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Friday news dump

Releasing bad news or documents on a Friday afternoon in an attempt to avoid media scrutiny is often called a “Friday news dump” by members of the media.

NPR: “Often, the White House sets the release of bad news and unflattering documents to late Friday afternoon. The Pentagon and other agencies also use the practice, a legacy of earlier administrations.”

The television show The West Wing had an episode on the technique called, “Take Out the Trash Day.”

Donna: What’s take out the trash day?

Josh: Friday.

Donna: I mean, what is it?

Josh: Any stories we have to give the press that we’re not wild about, we give all in a lump on Friday.

Donna: Why do you do it in a lump?

Josh: Instead of one at a time?

Donna: I’d think you’d want to spread them out.

Josh: They’ve got X column inches to fill, right? They’re going to fill them no matter what.

Donna: Yes.

Josh: So if we give them one story, that story’s X column inches.

Donna: And if we give them five stories …

Josh: They’re a fifth the size.

Donna: Why do you do it on Friday?

Josh: Because no one reads the paper on Saturday.

Donna: You guys are real populists, aren’t you?

smell of jet fuel

smell of jet fuel

“Smell of jet fuel” is a reference to the impatience that sets in when Members of Congress are ready to leave Washington, D.C. to return to their districts for the weekend or a legislative recess.

pen and pad briefing

A “pen and pad briefing” is a briefing held by lawmakers or White House officials at which video and photography is not allowed. It’s similar to a backgrounder.

While reporters used to gather around the person doing the briefing with their pads of paper and pens, they now typically use a voice recorder.

ping pong

“Ping pong” refers to reconciling the differences between a House-passed bill and a Senate-passed bill by amendments between the chambers, rather than forming a conference committee.

The New Republic: “With ping-ponging, the chambers send legislation back and forth to one another until they finally have an agreed-upon version of the bill. But even ping-ponging can take different forms and some people use the term generically to refer to any informal negotiations.”

jungle primary

jungle primary

A jungle primary is an election in which all candidates for elected office run in the same primary regardless of political party.

It’s also known as the “blanket primary,” “open primary” or “top two primary,” since the top two candidates who receive the most votes advance to the next round, similar to a runoff election.

However, in a jungle primary there is no separate nomination process for candidates before the first round, and parties cannot narrow the field. In fact, it is entirely possible that two candidates of the same party could advance to the second round. For this reason, it’s not surprising that the parties haven’t rushed to embrace jungle primaries because they ultimately reduce their power.

This voting system theoretically will elect more moderate candidates, as the victor may appeal to voters of both parties in a two-party system.

Mae West hold

A Mae West hold type of Senate hold nicknamed because of the senator’s implied desire to make a deal, rather than block a legislative action entirely.

The reference to movie star Mae West alludes to her frequently misquoted line from the 1933 film She Done Him Wrong, “Why don’t you come up sometime and see me?”  The senator implies that those who wish to clear the hold are welcome to visit his office and negotiate.

tag-team hold

A tag-team hold is when two or more senators agree to circumvent a 2011 resolution limiting secret senate holds to two days.

One senator will inform his party leader of his intent to place a hold.  Before two days pass, the senator will withdraw his hold, at which time his tag-team partner submits a new hold request.  The senators rotate in this manner, and the identity of neither is revealed.

Senate hold

A Senate hold is how a senator informally signals his objection to a bill or nomination.

Most congressional actions clear parliamentary hurdles by “unanimous consent” of the Senate, so a senator who intends to object to such procedures can, effectively, hold up the action.  He may announce his intentions publicly or, more frequently, inform his party leader and place a “secret hold” on an action.  Holds have become more common since the 1970s, when the Senate began using many more unanimous consent agreements to advance a greater volume of legislation, and opponents have suggested many changes to reform or abolish the practice.

The most recent challenges to this custom include a 2010 letter in which 69 senators pledged not to place holds and a 2011 resolution declaring that, in the case of secret holds, either a senator’s identity is revealed after two days or the hold is assigned to the party leader.  The latter of these reforms has been easily circumvented by the tag-team hold.

front-porch campaign

front-porch campaign

A front-porch campaign is one in which the candidate stays close to home throughout the campaign. Instead of crisscrossing the country to woo voters, the candidate connects with supporters locally (by making speeches from his front porch, for example).

The term is often associated with William McKinley, who ran a successful front-porch campaign in 1896. McKinley, a Republican, won the presidency in spite of the fact that he spent almost the entire campaign at his home in Canton, Ohio. McKinley outspent his opponent, and he also had the benefit of working with one of the great political strategists of the time, an Ohio businessman named Marcus Hanna. Hanna acted as McKinley’s press agent, publicist, and reputation manager.

McKinley’s Democratic opponent, William Jennings Bryan, was an unusually active campaigner who traveled around the country calling for America to abandon the gold standard. Bryan’s speech at the Democratic national convention, in which he warned that America’s poor farmers were being “crucified on a cross of gold,” remains one of the most famous speeches in US politics, and Bryan delivered the speech in campaign stops around the country. Bryan made an estimated 600 campaign stop. Nevertheless, it wasn’t enough to win the presidential election.

McKinley wasn’t the first presidential candidate to conduct a front-porch campaign. In 1880 another Republican, James A. Garfield, ran a successful campaign from the spacious front porch of his home in Mentor, Ohio. The railroad companies agreed to build a spur line right up to Garfield’s house, and they offered a discount for crowds going to visit the candidate. Members of the press were invited to pitch their tents on Garfield’s lawn and listen to him speaking from his porch.

Visitors were also treated to scenes of the Garfield family’s domestic life: Garfield playing with his children on the front lawn; the whole family eating dinner together; Garfield’s mother pitting cherries in her rocking chair. The overall effect was of a strong, traditional family unit, an image which resonated with the country, especially in the aftermath of the troubled presidency of Ulysses S Grant.

Eight years later, Benjamin Harrison ran another successful presidential campaign from his front porch. Harrison, a Civil War general, addressed crowds of supports and curiosity-seekers at his home in  Indianapolis. Harrison carefully avoided the mudslinging and harsh rhetoric that had characterized earlier campaigns; giving speeches from his front porch allowed him to seem wholesome and to stay above the fray. Meanwhile, his political campaign ran a fiercer battle against the incumbent, Grover Cleveland.

In 1920, Warren G Harding conducted a successful front-porch campaign of his own. Harding’s victory is all the more interesting because his opponent, James Cox, carried out a very energetic campaign. Cox traveled from town to town and made full use of the newly-invented microphone to address large crowds. Harding, on the other hand, stayed in his home in Marion, Ohio, delivering speeches to admirers from his round front porch. Harding won the election by a landslide.

gotcha question

A “gotcha question” is one posed by a reporter in an effort to trick a politician into looking stupid or saying something damaging.

New York magazine: “When it does happen, they are often quick to blame their boneheaded remarks not on themselves, but on the inherently deceitful nature of the gotcha question itself. ‘If only this question had been posed differently, I would have provided the most accurate, comprehensive, and socially acceptable response man has ever known,’ they seem to contend. It’s a time-honored damage-control strategy employed by Sarah Palin more often than probably anyone else — not only in her own defense, but also in the defense of other Republicans.”

Richards effect

The “Richards effect” is the phenomenon in which polls consistently underestimate support for female candidates relative to white male candidates.

The termed was coined by political scientists Christopher Stout and Reuben Kline who noted that in the 1990 Texas gubernatorial race many polls predicted Clayton Williams (R) to beat Ann Richards (D) by as much as 8 points. However, Clayton’s “lead” evaporated on election day and Richards won.

From their research paper: “Perhaps it was not only the traditional polling problems that led polls to be less accurate, Ann Richards’ gender may have also played a vital role in these polling discrepancies. Our results indicate that female candidates, and in particular female candidates from gender-conservative states, like Ann Richards in Texas, tend to do worse in pre-election polls than in actual elections.”

professional left

Left-leaning pundits, paid activists, and heads of liberal institutions.

The term “professional left” was coined by White House press secretary Robert Gibbs in an interview with The Hill when he dismissed the concerns of liberals frustrated with President Obama: “I hear these people saying he’s like George Bush. Those people ought to be drug tested. I mean, it’s crazy. They will be satisfied when we have Canadian healthcare and we’ve eliminated the Pentagon. That’s not reality.”

The Wall Street Journal reported that Gibbs later clarified he was primarily referring to the people “who chatter on cable TV news.”

Sister Souljah moment

Sister Souljah moment

A “Sister Souljah moment” is a public repudiation of an extremist person or statement perceived to have some association with a politician or his party.

It’s a strategy designed to signal to centrist voters to show that the politician is not beholden to traditional, and sometimes unpopular, interest groups associated with the party.

In 1992, riots swept across Los Angeles following the acquittal of five LAPD officers for the allegedly brutal beating of Rodney King. Writer and rapper Sister Souljah expressed sympathy for the rioters and said that she wanted to see an end to black people killing each other – instead, she said, black people should start killing white people.

“I mean, if black people kill black people every day, why not have a week and kill white people? You understand what I’m saying? In other words, white people, this government and that mayor were well aware of the fact that black people were dying every day in Los Angeles under gang violence. So if you’re a gang member and you would normally be killing somebody, why not kill a white person?” Souljah told the Washington Post.

Bill Clinton was the governor of Arkansas and a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination at the time. During a meeting with Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition, Clinton spoke out against Sister Souljah’s comments, saying that her comments were full of hate. Clinton compared Sister Souljah to the white nationalist David Duke, calling them racist.

At the time, pundits said that Clinton had denounced Sister Souljah in an attempt to court suburban and blue collar white voters. Those groups were often described as “Reagan Democrats” at the time, and Clinton’s strategists believed that he needed their votes if he stood a chance of winning the election. The Sister Souljah moment was widely seen as an attempt to prove to those key groups that Clinton was on their side and would take a strong stand on issues like welfare reform.

Joan Vennochi wrote, “This so-called ‘Sister Souljah moment’ — a calculated denunciation of an extremist position or special interest group — wrapped Clinton in a warm centrist glow just in time for the general election.”

A decade later, in 2002, President George W Bush had a “Sister Souljah moment” when he publicly denounced Majority Leader Trent Lott. Lott, a Republican from Mississippi, gave a speech in which he said that the country would be in a better place if the segregationist Strom Thurmond had won the 1948 presidential election. President Bush’s aides said at the time that Bush felt that if he didn’t speak out against Lott, he would not be able to reach out to the African American community.

Obama had his own “Sister Souljah” moment when he was a candidate for the presidency. Obama was asked about his connection to Jeremiah Wright, the pastor of the church which Obama attended in Chicago. Wright was known for his fiery sermons and for remarks which appeared to denounce the US government as racist. Obama first tried to explain his nuanced views on Wright, but as clips of the pastor’s speeches circulated, Obama disowned Wright and left the church.

In 2015 Sister Souljah, now a best-selling novelist, gave an interview to Time Magazine. She suggested her own definition of what the term Sister Souljah moment should mean: “when you meet a beautiful, powerful woman – and you just can’t forget her.”

honest graft

Honest graft refers to the money-making opportunities that might arise while holding public office. The activities are, strictly speaking, legal, although they might raise eyebrows or provoke criticism.

The term “honest graft” was coined by George Washington Plunkitt, a Tammany Hall boss and political operative. Plunkitt served in both houses of the New York State legislature during the late 19th century, but he also operated informally out of the New York City courthouse. Today, he is best known for his book on “practical politics,” which includes his definition of honest graft.

Plunkitt argued that it is absolutely legitimate for politicians to take advantage of any opportunities that they come across. Plunkitt looked down on “dishonest graft,” which included corruption and blackmail. But he upheld the right of politicians to line their pockets, as long as they did so legally. “I seen my opportunities and I took ‘em,” he famously said.

Plunkitt did things like buy up public land after he got a tip that his political party was about to build a park in the area. When it came time to construct the park, he sold his land back, holding out for the highest possible price. Plunkitt didn’t see this as a waste of public funds; instead, he compared himself to a stock trader who studies futures. “It’s just like lookin’ ahead in Wall Street or in the coffee or cotton market. It’s honest graft, and I’m lookin’ for it every day in the year,” he wrote.

