Saturday, October 31, 2015

Perusing the Political Pumpkin Patch

The Jack-O'-Lantern is a Halloween tradition associated with the strange flickering lights over peat bogs thought to made by will-the-wisps or Jack-O'-Lanterns. To emulate this flickering light, the flesh of a pumpkin is scooped out and an image, which is usually comical or grotesque, is carved out on the gourd. 

Pumpkin carving can be traced to the mid-nineteenth century in American and the British Isles. But today, pumpkin carving is not confined to crudely hewn scary faces for Halloween. This allows folk artists with stencils to create all sorts of scary countenances and images from the political pumpkin patch. While most of these carvings depict faces, some renditions are more conceptual.

The President is often a subject for pumpkin portraits.

But a lame duck President like Barack Obama just may not be scary anymore. Or more likely, we have to live the nightmare not vex over it. 

Partisans may create Jack-O'-Lanterns to depict their favored party in a positive light.

Top contenders from the Presidential nomination often get the pumpkin carving treatment.  Former First Lady/Senator/Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-AR NY)  seems to be a favorite to depict for both supporters and detractors.  

Surprisingly, cursory searches could not find carvings of Hillary clad in more Halloween attire.

Socialist Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), the other leading contender in the Democrat primaries, also had many depictions in pumpkins.  

It took twelve hours for that folk artist to carve the pumpkin homage to Sanders. Many progressive Jack-O'-Lanterns may also  "Feel the Bern".

There was a curious quirk among Republican pumpkin carvings.  Logic would lead one to believe that the most popular candidates would be more likely to be popular carvings.  But it there is nary a carving to be found of current frontrunner Dr. Ben Carson.  

Could this be because the Seventh Day Adventist Church frowns on Halloween for occult associations?  Not very likely.  A more reasonable explanation is that Jack-O'-Lanterns traditionally depict comical or monstrous images.  Opponents may disagree with Dr. Carson but his characteristic soft spoken and thoughtful delivery makes it difficult to demonize.

On the other hand, there were plenty of Jack-O'-Lantern depictions of  strong second place challenger for the Republican Presidential nomination--Donald Trump. 

While this rendition of "The Donald" was colorful and employed multi-media, it only merited fifth place in the Oklahoma State Fair.  It would be a huuuuuge mistake to associate "The Donald" with anything but the best.  So a more traditional pumpkin carving is in order.

Although I suspect that stencils may be out there, it was hard to find carvings for Gov, Jeb! Bush (R-FL) or Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL). And the carving for Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) paled in comparison to his eminence during the GOP CNBC Debate.

By this time next year, as we will be in the culmination of the Election 2016 campaign cycle, there this little doubt that there will be many more adorned gourds in the political pumpkin patch 

As Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI 1st) has become speaker of the House, there was no need for the Boehner-O'-Lantern

Too many knives seemed to have spoiled the Jack-O'-Lantern.

Jules Verne on Reality

Jules Vern on Reality

Friday, October 30, 2015

French Mathematicians Rally Over the Absurd, Costly and Pointless Crusade Against Climate Change

These French Mathematicians are skeptical about the costly, absurd and pointless crusade about climate change.  But rather than challenge the IPCC's policy decisions, their white paper vetted whether their work would be acceptable for scientific publication

We are not in a position to question the composition of the IPPC, or its legitimacy and policy decisions, and we shall not do so. However, as mathematicians, we have every right to respond to the following question: if the IPPC’s work were to be submitted for publication in a reputable scientific journal, would it be accepted? This decision is the task of a referee, in a procedure that is common practice in the sciences.
The answer is very simple: no sensible, high-quality journal would publish the IPPC’s work. The IPPC’s conclusions go against observed facts; the figures used are deliberately chosen to support its conclusions (with no regard for the most basic scientific honesty), and the natural variability of phenomena is passed over without comment. The IPPC’s report fails to respect the fundamental rules of scientific research and could not be published in any review with a reading panel. 
Yet governments throughout the Western World as well as the Vatican are pushing for climate change consensus action during the Paris Climate Change meeting in December.

The Société de Calcul Mathématique's white paper voiced scholarly skepticism about the climate change stampede. But even tongue-in-cheek filquers like the Minnesotans for Global Warming get the irony and avarice encompassed in Climate Change so called consensus. 

These issues will be coming to the fore during the Paris Climate Change Conference in early December. 

