Friday, November 6, 2015

Turning 50

  Today I turned 50, and to be honest I am not sure how I feel about it. Turning 30, so far, has been my hardest milestone birthday. There was just something about not being in my 20s anymore was harder than I thought it would be. Turning 40 was tricky, but it just felt like a number. Turning 50 was somewhere in between the two events. I know turning 30 was about not being young any more, but when I turned 40 it did feel as pressing. Now I am 50 I do feel some pressure about where my life is right and where it is going in the next couple of decades as I move into a new phase of my life. So I guess it is less about the actual age, but more about the uncertainty of what the next phase of my life will look like. I am at the point in my like where some successful people have already retired, or least in a position to where they know what the backside of their life looks like. Of course there are a lot of people that are my age, and don't feel comfortable about their future, so I am not exactly special when it comes to those kind of questions. I just wish I had a better sense of what is coming next. There is that question: where do see yourself in the next x number of years, and I have never been good at answering those kind of questions. I am usually doing good to have a sense of where I am in the moment, much less what the future looks like. I guess today more than other days there is a sense of "Well now what ?". The good news is I do enjoy most aspects of my life and I think I am going to have a good 50th birthday. My life is not a failure, and I must press forward and make the most of my future opportunities. I just have to realize that I can make changes for the good that will effect the rest of my life. Together with my wife, Dabney, we will continue to work to make not only our own lives better, but also help our friends and family when we can. That having someone that you can depend on can get you through the tough times. So today is a day to celebrate the future, and not to dread it. With the help of friends and family I will enter the next phase of my life. Thanks to everyone, and together we will make things happen.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

GOP Clown Car Part 16: What Happens Next

  Many others have used the term clown car to describe the strange and wacky group of candidates that are running for president. Clown car is perhaps too happy of a description of what is happening here. I think a better description for the 2016 Republican race is a car full of carnies, which reflects the dark nature of this group of grifters and con men that say they are running for president, but are really just a bunch of guys trying to make as much money as they can off of the idea becoming the next president. Governor Perry and Governor Walker both seemed to be actually running for president, but quickly dropped out when it was clear that was not going to happen, because they were short on support and money. Of the candidates left Bush, Rubio, Kasich, and Christie seem to be actually running to become of the next president. Cruz is probably more of a huckster than a candidate, but you have to think there is some dark fantasy he has of being President Cruz. I am not sure where Trump falls on this scale, because his entire nature is self promotion and making a buck, so it is a given he looking to make money, but with his massive he ego he could think that he would be able to make a ton of money and become president. The rest of these guys are looking to make as much money as they can off of the right wing gravy train, and like Newt Gingrich in 2012, would more surprised than anything if it looks they might be winning.

  One of the strangest offshoots of this wacky GOP race is the idea of how some of the supposedly smartest guys have said some of the dumbest things in the name of connecting with the far right wingnut base of the party. Ben Carson, Bobby Jindal, and Ted Cruz are intelligent and well educated men, who have simply gone off the rails of sanity by playing to the religious right so much. All three men realize than they will probably not be the next president, but have doubled down on saying the right things that will excite the base. Fox News, book tours, lecture circuits, and conservative gatherings are waiting with open arms for these guys when they stop pretending they are running for president and jump on the gravy train. So what if most of the rest of the world thinks you are some kind of lunatic, they are not the ones paying your bills.

  As far as how this will all work out, no one really knows what is going to happen. It is probably going to be a ton speculation over the next couple of months until the actual voting starts. By then a few more candidates will have dropped out, and after Iowa and New Hampshire, there will be a fairly good idea of who the real contenders are. Once the Republicans get through this brutal nomination process, it then becomes, how damaged will this candidate actually be. An outsider like Trump or Cruz might fire up the base but will horrify the rest of the country. An establishment person like Bush, Rubio, or Kasich might have the same challenges of a less than excited base, that McCain and Romney faced the last two cycles. If the Republicans are facing the same electoral map that has been around since 2000, they have to figure how to win both Ohio and Florida, even though they have completely ignored the 2012 advice on how to deal with women and Hispanics. No matter who wins this thing, they appear to be facing an uphill battle next November.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

