Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Handicapping Major Party Declared Presidential Candidates

Hillary Clinton
Why she can win: 
Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated. All your votes are belong to us. Clinton has the money, the name, the media attention, and the air of invincibility. For those voters who really, really, really want to see a woman in the Oval Office, she could also be the culmination of years of dreams. And right now there's no one else in the Democratic Party who has the name or the organization to compete. The Clinton machine is sucking up a lot of the available donor money and the professionals who are needed to run a multi billion dollar campaign. Clinton is in it to win it. She obviously wants to be President very badly. There's no shame in that. There is in some quarters a nostalgia for middle class accomplishments during her husband's Presidency. Clinton is ready to take any and all rivals to poundtown. She's back. And this time...it's personal.

Why she can't win
She has a lot of negative baggage around her husband's honesty and the couple's alleged history of playing fast and loose with facts, restrictions and laws. Most of this won't matter to her likely voters but some of it will matter to voters on the right who view her as Satan's daughter. Some voters on the left also may see her as too beholden to corporate interests and just another big business democrat. To the extent that the 2016 campaign will include questions around race and the criminal justice system, Clinton will be hurt as until recently those are issues she avoided. Also she was supposed to be the inevitable candidate in 2008 before she got mollywhopped by the Hawaii Kid. I'm not sure she thinks fast on her feet or actually enjoys the campaign scrum. If the economy should worsen or there is some unforeseen foreign policy crisis over the next eighteen months then Clinton will have to perform a balancing act of explaining what she would do differently than the current Administration without enraging voters who support the Obama Administration or legitimizing the loons on the right who claim that the Obama Administration is the worst ever. Also, as NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre snidely stated, "Eight years of one demographically symbolic President is enough." There are some voters out there who want to see a white man as President, apparently quite badly. Clinton won't be able to change their minds. Clinton also needs to be able to justify to likely voters why she wants to be president. If she can't then expect the caricatures of "Because it's my turn dammit!!" to fly fast and furious, as some have already started.

Bernie Sanders
Why he can win
He's far more verbally adept than Clinton and enjoys getting into a good robust discussion around economic inequality, corporate malfeasance and health care. Given a fair shot, some of this rhetoric might resonate outside of his northeast liberal base. There's a fair amount of Don Quixote in his appeal. He could definitely surprise some people.

Why he can't win
Neither the Democratic Party nor the larger American electorate will vote en masse for a declared socialist to be President of the United States. Despite the rising economic inequality, outsourcing and falling wages and numbers of the middle class, most voters will never get past the socialist title to look at Sanders' record or ideas.  We haven't reached that point yet. And a skilled opponent can easily turn Sanders' passion against him by using it to portray him as just another doctrinaire East Coast liberal who wants to take your guns, make you marry someone of the same sex and eat tofu to save the environment. Even though the South has a (well-hidden) progressive streak in spots, as Democratic nominee, Sanders would probably lead the Democratic Party to a nationwide whupping unparalleled since 1984. The media will do its best to ignore Sanders. He won't have the money to rival Clinton. He's relying on individual contributions, not a SuperPac.

Carly Fiorina
Why she can win:
On any given Tuesday anything can happen. It's a long shot but if I could see the future I certainly wouldn't be where I am currently. Go big or go home. We all have dreams to pursue. If someone wants to be President, step into the ring and battle it out, I say have at it.

Why she can't win:
Most people only know her, if they know her at all, for spectacularly failing at Hewlett-Packard. She laid off 30,000 people before being forced out. She later decisively lost the 2010 California Senate election to Barbara Boxer. In other words: loser. Now everyone has to take a loss sometime in life but I don't see how Fiorina will be able to rebrand herself as a winner when her most recent and most important public performances have been disastrous. Is it possible? Sure. Just not very likely. Her primary role will be to remind women voters of all political persuasions that Hillary Clinton may not necessarily represent their interests. Ironically though much like Clinton, Fiorina has yet to show that anything except ambition is driving her interest to be President. That's true of all candidates of course but the trick is to not make it so obvious. A candidate must find the balance between saying vote for me because I want to be President as opposed to here's why you should vote for me because you want me to be President.

Marco Rubio
Why he can win:
He's young and photogenic. He has a home field advantage in the swing state of Florida. He can help to try to neutralize the media image of Republicans as the party of "old white men".
He's conservative but often manages to come across as reasonable instead of judgmental or scolding.

Why he can't win:
He's young and photogenic. That could work to his disadvantage. Rivals will claim that low information voters chose President Obama for similar reasons so why in the world should the country make the same mistake again. He's also shown some flexibility on immigration issues. Such flexibility tends to be anathema to the Republican base. People remember such things. His appeal to Hispanic voters who aren't Cuban Floridians could be highly overestimated. Rubio's positions on climate change and evolution could be and have already been easily mocked.

