It wouldn’t be fair to say that Mitt Romney is hiding from the national media, exactly. Why, on Thursday morning he went on Fox & Friends, fielding such tough questions about his challenge to President Obama as: “You’re beating him with independents. How are you going to outdo him in that department?”
And Romney did sit down—with his wife, Ann, which seems to have been the point—for a chat this week with Diane Sawyer, which focused on Ann Romney’s role, a handful of issues, and why he once transported the family dog on the car roof.
But as he makes the pivot to general-election nominee, Romney remains a remote figure to most of those who are covering him. And some Republican campaign veterans say that makes political sense.
“Of course he should be wary of the media,” says Ari Fleischer, the former Bush White House spokesman. “The media are increasingly adversarial. It’s always in the candidate’s interest to talk to the media on his terms and his timing. Why would he want to turn his agenda over to the press?”
Steve Schmidt, who managed John McCain’s 2008 campaign, also sees a risk of being knocked off message.
“If you field 75 questions a day, your chances of giving a bad answer are relatively high,” Schmidt told me. “If you give 74 good answers and slip up on one, guess which one will be on cable news and driven to the comedy shows?”
Instead, says Schmidt, he expects Romney to visit more venues like Jay Leno’s show, perhaps accepting an invitation from Saturday Night Live, “where he has an opportunity to connect with audiences or demographics where he’s weak.”
The Romney campaign says the candidate has been quite available in ways that don’t register on the national radar. Since March 30, spokeswoman Andrea Saul points out, Romney has done 21 interviews with local television stations. He has also done six cable interviews, five of which were with Fox News—two of them with Sean Hannity—and one with conservative CNBC commentator Larry Kudlow. Romney has also done 10 radio interviews with such conservative hosts as Hannity and Mike Huckabee.
During the primaries, when Newt Gingrich was snarling at John King and other debate moderators and Rick Santorum was accusing a New York Times reporter of peddling “bullshit,” Romney generally refrained from press bashing. He did grumble in a speech to newspaper editors that “in 2008, the coverage was about what I said in my speech. These days, it’s about what brand of jeans I am wearing and what I ate for lunch.”
But Romney took aim squarely at the Fourth Estate this week in an interview with Breitbart TV, founded by the late conservative provocateur Andrew Breitbart. After complaining about a “vast left-wing conspiracy” aligned against him, Romney said that “many in the media are inclined to do the president’s bidding.” That undoubtedly plays well with the Republican base, but sniping at the press may do little to attract the independent voters he needs in November.
Romney may well be frustrated by the rolling coverage of his wealth, his car elevator, his stumbles, his religion and, yes, that incident with the Irish setter. But he pays a price for his strained relations with the journalists who follow him around the country.
Most view him as stiff and awkward, and as a Beltway outsider, the former Massachusetts governor has given them few glimpses of the person behind the political mask. A subtle resentment factor may develop when reporters feel they’re being stiffed month after month.
“Keeping the press corps at arm’s length doesn’t pay off in the end,” says Doug Hattaway, a spokesman for Hillary Clinton’s 2008 campaign. “They drive the storylines that define the conversation in social media and entertainment. You need to be in that game as well. You can’t ignore it.”
“Fundamentally, we weren’t going to be held to two sets of rules,” Schmidt says. “Obama gave very limited access to the press pool.”
The era of journalists sizing up candidates through background conversations is a casualty of today’s Twitter age, says Schmidt: “On the bus, the average age of reporters was 24, each with a handheld camera or cellphone looking to file the most politically damaging thing they could file that day.”
Fleischer says it is often a matter of not having a stray comment obscure your message. “If President Bush gave a speech and made news, we wanted that to stand on its own,” he says.
What’s more, “the press still has a hangover from the love affair in 2008, even though they’re not as in love with him as they used to be. It’s much easier to be Barack Obama than Mitt Romney when it comes to press coverage.”
But the inescapable fact is that Romney has a propensity for damaging slips of the tongue. The morning after the Florida primary, he stepped on his victory by telling CNN’s Soledad O’Brien that “I’m not concerned about the very poor.”
Such gaffes have undoubtedly made his team more cautious about putting Romney in television studios.
“They’re in a tough position because more exposure doesn’t necessarily help Romney—the more you see him, the less you like him,” Hattaway says.
