Has the Republican Party just reined in its formerly freewheeling presidential primary debates?
The question arises because of a vote taken Friday by the Republican National Committee at its summer meeting in Boston. On the surface, Hillary Rodham Clinton was the RNC’s subject. But that’s only partly what the action was about.
With the vote in question, RNC members unanimously approved a resolution banning party cooperation with CNN and NBC on 2016 presidential debates if the networks air scheduled special programs on Mrs. Clinton.
CNN is planning a Clinton documentary, and NBC is working on a dramatized miniseries of her life.
“These programming decisions are an attempt to show political favoritism and put a thumb on the scales for the next presidential election,” the RNC resolution says.
Networks don’t need the RNC’s permission to schedule primary debates. But the resolution greatly increases the chances that state Republican parties and other conservative organizations won’t partner with CNN or NBC on debates and that even if they do, candidates won’t agree to appear.
However, the resolution did not end there. It also stated: “the Republican National Committee shall endeavor to bring more order to the primary debates and ensure a reasonable number of debates, appropriate moderators and debate partners are chosen ....”
In other words, the RNC used the right’s uproar over the Clinton shows to get (and pass) a vote on the general nature of the 2016 debates.
“The RNC’s very vocal outrage over the [Clinton] projects gave party leaders a perfect excuse to do what they’ve long wanted to do anyway: get some control over a process that led to 20 grueling primary debates last cycle and gave Mitt Romney many chances to get himself into trouble with comments about self-deportation, contraception, and the like,” writes James Hohmann in Politico.
Of course, current party unanimity on this subject could erode the closer the actual primary season gets.
While front-running or establishment candidates such as Mr. Romney may have every incentive to avoid exposure in unpredictable debate settings, underdogs or insurgent candidates have every incentive to do whatever they can to break through and gain voter appeal.
Remember Newt Gingrich’s 2012 debate performances? His skewering of opponents and moderators alike helped produce a victory in the South Carolina primary and briefly powered him to the top of national polls.
Given such history, rogue candidates might still join with rogue states or party groups in debate settings.
“[It’s] tough to regulate candidate participation in these things,” tweeted noted campaign rules expert Josh Putnam, a Davidson College political scientist, on Friday.
Still, the RNC’s action may be a first step toward something some conservatives are now urging: eventual control of the means of production of debates.
In today’s broadband world, the mainstream media no longer control the communication pipelines into voter living rooms. Given that, why partner with the media and allow them to control candidate questions?
Why not go all the way and have RNC-run debates with conservative hosts? Syndicated columnist Cal Thomas, for one, has suggested just that, perhaps with Rush Limbaugh as moderator.
Mr. Limbaugh himself rejected that idea on his show Thursday, saying, “I’m too famous” to moderate debates.
By that he means that he’d be a distraction.
“I’m talking about the media reporting at the end of it more on me and trying to poke holes at me than what the candidates are saying. That’s all I mean,” he said.
The violations generally involve interception of the communications of Americans or foreigners located on United States soil. That’s an activity that is subject to tight controls from both presidential executive orders and US law, writes the Post’s Baron Gellman.
Infractions “range from significant violations of law to typographical errors that resulted in unintended interception of US emails and telephone calls,” Mr. Gellman writes.
For instance, in 2008 NSA personnel inadvertently intercepted a large number of phone calls from Washington when a programming error mixed up the D.C. area code, 202, with the international dialing code for Egypt, 20.
In another undated incident, the NSA did not reveal a new method of collecting communications to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, a judicial body that oversees some NSA snooping, until it had been in operation for months. The FISA court struck down the new method as unconstitutional.
Overall, the NSA totaled up 2,776 violations of rules or laws from May 2011 to May 2012, according to an internal audit disclosed by the Post. This included unauthorized collections of communications, as well as unauthorized storage and distribution of collected material.
The audit and other material on which the Post story is based came from Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor recently granted temporary asylum in Russia. How important is this latest entry in the now-lengthy string of Snowden revelations?
