Author Archives: Matthew Dickinson

Hillary’s Emails: The Return of a Vast Right-wing Conspiracy?

We probably should have seen this coming. As Hillary Clinton’s email troubles continue to dominate her news coverage, her faithful husband Bill, aka The Big Dawg, has jumped into the fray to fight back against what he believes is unfair media coverage. In this interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria this past weekend, Clinton resurrected the specter of the “vast right conspiracy” as an explanation for the media’s fixation on his wife’s emails. In so doing, however, it’s not clear whether the Big Dawg has really helped his wife, or instead has reopened old wounds dating back to Clinton’s struggles with the press during his own run for the presidency. Here’s the interview with Zakaria. As you can see at the start of it, when Zakaria asks Clinton, whom Zakaria suggests is “the most skilled student of politics” in the U.S., about the roots of Hillary’s current struggles, Clinton references an incident dating back to his own run for president in 1991. Roll the tape:

As it turns out, that unnamed member of the George H. W. Bush White House that Clinton references at the start of his interview with Zakaria is Roger Porter, Bush’s chief domestic adviser. We know this because Clinton told this story in much greater detail in his lengthy (almost 1,000 page!) 2004 memoir My Life (and on several other occasions). As Clinton recounts the story, he received a phone call from Porter in 1991, at a time when Clinton had not yet committed to a presidential run. Porter, according to Clinton, called to see whether the Arkansas Governor had made up his mind whether to throw his hat in the presidential ring. After a few minutes of conversation during which Clinton discussed issues that concerned him, Porter reportedly interjected, “Cut the crap, Governor.” A startled Clinton then listened as Porter told him that because Clinton was viewed by the Bush White House as the strongest potential Democratic candidate, “they would have to destroy me personally.” As Clinton remembers, Porter lectured him, saying “Here’s how Washington works…The press has to have somebody in every election, and we’re going to give them you.” Porter went on to describe the press as “elitists” who could be easily duped into believing tales “about backwater Arkansas.” Porter concluded ominously, “We’ll spend whatever we have to spend to get whoever we have to get to say whatever they have to say to take you out. And we’ll do it early.”

In his memoirs, Clinton says that Porter’s threats actually made him more likely to run. But he also makes it clear that he believes Republicans made good on Porter’s promise, aided by a willing press corps. “In the campaign and for eight years afterward,” Clinton writes, “the Republicans would make good on theirs [threats] and as Roger Porter had predicted, they got lots of help from some members of the press.” As Clinton suggested to Zakaria – the Whitewater real estate scandal, which led to the appointment of the independent prosecutor, which led to Monica Lewinsky and impeachment – all of it can be traced back to Porter’s phone call.

Not surprisingly, Clinton’s story raised more than a few eyebrows when it was published back in 2004. Porter instantly denied it. Here’s an account of their back-and-forth, as published in the Harvard Crimson, Harvard’s student newspaper.  For what it is worth, Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward investigated this story years ago when he was writing The Agenda, his account of the first years of the Clinton presidency. Contacted on Monday by Washington Post reporter Karen Tumulty, Woodward called Clinton’s tale “preposterous.”

But the Big Dawg is standing by his story. And, if he is to be believed, the current media focus on Hillary’s emails is simply a reprise of the Republican-driven smear tactics used against him during his presidential campaign and while in the White House. Not surprisingly, after Zakaria’s interview aired Porter was contacted yesterday and once again he denied Clinton’s account, reminding the reporter that Clinton’s “association with the truth is often a really tenuous one.” He also joked that if the Bush administration was going to send a message of this type to Clinton, they wouldn’t have sent the famously low-key Porter to do the job.

Obviously, either Clinton or Porter is “misremembering” what happened, although both claim this is not the type of conversation either would forget. I have no independent evidence to add that might help choose between the contradictory stories. But I will say that I co-taught the American Presidency course at Harvard with Porter for many years, and I find it completely unbelievable that Porter would ever say the word “crap” even if he was sitting in a pile of it. It’s not in his vocabulary. Indeed, I find it extremely hard to believe that Porter, a famously buttoned-down, “mild mannered” person (as Tumulty describes him), would be the one chosen by the Bush White House to send a message threatening to break Clinton’s knee caps. It seems entirely out of character for the man I knew from sharing a classroom with for so many years. You might as well tell me Mother Theresa beat her dog and cheated at church bingo.

