The Phony Campaign

2019-02-17 Update

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A small technical change to our Betfair-derived probability calculations implemented this week: If there's a huge (arbitrarily, greater than 175%) difference between Betfair's "Back all" and "Lay all" prices for a candidate, we assume that the market is too thinly traded to be reliable, and omit that candidate.

This change causes Mike Pence and (surprisingly)  Kirsten Gillibrand to disappear from our standings this week. Sorry, kids. Encourage your backers to put up some money on you.

On the phony front, Kamala Harris nearly doubled her phony Google hits this week, leaving everyone else way behind. (We award her with our Amazon Product Placement of the week, which I'm sure will please any number of her fans.)

Unexpectedly, Beto O'Rourke jumped into second place with an over-eightfold increase in his phony hits.

No doubt: third-place President Trump needs to step up his phony game. (But if you're taking this at all seriously, please see that disclaimer at the bottom of the table.)

Candidate WinProb Change
Kamala Harris 14.1% -1.1% 22,100,000 +11,300,000
Beto O'Rourke 7.1% -1.6% 4,870,000 +4,285,000
Donald Trump 32.0% +1.5% 2,500,000 +10,000
Michael Bloomberg 3.1% +0.6% 624,000 +56,000
Bernie Sanders 5.1% +0.6% 520,000 +69,000
Amy Klobuchar 4.5% +1.2% 515,000 +344,000
Tulsi Gabbard 2.0% unch 360,000 -38,000
Joe Biden 8.0% -0.3% 204,000 +6,000
Sherrod Brown 3.3% -1.0% 176,000 -7,000
Elizabeth Warren 5.3% +1.9% 165,000 -25,000

Standard disclaimer: Google result counts are bogus.

  • Brendan Nyhan has decamped from that college on the other side of the state to the University of Michigan. But he has a provocative take, phony-wise, at Medium: A Politician’s Authenticity Doesn’t Matter. Especially food-based authenticity:

    With the 2020 presidential campaign officially underway, the worst excesses of political reporting are once again rearing their ugly heads — most notably, the media’s preoccupation with candidates’ authenticity, an obsession that has marred so many recent presidential campaigns. New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand became the latest victim of the authenticity police on Saturday, after she had the audacity to ask whether it was appropriate to use her fingers or a fork to eat the fried chicken she was served at a women’s brunch in South Carolina.

    New York’s Frank Rich asked on Twitter, “Is there anything Gillibrand has done that is not contrived and opportunistic? I ask the question seriously. Replies welcome.” New York Times columnist Frank Bruni went further, writing that “you got the sense that she would have grabbed that chicken with her pinkie toes if she’d been told to… Anything to conform. Anything to please.”

    With respect to Professor Nyhan, this sort of thing, food etiquette (or lack thereof) proxying for authenticity, has been going on for a while. A tweet exhuming a blurb from a 1964 New York Times article:

    At the time, RFK was running for US Senate, ironically the same seat that Kirsten Gillibrand now occupies. As far as I know, nobody measured how many votes his inauthentic pizza-eating cost him in the South Village.

    Prof Nyhan goes on to observe how candidates get "trapped" in what he calls the authenticity doom loop (in a column we linked to back in 2015): "a pattern in which attempts to showcase a candidate’s authenticity are taken as proof of the opposite."

    Self-interestedly, I hope that candidates and the media fail to take Brendan's advice. I'd have a lot less to write about.

    (And, yes, I know Senator Kirsten isn't currently included in our phony poll, but …)

  • But we have to point you to another in Jim Geraghty's "things you probably didn't know" series: 20 Things You Probably Didn’t Know about Kirsten Gillibrand. You don't have to dive very far down to find…

    3. Gillibrand went to high school at the prestigious Emma Willard School in Troy, arguably the most prestigious private high school in New York. In 1984 she enrolled at Dartmouth; she spent the summer of 1986 at Beijing Normal University in China and the fall semester at Tunghai University in Taiwan.

    After Dartmouth she attended UCLA Law School and spent a summer interning in the Albany office of then-senator Al D’Amato. She was also selected for internships at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York and at the offices of United Nations Crime Prevention in Vienna, Austria.

