Swing State Pres

Friday, November 27, 2015

On Today's Shootings in Colorado Springs

Wendy comments in real time on the events unfolding now at the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood health center.

Two days ago, Steve wrote a column for this blog in which he noted that Republicans seem unable to bring the same "moral rectitude" to the issue of gun control that they bring to international terrorism.  Judging from the outpouring of emails from readers, he struck a nerve.  And just hours ago, our email brought a breaking news alert about a shooting at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood health center.  As of this writing, the facts remain murky.  What is not murky is that at least nine people have been shot.  If they survive, their lives -- and the lives of their families and loved ones -- will be forever changed; they will carry their scars, their disabilities, their PTSD and their memories of the day after Thanksgiving, 2015, a holiday forever changed for them. 

We don't yet know if the perpetrator of this crime is an anti-abortion fanatic.  If he or she is, I will point out the obvious: while reasonable people may disagree about the pros and cons of abortion, only unreasonable people can believe that it is right and moral to protest in the name of "the sanctity of life" by the taking of a life.  If you haven't seen the film "The Armor of Light,” see it if you can.  It depicts the moral evolution of an evangelical minister as he attempts to reconcile his anti-gun control and anti-abortion positions.  In the end, the minister finds that reconciliation impossible.

I long ago "friended" the Brady Campaign on Facebook.  Each time I log onto Facebook, there's a barrage, an absolute barrage, of information about another gun-related death in our country.  Sometimes it's the mass murders to which we've become inured ... Columbine, Virginia Tech, Aurora, Sandy Hook, Oregon’s Umpqua Community College, and now Colorado Springs.  But more often it’s deaths of which we never read: an accident when a child pulled a pistol from his grandmother's purse and shot her dead, an errant bullet on a summer day while someone sat on his front stoop to get out of the heat, a suicide.  I unfailingly find these posts depressing.  But I don't "unfriend" the Brady Campaign because I believe these posts are an important daily reminder of what we need to know; we need to have our noses pressed into it. This is not some abstract concept that's happening someplace else.  This is us, in our theaters, on our college campuses, in our neighborhoods, in our Planned Parenthood health centers. 

I get it that guns often are wielded by the mentally ill who need and deserve help.  I'm fully supportive of initiatives to identify and assist those who may be harmful to themselves or others.  But mental health care and more stringent gun laws are not mutually exclusive; they're complementary.  I get it that more stringent gun laws would not eliminate shootings.  But isn't it a lay down that they would eliminate some shootings?  And wouldn't that be a victory?

I volunteer for Planned Parenthood and I fully support their mission.  But as I'm reading about the events in Colorado Springs in real time, my thoughts gravitate, not to women's rights, but to gun control.  When are we going to raise our collective voices, louder and louder and louder, demanding the change that Americans overwhelmingly support, but are, thus far, unable to legislate? 

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Americans Not in Paris: Terrorism and Testosterone Reshape the Republican Race

Steve is back, on the implications of Paris on the GOP presidential race.

It is curious, in hindsight, to realize how many presidential elections can be viewed in utterly simplistic terms: Voters tend to re-act more than act. We tend to elect the candidate who embodies the diametric opposite of the most egregious weakness of the prior administration: Ike was old and boring, so we went for young and exciting Jack Kennedy. Lyndon Johnson had horribly bungled Viet Nam, so we went for the experienced cold warrior Richard Nixon. Nixon turned out to be a crook, so we went for squeaky-clean Jimmy Carter. Carter turned out to be a wimp, so we went for macho cowboy Ronald Reagan.  George Bush was a clumsy old patrician goofball, so we went for the guy who played the sax on Arsenio Hall. Clinton turned out to be a womanizer, so we went for the family guy with whom we could have a beer. George Bush turned out to be stupid and ignorant, so we went with the erudite Harvard Law prof. And now the big complaint is that Obama’s too damn cerebral and won’t kick butt.

So, too, today, voters instantly react to the immediate issue: ISIS barbarians slaughter lovely young Parisians, and suddenly the only issues Americans care about are who will kill the ISIS bastards first, and who will keep them away from US soil.  Thus: Trump and Cruz ascendant; all others, in decline.

