How Did a Virginia Conservative Activist Become the Star of a North Carolina Abortion Ad?
Last month, in an episode of the podcast, I interviewed Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser about what her group was doing to prevent future abortion guests. SBAList was inviting pro-life candidates to training sessions where they had—my phrase, not hers—the stupid beat out of 'em.
"What's at the heart of it is a fear of addressing it in the hope that it won't come up," Dannenfelser told me. "We're 100 percent clear that it will come up. The best thing is one-on-one conversation—one-on-one conversation along the model of a murder board, preparing for a trial. That's what they deserve. It's throwing at you the question that I think is going to be the hardest in your campaign. It's a measure of how disastrous the results can be if you haven't prepared in your mind and your heart."
Today, Jeremy Peters reports on what these sessions actually look like. He also has more detail on SBAList's aggressive approach—what Dannenfelser described to me as "getting out the fetal position, ironically."
The group recently hired a polling firm to test messages. It found that when it told Florida voters that a Democratic candidate for an open House seat there, Alex Sink, did not support limiting abortion after five months, women in Democratic households shifted their support toward the Republican in the race, David Jolly.
Last month, the "super PAC" affiliated with the Susan B. Anthony List began testing this message in North Carolina against Sen. Kay Hagan, a Democrat, in its first move in a Senate race this year. In a TV ad, a young couple talks about their daughter, who was born prematurely at 24 weeks. “These are babies,” the mother says. “This is human life. And we are their only voice.”
This was interesting, because in June, Hagan was the first potential messaging target Dannenfelser brought up. "Ask Kay Hagan, why did you say you couldn't possibly support a 20-week restriction on abortions?" asked Dannenfelser, previewing the attack. "That's wildly out of touch with North Carolinians."
Funny thing about that ad, though. The couple featured is Ned and Becca Ryun. Ned Ryun is the founder of American Majority, a conservative grassroots training group. The Ryuns first shared their story in a 2011 post for RedState.com. So this is the story of a family of activists—who live in Purcellville, Virginia. Not in Hagan's North Carolina.
Dinesh D’Souza and the Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations
This blog has mostly covered Dinesh D'Souza's Obama-era adventures in punditry as an exercise in how to outrage the right and collect the profits. After some slow initial sales, D'Souza's America (the book, not the country) is at No. 2 on the New York Times bestseller list. Is it a sleeper hit? Is it getting a bounce from D'Souza's media campaign, in which he claims booksellers and search engines are trying to censor him? All we know is that the sales jumped after D'Souza turned buying America into a political cause, and that I really hope I can pull that off next year when my progressive rock book arrives. (If you hate King Crimson, you hate freedom.)
My point is that D'Souza's sales and looming trial have proved newsy enough for the front page of the New York Times. The paper's straightforward profile explains that conservatives listen to D'Souza because, in a world of shouters and pundits, he comes off as an intellectual.
Born and raised in India, he graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Dartmouth and has been affiliated with some of the country’s most respected conservative think tanks. ... Newt Gingrich, former speaker of the House and co-host of CNN’s “Crossfire,” says Mr. D’Souza’s roots and scholarly bona fides give him “credibility” in right-wing circles. ... Some accuse him of cynically using his academic credentials to advance false, reductive ideas.
Let's establish that D'Souza is very smart and a world-class debater. Still: "scholarly bona fides"? "Scholar" is a pretty malleable word, often used ironically, but in the news context it's typically used to describe someone who devotes his time to scholarly research. Julian Zelizer, for example, often cited as a congressional politics scholar, holds a B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. in history. Norm Ornstein, a "resident scholar" at AEI and favorite quote for liberals looking for a critic of the right, holds a Ph.D. in political science. Arthur Brooks, the president of AEI, holds an M.A. in economics and Ph.D. in policy analysis. Jonathan Turley, often cited as a "constitutional scholar" (especially when he's criticizing Obama administration overreach), has a J.D. in law and teaches at GW's law school. Stanley Kurtz, who is often called a "scholar" by conservatives, has a Ph.D. in social anthropology. Newt Gingrich himself has a Ph.D. in European history. Generally, people get called "scholars" in the press if they're publishing/have published academic work relevant to what they're opining about.
