National Review Loses Its Last D.C. Reporter
National Review had an incredible run in 2013. Robert Costa, who'd come to lead reporters in the D.C. bureau, was at the head of a team that owned the shutdown story and profiled GOP figures—Marco Rubio, Rafael Cruz—better than the mainstream media. But after the shutdown, Costa was snapped up by the Washington Post. Jonathan Strong, who wasn't promoted to replace Costa, took a leadership and reporting role at Breitbart. Katrina Trinko went to the Heritage Foundation's Foundry; Andrew Stiles returned to the Free Beacon.
The exodus left Betsy Woodruff, the magazine's William F. Buckley fellow, as the only reporter in the D.C. bureau. That's about to change. Woodruff is heading to the Washington Examiner, the conservative weekly and online magazine.
"I'm really excited to be at the Examiner," said Woodruff, "but I'm going to miss my NR colleagues a ton."
Woodruff will stay on the beat through the Conservative Political Action Conference, the annual event that the old Costa team just owned. And Woodruff herself is a funny, clear-eyed reporter with an eye for possible scoops on the right. The Examiner, which converted from a daily newspaper to a politics mag last year, has always had a bigger reporting team than NR. A lot of us D.C. readers (and competitors) miss the old, Costa-fied NR, though—its clout with and access to conservatives got it inside the room when no other outlet could even get close.
The Tea Party’s Primary Distraction
Jeremy Peters reports from Dallas, using the Katrina Pierson campaign to get into the story of Republican chairmen and leaders in the House facing challengers in the right. I did the same thing last week; I came away with the exact opposite conclusion about the meaning of Pierson's run against Pete Sessions. Here's the problem: Peters' piece doesn't offer much context or many metrics for the primary challengers.
In the House, in addition to Mr. Sessions, leaders being challenged from the right include Eric Cantor of Virginia, the majority leader, and Representative Greg Walden of Oregon, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. In all, six Republican committee chairmen in the House face contested primaries, including Fred Upton of Michigan, of the Energy and Commerce Committee, and Frank D. Lucas of Oklahoma, of the Agriculture Committee.
But Cantor (and John Boehner) faced "primaries" in 2010 and 2012. They faced only token candidates—Boehner has a policy of not learning the names of such opponents. Walden's opponent has raised $10,000, Upton's $1,000, and Lucas' hasn't reported any money raised yet.
Spoiler: These challengers aren't going to win. And the hopelessness of their challenges is a source of some division in the Tea Party movement, on the organizing side. Running against John Boehner, setting up a "defeat Boehner" fund, is fantastic for media attention and fundraising. Running a small state Senate campaign in a low-turnout primary? Nobody pays attention to that. But the small campaign is winnable. In advance of next week's Texas primary, there's already some bitterness about how, for example, Katrina Pierson's received kudos and media help from FreedomWorks, and activist Konni Burton hasn't gotten that for her state Senate race.
Walmart’s Shadow Minimum Wage Campaign
Last week, Walmart flirted with endorsing a minimum wage hike. Really, it did! In the middle of the month, the company was participating with stories about the possibility of backing a new increase. On Feb. 19, Renee Dudley quoted Walmart spokesman David Tovar, who sounded open to the idea.
In the mid-2000s, Wal-Mart backed an increase in the federal minimum wage that eventually took effect in 2007. Asked whether Wal-Mart would support another raise in the federal minimum wage, Tovar said: “That’s something we’re looking at. Whenever there’s debates, it’s not like we look once and make a decision. We look a few times from other angles.”
After that piece ran, when reporters followed up, Walmart insisted that it was actually neutral. Lydia DePillis checked lobbying records and found that "its $1,950,000 bill for in-house government relations in the fourth quarter includes a line about 'Discussions regarding minimum wage and the Fair Minimum Wage Act (S. 460).' " So why the denial?
"I'm wondering whether it may have been intended as a trial balloon," said Ron Unz, the California millionaire and activist who's funding a minimum wage hike amendment on this year's ballot, "and that the Republicans quickly hit the Walmart executives very hard over what they regarded as a political betrayal once it got out across so many major media outlets. After all, the Democrats have decided that raising the MW is one of their central political strategies for 2014, and the Walmart stance would amount to endorsing it. I'd assume Walmart is quite reluctant to risk punishment by the party that controls the House and half the governorships."
