ARG, Fred, and Mitt

I normally don’t write about polls, especially ARG polls. But I was struck by two things in the most recent batch.

The first one, which lots of people have talked about is Mitt Romney’s rise in South Carolina. That’s new. Is it real? Is it TV moving numbers?

But the second thing is Fred Thompson. His collapse. In every state. What happened? Is that why Romney is rising? Are early state voters starting to really make up their minds?

How anti-tax are IA GOP caucus goers?

I am curious. If, as David Yepsen notes, Mike Huckabee is doing well in Iowa, it might be because Iowa caucus-goers are relatively strange. We already know that Iowa GOP caucus-goers are much more anti-war than the national party. We also know that Iowa caucus-goers are more religious than the national primary electorate.

I number of people, including Richard Land, have noted that less conservative positions on economic issues, especially trade, could play well with religious voters. He said this in the context of Duncan Hunter a long time ago, but it could equally apply to Huckabee.

Huckabee clearly has winning contrasts on social issues with Mitt Romney. (and now there is an incentive for the big money candidates to make the contrast… A Huckabee win probably devastates Romney.) And Romney’s foreign policy credentials are no better than Huckabee’s. And if taxes don’t really matter… It would be hard to see how Yepsen wouldn’t be right.

Any good polling information on taxes or the priorities of Iowa caucus-goers?

Righty blogs: Activism versus media management

Jon Henke, currently with the Fred Thompson campaign and previously with Senator Mitch McConnell and former Senator George Allen, weighed in on the discussion about the role of righty-blogs. He said:

I think these compositional sociological explanations for the differences between Left and Right in the blogosphere and activist communities are over-complicated and unnecessary. The dominance of the Left online is not a permanent phenomenon. It is a reflection of the cyclical fact that the Left is angry, unified, surging and being effectively supported by people and organizations with long term strategic goals. They have a common cause, a unifying vision and a raison d’etre.

The Right does not.

I am pretty sure that Jon and I agree on all of this, but I want to clarify something. The sociological explanation is about activism. The structure is about managing the media. One is, in the end, a project of giving activists the tools to express their ideas, passions, etc. The other is, to some extent, a mechanical framing and outreach. Let’s look at some examples.

The Center for American Progress has a daily email. The audience for this email is Hill staffers, the press, and bloggers. It has a main article. And it has a little blog summary. The links are to a Media Matters blog (Glenn Greenwald), Think Progress, TPM Muckraker, (the 3 wings of the lefty online messaging apparatus) and a defeatist blog on Iraq.

I don’t know what the distribution is on this, but we do know that CAP is targeting the media. So they are driving media eyeballs to these blogs, raising their profile among the people who have the power to reproduce the message. And, even if they don’t actually reproduce this message, the persistent framing will have some impact.

Imagine if the right had a similar thing. A daily email with the top-line message from the right. It would contain links to milblogs that actually explain what is going on on the ground in Iraq. Explanations of the good things that the Bush administration is doing. Links to good information on the Democrats’ current legislative proposals, like a $3.5b tax increase. Links to corrupt things that Democrats are doing around the country. All in one place. And easy for the media — and bloggers — to consume. Over a year or so, this would totally reshape the blogosphere. And, frankly, this might facilitate the growth of new blogs that are more media savvy.

And we would have a separate set of emails for activists of different varieties. Probably a little more shrill. A little more closely targeted to interest groups, etc. Redstate is working on that second one. Some of the groups like AFP, FRC, RTL, etc., could also do this.

But no one is working on the first one. Heritage could, perhaps, but its focus is, legitimately, on the Hill. Rob Bluey is one person, not the 5 or 10 that it would take to implement this on a daily basis. And — this is where I say something controversial — perhaps Heritage represents the old coalition, headed by Ed Meese and a bunch of Reagan era people and grounded in the conservative movement of the 70s.

This wouldn’t take a lot of money. It wouldn’t take that many staff, but it would take smart people. And willing donors.

