Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Process of Elimination

Last night Trump held a massive rally in Alabama*. Perhaps the most symbolic event of the night wasn't the large crowd but the attempt by Jeb's Right To Rise SuperPac to get in a dig:

"Trump 4 higher taxes. Jeb 4 Prez"
That, however, may not have been the best way to try to draw a comparison. Trump had his private, luxury 757 do a fly-over pass for the crowd:
T - R - U - M - P

Who Will Be The First To Fall?

In the over-heated, over-crowded 2016 primary, we know there will necessarily be a fairly abrupt winnowing of the field--at some point. The current thinking is that after Iowa (Feb 2) and New Hampshire (Feb 6) there will be two sets of "winners" in the top 1-3 slots. Several candidates have placed must-win markers on each state. For example: Iowa is Scott Walker & Ted Cruz (also Carson, Huckabee, and ... erm ... Santorum). For New Hampshire Jeb, Kaisch, and Rubio all need to finish at or near the top-slots.

Trump currently leads both by substantial margins.

Once the ballots are cast, the thinking is that the field will then be down to a substantially smaller number of candidates and the head-to-head comparisons will be meaningful. If you like Ben Carson--but he's out--who do you go to?

While this is complicated by the fact that a lot of candidates will have a lot of money (the age of SuperPACs and one-man-billionaire funding) if voters think that even though, say, Ted Cruz is still campaigning he can't get enough delegates to win, they may well throw their vote to a second-favorite who is doing better. Thus, natural selection can still take its course.

On the other hand, it seems likely that some candidates will drop out before Iowa due to being completely lost causes. Here's some speculation--broken down for ease of digestion:

Rand Paul
Rand has to choose between running for president (a long shot) and running for reelection (not a long shot). If Kentucky changes the rules for him? He could stay. Otherwise? Smart move to drop and stay in politics.
Rand has also had a brutal summer and got beat up in the debates.
Rick Perry
Rick Perry had a bad first debate at the kid’s table and has stopped paying his staff (never a good sign). His Texas donors are going to Ted Cruz.
This all said, Perry raised a fair amount of money early on and has a low burn-rate. If he decides to stick around, he could.
Jindal / Santorum / Huckabee
With no Iowa Straw Poll to boost momentum--and no “spark” naturally taking hold, it’s unclear how these guys plan a game-change. Also: They have a niche appeal (evangelicals) which is kinda an insurgent-vibe. Today that’s 100% owned by Trump … and then Cruz.
Jindal had a bad first-debate (at least Huckabee made the big stage) but comparing fundraising numbers it’s Jindal 9.3MM, Huckabee 6.5MM, and Santorum 0.9MM. Of the trio, maybe Huck splits the difference and remains in the longest (also, Huckabee’s explicit strategy is to win the SEC states--who vote later than Iowa and New Hampshire)
Gilmore / Graham / Pataki
The bottom trio doesn’t have any money, doesn’t have any momentum, and doesn’t seem to have found a real base of supporters. Would they just give up?
They’re still getting on TV talk-shows (esp. Graham) and maybe debates (if the kids-table stuff continues). They have low burn-rates. They might drop in January but no real reason to bail before then.

The Omnivore's Answer: Scott Walker

Huh? Okay--so that's not literal. Walker, who comes in 4th in GOP fundraising, will likely be around until the brokered convention (Ha!). But what if the events of the campaign had already egregiously damaged him? What if he's a . . . Dead Man Walkering?

What is The Omnivore talking about? Well, it's this--Let's see if you can figure out which of these recent Walker Statements is the bad one. As part of the game, each has two parts!
  1. Walker said there were only a handful of reasonable, moderate followers of Islam. After criticism, a walker aide walked it back saying Walker knows the majority of ISIS's victims are Muslim and that we have abandoned our traditional Muslim allies.
  2. When asked if he would meet with #BlackLivesMatter, Walker responded that he would meet with voters and that it was a ridiculous question--he would talk to voters about things that matter! Although his response was somewhat hard to pin down, this gave rise to an at least reasonable interpretation by the press that Walker declared that #BlackLivesDon'tMatter (and the article notes that at least, to his campaign--in the primaries, black voters probably don't!).
  3. Walker was asked about his position on repealing birthright citizenship--at first he seemed to favor ending it--but then he 'clarified' that he had no position--and that he had misstated his seeming support because of interview fatigue. Some sources, however, point to Walker Mega Donor Stanley Hubbard who apparently stated that he wouldn't back the candidate if he really was for repeal of those rights,

The Scoring

In case you needed a scorecard:
  1. Muslims. Perfect (Good for Walker). Saying Muslims are either entirely or mostly 'terrorists' is good for his primary standing. Having an aide walk it back gives cover, deniability, and keeps Walker on the right side of people who might actually vote for him.
  2. #BlackLivesMatter. Good (for Walker). While his response was confusing in a way that wasn't exactly presidential, Walker hit the right notes by saying he wouldn't meet with them (because they have no actual leader--like the Tea Party--was his dodge--but the not-meeting remains) and called the statement ridiculous. That word association will work for him.
  3. Birthright Citizenship: Devastating (for Walker). Let's take a closer look.

A Birthright Debacle

The Omnivore's point with the above is that Trump's direct-to-the-heart approach to immigration leaves almost no room to his right (Bobby Jindal found a sliver of a breach by suggesting that Mayors of Sanctuary Cities be arrested and charged with complicity in murders committed by illegals!--Well done Bobby!!). In this environment, it's hard for someone like Walker (or Cruz) to gain purchase. The best they can do is "call" (the poker term for matching an opponent's bet and then hoping you have a natively stronger hand).

In the case of Birthright Citizenship, though, the topic is (a) toxic to Latinos, (b) toxic to intellectuals (if he promises to get rid of it, he's promising something he can't actually just go and deliver), and (c) toxic in the general to a lot of people (it sounds extreme--and is--even if a lot of conservative pundits agree with it).

The problem here, though, is not the position--or the walk(er)-back--it's the reason: a mega-donor peeling him off a position based on fundraising concerns is the kind of thing that can never happen to you in public. Read the comments here. Read the whole (short) post here. These are audiences for whom Walker's conservative-but-a-winner-and-electable pitch should be solid gold. That they are (rightfully) infuriated that he can be turned on or off like a switch with money is exactly the kind of thing that plays into negative-branding (Scott's negative brand is that (a) he's not that smart, (b) he's not that exciting, but also (c) that he'll say anything to get elected. It's the (c) that this plays to--perfectly).

This kind of key-into-a-lock gaffe is the kind of thing that can actually do real damage, persist, and be used against you. It's also hard to reverse course on it since Walker does need the money--and that will largely come from the "He's acceptable to The Base--but still sane enough for us (big money GOP Establishment Donors)" crowd. If he can no longer make that sale, he's in big trouble.


While Walker's 26 million dollars and seemingly low(is) burn-rate will keep him around for a long time, if his polling doesn't improve (he's losing badly to Clinton in his home state of Wisconsin) he could face erosion of his specific brand. That's hard to recover.

* Money Quote:
Cheryl Burns, 60, was on a road trip from California when she heard that Trump would be in Alabama. She turned her car around and got in line, warning people of what happened to states when liberals took them over. 
There is no more California,” Burns said. “It’s now international, lawless territory. Everything is up for grabs. Illegal aliens are murdering people there. People are being raped. Trump isn’t lying about anything — the rest of the country just hasn’t found out yet.

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