- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 2, 2014

What with all its social media and excruciatingly current references, the whole world appears to know the White House is hip, and very skilled at being hip. Does this mean the Grand Old Party should up its pop culture factor as two big elections approach, and proverbial “big tent” thinking beckons? Oh, but it’s complicated, particularly as conservatives pine for common-sense standard-bearers and the political landscape becomes more trivialized. It would be folly to compromise a reliable Republican brand in the search for more diverse voter interest. Or is it worth the risk? The competition is out there.

President Obama has certainly outplayed the GOP on the pop culture field in 2008 and 2012, but that does not mean that the GOP will always come up short,” Tevi Troy tells Inside the Beltway.

He was a former senior adviser to George W. Bush and the author of “What Jefferson Read, Ike Watched, and Obama Tweeted: 200 Years of Popular Culture in the White House”, published by Regnery Books in September. Mr. Troy points out that Mr. Obama’s reference to “Mad Men” during his State of the Union speech was the most tweeted moment of the entire event.

“The Democrats have some natural advantages in pop culture, but not every Democratic candidate in the future will be as savvy as Obama. That said, the GOP does need to put up more of an effort on the pop culture front in the future,” Mr. Troy concludes.

Complicated, but doable? Perhaps. The Republican Party may have to consult the Ronald Reagan playbook on this recommendation. The Gipper appeared hip in the sense that he was of good cheer, canny and young at heart, minus annoying attitude. He balanced show biz acumen with authentic political and diplomatic prowess and underlying inner mettle. But enough fancy jabber. The answer, then, is this: Yes, Republicans can be hip, or get hip or get hipper — as long as style doesn’t overwhelm substance, values and principles, or become a substitution for same. Then GOP would simply translate to Great Opportunity Plundered.

ABBREVIATED PLAYBOOK

“I try to focus not on the fumbles but on the next play.”

President Obama to Fox News host Bill O’Reilly in an interview airing on the network prior to the Super Bowl on Sunday.

SO YOU HAD A BAD DAY

“Bridgegate” is almost five months old. The constantly evolving melodrama that erupted following a three-day lane closure on the George Washington Bridge in September has cornered New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and threatened his image and the prospects of a 2016 presidential run. Amid accusations, denials and hardball countermeasures, there are two distinct branches of the story. One is legal, the other is political. Contrary to the hopes of press, pundits and the Democratic Party, there are no instant conclusions.

The legal outcome, which involves a U.S. attorney investigation of what Mr. Christie knew and when he knew it, is going to take a while. His political trajectory, meanwhile, is subject to interpretation — also with no instant conclusions.

“Chris Christie dead in the water,” proclaimed the Boston Herald, positing the idea that this was good news for such potential White House rivals as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Jeb Bush and even Mitt Romney. Multiple reports dwelled on Mr. Christie’s intensified offensive against charges that he knew about the disruption. A few spare GOP allies like Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Rudy Giuliani defended the governor on CNN, CBS and ABC, respectively, during Sunday talk show appearances. The press narrative, however, offered a negative premature prognosis.

“Is the news media jumping the gun on Gov. Chris Christie?” asks Fox News host Greta Van Susteren. Others wonder as well.

“What is it, exactly, that Christie is accused of? Creating a traffic jam? No, not quite. Ordering a traffic jam? No, that’s not quite right either. Being irritated with the mayor of Fort Lee, who declined to endorse his re-election bid, and wishing to get back at him somehow and then not minding when he was embarrassed with some really bad traffic over the George Washington Bridge?” asks Roger Kimball, a PJ Media columnist.

“That last comes pretty close to what the governor of New Jersey is accused of. Pretty heinous, eh? I mean, you never see bad traffic on the George Washington Bridge. And of course, no politicians ever indulge in political payback,” he adds.

COLD GAMES, HOT REVENUE

The threat of terrorism may dominate headlines about the Winter Olympics, which begin on Thursday. But there is another aspect to examine.

“The Winter Olympic Games in Sochi have attracted a record number of advertisers with the total value of contracts with sponsors, suppliers and licensees amounting to almost half a trillion dollars. This is an all-time record not only for Winter, but also for Summer Olympic Games,” says Svetlana Kalmykova, a correspondent with The Voice of Russia, a Moscow-based broadcast group.

“Besides 10 global corporations, traditional partners of the International Olympic Committee, the organizers of the games in Sochi have managed to sign marketing contracts with eight national partners. For comparison, there were seven national sponsors at the Summer Olympics 2012 in London,” Ms. Kalmkova notes.

And in the meantime, NBC, which will carry the games for the U.S. audience, has garnered $800 million in advertising revenues to broadcast 1,000 hours of events. A good thing, too. Almost three-fourths of Americans would not venture to Sochi, even if they had the money. See today’s Poll du Jour, at column’s end.

ON RADAR: AFGHANISTAN REALITY CHECK

“Last year, Afghanistan cultivated an all-time record high amount of opium poppy despite U.S. led counternarcotics efforts — producing more than 90 percent of all opiates in the world,” says Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Republican and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcomittee on the Middle East and North Africa.

“Not only does drug trafficking fund the Taliban and other extremist groups, with estimates suggesting that this generates them hundreds of millions of dollars annually, it creates an increase in corruption and poses a very serious public health challenge in Afghanistan. Drug addiction is at epidemic levels, and the problem is only getting worse,” she continues, in advance of a Wednesday hearing with State, Defense and Justice Department officials to parse out the prospects.

“This hearing is necessary to examine how the United States can sustain and improve counternarcotics efforts in Afghanistan as uncertainty clouds our post-2014 footprint,” the lawmaker explains.

POLL DU JOUR

73 percent of Americans say they would not want to attend the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, even if they could afford it.

69 percent say U.S. athletes should participate in the Winter Olympic Games at Sochi; 18 percent disagree and 14 percent are unsure.

55 percent would have chosen Salzburg, Austria, for the winter games.

52 percent approve the decision that President Obama and Vice President Joseph R. Biden will not attend the games.

50 percent disapprove of the International Olympic Committee decision to select Sochi for the games.

47 percent approve of the U.S. decision to send gay athletes to the games.

36 percent have “a little confidence” that the games will be safe from terrorism.

23 percent have “no confidence,” 23 percent have “some confidence” and 7 percent have no confidence at all in the security.

Source: A YouGov/Economist survey of 1,000 U.S. adults conducted Jan. 25-27.

 Commentary to jharperwashingtontimes.com; follow her at Twitter.com/harperbulletin

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