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From this, I’m not sure they have gotten the message just yet. Here’s the Congressional generic ballot as of now, which gives Democrats over a 4-point advantage with positive trendlines:



I really have no idea how the midterms will turn out–I do have some hunches*–but it’s critically important for people to remember that the Republican media machine is such a ceaseless, relentless organ of hype, founded or not. That is one of its main functions. Remember how the 2012 presidential field was going to be awesome, until it obviously wasn’t. Or how the Affordable Care Act was going to be a total albatross around President Obama’s neck, until it wasn’t, and it wasn’t, and then wasn’t again. One saw the exact same phenomenon with the 2016 field, which was supposed to be a juggernaut until Chris Christie’s typical modus operandi stopped being an open secret. And how many utterly mediocre pols have been hyped as great talents and presidential material by the likes of Bill Kristol, Chuck Krauthammer, Fred Barnes and the like? Remember when we all felt the inexorable pull of Pawlentymentum? Republicans hype their prospects to high heavens all the time. This is, by the way, very smart, since having hundreds of pundits saying the same thing tends to build resonance and influence the media and, by extension, conventional wisdom and perhaps even public perception. But let’s not forget that this telescopic reality shaping is exactly what is happening now, and as with the aforementioned events, it often falls apart when it comes into contact with reality.

(* Specifically, a net Democratic loss in the Senate but not enough to flip it, a handful of Republican governor losses, and a small number of net seats gained by House Democrats. Probably not all that dissimilar from 1986, Ronald Reagan’s sixth year midterm, though despite massive Koch money Republicans are not going to have a great Senate candidate in North Carolina and are unlikely to win any potential blue state seats, which means running the table on the remaining possibilities. Certainly doable, but I wouldn’t bet money on it. And then there’s Mitch McConnell’s issues and the very likely prospect of a catastrophe in Georgia. So, yeah, I’m not all that worried at this point.)

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…if the mainstream media allows Scott Walker to introduce pure propaganda points into the public record like so:

If the other Republicans in the Rust Belt are trying to moderate their message, Mr. Walker in Wisconsin argues that independent voters do not want Republicans to move to the center.

It is the lesson he draws from the unusual 2012 electoral year in Wisconsin. In June, Mr. Walker won his recall election by 7 percentage points. A few months later Mr. Obama carried the state by the same 7 points. The governor calls these “Obama-Walker voters,” independents who voted for both.

Oh, come on NYT! It’s possible there are some people who voted for both men but are we seriously going to argue that a recall election held at an odd time for an election had the same electorate as a presidential election? This is apples and oranges, folks. If Wisconsin were like the dozen or so states that held gubernatorial elections in presidential years, Scott Walker would in all likelihood have remained the Milwaukee County Executive to the present day. Are the differences between midterm turnout and presidential turnout, and the associated falloff in Democratic turnout, really much of a mystery at this point?

I’ve heard many times that Walker has been aided in his tireless attempts to stick it to working people by co-opting Wisconsin’s media. Don’t think it can’t happen here (i.e. everywhere).

Increasingly you see John Kasich’s name bubbling up as a possible presidential contender for the GOP. Mitt Romney said it. So did this guy. My immediate response would probably be like, “Hey, if y’all want to try another business Republican who lost a presidential race before and worked in the financial industry, then go on ahead!” You can see why Romney in particular would like the idea.

In all seriousness, we know that nothing happens in a vacuum, and that Kasich’s name is getting trial-ballooned at this point seems directly related to Chris Christie’s disastrous plummet in electability. So the people who were backing Christie are inevitably going to cast about for someone who checks most of his boxes, and Kasich in fact does check many. He has a record that is conservative but could plausibly be spun as bipartisan and moderate, which it is in some places. His financial industry ties would likely insure he could raise the money to plausibly run, which is undoubtedly a huge determinator of success in the entire venture. He’s as establishment as you can get and is more politically savvy than, say, a Ted Cruz bull in a china shop type. But he also shares the same weakness as Christie, from a nominating perspective: he’s not popular among the Tea folk due largely to his pushing through of Medicaid expansion, which could well earn him a veto among primary voters.

