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GOP Candidates Confounded by Questions from Press

04/16/2015 09:11 am ET | Updated Jun 16, 2015

Typically, at least in the last decade or so, Republicans have avoided the press. They've remained aloof and distant from what they commonly refer to as the "Liberal Media" or what Sarah Palin and her ilk likes to call, "The Lame Stream Media" in that signature catty mean girl way of hers. They've tended to opt for a friendlier FOX that barely qualifies as "The Press" in any real sense, lobbing soft ball questions, coaching answers, and never asking follow-up questions.

Recently however, GOP presidential contenders have started to wander out of their self-congratulatory echo chamber to brave the supposed adversarial reporters they see as the enemy. It's an enemy armed with substantive questions and who expect, of all things, answers to those questions -- a scenario most of the GOP are not only ill prepared and ill-equipped for, but seem almost shocked that they weren't asked onto the show to bloviate and expound on their latest talking point.

It gets a little dangerous for the candidate and a little comical for the rest of us when the media actually questions the rhetoric and vitriol spouted to the otherwise ignorant and uninformed. It's easy to claim that Obamacare is a job killer, that you're for the middleclass, that there's a war on Christians, that gays have declared Jihad, or that we need to take our country back when the person sitting across from you is nodding their head in agreement, spewing the same lies and BS day in and day out. It's an entirely different scenario when an actual journalist presents you with facts and statistics proving you wrong.

We were treated to one hell of a show when Mitt Romney ran against President Obama in 2012 and the entire campaign and FOX echo chamber sulked in disbelief when Romney was crushed. There was no preparation for that outcome. Romney was so sure that he would win he hadn't even prepared a concession speech. Carl Rove was apoplectic on the night of the election and remained that way for days having to be reminded, several times, by Megyn Kelly that Obama won.

That's not the first time Megyn Kelly seemingly went against the FOX grain, nor the last. Shortly after Ted Cruz announced his plans to run for president before a literally captive audience (attendance was mandatory) he appeared on Kelly's show. At first she eased in, addressing the comparison by critics that he and President Barack Obama had both served just one term in the Senate before announcing their presidential run. "We already tried a first-term Senator," Fox News contributor Charles Krauthammer said earlier the same week, suggesting that Cruz is inexperienced. The following night, Cruz argued that there are several differences between him and Obama, calling Obama a "backbencher" in the Senate while he, Cruz, has been a leader. "Yes, you've led the fight on certain issues," Kelly said, "but what have you actually accomplished?" Cruz, who is now incidentally and hypocritically covered by Obamacare, responded that his accomplishments are "stopping bad things from happening," calling out his efforts to stop Obamacare, lower debt and protect the Second Amendment.

The Washington Post aptly pointed out the hypocrisy:

But this isn't a case of following the law or not. The law does not require Cruz to get health insurance on the exchanges. Instead of going through the exchanges, he could have paid the tax penalty for not having insurance, "likely cheaper than buying an insurance plan," but at the cost of being uninsured. Or his wife could have applied to COBRA and extended her benefits from Goldman Sachs for up to 18 months, though she would have to pay all of the premium. Or he could bypass the exchanges and buy insurance directly from a private insurer. Sure, he'd have to spend time navigating the market himself, but I'm sure the Princeton graduate can figure it out.

Earlier this month Cruz showed up on CNBC with John Harwood and was called out for several statements he made that were factually incorrect.

Harwood, during the one-on-one with Cruz brought up one comment in particular that Cruz made during a speech in March about taking the "110,000 agents at the IRS" and putting them on the southern border.

"They've only got 25,000 agents or something," Harwood said. "You've talked about the job-killing nature of Obamacare. We're adding jobs at a very healthy clip right now. Why shouldn't somebody listen to you and say, 'The guy'll just say anything -- doesn't have to be true'?"

True to form, Cruz then lashed out at the media, because that's another good idea, saying, "There is a game that is played by left-wing editorial writers. It's this new species of yellow journalism called politi-fact. That particular stat is in a joke I used. So, they're literally fact-checking a joke. I say that explicitly tongue in cheek."

Cruz defended himself, saying he was just making a joke. A joke that no on laughed at and no one got. Is that where we are now? Where politicians running for the highest office can excuse their gross misrepresentations by claiming that they were, "just kidding?"

As Mediate puts it:

Point 1: Cruz clearly made a joke, and it was "explicitly tongue in cheek."

Point 2: The joke, however, was about an over-the-top thing Cruz wanted to do with the IRS.

Point 2(a): The number of IRS agents was not implicated in the joke-making, and thus seemed like a plausible number of agents that could exist.

Point 3: Even if he defined "agents" as "all employees of the IRS," the number is still off: The IRS had roughly 90,000 employees as of 2013, and is actually facing a staffing shortage.

