TIME White House

How Twitter Changed the State of the Union

President Harry S. Truman delivering the State of the Union address in 1948.
Frank Scherschel—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images President Harry S. Truman delivering the State of the Union address in 1948.

In the age of Facebook and Twitter, the strategy for the marquee address has shifted

The theatrics are tradition, so the speech may seem the same. On Tuesday night, Barack Obama will saunter down the center aisle of the House chamber, take the rostrum and deliver the annual State of the Union address. There will be robed justices in the front pews, a laundry list of policy proposals, a few tales about the heroic acts of ordinary Americans. On television, the ritual still summons all the pageantry the presidency can muster.

But what’s the true state of the State of the Union? Not quite as strong as the speech once was. The rise of social media, the proliferation of mobile devices and an audience whose attention is divided between multiple screens have sapped some of its power.

The State of the Union is still the singular example of the presidential bully pulpit. But the White House knows the clout of the speech has diminished. The 2014 State of the Union drew 33.3 million television viewers, nearly 20 million less than the audience that tuned into Obama’s first address in 2009. Many of them undoubtedly had one eye on Obama and the other on Facebook or Twitter, where live commentary can influence impressions of a performance. Still others watched it online later.

As a result, Obama’s team has tailored their State of the Union strategy to fit the shrinking power of a prime-time event in the age of social media. Last year the administration implored its supporters to watch the speech on a White House website. For this “enhanced experience,” Obama’s oratory was supplemented by a battery of charts, graphs and data points, which viewers could share with their social networks. For the White House, which has seized upon new methods to circumvent the press, it was a way to mute the blathering cable pundits and deliver an unfiltered message.

This year brings new wrinkles. A coveted post-speech interview in the Oval Office was given to three YouTube stars, who solicited questions from the president’s supporters. And in an acknowledgement that a single speech won’t carry the message, the White House has been dropping “spoilers” throughout January.

Instead of unveiling a raft of new policies on Tuesday, Obama traveled to Michigan to tout the manufacturing sector’s revival, talked the housing market’s rebound in Arizona and plugged his plan to make community college free in Tennessee. The White House built a microsite to showcase many of the policies the president will propose Tuesday, on topics as diverse as broadband Internet and thawing relations with Cuba.

“The awareness that the State of the Union doesn’t count for what it used to produces innovation,” says Jeff Shesol, a presidential speechwriter in the Clinton administration. “The White House is putting less weight on the speech as the centerpiece of their strategy.”

Obama’s top aides say they were forced to adapt by the din of the churning news cycle. “The environment is so cluttered that if you don’t spread out your initiatives and unveil them in channels where people already are, like Facebook or Upworthy, then they’re just going to get lost in the discussion,” Dan Pfeiffer, Obama’s senior adviser, told the Associated Press. “The nature of the experience is different.”

If the media strategy has changed, the process of crafting the speech remains as arduous as before. The task of drafting it begins as early as Thanksgiving, and the speech often goes through more than 20 drafts. Various wonks and advisers from across the government weigh in on structure, language and theme, while the writers struggle to alchemize a laundry list of priorities into lucid prose. Once the text is nearly settled, the president will practice the speech multiple times in the days leading up to the address. During these run-throughs, aides will mark the lines they want to blast out over social media during and after the address.

But if social media has reshaped the rollout strategies, the pillars of a sharp State of the Union speech are the same. You need a clear platform, a theme that carries the argument, and the ability to convert arcane policy into sparkling rhetoric. The principles of good writing, from memorable metaphors to economy of language, are timeless.

“Technology changes, but the power of words doesn’t,” says Peter Wehner, a presidential speechwriter under George W. Bush. “Look back to Lincoln. His best lines would fit on Twitter.”

