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Friday, October 28, 2016
[This originally appeared in The Washington Spectator.]

The penumbras and emanations of Citizens United are changing the Republican campaign game.

Never have so many done so much to reveal so little than in the collected journalism about presidential nomination contests. The personality-driven trivia. The hokey generalizations. The bogs of conventional wisdom. The day-by-day scorekeeping that ends up worse than uninformative; it is anti-informative. (Just ask Presidents George Romney, Edmund Muskie, Scoop Jackson, John Connally, Richard Gephardt, and Hillary Rodham Clinton.) The utter failure to inform the public of the actual, on-the-ground dynamics of the nuts-and-bolts process by which the parties chose their standard-bearers, and the larger dynamics that drive party trends from decade to decade.

And, last but not least, the shameful lack of any useful contribution to a richer public understanding of what any of this means for the future of the republic at large. Consider, to take an example close to hand, the saga of the $80,000 boat.

On June 9, The New York Times ran a useful, detailed consideration of the finances of Marco Rubio. Publicly, the Florida senator describes his everyman’s struggle to “finally pay off his law school loans.” Privately, according to state records unearthed by the paper’s Steve Eder and Michael Barbaro, he spent “$80,000 for a luxury speedboat.”

The detail revealed a larger pattern: Rubio has been financially in the hole for nearly his entire adult life. The reason this mattered, noted the Times—whose work on Rubio has been a welcome exception to the rule of bad campaign reporting—was that it “has made him unusually reliant on a campaign donor, Norman Braman, a billionaire who has subsidized Mr. Rubio’s job as a college instructor, hired him as a lawyer, and continues to employ his wife.”

These details were explained in the Times a month earlier. The same two reporters described the 82-year-old Braman, an almost comically plutocratic figure who sells Rolls Royces and Bugattis for a living, and almost singlehandedly recalled Miami’s mayor. Braman, who implored the Times reporters, “I don’t consider myself a fat cat. Don’t make me out to be a fat cat,” has been able to call the tune for the 44-year-old Rubio.

Then came Politico’s bubble-headed media reporter Dylan Byers with a scoop: Rubio’s “luxury speedboat” was “in fact, an offshore fishing boat.” Speedboats, you see, are for rich swells; fishing boats, even ones costing almost $100,000, are for jes’ folks.

Immediately, this supposed error became the shiny bouncing ball the political media decided to chase.

Politico covered Boatgate eight times over the next two weeks—Byers twice in two consecutive days. They didn’t mention Braman once. (They had mentioned him in May—in scorekeeping mode, as the “Miami auto dealer who’s expected to pour anywhere from $10 million to $25 million into [Rubio’s] bid.”) The Washington Post also featured little but nautically inclined reporting on Rubio in that same period, seven pieces mentioning the boat including one fact checking Jon Stewart and another headlined “Mr. Rubio, Like a Lot of Americans, Is Terrible With Money.” (Not, say, “Mr. Rubio, Like a Lot of Americans, Has a Surrogate Father Who Loans Him Rides on His Private Jet.”) The neocons at The Weekly Standard summed things up for the historical record: The Times’ “failed hit on Marco Rubio’s fishing boat” proved “Rubio is [the] GOP frontrunner.” End of story.

What else do you need to know about Marco Rubio in the second week of June 2015?

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Copyright 2015 The National Memo
  • Daniel Jones

    I will explain the political corruption of this nation.

    It will explain why rules are made to be ignored and negated as soon as no one is watching.

    It will explain why the lower class (“Middle” class is ceasing to exist, anyway) will not get any respect, support, or consideration until they cease following the lead of the political/media song and dance.

    Are you ready?

    Here it comes…

    Now go home and think about it.

  • Dominick Vila

    With the exception of Bernie Sanders, the remaining candidates running for the nomination of their respective parties are only offering platitudes or making bizarre statements to remain relevant, at a time when a vision of the future is desperately needed. The fact that so many fellow Americans are impressed by the lack of leadership, character, and intellect that is evident when we take a close look at the gang of opportunists running for president, says more about who we are than about the politicians engaged in the “reality” show we are all witnessing.

    • TZToronto

      Vision of the future is a tricky thing for politicians. If you’re on the left and say that you want to control the corporations, make the middle class relevant, and work for peace, you lose the people who feel that the financially successful are entitled to more, that corporations make America strong, and that peace = weakness. If you’re on the right and make noises about working with the other side of the aisle, you’ll lose the far right, not to mention those on the left for whom the middle is too far right, And if you want the progressive vote, you may have to go further left than is practical. So the result is that no one is happy with the ultimate result of the election, and the only people who win are the people who paid a lot of money to elect . . . someone. It’s not who has the best ideas and can fulfill promises, It’s the one whose campaign ads were most frequently seen, and that takes a lot of money.

  • charleo1

    Isn’t money in politics a lot like steroids in sports? Except that we all agree how harmful performance enhancing drugs can be for both the athletes, and the sport itself. That sanctioning the use of steroids would force all the participants into partake. That once it was approved, it’s use would spread from the professionals, to the college level, to high schoolers, and beyond, causing incalculable harm. With the ever present excuse, “Well, they all do it, right?” This is why the Right’s rank and file’s dispassionate attitude toward the unprecedented amounts of money flowing into our political system is so perplexing. That they fail to see the high probability that they are being, that indeed, most Americans are being disenfranchised by a process where the candidate with the most lavishly funded campaign wins 80% of the time. Could it really be as simple as they sense their advantage in this, and so feign their approval? But then fail woefully to connect the dots between their deep dissatisfaction with their Party’s seeming obliviousness to their concerns. That they fail to hear their own consistently voiced consternation at their elected Representatives failure to listen to them, follow the Constitution, to be true Conservatives, in their opinion, and so on. But claim to be fervent believers in the outrageous, and until recent times never accepted concept, that money, rather than being a corrupting influence. Is nothing more than a few billionaires fully exercising their freedom of speech just like everyone else. And of course, never failing to point out, that you Democrats are equally as guilty. As if one Party could unilaterally disarm, anymore than that the talented high school footballer could hope to compete for that scholarship without going to the needle just like everyone else.