A Pulitzer-winning couple tells GBJ students what it’s like to cover a mass shooting in real timePosted: March 6, 2017 Filed under: Global Business Journalism, Journalism Training | Tags: Alexis See Tho, Barack Obama, Donald Trump, GBJ, Global Business Journalism Program, Hailey Branson-Potts, Houston Chronicle, Los Angeles Times, Mark Potts, Multimedia Business Reporting, multimedia journalism, New York Times, Oklahoma, Pakistan, Perry Daily Journal, Pulitzer Prize, San Bernardino, Tsinghua School of Journalism and Communication, Tsinghua University 1 Comment
By Alexis See Tho
“It was an organized chaos,” recalled Mark Potts, a video editor at the Los Angeles Times, describing the scene in the newsroom when photographs, videos and Twitter posts poured in from the San Bernardino shootings two years ago.
Potts and his wife Hailey Branson-Potts, who is also a journalist for the L.A. Times shared the drama of covering a breaking news story of global significance with Tsinghua University’s multimedia reporting class. Branson-Potts and Potts were part of the Times team that received the 2016 Pulitzer Prize, the top award in American journalism, for breaking news reporting.
“In the back of your head, you’re thinking, this is what I went to school for. You train and work your whole life so when you get into these situations, you don’t mess it up,” Potts added.
The prize-winning young journalists spoke to Global Business Journalism Program students in Professor Rick Dunham’s Multimedia Business Reporting course on March 1. Branson-Potts worked for Professor Dunham as an intern in the Washington bureau of the Houston Chronicle, where she covered the 2009 inauguration of President Barack Obama, among other national stories.
The December 2015 shootings in San Bernardino, California, made international headlines when 14 people were killed an American man and his Pakistan-born wife. U.S. President Donald Trump has cited the shooting as a reason why he is seeking to restrict immigration to the United States.
Branson-Potts did live reporting on Twitter from the shooting scene, talking to the police and interviewing victims’ family members. And for days she stayed put in San Bernardino to get more information on the ground. It’s important to always be ready for moments like that she said.
“I have a ‘go-bag’ in my car,” Branson-Potts added, where she keeps a pair of jeans, comfortable shoes, make-up and supplies for at least a day.
But there are some areas that cannot be prepared ahead of time and only real-life experiences can be the teacher. Branson-Potts was answering a student’s questions whether news organizations train journalists on how to face situations such as the shooting.
“There’s no psychological training in newsrooms,” said Branson-Potts, who have worked and interned at news organizations such as the New York Times, Chicago Tribune and the
She added that although her editor did ask how she was coping when she was on the ground in San Bernardino for days, the answer would always be “I’m fine.”
“You don’t want to be pulled out of the story,” Branson-Potts said.
Although she has worked for big names in America’s newspaper industry, Branson-Potts’ first taste of the world of journalism came when she was 15 when she worked on the printing press for her hometown newspaper, the Perry Daily Journal, one of Oklahoma’s smallest daily newspapers.
“They only printed 2,000 copies everyday, but it was real experience (for me),” Branson-Potts said. She advised students to find as many opportunities as they could to work in newsrooms.
“When we hire young people at our paper, we don’t care what grades they made at school, we don’t care what classes they took. We care about their resumés and the stories they produced as an intern,” she said.
For shooting and editing videos, Mark Potts’ greatest education came from watching bad movies during his student days while working at a movie theatre.
He added that a journalist’s work attitude is of utmost importance. “I approach things like there’s nothing below me,” he said, “I’ve done videos for subjects that secretly…I don’t want to cover. But I go in there and say, ‘I’m going to make a really good video. I’m going to cover this like I’ve covered the inauguration and a protest.’”
For both of them, they repeat the mantra: There’s no story that you’re too good for.
Q&A: The causes and consequences of Michael Flynn’s NSC exitPosted: February 15, 2017 Filed under: Breaking news, Rick in the news, U.S. politics | Tags: Barack Obama, China Radio International, CIA, David Petraeus, Donald Trump, Iraq, Iraq war, James Mattis, Jill Stein, Jim Mattis, Justice Department, Keith Kellogg, Logan Act, Michael Flynn, Mike Pence, National Security Council, Pentagon, Robert Harward, Russia, Sean Spicer, Sergey Kislyak, Steve Bannon, Steve Miller, U.S. Congress, United States, Vietnam War, White House Leave a comment
I discussed the sudden resignation of U.S. National Security Adviser Michael Flynn with China Radio International this morning. The interview came hours after White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Flynn had breached his trust with Donald Trump by lying to Vice President Mike Pence about the contents of conversations with Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak. Flynn’s call to Kislyak was intercepted by U.S. intelligence sources and a transcript was reviewed by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Here is a Q&A of my conversation, lightly edited for content and clarity:
Q: We know that Flynn resigned because of the scandal involving his talk with Russian ambassador to the U.S. before Trump was in office. But what law did he exactly violate?
A: He did not violate any law simply by talking to the ambassador. If he was promising a future Trump administration action in return for a certain Russian response to the Obama sanctions against Russia that had just been announced, he might have violated the Logan Act. That law, enacted in the year 1799, makes it a crime for unauthorized American citizens to negotiate with foreign governments involved in disputes with the United States, such as promising future U.S. government action.
The bigger issue is whether Flynn lied to the FBI, which is conducting a criminal investigation into Trump campaign ties to the Russian government, about this conversation. That would be a felony crime. Apparently, the acting attorney general informed Trump that Flynn may have lied to the FBI. Trump apparently kept that information from his vice president, Mike Pence, who lied to the press as a result. Trump and Flynn also lied to the press about this call — but it’s not a crime to lie to the press.
Q: Did Flynn have any other choices besides resignation?
A: Not really. According to the White House spokesman, Trump demanded his resignation. If that statement from Sean Spicer is true, then his only choice was to either resign or be fired. By resigning, Trump allowed Flynn to issue a statement explaining his point of view in the matter.
With this scandal, Flynn sets some sort of record for being forced to leave two consecutive White House administrations, first Obama and now Trump.
Q: White House spokesman Sean Spicer later said President Donald Trump knew weeks ago — at the end of January — there were problems with Michael Flynn’s Russia phone calls. Then what’s the long pause between Trump knowing the fact and Flynn’s resignation about? Why the wait?
A: This is the question that reporters — and many Republicans in Washington — want answered. The simple answer is that Trump knew Flynn lied, but the public did not know. We don’t know the backstory yet, but Trump may have thought he could get away with keeping Flynn on the job as long as the lies did not become public knowledge. Once the Washington Post published a report that Trump was told Flynn had lied (and did not tell Mike Pence or others in the administration), Flynn was gone in a day.
Q: Will there be an investigation of the phone call and everyone involved in the White House?
A: Yes, and no. Congressional Republicans say they will investigate Flynn and his ties to Russia. The Senate Intelligence Committee says it will conduct an investigation. The House Intelligence Committee chairman said today he will not investigate Trump’s conversations with Flynn, citing a concept called “executive privilege,” which shields a president’s discussions with aides from public disclosure.
Q: What political implications does this have on the presidency?
A: It elevates the importance of criminal investigations by the FBI and Justice Department into Russian attempts to influence the election, it removes Russia’s most vocal supporter from Trump’s inner circle and empowers Russia’s top critic in the Trump inner circle, Vice President Pence. In the U.S., it’s further evidence of chaos within the White House and reinforces the concept that White House officials regularly deceive each other and lie to the public. Whether that is true or not, the perception is becoming more widely accepted.
