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Echo Chambers
27 February 2015 Last updated at 17:11 ET

Jeb Bush survives grassroots gauntlet

Jeb Bush speaks at the 2015 CPAC conference.

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush has the money, national profile and, yes, last name to mount a convincing campaign for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.

The one thing he didn't have was the support of much of the crowd during this week's Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) conference.

Mentioning Mr Bush was a good way to prompt a smattering of boos on Thursday. On Friday morning conservative radio talk show host Laura Ingraham repeatedly bashed the governor, joking that he and Hillary Clinton "could run on the same ticket".

When he took the stage on Friday afternoon, however, the hall was packed, a rumoured mass walkout didn't materialise, and any boos were drowned out by more cheers.

It was enough to fuel snide talk from some of bussed-in supporters and underhanded tactics.

The general disposition of the crowd didn't influence the sharp tenor of the questions from firebrand Fox News host Sean Hannity, however. Standing next to Mr Bush, he quickly turned to the two issues that have attracted most of the ire from CPAC's grassroots conservative activists - immigration and education reform.

On the former Mr Bush stood by his call for a "pathway to citizenship" for undocumented immigrants and his move as governor to provide them with in-state college tuition. "I know there's disagreement here," he noted.

Fox News host Sean Hannity and Jeb Bush take the stage at CPAC. Jeb Bush says his mother now supports "another Bush in the White House"

He added that the underage migrants who flooded the US from Central America last year should have been "sent home at the border", however, and that "a great country needs to enforce the borders".

He also defended his education policies - and made a particular effort to emphasise his long-time support for vouchers that allow students to attend private and parochial schools with public money. As for the national Common Core education standards that he has vigourously supported, he said much of the conservative concern was due to the intrusion of the Obama administration.

"The federal government has no role in the creation of curriculum and content," he said.

After working through those questions without a major stumble, the tough part was behind the former governor. He went on to discuss the need to "take out" the Islamic State and what he sees as President Barack Obama's lack of foreign policy leadership - views that have been reliably popular throughout the conference.

When asked whether he was a moderate, Mr Bush emphatically replied no. He's a "practicing, reform-minded conservative," he said. "I've actually done it."

At the start of the interview, Hannity reminded Mr Bush that his mother had said that she didn't know if we need "another Bush in the White House". Mr Bush replied that she's "had a change of heart - and that's all right by me".

It looks increasingly likely that Mr Bush will find out if it's also all right with the US public.


Walker likens union protesters to IS

Scott Walker

The Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) conference's new post-speech question-and-answer format claimed its first victim on Thursday evening.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker had just finished giving a rousing speech touting his ability to enact a conservative agenda in his moderate state, including overcoming massive public union demonstrations against his education reform programme.

When it was time for the man increasingly being seen as a frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination to answer a handful of questions from a moderator.

What would he do to defeat Islamic State? His answer would become the top-line story from his appearance before the grass-roots activists at the conference in Washington, DC.

"I want a commander in chief who will do everything in their power to ensure that the threat from radical Islamic terrorists does not wash up on American soil," he said. "If I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the world."

You could practically hear the hundred-plus national political reporters gathered at the back auditorium hall pouncing on their keyboards.

Mr Walker was blasted for drawing an analogy between peaceful US protestors with Islamic militants - leaving the governor's communication team scrambling to do damage control.

"Governor Walker ... was in no way comparing any American citizen to ISIS," Kirsten Kukowski, a spokeswoman for Mr Walker's political action committee, said in a statement. "What the governor was saying was when faced with adversity he chooses strength and leadership."

Scott Walker at CPAC

The governor tried to further clarify his statement in an interview with Bloomberg News later Thursday evening. He said domestic actions can have foreign policy ramifications, drawing a parallel to Republican patron saint Ronald Reagan, who a few months after becoming president in 1981 fired striking federal air traffic controllers.

"Even though it had nothing to do with foreign policy, I think it had a tremendous impact because it sent a powerful message around the world that this guy was serious," Mr Walker said. "To our allies, you knew you could take him seriously and you could trust him, to our adversaries you knew not to mess with him."

It was too late for Mr Walker to avoid the political fallout from his statement, however. Former Texas Governor Rick Perry, a possible opponent for the Republican presidential nomination, called the comparison "inappropriate".

"You are talking about, in the case of ISIS, people who are beheading individuals and committing heinous crimes, who are the face of evil," he said.

Democrats also were quick to strike.

"If Scott Walker thinks that it's appropriate to compare working people speaking up for their rights to brutal terrorists, then he is even less qualified to be president than I thought," said Democratic National Committee communications director Mo Elleithee.

Although Mr Walker has overcome early doubts about his public speaking ability - giving several high-profile speeches that have smoothly blended the story of his working-class upbringing with conservative accomplishments as governor - this is not the first time the governor has stumbled when having to depart from his script.

During an interview with ABC's Martha Raddatz he was forced to quickly backtrack after saying US military "boots on the ground" might be necessary in Syria.

And he was perhaps a bit too candid when he told the BBC's Justin Webb during a forum in London that he was "going to punt on that one" when asked whether he believed in evolution.

None of these perceived gaffes matter much to the crowd here at CPAC, where media criticism is considered a badge of honour. But frontrunner status comes with a harsh spotlight, and every misstep takes up time that could otherwise be spent advancing a candidate's message.

It's a lesson Scott Walker is learning the hard way.


Does Mike Huckabee want to be president?

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee.

Contender or pretender - what can we make of Mike Huckabee?

The former Arkansas governor is at or near the top of many Republican primary polls, both nationally and in first-in-the-nation-voting Iowa. He's also making moves that appear to be clear indications that he intends to seek his party's presidential nomination.

On the other hand, he's the one notable no-show among Republican presidential hopefuls at a prominent conservative conference this week. And some critics, recalling that he teased running in 2012, think this could be just another attempt to use presidential-season media interest to generate publicity for personal gain.

As a possible candidate, Mr Huckabee has a lot in his favour. He's the only candidate polling above low single digits in the crowded Republican field with experience running a national political campaign. Although he spent 11 years as governor of Arkansas, he's best known for his surprisingly successful bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008.

The former Baptist minister combined a jovial Southern charm with a religious earnestness to attract evangelical voters, winning the Iowa caucuses and six other state contests before finishing second to Arizona Senator John McCain.

Mike Huckabee speaks to tourists in Israel. The Washington Post's William Booth says Mr Huckabee is "just nuts about Israel"

Mr Huckabee used the attention from his campaign to launch a career as an author, political commentator, and radio and Fox News television talk show host. It's part of the reason why, even though he's been out of elective office for eight years, he still has some of the highest name recognition among possible Republican candidates.

He also retains the ability to generate headlines, as his much-publicised controversial comments on same-sex marriage, women's libidos and school prayer have shown. It makes him the kind of speaker who could be a hit at this week's Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) conference in Washington, DC.

An annual gathering of thousands of conservative organisers, CPAC is a sort of giant trade fair for the political right. It's where Texas Senator Ted Cruz, at the time a little known Texas lawyer, made his first national splash in 2011. Ron Paul, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul's father, shocked political analysts by winning the end-of-the-conference presidential preference straw poll in 2010.

This year it's become a stage for the biggest Republican presidential aspirants. Both former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie are attending, hoping to court the type of grass-roots activists who may be suspicious of their conservative bona fides. Mr Cruz will be back, along with Rand Paul, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal.

Mr Huckabee spoke to the conference last year, but CPAC's Ian Walters tells Bloomberg News that he declined a 2015 invitation. Instead, he will address the National Religious Broadcasters Convention in Tennessee on Thursday and make several stops in South Carolina on Friday.

All this has some commentators wondering about Mr Huckabee's priorities. The decision to skip CPAC is "all you need to know about his presidential campaign", tweets Dan Spencer, who writes for the influential conservative blog RedState.

Mr Huckabee's business endeavours have also generated negative attention for the possible candidate. He made waves this week with a just-concluded 10-day trip to Israel, in which he led a group of 253 tourists (paying more than $5,000 apiece) on a bus tour of the nation's attractions.

"The Bible will come alive to you, and your love of God's Word and His Holy Land will grow like never before," read the promotional text for the trip on Mike Huckabee's website (now removed).

The excursion prompted a front-page Washington Post story by William Booth on Tuesday in which he writes the Arkansan is a devoted fan of "Israel's hard-line right wing" and quotes him as saying "there's no such thing as a Palestinian".

"The man is just nuts about Israel," he observes.

The Israel trip - and Mr Huckabee's ongoing US tour to promote a new book, God, Guns, Grits and Gravy - could play into a perception from some that he is more concerned with generating income and attention than mounting a serious campaign.

Mike Huckabee celebrates winning the Iowa caucuses in 2008. Mike Huckabee was a surprise winner of the 2008 Iowa caucuses

Mr Huckabee has been linked to criticism - both on the left and the right - of conservative groups that have used political fundraising and grass-roots organising for personal profit. Mr Huckabee was cited, in particular, for selling his aggregated email lists to questionable companies, including one that touts a sketchy "biblical" medical cure for cancer.

Amanda Marcotte, writing for Talking Points Memo, calls the presidential speculation "a feint whose real purpose is getting the email addresses of people gullible enough to think that Mike Huckabee is a legitimate candidate so that you can sell them survivalist gear and ineffective erectile dysfunction pills".

Despite these issues, there are legitimate signs that - unlike 2012 - this year Mr Huckabee could be ready to take the presidential plunge.

Most notably, he announced in early January that he was ending his Fox News talk show after a seven-year run, despite having signed a new three-year extension to his contract last fall. In December 2013 he quit his syndicated radio programme.

"God hasn't put me on earth just to have a good time or to make a good living, but rather has put me on earth to try to make a good life," he wrote in a 3 January Facebook post that has received more than 95,000 likes.

"As much as I have loved doing the show, I love my country more, and feel that it may be time for me to leave a zone of comfort to engage in the conflicts that have almost destroyed the bedrock foundations of America."

Mr Huckabee launched an independent political action committee, America Takes Action, that has hired several 2008 campaign advisors. In November he travelled to Europe with a group of religious leaders, 52 of whom hailed from the key primary states of Iowa, South Carolina, Nevada and South Carolina.

"Mike Huckabee has been 100% running since last February," says Iowa conservative radio host Steve Deace. "You don't walk away from Fox News because you want to play shuffleboard."

He warns, however, that the one-time dark-horse candidate will face a much more formidable field than he did in 2008 and would have in 2012.

"Had he run in 2012 the sea would have parted for him," he says. Now his following isn't as big as it used to be, and he is competing against other candidates who could attract his base of evangelical voters.

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Possible 2016 opponents
Clockwise from top left: Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Elizabeth Warren, Rand Paul, Hillary Clinton Clockwise from top left: Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Elizabeth Warren, Rand Paul, Hillary Clinton

No-one has formally declared but these are some of the names to watch:

  • early Republican frontrunner is Jeb Bush
  • but New Jersey Governor Chris Christie could battle Bush for the party's centre ground
  • darling of the Tea Party is Texas Senator Ted Cruz
  • firebrand liberal Elizabeth Warren is championed by many in the Democratic Party
  • libertarian Rand Paul has his supporters - and enemies - among Republicans
  • Hillary Clinton will have learnt much from her failed campaign of 2008

Meet the 2016 candidates.

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Mr Huckabee has acknowledged that if he's going to be a winning candidate this time around, he's going to have to broaden his appeal beyond his evangelical base.

