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“Same Script”: If “Establishment” Is Code For “Moderate,” Media Need To Stop Calling Rubio The Establishment Candidate

The press wrote this script a very long time ago: Senator Marco Rubio could become the favored establishment candidate in the Republican Party primary as party elites search for answers to the insurgent campaigns of outsiders Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz.

That note has been hit especially hard in the press since the Trump circus arrived on the campaign trail last summer: The GOP is hoping for a tempered, pragmatic savior who can appeal to mainstream voters and help Republicans avoid disaster come November. (“Allowing Trump to have its nomination would saddle Republicans with the worst nominee any party has had in decades,” wrote Jonathan Chait at New York.)

Rubio’s third-place finish in the Iowa caucus has only cemented that claim, with the press essentially anointing him the Iowa winner. He “may have won the establishment credibility he needs to stay near the top of the Republican presidential race for the long-term,” according to CNN. Reuters agreed, crowning “Florida Senator Marco Rubio and the Republican establishment” as one of the big Iowa winners on the GOP side.

But what happens when the facts change but the script does not? What happens when a so-called Establishment candidate like Rubio starts espousing ugly, divisive rhetoric that’s synonymous with the darker regions of Fox News and the Republican Party? What happens when he adopts radical policy positions that just years ago would have been seen as borderline even for AM talk radio? (i.e. Outlawing abortions even for victims of rape and incest.)

In other words, what happens when Rubio takes a very hard right turn and obliterates meaningful differences between himself and Trump? Between himself and Cruz? Don’t calming, feel-good code words like Establishment then become irrelevant and misleading?

I don’t think there’s any doubt that, overall, Rubio has benefited from very generous press coverage. Whether it’s the sweeping conclusion that he’s a “charismatic” communicator, the media happily running with his campaign’s spin that it essentially won in Iowa by finishing third, or the press’ steadfast refusal to delve deeply into the senator’s questionable finances, watching Rubio at the Republican debate last year attack the press as a liberal super PAC for Democrats was amusing. The truth is, pundits seem to revere him.

One way that affection is displayed is to ignore the substance of Rubio’s campaign; to whitewash the extremism now at the base of his pitch. To acknowledge that Rubio occupies the far reaches of the political spectrum, and that he’s actually sprinted there in recent months, taints the portrait the press likes to paint of him: establishment savior.

To me, establishment sounds like a placeholder for “moderate.” And in the case of Rubio, that’s a complete myth.

By placing the Florida senator in that wider establishment lane, pundits and reporters seem to suggest that he’s somehow part of a pragmatic Republican wing (does that even exist?) that practices common sense conservatism; that he’s separate and above those outlier disrupters like Trump and Cruz who embrace more political chaos.

This week, a New York Times dispatch placed Rubio outside of the Republican “hard right” that seems to be flocking to Trump. Reuters explained what distinguished Rubio from the so-called outside, even though Rubio seemed to agree with Trump and Cruz on so many issues, including their disdain for President Obama: “[Rubio] embedded his criticism within a more optimistic, inclusive message.”

But just because an extremist coats his divisiveness in “optimistic” language, doesn’t mean the campaign press should play along and portray him as something he’s clearly not. And yet …

Forecasting Rubio’s White House chances, FiveThirtyEight recently claimed that Democratic strategists are “terrified to face Rubio in the fall.” Why? Because of his establishment ability to broaden the GOP’s “appeal with moderates, millennials and Latinos.”

“Rubio is aiming to be the GOP candidate with the establishment credibility and broad appeal needed to win in a general election, a unifier who can bring together young, moderate voters, along with conservatives and evangelicals,” the Christian Science Monitor reported.

A unifier? Rubio walked away from his one stab at establishment legislating with the immigration reform bill that he, as part of the Gang of Eight, helped shepherd through Congress. But quickly finding himself out step with a rabid Republican base that’s adopted anti-immigration as its defining litmus test, Rubio sprinted so far to the right on this issue that not only does he oppose his own reform proposal, he’s connecting the issue to the rise of ISIS.

No unity there.

As for Rubio’s potential appeal to young voters and moderates, a central part of the media’s establishment narrative, the senator’s increasingly right-wing agenda certainly raises doubts.

Rubio opposes expanding background checks for gun owners, even though 90 percent of Americans support the measure, as do an overwhelming majority of gun owners and even NRA members. He opposes marriage equality and “believes some kinds of businesses, like wedding photography, should be allowed to turn away gay customers.” He doesn’t want to increase the minimum wage (even though he thinks it’s currently too low). He doesn’t believe in climate change.

From PolitiFact [emphasis added]:

Rubio will support anti-abortion legislation that includes an exception for rape and incest, but he prefers that the procedure be illegal even in cases of rape and incest.

