The lies that politicians should tell

Presidential candidates lie about their campaigns. That’s okay. Just don’t believe them.

Item: Newt Gingrich is “cutting back his campaign schedule,” slashing his staff, and will ignore the primaries and caucuses, instead “focusing exclusively,” they say, on the convention. What does that mean? In reality, it means that Team Newt is suspending his campaign, which in turn means that the campaign is actually over, for all practical purposes.

Item: Rick Santorum has been giving the press campaign memos (this time from a Santorum Super PAC) giving wildly implausible delegate estimates. Josh Putnam takes apart their plan here. The reality, near as I can tell, is that their delegate “strategy” is much more press spin than anything else (presumably, if they had anything going on that would actually yield delegates, they would be letting the press know instead of deploying fanciful counts). What’s really going on here is that the Santorum campaign is dead in the water barring a sudden swing against Mitt Romney.

In other words, both of these campaigns are flat-out lying to the press. In the case of Santorum, it’s to keep afloat in case a miracle strikes; in Gingrich’s case…well, I really don’t know why his campaign feels it’s better to pretend to be alive when it isn’t. Maybe it’s the candidate’s ego; maybe it’s for fundraising.

Either way, they’re not telling the truth. And you know what? That’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s exactly what everyone should expect them to do, and I for one have no problem with it.

Think of it in terms of representation. Politicians make promises, implicit and explicit, to us, about policy but also about their own behavior. And one of the implicit promises that virtually every politician makes is the Mitt Romney one: “I’m running for office, for Pete’s sake.” (Well, it’s normally implicit, anyway.) What this “promise” means is that we should expect a certain measure of spin about them and their campaigns. And that’s especially true for the ailing campaign, which needs to attempt to create an aura of plausibility or it will spiral down, since no one wants to supply resources to a campaign that’s going nowhere.

What this means, however, is that the press needs to report such claims carefully. There’s plenty of reason to Rick Santorum to pretend that he’s doing well; there’s no reason at all for the press to take those claims at face value. In other words, if reporters buy the spin, it’s not the candidate’s fault; I put the blame squarely on the press.

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