Wednesday, April 13, 2016

2016 Presidential Race

Lately few of the five remaining major party candidates have been having a good time of it in the polls or on the campaign trails. Most of the candidates made some unforced errors or were baited into making mistakes by the media or their rivals. The candidates seem to be reaching a point where their irritation with each other and the entire campaign process becomes more evident each week. Each candidate is digging deep to find weaknesses in his or her rivals. This interminable process is made even more unpleasant by the 24 hour cable news and social media presence. For every statement you make there is someone eagerly waiting to call you and your supporters everything but a child of God. When Republican consultants are asking other Republican partisans if their preferred candidate pays them more for certain unusual sexual favors or Democratic consultants and media talking heads are trying to paint the other Democratic candidate as the Second Coming of George Wallace you know that people are getting nasty and desperate. So it goes. Nobody put a gun to their heads and made them run for President of the United States.

Donald Trump
Politics is not war. But politics and war have some things in common. In both war and politics you can attack in different ways. There's the air game where someone comes over the horizon at 800 mph, drops ordnance on the target and is gone before anyone can react. There's lots of explosions and people running around bemoaning all the destruction. The nice thing about the air game is that you're in and out quickly. Few people can meet you on equal terms. You can shift targets at a moment's notice. The air game looks great on video. 
In the ground game you have to, as Sonny Corleone might have said, get up close to someone and bada-bing shoot them right in the head. The danger with this is that even a less technologically advanced enemy can still hurt you once you're both rolling around in the muck.The ground game is slower. You spend more time doing things that don't get publicity or ratings. It's pretty ugly on video.

Donald Trump is a devotee of the air game in politics. It's worked well for him. He's a bombastic man who apparently becomes easily bored. Trump likes to drop the hammer on his opponents and/or the media and move on to the next target. So far he hasn't shown the patience for or ability to execute the long slow grind. This means building an organization that will ensure that his supporters (and children) are registered and ready, willing and able to vote, caucus or become delegates as the rules require. Someone has to know all the various state rules and loopholes about obtaining delegates. A winning campaign must put resources into making sure that all the i's are dotted and t's are crossed right down to the precinct level. This can be boring work. It's not as exciting as stream of consciousness pep rallies, nasty tweets about how ugly your opponent's wife is or calling into MSNBC or FOX and boasting about the size of your Wee Willie. If you're ignorant of the rules and ignore your ground game you'll find yourself losing Colorado and Wisconsin to Ted Cruz. That's annoying. This is why Trump hired strategist Paul Manafort to ensure that Trump gets every delegate to which he's entitled and to bring some structure to his campaign. The race will be closer than it should but most of the remaining Republican contests are on Trump friendly turf. I think Trump will be the nominee. And I think he will clinch the nomination before the convention. But if he doesn't my won't that be entertaining!

Hillary Clinton
Her aura of inevitability has been a bit damaged of late with a string of Sanders victories. However because of the rules of the contests and the choices of the voters, it's almost but not quite impossible for Sanders to catch up to Clinton in pledged delegates. For example over the weekend Sanders beat Clinton decisively in Wyoming. But Clinton walked away with just as many pledged delegates from that state as Sanders did. In order to lose to Sanders in pledged delegates Clinton would need to lose almost all of the remaining contests by insane margins (70-30, 90-10,80-20) which probably won't happen. Additionally Clinton still has a commanding lead among Democratic superdelegates. At this time, Clinton is leading decisively in New York. If she wins convincingly there the air could start to leak out of the Sanders balloon. That poll could be meaningless of course. But ultimately Clinton's campaign is the Borg model of Democratic politics. Resistance is futile. Your opinions are irrelevant. You will be assimilated. Absent her or her husband going off script and making some racial faux pas it would be the political upset of the century should she lose the nomination to Sanders when all is said and done. Sanders is certainly putting Mrs. Clinton through her paces. Her flashes of irritation and the constant charges of sexism emanating from her followers and media surrogates show that Clinton never expected to be in this sort of tussle with an old socialist from Vermont by way of Brooklyn. I still think at this time that Clinton wins the Democratic nomination. The important question is after Clinton wins the nomination will she and her supporters reach out to Sanders voters? Or will Sanders voters decide that they'd rather vote for someone outside of the Democratic party altogether? The snide back and forth between Clinton and Sanders over qualifications and the pompous expectation that Sanders voters MUST vote for Clinton in the fall show that Clinton may lead a still fractured party in November. Because her current range of possible general election opponents is so dismal, Clinton may not need every last single Sanders voter. As she is fond of pointing out, she HAS won the majority of Democratic voters. Sanders has not. There are some people who feel that Clinton is just a slightly left wing version of a establishment party that doesn't disagree all that much on things like foreign policy, privacy, law enforcement, monetary policy, capitalism, etc. Those people may say to hell with it and vote for another candidate.

