June 8, 2015

Media Wants an Actual Democratic Primary So Badly They are Dreaming of 1968

  10:00 am

There’s going to be a brokered convention next summer, ladies and gentlemen — but not on the Republican side of things where 16 candidates are vying for the nomination. No, the Democrats will be the ones going to multiple ballots to select their candidate!

So go the latest wistful pinings of a bored media.

If politics abhors a vacuum, then political media abhors one even more — and all the Democratic primary has been thus far is one giant vacuum. Hillary Clinton is leading the race by 40 or 50 points, the largest lead in modern history for a “competitive” primary. She’s got reporters running around ignominiously trying to catch a Scooby Doo van and doing stories on her orders at fast food restaurants. In the midst of summer boredom, some journalists are beginning to indulge their fantasies: what if something huge and exciting happened in the Democratic primary? What if 2016 was like 1968?

The guilty parties range from The Daily Beast to TIME to the Dallas Morning News to The American Thinker. Chuck Todd poured fuel on the fire last week when he postulated that if Bernie Sanders could “flirt with 40%” in Iowa or New Hampshire, “all of a sudden it is Gene McCarthy territory,” referencing that 1968 race.

For our younger readers, a brief synopsis of the 1968 race is in order. Lyndon Johnson was President and was running for a second (full) term. As a sitting president, nobody else in the Democratic Party wanted to challenge him, and it was assumed he would coast to the nomination. Many big names chose to sit out the race rather than square off against Johnson, including Bobby Kennedy. The only challenger who stepped forward was Eugene McCarthy, an avowed anti-war Senator who ran to Johnson’s left. The Vietnam War was easily the largest single issue in the campaign and increasingly became a problem for Johnson, who was ramping up military action while many in the Democratic Party wanted him to end the war all together. The Tet Offensive, which occurred during the primary campaign, was a major blow to Johnson’s hopes.

McCarthy, who was expected to pull around 15-20% of the vote against Johnson in New Hampshire, instead surprised everyone with 42% when the votes were counted. Johnson still won the state with 49%, but the damage was done: Johnson was no longer perceived as inevitable. If McCarthy could come so close, what could a more serious candidate do? At this, Bobby Kennedy changed his mind and decided to run. Johnson, seeing the writing on the wall and not wanting to lose a primary as a sitting president, dropped out. His vice president, Hubert Humphrey, then jumped in the race, and it became a three man contest between McCarthy, Kennedy, and Humphrey.

Of course, Robert Kennedy was tragically assassinated after winning the California primary later that summer, leaving Humphrey and McCarthy to battle in Chicago for the party’s nomination. The Democratic National Convention in Chicago that year became famous for the violent police/protester riots and the corrupt politics of the Daley machine. In the end, Humphrey secured the nomination and lost to Richard Nixon in the general election.

So yes, 1968 was an exciting race for journalists to cover, and there are some parallels you could draw to 2016. Hillary Clinton is seen as inevitable. Nobody wants to jump in and challenge her, except for a far-left Senator who nobody expects to win. The media fawns over candidates who aren’t running, such as Elizabeth Warren, just like they did with Robert Kennedy. Maybe if Bernie Sanders exposes Hillary Clinton’s weakness, somebody like Warren (or Biden) might jump in the race and end up making a contest of this thing after all!

It’s incredible to me that the press would be yearning for a race so chock full of tragedy and ugliness. But even setting aside the assassination, the riots, and the corrupt Chicago politics for a moment, let’s just call this what it is: wishful thinking by a bored press. The race on the Democratic side is as exciting as it’s going to get. Members of the press have been relegated to the position of van chasers for the next eight months. Hillary Clinton is an incredibly weak candidate, but the Clintons own the Democratic Party in ways Johnson could only dream. That’s the reason stronger candidates like Ed Rendell, Mark Warner, Evan Bayh, Andrew Cuomo, and Elizabeth Warren chose not to run. Hillary was able to put into practice what Jeb famously flopped at: clearing the field — because Jeb relied on free market tactics (shock and awe) while Hillary relied on political strong arm tactics. Any of those candidates listed above would have been much tougher for the Republicans to match up against, but because Hillary Clinton felt it was her turn and she deserved the White House, she was able to convince all of them to sit this one out. The one mainstream candidate who did choose to run, Martin O’Malley, already finds himself as the loneliest candidate in the race – shunned by the Democratic Party insiders for daring to challenge Hillary. It would take a lot more than a little scare from Bernie Sanders to make Warren (or anyone else Hillary “convinced” to stay on the sidelines) to pull a Bobby Kennedy and jump in the race. And along those lines, Bernie Sanders and his self-avowed extremism will never approach McCarthy-level results in Iowa or New Hampshire, and so that scare won’t even materialize.

