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Ed Kilgore finds a Jeb! Bush comeback highly unlikely:

Yes, it’s always possible that Bush could benefit from Trump and Rubio and Cruz and Christie and Kasich all taking each other down several notches, but Jeb’s not a sure thing to beat Carly Fiorina with his current levels of popularity. The odds of him boosting his numbers by 600 percent or 700 percent (what he’d need to become genuinely competitive) as everyone else declines are not very good, and seem to become vanishingly small if you remember how Bush got into this situation in the first place. Jeb apparently calculated that a few positions that weren’t terribly popular with the GOP’s conservative base wouldn’t hurt him in a nomination contest, and might even give him some electability points. He picked the worst year in living memory to accentuate his independence on hot-button right-wing issues, and to make his success as governor of Florida some time ago his calling card, along with a last name that connotes “betrayal” to conservative activists. If he now executes a comeback, it will be in defiance of just about everything we’ve learned during the invisible primary.

Bush’s candidacy having failed as ferociously as it has cannot help but be immensely satisfying for those of us who have contested the media’s perpetual narrative that the Republican Party is finally coming to its senses, and is preparing itself to put the grown-up technocrati back in charge. The only explanation for Jeb!’s poor campaign is that the man deeply believed that this had happened, and would continue to happen, and the bulk of the party’s money also bought into this myth and saw Bush as the most obviously grown-up of the field. But there was never any particular reason to believe this narrative other than for self-serving image reasons on the part of Republicans: it has never been all that convincing, particularly as it was pushed in 2014 amidst the Republican establishment “grown-ups” embracing the likes of Joni Ernst, maintaining nominal control as they lost all power. The whole thing amounts to one of the biggest misreadings of the political terrain by the establishment of a political party arguably since the Whigs before the Civil War, and now the contest has veered wildly out of control, partly because Bush’s financial backers are stumbling all over the sunk cost fallacy. It’s all quite satisfying.

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Nothing better represents the black hole in which the Republican establishment finds itself than this poll:

Among Republican primary voters in New Hampshire, 27 percent support Donald Trump, 12 percent support Christie, 11 percent support Sen. Marco Rubio (FL), and 10 percent support Sen. Ted Cruz (TX).

New Hampshire seems like the best chance Republicans have to try to stop Trump/Cruzmentum–Iowa and South Carolina seem highly likely to select an outsider candidate, but if you add together the 12 percent for Christie, the 11 percent for Rubio, and the additional 15% that Bush and Kasich pull down, you have a pretty sizable establishment base in New Hampshire, about equivalent to Trump plus Cruz, i.e. winnable–so the Republican establishment simply needs to find someone who is broadly acceptable to the party and could win a general election, and back them to the hilt.

Chris Christie just isn’t that person, and not only for the reasons outlined here. Much of the Republican base intensely loathes him and blames him (ridiculously) for Obama’s re-election. He accepted Medicare expansion, something that has hampered ideological compatriot John Kasich’s campaign. It’s still far from clear whether his act plays outside of specific pockets in the Northeast of the country. He continues to have legal and political trouble hanging over him at home, where he’s quite unpopular. His favorability is bad, though in all fairness, it’s nowhere near as terrible as Jeb Bush’s (Marco Rubio’s favorability is actually net positive), and while a lot of people thrill to his Brash Talk, his terrible numbers at home show that even in the most favorable environment to that tactic, it eventually wears thin, and Christie has not shown the ability to switch to another mode to avoid a toxic downturn in voter affection.

Christie isn’t the answer to the GOP establishment’s problem–there’s very little chance that the party faithful will accept him, and it divides the establishment-inclined electorate even further in a state that might well be the only chance to stop their nightmare scenario of a Trump vs. Cruz race. What they should be doing is trying to get Christie to drop out of the race, and probably a couple of other candidates as well, rather than trying to push him forward. If Christie does indeed win New Hampshire or come close, a Trump vs. Cruz contest becomes more or less inevitable.

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For all I know, Marco Rubio will win the Republican nomination easily just like the poli sci people tell us. That’s certainly a possibility that I can’t deny, and a lot of smart people who I respect hold it. But I feel like this is sort of an exercise in avoiding Ockham’s Razor. If Rubio flops in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina–all states I don’t think he’s going to be great in–then I think he loses the nomination. Nobody gives a shit about whether he wins the Florida primary–hell, Gingrich managed to win the Georgia primary in 2012 even after his campaign fell completely apart. Maybe if he scores a close second or something the media will boost him just like they have after every debate he’s “aced” that did nothing to his support. But I don’t know if that’ll matter since getting the most favorable MSM coverage of any Republican candidate hasn’t gotten Rubio any closer to the nomination, just as getting the worst hasn’t gotten Hillary any further away from hers.