Rand Paul
Why he can win:
People are tired of war. Paul is at this point the only candidate on the right who seems to even occasionally question the number of wars the US is involved in, why we have so many military bases over the world, the level of foreign aid, and if the Constitution still applies on questions of civil liberties and domestic surveillance. He's also questioned the number of people we imprison.  If you're eager for some serious conversations about the correct application of law and the Constitution, if you want to discuss the proper limits of banking and the dangers of loose money, if you are fiending for someone to stand up and say "No. That's not America's job!" then Paul is someone to whom you should pay attention.

Why he can't win:
Paul straddles the line between libertarianism and conservatism. Where his father is a libertarian with conservative leanings, Paul seems to be more of a conservative with libertarian leanings. When push comes to shove, as it often does when you are in positions of leadership, Paul usually totes the conservative line. For example his co-signing of the letter to Iranian leadership sent a message to everyone that regardless of what his father or some other libertarians might think of neo-conservatives, Rand Paul is a man who is willing to do business with them. Although he's one of the few conservatives willing to talk about the impact of the War on Drugs on black communities, he still manages to be tone deaf in his associations with open racists and his statements about the black community. Paul gives off the strong vibe that given the chance he'd just as soon eliminate the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act of 1964 and 1965. That won't help him make any inroads in the black community. And he's still not trusted or well liked within the neo-conservative community. For everything he says or does with which I agree there's an equal statement or vote that leaves me saying "huh?". I suspect that's a feeling shared by a number of likely voters.

Ted Cruz
Why he can win: 
If you want your conservatism uncut and don't want your conservatism stepped on, make your conservatism the C-Funk and watch Cruz drop the bomb. This man is 99.44% conservative. He wants you to know that. He wants everyone to know that. He will spend a great deal of time making sure that you know that. If you are really really really really really really really really really really really angry about the direction in which the country has gone over the past eight years you're probably not as angry as Cruz is.

Why he can't win:
Outside of movement doctrinaire conservatives and apparently a majority of Texas voters, no one likes this guy on a personal level. Apparently his intelligence and drive are off the charts, as even people who disagree with him admit, but his tendency to see the world in strictly Manichean terms strongly limits his ability or desire to work well with others. A rather strong resemblance to Senator Joe McCarthy won't help his chances. Cruz was not born in the United States. Although he's probably eligible to be President and is more nativist than most nativists, the issue of his Canadian birthplace will come up by hook or by crook, you can be sure of that. His racist father's statements will also play a part in defining Cruz should he somehow win the Republican nomination.

Ben Carson
Why he can win:
He's a brilliant surgeon with a compelling backstory who could appeal to those conservatives who are primarily interested in cultural issues. 

Why he can't win:
Many of the conservatives who are primarily interested in cultural issues also have zero desire to vote for a black man for President. See that Wayne LaPierre quote about Hillary again. That little problem notwithstanding, Carson occasionally comes across as the benignly demented bigoted uncle at family gatherings. Just out of the blue this person will say something that if said by a non-relative would have you calling them out of their name, throwing up hands or angrily leaving. Carson seems to enjoy saying things like this. In fact I suspect that he sees being able to say such things as the point of running for President in the first place. I believe he will discover that the point of running for President is to win. It's not to run your mouth or lead a moral revival. Although Carson has run hospital divisions and sat on corporate boards I think he will discover that running a campaign is a little different.

Mike Huckabee
Why he can win: 
He's going to work the same side of the street as Carson but without the disadvantage of being black. He could lock up the social conservatives who are sick and tired of being taken for granted by the Republican establishment. They want one of their own in the driver's seat or failing that someone they can trust implicitly. They need a hero. Huckabee just might be that man. He's also hit the "Islamic terror" meme pretty hard which might endear him to the neo-conservative pro-military intervention wing of the Republican party. He wants to recapture the Reagan magic and unite all of the disparate wings of the Republican party. Ahem. Those libertarians will have to sit at the back of the bus and not complain.

Why he can't win:
The genial smile, careful cadence and aw shucks Southern accent hides a mean streak. Huckabee also has a history of saying some rather nasty things about people who differ from him politically or otherwise. Like Carson and to a lesser extent Cruz Huckabee seems to think that running for President is all about fighting for certain cultural and moral values and emphasizing that he's not one of those transgender-loving gun-hating Prius-driving soy-latte-sipping secular sissy boy coastal liberals. He's a real God fearing grits eating American!!! This might help in some primaries but would be disastrous in a general election. Some other Republicans have questioned Huckabee's overemphasis on geographical and cultural affinities to stand in for political identification. Huckabee has also gained back most of the weight which he initially lost after a Type 2 diabetes diagnosis. Looks matter. I don't think people are going to send an overweight man to the White House, which is why Jeb Bush is currently on a crash diet.
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