Tag Archives: GOP candidates 2016

Why Voter Turnout Mattered in the Midterms

Image courtesy of Reuters

Image courtesy of Reuters

By R. Alan Clanton, Thursday Review editor

The Republican Party’s massive sweep earlier this month of U.S. House and U.S. Senate elections cut across nearly all the geographic boundaries and traditional regional lines. Republicans not only consolidated their edge in the normally red areas of the red states, but the GOP also made inroads almost everywhere we have been told were now safe havens for Democratic candidates—Maryland and West Virginia, to name just two striking examples.

Ahead of the midterms, there was much talk about the anti-incumbency mood around the country. This anti-Washington fever has been building, made worse by what many Americans see as a pointless combination of petty squabbling, name-calling, and simple gridlock. President Obama and Congress can rarely agree on anything.

But to the surprise of many analysts and journalists, the midterm outcomes were more startling and potentially game-changing than was predicted. The GOP, presumed to be on the path to a slow death by the forces of shifting demographics and self-immolation, rebounded—exceeding even the wildest expectations of its own pollsters and strategists. Those GOP incumbents thought to be the most at risk proved easy winners. Mitch McConnell’s comfortable, early victory in Kentucky served as political weather warning for the remainder of that long Tuesday night and sleepless (for some) Wednesday morning. It was Democrats, nearly everywhere, that were in trouble that night.

Hardest hit, or so it seemed, were those Congressional and state candidates who had so openly and brazenly fled from President Obama, seeking instead to soak up some of the political strength and aura of Hillary Clinton instead—presumed front-runner for the presidency in 2016. That night would prove to be one of the worst for the Clinton brand name ever, as more than a dozen House and Senate hopefuls lost to Republicans in races that should have been close, closer, and cinches for easy wins. Only in New Hampshire did the Clinton franchise help a half dozen state candidates—mostly women—to victory. Clinton may be able to shake-off the dust and debris, but by campaigning alongside so many losing candidates, she has inadvertently handed the GOP the marketing tools they need to show she is not inevitable. Worse, she may have clumsily invited other Democrats to openly challenge her in primaries and caucuses—something unthinkable only six weeks ago.

For Democrats, there was a problem. A loss that Tuesday in some of those states was probably inevitable—the result of predictable dips in the approval rating and popularity of the President. The sixth year of two-term chief executives is often their worst, and the midterms will reliably reflect that voter angst and frustration. But in this case, Democrats clearly expected some gains, and seemed genuinely unprepared for the vast red landslide that ensued on Election Day. Republicans may not be winning the popularity contest—at least according to the exit polls conducted across the country—but Democrats aren’t winning the hearts and minds of the voters either. Even the President’s dismal popularity, coupled with a relentless, mostly nationwide strategy by GOP candidates to run a lot of campaign ads linking Democrats to Obama, does not go far enough to explain the Democrat’s catastrophe in November.

Then there were those cases of independent candidates challenging Republicans—most notably in Kansas where Greg Orman mounted a decidedly outside-of-the-box campaign to oust longtime Senator Pat Roberts, a Republican with a deep polling deficit only months before the election. So eager were Democrats to dislodge Roberts, they forced their own duly-nominated party loyalist out and began campaigning full throttle for the independent Orman—this, even as Orman steadfastly refused to make any commitments about which party he would caucus with once in Washington. But even this gambit failed. Roberts won easily, and Orman gets to go back to his business interests in the Sunflower State.

Now, the shocker for many readers: Republicans managed to win, and win big, but they didn’t outspend Democrats nationally. In fact, most of the so-called “tight” races saw spending which was more-or-less equal between the major candidates and their big-spending backers. In Florida, for example, Charlie Crist and his legion of big-money donors spent about the same amount that was spent by Rick Scott and his GOP allies.

And other than some accusations about electronic vote count shenanigans in Colorado (more about that later), there were no complaints about stolen votes, hanging chads, mishandled computers, or hacked registrars’ offices. Even the contentious narrative about voter suppression didn’t come into play this year: Democrats lost so badly in some states that poor voter turnout, in the form of disinterest and even rejection, was clearly the catalyst for the party’s disaster at the polls. The party that had clearly won a major victory—thanks largely to smart, savvy voter participation—only two years ago, was now left powerless in the face of sea of political disengagement.

The worst turnout levels were in Indiana, Texas, Utah and New York. This is a paradox, since Democrats like to generally make a direct correlation between educational achievement and high voter participation. Why did New York end the day with the fourth lowest turnout? Indiana is a swing state, crucial to both Republicans and Democrats. Yet it came in dead last, with a miserly 28 percent turnout. Utah and Texas are decidedly red states.

Colorado had the fourth best turnout in the country, in part—some analysts believe—because it converted to an entirely mail-in ballot process, one of only two states in which the majority of ballots are mailed-in (Oregon is the other). Only Maine, Wisconsin and Alaska had better turnouts than Colorado and Oregon.

Back some months ago, in April to be specific, Thursday Review received a few strongly-worded emails from several of our liberal readers and followers regarding our article entitled “Turnout Trumps Spending.”

Here at TR we had expressed the unmitigated, immoderate view that voter turnout still carries a wallop, and that concerns about spending often unfairly receive the lion’s share of attention. One need look no further than the presidential elections of 2012 to see how this can play out: strategists for both the Obama and the Romney campaigns had each concluded—correctly—that the election would hinge upon turnout, especially in several key counties and metro areas in Ohio and Florida. Both parties spent record millions in those TV markets, but both parties exerted even more firepower on making sure people went to the polls. A mountain range-sized pile of cash is not enough if your people don’t show up to vote.

Turnout is traditionally higher in a year in which there are presidential candidates on the ballot. By contrast, turnout can dip to lower levels during those off-years in between the presidential cycles. Turnout in 2014 was very low, the lowest in fact in more than 70 years. For both the 20th and 21st centuries, this year’s 36.3 percent was the lowest since the record-breaker low-water-mark of 1942.

The New York Times, in an editorial a week after the 2014 midterms, saw it as a two-pronged problem. “Republicans ran a single-theme campaign of pure opposition to President Obama,” said the Times, “and Democrats were too afraid of the backlash to put forward plans to revive the economy or to point out significant achievements of the last six years.”

The Times view is a reasonable interpretation, perhaps, but it does not go far enough to explain the political vortex that occurred that Tuesday.