In modern times, few politicians brag about looking for honest graft in the way that Plunkitt did. But journalists and advocacy groups often point out examples of what they see as barely-legal profiteering by politicians. In 2012, CBS News published a detailed look at how members of Congress use their inside knowledge to win big in the stock market. CBS pointed out that Members of Congress are free to use their knowledge about government contracts and upcoming legislation when they trade in the stock market, for example. Many compare this behavior to insider trading, but there is no law to prevent it.

Members of Congress also reportedly made a fortune by betting against the stock market just before the 2008 financial crisis hit. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke had, of course, tipped them off about the coming crash. And, like George Plunkitt, members of Congress also use their inside knowledge and power to make profitable real estate deals. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, for example, once used her influence to push through a 20 million dollar waterfront improvement project that drastically increased the value of property which she owned.

Over the years, Bill Clinton has faced questions about the big speaking fees he collects, and about the donations given to the Clinton Foundation. President Trump has also been accused of lining his pockets during his presidency. He has been questioned about his hotels and his golf courses, as well as his business connections to world leaders. Unlike George Plunkitt, none of today’s politicians wants to talk about honest graft, but the allegations persist.

cracker vote

The “cracker vote” refers to native Floridian white voters, whose families have typically lived in the state for generations.

Former President Bill Clinton told CNN in late 2008 that he would travel to Florida on behalf of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign: “If we’re trying to win in Florida, it may be that — you know, they think that because of who I am and where my political base has traditionally been, they may want me to go sort of hustle up what Lawton Chiles used to call the ‘cracker vote’ there.”

Though the term “cracker” often has racial overtones, the Weekly Standard notes that Chiles used the word in a non-pejorative manner, including at least once during a 1996 campaign event with Clinton: “I know this fella from Arkansas. And I can tell you he knows how to speak cracker.”

fifth column

The “fifth column” is a treasonous group who secretly undermine a nation from within.

The term was coined by the Nationalist General Emilio Mola Vidal during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39). As four of his army columns moved on Madrid, he referred to his militant supporters within the capital as a “fifth column,” who weakened the loyalist government with a campaign of sabotage and uprisings.

agitprop

Agitprop is political propaganda, especially in the form of art or literature, which is used to advance a political stance.

The term originated in Soviet Russia and is an abbreviation of agitatsiya propaganda (agitation propaganda.) Propaganda was a key aspect of Soviet governing strategy.

In a 1902 pamphlet, What Is to be Done, Vladimir Lenin set out his beliefs about the roles of propaganda and agitation. In Lenin’s view, each had an important role to play. The propagandist worked mainly in print and produced logical analysis of social problems like poverty. The agitator, for his part, operated on an emotional level, rousing people to take an interest in social ills.

By the 1920s, the Agitation and Propaganda section was a well-established part of the Soviet government. The section operated at the most local level, and agitators were the Party’s chief means of communication with most people. Posters, sculptures, and paintings – usually done in a stylized, hyper-realist style – also were a major part of Russian agitprop.

Agitprop is also deeply rooted in North Korea. The posters and statues produced by North Korea’s government look like something straight out of a 1950s-era Soviet propaganda department. The leaders depicted are different, of course, but the stylized, heavy-handed imagery is the same. And today, decades after the fall of the Soviet Union, North Korea continues to churn out posters of beaming factory workers.

In the west, the term “agitprop” is usually associated with artist and left-wing causes. The work of street artists like Banksy is often described as agitprop. Certain conservative pundits argue that the entire output of Hollywood amount to “pro-communist” agitprop. But the term isn’t restricted to the left. It’s also thrown around – usually in a derogatory sense – to describe anyone who tries to push a strong ideology.

Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, the freshman congressmember from New York, has often been described as a master of agitprop. Ocasio Cortez is widely acclaimed for her use of social media and her ability to stir people with slogans and imagery. Her critics, though, complain that Ocasio Cortez veers to close to Soviet-style propaganda.

Conservatives said that a series of posters that Ocasio Cortez produced in 2019 looked “like something the Soviet Union would post throughout the Red Square.” (The posters were produced to highlight Ocasio Cortez’s proposals for a “Green New Deal.” Ocasio Cortez’s staff has said that their retro style was inspired by New Deal-era artwork.)

President Trump’s former adviser, Steve Bannon, is also seen as a master of agitprop. Bannon was at the helm of the conservative Breitbart Media, but he also spent many years working in Hollywood, as a producer and a director. Bannon directed a series of documentaries, including one about the Tea Party movement (“Battle for America”) and another about the Occupy movement (“Occupy Unmasked).

Bannon himself once said that his goal was to “overwhelm” his audience. Bannon’s critics wrote that watching the documentaries was like being in an “agitprop fever-dream.”

roorback

“Roorback” is a false, dirty or slanderous story used for political advantage, usually about a candidate seeking political office.

In 1940 the Chicago Tribune offered this definition: “A roorback is a false report about some alleged misdeed in a candidate’s past, often based on forged evidence, circulated in the final days of a campaign. It is timed for climactic effect when the candidate will not be able to expose the fraud before the voters go to the polls.”

According to Museum of Hoaxes, the term is derived from Baron von Roorback, the invented author of an imaginary book, Roorback’s Tour Through the Western and Southern States, from which a passage was purportedly quoted in an attempt to defame Tennessee Gov. James K. Polk in the 1844 presidential election.

flip-flop

A “flip-flop” is a sudden reversal of opinion or policy by a politician, usually running for office.

NPR notes the term “has been a fixture in popular American parlance at least since the 1880s. A New York Tribune writer in 1888 called out President Grover Cleveland for his ‘Fisheries flip-flop,’ presumably referring to Cleveland’s handling of the fishery treaty that governed waters shared by American and Canadian vessels and perhaps making wordplay on the way fish flop and flip on a boat deck. And in 1892, the New York Times pointed to the ‘flip-flop antics’ of John Boyd Thacher, the once-and-future mayor of Albany.”

Matthew Cooper: “Somewhere along the way, the charge of flip-flopping became one of the deadliest in politics—the shorthand for a lack of character. By contrast, a politician who didn’t change his or her mind, or who vowed to be uninterested in polls, was considered to be of a higher caliber. But there is a case for flip-flopping, or what might be called being human. After all, almost anyone with common sense has probably evolved on some position or another.”

Astrotweeting

“Astrotweeting” is the creation of fake Twitter profiles to show support for a political candidate.

Bill White described the practice in an Texas Monthly interview about his 2010 race against Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R):

There were also some silly things that happened that are still hard to believe. One consulting firm of his created artificial people to tweet. [The campaign] wanted to question my support in the African American community, but they couldn’t recruit an African American person to do it, so on Twitter they used a stock photo of a black person. One of the people who supported my campaign clicked on the image and found out it was a singer from Atlanta. The Twitter address was registered at the same location as one of Mr. Perry’s political consultants.

Derived by Rick Hasen, with inspiration from Ben Smith, from the term Astroturfing.

washington monument strategy

Washington Monument strategy

The “Washington Monument strategy” is named after a tactic used by the National Park Service to threaten closure of the popular Washington Monument when lawmakers proposed serious cuts in spending on parks.

Roll Call calls it “an old legislative ploy where an agency threatens to close popular services first.”

The strategy is used at all levels of government in an attempt to get the public to rally around government services they take pride in or find useful. Closing libraries on certain days of the week or reducing days of trash pick up  appears to have the same effect.

Washington Read

The “Washington Read” is the phenomenon by which, through a form of intellectual osmosis, a book is absorbed into the Washington atmosphere, according to the Washingtonian magazine.

“According to former White House speechwriter Dan McGroarty, to qualify as a Washington Read, a book not only has to be ambitious; it also needs ‘to be a book one would feel pressure to have read, and read early.’ This need to be ahead of the curve, coupled with demanding jobs that leave little time for reading, pushes people toward the Washington Read.”

The term is not to be confused with the Index Scan, which is when someone glances over the credits and footnotes to see if they’re mentioned.

money blurt

A money blurt is the strategy of using a politician’s controversial statements to attract a large number of campaign donors.

Washington Post: “Here’s how it works: An up-and-coming politician blurts out something incendiary, provocative or otherwise controversial. The remark bounces around the blogs and talk shows and becomes a sensation. And in the midst of it all, the politician’s fundraisers are manning the phones and raking in the donations.”

“The phenomenon marks another phase in the quest for money in politics, fueled by the eternal hum of the Internet, social media and 24-hour cable news… The money blurt — spontaneous or not — is a close cousin to a technique called the ‘money bomb,’ in which a campaign or its supporters designate a specific day or time period to raise a vast amount of cash and generate publicity.”

Spin Alley

“Spin Alley” is the place designated after a political debate where reporters interview analysts and campaign operatives who attempt to “spin” the news coverage of the event.

A video from the 2008 presidential campaign shows what “spin alley” looked like after a debate in New Hampshire.

Political cartoonist Tom Tomorrow: “After the debate, I took the press shuttle back to the media center — and to the small section therein blatantly designated ‘Spin Alley,’ ringed on three sides by bare-bones makeshift broadcast platforms and stuffed to capacity with reporters, camera crews and politicos. Everywhere you looked there were clusters of media people surrounding spinners and surrogates, whose names were printed on laminated red signs held high above the crowd by aides. I felt like I was standing in the middle of one of my own damn cartoons come to life.”

money bomb

A “money bomb” is an intense grassroots online fundraising effort over a brief fixed time period to support a candidate for election.

The term was first applied to a fundraising effort on behalf of the 2008 presidential campaign of Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) which the San Jose Mercury News described at the time as “a one-day fundraising frenzy”.

Political consultant Ed Rollins described the effectiveness of Paul’s money bomb to the Washington Post: “I’ll tell you, I’ve been in politics for 40 years, and these days everything I’ve learned about politics is totally irrelevant because there’s this uncontrollable thing like the Internet. Washington insiders don’t know what to make of it.”

rose garden campaign

Rose Garden campaign

A Rose Garden campaign is when an incumbent president takes advantage of the power and prestige of his office to help him run for re-election.

The phrase originally referred to a president staying on the grounds of the White House to campaign as opposed to traveling throughout the country. However, it’s taken on a broader meaning in recent years.

The term “Rose Garden campaign” was first used by then-candidate Jimmy Carter in 1976. At the time, Carter was challenging the incumbent president Gerald Ford. Carter complained that Ford was using a “Rose Garden strategy” to get himself free publicity, staying in the public eye by signing bills and making pronouncements. Meanwhile Carter, a relatively unknown peanut farmer from Georgia, had to work much harder to get attention.

President Ford’s “Rose Garden strategy” was not literally confined to the White House Rose Garden. In October of 1976, President Ford invited Queen Elizabeth to visit him at the White House to celebrate the bicentennial for America’s declaration of independence. Inevitably, the visit garnered a lot of media attention. Ford also held a series of televised interviews with the former baseball star Joe Garagiola.

Rose Garden strategy has both a literal and a figurative meaning. On the literal level, incumbent presidents use the White House Rose Garden as a stage for signing bills and holding media events. The setting evokes presidential power and stability. It’s an iconic location, and being photographed there sends a clear message to the public.

On a metaphorical level, a Rose Garden strategy refers to any time the incumbent president distributes political favors or largesse as part of his re-election strategy. This can mean offering economic packages to certain key states. It can also mean making key announcements about military victories, or about trade, or anything which impacts voters. Ahead of the 1936 election, for example, Franklin Roosevelt famously pushed for more economic support for workers and farmers, telling his aides that he wanted cotton prices to go up and that he didn’t want workers to be laid off.

In the first half of  2019, the New York Times reported that President Trump had held at least 11 events in the Rose Garden – more than twice the number of such events that he held in 2017. The Times concluded that Trump wanted to use his Rose Garden appearances to bolster his public image as part of his re-election campaign.

“He’s an indoor creature, but he wants to be seen outdoors,” Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian, told the Times. “He likes the Oval Office because he could do the big signature and show power. But after a while, it becomes an image of a guy who is locked in a room. This is a deeply image-driven president. In the Rose Garden, he’s able to project that he’s outside and enjoying the compound.”

