A CPAC Bush-Whacking?

Former Florida Gov. and expected presidential candidate Jeb Bush is scheduled to make an appearance tomorrow at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).

Bush won’t give a speech. Instead, he’ll sit down for a 20-minute interview with Sean Hannity (here’s Politico’s James Hohmann’s list of 8 things to watch, including #6 — whether Bush “escapes unscathed or gets bloodied”).

Just how cinematic will this be?

For openers, in this gathering that’s been described as “American Idol for political nerds”, there may be an audience stunt. William Temple, a member of the Golden Isles Tea Party (it’s in Georgia), told The Washington Times to expect a symbolic protest: “We are going to get up in mass, and we are going to walk out on him, We are not going to interrupt anyone’s speech, but we are all going to exercise our right to the bathroom at the same time.”

As for what happens on the stage, here are four possibilities:

1) Daniel In The Lion’s Den. Bush stands his ground when asked about differences with movement conservatives on immigration and education. He deftly navigates questions about surname fatigue, money-over-message and the wisdom of running on a general-election strategy in the primaries. And he takes constant swipes at President Obama over feckless leadership and scorched-earth gridlock. Activists walk away from the session not in love with Bush, but at least giving him some grudging respect. All of which the Bush campaign spins to reporters as a “win”.

2) Softball Practice. Hannity hosts an evening show on Fox News; when the sun’s up, he does talk radio. But he’s not to be confused with, say, the decidedly more bombastic Mark Levin in terms of conservative flame-throwing in Bush’s direction. In this scenario, Hannity asks the candidate about the aforementioned obvious differences, but doesn’t press him. And he lobs a few softballs with regard to his dad’s health, his son’s new political career, etc. Why the gentle treatment? Because Hannity’s in the campaign for the long haul, and might not want to alienate a candidate he may be cheerleading for 18 months from now — a nominee who, remembering a slight at CPAC, may blow off his show.

3) Da Bomb. The candidate’s worst-case scenario: Bush is heckled by activists; his attempts to find common ground — through red-meat rhetoric, comedy, what have you — fall flat. Over the weekend, he’s embarrassed by the straw-poll vote (Bush wasn’t on last year’s ballot; he opted out of the straw poll in 2013). Now, the media have fresh fodder for two of their favorite pastimes: (a) playing armchair quarterback and second-guessing whether Bush should have blown off the conference; (b) changing the narrative —  Bush 2016 as Giuliani 2008 (lots of cash, not lots of love among the activists, a question of when and where to enter the primaries).

4) Shakespearean Non-Tragedy. Call it “much ado about nothing”. Bush and Hannity have a civil conversation. There’s no flap, no controversy, nothing really new for the media to report. And so we return to business as usual: waiting for the field to gel; anticipating what the candidates have to show when they report their first-quarter finances, not to mention the usual daily nonsense having to do with Republicans’ intellect and temperament.

Your guess as to what goes down at CPAC?

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Walker Derangement Syndrome?

Major League Baseball’s spring training begins in earnest a week from now, with teams playing exhibitions.

And that guarantees at least one thing: a player’s going to hit a 400-foot homer, prompting a sportswriter to assume that said player is destined for a 40-homer season because of the one dinger.

Such are the perils of covering baseball in March, well before the actual pennant chase.

The same danger holds true when interpreting polls on the 2016 election, 11-plus months before Iowans caucus.

Speaking of Iowa, a new Quinnipiac University Poll has Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker pulling ahead of the Republican field in the state that kicks off the GOP’s selection process next February.

The numbers (and these are for likely caucus-goers):

Walker 25%

Rand Paul 13%

Ben Carson/Mike Huckabee 11%

Jeb Bush 10%

Rest Of The Pack 5% or less

So what to make of spring training in Iowa? A sign that Walker has staying power in the race; or, like baseball scribes, reading too much too early into the long haul?

This much does seem clear about Walker’s candidacy. In addition to being first in line as the non-Bush alternative in the bunch, he’s also the Republican candidate who drives the media crazy.