Q: Following Mr Flynn’s resignation, the White House announced that Keith Kellogg, who was serving as chief of staff of the National Security Council, would take over as interim national security advisor while the White House would scout for a candidate for the position. What do we know about Kellogg and how does his national security plan for the U.S. look like?
A: He is 72 years old. He is a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War. He was a top civilian official in post-war in Iraq. He was generally respected by people in both parties. He was the first retired general to endorse Trump’s campaign for the presidency when few in U.S. politics took it seriously. He has Trump’s confidence, but some mainstream Republicans believe he is not strong enough by to stand up to Trump’s most hawkish advisers, Steve Bannon and Steve Miller. They would rather have remain as a specialist in policy rather than the top administrator.
If Vice Admiral Robert Harward, a protege of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, is chosen, that is a sign of Mattis’ influence in the administration. If former CIA director David Petraeus is chosen, it is a good sign for the U.S. intelligence community. If Kellogg is chosen, it may be a sign that Trump values loyalty over everything else. The selection may tell us who’s up and who’s down inside the Trump White House.
Late demographic shifts scramble election: Trump gains among Midwestern men, wealthy Latinos; Clinton soars among unmarried white women, upper-middle-class whitesPosted: November 3, 2016 Filed under: The Index, U.S. politics | Tags: 2016 presidential race, American politics, Barack Obama, Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, Elections, Hillary Clinton, Reuters Leave a comment
Is the election over yet?
A lot has happened in the five months since Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump wrapped up their parties’ nominations after divisive primary battles. Trump has been entangled in a series of scandals of sexual, financial and prevaricatory natures. Clinton has been entangled in a series of scandals related to email servers, Russian-hacked emails and some guy named Weiner. Trump has been caught in a scandal about his foundation’s spending. Clinton has been caught in a scandal about her foundation’s fundraising.
I don’t believe in the media fiction of faux fairness through equal-opportunity faux scandal coverage. I’m just trying to make a point: A lot has happened in the general election campaign, but the relative popularity of the two candidates with the American public has changed very little. Since June 5, Trump has gained 3.3 percentage points on Chinton nationally, according to Reuters polling.
But within the slight national shifts to Trump, there have been significant demographic shifts that have altered the election on the ground in the 50 states. And that is what the election is about: a collection of contests for the electoral votes of 50 states, one territory (the District of Columbia) and five congressional districts in Maine and Nebraska.
Since June, I have been analyzing the partisan presidential preference of 100 demographic subgroups – 34 “battleground” groups and 33 favorable to either Democrat Clinton or Republican Trump — using polling data from Reuters. And there has been significant movement among the swing groups. Both ways. Trump has strongly improved his standing among most traditional Republican groups, like Southern whites and wealthier Latinos. Clinton has consolidated and expanded her support among almost all subgroups of women and has extended her leads among higher-income and highly educated voters, reflecting historic shifts among those once-Republican groups. On the flip side, Trump has gained significant ground among less-educated whites and white Catholics, resulting in a narrowing of Clinton’s once-daunting advantage in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Minnesota, and turning Ohio and Iowa into prime Trump targets.
Going into the final days of the election, Clinton leads in 16 of the battleground groups I identified, Trump leads in 14, and one is tied. (Three others – veterans, families of veterans, and Mormon women – have polling sample sizes too small to analyze.)
The momentum at the end is with Trump. Trump is gaining ground with 19 of these 31 battleground groups, while Clinton has improved her standing with 10 of them. Two subgroups have not moved perceptibly over the past five months.
Among my battleground demographics, Trump has gained the most ground in the Great Plains, among Latinos earning >$100K (where he has cut a 50 point Clinton lead in half), divorced white voters, Midwestern men, white Catholics and Southern white men with college degrees. The GOP nominee’s gains among less-educated Northern white men continues a realignment that was evident in the 2012 presidential results, when Barack Obama lost ground with these voters, costing him the state of Indiana and narrowing his victory margins in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.
Clinton has gained the most ground among unmarried white women, wealthy and upper-middle-class whites (white voters earning more than $150,000, whites earning between $75,000 and $100,000 a year), Midwestern white women, and white voters under the age of 40. (Bernie Sanders supporters have settled on Hillary.)
As you can see from these trends, the Midwest has become a curious electoral stew, as white men have moved strongly toward Trump while white women have shifted just as strongly toward Clinton. It underscores just how divisive the 2016 election has become.
My analysis of the Electoral College is that Clinton has a decisive edge based on the current numbers because of her continuing strength in suburban areas and among high-income and highly educated voters. That is particularly important to Clinton because these voters are concentrated in swing states that are essential for Trump to carry if he is hoping to reach the 270 Electoral Votes needed to win.
Trump’s only hope for a come-from-behind victory would be a sharp increase in his support among independent-minded voters with high incomes and college diplomas. Clinton could cement an Electoral College landslide if she gains ground among less-educated women or highly educated whites in a swath of the country stretching from North Carolina to Arizona.
Here are the “innards” of my analysis. First, you can look at which groups are the most pro-Trump or pro-Clinton. Then you can analyze the battleground groups by trendline: from those trending Trump to those trending Clinton.
I welcome your feedback on this project.
