Friday, April 17, 2015

2016: Proxy For The Culture Wars?

#HillaryFunCamp - From the Indispensable People's Cube
Charles Krauthammer makes an interesting observation:
Clinton’s unchangeability, however, is the source of her uniqueness as a candidate: She’s a fixed point. She is who she is. And no one expects — nor would anyone really believe — any claimed character change.
Accordingly, voters’ views about her are equally immutable. The only variable, therefore, in the 2016 election lies on the other side, where the freedom of action is almost total. It all depends on who the Republicans pick and how the candidate performs.
Hillary is a stationary target. You know what you’re getting. She has her weaknesses: She’s not a great campaigner, she has that unshakable inauthenticity problem and, regarding the quality most important to getting elected, she is barely, in the merciless phrase of candidate Obama in 2008, “likable enough.”

But she has her strengths: discipline, determination, high intelligence, great energy. With an immense organization deploying an obscene amount of money. And behind that, a Democratic Party united if not overly enthusiastic.
Boiled down, what he's saying is that with her name-recognition at the (his words) "papal" stage, she's basically already run for president. Everyone knows her. Everyone has an opinion. While, yeah, there may be a scandal that takes her down or some new piece of evidence, it appears she is already vetted--and scandals? Well, the one that takes her out needs to involve handcuffs because everything else has been tried.

Compare this to Scott Walker. Walker is, in The Omnivore's opinion, potentially the strongest candidate in the GOP field. He is capable of uniting the party--a for-real conservative who isn't crazy. Normal people--ordinary moderates--the big-foot-level-elusive Swing Voters--those guys? They could punch the ticket for Walker. He's no kind of embarrassment like, say, Donald Trump.

In his home state of Wisconsin, Walker trails Hillary Clinton by a 12-pt margin:
In a head-to-head matchup, Walker trailed former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton 52% to 40%. Clinton also led all the other likely Republican candidates.
This begs* the question: What, exactly, is going to change here?

The Theory: The Debates!
What's going to change is Walker's name-recognition. Hillary's positives are likely immutable for Democrats--and probably largely immutable for non-Republicans. If Obama's numbers have been stationary for six years, it is hard to see what could cause a precipitous decline in a matter of months for Clinton. More banging on Benghazi?

Probably the most Red State Omnivore-Reader doesn't believe that'll help.

No, what will change is that Walker will become better known to more people. He'll get to show himself off to people who've never met him and make his case. It worked in Wisconsin--a pretty darn blue state--it can work elsewhere too.

That's Krauthammer's point: the GOP needs to introduce someone who at least balances the scales in the right way. Maybe Walker is that guy?

Maybe. Maybe not: he's now underwater in his home state where he is, one would think, pretty darn well known:
MILWAUKEE – A new Marquette Law School Poll finds Gov. Scott Walker’s job approval rating has fallen to 41 percent, with 56 percent of registered voters in Wisconsin saying they disapprove of how he is handling his job as governor. In the previous poll, in October 2014, Walker’s approval among registered voters was 49 percent, with 47 percent disapproving.
Now, those are over specific Wisconsin issues--after all, Walker has won election there twice--and handily. And he beat a recall attempt--but what if the trajectory of his national roll-out was less elastic than one might think? Why would that be?

Begun, These Culture Wars Have
Charlie Cook, editor and publisher of the Cook Political Report, examines the latest Pew Poll and finds cause for concern:
Pollsters have long found that many who call themselves independents are, in reality, partisans; they vote consistently for one side almost as much as those who initially say they identify with a party. When Pew combined the initial number of party-identifiers with independents' leanings, the gap in favor of Democrats stayed much the same. It peaked in 2008, with Democrats and Democratic-leaners at 51 percent to Republicans' 35 percent, but by 2010, the gap had narrowed to 47 percent for Democrats and 40 percent for Republicans. The numbers have stabilized since, with Democrats at either 48 or 49 percent in each of the last four years and Republicans at 39 or 40 percent.
The gap looks like this:

Now this is all Americans--not likely voters--but it still represents a problem (the one Cook calls out: that Democrats have stabilized while Republican identification and leaning has fallen behind). This is important because the context of the two party system--especially at the national-election/presidential level--is now embedded in the culture wars:
More than ever, presidential politics is about something other than politics. It's about culture, identity, signaling, and symbolism. In a country of 318 million people, in which there is no shared religious conviction, no shared ethnicity, and increasingly no common culture or moral consensus about marriage and sex, and in which the burden of what is typically a nation's greatest act of collective endeavor and sacrifice (war) has been offloaded to a tiny segment of the population that voluntarily bears the burden largely out of public sight and mind — in such a centerless country, with a media culture that fixates on image, style, and symbolism, a single nationwide quadrennial election in which every adult citizen can participate has taken on existential overtones.