Consider this effort by The New Yorker, characterizing Walker’s “dangerous candidacy” — “dangerous” in the sense that he has a clearer path to the nomination than the media elite believe (lest you think this piece is flattering, it’s sprinkled with adjectives like “odious” “indecent” and “craven” in describing the candidate and his campaign choices).

As well as this passage:

“It’s still early, very early, of course. But Walker is an ambitious and determined politician who has already been through one tough race—his 2012 recall election—that subjected him to a great deal of media attention and hostility from Democrats. Thanks to his ties to the conservative plutocracy, he’s almost certainly going to have some serious money behind him, and he is trying to pitch his campaign in the sweet spot of G.O.P. primaries, where conservatism and antagonism toward coastal élites meets electability.”

Added to repeated questions about his lack of a college degree, his views on evolution, plus whether he thinks President Obama is a Christian and a patriot, and it seems we might have a new term to add to the political lexicon: Walker Derangement Syndrome.

Apparently, this hasn’t gone unnoticed by the candidate — and he’s taking advantage of being “the Republican the liberal media most detest”. Why else would he have penned this op-ed for USA Today?

Which included this passage:

“There has been much discussion about a media double standard where Republicans are covered differently than Democrats, asked to weigh in on issues the Democrats don’t face. As a result, when we refuse to take the media’s bait, we suffer.

I felt it this week when I was asked to weigh in on what other people said and did and what others’ beliefs are. If you are looking for answers to those questions, ask those people.

I will always choose to focus on what matters to the American people, not what matters to the media.”

I’ve worked on campaigns where the candidate, fed up with rotten press coverage, starts printing this button and bumper sticker: “Annoy The Media, Vote For ___”. Usually, it’s late in the game. More times than not, it’s a losing campaign venting its frustration.

But I can’t remember a candidate at the front of a presidential field — and this early in the process — tapping into conservatives’ media distrust. Yes, Newt Gingrich engaged in heavy media-bashing in 2012 (the former Speaker went nuclear after questions pertaining to his past marriage), but he didn’t get into it until the debate season was underway. And he was never a frontrunner, though at times his campaign did exceed expectations.

Think it’s enough to sustain Walker for the next 11 months?

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Will California (Once Again) Fear the Reefer?

On Tuesday, and with little fanfare (maybe that’s because smoke has a hard time wafting down from the Last Frontier to the Lower 48), Alaska became just the third state in the U.S. to legalize marijuana use.

Oregon and Washington, D.C., also approved recreational marijuana last year, joining Colorado and Washington State, which broke ground in 2012. D.C.’s law will likely go into effect by week’s end. Oregon law won’t change until later this year.

Voters approved the notion by a 52%-48% margin, but left it to lawmakers to work out the kinks in allowing adults to legally partake in the herb in private places.

And under the category of can’t smoke ‘em if you don’t got ‘em: it’ll be a while before Alaskans will be making a purchase.

What to expect heading into the next election?

Arizona, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada might take a run at legalization, as might Mississippi.

But the most intriguing study will occur in California.

Heres’ why:

1) Legalization likely be on the Golden State’s November 2016 ballot (bad pun alert: another measure to legalize pot in California, 2010’s Prop 19, went up in smoke).

2) Will three new sets of voters who’ve come of age since the 2010 election turn the tide of opinion?

3) With more than 20 states now permitting marijuana to be prescribed for the sick and law enforcement doing their best Captain Renault imitation, is legalization just a formal way of California admitting that it’s used to the product by now (living as I do in Northern California, I can attest to the “don’t ask/don’t investigate approach — especially on summer weekends in the Bay Area).

4) The clash of the Democratic titans. California Gov. Jerry Brown hates the idea (using words to the effect that “chronic marijuana smoking” and “overachiever adult” aren’t phrases oft-found in the same sentence). California Attorney General Kamala Harris, now an announced candidate for the Senate in 2016, says she has “no moral objection” (gee, that’s decisive). Maybe the most vocal pro-legalization proponent is Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who’s already running to replace Brown in 2018.

5) Finally, the spin. Pot proponents could try selling it as a revenue enhancer. That’s hardly a novel approach, as we’ve already seen in Colorado. Newson spins it along the lines of public safety: legalizing marijuana, he believes, will undermine drug dealers.

