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Fire and Nice: Cruz burns bright while Perry says, `Let’s not fight’

Good morning Austin:

Let’s begin with yesterday’s Tweet of the Day, from Texas’ First Citizen, Gov. Greg Abbott.

This seems like it could be a kind of a Rorschach test.

You might be a Texan if it brings an unambiguous smile to your face, though perhaps with a tinge of mailbox envy.

You might not be a Texan if your first thought is, isn’t there some kind of local ordinance against this, and if there isn’t, shouldn’t there be?

My first thought was, isn’t that nice, they’re still delivering mail to the Branch Davidian compound.

Meanwhile, in the presidential contest, a week into becoming the first and still only officially declared candidate for the Republican nomination (among the name contenders), Ted Cruz remains hot, very hot. His decision to be the first in seems to have paid off with a surge in his standing in the polls and attention paid, and it is clear that he the kind of lightning rod for controversy that will hold the gaze of national and local media unless and until his numbers evaporate.

He is great copy and excites passions.

Also, I love the look of his Twitter page.



Screen Shot 2015-03-31 at 4.12.57 AM

From the black and white profile picture, one is not sure whether he is a televangelist or headliner at the Sands Hotel, circa 1966. But then one notices his hands in prayer mode, and the shards of light from on high, and one knows God is on his side and that he is burning with a passion for Reigniting the Promise of America.

Cruz likes to play with fire images. At the Conservative Political Action Conference last month, Cruz told a young audience about how his father, at 14, was throwing Molotov cocktails in support of the Cuban Revolution.

“Each of you has an ability to spread a fire; I am asking you to be an arsonist,” Cruz said. “I encourage you to light fire of liberty in other young people, so it burns and rages and spreads from one young person to another. That is how we turn the country around.”

Two weeks ago, he piqued the interest of a three-year-old at a New Hampshire appearance – and got a torrent of national coverage – when he declared “the whole world’s on fire.”

And, you can see from his Twitter page that he has taken for his logo the flame symbol for natural gas.



Washington Gas
Washington Gas


Or is it Pentecostalism.



Screen Shot 2015-03-31 at 4.58.27 AM
Church of Pentecost


As Sarah Pulliam Bailey wrote in the Washington Post, under the headline, Ted Cruz’s logo: A burning flag, Al Jazeera’s logo or a Pentecostal church logo?:

It’s common for Pentecostal logos to include something with fire in them, connected to a verse about Pentecost. “They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them,” Acts 2:3 says.

Meanwhile, there is Rick Perry, who is expected to announce in May or June that he too is running for president.

Here is a recent Web ad from RickPAC.

Perry’s world does not appear to be engulfed in flames.

He says:

This is really about the next generation, regardless of who you are or what the sound of your last name is … regardless of whether you are right or left. We need somebody that can can stand up and say, “Let’s quit fighting each other. Let’s find the places that we can agree on.” We’re looking for someone in this country who has the experience to take America on a different path than it’s on today.


You know there’s nothing wrong with America today that can’t be fixed with new leadership.

Regardless of whether you are right or left.

Let’s quit fighting each other.

Let’s find the places that we can agree on.

What about, there’s no red America or blue America?

And even President Obama knows that’s bunkum.

But here is Rick Perry offering himself as the anti-Cruz, a healing, uniting figure, an elder statesman who knows how to govern. Well, in a crowded field every candidate has to find their niche.

With his gift for retail politicking, Perry seems to be looking to humbly insinuate himself back into national contention, one person at a time, in Iowa and New Hampshire; to establish himself as some people’s first choice but almost everyone’s second or third choice, an acceptable alternative across the party spectrum, and then lay back and bide his time while the rest of field, one by one, takes each other out.

The problem for Perry is how to remain in the mix long enough to still be around if and when that moment arrives.

During his unfortunate last go-round with presidential politics, E. Michael Young wrote in American Thinker that Perry didn’t come across as likable enough:

After slipping in the national polls from the high 30s, briefly leading his Republican rivals, to his current position around 10%, Rick Perry is attempting a comeback with his flat tax proposal.  But he will never regain the lead unless he changes his style at the debates.  In short, he must become more likable.

 In the final analysis, when all is said and done, the determinative factor that decides presidential elections is who is the most likable candidate.  This might be a depressing fact to comprehend — are American presidential elections, the process by which we choose the most powerful man in the world, nothing more than high school popularity contests?  Well, if you scan over the last several presidential elections, you will see that this is indeed the case.


If you don’t like the high school popularity contest analogy, then perhaps you might like the TV show analogy better.  The average American watches over four hours of television per day.  So when Americans pick a presidential candidate, they are subliminally thinking about whom they would prefer to see on TV every day for the next four years.  In 2008 they rejected the idea of watching John McCain in Grumpy Old Men and decided instead to watch Obama in The Fresh Prince of D.C.

 The point is that the most likable candidate usually wins the election, and in the last four debates — and especially the last one in Nevada — Rick Perry has not been an attractive figure.  He looks mean-spirited and angry.  Instead of talking about his own accomplishments and offering a positive vision, he constantly attacks his rivals, often in a ham-handed, cheap fashion.

 Rick Perry needs to relax and allow the softer, more appealing side of his personality to show.  As Perry grows more confident and gets accustomed to the overwhelming demands of the campaign, he might overcome the fight-or-flight instinct that seems to take control of him at these debates.  A self-assured, successful man, like Reagan, he can make jokes about himself and not feel the need to meet every implied insult with a kidney punch.

Perry has many endearing qualities he can use to his advantage.  His ruggedly handsome face, which can unexpectedly soften with a boyish grin, is definitely an asset.  On the stump he is very engaging and energetic.  When he gets out and meets the people, he can be relaxed and charming.  And he is improving in the one-on-one interviews, like the one he recently did with Bill O’Reilly, where he came off as thoughtful, almost articulate, and yes, more likable.

It appears that this time, Perry clearly has likable down.

But, as Dave Carney, who advised Perry in that campaign, has noted, “Making a first impression a second time is hard, very hard.”

In an email last night, Carney laid out the difficulty of the task now at hand for Perry.

As for Governor Perry I don’t know what their plans are but I would suggest he has three objectives.

Raise enough money to stay in the game regardless of his standings in the early contests. I’d say well north of $50m combination of both hard dollars and the elixir of all contenders dreams – Super Pac funds.

Second, he needs to continue to grow both in the state public polls and nationally to be considered serious. This takes funds, time and an organization in enough states to be credible through the early March super duper Tuesday.

And thirdly, a message that takes advantage of his strengths: fiscal discipline, economic powerhouse, jobs jobs jobs, and his populism. He must get a slice of each of the establishment vote and the social conservative block and a portion of the libertarian vote. All of this done through the prism of the Jr High meme of the national (and more then a few local) cynical and churlish political reporters.

He needs excitement, credibility and organization to appear viable in order to attract activists and then primary voters. That is not easy!

I thought I knew what Carney meant by reporters’ Jr. High memes, but I asked him to clarify.

Petty mean girls. Cool kids and the not so cool kids. When one cares more about what table in the cafe you sit at then how good a student leader one might be! 

Cruz appears now to be a first tier candidate, or at any rate, in the first tier of public and press consciousness. Perry runs the risk of falling into that great morass of the also-running.

The likely field of name-brand candidates is now well past a dozen and on its way to two dozen.

This week has George Pataki and (Austin native) Carly Fiorina, advertising the increasingly favorable odds of their jumping into the race.

From Freeman Klopott at Bloomberg:

George Pataki, the former three-term New York governor, has a tip for gamblers: Place your chips on his running for president.

Pataki has traveled to New Hampshire six times since September and two weeks ago appeared at the Republican National Committee’s donor retreat in Boca Raton, Florida. In an interview with Rita Cosby on WABC in New York, Pataki said he’ll probably run, suggesting that the only hold ups are campaign-finance laws that would limit his fundraising once he formally declares.

“If you care about the country, it’s very hard to sit on the sideline if you believe you have the ability to run a government like this country’s well,” Pataki said Sunday. “At this point, I am strongly inclined to do it.”

Pataki has grappled with running in the last two presidential races. He said he’s closer to entering the field than ever. 

“If I were a betting person, I would bet that I’d make the decision to go,” Pataki said.

And from Josh Richman at the San Jose Mercury News:

Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina now says the chance of her running for president in 2016 is “higher than 90 percent,” and she’ll make and announce her decision in the next month or two.

 The Republican told “Fox News Sunday” that her business background — the first woman to lead a Fortune 20 company — gives her “a deep understanding of how the economy really works.” And though HP’s board forced her out in 2005 after the company’s stock value declined, she said she’s proud nonetheless of having piloted and restructured the company through the dot-com bubble’s collapse.

Fiorina, 60, who unsuccessfully challenged U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer in 2010, moved from California to the Washington, D.C., area some years ago and for now is the only woman in the field of potential GOP candidates. She has been visiting early primary states, giving speeches at conservative gatherings, and wooing contributors and staff for several months. With polls showing Fiorina has a steep uphill climb, observers say she may be setting herself up as the eventual nominee’s running mate.

 A CNN poll conducted in mid-March found Fiorina trailing 13 other potential GOP candidates among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents; a McClatchy/Marist poll conducted at the beginning of the month found her in 11th place.

“I admire her for her self-confidence,” said Larry Gerston, a San Jose State professor emeritus and political expert.

Cruz, meanwhile, is clearly on the rise since his announcement.

From the latest CBS News Poll:

Senator Ted Cruz has undergone the biggest change since last month (interviews were being conducted for the poll when he announced his candidacy): 37 percent of Republicans would now consider voting for him, last month only 23 percent said so. Senator Rand Paul has gained 9 points since last month; now, 39 percent would consider voting for him, up from 30 percent in February.


CBS News Presidential Poll
CBS News Presidential Poll

Perry was down four percentage points since February – from 34 to 30 percent who would consider voting for him – not a big drop, but moving in the wrong direction as the field begins to clarify itself.

Here is the most recent New Hampshire poll from Suffolk University.


Suffolk University Poll. New Hampshire
Suffolk University Poll.
New Hampshire

Note that Perry is barely hanging in at one percent, perilously close to the Bolton-Pataki-Pence zone.

Still, as Susan Page writes at USA Today, New Hampshire is along way off and remains very fluid.

WASHINGTON — Despite a long list of presidential prospects that includes governors, senators, corporate executives and others, a third of those likely to vote in the opening New Hampshire primary next year express dissatisfaction with their choices for 2016.


The poll provides a starting point, says David Paleologos, director of the research center. “The Republican primary in New Hampshire is fluid and offers candidates an opportunity to work hard in those counties, make their case, and launch their national aspirations,” he says.

It also illustrates the libertarian leanings of New Hampshire — where the state motto is “Live Free or Die” — in ways that put it out of step with the GOP’s national platform. The likely Republican primary voters are more likely to favor than oppose legalizing same-sex marriage, 43% to 39%. On abortion, they are more likely to consider themselves pro-choice than pro-life, 49% to 41%.

On the Affordable Care Act, 45% say the health care law should be repealed; 35% say it should be modified, and 12% say it should be “left alone.”

The Boston Herald and Franklin Pierce University also have a new New Hampshire poll, with some interesting results, especially its finding that George W. Bush is way more popular than brother, Jeb, with New Hampshire voters.


Franklin Pierce College/Boston Herald New Hampshire poll
Franklin Pierce College/Boston Herald New Hampshire poll

From the Herald report:

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has lost his front-runner edge in New Hampshire, not because GOP voters are sick of the Bush family but because conservatives are roundly rejecting him, a new Franklin Pierce University-Boston Herald poll shows.

Bush is tied with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker at 15 percent, while a pack of other GOP contenders are within striking distance, according to the poll of 429 likely GOP primary voters in the first-in-the-nation primary state.

Kentucky U.S. Sen. Rand Paul is the top choice of 13 percent of likely Republican voters, while New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie follows at 10 percent and Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz at 9 percent in the Franklin Pierce-Herald poll, conducted March 22-25.

But the race is still fluid and New Hampshire voters are demonstrating their discerning reputation – more than 80 percent of respondents said they could change their minds before next year’s primary.

The poll reveals the so-called “Bush fatigue” factor is not dragging down the 2016 GOP presidential contender – in fact older brother George W. Bush easily wins family bragging rights in the Granite State. A staggering 77 percent of likely GOP voters in New Hampshire view the former president favorably, 24 points higher than the ex-Florida governor.

“Jeb Bush would love to have George W. Bush’s numbers,” said R. Kelly Myers, a Marlin Fitzwater Fellow at Franklin Pierce University and head of RKM Research, which conducted the poll.


Cruz, who last week became the first GOP candidate to officially launch his campaign, appears to gotten a bounce out of his announcement and a trip to New Hampshire. The poll shows he will be fighting for more conservative voters.

And this from Franklin Pierce’s R. Kelly Myers:

Among a long list of Republican presidential hopefuls, the most popular possible candidates include Kentucky Senator Rand Paul (56 % favorable), Texas SenatorTed Cruz (55% favorable), Florida Senator Marco Rubio (55% favorable) and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush (53
% favorable).

Another important source of Cruz’s national strength, and potential longevity in the race, is talk radio.

From Hadas Gold and Jonathan Topaz in Politico, under the headline, The talk show primary
Ted Cruz may be trailing in the polls, but he’s winning big among conservative radio hosts.

Glenn Beck wants listeners to pray for him. Mark Levin says Fox News is out to get him. Hugh Hewitt calls him an “intellectual leader.” Rush Limbaugh thinks his campaign launch was “masterful.” Laura Ingraham hails him as “Reaganesque.” Erick Erickson considers him a “good friend.”

Ted Cruz may be trailing in the polls and strapped for cash, but the first declared candidate of the 2016 race is winning in at least one key contest — the conservative talk-show primary.

Tens of millions of listeners — and potential GOP primary voters — tune in each week to the biggest right-wing radio hosts, who hold forth on the merits and demerits of the various 2016 Republican hopefuls as keenly as they spit invective about Barack Obama and the Democrats. Many of them are big fans of the Texas senator, if not outright supporters. Most are holding their cards close, refusing to hug any candidate too tightly, be it in the spirit of equanimity or out of fear of alienating some listeners.

But nearly all the kings and queens of the conservative airwaves express admiration for a man almost universally despised by his Senate colleagues and dismissed by the mainstream media: Cruz. And they are equally clear about who they do not like: Mushy “progressives” like Jeb Bush and Chris Christie.