GOP Clown Car Part 15: Donald Trump

  Now for the man who may not be the next president, but by far has had the most effect on the 2016 presidential process. Donald Trump has become the king of all media during the Summer and early Fall of 2015. If you looks across the ideological spectrum left to right there have been multiple stories about Trump and his effect on this presidential cycle. Hour upon hour on cable news, and hundreds, if not thousands, of stories in both the print and internet worlds. It's gone from there is no way he can win to "Oh My God" he might actually win the nomination. There are better people than me that have written excellent pieces on all manner of things Trumpian from the perspective of past, present, and future, form very serious to humorous, so I am just going to throw a couple thoughts out there. Then we can all settle back and see what happens over the next few months.

  I guess for me the most interesting aspect of the Trump phenomenon is the Trump versus Jeb! Bush story line. Donald Trump wants to be president, but has the attitude of if don't win, I am going to make sure I do everything I can to make sure that is not Jeb Bush on the ballot next November. Trump's attacks on the Bushes have been from the start of his campaign, and have been very pointed and brutal. Trump has not only knocked Jeb! out of his front runner position, but has played a major role in the perception problems Bush's campaign is currently facing. It remind's me a lot of the movie Caddyshack, where Ted Knight's incredibly square and uptight character, Judge Smails, is constantly hounded and tortured by Rodney Dangerfield's outrageously loud and vulgar character, Al Czervik. Judge Smails tries to ignore, insult, bully, and beat Al but always comes up short. Like Caddyshack, you have Jeb as the uptight country club type and Trump is very much like Dangerfield's nouveau riche "I have a shit ton of money and I am just going to keep buying all of this awesome stuff and showing it all off" character. Jeb has tried everything he can to make his 2016 campaign about anything other than Donald Trump, because ignoring him didn't work, and taking him on has been disastrous. The latest Trump versus Bush dust up is over is the amount of blame his brother George is due for 9/11, and it appears Jeb is losing this battle, as well. By the end of Caddyshack, Al drives Judge Smails a little crazy, and while Jeb hasn't gone crazy, his campaign is starting to sound desperate, as they are trying everything they can think of to change the narrative and show that Jeb is still a serious contender. 

  The other aspect of the Trump story I find interesting is his relationship with the Republican base, specifically his followers. Trump's followers are very loyal and passionate, and his level of support has the Republican establishment in a state of shock as reported by Byron York in the Washington Examiner. It reminds me of your teenage daughter dumping the guy you don't really care for, but then starts dating some obnoxious punk kid that you really hate. Trump is tailor made to fill that bad boy role, with a lot of big talk and showing off all his cool things, like planes, estates, golf courses, and casinos. Trumps biggest group of supporters is non-college whites. It is a group that is angry and passionate, and there is something about Trump has struck a nerve. Like young love, it is all emotion, and not logic, which probably why Trump's poll numbers have not been hurt by lack of policy papers or specifics. This kind of relationship is a tricky spot for the parents or in this case the Republican establishment. You clearly see this kid is completely full of shit, and has no idea what he is talking about half time, but the problem is your daughter sees none of the faults. You try to sit her down and calmly explain why it is not a good idea to date this guy, and that he is not really the person that she thinks he is. While the parents are looking are looking at this logically, she is looking at this emotionally and the two views will not sync up. This leads to trying to decide if you should let nature take it's course, hoping and praying she sees what a massive tool he is or do if you should push her to end the relationship now, knowing that if you push too hard that it makes her want him all the more. An article in Politico talks about Republican operatives dealing with the idea of Trump being the nominee, and how it has gone from no shot at this to he has a chance. After two cycles of picking the safer establishment guy and still losing, there seems to be a good portion of the Republican base willing to give the bad boy a chance.

