Political Animal


April 03, 2012 12:43 PM Rick the Dope Fiend and Mitt The Alpha Dog

By Ed Kilgore

I know a lot of readers really dislike Politico as the embodiment of everything they hate about the MSM and Beltway Culture generally. I think of it much as I used to think of TV network news: it’s flawed but essential, and really just part of the political landscape, reflecting both the MSM’s and Washington’s distinctive strengths and weaknesses.

I say all this as prelude to the warning that Politico’s coverage for the very immediate future may be significantly distorted by its determination to sell lots of virtual copies of the campaign e-book penned by Mike Allen and Evan Thomas, Inside the Circus. This is the second of a planned four-part series. The first e-book, published in November, The Right Fights Back, did not seem to make much of a splash. It appears Politico wants to make sure that doesn’t happen again. And so some of the more visceral images contained in the new book are getting a lot of play.

Exhibit A, coming to a newspaper, web site, or water cooler near you, is the tableau of Texas Gov. Rick Perry, jacked up on painkillers, lustily singing “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” in a New Hampshire men’s room just prior to a televised candidate debate. This appears to be Allen and Thomas’ central parable for the entire Perry campaign, the heavily-funded can’t-miss candidacy that allegedly ran aground because the governor came across as Bobo the Simpleminded during debates (I’d be more impressed if Allen and Thomas could specifically show the drugs convinced Perry to re-embrace college tuition benefits for the children of undocumented workers, which hurt Perry as much as any goofiness).

But evocative as the Perry story may be (and the underlying claim of heavy drug use by the candidate is, of course, being vehemently denied by his staff), I’m personally even more haunted by a Romney vignette that Politico is promoting today. At the end of a long, murky excerpt about the debates within Camp Romney concerning the candidate’s personality, there suddenly appears this alarming set of images:

His resolve stiffened, Romney came to the Jacksonville debate on Jan. 26, ready to rumble. In the opening minutes, Gingrich repeated a charge, aired earlier in a TV ad, that Romney was the most “anti-immigrant” of the four GOP candidates. With Florida’s large Cuban and Hispanic community, those were fighting words. Turning to Gingrich, Romney unloaded. “That’s simply inexcusable,” he said. “The idea that I’m anti-immigrant is repulsive.”
Romney practically spit out the last word. As he spoke, he seemed to rise up, as if he were about to bite his opponent. He was the alpha dog, snarling, teeth bared, dominant.
Romney was tall and dark and broad shouldered, with his black hair swept back and slightly spiky. With his puffy white hair and plumply round physique, Gingrich looked soft and startled. Gone was the righteous indignation from South Carolina. Gingrich barely put up a fight. The debate, and with it the Florida primary, was lost to Romney in the first few minutes.

Lord a-mercy!

In a post last week I talked about the virtually unbridgeable gap between people who view campaigns from the lofty poli-sci perspective of “fundamentals,” and those—especially journalists—who want you to believe that the key moments they are reporting can spell the difference between victory and defeat. Unsurprisingly, the Politico folk epitomize the latter camp.

But what else do they have up their sleeves after Rick the Singing Dope Fiend and Mitt the Snarling Alpha Dog? Santorum receiving radio transmissions on the stump from Opus Dei? Barack Obama basing his entire general election strategy on a Roy Williams game-plan? I shudder to think.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • bleh on April 03, 2012 12:50 PM:

    "Essential"? To what? Their own ego-stroking, perhaps, and that of those on whom their paycheck depends, but anything else?

    They certainly are not reliable bearers or interpreters of news. Your post, among other things, shows that clearly.

    And if they're just one more conduit to manipulate or leak to, well, then their passing would hardly make a ripple.

    Essential no. Inevitable, perhaps.

  • howard on April 03, 2012 12:54 PM:

    you got it right in your lead: this is the kind of mindless and moronic work that passes for journalism around the politico office, and i do hate it, despise it, view it with contempt, and any other synonym you'd care to add in.

    if allen and thomas - two shmendricks of the first order - want to earn their living writing novels or short stories or scripts, bully for them, but from the standpoint of political coverage, all they do is make their readers stupider.

  • JMG on April 03, 2012 1:01 PM:

    The campaign book has become a genre resembling literature aimed at preteen girls. That is, there's as much truth in this book as there is in "The Hunger Games" and the "Twilight" series.

  • emjayay on April 03, 2012 1:03 PM:

    Shmendrik: a pathetic loser, hapless soul, an inept nincompoop; a schlemiel (Yiddish dictionary)

  • emjayay on April 03, 2012 1:08 PM:

    Politico is available in print in sidewalk boxes in DC. I would think it would appeal mainly to DC bureaucrat types and other informed political junkies. But whenever I check the comments to any Politico article online, it's mostly ignorant reactionary know-nothing Tea Party type stuff.

    Not Previewing. The Preview function is still an inexplicable disaster here at WM.

  • Gandalf on April 03, 2012 1:11 PM:

    Holy shit!! That last three paragraph passage was straight out of cheap poorly done romance novel.

  • June on April 03, 2012 1:21 PM:

    Gandalf, you beat me to it, lol!

  • hells littlest angel on April 03, 2012 1:24 PM:

    Went by the name of Mitt. Seven feet tall he was, with arms like tree trunks. His eyes were like steel: cold, hard. Had a shock of hair, red, like the fires of Hell.

  • Lifelong Dem on April 03, 2012 1:38 PM:

    Ed, the excerpts you posted reminded me of the "reporting" that Hunter S. Thompson did about the 1972 campaign for Rolling Stone, including the infamous report that Ed Muskie was addicted to Ibogaine. According to Thompson, Muskie's addiction was well known among the press corps, but they never reported it because of their affection for Muskie. Thompson was fabricating the whole thing and was shocked, shocked to discover later that some people took him seriously.

  • TCinLA on April 03, 2012 1:44 PM:

    Politico: the far-right-funded, far-right-operated disinformation project designed to make you more stupid if you read it. Only the morons in Washington could believe any of it.

  • Kathryn on April 03, 2012 1:49 PM:

    Yes, I think that Allen and Thomas are enamored of that tall dark forceful alpha dog, Mitt Romney. I feel a little sick, not a fan of the romance genre. These two are so out of touch with the concerns of regular folk, it's pathetic.

  • FlipYrWhig on April 03, 2012 2:02 PM:

    Does anyone remember anyone making much of the contretemps between Romney and Gingrich that anchors that last bit? I don't. You'd think that something so crucial would have, you know, been talked about, at all, at the time.

  • exlibra on April 03, 2012 2:18 PM:

    Pure Cartland (Barbara) :)

  • Aaron on April 04, 2012 9:54 AM:

    "I know a lot of readers really dislike Politico as the embodiment of everything they hate about the MSM and Beltway Culture generally."

    Conversely, I hate it because it reads like Fox News in print form, literally designed to catapult Matt Drudge's propaganda into the mainstream.