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Jason Linkins   |   October 9, 2015   12:03 PM ET

As you may have heard, Washington has, over the past 36 hours, descended into full-scale disarray after Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) announced he was pulling out of the race to become the next speaker of the House. It's been quite a time: There has been a lot of weeping, a lot of begging, and some people are apparently running with ideas for potential House speaker candidates that we originally wrote up as jokes. It's all pretty "blood-dimmed tide" around here, to be honest.

It's worth remembering there is a lot at stake, and not just for the GOP's House caucus: Current Speaker John Boehner cannot retire until his successor is chosen, and in the meantime, the country is still hurtling toward an important debt limit deadline. This morning, Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) urged Boehner to resolve this problem now, in this hour of chaos, perhaps understanding that the window to do so is closing more rapidly than anyone believed last week.

But you know who doesn't think any of this matters? New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, that's who! Right now, the presidential hopeful is telling anyone willing to listen (so, not a lot of people) that he just don't currrrrr, dude, that's some Washington dramz, whatever.

As Heather Haddon reported for The Wall Street Journal, while Capitol Hill was convulsing over McCarthy's decision, Christie was at a town hall in New Hampshire, bragging about how he was totally tuning all of it out:

Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie said he didn’t care who became the new House speaker in the wake of the sudden exit of House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy from the race for the top GOP slot.

Repeatedly sounding a populist tone in a three-day swing here in New Hampshire, the New Jersey governor said that only political insiders follow “who’s going to get the title, who gets to sit in the special big chair, who is going to get the great table at the restaurant in Washington.”

“I quite frankly don’t care who it is because the American people don’t care,” Mr. Christie told reporters after a campaign stop in New Hampshire Thursday afternoon.

Yes, apparently, Christie believes that what's at stake here is basically restaurant seating.

Just to pointedly demonstrate the extent to which he's totally over the House speaker story, Christie made sure he repeated himself on CNN, telling Jake Tapper that the "fracturing" of his party in Washington didn't matter to him at all

"This is 'Game of Thrones' time," he said. "This is an inside Washington, D.C., game that -- I have to tell you the truth, Jake -- nobody in America could care less about. They don't care who the speaker is."

"What they care about is a Congress that will actually do something," Christie added, because he hasn't yet figured out that in order for the House of Representatives to "do" things, it needs a speaker of that House. Speakers of the House actually tend to be pretty essential to passing legislation, and, as I alluded to above, have recently become rather critical in the whole "staving off a debt-ceiling default crisis because your caucus members are lycanthropes" situation that now crops up with great regularity.

This is the sort of thing you'd think a man running for president of the United States might nominally care about, because one assumes that a presidential candidate would prefer to preside over something that's not the charred remains of a global economy.

But, that's the thing. Christie is currently polling at a wee 3 percent -- uncomfortably close to being left out of the next televised debate. And if you recall anything about Christie's performance in the last televised debate, you probably remember this moment:

CHRISTIE: Jake, listen. While I'm as entertained as anyone by this personal back-and-forth about the history of Donald [Trump] and Carly [Fiorina]'s career, for the 55-year-old construction worker out in that audience tonight who doesn't have a job, who can't fund his child's education, I've got to tell you the truth. They could care less about your careers, they care about theirs.


Let's start talking about that on this stage and stop playing -- and stop playing the games. Stop playing --

KASICH: There's a --

CHRISTIE: John -- I'm not done yet, John.

FIORINA: A track record of leadership is not a game. It is the issue in this election.

CHRISTIE: Stop -- and stop playing -- and Carly -- Carly, listen. You can interrupt everybody else on this stage, you're not going to interrupt me, OK? The fact is that we don't want to hear about your careers, back and forth and volleying back and forth about who did well and who did poorly. You're both successful people. Congratulations.

See what happened? Christie, after several moribund months of campaigning, suddenly had a moment. People applauded! Pundits took notice! And Christie, evidently, decided this would be his new schtick. Like a archly caustic manifestation of the fallacy of relative privation, he'd be the guy who bravely tells people that nobody cares about what they were talking about, man.