Point 4: Cruz could have made the joke without sacrificing accuracy -- 25,000 agents is still a lot of agents, enough to make a joke argument that one should abolish the IRS. But 110,000 agents is on a completely different magnitude than 25,000; and while it's not OMG FALSEHOOD level of bad, it's a worrisome tendency towards embellishment.

Alternative Point 4: Cruz needs new joke writers?

Alternative Point 4(a): This is getting pedantic.

Rand Paul has also shown his adversity to being questioned, going beyond righteous indignation to on-air tantrums. During a Today Show interview Savannah Guthrie asked Paul, "You've had views in the past on foreign policy that are somewhat unorthodox, but you seem to have changed over the years. You once said Iran was not a threat, but now you say it is. You once proposed ending foreign aid to Israel. You now support it, at least for the time being, and you once offered to drastically cut defense spending and now you want to increase it sixteen percent, so I just wonder if you've mellowed out?"

Why don't you let me explain instead of talking over me, ok? Before we go through a litany of things you say I've changed on, why don't you ask me a question. Have I changed my opinion on? That would be sort of a better way to approach an interview. No, no, no, no, no. You've editorialized. Let me answer a question. You ask a question and say have your views changed, instead of editorializing and saying my views have changed.

Guthrie then pointed out specific examples of Paul changing positions and flip-flopping in every direction on every issue because he is trying to make himself an acceptable candidate to Republican primary voters. Guthrie asked Paul, during the friendliest morning show, if his positions had changed. She was giving him a chance to explain away inconsistencies, not brow beating him.

Paul, rather than take the opportunity to clarify his position and explain to prospective voters where he stands, instead demonstrated his inability to answer simple questions. He chose to lecture Guthrie, a former White House correspondent and accomplished journalist, in an obviously sexist way, begging the question if he would have addressed a male reporter in the same way.

Marco Rubio is next on the chopping block, having announced his bid earlier this week. If he decides to venture out into the world of Cruz's mythical "yellow journalism" he may be asked about his past scandals like double-billing flights or misuse of party credit cards; or why he flip-flopped on immigration reform; how he used to believe in climate change and God forbid, science. Maybe he'll be asked why he thinks his ideas to defeat ISIS differ from Obama's sound exactly like them. The one that may be of most interest though, is that Rubio is not the son of Cuban exiles as his Senate bio claims:

Up until last year, Marco Rubio described his parents as exiles from Fidel Castro's communist regime in Cuba: "In 1971, Marco was born in Miami to Cuban-born parents who came to America following Fidel Castro's takeover," his Senate biography stated. But it turns out his parents actually arrived in the US in 1956, before the revolution, and even made multiple trips back to the communist island. Rubio insisted he hadn't known his family's actual history, but polls showed most of his constituents thought he'd "embellished" his account.

Things get even messier: According to a Rubio biography due out in June by Washington Post reporter Manuel Roig-Franzia, Rubio's grandfather Pedro Victor Garcia was an illegal immigrant to the United States. Disillusioned by his financial prospects, Garcia reportedly left the United States for Cuba two weeks after Fidel Castro took power in 1959. He flew back to the States two years later without a visa...and was booked by a US immigration official, who stated: "[Y]ou do not appear to me to be clearly and beyond a doubt entitled to enter the United States." Garcia was ordered deported, but instead he hung out illegally in Miami, resurfacing in 1967 to petition for permanent residency. Even though Garcia had been in the US since 1962, "The form he filled out then states that he had been a Cuban refugee since February 1965," according to Roig-Franzia.

Maybe that was a joke? Written in jest, misinterpreted or taken out of context? We hear that a lot too. Even in this day of constant video, recordings, and 24-hour news, politicians seem to find a way to weasel out of what they actually said.

The level of false indignation, arrogance and accusatory tone many of these candidates seem to think they can take with the press is a bit surprising. The Press is there to hold politicians accountable for what they say. In many cases, particularly with those on the right, much of it is fabricated, exaggerated and misinterpreted. When they're called on it they lash out like petulant children caught in a lie. They throw tantrums, whine that they've been treated unfairly, and sulk. Hopefully reporters and journalist will continue to do what they do best and call politicians out in an effort to hold them accountable for what comes out of their mouths.

There's an old quote that's been attributed to different sources from Mark Twain to Civil War Generals that should give anyone dealing with the media pause. Particularly a dejected and disrespected media. While I do like the quotes that are often attributed to Mark Twain, this rendition by Donald Sensing is particularly appropriate:

Boston is a tough town. It was a Boston newspaper, names escapes me, during the Civil War that became the object of a vendetta by a Union general, who banned the paper's reporter from his division. So the paper simply responded by running only negative stories about the general and generally ruining his reputation. He is said later to have remorse, "Never argue with someone who buys ink by the barrel and paper by the ton."

The GOP have gotten used to a FOX softball press that offers them a national stage to say whatever they want with no push-back. If the little resistance to their BS we've seen in the last few weeks is any indication of what's to come, it should make for an entertaining campaign season.