Tell me why

Tell me why no one attacked John Kasich last night. He’s leading the governors/former governors in New Hampshire, and conventional wisdom holds that only one (or at most two) governors will survive the New Hampshire primary. He’s a bona threat to finish ahead of Marco Rubio (and this was true even before last night) and Ted Cruz. If he finishes a close second, he could even hurt Trump going forward.

My guess is that the top three candidates don’t see Kasich as a threat beyond New Hampshire, and thus didn’t see a compelling reason to attack him. The second tier candidates — guvs and ex-guv — don’t have much ammo with which to attack Kasich. He’s most vulnerable for seeming moderate. But the New Hampshire voters who might propel him into second place are themselves moderate. Plus, Kasich comes across as likable, so attacking him carries risk.

Tell me why Christie thought it was in his interest to savage Marco Rubio. His stated goal is to be the last governor standing. Thus, he needs to finish ahead of Kasich and Bush more than he needs to finish ahead of Rubio. Moreover, there was little chance that Kasich or Bush would play the heavy last night. By playing that role, Christie risked looking bad in comparison to the two candidates he most needs to finish ahead of.

My guess is that some combination of four considerations may have been at play. First, Christie doesn’t have much ammo to direct at Kasich and Bush.

Second, Christie has built his entire New Hampshire campaign around taking down Rubio. The strategy dates back to a time when Christie thought he could break through in the Granite State, not just survive it. As things developed, the claim that Rubio is “the boy in the bubble” became a central theme of Rubio’s campaign. So he needed to make it stick last night.

He was in about the same position as trial lawyer who promises the jury in his opening statement to that the evidence will show this or that. If the lawyer doesn’t deliver, his client is in trouble. If he does deliver, he may gain extra credit (and credibility).

Third, David Drucker in the Examiner speculates that Christie hopes to stem the tide of money flowing into the Rubio campaign. Christie needs more than that — he needs the money Rubio is getting to come to him. But maybe Christie can hang in for a few more weeks even with a tepid showing in New Hampshire if Rubio falters.

Fourth, it may be that Christie just can’t stand Rubio.

Tell me why Rubio wasn’t better prepared to handle Christie’s onslaught. As every commentator in American has said, Rubio knew it was coming.

My guess is that Rubio saw the attack coming and thought he was prepared. His response — that first term Senator Obama has been effective as president in advancing his leftist agenda — wasn’t a bad one. The problem was Rubio’s repetition of it.

Rubio probably didn’t anticipate that he and Christie would go back and forth on the issue so many times. If they hadn’t, there would have been no (or less) repetition.

The natural thing for Rubio to do once he saw he needed more material was to attack Christie. He has done so in the past, and effectively.

Rubio did attack Christie some. But my guess is that his game plan was to avoid going after the New Jersey governor hard. After all, Rubio was doing well in the polls while Christie was sinking. Why spend much time “punching down” and thereby risk losing likability points?

It may also be that Rubio fell in love with the “Obama knows what he’s doing” line. It has a certain elegance as a response to the inexperience claim, and hard core conservatives are receptive to it.

* * * * * * * * * *

We can speculate endlessly about what happened to Rubio last night. What we know is that he messed up. We also know that he has been stellar in debate after debate and was stellar in the second half of last night’s.

Even the best debaters sometimes lose the plot. Ted Cruz lost it in Iowa when Donald Trump seemed clearly to get the better of him on “New York values.”

Cruz’s standing in the polls dropped thereafter, but he was fortunate. There was one more Iowa debate and Trump boycotted it.

Rubio has no such luck, so he may well pay a price in New Hampshire. But I agree with John’s observation that “the campaign season will be going on, and remaining competitive, for quite a while.” For conservatives who have reservations about Trump and Cruz, Rubio is likely to remain the most promising (and before long one of the few) alternatives.

NOTE: This post is modified slightly from the original.