If voters were genuinely disgusted with both parties, as so much of the media seemed to suggest (based on pre-election polling and exit polling) why didn’t the GOP suffer a more serious setback itself? Libertarian, independent, and other third party candidates should have seen a significant spike in interest from voters shopping for alternatives to the two mainstream options. Voters in Florida could choose between several well-funded third party options, including Libertarian Adrian Wyllie, yet widespread disgust at the negative campaigns of Scott and Crist drove few voters toward these non-traditional options. Likewise, significant third party movements in North Carolina, Indiana and Virginia failed to become the decisive disruptors widely predicted in advance. And in the aforementioned Kansas, Orman’s independent candidacy not only failed to trigger the ouster of Roberts, but may have expedited the collapse of a rare opportunity for Democrats to deny the GOP its traditional lock on Kansas’s representation in Washington. Further, despite some pre-election talk that Libertarian Gaylon Kent would make a numerical difference in Colorado’s closely-watched U.S. Senate election, in the end Kent grabbed only about 2.6% of the vote—not enough to have altered the outcome.

Only in Vermont did a Libertarian candidate muster enough voter support to temporarily rock the system, where Dan Feliciano, running for governor under the Libertarian banner, denied both Democrat Peter Shumlin and Republican Scott Milne a clear majority (under Vermont law, the General Assembly must choose the next governor in January; since the Assembly is made up of a majority of Democrats, and because Shumlin’s final tally places him slightly ahead of Milne, Shumlin is expected to be declared the victor by the Assembly unless Milne concedes).

But what about the aforementioned Colorado, where—contrary to recent voter behavior—there was a unusual disconnect between the results for governor and the results for Colorado’s widely-watched U.S. Senate race? One of the GOP’s most famous victories came at the expense of incumbent U.S. Senator Mark Udall. Udall, who had run one of the most unabashedly liberal campaigns, lost to Republican challenger Cory Gardner. Udall had been an enthusiastic supporter of the Affordable Care Act, and his positions on issues ranging from the Hobby Lobby case to his opposition to the Keystone Pipeline put him at odds with many voters in Colorado—a state often called a “battleground” by CNN and Fox News for its sometimes pivotal importance in the Electoral College. In recent years Colorado was widely thought to be moving leftward, but Udall’s defeat at the hands of Gardner may indicate that the Centennial State is not as liberal as some had thought.

Gardner won by 48.3 percent to Udall’s 46.2 percent—close, but not necessarily the cliffhanger some thought the race might have become. Tuesday’s early, wide vote count leads by Gardner made it appear that he might win in a blowout, but late-arriving returns from Denver and Adams counties—Democratic strongholds—denied Gardner his landslide, but did not deprive him of a safe win. Besides, late-arriving vote tallies from urban areas often produce final results that seem to skew or alter the trajectory of early returns. Still, Gardner’s victory was in keeping with national patterns that night: often, as the Senate went (and that was generally red), so went key U.S. House, state legislature, and gubernatorial races. The GOP benefited from this “group coattails” effect.

But, conversely, Coloradans re-elected Governor John Hickenlooper. As in most states, the GOP had waged a robust challenge to Hickenlooper, linking him to Obamacare, questioning his position on gun control, and berating him for his decision to grant a reprieve to an infamous death row inmate, Nathan Duncan, who was convicted of killing four people in a Chuck E. Cheese restaurant. Despite this, Hickenlooper survived and defeated his Republican challenger Bob Beauprez, albeit only after a particularly long night of vote counting.

Though there was only scant reporting of the problem in the Colorado press, and even less discussion nationally, there were concerns throughout that long Tuesday over what appeared to be repeated attempts by someone—or some group—to hack into the state’s voting system. Election Day volunteers, student volunteers, poll watchers, employees and elections supervisors were aware of the cyber-attacks, but were also informed that the state’s computer security people were on top of the situation. Despite an effort to outflank the hackers, a decision was reached in the early afternoon to briefly shut-down the entire statewide system, then perform a basic reboot—with all vote numbers up to that point locked-in. At around 2:00 p.m., the shutdown/reboot took place. When technicians brought the system back online about 20 minutes later, a strange thing had happened: John Hickenlooper had suddenly and mysteriously gained approximately 25,000 votes. Though it would have been theoretically impossible for anyone to have cast or counted votes during that 20 minutes, somehow thousands of votes appeared in Hickenlooper’s column. There were questions about vote shenanigans, though no one really knew where to look for answers, or how to sort out what had just happened.  Colorado’s mail-in ballots were being counted by machines, and there was easy way to resolve the sudden anomaly.

The governor’s race remained a squeaker through the long night, but by the next morning—with Hickenlooper’s lead growing—those mysterious 25,000 votes mattered less and less to reporters. In the end, the governor would claim his re-election by about 52,000 votes statewide. It remains to be seen whether anyone in the Colorado GOP—or any independent watchdog group—intends to demand a closer look at what happened that afternoon and evening in Colorado.

The general view is that Coloradans split their allegiances in ways that did not reflect the national voting patterns—anomalous, perhaps, but not unheard of. The Greeley Tribune pointed out that a switch of only 30,000 votes statewide would have shifted the outcome of either of Colorado’s big races—Hickenlooper versus Beauprez, or Udall versus Gardner. Another theory, assuming that there was no meddling with the vote totals in the governor’s race, is that Hickenlooper—unlike many of his Democratic brethren in House and Senate races nationwide—used his perceived centrism to effectively distance himself from President Obama. For most Democrats the strategy did not work; in Hickenlopper’s case it appears to have succeeded.

Finally, there is the case of Alaska, where Democratic Senator Mark Begich conceded only as recently as Monday night, calling to congratulate Republican Dan Sullivan nearly two weeks after the polls had closed. Despite most media and election groups calling it a victory for Sullivan as early as last week, Begich stubbornly held onto the notion that recounts might turn the final count in his favor. The Alaska Board of Elections show that Sullivan defeated Begich by roughly 7700 votes—a razor close number in many states, but by the low population standards found in Alaska, a comfortable 2.8 percent victory.

Why did Begich wait so long to concede what most observers considered a done deal? Begich himself first won his U.S. Senate seat only after patient and painstaking recounts in 2008—an election in which he apparently trailed incumbent Ted Stevens until every stray vote was finally counted…nearly two weeks after the polls had closed. Back then, Begich won by mere 4000 votes.

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The GOP Challenge: Find the White Knight


By R. Alan Clanton
Thursday Review editor

In early April, Thursday Review published an article about the possibility that former Florida governor Jeb Bush was considering his options for a presidential run in 2016. In a Republican field in which New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is no longer a major contender—and it is not clear that he will survive the current storm of scandals now surrounding what has been called Bridgegate—Jeb Bush rises easily to the top tier among Republican candidates.

Bush has been non-committal, but for some GOP strategists (and for some of the big cash donors), Bush resides at the very top of a list of other probable candidates: Paul Ryan, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Bobby Jindal, and Marco Rubio. Others waiting in the wings, perhaps also watching to see whether Bush gives an indication if he is officially in, or out, of the GOP sweepstakes, may include Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee (each veterans of past primary and caucus seasons), and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.