In essence, Christie, having ceded his role as the "tell you like it is" truth-speaker to Donald Trump's vaudeville parody of the same, is now the campaign's George Costanza, discovering the "Jerk Store" joke for the first time. All he needed was a constant supply of ready set-ups to deliver his "nobody cares" punchline, and this week, in the House GOP's hurly-burly, he found his plate of shrimp. 

How long can Christie persist as a catchphrase candidate? Well, American elections are fairly fundamentally ridiculous, so... pretty far, actually! But let's face it: The way Christie can just casually dismiss a critical part of how the federal government functions as something he doesn't care about is a pretty good indicator of how much he'll have to care about governing in the future. 

Jason Linkins   |   October 8, 2015    4:38 PM ET

So, that happened. This week, we bombed some folks at a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan. Will anyone be held accountable? 

Meanwhile, Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) joins us to make the case for a congressional committee to address gun violence.

And government officials have suddenly become interested in big-money fantasy sports organizations. Should DraftKings be worried?

"So That Happened" hosts Jason Linkins and Arthur Delaney are joined this week by Huffington Post reporters Ryan Grim, Jessica Schulberg and Travis Waldron.

This podcast was produced, edited and engineered by Adriana Usero and Peter James Callahan, with assistance from Christine Conetta.

To listen to this podcast later, download our show on iTunes. While you're there, please subscribe, rate and review our show. You can check out other HuffPost podcasts here.

Have a story you'd like to hear discussed on "So, That Happened"? Email us at your convenience:

Jason Linkins   |   October 8, 2015    1:22 PM ET

For a long time, I've been pointing out that the rumors of a "firewall" between the activities of political candidates and the activities of the dark money nonprofits that support those candidates have been somewhat exaggerated, much like the rumors of flying reindeer or sasquatches. Clearly, campaigns and these semi-secretive organizations do the one big thing they are not ever supposed to do, according to what we'll very loosely call "campaign finance law": coordinate with one another.

In fact, the inefficacy of any oversight agency to prevent -- and unwillingness to even notice -- abuse and corruption is the buried lead of almost every story about dark money, except for the ones I write because I put it in a rather pointed second paragraph to draw attention to it.

Many other news organizations, of course, stare with some degree of naive, starry-eyed wonder on these new arrangements. The latest is The Associated Press, which on Thursday reported on presidential aspirant and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and the way he is "benefiting in unprecedented ways" from an arrangement with a "nonprofit group funded by anonymous donors" called the Conservative Solutions Project.

It's really a neat relationship in which Rubio and this organization find themselves. Very symbiotic, indeed. According to the AP, the organization is responsible for every "pro-Rubio television commercial so far in the early primary states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina," as well as a Rubio-centric direct-mail campaign in those states. It goes on to note that the nonprofit, which by law is "barred from making political activity their primary purpose," has nevertheless -- and surely, purely by coincidence -- ended up repeatedly coming through in the clutch for Marco Rubio:

Rubio is legally prohibited from directing the group's spending, and he has said he has nothing to do with it. But there's little doubt that Conservative Solutions Project is picking up the tab for critical expenses that the campaign itself might struggle to afford.

And the coincidences hardly end there. In fact, here is the most hilarious one:

Although [the Conservative Solutions Project] shares a name and key personnel with the Rubio-focused super PAC, Conservative Solutions PAC, its mutual spokesman, Jeff Sadosky, said the two are "very separate and distinct groups."

Oh, sure. These two groups? My, my, they couldn't be more different! Take it from the guy who serves as the spokesman for both groups, because he'd obviously know better than anybody!

Back in April, in the course of reporting on the way former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's presidential campaign was planning on handing the bulk of its "central functions" to its Right To Rise super PAC, the AP described this arrangement as one that gave a "makeover" to the "traditional campaign," while expressing a general wonderment about it, because of course campaigns can't coordinate with these organizations, so wow ... how is this supposed to work?

