The Jeb we need to see tonight

Governor Jeb Bush, your country needs you.

When you take the debate stage tonight, you will be in a different position than you likely imagined a year ago. You haven’t come close to victory in either of the first primary states, and your poll performance has lagged for months. Some are calling for you to leave the race. But there is work to be done, and no other candidate seems willing to do it. The mantle of service falls to your shoulders.

Donald Trump needs to go.

You know this, which is probably why this commercial exists. Commercials alone won’t do it, though.

Here’s the real problem: righteous indignation is the most effective emotion a politician can evoke when seeking support. Voters are angry, and they want candidates who are share a controlled version of that anger. Trump’s messages have resonated because of that fact. But there’s another maxim of politics: Don’t get mad except on purpose.

The public doesn’t need to see Trump angry, they need to see him lose his temper and behave like the manchild he is.

Let’s be honest here, Governor Bush: You are probably a long shot for the nomination. Also, you come off like a high school student council nerd frustrated that the class clown got enough people to write him in that he can blow up your weekly meetings. Those two points make you the perfect person to execute this plan.

Step 1: Debate prep

Don’t shave. You need to go into this debate with a healthy fice o’clock shadow. Skip the tie and consider jeans. And – this is important – get a little buzzed but not too drunk. You will need to deliver a coherent message, and slurred speech won’t help. But you will need to loosen up a bit.

Step 2: Show everyone the “New Jeb”

Saunter out on the stage like you own the place. Dole out high fives all around, maybe even to a few people in the front row. Give fist bumps to the moderators. Set the tone that you will be a different person tonight – laid back and at ease. Smirk the whole time.

Step 3: Call out the loser

Make frequent reference to Trump’s long list of business failures and bankruptcies. Trump’s defense so far has been to claim he “uses the system” to protect assets, and to use that as evidence that the system is broken. Call him out on being a glorified three-card-monty player and remind everyone that “using the system” still means you failed. Suggested line: “The only thing you were good at was hosting a reality show where you pretend to be a good businessman. And then your ratings started to suck so you ran for President.”

Step 4: Badger badger badger

This is where you really have to break character. Trump has upended the rules of the campaign, so you have to upend the rules of the debate. Consider interjecting during his answers (“Nope,” “That’s not true,” and or “Wow, that’s a whopper!”) to shake his focus. Laugh in his face. Call him a wimp, a loser, a failure, a carnival barker, and a giant orange baby. (Definitely call him a giant orange baby. Maybe make some cooing and goo-goo noises, too.) Even if it means crashing the debate.

Eventually, Trump will lose his cool and blow up. This would be a good time to have a baby’s pacifier on hand to offer to him as he is melting down. Props are usually a bad idea, but this would make for an excellent GIF.

Remember, Governor Bush, this is a kamikaze mission, so even if you pick up a negative image, it’s ok. But if you succeed, you might find there are a lot of conservatives who are happy you stood up to Trump in a way your father and brother never would have been able to. Maybe there’s redemption on the other side of this. Your current path is certainly a dead end.

Heck, even if you just utter the words “giant orange baby,” you’ll have my vote.

 

 

 

 

Cruz missed an opportunity with “porn star commercial”

Ted Cruz had pretty good, biting commercial knocking his GOP rivals in the week before the South Carolina primary. Then the Daily Caller noticed one of the actresses in the spot had done some films that were, uh, not exactly family friendly.

The Cruz crew have since pulled the ad off the airwaves and released a statement on how such a thing could have happened. A campaign spokesperson blamed a casting company for not properly vetting actress Amy Lindsay, and said the campaign wouldn’t have let her be in the commercial if it had known about her late-night Cinemax past.

What a mistake.

The ad in question is pretty good. It sets the framework for Cruz to draw contrasts with both Marco Rubio and Donald Trump as the “true” conservative in the race:

Pulling the ad represents a misstep for a Cruz campaign which has been smart and overperformed expectations so far. The error isn’t just in pulling a quality ad off the air, but in possibly missing out on a valuable surrogate or at least a nice message:

Prior to the Cruz campaign pulling the ad, Lindsay told BuzzFeed News in a phone interview on Thursday that she’s a Christian conservative and a Republican. While she emphasized that she did not do hardcore porn and that she also appeared in non-erotic films, Lindsay said she thinks it is “cool” that an actor who has appeared in softcore porn could also appear in Cruz’s ad.

