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Predictably, Rand Paul won the CPAC Straw Poll for the third straight year. That isn’t proof that Sen. Paul is a top tier candidate. It’s proof that he’s inherited his father’s supporters. By the time the South Carolina Primary rolls around, he’ll pretty much be an afterthought in the GOP presidential race. Here are the top 5 finishers:

Noticeably missing from the ranks of frontrunners is Chris Christie:

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, considered a top-flight candidate since the 2012 presidential elections, finished last with 2.8 percent of the vote.

To put that in perspective, Christie finished behind such juggernauts as Donald Trump, Carly Fiorina and Rick Santorum.

The story, though, is Gov. Walker’s strong second-place finish. Nobody thought he’d dethrone Rand Paul as the straw poll winner. Finishing with 21% is impressive, though I can’t say it’s totally unexpected. Here’s what the Washington Times is reporting:

Mr. Walker saw the biggest surge in this year’s poll, rising from sixth place and 7 percent last year to reach 21.4 percent this year. That was nearly twice the 11.5 percent Mr. Cruz garnered, about the same as his showing last year.

This result is interesting:

When first and second choice preferences were combined, Mr. Paul and Mr. Walker were even closer, with 41.5 percent of respondents listing Mr. Paul as in their top two, and 40.8 percent listing Mr. Walker. Mr. Cruz and Mr. Carson trailed with little more than half that support.

Here’s another interesting tidbit of information:

It sounds like Jeb Bush’s supporters are taking CPAC pretty seriously this year. Emails provided to Slate show that backers of the former Florida governor are busing supporters from downtown Washington D.C. to CPAC in National Harbor, Maryland, and organizing to get them day passes into the event.

One of the emails that went out this morning was from Fritz Brogan, a former advance man for then-President George W. Bush who (per the Washington Post) co-hosted a fundraiser for Jeb’s Right to Rise PAC earlier this month. A Bush insider confirmed to Slate that Bush’s Right to Rise PAC is helping organize the transportation.

“We strongly recommend arriving as early as possible to get a seat,” wrote Brogan in an email sent to undisclosed recipients. “Our ‘Early Rise’ team will be there at 7:30am onward helping reserve seats- if you want to join the early team, let me know.” Brogan wrote that there were still available seats on buses leaving from K Street and Georgetown at noon on Friday to get to the event in time for Bush’s talk.

Two things are important about this. First, Jeb’s team went all-in to impress at CPAC with the hope of doing better than expected. That didn’t happen. The other important thing about this is that there aren’t many people from K Street and Georgetown available to vote in the New Hampshire or South Carolina primaries. If this lackluster finish doesn’t give Team Jeb some gray hairs, then they aren’t paying attention.

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Think of Scott Walker’s op-ed as his way of telling the Gotcha Media that he isn’t playing by their rules:

There has been much discussion about a media double standard where Republicans are covered differently than Democrats, asked to weigh in on issues the Democrats don’t face. As a result, when we refuse to take the media’s bait, we suffer.

I felt it this week when I was asked to weigh in on what other people said and did and what others’ beliefs are. If you are looking for answers to those questions, ask those people. I will always choose to focus on what matters to the American people, not what matters to the media.

Various right-leaning pundits have said that Gov. Walker needs to deal with the Gotcha Media’s tactics. Those pundits are wrong. In fact, I think that part of Gov. Walker’s strengthening poll ratings are directly attributable to Gov. Walker’s refusal to play the Gotcha Media’s games.

This is the stuff that Americans want to hear about:

Americans believe our nation is facing some substantial challenges. Government spending is out of control. Terrorists seek to destroy our way of life. Our economic recovery has been slow. Our borders aren’t secure. The federal government has usurped powers that rightly belong to our states.

And every day across Wisconsin, and as I travel the nation, I hear from people who share with me their worries about, and their hopes for, our country. They worry about whether their children in college will be able to find a good job after graduation. And as a dad with two sons in college, I worry right along with them.

They talk to me about the rise of terrorist attacks and ISIS, and what it means for our security at home, and for Americans and our allies abroad. We all pray for American sons and daughters in the military and their safe return home.

We’re living in dangerous times in terms of the threat posed by ISIS and al-Qa’ida, both of which get stronger with each week. We aren’t living in prosperous times, thanks to President Obama’s failed policies, starting with the Affordable Care Act.

It’s time conservatives to unite around Scott Walker. We need an inspirational leader who’s gotten great things done and who hasn’t played the Gotcha Media’s games. Only Scott Walker fits that description. Jeb Bush did some conservative things as Florida’s governor. Now that he’s playing on the national stage, however, he’s supporting things like Common Core and President Obama’s executive amnesty.