Also in 2019, The New Republic accused presidential hopeful Joe Biden of employing a “wilted Rose Garden” strategy. The publication argued that Biden, who served as Barack Obama’s vice president, was basing his campaign around his vice presidential past. The strategy, New Republic argued, was one born out of weakness, rather than strength. Its goal was to bypass Biden’s problematic voting record in the Senate and to keep voters focused on his two terms serving under a popular president.

dummymander

“Dummymander” is a play on the term “gerrymander,” and it refers to a redrawing of a district map that actually ends up benefiting the opposite party that was designed to help.

When a political party in power reshapes the map of a district to gain advantage in an election, this is called “gerrymandering.” ”Dummymandering” occurs when that map, over time, actually ends up benefiting the opposite party (hence the use of the term “dummy).” Simply put, it’s a gerrymander that backfires.

The term was coined by by Bernard Grofman and Thomas Brunell in their article, “The Art of the Dummymander.”

The risks of a gerrymander becoming a dummymander for either party are sometimes hard to measure. In a Washington Post article, political reporter John Gastil explains how GOP gerrymandering leading up to the 2016 election could have backfired: “That strategy created so many marginal Republican districts that if the GOP loses the bulk of the seats at or below R+2, it would also lose its congressional majority. A catastrophe that claimed every GOP seat at or below R+4 would bring the GOP caucus close to the size of today’s House Democrats.”

While the risk of dummymandering always exists, some political science experts argue that as techniques for redistricting improve, the odds of it happening are decreasing: “The ability to create the desired political effect increases every decade with advances in technology, making it easier for legislators and advocacy groups to target partisan precincts and predict their likely voting behavior for years to come. “Dummymanders”–sociologist Bernard Grofman’s term for overly greedy gerrymanders that backfire– have become increasingly rare as sophistication about redistricting grows.”

This was reinforced by Supreme Court justice Elana Kagan, as reported by New York Magazine: She observed: “Old-time efforts, based on little more than guesses, sometimes led to so-called dummymanders — gerrymanders that went spectacularly wrong. Not likely in today’s world. Mapmakers now have access to more granular data about party preference and voting behavior than ever before. County-level voting data has given way to precinct-level or city-block-level data; and increasingly, mapmakers avail themselves of data sets providing wide ranging information about even individual voters.”

Still, with more and more gerrymandering comes the risk of more and more dummymandering. In a 2015 Politico article that argued the merits of gerrymandering, the author acknowledges: “To be sure, gerrymandering schemes rarely create a statewide plan that is as competitive as it could be; the risk of dummymandering is too high.” The author goes on: “This happens when parties spread their voters just a little too thin, turning a gerrymander into a ‘dummymander.’ When an unfavorable political tide sweeps through, dummymandered districts switch parties, undoing the advantage the gerrymandering party had supposedly engineered for itself.”

by-election

A “by-election” is an election held to fill a political office that has become vacant between regularly scheduled elections.

It’s also frequently referred to as a special election.

Typically, a by-election occurs when the incumbent has resigned or died, but it may also occur in the case of a recall or as a result of election results being invalidated by voting irregularities.

frugging

“Frugging” is an unethical fundraising tactic where a telemarketer falsely claims to be a researcher conducting a poll, when in reality the “researcher” is attempting to solicit a donation.

The Washington Post cites Newt Gingrich’s American Solutions advocacy group as example: “According to complaints on consumer-focused Web sites, some American Solutions calls begin with slanted polling questions before proceeding to a request for money. The tactic, known as ‘fundraising under the guise of research,’ or frugging, is discouraged as unethical by trade groups such as the Marketing Research Association.”

candy desk

The “candy desk” is where a supply of candy is kept in the U.S. Senate.

Sen. George Murphy (R-CA) originated the practice of keeping a supply of candy in his desk for the enjoyment of his colleagues in 1965. In every Congress since that time a candy desk has been located in the back row of the Republican side, on the aisle and adjacent to the Chamber’s most heavily used entrance.

invisible primary

An invisible primary is said to begin when a candidate formally announces their plans to run for office. The invisible primary comes to a close when the actual primary season begins.

The invisible primary is a testing-ground for candidates and their advance teams. It’s an opportunity to find out how much support they can gather before the real primary is held. In fact, the invisible primary can often make or break candidates – candidates who don’t get enough shows of support during the invisible primary often end up bowing out of the race, sometimes before the primary season even begins.

A key example of that in the 2020 presidential race would be Sen. Cory Booker. The New Jersey senator dropped out of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination on January 13, 2020, almost a month ahead of the Iowa caucus. Booker had been struggling in the polls for some time; he also wasn’t able to raise enough money to keep his campaign going and to maintain his reputation as a serious candidate.

The invisible primary is often referred to as the “money primary.” That’s because pundits and party bosses are closely watching to see how effectively each candidate can fundraise. Critics of the invisible primary say that effectively, it forces candidates to curry favor with the most wealthy and powerful Americans. Big donors, as well as well-connected fundraisers (“bundlers”) have a disproportionate role in picking candidates.  On the right, wealthy donors like the Koch brothers, or Sheldon Adelson, have traditionally held a great deal of sway. On the left, prominent fundraisers include George Soros and the Facebook founder Denis Moskowitz.

In recent years, more and more presidential candidates are, themselves, extremely wealthy men who have the capacity to fund their own campaigns. This has arguably changed the whole nature of the invisible primary, and may have lessened the power traditionally held by wealthy donors and fundraisers.

teflon president

Teflon president

The term “Teflon president” describes a president who has a seemingly magical ability to avoid blame. A Teflon president is so charismatic that — like a Teflon pan — nothing unwanted can stick to him. No matter how much dirt his opponents uncover, the voters forgive him for it.

Rep. Pat Schroeder, a Democrat from Colorado, coined the term in 1983 when she took the House floor to denounce then-President Ronald Reagan. Schroeder said of Reagan, “He has been perfecting the Teflon-coated presidency: He sees to it that nothing sticks to him.” (Schroeder later said that the expression came to her while she was frying eggs in a Teflon, or non-stick pan.)

Reagan’s critics charged that he was bumbling and incompetent – but the public continued to love him. To this day, most people associate the term “Teflon president” with Ronald Reagan. But other presidents have been described as “Teflon” also. Pat Schroeder herself told CNN that Bill Clinton was very “Teflonish.” She mused that in fact, more and more politicians seemed to be doing everything they could to avoid responsibility:

I mean, the interesting thing about that…is my hope was that people would say, ‘That’s right. He is the captain of the ship and the captain of the ship has some responsibility.’ They didn’t say that. Instead they said, ‘How do I get one of those Teflon coats? Where do they sell them?’

Steve Kornacki notes Schroeder’s characterization “was meant to be disparaging, but in coining the term ‘Teflon president,’ Schroeder actually identified a significant phenomenon in politics — the willingness of voters to excuse in some politicians shortcomings that they wouldn’t accept in most others.”

Pundits have also accused Barack Obama of wearing a Teflon coat. Analysts pointed out that even when voters said they disagreed with President Obama’s policies, his approval ratings remained high. In 2009,for example, only 44 percent of Americans said they agreed with the way Obama was handling healthcare. But 63 percent of voters said they had a favorable view of the president.

More recently, a number of commentators have asked whether President Trump is also made of Teflon. After all, they reason, Trump has survived an impeachment hearing and a number of public scandals within his administration. In fact, Trump has been called the “luckiest guy ever to hold the office of president of the United States, because of his seemingly inexhaustible ability to dodge the slings and arrows that are thrown at him.

“Teflon” can also be used to describe any powerful person who manages to avoid blame over a long period of time. The New York mafia boss John Gotti was dubbed the Teflon Don, for example, after he managed to avoid conviction in trial after trial during the 1980s. Gotti was finally convicted in 1992 on 14 counts of conspiracy to commit murder and racketeering.

In 1986 the New York Times noted that DuPont, the manufacturers of Teflon, were angry about the way the word Teflon was being used in the press. As it turned out, DuPont didn’t care that people were describing the president as “Teflon.” The company simply wanted people to remember to put a trademark symbol next to the word. In a press release, Dupont said, ”It is not, alas, a verb or an adjective, not even when applied to the President of the United States!”

talking points

“Talking points” are a clear and concise list of ideas making up a politician’s main arguments in a stump speech. They’re typically used as a guide and not read word-for-word.

William Safire noted that he first heard the phrase as a White House speechwriter when President Nixon would often say, “Never mind preparing formal remarks for this bunch, just give me a page of talking points.”

red herring

A “red herring” is a political diversion which draws attention away from something of significance.

Michael Quinlan notes the term likely originates from an article published on February 14, 1807 by journalist William Cobbett in the Weekly Political Register. In a critique of the English press, which had mistakenly reported Napoleon’s defeat, Cobbett recounted that he had once used a red herring to deflect hounds in pursuit of a hare, adding “It was a mere transitory effect of the political red-herring; for, on the Saturday, the scent became as cold as a stone.”

lettermarking

Lettermarking is when lawmakers send letters to government agencies in an attempt to direct money to projects in their home districts.

Jacob Sullum: “While none of these requests is legally binding, agencies are loath to antagonize the legislators who approve their budgets, especially when they have added extra money with a specific project in mind. And unlike official earmarks, these indirect allocations are not explicitly tied to particular lawmakers in the text of legislation.”

The New York Times notes that lettermarking, “which takes place outside the Congressional appropriations process, is one of the many ways that legislators who support a ban on earmarks try to direct money back home.” Evidence of lawmakers using the process can only be obtained through time-consuming requests under the Freedom of Information Act.

You’re no Jack Kennedy

“You’re no Jack Kennedy” is a phrase used to deflate politicians who are perceived as thinking too highly of themselves.

The words come from the 1988 vice presidential debate between Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-TX) and Sen. Dan Quayle (R-IN). When Quayle compared his relative youth to that of former President John F. Kennedy, Bentsen shot back, “Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy, I knew Jack Kennedy, Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.”

Washington Post: “If one will be remembered for a single remark, as the recently departed Lloyd Bentsen is, let it be for the perfect put-down. Most of us never get to experience the joy of excoriating an opponent with a dead-on, devastating riposte. We always think of it too late.”

Cherokee Strip

A “Cherokee Strip” is the seating area in the U.S. Senate chamber when some members of the majority party mist sit on the side of the minority party.

From the Senate historian: “Occasionally one party maintains such an overwhelming majority that it has become necessary for majority party members to sit on the minority party side in the Senate Chamber. During the 60th Congress (1907-1909), 10 Republicans sat on the Democratic side, while during the 75th Congress (1937-1939), 13 Democrats sat on the Republican side. Such seating became known as the ‘Cherokee Strip,’ a reference to the region in Oklahoma, which was land belonging neither to the Indian Territory nor to the United States. By the 1930s, it had become the practice for senior senators to take front row, center aisle seats; junior majority party members who filled the “Cherokee Strip” were assigned either rear row or end seats on the minority party side.”

The last time a “Cherokee Strip” existed in the Senate was during the 76th Congress from 1939 to 1941. Six of the 69 Democratic senators sat with the 23 Republican and 4 Independent senators.

demon sheep

A “demon sheep” is a sinister politician who pretends to be what he is not; related to the RINO species, according to Samuel Jacobs.

The term comes a widely-mocked political ad run by 2010 California U.S. Senate candidate Carly Fiorina (R) which described her primary opponent as a “FCINO” (Fiscal Conservative In Name Only). He was portrayed as not just a wolf, but a demon with glowing eyes, in sheep’s clothing.

blue-slipping

If the Senate initiates appropriations legislation, the House practice is to return it to the Senate with a blue piece of paper attached citing a constitutional infringement since all measures are supposed to originate in the House. The practice of returning such bills and amendments to the Senate without action is known as “blue-slipping.”

C-SPAN: “Without House action, Senate-initiated spending legislation cannot make it into law. So in practice, the Senate rarely attempts to initiate such bills anymore, and if it does, the House is diligent about returning them. Regardless of one’s opinion of the correct interpretation of the Constitutional provision, the House refusal to consider such Senate legislation settles the matter in practice.”

turkey farm

In politics, a “turkey farm” refers to a government agency or department that is staffed primarily with political appointments and other patronage hires. In particular, it is used to refer to hires that are underqualified but are put in positions of power because they either support the appointer politically or financially.

A 2010 Vanderbilt University study noted that “In every administration certain agencies acquire reputations as ‘turkey farms’ or ‘dead pools.’ Positions in these agencies get filled with less qualified administrators, often by presidents under pressure to find political jobs for campaign staff, key donors, or well-connected job-seekers.”

