July 22, 2015

Trump Rules Out Third Party Run, Says “I Will Only Ever Run as a Republican”

Donald Trump called into Dana Loesch’s show on The Blaze last night for an interview with the conservative talk show host which touched on topics ranging from Planned Parenthood to the VA. Trump more or less gave predictable answers to all the questions — except for one.

When Dana Loesch asked Donald Trump about the possibility of running third party, The Donald categorically ruled it out, saying:

“I will only ever run as a Republican.”

This statement is (as Trump would say) yoooge — it is the first time he has ruled out a third party run, and his response flies in the face of conventional wisdom. Many armchair politicos, myself included, assumed that everything in Trump’s disastrous candidacy to this point was a setup for him to run on a third party ticket. If Trump keeps his word now, it appears the GOP can breathe a sigh of relief. Of course, that’s a big if, considering the fact Trump has changed his position on, oh, pretty much everything in the past. For now, though, the GOP’s task is twofold: first, manage Trump’s inevitable deflation (or crash) well enough to where he doesn’t change his mind about running third party; and secondly, to mitigate the damage done by Trump in the meantime.

  11:28 am
Donald Trump, Republican Party, Third Parties  

July 11, 2015

Trump Or No Trump?

The current news/polling bubble for businessman Donald Trump is just that, a bubble that will burst.

On the other hand, some of what he is saying is serious, notwithstanding the liberal media allegations that he is politically “incorrect.”

Mr. Trump is a smart man, and a successful figure in business. He also, as is plain to see, a man of unquenchable ego with a desire for capacious media attention.

Until the Republican presidential debates begin, his bubble will continue to float in the hot summer air. No GOP rival, except for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, can match Mr. Trump for media-grabbing skills.

Mr. Trump is likely to make the cut-off for the first GOP debate in Cleveland. With fifteen announced or imminently to announce competitors, the conservative field is overlarge and currently confusing to most grass roots voters. Some more serious candidates, such as Governor John Kasich of Ohio, businesswoman Carly Fiorina, or Governor Christie might not make the cut-off (although they will be invited to a “second tier” debate in Cleveland that will precede the main debate).

Being a very rich man, Donald Trump can self-fund his campaign, and is evidently doing so. Most of his rivals are currently spending a great deal of their time fundraising.

Like his left wing Democratic equivalent, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Mr. Trump has the temporary advantage of being much more interesting to the media than his opponents. Lacking truly serious rivals in the Democratic contest, Hillary Clinton continues to maintain a substantial, albeit shrinking, lead for her party’s nomination. Senator Sanders also is enjoying a bubble, but he will not be the Democratic nominee. It would take the entry of Vice President Joe Biden, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo or Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren to actually change the chemistry of the Democratic contest, and so far, only Mr. Biden seems a likely entry.

But Senator Sanders’ current success is a genuine signal to Democratic strategists about how liberal grass roots voters feel, and so is the current bubble of Donald Trump a useful signal about how conservative grass roots voters

In Mr. Trump’s case, I think the energy he provokes comes less from his conservatism (he does not fit a conservative mold and has often supported Democratic candidates with cash), and more from his outspokenness. Some GOP party officials apparently think he is upsetting the proverbial apple cart, and want him to tone down his public comments. He has no intention of doing so.

The liberal media know a foil when they see one, and their attention is also fueled by Mr. Trump’s use to them for attacking the Republican Party.

Through his name I.D. and self-spending, Mr. Trump might even have some early successes when the voting begins and polling actually means something, but he is not going to be president, much less his party’s nominee.

As Governor Christie, now down in the polls but likely to rise dramatically when the campaign begins in earnest, knows, the voters in 2016 , be they left, right or center, thirst for a presidential candidate who speaks out honestly, plainly and lucidly about the vital and troubling issues facing the nation.

The man or woman who can do that, and also persuade voters he or she can perform well as president, will be the one who will succeed next November. No bubble will be enough.

Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

June 18, 2015

Trump Circus Won’t Hurt the GOP

Donald Trump announced his candidacy for the GOP presidential nomination and the circus officially began.