  Trump has ridden this wave farther than anybody thought possible, and survived a lot of things that would have normally ended a lot of campaigns. While it certainly seems possible he could win the nomination, conventional wisdom has been wrong a lot so far, and he still at best has fifty fifty shot at being the nominee. Right now, the thinking is that at some point money and lack of support will cause more of the other contenders to drop out, and this will bring more attention to who is left. Once actual voting starts Trump will not do as well as he is now. I think it easier to tell a pollster you would vote for Trump, than actually going in the booth and hitting that button. Then the questions will become if Trump is not the nominee, how much damage will Trump's fiery rhetoric have done to the eventual nominee, and is it already to late to fix the damage?

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

GOP Clown Car Part 14: Ben Carson

  The last two clowns in the clown car are possibly the hardest two to figure out. Two outsiders, who have struck a nerve with Republican base. Both have said and done things that would normally doom a campaign. Dr. Ben Carson, a retired neurosurgeon turned presidential candidate, is currently running second to real estate mogul, Donald Trump, in the current Real Clear Politics average of polls. Dr. Carson is over ten points ahead of third place candidate, Marco Rubio. Together Mr. Trump and Dr. Carson are over 45% in the polls, and while Trump has gotten plenty of national press, other than articles about some bizarre comments Dr. Carson has said recently, he has not had nearly the same amount of press coverage that Trump has had. The two front runners are taking slightly different paths. Trump has done more public events, but has used the media's never ending fascination of all things Trump to get almost daily coverage, instead of using traditional advertising. Dr. Carson has been a conservative hero ever since he attacked President Obama at the National Prayer Breakfast. He has not only made money off this, but he has also turned that right wing love into a so far successful run for president, and has mostly been in right wing world during his campaign.

  Unlike Trump, who has mostly operated in the mainstream media, Dr. Carson has not done that much, traditional campaigning, and has mostly been operating in the insular world of right wing media. Dr. Carson's comments on Roseberg, Oregon school shooting is only the latest example of outrageous comments he is made while running for president. Dr. Carson's comments are bizarre for a presidential candidate, but not so strange in the realms of right wing media, which started back in the '90s with Rush Limbaugh, and the right wing talkers spewing hate. Then adding Fox News and the right wing internet and blog sites an enclosed world has been created. Some the most vile, racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, and violent comments have come out of the right wing media in the past couple of decades. The bile has only become more toxic in the age of Obama, and also the place where Carson got his start. Considering that right wing media is some people's only source of news and information, it is pretty easy to see why Dr. Carson is very popular with a certain portion of the Republican base. When  Dr. Carson makes some of his more outrageous comments, he sounds like somebody that is used to talking to that audience. One of the ways you can tell that Dr. Carson has been in the cocoon of right wing media too long is how shocked he seems to be when reporters have the gall to ask him about some of his more out there statements. Sarah Hill on Salon listed some the more outrageous things that Carson has said. Hill also adds to the mix the almost godlike attitude surgeons have. So he goes from being a famous surgeon to right wing media celebrity. He is used to being loved and adored, and is never really questioned because people love him so much.

 In addition to being able to say lots of mean and awful things without consequences, the right wing media is a great place to make money. In fact, Gary Legum on Salon thinks that Dr. Ben Carson is a straight up grifter, that is only in it for the money. I have no idea if this is actually true or not. On one hand, he does like the money he makes being a star in the right wing media world, but on the other hand there does seem to be at least some motivation to be the next president. He just does not want to run a traditional campaign. So he takes two weeks off to sell a book, while everybody else is grinding away in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. I think it says more about how is used to being surgeon/right wing hero Dr. Ben Carson, who doesn't like to be questioned about his actions and statements. To be fair, so far it is working, he just does what he does, says what he says, and he is still second place. Now we just wait, and see what happens.

