The Anti-Politics Of ‘Upworthy’

Upworthy says it’s not focused on elections. Really.

The viral media site, which curates video and content with a headline style that has become a meme in its own right, describes itself as “social media with a mission.” Since it launched in March 2012, Upworthy has drawn big traffic — about 53 million visitors in February — with sharing-friendly content. And it does its news aggregation with a point of view that is decidedly progressive and left-wing.

Upworthy has hit the sweet spot of political messaging, according to some observers, by effectively couching its progressive-leaning politics without emphasizing partisanship and tapping into the wide swath of young voters Republicans and Democrats both covet. And thanks to emotionally-driven clickbait headlines, the site is also able to reach out to the universe of people who normally aren’t interested in politics. For some GOP media strategists, Upworthy has become a cause for concern.

“It has the potential to be more dangerous to the livelihood of the GOP at the presidential level than the entire editorial board of The New York Times,” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell. “It has the potential to nudge progressive voters to the ballot box in national elections. This is one giant liberal activist social media machine.”

The content is chosen to strike a chord and go viral with the audience that Upworthy states on its site it’s aiming for: “Basically, ‘The Daily Show’ generation. People who care about what’s going on in the world but don’t want to be boring about it.”

And Upworthy can reach those who aren’t typically interested in politics — after someone clicks on one heartwarming, uplifting headline, they can easily get sucked into the site and fall into the more overtly left-wing content.

“They’re like, ‘If you’re not going to go find politics, we’re going to bring politics to you,’” O’Connell said. “That’s very smart on their part. I’m sure it’s not going to make people on the right side of the aisle all that thrilled.”

Read more from Mackenzie Weinger at Politico

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CPAC Day 2: Social Issues Now Libertarian?

Friday's Conservative Political Action Conference agenda looked like it was going to be dominated by social conservatives after the confab steered clear of the hot-button issues the day before. 

But, it turns out even social conservatives are sounding a bit like libertarians these days within the GOP. 

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who ran ads on gay marriage in his failed 2012 presidential bid, didn't mention the issue once. Neither did Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who drilled hard on social issues in his speech but framed them as constitutional issues instead. 

Huckabee and other potential presidential contenders who did tackle controversial topics like abortion and same-sex marriage instead framed them as problems of government intrusion rather than moral obligation.

The onetime Baptist minister told The Hill afterward that he wasn’t hiding his opposition to gay marriage, but that his focus, like voters’, was elsewhere.

GOP strategist Ford O’Connell told The Hill that shifting away from moralizing and towards a defense of personal rights would help the party.

“Huckabee talking about an assault on religious liberty is something that comports with the libertarian mindset – ‘get out of my bedroom, get out of my mind, get out of my life,” he said. “It’s about moving forward versus pushing your views on someone else, which is a very big switch in terms of how you’re messaging. And it’s something people can agree with you on even if they don’t like your position.”

O’Connell said it was a political necessity for the party to embrace a more libertarian tone going forward.

“When you bash same-sex marriage… it kills you with young people,” he said. Because as soon as they hear that they don’t care if you have the cure for cancer, they’ve turned off.”

Read more from Cameron Joseph at The Hill

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Christie To CPAC 2014: GOP Has To Shake Contrarian Image

One year removed from being snubbed by CPAC, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie drew a standing ovation from conservative activists Thursday, pointing to his own re-election last year as an example that standing on principle and winning elections are not mutually exclusive.

Mr. Christie, who many Republicans criticized following the 2012 presidential election for his 11th-hour praise of President Obama’s response to Hurricane Sandy, sought to connect with grass-roots activists who have been wary of him by touting his pro-life credentials and saying it’s Democrats who are intolerant on abortion.

“We need to be pro-life when they leave the womb as well — for every step of their lives,” he said.

Mr. Christie is the favorite of many establishment Republicans, but he still resonated well with CPAC’s audience, which generally tilts toward party insurgents.

“He’s the most skilled GOP politician eyeing 2016,” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell, complimenting Mr. Christie for getting people “ginned up” in what was likely an audience not entirely enamored with him.

Read more from David Sherfinski at The Washington Times 

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After Primary Victory, Texas' Davis Faces Big Odds

After her easy victory in the Texas Democratic primary, Wendy Davis, one of the brightest stars of the 2014 campaign, is now embarking on her mission to win the governor's office and revive her party's fortunes in the heart of conservative America. Already, Texas politics has never seen anyone like her: a dynamo with a trailer park-to-Harvard Law story who makes nationwide donors swoon.

But Davis' chances in the general election in November remain a longshot: she faces a Republican opponent, Greg Abbott, the state's attorney general, who would be formidable even without the advantage of Texas' solidly conservative electorate.

Abbott, who uses a wheelchair, has his own compelling against-the-odds biography, personal appeal as a campaigner and proven fundraising power. As the race restarts, he appears to have a significant edge in polls and fundraising.

Davis says she's undeterred.

"I can see and feel, every day on the campaign trail, an energy in this state around my campaign that's hard to describe. It's not like anything I've seen in Democratic politics in the last couple of decades," Davis said this week.