"Running for president for me would not be about speaking on cultural issues," he told the Associated Press. "It would be first and foremost about national security, the absolute warning about Islamic jihadism and how much of a threat that poses to us. The second layer would be some economic sanity, getting back to a place where people are working with jobs that give them an ability to put bread on the table and build a future."

Deace says he's seen "no indication" that Mr Huckabee has been able to broaden his pitch so far, however.

He adds that some Republican voters are suspicious about whether Mr Huckabee is a real conservative fighter. In the past he's backed moderate Republican candidates and supported immigration reform and the national education standards known as Common Core - which have become anathema to many on the right.

"A lot of people I know in conservative media do not think Mike is a full-spectrum conservative," Deace says. "They basically think he's a pro-life liberal."

He says Mr Huckabee needs to get in front of grass-roots Tea Party conservatives, turn on the "trademark Huckabee charm" and show them he has the stomach to fight for their cause.

A winning Republican candidacy is going to take more than stomach, of course. It's also going to require serious money. According to Real Clear Politics, Mr Huckabee's campaign strategists have set a target for $25m (£16m) to $30m for his campaign by spring, with an equal amount for his independent political action committee.

Mike Huckabee speaks at CPAC in 2014. Mike Huckabee is giving CPAC a pass after speaking there last year

In 2008 Mr Huckabee raised just $16.6m total.

Mr Huckabee has been meeting with possible financial donors in major US financial centres, "asking for pledges of five-to-six-figure donations to his aligned organisations", reports the Washington Post. In December he held a fundraiser in New Jersey that brought in $40,000 from a pro-Israeli political action committee.

His outspoken support of Israel's Likud government could prove key with another possible donor who has the kind of bankroll to almost singlehandedly put the Arkansan's ledger in the black - Nevada casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson.

In 2013 Mr Adelson awarded Mr Huckabee the Adelson Defender of Israel award, calling him "a great person, a great American and a great Zionist".

Mr Adelson gave $15m to support former House Speaker Newt Gingrich in 2012. But if Mr Huckabee wants similar largesse, he may have to wait a bit. An aide to Mr Adelson recently said the businessman won't back a Republican candidate until "well into 2016".

Mr Huckabee has said that he intends to make a formal decision on launching a candidacy in April or May - roughly the same timeline as many of his potential opponents. But make no mistake, the real race for the Republican nomination has already started.

Sarah Huckabee, Mr Huckabee's daughter and political advisor, told the Washington Post that Mr Huckabee's "heart is into it".

The question, then, is whether the rest of him will follow.


The Chicago election that could be bad news for Hillary

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and President Barack Obama.

Mayoral races in the United States rarely make headlines beyond the local papers, but on Tuesday Democratic eyes across the US will be glued to the race in Chicago. It could prove to be an important bellwether for those seeking the party's presidential nomination in 2016.

When President Barack Obama visited his hometown last week, he was ostensibly there to declare the Pullman Historic District as a National Monument.

The speech was as much about history, however, as it was a political favour for Mr Obama's friend and former chief-of-staff, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

The presidential designation commemorates America's first planned industrial city and will protect the buildings where many blacks worked and formed their first labour union in the 1920s.

Conveniently, that is the demographic that Mr Emanuel needs to court ahead of Tuesday's election. Although he is ahead in the polls, he needs to garner more than 50% of the vote to avoid a run-off that could be more volatile.

"Rahm hasn't just fought for a national park in Pullman, he's fought for new jobs and new opportunities for Pullman and for every Chicagoan in every neighbourhood," Mr Obama told the crowd.

Jesus Garcia Mr Garcia presents a liberal challenge to Chicago's Democratic Mayor Rahm Emanuel

Providing the most competition to the mayor, County Commissioner Jesus Garcia has taken up the populist liberal mantle championed by national figures like Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Mr Garcia, a Mexican-American who moved to the US when he was 10 and previously served as an Illinois state senator, champions progressive liberal economic issues like income inequality, raising the minimum wage and strong teachers' unions.

He, like Ms Warren, is part of a populist faction within the Democratic Party that represents a liberal threat to establishment members like Mr Emmanuel.

As is typical of an established incumbent, Mr Emanuel has campaign coffers that dwarf his competitors - more than for times the combined amount that his four competitors have raised in their entire political careers, according to the Chicago Sun Times.

More than half of that money, says Greg Hinz of Crain's Chicago Business, has been imported from outside city limits. And a major analysis by the Chicago Tribune showed that much of his funding is the result of the mayor's business ties.

Jesus Garcia campaign material Campaign buttons featuring Mr Garcia's trademark moustache have spurred hashtags like #StandWithTheStash

Undeterred by his relatively paltry campaign treasure, Mr Garcia has garnered support from several groups by seizing on Mr Emanuel's outside funding sources and employing other, more unorthodox strategies - such as making a meme of his signature facial hair.

"How dare you take such a risk at this time?" he scorned a barber threatening a trim of his trademark moustache. "I would lose my identity."

As the Washington Post's Sean Sullivan reports, this local race "has crystallised some of the deep internal divisions in the Democratic Party as it prepares for the 2016 presidential campaign".

If a runoff occurs, a second round pitting Mr Emanuel against Mr Garcia could boost the hopes of this left-wing faction and cast a national spotlight on the party's ideological split - a development that would be wholly unwelcome in the eyes of those Democrats who are more interested in presenting themselves as united going into next year's general election.

It's the type of internal dissention that could prove dangerous for Mr Emanuel's old friend Hillary Clinton (he served as an advisor to her husband in the 1990s), whose unannounced but likely candidacy is viewed with suspicion by some on the party's populist left.

Mr Garcia has already rebuked Ms Clinton, telling the Washington Post that Ms Warren "has been more forthcoming" on economic issues like income inequality.

It's the kind of political shot that the former secretary of state would likely prefer to not see repeated in an extended mayoral campaign.


College sport site profiles 11-year-olds

Children in American football gear stand near a padded wall.

As the world of college athletics gets increasingly competitive, parents and coaches are pushing to get kids on track to land a coveted full-tuition athletic scholarship as soon as possible.

But how early is too early?

Rivals.com, a popular US football and basketball college recruiting website, recently added two sixth-grade American football players to its site. At 11 years old, they are the youngest players to have such profiles.

The pair attracted attention after being noticed at a NextGen All-America Camp Series in Massachusetts, which offers young athletes a chance to play in front of college coaches.

Brent Williams, a former defensive end in the National Football League and the organiser of the camp, writes that the two boys, Tyson Thornton and Daron Bryden, were so impressive that they were pushed up to compete against boys two grades ahead of them.

"Thornton is a 5ft 11in, 167lb running back with great explosiveness and surprisingly good body control for a kid his size and age," he writes. "Bryden, a small quarterback with a big arm, is incredibly composed and very polished - and he can make every throw."

Start Quote

The recruiting maw must be fed, and if you aren't willing to get into that business, you might as well not get involved with recruiting athletes”

End Quote Bob Cook Forbes magazine

While scouting young players may seem standard for European soccer fans, critics in the US say the boys are too young to have to think about playing American college football, which requires such a large amount of physical strength.

"Do you know what 11-year-olds are like?" asks FanSided's Stanford Crissey. "How far away playing college football is from being a reality for them? They go to school and learn long division; they've just figured out that the girls in their class don't have cooties; then they go home and play Pokemon. Maybe the recruitment can wait until, you know, they become even vaguely adult-like human beings."

Crissey says that recruiting high school students makes sense because they're already thinking about colleges. But chasing after athletes who are slated to graduate in 2021 doesn't make sense.

"In the future, Rivals, here's a guide to which prospects you should be keeping track of: limit it to anyone who wouldn't die instantly upon being tackled by a college linebacker," he writes.

Children play American football. A recent study has found NFL players who started playing before age 12 had greater mental health problems

By allowing sixth-graders onto the site, Rivals also became a punchline, with tweets like one showing an unborn baby's Rivals profile.

A number of SB Nation contributors also created profiles of their middle-school selves with positions like "defensive end/tight end who literally could not catch a pass if his life depended on it" and strengths such as "long, vaguely athletic edge rusher with a bad temper. Focusing on football after disappointing stints playing baseball, lacrosse, basketball, tennis and golf. Occasionally coachable."

Bob Cook says there's a logic, albeit a depressing one, to recruiting kids earlier.

Writing for Forbes, Cook says that it all comes down to marketing. Rivals gets to be the first in line for scouting ever-younger talent, while NextGen gets to charge families for the promise of exposure to coaches.

"The recruiting maw must be fed, and if you aren't willing to get into that business, you might as well not get involved with recruiting athletes," he writes.

SB Nation's Bud Elliott agrees.

Start Quote

College football is a man's game”

End Quote Petros Papadakis Sports radio host

He says that tracking young athletes is a widespread strategy. A few schools have even handed out scholarship offers to eighth-graders, and that number is probably much higher than what's already known.

"The real change is not the camp evaluation of players that young, but the introduction of media publicity," he writes. Although Rivals won't provide ratings and rankings for players until their sophomore year of high school, it will offer updates on the youthful standouts' progress.

The bigger problem, he says, is what having a profile means to a middle-schooler's psyche, even if it comes without a rating. Because it's so early in their athletic career, there's no guarantee that these young athletes will be a top prospect in the future.

"The flip side is also troubling," he says. "Not being recognised as one of the top performers could dissuade a kid from chasing his dream, which might be a mistake. Everyone experiences puberty on a different timetable."

Rival.com's move also comes during a national conversation about the medical side-effects of playing football.

A recent study of 42 retired NFL players showed that the ones who started playing before the age of 12 did noticeably worse on a series of tests measuring reasoning, concentration, problem-solving and memory.

A Fox Sports Live panel discussing the issue unanimously condemned creating profiles for such young players. Petros Papadakis, a radio host for the channel and a former football captain at the University of California, said that propping up such young kids as future football stars is the way to set them up to fail.

"College football is a man's game. And it's played by guys who are developed in their bodies," Papadakis said. "There's no way to look at a 12-year-old, and I don't care who it is, and tell them: 'You're the best player from your state.'"

In addition to the pressure and physical growth that these sixth-graders have ahead of them, they also have childhoods to experience. While a recruiting profile doesn't steal that time, it can dictate what it will look like.


Hillary Clinton's grandmother gambit

Bill and Hillary Clinton hold their granddaughter, Charlotte.

"Grandmothers know best."

Hillary Clinton attached that line as a hashtag to a tweet about the importance of measles vaccinations earlier this month. Given that Mrs Clinton's tweets are read like messages from the Delphic oracle, it has rekindled speculation that the former secretary of state will be leaning on her new grandmatronly status in her all-but-announced upcoming presidential campaign.

Since Chelsea Clinton gave birth to her daughter, Charlotte, last September, Hillary Clinton has frequently mentioned how being a grandmother has given her a renewed interest in ensuring the security of future generations - which, come to think of it, sounds like a pretty reliable campaign theme.

Perhaps more importantly for Mrs Clinton, however, it's also a humanising theme.

"I think it's a way to soften her image and make her seem very relatable," explains Jennifer Lawless, director of American University's Women & Politics Institute.

Lawless says that US voters want two sets of traits in their leaders - competency and empathy. In 2008 then-Senator Clinton demonstrated that she was competent, but she often came across as cold and mechanical.

Hillary Clinton is overcome by emotion in New Hampshire in 2008. Hillary Clinton shows a rare flash of emotion during the 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign

One of the few times Mrs Clinton showed a more personal side was when she choked up while talking about why she was running for president - and it resulted in an overnight boost in her fortunes.

"Some people think elections are a game, lot's of who's up or who's down," she said. "It's about our country, it's about our kids' futures, and it's really about all of us together."

