Saturday, February 13, 2016

Race for the White House Volume 59

Had I typed up this entry a few hours ago, my focus probably would have been to delve into as many details as I could in the past week of Presidential politics, which to say the least was pretty intense, and in a bit I will have to briefly list some developments, but breaking news today seems to take precedent, and of course is very much related to the Presidential election.

Within the past few hours, it was announced that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died suddenly at the age of 79. He was a hero to conservatives and a figure of great derision to liberals, but few Americans could doubt his intellect and influence in nearly 30 years on the bench. His loss is a profound one for his sizeable family, many friends, the Court itself, but also for the country. This news really puts a damper on wanting to discuss politics, even if the political news from my perspective was mixed.

I will editorialize here to say that there is no way that Barack Obama should be allowed to have a nominee confirmed to replace Scalia, at least before the Presidential election is held in November. Had the shoe been on the other foot, especially with a very liberal Justice dying in the waning days of a Republican Administration, I have no doubt a Democrat Senate would act just the same way to prevent that. Obviously though, this is going to be a red-hot political fight, as Obama is very likely to want to get someone of his choosing on the Court very soon. To say the least, if a Democrat is elected to replace Obama, the Court is going to move immediately to the left. That is proof that elections matter, but the American people, this close to a Presidential election, especially one where a new President is certain to be elected, deserve to have a say in this consequential process. There is bound to be incredibly political wrangling and finger pointing and the battle for public relations advantages will be overwhelming. The Republican controlled Senate needs to stand firm though. It is the right thing to do and the base of the party will demand no less. I will be extremely surprised if any of the GOP candidates, which include two current Senators, both of whom are lawyers, will say otherwise. There are also likely to be questions about "recess appointments" and the constitutional and political ramifications that it involves.

This is going to perhaps be the biggest debating point for the rest of the election. starting with tonight's Republican debate in South Carolina with the six remaining candidates. (Jim Gilmore, Carly Fiorina , and Chris Christie have now all exited the race.) Hopefully, while the political ramifications of Scalia's death are unavoidable, Americans will all stripes will remember he was a person first and foremost and this has to be a very difficult time for his family.

Of course, the Presidential campaign has been in high gear and will continue. I will be brief in discussing various developments, but since I last wrote about the race last Saturday, there have been ups and downs for the various remaining candidates, especially after New Hampshire results, in which the voters of the first primary state voted solid to overwhelming victories for two winners that nobody would have ever imagined two years ago could be anywhere close to "front-runners."

Things change quickly in politics and there are still much road to be traveled on the road to the White House. The past week was a very bad one though for Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Marco Rubio. Still, both may be nominated, and if I had to guess the most likely general election matchup, that would still be it. However, New Hampshire was not kind to either of them.

I expected Bernie Sanders to defeat Clinton in New Hampshire, but she was walloped by more than 20 points. It was a stunning across the board victory that should give a cold chill to backers of Hillary Clinton. While she may be favored in the heavily African-American South Carolina primary, a poll now shows that Nevada, which votes first, may be tied. Sanders is gaining on Clinton in national polls but amid all that, including after losing New Hampshire by a landslide margin (after having won the state's primary eight years ago), Hillary Clinton got more delegates than Sanders out of the contest. That is due to superdelegates of course. I wonder if the coin toss at the Super Bowl netted her some delegates.

While the Democrat candidates had a debate on Thursday night in Wisconsin that was somewhat less contentious than past debates (absent fights over who likes Obama more and Hillary's past praise for Henry Kissinger), the goings on between the surrogates and supporters of the candidates is gaining in vitriol. Former President Bill Clinton was extremely negative in going after Sanders on the New Hampshire trail. Obviously, that did not work, and one will have to remember the way he also went after Obama in a past campaign against his wife. Bill Clinton accused Sanders supporters of engaging in vicious sexist attacks against Hillary Clinton. Apparently, there have been many instances of left-wing male Sanders supporters online using vile and sex-based rhetoric to attack Secretary Clinton. I cannot say I am surprised. One might be more surprised at the way that Clinton's backers have misfired in the past week trying to thwart Sanders. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright inferred that there was a "special place in hell" for women who do not vote for Hillary Clinton. She later issued a semi-apology for her rhetoric. On a television show, feminist icon Gloria Steinem suggested that young women were backing Sanders as a way to meet boys. She also had to backtrack. The words of these women, both of whom are around the age of 80, had no effect on the fact that New Hampshire women vote for Sanders and young voters went for Sanders by staggering sums. I do not know if it can be underestimated just how into Bernie Sanders, the rumpled 74 year old socialist, young liberals are. College kids seem to simply idolize him, perhaps more than they did Barack Obama. The game may be "rigged" so that he cannot ever beat Clinton, but all the developments of this Democrat primary campaign have shown just how generally ineffective Hillary Clinton is as a candidate in winning people over to her side.

