Republicans finding something behind them — vestigial spines


The story goes that, in Watergate, Republicans were courageous in helping remove Richard Nixon from office. Most weren’t, in fact. I read one news story recently that said Republican only got serious about impeachment when they lost several special elections, showing that Nixon’s paranoia and lying were threatening their own job security.

The Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee did indeed wrestle with tough choices. Do they send articles of impeachment to the House floor and risk hurting their party or do they turn their back on Nixon’s crimes? Seven Republican House members voted with the Democrats to send at least one of three articles of impeachment to the full House (10 Republicans voted against all three articles). Those seven Republicans acted for the country, not just for their party.

Six months ago, and for most of the days since, many of us have moaned, “Will any Republican leaders find their gonads and stand up to the ignorant irresponsible immature narcissist in the White House?”

But think about where we are today. In the middle of the cascade of daily outrages from Bully Baby Trump, we lose sight of the fact that some amazing things are happening, and may perhaps gain critical mass in the coming months.

These things have happened:

  • The deputy attorney general appointed by Donald Trump appoints a special prosecutor to investigate the Russia mess. One of Trump’s own appoints the man who could bring the hustler down.
  • In defense of “weak” “beleaguered” Jess Sessions, a Republican senator, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, says he has no time available in his judiciary committee between now and never to consider confirming a new attorney general if Trump bumps Sessions.
  • In defense of the special prosecutor, a Republican senator, Thom Tillis of North Carolina (pictured above), asks Senator Chris Coons of Delaware, a Democrat, if he wants to co-author a bill to reappoint a special prosecutor if Trump fires Robert Mueller.
  • Trump pumps a bill from Tom Cotton, Arkansas senator, to restrict legal immigration. Republicans in the Senate say “Meh.”
  • Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell just today did not let the Senate go into recess even though he let everyone go home. He will keep the Senate technically in session so that the president of his own party cannot make a recess appointment of a successor to Sessions if Trump cans him.
  • The instances above are surprising. Not as surprising, but wonderfully dramatic, and one of the landmark scenes in the long history of the Senate — John McCain, Republican elder, holding out his hand for several seconds before turning it thumbs down to scuttle Trump’s last hope (probably last) of repealing Obamacare.

What’s going on? Those of us on the left think “not nearly enough.” But … something’s happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear.

But some Republicans are stirring. In ways six months ago I would never have imagined possible with the party so gleeful at controlling all three branches of government. Too many Republicans are doing the Paul Ryan dance, averting their eyes from their own incompetent president’s appalling behavior and keeping complicit, guilty silence.

But not all of them.

Dare we hope?

— Bruce Benidt






Hillary — Meet the Press, Dammit

Let’s just say it out loud: Hillary Clinton is wrong, selfish, stupid and irresponsible to not hold regular press conferences. Or at least one for goodness sake.

She is either a coward, or her ambition has crowded out her soul and what shreds of ethics she may still keep in a jar by the door.

If you read Carl Bernstein’s book A Woman in Charge, you’ll take this great journalist’s view that her ambition leads her to do whatever it takes to get to where she wants to go. Whatever it takes.

Including spurning much of the media. She hasn’t had a news conference in almost nine months. Yes she does some interviews one-on-one. Yes she calls in to some chosen news shows. Yes she sat down with Chris Wallace of Fox, one of the best, most fair and toughest interviewers out there. And she stuck her foot in her mouth.

But this is part of how you let America see you. You meet the press. This is part of what we voters deserve. To see how you handle tough inquiries from reporters in an uncontrollable scrum. Unruly? Sure. Unpredictable? Yes, thank god. And an important part of democracy. The media is not part of your marketing department, Madame Secretary. I’ve worked with a few public relations clients who felt that way. It’s wrong. It’s cynical.

Listening to Clinton answer journalists like Anderson Cooper’s questions on why she doesn’t hold a press conference is excruciating. If Clinton listens to herself she must shiver like someone tasting spoiled milk, or like John McCain every night when he realizes he’s gone another day without retracting his endorsement of Donald Trump. “Well Anderson I talk to lots of reporters, as I am right now with you, and I have done hundreds of interviews and…” blah blah blah. Answer the question. Answer them all.

Are you a less-skilled communicator than Geraldine Ferraro, Walter Mondale’s VP nominee, who in 1984 took questions from 200 reporters for nearly two hours about shady financial dealings she and her husband were accused of? She stood there and took everything they could throw at her. And here’s Ragan’s PR Daily’s assessment of the outcome, from a 2011 piece on Ferraro’s death:

It helped reverse the narrative that she was not transparent;

It turned her into a more sympathetic figure;

It offered Ferraro a vital opportunity to show her mettle as a female candidate who could endure the intensity of the media’s scrutiny.

