Friday, February 12, 2016

The Christie Campaign Suspension Bridge

“Sit down and shut up!”
— Chris Christie to a heckler, Belmar, N.J., October 2014

AND THEN there were two ... less. The field of Republican aspirants for the presidency thinned out on Wednesday. Carly Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett Packard, ended her long-shot campaign, realizing that with several out-of-the-money finishes in the contests so far, her prospects weren’t getting any better.

The other one was a long time coming.

When New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie entered the race for the presidency last June, he did so as a man with monumental challenges before him. As governor of a state with outsize financial troubles, as a figure in a major transportational scandal, as a politician with limited national name recognition before his quixotic foray even started, Christie was the embodiment of the regional pol trying to go large on the national stage without a message large enough — or distinct enough from everyone else — to justify staying in.

He had his moments but they were too few and far between. On Wednesday, it all caught up to him. After the New Hampshire results were posted — Christie came in sixth in that state's primary with 7.4 percent of the vote — that was it. Flanked by family and campaign associates, Christie “suspended” his bid, pulling the plug on a campaign that was pretty much circling the drain from the start.

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The governor had opportunities at the national level to moderate his trademark blowhard outrage. He took the stage at the 2012 GOP National Convention, throwing red meat with the best of them, arousing the faithful with his deeply partisan, bowling-jacket politics. That was expected.

But Christie made the most of another opportunity, one that was harder to compartmentalize in the context of national politics. Hurricane Sandy devastated the Jersey shore that October, and the Pantone-red governor who dissed President Obama early and often found himself in the untenable position of supporting the president as the storm — a confluence of three separate weather systems at once — raged through the region.

“He has expedited the designation of New Jersey as a major disaster area,” Christie said after Sandy hit. “The president has been outstanding on this, and so have the folks at FEMA. … The president has been all over this and he deserves great credit,” Christie said. “It’s been very good working with the president and his administration.”

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THAT WAS the same Chris Christie who, at an Oct. 19, 2012, Romney rally in Virginia, said, “the president doesn’t know how to lead. … He’s like a man wandering around in a dark room, hands up against the wall, clutching for the light switch of leadership and he just can’t find it ...”

After Sandy, of course, it was back to business as usual. For Christie, business as usual meant the pursuit — casual at first, serious later on — of the presidency. That takes money, money Christie never really generated. Politico reports that “[f]undraising was never a strong point for Christie ... In the fourth quarter of 2015, Christie raised only $4.2 million and ended up with roughly $1 million cash on hand. By comparison, in the first three weeks of January alone, Christie faced $5.2 million worth of attacks ads, according to FEC data.”

But it really wasn’t about campaign money anyway. There was never a compelling reason to vote for Christie because, end of the day, there was no compelling reason for Christie to run in the first place. What he brought to the table was always duplicated by other candidates with more money, a more palatable message (or at least a more palatable delivery) and fewer problems at home to be embarrassed by.

And his meme of brusque, argumentative Joisey plain-speaking was eclipsed by the loudmouth from Queens, the billionaire attention addict who’s now the party’s frontrunner. The message sent by the voters in every primary and caucus Christie entered was basically the same as the one Christie sent to a Belmar heckler who dared to challenge the governor at a post-Sandy press conference: “Sit down and shut up!”

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FRANKLY, IT’S hard to summon a lot of sympathy for the Jersey mauler.

Confrontation and humiliation have been so much a part of his public persona, his shtick, for so long, it’s difficult to recall a time when they weren’t. That persona (a distillation of the “Jersey way,” he tried to tell us more than once) was something he hoped to export nationally.

But with outrage as a staple good for Republicans this campaign season, it was a case of coals to Newcastle. Flintiness? Mercurial style? An articulation of the popular rage? “Go sell angry someplace else,” the country told him. “We’re all full up here.”

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Christie will have his hands full taking care of state business for the remaining 710 days of his governorship. Like navigating the record nine credit rating downgrades on more than $32 billion in state bonds, highlighting what Moody’s called “"weak financial position and large structural imbalance, primarily related to continued pension contribution shortfalls.”

Like the possible exodus of more than 2 million people from the Garden State, along with a loss of $18 billion in income, according to the state’s Business and Industry Association, and as reported by Like job approval ratings that have dropped into the 30th percentile.

Christie due’s for some down time at home. reported that Christie spent somewhere between 52 percent and 72 percent of 2015 on the road, outside of New Jersey, as he pursued the Republican nomination he wasn’t going to win. Now? He can sleep in his own bed. He can make his way back to Trenton via the George Washington Bridge.