The media tends to depict this new wilderness of unaccountable money funding unaccountable campaign activity as one in which the candidates are innovating, or taking bold chances, in the face of the non-coordination restrictions, as if these restrictions were an actual thing that mattered to anyone. It's taking them awhile to catch up to the reality that they don't matter, and the only "innovation" is the candidates' simple acknowledgement that there's no agency capable of holding them accountable for violating these laws, and so there are no consequences for flouting them. 

What follows from there should be no surprise to anyone. If it seems like it's going to be hard for a candidate's super PAC to perform the activities they are performing without coordinating with the campaign, the obvious answer is that this coordination is happening.

The AP eventually gets around to winkingly acknowledging there are an awful lot of coincidental similarities between the aims of these Rubio-focused organizations and the interests of the Rubio campaign. But no amount of shade-throwing will make up for the fact that the sentence that describes "the Federal Election Commission and the Internal Revenue Service" as being "less than aggressive in pursuing potential violators" of campaign finance law comes 12 paragraphs below the sentence where the reporter just takes Rubio's word for it when he says "he has nothing to do with" the nonprofit that has his back in the early primary states. This corrupt system depends on that sort of timidity to function the way it does.

So, hey, just to remind you: Your 2016 candidates disregard the law and coordinate with these campaign finance organizations all the time, despite what they tell you. And Marco Rubio is no different.

Jason Linkins   |   October 7, 2015    3:57 PM ET

As Scott Wong of The Hill reported Wednesday, House Speaker John Boehner experienced a fitful night's sleep last week, during which time the Ohio Republican had a nightmare about a "hand" that "came reaching, pulling," and, ultimately preventing his dream-self from making a needed escape. "I was trying to get out and I couldn't get out," Boehner related.

A bad dream, eh? Ah, well, probably just one of those examples of sleep knitting up our raveled sleeve of care by subconsciously processing roughly remembered anxieties in order to purge them. Nothing to worry about. Unless, of course, it was a harrowing and prophetic vision of an inescapable future!

 And, as Wong reports, maybe it is: "Boehner’s nightmare could become reality if House Republicans fail to rally around their nominee for Speaker in a floor vote set for Oct. 29."

My, oh my. It seems like it was only a few weeks ago that Boehner, still feeling buoyant from Pope Francis' visit to Congress, made the decision that his moment had come: Time to retire and pass the responsibility for supervising the House Republicans' frequently fractious caucus into another member's hands.

That meant that whatever the future held for the GOP in the House, it was going to happen without him. Or, maybe a better way of putting it -- given some of his colleagues' propensity for imagining the speakership as a position with vastly more power than it actually has -- is that from Boehner's perspective, whatever the future held, it was going to be somebody else's problem.

Indeed, anything for John Boehner -- anything! -- would be better than the agony of remaining speaker of the House -- a creeping pain that gnaws and fumbles and caresses one and never hurts quite enough. But if the members of his own caucus can't manage to gather on the floor of the House for one day with their act together and their dignity intact, Boehner may be in trouble. (I only bring this up because John Boehner's fondest wish for many years was for just one day in which his colleagues might gather on the floor of the House with their act together and their dignity intact.)

Here's what's going on. On Thursday, Oct. 29, the House GOP caucus will meet informally in a closed-door session and vote as a group on a new speaker. Boehner's more or less hand-picked successor, current House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is expected to win this vote. However, once these ceremonies conclude, the action shifts to a formal vote on the House floor, and at that point, a specific hurdle has to be cleared to make McCarthy's promotion official -- he's got to win 218 votes.

Now, whether this outcome is likely depends on whose version of the speculative future you're reading. Over at Politico, Wednesday morning, you'll find that McCarthy is "in command." That is to say, he's "still a bit shy of the 218 he needs on the House floor," but his "team is exceedingly optimistic he’ll gather the requisite support" by the time the votes are counted on the House floor. So, McCarthy is "relaxed" and feeling "very good" about everything. Per Politico:

In a brief interview with POLITICO on Tuesday, McCarthy said he felt “very good” about his prospects heading into Thursday's vote. Asked as he exited the weekly Republican leadership meeting whether he’ll win the race on the first ballot — a near certainty — McCarthy asked a reporter, “What do you think?" and flashed a grin.

