Early Returns

Presidential Spin Only Gets You So Far

Jonathan Bernstein's morning links.

From the Department of Things Not to Worry Very Much About: I've seen some chatter about the coverage of the House's passage of the health-care bill, noting that the White House -- by staging a victory rally for a bill that still has very uncertain prospects -- was able to get some excellent coverage about Donald Trump, victorious. The implication is that this is something to worry about; like or hate Trump, should he be able to so easily manipulate what the public sees?

Eh. I've heard this complaint about every president since at least Ronald Reagan, and so far it's always been totally overblown. Reagan himself was quite unpopular when events turned against him, whether it was the deep recession early in his presidency or the Iran-Contra scandal in his second term. Liberals were angry with the news media for supposedly allowing George W. Bush to control the images in their broadcasts early in the Iraq War, but Bush rapidly became unpopular when things went bad. Conservatives thought the media failed to vet Barack Obama and refused to criticize him, but Obama too became unpopular when events moved against him. 

That's not to say that presidents can never gain temporary advantage through careful manipulation of the media, but overall the effects are, at best, smaller and more short-lived than those who worry about this stuff suppose. During the Trump transition, there were also worries that staged events such as Trump's intervention in the Carrier case could keep him popular; that's obviously not been the case. 

As I've said before: Politicians, including presidents, might as well do the best they can to spin themselves and their programs. Presidents have large staffs of speechwriters, media aides and communications specialists, and it can't hurt to use them, and it probably does help them a little. But overall? Events beat spin, every time.  

1. Erika Franklin Fowler, Laura M. Baum, Courtney H. Laermer and Sarah E. Gollust at the Monkey Cage on public opinion and health-care reform

2. Greg Koger at Brookings on Donald Trump and the Senate: The easy part is already over. 

3. Ignacio Arana Araya at the Monkey Cage on what advice (foreign) former presidents have about decision making.

4. Josh Putnam on moving the California presidential primary to March.

5. David Wasserman at Cook Political Report on the 20 (!) districts they've moved in the direction of the Democrats after the health-care vote and other developments. 

6. Sarah Kliff on Medicaid under the House-passed health-care-reform bill. 

7. Stef Kight at Axios on how Trump's people talk about him as if he's a child. Or possibly, perhaps, a very stupid adult. It really is remarkable. 

8. And Saturday was Election Day here in San Antonio, so time for my usual voting statistics item. This was the very first election we've had since November, so the first of the year and first of the two- and four-year cycles. I voted for mayor, city council, and six city bond measures and one community college district bond measure. That's nine votes so far, with two more on the way since the two candidate races will need a runoff in June to settle them. I don't know the answer, but I do wonder how long it takes folks in France to reach nine votes. Yes, we in the U.S. make it too hard on voters. 

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