Others take a dimmer view.

"It's not a race," said Ford O'Connell, a Houston native and Republican strategist who was an adviser to U.S. John McCain's presidential run in 2008. "Essentially this is more about Democrats saying they're expanding the maps and making baby steps toward progress."

Read more from the Paul J. Weber at The Associated Press

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Hillary Clinton’s Remarks On Hitler Seen As Strategy

Hillary Clinton’s stunning H-bomb — comparing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Ukrainian invasion to Adolf Hitler’s 1938 seizure of Czechoslovakia’s Sudetenland — was a blatant attempt to distance herself from the Obama administration as she prepares to mount a 2016 campaign for the White House, critics said.

“As secretary of state, Hillary Clinton was enthusiastically for the reset with Putin,” William Kristol, the editor of The Weekly Standard, told the Herald. “Now, as a presidential candidate, she’s appalled by it. Will the real Hillary please stand up?”

Clinton made the comparison in front of a fundraiser audience in California on Tuesday.

“Now if this sounds familiar, it’s what Hitler did back in the ’30s,” Clinton said, according to the Press-Telegram of Long Beach. “Hitler kept saying, ‘They’re not being treated right. I must go and protect my people.’ And that’s what’s gotten everybody so nervous.”

With 2016 in mind, Clinton’s tough talk is meant to separate her from President Obama, seen as increasingly weak on the world stage and caught off-guard by Russia’s military seizure of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, political observers said.

“She is trying to distance herself from the administration and stake out her own policy, which is more in line with moderate Democrats and moderate Republicans than Obama’s is,” said GOP strategist Ford O’Connell.

Read more from Chris Cassidy at The Boston Herald

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Tea Party Remains Potent But Future Uncertain

At a recent conference marking the Tea Party’s fifth anniversary, Republican Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota paid tribute to the grassroots activists who have been a fixture on the U.S. political scene since 2009.

“Because what you did for America is stellar, it was life-changing to the lifeblood of this nation," she said.

The Tea Party’s greatest victory came in the 2010 midterm congressional elections when their supporters helped Republicans take back control of the House of Representatives.

The Tea Party is not a political party but a wide array of grass roots groups, some aided by powerful fundraising organizations.  But its supporters now dream of one of their own in the White House someday, and at the top of the list for many is Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who was elected with Tea Party help in 2012.

But the Tea Party took a political hit last October in the aftermath of the federal government shutdown.  The public blamed Republicans more than Democrats for the stalemate, and many Republican leaders criticized Tea Party groups for a "no compromise" attitude that provoked the shutdown.

2014 looms as a pivotal year for the Tea Party.  Supporters are critical to a strong Republican showing in this November's Congressional election, when the party hopes to hold its majority in the House and gain enough seats to take control of the Senate as well.

Analysts say far-right Republican Senate candidates nominated with Tea Party support wound up hurting Republican hopes for a Senate takeover in both 2010 and 2012.

Republican strategist Ford O’Connell says party leaders are hoping to avoid that problem this year.

“And the biggest hurdle in front of the Tea Party right now is that they are seen as extremist, and that is exactly how Democrats can continue to defeat Tea Party candidates, because the public perception of the Tea Party is generally seen as a negative thing by the American people,” he said. 

Read more from Jim Malone at Voice of America

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Is Jim DeMint The Most Hated Man In Washington?

Machiavelli’s famous advice to politicians is that it is better to be feared than loved. Less often quoted is an equally valuable admonition: avoid being hated.

Jim DeMint, the former senator-turned-Tea Party leader at the helm of the Heritage Foundation, never tried to win the love of the Republican establishment. He did, however, succeed over the past several years, first as the junior senator from South Carolina and since last year, as head of the GOP’s most prominent think tank, at being feared by his fellow Republicans. But now he finds himself in the position of being merely despised.

Just a few months ago, headlines declared DeMint the “shadow speaker” who “pulls the strings” in Washington, and he was credited with almost singlehandedly grinding Washington to a halt. (Including by DeMint, who boasted that he had “more influence now on public policy than I did as an individual senator.”) The real House speaker, Ohio’s John Boehner, couldn’t stop the government shutdown that DeMint and Tea Party groups orchestrated and cheered when they convinced a majority of House Republicans to go along with their defund-Obamacare-or-else strategy last October.

That was then. But ask around Washington now, and you’ll hear that while DeMint is undoubtedly still a Republican power broker (and a high-profile one at that, whose new book, a gauzy tribute to the USA called Falling in Love with America Again, comes out Tuesday just in time for some election-year proselytizing), he no longer strikes fear in establishment Republican hearts.

“I think it was a big blow to DeMint,” Republican strategist Ford O’Connell said of Boehner’s outburst. “And in some ways it was a learning moment for DeMint. Whether he recaptures that previous influence is up to him and that means sort of picking and choosing his battles.”

“[DeMint’s] moved it more in the political direction than the policy direction,” said O’Connell. “If he moves it too far, he could be—how should I say it?—killing his own golden goose.”

