Tuesday, June 28, 2016

America, What Are You Thinking? Yours, James Madison.

Here we are in late June of a presidential election year and we have perhaps the two worst party nominees of the last 100 years (certainly in my lifetime, at least).

The Democrats are set to nominate a woman who is certainly qualified to be president from an experiential standpoint but is severely lacking in other ways. The continual discovery of deleted emails, classified information, circumvention of State Department policy, and the questions surrounding the Clinton Global Initiative are enough to at least question whether she should be the party's nominee but no one on that side of the aisle wants to ask that question (except maybe Bernie and his supporters). There may be no wrongdoing but the appearance of it should give everyone pause.

On the other side, the GOP is about to nominate a bombastic protectionist who may well be a racist, chauvinistic bigot. He knows absolutely nothing about foreign policy, economic policy, and little about anything else. Yet, like Clinton's supporters, his defenders drool all over themselves crying out about how he 'tells it like it is' and 'isn't politically correct' as if those were qualifications for the most powerful office in the world. Questions surround his fake university and alleged charitable contributions from his various businesses. Unlike every presidential candidate in the past 50 years, he has refused to release his tax returns. What is he hiding? The GOP leadership recognizes that their prospective nominee is an empty suit and an empty head but lacks the backbone to stand up and do the right thing because they fear the unwashed masses they empowered.

The Founding Fathers created a system of self-government built upon the participation of the most well-educated and respected citizens of their day. Yet, they insulated that system from influence by popular passions and demagogues. We, in our infinite wisdom, have undone their system and turned the selection of presidential candidates over to a population that has the attention span of a tsi tsi fly, the intellectual depth of a dry creek bed, and the judgment of a two year old with its finger in an electrical socket. 
 
Winston Churchill once said, 'Democracy is the worst form of government...except for all the others that have been tried.'  I suspect after the Brexit vote in the U.K. and watching our presidential election contest he would change his mind.  
 
Thomas Jefferson once opined that in order for self-government to thrive, citizens must be knowledgeable about the issues.  We're not and haven't been for quite some time.  Think about it and you'll realize I'm right.  We don't have discussions about the intricacies of policy alternatives...we have conversations about whether Trump is a racist or Clinton is a liar.  Both may or may not be true but that isn't what we should be talking about.  We can and should do better.
 
Whichever candidate wins the presidency in November, two things are certain.  First, we will have gotten what we deserved. Second, James Madison and the rest of the Framers will roll over in their graves.
 
 

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Donald Trump & The K-Street Boys: Has The Train Left The Station?

March 2, 2016--8:00 AM CT

Super Tuesday has come and gone.  We now have a slightly clearer picture of the shape of the GOP race for the presidential nomination.  Donald J. Trump had a good night on Tuesday, though not quite as good as some of the pundits were predicting beforehand.  Overall, Trump won seven of the states awarding delegates on Super Tuesday.  Ted Cruz picked up three wins, while Marco Rubio notched his first victory by winning the Minnesota Caucuses.  That puts the total at ten wins for Trump, four for Cruz, and one for Rubio.  No other candidate has won a state yet.  The question is whether or not winning states matters?  The short answer is no but it is much more complicated than that.

Why Winning States Does Not Matter

The race for the presidential nomination isn't about winning states, it's about winning delegates.  It's all about the method of delegate allocation and compiling enough delegates to win (or deny your opponents the win).  In the GOP it is a case of simple math.  There are a total of 2472 delegates available to be won by candidates seeking the nomination.  To secure the nomination before the Republican National Convention is held in Cleveland this July, a candidate needs to secure at least 1237 delegates.  So, winning the most states should mean the candidate who does so wins the nomination, right?  Wrong!  There are three important factors that help determine who wins the nomination:  (1) Where a candidate wins, (2) the margin of victory and, (3) the rules of delegate allocation.  Let's take a look at these in order.

Where a Candidate Wins

Winning the nomination for president in the GOP is a little like winning the presidency itself...which states a candidate wins matters more than how many.  The simple reason for this is that all states are not equal.  Some states are larger than others and have bigger populations.  Some smaller states have large populations while some large states have small populations.  Winning Georgia or South Carolina is far more important than winning Montana or Alaska.  It is similar to the Electoral College strategy employed by the nominees for president.  States with more electoral votes are worth more to a candidate than states with fewer numbers of electoral votes.  The difference is that in the Electoral College all states are winner take all (except Maine and Nebraska).  Most states in the Republican primaries are either proportional or a hybrid system that allows the winner to take most of the delegates.  Winning in the winner take all states and winner take most states is far more important than winning in the purely proportional states.  For example, Donald Trump notched two victories on Tuesday in purely proportional states (Virginia and Vermont) but only gained one more delegate than his rivals between the two states.  On the other hand, Ted Cruz won in Texas and secured more than twice as many delegates there as the runner up, Donald Trump.  Additionally, states that traditionally vote Republican are more important than states that are swing states or traditionally vote Democratically because loyal states get bonus delegates.  So, where a candidate wins matters.