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Marco . . . Rubio?

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio has a big decision to make back home — seek a second term, or aim higher?.

I’m in Washington, D.C., where some of the political buzz centers around Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and the “to be or not to be”/”will he or won’t he?” question of his future plans.

Here’s Rubio’s dilemma: run for re-election in 2016, or run for the White House.

It’s an either/or question, as Rubio’s said repeatedly that he won’t go national while trying to hold on to his day job (as did Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan in 2012 and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul may attempt in 2016 — that is, if he can sell the idea back home).

Rubio’s second dilemma: he has to make up his mind soon, in order for Florida Republicans to get their act together should he vacate the Senate seat.

As Caitlin Huey-Burns explains in this Real Clear Politics piece:

“Rubio would be one of the best-positioned senators for re-election, even with an open presidential race as a backdrop. That’s why many Republican campaign operatives hope he’ll stay put.

Regardless, the party is confident that if Rubio doesn’t run to keep his current seat, it has a handful of competent candidates ready to enter the fray. The state’s chief financial officer, Jeff Atwater, appears to be a strong contender if the opportunity arises. (He will be in Washington, D.C., next week, meeting with campaign strategists.) State Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is also considered a strong would-be candidate, along with Attorney General Pam Bondi and members of the state’s congressional delegation.”

But then there’s the magnetic lure of the presidency. Which begs this question: is there room for Rubio in a crowded field — one already with a fellow Floridian (that would be Jeb Bush) at the front of the pack along with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

But should Walker fall back to earth, would that provide an opening for Rubio to establish himself as the non-Bush alternative that the Wisconsin governor’s seized? Or, given that Rubio has long been seen as something of a Jeb Bush protege (a characterization the senator doesn’t seem to like), would the smarter strategy be to hope for a Bush meltdown?

Again, we turn to the writings of Ms. Burns:

“Contenders have to stake their claim early on the crowded stage. There are several roles to be played in the GOP primary—the conservative favorite, the centrist, the candidate perceived as most electable, the outsider—but many of them are already cast, with understudies. And with a big-name Floridian already moving toward a run—a seasoned governor with an extensive financial and political network and the presidency in his blood—is there room for Rubio?

The young Republican Latino with a gift for oration is finding his window, positioning himself as the 21stcentury candidate, a fresh face that comes with ideas—ideas about economic mobility, foreign policy, and yes, even immigration.”

So is there room for Rubio in this contest? Nate Silver of fivethirtyeight.com fame, thinks so. Here’s his rationale.

Stay tuned for Rubio’s Senate decision. Should he decide against the second term, it further complicates a Senate map that’s already working against the GOP — just as the 2014 Senate landscape appeared (and turned out to be) dreadful for Democrats.

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Which Political Greats Don’t Get The Upgrade?

What if Democrats and Republicans also “retired the numbers” of their past greats?

One of my guilty pleasures is listening to Bill Simmons’ “The B.S. Report” podcast, especially when he dials up his college buddy, John O’Connell.

O’Connell, aka “Jacko”, is a devout New York Yankees fan. Simmons is a diehard Red Sox fan, so they know how to push each others’ buttons.

Including the other day, when Simmons poked fun at the notion of past Yankees Andy Petitte, Jorge Posada and Bernie Williams having their numbers retired this year.

All were very good players during the Yankees’ return to baseball royalty. But they’re borderline Hall of Famers at best. And hardly in same class as Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, or Mantle.

Figure it this way: if you filled an airplane with past great Yankees, who’d get the eight seats in first class? Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio and Mantle? Absolutely.

Toss in Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera, both first-ballot Hall of Famers once they’re eligible.

That leaves two seats. Feel free to debate who deserves them (Whitey Ford, one of the managers — Stengel, Torre, Huggins, Martin — The Boss or Colonel Ruppert, and so forth).

Anyway, let’s take this concept of who boards the plane and gets to turn left and apply it to the GOP. Again, with eight first-class seats for everyone standing at the gate and praying for an upgrade.

Three are obvious: Lincoln. Reagan and T.R.

The other five: let the debate begin.

Richard Nixon had a 20-year run in national politics. Does he get a seat?

