Bridgegate is bad for Chris Christie, obviously. That (almost) goes without saying. Who ever said: “If my staff created traffic jams to punish my enemies, and I had to hold a two-hour press conference to talk about it, it would be good for my political future”? Nobody. Ever.
And it could get worse. Eventually Governor Christie’s fired staff members will have to testify under oath before a Democratic-controlled New Jersey Assembly investigation. That could kick the scandal up a notch, depending on what they say.
But is there any sort of a silver lining for the governor of New Jersey in his current predicament? We’d say, maybe. It’s even possible that if the scandal reaches a point of stasis, it could actually improve Christie’s prospects of winning the GOP presidential nomination.
That’s because it could broaden his appeal among party factions. The dynamic at work would be that old standby: the enemy of my enemy is my friend.
The enemy in this case is the Democratic Party official apparatus. As Politico reports today, the Democratic National Committee is producing anti-Christie messaging memos for party surrogates around the country. They’ve accused Christie of trying to make himself “the victim of the scandal," among other things.
“The goal of the current Democratic onslaught is straightforward: not just to harass Christie over the current scandal, but to permanently cripple his reputation as a likable and honest political maverick, kneecapping him as a 2016 competitor in the process,” writes Politico’s Alexander Burns.
In Republicans, this onslaught is producing a sort of rally-around-the-Christie effect. Even conservatives who have been suspicious of Christie as a Northeasterner and possible moderate are now defending him. The New Jersey governor quickly fired the aides responsible and then stood in front of reporters for almost two hours, answering every question put to him, they say. That’s more than President Obama has done in regards to the IRS targeting of conservative groups and the Benghazi attack in Libya, according to the GOP’s own talking points.
For instance, on his Fox News show yesterday, the right-leaning Bill O’Reilly said Christie should be believed when he says he didn’t know what was going on, until there’s evidence to the contrary. And the GOP needs a fighting candidate, Mr. O’Reilly added. In this view, Mitt Romney lost in 2012 in part because he didn’t have the stomach to hit Obama hard enough.
“Christie does, and is therefore a threat to the power of the Democratic Party,” said the Fox News host and conservative bellwether.
In the Washington Examiner, the conservative economist and writer Thomas Sowell says that, in terms of policies, he’d prefer someone other than Christie as a 2016 candidate. But he adds that he was impressed by the governor’s press conference appearance.
“Whatever the political fate of Christie, he has provided an example of the kind of articulation that is needed – indeed, imperative – if the Republicans are to have any chance of rescuing this country,” writes Mr. Sowell.
For Christie himself, Bridgegate could have an annealing effect. The media and political onslaught he’s now undergoing could prepare him for the rigors of a national campaign. If he wins, and manages to win a general election, he’d have presidential-level crisis experience. Given that this is the beginning of his second term as New Jersey governor, he might even be on guard against that dreaded experience of many recent US chief executives, the second-term slump.
That’s all notional, though. Christie’s got to make it through the next few months before he can see whether his 2016 chances have been hurt or enhanced. And some pundits say the Republican right isn’t going to go for Christie in the primaries, no matter if they’re defending him now.
Christie is considered a Republican front-runner mostly because of his name recognition, writes National Journal political expert Charlie Cook. In the end, he’s not the kind of person the GOP as a whole will support.
“It’s laughable that the party that has previously seriously considered some fairly inconceivable candidates as worthy of the GOP nomination would suddenly reverse course and head over to a center-right candidate such as Christie,” Cook writes.
The polar vortex beat Chris Christie, hands down. According to a new Pew poll, many Americans closely followed the recent roll of Arctic weather across the nation, while fewer intensely studied the unfolding scandal involving New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and the George Washington Bridge.
Fully 76 percent of the nation looked at news of the cold snap very or fairly closely, according to the Pew results. Meanwhile, only 39 percent followed the story about Christie and the punitive bridge lane closings either very or fairly closely.
