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Friday, February 12, 2016

The Trump Equilbrium



Next up in the State of Decay that is the GOP Primary is South Carolina on the 20th. This one is going to be what we call in the political press "a doozy." The problem is simple: Trump holds 30% or more of the vote (36%, in the HuffPo and RCP averages). Behind him is Cruz at around 20%--followed by Bush and Rubio.

Kasich, who won big in New Hampshire, is nowhere in South Carolina--meaning he has taken "momentum" off the field.

Rubio is clearly damaged. Jeb seems to be a virtual non-starter. The problem for the party as a whole is that they need to take the Cruz, Jeb, Rubo, and, erm, Kasich grouping and reduce it to one or two candidates with enough support to beat Trump.

The problem is: How. Who do you choose?

Pika-Cruz: I Choose You!

Cruz is the obvious choice: he has appeal to Trump voters--but he's also a sitting Senator. Of course the reason he appeals, some, to Trump voters, is that he's hated (personally and viscerally) by the establishment for reasons that seem to have to do with him being an asshole.

As such, rather than straddling both the establishment and the outsider lanes, he kind of stands in the middle. He appeals to evangelical voters--that's how he won Iowa--and South Carolina has a lot of evangelical voters (more than Iowa)--but they're not exactly the same kind.

There's another problem: The Heresy.

The Heresy: Cruz has committed heresy on Immigration by sponsoring an immigration bill. He claims he was trying to kill it with his addendum--but going to the tape and seeing what he actually said, it's plain this isn't true. He's a heretic. The Base can't vote for him.

Ru-Ru-Rubio!!

Marco Rubio is the obvious choice. Young, charismatic, and really conservative (for real). He was a Tea Party darling, he's been a "real politician" (a senator) and, you know, he's got pretty good answers for a lot of questions. The problem is that his answers are maybe too-good--or, at least, he uses the same answer too often.

The gig on Rubio is that he's a first-termer whose slick presentation is hiding the fact that he's a light-weight and not ready. He played directly into that in the last debate and while it certainly may never happen again, confirming what everyone fears about you only has to happen once. Still, it's one gaffe and it's early in the cycle. If he does well in South Carolina, he could certainly come back.

Except . . . The Heresy.

The Heresy: If Cruz backed a bill, Rubio wrote one. Worse, it was bi-partisan--the "Gang of Eight" and it was Amnesty. He's repudiated it. He has refudiated it. Doesn't matter: Rubio has committed heresy and so he's a heretic. The Base can't vote for him.


Can't Beat The Bush!

Jeb Bush is the obvious choice. A successful purple-state governor in one of the swing states that really matters (Florida is almost the whole ball-game for the GOP), he has great Latino outreach and he had the biggest fundraising hall ever.

Of course he has sucked as a candidate. He seems to lack the belly-fire and he keeps getting his lunch-money taken by Donald Trump. In a party that demands strength, he's not looking all that strong.

That's bad enough--but there's worse: He's a heretic.

The Heresy: The last name of Bush is reviled in the text of conservatism. Jeb has sinned against Common Core (well, he's sided with Common Core--which should be a total non-issue--but it isn't). He has married a Latina, which makes him suspect on the immigration heresy. He's billing himself as a "moderate." Heretical. The Base can't (and won't) vote for him.


Well, What About Kasich?

John Kasich is liked by people across the aisle. He's a successful GOP Governor of a vital swing-state (Ohio is definitely the whole ballgame). He has run a positive campaign. There's nothing really wrong with him, exactly--but, for the GOP Base, there's also nothing "right." A Moderate's-Moderate, Kasich, despite his NH win, has no credible path to the nomination. He is polling at 2% in South Carolina and will likely be out of the race after like a 6th place finish.

The problem with him isn't so much that he fails the purity test--but that he never came close to passing it in the first place. His win in New Hampshire was effectively an opportunity cost for everyone else: he took a slot Rubio needed badly and can't do anything with it.


The Politics of Purity

There are two basic parts to the Trump Equilibrium where enough electoral-weight exists on one side of the lever (the establishment side) to dislodge the other (Trump)--but they cannot coalesce. The first part is personal gain: each candidate has a reason to stay in and knows that if they can out-last the others, they will get the lion's share of the not-Trump vote.