Battleground voting blocs: Clinton 16, Trump 14, Tied 1
Great Plains TRUMP +28 … SWING between Clinton -39 and Clinton -20
White divorced TRUMP +17 … SWING Clinton-23
White southern women with college degree TRUMP +15 SWING Clinton-10
White Catholic women TRUMP +13 … SWING Clinton-20
Midwestern white men TRUMP +13 … SWING Clinton -22
White southerners with college degree TRUMP +12 SWING Clinton-9.9
Southern white men with college degree TRUMP +12 SWING Clinton-14
White Catholic TRUMP +11 … SWING Clinton -20
White Catholic men TRUMP +9 … SWING Clinton-22
Whites 50-65 TRUMP +8 … SWING between Clinton-4 and Clinton+5.1
Whites earning between $50-75K TRUMP +6 … SWING Clinton -7
Whites earning between $50-$100K TRUMP +3 … SWING Clinton -10.2
Married voters TRUMP +1.4 … SWING Clinton +4.5
White women, no children at home, TRUMP +0.6 … SWING Clinton -4.3
Whites earning between $75K-$100K Tie … SWING Clinton +17
Voters earning between $50K-100K CLINTON +3.6 … SWING Clinton -9.8
Lean conservative CLINTON +2 … SWING between Clinton+6 and Clinton-2
Homeowners CLINTON +2.7 … SWING Clinton-1
Men CLINTON +3.5 … SWING Clinton -10.8
White men under 30 CLINTON +3.5 … SWING Clinton -8.8
Independent CLINTON +4 … SWING Clinton+7
Midwestern white women CLINTON +5 … SWING Clinton +12
Midwest CLINTON +6.3 … SWING C-5.9 Clinton +1.6
Voters earning $75K+ CLINTON +6.7 … SWING Clinton -13.7
Women CLINTON +9.7 … SWING C-1.6 Clinton +1
Great Lakes CLINTON +16 … SWING C-2 Clinton +13
Whites earning >$150K CLINTON +18 … SWING Clinton +21.2
White single, never married CLINTON +23 … SWING Clinton +17
Whites -40 CLINTON +20.6… SWING between Clinton -4.3 and Clinton +19.4
Latinos earning >$100K CLINTON +24 … SWING Clinton -26.9
Unmarried white women CLINTON +27 … SWING Clinton +19.1
Battleground trendline (from strongest point of each candidate to final numbers): Toward Trump 19, Toward Clinton 10, No Trend 2
Great Plains Trump +28 … SWING between Clinton -39 and Clinton -20
Latinos earning >$100K Clinton +24 … SWING Clinton -26.9
White divorced Trump +17 … SWING Clinton -23
Midwestern white men Trump+13 … SWING Clinton -22
White Catholic men Trump +9 … SWING Clinton -22
White Catholic women Trump+13 … SWING Clinton -20
White Catholic Trump +11 … SWING Clinton -20
Southern white men with college degree Trump +12 SWING Clinton-14
Voters earning $75K+ Clinton +6.7 … SWING Clinton -13.7
Men Clinton +3.5 … SWING Clinton -10.8
Whites earning between $50-$100K Trump +3.0 … SWING Clinton -10.2
White southern women with college degree Trump +15 SWING Clinton -10
White southerners with college degree Trump +12 SWING Clinton -9.9
Voters earning between $50K-100K Clinton +3.6 … SWING Clinton -9.8
White men under 30 Clinton +3.5 … SWING Clinton -8.8
Whites earning between $50-75K Trump+6 … SWING Clinton -7
White women, no children at home Trump +0.6 … SWING Clinton -4.3
Homeowners Clinton +2.7 … SWING Clinton -1
Midwest Clinton +6.3 … SWING between Clinton -5.9 and Clinton +1.6
Women Clinton +9.7 … SWING between Clinton -1.6 and Clinton +1
Whites 50-65 Trump +8 … SWING between Clinton -4 and Clinton +5.1
Lean conservative Trump+2 … SWING between Clinton+6 and Clinton -2
Married voters Trump +1.4 … SWING Clinton +4.5
Great Lakes Clinton +16 … SWING Clinton -2 and Clinton +13
Independent Clinton +4 … SWING Clinton +7
Whites -40 Clinton +20.6… SWING between Clinton -4.3 and Clinton +19.4
Midwestern white women Clinton +5 … SWING Clinton +12
White single, never married Clinton +23 … SWING Clinton +17
Whites earning between $75K-$100K Tie … SWING Clinton +17
Unmarried white women Clinton +27 … SWING Clinton +19.1
Whites earning >$150K Clinton +18 … SWING Clinton +21.2
>>>A look at 100 key demographic blocs, and how Trump and Clinton are faring among them
>>> The changing South, the educational chasm and Latino backlash: 10 takeaways from a deep analysis of polling data
>>> Who are the undecided voters in 2016? Mormon women, wealthy Latinos, Midwestern white women
The Index analyzes the 2016 presidential election through the voting preferences of 100 different demographic blocs. Thirty-three of them are part of Donald Trump’s Republican base. Thirty-three of them are part of Hillary Clinton’s Democratic base. And 34 of them are battleground groups — keys to both candidates’ paths to the White House.
The information for the feature comes from Reuters’ polling data, which is available, open source, on the internet. I am using Reuters’ rolling five-day averages for most of my analysis. I chose Reuters’ numbers because the global news service makes the information available to anyone. You can check behind me to examine my methodology — or to create new searches of your own.
Day 4 Analysis: Hillary Rodham ReaganPosted: July 29, 2016 Filed under: U.S. politics | Tags: 2016 presidential race, Afghanistan, Alex Roarty, American politics, Barack Obama, David Duke, David Freddoso, Democratic National Convention, Donald Trump, Doug Elmets, Franklin D. Roosevelt, George W. Bush, Hillary Clinton, Humayun Khan, Iraq, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Jennifer Pierotti Lim, John Allen, Josh Barro, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Khizr Khan, Mario Cuomo, Michael Jordan, Mindy Finn, Ramesh Ponnuru, Robert Costa, Roger Ailes, Ronald Reagan, Sean Spicer, Vincent Harris, Wendell Willkie 2 Comments
Did I step into a time machine and wake up in 1984?
“USA. USA. USA.”
“We are the greatest country on this planet,” said retired Marine Corps General John Allen.
American flags waving robustly in the convention hall. Speakers attacking Russian leaders. Sheriffs, veterans, wounded warriors, generals, families of slain cops. God and America.
No, no, this is not 1984. But this is where Ronald Reagan’s optimistic vision of America has taken us.
Never thought i’d be at a Democratic convention where Ronald Reagan is quoted, approvingly. Just happened.
— adam nagourney (@adamnagourney) July 29, 2016
Welcome to 2016, and one political party’s presidential nominee used Reagan as the inspiration at her convention. The other harkened back to the fearful days of the first “America First” movement in the shadow of Hitler’s rise, the walled-off, fair-trade America promised by Senator Smoot and Representative Hawley, and the hot-button racial rhetoric (if we judge by his approving tweets) of David Duke.
This is not an America I expected to be covering … or living in. It’s a world in which the optimistic legacies of Ronald Reagan and Franklin D. Roosevelt and Bill Clinton and George W. Bush unite against the dark knight of the new American order, Donald Trump.
Yes, America is divided. Deeply divided. Its diversity is lauded by some, feared by others. Its rapid era of social change makes some joyful, others angry. Its no-limits gun culture is treasured by some, lamented by others. Its economic collapse of 2007-2008 has left many deeply distrustful of American institutions, from banks to big business to government.
The times have given us a new Republican Party, one that bears little resemblance to the Party of Reagan. As a historian, I wonder whether this is a one-election aberration (like Wendell Wilkie’s outsider takeover of the GOP in 1940) or a fundamental shift in America’s political lines.
The DNC is co-opting Republican tropes while maintaining Democratic ones because there is now only one political party for grown-ups.
— Josh Barro (@jbarro) July 29, 2016
Hearing speaker after speaker at Hillary Clinton’s convention refer to Ronald Reagan, I recalled reading a newspaper editorial early in the Reagan era headlined “Franklin Delano Reagan,” as a nod to Reagan’s frequent invocation of FDR. On the final night of the Democratic National Convention, we could have modified that headline this way: “Hillary Rodham Reagan.”
It’s morning in America. On the other side of the street.
Like Reagan, Clinton is not embracing the policy agenda of the other party. But like Reagan, she is seeking to unite her hard-core party loyalists and disaffected members of the other party. Like Reagan, who gave Democratic hawk Jeane Kirkpatrick a platform at the Republican National Convention in 1984 to reject the changes in the party she long had backed, Clinton found speakers who implored disillusioned Republicans to switch sides.
“This year, I will vote for a Democrat for the first time,” said Doug Elmets, a former Reagan administration staffer from California. Former Virginia GOP activist Jennifer Pierotti Lim tried to convince reluctant Republicans not just to stay home but to actively thwart Trump — “to not only oppose Donald Trump but to support Hillary Clinton.”
It’s about more than disqualifying Trump–it’s about making the Democratic Party acceptable and an easy fit for skittish Rs, independents
— Robert Costa (@costareports) July 29, 2016
Clinton’s acceptance speech was vintage Hillary Clinton, more like a Bill Clinton State of the Union speech with a list of dozens of policy priorities than a poetic paean to a shining city on a hill, as depicted by Reagan or the late New York Governor Mario Cuomo. But its “we’re all in it patriotism” and unabashed Northern Methodist morality made it a rhetorical antidote to Trump’s “only I can solve it” message.
