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To Successfully Run For President, You Have to be Running For President

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While the Republican primary was essentially over after Rick Perry’s Ambien-and-Tito’s Vodka debate performance, the stories now emerging about Newton Leroy’s amusingly inept campaign do contain an important lesson.    There was this idea, first expressed by some country-fried rubes with respect to  Sarah Palin, that in this day and age having a professional, organized campaign was obsolete.    With the kids today with their Facebook and the Tweeter and the Citizens United and the waffle irons with phones on them, you just need to show up and Express Ideas and the votes will come, so being too lazy and incompetent to run a real presidential campaign isn’t a big deal anymore.   I think we’ve buried this argument for a while.   Mittens was obviously extremely vulnerable, but the fact that he was running a serious campaign gave him a certain baseline level of performance, and he was lucky enough to be running against people who couldn’t and/or wouldn’t do the boring work of assembling the kind of state operations that are the difference between winning and losing.

And give Palin this — unlike some of her more clueless supporters, she seemed to understand this.   She recognized that just staying home was the more efficient grift.   I think Newt started to actually convince himself that he could win, which is pretty pathetic.

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  • There was this idea, first expressed by some country-fried rubes with respect to Sarah Palin, was that in this day and age having a professional, organized campaign was obsolete. With the kids today with their Facebook and the Tweeter and the Citizens United and the waffle irons with phones on them, you just need to show up and Express Ideas and the votes will come

    A less strawmanish version of this argument – one that’s pretty well supported by the story in the first link – is that technology has made it easier and cheaper to have a “professional, organized campaign” for those willing and able to utilize and deploy it.

    Of course, as the story also demonstrates, technology doesn’t do you a whole lot of good if you’re not – as demonstrated by the response of the “professional, organized” Gingrich campaign’s refusal to accept the gift that walked through their front door.

  • R Johnston

    And give Palin this — unlike some of her more clueless supporters, she seemed to understand this.

    Palin’s one virtue appears to be her defiance of the Dunning–Kruger effect. She does seem to understand the areas in which she’s competent and incompetent to grift.

    • John

      Could the Dunning-Kruger Effect be a phenomenon whose existence was “proven” largely because the experimental subjects were all Ivy League undergraduates? I cannot think of a pool of incompetent people who would be more likely to overrate their own abilities.

  • efgoldman

    Its interesting that we seem to have no Palin- or Newt-equivalent grifters on the progressive/liberal/Democratic side. It can’t be because we’re more institutionally virtuous, or honest, or actually believe in the possibilities of politics and government, can it?
    (And no, The Clenis doesn’t count. Once you’re actually an ex-President, term-limited out, you’ve earned your speaking and appearance fees.)

    • That’s an interesting point.

      There were certainly plenty of such grifters in the “New Left.” Ira Einhorn comes to mind.

      And those fifth-party Marxist parties that seem to exist for the purpose of keeping nine people employed “producing the newsletter” – some of them may count.

      I wouldn’t put Lyndon LaRouche in that category, because that actually seems to be a True Believer operation.

      But among the liberal mainstream? Maybe I’m biased, but I can’t come up with any.

      • efgoldman

        I wouldn’t put Lyndon LaRouche in that category…

        I think “that category” is restricted to those who have leveraged public office to get into the grift. Thus, Snowbilly and Newt, and my specific reference to The Clenis and ex-Presidents.

        • I can’t accept any definition of “political grifter” that excludes Herman Cain.

          • efgoldman

            Fair comment.

        • Incontinentia Buttocks

          I’d put LaRouche in that category. Fred Newman and Lenora Fulani also belong in it. But these are folks on the left fringe of U.S. politics (I guess…whether LaRouche still qualifies as far left rather than far right is an interesting question). The right has grifters much closer to the mainstream, and thus more electorally successful. My impulse is to say that this reflects how right-shifted our political center is. But I do think it’s interesting that there aren’t any truly centrist grifters like this, because I don’t see any reason why there shouldn’t be (except perhaps that a truly centrist grift appears to be pragmatism rather than a grift, for none-dare-call-it-treason reasons).

          • Centrist grifters go after that sweet Op-Ed page money.