The Republican side is smaller now, after some expected New Hampshire dropouts, but no less complicated. Ben Carson, who will be on the debate stage tonight, continues to run, even as he finished dead last among major candidates in New Hampshire. He has no chance of winning South Carolina, but could take a point or two away from another candidate or so and thus play the role of spoiler.

Otherwise, there are five viable candidates left for the nominated. Finishing first in New Hampshire, solidly, was Donald Trump. While  well over 60 percent of voters still supported someone else, he demonstrated that he is able to turn out his base of voters and at least match his standings in public opinion polls. He has to be considered the favorite to win South Carolina a week from today. Many have claimed his nomination is now more inevitable, and that will increase if he wins South Carolina, but I just still do not buy that. I think he has a ceiling and as the field winnows more.

Finishing second, a positive showing, despite getting less than half of Trump's vote, was Ohio Governor John Kasich. His mostly positive and somewhat moderate primary campaign and strong emphasis on New Hampshire, at the expense of other states, paid off, as enough Democrats and Independents crossed over to allow Kasich to take home the silver. Where does he go from here though? Is he even going to fully compete the next week in South Carolina or is he looking towards Michigan and other Midwestern states in March to make a stand ahead? If he does that, the concept of an open convention this summer in his home state of Ohio may be on his mind. All of these candidates are going to want chips to play.

Then, it was basically a three way tie for third place. Ted Cruz, somewhat beating expectations, finished at third technically, with Jeb Bush not too far behind, and Marco Rubio not too far beyond that in fifth place.

Thus, all candidates have basically earned the right to continue their campaigns on to South Carolina. While the showing for Bush may not look overwhelming, he did "surge" a bit at the end which allowed him to finish in front of his former mentor Rubio, and thus live to fight on. Nobody saw that as a realistic possibility too long ago. After Iowa, Rubio was considered to be rising like a rocket on this race, but he simply had one of the worst debates in recent American political history last Saturday night in New Hampshire, and suffered the consequences.

For most of the debate, Rubio was credible and well-spoken. However, a volley of exchanges early on, in which Chris Christie clearly got the best of Rubio, are basically all that was remembered, and received tremendous press coverage, as well as the self-fulfilling prophecy about how damaged Rubio might be from losing the exchange. Christie clearly hurt Rubio, after Rubio repeated the same scripted lines on several occasions, and was called out for it, but Christie, who might have also come across as a bully, did not seem to help himself either, which is why he did not win a single delegate out of New Hampshire and has now left the race. The other four candidates likely took votes that would have otherwise gone to Rubio, preventing the Florida Senator from what would have otherwise been a solid second place finish and basically the end of the efforts for Kasich and Bush.

That did not happen though and it is up to Rubio now to prove he can dispel the notion that he is robotic and not up to the job. I think he can do it, but that remains to be seen. For a couple days, Rubio and his backers denied that anything in the debate happened that would harm them, despite just about everyone else from all political perspectives saying otherwise,. After his disappointing primary finish of 10 percent in New Hampshire, Rubio told his supporters that the fault was his and he will never allow himself to have a bad debate performance like the one he had last Saturday again. With that in mind, many eyes will be on Rubio tonight to see if he can rebound. At least he no longer has to worry about contending with Christie.

So tonight, Trump, Kasich, Bush, Rubio, and Carson will face off on CBS. Of course, the Supreme Court situation will now get much discussion, but the remaining candidates all have their own agendas and strategies. Conventional wisdom is probably that Bush and Rubio are fighting for third in South Carolina, and only one of them will still be viable after that point. Most think that Cruz and Trump are going to finish first and second in the Palmetto State and thus are going to be rough on each other in the debate and in the week ahead. While Bush and Rubio might also tangle on the stage, there are also signs that Bush and Kasich are competing with each other in a more heated way to be the mainstream alternative to Rubio, if Rubio cannot right the ship, and thus the mainstream alternative in the party to Trump and Cruz.

All of this makes politics fascinating. As someone who very much believes Jeb Bush is the best candidate to be President, and believes that more than ever now, I was very happy that he did enough in New Hampshire to keep his campaign going. To be clear, I want Bush to beat Rubio in South Carolina, but I also have mixed feelings in that I want Rubio (as well as Kasich) to at least be a possibility of someone I can turn to in the very near future. As the saying goes, may the best man win.


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