In the days after we published the article several folks wrote to us via email or social media to point out that among the stalking horses is Indiana Governor Mike Pence, a former U.S. Representative and a favorite of the biggest of the big money GOP political contributors, the Koch Brothers. The Koch Brothers have been reported recently to be worth over $100 billion, and the recent Supreme Court ruling which rules unconstitutional limits on political contributions means that the politically active brothers can lavish cash upon their chosen candidates.

More importantly to some GOP centrists, Pence is a fully-vetted stand-in for Jeb Bush, but without the inevitable baggage that would accompany anyone with the last name Bush. Many in the GOP are squeamish about an election which might be a rematch of previous Clinton-Bush battles, and despite Jeb Bush’s likeability, success as governor of a big state, and current high approval ratings, there is fear that many voters would reject the specter of Bush facing off against Hillary Clinton.

Clinton is the presumed front-runner among all potential Democratic candidates eyeing 2016, though she has repeatedly insisted that she has not made a decision. Her cageyness has essentially frozen other potential Democrats in place, preventing even early exploratory committees from developing organically around names like Joe Biden, Andrew Cuomo, Brian Schweitzer and Deval Patrick.

Bush, on the other hand, does not necessarily create the same deep freeze among potential Republican rivals. Even with home-brewed scandal swirling around Chris Christie, the New Jersey governor has powerful fundraising capability, drawing huge sums for the Republican Governors Association and raising cash for current Florida governor Rick Scott. Fundraising aside, the central question for most Republicans is whether Jeb Bush lends enough potency and credibility to outweigh the inevitable baggage associated with the last name of two past presidents.

If Bush decides not to run in 2016, Pence—largely unknown among mainstream Republicans outside of Indiana—may easily benefit by stepping into Jeb Bush’s role as big-tent conciliator.

In the run-up to 2016, both parties face an odd confluence of circumstances, and both parties could face the specter of The Seven Dwarfs, a term associated most memorably with the early Democratic race of 1988. That year, after a sex scandal brought about the implosion of presumed front runner Gary Hart, and after other popular fence-sitters like Mario Cuomo and Sam Nunn opted to not run, the remaining field consisted of Rev. Jesse Jackson and six other largely unknown faces, including Bruce Babbitt, Al Gore, Paul Simon, Richard Gephardt, Joe Biden and Michael Dukakis. Likewise, in the unlikely event that Hillary Clinton decides not to run, Democrats are left with a dusty Rolodex and few well-known names to call upon. Joe Biden would rise to the top tier by default, and some Democratic strategists fear the outcome would be dismal. One Democratic friend told me that supporting Biden would be an experience similar to the “eat-your-Brussels-sprouts non-enthusiasm Republicans felt in 1996 for Bob Dole.”

Likewise, in a race without Bush, the GOP might produce a cadre of lesser-known candidates, but unlike the Democrats, some of those among the GOP hopefuls have substantial charisma and untapped star power. Both Rand Paul and Paul Ryan have proven their mettle as speakers and campaigners, and Rick Santorum already maintains a substantial list of supporters and backers from his 2013 run. Jindal has high-caliber likeability, and Marco Rubio may be the GOP’s biggest star when it comes to attracting Latinos. Likewise, Ted Cruz combines a Latino heritage with high ratings among the GOP’s social conservatives.

Ultimately, what GOP strategists seek most is a candidate who can best bridge the seemingly widening divides between the party’s warring factions: pro-business, pro-growth advocates; social conservatives and evangelicals; less-government, less-taxation fiscal hawks; anti-Obamacare legions; pro-life advocates; immigration hardliners; market libertarians. The primary and caucus seasons of 2008 and 2012 show just how fraught with danger these fractious differences can be, and especially how difficult the challenge becomes to moderate such language after the close of conventions and in the approach to that first Tuesday in November. (See: Anatomy of a GOP Loss: Parts One and Two; Thursday Review; fall 2012).

Though the process is like herding cats, top Republican strategists have already begun planning for that difficult convergence. The Republican National Committee voted unanimously last summer to greatly limit the total number of debates between Republican candidates in the run-up to the primary and caucuses. The RNC also threatened to walk away from specific networks (CNN, NBC) if planned films and documentaries about the Clintons went to air without a promise of equal time for a GOP message or response.

In the meantime, Pence and his supporters are marketing his skills and attributes, and spreading the word that the Indiana governor knows his way around fundraising. His backers and promoters also say that Pence can win over social conservatives—the same types that would have supported Huckabee in 2008 and Santorum in 2012—without offending mainstream Republicans or Main Street business interests.

Pence is also a strategic hawk—supporting Israel, and openly backing any move by Israel or its allies to take unilateral military action against its aggressive neighbors, most especially Iran. Pence wins over neo-cons for his opposition to the closing of the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, and his vocal concerns about a date-certain for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq. And Pence is a foe of earmarks, which makes him popular among libertarians and fiscal conservatives who see Congress as unable to control its penchant for spending.

And Pence gets high marks from tea Partiers for his vocal opposition to Obamacare.

Concerned that Jeb Bush may ascend unchecked to the top slot, perhaps for all the wrong reasons, a few savvy strategists are talking more openly about Pence’s chances.

Pence, whose shock of white hair makes him appear more mature than his relatively young 54 years, says he has not given a lot of serious thought to running for president, though he has acknowledged to reporters for the Indianapolis Star that numerous influential Republican movers and shakers have approached him. Pence, who says he is devoting his energies to Indiana, does not completely rule out the possibility that he will make a run at the presidency. He has said he and his staff and family will work out a decision no later than the beginning of next year.

For Republicans who fear carnage in 2016 at the hands of the Hillary Clinton steamroller, Pence may seem a long shot. But the renewed talk of his prospects and the recent heavy marketing accompanying the mention of his name is an indication of how much the GOP wants to get it right in the next presidential election.
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To Face the Press (Or Not)

Republican Governors Page

By R. Alan Clanton, Thursday Review editor

(Originally published Friday, February, 14, 2014) New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has had a rough seven or eight weeks in the spotlight, even with the remarkable positive spin from the most watched Super Bowl—and the most highly rated TV event—in history taking place right in his own home state.

The so-called Bridgegate scandal has diverted his energies and his time, and has driven out of the limelight save for that nearly two-hour press conference last month followed by his state of the state address to the New Jersey legislature a few days later.

Now he must face the music again, this time in his new and prominent role as chairman of the Republican Governors Association. His selection for that job last fall was widely regarded as the final step in what would be his inevitable entry into the 2016 presidential sweepstakes. Until the fracas over the lane closures on the George Washington Bridge, which connects New Jersey to New York City, Christie was generally viewed by political analysts as the GOP front-runner, and the man-to-beat among the other Republican hopefuls.

