The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

‘The Lunatic Derby’

Posted on | August 7, 2011 | 13 Comments

“Bikers Welcome,” says the marquee in front of the Ramada Inn where I’m staying here. Certainly it would be interesting to have three or four dozen Hell’s Angels come roaring into town, terrorizing the locals, but I didn’t see any Harleys in the parking lot, so we’ll probably be spared that entertainment despite the gesture of hospitality from Ramada Inn management.

There’s a Walgreen’s pharmacy and a Perkins restaurant within walking distance of the motel, so I went to grab a newspaper and breakfast this morning. (A Sunday copy of the Sioux City Journal was $2 and breakfast was $13.02, so hit the tip jar.) Breakfast was two eggs over medium, corned beef hash, wheat toast, large orange juice and coffee.

The Sioux City Journal was kind of a disappointment: No news at all of the GOP primary campaign. Why? Perhaps this reflects the attitude expressed by a guy I talked to while waiting in line at Walgreen’s. When he learned I was a reporter in town to cover the campaign, he said: “The Ames straw poll? I call it, The Lunatic Derby.” Then he made some snotty remark about Michele Bachmann believing in UFOs.

A liberal, obviously. His disdain of the Ames Straw Poll is evidently shared by the local newspaper’s editors, whose lead editorial today begins:

In just six days, the political world – including some 700 members of the media — will descend on Ames, Iowa, for the officially insignificant but terribly critical Iowa Straw Poll. Someone will win, someone will lose, but they won’t necessarily be the actual winner or loser.

Sneering at the GOP campaign in an editorial is probably much easier than, y’know, assigning some reporters to cover it.

But what do I know about running a newspaper? Or politics, for that matter.

Anyway, the whole point of the Sioux City Journal‘s Sunday editorial is — I’m not making this up — John Thune for president.


Here’s a guy who announced six months ago that he was skipping the 2012 campaign and now, in August, the local newspaper (which apparently can’t be bothered to cover any actual Republican candidates) decides to mount its own “Draft Thune” campaign. The editorial pointed out that — in his February announcement that he wasn’t running — Thune included the words “at this time”:

“At this time” certainly leaves the door ajar, yet no special interest groups or political heavyweights are making public treks to South Dakota to change the Senator’s mind. And there’s no indication Thune, who is rumored to be wary of a presidential campaign’s grind, is interested in being pursued. But in looking at a field that has yet to spark a fire in the Republican electorate, the question must be asked: Why not John Thune?

Exactly how the Journal‘s editorial page editor Michael Gors presumes to speak for “the Republican electorate,” I’m not sure, but as to the question, “Why not John Thune?” let me offer a few obvious answers: Because it’s August, you idiotic jackass!

In case you haven’t noticed, there have already been two nationally televised debates — May 5 in South Carolina and June 13 in New Hampshire — and the third debate will be Thursday in Ames. Nine different candidates are officially campaigning and, by all indications, Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s going to be joining them soon. So if, as the editorial says, Thune’s “wary of a presidential campaign’s grind,” why would he belatedly overcome that wariness at this late date?

Does “the Republican electorate” have a latent inner yearning for John Thune? I’m dubious. From what I can remember of the original chatter about a Thune 2012 campaign, its main source was GOP consultants who thought they might get contracts to work on his campaign. As far as any indication of Thune Fever among the conservative grassroots, I’ve never seen it.

Not once, in all my travels to Tea Party rallies and other conservative gatherings, have I heard anyone say, “You know what? John Thune should run for president. In this hour of existential crisis, only John Thune can save America.”

Insofar as the Sioux City Journal’s self-indulgent editorial masturbatory fantasy of a Thune candidacy signifies anything, it signifies laziness. Because it’s always easier to bandy around hypotheticals about non-existent campaigns than it is to report on the campaign that’s actually happening — even if you believe the campaign is a “Lunatic Derby.”

Speaking of which, I finally got an e-mail from the Iowa Republican Party telling me they’ve approved my media-credentials request for Thursday’s debate and Saturday’s straw poll. I had been worried because the state GOP’s communication director, Casey Mills, had been dodging my phone calls. While I was in Des Moines, I dropped by party headquarters three time and asked to speak to Mills. But every time I tried to reach him — whether by phone or in person — I was told he was “in a meeting” or on a conference call of vital urgency.