TIME 2016 Election

Democrats Scramble for California Senate Seat

Tom Steyer Kamala Harris
AP/Getty Images Left: Tom Steyer; Right: Kamala Harris

One rising star is in, another is out, and a billionaire donor is weighing a bid of his own

The retirement of California Senator Barbara Boxer has touched off a furious scramble among Democrats jostling to replace her, with one rising star jumping into the race and several other veteran candidates publicly weighing whether to run.

Kamala Harris, California’s attorney general, laid down an early marker in the pricey, high-stakes contest by announcing Tuesday that she will run for the seat being vacated by Boxer, who said last week that she won’t run for a fifth term in the Senate in 2016.

“I will be a fighter for middle-class families who are feeling the pinch of stagnant wages and diminishing opportunity,” Harris said in a message launching her campaign. “I will be a fighter for our children who deserve a world-class education, and for students burdened by predatory lenders and skyrocketing tuition. And I will fight relentlessly to protect our coast, our immigrant communities and our seniors.”

The top law-enforcement official in the nation’s most populous state, Harris, 50, is considered among the Democratic Party’s rising stars. In normal contests, the entry of a glittering recruit into the race might prompt party kingpins to coalesce around her candidacy. But this is California, the country’s leading liberal redoubt, a state whose sluggish political turnover has yielded a long list of seasoned politicians patiently waiting for their shot. Harris may be the front-runner, but she won’t coast to the Senate without a challenge.

It won’t come from Gavin Newsom, however. The state’s lieutenant governor said this week that he will pass on a campaign to succeed Boxer; instead he may mount a bid to succeed Golden State Governor Jerry Brown in 2018. Newsom’s decision spared California Democrats a collision between two of the state’s top politicians, whose bases of support and spheres of influence overlap.

Several other Democratic veterans are publicly mulling a campaign. One is former Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, whose ties in the Hispanic community and links to party donors — forged partly through a stint at the helm of the Democratic National Committee — would make him a contender for the seat. California Representative Loretta Sanchez, who has served in Congress since 1997, has also said that she is seriously considering a run.

“With strong candidates like Kamala Harris, Democrats remain confident that we’ll hold this seat and continue Barbara Boxer’s long history of fighting for California,” says Justin Barasky, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “The DSCC will continue to monitor the California Senate race closely.”

The billion-dollar question hanging over the contest is whether one of the nation’s leading donors decides to mount a campaign himself. Tom Steyer, the retired hedge-fund magnate, has emerged in recent years as the Democratic Party’s most generous donor. In 2014, he shelled out some $74 million to candidates, mostly through a political-action committee dedicated to bringing the issue of climate change to the political forefront. Now Steyer is thinking about whether the next campaign he backs should be his own.

“Holding office is a sacred trust in our society, and I am honored that so many colleagues and friends have encouraged me to consider entering this race,” Steyer wrote in an essay for the Huffington Post. “Washington needs to be shaken up, and we need climate champions who will fight for the next generation. California Democrats are blessed to have a deep bench of talent, and I will decide soon based on what I think is the best way to continue the hard work we’ve already started together to prevent climate disaster and preserve American prosperity.”

The post can be read as a sign that Steyer is preparing to jump in. In recent days, he has met with advisers, polled voters and snatched up campaign website domains, according to reports. But it is also a vigorous defense of his political-action committee, NextGen Climate, which lost the majority of the races it contested last fall and which Steyer told TIME in November he would continue to build.

Steyer’s money and influence would make him an instant force in the race, but it would offer no guarantee of success. A series of California business tycoons, from Meg Whitman to Michael Huffington, have self-funded lavish campaigns only to learn their largesse has limits at the polls. And despite the appreciation his generosity his bought, many Democrats are surely hoping he won’t run. In 2014, Steyer was the largest individual donor in the U.S. If he writes those checks to himself instead, it would be a blow to candidates across the country. An ally of Steyer declined to comment on his decision-making process.

The contest, expected to be the year’s most expensive, also feature a local wrinkle. In 2012, California jettisoned the traditional party primary system in favor of an open contest in which the top two vote getters, regardless of party, advance to the general election. If two strong Democratic candidates opt to run in the primary, they could face each other once again in the general election — during which the state’s Republicans and independents would play a major role in picking the winner.