The following day she upset Barack Obama in the New Hampshire primary, giving her the momentum to wage a long, although ultimately losing, battle for the Democratic nomination.

Mrs Clinton has yet to formally enter the 2016 race - and she appears to be in no rush to do so, since a credible opponent for the Democratic presidential nomination has yet to emerge. Given the tight-lipped nature of Mrs Clinton's operation up to this point, political analysts have been poring over even the smallest signs that could indicate how she will run this time around - and what lessons, if any, she has learned from her 2008 defeat.

The grandmother-knows-best tweet, then, has been heralded as something of a revelation.

According to the Atlantic's Peter Beinart, Mrs Clinton as "grandmother-in-chief" not only softens her occasionally hard edges, it fits nicely with her political worldview.

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Possible 2016 opponents
Clockwise from top left: Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Elizabeth Warren, Rand Paul, Hillary Clinton Clockwise from top left: Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Elizabeth Warren, Rand Paul, Hillary Clinton

No-one has formally declared but these are some of the names to watch:

  • early Republican frontrunner is Jeb Bush
  • but New Jersey Governor Chris Christie could battle Bush for the party's centre ground
  • darling of the Tea Party is Texas Senator Ted Cruz
  • firebrand liberal Elizabeth Warren is championed by many in the Democratic Party
  • libertarian Rand Paul has his supporters - and enemies - among Republicans
  • Hillary Clinton will have learnt much from her failed campaign of 2008

Meet the 2016 candidates.

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"In the popular imagination, grandmothers are both caring and conservative," he writes. "They dote on their grandchildren while also tut-tutting about a culture gone awry. They are pro-family in both the liberal and conservative senses of the word."

Mrs Clinton has always said she's both a "trailblazer and a traditionalist", Beinart says. "Now, by running as a grandmother, she may finally make Americans believe her."

The tactic is not without its risks, however. Mrs Clinton's political opponents have been quick to point out that she will be 69 on election day in 2016, the same age as the nation's oldest president, Ronald Reagan, when he was first elected in 1980.

Some commentators, including Republican strategist Karl Rove, have gone so far as to question Mrs Clinton's health and fitness for the rigours of office.

Could a campaign that touts the wisdom of a grandmother play into these lines of attack?

"The image of a blue-haired granny is a tried-and-true American stereotype, and one that is antithetical to the image of the commander-in-chief with his finger on the button," writes Time magazine's Jay Newton-Small.

Hillary Clinton holds a baby. Conservative critics accuse Mrs Clinton of favouring a 'granny state'

According to Lawless, however, Mrs Clinton's age was going to be a factor one way or the other, so she might as well tackle the issue head-on and turn a possible weakness into a strength.

"Better to be thought of as an old and empathetic person than just old," she says.

Others on the right simply condemned Mrs Clinton's tweet as a calculated move from an always-calculating political family.

"Clinton's flaunting of her grandchild is one of the most transparently cynical and sentimental acts of a major American politician that I can recall," Matthew Continetti of the Washington Free Beacon writes. "We have had presidents who have been parents, and we have had presidents who have been grandparents. But a campaign based on grandparental solidarity? A novelty."

The line quickly gave rise to the quip that a Clinton presidency will advance the "granny state" - a haggard iteration of the liberal nanny state.

"#GrandmothersKnowBest feels like a hashtag the GOP would have come up with for Hillary," tweets Jon Passantino, Buzzfeed's deputy news director.

Although Mrs Clinton is treading new ground as the first woman with a realistic shot at the US presidency, it's familiar territory for other female world leaders - who have addressed the issue with varying levels of directness.

One of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's public nicknames is "Mutti" - Mummy - but she largely has kept her personal life under tight wraps. In the most recent campaign, however, she did make appearances with her husband's grandchildren.

On the other end of the spectrum is Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. The 76-year-old grandmother of eight campaigned on the slogan that she wanted to bring "motherly sensitivity and emotion" to the office.

Mitt Romney and his family appear at a campaign event in 2012. Mitt Romney often appeared with his grandchildren at 2012 campaign events

The humanising effect of having youngsters in tow during a campaign appearance isn't limited to female candidates, of course. In 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney often brought some of his 18 grandchildren onto the public stage, and photographs of his entire brood were used in television adverts.

Liberia isn't the US, however, and while Mr Romney assuredly needed a humanising touch as well, the downside of playing up his role as pater familias was minimal compared to the challenges facing Mrs Clinton.

Still, says Lawless, the benefits of the strategy likely outweigh the risks. And if a single hashtag means Mrs Clinton will be placing new emphasis on the groundbreaking nature of her candidacy - which recent polls show could help broaden her appeal - the potential benefit is all the greater.

"Her line about putting 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling was one of the most successful," Lawless says. Although Mrs Clinton didn't use it until she was conceding defeat to Mr Obama, this time could be different.

"Grandmothers know best" may have been just one hashtag on one tweet, but there is almost certainly more to it than that.


Rand Paul and his Ron Paul conundrum

Senator Rand Paul and his father, Ron Paul Will Ron Paul's campaign donor base embrace Rand Paul?

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul has a Ron Paul problem. Or maybe it's a Ron Paul opportunity.

Both sides of that particular coin were on display Friday, when Ron - Rand's father - spoke to the International Students for Liberty Conference in Washington, DC.

It was the elder Paul's kind of audience - young and enthusiastic about the libertarian emphasis on robust individual freedoms and miniscule government. Crowds like this had fervently supported the former congressman's quixotic bids for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008 and 2012, where he proved to be a pesky participant in the debates and a headache for local party structures, but a lesser threat when ballots were counted.

Start Quote

If Rand Paul wants a chance in 2016, he has to convince his father to zip it”

End Quote Robert Tracinski The Federalist

Now the question is whether a crowd like this will pass their support on to Paul's son - and whether the price of that support will put the senator at risk of alienating a larger, more important part of the Republican base.

Ron Paul on Friday night was in prime form. He railed against the US Federal Reserve, condemned government spending on both social programmes and the military, and criticised a US foreign policy he sees as overly interventionist.

His positions were well known and generally embraced by the audience. They chanted "ban the Fed" at the former congressman's prompting and applauded when he said that if the US cared about liberty, it would "bring our troops home and deal with our problems here".

But those aren't the kind of opinions that will fly with many Republican primary voters, who are more pro-intervention when it comes US foreign policy and look askance at Mr Paul's tirades against corporate power, calls for a return to the gold standard and dalliances with the secession movement.

Rand Paul in Iowa

"If Rand Paul wants a chance in 2016, he has to convince his father to zip it," writes the Federalist's Robert Tracinski, noting that the elder Mr Paul's recent statements on foreign policy "are absurd on a number of levels".

Rand Paul has, in fact, backed away from many of his father's foreign policy positions. He's called for US air strikes against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq and condemned Russia's annexation of Crimea. While he wants an independent audit of the Federal Reserve, he's not part of the "ban the Fed" gang.

Start Quote

Without a doubt, Rand Paul is my number-one guy”

End Quote Michael Przybyl Student

Civil liberties issues are probably where he's most in line with the Ron Paul supporters, and his marathon filibuster against President Barack Obama's drone policies in March 2013 and condemnation of civil forfeiture laws and police militarisation continue to win their favour.

Among the crowd of die-hard members of the Ron Paul "revolution," who lined up by the hundreds for a chance to be photographed with the former congressman, the reviews of the son were generally supportive - but with some concerns.

"Without a doubt, Rand Paul is my number-one guy," says University of North Carolina-Charlotte student Michael Przybyl.

"Ron Paul, in my opinion, is more extreme in a good way, but unfortunately in less of an electable way," he continues. "Whereas we see with Rand Paul, he's a little bit more relaxed on certain issues, drawing in some moderate voters and can be more of a realistic candidate for the White House."

For Renee Kate and Ann Leverette, however, the younger Paul is an apple that has fallen too far from the tree.

"I don't think his views correspond with his father's," says Leverette, who hosts a New Hampshire-based libertarian podcast with Kate called Seditious Sirens. "I don't feel he's as liberty-oriented. He's definitely more on the conservative side."

Kate says she hopes Rand Paul is just soft-selling his father's positions to appeal to a broader audience, but it's "not looking good".

"I definitely wouldn't be voting for Rand," she adds.

The elder Paul's stands on the issues won't be the only possible pitfall for the son's campaign, however. Questions of intolerance have dogged the congressman ever since his 2012 race, when reporters discovered copies of his libertarian newsletter from the 1980s and 1990s that contained white supremacist writings.

Those concerns once again surfaced on Friday night, when Mackenzie Holst, a student from Texas Christian University, used the evening's question-and-answers session to ask Mr Paul to repudiate the "racist, sexist and homophobic" views expressed in his newsletter.

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Possible 2016 opponents
Clockwise from top left: Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Elizabeth Warren, Rand Paul, Hillary Clinton Clockwise from top left: Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Elizabeth Warren, Rand Paul, Hillary Clinton

No-one has formally declared but these are some of the names to watch:

  • early Republican frontrunner is Jeb Bush
  • but New Jersey Governor Chris Christie could battle Bush for the party's centre ground
  • darling of the Tea Party is Texas Senator Ted Cruz
  • firebrand liberal Elizabeth Warren is championed by many in the Democratic Party
  • libertarian Rand Paul has his supporters - and enemies - among Republicans
  • Hillary Clinton will have learnt much from her failed campaign of 2008

Meet the 2016 candidates.

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The audience responded with boos, and Mr Paul said he doesn't keep the newsletters in his office and didn't author of any of the essays.

That wasn't adequate for Ms Holst, who told the BBC that the "second generation" of young libertarians that attended the conference needs to firmly renounce past discrimination in the movement.

"We need to be inclusive, we need to condemn racism, and we need to condemn sexism," she said. "And when the icon of the libertarian movement does not do those things, we cannot just stand by and let that happen."

She added that she does not hold Ron Paul's views against his son, however. "I don't think his reputation should hinge on that of his father's," she said.

Mackenzie Holst Mackenzie Holst says Ron Paul should condemn racist views in his newsletter

Rand Paul can only hope that it's a sentiment shared by a wide enough swath of Republican primary voters to give him a realistic shot at winning the nomination. So far, the results are inconclusive.

According to the latest polls, Mr Paul is pulling anywhere in the high single digits to mid-teens both in the early voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire, as well as nationally. Those numbers are comparable to those his father garnered in 2012. He secured 21% in a third-place Iowa finish and 23% in New Hampshire for second, but was never able to break through with any wins.

Can the younger Paul be different? If familial concerns are an issue, at least in this Republican field he's far from alone.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz has had to grapple with questions concerning his outspoken father, a Cuban immigrant who has called President Barack Obama a Marxist who should be sent "back to Kenya". Former Governor Jeb Bush has a former president for a father - but it's his brother's presidency, with a record of war and financial collapse, that casts a more ominous shadow.

What's clear from this weekend's Students for Liberty convention is that there's still a lot of love for Ron Paul among a younger generation that, as it did for Barack Obama in 2008, can become essential footsoldiers for a powerful grass-roots campaign.

The elder Paul also boasts a nationwide fundraising base that can draw from a pool of donors that are beyond the reach of most other candidates. Ron Paul raised $35m (£22.8m) in 2008 and more than $40m in 2012 - astounding numbers for a so-called fringe candidate.

Rand Paul's goal, then is to capitalise on this devotion as much as he can while still appealing to the rank-and-file Republican primary voter.

Toward the end of his session, the moderator asked Ron Paul if he included his son among the "top three" candidates he was considering supporting.