His campaign’s suspension will be the bridge between his lofty political aspirations and the gritty political reality he couldn’t escape. The presidency needn’t elude him forever. But one hopes that next time, like his fellow presidential-candidate asterisk, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Christie will have a real reason for running, and carve out a real distinction between him and every other angry Republican on the campaign trail.

Image credits: Christie: Reuters. Christie and President Obama: MSNBC screengrab. Christie and Scott Walker: Aristide Economopoulos/NJ Advance Media for

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

On the #@%$! campaign trail:
Potty-mouth in politics and pop culture

The coarser, meaner, keener political discourse of the 2016 primary season– embodied by Donald Trump’s frequent use of profanity on the campaign trail– has had a long parallel presence in the popular culture. Trump’s antics in the current campaign spotlight the ways Trump may only be the symbol of an emerging frankness in both politics and pop culture, a candor we might have expected in the ongoing collision of new media and old.

On Monday night at a campaign rally in Manchester, N.H., Republican frontrunner Trump repeated an audience member’s use of the word “pussy,” the well-known vulgarism for a woman’s genitalia, to describe his primary opponent, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

If that were an outlier, a one-off uttered in the heat of the moment, it probably wouldn’t have aroused so much attention or concern. But Trump has crossed the line of decorum before. The Donald has otherwise legitimized street talk on the stump in a way that’s called into question whether he recognizes behavioral boundaries in seeking the presidency — or whether those boundaries even exist in today’s lightning-fast media environment. ...

Read the full story at TheWrap

Image credit: Trump: Reuters. TheWrap logo: ©2016 TheWrap News Inc.

Coalition man: Sanders nails New Hampshire

THE SUN didn’t rise in the west on Tuesday, primary day in New Hampshire, but by the end of the day, the long-established order in the Democratic solar system had been challenged, and maybe turned upside down.

Bernie Sanders, the passionately populist, iconoclastic independent Vermont senator, won the Democratic New Hampshire Primary on Tuesday, defeating challenger, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton. That much was expected to happen. It was even comfortably predicted that Sanders would win by double digits. That’s where the dovetail of expectation and reality breaks down.

What probably wasn’t expected was the breadth of Sanders’ win — an emphatic 22-point spread between Sanders and Clinton (60 percent to 38 percent, with all precincts reporting).

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What definitely wasn’t expected, in fact what couldn’t be known until exit polling told us, was the way Sanders won. According to an NBC News exit poll and reporting on MSNBC, the Vermont senator achieved victory with a majority of voters under 30, with independent voters, with avowed liberals, with gun owners — gun owners! — and ... with women.

“Sanders was the overwhelming favorite of voters who were looking for a candidate they saw as honest and trustworthy (92 percent) and cares about people like them (82 percent),” MSNBC’s Maureen Michaels reported. “[H]e took 88 percent of the vote among those who wanted the next president to be from outside political establishment. Sanders also won 70 percent of those who are unhappy with the way the federal government is working.”

You can build a coalition around that, folks, a demographically diverse, electorally meaningful coalition spanning age, gender, race and even trip-wires like firearm possession. If the results of the New Hampshire Primary tell us anything, if they’re in any way a distillation of the national mood (and that remains to be seen), it says that most if not all bets may be off for the presidential election of 2016.

What they should tell Hillary Clinton amount to the loudest wake-up call of her political career.

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Betsy Woodruff of The Daily Beast reported on Wednesday on the depth of the problems facing Clinton with women. On paper, in theory, that would seem to be a natural cohort of Clinton supporters. But for some women, it all starts with trust. Or the lack thereof.

Woodruff reports:

Numerous Sanders supporters flatly stated that they would under no circumstances back Clinton, citing the criticisms of her that Sanders brings up on the stump every day.

Ashley Bays of Quincy, Massachusetts, who came to New Hampshire to volunteer for Sanders, said she would “absolutely not” back Clinton, ever.

“It would be completely against my ideals,” she said.

“Hillary is obviously not thinking about the best interests of the people,” she continued. “She’s thinking about the corporations that fund her, Goldman Sachs.”

Peggie Greenough, a New Hampshire voter who came to the party along with her husband and three sons, said she wouldn’t vote for Clinton if she’s the nominee.

“I don’t trust her,” she said. “I don’t trust her at all.”