It’s important to note that in terms of the “Establishment” branding, a string of recent Republican Establishment nominees for president, including Mitt Romney, Sen. John McCain, and George W. Bush, all agreed that allowing abortions to be legal in the case of rape and incest was the best approach. Rubio, though, has broken from that model and staked out a far more radical stance.

And when Trump proposed banning all Muslims from entering America, Rubio seemed to out-flank him in the fevered swamps, at least initially. “It’s not about closing down mosques,” he soon told Fox News’ Megyn Kelly. “It’s about closing down anyplace — whether it’s a cafe, a diner, an internet site — anyplace where radicals are being inspired.” (Rubio later said Trump hadn’t thought through his Muslim ban.)

Overall? “He’s been Trumped,” noted Peter Beinart at The Atlantic.

There may still be an establishment candidate lurking in the Republican field who can try to save the party from its own extremism, but based on the media’s apparent definition of Establishment, Rubio isn’t that person.


By: Eric Boehlert, Media Matters for America, February 4, 2016

February 6, 2016 Posted by | Establishment Republicans, GOP Primaries, Marco Rubio, Moderate Republicans | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Governor For President? No Thanks”: Challenging “Broder’s Law” That Says Governors Are Best For The Oval Office

Let me declare the end of an era: the governor-era in presidential elections. It was mostly nice while it lasted. Senators seem be in, for those who are actually politicians.

For years, pundits felt with all their hearts that governors were golden kings when it came to running for president. This political gospel was spread throughout the land, mostly because the dean of Washington opinion-makers, the late David Broder of The Washington Post, believed it devoutly. Broder’s law was repeated on Sunday talk shows until it had an aura all its own.

Let’s review the facts on the ground. Among the four front-runners in this cycle – Donald Trump (R), Ben Carson (R), Hillary Clinton (D) and Bernie Sanders (D) – the Republicans have zero political experience, and the Democrats have served as senators.

Meanwhile, the governors in the running are lagging far behind. Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) thought being a model-good governor would give him a certain “je ne sais quoi.” Clearly not; he’s a distant third behind the opponents with congressional experience. The former mayor of Baltimore has yet to gain traction, though he’s followed all the signs to higher office.

John Kasich, the Republican governor of a swing state, would be the strong candidate to beat in Broder’s book. He’s in the single digits, last I looked. Three sitting Republican governors, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Rick Perry of Texas, fell out of contention. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is hanging on but looks like a loser, too. Two young Cuban-America senators, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, are outrunning Christie in this race.

The late Broder believed in governors the way my grandfather believed in building highways in the Eisenhower era. Don’t get me wrong; I liked Broder and he was kind about my wish to get into his line of work. The reasoning was simple: Those with executive authority over a state have better job training to govern the nation.

In the span of decades from Presidents Jimmy Carter to Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton to George W. Bush, indeed it was true that governors often made it to the Oval Office. This paradigm crossed party lines, since Carter and Clinton were Southern Democrats and Reagan and Bush were governors of California and Texas, respectively.

The truth is, I noticed the old Broder faith beginning to break down in 2008, but I didn’t want to say anything at first. (I mentioned it in The Huffington Post.) The Democratic crop of candidates fielded more senators than you could shake a stick at: not only Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, but also Chris Dodd and Joe Biden. The telegenic Republican nominee, Matt Romney, a perfectly good governor of Massachusetts, lost to a younger freshman senator whose oratory could coax the stars out of the sky.

So here’s the thing. The reason why public trust in sitting governors as candidates is not part of the 21st landscape is this. The American people were so disillusioned with George W. Bush’s presidency – marked by war-mongering in the beginning, Hurricane Katrina in the middle and an economic downturn in the end – that governors have no special favor anymore. In fact, they may have to work to overcome that label.

It’s a 2016 amendment to Broder’s law.


By: Jamie Stiehm, U. S. News and World Report, November 23, 2015

November 27, 2015 Posted by | Election 2016, GOP Presidential Candidates, Governors | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Continuing The Charade”: Meet Paul Ryan, Media Darling”; He’s Sensible, Serious, And Totally Made-Up

The beatification of right-wing Republican Paul Ryan has become an almost annual ritual among the punditocracy. This bizarre tradition began when Ryan released his first budget as chair of the House Budget Committee in 2011, and repeated itself a year later when he rereleased it. It occurred a third time when Mitt Romney—under powerful punditocracy pressure—picked Ryan as his running mate for the 2012 presidential campaign. Now we are in the midst of yet another episode in this sorry franchise, as Republicans and their apologists and propagandists beg Ryan to use his superhero powers to save them from the lunatics who have taken over their party. It’s a measure of how deeply the Republicans have dived into know-nothing, do-nothing nihilism—and, no less significantly, how deeply our most prestigious pundits remain in denial about this fundamental fact—that Ryan has been able to continue the charade, despite having been repeatedly exposed as a math-challenged Ayn Rand acolyte.