No doubt, the Republican establishment would’ve preferred that this circus would take place on the other side – or that it would once again end before it begins. But the doomsday warnings of pundits like Chuck Todd and Phillip Klein are way overblown.

By the time the 2016 general election race will be underway, the former Trump candidacy will be anything from an irrelevancy to a net positive for the GOP and its nominee.

Trump’s wealth, name ID and colorful nature will earn him lots of media attention as long as he’s in the race, and also, embarrassingly, prime space on the GOP debate stage. The Donald will likely resonate – to quote Rush Limbaugh – with some angry, populist segment of the primary electorate that can be convinced that he isn’t a self serving politician and that he says what he thinks. No doubt, some GOP voters will love his tough talk and wild accusations such as that the majority of immigrants are criminals and have other “problems.”

Nevertheless, despite the valiant efforts of the Democrats and their cohorts, Trump’s shenanigans won’t do lasting damage to the GOP, as did the wacky things said by people like Todd Akin.

Unlike Akin and company, Donald Trump has never been nominated by the GOP for as much as a town council seat, and never will be. He never had and never will have support from the party establishment. It’s hard to know just how badly Trump will fare in the primaries, but it’s safe to say that he’ll be soundly rejected by GOP voters, despite all his noise and early pockets of support.

Some are warning that Trump may do as well as Ross Perot did in a one-time fluke, but, in 2012, Trump dropped like a rock in the polls the more he was in the spotlight. At the end of the day, GOP primary voters have soundly rejected even far more credible out-of-the-mainstream presidential candidates in recent years.  Based on his track record, l wouldn’t be surprised if Trump drops out before the first votes are cast once he realizes he’ll lose big.

Will a candidate who never won a GOP nomination, and was soundly rejected by the GOP establishment and voters, reflect negatively on the party in the eyes of swing voters?


If Ron Paul – a longtime GOP congressman who did relatively well in the primaries and caucuses – wasn’t an albatross on the necks of John McCain and Mitt Romney, Donald Trump won’t be an albatross on anyone – let alone many months after he’s out of the race. No swing voter thought that Ron Paul represented the GOP, and they won’t think that Trump does either.

Should Trump remain in the race for the early states, he may actually do the mainstream GOP a big favor. Voters attracted to his harsh rhetoric on President Obama, immigration, trade and other red meat issues would’ve supported another strident candidate in lieu of Mr. Trump.

I haven’t seen any polling data on this yet, but it’s probable that Trump would disproportionately siphon off voters from candidates like Ben Carson and Ted Cruz, perhaps even Rand Paul. These are all far saner and more credible candidates that the GOP establishment prefers would not win the nomination, or even be seen by swing voters as the face of the party. If Trump’s dollars and flamboyance minimize the traction these candidates would gain, the establishment wing – Jeb, Rubio, Walker and co. –will be a lot stronger.

In the interim, let’s all sit back and enjoy the entertainment.

Simon Blum is a freelance journalist and marketing copywriter. Follow Simon on Twitter @sbpundit.

  6:00 am
Donald Trump, Republican Party  

June 15, 2015

Walker to Announce July 13

We made it through the Gauntlet of Longshot Announcements a couple weeks ago, with Santorum, Pataki, Graham, and Perry all announcing within a week of one another. Now we’ve had Jeb Bush announce this afternoon, and – in an attempt to cash in on some of the announcement buzz in the media – Scott Walker’s campaign has leaked that Walker will be announcing July 13. This makes Scott Walker and John Kasich almost certainly the final two candidates to announce, rounding out our field of 16. (Side note: when can we expect the marketing campaign of 16 in ’16 to begin?)

With that flurry of activity, it must be time to update the R4’16 Candidacy Tracker so you can keep tabs on this ever-increasing primary field. The fully up-to-date list is below. We’ve removed Peter King and Bob Ehrlich from the list, as they don’t look to be making moves toward running – and, let’s be honest, even if they did at this point their effect on the race would be negligible at best.