What is fascinating in all of this is the changing roles the Republicans and Democrats are playing in the race for 2016. The Republicans have, for every primary in modern history, nominated the “next in line.” This year, it appears they are prepared to nominate a fresh, exciting face instead. Likewise, the Democrats have, for every primary in modern history, nominated the fresh, exciting insurgent — and look to be prepared to go with the boring, “next in line” frontrunner this time instead. It’s an interesting evolution for both parties, driven by the GOP’s desire to not lose and by the personal ambitions of a powerful Clinton family.

Or, who knows — maybe we will end up with a Jeb Bush vs Elizabeth Warren general election contest after all.


May 27, 2015

The End of the Next-in-Line

  1:28 pm

Rick Santorum will officially enter the race for the Republican nomination later today, and if 2016 followed the pattern of past primary campaigns, he would be the prohibitive frontrunner. But 2016 isn’t, and Santorum isn’t.

It’s a well-worn axiom that the GOP always nominates its “next-in-line,” or, put another way, whoever’s “turn it is” will get the nomination. It started when Reagan came in second to Ford in 1976, then won in 1980. In 1988, George H.W. Bush, who came in second to Reagan in 1980, assumed the nomination. In 1996, Bob Dole, who came in second to Bush in 1988, became the party’s standard bearer. George W. Bush became the first to technically break the mold in 2000, never having run a national campaign before, but his status as the son of a former President helped him fit nicely into the “next-in-line” mantra nicely anyway. In 2008, John McCain, who came in second to Bush in 2000, became the nominee. And in 2012, Mitt Romney, who came in second to McCain, won the nomination.

So it’s all there, more or less in black-and-white: whoever comes in second during a competitive Republican primary becomes the party’s nominee the next time around.

But rules were made to be broken – especially rules regarding politics. Rick Santorum placed second to Mitt Romney in 2012, and yet he will not come anywhere close to the nomination this time around. Why? What has transpired to break this decades-old tradition? It boils down to just three things, really: the past, the present, and the future. (That is to say, everything.)

The Past
The 2012 primary campaign was unlike any campaign in recent memory: only one candidate (Governor Romney) was a truly viable candidate, but he left so many GOP voters dissatisfied that the nonviable candidates kept getting propped up, one after the other. It was Mitt and the Munchkins, with the Munchkins filling the role of protest votes. And so we must understand that the eventual votes in Santorum’s column weren’t as much votes for Santorum as they were against Romney. The same cannot be said of Reagan in ’76, Bush in ’80, Dole in ’88, or McCain in ’00. Each of those candidates had something specific that recommended them to the voters; Santorum only had the same thing Gingrich, Cain, Bachmann, and Perry had: he wasn’t Mitt Romney. In other words, there wasn’t a second-place (or third- or fourth-place) candidate in the 2012 primary who was viable on a national level. Santorum placed second by default, not because he was a strong and believable candidate. And so the past is where this tradition begins to fall apart.

The Present
Which brings us to the present: 2016 is promising to be a much different election, but Santorum is much the same (inherently flawed) candidate. In 2016, the polls have all shown that the Republican voters are deeply satisfied with their choices this year. Part of that is due to the large field, but part of it is because frontrunners like Senator Rubio and Governor Walker appeal to a broad spectrum of the party. There is very little room in the 2016 campaign for a protest vote or an “anti-frontrunner” candidate. Meanwhile, although he makes valiant efforts to downplay his positions on social issues, Santorum is still very much The Man With the Google Problem. He appeals to a very narrow subsection of the American electorate, and even a subsection of the Republican party that is rapidly narrowing as well. Even among that narrow slice of voters, he is facing competition from the likes of Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, Bobby Jindal, and other fresh faces in this campaign.

The Future
Which brings us to the future. It used to be that a Republican nomination was built on trust. Go with the candidate you know, the one you’re familiar with from the last go ’round, who won’t surprise you. In fact, Santorum himself makes this argument in his stump speech: “I just think it’s important to nominate somebody that you know and that you trust, because trust is the most important thing,” he says, over and over again. But this election, something different is in the air. After getting mauled by the Obama machine and the Democrats in two straight presidential elections, and seeing the intangible inspiration Obama brought to the American electorate, Republican voters are clamoring the try something new. Something, dare I say… exciting. “He had his shot” has now officially replaced “It’s his turn” in the GOP primary voter lexicon. Finishing second place used to be almost a guarantee of frontrunner status. Now, not only is it not an asset, it has completely transformed into a liability. “Experienced” and “vetted” has become “also-ran” and “has-been”.

Of course, none of this would really matter if it were just about Rick Santorum, but it’s about something larger: a party evolving, learning to embrace the future and the excitement of the unknown, and bucking decades of tradition. That tradition was strong enough to bring John McCain back from the dead in 2008, but it is not powerful enough any longer to make the Sweater Vest relevant in 2016.


