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“Chris Christie Bullies Again”: Bullies Bully Out Of Weakness, And Christie Is Now Weaker Than He’s Ever Been

Gov. Chris Christie says he’s been humbled, that he’s been doing some “soul-searching” after his staff got caught arranging traffic jams to punish political enemies.

But bullies bully out of weakness, and Christie is now weaker than he’s ever been. He can’t possibly give up his only real political asset—a talent for intimidation that makes victims want to be on his side to win his protection—when he needs it most.

In only the latest example, his legal team is spitting paper at the Jersey pols who’ve crossed him. Christie’s choice as lead attorney for his office’s “internal review,” Randy Mastro, sent a letter, obtained by The Bergen Record, to Hoboken mayor Dawn Zimmer requesting a “private interview” and documents, including her correspondence with the press.

“In a show of force,” The Record reports, Mastro also wrote to “Hoboken officials that he had assembled a team of ‘five former federal prosecutors’ to look into Zimmer’s claims.”

Zimmer, of course, claims that Christie officials had threatened to withhold Hurricane Sandy aid if she didn’t support a particular real estate development, charges those officials deny.

At the same time Christie lawyers were beckoning Zimmer to their den, the governor’s office sent a memo to supporters with press clips about Zimmer that, it says, found “serious questions of authenticity, contradictions, and hypocrisy.”

Zimmer’s allegations are now the subject of a US Attorney investigation, and her attorney replied to Mastro by saying, “We question whether it is appropriate for the Governor’s Office, in essence, to be investigating itself, particularly when an investigation of the same subject matter is being conducted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.”

“Five former federal prosecuters,” charges of hypocrisy, a “private interview”—this stuff reeks of bullying. But Mastro, The Record writes, “seems to try to dispel any notion that the letter is meant to intimidate a witness—he notified federal authorities in advance that he would be contacting potential witnesses, he wrote.”

Still, as James Cohen, a law professor at Fordham University, told the Star Ledger, Mastro’s letters show him acting more like a defense attorney than as a fact-finder conducting an “internal review” to learn who dunnit. “The letters strike me as a fairly heavy-handed attempt to intimidate—and cleverly done,” Cohen said.

No matter how much humble pie Christie insists he’s eating, he just can’t quit the bullying. Remember how, during his marathon press conference, a reporter told him that Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich said it’d be “premature” for the governor to visit his town and apologize for the dangerous, five-day traffic jam his people created at the George Washington Bridge? Christie ignored Sokolich’s wishes, parked his entourage at Sokolich’s office, staged some photo ops with citizens not throwing tomatoes, and left the Fort Lee mayor saying he was relieved that Christie promised there’d be no more retribution. Now, Christie’s lawyers have invited Sokolich and his staff to hand over documents, too.

The attempt to put the squeeze on NJ mayors does double duty by also intimidating other potential witnesses and officials receiving subpoenas (the NJ legislators investigating the bridge scandal issued eighteen new subpoenas yesterday).

It’s all part of the web of fear that Christie has established throughout New Jersey. It’s aimed as much, if not more, at Democrats than at Republicans, and until the GWB scandal broke, that fear was passed off as the Christie miracle of “bipartisanship.”

Even though the former front-runner in the GOP presidential race now looks like he’ll never make it to the primaries, even though Christie boosters like Joe Scarborough say he should resign as the head of the Republican Governors Association, anyone who the governor’s office can conceivably touch still lives in fear of his wrath.

The bully can still steal their lunch.

UPDATE: This afternoon Christie spokesperson Colin Reed sent an email pushing back against New York Times reporter Kate Zernike, saying she made “no fewer than five misleading statements” on Morning Joe today. Most irksome perhaps was what she said about Mastro’s letters: “They’re trying to sort of threaten people, not explicitly, but saying, you know, we’re going to go back after you if you come after us.”


By: Leslie Savan, The Nation, February 11, 2014

February 12, 2014 Posted by | Chris Christie | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Republicans Are Losing All Credibility On ObamaCare”: At Some Point, Voters Are Going To Stop Paying Attention To Their Scare Tactics

Even before President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law, GOP critics assailed it as a socialist, job-killing overreach indicative of a government run amok. In the years since, we’ve seen no shortage of scare-mongering and hand-wringing about how the law would harm Americans and bring the republic to an ignominious end.

Yet as ObamaCare gradually went into effect, reality began to undercut the thrust of that argument. Remember those terrifying death panels Sarah Palin warned us about? And over the past few months in particular, facts have shot down a handful of the more apocalyptic claims about the law.

In the most recent instance, a report last week from the Congressional Budget Office estimated that ObamaCare would trim the labor force by 2 million full-time jobs by 2017, and by 2.5 million come 2024. Critics seized on that as proof that the law would indeed spook businesses and stifle job growth.

