Weapon, According To The Media

Jason Linkins   |   February 15, 2015    7:30 AM ET

Every election cycle can be considered, first and foremost, a monument to hype. With every passing week, the political world is a blizzard of brash predictions, bold pronouncements, and bad advice. This year, your Speculatroners shall attempt to decode and defang this world with a regular dispatch that we're calling "This Week In Coulda Shoulda Maybe." We hope this helps, but as always, we make no guarantees!

ray gun

Sometimes, in life, you succeed on your own merits. But other times, you need a little something extra. And when the media thinks that they've caught on to that "something extra," they've got a term for it: the secret weapon.

If you look long enough, secret weapons abound. If you're in the National Hockey League, your secret weapon is the female figure skater. If you're the Super Bowl-bound New England Patriots, it's Tom Brady's patience. If you're producing the Grammys, then what you find in your "in case of emergency break glass" box is a gospel choir.

Kanye West has a secret weapon. So does Beyonce. Both Steve Jobs and Bill Gates have them. Elon Musk has a secret weapon that he apparently won't tell anyone about. What if his secret weapon was "a small firearm, secreted on his person?" That would sure be a surprise to find out!

There comes a time in the coverage of any election that you start to hear about the candidates and their "secret weapons." And nearly 100 percent of the time, the secret weapon is the same thing: the candidate's spouse. This is a thing that's said about nearly every candidate. Barack Obama's secret weapon is Michelle Obama. Mitt Romney's secret weapon is Ann Romney. The same is true for Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum and Ron Paul and Herman Cain and Tim Pawlenty.

Senators got 'em. Governors got 'em. Even our favorite politicians from across the pond have got 'em. Sometimes it's awkward, like when you cheat on your secret weapon and father a son with your household staff. Sometimes it's a little bit weird, like when your predecessor's spouse becomes your secret weapon.

Once campaigns end, with the winners in ascension and the losers in absentia, there is precious little discussion as to whether any of these spouses-as-secret-weapons actually worked or not. And why would there be? The brilliance of the "spouse as secret weapon" story is that it's a trope disguised as a scoop -- a tired exercise handed down from editor to reporter to blandly pass the time.

There is not a person, in the history of the news, who has ever assigned this "spouse as secret weapon" story who would dare step forward in public and demand that we heed his case for having assigned it. And there's not a reporter in the world with the balls to tell you, truthfully, that the assignment was anything but bogus. (I dearly want someone -- anyone! -- to take on this task and present it literally. That is: a real, earnest accounting of how a candidate's spouse could potentially hurt another human being.)

Already, this year, we've crossed the threshold, with Columba Bush getting a write-up in The Hill, depicting her as Jeb Bush's secret weapon. ("Don't publicly release a bunch of random people's Social Security numbers," is the sort of thing you'd kind of like your secret weapon to advise, but, alas!) He'll join a handful of other potential 2016ers who have already notched their spouses-as-secret-weapons stories. At some point, this story will be written about each of the remaining candidates.

And so, with that in mind, we'd like to pay tribute to all the candidates who possess secret weapons that aren't their wives or husbands, and the reporters who dared to delve a little further to expose these armaments to their readers.

Hillary Clinton's Secret Weapons: Eyewear. Grandchildren. Huma Abedin. Praise from Republicans. "African-American voters and America's withdrawal from Iraq." (Well, maybe not anymore on the latter. Perhaps America's intervention in Iraq can finally be her secret weapon!)

Rand Paul's Secret Weapon: Hillary Clinton.

Mike Huckabee's Secret Weapon: Also, Hillary Clinton. (I guess Rand gets her Monday-Wednesday-Friday and Huck gets her on Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday, and they alternate Sundays.)

Ted Cruz's Secret Weapons: Iowa Rep. Steve King and "Republican despair." (Sort of the same concept, actually.)

Rick Santorum's Secret Weapon: The churches of America. His movie studio.

Scott Walker's Secret Weapon: Vanilla. (What else?)

Joe Biden's Secret Weapon: Laughter. (What else?)


So what is the 2016 election about this week?

Vaccines! From NPR's Mara Liasson: "Think vaccine politics are a very good mirror of the current dynamics in the 2016 presidential field. On the Republican side, the two candidates who've been doing really well lately, Jeb Bush and Scott Walker, managed to navigate the crosscurrents of vaccine politics really well. The two candidates who've been floundering a bit couldn't. It's a hot potato for Republicans because even though there are plenty of rich, liberal, whole-food parents who don't vaccinate, it's a much more burning issue for the Republican grassroots. They're more likely to see it as an issue of individual freedom and liberty. "

Continuing The Obama Administration! Joe Biden: “That is what the next presidential election will be about. Do we continue on the path we are on or do we go back to the policies of the past?”

Whether people like senators or like governors! The Hill: "The Republican presidential primary is shaping up to be a battle between the statehouse and the statesmen."

elizabeth warren

Getting Drafty In Here

For as long as the 2016 campaign cycle and Sen. Elizabeth Warren have been things existing simultaneously, there has been an effort to bring about the Reese's Peanut Butter Cup-ization of the two. "Oh, what? You got Elizabeth Warren in my 2016 election!" And so, we have a long-standing "Draft Elizabeth Warren" campaign, which has bred an endless array of "Is Elizabeth Warren going to finally jump into the race" stories.