Clinton just mentioned God in her speech. Trump did not in his entire acceptance speech. #justafact
— Vincent Harris (@VincentHarris) July 29, 2016
Leading up to Clinton’s speech were some of the most powerful speakers of the week, who skewered Trump with ridicule and passion, as they also made the case for Clinton.
Kareem Abdul-Jabaar introduced himself to America as fellow basketball superstar Michael Jordan. “I did that,” he said, “because I know Trump wouldn’t know difference.”
There was no such levity in the words of Khizr Khan, a proud Muslim American whose son Army Captain Humayun Khan died in a suicide bombing in Iraq in 2004.
“Let me ask you: Have you even read the United States Constitution?” Khizr Khan then brandishes his own copy of the document.
— Alex Roarty (@Alex_Roarty) July 29, 2016
The line about Trump that struck me most: “You have sacrificed nothing.”
— David Freddoso (@freddoso) July 29, 2016
Incredibly moving Khan speech. America’s greatness exemplified. #DemsInPhilly
— Mindy Finn (@mindyfinn) July 29, 2016
Clinton is going to have a tall order surpassing Khizr Khan.
— Ramesh Ponnuru (@RameshPonnuru) July 29, 2016
There was no way Clinton could bring more raw emotion to her speech than Khan. She didn’t try. She delivered a well-written speech effectively, if not effusively. It will be remembered more for its historical import than its historically important phrases.
Still, for the sake of the social media world in the year 2016, one zinger will go viral: “A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons.”
Clinton came into her convention week as a flawed messenger of a divided party. She remains a flawed messenger, but the party has been unified, with the exception of a small band of Bernie boo-birds who will choose a Green Party candidate who this week compared Clinton’s Democrats to Hitler’s Nazis.
To a large swath of America, Clinton will never be acceptable, and Trump will be the lesser of two evils. Or the man who can save America.
wave, fake smile, thumbs up @HillaryClinton @DemConvention #DemsInPhilly
— Sean Spicer (@seanspicer) July 29, 2016
Trump’s campaign released a statement dismissing the speech as “a speech delivered from a fantasy universe, not the world we’re living in today.” Roger Ailes couldn’t have said it better. You’ll hear these talking points a lot in one of America’s two parallel political/media universes.
Beyond the spin is the bottom line. There is always a convention “bounce” in the polls. Trump, despite a poorly organized convention, got a bump as a result of the effective demonization of Clinton over four consecutive evenings. I predict that Clinton will surge in the polls, gaining the ground she lost and then some.
As American conventions give way to the Olympics, Clinton is likely to be in the lead. But the election remains in the hands of the Ronald Reagan optimists. The vision they choose in November will be the face of America in the decade ahead.
Day 3 Analysis: Love, love, love (but not for Trump)Posted: July 28, 2016 Filed under: U.S. politics | Tags: 2016 presidential race, American politics, Barack Obama, Chuck Raasch, Democratic National Convention, Donald Trump, Erick Erickson, Gabby Giffords, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, John Hutson, John McCain, John Ziegler, Leon Panetta, Mindy Finn, Republican National Convention, Ronald Reagan, Teddy Roosevelt, Tony Fratto 1 Comment
The dichotomy of America is apparent at the two national political conventions.
Hope vs. fear.
Love vs. anger.
Experience vs. political newcomers.
Diversity vs. shades of white.
Meryl Streep vs. Scott Baio.
Cagney + Lacey vs. The Apprentice.
Hiring vs. Firing.
Gracious loser (Bernie Sanders) vs. unrepentant enemy (Ted Cruz).
It Takes a Village vs. Burn the Village Down.
Even without saying a single word, the Democratic convention has won the battle of images. People look happier, even the Bernie boo-birds. People act happier, especially the elected officials. People seem happier to be speaking there.
And then there is the messaging.
The Republican convention did a very good job sowing doubts about Hillary Clinton, particularly on the subject of emails. It exposed her vulnerabilities as an imperfect messenger. But it missed an important opportunity to demonstrate to America that Donald Trump has any policy vision for America. Voters left that convention without any idea what Donald Trump would do on health care, taxes, budget priorities, trade, relations with China, Russia, Iraq, North Korea, NATO, Mexico … the list goes on and on. The only clear policy prescription is that he will build a wall. And Mexico will pay for it.
Clinton’s convention has artfully followed a three-pronged strategy:
- Rebuild the battered reputation of the candidate, whose positive ratings fell below 30 percent in one post GOP-convention poll.
- Lay out a specific set of policies on family leave, equal pay, minimum wage, anti-terrorism, college tuition and loans, infrastructure, national defense strategy, small business development, job retraining, veterans’ care … the list goes on and on.
- Shatter Trump’s reputation one speech at a time. His lawsuits. His persistent sexism. His dissembling. His university. His nativism. His steaks. His admiration for dictators. His treatment of contractors. His crude insults. His outsourced neckties. His ego. “He has no clue about what makes America great,” said Vice President Joe Biden. “Actually he has no clue, period.” Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg dismissed Trump as a fraud: “I’m a New Yorker, and I know a con when I see one.” John Hutson, a retired admiral, said it most harshly: “I used to serve in the Navy with John McCain. I used to vote in the same party as John McCain. Donald, you’re not fit to polish John McCain’s boots!”
Wednesday night’s show was carefully calibrated and artfully executed. I identified 10 themes that were repeated over and over by speakers ranging from assassination survivor Gabby Giffords to President Obama. The themes almost always reflected an implicit (or expressed) contrast with Trump:
- Clinton is qualified — some, like Obama, called her the most qualified presidential candidate in history.
- Clinton is persistent. On health care, 9/11 first responders, foster children.
- Clinton is loyal.
- Clinton is tough. Just ask Obama about the 2008 primaries.
- Clinton has the temperament needed to be president.
- Clinton possesses humility. It’s not about her. It’s about solving problems.
- Clinton cares. Speaker after speaker gave personal examples, something almost completely lacking at the Republican convention.
- Trump is a bad person. That theme might have been overdone, but, hey, there are lots of examples.
- Trump bad businessman. Same as above.
- Trump is crazy. Well, that may not have been in the official convention script, but Mike Bloomberg went there when he ad libbed “let’s elect a sane, competent person.”
Clinton is a flawed candidate, with a four-decade track record of political controversies accompanying her long record of accomplishments. But, for a week at least, Democrats are Photoshopping out the blemishes. Former Defense Secretary and CIA chief Leon Panetta, who has publicly criticized President Obama’s security policies, rhapsodized over Clinton.
“She is smart. She is tough. She is principled. And she is ready,” he said.
Both Obama and Biden got personal in their endorsement speeches. “No matter how much people try to knock her down, she never, ever quits,” Obama said. The outgoing president’s optimistic rhetoric about America included shoutouts to Republican icons such as Teddy Roosevelt and evoked the “Morning in America” imagery of Ronald Reagan. In November, Obama said, “the choice isn’t even close.” While praising Clinton he warned about a “self-declared savior” and “home-grown demagogues.”