Piers Morgan Thinks We're Cobblers, Reads Us All the Time
Piers Morgan hates Slate. He thinks we’re cobblers (whatever that means) and “s**t” (we understand that one). At least that was his response to a pair of critical stories we’ve run in the past few weeks, the most recent one being David Weigel’s wonderful evisceration of Morgan’s now cancelled CNN show (read it if you haven’t yet).
The thing of it is, though, Morgan appears to be a devoted Slate reader. At least according to his Twitter account, he is. In the past 18 months, Morgan has tweeted approvingly of Slate coverage at least a dozen times, including as recently as 11 days ago. Here for your consideration—and to thank Piers for all of the love over the years—are those tweets.
UPDATE: 3,293 people killed by guns in America since Sandy Hook. (via @Slate )— Piers Morgan (@piersmorgan) April 4, 2013
@Slate why are you not updating the gun tally - not changed since March 28?— Piers Morgan (@piersmorgan) April 17, 2013
@Slate it was very effective when you did it daily, please keep doing that if you can. Been no update for 2 weeks, looks old.— Piers Morgan (@piersmorgan) April 17, 2013
This was a guest post by Slate’s social media editor.
The Steve Stockman Scam Got Even Sadder Today, Somehow
There's a lot to love in this Todd Gillman update on the Stockman for Senate campaign, starting with the photo (taken at the candidate's last public event, on Jan. 14), and continuing with the news that Stockman didn't even vote in any GOP primary since 2004. Stockman's reluctance to show up in public for an election eight days away is the sort of thing that usually augers a defeat, or a sense that defeat is inevitable.
Not with this campaign. The Stockman effort, which has only ever made sense as a shell game by outside conservative groups, is peaking this week as Republican mailboxes are filled with mailers for the candidate. I didn't write "candidate mailers" because the largest piece of Stockman mail, "The Conservative News," is not credited to any campaign, and team Stockman denies it's from them. It just happens to mirror tactics used in previous Stockman campaigns, and copy word for word the dada prose of Stockman's attacks on Cornyn. (He's fond of clipping quotes from the incumbent senator to make them sound like direct insults of conservatives.)
Scott Braddock, who broke this at the Quorum Report, passes on a few of the pages.
Gotta love the verb choices in there. A layman might say that Stockman, one of the laziest and least tactical members of the House, was announcing bills with no chance of passage. Worry not, Texas Republicans: Stockman's bills "overturn" and "stop" horrors.
Every Article About the Heritage Foundation’s Right-Wing Turn Quotes the Same Guy
The headline over at TPM tells me that a "Heritage Foundation Founder" has "blasted" Jim DeMint, blaming him for bringing the group into low regard. The clickthrough reveals that the founder is Mickey Edwards, quoted in an A1, double-byline New York Times story about how political Heritage has become.
“DeMint has not only politicized Heritage, he’s also trivialized it,” said Mickey Edwards, a founding trustee of the Heritage Foundation and a Republican former congressman.
Now, the evolution of Heritage from a center-right wonk shop into an intellectual and political engine for the Tea Party is one of the best stories in Washington. It's also been happening for years—as the NYT points out, the 501(c)(4) Heritage Action was created in 2010, three years before DeMint took over. Conservative activists are generally pretty thrilled by the changes. Former Heritage staffers, who don't talk on the record, are not. But Mickey Edwards will talk.
The problem: He keeps saying the same stuff. Edwards served in Congress from 1977 to 1993, meaning he left before the Gingrich revolution. Since then, with some interruptions, he's been critiquing conservatism from the center or center-right. Six years ago, during a low point for the party, he published a book about how conservatism had gotten "lost." (Spoiler: by backing more intrusive government and listening to the neocons.) In 2011 he joined No Labels, peddling basically the same ideas.