TIME 2016 Election

The Hidden Strategy Behind Mitt Romney’s 2016 Campaign Tease

GOP Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney Campaigns In Michigan
Bill Pugliano—Getty Images Mitt Romney speaks during a campaign stop at Lansing Community College on May 8, 2012 in Lansing, Mi.

Former aides say new hints that he may run again are about stirring the waters, not winning the nomination

Is Mitt Romney for real?

Members of Romney’s inner circle remain skeptical that the two-time Republican presidential contender will make a third bid for the White House, even after he told top Republican donors Friday that he was weighing another try for the Oval Office in 2016.

“Tell your friends,” Romney told about 30 Republican donors at a closed-door New York City gathering organized by New York Jets owner Woody Johnson, according to a person familiar with Romney’s remarks. The meeting, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, came after nearly a year of hints dropped by Romney’s donors and allies, who have been practically begging the former Massachusetts governor to launch another run for the White House.

But top advisers to Romney still discount the chance of him mounting a campaign. For starters, he has done little to convince even close allies that he is serious about it.

Other major candidates have begun hiring staff, courting activists and taking other concrete steps toward assembling a campaign. Romney has not.

“Say what you want about the 2012 campaign, but it was a professional operation. This feels like it’s being winged,” says a senior Republican strategist who has worked closely with Romney on the timing of the leak. “They’re winging it right now.”

After two failed bids for the White House, it is far from clear that Romney, never a favorite of conservatives, even has a feasible path to the GOP nomination in a more competitive field.

And many close allies don’t believe he’d perform much better in a general election should he get lucky again.

The former Massachusetts governor proved to be a deeply flawed candidate in 2012. Wooden on the stump, he was unable to deflect attacks about the vast wealth he amassed during his business career. Romney alienated Hispanics, performed poorly with women and turned off vast swaths of the electorate with his disparaging remarks about the 47% of Americans who expected handouts. Many Republicans also believe nominating Romney would eliminate the opportunity to draw favorable contrasts with Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton’s wealth and age.

Romney himself has dismissed the prospect of another campaign as a lost cause. In Mitt, a behind-the-scenes documentary, he says so plainly. “I have looked, by the way, at what happens to anybody in this country who loses as the nominee of their party,” Romney tells his family in the film. “They become a loser for life, all right? That’s it. It’s over.”

Last summer, he put the odds of another campaign at one in a million. “Oh, no, no, no. No, no, no, no, no. No, no, no,” he told the New York Times earlier in 2014.

So why would Romney donors say he’s considering a campaign that he has taken no steps toward preparing for, and which by his own calculation has little chance at succeeding?

The primary motivation for Romney’s supposed change of heart, one close aide says, was the support of his donors. “He’s more open to it,” says one close adviser, “based on all the encouragement he’s received.”

During his 2012 campaign, Romney forged close relationships with a national network of financiers, who helped him raise more than $1 billion. As a former venture capitalist and private-equity executive, Romney is well practiced in the care and feeding of top donors, who were treated to parties on primary nights and invited to summits at a five-star Park City ski lodge.

Since his defeat, Romney has worked to maintain these relationships, hosting similar retreats in Park City in 2013 and 2014, with another already on the books for June. He staged events to introduce Republicans candidates to his donor network, elevating the former nominee to the role of party power broker. Last year he hit the fundraising circuit for down-ballot Republicans.

Former Romney advisers say that nearly all of the leaks that Romney is mulling a 2016 campaign come from this donor network, not the political aides he would rely on to execute one.

Now many of those same money men are being aggressively courted by one of the only other Republican powerful enough to loosen Romney’s grip on the party’s purse strings. Jeb Bush’s December announcement that he will “actively explore” a 2016 run has upended an already crowded GOP primary field, including the chase for the small circle of wealthy Republicans whose deep pockets and broad networks can lift a candidate to the nomination. The former Florida governor, quickly set to courting Romney’s donors, holding fundraising events this week in New York, Boston and Greenwich, Conn. Romney’s entrance into the field would set up a clash between two center-right politicos competing for a finite number of elite donors and staff.