Having been dodged by the best of ’em, I know when I’m being dodged, and this was beginning to worry me because the name “Casey Mills” was vaguely familiar. Somewhere, I knew, I’d heard the name. It occurred to me that Casey Mills might have been one of those assholes with the National Republican Congressional Committee whom I’d routinely hassled on the phone during the 2010 mid-term campaign, maybe during the PA-12 special election.

So this morning, I managed to find a personal cell-phone number for Casey Mills and called him, prepared for the worse: No credentials, no access, and an angry confrontation with some obnoxious GOP hack who had chosen this opportunity to exact his personal vengeance on me. But Casey Mills was perfectly nice on the phone and informed me that, indeed, my credential request — submitted four days after the official deadline — had been approved.

“Didn’t you get the e-mail?” he said.

“E-mail? What e-mail?”

So I checked my inbox and, sure enough, there it was, with a note at the top that explained why Mills’s name had seemed so familiar to me:

Robert- Sorry for the delay and I appreciate your persistence. Info below. You may recall we met when I was with Grassley in DC and you were writing a piece on Americorps OIG.

IG-Gate! Of course — that’s it! Casey Mills was one of my main contacts in Sen. Chuck Grassley’s office when it looked like Obama was cracking down on agency watchdogs. Mills was extraordinarily helpful to my reporting — errr, at least, that’s what “sources close to the investigation” say.

So I’m glad to know he’s not one of those NRCC assholes, and I take back all those nasty things I was muttering under my breath every time I got the “he’s in a meeting” brush-off from the receptionist at state GOP headquarters.

Having official credentials is great, although it was never absolutely necessary. However, I’m glad to know I’ll be spared the expense of forging a fake Iowa drivers license and lying my way into the Ames Straw Poll with a free ticket from the Ron Paul campaign. The last time I had to do something like that, I nearly got tased by security at an Ann Coulter event in Nevada where the policy was “no media allowed,” yet I snuck in and recorded the whole thing, including my encounter with the local police who thought I had a weapon under my coat.

Well, enough of these weird flashbacks. I’ve got a deadline tonight for the American Spectator, and when I’m through with that, I guess I’ll go over to the swanky Marina Inn to hang out with Herman Cain’s campaign team, which is getting ready for tomorrow’s bus tour launch.

“Bikers welcome”? Sure, and why the hell not? If they’re good enough for the Ramada Inn, I suppose the Hell’s Angels might want to tool over to Marina Inn with me and party with Herman. But so far I haven’t heard the telltale rumble of V-twin engines in the Ramada parking lot. Maybe they’re waiting for John Thune.

BTW, I’m not on drugs. I just write that way. Although I did have a psychedelic episode just now in which I imagined Glenn Reynolds writing an editorial column in favor of tax increases.

UPDATE: Luke Jennett of the Iowa News website has a good write-up of Rick Santorum’s “barn party” in Roland yesterday:

Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum’s Iowa tour continued Saturday with a stop at the rural Roland home of Scott and Susan Hurd, where he delivered a speech to a small group of attendees in the Hurd’s rustic barn.
Despite telling reporters that he and his staff hadn’t “designed our campaign around winning the Straw Poll,” Santorum’s speech included pleas for attendees to sign up to attend the event in Ames next weekend.
“You here in Iowa have a special privilege,” Santorum said. “You actually can have a profound impact on who the next president of the United States is, who will lead this country, who will help restore and renew this country.”
Santorum and his family have been on a 51-city tour of Iowa in anticipation of the Ames Straw Poll. He said that over the last 2 1/2 weeks, he’d appeared at roughly 106 events asking Iowans for their support at the event.
Santorum spent an hour talking with the 50 or so attendees at the event before making his remarks from a hay wagon at the front of the barn as staffers dished out pie and ice cream.
The former Pennsylvania senator’s remarks began with a critique of President Barack Obama’s new national health law, which he said was a critical juncture in the country’s path which, if unchecked, would destroy American freedom.
“Obamacare is the game changer for America,” he said. “It throws out the playbook. There’s a reason that, for 100 years, the left has been trying to pass national healthcare. Because they know that once every single American is dependant upon the government for their life and for their health, they got you. And freedom is wiped out, because now you are dependant upon them.” . . .