The Friday the 13th terrorism in Paris was ISIS’s 9/11 moment; it was the instant that the world was forced to abandon the notion that ISIS was a regional threat in a remote and distasteful part of the world that is best battled by robot and drone. The vision of black-hooded killers spraying bullets into defenseless civilians in French cafes is very easy for Americans to transpose into images of like carnage at Venice Beach, Wrigley Field, Grand Central Station, and or the Washington Monument.  Just as it was clear that the world was forever changed as sunrise came on September 12, 2001, so too we now are experiencing that historical rarity of living within an inflection point: certain that the world will change, less certain of exactly how.

For the still fluid Presidential race, the impact of Paris will be profound.

For the past several months, it’s been assumed that Donald Trump and Ben Carson were on parallel trajectories, creating the impression that they were similar in their appeal and in the profile of their supporters. Both, as “outsiders,” are attractive to the large portion of Republicans who loathe Washington, the Federal government, and even the perceived-as-oft-compromising Congressional leaders in their own party.
Paris has quickly demonstrated that this assumption is flawed.

Carson’s appeal has been based on a biography that champions personal achievement and responsibility; his appeal lies in a combination of a rejection of the role of Federal government and a powerful public embrace of Christian religion to the active exclusion of other forms of worship. This plays well to the Christian fundamentalists.

Trump, on the other hand, is centering his entire candidacy on the notion that in a city where nothing gets done, you need a tough, kick-ass bully who has proven he can get his way by reaping billions in the business world. He has chosen immigration as the issue that symbolizes both how tough he will be and how he intends to defend American business from the lawlessness beyond our borders. Trump plays to the Republicans who we’ll call American fundamentalists: People who feel that the United States has been exploited by shrewd, manipulative foreigners and who feel that Washington, D.C., is populated by wimps who have allowed it to happen.

Ben Carson was the subject of an unnerving New York Times article, which included the quote that “Nobody has been able to sit down with (Carson) and have him get one iota of intelligent information about the Middle East.” However, the quote is not from Rachel Maddow on an MSNBC search-and-destroy mission; it was the candid assessment of Carson’s own advisor. Carson was asked on a Sunday morning show to identify the first countries he’d turn to in order to form a coalition against ISIS. He froze and could not name any. On a Richter scale of frightening ignorance, Rick Perry’s memory lapse doesn’t begin to compare. In the past few days, Carson has had to reel in several factually-vacant quotes (see China in Syria and New Jersey Muslims cheering as the Twin Towers fell).

Now, with Paris, we suddenly have the one situation in which Republicans actually see a valid purpose in the Federal government:  to wage war with Muslims in the Middle East. Carson’s shocking lack of command of international affairs is freaking people out, and his numbers are dropping like all that supposed grain in the pyramids.

In bold contrast, Donald Trump’s assertion that he will solve all problems in the Middle East by “bombing the shit out of ISIS” is just the sort of testosterone supplement that xenophobes mainline.  No doubt the 25% of Republicans who think we can deport eleven million illegal aliens are living in a fantasy world in which religious caliphates waging land wars in Eurasia can be defeated by drone pilots based in Fort Lauderdale. The fault line is no longer about deporting those eleven million people, it is now about shutting our borders to refugees of a horrendous war whose origin can and must be traced to our shores. The Republican governors asserting an imagined ability to reject Syrian refugees is sort of like claiming to be really good at air guitar: what are they actually doing? Is Chris Christie planning on installing passport controls on the Weehauken side of the tunnel?
But logic aside – far aside – immigration is Trump’s issue; he has stamped it with his brand as boldly as his buildings, golf courses, and casinos. So, the minute Paris redefined our immigration phobia from "Mexicans are taking our jobs" to "Syrians are blowing up our cities," immigration grew even larger, and became a vital, central issue – and Donald Trump’s popularity has surged once again.  Trump’s “macho y nacho” strategy -- a combo of high testosterone military assertiveness and xenophobic immigration posturing -- are clearly separating the Donald from the low-T domestic focus of Dr. Ben Carson.

And what about the rest of the Republican field?

One would think that all of the “experienced government officials” would stand to gain from a sudden pivot in focus to the nuances and complexities of global diplomacy and the arcane, layered, official and unofficial competing constituencies in the Middle East. Or, then again, perhaps not.  That rapidly receding 4% who had not yet been convinced that Jeb Bush is actually an incompetent candidate had to listen to baby brother offer up that we solve the Syria immigration problem by only accepting Christian Syrians. There’s a wonderful clip of him being asked just exactly how we establish which Syrians are Christian and which are Muslim, and you can witness that painfully awkward moment of a Bush at war with the English language. “Well, you can prove it,” squirming Jeb mumbles, once again – as with his entire candidacy – offering no proof, no logic, and no conviction.