On the other hand, the man accusing Porter of making the threats also is famous for declaring…..well, see for yourself.


Of course, that adamant denial was followed by this:

Is this proof that the Big Dawg is lying about what Porter told him? No, but I can tell you which person’s version I’m more willing to believe!

The bigger issue, however, is not which man is telling the truth about an event that purportedly happened in 1991. It’s whether Clinton’s decision to resurrect this controversial story from his own campaign, and with it the specter of the infamous “vast right wing conspiracy” touted by his wife during the Big Dawg’s Lewinsky scandal, is really the best strategy for helping her campaign. It’s true that the email story has probably made Hillary seem less trustworthy to many potential voters. But as I’ve noted in a previous post, the whole trustworthy issue is being overplayed; history suggests it’s not likely to have much of an impact on her electoral support. Still, this doesn’t mean it makes sense to resurrect a story that is certain to feed into the media frame that the Clintons’ always have something to hide.

This is not the first time that Bill’s effort to protect his wife may have backfired. In the 2008 Democratic nomination fight, he infamously attacked press coverage of Barack Obama as a giant “fairy tale” and later, heading into the South Carolina primary, noted that Jesse Jackson had won that state’s primary twice, which many critics interpreted as a thinly-veiled insinuation that Obama would do well there because of his race.  At this point it’s too early to know if Clinton’s latest remarks will trigger a similar negative fallout.  It will be interesting to see if some of Sanders’ surrogates pick up on the story and how much media play it gets.  Certainly Hillary was very careful, when asked on Sunday’s Meet the Press about the Big Dawg’s comments, not to blame her email woes on the press or the opposition party.

Zakaria may be right that Bill Clinton is the most skilled student of politics in America. But somehow I can’t help but notice that those skills often seemed far more useful in furthering his own political career than they have in helping his wife’s.

When It Comes To Trump, It’s The Media, Stupid

It is telling, I think, that although Hillary Clinton continues to have a substantial lead over her Democratic rivals in national polls, media pundits are openly wondering whether her recent drop in those polls suggests, as one critic it, “It might be time to start panicking.” In the latest Huffington Post aggregate polling average, Clinton receives about 44% support, which leads her nearest rival Bernie Sanders by 18%. Meanwhile, although Donald Trump does slightly worse, comparatively speaking, in the Republican national nominating aggregate poll than Clinton does in the Democratic race – he is at about 33% in national polling averages, also 18% ahead of his closest rival Ben Carson – no one seems to be suggesting that he start panicking. Instead, the talk remains about how he continues to defy expectations.  Yes, I understand the news coverage is driven as much or more by perceived polling trends as it is by absolute levels of support and polling margins. But if we do focus on trends, isn’t it also worth noting that Bernie Sanders’ national polling support has basically flattened out during the month of September? Clinton does not seem to be losing support to him of late as much as she is to the “undecided” category and to Vice President Joe Biden, who is undergoing his own “discovery” phase right now despite not formally committing to running. More generally, relative to their contenders, would one rather be in Hillary’s polling position right now, or The Donald’s?

Poll results this early, of course, are not very indicative of who is likely to win the nomination, as I’ve pointed out elsewhere. And state polling is probably a more useful measure of candidate viability than are national polls in any case. Nonetheless, if the media persists in reporting on national polls, they might try harder to put these numbers in a more realistic context. Of course, this has been a problem with the media’s coverage of Trump more generally, a point that David Uberti makes in a very nice piece he wrote for today’s Columbia Journalism Review. While acknowledging that the media’s disproportionate focus on Trump is partly responsible for his staying power atop the polls, Uberti points out that Trump’s ability to drive media coverage through his recurring rhetorical firebombs and personality-driven campaign tactics makes it harder for journalists to cover him as they might a more traditional candidate. As he writes, “When the press does attempt to hold Trump accountable, he parries and pivots to highlight his strengths, however abstract.” This is not to say that Trump hasn’t received his fair share of negative media coverage. As this graph by John Sides indicates, the proportion of negative news coverage, at least through August, is greater for Trump than for the other Republican candidates.

