Saturday, October 10, 2015

Race for the White House 2016 Volume 41

This past week, saw the Presidential contest somewhat overshadowed by drama on Capitol Hill.

Republicans, despite holding a majority not seen in generations, are having a hard time finding someone who wants to be Speaker of the House, amid schisms within the caucus and the thankless nature of the job. Kevin McCarthy of California was supposed to be formally selected by the Conference this week, but surprised many by dropping out of the running, while saying he will stay on as Majority Leader. There has been speculation that rumors involving his personal life and an alleged extra-marital affair with a married Republican House colleague might be at play, but more likely, it was McCarthy's words from a couple weeks back that cost him a shot at becoming Speaker.

Speaking to conservative Fox News host Sean Hannity, McCarthy defended the performance of House Republicans by pointing out that the Benghazi Committee, which was created to investigate Hillary Clinton, had succeeded in driving down her poll numbers.The way he said it was incredibly awkward and immensely ill-advised. It gave an excuse to Clinton and the Democrats to say that the entire investigation, which happened to bring about the information about her email problems, was politically motivated. McCarthy tried to correct the record and walk back the words, but the damage was done, and all sorts of Republicans were none too happy. He could have simply said that everything the committee was looking into was important and that the American people had the right to reach conclusions about Clinton's conduct as Secretary of State, but that is not the route he went. All things considered, it's hard to feel overly sorry for McCarthy after such an unforced error.

Now, the office of Speaker is the only one that Republican House Members will have to vote on, but the leadership election is postponed, and until a resolution is reached, John Boehner may be sticking around for a while. Imagine if that was the intention all along? Talk about a power play.

I doubt that is the case though, and this Chaos in the Conference is making the party look bad, at least among the media and political junkies, but I doubt the average voter cares all that much about this internal intra-party drama. I find it both kind of entertaining and kind of weird.

Many believe that this will reach a resolution once Wisconsin's Paul Ryan, the Chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee decides he is willing to accept the job, of being two heartbeats away from the Presidency, after missing out on a chance in 2012 to be one heartbeat away. Of course, becoming Speaker might make it next to impossible for Ryan, still a relatively young man, and the 2012 GOP Vice Presidential nominee to ever become President. He chose not to run in 2016, as he was focused on his Chairmanship, but many believed he could harbor Presidential ambitions down the road. He has said many times over the past couple of weeks that he does not want to be Speaker, but the pressure on him to unite the party and take on the task may ultimately prove too much to decline. His former running-mate Mitt Romney is also said to have asked him to become Speaker, and if Ryan does want the job, he will have the votes. If he succeeds as Speaker, whether or not a Republican is elected next year (which would obviously make it easier to succeed), and becomes viewed as a savior of the institution, his career options may be enhanced.

If Ryan stays firm as a no, nobody really knows what might happen. Boehner stays until the elections next year after all? A caretaker Speaker, who is retiring gets the gig? Republicans work out a deal with Democrats to elect a Speaker and thwart the right-wing Freedom Caucus? Somebody from outside Congress altogether becomes Speaker? Newt Gingrich this week said he was available to take back the job he quit in 1998. That would be one of the worst ideas in the history of the Republican Party. I would suggest with all sincerity that Mitt Romney would make the most sense of any non-House Member. Hopefully though, Paul Ryan saves us from these questions.

So, with all this going on, there was not too much front-page news to be made by the GOP Presidential candidates, despite some continued controversy regarding statements made by Ben Carson, who is continuing to do pretty well in the polls. Fundraising numbers from  the recent quarter have been coming out though indicating very good results for Carson and Ted Cruz and perhaps not such a good haul for Marco Rubio.

The big political event next week will be the first Democrat debate, held in Las Vegas, Nevada. I would like to watch it live, but I will be focused on post-season baseball. Front-runner Hillary Clinton will take the stage for her first debate in almost eight years, and the pressure for her to perform well will be present. Also on stage will be Bernie Sanders, a major player in the race, and the forgotten trio of Martin O'Malley, Lincoln Chafee, and Jim Webb. Candidate Lawrence Lessig has not been invited to attend and Vice President Joe Biden has not taken the steps to attend, as he has yet to reach a decision on a 2016 run. Some believe that an announcement may be imminent, perhaps designed to correspond with the debate he will be missing, but people have been saying that about Biden for months now.

As long as Biden remains uncommitted, there is nothing that Martin O'Malley, once considered a rising star in the party, can do to gain even the slightest bit of traction or anymore than one or two percent in the polls. Everyone is still just waiting to see what Biden is going to do before reaching any conclusions regarding possible alternatives to Clinton and Sanders, who for various reasons might have a hard time winning a general election.

For the first debate at least, the focus will be on Clinton and Sanders, with the burden of expectations laying far more squarely on the former.


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