Tim Murphy

Tim Murphy

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Tim Murphy is a reporter in MoJo's DC bureau. Last summer he logged 22,000 miles while blogging about his cross-country road trip for Mother Jones. His writing has been featured in Slate and the Washington Monthly. Email him with tips and insights at tmurphy [at] motherjones [dot] com.

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Texas Secessionists Have a Political Action Committee Now

| Wed Dec. 5, 2012 1:53 PM EST

Membership in the pro-secession Texas Nationalist Movement has increased 400 percent since President Barack Obama won re-election on November 5—or so the TMN claims. Last week, the group has announced on its website that it's taking the next step: forming a political action committee:

The Texas Nationalist Movement on Tuesday filed paperwork with the Texas Ethics Commission appointing a treasurer for the Texas Nationalist Movement Political Action Committee (TNM-PAC), signaling the organization's most significant venture into the legislative process in pursuit of Texas independence.

TNM president Daniel Miller said the TNM-PAC was formed "for the purpose of supporting and endorsing candidates at all levels that are in-line with the mission, vision and values of the Texas Nationalist Movement."

The Texas Nationalist Movement's foray into the world of campaign finance is its biggest step yet in an effort to enter—and eventually become—the political mainstream. It's also peaceful, which is a noted break from another modern-day Texas secession movement, the Republic of Texas, which was helmed by an eccentric named Richard McLaren who launched an armed invasion and occupation of his neighbor's house in Far West Texas in the 1990s.

TNM-PAC doesn't mention any specific candidates it plans to support, but from the site it's possible to speculate. Perennial candidate Larry Kilgore, who recently changed his middle name to "SECEDE" (yes, allcaps), received 250,000 votes in the 2008 GOP Senate primary and is planning on running for governor in two years. (Among his other issues: instituting the death penalty as a punishment for adultery) The group also touts on its site a November lecture on secession by Wes Riddle, a blogger and historic theater owner who lost a 2010 U.S. House primary despite picking up an endorsement from retiring Rep. Ron Paul.

One candidate TNM-PAC probably won't be supporting: Governor-for-life and occasional secessionist-sympathizer Rick Perry, whose office told the Dallas Morning-News last month that he "believes in the greatness of our Union and nothing should be done to change it."

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Republicans Get Religion on Campaign Data

| Tue Dec. 4, 2012 7:08 AM EST
"Data is the new black."

If the first rule of espionage is to keep your cover, Patrick Ruffini's sortie into the heart of the left-wing conspiracy should probably be considered something of a bust. It didn't help that he announced his intentions one day in advance, via Twitter:

The 34-year-old former RNC staffer is one of the GOP's top gurus for all things digital. Roots Camp, an annual gathering hosted by the New Organizing Institute, is where Democratic organizers go to debrief—or, as in the case of Obama for America's army of attendees, take a victory lap. The names of the panels alone tell the story: "Unfucking Elections with Data"; "Memeification of Rapid Response Social Media Fast & Furious"; "How to generate 1000 tweets using segmented email blasts"; and my personal favorite: "Hot Open Source Web Mapping."

This isn't a place for pundits to ruminate about The Narrative; it's a nuts-and-bolts education venture. And this year's lesson is clear: 2012 was the year campaigns' digital outfits and field organizers began to merge as one, and as a consequence, any session that so much as hints at how to bridge the two seems to be overflowing with dozens of twentysomethings, fresh from electoral success, tapping away on their laptops. As one of the early arrivals at the Friday after-lunch panel on microtargeting ("Modeling Monkey Owners") put it, "Data is sexy now."

When I track down Ruffini, he's lurking in the back of a breakout session, dressed to blend in in green Chuck Taylors and a fleece jacket, tweeting up a storm and taking notes. About 100 people are crammed into seats or on the floor or propped up against the walls to hear Aaron Strauss, the director of targeting and data at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, explain why Nate Silver, the New York Times' polling guru, is full of crap. This would normally be the part of the story where Strauss is struck down by a lightning bolt or some other such instrument of divine retribution, but Strauss makes a compelling case.

The audience, like an overflowing freshman seminar with the cool professor, listens attentively as Strauss breaks down the fundamental issue with Silver's analysis of which states are most likely to swing back and forth. It assumes that the demographics most likely to swing one way or another are those in the middle. That's just not what the numbers say, Strauss insists. The problem, supposedly, is that Silver's information is limited to crude exit polling, whereas Strauss' information comes from phone calls and in-person contacts. "That's where it crumbles," he says. "That's where the house of cards fall down."

Since Election Day, there's been much introspection on the right about the various ways in which the left is kicking its ass—and how the GOP can turn things around. It needs to become more appealing to Silicon Valley. It needs to reinvest in Big Data. It needs its own Analyst Institute. It needs a ground game. Ruffini has been a source of much of that harping, which is part of the reason he's made his visit to Roots Camp in the first place.

"I don't know that I'm surprised by anything I've seen here," Ruffini says when it's over. But it's revealing nonetheless. "I'm sort of more impressed by the scale of it, the level of participation and interest in these topics, that I've seen tangentially discussed in Republican circles, but mostly in conference rooms, not at conferences. And for what it's worth, that perspective, the data-driven perspective, did not win out in our campaigns this year."