CNN does the math

CNN has done the math on the speaking fees the Clintons has collected since Bill Clinton left office “dead broke.” The numbers are mind-boggling. The Clintons have done very well by themselves as class warriors for the common man:

Hillary Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, combined to earn more than $153 million in paid speeches from 2001 until Hillary Clinton launched her presidential campaign last spring, a CNN analysis shows.

In total, the two gave 729 speeches from February 2001 until May, receiving an average payday of $210,795 for each address. The two also reported at least $7.7 million for at least 39 speeches to big banks, including Goldman Sachs and UBS, with Hillary Clinton, the Democratic 2016 front-runner, collecting at least $1.8 million for at least eight speeches to big banks.

There’s a joke in there somewhere — probably more than one — but I am afraid the big joke is on us.

After last night

Watching last night’s cage match among the Republican presidential candidates at St. Anselm’s College in Manchester on ABC, I found that event an exercise in reduction. Paul Mirengoff elaborates the details in here.

At the outset, I want to insert my usual media note. ABC News should not be part of the equation for Republicans. George Stephanopoulos should not have a hand in any event sponsored by the Republican Party. He shouldn’t be within a thousand miles. Ditto for Martha Raddatz. Ditto for Donna Brazile. Democratic operatives all.

The Republican Party needs to reformulate the process. Start from scratch and come up with a system whose sole object is the selection of the strongest candidate to advance the principles of the party in the general election.

The reductions, as they seemed to me:

On events related to the Iowa caucuses, Ben Carson slightly reduced Ted Cruz.

On eminent domain, Jeb Bush slightly reduced Donald Trump.

On the Gang of Eight and so on, Chris Christie reduced Marco Rubio. He reduced Rubio into a sputtering automaton. The software froze. The beach ball of death spun wildly. It was an event out of Twilight Zone. One almost expected Rod Serling to emerge from the wings of the stage and draw the moral of the story.

The competition among the candidates at this point is not binary. Carson reducing Cruz did not elevate Carson. Bush reducing Trump did not elevate Bush. Christie reducing Rubio did not elevate Christie. I thought it reduced Christie as well, into an essential nastiness.

The net effect almost certaiainly left Trump in the commanding position he occupied when he entered. Who’s on second and third? The wheel’s still in spin.

Which of the conservative candidates would be strongest in a general election against Hillary Clinton? That is the question to which I want the answer. Putting last night’s debate scorecard to one side, that seems to me the true object of these debates. I think the choice remains one between Cruz and Rubio. After last night, however, the choice leaves me less hopeful of victory in November.

The circle game

Tom Rush made his name in the sixties folk revival; he is a peer of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Eric Andersen, and Judy Collins. Tomorrow he turns 75. I’ve loved his music for a long time and want to take the occasion to celebrate his birthday with previously posted notes from my 2011 interview with him. I hope readers who may have missed the interview might find the notes of interest.

Performing at the Club 47 coffeehouse, Rush emerged from the vibrant Cambridge folk scene around Harvard. Having recorded two folk albums on Prestige in the early sixties, he moved on to establish himself with three notable albums on Elektra in the middle of the decade. His work on Elektra culminated in The Circle Game in 1968. By my lights The Circle Game is one of the great pop albums of all time. On it Rush introduced the songs of Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, and Jackson Browne, though he closed with his own “Rockport Sunday” and “No Regrets” before the slight reprise of Mitchell’s “Tin Angel.”

Jackson Browne’s “Shadow Dream Song” opens side 2 of the album. It’s a young man’s song; Browne must have written it when he was a teenager. I was a teenager myself when I first heard it and it knocked me out. The song communicates yearning and regret in flowing rhymes. It fit in perfectly with the album’s concept, the life cycle of a romantic relationship from meeting to parting and starting over again. Fifty years later, it still sounds good to me (video below).

The Harvard Magazine profile of Rush (Harvard ’63) by Daniel Gewertz provides an informative overview of his career. If Rush has ever recorded a mediocre track, I haven’t heard it. Although I think of him as a cult favorite, his take on “Remember Song” by Steven Walters has now exceeded 6,000,000 views on YouTube. One of Tom’s gifts is finding and occasionally writing songs with which his audience identifies.

