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“Isolating Themselves From Any Exposure To Policy Reality”: The GOP Only Hurts Itself By Walking Away From Tough Debates

Given the uproar within the conservative media world about the supposedly unfair CNBC debate, it’s understandable that the RNC would have to do something lest it lose what little credibility it still had with the GOP base. So Reince Priebus has pulled out of the debate partnership with NBC, even as the candidates themselves have started to form a weird pact to insulate themselves from future debates of that nature.

The problem for the Republican Party and its candidates is that while some of the questions may have been phrased a little rudely (“what is your greatest weakness?” and “comic book version of a presidential campaign” may have gone a little far in the tone department), the questions themselves were both substantive and accurate. This is has been pointed out again and again: Brian Beutler noted it at The New Republic, Ezra Klein explained it at Vox, and Charles Pierce had his own colorful version at Esquire.

The problem with the CNBC debate for Repbulicans wasn’t that a bunch of “flaming liberals” (in the words of the incomparably ghoulish Charles Krauthammer) asked them unfair questions. CNBC is, after all, the slavishly pro-Wall Street greedhead network that employs Rick “Tea Party” Santelli, Larry Kudlow and similar characters. It was that the moderators treated unserious falsehoods as, well, unserious falsehoods, from the candidates’ budget-busting regressive plans counting on phantom supply-side growth to their denials of unsavory records and associations.

So the RNC has decided to work the refs and refuse any similar debates, rather than suggest that their candidates might want to be less openly silly and unserious.

But this only hurts the Republican Party going forward. In a general election, the Democratic Party and its allies will not be shy about pointing out the weaknesses of the eventual nominee and their policy positions in the strongest possible terms.

One of the chief goals of a presidential primary is to test candidates’ weaknesses and potential general election attacks against them. On the Democratic side, that means that Clinton’s trustworthiness and Sanders’ use of the socialist label are both fair game. Democratic primary voters have a vested interest in seeing how their candidates handle those issues in a trial run before the big event.

Republicans seem to be more interested in isolating themselves from any exposure to policy reality, preferring to scream about the “liberal media” (at CNBC!) whenever anyone suggests that, for instance, handing out trillions in tax breaks to the rich just might increase budget deficits.

That will only come back to hurt them worse starting in June of next year when the real games begin.

 

By: David Atkins, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, October 31, 2015

November 2, 2015 Posted by | GOP Primary Debates, Media, Reince Priebus, Republican National Committee | , , , , , | 3 Comments

“It Never Pays To Give Bullies What They Want”: Will The Press Recognize The Existential Threat And Fight Back, Or Buckle Under?

It should astonish even the jaded that Republicans are calling CNBC, that stodgy home of supply-side Wall Street cheerleading, an agent of the left.

Still apoplectic at being asked some basic questions at the debate, Republican candidates are doubling down on their freakout.

Ted Cruz is flat-out calling CNBC debate moderators “left-wing operatives” and demanding that right-wing radio hosts moderate their debates, instead.

Donald Trump, who openly lied during the debate about what is on his own website, called debate moderator John Harwood a “dope” and a “fool.”

All of this after Republican candidates spewed forth one of the most embarrassing explosion of lies ever witnessed during a television presidential debate.

The press is facing an existential threat. With Republicans increasingly unashamed to tell grandiose lies and respond to any press criticism with derogatory insults and whines about media bias as well as blackmail threats to cancel appearances if the questions are too tough, the press must decide how to respond on two fronts. First, it must decide how to present an objective face while acknowledging that both sides do not, in fact, behave equally badly. Second, it must determine whether it will continue to ask the tough questions that need answers regardless of the threats made by the GOP, or whether it will meekly submit to the demands for kid-glove treatment.

If the press chooses to assuage and give comfort to the GOP, it will lose what little credibility it has left. The Republican base will never accept mainstream journalists as fair arbiters–but the rest of us will lose what little respect we still have for them. If the press stands up to the bullies and calls out GOP tactics and untruths for what they are, they will gain in respect what they lose from conservative hatemongers in the perceived objectivity department.

The choice is clear: stand strong and call out the lies as they are, or fall further into the abyss as the Republican Party ramps up its threats and insults. It never pays to give a bully what they want, unless the bully has absolute power over you. The GOP does not hold that sort of power over the press. Indeed, the GOP has far more to fear from the press than the other way around.

