Saturday, January 23, 2016

Race for the White House Volume 56

Time is of the essence as candidates in both parties scramble in Iowa and New Hampshire for the opportunity to keep their Presidential candidacies alive before those initial contests, while some others will hope that early wins might effectively cement a position as a presumptive nominee. The television ads, both on behalf of the candidates, and SuperPACs are blanketing the airwaves in those states, as campaign rallies, endorsements, and polls take on added significance. In the meantime, a major blizzard is hammering parts of the East Coast this weekend. One result is that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie had to leave the campaign trail to head home and assume official responsibilities during a weather emergency. I am sure he will do a fine job with that, as he has in his state before, but somehow I do not envision him telling television cameras this time, that he no longer cares about an upcoming election, like he did in the fall of 2012, in the midst of sucking up to Barack Obama.

Jockeying for position is key in these first states, and there is no way I could ever cover every development of the week, so this will be a fairly brief look at the Democrats and Republicans, in Iowa and New Hampshire.

On the Democrat side, polls are telling a very different tale in Iowa. One thing they agree on though is that Martin O'Malley is not viable, and whatever level of support he has on Caucus Night, will involve his backers choosing to align with another campaign in a second round of voting under their rules. (It looks like California businessman Rocky De La Fuente has been more successful than O'Malley getting on the ballot in some states.)

Some Iowa polls show that Bernie Sanders has now moved ahead of Hillary Clinton, which must be  a horrible feeling of deja vu for her, while others show Clinton with an insurmountable lead. My hunch is that the race there is probably close, but Clinton has a slight edge, especially as it relates to those who have previously attended a Democrat caucus.

The three Democrat candidates met on a debate last Sunday night in South Carolina, and to whatever limited audience watched, it was clear that Sanders was more aggressive trying to differentiate himself with Clinton. It is not clear that anybody was a clear winner of the debate, but Clinton went extremely out of her way to associate herself with the Obama Administration and legacy, basically offering herself up as a third Obama term. That might be necessary politics in the party, where the incumbent President continues to endear a large amount of loyalty on the left, but it is something that would be problematic in a general election, with a broader base of voters wanting a change in direction.

Hillary Clinton remains the overall frontrunner for her party's nomination, but clearly the energy and passion is back on the Sanders side. Most New Hampshire polls show him with a solid lead there, meaning that if he just takes one of the early states, that contest will go on a bit. Liberal interest groups such as Planned Parenthood and the Human Rights Campaign have endorsed Clinton, despite the fact that Sanders has a longer record of supporting many of their issues, and that has generated some controversy in the party, as Sanders accuses them as being part of the "establishment" as a way to blunt Clinton.

In the meantime, the specter of the FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton's email habits as Secretary of State continues to hang over the race, as headlines and developments seem to look more ominous for her each passing week. However, there is very little reason to believe that Democrats, even the ardent Sanders supporters are caring much about the story at all. Despite that, the conservative leaning Fox News Network continues to cover the story in a way which would lead anyone to believe that an FBI referral for criminal prosecution of Hillary Clinton is increasingly likely and that anybody else without her political stature would certainly be facing charges. To say the least, all of this is the biggest wildcard of the entire campaign. I am not counting on much happening, but chaos will ensue if it does in the near future, and we can throw the names of Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren into the political mix.

The GOP candidates are a lot more numerous and strategies far more specialized, as pundits speculate that Donald Trump wins in both Iowa and New Hampshire might effectively end the race. For many reasons, I disagree with that.

It looks clear though that Trump and Ted Cruz are going to finish first and second in Iowa, barring a major upset. Marco Rubio is the most likely candidate to finish in third place there, but it might not even matter for him, as the establishment candidate lane in New Hampshire primary will be more decisive. To that end, Rubio appears to be cutting back advertising in Iowa as part of a longer-term plan.

The polls out of Iowa are tending to show a fairly close race between Trump and Cruz. At one point Cruz looked ahead, but the momentum has seemed to swing back to Trump and conventional wisdom says it has been a fairly bad week for Cruz.  Like many things though in politics, that will remain to be seen. Things can sometimes have an opposite effect. One event that received much attention this week was the endorsement of Trump by former Alaska Governor and 2008 Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin. This was seen as a crushing blow to the Cruz campaign, who would have loved Palin's endorsement, the way she helped the candidate win an upset victory in a Texas Senate primary process.

When the Cruz campaign fired a bit at Palin pre-emptively for her Trump endorsement, there was a bit of blowback from Bristol Palin, and lots of fodder for campaign discussion online. Everyone is seeming to play up the "nobody liked Cruz" angle. In the meantime, Palin's speech, with Trump at her side in Iowa was said to be among some of the most cringe worthy political theater in many years. She rambled on at great length and you could sense that Trump even wanted her to shut up fairly quickly after she began speaking. I do not know exactly what is going on with Palin or what has happened to her since her tumultuous 2008 national debut, but I just get the sense that she is not a wel woman and that at some level John McCain should probably feel a lot of regret for what clearly was an impulsive, irresponsible, and potentially dangerous decision as he selected his running-mate several years ago.