Which brings us back once again to the Cruz and Rubio show. I submit that the recent ascendance of Ted Cruz over Rubio is an echo of the exact same phenomenon that reshaped Trump and Carson. Cruz – like Trump – is the high testosterone fire-breather who stokes the passions of the fearful. Rubio, a la Carson, is generally more even-tempered and moderate. Rubio is always skittish about immigration, having once advanced legislation that alienated red-staters from Baja to South Beach. Cruz, on the other hand, is out in front of the Syrian-bating. In short, the exact two elements that are propelling Trump over Carson – macho posturing and fear-mongering about immigration – are driving Cruz past Rubio.

Finally, please allow me just one last observation: When 130 citizens are brutally slaughtered with AK 47s in Paris, our politicians cannot hold themselves back from the lights, action, and camera; screaming about the changes that must immediately take place in order to protect our citizens from the savagery of demented souls. One only wishes that they displayed such passion, moral rectitude and visibility when children in Connecticut and theatre goers in Colorado were ripped to shreds by the exact same weaponry, which is fully accessible to the demented souls on our own shores. Indeed, it’s an easy inference that Donald Trump thinks that those first graders would still be alive if only they’d been packing heat, and Ben Carson is puzzled why the Parisians sipping their Chateau Neuf du Pape at a sidewalk cafĂ© didn’t have the guts to run headlong and attack their killers.

Bill Maher was on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert last week, and he confessed that he had completely changed his mind about the duration of the American presidential selection process. Where he had once decried the waste and farce of an 18-month declare/ debate/ primary/ nominate/ elect cycle, he now expressed his deep appreciation for its very length.  His reason? Americans are – in his words -- “slow and dim and dumb and need extra time” to finally figure out which candidates are worthy of office.


Let’s hope the Republicans use that time wisely. Iowa is six weeks away.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Annual Reader Poll on Projected 2016 Election Contenders and Winner!

We are back with the results of our reader poll.  On Election Day in both 2012 and 2014 and now in 2015, we asked our readers who they believe will be the Democratic and Republican nominees for the 2016 election, and which will be the winner.  Thanks for participating!

Of course this is a very unscientific poll.  For a numbers guy who runs a blog devoted to interpreting polling (and other) numbers correctly, this is a very important point.  (This may also be an opportune time to mention that, whenever you might see a headline that says “Facebook and Twitter Declare Bernie Sanders Won the Debate!”, don’t believe it, these are not scientific polls, at all.)

I will also add that pollsters are finding that a more accurate predictor of election outcomes is NOT asking people who they “favor,” but rather who they “think will win.”  But again, that still applies for a scientifically drawn sample, and this Reader Poll is not one of those.

So, for whatever it is worth, and for fun, here are your answers, that is, the answers of a very savvy group of politicos.

And the Democratic Nominee will be – SURPRISE! – Hillary Clinton!  For the second year in a row, Hillary received 100% of the votes.  I’m not sure she would have pitched a perfecto if we’d asked the question in, say, August, but she has had a splendid autumn and all of you think she will ride that to the nomination.  Yes, all of you.

Dems
Nov '12
Nov '14
Nov '15
Clinton
85%
100%
100%
O'Malley
5%
0%
0%
Cuomo
5%
0%
0%
Granholm
5%
0%
0%

The GOP side was destined to be more complicated, even as the contours of the race begin to take shape.  It is amazing that, just 69 days before the Iowa caucuses, you have selected seven different potential GOP nominees.   And as in the prior years, no candidate has received more than half of the “votes.”  But you think that this is Marco Rubio’s time, as many of you are buying into the thesis that Rubio is the one who can best navigate the tricky high wire between the hard right and establishment wings of the GOP.  Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and John Kasich are the next trio, a fine mix of the outsider, Tea Party and moderate factions of the party.  

A year ago Jeb Bush was the toast of the town, and in 2012, right after Barack Obama’s reelection, it was a pre-Bridgegate Chris Christie who was flying high.  Christie is basically living in New Hampshire now, holding on to his ever fainter hopes of drawing an inside straight there and spring boarding to the nomination.  (At least he has a path, however, unlike much of the remaining GOP field.)

