Campaign Dynamics

boxers in ring

 

A political campaign is a living, breathing organism. Momentum is critical, but change is constant. Anything can affect that, a bad debate, an ill-considered statement, even feedback from polls.

In politics, a week is like a year. No one knows for sure how all of this will turn out.

That’s why campaign managers are always trying to spin the outcome, manage expectations and put a good face on voting results, no matter how dire.

The tone of the last Republican debate, no matter who you support, left a lot to be desired. A campaign rapidly falling into the gutter landed there with a big thud. Ted Cruz may have gained just by keeping his mouth shut.

Donald Trump, an unconventional candidate, may have made a major error by counter punching on charges he would have been better off ignoring. If he’s not careful, he will lose control of the movement he founded.

People have already expressed alarm about the atmosphere of Trump rallies. Without intending it, Mr. Trump will be tarred by the acts of his followers.

Let’s be frank. Donald Trump is a political genius. He correctly gauged the mood of the Republican electorate and left his competitors in the dust. Now, they have suddenly woken up in a largely futile effort to stop his march to the nomination.

Moreover, Mr. Trump will not stand idly by while the “never Trump” movement attempts to stop him. As the Republican frontrunner, he now has the leverage to foil their plans. Any brokered convention would end up electing Hillary Clinton, and the Republican establishment knows that. Despite their protestations, they will reluctantly support him, if only for the Supreme Court.

However, before you draw any conclusions about the future course of the race, you must understand the dynamics of a campaign can turn on a dime. Unanticipated events, an ill-considered phrase, almost anything can impact the voters, especially this year, when many of them are particularly fickle.

In politics, a week is like a year. No one knows for sure how all of this will turn out.

Establishment Desperation

Republican elephant graphic

It seems like all of a sudden the G.O.P. establishment has woken up to  the danger Donald Trump poses to the conservative movement. They are literally throwing the kitchen sink at Mr. Trump, desperately hoping something will stick.

Megyn Kelly got her revenge at the debate last night, trying to expose Donald Trump as a liar about Trump University.

They are all just wasting their breath. Trump followers will stick behind him despite the onslaught. They know Mr. Trump is attempting something very difficult: his campaign represents one man versus the establishment, and the maxim, “You can’t fight city hall,” may no longer apply.

Much as I dislike the Republican Party, we do need two parties for a strong democracy, and no one is well served to see the Republican Party disintegrate.

One man versus the system rarely succeeds, let alone survives. The only people I can think of who have pulled this off are Gandhi and Bob Dylan.

Now, the substance of the Trump campaign is deeply disappointing to the conservative movement. He is not afraid of bucking Republican orthodoxy and saying what’s on his mind, and the Republican electorate seems to appreciate that fact. Sometimes, Mr. Trump gets confused by the constant demands of interviews and debates, and these situations inevitably result in changing his position or backtracking. Everyone agrees his policy details leave much to be desired.

But I wonder whether the reason for these snafus simply occur because he is not a politician. He is unused to the media tracking his every utterance, to being under the spotlight instead of making decisions in private. And to controlling and remembering his statements on a word-by-word basis.

Last night’s debate left much to be desired. Mr. Trump was forced to endure public humiliation by the two candidates on either side of him, as they teamed up to run his record over the coals. His retaliations were limited and primarily consisted of monikers like “little Marco” or “lying Ted.” Let’s hope all sides get back to policy. Much as I dislike the Republican Party, we do need two parties for a strong democracy, and no one is well served to see the Republican Party disintegrate.

Stop Trump?

stop sign on pavement

 

Chris Matthews of Hardball pontificated one night, “Whenever you hear about a ‘Stop’ movement in politics, you can bet on the success of the person they’re trying to stop.”

Only a positive vision and precise policy proposals will demonstrate the difference between Trump and the rest of the field.

Of course, Matthews was referring to the unique position of Donald Trump, the Republican frontrunner whom the Republican establishment is trying to oppose.

For mainstream, elected Republicans to oppose the person selected by their own voters carries the potential of chaos and defeat in November. Yet they are willing to risk these outcomes based on their antipathy towards Donald Trump.

They may well be overreacting. Based on his press conference after a landslide on Super Tuesday, Mr. Trump may switch gears to become an exemplar of goodness. Once he becomes the Republican nominee, Mr. Trump no longer needs to satisfy the whims of an angry electorate.