More than affirming his or her ideology or policy proposals, we want to be able to look at a presidential candidate and say: "That's me. That's who I am. That's how I see America."
The article is by Damon Linker and The Omnivore, with his emphasis on branding as the key element of party identification, believes this is true: if Walker adopts the GOP Brand--which he more or less must--it is entirely likely that rather than the GOP Brand becoming Scott Walker, he'll just be the GOP candidate. If he's losing right now to Hillary, it may be that since he can't change his party affiliation, he can't actually move the dial.

In other words: if Blue beats Red today, the way to fix that may not be with a good candidate, as Krauthammer says--but with a massive, national re-branding exercise--which is not what the 2016 elections will be.

It's a sobering thought.

Of course things aren't that simple. The right candidate--a very charismatic one--can, in fact, re-brand a party: we saw that with Reagan. We saw that with Obama (Obama's candidacy was not the evolution of Dukakis and Kerry, after all). Could it happen with Walker? Maybe? Rubio? More likely (he seems more organically charismatic--we'll see).

But this--and not the platform, the ideas, or, to a degree, even the normal differentiators the candidates adopt will be what determines the election (that, and, well, scandals and other Black Swan events, of course--if Hillary is arrested for some reason, that will change the game). On the other hand, if Walker just runs as the GOP candidate--if he plays to the base--if he trudges towards the middle?

That isn't going to change how people feel about Clinton. It might not move the dial at all.

* Yes, yes, you philosophy-twit: it ought to be poses. Feel better?


  1. Feel better, I do not.

    Let's hear what Lewis Black has to say:

    We have a two-party system: the Democratic party, which is a party of no ideas, and the Republican party, which is a party of bad ideas. And the way it works is, the Republican stands up in Congress and goes, "I got a really bad idea." And the Democrat says, "And I can make it shittier."

    Crapsack world indeed.

    -- Ω

    1. I love it!!

      -The Omnivore

  2. I wonder if it is still possible to re-brand a national party with a charismatic candidate given the constant news cycle/twitter/gotcha journalism, echo chambers, and the increasingly entrenched world views on right and left.

    The constant news cycle/twitter/etc. makes it ever more difficult to control your own message and image. I don't know if Reagan would be Reagan in today's environment. Can anyone?

    The echo chamber on the right currently plays only one tune: the real problem is not the message or the brand, but that our candidates are not conservative _enough_. Unless and until this tune is changed, re-branding won't happen (or won't be able to succeed).

    Entrenched worldviews on both sides (which appears to be what's going on, in part), provides very little whitespace in which to move. Folks on both sides seem pretty locked down in their beliefs. If this is the case, re-branding would only work if you re-brand yourself as the other guy. This happened once that I can recall, when the Southern Democrats flipped to become the modern Republican base after the Civil Rights Act.

    Short of such an Orwellian flip occurring again, the country seems to be re-cementing into a North/South dipole.

    1. Don't underestimate charisma--but don't overestimate it either. Obama's speech--the red-state-blue-state speech that launched his candidacy before he was even a contender might be being learned by school kids in 100 years (possibly as a cautionary tale?).

      Reagan had super-nova level charisma and knew how to use it. Re-branding, though, will take more than just a candidate. They will have to communicate a message that resonates with with people on both sides of the partisan divide. That'll prove difficult--but it's not impossible.

      Right now, though, it isn't even on the agenda: Walker's attempts to broaden his stances have been met with party-base back-lash and it's too early to see if Rubio will gain traction.

      Huckabee is announcing something tonight. If he's really running or even just kind of "really running" it'll be interesting to see what he brings on board: he's charismatic too--and that'll be his primary weapon.

      -The Omnivore

  3. A weak candidate in search of a truly funny Chuck Norris joke? The Republicans deserve to lose - yes, even to Hillary Clinton - if they can't do better than that.

    -- Ω

  4. I sincerely hope this won't turn out to be yet another "Giant Douche vs. Turd Sandwich" hold-your-nose-and-vote-for-the-lesser-evil contest. I'm repelled by nearly everything about Hillary Clinton, but of course all available alternatives at this point seem worse. As Internet doomster James Kunstler puts it:

    The true genius of Hillary is that she manages to epitomize every failure of our current political life: the obsessive micro-manipulation of image, the obscene money-grubbing, the tired cronyism, the entitlement masquerading as sexual equality. Mostly, though, she has no idea where history is taking us, in case you’re wondering at the stupefying platitudes offered up as representative of her thinking. I’m not advocating for this gentleman, but it will at least be interesting to see Martin O’Malley jump into the race and call bullshit on her, which he will do, literally, because he has nothing to lose by doing it. The eunuchs on The New York Times Op-Ed page certainly won’t do it.

    I agree that it will at least be interesting to hear what the former Governor of Maryland has to say; there is after all a certain mutant strain of political courage engendered by having nothing to lose. Let's see where this goes...

    -- Ω