Brownback endorsement: Rudy and Romney

Last week, Sam Brownback met with Rudy Giuliani. Deal Hudson has an account that concurs with what I have heard from Brownback associates and with what Brownback’s people have told outside groups:

Brownback caused a controversy by accepting an invitation from Rudy Giuliani to discuss life issues following the Senator’s decision to drop out of the presidential race. 

Giuliani had called Brownback the day after his announcement to ask for his endorsement.  Brownback started to say "no" when Giuliani asked him if at least he would come by and talk about it.

Brownback accepted the invitation, had the chat, but, as expected, did not issue an endorsement. 

A rumor rushed around the Internet that Brownback had "compromised" his principles, etc.

Jim Bopp, Jr., general counsel of National Right to Life said some pretty ugly things about Brownback.  The management of NRTL had to dissavow Bopp’s comments in a press statement issued later that same day.

Very messy.  And all because Brownback was willing to listen to what Giuliani had to say, like any civilized person ought to do. 

Brownback listened, concluded Giuliani was not willing to change his positions, stepped in front of the cameras with the Mayor and said, basically, that they agreed to disagree.

There has also been some speculation that Mitt Romney will get Brownback’s endorsement. However, Romney and Brownback have been unable to schedule a meeting. When I asked a Brownback associate about the possibility of an endorsement I was told, "It is typical Romney. He says nice things while his campaign is attacking us and lying about our supporters." Followup questions revealed that he was referring to the Jim Bopp letter mentioned above, and the Romney campaign’s claim to have picked up the endorsement of "Michigan Brownback Campaign Leaders." It turned out that the "leaders" were unknown to the Brownback campaign and hadn’t endorsed Brownback anyways.

NRLC disavows Bopp’s Brownback statements

Yesterday, Jim Bopp, a supporter of Mitt Romney and former General Counsel (they actually spend text clarifying that he is the former)  to the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) attacked Sam Brownback for saying something nice about Rudy Giuliani.

Turns out that he was nasty enough that NRLC disavowed his statements. I have obtained a copy of a letter that NRLC’s President, Executive Director, and Legislative Director, they apologized for Bopp’s statements. The choice bits:

Mr. Bopp’s remarks quoted above, if accurately reported, do not represent National Right to Life, and we disagree with them …

We reject most emphatically anyone’s suggestion that you have sacrificed or would sacrifice the interests of the unborn in order to garner some "personal political benefit."

In January, 2007, the National Right to Life Board of Directors adopted a resolution urging that no NRLC state affiliate, no executive staff member of any state affiliate, and no NRLC Board member should endorse any candidate for President of the United States until an endorsement is adopted by the Board as a whole. Staff employees of the National Right to Life Committee are also barred from doing so. However, Mr. Bopp is neither a director nor an employee of NRLC. Mr. Bopp has served as NRLC’s general counsel for many years, but he is not an in-house general counsel;

In other words, Bopp was attacking Brownback, not because he was right, but because the Romney campaign asked him to. I wonder if it also means that NRLC is willing to play nice if that’s what it comes to.

Update: The American Spectator’s Washington Prowler drills down on this also:

But Bopp is now facing the same kind questions that were raised by conservatives when respected conservatives like Federalist Society leader Leonard Leo supported the nomination of former White House Counsel Harriet Miers to a seat on the Supreme Court, when most conservatives were opposing the nomination.

Bopp is now in the eye of a storm after criticizing Sen. Sam Brownback for meeting with Giuliani, a meeting, sources say, that Giuliani asked for. Romney and Brownback had a scheduled meeting for this week, but it was abruptly canceled after Bopp’s public criticism of Brownback, who ended his presidential run last week.

"Bopp is losing a great deal of credibility by attacking Brownback," says a longtime Washington-based pro-life conservative activist. "We know that Romney is at the very least a squish on abortion. But Bopp seems to ignore years of on-the-record statements and expects us to believe him and Romney’s ‘conversion’ because he says we should believe a man who has done nothing for the [right to life] movement. Nothing."

Full text of the letter after the jump. Continue reading

The infrastructure of the new political message machine

This post has two real online stimuli and a bunch of offline ones, although it is not clearly apropos of any:

The broader point that I am going to try to make is that the political blogosphere is in profound flux, and the constants have more to do with the information that it processes and exposes than the people who are doing it. This is part 1 of 2. The second post will be about the changing political blogosphere.