At the same time, Bush began recruiting Romney’s political team. This week he announced the formation of a political action committee to help Republicans around the country, as well as a super PAC, formed by former Romney super PAC co-founder Charles Spies, to boost his own political fortunes.

Bush and Romney are not close. Romney aides noted Friday that Bush waited until well after the Florida primary to endorse the nominee in 2012, and his recent criticism of Romney’s performance during the race rankled loyalists. “The message here to Jeb is ‘slow your roll,'” says one senior Romney veteran. “There are donors who are very protective of Mitt and don’t like to see him treated this way.”

One Republican consultant suggests that posturing over a possible campaign was a way to signal that he wouldn’t cede automatically donors or staff to Bush. “Money for some is more important than policy,” says the consultant.

This is why veteran operatives of the Romney campaigns consider the revived rumors of a 2016 campaign overblown. They have long scoffed at the notion he’d run again. They believe their former boss would be an excellent president. They say Romney agrees. At the same time, they don’t expect a campaign to materialize.

“You take that deeply held belief and a bunch of people telling him to do it,” a Romney adviser says, “and you have this tizzy.”

TIME 2016 Election

Will Ron Paul Haunt Rand in 2016?

Rand Paul, Ron Paul
Ed Reinke—AP As a libertarian-minded Republican in congress for decades, Rep. Ron Paul (right) became the defacto leader of the libertarian movement in the U.S. His son Rand Paul (left) is now trying to take on that mantle as a Senator from Kentucky and likely presidential hopeful.

We don’t pick our parents, and by most any measure, Rand Paul was exceedingly lucky with his. Former GOP Representative and presidential candidate Ron Paul bequeathed to his son a name and a network that propelled his ascent from unknown ophthalmologist to presidential contender in the span of a few short years.

But as Rand Paul prepares for a likely campaign launch this year, it’s clear that his famous father is no longer an asset. Ron Paul retired from Congress in January 2013, but he hasn’t strayed far from the political stage. In columns and interviews, he regularly espouses positions which are out of step with the Republican electorate and which opponents will harness in an attempt to strangle his son’s presidential aspirations.

After the terrorist attack in Paris this week, Ron Paul said that French foreign policy had helped drive the attack. “It’s an overall policy that invites retaliation,” Paul told Newsmax TV. “It doesn’t justify [the attack], but it explains it.” The argument echoed his claim that American military adventurism precipitated the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, a belief that doesn’t wash well with a party predicated on national pride.

And if Ron’s foreign policy clashes with the party’s prevailing views, so too do some of his domestic prescriptions. In a column published Thursday, Paul wrote the U.S. “is a police state” marred by a “police culture that accepts the principle of initiating unjustified violence against citizens.” Such convictions are anathema for much of the Republican Party, which considers law enforcement sacrosanct and rejects criticism of cops, particularly in the wake of the killing of two New York City police officers last month.

As he gears up for a presidential campaign, one of Rand Paul’s central challenges will be to nurture his father’s ardent fans while separating himself from Ron’s impolitic positions. Since his election to the Senate in 2010, Rand has taken a different tack than his dad, both in tone and in substance. But Rand Paul’s primary opponents will try to use the father’s remarks to discredit the son.

A Paul adviser predicts the attack won’t stick, noting it hasn’t impeded the Kentucky senator’s meteoric rise. “If Rand’s opponents and the media are successful at tying him to his father’s comments, it will be the first time in history,” the adviser says. “People don’t vote based on for someone for president based on their father.”

But Ron Paul’s remarks this week are an unpleasant reminder that Rand may be forced to defend or disown his father’s remarks throughout a presidential campaign.