What the report actually showed, though, was not a dearth of jobs, but a dearth of labor. Incentives in ObamaCare that make insurance cheaper and easier to obtain, the report suggested, would encourage some people to retire earlier or work less, thus shrinking the labor pool.

With spin and misinformation flying about, the CBO on Monday made that point clear.

“Because the longer-term reduction in work is expected to come almost entirely from a decline in the amount of labor that workers choose to supply in response to the changes in their incentives, we do not think it is accurate to say that the reduction stems from people “losing” their jobs,” CBO head Doug Elmendorf wrote.

So much for that talking point.

The same CBO report also undercut another meme on the right, that ObamaCare contains a big bailout for insurance companies.

The scuttlebutt involves the risk corridors built into the law, which cap how much insurance companies can make or lose in their first three years on the exchange marketplace. (You can read a more thorough explanation on risk corridors here.) Since taxpayers could theoretically be on the hook for covering the losses of flopping companies, a cadre of Republicans, led by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), labeled the provision a “bailout” and vowed to repeal it.

As it turns out, the CBO found that insurance companies would receive $8 billion — but pay back double to the government. In other words, the supposed bailout — which was really just standard actuarial practice to begin with, and not a literal bailout — would actually save the government billions of dollars.

Then there’s the zombie claim that lawmakers and their staffs are exempt from ObamaCare. Last month, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said he was filing suit over that boondoggle, arguing the administration had “exceeded its legal authority” in “arranging for me and other members of Congress and their staffs to receive benefits intentionally ruled out by” ObamaCare.

In truth, the law does offer a unique subsidy to Capitol Hill employees to offset the cost of obtaining insurance through the exchanges. But lawmakers and staffers only qualified for that subsidy because the law, via an attempted GOP poison pill amendment, stripped them of federally subsidized coverage and forced them onto the exchanges in the first place. Even National Review thoroughly debunked the exemption claim.

Republicans also warned that’s early glitches exposed the entire law as an unworkable train wreck. Writing in The Hill, Rep. Bill Johnson (R-Ohio) called the problems “catastrophic,” and likened the site to cooked eggs: “You see, you can’t recook eggs!”

Following a massive IT effort though, the site is now running much smoother, and enrollments are surging as a result.

That brings up another ObamaCare bogeyman: the dreaded death spiral.

ObamaCare needs a bunch of young enrollees to offset the cost of enrolling older folks. If not enough young people sign up, premiums for everyone else could spike and the system could crash.

Yet despite the best efforts from some on the right to convince young adults not to enroll — one ad campaign featured a creepy Uncle Sam sexually assaulting young patients — the death spiral, too, was more myth than reality.

Enrollment among young adults has indeed been lower than the administration’s target, but it’s expected to surge as the enrollment deadline nears. And even if the current demographic breakdown remains unchanged, an analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation determined the consequences “are not as great as conventional wisdom might suggest.” In a worst-case scenario, the report found, the effect on premiums from an unbalanced pool of enrollees would still be “well below the level that would trigger a ‘death spiral.'”

Phew. That’s a lot of debunked arguments. Next thing you know, critics will be trying to falsely claim the law won’t help enough people get coverage. Oh, wait.

Now, the GOP was right to be skeptical of Obama’s claim that everyone could keep their health insurance under ObamaCare. That turned out to not be the case.

But the party’s overall success rate on loaded ObamaCare allegations is terrible, and is only getting worse. The danger is that at some point, voters are going to stop paying attention.


By: Jon Terbush, The Week, February 11, 2014

February 12, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, Republicans | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Death Of Dog-Whistle Politics”: Intramural Republican Party Competition And The GOP’s Inability To Learn From Its Mistakes

In today’s media environment, every message you send to your base gets heard by everyone. That’s a problem for the GOP.

If you go over to Politico right now, in the “Hot Topics” listed at the top of the page, along with Obamacare, immigration, and the Olympics, is the name Monica Lewinsky. Which might strike you as odd, given that Lewinsky has been rather quiet in the decade and a half since her affair with Bill Clinton became public and led to his impeachment. But aged though it may be, the Lewinsky scandal is back. This is a story about intramural Republican party competition, the GOP’s inability to learn from its mistakes, and the death of dog-whistle politics. The problem for the Republicans is that they don’t seem to have realized it’s dead.

The latest round of Lewinsky-mania started when the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative publication that defines its mission as “combat journalism” (“At the Beacon, we follow only one commandment: Do unto them.”), went through the papers of Diane Blair, a longtime friend of Bill and Hillary Clinton, and found notes that described Hillary’s words and feelings as the Lewinsky scandal was going on. The material is certainly interesting from a historical perspective, but there isn’t anything there that could possibly be politically damaging to Clinton’s 2016 political fortunes, if that’s what they were looking for.