No question — in past elections, conservative radio hosts have struggled to translate their enthusiasm for a candidate into a winning presidential campaign. But the frequent encomiums to Cruz will provide him with a reliable supply of free media and powerful, sustained validation from some of the most important gatekeepers in the Republican sphere.


Cruz’s biggest booster may be Beck, who — though he declared this month that he is no longer a Republican and no longer supports the party — remains a powerful force on the right, with an estimated base of 7 million listeners.

 In December 2013, Beck said Cruz “may be our Ronald Reagan, because that guy does not take prisoners. That guy is a thousand times smarter than 99 percent of the politicians I have ever met.”

Cruz even called Beck the Friday before his campaign announcement to tell him about his plans and to talk about prayer, a move Beck said “means the world to me.” Beck urged his flock to “fast and pray like you have never fasted and prayed ever before because all the guns are coming out for this guy, all of the guns.”


 Even California host Hewitt, a constitutional law professor who rates among the more thoughtful conservative radio personalities, is high on Cruz. Hewitt urged his listeners to get out the vote for Cruz in his 2012 Senate campaign and said a year later that the Texas freshman “could dance to the nomination on a combination of principled channeling of the tea party, incredible smarts and the rhetorical gifts that suit him to the age.”

Hewitt has said Cruz “may be the smartest senator” and likened him to Reagan — “the same kind of charisma, easy affability and smart, smart, smart.” Now, he sees five “intellectual leaders in the Republican Party,” all of whom are likely or declared candidates: Cruz, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Jindal and Walker.

Rush vs. Root

In a monologue vigorously defending Ted Cruz on climate change Thursday, Rush Limbaugh had this to say:

RUSH: This is Texas Tribune website.  Again, Ted Cruz being interviewed by a reporter there named Jay Root, and during a conversation about climate change, question came up.  “You don’t believe in global warming, Senator Cruz.  Are you out of step with most young voters on this?”

CRUZ:  If you look at global warming alarmists, they don’t like to look at the actual facts and the data.  The satellite data demonstrate that there has been no significant warming whatsoever for 17 years.  Now, that’s a real problem for the global warming alarmists, ’cause all of the computer models on which this whole issue was based predicted significant warming, and yet the satellite data show it ain’t happening.

RUSH:  Now, that’s right on the money.  That is so right on the money, that I bet you the young people being talked about here won’t believe it.  Do you realize…? This has been a cause of mine for 25 years.  Actually longer than that. It’s been a cause of mine since all the way back when I was in Sacramento and I was watching the Sunday show with Brinkley on it and I first heard about this with some scientist named Oppenheimer telling us we only had 20 years. We couldn’t prove that global warming was happening yet. 

Back then what they were saying was the best way they illustrate it, to try to scare people, is use Southern California, and they said, “Imagine everybody on a typical summer evening firing up their barbecue pits at the same time to grill hot dogs, hamburgers, and steaks — and vegetables for the vegans.  Can you imagine all of that car coal exhaust, all of that carbon? You’re telling me that doesn’t affect the atmosphere?”  And people said, “Whoa, my God! I never thought about it that way.” 

George Will even fell for it.  He was using that as an example. The first I heard it was Oppenheimer guy. Alan Oppenheimer? That probably wasn’t his first name, but he’s some Ivy League guy, and he’s wringing his hands about global warming and he’s saying, “Well, we can’t firmly prove it yet but we only have 20 years, if we’re right.” This is 1984, folks.  We’ve blown past these 20 years like they didn’t even happen.  “We’ve got 20 years to get this right! 

“If we do not immediately embark on policies,” which to him were raising taxes on carbon to eliminate carbon emission. “If we don’t do this we are going to see sea levels rise,” and all that crap that they’ve been predicting by now was gonna have happened in such a bad way that we would all be sunk.  That’s the first time I heard of it, and I didn’t buy it then because the guy didn’t have any evidence, and he admitted it back then. He said, “All we have are the computer models that are telling us this,” and that’s all it’s ever been.  

There has never been any evidence. 

All there has been is theory. 

Every shred of global warming/climate change hysteria is rooted in computer model predictions of 50 years and a hundred years out.  Computer model predictions.  Do you realize we can’t even now, with computer models, predict the exact track of a hurricane that we know exists?  Yet we’re relying on computer models? Climate models and are the result of what?  Man-made input, data that is input by man.  You know: Garbage in, garbage out. What you get is what you get. 


Twenty-five years of every day, practically, because that’s how frequently the proponents are out pushing it.  It’s a great illustration.  To stop this stuff, you have to fight it every day and you never totally beat it ’cause they never go away.  Now, here’s the next one.  After that answer, the same guy, Jay Root, at the Texas Tribune website, asks, “But what if there is something to it, Mr. Cruz? What if there is something? What if there is global warming? Why not do everything we can to reduce our carbon footprint?  Why not have some humility about it?”

CRUZ:  I read this morning a Newsweek article from the 1970s talking about global cooling, and it said, “The science is clear! It is overwhelmingly! We are in a major cooling period, and it’s gonna cause enormous problems worldwide,” and the solution for all the advocates in the seventies of global cooling was massive government control of the energy sector, of our economy, and aspects of our lives.  Now, the data proved to be not backing up that theory. So then all the advocates of global cooling suddenly shifted to global warming.

RUSH:  And he wasn’t through.  He continued.

CRUZ:  The global warming alarmists, anyone who actually points to the evidence that disproves their apocalyptical claims, they don’t engage in reasoned debate.  What do they do?  They scream you’re a denier; they brand you a heretic.  Today the global warming alarmists are the equivalent of the flat-earthers.  You know, it used to be it is accepted scientific wisdom the earth is flat, and this heretic named Galileo was branded a denier.

RUSH:  The most interesting part of this, to me, is this question. “But — but what if there is something to it, even though there’s no evidence?  What if there is something to it?  Why — why not do everything we can anyway and have some humility about it?  Why — why — why be so damn sure of yourself?”  That’s what it really comes down to.  “How can you be possibly be so sure of yourself?  Why can’t you allow…? Why can’t you be humble about this and maybe you’re wrong? Maybe you’re wrong! Maybe some other people have a point. Why can’t you…?”  ‘Cause they’re wrong, they’re full of it, just like you are, buddy, and here are the reasons why. 

The good news is that Jay – and his boss – were thoroughly undaunted.

A&M bids for presidential debate

At noon EST today, the Commission on Presidential Debates is expected to announce which colleges and universities have put in bids to host one of the three 2016 presidential debates, or the one vice presidential debate, in the fall of next year.

What we do know is that Texas A&M submitted a better than 100-page proposal by today’s deadline.

José Luis Bermúdez, Texas A&M’s associate provost for strategic planning, said the proposal was the combined effort of a campus-wide steering committee with expertise in facilities, transportation, telecommunications, catering and security, as well as representatives from the cities of Bryan and College Station, and an academic planning committee, made up of faculty from across the university, together with student representatives.

Bermúdez said that plan deals with every detail of accommodating one of the most watched events in the nation’s civic life, as well as ways to incorporate the event in A&M’s curriculum, teaching and outreach through the whole university system, the Extension Service and 4-H, with an aim to increase voter participation and civic engagement.

“I suspect that there are other Texas schools in the mix, but we’ll find out tomorrow,” Bermúdez said last night.

The last previous national debate in Texas was the Dole-Mondale vice presidential debate on October 15, 1976, at the Alley Theater in Houston.

Where Texas excels: On compulsory voting and exercising the right not to vote

Good morning Austin:

Texas is a bad state. A very bad state.

Texas ought to be ashamed of itself.

The report earlier this month from Nonprofit VOTE, confirmed that once again in the 2014 midterm elections, Texas distinguished itself for its low voter turnout:

As the nation commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Nonprofit VOTE is pleased to release its biennial voter turnout report, America Goes to the Polls 2014, based on final data certified by state election offices. The report ranks voter turnout in all 50 states to look at major factors underlying voter participation in this historically low-turnout election.

While just 36.6% of eligible citizens voted, the lowest in a midterm since World War II, turnout varied widely across states by as much as 30 percentage points. Maine led the nation with 58.5% turnout among eligible voters, follow by Wisconsin at 56.8%, and Colorado at 54.5%. Nevada, Tennessee, New York, Texas and Indiana made up the bottom five all with less than 30% of their eligible voters participating.

AGTP2014_pg8 copy




What can be done?

From Brian Miller, executive director of Nonprofit VOTE:

When measured against voting eligible population, Texas has among the bottom five nationally in voter turnout. In fact, Texas is 50th in a 51 state (and DC) ranking with only 28.9% of eligible voters turning out. The top 5 states had between 53 and 58% of eligible voters turning out.

Almost any of the reforms we lift up in the report that are characteristic of high-turnout states would be a move in the right direction for Texas, including Election Day Registration, pre-registration of 16 and 17-year olds, and shortening the long 30-day preregistration requirement. We also happen to know from experience that Texas makes it particularly hard for local nonprofits, service providers, and civic organizations to do nonpartisan voter registration drives. Changing that would help. Finally, Texas would also benefit from more competitive elections. One way to promote that is by moving to nonpartisan redistricting.

But, within a few days of release of  Nonprofit VOTE’s report, President Obama offered a bolder idea.

From the Associated Press:

They say the only two things that are certain in life are death and taxes. President Barack Obama wants to add one more: voting.

Obama floated the idea of mandatory voting in the U.S. while speaking to a civic group in Cleveland on Wednesday. Asked about the corrosive influence of money in U.S. elections, Obama digressed into the related topic of voting rights and said the U.S. should be making it easier — not harder— for people to vote.

Just ask Australia, where citizens have no choice but to vote, the president said.

Oh no, Barack, Don’t go there. Compulsory voting? Australia?

Republicans would have a field day with this. Ted Cruz would call it Obamacare for voting. Fox, Breitbart and Rush would spin wild scenarios – Democrats open the borders, let in every non-Anglo in sight, offer a blanket amnesty, mandate and expedite citizenship, celebrate their permanent electoral lock  and rewrite the textbooks to declare Barack Obama the father of the New America.

I asked Brendan Steinhauser, a Republican strategist and the co-founder of the new group Liberty Action Texas, his take on compulsory voting.

“I am happy to go on the record to say that the government should not be allowed to force you to vote,” he said. “What’s next, forcing Americans to vote for only the government-approved candidates? Sounds like a bad idea and antithetical to freedom, if you ask me.”

The mantra of Battleground Texas is that Texas is not a red state, Texas is a non-voting state. Make voting compulsory, and Texas turns blue. Right?

Here’s more from the AP report on Obama in Cleveland:

“If everybody voted, then it would completely change the political map in this country,” Obama said, calling it potentially transformative. Not only that, Obama said, but universal voting would “counteract money more than anything.”

Disproportionately, Americans who skip the polls on Election Day are younger, lower-income and more likely to be immigrants or minorities, Obama said. “There’s a reason why some folks try to keep them away from the polls,” he said in a veiled reference to efforts in a number of Republican-led states to make it harder for people to vote.

Statistically speaking, Obama is correct. Less than 37 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in the 2014 midterms, according to the United States Election Project. And a Pew Research Center study found that those avoiding the polls in 2014 tended to be younger, poorer, less educated and more racially diverse.

At least two dozen countries have some form of compulsory voting, including Belgium, Brazil and Argentina. In many systems, absconders must provide a valid excuse or face a fine, although a few countries have laws on the books that allow for potential imprisonment.

Fines for not voting? Imprisonment? Say it ain’t so, BHO.

And, indeed, the day after he floated the idea, it turned out that the president was just musing, just thinking out loud.

From the next day’s White House press briefing:

Q    Thanks, Josh.  I wanted to ask you about President Obama’s comments yesterday when he said it would be transformative if everyone voted, at the event in Cleveland.  And I know you referenced the —

 MR. EARNEST:  Kind of provocative, huh?  Yes.

 Q    Yes, it was provocative.  And he referenced Australia’s mandatory voting law.  So I wanted to know if the President believes that the United States should adopt such a mandatory voting law.

MR. EARNEST:  The President was not putting forward a specific policy proposal.  I think somebody had asked him a pretty open-ended question about campaign finance reform and about the state of elections in this country.  And I think the President gave a pretty open-ended answer about a variety of ways in which this challenge could be confronted.  He talked about a constitutional amendment that would relate to campaign finance, and then that from there he talked about some of the reform proposals that have been implemented in other countries.  The President was not making a specific policy prescription for the United States.

During a subsequent webinar on the Nonprofit VOTE report, Michael P. McDonald, an associate professor of political science at the University of Florida, who maintains the United States Election Project, said he did not think there was any chance compulsory voting would come to pass in America – it rubs too strongly against the American grain.

From Brian Miller:

On the POTUS statement re: compulsory voting, it’s great to see the President thinking outside the box about solutions to the dismal voter turnout. It’s important that we start a real conversation about low voter turnout, what it means for our democracy, and some solutions that can revitalize voting and the health of our democracy. Compulsory voting, like is done in Australia and other nations, is unlikely to happy anytime soon in the US. Additionally, compulsory voting is easier to pull off when you have a multi-party system and a broad range of choices as Australia has. Either way, we’re a long way from such action in the US.

Still, the fact that President Obama would even broach the subject of compulsory voting struck me as odd, and it was something I was already primed to think about because of an encounter a few days earlier that I wrote in passing of in a previous First Reading.

I was at the launch of a new group, Liberty Action Texas, featuring Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who will be announcing for president next week. There, I remade the acquaintance of Michael Goldstein, who graduated from UT in August with a BS in computer science – and where he ran the Mises Circle, an economics reading group – and who now works full-time as a programmer. As I wrote of my encounter with Goldstein:

Michael Goldstein at the Liberty Action Texas launch where Rand Paul spoke.
Michael Goldstein at the Liberty Action Texas launch where Rand Paul spoke.

He had just run into Rand Paul downstairs at the high-rise where it was held, and said he had asked the senator, “Are you here for the Rand Paul event?” Paul replied that  he was, and laughed.

But – and here is the peril for Paul – libertarians can be a quirky lot. Even though he was attending the event and would seem to have, in Paul, a candidate of a similar libertarian bent, Goldstein said he probably wouldn’t vote, because the time required to adequately evaluate the field of candidates was too great to be logically worthwhile. And, he said, his quick interaction with Paul before the event, was probably more valuable than anything he might achieve with his vote.