          • John

            Don’t centrist grifters just go into lobbying like Evan Bayh, Harold Ford, and such like? More really money in that, anyway.

            • R Johnston

              Centrist grifters lobby if they’re former politicians, but they’re stuck with being pundits otherwise.

          • The right has grifters much closer to the mainstream

            I think this goes to the political nihilism Mr. Goldmen alludes to in his question It can’t be because we’re more institutionally virtuous, or honest, or actually believe in the possibilities of politics and government, can it?

            This goes for both the politicians, but also the voters. A figure whose actual governing platform and ability were as empty as those of Sarah Palin simply wouldn’t have any appeal for liberal voters, no matter how good they were at riling up liberal crowds.

        • ploeg

          It holds if you have a sufficiently inclusive view of public office. The President of the US Chamber of Commerce or the National Rifle Association arguably have greater influence on specific areas of national policy than many elected officials.

      • DocAmazing

        I think any large city has gravy-train politicians dispensing patronage and sucking up donor money. I see the difference as one of degree, not of kind.

        • efgoldman

          The difference is: Politicians in office are (theoretically and actually)) providing some level of public and constituent services. That’s how patronage works. The grifters are just out there fleecing the rubes. I don’t think anyone, not even their immediate families, thinks Palin or Newt is seriously running for office, or ever will again.
          Mittster, for instance, is seriously running for president. I just don’t think he knows why he wants the job, but that’s a different question.

      • That probably reflects the differences in the griftee. Movement conservatism is, frankly, a lot like a religion in the degree to which it’s followers hold their beliefs and imagine themselves buttressed by lies, enemies, back-stabbers, etc., so people like Palin function as oracles of sorts, and that they’re irrelevant to anything is of no matter. That they can’t win isn’t proof that their followers are a minority or that they’re incompetent politicians, but that SOMEONE screwed them over. Whether that’s the liberal media, the coastal elite, the GOP establishment, whatever, the rationalizations function as such to keep the leader on top and relevant to the followers, so there’s always money to be made with another book or speaking engagement or whatever, because the followers take the grifter seriously.

        The left is fundamentally a lot less hierarchical than the right, so would be grifters are already behind those on the right because there’s a lot fewer people predisposed to care what they think about anything. The closest you could get in the mainstream left would be someone like Clinton, Carter, Gore, etc., but as former Presidents and/or longtime prominent office holders, they’re more of a true elder statesman type than a true grifter. But someone like Palin? They’re just an irrelevant former office holder somewhere with an opinion no one really cares about.

        • efgoldman

          Excellent points.

        • Incontinentia Buttocks

          And actual left grifters — e.g. Fred Newman and Lyndon LaRouche — tend to head up movements that are as hierarchical, authoritarian, and cult-like as movement conservatism.

    • Manju

      John Corzine?

      Robert Rubin as Sandy Weil’s consigliere at Citi?

      Al Gore and his Green Hedge Fund. I mean, can he actually manage money? Its not like he’s Bono.

      • Incontinentia Buttocks

        Don’t forget Robert Byrd and the KKK ;-)

        • Manju

          I was looking for a Segregationist angle, and was hoping Fmr House Speaker Jim Wright might provide a fit…but he looks clean after leaving politics.

          Would’ve been a great right-hook though, since it was Newt who finally removed the Dixiecrat from politics, in contrast to DrDick’s fairy tale Narrative of Dems doing the shedding of this sorry crew.

          Andrea Dworkin makes an appearance in his wiki bio, so I could’ve worked that in somehow too. Next time.

          • commie atheist

            it was Newt who finally removed the Dixiecrat from politics

            Yes, Newt got rid of all racism from the political system, and his calling Obama “the food stamp President” and telling blacks to get off their lazy asses, stop taking food stamps from deservingly poor white folks and start working for a living, preferably while they’re still in grade school, has no racist dimensions, WHAT. SO. EVER.

            • Manju

              Well, by this standard, you can’t even mention that LBJ signed the civil right act without someone popping in to claim you are really saying:

              LBJ got rid of all racism in the political system. When he continued to smear MLK as a Commie Athiest, there were no racist dimensions to that. When he used Goldwater’s pro civil rights votes against him in the south, no southern strategy there. Trying to stop Fannie Lou Hamer from speaking in order to keep the Dixicrats is not racist (but getting them to switch is). Nothing to see here. Keep Moving.

