Wednesday, October 7, 2015

GOP Clown Car Part 8: Chris Christie

  Chris Christie is the loud, over the top, Springsteen loving, Tony Soprano-esque governor of New Jersey. Sometimes he seems like such a cliche, that he is more like Saturday Night Live character than a real person. Two things that come to mind when it comes to Chris Christie. First is that politics, like many things, is about timing, and Christie may have missed window of chance to run for president in 2012. The second thing is Christie may be a victim of what Rudy Giuliani faced in 2012, of being the tough Northeastern personality that is more popular in abstract than they are in real life. Christie is also a bit like Bobby Jindal, in that he is trying to run even though his star has faded a bit, and his true chances of winning seem like a stretch.

  Did Chris Christie miss his best chance to become president by not running in 2012? There were a lot of people who were less than excited about Mitt Romney, and they thought Christie was the perfect solution to an underwhelmed base. He did not run in 2012, and now he is not only facing a tougher field of candidates. The pundits think he missed his chance by not running, but I think he may have had a better chance, I am not sure it would have been a sure thing. He had just as much potential to challenge Romney as any of the other flash in the pan 2012 candidates did. On the other hand, he may have just been another flavor of the day in a cycle where almost all the candidates had a lead or were high up in the polls at some point. How Christie would have done in 2012 does not address the bigger question of whether or not Christie would be a able to translate into a national campaign.

  In 2012 Rudy Giuliani tried to parlay his role as New York mayor during and after the 9-11 into a run for president. He started with a lot of promise, but then made some early tactical errors and never really got off the ground. One possible explanation is that people like Rudy on TV being the tough mayor of America more than actually voting for him, especially when other than 9-11 he didn't very much to say. The best line in the whole campaign was Joe Biden described Giuliani talking as being little more than "Noun, verb, 9-11". Although not completely the same, I see a lot of similarities between Christie and Giuliani. They both based their reputations on being tough guy prosecutors. Republicans loved seeing Rudy talking tough on Fox News, and in the case of Christie you saw a seemingly endless stream of videos of the New Jersey governor berating and degrading reporters who dared ask questions he did not like. There is something that GOP base loves about these guys, but it love that is more in a certain context. Giuliani is great on Fox News and Christie is great in New Jersey, but does the mostly Southern base want to make one of these guys president.

  Since the heart of the GOP has shifted from New England to the South, Northeastern guys have not fared well in presidential politics. George H. W. Bush, a classic New England Republican, beat another New England politician in 1988 and was bounced out by a Southerner in 1992, and Mitt Romney managed to win the nomination in spite of his performance in the South not because of it. You also have all of those Midwestern governors who looked good on paper, but flamed out. I am not saying a Northerner can never when the GOP nomination, it just seems to be an additional challenge to convince Southerners to vote for a Yankee - which leads us back to Chris Christie's chances to win. Even with a fairly respectable resumé, he can't break out of the middle of the pack. He is not facing the "your campaign is dead" rumors, but he is not getting the "your campaign is moving up" stories either. So what do you do with a campaign that is stuck, and can't get much traction?  Christie has largely been focusing on his best chance of in New Hampshire. He has had a small bump in the polling but still stuck in the middle of the pack. He has to do very well in New Hampshire if is going to have even a remote chance of putting together a run, which will includes a lot of southern states after New Hampshire.

  When talking about the current candidates, the conversation always leads back how has Donald Trump affected them. Trump is also playing up the tough urban Northeastern guy angle, and his antics, especially on immigration, are stealing some of Christie's tough guy riffs. If that is not bad enough, for the moment, Trump seems to be defying the gravity that brings down other politicians. I know it is a bit of a contradiction to say that part of the reason Christie is losing is that he is from the Northeast, when he is losing to New Yorker Donald Trump. I would say when actual voting starts Trump will not win. In the highly unlikely prospect that Trump were to win the nomination, it will blow such a giant hole in the beltway common wisdom, the fact that he is a New Yorker is the least shocking aspect of it.

