The Campaign Trail's Say-Nothing Olympics

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In the Olympics, you have your big name sports like basketball, that everyone knows and will get lots of primetime coverage. Then you have your glamour sports, like gymnastics and the 100-meter dash, that everyone watches only every four years. And then you have your neglected sports, like curling or dressage or shotput, that people mostly watch to gawk at these strangely muscular people who take their hobby so seriously. And that is like the presidential race. President Obama and Mitt Romney are the main event, and then the wives and maybe the high-personality strategists soak up a lot of attention, and left for mockery are the rumpled sweaty aides. But those aides are just as serious in their competition. And on Monday we got a preview of what could be one of the must-watch face-offs of the summer: Romney spokesman Rick Gorka versus Obama spokesman Jay Carney in a contest of "sounding like you're saying something when you're saying nothing over and over again."

We've truly got a battle of the juggernauts, folks. There's Gorka, obviously impatient to prove himself, chewing gum in faux nonchalance as he does his best to give reporters no real comment on Romney's view of the Supreme Court's decision on Arizona's immigration law, as demonstrated by this amazing transcript posted by Politico. He goes up against the solid, seasoned Carney, who's almost complacent in his years of experience, such as his classic round with the White House press corps on whether Obama supported gay marriage after Vice President Joe Biden said he did on Meet the Press last month. Will it be the energetic upstart or the confident veteran?

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First let's look at the sheer amount of time these men sat through repetitive and increasingly aggressive questions from reporters, and who has the shear stamina to act as if their evasion was a substantive answer:

  • Gorka said nothing today for 7 minutes today.
  • That's not bad, but consider that Carney gave non-answers for 21 minutes. Sure, Carney addressed other issues at his press conference, nevertheless, it looks like Carney knows how to finish the distance.

But it's not just about the ability to maintain eye contact and say sentences, it's about what's in those sentences -- who has the endurance to repeat the talking points as frequently as possible:

  • Gorka's talking point was that the court's decision was an expression of a state's right to take action when the federal government failed to enforce the law. Gorka made some reference to states rights 9 times in seven minutes, and to federal failure 13 times in seven minutes. That's a rate of 1  states rights talking point every 47 seconds, and one about presidential failure every 32 seconds
  • Carney's talking point was that Obama has already done a lot of stuff for gay rights, that he had no update to the president's position, and that the president's views were evolving. Carney said there was no update 10 times, and that Obama was evolving seven times, and 15 references to Obama's gay resume. That's a rate of one update every 126 seconds, one evolving every 180 seconds, and one resume every 84 seconds. In pure talking-point production, Gorka looks pretty formidable.

Now let's consider strength. Can these men get through the absurd pantomine without wincing, cracking a smile, or otherwise collapsing the fourth wall?

  • Gorka: Not really.

Though he's quite skilled when it comes to looking aggressively bored:

  • Carney almost smiles:

But mostly sticks to exasperation:

Next we need to look at execution: How many different ways can these guys say the same thing? Gorka: 

  • "The governor supports the states' rights to craft immigration laws when the federal government has failed to do so."
  • "The governor believes the states have the rights to craft their own immigration laws, especially when the federal government has failed to do so."
  • "What Arizona has done and other states have done is a direct result of the failure of this president to address illegal immigration."
  • "This debate is sprung from the president failing to address this issue."
  • "Again, each state has the right within the Constitution to craft their own immigration laws since the federal government has failed."
  • "Ultimately this debate comes back down to the federal government and the president failing to address this."
  • "ultimately this, again, goes back to the president failing to deliver on his campaign promises"
  •  "The states have the right to craft their immigration policy when the federal government has failed to do so."
  • "The federal government has failed to secure the borders and to enact policy on this issue, and the states are left to protect their own borders and to work within their own system and to come up with a policy that works for them."
  • "The bottom line, the fundamental problem of this debate is that the president has failed to enact a policy, has failed to address this, has failed to live up to his campaign promise again and again and again."


  • "Well, I have no update on the president's personal views."
  • "I think the president is the right person to describe his own personal views. He, as you know, said that his views on this were evolving and I don't have an update for you on that."
  • "I think the president said that he was evolving and -- and he had -- I think when people have asked him that and he has no update to give them or no change in his views to -- to put forward, that he's simply saying that "I have nothing new for you on that." His position is what it was."
  • "I don't have an update to provide you on the president's position."
  • "I really don't have any update for you."
  • "I just don't have an update for you on the president's position."
  • "I can tell you that the president has spoken about this and that his -- his views have not changed, and I have no update to give you on them."
  • "Look, I don't have an update on the president's personal views. He's -- he described them in response to a question. He's -- this has gotten a great deal of coverage in the past. I -- that's the answer he has and I don't have a new answer for you."
  • "The next time the president has a news conference, if you want to ask him that, you're certainly welcome to. I do not have an update for you on the president's personal views."
  • "I would simply say that his views are evolving, which is what he said. And I don't have an update for you on that issue."

There's a cleverness and creativity at work here. You have to call this an even match.

Finally, the dismount: Who can elegantly extract himself from the questions.


Gorka: "We have to get going. I'm more than happy to talk about-- I'm with you guys all afternoon at the hotel. We can--"

Reporter: Why isn't the governor up here talking about this. He's not addressed any of this.

Gorka: "The governor has issued a statement and if there is ah" (Overtalk: The statement doesn't explain...) "It’s still a long day. And there's still an opportunity."


Carney: The next time the president has a news conference, if you want to ask him that, you're certainly welcome to.

I do not have an update for you on the president's personal views.

Reporter: I'm not finished. I'm not finished. Wait a minute. One more question.

Going back to what Steve asked about...

Carney: I'll have to get (inaudible)... Yes, but I don't have -- I -- I have to -- to take that question.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.