"I'm seriously thinking about it," Paul replied as the audience laughed. "I'm studying his record."

While the elder Paul may have been speaking in jest, his son's record - as well as how closely he hews to his father's political idiosyncrasies - could make or break Rand Paul's campaign.

It's a fine line to walk if he wants to be more than another presidential primary footnote alongside his father.


Scott Walker passes on evolution

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is caught off guard by evolution question

It has been just over 100 days since the 2014 US mid-term elections wrapped up with sweeping conservative victories.

Thirty-eight days ago, the new Republican Congress was sworn in, and two weeks later President Barack Obama addressed the body with his State of the Union address.

Politically speaking, that's all ancient history. From here on out, the focus will irresistibly shift toward the 2016 presidential campaign.

Here are a few of the more notable events this week in the campaign for the White House.

Walking tall

This week's campaign headlines were dominated by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, the would-be Republican frontrunner who is concluding the seemingly obligatory trip to the UK to burnish his foreign policy credentials.

On Tuesday I wrote a piece about the Wisconsin governor and why his recent surge in polls conducted in influential early-voting states like Iowa and New Hampshire may signify more than just the usual flash-in-the-pan for little-known candidates.

I included a note of caution, however, that Mr Walker would be facing intensified media interest in his every step and possible stumble.

Cue a stumble. BBC presenter Justin Webb asked Mr Walker about his views on evolution following a speech at Chatham House. His response: "I'm going to punt on that one", adding that he thinks it is a question politicians "shouldn't be involved in one way or another".

That may be true, but it's definitely a question reporters love to ask, if only to watch Republican candidates squirm as they try to avoid angering the evangelical Christian voters in their party's base, many of whom believe creationism - or intelligent design - should be taught in public schools.

"Remarkably, for a man who has run for high office, Walker didn't have a ready-to-repeat answer on evolution," writes Byron York of the Washington Examiner. He adds that Mr Walker's staff didn't even know the governor's official position as they scrambled to respond to a flood of media inquiries.

Given that another presidential hopeful, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, got into an even bigger mess while in the UK when he endorsed "parental choice" in the measles vaccination debate, maybe it's time to rethink the British Isles as a safe trip for prospective candidates.

Would a destination where no-one speaks English be better advised from now on?

Technical difficulties

While Mr Walker had a good week, despite his run-in with Charles Darwin, another would-be frontrunner made headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Florida Governor Jeb Bush, when he announced he was exploring a presidential bid, touted the openness of his operation as he released a trove of documents relating to his time in office. It turns out that included in this bounty were some rather embarrassing personal details - such as correspondents' Social Security numbers and email addresses - that diligent reporters and social media sleuths unearthed and publicised. Mr Bush's aides then had to quickly redact numerous pages.

A good technology chief might have been able to devise a system to filter out such unwanted information. Mr Bush doesn't have a good chief of technology, however. In fact he doesn't have any chief of technology after he had to fire the one he recently hired, Ethan Czahor, when it was revealed that Czahor had a history of making misogynistic, racist and homophobic comments on social media.

In 2008 and again in 2012, the Obama campaign built a reputation for using technological savvy to run highly effective micro-targeted campaigns that increased voter outreach and election day turnout. Mitt Romney's efforts, codenamed Project Orca, ended up being a much criticised flop.

Republican officials spent a great deal of time after 2012 trying to improve what they saw as a technological gap between the two parties. With their 2014 mid-term success, they thought they had made marked progress.

Mr Bush's stumbles this week might be cause for renewed concern if he becomes the nominee.

Room for more?

It's time to consider adding Ohio Governor John Kasich to the list of Republican candidates seriously considering a presidential bid. As the Washington Post reports, Mr Kasich has announced he's going to be travelling to South Carolina next week for a speaking engagement.

While the Palmetto State is a lovely place to visit, the warm Southern climes are probably of less interest to the Midwestern governor and former congressman than its position as the third state to vote in the Republican presidential nominating process.

Mr Kasich's name has been kicked around in the past as a potentially compelling candidate, mostly because he's a popular governor in a key swing state. No Republican has won the presidency without carrying Ohio. Ever.


The precipitous fall of an Oregon governor

Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber

He was set to become the second-longest serving governor in US history at the end of his term. Now, he's just another disgraced politician trying to pick up the pieces of a shattered career in public office.

Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber isn't a household name in most of the US, but for three decades the Democrat had been an influential figure in the state. He served as Oregon's Senate president and then as governor from 1995 to 2003 and again from 2010 to Friday, when he announced he will resign.

"I have always had the deepest respect for the remarkable institution that is the Oregon legislature; and for the office of the Governor," Mr Kitzhaber said in a statement. "And I cannot in good conscience continue to be the element that undermines it. I have always tried to do the right thing and now the right thing to do is to step aside."

Mr Kitzhaber's fall was as quick as it was surprising. The proximate cause of his undoing was the activities of his fiancee, Cylvia Hayes, a clean-energy consultant who is being investigated for using her connections to the governor to attract new clients for her business. She has also been accused of misusing state funds, failure to disclose income to the Internal Revenue Service and receiving $5,000 in exchange for marrying an 18-year-old Ethiopian who wanted to obtain permanent US residency.

Much of this was known before Mr Kitzhaber was re-elected to a fourth term in office last November, but pressure on the governor mounted in the past few weeks following the revelation that two of the governor's aides arranged for Ms Hayes to land paying jobs with companies with interests in state energy policy.

Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber and his fiancee, Cylvia Hayes Cylvia Hayes is being investigated for violating Oregon's ethics laws

Last Wednesday the Oregonian - the state's largest newspaper, based in Portland - called on the governor to resign, as did several prominent state Democratic leaders.

"Whether through gross inattention or complicity, Kitzhaber has broken faith with Oregonians," the paper's editors wrote. "His career in Oregon politics is one of great accomplishment, but his past success does not excuse the mess he has made of the office with which Oregonians entrusted him. He is now less a governor than a source of unending distraction. He can no longer lead Oregon effectively and should resign."

With Mr Kitzhaber's resignation, Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown will become the state's governor and serve until 2016, when a new election will be held for the remainder of Mr Kitzhaber's term. She has garnered particular attention in this episode because she will become the first openly bisexual governor in US history.

Ms Brown, who was elected to her second four-year term as secretary of state in 2012, had travelled to Oregon from a conference in Washington, DC, on Wednesday and met with Mr Kitzhaber, who told her at the time he was "not resigning".

"This is clearly a bizarre and unprecedented situation," she said in a statement.

That much is certainly true.

Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown Kate Brown is set to become the first bisexual governor in US history

The Altantic's David A Graham calls it a "picaresque tale of ethics, money, romance and betrayal, plus good old-fashioned power politics". More than that, however, he says it "raises interesting questions on how political spouses are treated and scapegoated, and how the media would treat the scandal if it happened on the East Coast - or in a Republican-led state".

The Kitzhaber saga recalls the recent downfall of Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, who was recently sentenced to two years in prison for ethical violations involving his wife and a prominent campaign donor.

That story, and its tawdry details, played out in the media for months. The Kitzhaber case only made headlines the last few weeks. A double standard in the media? Perhaps.

On Friday, however, Mr Kitzhaber's time ran out.


Was Obama right to criticise Staples?

President Barack Obama.

In an interview published on Tuesday, President Barack Obama scolded the US office supply giant Staples for using a rule in the Affordable Care Act as an excuse to limit its workers' hours.

Mr Obama's comments were prompted by a story Buzzfeed published on Monday quoting anonymous employees who said that the company had started rigorously enforcing a policy limiting part-time workers to no more than 25 hours a week.

Staples, they said, explained that the move was due to Obamacare's employee mandate, which went into effect at the beginning of the year.

Start Quote

It's unfortunate that the president is attacking a company that provides more than 85,000 jobs and is a major taxpayer”

End Quote Kirk Saville Staples spokesperson

The mandate requires large companies like Staples to provide health insurance for employees working 30 or more hours a week or face heavy fines. According to Buzzfeed, Staples threatened to fire anyone who worked more than 25 hours a week, and one worker was allegedly told that Mr Obama was responsible for the crackdown.

"I haven't looked at Staples' stock lately or what the compensation of the CEO is, but I suspect that they could well afford to treat their workers favourably and give them some basic financial security," the president said.

While Mr Obama said he understands small "mom-and-pop" stores who can't afford to pay their workers' benefits, he declined to sympathise with large corporations who point fingers at Obamacare when they cut back on wages.

"Shame on them," he said.

In a statement on Wednesday, Staples said Obama "appears not to have all the facts" because they say the policy limiting part-time hours wasn't the result of Obamacare.

"It's unfortunate that the president is attacking a company that provides more than 85,000 jobs and is a major taxpayer," Kirk Saville, a company spokesperson, told CNNMoney.

The outside of a Staples store. According to Buzzfeed, Staples has begun strictly enforcing hour limits for workers

Despite Staples' claims that the policy is in no way tied to Obamacare, Buzzfeed's report seems to draw a clear enough connection.

"Before January, it was a smack on the wrist if anyone went over 25 hours - they got an email scolding them, saying, 'You went over 25, try not to do that'," says Alice, an anonymous employee quoted in their story. "But now it's become really serious… They've threatened to write up managers and every person that goes up over 25 hours."

Back when the legislation was being drafted, there were people on both sides of the aisle worried that the law would result in employers limiting hours in this way.

That's why, for CNBC's Jake Novak, none of this is a surprise.

Start Quote

Staples executives are protecting the shareholders at whom Obama scoffs”

End Quote Ed Morrissey HotAir blog

"Does President Obama believe that 'shame on you' is a real policy?" he asks. "Is this all the administration had up its sleeve to counteract the cuts despite years of friendly and not-so-friendly warnings?"

Novak says it's not illegal for Staples to try to cut costs by avoiding the mandate's threshold, and he wonders if it's right for a president to single out a company for doing just that.

Hotair's Ed Morrissey agrees: "Staples executives are protecting the shareholders at whom Obama scoffs from paying large costs associated with the kind of employer-based policies that ObamaCare mandates by limiting their hours."

Not everyone is siding with the Massachusetts-based chain, however.

"The Staples story illustrates the environment of so many contemporary American workplaces, where employees are treated with contempt and suspicion while being told how much they're loved," writes the Washington Post's Paul Waldman.

He goes on to note that while Republicans in Congress have called for raising the cut-off for the healthcare mandate to 40 hours a week, that would only make it easier for companies to slightly trim the schedules of hourly workers and then drop their coverage.

More than the details of Obamacare, however, he says that this is yet another example of what's wrong with the country's health-insurance system, in which most people get their insurance through their employers.

Buzzfeed's home page. Buzzfeed's story on Staples prompts Barack Obama's condemnation

"If we did that, people wouldn't have to rely on the generosity of their bosses, and we wouldn't have to argue about who's part-time and who's full-time," he writes.

Outside of politics, this controversy comes at a pivotal moment for Staples.

The company recently agreed to buy Office Depot, another huge office supply store chain, for $6.3bn (£4.1bn). Just two years ago Office Depot merged with the similarly-sized Office Max.

A merger is likely to draw attention from anti-trust regulators in the Federal Trade Commission, since the agency derailed an almost identical deal nearly two decades ago.

Seeing as Mr Obama nominated all five of the FTC commissioners, antagonising the White House is a terrible idea, writes Fortune's Dan Primacy. He says that even though the two should in theory be completely separate, Staples is asking the FTC to admit that their past ruling was an error and conditions in today's market have changed the situation.