The Margin of Victory

In addition to the location of a victory, the margin of victory also matters.  In many states, winning 50% of the vote triggers a winner take all landslide for the victor.  In a two-way race achieving 50% is pretty easy.  In a three way contest it is much tougher.  None of the candidates has been able to get to 50% in any state so far.  If nobody gets to 50% then most of the delegates are awarded proportionally based on the congressional district vote and the statewide vote, with some exceptions.  Oklahoma, for example, allocated its 43 delegates proportionally to each candidate that earned at least 20% in a congressional district, which resulted in Ted Cruz winning two more delegates than Trump and three more than Rubio.  Combined with where, the margin of victory also matters. 

The Rules of Delegate Allocation

Finally, the rules are very important when it comes to delegate allocation.  For example, South Carolina employed a hybrid winner take all system that allowed Donald Trump to win all the delegates with about 35% of the vote.  Yet, in Arkansas, Trump earned a similar percentage of the vote but only got 42.5% of the delegates while Cruz and Rubio combined to take the other 57.5%.  As the race moves forward, a few states will allocate their delegates on a winner take all basis after March 15th.  Winning these states will matter more than winning the proportional states.  The biggest prizes are Ohio and Florida on March 15th with 66 and 99 delegates, respectively. 

State of the race on March 2nd

Following the voting on Super Tuesday, Donald Trump has opened up a good lead on his rivals.  My count, based on the totals reported by the Green Papers, is as follows:
  • Donald Trump      334 delegates (46.8%)
  • Ted Cruz               228 delegates (32.0%)
  • Marco Rubio        117 delegates (16.4%)
  • John Kasich           28 delegates (3.9%)
  • Ben Carson              6 delegates  (0.8%)
At this point, Trump has a commanding edge in the delegate count but his lead is not insurmountable.  Until he gets to 50% of the delegates, the train is still in the station.  The conductor has given the final 'All Aboard' call but the wheels aren't quite moving.  Yet.


Saturday, February 13, 2016

Et Tu, Rafael y Donaldo? The Battle for the Soul of the Republican Party

The first caucus and the first primary of the 2016 race for the White House are now in the rear view mirror.  Voters in the two whitest states in the union rendered a split verdict with 28% of Iowans voting for Rafael Edward 'Ted' Cruz and 35% of New Hampshire voters casting ballots for Donald J. Trump.  Meanwhile, traditional Republicans like John Kasich and Jeb Bush struggle to gain traction with voters.  Their brand of moderate, fiscal and social conservatism has fallen into disfavor among an electorate looking for bold, sassy, and sexy.  Make no mistake about it, true conservatism is anything but sexy.  Governing and attempting to solve problems to make people's lives better is not bold but it is morally right.  Making promises that are impossible to deliver upon (a wall paid for by Mexico, deporting 12 million immigrants, banning Muslims from entering the U.S., etc.) are not conservative ideas at all...they are populist demagoguery.  Promising to grow the military while cutting taxes, ripping up the international agreement with Iran, and canceling the health insurance subsidies of 13 million Americans are not conservative ideas either, but they are bold.  Making people's lives worse is not what conservatism is about. 

We really shouldn't be surprised at where we are now because we've been here before.  The extreme right was vanquished and sent scurrying back under the rock from which it crawled in 1964 when Lyndon Baines Johnson annihilated Barry Goldwater by 23 percentage points while winning 44 states to Goldwater's six states (all southern + Arizona).  Four years later the 'moderate' California Republican Richard Nixon was elected president in a close contest after Johnson declined to run and Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles, leaving only Hubert Humphrey standing for the Democrats.  Nixon governed as a social conservative but an economic liberal and staunch anti-communist.  In essence, he was a Rockefeller Republican rather than a Goldwater Republican.  His successor, Jerry Ford, also governed as a traditional Rockefeller Republican...with Nelson Rockefeller as his vice-president. 

The first Goldwater disciple elected president was Ronald Reagan, the Democrat cum Republican.  Reagan preached a toned down version of Goldwater's extremism and George Wallace's racism, preferring to use 'dog whistles' to appeal to boll weevil southern Democrats.  Yet, Reagan governed as a pragmatic conservative who fought to strengthen Social Security and Medicare, cut tax rates but also raise them when necessary to slow the growth of the deficits.  A fervent warrior against communism, Reagan nevertheless sat down with the Soviet leadership to negotiate treaties to reduce the risk of nuclear war.  Through it all, Reagan maintained a good working relationship with the Democratic Speaker of the House, Tip O'Neill. 

Running to succeed Reagan as the favorite son was his vice-president, George H.W. Bush, himself socially conservative and fiscally responsible.  He governed as a true northeastern Rockefeller Republican who was true to his convictions, sought to use the power of government to improve people's lives through legislation promoting clean air/water and the Americans with Disabilities Act.  More importantly, Bush was willing to break his pledge not to raise taxes when faced with a deficit spiraling out of control by extracting some spending reductions from Democrats in exchange for tax increases, a deal that was instrumental in setting the nation on a course toward the budget surpluses of the late '90's.  Yet, that broken promise would be the impetus for the rebirth of the Goldwater wing of the party.  George H.W. Bush would be defeated by Bill Clinton in a three way race that saw many Republicans abandon Bush for H. Ross Perot.  My own calculation shows that without Perot in the race there were at least 140 Electoral Votes that might have gone to Bush rather than Clinton, enough to win a second term.