March 22 Ted Cruz
April 7 Rand Paul
April 13 Marco Rubio
May 4 Ben Carson
Carly Fiorina
May 5 Mike Huckabee
May 27 Rick Santorum
May 28 George Pataki
June 1 Lindsey Graham
June 4 Rick Perry
June 15 Jeb Bush
June 16 Donald Trump
June 24 Bobby Jindal
Late June or early July Chris Christie
July 13 Scott Walker
Between June 30 & August 6 John Kasich

Not running: Bolton, Martinez, Pence, Portman, Romney, Ryan, Snyder, Thune

Green indicates a candidate who has officially announced.
Yellow indicates a candidate who has begun an exploratory committee.

  6:00 pm
2016, Jeb Bush, Republican Party, Scott Walker  

Romney’s Alliances, His Kingmaking Role, and the Future of the GOP

This past weekend, Mitt Romney invited seven presidential hopefuls to Park City, Utah, for his third annual E2 Conference — an “intimate” summit to get Republican leaders together and talk about the issues of the day. But this get-together also had a more pressing agenda: it was, in essence, an audition to help Romney’s powerful donor network decide who they would back in the race for 2016.

There is a fascinating dynamic taking place in the Republican Party today, and it largely revolves around the Bush family, the Romney family, and the mythical Republican “establishment”. Recall that in the 2012 race, Mitt Romney wasn’t truly an “establishment” candidate — that is, much of the vaunted establishment didn’t support him or did so tepidly. The establishment, remarkably, didn’t have one of their own in the race, with calls to Daniels, Christie, Jeb, Barbour, and others to jump in the race being ignored. The Republican Party, as we’ve explored here before, half-heartedly and begrudgingly got behind Romney.

The side effect of that 2012 dynamic was that Romney was forced to develop his own donor network, and he succeeded wildly in doing so. Spread throughout the business world and the various organizations he’d worked with (and saved) in the past, Romney assembled a top tier group of wealthy donors and supporters. It was this group who was urging Romney to run again in 2016. When he declined, it left them all with a question: who do we support now?

Enter Park City. Not only did Romney invite the presidential hopefuls to his E2 Summit, he also invited upwards of 300 of his top donors. The weekend was filled with speeches from the hopefuls, but more importantly, with down time for the candidates to interact with and woo that massive group of money people. Rubio held a myriad of meetings with donors in his suite throughout the weekend, for instance, and even organized a flag football game with some of them at one point. Three hundred potential donors listened as the candidates laid out their arguments as to why they would be the best candidate — and why they would win.

It would be foolish to think these top donors would act in a monolithic manner and all come out in support of the same candidate; however, besides the individual donors, Romney’s Super PAC, Restore Our Future, is also up for grabs. And the donors are led by Governor Romney, who indicated during the E2 Summit that he would like to see the GOP coalesce around a candidate earlier this time around to avoid the chaos of the 2012 primary. If Romney (or Spencer Zwick, one of the leaders of Romney’s inner circle) indicates a preference for a particular candidate, it’s easy to see a scenario where a vast majority of that donor network jumps on board.

The fascinating dynamic here is that with Romney building an alternative infrastructure in the 2012 race, the GOP essentially has two different — and, to some extent, competing — groups now: the old establishment and the new establishment. The nebulous term “establishment” has never, nor could ever, be specifically defined, but broadly speaking it simply means the mainstream politicians in Washington along with the donor network who backs them. Because of the Bush family dynasty that ruled over GOP politics for several decades, most of the old establishment is comprised of Bush money men and politicians who owe their careers to the Bush family. Springing up alongside that group now, however, is Romney’s new network of money men and politicians who owe him a debt of gratitude (think Kelly Ayotte, Mia Love, Thom Tillis, et al). Because Jeb Bush is running, and because there will obviously be a different Romney-preferred candidate in the 2016 field, these two groups stand to be at odds with one another moving forward. After the 2016 race, it will be interesting to watch and see what becomes of these groups. A lot depends, obviously, on whether Jeb Bush or the Romney-backed candidate wins this year.

