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If The First GOP Debate Were Held Today, Who Would Be In?

Jason Linkins   |   May 20, 2015    7:03 PM ET

As you may have heard, the first Republican debate is scheduled for Aug. 6, 2015, in Cleveland, Ohio. And everyone who's had some hand in organizing this first primary debate has been forced to face the same problem: There are too many candidates. Way too many! By the time August rolls around and the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention struggles to contain what's sure to be an outbreak of Pataki-mentum, there could be as many as 18 candidates.

Well, the news on Wednesday is that the solution has arrived, courtesy of the Fox News Channel, which will be the first debate's media host. That's good news for some candidates, but a number of contenders are going to end up unhappy. Which candidates are going to left on the outside looking in? As is typically the case, it all comes down to polling numbers. The Washington Post's Matea Gold has the story:

The criteria set by Fox News is similar to the standards it has set for past debates. To qualify for the event, candidates must place in the top 10 of an average of the five most recent national polls by August 4th at 5 p.m. ET. Such polling must be conducted by major, nationally recognized organizations that use standard methodological techniques and recognized by Fox News.

Debate participants must also meet all U.S. constitutional requirements to run for president, must have announced their campaign and filed the necessary paperwork with the Federal Election Commission and must have paid all required federal and state filing fees.

The burgeoning size of the GOP field and how to squeeze all the candidates into a debate has been a hot topic of late. Over at Daily Intelligencer, Chas Danner runs down practically everybody who's stepped up to offer a way to fix this problem.

And this is by no means a trivial matter. The Republican National Committee, in developing a strategy for this primary debate, specifically wanted to limit the number of candidates who, in 2012, proved to be flashes in the pan -- burning brightly but briefly, and making trouble for the eventual nominee. But there's a double-edged sword to this as well. As Danner points out, "one of the big risks" of leaving people out of the debates based on polling is that it "could highlight the GOP's demographic issues if non-white male candidates like Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, or Bobby Jindal don't make the cut."

According to HuffPost Pollster's numbers, if the debate were held this week, using this sorting criteria (and with the assumption that everyone who pollsters have included were an announced, Federal Election Commission-blessed candidate), the debate roster would look something like this:

debate polls

That puts Carson in, Jindal and Fiorina out, and I guess someone will have to decide what becomes of the tie between John Kasich and Rick Santorum. This is by no means the worrisome demographic worst-case scenario noted by Danner, but it's not exactly ideal, either.

Speaking of, what becomes of those excluded in this situation? That's a matter of some concern as well. Over at The Daily Caller, Matt K. Lewis suggests that excluding a candidate from a debate may as well be a mortal injury to their hopes:

On the other hand, the power to exclude is the power to destroy. If someone is included in the debates, they are granted a certain imprimatur. If someone is excluded from the debates, they are assumed to be politically dead. And, in a way, this is a self-fulfilling prophesy. It’s is a Catch-22: You can’t get into the debates unless you’re polling at a certain threshold … but you can’t increase your poll numbers unless you get into the debates… Would Mike Huckabee have caught fire in 2008 had he been excluded from early debates?

To that end, Fox News is apparently floating a sop to those who poll beneath the threshold for inclusion. According to Gold, "The cable news channel plans to provide additional coverage and air time on Aug. 6 to the candidates who do not place in the top 10." It's not yet known what sort of "additional coverage" will be available, or whether it will be of sufficient quality to remain competitive. Maybe the first debate's outsiders will get a chance to answer questions immediately before or after the main event. Maybe they'll be guests on that night's edition of Red Eye (which could be amazing, actually).

The point is, at this point nobody knows who might make the cut and who might miss out. But the big winner here is obviously the Republican National Committee, which -- after failing to solve this predicament -- has successfully punted it to Fox News, so the network gets to be the bad guy.

Obviously, the remaining media hosts scheduled to stage debates are not bound to Fox News' criteria, and will be able to set the rules for their contests as they see fit. To be honest, Fox News isn't all that bound to its own criteria, either: Past experience watching debate organizers solve the "Who's in/Who's out" problem has demonstrated that the people who ultimately have the responsibility tend to reserve the right to move around their own goalposts. But this system of inclusion and exclusion has always more or less been the standard, and its likely to persist as such. For many GOP candidates, the need to gain a foothold in the polls is dire.

Must it be this way? On the next edition of Trail To The Chief, we'll be discussing this problem and taking inventory of possible solutions. Do you have a suggestion on how a debate field should be winnowed down? Let us know. All ideas, serious or not, shall be considered, so feel free to get creative.

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

This Might Have Been The LGBT Community's Most Significant Setback In Washington

Jason Linkins   |   May 20, 2015    9:09 AM ET

What was the most significant setback the LGBT community has endured at the hands of Washington lawmakers? According to the panel we assembled for our most recent edition of "Drinking & Talking," one policy stood out as especially painful.

The Huffington Post's own Jen Bendery joined three members of the gay community -- former Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), Victory Fund CEO Aisha Moodie-Mills, and Robert Traynham, a former press secretary for likely GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum -- for a wide-ranging discussion on how far the LGBT community has come over the years, hosted by HuffPost's Sam Stein.

As far as our panel was concerned, Don't Ask, Don't Tell, instituted by the military in February 1994, was the most dispiriting blow meted out by Washington policymakers. "It was an emotional roller coaster," said Traynham. But as Frank explains, DADT came about after then-President Bill Clinton got boxed in, trying to win an unrelated legislative battle.

For the full "Drinking & Talking discussion, as well as links to other highlights, click here.

["Drinking and Talking" is produced by Ibrahim Balkhy, Christine Conetta, Brad Shannon and Adriana Usero.]

The GOP's Evolution On LGBT Rights Has To Be 'Measured In Inches, Not In Feet'

Jason Linkins   |   May 20, 2015    9:09 AM ET

As demographics shift and younger Americans start to form party attachments, we're moving into a future where a politician's opposition to something like marriage equality is increasingly becoming a deal-breaker for voters. With the Democratic Party now more or less fully "evolved" on the issue, to use President Barack Obama's famous term, how long before the Republicans fully join them? When might we see a GOP presidential nominee who's fully in favor of gay marriage, or ending LGBT workplace discrimination? Our most recent "Drinking & Talking" panel tried to answer these questions.

The Huffington Post's own Jen Bendery joined three members of the gay community -- former Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), Victory Fund CEO Aisha Moodie-Mills, and Robert Traynham, a former press secretary for likely GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum -- for a wide-ranging discussion on how far the LGBT community has come over the years, hosted by HuffPost's Sam Stein.

As Traynham admits, GOP progress on the issue is something that can currently only be measured in "inches, not feet." Still there are signs aplenty of a shift to come: New York Republicans agitating for gay marriage in their state legislature, a tone change at the Conservative Political Action Conference -- even Santorum himself is sounding less bellicose than he once did.

Needless to say, Frank was, well...unimpressed.

For the full "Drinking & Talking discussion, as well as links to other highlights, click here.

["Drinking and Talking" is produced by Ibrahim Balkhy, Christine Conetta, Brad Shannon and Adriana Usero.]

How LGBT Activists Won The PR Game: Cash, Culture And Community

Jason Linkins   |   May 20, 2015    9:08 AM ET

What's the secret of the LGBT community's success, as they've moved toward societal equality? According to our most recent "Drinking & Talking" panel, part of it was simply smart activism. But the money didn't hurt.

The Huffington Post's own Jen Bendery joined three members of the gay community -- former Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), Victory Fund CEO Aisha Moodie-Mills, and Robert Traynham, a former press secretary for likely GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum -- for a wide-ranging discussion on how far the LGBT community has come over the years, hosted by HuffPost's Sam Stein.

As Moodie-Mills noted, "The [activists] took this to the streets and made it about people, not policy." Activism took many forms, but the most notable success the gay community had was just earning a mainstream presence in our popular entertainment. As Bendery pointed out, though, money still mattered, "I've always pictured it as a lot of gay men with money" -- and it was hard currency that made the difference in political fights like New York State's gay marriage ballot initiative.

"It's nice to have morality on your side," said Frank, but it doesn't hurt if when the "profit motive joins in, you're in good shape."

For the full "Drinking & Talking discussion, as well as links to other highlights, click here.

["Drinking and Talking" is produced by Ibrahim Balkhy, Christine Conetta, Brad Shannon and Adriana Usero.]

Here's What Dick Cheney And Julian Bond Have In Common

Jason Linkins   |   May 20, 2015    9:08 AM ET

Former Vice President Dick Cheney and former NAACP Chairman Julian Bond don't end up in the same category of leaders every day, but according to the most recent panel for "Drinking & Talking," one thing the two man have in common is that they're both under-appreciated advocates of LGBT rights.

The Huffington Post's own Jen Bendery joined three members of the gay community -- former Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), Victory Fund CEO Aisha Moodie-Mills, and Robert Traynham, a former press secretary for likely GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum -- for a wide-ranging discussion on how far the LGBT community has come over the years, hosted by HuffPost's Sam Stein.

For the full "Drinking & Talking discussion, as well as links to other highlights, click here.

["Drinking and Talking" is produced by Ibrahim Balkhy, Christine Conetta, Brad Shannon and Adriana Usero.]

The Road To LGBT Equality Won't End At The Supreme Court

Jason Linkins   |   May 20, 2015    9:07 AM ET

If the Supreme Court rules in favor of marriage equality this summer, is there a concern in the LGBT activist community that suddenly, the momentum for full equality might flag? That is just one topic that the most recent "Drinking & Talking" panel took up in earnest.

The Huffington Post's own Jen Bendery joined three members of the gay community -- former Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), Victory Fund CEO Aisha Moodie-Mills, and Robert Traynham, a former press secretary for likely GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum -- for a wide-ranging discussion on how far the LGBT community has come over the years, hosted by HuffPost's Sam Stein.

As Moodie-Mills noted, it is a grave concern: "We can go and all get married -- and that's all great and fine -- and go to work the next day, put a picture of our spouse on our desk, and be fired, just because we're gay."

For the full "Drinking & Talking discussion, as well as links to other highlights, click here.

["Drinking and Talking" is produced by Ibrahim Balkhy, Christine Conetta, Brad Shannon and Adriana Usero.]

Now That The President Finally Has A Twitter Account, He Should Delete It Immediately

Jason Linkins   |   May 19, 2015    7:06 PM ET

Monday morning, this happened on Twitter.

Yes, at long last, the United States has a president on Twitter. Or we do again. Sort of.

See, there was already a @BarackObama account, but that's being run by Obama's campaign spin-off, Organizing for America. And there's also a separate @WhiteHouse account, but that's being run by the White House communications team. It's complicated. Here, let The Washington Post's Philip Bump explain it to you. The point is, other Twitter accounts associated with Barack Obama weren't authentically Barack Obama. This new one won't be either. In fact, this was all a big mistake.

Twitter, once conceived as an easy means for friends in small networks to exchange SMS messages with one another, has now become a global conveyor belt of never-ending, up-to-the-minute hot garbage, a fate that was sealed the moment I joined Twitter in March of 2008. As near as I can tell, the White House hasn't offered a pat reason for making the president join Twitter at this new account, @POTUS. But I'm sure they feel that this will allow the president to have a "personal connection on social media," which he can use to "bypass the gatekeepers" and speak "directly and sincerely to America." These are all the same reasons that any #brand joins Twitter. It's also the premier venue for #BENGHAZI acrostics.

There are a lot of people out there who have good advice on how to use Twitter in an advantageous way to expand your social media reach and to connect with other users far and wide. I'll spare the president a lengthy discursion on Twitter optimization and distill the best advice I have down to two discrete strategies:

1. Never tweet.

2. Delete your account.

And that's it. If you're wondering what to do with Twitter -- if you have even a shadow of a doubt on what to do -- your best course of action is always to never tweet and then to delete your account. In other words, the thing that President Obama should do now is the one thing that we never, ever let any president do, even though we should let them because it is almost always the best course of action for their mental health and well-being: quit while he is ahead.