But this may be the week when the "Are The Draft Elizabeth Warren People Going To Get A New Hobby" stories begin to flow. This week, one of the nascent "convince Elizabeth Warren to launch a foolhardy campaign for the White House" efforts, in concert with MoveOn, commissioned a push-poll, and Salon's Jim Newell utterly demolished it, saying, "Credit to MoveOn for being transparent and sharing its methodology. On the other hand: oh my god, this is hilarious. We can’t believe they would share this! It’s the fluffiest poll since whatever the last really fluffy poll was."

Indeed, many of the poll questions make the typical push-poll look downright shy. Do you agree that Elizabeth Warren really wants to take it to big Wall Street interests? Isn't her middle-class backstory interesting? How about this report from Time magazine, which discusses her zealous defense of consumers? Isn't it a great thing to protect consumers? It all basically reads as, "People have said Elizabeth Warren is amazing. Do you think America would benefit from an amazing president?"

Per Newell:

There’s a scientific term for this type of survey, can’t quite think of it now, but it’s not a kind one. The gist of it is “when your survey spends 11 questions puffing up someone into a quasi-deity and then immediately asks if people like that person, it’s not a very useful survey.” This isn’t how an election plays out. When New Hampshire Democrats enter the polling station on primary day, the voting machine will not read them a glowing profile of Elizabeth Warren before displaying the ballot. (Although who knows; these machines sometimes go on the fritz.)

Elsewhere in Salon, Joan Walsh absorbs the news that New York's Working Families Party joined the Draft Warren movement, and gives it the side-eye it deserves:

I admire WFP; I think they’re doing exactly what progressives should be doing: Working within the Democratic Party and pulling it to the left, not standing outside the party and declaring it no better than the GOP.

But it was hard not to contrast their “Draft Warren” move, which looks symbolic at best, and contains an implicit challenge to Hillary Clinton, with their cave-in to Gov. Andrew Cuomo last year -- which was not merely symbolic but had real ramifications. At that time, they had a terrific progressive female candidate, Zephyr Teachout, ready to challenge Cuomo -– and they backed Cuomo. So to recap: With a willing progressive woman challenging a politically centrist Democratic man -– the progressive didn’t get the WFP endorsement. But now, with a centrist but more liberal (than Cuomo) Democratic woman, Hillary Clinton, (probably) running for president, WFP is courting a challenger -- who (probably) isn’t running anyway.

Lots of people admire the effort that Elizabeth Warren undertakes to see to it that a basic level of fairness for normal human Americans is restored as we climb out of the post-crash wreckage. It's something that she works at very hard, on a daily basis. Maybe it's time for everyone working in the Draft Warren world to start doing the same.

hillary clinton

The Week In Predictions

Hillary Clinton: One peril of Clinton taking her time to enter the race is that she will have to endure the periodic repetition of the "all the advantages that Hillary Clinton enjoys may turn out to be impediments," as if the best possible way to run for office is to be burdened with disadvantages. This week, it's The Washington Post: "But the luxury of front-runner status could easily become a liability as Clinton attempts the historically difficult feat of leading her party to a third consecutive term in the White House." We are subsequently told that "her advisers are working hard to fashion ways to make her seem hungrier, scrappier and less like the inheritor of Obama’s mantle." Sure, but she'll still take being up 40 points on Joe Biden eight days a week!

Rand Paul: The National Journal's Lauren Fox opines that the "debate about defeating ISIS" could become "perilous" for the Kentucky senator. Probably not as perilous as actually fighting ISIS though!

Elizabeth Warren: The Hill's Judy Kurtz: "A battle between Hillary Clinton and Sen. Elizabeth Warren could easily divide entertainers, creating a showdown that might split Hollywood and force A-list stars to choose sides." Good thing that Warren isn't running, I guess, though even if she did, at least Amy Pascal can't lose her job a second time.

Joe Biden: He could win the Iowa Caucus, unless someone else does.

All The Advice That's Fit To Aggregate

Hillary Clinton should have her campaign headquarters in the Bronx. Or in Queens. (There's space available in Staten Island, too.) Hillary should jump into the race right now, and start doing some Teddy Roosevelt stuff. Also, David Axelrod has advice.

Jeb Bush "should think twice about playing to the Iowa GOP." Rand Paul should "come clean about libertarianism." Chris Christie should "stop telling the Sicilian mother story" and get a makeover -- there are five to choose from. Bobby Jindal "should salvage his legacy by giving up his presidential ambitions and focus on solving Louisiana's fiscal crisis," but where's the fun in that?

This week, Jennifer Rubin says that Rick Perry's "biggest problem may be [Scott] Walker, whom Perry will need to show is less prepared on foreign policy and less accomplished than he is." That means next week, Rubin can flip the names and write the same sentence.

We'll Leave You With This, Whatever This Is

Via Bloomberg's Ben Brody:

“If Jeb Bush loses New Hampshire, they'll get Mitt Romney back in the race,” said Carville, who managed Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign. Clinton that year became the first modern president not to win the Granite State primary.

"Mitt Romney will jump back into the race" is the new "Elizabeth Warren will challenge Hillary Clinton."

A Rare Success For No Labels Actually Makes Washington Dysfunction Worse

Jason Linkins   |   February 11, 2015    4:09 PM ET

No Labels, a loosely organized collection of platitude wielders, hasn't achieved much in its short time on this Earth. At least as far as its stated purpose of ending partisanship and gridlock, that is. When it comes to infrequently convincing affluent rubes to pointlessly part with their money, the group has been a great success.