TIME justice

Ferguson Grand Juror Sues to Remove Gag Order

Ferguson
Cristina Fletes-Boutte—AP St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch announces the grand jury's decision not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the Aug. 9 shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year old, on Monday, Nov. 24, 2014, at the Buzz Westfall Justice Center in Clayton, Mo

A new lawsuit claims that the standard of secrecy is outweighed by free speech rights

A member of the St. Louis grand jury that investigated the killing of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson is suing to challenge a gag order that prevents the grand jury from publicly discussing the case.

The lawsuit, brought by a person identified as Grand Juror Doe, was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri. It names as defendant the St. Louis County prosecuting attorney, Robert McCulloch, who came under intense criticism for his handling of the case and who is the official charged with enforcing the Missouri law that requires grand jurors to maintain secrecy about closed-court proceedings.

Grand jury secrecy is a widely accepted legal standard, but the Ferguson shooting was not a typical case. The national uproar it generated led McCulloch to make a series of unusual decisions about how to present the evidence. In a sharp departure from the norm in criminal cases, the county presented all the available evidence—including witness testimony that was debunked—and declined to recommend a specific charge. It also released reams of transcripts, court records and other materials after the grand jury declined to bring charges against Wilson for the Aug. 9 shooting Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old.

McCulloch has said that those decisions were made in an attempt to conduct a thorough and transparent investigation into an unfolding case that became a flashpoint for a national debate over police behavior and race relations. The lawsuit suggests that Grand Juror Doe disagreed with the manner in which evidence was presented to the panel, and likely the decision not to charge Wilson with a crime. It argues that because of the unique nature of the case, as well as McCulloch’s pledge to provide the public with a full accounting of the court’s proceedings, the standard of secrecy is outweighed by the plaintiff’s right to free speech.

“The rules of secrecy must yield because this is a highly unusual circumstance,” said Tony Rothert, the legal director of the ACLU of Missouri. “The First Amendment prevents the state from imposing a lifetime gag order in cases where the prosecuting attorney has purported to be transparent.”

Impartial legal experts say that McCulloch’s choices in how to present the case were lawful. But nobody, including McCulloch, disputes the process was unusual. In normal cases, a grand-jury hearing can be a formality that features few witnesses, often none presented by the defense. An old saw holds that a prosecutor could get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich.

In contrast, the 12 members of the Ferguson panel (nine white, three black) were asked to sift through mountains of evidence to determine whether the accused was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In effect, the prosecuting attorney treated the grand jury in many ways as if it were a trial jury—but without the same openness, and with an indefinite ban on discussing the experience.

As a result, the plaintiff alleges, the members of the panel should be permitted to share their opinions about the case, which might “contribute to the current public dialogue concerning race relations.” The suit states:

In Plaintiff’s view, the current information available about the grand jurors’ views is not entirely accurate—especially the implication that all grand jurors believed that there was no support for any charges. Moreover, the public characterization of the
grand jurors’ view of witnesses and evidence does not accord with Plaintiff’s own. Plaintiff also wishes to express opinions about: whether the release of records has truly provided transparency; Plaintiff’s impression that evidence was presented differently than
in other cases, with the insinuation that Brown, not Wilson, was the wrongdoer; and questions about whether the grand jury was clearly counseled on the law.

Edward Magee, a spokesman for McCulloch, said the prosecuting attorney had no comment because he had not yet been served with the lawsuit.

Read the entire lawsuit here.

TIME Sony

State Department Insists North Korea Behind Sony Hack

But the inside-job theory is gaining steam among outside experts

The U.S. government remains convinced the North Korean government was behind last month’s massive Sony hack, despite outside reports alleging an employee of the company may have been involved.

“The United States government has concluded that the North Korean government is responsible for this attack,” State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke told reporters. “And we stand by that conclusion. “

The Federal Bureau of Investigation, which is leading the investigation in conjunction with other U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies, announced on December 19 that the rogue regime was responsible for the hack. But doubts have simmered among outside security experts, in part because the government has acknowledged withholding some of the evidence that led to the conclusion.

