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The 'Firewall' Between Campaigns And Super PACs Is Not A Thing

Jason Linkins   |   June 26, 2015    6:17 PM ET

It's early days yet in the post-Citizens United era, and most of the nation is still in a very naive place. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who once warned that "that there will be huge scandals associated with this huge flood of money," is our Tiresias, just kicking back and waiting for his prophecies to be fulfilled. And the machinations between campaigns and their super PAC arms churn ever on.

But maybe everyone is slowly starting to awaken. Take, for example, this Bloomberg story published Friday by Michael C. Bender, titled "Jeb Bush and His Favorite Strategist Try to Win Without Speaking." That "favorite strategist" is one Mike Murphy. Here are the basics:

Murphy is in charge of Right to Rise, a super PAC created to get Bush elected. Because of regulations requiring a separation between candidates and super PACs, they can’t formally coordinate their efforts between now and the election. All the major candidates in the 2016 race will have super PACs working on their behalf, but Bush and Murphy are trying something unprecedented in U.S. presidential elections: building a separate, and better-funded, organization that will in some ways eclipse the official campaign as a vehicle for promoting the candidate. Murphy’s Los Angeles-based team will produce digital marketing, television ads, and opposition research on behalf of Bush, whose campaign headquarters are across the country in Miami. “He’s a good friend, and I’m going to miss him,” Bush says. “I hope to see him on election night and give him an embrace. But from here on out, I won’t be talking to him.”

At first blush, it kind of looks like Bender is succumbing to the same naiveté. But take a closer look at the URL of his article (emphasis mine):

http://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2015-06-26/does-anyone-believe-jeb-bush-isn-t-talking-to-his-super-pac-chief-?

Ha! Nicely played, sir. Sadly, the answer is probably "yes." But hopefully not for much longer.

We've been over this before. Back in April, the Associated Press ran a story about how the Bush campaign was going to enact a substantial "makeover" of the traditional campaign process. In that piece, the AP made it clear that not only was the Bush campaign going to send Murphy, its most trusted aide-de-camp, to run Right to Rise -- it was going to entrust the super PAC with the responsibility of doing the lion's share of the campaign work, and spending the vast majority of the campaign's money.

As I said then: "No credible modern presidential campaign is going to turn over its central functions to an entity with whom it cannot coordinate. No credible modern presidential campaign is going to allow an entity it cannot coordinate with to spend the bulk of its money. It's literally insane to believe that." And yes, I'm 100 percent comfortable with the way I used the word "literally" there.

The official Eat The Press position has been, and shall remain, that no "firewall" between campaigns and super PACs truly exists. Wherever this notion is asserted, remember that it assumes facts that are not in evidence. Indeed, I've yet to read any account that tries to explain how this alleged "firewall" would even work. So this idea that Bush and Murphy are going to spend the next year and a half never talking to one another is a pretty fiction, but -- until proven otherwise -- it must be treated as a fiction nonetheless. And from the point of view of the people who are making large donations to Right to Rise, it had damn well better be a fiction, because no one is exactly investing pocket change in this effort to elect Jeb.

There are two aspects of the modern American campaign system that we'd all do well to keep in mind. First, it unleashes the full force of our political plutocracy, allowing donors to give more money to campaigns while shielding them from public scrutiny and criticism. The hidden nature of these arrangements makes possible the second feature of this system -- the one where the "super PAC" arm of the campaign has the freedom to be the candidate's seamy underbelly, producing all manner of dirty, controversial materiel on the candidate's behalf. For a terrific example of how this stuff works, see "Mitt Romney killed my wife," an ad produced during the 2012 campaign cycle by Priorities USA Action, an Obama-affiliated super PAC run by Bill Burton, who is one of Obama's closest confidants.

Right now, this fig-leaf notion that campaigns and super PACs cannot (and thus do not) coordinate with each other is all that remains as a notional bulwark between this super-corrupt campaign system and our vague concept of "fairness." Every time this notion is articulated in the press, it offers a talismanic promise that our campaign finance system is not, as John McCain might tell you, hell with the lid off. This is not just a harmless delusion, however. The idea that a firm barrier exists between campaigns and super PACs actually serves to enable the worst practices in the system.

So every time a super PAC steps beyond the bounds of tact and taste, the candidate with whom it is affiliated can always make a claim of plausible deniability. "That wasn't us!" they'll say. "We would never have countenanced that thing the super PAC did. Alas, we had no way of stopping it, as we cannot coordinate with them." It was by these means that the Obama campaign -- the official one, that is -- never got stained by the aforementioned Priorities USA ad.

Of course, by now, we've all learned that campaigns do coordinate with super PACs -- sometimes in ways that are cutesy and arcane. There's the old "stockpile high-definition B-roll footage and offer it publicly" plan, favored by several candidates in the 2014 cycle. There are the secret Twitter "numbers stations" that CNN's Chris Moody ferreted out a few weeks after the polls closed in 2014. And Salon's Jim Newell recently documented how Carly Fiorina's super PAC was attempting to use campaign journalists as its go-betweens. Points for creativity!

These wacky little shenanigans more or less operate with the unstated assumption that if the people running the campaign and the people running the super PAC ever directly spoke to each other, terrible consequences would be sure to follow. The thing is, though: Would terrible consequences follow? By whose infinite wisdom are we protected from "coordination?" There are myriad ways that a candidate and their super PAC macher can communicate with one another. Burner phones. Dead drops. The only thing, frankly, that might prevent them from just emailing one another is the possibility that some hacker might to do them what Guccifer did to Hillary Clinton's personal email server: breach it and turn its contents over to the public.

For all we've heard about this "firewall" between candidates and super PACs, we really have no idea how robustly this barrier is enforced, and by what means. At this point, for all we know, it's just an empty promise. At best, it means it will be some time before we're able to photograph Jeb Bush and Mike Murphy in the same room together. (Though how will they manage that without coordinating with each other?)

Jeb Bush's team may be getting all the credit for inventing this new style of campaigning, in which the candidate's super PAC gets the bulk of the campaign's intellectual and financial capital and performs most of the traditional duties of the campaign in return, but this, I suspect, is going to be the way presidential politics get done in 2016. As one anonymous GOP strategist told the Associated Press back in April, "This is the natural progression of the rules as they are set out by the FEC."

In other words, just as "Jurassic World's" Indominus rex probed the pen that served as a barrier guarding the world from its bloody rampage, the strength of the FEC's "firewall" has been tested and its weaknesses identified. Aside from perhaps Bernie Sanders -- whose campaign will test the theory that a candidate can bring a knife to this particular gun fight and win -- this is how all of your 2016 campaigns are going to be run. (And for what it's worth, even Sanders is finding out that even when you don't want the dark money, the dark money is going to find you anyway.)

In his Bloomberg piece, Bender cannily leads the reader away from the false promise of the "firewall":

In the midterms, candidates and super PACs devised numerous tactics for telegraphing their strategies. One was tipping off mainstream news organizations to ad buys or strategic shifts. American Crossroads, a major Republican super PAC, and other groups used Twitter to share polling data with party committees, posting tweets filled with cryptic strings of data -- in one case from an account named for a West Wing character. Aides to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee tweeted a link to ad scripts devised by New Hampshire Senator Jeanne Shaheen’s campaign that were used by Senate Majority PAC, the largest outside Democratic group. “If Bush’s chief strategist is doing conference calls to lay out exactly what the plan is and how that’s part of the campaign, then there is no independence,” says Bill Burton, a co-founder of Priorities USA, a Democratic super PAC created in 2012 to support President Obama’s reelection that’s now working for Hillary Clinton. (Burton is no longer involved.) “That’s not to suggest Mike Murphy and the Bush campaign or anyone is breaking the laws. It’s just that the law is really stupid.”

Ha, well, as previously noted, Bill Burton would know about this stuff better than anyone!

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Bobby Jindal To Fulfill Son's Dream Of Returning To Iowa, Also Is Running For President

Jason Linkins   |   June 24, 2015    1:38 PM ET

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal on Wednesday joined the crowded field of candidates vying for the GOP's presidential nomination, and may even get the chance to appear in one of his party's debates, if he plays his cards right! But the first order of business in this day and age is announcing the plan to make an announcement. Wasn't there a time when American electoral politics was more straightforward? Oh well, campaign consultants gotta get paid, I guess.