"It's a high bar," Primacy writes. "Every little piece of positive PR helps. Having Obama basically call Staples greedy - and the company then responding by calling him ignorant - is not the sort of thing Staples should want in the recesses of FTC officials' minds when it comes time to vote."

If the FTC once again rules against Staples, US companies may see the moral of this story being that if a president calls you out, the best way to respond is to grin and bear it.


A little-known 2016 frontrunner

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker may be little known beyond his home state and among the more politically attuned in the US public, but he's starting to emerge as a possible force in the race for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

The governor jetted off to London this week to meet Prime Minister David Cameron and give a speech on global economics at Chatham House riding a wave of good publicity, encouraging polls and positive chatter among conservative talking heads.

Last week a Bloomberg-Des Moines Register survey of Iowa Republicans revealed that Mr Walker had surged to the top among those rumoured to be interested in their party's presidential nomination. The opinion of Iowans is particularly important, as their state will be the first to hold caucuses next year to determine the nominee.

The results were far from decisive - Mr Walker garnered 15%, compared with Senator Rand Paul's 14% and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee at 10%. In New Hampshire, which holds its primary a week after Iowa votes, a new poll puts Mr Walker in third, a few percentage points behind Mr Paul and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.

Coming on the heels of a well-received speech to party faithful at an Iowa event in January that included more than a dozen possible candidates, however, it was more than enough to send the Walker hype balloon skyward.

Rush Limbaugh, a conservative kingmaker of sorts, has made trumpeting Mr Walker a veritable pastime recently. In the past two weeks, according to a tally by the National Journal, the conservative radio host has mentioned the governor's name more than 200 times.

The fortunes of presidential aspirants rise and fall, of course, particularly this early in the process. Four years ago the fickle tastes of Republican voters boosted and then dashed the hopes of a grab-bag of previously obscure candidates. Behind Mr Walker's recent surge, however, is a substance that could give him electoral staying power.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. Scott Walker leaves 10 Downing street after meeting Prime Minster David Cameron

First and foremost, primary voters - across the political spectrum - love governors. As the titular head of their states, they wield executive power that allows them to take firm stands and avoid the often muddled voting records compiled by legislators in the US Congress.

Mr Walker, in particular, has been particularly authoritative in office, as he moved quickly to advance a distinctly conservative agenda after being elected in 2010. He became a favourite of grass-root Tea Party conservatives and anathema to his state's progressives for pushing to curtail the collective bargaining rights of teachers' unions and state employees, enacting new voter identification laws and cutting public funding for Planned Parenthood.

"Walker has made a short career out of defeating Democrats, despite pushing polarising policies that should alarm middle and working-class voters," writes Keith Brekhus of the liberal website PoliticusUSA. "He is one candidate Democrats cannot afford to underestimate."

The anti-Walker sentiment among the left was so fierce that it gave birth to a 2012 recall effort to remove the governor from office before the end of his four-year term. A statewide vote retained Mr Walker, 53% to 46%, however. The governor then went on to win re-election to a second term last November by a slightly smaller margin, despite running against a well-funded, popular Democratic opponent.

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Possible 2016 opponents
Clockwise from top left: Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Elizabeth Warren, Rand Paul, Hillary Clinton Clockwise from top left: Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Elizabeth Warren, Rand Paul, Hillary Clinton

No-one has formally declared but these are some of the names to watch:

  • early Republican frontrunner is Jeb Bush
  • but New Jersey Governor Chris Christie could battle Bush for the party's centre ground
  • darling of the Tea Party is Texas Senator Ted Cruz
  • firebrand liberal Elizabeth Warren is championed by many in the Democratic Party
  • libertarian Rand Paul has his supporters - and enemies - among Republicans
  • Hillary Clinton will have learnt much from her failed campaign of 2008

Meet the 2016 candidates.

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A record as an unabashed conservative who has won multiple elections in a left-leaning state like Wisconsin, which hasn't voted for a Republican in a presidential election since 1984, is the type of resume bullet point no other presidential aspirant can boast.

Mr Walker has "the blueprint for the Republican Party if they are serious about beating the left," Mr Limbaugh said in one of his praise-fests.

All this has helped Mr Walker garner a perception as a fusion candidate who can gulf the divide between his party's establishment and Tea Party wings. He's also an evangelical Christian, the son of an Iowa minister, which will appeal to the party's socially conservative voters.

"If you're Jeb Bush, [Rand] Paul, Ted Cruz or one of the other candidates - official and unofficial - Walker should have you worried," writes the National Review's Jonah Goldberg. "With the arguable exceptions of [Florida] Senator Marco Rubio and [Louisiana] Governor Bobby Jindal, right now most of the field is made up of boutique flavours, intensely popular among some, intensely unpopular among others."

All these positive attributes, combined with his poll performance, has allowed Mr Walker to begin building a campaign team and attracting the kind of big-money fundraisers who can keep a candidate in the black for the long haul.

Scott Walker

According to the Washington Post's Matea Gold, Mr Walker raised almost $83m for his state-level races over the past four years - "an eye-popping sum for a governor of a modest-size Midwestern state".

The governor is not without his weaknesses, of course. Despite his standing-ovation performance in Iowa last month, he's not considered a compelling public orator. And speaking of resumes, his comes with a college-degree-sized hole. He dropped out of Marquette University in his fourth year before completing his diploma requirements.

He has also flirted with scandal while in office. Six of his aides have been convicted on charges ranging from embezzlement and money laundering to campaign finance infractions.

Then there's the down side of being a fusion candidate. Without an established base of support, he could end up angering one - or both - sides of the Republican Party's establishment-grassroots divide.

Already signs of strain are showing on issues like immigration, where Mr Walker has drawn fire from hardcore conservatives who see his current position as too permissive.

"He has tried to use the nebulousness of buzzwords like 'amnesty' and 'pathway to citizenship' - which can be used interchangeably or to differentiate between policies, depending on the speaker - to his advantage," writes the National Review's Andrew Johnson.

When Mr Walker returns from London later this week, he will also have to confront the sharper media focus that comes with the perception of being a possible front-running candidate. In what perhaps is both a reflection of his new status and a portent of things to come, the New York Times last week editorialised against the governor, condemning his proposed 13% cut in state funding for the University of Wisconsin system.

"It is hard to see such a clumsy attack on education going far with a general electorate concerned about their children's chances in life," they write.

While Mr Walker has beaten his in-state opponents and captured the attention of Republican Party activists, the air becomes thinner the farther up the electoral mountain a candidate climbs. Can he keep his footing?


Was Pharrell's Grammy shorts-suit too casual?

Pharell Williams accepts a Grammy wearing a shorts-suit.

Another year, another round of discussion over the wardrobe choices of pop musician Pharrell Williams at the Grammys.

In 2014 it was the hat that generated the heat. Where did he get it? Was it inspired by a Canadian Mountie or the logo from the fast-food chain Arby's? Was he hiding something underneath its prodigious aperture?

On Sunday, however, the musician returned to what can only be called a style crusade for him - the shorts-suit. Business on top and casual down below, Pharrell first sported the unusual pairing at last February's Academy Awards. Now the wardrobe is back, with a twist - a 3M designed fabric that made the grey cloth appear bright white when illuminated by a photographer's flash.

Early reaction from the celebrity-fashion world ranged from quiet acceptance to disappointed tut-tutting.

"Pharrell has gone and taken the athleisure movement to new, red carpet-ready heights," writes InStyle's Andrea Cheng.

Pharrell Williams sits next to Tony Bennett. Pharrell's suit turns white when illuminated by flash photography

Bustle's Sara Tan was less circumspect.

"It looks a bit like Pharrell just threw on a suit jacket over his gym outfit, amirite?" she says. "Maybe it's the Adidas stripes on the side or the fact that he's just wearing shorts with a suit jacket, but something about those bottoms are just a bit underwhelming for the Grammys."

On Twitter, the response trended more toward outright mockery.

"Pharrell is like a middle school kid in Michigan who wears shorts all winter just to prove he can," tweets Erika W Smith, features editor of Fashion & Style.

HollywoodLife editor Bonnie Fuller writes: "Pharrell's in a shorts suit again. Looks like he's ready for cricket."

Eva Chen, editor of the fashion magazine Lucky, wondered if this meant she would be able to wear Adidas tracksuit trousers to New York Fashion Week.

The recent round of discussions sparked by Pharrell's sartorial choices recall a debate that took place last summer with the rise of commercially offered short-suits from retailers like J Crew and Barneys.

Writing in Deadspin, Alberto Burneko asserted that combining shorts and formal attire made the wearer look like Little Lord Fauntleroy.

"Shorts embody a choice of comfort over fanciness (even when they look OK, as they do on dudes with toned calves and slim ankles); the suit, by its design, says I have chosen to be uncomfortable for the sake of propriety," he writes. "It is a bad look for bad people with bad clothing opinions."

Bloomberg's Kyle Stock writes that the combination of shorts and jacket is "equal parts business and schoolboy".

Pharrell Williams sings Happy at the 2015 Grammys. Pharrell sticks with shorts when he changes outfits to sing Happy

"Functionally, it's both breezy and stifling," he wrote, "and socks are a no-no, unless they go up to one's knees."

Let the record show that on Sunday Pharrell wore his outfit with no socks whatsoever.

Esquire's style tips offered a verdict that was much less accommodating.

"Unless you're at a wedding in Bermuda, don't even think about wearing shorts with a blazer," they curtly conclude. "If an event is formal enough for a blazer, it's formal enough for pants."

When asked on the Grammy red carpet to explain his fashion choice, Pharrell said: "I usually wear shorts. That's just like my thing."

Well, whatever makes him happy.


Obama's 'high horse' on IS and the Crusades

President Barack Obama.

Behold the perils of invoking moral equivalency - even, or perhaps especially, when some of the events in question are separated by 800 years.

During a speech Thursday at the National Prayer Breakfast, President Barack Obama leavened his condemnation of the Islamic State's recent atrocities with a word of warning to his fellow Christians who wish to conflate the militant group's actions with Islam as a whole.

"Lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ," the president said. "In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ."

Start Quote

The most unfortunate thing about the Crusades is that they failed”

End Quote John Hinderaker Powerline Blog

Murderous extremism, he continued, "is not unique to one group or one religion. There is a tendency in us, a sinful tendency that can pervert and distort our faith."

The comments prompted an angry reaction - bordering on apoplexy - from many on the right.

Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer called the president's comments "banal and offensive" and "adolescent stuff".

"Christianity no longer goes on Crusades," he said on Fox News. "The story of today, of our generation, is the fact that the overwhelming volume of the violence and the barbarism that we are seeing in the world from Nigeria to Paris all the way to Pakistan and even to the Philippines, the island of Mindanao in the Philippines, is coming from one source, and that's from inside Islam."

Others, such as conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, took issue with the president's contention that IS is not reflective of Islam as a whole. "Sharia law is the present day threat to individual and civil liberties all over the world," he said. "Sharia is not a narrow cult. Sharia law is Islam."

A painting of a Crusader being shot by an arrow. John Hinderaker says that the Crusades were a defensive war

But what about the Crusaders? Since they aren't around to stick up for themselves, Powerline Blog's John Hinderaker comes to their defence.

"There was nothing wrong, in principle, with the Crusades," he writes. "They were an appropriate (if belated and badly managed) response to the conquest of the Holy Land by Islam. Did marauding 11th century armies inevitably commit outrages? They certainly did. In fact, that still happens today. But the most unfortunate thing about the Crusades is that they failed."

