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The Daily Strategist

May 22, 2015

GOP Winnowing Field By Debates



Want to know one reason GOP presidential candidates are not rushing to participate in this year's Iowa Republican Straw Poll, traditionally the first "scorable" event of the cycle? Other ways are emerging to "winnow" the very large field, as I discussed today at the Washington Monthly. I first quoted Craig Robinson of The Iowa Republican:

There is...another dynamic at work here that didn't exist in previous cycles. The large field of 2016 Republican candidates is making the debate stage really crowded. Both CNN and FOX News recently said that they would limit the debate stage to the top ten candidates. This is a huge development in the presidential campaigns' poker game.

Huckabee doesn't have to worry about getting in the debates as he routinely polls in the top five of all national and state polls. That's not the case for Santorum, Rick Perry, Bobby Jindal, Carly Fiorina, or Lindsey Graham. So what would help Huckabee's strategy to win Iowa? He needs candidates like Santorum and Jindal out of the race.

Huckabee could accomplish that in two ways. One, by beating them in something like the Straw Poll, which costs lots of money and has other risks associated with it. Or two, Huckabee could slow play it, and let the debates actually clear his main rivals for the Christian conservative votes in Iowa. Huckabee is essentially taking the conservative approach by counting on the debates to winnow the large 2016 GOP field.

Sure enough, Fox News is limiting participation in the first debate on August 6 (just two days before the straw poll) to its estimation of the top ten candidates in public opinion surveys. And if you look at the latest national Fox poll, Rick Perry's 11th, Rick Santorum's 12th, and Bobby Jindal is 14th. If you figure candidates not tested (e.g., Donald Trump and John Kasich) might later make the top ten, and take seriously my suggestion that the whole GOP is going to conspire to boost Carly Fiorina's standing to get her on that stage, then it's already white-knuckle time for the Ricks and for Bobby. That not only confirms Robinson's point about Huckabee letting the debates do the winnowing, but also indicates the endangered candidates might decide to devote their resources to whatever it takes to get them into the national polling Top Ten rather than screwing around with chartering buses to Boone....

In any event, the high likelihood that debates using polling data may serve as a winnower of the field resolves one debate we've all been having: for Republicans, at least, and this year, at least, early horse-race polls really do matter.

So don't be surprised if hardly anybody decides to deal with the Straw Poll--or if some of the stragglers say or do some outrageous things to boost their visibility and poll numbers just enough to qualify for the debates.


Sanders, Krugman: Why Overreaching TPP Should Be Defeated



Imagine for a minute that you don't really have a strong opinion one way or the other about the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). You are concerned about trade agreements in general, and you get it that the TPP is an especially big deal. But you are keeping your mind open, recognizing that in economic theory, at least, there is a chance that expanded trade can actually add to the stock of stable jobs in your country.

It's likely that many Americans feel this way, and are waiting for a good briefing which touches on all of the key points from both sides of the argument. For the time-challenged, Sen. Bernie Sanders, a candidate for the Democratic nomination for the presidency, has a HuffPo op-ed, "The TPP Must Be Defeated," which makes a strong case against the deal in four major points. Sanders writes:

First, the TPP follows in the footsteps of failed trade agreements like NAFTA, CAFTA, Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) with China, and the South Korea Free Trade agreement. Over and over again, supporters of these agreements told us that they would create jobs. Over and over again, they have been proven dead wrong.

Since 2001, nearly 60,000 manufacturing plants in this country have been shut down and we have lost over 4.7 million decent paying manufacturing jobs. NAFTA has led to the loss of nearly 700,000 jobs. PNTR with China has led to the loss of 2.7 million jobs. Our trade agreement with South Korea has led to the loss of about 75,000 jobs. While bad trade agreements are not the only reason why manufacturing jobs in the U.S. have declined, they are an important factor.

The TPP continues an approach towards trade which forces Americans to compete against workers in Vietnam where the minimum wage is 56 cents an hour, independent labor unions are banned, and people are thrown in jail for expressing their political beliefs. This is not "free trade." This is the race to the bottom. While we must help poor people around the world improve their standard of living, we can do that without destroying the American middle class.

Secondly, when we are talking about the TPP it's important to know who is for it and who is against it.

Large, multi-national corporations that have outsourced millions of good paying American jobs to China, Mexico, Vietnam, India and other low-wage countries think the TPP is a great idea. They understand that this legislation will allow them to accelerate efforts to hire cheap labor abroad. The TPP is also strongly supported by Wall Street and large pharmaceutical companies who believe their global profits will increase if this agreement is passed.