Having the president of the United States on Twitter is a really bad idea. Just think about the high potential for gaffes and mayhem. Twitter is where your anodyne joke about the weather dies on a bonfire of somebody being offended. It's where you're no better than every other clown who can string 140 characters together. It's where thirsty randos (Sen. Chuck Schumer) slide into your mentions, and where you accidentally send that private DM out to the general public.

For a president, Twitter is just one more avenue in which your every move will become politicized (which is already happening) and where racist trolls lurk around every corner. (Speaking of, think about all the new work the Secret Service is going to have.) Now that Obama is on Twitter, you can rest assured that at least one media critic will produce the next "Obama's found a new way to bypass the press" article, and at least one dimwit pundit will incorporate it into the next round of Green Lantern mythologizing.

It's also completely unnecessary for a president to be on Twitter, because there is a whole media apparatus already assembled that's ready to broadcast any stray utterance to the masses. Barack Obama could walk into the White House Press Room; say, "Hey, guys, check out this delicious avocado toast I made"; and by nightfall it would be translated into three Politico items, broadcast on every cable news channel, mined for at least two think pieces, and adapted as a metaphor for Maureen Dowd to beat to death over the next four years.

Anyone who thinks that this new outlet is going to be a venue for the president's unvarnished, sincere opinion needs to get his head examined. And yes, that cute little exchange between Obama and former President Bill Clinton was absolutely a tidy bit of Oval Office kayfabe. Anything that gets posted to the @POTUS account will be vetted within an inch of its life, and anything remotely interesting will be stripped out and watered down.

I can basically provide you with a complete taxonomy of everyone who will interact with this account.

1. Reporters, who will just RT everything that @POTUS tweets.
2. Trolls.
3. Racist trolls.
4. Weird Twitter.
5. Obama fans who will respond to everything with "praise hands" emoji.
6. Pretentious crap sacks who start every tweet with the word "actually."
7. Those idiots who get you into Twitter canoes seven users deep.
8. Chrissy Teigen.

Of these, only Chrissy Teigen makes this social media format worthwhile, especially if she's trolling Nancy Grace.

And that's the best-case scenario. The thing about Twitter is that it sometimes tends to bring out the worst in us -- it doesn't take much to get users spoiling for an undignified fight. Obama's drama-avoidance tendencies being what they are, this is perhaps not a near-term problem. But sooner or later, that combination of thin skin and egomania that is so de rigueur in our political class is going to get the better of some president. (Probably President Ted Cruz. You just know that guy rises to the bait like a grouper with a death wish.)

Those are basically the two directions a presidential Twitter account can go: pure-beige, pablum secretions or ignoble, quick-fire, spit-spat sessions.

According to reports, the @POTUS Twitter account is built to be a legacy account, passed from president to president as the old one leaves and the newly elected chief executive arrives. It wasn't long ago that President Obama fought the good fight to end deficit-ceiling hostage-taking, recognizing the battle as a necessary step to preserve the dignity, the authority and the sanity of the executive branch for all future presidents. In the same spirit, he should recognize that there are clear actions here that he needs to take for the good of the office. Those are: Never tweet, and delete your account.

Obviously you should follow me on Twitter, where I prove the necessity of this advice every day.

People Who Opposed The Iraq War From The Beginning Are The Best Americans

Jason Linkins   |   May 15, 2015    4:38 PM ET

This week, the transfixing event for the world of people who cover the 2016 presidential election came courtesy of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who turned an easy question from Fox News' Megyn Kelly -- "Knowing what we know now, would you have authorized the invasion [of Iraq]?" -- into a weeklong wacky adventure of periphrasis. At first, Bush's answer was yes, then the answer was that he had misheard the question, and then the answer was that the question itself was a "hypothetical" that could only be answered in a way that dishonored the troops.

At the same time, Bush's rivals for the GOP nomination were gleefully fielding the same inquiries, recognizing an unexpected boon that would allow them to draw a stark contrast between themselves and their well-funded opponent. To a man, they all proclaimed that they would not have authorized the invasion of Iraq if they'd known then what they know now. Then, finally, suddenly, Bush's answer was no, as well. And ... exhale. At the end of the week, everyone's given an answer to Kelly's original "gimme" question.

And when I call it a "gimme" question, let's note that the question's intrinsic "gimme-ness" cuts both ways. There is no member of the media who sincerely wants to know if a presidential candidate would restage the Iraq War knowing what is now known. No reporter is literally walking around wondering what the answer to that question is. If we're being honest, the reason Kelly asked that question in the first place was to prick at Jeb Bush's familial tensions -- to get him in front of an oncoming metaphorical bus with Brother George and tempt him to give Dubya a little shove. Jeb's problem was that he didn't recognize the gotcha game Kelly was really playing, wandered off the rails on his lonesome, and allowed his opponents to rack up political points against him on the cheap.

But what have we learned from this misfortune? Well, one thing that's now clear is that we know which candidates are capable of giving the answer that, had it been offered at the outset, would have prevented this five-day gaffe-cycle news story. That's great, I guess! What we've not learned, however, is which candidates are capable of giving the answer that, had it been provided at the outset, would have prevented the invasion of Iraq.

To answer that, one can't ask, "If you'd known then what you now know, would you have invaded Iraq?" The proper question is, "Where did you stand on the invasion of Iraq at the time of the original argument?" I know this is probably shocking to many people who cover politics, but there were people back then who possessed the foresight to know that the Iraq War was a certain botch. To our great misfortune, that cohort has produced very few presidential candidates.

I can understand the temptation to perceive this moment as one in which the 2016 election, quite by happenstance, delivers a final, debate-ending verdict on the Iraq War. After all, one thing that's been crystallized is how no one outside of the cult of True Iraq War Believers wants to stick up for the invasion. Over at Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall notes the occasion thusly: "Improbably, Jeb Bush's run for president and painful bumbling have triggered, though by no means caused, a watershed moment in the country's reckoning with the strategic blunder -- and let's just say it -- self-inflicted catastrophe of the Iraq War."