Jeb! Campaign Blueprint--Phileas Fogg or Baron Munchausen?

Jeb Bush’s Campaign staff shared with US News a 112 page internal campaign blueprint that exposed the the nitty gritty details of an establishment $130 million primary campaign.  After studying the Jeb! Q3 Campaign Briefing, it is hard not to hear the candidate speak and not think of the strategerie (sic) behind it. Yet the opposition intelligence contained in the blue book used to buttress its analysis also lends insight on the possible perceived primary pathways to victory for much of the Republican field

Jeb’s campaign is banking on surviving the February GOP contests. Afterwards it would leverage its fundraising prowess (both hard money and Super PACs) via advertising, endorsements, strategic Hispanic outreach for success in many contests. The Jeb! campaign is comfortable selling an idea of inevitability that Jeb is the only one electable against Hillary Clinton for a Game of Thrones dynastic grudge match.

It was telling that the Jeb! campaign advisers used a literary conceit to explore their long term primary strategy. After the early primaries, the Jeb! campaign used the codename Phileas Fogg, from Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days, to liken the frenetic March strategy to compete for 1,428 delegates in 22 state contests.

The character Phileas Fogg was a wealthy gentleman living in solitude but in a meticulous manner who takes up an impossible bet at the Reform Club. Around the World in Eighty Days chronicled those adventures. Kind of curious parallels when applied to a campaign of a son of a wealthy dynastic political family who had been away from politics for years but plots to come back with a well crafted plan.  Hmm.

While the internal memo did have several graphics which grappled with the Donald Trump phenomenon (particularly on the “W” association that he kept us safe), it seemed as if Jeb strategists perceived their main rival as being Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL).  The Jeb! campaign is prepared to shill the line that “Rubio is a risky bet” and playing up political parallels with the career of Barack Obama. Hence the Jeb attendance attack on Rubio during the third GOP Presidential debate.

The fundraising bar graphs showed that Bush inspired organizations (like the Right to Rise PAC) being prepared to outspend Rubio inspired organizations (like the Conservative Solutions PAC) for Future Ad Buys in Iowa and New Hampshire.  The Jeb! Campaign also was going to do a strong ad buy in South Carolina.

To extrapolate some strategy from the blueprint, Jeb is prepared to spend big in Iowa on the airwaves.  While they have a paid staff of 7 which includes a Hispanic outreach team, one senses that they are not trying to win as much as not being winnowed out.  The heavy ad buys in New Hampshire indicate this is where they would like their first win. However, winning the Granite State would be challenging as Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ) is putting everything in New Hampshire. This would also seem like fertile campaign territory for Donald Trump and Carly Fiorina.  The proposed heavy ad buys in South Carolina would rely upon “Big Mo” from New Hampshire into parlayed success in the Palmetto State.

The curious aspect of this internal analysis is its ambiguity for the SEC primary. If Jeb is able to neutralize Rubio, he would have the inside track on Florida’s winner take all 99 delegates. Jeb’s appeal has promise in some of the bigger states, presuming that the field of 15 candidates is mostly cleared.

The shortcomings of Jeb’s strategy are manifold.  They seem to think endorsements are of utmost importance. In fact, their answer to foreign policy challenges is look at how many decorated general support Jeb.  The Jeb strategists look kindly upon “the Bush brand” which seems counter to Bush fatigue and anti-dynastic ebbs in this election cycle.  The Jeb strategists believe that pointing to Bush’s educational accomplishments as Governor nearly a decade ago is a selling point without addressing complaints about Jeb’s association (promotion and profiting) from Common Core.

From a meta standpoint, Jeb’s campaign revolves around big money, which is necessary for the saturation advertising for the Bush brand prior to the February contests. Well, events like disastrous debate appearance can stop the flow of funds.  And because of the staffing and need to do early ads, their burn rate is about 90%.  It may make it hard to grease the skids when crunch time comes.  This might explain the  course correction of slashing campaign costs and shaking up the campaign as Jeb languishes in low poll numbers nationally and in key early contest states.

Moreover, the internal analysis is ambiguous on their Phileas Fogg strategy for March.  It’s great that there are a boatload of delegates available in March, but how exactly does one compete in twelve simultaneous contests on SEC Tuesday (March 1) for 612 delegates distributed proportionally.  Surely the answer is with advertising dollars and “The Big Mo”. But GOP rules this cycle require “winning” at least six contests for a candidates name to be placed in nomination. Unless Big Mo is an avalanche, this might be a big problem for Jeb.