On the other hand, every union in this country, representing millions of American workers, is in opposition to this agreement because they understand that the TPP will lead to the loss of decent-paying jobs and will depress wages. Virtually every major environmental organization, including the League of Conservation Voters, the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and 350.org[350.org], among many others, also oppose this legislation. They understand that the TPP will make it easier for multi-national corporations to pollute and degrade the global environment. Major religious groups such as the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. and the United Methodist Church, also oppose this legislation because of what it could do to the poorest people on earth.

Continue reading "Sanders, Krugman: Why Overreaching TPP Should Be Defeated" »


May 21, 2015

Political Strategy Notes



The meme that Hillary Clinton is too centrist/moderate for progressives gets a thrashing from Daily Beast columnist Michael Tomasky, who writes: "If you are a 40-something Democrat who has voted over the years for Bill Clinton and Al Gore and John Kerry and Barack Obama, it's looking like you are about to cast a vote next year for the most liberal Democratic nominee of your voting lifetime." Tomasky then reports that Hillary Clinton's positions on the minimum wage, immigration, family and medical leave, criminal justice reform, child care, and hedge fund taxation loopholes are substantially more progressive than recent Democratic presidents.

AFL-CIO President Richard L. Trumka calls currency manipulation -- when a government buys or sells foreign currency to push the exchange rate of its own currency away from equilibrium value or to prevent the exchange rate from moving toward its equilibrium value -- "the No. 1 job killer in the United States." A few concrete examples might make this a potent campaign issue.

Alan Talaga makes a persuasive argument at Isthmus.com that Democrat Russ Feingold is going to win his race for U.S. Senate against incumbent Ron Johnson. "First of all, he has the calendar on his side. Wisconsin has never been a purple state. Since the 1980s, barring wave years or disruptive third-party candidates, Wisconsin reliably votes for Democrats in presidential elections while putting Republicans in office during the midterm elections. That's how the same state sends both Ron Johnson and Tammy Baldwin to Washington in the span of two years...Johnson still hasn't made much of an impression in Wisconsin. In the most recent Marquette poll, in April, 39% of respondents didn't feel comfortable saying they had a positive or negative opinion about Johnson. After more than four years in office, he's all but nonexistent to almost four out of 10 Wisconsinites."

Crystal Ball's Kyle Kondik observes, "The respected Marquette Law School Poll shows Feingold leading Johnson by a staggering 16 points as the race begins. That strikes us as high, but we do believe Feingold begins ahead." However, adds Kondik, "Democrats have a decent chance to win the Senate next year, but the Republicans retain better odds to hold it because of the cushion they built for themselves in last year's election. If the GOP had only won a total of 51 or 52 seats in 2014, then Democrats might well be hurtling toward a Senate takeover in '16." Same goes for a strong Democratic showing in the presidential race.

At Politico Kyle Cheney explains why Jack Conway is in excellent position to hold the Kentucky governorship for Democrats.

Jim Kenney won the Democratic nomination for mayor of Philadelphia with more than 55 percent of the vote in a crowded field, despite entering the race late and being outspent 2:1. With no major opposition in the fall, Kenney is all but assured election in November. Kenney joins New York Mayor Bill De Blasio and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel as Greenberg Quinlan Rosner clients who have been elected mayors of 3 of America's 5 largest cities. This project was led by Anna Greenberg, Ethan Smith and Kelly Higgins.

McClatchy's Greg Gordon reports that Osama bin Laden had a copy of Bev Harris's book, Black Box Voting: Ballot Tampering in the 21st Century. In a 2003 op-ed NYT columnist Paul Krugman wrote: "Early this year Bev Harris, who is writing a book on voting machines, found Diebold software - which the company refuses to make available for public inspection, on the grounds that it's proprietary - on an unprotected server, where anyone could download it. (The software was in a folder titled "rob-Georgia.zip.") The server was used by employees of Diebold Election Systems to update software on its machines. This in itself was an incredible breach of security, offering someone who wanted to hack into the machines both the information and the opportunity to do so."

...which makes Rand Paul's filibuster grandstanding about overzealous national security monitoring look a little ill-timed.

Re Josh Barro's Upshot post, "Can Republicans Avoid the Romney Tax Trap?," the most credible response would be, "only if Democrats allow it."


May 20, 2015

The Earliest-Ever "Brokered Convention" Fantasy!