He goes on to note that the body count from the Inquisition "would hardly make a good week's work for Boko Haram or IS" and that the anti-slavery movement in the US had a decidedly religious bent.

"Slavery might well be widespread today if it were not for Christianity," he says.

The National Review's Jonah Goldberg builds on this theme.

Start Quote

We cannot overlook how the United States has conducted master classes in violence and barbarism both before, during, and since its founding”

End Quote Chauncey DeVega Daily Kos

"There's a very important point to make here that transcends the scoring of easy, albeit deserved, points against Obama's approach to Islamic extremism (which he will not call Islamic)," he writes. "Christianity, even in its most terrible days, even under the most corrupt popes, even during the most unjustifiable wars, was indisputably a force for the improvement of man."

It's difficult - almost impossible - to believe the president and his staff didn't anticipate the reaction his words would generate. The question, then, is why he picked this particular fight.

The president could just be poking the right-wing bear, says the Christian Science Monitor's Peter Grier. More likely, he continues, he's trying to counter the view - held by Limbaugh and others - that the US is at war with Islam as a whole.

Instead, Grier says, the president - like George W Bush before him - wants to frame the conflict in terms of a fight against "individuals who use distorted versions of faith as a weapon".

But perhaps there's more than just the religious component at play here. As Juliet Eilperin of the Washington Post points out, Thursday's speech is in keeping with Mr Obama's penchant for challenging what he sees as the US public's lack of self-reflection when it comes to their past sins and their place in the world.

"Obama's remarks spoke to his unsparing, sometimes controversial, view of the United States - where triumphalism is often overshadowed by a harsh assessment of where Americans must try harder to live up to their own self-image," she writes. "Only by admitting these shortcomings, he has argued, can we fix problems and move beyond them."

Chauncey DeVega, posting on the Daily Kos, goes even farther, drawing a direct comparison between IS's murder of Jordanian pilot Muadh al Kasasbeh and the gruesome "spectacular lynchings" of the late 19th Century, which involved hanging, and burning, blacks accused of crimes.

"We cannot overlook how the United States has conducted master classes in violence and barbarism both before, during and since its founding … and yes, much of this violence was against people of colour whose labour, lives, land and freedom were stolen to create American empire," he writes.

Perhaps a rational dialogue about religion extremism throughout the course of history is possible - but it's increasingly clear that it's not a conversation this president can start and that this US political environment will tolerate.


Is Brian Williams tale a case of 'stolen valour'?

NBC News anchor Brian Williams.

The controversy surrounding NBC anchor Brian Williams and his "misremembered" involvement in the downing of a US helicopter during the Iraq War in 2003 continues to grow.

Ever since the nightly news anchor apologised on Wednesday for what he said was a "terrible mistake" due to the "fog of memory over 12 years", more details have emerged about Mr Williams's progressively more exaggerated claims.

Conservative bloggers and columnist have been quick to point out the changing version of events - captured in interviews with David Letterman and Alec Baldwin, among others - from his being in a helicopter following one that was shot down by Iraqi forces to being in the helicopter itself and ending up stranded in the desert for days.

Start Quote

As journalists, the truth is the only currency any of us have, and Williams's mea culpa was a pile of funny money”

End Quote Don Kaplan New York Daily News

According to military personnel in the area at the time who were interviewed by Stars and Stripes newspaper, Mr Williams didn't arrive at the location of the downed helicopter until nearly an hour after the attack.

Don Kaplan, a columnist for New York Daily News, finds Mr William's spotty-memory explanation to be questionable at best - and his recent apologies still don't mesh with on-the-ground reports.

"We're talking about a rocket propelled grenade slamming into the side of a helicopter as it flies over a battlefield," he writes. "So what if it was 12 years ago? I can remember getting hit in the head with a rock by a kid in third grade."

He concludes: "As journalists, the truth is the only currency any of us have, and Williams's mea culpa was a pile of funny money."

The fiercest reaction to the Williams story, however, has come from online conservatives. Many conservative writers have accused Williams of "stolen valour" - a charge levelled at individuals who make false claims of war heroism in order to bask in the resulting adulation and privileges. They contend that the episode has permanently damaged Mr Williams credibility and should lead to his resignation.

"Williams' 12-year lie is a disaster for the anchor and for the network that made him the face of its news division," writes Breitbart's John Nolte. "Obviously no one at NBC News bothered to check a story that was just too good to check. Worse, this will only compound the credibility and ratings issues that have damaged the NBC News brand for a few years now."

Brian Williams: "I made a mistake in recalling the events of 12 years ago"

"How can Brian Williams hold such a position, get caught doing such a thing, and not immediately resign to save his colleagues the agony?" he tweets.

Ace of Spades HQ, a conservative blog, says Mr Williams was engaging in "an age-old reportorial practice called lying to advance an agenda".

"The agenda here was dressing up a soft, delicate little boy into a the sort of iron-stubbled man who looks like he belongs on a battlefield," Ace writes.

Part of the reason the revelations about Williams have been met with particular glee among conservative bloggers could be that the NBC anchor has been outspoken in his criticism of online journalism standards in the past.

Start Quote

The standards of veracity and accuracy demanded of a network news anchorman are much higher than those expected of a politician”

End Quote Lloyd Grove The Daily Beast

"All of my life, developing credentials to cover my field of work, and now I'm up against a guy named Vinny in an efficiency apartment in the Bronx who hasn't left the efficiency apartment in two years," Williams said in a 2007 speech. "On the Internet, no one knows if you've been to Ramadi or you've just been to Brooklyn and have an opinion about Ramadi," said Williams.

According to the Atlantic's David Frum, the Williams episode exposes an ongoing double-standard in the news business.

"In media, plagiarism and fabulism are strictly forbidden if you are under 30 and not very well known," he tweets. "Otherwise, it's a speeding ticket."

Of course this is far from the first time a prominent US public figure has become embroiled in questions about wartime dangers. In 2008 then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was questioned for asserting that her plane was under sniper fire when she visited Bosnia as first lady in 1996.

In the 2004 presidential race, numerous conservative activists cast doubt Democratic candidate John Kerry's Vietnam War record.

Just last month, following the surprise success of American Sniper, discrepancies in some of the stories recounted by the central figure in the film - US soldier Chris Kyle - resurfaced.

The ideological shoe was on the other foot in that case, as liberals accused Kyle of being a serial exaggerator and braggart and used it to question the credibility of the Oscar-nominated film.

The Williams story is different, however, because of this currency of truth on which the media depends.

"The standards of veracity and accuracy demanded of a network news anchorman are much higher than those expected of a politician," writes the Daily Beast's Lloyd Grove. The same could be said for a now-deceased Navy Seal-turned-author like Kyle.

As conservative media consultant Frank Luntz tweets: "Brian Williams is also managing editor at NBC News. In other words: He verifies facts and stories' credibility before they're shown on-air."

Mr Williams might hold on to his job through this controversy, but these sorts of things have a way of looming over journalists for their entire career.

As it turns out, the helicopter Brian Williams was in didn't crash and burn. His professional reputation, on the other hand, may not be so lucky.


Hillary says 'sky is blue and vaccines work'

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

If the measles outbreak and resulting vaccine debate wasn't a political issue before this week began, it is now.

Thanks to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's off-the-cuff statements in the UK on Monday endorsing "a measure of choice" as to whether to immunise their children against measles, several of his fellow high-profile presidential aspirants have decided to weigh in on the topic.

On Monday evening former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton came down firmly on the pro-vaccine side, tweeting: "The science is clear: The earth is round, the sky is blue, and #vaccineswork. Let's protect all our kids."

She ended her message with the hashtag "#GrandmothersKnowBest", yet another hint that her newly minted grandmaternal status could be leaned on heavily to provide her with a softer image as she gears up for her possible campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Meanwhile Kentucky Senator Rand Paul took a decidedly different tack on Monday, reiterating his position that most vaccines should be "voluntary" and that parental choice is "an issue of freedom".

"I don't understand the point of why that would be controversial," the Republican told a CNBC interviewer, adding that he's a "big fan" of vaccines. But, he said: "I have heard of many tragic cases of walking, talking normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines".

"The state doesn't own your children," Mr Paul, who has placed near the top of many polls of Republican primary voters, concluded. "Parents own the children."

Start Quote

It's much more important, I think, what you think as a parent than what you think as a public official”

End Quote Chris Christie New Jersey Governor

The latest political debate started on Monday morning, when Mr Christie noted that while he and his wife decided to have their children vaccinated, that solution may not be best for all parents.

"It's much more important, I think, what you think as a parent than what you think as a public official," he said. "But I also understand that parents need to have some measure of choice in things as well. So that's the balance that the government has to decide."

He continued: "I didn't say I'm leaving people the option, what I'm saying is that you have to have that balance in considering parental concerns because no parent cares about anything more than they care about protecting their own child's health. And so we have to have that conversation. But that has to move and shift, in my view, from disease type. Not every vaccine is created equal, and not every disease type is as great a public health threat as others."

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

Despite being effectively eradicated in the US as recently as 2000, a measles outbreak that started at the Disneyland amusement park in California has spread to 14 US states and infected at least 84 individuals. The episode has many Americans blaming parents who, citing religious beliefs or possible adverse health implications of scheduled vaccinations, have opted to delay or skip vaccinations - despite repeated insistence by public health professionals that the risks are minimal.

Within a few hours of Mr Christie's comments, his press office attempted to "clarify" his remarks, writing in a statement that "the governor believes vaccines are an important public health protection, and with a disease like measles there is no question kids should be vaccinated".

Start Quote

It's easy to forget, given Christie's reputation as a no-nonsense pragmatist, but he often finds himself at odds with the medical establishment”

End Quote Olivia Nuzzi The Daily Beast

The fires had been stoked, however - and his remarks have been contrasted with US President Barack Obama's statement on Monday morning that the science supporting immunisations is "pretty indisputable".

"We've looked at this again and again," he said on NBC's Today programme. "There is every reason to get vaccinated, but there aren't reasons to not."

Given that Mr Christie, Mr Paul and Ms Clinton are considered likely candidates for president in 2016, much of the debate is being cast in a political light - right versus left; science versus theology; authority versus doubt.

Slate's Amanda Marcotte calls rejecting scientific consensus "an art that Republicans have perfected when it comes to climate change and evolution. But, more importantly, the right is just a more comfortable home, ideologically, for anti-vaccination arguments."

Despite Marcotte's contention, the immunisation "debate", such as it is, is difficult to break down on partisan lines. Although she cites a survey that shows slightly more self-identified conservatives support the now-debunked link between autism and vaccines, a liberal anti-corporate, natural-living strain of anti-vaccination opinion is just as responsible for the drop in immunisation rates in the US as the conservative, anti-government-mandate view.

While 86% of scientists believe vaccines should be required, only 68% of the public agrees.

Republican consultant Rick Wilson tweets that Mr Christie is being "wildly irresponsible" in his statements.

"Vaccination is one of the most consequential scientific and medical advances in the history of mankind," hewrites. "I'm as libertarian as it comes, but the social contract includes not letting your kids die of preventable diseases or spread them to others."

Start Quote

Christie can tell conservatives his stance is due to an overall distrust of the federal government and scientists, which always sits well with the right”

End Quote Justin Baragona PoliticusUSA

The increased attention to Mr Christie's recent views have had other writers rehashing 2009 remarks by the governor in which he told a radio interviewer he didn't support mandating that children receive the flu vaccine and that parents who believe vaccines cause autism need "a voice in these debates". He also wrote a letter to anti-vaccination parents saying he stands by them "in their fight for greater parental involvement in vaccination decisions that affect children".