This is a crowded GOP primary field. Several candidates look like they have staying power based on big bank accounts which have not been burnt through (e.g. Trump, Cruz).  It is an outsider’s election with Dr Ben Carson and Donald Trump in the lead, but a Jeb conceit that they will fade away and Rubio is the big challenge. The briefing focuses at winning delegates but not necessarily contests.  This could be a fatal mistake as GOP primary rules require winning at least six contests for a name to get put into nomination.  If the February primaries are divided by several contenders, there may neither be “the Big Mo” nor the establishment (electable) and outsider left as the last men standing. That scenario moots the blueprints findings.

This cynical political junkie is wondering if the Phineas Fogg blueprint would be better substituted by the Adventures of Baron Munchusen. It may be less of a frenetic but methodical slog as envisioned by the internal analysis and more of like on of the Munchausen movie tagline “Remarkable. Unbelievable. Impossible. And true.”

h/t: US News

Freedom Caucus to Speaker Ryan: "Go Early, Stay Firm"

Freedom Caucus Leader Jim Jordan advice to new House Leadership

Roger Waters Hits the Wall on American Politics

Roger Water on Politics

Tim Burton on Life

Tim Burton on Craziness and Reality

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Richard Dawkins Slams Safe Spaces

Richard Dawkins on Safe Space

An Honest Educator Analyses College Selectivity

Senator Marco Rubio Answers Accusations About Senate Absenteeism

Senator Marco Rubio on Senate Attendance Record

Freshman Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) has not earned a gold star for attendance in his tenure in the Senate.  Rubio's run for the White House has kept him away from some Senate votes, but even prior to hitting the campaign hustings, Senator Rubio had developed a reputation for being absent in the Senate.

On the eve of the CNBC GOP Debate, the  South Florida Sun-Sentinel published an abrasive editorial demanding that Senator "Rubio should resign and not rip us off". Inevitably, this was going to be brought up during the debate.  

Former  Governor Jeb Bush (R-FL) seized the the opportunity of Rubio's spotty Senate attendance at the record to make headlines by attacking his fellow Floridian with canned attacks.

But Rubio had done his homework and anticipated the attack.  Rubio rightly pointed out that during Senator Bob Graham's quixotic 2000 Presidential campaign that he missed 40% of the votes. Moreover, Senator John Kerry missed a super majority of Senate votes while being the 2004 Democrat nominee. When Rubio jabbed back at Jeb, he noted that Jeb was emulating McCain, who also missed many votes when running for President. 

Even though Rubio was well prepared for the attack about absenteeism from the media and his electoral opponent, it did not sound too scripted or wooden. Rubio also made the first foray into attacking the liberal media bias, which came to fruition by Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX).

Andrew Sullivan on Journalism

Andrew Sullivan on Journalism

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Grand Old Party Debate Drinking Diversions

Puckish political junkies who are not working a spin room for their boss can take the opportunity like a Presidential Debate to create a spin room of their own with Debate Drinking games. 

The third Republican Debate in Bolder Colorado is being hosted by CNBC.

Although skilled candidates will answer the questions they want, not what is asked, this debate is supposed to be about economic issues, so old GOP Debate Drinking Game Cards may not suffice.

The wags at created a viral video celebrating Republican Debate inspired cocktails. 

Should some think that their satire was too sharp, they did the same thing for the Democrat debate. Too bad that the Joe Biden concoction never caught on.

But don't forget about the Trumptini as much of the electorate has already forgotten its originator. 

It is likely that RINOs are Winos but they are closet drinkers at this point of the primary process, unless it is at a Cocktail Party on Capitol Hill. 

No doubt that most of these mocktails would be more savory to the GOP than the Bull Moose Cocktail.

N.B. As Ben Carson is Seventh Day Adventist, he abstains from alcohol so his mocktail should not consist of absinthe but be made of absent. 

Eric Hoffer on Rudeness

Eric Hoffer on Rudeness

Governor John Kasich Unleashed?

GOP Presidential candidate Gov. John Kasich Unleashed

What happened to the bleeding heart conservative Governor who invoked the Gospel to justify his Medicare policies?  It seems that in order to get traction in the 2016 Primary, Kasich has calculated that he has to appear unleashed.