That put Bridgegate well down the list of most popular news items of the week, just below the unemployment debate in DC and just above the release of the new book by former Secretary of Defense Bob Gates.
“There also has been little short-term change in opinions about Christie: 60 percent say their opinion of Christie has not changed in recent days, while 16 percent now view him less favorably and 6 percent more favorably,” writes Pew.
Good news for Christie, right? Yes, pretty much. It’s early yet and there’s still lots of time for new developments that might grab the public's attention. But so far the story does not seem to excite many voters, despite pundits’ confident predictions that traffic tie-ups are a political scandal average people might relate to and follow with interest.
There’s at least one amber warning light in Pew’s numbers for Christie, however. If you break the numbers down by partisanship, they become a bit more interesting.
Majorities of Republicans, Democrats, and independents all say their opinion of Christie hasn’t changed. But Democrats were disproportionately likely to say the whole thing has made them feel worse about the New Jersey chief executive.
Twenty-three percent of Democrats say they now think less of Christie. The comparable figure for the GOP, meanwhile, is only ten percent.
That’s good for Christie, right? He’s a Republican, so he needs to hold onto his base. That’s true, but if he wants to run for president, one of his arguments is that he’s a rare Republican who can attract strong Democratic support. If that trend does not hold party elites may judge him less electable, and thus less deserving of their support.
Meanwhile, those who know Christie best – New Jersey residents – have a somewhat more mixed opinion of the Bridgegate business.
A new Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press survey shows Christie has lost a bit of support in the Garden State. His job approval rating among state voters now stands at 59 percent, down from 65 percent just one month ago.
Again, partisanship makes a difference here. His ratings remain strong among New Jersey Republicans and have dropped disproportionately among New Jersey Democrats. Only 38 percent of the latter group say their opinion of Christie is favorable, down from 47 percent in December.
All this confirms one of our core beliefs about gaffes, and scandals, and so-called “game changers” – they don’t. Change the game, that is. Usually, events such as Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” remarks about Democratic voters only reinforce each party’s pre-held beliefs about the politician in question.
It takes an event of Superstorm Sandy strength, metaphorically speaking, to truly dim a candidate’s prospects, particularly at the level of presidential contender.
Chris Christie did a good job defending himself against Bridgegate last week, according to many Washington politicos. At his operatic press conference on Thursday, the GOP governor of New Jersey expressed shock and outrage that his aides would shut access lanes of the George Washington Bridge for political reasons. He said he’d just learned of the Bridgegate charges himself and summarily fired Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly.
But today’s a new dawn and for Governor Christie, the woods remain dark and deep, to mix a few metaphors. Bridgegate is not going away. Many questions remain, and top New Jersey Democrats have vowed to continue issuing subpoenas in an attempt to get answers. Christie’s troubles may be at their beginning, not their end.
More people. For one thing, the universe of Christie aides with some connection to the Fort Lee lane closures keeps expanding.
Ms. Kelly; former Christie campaign manager Bill Stepien; and David Wildstein, a Christie associate and Port Authority official, remain at the core of the known Bridgegate problems. But what about David Samson? Documents made public last Friday showed that Mr. Samson, the Christie-appointed Port Authority chairman, accused the agency’s executive director of “stirring up trouble” by leaking information about the controversial lane closures, according to New Jersey newspaper The Star Ledger. They also suggest that Christie and Samson met before Kelly sent her now-infamous “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” e-mail.
Then there’s Regina Egea. She’s been “added to the mix," in the words of MSNBC host Steve Kornacki. Ms. Egea, another senior Christie aide, oversaw Christie appointees at the Port Authority and other agencies. She’s also Christie’s pick to be his next chief of staff.
Newly released documents show she got a September e-mail from a Port Authority director charging that the lane closures may have violated federal and state law. “That raises a ton of questions,” claims Mr. Kornacki.
All these folks may now get subpoenaed to testify before the New Jersey Assembly committee that’s probing Bridgegate. It’ll be pretty interesting to hear what they have to say about who knew what, when.