The notion that some critical mass of Republicans will at some point “tune in” and that’ll mean the end for Trump ignores the inconvenient fact that they, um, have been tuning in like crazy, not to mention that Trump’s durable polling shows that this is not a field where unformed opinions and random fancies are running amok a la 2012. (I doubt that many people combined had ever even watched FOX Business before!) And the big problem the establishment has (particularly with Cruz, and also with Trump in some respects) is that these are guys who are taking the establishment’s own ideas to their natural conclusions, rather than going only so far but holding back so as to avoid political damage. Cruz’s 2013 shutdown may have been bad for the Republican Party, but the logic of it was different from the Boehner-McConnell refusenik strategy only in degree, not in kind. And Trump’s rhetoric on let’s just say immigration is much the same–there’s no wink-and-a-nod to it, but the party whose last leader advocated self-deportation is hardly alien to this type of thinking, if not this particular expression of it. This is why attacking Trump as too liberal hasn’t worked and likely won’t work–Trump’s current “liberalism” mainly consists of wedge issues where the elites disagree with the base, and the thrust of his argument builds upon the Limbaugh/Ailes playbook perfectly. They don’t like this at all, but that they seemingly don’t understand what is happening makes me skeptical that they’ll be successful.

It’s a bit more complicated with Trump but the reason why Republicans hate Cruz isn’t because he’s an asshole–he’s hardly alone there. (Assholery being present in both parties, of course, though only celebrated in one.) It’s because Cruz takes their strategy beyond where they want it to go. He’s both more and less cynical than they are at the same time–Cruz knows on some level that a government shutdown hurts the party, but the party wants to use the “Obama usurper” meme for firing up the rubes up until the point that it harms them. Cruz blows past that point, as does Trump in some ways, which can be either a cynical exploitation for personal gain or an honest, unhedged expression of honesty, depending on your perspective. It is, in a way, a parallel to the pragmatism vs. purity debates on the left. Big difference is that way more people on the right seem interested in the purer options (Trump, Carson, Cruz) than do people on the left (Sanders, largely), just to judge by poll numbers.

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Another Republican child star heads to the dark side. My take on this phenomenon is that it’s mostly aimed at suburban parents who are truly terrified at their kids being attracted to the siren’s song of liberalism, and to a lesser degree at older and sentimental types. That so many seem to wind up taking that exact journey should worry them, perhaps?

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The Great State of Alabama is considering a cowardly cave to Obamacare, right after the new wingnut Governor of Kentucky has begun to stop pretending he’s going to full-on repeal it. Republican Senators are having trouble voting for whatever number of repeal bill (81? I’m guessing) to send for an immediate veto. It’s barely an issue in the presidential race. Why, it’s almost as if the bill is not unpopular anymore or something. Hmm.

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Maybe it’s not because Rubio all but promises a war with China that Republican elites aren’t flocking to the guy. After all, his immigration record has shown him to be someone who can easily be bent to what people like themselves ultimately want. Perhaps it’s because they’re worried about backing anybody at all lest that person get a target on their back for Donald Trump to just start unloading upon.

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Josh Marshall brings up the obvious point:

Well, as far as I can see basically no one, neither the networks institutionally nor the high profile journalists have said anything about the RNC’s fairly comical decision to ax NBC news.

Now, the additional wrinkle here, of course, is that this isn’t really NBC. It’s CNBC. Not a conservative network in the Fox News sense precisely but one that is more or less totally captured by the ideology of Wall Street and thus leans heavily right on key economic and regulatory issues.

As I noted, this whole drama seems more or less ridiculous to me on all counts. Everybody’s got an angle. No one is pure. And mainly this is a spectacle of a political party unable to root out “media bias” from debates it’s running itself! Whatever. But again, we’ve been to this rodeo before when Fox gets excluded by Democrats or the left.

So media bigwigs, why so silent?

I have to admit that it is more than a little surprising. I mean, it’s obvious enough that the mainstream media lives in almost abject fear of Republican criticism. It’s why the New York Times used euphemisms for torture during the Bush era. It’s why any flimsily sourced nonsense about the Clintons gets breathlessly reported, while Marco Rubio’s fingernail dirt goes unexposed for now. It’s why Bill Kristol and Erick Erickson fall ass-backwards into MSM commenting gigs, while neither one has ever been credible as a disinterested analyst. Post-Rathergate, it’s just sort of how it is, and we all know this. But why would a whole news ecosystem just sort of accept a politically useful Republican judgment like this without forceful pushback that cuts off their access in a material way, maintenance of which was presumably the whole point of this whole exercise?

It’s also worth pointing out that, in terms of survival, the mainstream media’s existential threat comes from liberals losing faith and no longer consuming it than from conservatives criticizing it as irreparably biased. Righties are going to do the latter no matter what, as that very idea forms the basis of the hugely profitable and powerful conservative media complex. Judging by Gallup’s most recent survey, it’s unambiguously the case that older liberals are what’s keeping the MSM afloat–younger people are just about as mistrustful as Republicans, though presumably for different reasons as that’s a demographic that has tilted strongly left over the past decade. It’s also the demographic that propelled Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show to ratings success, not coincidentally. But what one sees is an industry that is apparently so locked into a weird version of the “twice as good” paradigm that it is plainly obvious leads only to oblivion. There’s just no way to for the MSM to inoculate itself against bias charges from the right without becoming FOX News. One would figure that after both giving and not giving the schoolyard bully a dollar leads to the same beating, they’d realize there’s no incentive to giving the dollar and would instead just stand up to them. And yet they don’t. Maybe if The Wire‘s fifth season had focused on this stuff, it wouldn’t have been such a boring waste of time.

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