Paul Waldman

Paul Waldman is the Prospect's daily blogger and senior writer. He also blogs for the Plum Line at the Washington Post, and is the author of Being Right is Not Enough: What Progressives Must Learn From Conservative Success.

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Photo of the Day, Old-Timey Washington Edition

District of Columbia Public Library Commons

This photo is from the White House Easter Egg Roll, circa 1905. It was apparently taken not long after passage of the All Americans Must Wear Hats Act, a controversial piece of legislation that President Theodore Roosevelt signed despite not being much of a hat-wearer himself. It was repealed during World War I, to the great relief of a nation oppressed by mandatory hat-wearing, as part of the Headgear To Wargear program, under which hats were cut into pouches in which soldiers could carry spare ammunition.

Don't Worry About Jeb Bush — He'll Be Fine

A lot of the news around Jeb Bush of late has concerned his potential hurdles and the skepticism he supposedly inspires among the Republican base. So we get articles with titles like "In Iowa, Jeb Bush Risks Support With Unpopular Stances" and "NBC News Poll: Republicans Are Divided Over Jeb Bush Candidacy," which are true for the moment, but Jeb has far less cause for concern than it might appear.

Let's start with Iowa. Jeb Bush is probably not going to win the Iowa caucus, because Iowa Republicans are not only not like other Americans, they aren't even like other Republicans. Which is OK for Jeb, because all he has to do is lose respectably there, after which it'll be on to the much friendlier ground of New Hampshire. Just like Mitt Romney did in 2012 and John McCain did in 2008. We tend to forget, in all the attention Iowa gets, that winning there has little if any relationship to getting the nomination.

Second, it's true that many Republicans are looking askance at Jeb now; in that NBC poll, 49 percent said they could see themselves voting for him, while 42 percent said they couldn't. Those aren't good numbers, but when Republicans get asked a question like that today, they're comparing their imaginary perfect candidate with Jeb—whom they don't really know all that well, but do know is another Bush (i.e. old news) and do know has some less conservative positions on a couple of issues. When only 17 percent say they couldn't see themselves voting for Scott Walker (compared to 53 percent who could) it's largely because while they don't know much about Walker, they haven't heard anything they didn't like. So as far as they're concerned, he might turn out to be that fantasy candidate.

As the race goes on, the field will begin to winnow down, and the answers to that question will get more concrete. When there are only, say, six candidates still running and only two that get any discussion in the press, voters will be focused on a choice, which isn't how they're focused now. And they haven't even begun to get into the electability argument, which inevitably plays a role in every presidential primary.

By the time you get to the late stages of that process, what seemed like deal-breakers back in March 2015 don't seem so important anymore. Voters become willing to compromise. As I've argued before, they're ideological satisficers: They don't need the perfect candidate, they just need a candidate who's good enough.

I'm not saying Jeb Bush is guaranteed to get the nomination; it's way too early to make that prediction. But a lot of Republicans who are turning their noses up at him now will probably be perfectly fine with him a year from now. 

The Absurdity of Asking Whether Hillary Clinton Can 'Satisfy Her Critics'

If you watched or read the coverage of Hillary Clinton's press conference yesterday, there's a phrase you heard, in one variation or another, over and over. "Clinton's email explanation won't placate critics," said the AP. "Her unlikely to satisfy her critics or stop the questions," said The Washington Post. Democrats, said National Journal, "worry her approach does little to quiet the critics."

Oh, please. Short of committing seppuku right there in front of the cameras, there wasn't anything Clinton could have done to placate, satisfy, quiet, mollify, or otherwise ease the minds of her critics. Let's not pretend we don't all know exactly how this game is played.

Whether it's because they honestly believe that she is guilty of horrible crimes that we might find if only we looked hard enough, or because they just know that keeping up a relentless stream of faux-outrage bleating is good strategy, Republicans will, for each and every day Hillary Clinton remains in public life, not be quieted. That's politics, and that's fine. But it's positively inane to ask "Can Clinton satisfy her critics?" It's as though in the Super Bowl pregame show, one sportscaster turned to another and said, "Jim, what can the Patriots do to satisfy the Seahawks' concerns?" That's not what they're there for. They're trying to win.