Jindal's entree into the world of announcement-announcements comes in the form of this video, in which he and his wife, Supriya, sit down with their three children to give them the big news, "We are going to be running for president." The whole thing is, naturally, shot using the Jindal family secret camera, which is kept trained on the back porch at all times to capture the whimsical reactions of the children.

I had to tell a few people first. But I want you to be next. I’m running for President of the United States of America. Join me: http://www.bobbyjindal.com/announcement/

Posted by Bobby Jindal on Wednesday, June 24, 2015
"Maybe if you behave, you'll get a chance to go back to Iowa," Jindal tells his son. "Would you like that?" he asks.

This is what every young man longs to hear, and the boy nods emphatically. "You like Iowa, don't you?" exclaims Ms. Jindal. Of course: because of the popcorn.

As for their dad running for president, the kids are all, "Sure, that's fine." BUT IOWA! A boy can dream! (About Iowa.)

Minutes later, the same child sees a turtle.

Keeping the attention of an eight year old can be hard. Even when you have a family talk about running for President.

Posted by Bobby Jindal on Wednesday, June 24, 2015
JINDAL/THAT TURTLE 2016!!!!!

(You can watch Bobby Jindal further plumb the depths of his family's enthusiasm here.)

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I Can't Stop Laughing At The 'True Detective' Bar Scene

Jason Linkins   |   June 22, 2015    8:41 PM ET

If you'll grant me an indulgence, I'd like to take a moment to talk about what so many other people are talking about: Sunday's episode of HBO's "True Detective." What a world we live in that this thing was broadcast to the world on television -- an hour of over-sizzled noir angst, played by actors who'd taken leave of their senses, directed into a disconnected pastiche of Lost Generation cliches. And it's all about the aftermath of a proposal to build a light-rail system in southern California. Again: What a world!

Having only watched one episode of the second season, I obviously don't know what might proceed from here. Will it become the "embarrassing television show we deserve," as Washington Post critic Alyssa Rosenberg suggests? Is it going to be a much more fun television series because it's objectively terrible, as Deadspin's Rob Harvilla offers? Will ensuing episodes contain more than 31 "ridiculous moments?" I couldn't tell you. Maybe this show is going to be mostly codswallop!

One thing I do know for sure, however, is that Sunday's episode proves that if you want to make "golden age era" television, the secret is to make super-complicated television.

I'm focused primarily on the bar scene from the second half of the show. If you saw it, you know what I'm talking about. The bar scene that features singer-songwriter Lera Lynn, who was tasked with penning the darkest, saddest song ever given voice, demonstrating that she succeeded in that task. Let's set up this scene, okay? I guess these are technically "spoilers," but I'm not actually sure I can spoil this?

Colin Farrell plays a corrupt cop named Ray Velcoro. Earlier in the episode, he was sent to threaten a Los Angeles Times investigative reporter whose byline appeared on what purported to be a lengthy series of newspaper articles about local corruption. "Journalism" works by different rules in this universe, because apparently you can send a masked-up Colin Farrell to a reporter's apartment to beat him up and steal his notes and his laptop, and the story the next day won't be "Area Reporter Covering Local Corruption Is Beaten By Masked Criminal: 'I Guess We're Onto Something,' Says Editor."

(This part of the plot really doesn't make any sense! Why isn't this reporter's work for this series of stories about local corruption safely on his Google Drive, or something? In fact, surely the entire series is in the hands of his editor, all trimmed up and ready for publication. Right? I guess stranger things have happened at Tribune Co. papers.)

Later in the show, Velcoro meets Vince Vaughn's character, Frank Semyon (standard-issue shady underworld figure tryna go legit) in a bar, to deliver the goods. Now, Velcoro and Semyon have a somewhat complicated backstory that explains why they are bound together in this fashion, but we'll let that go for the moment, to focus on the ordinary logic of the scene itself. This is a scene about two men meeting at a bar, in which one man has important information to give the other, based upon a felonious arrangement the two men made with one another.

Now, if this were me, writing this scene, I'd probably do something like, "EXTERIOR ESTABLISHING SHOT" followed by "INTERIOR: BAR, IT IS NIGHT, A SINGER IS REVEALED MID PERFORMANCE, SHOT PANS TO BOOTH WHERE VELCORO AND SEMYON ARE REVEALED, TOGETHER" and then I'd just get on with the scene. But that's why I don't get paid to make Noir 3.0 for HBO, because apparently the point is to use 15 shots to do the work of two.

Let's go through the insane mise-en-scene!

First, we start with the exterior shot, bridging us from the previous scene into the bar. So far, so good.

true detective one

We cut right to Farrell. He is smoking.

true detecive scene two

He is also brooding, angstfully, as all men must do in this fallen world.

true detective scene three

Let's get a shot of Farrell from the side. Okay, we've firmly established that he is in some sort of bar.

true detective scene four

There's the aforementioned Lynn, lifting the spirits of the bar with her rousing, "This is my least favorite life" song.

true detective scene five

Now we'll establish that Vince Vaughn is there, too.

true detective scene six

Did you forget that Colin Farrell is there, smoking? It's been a few seconds since this was addressed.

true detective scene seven

Let's take a long look at him, actually, so that we remember: He's Troubled! He's Brooding!

true detective scene eight

Let's take a longish look at Vince Vaughn, too. I guess that both actors' agents demanded their clients get an equal amount of screen time in which to stare into the middle distance.

true detective scene nine

Why haven't they started a conversation, yet? Are they at different bars? Maybe they are at the same bar, but sitting apart from each other, and they don't know it? What a comedic situation that would be! And it would explain why these two men don't just start talking about their criminal enterprise.

But now we get a shot that pans across the bar ...

true detective scene ten

...ultimately revealing the two men, seated at a booth, together.

true detective scene eleven

Now, this would have been the shot I would have used to establish the scene, so I guess we can now say that the real circumstances of this meet-up are now firm, and the conversation can begin, right?

Nope! We get another shot of Farrell from the side, smoking.

true detective scene twelve

And another shot of Vaughn.

true detective scene thirteen

Are you impressed with the work that Thomas Friedman's mustache has been doing in this scene? Let's take another close-up of that.

true detective scene fourteen

Back to Vaughn, in close up, his head now cocked to the side, as if to say, "Wasn't something supposed to happen in this scene?"

true detective scene fifteen

Then there is a two-shot of Farrell and Vaughn, two men trapped in a flat circle of never-ending establishing shots, wondering if they'll ever actually get to start "acting."

true detective scene sixteen

Finally, the scene begins, with Farrell handing over the laptop and notes of this poor reporter, who'll never know the satisfaction of winning that Pulitzer for Investigative Journalism, thanks to this cunning plot.

true detective scene seventeen

This scene isn't the most credulity-straining thing last night's episode asked us to endure (that prize goes to Taylor Kitsch's character's insanely fortunate meet-cute with this series' seemingly central murder victim), but it is emblematic of what's driving television critics to hurl pointed WTFs at the show today -- the people on this show do not behave like normal human beings. Normal human beings who find themselves in these circumstances (one man steals a laptop to give to another man) don't sit quietly at a bar, staring at each other anxiously, brooding about existence for minutes on end before initiating a conversation with one another. This scene exists because the people making this show have gotten high on their own supply, and have decided that this season is going to be one long and indulgent session of "screenwritering."

Harvilla puts it well: "A fun thing about prestige TV in particular, for whatever reason, is that in the second season you find out what the showrunners thought everyone liked about the first season, and it makes for high art when they guess right but much higher entertainment value when they guess wrong." Whether this show continues this sudden veer into sure-to-be-hatewatched territory is anyone's guess. Maybe this first episode was just an overstuffed hour building to the point where the major characters are enjoined and the quest is on. Maybe it gets tauter and more sensible from this point forward. All I know is that when you watch that bar scene, you can't help but think, "We in Carcosa now, son."

