Dan is Mother Jones' deputy DC bureau chief. He is the New York Times best-selling author of Sons of Wichita(Grand Central Publishing), a biography of the Koch brothers that is now out in paperback. Email him at dschulman (at) motherjones.com.
Can the plaintive GOP candidate capitalize on his New Hampshire momentum?
Daniel SchulmanFeb. 10, 2016 12:30 AM
"Tonight, John Kasich is the story coming out of New Hampshire," John Sununu, a former US senator from the state, declared as he introduced the Ohio governor to a packed ballroom of supporters here in Concord. The crowded risers at the back of the room, lined with TV cameras and photographers, attested to the shifting narrative created by Kasich's surprise second-place finish in the New Hampshire Republican presidential primary.
Kasich himself seemed slightly shell-shocked by how well he had performed, after initially laboring in "totally obscurity" as he criss-crossed New Hampshire to introduce himself to voters. "There's something that's going on that I'm not sure that anybody can quite understand," he said when he took the podium. "There's magic in the air with this campaign. Something big happened tonight." The question for the Kasich campaign, which has focused its resources heavily on New Hampshire, with the candidate holding nearly 190 events in the state, is what comes next? South Carolina, with its base of religious conservative voters, is not considered Kasich country. And more than a month will elapse between his strong New Hampshire finish and the contest in his native Ohio.
Kasich has run a positive if deeply introspective campaign. "We never went negative because we have more good to sell than to spend our time being critical," he said, adding, "Tonight the light overcame the darkness." His message of hope and healing—he has repeatedly urged his supporters to "just slow down" and listen to others—has seemed out of place in a race that has been dominated by a candidate, Donald Trump, who has thrived on divisiveness.
"There are many people in America who don't feel connected," he said tonight. Out on the campaign trial, hearing the stories of others experiencing pain and loss had changed him, Kasich said. "I'm going to go slower."
Yet even the plaintive Kasich seems to understand that slowing down might not be an option if he hopes to extend the New Hampshire storyline into additional victories. "Tonight, we head to South Carolina," he said. "There's so much that's going to happen; if you don't have a seatbelt, go get one."
The real estate mogul is ramping up his attacks on his struggling rival. Just one question: Why?
Daniel SchulmanFeb. 8, 2016 4:11 PM
Donald Trump takes questions from voters in Salem, New Hampshire.
Has Jeb Bush finally gotten under Donald Trump's skin? During a town hall this morning in Salem, New Hampshire, the real estate mogul and GOP front-runner spent an unusual amount of time trashing Bush, who is polling near the back of the pack heading into Tuesday's primary, calling him a "lightweight," "not a smart man," "stiff," and a "spoiled child."
Throughout the campaign, Trump has relished in needling Bush, portraying him as a weak momma's boy who would struggle to find a job outside of government. But his Bush-bashing hasescalated on the eve of the primary, in which most polls suggest Trump is going to crush his competition by a sizable margin.
Does Trump have reason to think Bush is poised to do better than expected in New Hampshire and perhaps claw his way back into the race? Or does he just take special pleasure in belittling his struggling rival?
The Florida governor ramps up his attacks on Trump and Cruz.
Daniel SchulmanFeb. 6, 2016 5:05 PM
Jeb Bush holds a town hall in Bedford, New Hampshire.
"A steady hand." Jeb Bush has used that phrase repeatedly throughout the campaign, as he attempts to convince voters that he's the tried and tested choice for president—the anti-Donald Trump. Bush made that case again today, ahead of Saturday's Republican debate, at a crowded town hall meeting in Bedford, New Hampshire. Dressed casually in a black fleece and seeming at ease as he heads toward a primary that could either finish off his sputtering campaign or give it the momentum to fight on, Bush waxed wonkishly on everything from corporate inversions to student debt to mental health policy. But he also sharpened his attacks on Trump and Ted Cruz, the GOP front-runners who, he argues, can't be trusted to steer the ship of state.
"I'm not a psychiatrist or a psychologist, but the guy needs therapy," Bush said of Trump. And he derided Cruz for talking "about carpet bombing as though that is a policy."
Holding the first primary in the nation is a great privilege—but you also have to deal with this.
Daniel SchulmanFeb. 6, 2016 8:05 AM
For New Hampshire voters, there's a certain kind of flinty pride that comes with helping to set the tone of the presidential election. But, in exchange for the privilege of their first-in-the-nation status, Granite Staters must also endure a special kind of hell. I'm talking about the ceaseless robo-calls, the too-chipper canvassers, the legions of journalists taking up all the damn parking spots in downtown Manchester. And the mailers. They start trickling into mailboxes many months before the primaries, and, as the election nears, the deluge grows biblical.
My in-laws, who live in southern New Hampshire, are putting me up for a few days while I cover the primaries with my colleagues, and they saved some of their mailers for me. This is about a week or twos' worth. (They are registered Republicans, though occasionally vote Democrat, which is why the bulk of the campaign literature they receive concerns GOP candidates. Their moderate leanings may also explain why they are getting a disproportionate number of mailers for and against New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.)
Here's one from a group called America Needs Leadership. It's not entirely clear who's behind this outfit, since a group by this name doesn't even show up in the Federal Election Commission's database. What is clear is that this group's backers believe America needs leadership—and those leaders shouldn't include Marco Rubio (or Hillary Clinton).
Here's one from pro-Christie super-PAC America Leads—not to be confused with the mysterious America Needs Leadership.
Notice who's reflected in Hillary's shades in this mailer from pro-Marco Rubio super-PAC Conservative Solutions? (It's Rubio.)
Here's another Conservative Solutions mailer, this one taking on Rubio rival Ted Cruz.
This mailer from Jeb Bush's campaign is intended to appeal to Granite State gun owners. The gun-carrying guy in the right-hand corner at first glance appears to be Jeb, but he may actually be just some random guy!
At least one out of every three mailers seems to come from Right to Rise, the pro-Jeb Bush super-PAC that raised more than $100 million during its first fundraising quarter.
There is one man standing in the way of the Koch brothers' plans to elect a free-market conservative to the White House in November. His name is Donald J. Trump.
The Kochs, whose fascinating political evolution I detail in my book Sons of Wichita, are not fans of the bombastic real estate mogul whose positions on everything from taxes to foreign policy are at odds with theirs. Charles Koch has said Trump's plan to create a Muslim registry would "destroy our free society"—and for months Trump has been a source of debate and discussion within their donor network, which is raising nearly $900 million for the 2016 elections. Early on in the race, some members of the network believed, as did almost everyone else, that Trump would implode on his own. Some still do. And a very small handful of Koch network donors are Trump supporters. But in recent months, the Kochs and their allies—who now are largely leaning toward Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz—have considered a campaign targeting Trump, whose candidacy they believe poses a threat to the Republican Party, if not the country at large.
The Kochs' Trump problem is the topic of my new piece, just out at Vanity Fair. I report:
But Trump's second-place Iowa finish was more a blow to his ego, in some respect, than the viability of his campaign. If he prevails in New Hampshire, where he's maintaining a huge lead in the polls, pressure is likely to mount within the Koch network to launch an offensive before a march to the nomination gains formidable momentum. When the Kochs and several hundred of their allies gathered last weekend for another summit, halting Trump was a major topic of discussion.
What form might this attack take? According to The Hill, the Kochs' operatives have carefully assessed Trump's vulnerabilities—and those of the other candidates—and determined that highlighting his track record of bankruptcies and predatory business deals harms his standing with likely voters. (The Democrats deployed a similar strategy, to great effect, against Romney's "vulture capitalism.")
"As to whether we would mount something like that, everything is on the table,” one senior Koch official told me. "But there's no real plan. In all of our meetings we've discussed it."
One thing that has held the Koch network back so far, in addition to the Trump backers within their ranks, is the concern that taking on Trump would inevitably draw the thin-skinned tycoon's legendary invective, which it almost certainly would. If the Kochs go after Trump, rest assured that he will take every opportunity to highlight how he's being attacked by a cabal of billionaires seeking to control the outcome of the election. And this more or less explains their caution to this point. By taking on Trump, the Kochs risk lending credence to his claims of being an outsider who is battling against a corrupt political system rigged by the elites.
If Trump performs poorly in New Hampshire, the Koch network may be able to avoid a damaging showdown. But if he wins, it may already be too late to halt the runaway Trump train, especially if there's no Trump-targeting campaign in the can. So what happens if Trump seizes the nomination? Here's where things get very interesting.
If Trump becomes the nominee and he faces self-declared socialist Bernie Sanders in November, the senior Koch official explains, members of the donor network are likely to hold their noses and back Trump's candidacy. But there's another scenario that could prove far more controversial and possibly damaging for the network: a Trump-versus-Clinton matchup. There is absolutely no love between the Clintons and the Kochs, whose company experienced one of the most traumatic periods in its history as it fought off regulators during Bill Clinton's presidency. But, so strong is the dislike for Trump within Koch network, that a Clinton-Trump race is a tough call. "I could see the network not participating in the presidential election at all," says the senior Koch official.
This doesn't mean the Koch network would stand down in 2016 entirely. Under this scenario, donors would instead channel their resources into other races. If this were to occur—and it's a very big if—that would be a stunning development for a network of donors that has been amassing such a huge warchest for the presidential race.