Dwight Eisenhower?

George H.W. Bush? Imagine the difference today if he’s not on the ticket in 1980.

What about Barry Goldwater, whose influence is felt to this day?

And Newt Gingrich? Leader of the first congressional takeover?

And what about Robert Taft — aka, “Mr. Republican”?

Should a seat be saved for Roger Ailes? He never ran for office, but did help get three Republican presidents elected — and, oh by the way, changed the face of television news.

Speaking of changing the face of media: Rush Limbaugh.

Finally, the thinkers. William F. Buckley?

btw, you can also play this game with Democrats. Andrew Jackson, FDR, Harry Truman and JFK all get a seat, imo.

As probably does Woodrow Wilson (it’s a short list of multi-term Democratic presidents).

That’s five seats — only three left.

Obama? And one or both Clintons?

That leaves out a lot of congressional Democrats (like Hubert Humphrey and Teddy Kennedy), plus at least one martyred Democrat (Bobby Kennedy) and another who’s sainted (Eleanor Roosevelt).

As well as “Mr. Democrat”, the late Robert Strauss.

And don’t forget Lyndon Johnson. Complicated guy, huge policy impact.

Food for thought — if your flight’s stuck somewhere on a frozen and you have time to kill at the airport, waiting for that upgrade

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President Warlock?

Actor Charlie Sheen — “winning” the presidency in 2016? As a “constitutional Republican?

This may or may not be a big night for actor Charlie Sheen, depending on the final plot twist in the final episode of Two and a Half Men, which (finally, mercifully) goes off the air later today after revealing what really happened to Sheen’s character, Charlie Harper, supposedly killed a few seasons back in a Paris subway accident.

F. Scott Fitzgerald famously observed that “there are no second acts in American lives”.

Then again, he never met Sheen, whose career has been a roller-coaster ride from promising breakout star (Platoon, Wall Street), to a life-threatening drug addiction and career-threatening addiction to prostitutes and porn stars, then back on top with a hit sitcom ($3 million per episode for Two and a Half Men), then back down to earth after one of the all-time great Hollywood meltdowns (#winning), to back in the game with another successful sitcom (Anger Management).

Anyway, Sheen’s well past a second act.

And he’s teasing the media by hinting at his biggest stunt yet: running for president.

Get this: as a Republican.

The Washington Times reported earlier this week that the actor considers himself a “constitutional Republican”.

“When I say to people, ‘Hey what if I run for president?’ it’s 100 percent,” Mr. Sheen said in a segment of the comedy show The Flipside, offering a platform that includes a flat tax of 10 percent and the placement of skilled veterans in front of schools to protect student.

“Everybody relax — that should be a rule,” Mr. Sheen said, adding that “It’s important to put the constitution back in place.”

One’s remained of Howard Stern’s abbreviated run for governor of New York back in 1994 — as a Libertarian, challenging then-Gov. Mario Cuomo. Though a political novice, Stern had a spot-on platform for disgruntled New Yorkers who ended up giving Cuomo the boot: reinstate capital punishment, limit road work to evenings, stagger highway tolls to ease traffic jams.

And this sweetener that no politician would dare utter: he’d resign the moment he made good on those two promises (here’s Stern announcing his bid).

Not that we’re taking Sheen’s 2016 talk all the seriously, but do keep in mind: he commands a Twitter feed of 11.4 million followers — translated in 2016 terms, nearly 44 times the combined 260,000 Twitter followers of Jeb Bush and Scott Walker.

And his wouldn’t be a dull convention speech (does C-SPAN have a delay switch?).

One final note about a Sheen 2016 run: he’s already chosen his running mate. That would be his father, actor Martin Sheen (“Sheen and Sheen in ’16”).

Too bad he didn’t go with Christine O’Donnell. What b better ticket that an actor who says he’s a warlock with tiger blood and Adonis DNA, paired with a former Senate candidate who assured Delaware voters that she’s “not a witch”.

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A Murky Republican Field


The end of this week — Feb. 20 — marks one year until the Republican presidential caucuses in Nevada, the third stop on the GOP’s march to Cleveland.