But much of that negative coverage has focused on his personal attacks on other candidates and his outlandish pronouncements which don’t seem to matter nearly as much to potential voters as they do to journalists. And it has been counterbalanced by the media’s usual focus on the horserace numbers, which right now show The Donald trumping the Republican field. It is no wonder that as Trump’s polling numbers went up we’ve seen a steady climb in his favorable ratings over the last two months as well, despite the negative news coverage.

It is tempting, of course, to argue that rather than the outsized media coverage, Trump’s support is instead driven by unprecedented voter anger at the political establishment. But to quote one wise media pundit, “I have two words for that theory: absolutely ridiculous.” The fact is that anti-incumbent fervor has been running particularly strong  for at least the last three election cycles, if not longer.  And in terms of right track/wrong track measures, polls indicate voters were more bearish on the country’s future four years ago than they are today.

Similarly, trust in government was also lower four years ago. In short, this doesn’t look like an unusually angry group of voters, at least not by recent standards.  Of course, even if overall levels of voter anger aren’t any higher, much of it might be disproportionately fueling The Donald’s campaign.  But, as John Sides points out, it is hard to see why this would explain changing levels of support for Trump.

If, as I believe, Trump is largely a media-enabled political phenomenon, how might journalists adjust their coverage to balance their very understandable desire to cover “newsworthy topics” (read: ratings generators) with a more accurate and useful assessment of his candidacy? One way is to put polling results in a better historical context, a point I made to Uberti.  A second way, as I suggested in this earlier post and again in Uberti’s article is to press Trump to go beyond broad policy pronouncements (“I will build a yyuuge wall”) to focus on specifics – how does he intend to remove 11 million undocumented immigrants? A third way, as Greg Sargent points out in his Morning Plumline post today, is for journalists to spend more time focusing on the structural impediments built into the political system that have made it so difficult for previous presidents to work with Congress in areas like government spending, immigration and entitlement reform. How does Trump propose to overcome the partisan polarization and gridlock that characterizes Congress today? Does he understand the very real limits on presidential power – limits that have stymied previous presidents who took office promising to change the Washington, D.C. political culture? In short, why should we believe he would be any more effective than previous presidents in getting things done? It’s not difficult to do this. For example, instead of asking The Donald about why he didn’t correct a questioner at a Trump rally who believes Obama is a Muslim, why not ask him what he will do differently from presidents Bush and Obama to get immigration reform legislation passed?

It is easy for pundits to characterize most Republican voters as a bunch of  angry, gun-toting, bible-thumping xenophobic no-nothings. The truth is, however, that for all the media coverage of Trump’s standing atop the polls, about 70% of Republicans haven’t bought into his candidacy. Frankly, this does not surprise me.  When I watch Republican campaign events and listen to the questions voters ask candidates, and when I talk to them later, most are genuinely interested in the details of what those candidates have to say, whether it is solving the immigration problem or creating jobs or dealing with ISIS, than they are about the Donald’s pronouncements regarding Carly Fiorina’s looks. Yes, voters are angry, although perhaps no more so this election cycle than in previous years, and yes, some of that anger may have led them to take a longer initial look at Trump (and other nonpoliticians) than he might otherwise have received. But the simple truth is that by focusing on what Uberti aptly describes as “Trump’s blowhard improvisation”, and failing to place polls in their historical context, the media has both contributed to his polling support and made it far easier for Trump to avoid answering the difficult questions regarding the specifics of his policy beliefs, and how he proposes to implement them. This does a disservice to voters and, I think, to Trump himself. If journalists are content to generate media ratings by focusing on the more circus-like aspects of Trump’s improbable candidacy, he has very little incentive to change his game plan. And we are all the worse off because of it.