Marilyn DeLuca, of Londonderry, New Hampshire, also said Sanders is “the only candidate out there” with integrity. And she wasn’t exactly enthralled by Madeleine Albright and Gloria Steinem’s goofy arguments that women are obligated to back Clinton.

“They’re irrelevant,” DeLuca said. “Their time has come and gone.”

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THIS IS PROBLEMATIC for Clinton in ways that go beyond the pure numbers. The history that is her putative strong suit worked against her on Tuesday. She won the New Hampshire Primary in 2008, beating then-unknown Barack Obama. And Bill Clinton won the state in 1992 on his way to the presidency. So Hillary wasn’t an unknown quantity to the people of the Granite State. That previous time in New Hampshire, that long tail of goodwill should have helped her this time, but that never happened. At least not enough.

If Clinton has any hope in the days and weeks to come, the South Carolina Primary on Feb. 27 could be a first step back to the light. Hillary can take some solace in Tuesday’s results: New Hampshire is a demographic outlier compared with much of the rest of the country; it’s more liberal, less moderate and screamingly more white than South Carolina. Clinton’s enduring relationship with older black voters, independents and Rock-Ribbed Democrats might be just what she needs to win.

But there’s always the risk that history repeats: Clinton lost South Carolina to Obama in 2008.

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For his part, Sanders is taking care of quotidian campaign business. Today he wrote a fundraising message email-blasted to supporters of And he’s actively working to get his campaign strong in its broken places. It's still believed, less so now than before, that Sanders has been insufficiently attentive to issues important to black voters.

Presumably mending that fence, he sat earlier today at Sylvia’s, a Harlem restaurant institution, talking with Rev. Al Sharpton about a range of topics — a sound tactical move, considering Sanders’ next contests: the Nevada caucuses on Feb. 20 and the South Carolina Primary on Feb. 27.

No doubt Sanders got the geographic benefit of the doubt on Tuesday; he’s from Vermont, one state over from New Hampshire, and regional affinities still count for a lot in retail American politics. But he can’t count on any of that in Nevada and South Carolina. In the Palmetto State, in particular, Sanders’ self-identification as a “democratic socialist” isn’t likely to be as widely embraced in the South as it was in Dixville Notch.

But one thing at a time. On Tuesday night after his Granite State win, Sanders said that, for all its apostate, outsider appearance, his presidential campaign “is about having the courage to reject the status quo.” By the end of the month, we’ll know whether the electorate elsewhere in the country believes that’s transferable. So will Hillary Clinton.

Image credits: Sanders top: Reuters/Rick Wilking. Clinton: Reuters/Faith Ninavaggi. Sharpton and Sanders: Andrew Renneisen/Getty Images.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

The hunting of the presidency 2016 (Part 7):
Trump falls in Iowa; levitation revoked

“‘No one remembers who came in second.’”
--Donald Trump, December 2013, quoting professional golfer Walter Hagen

MONEY MAY BE, as Arthur Jensen famously told us in Network, the basis of “the atomic and subatomic and galactic structure of things today.” But Jensen didn’t know a thing about running for the presidency.

Donald Trump discovered firsthand Tuesday night that money, and the name recognition that often goes with it, aren’t always enough. The billionaire attention addict lost the Republican Iowa caucuses, placing second behind Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (28 percent to 24 percent), despite the patina of inevitability The Donald has gone to great lengths to create since he began his quest for the presidency eight months ago.

It was the comeuppance that many in Republican circles, the media and the general public had been expecting, predicting and/or hoping since then. For those long months, Trump’s nativist antics have alternately enthralled and enraged Americans unaccustomed to such dangerously risible behavior (at least this early in a campaign).

He paid the price on Tuesday, committing some serious unforced errors, including the kind of neophyte move that would have gotten contestants bounced from his “The Apprentice” TV show: Not knowing what he was doing.

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Trump seemed to get away with political murder, with a series of xenophobic proposals, Islamophobic innuendo and a passive-aggressive rhetoric that, miraculously, kept him in the frontrunner’s perch from almost the beginning. It was as if the laws of political gravity had been repealed.

That levitation license got pulled by the people of Iowa on Tuesday night.

Then, not missing a beat, Trump resorted to the kind of behavior that he can’t stand in other people: Being a sore loser.

"Ted Cruz didn't win Iowa, he illegally stole it. That is why all of the polls were so wrong any [sic] why he got more votes than anticipated. Bad!" Trump tweeted Wednesday morning — moments before he tweaked the tweet by deleting the word “illegally.”