#BarackObama gave a Ronald Reagan speech with deft slices at @realdonaldtrump – designed to portray Trump as hostile to American Dream
— Chuck Raasch (@craasch) July 28, 2016
The agony of many Republicans, from Bush loyalists to hard-core conservatives, speaks to the success of the Democratic speeches on Wednesday and the failure of Trump to inspire any positive vision for his supporters.
I disagree with the President on so much policy and his agenda, but appreciate the hope and optimism in this speech.
— Erick Erickson (@EWErickson) July 28, 2016
I liked it better when Republicans were optimistic about America, believed in Free Trade, and were not enamored of Russia. Just me?
— Matt Lewis (@mattklewis) July 28, 2016
I liked the old days (pre 2016) when speeches @ GOP convention were inspiring & funny while those at Democrat version were fearful & boring
— John Ziegler (@Zigmanfreud) July 28, 2016
Michelle & Barack Obama speeches remind that Rs and Ds want(ed) same basic things, different prescriptions. Trump the outlier #DemsInPhilly
— Mindy Finn (@mindyfinn) July 28, 2016
Republicans have to abandon Trump. It’s not merely that he’s plumbed the depths of depravity; it’s also that he’s still plumbing every day.
— Tony Fratto (@TonyFratto) July 27, 2016
As Obama finished his oration, the convention hall’s audio system blared the song “Signed, Sealed, Delivered.”
Democrats can only hope that is the case. There’s still a long time between now and November 8.
Democratic preview: 10 things Hillary Clinton needs to accomplish in PhiladelphiaPosted: July 24, 2016 Filed under: Top Ten, U.S. politics | Tags: 2016 presidential race, American politics, Apollo Creed, Barack Obama, Bernie Sanders, Creed, David Duke, Democratic National Convention, Donald Trump, Gary Johnson, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, John Kerry, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Reuters, Rocky, Rocky Balboa Leave a comment
Donald Trump is the most disliked presidential nominee in the history of scientific polling. But most national polls still show him barely trailing in his unconventional outsider bid for the presidency. The combination of those two facts creates an uncomfortable reality for Hillary Clinton as she prepares for the first Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia since 1948. She has work to do.
Here are 10 things I think Clinton needs to accomplish in Philly to make her week a success.
1. Lower her negative ratings.
Clinton’s high unfavorable ratings would be lethal in a normal year. But this is not a normal year. True, she’s the most unpopular Democratic nominee in modern times. Her opponent, however, is even more widely loathed. Still, Trump is hanging tough in most national polls conducted the week of the Republican National Convention. In the next four days, Clinton has to convince at least a few of the anti-Trump, anti-Clinton undecided voters that she’s acceptable. Or, as Barack Obama said infamously in the 2008 New Hampshire primary debate, “likable enough.”
2. Connect with working-class whites.
That’s one of the reason she picked a running mate with a blue-collar family background, Virginia Senator Tim Kaine. But she has to convince displaced white workers in the industrial heartland that she understands why they feel dispossessed and angry at the system. A tall order, but that’s what national conventions are for. (Right, Donald?)
3. Convince Democratic liberals to get on her bandwagon.
Clinton is doing better than Trump at winning back supporters of her primary opponent(s). But that’s a low bar. She needs 95 percent of Bernie Sanders’ supporters to back her, not just 80 percent. And if she can’t persuade them not to vote for Jill Stein, she needs to at least make sure they don’t vote for Trump. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (and the Russian hackers who released the scurrilous, embarrassing Democratic National Committee emails the weekend before the convention) didn’t do the nominee any favors. Eight years ago, I covered an event featuring “NObama” activists who had backed Clinton during their bitter primary battle. By the end of the week, they were on the Obama team.
4. Keep the convention on the issues and avoid personal attacks on Trump.
Undecided voters don’t need to hear jokes about Donald Trump’s combover or his gold-plated chairs. They don’t like Trump already. No need to remind them. Democrats would be better served by dissecting Trump on issues, from foreign policy and national defense and outsourcing jobs to tax cuts and family leave and stiffing small businesses. There’s plenty of meat there for Democrats to devour. And they can make the case that her judgment and temperament are more presidential than Trump’s. If we hear jokes about his hand size or bald spot, it’s a bad sign.
5. Increase her margin among Latinos — and the turnout.
For at least two decades, I’ve seen Latinos described as “the sleeping giant of American politics.” It’s a tiresome cliche, but it’s still being used because the turnout rate of Hispanic Americans remains significantly lower than African Americans, Asian Americans, and non-Hispanic whites. Clinton is crushing Trump among Democratic and independent Latinos. She has a huge lead among the wealthiest Latinos — about 50 percentage points, according to my analysis of Reuters presidential polling data. But 40 percent of this Republican-leaning group remains undecided. Clinton needs to convince them to vote for her, not to vote for Libertarian Gary Johnson or stay home. A Latino wave could drown Trump in Florida, Nevada, Colorado and even Arizona, making it all but impossible for him to win, even if he takes Pennsylvania and Ohio.
6. Match Barack Obama in the African American vote.
For the past two presidential elections, African American turnout has been higher than non-Hispanic white turnout. Many political journalists attribute that to the historic Obama candidacy. Can Clinton maintain that level of support and enthusiasm? Support: undoubtedly. Two state polls in Ohio and Pennsylvania showed Trump registered zero percent of the African American vote. Can’t do much worse than that. But Clinton needs to mobilize African Americans who are either enthusiastic about her agenda or scared of Donald Trump’s vision for America (or his backing among white supremacists like David Duke).
7. Appeal to young Americans.
The major party candidates have the oldest combined age of any nominees in American history. Young voters overwhelming reject Trump. But young Democrats overwhelming rejected Clinton for the even-older Bernie Sanders. So that means it’s not about age, but ideas and outlook. Clinton must describe her ideas that can improve the lives of the Millennial Generation. College-loan debt, equal pay for women, paid family leave and an improved environment for job creation would be good places to start.
8. Make the convention about the future and not the past.
Yes, yes, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama and Joe Biden will be speaking. But this convention is not about the glories of past Democratic victories. It’s about what’s yet to come. Donald Trump wants to return America to its past greatness.
Nostalgia is not a winning formula in an increasingly young, diverse America. Today’s 18-year-old voters were 2 years old when Hillary Clinton was elected to the Senate and 14 when she stepped down as Secretary of State. Yes, old accomplishments are fine. But they are old. What will you do for us tomorrow?
9. Avoid a cheesesteak blunder.
As a native Philadelphian, I cringed when John Kerry, then running for president, ordered a cheesesteak with swiss cheese in 2004. That’s a cultural faux pas. If you’re trying to appeal to “average folks,” it’s best not to act like an out-of-touch politician. Please don’t play the theme to Rocky — or even talk about Apollo Creed and his son. It doesn’t fit. Authenticity matters. I know that’s going to be tough, but be yourself. Whatever that is.
10. No plagiarism.
Right, Michelle Obama?
>> Catch my daily analysis of ongoings at the Democratic convention, right here on RickDunhamBlog.com.
Day 2 Analysis: Job One? Beating ClintonPosted: July 20, 2016 Filed under: U.S. politics | Tags: 2016 presidential race, Amanda Carpenter, American politics, Andrew Sullivan, Barack Obama, Ben Carson, Benghazi, Chris Cox, Cleveland, Donald Trump, Donald Trump Jr., Erick Erickson, Harry Reid, Hillary Clinton, Islam, Nate Silver, National Rifle Association, Nick Confessore, NRA, RedState.org, Reince Preibus, Republican National Convention, Rudy Giuliani, Scott Baio, Shelly Moore Capito, Tiffany Trump Leave a comment
Day 2 at the Republican National Convention was billed as jobs night: “Make America Work Again,” in Trump-speak.
