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 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!

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