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.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Mitt Romney Redux?

Last evening I had the opportunity to attend a speech by the 2012 Republican presidential nominee and former governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney at Mississippi State University's Bettersworth Auditorium in Lee Hall.  Governor Romney was here as part of the Mississippi State University Global Lecture Series, which has featured prominent public servants such as General Colin Powell, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, and others in recent years.  Governor Romney spoke for about 35 minutes then settled down for a brief conversation with former Mississippi Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks to a Mississippi State University audience as part of the university's Global Lecture Series.Photo by: Beth Wynn
Romney began the speech by recounting his own college years as an English major, which according to him meant he had no idea of what he would do for a living.  That elicited a laugh from the students in attendance (and some faculty I presume).  The first fifteen minutes of the speech was dedicated to a more personal conversation that seemed much like an address one might hear at a college commencement ceremony rather than a campaign speech.  To be sure, Romney gave no indication about whether he intends to seek the Republican nomination in 2016 except to say that 'you may have heard I have been thinking about running' for president again.  Judging from the applause in the audience, he might have the support of quite a few of them if he did choose to run.

The speech turned political during the second half of the governor's address as he went directly after President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.  First, Romney accused the president of being either 'naive' or 'deceptive' during his recent State of the Union address for not calling ISIS what it is...a group of Islamic Jihadists that pose a serious threat to world peace and American interests abroad.


Next, the governor went after the presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton by criticizing her for pressing the 'reset' button on America's relationship with Russia.  In Romney's view this 'reset' enabled Russian President Vladimir Putin to invade and seize portions of Ukraine last year.  Of course, this conveniently ignores the fact that Putin's invasion of Ukraine took place in the middle of 2014, more than a year and a half after Secretary Clinton was replaced by former Massachusetts Senator John Kerry.  Romney went on to remark that Putin wants to reassemble the old Soviet empire by taking invading sovereign nations, which is not what great powers do.  He pointed to the enormous strength of the U.S. Military and claimed that we never use that power to invade a sovereign country.  Perhaps it slipped his mind but the U.S. did recently wrap up two wars in which we did, in fact, invade sovereign nations and topple their governments (Afghanistan and Iraq).  That is not to say those invasions were not justified...just that any discussion of the use of U.S. military power must include those events as well.

The final portion of Romney's speech involved his view on the economic situation in America.  By his own admission, the economy has improved for many Americans, especially those who are very wealthy like the governor himself.  He stated that the Obama Presidency has been very good for people like him as the stock market has reached new highs and increased the wealth of the very rich in America.  He also said that for the rich, it doesn't matter who the president is because they will always do well.  For the poor and middle class, however, the last six years have not been so good.  He intoned that the gap between the rich and the poor has grown under President Obama, which is somewhat true as the wealthy have recovered much of what they lost when the Great Recession hit in 2008.


While trying to lay this gap at the feet of the current president, however, Romney admitted that it is part of a trend that has been going on for several decades.  Yet, he claimed that 'liberal policies' were to blame and indicated that it is time to give conservative ideas a chance to work.  I could be wrong but I seem to recall that more than half of the time frame covered by the rise in the gap between the rich and the poor has been presided over by Republican Presidents and Republican Congresses.  To be fair, the governor did criticize both parties for failing to take the actions necessary to ensure a prosperous future for all Americans, though he did not go into detail about what those actions might entail.

Finally, in a rather surprising appeal, Romney indicated that it is well past time for Republicans to stop paying attention solely to the voices that are important for winning the Republican nomination and to start paying attention to those who typically view the party as hostile to their interests, minorities and the poor.  Only by doing this, Romney said, will the GOP stand a good chance to win a general election and recapture the White House.  It was, in essence, a tacit admission that the strategy he employed in 2012 to capture largely older white voters is doomed to fail in 2016 as the share of the electorate comprising that demographic continues to decline.  In 2012, Romney famously said he did not need to pay attention to the '47% of Americans who refuse to take responsibility' for their lives and just want a handout from the government.  Today, it appears, that he realizes Republicans cannot win the presidency without reaching out to at least some of those voters.  In this writer's estimation that is a positive development if the party follows through with it.