The second, though, is Party-Purity. Rubio's Robot-Gaffe might, yes, hurt him badly--but the idea that his involvement with the Gang of Ocho makes him a non-starter is ludicrous. Jeb isn't a great candidate--but Hillary isn't exceptional either. Jeb's last-name heresy is a damaging factor beyond its pragmatic relevance. If voters don't want another Bush they may very well not want another Clinton.

Beyond that, though, they'd likely choose between the two of them on the merits rather than the last names.

The Purity issue--that a candidate must be without ideological flaw to be a front-runner--has taken a great slate of candidates (on paper) and turned them into clowns in the still-over-stuffed clown car--and getting beat up by someone who, by his lack of conservative identification, is immune to the purity attack (Trump).

A Note On Math
Princeton Election Consortium has computed the drop-dead winnowing deadlines to stop Trump. They are:

  • Feb 29th: Two anti-Trump Candidates (Jeb, Rubio, or Cruz must drop)
  • March 14th: One anti-Trump Candidate (the other drops).


Wednesday, February 10, 2016

New Hampshire Aftermath: Mourning In America

RNC and DNC HQ Today: SOLID GOLD DUMPSTER FIRE!!
Last night New Hampshire kicked the ass of political conventional wisdom. To wit:

  1. Polling was . . . pretty good. Trump over-performed but everything looked more or less right (especially with with the extreme fluidity of the visible state of the race).
  2. The general rules of political gravity were suspended (Socialist won a primary, SuperPACs don't do jack, retail politics in NH suddenly don't matter, Gaffes change everything, and the party, apparently, doesn't decide anything).
  3. People all over the place were aghast (including political-pundit horse-race guys because it was all OVAH at 8 PM).

The DNC: Socialism WINS!

Bernie won big. How big? He won every demographic except people making 200k per year or more. That kinda proves his point, doesn't it? Hillary spent a lot of money and time in the race and she didn't expect to win--but she didn't manage to stick a finger in the dike either.

This means a few things:
  1. Hillary may still be the "electable" candidate--but it looks like she's got some issues that are sticking (trust, her speeches to Goldman Sachs, etc.)
  2. Sanders has momentum and, if he can close the deal with, well, everyone (he won moderate Democrats by 58%) then he's a real threat.

On the other hand, after the crushing defeat of McGovern, the Democrats re-tooled their delegate system so that there are substantial numbers of "super delegates" who aren't assigned by voting. This is the Party Decides made formal. Current delegate counts with Super Delegates who have openly committed?

  • Hillary Clinton: 394
  • Bernie Sanders: 42

The RNC: Holy Shit!

New Hampshire was supposed to winnow the field--to force drop-outs and prove the candidates that remained solid. It didn't. For one thing, Trump exceeded his numbers--so, yeah: probably solid--but not what the party wants.

Secondly, Rubio, who was granted a "win" for coming in 3rd in Iowa had become the golden-boy for the embattled establishment. His strategy was 3-2-1 (come in 3 in crazy Iowa, 2nd in saner New Hampshire, and then 1st in South Carolina after everyone realized he was The One).

He's not looking at 3-5-? which doesn't work so well.

Maybe Agent Smith needs to shoot him first?

If his Marco Ruboto gaffe sunk him, what's the excuse for John Kasich coming in a strong second? The guy has no path to the nomination in any other state and is essentially a one-hit-wonder. In a month people will be asking "John Kasich?? Whatever happened to him?" (hint: he'll still be Governor of Ohio).

Cruz came in third, which is good for Cruz: he has a shot in South Carolina--but he's hated by the establishment so him getting a faint breath-of-life isn't so great for them. Jeb? Jeb's "back."

In other news, Chris Christie was, apparently, thoroughly hated by the Rubio crowd--they saw him as blasting their champion to pieces and then winning nothing for himself. It was counter-noted that:

  1. All Christie really did was give Rubio rope to hang himself and 
  2. What the hell else was he supposed to do? Go easy on Rubio in the last debate because Rubio, the fragile snowflake that he apparently is, is still our last, best hope for peace? Uh-huh.

