I rise today to a point of personal privilege: the opportunity to defend my friend and colleague, and fellow blogospheric furry mammal, The Bull Moose (a.k.a., Marshall Wittmann) from a double-barreled attempt over at DailyKos to barbecue his tough old hide.What did the Moose do to earn this extensive abuse? He provided a short quote to the Washington Post commenting on the likely Republican treatment of Nancy Pelosi’s Iraq statement the other day, the point being that the timing of the statement reinforced the White House’s effort to frame the Iraq debate as offering a Manichean choice between victory or immediate withdrawal. The Post reporter, sensing an opportunity to make some trouble, tracked down David Sirota and read him the quote, and Sirota dutifully called Marshall an “insulated elitist” who was stabbing the Democratic Party in the back. (Side-note to David: you might want to discard the stab-in-the-back metaphor, given its unsavory origins in post-World-War-I German politics. Sorry for the “elitist” pedantry, but it’s good advice).In response to this exchange, Markos went on for a number of graphs accusing The Moose of calling Pelosi a coward, of calling Jack Murtha a coward, of supporting Bush on the war, of being a neocon chickenhawk, etc., etc. Armando went further, accusing Wittmann of McCarthyism, and of being a “Rovian pawn,” and concluding with a demand that the DLC fire his ass.Lordy, lordy. So many words of abuse in response to so few words of provocation. Where to begin?When I read the quote, I thought it was pretty clear Marshall was describing the Rovian spin on Pelosi’s statement, not agreeing with it, and I know for a fact that’s what he meant, in a longer conversation with the reporter from which the quote was lifted. But okay, let’s say for the sake of argument that he left the impression he did agree with it. Where did he call Pelosi a “coward?” Where did he call Murtha–whom he has previously defended from Republican attacks–a “coward?”To avoid any misunderstanding on this point, let me be clear: Marshall’s beef with Pelosi isn’t about her position on Iraq, or Murtha’s, or anybody else’s. It’s a free country and a big-tent party. But she’s the party leader in the House, making a statement transparently designed in its timing to become the Democratic response to Bush’s speech. Sure, she claimed she wasn’t speaking for the Caucus, but in the next breath, said a majority of the Caucus agreed with her but wouldn’t come out and say so (which certainly ran a higher risk of being interpreted as an accusation of “cowardice” against Democrats than anything Wittmann’s said, BTW).Now, over at Kos, and all over the blogosphere, people say positive and negative things about the leadership qualities and tactical and strategic decisions of Democrat leaders all the time, and sometimes that causes heartburn, but they’re rarely if ever accused of “McCarthyism.” Marshall’s criticism of Pelosi is something I’ve heard echoed in conversations with many Democrats, some of whom agree with the actual Pelosi-Murtha position. I hardly think it’s the Sin Against the Holy Ghost to tell a reporter what he already knew about this line of internal debate.The next cookie on the plate is the assertion that Wittmann is a stay-the-course shill for Bush’s war policies. Gee, let’s see: just yesterday, The Moose said nobody should believe Bush is really changing his strategy on Iraq until he gets rid of Donald Rumsfeld. I somehow don’t think that was in the daily Pentagon talking points on Iraq. And in fact, Wittmann has been regularly critical, often angrily so, about Bush’s handling of Iraq and national security generally. Yes, he’s more hawkish than many Democrats (after all, he’s an independent), and he’s more hawkish than I am, but he’s no shill for Bush on any subject.And that brings me to the real howler in the attempted Moosicide, the “Rovian pawn” bit.I don’t expect Armando to know that much about Marshall Wittmann’s history, but I certainly do. He was a conservative intellectual and activist in the 90s who got to see people like Rove, DeLay, Reed, Abramoff, Norquist, Gingrich, Bush I and Bush II, up real close, and got very sick of what his party was becoming, and started saying so publicly. He was a key figure in John McCain’s 2000 effort to take the GOP away from the K Street/theocon crowd, and became if not Public Enemy Number One, then certainly on everybody’s enemies list. He was shown the door at two conservative think tanks for his heresies, and finally, when his hero McCain decided to make at least partial peace with the Power Crowd, he walked.I don’t see anybody holding David Brock’s past associations against him, but The Moose, probably because he hasn’t totally jumped over to Our Team, doesn’t seem to benefit from any Prodigal Son generosity, at least outside the DLC. And anybody who reads his blog regularly knows that nobody, not Markos, not Armando, not me, not you, does a more savage and effective job of exposing the rottenness of the whole GOP machine in lurid and extremely well-informed detail.And that’s why the DLC employs him; why we don’t demand that he tow anybody’s party line; and why he’s a valuable ally to Democrats, even if you disagree with him, which I do pretty often. We need to listen and even sponsor independent voices; maybe we’ll learn something from them, if only how to appeal to the millions of voters who have left Their Team but haven’t joined ours.On a more personal note, it pains me to see Wittmann demonized by anybody, especially as some sort of hatchet man, because he’s actually one of the nicest and certainly funniest people I’ve ever met. He and I have a water-fountain routine where we lapse into Marxist factional jargon in describing the day’s political events (“Lieberman has clearly exposed himself as a Social Fascist Right Opportunist;” “Our red state strategy must separate the small peasants from the kulaks.”) And far from Sirota’s description of him as a Washington Elitist, Wittmann’s greatest thrill in politics was his recent opportunity to hang out with Kinky Friedman (and his sidekick, “Jewford,” one of the original Texas Jewboys) in Dallas. I hope when he’s grazing in retirement, he can publish the full account of this encounter in its screamingly hilarious detail.So please, Moose-o-phobics, lighten up and recognize a rare talent whose regular refusal to serve up turgid partisan fare, and occasional outrages, are more than offset by his knowledgeable skewering of the right-wing machine, and his independent willingness to tell us things we don’t like but probably ought to consider.