“In a cool way, then hey, then it’s not just some old, white Christian bigot that people want to say, ‘It could be, maybe, a cool kind of open-minded woman like me,’” she said of people supporting Cruz.

Since the ad came down, Lindsay has said she is still deciding where to direct her vote, wavering between Cruz and Trump. That’s a shame.

Cruz’s core audience is largely Christian social conservatives, so you can see why the campaign wants to distance itself from the situation. But in doing so, they are undermining their own message. The ad tells us that, no matter your past, there’s a place for you in the Cruz campaign. (This is also a major theme of Christian teaching.) The campaign’s subsequent statements and actions suggest the opposite.

It seems like some legwork from the campaign could have told them that Lindsay wasn’t necessarily a liability, and in fact identified as a potential Cruz supporter. Now, she’s been very publicly rejected and has every reason to keep this story in the news for as long as the reporters call her.

Post-South Carolina, there figure to be a number of Republican voters looking for a new horse to back, so it’s a good time to lay the groundwork for a message of inclusion. This situation offered the Cruz crew a chance to show their arms are open. Did they ever whiff.

Remember the greatest GOP field in history?

A year ago, it looked like 2016 would be a good year to be a Republican.

While the Democrats had pretty much resigned themselves to the reality that Hillary Clinton (and baggage which, despite early polling, made her a general election crapshoot) would win their nomination, the Republicans enjoyed an embarrassment of riches. There were seven multi-term governors, most of whom could point to a record of conservative reforms in purple-to-blue states. There was one freshman Senator whose background as the sone of immigrants read like an instruction manual for acheiving the American dream, and another whose libertarian leanings offered a fresh prism through which to view conservatism. A former CEO and a retired neurosurgeon offered unique and diverse perspectives. Other candidacies, especially those of Lindsey Graham and even Ted Cruz, seemed more like attempts to bring certain issues or viewpoints into the discussion. And other candidates, like Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, and Jim Gilmore, were obvious grasping for book deals or gainful employment.

But a funny thing happened to the Dream Team on the way to Iowa.

The most obvious element is Donald Trump blowing up the race, but Trump is more accurately labeled a symptom than a disease. The Republican Party came down with what the folks at the Mayo Clinic might call Three Stooges Syndrome: There were so many candidates trying to get through the door, no one made any progress among the electorate.

With so many candidates, it has been easy for a loud, celebrity self-funder like Trump to swoop in and make waves. He didn’t have to spend last summer doing the behind-the-scenes organization building and fundraising that keeps most candidates out of the limelight. When Trump roared, he filled a media vacuum and shot to the front of a crowded field.

He wasn’t – and still isn’t – particularly popular among Republicans. The problem was – and is – that so many candidates in the big crowded field had a legitimate shot to win the nomination with just the right breaks. Even now, there are seven candidates left in the race today and all but Jim Gilmore and Ben Carson can honestly chart a path to victory. Sure, they aren’t all particularly likely paths, but until the money runs out why not give it a try? What does Jeb Bush or John Kasich have to lose by hanging around?

The candidate with the most reason to drop out right now, oddly enough, may be Marco Rubio. His debate gaffe is not necessarily fatal, but it makes his climb a bit steeper. As a relatively young guy, there’s time for him to make a second run in four or eight years after rehabilitating his image. At the same time, he has to look at the primary calendar and think – accurately – that he has a better shot than Bush or Kasich.

Meanwhile, look at even a partial list of people who have already bowed out: Rand Paul, Chris Christie, Carly Fiorina, Scott Walker, Bobby Jindal, and Rick Perry. In another year, those profiles would make for a compelling primary slate on their own.  In this cycle, they are also-rans.