  Such brusque blurtations seems to have been successful so far for Donald Trump.  Will this work for a prickly establishment candidate waiting in the wings for a Jeb crash and burn?

Marie Curie on Perseverance

Marie Curie on Perseverance

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Dr. Ben Carson Equates Abortion Attitudes to Slavery

Dr. Ben Carson Compares Abortion Attitudes to Slavery

As Dr. Ben Carson was surging to the top of national political polls for Republican primary preferences, he was interviewed on Meet the Press by Chuck Todd.  Dr. Carson dared to gently touch a third rail of politics, by comparing attitudes about abortion to slavery in antebellum America.

These viewpoints are nothing new, as he stated them publicly a couple of years ago at the Value Voters Summit.  What is notable is that Carson was not popularly pleasing an evangelical crowd but standing firm to his values with a soft spoken voice as the general populace gives his candidacy scrutiny.

Dr. Carson's strong pro-life values are in contract with Donald Trump's evolutionary anti-abortion ethos.  In 1999, when Trump was reading himself for a presidential run through the Reform Party, he declared that he was "very pro choice".  As he toyed with a run for the Republican Presidential nomination for the 2012 cycle, Trump told CPAC 2011 that he was pro-life.  In the 2016 primary campaign, Trump claimed that he was pro-life because of personal friends testimony during a primary debate.  Later, Trump clarified that he believed in abortion  in cases of rape incest and the health of the mother (which is little different than current late term abortion loopholes).  Maybe if Trump repeats that mantra often enough, like "I'm a Presbyterian" his followers will be believe it.

As Planned Parenthood funding continues to be under assault, it is likely that the Lamestream Media will spin Dr. Carson's principled comparison to an outrageous "War on Women" meme. But at least we know where Carson stands and based on his history doing neo-natal pediatric brain surgery, he has credibility for his strong stance. 

What Makes for a Good Speaker?

After four and a half years as Speaker of the House, Rep. John Boehner (R-OH 8th) announced his resignation. Boehner allegedly wanted to resign after the 112th Congress but his handpicked heir, seven term incumbent  former Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA 7th), but he was ignominously upset by Rep. Dave Brat (R-VA 7th) in the Republican Primary. So  Boehner blustered that he wanted to resign after the pinnacle of his career in hosting Pope Francis to speak before a joint session of Congress.  Of course, this “Zip-a-Dee Doo Dah” excuse conveniently ignores the looming Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC 11th) Motion to Vacate the Chair, which the Speaker would either lose or have to win with Democrat votes. Boehner gave a month for his resignation to take effect in late October, 2015.

It is a good thing that Speaker Boehner gave a month to let things shake it.  Everything was arranged for Majority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA 23rd prior 22nd) to assume the big chair. But then McCarthy opened his big mouth during a friendly interview with Sean Hannity in which inartful articulation about Hillary Clinton blew two years of non-partisan investigation by House Select Benghazi Committee chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC 4th).

McCarthy’s gaffe enlarged a gulf between the House Republican establishment and the Freedom Caucus, which was reluctant to back a Cocktail Party candidate.   The Freedom Caucus had been poised to support Rep. Daniel Webster (R-FL 8th), who is less conservative then the Freedom Caucus but open to rules reform.  However, before the Republican Caucus secretly voted on their choice, McCarthy suddenly resigned and the vote never took place.

In the aftermath of this announcement, there was pressure to draft House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI 1st) from divergent voices like Trey Gowdy and Mitt Romeny. But Ryan   was leery about leading what some might characterize as a den of vipers to spend lots of his time fundraising away from family.  Ryan took a week to decide his druthers.  Ryan announced that he would run if his candidacy would unite the party and under certain conditions (such as reducing his extra congressional travel).

Paul Ryan was hailed as a conservative when he was chosen to be former Governor Mitt Romney’s (R-MA) running mate in 2012, yet was run down by some radicalized conservatives for his stance reformist inclinations on immigration.  As Ryan readied himself to possibly assume the Speakership, he tapped  David Hoppe, a veteran conservative who now works at the Heritage Foundation to be his  chief of staff. Yet even this move was characterized by discontented populists as “picking a Washington lobbyist”.  Moreover, some said that the Freedom Caucus would be sell outs if they backed Paul Ryan for speaker. But a super majority (but not 80%) of the Freedom Caucus expressed willingness to support Ryan for Speaker so the Wisconsin Congressman put his name forward for consideration.

