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.

Who wins if Cuccinelli loses?

Ken Cuccinelli is on the ropes in the Virginia Governor’s race – which is one reason George Will raised some eyebrows last week with his glowing treatment of Robert Sarvis, the Libertarian candidate.  Why would a national, established Republican commentator like Will take what looks like an obvious swipe at a major party candidate in one of the two major races going on in 2013?

If trends continue and Cuccinelli loses, there will be another obvious dent in the narrative that the GOP brand is on the rebound  and well-positioned for victory in 2014.  Combined with the fallout from the government shutdown, it will be the second setback of the fall for Republicans, (overshadowing, to some degree, the failed rollout of Obamacare).

As the polls look now, it’s pretty likely to shake out that way.  But not all losses are created equal.  A less-than-50% win for Terry McAuliffe combined with a strong showing from the Sarvis, actually benefits some entities:

1.  Bill Bolling.  Remember Fredo Corleone’s reaction when he got passed over for his kid brother?  Supporters of party conventions over primaries like to say that the non-public, keep-it-in-the-family method of choosing a nominee is less hurtful, but that theory flew out the window in this case.  Rather than playing the good soldier and supporting his nominee, Bolling has waged an un-campaign by creating his own policy organization.  And the word on the street is that he has done some behind-the-scenes work for McAuliffe.  A race where Cuccinelli loses – but center-right candidates, combined, draw a majority – gives further credibility to Bolling in 2017 if he opts to run for Governor calling for a more moderate direction for the state party.

2.  Chris Christie.  Back in the day, the odd, off-off-year elections in Virginia and New Jersey meant split victories: Republicans would take the Old Dominion, Democrats would notch the Garden State.  This year, Christie’s runaway reelection victory will buck the trend.  As the most recent Republican winner, it will position him well with top donors and consultants as he prepares for his Presidential run in 2016.  There may also be some who look at a split-vote loss in Virginia as a sign that the GOP needs to moderate nationally.  While it would be a mistake for Christie or his team to make that case publicly, behind closed doors they can make that case to party leaders deciding where they ought to contribute their endorsements and dollars.

3.  Rand Paul.  Very quietly, Rand Paul has been having a great couple of months.  Once considered the most outspoken and conservative among the serious potential Republican field for 2016, Ted Cruz’s filibuster has allowed Paul to present himself as more publicly reserved than the Texas Senator.   While moderates would point to a Cuccinelli loss as a need for a philosophical shift toward the center, Paul could make the case that the split vote means the party has not done enough to make the case to voters equating smaller government with better government.  Since this argument does not involve telling conservative voters they are philosophically wrong, Paul could have the most to gain from a tight loss in Virginia.  (That Paul actually campaigned for Cuccinelli puts him in a better position, as well.)

4.  Conservative/Republican Commentators.  That’s not to say that any of the above folks, or their supporters, goaded Will into his story, of course.  Nationally, if Cuccinelli loses in part because of Sarvis, GOP talking heads can write off the loss as the product of vote-splitting and focus on what looks like an easy victory in New Jersey.  The tough loss might hurt the Commonwealth, but for the people who scream at cameras for a living, it provides an easy pivot point for cable news debates.

Rand Stands His Ground

This week, Texas’s baby debate, the Zimmerman trial winding down, and Obamacare topped the news.  So you could forgive Sen. Rand Paul if he ignored the news that broke about one of his advisors was a southern sympathizer.

Instead, Paul replied – and did so defiantly:

Paul (R-Ky.) stressed that he opposed such views, many of which have been recanted by the Senate aide, Jack Hunter, who co-wrote Paul’s first book in 2010 and who is now his social media adviser in Washington.

“I’m not a fan of secession,” Paul said. “I think the things he said about John Wilkes Booth are absolutely stupid. I think Lincoln was one of our greatest presidents. Do I think Lincoln was wrong is taking away the freedom of the press and the right of habeas corpus? Yeah.

…“Are we at a point where nobody can have had a youth or said anything untoward?” the senator asked rhetorically.

Anthony Weiner and Eliot Spitzer are both running for office with scandals much closer in the rear view mirror, so it’s an apt question.  But more than that, it’s a departure from the usual playbook on politicians handling negative information.  Usually, Republicans will apologize, fire the offending staffer, and then pose for awkward pictures with black people.

Paul seems to understand that plan sends the public bullcrap meter off the charts.  He answered honestly, instead.

And maybe it’s time for politicians to start doing things like that.  Politically inconvenient sincerity builds good will (or what passes for good will when dealing with a politician).  After all, if we was going to lie about something, surely he’d lie about this, right?  It also demonstrates a healthy respect for the electorate’s intelligence.

Will it help him stand out during the GOP kumite in Spring 2016?  Maybe not, since another likely candidate will have the same type of tough-talking honesty as his signature, too.  At least it will set a good example.

How the GOP won yesterday (and why Chris Cillizza is wrong)

filibusterChris 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.

A quarter million doesn’t go as far as it used to

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.