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PolitiFact Goes 1-For-2 In Evaluation Of Obama's Mass Shootings Statement

Jason Linkins   |   June 22, 2015    5:59 PM ET

"At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries," said President Barack Obama, in an emotional reaction to the mass shooting that claimed the lives of nine worshippers at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, last week. "It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency," he continued. You'll probably guess what happened next: Obama won himself a visit from the fact-checking elves at PolitiFact!

It was a statement well worth some attention from PolitiFact, a collective of truth-sleuthing editors and reporters affiliated with the Tampa Bay Times. But did our fact-checking heroes bring their "A" game as they arrived at their "Mostly False" rating? Alas, no. On Obama's latter statement, regarding the "frequency" of such events, they succumb to innumeracy.

Let's dig into the particulars. To begin with, you have to make a choice about how charitable you want to be about Obama's statement here. I see two assertions here, the first pertaining to these types of mass shootings not happening in other advanced nations, and the second focusing on the frequency of these events. According to PolitiFact, the White House's point of view on this matter is that there is really only one assertion being made, and as PolitiFact relates, the president's spokespeople insist that "the second sentence qualifies the first."

For the sake of argument, however, let's be as uncharitable as we can to the president, and treat each sentence separately. On the matter of the first sentence, "At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries," we can easily demonstrate that this is entirely false, without reservation. It doesn't tax the memory too unduly to recall Anders Breivik's 2011 mass-casualty rampage in Norway, which killed 77 people. The 2014 shootings at Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Canada, also loom large in recent memory. And when 2015's mass shooting statistics are added to the ledger, among the most memorable will be the shooting at the Charlie Hebdo offices that took place in January.

So, let's just agree: These sorts of violent incidents definitely happen in other advanced nations. Swing and a miss, there, Barack. But PolitiFact graded this correctly.

Then we move on to the second sentence: This is where PolitiFact goes all a-wobble.

By contrast, the second part of Obama’s claim -- that "it doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency" -- isn’t entirely off-base.

The best way to compare mass shooting incidents across countries is to calculate the number of victims per capita -- that is, adjusted for the country’s total population size.

Wait. Whaaaaat? No, no, that is not the best way to "compare mass shooting incidents across countries" if what you are solving for is the frequency of mass shooting incidents. "Frequency" refers to "number of incidents," not "number of people based on population."

But this is what PolitiFact runs with here, embarking on a series of calculations that arrive at this conclusion:

Calculating it this way shows the United States in the upper half of the list of 11 countries, ranking higher than Australia, Canada, China, England, France, Germany and Mexico.

Still, the U.S. doesn’t rank No. 1. At 0.15 mass shooting fatalities per 100,000 people, the U.S. had a lower rate than Norway (1.3 per 100,000), Finland (0.34 per 100,000) and Switzerland (1.7 per 100,000).

I don't know how I'd properly term the result of PolitiFact's conclusions -- "Advanced Nations Ranked By Sticktoitiveness Of Mass Casualty Murderer" maybe? -- but I surely wouldn't call this "frequency of mass shooting incidents." Presenting this information and insisting that it reveals "frequency of mass shooting incidents" would have earned you a failing grade from my high school probability and statistics teacher, and she wasn't even that good of a probability and statistics teacher! She was good enough, though, to know innumeracy when she saw it.

Let's take a look at what the data set PolitiFact is using actually shows (N.B. It doesn't show "advanced country" Japan!), in terms of frequency:

As you can see, the only countries getting within a stone's throw of the United States' claim to the throne of mass shootings are a trio of nations, each with populations that number less than 10 million people. The way it stacks up for nations of comparable population (or larger), it favors the "other advanced nations" of which Obama spoke. In fact, just for funsies, let's lump these other 10 nations together, and pit them against the United States.

Basically, mass shooting incidents are not happening with any significant statistical frequency outside the United States, corrupt dictatorships and open war zones.

Based on the available data, Eat The Press rates President Barack Obama as "should probably stick to discussing the frequency of mass shooting events rather than entertaining the idea that these tragedies do not occur elsewhere." We rate PolitiFact as "in need of an 11th grade statistics class." We rate America as "in real desperate need of doing something about mass shootings," but "probably nothing will happen because ¯\_(ツ)_/¯."

UPDATE, 6/23:: Politifact has appended an editor's note to their original piece:

We heard from several of you regarding Obama's use of the word "frequency," and that frequency could refer to the incidents of mass shootings, not deaths as we examined. Looking at Obama's claim by incident, the United States has a higher rate of incidents than Finland, Norway and Switzerland. We agree that there is no preferred comparison and each is valid, and we've changed some language in this article to reflect that.

Well, not all comparisons are equally valid, actually! If you want to measure "frequency," then you have to use the correct data in your long division. I used the correct data to reach a valid conclusion and Politifact didn't, and that's that.

We also agree that China has a larger population than the United States, a fact we weren't initially clear about but have since fixed.

Hey, I hate to break it to you, Politifact, but the population of China is not some subjective thing that we negotiate over and then come to an "agreement" on, it is a matter of objective fact. (How did it come to pass that you weren't "initially clear" about this? Have you sustained a blow to the head?

That said, we are sticking with our rating of Mostly False, in large measure because of Obama's claim that "this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries." That is incorrect. We know some of you will disagree, and we'll be sure to air out some of your objections in our next reader mailbag.

Hey, hey, whatever floats your boat, guys. Obama's claim that "this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries" is wrong and you have him dead to rights on that. Whether you go with "Half False" or "Mostly False" is, I suppose, a matter of taste at this point. You be you, Politifact, just learn to divide the right numbers in the future.

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Hot Howard Kurtz Scoop: 'It Is Intended Solely For The Named Addressee'

Jason Linkins   |   June 22, 2015   12:37 PM ET

In his latest searing dispatch covering the media for Fox News, Howard Kurtz lowers the boom on the "reckless rhetoric from pundits and politicians" that has arisen out of last week's tragedy in Charleston, South Carolina.

"This message and its attachments may contain legally privileged or confidential information," Kurtz writes, adding, "If you are not the addressee indicated in this message (or responsible for delivery of the message to the addressee), you may not copy or deliver this message or its attachments to anyone."

He doesn't stop there: "Rather, you should permanently delete this message and its attachments and kindly notify the sender by reply e-mail."

Really makes you think, doesn't it? Specifically, it makes you think about how little adult supervision Kurtz's pieces receive from whoever edits his work, because this is all part of boilerplate email signature that somehow made it to the page. This was caught by media critic and The Nation contributor Reed F. Richardson:

Richardson flagged this earlier Monday morning. It remained appended to Kurtz's original piece until around noon, because whatever, man, copy editing is hard.

"No representation is made that this email or its attachments are without defect," reads Kurtz's kicker, which explains a lot, to be honest.

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Still Nope.

Jason Linkins   |   June 16, 2015   11:22 AM ET

Despite Tuesday's news, Eat The Press' position has not changed.

Thank you for your continued support of Eat The Press, your home for not taking Donald Trump seriously.

Guess Who's Back! (Maybe Mitt Romney, According To Area Man.)

Jason Linkins   |   June 12, 2015    7:28 PM ET

Got some spicy hot 2016 speculation for you today, everyone! As you might recall, not long after this great and glorious new year dawned, the news came that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was contemplating whether he might gear up to start thinking about another presidential run. It was enough to get everyone in the political media reinvested in Romney's prospects. Let's call this "Mitt Romney's Pledge."

You might also remember that about a fortnight later, Romney decided that he would not, in fact, run for president. I wondered if maybe the whole thing was a fun prank that Romney wanted to play on the media. But let's refer to this as "Mitt Romney's Turn." This will make sense in a minute or two.

So! It sure looked like the notion that Romney might take another crack at this was well and surely put to bed. But this week, one man started having funny feelings about Romney again. Feelings he just couldn't shake. He subsequently woke from a fitful sleep with the need to recount the tintinnabulations of alarm arising in his gut in a piece called, "Romney hosting GOP summit, planning nomination coup?" Who do the coup spew that you eschew? The Hill columnist Brent Budowsky, that's who.

