The Washington game now requires that any unindicted politician with a bit of ambition — even 75-year-old Jerry Brown — let it be known that he is thinking about maybe, just possibly running for president.
But here’s the flip side: the media culture now demands to know whether these pols are quietly plotting a White House bid — and treats it as sort of strange if the answer is no.
What do you mean you’re not feverishly plotting a presidential bid three years before the next election? Is there something wrong with you?
I guess we don’t like to take no for an answer.
Take Paul Ryan. A natural leader of the conservative movement. The Republican VP nominee last year. A man who can translate Beltway jargon into Main Street concerns.
The Wisconsin congressman is in the spotlight because he just hammered out a budget agreement with Patty Murray that passed the Senate yesterday with 64 votes—three fewer than supported a cloture vote—after winning bipartisan approval in the House. The modest deal is noteworthy mainly because it temporarily ends the Washington gridlock and threats of shutdown and default. But it also brought sniping from more militant conservatives who see Ryan as selling out to the Democrats.
The dustup triggered a spate of Whither Paul Ryan pieces in the press. Is he running? Is he not running? It’s 2013 already — we have to know!
“In interviews The Hill conducted with more than two dozen House Republicans from across the ideological spectrum over the last couple of weeks, many of Ryan’s colleagues said they are doubtful he will run for president in 2016. Most believe that concerns for his young family will lead him to lay claim to the job he’s always wanted: chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.”
Ryan wants to be a Hill poohbah and not move into the White House.
It’s not a great mystery:
“Ryan on Tuesday told The Wall Street Journal that he plans to lead the Ways and Means Committee in the next Congress. Ryan and his wife Janna have three children, and his friends say that his concern about the hardship of an 18-month presidential campaign is a genuine factor in his consideration.”
This is the human factor that journalists rarely pause to consider. Running for president is a meat grinder that chews people up, and Ryan got a taste of that as Mitt Romney’s running mate.
I don’t know whether Ryan is being coy, or whether, with the highest positive rating among Iowa Republicans, he’ll change his mind and jump into the race. But I do think the press ought to take him at his word until there’s evidence to the contrary.
Podesta and Politico: What’s News?
I guess it wasn’t a big story when John Podesta compared the Republicans to a suicide cult.
But now that Podesta is joining President Obama’s inner circle, Politico is asking: “Can John Podesta Save Him?” (Boy, that’s a tall order.)
In its profile of Podesta, who is stepping down as head of the Center for American Progress, this incendiary quote was slipped into the narrative without comment.
White House officials, said Podesta, “need to focus on executive action given that they are facing a second term against a cult worthy of Jonestown in charge of one of the houses of Congress.”
Podesta was comparing John Boehner to Jim Jones, who led his followers to kill themselves? Didn’t that set off any alarm bells?
But the quote caused a stir now that the former Bill Clinton chief of staff is joining the White House, and he tweeted an apology: “In an old interview, my snark got in front of my judgment. I apologize to Speaker Boehner, whom I have always respected.”
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Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz.