Friday Talking Points [389] -- Lucifer, Or A Joe McCarthy-Dracula Love Child?

[ Posted Friday, April 29th, 2016 – 16:58 PDT ]

Boy, it isn't every day you get to write a headline like that! But those are the kinds of feelings Ted Cruz seems to bring out in everyone -- left, right, and center.

On the right, doesn't John Boehner sound a lot looser and more relaxed now that he isn't responsible for herding a bunch of hyperactive cats in the House? He certainly seemed like it this week, in what was supposed to be an unrecorded talk. Of course, these days, everyone in politics should just automatically assume that everything they say will be recorded, because the chances are it will be. When asked what he personally thought about Ted Cruz, Boehner responded: "Lucifer in the flesh." In case anyone thought he was kidding, he followed this up with: "I get along with almost everyone, but I have never worked with a more miserable son of a bitch in my life." C'mon, tell us what you really think, John!

Not to be outdone, Representative Peter King (who, earlier, said he'd drink cyanide if Cruz were to become his party's nominee) piled on to Boehner's comment by responding: "Maybe he gives Lucifer a bad name by comparing him to Ted Cruz." This is likely the first time that Peter King and actual Satanists have agreed on anything, it should be noted. We're not sure if this is any sort of sign of the impending apocalypse, but then we're not the theological (demonic?) experts that King and Boehner seem to be. And, please remember, this is what fellow Republicans are saying about the man who is supposed to somehow be "saving the party" from Donald Trump!

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Next Time Around

[ Posted Thursday, April 28th, 2016 – 16:58 PDT ]

Having devoted yesterday's column to a look backwards at presidential races, today I'm going for a personal best in the "ridiculously early speculation" category, and examine what might happen to the Republicans and the Democrats in the next presidential race. Hey, it's been that kind of week, what can I say?

Before I dig in, I should define my term. By "next time around" I am speaking of the next open presidential nomination (with no incumbent running, in other words). This could either be in 2020 or 2024 for either party, depending on who wins this year's election. Either President Hillary Clinton or President Donald Trump would assumably want two terms, so I'm taking it as a given that they'll run for re-election. A sitting president means an all-but-assured nomination (usually, but not always), so I'm looking beyond any second-term campaign to the election afterwards -- when the field will be truly open. So for one party, this will be in 2020 and for the party who wins this year, it'll likely be in 2024. As I said, a personal best in "ridiculously early."

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The End Of Hillary Clinton's 2008 Campaign

[ Posted Wednesday, April 27th, 2016 – 18:15 PDT ]

To tell you the truth, I never thought I'd have to write this article. I fully expected someone else to dig this stuff out, if the calls for Bernie Sanders to drop out of the race (or "say nice things about Hillary Clinton") began. Now that they have, I still haven't seen any detailed reminders of how the 2008 Democratic primary race ended yet. So I went ahead and dug them out on my own.

What follows is a review of the last few weeks of the 2008 primary, for those who have forgotten what it was like. All of these articles come from the Washington Post (because it made the database search easier, mostly). I apologize for not providing links; this is due to the fact that I retrieved the articles from a commercial database (with a paywall).

All of the following articles were published from mid-April to the first week in June of 2008. In other words, exactly eight years ago. I'm going to present them with only limited commentary (to only provide any needed historical context).

One more thing before I begin, in the interests of fairness. While Hillary Clinton did fight hard until the end, she is to be credited for two strategic moves from roughly the same period of time. First, she largely refused to attack Barack Obama in the midst of all the "Reverend Wright" mudslinging. She easily could have piled on, along with the rest of the political universe. She didn't. Secondly, during the time period below, Clinton had a stock line she threw in to most of her speeches (even the ones quoted below): "I will work my heart out for the Democratic Party and the party's eventual nominee." She signaled that she would work for Obama's election if she lost, which was rightly seen as a big step towards party unity.

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...And Another County Heard From

[ Posted Tuesday, April 26th, 2016 – 15:54 PDT ]

I thought I'd write the ultimate elections "process story" today -- a story about the process of the process, as it were. Mostly this is because, once again, it's hard to concentrate on anything else in the lead-up to another election night, where millions (well, at least thousands) of political wonks breathlessly wait to hear from Outer Podunk County to see who they voted for.

My point today, and it will be a brief one, is that things have gotten a lot easier for those of us inclined to do so. Anyone can sit with one browser page open and see all the results stream in, in real-time. The data that used to be filtered through mainstream news organizations is now readily available to all -- without the filter, if you so choose. You don't have to listen to some talking head reading numbers off a piece of paper, you can just read the same numbers yourself as they come in.

Now, this isn't the first election where this is true, of course. It's been a gradual shift over the past 20 years or so. A quick history of election night coverage would show growing from the dark ages -- where radio and television would have rooms full of people frantically working phones and writing numbers on chalkboards -- up to where we are now. First there came the wall-to-wall coverage from cable television and then the internet opened the raw numbers up to all.

Even online, there has been a lot of improvement. At first, it was rather difficult to see returns in real-time, especially for individual states (in a general presidential election) or for the minor primaries and caucuses. Often the only source was a state board of elections site that was clunky and didn't update itself (or would even die from the surge in visitors). But things have gotten better, over time. The media realized that their new job was to present the returns as they were posted -- in as great detail as they could manage. Getting people to use the or elections return pages meant putting up the most information possible in the easiest-possible format to understand. We're now at the point where you can view a state map divided into counties, and see each precinct's numbers as they come in. Data is updated automatically every 30 seconds, so you don't even have to refresh the page on your browser.

The only real "voice of authority" job the media has left is to call the state for the winner. Some media organizations are more timid than others (some call states extremely early, even when it's close), but they all at some point reach a level of confidence in who the winner will be and share that with the viewers. But there's not much of a race to get this scoop -- it ultimately doesn't matter which station calls a state first anymore.

One other change worth mentioning is that the mainstream media has reined itself in from providing data too early. Due in part to the 2000 presidential election fiasco, and also due to calling a few states spectacularly wrong here and there, major networks now all refuse to provide any exit polling data before the polls in the state actually close. This is a beneficial change, because releasing early numbers can indeed influence the late turnout -- if you wait until the end of the day to vote but then hear "Candidate Smith has already won the state" on the radio, then you're not as likely to make the effort to vote, especially if you were going to vote for Jones instead.

In any case, I (rather obviously) didn't have much to say or any major point to make with all of this. I'm just glad that political wonks have reached the current golden age of election-watching, that's all. Traditionalists can continue watching the major networks' condensed reports, more modern traditionalists (if that's not an outright oxymoron) can watch cable news anchors flail about in the effort to fill the airwaves with words while they wait for the numbers to come in, and the online community can get numbers broken down into great detail without having to listen to any of the "expert commentary" at all.

I've already spent quite a number of nights this year in front of a computer screen myself, and I'll again be doing so tonight. This will all lead up to the big event in November, where an absolute flood of information will be available. However you watch the returns coming in tonight, I guess what I'm trying to say is be thankful there are so many options, with or without commentary from pundits. We've come a long way from waiting for Walter Cronkite to tell us who won, that's for sure.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


Calling Tomorrow's Primary Races

[ Posted Monday, April 25th, 2016 – 17:59 PDT ]

It's time once again to play another installment of our ongoing game of "pick the primary winners." Now, whenever multiple states hold their primaries on the same day, it has become de rigueur for the pundits to slap some cutesy name on it. This started with the granddaddy of all cute primary names, "Super Tuesday" (which was also, confusingly, known as "SEC Tuesday" this year). However, because a lot of states seem to shift around their primary dates each election cycle, new names are constantly being thought up for the new primary groupings. For tomorrow night's primary, the punditocracy seems to have settled on "Acela Tuesday," but for some reason this irks my sensibilities. Maybe it's because I never thought "Acela" was all that cool a name to begin with. It sounds like something a drug company dreamed up to hawk their newest laxative, or something.

Tomorrow night the following states vote: Rhode Island, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Delaware. Now, on strict geographic grounds, you simply can't call this "New England Tuesday" or even "Northeast Tuesday," since the first would exclude the three states south of New York and the second would exclude at least Maryland and Delaware (who are in the Mid-Atlantic region, not the Northeast). The only thing that would really fit would be Atlantic Seaboard Tuesday (purists might argue Pennsylvania isn't covered by this, but the Delaware River means they really should be). However, this might lead the more inventive among the pundit class to start calling it "Atlantic Seaboard States Tuesday," and then decide to just use an acronym to save time. Which is really an undeserved cheap shot, so we're going to reject this altogether and just call it "tomorrow night" to keep things simple.

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Friday Talking Points [388] -- Crisp Bee Urine, And Other Fun Anagrams

[ Posted Friday, April 22nd, 2016 – 16:58 PDT ]

You have to have at least a little bit of pity these days for the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus. He seems like one of those guys in a horror flick who keeps trying to convince everyone that the monster isn't real, and that everything can be explained by rational means... right up until the monster unexpectedly (for maximum shock value) rips his head clean off, in graphic 3D. The guy who has persevered in keeping his little group of teenyboppers together and somewhat sane ("If we can just get out to the barn and fire up that Model T/snowmobile/hot air balloon/mine cart/tractor... we can make it out of here to safety!"), who eventually sacrifices himself (in some horrific way) so that the rest of the group of worthless highschoolers can have a chance at survival. You know the guy, right?

Well, Reince is now apparently teetering on the edge of losing it himself. Last week, on one of the Sunday morning shows, Reince vowed that he wasn't anywhere near "pouring Baileys in my cereal," which (as Stephen Colbert pointed out last night) seems awfully specific for something that he's swearing he hasn't even contemplated.

Colbert also helpfully pointed out that "Reince Priebus" is an anagram for "crisp bee urine," which we have to say tops our own favorite alphabetical fun with his name (which we do try to mention whenever his name pops up). Who would have thought that anything could be funnier than the fact that, without vowels, his name becomes: "RNC PR BS" -- which could indeed also be a very foreshortened version of his job description. But there it is. Once you've heard a phrase like "crisp bee urine," it's kind of hard to forget it.