What's the deal, here? Well, as Budowsky notes, this weekend, Romney will be hosting his third annual "E2 Summit." There, Romney will have a chance to meet with "at least six Republican 2016 hopefuls" seeking to "win the favor of the 2012 nominee." It's going to be a combination of the Aspen Ideas Festival, a billionaire donor meeting, and "summer camp." Presumably, all that will happen is that Romney will have the chance to meet with prospective candidates, kick their tires, and maybe do some karaoke or something. But what if this summit's purpose is to seed the earth for Romney to bloom anew? That's where Budowsky is at:

It just so happens that if political events were to take certain turns, and the 2012 GOP nominee for president makes a surprise bid for the 2016 nomination, or more likely if a divided and gridlocked GOP turns to Romney as a compromise candidate and statesman, the participants in the Romney summit could raise a billion dollars overnight to support another Romney presidential candidacy, and the political organizers attending the event could organize a full-blown presidential campaign within days, if not hours!

Could they?

You know ... let's just run with this.

Budowsky, reminding everyone that he had previously "warned" that Romney's withdrawal from the race might be "part of a brilliantly clever plan" for him to get back into the race later, provided that the aforementioned "turns" had occurred. Among those turns:

1. "Republicans would have to face a list of candidates so long and unwieldy that the GOP debates shape up as a farce that would diminish all candidates by comparison to Romney, and the mathematics would have to be such that a group of bunched candidates receiving 10 to 20 percent of the vote leads to pre-convention gridlock."

2. Jeb Bush would have to "fall flat and lose the inevitability."

3. "Any potential highly electable GOP opponent has to fall by the wayside to clear the way." Budowsky believes this is happening to Marco Rubio, who's faced some rough trade in the press lately.

Now, all of that might inspire some corresponding questions:

1. If the field is so big and unwieldy that the debates are terrible and everyone involved ends up looking "diminished," how does adding another candidate, making the field even bigger and more unwieldy, improve things?

2. Isn't the reason Jeb Bush isn't exactly catching fire because he's perceived by the GOP base as a figure from the past, and a too-moderate one at that? You know ... like Mitt Romney?

3. Is Marco Rubio the only "highly electable GOP opponent?" And has Marco Rubio been hurt by that spate of New York Times articles?

[ANSWER KEY: 1. "It doesn't." 2. "Yes" and "yes." 3. "No," and "no."]

But let's leave all that aside and just start using your imagination. Let's say that you are Mitt Romney. That is, you are an American celebrity with a lot of money, few worries, and a loving and tight-knit family you enjoy being around. Now let's also say that you have a bunch of friends who "could raise a billion dollars overnight." Is "run for president a third time" what you'd do what those opportunities? Or would you do "almost anything else in the world." I mean, I would hook the Catoctin Creek Distillery up to my indoor plumbing if it were me in this scenario.

Still: There is one set of circumstances in which I think Mitt Romney should contemplate running again. Should what Budowsky suggests come to pass -- a crowded primary field spends months failing to determine a nominee, leaving the GOP in a state of panic and frustration -- there is a possibility, slim though it may be, that party elites will come to Romney, on bended knee, and ask him to jump into the race.

I hope he considers it. I hope he remembers how, long after he'd staked out a front-runner position in 2012, those same party elites kept begging many of the candidates running today to jump into that race, and snatch Romney's chain. And then I hope he tells them, "No."

And that would be "Mitt Romney's Prestige."

PREVIOUSLY, on Eat The Press:
Mitt Romney Will Have His Revenge
Mitt Romney Drops Out, But He Got Us Good

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R.I.P. Iowa Straw Poll, 1979-2015

Jason Linkins   |   June 12, 2015    3:23 PM ET

Ah, who doesn't love the Iowa Straw Poll? Whether it was the deep fried food on sticks, the reporters wearing sweet Iowa-themed tees from Raygun, or Republican candidates desperately pandering to a tiny sliver of their electorate, this straw poll had it all. But today, it's time to get wistful, because the Iowa Republican Party, which had long used the poll as a fundraiser, has elected to kill it off due to "flagging interest and unsustainable costs." The Iowa Straw Poll had to die so that our new system of weird billionaires deciding who wins elections might live. God speed you, straw poll, into the sweet hereafter.

Since 1979, Iowans have come together in the dog days of August (except for that one time in 1987 where they came together in September) to size up the Republican field and to state, once and for all, "Hey, this is non-binding and there's no delegate allocation, and we're all going to have caucuses a few months from now that actually count, right? Ehhh, I guess I'll vote for Pat Robertson?" In three of the straw poll's six iterations, the poll winner won the Iowa caucuses. On two occasions, the winner became the nominee. The one magical time that the Iowa Straw Poll winner went on to become president was with George W. Bush in 2000.

Hey, most political consultants would sell their children to space poltergeists to get a 1-in-6 win ratio, so let's not mock this too hard. And it's arguable that the straw poll matters on some level. Here is Matt Coulter, making that argument:

It’s the first real test of candidates on two different levels: organization and support. A win in Ames generally means you’ve succeeded in both of those arenas. And it also means you’ve succeeded in raising extravagant amounts of cash prior to the event.

Consider these statistics: Dubya spent $825,000 on the event in 1999 and walked away with first place. Steve Forbes spent over $2 million for his second-place finish. What did they spend the money on?

A better question might be what didn’t they spend the money on. Tickets to the event in 1999 were $25 apiece, which all the campaigns gladly paid for in return for a vote. Parking cost money, which again, the campaigns paid for -- if you even drove your own vehicle and didn’t take one of the free buses the campaigns chartered. Each campaign had tents outside the main hall for which they paid money -- increasing in price the closer to the hall the tent space was (the apex being Bush’s tent, which was closest to the hall and cost him $63,000). At each tent, the campaigns offered food and drinks as well as live music from famous musicians, all free. Steve Forbes even hosted a carnival of sorts, complete with children’s rides that he rented and set up. All in the quest to attract voters.

Even if the Iowa Straw Poll wasn't necessarily a launching pad for successful campaigns, it did provide some candidates with the message they needed to hear. That message? "Hey, man, good effort, but maybe this whole running for president thing isn't for you." And it's not always the candidates who fare the poorest. Last time out, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty went all out looking for a straw poll win in Iowa, only to finish third. A day later, he saw the writing on the wall. As the AP/Huffington Post reported:

"I wish it would have been different. But obviously the pathway forward for me doesn't really exist so we are going to end the campaign," Pawlenty said on ABC's "This Week" from Iowa shortly after disclosing his plans in a private conference call with supporters.

Pawlenty senior adviser Phil Musser told The Huffington Post that the Minnesota Republican "just wasn't willing to risk debt to soldier on -- part of why he would have been a good president."

I'm not sure that demonstrating your presidential timber by quitting your run for president is the most sustainable strategy in the world, Phil, but we'll let that go. Pawlenty went on to get a swank job, lobbying Beltway lawmakers on behalf of the Financial Services Roundtable, so in a way he really was the straw poll's big victor.

So, the Iowa Straw Poll is less about the winning than it is about the winnowing. But who winnows the winnowers? Since the 2012 straw poll, Iowa Republicans have been at sixes and sevens over whether the straw poll should continue. Which is probably a natural consequence of having Minnesota Sen. Michele Bachmann win your straw poll, to be honest! As early as November 2012, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad was telling the Wall Street Journal that the straw poll had "outlived its usefulness." His spokesman, Tim Albrecht, expanded on this in an interview with the Des Moines Register:

The straw poll is a disservice to Iowa Republicans in that it discourages top-tier candidates from attending, and therein threatens their participation in the caucuses, a la John McCain and Rudy Giuliani.

“Or, a candidate still finds success in the caucus despite not participating (Mitt Romney) or finishes sixth in the caucuses despite winning the straw poll (Michele Bachmann).”

Since then, there has been a prolonged period of angsty soul-searching, as the Iowa GOP searched for some sort of way to find the sweet spot between "event that all the credible candidates will attend" and "not having to break the bank in order to get them there." In January, Iowa Republicans voted to keep it going, eventually deciding to move it from Ames to Boone, home of the Central Iowa Expo. As Politico reported at the time:

The final vote to hold the event in Boone was unanimous among State Central Committee members, an Iowa GOP spokesman confirmed. The party touted Boone’s easy access from all points in the state — no more than three hours from the edges of Iowa. They also described it as a more affordable location to hold the event, ensuring maximum participation.