Christie’s poll numbers last fall showed him to be the favorite among GOP voters, easily besting his closest potential competitors—Jeb Bush, Paul Ryan, Bobby Jindal and Rand Paul.
But much water has passed under that bridge. And much has changed.

Once able to hold his own in theoretical match-ups against presumed Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, Christie’s poll numbers have fallen—slowly at first, then more dramatically. Other than a brief appearance at the Super Bowl, during which boos could be heard (albeit from lots of people not from New Jersey), he has been forced to stay out of direct contact with reporters. His much-watched trip to Florida a few weeks back to help raise money on behalf of Florida Governor Rick Scott resulted in no appearances outside of the private dinners and receptions, and zero contact with reporters.

Even as subpoenas were issued by the special committee investigating the bridge scandal (and the matter of the Sandy Relief money), Christie has communicated with the media by way of written statements, emails or through spokespersons in his office. The normally gregarious, outgoing and plainspoken Christie has remained tucked away behind his office walls and the cover of tinted windows on black SUVs.

But beginning on February 24, that may have to change, and the governor may have to face direct and heavy incoming fire from reporters as he convenes the GOP governors in Washington, D.C.

In Washington, where the press corps makes up a significant share of the political population, any event in which a top-tier presidential contender makes an appearance will draw throngs of reporters and photographers. In this case, many of them will be drawn by the scent of blood in the water. In fact, had everything been going swimmingly for the New Jersey governor, you can bet a few of those same reporters would yawn and stay home. But this is different. The media super storm which has swirled around Christie seems to know no limits, and the sharks have been circling for months.

Fairly or unfairly, the dilemma he will face during the Republican Governors Conference is a no-win scenario. If he makes an appearance, even for a brief few questions, it will produce little of anything useful for the GOP and nothing but grief for Christie. Reporters will ask nothing about the conference, despite the importance that such confabs can sometimes generate. All questions will be directed, again, toward what the governor knew and when did he know it: lane closings, vindictive emails, threats to withhold Sandy relief funds, bullying of political opponents, and the issue of what evidence folks like David Wildstein might possess to incriminate the governor.

On the other hand, if Christie decides to duck reporters—and the governors send out someone else to field the media questions—Christie will be accused of dodging accountability, or worse, of hiding something. As a group, reporters tend to get more annoyed by a failure to appear than anything else, and you can bet the spin will be universally negative—even from Christie’s friends among the press corps—if he avoids any public appearances in which Q&A is the order of the day.

By most accounts and by most measures, artificial or otherwise, the clock is ticking on Christie’s window of opportunity. If he is unable to make Bridgegate go away by mid spring (so far there is no smoking gun linking him directly to any of the bad behavior for which he has been accused) his presidential ambitions for 2016 may be ruined. Even some in the GOP have begun slowly backing away for the governor. But his immediate culpability will become irrelevant by June or July, which many regard as the failsafe point for the start of exploratory action for presidential fundraising and organizing.

The test of his resolve to put the scandals behind him may come next week in Washington, when he makes that fateful decision about whether or not to appear before that shark-frenzied room of reporters, videographers and photographers.

Related Thursday Review articles:

Bridge to Nowhere; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; February 1, 2014.

A Super Storm in Jersey; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; January 20, 2014.

Chris Christie: A Bridge Too Far; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; January 13, 2014.

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Bridge to Nowhere


By R. Alan Clanton, Thursday Review editor

(Originally published Saturday, February 1, 2014) Bridges have a beginning, middle, and an end—with a lot of access ramps and lanes to shepherd the traffic in, or to divert it away.  And sometimes, there are obstacles.

So it is with some of the great political love affairs of the past generations.  Gary Hart was once held in such high esteem by the progressives and reformers within the Democratic Party (especially after Walter Mondale’s crushing defeat at the hands of Ronald Reagan in 1984) that Hart’s ascendancy to the nomination was regarded as a fait accompli.  It did not happen. More recently, in the election cycle of 2011 and 2012, Herman Cain was so popular with GOP conservatives and Tea Partiers that his brief, meteoric rise seemed to upend the Republican procession and disrupt the status quo of both parties.  But Cain crashed.

In each case, partisan euphoria was replaced with harsh reality: politicians are not saviors, but flawed mortals, though we still have the tendency to want to elevate some political figures to sainthood.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has been, by some accounts, the most talked about potential savior the Republican Party has had in some years, and the GOP’s de facto front runner.  Given a top speaking slot at the GOP convention in Tampa in 2012, and more recently chosen to lead the Republican Governor’s Association, he shares the top tier of presidential hopefuls with a small handful of well-known names: Paul Ryan, Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, Bobby Jindal.  But Chris Christie’s name is the one most often considered at the top of that short list.
Now, that position of preeminence appears to be challenged by what has become, surely, the biggest challenge to Christie’s political reputation as tough-talking and blunt, but an honest broker and a man of the people.

David Wildstein, an administrator for the Port of Authority of New York and New Jersey, now claims that he has written proof that the governor was aware of a deliberate campaign of lane closures which caused massive traffic jams on the George Washington Bridge back in September.  The four-day long vehicular gridlock was the apparent result of political payback, retribution against Fort Lee mayor Mark Sokolich, a Democrat who did not publicly back Christie during the governor’s re-election campaign.

Wildstein, who resigned from the Port Authority a few months ago, has previously said that the lane closures were part of a traffic study.  Wildstein’s former boss at the Port Authority, Bill Baroni, has also said the lane closures were part of a long-term study, though the Port Authority has stated that there was no official clearance for any such study.  Wildstein and Baroni were both known to be Christie allies.

But in December, text messages and emails revealed what appeared to be a pattern of cooperation between top members of the governor’s staff and some employees of the Port Authority, and the bridge scandal quickly became front page news across the country.  Then, in what some regarded as a “piling on” by Democrats eager to puncture the governor’s presidential prospects, things got worse for Christie, very fast.

There were accusations that the governor misused Hurricane Sandy funds to create slick television ads touting a return to normalcy for business and tourism.  Though the ads were technically an appropriate use of the money under federal guidelines, they were regarded by some critics as little more than political ads designed to boost his re-election chances, and others complained that the ads—at the least—were simply wasteful spending in a state still beset with problems of reconstruction and repair.  At worst, the television spots were political ads.  A production company with a higher bid than others had been selected, and its scripts all called for the governor and his family to make appearances in the ads.  Scripts prepared by the other film and video companies competing for the contract did not feature the governor.

Then, days later, there were more accusations of bullying and threats of withholding funds, most notably from Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer.  Zimmer said that she was approached by Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno and told, in essence, that her ability to receive Sandy relief funds would be contingent upon her support of a major redevelopment project worth billions backed by investors with close ties to the governor.  And despite Guadagno’s denials that any such threat was issued, Zimmer says the proof could be found in her own journal entries from that same day.