Marshall continues:

It was one thing when John Kasich and Chris Christie said they would not have invaded Iraq -- guys who would run as relative moderates and either aren't running or don't realize they're not running for president. (Rand Paul said the same but that's no surprise.) But now we have Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz saying they would not have either. Rubio is the big tell here since he among all the 2016 contenders is angling for the support of the neoconservative foreign policy intelligentsia. If he can say categorically that it was a mistake, the debate is probably really finally over.

I guess this is all well and good? A bunch of people who -- because of the unbroken strictures of temporality -- can't restage the Iraq War, wouldn't restage the Iraq War. This seems like a low bar to clear -- and a bar that was lowered, it's worth mentioning, by Bush's brother himself. The bar represents the wildly incompetent execution of what was from the start a very bad idea, leading to a situation in Iraq that's failed to improve during the subsequent administration, and is now so objectively hellish that the badness of the original idea is inescapable.

The more pressing question about Iraq, in fact, isn't "If you'd known then what you know now, would you have invaded Iraq?" Rather, they are "What have you learned from this colossal cock-up?" and "How are you going to not make this even worse?" Those questions have yet to pass the lips of 2016's ersatz inquisitors. And so this whole ordeal with Jeb Bush has merely been an exercise in low-bar clearance, one that allows everyone mentioned in the conversation above to treat this issue as if it were -- as Bush suggested -- a "hypothetical."

But sorry, no. There is no hypothetical here. The Iraq War happened. This is a judgment that the defendants lost a long time ago. And all of these Johnny-come-lately 2016ers tripping over themselves as they sprint to spit cheaply won wisdom from behind the plaintiff's table are obscuring the people who deserve the most praise and celebration -- those who had the good sense to oppose the Iraq invasion from the outset.

As The Washington Post's Greg Sargent points out, the mere question that was put to Jeb Bush erases anyone who opposed the war in Iraq in advance:

In this framing, the question becomes: Will you admit that you were misled into supporting a war that everyone now agrees in hindsight was an unnecessary and tragic mistake?

But this leaves out a big part of the story of the run-up to the war, which is that some people were arguing at the time against invading Iraq, on the grounds that the evidence was all right there in plain sight that Iraq did not pose a threat imminent enough to justify an invasion. Some people (I’m not claiming to be among them) were publicly shouting themselves hoarse, pointing out at the time that, at the very least, there were serious questions about whether Iraq really posed the threat the Bush administration claimed it did.

Let us at long last make it clear and proclaim it ever thus! These are history's victors: the ones you don't need to ask if they would have invaded Iraq if they knew what they know now. They knew it then. More importantly, those who opposed the war in Iraq from the very beginning took no end of abuse for taking that position. They were called unserious, they were compared to Neville Chamberlain, they were told that they hadn't learned the "lesson of September 11th," and they took that beating from the Iraq War's engineers and its cheerleaders, who've suffered very little consequence for their tragic lapse in judgment.

Somewhere during his weeklong perambulations, Jeb Bush offered that "the focus" needed to be "on the future." Fair enough. But let's not let the present moment pass without acknowledging that those who were most focused on the future during the run-up to the war in Iraq were the ones working to stop it from happening. Don't confuse those people with all of today's 2016 candidates, burnishing their merit badges for hindsight with billionaires' boodle.

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

Judith Miller And James O'Keefe Supported An Important American Tradition Today

Jason Linkins   |   May 15, 2015    4:01 PM ET

That tradition? Irony.

RNC Unleashes Insane Presidential Straw Poll On Unsuspecting World

Jason Linkins   |   May 14, 2015    1:49 PM ET

Remember back when the Republican National Committee felt that the 2012 primary season was a terrible mess of too many candidates and too many debates, all of which badly spiraled out of control and ended up ruining Mitt Romney's chances of winning the White House? That was an actual thing the RNC got bugged out about, and that they've gone to great lengths to avoid repeating in 2016.

But today, they've unleashed an online presidential straw poll on the world, and boy howdy, it's like they haven't learned a thing.

As the Weekly Standard reported this morning, there are 36 names on their straw poll. Thirty-six! It's like they swung a stick backstage at CPAC and included everyone who got whacked. It would actually be easier for me to tell you who is not on the list than it would for me to list all the people they've included. Basically, not making the cut are 1) Michele Bachmann, 2) John McCain and 3) Democrats.

The people who have acknowledged that they are running for president, or who are running and just haven't made it official because of various campaign finance reasons, have all made the list. That would be eight names (Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina, Mike Huckabee, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio and Scott Walker), which is a pretty good size for a straw poll. You'd think that it might be useful for the RNC to know where their voters' early sympathies realistically lie, right?

But wait! There are a bunch of people currently huddled near the sidelines of the GOP nominating contest who could join this mix in the next few months or so. That would take us to 14 names with six plausible additions (Chris Christie, Lindsey Graham, Bobby Jindal, John Kasich, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum). And there was a time when New York Rep. Peter King insisted he was going to jump in, so we'll include him. And because I'm feeling really plucky today, we'll throw George Pataki on the pile as well. That's 16 people. Surely this is enough?

No, not by a long shot. Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich, the living embodiments of the flashes-in-the-pan that the RNC wanted to avoid gaining attention this time out, are on the straw poll. Sarah Palin, who would lose badly, is on the straw poll. Ron Paul is on the straw poll. I mean, what if you think Rand Paul is just "aiiight"? What if you want someone older, who's published more controversial newsletters? The RNC has got you covered, for some reason.

Also on the straw poll:

There is also a guy named "Mark Everson" on this list, of whom the Weekly Standard's Michael Warren says, "Who's Mark Everson, you ask? Beats me." (He is a "former IRS commissioner." Come on, Michael, it's right there beneath his name.)

As Warren goes on to point out, the makers of this online poll didn't want to alienate any participant, and so they've given everyone the option to write in a candidate. So, here's hoping that the winner of this year's prestigious RNC Straw Poll is "Weedlord Bonerhitler."