My point is about how campaigns and interest groups inject information into the political debate. And where the people are. I took this to be the discussion that Patrick was really working on. Patrick said:

The new progressive movement started with guys like Atrios, who then got picked up by Media Matters. Dozens of lefty bloggers are employed by the new lefty infrastructure. As far as I know, Erick Erickson at Red State, and possibly my Townhall co-bloggers MKH and Matt Lewis, are the only ones employed full time by the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy, Blog Division, who aren’t primarily journalists and as such have real freedom of action.

Now, Stoller objects:

Finally, it’s important to realize that there’s been almost no investment in the liberal blogs, which is dramatically different than what has gone on with the right side of the web, where Regnery Publishing literally bought Redstate, Republicans have been feeding Drudge tidbits since 1997, fellowships for people like the Powerline guys are the norm, and even the military is intensely cooperative.  While peripheral groups like the Center for American Progress, Media Matters, and Moveon do deploy capital, actual activists have almost zero support either institutionally or financially.

I side with Patrick on this. A bunch of leading lefty bloggers have been picked up by the ideological media and interest groups. Ezra Klein to the Prospect,  Kevin Drum to the Washington Monthly, Oliver Willis and Duncan Black to Media Matters, Glenn Greenwald to Salon, and Think Progress is a "project of the Center for American Progress Action Fund" (the website even says "Faiz Shakir is the Research Director at the Center for American Progress and serves as Editor of ThinkProgress.org"), etc. (interestingly, The Atlantic has tried the same, with Matt Yglesias and Andrew Sullivan, but none of their "righty" bloggers are really part of the righty blogosphere)

On the right, there has been some of this, but less. Redstate is owned by Eagle and Townhall by Salem. Robert Bluey is now at Heritage, where part of his job — I think — is to inject more Heritage information into the blogosphere. Are there any other major examples? (Ed Morrissey to Blog Talk Radio seems related but I don’t know how to parse)

So let’s be clear what has happened. Media Matters and CAP were started — to explicitly critique and shape the mainstream media — and hired a bunch of good bloggers … to blog, often with MM and CAP talking points. They are distribution mechanisms. Some of the lefty media has also hired good bloggers … to blog. The only person who I can think of who has gone from blogging to the righty media is Dean Barnett, and he no longer blogs.

On a broader level, what has happened is that a certain component of the research departments of the DNC has been outsourced to CAP, MM, and TPM and they have created distribution channels to move that information. The RNC and our campaigns have to worry about "no fingerprints" when they move negative material. The entire distribution mechanism on the left is built around this problem. These groups can also attack the the White House. Let’s be clear. The DNC the congressional Democrats don’t have to worry about fighting back against the White House. CAP, MM, and the blogs do that for them. There is no similar capacity on our side.

I want to step into history for a moment. Similar things have been done in the past on the GOP side. In 1982, the Washington Times was started to, in part, get the Reagan message out. Heritage helped give analytic firepower to a GOP congressional minority. One of the great untold stories of the Gingrich Revolution is the relationship between Heritage and the GOP congressional majority. Prior to 1994, congressional committee staff ratios were sometimes as high as 10-1 in favor of the Dems. (now they are about 2-1, in favor of the majority, with a couple of exceptions) Heritage allowed congressional Republicans to have the analytic capacity to fight back. When the GOP took over in 94, they slashed staff levels. In many cases, the Democratic committee staff fell by over 100 people. And we still had Heritage, while the Dems had no analytic capacity. But they had the administration which can crunch its own numbers and do its own credible analysis.

Two other interesting side effects of the role of Heritage. The first is that Heritage supports the Republican Study Committee and the Senate Republican Steering Committee, the two conservative caucuses. One, of several, reasons that the congressional GOP moderates lose so many fights is that they are opposed by significant analytic capacity. The second is that  Hill staffers can download talking points and give them to their boss. This means that GOP Hill staffers tend to be — and can be — more politically-oriented and less policy-oriented. That is one source of GOP message discipline.