The congressman’s emergence on the political scene earned him hosannas from both the center-left and center-right. Slate’s Jacob Weisberg led the pack: Writing beneath the headline “Good Plan!” followed by the adjectives “brave, radical, and smart,” Weisberg was particularly enamored with Ryan’s willingness to lower taxes on the wealthy as he subsequently undermined the Medicare payments upon which middle-class and poor people depend for their healthcare. On the other side of the center aisle, David Brooks insisted that Ryan had “set the standard of seriousness for anybody who wants to play in this discussion,” and credited him with the manly virtue of tackling “just about every politically risky issue with brio and guts.”

Brooks’s fellow New York Times pundits James B. Stewart and Joe Nocera also raised their pom-poms and lowered their intellectual standards to cheer Ryan on. The former misled his audience by insisting that Ryan’s plan would somehow raise taxes on the rich. The latter lamented that Democrats proved “gleeful” when they won a special congressional election that turned, in part, on the voters’ distaste for Ryan’s plan. The man was so wonderful, apparently, that the other guys should simply have forfeited the game and gone home.

Interestingly, some of the smitten already had an inkling that what they were selling was snake oil. Weisberg admitted that Ryan’s budget was full of “sleight-of-hand tricks” and wouldn’t actually come close to eliminating the deficit in the coming decade, “leaving $400 billion in annual deficits as far as the eye can see.” And Nocera dutifully acknowledged that “Ryan’s solution is wrong­headed,” before adding he was “right that Medicare is headed for trouble.”

In fact, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Ryan’s budget would have “likely produce[d] the largest redistribution of income from the bottom to the top in modern U.S. history and likely increase[d] poverty and inequality more than any other budget in recent times (and possibly in the nation’s history).” The Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center calculated that people earning over $1 million a year could expect, on average, $265,000 above the $129,000 they would have gotten from Ryan’s proposed extension of George W. Bush’s tax cuts. Meanwhile, middle-class and poor Americans would likely see their incomes decline, as Medicare and other support programs would be slashed to the point of destruction. Even Ryan admitted that enactment of his Robin-Hood-in-reverse plan would lead to a significant increase in the deficit, an unavoidable fact despite the transparently dishonest assumptions on which the argument rested. These included science-fiction levels of predicted growth, together with the pie-in-the-sky promise to close unspecified tax loopholes. Those loopholes, it turns out, only seem to increase with every campaign contribution.

By now, the narrative is all but set in stone. Washington’s own St. Paul is saving the Republicans from their out-of-control Tea Party golem. As one of many breathless Politico headlines put it, Ryan “conquered the Freedom Caucus” by forcing its members to cave in on the demands that toppled the hapless John Boehner in return for Ryan’s willingness to accept the crown of House speaker and save the party from catastrophe. Once again, however, the devilish details contradict the story line. Ryan’s deal with the Freedom Caucus crazies, according to Politico itself, rests far more on capitulation than conquest. For starters, Ryan agreed to give the Freedom Caucus more power on the influential House Republican Steering Committee. He also promised to drop immigration reform from the Republican agenda and to follow the “Hastert rule,” by which no legislation can come to the floor unless it is supported in advance by a majority of Republicans—which means guess who? If the Mets had played this well against the Dodgers and the Cubs, they’d be watching the World Series on TV.

This “Ryan to the rescue” fairy tale is merely the latest manifestation of a corrupt bargain made by many members of the mainstream media. Unable to escape the intellectual straitjacket that requires them to cover the Republican Party as if its ideas are serious, they accept a false equivalence between Republican crazy-talk and normative reality. Clearly, no honest analysis can support such coverage of a party whose leading candidates—including Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, and Ted Cruz—routinely say such nutty things that they make far-right extremists like Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio sound relatively reasonable. As the respected (and centrist) political scientist Theodore Mann of the Brookings Institution recently put it, “Republicans have become more an insurgency than a major political party capable of governing.” This “reality of asymmetric polarization, which the mainstream media and most good government groups have avoided discussing,” Mann notes, has come “at great costs to the country.” Quite obviously, it should also have cost its enablers their reputations for honesty, perspicacity, and prudence. But the pontification business in America is apparently a perpetual-motion machine that can run indefinitely on ideological hot air.


