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“Do Republicans Think It Will Be Easy To Beat Hillary?”: Continuing To Believe In Circumstances Shaped By Their Own Talking Points

What is the Republican theory of the 2016 election? Is it that the Democrats have developed a durable demographic advantage in national elections and that the GOP must nominate someone who can broaden the party’s reach beyond core constituencies, as Republicans concluded after the 2012 debacle?

Or is it increasingly that such demographic concerns can be tossed to the winds — that Hillary Clinton is such a flawed candidate that Republicans don’t have to worry too much about picking a standard bearer with broad general election appeal?

The Washington Examiner’s Philip Klein has a good piece today in which he posits the latter theory. Klein’s overall point is that the two parties are each making wildly different assumptions about next year’s contest — and that this has driven each party further into its own ideological corner, portending an unusually charged and intense general election battle.

Democrats, Klein points out, are betting that the last two presidential elections show that the way to win is to reconstitute the Obama coalition of millennials, nonwhites, and socially liberal college educated whites. The robust liberal consensus on display at the last debate shows that Hillary Clinton is fully embracing this coalition’s priorities. As I’ve also argued, Democrats see no need to believe this will compromise her in a general election, since many of these policies also have majority support.

The Republican theory of the 2016 election, however, is very different. Here’s how Klein describes it:

Republicans, on the other hand, are making a completely different calculation. Looking ahead to the 2016 campaign, they see Hillary Clinton’s numbers steadily tanking under an ethical cloud, as a growing number of Americans say they don’t trust her. Polls have shown Republicans ahead of Clinton even in Pennsylvania, a blue state that has eluded GOP nominees for decades. They’re confident that her weaknesses as a candidate have made the presidency ripe for the picking. Given this sense of optimism, they see no reason to settle.

Instead, as of this writing, half of Republican primary voters polled nationally are supporting candidates who have never held elective office. At the same time, candidates who fit the profile of a traditional Republican nominee (such as Jeb Bush and Ohio Gov. John Kasich) are at about 10 percent — combined….when the dust settles, it’s difficult to see the Republican electorate deciding that to beat Clinton, they need an “electable moderate” in the mold of Bob Dole, John McCain or Mitt Romney.

Klein seems to be talking mainly about what’s driving the thinking of GOP primary voters. This gives rise to a question: Do serious Republican strategists and establishment figures really believe this? Do they think Clinton is suddenly proving so unexpectedly flawed — thanks to the email scandal and Bernie Sanders’ surprisingly robust challenge — that they are now less inclined to worry about the need for a candidate who can help offset the party’s structural and demographic disadvantages?

If so, you’d think recent events would undercut that confidence. After months of being on the defensive over the email story, we’ve now seen an unexpectedly strong debate performance from Clinton. New fundraising numbers show that she enjoys a large advantage over the serious GOP candidates, and that rank-and-file Democrats may be very energized. A series of disastrous moments of candor from Republicans about the Benghazi probe have undermined the credibility of GOP efforts to exploit the email story. While none of these guarantees anything for Clinton, you’d think they’d remind Republicans that politics changes quickly and that placing too many chips on Clinton’s weakness might be misguided.

And yet recent history demonstrates that GOP strategists sometimes do place too much stock in overly confident, ill-thought-through assessments of the weakness of the opposing candidate and what appear to be insurmountable (but actually prove ephemeral or misleading) political circumstances. In 2012, for instance, the Romney campaign convinced itself that there was no way Obama could possibly get reelected amid such difficult economic circumstances: this made it inevitable that Obama would meet the fate that befell Jimmy Carter, when undecided voters shifted against him to hand Ronald Reagan a big victory. (That itself is bad history, but that underscores my point.) The larger Romney campaign calculation was that there was no way swing voters could possibly see Obama as anything but a total, abject failure, since Republicans knew he had been one. But that reading turned out to be seriously flawed.