Don’t you have Ferraro’s guts, don’t you have what it takes, Madame Secretary? Is that why you’re hiding?

I’m a former daily newspaper reporter and a former college journalism teacher and I believe deeply in the role of the free press in helping us make crucial civic decisions. Those who avoid the press, who seek only to manipulate it and use it for their own ends, are putting their own interests before the best interests of the country. It’s wrong. It’s pathetic. Stop hiding, Hillary. Let us see how you handle tough times. Yes, we’ve seen you stand up to tough questioning before, as with the House Benghazi committee. Get out there again. Regularly.

Your failure to meet the press undermines any criticism you rightly make about Donald Trump’s despicable and willful refusal to release his tax returns. His failure is greater, but it’s on the same scale of cowardly hiding of what the public has a right and duty to know and understand.

Some people in your campaign are saying you’re playing a “run down the clock” campaign now, lying low to not blow your lead. If you are doing that, you risk my vote. I’m very liberal, I agree with you on most policy positions, but your actions are showing deep character flaws. I hope you thank god every night that the idiot Republicans have put up a barbarian to run against you. An actual human being would defeat you. And you’d deserve it.

— Bruce Benidt

Romney Rally Anthem

Don’t be angry. Don’t be sad.
And don’t sit cryin’ over good times you’ve had.
There’s a girl right next to you.
And she’s just waitin’ for something to do.

And there’s a rose in the fisted glove.
And the eagle flies with the dove.
And if you can’t be with the one you love,
honey, love the one you’re with.

Love the one you’re with.
Love the one you’re with.
Love the one you’re with.

– Stephen Stills

A Little Too Rowdy Of A Crowd

Political communicators work day and night to control everything about political events. The stagecraft. The music. The tempo. The supporting cast. The wardrobe. The make-up. The messaging. The media coverage.

But there is one thing that seems to be increasingly difficult for political handlers to control. The audience.

At this phase of the campaign cycle, the Republican frontrunners’ campaigns are doing their best to win partisan primary and caucus voters without spooking less partisan and zealous General Election voters watching TV coverage of events. It’s a tricky balancing act under any circumstances, and the audiences at Republicans events are making it much more difficult.

The boisterous zealots bellowing forth at nationally televised Republican events are diverting attention from the front-runners’ carefully focus group tested messaging, and instead making the candidates look bloodthirsty…


and heartless…

These candidates look extreme by association. These are not the warm and fuzzy images that the political handlers strive to create. Long after background flags are returned to the rental company, these Gladiator-esque reactions of the Republican crowd are what many of us remember about the moment.

A winning Republican formula in the past has been to run candidates with warm-feeling personalities to mask the harsh impact of the conservative policies they support. Reagan, Pawlenty, McCain and Romney are among those who played that game especially well. But the discordant chorus at Republican events is taking the sheen off the frontrunners’ carefully managed nice guy images.

This is not an insignificant issue for political communicators in the age of extreme political polarization. If I were a Republican spin savant, I’d be spending less time obsessing about the size of the candidates’ flag pin decal, and more time on crowd control.


The Star That Burns Brightest Burns Fastest

7-4-2009 12-16-49 PMOn this 4th of July holiday, amidst all of the celebrations, let’s take a moment to note the passing of Sarah Palin’s political career; it was just 17 years old and in the last year briefly captured our attention and a few hearts along the way. The cause of death is still unknown, but it’s clear the wound was self-inflicted.

Forget all of the “political analysis” that’s filling the internet about what a smart move this was because it’s bullshit.  Yesterday, Sarah Palin drove a stake right through the heart of her presidential prospects.  She might become a talk show host, she might go on the radio, become an advocate for causes and a fixture on the speaking circuit.  She will not, however, ever be a credible candidate for president again.

Sarah Palin did not cost John McCain the election, but she made the trainwreck worse.  Outside of the hardcore movement conservatives who respond to her emotionally, the rest of us saw a women ill-prepared for the national stage, uneducated and unsophisticated about the critical issues of the day,  and emotionally and intellectually immature.  Questions about her judgment made questions about John McCain’s judgment a legitimate campaign issue.  Throughout the fall, her standing among the American electorate dropped faster that an SUV gas gauge on the highway as each exposure made it clear that the woman who would be a heartbeat away from the Oval Office was a scary prospect indeed.

