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“It’s Not The Media–It’s Just The GOP Base”: Locked In An Increasingly Hostile Defensive Crouch Against Reality

Bill Schneider at Reuters wrote a piece this week that garnered some attention claiming that the GOP primary disaster is the fault of the media. His argument goes that modern television journalism has created a reality show environment where the most outrageous hucksters perform the best and where quality candidates and policy positions are lost in the undertow. It’s a sentiment shared by many political observers. Schneider writes:

In a contest controlled by the media, personality beats policy. Candidates with colorful and attention-grabbing personalities have the advantage. Even candidates with abrasive personalities, like Donald Trump. And goofy personalities, like Ben Carson.

The process also rewards candidates with well-honed debating skills like Florida Senator Marco Rubio and Texas Senator Ted Cruz. Even though debating skill may not be an essential quality of a great president. Things like a solid record of achievement, practical ideas and endorsements by one’s peers get discounted in today’s media-driven process. Bush’s new slogan – “Jeb Can Fix It” — does not seem to be catapulting him into the lead.

With all due respect, this argument is more than a little bit of wishful thinking. People who make this claim have an idea in their heads of what they think politics should be: a series of competing resumes and white paper policy proposals soberly adjudicated by voters who furrow their brows at community forums. It’s a quirk of certain types of journalists, good government advocates and centrist think tank gurus to believe this about elections, and to favor uninspiring candidates.

But that’s frankly not how major elections work, nor how they have ever worked at least since the advent of television.

There’s nothing different in the press environment in 2015 than there was in 2011. This supposed media-driven reality TV campaign hasn’t seemed to turn the Democratic primary into a circus–rather, the Democratic primary has so far been conducted mostly with grace and the seriousness the issues deserve, in spite of a media that seems far more concerned with Clinton’s emails and the precise definition of socialism, than in the actual policy problems the country faces.

The difference this year isn’t the media. It’s the GOP base. Something has happened over the last 15 years in the American conservative psyche that most journalists and centrist political observers don’t want to admit. Conservatives are locked in an increasingly hostile defensive crouch against reality and demographic trends. Supply-side economics, once unquestioned in its Reagan ascendancy, has been shown to be a failure on multiple levels. President George W. Bush’s signature war in Iraq turned out to be a bungled disaster. Secularism is on the rise, gays can legally get married, and America is fast becoming a minority-majority nation. Climate change and wealth inequality are the two most obvious public policy problems, neither of which has even the pretense of a credible conservative solution. This, combined with the election of the first African-American president, has had a debilitating effect on the conservative psyche, which now sees itself under assault from all directions.

Conservatives have responded by creating their own alternative reality in which rejection of basic facts and decency in the service of ideology is a badge of merit and tribal loyalty. That has created an environment in which the most popular voices tend to be the most aggressive and outlandish.

In this context, the fact that Trump, Carson and Cruz have a stranglehold on the GOP presidential race has almost nothing to do with the media and everything to do with the state of the GOP base.

That the turn toward extremism seems so sudden is a mere accident of history. In 2004 George Bush rode to a narrow victory on the strength of a still-terrified American public. 2006 saw Republicans get shellacked across the board, and the financial crisis took the wind out of GOP sails and made a 2008 Democratic victory almost certain. Even then, the trend was apparent when John McCain selected Sarah Palin as his running mate to wild applause, and then she overshadowed him among conservatives and became the better-loved figure. Barack Obama’s election was followed by a grandiose temper tantrum over a Heritage Foundation, Mitt Romney-inspired healthcare law, leading to a Tea Party insurgency that provided huge gains to Republicans in 2010 and demonstrated where the true power in the Party lay.

That Mitt Romney became the nominee in 2012 was almost a fluke: for months the collection of anti-establishment candidates had more support then Romney, and toward the end Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum of all people combined for greater support than Romney achieved. Romney only won because the real GOP base split its vote. And the rest is recent history.

This is what the GOP base really is and what it has become. The media has little to do with it, except insofar as it has hidden and failed to report the Republican Party’s unilateral march toward reality-free extremism.


By: David Atkins, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, November 22, 2015

November 23, 2015 Posted by | GOP Base, GOP Presidential Candidates, Media | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Koch Spy Agency Led By Voter Fraud Huckster”: Clandestine Surveillance Operation Focused On Perceived Political Enemies

The Kochs have been complaining about a “lack of civility in politics” as they seek to boost their public image–but one of their top operatives helped propel perhaps the most egregious case of race-baiting voter fraud hucksterism in recent years.

At the same time that the Kochs have been on a PR blitz, publicly spinning an image of themselves as well-intentioned patriots trying to make the world a better place and decrying “character assasination,” they’ve been quietly ramping up a clandestine surveillance and intelligence gathering operation focused on their perceived political enemies, Ken Vogel reports at Politico.

At the helm of this “competitive intelligence” operation is a man named Mike Roman, Vice President of Research for Kochs’ Freedom Partners and who was paid $265,000 last year, according to Freedom Partners’ recent tax filing.

But who is Mike Roman? He’s been described generally as a longtime GOP operative. However, he’s also the guy who was behind the release of the 2008 “New Black Panthers scaring old white ladies at the polls” video. The clip dominated Fox News for months and went on to fuel unfounded allegations that the Obama administration’s Department of Justice was biased against white people.

Roman made a name for himself by releasing the video, which showed a New Black Panther Party (NBPP) member holding a billy club outside a Philadelphia polling place, on his voter fraud-peddling “Election Journal” website. He then worked with Republican vote fraud conspiracist J. Christian Adams to try uncovering evidence that voters were intimidated–which they could not find. But that didn’t stop Roman, along with Fox News and the conservative echo chamber, from conjuring up a vast racist conspiracy inside the Obama administration, a theme that continues today.

As the conspiracy theories grew, Roman was given a column at, where he continued to push a “scandal” narrative and to suggest a wide-ranging conspiracy involving ACORN, NBPP, and the Obama administration to steal elections. (Roman even launched a voter fraud app.)

In 2010, another vote fraud conspiracy theorist, the Wall Street Journal‘s John Fund, put right-wing video hitman James O’Keefe in touch with Roman for intel about a purported SEIU voter fraud scheme in Boston, which turned out to be bunk.

During this same period, the Koch-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) was similarly targeting ACORN and pushing a model “Voter ID Act” to combat the nonexistent scourge of voter fraud–but which had the documented impact of disenfranchising potentially millions of students and voters of color who do not have the limited forms of IDs required under the law.

In 2010, Roman was named chief of staff to Rep. Bobby Schilling (R-IL) when he was elected to Congress for one term. Koch Industries and John Fund were among Schilling’s top donors.

It is not clear when Roman was formally folded-in to the Koch network. Freedom Partners’ new tax filing for 2014 is the first where he appeared as Vice President of Research. But tax filings as far back as 2012 describe Roman as the trustee of the mysterious “Public Engagement Group Trust,” which has the same address and suite number as another Koch group, the Center for Shared Services Trust.

Apparently Roman’s years of stoking unfounded paranoia about stolen elections prepared him for a high-ranking position in the Koch operation.

In his role as the Kochs’ top spy, Vogel reported, Roman has “worked to keep himself and his activity low-profile even within the discreet Koch operation.”

“They act all cloak and dagger–like the CIA,” one source told Vogel. “There was a joke about how hardly anyone ever met Mike Roman. It was like, if you wanted to find him, he’d be in a trench coat on the National Mall.”

Roman’s GoodReads profile fits his carefully-cultivated cloak-and-dagger persona.

His favorite reads include books like “Data Mining and Analysis” and “Intelligence Analysis: a Target-Centric Approach,” as well as Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals, the left-wing organizer’s manual that has gained traction on the right in recent years.

Mike Roman’s favorite author? Charles Koch.


By: Brendan Fisher, Center for Media and Democracy; CMD Executive Director Lisa Graves contributed research to this article; November 19, 2015

November 23, 2015 Posted by | ALEC, Koch Brothers, Mike Roman, Racism | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The GOP’s Islamic State Bluster”: As Far As The GOP Field Is Concerned, Generosity Of Spirit Is For Losers

The impact of the Paris attacks on the Republican presidential race may turn out to be minimal, especially since the establishment candidates aren’t making any more sense than outsiders Donald Trump and Ben Carson.

Theoretically, a deadly rampage by Islamic State terrorists ought to make Republican voters think twice about presidential hopefuls who have zero experience in government and no expertise in foreign or military affairs. But the contenders who hold or held high office are offering little more than bellicose rhetoric and overblown pledges of toughness.

Not that it’s easy to match Trump for hyperbole. “Refugees from Syria are now pouring into our great country,” he said on Twitter. “Who knows who they are — some could be ISIS. Is our president insane?”

But Chris Christie, who should know better, went not just over the top but around the bend. He said all Syrian refugees should be turned away, including “orphans under 5.” As governor of New Jersey, maybe he’ll order a security sweep of the Garden State’s elementary school playgrounds.

