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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ray gun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rand Paul's Secret Weapon: Hillary Clinton.

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

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

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

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

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


So what is the 2016 election about this week?

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

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

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

elizabeth warren

Getting Drafty In Here

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

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

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

Per Newell:

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

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

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

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

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

hillary clinton

The Week In Predictions

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

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

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

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

All The Advice That's Fit To Aggregate

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

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

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

We'll Leave You With This, Whatever This Is

Via Bloomberg's Ben Brody:

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

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

A Rare Success For No Labels Actually Makes Washington Dysfunction Worse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bobby Jindal At Odds With RNC Over 2016 Debate Plans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

mitt romney bye bye

Mitt's Out And Everyone's A Winner!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


So what is the 2016 election about this week?

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

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

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

hillary clinton what time

What Time Is Hillary: An Update

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

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

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

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

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

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

rand paul predictions

The Week In Predictions

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

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

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

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

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

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

All The Advice That's Fit To Aggregate

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

We'll Leave You With This, Whatever This Is

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

hillary clinton what time

Hillary Clinton: Any Minute Now ... Or Then

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One option being considered would be to announce an exploratory committee earlier -- perhaps in April, at the beginning of a new fundraising quarter, in the time frame when insiders originally expected her to launch her campaign.

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

Time, flat circle, et cetera.

rand paul ted cruz

So what is the 2016 election about this week?

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

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

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

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


The week in "hints at."

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

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

mitt romney blorp

Hello, Goodbye: Mitt Romney

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

Jan. 26:

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

Jan. 27:

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

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

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

Jan. 28:

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

Jan. 29:

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

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

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

Jan. 30:

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

A few hours later...

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

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

marco rubio

The Week In Predictions

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

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

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

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

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

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

All The Advice That's Fit To Aggregate

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

We'll Leave You With This, Whatever This Is

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

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

Mitt Romney Drops Out, But He Got Us Good

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now, on to the next chapter!

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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This Day In Anonymous Sourcery: Area Source Concerned Elizabeth Warren Might Get Mad

Jason Linkins   |   January 26, 2015    3:15 PM ET

It's a bit early into 2015, but I think we already have a strong contender for Anonymous Source Of The Year. Our promising entrant appears near the top of this Antonio Weiss vs. Elizabeth Warren battle royale saga by Politico's Ben White. Titled "Behind Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s Treasury takedown," White's piece dives into the fight over Weiss' nomination as Treasury undersecretary of domestic finance, and describes how the White House was badly caught off guard by Warren's ability to rally the offense and ultimately scuttle Weiss' appointment.

But before we get too deep into that, our anonymous source brings some early-act comedy:

“In this case, the thing Warren was against -- adding another Wall Street anti-regulatory guy -- wasn’t even remotely true,” said one senior Wall Street Democrat who has worked in government but, like many interviewed for this article, declined to be identified by name to avoid Warren’s wrath. “There is no one in government right now who has any market or finance experience. It’s not like there are ‘too many.’"

Sweet Yeezus. More like "declined to be identified to avoid having their name associated with a statement that's howlingly ludicrous."

Look, I can understand if someone has passed through the revolving door a bunch of times and now holds the view that there is insufficient market or finance experience within the federal government's financial bureaucracy. But to say "there is no one in government right now who has any market or finance experience" is, to use the academic term, bonkers sauce. You don't need to look further than the guy who runs the Treasury, Jack Lew, who was formerly the chief operating officer of CitiGroup's Alternative Investment prop-trading unit, where he had something of a storied history.

Let's do look further, though! Your Federal Reserve governing board has several members who, I'm guessing, would love to throttle Mr. or Ms. Anonymous Source for the above quote -- most notably Federal Reserve Governors Jerome Powell (Carlyle Group), Stanley Fischer (CitiGroup) and Lael Brainard (McKinsey).

Throughout the regulatory landscape you'll find a slew of top officials who very well might take umbrage at Anonymous McSourcy's version of events. Many of these people are former law partners whose clients were definitely under the impression that they knew their way around markets and investments. Like, say, SEC Commissioner Luis Aguilar (partner at McKenna Long & Aldridge), CFTC Chairman Timothy Massad (partner at Cravath, Swaine & Moore) and CFTC Commissioner Sharon Y. Bowen (partner at Latham & Watkins). The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency has its own murderers' row of leaders who can make the same boast.

Heck, in CFTC Commissioner J. Christopher Giancarlo, we find a guy who successfully managed to get the private sector windfall for which Weiss was angling. As Bloomberg News' Robert Schmidt reported last week:

In moving from the private sector to government, the newest Republican member of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission has acquired potential conflicts that ethics lawyers say could force him to stay away from matters involving major companies regulated by the agency.

J. Christopher Giancarlo joined the CFTC in June after working at a derivatives brokerage and serving as chairman of an industry lobbying group. Six weeks later CME (CME) Group Inc., the world’s largest futures exchange, made an offer to buy Giancarlo’s former employer. In short order, his old firm’s stock price surged, adding an extra windfall to Giancarlo’s multimillion dollar severance as he divested his holdings.