D'Souza has a B.A. in English from Dartmouth, and ... no, that's it. He got fantastic grades at an Ivy, then worked for D.C. think tanks, then started writing ambitious books. But he came at them with as much of a scholarly background as the average political pundit, which he basically was. His first books, especially The End of Racism, were ambitious and looked authoritative, but they were basically works of pop sociology. Again, there's a market for that, but actual scholars have found the books lacking, and D'Souza's later books (like America) have more closely resembled the average conservative bestsellers. Ronald Reagan was a great man, heaven is for real, etc. (Read paleolibertarian David Gordon, who has a Ph.D. in intellectual history, and who points out that D'Souza totally misread Darwin in order to cite him in the racism book.)
What's wrong with being a smart generalist pundit? Nothing. It's just unusual for such a pundit to be seen as a scholar on whatever topic he's writing about at that moment. (Also it's a little unfair to someone like the aforementioned Stanley Kurtz, who applies real rigor in his research into Barack Obama's past and his current economic plans.) The D'Souza story is being portrayed as a thoughtful scholar descending into mere politics. Isn't he just a right-wing pundit, regressing to the mean?
Libertarians Think They’ve Found a Smoking Gun in the Halbig Case
Last night I joined the cheerful libertarians of the Competitive Enterprise Institute for a celebration of the D.C. Circuit's Halbig decision, gathering string for a piece about where the movement goes from here. In a short speech, the Cato Institute's Michael Cannon—basically the Professor X of the case—recalled how he could not figure out who had standing to sue the government over the ACA's mandate and subsidy regime, until he was bored and checking email (at a congressional hearing) and some dude emailed him a thought. What about an average citizen, who would be forced to buy health care if the subsidies went into place? Wouldn't he or she have standing?
"I thought, 'Who are you?' " remembered Cannon. "And why are you so much better at my job than me?"
Hours earlier, another random American had just given Cannon—and Halbig supporters—a fabulous gift. At 11:44 a.m. Eastern, a commenter on Jonathan Adler's blog post about the case (Adler, a blogger at the libertarian Volokh Conspiracy, is the key attorney in Halbig) pointed to an unnoticed 2012 speech by Romneycare architecht Jonathan Gruber. Asked "bostonbakedbeans":
How about the understanding of one of the key architects, Jonathan Gruber, of the PPACA from January 2012 (jump to 31m30s): https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=GtnEmPXEpr0 ? Here he outlines why the Federal exchanges were holding back -- and specifically that the intent was to put pressure on the states to enact because any state under a Federal exchange doesn't get tax credits for its residents.
The exact same comment was reposted with the sleuth's actual name, Rich Weinstein. Hours later, CEI's Ryan Radia wrote a blog post about the video. By late Thursday night, the entire conservative/libertarian blogosphere/twittersphere was crowing about the video.
Here's what Gruber said, when asked whether the feds would create exchanges if recalcitrant states did not.
So these health-insurance Exchanges, you can go on ma.healthconnector.org and see ours in Massachusetts, will be these new shopping places and they’ll be the place that people go to get their subsidies for health insurance. In the law, it says if the states don’t provide them, the federal backstop will. The federal government has been sort of slow in putting out its backstop, I think partly because they want to sort of squeeze the states to do it. I think what’s important to remember politically about this, is if you’re a state and you don’t set up an Exchange, that means your citizens don’t get their tax credits. But your citizens still pay the taxes that support this bill. So you’re essentially saying to your citizens, you’re going to pay all the taxes to help all the other states in the country. I hope that’s a blatant enough political reality that states will get their act together and realize there are billions of dollars at stake here in setting up these Exchanges, and that they’ll do it. But you know, once again, the politics can get ugly around this.
