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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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.

Erick Erickson Mulling Whether to Be Next Todd Akin (UPDATE: He Won't)

| Fri Nov. 30, 2012 7:08 AM EST
RedState founder Erick Erickson.

Update: On Friday morning Erickson announced that he had decided not to challenge Chambliss. As he explained"Were I to run for the Senate, it would be a terribly nasty campaign. It’d actually be really awesome, but it’d be really nasty. I have a seven year old, a soon to be four year old, and a wife who does not like being anywhere near a stage. I’m not putting my family through that when the best outcome would mean a sizable pay cut in pay and being away from my kids and wife all the time huddled in a pit vipers often surrounded by too many who viewed me as a useful instrument to their own advancement." But, he added, Chambliss shouldn't rest easy: "We will find someone to catapult into the arena."

Erick Erickson has the itch. After years of backing conservative primary challenges to moderate GOPers, the RedState founder and CNN contributor is mulling a primary challenge of his own. He's thinking of taking on Sen. Saxby Chambliss, the Georgia Republican who last weekend took the occasion of the fiscal cliff debate to publicly criticize anti-tax activist Grover Norquist. "Saxby Chambliss is waffling around like a dog off its leash for the first time," Erickson wrote in a post for RedState on Tuesday, before speculating that "[a] conservative from metro-Atlanta could put Saxby Chambliss in peril and we should work to make that happen." By then, he was telling his radio show listeners that he just might be the man for the job: "I've been very adamant, I wasn't going to do it, but after a few conversations today with a few heavy hitters in Washington, D.C. and some here in Georgia, I should at least consider it."

From his perch at RedState, Erickson has scored a few big wins in his plan to make the Republican Party walk and talk a bit more like Erick Erickson. He beat the drum early on Marco Rubio, back when then-Gov. Charlie Crist was the toast of the Republican establishment. He backed Ted Cruz for Senate when the former Texas solicitor general was flailing in the polls.

But he's chosen jesters as often as he's picked kings—and it's cost the Republican party dearly. He endorsed Sharron Angle in Nevada. He was among the first prominent conservatives to back Richard Mourdock's campaign against Sen. Richard Lugar. He backed Christine O'Donnell in her primary against former Rep. Mike Castle.

The only way Republicans could possibly stand any chance of losing a Senate seat in Georgia in 2014 is if they they nominated someone with a history of degrading comments about women and inflammatory views on abortion. That is, someone like Erick Erickson.

To recap, Erickson:

  • Expressed his surprise that "feminazis" had complained about then-Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow's pro-life Super Bowl ad in 2010. As he put it: "That's what being too ugly to get a date does for your brain." That was followed by this tweet: "Turned on Twitter today and there was a barrage of angry feminists upset with me telling them to get in the kitchen and learn to cook."
  • Once called Michelle Obama a "Marxist Harpy Wife."
  • Referred to the first night of the Democrat National Convention as the "Vagina Monologues."
  • Dismissed bullying of a presumed gay classmate as: "Mitt Romney cut a hippy's hair at his preparatory high school."
  • Argued that civil war may be unavoidable if Roe v. Wade is not overturned. As Erickson put it: "[O]nce before, our nation was forced to repudiate the Supreme Court with mass bloodshed. We remain steadfast in our belief that this will not be necessary again, but only if those committed to justice do not waiver or compromise, and send a clear and unmistakable signal to their elected officials of what must be necessary to earn our support."
  • Called for more Willie Horton ads, citing the invisible scourge of the New Black Panthers: "The Democrats are giving a pass to radicals who advocate killing white kids in the name of racial justice and who try to block voters from the polls. The Democrats will scream racism. Let them. Republicans are not going to pick up significant black support anyway."
  • Contemplated shooting bureaucrats:

At what point do the people tell the politicians to go to hell? At what point do they get off the couch, march down to their state legislator’s house, pull him outside, and beat him to a bloody pulp for being an idiot?

At some point soon, it will happen. It’ll be over an innocuous issue. But the rage is building. It’s not a partisan issue. There is bipartisan angst at out of control government made worse by dumb bans like this and unintended consequences like AIG’s bonus problems.

If the GOP plays its cards right, it will have a winning issue in 2010. But it is going to have to get back to "leave me the hell alone" style federalism where the national government recedes and the people themselves will have to fight to take their states back from special interests out of touch with body politic as a whole.

Were I in Washington State, I'd be cleaning my gun right about now waiting to protect my property from the coming riots or the government apparatchiks coming to enforce nonsensical legislation.

  • Contemplated shooting bureaucrats again:

I'm not filling out this form. I dare them to try and come throw me in jail. I dare them to. Pull out my wife's shotgun and see how that little ACS twerp likes being scared at the door. They're not going on my property. They can't do that. They don't have the legal right, and yet they're trying."

On the plus side for Georgia Republicans, at least Herman Cain's not running.

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