Who could that candidate supported by Romney’s New Establishment be? We can look at the guest list for this year’s E2 Summit to get a good idea. These six candidates were who Romney gave the chance to woo his network:

  • Chris Christie
  • Carly Fiorina
  • Lindsey Graham
  • John Kasich
  • Marco Rubio
  • Scott Walker

We know Lindsey Graham has no shot at coming close to the nomination and is turning out to likely be a stalking horse for Marco Rubio — during an interview with Katie Couric at the E2 Summit, Graham even said, “Marco Rubio will be President one day” — so that leaves five candidates for Romney’s New Establishment to consider. Noticeably left off the guest list: legitimate second tier candidates like Huckabee, Cruz, Carson, Jindal, Perry, and Paul. Without the massive heft of the old or new establishment support, it’s highly unlikely those candidates (or any of the other longshots) will get anywhere in this primary campaign.

To buttress the support of his network, Romney is teaming up with an unlikely ally to try and make this as painless of a primary race as possible — Sheldon Adelson:

Mitt Romney is working with an unlikely collaborator — Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino mogul who bankrolled Newt Gingrich’s 2012 campaign — in the hopes of ensuring that the GOP primary produces a mainstream conservative without any of the mayhem that marked his own race.

The two, who speak monthly, aim to convince the wealthy contributors bankrolling various candidates to work together to avoid the kind of primary election chaos that Romney believes laid the seeds for his defeat in 2012. The former Massachusetts governor is also considering endorsing a candidate to achieve his goal.

Adelson and Romney appear to share little common ground, with Adelson’s support of Gingrich hamstringing Romney’s campaign in 2012 being a major sore spot between the two. However, they may find a common interest in this campaign: Senator Marco Rubio. Although neither man has publicly endorsed Rubio, many of Romney’s former staff have signed on with Rubio’s team, and it’s been leaked by a half dozen insiders that Rubio is the “clear frontrunner” for Adelson’s support. At least two of the other top ten GOP billionaire money men are already fundraising for Rubio as well (Paul Singer and Norman Braman).

The support for Rubio all comes with a healthy dose of speculation, of course. Regardless, whichever of those five candidates above ends up earning the support of Romney’s new establishment and Adelson’s billionaire network will be a formidable opponent in this primary campaign. Depending how the cards are dealt, Romney could end up being the most powerful kingmaker in recent history — and Mitt is doing everything he can strategically to ensure just how those cards are dealt.

June 4, 2015

The VP Candidate No One is Talking About

With everyone and their brother running for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, plus tied up polls, it’s hard to get less predictable than this race.

But the good news – or bad news, if you’re a political junkie – is that the veepstakes circus will be a lot simpler.

Barring the still highly unlikely outcome of nominee Carly Fiorina, the GOP candidate will be a male. Barring another highly unlikely outcome, his general election opponent will be the first female major party presidential nominee in US history.

That presents no small challenge to the GOP on an already challenging landscape. Females are the majority of the U.S. electorate. White females are the largest voting sub-demographic, and they’re fairly swingable.

Running an all-male GOP ticket versus an on-the-verge glass ceiling breaker would give the media and Democratic Party goose bumps and be a kamikaze mission for the GOP.

A Handful of Choices

There will no doubt be talk of a long list of potential GOP veeps talked about, but the odds are that being a female will ultimately be a necessity. That narrows the list down dramatically.

Republican operatives still suffer from PTSD from the Palin 2008 drama, and want to be as safe possible. Gender aside, safe and seasoned always trumps boldness when it comes to victorious VP picks. See George H. W. Bush, Al Gore, Dick Cheney and Joe Biden.

Only a woman with proven experience seasoning in the big leagues would make the cut. That narrows down the list even more:

Condi Rice: repeatedly chose to eschew a run for any political office thus far, it’s doubtful she’d be interested in the VP slot.