  I simply do not know how long the run will last for Dr. Carson. People could decide that they don't like Carson as much and the gravity drags him down. Maybe he will be around, when the actual voting starts. He has the best shot in Iowa, but is running farther behind in New Hampshire and South Carolina. What does a winning strategy look like for Carson? Does he have the infrastructure to last past the earlier states? There just seems to be so many questions about the future Dr. Carson's campaign, and nobody knows what the answers are.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

GOP Clown Car Part 13: Jeb Bush

  Jeb! Bush was supposed to duplicate his brother George W's path to the White House. In 1999, George W. Bush roped in most of the big GOP donors, and was running away with the nomination almost from the start in what was called shock and awe. If W's run was shock and awe, Jeb's run has been shock and flaw. He did like his brother in early money raising part, but has run a horrible campaign since then. There have been several times where his campaign has had to clarify remarks Jeb has made. The biggest gaffe so far has been whiffing multiple times the most obvious question if your last name is Bush. Did your brother do the right thing be invading Iraq? He had several chances before he meekly said it may not have been the best idea, and even then he did a mediocre job of handling that question. He has gone from the establishment guy that was a sure thing to win the nomination, to a candidate who campaign is in freefall, and the donors who gave Jeb a lot of money are very nervous.

  Jeb's run to the White House has been unraveling for a few months now. The rise of Trump, combined with his constant attacks of the junior Bush for being low energy and not ready has exposed Jeb's issues and that, in fact, he does not appear to be ready for the various challenges that comes with running for president. At first, Jeb struggled with questions about his brother's invasion of Iraq, that he did not handle well. Now, Trump and Bush are at it again this time over George W. Bush and the question was the 9/11 attack his fault. Digby did a great piece on the conflict in Salon. Jeb should have known that questions about George W. Bush's record on foreign policy, Iraq, and 9/11 would be coming, but continues to stumble on those questions. Jake Tapper on CNN further exposed Jeb's problems with dealing with his brother's legacy. In the case, it deals with if 9/11 is not W's fault, how can the Republicans blame the Benghazi attack on Hillary Clinton? Even if you do not think the question is fair, and some Republicans support the idea that the question is not fair, it is a lot like Hillary Clinton's problem of dealing with the email scandal. Even if you don't think the question is fair, how a candidate deals with questions like this is a window into how they would deal with a crisis. For both Clinton and Bush, the results of dealing with their problem questions have been mixed at best.

  Considering the last two Republican presidents have been Jeb's father and brother, you have to examine how the three men compare to each other, and how the presidencies of the two older Bushes reflects what Jeb might do in the White House. One common trait I would say that all three men have are that while they are conservative, none of them appear to be hard core ideologues. Also, while all three men have moments of temper, for the most part, they tend to be a little more laid back and are not the kind of extreme version of conservatism that is popular now. George H. W. Bush seemed to be always fighting the image of not being conservative enough. Being tied with the very popular Reagan White House was good enough to get him elected president, but it was not good enough to win a second term. George W. Bush was a two term president who was unquestionably conservative, but the compassionate conservative candidate with a more modest foreign policy disappeared after 9/11. Vice President Cheney and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and some of the people that worked for them were the true believers in that White House, and 9/11 was their opening to enact the policies they had been thinking about for at least a decade. W. seemed to like the idea being the big picture CEO president, and let the policy nerds take care of the details, in the case of foreign policy, by the neocons. Many of the more extreme ideas of George W. Bush's White House came from the Vice President, and it is been Cheney and not W that has had the most robust defense of those years. At the end of the day, W was president and he had the final say in what was done, but it would be interesting to see what his presidency would have looked like if the neocons were not running the foreign policy show. Even with the love that most conservative Republicans had for W, you saw the occasional column lamenting that W wasn't quite conservative enough. Which brings us back to Jeb and his efforts to be the third President Bush. Even though he might be the most conservative of the three men, the two older Bushes never had to deal with as a extreme and vocal faction of conservatives from within their own party. Although you could argue that the desire for conservative purity got it's start when H. W. Bush was president. By not using the name Bush in his logo, it looks like an attempt by Jeb to prove that he is own man. But, for a better or worse, he is tied to his father and brother and simply not using the name Bush in your logo fools no one, especially when many of your advisers are from the previous two Bush administrations.