Tom has recorded three or four versions of his own “River Song,” most recently on What I Know, his first studio album in more than 30 years and one of the most played folk albums of 2009. On “River Song” Tom recaptured some of his old magic. The song is a bit of a reworking of Jesse Colin Young’s “Lullaby” from Tom’s self-titled 1970 album on Columbia Records (the first of four, not counting a best of). In “River Song” he not only recaptures some of the old magic, he even works in an unobtrusive allusion to Pascal.

I caught up with Tom for a telephone interview in 2011 on a day when he was set to make an appearance with Country Joe McDonald at the Auer Performance Hall in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He could not have been more generous with his time or more gracious in responding to my questions.

My interview was to preview Tom’s then upcoming performance at the Cedar Cultural Center in Minneapolis. At the Cedar Tom held the stage by himself, with one brief intermission, for two hours before a packed house. His show, let me note for the record, was great. Last year Tom passed through town again to perform at the Dakota Jazz Club and Restaurant with pianist Matt Nakoa. As for the show at the Dakota, ditto.

I found that even on the telephone Tom still has a striking baritone voice that radiates honesty and warmth. I mentioned how much he sounded like himself as far back as his first recordings on Prestige. “They used to tell me I sounded old. Now I sound young,” he said.

I asked him if he thought he’d still be performing for a living 50 years after he took it up. “No,” he laughed. “When I started doing this it was the path of least resistance. I graduated with a degree in English literature that had no career path attached. People were willing to pay me to sing and play guitar. I couldn’t figure out why.” He added: “I’m still trying to figure it out.” And he threw in this memory for good measure: “My mom always asked when I was going to get a real job.”

I asked him if he had a favorite English professor at Harvard. He said that he took every course that had anything to do with traditional folk music and (as he suggests in the Harvard Magazine profile) that Albert Lord was his favorite teacher. Lord was of course the professor of Slavic and comparative literature whose scholarship helped uncover the tradition of oral poetry and oral composition out of which The Iliad and The Odyssey emerged.

Lord’s classic The Singer of Tales was published in 1960, while Tom was an undergraduate. You can see why a guy who took folk music seriously, as Rush did, would have been drawn to Lord. “Lord explained how Homer managed a seemingly impossible feat,” Rush said. “The poems weren’t memorized; they were composed.” Lord himself was sufficiently impressed by Rush’s approach to folk music that he invited him back to Harvard to lecture in his class after Rush graduated.

I mentioned that I had seen him perform at Boston’s Symphony Hall in 1970 or 1971 at a weekend show during which the electricity went out. Did he remember the show? He said he can’t believe how frequently he is asked about it. He remembers it well. Rush reminded me that the power had gone out about 20 minutes into his show, and that the Symphony Hall management thought that he’d provided money’s worth to his audience. Rush disagreed; he felt compelled to rent the hall himself and invite the audience to return on Sunday for a full show. (Drat! I had to go back to school.) He confessed that the financial pain seems to have something to do with his memory of the show.

“The Remember Song” to the contrary notwithstanding, I happen to remember the last song he played that night to send us on our way. In the dark and without amplification he signed off with John Sebastian’s “She’s a Lady.”

I asked Tom whether the success of “The Remember Song” video had done anything for his career. The song is something of a novelty, not exactly representative of his work. He said that he thought the song had reminded many old fans of him (remember?) and publicized the fact that he was still out there performing. It allowed old fans to reconnect with him. When I asked him what video he would recommend that I include with my account of the interview, he picked the “Remember Song” video without hesitation.

Tom’s appearance with Country Joe in Fort Wayne addressed the subject of “activism then and now.” Coincidentally, it raised a question I had saved for last. I asked hopefully: Do you usually keep politics out of your show? “I do,” he said. “In general, politics and poetry don’t mix.” He added: “In terms of doing a show, my job is to entertain people and give them a break.” Thank you, Mr. Rush.

