Chris Cillizza argues that Sen. Rand Paul’s Freebird routine on the Senate floor last night was not a slam dunk win for Republicans. (Lindsay Graham and John McCain, both apparently still Senators, agree.) Cillizza’s points are mostly valid, but also mostly incorrect.
Point 1: Obama is now the tough on terror guy.
The basic point is wrong; President Obama became the tough on terror guy when Seal Team 6 successfully carried out his order to put a bullet between Osama bin Laden’s eyes. But setting that aside, Cillizza suggests that opposing drone strikes could put Republicans in the same camp as anti-war liberals were about 10 years ago.
Democrats were perceived as weak on terror not just because they opposed the Bush wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, but because they didn’t speak out one way or another for several years. In 2003 everyone was a hawk except for Howard Dean; Hillary Clinton’s early support of the war was one issue that Barack Obama would use to pry away support during the 2008 primaries.
There’s another side to it, too: If you are going to oppose the policies of the War on Terror as a government official, you can hold press conferences, ask pointed questions at committee hearings, speak out at in-district town meetings, or engage in a host of other tactics that involve you talking. While a sitting President and his administration can talk about their policies while killing terrorists, a sitting Senator can basically just talk. So if talking is your only weapon, it has to be some pretty dramatic talking or you seem wimpy by default. A filibuster works because it is definitely not the same as pointed hearing questions or town meeting blather.
Finally, while Cillizza correctly notes that drone are popular, they are popular because they Americans out of harms way. There’s some space for moral high ground in saying those drones should not be aimed at Americans.
A definitive and unique stand like Paul’s is not a wishy-washy or knee-jerk opposition to the concept of war, but a strong and considered statement against a policy that infringes on civil liberties.
Point 2: Republicans are (still) afraid of the primary electorate.
After starting out on his own, Paul had some friends join him on the floor – including Republicans up for reelection in 2012 and a couple of 2016 Presidential contenders. Was this a matter of pandering to tea partiers?
It’s hard to call it pandering when most of the people who joined Paul – such as Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Mike Lee – were elected on the wave of conservative activism that has marked Republican primaries of the last three years. Primary voters have favored candidates who stood up for individual rights and limited government. Is it a big surprise that these people oppose a government killing its own citizens without a trial?
The continued fundamental misunderstanding of so-called “tea party conservatives” is amazing, especially from political press that ought to know better. Voters of any stripe want strong leaders – people who can stand up for strongly-held values without sounding crazy.
Point 3: It’s the economy, stupid.
First off, can we retire this now 21-year-old phrase?
Second, this quote makes this point a bit flawed:
And, in case you forgot, the [Republican] party still lacks a big-picture vision on the way forward regarding the country’s debt and spending issues that goes beyond simply saying: “No new taxes”.
That’s funny, because Paul Ryan’s 99-page Path to Prosperity isn’t just the words “no new taxes” written over and over like the manuscript in The Shining. Also, terms like “reducing spending” and “entitlement reform” have been bandied about by Republicans. Conversely, Democrat solutions seem to hinge on “new taxes.”
Point 4: DC process = not good.
That’s true – but a filibuster is hardly routine DC process. Voting against cloture is a process. Supporting a poison pill amendment is process. But some dude talking for 13 hours to kill time and eating a Kit Kat bar? It’s probably not the most interesting thing in the world, but it sure isn’t ordinary. Jimmy Stewart’s filibuster was the climax of Mr. Smith Goes To Washington (just as it was in Mel Gibson’s remake).
It was a public, and coherent, display of a small government school of conservatism that helped the Republicans take the House in 2010 and will be the bedrock of future success. It won’t win him the Presidential nomination in 2016, nor will it solve all the Republican party’s electoral problems of the 2012 cycle. But Paul’s rant might help the party start to find it’s voice again – which is a big and important step.
This is a great model for an independent expenditure ad. Instead of beating the viewer over the head with sinister music and wild claims, it’s creative and funny – and frames the election in a way the Rossi campaign couldn’t (and probably shouldn’t). Best of all, it praises Rossi while poking a bit of fun at him – making it much more credible to the undecided voter. With polls split down the middle in that race, Rossi could use any edge he can get.
An ad from the National Republican Senatorial Committee showed up in my GMail this week, asking me to take a survey. The survey was pretty basic – asking which issues I care about, and things like that. But with unofficial Campaign Kickoff Weekend just a week away, it’s a good idea.