When the Republicans took control of Congress after the 1994 midterm elections, Goldwater conservatism was on the rise.  After the rebuke of two government shutdowns, the re-election of a popular Democratic President, and a narrow Electoral College victory by George W. Bush (while losing the popular vote), the Goldwater Republicans were reeling.  It took eight years of George W. Bush, an economic meltdown of epic proportion, the election of an African-American Democrat, and the emergence of Sarah Palin and the Tea Party to awaken the slumbering Goldwater wing.  Yet, the far right was unable to muster enough strength to nominate a 'true' conservative in either 2008 or 2012. 

So here we are in 2016, facing yet another battle for control of the Republican Party, one that may just lead to its implosion.  The Goldwater wing has suffered setback after setback in its attempt to seize control of the party.  Now it has been handed another chance by Donald J. Trump and his populist demagoguery.  In a wisp of irony, Rafael Edward Cruz, the Canadian born son of a Cuban emigre, is vying to be crowned as Goldwater's true heir by pushing an extreme brand of conservatism that dates back to the John Birch Society and McCarthyism.  Seventy-two percent of Iowans and 88.3% of New Hampshire voters chose somebody else in their recent caucus and primary.  The so-called establishment wing of the party split the vote among four candidates in IA and NH.  As of this writing one has left the race (NJ Gov. Chris Christie).  One week until South Carolinians get to weigh in.  The question is, will they help Donald Trump stick yet another knife in the back of the Goldwater wing?  Will the three traditional Republicans be able to garner enough of the vote to take the fight for the heart and soul of conservatism forward?  A week from now we're likely to get some answers.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

President Obama's Final State of the Union Address

9:00pm ET

Waiting on the president to arrive and be announced by the Sergeant at Arms of the House of Representatives.  Talking heads are chattering about Americans held hostage by Iran and their imminent release in a few hours.  The first lady and her guests have arrived.

9:05pm 

The President of the United States has been announced and is making his way down the aisle, greeting supporters and other lawmakers who have staked out a place to be in the photo shoot.

9:09pm 

The president is in the well of the House and has greeted Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Vice-President Joe Biden.  Speaker Ryan has introduced the president.

President Obama says the speech will be shorter so some of the attendees can get back to Iowa (laughter).  Praises Ryan for passing a budget in 2015 and expresses optimism to work towards criminal justice reform (applause).

Says the agenda should include paid leave, minimum wage increases, equal pay for equal work.

Focus of the speech is on the future...five years, ten years from now.  What will the world be like?  The world is changing and change will accelerate in the future.

President turns to speak of American exceptionalism.  Indicates we are unique and face every challenge with an optimistic view.  Says economic recovery, care for veterans, marriage equality all stem from the American quest for progress.  The challenge today is whether we face the future with fear or with the confidence we have faced it in the past?

9:18pm

Four questions:

  1. Economic equality
  2. Technology
  3. Security without policing the world
  4. Reforming our politics 
Longest stretch of job growth in two decades.  14 million new jobs in 6 years including 900,000 in manufacturing.  Deficits have been reduced by 3/4 in six years.  Says that idea that America is in decline is 'peddling fiction.'
Technology is allowing for much more rapid change than in the past.  Workers have less opportunity to advance, companies have less loyalty, and economic gains have concentrated at the top of the income spectrum.

Focus turns to education.  President argues that college must be made affordable for every student and family.  An education is not enough though, job security must be fought for.  President says the only people who will work the same job for 30 years with the same health benefits and pension benefits are the politicians in the room (uncomfortable look on the faces of many).

Argues for strengthening Social Security and healthcare.  Urges bipartisan reforms to provide unemployment insurance and job training for those who lose their jobs due to changing economy and technology.

Looks to bipartisan cooperation on fighting poverty (minor applause) and making sure system is not rigged for the wealthy.  Says outdated regulations and red tape need to be cut (Republicans applaud).

Says immigrants are not the cause of wage stagnation in America...that is a decision made in the boardrooms of America by the people who stash their money in overseas accounts.

Technology

Argues that we need to reinvigorate our technology industry.  Invokes the response to the fears Russians would beat us to the moon.  Mocks those who deny what they cannot see (Russians orbiting the earth...veiled reference to climate change?).

Announces new initiative to end cancer and names VP Biden to head the effort.

Mocks those who deny climate change and says we have to work harder for American businesses to produce and sell the energy of the future...clean energy.  Wind power is cheaper, solar is saving Americans tens of millions of dollars, solar jobs pay better than coal mining, foreign oil imports reduced 60%, carbon pollution reduced more than any other nation.  I'm sure this will be fact checked.

Jokes about sub-two dollar a gallon gas.  Why isn't he responsible for that since he was blamed for four dollar gas?


 Security

 How do we avoid nation building and isolation at the same time?