Often, turkey farms are places where sycophants are rewarded for their political loyalty with stable or high-profile government jobs.

But in other cases, turkey farms are places to put “non-performers,” bad employees, or federal workers considered “turkeys,” so that managers can avoid the lengthy process of other alternatives, as outlined in Washington Monthly: “Not infrequently, federal managers use two traditional means of shedding non-performers. By writing glowing letters of recommendation, a boss can get a turkey promoted to a different office. Fortunately, most civil servants are too ethical to use such tactics, and anyway, you can only do that once or twice before your credibility in the bureaucracy is shot. More typically, bosses place non-performers in ‘turkey farms,’ ‘dead pools,’ or (if it is a single person) ‘on the shelf.’ By quarantining non-performers, a good manager can save the rest of the organization from their influence.”

This method of stashing subpar employees was described as a “turkey farm” during the Nixon Administration in a document referred to as the “Malek Manual,” named after Nixon’s special assistant. He first outlined this method of dealing with unwanted employees while still staying within the confines of the federal merit system.

One agency in the federal government that’s frequently accused of being a “turkey farm” is FEMA, or the Federal Emergency Management Agency. During the administration of George W. Bush, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, FEMA’s handling of the disaster exacerbated an already bad reputation, as highlighted here: “FEMA had gone through periods of obsession with unrealistic nuclear war planning, thereby making it unprepared for the 1989 San Francisco earthquake and Hurricanes Hugo and Andrew in 1989 and 1992. The agency became known as the ‘Turkey Farm’ because of its management by third-rate political appointees.”

A federal report noted the agency “is widely viewed as a political dumping ground, ‘a turkey farm’…where large numbers of positions exist that can be conveniently and quietly filled by political appointment.”

Other agencies also have a history of being labeled “turkey farms” as well. From FCW: “Political turkey farms — agencies filled with former campaign staffers with thin resumes — made the headlines in the 1990s. In the George H.W. Bush administration, the Commerce Department became known as “Bush Gardens.”

Election Administrator’s Prayer

The Election Administrator’s Prayer is “Please, please, please let the winners win big.” or “Lord, let this election not be close.”

Doug Lewis, Executive Director of the National Association of Election Officials, was quoted by USA Today using another variation in November 2000: “God, please let the winner win in a landslide.”

Election law professor Rick Hasen used the phrase in an op-ed for Australia’s Canberra Times in 2008 noting how the American electoral system “remains haunted by the ghost of the democratic meltdown of 2000, which culminated in a US Supreme Court decision that handed the presidency to George W. Bush…”

“The main bulwark against this kind of problem is not the American political establishment, which has proven itself incapable of enacting a fair and nonpartisan electoral system befitting a mature democracy. Instead, we put our faith in the law of numbers. We should all utter the US election administrator’s prayer: “Lord, let this election not be close.”

incumbent rule

The “incumbent rule” is a rule of thumb used by pollsters that says incumbents rarely get a higher percentage in the election than they receive in polls, and that voters still undecided on the very last poll tend to “break” disproportionately for the challenger.

Michael Barone: “The assumption has been that voters know an incumbent, and any voter who is not for him will vote against him.”

Polling Report: “It seems that undecided voters are not literally undecided, not straddling the fence unable to make a choice – the traditional interpretation. An early decision to vote for the incumbent is easier because voters know incumbents best. It helps to think of undecided voters as undecided about the incumbent, as voters who question the incumbent’s performance in office. Most or all voters having trouble with this decision appear to end up deciding against the incumbent.”

Nonetheless, empirical data suggests the rule may be a myth. Nate Silver notes that it is “extremely common for an incumbent come back to win re-election while having less than 50 percent of the vote in early polls.” In addition, “there is no demonstrable tendency for challengers to pick up a larger share of the undecided vote than incumbents.”

teabaggers

A term “teabaggers” is a derogatory nickname used to refer to supporters of the conservative “Tea Party” movement.

CBS News: “It’s the sort of word you might expect to hear from a smirking 14-year-old boy: Critics of the Tea Party movement like to refer to its members as ‘teabaggers,’ a reference to a sexual act known as ‘teabagging,’ which we’re going to refrain from explaining here. To give you an idea of both the meaning of the word and the juvenile way it gets used, consider this comment from MSNBC’s David Shuster: ‘…the teabaggers are full-throated about their goals. They want to give President Obama a strong tongue-lashing and lick government spending.'”

According to the Huffington Post, CNN’s Anderson Cooper also had fun with the term, noting “It’s hard to talk when you’re teabagging.”

Interestingly, President Barack Obama is quoted using the word in Jonathan Alter’s book The Promise: President Obama, Year One, noting that the unanimous House Republican vote against his economic stimulus bill “helped to create the teabaggers and empowered that whole wing of the Republican Party to where it now controls the agenda for the Republicans.”

gypsy moth Republican

A “gypsy moth Republican” is a pejorative term used by conservative Republicans to describe a moderate members of their party who represent a Northeastern or Midwestern urban part of the United States — an area that is also the habitat for the invasive Gypsy moth, which damages trees.

The implication is that the gypsy moth Republicans damage the Republican Party by occasionally siding with Democrats.

A gypsy moth Republican is related to a RINO.

bundling

“Bundling” is the practice of rounding up contributions from friends and associates to bypass campaign finance limits.

San Antonio News-Express: “Welcome to the world of bundlers: a semi-secretive though perfectly legal practice in which super-duper fundraisers deliver bundles of campaign contributions to their favorite candidates that they induce, entice or, some would say, strong-arm others to make. Bundling allows candidates of both parties to finesse the federal caps on individual political contributions and allows the bundlers to gain more-than-ordinary access to presidents and presidential hopefuls.”

gobbledygook

“Gobbledygook” is a term coined by Rep. Maury Maverick (D-TX) for obscure and euphemistic bureaucratic language.

World Wide Words: “He used the word in the New York Times Magazine on May 21, 1944, while he was chairman of the US Smaller War Plants Committee in Congress, as part of a complaint against the obscure language used by his colleagues. His inspiration, he said, was the turkey, ‘always gobbledy gobbling and strutting with ludicrous pomposity’. The word met a clear need and quickly became part of the language. It is sometimes abbreviated slightly to gobbledygoo.”

bunk

“Bunk” is empty or nonsense talk.

In 1820, Rep. Felix Walker from Ashville, North Carolina justified his long-winded and somewhat irrelevant remarks about the Missouri Compromise by arguing that his constituents had elected him “to make a speech for Buncombe.” One member said that his pointless speech “was buncombe” and soon “buncombe” became synonymous with vacuous speech.

As the new meaning of buncombe grew in use, it was eventually shortened to the now familiar word “bunk.”

Bradley effect

Bradley effect

The “Bradley effect” is a polling phenomenon involving high support for non-white and non-female candidates in opinion polls not reflected by election results.

Origins and History

This phenomenon was coined following Tom Bradley’s (D) run for California governor in 1982. Bradley, an African American and the mayor of Los Angeles, was ahead of opponent George Deukmejian (R) entering the final days of the election. On Election Night, Deukmejian defeated Bradley by less than 2% of the vote. Political observers posited that some white voters voiced their support for Bradley in phone polling to avoid appearing politically incorrect or racist.

Additional examples of the Bradley effect followed the namesake’s narrow loss. Chicago mayoral candidate Harold Washington won a more narrow victory over a white opponent than polling indicated. Jesse Jackson’s 1984 and 1988 Democratic presidential campaign received a smaller vote share from white voters than their expectations from polls. Colin Powell considered a Republican presidential run in 1996 but was advised that the Bradley effect would be prominent in an increasingly white party.

The Bradley effect has weakened over time thanks to polling precision and changing cultural values. U.S. Senate candidate Harold Ford (D) received roughly the same amount of white support in polling as he received on Election Night. Barack Obama (D) flipped the Bradley effect on its head in the 2008 presidential election by winning white voters in previously Republican states like Indiana and North Carolina.

FiveThirtyEight’s study of the 2008 Democratic primary between Obama and Hillary Clinton showed the signs of a reverse Bradley effect. Obama received 3.3% more of the vote across all primaries than was indicated by polling including a higher proportion of the white vote. The publication acknowledged that hidden racial motivates may have existed but did not impact Obama’s chances in the aggregate.

The concept of the Bradley effect has been called different names and expanded in scope since 1982. Virginia gubernatorial candidate Douglas Wilder (D) won narrowly in 1989, leading state observers to call it the Wilder effect. David Dinkins (D) won one term as mayor of New York City and lost to Rudy Giuliani in 1993 with some attribution to a Dinkins effect. Hillary Clinton’s 2016 loss to Donald Trump has been attributed to something similar to the Bradley effect. Pew Research Center noted that polls may have underestimated Trump’s support and overestimated Clinton’s support due to concerns by respondents about their level of support.

Examples

Vanity Fair (November 3, 2016): “A more significant Bradley effect was visible among certain demographic groups, however. Morning Consult found that voters with a college degree supported Clinton by a 21-point margin in phone interviews, but only by a 7-point margin online.”

The New Republic (October 12, 2008): “But now Lance Tarrance, the pollster for Bradley in that race, has an article up at RCP suggesting that the Bradley Effect was merely a case of bad polling — and that his campaign’s internals had shown a dead heat.”

Politico (October 9, 2008): “There was, in the primary, clearly a ‘reverse Bradley Effect’ among black voters, whose support for Obama was consistently understated in the polling.”

heck of a job

A “heck of a job” is a complete and total screw-up. It’s used, ironically, to show when one’s view of a situation is in contradiction to easily-observed facts.

The phrase comes from President George W. Bush who visited Louisiana in the aftermath of  Hurricane Katrina and told FEMA chief Michael D. Brown, “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.”

Brown later admitted he winced when Bush told him that: “I knew the minute he said that, the media and everybody else would see a disconnect between what he was saying and what I was witnessing on the ground. That’s the president’s style. His attitude and demeanor is always one of being a cheerleader and trying to encourage people to keep moving. It was just the wrong time and the wrong place.”

Brown resigned ten days after he was praised by Bush.

goo-goos

The term “goo-goos” refers to good government groups that support political reform.

The term was first used by detractors of political reformers in the late 19th century when urban municipal governments were controlled by political machines. It’s still used today as a slightly derisive label for modern day reformers.

Eleventh Commandment

Eleventh Commandment

Ronald Reagan famously said that the “eleventh commandment” was, “Thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican.”

The phrase was coined in the 1960s by Gaylord Parkinson, who was the state chairman of California Republicans at the time. Parkinson added, “Henceforth, if any Republican has a grievance against another, that grievance is not to be bared publicly.”

Reagan first talked about the “eleventh commandment” in 1966, when he was running to be governor of California. At the time, Reagan had just recently switched parties and his Republican opponents seized on that as a way to attack him. Some of them called him “temperamentally and emotionally upset” and hinted that his switch of parties “might indicate instability.” Through it all, Reagan said he didn’t believe in speaking ill of other Republicans. 

Parkinson apparently proposed the rule against Republicans attacking each other because he believed that it would keep Reagan’s opponent, San Francisco mayor Mayor George Christopher, from attacking Reagan; more generally, Parkinson wanted to achieve party unity ahead of the general election.

Reagan continued to invoke the “eleventh commandment” throughout his political career. After he became governor, Reagan also used his new position to advise other Republicans on what he saw as proper decorum. In 1968, for example, Reagan spoke up when George Romney challenged Richard Nixon to a debate presidential primary. Reagan said, “I don’t think that’s necessary. Whenever you do that, you return to the atmosphere of violating the 11th commandment, which we originated in California, that you should speak no ill of another Republican.”

Much later, Reagan referred to the rule in his autobiography, An American Life. Speaking of the eleventh commandment, he wrote, “It’s a rule I followed during that campaign, and I have ever since.”

In the decades since Reagan’s administration, journalists and pundits have periodically complained that Republicans don’t seem to be following Reagan’s eleventh commandment any more. In 2011, for example, the New York Times fretted that a recent Republican debate had “led to the biggest display yet of combativeness among candidates who often evoke Ronald Reagan, but did not heed his 11th commandment, not to speak ill of fellow Republicans.”

