Swing State Pres

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

March 2015 Month in Review: Right, Left, Middle East

The world stage in March was dominated by the Israeli elections and the intertwined issue of the US-led negotiations with Iran to sharply reduce Iran’s ability to create nuclear weapons, in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.  These events illustrated how far we have come from the old-line alliance in which Democrats were the stalwart party for Israel while the Republicans were more likely to be critical.  Now we have reached the point whereby any critique of Israel at all is completely unacceptable for GOP politicians.  This has significant implications for the upcoming election cycle, and most immediately for both Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton.

President Obama’s foreign policy legacy largely rests on ending the massive U.S. military presence in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the killing of Osama Bin Laden.  While these are notable, they are somewhat diminished by the failed peace in both countries and the rise of ISIS to replace Al Qaeda as a terrorist threat.  Obama needs a proactive win, and at this stage of his presidency, Iran represents his best shot.  The indefatigable John Kerry certainly wants to make history as well, and indeed has worked tirelessly to bring the Iran agreement home.  He achieved a preliminary agreement that imposed restrictions on Iran’s ability to create nuclear weapons over a 15-year time period, and averted a deadline by which negotiations could have been terminated.  A comprehensive agreement is still to be drafted, with a due date of June 30.

Benjamin Netanyahu, facing a tough re-election in Israel, found in the Iran agreement the perfect issue to deflect attention from the lagging Israeli economy, the dominant issue in the campaign.  Netanyahu loudly denounced the deal as it was being negotiated, aided and abetted by the GOP in Congress, who invited him to speak before a joint-session without bothering to inform Obama.  Then 47 U.S. GOP senators wrote a letter to Iranian mullahs pointing out that whatever deal emerged could fail to be ratified, or be quickly undone by a future GOP President.  Netanyahu then went into overdrive prior to the election and announced there would be no possibility of a two-state solution as long as he was in power, thereby undoing any last hope that Bibi would have a “Nixon in China” moment as a hawkish champion of peace.  He ended up winning the election handily and then walking the comments back immediately.

Through all this, Obama’s foreign policy numbers have been holding their six-month trends.  Approval is low – at 37%, it is lower than his overall rating (see below) of 47% -- but it has been trending up, and the brouhaha over Bibi and Iran has not changed the dynamic much, with a general upward drift continuing, if anything, from a net negative of -20 to the current level of -14.

Obama Foreign Policy
Oct 2014
Nov 2014
Dec 2014
Jan 2015
Feb 2015
Mar 2015
  Approve
35.5
34.6
36.9
37.5
37.6
38.2
  Disapprove
55.1
54.1
52.5
50.5
51.5
51.9
  Net
-19.6
-19.6
-15.6
-13.0
-13.9
-13.7

But the changing political landscape has implications for the future candidates, particularly the veterans – Clinton and Bush – who have to deal their own histories, and that of the three prior presidents to whom they are related, in these times.

Former George H.W. Secretary of State (and Reagan Chief of Staff) James Baker sharply denounced Netanyahu’s statements, as might be expected, which in turn detonated an explosion of criticism of Baker – by the GOP.  You would think there are few icons of the GOP more untouchable than Baker, the man who not only served Bush and Reagan, but won the 2000 election for George W. Bush and is a close advisor to Jeb Bush.  Yet the Baker-bashing only served to underline that if Ronald Reagan – or indeed either of the elder Bushes – ran for office today with their views of their time, they could not win nomination.

Thus the problem for Jeb Bush.  By all accounts, thus far Bush is trying not to repeat the mistakes of Mitt Romney in tacking too far to the right in the primary season.  He is maintaining his rather moderate views on education and immigration in the face of very stiff grass-roots GOP opposition, yet he is finding other ways to find common ground with the far right.  All it took was one phone call from Sheldon Adelson to cause Jeb Bush to distance himself from James Baker, and I’m certain he had to take a long look in the mirror to measure his ambition before he did that.  After all, it was Baker who essentially bailed Jeb out when Jeb’s Florida was the tipping point in the 2000 election.  There would be no Jeb Bush candidacy today had that gambit failed.

It is complicated for Hillary Clinton as well.  She will be forced to “take sides” in the Israel debate, and risk alienating her own base if she joins the critiques of Israel in this process.  At this juncture, the GOP has found a wedge issue that will make life uncomfortable for Clinton, and they will surely pursue this one to the max.

OBAMA APPROVAL RATING

President Obama’s approval rating continued to narrow and is back at a -3 net and rounds up to 47% approval.  Whether he can sustain progress and get to 50% is a data point that the Clinton campaign is surely tracking, as they try to determine how far they have to distance themselves from Obama in 2016, and how much to utilize him in the campaign.  Assuming she runs, of course.