My interest was piqued by this exchange, and, in light of the Nonprofit VOTE report and the president’s remarks on compulsory voting, I emailed Goldstein some questions. here is his reply:

My disincentive to participate in elections is mostly an economic one. To be a responsible voter requires a lot of time and energy, especially when there are multitudes of conflicting issues at stake. Think of how much time you would have to spend to have a thoughtful choice in every Federal, state, and municipal election you vote in. My guess is: most, if not all, of your time. Furthermore, the odds of any specific person’s vote changing the outcome of an election, as Gordon Tullock used to joke, is less than the odds of that person getting killed on his way to the voting booth.

 The costs of being a responsible voter, then, are massive amounts of time that could be spent more productively: spending time with family, learning new skills, helping your community, etc. And this assumes politicians are being honest. Calculating the odds of that is left as an exercise for the reader.

1. How do you decide if and when to vote?

I would vote if A) I had the domain-specific knowledge for a particular issue that would allow me to form a responsible and thoughtful opinion and B) if the odds of my vote affecting the outcome to even a small degree was possible. As a 23 year-old, it would be presumptuous to assume A was true, except perhaps on matters of Bitcoin or the latest Kendrick Lamar album (both are great, check ’em out). Being in Austin and thus living in a large city in a large state in a large country, B is pretty much out of the question.

2. Should registration and voting be made easier?

Registration and voting is already very easy, as far as I can tell. I am inundated with opportunities to register every time I am at the library or near the UT campus. I think I registered once, and it took all of 3 minutes. Early voting gives ample time to get to the booth. Rather, being able to avoid political activism and punditry should be made easier.

3. Do Americans have a right not to vote, and if they don’t vote, are they shirking a civic responsibility.

Americans absolutely have the right to abstain from voting. I can’t imagine the psychology, even laziness, of a person who believes dragging yourself to a voting booth every 1-4 years is the pinnacle of civic responsibility. I described how ineffective casting a vote is in effecting change in the community, so voting is perhaps the very least you could do to claim civic responsibility, if at all.

4. Is it an unhealthy sign that so many people don’t vote?

Nope. I hope they spend their time participating in real civic engagement, with a focus on family, community, and entrepreneurship. Technology like Uber solve transportation problems more effectively than Capital Metro, Khan Academy better than AISD, etc. An unhealthy sign would be people not looking for creative entrepreneurial solutions to personal, family, and community problems, and instead bothering friends and family with their political opinions, or checking the latest polls. A favorite article of mine:

The right to abstain from voting.

The right not to vote.

Think about that for a minute.

If Americans have a right not to vote – and I doubt there are very many Texans who think otherwise – then Texans (along with Hoosiers) surpass all other Americans in asserting that right not to vote, in exercising their right to not exercise their franchise.

If you look at politics through the lens of the right not to vote, it totally flips the script, turning all those charts that show Texas scraping the bottom on voting upside down and placing Texas at the pinnacle of charts on not voting.

We go from being number 50 to number 1.

On the philosophical underpinnings of the right not to vote, I turned to Jason Brennan, a philosopher at Georgetown University, where he is an assistant professor of strategy, economics, ethics, and public policy and teaches courses in ethics, political economy, moral psychology, entrepreneurship, and public policy.

He is the author of among other books, Libertarianism: What Everyone Needs to Know (Oxford University Press, 2012), The Ethics of Voting (Princeton University Press, 2011), with David Schmidtz, A Brief History of Liberty (Wiley-Blackwell, 2010), and Compulsory Voting: For and Against, with Lisa Hill (Cambridge University Press, 2014). She argues for compulsory voting, he argues against.

Compulsory Voting book cover

When President Obama, out of the blue, brought up compulsory voting, Brennan posted at Bleeding Heart Libertarians what he described as “a handy dandy  list of the main arguments I’ve encountered for compulsory voting. Alas, none are sound. Also, two arguments against compulsory voting, both of which are sound.”

Here it is:



The Turnout Argument

Compulsory voting produces high turnout.
If compulsory voting produces high turnout, then compulsory voting is justified.
Therefore, compulsory voting is justified.

The Consent Argument

Democracy should be based on the consent of the people.
Citizens show consent by voting.
Therefore, a democracy without high electoral turnout rules without consent.
Therefore, we should compel people to vote.

The Legitimacy Argument

Democratic governments are illegitimate unless there is high voter turnout.
Governments should be legitimate.
There will not be high turnout unless there is compulsory voting.
Therefore, democratic governments may impose compulsory voting.

The More Democratic Argument

It is more democratic if everyone votes than if only part the population votes.
We should do whatever is more democratic.
Therefore, we should force everyone to vote.


The Demographic Argument

Voters tend to vote for their self-interest.
Politicians tend to give large voting blocs what they ask for.
When voting is voluntary, the poor, minorities, the uneducated, and young people vote less than the rich, whites, the educated, or older people.
If so, then under voluntary voting, government will tend to promote the interest of the rich, of whites, and of the old, over the interests of the poor, of minorities, or of the young.
Under compulsory voting, almost every demographic and socio-economic group votes at equally high rates.
Thus, under compulsory voting, government will promote everyone’s interests.
Therefore, compulsory voting produces more representative government.
If compulsory voting produces more representative government than voluntary voting, then compulsory voting is justified.
Therefore, compulsory voting is justified.

The Trust and Solidarity Argument

It is good for citizens to trust their government and to feel solidarity with one another.
If there is high turnout, citizens will trust their government more and feel greater solidarity with one another.
If 1 and 2, then whatever increases trust and solidarity is justified.
Compulsory voting is necessary to ensure high turnout.
Therefore, compulsory voting is justified.

The Generic Consequentialist Argument

Compulsory voting would produce good consequence G.
If compulsory voting would produce good consequence G, then compulsory voting is justified.
Therefore, compulsory voting is justified.

The Duty to Vote Argument

Citizens have a moral duty to vote.
If citizens have a moral duty to do something, then government may force them to do it.
Therefore, government may force citizens to vote. (I.e., compulsory voting is justified.)

The Gratitude Argument

Citizens who fail to vote are ungrateful for their hard-won liberties. (Our troops died to protect those freedoms.)
People should be grateful.
Therefore, citizens should be compelled to vote.

The Autonomy Argument

It is valuable for each person to be autonomous and self-directed, and to live by rules of her own making.
In order for each person living in a shared political environment to be autonomous and self-directed, and to live by rules of her own making, she needs to have and exercise her right to vote.
Compulsory voting ensures everyone exercises her right to vote.
Therefore, compulsory voting enhances autonomy.
If compulsory voting enhances autonomy, then compulsory voting is justified.
Therefore compulsory voting is justified.

The Assurance Argument

Low turnout occurs because citizens lack assurance other similar citizens will vote.
Compulsory voting solves this assurance problem.
If 1 and 2, then compulsory voting is justified.
Therefore, compulsory voting is justified.

The Public Goods Argument

Good governance is a public good.
No one should free ride on the provision of such goods. Those who benefit from such goods should reciprocate.
Citizens who abstain from voting free ride on the provision of good governance.
Therefore, all citizens should vote.
If all citizens should vote, then government should compel them to vote.
Therefore, compulsory voting is justified.


The Burden of Proof Argument

Because compulsory voting is compulsory, it is presumed unjust in the absence of a compelling justification.
A large number of purported arguments for compulsory voting fail.
There are no remaining plausible arguments that we know of.
If 1-3, then, probably, compulsory voting is unjust.
Therefore, probably, compulsory voting is unjust.

The Worse Government Argument

The typical and median citizen who abstains (under voluntary voting) is more ignorant, misinformed, and irrational about politics than the typical and median citizen who votes.
Irrational about politics. Both the median and modal voter will be more ignorant, misinformed, and irrational about politics.
If so, in light of the influence voters have on policy, then compulsory voting will lead at least slightly more incompetent and lower quality government,
It is (at least presumptively) unjust to impose more incompetent and lower quality government.
Therefore, compulsory voting is (at least presumptively) unjust.

 Brennan wrote another post the same day,that is well worth reading in its entirety – The Demographic Argument for Compulsory Voting, with a Guest Appearance by the Real Reason the Left Advocates Compulsory Voting.

From that post:

Okay, let’s skip past the bull…, and look at the real reason lots of people on the Left advocate compulsory voting. They advocate compulsory voting because they think it will help left-wing parties gain seats. After all, at first glance, it sure seems like the people who choose not to vote are more likely to vote Democratic than they are to vote Republican. But, again, that’s wrong. There are ways of studying this, and it turns out that compulsory voting has few partisan effects.

For instance, political scientists Raymond Wolfinger and Benjamin Highton say,

 [There is a] widespread belief that “if everybody in this country voted, the Democrats would be in for the next 100 years.” …this conclusions…is accepted by almost everyone except a few empirical political scientists. Their analyses of survey data show that no objectively achieved increase in turnout—including compulsory voting—would be a boon to progressive causes or Democratic candidates. Simply put, voters’ prefers differ minimally from those of all citizens; outcomes would not change if everyone voted.
Wolfinger and Highton agree that compulsory voting would bring at best modest changes in electoral outcomes. And that’s just one study. Other studies find the same results. In her review of all the extant empirical work, Sarah Birch also finds that compulsory voting has little to no effect on partisan outcomes, except, perhaps, that it helps far right wing nationalist parties get a couple seats in proportional voting regimes.

So, to Democrats, I say, be careful what you wish for. If you force everyone to vote, you not only won’t help Democrats win, but you will change what Democrats want. An excerpt from my book:

The Ideological Elephant in the Room

Let’s be really frank here. There is unstated reason why many political theorists, political scientists, and philosophers are sympathetic to compulsory voting. Most of my American colleagues are Democrats. Many of them sensibly believe compulsory voting would help the Democratic Party. (Similar remarks apply to my colleagues outside the US with respect to their favored left-leaning parties.) As we saw in chapter 2, they are mistaken—the best available evidence indicates that compulsory voting has few partisan effects and does little to help left-leaning parties. However, suppose compulsory voting would in fact increase the power of the Democratic Party. If so, should that give my Democratic colleagues at least some reason to favor compulsion?

Perhaps not. Democrats are not united in their moral and political outlooks. High information Democrats have systematically different policy preferences from low information Democrats. Rich and poor Democrats have systematically different policy preferences. Compulsory voting gets more poor Democrats to the polls. But poor Democrats tend to be low information, while affluent Democrats tend to be high information voters. The poor more approved more strongly of invading Iraq in 2003. They more strongly favor the Patriot Act, of invasions of civil liberty, and torture, of protectionism, and of restricting abortion rights and access to birth control. They are less tolerant of homosexuals and more opposed to gay rights. In general, compared to the rich, the poor—including poor Democrats—are intolerant, economically innumerate, hawkish bigots. If compulsory voting were to help Democrats at all, it would probably help the bad Democrats. The Democrats would end up running and electing more intolerant, innumerate, hawkish candidates.

Here is the first of several YouTubes you can watch in which Lisa Hill, Brennan’s opposite number on the issue, talks about compulsory voting.

In another paper – Polluting the Polls: When Citizens Should Not Vote (Jason Brennan. Australasian Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 87, No. 4 (2009): 535-550, p. 537.) – Brennan goes further, arguing that citizens not only have a right not to vote, but indeed, a kind of moral obligation not to vote rather than cast a bad, ill-informed vote.

The citizen of a Western democracy has a moral right to vote, founded on justice. Still, the right to vote does not imply the rightness of voting. Voters are not obligated to vote, but if they do vote, they ought to vote well. Most citizens would not vote well, and so for them, voting would be wrong. People tend to vote in what they perceive to be the national interest rather than their narrow self-interest. However, their perception of the national interest is often wrong, as it is grounded in ignorance and unreliable, irrational processes of belief formation. Their ideological bents reflect bias. Voters make systematic errors and these errors lead to to harmful policies. This paper argues that if a person forms her political beliefs in an unreliable or irresponsible way and lives in a society in which the majority of other citizens also form their beliefs in unreliable ways, she ought not vote. In societies in which most people are ignorant, irrational, or irresponsible about politics, ignorant, irrational, or irresponsible citizens ought to abstain from voting. Individual voters ought to abstain rather than vote badly.

This thesis may seem anti-democratic. Yet it is really a claim about voter responsibility and how voters do not seem to be meeting this responsibility. On my view, voters are not obligated to vote, but if they do vote, they owe it to others and themselves to be rational, unbiased, and well informed about their political beliefs, at least to a higher degree than they are. Similarly, most of us think we are not obligated to become parents, but if we are to be parents, we ought to be responsible, good parents. We are not obligated to become surgeons, but if we do become surgeons, we ought to be responsible, good surgeons. We are not obligated to drive, but if we do drive, we ought to be responsible drivers. The same goes for voting.

This drew a reply from Marcus Arvan, who is in the Department of Philosophy & Religion at the University of Tampa, in which he asks:

Are the costs of avoiding bad voting always (or even usually) less than or equal to the collective harms caused by bad voting? No. Consider one of Brennan’s own examples: citizens voting badly for a harmful economic policy that costs the economy 33 billion dollars the following year.

If we assume there to be 300 million citizens (roughly the number of citizens in the U.S. today), the collective harm averages out to a $200 cost per citizen. That is a significant harm. Yet what costs would an individual bad voter have to incur to avoid voting badly? Getting a university education in critical thinking, philosophy and economics costs far more than $200. So too, in many cases, does self-education.

Although self-education may not literally cost one more than $200 (education is possible for free via
the Internet or public library), the time, energy and other personal investments involved (e.g. neglecting family and leisure time) could surely be worth more than $200 to oneself.

But, beyond dollars and cents, in another piece on the ethics voting at The Art of Theory, Brennan compares voting to serving on a jury:

Imagine a jury is about to decide a murder case. The jury’s decision will be imposed involuntarily (through violence or threats of violence) upon a potentially innocent person. The decision is high stakes. The jury has a clear obligation to try the case competently. They should not decide the case selfishly, capriciously, irrationally, or from ignorance. They should take proper care, weigh the evidence carefully, overcome their biases, and decide the case from a concern for justice.

What’s true of juries is also true of the electorate. An electorate’s decision is imposed involuntarily upon the innocent. The decision is high stakes. The electorate should also take proper care.

As I was working on First Reading last night, one of my favorite movies, Wag the  Dog, was on. Released in 1997, it is a brilliant black comedy about how, on the eve of a presidential election, a covert team of Washington political consultants and show biz types (including Willie Nelson as songwriter-for-hire Johnny Dean) fake a war to divert attention from a sex scandal threatening to envelop the president.

