John Cornyn Says His Opponent's Win-by-Not-Campaigning Strategy Is “Unique”
HOUSTON—Early voting in Texas' party primaries commenced today and ends on March 4. Sen. John Cornyn, who is facing seven challengers (none of whom he's debated at voter forums), started the day with an endorsement from the National Federation of Independent Business, a roundtable, and a short press conference.* His debt limit vote, litigated in newspaper interviews last week, did not come up. But he was asked about the attacks from two rivals, Rep. Steve Stockman and businessman Dwayne Stovall, on Cornyn's weekend rally with Karl Rove.
"The truth is, you know, Karl’s not involved in my campaign apart from appearing as a guest at one event in Longview," said Cornyn. "He’s been a friend of mine a long time. But I’d say those are strawmen [issues]. I’d say the most important thing is my record, and my record, I’m very proud of. I’d say my values and my record reflect the sentiments of the people I work for, which is 26 million Texans. By any objective measure, I’m a conservative."
Some more verbiage about conservatism followed, and Cornyn was asked what he made of Stockman's campaign. The congressman filed to run at the last minute; he had not, since then, gone on the air or held many public appearances.
"You know, I haven’t seen him since he filed for office," said Cornyn. "He hasn’t appeared at any public events. I’ve been going to a number of those, including the Galveston Lincoln Day dinner on Saturday. I’ll be [in] Brazoria County on Saturday. I’m doing a number of events in Lubbock, Abilene. I’ve been in Longview, all around the state, and I just haven’t run into any of my primary opponents."
Why was Stockman doing it? "It does strike me as a unique strategy," said Cornyn, raising his eyebrow a few millimeters, "but we’ll find out here in just a few days, on March 4, what kind of impact it has."
*I've been following around Cornyn and other candidates for a piece that will run early tomorrow. Just keep refreshing the main page and clicking on ads.
A User's Guide to the Donald Trump Meltdown
A normal politician, or a politician with a reasonably developed sense of decorum, might have shrugged off a story like McKay Coppins' "36 Hours on the Fake Campaign Trail With Donald Trump." Sure, Coppins' piece makes Trump look like a buffoon who yearns to be taken seriously by people he doesn't have on the payroll. It also humanizes the guy, quoting his jokes, quoting his compliments and asides. In a pair of touching scenes, Trump sees a photo of Coppins' wife and calls her a "good-looking woman," then tells the reporter there's nothing better than children.
In one of the many angry tweets this grown man has written since the piece went up, Trump says:
A dishonest slob of a reporter, who doesn't understand my sarcasm when talking about him or his wife, wrote a foolish & boring Trump "hit"-- Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 15, 2014
So Trump, a wealthy person who's covered himself in ignorance and humiliation every time he's ventured into politics, is clearly unhappy about Coppins' article. Because he has no tact, he's shown this by firing an aide, Sam Nunberg, who encouraged Trump to sit for the profile, and by retweeting Coppins' critics. It's all quite pathetic, but increasingly hilarious—Trump, as usual, is running to sycophants in the hopes that they'll lie for him. And in the past day, it's become an unnecessary lesson in the problems of conservative journalism.
Exhibit A: Nunberg's apology tour. The fired aide has been telling (mostly) New York media that Coppins' piece was innacurate—a "pejorative hit piece"—without specifying what was wrong. But as Dylan Byers first reported, Nunberg's initial response to the piece was an email, to Coppins, calling it "fantastic." Coppins has passed me another email written by Nunberg after 1 a.m. on Friday. Its text is mostly just a forwarded tweet.
2014 version of Primary Colors. So good - 36 Hours On The Fake Campaign Trail With Donald #Trump buzzfeed.com/mckaycoppins/3… via @BuzzReads
Did Nunberg, an opposition researcher before he worked for Trump, tell Coppins one thing, then change the story when he got in trouble? "No comment," he told me in an email.
