Martin O’Malley

They Are What We Thought They Are

Republican DebateIowa’s behind us. And the New Hampshire GOP primary is on the doorstep.

Some clarity is emerging. As are some confirmations of earlier thoughts. Throw in some random observations.

And here we are..

Donald Trump’s winner “record” is littered with quits and walkaways. Stay tuned! This guy could take his ball and bats and go home at any time.

His history defies what he says about himself. He penchant for saying “forget about it” remains a wildcard.  Writes Ben Schreckinger of Politico Magazine:

Like many successful businessmen, the real estate developer and GOP pack leader – who often espouses his disdain for “losers” — does not see every venture and contest through to the bitter end. Throughout his career, Trump has demonstrated wild enthusiasm at the start of big projects, and ruthlessly pursued a profit agenda that, in many cases, has led him to ditch the deal when the risks, whether financial or reputational, start to outweigh the prospective reward.

From a casino in French Lick, Indiana, to a dispute with condo owners in Panama and even in renewing “The Apprentice” reality show on NBC, Trump has time and again spotted the point of diminishing returns and quit.

Ted Cruz is a shameless chameleon.

In Sunday’s New York Times, Frank Bruni vividly tells us how Cruz easily shifts from one position to another. In particular, he cites Cruz “supporting” Carly Fiorina’s attempt to be included the GOP primary in that state.

Noting that New Hampshire has a female governor and two female senators and that it would be a safe bet that “women will play an especially consequential role” in Tuesday’s vote, Bruni writes:

In the end Fiorina failed in her bid, but Cruz succeeded in presenting a version of himself that I’d not yet had the pleasure of meeting: the knight in sliming armor.

Marco Rubio is Johnny Cale, the Ralph Macchio character from the The Outsiders.

Remember Johnny, smaller and slighter than the rest – always hustling to keep up? Always wanting to prove himself to the bigger guys? Here’s a portion of the character’s description from IMDb website.

If you can picture a little dark puppy that has been kicked too many times and is lost in a crowd of strangers, you’ll have Johnny. He is the youngest .. and the smallest. He has big black eyes in a dark tanned face. His hair is jet-black … He is the gang’s pet and everyone’s kid brother.

We thought Jeb Bush was a general-election candidate, not a primary candidate.  Now we know it.

It isn’t complicated. It didn’t work in his own party, which is interesting because you have to believe his centrality is made for a general. Patricia Murphy of Roll Call tries to explain what the end of the campaign looks like.

But the men and women going out to see Jeb in New Hampshire weren’t ready to say goodbye yet. They defended him the way you’d defend an old friend, calling him “honest,” “decent” and “a good man.” His no-frills approach could play well among New England independents on Tuesday and more pragmatic Republicans in South Carolina. Jeb promised that’s where he’s going next this time with his brother, George, along.

Republican voters continue to miss the fact that John Kasich is, and continues to be, the adult in the GOP room.

The Ohio governor has bet the farm on his showing in New Hampshire, not unlike the other two governors (Bush and Chris Christie) who are trying to stake out the establishment lane – if one still exists — in the Republican Party.  Write Julie Pace and Thomas Beaumont of The Washington Post:

Kasich has prided himself on avoiding direct criticism of his rivals during the campaign, and kept up that strategy both in the debate and as he campaigned Sunday. “Wouldn’t it be great if we could win being positive?” Kasich said on Fox News.

Still, one has to ask: Does Kasich’s centrality and moderate tone make him a walking-talking anachronism? Mark Z. Barabak writes in the Los Angeles Times:

Win or lose, John Kasich will go down in New Hampshire as something of an anomaly in this most aggrieved political season.  The Ohio governor has campaigned for president on a message of relentless optimism, shunning the dark rhetoric, apocalyptic vision and slashing style of many fellow GOP hopefuls

Chris Christie’s really not a Jersey guy.