At one point there is this small sequence in which a few of the conspirators talk about why they don’t vote.

Stanley Motts (Dustin Hoffman): “Would you vote for that person based on that commercial?”
Fad King (Denis Leary): “You know I don’t vote.”
Stanley Motts: “Why don’t you vote?”
Fad King: “The only time I voted was that one time when Major League Baseball started the fan’s voting thing and I voted for Boog Powell for first base and he didn’t get in and it just disappointed me. It stayed with me. It’s futile.”
Stanley Motts: “You’ve never voted for President?”
Fad King: “No. (Pause.) Do you vote?”
Stanley Motts: “No. I always vote for the Academy Awards. But I never win.”
Fad King: “Liz, do you vote?”
Liz Butsky (Andrea Martin): “No. I don’t like the rooms. Too claustrophobic. I can’t vote in small places.”

The good news, or I suppose the very bad news, about people not voting, is that, according to a paper last year by two leading political scientists – Martin Gilens, a professor of politics at Princeton University, and Benjamin Page, a professor of decision making at Northwestern University – it all doesn’t make much difference anyway.

From John Cassidy’s report in the New Yorker, under the headline, Is America an Oligarchy?

From the Dept. of Academics Confirming Something You Already Suspected comes a new study concluding that rich people and organizations representing business interests have a powerful grip on U.S. government policy. After examining differences in public opinion across income groups on a wide variety of issues, the political scientists Martin Gilens, of Princeton, and Benjamin Page, of Northwestern, found that the preferences of rich people had a much bigger impact on subsequent policy decisions than the views of middle-income and poor Americans. Indeed, the opinions of lower-income groups, and the interest groups that represent them, appear to have little or no independent impact on policy.

“Our analyses suggest that majorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts,” Gilens and Page write:

Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association, and a widespread (if still contested) franchise. But we believe that if policymaking is dominated by powerful business organizations and a small number of affluent Americans, then America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened.

That’s a big claim. In their conclusion, Gilens and Page go even further, asserting that “In the United States, our findings indicate, the majority does not rule—at least not in the causal sense of actually determining policy outcomes. When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organized interests, they generally lose. Moreover … even when fairly large majorities of Americans favor policy change, they generally do not get it.”


HONK!TX 2015.

This past weekend was Honk!Tx 2015, a three-day festival of community street bands.


It was terrific, and restorative. Here is a not great video I shot, but you catch the spirit.



A bedspread with Ted Cruz’s face on it? The Internet’s got your back

(Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Imagine if the Internet had been around throughout American political history: “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too” memes. GIFs of Gerald Ford taking tumbles. Bad lip readings of FDR’s fireside chats. Now, thanks to these modern times we live in, anything is possible — including Ted Cruz bedspreads.

The Texas senator announced his campaign for the presidency of the United States this week, and the Houston Chronicle responded by gathering a list of “The 22 strangest Ted Cruz products you can buy online.” Some of the weirdest tchotchkes available for purchase on the web: the aforementioned comforter, featuring a well-known artistic rendering of a tattooed, cigarette-smoking version of the senator; artificial nail tips bearing Cruz’s likeness; the obligatory bobblehead figure; and our favorite, a painting of the presidential hopeful, who also signed up for Obamacare this week, covered in buttered pancakes. And of course, we knew you buy a Ted Cruz coloring book for your little one.

Quirky Internet debris devoted to politicians’ likenesses are nothing new. Former presidential candidate and Texas Gov. Rick Perry involuntarily lent his image to glut of memes, thanks to his August 2014 booking photo.

Jason Villalba in the arena (cue the lions)

Good morning Austin:

One of the first stories I wrote when I started this job was a January 2013 profile of two new members of the large freshman class of the 83rd Legislature – Reps. Jonathan Stickland and Jason Villalba.

Stickland, who I visited with in Bedford, was already spoiling for a fight.

“I plan on having the most conservative voting record in the entire House of Representatives,” he told me.

But then, I wrote:

About 30 miles and a political world away, in the tony North Dallas district he will represent (he can count former President George W. Bush as a constituent) in the new Legislature, Jason Villalba offers a more circumspect preview of his tenure.

“I’m a different type of conservative,” said Villalba, a man of elegant bearing. “I was able to win as what I call a Reagan conservative, not any less conservative than those gentleman and women in Fort Worth, but I am more concerned about constituent issues than in partisan politics, about helping people – transportation, water, public education, electricity, bread and butter issues — not issues that galvanize.”

In his narrow runoff victory, Villalba said, “we focused on people, not partisanship, and that was refreshing to a lot of people. Friends in other parts of the state like to talk about issues that are a little more divisive and more interesting. I’m not interested in those issues.”

But Villalba, a merger and acquisitions lawyer with Haynes and Boone, is not without ambitions to make an early mark. “It’s an interesting time to be serving,” he said. “With freshmen and sophomores nearly half of the membership, we’re going to have opportunities to lead on important issues early.”

Well, two years and change later, Stickland is still stoking controversy, but it is Villalba who, of late, is truly the man in the arena.

Screen Shot 2015-03-25 at 8.00.07 PM

It is Villalba who has a Facebook group seeking his recall for a piece of legislation – the subject of a hearing today that (per the AP) would make it a Class B misdemeanor for anyone but news media to record police within 25 feet, or within 100 feet if the person carries a handgun. The proposal would exempt from the law members of the traditional news media — including newspapers, magazines and licensed radio and television stations — who could be as close as 10 feet away.

Screen Shot 2015-03-25 at 7.50.30 PM

And it is Villalba who, because of threats against him, says he now has a cop car parked outside his Dallas home much of  the time.

I talked to Villalba yesterday about how a man originally best known in the Capitol for his impeccable pocket squares has become a figure of such controversy.

He began as follows:

A lot of people question my methodology A lot of people will say, “why is Villalba so controversial? Why is he antagonizing those people who are his opponents?” And I say to that … I said to you before I even got here that I’m going to Austin to work to fight everyday for the people that I go to church with, for the people in the PTAs that I spend time with, for my neighbors and for people that are in my community.

If it makes me unpopular to do that and people want to send me home, then I’ll go home, but I’ll go home knowing that I fought every day valiantly, courageously , without concern for the political impact, and I did it for my neighbors and my community.

So what does that mean? That means I take on an issue like public safety. So when the police officers in my neighborhood, who are good people who I have tremendous respect for, come to me and say, “Jason, when we’re going out on some calls right now and there is this group of people, they’re called Cop Blockers, and they get in  our face with their cameras, and they’ve got AK-47s strapped to their backs, and they say `FU Nazi scum, this is my First Amendment right,’ and all we’re asking is for them to back up a few feet, and can you helps us Jason, so that we can hep your neighborhood stay safe,” to me that sounds perfectly reasonable

So what I do is I file a bill that says, “Can you step back a few feet if you’re filming.” We don’t want to take away your rights to film. We don’t want to limit your ability to keep our law enforcement accountable. We know there are some bad cops out there, but I am asking you to step back 15 feet. To me , that ‘s common sense and it’s something that makes sense for my neighborhood and my community.

This is not Villalba’s first brush with controversy this session. He explains:

The other example this year of how I’ve gotten into an opposition scenario relates to vaccinations.

So I filed a bill that said that … there was no exemption for  individuals to opt out of vaccinating their children  in public schools for conscientious reasons, which is basically, “Because I don’t want to.” My bill says you can opt out for medical reason or  religious reasons, but you can’t opt out just because you want to, because we’ve got a significant number of moms and dads opting out, which means we’re seeing a significant reemergence of diseases like measles and pertussis.

Now in my community, a bedroom community filled with soccer moms and families like myself, my wife and three children  that makes prefect sense. It’s good sense, but because I carried that bill, they say things about me like, “Villalba’s taking away our rights and he’s Orwellian,” and that sort of stuff.

Villalba says he gets hit on the issue at places like Breitbart and on civil liberties blog.

They get a lot of Twitter followers, so I start getting hammered on Twitter and then the major newspapers pick it up –  “Villalba’s getting hammered on Twitter so it must be worth a story,” and major papers start to say, “What’s going on?” and  that ends up creating this feeling that I’m somehow in the center of all this.

 He is not looking for trouble, said Villalba. But trouble does seems to be finding him.

I just happen to be filing bills that I think are good, common sense for my community. That’s all we do. We’re not trying to seek out the spotlight, were not trying to create divisive issues. We’re trying to do what’s good for our community.

Look, when vaccinating our children and asking people to step back 15 feet from a policeman who is doing his job is considered somehow bad policy in Texas, the world has turned upside down, right?

So what we’re trying to do is the right thing and for that we’ve ended up  in some of these scuffles.

And I’ll tell you two other people who had the same problem: Ronald Reagan, when he did what he thought was right in his presidency Same thing. He was attacked by certain groups for some of the things he did. And  Ted Cruz. Same way. Attacked for some of the things that he did.

I would never shy away from doing what was right for my community. I will fight for my community and for my  constituency and I will do what is right for families, for the people I spend time at church with, and at PTA and at Bible study and in dads’ groups, every day of the week.

Villalba said the controversies have not hurt him in his district.

 Absolutely not.

In fact in the district I am getting more support than ever before.  I got a call this morning –  “I’m so honored  to be represented by the best and strongest state representative member in the United States,” and that’s the kind of support we get.

When my wife goes to the schools, she gets ovations when she walks into a room because they know how much grief she has to  take for some of the stuff we do. These attacks are coming from some of the furthest  fringes of Twitter  and from  groups on Facebook who have an agenda to take me out.

The Select House Committee on Emerging Issues In Texas Law Enforcementt is holding a hearing  at adjournment today on HB 2918, the bill on taping police. Said Villalba:

2918 is the  biggest,  most controversial bill I’ve ever been part of. It’s surprising. In my opinion, it’s not controversial asking people to step back a few feet. I’m going to give an impassioned argument why I think this is a good law for Texas.

He said he hopes law enforcement will turn out in force for the hearing.

Will we win? That’s up to the committee. But I’ll be damned if I’m going to let the fringes of the Internet dictate whether I go forward with a piece of legislation that I think is good policy for my community.

 I was talking to Villalba as the House debated and voted 102-40 to give initial approval to a statewide ban on texting and emailing while driving. Villalba backs the bill, which he said draws the same opposition from the “far right and the far left” who oppose 2918.

That’s the new world we’re living in. The Republican Party in certain segments has gone so far to the right  in pursuit of libertarians, the Ron Paul types, that now they’re joining our friends on the other side of the aisle on civil liberties issues like texting while driving and security for our law enforcement officers. It’s something that’s arisen as a new phenomenon in the last two sessions of the Legislature.

The irony of all this is that I’m as conservative as 85 percent of the Republicans on this floor, but I have become enemy number one for the constituency that just doesn’t subscribe to what I call common sense conservatism.

Villalba says he bears some responsibility for having become the target that he has become.

I think it’s caused by my own unforced errors of fighting back. I’ve never been afraid to get out in front of an issue even though I take arrows. Maybe that’s not smart. But in the end, I’ve got to fight for my constituents and I’m going to do that until they send me home.

Villalba has most especially become a favorite target of Empower Texans’ Michael Quinn Sullivan.

On last Sunday’s weekly ET conference call, Sullivan, joined by Jim Graham of Texas Right to Life , teased the listeners at the beginning of the show with a quote that he said was emblematic of what’s wrong with the Texas House, but said he wouldn’t identify who said it until the end of the call. MQS:

I am going to give yoa quote. This is the sentiment being expressed by several people who are very powerful. Here it is verbatim:

 “We have to deal with the issues that truly impact everybody.”

So far so good.

“If we get bogged down with issues that are divisive or controversial, we spend cycles, days, going through issues that only affect a tiny sliver of the population. So, while I’m strongly pro-life, if we can focus on issues like transportation and water and public education, I think that’s better for the state than focusing on issues that will be deemed by some to be more controversial.”

That’s what we’re up against. I won’t tell you (who said it), but we will tell later in the call who that individual is.

Well, a few minutes later, Graham spoiled the suspense by referring to the “Villalba quote.”

Said Villalba of Sullivan, with whom he has sparred on social media, “It’s not my job to fight him directly in the arena and to get baited into that.”

Villalba said it was probably also mistake to debate incoming Rep. Matt Rinaldi on the Straus-Turner Speaker’s race at SMU in January.

Instead of having a comfortable dialogue that was constructive and useful, we ended up having a jeer fest where  the people  in that room were only interested in belittling the speaker and myself and attempting to make a charade and mockery of even the concept of a speaker’s race as you saw two weeks later when the fabulous 19 couldn’t rally 20 votes. I said that night that they would get 17 to 19 votes and I was right.

It was also at that debate the Villalba beseeched the crowd to, “bring me an opponent.”


Villalba also courted controversy this session by becoming the House sponsor of a proposed constitutional amendment to replace the state’s existing Religious Freedom Restoration Act, an amendment being sponsored in the Senate by Donna Campbell of New Braunfels.

Villalba said that while Campbell’s version was clearly intended to undermine local ordinances protecting LGBT rights, his version “was much narrower in focus and spoke only to clear infringements of freedom of exercise of religion,” like trying to keep crèches off a courthouse lawn.

Critics didn’t buy that, and when the Texas Association of Business came to see Villalba and told him it was bad for business, “I said, that’s enough, I’m going to pull it and we did pull it.”

Said Villalba:

 In the end I’m about common sense, I’m about old-school Reagan conservatism  and that’s why I was elected. On some of the issues I’m trying to find a middle ground, what I think is common sense and it rubs certain fringe elements the  wrong direction. Hence the conflict.

And what’s the bigger lesson?

Well, there’s this.

If Jonathan Stickland wants to remain the most provocative member of the Texas House, he’s going to have to step up his game. Sure he recently stirred things up when, on a day Planned Parenthood was going to be visiting legislators’ offices, he posted a sign on his door identifying himself as a “former fetus,” a sign that was taken down as a breach of House rules.

But less well known is that Villalba put up a matching sign, identifying himself as a “former fetus,”  on his office door, and it too came down.


And there’s still that impeccable pocket square.

Imagine Ted Cruz as president; it’s easy if you try

Good morning Austin:

The political world, it seems, finds itself divided in two.

There are those who can imagine Ted Cruz being elected president – or at least being the 2016 Republican nominee – and those who cannot and will not allow themselves to contemplate that possibility. I am among the former, in part because every prediction of Cruz’s imminent political self-immolation so far has proved wrong, and because of how unhinged Cruz deniers tend to get in their denials.