On one hand, it’s difficult to judge whether the violations are a few or a lot, given that the context of the total number of NSA actions against which the infractions occur remains classified.
“You can look at it as a percentage of our total activity that occurs each day,” said an NSA official authorized by the White House to speak to the Post. “You look at a number in absolute terms that looks big, and when you look at it in relative terms, it looks a little different.”
On the other hand, Gellman’s story in the Post directly contradicts President Obama’s assertion that the NSA does not overstep its legal bounds.
In remarks on the Snowden revelations at the beginning of a press conference last Friday, Mr. Obama said that despite the uproar in the press “what you’re not reading about is the government actually abusing these programs and listening in on people’s phone calls or inappropriately reading people’s e-mails.”
Now you are reading about just such abuses, write Washington Post Wonkblog writers Ezra Klein and Evan Soltas.
“To be fair to Obama, what the report details isn’t systematic abuse so much as repeated mistakes. But the report is a reminder that we don’t know what we don’t know,” write the Wonkblog authors.
The latest revelations also undercut the White House and intelligence community assertions that extensive oversight from the legislative and judicial branches keeps the NSA honest, according to other critics.
For instance, the Post story notes that Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) of California had not read the internal NSA audit until the Post itself provided it.
“This is what the vaunted Congressional oversight of NSA spying looks like,” wrote national security analyst Marcy Wheeler on her "Empty Wheels" blog.
In sum, Snowden-provided details now make clear that a special approach to NSA oversight is necessary, writes the Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf, who has long charged that the Obama administration has overstepped its bounds with surveillance and drone warfare policies.
“The time is ripe for a new Church Committee, the surveillance oversight effort named for Senator Frank Church, who oversaw a mid-1970s investigation into decades of jaw-dropping abuses by US intelligence agencies,” writes Mr. Friedersdorf.
The Missouri stunt lit a nationwide controversy over race and free speech that’s now entering its fourth day and continues to roil US social media.
Missouri fair officials banned the clown from their bull rings for life and ordered other clowns to undergo sensitivity training. The Missouri chapter of the NAACP asked the US Justice Department to investigate the clown for inciting violence against the president by asking the crowd if it wanted to see Mr. Obama run over by a charging bull.
Meanwhile, conservatives say Democrats are engaging in selective outrage, forgetting similar incidents involving representations of George W. Bush during his presidency.
“Liberals want to bronco bust dissent. But Texas values speech, even if it’s speech they don’t agree with,” said Representative Stockman, in a press release Wednesday.
This is not the first time Stockman has issued an invite to a controversial performer, or at least a performer who has engendered fierce partisan debate. He’s the lawmaker who asked shock rocker and gun advocate Ted Nugent to attend Obama’s State of the Union address this year.
Prior to that, Stockman suggested in a 1995 article in Guns & Ammo magazine that the Clinton administration staged the 1993 raid on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas, to create political support for a nationwide ban on assault weapons.
Stockman later backed away from that charge, with a spokesman saying the lawmaker believed he had “phrased it badly."
Furthermore, it’s not clear exactly what sort of performance, and where, Stockman is asking the rodeo clown to engage in. The clown has been unnamed by the Missouri State Fair, but friends and relatives have identified him as Tuffy Gessling, according to the Associated Press.
Stockman’s east Texas district is mostly rural. It borders Houston, which hosts the largest rodeo in the state each spring. But officials of that show, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, said they had no advance warning of the invitation. They sounded wary of the situation in remarks made to a Politico reporter.
“The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo had no conversations with Congressman Stockman and [he] has no authority to invite any person to perform at our show.... We pride ourselves on providing a quality, affordable and family friendly presentation that entertains everyone and offends no one,” Leroy Shafer, vice president and chief of operations for the show, told Politico.
If nothing else, the Missouri clown incident has shown how political partisans of opposite sides can look at the same event and see it in completely different contexts.
Liberals see a man at a taxpayer-supported event in a rubber mask of the first African-American president, with exaggerated lips and ears and an upside-down broom used as a tail, and wonder why conservatives don’t see the racial context.
