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“Marco Rubio Doesn’t Add Up”: Could He Burn Out Before He Ever Catches Fire?

Math was never my strongest subject, so maybe I’m just not crunching the numbers right.

But the more I stare at them, the less sense Marco Rubio makes.

Rubio as the front-runner, I mean. As the probable Republican nominee.

According to odds makers and prediction markets, he’s the best bet. According to many commentators, too.

But Iowa’s less than a month away, and in two recent polls of Republican voters there, he’s a distant third, far behind Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.

So he’s killing it in New Hampshire, right?

Wrong. A survey from two weeks ago had him second to Trump there, but another, just days earlier, put him in third place — after Trump and Cruz, again. Chris Christie’s inching up on him, the reasons for which were abundantly clear in a comparison of Christie’s freewheeling campaign style and Rubio’s hyper-controlled one by The Times’s Michael Barbaro.

And as of Thursday, the Real Clear Politics average of recent polls in South Carolina showed Rubio to be more than six points behind Cruz and 21 behind Trump among that state’s Republicans. There’s no inkling of a surge, and it’s not as if pro-Rubio forces have been holding off on advertising that will turn the tide. Plenty of ads have already run.

In fact the rap on Rubio is that he counts too much on them and spends too little time on the trail. The largest newspaper in New Hampshire took aim at the infrequency of his appearances there in an editorial with the headline: “Marco? Marco? Where’s Rubio?”

And when he missed a Senate vote last month, a spokesman for Cruz tweeted that it was because “he had 1 event in a row in Iowa — a record-setting breakneck pace for Marco.”

Rubio can’t claim a singularly formidable campaign organization, with a remarkably robust platoon of ground troops. His fund-raising hasn’t been exceptional.

His promise seems to lie instead in his biography as the son of hard-working Cuban immigrants, in his good looks, in the polish of his oratory, in the nimbleness with which he debates.

And in this: Reasonable people can’t stomach the thought of Trump or Cruz as the nominee. We can’t accept what that would say about America, or what that could mean for it. Rubio is the flawed, rickety lifeboat we cling to, the amulet we clutch. He’ll prevail because he must. The alternative is simply too perverse (Trump) or too cruel (Cruz).

But so much about him and the contention that he’s poised for victory is puzzling.

Because this is his first national campaign, reporters (and opponents) are digging into his past more vigorously than ever, and it’s unclear how much fodder it holds and how much defense he’ll have to play.

Just last week, The Washington Post reported that in 2002, when he was the majority whip in the Florida House of Representatives, he used statehouse stationery to write a letter in support of a real estate license for his sister’s husband, who had served 12 years in federal prison for distributing $15 million worth of cocaine.

Rubio, 44, is only now coming into focus.

He’s frequently been called the Republican Obama — because he’s young, a trailblazing minority and a serious presidential contender while still a first-term senator.

But a prominent G.O.P. strategist told me that Rubio reminds him more of another Democratic president.

“He’s the Republican Bill Clinton,” the strategist said, referring to the slickness with which Rubio shifts shapes and the confidence with which he straddles ideological divides.

He’s a conservative crusader, happy to carry the banner of the Tea Party. He’s a coolheaded pragmatist, ready to do the bidding of Wall Street donors.

“Rubio is triangulating,” Eleanor Clift wrote recently, choosing a Clintonian verb to describe his fuzzy, evolving positions.

He pushed for a comprehensive immigration-reform bill, including a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, until he suddenly stepped away from it. He has said that he opposes abortion even in cases of rape or incest, but he has also said that he’d back less extreme regulations if they were the only attainable ones.

“Rubio’s inclusiveness can invite caricature,” Evan Osnos observed in The New Yorker in late November. “He considers himself a Catholic, but he attends two churches — an evangelical Protestant service on Saturdays and a Roman Catholic Mass on Sundays.”

By dint of his heritage, he’s supposed to represent a much-needed Republican bridge to Latinos. But many of his positions impede that, and several recent polls raise doubts about the strength of his appeal to Latino voters.

There’s no theme in his campaign more incessantly trumpeted than a generational one. Declaiming that Hillary Clinton, 68, is yesterday, he presents himself as tomorrow, an ambassador for young voters who’ll presumably bring more of them, too, to the Republican camp.

But in a Washington Post/ABC News poll in late November, his support was more than twice as strong among Republican voters 65 and older as among those under 50.

And he’s at sharp odds with millennials on a range of issues. Most of them favor same-sex marriage; he doesn’t. Most are wary of government surveillance; he’s one of its fiercest proponents. Unlike him, they want marijuana legalized. Unlike him, they want decisive government action against climate change.

And they’re not swayed by unwrinkled skin and a relatively full head of dark hair. Just ask wizened, white-tufted Bernie Sanders, 74, whose campaign is the one most clearly buoyed by young voters.

So what does Rubio offer them?

He communicates a message — a gleam — of hope. He’s a smoother salesman and more talented politician than most of his Republican rivals. That’s why I still buy the argument that he’s the one to watch, especially given his party’s long history of selecting less provocative candidates over firebrands.

I still nod at the notion that if he merely finishes ahead of Christie, Jeb Bush and other candidates who are vying for mainstream Republicans in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, they’ll fade, their supporters will flock to him and he’ll be lifted above Cruz and even above Trump, who could implode at any moment anyway.