For the record, Syrian refugees are not “pouring” into the United States. There’s hardly even a trickle: Since the civil war began, slightly more than 2,000 refugees have been admitted. Compare our meager total with the estimated 2 million Syrians taking refuge in Turkey or the hundreds of thousands flooding into Europe. Boosting the number to 10,000 over the next year, as Obama plans, would still mean that the U.S. contribution to alleviating one of the worst refugee crises since World War II doesn’t amount to a drop in the bucket. I could describe in detail the lengthy pre-entry vetting process, which can take up to two years, but why bother? As far as the GOP field is concerned, generosity of spirit is for losers.

Carson’s response to the Islamic State is, unsurprisingly, vague and off-the-wall. He wrote an op-ed in The Post calling for a military strategy virtually identical to President Obama’s, augmented by “a multi-pronged communications strategy that leverages our strengths in media production and messaging, combined with cutting off traditional access routes to social media for radical Islamist groups.” He seems to mean we should create a really cool smartphone app.

But Marco Rubio, too, called for a dramatic escalation in social-media warfare. He said Sunday that “where we strike them, we capture or kill their leaders, we videotape the operations, we publicize them, because this is a group that heavily uses propaganda to attract fighters and donors from around the world.” And John Kasich proposed a new government agency to promote “Judeo-Christian Western values” to the world.

Lindsey Graham had the best response to Kasich’s brainstorm: “I think that was the Crusades.”

Jeb Bush, the ultimate establishment candidate, seemed to sense both opportunity and peril. “The United States should not delay in leading a global coalition to take out ISIS with overwhelming force,” he said in a speech Wednesday. “Militarily, we need to intensify our efforts in the air — and on the ground.”

Coming from anyone else, those words might strike Republican voters as tough and sober. Coming from a candidate named Bush, however, they could portend a geopolitical blunder of historic proportions. Perhaps that is why Bush is vague on how many U.S. ground troops he would send and what they would do, saying he would rely on the judgment of the professional soldiers advising him.

If that sounds familiar, it’s because all the establishment GOP candidates pledge to rely on the generals to tell them how many troops to send. Obama says he follows the generals’ counsel, too.

Rogue candidate Trump, of course, needs no advice. He says he will “bomb the [expletive] out of [ISIS],” applauds the fact that Russian President Vladimir Putin is doing the same and vows to destroy the oil fields that provide much of the Islamic State’s wealth.

He says all of this in typically bombastic fashion. His claim that he will “win” by sheer force of personality is deeply unserious. But the actual policies he rants about may resonate with GOP voters: Rely on air power, get other countries to put troops on the ground, take no chances with refugees, talk really tough.

Two new polls of New Hampshire Republicans, conducted since the Paris attacks by WBUR of Boston and Fox News, show that Rubio may be doing a little better in that state and Carson a little worse. But Trump remains far ahead of the pack. Plus ça change.


By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, November 19, 2015

November 23, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP Presidential Candidates, Syrian Refugees | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Perils Of Circus Politics”: Circus Politics May Be Fun To Watch, But It’s Profoundly Dangerous For America And The World

The next president of the United States will confront a virulent jihadist threat, mounting effects of climate change, and an economy becoming ever more unequal.

We’re going to need an especially wise and able leader.

Yet our process for choosing that person is a circus, and several leading candidates are clowns.

How have we come to this?

First, anyone with enough ego and money can now run for president.

This wasn’t always the case. Political parties used to sift through possible candidates and winnow the field.

Now the parties play almost no role. Anyone with some very wealthy friends can set up a Super PAC. According to a recent New York Times investigation, half the money to finance the 2016 election so far has come from just 158 families.

Or if you’re a billionaire, you can finance your own campaign.

And if you’re sufficiently outlandish, outrageous, and outspoken, a lot of your publicity will be free. Since he announced his candidacy last June, Trump hasn’t spent any money at all on television advertising.

Second, candidates can now get away with saying just about anything about their qualifications or personal history, even if it’s a boldface lie.

This wasn’t always the case, either. The media used to scrutinize what candidates told the public about themselves.

A media expose could bring a candidacy to a sudden halt (as it did in 1988 for Gary Hart, who had urged reporters to follow him if they didn’t believe his claims of monogamy).

But when today’s media expose a candidates lies, there seems to be no consequence. Carson’s poll numbers didn’t budge after revelations he had made up his admission to West Point.

The media also used to evaluate candidates’ policy proposals, and those evaluations influenced voters.

Now the media’s judgments are largely shrugged off. Trump says he’d “bomb the shit” out of ISIS, round up all undocumented immigrants in the United States and send them home, and erect a wall along the entire U.S.-Mexican border.

Editors and columnists find these proposals ludicrous but that doesn’t seem to matter.

Fiorina says she’ll stop Planned Parenthood from “harvesting” the brains of fully formed fetuses. She insists she saw an undercover video of the organization about to do so.