Exhibit B: On Twitter, Trump pointed his followers to a piece by Jeffrey Lord in the American Spectator. Lord defines "real journalism" by contrasting Coppins' observation that he was "the only reporter from a national outlet" to trek to New Hampshire for the speech with a local news station's bland lede: "Real estate mogul Donald Trump paid a visit to the Granite State on Tuesday as the featured speaker at a Politics and Eggs event at St. Anselm College."
This, says Lord, is real journalism—not the Coppins piece, which takes readers behind the scenes of a press room that's bored by the speech, and points out that (in my words, not his) it got less national in-person coverage than a comparable speech by Ted Cruz or Rand Paul. CNN followed Paul on the trail in Texas recently; CNN did not dispatch a reporter to cover Trump. Not to belabor the point, but Lord was angry at Coppins for providing context instead of stenography.
Exhibit C: Well, this is the reason for my post—Matt Boyle's piece for Breitbart puts total faith in Trump sources and portrays Coppins as an awkward, ogling double-crosser. One except, though it's hard to choose just one:
An infuriated Trump and his team contend that basically everything in Coppins’ article is wrong – and that Coppins was a boor at Trump's Florida resort to boot.
“I don’t know how to say it — he was looking at me like I was yummy,” recalled Bianka Pop, a hostess at Trump's Florida resort, almost a month later. She was one of a number of people, including Trump, who said Coppins behaved unprofessionally there.
Trump himself said Coppins is a “scumbag,” recalling that at his Florida resort, Coppins said he wished his wife looked like two beautiful women who had just walked by.
Coppins is a married Mormon who doesn't drink—shouldn't matter, but worth pointing out given how pregnant the phrase "behaved unprofessionally" is. Coppins denies the charges, and Boyle's sources include Trump, Nunberg, and a Trump employee. This is a joke, but not as funny as the kicker interview with Nunberg.
If you are a Republican, if you are a Democrat, if your are from the green party, an independent, the tree-hugger party, or any other party, you should never ever grant BuzzFeed access to anything in light of this piece. Anyone shouldn’t. And, if fact, I have friend who works at [an official Democratic Party campaign committee] who called me up and said "he [Coppins] looks like an idiot for what he did for this. This could burn his career."
Brackets! [An official Democratic Party campaign committee]! The alleged campaign group isn't even named! This is a dispatch from fantasyland. Here on Earth, plenty of conservatives and Republicans see Trump as a vain imbecile who makes Republicans look bad. That, they say, is why the media covers him.
That's surely not the only reason. The media loves a good fight, be it between celebrities in a hot tub or aging congressmen in a closed-door conference meeting. Trump is fighting, because there's no other way to convince the press that he matters.
Arkansas May Become First State to Kick People Off Obamacare
If you're a conservative, Arkansas' legislature flipped from Democratic to Republican at the perfect time. The party rode Mitt Romney's coattails and a magic carpet of donations to take over in 2012, setting up two years of confrontations with Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe. But the governor (who does not have veto power) figured out a way to keep the state involved in the Affordable Care Act rollout. Instead of expanding Medicaid, the state would seek a waiver for a "private option"—dollars spent on private insurance plans for the poor. It would need to be approved in 2013 and 2014.
Guess what just happened. The state House took up the bill, which required 75 (of 100) votes to advance. The bill had already been amended with language that blocked the state from advertising the private option, because in the words of the amendment sponsor, "We're trying to create a barrier to enrollment." But the bill only got 70 votes.
Reporting from Arkansas this week has focused on the apparent success Democrats had in securing Senate votes for passage, and the defeat in the House isn't yet seen as the end of the program. But if it is, it's a watershed: a state expanding coverage under the ACA, then rolling it back.
How Democrats Are Assuring Voters That They Also Hate Parts of Obamacare
Ashley Parker does a very nice job previewing nine months of campaign ad dialogue. "Among more than 1,000 health care-focused commercials airing for House races," writes Parker, citing ad trackers, "only seven did not contain negative messages about the law."
Here are a couple of examples of what gets defined as negative. In Florida, the House Majority PAC is trying to smother opposition to Rep. Joe Garcia (who beat a deeply flawed opponent in 2012, aided by Obama coattails) by telling voters how much he hated the ACA rollout.