They also point out that Mr Christie's public health policies appear inconsistent, as just last year he instituted a mandatory quarantine for a nurse who had returned from treating Ebola patients in Africa despite no evidence that she had contracted the disease.

"It's easy to forget, given Christie's reputation as a no-nonsense pragmatist, but he often finds himself at odds with the medical establishment and basic common sense on issues of health," writes the Daily Beast's Olivia Nuzzi.

PoliticusUSA's Justin Baragona calls the New Jersey governor a "crass politician".

The US public is more sceptical than scientists on a number of public policy issues.

"It appears he is thinking that he can possibly appeal to the libertarians and upper-middle-class liberals who feel vaccinations are unnecessary, a tool of big government, responsible for autism or any other crackpot reason anti-vaxxers have given for not immunising their children," he says. "At the same time, Christie can tell conservatives his stance is due to an overall distrust of the federal government and scientists, which always sits well with the right."

If Mr Christie's past affiliation with the anti-vaccination movement and his recent comments are, in fact, a calculated way to position himself within the Republican primary electorate, a recent Pew Research survey shows he may find pockets of support for his attempts to buck scientific authority.

On a host of different subjects, the US public differs significantly in its views from members of the scientific community. While 68% of US adults say that childhood vaccines should be required, 86% of scientists support it.

The BBC's Alistair Leithead spoke to parents in California about their concerns

Vaccines aren't the only source of significant disagreement - on topics like climate change, animal research, pesticides, nuclear power and offshore drilling, the two groups differ by at least 20%. On the issue of genetically modified foods, 88% of scientists believe they are safe - a view supported by only 37% of the US public.

Public health officials and commentators on the left and the right have been quick to dismiss comments by Mr Paul and Mr Christie as dangerous. But while the Earth is round and the sky is blue, the Pew survey seems to indicate that coming down against mandatory vaccinations may not be the political suicide that some may think.


A new war over political correctness

A dictionary defenition of politically correct

New York magazine's Jonathan Chait took a 2x4 to the proverbial hornet's nest earlier this week when he penned a nearly 5,000-word essay under the provocative headline, "Not a very PC thing to say: How the language police are perverting liberalism".

For those not familiar with the term, PC refers to politically correct - a derogatory description coined in the 1990s to label those contending, in part, that language was a weapon used by the powerful to deny the interests of the oppressed. Although the term gained national awareness, the most ferocious debates occurred on college campuses and involved student speech codes and mandated gender inclusiveness.

Start Quote

The PC movement has assumed a towering presence in the psychic space of politically active people in general and the left in particular”

End Quote Jonathan Chait New York magazine

The controversy died down in the new century, perhaps due to greater concerns in the national consciousness - terrorism and war, freedom and security. The debates, however, left their mark. Many of the journalists now reaching the higher levels of their profession, like Chait, had their educational experience defined by these often vitriolic episodes.

This writer, for instance, recalls that the most heated argument at his student newspaper - the one that fractured friendships and left some participants in tears - wasn't over abortion, the Gulf War or favoured political candidates. It was about replacing the word "freshman" with "first-year student" in the publication's style guide.

And now Chait has rubbed the scab off that particular cultural era and exposed a wound that still festers. He writes that the 20-year-old PC movement is returning with a vengeance - made all the worse by the roiling stew of opinion and outrage in social media.

Chait defines this new political correctness as mainly an internecine war among liberals, where "more radical members of the left attempt to regulate political discourse by defining opposing views as bigoted and illegitimate". It is at its heart, he says, illiberal and anti-free speech.

Protestors gather in Beverly Hills, California. Chait says modern political correctness includes protesting controversial speakers

Among the examples he cites of modern-day PC extremism are calls for white males to "check their privilege"; trigger warnings on articles and college curricula; small slights called "microagressions" that, taken together, create a hostile environment for the unempowered; demands for inclusive language for trans-gendered persons; and protests that have prevented controversial lecturers from appearing on university campuses.

He points to a recent episode at Massachusetts' Mt Holyoke College, for instance, where a theatre group decided to end the annual performances of the play The Vagina Monologues - work that was celebrated as a beacon of feminist expression in the 1990s but now is considered by some progressive activists to "exclude women without vaginas".

Start Quote

Now, in other words, writers of colour can be just as condescending and dismissive of Chait as he always was toward the left”

End Quote Alex Pareene Gawker

"In a short period of time, the PC movement has assumed a towering presence in the psychic space of politically active people in general and the left in particular," he writes. And the end effect is that it is causing some writers to avoid controversial topics, lest they be subjected to online opprobrium that often crosses over to real-world threats.

In some ways, Chait seems like a flustered husband whose reaction when confronted by an angry wife is: "But think of all the good things I have done in the past".

"The historical record of American liberalism, which has extended social freedoms to blacks, Jews, gays and women, is glorious," he writes. "And that glory rests in its confidence in the ultimate power of reason, not coercion, to triumph."

A woman holds up a feminist sign. Chait's critics say he is being "condescending and dismissive"

Given the internecine nature of the criticisms, however, Chait's essay was largely met with anger and mockery from those on his political left.

"Here is sad white man Jonathan Chait's essay about the difficulty of being a white man in the second age of 'political correctness,'" writes Gawker's Alex Pareene. He says Chait represents a comfortable, centre-left liberalism that, thanks to social media, has recently found itself being challenged by marginalised voices it used to be able to ignore.

"Now, in other words, writers of colour can be just as condescending and dismissive of Chait as he always was toward the left," Pareene writes. "And he hates it."

Start Quote

I want a left that can win, and there's no way I can have that when the actually-existing left sheds potential allies at an impossible rate”

End Quote Fredrick deBoer Blogger

Amanda Marcotte on TalkingPointsMemo expands on what she sees as Chait's hypocrisy.

"Demanding that someone adopt more PC language to step around the sensitivities of liberals is unconscionable, but demanding that lefties on Twitter adopt a softened tone to step around the sensitivities of Jonathan Chait is just good sense," she writes.

Meanwhile, Vox's Amanda Taub dismisses Chait's essay as a collection of anecdotes in search of a creed.

Political correctness as he describes it doesn't, in fact, exist, she says. "Rather it's a sort of catch-all term we apply to people who ask for more sensitivity to a particular cause than we're willing to give - a way to dismiss issues as frivolous in order to justify ignoring them," she writes.

Others on the left express a certain amount of unease - both with Chait's piece and the response to it from their progressive compatriots. Social media have made it harder to express unpopular opinions "whether they have merit or not", writes the Nation's Michelle Goldberg, but it's a blade that cuts both ways.

"The price of bigotry is much higher, the ethical blind spots concealed by clubby consensus are much more easily exposed," she says. The danger, however, is that it creates a growing gap between what today's writers think and what they are willing say in public.

More than that, writes blogger Fredrick deBoer, this war within the progressive movement threatens to alienate would-be supporters who are criticised for their perceived lack of sensitivity.

"I want a left that can win, and there's no way I can have that when the actually-existing left sheds potential allies at an impossible rate," he writes. "But the prohibition against ever telling anyone to be friendlier and more forgiving is so powerful and calcified it's a permanent feature of today's progressivism."

Start Quote

There are contexts where making people afraid to disagree is actually a pretty successful ways of settling political and cultural arguments”

End Quote Ross Douthat The New York Times

Commentators on the right, of course, have little interest in a "left that can win", and their response has been mostly a combination of I-told-you-so's and concern-trolling for Chait, with whom they usually vehemently disagree.

Political correctness hasn't gone away, writes the National Review's Kevin D Williamson. "The difference is that it is now being used as a cudgel against white liberals such as Jonathan Chait, who had previously enjoyed a measure of immunity."

"Chait isn't arguing for taking an argument on its own merits; he's arguing for a liberals' exemption to the left's general hostility toward any unwelcome idea that comes from a speaker who checks any unapproved demographic boxes, the number of which - 'cisgendered', etc. - is growing in an appropriately cancerous fashion," he says.

Another conservative, the New York Times's Ross Douthat, argues that what the PC argument really boils down is that both sides think their counterparts are squelching their right to self-expression. And why? Because the tactic often works.

"There are contexts where making people afraid to disagree is actually a pretty successful ways of settling political and cultural arguments," he writes.

"You can usually get a good sense of just how powerful an idea is within a given political coalition by observing how vigorously ideological deviations are punished, which is why observers tend to argue (rightly!) that anti-tax activists have more power on the right than anti-abortion activists, and that social liberals have gained ground on the left at the expense of, say, union bosses or free trade critics, and so on."

The mistake almost everyone in the PC speech fight is making, he says, is in not admitting that they may, in fact, be misinformed.

"Like most systems of speech policing (which of course held sway in traditional societies as well) it excludes the possibility that those causes might be getting big things wrong, and thus it hurts the larger cause of truth," he writes.

Comedian/commentator John Hodgman, in a series of tweets, says that in the end the debate could be a constructive one.

"I'd never heard of cis-gender until it had been hurled at me as an invalidating insult on Twitter," he writes. "but I am glad I know it now. I am glad to give these issues thought. It enlarges me to be called out, even when I conclude the caller is a troll, and especially when it's by a person I respect."

On Friday, after telling the Daily Beast that the anger directed at his writing was like hot wax for a sadomasochist, Chait published a response on New York magazine's website.

He pushes back against accusations that he was personally hurt by the political correctness he describes.

"If there were a single sentence in the story expressing self-pity, it would be widely quoted by the critics, but no such line can be found," he writes. "The response partly reflects the PC culture's inability to evaluate arguments about identity as abstract arguments rather than reflections of the author's own identity."

He also says that the personal nature of the attacks shows that his critics are unwilling to actually defend the conduct he highlights: "My critics are not so much pro-PC as anti-anti-PC, which is not exactly the same thing."


Requiem for Romney's presidential dream

Former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

"After putting considerable thought into making another run for president, I've decided it is best to give other leaders in the party the opportunity to become our next nominee."

With those words, 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney slammed the door on the prospects that he would make a 2016 presidential bid.

The former Massachusetts governor had tweaked presidential prognosticators just two weeks earlier, when he told fund-raisers that he was interested in a third-consecutive campaign. He has, apparently, finished considering and opted to take a pass.

When word of a "major announcement" first spread throughout the US political world on Friday morning, speculation was rampant that Mr Romney was going to establish a framework for a campaign - such as by forming an "exploratory committee" to facilitate fundraising.

Start Quote

I always thought Romney was a good man, and this seals it”

End Quote Steve Green PJMedia

"Mitt Romney is running for president," trumpeted a headline on the Daily Beast.

"Based on all the conversations I have had with Romney World this week, I would bet that Mitt and Ann Romney's proposition, that if he runs he will become the Republican nominee, is about to be tested," wrote Bloomberg's Mark Halperin wrote.

Others were busy wondering whether the third time might be the charm for the veteran candidate.

Roughly 15 minutes before the scheduled announcement, however, conservative radio host and commentator Hugh Hewitt posted the transcript of Mr Romney's statement, and the political conversation skidded on its heels like a cartoon character and headed in the opposite direction.

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. Jeb Bush, a Republican presidential contender, calls Mitt Romney a "patriot"

"You can't imagine how hard it is for Ann and me to step aside, especially knowing of your support and the support of so many people across the country," Romney said. "But we believe it is for the best of the party and the nation."

So, instead of yet another round of Romney-bashing similar to what occurred a few weeks ago, pundits and analysts instead started etching the lines of the 67-year-old's political epitaph.

"I always thought Romney was a good man, and this seals it," tweets conservative PJMedia's Stephen Green.