Carly Fiorina: If – a big “if” – Carly’s run for the top slot ends up being as strong throughout the campaign as it is now, she’d certainly be a contender. However, her lack of elective experience and controversial tenure at HP would dampen her chances.

The Governors: Nikki Haley of South Carolina and Susana Martinez of New Mexico, two dynamic minority executives with statewide electoral success, would certainly be contenders. Both, however, may be a bit too unpredictable to meet the do-no-harm test.

Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire is the dream veep in many ways – young swing state mom with foreign policy experience – but her charisma deficit and potential tough 2016 reelection race may nix her too.

Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers – chair of the House GOP Conference – would be yet another strong contender. However, her ID with unpopular GOP House leadership, lack of statewide elective experience, and strong Evangelical roots and social conservatism, may be seen as negatives in the final stretch of a heated general election campaign.

A Surprise?

One solid potential veep pick that has gotten virtually no buzz is newly elected Senator Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia.

With over 15 years in Congress and a fair amount of experience with the national media, Senator Moore Capito passes the experience test. Her federal experience plus age advantage can provide the ideal balance for a younger top-of-ticket like Marco Rubio or Scott Walker. At the same time, she’s still six years younger than Hillary Clinton, has a wholesome family, and scandal free past.

Senator Moore Capito proved her political prowess last November when she crushed her credible female Democratic opponent by 27% in a state that still leans Democratic at the statewide level. National Journal tagged her as the GOP’s “Secret, Best Candidate” of the successful 2014 cycle.

The Senator is very natural and likable as a retail campaigner and in front of the cameras. Though the daughter of a political dynasty, with smooth political skills, she exudes no country club aura. Mrs. Moore Capito was a stay at home mom until age 43 and connects very well with working class voters in a distinctly poor state.

In addition to helping the GOP on the female equation, the senator’s background can help the party amongst crucial white, working class voters. These voters are enormously important to Republicans looking to blunt Democrats’ huge advantage amongst African-Americans and Hispanics. They can be key to GOP victory in states like Ohio, Iowa and Virginia, and possibly even Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

When it comes to ideology and temperament, Shelley Moore Capito strikes an optimal balance for a general election campaign. She passes the basic conservative litmus test – pro-life, pro – gun, anti-Obamacare, pro- traditional marriage – yet can in no way be portrayed as a hardline ideologue. The hard right winces at her, and no less than the Democratic Party chairwoman publicly touted her friendship with the senator.

With the veepstakes being the latest Romney 2016 rage, rest assured that “binders full of women” will be there instead.

Simon Blum is a freelance journalist and marketing copywriter. Follow Simon on Twitter @sbpundit.

  8:00 am
Campaign Strategy, Republican Party, Veep Watch  

May 29, 2015

What if Iowa Holds a Straw Poll and No One Comes?

When Jeb Bush and Mike Huckabee announced they would not compete at the (new and improved?) Iowa Straw Poll this August, all eyes turned to the other candidates to see what they would do. After all, Iowa’s own Republican governor publicly said the straw poll has outlived its usefulness and should be allowed to die, but the Iowa GOP voted to continue the circus for at least one more go round. Would anybody show up? Or would the conventional wisdom — a candidate has almost nothing to gain and everything to lose by competing — prevail, meaning the straw poll would be playing to an empty room?

The body blows continued: Shortly after he announced he was running for president, Lindsey Graham announced he would not be competing. Then Marco Rubio’s campaign said it would be “highly unlikely” the Senator would compete, either. And now, we might be able to write the pre-mortem for the Iowa Straw Poll everybody is itching to write.

The Iowa GOP held an informational meeting for campaigns who are interested in the August event, and only seven campaigns (out of a potential 18) showed up:

  • Ben Carson
  • Chris Christie
  • Ted Cruz
  • Carly Fiorina
  • Lindsey Graham
  • Rick Perry
  • Donald Trump

Making it worse, one of those seven campaigns was Lindsey Graham’s, who made it clear they weren’t joining the straw poll but were just attending out of respect for the Iowa Republican Party. So in reality, only six campaigns are even interested in competing this year. Six out of eighteen — let that sink in for a moment.