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IT GOT WORSE. Then he demanded a do-over. He tweeted: “Based on the fraud committed by Senator Ted Cruz during the Iowa Caucus, either a new election should take place or Cruz results nullified.”

This is Donald Trump in Butthurt World, a new territory for the king of tough talk and real estate, and it’s aroused a still-building narrative that The Donald’s campaign is in serious trouble — in open water surrounded by sharks, or in the middle of the desert circled by vultures.

WTF happened? You can chalk up Trump’s Iowa defeat — the only word in the language for it — to three glaring missteps that his handlers, proxies, advisers and campaign toadies should have seen coming from a long way off:

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He skipped the Iowa debate. Even for a man with an ego the size of Trump Tower, when you’re campaigning for the presidency, it’s necessary to do the fundamentals, which means paying the proper respects to the people you presume to lead. Politics 101 says that when you’re campaigning in Iowa — a state proud of its status as an early litmus test for the viability of presidential contenders — you don’t miss an opportunity to make a connection.

One such opportunity was at the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines, where the seventh and last GOP debate went down ... without him. Frontrunner Trump, miffed that Fox News hadn’t paid him the genuflections he’s used to (by dumping Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly) decided to skip the debate.

Doing that, he missed his last, best chance to make his case for being president before the people of the Hawkeye State — many of whom were prepared to vote for him. It was a huge and unnecessary slap in the face of voters prepared to make a difference in his campaign. It told Iowans, like nothing else could, that their concerns, their interests, and ultimately their support, didn’t matter.

Woody Allen once observed that “80 percent of success is just showing up.” Trump should have taken his fellow New Yorker’s advice.

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His nastiness finally caught up to him. Iowans have to put up with a lot by way of their first-in-the-nation status. That invariably means seeing candidates at their worst, people who aren’t ready for prime time, drive time or any other time.

But with Donald Trump, that meant their having to contend with a meme of ugliness that Trump cultivated with all his heart.

From vilifying Mexicans, Muslims and Muslim Americans, presiding over beatdowns of protesters at his own campaign rallies, and generally never taking an opportunity to look like the statesman he thinks he wants to be, Trump reveled in the role bestowed on him in the latest issue of Esquire Magazine — Hater In Chief. It was, reportedly, a title that Trump embraced. It was apparently something the good people of Iowa wanted nothing to do with. Not enough of them to get Trump a win, anyway.

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His Shih Tzu ate his campaign homework. Trump, a man who has taken great pride in preparation in the business world, revealed himself to be woefully unready for campaigning, in Iowa or anywhere else. Among the other post-caucus disclosures Trump made on Wednesday was the fact that he didn’t know what a “ground game” was.

For even the most casual student of American politics, this is so basic it beggars the imagination how you think you start or run a campaign without it. The ground game — the army of volunteers, drivers, doorbell ringers, people working the phones, senior citizens planting the yard signs, interns living on pizza and adrenaline, the freakin’ true believers on the ground in the state you want to win — is indispensable to a modern, well-oiled presidential campaign. Simply put, you won’t win without it. You can’t win without it.

And not only did Trump not have a good ground game ... until recently, and by his own admission, he didn’t even know what a ground game was.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Clinton, Sanders and how to win by losing

Another such victory and I am undone.
— Pyrrhus

IF, AS Tip O’Neill once said, “all politics is local,” all politics is personal too. The best of America’s retail politicians understand that. Bill Clinton got it. Mitt Romney never did. Two other politicians are learning that now in the classroom of the presidential campaign trail. Last night and this morning, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton discovered the narrow margin between winning and losing, in a neck-and-neck contest for voters in the Iowa Democratic Caucuses.

When it was over, Sanders, the independent senator whose feisty, emotionally-driven campaign narrative has grown him into a populist juggernaut, was defeated, but by the slimmest of margins (less than ½ of 1 percent). And Clinton, the consummate political insider with decades of name recognition preceding her handsomely, was the winner, but with a lead almost too statistically thin to measure.

The storyline in the coming days won’t really be about Clinton’s victory; that was frankly expected. The conversation will spin out of a question political junkies will be asking all day: When is a loss a win? Answer: When a relative political unknown loses to the most recognizable and putatively electable Democratic brand in America, by a margin too small to be anything but an embarrassment to the winner. And a warning.