  If you are working on team Jeb! you have to take comfort with the 2008 John McCain campaign, who was written off as dead, but managed to win the nomination. Jeb is facing an uphill battle now, and the Jeb! 2016 effort is starting to see the your campaign is doomed articles. Jeb on the stump has been a bit of train wreck, and if you look back he had a few doozies from the stump, when he was running for governor of Florida. This time around, you had at least five times that his campaign had to say, "This is what Governor Bush really meant" situations. For all of the issues most people have with George W. Bush's job as president, the one thing he was good at was retail politics, and being able to deal with the donor class and the average voter. Even with facing a lot of negatives, Jeb still has money and his Super PAC is pouring money into Iowa and New Hampshire for ads. Jeb's campaign may not be dead, but with the Iowa caucuses getting closer and closer, Jeb's campaign is at a crucial crossroads, and if he is going to make a move it needs to be soon. If nothing else, a good start would be to figure how to deal with the legacy of his brother's presidency, because those questions are not going away. Jeb probably has to finish no worse than third in Iowa, and if you don't win New Hampshire, you can't do worse than a narrow loss. If he finishes in the middle of pack in early contests, even with money, you will not be able to shake that idea that Jeb! 2016 can't win. If Jeb can't turn his campaign around the only thing he will be competing for is the title of most disappointing campaign of the 2016 cycle, and that includes Scott Walker's.

Monday, October 19, 2015

GOP Clown Car Part 12: Marco Rubio

  Senator Marco Rubio from Florida has positioned himself well to win the Republican nomination. He is in the third place behind Donald Trump and Ben Carson in the Real Clear Politics average of polls. That  is good for him because the two people ahead of him do not appear to be ready for the long haul, and could falter at some point. On the Predictwise composite of betting sites Rubio is currently the favorite to win the nomination. So when people betting money think you have a good chance to win, that has to be a good sign. While he appears to be set up for a long run, the question for Rubio, who now has more attention being paid to his campaign, appears to be: is he ready for prime time?

  If you compare Rubio to Jeb! Bush and Ted Cruz you wonder if Rubio is a more polished version of Jeb! or less extreme version of Cruz. If you make a Venn Diagram of all three men, where the Bush circle and the Cruz circle overlaps, you have Marco Rubio. When it comes to policy issues most of the Republicans agree on the big picture. Most of the disagreements are about tone and tactics more than goals. At one end you have Cruz and his buddies in the House Freedom Caucus, who are tired of compromises and just wants to be in control, so they can push their far right agenda. The far right are not only at war with the Democrats, but are wanting to fight their fellow Republicans as well. On other end you have Bush, Kasich, and the other establishment types who are very conservative but still want to work within the boundaries of government, and that might mean working with Democrats to get things done. Rubio seems to be more comfortable in the establishment wing, and as Ezra Klein points out in Vox he may cause a math problem to win the nomination.

Klein says: "According to the Huffington Post's polling averages, Trump, Carson, Cruz, and Fiorina now command 61.3 percent of the Republican vote. To make the math work for Rubio, you somehow need an explanation for why he's going to rip votes from outsiders - the candidates who are everything he isn't, and whom Republicans seem to be favoring precisely because they don't want an insider like Rubio."

  Rubio is conservative, and other than maybe immigration, he has taken some of the more conservative stands in the field. Rubio is overall more conservative than Trump, but the base is eating up Trump's tone. Maybe that is the ultimate question for the 2016 cycle. After settling in 2008 and 2012, and losing anyway, what does the Republican base really want this time around? We keep saying these outsiders aren't going to win, but they keep hanging around. As Klein points out in the Vox piece, the numbers on the entire establishment wing still doesn't beat Trump. With Bush's supporting cratering, and John Kasich still not catching on, is Rubio being the leading establishment guy going to be good enough to win the nomination?

  There is one thing that could hurt Rubio's chances to win the nomination, and it is something that he has little control. The politician that most people think of when they see and hear Rubio is President Barack Obama. They are both smart, young, first term Senators, that tend to be soft spoken, but can give a good speech. Rubio claims to have more experience, but when PolitiFact looked at the issue, they called it a draw. The problem for Rubio is the Obama comparison may not be given as the reason that voters say they won't vote for him, but they may attribute it to a gut feeling that voting for him doesn't feel right. After spending the past 7 years despising Obama, are you going to turn around and vote for the Republican version of the president?

