August 3, 2015
The median American is a little younger than 40. Older people vote more than younger people. Republicans are a bit older than Democrats. I’m too lazy to spend 5-10 minutes researching this, but let’s assume the average Republican being polled is 50ish.
Republicans are a fairly conservative lot. Think we can all agree on this. With two-thirds of the country identifying as Democrat or Independent and more Americans identifying as conservative than liberal or moderate, it’s actually more common to have a self-identified conservative not be a Republican than the reverse.
So pretend you’re a 50-year-old Republican. You were born in 1965, so you’re probably too young to remember much before Watergate. It’s unlikely you spent your summer as an 8-year-old watching the Watergate hearings on TV (if you did, we’d probably get along pretty well), so all things being equal, the first presidency you really noticed was Carter.
When you were 14, gas lines happened. You were looking forward to driving soon, so you noticed. Then Iran grabbed 52 American hostages and kept them for over a year. Things sucked and you were old enough to recognize this.
Then Reagan won and things got better. Not immediately, but you were 16 and probably not paying day-to-day attention. By the time you entered the full-time workforce, sometime between 1983-1988, depending on how much time you spent in school, things were looking up.
At some point in the mid-later 80s, you registered to vote. If you were a particularly civic-minded 19-year-old, you voted for Reagan in 1984. If not, you didn’t vote for another election or three, but you joined your peers as the most Republican-identifying age group (Gen Xers are the most Republican, those born in the mid-late 60s the most Republican of those).
The vast majority of your adult life is post-Reagan. Your primary political impressions were formed by comparing Carter and Reagan. Nixon and Eisenhower are historical figures, not your idea of model Republicans. You haven’t seen much footage of Ike, and any Nixon clips are likely Watergate-related.
Bush the Elder was a really good Dana Carvey impersonation. He’s remembered well now, but at the time you weren’t heartbroken when he exited.
When Newt captured the House in 1994 it looked like things were going to work out pretty well. The second half of the 90s were good for almost everyone, especially those in their early 30s who were beginning to move ahead at work, buy their first home, or move up to a bigger one.
By the time W hit the campaign trail in 2000, it sure seemed like conservative politics and policies were a good idea. Previously, Bill Clinton was re-elected while declaring “the era of big government is over” and signing a welfare reform bill. Starting in 1994, NYC mayor Rudy Giuiliani and chief Bill Bratton began the process of making big cities safe again by implementing community policing and the Broken Windows Theory.
The national economy had experienced one relatively minor recession in almost two decades. The Soviet Union was long gone. Oil was dirt cheap. The annual budget deficit was a surplus. The stock market was at record highs. Silicon Valley was offering college grads unheard of money to write a little code.
Even the industrial heartland was doing well. The Big Three were making record profits selling big SUVs. Workers at GM plants were complaining about excess overtime not giving them enough time to take the boat out on the weekend. Once-feared Japan was suffocating on a pile of debt and bad bank loans.
China was making plenty of stuff to sell at Walmart, but not much in the way of upper-end technology like the latest Motorola phone.
That Clinton guy was a bit embarrassing at times, so if you could just swap him out for the new Bush guy, who made it clear that while he was a “compassionate conservative”–whatever, he was going to take after Reagan more than his dad, the good times should continue.
And then the next 15 years happened. Yuck. Or another word that rhymes.
In his closing statement in the 1980 debate with President Carter, Candidate Reagan asked Americans if they were better off than they were four years ago. We’re they safer, more secure, better off financially (paraphrasing here), etc. Voters answered loudly a week later.
If you ask our composite 50-year-old whether he or she is better off than 15 years ago, are they safer, more secure, financially comfortable, etc., pretty good chance the answer is no.
When Reagan asked the question, the supposed culprits were a Democratic president and heavily Democratic congress. If you agreed with him, there was but one direction to point your finger. Republicans picked up 12 senate seats in that election too.
For 8 of the past 15 years, a Republican was in the White House. For 11 of the past 15 years, Republicans have controlled the House of Representatives, adding the Senate for about half of those years.