Conservatives remember similar masks of George W. Bush in less-publicized rodeo appearances, and incidents such as the use of a representation of Mr. Bush’s head on a pike in a “Game of Thrones” episode, and wonder why liberals weren’t outraged then.
There was a rare bridge over this divide on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show Wednesday night. Discussing what they called “clown-gate," conservative host Hannity and liberal guest Jehmu Greene, an African-American and former Hillary Rodham Clinton adviser, agreed that the controversy has been overblown.
In particular, Ms. Greene said the Missouri NAACP’s request for a federal probe of the incident is “ridiculous."
“Hell has frozen over tonight,” said Mr. Hannity, referring to their agreement over the issue.
New York City mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner has got himself into even more trouble this week. You’d think that would be difficult given the sexting scandal that drove Mr. Weiner from Congress and has pushed his poll ratings toward the basement. But apparently it’s not impossible, as it now looks like he’s irritated Hillary Rodham Clinton, or at least members of her political team.
For a New York Democrat with past ties to the Clintons, that’s a misstep that could result in permanent exile to the private sector. Of course, that’s a place he appears headed anyway, given the current sentiment of New York City voters.
“I do know.... I’m not going to tell you,” Weiner said.
This resulted in headlines like “Weiner hints at Clinton run” and so forth. Given that Clinton herself has been pointedly noncommittal and that there are good political, legal, and familial reasons why she shouldn’t commit herself now even if she’s made up her mind to run, which she probably hasn’t, Weiner’s words seemed a breach of etiquette, at the least.
His comment, writes The Atlantic Wire’s Abby Ohlheiser, “seemed to break a big rule of talking about the Clinton campaign: It’s not even officially happening yet.”
Weiner subsequently tried to walk back his remark, saying it was meant to be humorous. “I’ll try to make the jokes more obvious,” he told ABC News.
But Clintonworld appeared unamused.
“We have absolutely no clue what he was talking about,” said Nick Merrill, a Clinton spokesman. “Maybe his campaign does. Doubt it, though.”
This cutting comment comes after Clinton allies have privately expressed their unhappiness with Weiner for what they see as his continued dropping of the Clinton name and reckless online behavior, according to an Associated Press report.
Traveling in Africa, Bill Clinton told journalists that he has not been involved in the New York City mayor’s race and that Weiner and others knew he would not endorse them from the beginning.
“There are too many people running for mayor who have been my supporters, who supported [Hillary] for senator, [Hillary] for president,” Mr. Clinton said.
Weiner is a particular political problem for the Clintons because his situation is reminiscent of Mr. Clinton’s marital infidelities in office and subsequent impeachment by the House.
At the beginning of his mayoral campaign, Weiner stood side by side with his wife, who said she had forgiven him for sending explicit photos to women online. She has not campaigned with him since it has become apparent that he has continued to exchange explicit messages with women since his 2011 resignation from Congress.
Ms. Abedin is now reportedly on leave from her job on Mrs. Clinton’s personal staff.
The further revelations about Weiner’s sexting have caused his voter support to evaporate. Once an unlikely front-runner, he’s now fallen to fourth place in a just-released Quinnipiac survey, with only 10 percent of respondents naming him their first choice in the upcoming Democratic mayoral primary.
Why doesn’t he just drop out, given that message? One reason may be that he’s being trailed by a reality TV show producer who is filming his every public move, New York Magazine reports.
“We may be able to watch this rocky ride all over again, eventually, in documentary form. Can you imagine?” write Abraham Riesman and Joe Coscarelli on New York Magazine's “Intelligencer” blog.
Mayor Booker, who in recent surveys has held a large double-digit advantage over his nearest party rival, is then expected to face off against former Bogota, N.J., mayor Steve Lonegan, who is favored to win the Republican contest, also being held Tuesday. The special election to fill the seat vacated by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D), who died in June, will be Oct. 16.