But one thing that No Labels has managed to persuade lawmakers to do, on occasion, is sit with one another in "bipartisan" fashion, instead of always sitting apart in their respective caucuses. It's a big thing with No Labels -- part of an "Action Plan To Change The Rules And Fix What's Broken":

It's time to curb the cliques in Congress. At all joint meetings or sessions of Congress, each member should be seated next to at least one member of the other party. On committees and subcommittees, seating also would be arranged in an alternating bipartisan way (one member would be seated next to at least one member of the other party) by agreement between the chair and ranking member. One option would be to arrange bipartisan seating in order of seniority.

It's a very pretty notion, and like most pretty notions, it suffers only because it does not work at all and actually makes things worse. As Mother Jones' Samantha Michaels reports, this is all laid out in a new study by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Toronto, which looks at how "voting behavior change[s] when senators of different parties sit closer together." Per Michaels:

The study's coauthors, business profs Christopher Liu of the University of Toronto and Sameer Srivastava of UC-Berkeley, looked at voting behavior in the Senate from 1973 to 2009. Their findings: Senators from the same party tended to converge in their voting behavior when they interacted more. If they sat closer together or joined more of the same committees, they later voted similarly. But under the same conditions, senators from different parties who interacted more tended to vote differently. In other words, when Republicans and Democrats sit closer together, their votes move further apart.

In a polarized setting like the Senate, the study explains, "conflicting identities will become more salient, and the normative pressure to move further apart in their thoughts and actions will intensify." Translation: "Sometimes keeping some distance is the better option."

Michaels notes that the study "does not lay out any quick fixes for a more cooperative Congress." This is because no quick fixes actually exist, and you should maybe give organizations promising such solutions based solely on gut feelings and the memories of campfire songs a wide berth. (One suggestion that Srivastava does make is to increase the opportunities for lawmakers to deal with one another privately. That is, if you turn the C-SPAN cameras off, you reduce the incentive to grandstand. The idea is not without controversy, as it does force a transparency trade-off.)

But the salient point here is that bipartisan seating doesn't achieve the desired effect of reducing dysfunction. Rather, it ratchets it up a notch. All of which seems to create a somewhat ironic problem for No Labels. Though since No Labels' recent strategy has apparently been to hope for increased dysfunction so that it can secure more fundraising dollars, one can't rule out the possibility that encouraging bipartisan seating is part of the scam.

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Bobby Jindal At Odds With RNC Over 2016 Debate Plans

Jason Linkins   |   February 11, 2015    1:47 PM ET

Last month, the Republican National Committee took pity on a nation still healing from a presidential election cycle that featured over 20 separate primary debates and said, "Lo, let us not do this anymore." And so they announced a plan that would hold the number of primary debates to a reasonable nine to 12, all gently spaced out over the primary season and equitably distributed among important primary states. Now, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal -- himself a prospective GOP candidate -- is vowing to blow this up. Yahoo News' Jon Ward has the story:

Jindal also made clear he has no plans – if he runs for the nomination – to abide by the RNC’s attempt to keep candidates from participating in debates that are not sanctioned by the party committee.

“I know there is a lot of concern, especially in this town among Republican party leaders,” Jindal said. “There’s this ideal of theirs, this idealistic belief, that if we could just have fewer debates, if we could have a gentler, kinder nominating process, that would be good for the party and good for the nominee. Well you know what? Democracy is messy.”

In the RNC's "Growth And Opportunity Project" report (known to many as the "RNC autopsy"), the organization takes the position that "the number of debates" had "become ridiculous" and that they were largely just "taking candidates away from other important campaign activities." In the report, the committee noted that as recently as 2000, a primary year with no GOP incumbent, there were only 13 debates in total. By 2012, by their reckoning, the debates had begun too early, and featured such ridiculous spectacles as "two debates [taking] place within twelve hours of each other."

But there's no question that when the RNC acted to streamline the debate process, its motives went well beyond ending a debate process that brought all of us dull, repetitive pain. Another concern was that the long debate schedule provided too many opportunities for the fringier candidates to make fleeting gains in the polls, and pull the front-runners into ideological corners from which they'd be hard-pressed to extricate themselves. This is only hinted at in the "autopsy" ("It should be recognized that depending on a candidate's standing in the polls, some candidates will want to participate in an unlimited number of debates"), but in subsequent reporting, this has been more explicitly expressed. As Politico's James Hohmann and Alex Isenstadt reported last month:

The push to get greater control of the debate process grew from the feeling that Mitt Romney was damaged during the 2012 nominating process by the large number of televised gatherings. They helped elevate candidates like Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich and Michele Bachmann, all good debaters who otherwise had little realistic shot at the nomination. Romney, ganged up on from the right, made his own damaging comments, such as betting Rick Perry $10,000 in one debate or endorsing the concept of “self-deportation” in another.

Of course, Romney made his "$10,000 bet" at the ABC News debate on Dec. 10, 2011, and his "self-deportation" comments at the NBC News/Tampa Bay Times debate on Jan. 23, 2012. As this time frame in the election cycle is at the heart of the RNC's revised debate schedule, it may be premature to declare these reforms to be a cure for candidates saying things that will haunt them. Nevertheless, the belief that it somehow is, is central to the RNC's reckoning.

That said, Jindal's objections are worth considering. As Ward notes, the revision to the debate schedule is part and parcel of a broader set of rule changes and reforms that "make it easier for a well-funded, well-known candidate -- the kind of man or woman acceptable to wealthy donors and political elites -- to secure the nomination." And one candidate who comes to mind as having benefited from the free media appearances that the debates provided and having gains that did not prove to be ephemeral was Rick Santorum -- whose small campaign might not have had a puncher's chance against Romney were it not for the frequent opportunities he had to contest Romney directly.