In another appearance with Trump this week, she commented on the story that just the night before, her 26 year old son Track, who lives with his parents in Alaska, was arrested at the home for domestic violence against his girlfriend and possessing a weapon while intoxicated. Palin seemed to blame it on the PTSD her son might have developed serving in the war. That's a major issue for many people in our society, but she seemed to blame it on the Obama Administration's treatment of veterans. Nobody will ever accuse me of being pro-Obama, but the way Palin goes about saying things and leveling accusations is extremely tactless.

Also getting a lot of discussion this past week is the concept that the "establishment "hates Cruz so much, they are willing to settle for Trump and are trying to make peace with that. Bob Dole, the 1996 GOP nominee, whom I hold in very high regard, went out and said as much in an interview, even as he maintains that he still endorses Jeb Bush. He said that Cruz would be cataclysmic for the party and that Trump might at least have the right personality to make deals with Congress should he be President. Add to that, long-time Governor Terry Branstad saying this week that he wants Cruz to be defeated in Iowa over his opposition to ethanol. Considering the polls in Iowa, that could be interpreted as a quasi-endorsement of Trump. Just today, veteran Iowa U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley, while not making an endorsement spoke at a Trump rally behind the Trump logo.

I really wish I knew what to make of all this. On the surface, I can totally understand the "establishment" opposition to Cruz, but I maintain that as a conservative Republican, I would still have to vote for Cruz over Trump, if that was a tragic final choice. To be blunt, Cruz is probably just an asshole, who would fail to get much done as President, but Trump is a sociopath or worse. Apparently today, he said at a rally that he could shoot people on the street in New York City and would not suffer in the polls. Can the Secret Service arrest him for threats? The man is a menace to both conservatism and the country, which is why the National Review came out with a detailed "Against Trump" issue of their legendary conservative (and not historically pro-establishment) publication that of course Trump now attacks.

I also have to wonder if there might be some clever reverse psychology at play with all of this on behalf of Dole, Branstad, Grassley, and others, or if I am just overthinking things, and realizing they really just do not like Cruz and want to see his campaign killed off as early as possible. Trump though, rushes to heap praise on anyone who praises him, as with the "establishment" lining up behind Trump, it's a major talking point for Cruz, and one that takes away from Trump's appeal. So, Cruz can just go on now about how the "Washington cartel" has abandoned Bush and then Rubio, and now is throwing in with Trump, and how that means that only Cruz is the true outsider who can allay the anger at Washington and the people in control. Maybe Dole and the others are trying to kill two birds with one stone and hurt both Trump and Cruz. I hope so at least. I am not crazy with anyone speaking positively about Trump or resigning themselves to him. As bad as Cruz might be, at least he's not Trump. Others though, are looking at that just the opposite way.

Only after Iowa, will we have a better sense of what might happen in New Hampshire on the GOP side. Granite State voters often seem to go out of their way to counter Iowa and express their independence. Either Trump will be strutting around the state as a conquering hero, or he will look "wounded" after losing to Cruz  and perhaps lashing out at those dumb Iowans. Somebody though in New Hampshire will come in second or at worst third in New Hampshire (and it does not seem like Ben Carson is anymore a factor there) and that person will have the chance to carry the mantle against Trump or against Cruz or at least for a while, against both Trump and Cruz.

Despite some evidence of having taken some political hits (with much money being spent against him by the Right to Rise SuperPAC which is pro-Jeb Bush), Marco Rubio is still believed to be that most likely candidate. However, a couple of polls out of New Hampshire this week show some major movement towards John Kasich. The Ohio Governor finishing in front of Rubio in New Hampshire would be a major blow to the Florida Senator. Interestingly enough, the conservative Kasich (although running as the most moderate GOP candidate in the field) is competing for many of the same votes in New Hampshire with the socialist Bernie Sanders. People will have a choice to make as to which ballot they want to take and how they best want to represent themselves as "Independents."

These recent New Hampshire polls show some stalled momentum for Chris Christie, though it might be early to count him out for that bronze medal or better showing. There are some more discrepancies in the numbers for Jeb Bush in the state though. He remains the candidate that with each passing week I am more convinced is the right person to be President in these times. Some polls show that he is mired in single digits, even in New Hampshire, while others show some modest movement towards him. Out of the three Governors who might possibly finish in front of Rubio in New Hamsphire, Jeb Bush would probably be the most formidable beyond New Hampshire. It would certainly give new credence to the "Comeback Kid" meme as it has been used in New Hampshire before.

So, as Bernie and Hillary go after each other increasingly, the GOP jockeying might necessitate more of a scorecard. Bush is going after Trump, trying to get points for that, even as he looks unable to catch him in a large field in the short-term. In the meantime, his SuperPAC is continuing to target Rubio, using some less than honest logic on the issue of immigration reform, while Rubio tries to fight back on several fronts, against Bush and Christie, while also continuing to ignore Trump.

Kasich and Christie have begun to snipe at each other and Kasich now looks like he is starting to take some shots at Bush, as they all battle to be the anti-Rubio in New Hampshire and potentially the anti-Cruz/anti-Trump later on . In the meantime, heading into Iowa, the fight between Trump and Cruz will continue to generate the most attention.

What analogies can I use? Hitler vs. Stalin?  Iran vs. Iraq? Putin vs. ISIS? Somebody is going to have to get the better of somebody though in that contest early on, before both might eventually lose. I suppose if Putin really wants to take out ISIS, that is a good thing. Which one is Putin? To me, I guess it's Cruz. To some others who think like me, it might not be. This is one crazy campaign season.


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