But you can’t tell some conservatives that. Rand Paul has been talking about Lewinsky, and when RNC chair Reince Priebus got asked about how Lewinsky might figure in 2016, instead of saying the logical thing—we have plenty of things to criticize Hillary Clinton about without getting into that—he instead said, “I think everything is on the table.”

It seems pretty clear what Rand Paul has to gain by putting himself at the forefront of an effort to refight the Clinton impeachment. As Peter Beinart argued, as the libertarian 2016 candidate, Paul will have to convince social conservatives that he shares their values, and this is a handy way to do it. Among those values, hatred of the Clintons ranks awfully high, exceeded, perhaps, by that delicious combination of salacious titillation and moral condemnation over anything having to do with sex.

The trouble is that if Republicans are going to talk about Monica Lewinsky, they’re going to do it in front of everybody, which will reinforce a whole raft of negative impressions people have of them: that they’re stuck in the past, they’re consumed by anger, that they’re puritanical. To be clear, I’m not saying that condemnation of Clinton’s affair with Lewinsky is itself puritanical, because it isn’t. What was puritanical was their obsession with the sexual details of the affair, and their belief that Clinton’s obvious evil found no greater expression than in his sexual appetite., and that they are willing to do enormous damage to the country in order to destroy their enemies. These are the things the Lewinsky scandal represents for people who aren’t conservative Republicans. Which is why Karl Rove, who has a better grasp than most Republicans of the dangers of letting their instincts run wild, told Paul to put a sock in it.

Though a potential presidential candidate like Rand Paul might like to send a subtle message to primary voters—something along the lines of “I’m with you on the sex thing, and I think the Clintons are as monstrous as you do”—in this day and age, dog-whistle politics have become impossible. Every comment is noted, every speech is recorded, and it’s just no longer possible to send multiple messages without everybody noticing in a short space of time.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the term “dog-whistle politics,” it gained wide currency during the George W. Bush administration, when liberal bloggers began noticing the way Republicans skillfully crafted appeals that were meant to only be understood by the party’s base, while the rest of the electorate took no notice (Wikipedia dates the term as far back as the 1980s, but it was in the Bush years it came into common use in this country). One prime example came during a 2004 debate, when in answering a question about what sorts of Supreme Court justices he would appoint, Bush dropped in what sounded to most viewers like a non sequitur about the 1857 Dred Scott decision that upheld slavery. To Christian conservatives, however, Bush’s meaning was clear: without ever mentioning abortion, he was telling them he would appoint justices who would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. To know that, you’d have to know that anti-abortion activists often compare Roe v. Wade to Dred Scott. If you didn’t know that, the message was as inaudible as a dog whistle.

To succeed, though, the dog whistle must have two characteristics. First, only your people are supposed to understand the hidden meaning, and that’s no longer possible, since there are armies of writers and analysts ready and able to translate anything you say, then feed it back to reporters so it can get discussed again and again. Second, the surface message has to itself be pleasing, or at least innocuous, to the larger audience. And talking about Monica Lewinsky as a way to indict Hillary Clinton is anything but.

Which leads me to a final question: Why don’t Democrats have any Lewinskys? By which I mean, issues that they talk about amongst themselves, and that Democratic presidential candidates might feel moved to echo in order to reassure them of their ideological bona fides, but which are absolutely disastrous when put before the broader public. Sure, there are positions that many liberals take that might be too extreme for a general electorate. But I can’t think of anything that a liberal might stand up and say at a town meeting, whereupon a smart Democratic operative would say in an urgent whisper, “For god’s sake, don’t bring that up! Do you want to ruin everything?”

Part of that is because, as the saying has it, Democrats hate their base and Republicans fear their base. But it’s mostly because the well of extremism just runs deeper and wider on the right. Which is why a Republican member of Congress can have a woman say to him that the President of the United States “should be executed as an enemy combatant,” in part because of “the Muslims that he is shipping into our country through Iowa in commercial jets,” and the congressman will respond not by saying, Pardon me ma’am, but you’re a nutball, but by nodding his head and responding, “Look, everybody knows the lawlessness of this president,” then going on to spout off a couple of bizarre conspiracy theories of his own.

The Republicans can’t send a dog whistle to that woman, and they can’t hide her either. Everything is exposed. And that’s why it’s going to be really tough for them to win in 2016. And don’t forget, they despise Hillary Clinton just as much as Barack Obama. Imagine if their own hatred of her is precisely the thing that gets her elected president.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, February 11, 2014

February 12, 2014 Posted by | GOP, Politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Always Pick Door Number 2”: The Lessons Of John Boehner’s Latest Failure

A last-ditch plan by House Republicans to extract concessions in exchange for hiking the nation’s borrowing limit fell apart Tuesday morning, with conservative holdouts leaving the party short of the necessary votes.