Noticeably absent: Rand Paul, Rick Santorum, and Scott Walker. Rand’s father used to make a political career out of gaming straw polls; it looks like Paul the Younger has no desire to follow in his father’s footsteps. Santorum’s lack of interest in the straw poll matches Huckabee’s in terms of seriousness: both have won the Iowa caucuses, but now face the reality of weakened support and severely negative press should they compete and lose here in August.

Scott Walker’s absence may be the most startling, however. With Bush and Rubio both bowing out, one would think this would be a prime opportunity for Governor Walker to score an early and easy victory. Plus, the Iowa caucuses are an absolute must-win for him come February, being a neighboring conservative governor, so the Straw Poll would give him a chance to put a slew of organizational pieces into place early. He must have decided the risk wasn’t worth it, though — and who could blame him?

So who is planning to compete? Donald Trump and Ben Carson. That’s it. Those are the only two candidates who have committed to attend the 2015 straw poll. Even if Christie, Cruz, Fiorina, and Perry all decide to get in (remember, Perry famously skipped the straw poll last time to announce his candidacy at the Red State event), that’s not much of a lineup to attract voters. While it might be a few minutes of fun to watch Christie bloviate all over a roomful of Iowans, nobody would mistake this for a serious event in any way, shape, or form. (Which is why I think Fiorina will ultimately skip it as well – she is desperately trying to be seen as a serious candidate, and running around at an event where Donald Trump could be the main headliner certainly doesn’t play into that.)

And so it is that the straw poll fizzles out and finally dies, with little fanfare or recognition. RIP, Ames Straw Poll, 1979-2015. It was fun while it lasted.

May 27, 2015

The End of the Next-in-Line

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.

April 28, 2015

Acceptability and the Big Three

The Cook Political Report, run by Charlie Cook, is one of the most well-respected political organizations in the country — not to mention one of the most impressively accurate in its electoral predictions. So we should all sit up and take note when they publish an article by their national editor, Amy Walter, with this sentence:

At the end of the day, when you put all the assets and liabilities on the table, it’s hard to see anyone but Rubio, Bush or Walker as the ultimate nominee.

That may seem like a no-brainer to some of us, but in a field that will potentially have 20 challengers, for a prediction made ten months before any actual voting takes place, and for such a reputable organization, this qualifies as a pretty significant assertion.

The futures betting sites (or what’s left of them after Intrade got shut down after the last presidential election) generally agree with Ms. Walter. Sites like PredictWise and Betfair give the trio of Rubio, Bush, and Walker a combined 70% chance at the nomination. (Bush currently comes in at 31%, with Rubio at 20 and Walker at 19.) In fact, the only other two candidates who are even given more than a 2% shot are Rand Paul (4%) and Mike Huckabee (6%).

In the latest Quinnipiac poll (a survey where Rubio, Bush, and Walker have all taken a turn leading the pack in the past several months), we can see just how strong the support for the trio is: they are the only three candidates in double digits in the topline results. But it goes even further than that: when Bush supporters were asked who their second choice was, Rubio and Walker were the only ones in double digits again (at 18% and 12%, respectively). When Walker supporters were asked their second choice, Rubio and Bush again clock in as #1 and #2, with 20% and 12% respectively.

In other words, if you chop of one of the three heads of this hydra, the others will only get stronger.

That’s a good reason to predict that one of those three will end up as the Republican nominee. It’s also one of the reasons I will go on record as predicting this primary will be less divisive than many think it will be.

With twenty candidates, it’s easy to imagine a scenario where the party splinters, messy intraparty fighting breaks out, and a brokered convention becomes a reality in Cleveland. Every slice of the Republican electorate will back their preferred candidate until the bitter end, with primary and caucus winners walking away with less than 20% of the vote. It’s going to be a messy, bitter fight, right?

I don’t think so.