The media haven’t found any such video but no one seems to care.

Third and finally, candidates can now use hatred and bigotry to gain support.

Years ago respected opinion leaders stood up to this sort of demagoguery and brought down the bigots.

In the 1950s, the eminent commentator Edward R. Murrow revealed Wisconsin Senator Joe McCarthy to be a dangerous incendiary, thereby helping put an end to McCarthy’s communist witch hunts.

In the 1960s, religious leaders and university presidents condemned Alabama Governor George C. Wallace and other segregationist zealots – thereby moving the rest of America toward integration, civil rights, and voting rights.

But when today’s presidential candidates say Muslim refugees shouldn’t be allowed into America, no Muslim should ever be president, and undocumented workers from Mexico are murderers, they get away with it.

Paradoxically, at a time when the stakes are especially high for who becomes the next president, we have a free-for-all politics in which anyone can become a candidate, put together as much funding as they need, claim anything about themselves no matter how truthful, advance any proposal no matter how absurd, and get away bigotry without being held accountable.

Why? Americans have stopped trusting the mediating institutions that used to filter and scrutinize potential leaders on behalf of the rest of us.

Political parties are now widely disdained.

Many Americans now consider the “mainstream media” biased.

And no opinion leader any longer commands enough broad-based respect to influence a majority of the public.

A growing number of Americans have become convinced the entire system is rigged – including the major parties, the media, and anyone honored by the establishment.

So now it’s just the candidates and the public, without anything in between.

Which means electoral success depends mainly on showmanship and self-promotion.

Telling the truth and advancing sound policies are less important than trending on social media.

Being reasonable is less useful than gaining attention.

Offering rational argument is less advantageous than racking up ratings.

Such circus politics may be fun to watch, but it’s profoundly dangerous for America and the world.

We might, after all, elect one of the clowns.


By: Robert Reich, The Robert Reich Blog, November 17, 2015

November 23, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Journalism, Mainstream Media, Political Parties | , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“A Twisted Moral Value System”: In Lousiana Governor Loss, David Vitter Shows Just How Far A Republican Must Sink To Be Rejected In A Red State

As most Washington Monthly readers know by now, Democrat John Bel Edwards defeated disgraced Louisiana Senator David Vitter in his bid for governor to replace failed presidential candidate Bobby Jindal. Vitter was famously the center of several scandals, especially including a prostitution debacle in which he reportedly engaged in not-so-vanilla interests.

Vitter had been trailing heavily in the polls for quite some time, and pulled out all the usual Republican dogwhistle tricks, from scaremongering over Syrian refugees to his own version of the racist Willie Horton strategy, claiming that his opponent would assist President Obama in releasing “thugs” from jail.

None of it worked. Jon Bel Edwards isn’t the sort of Democrat progressives will croon over anytime soon: he is anti-abortion, pro-gun and opposed President Obama on refugees. But he’s the first Democrat to win major elected office in the South since 2009, and his victory will mean that a quarter of a million people will get healthcare who would almost certainly have been denied it under a Vitter administration. That’s definitely a good thing.

But it would be extremely premature to declare that this result bodes well for a Democratic resurgence in the South. Democrats fared far more poorly downballot from the governor’s race, proving that the John Bel Edwards’ victory owed more to Louisiana voters’ disgust with David Vitter than to sympathy for his own agenda. The example of Matt Bevin’s recent election in Kentucky shows that at least the voters who turn out in off-year cycles in the South are more than willing to deny hundreds of thousands of people their right to healthcare and other benefits. It was David Vitter’s personal troubles that hurt him badly enough to hand a Democrat an overwhelming victory.

And that itself is yet another indictment of Republican voters. David Vitter’s prostitution scandal is weird, creepy and untoward for a U.S. Senator. But a legislator’s fidelity and sexual proclivities have very little bearing on their job as a representative of the people, which is to protect the Constitution and do a responsible job providing the greatest good for the greatest number of constituents. Scapegoating refugees and denying medical care to hundreds of thousands are objectively both far greater moral crimes against common decency than a thousand trysts with sex workers. That the latter is illegal and the former is legal is a testament to the twisted moral value system perverted by puritan Calvinist ethics. Vitter should have been ousted for his overtly destructive public morality, not his far less consequential private failures.

But that’s not how Republicans roll. In their world, causing the needless deaths of thousands is fair game. Having sex with the wrong person, on the other hand, is unforgivable.

There may be a large number of people in this world who share that value system. But that doesn’t mean that those with a well-adjusted moral compass must respect it or grant it validity.


By: David Atkins, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthy, November 22, 2015

November 23, 2015 Posted by | David Vitter, John Bel Edwards, Louisiana Governors Race | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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