Giancarlo’s conflicts are emblematic of the CFTC’s shift from a sleepy overseer of agricultural contracts to a desirable place for Wall Street executives to try to influence regulation and burnish their resumes. The change can also be seen in high-paying jobs given to departing officials. Shortly after Giancarlo arrived, another commissioner, Scott O’Malia, left for a seven-figure position heading a derivatives trade association.

The CFTC “is like a stock and its value has gone through the roof,” said Jeff Connaughton, an ex-lobbyist who wrote an expose on the financial industry’s power in Washington. “The revolving door, therefore, is a brighter shade of green.”

Someone better tell this anonymous source that "Bloomberg News" is this whole news agency that, like, people can read for free and find out what's going on, and whatnot.

At any rate, I'm guessing it wouldn't be "wrath" that this anonymous person would earn from Elizabeth Warren, but rather "pity." The poor dear's certainly earned mine.

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The 10 Best Months For Presidential Election Poll Accuracy, Ranked

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

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

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

10. March 2016

9. April 2016

8. June 2016

7. May 2016

6. July 2016

5. August 2016

4. September 2016

3. October 2016

2. November 2016

1. December 2016

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

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

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

wlezian and erikson

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

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

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

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

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

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RNC Announces New, Vastly Less Insane Primary Debate Schedule

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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IRS Budget Cuts Plus Tribal Politics Will Make Tax Season A Customer Service Hellscape

Jason Linkins   |   January 15, 2015    2:47 PM ET

As the Washington Post's Lori Montgomery reports, the Internal Revenue Service typically "handles nearly 160 million tax returns each year and more than 100 million phone calls, interacting with more members of the public than any other federal agency." Is there a chance that you might be among those who could find yourself in need of guidance come tax time this year? Because the news, it is not good.

Not that anyone particularly thrills to the prospect of calling up the IRS for assistance, but the agency has, in the not-too-distant past, enjoyed a peak period of decent customer service. As Montgomery notes, as recently as 2004, the IRS was handling "87 percent of calls and taxpayers had to wait on hold only about 2 and a half minutes." By 2009, this had slipped, but not to an unreasonable margin: "In the teeth of the financial crisis ... the IRS was still answering 70 percent of its calls after average wait times of about 9 minutes," reports Montgomery.

Sadly, as the Post warns, this year will be a grim new low for the IRS:

Taxpayers will face the worst levels of service in more than a decade from the Internal Revenue Service this filing season, with as few as 43 percent of callers getting through to an agent and then only after waits of 30 minutes or more, according to a report released Wednesday.


In addition to being unable to answer the phone, the IRS will be unable to provide answers to anything but “basic” tax-law questions. After the filing season, it will answer no tax-law questions at all. And the agency has halted its longstanding practice of preparing returns for elderly, disabled and low-income taxpayers.

That's the takeaway from a report from National Taxpayer Advocate Nina E. Olson, presented to Congress. In that report Olson describes the IRS as an agency that's been slowly "crippled by five years of budget cuts," leading to this looming, Comcastian customer service nightmare. Especially harmful was the infamous sequestration, wrought by the misguided Budget Control Act of 2011, which dinged the IRS' budget to the tune of $597 million and led to this gradual degradation in services. President Barack Obama's 2014 budget sought to repair much of this damage by "proposing an increase of $1.2 billion compared to 2014 and returning the agency to roughly its 2010 funding level in nominal (non-inflation-adjusted) terms." But what we ended up with, as a result of the recent Cromnibus monster, was an additional $350 million cut to the agency's budget.

As further noted by Montgomery, one effect of these cuts, beyond the customer service impediments, is a sort of mini revenue death spiral, as degrading the IRS' ability to enforce the law could result in "the government losing $2 billion in taxes that would otherwise have been collected."

It will probably come as no surprise that all of this is destined to become, as the Wall Street Journal's John D. McKinnon reports, "a political battleground, with Democrats blaming the problems on GOP budget cuts, and Republicans pointing to confusion about President Barack Obama’s health-care overhaul." Though, deeper in the piece, we learn that some GOP members of Congress are of two minds on the matter. Apparently, while some believe the agency can and should deliver service successfully by being more cost-effective and innovative, others are just glad to see taxpayers squeezed in this way, purely out of spite:

Republicans contend the IRS can make better use of its funds due to improved technology, but some believe the agency deserves to be squeezed because of its alleged targeting of tea-party groups for scrutiny as they sought tax-exempt status.

Right, let's not forget the long-running psychodrama that is the IRS/Tea Party scandal, and how that plays in the amygdalae of some lawmakers, who -- having not yet managed to pin that scandal on the White House to their satisfaction -- shall now burden taxpayers with the consequences. It seems an odd choice to make, given that so many of those taxpayers voted to ensure a GOP majority. But, (to borrow from Jonathan Chait) as Nelson Muntz might say, "Gotta nuke something!"

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Mitt Romney Will Have His Revenge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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