Bush Lied, Obama Is A Muslim and Brady Cheated: Why Myths Endure

I received more than a few cranky emails from readers upset with my previous post pointing out how political science research helps explain Ted Well’s “prosecutorial mentality” that predisposed him to find guilt when sifting through the evidence regarding whether Tom Brady knew about, and condoned, deflating footballs below legal limits. As most of you know, a federal judge threw the NFL’s case out for a series of prosecutorial violations while casting doubt on most of the Wells Report’s conclusions. Several of you, however, have argued that Brady’s case was tossed on “legal technicalities”, and nothing the judge says proves the substantive allegations against Brady were wrong.

We should not be surprised that Brady’s accusers are not being swayed by the judge’s report. In a series of studies, political scientists have shown that strongly-committed partisans, when faced with evidence contradicting their most fervent beliefs, rarely change their minds. Indeed, they often double down on those beliefs, as was the case for the significant number of people who believe Obama is not a U.S. citizen, or is a Muslim, or that Bush deliberately lied to get us into the Iraq war. When showed apparently convincing evidence disproving these claims, many people remain committed to their original beliefs. As Brendan Nyhan, who has done extensive research on this phenomenon, concludes in comments regarding Obama-as-Muslim myth, “If people don’t want to accept the evidence, it’s more likely to provoke rather than correct. It’s really very hard to correct these things.”

I found out how correct Nyhan is when I tried to reason with Joe Sixpack, a fervent Colts fan and diehard believer that the evidence shows Brady is guilty as sin. Here’s a transcript of our conversation, sanitized for public consumption.

Joe Sixpack: “I’m sick of hearing you Brady-fanboys defending a cheater based on the judge’s decision. The truth is he said nothing in his ruling regarding the fact that 11 of the 12 Patriot footballs measured at halftime of the AFC game against the Colts came in at 2 P.S.I. below the league’s mandated minimum ball pressure. All the judge did was scold the league for mishandling the investigation. How do you explain the deflated footballs? They didn’t lose air by themselves!”

Me: “You must be referring to Chris Mortensen’s initial report last January for ESPN, three days after the AFC championship game, based on unnamed sources, that the Patriots’ footballs were severely underinflated by more than 2 P.S.I., while none of the Colts’ balls were. In fact, as Mortensen somewhat belatedly (and defensively) admitted, the numbers he quoted are incorrect.  As reported in the NFL-sponsored Wells Report, which came out in May, the referees used two different gauges to measure the footballs’ air pressure at halftime of the championship game.  Based on one gauge, none of the Patriots’ footballs were more than 1.6 PSI below the minimum. One was at exactly 1.6 pounds below, while six were between 1.0 and 1.5 pounds under the minimum, and three others were between 0.5 and 1.0 pounds under the minimum. One was only 0.2 P..S.I. below the minimum. The second gauge gave slightly different readings, with one Patriot football exactly 2 P.S.I. under league minimum standards, and the rest from 1.65 to .65 P.S.I. below the legal limit. Mortensen simply got the story wrong. However, for reasons that are unknown, the NFL didn’t bother to correct the Mortensen’s report during the more than three months between the initial inaccurate report and the subsequent release of the correct numbers. During that time, the myth that 11 of 12 Patriots footballs were 2 P.S.I. below league standards took hold.”

Joe Sixpack: “Whatever. You are simply evading the most important point by trying to confuse me with numbers. No matter the final readings, the fact is that most of the Patriots’ footballs, as measured by league referees at halftime, were below the league minimum, while the Colts’ balls were not. That’s clear proof that someone deflated those balls.”