It arrives every four years, so long as there is any chance of a competitive nominating process: the primaries could be inconclusive and we could have a Brokered Convention! With that phrase comes an array of more distinct fantasies, mostly from fictionalized or dimly remembered conventions of the past when multiple ballots or smoke-filled rooms full of deal-makers or wild gyrations on the floor between rival coalitions produced a dramatic outcome. It's kind of important, however, to get real about "brokered conventions," particularly in a year when the odds of it happening seem higher, as I discussed at the Washington Monthly with respect to the GOP:

So far as I know, Taegan Goddard's the first to raise this specter for 2016, and he actually makes a decent case that if it's ever going to happen, the circumstances are favorable. There's no real front-runner. There are enough candidates that the lesser-of-two-evils dynamic that produces an early winner may not kick in for a good while. And Super-PACs may make it possible for candidates whose campaigns would have starved to death in the past to survive later into the process.

Goddard could have added that changes in the calendar designed to end the nomination process earlier could backfire by reducing opportunities for a horrified party to avoid a "brokered convention." And it's also interesting that the closest thing to a Party Elite favorite, Jeb Bush, appears to be pursuing not a clinch-it-early strategy, but a win-it-in-the-late-innings approach.

Still, let's review the record: there hasn't been a convention which began with significant doubt about the identity of the nominee since the GOP event in 1976. The last multi-ballot convention was in 1952, when Democrats took three ballots to nominate Adlai Stevenson. The main reason for this shift away from deliberative--or if you wish, "brokered"--conventions was the rise of a primary system that all but eliminated undecided delegates and favorite-son or stalking-horse candidacies. So it requires really, really special circumstances even to get within shouting distance of a convention where someone hasn't locked up the nomination long before the balloons are inflated. And even if that perfect storm occurs, in 2016 or some other year, the word "brokered" is probably off, as I noted in a TNR column on the subject in 2012:

As...Jonathan Bernstein, has noted, a "brokered convention" depends on "brokers." Party leaders have a lot of ways to influence the selection of delegates in the primaries, but beyond that, their powers are limited. In the extremely unlikely event no winner heads to Tampa with a majority of delegates, we are looking not at a "brokered" convention, but a "deadlock" where the actual delegates, once their legal and moral commitments are discharged, can do what they want. "Brokering" is much too tame a metaphor for what would take place in that scenario. It would be a lot more like herding feral cats. Fortunately, it probably won't--no, it definitely won't--come to that.

But we can dream, at least this far out.

It's probably a dream, however, caused by eating something strange just before bedtime, or maybe a pundit's deadline that arrives too soon.


Overexposure and Peaking Too Soon vs. Advantages of an Early Start



The media, traditional and otherwise, are all abuzz with discussion of Hillary Clinton's huge lead in the polls in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. What seems to be lurking in the shadows of the chatter is a concern that Clinton may peak too early or become boring from overexposure. Indeed, her campaign seems to be aware of the problem, carefully limiting her appearances and statements.

It's probably a wise strategy. American voters can be pretty fickle. Plus the more public participation, the more opportunities for a momentum-destroying gaffe or blunder. There's also a natural sentiment to support underdogs. One danger is that talk of "the coronation" will provoke knee-jerk opposition from those who view themselves as anti-establishment, or independent-for-the-hell-of-it voters. Some tough competition might do Clinton some good, if and when she reaches the endgame.

At Time Magazine Sam Frizell notes in "Hillary Clinton Faces the Limits of the Controlled Campaign":

...Holding a sizable lead over her Democratic primary competitors, the former Secretary of State has kept reporters at arms' length, using controlled events to discuss the issues with voters and trying to avoid some contentious topics like the possible trade deal.

The hiccups at Clinton's event Tuesday morning [an appearance at a bike shop] showed some of the problems Clinton faces with the grassroots, activist-driven campaign she's chosen to run so far: she is a candidate, but she is waiting to clarify many of her policy positions until likely next month. She aims to do the handshaking and cheek-smooching that Iowans expect, but her campaign's sheer size can get in the way. She has a larger entourage of press, security, and staff than any other announced candidate, and spontaneity doesn't always come easy...

...Clinton's sparring with the press on Tuesday revealed some of the difficulties of her small-bore campaign. Before Tuesday, she had not taken questions from reporters for four weeks, avoiding eager journalists with waves and smiles. When she answered questions in Keene, New Hampshire, about allegations surrounding the Clinton Foundation, she brushed off criticism and left before she could face a long line of questioning.

At Newsweek Peter Suderman observes in his article "Is Hillary Clinton's Rope-a-Dope Strategy Working?":

...To the extent that the DNC's debates are supposed to inform the party's presidential candidate selection, they will be almost entirely for show...These pseudo-debates will, of course, give Clinton some exposure and serve as practice rounds, giving her a chance to sharpen her off-the-cuff speaking skills in advance of next year's presidential face-offs. And yet even with her virtual lock on the nomination, I think the debates do carry some risk for her.