  Ultimately when I think of Chris Christie becoming the next president of the United States I would think of it terms of the NCAA basketball tournament. You have the Jindal, Graham, and Santorum that are more like 15 or 16 seeds that even if they pull off an upset they will never win the whole thing. Someone like Huckabee or Paul is like a 12 seed who can make some noise in the tournament but will also come up short. Christie and Cruz are like a 7 seed hoping to be the next North Carolina State or Villanova and catch a few breaks to win the whole thing. If you stretch that analogy to the upper tier of candidates it may seem initially crazy, but 2016 has some weak beatable candidates at the top.

  The future for Chris Christie seems unclear right now, at least in terms of being in politics. He is probably not going to be president, and is not particularly popular in New Jersey right now. The combination of the Bridgegate scandal and his focus on running for president has hurt his brand in New Jersey. He does seem to be a good fit for the Senate. Of course he is a natural for right wing media. Fox News would be all over him, if they could get him to be a regular contributor. His combative style and over the top persona is perfect fit for the channel. There will be ways he can make money from this, it just depends on what route he takes.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

GOP Clown Car Part 7: Mike Huckabee

  If Rick Santorum is the reluctant culture warrior, then former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee is a full on Christian warrior suited up in armor ready to go to battle for the cause of religious liberty. At least this version of Huckabee is wanting a holy war to make America a Christian nation again. In 2008, we saw a much different candidate. He was trying to win with an aw shucks down home approach, and with a gentler populist appeal that was trying to focus on jobs and the economy over social issues. Huckabee had a fairly good run in 2008, but chose Fox News money over another run in 2012. He decided to run again in 2016, but has had trouble getting much notice in the crowded field. Huckabee hitched his wagon to the controversial Kentucky clerk, Kim Davis, as a means to get more national press, and used gay marriage as a way to create an overall message for his 2016 campaign. The kinder gentler 2008 Huckabee was gone and was replaced with the Christian warrior Huckabee - full of talk about judicial tyranny and religious liberty. This approach just feels like he is working an angle more than stating true beliefs. There seems to be an air of desperation in the 2016 version of Huckabee that you didn't see in 2008. In addition to feeling a bit desperate, the strategy has not really worked all that well. He is not only towards the back of the pack nationally, but he is languishing in the Iowa polls, as well. I have a feeling Huckabee didn't really think he had a chance to become president, but with some of the candidates that were running this cycle, he figured what the heck.

  At the end of the day Mike Huckabee has the look and feel of niche candidate, that will not get past his slice of the Republican pie. Like his run 2008 and Santorum's run in 2012, a win in Iowa did more to extend their campaign more than an actually giving them a chance of winning anything. Having the evangelical base his a huge bonus in the Republican party, but having just them is not enough to put together a winning coalition. You can look through all the numbers and break it down, but at the end of the day, it simply comes down to Huckabee not having enough juice to win the nomination of the Republican party.

  This leads to the question: does it even matter that Huckabee has no shot? The 2008 run gave Huckabee a national audience, and he turned that fame into a high paying gig on Fox News. The 2016 run is a long shot, but Huckabee has done nothing that would cause him to lose his core audience. Even with the noise of a huge field, the right people are hearing what he has to say. Huckabee, at this point, is playing with house money and he is way ahead, at the very worst, he goes back to his gig on Fox News or some other high paying gig on the right wing gravy train.

Monday, October 5, 2015

GOP Clown Car Part 6: Rand Paul

  In writing about the 2016 Rand Paul Presidential Campaign I feel like I am in a race against time, because we are all just waiting on Rand to announce he is suspending his campaign and will change his focus to the Senate reelection. In 2010 when Paul was elected to the Senate, it was clear that this was just a stepping stone for a run at the big chair. The campaign started off promising but stalled with mediocre debate performances, anemic fund raising, and like other campaigns,  it had a hard time getting noticed in a very crowded field. Now that he is fighting off those pesky your campaign is dead in the water rumors and with his poll numbers barely above the one percenter, another Paul presidential campaign appears to be going down in flames.