    In her book, Gillibrand describes her childhood as “the stereotypical 1970s middle-class experience — cul de sac, family dinners.” The Washington Post described Gillibrand’s upbringing as that of a “middle-class Roman Catholic Albany schoolgirl.”

    Well, I suppose that sounds better than "privileged daughter of a politically well-connected family."

  • Indispensible Geraghty expands on Kirsten in a Morning Jolt newsletter, in which he holds out hope that she'll rise from her long-shot status: Kirsten Gillibrand's 2020 Presidential Hopes Shouldn't Be Underestimated.

    There’s a strange false modesty at work in Gillibrand’s nascent campaign. When she announced her bid on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, she declared, “I’m going to run for president of the United States because as a young mom, I’m going to fight for other people’s kids as hard as I would fight for my own.” But America has a lot of wonderful young moms, and very few of them get elected to the House or Senate or get invited to sit on Colbert’s couch. “Vote for me because I’m a mom like you” is an argument that hand-waves away everything that makes Gillibrand unique.

    What makes her unique is that year by year, she became exactly what is required to succeed in New York politics, which is basically a synonym for New York Democratic politics. This meant dramatic flip-flops on issues like guns and illegal immigration when she moved from the House to the Senate. When she was appointed to fill out Hillary Clinton’s term, both Democratic rivals and New York Republicans thought she would be beatable. No one’s ever cracked more than 36 percent against her in a statewide primary or general election. She can schmooze both farmers and Wall Street, charm reporters from Vogue and Politico, laugh with Jon Stewart, and hit it off with Charlie Rose. She defends abortion on demand, then attends Bible studies with her GOP Senate colleagues. She calls for bipartisanship and boasts that she’s voted against every one of President Trump’s cabinet appointees. She boasts about voting against the TARP bailout twice, but is now courting Wall Street executives to help out her campaign.

    Marvel comics used to feature a villain called the “Super-Adaptoid,” a robot that could adopt or mimic the powers of anyone it encountered. Gillibrand evolves to fit her environment quickly — and her foes would be foolish to underestimate her.

    She currently sits in the Senate seat occupied by Hillary Clinton. It would be interesting if she manages to do something Hillary couldn't: beat Donald Trump.

  • Paul Mirengoff considers the current crop of Democratic candidates to be Phonies on parade.

    Elizabeth Warren claimed to be an Indian. She isn’t.

    Kamala Harris claims to have been a “progressive prosecutor.” She wasn’t.

    Amy Klobuchar holds herself out as “Minnesota Nice.” She isn’t.

    Etc. Nothing much new, but it's all in one place.

    Surprisingly, Paul considers Bernie Sanders to be "the real deal". Well, maybe in comparison…

  • Emily Jashinsky, at the Federalist looks at Cory Booker: A Man Of Fake Cheese And Fake Friends.

    What kind of man is Cory Booker? Combine the bravery of Spartacus with the hair of Vin Diesel and the diet of a yoga instructor living off a trust-fund. That’s the junior senator from New Jersey — a man who earlier this month praised the abominable trend of “incredible vegan cheese shops popping up across the country.” Such a judgement could come only from a person who has not eaten cheese in at least five years, when Booker converted from vegetarianism to veganism.

    “Suddenly,” he recently told something called VegNews, “eating those eggs for me was something that didn’t align with my spirit, and I could feel it.” How exactly one senses a sudden misalignment between eggs and his own spirit remains unclear. I will assume it involves reading too much VegNews.

    As far as "fake friends" go, that's Booker's well-known fabrication of "T-Bone". Emily's bottom line: "Cory Booker is the vegan cheese of politicians."

    (As with Kirsten G., I know Cory B. isn't currently meeting the criteria for inclusion in our phony poll, but I have hopes he'll return.)

  • I shouldn't miss commenting on Kamala Harris's self-proclaimed fondness for the wacky weed. See (again) Indispensible Geraghty on: Kamala Harris, Pot-Smoking Drug Prosecutor.

    This morning, Kamala Harris admitted she once smoked marijuana when she was younger.