The governor held an epic two-hour long press conference as the entire nation watched, and during that appearance he denied any wrongdoing, claiming he had been blindsided by the events.  He was apologetic and contrite.  Most regarded his explanations as sincere.  In his State of the State address days later (in what have been the most watched state speech in American history), he briefly touched on the scandals, but said that New Jersey needs to move forward.
Was it possible that the governor was truly betrayed by vindictive staffers for whom perhaps the wrong top-down standard of leadership had been set?  Without a smoking gun, Christie could still survive.  Maybe.

By last week most reporters and analysts suggested ominously that the entire mess had reached a precarious tipping point—one more surprise, and the governor’s political path to the presidency would end abruptly.

Now Wildstein tosses a new, potentially lethal stink bomb into the mix.

Through his attorney, the former Port Authority official says that Chris Christie’s seemingly sincere mea culpa to that packed room of reporters can be disputed by way of documents—as yet unseen and undisclosed—which prove the governor was aware of the political retribution (though the letter does not specifically mention the bridge fiasco).  If true, and if Wildstein’s new evidence demonstrates a direct link between the lane closures on the G.W. Bridge and the governor, Christie’s political future could be limited.  In fact, some in New Jersey are already calling for his resignation.

Christie’s defenders are quick to point out that Wildstein is seeking a plea bargain with the investigators who are circling ever more closely to the core of the case.  Wildstein is also demanding that the Port Authority pay for his legal defense.  And like other aspects of this unfolding political drama, some observers question why Wildstein has waited until now to claim to be in possession of evidence which investigators say he should have made available six weeks ago.  (There were similar questions raised when Hoboken’s mayor Zimmer waited nine months to reveal the alleged quid pro quo on Sandy relief funds).

Among Republicans, Christie has his defenders and his detractors.  His advocates suggest that there is credible evidence that the entire affair is an organized hatchet job, pointing out that the only person to gain long term advantage from the mess is potential Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, the presumed front-runner for Democrats.  Indeed, some polls have shown the New Jersey governor as the only Republican able to best the Senator in theoretical match-ups for 2016.  Former New York mayor Rudy Guiliani has suggested that because of that polling parity between the two top candidates, the whole brouhaha has been engineered by Democratic strategists as a way to derail any threat to Clinton.

But a few in the GOP see that affair as being about as well-timed as it could be: either the governor is shown to be innocent of any direct connection to the various charges, including Wildstein’s recent allegations, in which Christie walks away, perhaps stronger for the ordeal (especially if it is shown that Democrats engineered a witch-hunt); or, Chris Christie goes down now, early, before his political collapse damages the Republican primary and debate narrative beginning, presumably, 15 or 16 months from now.  Some in the GOP suggest that a Christie meltdown in, say, late 2015, would spell disaster for a party seeking to find its way back from its poor performance in November 2012.  One independent friend said that for Republicans it would “be like watching the Hindenburg collapse in flames in Lakehurst, N.J.”

In the meantime New Jersey takes a break from the scandal and enjoys a long weekend of Super Bowl activity.  On Monday the business of politics returns, and with it, more potential bombshells in what has become known, too easily, as Bridgegate.

Related Thursday Review articles:

A Super Storm in Jersey; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; January 20, 2014.
Chris Christie: A Bridge Too Far; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; January 13, 2014.

Photo composite above by Alan Clanton; Chris Christie photo and Republican National Convention photo, Alan Clanton for Thursday Review.

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Blue State of the Union, Red State of the Union


By R. Alan Clanton, Thursday Review editor

(Originally published January 29, 2014) For those who missed it, or for those who chose to watch something else on television (for North Americans, the Weather Channel was certainly a worthy distraction considering the conditions wrought by Polar Vortex III), President Barack Obama delivered his fifth State of the Union speech to Congress and the nation.

His address lasted roughly 65 minutes and covered the gamut of what he hopes to accomplish over the next two years of his presidency.

Widely considered by most analysts as eloquent, far-reaching and “feisty” (CBS and NBC both used the “F” adjective, something meant to convey an attitude of delivery just short of “combative”), the President for the first time in many years gave a speech that contained mostly domestic policy, with very little time spent on international relations, terrorism or war.

And as has been the pattern for several years now, dating back to the last couple of State of the Union addresses by George W. Bush, the room was notably divided.  There were scant occasions when the president received anything more than polite applause from the Republican members present, and when the Democrats in the room were in standing ovation mode, their GOP comrades sat in smiling silence, or, at the best, engaged in grudging “air” applause.

In fact, the longest stretch of applause came when the president recognized the astonishing sacrifice made by war hero Cory Remsburg.  Remsburg, who was injured badly by an improvised explosive device and has struggled through a slow recovery process, received a ninety second standing ovation from nearly everyone present.  It was a rare moment of genuine unity in a room prone to divisiveness and gridlock.

In all, the President (by my count) was interrupted by applause roughly 75 times, and received ovations at least 20 times.  Predictably, those ovations were mostly the work of Democrats in the room.

But there was an undercurrent of energy to Obama’s address that seemed both genuine, if not a bit desperate.

The President sought last night to jumpstart his second term, and he labelled 2014 “a year of action.”  In the last four months, he has watched as his job approval ratings have fallen across a broad spectrum of polling, and these declines have been the most severe of his presidency.  Even some of the president’s most loyal advocates have acknowledged that there have been problems: a sluggish economy, falling wages, a disastrous roll-out of his health care program, and—perhaps most ominously—another set of poll numbers showing that Americans, regardless of their politics and their economic circumstances, feel pessimistic about their future.  Not merely uncertain, but gloomy.

Thus the emphasis, both by the president, and in the GOP’s response, on crucial domestic issues: jobs, economic growth, opportunity, government spending and health care.
At the core of the debate in the news cycles leading up to Tuesday’s speech was the president’s newfound determination to act—unilaterally, if necessary—on certain policy issues.  Seeking to simply bypass a gridlocked Congress, he plans to act on his own on a short list of priorities.  Some Republicans expressed deep skepticism, and others offered that the president is simply seeking to bypass the U.S. Constitution.  The president’s defenders and spokespersons declared that Obama must act according to his values and his instincts, and that he cannot wait on a deeply divided Congress to climb aboard.

This sets the stage for more heavy combat in Washington, and many observers expect the GOP to make much of the issue of a president engaged in lawmaking by decree or fiat.
But even analysts inclined to support the president observed that his speech was notably short on specifics, and vague on those occasions when he might have been able to easily offer details.  His much-ballyhooed action on the minimum wage, for example, which was initially reported in much of the media as a general increase, in fact is only designed to increase wages of federal contractors—certain types of federal contractors—and only those who will be hired after about March 1.  And though the wage increase is meant to be the first salvo in a plan to raise the federally-mandated minimum wage for all workers, some economists and political observers were skeptical that his $10.10 executive action would have much effect on the larger economy.