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Whoever wins in October will have to run again next year for a full term.
Much as the current occupant of the White House once was, the Oxford-educated and social media-adept Booker is often asked about his presidential aspirations.
So what do you need to know about the contest and about Booker, who is young, telegenic, and has celebrity friends (actress Eva Longoria stumped for him Monday)? Is he the party’s flavor of the month, or might he have a national future?
Three items to consider when assessing Booker’s longer-term potential:
No fans in the Lautenbergs
If Booker wins, he doesn’t do it with the Lautenberg family’s seal of approval.
Deference to Senator Lautenberg was not foremost on Booker’s mind as he plotted his political future. While Lautenberg was alive, Booker, who has served as mayor since 2006, announced he was exploring a primary bid. The news prompted the senior senator, who hadn’t yet made clear his intention to run or retire, to suggest one form of punishment.
"I have four children; I love each one of them," Lautenberg told The Philadelphia Inquirer. "I can't tell you that one of them wasn't occasionally disrespectful, so I gave them a spanking and everything was OK."
This summer, the Lautenberg family issued a statement endorsing one of Booker’s Democratic primary rivals, Rep. Frank Pallone (D).
“Frank Lautenberg followed three fundamental principles as New Jersey’s U.S. Senator: stay true to his progressive values, put New Jersey first, and be a workhorse, not a show horse," the Lautenberg family said in a statement backing Representative Pallone.
Now, intraparty sour grapes don’t typically register for voters as they weigh which candidate to support. And there are plenty of politicians in both parties who decline to politely wait their turn before launching bids (again, President Obama comes to mind). But Booker’s maneuvering does reflect something of his ability to play nice, or not. And the Senate is a place where those with long futures learn to build allegiances and be good colleagues, both within their own party and across the aisle.
But perhaps Booker wouldn’t be interested in a long tenure in the Senate. Consider Sen. Ted Cruz, the freshman Republican from Texas. He has been reprimanded by his own party leaders for not playing by the chamber’s rules and for lacking decorum. And yet, he’s well on his way to launching a 2016 White House campaign.
Celebrity boosters, or celebrity pol?
Booker has long cultivated Hollywood figures – for the shine that famous folks can bring to his campaigns and causes, and for their donations.
Ms. Longoria, Russell Simmons, Ivanka Trump, and others are tweeting their encouragement to Booker as voters go to the polls Tuesday to choose among him, Pallone, Rep. Rush Holt (D), and state Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D).
Booker has 1.4 million Twitter followers. The city of Newark has approximately 277,000 residents.
Oprah Winfrey hosted a fundraiser for Booker, and he has been seen squiring her best friend, CBS’s Gayle King, around New York. Director Steven Spielberg and actress Jennifer Garner, among other Page Six names, have also given to Booker’s campaign.
Some see Booker’s schmoozing with notables as a negative, a sign of his ambition over his concern for New Jersey residents.
"I asked him, Cory, do you want to run for president?" Longoria said as she introduced him Monday night. "And he said, 'Eva, I want to change the world, and I will do that with whatever position I hold.' "
But remember that knock during the 2008 campaign against Mr. Obama – that he was the world’s biggest celebrity but not much of a leader? How did that ultimately go over?
What kind of senator would he be?
Opinions about Booker’s abilities run the gamut.
The New York Times endorsed him over the other three Democratic contenders because he “will be able to use his political star status to fight for the neglected, the powerless, people who are working and people who need to work in New Jersey and nationally.”
The paper’s editorial board wrote, “Ambitions are easy to come by, but Mr. Booker doesn’t just talk about helping the helpless. He does it. He would bring a sense of reality and some street-level experience to a Senate that often seems disembodied from the whole planet.”
Booker has lived in some of Newark’s most run-down areas. He rescued a woman from a blaze before the fire department arrived on the scene. He solicited a $100 million matching grant for city schools from Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg. And by many accounts, he and Gov. Chris Christie (R), no stranger himself to the public-relations game, have worked well together.