Given that she is essentially a lock for the party's nomination, she has more to lose than anyone she'll share the stage with. She can minimize this risk by being extremely cautious and careful, of course, but that may not be exactly the image she wants to project.

This, however, is all fairly manageable. I do wonder, however, if there's a bigger risk--which is that the exposure will do her more harm than good...

Good points, all. But what could also happen is that she begins to lose steam and her favorables drop precipitously. Then all of a sudden, she is the underdog -- and may benefit from whatever sympathy comes with that. It could help energize her base activists, if they don't get too burned out by then.

So, this is a unique situation in American politics, and it's very hard to predict what will happen. Still, measuring her exposure at this stage seems like a prudent strategy in our media-saturated environment. It also helps that the legions of GOP candidates are preparing for a demolition derby of historic proportions. It makes sense for Clinton -- and all Democratic candidates -- to lay a little low and let the public watch the Republican mess, with all the flip-flops, equivocation, gaffes and blunders to come.

It's the old stratagem, "When your adversary is destroying him/herself, get out of the way."

Better to use that time to prep -- marshall the best arguments, narrative, soundbites, ads, messages, turnout mechanics, optics and other software of a winning campaign. Oh, and raise enough dough to build an ocean liner. A formidable early lead, especially when the adversary's party is muddled in chaos, can give a campaign room to enhance such advantages.

The battered and bruised GOP nominee will likely be a little tougher than usual, as a result of the primary wars, but will also have some deep, exposed wounds to exploit. Obama did very well hammering Romney's elitism in 2012, and that is a tactic that will likely resonate well again in 2016. It is the glaring weakness of every Republican candidate, and it isn't going away, unless Democrats allow it.

The closing argument of the Democratic nominee -- Clinton or otherwise -- must demonstrate mastery of two memes, 1. That the Republican party is wholly devoted to elitist privilege to benefit the wealthy at the expense of the middle class; and 2. The Democratic party and it's leaders are genuine champions of average Americans who work and struggle for a better life.


May 19, 2015

Explaining the Presidential Campaign Announcement Circus



For those who were wondering why presidential candidates have so much evasive hoo-ha associated with the announcement of their candidacies, CNN chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash has a clear explanation:

The dirty little secret of the 2016 campaign is that would-be candidates like Bush and Walker in particular can use super PACs, campaign accounts that allow unlimited contributions, to raise millions of dollars as long as they aren't official candidates. Until someone like Bush, Walker or New Jersey Gov. Christie formally declares for president, they are legally permitted to personally ask for money for a super PAC that will ultimately benefit their campaign. But once they formally acknowledge their candidacy, a legal wall goes up between the candidate and the super PAC that supports them.

This is the confusing new world of campaign finance in the era after the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision in 2010 removed most political spending limits on corporations and unions. Now, until they're an official candidate, politicians can accept millions from a single donor, though Bush has set a self-imposed limit of $1 million for his super PAC.

The quiet goal for Bush, Walker and, to a lesser extent, Christie is to raise as much money as possible for as long as possible without the fundraising limits that come with being a declared presidential candidate.

And you thought they were just being silly politicians overestimating how much anyone cares about their formal announcements. But it gets even more complicated, as Bash explains:

It is a fundraising advantage that sitting senators do not have, which is why Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio announced their candidacies in April. Sen. Lindsey Graham will announce his intentions June 1.

Legally, a federal office holder -- such as a senator -- is always a candidate for federal office, and therefore already bound by federal fundraising limits in a presidential run: $5,400 per maximum per donor, for the primary and general election combined. Super PACs that support them can raise money to use on their behalf, but they cannot coordinate in the same way Bush, Christie and Walker are.

So in the ever important money race, Cruz, Paul and Rubio are going to be judged by how much they raise inside a traditional Federal Election Commission filing quarter. This current quarter lasts from April 1 to June 30th. That is a major reason most GOP senators running for the White House declared at the beginning of April -- in order to squeeze as much fundraising time in as possible.

Further,

"It sure doesn't hurt being a non-candidate candidate who leads his own super PAC until which time he hands it over to be run by his most intimate political supporters upon officially announcing a presidential run," said Dave Levinthal of the Center for Public Integrity. "The unspoken message will still be crystal clear: Support me with money and support me with lots of it."

"It's basically the difference between a baseball manager sending in hand signals to his players and directly whispering the message into their ears," Levinthal said. "The message more or less gets through all the same."

Makes one envy the UK, with their ban on television advertising. Bash has more to say about the campaign announcement follies, but none of it will make you feel good about the way our election campaigns are financed or the evolution of U.S. democracy. Meanwhile, let's not just dream about comprehensive campaign finance reform; let's make it a top priority.


Will Aging GOP Just Fade Away?