              • commie atheist

                Keep moving those goalposts, Manju. Next you’ll be telling me that Republicans ended slavery and Democrats fought a war to keep it legal.

          • “…it was Newt who finally removed the Dixiecrat from politics”

            Newt was the one who made Strom Thurmond end his term as Republican Senator from South Carolina in 2003, which was four years after Newt left office?

            Or were you trying to say that Newt made Trent Lott say in 2002 “When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over the years, either”, instead?

      • John Corzine?

        Robert Rubin as Sandy Weil’s consigliere at Citi?

        Granting that what Corzine and Rubin do these days is a grift, their political careers were interruptions to their grifter careers, not necessary preconditions, like Palin or Gingrich. See also Mitt Romney and Donald Trump.

        At least before Nelson, the Rockefellers understood that you hire elected officials; you don’t become them.

        • Manju

          Rubin was a straight up bond trader at Goldman. At Citi, he was a salesman selling himself. He didn’t run a division, oversee anyone, or manage money. He was just there to advise, like Newt advised Fannie. Except he took in a lot more money. Newt’s the Bridge and Tunnel crowd to Rubin.

          In contrast, its unclear whether or not Corzine was there to peddle influence. He ran the firm, made investment decisions, and lost. Had it ended there, all would be fine. Thats how its supposed to work.

          But alas he stole money from clients, apparently…making him the most straight-up grifter of the group.

          • commie atheist

            And that is relevant to Hogan’s comment how, exactly?

            • Manju

              What they did before politics was not a grift.

      • What you’re describing, Manju, are political figures who, at some point before or after their government careers, were involved in a business or non-profit enterprise that (you think) operated dishonestly.

        Without getting into the merits of your characterization, that’s not what we’re talking about when we discuss political grifters. We’re talking about people whose political, campaign activity isn’t actually an effort to achieve office and implement a program, but is merely a vehicle for self-promotion, unrelated to actually winning office or pushing a political platform.

    • Rob

      You aren’t really looking very hard. Ralph Nader is sanctimonious grift, but grift none the less.

      Well and Mark Penn, but political consultant grifters are a whole ‘nother ball of wax. And the normal ex politician turned lobbyist grift, also known as pulling a Harold Ford.

      • R Johnston

        Nader’s former life as a consumer advocate was on the left, but he’s a grifter of the right; they’re the one’s who’s money he’s taking in exchange for lying through his teeth.

        Nader also wasn’t a spectacular political failure until he started grifting; prior to that he was a competent and important consumer advocate.

        Harold Ford is not at all of the left. He’s Ben Nelson. He’s also a complete failure as a pundit grifter, with his only success coming as a lobbyist grifter.

        • Manju

          The most sophisticated measure of ideological positioning is DW Nominate, by the group of scholars who wrote “Polarized Democracy”. Nate Silver uses it and Paul Krugman calls the above book essential reading.

          From -1 to 1, the more negative a score the more liberal; the more positive, conservative

          Ford’s score -0.390, with Lee and Conyers beng the most liberal at -0.745 and -0.717. Obama’s was of -0.399, according to Nate Silver.

          http://voteview.com/HOUSE_SORT108.HTM

          Here’s the raw data. Even though its a particular congress these are lifetime scores (it appears).

          The second score is civil rights, which is not particularly relevant for Ford because of the paucity of votes (and they count all votes, including procedural). Redistributional civil rights issues are taken up by the first score.

          The two scores are segregated because historically civil rights does not align to the left-right axis…with moderately liberal Dem legislators being very conservative on civil rights while a flip occurs in the RW Party (consecutive legislators voting liberal on this one issue). Yes, its true.

          • Manju

            The most sophisticated measure of ideological positioning is DW Nominate, by the group of scholars who wrote “Polarized Democracy”. Nate Silver uses it and Paul Krugman calls the above book essential reading.