We’re already past the one-year windows for Iowa (Feb. 1) and New Hampshire (Feb. 9). Feb. 27 marks marks one year until the South Carolina, historically a firewall for Bush presidential candidacies in 1988 and 2000 (more on that in a moment).

But then the calendar flips to March — and the picture gets murky.

There’s talk of some Old South states huddling for a March 1  “SEC primary”  (Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi and Tennessee voting) — an idea that Mike Huckabee considers to be “a gift from God”.

Michigan is in the process of setting up its GOP primary on March 15 — and maybe laying the groundwork for a “Big 10″ primary consisting of eight to twelve states in the Upper Midwest.

Alas, I’d like to tell you that a super-regional Pac-12 primary is in the works, but good luck getting the Democratic-controlled Golden State to advance its early June primary so as to make America’s colossus more relevant to the Republicans’ king-making.

Getting back to the first four stops on the Cleveland Express: it turns out that they’re murky as well. As the following polls show, good luck finding a consensus frontrunners:

— An NBC News/Marist survey of Iowa caucus-goers released over the weekend gives Huckabee the lead (17%), followed by Jeb Bush at 16% (surprised?) and Scott Walker (15%). After that, the orders goes as such: Chris Christie (9%); Rand Paul (7%),  Marco Rubio/Ben Carson (6%), Rick Santorum (5%), Rick Perry (4%), Ted Cruz (2%), Lindsey Graham (1%).

— Another NBC News/Marist poll, this one in New Hampshire and just out today, has the following pecking order in the Granite State: Bush (18%), Walker (15%), Rand Paul (14%), Christie (13%), Huckabee/Carson (7%), Cruz/Rubio (6%), Graham/Perry/Santorum (1%).

— As for Nevada, there’s this survey by Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions giving Walker the lead (18%), followed by Bush (12%), Paul (9) and Carson/Rubio (7%). A word of caution about first-in-the-West Nevada: the GOP contest suffers from a big Mitt Romney void (he twice cracked 50% in the caucuses). Do the state’s libertarian tendencies favor Paul, or is smart politics for Huckabee to make a grassroots push?

— Finally, South Carolina, where native son Lindsey Graham — Mr. 1% in Iowa and New Hampshire — leads in yet another NBC/Marist poll, this one of Palmetto voters. The rundown: Graham (17%), Bush (15%), Walker (12%), Huckabee/Carson (10%), Paul (7%), Christie (6%), Perry/Rubio (4%), Santorum (3%), Cruz (1%).

Some thoughts:

1) Which is the better storyline in Iowa: the intra-right competition between Huckabee and Walker, or Bush’s strategic options (push hard in hopes of a surprise win, or hope for mixed results to water down the bump)?

2) Does James Carville have it right: is Live Free or Die do or die for Jeb? His posit: establishment Republicans will freak out and beg Romney to jump into the race should Bush lose both Iowa and New Hampshire (in 1988, 41 finished third in Iowa, then won New Hampshire; in 2000, 43 did the opposite — won big in Iowa, lost big in New Hampshire).

3) As mentioned earlier, both Bushes took advantage of a South Carolina “firewall” to distance themselves from the field. But Jeb? Maybe he has a different strategy in which he concedes the state. Then again, was it a coincidence that Bush was available to deliver the commencement address at the University of South Carolina back in December?

4) What’re the odds of the first four states producing four different winners? Feel free to mix and match with these guys: Bush, Walker, Huckabee, Paul. Is there another surge candidate hiding behind Door #5?

5) Historic Parallels. Most GOP nominations have been either-or affairs — think Bush-McCain; Bush-Dole; Reagan-Ford, etc. Personally, I’m intrigued by 1948. The choices then: an establishment Republican with a familiar surname and hardly beloved by his own party (Tom Dewey); a conservative who ran against both Democratic policy and “imperial entanglements” (Robert Taft); an upstart governor from the Upper Midwest who shot to the front of pack before eventually being overtaken (Harold Stassen). Three different candidates won the first four primaries (a stat’s that tainted by native son Riley Bender running in Illinois). In all, 15 candidates either ran or flirted with the idea.

Sound familiar?

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