The Gospel According to the Fix: An Insider's Guide to a Less than Holy World of Politics

The Gospel According to the Fix: An Insider's Guide to a Less than Holy World of Politics

by Chris Cillizza

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A divine guide to deciphering the sinful world of American politics, from the author of the Washington Post's The Fix

The political world is full of acronyms, shortcuts, and lingoes that stand as a barrier to entry for anyone not in the business. The onset of social media has only made that barrier higher, as insiders tweet furiously to one another in a language most of us can't even understand. Everyday Americans and even political junkies need a how-to manual for understanding what words matter in this arena and why. 

Enter Brother Chris Cillizza and The Gospel According to the Fix--an essential guide to the wonderfully odd religion of politics. Based on his highly popular blog, The Gospel According to the Fix will teach you something new about politics, no matter who you are and whom you know. In our torturous political climate, this Gospel is the one true source for comprehending what the heck is going on in DC. Chapter and verse, this political Gospel will include parables the likes of:

• Why Ron Paul’s candidacy is a lot like the TV show Friday Night Lights
What it takes to be Richard Ben Cramer and write the political classic What It Takes
The top ten negative campaign ads of all time
• The top ten issues candidates should be discussing but aren’t because of the economy
• The dos and don’ts of surviving a political sex scandal

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307987105
Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/10/2012
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 224
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

CHRIS CILLIZZA writes The Fix for the Washington Post. He is an MSNBC contributor and political analyst who appears regularly on the network in addition to NBC, PBS, and NPR’s Diane Rehm Show. Chris has worked for Roll Call, the Cook Political Report, and Congress Daily. His freelance work has appeared in a variety of publications, including The Atlantic, Washingtonian, and Slate.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

Ames Straw Poll

(Born August 1979, Died 8/13/2011)

The Ames Straw Poll died a quiet death in the summer of 2011, although the patient didn’t realize it was all over until five months later.

For the better part of three decades, the straw poll, held on the campus of Iowa State University, amounted to a must-attend event. Though it was nothing more than a fund-raiser for the Iowa Republican Party, it transformed itself—with a major assist from the mainstream media (shakes fist)—into an early indicator of who might wind up winning the first-in-the-nation caucuses in the Hawkeye State.

In 1979, 1987, and 1999 the straw poll winner went on to win the caucuses. In 2007, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee—remember him?—came in a surprising second at Ames and went on to win in Iowa the following year.

As the supposed importance of Ames as organizational litmus test grew, so too did the pageantry surrounding it. By the time George W. Bush and Steve Forbes faced off in 1999, it had become a full-blown carnival.

In a parking lot outside of the Hilton Coliseum—where Cyclone hoops greats like Fred “The Mayor” Hoiberg and Marcus “Huge NBA Bust” Fizer (OK, that wasn’t his nickname) once roamed, the Iowa GOP auctioned off the various parcels around the voting site to the aspirants. In 1999, Bush, who was practically bathing in cash, dropped $40,000 just to have the best and biggest space in the Coliseum parking lot. In 2011, Texas representative Ron Paul was the highest bidder—spending $31,000 for his plot.

Once their piece of land—concrete, actually—was secured, the real spending began. Elaborate tents and stages were built, caterers were hired to feed the masses, dunking booths were set up, tickets were bought for attendees. (Yes, one of the great/terrible things about Ames is that the candidates paid for their “supporters” to attend.)

And the media swarmed. And I do mean swarmed. More than eight hundred press credentials were issued for the 2011 version of Ames, which amounted to more votes than either former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney or former House speaker Newt Gingrich received at the event itself. Reporters from Japan, Germany, and every American news outlet you have ever heard of—and many you haven’t heard of—circled those few days in mid-August as a must-do for campaign coverage.

With reporters literally everywhere, political hangers-on were drawn to Ames like flies to a carcass. (And, yes, I am aware I just compared the media—of which I am a member—to an insect that vomits its own food.) National Rifle Association supporters paraded around Ames wearing orange hats. Men dressed like Uncle Sam and women dressed like Lady Liberty were a dime a dozen. And everywhere, everywhere were people pushing pet causes that ranged from the mildly credible to the demonstrably insane.