Same deal in Iowa: Here's the Senate Majority PAC defending Rep. Bruce Braley, the Democrats' frontrunning Senate candidate, because he, too, hated the rollout.
That ran for two weeks at the cost of a quarter-million dollars. Those ads are instructive: The primaries and elections in both states are half a year away, and Braley's drawn unexpectedly weak opposition.
Newspaper Drops Brent Bozell Column Because Bozell Wasn't Writing It
Jim Romanesko and Ben Jacobs ran some scoops last week about a story that seemed very inside Washington. Brent Bozell, president of the Media Research Center, scourge of the FCC, had not been writing the columns syndicated under his name. Those columns hadn't often raised hackles in the capital -- Bozell showed up in Media Matters from time to time, but not with the frequency of, say, Michelle Malkin.
But the key word in this story was "syndicated." For years, Bozell had appeared in newspapers, filling a conservative-shaped hole in editorial pages that often skewed left. Belatedly, I see that the Quad City Times has dropped Bozell.
The column we’ve run for a decade under Bozell’s byline skewered reporters and media firms he condemned as “liberal,” regularly slamming them for being dishonest.
We disagreed with many of the columns Bozell presented as his own. We’d wince every time he damned the “mainstream” media. Our newspaper and many others in the so-called mainstream media send him a check every month. But we stuck with him in the interest of presenting diverse views on our Opinion page.
Bozell may have been comfortable representing others’ work as his own. We’re not.
Yeah, journalists don't enjoy being told that they're lazy America-ruiners by someone using a ghost writer.
I'm Ted Cruz, and I (Sort of) Approve This Candidate
HOUSTON—My Republican friends in Texas are greatly amused by the 2014 cycle's dominating trend. Here is the splash page when you load the website of Katrina Pierson, who's running in a primary against Rep. Pete Sessions.
Here's the splash page for Ken Paxton, a state senator running for attorney general.
If you flip on the TV and you see an ad for Paxton, odds are it's going to be this one—just 30 seconds of Cruz praising Paxton as a man who "stands and fights."
And now the M. Night Shylamalan twist**—Cruz has endorsed neither candidate. He has stayed neutral in almost every Texas primary election this year, outside of some court races. Pierson and Paxton are re-upping what Cruz said about them in other contexts, because the man is so damn popular with their bases.
The Paxton ad was new to me until last night, when I was talking over burgers with a Tea Party opponent to John Cornyn, Dwayne Stovall. He, too, was a Cruz fan. He was a friend of Rafael Cruz, the senator's father—they'd shared the bills at Tea Party events. But getting a picture with the Cruzes for his own campaign? He considered that a bit gauche.
*Correction, Feb, 18, 2014: This post originally misstated that a 30-second campaign commercial was 20 minutes.
**I didn't say it was a good twist. More like the twist in The Village.
Poll Finds Competitive Senate Race in Texas; Almost Nobody Buys It
DALLAS—I arrived in Texas to cover an incumbent's slow mosey toward renomination, and not 24 hours later I see this:
The No.2 Republican in the Senate is polling below the 50 percent threshold in the party’s March 4 primary that he needs to clear in order to avoid a May 10 runoff, according to a Feb. 10-12 Human Events/Gravis poll of 729 registered Republicans. Sen. John Cornyn... has the approval [of] 49 percent of those questioned and 43 percent preferred him to main challenger Rep. Stephen E. Stockman (R.-Texas), who polled 28 percent.
The Cornyn campaign has acted from day one as if Stockman does not exist, with Cornyn himself claiming no interaction with the guy, ever. No surprise: The campaign didn't comment on the record about the poll, which finds a candidate who's raised five figures and made few public appearances surging 13 points in three months. Stockman's only one of seven candidates challenging Cornyn, but the poll doesn't mention them. Nobody else looking at the race sees Cornyn sinking like this.
But hey, the poll elicited the first fresh quotes from Stockman in quite a while. Stockman spokesman Donny Ferguson had given Human Events a triumphant read on the poll too, so I asked him for a reaction to Karl Rove's appearance on the stump for Cornyn.