Jindal says he won't play ball by the RNC's rules. Unfortunately for him, those rules are rather explicit in how they deal with people who won't play ball. As Hohmann and Isentadt related, "To give their push to control the debate process teeth, the party announced Friday that any candidate who participates in a debate that isn’t sanctioned by the RNC will not be allowed to participate in any more sanctioned debates." So the first time Jindal breaks with the plan will be the last time he gets to participate in the RNC's reindeer games.

That said, whether Jindal plans to break dramatically with the RNC's machinations remains to be seen: While he calls the committee's efforts "futile," he goes on to suggest that he will simply seek out other, debate-like settings, ply his trade there and cross his fingers that the RNC will see them as different. "People might come up with creative names," Jindal tells Ward, "They might call them forums. They might call them discussions. They might call them whatever.”

Jindal is, by no means, the first person to react with alarm over the RNC's long and ongoing push to make the stakes favorable for well-heeled, well-financed candidates -- just chat up a Ron Paul delegate from the 2012 convention. But there is probably a better way to attack this than insisting on a return to the loco debate cycle of 2012. Surely there is a happy medium between "just anointing the candidate who raises the most money" and "have 25 debates, each more pointless than the last."

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The Great Mitt-Stakes: Who 'Wins' Now That Romney Has Quit The Race?

Jason Linkins   |   February 8, 2015   10:13 AM ET

Every election cycle can be considered, first and foremost, a monument to hype. With every passing week, the political world is a blizzard of brash predictions, bold pronouncements, and bad advice. This year, your Speculatroners shall attempt to decode and defang this world with a regular dispatch that we're calling "This Week In Coulda Shoulda Maybe." We hope this helps, but as always, we make no guarantees!

mitt romney bye bye

Mitt's Out And Everyone's A Winner!

Last week, the former Massachusetts governor and two-time presidential aspirant decided to quit the race he'd only just begun. Hmmm, does that mean he was actually a three-time presidential aspirant? Was he in long enough to qualify? We'll wait for someone else to make a ruling on that. The important thing, at least as far as the media was concerned, was clearly identifying who stood to gain the most from Mitt's departure, otherwise known as "the big winner." On this matter, the elite consensus was, as always, a model of consistency.

The Big Winner Is Jeb Bush: According to Fox News, Romney's departure meant that Jeb Bush would be "positioned" as "the establishment favorite," which would help the former Florida governor to "assemble a campaign team in key early-voting states." What's more, "veteran operatives who were torn between Bush and Romney will be free to put their energies into the Bush camp," and "former Romney donors were moving toward Bush."

Yep, Totally Jeb Bush: CNN concurs: "Mitt Romney's decision to pass on 2016 anoints Jeb Bush as the clear establishment favorite." South Carolina's GOP state party chair Matt Moore shows up in the piece, remarking, "I think it is hard to argue that today's news did not help Gov. Bush."

Unless, Of Course, Jeb Bush Ends Up Being The Big Loser: The Federalist's Ben Domenech: "So who benefits from this, and who is harmed? Somewhat ironically, it may be Jeb himself who takes a small hit over this. Bear with me here: with Romney in the race, Jeb would’ve had an opportunity to contrast himself as a fresh face, a break with the past of the GOP in a healthy way ... Romney would not have been able to win the nomination this time around, and he actually could’ve proven to be a useful foil for Jeb."

Well, In That Case, It's Gotta Be Scott Walker: "This news is especially helpful to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who was already the thinking man's choice for a dark horse," writes Vox's Andrew Prokop, in a piece titled, "Mitt Romney's exit is great news for Scott Walker, not Jeb Bush."

Definitely Walker!: Headline at Hugh Hewitt's site: "Chuck Todd: Scott Walker the Other Big Winner Of Romney's Decision To Bow Out."

Not So Fast! Don't Forget About Chris Christie!: Meanwhile, Business Insider is pretty sure that Bush and Christie are the big Mitt-stakes winners: "Romney, the Republican Party's 2012 presidential nominee, suddenly announced Friday morning that he would not launch another White House bid in 2016. His exit opens up more space for establishment-oriented contenders with similar constituencies to Romney's -- particularly Christie and Bush."

It Could Also Be Rubio! (And Walker.): The Hill's Jonathan Easley: "Walker and Rubio could also see a political windfall, building on what has been a big month for both potential candidates." The Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin: "Aside from Christie, Romney’s exit helps Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) the most. Both can appeal to the donor community and win over a chunk of Romney backers. They will need to build out their organization swiftly and show they have the gravitas to run and win a national campaign."

Anyone Got Kasich? Yes. "Ohio governor John Kasich may also benefit somewhat from Romney’s exit."

The National Journal's Charlie Cook Makes A Bold Prediction: "Several 2016 candidates could benefit from the 2012 GOP nominee's decision not to run." Okay, thanks!

What Do "Not Very Well-Informed" Millennials Think? According to Fusion's polling of "not very well-informed" millennials, "With Romney out of the mix, former Florida Jeb Bush benefitted the most: He could be the frontrunner with Romney out of the way. In a Romney-less field, Bush leads the pack at 16 percent, jumping 4 percentage points from a field that included Romney."

Okay, Surely There's A "Big Loser," Right? What About Rand Paul? I Don't See Him On This List: Per KSNV My News 3, "Rand Paul could pick up Mitt Romney's fan base in Nevada."

The Real Winner, Of Course: Is anyone who got to monetize this media trope this week!


So what is the 2016 election about this week?

Effective governing! The Editors of the Dispatch-Argus, of Moline, Illinois: "What it is and should be about is effective governing. And while we don’t expect, or even want, Congress to morph into a giant drum circle with members joining hands and singing Kumbaya, we do want them to work together, to be more than a fundraising machine for the next election."