Keeping these recent events in mind, it would be wise to discern what makes for a good Speaker. Some would claim, res ipsa loquitur, that the person must be able to speak.  Thus, Kevin McCarthy’s disjointed utterances should have disqualified him. There is no doubt that the Hannity snafu killed McCarthy’s bid to be Speaker.  But it was not because he was not articulate in his utterances.  Former Democrat House Speaker and now Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA 12th prior 5th and 8th) was not a skilled speaker but was on message and ruled her caucus with an iron fist (and is aided by a sympathetic mainstream media).  Looking back into recent history, Rep. Denny Hastert was not chosen to be the chief spokesman for Republicans or the House.  Neither was Rep. Tom Foley (D-WA 5th).

On the other hand, Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-GA 6th), Rep. Jim Wright (D-TX 12th) and Rep. Tip O’Neil (D-MA 8th) were able media front men while being Speaker.  So being clean, well spoken and  articulate, to borrow a compliment from Vice President Joe Biden, can augment the Speaker’s role but is not quintessential.

A second trait often associated with the House Speakership is as a fundraiser.  This would have been a task that Rep. Kevin McCarthy would have excelled at, lest the Benghazi bungle.  Boehner seems to have done well at raising funds, particularly for those who would support establishment leadership.  But this party role is something which Rep. Paul Ryan did not relish.  Obviously, it is ancillary to the job of being Speaker of the House and constitutionally the second in the line of succession to the Presidency.

A third quality associated with being Speaker is setting priorities.  Newt Gingrich was legionary for nationalizing the 1994 cycle and voting on the Contract with America in the first 100 days of the 104th Congress. Nancy Pelosi rallied her caucus in supporting legislation which impeded the waning George W. Bush administration in the 110th Congress and facilitated President Barack Obama’s agenda in the 111th Congress.

While current Speaker John Boehner has done some things to quell conservatives in the GOP caucus, like eventually launching the Benghazi Select Committee, suing about Obamacare and recently establishing a select committee to study Planned Parenthood abuses, his style tended to be top down and accommodating the powers that be in the White House. For instance, the lawsuit on Obamacare is window dressing with little chance of success (as it is a political issue that courts will eschew).  Congress voted many times to repeal Obamacare, but it was not really attached to budgets or fought for doggedly in conference committees.

Boehner also reneged on understandings which irked the base and conservatives.  For instance, Boehner repeatedly broke the Hastert Rule (bills must receive a majority of the majority to be put on the floor).  This meant that legislation passed with Democrat votes. Boehner would also jam down bills, like a continuing resolution or other lengthy legislation without giving members (and the public) three days to read it before voting.  So, to echo Nancy Pelosi on Obamacare, “We have to vote on the bill before we know what is in it.”.  Not a wise way to run a railroad.

Many rank-and-file conservatives wanted one of their own to be Speaker.  So social media pushed Trey Gowdy or Freedom Caucus leader Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH 4th).  This is under the assumption that a true Conservative would dominate the GOP caucus and get things done.

 Freedom Caucus Raul Labrador Jim Jordan
[L] Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH 4th) [R] Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID 1st) [photo: BD Matt]

Well, the popular press has branded the Freedom Caucus as being ultra-right wingers bent on their own way.  But at the October Conservation with Conservatives presser, Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID 1st) struck a much more restrained set of expectations.  The Freedom Caucus realized that with unity of around 38 votes they had a certain amount of power, to deny a candidate the requisite 218 votes, but they could not successfully back one of their own as Speaker.

It may seem strange that a Republican member generally considered an up and coming Conservative like Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT 3rd) only got lukewarm support in his bid for Speaker, as the Freedom Caucus was initially poised to back Rep. Daniel Webster, who had a 57% Liberty rating.  Rather than have a conservative warrior in the big chair, they wanted someone who would hear their voice.

What really bothered members of the Freedom Caucus was process issues.  They were tired of being shut out in the Committee process, not being able to advance their own legislation or  offer amendments during mark-ups. Ironically, this was not always because their amendments might lose, but that they could carry the day and ruin the pre-baked cake that House leadership had concocted with their counterparts in the Senate or across Pennsylvania Avenue.

Webster promised to have a bottom up leadership process and that influenced the Freedom Caucus.  While Ryan issued some daring demands (like get rid of the Motion to Vacate the Chair), he seems to have mollified the Freedom Caucus.  Scuttlebutt is that Ryan promised to not raise immigration reform until there is a new President. Politico reported that the Freedom Caucus and Ryan agreed in principle on most items and the Freedom Caucus would have some “buy in” on legislation, but his candidacy was still “take it or leave it”.  That was still good enough for 70% of the House Freedom Caucus.

This meeting of the minds did not win over all anti-establishment Republicans.  Rush Limbaugh posulated that to donor class got what they wanted in Paul Ryan.  Glenn Beck accused the Freedom Caucus of being sell-outs. But Beck wanted the House to look outside of its chambers to find a leader, by endorsing Senator Ben Sasse's (R-NB) modest proposal to draft AEI President Arthur Brooks.  In addition, Mark Levin railed at Ryan for never meeting a bailout he did not like.

Ryan may not be the essential man for Speaker but one wonders what Conservative critics want. Who would they choose and why?  If no one is likely to win, would firebrands be OK with Speaker Boehner remaining in place?  This is why discerning what makes a good Speaker matters to understand what candidate to support and appreciating the consequences of the choice.

Representative Ryan tends to be a conservative but has some bagging regarding bailouts and lingering concerns about immigration.  If he becomes Speaker, he may not be out of the rubber chicken circuit as much fundraising. But Ryan will probably be more of a media friendly face of the House and can articulate the Republican message.  Ryan’s reluctance to leave the Ways and Means Committee is because he wanted to radically reform our tax code from the burdensome stack of bureaucratic regulations.  It remains to be seen if this reformist impetus can be instituted while in the Speaker’s chair.

The Republican House Caucus will vote in secret on October 28th. If Ryan is a clear winner, then a formal floor vote should follow on October 29th as Boehner steps down.  But if the votes are not they, all hell will break loose and the House will need to discern what makes for an acceptable choice for Speaker. When Gingrich resigned in 1998, Rep. Bob Livingston (R-LA 1st) was poised to be Head of the House, but some kinks came up in that ascension, which brought about Speaker Denny Hastert.

Thomas Sowell on Politics

Thomas Sowell on Politics

Monday, October 26, 2015

On Who Will Stand Up to Washington

Senator Ted Cruz and Donald Trump

In his remarks before the Iowa Candidates Assessment Summit in Waterloo, Iowa, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) expressed gratitude for Donald Trump's participation in the 2016 Republican Primary process.

Is this actually honoring another outsider candidate or distinguishing without dissing?  Senator Cruz has been adamant about adhering to Ronald Reagan's 11th Commandment to not criticize other Republicans personally,  But now is the time when he has to start make his move to do well in the Iowa Caucuses to get winnowed into being competitive for GOP nomination.  

Thus Cruz used his remarks before Tea Party types to bolster his own record of challenging the establishment Between the Beltways  while recognizing who has hogged the spotlight during the silly season in the summer before a Presidential primary. 

Will this work?  Trumpeteers love politicians who are willing to fight, but many seem cemented to celebrating a curmudgeonous celebrity candidate. The question becomes whether these disaffected prospective voters just revel in a war of words or if they want someone who will really make DC listen.

Mohandas Gandhi on Forgiveness

Mohandas Gandi on Forgiveness

Friday, October 23, 2015

Plotting Pathways to Primary Victory By Thinking In Time

When chatting with a friend who is not a political junkie, I questioned if Carly Fiorina’s strong Republican Debate performances can translate into strong showings in Iowa.  My friend questioned the value of the Iowa Caucuses, considering that televangelist Pat Robertson won. With the Iowa Caucuses just a 100 days away, it is worth considering the importance of the early contest and assessing paths to primary victory. 

This dialogue prompted me to review all Republican and Democrat Presidential Primary campaigns since 1976. The assertion that Pat Robertson won is an understandable misconception. He actually placed in second in 2000, thus proving that a campaign need not win in Iowa, but being in the top tier is important to survive the winnowing out.  In the case of Senator Fred Harris (D-OK) in 1976, a fourth place finish with 9.89% support had Harris proclaim that he was "winnowed in” the race. Iowa many not pick a winner, but it typically does thin the field out.