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

Have a tip or story idea to share with us? Email us at scoops@huffingtonpost.com. We'll keep your identity private unless you tell us otherwise.

Thinking About Skipping The Iowa Caucuses? Better Think Again!

Jason Linkins   |   May 14, 2015   11:44 AM ET

Earlier this week, news broke that former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush was opting out of active participation in this summer's Iowa Straw Poll, the annual event which propelled last year's winner, Michele Bachmann, to ... nowhere in particular, actually.

This year, the Iowa GOP has undertaken something of a renovation on the Iowa Straw Poll, in the hopes of elevating it out of the bog of disregard into which it had fallen. Bush, however, has rather pointedly scheduled an appearance at this year's RedState Gathering (Of The Juggalos?), and has done so in a way that precludes his participation in the straw poll and its attendant festivities -- unlike all the other presidential candidates who will also be attending RedState's four-day event in Atlanta.

But, you know, it's probably OK for Bush to take a pass on the Iowa Straw Poll. After all, Mitt Romney opted out back in 2011, and it hardly hurt him when the Iowa Caucuses finally rolled around.

But what if Bush decided to skip Iowa altogether? Man, I don't know about that.

The possibility that Bush might skip Iowa completely has everyone atitter now, courtesy of a McKay Coppins piece in BuzzFeed in which "three sources with knowledge of Bush's campaign strategy" are intimating that Bush "does not plan to seriously contest the first-in-the-nation caucuses -- and may ultimately skip the state altogether." Yikes!

Naturally, it's essentially speculative. Tim Miller, who left the GOP oppo outfit America Rising to be the Bush campaign's communications director, shows up in Coppins' piece with a strenuous denial: "There is nobody with any shred of authority or proximity to Gov. Bush suggesting that, should he decide to run for president, he skip or ignore Iowa."

Or is there? Per Coppins:

But a top Republican consultant and a high-level fundraiser -- both of whom have been courted by the Bush camp, and requested anonymity to recount private conversations -- said Bush's advisers were explicit that the campaign would not seriously invest in Iowa during the primaries. Similarly, an operative involved in Bush's yet-to-be-announced campaign told BuzzFeed News earlier this year that the state was a low priority.

[...]

According to the two Republicans who were briefed on the broad points of the campaign's primary strategy, Bush's political advisers believe his steadfast support for Common Core education standards and softer immigration policies will make it incredibly difficult for him to woo the conservative caucus-goers, who tend to favor more combative figures like Iowa's 2012 victor Rick Santorum, or Mike Huckabee, who won in 2008.

Is there a case to be made for skipping Iowa? Sure, I guess. One could point out that John McCain basically did so back in 2008, and it didn't prevent him from getting the nomination. Heck, Bill Clinton passed on Iowa back in 1992 and he went on to become president. Writing for The Atlantic back in 2011, Nicole Russell actually advised candidates to skip Iowa, based on premise that, for all the hue and cry about the Iowa Caucuses, they rarely amount to much: "The Iowa caucuses may be first in the nation, but they don't live up to the emphasis placed on them by candidates and the media."

Per Russell:

For both Republicans and Democrats, winning Iowa doesn't mean winning the nomination, or the presidency. Compare Iowa's predictive power to that of the South Carolina GOP primary, or to the role of Ohio in the general election. South Carolina has selected the eventual Republican nominee, and Ohio has selected the presidential winner, in every presidential election year since 1980.

Iowa may be first, but it's never been a perfect bellwether. The caucuses offer candidates a chance to prove they can organize well, but they are not even an accurate gauge of the public opinions of most party members, let alone most Iowa voters.

Iowa's Republican caucus-goers have a reputation for being the sort of base voters who tend to favor candidates of the far-right variety, with a special yen for social conservatives. Certainly all of Iowa's prominent kingmakers -- think talk-radio firebrand Steve Deace, Family Leader CEO Bob Vander Plaats, and iconoclast nativist Iowa Rep. Steve King -- represent extremes of rhetoric or policy positions that Jeb Bush doesn't quite match.

Back in January, the Cook Political Report's Amy Walter suggested that "if ever there were a year when establishment candidates like Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush, and Chris Christie should skip [Iowa] all together, this would be it." She continued:

Winning in Iowa proves that you do well among very conservative, evangelical voters. It also shows, as one Iowa veteran has noted, how well a candidate connects at a retail level. But, it simply challenges a candidate's depth not his/her breadth. In fact, to try and win here, a candidate often has to cater so narrowly to this base that they disqualify themselves from the broader electorate (see, Rick Perry's anti-gay ad).

Given all of that, it's starting to sound like passing on Iowa might be a smart move for Jeb Bush. So let's fix that. We'll start by pointing out that when a candidate opts out of competing in Iowa at all, they opt out of a deluge of free publicity, courtesy of a firehose of media money.

If you cast your mind back to 2011, you might remember that John Ellis wrote a piece for Business Insider that dispensed some hard truths about why the early primary states mean so much in the overall nomination process. Ellis pointed out that most major media outlets budget for the election season in four stages: the "pre-primary" season, the primaries and caucuses themselves, the conventions, and the debates. Ellis went on to note:

What happened in the past and what will happen again in 2012 is that the media (broadly speaking) blow through their pre-primary budgets quickly, overspend on early caucus and primary coverage, and then cut back sharply to conserve funds for convention and general election coverage.

The net result is that the early state caucuses and primaries are disproportionately important to determining the eventual nominee and that anyone who does not finish first or second in the Iowa caucuses and/or the New Hampshire primary is probably not going to command media coverage thereafter.

Political science blogger extraordinaire Jonathan Bernstein doesn't necessarily subscribe to Ellis' "first or second in Iowa or New Hampshire or bust" theory, but he largely concurs on how the Iowa Caucuses position candidates in front of a massive publicity machine. Writing in 2013, Bernstein argued:

Skipping Iowa doesn't work. Most people don't pay attention to presidential politics until very late in the game. When they start paying attention -- when the non-obsessive section of the news media starts paying lots of attention -- is around the Iowa caucuses, and a candidate not playing there will, naturally, not receive the publicity that the other candidates receive. Then comes the caucuses, and another blast of publicity that the non-participant will miss. And the last bit is that the winners in Iowa will at the very least be taken more seriously, and perhaps get the kind of windfall positive publicity that Jimmy Carter in 1976 or Gary Hart in 1984 got. Note that Hart's came from a weak second place finish; the news media have to find some candidate to give the rest of the primaries and caucuses some drama.