That the GOP caved isn’t as surprising as the speed with which it did, just a few minutes into a morning conference meeting. All along, it was clear Republicans had no leverage with their debt-ceiling threats; they’d caved before, and public opinion was firmly against more debt limit extortion.

Still, the GOP’s latest debt ceiling defeat is yet another sign of how difficult it has become for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to move anything through his divided caucus. And Boehner’s inability to control his party is a real liability, as it’s given Democrats even less reason to concede ground in future negotiations — not only on the debt ceiling, but on other major issues as well.

Even after Republicans self immolated during last year’s debt ceiling negotiations by offering a fantastical hostage list, the party again wanted to extract some kind of concessions this time. But though the ask list was smaller, the party again couldn’t agree on a single plan, and a handful of proposals quickly collapsed. In a weird Bizarro World twist, the last idea — to restore pension benefits to some veterans — would have had Republicans either voting to raise spending, or voting against the military.

In the end, the potential damage to the GOP was so great that party leaders knew they had two options on the debt ceiling: Stand firm and destroy the party’s approval rating (again), or ask Democrats for help. Boehner gave the finger to the Tea Party and picked Door Number 2.

So now, Democrats and President Obama, who insisted throughout the ordeal that they would only support a clean debt ceiling vote, have watched the GOP cave once again. When Republicans return with more debt ceiling demands in the future, Democrats will surely be emboldened to shrug them off and say “nope” again, confident the demands are merely more empty threats.

But will Boehner keep bucking the right wing? Immigration offers a salient test case, with Boehner seemingly interested in passing some reforms, and conservative critics blasting any action as “amnesty.”

The fallout for Republicans from spiking immigration this year wouldn’t be as visceral as the damage from, say, the government shutdown. But it would give Democrats a huge talking point — “Republicans are anti-immigration” — and further impinge on the party’s ability to court minority voters.

In short, Boehner is, as he has been for some time, caught between his need to appease the right and his need to do his job. The latest debt ceiling brouhaha has only exposed how tricky that balancing act is, and shown Democrats that, with a little pressure, they can force him to dump the right and seek out their help.


By: Jon Terbush, The Week, February 11, 2014

February 12, 2014 Posted by | Debt Ceiling, John Boehner | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Governor And His Rogue Operation”: We’re Watching A Governor Who’s Slowly Losing Control Of His Own Enterprise

Last weekend, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s (R) office went on the offensive, targeting former ally David Wildstein with a leaked attack memo a day after Wildstein’s attorney said “evidence exists” proving the governor lied about the bridge scandal. The move backfired: the memo highlighted, among other things, Wildstein’s high school record, making the pushback appear ridiculous.

Late on Friday afternoon, as Rachel noted on the show, Christie’s office tried to do damage control on their damage control with another leak.

The memo from Gov. Chris Christie’s office attacking former appointee David Wildstein’s credibility landed with a thud. It was a striking and deeply personal broadside coming from a chief executive of a state, and even his allies called it a mistake.

But one important person hadn’t seen the missive ahead of time: the governor himself.

Christie’s aides did not run the document – which took the extraordinary step of highlighting incidents from Wildstein’s high school days – by the governor before they sent it out, according to two people familiar with the matter. Instead, someone tucked the high school lines into a daily briefing email to the governor’s supporters, and blasted it out earlier than planned.

Whether or not one believes Christie, a notorious micro-manager, was actually out of the loop is a matter of perspective. Given that the attack memo made the governor’s operation look even worse, it stands to reason Christie aides have an incentive to tell Politico the governor wasn’t involved, though we may never know whether or not this is true.

But even giving Christie and his office the benefit of the doubt, this latest effort raises questions anew about what kind of operation, exactly, the governor is running in New Jersey.

Over the last month or so, the governor’s office has come up with a version of events it desperately hopes the public will believe. It goes like this:

Leading members of Team Christie went rogue last fall, using their power to cripple a community on purpose. As the scandal intensified, other leading members of Team Christie went rogue again last week, launching a misguided attack on a perceived foe. The governor who tends to oversee even the smallest details of his operation, we’re told, was blissfully unaware of what was going on around him in both instances.

This isn’t what the governor’s critics are saying; this is what Team Christie is saying. It’s their defense.

The governor hoped to cultivate an image of an effective manager who knows how to take control and lead, but by all appearances, we’re watching a governor who’s slowly losing control of his own enterprise.


By: Steve Benen, The Maoodw Blog, February 10, 2014

February 12, 2014 Posted by | Chris Christie | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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