The timing of the speech is important. Gruber said this in January 2012. It wasn't until May 2012 that the IRS issued a rule, clarifying that subsidies would also be available to the states that joined the federal exchange. And it wasn't until July 2012 that Cannon and Adler published their paper making the argument that the language of the law forbade any such mulligan for states.
But this bolsters the libertarians' case. Gruber is acknowledged, by everyone, as an architect of the ACA. There is, to date, no evidence that he flogged the carrot/stick subsidies idea on Congress, and as Cannon writes in a piece at Forbes, Gruber has done hours of scoffing at the rationale behind Halbig. It just happens that in early 2012, when Cannon was barnstorming states to get them to avoid creating exchanges, Gruber was telling them they had better create exchanges or they wouldn't get subsidies.
An Instant-Classic “War on Women” Whiff
In a very well-reported piece for Politico, Alex Isenstadt vividly portrays how Virginia Del. Barbara Comstock parlayed her years in the anti-Clinton salt mines into a political career, and how obsessed Democrats are with beating her. Among the Democrats being quoted, Paul Begala says Comstock has an "almost sick, stalker-like obsession with President Clinton."
Peter Roff, a conservative activist and longtime U.S. News & World Report columnist, argues that Democrats are foul hypocrites if they don't apologize for Begala's sexism.
Sick? Stalker-like? Obsession? Begala would never say that about a man, but apparently thinks he can get away with using such loaded terms because Comstock’s a woman. It’s an attack that is without basis and is lower than low – but discrediting opponents, real and imagined, is what the Clinton spin machine is all about... Too many liberal men like Begala think they can engage in a war on conservative women because nobody ever tells them it’s wrong. They think they can say anything they want, cast any aspersion, make any crack and that folks will laugh – all the while subtly undermining the credibility of an accomplished woman like Comstock who refuses to stay on the feminist plantation.
You've got to love the "plantation" trope, which makes some sense in the black conservative context and literally none here. After all, the "REAL war on women" argument is different flavor, same food group as the "black voters should know that Democrats used to be racist" argument, which my colleague Jamelle Bouie frequently kicks around the room. There's no sexism whatsoever in attributing "stalker-like" behavior to Comstock.
Let us turn to page 208 of David Brock's memoir, Blinded by the Right.
Comstock invited me to go along on an expedition to the Washington home of senior White House aide David Watkins, the central figure in the travel scandal Olson and Comstock were probing. A short time later, Republican lawyers Comstock, Olson, and other congressional investigators, including David Bossie, and Whitewater investigator Christopher Bartomolucci, pulled up outside my house in an SUV. Though I wasn't sure what the group hoped to accomplish -- they were visibly frustrated with their inability so far to incriminate Watkins -- I went along for the ride. Olson explained that Congressman Sonny Bono had cleared us into the private, gated community where both Bono and Watkins lived, in the northwest section of Georgetown. When we arrived at our destination, Olsen giddily leapt from the truck, trespassed onto Watkins's property, and hopped down a steep cliff that abutted his home. Barbara peered into Watkins's window where she observed him -- watching television. No crime there.
Comstock had the tenacity of a PI. Democrats didn't like it. And the Watkins operation wasn't even what Begala was thinking of when he talked to Politico.
"Even I had forgotten that," says Begala. "But it is true that Barbara asked me if she had deposed me when we were at Mass."
Add to this the fact that women are roughly three times as likely to be stalked as men, and that it's mostly men who stalk women, and I don't think there's much left for every female Democrat to apologize for.
The Death of Immigration Reform in Two Rubio Family Quotes
Last year Time's great Miami-based reporter Michael Grunwald described a voicemail Marco Rubio's mother left for her son. (His full name is Marco Antonio Rubio, hence the "Tony.")
“Tony, some loving advice from the person who cares for you most in the world,” she said in Spanish. “Don’t mess with the immigrants, my son. Please, don’t mess with them.” She reminded him that undocumented Americans—los pobrecitos, she called them, the poor things—work hard and get treated horribly. “They’re human beings just like us, and they came for the same reasons we came. To work. To improve their lives. So please, don’t mess with them.”