November 25, 2014

Mitt Romney, the Adlai Stevenson of the Republican Party

  7:09 pm

Just mention the name Mitt Romney and you’re likely to provoke debates amongst Republicans. I’m not intending to rehash these discussions; they’ve been had multiple times since 2007. What I am trying to do is find the proper place to put Governor Romney within the Republican Party. My love of obscure historical references took me to the 1950’s and I found the historical figure who best parallels Romney at this point; he’s the Republican Party’s Adlai Stevenson.

Governor Stevenson of Illinois was the Democratic nominee in both 1952 and 1956, losing both times in landslides to Dwight D. Eisenhower. In the process though, he gained the affection of much of the Democratic Party. In 1960, despite his two losses, a strong segment of the Democratic Party wanted Stevenson to run again, when it seemed he would have a much better chance of winning. Stevenson did well in national polling throughout the primary season and there was much speculation about his intentions. The Kennedy campaign was just as concerned about Adlai Stevenson as they were with Lyndon Johnson. At the Democratic Convention, Eugene McCarthy electrified the convention with his speech nominating Stevenson, calling him “not the favorite son of any single state, but the favorite son of fifty states” and the prophet of the Democratic Party. The demonstration after Stevenson’s nomination was the most enthusiastic, passionate one of the Convention, lasting close to an hour. Even though he didn’t win the nomination (or come close), it was clear where the heart of the Democratic Party was, if not its head.

The Stevenson comparison is apt for several reasons. First, like Stevenson, Romney is being seen as the man who was right all along about the ineptitude, foolishness and stupidity of the present administration. Romney is seen as the prophet of the Republican Party, especially on foreign policy. Second, there is a faction of the Republican Party that has deep affection for Romney and are stubbornly loyal to him and want him to run for a third time. In the 1950’s the Stevenson people were eggheads, today we have Rombots. Another key similarity is that both Romney and Stevenson were well-known commodities by the time their third presidential election came around and their opponents were all new, relatively untested candidates. We’re comfortable with Romney since he’s been around for a while; we know what to expect with this old commodity. New things are interesting, but also nerve-wracking. As a conservative party, we Republicans don’t do new things with great gusto or without checking if there are other options available.

Finally, and perhaps most poignantly, there is a feeling of “what might have been”. I’m sure many Republicans, including yours truly, believe that Mitt Romney would have made a genuinely good President; certainly better than the incompetent childish whiner who currently occupies the White House. The thought of what a good solid Republican Administration would have brought to the country over the last few years is painful one. Similarly, Adlai Stevenson in his 1956 run came up with a program called the “New America” which helped lay down the foundations for the New Frontier and Great Society. Until 1960, liberal Democrats didn’t know if they would have the chance to implement their policies.

The Stevenson example is one that can give some hope to Romney fans. Stevenson didn’t end up becoming the Democratic nominee, but he remained a senior statesman within the party and would become Jack Kennedy’s UN Ambassador. He became America’s voice internationally during the Berlin Crisis and Cuban Missile Crisis. Stevenson would not become President but he did become a widely admired statesman, and that’s not too bad of a legacy to have.


And So Begins the Race for 2016: The Timing of it All Edition

  11:38 am

The media has already begun asking when the first candidates will announce for the 2016 primaries. Ben Carson’s “introduction ad” a couple weekends ago did little to quiet the fervor, and every time a reporter comes within a hundred yards of one of the 37 potential 2016 hopefuls, the first question asked is, “Are you going to run for President?”

Of course, the media is out in front of this story a little early and they, along with the rest of us, will be waiting for several months before anything official happens (although reading the tea leaves between now and then is a fantastically fun hobby). Historically speaking,  the stream of candidacy announcements begins in February. First, the candidates with low name recognition (to the rest of the country, not to us armchair pundits) will jump in. Following that, the heavyweights (one of whom will actually win the nomination) will jump in sometime around April, and finally a wave of white knights who purport to rescue the voters from the shortcomings of the field will enter the fray at the end of summer/beginning of fall. It’s the way every cycle in recent history has played out, and there’s no reason to think this year will be any different.

Of course, candidates in the 2008 primaries bought into the media hype and the 24/7 social-media-soaked atmosphere and began announcing in January. (One candidate, Duncan Hunter, even announced before the midterm elections in October 2006.) Recognizing that the early announcements made the primary season drag on far too long, however, the 2012 primaries became the latest-starting primaries in recent history, not getting the first official candidate until March. My guess is that the 2016 race will snap back to historical averages and begin again in February.

But then what? A presidential primary campaign does not appear out of thin air. It takes a lot of work, a lot of managing, and a lot of planning to pull it off. The well-prepared candidates understand this and approach the calendar appropriately.

Three Act Play

There’s an old axiom in politics that the voters don’t really start paying attention until Labor Day. Understanding that, then, we can roughly divide the primary calendar into three sections: pre-Memorial Day, Memorial Day to Labor Day, and post-Labor Day.

