Saturday, February 27, 2016

Race for the White House Volume 61

So many things happen during the course of just one week of a Presidential primary season while votes are being cast for both parties' nominations. It is impossible for me to mention everything that happened or to dwell on things that I will mention, but while the rhetoric of the campaign has become intense and often silly, there is perhaps a realization that the stakes are quite high. I am hearing the campaign being discussed at work and at the barber shop. People are clearly starting to pay more attention. There is much on the line and these should be scary times for both Democrats and Republicans as well as non-partisan affiliated Americans.

Looking at the big picture, after four states have now voted, as of today, Democrat primary turnout looks to be significantly down, while Republican turnout is way up, everywhere. That is clearly a sign that should greatly worry Democrats about their ability to win in November. However, their fear has to be at least somewhat muted because if Donald Trump, the current frontrunner, becomes the Republican nominee, so many Republicans, myself included, will never vote for him. Conversely, if Trump is stopped, one way or another, a lot of his supporters will not vote for the eventual GOP nominee. Indeed many of these Trump supporters who are new GOP primary voters, are probably closer to Democrats anyway, just like Trump.

Last Saturday afternoon, Hillary Clinton won the Nevada Caucus over Bernie Sanders by about six points. A short while ago, that would have been considered far closer than expected, but expectations changed after that and by the day of the Caucus, a lot of people thought the momentum was with Sanders and he could win. While the Vermont Senator dominated the youth vote and did very well among Hispanics, Clinton's strength with African-Americans propelled her to victory, and even with  a somewhat small victory over an avowed socialist, she changed the narrative following her crushing defeat in New Hampshire. Now, once again, Clinton looks fairly inevitable for her party's nomination. In just under a half hour, the polls will close in South Carolina, where Clinton is expected to roll to a huge victory in a state where the vast majority of Democrat voters are black. That is clearly a change for her from eight years ago, but the party is greatly invested in here, FBI investigation or not, and she will be looking even more inevitable after today. Bernie Sanders and his rabid supporters will continue on though through Super Tuesday and beyond. There remains a solid bloc of Democrat voters who want no part of Hillary Clinton, despite her political and organizational advantages in the race for delegates.

The Democrat race is fairly serene compared to what is going on with the GOP. South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham said yesterday that his party has gone "batshit crazy", and that is indeed how it feels to many of us loyal Republicans who believe in the party, the conservative movement, and the future for the country. Many are demoralized and under the impression that Donald Trump cannot be stopped at this point. I do not share that. I think he can be taken down, one way or another, on the road to the convention. Even if that turns out to be a losing cause, he must be opposed and conservative and Republicans must unite for that to happen.

One of the way that happen is through winnowing and a smaller field. Last Saturday, Trump won South Carolina by double digits. Marco Rubio, with late momentum, captured enough votes to surpass Ted Cruz and finish in second place, a big blow to Cruz. Ben Carson and John Kasich were way back in what was left of the pack. Carson's campaign is fairly irrelevant at this point, despite his being allowed to be in a debate this past week, and it is hard to see much of a path for Kasich, who did not do as well in South Carolina as some predicted, beyond the hope that other candidates are killed off politically by losing their home states, and that Kasich finds a way to win Ohio on March 15. At that point though, all he may be able to do is have some chips to play at an open convention.

That leads us to Jeb Bush, who finished in front of Kasich and Carson in South Carolina, but still way behind Trump, Rubio, and Cruz. Indeed it looked like much of the vote that Bush had counted on had made the decision to switch to Rubio. As a Jeb Bush supporter from the time he announced his candidacy, of course all of this was somewhat disappointing to me, but I know that in politics, with so much on the line, it is not worth dwelling on what could have been. With that in mind, Governor Bush did the right thing, and did it quickly. He suspended his candidacy in remarks to his supporters last Saturday night in an extremely eloquent and gracious way. Jeb Bush was the best candidate out of anyone who ran to be President, but for a variety of reasons, he was the wrong kind of politician, at the wrong time. Nonetheless,  I believe his campaign of positive conservative ideas was to be admired, as was the way he kept fighting even against long odds. He, and often he alone stood up to the bully Donald Trump, and did so without much backup from his fellow candidates. Trump had defined Bush though effectively in the media and that hurt his campaign. By leaving the race, Jeb Bush put party and country before his own ambitions or any hurt feelings he might have. His run, while unsuccessful, and the way he ended his campaign did his family name proud. The Bushes have provided great public service with honor to America for generations and Jeb Bush has been a part of that. That legacy continues with his son George P. Bush, the Texas Land Commissioner.

With Bush's campaign over and with it being clear that John Kasich, who is running increasingly to the center, has no shot at the nomination, the next step for me and for many other "establishment Republicans" like me was clear. Marco Rubio is our choice to be the next President of the United States.

He may not be our first choice but he is a strong conservative and a gifted politician who by the vote totals he received in the first four states (a disappointing fifth place finish in New Hampshire aside) has earned the right to consolidate the party in the effort to stop Donald Trump (or other unelectable candidates) and then take on and beat Hillary Clinton and make America a better place. Senator Rubio can win the general election and has the chance to be a great President. Of course, there is the matter of the nomination needing to be won first and the fact is that Rubio has yet to finish first in any state and may not on Super Tuesday, this upcoming week, when more of a handful of states, mostly in the South are to vote, and Trump is expected to win most of them.

Rubio had lived for a part of his childhood in Nevada and had a strong organization there. The feeling was that his momentum after South Carolina, the exit of his former mentor Bush from the race, and a score of new establishment endorsements, could lead to good thing in the Silver State. Alas though, he would have to settle for another Silver Medal, as Trump won his biggest victory of the campaign there, in a Caucus process that featured much confusion and consternation over the fact that a whole bunch of party officials counting ballots at the sites were wearing Trump hats and shirts. Nonetheless, Rubio did inch past Cruz once again, and while Cruz has an Iowa victory under his belt, Rubio has now surpassed him in the last two states. Still though, Republicans could not have felt good about the Nevada results, even if the whole process there was sort of odd. Jeb Bush leaving the race did not boost Rubio a ton. It maybe did a little, but much of that vote was more spread out, and some of it even went to Trump. (So much for all the angst from Rubio supporters about how Bush has needed to get out for months. Their theories seem to be pretty disproven based on the Nevada results and recent polls since Bush dropped out.)

At one point, a three way race between Trump, Cruz, and Rubio looked like it lined up very well for Rubio. Now, we are at the point where it is clear that only a one on one race against Donald Trump can cause him to lose, eventually. Rubio will need Cruz voters who do not want Trump and vice versa if that scenario were to develop. I think is becoming increasingly clear, in what would have once been a surprised, that the backers of both of the 45 year old freshman Cuban-American Sunbelt Senators would back the other over Trump.

Heading into Super Tuesday, in states where Ted Cruz had once hoped to pull off a series of victories, he looks to be in third place in most places now, behind Rubio. The one exception may be his home state of Texas, by far the largest state that will have voted thus far. Cruz is at least moderately favored there and that could net him a chunk of delegates, or at least keep them away from Trump. Some polls show that Trump may very well win Texas as well though and that even Rubio is somewhat in contention there. The bottom line is that if Cruz does not win his home state, his campaign may be over and even if he does, if he third just about everywhere else, the pressure will be for him to drop out and let Rubio have his shot against Trump. If Cruz wins Texas though, he is likely to stay in the race, and the pressure will be beyond intense for Rubio to win his home state of Florida, a winner take all delegate state, on March 15. Right now, polls show a large Trump lead there, but Rubio's campaign manager has all but guaranteed a victory. He better be right.

While they remain close competition, since the Nevada results, there seems to be a bit of a dramatic shift in the interplay between Cruz and Rubio. At the beginning of the week, they continued to harp at each other, and there was a ridiculous flap involving a false story of Rubio insulting the Bible to Cruz supporters (when he actually said the opposite), that caused Cruz to fire his Communications Director right before the Nevada vote. Both Trump and Rubio had been very vocal in calling Cruz a liar and this chapter, and the way that Cruz reacted to it, might have hurt him in Nevada. The last two states have seen Cruz lose the Evangelical vote to Trump, and that has to be extremely upsetting to his campaign and backers.

The five remaining candidates met on state in Texas on Thursday night for a CNN debate and people wondered whether Cruz and Rubio would be at each others throats again. While Cruz had taken on Trump, mostly in self-defense in debates, Rubio had been largely silent about Trump up until that point. That changed on Thursday night as both Rubio and Cruz, flanking the billionaire buffoon, fired away at the front-runner. People wondered why such a coordinated campaign had not been attempted against Trump earlier. Indeed, Rubio and Cruz largely avoided any criticism of each other that evening and were caught shaking hands during one commercial break. Very interesting stuff. This is leading some to speculate that a deal could be in the works, that could involve anything from a running-mate slot to a promise of a Supreme Court seat. I do not know about all of that, but eventually Rubio and Cruz are going to have to see someone defer. I will state clearly that while I am somewhat more reluctant to criticize Cruz with Trump being the real enemy right now, it better be Rubio and not Cruz for a host of reasons, who goes on to November. Thus, I am completely at a loss to if I want to see Cruz killed off campaign-wise on Tuesday or if it is wrong to want that to happen if Trump is the one who does the killing. Ultimately, Trump needs to be denied as many delegates as possible.