A comparison between our potentially massive 2016 field of candidates and the fields of 2008 and 2012 is quite instructive on this point. In 2008, the three-headed frontrunning hydra was comprised of Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, and Mitt Romney. None of the three satisfied the grassroots side of the party — who could forget the campaigns against “Rudy McRomney”? The unease with the three moderate frontrunners led to a shifting groundswell of support, first for Sam Brownback, then for Mike Huckabee, and finally in the epic failure that was the Fred Thompson campaign. Eventually, the activist side of the party gave in to McCain’s inevitable nomination, but not before Huckabee stayed in far longer than he should have (“I didn’t major in math, I majored in God,” anyone?), leaving lasting wounds in the party.

And in 2012, the field only had one legitimate frontrunner: it was Mitt Romney versus everyone else. Some commentators even referred to the GOP primary as “Mitt and the Munchkins.” The fact that Governor Romney had to expend so much effort, time, and resources to dispatch ridiculously weak candidates like Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich displayed again how deeply uneasy and dissatisfied the party was with the GOP frontrunner. The White Knight candidacy of Rick Perry is also illustrative of this fact; likewise, many folks were pining for Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin, Mitch Daniels, Paul Ryan, Jeb Bush, Haley Barbour, or Chris Christie to enter the race late into the campaign.

Our 2016 frontrunners stand in stark contrast to those of 2008 and 2012. In fact, after two elections where “dissatisfied” was the word most often used to describe the field, the opposite might be said of 2016. At this early stage, it seems everyone could be quite satisfied. The establishment-type folks who never like Romney find a champion in Jeb Bush — but even if Bush falters, they are okay with Rubio and Walker. The grassroots folks who never trusted McCain or Romney are finding plenty to like in Walker and Rubio. Even if they may be backing Cruz or Huckabee or Perry right now, when those candidates fall short those voters are generally okay with Walker or Rubio as well.

In 2016, there will be little yearning for a white knight candidate — partially because the field will be so large to start with, but mostly because the three frontrunners are acceptable to the varying factions in the GOP. And so this primary campaign will take on a different look: there will be no “flavor-of-the-month” candidates this time around because voters will not be attempting to find acceptable alternatives. There will be the big three, Bush and Rubio and Walker, who will ebb and flow, but remain the big three. And there will be movement in the second and third tier candidates below them as candidates like Huckabee and Cruz and Perry catch fire and cool off, but that movement will do little to impact the ultimate outcome of the race.

As Amy Walter put it, at this point in the Republican primary race it’s hard to see anyone other than Rubio, Bush, or Walker as the ultimate nominee.

April 26, 2015

Poll Watch: Fox News 2016 Presidential Survey

  • Hillary Clinton (D) 46% {47%} [47%] (51%) {52%} [51%]
  • Rand Paul (R) 43% {45%} [44%] (40%) {41%} [42%]
  • Hillary Clinton (D) 45% {45%} [48%] (49%) {52%} [51%] (51%)
  • Jeb Bush (R) 41% {45%} [43%] (42%) {39%} [42%] (38%)
  • Hillary Clinton (D) 46% {47%}
  • Marco Rubio (R) 42% {43%}
  • Hillary Clinton (D) 47% {48%} (52%)
  • Ted Cruz (R) 42% {42%} (36%)
  • Hillary Clinton (D) 46% {48%}
  • Scott Walker (R) 40% {42%}

National survey of 1,012 registered voters was conducted April 19-21, 2015 under the joint direction of Anderson Robbins Research (D) and Shaw & Company Research (R). The margin of error is +/- 3 percentage points. Results from the poll conducted March 29-31, 2015 are in curly brackets. Results from the poll conducted January 25-27, 2015 are in square brackets. Results from the poll conducted December 7-9, 2014 are in parentheses.  Results from the poll conducted July 20-22, 2014 are in curly brackets.  Results from the poll conducted April 13-15, 2014 are in square brackets.  Results from the poll conducted March 2-4, 2014 are in parentheses.

Data compilation and analysis courtesy of The Argo Journal

  4:00 am
2016, Hillary Clinton, Poll Watch, Republican Party  

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