Daniel J. McGraw's Politico post "The GOP Is Dying Off. Literally." paints an optimistic scenario for Democrats, at least those who are patient advocates of taking the long view. McGraw crunches some numbers on a napkin, and reasons:

By combining presidential election exit polls with mortality rates per age group from the U.S. Census Bureau, I calculated that, of the 61 million who voted for Mitt Romney in 2012, about 2.75 million will be dead by the 2016 election. President Barack Obama's voters, of course, will have died too--about 2.3 million of the 66 million who voted for the president won't make it to 2016 either. That leaves a big gap in between, a difference of roughly 453,000 in favor of the Democrats.

Here is the methodology, using one age group as an example: According to exit polls, 5,488,091 voters aged 60 to 64 years old supported Romney in 2012. The mortality rate for that age group is 1,047.3 deaths per 100,000, which means that 57,475 of those voters died by the end of 2013. Multiply that number by four, and you get 229,900 Romney voters aged 60-to-64 who will be deceased by Election Day 2016. Doing the same calculation across the range of demographic slices pulled from exit polls and census numbers allows one to calculate the total voter deaths. It's a rough calculation, to be sure, and there are perhaps ways to move the numbers a few thousand this way or that, but by and large, this methodology at least establishes the rough scale of the problem for the Republicans--a problem measured in the mid-hundreds of thousands of lost voters by November 2016. To the best of my knowledge, no one has calculated or published better voter death data before.

...But what if Republicans aren't able to win over a larger share of the youth vote? In 2012, there were about 13 million in the 15-to-17 year-old demo who will be eligible to vote in 2016. The previous few presidential election cycles indicate that about 45 percent of these youngsters will actually vote, meaning that there will about 6 million new voters total. Exit polling indicates that age bracket has split about 65-35 in favor of the Dems in the past two elections. If that split holds true in 2016, Democrats will have picked up a two million vote advantage among first-time voters. These numbers combined with the voter death data puts Republicans at an almost 2.5 million voter disadvantage going into 2016.

It's an appealing political scenario, not that we would celebrate the demise of our adversaries -- we would prefer to beat them. So don't break out the bubbly just yet, since much depends on pro-Democratic young voters staying that way as they age There are studies that indicate most will, but there are always political wild cards that can foil the most rational analyses. Then there is the offsetting higher mortality rate for African American voters. In any case, it would be folly for Democrats to plan electoral strategy based on long-range mortality statistics.

What does make sense is for Democrats to take out an insurance policy in the form of a serious pitch to win over some senior voters. Given the retirement crisis millions of seniors are facing in the immediate future, it ought to be possible for Democrats to get a more significant share of this high-turnout demographic, especially considering the GOP's proclivity to screw around with Social Security and 401K assets. If Democrats can peel off just 5 percent of senior voters, it could make a huge difference.


May 18, 2015

Political Strategy Notes



Al Hunt probes the political ramifications of the increasing percentage of "nonreligious" Americans, who are now about 23 percent of the electorate.

In yet another post-mortem/where-do-we-go-from-here take on the UK elections, Will Straw, a losing Labour candidate for Parliament in Rossendale and Darwen, suggests "Four ways for Labour to win back working-class voters." Writing in The Guardian, Straw observes: "If we want a majority again, we will need to think hard about how to win back the working-class voters, many of whom are highly aspirational, that we have lost in post-industrial areas...It was complacent to assume that the Ukip [right-wing Independence Party] surge would be to Labour's benefit...Labour's national message that Ukip were "more Tory than the Tories" failed to resonate with many working-class voters who had decided a decade ago that Labour was no different to the Tories."

At Politico TDS founding editor Stan Greenberg writes on the UK elections: "The Conservative Party upended the pollsters with the success of their late-breaking nationalist campaign, and they are still celebrating. Had the Labour Party addressed earlier voter doubts on public finances and immigration and made a broader economic offer, it would have been less vulnerable to these tactics, but that came late."

National Journal's Sarah Mimms explores "How much of a factor will Hillary Clinton's gender be in the 2016 presidential race?"

Paul Krugman hails the opening of a much-needed and long-postponed debate about the Iraq disaster, made inevitable by Bush 3.0.

E. J. Dionne, Jr. notes in his latest Washington Post column that "other hawks would rather see the was-the-Iraq-War-right question magically disappear because they know it's a no-win for them. Most Americans now think the war was ill-advised. Why remind them that most of the same people who are super hawks now brought them an adventure they deeply regret? Thus did the Wall Street Journal editorial page on Friday come out firmly and unequivocally in favor of -- evasion. "The right answer to the question is that it's not a useful or instructive one to answer, because statesmanship, like life, is not conducted in hindsight." On the GOP side it may be that Jeb's blundering is very bad news for Lindsey Graham and other Iraq war supporterts and equivocators, but good news for Rand Paul.