More questions. In his bravura performance before reporters last Thursday, Christie made many flat assertions that he wasn’t aware of the politics behind the Fort Lee mess. Of course, it’s quite possible, even likely, that he was telling the truth. But what if he isn’t? What if the situations he described in black-and-white begin to look a little gray? Christie’s political prospects could be in trouble.
And the press is already picking at key Christie statements. For instance, in his press conference, Christie denied that he and David Wildstein were close in high school. They were not friends, he said. He (Christie) was a jock and Wildstein was not. They ran with different crowds.
“We were not even acquaintances,” Christie said.
That’s news to Christie’s high school baseball coach Tony Hope, apparently. He told The New Republic’s Alec MacGillis that Christie was his catcher and Wildstein did all the team’s statistics.
So they were on the same team, in a way. Maybe the player overlooked the nonplayer who toted up batting averages.
“Nice knowing you kid. Or not knowing you,” jibes Mr. MacGillis.
More scandals. Nor is Bridgegate the only nascent scandal in the New Jersey gubernatorial in-box. On Monday, CNN reported that federal investigators are looking into whether Christie improperly used Sandy relief funds to pay for tourism ads that starred him and his family.
The ads per se aren’t the potential problem. It’s the fact that the winning bidder, the politically connected communications firm, got $4.7 million for the contract. That’s $2 million more than the next lowest bidder asked for. The loser did not envision personal use of Christie in the ads, however.
“This was money that could have directly been used for Sandy recovery,” Rep. Frank Pallone (D) of New Jersey told CNN.
Having the New Jersey Assembly on your case is one thing. The feds are another.
“If the Sandy inquiry finds any wrongdoing, it could prove even more damaging to Christie’s national ambitions,” writes CNN’s Chris Frates.
The George Washington Bridge scandal is a big problem for Chris Christie, obviously. It’s damaging his reputation as a take-charge administrator and has made him the subject of days of pointed political jokes.
If it turns out he had any foreknowledge that his aides were creating traffic jams in Fort Lee, N.J., by blocking bridge access lanes, his electoral career may be dry and crumbly toast. (He says he had no idea what was happening, and there’s no hard evidence indicating otherwise.)
But the crisis may have one wan upside for the New Jersey governor: He’s finding out who his friends and enemies are just as the 2016 presidential race begins.
So far that’s breaking down along relatively predictable lines. Establishment Republicans and current and former GOP officials who might be labeled as moderates have been generally supportive. Many waited until after Governor Christie’s lengthy press conference Thursday to weigh in. But they say he stood and answered lots of questions, took responsibility, fired somebody, and seemed contrite.
Former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean, a Christie mentor, said the presser went “extraordinarily well," though he added that he still wants to know why Christie aides thought the Fort Lee move a good thing. Ex-New York City Mayor Rudoph Giuliani, himself a former GOP presidential aspirant, said that the bridge blockage was a stupid prank that got out of hand and that Christie “is one of the most honest, straight guys you’re going to meet."
Former Reagan speechwriter and Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan said that Christie on Thursday “acquitted himself well” but that his uphill fight for the GOP nomination “just got uphiller."
“Those Republicans who didn’t quite like him for other reasons have something new to hang their antipathy on,” Ms. Noonan writes.
Indeed, the further right on the GOP spectrum the observer, the less enthusiastic the praise. Thus House Speaker John Boehner was lukewarm about Christie’s apology, saying “I think so” when asked whether the New Jersey governor remained a viable 2016 candidate. Sen. Rand Paul (R) of Kentucky, a tea party favorite and potential rival for the GOP nomination, was chillier. In brief remarks with reporters after a meeting at the White House, Senator Paul declined to comment on the specifics of the case, saying it was a local political matter, but that “I have been in traffic before, though, and I know how angry I am when I’m in traffic, and I’m always wondering, ‘who did this to me?’ ”
Why does all this matter? Because the 2016 campaign is now under way, writes political scientist Jonathan Bernstein in an inaugural post at his new Bloomberg View perch.