In an alternate accounting, however, McCarthy is reeling from telling Fox News that the Benghazi Committee was a success because it damaged former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's poll numbers, earning a rebuke from that committee's chairman, Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), and leaving enough blood in the water to keep Representative Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) in the contest for speaker.

And, as the Atlantic's Russell Berman reports, while Chaffetz does not have enough support to compete with McCarthy at the House GOP's informal vote, Chaffetz believes that the 30 or so members of the House's mysterious "House Freedom Committee" (a sort of semi-secret society in the House that apparently reckoned that naming themselves "The No Boehners Club" was a touch too juvenile) will collectively vote against McCarthy, prevent him from hitting the magic number, and transform an orderly handover of power into a prolonged debacle:

That scenario is precisely what frightens rank-and-file Republicans.

The House could become institutionally paralyzed until it found a candidate that a majority of its voting members supported as speaker. And if the Republican leader fell short on the first ballot, there’s no guarantee the party would quickly settle on someone else. “We’ve got to figure out how to get to 218 before we get to the floor. Because otherwise we could be literally doing this through the fall,” said Representative Tom Rooney, a McCarthy ally from Florida.

Yes, yes, but what becomes of the hero of this Sartrean melodrama? As Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) explained to Wong, “If you don’t put up 218, Boehner stays Speaker... his resignation doesn’t take effect until there’s a new Speaker."

More bad news for Boehner and McCarthy arrived Wednesday evening, with The Hill reporting that the aforementioned Freedom Caucus is endorsing Rep. Daniel Webster (R-Fla.) for the speaker position, "potentially depriving any candidate from securing enough votes on the floor this month." Reporter Cristina Marcos reports that the Freedom Caucus' membership is "planning to vote as a bloc" and "that will complicate McCarthy's math." 



How bad could that be, for Boehner? In 1923, it took nine rounds of voting to finally give Frederick Gillet the gavel, but these votes all took place over the course of three days, which would leave Boehner plenty of time to get home for Thanksgiving. As Berman notes, however, back "in the 19th century it took as long as two months for the House to agree on a leader." In a similar situation, that would mean Boehner is stuck as the House speaker through the next debt ceiling vote.

But again, let's underscore that this would just be a crazy and unlikely nightmare scenario, okay? The only thing that needs to happen for Boehner to start his retirement is for the House Republican caucus to arrive at a consensus position in a peaceable and timely manner. Which is ironic, because if Boehner's colleagues had done this specific thing with something approaching "regularity," the Ohio representative might not be trying to get the hell out of town right now.

Also on HuffPost:

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

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

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

Politico's Gabriel Debenedetti has the story:

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also, unions would benefit! Per the Free Beacon:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Also on HuffPost: 

Jason Linkins   |   September 24, 2015    4:56 PM ET

So, that happened. This week, Pope Francis came to Washington, seeking Congress' indulgence on a host of issues of great importance to the Holy See. Meanwhile, in the 2016 presidential race, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker called it quits after 70 days on the campaign trail. Finally, rock musician Ted Leo stopped by to offer insight into the often fractious relationship between rockers and politicians.

"So That Happened" hosts Jason Linkins and Arthur Delaney are joined this week by Huffington Post reporters Elise Foley, Kate Sheppard and Lauren Weber.


This podcast was produced, edited, and engineered by Adriana Usero and Peter James Callahan, with assistance from Christine Conetta.

To listen to this podcast later, download our show on iTunes. While you're there, please subscribe, rate and review our show. You can check out other HuffPost podcasts here.

Have a story you'd like to hear discussed on "So, That Happened"? Email us at your convenience:

Also on HuffPost:

Jason Linkins   |   September 24, 2015    3:15 PM ET

It's a story that gets retold in every election cycle: a political candidate -- and let's face it, it's almost always a Republican candidate -- plays a rock song at a campaign event, and before the rally is over the artist identified as the soundtrack provider is issuing statements of condemnation. This year, this fate has befallen Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee and Donald Trump. But all anyone wanted to do was rock out!