Obama Approval Rating
Election Day 2012
12-Jan
10-Feb
10-Mar
6-Apr
  Approve
49.6
45.7
46.3
45.8
46.5
  Disapprove
47.4
50.7
49.3
50.1
49.5
  Net
2.2
-5.0
-3.1
-4.3
-2.9

ECONOMETER

The Econometer was stable over the last month, despite a weak jobs report.  (Weak by Obama standards; George W. Bush would have jumped for joy at a +126,000 figure in the waning days of his administration, when a -300,000 was more the norm.)  Consumer Confidence jumped back over 100.

Econometer
Election Day 2012
12-Jan
10-Feb
10-Mar
6-Apr
Econometer
0.0
99.9
108.8
106.4
108.3
  Unemployment Rate
7.9
5.6
5.7
5.5
5.5
  Consumer Confidence
73.1
92.6
102.9
96.4
101.3
  Price of Gas
3.71
2.52
2.17
2.44
2.54
  Dow Jones
 13,330
    17,693
    17,543
    18,057
 17,855
  GDP
3.1
5.0
2.6
2.2
2.2

OBAMACARE RATINGS

Obamacare continued to be in the 42% approval range.  Doubtless the next bump will happen when the Supreme Court decides on the fate of those four magic words.  If the Court upholds the law and believes that subsidies were intended for all states with exchanges, whether a state exchange or the use of the federal exchange, I believe the long drive to a net plus will begin.

Obamacare
Election Day 2012
12-Jan
10-Feb
10-Mar
6-Apr
  For/Favor
40.0
37.7
42.0
41.9
42.0
  Oppose/Against
50.8
49.3
49.0
52.4
51.0
  Net
-10.8
-11.7
-7.0
-10.6
-9.0

CONGRESSIONAL GENERIC BALLOT

Curiously, the GOP has taken a slightly wider lead in the generic ballot.  I have no good explanation for why this is happening, because the GOP leadership has not gained too much traction in putting forward their agenda, but there it is.  Democrats should be concerned because the analysis is clear -- the only way to take back a chunk of seats in 2016 is to have a significant net positive for the Dems.

Generic Ballot
Election Day 2012
12-Jan
10-Feb
10-Mar
6-Apr
  Democrat
46.3
39.0
39.3
38.8
37.8
  Republican
46.0
39.2
37.8
39.0
39.3
  Net
0.3
-0.2
1.5
-0.3
-1.5

Thursday, April 2, 2015

March 2015 Election Update: Deleted Emails and Ted Cruz: What a Start to 2016

This is the first of what will be a monthly (at least initially, more frequent later) update of the elections, taking us to the Iowa caucuses in February, 2016 and on through to Election Day (see the clock on the right to see how far we have to go).  We are at the start of “announcement season,” and thus far only Ted Cruz has formally thrown his hat into the ring.  The coming month should bring further announcements, most likely from, at least, Rand Paul and Hillary Clinton. 

It is not a given that everyone prowling around now for donors, support and an election staff will ultimately run.  I’m very curious about Mike Huckabee, who just announced that he would decide within a few weeks.  Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have already declared they are out, and others have to take stock of how they have fared in the so-called “silent primary.”  There is no scorecard out there, no delegate count, only promises and polls.  Decisions have to be made on the basis of those, and a true gut-check on whether a candidate really wants to spend the next 10 months chewing on Iowa county fair corndogs and kissing babies on little sleep.

Where do we stand?  Let’s take a look.

DEMOCRATS

When it comes to early 2016 thunder, the Democrats have actually made more noise this month than the GOP.  That won’t last, but Email-Gate has brought a flurry of chatter about Hillary’s prospects.  The Democrats’ collective (if not universal) desire to coronate Hillary without a fight is borne of a number of factors.  She has earned it, no doubt, as an experienced world leader and candidate.  In the GOP vernacular, she is “next in line,” having secured the second most delegates in the last go-round.  (The GOP has anointed the person with that particular statistic in every non-incumbent election since 1976, with two exceptions, George W. Bush in 2000, and Mitt Romney in 2012, who was just behind Mike Huckabee for the #2 slot in 2008; Huckabee did not run in 2012).  And, of course, the historical angle, Hillary as the First Woman President is a monumental prospect.