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Paul Ryan Failing To Live Up To His Billing

[ Posted Thursday, April 21st, 2016 – 17:35 PDT ]

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan was supposed to be the only person capable of unifying the Republican party (especially the fractious House Republicans), and was portrayed as some sort of savior who had the power to fix the inherent problems and get things done, by showing the world a new Republican agenda for the future. "Regular order" would return to the House, all members would be listened to, and Republicans would unify around a budget rather than incessantly gumming up the works. Ryan was committed to showing Republicans could be the "party of ideas," which they would then turn into legislation and vote on before the election, as a shining centerpiece of Republicanism. Sure, all these bills would likely be vetoed (if they even stood a chance in the Senate), but that was immaterial, because the public would be able to see what Republicans would do if they ever managed to take the White House. The Republican candidate would have a ready-made platform on his (or her) first day in office, all tied up in a nice bow.

This hasn't exactly happened, and Ryan is now signaling that much of it will in fact not happen at all. Ryan is, to be blunt, just not living up to his star billing. He's currently engaged in a round of "lowering the bar" in the hopes that the public won't notice the cold reality that the House of Representatives is simply not going to get much of anything done this year. On most issues, it seems, they're not even going to try.

So far, Ryan has fallen far short of his goals, but few in the media have noticed (mostly since there's a wildly entertaining presidential race to distract them). Ryan's House just missed their first deadline for the budget, because the Tea Partiers among them are (as usual) balking at doing their basic job. This has pushed things out at least a month or two, which may eventually turn into not passing any budget framework bill at all this year. Puerto Rico faces a deadline at the end of this month (they're in the midst of a gigantic fiscal crisis), and the House was supposed to come up with a solution -- but it now seems like they'll miss this deadline as well. Other important legislation is also stalled and going nowhere fast. So far, it looks like Ryan being in charge is going to be no different than John Boehner trying to herd the Republican cats in the House -- nothing will get accomplished.

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The Candidates' Positions On Marijuana Policy

[ Posted Wednesday, April 20th, 2016 – 17:50 PDT ]

Seeing as how it is 4/20, I thought today would be a good day to take a look at how all the remaining presidential candidates stand on the issue of marijuana policy. While mostly ignored by the media (and almost completely ignored in the debates), the issue is going to become a lot more important in the general election, as many states will have recreational legalization ballot initiatives to vote on. The issue is at least addressed by both Democrats on their campaign websites, but none of the Republicans have a single word about marijuana policy on theirs. This is likely a mistake on their part, since pro-marijuana voters are not as partisan as you might think -- the issue cuts across party lines in a way that few other contentious issues do.

The tide is shifting so fast on the public's view of marijuana that America could reach a real tipping point on the legalization debate during the next president's term in office. So let's take a look at what each of the candidates have had to say about the federal marijuana policies they would pursue as president.

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What Is Trump's Real Magic Number?

[ Posted Tuesday, April 19th, 2016 – 16:35 PDT ]

I'm going to make this short today, since once the primary results start coming in from New York, I'm going to be too preoccupied to write coherently. I'm really just tossing this subject out for discussion, if truth be told, because it may become a lot more important once the New York results are in.

What is Donald Trump's real threshold for gaining the Republican nomination on the first vote at the convention? We've all (well, the wonkier among us, to be accurate) had the number 1,237 burned into our brains from all the punditry obsession with the subject (indeed, I didn't even feel the necessity of fact-checking that number, because it has become so prevalent). But because we're so deep into the minutiae of Republican nomination practices, there's an open secret that few have yet noticed: Republicans also have "unbound" delegates at their convention. They aren't "super" (like the Democrats), since nobody gets one of these seats just for being a current member of Congress, but they are just as free to select whichever candidate they feel like. I've seen numbers from the low 100s up to about 200 for how many of these there are (again, too lazy to fact-check that one), meaning they are an extra reserve of possible votes that could be drawn upon if a candidate is close enough to the outright majority of 1,237.

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New York State Of Mind

[ Posted Monday, April 18th, 2016 – 16:38 PDT ]

Tomorrow's New York primary will be the decisive one, the pundits tell us. It will join a long list of other primaries and caucuses which were also deemed to be the crucial one which would decide the whole race: Iowa, Ohio, Florida, Michigan, Wisconsin, and (of course) all the Super Tuesday states. All of these, in turn, were the decisive ones to watch, we were told. The fact that no decisive winner has emerged on either side is deemed irrelevant afterwards, of course, because by then we'll all be focused on the next big, definitive primary on the calendar. This will likely continue right up to California's (decisive) vote, in June.

The simple fact of the matter is that there are two Democratic candidates and two Republican candidates who are still relevant. This will likely be true all the way to the conventions, no matter how many delegates are won by the frontrunners. The battle between Ted Cruz and Donald Trump will still be contentious in Cleveland, and the fight between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders is still going to matter in Philadelphia. Both parties are struggling with the question of who they are and what they stand for, and on both sides this will likely continue long after the 2016 race is over.

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