If you were to put me on the spot, my guess would be that Kasich is much better positioned to win a general election for the GOP than (putative main rival) Scott Walker would be, in spite of the his position at Lehman Brothers, largely because Kasich would probably be able to guarantee a win in Ohio while Walker wouldn’t be able to do so in Wisconsin (Ohio being split almost exactly down the middle politically means even a few percent of home state advantage would tip it), and Kasich does have a couple of major accomplishments that would appeal outside of the core GOP base while Walker has none. But Walker is better-positioned to win the GOP nomination in large part because of Kasich’s moves on Medicaid, and because Kasich abandoned his Walker-esque persona early on and focused more on touting his jobs record and trying to appear like a normal, empathetic human being. All of which is well and good, but I suspect Kasich was not seriously thinking of a presidential run when he was doing these things, and unless the base lets him slide on them, I don’t think he’s going anywhere. And apart from that, Kasich just doesn’t seem like someone with the communication skills to make a presidential run work, as nearly everything he says makes him sound like the FOX News host he used to be:

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A broken clock
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RunnersNow that the “Chris Christie Question” has shifted from whether he’ll run for president to whether he’ll be able to escape impeachment and/or criminal proceedings, the 2016 Republican field suddenly seems shockingly threadbare, lacking a single candidate with the ability to present both a strong primary and general election challenge. Just think about these guys:

  1. Rand Paul, a man with such massive vulnerabilities both with the Republican base and the general electorate that it would be more than a minor miracle for him to follow Barack Obama as president. Given his history of unfortunate (but unfortunately honest) Copperheadish statements about civil rights, his implacable hatred of numerous hugely popular government programs, and his comical hatred of unions, I fully expect every inch of the Obama coalition to recoil against a Paul candidacy if the GOP hawks somehow fail to kill him off. Even if he “won” I would not be surprised if the party’s leaders just outright stole the nomination away from him, just as they did 62 years ago from the similarly positioned Robert Taft. And if they didn’t, a Goldwater ’64 scenario would not be out of reach.
  2. Scott Walker, the male Sarah Palin, minus the (greatly belabored) college degree. Walker makes right-wingers go tingly, and his popularity in Wisconsin is truly inexplicable (admittedly it’s nowhere close to the 80% that Palin at one point pulled, but considering the poor results of his actions, it’s amazing it’s anywhere near 50%). But his ethics problems and lack of intellectual heft would make a jump to the national stage a challenge, to put it mildly.
  3. Ted Cruz, a man who seems to be hated by just about everybody, which is a bit of a problem when you undertake a venture where success is all about people liking you. He polls worst of all Republicans against Hillary Clinton and already has good name recognition. Which means he’d lose big time.
  4. Bobby Jindal, a man with so little charm, charisma or leadership ability that he’s been a punchline since delivering the first SOTU response to Obama, comes across as an overgrown Urkel, and had his governorship crushed by David Vitter and the unpopularity of his hyper-conservative ideas in Louisiana. Also, he once performed an exorcism. Seriously.
  5. Brian Sandoval/Susana Martinez/Nikki Haley: A minority or woman nominee would be in line with the conservative belief that the best way to overcome aesthetic and substantive minority disgust with Republican values and policies is through mere symbolism. But Sandoval is too moderate on cultural issues, Martinez has cooperated on Obamacare and has zero name recognition (and governs a state that is well outside any major media markets), and Haley is so poisonously unpopular that even South Carolina’s ultra-Republican lean might not save her in her fight for another term. I don’t see any of them getting near the nomination.
  6. Mike Huckabee: Can’t raise money. Has lost the ability to convey folksy religiosity like last time, now just mostly sounds like every other religious right crank ever to run for president. Money people in the GOP hate him for numerous reasons, thus the can’t raise money thing, which is not just a small problem. It said something about America that in 2008 his weight loss story was practically a hero point in his biography. Now he doesn’t even have that. He can make all the Chuck Norris jokes and play bass to every ZZ Top song ever made, it won’t make money magically appear in his account.
  7. Jeb Bush: Republicans can never quit the Bushes, as Matt Yglesias often says. But it’s worth noting that Jeb Bush has run for no office since 2002, and has already tripped up trying to position himself to deal with the new GOP base. He seems palpably rusty. The question is, is it like the first time Jake La Motta got fat in Raging Bull, after which he was able to get back into shape and fight again, or the second time when he turned into a pathetic punchline? The Bush name would be manna from heaven for any Democratic opponent, of course, and I have to imagine no great enthusiasm from Republicans to relitigate (as President Obama would put it) the ’00s.

At this point, maybe it does go to Marco Rubio after all. I don’t see how he doesn’t get another look in comparison to all these clowns.

In this case, it’s former TARP head and investment banker Neel Kashkari:

Neel Kashkari (R), who led the bank bailout during the Bush administration, announced his bid to unseat California Gov. Jerry Brown (D), the Sacramento Bee reports.