"In TV station records the PAC running those anti-Stockman ads gave their address as Rove's Warrenton, Va. office," he wrote in an email. "When Stockman ran for Railroad Commission in 1998 his opponent was a one-term state representative polling in single digits. Rove convinced him to drop out, recruited a Bush family friend and then-Texas Secretary of State to run in his place and recorded that candidate's TV ads on his front porch. The candidate switch happened just days after Rove personally told Stockman he would stay out of the race. In 2012 Rove did consulting work for both of Stockman's opponents."
"Not to mention that Karl Rove looks like an elderly baby."
John Cornyn and the Tiny Elephant in the Room
LONGVIEW, TX -- "JOHN CORNYN RALLY," read the LED billboard outside the Maude Cobb convention center. "NEAL MCCOY CONCERT." After 3 p.m., around a thousand local Republican activists started lining up for all of it. For $25, they could watch a local hero country singer perform a full show, collect all the GOP swag they wanted (in Cornyn tote bags), crack open free peanuts and sodas -- oh, yes, and to meet Texas's senior senator. If they parted with four figures, they could talk to Cornyn and Karl Rove at a private reception before the show.
The face time could come in handy. Cornyn is universally expected to win a primary that hasn't attracted much interest from pollsters. He was campaigning; Rep. Steve Stockman, who filed to run at the last minute, was not visible at all, in person or on the air. Six other conservative challengers had been even less visible, though a candidate named Dwayne Stovall had done enough legwork to win a local Tea Party group's endorsement. Early voting would start in two days, and the national media was already eyeing Texas to see how restive the GOP base had become.
The base had showed up in Longview. Cornyn's cloture vote last week, which cleared the way for a no-frills increase in the debt limit, was a disappointment that they could only rationalize.
"I'm sick of the whole mess of them," said Louise Daniel, an 86-year old retiree from Liberty City whose son was a Tea Party activist. "I'm ready to throw everyone out, everyone that's in office -- start over again. I'd put a bunch of housewives in there, because we know a budget."
But, upon reflection, she was fine with Cornyn. "He's voted more or less the right way on the things I believe in," said Daniel, citing her senator's opposition to a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. "We used to have a quota, how many from each country could come in. And I don't think they should be able to vote illegally."
James Johnson, another octogenarian who'd been "a lifelong Republican," gave Cornyn a pass on his recent heresy. "I wasn't too happy with the debt vote, but it's a political deal," he said. "It's a situation where the Republican Party has to do what they have to do to make people confident that they don't want to close up the government again."
What else could they say? Who'd show up at a Cornyn rally on a Sunday without at least some desire to vote for the guy? I was just surprised that none of these loyalists would actively defend Cornyn's vote. Upon his return to Texas, the senator had been explaining his debt limit vote as a no-brainer, convincing none of the doubters. "I think it would have been bad for the economy, bad for the American people, and I don’t think it would have been good politics either," he told the Austin American-Statesman. The paper framed it a Cornyn smackdown of Ted Cruz, who'd voted the other way then materialized on talk radio to deride the wobbliness of his colleagues.
At the Longview rally, Karl Rove took it upon himself to defend Cornyn. "Don't let anything keep you from voting for this man," he told the crowd. "I know what his colleagues think of him. They know him as a strong conservative. There's this group called National Journal magazine, which looks at every single member of Congress and how they vote. Two years ago, John Cornyn was ranked the most conservative member of the United States Senate. This year, he's fallen all the way to number two."
Rove waited for the laughs and returned to his point -- people he talks to "regularly" in Washington want Cornyn in the Senate. "They respect him enormously. They know he's an incredibly thoughtful guy." He didn't need to mention any of Cornyn's opponents. The adjectives for them were strongly implied.
Cornyn, clad in white khakis and a blue checked shirt, took the mic from Rove and delivered his own easily decoded analysis of his primary opponents. "The sense that most people have, probably most people in this room, is that this country's gotten terribly off track," he said. The choice we have is to be a spectator -- and self-government isn't a spectator sport -- or we can be in the fight. I'll tell you, there's nothing I want more than to be in the fight, trying to save this great country of ours."