Edwards' argument that the post-Bush right had betrayed his "New Right" made sense at first; it made less sense as libertarians accrued more influence in the GOP. So it's become a more cultural, strategic critique, one that attacks the "not rational" demand for Republicans to sign tax pledges and the closed primaries that elevate more right-wing candidates. He's happy to talk about how these new punks on the corner, the ones with the tattoos and loud rock music, have ruined his movement.
And so we find Edwards in NPR's September 2013 piece about the post-Senate Jim DeMint.
Former Republican Rep. Mickey Edwards — who was one of the Heritage Foundation's three trustees when it was founded in 1973 — calls DeMint's tenure "an abysmal, abysmal kind of attempt at leadership."
"He's basically subverting the organization that he's supposed to be leading," Edwards says.
For many years, Edwards says, Heritage was respected as an academic, intellectual think tank. He fears that DeMint is shredding that legacy.
We find Edwards again, that same month, in Molly Ball's excellent CW-setter about "the fall of the Heritage Foundation."
Mickey Edwards, one of three founding trustees of the Heritage Foundation when it began in 1973, was one of those disturbed by Heritage's turn, which, he told me, “makes it look like just another hack Tea Party kind of group.”
A former eight-term Republican congressman from Oklahoma, Edwards now serves as vice president of the Aspen Institute. “They’re destroying the reputation and credibility of the Heritage Foundation," he added. "I think the respect for their [policy] work has been greatly diminished as a result.”
Two months later, in Julia Ioffe's piece about the rise of Heritage Action, we turn a corner and find—Mickey Edwards.
“I don’t think any thoughtful person is going to take the Heritage Foundation very seriously, because they’ll say, How is this any different from the Tea Party?” says Mickey Edwards, a former Republican congressman and a founding trustee of the Heritage Foundation. Looking at the organization he helped to create, Edwards finds it unrecognizable. “Going out there and trying to defeat people who don’t agree with us never occurred to us,” said Edwards. “It’s alien.”
The Wire's Sara Morrison picks up the piece, and the reactions to it, and right there in the nut graf here are told that the think tank's turns have worried "even Mickey Edwards, a founding trustee of the Heritage Foundation."
It's true that Edwards co-founded Heritage, and true that he's now a critic. But we're into, what, month five of him being quoted as Even Heritage Co-Founder Mickey Edwards? It's not a critique that moves or surprises people inside the big house on Massachusetts Avenue.
Poll: A Possible Democratic Disaster in Texas (and Better News for the Right)
Texas, often the most interesting political state in the country, has been a scrooge about polling data recently. The exit pollsters of 2012 saved money by skipping the state, denying us data about how the Democrats (and Ted Cruz) played with Hispanic voters. This year's pollsters have mostly ignored the snoozer primary between Sen. John Cornyn and a scattering of conservative challengers.
But we have the new University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll, the first I've seen that covers every candidate in a primary that ends in eight days. The poll's an "internet survey of 1,200 registered voters"—not ideal, but good enough. It finds Cornyn at 62 percent against his field, with Rep. Steve Stockman leading the stragglers at 16 percent. Not good enough to force a runoff, though Stockman's campaign and allies have started hitting mailboxes with fliers and with his odd "conservative newspaper."
But the difficulties of Stockman and other federal candidates backed by Tea Party groups are not to be read as failures of the conservative movement. They're certainly not good news for Democrats. Ken Paxton, the AG candidate who's running on his friendship with Ted Cruz, is running just 4 points (42–38) behind establishment candidate Dan Branch. That race looks prime for a runoff, a lower-turnout context that would benefit Paxton. Debra Medina, the 2010 Ron Paul-backing candidate for governor who imploded after sounding skeptical about the official story of 9/11, is doing much better in the race for comptroller—a 13-point lead over the closest competitor, for a guaranteed runoff berth.
On to the Democrats. Obviously, they should be disappointed that Wendy Davis is down by 11 points in an early test against Republican gubernatorial nominee Greg Abbott. But their race for the U.S. Senate seat held by Cornyn is far sadder.