But Salon’s Alex Pareene in a piece titled, “Don’t vote for Cory Booker today: He will be an awful senator,” suggests otherwise. Aspiring to be a Democratic version of Senator Cruz is not a good thing, Mr. Pareene writes. Not for the Senate and not for New Jersey residents.
Sure, he’s “personable” and “charming,” but Booker represents "the charity of the benevolent elite,” he writes.
“[H]e’s also an avatar of the wealthy elite, a camera hog, and a political cipher who has never once proposed anything to address the structural causes of the problems he claims to care so deeply about,” Pareene says.
These knocks are not new ones for politicians in the modern era, especially those who have built their careers in an information age that requires cyber savvy. When the votes are counted, if Booker is tapped to replace Lautenberg, he’ll have much to prove.
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“Anyone that says that racial discrimination is no longer a problem in American elections must not be paying attention,” Mrs. Clinton said during the American Bar Association’s annual gathering in San Francisco.
Any high-profile public appearance by the former secretary of State stokes buzz that she's likely to launch a presidential bid for 2016. But what's notable about Monday night's address is that her comments were plainly political in nature – and clearly targeted to the Democratic Party base.
When Clinton ran for the White House in 2008 as the presumed front-runner, she found herself in a sustained primary battle with then-Sen. Barack Obama, and it was Senator Obama, despite his newness to the national scene, who made a love connection with the liberal Democrats who tend to vote in primary contests.
Signaling that she’s learning from past miscalculations, Clinton is engaging early in that courtship. Her remarks on the Voting Rights Act indicate that she is tending to the party’s most loyal activists – in this case, to the minorities who feel disenfranchised by laws they see as designed to keep them away from the polls.
She is building a campaign without actively campaigning, recasting herself as a champion of those issues about which devoted Democratic partisans care most. And as NBC’s Mark Murray said this morning on MSNBC, there is no matter that “fires up” party voters more than issue of voting rights.
During the ABA event, Clinton criticized the US Supreme Court for, earlier this year, striking down Section 4 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which designates which states must have federal approval of any changes in election laws.
"Unless the hole opened up by the Supreme Court is fixed ... citizens will be disenfranchised, victimized by the law, instead of served by it," Clinton said, and "that historical progress for a more perfect union will go backwards, instead of forward."
Clinton also targeted Florida, Texas, North Carolina, and South Carolina for being particularly active in suppressing the vote. In North Carolina on Monday, the state’s Republican governor signed a law requiring government-issued photo identification at the polls. The American Civil Liberties Union and other groups have promised to mount a legal challenge.
As a result, the former first lady, who could face a 2016 primary field of contenders that includes Vice President Joe Biden, among others, suggested that Congress should move on proposals that would make it easier for citizens to get registered. She made a plea for "fair and uniform" identification standards, same-day registration, and improved security on electronic voting machines.
“We do – let’s admit it – have a long history of shutting people out: African-Americans, women, gays and lesbians, people with disabilities,” Clinton said, according to the Washington Post. “And throughout our history, we have found too many ways to divide and exclude people from their ownership of the law and protection from the law.”
Clinton, who left her post at the State Department in February, told her audience that “phantom” claims of widespread voter fraud prompted “a sweeping effort to construct new obstacles to voting” during the 2012 White House campaign. She said more than 80 bills have been introduced in 31 states limiting access to the polls; some require government-issued identification, for example.
Clinton did not mention the 2016 contest, but she doesn’t have to. Reporters do that for her.
The Los Angeles Times’ Mark Barabak called the ABA speech a continuation of Clinton’s “long, slow flirtation with the 2016 presidential campaign.”
There’s much more to come from Clinton, who upon leaving her post as head of the State Department initially suggested that she wanted some good rest and relaxation. Her idea of a hiatus from official public life seems to include regular headline-making engagements, however.
In Philadelphia next month, Clinton will tackle “the issue of transparency” in US national security policies. And she suggested Monday night that she will make an appearance later this year focused on “American’s global leadership and our moral standing around the world.”