Over the years, reporters covering Ames grew ever more cynical about the event—and what it told us about the Republican race. After all, no more than 23,000 people had ever voted at Ames—in 2007 just 14,000 did so—and the idea of it as must-stop for political candidates was fading rapidly. But cover it they did—and did, and did, and did.

The 2011 Ames straw poll changed all that. First, Romney, who had been the favorite since it became clear he was running for president again (and that became clear about five minutes after he dropped out of the 2008 race), bowed out—insisting that any straw polls were a waste of time and energy for his campaign.

But Romney isn’t the one who, ultimately, stuck the dagger in the heart of Ames. That honor goes to Minnesota representative Michele Bachmann.

And it’s beyond ironic—in that Alanis Morissette way—that it was Bachmann who killed the straw poll. After all, Bachmann rode to prominence in Iowa by touting the fact that she was born in Waterloo and, therefore, understood the hopes, dreams, and problems of the state’s residents better than the outsiders trying to hone in on their votes.

It worked—for a while. Bachmann surged over the summer months, and when straw poll day—August 13, 2011—came it was clear that she was the favorite. Her tent was the largest of any on the grounds, and there was a steady stream of people angling to get inside for the chance to glimpse the candidate herself. (Oddly, once you made it inside the tent, which had all its flaps down to keep in the air-conditioning, it wasn’t all-so-spectacular. Between the cool temperatures and the darkness it reminded me more of a cave than anything else.)

No one was surprised then when the straw poll results were announced and Bachmann had won—albeit it very narrowly over Paul. (Much more about Paul—and the cultlike following he has developed—later.)

What few people realized at the time was that Ames marked not the beginning of the beginning of Bachmann’s run as a top-tier candidate but instead the beginning of the end. Even as the straw poll results were being read, Texas governor Rick Perry was announcing his decision to enter the race—and it only got worse from there for Bachmann.

The following day, at a Lincoln Day Dinner in Blackhawk County—yes, that is really the name of the county—Bachmann and Perry were both scheduled to speak. The Bachmann forces saw it as a chance to engage Perry on their terms—after all, they were just coming off of a huge straw poll victory, and the Texas governor was just now entering the race. Instead it turned into a symbol of everything that was to go wrong for Bachmann as summer turned to fall.

While Perry worked the room, displaying the sort of natural charm that voters saw too little of in the campaign, Bachmann’s famous/infamous campaign bus was circling the venue. The candidate refused to enter the dinner until Perry had cleared out. When she did, finally, speak, she was “horrible,” according to a former adviser to the candidate. The practical effect of her circling the target was that Perry had already won the room and the media coverage of the event. rick perry schools michele backmann in waterloo read the headline from a Politico story on the event.

Things went from bad to worse for Bachmann. Perry having stolen her thunder, Bachmann watched her support erode badly—both in Iowa and nationally. She kept up a brave face. Try to find a picture from those months where she isn’t smiling. Seriously. We dare you. And to her credit, she did well in her increasingly limited role in the dozen (or so) debates during the fall.

By the time Iowans voted—a whole three days into 2012!—Bachmann’s political obituary and that of the Ames straw poll had already been written. Bachmann won 4,823 votes in the Ames straw poll. One hundred forty-four days later, she got just 6,046 votes in the actual Iowa caucuses—good (that may not be the right word) for sixth place. It’s actually even worse than it sounds. Only six candidates were actively competing in Iowa; former Utah governor Jon Huntsman skipped the state entirely but managed 739 votes. (Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator who won the Iowa caucuses, finished fourth at the straw poll with 9 percent.)

Bachmann’s first-to-worst performance ends the Ames straw poll as a barometer of much of anything in Iowa Republican politics. Yes, it will continue. And, yes, defenders of the straw poll will insist the Bachmann victory/collapse was the exception, not the rule. And, triple yes, the media will almost certainly continue to cover it as though it means something.

But smart politicos—and I am nominating myself for this category—now should know better. Ames was always, at root, a fund-raiser masked as an actual contest; after all, in what other election do you buy people tickets to attend and vote for you? Bachmann’s victory laid bare the utter meaninglessness of the Ames straw poll as a predictive or productive exercise.

Ames died that day in mid-August 2011 at the hands of one of its own—Michele Bachmann. Let’s hope it stays dead.

And in its place? (The Fix is all about solutions, after all.) How about an American Idol–like competition in which each week the candidates are tested on various skills they’ll need to make it in the presidential race.

Think about it. One week they could do the “major aspirational/inspirational speech.” Another week it could be working a rope line. Or dealing with the fallout from a scandal in your campaign. Or kissing babies. Or dealing with a hostile audience. How about a mock debate? I mean, the possibilities are literally endless.

At the end of every week, America would vote on who did it the best. I mean, this is a democracy after all. The lowest vote-getter would get a chance to argue for his political life in front of a three-person panel of judges—me, Katie Couric, and Bill Clinton (like he wouldn’t totally want to participate)—and then would have judgment rendered. You get kicked off, you drop out. And so it goes until we get down to a final four candidates, at which point we begin the traditional nominating contest.

Is there any question that the level of interest in politics would shoot through the roof? With the public voting every week there would be a genuine engagement well beyond what we currently see in the early days of a primary race. It would also take money out of the process—at least at the start. Rather than spending the lion’s share of their time trolling for cash, the candidates would dedicate themselves to perfecting skills they actually would need if/when they managed to be elected president.

Plus, is allowing the public to choose their final four candidates via a Political Idol competition any more arbitrary than the way we currently do it? No way.

The Best Political Blogroll—Anywhere

People always ask me what I read on a daily basis. Answer: not all that much. I skim. So, then, what do I skim? That’s easier. Below is the most comprehensive blogroll I—plus some of my smarty-pants friends—could think of. Rip these pages out of the book and put them next to (or in) your computer. You’ll need them this fall.

From the Right

Jim Geraghty, Campaign Spot:

Hot Air:

American Spectator blog:

Michael Dougherty:

Down the Middle

Nate Silver: (or is he center?)

From the Left

Steve Benen:

Jonathan Bernstein, Plain Blog:

The Monkey Cage:


Ezra Klein, Wonkblog:

Greg Sargent, The Plum Line:

The Best State Political Blogroll—Anywhere

National blogs may get all the attention (present company included), but for the true political junkie (present company included), there’s a whole other level of terrific blogging going on at the state level.

We’ve collected out favorite(s) from each of the fifty states. Bookmark them. There’s no better way to follow Senate, governor, and House races than through these state-specific blogs.