In the Democratic primary, the candidate who has been on the ballot the most times, Kesha Rogers, leads the best-financed candidate, David Alameel, 35 percent to 27 percent. Maxey Scherr had 15 percent, followed by Harry Kim at 14 percent and Michael Fjetland at 9 percent.
One reason Rogers has "been on the ballot the most times" is that she's a Lyndon LaRouche cultist who constantly runs for office. In 2010 she managed to win the party's nomination in the old Tom DeLay seat, TX-22, a primary that doesn't draw many Democratic voters. "After we impeach Obama," Rogers promised in 2010, "we are going to implement the LaRouche Plan, beginning with a global Glass-Steagall, and full-funding for a Moon-Mars mission." In 2012 the Democrats attempted to inform voters of just how insane Rogers was. They failed—she won another primary, by 103 votes.
In 2014 she gave the Democrats of TX-22 a break and ran for Senate. Democrats, who put up credible candidates against Cornyn in 2002 and 2008, settled this time for a dentist and philanthropist named David Alameel. Wendy Davis has endorsed him. Newspapers have endorsed him. And at the very best, he's going to be in a runoff with a LaRouche maniac.
This is, sadly, not a new problem for Texas Democrats. For more than 20 years, the party had to fend off a strange and private man named Gene Kelly, who ran for House seats, Supreme Court seats, Senate seats, and more. He counted on low-information voters showing up and casting a ballot for him, because there was also a famous dancer with the name "Gene Kelly." Once, he was proved right: He was the 2000 nominee for U.S. Senate, sharing a ballot with Al Gore. It took the infamy of that campaign and a spirited 2006 runoff to stop Kelly—and the guy almost forced a runoff in 2008 anyway.
And so, come March 4, the Texas Democrats may find themselves spending money to stop an "impeach Obama and travel to Mars" candidate to prevent her from sharing a ballot with Wendy Davis. A bigger irritation than any unflattering magazine cover.
Alec Baldwin Wants a Kinder, Less Click-Baity Media, Please
Joe Hagan's oral history of Alec Baldwin's life (this is the best way I can think to describe it) is the sort of piece that will fuel the Internet commentary-machine for days. Andrew Sullivan, name-checked a few times as a member of "the Gay Department of Justice," has yet to criticize it. Baldwin uses the term "tranny" to describe someone he meets at a revival meeting he set up; that's going to make the Internet angry, too, at some point. He describes Rachel Maddow as a "phony" and endorses the popular perception that she basically runs MSNBC's editorial startegy over a weak Phil Griffin—that'll get around. "This is the last time I’m going to talk about my personal life in an American publication ever again," says Baldwin to Hagan. We've got to make do with what we've got.
And so, insofar as Baldwin remains a generally liberal figure in the media, the piece is an interesting look at a guy who's just given up. His bitterness at MSNBC is colored by his short stint as a host there, which ended after the backlash to the allegedly homophobic paparazzi incident.
If MSNBC went off the air tomorrow, what difference would it make? If the Huffington Post went out of business tomorrow, what difference would it make? Arianna Huffington accomplished what she wanted to accomplish. She created this wonderful thing. And what have they done with that? They want clicks, I get it. They’ve gotta have clicks for their advertisers, so they’re going to need as much Kim Kardashian and wardrobe malfunctions as possible. The other day, they had a thing on the home page about pimples. Tripe. Liberal and conservative media are now precisely equivalent.
Recently, when Bill Maher declared he was done with MSNBC (he sometimes does lucky-to-have-him interview segments on Hardball), it was because the network wasn't critical enough of foreign and domestic surveillance policy in the Obama era. Baldwin doesn't have those critiques. He just thinks the media is sensationalistic. Well, yes, it is.
In the New Media culture, anything good you do is tossed in a pit, and you are measured by who you are on your worst day. What’s the Boy Scout code? Trustworthy. Loyal. Helpful. Friendly. Courteous. Kind. Obedient. Cheerful. Thrifty. Brave. Clean. Reverent. I might be all of those things, at certain moments. But people suspect that whatever good you do, you are faking. You’re that guy. You’re that guy that says this. There is a core of outlets that are pushing these stories out. Breitbart clutters the blogosphere with “Alec Baldwin, he’s the Devil, he’s Fidel Baldwin.”