“Obviously her upcoming speeches, and the topics that she announced, show a consistent seriousness of purpose,” says Tracy Sefl, a Washington-based Democratic consultant.
“Not that there's anything wrong with a steak fry or a state fair, after all, there's a role for those under the 2016 circus tent," she adds. "But for the tea leaf readers, it's the carefully chosen arc of issues she'll be addressing that says the most about what lies ahead.”
Clinton launched her 2000 US Senate race and 2008 presidential run with listening tours, efforts to highlight her accessibility and show she had a human touch. This year, her planned speaking series signals more of a "listen up!" tour.
Sometimes a girl just wants to have fun – even (or maybe especially) when she’s first lady of the United States.
Aside from vacationing on Martha’s Vineyard with her family this week, Michelle Obama has been doing a lot of that lately. She posted a selfie of herself and dog Bo on Twitter and Instagram last weekend. She danced during her kids’ “state dinner” last month. And who can forget her doing the Dougie in February on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,” where she demonstrated “the evolution of mom dancing”?
Now Mrs. Obama is breaking the mold again – with a rap album. She’s not singing, but she appears in one of the videos, called “Everybody.” The album – called “Songs for a Healthier America” – is inspired by the first lady's Let’s Move! campaign, and features big-name performers like Jordin Sparks, Ashanti, Run DMC, and Doug E. Fresh.
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Song titles include “U R What You Eat” and “Veggie Luv.” The album is being produced by the Partnership for a Healthier America and Hip Hop Public Health Foundation, and will be released Sept. 30. The videos will be distributed to schools in New York City before wider circulation. Fighting childhood obesity is one of Mrs. Obama’s signature causes.
But there’s another real issue behind all her joyous activities: that life in the White House can feel like being in a “really nice prison.” She made that comment at the African First Ladies Summit last month in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in a public conversation with former first lady Laura Bush.
“There are prison elements to it,” Mrs. Obama said to laughter. “But it’s a really nice prison, so.…”
“But with a chef,” Mrs. Bush interjected.
“You can't complain,” Mrs. Obama continued. “But there are definitely elements that are confining.”
The White House as gilded cage is a theme that goes back to the start of the republic. The first first lady, Martha Washington, once wrote to her niece that she felt like a "Chief State Prisoner." But in the modern era, amid omnipresent technology, escaping constant public scrutiny can be an even more daunting task.
During her husband’s first term, Mrs. Obama – disguised in a ball cap and sunglasses – once pulled off a trip to a suburban Target, and went largely unrecognized. But since the start of the second term, Mrs. Obama has ramped up the fun quotient. Maybe with reelection out of the way, she feels she can cut loose a little bit more.
What her daughters – one a teen, the other almost – think of all this public fun is another matter. We suspect they’re mortified. But Mrs. Obama actually can dance. Certainly better than her husband.
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Missouri State Fair officials have banned for life the rodeo clown who wore a President Obama mask while facing bulls at the event over the weekend.
The clown in question engaged in an “unconscionable stunt” and will never perform at the Show Me state venue again, the Missouri State Fair Commission said Monday, in a statement. Fair officials are also reviewing their contract with the Missouri Rodeo Cowboy Association, the contractor responsible for hiring and overseeing bull ring clowns.
The performance was “inappropriate and not in keeping with the Fair’s standards," said the statement.
The fair did not reveal the clown’s identity.
During a bull riding contest on Sunday, the clown appeared wearing a rubber mask of the president with an upside down broomstick trailing from his backside, as if it were a tail. The audience was asked, over a public address system, if it wanted to see Mr. Obama “run down by a bull.” Many people present clapped and cheered, according to one witness, Perry Beam.
“It was feeling like some kind of Klan rally,” said Mr. Beam.
Others defended the act as within the mainstream of rodeo ring entertainment. The clown was meant to be imitating a dummy, another witness, Missouri Rodeo Cowboy Association member David Berry, told the Associated Press. Bull ring clowns often dress as sitting presidents, Mr. Berry said.