In fact, Mr. Trump may be the only Republican capable of defeating Mrs. Clinton in the fall. His ability to create a surge in turnout has become evident throughout the Republican primaries, and his last challenge will involve the so-called “closed primary,” where independents and Democrats are barred from voting.

The Republican Party is engaging in a desperation tactic by splurging on ads in Florida, estimated as high as $7 million on television alone. Such an effort is destined for failure because Donald Trump has already proven his ability to weather such storms. They may even backfire!

The harder they attack Mr. Trump, the more he will rise in the polls. You can’t “out Trump” Trump. Only a positive vision and precise policy proposals will demonstrate the difference between Trump and the rest of the field. You would think Republicans would have learned this as their ranks have slowly fizzled out due to Trump’s counterpunches. He’s even warned them about it on repeated occasions.

The drive for a brokered convention will be saved for a future blog entry.

Super Tuesday Election Results

candidate on cliff

 

The suspense built to a crescendo before Super Tuesday’s results yesterday. After months of wall-to-wall coverage of the horse race, the networks shed any pretense of policy debates, using countdown clocks and county-by-county analysis to provide election statistics and make predictions prior to their competitors.

Trump’s ability to surprise and his unconventional tactics will make him a formidable opponent . . .

For a political junkie, switching from channel to channel all night helped to determine some key prejudices on cable TV. CNN, MSNBC and FOX News truly insulated their prediction units from any outside influence. States were not called at the same time; often, the gap could be measured in 15 minutes or more. Coverage of the victory speeches provided another dilemma. MSNBC, as expected, spent much more time on Hillary’s speech, staying with it until the end while FOX News cut away.

Everyone, however, covered Trump’s news conference in full. This unusual approach to a victory celebration illustrated how Mr. Trump remains an unconventional candidate. The format allowed him to spend more time on television than a standard speech and gave him more gravitas than his rivals. It was much more serious than making some trite statements while your supporters scream in the background.

Trump’s ability to surprise and his unconventional tactics will make him a formidable opponent for Secretary Clinton. He does change the election map drawing voters who may otherwise vote Democratic. The debates between the two may decide the election. Trump with his experience in the raucous Republican debates will be well trained and sharp with his wit. Hillary Clinton will be restrained by decorum in ways Mr. Trump will not.

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton offer wildly divergent views of the United States and what we might become. The election is likely to be close and highly contested. If the results from Super Tuesday are dispositive, these two nominees will offer a clear choice for voters in November.

Trump and the Conservative Party

political-scoreboard

The best politicians are able to transcend their political party and present a vision for all Americans. Only by doing so can they successfully make the transition from the primaries to the general election.

The conservative party has become accustomed to its candidates meeting a series of litmus tests . . .

While many conservatives have expressed alarm about Donald Trump, they are only doing so because of his willingness to think independently without following conservative dogma.

Like him or hate him, you must admit Mr. Trump is his own man and reaches his own conclusions. Once you strip away all the bluster, the political opposition and the schoolyard rhetoric, you find a person who has carved out his own niche in the electorate, one many people will struggle to oppose.

That fact positions Mr. Trump for the general election with many tried and true Democratic states now in play. The Clinton campaign should be careful not to underestimate Mr. Trump’s appeal among blue collar and patriotic voters.

The conservative party has become accustomed to its candidates meeting a series of litmus tests, and non-compliance has inevitably meant a primary challenge from the right and other forms of punishment, e.g., John Boehner’s resignation as House Speaker.

Yet the political establishment lacks any leverage against Donald Trump. His self-funding campaign steers clear of commitments to typical Republican donors. Trump’s free-wheeling conversations at his rallies — they can be compared to a mix between a more formal speech and a town hall — are captivating to the audience and media alike.

Many have questioned whether Trump’s approach and policy prescriptions represent the end of the Republican Party as a bastion for conservatives. God knows, they will not go quietly. But once the nomination is wrapped up, Trump will give more voice to his non-conformist elements, and that may swing the tide in the general election.

Until Trump leaves the stage, either in a few months or in eight years, we may not know the true fate of conservatives and the Republican Party. How things will play out is very much in the air.