It wasn’t until the Dems lost the White House and the Congress, that they realized that they needed organizations like CAP. And CAP, unlike Heritage, focuses on the media.

Stepping back from history, into today, conseratives and Republicans have not built the message distribution mechanism. On today’s memeorandum leaderboard, ThinkProgress is #6. It is a thinktank. If you combine the results for TPM, TPM Muckraker, and the Horse’s Mouth, they are almost tied with ThinkProgress. Information is produced by those guys.  Combining the two of those, only NYT and WaPo initiate more stories. And all of those are framed, very, very effectively, by bloggers who work for Media Matters.

Now, conservatives have alternative media outlets that can move our message, when we have them. Rush, Fox, etc. But those don’t drive news, they drive opinion, and you need both. Blogs are important because they drive news. Therefore, it is clear that we need a mechanism to drive the news cycle. Some of that will be informal coordination. Some of that will be a mechanism similar to CAP, MM, and TPM.

We have done this before, but only when out of power. It will develop. But it sure would be handy to have before then. It strikes me that there should be plenty of soft money willing to demonstrate that Hillary Clinton is a crook or that the corruption of congressional Democrats makes John Doolittle and Jack Abramoff blush. But the guys with the cash are sitting happy because their guys are, for now, in power.

Cheap Date Conservatives

Mickey Kaus doesn’t buy John McCain’s new position on immigration:

I’m continually amazed by the Cheap Date Conservatives I run into who think McCain has somehow convincingly changed on immigration.

How does this not apply to the entire field? This seems to reflect something about the base. What McCain is doing is pretty clear. He is cutting a deal. People need the fence for psychological rather than practical reasons. I cite the McCain quote from the Vanity Fair story:

"By the way, I think the fence is least effective. But I’ll build the goddamned fence if they want it."

McCain’s assessment of the efficacy of the fence was confirmed by a commentator and seeming conservative hero:

that’s a technical problem. In this day and age, I would not think you would have to use bricks and mortar to get that job done. But we ought to do everything that we can to get it done to the extent that we can

That was Fred Thompson, just months before entering the race. Never mind Mike Huckabee’s and Mitt Romney’s outrageous flip-floppery on this issue. Or Romney’s general flip-floppery.

I have trouble understanding Mickey Kaus’s amazement. You have Romney supporters running around saying that their candidate, whose position isn’t even recognizably pro-life, is the candidate for pro-lifers. You have Thompson doing a complete 180 (540?) in a matter of months on immigration. People are giving the candidates free passes on this stuff. Why is Kaus so surprised this time? At least McCain is honest about it.

Is red the new green?

Monday night, I am going to the book Launch for the latest Newt Gingrich book. A Contract with the Earth. I think this is a big deal. Once Newt takes a position, it becomes part of the mainstream in the GOP. Not in the sense that people will start to agree with you. But instead that it becomes hard for people to belittle you, like my friend Rob Bluey does on global warming. I have argued that our current position on global warming may be politically unsustainable. When business goes green, the churches go green, and Newt goes green, I am beginning to see a movement.

Next week, I will be flying to-and-from Ottawa, Canada. Hopefully, I can read this and have a review up.

McCain conference call

The theme of the call really seemed to be communication. John McCain has made clear repeatedly that he would do more than the Bush administration to communicate. He would talk more about Iraq. About the deficit. About immigration. About global warming. About judges. He believes that he would be able to get through to people if he just explained. In that sense, he seems much more like Reagan or (Bill, but not Hillary) Clinton. (Hillary seems to prefer the Bush model)

There may be some news in this. McCain whacks Rudy a little on experience and torture. He gives Rob Bluey a position on the Law of the Sea Treaty. Perhaps the most important is that he really socks it to the administration on editing scientific reports. (Is this new? Surely this came up in the Commerce Committee)

My notes follow after the jump.

McCain is in Iowa. Would have been the AARP debate, but only he and Huckabee responded. Called for working — and following — the Europeans on Iran. Talked about the DREAM Act, and a couple more things. I got in late.

James Joyner. Asked about the concept of the League of Democracies. NATO+ or ad hoc? McCain indicated that he wanted a group that had regular meetings.