Lots more good reporting there. It’s nice to see people doing good basic “5 W’s and an H” reporting, instead of all the time trying to second-guess the horse-race aspect of the campaign.

The Lonely Conservative linked up to my coverage of the Roland event, and Santorum’s No. 1 fan Lisa Graas has a good round-up, including this insight from George Will:

If Paul finishes first or second, the political community will shrug: There he goes again, the Babe Ruth of straw polls. If Paul and Bachmann, in either order, capture the two top spots, Pawlenty’s campaign may be mortally wounded. If another candidate propelled by an intense faction — former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, a favorite of evangelicals who in 2008 were 60 percent of Republican caucus participants — also finishes ahead of Pawlenty, the Ames circus will have destroyed the only one among the six candidates who bought space — and therefore are permitted to speak — at the event who has a realistic chance to be nominated and defeat Barack Obama.

See? George Will gets paid the big bucks to declare which candidates have “a realistic chance.” Us lowly tadpoles with blogs (or even local newspaper editorial pages) should try to avoid that kind of Big Picture punditry, because even if we’re right, nobody will ever give us credit for it and meanwhile, we’re just annoying the readers.

However, it’s worth mentioning that George Will is absolutely right: If Pawlenty finishes behind Rick Santorum at Ames, that’s the end of the Pawlenty 2012 campaign. Because if Santorum finishes ahead of Pawlenty, I’m betting Herman Cain also finishes ahead of Pawlenty, who would then be no better than 5th. And if some handful of Romney supporters shows up at Ames, Pawlenty could actually finish sixth, which would be a death-knell for a candidate who’s staked everything on Iowa.



13 Responses to “‘The Lunatic Derby’”

  1. Anonymous
    August 7th, 2011 @ 6:34 pm

    I recant my tweet from last night.  Not only will I hit the hog farts straight line, I’ll tell you you just spent $2 to read it.

  2. Stan Brewer
    August 7th, 2011 @ 7:10 pm

    After reading this article I hear strains of Pink Floyd’s Brain Damage emanating from the latest Republican hit piece.

  3. McGehee
    August 7th, 2011 @ 8:08 pm

    An Iowa newspaper’s boosting for a South Dakota senator seems … odd. And that’s even taking into account that one of Sioux City’s suburbs is North Sioux City, S.D.

    I wonder if the Sioux City paper’s publisher is in some kind of feud with the Sioux Falls paper’s publisher?

  4. Anonymous
    August 7th, 2011 @ 8:29 pm

    South Dakota has a miserable track record in presidential politics. Two words: George McGovern.

  5. Mike
    August 7th, 2011 @ 10:00 pm

    They don’t have Cracker Barrel restaurants  up there?  Steak, two eggs, loaded hashbrowns, biscuit and gravy or toast, grits, baked apples, plus juice and coffee…right at ten bucks and it’s damn good. I forgo the grits…never acquired a taste for them. What you had would be a five or six dollar breakfast ’round these parts.

  6. LunaticFringe
    August 7th, 2011 @ 11:13 pm

    Every time I see “Ames” I think of that line from The Hustler: “No bar, no pinball machines, no bowling alleys, just pool…nothing else. This is Ames, mister.”

    That’s it…This is Ames, mister.

  7. Anonymous
    August 7th, 2011 @ 11:47 pm

    Don’t eat at Perkins.  Find a local breakfast/lunch diner.  Perkins is too damn expensive.  Quit wasting our shoe leather money!

  8. Mike
    August 8th, 2011 @ 1:04 am

    I eat at a local roadside cafe for breakfast several times a week. Two eggs, bacon and biscuit, plus coffee…$3.50 plus tip. Cheese Grits are included, but I don’t like ’em.

  9. McGehee
    August 8th, 2011 @ 2:43 am

    First time my wife and I ate at a Perkins, the waitress forgot to ask us if we wanted pie, so we got pie for free. Nor were we the only ones that night.

    I’m not sure they still do that. Can’t imagine why they’d stop…

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