The Morning Jolt


All Betos Are Off

Rep. Beto O’Rourke campaigns in Houston, Texas, November 11, 2017. (William Philpott/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Even after his passing, John McCain offers one last hard lesson about loyalty to a trio of his former aides; Texas Democratic Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke hits a tough news cycle, which ought to generate some tough questions about his hype-to-results ratio; and a revelation about how NBC News managed to miss some of the year’s biggest stories.

John McCain’s Final Lesson: Always Stab From the Front

Our old friend Eliana Johnson writes about a surprising omission from the John McCain memorial service guest list beyond Sarah Palin: “Three of the most prominent members of [McCain’s] 2008 presidential campaign — campaign manager Steve Schmidt, senior adviser Nicolle Wallace and longtime strategist John Weaver — were not invited to any of McCain’s services, according to three people familiar with the guest list.”

The article includes this golden quote:

“That cathedral will be filled with people who stabbed McCain in the front. Schmidt and Nicolle and Weaver stabbed him in the back and you can’t find a single McCain loyalist who will say different or feels different,” said one of the people familiar with the guest list and funeral arrangements.

Some of the lingering animosity stems from Schmidt and Wallace cooperating with Mark Halperin and John Heilemann on their 2009 book Game Change, which turned into an HBO movie. The movie portrayed Schmidt as the principled hero, McCain as craven and desperate to win, and Palin as Frankenstein’s monster, oblivious to basic facts such as the fact that World War II was fought against Germany. Other McCain staffers who were in the room during those purported moments said those scenes in the film are pure fiction.

Johnson dryly notes that all three are now affiliated with MSNBC, Wallace as a host of its 4 p.m. weekday show Deadline: White House and Schmidt and Weaver as network contributors.

The celebration and elevation of former McCain staffers who are willing to tell all and denounce their old boss and admit their ticket’s victory would have been a national disaster — a low-key version of a Maoist “struggle session”? — is pretty unique in our national politics. You don’t see former Mitt Romney staffers on MSNBC talking about what a terrible pick Paul Ryan was.

In 2007, longtime Democratic consultant Bob Shrum wrote an entertaining tell-all of his unsuccessful campaigns over the years, with some unflattering anecdotes of his past candidates. But that book more or less ended Shrum’s role in politics, it didn’t elevate him; Fox News Channel didn’t give him his own show to tell its viewership that Democrats are every bit as bad as they think.

In 2010, Andrew Young wrote a tell-all about John Edwards’s campaign and the effort to cover up the Rielle Hunter affair. Young does not appear to be involved in politics anymore. Joe Trippi wrote a mostly but not entirely flattering account of the Howard Dean 2004 campaign, and he continued to work in Democratic politics.

Did any staffers write an embarrassing tell-all about the Obama campaign? (Maybe nothing embarrassing happens if you win.) Or John Kerry’s campaign? Or Hillary Clinton’s campaign? Some undoubtedly cooperated with Shattered, the Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes book from 2017, but we haven’t seen any Hillary staffers reinvent themselves as high-profile outspoken critics of their old party the way Schmidt, Weaver, and Wallace have.

You can blame the media for setting up this wildly imbalanced system and lucrative-incentive structure encouraging Republican staffers to switch sides. Or you can recognize that just about every high-level presidential campaign staffer sees embarrassing moments, ugly fights, potential scandals, and other dirty laundry. (This is why most people who have worked in politics say the incompetence and infighting depicted on the comedy cut of Veep is much more realistic than the Machiavellian secret-plots-within-other-secret-plots of House of Cards.) Most campaign staffers understand that a big part of the job is trust. If your boss and coworkers can’t trust you . . . what good are you?

And if the candidate couldn’t trust you . . . why should you be invited to the funeral?

What Makes Beto O’Rourke So Special?

I’m not so sure that Texas, a state that elected George W. Bush governor twice and for president twice, will find a long-ago driving-under-the-influence conviction disqualifying. But Democratic Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke can expect at least one uncomfortable news cycle over this:

Although the arrest has been public knowledge, police reports of the September 1998 incident – when the Democratic Senate candidate had just turned 26 – show that it was a more serious threat to public safety than has previously been reported.

State and local police reports obtained by the Chronicle and Express-News show that O’Rourke was driving drunk at what a witness called “a high rate of speed” in a 75 mph zone on Interstate 10 about a mile from the New Mexico border. He lost control and hit a truck, sending his car careening across the center median into oncoming lanes. The witness, who stopped at the scene, later told police that O’Rourke had tried to drive away from the scene.