Equality and responsibility! Andrew Beatty, Agence-France Presse: "While Obama's budget has no chance of being written into the statute books, it will frame arguments about equality and responsibility that are likely to dominate the 2016 race to succeed him as president."

The wealth gap! David Shribman, The Detroit News: "Indeed, there are two principal unspokens in the run-up to the next presidential campaign. The first is the quiet Republican hope that maverick Sen. Elizabeth Warren will challenge former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton from the left in the Democratic primaries. The second is the anguish Republican candidates are having in trying to figure out how to address economic issues. ... At the heart of both of these unspokens is the increasingly apparent wealth gap."

hillary clinton what time

What Time Is Hillary: An Update

Last week, we parsed the news, looking for signs that pointed to when, exactly, Hillary Clinton might formally announce that she is running for president, as opposed to just persisting under the assumption that a Clinton candidacy was a fait accompli. Our findings? Hillary is definitely running, unless she isn't, and we will definitely know for sure in July and there is absolutely no rush because she is, in the words of an adviser, "better off as a non-candidate." Also we learned that "July" could mean "April," because words have no meaning and time is relative.

So is the matter settled? Of course it isn't. It seems that "Clinton's advisers are split on when Hillary Clinton should launch her campaign." You know, almost as if one adviser thinks "she's better off as a non-candidate" and a bunch of other advisers contend, "Dude, why on earth did you say that to Politico?" As CNN's Brianna Keilar reports:

There could be 10 or more Republican candidates by this summer. That might be when Hillary Clinton gets around to officially moving toward a campaign, if she heeds some confidantes, who are privately arguing for an announcement in July to coincide with the start of the third fundraising quarter. Delaying until the summer is an idea that is said to be gaining momentum against those who want to stick to the plan for an April start date.

The possibility of the delay is very real but still unsettled.

"I would say it's 40 percent," in the direction of those arguing for a delay, said one Democrat who supports a spring debut for Clinton's presidential campaign. Another Democrat who saw merits in both time lines put the odds of a delay at 50 percent.

The best part of this report is the part where Keilar writes: "Democrats on both sides of the debate spoke to CNN on the condition of anonymity so they could make their case without upsetting Clinton or those close to her for talking openly about internal deliberations." I mean, if you're worried about the consequences of "talking openly about internal deliberations," it seems to me that the best thing, for all involved, is to definitely return Brianna Keilar's phone calls. That's just common sense.

rand paul predictions

The Week In Predictions

Rand Paul: The National Journal's Josh Kraushaar says that Paul's has a "getting elected" problem, in that he "can't" get elected, because his "heterodox views on foreign policy" are at odds with his party, and more specifically, Iowa voters: "Even in Iowa, a dovish state where Paul holds strong favorability ratings, the appetite for increased military interventionism against ISIS is high. In a new Bloomberg survey, nearly half of Republicans ranked 'more aggressively pursuing terrorists' as a leading issue out of 10 tested, ranking a close second behind repealing Obamacare." Also hampering Paul's chances is one of his campaign organizers, A.J. Spiker, is apparently despised by Iowans. According to one Iowa GOP activist, Andy Cable, Spiker is "toxic" and Paul "will get little or no exposure in the rural counties around Iowa, and most of that will be directly related to having A.J. Spiker as his front man."

Jeb Bush: More Iowa problems! Jeb Bush won't win Iowa. But it gets worse! According to Gary Gross, "It's one thing for Gov. Bush to lose Iowa. There isn't a pundit that's giving him much of a chance of winning Iowa. It's another thing to finish a distant fifth." It won't be great for the person who finishes fourth, either. (Who will presumably be Rand Paul?)

Elizabeth Warren: The Hill contributor John LeBoutillier just lets it all hang out, predicting that Warren "will run against Clinton in 2016." He gives 20 reasons for his prediction, some of which are not actual reasons. (Example: "14. So here is the big question: Will Elizabeth Warren run -- after repeatedly saying she is not running?")

Martin O'Malley: "Martin O’Malley to rock New Hampshire this St. Patrick’s Day." We are told that O'Malley's closest advisers are already downplaying the extent to which O'Malley will "rock" New Hampshire, in an effort to win "the expectations game."

Hillary Clinton: Interesting and substantive prediction from Iowa-based Democratic organizer John Deeth: "If Hillary Clinton is elected president, this will be the last Iowa Caucus." Bold and weird prediction from MSNBC's Chris Matthews: "I think she should go for a 55 percent victory, 54 percent victory because then she could bring the House in, she could bring the Senate in, and she could really rule this country. This country needs somebody to get control of it." Bold and weirdly specific prediction from these people who have started some sort of online petition: "Hillary Clinton will Announce in New York City on Saturday, July 4, 2015 in Central Park."

Prediction of Doom! Wrongest pundit alive Dick Morris says that "Scott Walker could win," in a devastating blow to Walker's chances of winning.

All The Advice That's Fit To Aggregate

Jeb Bush should "rethink his approach to marijuana policy." He should also "leave the race with dignity." Scott Walker should not let Democrats define him. Marco Rubio should either run for president, or run for the Senate again, or run for governor. Chris Christie needs to watch out for the things that will hurt him, unless they help him -- specifically his vaccine comments (which "may hurt as much as help in the Iowa 2016 race"), and his "brash style" (which may "be a boon or a bust in 2016").

We'll Leave You With This, Whatever This Is

How Will 'The Daily Show' Cover Brian Williams' War Story Woes?