Much of the president’s speech focused on the economy and jobs.  Though he was able to point toward the good numbers, such as a general decrease in unemployment, he notably demurred on the issue most troubling to many business analysts and economists—underemployment, people working part-time jobs just to survive, a prevalence of extremely low wage jobs, and the millions of Americans whose unemployment benefits have run out and therefore are no longer “counted” in the monthly statistics.  In this area, Americans seem the most gloomy according to several recent polls.

In these areas especially, the president stressed his willingness to proceed by executive action.  But in these very same arenas we can expect Republican resistance.

Nevertheless, the White House plans to get aggressive with its plan to roll out unilateral presidential action on a number of initiatives.  And even his supporters acknowledge that his inability to find consensus and sway Congress has led him to this position of acting alone.  Further, the President has lost some support even among liberals and progressives, once his strongest backers.  Obama’s conciliatory approach meant that progressives, over time, were dissatisfied with his cozy relationship with Wall Street and big bankers, his deferential approach to the detainee program at Guantanamo, his flip-flop on what he had originally planned to be a fast withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan, his expanded use of drones in the war on terror, and his seemingly easy embrace of the NSA’s surveillance program of data collection.  (See Obama’s Progressive Deficit; Thursday Review, January 27, 2014).

Among the specific things the president requested: an extension of the Earned Income Tax Credit, which the president hopes will continue to provide tax relief for Americans who fall in the below-middle-income range.  Some Republicans agree with this plan, since it may create a favorable path toward their own opposition of a federally-mandated wage increase.

The president also touched upon his signature legislation, the Affordable Care Act.

“Because of this law,” he said, “no American can ever again be dropped, or denied coverage, for a pre-existing condition like asthma, back pain or cancer.  No woman can ever be charged more simply because she’s a woman.  And we did all of this while adding years to Medicare’s finances, keeping Medicare payments flat, and lowering prescription costs for millions of seniors.”
But Republicans were notably unmoved by the president’s remarks on health care.  During the weekend and in the run-up days before the speech, GOP leaders made it clear that they still regard Obamacare as unacceptable, another indication of the divisions in Washington.  Furthermore, some analysts pointed out that Obama’s claims regarding Medicare costs and prescription prices are inaccurate: some components of those costs have actually increased during that period.

The President also briefly touched on Iran and its nuclear program, an issue, which for some, is of immediate international concern.  Stressing that diplomacy and negotiation must be given a fair chance at success, and pointing to the delicacy of the current negotiations, Obama deferred on the question of sanctions or of a potential future in which military options may be used.

Many in Congress, including some Democrats, are concerned that diplomatic delays may simply enable Iran to proceed in secret with its nuclear program, while simultaneously granting the Islamic state a reprieve form the harshest of sanctions.

And among the other domestic areas in which the president declared his willingness to go-it-alone: the permitting processes for major public works processes, such as highways, bridges, waterways, tunnels and other infrastructure projects and upgrades.  Obama sees fast-tracking those large scale projects as essential to put thousands of people back to work, especially in construction.  But some analysts at the state level suggest that the problem is not permitting but money, and until Congress approves the funds many of the major projects will continue to languish.

The White House plans to refine and sharpen the central message of a president who sees no alternative but to act alone on several major initiatives.

The GOP responses were tactful but blunt: the president does not have the authority to act on many of his economic proposals without approval from Congress.
Related Thursday Review articles:

Obama’s Progressive Deficit; Thursday Review; R. Alan Clanton; January 27, 2014.
The Grinch That Stole Health Care; Thursday Review; Friday, December 20, 2013.

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Obama’s Progressive Deficit


By R. Alan Clanton, Thursday Review editor

(Originally published January 27, 2014) By now the famously nasty internal fight within the Republican Party, a civil war that has been waged more-or-less continuously since the GOP’s Election Day debacle in 2012, is settling in to stable battle lines and symmetrical warfare.  Eventually this too will pass, and the GOP will find its way back toward the center, and the electoral happiness it once enjoyed.

Either Chris Christie survives his current troubles, or he does not.  Either Jeb Bush enters into the fray, or he does not.  Others wait closely in the wings: Rand Paul, Bobby Jindal, Paul Ryan.  The Republicans have a relatively short window of opportunity to unify and harmonize their narrative, otherwise, they might experience more unhappiness in the face of the steamroller which will be Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Last week the RNC made official its plans to reduce the number of televised debates, to greatly limit primary confrontations, and move the 2016 convention forward to late June—moves expected to bring harmony to what became in 2008 and again in 2012 a noisy, even irrational process.  Make no mistake: the GOP intends to reintroduce discipline to the selection of its nominee, and it aims to make a mantra of Ronald Reagan’s famous Eleventh Commandment.

Meanwhile, quietly, and behind the scenes, old fault lines within the Democratic Party are rumbling and shifting—again.  It’s traditional, reliable plate tectonics, and it dates back generations.

President Barack Obama, for all his previous five years of popularity and high job approval rating, has seen his numbers plummet dramatically in the last month.  And in the context of the standard red-blue divide, this does not mean that still more conservatives or more followers of Fox News have changed their already negative opinions of the president.  This means that a lot of people somewhere in the center or the left-of-center range on the political spectrum have become deeply dissatisfied.  And some of those folks can be accurately described as progressive—a term meant to define a movement slightly to the left of moderate liberalism.

Furthermore, the president seems to have lost the full confidence of a lot of people squarely in the middle.  Some blame this on the anemic economy, which, despite its two-steps-forward, one-step-backward progress, still seems to linger in an uncomfortable netherworld of underemployment, unreported joblessness, low wages, shrinking benefits and a new health care marketplace which continues to face skepticism and resistance from millions of Americans.

Some blame the president’s current woes on gridlock—that now familiar paralysis which seems to grip any important question which passes through the body politic of Washington, D.C.  But author and journalist Bob Woodward says that it is no longer enough for the president and his minions to continue to blame intransigent Republicans in Congress for the mess.  A president, Woodward says, is essentially the CEO of the big corporation.  And as such, it falls upon the President to lead.  (Woodward, who is hawking his newest book, The Price of Politics, spoke recently at the University of North Florida; Thursday Review will have more on that topic later this week).

s lineage can also be easily traced, through Lyndon Johnson and Hubert Humphrey, through Walter Mondale and John Glenn, through Dick Gephardt and Al Gore.