What Americans need now is an unapologetic conservative who’s listened to the people and did what they told him to do. We don’t need someone who’s listened to political consultants and the special interests.

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Last night, Gov. Scott Walker, (R-WI), went ‘on the record’ with Fox’s Greta van Susteren:

One of the first things that Gov. Walker touted was the positive impact Act 10 has had on education:

GOV. WALKER: People claimed that public education would fall apart. Instead, by getting rid of seniority and tenure, we empowered school districts to put their best and their brightest in the classrooms by hiring based on merit and pay … Today, our schools are better. Our graduation rates are up. Our third-grade reading scores are up. Our ACT scores are the second best in the nation.

Thus far, we’ve watched DC pundits and British blowhards ask trivial questions of Gov. Walker about such non-pressing importance like whether he believes in evolution or whether he thinks President Obama is a Christian.

When Gov. Walker didn’t play their gotcha games, the media acted like they’d been scandalized. What’d happened was that Gov. Walker essentially told them, politely, was that he wanted to talk about important things, not the gotcha stuff they wanted to talk about. Thank God for that.

Other than the DC blowhards, nobody gives a rip about Gov. Walker’s thoughts on evolution or President Obama’s faith. What they care most about is what he’ll do to fix the messes that President Obama has created. The people understand that the next president will have to deal with a defiant Vladimir Putin, a terrorist nation that’s expanding its reach and a regulatory regime that’s crippling innovation and job creation.

GOV. WALKER: You’ll appreciate this, Greta. I was in Green Bay, WI, this afternoon. I was at 2 of the leading job creators talking about opportunities for people with disabilities and somebody in the press at the end of the event asked a question about this very subject and I said “I challenge you to go out and walk with me down the streets of Green Bay, WI, and ask 100 people on the street what they really care about. I’m certain not a one of them will talk about the issues we heard about in Washington.

That’s a perfect way to deal with the Gotcha Media. Gov. Walker didn’t respond this aggressively initially but he’s catching on quick. The thing he already understands that Jeb Bush never will is that the press will back down a bit (not a lot but a little) if they’re worried about some timely sharp elbows to keep them on the straight-and-narrow.

Think of it like a Bob Gibson fastball past your head or into your ribs if you showboated after hitting a home run off of him.

The thing that Gov. Walker now understands is that the Gotcha Media that cover the campaigns need him more than he needs any one of them. It isn’t that he needs to constantly pick fights with the reporters covering his campaign. It’s that he needs to remind them that he’ll give preferential treatment to people who don’t ask gotcha questions. If reporters ask tough, policy-oriented questions, he should answer respectfully.

It won’t take long for the reporters to figure out, and adapt to, the ground rules.

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Scott Walker’s media strategy has confounded the Gotcha Media thus far. Gov. Walker’s unconventional answers have exposed these Gotcha Bandits’ political agenda. Recently, Gov. Walker threw the Gotcha Media into a hissy fit with this answer:

Walker notably delivered a critique of the media over the weekend, after being asked whether he believed President Obama is a Christian.

“I’ve never asked him that,” Walker told the Washington Post. “You’ve asked me to make statements about people that I haven’t had a conversation with about that. How [could] I say if I know either of you are a Christian? To me, this is a classic example of why people hate Washington and, increasingly, they dislike the press,” he said. “The things they care about don’t even remotely come close to what you’re asking about.”

The Gotcha Media immediately flew into faux outrage mode, hinting that Gov. Walker thought President Obama was a Muslim. That isn’t what Gov. Walker said. He simply said that he didn’t know because he’d never talked with President Obama about the subject.

It wouldn’t be difficult to call members of the Gotcha Media and other progressives the ‘Dog Whistle Media’ because they’re experts at hearing things that other people haven’t said.

This is an important point. When the Gotcha Media asks a question about President Obama’s religious beliefs or about the candidate’s theory on evolution or other questions, there’s just one goal in mind: to try and entice the candidate into sounding like a Neanderthal. The best way to deflect those types of questions is with a reply of “I don’t answer gotcha questions. Next.”

UPDATE: This Hill article shows how adept the Walker campaign is:

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) is fundraising off what he describes as “gotcha” questions from the media.

Then there’s this:

Some are questioning whether Walker’s moves have been beneficial — but his campaign is looking to frame it as a moral stand.

“He refuses to be drawn into the sideshow of answering pointless questions about whether and how much President Obama loves our country. To Governor Walker, what matters are ideas, issues, his record, and results,” the email from Friends of Scott Walker continued. “Now is the time to stand up against the publicity hounds and the journalistic pack, and help Governor Walker fight back. Your support will show the clueless and mindless journalistic herd that you know what matters most and that it is not the pointless minutiae that they are pushing.”

