Thursday, March 21, 2013

The 2016 candidates as Angry Birds

In the world of ephemeral Candy Crush Sagas, Beach Buggy Blitzes, and Fruit Ninjas, we all know Angry Birds continues to set the standard for layovers in the Denver airport (seriously, every flight in the country has to have a layover in Denver. Even if you're just flying from Baltimore to Miami, you will have a layover in Denver).

But what you might not know is that each of these feathered friends can tell us a lot about particular 2016 presidential candidates.

Let's investigate, and please pick your candidate, accordingly.

Chris Christie = Big Brother Bird

The physical comparison between Christie and the portly Big Red Bird is obvious.

In this case, the early bird ate the worm and about six McDonald's Breakfast Platters.

But just how big is Chris Christie?

While there isn't a doctor's report available, The New Republic's Timothy Noah invited readers to weigh in on the governor's chunk, and Noah's consequent guesstimate was 334 pounds.

We already know Christie is 5'11" tall, so Noah did the math and put Christie's BMI at 46.6, which would be worse than William Howard Taft's reported 42.3. If that sounds too out-of-control, remember that everyone is bigger today than in Taft's time.

Over the past few years, there have been sporadic bursts of national attention devoted to Christie's weight.

Those are usually prompted by a self-deprecatory joke from Christie, but followed with a No, but really, you should lose weight from pretty much everyone.

In fact, The Washington Post's Eugene Robinson notes that the NIH would classify Christie as "extremely obese" which comes with loads attendant health woes.

That doesn't just set a bad example for kids, it would also make Christie's Veep choice unfortunately relevant, and we all sort of like irrelevant Veeps once they hit the White House (It would have been a nightmare to pair Chris Christie with Henry Wallace, who was the worst kind of nut -- a dangerous one).

But political strategists note that Christie has an opportunity to pull off a classic lemon to lemonade moment if he starts pouring the Sensa on his food.

Paul Begala recently told Politico's Maggie Haberman that folks wouldn't just relate to it, they'd also cheer him on, because after all, we're a nation of chunky monkeys.

Some conservatives scoff at the idea that Christie's too fat to be president, and say the swirl of attention on Christie's weight is facilitated by people who want to bring him down.

But that misses the mark.

Other politicians' health woes are much more private. Barack Obama had bad habits, but he didn't light up in the middle of his SOTUS. It was easy to forget he was an addict.

Obesity, on the other hand, is such a public problem; it's the kind of health issue that you can't hide, and consequently, it's going to dog Christie until he pulls a Huckabee, circa 2008, and loses a wall of weight.

But beyond the physical comparison, the Christie = Big Brother Bird comparison works in another couple ways.

Big Brother Bird is an absolute wrecking ball of a bird. You can launch him at pretty much anything, and he'll slather it in destruction.

Christie is similarly fearless and did the unthinkable when he became governor -- he shook up the seemingly unwrenchably entrenched teacher's union.

In 2010, scores were laid off due to budget woes, and Christie also forced them to make bigger contributions to their pensions and start paying a bit more of their salary (1.5%) for health care.

But if that sounds draconian, The New York Times' Matt Bai argued in 2011 that draconian was dra-necessary.

New Jersey doesn’t have nearly enough money on hand to cover its pension obligations to teachers and other state workers. At no time in the last 17 years has New Jersey fully met its annual obligation to the pension fund, and in many of those years, the state paid nothing at all.

Finally, the state will pay close to $3 billion this year in health care premiums for public employees (including retired teachers), and that number is rising fast. New Jersey has set aside exactly zero dollars to cover it. All told, in pensions and health care benefits, New Jersey’s “unfunded liability” — that is, the amount the actuaries say it would need to find in order to meet its obligations for the next 30 years — has now passed the $100 billion mark.

Teacher unions were obviously furious, but Christie managed to outmaneuver and actually beat them -- both in the Legislature and in the court of public opinion.

More recently he signed a sweeping bill aimed at curbing teacher tenure abuses.

And thus, Big Red Bird toppled the seemingly impregnable teacher unions.

Rand Paul = Blue Bird

This little bird has the cunning and dexterity to split into three birds once you launch it, and as such, you can use it to topple glass, wood, snow and other defenses.

Having said that, it's overall effect is somewhat limited precisely because that split dilutes its power at one particular point.

Well, like the blue bird, Rand Paul is trying to split himself into appealing political personas, but also like the blue bird, he runs the risk of spreading himself so thin that he ends up without a real home.

He's done this splitting act quite a few times, which has "intrigued and oddly impressed" Hot Air's AllahPundit and which has been noted by scores of outlets.

Here are just a few of his splitting acts.

a. Gay marriage.