    This would hardly be a scandal in the world of 2019 — except that when running for reelection as San Francisco’s district attorney, Harris boasted she had increased convictions of drug dealers from 56 percent in 2003 to 74 percent in 2006. Almost certainly, some of those convicted dealers were selling marijuana. California did not legalize marijuana for recreational purposes until 2016. She also boasted that she “closed legal loopholes that were allowing drug dealers to escape prosecution.” In one of her books, Harris wrote, “60 percent of the new felony cases annually were nonviolent drug crimes.”

    In other words, as a young woman Harris obtained marijuana and enjoyed it, and then later in life she prosecuted people for selling and possessing the same product that she had enjoyed.

    I suppose she would follow in a long Presidential tradition of Bill "Didn't Inhale" Clinton and Barack "Choom Gang" Obama.

  • But Nick Gillespie, at Reason, notes the real story: Kamala Harris Got So High Smoking Weed in College She Thought She Was Listening To Snoop Dogg and Tupac.

    In an interview yesterday with the radio show The Breakfast Club, Harris admitted to smoking weed in college ("I did inhale," she said, laughing, "I just broke news!") and that she listened to Snoop Dogg and Tupac Shakur while getting high. Here's the problem: Harris graduated from Howard in 1986 and law school in 1989. Snoop Dogg, then known as Snoop Doggy Dogg, didn't get started until 1992 and Tupac's "career did not take off until the early 1990s when he debuted in Digital Underground's 'Same Song' from the soundtrack to the 1991 film Nothing but Trouble."

    So either Harris was baked enough to time travel or she hit the bong after being in school. Not cool for a candidate whose slogan is "speaking truth, demanding justice." Most likely, she's just trying to curate a playlist that sends the right message. In this, she's hardly alone. We can recall, for instance, the way in which Al Gore quickly morphed from hosting a Senate panel on "porn rock" in 1985 (which included testimony from his wife Tipper, who headed up the Parents Music Resource Center, a group committed to combating sex, drugs, and satanism in popular entertainment) to becoming the world's most public—if unconvincing—Grateful Dead fan just a few years later. In 2008, then-candidate Barack Obama dictated an iPod playlist to Rolling Stone that was curiously inclusive of just about every possible demographic that might vote for him. Especially in an age of forced transparency, why do politicians feel a need to do this?

    Here's hoping this all gets cleared up, hilariously.

  • Sadly, the Democratic field has been a lot more interesting, phony-wise than the Republican side. Yes, Donald Trump is a huge phony. But that's not really news.

    But another GOP candidate has emerged, one who doesn't even appear on Betfair's wagering radar yet. In this Reason article, Matt Welch notes Bill Weld Is Prepping To Be the First—and Most Improbable—Primary Challenger to Donald Trump.

    Can a pro-choice, pro-amnesty "Libertarian for life" who backed Barack Obama in 2008, thinks the phrase "all lives matter" is "nothing but a dog whistle," and maintained throughout 2016 that Hillary Clinton is preferable to Donald Trump, truly be competitive in the 2020 Republican Party presidential primary? That's what Bill Weld is set to begin finding out in New Hampshire tomorrow morning, when he takes what his friends are forecasting as a substantial move toward declaring his candidacy for president.

    Weld, the 2016 Libertarian Party vice presidential nominee and current* honorary chair of a nonprofit whose purpose is to "stop the political duopoly" (*Update: Our America Initiative announced this afternoon that Weld has resigned that post effective today), took the pre-primary step January 17 of switching his Massachusetts voter registration back to a Trump-led GOP that he has repeatedly compared to the xenophobic Know-Nothing Party of the 1850s. He has scheduled a second New Hampshire visit for February 26, he has recruited former New Hampshire Republican Party Chair Jennifer Horn to help, and his allies are writing thinkpieces about how "Democrats' hopes to take back the White House may lie in the hands of a Republican candidate." (Update 2: WMUR is reporting that Weld will announce Friday the formation of an exploratory committee.)

    That "Libertarian for life" thing will kind of sting, I think, should anyone ask him about it. "Were you high when you said that?"