A few years later, in 2015, the Dayton Daily News lamented that the Republican presidential hopefuls were not living up to Reagan’s example. The newspaper wrote,

“The 11th commandment prevails, and that is, ‘Thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican,'” Ronald Reagan said.  If these past few weeks are any indication …“Donald Trump is a narcissist and an egomaniac,” Bobby Jindal said. “Jeb Bush is a low-energy person,” Donald Trump said. “I think Donald Trump’s a disaster,” Rand Paul said on Fox News.

The Republican candidates Wednesday night won’t be in observance.”

Even after the 2016 election, some Republicans were lamenting that members of their own party were engaging in pointless Twitter wars with each other and refusing to work effectively with one another. The answer, one op-ed read, was a return to Reagan’s vision: “Republicans should take a look at Reagan’s speeches, read about him, and try to learn from a politician who brought a nation together in so many ways.” 

permanent campaign

First explored by Sidney Blumenthal in his 1980 book, The Permanent Campaign, which explained how the breakdown in political parties forced politicians to govern in different ways. Instead of relying on patronage and party machines, politicians increasingly used political consultants to help them monitor their job approval numbers and media exposure.

However, the theory of the permanent campaign is also credited to political strategist Patrick Caddell who wrote a memo for President-elect Jimmy Carter just after his election in 1976 in which he asserted “governing with public approval requires a continuing political campaign.”

Time: “Thus Caddell gave a name — the permanent campaign — to a political mind-set that had been developing since the beginning of the television age. It has proved a radical change in the nature of the presidency. Every President since Lyndon Johnson has run his Administration from a political consultant’s eye view. Untold millions have been spent on polling and focus groups. Dick Morris even asked voters where Bill Clinton should go on vacation. The pressure to “win” the daily news cycle — to control the news — has overwhelmed the more reflective, statesmanlike aspects of the office.”

filling the tree

“Filling the tree” is a procedure used by the Senate Majority Leader to offer a sufficient number of amendments on legislation to “fill the tree” so that no other senator can offer an amendment.

Congressional Institute: “By tradition, the Majority Leader is recognized first at the start of a debate. This enables the Leader, from time to time, to block the minority from offering any changes to a bill. To accomplish this, the Majority Leader fills the amendment tree with extraneous or meaningless amendments thereby blocking the introduction of any legitimate amendments by any other Senator (including those in his own party). It is a form of parliamentary obstruction used by the majority.”

flake rate

“Flake rate” is a calculation of people who sign up to volunteer for political canvassing or events but do not participate.

Flake rate is presented as a percentage of volunteers who initially sign up for campaign activities but ultimately decline to attend. The Rose Foundation for Communities and the Environment suggests that 50% of volunteers recruited for an event will not participate.

A low flake rate shows strong buy-in by volunteers in a campaign’s message and structure. A high flake rate can be attributed to superficial campaign development or lack of engagement with supporters beyond their initial sign-up. A negative flake rate occurs when more volunteers show up for a campaign action compared to the original sign-up list.

The Campaign Workshop provides a representative sample of suggestions for campaigns seeking to reduce their flake rates. These suggestions include frequent confirmations with volunteers and encouraging participation as part of daily routines. Recognition for volunteer performances and a variety of work can also encourage higher participation rates.

This term is largely used by political operatives, nonprofit leaders, and other experts. Google’s Ngram Viewer does not register the term in English texts to 2012. The Google Trends interest chart shows brief spikes around presidential elections but relative interest below 50%. Recent usage of the term comes from the dating app scene with users calculating flake rates based on planned dates that do not occur.

Examples

The Daily Beast (February 25, 2020): “‘We had a 75 percent flake rate,’ Leo said. ‘A good field plan can add on the margins but it can’t do it for you all by itself. You’ve got to be in the conversation, you’ve got to be on people’s minds.’”

Slate (September 6, 2012): “The metric of the day for Barack Obama’s field team is ‘flake rate’: the percentage of supporters who had registered to attend his open-air stadium speech but won’t show up for one of the replacement events the campaign is scrambling to arrange in its place after moving tonight’s convention session indoors.”

 

thrown under the bus

To be “thrown under the bus” is to be sacrificed by someone hoping to avoid blame themselves, often in order to make political gain.

Newsweek: “In general, ‘thrown under the bus’ is a metaphor for what happens when someone takes a hit for someone else’s actions. But unlike its etymological cousins, ‘scapegoat’ and ‘fall guy,’ the phrase suggests a degree of intimacy between the blamer and the blamed.”

Word Detective: “I think the key to the phrase really lies in the element of utter betrayal, the sudden, brutal sacrifice of a stalwart and loyal teammate for a temporary and often minor advantage.”

chum

“Chum” is campaign gear such as bumper stickers, lawn signs, and campaign buttons.

The term is derived from the bait used to catch fish because in a political campaign these items are frequently used to entice volunteers and voters to get more involved in a campaign or bringing them to events. The distribution of chum is organized by a candidate’s advance man.

Time notes that during the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama’s campaign “set up little tabletop trinket shops, known as ‘chum stores’ because all those little Obama-branded doodads aren’t only keepsakes; they are also bait. Every person who buys a button or hat is recorded as a campaign donor. But the real goal of the chum operations was building a list of workers, supporters and their e-mail addresses.”

push card

A “push card” is a small, easy access, wallet-sized campaign sign typically given to a potential voter during door-to-door canvassing or at an event.

They’re also sometimes called palm cards because they’re designed to be small enough to fit in the palm of your hand.

strange bedfellows

Two politicians are “strange bedfellows” if they have made an unusual political alliance.

The term comes from Shakespeare’s The Tempest when a storm causes Trinculo to seek shelter under a sheet with Caliban, whom he regards as an enemy. “There is no other shelter hereabout: misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows. I will here shroud till the dregs of the storm be past.”

stemwinder

A “stemwinder” is a rousing political speech that galvanizes a crowd to take action.

The Word Detective notes the term is “one of those grand old words that have traveled so far from their origins that nearly all traces of their beginnings have faded from popular culture.”

Slate: “The term dates back to the middle of the 19th century, when the stem-winding watch came into vogue. The newfangled timepiece was a vast improvement over its predecessor, the key-wound watch, because the mechanism for setting it was a stem actually attached to the watch, rather than a key that was easily and frequently misplaced. This technological advance was so widely appreciated that, by the end of the 1800s, the term stemwinder had taken on the figurative meaning of ‘excellent’ or ‘outstanding,’ or, as the Oxford English Dictionary puts it, ‘a person or thing that is first rate. …'”

political suicide

“Political suicide” is an unpopular action that is likely to cause a politician’s subsequent defeat at the polls or be cause for him or her to resign from public office.

However, as William Safire notes in Safire’s Political Dictionary, “these suicides, like the report of Mark Twain’s death, are usually exaggerations. Actions unpopular on their face can be take as evidence of courage.”

carpetbagger

A “carpetbagger” is a politician who runs for office or tries to appeal to a constituency in a geographic area where he or she has no roots or connection.

The term traces its roots back to the Civil War era, when it was first coined as a way of deriding someone from the northern states who migrated to the Confederacy to opportunistically benefit from the Reconstruction. Southerners who resented these interlopers started referring to them as “carpetbaggers,” a reference to the satchel – or cheap carpet bag – that held their meager belongings.

At the time, these so-called “carpetbaggers” headed south because the Confederate states needed significant capital investment, and there were financial opportunities that that didn’t exist in the north. Over time, this influx of northerners began to alter the political realities in the south, and the term “carpetbagger” became synonymous with an ill-intentioned foreigner who aligned with slaves, and had an aspirations to hold office in a region in which they were either not welcome or not part of the community.

Often confused with the term “scalawag,” the History Channel explains the difference. While a “carpetbagger” was an interloper who imposed their views on the south, a “scalawag” referred to someone already living in the south who was sympathetic to the northern cause, or specifically in this case, was anti-slavery.

Taken broadly, all northerners who went south in search of opportunity could be called carpetbaggers, but in reality the label didn’t apply to just anyone. To quote a 2014 Mother Jones article: “If you came South and joined up with the Democrats, you were a gentleman, not a carpetbagger.” Hence, it was a mostly partisan label, hurled by Democrats at Republicans.

Famous Restoration carpetbaggers included Adelbert Ames, Hiram Revels, Albion W. Tourgee, and Daniel Henry Chamberlain.

In more modern times, satchels made of carpet are no longer in vogue, and the term carpetbagger can refer to a member of any political party; nor is it limited to Republicans who migrated south. Modern carpetbaggers are sometimes accused of “district shopping.”

One of the most noted examples of modern carpetbagging occurred in 1964, when Bobby Kennedy sought the New York Senate seat. As noted by American Heritage: “…For controversy, comedy, and sheer audacity, no act of carpetbagging is likely to measure up any time soon to what happened when Robert F. Kennedy invaded the Empire State in 1964.” Of course, Kennedy ultimately appealed to New York voters, and he won the seat he sought.

High profile carpetbaggers abound. In 2014, when Republican Scott Brown from Massachusetts decided to run for office in New Hampshire, instead of eschewing the charge, he embraced it. As reported in the Washington Post, Brown said “Do I have the best credentials? Probably not. ‘Cause, you know, whatever.”

In 1999, when Hillary Cilnton ran for the New York Senate seat vacated by Daniel Patrick Moynihan, charges of carpetbagging accompanied her bid, but were mostly shrugged off by voters. Hillary went on to win to election by 12 points.

snollygoster

snollygoster

A “snollygoster” is a political operative or candidate who uses cunning or ethically questionable behavior to achieve power.

The term snollygoster is traced back to 1846 by Merriam-Webster with a strong preference for the word among Southern politicians starting in the 1850s. Georgia legislator H.W.J. Ham is often credited with popularizing the term in the late 19th century. He used snollygoster in 1893 to describe fellow Georgians who had “an unquenchable thirst for office with neither the power to get it nor the ability to fill it.”

By the 20th century, there was a belief that snollygoster evolved from the mythical snallygaster. This creature was believed to roam Maryland in search of children to eat. Merriam-Webster dispelled this connection, however, noting that snallygaster was not found in publications until after snollygoster.

Google’s Ngram Viewer shows relatively low usage for the term in English publications from the late 19th century to the 1940s. A spike in usage occurred in the 1950s thanks to President Harry Truman’s application of snollygoster to his Republican opponents. He invoked the term in a 1952 speech in West Virginia to refer to politicians who use their religious background to gain political support.

Snollygoster remained a novelty to political observers through the early 20th century. Safire’s Political Dictionary revised between 1968 and 1993 included an entry for the term. Publisher William Safire used snollygoster in a 1980 article in The New York Times on the power of presidential words. Fox News host Bill O’Reilly used the term in his Word of the Day feature.

Merriam-Webster removed snollygoster from its Collegiate Dictionary in 2003 because it was considered an archaic term. The publication added the term again in 2017 due in part to O’Reilly’s invocation of the word in reference to Democratic politicians. The term has gained currency among those who want to show a deep knowledge of political history. WOSU, a public radio network in Ohio, has a weekly podcast called Snollygoster that covers politics in the Buckeye State. Snollygoster’s revival came from its unusual sound and the continued presence of figures who match the definition.

Examples

The Huffington Post (December 6, 2017): “Seriously, how much harder do we have to be hit on the head before we realize that this “snollygoster” destroys the essence of who we are as a people.”

Slinging Mud (2011): “Ham claimed to have first heard the word during an 1848 political debate. He defined a snollygoster as a ‘place-hunting demagogue’ or a ‘political hypocrite.’”

The New York Times (September 2, 1952): “President Truman revived an old American word today when he taunted the ‘Republican snollygosters.’”

cuff links gang

According to Time, a “cuff links gang” refers to the group of friends who helped Franklin D. Roosevelt run for Vice President in 1920 “and to whom he gave sets of cuff links in remembrance of that unfortunate political campaign.”

The gift of cuff links to political operatives has since become a sign of being an early insider with a politician.

favorite son

A favorite son candidate is one who draws their support from the home state or from the broader region. Sometimes the term is also used for someone with little to no support outside of their own region. 

In the past, state delegations sometimes nominated “favorite son” candidates as a bargaining tactic. After nominating their own local candidate, state leaders were in a position to make deals with the leading candidates, trading their support for whatever privilege they wanted for the state. The process was described in detail in a piece in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette from 1928. The Post-Gazette described the “favorite son” procedure as a way for “professional politicians” can be sure of “securing what they want at a national convention.” 