Presidential Insults

water-bottle

Presidential insults, derided by Jeb Bush, have become the new art form. Marco Rubio, with his continued participation in the Republican race at stake, has taken to imitating a distorted caricature of Donald Trump, talking about his opponent wetting his pants and other sundry statements of similar ilk.

Presidential insults, derided by Jeb Bush, have become the new art form.

This tactic will never work. First of all, Rubio is not Donald Trump and doesn’t know how to concoct an insult. Second, he’s intruding into Mr. Trump’s area of expertise and will never beat him at his own game. And finally, Mr. Rubio’s attacks lack authenticity because they have been launched in desperation after everything else has been tried.

There’s a logic to Donald Trump’s technique. As long as you’re nice to him, he reciprocates the gesture. It’s only when you cross the line from policy into ad hominem attacks that he counter punches. And wow, how did he respond to Marco Rubio’s transgressions.

Taking a plastic bottled water container, Mr. Trump imitated Mr. Rubio’s worst moment, when Marco was giving the Republican reply to the State of the Union address. All of a sudden, in the middle of the speech, he reached out for some water off camera. Interrupting his speech to do so made him a laughingstock of the political world.

Anyway, Mr. Trump grabs the bottle, makes an exaggerated play of being thirsty and then imitates Mr. Rubio, caressing the bottle and throwing some water around. You’ve got to check out the clip, it’s hysterical.

Rubio was somehow convinced by his advisers to go negative with insults. Such a strategy may have unintended consequences as Ted Cruz tries to jujitsu the clash between his other two opponents. I don’t know how Rubio goes any lower — he’s losing his home state of Florida by 20 points.

Can’t wait to see what Trump does next.

One Man Against the System

gear

 

The time-worn saying goes, “You can’t fight city hall.” But every one in a blue moon, someone comes along who succeeds in doing so. The challenge is refreshing, and the guts to do so renews our faith in mankind.

Trump’s drive towards the Republican nomination represents nothing less than a hostile takeover of the Republican Party.

Bob Dylan did so. So did Steve Jobs. And whether you like him or not, so has Donald Trump. No matter your position on the political continuum from right to left, you must admit that the establishment hates Trump. And they fear his upending of the Republican Party purely as a matter of raw power and its threat to the existing power brokers.

Trump’s drive towards the Republican nomination represents nothing less than a hostile takeover of the Republican Party. As Republican elders scratch their heads at his popularity and rejection of key Republican orthodoxies, they have come to see their own machinations work against them.

Republican elites sanctioned and coddled the nascent Tea Party movement, and some believe created the movement out of whole cloth. Now, in a twist of Dylanesque revenge, the Tea Party has declared its independence. The policy positions they supported, while far to the right, never represented their true essence. Donald Trump provided their best spokesperson because the Tea Party always transcended a 10-point plan and favored revolutionary vigor instead.

Some of the things Trump says rightly strike fear among Republican elites and regular voters alike. But these statements often pop out during freewheeling rallies, and backtracking often occurs within hours.

Moreover, Donald Trump does not closely regulate his public speaking, with every word parsed among focus groups. The efforts of his opponents to tar him with his own words may provide a factual case against him, but they ignore his spirit and the spirit of his followers. He does seem to be a good man, much more so than the typical politician. His attacks and insults may shock people unused to political realities, but he has only expanded upon the typical negative TV ad, here today and gone tomorrow.

When Trump is evaluated in a non-factual, non-linear manner, his campaign actually makes a lot of sense.

South Carolina and Nevada Predictions

voting exhortation

 

Well, after all the speeches, town halls and rallies, the rubber hits the road tonight with the South Carolina and Nevada primary results. Before all the armchair quarterbacks start gloating with their “we-said-so-all-along” comments, this blog will take the somewhat foolhardy task of putting our predictions in writing.

We predict an affirmation for the Trump campaign and a sharp blow to the Clinton one (see exact margins below).

The problem with the Clinton campaign can be found in the neat little saying, “You campaign in poetry; you govern in prose.” Unfortunately, Hillary’s skills are more suited for the Presidency than they are for a Presidential election.

Look for Trump to win going away by a significant margin, and another Sanders-Clinton photo finish.

It takes all the pundits by surprise over and over again when Donald Trump demonstrates the power of his post-ideology campaign. The Republican electorate is clearly foiling the predictions of the Republican establishment: Unlike Charlie Brown, they will not keep trying to kick a football only to let Sally pull it away again. The Republican leadership has over-promised to win its followers, and the base will no longer trust them now no matter what they say.