Every candidate will approach these three divisions a little differently based on their needs. But let’s begin with the heavyweight establishment candidates who will announce around April as a starting point for our discussion. Those candidates will generally attempt to follow what Mitt Romney most recently successfully pulled off in the 2012 primaries:

  1. Pre-Memorial Day: Use this time to build your campaign team. Put the framework in place, fill it with talent, grease up the machine, and get ready to push the start button. This first phase is when you plant field offices, meet with early backers and surrogates, and most importantly, hire talent. At this early stage, the most important thing to do is build a lasting framework that will carry you through the next year and a half — and which will not require your attention during the crazier, busier seasons to come.
  2. Memorial Day to Labor Day: Normal people don’t pay attention to politics during the summer months, so once you have a campaign framework in place take this time to do as many fundraisers as humanly possible. This is your chance to build a warchest with which to dispatch your opponents once the race begins in earnest. Lay low, don’t oversaturate, and fund that campaign.
  3. Post-Labor Day: Campaign, campaign, campaign. This is when people start paying attention, so this is when you start introducing yourself to them. Media blitzes, interviews, ad buys, and public campaign stops in early primary and caucus states all start now and do not end until you bow out of or win the race.

These three phases might seem pretty obvious, but they’re not for many candidates. Without a long-term plan like this is place, many candidates will attempt to do all three things (campaign structure, fundraising, and campaigning) all at the same time, ending up doing none of the well. Additionally, many candidates will waste time holding public events and campaigning during the summer months, then enter the post-Labor Day race woefully low on funds (meaning they cannot campaign as much during the most important portion of the race because they will be fundraising) or having peaked too early with no way to continue momentum (see Romney, 2008).

Of course, none of these are hard and fast phases. They bleed together — every candidate will do some fundraisers during each stage, for instance, to keep the coffers from going empty. And media outlets will have dollar signs and ratings charts in their eyes, scheduling primary debates whenever they can throughout the calendar. But as a good general rule of thumb, sketching out a campaign according to that calendar is what leads to a successful nomination attempt.

What of the candidates with low name recognition or low national stature? These three phases illustrate why little-known candidates generally do not do well in a primary election: they are more or less forced to commit the cardinal sin of the calendar and focus on all three phases at once, beginning in February. They will be dividing their time for the entire campaign between building their structure, fundraising, and campaigning. Nobody knows who they are, so they have to do public campaigning and ad buys and events before they have had a chance to lay down a campaign structure or do serious fundraising. They don’t have an automatic “in” with the top-tier campaign staff talent, so they have to expend more energy finding quality staff . And because they have to start their campaign two months before more well-known candidates, they rack up two months’ worth of extra bills they have to find a way to pay. They are at a disadvantage nearly from square one of the entire process.

One way to overcome some of that disadvantage is to use the time leading up to a formal announcement to do some of the behind-the-scenes structure work. Ted Cruz, for example, is already meeting with potential staff and beginning to lay the very rough framework for a campaign. Other candidates hire staff through their existing PACs, who will later transition onto the candidates’ campaigns. However, there is a thin line, legally speaking, near which potential hopefuls dance while doing this: campaign laws strictly dictate what you can and cannot do before you officially announce a candidacy.

Finally,  this calendar strategy also explains why White Knights — those who swoop in at the last minute to “save” the voters from the current crop of candidates — also have not fared well in recent history. Orrin Hatch, who tried to play the role of the white knight in 2000 after publicly decrying the field’s lack of experience, famously explained why white knight candidacies simply do not work: “I got in too late. I regret having not gotten in earlier. I think it would have made a difference. To be honest with you, most every Republican was taken by the time. I don’t think you can do it in a six-month campaign. I think I’ve proven that.”

Believe it or not, it takes a lot more than a group of supporters who say they will vote for you to win the nomination contest of a major political party. It takes months and months of sustained effort: thousands of volunteers and campaign staff, tens of thousands of feet of office space, hundreds of phones and copiers and pens and notebooks… it requires asking people for money to the tune of $50 million or more… and it requires more hand-shaking, baby-kissing, name-remembering, debate-preparing and speech-making than any human being can do.

Over all of that, a successful candidate will lay out a schedule and control the timing of it all as much as possible.

Get out the popcorn: it will likely all begin in February.


November 8, 2014

Back to Normalcy: the 2016 Election

  2:35 pm

Hi everyone, it’s been a while, but I’ve been working for the government and there pretty strict rules about what you can and can’t do via politics, but regardless, I’m back. The 2014 Election was a fantastic result for the Grand Old Party, better than pretty much everyone expected. We now control the House and Senate, the majority of Governorships, and the majority of State Legislatures. With the exception of the Executive Branch, the Republican Party is now the dominant party in government. While all of this is a very, very good thing, our focus now shifts to 2016 and who should lead our Party into the next presidential election. I’m not going to advocate for a candidate, at least not in this post, but rather, try to answer a question that any candidate will have to answer; what does America want in a President in 2016?