  When Marco Rubio first said he was going to run for president, he seemed like someone who was actually running for vice president. That seemed like a good a good idea, because was a smart, young, Hispanic Senator from the must win state, Florida. He still he has those things going for him, but since the other establishment candidates have faltered, his chances of actually winning have increased. With the current chaos in the race, I am not sure that he will end up getting the nomination, but, this point, I would say he has as good a chance as anybody else running.

Friday, October 16, 2015

GOP Clown Car Part 11: Carly Fiorina

  Former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina has had a very interesting ride so far this campaign season. After languishing in the bottom of the polls early on, she parlayed a strong performance at the kid's table in the first Republican debate into an even stronger performance on the main stage at the second debate at the Reagan Museum. After that the second debate she faulted up into the top three, but since then has dropped back into the middle of the pack. As we are getting closer and closer to actual voting, you look at Fiorina's campaign and wonder if the Reagan Debate was high water mark or just a prelude to bigger things.

  One of the things we learned from Ronald Reagan is to never let a good story get in the way of the facts. Nobody seems to embody that more in the 2016 presidential cycle more than Carly Fiorina. Since her time at HP is one of the main points emphasis for her, what happened in those years should be examined. If you believe the Fiorina narrative she was a plucky secretary that worked way up the corporate ladder to run HP, but was then was forced out by the board who did not like her style. The Fiorina story reminds me of the Melanie Griffith character in the movie Working Girl, just without the Hollywood ending. It is true that she has been a secretary, but it is not like she had been toiling for years as a secretary and some manager gave her a shot because they liked her moxie. At the most her time as a secretary was a job and not a career path. She went back to school and got to two masters degrees in management and marketing, before she entered the management program with Lucent, a spin off of AT&T, that lead to the HP CEO job. In addition to fudging the secretary part of the story, the HP years and firing aspects are a little fuzzy as well. Her description of her time HP, conflicts with the more accepted narrative. Even if she is right about what the board did to her, she was paid forty million dollars to go away, which is a pretty awesome way to get fired.

  Having a woman running for the Republicans in 2016 means that woman can attack Hillary Clinton without as much negative press. Carly Fiorina is staunchly pro-life and takes a dim view feminism. She thinks that liberals don't like her, and in a interview with Megyn Kelly of Fox News said, "We know that most of the media is very liberal, and we know that liberal have trouble accepting that there are many, many women who won't agree with them," The quote is from a Amanda Marcotte in  a Salon article about Fiorina. She traces the right's use of women to say anti-women things back to the 1800s and talked about the patron saint of anti-feminism, Phyllis Schafly. Fiorina is perfect for the role. She was able to attack Clinton with great gusto in interviews and the debate. She also played her pro-life chops when she talked about notorious Planned Parent videos, and in another curious approach to campaigning, talked about seeing a video that no one else has seen. Other candidates seem to see the advantage of this, and may be the reason that Ted Cruz's Super Pac has given Carly Fiorina's Super Pac $500,000. If you not that afraid of losing to her, why not keep her around to attack Hillary Clinton some more. 

  At the end of the day does Carly Fiorina have shot to be the next president? The press would certainly eat up a Hillary vs Carly showdown, which by the way, has a much better shot of happening than that dopey Hillary vs Condi Rice idea that Dick Morris was throwing around in the lead up to the 2008 race. My guess would be that Fiorina had her day in the sun around the time of the Reagan Library debate. She was on point, maybe a little shaky on the facts, but she sounded good. She was the first one to take on Trump and win. Maybe it's the idea that the debate format plays to Fiorina's strengths as a candidate. She is smart, well prepared, and can think fast on her feet. It certainly helps that she was on stage with a bunch of guys who did not looked prepared for the night. Fiorina had a really good couple of weeks based on that performance, but now I think she will continue to hover in the middle of pack and when voting starts she will be one of the ones that will  be forced to drop out fairly early on, maybe after New Hampshire. The Republican nominee would certainly use Fiorina to take on Hillary if she is the Democratic nominee. If a Republican does win the White House, I could see Fiorina at least being considered for some kind of cabinet post.  Seeing how much right wing media loves conservatives women who attack liberal women we will see Fiorina on Fox News quite a bit.