 

 

The coming endorsement from Jeb! Bush

The Republican presidential field will start to slim down after tonight’s Iowa caucuses and next week’s New Hampshire primary. Over the next two weeks, the would-be contenders will start dropping out and throwing their support behind a former opponent.

How’s that going to work when it’s Jeb Bush’s turn?

Fundraising troubles combined with his respect for the office mean that, barring a stunning New Hampshire comeback, the former nominal frontrunner will be out sooner rather than later. It’s a stunning fall based on the national media coverage of his campaign, but unsurprising to observers who saw no natural path to the nomination for Bush in what was a deep, accomplished, and grassroots-friendly Republican field.

And it means there’s an endorsement coming up. Who wants it?

Other candidates have to be cringing. As they climb over each other to shed the dreaded “establishment” label, what could be worse than having to share the stage with – and get glowing compliments from – an inside-the-beltway brand name like Bush?

Fellow Floridian Marco Rubio is the most likely recipient of Bush’s blessing. After weeks of Bush-aligned super PAC attacks on Rubio, won’t that press conference be awkward? One question his attacks on Rubio’s Senate attendance or immigration stance, Bush would descend into several minutes of stammering, uncomfortable double-speak about “leadership” and “accomplishment.”

What will it be like if Bush opts for Ted Cruz? One can only imagine Cruz forcing an uneasy smile and awkward handshake, all the while worrying about his grassroots support as the poster child for policitcal inside baseball extolled Cruz’s Senate experience in Washington, D.C. But at least Cruz would feign grace; should Bush choose Rand Paul he might find himself getting into an arcane policy debate with the Kentucky Senator during the endorsement announcement. Neither one of those guys seem like they’re okay losing an argument.

Naturally, Donald Trump will take any endorsement, so he’d have no problem sharing the stage with Bush. Bush, on the other hand, might look like a hostage telling a video cameras through clenched teeth that his captors are treating him very very well. Naturally, Trump would praise Bush, speak reverently about the Bush family, and avow his respect for their service.

Then, for old time’s sake, he’d give Jeb a good noogie.

Brat vs. McDaniel

Tea Partiers should be watching Mississippi and Virginia very closely and watching the difference between two upstart candidates.

In Mississippi, conservative activists feel slighted by national Republican groups who supported Sen. Thad Cochran. Given the last-minute, over-the-top race baiting rhetoric that all but accused the Tea Party of resurrecting Jim Crow laws, you can see where McDaniel supporters are coming from. (Even if the NRSC or other Republicans didn’t green-light the strategy, the guilt-by-association isn’t a huge jump.)

And McDaniel walked right into it.

Even as an incumbent, Thad Cochran was not a great primary candidate.  A good opponent with a good campaign would have knocked him off without even needing a runoff. McDaniel could not jump over the low ankle hurdle of competence. How bad was he? He was a worse candidate than Cochran.

McDaniel’s sketchy connections with neo-Confederate groups were already in the public discourse. So when Cochran’s allies floated the idea of “expanding the electorate” to win the runoff, McDaniel’s response – deploying poll watchers to shoo away ineligibles – fed the narrative. Creating mental images of militant racist whites intimidating black voters was an easy bridge to cross in the minds of many voters.

The right response to Cochran saying he’s expanding the electorate should have been: “Bring it on, Broseph.” Well, maybe not the Broseph part, but you get the picture. He could have added: “I invite all Mississippians who are eligible to come to the polls. As we showed in the runoff, the more people who hear about our vision know that we stand for a brighter vision for all of Mississippi. I welcome the vote of anyone who agrees.” Or something like that.

That’s all he would have had to say. And yet, McDaniel kept talking about outsiders invading the primary- and he’s still talking, exploring ways to challenge the outcome. In defeat, McDaniel has talked more than the guy who pulled an actual upset, Dave Brat.

Brat has been pretty quiet since giving the political world a rare surprise by defeating Rep. Eric Cantor. Think about it: In a world of constant analysis and near-ubiquitous news coverage, no one saw Brat’s win coming. And he didn’t just squeak it out – he beat an incumbent in leadership by 10 points. (Disclosure: The firm I work for did work for Cantor’s campaign.) In the weeks since, outside of a statement criticizing the President’s immigration policies, Brat has been pretty tight-lipped in the national media.

