Friday, April 26, 2013

No! No! Don’t do that!

There are times in our lives when events conspire to make us stop and thump our heads against our desks in astonishment. People (not you savvy “Invisible Primary” blog readers, of course, but some people) make incautious errors, some people are socially tone deaf, and then there are those who are straight-up dum-dum, ass-hat nincompoops. According to no less a scholar than Big Bird, everyone makes mistakes: Your sister and your brother and your dad and mother too. Yes, everybody screws up… but mistakes are enormously fun to watch in the political realm.

Politics is a fecund field for the accident-prone, if only because of the spotlights and cameras that shine upon those who crave elected office. This means that a verbal slip-up or a miscalculation has the propensity for wide coverage. This is the force of the modern media, and it is the gift that brings us to today’s IP Media coverage: The unforced error. Several things hit my IP radar this week which made me bonk my head against my desk and yell “No! NO! Don’t do that!” to my computer screen. And so what I expect to be a long-running series, the first installment of what I will call “No! NO! Don’t do that!” (NNDDT! for short)

Our first NNDDT! Award goes to… former First Lady Barbara Bush.
I am not picking on Babs herself (she looks terrific, by the way) so don’t jump on me for carping on a civilian. Instead, I am giving the NNDDT! award for her comments about her son Jeb’s possible presidential run (See, Dave, I got there! Sometimes it just takes me a chatty while, as you well know). When asked by The Today Show’s Matt Lauer if she would like to see Jeb run, Barbara responded: “He's by far the best qualified man, but no. I really don't. I think it's a great country. There are a lot of great families. It's not just four families or whatever. There are other people out there that are very qualified. We have had enough Bushes.” I totally get that she’s a mom and she’s talking about another son going for another grueling campaign season and I appreciate her candor and her moxie and all that jazz… but the magic of editing just opened the door to every. single. oppo ad of 2016 featuring the quote: “There are other people out there that are very qualified. We have had enough Bushes.”
Mrs. Bush: NNDDT!
Or at least send Jebby a fruit basket with an apology note.

Moving right along, the second NNDDT! Award goes to… Sen. Rand Paul for taking the horrific Boston bombing and using it to throw a torx wrench into the nascent debate on immigration. The so-called “Gang of Eight,” which included IP fave Marco Rubio, had just unwrapped their immigration proposal when Sen. Paul sent a public letter to the media to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid urging: “We should not proceed until we understand the specific failures of our immigration system.” Good gravy. It makes me want to scream at my colleagues like a zealot. No wait – that was the two Chucks (Schumer and Grassley) over the head of poor Pat Leahy. Never mind. Anyway, it’s silly and you’re doing this to get attention and being obstructionist is no way to position yourself as a potential Free World Leader, so NNDDT!  

The next NNDDT! Award goes to… my man, former NY Congressman Anthony Weiner. Who went back on Twitter. And says there might be more saucy pictures of him out there. And he’s back on Twitter – I think this bears repeating. I suppose he might be trying to do it and get it out of the way, but this is no way to mount a comeback. Ha! OK, not enough? How’s this, from Stephen Colbert: “Weiner is ready to stick it back in. And that takes balls.” Better? Anyway, Weiner is going to face some stiff competition. And I suspect he’s going down. OK, I’m done now. But all of that said, he’s BACK ON TWITTER! Tweeting is not a necessity, by any means, not even a must for public office. And for Weiner, who had to resign from office BECAUSE OF TWITTER I suspect it is fraught with possible problems. I just cannot figure out what the heck he is doing, besides launching an effort to swell his support by intensifying and surging his popularity. OK, NOW I’m done. Is it hot in here?
Anywho: Anthony Weiner, put down the phone and as for Twitter…NNDDT!

The last NNDDT! Award goes to… former S.C. Gov. Mark Sanford who, after last week’s revelation that he broke into his ex-wife’s house, did the next most unconscionable thing: He took out an ad in the Charleston Post & Courier newspaper which began with the words: “It’s been a rough week.” Yes, Governor. It has. For the people for Boston and the people of Texas who had to suffer through real tragedy. And now you have just reminded people that you broke into your ex-wife’s house. Remember her? The one you cheated on with your current fiancé? Tone deaf. Senseless. Bonk, bonk, bonk. My head hurts too much to even tell you not to do that. Just please go away.