In reality it has been slow-going for long-suffering progressives.  They have watched for over 25 years as the Democratic Party, in the name of regaining and occupying the centrist landscape, systematically sheared away much of the agenda closely associated with progressive causes.  The nominations of Michael Dukakis, Bill Clinton, Al Gore and John Kerry represented for many progressives an organized repudiation of the core values of serious liberalism.  Centrist mergers, like those of Clinton and Gore in 1992, and the Al Gore-Joe Lieberman ticket of 2000, were seen by many on the left as sellouts.  Indeed, the candidacy of Ralph Nader in 2000 was largely a result of a general dissatisfaction by progressives with the tone and tenor of milquetoast moderation found in the vague and uninspiring message of the Gore-Lieberman ticket.

John Kerry’s candidacy did little to assuage their fears in 2004.  In fact, Kerry’s loss to George W. Bush that year was seen as a debacle, one easily avoided had Democratic strategists had even half-heartedly embraced the progressive and lyrical left.  Instead, the ticket was pushed again into the center, pleasing few voters otherwise disposed toward the Democratic Party.

Then, we experienced that feverish and nasty fight between Clinton and Obama in 2008.  Old rifts dating back to the Bad Old Days were exposed, and after the South Carolina primary that year some mature Democrats were envisioning the gruesome specters of 1968 and 1972—history repeating itself with a deeply divided party and a deadlocked convention.

Eventually, in an act of pragmatism, Clinton and Obama resolved their differences.  It reminded many observers that neither party is truly unified, but those fault lines among Democrats are especially deep, and the airspace remains toxic when the forces of moderation, conciliation and realism are in the same room with the idealists and dedicated leftists.

As president, Obama has had his share of dustups with progressives.  Along those on the left, there has been widespread dissatisfaction: slow timetables for withdrawal from Iraq, and later Afghanistan; a sluggish approach to shutting down detainee operations at Guantanamo; an early co-option by Wall Street mavens and CEOs of big business, especially banks; an indecisive approach to long-term energy policy which places little more value in green technology than it places on expanded drilling and unconventional methods of extraction; a seemingly easy embrace of neo-con international views in the war of terror; a dramatic escalation in the use of drones as a lethal tool against jihadists; a willingness to use the Justice Department to arm-twist reporters to reveal sources and engage in covert action against the press; and most especially, Obama’s recent acknowledgement that data harvests and digital surveillance operations by agencies such as the NSA are tools which are here to stay.

Though a few of the aforementioned policies grate upon the nerves of libertarian-inclined conservatives (NSA activity, most especially), almost all of these policy patterns have become inflamed sore points with liberal progressives, once among Obama’s most loyal followers.  If these elements of the Democratic base shear away, some fear the party might again find itself ill-prepared for the realities of the Electoral College in two years.  On the other hand, party moderates fear just the opposite, and they see in the more radical language of Senator Elizabeth Warren (who sounds very much like George McGovern to some) and New York City’s Mayor Bill de Blasio (who sounds like a lot Frank Church) a possible de-alignment, in which Reagan Democrats and centrist elements of the party’s base veer back into the GOP column.

This growing source of friction speaks to the need for the Democratic Party to define itself in the run-up, already in its early stages, to the presidential election of 2016.  Hillary Clinton is seen by many as the de facto front runner (just as she was viewed in 2006 and 2007).  Even the smartest visionaries and the best readers of the crystal ball see few, if any, genuine threats to Clinton’s presumed candidacy on the horizon.

The question then becomes: will Clinton steer herself slightly toward the center, as her husband did in 1992 and again in 96; or will she steer slightly to the left?  And which tack will be the more effective for the party of Obama in the fall of 2016?

Watch closely over the next few days, for some part of that answer may be found on Tuesday night, when the President addresses Congress and the nation for his State of the Union speech.
Related Thursday Review articles:

No Business Like Show Business (Except Politics); Thursday Review; August 18, 2013.
Anatomy of a GOP Loss: Part Two; Thursday Review, Road Show; December 12, 2012.

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There’s No Business Like Show Business (Except Politics)

R. Alan Clanton, Thursday Review Editor

Sunday, August 18, 2013: Almost exactly four months ago I wrote in these very pages that “Americans love their sequels.”  I was making a comparison between the motion picture sequel—now an entrenched part of the Hollywood business model—and the political rematch, now seemingly also standard fare.

I referred to what is known in politics as the “BCD” phenomenon: Americans born after 1957, those who reached voting age by 1976, had never known a presidential election that did not include the name of a Bush, a Clinton or a Dole…not until 2008.  That hiatus from BCD was short-lived.

The irony of my admittedly strained analogy between movie retreads and political reruns is that along the increasingly blurry boundary between show business, Hollywood and electronic news (some might argue that that boundary has been nonexistent for years now) the strange and the surreal become commonplace.  Entertainment and music types weigh-in on any issue large or small, Hollywood stars can—and frequently do—run for public office, and octogenarian actors appear at political conventions without an approved script.  But that’s the nature of show business.  Or politics.  Well, maybe both.

Let’s be clear: Hillary Rodham Clinton is running for President.  Her campaign began 15 minutes after Barack Obama took his second Oath of Office this past January.  Some might argue that her campaign never ended from 2007-2008.  Though she has been cagey and non-committal in public and in recent interviews, she has a formidable campaign team already in place and actively making calls to the right people.

And though there are other Democrats and Republicans in the early stages of testing the presidential waters, Hillary Clinton—alone among them—stands as the presumed front-runner: a predictable rerun, perhaps.  Besides, even after her long, bruising primary and caucus battle with Obama, which ended a little over five years ago, it was widely assumed she would remain in the arena.  And in the wide wake created following the 2012 elections, there are few Democrats willing to challenge the presumption of a Clinton candidacy in 2016.  Even vice-president Joe Biden, who is unwilling to close the door completely on his own prospects, seems pre-shrunk when compared to Clinton.

That means the script for the sequel is back on the table, polished and ready for production, with at least one GOP heavyweight willing to step into the role of contender—former Florida governor Jeb Bush.  Talk about a Hollywood reboot.  That’s the nature of show business.

Still, we just can’t seem to leave the graves of Paddy Chayefsky and Marshall McLuhan alone.  And right now, a nasty, stagey, scenery-chewing brawl has ensued over the entertainment value of Clinton’s legacy and her de facto candidacy.

On Friday, August 16, after weeks of heated discussion and public debate, the Republican National Committee agreed to ban both NBC and CNN from participation in debates or forums between GOP candidates in the run-up to the 2016 elections.  The vote was unanimous.  Why the ouster of thr two revered news networks?  Because both CNN and NBC are in production on their own major documentaries (NBC’s film is a docudrama to be aired as a mini-series) regarding the life of Hillary Clinton, and both film projects are believed to be—at least to many conservatives—little more than big-budget marketing devices crafted to establish Clinton’s candidacy as inevitable and the next big thing.