What Now? 

Ha-Ha!
Now we get one more debate which will probably be a bloodbath and then we get to South Carolina. Oh, and Hillary and Bernie will probably debate too--maybe someone can watch and tell The Omnivore what happens? The Cruz-Trump war will probably make your TV bleed. Trump has already called Cruz "a pussy" (kinda--but yeah, he did). Cruz, having won in Iowa, could be magnanimous. 

Having lost badly in New Hampshire, he now needs to wreck Trump before South Carolina. That should be interesting.

In a way that is almost sad, Bush's campaign is planning on a "scorched earth" attack on Kasich and Rubio. Ahh, fratricide. 

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

A Grim Realization

Picture From A Reader Response To The Linked Article
Jim Geraghty reaches the same conclusion The Omnivore did long ago--he just has a different read on it: The RNC's 2012 Autopsy Was Wrong. If you remember, following the 2012 defeat of Mitt Romney, the RNC studied what happened and concluded a few things:

  1. The Republicans were seen as out of touch / not caring about "normal people"
  2. The demographic trends were not good--Hispanics (the fastest growing minority) were turned off. Asians (a socially conservative, high-income minority) weren't thrilled either. Women (especially young, unmarried ones) weren't onboard. The youth? Nah. Black Americans? Forget about it.
  3. Our data infrastructure sucked.
This was all, ahem, objectively true.

The conclusions were things like:
  • Hire more African American communications directors.
  • Establish a presence in African American communities.
  • Craft a tone on immigration that takes into consideration the unique perspective of the Hispanic community.
  • Emphasize candidate training so that the Republican position of tolerance and respect isn't damaged by "poorly phrased arguments" or "out-of-context statements."
  • Improve on the promoting of Hispanic staff.
And so on.

Here's what Jim sees:
Had the congressional GOP gotten behind the RNC’s advice en masse in 2013, our impassioned debate, and cries of “amnesty” and “xenophobia,” would have arrived three years earlier. Instead of seeing historic wins in 2014, the party probably would have ripped itself apart, as immigration restrictionists mounted furious primary challenges to the Republicans who had defied their wishes.
And:
The RNC report’s advocacy for a path to citizenship was a slap in the face to those Republicans who had long been angry about illegal immigration.
So, of course, finally:
It’s the failures of the past four years that make the solutions now being offered seem so tin-eared. Americans are angrier, more pessimistic, less patient — in short, fed up. Barack Obama got us into this mess. But the Republican nominee will have to openly address the anger he’s left boiling in voters if we ever hope to get out of it.
In other words: THANKS OBAMA-you divided us and now our candidate must reflect / justify that anger or else the Republican base will defect.

Makes sense, right?

Jim Gets It Wrong

Jim is a bright guy--he's well written. He's been doing this a while. What'd he get wrong? Well, for starters: there's nothing in the GOP autopsy about a path-to-citizenship. It suggests things to appeal to Hispanics like:

  • School choice
  • Family values
  • Nebulous "positive" immigration proposals
  • More money spent on presence in Hispanic media
Above all, it suggests not sending the (inadvertent, incorrect) message that the Republican Party doesn't want legal Hispanics in the US. Hence the need for training.

Nothing in there about a path-to-citizenship. The words "path-to-citizenship" do not appear in the document.

Secondly, for having "gotten it wrong" Jim has to not just read between the lines--but write between them: everything in the analysis section is fact-base. This is all hard numbers that have come out of the exit polling. It isn't wrong--it's just unpleasant.

So if Jim is a bright guy . . . why'd he miss this?

Why Jim Gets It Wrong

The reason why Jim gets it wrong is because of his conclusion: he blames Obama for the anger. The problem? The anger existed before Obama had done anything but run for office. All you have to do is look at a Sarah Palin rally in 2008--before Obama had done anything--before there was any 'failure'--to see the anger.