 

By: David Atkins, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, November 1.2015

November 2, 2015 Posted by | GOP Primary Debates, Press, Republicans | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“CNBC Is The Perfect Scapegoat For The GOP’s 2016 Problems”: Candidates Who Blow It In A Debate Have Only Themselves To Blame

The third GOP presidential debate, held Wednesday evening in Colorado, revealed two key truths: The political media has declared war on several Republican candidates, and the candidates have declared war on the political media.

The GOP’s gripes against the media are legion. Over the past several election cycles, they have reached a fever pitch, with the presidential debates largely to blame. The problem, from a Republican standpoint, was epitomized by Candy Crowley’s intervention on behalf of President Obama during his crucial second debate with Mitt Romney in 2012. Reeling from a limp and lackluster performance the first time around, Obama needed to beat Romney on foreign policy; Crowley upended Romney’s plans by jumping into their exchange on the administration’s shifting talking points around the Benghazi attack, and essentially siding with Obama.

Long critical of the “lamestream media,” as Sarah Palin once called it, conservatives reserve a particular ire for debate moderators, who do, after all, command an outsized ability to influence how presidential candidates perform and are perceived.

So when Ted Cruz crushed the CNBC moderators Wednesday night, the resulting applause — in the studio and across the conservative internet — was not particularly surprising. The other candidates all quickly caught on. Chris Christie jumped at the chance to wryly cry rude. Donald Trump hooked his closing argument around the way he muscled the network into improving the debate’s format. Even Bush campaign manager Danny Diaz got into the act, railing against a CNBC producer about the distribution of speaking time. (Bush came in last.)

But the debate-bashing crescendo came courtesy of Ben Carson, whose own campaign manager, Barry Bennett, said he detests the traditional format and wants to rally the field to demand an anti-lamestream reboot. “There’s not enough time to talk about your plans,” Bennett griped. “There’s no presentation. It’s just a slugfest. All we do is change moderators. And the trendline is horrific. So I think there needs to be wholesale change here.”

Those critiques are legit. Whether you’re a beltway insider or just a Twitter junkie, you know well that debate season is a time for gallows humor, morbid drinking games, and existential boredom among the political media itself.

Embittered conservatives might say that suggests how endemic the cynicism and hypocrisy of that crowd has become. But from the standpoint of a sympathetic political writer, it’s not that simple.

The fact is that quite often, candidates who blow it in a debate have only themselves to blame. In part, that’s because the media just likes to reward winners. Whether it’s Carly Fiorina, Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio, or Mitt Romney in his first showdown with Obama, good performances get good press. In larger part, it’s because the media loves to punish losers. Candidates who do okay but turn off the media — like Trump — don’t pay much of a price in the horserace. Candidates who have a rotten debate night — like Bush — do. And when they do, it’s almost never because of a Crowley-esque act of butting in. It’s because the debate is a crucible, however clumsy, where a candidate’s behind-the-scenes struggles are revealed.

Consider Jeb Bush’s one big mistake last night, the one that defined the evening, cemented the narrative, and possibly sank his campaign. Looking for an opportunity to deliver a canned attack on Rubio’s spotty Senate attendance record — a talking point his campaign has been stressing in recent days — Bush let loose: “When you signed up for this, this was a six-year term and you should be showing up to work. I mean literally, the Senate, what is it, a French work week? You get like three days where you have to show up. You can campaign or just resign and let somebody else take the job.” With Rubio flush from his own knock on the debate moderators, Bush’s dig was both weak and poorly timed — and it resulted in this killer rejoinder: “I don’t remember you ever complaining about John McCain’s vote record; the only reason you’re doing it now is because we’re running for the same position and someone has convinced you that it’s going to help you,” Rubio said.

Game, set, match. That one exchange led everyone from The Weekly Standard‘s Jonathan Last to Slate‘s Jamelle Bouie to pronounce Bush politically dead. A judgment that harsh, across that broad a political spectrum, doesn’t indicate a new low for D.C.’s smug and jaded smart set. It doesn’t discredit today’s (admittedly dumb) debate format. And it doesn’t indict the media elite literally running the show. It reveals that Jeb Bush couldn’t prevent a horrendously unforced error — at this stage, proof of far bigger problems than bad timing or flimsy opposition research.

