Photo of the day

This was in a really good David Roberts article about practicality versus ideology on the Democratic side.  Worth a post.  For now, I couldn’t resist this photo:

sanders millennials

(Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)Millennials for #revolution.

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Even bad polls matter

Great column from John Cassidy on how important polls are even when they are wrong.  It’s all about the expectations and polls are hugely important in setting those expectations:

Given that opinion polls failed to predict the result of the Republican caucus in Iowa, it might be wise not to place too much stress on what they’re saying about the New Hampshire primaries tomorrow night. We can’t simply ignore the polls, though. Often, they turn out be right, or right enough, and they help to set expectations for all of the candidates. Whether these expectations are surpassed sometimes matters as much as the actual result.

Take Donald Trump’s performance in Iowa. If you had said six months ago that Trump would place second there, with 24.3 per cent of the Republican vote, many political experts would have described that as an impressive achievement. But, because Trump had risen to the top of the Iowa polls in the weeks leading up to the February 1st election, the result was widely interpreted as a huge setback. Marco Rubio, on the other hand, exceeded his polling numbers, and thus the expectations that they had created. His third-place finish, just 1.2 percentage points behind Trump and 4.5 percentage points behind Ted Cruz, prompted an immediate shift in perception among pundits and the online betting markets. In fact, Rubio instantly replaced Trump as the bettors’ favorite to win the G.O.P. nomination…

Is this pattern fair, or good for democracy? Perhaps not. It is the way modern political campaigns work, however, and not just in the United States. Poll results drive media coverage, which in turn can drive polls. If you are a candidate with low poll ratings, the media tends to ignore you, and it’s very hard to raise your numbers. If you are on top of the polls, like Trump is, the media serves as your trumpet. The process is circular and self-reinforcing, not unlike a bubble in the financial markets. [emphasis mine]

So, whoever “wins” New Hampshire today is going to depend far more on how top candidates fared compared to recent poll numbers than on how many votes they got.

Why Marcobot really hurts

There’s political gaffes and there’s political gaffes.  Far and away the worst are those that reinforce (or even worse help to create) a media narrative about a politician.  Al Gore could have said any number of stupid things and he was never going to be painted as ignorant– he was going to be framed by the media as a liar.  John Kerry could have said something intemperate and outrageous, but it would be noted for it’s possible “flip-flop” character, not for being intemperate.  Without a doubt, the media develops a conventional wisdom/narrative on candidates and they very much like to tell their stories through this lens.  When it is a negative narrative, the last thing you want to do is help them out.  Classic example– the reason Rick Perry’s “oops” moment was so devastating was because he was already seen as an intellectual lightweight.

Anyway, Ezra Klein is all over it in the case of the Marcobot performance on Saturday:

There’s a good case to be made that Rubio’s glitch at the debate won’t matter. As my colleague Andrew Prokop notes, Cruz was thought to have had a bad debate right before the Iowa caucuses, but he won anyway. And who knows? Maybe Republican voters agree with Rubio that it’s of paramount important to establish that Obama is an evil genius rather than a bumbling fool.

But I think it will matter, and the reason it will matter is that this is what the other campaigns have been privately saying about Marco Rubio all along — that he just isn’t ready to be the nominee. Before Saturday, it was a convincing enough message that the Republican Party hadn’t united around Rubio, despite the obvious benefits of doing so. After Saturday, the argument has a lot more force.

Gaffes matter when they confirm underlying doubts about a candidate. That’s why Rick Perry’s “oops” moment echoed so far and wide — it validated suspicions that Perry wasn’t quite up to the rigors of the campaign. If the same thing had happened to Romney, it would’ve been a one-day story, because Romney was a PowerPoint presentation reincarnated as a human being — no one believed he couldn’t remember a bullet-pointed list of three items.

Rubio’s stumble on Saturday was an “oops” moment; it confirmed underlying doubts about his candidacy — doubts that the rival campaigns have been whispering in Republican ears for months now, with surprising success… [emphasis mine]

This doesn’t mean Rubio is finished, of course. He’s hardly the first promising primary candidate to stumble amid the heat of the race, and this is hardly the worst crisis a promising candidate has ever faced…

If Rubio really is as good a candidate as he’s seemed at certain times in this race, he has plenty of time to prove that Saturday night was an aberration and win the nomination. But insofar as he was hoping to unite the party around him after New Hampshire, that’s no longer going to happen.

Fatal to his campaign?  Of course not.  But is this going to color future reporting about him for the rest of the campaign?  Almost assuredly.  That’s why this hurts so bad. In fact, here’s the lede from last night’s Post story about his campaign:

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Marco Rubio delivered his closing argument in New Hampshire Monday night — and gave his opponents more fodder for attacks in the process.

Appearing in Nashua at his final campaign rally before Tuesday’s Republican presidential primary, the Florida senator made a point that he often makes on the campaign trail about instilling values in children. Then, he made it again, using nearly identical words. This came just two days after Rubio took heavy criticism for repeating himself in a televised debate. He appeared to realize that he was repeating himself toward the end of his Monday remark.

The Post story the day before referred to Rubio’s “robotic” debate performance.  I’ve never seen Rubio referred to as robotic before this weekend.  Or, as Kevin Drum smartly commented:

Unfortunately, now that Christie has pointed out Rubio’s index-card habit, everyone is going to be looking for it on every other subject too. Reporters will be combing through his debates and stump speeches looking for canned talking points, and then doing side-by-side comparisons as if he’s an author being accused of plagiarism.

Yes, yes, yes.  The whole way reporters are going to approach Rubio going forward has changed.  And in a way that makes his road ahead substantially harder.

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