What’s going on now is the so-called invisible primary, in which presumptive candidates jockey for the approval of key party figures, from elected leaders to fundraisers to top turn-out-the-vote folks in Iowa and New Hampshire.
“So we can speculate about how voters might react to this scandal two years down the road. But we will learn more from good reporting about how Republican Party actors are handling the news – both actors who were prepared to support Christie and those who would’ve found him at least minimally acceptable as the party’s nominee,” writes Mr. Bernstein.
The attitude of moderate Republicans in particular is important because they are the subset of the party, however small, that is Christie’s logical base of support. If they desert him, he is in real trouble.
In that context, it is important that South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) has expressed support for Christie, writes political scientist John Sides on the “Monkey Cage” Washington Post political science blog.
“She may not be a true moderate, but she endorsed Mitt Romney in 2012 and seems willing to back relatively moderate Republican candidates,” Mr. Sides writes.
OK, what about Democrats? Given a teed-up opportunity to take a four-iron to a GOP contender, most are swinging for the green.
The Democratic-controlled New Jersey legislature is gearing up for lengthy investigations, for instance. Next door, newly installed (and liberal) New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio called the bridge lane closures “unacceptable." Then he added that the stunt “is not professional, it’s not mature, it’s absolutely immoral."
Day after day, the US senator with the lowest approval rating in the country bashes a president trying to recover from his lowest approval rating ever.
Senator McConnell, the minority leader, and Sen. Rand Paul, the tea party darling and junior senator from the Bluegrass State, joined Mr. Obama at the White House as he announced his first five “promise zones” – impoverished areas of the country targeted for federal help to boost economic growth.
Among the chosen? Eastern Kentucky, where the average poverty rate is more than 30 percent.
That’s an economic boost for the state, but what about the politics for McConnell, who faces a tea party challenger in a May primary and is basically tied in polling with Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes (D) for the general election in November?
“Senator McConnell requested the support for the Kentucky region last year, and he’s glad they were included,” says his spokesman, Don Stewart.
The event was quite serendipitous, actually, as McConnell and Senator Paul recently introduced a bill along similar lines, called the Economic Freedom Zones Act. Their bill is a larger, simpler version of the president’s plan, covering more areas and relying heavily on tax breaks to grow jobs.
The development “zone” idea has been tried by both Republican and Democratic presidents. Before heading over to the White House, McConnell even proposed including his bill in Thursday's debate to extend long-term unemployment insurance that expired for 1.3 million Americans on Dec. 28.
For a moment, at least, economic cooperation appeared to trump political bludgeoning. And Wednesday, too, McConnell gave a lengthy speech on the Senate floor about the need to restore the Senate to its more deliberative self, a self that allows more “give and take” than now, he said.
Could it be that McConnell has in mind the sobering lesson of former Senate majority leader Tom Daschle (D) of South Dakota, who unexpectedly lost his seat in 2004 to a Republican who repeatedly derided him as “obstructionist” – the same label that is so often applied to McConnell?
According to a December poll by the Democratic polling firm Public Policy Polling, McConnell is highly unpopular in his home state – with 61 percent of voters disapproving of his job performance. That makes him the least popular senator in the country, according to the poll.
But not the least popular politician among Kentuckians. That honor goes to Obama, with 64 percent of voters disapproving of the job he's doing. Which is why, even as McConnell stood in the Senate Thursday and praised the president's inclusion of Kentucky coal country in the promise zones, he, at the same time, blamed much of the hardship there on the administration for its " 'war' on coal families."
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has the eyes of the US political world on him Thursday morning. He’s got a lot of explaining to do about e-mails and text messages released Wednesday that show top aides conspired to create traffic jams on the George Washington Bridge to punish the mayor of a nearby town who didn’t support the governor’s reelection.
Governor Christie denies he knew anything about this and has said the aides in question acted without his knowledge. His problem is that it is a story that’s easy for voters to grasp (unlike financial skullduggery), and it goes to the heart of his long-cultivated image as a no-nonsense bipartisan problem-solver.
He’s holding a press conference Thursday morning at which he may address some of the obvious outstanding questions on the scandal. Here are three we anticipate he’ll have to confront again and again in coming weeks.
Who's lying? The choice here is pretty stark: Either Christie’s staff has lied to him, or Christie is not being upfront with the people of New Jersey.
Last December, Christie said he’d made it clear to his senior aides that if anyone had any knowledge about the cause of the bridge closings they had to come forward.
“They’ve all assured me that they don’t,” he told reporters.
That’s not true, given that at one point his deputy chief of staff, Bridget Ann Kelly, e-mailed that “It’s time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.” Did she and other involved aides mislead the governor? What did he know and when did he know it?
Why bother? The implication from the communications, first published by NorthJersey.com, is that the traffic jams are payback. Fort Lee, N.J., the town next to the GW Bridge local approaches, is run by a Democratic mayor who last year did not support the Republican Christie for reelection.
“It will be a tough November for this little Serbian,” said Christie associate David Wildstein, a Port Authority official, referring to Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich.
First of all, Mr. Sokolich is actually Croatian, and if you know anything about the Balkans, that’s like calling a Red Sox supporter a Yankee fan. Croatians and Serbians have historically clashed, a lot.
Second, we get that Christie was trying to drum up Democratic endorsements. He got a lot of them – he was a popular governor cruising to reelection. But he is, or was, the most popular governor in the US, and he did not need Sokolich’s support at all. Engaging in dangerous political retribution to run up the score sounds like a page from President Richard Nixon’s playbook. The Watergate break-in was intended to get intelligence on a Democratic Party whose nominee was George McGovern, one of the weakest major-party candidates in modern times.
What else? It’s possible that now other stories will surface about the harshness of Christie’s political methods. Old stories will get a second look. By appearing to confirm what many political observers long suspected about Christie’s tendency toward retribution, Bridge-gate (or Bridge-ghazi, or whatever) could lead to a long period of difficult Christie press.
“There’s a lot about Christie that’s deeply appealing. But there’s one big thing that’s not: He’s someone who uses his office to intimidate people and punish or humiliate perceived enemies,” writes Ezra Klein, the Washington Post's "Wonkblog" blogger.
[Updated at 5:45 p.m. EST.] New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is in big political trouble at the moment. If you haven’t heard, NorthJersey.com has published e-mails indicating that several top aides to Governor Christie conspired to create traffic jams on the George Washington Bridge, punishing the Democratic mayor of a nearby town who did not support Christie’s recent reelection.
The flap over the e-mails became frenzied enough that the plain-speaking Republican governor was moved to release a statement Wednesday afternoon disavowing the traffic scheme, saying he was "outraged" at the "inappropriate and unsanctioned conduct."
“Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” one of the aides, Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly, reportedly had said in an e-mail to Port Authority employee and Christie associate David Wildstein.
As that missive indicates, the aides took a measure of vindictive glee in their handiwork, which involved closing access lanes to squeeze traffic back onto access roads. At one point the Fort Lee mayor complained that school buses were having trouble getting through the mess. In response, Wildstein counseled an associate to not feel bad about the kids’ plight.
“They are the children of Buono voters,” Wildstein wrote, according to NorthJersey.com. He was referring to Barbara Buono, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate Christie defeated in November.
Hmmm. We’ll start here by noting that conspiring to create back-ups on the GW Bridge is a huge waste of effort. That’s like organizing a committee to plan ways of getting the sun to rise in the east. How did they distinguish between pay-back traffic jams and congestion created by natural phenomena? We drive through there quite often and, trust us, one box truck with a blown timing belt and the audiobook is over before the toll booths loom into view.
With that as context we’d say that many interpretation of how this may affect Christie’s political future are, in our view, overblown. As we noted above, this obviously isn’t a great thing for him. But will it “probably destroy Christie’s chances in 2016” as New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait argues?
