Swing State Pres

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

January Month in Review: Bye Bye Christie, Bye Bye Immigration, Bye Bye Fiscal Wars...Where to Now, GOP? (February 12, 2014)

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Late in 2013 I had the opportunity to ask (separately) both Joe Scarborough (of “Morning Joe”) and John Heilemann (co-author of the “Game Change” series on the 2008 and 2012 Presidential elections) the same question:  how could Chris Christie, as a northeastern quasi-moderate, survive the gauntlet of the Tea Party-dominated primary process and win the Republican nomination in 2016?

Scarborough accepted the underlying premise of the question, that Christie would be strongly positioned in 2016, and in fact he said Chris Christie had recently asked him the exact same question.  His answer (presumably to both of us) was:  Christie had to win New Hampshire, Rand Paul’s popularity there (for his libertarian views) notwithstanding.

But Heilemann said, first, that Christie was probably conservative enough to credibly dish the red meat for the arch-conservative set, and second, that the real issue for Christie was surviving three more years without blowing himself up (and I’m paraphrasing).

Well…Heilemann sure seems smart as we sit here today.  The political landscape in January was dominated by the meltdown of Christie’s presidential prospects in the wake of Bridgegate.  As the subpoenas fly, it is hard to imagine Christie surviving, particularly since the cover-up has already been blown.  And thus goes the Great Big Hope of the Republican Party, the one GOP candidate brash enough to run on his record, a Washington outsider with demonstrated support from the middle and even some Democrats and their core constituencies (including Hispanics).  But all that seems so far away now!

Bridgegate not only reinforced the dark side of the Christie image – that he is a bully and a low-brow pol – but it also exposed exactly how partisan he could be, with his vengeance-is-mine mode of targeting Democrats who dare to defy him.  So much for that across-the-aisle appeal.

Some commentators are seeing this as an opening for Scott Walker, another blue-state governor (from Wisconsin) who took on the unions and developed a national identity.  It’s possible, but I think the real winner here was Jeb Bush.  The Christie immolation more or less cleared out what passes for the moderate wing of the GOP for Bush, and also, frankly, will increase the longing for a “grown-up” at the top of the ticket.  Paul Ryan, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz may all be telegenic and bright, but they also are all 40-something newbies prone to brashness, and that may play less well at this point.  (OK, Paul is 51.)

What do the polls says?  Look below…and it’s Mike Huckabee on top!  Yes, the minister-turned-2008-candidate-turned-FOX-disher is indeed contemplating a run, and don’t underestimate him.  He would play well in Iowa – he won there is easily in 2008 with 35% of the vote, and nearly leveraged that into a win in South Carolina as well, losing to McCain by only 3 points.  He’s tested, he’s approachable (unlike his fellow right-wingers) and he may go over nicely in this next slightly-kinder-and-gentler phase of the Republican identity crisis.


2013
2013
2014

Jan-Oct
Nov/Dec
1/1 - 2/11
Huckabee
13
13
15
Christie
16
19
13
Ryan
14
11
12
Bush
12
10
12
Paul
13
14
11
Rubio
14
9
8
Cruz
10
12
8
Walker
3
5
5
Jindal
3
3
4

As for Christie?  He will be left to wonder what I have been wondering for two years now….whether he should have jumped in the race in 2012, perhaps right after Super Tuesday when party bigwigs and voters alike were desperate for a new face.  I have long said that the lesson of Barack Obama was “strike when you're hot.”  Four more years is rarely kind to the current sensation, and Christie surely proves that.  He may come back – McCain did in 2008 – but somehow I think not.  McCain had a lifetime of accomplishment and war hero status to fall back on when times got tough.  Christie simply does not.

The other major political news emerged in early February, with the twin items of the death of immigration reform and the passing of a clean debt ceiling bill in the House.  The GOP continues to recalibrate, with arch-conservatives still holding enough power to kill immigration, but not enough to spark fiscal wars anew.  John Boehner’s read of the tea leaves is getting ever more difficult, and since he “declared war” on the Tea Party in December, he continues to assess the speed of the pendulum as it swings back to the center. 