It is rather revealing, however, that Texas Monthly could write an 8,500-word profile of O’Rourke and spend one half of one sentence on it.

Rereading that lengthy Texas Monthly profile of O’Rourke earlier in the year, I’m struck by how the candidate’s life seems . . . well, ordinary. He has no rags-to-riches story; his father was a well-connected former judge and entrepreneur and his mother ran a furniture store. He went to Columbia and formed a punk-rock band. He spent his initial post-college years “holding down a series of entry-level and temp jobs.” Unhappy with life in New York City, he moved back to El Paso and eventually formed a company that managed websites. He ran for city council and won in 2005 and promoted an ambitious redevelopment plan for certain neighborhoods, garnering accusations of gentrification. The redevelopment plan was only partially enacted, in part because of the Great Recession. In January 2009, the city council took up a purely symbolic resolution pertaining to cross-border relations, and O’Rourke offered a purely symbolic amendment encouraging an “honest, open national debate on ending the prohibition on narcotics.” This generated a stir, and in 2012, O’Rourke took on Silvestre Reyes, the local Democratic congressman in a district where winning the Democratic primary all but assures a general-election victory. O’Rourke was helped by a comfortable incumbent taking things for granted and a report by the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington thst questioned Reyes’s payment of $600,000 in campaign funds to himself and his family members. O’Rourke won a narrow victory in the primary.

And since then, O’Rourke’s been a generally reliable Democrat in Congress, at least by Texas standards. He votes with President Trump’s position about 29 percent of the time; note that while Trump won Texas overall, he got clobbered in O’Rourke’s district. He’s been pretty active on veterans issues and a loud critic of his local VA office.

And that’s it. No military service, no tales of heroism, no rescuing a cat stuck in a tree. No remarkable or groundbreaking legal work. (Before being elected to the Senate, Ted Cruz had argued before the Supreme Court nine times and won five cases.) The only thing he’s run is the website company. The work on the El Paso city council is . . . fine, but hardly revolutionary or a role-model renaissance that other cities are studying and aiming to emulate. His record in Congress is tough to distinguish from almost any other House Democrat.

Oh, and to the extent it matters, Beto O’Rourke is not Latino. He has no Hispanic heritage. “Beto” is a nickname for Alberto. He’s as Irish-American as I am, but that doesn’t stop NBC News from running headlines like, “In Texas, Beto O’Rourke’s rise fuels hope for Latino Democrats.”

No doubt, he’s got charisma and a pithy way of summarizing his arguments, like, “If Juárez is thriving, El Paso is thriving. And vice versa. So we have a selfish interest in what happens in Juárez economically, and we have a human interest because it’s who we are.”

And that’s apparently all he needs! Peter Hamby is writing in Vanity Fair that O’Rourke should be discussed as a potential 2020 Democratic presidential candidate:

 Whether he wins or loses his race — and yes, even if he loses — O’Rourke should be included in every conversation about the 2020 Democratic primary. That’s because, unlike most of the paint-by-numbers politicians in his party, O’Rourke actually understands how politics should be conducted in the Donald Trump era: authentic, full of energy, stripped of consultant-driven sterility, and waged at all times with a social-media-primed video screen in mind.

Okay, but . . . is being good at running for president what the country actually needs in a president? Do we learn nothing from cycle to cycle?

Remember when this country used to elect governors? You know, folks who had built legislative coalitions, signed or vetoed legislation, made appointments, activated National Guard personnel, balanced budgets, granted commutations and pardons, gone on trade missions, and given state of the state addresses — all of the sorts of things a president does?

ADDENDUM: It sounds like if you’re a reporter at NBC News, some of the biggest stories are going on in the next cubicle:

Rich McHugh, [Ronan Farrow’s] producer, who recently left his job in the investigative unit of NBC News, is the first person affiliated with NBC to publicly charge that the network impeded his and Mr. Farrow’s efforts to nail down the story of Mr. Weinstein’s alleged sexual misconduct. He called the network’s handling of the matter “a massive breach of journalistic integrity.”

NBC denied his characterization on Thursday, saying Mr. Farrow’s work was not broadcast-ready when the reporter decided to take his reporting to The New Yorker.

Also, the Morning Jolt will return on the Tuesday after Labor Day.


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