C’mon, let’s not get carried away.
First of all, gaffes, scandals, misstatements, and other individual news items usually play much less of a role in determining political fortunes than reporters like to admit. While they can have a short-term effect on public opinion, usually voters revert back to attitudes determined by fundamentals such as the economy or perception of a candidate’s general character.
As political scientists John Sides and Lyn Vavreck showed in their retrospective on the 2012 campaign, a whole line of supposedly game-changing events – including the famous “47 percent” secret video of a Mitt Romney fundraiser – had little effect on the election’s outcome. No, really.
Second, this particular scandal seems tailor-made to reinforce the beliefs of Christie opponents and proponents alike.
Does it show that Christie is a bully who at the least created an atmosphere where such vindictiveness could flourish? His opponents think that already, and in “Bridge-ghazi” will see confirmation of their view. Is he a take-charge guy who is willing to break a little china to get stuff done? There are probably lots of Republican primary voters who do not believe that jamming up New York City’s intake routes is a bad thing.
Remember, modern politics, especially modern presidential politics, is largely about mobilizing and energizing people who are already inclined to vote for you. It is not about trying to woo over the folks on the other side. In that sense the traffic scandal, as outlined so far, may be a wash.
Finally, Christie still has deniability. Nothing that has emerged so far has tied him directly to the scandal. Condemn the actions, fire those involved, promise an investigation – mischief managed!
Christie's statement Wednesday afternoon followed the script:
"What I've seen today for the first time is unacceptable," he said. "I am outraged and deeply saddened to learn that not only was I misled by a member of my staff, but this completely inappropriate and unsanctioned conduct was made without my knowledge. One thing is clear: this type of behavior is unacceptable and I will not tolerate it because the people of New Jersey deserve better. This behavior is not representative of me or my Administration in any way, and people will be held responsible for their actions.”
“I think the whole thing will fade within a week unless proof emerges that Christie had a bigger role in it,” writes Allahpundit at the right-leaning Hot Air web site.
Remember, it’s quite possible Richard Nixon might have gotten away with Watergate if it had remained something he could continue to blame on misguided aides. But the White House tapes linked him to the cover-up and brought him down.
In the end Christie’s 2016 problem remains what it has always been: he’s a northeasterner with liberal views on some social issues that the GOP base may not accept. That’s likely to remain the central obstacle between him and the nomination, if he decides to run.
Is Dennis Rodman doing his best to destroy the chance of any good coming from his visit to North Korea? We ask that because his behavior in Pyongyang seems almost intended to wreck his credibility back home.
First, he implied that Kenneth Bae may be guilty of something. Mr. Bae is an American citizen now imprisoned in North Korea on vague charges, and when asked Monday by a CNN interviewer whether he’d raise Bae’s status with North Korean leaders, Mr. Rodman just ranted.
“You know what he did? In this country?” Rodman shouted back to CNN’s Chris Cuomo.
Then at Wednesday’s exhibition game between a team of former NBA players and North Korea’s national team Rodman sang “Happy Birthday” to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. It came across as kind of weird, as officials began rhythmic applause while Rodman crooned.
Overall Rodman’s evident anger and defensiveness over his trip is alienating even analysts who weigh both the positive and negative that could come from sports diplomacy between adversaries.
“OK, Dennis Rodman in North Korea isn’t funny anymore,” tweeted Washington Post foreign affairs blogger Max Fisher.
Also, the Rodman-led US team lost to the North Koreans in the first half. (They mixed teams for the second half.) Maybe that shouldn’t be surprising, given that the scattering of NBA stars in the US squad were all long retired, and the North Koreans looked young and fit.
Look, Tuesday we defended the Rodman trip as a possible good thing. It is not as if there is any momentum in US-North Korean relations that Rodman could undo. Plus, the presence of a once-famous American athlete next to Kim Jong-un won’t further boost the latter’s status at home. The Pyongyang regime’s grip on power seems pretty firm.