To be quite honest, Bernstein is something of a one-man wrecking crew on the subject of skipping Iowa. So when I espied this exchange on Twitter Wednesday afternoon...

... I knew exactly what was coming next:

Bernstein isn't particularly hung up on whether a contender finishes win, place or show in Iowa, but he's heard the argument that the rightward tilt of Iowa's caucus-goers present a challenge for competitors like Bush, and has answered by pointing out that even if they can't win in Iowa, they can play defense:

Skipping Iowa for a candidate who could have finished second, third or fourth means that everyone who did show up moves up. Worse, let's say Jeb Bush and Chris Christie share a target vote; if Bush skips and Christie participates, Christie not only hops up a spot, he also wins votes Bush would have won. The candidates who do well in Iowa get favorable publicity going into New Hampshire; the ones who don't show up are just part of the crowd.

Beyond all that, it's kind of important for people who want to be taken seriously as competitors to get down to the business of seriously competing as quickly as possible. Back in 2003 -- at a time when Democratic candidates Joe Lieberman and Wesley Clark were taking the "Let's Just Skip Iowa" rocketship to absolutely nowhere, the Los Angeles Times' Mark Z. Barabak took a dim view of the strategy, and Democratic strategist Tad Devine was along for the ride:

"The way the nominating process has always worked is that voters begin to take signals from the events which precede their own," said Tad Devine, a strategist for three of the last four Democratic presidential nominees and a supporter of John F. Kerry in the current race.

"In a large, multi-candidate field, voters are looking for cues -- who is the front-runner and who is a viable alternative?" Devine went on. "If you're none of the above because you haven't participated, it's very hard for voters to get a signal that voting for you would be meaningful."

Devine's guy won in Iowa, and went on to win the nomination, and I'm guessing that he was pretty happy to see Lieberman and Clark decide that they didn't want to send strong signals to voters.

It's true that Bush currently trails Scott Walker in HuffPost Pollster's early Iowa Caucus poll average. But during this "invisible primary" period, he's done quite well in terms of attracting donor support -- so much so that just weeks ago, he told his "Right To Rise" super PAC contributors that "the organization has raised more money in its first 100 days than any other Republican operation in modern history."

But to have a fundraiser wryly joking about how Bush seems to be following "the Giuliani strategy" (in which the candidate holds out in the hopes of making it to the Florida primary) -- as a source does in Coppins' piece -- is a bad sign. It means that more than a few Bush donors are likely wondering today, "What did I invest in? I thought Jeb Bush wanted to be a competitor."

Given his recent struggles to answer simple questions about the Iraq War and his generally passive demeanor of late, perhaps Bush is wondering if he is as well.

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Hot 2016 Scoop: Jeb Bush Slips Up, Tells Reporters He's Running For President, Unless He Isn't

Jason Linkins   |   May 13, 2015    3:58 PM ET

HOLY COW YOU GUYS. Got some habanero salsa hot 2016 scoops coming down the Internet garbage chute for you, courtesy of the dedicated reporters of NBC News. Today, it involves former Florida governor and Iraq War hypothetical-question misadventurer Jeb Bush. So, what's the haps?

jeb bush headline

Hoo, boy. Got a classic lapsus linguae coming at you. Big news that Bush "dropped," right in front of some reporters. Anything more specific?

jeb bush deck

OH NO HE DIDN'T ("reference" the election).

Let's go to the video.

REPORTER: Is there anything you would have done differently from your brother?

BUSH: I'm running for president in 2016, and the focus is going to be on how we, if I run, about how we create high, sustained economic growth. And I will apply my record and the ideas that are relevant going forward to all of this. Of course I have differences with every previous president.

Did you hear that? OMG you guys, Bush admitted that he is "running for president in 2016." HUGE gaffe, y'all. Huge. Nice try at a walk-back, Jeb, with that "if I run" clause in the next breath. Everyone heard you, slipping up in front of the cameras.

So there you have it: Jeb Bush is running for president, definitely, unless it's not definite, in which case it's impossible to be sure.

(Also he has differences with every previous president, so I'm a little surprised the headline isn't, "JEB BUSH DISTANCES HIMSELF FROM REAGAN, LINCOLN.")

[Previously, on hot hot 2016 scoops.]

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Jeb Bush Manages To Fumble The Iraq War Vote 13 Years After It Happened

Jason Linkins   |   May 12, 2015    1:48 PM ET

If you'd harbored the hope that the 2016 election might be one in which a major presidential candidate didn't soil the bed with regard to an Iraq War authorization vote -- well, I've got bad news. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) somehow managed to wrong-foot what should have been a "gimme" question during an interview with Fox News' Megyn Kelly that aired Monday.

That question?

KELLY: On the subject of Iraq... obviously very controversial. Knowing what we know now, would you have authorized the invasion?

So, for those of you scoring at home, the correct answer to this question -- in which Bush gets accorded the benefit of total hindsight on all the bad decisions that led us to war in Iraq and all the bad outcomes that followed -- is "No." But here's how Bush responded:

BUSH: I would have, and so would have Hillary Clinton, just to remind everybody, and so would have almost everybody that was confronted with the intelligence they got.

KELLY: You don't think it was a mistake?

BUSH: In retrospect the intelligence that everybody saw, that the world saw, not just the United States, was faulty. And in retrospect, once we invaded and took out Saddam Hussein, we didn’t focus on security first. And the Iraqis, in this incredibly insecure environment, turned on the United States military because there was no security for themselves and their families. By the way, guess who thinks that those mistakes took place as well? George W. Bush. Yes, I mean, so just for the news flash to the world, if they’re trying to find places where there’s big space between me and my brother, this might not be one of those.