I thought both Cruz and Rubio launched some pretty effective attacks against Trump on the debate stage (while John Kasich somewhat cowardly refused to join in and just appealed for everyone to get along). Trump tried to fire back and some said he held his own, but most reviews said that Trump had a bad night and Rubio was very effective in using his new strategy. After this debate, and since on the trail, there has indeed been a new Marco Rubio, who seems to take glee in going after Trump and insulting him, in Trumpian ways. Of course, Trump has now turned on Rubio as well, after largely ignoring him, throwing water around on stage and calling Rubio a "choke artist" based on his bad New Hampshire debate. Both Trump and Rubio are insulting each other over their makeup and Rubio is talking about how Trump should sue the person responsible for his face and making references to Trump possibly pissing himself during the last debate. Not necessarily Presidential stuff. Not necessarily something to be proud of for the children of the country. We can see though how Jeb Bush's attempts to point to decorum in his attacks on Trump turned out. The only way to stop Trump may be to play his own game. Rubio (and Cruz) absolutely must keep up the narrative about Trump being a "con-artist" who has employed illegal immigrant labor and defrauded people through Trump University and other ventures. This has clearly gotten under Trump's skin and his reactions are ugly, if not predictable. Marco Rubio said during the debate that if Trump had not inherited millions of dollars, he would be selling watches in Manhattan. That might be charitable.

Of course, there are other things going on in which the Establishment is trying to, finally, pull out all the stops to take down Trump. Mitt Romney, the 2012 GOP nominee has through Twitter and a telephone interview, brought up Trump's refusal to release his taxes thus far. Romney has called for all candidates to do so (after suffering political damage in the last cycle for his reluctance at the time to do so). Romney is saying there must be a "bombshell" in Trump's taxes in regards to not being as wealthy as claimed or other possibilities, and this has Trump somewhat unhinged, who of course is firing back at Romney. Trump is going to have a lot of people to attack in the upcoming days. His supporters may relish that though. Rubio and Cruz are both now talking a lot about Trump's taxes and what he might be trying to hide.

Then, there was the saga of the Fat Judas, Chris Christie. With all the talk about taxes and Trump having a rough debate ride, and with Rubio mocking Trump by reading the attack tweets from Trump's feed, the news cycle was quickly changed when the New Jersey Governor and recent Presidential candidate endorsed Trump. Perhaps he thinks this was his one shot of being a Vice Presidential candidate, but while the two apparently have been friends for some time, I do not believe for a second that Christie actually believes that Trump can defeat Hillary Clinton or should be President. Chris Christie is simply all about himself. I have seen that trait for him for years, especially after the way he tried to sabotage Romney, after being upset that Romney did not pick him for Vice President. Now, after Christie completely failed as a Presidential candidate, and the party establishment has largely agreed to back Marco Rubio, Christie is bitter enough to sign up with Trump, after denying to people he would ever endorse Trump, and is likely to be utilized as an attack dog against Rubio on behalf of Trump. Again, I have not trusted Chris Christie for years and other Republicans might finally have seen what I meant.  He will have to find a way to live with himself and what he will have incurred.

So, by changing the news cycle to a large extent, this was a "win" for Trump and if he wins the lions' share of delegates on Super Tuesday, he will talk even more about being a winner and the media and many others will think it was a done deal. Other endorsements are starting to come to Trump, by a gadfly Governor, a polarizing ex-Governor, Klansman David Duke, and two GOP House Members, who were not exactly considered rabble rousers. One of those Congressman was even supporting Jeb Bush previously. I just do not know what to make out of this. I just know that a solid majority of Republicans do not want Donald Trump to be the nominee and as long as nobody has clinched the number of delegates needed, he must be opposed, and hopefully this will soon become a one on one race against him so that we all can unite.

Marco Rubio is far and way the best option to stop Trump. Not even close. But if Rubio loses Florida on March 15 and John Kasich wins Ohio the same day, I might have to change candidates once again. Hell, I may even have to support Ted Cruz, if he is the only hope against Trump. I do not believe it will come to that though. I think Rubio supporters, both old and new, need to be patient and determined.

The heart and soul of the Grand Old Party are at stake. I remember as a teenager feeling that way, when Pat Buchanan was considered a possible nominee, but it's so much more serious now. Hopefully, Donald Trump can be stopped, ideally in the primaries, in March and however long it takes until all states vote. The idea of a "brokered convention" might be more real than ever. Could Mitt Romney emerge? (Some even speculate that Romney may enter late primaries in order to try to stop Trump, but it hard for me to see how that would be feasible.)

If after all is said and done, the Republican Party falls victim to a hostile takeover by Trump and his forces ,we will have to consider all other options, until we can get the party back. This is all still very hypothetical, but there will be much talk about people, including Mitt Romney, running as an Independent. Even if he would have little chance to win a three (or more) person general election, at least it would be something worthwhile for conservatives and moderates to show up and vote for.

Hillary Clinton is of course not worthy of a vote in November. That is not even worth a second of consideration, but I believe Trump is even more of a threat to my party and country, so I would not care for a minute if she beats him. If she and Trump are the two major party nominees, they will both be the most disliked nominees in American history. So, maybe a mainstream conservative might even have a fighting chance to triangulate and win? Who knows? I still hope that the Republican Party picks someone for President who is worthy of both the office and he the Presidency. One thing is clear though for Americans of all political stripes

Never Trump


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