The Mythical Monolith

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A 2014 Primer: How to Talk Politely about 2016

Here are 11 sensible things to say about the far away race

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It could be Uncle Fred from Cincinnati who button-holes you at a Christmas dinner or your best friend from college who demands an answer during the pre-New Year’s Eve cocktail hour. But whatever your inner resolve—no matter how fierce your determination—you won’t be able to get through the entire holiday season without being asked to make a pronouncement about the 2016 election.

The Year in Preview: Post-Preclearance Voter Protection

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Lots of things happened in 2013. President Obama was sworn in for a second term. We got a new pope and a new royal baby. Two bombs went off at the Boston Marathon and scared a nation. The Supreme Court stripped power from the Defense of Marriage Act and the Voting Rights Act. But these are all stories we've heard before, and if you haven't, you certainly will in the millions of "Year in Review" pieces set to be posted between now and New Year's. Over the next two weeks, our writers will instead preview the year ahead on their beats, letting you know far in advance what the next big story about the Supreme Court—or the environmental movement, immigration reform, reproductive rights, you get the picture—will be.

Presidential Primaries and Ideological Satisficing

I'm pretty sure she's a Democrat. (Flickr/Philip Marley)

Today I have a piece in Politico Magazine under the grabby but somewhat misleading headline "Left Turn = Dead End?" (So you know, for better or worse, writers don't usually write their own headlines.) My main point is that while economic populism is always good politics for Democrats, it isn't enough to just stake out the leftmost position (on economics or anything else) and hope that can win you the Democratic presidential nomination, just as it isn't enough to be the most conservative candidate in a Republican primary. There will indeed be an ideological debate within the Democratic party in advance of the next presidential election, which is a good thing. As they approach the end of the Obama years, Democrats are going to have to hash out who they are, what they believe, and where they want to go. But the reason being the most liberal candidate is insufficient is that primary voters aren't ideological maximizers, they're ideological satisficers.

Will Zombie Marco Rubio Win in 2016?

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If there’s one simple lesson from past presidential elections I wish reporters and pundits could adopt, it’s this: Stop declaring candidacies dead before the primary even starts! Mistakes during the invisible primary can doom a campaign. But they usually don’t.

But What Does Iran Mean for 2016?

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There are two things to say about the electoral effect of the Iran deal.

Barck Obama isn’t going to be up for re-election. Still, his approval rating will matter for Democrats in both 2014 and 2016.

The first thing—and it’s correct, as far as it goes—is that the deal won’t have any electoral effect, whatever happens. Smart analysts know that voters just don’t care very much about foreign policy. And this one … well, it’s pretty distant from the concerns of most voters. Iran’s nuclear program has been in the news for a long time, but it’s not headline stuff for the most part. No matter how much of a fuss there is about it in the press this week, most voters won’t engage. The blunt truth is that this too will be gone from the headlines before very long, anyway.

Without most voters paying any attention to it, that leaves only the most politically attentive, and they’ll divide the way they always do: as long as the balance of the coverage isn’t radically lopsided, Democrats will be inclined to support the administration, and Republicans will be inclined to oppose it. It’s true that some Democrats in Congress are opposed to the deal, but for most rank-and-file Democrats, the president is the opinion leader who matters.

In short—no change in the president’s approval rating. No electoral effects in either 2014 or 2016.

Who Knew Nerd Click Bait Was So Sexy?

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A few weeks ago, Mark Halperin and John Heilemann released the follow-up to their 2009 best-seller Game Change, given the best title their publisher's Department of Inane Clichés could devise (though I'll grant that Double Down: Game Change 2012 was a bit better than Game Change 2: Game Changier would have been). The revelations weren't particularly revelatory, sales have been less than overwhelming, and an HBO film version seems unlikely. The behind-the-scenes campaign account as a journalistic genre is now half a century old, having been initiated by Theodore White's The Making of the President 1960, and it's showing its age. Is it interesting to know what Mitt Romney thought of the ads that were produced for his campaign, or whether one Obama strategist was feuding with another? Sure, if that's your thing. But it's hard to argue that learning the inside dope means you understand what happened in a truly meaningful way.