“Heritage Action is getting the boom it’s getting because it’s got ‘Heritage’ in front of ‘Action,’” he continued. “If Heritage is weakened too much, there is no Action.”

Read more from Pema Levy at Politico Magazine 

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House Speaker John Boehner Gets Official Snub By CPAC

House Speaker John A. Boehner, who has tangled repeatedly with the right wing of the Republican Party, has not been invited to this week’s Conservative Political Action Conference, a major snub at the annual gathering and a sign of the top Republican officeholder’s struggle to find common ground with grass-roots activists.

People familiar with CPAC’s planning, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity, said the American Conservative Union, which hosts the event, never sent an invitation to Mr. Boehner, in part because it wanted the focus this year to be on leading conservative thinkers at the grass-roots level and not at the congressional or party leadership level.

“We wanted this to be about conservatives, not party leaders in Washington,” one source said.

Mr. Boehner, Ohio Republican, used to be a regular at CPAC, but the three-day gathering that begins Thursday will mark the second in a row that he has missed after passing up an invitation last year. The speaker has grown increasingly vocal in recent months about his frustration with tea party members of the House Republican caucus who have broken with leadership on key votes.

The antipathy is mutual.

“There are not enough curse words in the English language to describe how movement conservatives think of John Boehner,” said Ford O'Connell, a party strategist. “They see him as only slightly better than President Obama.

“But, I think, John Boehner is wise not to attend CPAC because he does not want to become a distraction, and fodder for the news media, by highlighting the rift between establishment conservatives and the movement conservatives,” Mr. O'Connell said. “Movement conservatives are right to question Boehner’s moves, but what they can’t question is his heart in terms of him wanting to maximize electoral returns in the 2014 midterms.”

The speakers lineup at the annual gathering is always a good test for who’s in and who’s out with conservative leaders.

Read more from Seth McLaughlin at The Washington Times 

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John Kerry's Legacy On The Line

Russia’s brash Ukrainian incursion has put U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry squarely on the hot seat, and experts predict his response to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s actions, starting with a trip to Kiev tomorrow, gives him a chance to repair shaken confidence in America’s influence and define his own legacy — but could put him at odds with President Obama.

“When he tries to get tough, Obama will cut his legs out from under him, as he did in Syria,” said Victor Davis Hanson, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. “Kerry doesn’t want to be embarrassed again like he was in Syria. And if he gives any ultimatums, he knows Obama will back off.”

Kerry will meet tomorrow with Ukraine’s new government, installed after protesters ousted the purportedly corrupt leadership. Making the rounds of network shows yesterday, he called Putin’s pretext for invading Crimea — that Russian citizens and assets were in danger — “completely trumped up” and “really 19th-century behavior in the 21st century.”

“President Putin is not operating from a place of strength here,” Kerry told NBC’s “Meet the Press” when asked whether Putin was emboldened by U.S. inaction in Syria. “He’s going to lose all of the glow that came out of the Olympics, his $60 billion extravaganza. He is not going to have a Sochi G-8. He may not even remain in the G-8 if this continues. He may find himself with asset freezes on Russian business. American business may pull back. There may be a further tumble of the ruble.”

A Gallup poll last week found 53 percent of Americans think Obama is not respected by other world leaders.

Ford O’Connell, a GOP political strategist who worked on John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, predicted both parties would line up behind Kerry if he finds a way to pressure Putin without escalating the situation.

“The world is watching, and this administration has consistently underestimated Putin,” O’Connell said. “This will be the biggest test of Kerry’s tenure as secretary of state, and how he handles this could ultimately define his legacy.”

Read more from Jack Encarnacao at The Boston Herald

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Hillary Clinton Promises To Fix Obamacare

Before Obamacare, there was Hillarycare. If former secretary of state Hillary Clinton decides to run for president in 2016, Republicans are certain to dredge up her failed attempt to pass health care reform as first lady in the early 1990s.

So it's no surprise that Clinton addressed the issue judiciously and cautiously this week in Florida. She praised the law, which is similar to the universal health care scheme she proposed in her 2008 presidential run. She also said she would be happy to improve it.

"I think we are on the right track in many respects," Clinton told the Health Care Information and Management Systems Society, according to CNN. “But I would be the first to say if things aren’t working then we need people of good faith to come together and make evidence-based changes."

Clinton's comments come as every Democratic politician struggles to neutralize the issue ahead of November's midterm elections. The law was always unpopular, but the botched rollout made matters far worse and Republicans are on the offense in the belief that attacking the law is a vote winner.

Strategists say that rather than entering the debate about what to do with such an electoral liability, Clinton's comments were a smart way to duck a tough issue. 

"Hillary Clinton cannot run from the principle of Obamacare. But she does want to portray herself as a no-nonsense problem solver," said Republican Ford O'Connell, who advised Senator John McCain's presidential run in 2008. "She's aiming for the middle ground."

"This is a classic cat-and-mouse game," said O'Connell, noting that besides the small business comment, Clinton demurred when asked to name other fixes. "She's staked out her position. The Republicans have to flesh it out before she really gains some serious momentum."

Read more from Pema Levy at Newsweek 

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