            That should be: “Polarized America: The Dance of Ideology and Unequal Riches”

        • dangermouse

          By this measure is Nader a grifter? He’s delivered legitimate services to his right wing clientele. The point of a grifter is that you don’t actually give anyone a damn thing you promise. I’d say he’s a leftwing grigter by the measure that its his left-leaning believers getting rooked.

          • NBarnes

            I’d say that Nader is specifically a leftist grifter. At least, the left are the ones he’s grifting; his grift of the Greens in 2000 was pretty legendary in scale.

            • R Johnston

              It’s not at all clear that Nader wasn’t largely sincere in 2000, nor that he was raking in the bucks for personal use. Nor was the right-wing funding of his operation so notorious and open as it is at this point. In 2000 Nader was a fool and an imbecile, but it’s no slam dunk that he was any kind of a grifter at all.

              By 2004, however, even Nader couldn’t have been naive enough to believe he was playing a useful role. However, by 2004 Nader also was completely ineffective as a spoiler. Nader had to know by then about how much of his and Green financing more generally was coming from the right.

              My take on matters is that Nader was mostly sincere and stupid in 2000, but that after he took a lot of heat from the left for the 2000 results he was embittered towards the left and still hateful of the right, and he decided to take whatever money he could get from whatever suckers would give it to him in order to promote himself rather than any politics he might believe in.

    • IM

      Well Kucinich grifted himself a wife. If that wasn’t an ingenious use of a presidential campaign, I don’t know.

      • Mark

        Weak.

        • IM

          Weak grift or weak joke?

          I still find the situation funny.

    • Warren Terra

      I think a definitional qualification is key here: there certainly are irresponsible and lazy politicians of the left (or, at least, of the left-of-center) who use those traits to cash in on an activist base. Although most of those mentioned seriously above in this subthread aren’t actually of the Democratic party, there are those within the Democratic party as well (to take a couple examples, Kucinich and Grayson; more irresponsibly and fringier, Cynthia McKinney).

      The difference is that those clowns-of-the-left, and especially those clowns-of-the-Democrats, aren’t considered to be national leaders, or even especially important figures (I suppose the Larouchies consider their tinpot would-be dictator to be a national leader, but they hardly count; they’re cultists unconnected with any wider political world, not part of the left). Meanwhile, vast swathes of the Republican base take Palin et al seriously and consider them to be potential Presidents.

      • DocAmazing

        there certainly are irresponsible and lazy politicians of the left (or, at least, of the left-of-center) who use those traits to cash in on an activist base

        Yes, they promise Hope and Change. Fortunately, they never leave the fringe.

        • Congratulations, Doc, there are two commenters on this thread who have taken the topic of grifting and used it to describe the actual, good-faith, serious governing actions of political figures with whom they disagree: you and Manju.

          Keep up the good work.

          • DocAmazing

            Yeah, nothing’s more good-faith than keeping the banksters and the Goldman Sachs crew out of hot water and in a position to continue to reward you.

            Or hadn’t you noticed?

          • DocAmazing

            You must have also missed the comments about two politicians who also served (and, in one case, still serves) in good faith: Dennis Kucinich and Carol Mosely-Braun. But they’re funny-looking and don’t pay well with the centrists, so it’s OK.

            • Warren Terra

              Mosely-Braun served in good faith? I know three things about Mosely-Brain, and that’s about all I know:
              1) She has absolutely zero record of accomplishment in office.
              2) Her then-boyfriend was using her campaigns and position to steal everything he could get his hands on, and the timeline suggests she at least tolerated this behavior for some time.
              3) She tried to run for President despite having no record of accomplishment, no national fame or constituency, and no apparent idea why she should be President.

              Kucinich is a bit different – it’s arguable he’s more interested in promoting causes than his own fame or bank account, though Seattle residents who watched him inexplicably flirt with running from Congress from the area might disagree. But he’s no stranger to the issuing of dogmatic and unconsidered remarks, and he has no actual record of legislative accomplishment, either bills he passed or bills he got changed or blocked.

              • DocAmazing

                What has either to do with grift, and how does either mark these two as any more useless/careerist than two-thirds of Congress?

    • Jake

      Not grifters and much more substantial than Palin and Cain, but Dems have had a few candidates who ran for more personal reasons.