Republicans have held the White House plus both houses at the same time about twice as long as Democrats. While most Republicans (along with many independents) are sharply anti-Obama, most hold their own party at least partially responsible for the current “situation.”
When Ted Cruz breaks senatorial decorum by calling out the Republican leadership for getting pretty much the same results Majority Leader Harry Reid and Speaker Nancy Pelosi would have, he’s stating the obvious.
TARP happened while Bush was still driving. The surge was neat, but now seems like a waste, and besides, when Cheney wanted to do something about Syria and Iran, W was tapped out. Even the most hawkish Republican can’t help wondering if we picked the wrong side of the Axis of Evil to focus on.
Nothing happened on immigration. Fourteen years post-9/11, the borders are not secure from Mexican drug cartels, never mind somebody smuggling a dirty bomb. Republicans have repeatedly failed to separate the issues of border security, new legal immigrants and what to do about existing illegals/undocumented individuals.
Democrats are hardly blameless, using various straw men to attempt (often successfully) to convince Latino-Americans (and Asians) the GOP is a bunch of xenophobic racists, and doing nothing to propose solid solutions to any of the three main component issues. However, Republican voters aren’t expecting to get help from the other side.
The average Republican is fine with allowing the majority of uninvited residents to stay permanently, provided the border is legitimately secure, violent criminals are promptly deported, and updated immigration quotas allow for at least a decent percentage of new Green Cards based on education/skill level rather than primarily on existing family in the U.S.
Side Note: Most independents and plenty of Democrats are fine with that too. Painfully, the country has made no progress on an issue 70% of the public can agree on. By the way, I just outlined my best guess of what a Trump immigration plan would look like.
So Republicans are mad. In 2010, the culprit was Obama. He’d blown up the deficit, retreated from Iraq, passed Obamacare with bullshit tactics and not fixed the recession.
So the Tea Party happened. Moderate Republicans were primaried. Regular Republicans voted heavily in the midterms. And nothing.
Well, how much can you do with only one House? Tea Party candidates lost winnable senate seats. Rove & Company said 2012 would fix this as long as Republicans picked reasonable candidates.
After a bit of gagging, Republicans swallowed Nominee Romney, and picked more “reasonable” senate candidates. And nothing.
Then came 2014 and Majority. Leader. Mitch McConnell.
The news and pundits are all-Trump, all-the-time. They’re burying the lede. While some have pointed out he’s just the symptom, most analysis (including my last post) is based on his effect on the field. Which candidates are hurt, who is helped? Will he blow up the debate? What if he runs as a 3rd party candidate? All reasonable questions, but here’s another one:
Why are the most qualified candidates doing so badly so far?
In 2012, various individuals played non-Romney of the Month. Of these, a couple did not have the normal qualifications of a major party nominee. Herman Cain held no previous elective office. Michelle Bachmann was a third-term back-bench congresswoman. However, Rick Perry was a successful, popular big state governor. Rick Santorum was a serious two-term senator. His 2006 defeat was embarrassing, but he’d been one of the ten most prominent Republican senators.
Many people questioned Newt Gingrich’s temperament and judgement, but he spent two decades in the House and led it during arguably it’s most effective stretch in recent decades.
While the non-Roms jockeyed for position, there was never a time where “serious” candidates were not at least 60-65% of total polling preference. The overall quality of the field was suspect (more on that in a separate piece), but most candidates fit normal nominee qualifications.
If anything, the Seriousness Factor was a little low compared to normal Republican fields. Previous cycles featured Pat Robertson (1988), Pat Buchanan (1992), Steve Forbes (1996, 2000), et al, but with the exception of individual state polls or results, none ever commanded more than 20-30% of the national audience, even temporarily or in combination with a similarly non-certified candidate.
Donald Trump is around or above 20% in the majority of national polls right now. This means nothing by itself. Ben Carson has been a lock to make the main debate for months now. In the most recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll he pulled 10%. While higher than his average, it’s not out of line. This by itself proves nothing.
In the same poll, Ted Cruz was the first choice of 9%. Not a huge number, and his best in the past couple of weeks. It’s behind where Bachmann was at the same time in 2011. So what?