So...does this mean Governor Romney is planning to launch a campaign for the presidency again?  To be honest, I'm not sure.  What I do know is that whatever happens with the GOP over the next 18 months or so, Governor Romney wants to be a part of that conversation.  Like America (according to the governor), the Republican Party has a leadership problem today.  It is like a ship adrift with all the crew members thinking they should be captain.  The last Republican President, George W. Bush, has dropped off the face of the earth it seems, except for news of a new painting or a book praising his father every now and then.  He certainly has shown no indication that he wants to be an elder statesman for the party the way former President Bill Clinton has for the Democrats.  The elder Bush, George H.W., is in frail health at 90 years of age and unable to travel much these days.  So the party has no true leader.  It seems that Gov. Romney, as the most recent nominee for the GOP, is trying to put himself into that position.  Only time will tell just how successful he will be in that endeavor.

Overall, the evening was informative and Gov. Romney seemed very at ease discussing everything, including his loss to President Obama in 2012.  On election night in 2012, just after the networks called the race for President Obama, my wife told my then six year old daughter that Barack Obama had been reelected President of the United States.  My daughter asked, 'Momma, is Mitt Romney sad"?  Judging from his speech last night and the ease of which he spoke about the 2012 campaign I'd have to say 'no, he appears to be doing just fine.'




Friday, January 23, 2015

The Invisible Primary & Scott Walker

Every four years the time comes when political scientists around the United States become like little children on Christmas morning anticipating opening their gifts to find out what is inside.  They rush to their offices, fire up their Macs (if they're anything like me), and begin exploring the day's happenings in the political world.  Of particular interest for folks like me this time of year is what we refer to as 'The Invisible Primary.'  The phrase refers to that period of time between the announcement of an intention to seek the presidency and the first votes being cast in the Iowa Caucuses, which typically occur in January of the following year.  Most of this time is spent by potential nominees courting party elites and well-heeled donors in an effort to raise the $50 million or so necessary to be competitive during primary season.

The 2015 invisible primary is well under way following the announcement by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush that he intends to 'explore' a run for the presidency.  Bush's announcement caught some of the potential GOP candidates off guard and potentially provided the governor with a head start over his rivals.  This set off a scramble among other potential candidates to hire talented individuals who could help them raise money and test the waters.  Shortly after Bush jumped into the race Mike Huckabee walked away from a lucrative deal at Fox News to explore a possible candidacy.  Others in the GOP all but certain to run include Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Scott Walker, Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, and Rick Santorum.  Rumors of another run by Mitt Romney are sort of like the stories regarding the exaggeration of the death of Mark Twain.  It makes for good political fodder but it just makes no sense at all.  His time came and went and the party has moved on.

The challenge for each of the potential candidates is to figure out where their political support is most likely to come from and lock up that support over the next 11 months.  Political Scientist Jason McDaniel does an excellent job laying out the case for one of these candidates, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, in his latest post at Mischiefs of Faction.  McDaniel also created the following Venn Diagram to show the political space occupied by each of the potential candidates for the GOP, which is another way of saying where each is most likely to find the greatest level of support.  If a candidate appears in more than one of the circles, he likely has appeal to two or more factions within the GOP, thus making him more 'viable' to party elites and important donors.  Candidates who appear in only one circle have limited appeal outside their own circle and will likely struggle to win the nomination. This isn't to say they cannot win it, just that it is highly unlikely because such a candidate will have a hard time raising the kind of financial support necessary to make a serious run at the nomination.  In 2012 we saw this happen to candidates such as Herman Cain, Rick Perry, and Tim Pawlenty.  I would go so far as to argue that even Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich were not truly viable candidates in 2012, though they got to hang around due to the support each received from a wealthy donor.