Remember:
  • McCain getting annoyed at the right-wing talk radio guy's relentless, emphatic use of Obama's middle name?
  • McCain being annoyed at voters calling Obama a terrorist--and meaning it?
  • People circulating the story that Obama was sworn in on a Koran?
  • "I hope he fails" -- Limbaugh
  • The Day Zero meeting by the GOP (before Obama was sworn in) where the strategy to limit him to 1 term by blocking everything he tried to do happened?
Yeah? So if it's not the "failures of the last eight years" what is it?

What if the "anger" that existed in 2008 and was stoked over the next 8 years didn't come primarily from Obama's various failures but, instead, from the party itself. After all:
  • Republican media leaders made historic amounts of money pursuant to that anger.
  • The party machinery did, in fact, win historic victories due in part (The Omnivore asserts) to that anger.
  • While everyone is told that The Base's anger is "justified" most people (such as the NRO) are horrified at what it expresses itself as. That ought to be a clue.

What The Autopsy Report Understood

The Autopsy report understood was that the GOP, in 2012, told pretty much all minorities (and, erm, women as a demographic) to go get bent. This didn't work. The Omnivore thinks the RNC understood the anger in its base more clearly than Jim does--more clearly than he can--because he is invested in a view of the party as righteous, much-wronged patriots who simply have no choice but to follow someone who calls Mexicans rapists.

The problem isn't that "someone" needs to "openly address" the anger--the problem is that someone is. That someone is Donald Trump and the problem the NRO has with him is that Trump is doing it honestly--he's laying it all out for people to see. He isn't papering it over with code-words or plausible deniability. He's not moderating it.

He's just doing what The Base has wanted for 8 years and it's unseemly

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Marco Rubio and the Hall of Presidents

Last night, during the debates, Rubio--under attack by Chris Christie--got "stuck on repeat." Like a robot--or a Disney anamatronic--he repeated, with the same cadence, his same talking point, like 4x over. While he recovered nicely by the end of the debate (in the more friendly second half), The Omnivore thinks the replay of this is going to be devastating. It's harmful on two fronts:

  1. As Ace at Ace of Spades HQ points out, the narrative that Rubio is a robot repeating slick market-tested talking points is now established. You won't be able to listen to him without that being in your head. In other words, this is the kind of thing that plays into the target's negative brand and therefore sticks.
  2. Silver at 538 notes that Rubio's betting-odds declined in real-time about 3%. That's not terrible (compare to Perry's "Ooops" flash-crash in '12, which destroyed him)--but the fact that this registered with people who are thinking about the future. If that happened to Rubio in a 1-on-1 debate with Clinton? Disaster. In other words, the damage is real.
Exactly how this plays over the rest of the month is still up in the air. Rubio has a degree of immunity since he got credit for a "win" while coming in 3rd in Iowa--but if Trump wins in NH and Rubio doesn't come in second . . . The 'boy in the bubble' (Christie's term for him) might get . . . popped.

Right now everyone is fragile.

Tuesday's Vote

For The Omnivore's money, Trump came out looking surprisingly strong. While various commenters took issue with him--and maybe Jeb finally got the best of him in an exchange--he looked more sane and restrained while still unapologetic and strong. He even broke the 4th wall, taking on the audience for being a bunch of political donor-class people and refused to back down in the face of boos.

That's, whatever else you may think, gutsy. Trump does not back down and that's part of his value-prop. He reinforced that last night.

Cruz proved that he, once again, will say anything for a vote, when he tried to pick up Rand Paul voters while coming out against waterboarding. Does anyone, anywhere, believe Cruz has a problem with waterboarding? With torture in general? Cruz's selling points are not mercy--or having a heart--that's not his brand--but he wants Paul-voters so he said what he kinda had to--uncomfortably.

He didn't get savaged for it--but The Omnivore doesn't think he was all that convincing either. He did get a humanizing moment talking about someone he knew who died of addiction (New Hampshire has been hit hard by the Heroin epidemic and it's a big topic of voting there). Not sure if that'll be enough though.