Invokes the idea that America is the most powerful nation on earth to raucous applause.  Points out that we spend more on military than the next 8 nations combined, praises our troops as the finest fighting force in the world, surveys show the world still looks to the U.S. for leadership. 

Indicates the biggest threat to America today comes from failed states, not superpowers or evil empires.  Russia propping up client states, post-war system struggling to adapt to new realities.

Priority #1 is protecting Americans and fighting terrorists.  Al-qaeda and ISIL pose direct threat to Americans through use of social media campaigns, attacks without regard to own lives.  Claims that this is WWIII empowers ISIL, which must be stopped, but ISIL does not threaten our national existence.  Refutes the idea that ISIL represents Islam but is instead a bastardization consisting of killers and fanatics who must be rooted out and destroyed. 

If Congress is serious take a vote and authorize the use of military force against ISIL.  Promises ISIL will learn the same lesson as terrorists before them.  Ask Osama bin-Laden how committed we are to getting and destroying terrorists. 

Foreign policy has to be more than just a focus on terrorism.  We must focus on the breeding grounds for terrorists.  We must work to eliminate the causes of terrorism but we cannot rebuild every failed state.  We must learn from past mistakes like Iraq. 

Says the Iran deal is working as Iran has shipped out some uranium supplies and a new war has been avoided. 

Urges Congress to approve TPP to allow the US to set the rules for trade in the pacific. 

Says restoring relations with Cuba was a step toward gaining more influence in Latin America.  Asks Congress to lift the embargo on Cuba and recognize that the Cold War is over. 

America is strengthened when we involve ourselves with world problems like hunger, HIV, malaria, etc.  That is how America shows it is strong and a leader. 

Promises to keep working towards shutting down Guantanamo prison. 

Politics

Reject politics that targets people by race or religion.  Says this is not about political correctness, it is about our diversity and openness, our respect for difference. 

Argues that politicians who use demagoguery are guilty of weakening America and betraying our core values.

The great American future can only happen if we fix our politics.  Vigorous debates are good for making progress.  Yet, Democracy requires basic trust among citizens.  It doesn't work when we accuse those we disagree with of being unpatriotic or when we listen only to those with whom we agree.

Americans feel like the system does not work for them.  Promises to work to bridge the divide between the parties.

Indicates that the time has come to stop drawing congressional districts so politicians can pick their voters.  End the influence of money in politics.  We should make it easier, not harder, for people to participate in the political process.

Change will not come until we the people demand it.  It won't be easy.  It's easy to be cynical and say that our actions don't matter.  We won't get where we want to be unless we're willing to work for it.

We've come a long way and we have a ways to go.  We can get there together when we see ourselves as Americans first and not define ourselves by our parties, our ethnicity, or our religion.

Ending the speech on a hopeful note, praising the positive in each of us, the selfless sacrifices, because of this the state of our union is strong.

The speech ended at 10:09pm

 

Monday, January 11, 2016

Road to the White House 2016

The race for the White House is in high gear now as we approach the first voting date of the year.  Iowans will caucus on the evening of February 1st and make their preferences known for both the GOP and Democratic nominees.  Twenty-one days out and what do we know?  The short answer is 'not much.'

The Democratic Race

The polls are all over the board although some consistency is beginning to appear.  On the Democratic side most polls show a tight race between Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.  Martin O'Malley polls a distant third in every poll.  The question for longtime observers and political scientists like myself is whether the polls are valid indicators of preference at this point?  Primary and caucus polling is generally less reliable than general election polling because voters are choosing between candidates within their own party rather than between parties.  It is also much more difficult to know who will actually caucus or vote in a primary because many who indicate planning to vote actually do not.

Senator Sanders has shown a remarkable ability to raise money from small donations and has managed to keep pace with Hillary Clinton, though with a somewhat lower 'burn' rate (the rate at which the campaign spends its cash on hand).  For the year, Sanders raised about $73 million compared to Clinton's $112 million.  On the spending side, Sanders has spent about $45 million (61%) to Clinton's $74 million (66%).  Though being outspent by nearly $29 million polls show Sanders in a virtual tie with Clinton in both Iowa and New Hampshire (which votes February 9th).  What does it say about a front runner and presumptive nominee that has to spend a good portion of what she raises to stave off a challenge from America's only elected Democratic Socialist?  A loss in Iowa would almost certainly lead to a loss in New Hampshire for Clinton, which would spell trouble for a candidate long presumed to be the Democratic standard bearer.  Are we in for a repeat of 2008 with Sen. Sanders and Sec. Clinton trading wins in a long drawn out fight like the one she waged against then Sen. Barack Obama?  If so, it will be fun to watch but probably a nightmare for the Democratic Party.

The Republican Race

One thing that can be said about the Republican race is that the polls have been remarkably consistent for quite some time.  Unlike the previous two contests that featured outsider candidates rising to the top of the polls and then fading rapidly, Donald J. Trump has been first or second in nearly every poll since declaring his candidacy last June.  No matter what outlandish statement he makes or who he insults his support remains constant.  Sometimes it even grows stronger.  Trump also has one advantage that no other candidate in the race has: he doesn't need to raise money and run ads.  Trump is largely self-financing his campaign, which lends credibility to his statements about not being 'bought' by moneyed special interests.  This appeals at a basic level to a significant portion of the GOP base that is fed up with candidates appealing to the elites in the party.  In many ways, Trump's supporters see him as 'one of them' even though in reality they'll never own a private jet and bathe in a gold plated bathroom.  Trump has done a good job appealing to the most base elements of his party.  The question is whether they'll show up to vote in February?