Back in May, the Iowa GOP made a big push to sell the straw poll to the Republican field of candidates, prompted in part by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's decision to give the event a hard pass. As Real Clear Politics' Rebecca Berg reported, "The party’s chairman and co-chairman, Jeff Kaufmann and Cody Hoefert, wrote and signed personal letters to each of the candidates, laying out the case for taking part in the straw poll, and delivered the letters Saturday."

All for naught! Today, Kaufmann announced in a statement that the straw poll was going the way of Ol' Yeller: "This step, while extremely distasteful for those of us who love the Straw Poll, is necessary to strengthen our First in the Nation status and ensure our future nominee has the best chance possible to take back the White House in 2016."

One can't help but feel like this is the right decision, as the Iowa Straw Poll was well on its way to becoming the pre-eminent high-risk-no-reward event of the pre-primary season. But as our own Igor Bobic points out, there's an irony: At a time when as "many as 15 Republicans may run for president ... practically guaranteeing a long and bruising race that may prove disadvantageous to the party's eventual nominee," the GOP has lost a pretty effective election-season widowmaker.

Oh well, there's always the pomp and pageantry of Florida's Straw Poll! Who can forget Florida Gov. Rick Scott back in September of 2011, proclaiming, "I personally believe that whoever wins that straw poll, they will be the next president of the United States."

(Herman Cain won.)

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Apparently We've Somehow Ingested A Powerful Hallucinogen

Jason Linkins   |   June 12, 2015    1:01 PM ET

Something is wrong, you guys. I've been dosed with... some kind of drug? I didn't realize it until I saw this, from Politico's Dylan Byers:

Bloomberg Politics co-managing editor Mark Halperin and Ann Romney, wife of Mitt, will co-host an early morning pilates session for wealthy Republican donors at this weekend's Romney retreat in Deer Valley, Time's Zeke Miller reports.

So, I don't have any experience with LSD and I don't know what I'm supposed to do. Should I call a doctor? Sequester myself in a dark room? Can anyone out there just talk me through it? Please email me.

Crap, I think I can, you know, hear the colors now? They are saying, "Asdfghkjkjhssghdjksadfj."

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Washington Post To Beltway Elites: 'Come Read This Terrible Newsletter!'

Jason Linkins   |   June 10, 2015    9:47 PM ET

WASHINGTON -- If you like politics, and you like newsletters, then you are living in a golden age of early-morning tipsheets (like the HuffPost Morning Email!) and evening reader guides (like HuffPost Hill!) and weekend dispatches o' fun (like Emma Roller's "Some Bullshit!"), many of which are served up with the busy lives of ordinary people in mind.

But enough about you commoners! What about the truly powerful and influential movers and shakers of "This Town?" What are they supposed to do, besides whatever they want, whenever they want? Well, The Washington Post is now providing the "Beltway influential" set the same sort of service that ordinary people might obtain from this thing commonly referred to as "a newspaper." Hence, here we are with The Daily 202, a newsletter for people who might attract high-end advertisers and sponsors, if only those high-end advertisers and sponsors could be convinced that a surfeit of elites were interested in The Washington Post. Sometimes, this trick works.

But the challenge, of course, is creating a package of content that might convince someone with a pile of money that other people with piles of money are regular readers of some special thing. And so, The Washington Post is launching a section that is not for you called Power Post, the cutting edge of which is this Daily 202 newsletter, which cleverly exploits the fact that 1) desperation is the sworn enemy of shame, and 2) Mike Allen wasn't able to patent his Politico Playbook.

And The Daily 202 definitely owes a debt to Playbook (it's a brazen rip-off) that will never be paid in full because it doesn't look like The Daily 202 is going to be as good as Playbook. At least not in terms of attracting Beltway elites. Reading through the first newsletter, it seems that the strategy for attracting this distinguished readership is just to insist that this is what the newsletter is doing, and then hope this collection of old news and miscellany is sufficient to the task. But the odd assortment of material contained therein makes one wonder: "What does The Washington Post think an 'influential' person is?" and, "What makes this hodgepodge of odds and ends specifically relevant to the lives of the powerful?"

In other words, it raises more questions than it answers, like sixth-grade sex-ed, or every episode of "Lost" from its penultimate season. But let's try to pin down what's going on here, and answer some pertinent (I guess?) questions.

Have Powerful People Ever Heard of Ted Cruz?

The lead story in the inaugural edition of The Daily 202 is a "wide ranging interview" with Ted Cruz (because you never brag about your "narrow-ranging interviews") that was given "to The Daily 202, a newsletter for the influential." (Yes, the Daily 202 actually refers to itself in the third person.) The full interview is elsewhere, this is just a tease of the highlights of that interview. But how fresh is the intel the Daily 202 is serving up? Let's take a look:

He’d roll back way more than just the Obama executive action on immigration: “If you live by the pen, you die by the pen,” Cruz told us, stressing the tenuousness of some of the president’s biggest accomplishments. “Everything put in place by executive order can be undone by executive order…So it would be my intention in the weeks leading up to being sworn into office to engage in a careful, systematic review of each executive action and to rescind every one of them that exceeds the Constitutional and legal authority of the president.”

Yeah, so, The Washington Post's newsletter for influentials got scooped by Breitbart's Matt Boyle two months ago, in what was then termed an "exclusive."

Cruz calls Iran “the single greatest national security threat” to the United States: “On day one, I would expect to convene the national security team for a serious, careful, sober assessment of where Iran stands -– how close they are to acquiring nuclear weapons – and to review every tool at our disposable to assure that under no circumstances does Iran acquire nuclear weapons.”

When isn't Ted Cruz saying this? It would literally be more newsworthy to report that he said anything else.

He’s running “to get a mandate from the electorate” to eliminate the Internal Revenue Service by simplifying the tax code: “I intend to do everything possible to make 2016 a referendum on repealing Obamacare and adopting a flat tax.”

Yeah, man, who doesn't love tweets from September 2014.

Conclusion: Are Beltway influentials trapped under a rock? If we can get them newsletters, why can't we get them help?

Do Beltway Influentials Need Another 24/7 Valet?

You may have heard that Jeb Bush's campaign is undergoing a troubling "shake-up," perhaps even from The Washington Post's Robert Costa, who reported on the story on June 8. You also might recall how, on the same day, The New York Times' Maggie Haberman and Jonathan Martin reported that the Bush team was busy "downplaying" the "shake-up."

Two days later, The Daily 202 brings the Beltway One-Percenter Set Karen Tumulty's "the Bush camp is downplaying the shake-up" piece. And it's fine. The story is fine. But The Daily 202 wants to draw your specific attention to the fact that she "filed her dispatch at 3:33am" that day.

Conclusion: We are up real late, powerful people. Can we get you anything? You want a Seamless order delivered? Do you need your solarium dusted? Look for us on TaskRabbit!

Do Powerful Washingtonians Like Weird Fixations? Because We've Got Weird Fixations.

From the same Jeb Bush bit:

“Grinder” is the key word in Bush’s comments. Diaz is a relentless attack dog, “a grinder” in Jeb parlance. It’s increasingly clear that Bush’s path to the nomination would require him not just to outshine his rivals, but to destroy them. This could translate into a particularly nasty primary battle, with repercussions for the general.

Conclusion: Danny Diaz is a sandwich from New England.

Do Beltway Influentials Know What A "Washington Post" Is?

The Daily 202 bundles five separate stories -- about topics ranging from Jeb Bush missing his fundraising targets to Paul Ryan wanting to be involved in any pending tax reform bill, to the already-tweeted-about-endlessly news that former Obama press secretary Robert Gibbs is going to work for McDonald's -- under a section titled "Get Smart Fast." But all five of these stories had already appeared ... in The Washington Post! So if you wait until this newsletter comes out to "get smart fast," you'll be beaten to the punch by everyone else who got smarter faster.

Oddly enough, what follows from there is a section labelled "WaPo Highlights." What now? At this point in the newsletter, there have been nothing but WaPo Highlights -- 12 of the 13 outbound links sent readers to Washington Post content, the exception being a Los Angeles Times story about Obama re-upping his troop commitment in Iraq.