When news of this part of the interview broke, it was widely characterized as Bush finding the one rake in an empty field and stomping down on it with both feet. Conservative radio host Laura Ingraham opined: "You can't still think that going into Iraq, now, as a sane human being, was the right thing to do. If you do, there has to be something wrong with you." Politico's Roger Simon wrote that he's been left "to wonder just how many times Jeb was dropped on his head as a child."

The Washington Examiner's Byron York was perhaps the most fervent in his criticism, calling Bush's response "disastrous":

If Jeb Bush sticks to his position -- that he would still authorize war knowing what we know today -- it will represent a step backward for the Republican Party. Other candidates before Jeb have grappled with the issue and changed their position. Look at the evolution of the 2012 GOP presidential nominee, Mitt Romney.

In January 2008, Romney said, "It was the right decision to go into Iraq. I supported it at the time; I support it now." In 2011, Romney said: "Well, if we knew at the time of our entry into Iraq that there were no weapons of mass destruction -- if somehow we had been given that information, why, obviously we would not have gone in."

It is, indeed, a puzzlement. But on Tuesday, during an appearance on CNN's "New Day," veteran GOP strategist and frequent cable news panelist Ana Navarro said that she'd emailed Bush for clarification on his weird answer, and Bush replied that he'd "misheard the question."

Navarro went on to say: "He was referring to what we knew then, not what we know now... It’s the only way the entire answer makes sense, because then he goes [on] to say what you just posted him saying, that the information was faulty.”

Navarro has a point: This is the only way Bush's answer makes sense. If Bush thought he was being asked if he would have authorized the invasion based on what the intelligence was at the time (as opposed to what we know now), then the entirety of his answer -- in which he says he would have made the same decision that his brother made, while simultaneously acknowledging that it was a mistake -- is logical.

Of course, as Judd Legum points out over at ThinkProgess, all of this overlooks a central fact about the run-up to the Iraq War: It's actually too charitable by half to write off the disastrous military misadventure as a failure of intelligence. It's much more accurate to say that the George W. Bush administration misused or ignored intelligence. Per Legum:

A bipartisan, if contentious, report of the Senate Intelligence Committee concluded that the George W. Bush administration “repeatedly presented intelligence as fact when in reality it was unsubstantiated, contradicted, or even non-existent.” The report documented numerous statements made by the Bush administration to justify the war that were not supported by intelligence.

Mike McConnell, the Director Of National Intelligence under George W. Bush from 2007 to 2009, found the administration “set up a whole new interpretation because they didn’t like the answers” the intelligence community was giving them. Inside the Pentagon, an effort was led by Undersecretary of Defense Doug Feith to “reinterpret information” provided to them by intelligence. It was Feith’s group that produced and promoted “false links between Iraq and al Qaeda.”

But whether Jeb Bush's answer was a misstep, a mis-hear or a glorious glossing over of the past, the bottom line is that -- like I said before! -- the best answer to Kelly's original question was simply "No." Alas!

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As Liberia Earns 'Ebola-Free' Designation, A Look Back On The Lessons Learned

Jason Linkins   |   May 11, 2015    1:56 PM ET

This weekend brought some good news for people who like to hear about the outbreaks of deadly diseases being curbed.

According to the World Health Organization, Liberia, one of the West African nations that was heavily affected by the most recent outbreak of the Ebola virus, was "declared ... free of Ebola on Saturday, making it the first of the three hardest-hit West African countries to bring a formal end to the epidemic," The New York Times reported.

As The Times goes on to report:

“The outbreak of Ebola virus disease in Liberia is over,” the W.H.O. said in a statement read by Dr. Alex Gasasira, the group’s representative to Liberia, in a packed conference room at the emergency command center in Monrovia, the capital.

Just before Dr. Gasasira’s statement, Luke Bawo, an epidemiologist, showed a map depicting all of Liberia in green with the number 42 superimposed on it. This represented that two maximum incubation periods of the virus, a total of 42 days, had passed since the safe burial of the last person confirmed to have had Ebola in the country, fulfilling the official criteria for concluding that human-to-human transmission of the virus has ended.

Elsewhere in West Africa, while not yet "Ebola free," Sierra Leone and Guinea are also reporting substantially fewer new cases of the disease, compared to peaks in March of this year.

Those who have been diligently fighting the outbreak in West Africa -- which was briefly brought to our shores at the end of September 2014, can chalk up a hard-fought victory over a scary disease in one of the most difficult environments on the planet. And there's a lot for those who observed this outbreak from the sidelines to celebrate as well.

But on a long enough timeline, the chances of an Ebola resurgence in West Africa remain. The next time it does, however, hopefully we'll be better armed with knowledge that stayed perplexingly elusive this time around:

Better know a virus! When it comes to being cinematically terrifying, it's hard to beat the Ebola virus. It has a high fatality rate, and the death is typically brutal: high fevers, vomiting, diarrhea, organ failure, and bleeding -- internally and externally -- are the norm. So the disease looms in our imagination as something of a holy terror that shreds and liquefies the body of those unfortunate to be infected by it.

ebola stats

But for all its mythic power, the Ebola virus is actually quite a frail beast. It spreads merely through the direct contact with bodily fluids of those stricken -- blood, vomit, and feces primarily. But it's not an airborne disease, and with competent contact tracing and containment, it's not hard to bring an outbreak to heel. Ebola thrives in areas that face grinding poverty, where access to medical care is nearly impossible to come by, community communication infrastructure is weak, and basic sanitation is absent.

During our brief flirtation with Ebola, there were many instances in which people lost sight of this and panicked in embarrassing fashion. For instance, in October 2014, a Maine school board forced a teacher to take a three-week leave of absence simply because she traveled to Dallas while that city was playing host to Ebola patients. It mattered not a whit that the teacher never came within ten miles of the hospital where those patients were treated -- irrational fear was the order of the day. It's important for us now to simply say: These people were stupid.

And that's really the only way Ebola could possibly break out wide into the public -- stupidity. So let's inoculate that as best we can. (And yes, that means the CDC will have to tighten its game a little bit as well, and avoid the few mistakes they made.)