  I think if you look at the campaigns that both of the Pauls have run, you also see a fundamental difference between the attitudes of the Republicans and the Libertarians. Republicans like to borrow from the Libertarians the idea of small government. The problem with that is if you look at the George W. Bush years, he oversaw the government getting much larger, which points to Republicans don't mind large government as long as it their Military Industrial version instead of the progressive New Deal version. Also Republicans seem to like their leaders to have an authoritarian streak. The goes against the Libertarian goal of smaller, decentralized government. Ron and to lesser degree Rand have both supported some version of Libertarian ideals and it only goes so far with the more mainstream Republicans. I know the conventional wisdom was that Rand Paul was going to be able to bridge the gap between the mainstream Republicans and the Libertarians. There was a lot of hype for Ron Paul 2008 and 2012, but even with all even with all the energy and enthusiasm the Ron Paul Revolution just never seemed to happen. I thought Rand actually had less of a chance than his father did.

  Foreign policy is one of the major stumbling blocks for the Republican Party and the Libertarians truly uniting. Even after eight years of living through the mostly terrible foreign policy of the George W. Bush presidency, Rand's father Ron Paul could not gain any traction with a more hands off foreign policy. Rand worked as a spokesman on his father's campaigns, and his approach to foreign policy at that time and early in the time he was in the Senate sounds a lot more like a traditional Libertarian. Rand Paul understood that the hawks would not buy the Libertarian approach to defense spending or the isolationist nonintervention foreign policy. When he decided to run for president one of the first things Rand did was move to the right on foreign policy. He not only said that spending more money on defense is not a bad thing, but also floated bombing some of the really bad guys. In trying to split the difference between the camps, he only managed to piss off both sides. The hawks didn't buy his new stance on foreign policy, because for so long he had been saying the exact opposite. Also the change just made him sound like your stand issue conservative Republican, and the Libertarians thought he sold out and couldn't be trusted. In fact one of the reasons the Rand Paul campaign is over rumors are flying around is the news that a Libertarian Super Pac has stopped raising money for him because they don't like the direction his campaign has taken. It hasn't helped Rand's campaign that the rise of Isis, violence in Syria, and what is seen as a horrible Iran deal has moved foreign policy up the chain of what is important to the Republicans this cycle.

  Rand has to be disappointed that his campaign did not go better. Just looking from outside, it looks like he was trying to tweak his father's formula and go farther than he did. It appears that the Republican party is not ready for a Libertarian Republican, at least on a presidential level. If, as it seems clear, that Rand will drop out at some point, then then question becomes will he be able to get reelected to his Senate seat? Will a bad presidential run sour the people of Kentucky on keeping him in the Senate? Another problem Rand might have is what he had to do get around a Kentucky law that said he could not for president and senate on the same ballot. Rand managed to get Kentucky to have a separate caucus so he could do both. While his campaign will cover the $250,000 cost of the caucus, it still rubbed some people the wrong way. My guess would be that has a good chance of staying in the Senate, but his long term future seems unclear. Does he want to be in the Senate for a long time or does want to serve a couple of terms in Senate and then cash out head to a think tank or some consulting job or corporate gig? He seems to like having that outsider status, but the longer you stay in the Senate the more of an insider you become.

Friday, October 2, 2015

GOP Clown Car Part 5: Rick Santorum

  Let's round out the one percenters with former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum. I  am finding it very hard to write about Rick Santorum. As a liberal, you see Santorum as the nerdy prudish cartoon character that most people think of when you say or Google his name. He has been a favorite target of ridicule for the left for over a decade now. His constant focus on social issues, especially abortion and LGBT issues, has made him a lightning rod for attention. The 2003 comments that compared homosexuality to incest and bestiality not only earned him the "Man on Dog" nickname, but they also motivated gay activist Dan Savage to set up the now famous Rick Santorum Google problem. On one hand I see a good decent and family man that in his eyes is trying to make this country a better place, but that pales in comparison to the idea of a extreme puritanical politician that can not keep his mind off of what people are doing in their bedrooms.

