If an Invisible Primary happens without media coverage, did it happen at all?
Of course not!
They say that the most dangerous place in Washington is in between a politician thinking about running for president and a camera (“Look at ME!”). You add to that the fact that the Washington media elite love nothing more than a good prognostication horse race, and you have ample media coverage of the Invisible Primary. Since the pundits began eying the 2016 contenders right around the time Karl Rove blew his Election Night gasket on Fox News, this blog will also pay close attention to the way the media cover those who wake up in the morning, look in the mirror, and optimistically say: “Good Morning, Mr. (Mrs.) President.”
This past week included a serious number of media mentions about the 2016 hopeful class: outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wept, lectured, and waved her hands angrily about Benghazi (proving she can show a wide range of emotions); Sen. Rand Paul opined that were he president, Madam Secretary would have been removed from her post (really Sen. Paul: You can stop worrying about this particular hypothetical); and Gov. Bobby Jindal called his own party “stupid” in order to show that he is smart. Let the Invisible Primary soothsaying begin!
In the case of Secretary Clinton, the media framing was (as is usually the case) bifurcated along ideological lines. Depending on your selection of network or newspaper, she was either lionized as passionate and articulate or, alternatively, denounced as shrill and defensive. It was interesting to see how many of the majors used three clips from Hillary (sorrowful, explanatory, livid) juxtaposed with clips from her GOP opponents, specifically Sens. Paul and Johnson (disappointment, disbelief, denial), as “balance”. These clip-collections made one specific argument, no matter which party-tinted news outlet you were on: Hillary wants to be seen as leadership material and the GOP isn’t buying it. If the 2008 narrative was that Presidential Hopeful Hillary was lacking in empathy and warmth, this performance aimed its guns at that perspective. The only thing missing was the delivery of her stand-up blue material. And if there was any thought that the Republican Party would re-evaluate her after a generally well-received performance as Sec State, we can dismiss that idea outright. Yep. They still hate her.
Meanwhile, as Gov. Jindal tried to situate himself as the leader of the Republican Party, the media were right there to report on his progress. Coming back from the “he sounds just like Kenneth the Page from ‘30 Rock’” claim after his 2009 SOTU response, Jindal wants to position himself as a serious politico, someone with the savvy, chops, and timbre to take on the most significant issues of the day. But since the media generally do not like to deal with significant issues, Jindal was quoted extensively about the future of the GOP. Since the Party is (apparently, and much like the Washington Capitals) in a state of confused reorganization, 2016 hopefuls on the right have stepped up to try and claim the mantle of responsibility. It was no coincidence that in many accounts of Jindal’s speech, the name “Chris Christie” was mentioned as well.
As the Invisible Primary continues, so too will the stories that frame the arguments about the contenders and the issues of the day. I cannot wait for CPAC this year: I predict BIG mentions for Marco Rubio, Scott Walker and Nikki Haley. Look at me – with all this forecasting, I could be a member of the Washington media elite! Nah – let’s look at them instead.