First of all, Jersey guys don’t tell you they are Jersey guys. Instead, they intentionally bump into going through the men’s room door or they stick their middle finger out the car window as they race by you. They also don’t root for the Dallas Cowboys instead of the Giants.

Jersey guys also don’t wait until this late in the campaign to chew up another candidate with attacks and sarcasm. A real Jersey guy would never have stood at that podium on the far side of the stage for this long.

Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight points out that Christie also didn’t take on Trump and allowed him, instead, to be the big dog. And that’s not Jersey.

But for Christie, whose yard signs boast of a candidate “telling it like it is,” the biggest problem of all might be Trump. Trump has usurped the Christie brand of being the unrepentantly loudmouthed alpha male who will tell you the truths that other candidates avoid.

Ben Carson … how in the world has he lasted this long?

What was interesting – and worthy of a few Google searches — in the beginning soon became bizarre and inexplicable.

David A. Graham in The Atlantic notes that Carson not only defied much of the conventional wisdom about how long his campaign would last, but that he also spent a lot of money doing so.

The surprise for Carson is perhaps not that he is fading as the race reaches the actual voting stage — it’s how it took so long. In a cycle when pundits’ many predictions have been proved wrong, it was actually fairly easy to guess that Carson, a first-time candidate with a great personal appeal but mixed-up policy positions, would end up near the back of the pack. The question is how he managed to rise and then fall back to earth.

Carly Fiorina is the GOP’s Martin O’Malley — and vice versa.

It’s all been an audition for either the vice presidential nod, or at least a role in a future Republican administration – or, much like Carson, to help promote a book. She’s already denied it, as Rebecca Leber of the New Republic wrote last year, but … c’mon!

Her latest book, Rising to the Challenge, came out the same week in May that she announced her candidacy. Many believe Fiorina is vying to be the vice presidential pick (she’s a long shot for that, too), which she denies.

So, at the end of the day, we are left quoting ex-Arizona Cardinals coach Dennis Green:

They are what we thought they are.

Our 2016 Candidates: Is This The Best We Can Do as a Country?

democrat-donkey-republican-elephantFor a moment, let’s step back from Hillary vs. Bernie, and Trump vs. … well, Trump, and address what might be the more important question – at least as it pertains to all of the rest of us.

Are the 20 candidates who started this presidential-election process the absolute best we can come up with? Or, as one friend recently said to me: “We’ve having a presidential election and the roster of candidates is worse than the Lakers’ roster.”

There are quick, talking-point answers to that question, of course: For the Democrats, the prospect of the Clinton coronation was proffered as a foregone conclusion and likely tamped down expectations. Understood, in theory. Maybe not so much in reality.

And, cutting across both parties, there’s this other interesting phenomenon – namely, that the candidates generating the most excitement and attention as well as significant support – Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz – can easily be seen as “primary candidates” only. You know, intriguing “diversions” who could never get elected in a national election.

A momentary aside: Despite the fact that many commentators link these three to voters’ “never-before-seen” disdain and disgust with the status quo, the respective manias we’re experiencing with each aren’t necessarily new. Think Gene McCarthy …

From the Los Angeles Times:

Sanders’ ideas have stirred the ideological fervor of old progressives and young millennials, just as Eugene McCarthy once did when those old progressives were young students protesting a war.

… or George McGovern, Ronald Reagan (the first time around) or Howard Dean and others.

From USA Today:

Dean himself has jumped into the comparison game.

“There’s certainly an insurgency,” Dean said of Sanders in a recent Washington Post article. “An attractive candidate is basically calling out the Democrats, much the way I did in 2004.”

But, stepping back, one (at least this one) still can’t get away from the fact that the weakness of the overall field is startling in a country of 320 million-plus people. (Look, Canada, with its population of less than 40 million, now has Justin Trudeau and … uh, never mind.)

Moving back to the U.S. …

On the Democratic side, we’ve addressed the Bernie phenomenon above. As for Hillary, short and sweet might be best – damaged; defensive; feeling of entitlement; doesn’t connect with a large proportion of people … including those who probably will end up voting for her.