John Kasich
There is no mathematical way that John Kasich can win the Republican nomination before the convention. He's too far behind. His only hope appears to be to stay in the race and win just enough to deny Trump or Cruz the nomination. Then, in a contested convention, Kasich will pour everything he's got into an argument to convince delegates that Cruz and Trump have too many negatives to win in the general election. So they should then go with a winner like Kasich. Kasich just all but called Trump Sauron and has made similar statements about Cruz in the past. There are some polls and other indicators that show Kasich doing better against Sanders or Clinton in the fall. But the ironic thing is that Kasich only appears moderate and mild tempered in comparison to Trump or Cruz. He's got his own history of personal harshness and hard right viewpoints. Of course Kasich could be angling for a VP spot. It wouldn't be the first time that a tough rival got the booby prize of American politics. The problem with Kasich's plan is that the nomination rules do not currently allow for him to be nominated. A nominee must have won the majority of delegates in at least eight states to be nominated. Kasisch hasn't done that and isn't likely to do it in the states remaining. So implicitly he's arguing to be selected as much as elected. But given the high negatives that Cruz and Trump bring, a little bit of convention chicanery might save the Republican party from itself in the fall. But be that as it may it doesn't mean that Kasich should benefit from it. The American electorate isn't clamoring for Kasich. And they've told him that already.

Ted Cruz
The Canadian Conservative Crusader has looked like he has the wind beneath his wings. He came across as human and even sympathetic in the dust up over Trump insulting Heidi Cruz's looks. And unlike Trump, who seems like the know it all blowhard who thinks he can guess his way through the multiple choice final exam, Senator Cruz comes across as the smarmy dedicated student who constantly asks for extra work, reminds an absentminded professor of the promised pop quiz and refuses to share his notes with fellow students who couldn't hear what the professor said. Nobody in the Republican establishment much likes Cruz but many of them appear to be signalling that they like Trump even less. It still remains a source of amusement to me that many of the diehard birthers who couldn't accept that President Obama was born in the US, could be voting for a man who was born in Canada. But that's life. Most people who know Cruz will tell you that he's a smart man. They may think he's a jerk but few people question his intelligence or political skills. Cruz could also be angling for a VP spot or other cabinet position though again it's hard to see how you work for someone who implied ugly things about your wife. Cruz won't catch Trump in the race but he definitely could prevent Trump from reaching the 1237 delegates needed to win the nomination. And if he does that, well then he can contest the convention by arguing that Trump's negatives with everyone, including Republican women, make it impossible to select Trump as the nominee. Left unsaid that while Trump is apparently not that invested in the pro-life, anti-gay marriage stance of many conservatives, Cruz definitely is. This could, properly framed in a general election, be devastating to a Cruz helmed ticket. Cruz is the hard right winger whom many conservatives say they've been waiting for. Perhaps it will take a beatdown of Mondalesque proportions for Republicans to realize that the hard right can't win a national election just by being well, hard right. We'll see.

Bernie Sanders
Sanders has been kicking around longer than anyone thought he could, maybe even Sanders himself. It's only recently that Team Clinton has started to take him seriously, perhaps because it's been a while since Sanders has lost to Clinton. Sanders made a critical mistake in not going after the black vote earlier. In the South the Democratic voter base is disproportionately black. Sanders was and still is easily caricatured as a clueless out of touch white liberal who is tone deaf to specifically black voter concerns. There might be something to that insofar as talking solely about class when people have interests that are touched by class, race and gender doesn't tell people what they want to hear. And you don't get people to vote for you by not telling them what they want to hear, at least some of the time. There are some Clinton supporters for whom blunt identity politics is the reason for voting for Clinton. As one Clinton supporter was quoted saying in the NYT, "It's time for someone with a womb" to be in the White House. Every politician panders of course but if some voters in the Democratic base won't support Sanders because of his race or gender then there's not much Sanders can do about that. People have criticized Sanders, in both reasoned and ridiculous ways, for his "pie-in-the-sky" plans and lack of details about working with Congress and the Courts. That's fair enough I guess. But let's remember that the current President told everyone after winning the nomination that his election would be remembered years later as a time when everyone looked back and realized that that was when the oceans stopped rising and the planet began to heal. Politicians make lofty promises. It's what they do. Anyway I don't think things look so good for Sanders going forward. His misguided but noble attempt to avoid getting negative with Clinton and his late outreach to black voters left him in a hole that's probably too hard to climb out from in the current atmosphere. New York could be his last stand. The poison arrows are flying fast and furious against Sanders. He's definitely shaking the pillars of heaven. People are worried that he could win or do serious damage to Clinton.
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