Me: “Actually it’s anything but. To begin, we don’t know what the starting inflation levels of those footballs were, since the referees did not actual record the initial pressure readings. Given that the league had been tipped off by the Colts that the Patriots were allegedly underinflating balls, this oversight is hard to understand, and it has helped fuel the internet rumors that this was all a league-sanctioned sting, but that’s another matter. Let us, for the sake of argument, take the word of the league officials that all the Patriots’ balls measured at 12.5 P.S.I. before the game, at the low end of the legal limit and that the Colts’ balls measured about 13 P.S.I. The Wells Report concluded that when measured at halftime, the air pressure in Patriots balls had declined significantly more than had the pressure in the Colts’ footballs. But as a subsequent independent analysis showed, the Well’s statistical team made a significant mistake – they did not adjust their analysis to take into account the warming that took place while the footballs were sitting in the locker room waiting to be tested. In fact, a read of the final numbers is perfectly consistent with what one would expect with balls taken from a cold environment into a warmer one – the longer the balls are in the warmer climate before being tested, the less air pressure they seemed to lose relative to the original readings. Once you take this into account, and note that the Colts’ balls were tested after the Patriots’, and after sitting in the warm room for 15 minutes or more, there is no statistical difference in the decline of the air pressure of the Colts’ and Patriots’ balls.”

Joe Sixpack: “Wait. Are you trying to say there’s no evidence that any of the Patriots’ balls were manually deflated after the referees’ initial measurements?”

Me: “That’s exactly what the data suggests. Even the Wells’ investigators acknowledge, in their report, ‘[o]ur scientific consultants informed us that the data alone did not provide a basis for them to determine with absolute certainty whether there was or was not tampering, as the analysis of such data is ultimately dependent upon assumptions and information that is uncertain.’   As it turns out, they made one important incorrect assumption.”

Joe Sixpack (long pause): “Well then what about all the text messages in which Brady is telling the ball attendants to remove air pressure? Why would he send those?”

Me: “The Wells Report found no such messages. It does describe an exchange between the equipment attendants recounting Brady’s unhappiness after a Jets game in October, 2014, when balls were found to be overinflated to 16 P.S.I., which is above the league maximum. Another exchange between the two (not from Brady) from before the season started, has one of the attendants describing himself as “the deflator” although it is not clear from the context to what this refers. But, as Judge Berman took pains to point out in his ruling, there is no direct evidence linking Brady to any scheme to deflate footballs.  This is particularly true when it comes to text messages – there is no smoking email.”

Joe Sixpack: “Well, of course there’s not. Brady refused the league’s request to hand over his cellphone. Instead he destroyed it! Why do that if he’s innocent?”

Me: “Contrary to popular perception, the league never requested Brady’s actual cellphone, and they never said they would punish him for not turning over email texts. Again, don’t take my word for it. Here are Wells’ direct words as quoted in the Judge’s ruling: “I want to be clear– I did not tell Mr. Brady at any time that he would be subject to punishment for not giving– not turning over the documents [emails and texts]. I did not say anything like that.” On the advice of the player’s association legal counsel Brady did initially refuse to turn over his private emails, in part because the Wells investigators already had access to the phone records of the two attendants at the heart of the investigation, including their exchanges with Brady. However, when league officials subsequently told him he would be accused of not cooperating with the league, Brady agreed to turn over the numbers of all the people he contacted on his cell phone for the period under investigation. Most people missed this point, because it’s hidden in a footnote in the Wells Report. See footnote 11 on page 12 which states: “After the hearing and after the submission of post-hearing briefs, Mr. Brady’s certified agents offered to provide a spreadsheet that would identify all of the individuals with whom Mr. Brady had exchanged text messages during [the relevant time] period; the agents suggested that the League could contact those individuals and request production of any relevant text messages that they retained… .” So, Brady’s text messages were made available to the NFL, if the league had wanted to pursue the matter.

Joe Sixpack: “I don’t get it. If what you say is true, then why do polls show that most people believe Brady is guilty? They can’t all be wrong!”