"A little more than the G8. Far less than NATO. NATO is more of a political/military organization. … The League of Democracies is far more non-military, sanctions, trade agreements, diplomatic and other. Dialogue. Not as much a military organization as a … political one."

Brad Marston, who had been on the bus recently. Acknowledged climate change. Asked for thoughts on "heavy editing" of CDC reports. McCain says that he was glad to have him on the bus and had a message to bloggers, "Move yourself from the couch and get on out on the bus." In response to the question, McCain might have made some news:

"Not the first time that we have heard these reports, but I am very disappointed in the administration. … Monitoring and editing of reports by political appointees who have neither the talent or the scientific background. … For years, it was an administration position that climate change was not something that we have to address. I think that this administration will not be judged well for not implementing market based … global warming."

Jen Rubin asks about judges. McCain says that the criteria — for voting on judges — shouldn’t be philosophy. Cited Ruth Bader Ginsburg. He is proud of Gang of 14.  He made an important point about communication, which is an important contrast with the Bush adminsitration

The only that you can do is make them famous. The power of the Presidency is that you can communicate directly with the American people… ‘Here is Southwick. Here’s what he’s said. Here’s what he’s done. Why should he be blocked?’

Ed Morrissey. Asks about S-CHIP. McCain made another important point about communication that points to a weakness in the Bush administration:

"When you explain the bills in townhalls, people get it. When you explain the deficit, taxes, etc., people get it. I will not approve or sign any bill that is not paid for.  If we really care about children and their health and their wellbeing, then we are not going to lay an unfunded liability on social security … they are going to be broke.  … Go right back at them."

Jim Geraghty. Asked about the DREAM Act.

On the DREAM Act, I would have voted against it because I’ve  gotten the message a thousand times. The people want the borders secured first."

Matt Lewis. Asked two questions. The first was about baseball. McCain grew up cheering for the BRS because of one of his heros. However, now it is the teams out west. The second question was on torture and Rudy’s statement yesterday about waterboarding.

The word is experience. … Romney … lawyers … When Rudy doesn’t know about waterboarding … Nearly every retired general … they think waterboarding is torture and that we shouldn’t torture. …

Robert Bluey asked about the Law of the Sea Treaty. 

We need a law of the sea, but I do worry about some of the provisions. … I would like to see a treaty .. the Arctic, which thanks to global warming is going to become more important. … Would vote against.

McCain’s clever ad

John McCain’s new ad that is running in New Hampshire is getting lots of praise. My friends over at Granite Grok said:

Using a clip from Sunday’s Fox News Channel Republican debate, the Arizona Senator makes the case against Hillary Clinton bigtime. This thirty second clip sums up her big-spending habits in a fashion that anybody can understand and grasp– in a such a way that can’t be denied. The added inclusion of McCain’s personal history of being in captivity as a POW makes it that much more powerful.

McCain sure did hit a trifecta. Hillary Clinton, big-spending, and … the 60s. Earlier in the campaign season, Michael Barone talked about the end of boomer conflict and had this to say specifically about McCain:

John McCain (born in 1936) is a heroic member of a different generation, one whose leading politicians typically served in the military (Edward Kennedy, Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis).

Barone (who grew up in the same town and in the same social circles as Mitt Romney. All the evidence is that this familiarity has not endeared Barone to Romney) thought this about Romney:

Only Mitt Romney (born in 1947) is clearly a boomer — one who has lived his life and has taken positions (albeit some of them recently) that clearly identify him as part of the conservative half of his generation.

Is there something more subtle going on here? Is John McCain signaling sympathy and awareness of the cultural DNA of the culture wars? Is this a way to get past the seeming divide between McCain and social conservatives? Consider this from Barone:

All of which suggests that the Republicans are better positioned than the Democrats to move beyond the boomer civil war. But some things may keep us there. Attitudes on Iraq are reminiscent of those on Vietnam, the war that split the baby boom generation in two. Abortion, though overemphasized by a press full of aging boomers, is still a proxy for the cultural issues that divide their generation.

He’s got the position. The card is going to be played against him. Why not play it now and see where it takes you?