But over the last three decades, no Republican or Democrat — with the exception of Bill Clinton — lost both Iowa and New Hampshire and survived that crisis in momentum to win the nomination. If that’s Rubio’s path, it’s an unusual one.

In an unusual year, yes. But as the wait for his candidacy to heat up lengthens, I wonder: Could he burn out before he ever catches fire?


By: Mark Bruni, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, January2, 2015

January 4, 2016 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Iowa Caucuses, Marco Rubio | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Power And Limits Of Symbolism”: There Is A Lot More That Goes Into Making Up Our Identity

I remember back in 1984 when I first heard rumors that Walter Mondale was considering the possibility of nominating a woman as his Vice Presidential running mate, my reaction was pretty dismissive. I thought, “Pffttt…another woman in a supporting role, no big deal.”

But then as I watched him actually announce that Geraldine Ferraro would be his running mate, I cried. The tears totally surprised me – I didn’t see them coming. Their source was not my rational mind. Instead, they came from something very deep inside.

I saw the same kinds of tears on the faces of people at Grant Park in Chicago on the night Barack Obama was elected in 2008.

That is the power of symbolism. It touches the place that needs to hear, “You belong.” Whoopi Goldberg captured that very well the next morning when she said, “I’ve always considered myself an American, but for the first time last night, I felt like I could finally put my bags down.” We should never underestimate the power of “you belong” for people who have felt marginalized in our culture. It is not something that we articulate often on a rational basis, but it resides deep in our being.

On the other hand, there are limits to symbolism. There is a lot more that goes into making up our identity than the fact that we are a woman, or African American, or a member of another group that has been marginalized. We are complex human beings with a variety of thoughts and feelings when it comes to politics.

That is something that Republicans (and some Democrats) don’t seem to understand about symbolism. It’s why John McCain chose Sarah Palin as his running mate and thought that is all he needed to do to reach out to women. And it is what some pundits and political strategists think will happen with candidates like Herman Cain and Ben Carson. In many ways that kind of thing only perpetuates the marginalization by assuming that we can be reduced to the fact that we have a uterus or a heavier dose of melanin.

Keep that in mind when you hear pundits assume that a presidential candidate like Marco Rubio will attract Latino and/or young voters. It is, first of all, insulting to many Hispanics to ignore the very real differences between Mexican-Americans, Cuban-Americans, Puerto Rican-Americans, etc. And, of course, it assumes a linkage between both cultures and complex human beings that is reduced to the fact that – for the most part – they share the same language.

I also know of no better way to insult young people than to suggest that the most important thing about them is their age. What most young people are telling us these days is that they are ready to move past the racism/sexism/homophobia that has divided us for so long and get busy tackling things that actually affect their future – like education and climate change. I think they’re smart enough to chose a candidate who speaks to those issues and not get hung up on the year they were born.

So yes, there is power in symbolism. But to assume that marginalized voters can be reduced to one demographic factor is why the word “token” was introduced into discussions about diversity. It is demeaning to think that’s all that matters.


By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, January 1, 2016

January 2, 2016 Posted by | Symbolism, Walter Mondale, Young Voters | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Debate Upshot: Democrats Are The Only Responsible Party”: GOP Wants To Make Life Miserable For Anyone Who Isn’t Older, Wealthy, White, Straight And Male

The third Democratic debate is in the books, having been conveniently held on a night that featured both college football bowl games and the opening weekend of the new Star Wars movie.

It’s just as well, though, because it was a largely uneventful night. Politico has a decent rundown of the main highlights, from Sanders personally apologizing for the data breach to the candidates’ renewed push on gun control. There isn’t much reason to believe that debate will move the polling needle in a significant way, which obviously plays well for Clinton as far as the contest goes.

But debates aren’t just about sorting out the differences between primary candidates. They’re also about promoting a political party’s worldview and illustrating how its leaders would manage the nation’s problems. That’s one of the biggest reasons why the DNC’s debate schedule is so frustrating: it’s not only that infrequent and low-viewership debates prevent a healthy and vigorous contest, but also that they deny the American people a chance to hear from the party.

Those who did tune in had the opportunity to hear from three candidates who can be trusted, to varying degrees, to lead the nation. There are some obvious differences between them that don’t need restating here, but the distinction between the Democrats and the Republicans in their debates could not possibly have been sharper. The GOP wants to drop more bombs on anything that moves in the middle east, cut taxes on every corporation and rich person it can, and make life miserable for almost anyone who isn’t older, wealthy, white, straight and male.

It’s not just about morals, though: it’s about basic responsibility. Republican foreign policy wouldn’t just needlessly kill untold numbers through needless military aggressions–it would also generate a massive increase in terrorism and instability just as George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq did. Republican tax policy wouldn’t just benefit the rich at the expense of the poor and middle class–it would also bust the budget, create massive deficits and hurt the demand-side consumer economy. Republican climate policy wouldn’t just benefit fossil fuel companies and increase pollution–it would also put the entire planet at risk of eventual civilization and species collapse.

Republican candidates are catering to a furious and fearful population of resentful paranoiacs. Their policy platforms are predictably wildly irresponsible.

The Democratic Party may still have a way to go in becoming as progressive as it needs to be. But there’s no question that only one of America’s two parties can be counted on to do the basic job of running the government.


By: David Atkins, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, December 20, 2015

December 21, 2015 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Democratic Presidential Primaries, GOP Presidential Candidates, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“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

“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

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