Wouldn't it be easier to just do a Highlights section labelled, "Also Another Newspaper Did A Thing Yesterday?" (This is a thing that they do later in the newsletter.)

Conclusion: The Washington Post is acutely aware that influentials aren't acutely aware of The Washington Post.

Does This Thing Get Any Sillier?

Oh, Lord, yes. The next section of this newsletter is "Social Media Speed Read," a "partnership with Zignal Labs" that purports to "bring you real-time insights into the 2016 social media conversation each morning." Here is where The Washington Post makes one of the most superbly nonsensical promises about this content that I have ever encountered:

We’ll use special algorithms from the San Francisco-based, cross-media analytics platform to either bolster or debunk conventional wisdom. We’ll also provide cool, exclusive visualizations of that data in this space.

Translation: We are using a super-complicated methodology to bring you content that will definitely help explain your world, unless it doesn't. A convoluted crapshoot that will either penetrate the world of politics, or further obscure it, who knows? There will be "exclusive visualizations" of whatever this stuff is, though!

This is like having a bird feed you stuff it has already chewed up with its beak. "Hey, bird, is this food actually nutritious?" "I guess so? It's just whatever I found on the ground, with my bird mouth." "Cool, cool, I feel so elite, now."

The next section of this tip-sheet envisioned for influentials is "Pictures Of The Day." Some of the pictures on offer include a picture of John Kerry convalescing from surgery, Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) celebrating his recent wedding, and an Instagram that made people wonder if President Barack Obama was smoking.

That's followed by a section called "Instagrams Of The Day," despite the fact that an Instagram was already part of the "Pictures Of The Day" section. Among the Instagrams Of The Day are pictures of Bobby Jindal at a baseball game, Ron Paul and Rand Paul wearing baseball uniforms, and some Hillary Clinton campaign stickers. (You have to draw the line on two baseball themed Instagrams if you want to attract Thought Leaders -- that's just science.)

It's really hard to wrap your mind around this. What, if anything, would an "influential" hope to gain from seeing these images? How does the thinking of a powerful person change, knowing that last night was a "great night for a ball game," or that Kerry is "Feeling good a week after surgery?"

Conclusion: The Daily 202 just really needed to pad out the newsletter.

Got One More Fun Fact?

Yep! One of the bylines on The Daily 202 is Elise Viebeck, who I recall writing a hilarious piece for The Hill, that predicted Obamacare premiums were going to "skyrocket" -- in some cases tripling! -- according to anonymous "health industry officials." That story turned out to be one of the biggest howlers in the "Obamacare concern trolling" genre. But the implication here is that in Washington, you can make a complete fool of yourself on the page and yet somehow fall upward to a gig writing "a newsletter for the influential."

The good news is that influential people in Washington do not actually deserve better.

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Someone Is Wrong About Jeb Bush's Fundraising Prospects

Jason Linkins   |   June 10, 2015    3:45 PM ET

Would-be presidential aspirant Jeb Bush and his campaign team have a #squadgoal: They would like to sock away a cool $100 million in campaign money through Bush's "Right To Rise" super PAC by the end of June, when this fundraising quarter ends. But when you ask Bush's squad about whether they are going to pull this off, accounts differ. The New York Times' sources within the squad say that Bush is going to hit the target. The Washington Post's squad sources are saying, "Nah, not gonna happen, [punctuation that looks like a guy shrugging]." All of which means: Someone is wrong on the Internet! But who?

Believe it or not, this isn't a trivial issue for the Bush campaign. It's widely assumed that the former Florida governor's strategy, during the early part of the "invisible primary," was to come crashing into the race -- and into the public eye, which he'd been out of for a while -- on a wave of tall dollars and elite support, in the hopes of scaring away potential rivals. You know: shock and awe. But things haven't quite worked out that way. With the affections of so many pet billionaires in play, lots of people in the GOP field are stacking coin, and there isn't much sign that anyone's particularly scared of Jeb.

In short, things just aren't going that well for Bush, who's notched his first big campaign "shake-up" before he's even officially gotten into the race. So missing that $100 million target -- the promised result of two fundraising quarters' worth of hustle -- would just add weight to a campaign that's already starting to look leaden.

Therefore, it's weird to see two different sets of expectations featured in two different major newspapers within 48 hours of each other. Someone's sources -- either the Times' or the Post's -- are going to be wrong come July, when fundraising numbers are reported. Let's try to figure out who it's going to be, using Eat The Press' proprietary analytical tools (i.e. "guessing").

The New York Times: "Jeb Bush Shakes Up Campaign Staff, Week Before Campaign Becomes Official," by Jonathan Martin and Maggie Haberman

Publication date: June 8, 2015

Claim: "His aides, trying to deflect attention from the reshuffling, said Monday that Mr. Bush would raise $100 million in the first six months of the year, a figure that they once waved off as unrealistic and that almost certainly will be higher than any other Republican contender."

Who did they talk to? Bush's "longtime advisors," "people who have spoken with [Republican strategist Brad Kochel]," Bush campaign communications director Tim Miller, Bush's "aides," Bush's "loyalists," "several Republicans with direct knowledge of his team," "two people involved in the staff discussions," "three people with direct knowledge of the campaign," campaign strategist Sally Bradshaw and various officials.

Does The New York Times appear to naively believe that campaigns and super PACs will not "coordinate" with one another? Yes, and they are incorrect.

Why might this article be wrong about the fundraising claim? No real apparent reason.

Why might it be right? Haberman and Martin are fairly formidable reporters. Their article is deeply skeptical of the Bush team's whole operation. Though the fundraising claim is advanced, it's implied that nothing is really going right for Bush's campaign at the moment. Sooo... the article is sort of having it both ways.

***

The Washington Post: "Super PAC backing Jeb Bush unlikely to hit $100 million by end of June," by Matea Gold and Tom Hamburger

Publication date: June 9, 2015

Claim: "A super PAC backing former Florida governor Jeb Bush is likely to fall short of collecting $100 million by the end of this month, despite widespread expectations that the group would hit that record-breaking sum... The total that the Right to Rise super PAC will report in mid-July could be substantially lower than the nine figures that senior Republicans have anticipated."

Who did they talk to? "People close to the operation," "two individuals familiar with internal discussions [of the Right To Rise super PAC]," Right To Rise overseer Mike Murphy, "one veteran bundler raising money for Bush" and various "aides."

Does The Washington Post appear to naively believe that campaigns and super PACs will not "coordinate" with one another? They do not make this claim. Nice work!

Why might this article be wrong about the fundraising claim? Gold and Hamburger themselves acknowledge that there's more than one way to skin this cat. "It is possible that Bush will approach the $100 million figure if his campaign includes the entire sprawling political apparatus that he and his allies have built since January," they write. "By the end of the month, that operation will include a super PAC, a leadership PAC, a nonprofit and the soon-to-be announced campaign." Sooo... they're hedging their bets.

Why might it be right? Fewer sources, but they seem much closer to the action. Also, Gold and Hamburger are on the Post's "intersection of money and politics" team; this sort of story is their specialty.

* * *

There's a lot to consider here, but the important thing is that one of these papers has advanced a claim that's going to turn out to be wrong, and the consequences for people who cover politics and botch a story are -- ha ha, just kidding, there are none, don't be insane.

And so, with that in mind, Eat The Press will go with "Right To Rise will miss their $100 million target." Also, the Republican presidential nomination will go to... oh, let's say Moe.

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Republicans Have Always Been At War With The New York Times

Jason Linkins   |   June 9, 2015    7:23 PM ET

So, who's got their dander up, in the world of the 2016 election? By the looks of things, it's Sen. Marco Rubio, the Florida Republican, who was hopping mad on Tuesday at The New York Times. Congratulations to him, for earning his "Beefing with the Times" merit badge, a GOP tradition.

What happened? Well, the Times published an article that takes a rather robust look at Rubio's personal financial dealings, documenting "a series of decisions over the past 15 years that experts called imprudent." There's a litany of said decisions to pore over: the mixing of "personal and political money," a prematurely cashed out retirement account, "significant debt," and some "inattentive accounting." There's even a boat involved, somehow. Great day for boats.