(Picture by me, pixelation courtesy of iPhone 4.)
Texas Republican Candidates for Lieutenant Governor Are Not Overly Fond of Barack Obama
DALLAS -- For the next couple of days I'm reporting from the heart of Real America, covering a big meeting of the AFL-CIO and a few campaigns. In the meantime, I am occasionally sitting down in places with large TV sets, and being bombarded by TV ads. That's a long-winded way of saying, "boy, there sure are a lot of ads in the race for lieutenant governor."
And there are -- it's the most competitive statewide primary, by leagues. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, a workmanlike conservative, made the mistake of running for U.S. Senate in 2012 against Ted Cruz. Dewhurst started out with a huge polling lead; pro-Dewhurst PACs attempted to bury the young former solicitor general, who'd been running for years. It didn't work, and after Dewhurst lost a delayed runoff and Cruz became an instant icon, other conservatives lined up to defeat the LG. How hard can it be to get to the right of a guy who's known, if he's known at all, as the dull RINO who lost to Ted Cruz?
So, here's State Sen. Dan Patrick, giving it a try.
Here's Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, with obviously the best TV ad in the race.
How can Dewhurst respond to that? By reminding voters that he really, really, seriously and intensely opposes Obama, too.
Not quite convinced that he opposes Obama? Well, okay:
How are you not convinced yet? Fine.
The election is on March 4. If Dewhurst doesn't win an outright majority, he's forced into a runoff. Again.
San Diego, Chattanooga: A Bad Week for Big Labor
The election that restored Republican control to the San Diego mayor's office isn't really on the minds of progressives right now. They expected to lose. The polls said they'd lose. They lost. There's just one factor in that loss which, in retrospect, feels more ominous. The Democratic candidate, David Alverez, actually lapped mayor-elect Kevin Faulconer in fundraising. Faulconer made that an issue: Alverez, he said, was the puppet of labor unions who were "trying to buy the election" with at least $3.5 million in money for the Democrat.
Again, not a huge story at the time. It just happened five days before labor lost what was supposed to be a watershed election to organize the UAW at a Volkswagon plant in Chattanooga. The vote was 712-626 "no," even though labor had been telling friendly reporters that the win was assured. UAW may have spent $5 million on the three-year campaign to unionize. So how'd it lose?
According to Lydia de Pillis, one factor was a campaign "carried out by a dedicated core of anti-union employees who handed out flyers, voiced their opposition through a website and social media, and held a big meeting one Saturday to make their case." They worried about a clause in the agreement "maintaining and where possible enhancing the cost advantages and other competitive advantages that VWGOA enjoys relative to its competitors in the United States and North America." And they'd been told (and seen) for years the strength of auto industries in the South as they fled the higher salary demands of Michigan.
Told by who? Republicans, like Sen. Bob Corker (the former mayor of Chattanooga), who said flat-out that VW would build cars elsewhere if the union was formed. Conservative interest groups, too, based in D.C., which ran op-eds in local Chattanooga media as the campaign build. This column from the Center for Worker Freedom, a project of Americans for Tax Reform*, was spotlighted by Josh Eidelson and has maybe the most un-subtle lede of the campaign.
One hundred and fifty years ago an invading Union army was halted at Chattanooga by the Confederate Army of Tennessee under General Braxton Bragg. The Battle of Chickamauga was one of the bloodiest days of the entire Civil War, and a resounding defeat for the Northern forces. Today Southeastern Tennessee faces invasion from another union— an actual labor union, the United Auto Workers (UAW). The UAW has its heart set on organizing Chattanooga’s Volkswagen plant, which employs several thousand and supports thousands more throughout the Southeast.
I'm not sure about this sort of populism, and how compelling it was compared to the existential fear of watching the plant move away. The point is that conservatives won the argument, twice in one week, once in a competely devastating defeat for a labor movement that couldn't get people to trust it.
*I originally said that the libertarian Competitive Enterprise Institute was involved, too, but it only mirrored the op-ed on its site.