The Net-Net

It's unclear if these debates can really still make a difference--but if they can, this one probably was quite damaging to Rubio and may have been rough on Cruz. While some people think Trump also did badly, The Omnivore doesn't agree. Having the candidates beat each other up in these demolition derbies is something the party may seriously come to regret.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Tonight's Debate--New Hampshire's Vote


We are in a liminal state right now where it's unclear what rules apply, where the state of play really is, and so on. Trump's second-place in Iowa was barely within the polling margin of error (Cruz at the top of his, Trump at the bottom or maybe just below it--and there is at least some evidence that the polls were very fluid going into the caucus).

So we don't know if the NH polling is accurate or not. We don't know if events (tonight's debate, etc.) will change things. We just don't know.

Secondly, Cruz won by having a great ground-game which is amplified in caucus states (see: Obama '08). He probably has a great ground game in NH--but he may not get the same kind of boost for it. Trump shows as WAY ahead--if that's for real--if people turn out--then he wins NH. If he wins NH credibly, there is no reason to think he won't win the other early-states.

Rubio has certainly locked up the branding as the establishment / unity candidate--the question, which has ever-dogged him--is can he close the deal? What does he need to close it? Will a convincing 2nd place be enough? Will a squeaker-second? What if he comes in 3rd?

Similarly, Bernie is way ahead of Hillary in NH. Assuming he wins it, what then? No one knows--the demographics show that Iowa and NH are Sander's best bets--but a recent national poll showed him tied with Clinton. Is he catching fire? Is Hillary losing another national race?


The Problem: Lack of Real Options

The underlying fundamentals of the races haven't changed: Sanders would likely be a disaster for the Democrats and however shaky Hillary sometimes appears (she's pretty solid in debates--but she's dogged by scandals and lack-of-transparency issues) there just isn't another candidate (yes, there are Draft Biden fantasies--engage them after Hillary goes to jail--not before).

On the GOP side, Trump and Cruz are still seen as un-serious and potentially catastrophic choices. Trump because he is a cartoon supervillain (and has the favorables to show for it) and Cruz because it is apparently he makes being hateable into an art-form (also because he appeals very, very strongly to narrow groups of people who may well not be able to dominate swing states in the fashion necessary to win).

Additionally, every other conceivable establishmentarian has more or less flamed out. Oh, sure, there are trace elements of Kasich and Christie in the polling--and Jeb's superPAC has a lot of dough left--but mostly? Rubio is the only guy who seems like a credible choice right now.

Essentially Tuesday's coming vote is forcing a lot of pressure into a system and seeing what, if anything breaks.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

IOWA VOTES!

New York Values!
Last night the primary season kicked off with a bang--Iowans voted for their presidential favs. Who won? Who lost?

Winners

Ted Cruz: He needed a victory and he got it--by 4pts over Trump. This was with heavy turn-out (from what we heard, anyway) that was supposed to benefit Trump. Conjecture: tons of people turned out just to vote against Trump. In any event, heavy turnout in Iowa is a good sign for the GOP in November.

Bernie Sanders: He looked weak going in--but came back to a statistical tie. Heck--he might even win (although Clinton was declared the victor last night). If Sanders "loses by a nose" that's okay: he has a really big nose. This proves he can have staying power wherever the youth vote turns out.

Losers

Polling: If polling aggregates were on the nose in '08 and '12, after '14 they've been awful. Even the Des Moines Register's super-pollster got it wrong. Basically? Nobody knows who's ahead.

Trump: He was projected to win--if only by a little. He blew expectations. Now, second in Iowa isn't bad--but it's not the win-so-much-we're-tired-of-winning projection either. Basically? He needs to win NH--where he is WAY up.

Rubio: Rubio is getting counted as a win for coming in 3rd in Iowa. That's ... good for him in that he becomes the defacto establishment choice until something changes. It's bad, though, in that he couldn't beat Trump (he came close) and 3rd place is still 3rd place. Expect the attacks to intensify.

It's also bad in that the news of his "surge," while not exactly false, was, like all his other "break out moments" not enough. It's starting to be a trend.

Thoughts

The Omnivore thinks the Democrats would be insane to pick Sanders and the Republicans would be ill-advised to settle on Cruz. Sanders has the youthful energy--but will lose everyone on branding (an out-and-proud socialist who makes good on the lie that Obama was offering everyone 'free stuff' is not going to win a general election).