He's against gay marriage and even claims that he doesn't "understand any other kind of marriage", yet he doesn't like the Defense of Marriage Act and wants gay marriage to be left to the states.

Paul can dangle his opposition to gay marriage in front of social conservatives, his federalism to libertarians, and his urge for Republicans to be "a little hands-off on some of these issues" to economic conservatives who find social stuff a nuisance.

b. Israel.

Paul actually visited Israel this year, and as Seth Lipsky wrote, the trip was marked by "nothing but sweetness," including a chat with right winger Naftali Bennett and supportive words on Israel's issues with Gaza.

“I don’t think you need to call me on the phone and get permission to stop missiles raining down from Gaza.”

He also told Breitbart News, stoutly, that "any attack on Israel will be treated as an attack on the United States".

But if you look just a bit deeper, he's bound to fail hawks. In January, he spun himself as Israel's BFF because "I'm for an independent, strong Israel that is not a dependent state, not a client one."

Nice sentiment, but it barely veils his displeasure at our relationship with Israel.

When he came back from Israel, he told reporters:

"While I want to be a strong ally with Israel, that doesn't mean they can get a blank check either."

No one is asking that Israel be given a blank check (well, okay, most people aren't asking), but those are the type of qualifications and hedges you just don't hear from more traditional, muscular hawks.

c. Chuck Hagel.

Paul impressed neo-conservatives and the establishment when he badgered Chuck Hagel during his confirmation hearing and voted for cloture twice; then surprisingly, joined just FOUR other Republicans in confirming him.

The move shocked nearly everyone, but Paul's camp explained it away, thusly.

Paul's spokeswoman explained that the senator decided to support Hagel because he believes that presidents should get "some leeway" on political appointments, an opinion he has been open about in the past.

Well, that's an explanation, but his final decision confirmed some hawks' fears that the apple didn't fall far enough from the tree.

d. Immigration.

The most recent example of Paul's blue bird split came this week on immigration.

It's fresh enough to avoid a recap, but essentially he gave a speech where he proposed a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, which earned him kudos from the press and every immigration group (except ones with Mark Krikorian hanging at the water cooler).

But some conservatives balked, and so he turned and told Red State that he actually never used the word "citizenship" in his speech, which he offered as proof that he wasn't proposing a pathway to citizenship. The conclusion of his plan, though, was obvious to anyone who listened -- there would be an opportunity for citizenship down the road.

Now, were these flip-flops?

I don't think so.

Like the blue bird on Angry Birds, he's just trying to split himself into different characters to appeal to different bases.

It's actually what all politicians do, except they eventually have to find a base to actually gin up enough enthusiasm to be elected.

So far, Paul has proven himself to be particularly good at splitting, but as the splits become continually more apparent, it might dilute his ultimate impact.

Just like that little blue bird.

Kirsten Gillibrand = Orange Bird (also known as "Balloon bird")

This charming bird is an incredibly effective shape-shifter.

Users launch a small, orange speck of a bird that can sneak its way into the most vulnerable parts of the pig community. Once there, Orange-y suddenly expands into an incredibly explosive ball.

Well, dear friends, allow me to introduce you to New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.

If you're not familiar with her, she's New York's junior senator who was first appointed to her seat after Hillary Clinton was appointed Secretary of State. Most recently, Gillibrand was reelected by a historic margin.

Gillibrand got her start in an upstate New York district where the petite mother, improbably, unseated a Republican incumbent in a Republican district.

That was thanks to both her strong campaign and the pig's pigginess. In this case, the pig was the incumbent, John Sweeney, who allegedly knocked his wife around one year earlier.

Gillibrand ran as a conservative Democrat, won by 7%, and was reelected by 24%.

But she still hadn't ballooned and shape-shifted like the orange bird.

That came in 2009 when she was tapped to replace Hillary Clinton and promptly transformed from a conservative Democrat to a genuine liberal (in its 2011 rankings, National Journal scored her as one of the two most liberal senators in the chamber).

Her most famous shape-shift came on guns. While a congresswoman, the NRA handed her an "A" rating, but that was subsequently downgraded to an "F" once she became a senator. She also suddenly started racking up stellar grades from liberal special interest groups.

Now, putting this in a 2016 context: Gillibrand is considered a darkhorse who probably occupies tier 3 status.

If Hillary runs, Gillibrand won't, but if Hillary doesn't run, Gillibrand might.

And if Hillary is out, Gillibrand is primed to balloon her way into the first tier. Why? There are quite a few reasons, but the most simple and best is this: Democrats are desperate to nominate a female candidate, and both of Gillibrand's potential, female competitors have fatal weaknesses.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren is far too liberal and too Massachusetts to win a general election and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar doesn't have the sex appeal a president needs to have.