The term “favorite son” kept its original and negative connotation for many years. In 1968, for example, the New York Times wrote about Ronald Reagan’s decision to run for president: “Another declared opponent entered the field against Mr. Nixon when Gov. Ronald Reagan of California announced he was a real, rather than a favorite-son, candidate.”

In the same electoral cycle, Spiro Agnew started out as a “favorite son” candidate but agreed to drop out of the running; he later became Nixon’s running mate.

In modern times, brokered conventions have been replaced by primary elections, which means that the kind of explicit deal-making described in the Post-Gazette no longer takes place. Today, “favorite son” is most often used to mean “hometown hero.” (Female politicians are sometimes called “favorite daughters.”)

An article written after George H.W. Bush passed away, for example, was headlined “Connecticut mourns the death of favorite son, George H.W. Bush.” The piece cited Greenwich First Selectman Peter J. Tesei, who called Bush a “hometown boy.”

“The Town of Greenwich, like the nation and the world, mourns the loss of one of its own — a member of the ‘Greatest Generation,’” Tesei said. “President George H.W. Bush was a true hometown boy, that regardless of his position in the global sphere of political power, he remained forever tied to his family roots here in Greenwich.”

Similarly, Barack Obama was often described as “Chicago’s favorite son,” or as “Illinois’ favorite son.” After his election, many in Chicago held out hope that their “favorite son” would thank them for their support by doing more to help the troubled city. 

A favorite son or daughter can also help put a location on the map, when it might otherwise be overlooked. That was the hope when Grace Meng, a member of the New York State legislature, decided to run for Congress. As WNYC said, a win for Meng would be also be a win for her whole community:

“Besides winning the straw poll for political Ms. Congeniality, Meng’s immigrant family and political do-it-yourself background has positioned her as the aspirational candidate in the race. She represents that classic New York political storyline of a rising community that, through the success of its favored daughter or son, can say it’s finally made it, even as questions linger about her readiness for a promotion to Congress.”

cattle call

cattle call

In politics, a public event at which a big group of political candidates all speak.

The term comes from the acting world, where a “cattle call” is a massive audition to fill a part in a movie or play. Merriam Webster notes that the term was first used in 1952.

The event serves as an audition for the part of presidential candidate. A cattle call allows all the candidates in a race to make their stump speech, to be heard, and to get the media exposure they so badly need. It’s also good practice for the advance team.

Typically, a cattle call takes place early in the election cycle, in a state with an early primary contest like New Hampshire or Iowa. Cattle calls are especially common in Iowa, where voters traditionally put a lot of value in being able to meet the candidates face to face. The events are usually organized by advocates of specific causes, or by political party organizations.

Tim Albrecht, a long-time GOP strategist in Iowa, explained the benefits of the cattle call this way: “You have a megaphone from the inside out. There’s no other place these candidates can go where they will see 200 media confined to one location. That’s potentially 200 stories they wouldn’t have otherwise gotten. With these kinds of events, it’s a very low bar to participate and to even be invited.”

In theory, a cattle call gives candidates the chance to distinguish themselves from their rivals and stand out from the crowd. In practice, this can be trickier than expected. When the field is crowded, candidates can start to blur into one another, at least in the mind of the audience. The Des Moines Register’s Kathie Obradovich, a veteran of many Iowa cattle calls, has grumbled that the events tend to be “mind numbing,” with hours of speeches and little opportunity to get to know the candidates.

In June 2019, 19 Democratic candidates took the stage in Iowa to speak to prospective voters. As Time Magazine reported, most of the audience seemed to have trouble telling the candidates apart. “When are we going to start seeing some real contrast?” an Iowa Democratic operative reportedly complained, adding, “Somebody’s gotta throw a punch.”

Cattle call is often used in a slightly negative way, implying that an event is not very serious. During the 2019 primary season, for example, The Washington Times ran an op-ed describing one of the Democratic debates as little more than a cattle call. The piece argued that not only was the stage crowded, but the candidates failed to stand out from each other:

“The goal in a real debate is to arrive at a conclusion which best solves a problem. This is what is so frustrating about these badly constructed cattle calls; either no one proposes a workable solution to a real problem or the problem is ignored altogether.”

It’s worth noting that years before “cattle call” had its current political meaning, it was a hit song recorded by Eddy Arnold, full of nostalgia for the cowboy’s way of life. And before that, of course, it was just a way of calling in the cows.

 

Checkers speech

The Checkers speech was a nationally-televised address made by Sen. Richard Nixon (R-CA) on September 23, 1952 as he was fighting to retain his spot on the national Republican ticket as the vice presidential nominee.

Nixon had been accused of improprieties relating to a fund established by his supporters to reimburse him for his political expenses. In an attempt to stem the controversy over the fund, Nixon spoke to about about 60 million Americans about his humble upbringing which led to an outpouring of public support for him. He was retained on the ticket by Dwight D. Eisenhower who won the election in November 1952.

During the speech, Nixon said that regardless of what anyone said, he intended to keep one gift: a black-and-white dog which was named Checkers by the Nixon children, thus giving the address its popular name.

The speech was an early example of a politician using television to appeal directly to the electorate, but has since sometimes been mocked or denigrated. “Checkers speech” has come more generally to mean any emotional speech by a politician.

politics ain’t beanbag

“Politics ain’t beanbag” Is an old-fashioned way of saying that politics can be rough. People express roughly the same idea when they call politics “hardball” or a “contact sport.”

The term originally comes from a 19th century novel by the writer Finley Peter Dunne. One of Dunne’s characters is an Irish American named  Mr. Dooley, who likes to sit in his favorite Chicago bar and talk about politics. The full quote from Mr. Dooley reads, ““Sure, politics ain’t bean-bag. ‘Tis a man’s game, an’ women, childer, cripples an’ prohybitionists’d do well to keep out iv it.”

The phrase is a little archaic, but it’s still used periodically, especially by political commentators who want to lend extra gravitas to their declarations. In 2014, for example, New York Post columnist Bob McManus wrote a piece discussing Andrew Cuomo’s re-election as the governor of New York. McManus wrote that Cuomo had used some dirty tactics to get elected but,

Big deal: Politics ain’t beanbag, as the Irish used to say, and Andrew Mark Cuomo woke up Wednesday morning sitting right where it matters most – in the catbird seat.

In 2018 the columnist Arlene Jones, writing in Austin Weekly News, used the phrase in a piece about Chicago politics. Jones described the plight of Ja’mal Green, a Chicago mayoral candidate who was having a tough time navigating the system. Jones concluded, ruefully,

“The coming weeks will reveal if Ja’mal makes it on the ballot or not. But knowing the way this city works, I’m not going to put too much money on it. Politics ain’t beanbag, and when you run, you need to learn how to play the game!”

Politicians use the expression too, of course. In 2013 Ted Cruz took to the Senate floor to denounce what he saw as a particularly nasty trick carried out by the Democrats. Cruz began by saying, “we all know the old saying that politics ain’t beanbag. But the nastiness with which the Democratic majority responded to Senator Vitter… was extraordinary.”

In 2012, when Mitt Romney was running for president, New York magazine poked fun at him for getting the famous phrase wrong, again and again. Romney repeatedly said that “politics ain’t bean bags” and once said that it ain’t “the bean bag.” Newt Gingrich, who also ran for president that year, tried to turn the expression back on Romney at one point.

What is bean bag, anyway? Today, the game is often referred to as a “bean bag toss” and is generally seen as a kids’ game; it’s the kind of game you might play in the back yard during a birthday party, for example. In some parts of the country, the game is referred to as “cornhole.”

The rules are very simple. Competitors hold small bags filled with dried beans (beanbags) and toss those bags into baskets, or into holes in a specially-made beanbag board. Whoever makes the most shots wins the game. It’s a gentle, friendly game – very much unlike presidential politics.

nattering nabobs of negativism

nattering nabobs of negativism

A phrase used by Vice President Spiro Agnew to refer to the members of the media with whom he had a very acrimonious relationship.

Said Agnew while speaking to the California Republican state convention on September 11, 1970: “In the United States today, we have more than our share of the nattering nabobs of negativism. They have formed their own 4-H Club — the ‘hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs of history.'”

While the phrase is generally attributed to Agnew, it was actually written by White House speechwriter William Safire.

As Will Bunch wrote:

The words that William Safire penned and that Spiro Agnew mouthed actually had enormous impact that has lasted until this day. They helped foster among conservatives and the folks that Nixon called ‘the silent majority‘ a growing mistrust of the mainstream media, a mistrust that grew over two generations into a form of hatred.

It also started a dangerous spiral of events — journalists started bending backwards to kowtow to their conservative critics, beginning in the time of Reagan, an ill-advised shift that did not win back a single reader or viewer on the right. Instead, it caused a lot of folks on the left and even the center to wonder why the national media had stopped doing its job, stopped questioning authority.

Another memorable Agnew line was calling anti-war protesters “effete snobs.”

military industrial complex

military industrial complex

The “military industrial complex” refers to the comfortable relationship between the military, the federal government and the defense contractors that produce weapons and equipment for war.

The term was immortalized by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in his farewell address to the nation on January 17, 1961. In the speech, Eisenhower cites the military-industrial complex as a warning to the American people not to let this dictate America’s actions at home or abroad.

Said Eisenhower: “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”

netroots

“Netroots” is grassroots political activism organized through blogs and other online social media.

The term was coined by Jerome Armstrong and is used in his 2006 book co-authored with Markos Moulitsas, Crashing the Gate: Netroots, Grassroots, and the Rise of People-Powered Politics, in which they note “the netroots activist, much like the new generation of grassroots activist, is fiercely partisan, fiercely multi-issue, and focused on building a broader movement. It’s not an ideological movement — there is actually very little, issue-wise, that unites most modern party activists except, perhaps opposition to the Iraq war.”

triangulation

The act of a political candidate presenting his or her views as being above and between the left and right sides of the political spectrum. It’s sometimes called the “third way.”

The term was first used by political consultant Dick Morris while working on the re-election campaign of President Bill Clinton in 1996. Morris urged Clinton to adopt a set of policies that were different from the traditional policies of the Democratic Party in order to co-opt the opposition.

Morris described triangulation in an interview on Frontline in 2000: “Take the best from each party’s agenda, and come to a solution somewhere above the positions of each party. So from the left, take the idea that we need day care and food supplements for people on welfare. From the right, take the idea that they have to work for a living, and that there are time limits. But discard the nonsense of the left, which is that there shouldn’t be work requirements; and the nonsense of the right, which is you should punish single mothers. Get rid of the garbage of each position, that the people didn’t believe in; take the best from each position; and move up to a third way. And that became a triangle, which was triangulation.”

Morris also offered a definition in his book Power Plays: “The idea behind triangulation is to work hard to solve the problems that motivate the other party’s voters, so as to defang them politically… The essence of triangulation is to use your party’s solutions to solve the other side’s problems. Use your tools to fix their car.”

gaffe

A “gaffe” is an unintentional comment that causes a politician embarrassment.

The term often refers to a politician inadvertently saying something publicly that they privately believe is true, but would ordinarily not say because it is politically damaging.

Michael Kinsley: “It used to be, there was truth and there was falsehood. Now there is spin and there are gaffes. Spin is often thought to be synonymous with falsehood or lying, but more accurately it is indifference to the truth. A politician engaged in spin is saying what he or she wishes were true, and sometimes, by coincidence, it is. Meanwhile, a gaffe, it has been said, is when a politician tells the truth — or more precisely, when he or she accidentally reveals something truthful about what is going on in his or her head. A gaffe is what happens when the spin breaks down.”

New York Observer: “In a world of YouTube, where everyone’s a video camera, publicized moments of misstatement and accusation presumably will only increase. But why do some public people in these cross hairs self-immolate while others endure and prevail? Maybe it’s because they ignore a few simple rules.”

inside baseball

The term “inside baseball” refers to any subject matter which is considered too highly specialized to be appreciated by the general public. In politics, inside baseball usually refers to the technical details and the finer points of political strategy, as opposed to big ideas and emotional appeals.