But there only seemed to be one job that convention speakers cared much about: Donald Trump’s.
More precisely, the theme was to make sure that one American is unemployed come January: Hillary Clinton.
Benghazi, Lucifer, Clinton emails, Harry Reid, Barack Obama, even recycled 1960s radical Saul Alinsky. “Lock her up,” the delegates serenaded Hillary Clinton, again and again.
A long night of primetime speeches, but not a single plan from Trump to create American jobs. Except at Trump Winery in Virginia.
That led a former Ted Cruz staffer to tweet this:
Unless Trump is going to make America work again by making Republicans prison guards for Democrats, I don’t know what the big jobs plan is.
— Amanda Carpenter (@amandacarpenter) July 20, 2016
Some establishment speakers such as Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan barely mentioned Trump. (Maybe that’s part of the reason why they were booed by many Trump delegates.)
The ongoings in Cleveland led Erick Erickson, founder of RedState.org, to write that GOP establishment Trump apologists have been reduced to declaring that their nominee is “better than Clinton.”
More to the point, they mean “less bad than Clinton.”
Time management of the convention continues to be dreadful. Some of the most effective speakers — Tiffany Trump (who used anecdotes to humanize her father), National Rifle Association lobbyist Chris Cox (who built a policy case for why electing Trump matters) and McConnell (who skewered Clinton time and again with embarrassing examples from her past) — were pushed out of the live-TV 10 p.m. hour for a soap opera actress and 2016 also-ran Ben Carson. And the winery woman. That looked more like an infomercial than a political convention.
“Whoever organized this event would be fired from a regional sales conference,” tweeted Andrew Sullivan.
By the way, did I forget to tell you that Donald Trump and Mike Pence were officially nominated for president and vice president?
That got lost in the ad hoc scheduling stew.
It’s important to note that candidates are only graded by the media for hewing to political traditions. Trump is unlike any other presidential nominee ever, so it may not be fair to judge him by historical standards. After all, he has turned history on its head over the past year. So I think it’s necessary for all of us to put ourselves inside the heads of undecided voters or reluctant Republicans.
What is the best way for Trump to defeat Hillary? It’s to destroy her. He’s the most unpopular presidential nominee in the history of polling, so he’s not going to convince the doubters that he’s a good guy. That’s why he’s enlisted Rudy Giuliani and Chris Christie and Shelly Moore Capito and Mitch McConnell and Scott Baio and many more, to try to shred what’s left of Clinton’s credibility.
That process takes more than one speech. It is an accumulation of days (or weeks) of disciplined attacks.
Does Team Trump have the skill and the discipline to pull it off? Can establishment figures such as Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Preibus and McConnell play constructive (or is it destructive) roles? That’s what the rest of Trump’s convention week is about.
The changing South, the educational chasm and Latino backlash: 10 takeaways from a deep analysis of polling dataPosted: June 29, 2016 Filed under: The Index, Top Ten, U.S. politics | Tags: 2016 presidential race, American politics, Barack Obama, Democratic Party, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, presidential election, Republican Party, U.S. politics 2 Comments
Every recent national poll agrees: Hillary Clinton is leading Donald Trump as the 2016 presidential campaign enters the sizzling summer convention season.
But, as we all know, because of America’s antiquated Electoral College, the national “horserace” numbers don’t tell us much about what’s happening at the grassroots level, where there are 50 state-by-state contests going on. That’s one of the reasons I launched “The Index” this week. Through a deep analysis of demographic subgroups, we can get a very good idea about the way the race is shaping up in certain regions (or even states) from the ground up.
There are some important findings, and some that may surprise you, about military families, empty-nesters, young white Southerners and prosperous Latinos. I identified big shifts among Latinos, northern working-class whites, and Mormons … not always in the same direction.
>>>A look at 100 key demographic blocs, and how Trump and Clinton are faring among them
Here are ten key takeaways from my analysis of the first round of data (taken from Reuters Polling’s five-day rolling average, June 20-24):
- Education is a key defining demographic in the 2016 election. American presidential election analysis was governed by economic determinism: the higher your income, the more likely you were to vote Republican. That’s not the case this year, when the poorest and the richest are most likely to favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. The divide isn’t one of income in 2016, it’s educational attainment — for white people, at least. College graduates favor Clinton by 32.2 points. That soars to a 45-point lead among Americans with advanced university degrees. Among whites without a degree, Trump leads by 14.3 points, while minority voters without college degrees favor Clinton by 41 points. Trump’s lead among less-educated whites is largest in the industrial Midwest, where millions of manufacturing jobs once filled by Americans without college diplomas have been lost over the past four decades.
- The South is changing, and the way we think about Southern politics should change. There have been far too many stories about the Republicans’ “Solid South,” which is no more solid now than the Democrats’ Dixie was in the middle of the last century. President Barack Obama won Florida and Virginia twice and North Carolina once. Because of racial, educational and generational factors, the South could become even more competitive — and very soon. Yes, Trump is strong with less-educated and older white voters, particularly southern women without college degrees (+26 points). But young white southerners are a swing voting group. White southerners with college degrees, a growing vote bloc, are nearly evenly divided, with women slightly favoring Clinton. Even with Florida’s Cuban-American’s traditional ties to the GOP, Latino voters in the Southeast are strongly Democratic in 2016 (+24 points). With the growth of the Hispanic vote in Florida, Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia, the trend lines in all of these states are likely to move toward Democrats unless Latinos or young voters reverse course. States with smaller minority populations (Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia) will remain out of reach for the party of Obama and Clinton. But Florida, North Carolina, Georgia and South Carolina are slowly trending Democratic as a new generation replaces the Confederate flag wavers, and whites from the North migrate to the warmer climes of the Southeast.
- America’s industrial heartland is deeply divided by race, religion and education. As strange as it sounds, Donald Trump might have a better chance to win Pennsylvania this year than Florida. The reason is the changing demographics of the American heartland states running west from Pennsylvania to Iowa. These areas have large, traditionally Democratic Catholic populations, a higher proportion of older voters, and more whites without college degrees. All of those factors play into Trump’s current strengths. He leads among midwestern men without college degrees by 26 points, among white Catholics over the age of 40 by 12 points, and among white Catholic women by 5. Shifts among these groups put the Clinton campaign in the danger zone: She leads in the Midwest by just 4.9 points and in the Great Lakes states by 3 points, well below her national polling numbers. If current trends hold, Trump might “bet the ranch” on winning historically Democratic states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, along with Democratic-leaning swing states such as Ohio and Iowa. States with lower minority populations (Pennsylvania, Iowa and Wisconsin) may be particularly attractive to Team Trump. Clinton easily beats Trump among mainstream Protestant denominations here, but older white Catholics are a tougher sell.