Jason Linkins   |   February 6, 2015    4:50 PM ET

Brian Williams, anchor of "NBC Nightly News," is in a world of hurt right now. Earlier this week, a tale that Williams has been telling for some time -- a story about being in a helicopter that came under RPG fire while Williams was covering the 2003 invasion of Iraq -- has turned out to be, at best, embellished. (Williams himself has said that he "made a mistake in recalling the events of 12 years ago," a claim that Twitter had some fun with, as Twitter will.)

Since then, Williams has earned a more visceral awareness of what it's like to come under fire. Critics have called this episode an "unmitigated disaster" for Williams. His most esteemed colleague, Tom Brokaw, appeared in reports -- hastily walked-back reports, anyway -- calling for Williams' head to roll. Now, with the scent of blood in the air, Williams' name-making reporting from Hurricane Katrina is being re-scrutinized. In short, media critics of all stripes are coming at this story, serrated knives out. All of which makes me wonder how one of Williams' friends in the world of media criticism -- "The Daily Show's" Jon Stewart -- is going to handle the whole thing.

Much has been made about "The Daily Show's" meaningful role in 21st-century public discourse, even though Stewart has insisted many times that the show is a comedic, not a journalistic, institution -- a line of argument that some critics of the show consider a cheap dodge. But whatever else "The Daily Show" is, it's also a potent platform for media criticism. And for media critics, the Brian Williams affair -- in which a face-of-the-newsroom celebrity journalist has been caught telling dodgy war stories -- is a slow and hanging pitch, right over the plate. If it was, say, Sean Hannity at the center of this controversy, there wouldn't be much to do but sit back and watch Stewart and his writers flay the guy in HD.

But Williams is an altogether different animal in "The Daily Show's" universe. He's someone whom Stephen Colbert, Stewart's erstwhile Comedy Central compatriot, might call a "friend of the show." Williams and Stewart have, over the course of many interviews, developed something of a collegial relationship -- if not an outright bromance. Not for nothing did Irin Carmon, writing at Jezebel back in February 2010, implore the two men to "get a room already."

That's not to say that Stewart hasn't been willing to give Williams the business. On July 20, 2009, Williams appeared on "The Daily Show," ostensibly to talk about the life and career of Walter Cronkite, who had recently passed away. But Stewart wanted to make Williams and his network the butt of jokes over emails that "Meet The Press" host David Gregory had sent Mark Sanford, then the embattled governor of South Carolina. In those emails, a grovelling Gregory promised Sanford he could use Gregory's show to "frame the conversation as [Sanford] really want[s]." Here's that interview:

So -- not fun for Williams, but also not anything that rises past the level of "awkward." This is a pretty good representation of the Stewart-Williams dynamic, to be honest. Stewart often uses Williams as a foil in more wide-reaching jokes about the media, but Williams is nevertheless almost always cast as the raissoneur in these debates. One of the good ones, you might say.

And Stewart has been compensated, somewhat, in the form of compliments from Williams -- who doesn't hesitate to put Stewart on a pedestal. In a January 2010 interview with NPR's Guy Raz, Williams called Stewart "indispensable" to the news business, and said that he often makes editorial decisions with "The Daily Show" in "the back of [his] mind":

Williams tells NPR's Guy Raz that on occasion, when he feels his broadcast tap-dancing toward the precipice -- tossing around a story idea for "what I call Margaret Mead journalism -- where we 'discover Twitter,' " for instance, or entertaining some other unfortunate editorial possibility -- "I will, and have, said that, 'You know, maybe we can just give a heads-up to Jon to set aside some time for that tonight.'

"I should quickly add, we have another set of standards we put our stories through," Williams cautions. "But Jon's always in the back of my mind. ... When you make The Daily Show, it's usually not for a laurel, it's for a dart."

This is an intriguing thing to ponder. How many times, in the course of Williams' tenure at "NBC Nightly News," has he nipped some questionable segment in the bud by telling his colleagues, "If we continue down this road, we're going to get raked over the coals by Jon Stewart"? In his conversation with Raz, Williams more or less positioned Stewart as the Good Angel of Journalism perched on his handsome shoulder. It makes you wonder why Stewart's nagging voice didn't intervene any of the times Williams trotted out the helicopter story that has now laid him low.

At any rate, the Williams imbroglio really seems like an ideal topic for "The Daily Show" to tackle. Perhaps it's the best venue for Williams to explain himself.

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This Week In 2016 Speculation: What Time Is Hillary Clinton?

Jason Linkins   |   February 1, 2015    7:30 AM ET

WASHINGTON -- Every election cycle can be considered, first and foremost, a monument to hype. With every passing week, the political world is a blizzard of brash predictions, bold pronouncements, and bad advice. This year, your Speculatroners shall attempt to decode and defang this world with a regular dispatch that we're calling "This Week In Coulda Shoulda Maybe." We hope this helps, but as always, we make no guarantees!

hillary clinton what time

Hillary Clinton: Any Minute Now ... Or Then

It's a mystery of the age: When is Hillary Clinton going to announce her candidacy for president? And the answer is: Hillary Clinton exists in a perpetual meta-state between "always running" and "never not running." Hillary Clinton is the astronaut in the "Interstellar" fourth-dimensional book room, forever warning herself about the dangers of embarking on the journey to the White House. But if she never embarks, how will she end up in the Place Between Time And Space, to warn herself? This is an unresolvable conundrum, until it isn't. But here's what we don't not know about her intentions.