That leaves Gillibrand -- a candidate who can morph into a moderate or liberal, on demand, light up the stage in a way Klobuchar can't, and appeal to rural voters who might be weirded out by Andrew Cuomo's rough New Yorkisms.

Just like orange-y, hers won't be a flashy entrance but she could blow the field up once she makes her move.

Red bird = Rick Santorum

This is your basic bird with three core attributes.

1. He shows up everywhere.

2. You kind of don't want him to show up everywhere (who really likes launching red bird?).

3. He doesn't have potential to do much damage.

You can also say the same about Rick Santorum.

As for the first point, he was the only 2012 candidate to visit all 99 counties in Iowa, and he hit the milestone a full two months before the caucus.

At the pace he's been going since the '12 election wrapped, he'll have hit all those counties again by the start of 2014.

Reportedly, he's keeping in "regular" touch with Iowa reporters, will keynote the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition's dinner next month, and according to the Des Moines Register, is simply "showering attention on Iowa these days."

If Santorum was a ubiquitous presence in Iowa before he won the state or was even anything close to a front-runner, can you imagine him this cycle? After all, he'll come in as the returning champion and the guy is prone to cockiness.

Unfortunately, polling doesn't tell us if he has a right to be cocky about Iowa. For some reason, Public Policy Polling didn't include Santorum in its February Iowa pollso it's hard to get a sense of his continuing appeal.

But keep in mind -- in 2012, he was matched against a Massachusetts Moderate, a bumbling Texan, and an ethically-plagued Newt Gingrich.

In 2016, he'll face a bevy of strong social conservatives with more credibility on the economy, and stronger electability.

Moving onto the second point about Red Bird -- you know, that you're kind of upset when they show up on almost every level.

Well, you have to admit the same about Santorum. He talks too long, drifts into grandiloquence, and attacks his opponents like a blind, rabid bat (He did give a great speech at CPAC,last week, though).

I'm not sure anyone involved in the 2016 process (and that includes strategists, pundits, journalists, and the collective masses) wants anyone from 2012 to invade the '16 process -- whether it's Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, or Jon Huntsman.

Moving onto the third point about Red Bird -- that he doesn't do much damage.

Well, same with Santorum in 2016. It's just tough to see him doing what he did in 2012 against Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal, and Paul Ryan. All three have social cred to spare, and are much less Rick Santorum-y than Rick Santorum.

Joe Biden = BlackBird Bomb

The beauty of an Angry Bird bomb is that you can toss him anywhere, and he'll explode more spectacularly than any other mayhem-maker Rovio's blessed us with.

Bombs are great fun on Angry Birds. Here, enjoy this chain reaction.

But the following is also a bomb, and I have never been sure how he politically-survived this one other than to say that if a Republican had said this, he'd be obliterated from political memory, repudiated from every rooftop, and redacted from the party's history. If a Republican had said what Biden said, the GOP would literally have to nominate Bobby Jindal every year until he became president, and then maybe people would stop writing about how the Republicans had turned off a generation of Indian-Americans.

Yellow bird = Paul Ryan

Yellow bird is incredibly good at a two things.

1. Precision, speed, and efficiency.

2. Cutting down entire structures with pin-point accuracy.

In a way, that's what separates Yellow bird from any of the bomb birds or pelicans. He doesn't create impact by sheer combustion like bombs or indiscriminate mass damage like a pelican.

He creates damage through precise but lethal strikes at weaknesses, and tends to slice quickly, like a feathered machete.

Paul Ryan is all those things for good or ill -- depending on your political ideology.

The chairman of the House Budget Committee is famous for crafting budgets that slice spending to make government smaller and, hopefully, more efficient.. His current budget -- which passed this morning -- would repeal ObamaCare, remake the tax code (although it's somewhat vague how)slash costly safety net programs, and balance the budget in 10 years.

Democrats argue that the cuts are too severe and will destroy the intricate structure of Angry Bird society. Republicans claim that intricate structure is too costly and loaded with the pigs of debt.

Whatever you think, Ryan is abnormally suited toward this sort of thing, and there's growing consensus that he's more interested in accruing power in Congress than hopping in a campaign bus.

That sense of nuts-and-bolts purpose and legislative determination is shared by the yellow bird who doesn't care about pomp; only dead pigs.

Condoleezza Rice = White Bird

This one isn't immediately apparent, but actually works on so many awesome levels.

What do White Birds do in Angry Birds?

They swoop in unexpectedly, drop a bomb, then swoop out just as quickly, leaving only destruction in their wake.

Let's break that down.