The right has no shortage of conferences for activists, but nothing as purpose-driven and digitally savvy as Roots Camp. For that matter, it has no real answer to the New Organizing Institute itself, which operates in perpetual election mode, grooming Democratic field operatives across the country. "I mean look I think you've got RightOnline, you've got a number of major conferences that cater to conservatives," he says. "I don't know that any are quite as focused on digital as this. It's the next step in the evolution." And Ruffini's not the only one studying up on the new Chicago machine. When top Democratic and Republican campaign aides gathered at Harvard last week to talk about the race, GOPers packed talks by Obama staffers. As one Republican strategist told BuzzFeed, "We got our butts kicked, so I'm going to school."

There's a certain irony to the right's newfound introspection: After four years of demonizing the commander-in-chief as an Alinskyite radical, conservatives have fallen in love with community organizing.

It's Okay to Not Feel Bad For Mitt Romney

| Mon Dec. 3, 2012 1:25 PM EST

After ending his six-year campaign for president, the Washington Post reports that Mitt Romney doesn't quite know what to do with himself:

Gone are the minute-by-minute schedules and the swarm of Secret Service agents. There’s no aide to make his peanut-butter-and-honey sandwiches. Romney hangs around the house, sometimes alone, pecking away at his iPad and e-mailing his CEO buddies who have been swooping in and out of La Jolla to visit.

...

One longtime counselor contrasted Romney with former vice president Al Gore, whose weight gain and beard became a symbol of grievance over his 2000 loss. "You won't see heavyset, haggard Mitt," he said. Friends say a snapshot-gone-viral showing a disheveled Romney pumping gas is just how he looks without a suit on his frame or gel in his hair.

Ben Smith suggests that Mitt's malaise makes him (finally) somewhat likable. Jamelle Bouie finds it hard to feel bad for someone whose campaign was so dripping with disdain. I think we're overstating the desperation of Romney's situation. Contrast Romney's cushy retirement to his ocean-front La Jolla mansion with Theodore Roosevelt—who after his 1912 loss to Woodrow Wilson* literally got lost in the wilderness and nearly died:

Theodore Roosevelt had carried the lethal dose of morphine with him for years. He had taken it to the American West, to the African savanna and, finally, down the River of Doubt—a twisting tributary deep in the Amazon rain forest. The glass vial was small enough to tuck into a leather satchel or slip into his luggage, nearly invisible beside his books, his socks and his eight extra pairs of eyeglasses. Easily overlooked, it was perhaps the most private possession of one of the world's most public men.

In December 1913, Roosevelt, then 55, and a small group of men embarked on a journey to explore and map Brazil's River of Doubt. Almost from the start, the expedition went disastrously wrong. Just three months later, as Roosevelt lay on a rusting cot inside his expedition's last remaining tent listening to the roar of the river, he clutched the vial that he had carried for so long. Shivering violently, his body wracked with fever, he concluded that the time had come to take his own life.

In the span of a few days, Roosevelt, once America's youngest President and among its most vigorous, had become a feverish, at times delirious, invalid. He was suffering from malaria and had developed a potentially deadly bacterial infection after slicing his leg on a boulder. In the sweltering rain forest, the cut had quickly become infected, causing his leg to redden and swell and sending his temperature soaring to 105°F. At the same time, the expedition had reached a set of seemingly impassable rapids. Roosevelt's Brazilian co-commander, Colonel Cândido Rondon, had announced that they would have to abandon their canoes and strike out into the jungle--every man for himself. "To all of us," one of them wrote, "his report was practically a sentence of death." For Roosevelt, who could barely sit up, much less fight his way through the rain forest, the plan was simply an impossibility.

So really, things could be much worse.

Update: I should note that Roosevelt did actually make it out of the Amazon alive, but never fully recovered and died five years later.

*Correction: It was Wilson, not Taft.

Rick Santorum Gets Exclusive Deal With Birther Site

| Mon Dec. 3, 2012 11:16 AM EST

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum has landed on his feet after a second-place finish in the GOP primary: He's taken a job as a columnist for the birther bible WorldNetDaily:

Rick Santorum – the former U.S. senator who ignited grass-roots conservatives as a Republican candidate for president this year – today joins WND as an exclusive columnist. His commentaries will be featured each Monday.

His first column? Sounding the alarm about the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities, which he contends "crushes U.S. sovereignty."

WND is best known for journalistic masterpieces such as "Bill Ayers admits (again) he wrote Obama bio," and "Obama didn't write his own love letters," and "The birth certificate debate – it's not over," and "Obama's ring: 'There is no god but Allah'," and "Claim: Obama hid 'gay life' to become president," and finally, "Kenyan insiders say Obama was part of takeover strategy." One year ago, he was surging in Iowa; now he's sharing space with Chuck Norris.

Meanwhile, Politico's Ken Vogel reports that former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum is quietly reaching out to donors in advance of a potential presidential run in 2016—something that seems wholly incompatible with becoming a columnist for a birther site.

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