Ms. Palin might have had a chance to run in 2012 if she had gone back to Juneau, governed effectively, spent as much time as possible on the lower 48 fundraising/political circuit (admittedly no small feat for a sitting Alaska governor) and brought in a faculty to provide a three-year crash course on the policy issues and political skills (message discipline, interview skills, etc.) that she tried to skip over last year.  That way, when the spotlight came back around, the public would see a Sarah Palin ready to govern the most complex country in the world during one of the most complex periods in world history and she would have built up a record and political organization to support a campaign.

A very tough, narrow road to walk, admittedly, but the only one I can think of that would have possibly undone the damage she did among the 75 percent of us who found her varying degrees of scary.  If she could persuade a third of  us that she was qualified, she could have been a contender.

Instead, she has done the one thing I can think of to effectively cement her image as a capricious and emotionally immature personality; she’s elected to simply walk away from her job as governor with 18 months to go.  And to do so because it’s become a burden.

Ms. Palin may or may not chose to try to run for president in 2012 or thereafter.  If she does, however, her entire campaign will be defined by a single question that she can expect to hear over and over and which – for her – there is now no correct answer:

“Governor Palin, you abandoned your responsibilities as the governor of one of our nation’s smallest (other than geography) and least complex states; what makes you qualified to serve as President of the United States?”


– Austin

Last Look at the Electoral Cage Match

What a long, strange trip it’s been.  I’m very excited to see how it all plays out tomorrow.  As Willy Wonka put it, “The suspense is terrible; I hope it will last.”

Here’s where we are…The pollsters and pundits differ slightly on the details, but not on the direction of the election on this last day of the longest campaign:

Many pollsters are detecting some tightening of the race, but none of them are prepared to do any substantial tipping of the race toward the GOP.  In fact, it’s worth noting that most of the tightening seems to be attributable to increases in support for McCain rather than a loss of support for Obama.  Indeed, for several days, Obama has been showing steady support above 50 percent at both the national level and in many of the state polls.

Here’s an interesting site that sums up the various pollsters.  Click on the image below to see an interactive version of the chart.  Mouse over each row to see how various pollsters are calling the race:

Here’s my final prediction for how things will go…

This is a very optimistic scenario for Team Obama and is based on a couple of assumptions on my part:

  • Early voting, particularly among blacks, is going to help Obama/Biden more than many are currently predicting.  This will be the primary factor in pushing North Carolina and Virginia into the Blue column.
  • The Obama GOTV effort will be as effective as everything else they’ve done to date and will make the difference in Ohio, Florida and Missouri.
  • Republicans are disheartened and they are not funding their GOTV efforts at the same level seen in previous recent elections.
  • Long lines and glitches will not have a significant effect on turnout.
  • There is no meaningful “Bradley effect” that is overstating Obama’s support.  In fact, I think there may be some reason to think there’s a “reverse Bradley” at work where some white voters are saying they’re backing McCain but will in the end pull the lever for Obama.
  • Sarah Palin is a huge disincentive for anyone other than the Republican base to support McCain/Palin.  The most recent survey I saw indicated 45 percent of respondents rated her choice as “poor.”

Nate Silver, one of the forces behind, which has become one of my favorite site since PM introduced me to it, has posted on Newsweek‘s site his version of what to look for tomorrow night.  It makes a good companion to the material I posted in the last couple of weeks.

Now, let’s hear from you, Crowdies!  What do you think will happen tomorrow?  Give us an electoral college count.

Game on!

– Austin how to write an invoice nice

John McCain Throws His Running Mate Under the SNL Bus

John McCain did a nice job on Saturday Night Live this evening with an elaborate intro sketch.  He did a workmanlike job delivering his lines and reminded us that he has a pretty good sense of humor.  The writing was a bit forced as – far more than any other political celebrity walk-ons I’ve seen on SNL – it included some overt – and lengthy – McCain campaign messages in the dialog.  Tina Fey reprised her Sarah Palin character and joined McCain throughout.  In what has to be gesture of true spousal love, Cindy McCain had a part as well.

One person, though, who’s probably not laughing much right now is the Barracuda of the North, our own Sarah Palin.  The sketch knocked her on the clothing issue, on the “goin’ rogue” issue, on not going back to Alaska and a couple other topics, all while Senator McCain looked on (and implicitly endorsed it).  His presence and participation in the skit made the knocks seem harsher.

Probably gonna be a little frosty on tomorrow’s McCain morning messaging call.

– Austin

Photo credit: David Karp, AP free invoice software nice