Saturday, January 30, 2016

Race for the White House Volume 57

By this time next year, a new occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue will be pretty much settled in and at work, but in the meantime, all eyes are on the Hawkeye State. Candidates seeking the Democrat and Republican nominations for the Presidency are focused on Iowa, as Monday night will bring about the first official votes of 2016, as the Invisible Primary gives way to visual results. Iowa will not as much be about the very small number of delegates at stake, but about momentum and credibility as the contests will go on throughout February and then the spring. Candidates who have no realistic chance of winning Iowa, will at least hope to have a better than expected showing and more fertile ground elsewhere, such as New Hampshire.

Polls show Hillary Clinton is more likely to narrowly win Iowa over Bernie Sanders, but with a very large turnout, snowstorm or not, an upset could be brewing. Eight years ago, Clinton, once a strong front-runner in Iowa, wound up finishing in third place. There is little doubt that Sanders is drawing bigger crowds and has garnered more enthusiasm, but will that translate to votes? The younger a Democrat voter is, the more likely they are to back the 74 year old Sanders, while older voters, who are somewhat more reliable, lean more towards the 68 year old Clinton. In New Hampshire, the site of Hillary Clinton's surprising 2008 comeback win, she is now running very well behind in the polls.

Not long ago, Barack Obama gave an interview in which it seemed like he was basically endorsing Clinton. With that in mind, and wanting to appear officially neutral, Obama hosted Sanders at an Oval Office meeting this week. Clinton though is going very much out of her way to embrace the legacy of Obama and continuing his policy. She is even talking about nominating the outgoing President to a future Supreme Court vacancy. All of that might help Clinton capture the loyalties of Democrat partisans, especially African-Americans in the primary season, but if she advances to a general election, she is now far more boxed in as the candidate of the status quo, in a year where voters from all ideological perspectives appear angry and wanting fundamental change.

Amid all this, as I have written about many times before, is a story that Republicans love to talk about but Democrats go to great lengths to avoid. Hillary Clinton is under federal investigation and with each passing week, the news for her looks more ominous. Just yesterday, the State Department said it would be unable to release many of her emails from her time as Secretary of State because they contained "top secret" information. Clinton and her backers continue to insist she has done nothing wrong and that this is all a partisan witch-hunt. Yesterday, Tom Vilsack, the current Agriculture Secretary and former Iowa Governor seemed to accuse officials in the Obama Administration of having a political agenda by releasing this information. From the White House, Press Secretary Josh Earnest said it did not appear that the investigation was likely to result in an indictment of Secretary Clinton, but that is a matter for the Justice Department to formally decide of course, and unnamed sources apparently took issue with Earnest's conclusions.

Democrats are hyper-sensitive to the arguments that Republicans are out to get the Clintons, and thus, Sanders and Martin O'Malley have walked on egg shells around this issue. That does not stop the fact that many Democrat voters state they have issues with Hillary Clinton's honesty and trustworthiness. A young Iowa voter even stated that to her during a CNN Town Hall meeting earlier in the week, as Clinton forcefully defended herself in an animated fashion saying, as she has for decades, that everything about her and her husband are basically Republican smears.

I still think it is very unlikely that the Obama Justice Department and Attorney General Loretta Lynch are going to indict Hillary Clinton or even impanel a Grand Jury but this is going to still be a story, whether Democrats want it to be or not. If the FBI professional recommend prosecution, and the political higher-ups refuse, there may be a resignation of FBI Director James Comey and others, and that will reflect very badly on Obama. However that works itself out, the evidence is just piling up that Clinton has been very dishonest about her email practices, and what she claims was only done for "convenience" put America and Americans at risk. The eventual Republican nominee will certainly be making the case that such actions disqualify her from being Commander in Chief, even if she will never see the inside of a jail cell.

Who will be that Republican nominee? That continues to be a very good question, but in regards to Iowa, it looks more like Donald Trump will be an unfortunate winner, and some pundits will breathlessly proclaim him wrapping the nomination up on Monday night. Nothing can be further from the truth. A tremendous amount of people in the GOP will fight like hell to prevent that from ultimately happening, but that fact is that Trump looks like he has succeeded in pushing back a challenge from Ted Cruz in Iowa. A weak showing for Cruz, in a state where he once had a large lead in the polls could prove near fatal for his campaign. The turning point certainly seemed to be Trump making an issue out of Cruz's Canadian birth. For a while, Trump tried to say it was about legal challenges that could emerge that would prevent Cruz from being elected, but now Trump is just all out mocking Cruz as a Canadian, taking issue with his very American citizenship and calling him an "anchor baby."

Trump dominated the coverage this past week in other ways. Mainly, by refusing to take part in the final Iowa debate on Thursday night. Since the first GOP debate in August, Trump has taken great offense at a fair question asked of him by Megyn Kelly. He apparently tried to get her removed from the debate as a condition for his appearing, and Fox executive Roger Ailes pushed back in an eye-raising and snarky way. Trump then took a lot more offense at that and stood by a decision to refuse to debate.