      Carol Moseley Braun ran in 2004 to repair her somewhat tarnished reputation.
      Tom Vilsack’s 2008 run had much to do with auditioning for his next job.

  • Incontinentia Buttocks

    Mittens was obviously extremely vulnerable, but the fact that he was running a serious campaign gave him a certain baseline level of performance, and he was lucky enough to be running against people who couldn’t and/or wouldn’t do the boring work of assembling the kind of state operations that are the difference between winning and losing.

    I’d add that this is especially true in the GOP, which despite their pseudo-reforms, still largely runs winner-take-all primaries and caucuses, which allows a candidate like Willard to win almost entirely on the basis of that less-than-majority baseline support.

  • Ya know, I’m not so sure that Gingrich didn’t, in fact, prove that you can win in this day in age even if you’re out organized. That he managed to mount the challenge he did and even score the decisive victory that he did in South Carolina is certainly an interesting data point to that effect.

    If I had to guess, I’s say that the real lesson of the Gingrich campaign is that, even in the GOP, it’s hard for an insurgent candidate to mount a successful campaign if a) he’s an insufferable prick the epitomizes “likeability issues” and b) they only appeal to a narrow segment of the party. But had Gingrich instead been someone more telegenic with enough self-control not to embarrass themselves by chronically trying to prove they’re the smartest person in every room? They might well have pulled it off.

    • efgoldman

      But had Gingrich instead been someone more telegenic with enough self-control not to embarrass themselves by chronically trying to prove they’re the smartest person in every room?

      Then he’d have been someone else.
      Its like positing a Snowbilly who is well-read, well-informed, and articulate.

      • Well no, because we’re ultimately talking about a more generalized issue of necessary campaign functions. My point would be exactly what you said: Newt isn’t going to lose because he wasn’t serious about running, per se, but because he’s Newt Gingrich and Newt Gingrich is a horrible Presidential candidate.

        But in the general sense, with the proliferation of media now and the level of saturation campaign politics has reached in the news cycle these days, I think you probably could pull off an insurgent campaign like Gingrich’s if you were more likeable and could appeal to more than a very narrow set of voters (and South Carolina racists, I suppose).

        • While I agree that Gingrich will lose because he is Gingrich, his temporary ability to wound Romney was less about the current state of political campaigns and more about the particular weaknesses of Romney with respect to the Republican primary base voters and activists.

          • I thought it was obvious that we were talking about a situation in which there was no clear front runner widely embraced by the party at large.

    • Marek

      Or, if Rmoney had suffered an ill-timed scandal, Newt would have been well positioned to capitalize. I think this explains a number of the fringe candidates, actually…

      • Warren Terra

        No, not the fringe candidates. That explains Romney in 2008 or (pre-scandal) Edwards in 2008: an acceptable person who’ obviously already lost but is hanging on, somewhat pro-forma (without throwing too many sharp elbows), rather than be seen a quitter and in case lightning strikes.

        If a horrible accident were to wipe out the rest of the Republican field, Ron Paul still wouldn’t be the Republican nominee. The genuinely fringe candidates aren’t really in the race to become the nominee, not even should all happenstance go their way.

        • Marek

          OK, not the fringiest of the fringe, but that’s the idea. Wouldn’t take a horrible accident, either, just a live boy or a dead girl, as they say.

        • Jake

          I would argue that the Edwards ’08
          was more important than Edwards ’04.

          In 2008, the Edwards campaign, by necessity, often took the lead on issuing good policy ideas. By fall, 2007 he was certainly only in the race to be VP or AG.

          In 2004, Edwards launched ‘two Americas’
          but always seemed to be running for the VP slot. His campaign was based on being non-offensive and outlasting Dean and Clark.

  • Manju

    What If Newt pulls out and then puts his weight behind Santorum? Does Santorum surge from behind?

    Mitt might well try to get between them before that happens. Or maybe not. Its anyone’s guess which way he’s really orientated.

    • “Does Santorum surge from behind?”

      I’m not an expert, but yes, I believe santorum does usually surge from the behind.

      • Whoops, I meant to highlight the whole paragraph.