Romney, who has not appeared on any Sunday program other than Fox News Sunday, clearly recognizes the need to broaden his approach. In that Breitbart TV interview, he said that Fox is watched by “the true believers.”
But he has had testy moments even on Rupert Murdoch’s network, such as when he grew irritated with anchor Bret Baier for pressing him last fall on his changing positions on several issues.
By November Romney will have to demonstrate that he can hit major-league pitching in less friendly confines than Sean Hannity’s set. How often he does that will depend on what he views as the risks and benefits of facing the vast left-wing conspiracy.
The upside of forging relationships with beat reporters, says Hattaway, is that “when they know the candidate as a person, they’re likely to be a little less cynical or snarky.”
Of course, Romney doesn’t have much of a cheering section even on the right. National Review editor Rich Lowry, Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol, columnist George Will, Red State blogger Erick Erickson and others have all displayed varying degrees of skepticism or hostility toward him. And the Romney camp has made little effort to court the conservative cognoscenti, with top adviser Stuart Stevens insisting they have no interest in running “a green-room campaign.”
Every presidential candidate, including Barack Obama in 2008, has wrestled with how much to deal with the traveling press corps. This was a particular dilemma for McCain, since the Arizona senator spent endless hours during his cash-strapped 2000 run for president chatting up reporters on his Straight Talk Express. That approach abruptly ended once he clinched the 2008 nomination.
By any objective measurement of newsprint or bandwidth devoted to the topic, the dominant “news” story of this week is the scandal involving Secret Service agents hiring hookers while advancing a presidential trip to Colombia. It seemed at first that the preoccupation with this small, sordid drama was just another example of the tabloidization of the MSM, and would disappear from the national radar screen the minute some entertainment celebrity did something even dumber.
But lo and behold, it seems that the conservative media apparatus is huffing and puffing to blow this up into a meaningful moment in the presidential campaign. At the tip of the spear, naturally, is Sarah Palin, who has exploited the fact that one of the agents in the case was assigned to her protection in 2008 and has allowed as how he “checked her out.” Since she’s now part of “the story,” she has zero inhibitions about explaining to Americans why this is another talking point in the case for firing Barack Obama:
“Well, this agent who was kind of ridiculous there in posting pictures and comments about checking someone out,” Palin told Greta van Susteren on her FOX News program. “Well check this out, bodyguard — you’re fired. And I hope his wife sends him to the doghouse. As long as he’s not eating the dog, along with his former boss. Greta, you know, a lot of people will just, I guess say that this is boys being boys. And boys will be boys, but they shouldn’t be in positions of authority.
“It’s a symptom of government run amok, though, Greta,” Palin said on the Thursday broadcast of “On the Record” on FOX News. “Who is minding the store here? And when it comes to this particular issue of Secret Service, again, playing with the taxpayer’s dime and playing with prostitutes and checking out those whom they are guarding….”
“The president, the CEO of this operation called our federal government, has got to start cracking down on these agencies. He is the head of the administrative branch and all of these different departments in the administration that now people are seeing things that are so amiss within these departments. The buck stops with the president. And he’s really got to start cracking down and seeing some heads roll. He has to get rid of these people at the head of these agencies where so many things, obviously, are amiss,” she said.
Palin is apparently alluding, as many other hostile commentators have done in connection with the Secret Service brouhaha, to the other Lite Scandal in the news recently, the GSA conference in Las Vegas that involved clowns, fortune tellers, a rap video and other wasteful expenditures. As it happens, of course, heads did roll at GSA, whose top three officials were fired or quit very soon after the Vegas extravaganza came to light. Heads appear to be rolling at the Secret Service as well; indeed, the dude who “checked out” Sarah Palin is no longer employed, and it’s certain some of his superiors will soon be cleaning out their desks as well.
What Palin and others like her have in mind is something very different: “cracking down” on “government run amok” in the form of the Affordable Care Act, the Violence Against Women Act, the Medicaid program, the food stamp program, and all sorts of public policies, services and investments that have zero to do with GSA, the Secret Service, or with clowns and hookers. It’s a “story-line” run amok, and even Sarah Palin knows enough about government to understand that.
