Sunday, May 31, 2015


Here's the headline to a story about Marco Rubio from a recent issue of National Journal's print edition:

While his rivals spar elsewhere, Rubio is putting a stranglehold on South Carolina.
Hunh? Marco Rubio -- who's currently in ninth place in South Carolina according to both the Real Clear Politics and Pollster poll averages -- has "a stranglehold on South Carolina"? Really?

The story here -- and I'll admit that it's a legitimate campaign story -- is that Rubio is making an extraordinary effort to try to win the South Carolina primary. But that's not how National Journal is reporting this. Because so little of consequence actually happens day to day in our endless campaigns, much of our campaign journalism consists of stories spoon-fed to reporters by campaign insiders, and therefore reported exactly the way the campaign wants them reported. So we're told here that Mr. Ninth Place probably can't be beaten in South Carolina, so his rivals probably shouldn't bother trying:
... In the six years since launching his Florida Senate campaign, Rubio has become an adopted prince of South Carolina's political royalty. And not by chance. Rubio, whose national ambitions became apparent even before he was sworn into the Senate, quickly identified South Carolina as the home base for his eventual presidential effort, seeing this early-primary state as a more natural fit -- culturally, ideologically, geographically -- than either Iowa or New Hampshire. He has acted accordingly in the years since -- snatching up the state's top talent for his political operation, cultivating personal relationships with influential people on the ground, and making repeated trips to keep tabs on his burgeoning circuit of supporters in the state.

As a result, Rubio has quietly achieved something in South Carolina that no Republican candidate can claim in Iowa or New Hampshire: an organizational lock on one of the most important states en route to the GOP nomination.

The senator's inner circle is stacked with South Carolina veterans. His super PAC is headquartered in Columbia and run by the capital's most experienced strategist. And Rubio has secured the support of major players in the state's business community.
Well, yes, that's impressive -- but if he comes limping out of Iowa (where a new Des Moines Register poll has him tied for sixth place, 11 points behind leader Scott Walker) and New Hampshire (where he's competitive but is still only in fourth place), can even the best organization in one state guarantee him a win?

To National Jornal, the answer is basically yes:
"Senator Rubio has put together a first-class team," says Matt Moore, chairman of the South Carolina GOP. "Politics is all about institutional knowledge, and Senator Rubio's team has decades if not centuries of institutional knowledge in South Carolina politics.... They understand what motivates voters, how races have been won here in the past, and how races might be won here in the future." ...

"You can tell who's serious about South Carolina," says Glenn McCall, the state's Republican national committeeman. "The people Rubio brought on board are very well respected. When they call, people listen. Those hires tell me Rubio understands what it takes to win South Carolina."
And this isn't showing up in the polls why exactly?
Rubio's operation is eager to keep the network he has built under wraps for now, hoping to disguise its strength in the state and avoid attacks from rivals for as long as possible.
Oh, I see -- he has terrible poll numbers in South Carolina by design. It's all part of his ingenious strategy!

And besides:
Rubio's team doesn't want to rely on poll numbers to project his relative strength.
Oh, I see. He's really strong, just not according to your so-called "polls."

There's more gush here -- about how compatible Rubio and South Carolina are, and about how it's much more impressive to win there than in stinky old Iowa or New Hampshire:
Unlike Iowa with its heavy influence of evangelicals, or New Hampshire with its hordes of fiscal-minded libertarians, South Carolina is home to a cross-section of the party: social conservatives, business interests, defense hawks, and an outspoken slice of tea partiers.

In other words, it's a natural home for Rubio, whose capacity for winning the nomination derives from his ability to appeal across the GOP's ideological divides.... "Marco matches up very well with this state," [J. Warren] Tompkins [of the pro-Rubio super PAC Conservative Solutions] says. "The candidate who wins South Carolina is the one with a broad enough appeal across the spectrum of the party."
All this could play out Rubio's way, as predicted -- but if you report it as if it absolutely will play out his way, you're flacking for the candidate, not even doing minimally objective horserace journalism. But, far too often, flacking is what campaign journalists do. They report on campaigns the way CNBC reports on business -- rewriting one campaign's (or party's) press release after another. It's awful.


Victor said...

Yes, and in 1962, the NY Mets with Richie Ashburn, Frank Thomas, and Gil Hodges - among other former stars and Minor League phenom's - looked like a sure contender for the NL Pennant.

Until they finished in last place with the worst record in modern Baseball history...

Everybody looks great on paper.
It's when you get off the paper, and enter real life, that proves what you really are.

Pops said...

I guess no one told Lindsey Graham "SC is your home state and sent you to the Senate 2x BUT we know own it, right? Please? Rubio needs this.please?"

Thrax said...

Steve, you're missing the most important part. National Journal just blew Rubio's cover! It undermined Rubio's sneaky, sneaky strategy by writing all about it! Boy, that's the last time the Rubio campaign talks to National Journal. Those jerks.

petrilli said...

That fluff piece just illustrates why we should get all of our political news from Luke Russert.