Inside baseball began, of course, as a term describing a particular way of playing baseball. In the 1890s, inside baseball meant relying on bunts, small hits, and stolen bases to win games, instead of trying for home runs and other dramatic plays. Today, that kind of approach is usually called “small ball.” Edward Hugh Hanlon, a turn of the century baseball player and manager, was considered the father of inside baseball.

Over time, the term took on a broader meaning. It came to be used often in political coverage, where it referred to the kinds of issues that only political junkies really care about. The details about how Congressional hearings are run, for example, could be classed as inside baseball. So could the specific rules at a campaign event. Any aspect of politics which is “wonky,” or “nerdy” can also be described as inside baseball.

The term is often used in a negative sense, to criticize an elitist or overly narrow focus. William Safire noted that by 1978, the Washington Post was poking fun at Senator Ted Kennedy for making “inside baseball” jokes in the middle of “boring hearings” in the Senate. Merriam Webster argues that the term is a few decades older than that and, in fact, dates back to at least 1952. In that year, an article in Boston Traveler wrote, “The evidence indicates the Eisenhower staff is going to have to learn their ‘inside baseball’ the hard way.”

William Safire also noted that politicians on the campaign trail often grumble about reporters who, in their view, focus too closely on the details: “In politics, candidates who say they want to discuss larger issues look down their noses at the journalists and think-tankers who bedevil them with questions about campaign techniques, fund-raising plans and poll results. To them, inside baseball has a pejorative connotation that the phrase never gained in the baseball world.” Similarly, journalists sometimes agonize over whether it’s worth reporting on the nitty-gritty of how Washington operates.

At the same time, some journalists argue that reporting on inside baseball is crucial, since it gives the public a window into how the government actually operates. Inside politics can mean the details of how fundraising and lobbying are carried out. It can also include reporting on the nitty-gritty of how bills get passed into law: pork barrel spending, earmarks, logrolling, and other backroom maneuvers can all be described as inside baseball.

In its more positive sense, inside baseball political reporting can mean covering third party politics in detail. It can also mean illuminating an area of politics which would normally be overlooked because it may not be of interest to the general public.

William Safire: “From its sports context comes its political or professional denotation: minutiae savored by the cognoscenti, delicious details, nuances discussed and dissected by aficionados. In politics, candidates who say they want to discuss larger issues look down their noses at the journalists and think-tankers who bedevil them with questions about campaign techniques, fund-raising plans and poll results. To them, inside baseball has a pejorative connotation that the phrase never gained in the baseball world.”

sacred cow

A “sacred cow” is any program, policy, or person that is regarded as being beyond attack or untouchable. The term references the status held by cows in Hindu culture, where the cow is regarded as a sacred animal.

For instance, in American politics, Social Security has been considered a sacred cow because it is so politically popular that most politicians would never support ending the program.

“Sacred Cow” was also the nickname of the first military aircraft used to transport a United States president.  According to the National Museum of the Air Force, President Franklin D. Roosevelt flew in the Sacred Cow to meet Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and General Secretary Joseph Stalin in the USSR for the Yalta Conference in February 1945.

psephology

Psephology is the scientific study and statistical analysis of elections and voting.

The term was coined in 1952 by Oxford Professor R. B. McCallum and is derived from the Greek word psephos, which means pebble, and references the pebbles used by the Ancient Greeks to cast their votes.

soft power

Soft power is the ability to obtain what one wants through co-option rather than the use of coercion.

The phrase was first coined by Joseph Nye of Harvard University in the late 1980s and is now widely used in international affairs.

From Nye’s book, Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics: “Soft power lies in the ability to attract and persuade. Whereas hard power — the ability to coerce — grows out of a country’s military or economic might, soft power arises from the attractiveness of a country’s culture, political ideals, and policies.”

advance man

The “advance man” is someone who makes arrangements and handles publicity for the candidate during a campaign. The advance man travels to a location ahead of the candidate’s arrival and sets everything up so that things run smoothly for the candidate’s media appearance, or for whatever event the candidate is participating in.

As Time reports, “There is no such thing as a spontaneous campaign appearance. Every candidate has his advance men, the harried unsung experts who go from town to town to make as sure as humanly possible that the crowds will be out, the schedule smooth, the publicity favorable.”

According to Merriam Webster, the phrase dates back to at least 1882.

An advance man can also be compared to a fixer. He, or she, plans every moment and every detail of the candidate’s day in order to make sure that the upcoming appearance is completely successful. It’s similar to a body man who handles a politician’s personal and logistical issues through the day.

This means figuring out where a rally will take place and organizing the local fundraisers. It also means deciding where the candidate will sleep at night, and how he’ll travel from place to place within the area. An effective advance man plans out even the tiniest details, like where exactly the candidate’s car will pull up to the event, and who will stand next to the candidate on stage.

In today’s media-saturated world, candidates are subjected to greater scrutiny than ever before. This means that the work of an advance man is more difficult than ever before.

Josh King, who served as an advance man under Bill Clinton, compared his job to that of a roadie or of a movie director. King told PopSugar that his job boiled down to making sure “that something that is designed to entertain and impress and inform comes off without a hitch.”

Marc Levitt served as advance man for Bernie Sanders in 2016; Levitt also worked as an advance man on the presidential campaigns of John Kerry and Barack Obama. Levitt said that he was astonished when he first saw what intense planning went into organizing John Kerry’s days.

He later said that an advance man does all of the behind-the-scenes work which people tend not to even notice. Levitt said, “at every place that a presidential candidate goes and every event that he appears at, I think there’s a perception that these things just happen magically. When, in fact, they are the most planned and coordinated aspect of the campaign.”

Most of the time, advance men stay out of the public eye — the very nature of their work means that they avoid the spotlight. When they do get media attention, it’s usually because something has gone wrong – or because they’re retiring. But an effective advance man cultivates a close relationship with the candidate and occupies a position of trust.

Donald Trump was known for sometimes “namechecking” his advance man, George Gigicos, from the stage. In 2016, for example, candidate Trump was speaking at a campaign event in Pensacola, Florida. Frustrated at the sound quality, Trump yelled, “The stupid mic keeps popping! Do you hear that, George? Don’t pay ’em! Don’t pay ’em!”

Gigicos also worked as an advance man for George W Bush and for the Mitt Romney campaign; he joined the Trump campaign in 2015 and was one of the longest-serving members of the team.

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden shakes hands as he arrives for a town hall meeting, Tuesday, June 11, 2019, in Ottumwa, Iowa. (AP Photo/Matthew Putney)

glad-hander

A glad hander is a highly extroverted person, who makes a point of acting friendly in an over-the-top way. In politics, especially, the term glad-hander connotes insincerity and opportunism.

Glad-handers are also referred to as back slappers. To “glad-hand” is also a verb.

Merriam Webster claims that the first known use of “glad-hand” was back in 1903. The phrase grew out of the older expression to “give the glad hand,” which meant to extend a warm welcome to a friend. The phrase has often been used in a cynical sense.

Some political scientists have argued that in fact, most politicians in modern history have been morose and depressive. The cheery, glad-handing exterior is nothing more than a façade, aimed to hide the sadness within. If anything, some analysts say, glad-handing could be one of the ways that narcissistic politicians seek an emotional boost in the form of public affirmation.

In 2020, the reality of COVID-19 and social distancing meant that politicians had to stop glad handing. In some cases, this turned out to be a challenge. In March 2020, Fox News noted that President Trump had glad-handed a whole rope line of his supporters, as they waited to see him speak at an event in Florida.

This wasn’t just a one-time event. The Times of Israel noted that, at least as of March, Trump was continuing to hold meetings with other heads of state:

President Donald Trump is flouting his own government’s advice on how to stay safe. He continues to shake hands with supporters and visitors, hold large events and minimize the threat posed by a coronavirus outbreak that has infected more than 115,000 people and killed over 4,000 worldwide.

The Times of Israel reported that the vice president, Mike Pence, had defended Trump for shaking hands and vowed that the glad-handing would go on.

“In our line of work, you shake hands when someone wants to shake your hand,” Pence said. “And I expect the president will continue to do that. I’ll continue to do it.”

The Washington Post reported that the Democratic presidential hopeful, Joe Biden, was also struggling to adapt to the new norms of social distancing:

Joe Biden is a personal kind of politician. He’s a glad-hander, a back-slapper, a shoulder-squeezer and a hair-nuzzler — sometimes to a fault. Yet with the presidential campaign essentially in suspended animation and all of us practicing social distancing (or at least we should all be), Biden can’t interact with voters the way he’d like. So what should he do?

The Post recommended that Biden should take a break from glad-handing and turn to making video announcements from his home – an appropriate measure in the age of social distancing. The Post suggested that Biden should set out his platform in a series of friendly, accessible video announcement.

cookie-cutter campaigns

A “cookie-cutter campaigns” are political campaigns run by political consultants who use virtually identical strategies in different jurisdictions. The typical sign of such campaigns are websites or direct mail advertisements that use identical layouts and stock photographs.

The increased number of cookie-cutter campaigns in recent years is due, in large part, to the rise of political consulting on the local level.

But they’re also due to consultants having found campaign tactics that work again and again.

Walter Shapiro: “There is another intriguing reason why campaign tactics in both parties are about as creative and innovative as those employed by the French general staff during World War II. No major candidate is willing to risk his or her political future on untried campaign plans built around embracing new media and playing down TV spots. With a Senate seat or a governorship at stake, the political herd instinct is as powerful as it is debilitating. So every campaign resembles every other campaign with cookie-cutter ads since the creative potential of 30-second spots was exhausted decades ago.”

Farley file

A Farley file is a log kept by politicians on people they have met previously.

It’s named for James Aloysius Farley, who was Franklin Roosevelt’s campaign manager and later became chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Farley kept a file on anyone Roosevelt met allowing him to “remember” key personal details such as the name of their spouse and children or anything useful which might have come out of earlier meetings.

Farley files are now commonly kept by politicians.

Mugwumps

In American politics, the term “mugwumps” was first used to describe those who left the Republican party in favor of the Democrats in 1884 to vote for Glover Cleveland instead of the GOP nominee James Blaine.

At a contentious 1884 Republican convention, Blaine beat out Chester Arthur for the nomination on the 4th ballot. But Blaine had his detractors and was perceived as financially corrupt by a significant number of Republicans, who would ultimately flee the Republican party and vote for his Democratic opponent, Grover Cleveland. There were enough defectors (estimated to be 60,000), particularly in New York State, to swing the election to Cleveland, who became the 22nd president.

In a sense, Mugwumps were the original independents, eschewing their party for the things they believed in strongly.

Mugwumps earned their colorful nickname when New York Sun’s editor Charles Anderson Dana first referred to them as such, citing their fence sitting posture: “Their mug sat on one side of the fence and their wump on the other.”

The nickname, however, actually had a dual meaning, as the term was originally derived from an Algonquian word that referred to a “war leader” or someone who considered himself “self-important.” Ironically, it was Blaine’s sense of self-importance that the mugwumps were rebelling against.

At the time, the Mugwump nickname was meant to be derogatory. From The Daily Kos: “The bolters were called man milliners, hermaphrodites, turncoats, amateurs, delusional public moralists. By claiming themselves above partisan interests, Mugwumps were seen as sanctimoniously arrogant.”

But the term was actually embraced by these independents who were proud to be “aloof from party politics.” Some of the most notable Mugwumps still have a firm place in American history, such as Carl Schurz , Henry Adams, Charles Eliot Norton and Henry Ward Beecher.  Two of the most notable Mugwumps were Mark Twain and Louis Brandeis.

These days, a general misunderstanding of what a Mugwump really was has led to more questionable uses of the word, including a 2017 Boris Johnson rhetorical attack on Jeremy Corbyn, when the British PM called Corbyn a “mutton-headed old mugwump.”

And the term has crossed over from politics to pop culture, finding a place in Harry Potter’s universe.

In 2016, the controversial candidacy of Donald Trump caused some, like political consultant and writer David Frum, to long for the days of the Mugwumps, where principles trumped party.

Indeed, a direct analog to the Mugwumps of 1884 can be found in the “Never Trumpers,” who all but left the Republican party under the 45th president in favor of any possible alternative. Such contemporary “mugwumps” include Jeff Flake, Bill Kristol and Rick Wilson.