From The Hill:

“Her challenge remains the same as it always has been — show voters who she is and reveal the person beneath the candidate,” said Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public policy at Princeton University. “To win people’s trust and to generate enthusiasm, she has to let some of her character come out.”

“She has so many qualifications: experience, knowledge, partisan skill,” Zelizer said, adding that the likability factor “is what she needs to work on.”

And then there’s Martin O’Malley. Could O’Malley have been a more-compelling figure, given that he’s been angling for this opportunity for eight years? Or is Martin O’Malley, unfortunately, simply who we always thought he was – and nothing more?

Are Gavin Newsom, Deval Patrick and Andrew Cuomo simply too damaged?

Is Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, the self-described “recovering geologist now on loan to public service,” unfortunately John Hickenlooper, the self-described “recovering geologist now on loan to public service.”

Is it too soon for Corey Booker and either of the Castro twins from Texas?

Did Jerry Brown shed his Gov. Moonbean  too late in life?

From the Los Angeles Times:

To watch Jerry Brown is to marvel at just how many political lives he can squeeze into his years on stage.

This Brown, who Thursday put on a conservative suit and tie to read his speech, was inconceivable in 1992 when he was storming the country in a black turtleneck — his ranting and ultimately unsuccessful presidential campaign spurred by anger and little else.

On the GOP side, the dearth of candidates was not a problem. But, similar to the Democrats’ issue, the Bush coronation that many expected got derailed because the candidate has warts – or simply was doing something he really didn’t want to do.

Quickly, working through most of the group: Ben Carson leveraged his 2013 National Prayer Breakfast evisceration of President Obama into a presidential run that mystifies many; Marco Rubio is doing well at times but still seems as if he’s on the stage four years too soon; Cruz is busy being Cruz, and arrogantly believing his shtick will translate into a national campaign; Bush is flummoxed; Carly Fiorina quickly rose to prominence and then quickly disappeared; Chris Christie and John Kasich, representing the GOP’s grown-up lane, are at the respective edges of the stage screaming and trying to get attention; Rand Paul is not understanding that his attention-getting antics on the Senate floor were years ago and he isn’t being noticed. (I’ll leave out those who sat at the kiddie table at the debates. Nothing new to say about that other than George … George Pataki?)

So a vacuum was created and Trump was more than happy to jump into it, full throated and with a clever strategy in his pocket. The strategy: play to people’s emotions with bumper-sticker proclamations, jingoistic talking points worthy of the old No-Nothing Party.

From The New Yorker:

He is the latest representative of an anti-immigrant, nativist American tradition that dates back at least to the Know-Nothings of the eighteen-forties and eighteen-fifties. On the other hand, Trump is a twenty-first-century celebrity politician who ruthlessly exploits his fame and his insider knowledge of how the media works to maximum effect.

He also possesses a dedicated avoidance of real issues. All of this buttressed by a vapor-like debate strategy that emphasized the message that he is positioned at the center of the stage because his poll numbers are the best.

(Another aside: One can’t help but wonder when poll numbers became a credible substitute for credentials, as in, “Of course, I’m qualified, my poll numbers are higher than anyone else on the stage.”)

And, so, we move forward with the expectation that Iowa and New Hampshire will start to bring us clarity. Unfortunately, as things become clearer, all we will find out is that the final two unfortunately came from the original list of 20. And, unlike the Lakers, we won’t even get a draft choice or be able to sign a free agent.

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Yes, the Democratic Long Shots Are Talking, but Is Anyone Listening?

k1610354Candidate-talk is filling up the talk shows and online and old-school news pages.  The Republican nomination is up for grabs, so GOP candidates naturally are receiving more extensive coverage. Over on the Democratic side, however, it’s a different story.  All Hillary.  All the time.  Or so it seems.But the fact is Bernie Sanders is being noticed and, in some polls, there is a meaningful increase from what was, admittedly, a low starting point.  And that’s good, because he deserves to be heard, and we deserve to hear what he says.