- The Latino vote could bury Trump. I have suspected from the day Trump announced — when he called Mexicans criminals and rapists — that he was going to do worse than the 27 percent Mitt Romney received in 2012. After all of his talk of a wall on the U.S. southern border, the electoral reality is sinking in. Trump is losing every kind of Latino voter: young, old, liberal, conservative, Mexican-American, Puerto Rican, Dominican — even Cuban-American, which hasn’t ever happened before. He’s doing worst among Latinos in the Pacific region (California, Nevada), where Clinton has a 60-point edge. Say goodbye to Nevada, Donald. He’s 49 points behind among Latinos in the Southwest (Arizona, New Mexico, Texas) — more than twice the deficit GOP presidential candidates have faced in the past two decades. That takes New Mexico off the table for Trump and puts Arizona into play. Even in the Southeast, with a large bloc of Cuban-Americans in Florida, Trump is down by 24 points. Unless he improves his standing, that’ll make Florida all but impossible for him to win, it’ll complicate his efforts to hold the swing state of North Carolina, and it could even help put Georgia into play. How badly is Trump doing among Hispanic Americans? Latinos earning more than $100,000 per year — a swing voter bloc — now favor Clinton by 24 points. For Latinos, Trump may have done in 2016 what “America First” anti-Semites did for Jewish voters in the 1930s and Barry Goldwater did for African Americans in 1964: unite a voting bloc of disparate national origins and varying political philosophies. If this shift is lasting, it could be profound.
- The Generation Gap is back. There is a chasm between America’s oldest (white) voters and younger voters (of all races and ethnicities). But younger voters are far more anti-Trump than older voters are pro-Trump (or anti-Clinton). Whites over age 50 favor Trump by 5.9 points, while whites under the age of 40 favor Clinton by 1.2 points. The younger the voter, the more Democratic. White men under 30 give Clinton a 10-point edge. Among students of all races, Clinton tops Trump by 33 points. This is a problem for Trump in 2016. It is a problem for Republicans for a generation.
- A wide-open battle for the white middle class. Almost everyone in America claims to be a member of the “middle class.” But when you divide U.S. incomes into numerical ranges, the plurality of voters is between $50,000 and $100,000 a year. The candidate who wins most of these votes usually wins the election. Today, that candidate is Hillary Clinton, leading by 9.3 points (almost the same as her national lead). But among white voters earning $50-100K, Trump’s up by 2.7 points. The reason is his support from the lower half of the middle class, the group earning between $50K and $75K, where he leads by 5. As middle-class incomes rise, so does support for Clinton. Trump’s appeal is stronger to lower-income whites struggling with rising costs and stagnant wages. So it should be no surprise that Trump does better in areas with more lower-middle-class whites and fewer minorities.
- The new “soccer moms”? How about “the empty-nesters”? Political reporters love to humanize swing voter blocs. The soccer moms were the rage at the turn of this century. We haven’t come up with a new one yet, but for 2016, I’ll nominate “empty-nesters.” That’s mothers who don’t have any of their kids living with them. Because all minority moms are overwhelmingly Democratic, we’ll concentrate on white empty-nest moms. They are a swing group because young moms skew Democratic like all young voters. Middle-aged and older white women tend to be a bit more Republican than the entire universe of women voters. According to the late-June Reuters polling, Clinton leads among these “empty-nesters” by 2.8 points, less than her lead among all voters but better than Barack Obama did in his successful 2012 re-election race.
- Democratic dissatisfaction with Clinton and Republican concerns about Trump are canceling themselves out at this point. There have been lots of stories about conservatives angered by Donald Trump’s coarse behavior, his repeated denunciations of Bush-Cheney foreign policy, and his long-enunciated liberal beliefs on issues ranging from abortion to gay rights. There have been stories about moderate Republicans scared off by his xenophobia and racially tinged campaign rhetoric. There have been stories about Bernie Sanders supporters pledging never, ever to vote for Hillary Clinton. But the polling numbers don’t match the stories, at least at this point. Very few hard-core partisans have switched sides. Clinton leads by 68.2 points among Obama voters, and Trump leads by 67.6 points among Romney voters. Almost identical. There appears to be at least a small enthusiasm gap on the ideological extreme: Clinton leads by 59.4 points among very liberal Democrats; Trump’s lead among very conservative Republicans is “just” 45 points, with a large number parking in the undecided column.
- Military families are shifting toward Democrats. This is one trend story that has eluded the American political media. But it makes perfect sense. As more and more of the U.S. military is made up of women and minorities, the share of presidential votes won by Democrats is going up. Trump may have accelerated the shift by his unproven allegations that U.S. troops in Iraq had pocketed stolen loot after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Trump hasn’t helped with his repeated assertion that the U.S. military has been incompetent under Presidents Bush and Obama. The Reuters polling shows that active duty military personnel favor Clinton by 9.4 points, and the families of active duty military and veterans lean to Clinton by 9.6 percent. Trump still leads among veterans, a predominantly white group, by 5.7 percent.
- Trump indeed has a Mormon problem. Trump’s ongoing war of words with Romney, a leading Mormon politician, and his demonization of a religion (Islam) clearly contribute to his troubles with one of the most Republican voting blocs in the country. Romney beat Obama among Mormons by some 50 points. Trump’s lead, according to a month of Reuters numbers, is 13 points — and just 8 among Mormon women. This is unlikely to cause Trump to lose heavily Mormon (and very heavily Republican) Utah, but it could prove costly in nearby states with significant Mormon presences like Nevada, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico.
These polling numbers reflect a snapshot in time, and they could change (again and again) between now and Election Day, November 8. But this kind of data analysis can help us understand what often is oversimplified in the “who’s up, who’s down” world of daily political coverage.
This analysis is part of a series that will continue through the election season.
Click here to see the data for all 100 blocs and demographic subgroups.
Flashback: My 2013 profile of Ted Cruz, when he was first being compared to Ronald Reagan and Joe McCarthyPosted: January 12, 2016 Filed under: U.S. politics | Tags: 2016 presidential race, American politics, Barack Obama, Barbara Boxer, Charles E. Coughlin, Chris Matthews, Chuck Hagel, Chuck Schumer, CPAC, Daily Caller, David Bossie, David Dewhurst, Democratic Party, Elizabeth Warren, Fergus Cullen, Frank Bruni, Gilbert Hinojosa, Greg Abbott, Harry Reid, Heritage Foundation, Huey Long, immigration, Jared Woodfill, Jim Manley, Joe McCarthy, John Cornyn, John Kerry, John McCain, L. Brent Bozell III, Marco Rubio, Michael A. Needham, MoveOn.org, NBC, New Hampshire, New York Times, North Korea, Paul Ryan, Raul Reyes, Republican Party, Rohrschach Test, Ronald Reagan, Saudi Arabia, Tea Party, Ted Cruz, Ted Kennedy, Tim Scott, Timothy H. Nagle, U.S. Congress, U.S. politics, Violence Against Women Act, William Rehnquist Leave a comment
Thanks to the wonders of social media, Ted Cruz supporters and detractors are still circulating a profile I wrote of him that appeared on Texas on the Potomac on Feb. 21, 2013, six wild weeks into his Senate tenure. I’m glad to say it still holds up today. The most interesting quote in it may come from then-Attorney General Greg Abbott of Texas, when he discusses the futures of Cruz and freshman Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. Here’s the story:
Ted Cruz’s blazing start in the U.S. Senate has proven to be the political equivalent of a Rorschach test.
Cruz is a political Rorschach Test. Everybody sees the same thing — and everybody sees something different.