By: Ed Kilgore, Washington Monthly Political Animal, April 20, 2012
“Inherited Privilege”: Romney Moves From Defending Inequality To Defending Inequality Of Opportunity
The political debate — the broader debate between the two parties, not just the campaign between President Obama and Mitt Romney — has largely hinged on inequality. Republicans have defended high (and growing) levels of inequality as the just rewards accruing to hard work and genius, while Democrats have argued for a role for government in limiting inequality. For weeks, Romney has fused his party’s defense of inequality with a defense of his own personal wealth — any suggestion that Romney’s regressive policies are tinged by self-interest, he has charged, is an attack on success itself.
Yesterday, Romney took that argument in a different direction. He moved from defending inequality to defending inequality of opportunity. The occasion was Obama noting that he had not been born with a silver spoon in his mouth. This is a standard rhetorical gambit, evoking log cabins and hard cider, and one Obama (as Alec MacGillis points out) has been using since long before Romney emerged as his opponent. Romney took it as a personal affront, and issued this sharp rejoinder:
“I’m certainly not going to apologize for my dad and his success in life,” Romney said Thursday morning on “Fox and Friends.” “He was born poor. He worked his way to become very successful despite the fact that he didn’t have a college degree, and one of the things he wanted to do was provide for me and for my brother and sisters. I’m not going to apologize for my dad’s success.”
Since Romney couched his defense of his wealthy upbringing in the same terms he has used to defend his own business success, nobody seems to have noticed the difference. But if you take conservative rhetoric seriously, it’s all the difference in the world. The conservative line, articulated by such figures as Arthur Brooks and Paul Ryan, makes a sharp distinction between equality of outcome, which is thoroughly evil, and equality of opportunity, which is the highest ideal. (Almost everybody opposes equality of outcome — what they oppose is virtually any steps by government to reduce inequality of outcome.) “Equal opportunity versus equal outcomes, very different political philosophy,” says Ryan.
In practice, the attempt to draw a distinction between equality of outcome and equality of opportunity collapses immediately. The number one thing parents try to do with their money is to buy better opportunities for their children. A new Brookings paper this week describes how having a more expensive home translates to better schools. The mere fact of being surrounded by richer, better-prepared students is itself an advantage. This is something we all know, of course. When you have kids, your goal is either to live in an expensive neighborhood with good public schools, or to be able to spend directly on expensive private schooling. It’s one of the things Romney himself knows — hence his comment that “one of the things [George Romney] wanted to do was provide for me and for my brother and sisters.”
Of course he did! And that is the point. The advantages George Romney transmitted to Mitt Romney include not just intelligence, height, good looks, and a stable upbringing, but a fancy private education at Cranbrook and a lot of money.
The conservative rhetoric about inequality has been attempting to sustain the pretense that Romney is merely defending his business success and the larger principle of merit. But of course, he’s also defending his own upbringing and the larger principle of inherited privilege. The fact that he did so without anybody noticing shows the degree to which, far from being “very different” things, these are one and the same.
By: Jonathan Chait, Daily Intel, April 20, 2012
One of the main goals of Mitt Romney’s domestic program, to the extent that it can be discerned, is to transfer programs from the federal government to the states. Just which programs Romney wants to ship to the states, he does not say. But the goal is on his mind, and he has touted it both in private remarks to donors and in his recent speech to a tea-party group last Friday. Perhaps not coincidentally, economist and Romney adviser Greg Mankiw wrote a New York Times column this last weekend touting the virtues of pushing more policy toward the states.
Sometimes, locating policy at the state level can result in some kind of progressive policy innovation. Romney’s Massachusetts health-care plan offers one example. But this was a relatively rare event, brought about by the combination of its being a highly Democratic state that happened upon a large federal windfall unavailable to other states. In most cases, moving a policy to the states will tend to make it more conservative — less generous to the poor and vulnerable, and less burdensome upon the rich and powerful.
How do state programs differ from federal programs? For one thing, they’re paid for differently. Federal taxes charge the rich a higher rate than the poor. State taxes tend to charge a higher rate on the poor than the rich. So even if nothing at all changes about the program, simply breaking one federal program into 50 programs of the same cumulative size amounts to a lump sum transfer payment to the rich from the non-rich.
But making something a state program almost certainly means it will not stay the same size. State governments, unlike the federal government, must balance their budgets every year. When the economy contracts, this forces state (and local) governments into austerity mode. That’s why you’ve seen lots of laid-off teachers and police officers but not many laid-off Marines or IRS agents.