  One of the ways the GOP is trying to woo the more open minded millennials is too be a little more libertarianish on the social issues. That is not the school of thought that Santorum comes from. He firmly believes in legislating morality. A quick look through what he did as Senator shows where his motivations are. Everything is a slippery slope that will leading America into some kind of Sodom and Gomorrah hellscape of carnal desire and depravity. When asked about contraception, he said it was "a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be." This quote pretty much cover his opinion on most social issues, that it is outside the norm and therefore wrong. He looks like a true believer in a sea of con artists and hucksters. I know there are plenty of Republicans that give lip service to the social issues but deep down don't really give shit what people do with their private parts. One shudders to think what a President Santorum would actually be like, but outside of a group of true believers there are not many other people that actually want to see that happen.

  For all the talk and legislation on social issues by Santorum sometimes he is the reluctant culture warrior. It's almost like there are two Santorums. You have the blue collar Santorum running a serious issue oriented populist style campaign. There are times he tries to be that guy, and talks about wanting to focus on issues other than the social issues he is famous for. The problem for him is that with the Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court Case decision, gay marriage was going to be an issue this cycle, and Santorum, in spite of trying to be more than the candidate that talks about social issues, was never going to let that go. "I just can't quit you" to quote a movie that Santorum has probably not seen. There was a episode of The Jim Gaffigan Show where people come up to and say something about his fictionalized version of himself's food humor and he says that he is more than just food jokes and keeps getting a yeah right as the response. That's what it feels like Santorum says he wants to talk about something more than social issues.

  It seems clear that being the best non-Romney candidate in 2012 meant that Santorum was going to try at least one more time in 2016, but being second in 2012 continues to look like it was based more on luke warm feelings towards Romney than love for any of the other contenders. Even spending a huge amount of time in Iowa and trying his best make another serious run, his campaign languishing at the bottom of polls and that does not appear to be changing any time soon. Perhaps one of the issues may one of style over substance. Santorum's ideas may be fairly radical, but at his core he more of a establishment policy wonk and many of his solutions tend to be more creating legislation to address the various issues. With Trump, Carson, and Fiorina leading in polls, policy wonks are not what the base is looking for, and being slightly more exciting version of Scott Walker is not going to get you far.

  When Santorum lost his Senate race in 2006 he became a lobbyist and Fox News talking head. 2016 will probably be his last campaign, and other than popping up on cable news or a couple more books on evil liberals leading America straight to the gates of hell, it will be the last most of us will see of him. I am sure he will use his connections in Washington to get his next job, but he does not seem to be as money grubbing and greedy as some of his other former colleagues in Congress. While I hope nothing bad happens to him, I am really happy he has little or nothing to do with policy making in this country and hope he will never be able to Google his own name again without seeing the love note that Dan Savage sent him.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

GOP Clown Car Part 4: Bobby Jindal

  Bobby Jindal is proof that it is really hard to overcome making a bad first impression. Jindal has been stuck at the bottom of the polls since he declared he was running for president. Sherman set the wayback machine to 2009. A Republican party still reeling from getting beat by Obama who they mostly thought that outside of fancy speech making had little to offer. Jindal looked like the perfect conservative reaction to Obama. He was an Indian American, Ivy League educated governor from a red state, and like Obama, had an interesting back story. He was given the perfect way to introduce himself to the country by giving the Republican response to Obama's State of the Union Address. It is universally accepted that Jindal badly whiffed on his moment in the spotlight. He decided not to run in 2012, and so far, he has had a really hard getting back the mojo he had in 2009. It makes you wonder how much of a rising star he actually was. Even with the bad performance, he is has done nothing to change people's opinion of him since then.

  Jindal is governor of Louisiana and like many governors that bow down to insane bullshit that is the Grover Norquist no tax raising pledge, his state's economic situation is a mess. He worked all kinds of smoke and mirrors silliness with the legislature to make it look like he had balanced the budget. Like Scott Walker gutting the funding for the University of Wisconsin to cover the massive hole the tax cuts have created, Jindal slashed the funding for Louisiana State University. Louisiana's economy is such a dumpster fire that it has reflecting badly on hooker loving Senator Vitter who is running to replace the term limited Jindal.