In its statement, the RNC said that the projects were a “thinly-veiled attempt at putting a thumb on the scales of the 2016 presidential election.”  Other Republican strategists and media watchers say, at the least, both networks should agree to offer equal time for similar documentary programs which explore the lives of potential GOP candidates.

CNN was quick to respond, stating for the record that its documentary was still in production and that the GOP’s criticisms were unfounded, and surely premature.   “The project is in the very early stages of development,” said the CNN statement, “months from completion with most of the reporting and the interviewing still to be done. Therefore speculation about the final program is just that. We encourage all interested parties to wait until the program premieres before judgments are made about it.  Unfortunately, the RNC was not willing to do that.”

CNN’s response itself is a thinly-disguised attempt, perhaps, to convey what some suspect: that the CNN project might in fact be more unflinching and critical than some in the GOP expect—after all, how can a news organization seriously tell the story of Hillary Clinton while completely sanitizing the dark chapters and removing all the warts.

But NBC’s relationship to the political situation is more complex.  Robert Greenblatt, chairman of NBC Entertainment, is among several top NBC chiefs who openly supported Clinton in 2008, both with cash and through their powerful connections within the entertainment business.  Greenblatt also supported Obama in 2012.  Though the entertainment division of NBC is wholly separate from NBC News, at least in principle, both fall under the large umbrella of parent company Comcast, which also owns Universal.  This means that NBC’s mini-series may experience an even deeper penetration into TV markets and individual homes than the CNN documentary, and may therefore have a bigger impact on voters.

So, for some within the GOP who believe that both programs may be relatively fair in terms of their portrayal of Clinton—meaning  the projects will surely include the unflattering episodes from the life of Hillary Clinton—the NBC mini-series, especially, raises enormous concerns over equal time and fairness.  But to those who voted at the RNC meeting last week, the implications of Greenblatt’s close political ties to Clinton and to Obama mean that the docudrama will be anything but fair.

A few political watchers and media analysts have pointed out that the GOP brass has wanted to get to this point anyway.  The long, arduous debate season of 2011 and 2012—though seen as initially advantageous to Republicans seeking to test and sharpen their messages of attack as they approached their showdown with Obama—soon proved to be a largely damaging process for the GOP, and especially front-runner Romney.  Those dozens of debates were watched by millions, and each was then endlessly analyzed on cable news forums and blogs for weeks.  What had been viewed as a positive proving-ground for the top tier-candidates quickly turned sour, and since last November, Republican Party chairman Reince Priebus has said repeatedly that the negativity and self-immolation inflicted deep, perhaps irreparable damage to the party’s image going into the fall.

Priebus and others within the GOP now think that fewer debates will result in fewer damaging confrontations.   Hoping to limit the total number of televised debates to between seven and nine, the recent dustups with CNN and NBC give the RNC the tactical opening they needed all along.

Last week the Republican Party organized a massive email campaign titled “The Liberal Media Loves Hillary,” designed to get partisans to take the two networks to task.  The cover letter from Priebus asked followers to sign an electronic petition demanding that CNN and NBC drop plans to air the documentaries.  “The executives at CNN and NBC would rather promote Hillary Clinton’s soon-to-be presidential campaign than remain true to their purposted mission of offering unbiased news coverage.”

That many Republicans suspect the two projects will be tilted in Clinton’s favor comes as no shock.  Days earlier, GOP co-chair Sharon Day suggested in an email that the networks will gloss over many of the darkest chapters of the Clinton story, including newly expanded revelations regarding fundraiser and money-bundler Norman Hsu, accused by authorities of multiple counts of fraud, money-laundering and theft.  Others have asked (and not just conservatives) if these massive documentaries will make room for the Clinton’s current problems arising from their foundation, which ended the year 2012 with a huge $8 million deficit and a series of new questions about how campaign cash and foundation money’s may have been mishandled, and about the relationship between the Clintons and some of those corporate donors, and the complex web of money pipelines between the various entities.

The Clinton Foundation recently moved into a large suite of offices in (are you ready?) the Time-Life Building near Rockefeller Center, and across the street from (are you ready?) NBC Television Studios.  This is an obviously unrelated real estate move, but its irony was already too mouth-watering for some conservatives who see conspiracies and collusion between the Clintons and nearly all media tycoons, up to, and including, the Loch Ness Monster.

It is unclear that either CNN or NBC will be greatly moved by the GOP’s action, though a predictable outcome may be pressure—from stockholders, internal, and external—to at least offer a more carefully vetted and screened editorial process to the two film projects.  CNN says it intends to screen its documentary first in select theaters next year before it airs during prime time (and the safe bet is that it will be recycled numerous times throughout the following weeks) sometime in the spring.

On the other hand, NBC’s mini-series will no doubt be heavily promoted, and the current brouhaha serves to enhance media buzz about the program, which raises the specter of the age old paradox: ban an art show and hundreds more will appear just to see that the fuss is all about.  In this sense the GOP may lose a few short-term points as millions tune in to watch the mini-series, a measurable percentage if which may have been disinclined toward the “story” before the current controversy reached its boiling point.  Comcast and NBC get free publicity.

But the downside for the networks is of course lost viewership when those early debates finally begin, possibly in the late summer of 2015.  If the GOP makes good on its plan to reduce the total number of pre-Iowa debate to as few as six or seven, the competitors of NBC and CNN become the winners by default.  The CNN debate production formula has become an iconic and reliable fixture for those addicted to the political process (though of little interest to those generally allergic to politics in the first place).

But here’s a hypothetical: what happens if one or more of the Clinton documentaries turns out to be so unflinching that it tells the unvarnished truth?  Let the chips fall as they will.  Grab the dirty laundry and, to paraphrase Richard Nixon, go the hangout route.  NBC’s cozy relationship with the Clinton’s reduces the odds that the network of Chet Huntley, David Brinkley, John Chancellor and Tom Brokaw will be the one to present the harsher telling of that story.  So that leaves CNN, in my book the more likely news team to deliver something close to truly balanced and unfiltered.  Does that mean that at some later point the GOP and CNN shake hands and agree to be friends?

That depends on a lot of factors, and one is that CNN may agree to take a close look at its own editing processes to ensure something akin to fairness.  And there is also the legitimate and still non-assessed matter of equal time.  Would it be possible to broker an arrangement by which CNN offers up similar airtime for GOP candidates?  And if so, how would the two entities manage that template?  And which Republican candidates would receive the nod from either their own party or from CNN.

The complexity of those questions makes it unlikely in the current atmosphere that the GOP and the networks will find common ground.  In the meantime the GOP may get its strategic wish: fewer live televised debates in the run-up to 2016.  Clinton’s team continues to work systematically and diligently to establish the resources and tools needed to proceed with her de facto candidacy.

A huge political sequel is on the horizon for Americans, only this time there will be more commercials and previews while we wait in the theater for the feature presentation to begin.