Favorite son candidates can sometimes do well in Iowa just because of their connection or proximity to the Hawkeye State.  Arguably, this was Rep. Dick Gephardt’s (D-MO 3rd) strategy in 1988.  Some thought that such connections would have similarly helped former Congresswoman  Michele Bachmann (R-MN 6th) or ex Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN), but this pathway to success proved futile.  There was some speculation that in the 2016 cycle that Governor Scott Walker (R-WI) would have greatly aided by his native Iowan ties and being a next door neighbor, but that was not enough in the 2016 election cycle. 

Iowa and New Hampshire are important because they test a can test a candidates endurance, organization and strategy.  Because voters in the early primary states take their participation seriously, they expect to have lots of one-on-one encounters with hopefuls (retail politics). Former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) won Iowa in 2012 on a shoestring budget because of a grassroots effort to have town halls in all 99 counties. 

What makes  the “Haweye Cauci” unique is the fact that Iowa voters take their participation seriously and expect to be courted by aspiring politicians.  Then there is the challenge of getting voters to show up at the Caucuses.  Not only must they be motivated to spend several hours on a snowy Iowa evening to play politics, but they must represent their candidate.  There are not private ballot boxes for Caucuses so Caucus goers must argue and advocate for their candidate. Thus a “silent majority” who acts according to their principles in the sanctity of the ballot box will not do.  They must go before their neighbors and plead their candidates’ cases.

Iowa Howard Dean campaigner 2004
But retail politics needs to be done right to accommodate for Iowa Stubborn.  In 2004, former Governor Howard Dean (D-VT) was the presumptive favorite as he had a large stash of cash from internet fundraising and could mobilize an army of college students to knock on doors. Well, Hawkeyes did not cotton to brigades of out of state whipper-snappers in bright orange ski hats prodding people to the caucuses.  Thus Dean was in a battle for third place.  To rally the troops after the Caucus results were announced, he did the infamous Howard Dean scream, which was the beginning of the end for him.

The Iowa contest may only sport 30 delegates split amongst the candidates, but doing well gives what 1980 GOP candidate (and later President)  George Herbert Walker Bush called “The Big Mo”.  Good publicity from being win place or show in Iowa can help for the next contest in New Hampshire. 

But where “the Big Mo”  really matters is in the “Invisible Primary” for donor dollars.  When primary voters start selecting candidates (as Iowans do not vote), traditionally financial supporters either open the floodgates or cut off the flow of funds.  People like to bet on winners and may jump on the bandwagon to curry favor with underdogs who outperform expectations. Some may claim that the “Invisible Primary” ends before selection process begins, because money in the bank allows for prudent allocation of resources. But sometimes candidates on the brink of financial collapse, like Senator John McCain in 2008 or Senator Rick Santorum’s shoestring start  in 2012, needed the infusion of finances and publicity after doing well (or significantly beating expectations) in Iowa.

Doing well in the donor primary makes a difference in expanding organization and financing media buys several weeks down the road to effectively compete in a series of contests held on the same day, like the SEC primaries (March 1st) or in a populous and diverse state in which wholesale politics is essential, like Florida (March 15th) 

In 2016, the GOP has rules that primaries before March 15th may have proportional distribution of delegates, after that time it is winner take all.  Party rules this cycle also require candidates to win six contests. Candidates need to find their pathway to victory.  

Some Republican candidates choose not to put as much emphasis on Iowa as it is not a reliable predictor of success and the agrarian and evangelical midwestern voters may not suit certain campaigns. The eastern and western edges of Iowa seem to vote for more urban and moderate candidates in GOP primaries while the center of the state can be characterized as quite evangelical and values voters. Santorum squeaked out a victory in 2012 with a campaign appealing to value voters and retail politics. Governor Mike Huckabee (R-AR) beat Governor Mitt Romney (R-MA) 30%-27% by winning with “very conservative” voters, many of whom were evangelical value voters.

The importance of Iowa was demonstrated by the quick reversal of a social media faux pas by Donald Trump.  The brash businessman has earned a reputation of raring for a fight and never backing down. While Mr. Trump has been top of the Republican polls for the last 100 days, but a recent poll showed that he dropped in second place in the Hawkeye State behind another outsider candidate Dr. Ben Carson.  Trump's Twitter account, which he had leveraged for publicity to personally comment during the Democrat debate, forwarded a snarky dismissal of the poll, denegrating Iowans.  