The FBI said it would not share its complete analysis of the evidence pointing to North Korea. “The need to protect sensitive sources and methods precludes us from sharing all of this information,” the bureau said. Publicly, the FBI has indicated the attack mimicked previous North Korean intrusions on South Korean systems, adding the “data-deletion malware” used in the attack was similar to other code experts have attributed to North Korean-allied hackers and attempted to “ping” internet protocol addresses linked to the country.

As a result, private cybersecurity experts have expressed continued doubts about the link to North Korea. “We can’t find any indication that North Korea either ordered, masterminded or funded this attack,” Kurt Stammberger, a vice president at Norse security in California, told the Los Angeles Times. Stammberger told the paper that he had briefed law-enforcement officials on the theory that the massive hack was an inside job.

But the inside-job theory has holes of its own. Outside analysts have only been given limited access to the malware and details of the Sony hack, and have failed to offer conclusive evidence that the U.S. government’s conclusions are wrong. “It’s not that it’s not possible. It’s just that it’s ambiguous,” Mark Rasch, a former federal cybercrimes prosecutor, says of the inside-job theory.

A disgruntled IT employee might have both the motive and technical expertise to burrow deep into Sony’s computer networks and extract some 100 terabytes of data, a process that cyberexperts say may have taken weeks or months. The nature of the hack—which spilled personal information about thousands of people and made public the private emails of Sony executives—seemed calibrated to embarrass the company. In their initial email to Sony executives and public statement, the hackers made no mention of “The Interview.” And wiping Sony’s computers, Rasch says, “is a tactic we frequently see in attacks by disgruntled insiders.”

Cybersecurity experts have said from the start that an insider could be involved. “We don’t discount the possibility of an insider,” Jaime Blasco, director of labs at the California-based security firm AlienVault, told TIME earlier this month.

In his end-of-year press conference, President Obama himself placed the blame on North Korea and promised that the U.S. government would respond, but would not discuss the specifics.

“They caused a lot of damage, and we will respond,” Obama said. “We will respond proportionally, and we’ll respond in a place and time and manner that we choose.”

TIME justice

The Growing Republican Divide on Criminal Justice Reform

Charles Koch
Bo Rader—Wichita Eagle/MCT via Getty Images Charles Koch, head of Koch Industries, on Feb 27, 2007.

GOP leaders are embracing reform, but the base remains committed to the party's law-and-order roots

Charles Koch, the billionaire industrialist and Republican Party donor, says he will make criminal justice reform a major cause in 2015. “Over the next year, we are going to be pushing the issues key to this, which need a lot of work in this country,” Koch said in an interview with the Wichita Eagle.

Koch is a big spender—and something of a bogeyman among many liberals—so this made news. The “conservative mega-donor,” a Politico story blared, “is opening his wallet on an unexpected issue.”

Except it shouldn’t be unexpected. Koch is a libertarian, and libertarians have a history of opposing policies, such as mandatory minimum sentencing, that have made the U.S. incarceration rate the highest in the world. What’s perhaps more surprising is how Republican politicians from other parts of the spectrum are beginning to embrace criminal justice reform as well.

Over the past few years, GOP leaders in Washington and around the country have seized on justice reform as an issue that is both good policy and good politics. This view places them in conflict with many Republican voters, who still hew to the law-and-order beliefs on which the party had long been united. As a result, criminal-justice policy may emerge as one of the GOP’s key fault lines in 2015, as tensions simmer amid ongoing protests over police behavior and the presidential primary begins to heat up.

Virtually all of the likely 2016 Republican field supports some element of criminal-justice reform. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is the most visible and least surprising proponent; as a libertarian-leaning conservative, he has staked his candidacy on the idea that the GOP must adjust its policies as the composition of the electorate changes. But Paul is hardly the only 2016 hopeful to plant a flag on the issue. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a former federal prosecutor, has called for an end to the “failed war on drugs” and signed legislation that sent some offenders to rehab instead of prison.