Other Democratic hopefuls are talking, too.  And it’s at least somewhat worthwhile to pay a visit to the bottom of most polls where three men — Martin O’Malley, Jim Webb and Lincoln Chaffee — collectively hold about a 6% position.

O’Malley, the former Baltimore mayor and Maryland governor, has been trying to get noticed for weeks — make that months.  Not surprisingly, he embraced the gun control issue this week.  He probably was drowned out, however, by the bigger names.

He kicked off what his aides describe as a “major push” on the issue last week with an email to supporters where he declared he was “pissed” by the mass shooting in South Carolina.Gun control has long been something of a political lightning rod and President Barack Obama suffered one of the biggest defeats of his administration when he made a major push for a package of gun control legislation following the Sandy Hook elementary School shooting in late 2012. While some politicians have been reluctant to confront guns, O’Malley campaign spokeswoman Haley Morris told Business Insider he has been “fearless” on the issue and plans to make it a prominent part of his 2016 platform.

“Governor O’Malley was fearless in taking on gun control in Maryland and ­standing up even to members of his own party to get results. This is an issue you will be hearing more about from him,” Morris said.

O’Malley sent an email to his supporters and said he was frustrated some people wait for “the appropriate moment to say what we’re all thinking” rather than “jumping to act.””This is not the America we want to be living in,” O’Malley wrote. “I’m pissed that we a€™re actually asking ourselves the horrific question of, what will it take? How many senseless acts of violence in our streets or tragedies in our communities will it take to get our nation to stop caving to special interests like the NRA when people are dying?”

Meanwhile, former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb, who has not announced his candidacy, decided to underline the complicated history of the Civil War€ when he chimed in on the Confederate flag issue.  His comments were more than the generic talking points used by many others.

œ”This is an emotional time and we all need to think through these issues with a care that recognizes the need for change but also respects the complicated history of the Civil War,” Webb wrote in a post on Facebook.

“The Confederate Battle Flag has wrongly been used for racist and other purposes in recent decades,” Webb said.  “It should not be used in any way as a political symbol that divides us.”Webb also took the time to dig more deeply into the issue.

“We should also remember that honorable Americans fought on both sides in the Civil War, including slave holders in the Union Army from states such as Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland and Delaware, and that many non-slave holders fought for the South. It was in recognition of the character of soldiers on both sides that the federal government authorized the construction of the Confederate Memorial 100 years ago, on the grounds of Arlington National Cemetery.””This is a time for us to come together, and to recognize once more that our complex multicultural society is founded on the principle of mutual respect,” he said.

Meanwhile, there’s also former Rhode Island Governor and Senator Lincoln Chafee. The ex-Republican is the only Democratic candidates to actually do an interview with The Skimm. More important, he tells is in another interview he isn’€™t worried about losing to Hillary Clinton.In a recent interviewwith Jorge Ramos, Chafee was asked if he believes Hillary Clinton’s vote for the Iraq War disqualifies her from running for the White House.

“Yes,”€ Chafee answered. “€œIt’€™s a huge mistake. $6 trillion, over 4,000 dead Americans. I think it’s a disqualifier.”Chafee was in fact the only Republican senator to vote against authorizing the use of force in Iraq to oust Saddam Hussein in 2002. “€œI did my homework, I didn’€™t vote for it. I didn’™t see the evidence of weapons of mass destruction.”

Ramos reminded Chafee that though he stands confident against Clinton, the numbers say otherwise: “I’€™ve seen the polls, and you’™re dead last. What’s your plan to win the Democratic nomination?”

“Well my premise has been that Secretary Clinton is not going to be the nominee,” Chafee asserted. “Then it’s down to Governor Chafee, Governor O’Malley, and Senator Sanders. And I’ll compare my record, my character, and my vision for the future very favorably. Even with Secretary Clinton, if you put her in the mix.”