Finally, and most important, states are competing with each other. Every government has a general incentive to provide the best services for the lowest cost. But when you’re a state, you have an additional incentive. You don’t merely want to provide the best general environment, you also want to provide an environment that specifically appeals to business owners and rich people, and repels the poor and sick. After all, rich people may pay a lower average tax rate but they still pay more tax dollars than the non-rich. And poor and sick people suck up tax dollars.
So suppose a state decides it wants to provide really generous services for poor people — say, good medical care (that is, better than your standard Medicaid package) along with child care to help single parents work and scholarships so that any talented but poor kid can go to college. And the voters decide to pay for it by taxing the rich at higher rates. At some point, it will dawn on the voters that, however attractive this arrangement sounds, they may run the risk of driving rich voters into neighborhood states, and, worse still, serve as a magnet for poor and sick people who want to enjoy the comfort and opportunity denied to them elsewhere. All this would make this plan more costly, and possibly altogether unworkable. Indeed, exactly this consideration comes into play all the time when states debate their tax and spending policies.
Interestingly enough, Mankiw makes this argument in his Times column. He does not mention the possibility that offering more generous provisions to the poor and sick may attract more of them to a state. But he does note that, “Because capital is more mobile than labor, competition among governments significantly constrains how capital is taxed.”
In other words, locating more programs at the state level essentially gives the rich and powerful political power disproportionate to their numbers. The voters may agree on a given level of redistribution, but the ease of moving between state lines imposes a constraint that doesn’t exist at the federal level. (Well, it exists in theory — you can move to a different country, but it’s harder, and given that the United States has a less redistributive tax and transfer system than any other advanced country, the option doesn’t really come into play.)
As Mankiw points out, “redistribution is harder when people and capital are free to move to other jurisdictions that offer better deals.” If your goal is to reduce the amount of money that the government takes from the rich and gives to the non-rich, then sending programs to the states makes a lot of sense. And pretty much all the evidence we have suggests this is in fact the Republican Party’s main goal.
By: Jonathan Chait, Daily Intel, April 20, 2012
“The Minority Defeats The Majority”, Again: The Media Needs To Tell Readers The Truth About GOP Filibustering
The death-by-filibuster of the Buffett Rule in the Senate yesterday revealed, among other things, that the news media still has a ways to go in learning how to report on the era of the 60-vote Senate.
Most Americans, not surprisingly, do not realize that majorities can no longer get their way in the Senate. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that most key votes in the Senate were based on simple majority voting. Only since 1993 has constant filibustering been common, and only in 2009 did Republicans create a situation in which virtually everything requires a supermajority. Reporting in these circumstances is a bit tricky, but if you are going to tell the full story of a bill killed by filibuster, you need to report not just the outcome — a bill lost — but that majority sentiment was thwarted by a minority.
So, how did the major papers do yesterday? Neither the New York Times nor the Washington Post had the word “filibuster” in their on-line front page headlines or teasers. The Post story does get the “F” word into her second paragraph, which is good. The Times story merely refers to the 60 votes the Democrats “needed” to pass the bill, without mentioning that the 60 votes were “needed” to break a GOP filibuster until way down in the eighth paragraph. Politico called it a “filibuster” in the second graf. But none of the three stories said explicitly that a minority of Senators defeated a majority.
CNN’s web story was particularly awful, reporting simply that “the Democrats fell nine votes short.” There was no mention of a filibuster, or that the “nine votes short” added up a 51 vote majority — so no one reading the story could deduce that a majority of the Senate favored the policy. The Los Angeles Times, in a broader story, also claimed that the Buffett Rule was blocked by “Republican-led opposition,” whatever that means. Again, no mention at all of a filibuster, or which way the majority voted.
None of this is good enough. Whether one supports the filibuster, opposes it, or (as I do) hopes for a middle course, it’s simply not informative enough to just say that something was “blocked” without explaining that it was blocked by a minority of Senators who deployed a filibuster.
The decision of the Republican minority to create the 60 vote Senate — and the willingness of the Democratic majority to go along with it — remains perhaps the most important single structural fact of Congressional procedure. It has been at least as important as any other factor in shaping Obama’s legislative agenda. And news organizations still aren’t telling readers and viewers the full truth about what’s happening.
By: Jonathan Bernstein, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, April 17, 2012