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush - who has formed his own exploratory committee and seems well on his way toward a formal presidential campaign - also offered his benediction.

"Mitt is a patriot, and I join many in hoping his days of serving our nation and our party are not over," he tweets.

Jon Ward of Yahoo News writes that Mr Romney's decision lets him bow out on "his terms", thanks to recent polls that show him at the top of the Republican field.

Start Quote

Finally, a Republican is NOT running for President”

End Quote Ari Fleischer Republican strategist

"Many in the political world laughed at the idea that Romney would run again, but he, his family and his close advisers all believed firmly that he was the right man for the job in 2012, and remained so now," he says. "With the polling data especially being what it is, Romney can exit the scene saying he walked away from a likely victory."

Others met the news with more of the same mocking humour that greeted Romney's earlier 2016 political overtures.

"Finally, a Republican is NOT running for president," tweets former George W Bush advisor Ari Fleischer. "With Romney out, that leaves only 13 major GOP candidates in."

And David Sirota of the International Business Times took a moment to kick a bit of extra dirt on the eternal candidate's political grave.

"Mitt Romney has been a politician running for office since 1994 - 20 YEARS - and has won a total of one election," he tweets.

Some, however, weren't quite ready to close the book for good.

"This just sets up Mitt Romney to be the dark horse nominee out of a brokered convention," tweets Josh Barro of the New York Times.

After all, Richard Nixon - at the time a defeated Republican presidential candidate - also once definitively ruled out future political aspirations only to run again.

"You won't have Nixon to kick around anymore, because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference," he said after losing a race for the California governorship in 1962.

As it turns out, there were lots of press conferences - and kicking - still to come. Could the same be said for Mitt Romney?


Can a school demand your Facebook login?

A Facebook logo is reflected in a human eye.

A school district in Illinois is embroiled in controversy after a letter it sent to parents was published, explaining that school officials are allowed to demand access to students' social media accounts.

At the beginning of this year a law went into effect across the state that charges public schools with the task of investigating instances of bullying. It also expands the definition of bullying to include cyberbullying, even if it occurs outside of school hours.

Start Quote

Illinois can't seem to decide whether it's the home of the mid-western gentlefolk or of the most draconian humans this side of Moscow”

End Quote Chris Matyszczyk CNET

Many privacy advocates are taking issue with the implications of the law - particularly when it's combined with a 2013 law that allows administrators to request a student's login information when they think they are cyberbullying or breaking other school rules.

Jason Koebler, writing for Vice's Motherboard, broke the story, publishing the legal-sounding letter sent to parents by the Triad Community Unit School District No 2.

"If your child has an account on a social networking website, eg, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, ask.fm, etc, please be aware that state law requires school authorities to notify you that your child may be asked to provide his or her password for these accounts to school officials in certain circumstances," the letter reads.

"Illinois can't seem to decide whether it's the home of the mid-western gentlefolk or of the most draconian humans this side of Moscow," writes CNET's Chris Matyszczyk.

Matyszczyk wonders what schools will do if they stumble upon irrelevant information in their search for proof of wrongdoing. For instance, what if they find out about criminal activity or a sexual relationship? What about a medical problem?

A Facebook page. Asking for a student's password may violate Facebook's terms of use

"It's one thing for authorities to observe what employees, students or suspects are posting on social media," he says. "It's surely another to think that they have the automatic right to simply demand what is quite obviously personal information."

Some parents who received the notice were also unnerved about the lack of privacy. Sara Bozarth, a mother in the school district, spoke to local Fox News affiliate KTVI.

She said it's OK for her or her child to access a social media account so a teacher can view it, "but to have to hand over your password and personal information is not acceptable to me."

While the new law doesn't explicitly state that schools are allowed to ask for passwords, the old law only requires that schools have "reasonable cause" to justify demanding a student's account information - an action which is otherwise illegal.

Start Quote

That's a power that's likely to be abused at some point”

End Quote Jason Koebler Vice

"But this is not a broad exception," writes Alexandra Svokos of the Huffington Post. "A school could only request passwords if there is ample evidence of a school rule being violated - such as a football player drinking alcohol. Moreover, students weren't required to provide the passwords - schools were simply allowed to request them under these circumstances."

In fact, the law Svokos is referring to does says that elementary and secondary schools can "request or require" login information. This fact wasn't lost on Koebler, who defended his original reporting in the comment section of the Huffington Post article.

"This (HuffPo) story is quite flippant about the idea that any rule-breaking student technically can be asked for their social media passwords," he writes. "That's a power that's likely to be abused at some point."

But it's also a power that hasn't been used yet - or at least not at Triad.

In a press release obtained by Koebler the school district says the letter was just meant to provide notice to parents about the law and was based on a form letter distributed widely by the Illinois Association of School Boards. So far they say they haven't felt the need to request any of their students' passwords.

"The district understands student privacy interest as well and will not haphazardly request social media passwords unless there is a need and will certainly involve parents throughout the process," the press release says.

This, however, doesn't mean that other districts have been so restrained with implementing similar laws enacted across the country.

In 2013 one school district in California made headlines after spending more than $40,000 (£26,500) to monitor their students online.

Some argue that the law in Illinois violates Facebook's terms of use, which forbids users from sharing their password or letting anyone else access their account.

Others, like Kade Crockford, say it even might be unconstitutional. Ms Crockford, the director of Massachusetts' American Civil Liberties Union, is quoted in Koebler's article as saying that the law is an example of government overreach.

"Anytime a school is trying to control students' behaviour outside school, it's a serious threat to their privacy and to their futures," she says.

(By Kierran Petersen)


Obama's college savings tax crashes to earth

President Barack Obama.

Gather around, children, as we tell the story of what happens when a US president tries to take away a cherished middle-class tax break - even one that doesn't really benefit much of the middle class.

Our tale begins two weeks ago, when President Barack Obama unveiled, as part of his programme to expand an education tax credit and provide two years of free community college for all Americans, a proposal to start taxing earnings of college savings accounts called 529 plans.

The plans have been popular with many Americans - including the Obamas, who put $240,000 (£158,000) into a 529 plan for their daughters in 2007 - as a preferred way to set aside money for the rapidly growing cost of higher education in the US.

The programme has existed since the 1980s - first allowing contributors to deduct college savings from their state income taxes and then, starting in 2001, to avoid federal taxes on the growth of funds in the accounts.

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Why target a tax benefit that goes to a lot of your supporters (and donors), that tickles one of the sweetest spots in American politics”

End Quote Meghan McArdle Bloomberg View

Mr Obama's change was unveiled with relatively little fanfare, as administration officials argued that the 529 programme disproportionately benefitted the wealthy, who could direct more money into the accounts and therefore reap greater tax savings.

According to the Government Accountability Office, in 2010 only 3% of families used 529 or similar tax-preferred savings plans, and they had 25 times the median financial assets of those who didn't participate.

If Mr Obama was counting on there to be little uproar over the change, however, he was quite mistaken. Many critics disputed the assertion that the savings plan solely benefitted the wealthy.

Mary Morris of the College Savings Foundation said that a recent study found that in 2014 10% of 529 accounts belonged to families with income below $50,000 (£33,000) and 70% were from families that made less than $150,000.

"Why target a tax benefit that goes to a lot of your supporters (and donors), that tickles one of the sweetest spots in American politics (subsidising higher education), and that will hit a lot of people who make less than the $250,000 a year that has become the administration's de facto definition of 'rich'? " asked Bloomberg's Megan McArdle.

Her theory was that, with taxes on the wealthy about has high as they could go, the government was running out of places to find revenue to pay for new programmes. Next in the crosshairs, she warned, could be the tax preferences of retirement savings plans.

President Barack Obama speaks at Kansas University. Education reform is part of President Barack Obama's "middle-class economics" programme

Others on the right were more pointed in their criticisms.

"This doesn't hurt the very rich - who just pay for college out of pocket - or the poor, who get financial aid, but it's pretty rough on the middle- and upper-middle class," writes University of Tennessee Prof Glenn Harlan Reynolds for USA Today. "In a double-whammy, those withdrawals will show up as income on parents' income tax forms, which are used to calculate financial aid, making them look richer, and hence reducing grants."

Reason's Shikha Dalmia attacked the fairness of the proposal, which he said took money from parents who are responsibly saving for education and gave it to those who are not.

Even the liberal-leaning Slate, while defending the White House's motivation, said scrapping the 529 plans was a bad idea.

"The evidence doesn't suggest that everyone will save enough to pay for college outright, but that saving and a sense of ownership give parents and kids a boost in confidence that helps them perceive college attendance as an attainable goal," Justin King writes.

And so on Tuesday afternoon - after the proposal was denounced by Speaker of the House John Boehner and criticised behind the scenes by congressional Democrats - the Obama administration quietly threw in the towel.

"Given it has become such a distraction, we're not going to ask Congress to pass the 529 provision so that they can instead focus on delivering a larger package of education tax relief that has bipartisan support," an administration official told reporters.

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Tax reform creates winners and losers - and the losers often shout louder”

End Quote David Wessel The Wall Street Journal

The White House's quick cave was met with a predictable chorus of approval from the right, which heralded the move as a blow to Mr Obama's "contempt for the middle class," in the words of the Federalist's Robert Tracinski.

But perhaps of greater concern to those on both the right and the left is the fact that this recent episode shows once again how difficult it is to enact any kind of tax reform that adversely affects middle-class interests (or even, in this case, a tiny fraction of the interests of the middle class).

There's no question the White House (once again) botched the rollout of a policy proposal, but even more deftly handled reform of 529 plans likely would have met a similar fate.

"Tax reform is very popular in principle and very difficult in practice," writes the Brookings Institution's David Wessel in the Wall Street Journal. "Tax reform creates winners and losers - and the losers often shout louder. The losers know what they're losing; the winners first have to do the math."

Then add in the fact that the losing group in this particular reform came from an income bracket in which many of Washington's media elite reside, and it's a recipe for failure.

"Most of Obama's capital gains hikes would affect those earning $2+ million," tweets MSNBC's Suzy Khimm. "Most of his 529 change would hit those earning $150,000+."

"For DC intellectuals (journalists, policy wonks, etc.), $150k household income isn't 'the wealthy', $2 million is," shecontinues. "For lots of folks (including journalists), that's the difference between the very wealthy and the upper-middle class. Thus the outrage."

Mr Obama's proposal was a test to see if Washington policymakers could make "meaningful changes to the tax code that will come at the expense of high-income Americans", writes the New Republic's Danny Vinik. "They failed that test."

It likely goes beyond just that, however. One of the quandaries on the left is why many Americans in lesser income brackets object to policy changes that benefit the wealthy much more than they do them - a question asked by Thomas Frank in his 2004 book What's the Matter With Kansas?

One possible explanation is that even Americans who aren't in the upper income brackets are "aspirationally wealthy". They may not be rich now, but they hope to be - and when they finally make it, they don't want the privileges and benefits that await them taken away.

So sure, only 3% of Americans use 529 plans. But many more could see themselves using them once they have a little more money to sock away. The fact that, for many, the day may never come is not a concern.

If meaningful tax reform is opposed not only by those who are on the losing end of the changes but also by those who think they might someday be on the losing end ... well, turn out the lights on that idea.


About this Blog:

Echo Chambers unscrambles the noise of the global debate, from social media to scholarly journals, Kansas City to Kathmandu.

About the Editor:

Anthony Zurcher is a senior writer with the BBC and editor of Echo Chambers, where he gathers and analyses the best in US and world opinion. He previously edited political columnists of all stripes – left and right, right and wrong.

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