OBAMA APPROVAL RATING

President Obama’s approval ratings continue to climb, as his “net negative” has improved by 4 points over the last two months, from -12 to -8, based on 39 polls over the last month.  Nothing to write home about – or more precisely, nothing to get him invited to some swing states or districts for campaigning in the fall.  But he is showing no danger of slipping into the dreaded mid-low 30’s or 20’s, the land of Nixon, Bush 43 and Carter, and also Clinton and Reagan at their lowest.  Obama may not have a Congress he can work with, and therefore may be reduced to pursuing “small ball” initiatives much like his two immediate predecessors – but it worked for them and will likely work for him as well.  As long as he remains scandal-free (that is, in the “Watergate/Bridgegate” sense of the word, not the “Benghazi” sense) and Obamacare ultimately succeeds, I believe history will treat him kindly.

Obama Approval Rating
Election Day 2012
8-Nov
8-Dec
10-Jan
11-Feb
  Approve
49.6
45.5
39.9
42.6
43.8
  Disapprove
47.4
52.5
51.8
52.6
51.4
  Net
2.2
-6.9
-11.9
-10.0
-7.6

OBAMACARE RATINGS

We do not have as yet the January Obamacare enrollment figures, but Katherine Sebelius made a speech on January 22nd in which she said that there had already been 800,000 more enrollees to that point in January, pushing the total to 3 million.  Suddenly the Administration’s enrollment goal of 7 million by March 31st is looking possible.  And while “under 35 year old” enrollment was at only 24% by the end of December, it is rising.  The goal of 40% may be unreachable but the Administration is on the record with the view that anything in the 30’s is workable economically.

And so, the “net negative” of Obamacare is slowing dwindling as well, up 5 points in the last two months, from -18 to -13.

Obamacare
Election Day 2012
8-Nov
8-Dec
10-Jan
11-Feb
  For/Favor
40.0
41.6
38.4
38.2
39.0
  Oppose/Against
50.8
49.3
56.6
53.4
52.1
  Net
-10.8
-7.6
-18.2
-15.1
-13.1

ECONOMETER

The Econometer is unchanged since last month at +50.6.  The rise in consumer confidence was offset by the decline of the Dow.  The GDP growth was surprisingly strong for the last quarter, undercutting claims that the 4.1% growth in Q3 was driven mainly by inventory building and was thus aberrant.  All Econometer measures remain stronger – far stronger – than those of Election Day 2012, and thus the whopping +50.6 score (for new readers, the “Econometer” is a single measure of how strong the economy is relative to the last Election Day; see the right hand column for a complete explanation).  A strengthening economy may ultimately become a solid issue for the Democrats in the fall, but two straight weakish job reports have kept the most robust adjectives to describe the recovery on the sidelines.  “Tepid” remains the descriptor of choice.


Election Day 2012
8-Nov
8-Dec
10-Jan
11-Feb
Econometer
0.0
29.0
37.2
50.5
50.6






  Unemployment Rate
7.9
7.3
7.0
6.7
6.6
  Consumer Confidence
73.1
71.2
70.4
78.1
80.7
  Price of Gas
3.71
3.40
3.34
3.37
3.38
  Dow Jones
 13,330
 15,395
 15,952
 16,242
 15,993
  GDP
3.1
4.1
4.1
4.1
3.2
  
CONGRESSIONAL GENERIC BALLOT

The Republicans continue to hold a very slim lead in the “generic” ballot, with about 20% of the electorate expressing no opinion...yet.

Generic Congressional Ballot
Election Day 2012
8-Nov
8-Dec
10-Jan
11-Feb
  Democrat
46.3
45.2
40.7
41.4
39.9
  Republican
46.0
39.5
41.9
41.9
40.7
  Net
0.3
5.7
-1.1
-0.5
-0.8

DEMOCRATIC 2016 PRESIDENTIAL RACE

As for the Democratic “race” for 2016, Hillary continues to dominate.  Indeed, “dominate” is simply not a strong enough word to describe the polls.  She is laying low and raising money, doubtless rehearsing her Benghazi defense until it is airtight.  Not holding office is a beautiful thing!


2013
2013
2014

Jan-Oct
Nov/Dec
1/1 - 2/11
Clinton
59
67
68
Biden
13
11
9
Warren
6
7
7
Cuomo
4
3
2
O'Malley
1
1
1
Schweitzer
1
1
1
A/O or N/A
24
26