Jan. 26: It's all happening, according to a deeply reported Politico piece from Mike Allen, who writes, "Not only is she running, but we have a very good idea of what her campaign will look like":

Hillary Clinton is in the final stages of planning a presidential campaign that will most likely be launched in early April and has made decisions on most top posts, according to numerous Democrats in close contact with the Clintons and their aides.

Campaign advisers say the likelihood of a campaign, long at 98 percent (she never really hesitated, according to one person close to her), went to 100 percent right after Christmas, when Clinton approved a preliminary budget and several key hires.

Perhaps the most significant detail in the whole report, however, was this: "Most of the top slots have been decided, with one notable exception, communications director." This would prove to be a little prophetic days later, when, in another deeply reported piece from Mike Allen, communications seem to have broken down:

Hillary Clinton, expecting no major challenge for the Democratic nomination, is strongly considering delaying the formal launch of her presidential campaign until July, three months later than originally planned, top Democrats tell Politico.

The delay from the original April target would give her more time to develop her message, policy and organization, without the chaos and spotlight of a public campaign.

That report contained this instant classic of campaign messaging, from "one adviser": "She's better off as a non-candidate. Why not wait?"

But later in the same piece, we learn that the real question might be, "Why not not wait, why not?"

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 time frame when insiders originally expected her to launch her campaign.

Then the actual kickoff would be in July, near the start of the next quarter. By launching at the beginning of a quarter, supporters would have the maximum amount of time to generate a blockbuster total for their first report.

Time, flat circle, et cetera.

rand paul ted cruz

So what is the 2016 election about this week?

The economy! The Los Angeles Daily News: Not yet in the presidential race, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Mitt Romney already are previewing the likely focus of the 2016 campaign, a competition over who’s better able to boost paychecks for working Americans.

The great wage slowdown! Greg Sargent, The Washington Post: "Democratic strategists believe the party got shellacked in the last elections in part because Dems failed to persuade voters they had a comprehensive agenda to address stagnating wages and move the country towards broadly shared prosperity. They think addressing this problem is particularly urgent, because the 2016 elections may turn on which party more convincingly offers answers to the deep, long-term structural problems plaguing the economy."

Marriage equality! Ginger Gibson, The International Business Times: "The Supreme Court could hand Republicans a ruling that takes gay marriage out of the political debate for 2016 and eliminates an issue that has hurt them in general elections. The court announced Friday that it will hear a challenge to bans on same-sex marriage in April and will likely make a ruling in June, months before the 2016 campaigns really get rolling."

What it will actually be about. If this week is any guide, the election will be about whatever the Koch Brothers' $889 million says it will be about.


The week in "hints at."

Joe Biden: "Hints at 2016 bid."
Mike Huckabee: "Hints at running for president."
John Kasich: "Hints at 2016 campaign."
Sarah Palin: "Hints at 2016 run for president."
George Pataki: "...hinted he’d be proud to run against [Rick Perry] for the White House."

George Pataki knows that he'd have to run against a whole bunch of other people, right? Like these people? Hints a go-go!

mitt romney blorp

Hello, Goodbye: Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney 2016: The flame that burns twice as bright lasts maybe three weeks. Let's relive the magic!

Jan. 26:

"Romney To Decide About Presidential Run Within Next 2 Weeks, Report Says"

Jan. 27:

"If he runs again in 2016, Romney is determined to rebrand himself as authentic, warts and all, and central to that mission is making public what for so long he kept private."

"Romney, whose last presidential bid was hampered by his image of excessive privilege and insensitivity, may recognize the trouble his real estate holdings could cause in another campaign."

"In the delicate and unseen campaign underway for [Rupert] Murdoch’s affections in the next presidential campaign, this much is clear: Romney is out of the running, a reality that has pained and angered his allies."

Jan. 28:

"Mitt Romney is renewing his pledge to fight for the poor and middle class in a speech that questions Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton's foreign policy and economic credentials."

Jan. 29:

Washington Post headline: "Mitt Romney’s people insist he’s not ‘rebranding.’ Sorry, but he most definitely is."

"Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has scheduled a call with staff members and supporters Friday morning, two weeks after he publicly announced his interest in launching a third presidential campaign. The topic of the call was not specified in an email to his allies -- other than its description as an "update call" -- but it will occur within the window that Romney had set for deciding whether to run."

"Closing in on a decision about whether to again run for president, Mitt Romney is finding that several past major fundraisers and donors in key states have defected to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush."

Jan. 30:

"Mitt Romney will call senior donors at 11 a.m. ET Friday to give them “an update” on his campaign plans. Sources have told The Daily Beast that the former Massachusetts governor will announce his intention to explore a third run for the White House. Romney and his senior aides believe he is the best placed candidate to defeat Hillary Clinton."

A few hours later...

"Former Massachusetts governor and 2012 GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney said he will not run for president in 2016."

One thing you have to give Romney: He handles everything with brutal technocratic efficiency.

marco rubio

The Week In Predictions

Marco Rubio: The boldest prediction of the week comes from Gary Stein at the South Florida Sun Sentinel, who says, in a 17-line tone-poem, "Marco Rubio will get the Republican nomination. You read it here first." We read this here, at The New York Times, next: "Marco Rubio could end up being the G.O.P.’s Tim Pawlenty."

Hillary Clinton: Her campaign might be a "white dude fest." She will "distance herself from Obama." She "could play a pivotal role" in the ongoing controversy over Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu's address to Congress.

Jeb Bush: On the one hand, the "lack of name recognition is not a problem Jeb Bush will suffer." On the other hand, "Jeb Bush will have to run against your name." Sorry, Jeb. This week, the oracle says "¯\_(ツ)_/¯."