Doc’s Political Parlor

Left in Alabama

Wanted Alabama Democrats


The Mudflats


Arizona Eagletarian

Espresso Pundit


Arkansas Blog

Tolbert Report



California Majority Report

California’s Capitol

Capitol Alert

Carla Marinucci

Fox and Hounds Daily

Rough & Tumble


Colorado Peak Politics

Colorado Pols

Complete Colorado

Peoples Press Collective

The Spot

Square State


CT Capitol Report

My Left Nutmeg


Delaware Grapevine

Delaware Liberal


Sayfie Review


The Buzz

Florida Progressive Coalition

Naked Politics

Political Pulse


The Spencerian

Sunshine State News


Peach Pundit

Political Insider


All Hawaii News


43rd State Blues

Huckleberries Online

Idaho Reporter


Capitol Fax

Chicago Current

Illinois Review


Capitol & Washington

Hoosier Access

Indiana Barrister


The Bean Walker

Bleeding Heartland

Iowa Independent

Iowa Republican

John Deeth

Under the Golden Dome


Dome on the Range

Hawver’s News


Barefoot and Progressive

Bluegrass Bulletin

Hillbilly Report

Page One Kentucky


Between the Lines

Daily Kingfish

The Hayride


Dirigo Blue

Maine Politics

Pine Tree Politics


Maryland Reporter

Red Maryland


Blue Mass Group

Political Intelligence

Talking Politics


Blogging for Michigan

Jack Lessenberry

Right Michigan


Bluestem Prairie

Capitol View

Dump Bachmann

Hot Dish Politics

Minnesota Independent


MN Progressive Project

Smart Politics

True North


Cotton Mouth Blog

Majority in Mississippi

Y’all Politics


Fired up Missouri


Show Me Progress


Intelligent Discontent

Montana Cowgirl


Leavenworth Street

New Nebraska



Desert Beacon

In the Sausage Factory

Inside Nevada Politics

Las Vegas Gleaner

The Nevada View

Nevada News Bureau

Slash Politics

Ralston Flash

New Hampshire

Blue Hampshire

NH Journal

WMUR Political Scoop

New Jersey

Blue Jersey


Save Jersey

New Mexico

Democracy for New Mexico

Heath Haussamen

Joe Monahan

New York

The Albany Project

Capitol Confidential

The Daily Politics

State of Politics

North Carolina

Cape Fear Watchdogs

Capital Beat

Civitas Review


Talking About Politics

Under the Dome

North Dakota

Flickertales from the Hill

North Decoder

Say Anything



Ohio Daily Blog

The Sidney Independent

Third Base Politics



The McCarville Report

Muskogee Politico


Blue Oregon

Capitol Watch

Jeff Mapes

Oregon Catalyst


Politics PA

Capitol Ideas

Early Returns

2 Political Junkies

Rhode Island

On Politics/WRNI

Nesi’s Notes

South Carolina


Political Briefing

South Dakota

Madville Times

South Dakota War College



Humphrey on the Hill

Knox Views



Texas Tribune

Burka Blog

Burnt Orange Report


Out of Context

Utah Policy


Green Mountain Daily

Vermont Daily Briefing



Bearing Drift

Blue Virginia

Not Larry Sabato


NPI Advocate

NW Daily Marker

Petri Dish

Political Buzz

Politics Northwest


Strange Bedfellows

West Virginia

West Virginia Blue


Blogging Blue

Blue Cheddar

Dane 101

On Politics

Uppity Wisconsin




The Pitch

Wyoming Capitol Journal

The Not Top Ten—the Ten Issues You Won’t Hear About This Fall

“It’s the economy, stupid.”

Truer political words were never spoken. James Carville and George Stephanopoulos made that phrase famous during Bill Clinton’s 1992 run for president, but it matters as much today as it did twenty years ago.

The economy is the only issue on voters’ minds. More than six in ten Floridians, South Carolinians, and New Hampshire-ites told exit pollsters that the economy was the most important issue to them. Every national poll conducted over the past three years has shown something very similar.

You would have to be a real dummy—and given that you have bought this book you obviously are not—to miss that the 2012 election will be decided by the state of the economy.

If the economy is sucking up every ounce of oxygen in the political room—bad (and extended!) metaphor alert—then what other issues are being suffocated? What would we—and the candidates—be talking about if they weren’t talking about the economy all the damn time?

In honor of SportsCenter—aka the show that Mrs. Fix demands be turned off when I am watching it straight through for the second consecutive hour—we give you the Not Top Ten Issues of 2012.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

Ames Straw Poll (Born August 1979, Died 8/31/2011) 3

The Best Political Blogroll-Anywhere 9

The Best State Political Blogroll-Anywhere 11

The Not Top Ten-the Ten Issues You Won't Hear About This Fall 21

Puritan Backroom: Chicken Fingers and the New Hampshire Primary 33

What It Takes to Write What It Takes 39

The Ten Best/Worst Negative Ads in Political History 55

Congress Doesn't Work. Here Are Five Ideas on How It Could 67

Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Ron Paul 79

Charging at Political Windmills 87

The Fix Endorsement Hierarchy 95

Jen Crider, the Woman Next to the Woman 109

The Art of an October Surprise 115

The Dos and Don'ts of Surviving a Political Sex Scandal 125

Why Republicans Are Headed for Electoral Oblivion (and How They Can Save Themselves) 135

The 2016 Political All-Star Game Starters 145

Campaign Finance Reform-in One Simple Step 159

The Super PAC Whisperer 165

The Fix Political Hall of Fame 171

Building the Perfect Third-Party Presidential Candidate 183

Kirsten Gillibrand: The Next Hillary? 193

The Four-Star Political General, Retired (Sort Of) 201

What's the New, New Thing? 207

Acknowledgments 213

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