Rubio, as a career politician, will one day cash out and leave the world of "worrying about money" far behind. Meantime, he can't possibly be sincerely worried about his wealth, but the piece has him fit to be tied anyway. As Bloomberg's Sahil Kapur reports:

To the Rubio campaign, this was an arrogant attack on a self-made man who came from modest means. The campaign titled an e-mailed statement to reporters on Tuesday "Elitist New York Times calls Marco's Student Loan Debts 'A Deep Financial Hole of his Own Making.'" Various conservatives unaffiliated with his campaign backed him up.

[...]

"The attack from The Times is just the latest in their continued hits against Marco and his family," Rubio campaign spokesman Alex Conant said in the statement. "What The Times misses is that getting rich is not what has driven Senator Rubio's financial decisions." Rather, Rubio's goal is to provide for his family, Conant said.

Did it suddenly become out of bounds to report on the financial dealings of presidential candidates? If so, that rule comes too late for many of the people working the 2016 hustings. Back in December, Bloomberg's Joshua Green reported on Jeb Bush's "Mitt Romney Problem": A number of "recent business ventures reveal that he shares a number of liabilities with the last nominee."

Is there something to Rubio's complaint that the Times' seems especially insensitive to the fact that many of the things embedded in the newspaper's report, characterized as lapses in financial judgment, are prevalent in the everyday lives of most Americans of modest means? Perhaps, but this isn't a new thing for the media to report on, either. In April, The Daily Beast's Betsy Woodruff published a story about Scott Walker's alarming (or, at least "alarming" to us commoners) credit card debt.

It's possible that the anger Rubio and his allies are manifesting today at the Grey Lady may be mostly over yesterday's news, specifically a June 5 piece in the Times that documented that Rubio and his wife Jeanette "had a combined 17 citations" for various driving violations over many years. Or, as a Miami native might contextualize the story: Marco and Jeanette Rubio are some of the Sunshine State's better drivers.

The Times' piece on the Rubio family's moving violations was almost universally derided as something that wasn't worth publishing. But it's likely this weird campaign story -- quite understandably -- planted a seed of ire in Rubio that is now blooming and, as Bloomberg's Kapur notes, joining many other flowers in the garden: "If going to war with the New York Times is a rite of passage for Republican presidential candidates, Marco Rubio's moment has come early."

Same as it ever was, folks. From as far back as that time President George W. Bush referred to reporter Adam Clymer as a "major league asshole from The New York Times," conservatives have alternated between airing operatic grievances about the paper in public, to reveling in the perceived mutual animosity as a form of political performance art.

It's hardly a secret that Republican politicians prefer to portray the Paper Of Record as an elitist and out-of-touch outpost, created for and by the East Coast's liberal intelligentsia. If anything, that's just the way conservatives compliment the Times. You should hear them when they actually want to bloody their knuckles. That's when you get people like Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) calling the paper "apologists for terrorists," and one-time presidential aspirant Herman Cain accusing it of being akin to the Ku Klux Klan, simply for publishing an opinion piece with which he disagreed.

Rubio's not the first person in the 2016 campaign to feel slighted by the Times. When the Times' Nate Cohn published "Why Ted Cruz Is Such A Long Shot" -- a poli-sci analysis of Cruz' challenges as a presidential candidate -- Cruz responded by calling the paper "a leftist rag." Of course, "left vs. right" had little to do with the conclusions Cohn reached, but the idea that Cohn was somehow biased likely didn't factor much into Cruz's response, either. Cruz just did what comes naturally -- keep his base engaged and positive with a shot at the New York paper.

To a certain extent, a Republican almost has to be ready to put the Times on blast, just to please the base. Jeb Bush once told Fox News Radio's "Kilmeade And Friends": "I don’t read The New York Times to be honest with you, so I guess you’re going to force me to do so.” As it turned out, that wasn't entirely true, and there was a paper trail to demonstrate otherwise.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie told the same CPAC audience that he was not a subscriber, and that he had recently given up the paper for Lent, all in the space of a few contradictory minutes. Whatever the truth was, in these instances, smacking the Times had to be done. They certainly wouldn't have wanted to make the mistake of complimenting the newspaper, as Tucker Carlson once famously did, to some amount of regret.

Of course, as long as we're keeping score here, it's worth noting that Democratic politicians and their allies also are apt to complain about Times coverage. If you cast your mind back to the 2000 campaign, you might remember that Bob Somerby's regular criticism of Times shallow-ender Kit Seelye was the stuff of political blogging legend. Closer to the here and now, Media Matters has been on the warpath with the Times for some time, deriding everything from the paper's cozy arrangements with Clinton Cash author Peter Schweizer to Maureen Dowd's bizarre columns. The organization's contention is that "since the beginning of the year, Republicans are routinely given positive characterizations and compliments, while presumptive Democratic favorite Clinton is often not -- and more often depicted on the Times' front page as either mired in setbacks, or certain to face daunting political challenges." (I guess Marco Rubio ends this trend.)

Still, you shouldn't be thought an idiot if you observe that there is a different quality to the umbrage directed at the paper, depending on whether you're a liberal or a conservative. Surely it's not controversial to note that a Republican who's angry at the Times is more likely to characterize the paper's slings and arrows as business as usual, while a Democrat would probably view it as an unexpected burn. Does this variance in reaction help to promulgate the notion that the Times' is politically biased? Possibly!

But one thing's for sure, you're never going to see a Democratic politician wear a Times' slight as a badge of honor. That is the sole province of Republicans like Rick Santorum, who said that his March 2012 dust-up with Times scribe Jeff Zeleny was not a thing he regretted doing. "You know, if you're a conservative and you haven't taken on a New York Times reporter, you're not worth your salt as far as I'm concerned." Mike Huckabee said much the same back in February 2008, when he responded to an outburst of anger from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) over a New York Times story like so: "If anything, it's helped John McCain and I'm kind of hoping The New York Times will take me on and run a nasty front page story -- may be the best thing that could happen to me, certainly was to him."

I'm not sure McCain agreed on that score. What Huckabee's glib comment masked was the fact that McCain had a very worthy complaint. The Times had just published its infamous "Vicki Iseman story" -- a fluffed-out nothing-burger bun that laid out a hilariously unsubstantiated claim about McCain acting "inappropriately" with Iseman, an Alcade & Fay lobbyist. It was one of the most cynical stories penned during the 2008 campaign. It outraged both the McCain camp and Iseman's employers, and perhaps treated McCain confidant John Weaver the poorest of all. (Weaver's zealous defense of McCain was packaged by the Times as a "methinks the McCain defender doth protest too much" signal that something was, indeed, afoot.)

All of which demonstrates that the standard Republican positioning against The New York Times isn't entirely unearned, and where the Times has earned it, the complaints often come from pieces that really didn't need to be published, like last week's bit of faff over the Rubio family's automotive misadventures. Did we need to know about that? Not really.

But as the journalism industry hasn't yet figured out a way to monetize restraint, here we are, welcoming Marco Rubio to a proud ideological tradition. Perhaps Rubio had a better cause for anger last week than he does today. Based on the context and the content of those two Rubio stories, that's how I'd conclude. Either way: enemy sighted, enemy met.

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It's Super Significant That Hillary Clinton Wore Green Three Times, According To Keen Analytic Mind

Jason Linkins   |   June 8, 2015    3:07 PM ET

Green is a pretty nice color that's often associated with money, and grass, and Boston Celtics-themed bar mitzvahs. So what does it mean that former secretary of state and current presidential aspirant Hillary Clinton wore some green-colored clothing on a handful of occasions? Answer: It potentially means everything. Right? I mean ... it does, doesn't it?

The reason I ask is because in the middle of a 1,500-word piece titled "Scandals Only Make The Clintons Stronger," written for Politico by former George W. Bush speechwriter Matt Latimer, there is a 100-word discursion on a handful of times that Hillary Clinton wore green. Apparently, this hints at some kind of cagey master plan on Hillary Clinton's part, instead of a situation in which someone says, "Hey, big day today, what's clean to wear? Oh, this green thing will do nicely, I guess."