Right, that isn't very useful. Is Baldwin suggesting that people start viewing the people in politics any other way—that instead of being identified by "their worst day," they're covered as humans acting in good faith? That's not how he played Rick Perry, really. That's not how he portrays Maddow in this piece.
All in all a compelling personal essay, some high-quality chum for the media beat, no advice that anyone's going to follow about how to report on the famous.
Ted Nugent Loses the Washington Times, Rick Perry, Rand Paul
The biggest national politics story in Texas when I was there? No question: Ted Nugent's campaign swing with Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott. I didn't cover it, but people kept asking me whether I planned to, given that talk radio was chattering about it and Democrats were asking everyone they could to denounce it.
The Democrats' gambit worked. They focused on one comment, from Nugent, that had not received too much attention before—Nugent had called the president a "Chicago communist-raised, communist-educated, communist-nurtured subhuman mongrel." Had Nugent simply called Obama a communist, he'd have kept the ball on the green; the "mongrel" remark did him in.
In similar situations, Republicans have rallied behind celebrities when the media started their Scandalous Comments stories. Nugent hasn't seen a rally. Rand Paul has called on him to apologize. Ted Cruz and Rick Perry have denounced him. But the most interesting denunciation might come from Wes Pruden at the Washington Times. Nugent, to Pruden, was an "aging rock musician with a loose mouth who was semifamous 40 years ago."
That long ago? Only a year ago, he filed a special column for the Washington Times. Before that, for a few years, he published a weekly column. That's why the de-Nugent-ing of the GOP, if that's what's happening, feels genuinely surprising. Is it the content of the comment—especially in Texas? Is Nugent the unlucky winner on the Wheel-of-Repudiation, which skipped the last umpteen conservative figures who stumbled into gaffe stories?
Keeping Texas Red, With Memes
My trip to Texas didn't involve much reporting on the gubernatorial race. Wendy Davis has been profiled quite a lot already; Greg Abbott, the attorney general and front-runner, will be campaigning for months yet. I was focusing on competitive (or meaningfully noncompetitive) primaries. But I did hear Republicans talking praisefully about Abbott's campaign. He'd hired 50 staffers to organize early, something Texas Republicans didn't normally do in the modern age of party dominance.
The great Jay Root reported that fact out, and a lot more.
Mr. Abbott’s campaign declined to give details about its field program but said it was signing up gobs of supporters each week at “gun shows, county fairs, pro-life rallies, parades and other G.O.P. events.”
... Mr. Cornyn has seen a big payoff from the increased voter-contact efforts and engagement on social media. Mr. Cornyn’s fan base on Facebook has exploded, rising at last count to more than 250,000 from about 27,000 in August. Since the summer, the email list has grown by some 250 percent, and the number of online donors has increased by more than 200 percent, according to figures provided by the campaign. The campaign has merged the information it gathers online with offline voter history. That lets the Cornyn campaign track behavioral trends and create 15 different subsets of Republican primary voters based on propensity to vote, issues that move them and level of support for the senator.
Impressive, and reactive. The Democratic effort to "turn Texas blue," by registering nonwhites and turning them out at a higher rate, absolutely has sunk in with Republicans. D.C.-based FreedomWorks, where Cornyn's campaign manager used to work, responded to the rollout of Battleground Texas by announcing a "Come and Take It" strategy that would allegedly cost $8 million and spring 250,000 volunteers into action. (Republicans here say they haven't seen much there; one speculated that it was a smart fundraising gimmick but not much more.) Not long after, Cornyn's campaign launched a vertical called Keep Texas Red, which is really just an outlet for his campaign. It's worked—look at the email list/social media numbers—while irritating some Tea Partiers who feel co-opted. And it came with a wonderful dystopian horror video.
Oh, speaking of video—probably the most powerful backlash to the Democrats' Texas campaign is the arrival of James O'Keefe's Project Veritas, which has relentlessly tracked Battleground Texas and Enroll America volunteers, finding them collaborating and sharing data. This, says O'Keefe in his latest video, is "the new ACORN."