The NRSC has been taking some flack this week, but this is a pretty good idea – and not just because surveys and petitions make it easier to capture my email address and information. Even better, it follows a good pattern – between this, America Speaking Out, and YouCut, there’s a consistent pattern of engagement with voters and activists. That outreach in the context of the NRSC survey will help them craft communication that speaks a bit more directly to me when they follow up.
If you’re an optimist, it’s about connecting with the voters; if you’re a cynic, it’s about refining strategy so match talking points with the things people actually care about. Either way, it’s a good strategy.
Rand Paul’s $250,000 money bomb is being treated like a dud for failing to meet the lofty $400,000 goal the campaign set for it. For a Kentucky Senate race, a cool quarter mil is far from chump change, but the dour coverage shows the value of managed expectations in setting benchmarks for online metrics.
Paul inherited from his father a reputation for both staunch libertarianism and savvy online organizing, which make his swings-and-misses at online fundraising and Facebook recruitment much more pronounced. But Paul isn’t the only one who falls into the trap of easy metrics: dollars raised online, Facebook “likes”, Twitter follower counts, and other obvious numbers are easy to understand, so issue and candidate campaigns alike will use them as benchmarks for impact.
Two problems stem from this. First, metrics which are easy to understand are not always easy to obtain. Second, having big numbers doesn’t always translate to big impact. Having 100,000 Facebook followers who don’t vote is just like having 100 Facebook followers who don’t vote. Further, there comes a time when a campaign must balance the effort of recruitment with the reality of mobilization.
In the particular case of the campaign’s recent online fundraising attempt, Rand’s supporters may be suffering from money bomb fatigue, since the campaign has used the tactic regularly. They might be feeling the pinch of a tough economy, and giving $25 where they would have given $50. But none of that would be in the discussion if, at the outset, the campaign had set a reasonable benchmark for dollars. There are plenty of completely legitimate explanations for why Paul raised “only” $250,000 – but what really requires explanation is the original expectation for $400,000.
It isn’t going out on a limb to say that Len Britton likely won’t beat Patrick Leahy to become the next U.S. Senator from Vermont. But he has used a couple of campaign videos to point out the problem of government overspending, and who foots the bill:
In another video, the creepy government guy hands Billy and his family a check for their share of the national debt. When Billy points out that it’s a lot of money, creepy government guy taunts, “Better get a paper route, Billy!”
The videos have received national attention, because they deliver a message in a creative, funny way. They’re also excellent examples of the right way to run an extremely uphill race.
I’m not very familiar with Britton’s campaign, so he could be an insane, foil hat-wearing Lyndon Larouche backer who thinks that the destruction of the Death Star was God’s revenge for the Empire’s tolerance of same-sex Jawa marriage. But based on this limited sample, Britton uses his underdog status to make his point in a way that would scare off many campaigns in the thick of a close race. If Britton were to drop this strategy to rant about the President’s birth certificate, Sarah Palin’s baby, or some other conspiracy theory for the deranged the damage to his personal credibility will be dwarfed by the damage he does to the Republican brand.
Britton may wind up underfunded, and his videos may be limited to their viral appeal, and it may not be enough to keep Leahy from wiping the floor with him come November. But this isn’t the last election in Vermont, so this video and the messages it carries can still set the table for victory – even if it isn’t until Billy’s old enough to vote.
In this commercial, Sen. Barbara Boxer is seeking reelection by fending off Sarah Palin – who not only isn’t running, but isn’t from California.
Meanwhile, Carly Fiorina is not only challenging Boxer, but Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. Countless Republicans will take to the campaign trail in the next few months railing against President Obama, countless Democrats will dredge up the ghost of George W. Bush.
It’s an accepted (and effective) campaign tactic, made especially famous in 1994 when Republicans used then-new technology to morph images of opponents into Bill Clinton. So why stop here? Why not run against Jimmy Carter? Richard Nixon? Maybe President Mitchell from Dave (the real one, not the one that was actually Dave)?
Picking the winners in most of today’s primary contests is easy, according to the polls. Much more interesting, though, is reading the tea leaves and trying to gauge what the results mean – specifically in Arkansas.
