Lindsey Graham May Hate Rand Paul, But The Whole Media Establishment Hates Ted Cruz
|The real housewives of Falls Church|
Rand Paul already has trackers following him around. One is connected to Jeb Bush's non-campaign and one is a Democrat. And there appear to be a couple of others who show up every few days in various places and video everything Paul says. More annoying than any oppo-tracker, however, is the ole bloodhound that's stalking the campaign. No, Lindsey Graham isn't trying to get a date with Rand Paul, he's just determined to do whatever it takes to make sure Paul never gets near the Republican nomination. Many Establishment Republicans fear that if Paul is the nominee, much of the hawkish and Wall Street bases of the party will not simply refrain from voting but could actually cross over and vote for Hillary!
Yesterday Alex Isenstadt revealed the Lindsey Graham presidential primary raison d'être: "Take Down Rand Paul. "In TV appearances, on the campaign trail, and even in private fundraisers," wrote Isenstadt, "Graham, an Air Force reservist and one of his party’s most prominent defense hawks, has gone after Paul repeatedly and by name, casting him as weak-kneed and unwilling to protect the country from aggressors." He sees himself as a foil for what he calls an isolationist senator. "My problem with Rand Paul," said Graham, "is foreign policy. He’s a libertarian and I come from a more traditional Republican perspective."
The Kentucky senator, he said, “in many ways is to the left of Barack Obama.” To defeat Hillary Clinton, Graham argued, Republicans would need a nominee with robust national defense strategy. “Sen. Paul isn’t in a good position to do that,” he said.One of the other Tea Party candidates, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, has a worse burden in his uphill battle for the nomination: the mainstream media really does hate him. They-- or most of them at any rate-- like Paul. They like Jeb Bush. They like Rubio, Christie, Walker... they even like Huckabee. But they hate Cruz. Yesterday GOP operative David Frum, writing in The Atlantic, helped shed some light on the antipathy mainstream journalists have for Ted Cruz.
Paul, 52, declined to comment on his relationship with Graham, and many of his advisers-- who over the years have observed Graham launch similar broadsides against Paul’s father, former Texas Rep. Ron Paul-- are hesitant to respond to Graham’s attacks, believing that it will only help the South Carolina senator.
“Punching down third-tier candidates doesn’t often make a lot of sense,” said Jesse Benton, a former Paul campaign manager who is now helping to lead a super PAC that will be supporting his candidacy.
But some Paul advisers are watching nervously, and are growing convinced the attacks will intensify. One aide pointed out that a group running TV ads against Paul, the Foundation for a Secure & Prosperous America, is overseen by Rick Reed, a veteran Republican operative who’s worked for Graham. On Thursday, BuzzFeed reported that Paul’s campaign had sent a cease-and-desist letter to TV stations, asking them to take down the ad, which it called deceptive.
...It’s the latest chapter in an increasingly acrimonious relationship, one that has produced a fair share of public clashes. In 2012, Paul’s political action committee began airing TV ads attacking West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat who was up for reelection, for opposing a Paul-sponsored bill that would have blocked foreign aid to Egypt, Pakistan and Libya. In response, Graham, who oversees a key Appropriations subcommittee charged with disbursing foreign aid, went so far as to appear on a conference call with Manchin to argue that cutting off the packages could have adverse effects in the region.
Paul steamed. “I don’t see myself campaigning against a Republican in a general election ever, that’s why I think it’s extraordinary that Graham is supporting a Democrat in a general election,” he said at the time.
A month later, Graham and Paul appeared on the Senate floor to debate whether to close the Guantánamo Bay terrorist detention facility. What ensued would soon become known as “The Crazy Bastard Fight.”
“Simply stated,” Graham said, “the American people don’t want to close Guantánamo Bay, which is an isolated, military-controlled facility, and bring these crazy bastards who want to kill us all to the United States.”
“I want to make formal objection to the ‘crazy bastard’ standard,” Paul swung back. “If we’re going to lock up all the crazy bastards, for goodness sakes would you not want, if you’re a crazy bastard, to have a right of trial by jury?”
In 2013, Graham appeared on the floor to lash Paul for his nearly 12-hour protest over the Obama administration’s drone policy-- which the South Carolina senator labeled a “disservice.”
The most recent flareup came on Sunday, when Graham, appearing on Fox News, said Paul’s “foreign policy is to the left of President Obama.” He added that any Republican candidate would have struck a better Iran deal than Obama. “Except maybe Rand Paul.”
Appearing on the same network just minutes after he formally declared himself a candidate for president, Paul was asked about Graham’s comments. He chuckled. “Well, almost anyone in the Congress would better defend the Bill of Rights than this particular senator,” he said. “So touché.”