After six years of President Obama, the prevailing mood is that nothing in government functions. From the IRS to the VA to Obamacare, things just don’t work as they should. Our foreign policy is a mess that pleases no one, and the public’s frustration with Congress was evident in the results on Tuesday. The 2000’s have been a tumultuous decade and a half, and the public is getting tired of it. They want government to do what it’s supposed to do without bankrupting the country or having catastrophic failures. They want the US to be tough and respected, without being in a seemingly constant state of war. Fair or not, the public wants some peace and quiet.

In 1920, after two decades of Progressive reform and a cataclysmic World War, the public was in a cranky mood. They were sick of Woodrow Wilson, the Democratic Party, and progressivism of all types. For the 1920 Election, the Republicans nominated Warren G. Harding, who declared during the primaries that the American people wanted “normalcy”. He and Calvin Coolidge promised to end the relentless progressivism of the last twenty years and not become bogged down in post-WWI Europe or Wilson’s League of Nations. The Democratic nominee, Governor James Cox, promised more progressivism and active involvement in the League of Nations. Harding and the Republicans won in a crushing landslide, taking 60% of the vote.

While not exact, the parallels between 2016 and 1920 are worth looking at, and a candidate who, like Harding, promises a return to normalcy will be a very appealing choice for the electorate to look at. If the Clinton machine is smart (and like them or loathe them, they aren’t stupid people), they’ll bring up nostalgia for the 1990’s, a time remember as one of relative peace and prosperity, as the basis for electing Hillary Clinton. This’ll be complicated by the left-ward drift of the Democratic Party that having elected Barack Obama from the left, will not be as willing to follow a centrist, Clintonian electoral model, but the Clinton’s will make the case nonetheless.

A longing for normalcy and stability does provide an opening for the Republican candidates. A Republican who can look at the electorate and say “I can get things working, I can make government functioning again” will have a lot of appeal. Soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell struck the perfect tone when he said there would be no more government shutdowns or a prolonged crisis over the debt-ceiling; the public has no appetite for that sort of thing. Before we can start making the case to the American people about what parts of government we want to reduce or roll back, we have to make the case that we can make the government itself function. If our candidate can make a convincing case to the electorate that they will do that, our victory on Tuesday might just be foretaste of a greater win in 2016.


July 4, 2014

Poll Watch: Quinnipiac Presidential Survey

  11:21 am

Quinnipiac Presidential Poll

Thinking about the United States Presidents we have had since World War II, which one would you consider the best president?

  • Ronald Reagan 35% (28%)
  • Bill Clinton 18% (25%)
  • John Kennedy 15% (18%)
  • Barack Obama 8%
  • Dwight Eisenhower 5% (5%)
  • Harry Truman 4% (7%)
  • Lyndon Johnson 3% (1%)
  • George Bush Sr. 3% (2%)
  • Jimmy Carter 2% (5%)
  • George W. Bush 1% (3%)
  • Gerald Ford 1% (1%)
  • Richard Nixon 1% (1%)

Among Men

  • Ronald Reagan 37% (36%)
  • Bill Clinton 18% (23%)
  • John Kennedy 14% (14%)
  • Dwight Eisenhower 6% (5%)
  • Harry Truman 6% (8%)
  • Barack Obama 6%
  • Lyndon Johnson 4% (1%)
  • George Bush Sr. 2% (2%)
  • Jimmy Carter 2% (4%)
  • George W. Bush 1% (2%)
  • Richard Nixon 1% (1%)
  • Gerald Ford 0% (0%)

Among Women

  • Ronald Reagan 33% (20%)
  • Bill Clinton 18% (28%)
  • John Kennedy 15% (21%)
  • Barack Obama 10%
  • George Bush Sr. 4% (3%)
  • Dwight Eisenhower 4% (5%)
  • Harry Truman 4% (6%)
  • Jimmy Carter 3% (5%)
  • Lyndon Johnson 2% (1%)
  • George W. Bush 1%
  • Gerald Ford 1% (1%)
  • Richard Nixon 1% (1%)

Which of these twelve presidents we have had since World War II would you consider the worst president?

  • Barack Obama 33%
  • George W. Bush 28% (34%)
  • Richard Nixon 13% (17%)
  • Jimmy Carter 8% (13%)
  • Lyndon Johnson 3% (4%)
  • Bill Clinton 3% (16%)
  • Ronald Reagan 3% (3%)
  • Gerald Ford 2% (2%)
  • George Bush Sr. 2% (3%)
  • Dwight Eisenhower 1% (0%)
  • John Kennedy 0% (1%)
  • Harry Truman 0% (1%)

Among Men

  • Barack Obama 34%
  • George W. Bush 26% (33%)
  • Jimmy Carter 11% (18%)
  • Richard Nixon 11% (15%)
  • Lyndon Johnson 4% (5%)
  • Ronald Reagan 4% (3%)
  • Gerald Ford 3% (2%)
  • Bill Clinton 2% (14%)
  • George Bush Sr. 1% (3%)
  • Dwight Eisenhower 0% (0%)
  • John Kennedy 0% (1%)
  • Harry Truman 0% (1%)

Among Women

  • Barack Obama 32%
  • George W. Bush 30% (35%)
  • Richard Nixon 15% (18%)
  • Jimmy Carter 6% (8%)
  • Lyndon Johnson 3% (4%)
  • Bill Clinton 3% (18%)
  • Ronald Reagan 3% (3%)
  • George Bush Sr. 2% (4%)
  • Dwight Eisenhower 1% (0%)
  • Gerald Ford 0% (2%)
  • John Kennedy 0% (1%)
  • Harry Truman 0% (1%)

Survey of 1,446 registered voters was conducted June 24-30, 2014. The margin of error is +/- 2.6 percentage points. Party ID: 31% Democrat; 26% Republican; 35% Independent. Results from the poll conducted May 23-30, 2006 are in parentheses.

Data compilation and analysis courtesy of The Argo Journal


June 25, 2014

Is Hillary An Historically Weak Frontrunner?

  4:41 pm

This is the second time Hillary Clinton has been the prohibitive frontrunner for her party’s nomination for president. This time (in contrast to 2007-08) she seems even stronger in the polls. Amazingly, this time she does not yet seem to have a significant challenger, and most commentators on both the left and the right seem ready to concede her the nomination.

And yet, there is a recurring and very persistent negative aura about her candidacy, based on her record, her health, and most importantly, her performance so far as the putative choice of the national Democratic Party.

Her new book, and its accompanying book tour/appearances, have been a public relations disaster, the exact opposite for which it was intended. Rumors, and I stress that they are so far just rumors, about the state of her health abound in the media, and not just in the hostile conservative media.

It is not even an unspoken truth that the primary energy of her candidacy is that she would be the first woman president. That is certainly not necessarily a bad motive; in fact, it is a good thing that we break down barriers to the highest office in the nation. We have already had the first Catholic president and the first black president. It is only a matter of time when we have the first woman president, the first Jewish president and the first Hispanic president. But surely, religion, race or ethnicity should not be the primary or only qualification for president.

I will not here enter a detailed discussion of the quality and performance of her experience and preparation for the presidency. It is unquestionably much greater than that of the current White House occupant when he first ran in 2008. On the other hand, it is very controversial.

As for her health, she must convincingly persuade the public that she is able to endure the punishing pressure and schedule of the presidency. The days of hiding health problems of presidents and those who seek the presidency surely must be over. Going back to President Grover Cleveland’s secret cancer operation in the late 19th century, President Woodrow Wilson’s dehabilitating stroke early in the 20th century, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s rapid physical decline in his third term twenty years later, President John F. Kennedy’s secret (almost always) fatal case of Addison’s Disease forty years later, and President Reagan’s perhaps onset Alzheimer’s at the very end of his second term, these pathologies did nothing but diminish their presidencies.

Since that time, the daily demands of the presidency have only increased manifold. Whatever one thinks of President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama, each of them were vigorous and in good health. For the period from January, 2017 to the next four and eight years, the executive challenges, and the physical stress, for the next president will likely be even greater than ever before.

Hillary Clinton has no visible individual challenger in her party with a year and a half to go before the actual next presidential contest begins.

Her primary opponent so far seems to be herself.

Copyright (c) 2014 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.


March 29, 2014

Romney Redux?

  2:04 pm

There are a number of serious Republicans interested in running for president, at this early point, in two years.

Some of them, such as Senators Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio don’t seem to have a broad enough base that would enable them to win the nomination, but they have motivated and vocal supporters, and if they run, they will be notable factors in the Republican primaries and caucuses.

Others, including Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee and Rick Perry might be seen as figures of the past, and might not run (although Governor Perry is making serious noises about another run in 2016).

2012 vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, Governors Susana Martinez, Scott Walker, Bobby Jindal, and John Kasich are frequently mentioned, but have yet to indicate their serious interest in 2016.

The two figures who would probably be frontrunners, Governor Chris Christie and former Governor Jeb Bush, have current political problems to overcome (although it is more likely than not that one of these two men will be the GOP nominee).

On the other hand, if the field is large, the primaries and caucuses very bitter, AND the frontrunners falter, the resulting stalemate might propel forward a name which has not really been mentioned seriously, 2012 nominee Mitt Romney, back into contention.

Romney was perhaps the wrong candidate for 2012 because his persona played into the negative Democratic media campaign that year, and because he did not, at the end, assemble as competitive campaign as did Barack Obama. But 2016 promises a very different political environment. After two terms of Mr. Obama, the voters may be weary of any Democrat (as they were in 2008 of any Republican). We must await the results of the 2014 midterm elections to draw more precise and verified conclusions, but Obamacare almost alone seems to be moving the electorate to the GOP, and threatening to ruin the Democratic Party brand for years to come.

In spite of withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, changing our approach to the Middle East by diminishing our long alliance with Israel in a trade-off for (so-far) feckless relationships with other players in the region, and reducing our military and defenses, Mr. Obama’s numbers are very low in polls about his performance in foreign policy. He has been out-dueled so far in his relationship with Russian President Putin. His first term secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, is the presumptive nominee of the Democratic Party in 2016, but, although she will surely try to do so, it might be difficult for her to separate herself from Mr. Obama and her own actions (including her “re-set” with Russia) when working for him. (Remember Hubert Humphrey attempting to do this in 1968?)

Mr. Romney’s assertion that Russia and Mr. Putin were a major problem for the U.S., an assertion he made in the 2012 campaign, and subsequently ridiculed by Mr. Obama, looks rather prescient these days. So do many of his views on the domestic issues he ran on in 2012.

Only twice in the past 100 years has a defeated Republican presidential nominee been renominated by his party. Thomas Dewey lost in 1944, and lost again in 1948. Richard Nixon lost in 1960, but won in 1968 (and again in 1972).

In spite of his recent public visibility, there are no indications that Mitt Romney is even thinking about running again in 2016, nor under present circumstances, would he be considered a serious candidate. But in spite of the large number of major GOP candidates, the Republican field is not yet in focus for one of them to win the nomination.

Considering Mr. Romney’s stature, it is not without some curious interest to speculate, and it’s only speculation, that, in certain circumstances, he might resolve a GOP convention stalemate, or even earlier, return to the campaign field.

I’m just saying.


-Copyright (c) by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.


February 4, 2014

Obama and Executive Orders

  9:27 pm

Hello, everyone! This marks my first post here at Race in quite some time – almost a year and a half!. Since then, my wife and I welcomed our first child, our daughter Emma. I’m doing my best to add her to the list of conservatives in America!

I wanted to return here to post a few thoughts regarding executive orders, which became the topic of the day after last week’s State of the Union address.

Predictably, the news reports about the President seeking to give executive orders a more central place in his second term agenda prompted exclamations of disapproval from Tea Party-affiliated Republican elected officials and figures. Amid all the heated rhetoric, as is my wont, I got to thinking, what do the data say? Has Obama really turned to executive orders more than his predecessors?

To investigate, I consulted the American President Project, of the University of California at Santa Barbara. This handy resource lists the numbers of executive orders for each commander-in-chief in the nation’s history.

In order to make the administrations analyzed as comparable as possible, I limited myself to presidents after WWII, due to the degree to which the government’s size and scope increased during the war (to make a long story short, I figured you couldn’t exactly compare pre- to post-war administrations). I started by charting the total count of executive orders by term (click to expand):


At first glance, a couple points jump out: Carter and LBJ “lead” the way, by large margins, and our two most recent Presidents score relatively low, in contrast to what we’ve heard from members of their opposing parties.

However, simple total order counts by term overlook an important factor of their differences: lengths of terms. For example, remember how LBJ “won” first place in the previous chart? Well, the American Presidency Project and I counted his entire administration, which lasted over five years, as one term. On the other end of the spectrum, Gerald Ford looks rather tame in the first graph, but he only occupied the Oval Office for about two and a half years. So, in an effort to somewhat normalize the numbers, I divided the totals by the years of each term:


This perspective pulls Carter into the “lead” and makes short-term presidents like the aforementioned Ford and JFK appear more active with their powers.

But what if we simply want to compare across presidencies at a high level? To enable this, I just added up the total order count for each president and then divided it by their total number of years in office. I would argue that this provides the “most normalized” perspective of the three in this post. The results:


So, what final takeaways does this exercise provide? Well, first and foremost, Obama and Bush have the lowest numbers of all! I’ll say that again: even though we’ve heard partisan Republicans and Democrats respectively affix terms like “imperial presidencies” to our 44th and 43rd commanders-in-chief, they each signed fewer executive orders than every recent predecessor in their parties! Now, one can certainly argue that executive order totals fail to encompass the breadth of the expanding powers of the presidency. For example, a recent Politico article cited estimates of the economic impacts of the regulations enacted by the Obama administration, which far outnumber those of Bush 43 and Clinton. However, specifically on executive orders, the data paint a far different picture than we’ve been led to believe.

Secondly, executive orders have actually become less, not more, prevalent in recent decades; after topping out at an average of 80 per year under Carter, the number declined to 47.6 under Reagan, down to 33.6 under Obama. This, too, conflicts with conventional wisdom.

Now that we’ve walked through some of the cold, hard numbers, I’d like to add my take on the topic.

With the Obama administration’s frustration at perceived obstructionism by Republicans in Congress, punctuated by last year’s partial government shutdown, it should come as little surprise that the president would choose to unilaterally enact as much of his agenda as possible, for both personal and political reasons.

On the personal side, this is a man who quite clearly views himself as an agent of change, as a progressive in the modern sense of the term.

Politically, he owes a significant amount of his support to voters who profess a desire for the government to act, regardless of historical or constitutional precedence. Well-versed in details of constitutional law they are not (neither am I!); emotionally frustrated (with the current state of affairs in America) and/or ideologically passionate they are. Of course, these are generalizations, but I think we can safely say the Americans who voted for President Obama in 2008 and/or 2012 would allow, if asked, that they want the government to “do something” to address the issues important to them. As such, in order to serve these individuals, it makes rational sense for the President to “go it alone”, if possible, to “get things done”.

As for my opinion? I accept that the structure of the United States government naturally leads to slow changes and processes. Indeed, the founders likely wanted it this way, as many right-of-center voices have explained. And as someone inclined toward pragmatism and incremental change, I know I prefer it this way. Thus, any reversal of the downward trend in executive order frequency would concern me.

So, in the end, I’ll hold out hope that the aftermath of the President’s tough talk in his State of the Union comes to resemble what we typically hear about executive orders – more bark than bite, more rhetoric than reality.

This article originally appeared on Anthony’s personal blog, DatabyDalke.wordpress.com. You can find Anthony on Twitter, at @DatabyDalke.


August 11, 2013

Trump, Sister Souljah and the GOP

  6:03 pm

This morning brought news that should make every Republican who actually wants to win in 2016 groan; Donald Trump is talking once again about running for President.

Of course, this is an old game for Trump, who has been flirting with running for President since at least 2000 (he wanted to run with Ross Perot’s Reform Party back then). Trump has proven to be nothing if not good at publicity-seeking. The media, either out of a desire to embarrass the GOP or attracted to Trump like people are attracted to a car crash (or a bit of both), even gave him an interview on ABC News. It was about as useful as you’d expect, with Trump not only raising the Birther nonsense about President Obama, but also about Senator Ted Cruz as well. In short, it was nothing short of an embarrassment for all involved.

While the idea of Trump clogging up the airwaves by mulling, but never actually pulling the trigger on running for President is enough to give us a stomach ache, this could be a real opportunity for one of the potential GOP candidates. It has been a mistake I believe for the GOP and the conservative media to give any sort of credibility to Trump. He’s a circus clown; colorful, attention-grabbing, but ultimately not worth much and he should be treated as such. One of the candidates running for President needs to, with as much publicity as possible, tear into Trump, the Birthers, and others who would use the serious business of running for President as a self-promotional exercise. These people are not entertaining, they are deeply damaging to an already damaged Republican brand. We have no need for carnival barkers when trying to decide who should be the leader of the free world.

We’ve seen what needs to be done before. Back in 1992, Bill Clinton, running as a “New Democrat” attacked the musician Sister Souljah over her comments on the LA Riots. This was immediately picked up on by the press as Clinton showing a willingness to take on a representative of an extreme faction in his party. Now, Sister Souljah was a trivial figure of minimal importance, but the symbol of a Democrat willing to take her (and by extension folks like Jesse Jackson) was a great message for a Party desperate to show that it had changed. The now famous “Sister Souljah Moment” was critical in establishing the idea that the Democrats of 1992 were different from 1984 or 1988.

Who should be the one to call out Trump and his ilk? Really, it could be anyone of the 2016 prospects. Christie seems the most likely to do it, given his personality and persona. Someone like Paul Ryan might do it, given his reputations as an intellectual leader of the Party. Marco Rubio could do it too in order to curry favor with the more moderate wing of the Party. One of the lesser-known possible contenders, like Governors Walker or Jindal might do it to try and get some publicity. But I believe that the two gentlemen who would do themselves the most favors in denouncing Trump would be Rand Paul and Ted Cruz. Both Senators have their own problems with being seen as rigidly ideological and perhaps willing to tolerate some of the more rabid folks in their own fan base. If Sens. Paul or Cruz were to stand up and publicly denounce Trump in no uncertain terms, they could reap a lot of publicity as well as surprise the press and others within the Party. It would signal that they are more than just rigid ideologues. It would also show that they are serious about advancing their ideology without having clowns like Trump associated with it.

The appearance of Trump on the GOP presidential scene is a bad reoccurring headache that sprouts up every couple of years. In the past, the GOP has made the mistake of indulging the publicity-seeking mogul. I believe that the time has come for someone in the Party to stand up and say “enough is enough”. With any luck, one of the gentlemen wanting to lead our Party into the next election will be the first one to do it.


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