 Overall, Jindal has taken a far right turn on the fiscal and social front. He not only defunded Planned Parenthood, but played the notorious videos on the grounds of the governor's mansion. He has fully embraced the evangelical right and worked very hard to show that he is true culture warrior. He has pushed for charter schools in his state and has made it possible to teach creationism in the schools. He has worked very hard to show how much he supports the "Duck Dynasty" Robertson clan no matter what wacky racist or homophobic things they say. Like pretty much all the candidates who are working in the religious right wing of the party, he fully supports Kentucky clerk Kim Davis' efforts to refuse to give out marriage certificates to gay couples. This is a far cry from what the GOP saw as the perfect response to Barrack Obama in 2009.

  Despite the fact his numbers are terrible and it appears he has no chance, Jindal keeps plowing ahead and insisting he is it in to win it. His campaign is taking on water and fighting off rumors that he is about to drop out. His "Duck Dynasty" buddy Willie Robertson showed up as a guest at one of Trump's events. When he was the shooting star, he was supposed to be a different kind of Republican who was smart and well spoken. He was going to be a response to a more diverse America in a Republican party that was getting older and mostly white. After the terrible performance at the State of the Union response, he tried to stay relevant but increasingly found it more difficult to be heard in the constant noise of the 24 hour cable news world. At some point, he just gave up and ran to the evangelical wing of the party. By taking this route, he has moved away from the establishment wing. There are basically two routes that Republicans try to take to win the nomination. The more fringy candidates try to parlay a win in Iowa into a run, while more establishment guys more more emphasis on New Hampshire. Pat Robertson, Mike Huckabee, and Rick Santorum have shown this route has not been as successful. Since he is term limited in Louisiana, he can no longer be governor. In one sense the 2016 run will be a win-win for Jindal. A miracle could happen and he could turn a win in Iowa into serious run, but the more likely answer is that by holding firm and saying all the things to make the far right happy, he can do what Newt, Huckabee, and so many others have done and make some money. What better way to make easy money than to jump onto the right wing gravy train? He has a couple books and some lecture circuit money coming his way.  


Wednesday, September 30, 2015

GOP Clown Car Part 3: Lindsey Graham

  While he may not be as out there as Jim Gilmore or George Pataki, the idea of Lindsey Graham of running for president is a bit odd. Even though he is a beltway fixture and played a prominent role in the 2008 run of Senator John McCain, he did not seem like someone who would run for the office himself. It may have been a surprise but we know exactly why Senator Graham wanted to be president, because he has said so in no uncertain terms. Like his good friend McCain it's all about Commander in Chief. The military and foreign policy is by far the biggest issue for Graham. Heck, he might work in some of that other presidential stuff, too.

  Outside of Rand Paul, the current crop of GOP share the same attitudes on foreign policy, it is more of what degree of aggressiveness they want to take. They all want massive increase in military spending and bigger footprint in the world especially the Middle East. Most of them are at least saying they would go back and fix, redo, or ignore the much hated Obama Iran deal. The motivation for this position is nothing short of hilariously wrong. Their theory seems to be foreign policy under W had a rough start but by the end was going great. The surge worked and we got rid of Saddam and restored peace to Iraq, we beat the Russians, and while the Middle East could be better was in good shape. Obama became president and it all went to hell. Iraq plunged into chaos because we left, Iran rose up because Obama was so weak, and in general Obama wasn't strong enough and his naivete caused massive problems world wide. I am ready to be Commander in Chief day one is one Graham's favorite lines. At the Reagan Library debate, all the candidates took turns blaming Obama for the current state of our foreign policy and, at best, there were some admissions of mistakes made during W's years, but it was nothing compared to unmitigated disaster Obama has been. Jeb! went so far as to use the tried and true line my brother kept us safe when Trump said that W's mistakes opened the door for Obama. Graham is at the forefront of these positions and it is clear that is by far his number one priority.

