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. 


Thursday, October 15, 2015

GOP Clown Car Part 10: Ted Cruz

  Of all the candidates in the 2016 election, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas scares me the most. His main goal in the Senate appears to be cause as much chaos as possible. Pushing for a government shutdown over defunding Planned Parenthood is the latest in a series of moves Cruz has used to bring the chaos of the House into the Senate. His tactics are used not only to poke at the Democrats, but also the Republicans. When they try to reign him in, he can claim he is the only true conservative and that the other Republicans have sold out. Given that most of his moves are over the top showy attention getting moves that don't actually accomplish anything it's hard to figure out what he would do when he becomes president. As we have seen with the House struggling to replace Speaker Boehner, you simply can't just obstruct. At some point you have to govern and often times that will mean compromising with the other side. I may not like the idea of what a President Huckabee or President Santorum would do in the White House, I know what agenda they would probably bring to the job. Cruz would represent a different kind of president, who in the Senate has been solidly against the normal mechanisms and protocol of our government.

  Cruz has not gone directly at Donald Trump, and has done nothing to antagonize Trump or his supporters. A lot of people think that is part of his strategy, and when Trump crashes and burns, Cruz will come and in scoop up his supporters. With the base currently liking the outsider candidates, Cruz is trying to play the outsider card. This makes sense seeing that Cruz has pissed off the Senate Republicans as much as the Democrats. For now, Trump keeps defying the the political gravity, but I do think Cruz has a good chance to win at least a good portion of the Trump supporters. How long Trump hangs on will play a big role on how that will play out.

  The bigger question for Cruz and all the other anti-establishment candidates, what happens if you win and you have to deal with Congress to get anything done? The excitement of getting elected will only last so long, and after that, you need to be able to get things done. Knowing that's a given that the Democrats will do absolutely nothing to help you out, that means you have to depend on the Republicans that you have spent years calling squishes and not conservative enough. There would be a honeymoon period, but after that - can you depend on that group to have your back when you spent a lot of time insulting them? If Cruz is able to ride a huge GOP wave into the White House, and the Republicans hang onto both houses of Congress, he will be able get some of his agenda through. Even with majorities in both house things could get bogged down, and  he could face a tough 2018 midterm. However with Cruz being so extreme, it might have the opposite effect in November. Cruz, as the nominee, may scare the rest of the country so much that it creates a Democratic wave that gives us both President Clinton and a chance to at least win back the Senate.

  When you get down to it, Ted Cruz is a bit of a enigma, when it comes to what he is actually trying to achieve with not only his 2016 run, but also his overall goal of his time in DC. Is he that true champion of conservatism, that will fight for the cause until the bitter end or is he just another huckster trying to make as much money as possible off of the rubes? Looking at Cruz's background, he is a smart man, that graduated from Harvard law and was a clerk for Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist. With that kind of pedigree he is wasting the advantages he has created for himself just to make money. I will be interested to see how this plays out, because where I could see Ted Cruz taking several paths, hopefully he will not be on the one that leads to the White House.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

GOP Clown Car Part 9: John Kasich

  If Donald Trump is your drunk uncle, then Governor John Kasich is your cranky granddad. He tries to be nice, he tries to be that hopeful "Morning in America" Reagan style Republican, but he can't help but give in to the cranky side of his nature. It's like hearing a story from certain relatives, that even if you are interested in what they have to say, you will have to get through a few racist, sexist, or homophobic asides to get to the end of the story. That's how I feel when hearing Kasich speak, that he tries to maintain that even tone, but you can feel that cranky "get off my lawn" side is just itching to get out and yell at somebody.He recently had a particularly tough day at the University of Richmond. He tried to relate to the students, but it just makes him seem more out of touch with certain segments of voters.

John Kasich doesn't strike me as being all that moderate, but the definition of liberal, moderate, and conservative are more subjective than ever. Compared to some of the extreme members of the GOP these days, Kasich would be seen as moderate, and compared to the Freedon Caucaus that is willing to shut the government down if they don't get their way, he is. Kasich is more like Jeb Bush, a conservative establishment figure that is willing to work within the realms of government and seeing the need to compromise when it is required. He allowed the Medicade expansion in Ohio, when other red state governors resisted the expansion. He has also taken less extreme views on the environment and immigration. Like McCain in 2008 and Romney 2012, a President Kasich would want to achieve his goals by using the mechanisms of government. Compared to Senator Ted Cruz, who has brought the more militant attitude from the House into Senate, the establishment guys are trying to make government work and not blow it up.

 Even with a fairly respectable establishment resume, Kasich is having problems gaining traction polling wise. He is in the middle of the pack in New Hampshire, and towards the bottom national polls and in Iowa. Even with his current struggles, there is a good chance that Kasich will be on the presidential ballot in November 2016 as either the Republican presidential or vice presidential nominee. If you believe the thinking of pretty much the entire political world, none of the current top three candidates (Trump, Carson, and Fiorina) will end up being the GOP nominee. Jeb! Bush, Rubio, Cruz, Christie, and Kasich are the group that will likely produce the nominee. Kasich looks to have as good of a chance as any of those 5 guys to win. They all have positives and negatives that they will have to deal with when it comes to dealing with a very fickle Republican base. With no clear front runner, being able to put together wins in the early states will be crucial, and then it becomes a question of survival and having enough money. If you are Kasich, it looks like Bush's decline will continue, people will realize Rubio is not ready for prime time, especially as people really pay attention to him, and that Christie and Cruz have no base to expand. Even if you don't become the nominee, Bush or Rubio could choose you for the VP slot because the path to the White House on the Republican side has to include Ohio and Florida.

  Beyond 2016, if Kasich does not become president or vice president, he will probably serve out the rest of term in Ohio. After that he has to decide if wants to get reelected or head back to the business world or Fox News which is what he did between being in Congress and being Ohio governor. Seeing that he has worked in some form of government for most of his life, he does not seem to be anxious to get out any time soon, at least as long as he has a choice about it.

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.