It’s like the boy who cried wolf. The establishment has permanently lost its credibility, and now Mr. Trump will pick up the pieces.

There appears to be a similar dynamic playing out in the Democratic contest. When Hillary Clinton was asked if she will promise always to tell the truth by Scott Pelley of CBS News, she demurred, I will always “try to.” Pelley pounced, noting the Clintonian ambiguity. Her supporters everywhere groaned.

The problem with the Clinton campaign can be found in the neat little saying, “You campaign in poetry; you govern in prose.” Unfortunately, Hillary’s skills are more suited for the Presidency than they are for a Presidential election. Even though all her arguments are well thought out and poll tested, she seems unable to match the inspiration her husband regularly achieves.

So, to be more specific, let’s say Trump by 11, Sanders by 3.

Constitutional Hypocrites

display of patriotism

I’ve always doubted the way Republicans cling to the Constitution to justify their policy positions and how they brand everyone else unpatriotic. My suspicions have now been justified in spades.

With the balance of the Supreme Court on the line, Republicans have conveniently forgotten the responsibilities according to the document they claim to hold so dear. Barack Obama was elected to the Presidency for four years, not three, and the Senate’s refusal to even give the President’s nomination to the Supreme Court a hearing represents a betrayal of the Constitution and could even be categorized as treason.

You can always tell a person’s true intentions when they are faced with a conflict between the rules and their self-interest.

What gives Mitch McConnell the right to refuse his sworn duty, to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States? What gives the Republican Party the right to “bend” the overarching mandates of our most sacred document?

The answer can be described in two words: political expediency.

You can always tell a person’s true intentions when they are faced with a conflict between the rules and their self-interest. The Republicans as a whole have chosen their self-interest almost unanimously. They would leave the Supreme Court without a tie-breaking vote for more than a year, and the Supreme Court has never been vacant for so long.

The American people should respond as one to their act of overwhelming hypocrisy and refusal to obey the document they claim to champion: the Constitution of the United States. They should vote to overthrow the Republicans in the same way the Republicans have decided to overthrow the Constitution.

It remains to be seen how these events will resolve themselves. Each generation of Americans must renew their commitment to the Constitution and our government. If the Republicans persist in their act of constitutional hypocrisy, they should be thrown out as bums by the voters.

The denouement of this matter proves there is a difference between Democrats and Republicans. A Democratic Senate approved Anthony Kennedy for the Supreme Court in Reagan’s last year, and seven Justices have been approved by the Senate in election years. To do otherwise is a dangerous political act.

Bubble Boys and Hot Air Balloons

boy blowing bubble

Iowa did shake up the Republican race for President, but it may have impacted the candidates who are staying in the race as much as those who left. Ted Cruz remains his nasty self but those who came directly behind him may now be compared to bubble boys and hot air balloons.

In this roiling Republican race for President, nothing goes unnoticed, especially a lack of authenticity.

Chris Christie used the former moniker to describe Marco Rubio who is always “on message” and appears to repeat the same platitudes whether he is giving a stump speech or responding to a question. It’s just a matter of a transition sentence and then “section 1 B.”

In this roiling Republican race for President, nothing goes unnoticed, especially a lack of authenticity. Marco is being criticized, basically, for being too smooth and too rehearsed.

Donald Trump is the other contender most affected by the race in Iowa. Mr. Trump used to love quoting polls in his giant rallies. It animated and reinforced his ego. Now, however, some of the air has gone out of his balloon. He is slowly returning to normal, but he definitely gave the shortest speech of his career for his concession statement.

Mr. Trump is also raising a valid point about the campaign tactics of Ted Cruz. Cruz’s staff directly spread the rumor that Ben Carson was dropping out of the race in order to reduce the competition for the evangelical vote. This lie directly affected the results, and if anyone other than Trump were complaining, the press would take greater notice. As it is, it just looks like sour grapes.

With New Hampshire coming close on the heels of Iowa, none of these caricatures will stay constant. The results will generate a whole new set of dynamics and will go a long way to clarifying the race. A primary election provides a much easier way of expressing your opinion, and I would look for Mr. Cruz to falter behind the hot air balloon and the bubble boy.