Look, for example, at who the Daily News puts on its No, We Can’t Imagine front page.

And …

The imagine meme was irresistible.

Here, courtesy Breitbart, are the 35 things Cruz asked his audience at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, to imagine. (Bravo Breitbart, but feel free to skim.)

  1. Imagine your parents when they were children.
  2. Imagine a little girl growing up in Wilmington, Delaware during World War II
  3. Imagine a teenage boy, not much younger than many of you here today, growing up
    in Cuba. Jet black hair, skinny as a rail.
  4. Imagine for a second the hope that was in his heart as he rode that ferry boat across
    to Key West.
  5. Imagine a young married couple, living together in the 1970s, neither
    one of them has a personal relationship with Jesus.
  6. Imagine another little girl living in Africa, in Kenya and Nigeria.
  7. Imagine another teenage boy being raised in Houston.
  8. Imagine millions of courageous conservatives, all across America, rising up together to say in unison “we demand our liberty.”
  9. Imagine instead millions of people of faith all across America coming out to the polls
    and voting our values.
  10. Imagine millions of young people coming together and standing together, saying “we will stand for liberty.”
  11. Imagine instead of economic stagnation, booming economic growth.
  12. Imagine small businesses growing and prospering.
  13. Imagine young people coming out of school with four, five, six job offers.
  14. Imagine innovation thriving on the Internet as government regulators.
  15. Imagine America finally becoming energy self-sufficient as millions and millions of
    high-paying jobs are created.
  16. Imagine in 2017 a new president signing legislation repealing every word of Obamacare.
  17. Imagine health care reform that keeps government out of the way between you and
    your doctor and that makes health insurance personal and portable and affordable.
  18. Imagine a simple flat tax that lets every American fill out his or her taxes on a postcard.
  19. Imagine abolishing the IRS.
  20. Imagine a president that finally, finally, finally secures the borders.
  21. Imagine a legal immigration system that welcomes and celebrates those who
    come to achieve the American dream.
  22. Imagine a federal government that stands for the First
    Amendment rights of every American.
  23. Imagine a federal government that works to defend the sanctity of human life…
  24. Imagine a federal government that protects the right to keep and bear arms of all
    law-abiding Americans.
  25. Imagine a federal government that protected the privacy rights of every American.
  26. Imagine repealing every word of Common Core.
  27. Imagine embracing school choice as the civil rights issue of the next generation.
  28. Imagine a president who stands unapologetically with the nation of Israel.
  29. Imagine a president who says “I will honor the Constitution, and under no
    circumstances will Iran be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon.”
  30. Imagine a president who says “We will stand up and defeat radical Islamic
    terrorism and we will call it by its name.”
  31. Imagine it’s 1775, and you and I were sitting there in Richmond listening to Patrick Henry say give me liberty or give me death.
  32. Imagine it’s 1776 and we were watching the 54 signers of the Declaration of
    Independence stand together and pledge their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred
    honor to igniting the promise of America.
  33. Imagine it was 1777 and we were watching General Washington as he lost battle,
    after battle, after battle in the freezing cold as his soldiers with no shoes were dying,
    fighting for freedom against the most powerful army in the world.
  34. Imagine it’s 1933 and we were listening to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt tell
    America at a time of crushing depression, at a time of a gathering storm abroad, that
    we have nothing to fear but fear itself.
  35. Imagine it’s 1979 and you and I were listening to Ronald Reagan.

Here’a a Cruz-Lennon mashup from the The Takeaway.

For what it’s worth, and in loving memory of John Lennon, here are the lyrics to Imagine, which, suffice it to say, would not qualify as an appropriate Liberty University anthem

Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today…

Imagine there’s no countries

It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace…

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world…

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one

Cruz might as well be borrowing from the socialist Internationale.

Call it the audacity of imagine.

From Michael Tyler at the Democratic National Committee:

Just imagine if Ted Cruz had his way: Imagine millions of Americans losing access to quality health care. Imagine another $24 billion government shutdown.  Imagine a greater tax burden on the middle class. Imagine tax breaks for the wealthy and powerful corporations. Imagine an end to hope for immigration reform. Imagine abolishing the Department of Education and slashing Pell Grants. Imagine a president who won’t support equal pay legislation. Imagine a president who thinks Social Security is a Ponzi scheme.

Imagining all of this makes one thing clear: Ted Cruz can’t be trusted to fight for hardworking Americans.

But, from Matt Lewis at The Week, an explanation about the thinking behind sampling Lennon, sort of.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Cruz’s speech, though, is how much it reminded me of Senator Barack Obama. I’m obviously not the first person to compare these two ambitious, young, Ivy-educated freshmen senators who spent roughly 15 minutes in the U.S. Senate before deciding to run for president.

But that’s not what I’m referring to. Obama’s message of “Hope and Change” was always premised on convincing voters who were desperate for something new and authentic to buy into the notion that he could change politics, unite the country, and appeal to his political enemies’ better angels. There was no rational reason to believe Obama could get this done, of course. He had no track record of governing or of transcending the old model of politics. People who bought into his cult of personality simply believed it would happen — that he was special and that change would come to pass simply by virtue of the force of his personality and the majesty of his soaring rhetoric.

Cruz is tapping into the same notion. During his speech on Monday, he said the word “imagine” 38 times by my count. That’s no accident. As Frank Luntz has wisely noted:

“Imagine” is still the most powerful word in the English language because it is inspiring, motivating, and has a unique definition for each person. When you want to inspire, imagine is the language vehicle. [Huffington Pos

 Chris Matthews picked up on the imagine language.

Just picture it – it’s not hard – what the Republican debates are going to look like. Just like the Reverend Al Sharpton came to dramatize every Democratic presidential debate in 2004, Ted Cruz is going to do the same or more to the Republican get-togethers of 2015 and 2016. 

He will be the center of the media coverage.  He will control the conversation for the basic reason that he will be working the outside lane, the far right lane of conservative Republican rhetoric.   He, Ted Cruz, will be the one quoted on the front page.  And that’s what, starting today, the Republicans are going to have to look forward to.

So what a day for the party of Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan, a Republican party so positioned to the right it can’t find its way back. 

Wayne Slater with Chris Matthews on Hardball
Wayne Slater with Chris Matthews on Hardball

Putting aside the fact that I don’t particularly recall Al Sharpton taking over the 2004 debates, Matthews becomes quite overwrought on the subject of Cruz, who, as on yesterday’s show, he describes, over and over, as Joe McCarthy incarnate, only maybe worse.

On yesterday’s panel Matthews was joined by the Chicago Tribune’s Clarence Page – who described Cruz as “desperate” – the Huffington Post’s Howard Fineman – who called Cruz “an angry evangelist,” and WAYNE SLATER.

It was great to see Wayne. He looked terrific. And it was left to Wayne to attempt to give Matthews the Moonstruck “snap out of it slap.”

Slater tried to explain to Matthews that Cruz draws strength from the attacks on him by the likes of John McCain and Peter King (and Chris Matthews), that it buttresses his narrative of himself as that one courageous man, standing against the powers-that-be, proclaiming, “I will not fold.”


I’m not sure it did any good

“He’s Christie without the bridge,” Matthews said.


Meanwhile, Fineman, writing at the Huffington Post, takes Cruz seriously.

Cruz beat the establishment in Texas like a drum. They hate him for it, but he is also going to raise a lot of cash in, yes, Texas.

He is as pure an across-the-board conservative as it is possible to find in what has to be regarded as the big leagues of politics: culturally, fiscally, in monetary policy, in foreign policy.

Cruz is triple 7s on the slot machine of issues: anti-abortion, a global-warming mega-skeptic, to the right of Likud on Israel, anti-immigration to the max, big on defense spending, etc.

He is a libertarian, traditional conservative, war hawk and evangelical Baptist son of a preacher who fled Fidel Castro’s Cuba. There are plenty of philosophical and tactical contradictions in Cruz’s construct, but he ignores them all.

His array of hot-button positions and his hunger combine to make him, on paper, a potential force in the early primary and caucus states, where true believers matter most.

He is an academic star with two Ivy League degrees.

Yet he is making the formal announcement of his candidacy at the Falwell family’s evangelical enterprise, Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia.

At Liberty, founded by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, they don’t teach evolution; they teach what their website calls a “robust, Young-Earth creationist view of Earth history.”

Cruz is an anti-intellectual intellectual, if there is such as thing. And that could be just perfect for the Republican Party of today.

U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas, marks the start of his presidential campaign by giving the convocation address at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, U.S., on Monday,  Photographer: Jay Paul/Bloomberg
U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas, marks the start of his presidential campaign by giving the convocation address at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, U.S., on Monday, Photographer: Jay Paul/Bloomberg

At the Upshot, The New York Times offers its own dismantling of Cruz’s realistic chances, in Why Cruz is Such a Longshot. 

 In nearly every presidential primary, a few candidates attract a lot of news media attention even though they have almost no chance to win the nomination. Sometimes they even lead national polls or win states, but invariably their appeal is too narrow to allow them to build the broad coalition necessary to unite a diverse party.

Ted Cruz, the Texas senator and Tea Party favorite, who on Monday became the first candidate to formally enter the race, has seemingly been on track for this role since he first ran for the Senate in 2012. He is the darling of conservatives in a conservative party. But he remains a long shot, at best.

The most interesting question about Mr. Cruz’s candidacy is whether he has a very small chance to win or no chance at all.

The candidate with the most support from party elites doesn’t always win the nomination, but support from elites is probably a prerequisite for victory.

“A candidate without substantial party support has never won the nomination,” said John Zaller, a political-science professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, and one of four authors of “The Party Decides,” an influential work on the role of parties in the nominating process.


In April 2013, he was identified as “The Most Hated Man in the Senate” by Foreign Policy magazine, which described him as “the human equivalent of one of those flower-squirters that clowns wear on their lapels.” And that was before he led the government shutdown. If you did a web search for “Senators Hate Ted Cruz” on Sunday, that Foreign Policy article wouldn’t have even come up on the first Google page. It was supplanted by titles like “Why Senate Republicans Hate Ted Cruz,” “GOP Still Despises Ted Cruz,” “Everybody Hates Ted Cruz” and the generously titled “How Unpopular Is Ted Cruz Right Now?” Answer: very.

Mr. Cruz is not an outsider, grass-roots version of President Obama in 2008. He is unacceptable to many conservative officials, operatives, interest group leaders and pundits. If they don’t take him seriously, voters won’t either. The elites would rally to defeat such a candidate if he ever seemed poised to win.


Just 40 percent of Republicans in an NBC/WSJ poll last month said they could see themselves supporting Mr. Cruz, while 38 percent said they couldn’t. That two-point margin in the plus column was the second worst among the elected officials who are thought to be major contenders for the nomination. Only Chris Christie fared worse.

(note: Oh, now I get it – Cruz is “Christie without the bridge.”)

Despite considerable national media attention, Mr. Cruz holds only about 6 percent of the vote in national polls. Early national polls aren’t exactly predictive of the nomination, but every presidential nominee since 1976 except Bill Clinton has reached about 15 percent of the vote by this point in the campaign.

The point isn’t that Mr. Cruz’s low level of support precludes him from winning the nomination. But he clearly hasn’t entered the race as the favorite of conservatives, and there isn’t much reason to assume that he will eventually become the favorite.

Closer to home, the Texas Observer’s Christopher Hooks offers a similar take under the headline, President Ted Cruz? Meh.

There are political reasons and policy reasons this is the case, as well as personal ones—are Americans really going to cheer for an Ivy League snob with an affinity for paisley bathrobes and Jesse Helms who hung a giant oil painting of himself arguing in front of the Supreme Court in his office?

But there’s a simpler reason to doubt Cruz: In almost every presidential election since FDR’s last re-election, Republicans have nominated the more moderate, business-minded candidate over an ideologue, with 1964 being the only real exception. (There’s 1980, too, but that’s something of a special case.) The conservatives who love Cruz are right: The donor class—the people who care a lot about estate taxes and not all that much about the gays—run the national party, more or less. Cruz is a Barry Goldwater in an era that’s not looking for one.

 Well, paisley bathrobes are among the more vivid and disturbing images to emerge from wealth of Cruz profiles – though I’m not sure its of Romney-dog-on-roof-of-the-car caliber. But, as to that parenthetical special case, I am old enough to remember when Ronald Reagan seemed too far right to be a plausible president, let alone a man who would forever change the trajectory of American political history.

Caroline Cruz, 6, right, waves an American flag after she joins her father, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas on stage, with his wife Heidi, and their other daughter Catherine, 4, left, as Cruz announces his campaign for president. Monday, . (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Caroline Cruz, 6, right, waves an American flag after she joins her father, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas on stage, with his wife Heidi, and their other daughter Catherine, 4, left, as Cruz announces his campaign for president. Monday, . (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

John Judis, co-author in 2002 of The Emerging Democratic Majority, recently wrote in National Journal a revisionist review of his own work. That emerging Democratic majority is now, he concludes, An Emerging Republican Advantage:

After the 2008 election, I thought Obama could create an enduring Democratic majority by responding aggressively to the Great Recession in the same way that Franklin Roosevelt had responded in 1933 to the Great Depression. Obama, I believed, would finally bury the Reagan Republican majority of 1980 and inaugurate a new period of Democratic domination.

In retrospect, that analogy was clearly flawed. Roosevelt took power after four years of the Great Depression, with Republicans and business thoroughly discredited, and with the public (who lacked any safety net) ready to try virtually anything to revive the economy. Obama’s situation was very different. Business was still powerful enough to threaten him if he went too far in trying to tame it. Much of the middle class and working class were still employed, and they saw Obama’s stimulus program—which was utterly necessary to stem the Great Recession—as an expansion of government at their expense.

In the wake of the dramatic gains Republicans have made during Obama’s presidency, I now read the history of the last 80 years much differently. The period of New Deal Democratic ascendancy from 1933 to about 1968 may well prove to have been what historians Jefferson Cowie and Nick Salvatore have called the “long exception” in American politics. It was a period when Americans, panicked about the Depression, put on hold their historic aversion to aggressive government economic intervention, when the middle and bottom of the American economic pyramid united against the top, and when labor unions could claim the loyalty of a third of American workers. That era suffered fatal fissures in 1968 and finally came to a close with Reagan’s landslide in 1980.