Any so-called “Tea Party” candidate is going to wear a big old target on their back during this election cycle – just like they did in 2012. Democrats looking to cut their losses will surely look to take any candidate’s misstep and blow it up to build a national narrative. Brat hasn’t given them any ammunition; McDaniel practically loaded the guns for them. The candidate class of 2014 will need to speak carefully to avoid McDaniel’s fate.

Careful what you wish for…

Politico points out today how the Obama 2012 machine has been thrilled with Rick Perry’s attacks on Mitt Romney, occasionally piling on to wound the erstwhile Massachusetts governor.  The reasoning goes that Perry (or anyone else from the GOP field) would be easier for the President to beat in the general election.

That may sound familiar.  In 2008, with their own nomination pretty much decided, some Republicans went to the polls in late primary states intending to affect the Democratic ballot.  In Texas, a vote for then-candidate Obama was a way to put the final nail in the coffin for the Clinton Era.  In Virginia, some Republicans insisted on voting for Obama to encourage the Democrats to nominate an inexperienced, first-term Senator as their nominee.

Whether as part of an “Anybody But Hillary” movement or whether they believed that Obama was the weaker candidate, would those Republicans vote the same way if they could go for a spin in Doc Brown’s DeLorean?   If they had a hot tub time machine, do you think the 2007 Patriots would have rooted a bit harder for the talented-on-paper Packers or the Cowboys to come out of the NFC for Superbowl 42?

Similarly, Team Obama may think Rick Perry, with his low poll numbers and early campaign missteps, would be a more attractive opponent in November 2012.  It certainly looks like that match up would favor the President prohibitively – and the President looks good up against any of the other GOP hopefuls, too.  It isn’t even November of 2011 yet, though – and a year is a long time.

Flake or B… uh, Witch?

Cross-posted on PunditLeague.us.

The top two Republican women who have made the most news recently have been Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann – the latter for a recent rise in several Iowa polls, the former because… well, because Sarah Palin seems like she will be a political headline fixture for the next few months at least.  But there have also been a few rumblings about South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley playing hardball in her state government – rumblings which are becoming more relevant as Haley becomes a short-lister for the 2012 Vice Presidential spot and a potential 2016 candidate.

The stories about Bachmann and Palin are familiar; both are treated like intellectual lightweights.  Bachmann’s campaign was picking up some steam when she derailed her own momentum with an unfortunate accidental reference to a serial killer in her announcement speech (though, to be fair, she may just be a fan of creepy clown paintings).  It’s familiar territory for Palin, who has been mocked for being vacuous since she failed to make fun of Katie Couric for thinking newspapers still matter.

A completely different story is unfolding about Haley.  Republicans and Democrats are both painting her as a shrewd and deft politician wearing ambition on her sleeve, a sort of center-right Hillary Clinton with clear goals, an idea of how to get there, and the willingness to carry out an aggressive (or even ruthless) plan to do it. The derogatory term for a woman like those qualities rhymes with “witch,” and it looks like her opponents are ready to hang the scarlet B around Haley’s neck.

The Bachmann/Haley stories lead to a disheartening observation: women in politics tend to be portrayed as either airheaded or hardheaded, with very little middle ground.  It isn’t a case of anti-conservative media bias, either.  When George W. Bush tripped over his words, the mistakes were evidence of the former President’s folksy charm.  Barack Obama’s admonitions to his political opponents to “get serious” by acquiescing to his demands receives praise for taking charge.  Each has their detractors, but neither has received the same level of caricature  as Palin or Clinton.

So if one has to choose, which is better?  Palin and Bachmann are discovering the pitfall of being a populist woman.  Their ability to boil down issues to sound bites has seemingly backfired; their less-than-favorable coverage playing on their supposed intellectual shortcomings has made them almost impossible to envision as winning national candidates.

Maybe, for the sake her political future, it’s not such a bad thing for Nikki Haley to channel her inner Meredith Brooks.