It’s outstanding that Gov. Walker is setting the terms of his coverage:

“To Governor Walker, what matters are ideas, issues, his record, and results.”

That’s the battlefield Gov. Walker will fight on. If journalists are upset that he isn’t playing their gotcha games, he’s saying, that’s their problem. The American people, I’m betting, are looking for a positive, upbeat, politician who focuses on them instead of the Gotcha Media’s games. Further, I’m betting they’ll find Scott Walker’s rules refreshing.

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God bless John McCormack for highlighting the lie in Gail Collins’ column. Check this out from Collins’ column:

Mainly, though, The Speech was about waging war on public employee unions, particularly the ones for teachers. “In 2010, there was a young woman named Megan Sampson who was honored as the outstanding teacher of the year in my state. And not long after she got that distinction, she was laid off by her school district,” said Walker, lacing into teacher contracts that require layoffs be done by seniority.

All of that came as a distinct surprise to Claudia Felske, a member of the faculty at East Troy High School who actually was named a Wisconsin Teacher of the Year in 2010. In a phone interview, Felske said she still remembers when she got the news at a “surprise pep assembly at my school.” As well as the fact that those layoffs happened because Walker cut state aid to education.

The title of Collins’ article is “Scott Walker Needs an Eraser”. I’d argue that it’s Ms. Collins that needs either an eraser or an editor. Ms. Sampson didn’t lose her job in 2010 because Gov. Walker “cut state aid to education.”

The reason McCormack highlighted that part of the paragraph is because Scott Walker didn’t take the oath of office as Wisconsin’s 45th governor until January, 2011, which means that Ms. Sampson lost her job because of Democrat Gov. Jim Doyle’s budget cuts to education.

McCormack’s article actually highlights this:

Emily Koczela had been anxiously waiting for months for Wisconsin governor Scott Walker’s controversial budget repair bill to take effect. Koczela, the finance director for the Brown Deer school district, had been negotiating with the local union, trying to get it to accept concessions in order to make up for a $1 million budget shortfall. But the union wouldn’t budge.

“We laid off 27 [teachers] as a precautionary measure,” Koczela told me. “They were crying. Some of these people are my friends.”

On June 29 at 12:01 a.m., Koczela could finally breathe a sigh of relief. The budget repair bill?—?delayed for months by protests, runaway state senators, and a legal challenge that made its way to the state’s supreme court?—?was law. The 27 teachers on the chopping block were spared.

With “collective bargaining rights” limited to wages, Koczela was able to change the teachers’ benefits package to fill the budget gap. Requiring teachers to contribute 5.8 percent of their salary toward pensions saved $600,000. Changes to their health care plan?—?such as a $10 office visit co-pay (up from nothing)?—?saved $200,000. Upping the workload from five classes, a study hall, and two prep periods to six classes and two prep periods saved another $200,000. The budget was balanced.

Here’s the difference between Jim Doyle, who supposedly supports teachers, and Scott Walker, who supposedly hates union workers: Scott Walker’s reforms saved jobs, Jim Doyle’s status quo policies would’ve led to teacher layoffs or major property tax increases.

Gail Collins’ editors either don’t give a shit about the truth or Gail Collins doesn’t give a shit about the truth. Either that or liberal ‘journalists’ are only interested in pushing the progressives’ agenda. Either that or it’s all of the above.

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During his recent trip to England to promote international investment in Wisconsin, a moderator asked Scott Walker what his view of evolution was. Gov. Walker quickly responded that he would “punt” rather than answer the question. Immediately, journalists and other Democrats pounced on Gov. Walker’s question. Ron Fournier wrote this article criticizing Gov. Walker’s response. Here’s the opening of Mr. Fournier’s article:

Gov. Scott Walker wants to be president and is a serious contender for the job. But nobody who wants to be taken seriously for the presidency can duck a question like, “Do you believe in evolution.”

“I’m going to punt on that as well,” the Wisconsin Republican said in response to a question in London about whether he was comfortable with the idea of evolution. “That’s a question that a politician shouldn’t be involved in one way or another.”

Asking a potential presidential candidate about his views on evolution aren’t relevant. That’s like asking a city council candidate what their view is of Roe v. Wade. It’s like asking a gubernatorial candidate what they think about changing zoning laws.

What I want to know from potential presidential candidates is what they’d do to stop the terrorists in southwest Asia, the Middle East and North Africa. Will we need boots on the ground? Should we arm the Jordanians and the Peshmerga? Should we increase the bombing runs into Iraq and Syria?