As mentioned after the Democrat primary was sent to a runoff weeks ago, Bill Halter’s challenge to Sen. Blanche Lincoln is not about her standing with Arkansas’s non-existent liberal base. It does reflect that many Arkansans feel disenchanted, and the word on the street is that this malaise will bring Halter to victory.
Lincoln has tried to fight back by painting Halter as the puppet of national left-wing interests, working through the most famous Arkansas politician in history:
Bill Clinton, a Lincoln supporter, has gotten in on the act as well, appearing at a Little Rock rally last week and now in a television commercial in which he decries the influence of national unions on the race. “This is about using you and manipulating your votes,” the former president says. “If you want to be Arkansas’ advocate, vote for somebody who will fight for you.”
Clinton then got on a plane and flew back to either New York or Washington D.C., the two places he has lived for the past 17 years since he was elected President and his wife was elected as a Senator from a state that is not Arkansas.
But despite the idea that Halter is “too liberal” for Arkansas, that could dramatically help Democrats’ chances of keeping this seat.
Halter isn’t campaigning to the left of Lincoln in state, but he does benefit from left-wing energy from out of state. Much like Scott Brown’s insurgent campaign, Halter’s website allows anyone to chip in with GOTV phone calls. Donations are still pouring in, too. That won’t subside in the coming months, as liberal activists sense the chance to basically turn a seat from a squishy vote to a solid vote on their key issues. If Halter can continue to enjoy the fruits of national energy without alienating Arkansas voters, he will be a much more formidable candidate than Lincoln – who, despite the advantage of incumbency, would not have enjoyed those benefits.
The most apt critic of Richard Blumenthal’s lie – and why his lie, though not as bad as Mark Souder’s, makes him less fit for office – might be someone who can appreciate what it means to be a Marine reservist. Thus, look no farther than author, fellow UMass alum, and native New Englander Dan Flynn:
So distasteful is the idea of somebody mistaking my military service with war-fighting service that, until a fellow Marine jokingly wondered if I were embarrassed of my eight years in the Marine Reserves, I kept my Marine service out of my official bio. Since the bio is generally used for introductory purposes at campus speeches, I worried that a student MC might jump to the conclusion that my service in the Marines necessarily meant service in Iraq and Afghanistan–or Montezuma and Tripoli for that matter. If such people are capable of occasionally prefixing the word “author” with “bestselling” without any real justification, then certainly the idea of dressing up my service with undeserved honors isn’t beyond them… I’m so proud of my service that I finally included it in my bio. And Richard Blumenthal, who, like me, served as a Marine Reservist, should be proud too. But obviously, he’s not proud enough of his service, which helps explain why he weaved a weird tale about fighting in Vietnam.
That John McCain, two years after being his party’s standard-bearer, is fighting for his political life in a primary against talk show host J.D. Hayworth is telling of how urgently many GOP activists want a cathartic cleansing of Republicans of recent vintage. However, an online video released by the McCain camp makes an argument that the conservative movement needs effective messengers as much as effective messages.
The message is subtle even if the delivery is not: the GOP has a message problem that goes beyond government policy, and the elevation of a voice like Hayworth’s would add to the stereotype. One would assume that McCain’s campaign has internal poling numbers which show this is a strong field for them to play on, and that Republican primary voters are vulnerable to fears that Hayworth will be perceived as a joke.
The McCain folks are certainly careful to tread cautiously to avoid offending activists – they use extreme-sounding quotes from Hayworth, but on selective issues. For instance, the video doesn’t take a stand on gay marriage, but it does quote Hayworth’s hyperbolic comparison of gay marriage to bestiality. This is followed by Hayworth overreacting to an off-hand comment from a political opponent who promised to metaphorically drive a stake through Hayworth’s heart – echoing the over-the-top rhetoric of some Democrats after the recent health care debate.
With this video, McCain tries to tell conservatives that Hayworth is simply not strong enough to carry their flag. It’s a pretty sophisticated message – and a good one for McCain to deliver, given his at-times-contentious relationship with conservative activists. And the video is funny, which always helps.
McCain does make one mistake in the presentation of his case that’s worth a chuckle or two. A quick glance of the official John McCain YouTube channel offers potential for misunderstanding; the thumbnail for the video happens to be the screen frame reading “Expose Obama’s Secret Kenyan Birthplace” – and it looks more like a campaign promise than a joke.