Back to Scott Walker.  McDaniel's analysis makes sense on some level since the 2016 race for the GOP nomination seems to lack a clear frontrunner.  Could Walker win the nomination?  If so, he would be the first major party nominee since Harry Truman in 1948 without at least a bachelor's degree.  Even so, some have argued that Walker is well situated since he has won three elections (including the misguided recall attempt) in a state that has reliably supported the Democratic candidate for president since 1988.  Yet, one aspect of Walker's three victories is rarely discussed.  Each of them occurred with a midterm electorate that is typically older, whiter, and more conservative than that seen in a presidential election.  That may suit him fine in seeking the GOP nomination, which will look in many ways a lot like the electorate he faced in Wisconsin.  The biggest challenge for Walker may not be his appeal to the GOP base, rather it will be his lack of name recognition.  If he can overcome that obstacle he has a slight chance of securing the nomination.  He can win Iowa with its historic tendency to back evangelical candidates but New Hampshire and heavily unionized Nevada may pose serious problems.  The good news for Gov. Walker?  If he lasts until the proposed SEC primary in the southern states in early March, he could rack up a lot of delegates in a hurry.


Sunday, November 9, 2014

2014 Midterm Election Post-Mortem: What's Next?

Now that the votes have been counted, the tears have been shed, the champagne has been consumed, and the unemployment insurance claims filed it is time to consider what the results mean for government and governing in America over the next two years.  I'll start with a look at the House of Representatives, the Senate, and then the executive branch.

The House of Representatives

As of November 9th the GOP controls 244 seats in the House to 184 for the Democrats with seven races still undecided.  A quick look at the NY Times big board indicates that the GOP is likely to capture five of those undecided seats.  That will put them right around 250 seats, their largest caucus since Herbert Hoover was president.  Archie Bunker would be proud.  Does the increased majority make it more likely the House GOP starts governing again?  I think it does and here's why:

John Boehner and Kevin McCarthy, the Speaker and Majority Leader in the House, are for the most part moderate establishment politicians.  They're not obstructionists like some of their fellow bomb-throwing extremists who demanded a shut down of the federal government in 2013 and threatened to allow the nation to default on its sovereign debt.  Boehner and McCarthy are conservatives without a doubt but they are conservatives who want to see Washington work efficiently.  Sure, they live in a fictional bubble where smaller government is possible and Big Bird loses his head but, hey, you have to dream big in order to keep waking up every day, right?

Seriously, the larger majority in the House for Boehner allows him to do something he has not been able to do since being elected Speaker in 2010...tell the Tea Party to take a hike and get with the program or become irrelevant.  The question is whether he will do it or not.  My bet is he will and we will see a much more productive House in 2015 and 2016.  We might even see some major legislation emerge such as immigration reform and tax reform.  To be sure, it will reflect Republican priorities so Boehner and McCarthy will have to do some negotiating with the president if they want it to become law.  I think they'll find a way to get it done.  The alternative is to go into the 2016 presidential election as the party that controlled Congress for two years and did nothing.  Given the different electorate we are likely to see in 2016 I do not think that is a very good strategy.  I suspect Boehner and McCarthy would agree with that assessment.  Had the Republican House such a majority in 2014 I suspect the bipartisan immigration reform bill passed by the Senate would have been brought to the floor of the House and passed with bipartisan support and then signed into law by President Obama.