One year, a few months, and a stalled immigration bill later, Alex Leary quotes Rubio:
The U.S. must also make clear that the Deferred Action program, or any law or policy for that matter, does not and will not apply to any recent arrivals. Furthermore, because the recent wave from Central America spiked after DACA was announced, it is in our interest to wind down this program. If you are not currently in it, you should not be eligible for it. For President Obama to raise hopes it may actually be unilaterally expanded is irresponsible and threatens to make this problem even worse.
As Leary explains, Rubio had favored a version of the DREAM Act in 2012, folded it into the 2013 reform, and has basically shrugged at the House Republicans' role in shelving the whole thing. While on the topic of Congress doing nothing even on issues that members claimed to be obsessed with solving, read Sam Stein.
Rand Paul and Paul Ryan Are Both Talking About Criminal Justice Reform. How Did That Happen?
Once people have paid their debt to society, they should be able to move on. In that spirit, this proposal suggests three possible reforms:
• Grant judges more flexibility within mandatory-minimum guidelines when sentencing non-violent drug offenders.
• Implement a risk- and needs-assessment system in federal prisons while expanding enrollment in rehabilitative programming to reduce recidivism. Allow non-violent and low-risk inmates to use enrollment to earn time off their prison stay towards prerelease custody.
• Partner with reforms at the state and local level.
OK, not terribly exciting, but it follows some explanations, produced by the office of a top Republican, of how "minority men are much more likely to serve time" and overincarceration has multigenerational impacts on poverty. Ryan released this one day after Sen. Rand Paul joined the Brennan Center (briefly) for a voting rights event, and talked through his idea of reducing more felonies to misdemeanors.
Nearly all the time, it's worth being cynical about the outreach tours members of Congress take, and the speeches they give to unfamiliar constituencies. But Sen. Paul and Rep. Ryan had very similar experiences in African-American outreach. They stumbled initially, Paul with a slightly patronizing speech at Howard and Ryan with an accidentally glib description of the inner cities.
They kept at it. Paul and Ryan have held many more events with African-Americans, sometimes inviting press, sometimes not. They really have met black men whose lives were ruined because they made mistakes that suburban whites get away with all the time. Paul frequently cites the experience of a friend who went to jail for growing marijuana, and had his life ruined.
In other words ... they look sincere. Both men dabbled in immigration reform politics, and both have settled on other ways to appeal to black voters and poor whites. In a post-Obama, post-immigration-debacle polity, these might be more fruitful pursuits.
Where Have You Gone, Brian Schweitzer? A Nation Turns Its Lonely Eyes to You.
A full month has passed since Marin Cogan published the definitive 2014 profile of the much-interviewed Brian Schweitzer. Covering Schweitzer, who governed Montana from 2005 to 2013, was irresistable—he gave good quotes, he was openly speculating about a 2016 presidential bid, and if your news organization had the ad revenue, he would usher you into the magical landscape of his state. (When Schweitzer was expected to run for Senate, one adviser told me to come up and ride a prop plane with the man himself. Needless to say, this isn't something you're offered if you're profiling Martin O'Malley.)
Cogan blew up the reporter gravy train. Actually, she got Schweitzer to put down his own controlled demolition. In interviews for the piece, Schweitzer basically said that Rep. Eric Cantor seemed gay ("men in the South, they are a little effeminate") and that Sen. Dianne Feinstein was a slut for the national security state ("standing under the streetlight with her dress pulled all the way up over her knees").
This damaged Schweitzer in a way none of his other quotes had damaged him. Ruby Cramer is the first reporter to survey the rubble, emptying her notebook from the times Schweitzer gave her quotes that seemed newsy if said by a 2016-er and just sort of sad if said by a has-been. Cramer's the first to point out just how bad Schweitzer's timing was. Days after his gaffes ...