He finished the thought with a slight qualification: “Having said that, I’m doing more protest songs than ever before.” He mentioned a couple of songs off What I Know. One of the two songs he mentioned (Richard Dean’s “All a Man Can Do”) tactfully conveys Tom’s indignation about “the way we treat our returning soldiers,” as he puts it in the liner notes. Let’s say it one more time: Thank you, Mr. Rush.

Tom’s excellent site is here. In the video below, which looks like it dates back to the mid 1970’s, Ms. Emmylou joins Tom on stage in Boston to help out on “Louisiana Eyes” and on a rousing version of “Wasn’t That a Mighty Storm?”

NOTE: In a birthday message to fans last week, Tom noted that if “you would like to know all about my brief life so far, by the way, you might find the video documentary ‘No Regrets’ both fun and informative. Check it out!” Tom listed some upcoming birthday concerts with pianist Matt Nakoa. (His concert schedule is here.) Referring to the photos of the two of them that he sent along with the email message, Tom writes: “Here are a couple of pictures of us on stage. In the second one, Matt is obviously thinking, ‘OMG and WTF, how can Tom possibly have so much talent and genius!!!’ Alternatively, he may be thinking, ‘Where’s Jack Kevorkian when you really need him?’”

Chris Christie’s suicide mission may make this a good night for Trump and Kasich [With Comment by John]

The first portion of tonight’s GOP debate, as well as the post-debate coverage, was dominated by the clash between Chris Christie and Marco Rubio. Christie assailed Rubio for not having governing experience and compared him to Barack Obama, who was also a first-term Senator when he ran for president. In addition, Christie criticized Rubio for allegedly relying on 25-second sound bites.

Rubio responded by saying, in effect, that Obama’s problem hasn’t been incompetence or lack of experience. Indeed, he insisted, Obama knows exactly what he’s doing — transforming America internally and weakening it abroad.

When Christie continued to press the attack, Rubio repeated his “Obama knows what he’s doing” line several times. This played into Christie’s hands by seeming to confirm that Rubio relies on sound bites. Christie pointed this out, saying “here it comes, the 25-second sound bite.

What to make of this?

First, I don’t think Christie helped himself. Assuming that Rubio loses support due to the debate, that support isn’t likely to go to Christie, who came off as nasty and at times obnoxious tonight, and who has steadily been losing support in New Hampshire. Rather, it is likely to go to other candidates, especially John Kasich, who seems to play well in New Hampshire, who had a good night, and whom Christie praised during the debate.

To the extent that Rubio, doesn’t lose support but has his momentum stopped, the main beneficiary will be Donald Trump, who did pretty well tonight and (with a potentially important exception discussed below) did not draw fire from the other candidates.

Second, Rubio may have known what he was doing when he made the argument that Obama knows what he’s doing. This is a much-debated question among conservatives — namely, whether Obama is incompetent or, instead, is very competently undermining the country as we have known it. (Actually, both can be true — Obama may be incompetent when it comes to performing basic presidential functions, but quite good at implementing his radical agenda).

I tend to agree with Rubio, as do most of the conservatives I pay attention to. Whether this has become a mainstream Republican view is another question.

Third, whatever the validity of Rubio’s point, he erred in repeating several times. As I said, this played into Christie’s narrative that Rubio is canned. Unless Rubio’s spiel works extraordinarily well with focus groups, his repeated reliance on it seems like a definite minus for him.

Fourth, Rubio also struggled when Christie attacked him for not fighting for the Gang of Eight legislation. Rubio basically answered that he got it through the Senate, but it couldn’t pass the House. Therefore, he moved on to a different approach.

It wasn’t the worst response in the world — no worse than answers he’s given when pressed on immigration in other debates. In a normal debate, I don’t think much would be made of it. But following his earlier struggle, this exchange was not good for Rubio.

Fifth, after the first third of the debate, Rubio did extremely well. He spoke eloquently and knowledgeably about every issue he addressed.