“The joke is not that it was the president. They drag out this person dressed like a dummy and all of a sudden this dummy just takes off running. That’s what’s funny,” Berry told AP.
Whatever the intent, the nationwide reaction was harsh. Photos and video of the event went viral, and social media exploded with condemnation.
The public address announcer at the rodeo, Mark Ficken, is trying to distance himself from the fracas. Mr. Ficken, president of the Missouri Rodeo Cowboy Association and superintendent of the Boonville School District, said the clown was wearing a wireless mike and made most of the comments heard by the audience. Ficken said through an attorney that he was “as surprised as anyone” at the appearance of an Obama mask.
The speed with which fair officials responded to the uproar may be indicative of both the seriousness with which they took the stunt and the fact that Missouri is not exactly a deep-red anti-Obama state.
Instead, Missouri is a conservative rural center sandwiched between two urban areas, St. Louis and Kansas City, which contain lots of Democratic voters.
Mitt Romney did beat Obama there in 2012 by almost 10 points, 53.8 percent to 44.4 percent. But Obama essentially tied John McCain in Missouri in 2008. Gov. Jay Nixon is a Democrat, as is Attorney General Chris Koster, Secretary of State Jason Kander, and one of the state’s two US senators, Claire McCaskill.
If it’s not purple, Missouri is at least a purple-tinged state, and fair officials are surely cognizant of that, given that they receive more than $400,000 in state money to help fund their event.
Over the weekend Republican National Committee chief Reince Priebus doubled down on his threat to withhold 2016 GOP presidential debates from CNN and NBC if the networks air planned programs on Hillary Rodham Clinton.
On CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday, host Candy Crowley asked Mr. Priebus whether he’d throw Fox News into the debate penalty box as well, given a New York Times report that a Fox sister company is in talks to produce the Hillary Clinton miniseries now slated to appear on NBC.
Priebus made it clear Fox would not be included in any RNC boycott. First of all, he downplayed the Times report, saying he “doesn’t know the truth of anything you’re talking about,” and that “I’m not going to boycott the food trucks that service all of the same companies.”
Then he said he’s really aiming at the networks that may put Clinton shows on the air, whether the programs are scripted entertainment dramas or news documentaries.
“What channel am I going to tune into to see the documentary and the miniseries that is all about promoting Hillary Clinton? And at this point, it sounds like it’s going to be CNN and NBC. And if that’s the case, they’re not going to be involved in our debates – period,” said Priebus.
Plus, the RNC on Monday started running paid YouTube ads calling on CNN and NBC to “dump the docs or lose debates.”
“It’s basically us putting our money where our mouth is,” an RNC spokesman told Daniel Halper of The Weekly Standard.
Priebus took some heat for his “State of the Union” performance from some members of the punditocracy on Monday. They felt the RNC chief appeared taken aback by the Fox News link, as if he hadn’t heard the latest developments.
“The words ‘due diligence’ don’t necessarily go with ‘Reince Priebus’ ... in this case,” said Howard Fineman of the Huffington Post during an appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
But that criticism focuses on the one-day news cycle. Here’s our question: Is the RNC debate threat a smart strategic move, in the long term?
After all, as far as the national leaders of both parties are concerned, presidential primary debates have gotten out of hand. There are too many – 20 for the GOP in the 2012 cycle. Formats generally aren’t conducive to discussion. They’re controlled by media outlets, which make money from airing them, and state parties, which make money from co-hosting debates and associated fundraisers.
If Priebus wants to cut the debate schedule to 10 to 12, as recommended by the party’s 2012 postmortem, he’s got to start exerting control over the process in some manner. The “dump the docs” effort may be a way to start to do just that.
By making the “liberal” mainstream media the target, Priebus and the RNC can get hosannas of agreement from pretty much every faction of every state party. Linking it to Mrs. Clinton is a bonus in this context, given that she’s the potential 2016 Democratic candidate Republicans most love to dislike.
