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.


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.


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?


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.


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?


 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. 


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.