The Senate

It appears right now the GOP will net nine seats in the Senate, which will put them at 54.  That's not enough to end a filibuster if a the Democratic minority decides to play the obstructionism card the way the GOP did for the past four years.   There are a core group of institutionalists within the minority that will prevent obstruction from becoming the norm for the next two years.  Further, the Democrats have nothing to lose and everything to gain by working with newly minted Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to find areas of common ground to move policy forward.  They likely will not get everything they want but history shows that Democrats have been much more willing to compromise in order to govern than the GOP has in recent years.  As of now, I see no evidence to indicate that will change in the 114th Congress.  The wild card is Harry Reid, the presumptive minority leader.  Reid has the potential to make life hell for the GOP if he wants to.  I wouldn't blame him if he did after what he has been through for the last four years but eventually the time comes to stop playing tit for tat and acting like a grown up.  Perhaps both McConnell and Reid will realize that the time has arrived.  Otherwise they both ought to retire to some Kentucky stud farm.

Taking control of the Senate also means that Republicans can no longer point fingers at the Democrats for failing to pass a budget, ignoring the minority, and all the other ills that Harry Reid has been accused of passing on to the country.  The GOP will have to stand or fall in 2016 based upon its own performance.  America has given the party a chance to prove it can govern.  Govern it must or 2016 will see a return of a Democratic Senate, though the odds are somewhat longer of that happening if the GOP does indeed have 54 seats.  Donkeys would need to net four seats and the presidency in 2016 or five seats if the GOP wins the presidency.

The President

In some ways, losing control of Congress has got to be a relief for the president.  He is now free to work with Republicans without regard to what Harry Reid or Nancy Pelosi wants.  The major players for the president now become John Boehner and Mitch McConnell.  Sure, that doesn't mean they'll sit around holding hands, sipping Kentucky Bourbon, and singing Kumbaya.  But it does mean the president has an incentive to accomplish some things over his final two years in office.  If the president is wise he will employ the triangulation strategy that worked so well for Bill Clinton.  In essence, President Obama will attempt to co-opt some of the Republicans priorities in the next Congress, which allows him to get the credit when they enact what is essentially their agenda.  Such a strategy only goes so far, however.  It is unlikely the president will give on his core principles, which is sure to setup a showdown with the new Republican Congress.

Moving Forward

The takeover of the Senate by Republicans may well be a blessing in disguise for the president and the Democratic Party.  As I said, if the GOP fails to govern for the next two years it benefits the Democrats in 2016.  Using a spatial analysis approach, what matters most over the next two years are the pivot points for the major players.  Pivot points reflect the optimal position of the 218th member of the House, the 51st (or 60th) vote in the Senate, and the preferred position of the president.  The larger majority in the House may mean the 218th vote position has moved slightly right or slightly left from where it was in 2013-14.  If it has moved to the right (due to greater Tea Party strength) then the next two years will be an exercise in brutal futility as there will be little ground for compromise.  If the pivot point for the 218th member of the House has moved slightly left (due to greater moderate strength among new members) then there may be more room for deals to be struck with the Senate and president.

The pivot points in the Senate have shifted significantly to the right with the GOP taking control.  The 51st vote now rests with the 4th least conservative Republican as opposed to the 4th least liberal Democrat.  That means John McCain or Lisa Murkowski is likely to hold the 51st vote on items that can be passed on a simple majority vote.  If 60 votes are required due to a Democratic filibuster (or threat thereof) the 60th vote will likely come from Jeanne Shaheen or Michael Bennet (40th most liberal).

The president's pivot point is likely to also shift rightward.  Despite the rhetoric of many conservative Republicans many of President Obama's actual policies have been quite conservative from the tax cuts implemented in 2009-2011 to the transfer of wealth from individual citizens to big insurance companies under the ACA, which was modeled on a plan first proposed by the conservative Heritage Foundation.  Since Obama has shown little hesitancy to move to the right when a deal could be struck with the House leadership I expect him to continue to do the same in 2015-16.  Only now the deals will be between Obama, Boehner, and McConnell.  If Boehner and McConnell can reach agreement then the president is likely to come along unless it involves a gutting of Obamacare or any of his other signature accomplishments.  The most likely major agreements are on immigration reform and tax reform in the next two years.  There will also likely be some tweaks to Obamacare but unless the Supreme Court declares it unconstitutional it is here to stay.