Currently in second place in most of the polls of Iowa is Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX).  Cruz has been consistently gaining on Trump for the last month and a few recent polls show him either a few points ahead or in a statistical tie with Trump.  Cruz's strengths are that he also appeals to the very conservative wing of his party, is seen as a relative outsider due to his opposition to most everything party leadership has wanted in Washington, and his fundraising has been strong.  The downside for Cruz is that there simply isn't room enough in an extended nomination fight for both he and Trump.  Something will give after the first few contests, though Cruz is looking strong in the southern portion of the Super Tuesday primaries labeled as the SEC primary that takes place on March 1st.  As long as he does well in Iowa and South Carolina it's a good bet Cruz is in it for the long haul.

Finally, the typical mainstream moderately conservative Republicans.  You know, the ones closer to Reagan than either Trump or Cruz.  There seem to be four candidates in this group now, three who have served as governors in states that have voted Democratic in the last two presidential elections (Kasich-OH, Bush-FL, Christie-NJ) and Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL).  All four are competing for the same spot, probably 3rd in Iowa and 2nd in New Hampshire.  If one of the four can accomplish that he probably secures his position as the race moves to South Carolina and Nevada before the March primaries.  The others, though Bush may be the exception due his large war chest, are likely to drop out shortly thereafter.

The fourth tier has no viable path to the nomination at this point.  This includes Carly Fiorina, Ben Carson, Rand Paul, and Mike Huckabee.  Fiorina and Carson enjoyed some nice polling bumps last fall but have since fallen back to nothing more than an afterthought.  Dropping out of the race would benefit their party and add clarity to the race.  For that reason alone I don't anticipate them going anywhere before Iowans vote.

The Bottom Line

Donald Trump has every reason to feel good going into the caucuses and primaries over the next six weeks, as does Ted Cruz.  Hillary Clinton has good reason to be nervous and fear a repeat of 2008.  Bernie Sanders has a shot if he wins both Iowa and New Hampshire.  The establishment in the GOP has every reason to be terrified of either a Trump or Cruz nomination as either could tear the party apart in a way we haven't seen since Barry Goldwater secured the Republican nomination in 1964.  The good news for the GOP is that it only took four years to emerge from the Goldwater debacle and it went on to win five of the next six presidential elections.  On the flip side, a loss in 2016 will mean the party will have lost the popular vote for president in six of the last seven elections.  That could be a harbinger of disaster given that the election is theirs to lose this year.


Sunday, November 15, 2015

The economy, Terrorism, and GOP Primaries

It's mid-November and silly season is still in full swing when it comes to the GOP race for the presidential nomination.  Donald Trump is going after his fellow Republicans, especially Ben Carson, in a full-throated, no holds barred way that has led many to question his fitness for the office of president.  Why it took this long is difficult to explain, though silly season is a time when voters flirt with various candidates before deciding who to support.  In some ways it resembles a mating ritual in the animal kingdom with each candidate hoping to emerge as the alpha.  The Democrats have largely been able to avoid this nonsense due to the small size of the field and the fact that there is really only a single real contender in the race.  Whether it helps or hurts Hillary Clinton in the general election is anybody's guess. 

Republican candidates often like to talk about their tax plans, job plans, economic plans, etc. in an effort to woo voters.  These efforts are likely to fall far short of their goals this season for a few reasons.  First, the economy is actually doing quite well, even if Republicans (and their voters) refuse to acknowledge that fact.  A recent poll in Iowa showed that some 47% of Iowans think the economy is poor there while it is, in fact, booming based on any metric used to measure the economy.  Unemployment is low, inflation is low, fuel prices are down, etc.  In 2012, Mitt Romney promised to lower unemployment to 6% by the end of his first term.  The national rate stands at 5% today with more than 14 months left in President Obama's final term.  One might ask why an unemployment rate of 6% would have been acceptable under a Romney Administration but an unemployment rate of 5% under the Obama Administration translates to a 'terrible' economy?  Republicans are probably better off emphasizing their strengths and this is not one of them.

The recent terrorist attacks in Paris, France and the downing of the Russian airliner in Egypt are key events for Republicans hoping to win the White House in 2016.  National security issues have provided Republicans with a built in advantage whenever Americans feel insecure on the national stage.  This has been the singular great failure of the Obama Administration.  The world has become a more dangerous place under his watch and Americans feel less secure than they did when he took office.  One can debate the causes of the rise of ISIS but one cannot deny that the terror group represents a serious threat to the security of the western world today.  Just or not, the Democrats will suffer the blame for that. 