Cruz’s fans, and there are many, compare him to Ronald Reagan, who happens to be the 42-year-old senator’s boyhood hero. Cruz’s detractors, and there are many, compare him to Joe McCarthy, the controversial Wisconsin senator known for smearing his foes by innuendo and questioning their patriotism. And there are not many in between.
“It’s going to be in the eye of the beholder,” said Timothy M. Hagle, a political scientist at the University of Iowa.
To Cruz, the first Latino senator in Texas history, the swirling controversies of the past two months stem from his credo to “speak the truth,” whatever the consequences.
The Houston Republican’s first legislative proposal, as promised during his campaign, was a complete repeal of the 2010 health-care law widely known as Obamacare. He was the only senator on the losing side of every key vote in his first month in office. He was one of only three senators to oppose the confirmation of Secretary of State John Kerry, and was one of just 22 to vote against the Violence Against Women Act.
But it’s Cruz’s hard-charging style — and not just his hard-line conservatism — that has attracted national attention.
Texas’ junior senator made a name for himself on Capitol Hill with his hostile grilling of Chuck Hagel, President Barack Obama’s nominee for Secretary of Defense. Showing no deference to his elders, the newcomer also had a tense encounter with Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer on a usually sedate Sunday talk show.
Liberal New York Times columnist Frank Bruni dismissed him as “an ornery, swaggering piece of work” full of “too much quackery, belligerence and misplaced moralism.” NBC Latino commentator Raul Reyes declared that “Cruz knows no shame” and “it’s time the GOP presses the Cruz-control button.”
At the same time, Cruz has been welcomed as a conquering hero by the grassroots conservatives who fueled his upset victory over establishment Republican favorite David Dewhurst in the 2012 Republican runoff contest. The new senator was picked to deliver the closing address at next month’s Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, the nation’s largest annual gathering of right-thinking activists.
“Ted Cruz has not sacrificed his values and beliefs on the altar of political correctness or to become part of the Washington, D.C., circuit,” said Harris County Republican Party chair Jared Woodfill. “Like Ronald Reagan, he can take our conservative values and beliefs and articulate them for the world. He has made a huge mark at the national level in just a few months.”
Republican strategists are particularly pleased that Cruz brings a fresh face — as well as much-needed diversity — to the GOP message machine.
“He’s not a grumpy old white guy like so many of our spokesmen have been,” said Fergus Cullen, a communications consultant and former New Hampshire Republican Party chair. “He comes from the policy/ideas/intellectual wing of the conservative movement, like (2012 vice presidential nominee) Paul Ryan, and we need more of them.”
While assessments of Cruz’s job performance vary widely, there’s one thing everyone can agree on: The former Texas solicitor general is willfully ignoring the age-old adage that in the Senate, freshman are seen but not heard.
“Sen. Ted Cruz came to Washington to advance conservative policies, not play by the same old rules that have relegated conservatives — and their ideas — to the backbench,” said Michael A. Needham, CEO of Heritage Action, the political committee of the conservative Heritage Foundation. “It should come as absolutely no surprise the Washington establishment — be it the liberal media, entrenched special interests or even wayward Republicans — is now attacking him in the press for following through on his promises.”
Some Republicans say that Cruz — as well as Florida Sen. Marco Rubio — are being targeted for tough criticism from the left because of his Hispanic heritage.
“Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio are an existential threat to the liberal status quo,” said Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, Cruz’s boss for more than five years. “For a long time, liberals assumed that if you were Hispanic and went to Harvard, you’d be a Democrat, not a conservative Republican. Not only that, he embodies the conservative principles that exist in a majority of the Hispanic community.”
Cruz, a champion debater in college and a former law clerk to Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist, is undaunted by the criticism.
“Washington has a long tradition of trying to hurl insults to silence those who they don’t like what they’re saying,” Cruz said Tuesday as he toured the LaRue Tactical gun-manufacturing plant near Austin. “I have to admit I find it amusing that those in Washington are puzzled when someone actually does what they said they would do.”
Democrats, however, are decidedly not amused by his introduction to the national stage.
“He’s part of this right-wing, extreme group in the Republican Party,” said Gilbert Hinojosa, the Texas Democratic Party chairman. “He was elected to do the business of all the people of Texas, not just the business of a small group of Tea Party right-wingers. He makes (conservative former Sen.) Phil Gramm look like a progressive.”
Sen. Barbara Boxer, a liberal from California, went so far as to summon the ghost of Joe McCarthy during a discussion of Cruz on the Senate floor. MSNBC commentator Chris Matthews added former Louisiana Gov. Huey Long and Charles E. Coughlin, anti-Semitic radio broadcaster and fiery New Deal critic.
“He’s a potent combination of intellect and demagoguery that really has the potential to light a fire under the freshman Republicans to burn the place down,” said Jim Manley, a long-time Senate staffer who worked for Sen. Ted Kennedy and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. “But if you go down that path, you end up as nothing but roadkill in the Senate. If he continues down this path, his base may feel good about it, but he may just become isolated and irrelevant.”
A few Republicans have privately counseled Cruz to tone down his approach. One GOP colleague, Sen. John McCain, went so far as to rebuke him publicly after the Texas senator asked Hagel whether the former Nebraska senator had received payments from Saudi Arabia or North Korea.
“Sen. Hagel is an honorable man who served his country and no one on this committee at any time should impugn his character of his integrity,” McCain said as Cruz sat quietly by.
The two men shared another uncomfortable moment at the State of the Union speech, when McCain responded to Obama’s praise for bipartisan immigration reform with a quick jig while Cruz, two seats away, sat frowning.
Conservative activists are thrilled that Cruz has roiled both Democrats and old-line Republicans.
“We are encouraged that he is standing up to the establishment as a U.S. senator,” said David N. Bossie, president of the conservative group Citizens United. “Fighting the tough fights for conservative principles is why Ted Cruz was elected to the U.S. Senate.”
L. Brent Bozell III, chairman of the conservative group ForAmerica, blamed fellow Republicans for undercutting Cruz.
“The GOP establishment is at it again,” he said. ‘After capitulating to President Obama in negotiations over the fiscal cliff and promising to kneecap conservatives in the 2014 primaries, these moderates are attacking Sen. Ted Cruz for sticking to his conservative principles.”
Cruz’s brand of uncompromising conservatism gives Texas two of the most conservative members of the Senate. New ratings released Wednesday by National Journal indicated that the Lone Star State’s senior senator, John Cornyn of San Antonio, was the Senate’s second most conservative member in 2012.
Cornyn says he looks forward to “working closely” with Cruz “as we fight for a conservative agenda.”
“Ted has quickly proven himself to be among the next generation of leaders of Texas and the Republican Party,” Cornyn said.
It may be a bit early to declare Cruz a leader, but there’s little doubt Cruz is having an impact disproportionate to his seven-week Senate tenure. An editor of the conservative website The Daily Caller recently likened Cruz’s ability to shape the debate over Hagel to the liberal grassroots group MoveOn.org’s impact at the height of the Iraq War.
He’s certainly the most visible freshman senator, appearing on more national TV programs than any of his first-year colleagues, including the much-hyped liberal Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and conservative Republican Tim Scott of South Carolina, the first African American senator from the Deep South since Reconstruction.
With the hype, of course, come the jibes.
“Washington is a rough-and-tumble place, and I certainly don’t mind if some will take shots at me,” Cruz said. “What I do think is unfortunate is if the coverage of the political game overshadows the substance.”