Recognize the advantages the United States has. The United States is rather uniquely positioned to contain an Ebola outbreak, so it's hardly surprising that we managed to do so -- the disease of our dread imaginings brought down by basic infrastructural and economic realities.

Should the U.S. play host to another Ebola outbreak in the future, it will be important to remember how swiftly and effectively the last one was put down. But it will also be important to remember that keeping Ebola out of the United States will require strangling the recent outbreak at its source, West Africa. To repurpose a shop-worn war-on-terror cliche: If we fight it there, we don't have to fight it here. If we forsake that effort, we assume the risk of it finding its way to the States again.

And we'd probably be better off knowing Africa a little bit better as well. It's a huge continent. It's possible to travel thousands of miles within Africa. So if a person goes to, say, Zambia, and then returns to the United States, it's not smart to panic about whether that person returned with Ebola. Africa is not a monolith, and the things that might be happening in Sierra Leone aren't necessarily the things that are happening in Botswana.

For American politicians, heavy-handed is not the way to go. Whether it was the heightened likelihood of nonsense behavior that any election year brings, or whether some politicians are just naturally predisposed to making poor decisions, America's Ebola outbreak managed to bring out some of the worst in our policymakers. From exaggerated claims about undocumented immigrants or terrorists bringing Ebola over the Mexican border (we should be so lucky as to have terrorists who only operationalize zany and over-complicated plots) to the widespread calls for travel bans to and from the affected area in West Africa (a great way of worsening the crisis), something was deeply amiss in the brainpans of many of our elected leaders.

Wherever a heavy hand was laid, pointless difficulties arose. A handful of governors -- New Jersey's Chris Christie, New York's Andrew Cuomo and Maine's Paul LePage -- decided that they just had to invent their own weird quarantine protocols and force them upon members of the medical community, a move that did no good for anyone and only fostered meaningless confrontations. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal took things a step further by asking some of the world's top minds on Ebola to stay out of his state and not attend a scheduled conference of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene -- a move that probably had Brown University reconsidering whether Jindal deserved the biology degree they'd conferred upon him.

The better strategy was to let calm and cool heads prevail, something that President Barack Obama was well-suited to implement. Dismissing the calls to impose dramatic travel bans and constantly supporting the work of the medical professionals tasked by the government to preside over public health crises, Obama projected steadiness while keeping out of the way of the people doing the work. Needing to check off the "DO A THING OMG" box, Obama appointed Ron Klain to be America's "Ebola Czar," and then Klain did what the job demanded: keeping the White House out of hot, hyped headlines. (Obama's decision to demonstrate his confidence in the people tending to the outbreak by meeting with them personally -- even shaking the hands and hugging those who were exposed -- was a nice touch.)

And while there were some moments where he veered slightly into the wrong lane, then-Texas Gov. Rick Perry succeeded in getting out on the right foot when Ebola came to Texas. "This is all hands on deck," said Perry. "We understand that and we've got great local partners. Everyone has their marching orders and understands the importance of that good collaboration." In the space of a few sentences, the oft-maligned Perry communicated everything essential -- he projected a sense of mission, he emphasized the competence of the major players and he offered a sense of certain optimism.

All of which suggests that the ideal rubric for politicians when it comes to responding to a public heath crisis is: stay calm, don't get clever and don't feed fear. Basically, if you're the sort of politician that imagines that the military's Jade Helm 15 exercises are a super-secret plan to take over Texas, you aren't well-suited to lead in an Ebola crisis. (Looking at you, new Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who Perry has already criticized for this precise overreaction.)

For the media, reach out to experts and deny airtime to the cranks. I've written extensively already on the media's particular failings in covering the Ebola outbreak, as well as those who served as exceptions to the (mis)rule. So I won't repeat myself. And neither should the media -- they should have already done some extensive soul-searching about the botch job they perpetrated on the public.

The good news, of course, is that now Liberia has passed a test that Nigeria, Mali, Senegal, Spain, the United States and the United Kingdom have already aced -- the successful conquering of an Ebola outbreak. That means that should an outbreak flare up again, the media can turn to the heroes of this last one as their sources, and use that deep well of calm, confident expertise to help shape the coverage. All of the cranks and yokels and con artists who led the media in a pitched, irrational frenzy can be kicked to the curb, in lieu of those who actually went out and got the job done.

Pay attention to the road ahead. As great as it is to see Liberia conquer this Ebola outbreak, how well it handles the next one is going to depend heavily on what lessons are learned and how quickly systemic change happens -- economic assistance, better and more sustainable hygiene practices, health care system development and political stability will all play a role.

As Karin Landgren, the United Nations' special representative of the secretary-general in Liberia, told the U.N. Security Council last week, “Now is the time to address factors which contributed to Ebola’s spread, in particular, weak social service delivery, lack of accountability and overly centralized government.”

Per the United Nations' News Centre:

She outlined the vulnerability of Liberia’s extractives-based, enclave economy to sharp drops in commodity prices and efforts to strengthen the economy, as well as steps to push through a security transition and measures to combat corruption.

[...]

She also pointed to “long-standing societal divisions” that were as yet not healed after years of conflict and which threatened to deepen during the Ebola outbreak, noting the Secretary-General’s call for justice and addressing of past violations to secure a stable future, and stating that “national dialogue about social exclusion, and about the crimes of the past, remains muted at best.”

As The Times reported Monday, Liberia will have to deepen and sustain the health practices adopted during the outbreak, as well as act on fixing many of the systemic problems with health care delivery. In an email to The New York Times, Liberia's health minister, Dr. Bernice Dahn, wrote, “We are being extremely cautious... Ebola highlighted our health system’s weaknesses."

Be glad! Look, we don't often get a chance to say this, but in the case of the West African Ebola outbreak, the good guys are winning, and lots of people who might have otherwise perished are alive today. So don't forsake the opportunity to just be happy about this. With calls for sustained "vigilance" emanating from Liberia's president and the World Health Organization, hopefully this will be some good news that persists a long while.

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