Well, add them up (Trump is at 19% in same poll) and you get 38%. Pick another poll, pretty much anything from the past couple weeks and you wind up in the same place (usually, more Trump, less Carson/Cruz). The Real Clear Politics average has them at a combined 35% with an upward trend.
As it is, that’s close to the high water mark for anti-establishment candidates in a Republican primary. But like the old Ginsu knife commercial, wait, there’s more….
Rand Paul is in the background, but he’s still nobody’s idea of an establishment candidate. He’s also a first-term senator with no major legislation or important committee contributions to his credit. Ted Cruz makes him look like a team player, and he’s certainly more mainstream than his dad, but it’s safe to add his 5-6% to the outsider group. If you doubt this, pull up the cross-tabs on polls and see who his voters have listed as a second choice. It’s not Jeb.
Articles today indicate Paul is going to make another push to distinguish himself by emphasizing his apostasy on foreign policy/defense issues. If this works, more points for Team Outsider.
Temporarily ignoring Carly Fiorina (poll respondents are too) and Mike Huckabee, who isn’t exactly an outsider and was a three term governor, and the forces of dissention are still easily north of 40%.
Everyone has pointed out Jeb Bush isn’t the strongest establishment front-runner in recent memory. Take his numbers and add Chris Christie. Then add John Kasich, who is making noticeable forward progress. Add Rick Perry just for good luck. Though this isn’t really there correct category, let’s include Rick Santorum and Bobby Jindal. Now that he has a working cell phone again, let Lindsey Graham join in.
Oops, almost forgot Marco Rubio. He’s resisting the comparison, but this is a more substantial Republican version of 2008 Obama. Say what you will about his presidency, but he was a hell of a candidate.
If somebody in late 2013 had listed this as the likely 2016 Republican field, it would have seemed unbelievably strong. That’s a whole lot of successful governors, plus a popular young senator and the second place finisher from the previous contest.
Current Combined RCP Average: 31%
That’s right folks, the Dream Field is about equal to Trump + Carson.
You’ll notice I’ve failed to mention Scott Walker. He’s positioned himself as the Goldilocks candidate, the Most Electable True Conservative. It’s mostly working. He’s about even with Jeb as the top non-Trump on a national basis and is top non-Don in Iowa.
If he runs well, sounds good in debates, and can keep from getting tripped up on foreign policy, he’s the most likely nominee. Easier said than done, but most of the others would happily trade likely outcomes with him.
Add his numbers in.
Now we have 44%, or equal to Trump, Carson, Cruz, Paul.
Last Round, Perry was the Goldilocks candidate until his porridge unexpectedly spilled in the debates. If you google polls from late summer/early fall 2011, his numbers are double Walker’s. Perry + Rommey was usually a solid 50% of the total, or more than a combination of nine very qualified candidates this time.
That’s how grouchy Republicans are about the past 15 years.
Jeb Bush, most consistently conservative of his family. Suspect. Given what happened in the previous three Bush terms, understandable, if in conflict with his actual record. Common Core + soft on immigration is enough to cause major doubts.
John Kasich, basically the original Paul Ryan, with time as a successful governor where he implemented a bunch of the stuff Ryan talks about. Expanded Medicare to grab federal funding. Nyet.
On the surface, this seems unreasonable. Both have more conservative records than the average Republican nominee (you’ll notice I said records, not rhetoric). You could argue either would be the most conservative nominee since Reagan. They certainly wouldn’t be noticeably more moderate than his successors. Except for Christie, the others are more conservative than these two.
Why fixate on a couple of departures from modern conservative orthodoxy, especially when however weak Hillary looks, it’s still likely to be a competitive 2016 election?
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnelll
House Speaker John Boehner
And countless other disappointments.
The trust is gone, and rightly so. Republican voters are worried about their candidates yielding when they take office and having bad performance results. Given how the past 15 years have compared to the previous 20, how could they not think this?
Trump is not at 20-25% because that many people like what he’s saying. He’s there because only some of the people who like what he’s saying think he could actually execute or get nominated and elected to find out.