If the Rodman trip could open the mind of even one member of the North Korean elite just a little bit, wouldn’t that be positive? As The Guardian notes Wednesday, the US-China ping-pong diplomacy of the 1970s owed much to the courage of one Chinese table tennis player, Zhuang Zedong, who talked to American counterparts when it was forbidden.
Also, does anyone remember that the New York Philharmonic visited North Korea in 2008, and that music director Lorrin Maazel said the US was in no position to criticize Pyongyang’s human rights record, given its own abuses? Just asking.
But we recognize that this is a subject open to lots of debate, and right now we are ready to throw in the towel. Rodman is just too fraught. Whatever his impact on the North Koreans, he’s having a very negative impact back in the US. That could only make it harder to muster a domestic consensus for any agreement aimed at scaling back Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions.
“I think he’s an idiot,” Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona said of Rodman yesterday on “Piers Morgan Live.”
White House spokesman Jay Carney was more diplomatic.
“Sports exchanges can be valuable, sports diplomacy can be valuable, and it’s something that we pursue in many places around the world,” said Carney at Tuesday’s press briefing.
But of Rodman’s contentious words about Kenneth Bae, Carney added that “I’m not going to dignify that outburst with a response.”
Liz Cheney is not running for a US Senate seat in Wyoming anymore. She announced Monday that she is ending her bid to unseat the Cowboy State’s incumbent Republican senator, Mike Enzi, because of unspecified “serious health issues” in her immediate family.
Ms. Cheney’s staff did not know her campaign was ending until the last minute, apparently. Her family’s health certainly comes first, but many pundits noted that Cheney is also conveniently abandoning an effort that had made little headway.
She was branded a carpetbagger from the start, as she has lived most of her adult life in northern Virginia. She made rookie mistakes, such as sniping at local journalists in a thinly populated state where local papers still have a big impact. She got caught up in a highly publicized spat over her opposition to gay marriage with her (gay and married) sister, Mary.
Most of all, she never really summarized for Wyoming voters why she thought she could do a better job than the popular, genial Senator Enzi.
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“It had become clear over the last few months that her challenge to Enzi was at a dead stop due to a single issue: She simply couldn’t explain why she was running,” writes Washington Post political expert Chris Cillizza on his “Fix” blog.
But here’s our question: What will her donors think? We ask that because she did raise a lot of money. Her 2013 third-quarter report on file with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) shows she netted $1 million in campaign cash during that period.
Fourth-quarter reports aren’t public yet. Cheney campaign officials say their fundraising remained strong through the end of the year.
“Liz Cheney may have left a lot of money on the table when she dropped her 2014 bid for a US Senate seat in Wyoming,” writes Russ Choma of the campaign watchdog group Center for Responsive Philanthropy.
Cheney raised more money in large contributions than did Enzi, according to CRP. Eighty-nine percent of her third-quarter money came from people making donations larger than $200. And much of that came from outside the state of Wyoming – 72 percent, to be precise.
Unsurprisingly for the daughter of a former vice president, Cheney’s donor list was high-profile. A perusal of the third-quarter FEC listing shows dad Dick Cheney and mom Lynne Cheney each maxed out on their daughter's campaign, giving her $2,600 apiece for her primary campaign against Enzi, and $2,600 for a general election campaign that now will not occur.
Other donors who gave the maximum allowed include former President George W. Bush, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and Joyce Rumsfeld, Mr. Rumsfeld's wife. Also donating were Michael Mukasey, who served Mr. Bush as attorney general; Donald Evans, secretary of Commerce under President George H.W. Bush; and Mary Matalin, who served as a consultant to both Bush presidents. General rich person/Republican backers T. Boone Pickens, August Busch III, and Richard DeVos gave Cheney money, as well.
Never fear – Cheney intends to give her campaign cash back to donors, according to Politico’s Alexander Burns.