By: Eric Alterman, Columnist, The Nation, October 29, 2015

October 30, 2015 Posted by | House Freedom Caucus, Paul Ryan, Speaker of The House of Representatives | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“News From Iowa’s Jefferson-Jackson Dinner”: It Was The Crowd That Actually Made The Biggest News

I watched the Democratic presidential candidates give their speeches last night at Iowa’s Jefferson-Jackson Dinner. And I have to say that not much news was made. They all gave pretty familiar stump speeches.

The one thing some pundits are talking about is that Bernie Sanders “attacked” Hillary Clinton. But when it comes to these kinds of things, too few people note the difference between going after someone’s record vs going after them personally. Last night Sanders did what any candidate in his position would do – highlighted the distinctions between himself and the front-runner. I don’t consider that “negative” campaigning. It’s exactly what Sanders needs to be doing right now. Otherwise, why be in the race at all.

O’Malley was…well…O’Malley. Nothing new and therefore it probably doesn’t matter much.

Clinton gave a speech that anyone who has followed her campaign has mostly heard before. As the front-runner, she didn’t focus on her competitors. Instead, she’s paving the way for the general election by highlighting the difference between Democrats and Republicans. The one smart move Clinton made last night that neither of the other candidates bothered with was to give a shout-out to Vice President Joe Biden. Of course that was her way of inviting any of his supporters who had been holding out to caucus for her.

In some ways it was the crowd that actually made the biggest news last night. Clinton was the last to speak. And as she came to the stage, reporters who were in the arena noted that the Sanders section emptied out. That was not a good look for them at a Democratic Party event. I doubt very much that the Sanders campaign organized the walk-out. But this is exactly the kind of thing that gets him in trouble with the Democratic base he needs to appeal to in a state like Iowa.


By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, October 25, 2015

October 26, 2015 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Democrats, Hillary Clinton, Jefferson-Jackson Dinner | , , , , | 3 Comments

“Oh No, Non-Sense Noonan, Again”: Conservative Pundit Blames Obama For Trump’s Rise

Those familiar with Internet memes have probably come across the “Thanks, Obama” phenomenon. President Obama himself has even had some fun with it.

The basic idea is simple: the president’s critics have grown to detest Obama with such blinding and irrational hatred that they have a habit of blaming him for things he has nothing to do with. When anything goes wrong with any facet of anyone’s life, just point the finger at the White House and say, sarcastically, “Thanks, Obama.”

The meme came to mind this morning reading Peggy Noonan’s latest Wall Street Journal column in which she blames the president for, of all things, Donald Trump’s rise as a Republican contender.

The only thing I feel certain of is how we got here [with Trump’s standing in GOP polls]. There are many reasons we’re at this moment, but the essential political one is this: Mr. Obama lowered the bar. He was a literal unknown, an obscure former state legislator who hadn’t completed his single term as U.S. senator, but he was charismatic, canny, compelling. He came from nowhere and won it all twice. All previously prevailing standards, all usual expectations, were thrown out the window.

Anyone can run for president now….

Look, Noonan’s contempt for the president is hardly a secret, but blaming Obama for Trump is silly.

For one thing, the president wasn’t a “literal unknown.” He was a rising star in Democratic politics who gained a national profile at his party’s 2004 national convention. It’s true that Obama only had 12 years of experience in public office when he was elected president, but (a) that’s triple the number of years Mitt Romney had under his belt; (b) it’s largely consistent with the historical average for modern American presidents; and (c) and it’s more than many of the leading Republican presidential hopefuls have this year.

Noonan complains, “Anyone can run for president now.” Well, yes, and anyone could run for president before. President Obama has had an enormous impact on the nation’s direction, but eligibility standards for the White House remain unaffected.

The argument seems to be that Obama, by having the audacity to easily win two national elections with only 12 years in elected office and without earning the praise of Republican pundits, has made it easier for unqualified candidates to excel. The fact remains, however, that voters have seen all kinds of inexperienced and ill-prepared candidates over the years – before and after President Obama – and it’s up to Americans to decide whether or not those candidates are worthy of power.

Obama earned their trust and his successes and accomplishments should speak for themselves. Plenty of less prepared candidates have fared far worse.

As for holding the president responsible for Trump, let’s not forget that the reality-show host entered the 2016 contest as something of a joke. We’re not talking about “a literal unknown” taking advantage of lowered standards; we’re talking about a well-known celebrity who entered the race with roughly 3% support.

His numbers soared, however, when far-right voters liked what they heard from the candidate.

Given this, it seems Peggy Noonan is blaming the wrong culprit. Trump’s rise isn’t the result of President Obama’s two decades of public service; it’s the result of the Republican base embracing a clownish candidate.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, October 16, 2015

October 17, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP Presidential Candidates, Peggy Noonan | , , , , , | 1 Comment

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