Meanwhile, the Romney camp also convinced itself that there was no way the 2012 electorate could possibly be as diverse as it had been in 2008, presumably since Obama’s election was probably a fluke driven by the cult of personality that driven nonwhite and young voters into a frenzy that had worn off once they realized who he really was. That also turned out to be wrong. The point is that Republican operatives adopted a strategic view of the opposing candidate and his circumstances that was largely shaped by their own talking points about him and less about a hard-headed and nuanced look at deeper factors.

Hillary Clinton will of course not be as strong a candidate as Obama was. She does have serious weaknesses. History tilts against one party winning the White House three times in a row. And the question of whether she can mobilize the Obama coalition in Obama-like numbers is a big unknown. But superficial assessments of her current weaknesses — which could be reinforced if Republicans believe their talking points about her — could obscure an appreciation of the built-in advantages that she may enjoy. She could benefit from structural factors such as continued demographic change. The Democratic agenda (this is another possibility that the Romney camp seemed incapable of grasping) may prove more popular than the Republican one with the national electorate, brash assessments that Hillary has lurched “left” notwithstanding. The very real chance at electing the first female president could prove a major factor. And it’s possible — yes, possible — that the Clinton camp may successfully neutralize the email mess after all.

It would be interesting to know just how seriously the smartest GOP operatives are taking these possibilities. Paul Waldman argues today that Republican operatives and establishment figures are not exactly adopting a hard-headed approach to the electability question.

Of course, if Klein is right, and GOP voters are deciding that Clinton is so weak that they need not worry about their standard-bearer’s electability, then it may not matter what Republican strategists and establishment figures think. They aren’t the ones who are picking the GOP nominee.

 

By: Greg Sargent, The Plum Line Blog, October 16, 2015

October 19, 2015 Posted by | Election 2016, Hillary Clinton, Republicans | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Car-Lying; Carly Fiorina Lies Like A Boss”: Her Meaningless Specifics Are A Marketing Ploy, Not A Policy

The Central Intelligence Agency has some tips for spotting liars. Unfortunately, most of them also sound like stage directions for a GOP primary candidate: “Failing to answer.” “Attacking.” “Denial.” Even, “Bringing up religion.” One particular hint is unusually relevant these days: “Being too specific.”

Carly Fiorina’s continuing distortions about what she saw, or didn’t see, on the Planned Parenthood sting videos would set off alarms all over Langley on all those counts, but it’s her level of primary-color, pointillist embroidery on the truth—in that and other instances—that truly sets her apart from the rest of the field.

Call it Car-lying. Describing things into reality is a trademark of Fiorina’s, a style of mendacity that sets her apart from career politicians. Indeed, the reason she doesn’t come off as a politician is she’s still in marketing.

At Hewlett-Packard, employees said she “embellished” the company’s “future products, strategy and even history,” adding a fictitious personal visit from Walt Disney to the true story about Disney Studios being an early client. She was brought into HP to be brash and exciting, to “drive a stake through” the “community-minded” and “collaborative” “pocket-protector paradise” of cautious expansion that existed before she got there. And she did! The Compaq merger that defined her unsteady tenure was a function of her own salesmanship: “The moxie to risk shareholders’ money on a huge acquisition… exceeds the courage of most mortals,” as one more positive assessment put it. Or, put another way: “Fiorina had one significant weakness as chief executive: she just wasn’t very good at running the business.”

Perhaps the best example of Fiorina’s cynical hucksterism is her brief stint as a consultant to the very agency that might have seen through her: the CIA. Then-Director Michael Hayden asked her to serve on a board charged with helping the agency navigate “demands for greater public accountability and openness.” Her advice? Don’t stop doing the stuff that make people want to hold you accountable—mass surveillance or torture—just make people think you’re being accountable. Or, as she recommended: “be very creative about [being] transparent.”

Indeed, exuberant chicanery may be the only crossover skill Fiorina can bring to her campaign from the business world. She managed the business side of her last campaign about as successfully as she did HP, which is to say: Not only did she lose, but by paying off her self-funded loan to the campaign first, she got a golden parachute and her employees got the shaft.