To be clear, I'm not trying to defend Clinton's decisions about her email or the things she said yesterday. I have some problems with both. But the question journalists are asking is clear evidence that they think "Republicans criticize Clinton" is itself a newsworthy event deserving of further coverage and discussion. It isn't, any more than the sun setting tonight and rising tomorrow.

That Republicans will criticize Clinton over this and every other issue is a given. So journalists have to then determine whether the criticisms have any merit. Sometimes they will, and sometimes they won't. If they do, then go ahead and cover it. If they don't, then there's no reason to give them more attention than they deserve. It's called exercising news judgment. We might want to give it a try. 

Photo of the Day, Damage Control Edition

Hillary Clinton, answering a few questions from reporters about her emails today. Unfortunately, no one shouted "What about your gaffes?"

Gaze In Wonder Upon My Bootstraps, Voters, For I Am Just Like You

In every election campaign, candidates assure voters that despite their fancy suits and smooth talk, they come from the humblest of origins. We were poor, they say. No running water! My mother made our clothes from old rice sacks! Dinner was one slice of bread to share between my siblings and me! And if that wasn't actually their experience, they'll tell you about the deprivations their parents or grandparents endured.

Why, exactly, are we supposed to believe that, all else being equal, it's better to elect someone who spent his youth as a street urchin? I'll get to that in a moment, but first, as Jonathan Martin reports in The New York Times, the Republican presidential contenders are particularly interested in waxing poetic about their humble roots, because of one particular candidate who doesn't have any:

As Jeb Bush stockpiles money and attracts early support, largely because of his family name, his potential adversaries are seeking to differentiate themselves by all but stating explicitly that they are no senator's grandson.

"Unlike some out there, I didn't inherit fame or fortune from my family," Gov. Scott Walker, Republican of Wisconsin, told a group of religious broadcasters last month.

Mr. Walker, whose father was a Baptist minister, may be the least subtle about it. But nearly all the candidates are introducing, or reintroducing, themselves to voters in ways that shine a light on Mr. Bush's privileged origins.

Rick Perry, the former governor of Texas, was reared on a cotton farm in a house without running water. Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, had the father who arrived in the United States with cash in his underwear, and Mr. Walker spent some of his teenage years laboring under the golden arches.

"Listen, my dad put himself through college at night. He worked at an ice cream plant in Newark, New Jersey, to put himself through college at night after he came back from the Army, and the next generation his son is the governor of the state of New Jersey," Gov. Chris Christie said at the Conservative Political Action Conference last month.

Not to be outdone, Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, told CPAC about his parents' emigration from Cuba and the sacrifices they made for their children.

It's particularly odd to see this kind of one-downsmanship in a Republican primary. This is, after all, the party that not only holds that lavishing more riches on the already rich is the surest path to widely shared prosperity, but also rains contempt down on the poor. This is the party that wants to force people to pee in a cup before they can get welfare, that is horrified by the prospect of people with low incomes getting free health insurance, that thinks that what those who are struggling really need is a stern lecture about personal responsibility and a kick in the pants. Yet they all want to tell you about how poor they or their relatives were.  

I suppose you could see it as analogous to the redemption stories so popular among the evangelicals who make up the GOP's base: I was a low-down dirty sinner, but then I was saved and now I stand before you glowing with the light of righteousness. But what it's really supposed to say is: I get it. I know what your life is like, because I've seen both sides.

The problem is that it stops there, instead of extending to the logical final step, which is that the things I advocate will reflect that experience of having been poor (or having been told by my grandfather what it was like to be poor, if that's the best you've got). Some of these candidates may have genuine hard-luck stories to tell, but somehow, through the grace of Milton Friedman, they all ended up thinking exactly the same things about economic policy. Rick Perry didn't have running water, while Jeb Bush's dad was a president and his grandfather was a senator. But the policies they advocate are basically the same: cut taxes, especially for the wealthy; cut regulations on corporations; rinse, repeat. So why should it matter which one gets elected?

If this keeps up, the first Republican debate could look like this: