Tim Murphy

Tim Murphy

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Tim Murphy is a senior reporter at Mother Jones. Email him with tips and insights at tmurphy@motherjones.com.

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Michele Bachmann: The Candidate From Foursquare

| Tue Dec. 20, 2011 7:00 AM EST

Martin Luther's acolytes had the printing press. The Velvet Revolution had rock-and-roll radio stations. The Arab Spring had Facebook. Michele Bachmann's long-shot quest for a second American Revolution has Foursquare. Well, it's something anyway.

Bachmann won't win the Republican nomination, but her campaign is on the upswing in Iowa, where the latest Public Policy poll has her breaking double digits for the first time in months. Last week, she kicked off a 99-county bus tour, to visit every corner of the state, and she seems to think she might actually have an outside shot at winning the caucuses. The days when she had to yell frantically at debate moderators to get a little face time have passed, at least for now. What's her secret? It's the world's most perplexing social media platform this side of Ping.

There she was, at the Thirsty Dog in Manly on Sunday evening. Four minutes earlier, if Foursquare can be trusted (and I would suggest to you that it must, it simply must) she was at the Prime and Wine in Mason City. That followed a stop at Shooterz Bar in Forest City (try the meatloaf), and successive appearances at Pizza Ranch franchises in Garner and Clarion. She started the day by checking in at Harvest Baptist Church in Fort Dodge (with two others). On Saturday, it was much of the same: Pizza Hut in Ida Grove (where she unlocked the "Bender" badge for checking in for the fourth consecutive night)—and three more Pizza Ranches, in Rockwell City, Pocahontas, and Emmetsburg.

Oh, and the compulsory visit to Cronk's in Denison, where this happened:

She held off on tweeting about it, at least. On Friday she as at Hey, Good Cookies in Spirit Lake, Cool Beans coffee shop in Estherville, and—noticing a trend here—Pizza Ranch in Sibley.

So what does this all mean? Michele Bachmann goes to a lot of pizza places: In Garner, she unlocked the Level 2 Pizzaiolo badge; as I'm writing this, she's just checked into the Princess Grill and Pizzeria in Iowa Falls, and she'll have stops later on Monday at Pizza Ranches in Charles City and Waverly. But there's a method to all of it. As Kerry Howley reported in March, Pizza Ranch holds a unique place in Iowa politics. When Mike Huckabee won the caucuses in 2008, he did it by hitting all 69 franchises in the state. Social conservative activist Bob Vander Plaats (of marriage pledge fame) has used the buffet-style chain as a staging ground for his own campaigns. It's a way of microtargeting the predominantly old, predominantly evangelical voters who will decide the results on January 3.

Of course, the senior citizens who hang out at Pizza Ranch to listen to Michele Bachmann talk about Alfred Kinsey are also, generally speaking, not the sort to unlock the oversharing badge on Foursquare. Which just goes to show you that while candidates have more social media tools at their disposal than ever before, they're still not entirely sure what to do with them. That is, unless Bachmann becomes Mayor of the Iowa caucuses.

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Your Daily Newt: A $40 Billion Entitlement for Laptops

| Tue Dec. 20, 2011 7:00 AM EST

Dan Herrick/ZumaPressDan Herrick/ZumaPressAs a service to our readers, every day we are delivering a classic moment from the political life of Newt Gingrich—until he either clinches the nomination or bows out.

After being sworn in as Speaker of the House in 1995 on a promise to tear down the welfare state, Newt Gingrich needed just one day to propose a new, $40 billion entitlement program to allow poor Americans to buy laptops. As he told the House Ways and Means Committee:

I'll give you a nutty idea that I'm just tossing out because I want to start getting you to think beyond the norm. Maybe we need a tax credit for the poorest Americans to buy a laptop. Now, maybe that's wrong, maybe it's expensive, maybe we can't do it. But I'll tell you, any signal we can send to the poorest Americans that says "We're going into the 21st century, third-wave information age, and so are you, and we want to carry you with us," begins to change the game.

It was not the first time he'd floated the concept. Elizabeth Drew reported that Gingrich had "made a similar proposal several years [earlier], to an executive of a major technology company, and had been told it wasn't feasible." And in his 1984 book Window of Opportunity, Gingrich had heralded France's move to put a telephone in every house as "an investment in the future and one which may make France the leading information-processing society in the world by the end of the century."

Because poor Americans don't pay income taxes, though, the tax credit wouldn't do much good—unless it was a refundable tax credit, in which case it would basically be an entitlement by another name. (It was also a bit incongruous to propose giving away laptops while simultaneously trying to eliminate food stamps, but we all have our indiosyncrasies.) The Speaker backtracked shortly thereafter. As Michael Kinsley put it in the New Yorker:

Gingrich conceded that the laptop tax-credit idea was not merely "nutty" but "dumb" and added, "I shouldn't have said it." He even revealed that he had called up George Will to apologize—apparently what one does in such circumstances—though he did not reveal whether Will had given him absolution.

Your Daily Newt: Hillary Clinton's a B****

| Mon Dec. 19, 2011 7:00 AM EST

As a service to our readers, every day we are delivering a classic moment from the political life of Newt Gingrich—until he either clinches the nomination or bows out.

Like most Republicans in the 1990s, Newt Gingrich was not a fan of Hillary Clinton. Unlike most Republicans in the 1990s, his dislike for the First Lady was so great that it bubbled to the surface in the middle of a 60 Minutes interview with his mom. When CBS' Connie Chung asked Kathleen Gingrich in 1995 if her son had ever vented about Hillary Clinton, Mrs. Gingrich said she couldn't talk about it. Then Chung pulled off the journalistic equivalent of the fake-to-third-throw-to-first pick-off move:

Your Daily Newt: The Great Dino Debates

| Fri Dec. 16, 2011 10:48 AM EST
Newt Gingrich and paleontologist Jack Horner debate dinosaurs in 1998.

As a service to our readers, every day we are delivering a classic moment from the political life of Newt Gingrich—until he either clinches the nomination or bows out.

Gingrich fantasized about bringing dinosaurs back to life in his 1995 book, and he decorated his Capitol office with a tyrannosaurus rex skull on loan from the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. So it shouldn't come as too much of a surprise that, in 1997 and again in 1998, Gingrich participated in a series of public debates with Montana State University paleontologist Jack Horner to discuss whether the T-Rex was a scavenger or a predator.

The first forum (which was not in the style of the Lincoln–Douglas debates) came shortly after Gingrich, joined at one point by Easy Rider star Peter Fonda, spent a day digging for dinosaur bones—and small mammals—at a secure private site south of Livingston, Montana. Jerry Gray of the New York Times set the scene:

Looking like a pudgy Indiana Jones in jeans, plaid shirt and wide-brimmed hat, lugging a backpack bulging with pickax, chisels and a wisk broom, the Speaker of the House chipped away a crust of brittle stones and dried mud to expose his Jurassic treasure. He grinned broadly and proclaimed, ''I feel like a 9-year-old.''

Following the excavation, Gingrich joined Horner for a one-hour debate at Bozeman's Museum of the Rockies, to discuss the feeding habits of the T-Rex. Gingrich's theory was simple: "I believe he was a predator because I saw 'Jurassic Park' and he ate a lawyer and it wasn't a dead lawyer."

The event, which doubled as a fundraiser for the museum, was enough of a success that they did it again the next year. Yes, there's a video.

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