“His platform could appeal to many moderate Republicans, but Kashkari’s ability to raise sufficient money to broadcast it statewide is uncertain. Not only is Brown collecting millions of dollars from labor unions and other liberal allies, but his relatively moderate fiscal and environmental polices have endeared him to business interests on which GOP candidates could once rely. With the third-term governor heavily favored to win re-election, potential donors – many of them with business before the state – may not risk upsetting Brown by giving to any Republican in the race.”

The timing is interesting. Maldonado leaves, and almost immediately, this guy gets in? It’s almost as though there’s some kind if behind-the-scenes force is afraid of a Minuteman making it to the general election in California in an off-year. Which they should: there could be a handful of U.S. House seats that could flip from Republican to Democrat here with just the right turnout patterns. Then again, I’m not sure if Kashkari is a better deal for Republicans: asking their people to turn out for the guy who managed TARP is a steep order, and given that Republicans spent seven years being angry with Schwarzenegger I wonder how establishment types will be able to talk them out of supporting a True Conservative.

In any event, it’s worth saying that the GOP’s reliance on wealthy, self-funding businesspeople to make the race in California is a recipe for failure, and this should be no different. These folks–obviously Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina, but also Al Checchi and Bill Simon, if you want to go a little further back–all have the same basic failing, which is that they look at this huge state with its many big cities and media markets and assume victory is a matter of flooding the airwaves, which given their wealth is usually achievable. But it never works. The key is a previous record of statewide election wins, i.e. familiarity with the electorate and a deep base of political connections. It’s true of every governor of California going back to the 1930s with two movie star exceptions which sort of prove the rule, as both had high name recognition and lots of political connections. Kashkari has neither and building it from scratch in one campaign is something that has been tried and failed numerous times. Of course, all the statewide offices are held by Democrats, so it’s difficult for Republicans to really compete, but even when they have opportunities they squander them. The last Republican to win statewide election, former Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, got tossed to the curb when Meg Whitman’s megabucks came to town. Obviously, Republicans are effectively dead in California for bigger reasons, but their lack of knowledge of the politics of their own state sure hasn’t hurt.

In a play you could have seen coming from a couple small planets away, prominent conservatives are arguing that “Bridgegate” just isn’t a big deal because of Benghazi and the IRS. Any new chance to trot those out I guess, you just have to admire the message discipline here if nothing else. But it’s worth saying that these are, essentially, red herrings since there’s no way to make this argument non-idiotically. Chris Christie fired his deputy Chief of Staff because she was directly implicated in the lane closures. Barack Obama fired no White House staff over either of those stories because there was no evidence of deliberate malfeasance on the part of the Obama team, according to the facts. Incompetence? Perhaps. But the only possible incompetence comparatively is that of Chris Christie in the event that a high-ranking aide was actually able to pull the wool completely over his eyes and launch a misguided, legally dubious vendetta. Had the White House Chief of Staff’s deputy texted somebody about reducing staff to the U.S. Embassy to Libya, then it would be comparable, but there’s simply nothing like that that is known to exist.

I do feel like this is a discussion worth having. The executive branch has reached such elephantine proportions that no president can know everything that is going on in every federal agency. You could probably make the same argument about some of the larger states’ governments as well. The broader point is this: how much do we really expect executives to know? When should they get blame and when shouldn’t they? I don’t have a simple answer on this question. However, I will say that the right-wing argument here–that possibly criminal (and certainly shady/unethical) conspiracies involving close aides to the executive are no big deal, while incompetence/poor decisionmaking (but certainly not criminal behavior) by bureaucrats several layers removed from the executive (located in cities a great distance from where he works) are gravely serious and possibly even grounds for dismissal–is simply incoherent, and only makes sense viewing the world from a purely partisan perspective. You could argue either that the executive is completely responsible for everything done in the government under their watch, not merely in a formal way but strictly speaking, in which case Christie is toast. You could also argue (as I would) that it’s essentially impossible to run a government this way, especially in a country as big as the United States, and that it’s unrealistic to expect the executive to know, say, the dynamics of the Social Security office on Cirby Way in Roseville, CA, and that this should be at least taken into account when assigning blame. This is obviously a debate, and I can accept a variety of answers and shades of gray here. However, you can’t argue for the first approach for a president you disapprove of, and the second approach for a governor you do approve of, especially if the second one doesn’t fit since the conspiracy did in fact reach the inner circle of the Christie Administration. It’s a silly, uncreative way of trotting out FOX/Rush/Drudge obsessions at best, and not nearly good enough to salvage anything from Christie. If this really is the best defense of Christie they have then he’d better be afraid, though there is some poetic justice in a man who spent his 2012 Republican National Convention speech almost entirely on himself being “defended” with defenses that are more about keeping BENGHAZI! and the IRS scandals relevant to conservative media consumers than about actually defending him.

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