We’ll Always Have Dallas

One of the public services PA intends to carry out in this presidential year is to point out the excesses of “game-changey” campaign coverage, which often in the pursuit of shoe-leather, granular journalism mistakes pine straw for trees and trees for forests.

There’s a good example at WaPo today, where two good political reporters, Ed O’Keefe and Robert Costa, decide they needed a good anecdote to explain the shaky nature of Jeb Bush’s Invisible Primary campaign:

When asked to pinpoint where Jeb Bush’s presidential effort began running into trouble, many confidants utter a single word: Dallas.

Mike Murphy, Bush’s political alter ego, decided early on to hold regular senior staff meetings at an unusual location: a Hyatt hotel inside a terminal at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. The idea was that it was a central and relatively inexpensive gathering place for a team scattered from Los Angeles, where Murphy lives, to Miami, where the would-be candidate resides.

It went fine at first but quickly became an awkward routine. Donors and other Republicans found the setup ungainly for a campaign-in-waiting that was supposed to be based in Florida.

Some literal-minded readers may justifiably conclude that had the Bushies met in Orlando (where, as I can testily attest, it’s entirely possible to attend meetings and wander around for days without leaving the secured areas), they wouldn’t be having all this trouble. Others may come back to this anecdote later if tensions between Mike Murphy–responsible for inconveniencing all those Floridians–and the rest of Jeb World seem to be a problem.

Trouble is, aside from the fact that great big adult wheelers and dealers like those in Jeb’s inner circle can probably handle some air travel, the anecdote deflects attention from what I took to be the two bits of real news in the piece: first, that Jeb’s Super-PACs aren’t going to hit that $100 million “shock and awe” goal prior to his official announcement that they so incautiously broadcast for so long, and then this, buried far down in the article:

Forced to make up lost ground, Bush, his aides and his super-PAC allies are now preparing plans to attack the records and experience of his GOP competition, especially Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Rand Paul (Ky.) and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. A summer envisioned as a season of slow and warm introductions to voters is poised to be a battle as Bush tries to recapture his place atop the pack.

As you may recall, Bush had been advertising for a good while that he was going to run an upbeat, positive campaign that contrasted with the dirty, negative tactics of others. Now it’s clear the money he does have is going to be devoted to doing exactly the same thing Mitt Romney did with his in 2012: go negative on his opponents. Fortunately for Mitt, he had the opportunity to tear his rivals apart one by one. Unfortunately for Jeb that may not work in 2016 with its vast field of candidates who could replace damaged front-runners, creating a Whack-a-Mole situation for anyone going negative.

Maybe the decision to get down and dirty was made at one of those inconvenient conferences in Dallas. But I doubt the location had anything to do with it, unless Satan lives there now and sat in.

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.