GOP
Nov '14
Nov '14
Nov '15
Rubio
10%
13%
46%
Trump
0%
0%
14%
Cruz
0%
13%
11%
Kasich
0%
0%
11%
Romney
0%
7%
7%
Bush
30%
47%
4%
Christie
50%
7%
4%
Carson
0%
0%
4%
Walker
0%
7%
0%
Paul
0%
7%
0%
Ryan
5%
0%
0%
McConnell
5%
0%
0%

And the winner?  Hillary Clinton by a landslide.  There is a smattering of thought that Rubio or Trump may pull off the win, but 89% of you believe we will see another President Clinton in 2017, and our very first woman Chief Executive.

Winner
Nov '14
Nov '14
Nov '15
Clinton
70%
100%
89%
Rubio
5%
0%
7%
Trump
0%
0%
4%
Christie
10%
0%
0%
Ryan
5%
0%
0%
Granholm
5%
0%
0%
McConnell
5%
0%
0%


As for my own picks, I went with Hillary for the Dems and to win the general, but after much thought settled on Ted Cruz for the GOP nod.  It was only six months ago that I said only three members of the large GOP field could possibly secure the nomination:  Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and Scott Walker (who led at the time).  That may still be true (although, of course, Walker has dropped out).  While Jeb is fading, he still has a “path,” and Rubio is, of course, in the thick of it. 

But it is hard to rule out, at this point, a Trump, Carson or Cruz nomination.  Trump and Carson continue to lead the field and the closer we get to Iowa, the less of a reality show illusion their candidacies look to be.  But here is my rationale for Cruz:
  • He is a very strong fit for the evangelically-dominated early primary season, with a solid path starting with Iowa, through to South Carolina, and on to Super Tuesday across the south.
  • He has tons of money, having raised more than anyone except Jeb Bush
  • He is well organized in all of those early states
  • He has little competition on the Tea Party flank, while the “establishment” wing of the party has not settled on Bush or Rubio or Kasich or even Christie; this is very unlike 2012 when there were many crazies on the right (Cain, Santorum, Bachmann, Gingrich et al) and only Mitt Romney on the moderate side.
  • He is a brilliant debater, a skill he cultivated at Princeton long ago.  He rarely denigrates an opponent, always speaks directly to the camera, that is, the electorate (and not the moderator or the studio audience) and is always on message, delivering clear statements of his beliefs to an adoring base
  • He is true to the cause; Ted Cruz is not memorizing briefing books.  He is much like Santorum in 2012, the one candidate who could articulate the conservative cause from both the heart and the mind.  Except he is much smarter than Santorum and a much stronger candidate

Please be clear, I despise all that Ted Cruz stands for.  But I think he and Rubio will battle it out for delegates in the spring.  And if Trump, Carson and Bush hang around with them, we might not have anyone with a majority of the delegates when the convention rolls around.  Which, I’m guessing, is why Mitt Romney received a few mentions in the projections.  The convention might turn to him; stranger things have happened – and are happening right now (see:  Donald Trump is at the top of the GOP polls).

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Second Democratic Debate: Saturday Night, No Fever

Steve is back with his take on last night's Democratic debate in Des Moines...

It is my sincere hope that each and every one of you had something more exciting to do on a Saturday night at 9:00 than sit at home for two hours watching a democratic debate that had all the volatile rhetoric, interpersonal confrontation, and emotional intensity of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. Full disclosure: even I DVR-ed this one.

Those who tuned into the great state of Flyover witnessed what was essentially a pleasant, polite draw. But a draw should never be confused with maintenance of the status quo. A debate that is scored as a draw actively reinforces the relative standing of the competitors, and is therefore a win for the leader.

What did we actually learn from this debate?

1.   Bernie Sanders does not seem to have the will to try to take down Hillary Clinton
2.     Martin O’Malley is not even playing to win in 2016, so he certainly isn’t going to try to take down Hillary.
3.     Hillary is playing errorless ball, so it is extremely unlikely that she is going to take herself down.

The result? The inevitability of Hillary Clinton took another significant step forward in Iowa.

Hillary Clinton had a workmanlike evening; she had good moments, but more importantly, she is proving herself to be the Troy Tulowitski of presidential candidates, as both have phenomenal streaks of errorless performance. She is poised and tough, and she has a well-rehearsed counter-punch at the ready for just about every sling and arrow.

Her highlight for the evening came when Bernie implied that Hillary was hostage to Wall Street interests because she accepts their big-money campaign donations. Hillary pounced, pointing out that as the Senator from New York, she had worked extremely hard to help the financial sector recover from the impact of 9/11. Seeming to race to her side, the moderator turned the question back on Bernie and asked if he could cite evidence that Clinton had actually been influenced by Wall Street money, which drew no response.  Finally, Hillary went on to score her biggest slam of the evening, noting that 65% of her campaign contributions were from women.