Is there any way to bridge this divide? On this week's "So That Happened," we're hoping to find out. We enlisted the help of musician and songwriter Ted Leo, who understands where many rock musicians are coming from and also understands the soul of a rock enthusiast well enough to have some forbearance for those politicos (like Rand Paul and Chris Christie) who can't give up their sincere rock fandom. (The segment with Leo starts at 15:16 in the clip below.)

Leo says that some obvious ideological divides play a role in the hostile reactions that the mainly conservative presidential candidates are evoking from the mainly liberal rock musicians on their campaign playlists. Indeed, the one example we could find of a musician asking a liberal politician to stop using their music was Sam and Dave's Sam Moore -- whose 2008 request to then-Senator Barack Obama was as polite as pie. But there is a deeper level to the musicians' desires, akin to not wanting to see their music in commercials, Leo notes. "In the same vein," he says, "you don't want this piece of your soul, this piece of your art that you've created, to become permanently attached to something in a kind of soundbite-y or soundtracked way."

"I've been asked to play rallies ... and I've done some, and not done others," Leo says, "There's always a little bit of conflict ... I cherish my ability to be a social critic through music, I don't necessarily want to be seen as cozying up too much to anybody in power."

Leo has gone a little out of his way to help one 2016er. Back in August, he and bandmate Aimee Mann teamed up with late night talk show host Conan O'Brien in an effort to get little-known Democratic presidential candidate Lincoln Chafee from 0% to 1% in the polls.

According to HuffPost Pollster, they are currently 40 percent of the way there.

This podcast was produced and edited by Adriana Usero and Peter James Callahan, engineered by Brad Shannon, with assistance from Christine Conetta.

To listen to this podcast later, download our show on iTunes. While you're there, please subscribe, rate and review our show. You can check out other HuffPost Podcasts here.

Have a story you'd like to hear discussed on "So, That Happened"? Email us at your convenience!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also on HuffPost:

Jason Linkins   |   September 18, 2015    1:08 PM ET

If you open the Bible and turn to the Book of Hebrews, you'll find this bit of good advice: "Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it." This line might have been in the minds of Liberty University's students and administrators when the very conservative, very Christian school in Lynchburg, Virginia, opened its doors to the very not-conservative, very not-Christian presidential aspirant Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

As it happens, that line is also the epigraph of Kevin Roose's 2010 book, The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University, which documents Roose's experiences as a temporary student at Jerry Falwell's famous college. On this week's "So That Happened," we turned to Roose for some insight into this meeting between Sanders and Liberty's evangelical student body, and why this collision of "strangers" wasn't really that strange. (The segment on Sanders' trip to Liberty starts at 28:00 in the clip below.)

As Samantha Lachman reported earlier this week, Sanders came to Liberty seeking to make a targeted appeal to the Christian enclave on alleviating income inequality. "When we talk about morality, and when we talk about justice," Sanders said, "we have to, in my view, understand that there is no justice when so few have so much, and so many have so little."

Roose urged us to remember that "places like Liberty are not monoliths," and that Sanders legitimately has common ground with the student body. "If you took [the income inequality] part of Bernie Sanders' message," Roose said, "and presented it to the students at Liberty as if from their own professors or their own pastors, it would be pretty uncontroversial."

And Roose was not surprised that Sanders received a respectful welcome: "In a lot of ways, Liberty students are more used to having their views tested than students at many schools."

Listen to the full interview with Kevin Roose by clicking the Soundcloud entry above.

This podcast was produced and edited by Adriana Usero and Peter James Callahan, engineered by Brad Shannon, with assistance from Christine Conetta.

To listen to this podcast later, download our show on iTunes. While you're there, please subscribe, rate and review our show. You can check out other HuffPost Podcasts here.

Have a story you'd like to hear discussed on "So, That Happened"? Email us at your convenience at

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

What a difference an election cycle makes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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