Rick Perry, the conservative governor of Texas, has been among the nation’s top prison reformers, even winning a national award for his support of drug courts as an alternative to incarceration. Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal, another Republican governor eyeing a 2016 bid, pushed legislation that would boost the state’s drug rehab program and make some nonviolent offenders eligible for early release.

Conservatives in Congress also have an appetite for reform. Paul Ryan produced a white paper on poverty that includes proposals like giving judges sentencing flexibility for nonviolent offenders and letting some inmates earn time off their prison stays for successful participation in programs. Mike Lee, a Republican senator from Utah and a Tea Party favorite, was one of the original sponsors, with liberal senators Dick Durbin and Pat Leahy, of a bill called the Smarter Sentencing Act, which attempts to curtail the draconian sentencing that has left some 2.2 million Americans behind bars. Among the Republicans who have since signed on: Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, another presidential hopeful.

Why have Republicans come around on law-and-order issues? Part of it is politics. As the country grows younger and more diverse, GOP leaders grasp the need to reach out to the minority groups who are disproportionately affected by the excesses of the justice system. It’s no surprise that Ryan, who knows firsthand how a lack of minority support can erode the viability of the Republican presidential ticket, spent time touring inner cities after 2012—nor that Paul, who hopes to avoid the same fate in ’16, launched a listening tour of his own.

There is also, Republicans note, a conservative case for overhauling a bloated prison system that drains resources and divides families. “You want to talk about real conservative governance? Shut prisons down. Save that money,” Perry said. A group called Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty inveighs against the failures of capital punishment, a process riddled with “waste, inaccuracy and bias” that “does not square up with conservative ideology.”

But the GOP base—which is older and whiter and wealthier than the average America, and thus less likely to be ensnared by the system—has been slower to embrace these ideas. And the bitter national debate catalyzed by the recent deaths of black men like Michael Brown and Eric Garner looks likely to impede the process.

Police behavior is a different thing than, say, eliminating mandatory minimums for nonviolent offenders—a point on which even the majority of Republicans agree. But the debate has revealed the degree to which law-and-order attitudes dominate in Republican circles.

Polls reveal that perspectives on police behavior break along partisan lines almost as sharply as racial ones. If Republicans are less likely to accept the prevalence of police misconduct (and they are), it follows that they would be less likely to buy into the notion that the system requires reform. In a recent Washington Post-ABC News survey, eight in 10 white Republicans said the Brown and Garner cases were isolated incidents, and a similar percentage say they are “confident that police treat blacks and whites equally.”

As long as support for cops stays sacrosanct among primary voters, criminal-justice reform is unlikely to become a campaign rallying cry during the GOP primary, even in a field that predominantly supports it. The Republican Party is evolving on criminal justice. But politicians will still talk on the trail about what voters want to hear.

TIME Crime

Why New York Cops Turned Their Backs on Mayor de Blasio

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio presser on NYPD Police Officers shot in Brooklyn
John Taggart—EPA New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks to the media during a news conference after two NYPD officers were shot, in Brooklyn, New York, Dec. 20, 2014.

The Dec. 20 killing of two police officers made a bad relationship worse

The killing of two New York City police officers on Dec. 20 has turned the department’s simmering feud with city hall into a political firestorm that has implications for the national debate over policing.

After officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos were shot and killed Saturday afternoon in an unprovoked attack, cops and union leaders publicly rebuked Mayor Bill de Blasio, arguing his earlier remarks had stoked anti-police sentiment. That night, officers turned their backs on the mayor as he walked through the Brooklyn hospital where the officers were taken.

De Blasio on Monday called for a suspension of protests and political debate over policing so that the families of the fallen officers could grieve in peace. “We all see the world through the prism of our families,” the mayor said in somber remarks at a charity luncheon. “Our first obligation is to respect these families in mourning.”