And from Michael Tomasky's Daily Beast column, "How Dubya is Winning 2016 for Hillary": "...In a general-election context, the GOP nominee will probably have to tack back pretty quickly toward the anti-war position. This will give Hillary Clinton a great opportunity. For one thing, it'll weaken the salience of the whole "she can't defend the country cuz she's a girl" line of attack, which will come, however subtly. It will allow Clinton to define the terms of what constitutes a sensible foreign policy, and the Republican man will likely have to agree with her...Poor Republicans! Crime is down; they can't scream law and order. And now war is unpopular, so they can't say the Democrats are soft on whomever. Their economic theories are increasingly discredited. I guess that leaves the old standby: race-baiting. But we may have reached a point where that doesn't work anymore either..."

At MSNBC.com Suzanne Gamboa has a warning for Democrats: "If the turnout rate of the projected 40 million Latinos matches those of whites and blacks in 2008, 66 percent and 65 percent respectively, the number of Latinos who voted in 2012 - 24 percent - could double, Pew calculated...There are some very promising organizations doing incredible work in the community and are trusted: Mi Familia Vota, Voto Latino, NCLR (National Council of La Raza). But those are the same groups that have to fight over scraps because major investors don't appreciate (the value) of investing in the community," said Cristobal Alex, who leads the Latino Victory Project."

The Nation's Leslie Savan addresses a concern I've been wondering about: What are the political consequences of ALEC-supporting Verizon acquiring HuffPo?


May 15, 2015

Republicans Struggle With Crowded Debate Stage



Republicans have gotten a little lucky this month as two potential presidential candidates (Rick Snyder and John Bolton) decided against running. But that still leaves a large number of candidates and proto-candidates, and some real problems when it comes to deciding how many of them can be herded onto a debate stage without encouraging clown-car metaphors. I wrote about this Wednesday at the Washington Monthly:

To make a long story short, traditional "screens" where the top ten candidates in national primary polls make the stage would not only lop off six or more candidates, but might very well include some (Donald Trump!) party poohbahs would love to discard while bumping others (most importantly Carly Fiorina, the only woman in the field and the sanctioned Safe Hillary Basher) they desperately want to keep around. On top of all that, there's the fear someone excluded (e.g., Bobby Jindal) could make it a viable campaign issue, and the certainty that excluding a congressional power (e.g., Lindsey Graham) would come with its own set of consequences for party elites. So GOPers are toying with some unorthodox screens [as reported by the Washington Post's Matea Gold]:
Among the novel ideas that have been floated to determine a candidate's strength is the amount of money raised by his or her campaign committee, according to people with knowledge of the talks. But many candidates will not file an initial fundraising report until mid-October. So what about money raised to support them through independent super PACs, which this year are largely functioning as extensions of the official campaigns? (That concept has gotten little traction.)

Probably not, since when you are being attacked as the Party of Plutocrats which has corrupted American politics to the core via championship of unlimited and sometimes secret campaign contributions, you probably don't want to give big donors more say over the nominating process than they already have.

If I were them I'd just bite the bullet and say that in this day and age, with dozens of men in the running, no presidential primary debate is complete without a woman on the stage. But horrors!--that might look like Affirmative Action.

I don't think it's too cynical to assume that all the lavish praise Fiorina has been getting from Republicans in the early stages of the Invisible Primary is intended to make her credible enough to include in debates. But that may take 2% of the vote in some polls, and she's probably not close to that just yet.


Ho-Hum 'Dems in Disarray' Meme Dragged Out...Again



There's just no end to the "Dems in Disarray" meme, no matter how large or chaotic the GOP presidential aspirant field, nor how unified the Democrats may be at any given political moment. The latest installment comes from TheNew York Times Magazine, where Robert Draper's "The Great Democratic Crack-up of 2016," regurgitates a few shopworn arguments, while ignoring considerable evidence to the contrary.

TDS managing editor Ed Kilgore put Draper's screed in adult perspective earlier this week. For another well-crafted critique, read Heather Digby Parton's Salon.com post, "What the New York Times gets shockingly wrong about the future of the Democratic Party." Among Parton's observations:

The piece uses the Senate seat being vacated by the liberal Barbara Mikulski of Maryland as the example of the Party's awful turmoil, what with liberal congressman Chris Van Hollen running against liberal congresswoman Donna Edwards for the privilege of becoming the liberal senator from a liberal state.