Within a couple of hours, the Trump campaign deleted the tweet and expressed the regret for a young intern for the gaffe.  OK. so much for spoiling for a fight and never backing down as well as the aura of authenticity. But it goes to show the importance of not offending Hawkeyes and alienating the Charm of Iowa Stubborn 

If not Iowa, Republican candidates have to rely on doing well in New Hampshire, the first primary state.  The Granite State had a long reputation for picking Republican winners, with a couple of notable recent excecpion. Typically, New Hampshire voters are contrarian rejecting Iowa’s lead. Candidates sometimes camp out there to do tons of town hall meetings to maximize retail politics.   Senator John McCain (R-AZ) used it as his breakout moment in 2008. Conventional wisdom is that if you don’t do well in Iowa or New Hampshire, it is wise to hang it up.

A few contemporary candidates have sought to eschew the Iowa Caucuses and the First Primary in New Hampshire, much at their peril.  In 2008, Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R-NYC) calculated that he would win the Sunshine State due to the number of transplanted New Yorkers. So he essentially skipped Iowa, New Hampshire, Michigan, South Carolina and Nevada. To his chagrin, Giuliani only garnered 14.7% of the vote.  On top of that, any delegates won were cut in half since the Florida primary was held too early for Republican rules. 

In 2012, Gov. Jon Huntsman (R-UT)  iconoclastically set up his campaign HQ in Orlando thinking that Florida would lead to victory.  But Huntsman came in third in New Hampshire and dropped out by Florida.

The 2016 GOP Primary cycle features a crowded field and seems strongly influenced by debate performances.  After the second debate at the Reagan Library, businesswoman Carly Fiorina catapulted up to third place in the national polls.  All of that is well and good, but political pundits need to consider what is her plausible path to victory? At this late stage in the campaign, can an unknown candidate build an organization for effective retail politics in the caucuses or does someone like Fiorina hope that Granite State contrarianism carries the day?  Would publicity from an early primary win be enough to build a successful campaign for the SEC primaries or is the hope to be the last acceptable alternative to a frontrunner or establishment candidate?

Frontrunners in the summer before a Presidential campaign year typically do not get the nomination, otherwise there might have been a President Dean (2004), President Gephardt (2008) or President Giuliani (2008). Hardball questions often hinder early frontrunners.  The trick is to peak and the right time and not get in too late.  In the 1980 cycle, then former Governor Ronald Reagan only announced his candidacy in November 1979 and had to rush to organize for Iowa.  But back then a late entry was feasible.  In the summer of 2007, Senator Fred Thompson (R-TN) announced in late for the 2008 primaries and had trouble getting traction and fundraising.  In 2011, Governor Rick Perry (R-TX) joined the 2012 GOP primaries after the Ames Straw Poll, but was hindered by the late start and a monumentally bad debate performance. 

In the 2016 cycle, it has been postulated that Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) is wisely waiting in the background to pounce when the primaries start.  Cruz was the first to announce with a strong religious liberty stance that would appeal to evangelical voters.  Cruz is accused by Republican Party elites for pushing for show votes on principled policies (e.g. really repealing Obamacare, Iran Nuke Deal, defunding Planned Parenthood) which underline his “outsider” bona fides while still serving in the District of Calamity.  Cruz has a strong campaign war chest.  All signs point to strong organization in early contests and the SEC primaries.  Cruz is also competing in very small contests (like Guam and Puerto Rico) which are essential to winning enough contests to be considered for nomination.  Cruz is a skilled debater who has made good use of the limited time he has been given in debates and he has not made enemies with his opponents. Yet at the beginning of autumn 2015, Cruz is placing 5th out of 15 with 8% support in polls. 

Cruz’s path to victory would need to do well in Iowa (especially with very conservative and evangelical voters), be competitive in New Hampshire, rebound in conservative South Carolina and then be successful in the bulk of SEC primaries (including his home state of Texas) on March 1st.  This slow and steady success strategy does not have the sizzle of Trump or the establishment imprimatur for former Governor Jeb Bush (R-FL), but is solid strategy that has a pathway to victory.  Whether or not this works remains to be seen. 

Looking at the GOP primaries methodically may not be as much fun as hobnobbing about the horse race with always changing polls, but it understands the primary process and gives benchmarks for successful strategy rather than a blind bandwagon approach to campaigns.