Me: “This is where the political science comes in! Most people first heard of “Deflategate” through the initial erroneous reports by Mortensen, and others, which were recirculated in high-profile discussions by supposed experts like ex-quarterback Mark Brunell and football beat writers who peddled the idea that Brady was guilty. The same process occurred with the first stories about Brady’s destroyed cell phone – initial news reports simply said he destroyed the phone before going to a hearing with Goodell, without providing any context to that decision. Given the Patriots’ previous track record – see Spygate – and the fact that they have spent a decade beating up on most fans’ favorite team, much of the public was already predisposed to want to believe the team’s success owed something to cheating. The initial reports by ‘experts’, erroneous as they were, gave them ample reason to believe there was solid evidence supporting what they already wanted to believe. Alas, as research by Nyhan and others show, strong partisans who are predisposed to hate the Patriots are not going to let contravening evidence change strongly–held beliefs. Instead, they are more likely to dig in their heels and cling to their beliefs, evidence to the contrary notwithstanding. Brady cheated. Obama is a Muslim. Bush deliberately lied to get us into the Iraq war. Once these ideas take hold, they are almost impossible to eradicate, no matter how convincing the counterevidence.”

Joe Sixpack: (Silence.)

Me: “The bottom line is that based on the evidence presented in the NFL’s own Wells’ report, any reasonable person would conclude that there is no direct proof linking Tom Brady to any scheme to deflate footballs below the legal limit. It’s no wonder that an independent judge, when reviewing the NFL’s case, dismissed Brady’s suspension while going as far as the law allowed in an arbitration case in saying that the evidence didn’t support the NFL’s charges. In short, I don’t believe any person who looks at the evidence objectively can believe it shows that Brady is guilty of deflating footballs, in no small part because there’s no evidence the footballs were ever purposively deflated.”

Joe Sixpack (after long, long, long silence): “The Patriots are known cheaters. Their coach Bill ‘Belicheat’ has been caught before – remember Spygate? Brady is a liar. He deliberately ordered those balls deflated. And you are a (expletive deleted) know-nothing (expletive deleted) Brady fan-boy from (expletive deleted) New England who wouldn’t recognize the truth if it hit you square in your ugly (expletive delated) face.”

Me (after audible sigh):  “Ok. Maybe we should discuss polling data?  Did you know Hillary’s untrustworthy ratings probably won’t matter this election?”

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Tales From the Campaign Trail: Kasich In New Hampshire

Today is the first of what I hope to be a regularly recurring feature on this site during the current election cycle: a post recounting a visit to a campaign event put on by one of the major presidential candidates. On Wednesday* I attended Ohio Governor John Kasich’s visit to West Lebanon, a small (population about 3,500) community in western NH situated along the Connecticut River. Despite a relatively late start in the race, Kasich has emerged as one of the stronger candidates, aided by what was generally perceived as a strong performance in the first Republican debate. Although he’s only at 3.4% in aggregate polls, which puts him in the lower middle of the Republican pack, he’s gaining ground in the crucial state of New Hampshire where he has emerged as Jeb Bush’s primary competition as the Donald Trump alternative.

Kasich’s rise in the New Hampshire polls made Tuesday’s event of particular interest to me. We arrived at the Kilton Public Library to find a standing-room-only crowd which I estimated at about 200 people. The audience seemed mostly middle-aged and up, with a few wearing shirts emblazoned with Kasich campaign slogan and logo, and there was a bit of a buzz of anticipation. After a short pep-rally style introduction by a local official, Kasich entered to polite applause. He was dressed casually, which fit well with his overall demeanor (see blurry photo below – blame new smart phone).


As one might expect with a candidate who is still not particularly well known, Kasich spent the first part of his relatively brief campaign spiel (he talked for maybe 15 minutes before taking questions) recounting his biography, starting with his working-class roots in Pennsylvania, and working his way through his political career beginning as a state Senator in Ohio, then his years in Congress, and finally his election as Ohio Governor in 2010. The narrative was spiced with some humorous asides, including a tale of Kasich’s meeting with President Richard Nixon. While it is common for presidential candidates to tout their humble roots, the implicit comparison between Kasich’s origins and those of his main New Hampshire rival Jeb! Bush was likely not lost on most audience members.