And why shouldn’t the party pick where debates appear? Slate political analyst Dave Weigel wrote earlier this month that Republicans should debate one another only on Fox.
“That could be fascinating,” wrote Mr. Weigel. “Republicans know exactly how to handle the mainstream media, and they know how to play against it.... They’re often more compelling when their interviews are pushing them from the right.”
Or what about this: Why get any network involved at all? Today’s broadband technology makes it feasible for Republicans to stage and control debates completely, streaming the show to an online audience à la Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon Prime.
Conservative commentator Edward Morrissey made this point in a column in The Week, saying that if Priebus wants to take serious steps toward reform, he should rethink the entire debate structure.
“CNN responded to Priebus’ ultimatum by rejecting the demand, claiming that a refusal to partner with CNN on debates would be ‘the ultimate disservice to voters.’ The ultimate disservice to both voters and candidates is the artificial, game-show circus that got repeated ad infinitum in 2011 and 2012. Priebus would do us all a favor by looking for an alternative that produces serious political debate rather than the Zinger of the Week,” wrote Mr. Morrissey.
A clown wearing a President Obama mask got a big reception at a Missouri State Fair rodeo over the weekend. According to The Associated Press, most of the crowd clapped and cheered when the announcer asked if they wanted to see “Obama run down by a bull."
The Missouri State Fair says it has banned the unnamed rodeo clown from ever performing at the fair again.
One fairgoer who was not happy about the performance, Perry Beam, told the AP that everybody “just went wild” when the masked clown appeared, and that he began to feel “a sense of fear” for himself, his wife, and a Taiwanese student that they had brought to the performance.
Another clown ran up to the clown wearing the Obama mask, pretended to tickle him, and played with the mask’s lips, according to Mr. Beam. Eventually they had to depart when actual bulls started running too close.
“They mentioned the president’s name, I don’t know, 100 times. It was sickening. It was feeling like some kind of Klan rally you’d see on TV,” said Beam.
OK, Obama mask plus stomping rodeo bulls. Who thought that equation would equal fun? Not the Missouri State Fair leadership. After the show, they apologized on their Facebook page for what they called an “inappropriate and disrespectful” performance. Not Missouri’s top elected officials. Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder condemned the stunt via Twitter. “We are better than this,” he wrote. Democrats Gov. Jay Nixon and Sen. Claire McCaskill also expressed deep displeasure.
Some national conservatives, however, charged that the umbrage was hypocritical, given the popularity of George W. Bush Halloween masks during his presidency. All US chief executives are mocked, wrote Dana Loesch on the right-leaning RedState site.
“Free speech is free speech and isn’t meant to protect only that with which I agree,” wrote Ms. Loesch.
In 1994, a Philadelphia Inquirer story noted that a rodeo clown used a George H.W. Bush dummy to distract raging bulls, yet nobody called for a Secret Service investigation, pointed out Loesch.
Of course, it’s the element of race that makes the Obama incident so controversial. Many of those who are outraged by the rodeo clown perhaps see mock violence against the nation’s first African-American president in the context of the nation’s long history of real violence against African-Americans.
“Silence is an inappropriate response to this ‘entertainment’ at an event supported by all Missourians,” wrote Bob Yates on “Show Me Progress," a left-leaning Missouri website.
On the other side, those who say the Obama mask clown is part of a long history of US irreverence toward their chief executives may feel that Democrats cry “race” to block all criticism of the president.
Here’s a third point of view: Maybe mock violence against presidential masks and dummies should be judged a chancy business, whomever the target. There’s been real violence against presidents of both parties, after all. This November will mark 50 years since the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Ronald Reagan was shot 32 years ago. Every president gets a horrendous amount of violent hate mail and threats.
“The young Missourians who witnessed this stunt learned exactly the wrong lesson about political discourse – that somehow it’s ever acceptable to, in a public event, disrespect, taunt, and joke about harming the President of our great nation,” said Senator McCaskill in her statement responding to the incident.