Just the facts, folks.

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Candidates Can Lie. Reporters Can't.

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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Why do candidates pretend they haven’t decided whether to run for president when they clearly are running?

Patrick O’Connor in the Wall Street Journal has an excellent short list of the tactical, strategic and legal reasons for delaying a formal declaration, ranging from efforts to create drama to catch the media's interest to the regulatory rigmarole that official candidates must submit to.

One reason he omits is that delaying a formal announcement may allow those who are defeated early to save face. For example, Ohio Republican Rob Portman began gathering support in this cycle only to find he didn’t have much. Because he hadn’t made it official yet, this “loss” is unlikely to be remembered. 

What O’Connor doesn’t add is that the rest of us have no reason to join in the pretense. Take, for example, today’s Washington Post headline: “As Scott Walker mulls White House bid, questions linger over college exit.” Walker isn’t mulling over a bid; he’s running! He’s hiring staff, attending candidate forums, and meeting with important donors and other Republican Party heavyweights. He’s doing everything a candidate would be doing at this point.

That goes for Hillary Clinton. It goes for Marco Rubio and Rand Paul and Mike Huckabee and for anyone doing the things presidential candidates do. Sure, there are harder calls (Mike Pence of Indiana has taken some steps, but he’s well behind many others). As always, I follow Josh Putnam on this: The key is to ask whether they’re currently running for 2016, rather than to guess whether they will be running in 2016.

Candidates have all sorts of reasons for ducking the truth. Reporters and pundits and headline writers don't. 

  1. That is, he didn’t find enough support to make the risk worth taking. Had Portman stayed in the presidential race much longer he might have severely damaged his chances of remaining in the Senate because he's up for re-election in 2016.

  2. The article itself was fine, although it did have the disturbing report that Walker and his friends got together every week during college to watch “Thirtysomething.” Yikes!

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To contact the author on this story:
Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Katy Roberts at kroberts29@bloomberg.net