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We knew it was going to be close between Sanders, a spirited and passionate independent, and Clinton, whose bona fides made her the odds-on favorite from the jump. The latest Des Moines Register poll, released Saturday, had Clinton leading Sanders by 3 full points. The smart money had Clinton topping Sanders comfortably.

So much for the smart money. The final Democratic caucus numbers (Clinton at 49.9 percent, and Sanders at 49.6 percent) made for one of the closest outcomes in primary-season history, a photo-finish in every sense of the phrase.

Juana Summers and Megan Specia at Mashable reported: “While Clinton is a known commodity with a strong organization in Iowa, Sanders's performance here tonight shows that his upstart campaign has real appeal among Democratic primary voters, a sentiment that is likely to unnerve those at the core of the Clinton campaign.”

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A SANDERS win outright would have gone a long way to ending concerns that many Democratic primary voters have about the viability of a campaign waged by Sanders, an admitted “democratic socialist.” But as it is, Sanders’ close loss to Clinton is reason for the senator to feel real strong going into the New Hampshire Primary. He’s been leading in the polls there for some time, and being a known regional quantity (Vermont’s one state over from New Hampshire) gives him a favorite-son advantage.

For Clinton, though, the stakes are higher. A lot higher. With a resume and a public profile that reach back more than 20 years, and resources in the hundreds of millions, Clinton was expected to blow Sanders out of the water in the Iowa contest, the first formal canvass of the campaign season.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Iowa, the caucuses and Donald Trump

IOWANS HAVE always taken great pride in casting the first votes in the nation’s presidential elections. This year, that first canvass of the national mood expressed locally carries more importance than just bragging rights or symbolic gravitas.

The vitriol-powered candidacy of billionaire attention addict Donald J. Trump, and the ugly nativist strain he’s set loose in this country, scream for a public assessment of his campaign’s long-term viability. Today and tonight, in caucuses at more than 1,600 locations statewide, residents of the Hawkeye State are set to do exactly that.

And it’s not just a make-or-break moment for Iowa. Today’s caucuses are a moment of truth for the Republican party as well, and comments from GOP insiders in recent months prove that they know it.

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“I think he's now mounting a serious campaign,” a South Carolina Republican said in October. “His stump speech had matured and even though the novelty of his candidacy is wearing off, his straight talk is appealing to people who are so sick of being lied to by the political class.”

Another Iowa Republican told Politico much the same thing, “The more time that goes by that he continues to lead, the more likely it is he wins. That simple. Also, comparatively, he is building a real campaign. More so than many others.”

For one New Hampshire Democrat, Trump’s relatively sophisticated approach to building an information network shouldn’t be a surprise. “Trump may be a jerk, but he is an extremely successful jerk,” he told Politico. “He has the means and the smarts to compete everywhere — and he is not slowing down.”

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THESE FOLKS all spoke to Politico ... in the third week of October, last year, when Republicans could talk about Trump’s campaign from a relatively comfortable chronological distance.

Since then, nothing’s really emerged to alter the Trump trajectory. Nothing except the intervention of the calendar. The election’s moved from Next Year to This Year, and the implied urgency of that fact changes everything. Now, a lot more attention’s being paid to Trump and how to stop him. If that’s even possible.

With the Republican nomination a going concern for a Republican party in real danger of losing its electoral viability, that party’s leaders face a devil-and-deep-blue-sea range of options: Live with Trump and accept the consequences, or redouble efforts to dump him as a prospective nominee, and get behind one of the others in the GOP field, someone less electrifying (but still palatable) to the base, and electorally credible to the broad cross-section of the rest of the country — the ones who turn out to vote.

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Another New Hampshire Republican told Politico that, frankly, the party won’t even consider option #1. “A Trump nomination would result in a third candidate emerging,” the Republican told Politico — a concession to the probability that such a third candidate (almost certainly a Republican already, or a Libertarian) would divide the traditional Republican vote, and dilute the November turnout for the actual Republican nominee, handing the Democrats the White House again.

You can see why the Republicans face a Hobson’s choice as they cross the Rubicon into terra incognita ... what the hell, offer your own high-handed literary metaphor for irreversibly going where you’ve never gone before. Many Republicans didn’t expect Trump’s campaign to have enough loft to last until the caucuses that are underway right now. The fact that it did — and that a win in Iowa would give Trump momentum heading into New Hampshire next week — is forcing party operatives to rethink everything. If this keeps up, the Grand Old Party soon will be in a grand old Panic.
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