TDS Strategy Memos
Latest Research from:
By Ed Kilgore
May 26: DeSantis Stumbles Out of the Gate
Like everyone else, I listened to DeSantis’s botched Twitter Spaces launch, but then reached some conclusions about the trajectory of his campaign at New York:
Before long, the laughter over the technical glitches that marred Ron DeSantis’s official presidential campaign launch with Elon Musk on Twitter Spaces will fade. We’ll all probably look back and place this moment in better perspective. Political-media folk (not to mention DeSantis’s Republican rivals and Democratic enemies) tend to overreact to “game changing” moments in campaigns when fundamentals and long-term trends matter infinitely more. Relatively few actual voters were tuned in to Twitter to watch the botched launch, and even fewer will think less of DeSantis as a potential president because of this incident.
It mattered in one respect, however: The screwed-up launch stepped all over a DeSantis campaign reset designed to depict the Florida governor as a political Death Star with unlimited funds and an unbeatable strategy for winning the GOP nomination. The reset was important to rebut the prevailing story line that DeSantis had lost an extraordinary amount of ground since the salad days following his landslide reelection last year, when he briefly looked to be consolidating partywide support as a more electable and less erratic replacement for Donald Trump. For reasons both within and beyond his control, he missed two critical strategic objectives going into the 2024 race: keeping the presidential field small enough to give him a one-on-one shot at Trump and keeping Trump from reestablishing himself as the front-runner with an air of inevitability about a third straight nomination.
To dissipate growing concerns about the DeSantis candidacy, the top chieftains of his Never Back Down super-PAC let it be known earlier this week that they had a plan that would shock and awe the political world, based on their extraordinary financial resources (fed by an $80 million surplus DeSantis transferred from his Florida reelection campaign account). The New York Times wrote up the scheme without questioning its connection to reality:
“A key political group supporting Ron DeSantis’s presidential run is preparing a $100 million voter-outreach push so big it plans to knock on the door of every possible DeSantis voter at least four times in New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina — and five times in the kickoff Iowa caucuses.
“The effort is part of an on-the-ground organizing operation that intends to hire more than 2,600 field organizers by Labor Day, an extraordinary number of people for even the best-funded campaigns….
“The group said it expected to have an overall budget of at least $200 million.”
In case the numbers didn’t properly document the audacity of this plan, Team DeSantis made it explicit. The Times report continues:
“‘No one has ever contemplated the scale of this organization or operation, let alone done it,’ said Chris Jankowski, the group’s chief executive. ‘This has just never even been dreamed up.’” …
At the helm of the DeSantis super PAC is Jeff Roe, a veteran Republican strategist who was Mr. [Ted] Cruz’s campaign manager in 2016. In an interview, Mr. Roe described an ambitious political apparatus whose 2,600 field organizers by the fall would be roughly double the peak of Senator Bernie Sanders’s entire 2020 primary campaign staff.
Clearly opening up the thesaurus to find metaphors for the extraordinary power and glory of their plans, one DeSantis operative told the Dispatch they were “light speed and light years ahead of any campaign out there, including Trump’s.”
Now more than ever, DeSantis’s campaign will have to prove its grand plans aren’t just fantasies. Those doors in Iowa really will have to be knocked. Thanks to Trump’s current lead, DeSantis will absolutely have to beat expectations there and do just as well in New Hampshire and South Carolina before facing an existential challenge in his and Trump’s home state of Florida. And while DeSantis had a good weekend in Iowa recently, picking up a lot of state legislative endorsements even as Trump canceled a rally due to bad weather that never arrived, he’s got a ways to go. A new Emerson poll of the first-in-the-nation-caucuses state shows Trump leading by an astonishing margin of 62 percent to 20 percent. And obviously enough, Iowa is where DeSantis will likely face the largest number of rivals aside from Trump; he’s a sudden surge from Tim Scott or Mike Pence or Nikki Haley or even Vivek Ramaswamy away from a real Iowa crisis.
Door knocking aside, a focus on Iowa, with its base-dominated caucus system and its large and powerful conservative Evangelical population, will likely force DeSantis to run to Trump’s right even more than he already has. The newly official candidate did not mention abortion policy during his launch event on Twitter; that will have to change, since he has a crucial opportunity to tell Iowa Evangelicals about the six-week ban he recently signed (similar, in fact, to the law Iowa governor Kim Reynolds enacted), in contrast to Trump’s scolding of the anti-abortion movement for extremism. DeSantis also failed once again to talk about his own religious faith, whatever it is; that will probably have to change in Iowa too. He did, however, talk a lot during the launch about his battle against the COVID-19 restrictions the federal government sought to impose on Florida even during the Trump administration. That will very likely continue.
The glitchy launch basically cost DeSantis whatever room for maneuvering he might have enjoyed as the 2024 competition begins to get very real — less than eight months before Iowa Republicans caucus (the exact date remains TBD). He’d better get used to spending a lot of time in Iowa’s churches and Pizza Ranches, and he also needs to begin winning more of the exchanges of potshots with Trump, which will only accelerate from here on out. All the money he has and all the hype and spin his campaign puts out won’t win the nomination now that Trump is fully engaged, and it sure doesn’t look like the 45th president’s legal problems will represent anything other than rocket fuel for his jaunt through the primaries. So for DeSantis, it’s time to put up or shut up.