The call for unity came two days after Patrick Lynch, the president of the city’s biggest police union, openly blamed the mayor for the tragedy. “There’s blood on many hands tonight,” he said. “That blood on the hands starts at the steps of City Hall in the office of the mayor.”

READ MORE New York City Mayor Calls for Pause to Protests

New York’s current mayor has never been on friendly terms with New York’s finest. The strained relationship dates back to de Blasio’s campaign, when he pledged to reform the city’s stop-and-frisk practices, which the police credited for a decrease in crime but detractors decry as institutionalized racial profiling. The promise, along with de Blasio’s own mixed-race family and his outreach to black communities, helped him win 42% of the African-American vote in a crowded Democratic primary that featured an experienced black candidate, former city comptroller Bill Thompson.

De Blasio tried to couch his opposition to stop-and-frisk as a criticism of a practice championed by outgoing mayor Michael Bloomberg, not of the officers carrying it out. And de Blasio has not departed from the policy of “broken windows” policing, which targets low-level street offenses as a way to prevent more serious crimes. But New York’ police force, who were celebrated for their heroic response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and lionized by non-liberal mayors for two decades, have bristled at his perceived slights. “Quite frankly, the mayor ran an anti-police campaign,” former police commissioner Ray Kelly told ABC on Sunday.

The tension exploded this month after a Staten Island grand jury declined to indict Daniel Pantaleo, the New York cop whose choke hold led to the death of Eric Garner. The incident became a new flashpoint for the nationwide protest movement against police violence ignited by the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. In a plea for calm, de Blasio spoke candidly about the fraught relationship between young black men and police, and recalled telling his own son, a mixed-race teenager with a towering Afro, about the dangers embedded in an encounter with a cop.

“I have had to talk to Dante for years about the dangers that he may face,” de Blasio said. “A good young man, law-abiding young man, who would never think to do anything wrong. And yet, because of a history that still hangs over us, the dangers he may face, we’ve had to literally train him—as families have all over this city for decades—in how to take special care in any encounter he has with the police officers who are there to protect him.”

READ MORE New York Mourns Slain Officers as Police Tighten Security

To many New Yorkers, the statement betrayed the mayor’s sympathy with the protesters who flooded the streets rather than the officers charged with keeping the peace. So did de Blasio’s announcement that in the wake of the Garner case, some 22,000 officers would be required to complete a three-day “retraining” course. “The way we go about policing has to change,” he declared.

The furor over these remarks are best understood in the context of a political environment that treats criticism of cops by public officials as taboo. The Republican war on public-sector unions ends at the precinct doors. When it doesn’t, the public sides with the police—as in Ohio, where a 2011 bill to rein in collective-bargaining rights was overturned in a voter referendum in large part because it lumped in cops and firefighters with teachers. Prominent Republican politicians blasted de Blasio in the wake of this weekend’s killing, the first of a New York City officer in the line of duty since 2011.

Police are accustomed to unconditional support for performing a difficult and dangerous job, which may be the best explanation for the union spokesmen who reacted with indignation whenever a public figure expressed sympathy for what has come to be known as the Black Lives Matter movement. A St. Louis police-union spokesperson demanded an apology from the NFL when the Rams’ wide receiving corps took the field in late November with their hands raised aloft in a gesture of solidarity. A Cleveland police-union president called Browns’ wide receiver Andrew Hawkins “pathetic” for wearing a warm-up shirt that called for justice for Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old gunned down in that city mere seconds after a cop encountered him holding a toy gun.

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None of that matched the invective that New York police officials heaped on de Blasio after protests cascaded across the city earlier this month. Within a week of the Garner decision, the New York City Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association was circulating a petition that asked de Blasio and New York city council speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito to stay away away from their funerals if they were killed in the line of duty. It is a short trip from this morbid request to scapegoating the mayor in a tragedy for which no one is responsible but the criminal who pulled the trigger.

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