Rand Paul: Paul "will need to broaden his appeal far beyond his father’s hard-core supporters if he hopes to win the GOP nomination his father never could." Alternatively, Paul "could be 2016's Howard Dean."

Scott Walker: Will either be Jeb Bush's "most formidable opponent," or he "will be the logical selection for Bush's vice-presidential running mate."

Finally, there's this: "Why Mike Huckabee will lose the war on Beyoncé"

All The Advice That's Fit To Aggregate

"Hillary Clinton should be worried about Elizabeth Warren! Jeb Bush should be worried about Scott Walker! He also needs a "better answer on immigration ASAP," or else Chris Cillizza will unleash one of his devastating "call your office" jokes on Twitter. Using Carly Fiorina to shout at Hillary Clinton might not be the best idea, you guys. And finally, George Pataki, your campaign is making everyone around you feel sad and you need to say you're sorry and stop doing it right now."

We'll Leave You With This, Whatever This Is

Former President Bill Clinton has had plenty of nicknames, but if his wife becomes president, he’ll need another one -- and he already has an idea for what it could be.

“Let’s say, if a woman became president, we could, I could be called Adam,” Clinton said in an interview with the “Rachael Ray Show” airing Thursday, referring to the first man of Judeo-Christian scripture.

Mitt Romney Drops Out, But He Got Us Good

Jason Linkins   |   January 30, 2015    3:39 PM ET

As it was foretold, here we are on a Friday, and Mitt Romney, baron of the end-of-the-week news dump, is once more tugging the rug beneath our feet:

Former Massachusetts governor and 2012 GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney said he will not run for president in 2016.

Hugh Hewitt posted text of the remarks Romney was to make on a conference call with donors discussing his 2016 plans on Friday.

"After putting considerable thought into making another run for president, I’ve decided it is best to give other leaders in the Party the opportunity to become our next nominee," the prepared remarks say.

Well how do you like that. A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece called "Mitt Romney Will Have His Revenge," in which I noted how Romney's latest caprice -- to sidle up to the 2016 cycle and, for whatever reason, begin flirting with it -- had scrambled the media's brains. At the time, I thought: Well, for realsies, what's stopping him? Why NOT throw everyone and everything into disarray? The guy took lumps during his last run, especially during that stretch when he was steadily dispatching his primary foes. At that point, a lot of people who you'd think would be lining up behind the certain victor were instead clamoring -- for Jeb! for Christie! for anyone! -- to get into the race. So I figured it made sense for Mitt to re-emerge now, if for no other reason than to rattle the cages of so many who'd deign to rattle his own.

Well, it didn't go as I predicted. Still, Mitt Romney got us good.

Credit Jonathan Chait for getting in early and getting out quickly. Even as Romney was setting hearts aflutter with his feints, Chait was writing thusly: "Nothing could convince me that Romney will actually run for president, not even Romney taking the oath of office." In other words, he treated Romney the way most journalists treat Donald Trump, with his perennial bluster about his own presidential ambitions. "Nah, son, you playing" -- that was the correct call.

If Romney managed nothing else during this brief period of speculation, he can surely say he got the rest of us goofy-footed. History will remember, if history cares, that The Daily Beast ended up as the 1948 Chicago Tribune of this whole mini-melodrama, offering the world a hastily-written and -retracted Romneyverse version of "Dewey Beats Truman."

But all of that is ultimately just the cherry atop the weird Romney-boomlet sundae. The creamy stuff beneath tells a story of how we in the political media -- despite the initial instinct to write a new Romney candidacy off entirely -- nevertheless found ourselves ready, willing and able to suddenly get impossibly re-invested in Mitt Romney's persona.

Just think about how we all suddenly started talking about Mitt Romney's personal real-estate holdings again. Romney might sell his La Jolla house, screamed the headlines. You know, the one with the famous car elevator? Surely there is meaning in this! The Boston Globe did a deep dive into Romney's post-election home-procurement binge, noting that "Romney, whose last presidential bid was hampered by his image of excessive privilege and insensitivity, may recognize the trouble his real estate holdings could cause in another campaign."

Elsewhere came the deep-think. In The Washington Post, Philip Rucker stated with confidence that "if he runs again in 2016, Romney is determined to rebrand himself as authentic." Because that's what authentic people do -- choose a brand and then strive to become That Brand, Incarnate.

All of us who read that statement probably should have recognized it as the moment when we reached Peak Obtuse. But instead, reporters in the field -- oh yeah, I guess I should point out that reporters were dispatched to follow Romney around during this time! -- took that "authenticity" cue and started probing Romney's every move, waiting for the moment when Romney would drop his guard and become real. And so we got tweets like this:

This was a fervent period of Romney-examination, Romscrutiny, during which no event, however mundane, could be completely ruled out as some sort of sneaky political-content delivery mechanism. It was kind of like "Lost" was back on the air, and Romney was the smoke monster, and we were all squinting at our screens, trying to divine the meaning of it all.

Anyway. The real story of Romney's brief do-si-do with 2016 is probably something simpler and less exciting: He earnestly considered running, floated a trial balloon, watched as said balloon was ruthlessly shot down by elites from his own party, and now he's bowing out gracefully. And yet: The frenzy was real, was silly, was -- in a way -- sort of glorious.

So, for one last time with Mitt Romney, on one last Friday, let us with all good cheer appreciate how every now and then someone comes along with the ability to gently screw with us. Quality trolling, Mitt Romney! Thanks for doing it at midday for a change, so we can all make happy hour.

And now, on to the next chapter!

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