For all their problems, the debates — and those who run them — can only do so much damage to Republican candidates onstage. On debate night, the real lamestream doesn’t run through the political media, but through campaigns that could use some wholesale change of their own.

 

By: James Poulos, The Week, October 29, 2015

November 1, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, GOP Primary Debates, Mainstream Media | , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Bald-Faced And Blatant Lies”: Debate Fallout; Even Conservatives Are Appalled By Republican Mendacity

For people who so often accuse Hillary Clinton of lying, the Republican presidential candidates seem to feel perfectly free to bend, twist, and shred the truth at will. Unsurprisingly, that is just what several of them were caught doing in their free-for-all CNBC debate. They prevaricated about themselves, their policies, and their opponents, without blinking an eye – and for the most part, they got away with it.

Do nice people tell self-serving lies? Perhaps they do, because it was terribly nice Ben Carson who uttered one of the most blatant whoppers of the evening.

To loud booing from the partisan audience, moderator Carl Quintanilla asked the soft-spoken neurosurgeon about his long and lucrative involvement with Mannatech, a nutritional supplement manufacturer that has been cited for false health claims for its “glyconutrients.” (How bad was Mannatech? Bad enough to provoke a fraud action brought by Greg Abbott, the former Texas attorney general who is now that state’s very conservative governor.)

“I didn’t have an involvement with [Mannatech],” retorted Carson. “That is total propaganda, and this is what happens in our society. Total propaganda.”

What Carson’s noisy fans probably didn’t know is that this was no “liberal media” setup. The doctor’s decade-long relationship with Mannatech – which turns out to have included a written contract, paid speeches, and a video endorsement on the company’s website – was exposed last year by Jim Geraghty of National Review, the flagship publication of American conservatism. Following the debate, Geraghty slammed Carson for “bald-faced lies” and “blatantly lying” about his relationship with the supplement firm.

Equally mendacious about his own personal history was Marco Rubio, who “won” the debate according to many observers. When Becky Quick of CNBC asked a predictable question about his checked financial affairs, which have included foreclosures, liquidations, phony expense accounts, and other embarrassments, the senator from Florida shot back: “You just listed a litany of discredited attacks from Democrats and my political opponents, and I’m not gonna waste 60 seconds detailing them all.”

Discredited attacks? Actually, Quick’s question was premised on facts that are not in dispute – as even Rubio himself acknowledged in his own campaign book. So frontally deceptive was his response that an outraged Joe Scarborough, his fellow Florida Republican, called him out on MSNBC’s Morning Joe the next day.

“Marco just flat-out lied to the American people there,” Scarborough complained. “And I was stunned that the moderators didn’t stop there and go, ‘Wait a second, these are court records. What are you talking about?…Becky was telling the truth, Marco was lying. And yet everybody’s going, ‘Oh, Marco was great.’ No, Marco lied about his financials.” Not incidentally, Rubio also lied about the effects of his tax plan, claiming his tax cuts would mostly benefit lower-income families when in fact its biggest benefits would accrue to the top one percent, as Republican tax schemes almost always do.

Another brand of lie was pronounced by Carly Fiorina, who drew attention at the last GOP by insisting she had watched a grisly Planned Parenthood video that doesn’t exist. This time, she reached back to the 2012 Republican campaign to invent a factoid about women’s employment.

Fiorina tries to sell herself as the candidate tough enough to take down Clinton, and tries to prove it by making stuff up. At this debate, she huffed:

It is the height of hypocrisy for Mrs. Clinton to talk about being the first woman president, when every single policy she espouses and every single policy of President Obama has been demonstratively bad for women. Ninety-two percent of the jobs lost during Barack Obama’s first term belonged to women.

But as PolitiFact quickly established, that statement was false in every particular. Not only did women not lose “92 percent” of the jobs in Obama’s first term, the number of women employed during the period from January 2009 to January 2013 grew by 416,000. Naturally, as she did with Planned Parenthood, Fiorina angrily repeated the lie when challenged.

Fiorina isn’t the only Republican who doesn’t like being exposed. Rubio ridiculously claimed that the “mainstream media” is really a Democratic SuperPAC. And now RNC chair Reince Priebus has reneged on the party’s debate agreement with NBC News. He and his candidates just couldn’t handle two hours of sharp but thoroughly polite questioning.

They constantly insult Clinton, but how would any of these slippery blowhards survive something like the 11-hour Benghazi grilling she breezed through on Capitol Hill? If you want to understand who they are, just listen to them whine.