Martin O’Malley’s Messaging Challenges

omalleyMartin O’Malley.

OK. Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight Twitter account was very quick on Saturday, right after Mr. O’Malley announced that he is going to challenge Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination, to point out that Mr. O’Malley has “essentially zero support” from Democratic office-holders and has just two percent support in Iowa, New Hampshire and national primary polls – far worse than Barack Obama eight years ago.

Long shot, right? Absolutely.

Numbers are numbers. But, on the word side, Mr. O’Malley’s entrance into the race could be more interesting than we think – if only for the messaging challenges the former Maryland governor faces. Setting aside the polling numbers for a moment, let’s look at what Mr. O’Malley’s record actually provides in terms of potential “marketable” messages.

His two terms as governor of Maryland included several achievements that he will repeatedly articulate as he attempts to position himself to the left of Mrs. Clinton. On the campaign trail, he will talk about a “sensible rebalancing” of wealth and he will tell us that he:

  • supported legalizing same-sex marriages
  • came out in favor of tough gun restrictions
  • eliminated the death penalty
  • raised the minimum wage
  • backed tax increases

Clearly, Mr. O’Malley wants and needs to position himself to the left of Mrs. Clinton and – in a vacuum – strong talking points based on these accomplishments would do just that. Unfortunately for him, Mrs. Clinton has been saying many similar or close-to-similar statements — the system punishes the middle class; immigration changes should be even broader; minimum wages need to be raised, etc.

And let’s not forget that Bernie Sanders, the independent Senator from Vermont who also will be in the Democratic primaries, is more of a natural fit at that end of the political spectrum. So Mr. O’Malley may find that his Maryland accomplishments – his liberal pedigree, really – do not really differentiate him in any meaningful way.

He likely will have more success with strong messages driving home his opposition to a pending Pacific Rim trade deal and the Keystone XL pipeline and his support for expanding Social Security benefits. Mrs. Clinton has been tap-dancing on and/or avoiding these issues, and they remain open as meaningful talking point for Mr. O’Malley.

While his specific issue-by-issue messaging probably still needs to be refined, Mr. O’Malley’s messaging strategy – from a macro point of view – already is clear.

“The presidency is not a crown to be passed back and forth … between two royal families,” he said in his announcement speech Saturday, a statement designed to simultaneously knock both Mrs. Clinton and Jeb Bush. But even this talking point raises some questions as Mr. O’Malley of course was the second sitting governor two elections ago to endorse Mrs. Clinton of then-Sen. Barack Obama. “She is ready today,” Mr. O’Malley said at an event in Annapolis. “She is ready to lead.”

The candidate was reminded of his endorsement in late March in a Sunday morning television appearance. He responded — cleverly, perhaps — that Mrs. Clinton was the best prepared candidate “for those times,” but then quickly: “I think our country always benefits from new leadership and perspective.”

Generation Forward, the super PAC created by Damian O’Doherty, a long-time O’Malley backer, also is emphasizing age – Mr. O’Malley is 52, Mrs. Clinton is 67 and Mr. Sanders is 73.

“We believe that Governor O’Malley is the best candidate to appeal to younger generations and the issues they care about,” said Ron Boehmer, a spokesman for the super PAC and Mr. O’Malley’s spokesman when he was in the Maryland statehouse.

Adding that Mr. O’Malley represents “new leadership” and “new ideas,” Mr. Boehmer says the governor’s record on same-sex marriage and education costs are important examples of how he will appeal to younger Americans. Mr. O’Malley, himself, has referenced a need for a “new generation.”

Mrs. Clinton was quick to respond to Mr. O’Malley’s announcement on Saturday, and her Twitter account said, “Welcome to the race, Gov. O’Malley. Looking forward to discussing strong families and communities. -H.”

Clearly, she gets an A for her quick response, but the inclusion of “strong families” in her response – from a messaging standpoint – probably is wording that she will want to stay away from as the primary season (and even the general election) roll out.

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