He got the better of Martha Raddatz (who seemed determined to debate both Cruz and Rubio) when she took him on regarding how to defeat ISIS. Rubio called for a Sunni coalition; Raddatz said this is what Obama is doing; Rubio countered that Obama can’t get an effective coalition because the Sunnis don’t trust us. He then rattled off the reasons why Sunnis don’t trust Obama.

Rubio also gave a nice answer to the question of what conservatism is. He spoke eloquently about abortion too, but I think his position (no exception for rape and incest) may be too socially conservative for most New Hampshire Republicans and independents. But then, Rubio will probably be happy if he gets just 25 percent of the vote on Tuesday.

Here, then is the big question: How badly, if at all, has Rubio been damaged?

I don’t know. The media is portraying his performance as bordering on the calamitous. I’m not so sure. It seems more likely than not that, at a minimum, Rubio will stall, but will he slide? Maybe. I wouldn’t be surprised if Rubio drops from second place to third or fourth.

At the same time, I wouldn’t be shocked if he continues to advance. In some important ways, he’s a very attractive candidate and he did have some excellent moments.

What about the other candidates? Here’s my take:

Donald Trump had a pretty good night. His answers were a little better than normal and he was rarely under attack.

Jeb Bush did hammer him on eminent domain, though. Trump defended it as necessary to build bridges, highways, and the Keystone Pipeline that conservatives like. But Bush pointed out that Trump used eminent domain for a limo parking lot, not a “public purpose.” When Trump said that Bush is trying to be a tough guy tonight, Bush asked what’s so tough about taking an old woman’s property.

Still, if Rubio had a bad night, that means Trump probably had a good one.

Ted Cruz was mostly in the background tonight. He played into Trump’s hands when, at the outset, he backed away from saying (as he has said recently) that Trump doesn’t have the temperament to be president. This enabled Trump to say, in effect, see how I’m able to get people to back down; I’ll put this to work for the country as president.

Cruz took a few hits for his campaign’s decision to tell Iowans that Ben Carson was leaving the race. But overall, it was basically a neutral night for Cruz, I think.

Ben Carson again got the short stick from the moderators. It seemed like there were long stretches when he was frozen out. When he did speak, his answers were usually mediocre, with a few splashes of his trademark good humor.

Jeb Bush did well tonight, and not only on eminent domain with Trump. But we may be past the point where a good debate performance helps Bush much.

Will Bush be viable if he finishes behind Trump, Kasich, and one or both of Rubio and Cruz? We may soon find out.

John Kasich had a very good night, I think. His moderate, non-angry, can-do persona seems to work well in New Hampshire — well enough, in any case, to give him hope of obtaining, say, 20 percent support. Kasich played the role better tonight than he has in the past. He was more eloquent and less choppy. The fact that Christie praised him certainly didn’t hurt.

I’ve already expressed my doubt that Chris Christie helped himself tonight. He acted as if he is competing only with Rubio. A more realistic assumption is that he’s competing mainly with Kasich and Bush to be the last governor standing in a four man race. In fact he has said that this is his short-term goal.

I doubt that he will meet this goal. I suspect that, instead, he will be next governor out.

If so, Marco Rubio won’t mind one bit.

JOHN adds: It wasn’t a good night for Rubio, but three minutes don’t make a campaign. Ronald Reagan had at least one bad debate performance, now little remembered, and bounced back. Who knows? A year from now, last night’s debate may be recalled as the time when Chris Christie blew his chance to be Attorney General in the Rubio administration. We will have a better idea how important last night’s debate was, and in which directions, when the New Hampshire votes have been counted. But one way or another, the campaign season will be going on, and remaining competitive, for quite a while.

The Coming Hillary Meltdown?

Interesting tidings in the media the last 24 hours that suggest a smoldering volcano of Democratic discontent and near panic. The Democratic establishment has cleared the field for Hillary, and she’s having trouble putting away Bernie Sanders! If she can’t handle Bernie Sanders, how will she match up with a Republican nominee?