But what the email flap made perfectly clear is the sad truth about the Democratic Party:  they have no one else.  Joe Biden is quite old (72) by presidential standards, a classic Washington pol, a bit of an unpredictable persona, and a failed candidate to boot.  Elizabeth Warren is far too left-wing for the mainstream candidacy it would take to win.  And then come the unknowns, the Webbs, O’Malleys, Cuomos, Gillebrands and Sanders and the like who occupy the nether regions of the polls.  And, in the wake of the email angst, names like John Kerry and Al Gore suddenly were being tossed about, which only underlined the depth of the problem.  Whatever else may emerge from this campaign, Hillary Clinton needs to elevate some heretofore unknown rising star and name them her running mate, someone who, win or lose, could be a high profile Democratic candidate the next time the Democrats need one, be it 2016 or 2020.

Thus Democrats raced to defend Hillary even before much was known about the email problem.  They have little choice but to paper it over (if one can use such an analogy for an electronic mess).  My own belief is that absent the discovery of a trove of deleted and incriminating Benghazi emails on some server, this will blow over.  Nothing is more boring than a scandal about, essentially, bureaucratic policies, especially one in which it is not clear at all if anything was done wrong.  And now that we know that Hillary’s personal server was indeed wiped clean, presumably there is nowhere to look for anything juicy anymore.

How have Hillary’s numbers held up in all this?  Well, given the weakness of the Democratic field, it is no surprise that nothing has changed.  She continues to dominate what passes for competition, with unchanged margins and little movement whatsoever.


Jan 12
Feb 10
Mar 11
Apr 1
  Clinton
63
59
60
59
  Biden
11
11
13
12
  Warren
11
13
12
9
  Sanders
4
3
5
6
  Webb
2
2
2
2
  O'Malley
1
1
1
2
  Schweitzer

1

1
  Webb
2
2
2
1
  Cuomo
2
4


  All other
4
4
5
8


As for her own standing, Hillary’s “favorability rating” has remained steady as well, dipping only 1 point in the aftermath.

2015
2015
Before 3/5
After '3/5
Favorable
47.5
46.4
Unfavorable
43.5
43.1
Undecided
6.2
8.7

And in head-to-head polling against Jeb Bush, the GOP frontrunner, Hillary seems to be doing just fine.  There were seven polls in 2015 prior to the flap, and on average she was ahead of Bush by 7 points.  There has been only one poll since, a CNN poll in mid-March, and she was up by 15 in that one.

Hillary’s main issue with the emails may have been in her response, which appeared to be the “same old same old” Clinton “M.O.” of privacy claims, defiance, legal parsing, media showdowns and the like.  Hillary needs a campaign structure rather badly to help her manage these moments, and the signal that she will announce her candidacy officially sooner than expected doubtless reflects that wisdom.  She had been trying to push off an announcement as long as possible so that she could continue to raise unlimited funds, but the cost/benefit of that seems to have reached a tipping point.

REPUBLICANS

The GOP free-for-all shows no sign of abating, though as I said, some winnowing may occur in the announcement season.  Thus far Jeb Bush and Scott Walker have been the main event, and although both are seeking to bridge the divide that runs straight down the middle of the GOP’s establishment and Tea Party wings, in fact Bush stands with the former and Walker the latter.  Bush appears to be daring to run on a platform of moderation, compromise and moving forward, while Walker is very clearly in the camp of confrontation.  His whole brand name, such as it is, was created in his showdown with unions in Wisconsin (which he clumsily stated was relevant experience for battling ISIS), and he cannot afford to soften that quite yet, not before Iowa.

Ted Cruz’s announcement has given the Texas Senator a bump, and he is certainly pushing Walker from the right.  Not everyone can claim (or wants to) that they are responsible for shutting down the U.S. government, but Cruz is unapologetic about it.  In fact, the single adjective used most to describe Cruz (at least in polite company) is “unapologetic.”  That is, he certainly SHOULD be apologizing for his various actions but rather he revels in them.  If Walker stands for “confrontation,” he will have a tough time out-Cruzing Cruz, who is despised by the leaders of his own party.

In the past month, Cruz has risen a bit in the polls – and the 9% level in the chart below may be understated, in that he achieved 16% in the only poll in that average that occurred after his  relatively high-profile announcement.  Jeb Bush is holding steady and Scott Walker took a mild hit among the “top tier” group.  Ben Carson and Rand Paul are in the next tier with Cruz, and the rest of the field lags.


Jan 12
Feb 10
Mar 11
Apr 1
  Bush
14
13
16
16
  Walker
5
8
18
15
  Carson
7
10
10
9
  Paul
7
8
7
9
  Cruz
5
7
5
9
  Huckabee
7
9
11
7
  Christie
9
5
7
6
  Rubio
4
4
5
6
  Perry
4
3
3
4
  Jindal
2
2
2
2
  Santorum
2
1
2
2
  Fiorina
1
0
1
2
  Graham
0
0
2
2
  Kasich
2
1
1
2
  All other
31
29
10
9