It now appears that, in some form, the Republican era which began in 1980 is still with us. Reagan Republicanism—rooted in the long-standing American distrust of government, but perhaps with its roughest theocratic and insurrectionary edges sanded off for a national audience—is still the default position of many of those Americans who regularly go to the polls. It can be effectively challenged when Republicans become identified with economic mismanagement or with military defeat. But after the memory of such disasters has faded, the GOP coalition has reemerged—surprisingly intact and ready for battle.

Cruz is testing the proposition whether, amid the rise of the tea party movement, there may be longing in the conservative movement for a return to its roughest theocratic and insurrectionary edges, albeit as brought to you to by a Princeton/Harvard anti-intellectual intellectual.

Screen Shot 2015-03-23 at 11.59.08 PM
Jon Stewart reacts to the Ted-Heidi Cruz kiss, which he said they rehearsed the day before.


From the New Yorker’s John Cassidy, under the headline, Can You “Imagine” Ted Cruz as President?

The conventional wisdom is that Cruz hasn’t got a chance, and, as far as the Presidency goes, it’s probably accurate. To many Americans, he is the uppity loudmouth who, in the fall of 2013, less than a year into his first term as a senator, helped bring the federal government to a halt. Noted for railing against President Obama and denying the existence of climate change, he holds views that, according to an analysis by the Web site FiveThirtyEight, make him “more conservative than every recent G.O.P. nominee, every ’12 contender and every plausible ’16 candidate.”

But if Cruz’s ultra-conservatism rules him out as a serious Presidential contender, it won’t necessarily work to his disadvantage in the Republican primaries, where his first goal is to distinguish himself from other right-wingers who are leading him in the polls, such as Scott Walker, Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee, and Ben Carson. As Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich demonstrated in 2012, the conservative G.O.P. electorate is a fluid one, which falls for articulate rogues who can package age-old nostrums and prejudices in rhetoric that vaguely resembles a coherent political philosophy. Although Cruz is off to a slow start, this weakness should play to his rhetorical skills, which are superior to those of the rest of the G.O.P. field.


Most likely that Cruz intends to run as the Howard Dean of the religious right—a tub-thumping insurgent who uses social media to outmaneuver better-financed rivals. Speaking on Fox News, Joe Trippi, the Democratic strategist who ran Dean’s campaign in 2004, said after the speech, “I thought he did a great job.” Ed Rollins, the veteran Republican operative who was once Ronald Reagan’s campaign manager, was equally impressed. He raised the prospect of Cruz winning the Texas primary, which will take place next March, and emerging as a serious contender.

That’s looking a long way ahead, and Cruz has a lot of ground to make up. In the latest CNN/ORC poll of Republican-leaning voters, just four per cent of respondents picked him, placing him eighth in the G.O.P. field. But the Texan terror does have the first-mover advantage, and, for one day, at least, he made the most of it.


Jason Jones and Samantha Bee demonstrate what happens if a married couple tries to kiss without rehearsing.
Jason Jones and Samantha Bee demonstrate what happens if a married couple tries to kiss without rehearsing.

Cruz’s hopes depend on Iowa, and his choice of Liberty University managed to exquisitely target evangelical voters in Iowa without being so nakedly, narrowly focused as to have his announcement actually in Iowa.

Here is how his campaign debut was covered by Jason Noble in the Des Moines Register:

Ted Cruz launched his presidential campaign from Virginia on Monday with a message aimed straight at Iowa.

Cruz, a Republican U.S. senator from Texas, became the first person from either major party to formally announce a presidential candidacy with his speech at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va.

In style and substance, the announcement from an arena at the world’s largest Christian university made clear that Cruz intends to court evangelical and small-government conservatives — elements of the GOP base with outsize influence in Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that he’s staking his electoral prospects very clearly with Iowa’s tea party and evangelical electorate,” said former Iowa GOP chairman Matt Strawn. “The good news for Senator Cruz is that’s a large share of the caucus electorate. The bad news is there’s about a half-dozen other candidates who are going to be going after the exact same voters.”

Those other candidates could include past caucus winners Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum, as well as Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson.


Ted and Heidi Cruz were interviewed by Matt Lauer on the Today Show this morning.

Here is a bio video the campaign put out.

And, Hannity devoted his full hour on Fox last night to an interview with Cruz.

From Bloomberg’s David Weigel:

To understate the matter, Sean Hannity is not the right’s toughest interviewer. The host of an eponymous Fox News and radio show is to Republicans what a warm log cabin is to the weary traveler—a place for a respite and relief from the harsh elements outside. It was fitting, then, or perhaps just comforting, that Cruz ended his first day as a presidential candidate with a meandering, friendly Hannity chat.

Let’s see.

Cruz did reveal to Hannity that one of the reasons he chose Monday to announce his candidacy was that it was the fifth anniversary of Obamcare.

Cruz also said that, “When the New York Times says the Washington elites despise me, the only question is whether I have to report that to the FEC as an in-kind donation.”

Cruz said the mainstream media (of course not including Fox – “God bless Fox,” said Cruz) always portrays Republicans as stupid or evil. Reagan and and George W. Bush were stupid, while Nixon was evil.

“Stupid is better,” said Cruz, though he said he he took as a kind of backhanded compliment that they had identified a new category just for him – crazy.

Cruz said that answer for Republicans in handling the media is to make like Reagan.

“Reagan went over their head and went directly to the people.”

Cruz, who likes to do imitations, did a passable Ronald Reagan famously responding to a Sam Donaldson question at a White House press conference.

Here’s the original.



Sticker shock: On Dawnna Dukes, Adam Reposa and Rare Trends

Good morning Austin:

Before I get to today’s post, the big news of the day, of course, is that Ted Cruz is announcing for president with a speech at Liberty University this morning. He is scheduled to speak at 9:25 a.m., Central Time.

Cruz made it official with a tweet at the stroke of midnight last night.

Beyond Cruz, the very good news is that SXSW passed without anything really bad happening. Last year, it was the scene of a terrible tragedy. This year it was only marred by something approaching farce.

I am referring to the White People stickers that appeared on the windows of some East Austin businesses on Wednesday.

As Ciara O’Rourke reported in the American-Statesman on Wednesday:

Stickers that said “exclusively for white people” appeared on the windows of businesses across East Austin on Wednesday, sparking condemnation and confusion as residents, activists and at least one lawmaker wrestled with what the statements meant — and who placed them there.

“Maximum of 5 colored customers / colored BOH staff accepted,” the stickers read, referring to the “back of house” operations at a restaurant.

They also featured a city of Austin logo and claimed to be “sponsored by the City of Austin Contemporary Partition and Restoration Program,” though no such program exists. The city has said the use of its logo was unauthorized.

City officials also said the businesses did not knowingly display the stickers, which were discovered by employees on Wednesday morning. No one had publicly claimed responsibility for them by Wednesday afternoon.

Nevertheless, Rare Trends, a clothing store on East 12th Street that was among at least seven businesses targeted, received numerous angry phone calls and a visit from the NAACP Austin president over the sticker.

East Austin employees spoke to the Statesman the day the stickers appeared on their businesses in this video.

Ostensibly, aside from the fact that it happened during SXSW, it had nothing else to do with it. But, I will admit that when I heard about it, my first thought was that it must be the handiwork of a radical arts collective from Portland, Oregon, or maybe Brooklyn, in town for South By and engaging in a little ironic, drive-by agitprop. Or maybe it was  the San Francisco Bureau of Gentrification.



What seemed crystal clear to me from the start that there was absolutely zero chance that it represented an authentic, straightforward expression of white racism. What was even clearer was that there was a subzero chance that any of the businesses on whose window the stickers were affixed, affixed them there themselves.

There was simply no scenario under which that would make sense.

Nonetheless, this being race and politics, it had to be treated soberly, seriously.

From O’Rourke:

Austin Mayor Steve Adler has condemned racially charged stickers placed on several East Austin businesses Wednesday.

“This is an appalling and offensive display of ignorance in our city,” he said in a statement.

The statement, sent by the city around 2:30 p.m., said the party responsible for making the stickers was not authorized to use the city’s logo or claim the city’s sponsorship.


The city has also concluded that the businesses that were defaced with the stickers neither made nor knowingly displayed them, according to the statement.

OK. No harm done, and that cleared things up a bit.

But here was state Rep. Dawnna Dukes’ initial Facebook post on the stickers.

Screen Shot 2015-03-20 at 1.02.42 PM


That seemed to me a remarkable post.

Here is a state representative suggesting that a constituent business, based on no evidence or inquiry, is guilty until “some explaining” is done. If the explanation is unbelievable …. They need to be put out of business, ASAP!”


Compare this to the tempered, reasoned response of Ora Houston, the District One council member, a little less than a minute into this report on the stickers on KXAN.

Of those who placed the stickers on the store windows, Houston said:

Regardless of what it’s about in their minds, it’s the wrong action We don’t know who did it, we don’t know really why they did it, so I would not be willing to make a stab at it, I just know it’s not the kind of Austin I’m accustomed to living in.

The story – in its shorthand version – had obvious national appeal, shocking evidence that racism was alive and well, even in liberal Austin.

Here, for example, from Daily Kos. The headline: “Exclusively for White People” – Racism on display in Texas.

It begins:

For those of you that thought he days of Jim Crow and Segregation were dead back in the ’60’s with the signing of the CRA, you could be excused for not seeing this one coming.Racism has always been present in our society, quietly lurking like an undiagnosed case of cancer – spreading from place to place, infecting those unaffected by its pathogen as it goes. Growing up in the South, I had plenty of opportunity to be exposed to that brand of hate, to see the pain an anguish that it causes to the people that it’s directed at. But this…

And here is the report from the Huffington Post, including a video – it’s still up – from which this screen grab is taken.

Screen Shot 2015-03-22 at 11.54.04 PM

Even as the Huffington Post updated its report as events unfolded, the video remained intact, unchanged.

On Friday, I dropped by Rare Trends and spoke with Caroline Gray, the store’s director of sales and marketing.

“The problem is that people are reading so quickly, they’re skimming. I had a high school newspaper call me from Washington, D.C., last night. She was calling to find out if we were racist and if we had put these stickers up and I said, `Can you explain to me where you found this?’ and she said that she saw an article on the Huffington Post. ”

Of Dukes, Gray said, “I really wish that she had called and said, `Hey, what’s happening here and why is there a sticker on your window,’ because that’s what every other person did who was kind enough to call and then I would clarify and then we could move on.”

Here is more from Caroline Gray.


Rep. Dukes wrote subsequent posts that explained that businesses were victims, not perpetrators, but she left her first post up and never explicitly retracted or apologized for her initial post about Rare Trends.

Screen Shot 2015-03-22 at 10.25.24 PM

A number of people, including James Hush,  posted on Dukes’ page, suggesting she amend her original post.

James Hush I really hope you would consider amending this post so that the very top clears Rare Trends of culpability in this. Your followup post shows that you accept that this was a disgusting act of vandalism, but to read this post it still seems like Rare Trends has “some explaining” to do. I also work in a business that was victimized by these jerks. It happened in the middle of the night and we removed and destroyed the sticker the second we saw it. I was sick that night thinking that some of our customers might have seen the sign and thought that we were supporting this kind of garbage. I can’t even imagine what it feels like to have been accused by our own Representative of supporting this. This post is still being shared by people and Rare Trends’ name dragged through the dirt. You were entirely right to stick up for equality in your district but now a small business in your community is suffering because of this post. I’m not asking you to apologize, just please use this very post to publicly exonerate the victims of this crime.

Screen Shot 2015-03-22 at 10.30.07 PM

James Hush Again, Representative Dukes, thank you for now addressing these acts as vandalism and not store-sponsored racism. However, until you amend the post you made at 12:25 pm, one of the businesses in your district is continuing to be accused of racism by their own State Rep. Not everyone that saw your original post is going to see this statement of absolution. In fact, the 12:25 post has been shared 20 more times since I last requested that you amend it. If each of those FB users has 100 friends, that’s 2,000 potential customers left to think this was intentional. Now let’s be honest, who do you know that has only 100 friends? There are thousands and thousands of people ready to call for the head of Rare Trends and more will be poisoned by this factual error over the rest of the night, as I assume you don’t have staff checking your FB at 10:30 pm.I understand your reluctance to apologize, as it could be misconstrued as an apology for standing up for your constituents, as so many other things in this situation have been misconstrued so far. However, you can correct this wrong without apology or a mea culpa by simply amending your original post to be headed by something along the lines of “Thanks to available information, it is now known that Rare Trends is one of a number of businesses which were vandalized by these stickers and it was not an act representative of the store or its employees. It is truly shameful that these businesses and their customers were targeted by someone purporting to act on behalf of the City of Austin. Austin police are working to identify those responsible and bring them to justice.”

Thank you for your consideration in this matter.

Steve Coyle One of the quirks of the FB algorithm is that posts don’t necessarily show up in your friend’s news feed sequentially – it is based on traffic so many people will see this post for the first time and might never see later clarifications. I have to keep in mind that when I’m looking at my own FB page I see it neatly structured in sequence but others are seeing small pieces often out of context. As an example one often sees calls for an upcoming concert or political action days after the event has occurred popping up again and again. As long as there are comments, shares or likes clicked it will show up as an item in someone’s feed who if they don’t frequently check their social media may be seeing it for the first time and assume it is current real time posting. I’ve found that if I hit a wrong note in a post ( and like everyone I’ve done that more than once.) I find it useful to replace the post in its entirety and not assume that people will track clarifications in progress to minimize confusion.

Screen Shot 2015-03-22 at 10.34.15 PM

On Friday, the man who Dukes predicted would be a “narcissist and a bully,” stepped forward, via two videos, to claim credit, or so it seemed.

As O’Rourke reported:

Austin lawyer Adam Reposa appears to be taking credit for the “Exclusively for White People” stickers that were plastered on the windows of East Austin businesses Wednesday.“Why I did it is pretty clear,” Reposa says in a video called “Why I did it” that was posted on YouTube on Thursday. “Because it would be obvious that even though people know the real problem — and the problem is people without money are getting (expletive) — they’re getting pushed out, and pretty quick, this area of town is turning into whites only — not by law, like it used to be. And everyone’s going to jump on, ‘That’s racist; that’s racist.’ Man, this town, the way (expletive) works is racist. I knew that I could just bait all y’all into just being as stupid as you are.”