Cruz's first in Iowa is actually a vote against him in the general (Santorum and Huckabee also took first in Iowa). Basically, Ted has slid the control all the way to the right for evangelicals--and he's not going to be able to etch-a-sketch later. If he wins the nomination, he'll have to win the general as a right-wing evangelical. That's hard.

Rubio, however, is a better bet than Jeb. What remains to be seen is how Trump and Cruz's (and, erm, Jeb's) attacks on him work. Can they really, actually damage him? We don't know.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

BusTED

Close Enough For Government Work?
Tomorrow is the beginning of the end: the actual voting starts in the next presidential cycle. Everything up until now has been conjecture, positioning, and spin. It is also the end of the beginning. The invisible primary is over. The "Summer of Trump" is past--so is the "Autumn of Trump" and, probably, the "Winter of Trump."

Tomorrow we get our first peek inside the black-box of voter's heads--and what they do when their choice actually matters.

Ted Cruz: Naive Psychopath?

The Omnivore was talking to someone about Cruz and the person gave his opinion: "He's basically a psychopath, isn't he? That's how he comes off." Huh, thought The Omnivore--yeah--that's not too far off.

But something didn't sit right with that description--what was it? Oh yeah, psychopaths are superficially charming. Ted Cruz isn't charming on any level.

Still, the point was well made--Cruz is a do-anything-to-win type who seems to have no trouble putting a knife in someone's back (or front) on the way up the ladder.

Here's the mailer his team sent out to voters in Iowa they wanted to turn-out for caucus:
The mailer is designed to look like a parking ticket or some other official notice and it mines voter-data to see who has or has not gone to caucus. It also lists the recipient's record--along with their neighbors. It threatens that a follow up will be sent after the caucus on Monday (so if they didn't go, their neighbors will know).

This was met--by Cruz fans--with jaw-dropping surprise. In fact, immediately, it was deemed fraudulent. This gif made the rounds:
Alas, it was not to be--the Cruz campaign owned up to having done it. The Omnivore, however, was struck by having read something about Ted Cruz's digital-game (he, alas, can't find the quote). The GOP is coming to the Big Data space late. They were critically behind the Democrats in 2012 and paid for it.

Cruz is using some of his (large) war-chest to turn that around. His people talked up their psycho-targeting of individuals based on data-mining their preferences and such (which magazines do they subscribe to? If it's Guns & Ammo, they might be a Cruz voter!).

An analyst on the Dem side noted, however, that they were still just starting out--and were therefore vulnerable to digital snake-oil. They said the kind of psychological profiling they were talking about didn't work as well in reality as it did on paper.

It turns out that the Obama campaign had done something like what Cruz did in 2012. Behold:

This mailer does the same kind of thing--it takes a voter's record and compares it to the neighbors'. There are some BIG differences.

  1. This was done by Obama in the General Election--in a Primary you can turn out and then vote for Marco Rubio. That's a LOT less likely than turning out for Hillary if you're a Republican.
  2. The "Report Card" doesn't name names. 
  3. It also doesn't come packaged as a VIOLATION. It doesn't make threats of a follow-up.
Basically, it's still vote-shaming, after a fashion--but it is designed not to look like an intimidation tactic. The Cruz campaign . . .  didn't get that.

It May Not Matter

The Iowa-Is-A-Must-Win thing for Cruz isn't literally true: he can keep going for quite a while (and if he pulls a strong second, which looks likely--if not a win) he may not even be too badly damaged. On the other hand, the flip-side is: if Ted doesn't win Iowa, what state does he win? The general consensus is that at some point people will wise up and bail on the Trump Train--but that doesn't look likely.

It's also clear that Ted's strategy of hugging The Donald in order to sit beside him on his political death-bed (before smothering him with a pillow, probably) has backfired in the worst way. Trump has played the Canadian card--and it has stuck. What Trump didn't finish, the last debate probably did. Cruz is damaged at a bad time--and his various stratagems have brought him here.

If he does lose Iowa, he's in a hole that's pretty deep and he'll need a game changer--but in a field where everyone is looking for a game changer . . . they may be hard to come by.
Not So Much . . .