[T]o the extent there are metrics, Cruz is outperforming Paul in the first phases of the presidential race. Not only has Cruz raised more money than Paul, but a National Journal survey of social media found that Cruz’s presidential launch attracted dramatically more social media interaction than Paul’s... So why is Paul a favorite topic of media speculation, while Cruz can’t make news?
I’d offer five reasons. They’re interesting in themselves, I think, but also interesting as examples of how news organizations can systematically mis-evaluate political realities.
1. Home-Court Advantage
If you live and work in Washington, DC, it’s easy to imagine libertarianism as a powerful national movement. Washington is home to Reason magazine and the Cato Institute, and to dozens of hard-working and talented libertarian writers, commentators, and policy analysts. It’s easy here to lose sight of the extreme marginality of the doctrine in the nation as a whole-- especially because libertarianism as we see it in the capital looks a lot like the preferred politics of the institutional media (socially permissive, fiscally cautious) than like the Lincoln-hating, bullion-believing, conspiracy-mongering politics of libertarianism beyond the Beltway at the Ron Paul Institute, Antiwar.com, or the Ludwig von Mises Institute. Journalists are consequently vulnerable to claims that libertarianism appeals to independents, Millennials, or some other demographically desirable group--no matter how overwhelmingly such claims are contradicted by the evidence. Meanwhile, the conservative Christian evangelicalism to which Ted Cruz looks for his base remains perhaps more underrepresented in D.C. media and culture than any other major American social group. D.C. journalists intellectually apprehend that evangelicals are important, but they have a hard time remembering that fact when they offer their commentary.
2. Media Management
Rand Paul courts and uses the media. That may sound like a strange thing to say after a week of testy Paul-media encounters headlined by a hostile interview with Savannah Guthrie on the Today program, but also including an angry back-and-forth with the Associated Press over abortion. No one likes to be cut off. But if you suppose journalists avoid testy politicians, you don’t understand the media business. Those were perfect interviews from a media point of view. They made news, generated clicks, got people talking, and made the Mediaite home page! What reporters hate, hate, hate are politicians who can never be pushed off their talking points, who don’t take the bait, and who make their news on non-exclusive platforms like YouTube and Facebook. That’s you we’re talking about, Senator Cruz.
3. A Different Kind of Conservative
Rand Paul has some extreme-- even wacky-- views on issues that media professionals tend not to understand or care about, like monetary policy, or have discounted as an inescapable feature of the American political landscape, like guns. But because Paul deviates from what’s seen as conservative orthodoxy on foreign policy, drugs, and policing, he benefits from a perception that his views are new, different, interesting, and potentially even appealing across party lines.
Ted Cruz by contrast is competing to be seen as the most Reagan-pure of the Reagan-pure, a contest that media professionals find boring and phony-- no matter that it’s almost certainly a far more important contest in a Republican primary than the contest to be most “different.”
4. Abiding by the Rules of the D.C. Machine
In their short time in the Senate-- four years in Paul’s case, only two in Cruz’s-- both Paul and Cruz have each engaged in one major media stunt: in Paul’s case, a 13-hour filibuster against the nomination of John Brennan as director of the CIA; in Cruz’s, a forced partial government shutdown of nearly two weeks. The shutdown was widely condemned as recklessly self-aggrandizing; the filibuster, accepted as harmlessly self-publicizing. Rand Paul abided by the rules of Washington for senators on the make. Cruz broke them. Paul’s utterly hopeless presidential ambitions are accordingly indulged and flattered; Cruz’s significantly less hopeless ambitions are resented and condemned.
5. "At least Rand Paul Believes What He Says."
The Savannah Guthrie question that so annoyed Rand Paul dealt with his stark reversals of prior positions in favor of new, more politically acceptable stances, especially on foreign policy. He had reason to be vexed. Paul has reinvented himself boldly through his successful political career. Even now, he seeks to distance himself from his father’s wilder statements while continuing to fundraise from a mailing list built by those same wild statements. In this, Paul follows in the family tradition: The father also denied knowing anything about the contents of the newsletters that provided the great bulk of his income in the early 1990s. For all the many revisions and misstatements in the Rand Paul/Ron Paul record, they are still credited as “authentic”-- nutcases, maybe, but at least sincere, and isn’t sincerity the most important thing?
Cruz, however, is widely mistrusted in the media as a phony. He went to Princeton and then to Harvard Law School, and excelled at both institutions. He holds a first-class membership card in the American meritocratic elite, and therefore when he says things that the meritocratic elite find outlandish or offensive, his fellow-members of that elite assume he must be acting cynically.
Nobody should bet their rent money on either a Rand Paul or a Ted Cruz nomination. The contest between them is almost certainly a battle for third place, or maybe fourth. In that battle, Cruz not Paul has the advantage. But the inclination to depict Paul as the major national political figure-- and Ted Cruz as little more than an impertinent nuisance-- reveals biases that will badly detract from political reporting in 2016.