Hillary Clinton was quoted in a newspaper saying she and her husband are not among the “truly well off,” and the political world rushed to wonder aloud how she could have ever said such a thing. Washington moved on. Schweitzer was suddenly laughable to the people who propped him up most — he had no place to show his skunk hide; no makeup artists to charm; no use, not at the moment, for the HD uplink, cell tower-powered, Israel-innovated, one-of-its-kind live-hit in-home studio at the end of his dirt road.
Has Schweitzer been that invisible? Yep. On June 17 he appeared on MSNBC's Ed Show, to talk about energy exploration and the Middle East. ("We keep tying economic interest to these unpredictable conflicts on the Middle East when we have all the power to do it here at home and we have all the people behind it.") On June 19, Cogan's profile went online. Schweitzer has not appeared on cable TV since then. He's contracted to MSNBC, and the network simply isn't using him. He has not slipped free of the contract to appear on CNN or Fox News. Actually, the only mention of Schweitzer on cable in the month of July came on Monday, when pollster Pat Caddell suggested Schweitzer would be a good candidate against Hillary Clinton.
Caddell is, of course, a shameless hack who is booked because he will say anything. He previously argued that Democrats needed to save their party by dumping Obama for Clinton. But the "booked because he will say anything" role belonged to Schweitzer just weeks ago. He's been silent as Clinton's been battered over her post-State speaking fees, and as ISIS swept into Iraq. Those are his issues!
I left Schweitzer a message, to figure this out and to, you know, give him a chance to weigh in on policy like he used to. But I suddenly remembered how there was literally zero buzz about Schweitzer at last weekend's Netroots Nation conference. Schweitzer had spoken at NN in the past (in 2010) and had been touted for years by progressive bloggers.
A Congressman Signs Up for the Dinesh D’Souza Tantrum Tour
Dinesh D'Souza's America—a movie and companion book not to be confused with the country in which most readers are seeing this post—is trudging toward a decent performance. Not a blockbuster, but decent. Last weekend America finally started to be removed from theaters, and its box office gross fell 30 percent from the previous weekend. That's comparable to the fall-off for 22 Jump Street, a movie people are seeing without being told that their ticket sale will make a political statement. At this rate, the movie will be lucky to gross half as much as D'Souza's surprise 2012 hit, 2016: Obama's America.
Enter Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, the pot-decriminalizing, climate change-denying iconoclast conservative from SoCal, who tells the Hollywood Reporter that Congress should investigate whether Google biased search results against the movie. The company buckled after America producers wrote a letter asking why their movie was not showing up swiftly in searches for the seven-letter word. It was being outpaced, for a while, by Captain America: The Winter Soldier, a movie with an anti-surveillance theme that has grossed almost $250,000,000 more than D'Souza's widely panned documentary.
This doesn't deserve to be ignored. We need to verify the statistics in some way, and I will be suggesting the appropriate committee or subcommittee have some kind of hearing on this. We know there were significant incidences, and that would suggest there was intent behind Google's nonperformance.
In other words, the federal government should investigate a private company to determine whether it ever biased search results against a privately distributed movie, even after the results were rejiggered so successfully that when you now type in America, you are immediately informed of which nearby empty theater is playing the D'Souza movie.
It's a fun story, but Rohrabacher is a pretty marginal figure on the Hill. (He's the 13th-most senior Republican, and will become the ninth-most senior after the 2014 elections, but he's never held a leadership position or a full committee chairmanship.) The threat of hearings is mostly a reflection of D'Souza's successful campaign to cry "censor" and "bias" and draw more attention to the content he's selling.
Anyway. Today, Rep. Paul Ryan will release the poverty-fighting plan he has been talking about for most of 2014. The conservative discussion will resettle.
Right-Wing Groups Just Scored Their First Victory Over Kevin McCarthy
When conservative outside groups fail to defeat a bill in Congress, the cheers come from all over D.C. Business groups mock the incompetence of the groups; Republican leaders declare that they've been taught a hard lesson by the shutdown; Democrats just like to see 'em lose. The House's passage last week of the highway trust fund bill overcame opposition from the Club for Growth and Heritage Action, which made the passage look like a big win. (Easy to forget that it was the latest way to mark time because Republicans and endangered Democrats don't want to raise the gas tax.)