In the final question of the evening, CBS handed Hillary what could well have been the most slanted question in modern debate history, asking the three candidates to give an example of a crisis they have handled that proves that they have what it takes to be President.  Hillary seemed to revel struggling to pick which of the dozens of global crises she has faced to make the point, alighting on the decision to send Seal Team Six in get Osama Bin Laden.  O’Malley, showing poise and grace, simply side-stepped, acknowledging that governors are unlikely to face the magnitude of crisis that comes before a president. Implausibly, Bernie Sanders offered that figuring out how to get a bill to improve VA healthcare through Congress was an oval office caliber crisis.

In the end, it was a night of smooth sailing for Hillary, and it is hard to imagine her losing an inch of ground based on this debate.

Bernie Sanders got this far by being Bernie Sanders, just as his evil mirror twins Donald Trump and Ben Carson have done in the Republican Party. All appear to be reaching the peak of what that strategy yields. All must rethink how they go to market to broader their appeal beyond the angry and alienated voters who have propelled their success to date.

To carry this parallel just a bit further, each of these candidacies have been fueled by populist rage at the deafness of centralized power to the needs and wishes of the vast and plundered citizenry. For Republicans, it is rage against the Federal Government. For Bernie, it is rage against the 1%, income inequality, and a political process controlled by big money. One side argues for more government to solve the problems caused by big business, the other argues for more business to solve the problems caused by big government.

At some point, Bernie Sanders has to realize that for present purposes, his opponent is not the 1% or campaign finance law, it is Hillary Clinton. If he really wants to win this thing (and I think it’s perfectly fair to wonder if that ever was his real goal), he has to use much more precious debate time unsparingly and relentlessly going after the real weaknesses and fault lines in Hillary Clinton’s career… beginning with her low ratings on trustworthiness. That’s what people who burn with a passion to win are willing to do: take the gloves off and fight. Until I see Bernie willing to wage that kind of serious trench warfare, it is hard to see how he changes the mojo of this election cycle.

Martin O’Malley, on the other hand, is simply playing a brilliant long game. Standing shoulder to shoulder with Hillary and the Doc for two hours over the course of six debates raises his stature, his awareness, and his campaigning skills. He knows that simply running the good race could easily put him first in line in 2020 or 2024. If some colossal smoking gun blows up in Hillary’s face in the next few months, he’s in a terrific position to swoop in and take the nomination in 2016. O’Malley is proving himself to be one shrewd operator – going at Hillary just hard enough to look like a real competitor, but never with the animosity or disrespect that would get a guy crossed off VP lists.

O’Malley had a number of very strong moments, most notably when he told of talking to a soldier’s mother in Iowa, who asked that candidates not refer to troops as “boots on the ground.” “My son,” she told him, “is not a pair of boots on the ground.” O’Malley has a gift for humanizing and simplifying complex policy issues: “Taking on 65,000 Syrian refugees in a country of our size is like adding 6 people to a baseball stadium that holds 32,000 people.” 

CBS had a good evening at the Iowa debate.  The moderator and panelists showed a willingness to press the candidates to take clear stands on issues where they sought the refuge of vagary. Most notably, John Dickerson pointedly asked Hilary why she should permanently “tattoo” Bernie Sanders with a vote he had once made favoring the gun lobby, when she herself had tried to distance herself from her vote to authorize the Iraq war. When Hilary said, “I said I was wrong – I apologized – let’s hear him apologize for his vote,” Sanders was left to awkwardly try to change the topic. It was good, real-time theatre; created by a focused and fair journalist.

The fair conclusion on this debate is simple. I think each of these three candidates “won” relative to their own very personal objectives.

I remain unconvinced that Bernie Sanders ever truly sought out to become president, so much as he has sought a very big microphone to pull his party towards its more liberal instincts. By this measure, he is succeeding. And, in the end, Hillary Clinton will benefit from the fact that Bernie is attracting and energizing the millennials. Bernie stays in the race.

Martin O’Malley is practicing and laying pipe for 2020 or 2024. If he continues to prove his effectiveness as a campaigner, he’ll have to be included on Hillary’s short list for VP.

And Hillary Clinton’s objective? She intends to be the first woman President of the United States. And on Saturday night, she took a major step in that direction.