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, Editor’s Blog, Featured Post, The National Memo, October 30, 2015

October 31, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, GOP Primary Debates, Mainstream Media | , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“The Inflation Cult”: The Broad Appeal Of Prophets Whose Prophecies Keep Failing

Wish I’d said that! Earlier this week, Jesse Eisinger of ProPublica, writing on The Times’s DealBook blog, compared people who keep predicting runaway inflation to “true believers whose faith in a predicted apocalypse persists even after it fails to materialize.” Indeed.

Economic forecasters are often wrong. Me, too! If an economist never makes an incorrect prediction, he or she isn’t taking enough risks. But it’s less common for supposed experts to keep making the same wrong prediction year after year, never admitting or trying to explain their past errors. And the remarkable thing is that these always-wrong, never-in-doubt pundits continue to have large public and political influence.

There’s something happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear. But as regular readers know, I’ve been trying to figure it out, because I think it’s important to understand the persistence and power of the inflation cult.

Whom are we talking about? Not just the shouting heads on CNBC, although they’re certainly part of it. Rick Santelli, famous for his 2009 Tea Party rant, also spent much of that year yelling that runaway inflation was coming. It wasn’t, but his line never changed. Just two months ago, he told viewers that the Federal Reserve is “preparing for hyperinflation.”

You might dismiss the likes of Mr. Santelli, saying that they’re basically in the entertainment business. But many investors didn’t get that memo. I’ve had money managers — that is, professional investors — tell me that the quiescence of inflation surprised them, because “all the experts” predicted that it would surge.

And it’s not as easy to dismiss the phenomenon of obsessive attachment to a failed economic doctrine when you see it in major political figures. In 2009, Representative Paul Ryan warned about “inflation’s looming shadow.” Did he reconsider when inflation stayed low? No, he kept warning, year after year, about the coming “debasement” of the dollar.

Wait, there’s more: You find the same Groundhog Day story when you look at the pronouncements of seemingly reputable economists. In May 2009, Allan Meltzer, a well-known monetary economist and historian of the Federal Reserve, had an Op-Ed article published in The Times warning that a sharp rise in inflation was imminent unless the Fed changed course. Over the next five years, Mr. Meltzer’s preferred measure of prices rose at an annual rate of only 1.6 percent, and his response was published in another op-ed article, this time in The Wall Street Journal. The title? “How the Fed Fuels the Coming Inflation.”

So what’s going on here?

I’ve written before about how the wealthy tend to oppose easy money, perceiving it as being against their interests. But that doesn’t explain the broad appeal of prophets whose prophecies keep failing.

Part of that appeal is clearly political; there’s a reason why Mr. Santelli yells about both inflation and how President Obama is giving money away to “losers,” why Mr. Ryan warns about both a debased currency and a government that redistributes from “makers” to “takers.” Inflation cultists almost always link the Fed’s policies to complaints about government spending. They’re completely wrong about the details — no, the Fed isn’t printing money to cover the budget deficit — but it’s true that governments whose debt is denominated in a currency they can issue have more fiscal flexibility, and hence more ability to maintain aid to those in need, than governments that don’t.

And anger against “takers” — anger that is very much tied up with ethnic and cultural divisions — runs deep. Many people, therefore, feel an affinity with those who rant about looming inflation; Mr. Santelli is their kind of guy. In an important sense, I’d argue, the persistence of the inflation cult is an example of the “affinity fraud” crucial to many swindles, in which investors trust a con man because he seems to be part of their tribe. In this case, the con men may be conning themselves as well as their followers, but that hardly matters.

This tribal interpretation of the inflation cult helps explain the sheer rage you encounter when pointing out that the promised hyperinflation is nowhere to be seen. It’s comparable to the reaction you get when pointing out that Obamacare seems to be working, and probably has the same roots.

But what about the economists who go along with the cult? They’re all conservatives, but aren’t they also professionals who put evidence above political convenience? Apparently not.

The persistence of the inflation cult is, therefore, an indicator of just how polarized our society has become, of how everything is political, even among those who are supposed to rise above such things. And that reality, unlike the supposed risk of runaway inflation, is something that should scare you.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, September 12, 2014

September 15, 2014 Posted by | Economic Policy, Federal Reserve, Inflation | , , , , , | Leave a comment

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