        “What If Newt pulls out and then puts his weight behind Santorum? Does Santorum surge from behind?”

        Because really, who doesn’t want that visual haunting their nightmares for the next decade or two?

        • dangermouse

          Further evidence for the “Manju is a uniquely subtle comedic genius” hypothesis.

          • NBarnes

            Subtle?

            • Manju

              Don’t question my subtlety, pelase. I am so obviously subtle.

    • And a boom-chicka-WOW-WOW to you too, sir.

  • Right.

    A related point is that continued importance of party notables. Media coverage almost totally ignores this side of campaigns, but in local races it’s overwhelmingly important. In presidential races, maybe a little less so, but still probably counts for more than all the debates, speeches, etc. put together. As Jonathan Bernstein says, “The bulk of nomination politics is retail, not wholesale — and the customers candidates are trying to reach are a relatively small group of party elites.”

  • Jim Lynch

    “And give Palin this — unlike some of her more clueless supporters, she seemed to understand this”.

    I won’t grant Palin any such thing. She bailed because she didn’t want to spend her nouveau riches on a lost cause, and because, as Don Rickles cruelly remarked to Bristol Palin on national TV last summer: “Because she’d lose”.

    • R Johnston

      That’s the point. Michelle Bachmann, Rick Perry, Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum all ran and had significant support at one point or another despite being absolutely sure losers and having nothing to gain with a loss (Cain was running for a FOX News sinecure and Huntsman was running in the hopes of building name recognition in case the Republican party becomes slightly less crazy over the next 4-8 years). Palin had no more reason not to run than any of the rest of them; she just recognized that reason.

      • TN

        My sense is that Palin wasn’t even willing to do the kind of work the other candidates did – shaking hands at diners, meeting with newspaper editorial boards, appearing at debates – much less the hard work of putting together an actual campaign. In part that’s because she’s lazy, and in part that’s because she feared a real campaign would reveal her as the telegenic People-magazine-reading small-town housewife she really is.

        I think she held out the tease of a campaign just in case no other candidate struck a chord with the GOP (which happened), leaving Republicans to turn to her as their beloved savior (which didn’t). That way she could get the nomination while doing zero work, zero debates, etc.

        When it comes to Sarah Palin, I don’t think you need a lot of deep insight into her strategizing. What you see is what you get.

  • Christopher

    With the kids today with their Facebook and the Tweeter and the Citizens United and the waffle irons with phones on them, you just need to show up and Express Ideas and the votes will come, so being too lazy and incompetent to run a real presidential campaign isn’t a big deal anymore.

    And someday, in the future, a Republican politician will actually have ideas to express, and we’ll finally be able to put the theory to the test.

    I suspect it will remain a theory for quite some time, though.

  • RhZ

    First I would say, why are you linking to Politico? That is counter productive, they are the Fox News of the internets. Please don’t contribute to their development.

    Secondly, please note that Politico is a mouthpiece of the Republican Establishment. As in, the people who just attacked Newt. By which I mean, you should be aware that they are not concerned about facts when writing an article like this, only with tarnishing him. Now if they have some actual juicy facts to use, and given Newt’s…proclivities, that is not an unlikely scenario.

    However, without a doubt, Politico’s so-called journalism is highly suspect.

  • Uncle Kvetch

    There seems to be a bit of confusion on this thread as to what does or does not constitute “grifting.”

    Does this help?

    • commie atheist

      Also, too.

      Those books aren’t gonna buy themselves, you know. Maybe O’Donnell can arrange to get a photo op where she’s pointing her finger accusingly at some mixed-race Kenyan Muslim President.

  • Uncle Kvetch

    I think Newt started to actually convince himself that he could win, which is pretty pathetic.

    He may have, in which case, yeah, pathetic. But whether he did or not, every day he manages to cobble together enough Adelson money to stay in the race is more free marketing for Gingrich Inc. and the various affiliates and subsidiaries thereof. If you think of his entire presidential run as one big grift, it makes a lot more sense.

    But then again on the other hand and contrariwise, “you just need to show up and Express Ideas and the votes will come” sounds awfully plausible, given what we know about Newt’s colossal delusions of grandeur. So I remain on the fence on this one.

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