Yesterday on Meet the Press, Trump was asked about the latest instance of a white police officer shooting an African-American civilian dead. Even liberal Democrats are getting tripped up on this topic. You probably haven’t heard Trump’s answer yet. It wasn’t inflammatory and didn’t reference another candidate.
Basically (paraphrasing again here), Trump said two things:
1. It’s a huge problem, something to take seriously.
2. Cops need support too. Crime in multiple major cities (he referenced Baltimore and Chicago specifically) is on the rise, especially murders and other violent crime, and the very people most affected are African-Americans.
No, he did not offer any concrete solutions (or any balsa wood solutions). Much like the Great Wall of Trump Plan (apparently the electrified barbed wire and drones are gold-plated) and the Trump How to Win Enemies and Influence China Strategy, details are noticeably absent.
That’s ok. Plans and solutions are completely pointless. Reaching a national consensus on fundamental issues comes first. Executing something a minority of the country understands or agrees with isn’t possible. People don’t hate Obamacare because it gets the government involved in medicine. Medicare is popular. People want to fix the VA system, not eliminate government care for veterans.
They hate it because we never agreed as a country what it was supposed to accomplish. Medicare has gone insanely over budget in the past 50 years. People still like it, even if it is bankrupting us. It basically does what it was supposed to.
FDR and Reagan are the two most venerated presidents of the 20th Century. They did not issue a ton of position papers while running. Reagan tried once while running in 1976. The specifics likely cost him New Hampshire and the nomination.
People seemed to like that JFK guy. In his inaugural, he said we would bear any burden, pay any price. He didn’t say how much that price was. He said he chose to go to the moon, not because it was easy, but because it was hard. He said where, and when (by the end of the decade), but not how.
No, Trump is not qualified to be president. Neither is Ben Carson, or Ted Cruz. No, the Trump of 1995 or 2005 would not agree with much of what 2015 Trump is saying. Yes he’s a demagogue. Yes, he sounds like your slightly racist uncle sometimes.
A few Trump supporters are racist xenophobes. Most aren’t. Most Carson supporters value experience in public office. Most Cruz supporters are not in favor of burning the Capitol down.
They do want someone to stand up for them. They are tired of being lied to. They do want someone to point out that protecting the border against terrorists and drug runners is different than deporting somebody’s grandpa or a kid taken across the border when he was two. They believe, and there is statistical evidence to back this up, that the middle of the country agrees with them, and it will only take a committed advocate to make fixing this mess a reality.
Yes, Reagan’s Ghost could win the nomination, provided there was some certainty the phantasm could stick around for a full term. It’s a cliche for candidates to reference the Gipper as part of their pitch. Critics point out Reagan would take different positions now, that he compromised, that young voters don’t remember him anyway.
All true, but not the point, and certainly not the point for a 50-year-old Republican voter. They don’t miss Reagan’s tax policy and don’t care exactly how many times he raised or lowered them. Most can’t remember the foreign policy details, or exactly how the Cold War wound down.
They remember they knew what he believed in. They’d remember he believed very strongly in individual Americans. They knew he had their back. Carter didn’t.
The first qualified, “serious” candidate to realize and regularly articulate these principles, rather than reciting their interpretation of Reagan’s policies is your eventual nominee.
The End (finally!)
NOTE: You’ll notice I didn’t show my work on any of this. No links to polling data. No links to economic stats. Nada. If you have any reason to doubt the fundemental correctness of any of the above assertions, please go ahead and have fun with Google and point out any serious factual inaccuracies. I’m not wrong (enough to matter). In the interests of speed and getting myself back into the habit of posting regularly, I decided I didn’t care if the median planning-to-vote Republican is actually 48 or 52 instead of 50.
It does not matter if 39% or 42% of Americans self-identify as conservative, nor if inflation-adjusted median incomes peaked in the fall of 1999 or the spring of 2000. Accuracy is overrated. There’s no such thing in politics or economics, only on things like silicon wafers.
If you search enough, you can find reputable statistical research that tells you middle class incomes have been stagnant since 1973. Others will tell you the peak was 2006-07. If enough of you care why those are probably not the best readings, I’ll write a separate post about it. Seems like as good a thing to nerd out on as anything.