No statute requires her to do that, however. Her general election contributions are still there, so there should be little problem with refunding that money. But Cheney was already up and running with TV ads in Wyoming. Plus, getting a campaign going is expensive. That means many of her donations for the primary may already have been spent – expenditures in the third quarter of 2013 were $232,000, for instance.
One final note: Liz’s sister, Mary Cheney, is not listed as a donor; nor is Mary Cheney’s wife, Heather Poe.
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Should Dennis Rodman’s latest trip to North Korea be welcomed or condemned? That’s a hot topic at the moment as the bestudded former National Basketball Association star readies for an exhibition basketball game in Pyongyang.
Since his first visit to the hermit kingdom of East Asia in February, Mr. Rodman has struck up an unlikely friendship with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Now he’s back in-country with a 12-member team of retired NBA journeymen and other US hoop semi-stars. They’re set to play a team of North Koreans on Wednesday, which is reportedly Kim’s birthday. It’s all about engaging in a little light sports diplomacy, according to Rodman.
“One day this door is going to open,” he said Tuesday in an interview with CNN from Pyongyang.
Unfortunately, that’s not all Rodman said. After all, this is a guy who dresses as if every day was Mardi Gras and speaks his own language, which seems half expletives and half random nouns. Asked by CNN’s Chris Cuomo if he’d bring up with his friend Kim the subject of Kenneth Bae, an American citizen long imprisoned in North Korea on vague charges, Rodman at first implied that Bae was guilty of something.
“You know what he did? In this country?” Rodman ranted.
Then he yelled in his inimitable incoherent deep rasp for several minutes.
“We have to go back to America and take the abuse!” was one of his understandable lines.
OK, here’s the problem. Many human rights activists and US officials think it’s wrong for Rodman to go to North Korea and pal around with a guy who happens to run one of more repressive regimes in human history. Didn’t Kim just execute his own uncle?
“I don’t think we should ignore the real suffering in this gulag state. And Dennis Rodman wants to go there and play basketball. It would be like inviting Adolf Hitler to lunch,” said Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, the top Democratic member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, in a Monday news conference on the subject.
Plus, it’s Dennis Rodman we are talking about. It’s not as if he’s going to be giving North Koreans a glimpse of what typical Americans are like. He isn’t even representative of US basketball stars. NBA commissioner David Stern has made it clear the league disapproves of the venture.
“Although sports in many instances can be helpful in bridging cultural divides, this is not one of them,” said Mr. Stern in a statement.
But here’s the counter argument: It’s North Korea we’re talking about. The US probably knows less about what really happens in North Korea than in any other country on earth. And they have nuclear weapons! So, you know, every bit helps.
The presence of a tall, exotic foreigner in photos next to their leader is unlikely to make any difference in North Koreans’ allegiance, or lack thereof, to the state, argues Andrei Lankov, a Korea studies specialist, in an article today at NKNews.org. If anything, it may give them a slightly better view of the US. The official North Korean narrative about America has long stressed its oppression of blacks. Rodman’s status as an unofficial emissary in this context might be surprising.
Of course, Rodman and his team members and entourage will only actually speak with a limited number of elite North Korean athletes and officials. But you have to start changing attitudes somewhere, a drop at a time, according to Mr. Lankov. It is not as if official diplomatic outreach to Pyongyang is making progress.
“While Rodman’s activities are not going to change much, let us hope that many more Western athletes, scientists and artists will follow him to Pyongyang to participate in all kinds of exchanges and projects (big and small),” writes Lankov. “Isolation will not change North Korea – only interaction with the outside world gives us some reason to hope.”
As International Crisis Group East Asia expert Daniel Pinkston wrote last September, Rodman’s basketball diplomacy could become a mechanism for the introduction of new ideas and information into one of the most closed societies in the world.
The alternative is isolation. Thus despite Rodman’s flamboyance his trip “should be encouraged since it comes with very little risk and cost,” Mr. Pinkston wrote in an analysis for ICG.