So those are the first of the NNDDT Awards. I suspect more will be on the way as our IP candidates hog the spotlight and step on their own… toes. Nominations will be accepted at this blog on a rolling basis. First come, first served.

OK. Now I’m done.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

ALOT of Media Coverage

My students this semester are hilarious and terrific.
I have to admit that most of the time my students are hilarious and terrific, but this semester has brought classes full of sunny dispositions and meaningful questions - the most potent of academic combinations. Maybe there is something in the air: My friends and colleagues Niel Brasher and Mark Sachleben have also said their students this semester are fab.
But my students are better.

I was trying to define this "Invisible Primary" we write about, and the questions kept coming: "Does it really start RIGHT after the last presidential election?" Yes. "Do people REALLY pay attention to this?" Yes. "If this is all about getting attention, then isn't EVERY politician running for president?" No. Wait. Yes.

But a few folks are really running, and so I asked my students how they could tell the genuine contenders from the camera-greedy-solipsists who run amok in Our Nations Capital. They answered: "Because we hear from them ALOT."
See what I mean? I love these kids! Even the ones who routinely call me old. I'm talking to you, Trey.

Therefore, using "we hear from them ALOT" as the new media metric, right off the bat we turn to my man Marco Rubio on today's Sunday morning chat shows. In a tip of the hat to Passover, I ask: "What makes today different from any other day?" It ain't because he's leaning back. Au contraire: Dude is leaning FORWARD, doing what we refer to in the biz as "The Full Ginsburg." This is a shorthand way of saying Sen. Rubio went on ALL FIVE SHOWS in one morning, a bar-setting feat first accomplished by Monica Lewinsky lawyer William Ginsburg during the bar-setting political sex scandal. That in itself is a crap-ton of media, but apparently Rubio was also set to go on Univision and Telemundo just to round things out across demographic lines. I am going to give him today's IP "ALOT of Media" award for just showing up and presenting. Good Lord: I am tired just thinking about his day.

One of our sunniest and most meaningful students, Nicholas, caught the story that Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is off to the Granite State next month for a GOP fundraiser. Going to New Hampshire is one of the hallmarks of Invisible Primary action (First in the nation! Just ask them!), and the media coverage of his trip is going to be enormous. Already, the esteemed Economist published this piece about Jindal's presidential aspirations and included the joke that Jindal has been making about his White House dreams: “I mean, come on. What chance does a skinny guy with a dark complexion and a funny name have to get elected president?” Bobby: Don't make me go all Lloyd Bentsen on you and quote the 1988 Veep debate, OK. Comparisons are a dangerous game, mostly because so far the only guy you have been compared to is "Kenneth the Page" from 30 Rock. Just saying.

Finally, we are hearing about Rep. Anthony Weiner ALOT too, thanks to the NY Times piece that dropped today, which was a mammoth article filled with self-examination, therapy-laden contemplation, and not a small amount of  weltschmerz. His Invisible Primary has less to do with presidential politics and more to do with personal politics, but I have to, have to, HAVE TO link to this picture from the peerless New York Post cover, which portends Weiner's pickle should he decide to run. That's right. I wrote: "Weiner's pickle." I am officially a 12 year old boy.

So if the media metric says ALOT of coverage leads to IP significance, I'm going with these three as the week's big winners. The joy of the Invisible Primary is that the field expands and contracts to fit as many contenders as possible, all vying for ALOT of media attention. Good thing there is alot of media to attend to them.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

A Visible Primary

I know that the focus of this blog is to investigate the Invisible Primary, the run-up to the real presidentials where candidates vie for media, mindfulness, and money. At times, however, when circumstances demand it, we have to veer off course and pay attention to a very real (and visible) primary election in order to more fully understand the political climate of our beloved IP.

And so our eyes turn to South Carolina, where (sigh) disgraced former Governor Mark Sanford has belied all of my predictions (sigh) and won the GOP special primary run-off election to fill the vacated 1st congressional district.
To avoid a serious case of solipsism, I will not write endlessly about how I wrote this should never happen. Instead, I want to take a peek at the reasons Sanford won and the impact this win might have on Republican politics writ large.