Colbert King, a reliable liberal columnist at the Washington Post, sends out the message:

Clinton email scandal: Why it might be time for Democrats to draft Joe Biden

The Hillary Clinton email issue is developing into a real whodunit, complete with Clintonesque legal semantics. “I never sent or received any material marked classified,” she said with respect to the discovery of classified information on her private, unclassified email server. That surface denial nearly rivals Bill Clinton’s classic: “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.”

But this is no laughing matter. . .

After reviewing how problematic Hillary’s account of the matter is, King closes with this:

Just a thought: As a precaution, the manager in the White House dugout might consider telling the bullpen to start warming up Joe Biden.

Hillary is also resisting releasing any texts of her Goldman Sachs speeches, which are bidding to be come the Mitt Romney tax returns of this cycle. From the New York Times:

In response to a question at Thursday night’s debate, Hillary Clinton said she would “look into” the possibility of releasing transcripts of her paid remarks to banking, corporate and financial services companies like Goldman Sachs.

But by Friday morning, it did not appear that much looking was underway.

Joel Benenson, Mrs. Clinton’s pollster, gave little indication at a Wall Street Journal breakfast with reporters that the transcripts would be forthcoming.

“I don’t think voters are interested in the transcripts of her speeches,” he said.

Whether they are made public is up to the Clinton campaign. Speaking contracts typically give the speaker the right to decide whether any material from a particular speech can be shared beyond the room. Goldman Sachs, for one, declined to make an on-the-record statement.

I’ll bet these speeches include a lot of slobbering from the Dowager Countess of Chappaqua about the greatness and genius of Goldman Sachs. Over to you, Bernie.

Maduro, Sanders and Clinton: Compare and Contrast

Socialism always fails, and it’s always someone else’s fault. In the last stages of socialist collapse, when there is not enough to eat and society teeters on the brink, “wreckers” and “saboteurs” are the traditional villains. That’s the point Venezuela has reached.

President Nicolas Maduro is now blaming Lorenzo Mendoza, the head of Empresas Polar SA, Venezuela’s largest food company, for the country’s food shortage. (I’m not sure who is taking the fall for Venezuela’s lack of toilet paper.) Maduro says Mendoza is a “thief” and a “traitor.” He threatened to unleash the bully boys on whom socialism always depends:

“He’s a true thief,” Maduro said to a crowd of red-clad supporters. “I call on the people to unmask Lorenzo Mendoza in the streets. I’m waiting for you Lorenzo Mendoza.”

Mendoza has had the temerity to call on Maduro to follow sane economic policies. That is more or less a crime in a socialist country.

Maduro has long maintained that Venezuela’s triple-digit inflation…

Triple-digit inflation is what happens when a socialist government thinks it can stave off poverty by printing paper.

…and deepening recession are the result of a smear-campaign waged by his rivals.

Of course! If only we all believed in pixie dust, it would work.

Venezuelans line up to buy price-controlled toilet paper

Venezuelans line up to buy price-controlled toilet paper

Maduro’s opponents counter that the state of the economy is the result of more than a decade of state controls and government incompetence.

Well, yeah. But where socialism reigns, reality is unwelcome. Maduro, of course, has a solution: more socialism!

“If you can’t handle your companies, hand them over to the people,” Maduro said.

Maduro will be lucky if he doesn’t wind up hanging from a lamppost like Mussolini. But let’s not forget that his predecessor and mentor Hugo Chavez, whose policies Maduro has perpetuated, was popular with American liberals. Only Chavez’s untimely death spared him from Maduro’s humiliation.

Bernie Sanders calls himself a “democratic socialist,” apparently to put space between himself and Communists. Chavez and Maduro were and are democratic socialists. Both were elected to office. So it is fair to take Venezuela as a model of what Sanders wants for the United States. Hillary Clinton, too: she is trying to run to Sanders’s left, equally socialist but more hard-line on gun control.

So here is a question: how is Nicolas Maduro’s demonization of Lorenzo Mendoza and other “saboteurs” different from Sanders’s and Clinton’s attacks on an amorphous “Wall Street”?