Will the fear Americans feel be strong enough to overcome the demographic advantage Democrats have in the Electoral College?  It depends on what Republican voters do at the polls in February, March, and April.  If they choose to shun the entertaining but politically inept Donald Trump, the soft-spoken but clueless Ben Carson, and the well-meaning but inexperienced Carly Fiorina in favor of one of the candidates that actually understands the severity of the threat we face they'll have a much better chance against Hillary Clinton.  If they choose not to embrace a candidate who understands foreign policy, knows that meeting a foreign leader in a 'green room' doesn't amount to knowing that leader, and knows how to work within a broken system, Hillary and Bill Clinton will be laughing all the way to the White House.  If that happens, voters will get exactly what they ask for and precisely what they deserve.  That's not to say that a knowledgeable GOP candidate will win the election but he'll sure have a better chance than the outsiders do now.


Monday, September 7, 2015

Christian Persecution or Christless Christianity?

The headlines this week are filled with reports about Kim Davis and her refusal to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples in Kentucky.  After a federal judge ordered her to comply with the law she still refused and was held in contempt of court, arrested, and jailed.  Ms. Davis claims she is being forced to violate God's law by signing marriage licenses for same-sex couples and that she has been sent to jail for exercising her religious freedom.  If true, it would be a serious charge against the nation and our justice system not to mention a violation of the First Amendment protection of religious freedom.  Yet, in this blogger's view, Ms. Davis does not literally have a leg to stand on and neither do her supporters, regardless of my own beliefs about marriage and the sanctity of the institution.

Ms. Davis claims to owe obedience to God's law rather than to men (or man made law as the case may be).  Even if we concede that position to her as a Christian, it is unclear precisely which of God's laws she has been asked to violate.  Now, if the state of Kentucky required Ms. Davis to perform a marriage for a same-sex couple she might have a stronger argument.  It has not required this of her.  All she has to do is affix her signature to a license permitting couples to marry (regardless of sexual orientation).  I wonder if Ms. Davis had the same objection to traditional couples seeking marriage licenses who had engaged in pre-marital sex or been divorced for non-biblical reasons?  If Ms. Davis truly wanted to take a stand against same-sex marriage (and all other unbiblical marriages) she should have resigned her office.  That, however, would not have made her into the martyr she has become and endeared her to the Christian right.

You see, the Christian right wants desperately to believe that Christianity itself is under attack from the left.  It desperately wants to believe that it is being persecuted for being faithful to the Scriptures and being reviled for righteousness sake as Matthew 5:10 says.  But this is not what's going on here.  Kim Davis is not in jail for taking a stand for righteousness.  She is in jail for refusing to do her job and obey a court order.  As an elected official she took an oath to obey the law and she violated that oath.  Wait, you say, doesn't Scripture say that Christians must obey God and not man?  Yes, but the context of that statement must be considered.  In Acts 5:29, Peter utters those words before the high council of Sadducees and Pharisees.  What command had Peter violated?  A command that he should not teach the people about Jesus Christ.  If Ms. Davis were being punished or persecuted for teaching about Christ I would be on her side.  She's not and so I am not.

Isn't taking a stand against same-sex marriage tantamount to teaching about Christ, you ask?  No, it isn't.  There is a big difference between moralistic Christianity, which in my view is Christless, and preaching Christ and Him crucified.  Paul, who wrote much of the New Testament, was frequently persecuted for preaching Christ.  He spends little to no time commenting on the ills of 1st century society other than urging Christians to avoid idolatry, sexual immorality, and such things.  He never instructs Christians to go out and oppose the sins of an unbelieving world.  He says to preach Christ and Him crucified and let God take care of the sanctification of repentant sinners.

Herein lies the whole problem with American Christianity.  Much of it does not know the Christ of the Bible.  It is a moralistic, Christless religion that reduces God's law to a set of commands it can easily keep.  Obey a command, check a box, feel good about yourself this week.  It is not a Christianity that mourns over its own sin, that is meek, that seeks to make peace.  It is a brash, in your face brand of Christianity looking for persecution under every rock and crying about 'wars' on Christmas and religious freedom.  It is a Christianity that tells everyone outside the church how they ought to live while refusing to pay attention to their own lives.  If American Christians really want to know what persecution feels like they should try doing one simple thing:  Preach the gospel of Jesus Christ faithfully to a lost and dying world.  Stop making people like Kim Davis into a cause celebre and teach people about the Jesus who stooped low and told the woman caught in adultery to 'Go and sin no more.'  Or, they could just keep picking up stones and see how that works out.



Saturday, August 22, 2015

State of the Race August 22, 2015--Trumpamania Runnin' Wild!

Here we are in the latter part of August.  The dog days of summer are upon us but the sun is moving southward.  The days are growing shorter, the temperatures are getting cooler, and soon the winter of our discontent will be fully upon us.