Why this is considered a microcosm for the foul state of the Democratic Party nationwide is explained by making Van Hollen into a "practical" sort-of centrist, fighting for the integrity of his party against a left-wing firebrand, Edwards. Unfortunately, all of that is claptrap.

Both Van Hollen and Edwards come from the liberal wing of the party, the main difference between them being that Van Hollen has been very active in the leadership and therefore had to carry water for the administration from time to time, while Edwards has been a progressive movement candidate from the very beginning of her career and has earned the loyalty of members of that movement. It is hardly surprising that progressive groups would back her over Van Hollen -- she has been a model congresswoman.

...And yes, many of these progressives would like to see an African-American woman replace the elder stateswoman Barbara Mikulski. Seeing as there are still only 20 out of 100 senators who are female, and only two African-Americans, given the choice between two qualified liberal candidates is anyone surprised that progressives would choose the woman who has been responsive to them her entire career?

Parton adds, "to cast this race as one that represents a huge schism in the party between the business wing and the populist wing is a ridiculous stretch...But the day after the election, everyone will coalesce around the winner, guaranteed."

Draper amplifies the "disarray" meme in his analysis of the 2014 midterms, and Parton responds:

..And mixing up the races of 2010, 2012 and 2014 like that is a very big mistake. Why? Because in presidential years the Democrats do a lot better and in midterms the Republicans do a lot better. Who survives in those circumstances has a lot less to do with ideology and a lot more to do with the makeup of the electorate.

Ed Kilgore, who literally wrote the book about why Republicans swept the 2014 midterms ("without once considering the argument that Democrats lost because they were in the grip of mad lefty hippies, or because they had sold their souls to Wall Street," as he himself describes it), actually consulted the experts and looked at the numbers and discovered that such things as "turnout patterns, the economy, the electoral landscape, and the long history of second-term midterm disasters for the party controlling the White House" were more salient than this stale narrative about Democrats searching aimlessly for their misbegotten souls.

Parton acknowledges, "Yes, there are tensions within the party. It's a very big party. But there have always been tensions within both of the parties...The political establishment calls this "disarray" and characterizes it as some kind of tearing at the fabric of our civic life. In reality, it's just democracy."

You want 'disarray'? Check out the flip-floppage in the day to day pronouncements of Jeb Bush or Rand Paul.






Editor's Corner

by Ed Kilgore



May 22: GOP Winnowing Field by Debates

Want to know one reason GOP presidential candidates are not rushing to participate in this year's Iowa Republican Straw Poll, traditionally the first "scorable" event of the cycle? Other ways are emerging to "winnow" the very large field, as I discussed today at the Washington Monthly. I first quoted Craig Robinson of The Iowa Republican:

There is...another dynamic at work here that didn't exist in previous cycles. The large field of 2016 Republican candidates is making the debate stage really crowded. Both CNN and FOX News recently said that they would limit the debate stage to the top ten candidates. This is a huge development in the presidential campaigns' poker game.

Huckabee doesn't have to worry about getting in the debates as he routinely polls in the top five of all national and state polls. That's not the case for Santorum, Rick Perry, Bobby Jindal, Carly Fiorina, or Lindsey Graham. So what would help Huckabee's strategy to win Iowa? He needs candidates like Santorum and Jindal out of the race.

Huckabee could accomplish that in two ways. One, by beating them in something like the Straw Poll, which costs lots of money and has other risks associated with it. Or two, Huckabee could slow play it, and let the debates actually clear his main rivals for the Christian conservative votes in Iowa. Huckabee is essentially taking the conservative approach by counting on the debates to winnow the large 2016 GOP field.

Sure enough, Fox News is limiting participation in the first debate on August 6 (just two days before the straw poll) to its estimation of the top ten candidates in public opinion surveys. And if you look at the latest national Fox poll, Rick Perry's 11th, Rick Santorum's 12th, and Bobby Jindal is 14th. If you figure candidates not tested (e.g., Donald Trump and John Kasich) might later make the top ten, and take seriously my suggestion that the whole GOP is going to conspire to boost Carly Fiorina's standing to get her on that stage, then it's already white-knuckle time for the Ricks and for Bobby. That not only confirms Robinson's point about Huckabee letting the debates do the winnowing, but also indicates the endangered candidates might decide to devote their resources to whatever it takes to get them into the national polling Top Ten rather than screwing around with chartering buses to Boone....

In any event, the high likelihood that debates using polling data may serve as a winnower of the field resolves one debate we've all been having: for Republicans, at least, and this year, at least, early horse-race polls really do matter.

So don't be surprised if hardly anybody decides to deal with the Straw Poll--or if some of the stragglers say or do some outrageous things to boost their visibility and poll numbers just enough to qualify for the debates.