First things first - the comeback kid. To recap events, just in case you weren’t paying attention the first time: When Mark Sanford was Governor of South Carolina in 2009 he disappeared over Father’s Day weekend, his security detail couldn’t find him, and his office staffers said he was hiking the Appalachian Trail. Turns out he was in Argentina visiting a woman-not-his-wife and when he finally returned all hell broke loose. Sanford kept his job, lost his wife, and gained a fiancé when the Argentinian lady came to the states and set up shop. He is currently on his political redemption tour, which apparently includes running for Congress. Voila: You are up to speed. So how the hell did Sanford win the primary? Well, it was a crowded field that was so crowded; a run-off was mandated because no one won a majority of the vote. Sanford is now pitted against Elizabeth Colbert Busch (comedian Stephen Colbert’s sister) in the special election to be held in May. She has money, momentum, and name recognition, and there’s a very real chance she will win.  

But South Carolina’s political flavor plays a big role here. The Palmetto State is red, red, red. The State Legislature and Governor’s Mansion are occupied by Republicans, and of the state’s seven US House members, only one (James Clyburn) is a Democrat. So there’s that. Also: Redistricting. Lonce and Chris have both addressed how redistricting plays important roles in shaping the election map, and so I will instruct our readers to look down-blog a bit for more info on this. Suffice it to say here, SC-1 is a very conservative district, one that Sanford himself represented before, one that has been redrawn to be even more right-leaning. In 2012, Mitt Romney won the district by 18 points. So it seems natural that a Republican would win (easily) here. BUT, you put this into the larger national conversation about the future of the GOP and there emerges a hitch in the giddy-up. Folks at the federal level are worried about losing this seat, and this brings us to the nationalization of this race and the tie-in to the IP environment.

As stated in an earlier posting, the GOP is up against a narrative that it is anti-immigrant, anti-poor, and anti-woman. Since Sanford’s fiancé is from Argentina, we will assume that he is pro-immigration, but since he humiliated his wife in the process of finding his true love there is a very decent chance the women’s vote is in play. Sanford tried to mitigate this damage by asking his ex-wife to run his new congressional campaign, a maneuver that undoubtedly made women everywhere say “Wait. Whaaaaa?” as they banged their heads against their desks.
Colbert Busch went immediately on the offensive launching ads after Sanford’s run-off win that accused him of being untrustworthy and anti-woman. This is a narrative that could not only gain traction against Sanford, but could also play a more considerable role in the national GOP. No one in the South Carolina delegation has endorsed Sanford, an indication of his unpopularity and of the baggage he would bring with him to the Republican Party. Apparently, national GOP figures are asking Sen. Tim Scott, who was appointed to the Senate and thus coughed up the SC-1 House seat, to endorse Sanford. But in 2009, Scott signed a letter that asked for Sanford to resign, saying Sanford’s actions had “reveal[ed] a pattern of poor decision making and questionable leadership.” Whoops.

And herein ties the SC primary race to the present conundrum of the GOP: The voters want candidates to stand for something, and to back up these stands with consistency and action. When the GOP says it is going to be the Kinder Gentler Party (version 2.0) and its representatives use terms like “wetbacks,” something smells amiss. Similarly, when GOP candidates and officials call for family values, I do not think they are calling for multiple families or situational values. I could be wrong about that. I am confident, however, that the party needs to appeal to a larger swath of the voting public, and seeming wishy-washy on their  stands and on their beliefs ain’t gonna cut it.

Sanford is, wisely, trying to frame this fight as a battle between a fiscal conservative and a tax-and-spend liberal, but Colbert Busch’s business experience may stymie that narrative. The Republicans, who are now positioning themselves for the 2014 midterms and the 2016 show, are keeping an eye on this race because it may prove to be a bellwether of things to come.

It is also fairly well certain that our Invisible Primary contenders will be watching the race to see if personal foibles actually do lasting political damage in our hyper-partisan, overly-mediated climate. As we navigate the unchartered media waters these things are, apparently, undetermined. Just a warning shot: If this portends a 2016 Weiner run, I’m outta here.