Why can’t journalists stop practicing gotcha journalism? Asking a potential presidential candidate about evolution, especially at a time when US embassies are being overrun and President Putin is sending troops into Ukraine, isn’t serious journalism. Here’s Fournier’s response to why it’s important:

I can think of at least two reasons why the question relates to Walker’s unofficial bid for the GOP nomination. First, there are virtually no questions that are out of bounds for a presidential candidate. Think of a campaign as a lengthy interview for a job with 300 million bosses, each with a singular set of standards for making a decision. What might be a stupid question to 99 percent of votes (“Boxers or briefs?”) might matter to somebody.

That’s one of the flimsiest excuses I’ve ever heard. Essentially, Fournier said ‘because it might be important to someone.’ It’s telling that Gov. Walker has the courage to tell voters that he’s perfectly comfortable not playing the media’s gotcha games. I don’t want another president that’ll tell me whether he wears boxers or briefs. If that question never gets asked again, I’ll be a happy camper.

Walker tried the weasel route, telling Twitter followers, “It’s unfortunate the media chose to politicize this issue during our trade mission to foster investment in Wi.”

Here’s Fournier’s snotty reply:

No, sir. It’s unfortunate that a man who had the political courage to defy public employee unions is afraid to answer a simple question. Or maybe you’re not so courageous. Your attempt to clean up the flap on Twitter didn’t work because your tweet doesn’t answer the question.

Essentially telling an unserious journalist to take a hike on asking an unserious question is definitely a sign of confidence.

Wow. What a concession:

Republicans have convinced themselves that Obama got preferential treatment from the mainstream media in 2008. I will concede the point for the sake of argument.

It isn’t that Republicans “have convinced themselves that [President] Obama got preferential treatment” from the MSM in 2008. It’s that they’ve repeatedly proven that the MSM treated President Obama with kid gloves throughout his 2008 campaign.

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If there’s a headline for these polling results, it’s that Jeb’s frontrunner status is disappearing a little bit each day:

Bush, who leads with moderate Republicans, is falling out of favor with the party as a whole. His favorability rating has dropped 16 points among GOP voters since December.

That isn’t the only bad news from PPP’s polling:

The biggest story is Walker. This marks the first time PPP has found the Wisconsin governor in the lead pack in a 2016 poll. Despite his success, Walker is relatively unknown in North Carolina—49% of the general population and 41% of Republicans have no opinion of him. He performs well with both very conservative and somewhat conservative voters, however, coming in second and third, respectively. Ben Carson leads with both groups.

It appears as though President Obama and Gov. Walker are right that voters want someone fresh in 2016. If that’s true, which I think it is, that’s terrible news for Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton. If the Democrats nominate Hillary and the GOP nominates Bush, this will be a low turnout election. If, however, Republicans nominate Scott Walker, Republicans will have a significant enthusiasm gap advantage on their side.

When a candidate is well-known but his approval/disapproval rating is underwater, it’s proof that voters have rejected him. When a candidate has a positive approval/disapproval rating and they’re relatively unknown, that usually means that he’s got room to grow. The more people hear about him, the more likely it is that he’ll gain in popularity.

For better or worse, Jeb and Hillary are known quantities. They won’t excite the nation. They’re mostly check-the-box uninspiring candidates. Scott Walker is one of the ‘X-Factor candidates’ in the race. Hillary has a ceiling. Ditto with Jeb. Scott Walker’s ceiling is definitely higher. Whether he reaches that higher ceiling hasn’t been determined yet. That will be determined by whether he runs a strong, positive campaign.

Jay Cost’s article verifies what I’ve been saying for months: that Hillary Clinton is the Democrats’ frontrunner because the Democrats’ bench is exceptionally weak, not because she’s a powerful, impressive candidate:

What it really suggests is: the Democratic bench is now so thin that the party cannot even give its voters a real choice. At this point, the only three other candidates seriously considering the race are: Martin O’Malley, former Maryland governor who is decidedly lackluster; Jim Webb, the quirky one-term senator who — oh by the way! — used to work in the Reagan Administration (Democratic voters will love that); and Bernie Sanders, who does not even call himself a Democrat (he’s a socialist).

I’m not the first person to offer that opinion. Far from it. This is what happens, though, when you’ve gotten hit with 2 landslide victories at the state level. In 2010, Republicans picked up a net 3 governor seats. Democrats lost 2 more governorships in 2014. That’s just the start of the Democrats’ problems:

Now take a gander at the party’s Senate caucus. If you squint really hard you might imagine some of them could be presidential material, but not really. The overwhelming majority are too old, too dull, too new, or barely won reelection. Elizabeth Warren is the only exception out of these 45 senators, and she looks like she is not going to run.