Shermanesque statement

Shermanesque statement

A Shermanesque statement is a clear and direct statement by a potential political candidate indicating that he or she will not run for a particular office.

The term is derived from a remark made by Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman when he was being considered as a possible Republican candidate for president in 1884. Sherman declined, saying, “I will not accept if nominated and will not serve if elected.”

In modern times, President Lyndon Johnson famously declared he would not run for a second term in 1968 by saying, “I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your president.”

Likewise, Gen. David Petraeus made a similar pledge in 2010 saying, “I thought I’ve said ‘no’ as many ways as I could. I will not ever run for political office, I can assure you of that.”

RINO

Republican In Name Only (RINO) is a disparaging term that refers to a Republican candidate whose political views are seen as insufficiently conforming to the party line.

The phrase, without the RINO acronym, became first popularized during the Theodore Roosevelt presidency, as he was often labeled a “Republican in name only” by both critics and proponents, as his trust-busting policies were at odds with long-standing Republican Party ideologies.

By 1992, the acronym “RINO” had shown up in print, with an article in the New Hampshire Union Leader, written by John Distaso, being cited as the first instance of RINO in print.

“The Republicans were moving out and the Democrats and ‘RINOS’ (Republicans In Name Only) were moving in.”

The use of the term RINO arose as polarization increased in the political parties. Prior to the 1992 election of Bill Clinton, the Democratic and Republican parties had been in a long process of realignment where conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans were quite common. With the election of Bill Clinton, Republican ideological unity became increasingly fixed. This is exemplified by Grover Norquist’s Taxpayer Protection Pledge, which called upon signatories to reject and oppose all measures to increase tax rates. By 2012, nearly every Republican presidential candidate was a signatory to this pledge.

The increasing ideological unity of the Republican Party made holdovers from the previous political alignment look like outliers. Whereas historically liberal Republicans comprised a wing of the Republican Party, they had (by 1992, and especially by 2020) become incompatible with the Republican Party itself.

Therefore, in an age of party unity, the term RINO was often used as a political weapon. It could be used as a threat: vote how your party wants or be branded a RINO. It could also be used as an effective tool in a primary campaign: the incumbent is a RINO, vote for the challenger. Indeed, in the 2010 Congressional Elections, the Tea Party effectively used the term RINO as a way to “primary” Republican Incumbents whose policies were not conservative enough.

RINO is also related to the historical term “Rockefeller Republican” which referred to (traditionally) Northeast Republicans who championed business friendly practices while remaining relatively socially liberal. Named after Nelson Rockefeller who served as the Governor of New York before running unsuccessfully for the Republican Presidential nomination in 1960, 1964, and 1968. This term has largely died out as the Rockefeller family’s political successes have dwindled.

whisper campaign

A whisper campaign is a method of persuasion using rumors, innuendos or other sneaky tactics to create false impressions about a political candidate while not being detected spreading them. For example, a campaign might create use automated phone calls or anonymous flyers attacking the other candidate.

The speed and anonymity of communication made possible by modern technologies like the Internet has increased their ability to succeed.

While the manner in which you conduct a whisper campaign will depend on your ultimate goal, eHow lists a few general tips about how to get a whisper campaign underway.

Mama Grizzlies

“Mama Grizzlies” is a metaphor used by 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin for conservative women.

In speeches during the 2010 midterm election campaign, Palin challenged these “mama grizzlies” to rise up and “take this country back” and invoked her 2008 acceptance speech where she compared herself to a pit bull.

Said Palin: “You don’t want to mess with moms who are rising up. If you thought pit bulls were tough, you don’t want to mess with mama grizzlies.”

As Salon noted, “These mama bears are the same hockey moms Palin targeted in her vice presidential bid, only now they’re angry.”

full Ginsburg

The “full Ginsburg” refers to an appearance by one person on all five major Sunday-morning interview shows on the same day: This Week on ABC, Face the Nation on CBS, Meet the Press on NBC, State of the Union on CNN and Fox News Sunday.

The term is named for William Ginsburg, Monica Lewinsky’s lawyer during the Clinton scandal, who was the first person to accomplish this feat, on February 1, 1998.

patriot

A patriot is a person who loves, supports, and defends one’s country.

However, a patriot does not necessarily support their leader’s actions or a nation’s policies. For example, the colonists who rebelled against British control during the American Revolution also called themselves “patriots” when they declared the United States of America an independent nation on July 4, 1776.

Because of this history, the term also has a uniquely American meaning which is embedded in the reverence for the principles established in the Declaration of Independence.

killer amendment

The use of a “killer amendment” is a legislative strategy of using an amendment to severely change a bill’s intent for the purpose of killing a bill that would otherwise pass.

The member proposing the amendment would not vote in favor of the legislation when it came to the final vote, even if the amendment were accepted.

boll weevil Democrat

A Boll weevil Democrat was a conservative southern Democrat in the mid 1900s, largely known for his opposition to civil rights. They used the term because the boll weevil, a southern pest, could not be eliminated by pesticides – politicians therefore thought of them as a symbol of tenacity.

The term fell out of use in the 1980s, and conservative Democrats are now known as Blue Dogs.

Fourth Estate

The “Fourth Estate” refers to the news media, especially with regards to their role in the political process.

The phrase has its origins in the French Revolution, where the church, nobility and commoners comprised the first, second, and third estates. The media was first called the fourth estate in 1821 by an essayist who wanted to point out the press’ power. The term is now somewhat dated, but is used to stress journalists’ importance to politics.

well

The “well” of the U.S. House of Representatives is the area in front of the rostrum.

Members wishing to speak generally do so from the well, and Congressmen who are censured are required to stand in the well to hear the resolution condemning them. Generally, presidents who address Congress do so from the rostrum, but Franklin Roosevelt’s last speech to Congress was given from the well, in a rare acknowledgment of his disability.

The origins of the term are unknown, although the Oxford English Dictionary gives one definition of ‘well’ as “The space on the floor of a law court (between the judge’s bench and the last row of seats occupied by counsel) where the solicitors sit.” It is possible that, as legislatures used to serve judicial functions, the term was transferred to legislative bodies.

body man

A “body man” is an assistant who follows a political figure around the clock, providing logistical assistance for daily tasks ranging from paperwork to meals. This is different than the advance man who typically prepares solely for campaign events.

The term body man typically refers to the closest personal aide to a president or presidential candidate. This assistant stays with the official at all times save for sensitive meetings and personal moments. Body men work with political advisors, administrative staff, and family members to manage the president’s time. The president typically selects a body man from their campaign or previous office to ensure confidentiality.

Political observers have only used this term in public recently with the earliest published reference dating back to 1988. In The Boston Globe, Susan Trausch described the body man as someone who “makes sure the candidate’s tie is straight for the TV debate, keeps his mood up and makes sure he gets his favorite cereal for breakfast.”

Google Trends found a steady increase in searches related to this term since 2004. The trend line has grown from relative interest ratings of 35 in January 2004 to 85 in February 2020. Increased media coverage of presidential inner circles over time has boosted body man into the forefront of political terminology.

Duties for the president’s body man have evolved over time. Reggie Love, a body man for President Barack Obama, said that he was hired without a job description. Blake Gottesman helped President George W. Bush handle his dog, pay for meals during campaign stops, and manage autographs on rope lines. Love played basketball with Obama in addition to handling gifts, documents, and scheduling.

The post-presidential careers of past body men show why the position is so valuable to young politicos. Stephen Bull went from a role as President Richard Nixon’s body man to roles with the U.S. Olympic Committee and the Salvation Army. Tim McBride served as a body man for President George H.W. Bush before moving up the corporate ladder to a vice presidency with United Technologies Corp. Kris Engskov went from President Bill Clinton’s body man to a vice president of operations for Starbucks within a decade of service.

Public familiarity with the body man has been solidified by portrayals in popular TV shows. Characters like Gary Walsh in the HBO political comedy Veep and Charlie Young in the NBC drama The West Wing added dimensions to real-life descriptions of the role.

William Safire: “The informal job title is not be confused with the man with the briefcase, the ever-present carrier of the codes needed by the president to respond to a hostile missile launch. It is more specific and intimate than gofer, a term applied to any aide ready to ”go fer” coffee or do other menial tasks.”

Examples

CNBC (October 27, 2016): “Band had begun his career as Bill Clinton’s ‘body man’ – the young staffer who carried bags, took notes and navigated Clinton through the day.”

Politico (February 9, 2015): “Love was that oddity in politics: the ‘body man’ – part valet, part buddy, part whatever.”

The New York Times (July 19, 2008): “Mr. Engskov says the body man’s job was a study in diplomacy, politics and world affairs rolled into one: ‘It allowed you to see everything the president sees, without the responsibility.’”

czar

A “czar” is an unofficial title used to refer to high-ranking executive branch appointments.

Czars are usually given responsibility for a specific policy area and do not have to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. They usually have an official title, but are referred to as czars by the media: For example, the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy is simply known as the drug czar.

Bernard Baruch, appointed by Woodrow Wilson to head the War Industries Board in 1918, was the first to be called a czar. The usage of the term, only one year after the Russian Revolution, was originally derogatory, although it is less so today.

The term czar was used more frequently in reference to appointed executive branch officials under President Franklin D. Roosevelt during World War II. In 1942, the Washington Post reported on the “executive orders creating new czars to control various aspects of our wartime economy.”

Committee of the Whole

The Committee of the Whole is a procedural device used to expedite debates in the U.S. House of Representatives.

To use it, the House adjourns and enters into a committee, with all representatives being members – this procedure allows congressmen to debate legislation subject to the simpler committee rules, and is often used to dispense with funding bills quickly. Non-voting delegates can vote in the Committee of the Whole, although their votes cannot be the deciding ones.

The U.S. Senate used the Committee of the Whole as a parliamentary device until May 16, 1930, when the practice was abolished with respect to bills and joint resolutions. The Senate continued to utilize the Committee of the Whole for consideration of treaties until February 27, 1986.

fusion voting

fusion voting

Fusion voting allows a candidate’s name to appear on multiple parties’ ballot lines, and to combine his or her votes from those lines.

The practice was widespread in the 19th century, as Democrats benefited from fusion tickets with populist parties, but now remains legal in only eight states. In those states, minor parties will often agree to cross-endorse a major party’s candidate in exchange for influence on the candidate’s platform.

maiden speech

The “maiden speech” is the first speech a legislator gives.

A maiden speech is often a non-controversial tribute to the politician’s state or district, and often pays tribute to his or her predecessor. Especially in the Senate, which prides itself on being the “world’s greatest deliberative body,” senators are expected to wait to deliver their maiden speech until they are familiar with the rules of the body.

While most maiden speeches are relatively uncontroversial, that’s not always the case. One of the most famous was Richard Nixon’s first speech to the House of Representatives, where he praised the communist-hunting efforts of the House Un-American Activities Committee.

petitioning

Petitioning is a phase in a campaign where organizers collect signatures to put a candidate’s name on the ballot.

How many signatures are needed depends on the jurisdiction and the office sought; some states allow candidates to pay a fee instead of submitting signatures. In areas with popular initiatives, signatures are needed to put a measure on a ballot.

sergeant-at-arms

The U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate each have a sergeant-at-arms, whose job it is to maintain order in the legislative chamber.

In the Senate, the sergeant-at-arms can also be instructed to request the presence of senators if not enough senators are present to meet a quorum.  If the motion to instruct the sergeant-at-arms does not bring in enough senators, the sergeant-at-arms can be instructed to write arrest warrants for all absent senators and is then required to hunt them down and bring them to the floor.

vote-a-rama

U.S. Senate rules include a special section for consideration of the annual Budget resolution. The Budget is not subject to filibuster, but all amendments must be germane and are voted on consecutively without real debate.

During a vote-a-rama, each amendment is considered and voted on for about 10 minutes until they are finished with all amendments. It’s an exhausting process that many senators have said makes it impossible to know what is actually being considered.

Keith Hennessey: “The vote-a-rama is an unusual cultural institution within the Senate. All 100 Senators are on the floor, in the cloakrooms, or right outside the Senate Chamber for hours and hours upon end. Another 100-ish staff are packed onto tiny staff benches in the rear of the Chamber, one for Republican staff and another for Democratic staff. Everyone is usually exhausted during the vote-a-rama, which comes near the end of an arduous and usually conflict-ridden legislative battle.”