At this point in the presidential nomination cycle all we have is speculation.  Not a single vote has been cast for a single candidate.  Yet, the press needs something to cover in order to drive viewers to their channels or readers to their newspapers.  So why not manufacture a little sensationalism now and then? Why not talk about Donald Trump all day and all night?  Why not lead Americans to think our borders are porous and hundreds, if not thousands, of illegal Mexican rapists are flooding across them every day?  Why not speculate about how many laws Hillary Clinton may or may not have broken by using a private e-mail server when she was Secretary of State?  After all, doing so leads more and more Americans to become disgusted with their government and lose confidence in its ability to address our problems.  No, let's not talk about the good things government does or the real problems that need to be solved.  That, dear friends, wouldn't secure viewers and readers.  So let's focus on Trumpamania instead.

Will 'The Donald' be the eventual nominee of the Republican Party?  I don't have the answer to that question but I suspect not.  Donald Trump is a showman with an exuberant personality.  Lots of people like that.  He has a following from years of firing contestants on a reality show that he was paid millions of dollars to appear on.  That gives him something that the majority of the other candidates in the Republican field do not have...name recognition.  Presidential primary preference polls in August almost always reflect name recognition rather than voter preferences based on policy proposals.  Four years ago the leading candidate in Iowa and in several national polls was...Michelle Bachmann.  Remember how well her candidacy went?  She dropped out after the first votes were cast.  In 2007, Mitt Romney was leading in Iowa in August but Mike Huckabee won the caucus the following January.  His campaign sputtered and died shortly thereafter.  The last time Iowa actually mattered was 1999 when George W. Bush was leading and won the caucus.  Of course, Bush was running a campaign with only one serious opponent, John McCain, whose campaign came to a screeching halt after the Bush campaign sponsored robocalls in South Carolina claiming McCain had fathered a black child.  The point is, the polls right now are almost irrelevant.  They tell us nothing about who might be the eventual Republican nominee, though they probably tell us more about who will not.  The question is not whether Trump will be the nominee but who stands to gain as the field begins to shrink?

The latest CNN poll has Donald Trump at 24%, which means 76% of potential GOP voters selected somebody else as their first choice.  There are two other candidates competing for the 'mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore' segment of the vote, Ben Carson and Ted Cruz.  Together they are polling at 14%.  Neither will be the Republican nominee.  Earlier this week Carson suggested to CNN that it would be okay to use drones on the border to blow people away.  Cruz cannot win because even Republicans don't like him.  So, the question is whether the 14% these two are getting right now will go to Trump when they drop out of the race?  I don't see that as very likely, which means Trump's support may well have peaked at 24%.

The rest of the field appeals to two or three segments of the GOP electorate.  There is a very small libertarian contingent who support the now faltering campaign of Rand Paul, who polls at 6% in the latest poll.  If Paul ends his bid early, Cruz or Carson might pick up a few of these voters but they are unlikely to embrace Trumpism.  Cruz or Carson might also benefit from the failure of Mike Huckabee's campaign, which is mired at 4% right now.  Huck's support is mostly drawn from white evangelicals who want a candidate that embodies their faith based principles.  That candidate will not be the thrice divorced, four times bankrupt Donald Trump.

More business oriented Republicans also have a few choices in the GOP field.  The top three candidates appealing to this segment are Fiorina (5%), Christie (3%), and perhaps Walker (8%).  Of these three, Walker probably stands to gain the most when the other two close up shop and hope for cabinet posts.  Fiorina is most realistically running for Secretary of Labor while Christie could aim for Attorney General depending upon who the eventual nominee ends up being.

That leaves us with the remaining three contenders, who are more or less establishment Republicans that are likely to appeal to the less extreme conservative segment of the electorate.  Jeb Bush is the elephant in the party but he has a ton of baggage to overcome if he hopes to be the nominee.  The single biggest obstacle is his last name.  The last two presidents from the GOP were his brother George W. and his father.  Republicans, and Americans as a whole, may just have had enough Bushes for awhile, especially given how disastrous the ending of George W. Bush's presidency ended up.  Americans aren't likely to forget that the economy ended up in the worst recession since the 1930's under GW Bush, which is not to assign blame, though many Americans will associate that with GOP policies just as the Great Depression led to 20 years of dominance by FDR and Truman's Democrats.  The latest poll has Jeb at 13% in second place, right where he has been since Trump entered the race.  The other problem for Jeb is that he is competing in a similar space for support with Rubio (8%) and Kasich (5%), both of whom bring to the table all that Bush does but without his last name.  Another establishment candidate picking up a couple points is Rick Perry (2%).  So here's how it looks if we consider the support levels by category rather than by candidate.

Establishment      28%
Trumpamania      24%
Evangelical         18%
Business              16%
Other                   14%

The race will begin to consolidate in the fall as candidates fail to raise financial support and make traction with potential voters.  The question will be who stands to benefit?  Apart from Trump, who doesn't need financial support, money will be a serious barrier preventing many of these candidates from making it to Iowa next February.  We'll know a lot more by mid-October when the third quarter fundraising numbers are released.  From what we know right now, Jeb is flush with cash between his campaign and the Super PACs supporting his candidacy.  Perry is in deep trouble and all but out of the race.  Walker is relying on Super PACs and 501(c)4 money (from the Koch organization) so he'll likely remain viable through Iowa.  Cruz is banking on a strong showing in the SEC primary (8 southern states on March 1, 2016).