It’s apparent that the vast majority of Democratic senators are fossilized old farts that are best categorized as yesterday’s news. That’s if the political analysts are being charitable.

By comparison, the Republicans have a lengthy list of impressive candidates. Governors like Scott Walker, Rick Perry and Bobby Jindal are top tier candidates for president. Susana Martinez is frequently mentioned as a potential VP pick. Brian Sandoval is seen as the candidate most likely to unseat Harry Reid in Nevada.

That’s before talking about Marco Rubio and Mike Pence as potential presidential candidates. Jeb Bush didn’t jump into the race early from a position of strength. He did it out of necessity.

Finally, there’s this: Hillary will face a distinct enthusiasm gap between herself and the Republican nominee as long the nominee isn’t Jeb Bush or Chris Christie. Candidates like Scott Walker and Marco Rubio have a youthful energy about them. Hillary will cruise through the Democratic nomination without getting challenged. That’s a big problem because competition sharpens candidates.

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This morning, Mitt Romney officially announced that he isn’t running for president:

Mitt Romney announced Friday he will not run for president in 2016, after briefly flirting with a third White House run — a decision that only slightly narrows the crowded field of potential Republican candidates.

“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,” Romney said in a written statement. He also was announcing his plans on a conference call with donors Friday morning.

Though this is a bit of a surprise, it might be as simple as Mitt being unable to put together a national organization rather than him not wanting to run. It might also be that he’s finally accepted the fact that he’s history in the eyes of GOP activists.

Lots of people, myself included, think he would’ve been vastly superior to President Obama. Obama’s national security policies are a disaster. President Obama’s economic policies have revived terminology like new normal. President Obama’s economic policies haven’t revived talk about a booming economy.

Mitt won the nomination in 2012 against a weaker field than this year’s field of candidates. Adding to Mitt’s worries is the fact that he started talking like a liberal. That isn’t how to win the GOP nomination. Mitt was a compromised candidate in 2012, too. He couldn’t take the fight to President Obama on President Obama’s biggest failure, aka Obamacare. This time around, Mitt would’ve had to fight against the economic accomplishments and conservative reforms of people like Scott Walker and Rick Perry.

The simple fact is that Mitt couldn’t win.

One of the worst-kept political secrets is that the DFL is fighting with itself. That isn’t secret anymore because Gov. Dayton announced that he’s cutting the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board’s budget:

Dayton was nothing if not transparent about the move. The budget materials given to reporters before the late-morning briefing stated that the total of $3.77 million in reductions to the Park Board over the two-year budget period was due to “the Board’s continuing efforts to obstruct progress on the Southwest Light Rail Transit project.”

Of the total, $1.26 million would have come out of the state general fund and $2.51 million out of the natural resources fund, money intended to help the Met Council and 10 local park agencies develop and maintain parks that are regional destinations (think Minnehaha Falls). The money that would be lost by the Minneapolis board goes toward annual operating costs.

When asked about it, Dayton said it was possible he would support restoring the money, if the Park Board ended it opposition. “In my view, if they have all this money to hire consultants, they don’t need all the state money that’s been allocated to them.” Dayton said. He described the board’s actions so far as “very irresponsible.”

First, I’m totally fine with cutting the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board’s appropriation through the state budget. If Minneapolis wants a Park and Recreation Board, let them pay for it. In fact, eliminating the state government appropriation is justifiable, in my opinion.

Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board’s advocates will argue that they add value to the state. That’s disputable at best. It might help Minnesota tangentially. In fact, I don’t know that a compelling case can be made that the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board makes Minneapolis substantially better.

Most importantly, this is a perfect example of why Speaker Daudt shouldn’t consider funding the Southwest Light Rail Transit project, aka the SWLRT project. The DFL is still fighting with itself on the SWLRT project. Next, regardless of whether the DFL is fighting amongst itself, the SWLRT project is a major waste of money. It’s spending tons of Minnesota taxpayers’ money on something that isn’t a priority with Minnesota’s taxpayers.

The DFL a) is proposing a massive middle class tax increase, b) is still fighting with itself on how to spend your money on their friends and c) is telling Minnesota that paying off their political allies is more important than spending your money wisely.

To use Scott Walker’s words, going big and being bold is the way to differentiate between the DFL’s payoffs and the conservatives’ priorities. Going bold is the way for Republicans to win the legislative fight in 2015, then win the 2016 election.

A political party divided against itself will soon be defeated.

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