The Village Courtier Does Not Care About Your Mockery

The morning’s Big Guffaw in the progressive blogosphere is a column for Bloomberg Politics by Mark Halperin about Jeb Bush’s presidential prospects. With equal conviction, Halperin suggests (a) neither he nor anybody else, including the proto-candidate himself, knows what Jeb’s going to do in 2016, and (b) Jeb would be insane not to run, such are his vast talents and the hosts of important people (e.g., donors) “panting” (Halperin’s own word for one of them) to make him president.

It’s this second line of argument that’s getting derisive attention, particularly this over-the-top assessment of Jeb’s general-election appeal:

[T]he most macro significant question for any Republican putting him or herself forward to beat Clinton is this: what states can you win that Romney lost? For Bush, the easy answer includes Florida, Ohio, Colorado, Iowa, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, and Virginia. If he runs a strong campaign, Bush could perhaps compete in California and possibly New Jersey and Michigan.

Steve M. of No More Mister Nice Blog explodes this balloon full of laughing gas briskly:

Let’s start near the end of that list: New Jersey? Seriously? Quinnipiac polled Jeb vs. Hillary in New Jersey late last month, and Hillary beat Jeb 53%-32%. A Fairleigh Dickinson poll earlier in September had Hillary beating Jeb 51%-32%. (Hillary’s so strong in Jersey that she beats Christie by double digits.)

Um, Michigan? Early last month, Public Policy Polling had Hillary beating Jeb 49%-38%. Wisconsin? PPP in April had it as Hillary 50%, Jeb 39%. Ohio? Quinnipiac in July had it Hillary 48%, Jeb 37%. Oh, and California? I can’t find a Hillary-Jeb poll, but Obama won there 60%-37% in 2012 (after winning 61%-37% in 2008).

I’m pulling all these numbers from a Wikipedia compilation of state head-to-head polls. Almost as ridiculous is Halperin’s notion that Jeb helps close the gap in states where other Republicans are less competitive. In Florida, yes, that’s true (though Hillary still beats Jeb). But in Colorado, Rand Paul actually does better against Hillary than Jeb does, and Mike Huckabee, Christie, and Cruz do about as well. In Virginia, Christie and Paul do much better than Jeb.

I suspect what bugs Steve M., like a lot of us, is that Mark Halperin is one of the most famous, and certainly one of the most richly remunerated, journalists in Christendom–yet is capable of writing graph after graph and page after page of palpable nonsense, expressing not only an indifference to but an active defiance of any objective evidence that transcends the “insider” information he purveys. But the problem here is in considering Halperin a “journalist” in the normal meaning of the term. His niche is to serve as a courtier and a vanity mirror for what Digby so aptly labeled The Village, the small group of elite beltway-centered movers and shakers who want to form the political world in their own image. He writes what Villagers want to read, and is rewarded with unequaled access to their most avaricious thoughts and intentions. And because they do matter in politics, albeit not as much as they would wish, there is a sort of “journalism” going on, but not of the sort that should be taken seriously as reflecting the broader world where activists, constituency groups, and, you know, actual voters have a little something to say about who governs them.

Back when he was flattering and pandering his way to insider influence at The Note, Halperin did a lot to popularize the concept of “the invisible primary,” the elite-dominated pre-election period when presidential candidates seek the money and influence necessary to mount a successful campaign. He remains adept at following that process, but only through the fun-house mirror of his subjects’ wildly inflated self-esteem. Republican insiders are frustrated that the GOP and the entire political system aren’t joining them in a plaintive wail for a third Bush presidency, so in a faithful reproduction of His Master’s Voice Halperin pens a column combining The Village’s ridiculously distorted idea of Jeb’s power and glory with the incredible phenomenon that America might be denied his services.

Does any of this make sense from the point of view of honest journalism? No, but that’s not Halperin’s gig, and I am quite confident he does not care about our mockery.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.