  Graham is currently polling at 0.0 in the Real Clear Politics average of polls, so it is a massive understatement to say Lindsey has no chance to be president. However, if he had actually did have a shot at being president, we would probably see a kinder gentler version of McCain. Before Ted Cruz brought the House Tea Party crazy into the Senate, John McCain was the pain in ass go against grain guy in the Senate. While Graham and McCain have definite ideas on foreign policy especially in the Middle East, their domestic agendas tend to be more mainstream Republican. Most importantly based on exchange with Bobby Jindal at the second kid's table debate, he is conservative but wants to work within the structure of government. Jindal was pressing Graham on why they were not trying harder to defund Planned Parenthood, and the response was that with the math in Senate and Obama with the power of the veto it is not worth it to shut down government over a losing plan and would probably hurt the party next November. So he is not for the chaos of the Ted Cruz style of governance. While you have the same fear of President Graham that you would of a President McCain as far as what trouble their uber muscular foreign policy would cause, they would have at least have a semi-sane domestic approach and would probably work with Democrats to get actual legislation done.

  Unlike Gilmore or Pataki I at least think I have an idea of why Lindsey Graham is actually running for president. While I think he would really like to president specifically commander in chief I think the real goal is to be Secretary of Defense or State in the next Republican administration. By having a position like that he can focus on foreign policy which seems to be his true area of interest. Although the idea of President Cruz with Secretary of Defense Graham is enough to keep you up at night, and thank goodness that seems unlikely. The question is will hang around until the South Carolina primary. He is not polling well and it might be embarrassing to lose badly in your home state. No matter what Lindsey Graham will be fine in the long run. He will continue to be a favorite of cable news and the Sunday talking head shows. He often gets labeled a RINO, but seems safe in his Senate seat for now. While I am not even remotely a fan Graham on a policy basis, Washington needs more pragmatic Republicans who believe in the system and are trying to actually get something done and not to burn it all down.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

GOP Clown Car Part 2: George Pataki

  I would include George Pataki in the Jim Gilmore WTF category. He seems to be running for a party that simply doesn't exist right now. George H. W. Bush was the last old school New England Republican to win the presidency, and he largely rode Reagan wave into the White House. Bush not only lost to a more dynamic Bill Clinton, but in a sign of things to come, was seen as not being conservative enough and was challenged from the right by Ross Perot. John McCain was forced to chose Sarah Palin over his bff Joe Lieberman to help with conservatives. Mitt Romney who had to completely reinvent himself because of what he did as governor of Massachusetts especially in the realm of healthcare - which was suddenly seen as  a negative in a post Obamacare race. Romney never seemed to comfortable as the conservative warrior and adding conservative superstar Paul Ryan didn't help.

  Pataki seems to be a better fit in the Massachusetts Romney mode of Republicanism. Very pro business and lower taxes and either more moderate on social issues or it's not the focus of what he wants to do in government. At the Reagan Library debate Pataki kept talking about the things he was able to do as governor of New York and was trying to play up his credentials as a true conservative. If you are Pataki all you have to do is look at the news from this past weekend about John Boehner being forced out of the House by the far right Tea Party movement simply for being more interested in doing the basic job of governing over what appears to be a plan to run the government into the ground. In a world where John Boehner is too soft or not conservative enough there is no way that Pataki is going to get a lot conservative love. I am not saying George Pataki is a horrible candidate for president, but like Romney, he is the wrong candidate for this version of the GOP. Romney won the nomination more because of positioning from 2008, money, and a comically bad 2012 field and he still ended up struggling for longer than he should have. Pataki had no chance from the start and now is more of a question when, not if, he will drop out. I will be surprised if he makes to the end of the year and seems to be the odds on favorite along with Bobby Jindal as the next to drop out.

  So given the fact that it appeared almost from the start that Pataki had little chance of getting anywhere in the nomination process and doesn't appear to be cashing in on the run - why is he running for president in 2016? He just seemed to completely misjudge the state of his party and a base that is more interested in anger and toughness than in accomplishments in blue state like New York. Firebrand Donald Trump is currently leading based on attitude more than anything else while several conservative but less combative candidates like Jeb! Bush and John Kasich are struggling and Scott Walker is out. Sounding like or trying to sound like reasonable guy in the room just doesn't seem to be working for these guys. Heck for all the kooky things Rand Paul has said, he does not have a chance of winning because he says things like maybe we shouldn't be in constant war with the Middle East. I am sure Pataki will still pop up on cable news from time to time as a talking head, but as far as his run for president - it seems more like a complete waste of time and money.