Fiorina does more than tell the “big lie,” she tells a big lie of a thousand parts, throwing placeholder disinformation at her interrogators with such practiced cool that observers just assume she must know what she’s talking about. Hence the soup of numbers in her military requisition demands at the last debate: “50 Army brigades,” “36 Marine battalions,” “350 naval ships.”

Fiorina’s numbers came from a Heritage Foundation study—though not one that has anything to do with the question on the table, which at least began with “Have you met Vladimir Putin?” and drifted more fuzzily into “the military issue.” Heritage’s alarmist report is a faux-empirical “readiness” index, designed to either estimate the U.S.’s ability to conduct two simultaneous, conventional regional wars or goose defense spending (maybe both!); but it’s not an actual plan for a real-world military engagement. Do you think River City would have bought the con if it had been “a lot” and not 76 trombones leading the big parade?

Pressed by Chuck Todd on her Planned Parenthood video lies, Fiorina didn’t just repeat that she had seen something that does not exist, she accused the organization of something that the “sting” video’s makers hadn’t: “Planned Parenthood is aborting fetuses alive to harvest their brains and other body parts. That is a fact.” To be clear, with this statement, Fiorina isn’t just repeating a mischaracterization she already told (that Planned Parenthood “harvests” organs that are intact after an abortion). Rather, she is saying that Planned Parenthood aborts fetuses alive, for the purpose of harvesting their intact organs. She added, “Planned Parenthood will not and cannot deny this because it is happening.”

That last bit is a hoary nugget of rhetorical flim-flammery on par with “When did you stop beating your wife?” It tries to reinvent lack of engagement as admission of guilt. Except Planned Parenthood has denied allegations of illegally “harvesting” organs—and six different state investigations (Pennsylvania, Georgia, Indiana, Massachusetts, South Dakota, and now Missouri) have backed up those denials.

Instructively, what’s disturbing about Fiorina’s falsehoods isn’t that she lied, or even that she seems to believe her own lies. It’s not even, really, that her lies get bigger every time.

No, what should give you pause is that by sheer force of articulated will she has fabricated her own reality, to the point that her Super PAC spliced together a different video to illustrate just what it is she said she saw. Think about it: If Fiorina had stuck to some kind of emotionally-charged but non-specific description of the video, there would be no second round of debate. As it is, Fiorina didn’t just lie—she created a storyboard.

The Super PAC YouTube contribution is as dishonest a use of found footage as any “Paranormal Activity” rip-off, yet somehow her supporters suspend their disbelief. That may be because, unlike fans of direct-to-on-demand ghost stories, Republican primary voters haven’t really seen anything like this before.

Confident generalization is the native language of a Washington professional; studied ambiguity is their background noise. The reason red meat works so well is most political speech is thin gruel. Pat truisms are what make politicians sound like politicians (and parties often indistinguishable from each other): it’s what makes America great, education important, families treasured, and apple pie delicious.

We talk about “dog whistles” because what politicians really mean or really want to communicate is usually cloaked by superficial inoffensiveness and preservation of plausible deniability is the lodestar of any halfway decent flack. Disregard for those conventions on a personal, philosophical level is why the howling, unambiguous racism of Donald Trump and the obvious yet soft-spoken bigotry of Ben Carson have broken through. On policy, however, the only thing that distinguishes their vagueness from career pols is its hilarious blatancy.

By contrast, Fiorina’s brazenly explicit prescriptions are almost pornographic: especially in the sense that what she’s describing is unattainable in real life. People see her steely, echoing assertions as discipline. But she’s not displaying the focus of a real leader—just the conscientiousness of someone who has to keep her lies straight.

 

By: Ana Marie Cox, The Daily Beast, September  29, 2015

October 1, 2015 Posted by | Carly Fiorina, GOP Presidential Candidates, Planned Parenthood | , , , , , , | 3 Comments

   

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