May 20: The Earliest-Ever "Brokered Convention" Fantasy!

It arrives every four years, so long as there is any chance of a competitive nominating process: the primaries could be inconclusive and we could have a Brokered Convention! With that phrase comes an array of more distinct fantasies, mostly from fictionalized or dimly remembered conventions of the past when multiple ballots or smoke-filled rooms full of deal-makers or wild gyrations on the floor between rival coalitions produced a dramatic outcome. It's kind of important, however, to get real about "brokered conventions," particularly in a year when the odds of it happening seem higher, as I discussed at the Washington Monthly with respect to the GOP:

So far as I know, Taegan Goddard's the first to raise this specter for 2016, and he actually makes a decent case that if it's ever going to happen, the circumstances are favorable. There's no real front-runner. There are enough candidates that the lesser-of-two-evils dynamic that produces an early winner may not kick in for a good while. And Super-PACs may make it possible for candidates whose campaigns would have starved to death in the past to survive later into the process.

Goddard could have added that changes in the calendar designed to end the nomination process earlier could backfire by reducing opportunities for a horrified party to avoid a "brokered convention." And it's also interesting that the closest thing to a Party Elite favorite, Jeb Bush, appears to be pursuing not a clinch-it-early strategy, but a win-it-in-the-late-innings approach.

Still, let's review the record: there hasn't been a convention which began with significant doubt about the identity of the nominee since the GOP event in 1976. The last multi-ballot convention was in 1952, when Democrats took three ballots to nominate Adlai Stevenson. The main reason for this shift away from deliberative--or if you wish, "brokered"--conventions was the rise of a primary system that all but eliminated undecided delegates and favorite-son or stalking-horse candidacies. So it requires really, really special circumstances even to get within shouting distance of a convention where someone hasn't locked up the nomination long before the balloons are inflated. And even if that perfect storm occurs, in 2016 or some other year, the word "brokered" is probably off, as I noted in a TNR column on the subject in 2012:

As...Jonathan Bernstein, has noted, a "brokered convention" depends on "brokers." Party leaders have a lot of ways to influence the selection of delegates in the primaries, but beyond that, their powers are limited. In the extremely unlikely event no winner heads to Tampa with a majority of delegates, we are looking not at a "brokered" convention, but a "deadlock" where the actual delegates, once their legal and moral commitments are discharged, can do what they want. "Brokering" is much too tame a metaphor for what would take place in that scenario. It would be a lot more like herding feral cats. Fortunately, it probably won't--no, it definitely won't--come to that.

But we can dream, at least this far out.

It's probably a dream, however, caused by eating something strange just before bedtime, or maybe a pundit's deadline that arrives too soon.


May 15: Republicans Struggle With Crowded Debate Stage

Republicans have gotten a little lucky this month as two potential presidential candidates (Rick Snyder and John Bolton) decided against running. But that still leaves a large number of candidates and proto-candidates, and some real problems when it comes to deciding how many of them can be herded onto a debate stage without encouraging clown-car metaphors. I wrote about this Wednesday at the Washington Monthly:

To make a long story short, traditional "screens" where the top ten candidates in national primary polls make the stage would not only lop off six or more candidates, but might very well include some (Donald Trump!) party poohbahs would love to discard while bumping others (most importantly Carly Fiorina, the only woman in the field and the sanctioned Safe Hillary Basher) they desperately want to keep around. On top of all that, there's the fear someone excluded (e.g., Bobby Jindal) could make it a viable campaign issue, and the certainty that excluding a congressional power (e.g., Lindsey Graham) would come with its own set of consequences for party elites. So GOPers are toying with some unorthodox screens [as reported by the Washington Post's Matea Gold]:
Among the novel ideas that have been floated to determine a candidate's strength is the amount of money raised by his or her campaign committee, according to people with knowledge of the talks. But many candidates will not file an initial fundraising report until mid-October. So what about money raised to support them through independent super PACs, which this year are largely functioning as extensions of the official campaigns? (That concept has gotten little traction.)

Probably not, since when you are being attacked as the Party of Plutocrats which has corrupted American politics to the core via championship of unlimited and sometimes secret campaign contributions, you probably don't want to give big donors more say over the nominating process than they already have.

If I were them I'd just bite the bullet and say that in this day and age, with dozens of men in the running, no presidential primary debate is complete without a woman on the stage. But horrors!--that might look like Affirmative Action.

I don't think it's too cynical to assume that all the lavish praise Fiorina has been getting from Republicans in the early stages of the Invisible Primary is intended to make her credible enough to include in debates. But that may take 2% of the vote in some polls, and she's probably not close to that just yet.


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