Overall, I think the Trump candidacy is more of a flirtation by disgruntled GOP voters than an Ashley Madison arranged affair.  Little by little they will begin to see that the emperor has no clothes and they'll move on.  Many will do what Republicans always do, which is fall in line behind the party's choice.  Right now, I'd put my money on Bush, Rubio, or Kasich as the eventual nominee.  I think Bush or Rubio will be somewhere on the GOP ticket, whether as the nominee or the VP candidate.

I'll update the rankings and information as we progress through the fall and get closer to the actual voting.  For now, enjoy Trumpamania runnin' wild all over you!




Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Silly Season Starts!

Hello debaters, my old friends...it's good to see you once again.  Silly season swings into full gear Thursday (8/6) with the first of what are sure to be many, many, memorable moments as ten of the GOP presidential hopefuls get their chance to stand before a national television audience and make a pitch for support from the few voters who will actually be watching the show.  I say 'show' because that is exactly what it will be with 'The Donald' on the stage.  Each of the other nine hopefuls will be trying to avoid getting a tongue-lashing from the billionaire real estate developer, now a presidential spectacle.  Fear not, dear reader, as there is no danger of the debate actually resembling anything of substance when it comes to policy issues.  We'll hear lots of railing against President Obama, promises to repeal Obamacare, promises to void the recent nuclear deal with Iran, complaints about how the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba has empowered the Castro regime, and how illegal immigration is the biggest threat America has ever seen (except for President Obama and Hillary Clinton).  Whew, I'm exhausted already!

What you will not hear are any substantive ideas or realistic policy proposals.  You won't hear Rick Perry famously forget which cabinet department he plans to eliminate.  You won't hear the candidates tell you how the Republican Party will grow its base beyond attracting a larger share of the shrinking white population (although one blowhard will probably say he'll win the African-American vote!).  In short, you won't hear a single reason why you should vote for any of these candidates but you'll hear a lot of reasons why you shouldn't vote for them.  The Clinton campaign will be looking for snippets to use against each of them should she be the Democratic nominee.

The thing is, a few of these Republicans have a good shot at becoming the 45th President of the United States.  I'd put Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, John Kasich, and Marco Rubio in that group.  It would be nice if one of them would tell us why we should entrust the presidency to him rather than why we shouldn't entrust it to one of the others or why Barack Obama has been so horrible for the United States.  But then, it wouldn't be silly season if there was even the least bit of seriousness to these kind of events, would it?  Perhaps we should give them all lethal weapons and let the Hunger Games begin.  May the odds be ever in your favor.




Sunday, February 1, 2015

Romney's Out: The Invisible Primary Claims Its First Victim

As I said in my last post, Mitt Romney did not appear to be a man about to embark on a third presidential campaign when I saw him speak at Mississippi State University on January 28, 2015.  In fact, we now know that he is not running.  He has, in essence, become the first casualty of the 2015 'invisible primary.'  The question then turns to what does Romney's decision not to seek the nomination mean for the rest of the field?

First, Romney's 'departure' eliminates one of the three contenders for support by the business (establishment) wing of the Republican Party donor class.  It appears from news reports that one of Romney's main considerations was whether he could lock in the financial support of many of his biggest contributors from 2011-12, some of whom wanted to support a 'fresher' face in the upcoming campaign.  Jeb Bush seems to be in the best position to capitalize on Romney's exit as he and Romney's fundraising list shared some 40+ zip codes loaded with wealthy donors.  The Bush fundraising machine is in high gear and it will be interesting to see what the numbers look like when he has to start reporting them.

Second, Romney's declination to run opens a window for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to make a serious bid for the nomination.  Like Romney and Bush, Christie should get a lot of support from the business community and its wealthiest members.  A big unknown, however, is what impact the numerous mini-scandals (Bridgegate and the like) will have on Christie's appeal outside of NY and NJ.  It is unlikely his brash northeastern attitude will play well in some parts of the country that are used to politics that are more refined than what we typically witness in New Jersey.  If Christie is able to raise the $50 million or so it will take to run a decent race for the nomination heading towards Iowa and New Hampshire next January, it could set up an interesting battle between he and former Florida Governor Bush.

Third, Romney's decision not to enter the race is likely good news for another group of second tier candidates who might have struggled to raise the necessary funds to be competitive and generate name recognition.  At the top of this list are two names that will be competing for much of the same space on the political spectrum, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Florida Senator Marco Rubio. Both have struggled to generate much excitement from the Republican establishment so far, though Walker's speech at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Summit was apparently a big hit with the crowd.

Finally, others who might stand to benefit from Romney's departure include Mike Huckabee, though I personally think his appeal is limited to the evangelical wing of the party, and Rand Paul (again, limited appeal to the libertarian crowd), and Ohio Gov. John Kasich (if he runs).  Of these three, my bet would be on Kasich having the most success appealing to multiple wings of the GOP.  The big question for each of them is foreign policy knowledge.  None has any experience with foreign affairs and given the dangerous world we live in today it is a good bet the GOP will want someone who has the skill and experience to tackle threats like ISIS and deal with the renewed threats coming from the Russian Bear.