Many editors advise their charges to "murder their darlings." The concept here is that sometimes, a writer's craft is undone by unnecessary tangents. The writer might labor over these sections with zeal and intensity, but they are ultimately a distraction that hurts the larger work. For example: My editor will probably ask me to murder this darling. Too late, though! I've made it germane.

Well, Latimer has apparently been edited by some sort of deeply committed darling-saver. Perhaps even one who considers himself or herself to be the Oskar Schindler of darlings. "Whoever saves one darling," this editor thought, "saves the world of darlings entire." And so this darling was allowed to escape, unharmed, into the world. Fly, darling, fly:

Has anyone else noticed that Hillary Clinton is suddenly wearing a lot of green? And no, not green like the color of money. Just a vivid, eye-popping, deep hue.

She wore green at her Benghazi hearing and when she went to Iowa right after announcing for president. As Secretary of State, she memorably wore green at a G-12 summit.

I mention this because there is little that the Clintons do, at least in the presidential context, that is unplanned. These are people, after all, who infamously polled where they should vacation.

Hillary Clinton’s team is very proud of their efforts to portray their boss as confident, calm, and soothing—like a pastoral green meadow, perhaps?

The reason this comes up is because Latimer wants to direct Republicans' attention to the fact that the Clintons frequently weather controversy, and that they will need to approach Hillary differently this time if they "actually decide to win an election for a change without waiting for the Clintons to totally implode." Observing the fact that Clinton has worn green on three occasions is thus offered by Latimer as a "pointer." The good news, for Republicans, is that this pointer comes free of charge. The bad news is that if it were a half-decent pointer, Latimer would have charged for it, like any political operative worth his salt.

But wait, maybe we should ponder the significance of green for a minute. Here goes.

Hillary probably wants to play to the center, right? As it happens, green is at the center of the colors commonly associated with the rainbow. There's even an acronym -- ROYGBIV. Yeah, see, Hillary wants her campaign to play to ROY, without alienating BIV! And so she's in the stable middle as "G." And "G." Let's see. According to Thomas Piketty, R > G. The rate of return on capital is greater than the economic growth rate. Hmmmm. By identifying with "G," Clinton is sending a subtle message to Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) supporters: "I am with you. Look to the green frock in the afternoon. You will find me, clad within."

Yes, as mysterious master plans go, this "wear a green thing every so often" is definitely the work of some strategic genius, playing eleventh-dimensional chess. And yet, "just use the email account the State Department provided" probably would have been a smarter course of action.

Green, though! GREEN. Think about it. Don't stop thinking about it. If you stop, your brain might start working. And what then? What then!?

H/T Brendan Nyhan

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Trail To The Chief: Rand Paul vs. The World

Jason Linkins   |   June 8, 2015    7:00 AM ET



Rand Paul Vs. The World


Rand Paul says the darndest things. Especially about privacy, government surveillance, ISIS and … himself. Three recent examples from last week: filibustering Patriot Act reforms; saying that GOP hawks created ISIS by sending arms into the Gulf region; and accusing his foes of wanting another terrorist attack in the U.S. so they could blame the carnage on him. That last remark was such a piece of grandiose self-pity that no one wanted to respond. Why play into the Kentucky senator’s martyrdom shtick?

Paul first became a Republican sensation in 2013, when he used a filibuster to raise alarms about the CIA’s drone program. This time around, Paul is a declared presidential candidate, and his filibuster this week against the NSA’s bulk data collection program elicited within his party a scattering of wan support, but mostly criticism, much of it from rival GOP presidential contenders.

None of his moves this week shifted his poll numbers one way or the other.

Paul managed to procure some measure of backing from his fellow 2016-ers, with the strongest support coming from Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas, who has shed the nice-guy conservative approach that won him Iowa in 2008 for an edgier, to-the-right-of-everyone strategy now. As CNN reported:

Huckabee said that the original [Patriot Act] was "hastily passed" in the wake of 9/11 without extensive debate. Public opinion has shifted now, he said. "Fourteen years ago, we were worried about terrorists. Now we're worried about our government," Huckabee said, singling out controversies around the IRS and Justice Departments.

Elsewhere, Dr. Ben Carson put himself firmly in the “probably” camp on NSA bulk surveillance reform, saying, "We really have to protect the Constitution, the Fourth Amendment, and there are aspects of the Patriot Act, such as the massive meta-data collection, which I think probably are not necessary."

The best Paul’s fellow firebrand Ted Cruz could muster was this: “I would note he and I agree on a great many issues, although we don’t agree entirely on this issue, but I want to take the opportunity to thank the senator from Kentucky for his passionate defense of liberty. His is a voice that this body needs to listen to.”

But that was about it from Paul’s colleagues in the nomination hunt. For the most part, by week’s end, just about everyone else in the GOP had, in one way or another, suggested that the good doctor was naive, or a media grandstander (as if they weren't!), or a soft-on-terrorism isolationist who was afraid to confront a global Islamist jihad.

Here’s the Rand vs. World rundown, listed in descending order of vehemence:

RANK CANDIDATE PARTY
1 LINDSEY GRAHAM
Team McCain’s 2016 entrant was unsparing, suggesting that a Paul nomination would mean a 2016 loss for the GOP, to Hillary Clinton: “I think [Clinton] would be able to tear him apart because his view of foreign policy is one step behind leading from behind, and at the end of the day the average American sees radical Islam as a threat much greater than the NSA.”
Republican
2 RICK SANTORUM
This is old hat for Santorum: He spent the 2012 debates beating up on Rand’s old man: “I think the idea that we accept now that this tripe from the left that it’s our fault that ISIS exists -- go back to the thousand-year history of Muslim expansionism, and look at some of the horrible things that were done to spread radical Islam. That is not something that America had anything to do with. ... I would expect to hear that from maybe Bernie Sanders. I don't expect to hear that from someone running for the Republican nomination.”
Republican
3 RICK PERRY
Perry’s been calling out Rand for a while now. A 2014 WaPo op-ed from Perry takes a polite tack -- until the Reagan reference: "Paul is an articulate advocate for his views, which are shared by many on the left and some on the right. But in today’s world, with today’s threats, we still cannot 'take blind shelter across the sea, rushing to respond only after freedom is lost.' That was President Reagan’s warning. Sen. Paul would be wise to heed it."
Republican
4 MARCO RUBIO
Essentially called out Paul for being insincere, suggesting all this to-do was about political marketing: "Allowing any of these programs to expire is a mistake, but that’s what is happening as a consequence of the reckless spreading of misinformation and political posturing."
Republican
5 BOBBY JINDAL
High dudgeon from the guy who’s appointed himself the recording secretary of all party rhetoric: “I was appalled by his statement. ... Listen to what he said. 'ISIS exists because of the hawks in the Republican Party.' You know, if President Obama had said that, every Republican senator and governor would be calling him out rightfully. It’s just not right to blame America first.”
Republican
6 JEB BUSH
Fully aware that the Patriot Act is part of his brother’s legacy, fully aware that he shouldn’t trumpet that legacy too loudly: “I think he’s wrong in saying that this is unconstitutional or saying that people’s freedoms have been violated by the Patriot Act,” Bush said in New Hampshire. “I think we need to reauthorize the Patriot Act, and put aside who’s speaking where. The simple fact is that it’s been an effective tool to keep us free and to keep us from being attacked by Islamic terrorists.”
Republican
7 CHRIS CHRISTIE
Quips ‘n’ schtick from a slowly fading vaudeville act: "That’s who Mike Lee and Rand Paul are siding with? With Edward Snowden? Hey, come on.”
Republican
8 SCOTT WALKER
A tepid response? Remember that Walker wants to stitch every part of the right-wing coalition together: "We need to have a responsible way that is legal and constitutional, but a way that we can make sure that if someone is an enemy combatant, or aligned with an enemy combatant, the United States and the people of this great country, we've got to have the tools we need to prevent another act from happening."
Republican
9 GEORGE PATAKI
Because George Pataki gets to answer 2016 questions now: “I may be a liberal New Yorker on abortion and gay rights but I’m tough on terrorists. ... It's just, to me, totally wrong that a filibuster would be used to create this void in our security at a time when we are at risk."
Republican

Candidate Photos: Getty, Associated Press