There was so much talk this week about Trump's move and if he would really skip the debate and who would win in a fight between Trump and Fox News. Some said this would hurt Trump by insulting Iowans and looking afraid to face tough questions, especially from a woman reporter. Others said that as a front-runner, Trump had little to gain from being there, and looked "stronger" for standing up to a big institution. Apparently, Trump's fans do not trust Fox News at all either. Thus, Trump held a somewhat bizarre alternative event a few miles away from the debate site, which the other cable networks provided coverage of. Technically, it was some sort of benefit for veterans. After taking part in an undercard debate (along with Carly Fiorina and Jim Gilmore), Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum showed up at what was still basically a Trump rally. These are the past two winners of the Iowa Caucus but now they are also-rans. Huckabee appeared delighted to be subservient to Trump, and I think by this time next week, he will have endorsed him, but Santorum's body language gave off mixed images. He had to act like a bit of a contortionist to speak at the podium of the microphone without standing behind the podium itself with it's Trump logo.

By skipping the debate, Trump might have lucked out in not facing the tough questions that Fox News gave to the candidates. The strongest candidates in Iowa were subjected to some video clips of how they flip-flopped over the issue of immigration. With Trump gone, Cruz was the de-facto frontrunner at center stage, and by many accounts, he did not have a strong night. Some of his jokes fell very flat and he was probably outpointed by Marco Rubio on an exchange. Rand Paul also tangled a bit with Cruz.

This has led to some conventional wisdom that Cruz's momentum in Iowa is on the decline while Marco Rubio, who was endorsed last Saturday (along with Hillary Clinton) by the Des Moines Register. Despite a lack of success of nominating winners by the paper, it is a sign that many establishment voters might be apt to move towards Rubio. He had a fairly strong debate as he usually does, although he did not emerge totally unscathed. Jeb Bush sort of got the best of him over his switch on the Gang of Eight immigration bill and Chris Christie got in some good soundbites attacking Senators and "Washington bull." Christie was more aggressive than ever in going after Hillary Clinton but both national and state polls show that Christie might have hit a wall.

Ben Carson and John Kasich were pretty much afterthoughts in the final Iowa debate, but Jeb Bush was said by many pundits to have had a strong night. Many remarked that without Donald Trump on stage and in his head, Bush was a far more relaxed and compelling candidate. This probably will not mean much to Bush in Iowa, as he is not even planning to hold an Election Night party there, but might pay dividends in New Hampshire the following week. It is noteworthy that the former Florida Governor is now openly embracing being the son and brother of Presidents. I guess he has nothing more to lose at this point. He has cut a campaign ad featuring his mother Barbara, a beloved figure to many in America for decades now, and there is some anticipation that former President George W. Bush might make a rare campaign appearance in the near future in South Carolina, on behalf of his younger brother.

Right now, Cruz and Rubio seem to be most focused on trying to hurt the other candidate. It will be a pretty big but impressive showing if Rubio were to somehow finish second (or win of course) in Iowa over Ted Cruz. My sense is that with his organization and support of many Evangelical voters, Cruz is still going to finish ahead of Rubio, and by at least a few points. I would not be upset to be wrong though. If Jeb Bush cannot get nominated, I would like Rubio to be as viable as possible down the road. It is kind of a tricky situation for a supporter of a candidate, but that's the kind of cycle this is. In other developments this past week, former candidate George Pataki endorsed Rubio, despite the fact that other Governors are in the race, and former candidate Rick Perry endorsed Cruz, despite the fact that he worked to try to prevent Cruz from being the U.S. Senate nominee in their home state back in 2010.

After Iowa, either Trump or Cruz will be slightly wounded, while the other will be slightly stronger for having won. Of course, New Hampshire sometimes holds that against an Iowa winner. Everyone else who was not counting on finishing strong in Iowa, such as Carson, and also-rans like Huckabee and Santorum will be relatively fine, even if Rubio does not meet expectations. New Hampshire will definitely be do or die to candidates like Christie and Kasich, while Bush will at least have a flicker of hope left in South Carolina, even if he finishes behind Rubio in New Hampshire. However, it looks very possible that while Trump leads the polls in New Hampshire, Cruz, Rubio, Kasich, and Bush all look like they could potentially take the silver in the Granite State.

That's more for next week though. Iowa will be the focus this weekend and eventually both parties will have nominees emerge from the coast-to cast primary process. Will the nominees be so divisive  that a third party effort by billionaire businessman and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg look attractive to some?


At 11:42 AM, Blogger Steve Boudreaux said...

United States Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) will be the GOP nominee for President.

He'll pick either OH Governor John Kasich (R) or NJ Governor Chris Christie (R) as VP!


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