The unexpected swoop: If Condoleezza does run for president, it will almost certainly be a campaign that's hatched late in the game. Her name and star is such that she doesn't have to shake the hands of county supervisors in Iowa, so why slather on the hand sanitizer?

Not only will it be late, it will also be unexpected.

She's said, on multiple occasions, that she has no interest in running for president, and the reason that's so believable is that she continually gives the same objection -- she hates campaigning. If you hate campaigning, you probably won't do it.

Here she was earlier this month in San Francisco.

“I learned that running for office really wasn’t in my DNA when I helped [President] George W. Bush run in 1999. We’d go to maybe five campaign events in a day..and at the end of the day, he was raring to go and I was raring to go to bed. And I thought, ‘Maybe this just isn’t for me'.”

But she does have a history of swooping.

During the 2012 campaign, she repeatedly ruled herself out of the Veep running, but then descended on the Republican convention and knocked the socks off everyone with a visceral speech that could have easily been that of an ambitious presidential contender.

The Washington Post, soon after:

Towards the end of her speech, Rice even alluded to the idea that she could be president.

“And on a personal note: A little girl grows up in Jim Crow Birmingham – the most segregated big city in America,” she said. “Her parents can’t take her to a movie theater or a restaurant, but they make her believe that even though she can’t have a hamburger at the Woolworth’s lunch counter, she can be President of the United States. And she becomes the Secretary of State.”

This wasn’t thrown into Rice’s speech on a whim; these speeches are meticulously combed for their content. And while it could be dismissed as Republicans again seeking to play up the electoral achievements of black and Hispanic members of the party, this seemed to take it a step further.

In other words, it’s clear that Rice — and Republican officials — are happy to have her name bandied about in the context of future presidential elections.

So is an unexpected, late swoop likely? No. But it's somewhat possible.

Drop a bomb: This is the second step in a White Bird's flight, and it's absolutely certain that if Condi were to swoop in on the race unexpectedly, she would drop a major bomb on the field.

Candidates would suddenly find themselves facing off against a popular, black, enormously accomplished female with a towering intellect.

The enormity of that demographic profile would be furthered by the media's inevitable crush.

Think about it.

In 2012, Jon Huntsman, of all people, inspired a brief, media infatuation as a little-known governor from Utah with oleaginous hair, a smug smile, and bad jokes.

Imagine what Condi would do.

She'd force the GOP into the most searing, personal personification of everything the media has written about for the past four years. She's female, she's African-American, she's pro-choice, she's not overtly religious.

Two things would happen.

1. She'd totally upend the race. In fact, polls show she'd enter as a top tier candidate with unmatched name ID.

2. She'd start flailing as soon as her pro-choice views came to light. Every four years, people ask if the GOP is ready for a pro-choice nominee, but that'll happen when Democrats nominate a pro-life presidential candidate which is to say never.

Sweep out just as quickly: The third thing White Bird Bombs do is rapidly flap away as soon as they've dropped their bomb.

The easy analogy is that a candidate like Condi tends to make a spectacular entrance, upset the field, and then -- once they start flailing -- leave just as quickly and spectacularly.

Condi is too proud and respected to continue a losing campaign, and would rip the cord before leaving a bruised electoral history.

Leaving destruction in the wake: Here's the final component. When the White Bird Bomb is gone, destruction from the bomb they dropped still leaves the piggy homes reeling and smoky.

You can't just pretend like nothing happened and that it was a brief, bad dream.

A Condi bid -- no matter how brief -- would utterly shake the GOP race to its core by permanently etching the narrative of "The moderate likable one was savaged to death by the tea party beasts."

We'd be regaled with endless stories about how perfect Condi would have been ("A certain GOP winner and after 8 years in the wilderness, too!"), and Democrats would paint such a searing story of party intolerance and dissension that it could destroy the party's bid to rehabilitate itself in time for a general election.

Make no mistake about it: Condi Rice would do more damage to the Republican party by running than any other.

Which is why I don't think she'll do it. She's fond of the Republican party and, particularly, the establishment, and her intellect and savvy are such that she certainly knows she could destroy the GOP in 2016.

"I am become Condi, destroyer of worlds," says the slightly paraphrased Bhagavad Gita.

RECAP: All academic papers in rigorous research journals end with suggestions for further research to extend the literature, strengthen, and test the theory.

Thus, I'll leave you with the same directive  -- go forth and match more candidates to more birds.

These additional birds include The Pelican (The boomerang nature of it could indicate a returning candidate, who could be Mike Huckabee), the weird blue bird from Rio, and the new, pink girl bird in Angry Birds Seasons. The possibilities, really, are endless.

[Photos: The awesome Angry Bird Wiki]