In the video, Reposa appears shirtless, standing in front of Sugar Mama’s Bakeshop on Manor Road, one of the affected businesses. It ends after nearly two minutes with Reposa saying he uses “The Technology every day to create possibilities.” He then directs people to “apply The Technology in your life and stop worrying about getting snitched on.”It’s not clear what “The Technology” is in the video or another video that appeared on a Facebook page with the same name.

In that video, posted to YouTube on Wednesday, Reposa criticizes state Rep. Dawnna Dukes for initially telling people to “refrain from supporting” a boutique where one of the stickers was found until “ ‘some explaining’ is done.”


Suffice it to say that Reposa is doing more than his fair share to keep Austin weird. I suspect that when most people talk about keeping Austin weird, what they have in mind is keeping Austin a bit more liberal and bohemian than the rest of the state – as any university/government town almost always is – with, say, a high tolerance for a bicyclist in a thong, but not, perhaps, a lawyer in his boxers and with his cat on his lap making a YouTube explaining why he put mock racist stickers on businesses to lay bare gentrification and public hypocrisy.

I spoke very briefly with Reposa over the weekend. He said was out of town but would be back this week and would hold a press conference Friday, probably on East 7th, when all would be revealed.

I suspect that Reposa may be overestimating the shelf life of this story. But, if as Austin police told O’Rourke,  the person responsible could face charges of criminal mischief, which can be a misdemeanor or a felony depending on a victim’s financial losses, Friday might be a good opportunity to check in with him.

In the meantime, if Rare Trends wants to try to repair whatever damage Duke’s post has done to its reputation, it can send Dukes a post asking that it be “next” on her list of “businesses in East Austin that I will personally endorse.”


Screen Shot 2015-03-23 at 1.28.38 AM


Here is an interesting take on the controversy from Equilibrio Norte.

In retrospect, what Reposa ought to have done is put his sticker on a Starbucks – though I don’t think there are any in East Austin – because, had he done so, it would have occurred during that fleeting moment of time when Starbucks was encouraging its baristas to engage customers in a conversation on race – an idea that at first seemed a ridiculous and surpassingly bad idea, and, on further reflection, seemed a ridiculous and surpassingly bad idea. Yesterday, days after launching the initiative, Starbucks announced it was abandoning it. Here from the New York Times story:

Howard D. Schultz, the chief executive of Starbucks, said in a letter to employees on Sunday that baristas would no longer be encouraged to write the phrase “Race Together” on customers’ coffee cups, drawing to a close a widely derided component of the company’s plan to promote a discussion on racial issues.

“While there has been criticism of the initiative — and I know this hasn’t been easy for any of you — let me assure you that we didn’t expect universal praise,” Mr. Schultz wrote.

Having baristas write on customers’ cups, Mr. Schultz wrote, “which was always just the catalyst for a much broader and longer-term conversation — will be completed as originally planned today, March 22.”

That end date had not previously been mentioned publicly, including during Mr. Schultz’s discussion of the initiative at the company’s annual shareholders meeting last week, but a company spokeswoman, Laurel Harper, said employees had been told about it.

Asked whether Starbucks was reacting to criticism, Ms. Harper said, “That is not true at all. When we initially began the Race Together initiative, what we wanted to do is spark the conversation, because we believe that is the first step in a complicated issue.”

 Oh, the pity of it. If only Howard Schultz had encountered the already heavily caffeinated Adam Reposa, who certainly knows how to get a conversation started.

As it happens, without even knowing of  Schultz’s plan, just last month,on a late-night visit to a Starbucks somewhere around Lake Charles, Louisiana, on a long night’s journey from Austin to New Orleans ahead of Mardi Gras, I had attempted to engage my young barista in a colloquy about Norman Mailer’s famous 1979 Dissent essay, The White Negro: Superficial Reflections on the Hipster, suggesting this passage as a text for our mutual inquiry (and it is necessarily quite brief because, after all, how long could it take to make a flat white).

 So there was a new breed of adventurers, urban adventurers who drifted out at night looking for action with a black man’s code to fit their facts. The hipster had absorbed the existentialist synapses of the Negro, and for practical purposes could be considered a white Negro.

From Krewe D’Etat’s “Night of the Living Hipster” float.


OK. I didn’t actually ask my young barista to explore Norman Mailer, but, almost as ridiculously, I asked her what she knew about Shadows in the Night the new Bob Dylan album in which he channels Frank Sinatra, which they were selling by the register. (from Rolling Stone – Produced by Dylan under his longtime pseudonym Jack Frost, the album features 10 songs popularized by Frank Sinatra, including “Autumn Leaves,” “Some Enchanted Evening,” “The Night We Called It a Day” and “I’m a Fool to Want You.”)

She looked at me blankly, and I realized that Dylan, as much as Sinatra, was to her, bygone figures. I bought the CD,  because I love both Dylan and Sinatra, and I had miles to go before I slept. And within a few weeks, Starbucks announced that they had stopped selling CDs because no one consumes music that way anymore. Filling the void, I suppose, Schultz decided to see if Starbucks could help America talk its way out of its racial dilemma.



What may have put me in mind of Norman Mailer, was Best of Enemies, terrific documentary I saw at SXSW:

From Variety:

 It may be difficult to recall (or imagine) a time when an uncivil war of words between politically disparate intellectuals was sufficiently novel to generate massive media coverage and score impressive Nielsen numbers. It is very much to the credit of co-directors Morgan Neville and Robert Gordon that their “Best of Enemies,” a thoroughly engrossing and surprisingly entertaining documentary about the notorious 1968 televised clash between conservative icon William F. Buckley Jr. and liberal gadfly Gore Vidal, is both fascinating as a glimpse at the not so distant past, and provocative as an account of what arguably was an early step in the decline of political discourse on television. After limited theatrical play and pubcast rotation, the film should enjoy a long shelf life as a teaching tool in broadcasting, political science and communications studies courses.

The Buckley-Vidal debates were fascinating, culminating in a famous scene, below, in which Vidal called Buckley a “crypto-Nazi,” and Buckley responded, “Now listen, you queer, stop calling me a crypto-Nazi or I ll sock you in you goddamn face and you ll stay plastered.”

It was a loss cool that the documentary makes clear, haunted Buckley until his death.

Finally, as a point of comparison with Cruz’s remarks at Liberty University, here is an excerpt from Ted Kennedy’s appearance at Liberty in 1983.





Live coverage: Campus Carry debate in the Texas Senate

Chuck Lindell is covering another long day of debate over gun legislation in the Texas Senate. Up today: campus carry:

From Battleground Texas to Battleground Israel, all politics is global

Shalom Austin:

Once upon time, the soul of wisdom was Tip O’Neill’s “all politics is local.”

In the 21st Century, that’s been flipped to “all politics is national.”

You can get elected dog catcher in Texas, let alone governor, running against Barack Obama.

But, watching the Twitter traffic overnight in the wake of the Israeli election, it appears that all politics is now global.

Here is the post from’s Erick Erickson:

Team Obama poured amazing resources into Battleground Texas to help Abortion Barbie, Wendy Davis, win and to turn Texas blue. Arguably, the Obama team had so many resources directed at Texas that they weakened themselves elsewhere. But they had a tremendous media operation and their acolytes in the press wrote hagiographic story after hagiographic story on how awesome Battleground Texas was.Likud_phonebg_onlybibi

The media even lumped Battleground Texas’s money with Wendy Davis’s money to build the narrative that she was financially competitive with then Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott. It all went down in flames. Reporters who were openly cheering for Battleground Texas put a pillow over it and held down till there was no pulse.

 And then they did the same in Israel.

A bipartisan investigation in the United States Senate is now uncovering evidence that Team Obama used federal tax dollars to try to influence the Israeli election against Benjamin Netanyahu. Team Obama went to the mats to defeat Bibi. Not only that, like with Battleground Texas, Battleground Israel also produced a media narrative that Netanyahu was in serious trouble.

On election day in Israel, the American media continued to push a “too close to call” narrative long after Netanyahu had declared victory and long after the Israeli media agreed. But Battleground Israel persisted into the night with the story that it was too close to call.

Here is Ted Cruz’s comment on Netanyahu’s victory:

 Prime Minister Netanyahu has been an extraordinary leader for Israel, and I congratulate him on what appears to be a victory today. His electoral success is all the more impressive given the powerful forces that tried to undermine him, including, sadly, the full weight of the Obama political team. American officials should not be undermining the elected leaders of our closest allies, especially when Prime Minister Netanyahu’s heroic – even Churchillian – opposition to a nuclear Iran has done such tremendous service to U.S. national security. The American people are proud to stand steadfastly with our Israeli brothers and sisters. May our friendship grow and prosper, and may the Nation of Israel stay forever strong.

And here is the statement I received late yesterday afternoon from Bird:

“While the election results remain to be seen, one thing is beyond question: V15’s passion and smart organizing approach inspired hundreds of thousands of Israelis to make their voices heard in an election that just a few months ago no one believed would even be competitive,” said Jeremy Bird, a founding partner of 270 Strategies. “Using best practices in organizing both online and on the ground, V15 transformed an unprecedented groundswell of organic energy into a movement for change — that’s a major victory for V15 and for Israelis who will continue to demand responsible leadership for their country.”

Let’s back up here.

From the Jerusalem Post last week, under the headline: Netanyahu: There is a worldwide effort to topple Likud rule 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suggested Monday to a meeting of Likud activists in Kiryat Gat that there is an international effort to remove him from power.

In a recording of the meeting obtained by Army Radio and aired on Tuesday, Netanyahu is heard saying of the current election campaign, “This a very close battle. Nothing is ensured because there is a great, worldwide effort to topple Likud rule.”

Netanyahu and the Likud have suggested throughout the run-up to the March 17 election that groups such as V15, an organization advertising to remove Netanyahu from power, are being funded by millions of shekels pouring in from abroad.

Last month, the Likud asked State Attorney Shai Nitzan to probe whether V15 was breaking laws prohibiting raising too much money for parties and raising money for parties from people who are not Israeli citizens.

But Nitzan did not find a connection between V15 – which has raised huge sums abroad for its effort to unseat Netanyahu – and any particular party.

Netanyahu’s professed alarm brings to mind then Attorney General Greg Abbott’s comments in Waco in April 2013.

“One thing that requires ongoing vigilance is the reality that the state of Texas is coming under a new 
assault, an assault far more dangerous than what the leader of North Korea threatened when he said he was going to add Austin, Texas, as one of the recipients of his nuclear weapons,” Abbott said. “The threat that we’re getting is the threat from the Obama administration and his political machine.”

Astonishingly, when you get right down to it, both Benjamin Netanyahu and Greg Abbott were warning that they and their respective domains – Israel and Texas – were under political assault and, ultimately from the same source – Barack Obama in the person of Jeremy Bird.

(note: Abbott’s domain is bigger – with more than three times the population and more than 30 times the land mass. You can see here how Israel would fit into Texas – a possible remedy if things get worse over there. Call it a third-state solution.)

Here, from last month, a story by Julie Hirschfeld Davis in The New York Times: Former Obama Campaign Aide Now Works to Oust Netanyahu

WASHINGTON — Jeremy Bird, the architect of the grass-roots and online organizing efforts that powered President Obama’s presidential campaigns from Chicago, is advising a similar operation in Tel Aviv. But this time it is focused on ousting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel.

His consulting work for the group V15 — an independent Israeli organization that does not support specific candidates but is campaigning to replace Israel’s current government — has added yet another political layer to the diplomatic mess surrounding Mr. Netanyahu’s decision to address a joint meeting of Congress next week on Iran.

The White House has argued that Mr. Netanyahu’s plan to deliver the speech on March 3, two weeks before the Israeli elections, is harming the United States-Israel relationship by injecting partisanship. Republicans contend it is Mr. Obama who is playing politics and cite the work of Mr. Bird as proof that the president is quietly rooting for the defeat of his Israeli counterpart.

American strategists have for decades signed on to work in Israeli political campaigns, with Democrats usually aligned with the Labor Party and Republicans often backing Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud party. There is no evidence to suggest that Mr. Obama or any of his senior aides had anything to do with the move by his former top campaign official, who has never worked at the White House, to join the effort to defeat Mr. Netanyahu.

But Mr. Bird’s involvement in the elections is drawing attention when tensions between the two countries are so acute that what is usually considered standard practice for American political consultants in Israel is now seen as a provocation.


“We’re witnessing something special happening in Israel right now: There’s a groundswell of organic energy as more than 10,000 supporters are coming together to have a voice in their country,” Mr. Bird said through the spokeswoman. V15’s “efforts are already paying off as they have reached out to more than 200,000 targeted voters, both in person and on the phone, about the need for change in Israel.”


“It is eye-rolling for Netanyahu to complain about former Obama aides working against him when he cooked up a speech to Congress with Boehner and didn’t tell the White House,” said Tommy Vietor, a former National Security Council aide to Mr. Obama. “He has removed his ability to complain about playing politics by openly meddling in U.S. politics. The notion that Jeremy and the 270 team were sent there with the blessing of President Obama is just silly.


Republicans in Congress have criticized Mr. Bird’s involvement and the work of OneVoice, which has received grants from the State Department. In a letter to the department last month that prominently mentioned Mr. Bird and his ties to Mr. Obama, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and Representative Lee Zeldin of New York, both Republicans, said they were concerned that American taxpayer money was being used to influence the Israeli elections and unseat Mr. Netanyahu.

“It is deeply troubling that President Obama’s national field director is helping run the campaign to defeat the democratically elected leader of one of our closest friends and allies, the nation of Israel,” Mr. Cruz said in an interview on Friday.


A month before the Times story, January Roy (Chicky) Arad, wrote in Haaretz, under the headline: The Obama campaign strategist who could break the Israeli elections wide open
The group V15, which denies that its motto is ‘anyone but Bibi,’ is working with U.S. political strategist Jeremy Bird to replace the government in March:

During a stroll along Tel Aviv’s Lilienblum Street, it was difficult to avoid noticing that the ground floor of one office building had been converted into a campaign headquarters, packed with “Victory 2015” signs and young people wearing V15 campaign buttons. Hanging on the wall is a map of greater Tel Aviv, marked into numbered districts, and scrawled on a whiteboard are various slogans in advertising language.

The place looks like a television set for a series about a presidential campaign. I signed up and walked into a motivational lecture with about 30 enthusiastic young Israelis who were learning how to approach potential voters. After a few minutes they realized there was a journalist in the room, and a more organized meeting was arranged in the adjacent offices of the OneVoice Movement.