There's been less coverage of this week's narrow conservative win. The Securing Energy Critical Elements and American Jobs Act, or SECEAJA (not a lot of thought put into that acronym), was the brainchild of Rep. Eric Swalwell, a freshman Democrat from Nothern California. If Swalwell succeeded, his bill would have replaced a 30-year-old rare earth elements bill with a new regime that would reward companies/researchers who were stretching the uses of the elements. (This is superficially pretty boring, so the lack of coverage makes sense. I certainly didn't notice it!) A previous version of the bill, for example, would have given the Department of Energy a new ability to make loan guarantees "for the commercial application of new or significantly improved technologies."*
Loan guarantees? Shades of Solyndra; shades of the Export-Import Bank. It was easy for conservative groups to make a case against this bill, even after the guarantees were removed. Picking themselves right up after the highway fund defeat, Heritage Action and the Club for Growth told conservatives to kill the bill. Rather than incentivizing new programs, argued Heritage, "the government should open access to the 13 states where rare earths lie and establish an efficient regulatory pathway that provides companies the certainty needed to extract REE." The club, warning about the loan guarantees: "We can only assume that supporters of this bill will seek to implement these guarantees after this program has firmly found its place in the federal government after a few years."
It worked. Swalwell's bill was introduced under suspension of the rules, protecting from amendments (like, say, one that would legalize mining in public land, which was the gist of Heritage's argument). The bill needed 269 votes; it topped out at 260. A majority of the GOP conference, 142 members, voted "no."
Swalwell immediately fingered the conservative groups, accusing Republicans of being cowed, panicking that "the Department of Defense will continue to be at the mercy of China." Certainly, the groups aren't turning down credit. This little vote was actually the first defeat of Rep. Kevin McCarthy's new career as majority leader. He supported the bill. His new whip, Rep. Steve Scalise—a conservative who came to the job from the Republican Study Committee—voted against it. He was joined by Rep. Peter Roskam, the "establishment" candidate he beat for the whip job.
*Correction, July 28, 2014: This post originally misstated that the bill would enable the Department of Energy to make loan guarantees. The guarantees were stripped from a compromise version of the bill.
Plagiarism Probably Just Ended a Senate Race in Montana
OK, Democrats, here's the good news: Montana Sen. John Walsh was not likely to win his race this fall. No poll showed him winning; the only ray of hope, recently, came in a PPP survey that showed him trailing Rep. Steve Daines by 7. This was not seen by anyone as a jump-ball race like North Carolina's or Colorado's. The Democratic "firewall" had been built elsewhere.
The bad news? Jonathan Martin's reporting has revealed that Walsh, formerly adjutant general of the state National Guard and formerly the state's lieutenant governor, clearly plagiarized sections of the essay that completed his degree from the Army War College. The story gets more brutal with every paragraph, but strong men may start weeping (or laughing, depending on partisan affiliation) when they see that the essay in question was 14 pages long.
And the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee really has nothing to say about the plagiarism.
reality check: John Walsh was awarded a Bronze Star “for exceptionally meritorious service" in Iraq— Matt Canter (@mattcanter) July 23, 2014
Walsh's bronze star award noted Walsh’s “attention to detail and war fighting abilities”— Matt Canter (@mattcanter) July 23, 2014
I think it is fair &appropriate to respectfully note John Walsh's heroic record of service. I would feel that way if I didn't work at DSCC.— Matt Canter (@mattcanter) July 23, 2014
No one's denying that Walsh served in Iraq. His campaign, up to now, had leaned heavily on that fact.
But the list of people who have recovered from plagiarism charges in the heat of campaigns is blank. The most useful precedent came four years ago, in Colorado, where Republican gubernatorial frontrunner Scott McInnis was kneecapped by revelations that he'd taken a cushy foundation job where he published plagiarized material. If anything, Walsh's story is worse—it's academic, and it got him a degree that advanced his career. He might not be a senator today without that 14-page paper. Which he plagiarized.