Kasich is viewed as a relative moderate among Republicans, a perception that is supported when looking at his primary fundraising sources – a metric that places him close to Bush, Christie and Pataki on the ideological spectrum. That moderation came across in Tuesday’s event when he began discussing, in broad strokes, the themes that animate his campaign. If I had to summarize Kasich’s approach in one word, it would be “balance.” Although clearly pushing conservative ideas, he repeatedly stressed the need to work across the political aisle and to compromise on issues, taking time to tout his own record of budget surpluses and compromise in Congress. In this vein he told an anecdote about his golfing foursome with President Obama, Vice President Biden and Speaker of the House John Boehner, after which – according to Kasich – he took each of them aside and asked if they understood what a privilege it was to be in the positions they occupied. Kasich suggested that, at least for a brief period, that type of “we are in this together” thinking came close to leading to a budget breakthrough. (Left unsaid, of course, was the fact that it did NOT produce a breakthrough!)

Kasich repeated this theme in the question-and-answer session that took up most of the event’s time. Perhaps the only discordant note came early in the Q&A when an audience member pressed him somewhat aggressively on Kasich’s previous statements questioning the science underlying theories of climate change. Kasich conceded that some climate change reflected human activity, but he suggested that efforts to combat that change should not come at the expense of economic growth and he stressed the need to keep an open mind. He then used his answer to segue into a discussion about the need to diversify the nation’s power sources, emphasizing both renewable fuels but also nuclear and coal. For the most part, however, the tone of the questions was polite and they ran the gamut from Kasich’s view on fighting ISIS to the Iran nuclear deal to trade policy to restoring economic growth to repealing Obamacare. Kasich did not shy away from giving direct responses to each question although his answers were generally couched in broad strokes rather than specific detail.

Looking at my notes, here is what I recall about his responses, subject to correction by anyone who was there. Although he opposed the Iran nuclear deal, he indicated that as president he would not move to reimpose sanctions unless Iran violated the agreement. He would move toward a greater deregulation of the economy in order to entice more business to locate domestically, rather than overseas, describing himself as “a free trader, but a fair trader.” To spur economic growth, he recommended reducing the deficit budget, ending Dodd-Frank and ending Obamacare. In response to a lengthy question criticizing the role of seniority in Washington, Kasich noted that politicians rarely lose election because of a wrong vote. Instead, they are voted out when they lose the willingness to lead by making difficult choices on behalf of citizens.

In total, the event lasted about an hour. Kasich came across as affable, even folksy, someone very much at ease on the campaign trail talking to voters. He sprinkled his responses with humorous asides, at one point directing a very young (a five year old?) girl to come up alongside him to ask her question, much to her father’s delight and the crowd’s amusement (see blurry picture – curse you bald man!)

As far as I could tell from my observations and limited questioning (I was only able to talk to two people after Kasich departed), audience members left the event favorably disposed toward Kasich, although that’s not to say he won all their votes. It’s easy to see why he’s rising in the polls there, however. He exudes a type of Midwest reasonableness that stands in stark contrast to some of the more ideological firebrands in the Republican field, and his understated demeanor couldn’t be more different than The Donald’s bombastic persona. But his evenhanded responses should not obscure the fact that Kasich is clearly a conservative – when asked how to deal with ISIS, he responded “Destroy them” (after a lengthy discourse on how ISIS is able find recruits). Nonetheless, it seems clear that he views his chief rival in New Hampshire to be Bush, whose views overlap with his, and who has been spending the last two days on his own campaign trip to the Granite state. It is early in the campaign, and Kasich is still a relative unknown. But I suspect New Hampshire is a state in which he could do well, particularly if Bush and/or Trump falter.

I am tempted to end this post by giving Kasich one of those grades for which Mark Halperin is infamous  (Style: C+. Substance: B-. Overall: A!) Instead, I’ll adopt the Fox News mantra: I report, you decide! In the meantime, can you spot the intrepid blogger in the photo posted on Kasich’s website? Hint: I’m the uncouth one.

Until next time, hope to see you on the campaign trail!

*An earlier version of this post said “Tuesday”.  Evidently I can’t tell what day it is anymore.