"Double Down" Was Written for Morning Joe—Not Posterity

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The week Game Change was published in early 2010 coincided with my own version of journalistic martyrdom—watching my brain cells peel off like dandruff from enduring 60 hours of cable TV news in a week. From Morning Joe to Hardball to commercials for LifeLock, the authors of Game Change, Mark Halperin and John Heilemann were inescapable. Every time I switched channels, Halperin and Heilemann materialized peddling another nugget about Sarah Palin or Hillary Clinton from their book on the 2008 campaign. The Game Change publicity machine so dominated cable TV news during that first week of selling in 2010 that I could have read the book in the time I spent hearing about it.

Fifty Shades of Purple

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The second week in October, while Tea Partiers in Congress were tanking the GOP’s approval numbers with a government shutdown, the Republican National Committee traveled to Los Angeles to make an announcement: The party was investing $10 million to woo Latino voters in California and 16 other states. This might seem newsworthy, considering that Republicans spent much of the 2012 campaign repelling Latinos.

What Divides Democrats

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New York–area voters had the opportunity this fall to cast their ballot for one of two Democrats who are divided by more than the Hudson River. Cory Booker, the Newark mayor, whom New Jersey’s electors sent to the U.S. Senate in October, and Bill de Blasio, the Democratic nominee for mayor of New York City, personify two distinct futures for the Democratic Party.

Booker is a corporate Democrat—more precisely, a Wall Street and Silicon Valley Democrat—who praises the beneficent rich as sources of charitable giving and policy ideas that can lift the poor. De Blasio is an anti-corporate Democrat who condemns big business and the financial sector for using their wealth to rig the economy in their favor and at everyone else’s expense.

If You Give a Mouse a Vote

AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

In the hours leading up to the release of tonight's election returns, don't waste your bated breath on the victors. After weeks of polling and widening leads, there's little suspense over who will be the next mayor of New York or governor of Virginia or New Jersey. Countless stories will be written about what the exit polls mean for 2016. Pundits who are at the exact moment in time when their nostalgia for the last presidential campaign is in perfect balance with their gestating impatience for the next midterms to start, well, their campaign to persuade you that their analysis of county-by-county breakdowns of election data proves that Republicans will keep the House or lose it into perpetuity starts at midnight. This is all well and good and predictable and inescapable, but if you drill down far enough into the electoral ephemera, there is a nugget of data that offers a bit more suspense. How many voters will pick Mickey?

Bill de Blasio's Elements of Style

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When he wins New York City's mayoral election today, Bill de Blasio will have succeeded in branding himself the next big thing in progressive politics. But it remains to be seen which de Blasio shines through over the next four years: the former Hillary Clinton operative who admires neoliberal Governor Andrew Cuomo and is friendly with the real-estate industry, or the activist lefty who got arrested protesting the closure of a Brooklyn hospital and has promised to take on income inequality and the NYPD's sprawling anti-terrorism apparatus.

Two Days until Brief Explosion of Christie Mania

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Only two states, New Jersey and Virginia, hold their gubernatorial elections in odd years, and since there's generally a dearth of other political news at that time, Washington-based reporters usually decide that whoever got elected in Virginia is suddenly a national figure with a future as a presidential or at least vice-presidential candidate. They say this because they have become familiar with the Virginia race and therefore perceive it as important, and because Virginia is a swing state, which is supposed to mean that someone who got elected there might also appeal to voters elsewhere. This year, however, the Virginia race features two candidates no one much likes: Ken Cuccinelli, who seems like he might launch a campaign to reintroduce witch trials to the commonwealth if he became governor, and Terry McAuliffe, an almost comically smarmy operator whose most profound talent lies in separating people from their money. Obviously, neither of those two is ever going to be president, so that leaves reporters with the other race up in the Garden State.

So when Chris Christie wins that race easily, as he will, we'll be treated to a brief but overwhelming deluge of stories about Christie's 2016 presidential candidacy. He certainly sounds like he's ready to start running, and it's safe to say the press corps would love it if he did.

How Virginia Ended Up with a Stinker of a Governor's Race

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Ken Cuccinelli wasn’t even supposed to be running. Among Virginia Republicans, everyone knew the order of succession—after Governor Bob McDonnell wrapped up his term in office, Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling was supposed to be next up. That was the bargain the two men struck in 2009 to avoid a messy primary battle. But no one had consulted Cuccinelli, the attorney general and the state’s social conservative darling, and he wasn’t content to wait his turn. In December 2011, Cuccinelli, the man who made his name fighting against abortion and gay rights, announced his candidacy.