It was only a month ago that Itamar Weizmann, a 22-year-old history student, posted the following, rather banal, text on Facebook: “Hi. There’s an election. Let’s do something different this time.”

Nimrod Dweck, the 33-year-old founder of Dice Marketing whose Linkedin page describes him as a “marketing ninja,” pounced on the idea. The pair rapidly arranged a meeting of activists. Former Shin Bet security service head Yuval Diskin jumped on board, and supporter numbers are rising constantly.

The group, which began with nothing more than an idea and youthful energy, soon morphed into something far greater, a movement with real offices whose goal is nothing less than an electoral upset. If the momentum continues to gather according to plan, V15 could carry influence in the upcoming election.

With the help of American money and a former campaign adviser to President Barack Obama, V15 is trying to replace Israel’s government. The money and organization comes from V15’s partnership with OneVoice.

Jeremy Bird
Jeremy Bird

Their secret campaign weapon is Jeremy Bird, a 36-year-old American political strategist who worked for Obama. Bird has come with a team of four consultants that will try to channel the energies of V15 into an organized methodology. Bird was the field director for South Carolina in Obama’s primary campaign for the 2008 election. Early opinion polls in the state gave Obama and Hillary Clinton equal odds, but in the primary vote Obama beat her two to one. That victory helped Obama to clinch the Democratic nomination, and it resulted in Bird’s promotion to deputy national field director for the 2008 national election. For Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign, Bird was national field director. After the election, Bird parlayed his success into 270 Strategies, a political consulting firm that helps election campaigns all over the world to build grassroots strategies.

“It’s not right to do in Israel exactly what we did in the United States, the context is completely different,” admits Bird, who still has some of the Hebrew he learned as a student in Haifa in 1999. But he says the mess in the OneVoice office — many empty cartons from newly purchased equipment — reminds him of Obama headquarters, he says: lots of energy and lot of talent. Israel is an ideal country for a door-knocking campaign because of its relatively small size, Bird says. Israel has very complex politics, a large number of parties and relatively high voter turnout, he says, adding that it’s possible to speak with enough people here to replace the government.

Bibi Got Back

I wondered Monday why Vincent Harris wasn’t at Austin’s Capital Factory to Stand with Rand when Rand Paul, in advance of a formal declaration of a presidential candidacy April 7, opened up his campaign’s tech office, which will be under Harris’ command. Turned out Harris was on his way to #StandWithNetanyahu.

From a Feb. 2 story in  The Times of Israel Likud hires top Republican strategist ahead of elections

A leading American political strategist with deep ties to the Republican party was hired by the ruling Likud party and will serve as its media consultant ahead of the upcoming March 17 elections, Army Radio reported.

Vincent Harris, the CEO of the Austin-based firm Harris Media, currently serves as Chief Digital Strategist to Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, and was highly active in the 2012 US presidential elections, where he handled online campaigning for candidates Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich.

Harris also worked in digital campaigning alongside Senator Ted Cruz in 2012 and Senator Mitch McConnell in 2014, significantly advancing social media presence and following for both US representatives.

The news of Harris’s joining with Likud comes amid a furor over a link between the V15 movement, a nonprofit Israeli group working to oust Netanyahu, and a former Democratic campaigner.

On Sunday, Likud accused the rival Zionist Camp of working with the V15 movement, which is funded by international donors, thereby engaging in illegal campaign financing.

Last week, Cruz issued an inquiry letter to the White House after Haaretz reported Jeremy Bird, the national field director for President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign in 2012, was leading V15’s get-out-the-vote effort.

And from Gil Hoffman at the Jerusalem Post:

An American digital media guru denied reports Monday that suggested he was sent by the Republicans in order to help Netanyahu win reelection.

Army Radio reported that the Likud employed Vincent Harris, who worked for Republican senators Mitch McConnell and Ted Cruz. The report said the Likud complained about US President Barack Obama’s former field director, Jeremy Bird, advising groups working to unseat Netanyahu, even though they were using the same tactic.

Harris told The Jerusalem Post that he started working for the Likud more than six weeks ago, just like Republican strategist John McLauglin and just like other American strategists had worked for Netanyahu in other elections going back to 1996. He denied any connection between the senators and his employment with the Likud.

“I have not spoken to Senator Cruz or to Mitch McConnell about my job here,” he said. “My Israeli work is completely separate from my work in the US, so what is being reported is not true. I love Israel, and I am excited to be here to help the Likud and the prime minister use digital media in an effective and forward-looking manner.”

Likud officials said there was a big difference between Harris, who is employed by the Likud, and Bird, who has worked for OneVoice, an organization that has received funding from foreign governments and is working now to topple Netanyahu.

Cruz, a possible 2016 candidate for president, and New York Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin sent a letter on Thursday to Secretary of State John Kerry calling on the State Department inspector-general to investigate whether OneVoice Israel – part of the OneVoice Movement, a US-based nonprofit organization – has used US grant money to support its partnership with V15 and whether its actions violate its 501(c)(3) nonprofit status.

In response to Cruz’s letter, the OneVoice Movement said it received two grants from the State Department in the past year to help fund campaign in support of the Israeli- Palestinian negotiations, but according to both OneVoice and the State Department, both grants ended before December 2014 and are not part of OneVoice’s current campaign.

“No payment was made to OneVoice after November of 2014,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Thursday.

As the electon result was becoming clear, I exchanged emails with Michael Duncan, vice president of digital strategy at Harris Media:

Harris Media was brought on by Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Likud Party to oversee their digital strategy ahead of today’s election. I’ve been living in Tel Aviv since early January, working with our team in Austin and the local team here on website design and development, social media, online advertising, online video, graphic design, and email marketing.

Here’s some of their website work in English and Hebrew:

And Netanyahu’s social channels:

I asked Duncan a few questions overnight.

1. Why does a country like Israel not have its own homegrown political talent.

There’s certainly talented political operatives in Israel. Our campaign manager was Aron Shaviv, an Israeli who’s done extensive work internationally as well. I think the reason for so many American consultants in Israeli politics is that we hold more elections than they do through their national proportional representation system. We have Presidential campaigns, Senate, House, Governor’s races, and then all the down-ballot contests. American consultants just have more experience, our campaigns are longer, and they’re more expensive. There’s also over ten political parties in Israel, so the talent pool gets thinned quickly and requires looking to America for professional help.

2. Does Israel’s very different personality require a wholly different approach than, say, in Texas, or are voters simply voters?

The complexity of an election with over ten political parties requires a disciplined and targeted message strategy. We knew we had to persuade right wing supporters of the Jewish Home party, Orthodox voters, and some centrist voters of Kulanu, to switch over to support Likud. We used alot of issues and tactics to recruit subsets of these voters, but in the last week it became a very simple message: We’re all on the right and we represent a majority of the electorate. But if we don’t unify behind Prime Minister Netanyahu, we risk letting the left form the next government.

Imagine a general election ballot that’s Elizabeth Warren, Hillary Clinton, Jim Webb, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Scott Walker, and Rand Paul. That’s the complicated nature of Israeli politics.

3. Any impression of Jeremy Bird’s work and the V15 campaign?

I saw some of the V15 advertising, which I thought was creative but I question the effectiveness. If you’re advertising video online, and you’re burying the lede, and it’s over a minute long, you’re doing digital wrong. Here’s V15’s “viral” ad:

Political advertising is about reach and frequency to persuadable audiences. Half your audience is going to stop watching online after 15 seconds, so what about those people? It’s much more valuable to produce shorter spots that reach a specific subset of your voting population:

Voters on the right turned out big time, giving 30 mandates to Netanyahu and Likud, which is more than anyone expected. I don’t know what Bird did on the grassroots side here in Israel, but doesn’t seem it like it was any more effective than the doomed Battleground Texas project.

And, here is Duncan on the V15 ad linked to above:

The cinematography of the V15 spot is beautiful. It parallels a person going to the polls to vote against Bibi, with Netanyahu and his wife packing up to leave the PM’s residence. The tag line at the end is “Thank you, goodbye.” A simple message from the voters to Netanyahu. And I have nothing against long-form ads like these, except when you make them the focal point of your digital campaign. If you only watched 10 or 15 seconds of this ad, as half of people do online, how did V15 persuade them? I think their generic “Anyone but Bibi” strategy backfired. Even Herzog and Livni strategist Reuven Adler admitted he was against this plan:

The more V15, the Zionist Union, and the Israeli media focused on Netanyahu, the more we were able to crystallize this election as left versus right, rather than a 10 party race. They criticized Netanyahu attending the March in Paris and they criticized his speech in Congress, but our polling showed it only served to burnish our security credentials on the right. It elevated us: When Netanyahu speaks, the world listens.

The post Duncan cites quoting Reuven Adler is illuminating:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s impressive victory in Tuesday’s elections can be explained by going back to the early days of the state.

The Ashkenazi immigrants from Eastern Europe were seen as having an unfair advantage over their Sephardic counterparts from North Africa and the Middle East. The people who are called “the second Israel” have complained since then that the “elites” in the Israeli Left, the media and academia have discriminated against them.

The “second Israel” did not like the way the media seemed to be deposing of Netanyahu and bringing to power the Left under the leadership of Zionist Union leaders Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni, who were raised not far from each other in North Tel Aviv and are both the children of former Knesset members.

The Zionist Union inadvertently played into Netanyahu’s hands with a campaign of “anyone but Bibi.”

Zionist Union campaign strategist Reuven Adler, who joined the campaign late, said Wednesday morning that he was against that strategy from the start. By contrast Likud strategist Aron Shaviv got the Israeli Right correct. He sent Netanyahu to give countless interviews – it made him look like he was panicking (and he was), but the public got the message.

Many who considered staying home, or voting for one of the Likud’s satellite parties, hurried to the polling stations to cast ballots for Likud. People who have not voted in years – or at least not for Likud – felt the need to save Israel from the Left, Iran and from a hostile international community.

On Monday, Shaviv revealed a poll that for the first time, less than 50 percent of the public thought Netanyahu would form the next government. Shaviv said at the time that if it gets closer to 40 percent the Likud will win the election.

In Netanyahu’s appeal to the “second Israel’ he succeeded, and because of that, he won a fourth term.

On Morning Joe this morning, Israeli journalist Ari Shavit of Haaretz, made a similar point. He said that the election represented the triumph of a disparate coalition united by their opposition to an Israeli WASP elite – WASP, in this case, standing for White Ashkenazi Supporters of Peace.

Israel, Shavit said, is now split in half, with a red Israel and a blue Israel.

I don’t think there is any such things at the Israeli Tea Party, but the parallels in the political dynamic between Texas and Israel are striking.

Netanyahu, like Abbott, scored a huge victory by building a majority that was stirred to action by fears that an elite, with help of powerful outsiders, specifically including Obama and his minions (or maybe in the Israeli context, minyans), and flush with out-of–state shekels, was trying to impose a liberal/leftist government on them.

It appears that in Israel, the directed political assault on Netanyahu may have made him look like he was reeling, but it actually strengthened him and helped drive up his turnout. Likewise, the argument can be made that Battleground Texas, whatever success it had in signing up volunteers and registering voters, did more to give Texas Republicans, who after years of dominance could be lulled into complacency, a sense of threat and urgency that motivated their voters to turn out.

The Likud slogan was, "It's us or them."
The Likud slogan was, “It’s us or them.”

I had two other questions for Duncan.

The Likud slogan was “It’s Us or Them.”

Wow, I thought. Doesn’t get more basic – even primordial – than that. (It brought to mind Mel Brooks as the 2000 Year Old Man recitation of mankind’s first national anthem: “Let ’em all go to hell/ Except Cave 76”)


Can’t take credit for It’s Us or Them, senior strategists Aron Shaviv and John McLaughlin deserve credit for framing this race and getting the Prime Minister to take the fight to the left in the critical last week.

And finally, I asked about Chuck Norris.

The last time I saw Norris he was campaigning for Greg Abbott in Midland, Texas, just before the election.

Chuck Norris campaigning for Greg Abbott just before last fall's election.
Chuck Norris campaigning for Greg Abbott just before last fall’s election.


On the eve of the Israeli election, Norris once again got political, releasing an endorsement video for Netanyahu.

With all due respect to Norris, Duncan said, “I don’t think it impacted many votes.”

But, he said, “All the supportive comments from elected officials in the United States certainly helped us push back on the false narrative that Netanyahu was eroding American support for Israel.”

Texas renewable energy requirement in cross-hairs at Capitol

Citing Texas’ position as the number one generator of wind power, a leading Central Texas lawmaker wants to wrap up the program that launched renewable energy in the state.

“Not only did we roar past the goal we had in place, we have more than doubled that goal,” state Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, said during a hearing Tuesday on his proposal to end the renewable portfolio standard.

The 2005 version of the RPS, as it’s known, required utilities to get 5,880 megawatts of new energy renewable by 2015. The state now has more than 14,000 megawatts of installed wind capacity.

“We have done what we intended to accomplish,” said Fraser, whose bill also ends the special process of building transmission lines to deliver power from far-flung wind farms to the state’s cities. (That transmission system has cost Texas ratepayers more than $7 billion.)

Fraser was one of the original champions of the renewable portfolio standard. But if his new bill becomes law, it “will make national news that this state is no longer committed to an all-of-the-above-energy-strategy,” warned Jeff Clark, who heads the Wind Coalition, a trade group.

The bill comes in the wake of attacks by Texas policy-makers on renewable energy. Last summer, Donna Nelson, the chairwoman of the Public Utility Commission, said she doesn’t want to add to the “subsidization” of the wind industry.

The renewable industry and environmentalists struck back at the hearing, claiming that ending the renewable portfolio standard would send a message to wind and solar investors that Texas was not committed to helping their business.

“Changing our policies midstream hurts investor confidence in Texas’ famed stable business environment,” said Charlie Hemmeline.

The Pew Charitable Trusts found a drop of hundreds of millions of dollars in renewable investment in Ohio after that state took up legislation to weaken or freeze its renewable goals.

“We want your money here,” responded Fraser. “There’s no message here other than: ‘The goal was set, mission accomplished.'”

In what might be a peek at a strategy to kill the bill by rallying rural lawmakers, David Power of Public Citizen cited the value of transmission lines and wind farms to rural areas in his opposition to the proposal.

But Bill Peacock of the Texas Public Policy Foundation said the transmission lines amounted to a subsidy “no longer needed.” “They can compete in the market,” he said of renewable power — a suggestion that renewable energy industry lobbyists said ignores subsidies for other forms of energy.