2016 Democrats, 2016 General Election, 2016 Republicans, State of the Race, Uncategorized

State of the Race: Housekeeping (Part Two)

November 22, 2015

Continuing where we left off Friday in part one….

Breadcrumbs for Bernie

Let’s begin by stipulating Hillary is still the overwhelming nomination favorite and Bernie hasn’t taken any visible steps to solve his structural disadvantages in catching up.

Whether viewing polls (which outside of New Hampshire show him down 20+ points) or audiences (apparently even in South Carolina he’s speaking to mostly white crowds), he hasn’t made any strides in rounding out his appeal so that he can get enough minority votes to win a majority of delegates.

Three signs of hope for anyone hoping Hillary berns out.  First, while she maintains solid polling leads, most results are 55/32, 50/30, 48/25, etc.  This is better than trailing 63/37, even if the spread is similar.

A few of the non-Bernie, non-Hillary voters support Martin O’Malley, but the majority are undecided.  Sanders has strong favorability ratings with this group.  While he obviously has a ton of work to do, easier to convert an undecided voter than someone declaring for Hillary.  Easier to convert the small O’Malley group after he exits the race, than someone in Clinton’s camp.

Particularly given his one path is pulling an upset in Iowa, winning by a decent margin in New Hampshire and hoping for the best afterwards, having a large group of undecided voters with some sympathy to him is crucial for building a bandwagon effect and throwing Hillary off the tracks.

Between now and early January, pay more attention to whether she is in the high 40s low 50s or high 50s low 60s than what her margin over Bernie is.  State polls are more important than the national ones which often force the respondent to choose someone.

The second breadcrumb for Bernie to follow is the horrible week President Obama just had.  It’s hard to judge very recent events with proper perspective, but it may stand as the worst of his presidency.  The Paris attacks, coming hours after the president declared ISIS contained, were going to cause the administration some problems anyway.

After all, Obama ran for re-election on “Bin Laden is dead, GM is alive,” a Joe Biden line that did a great job of encapsulating their argument for a second term.  While many argued (at the time) his decision to remove troops from Iraq would cause trouble down the road, he could claim he killed the Public Enemy #1 the previous administration couldn’t find, while bringing troops back home.

That strategy is now in shards, and with it any chance for Hillary Clinton to leverage her role as secretary of state in the upcoming election.  Republicans were always going to make an issue of Libya, but Democrats were not inclined to worry about it very much, particularly after she effectively (with Kevin McCarthy’s considerable assistance) framed the Benghazi hearings as a witch hunt.

Now she’s stuck with having voted for the Iraq war, without being able to show how her actions as secretary made up for it.  Obama gave her no cover this week, as he awkwardly blundered through his response while being stuck in the middle of an extended presidential road trip, which brought him to multiple Muslim nations.

While most voters likely believe Clinton wouldn’t back down to ISIS and would not have followed exactly the same policies her boss did if she was in full control of foreign policy during her term as secretary, it’s hard to campaign on your experience and record if you need to run away from both.

As it was, Hillary faced a challenge next year in trying to win a third consecutive Democratic term.  The ability to do so is directly linked to the popularity of the incumbent president.

George H.W. Bush succeeded a popular Ronald Reagan against a mediocre opponent (Michael Dukakis).  Al Gore and Richard Nixon lost incredibly narrow races attempting to follow the popular Dwight Eisenhower and Bill Clinton.

Odds were well against the current incumbent having the 60%+ approval ratings of Reagan, Eisenhower and Clinton on election day next year, but his numbers were strong enough to avoid acting as a drag, the way George W. Bush did on John McCain.

Over the past week, Obama’s numbers have dropped from the high 40s to the low 40s (with a low of 40% in a new Fox News poll).  This is a bigger deal than just a few points.  The president’s numbers have proven far more consistent than his predecessors.

From fall 2009 forward, his high numbers are in the low 50s and lowest numbers in the 38 to 40 range.  So, he’s now suddenly near the bottom of his range.  This is also a number where he is a definite impediment to electing a Democrat.

Perhaps as a result, new polls released over the weekend have Hillary at the bottom of her range in matchups with Republican contenders.  Fox has her at a deficit against each of them, Trump included.  These numbers are about where she was in September when email servers were part of most of her coverage and Biden was the Great Democratic Hope.  Clinton is polling in the low 40s in these pseudo-matchups, almost exactly where Obama is in his approval rating.

For the 20-30% of the Democratic primary electorate that is truly up for grabs, this stuff matters.  Their hearts are often with Bernie, their heads are with Hillary.  But only when she’s both looking inevitable and more electable.

If she’s trailing Trump in polls and administration foreign policy is under siege, she no longer looks like a mostly sure thing in the fall (Hillary hasn’t often seemed a sure thing to neutral observers, but we’re talking about primary voters.  Republicans are similarly hopeful about their candidates), so more reason to pick Bernie.

These polling matchups are extremely misleading this far from the election.  Dewey led Truman by double-digits, Carter led Reagan.  However, people do pay attention to them.  That’s the only way to explain why these surveys are so frequently taken.

If enough Iowa voters are wary, moving some to Bernie and keeping other less-committed Hillary supporters home on a cold weekday evening, he can win Iowa.  If that happens, all bets are off.  Anything that makes a Clinton-led ticket less of a sure thing next November is good for Bernie.

The third positive development for anyone looking for an interesting race is the decision of the New Hampshire SEIU to endorse Sanders, rather than following their national union in endorsing Clinton.  This isn’t the first and won’t be the last time a state or local branch of a national union picks Bernie while their Washington D.C.-based big shots chose Hillary.

Bernie is advocating a $15 national minimum wage, while his opponent prefers $12.  If you are a national chieftain, you pick Hillary.  First, you figure she is far more likely to get nominated, way more likely to wind up in the White House.  You don’t want to piss her off.

Second, you realize there are way too many Republicans in Congress to pass anything near a $15 national minimum, and any Democrat will run a far more pro-union campaign than any Republican nominee.

The New Hampshire SEIU will not find itself negotiating with the federal government.  Leaders will not wind up in Oval Office meetings.  They and other state/local unions need to worry more about which candidates are more popular with the rank & file, who will inspire members to get out and get involved.

In many cases, that candidate is Bernie, possibly the most pro-labor major candidate in at least a generation.  Whether or not $15 is realistic, it is something to get SEIU members out of bed on a day off for.

The larger potential import is in Nevada, a state very important to Bernie’s long shot hopes.  Unlike the Republicans who go to South Carolina first, Democrats vote in Nevada right after New Hampshire.  The Silver State is a caucus, many voters union members and based in and around Las Vegas.

Being able to pull local organized labor support, even from unions who have endorsed Hillary on the national level, will have more impact in Nevada than anywhere else in the country.  It’s how Bernie would get himself in position to make South Carolina a shaky firewall for Hillary instead of the place that finishes him off for good.

Conditions have moved sharply in Bernie’s favor over the past few days (I’m going to claim this is due to my proclaiming there was nothing to see in the Dem race).  Over the next several, we’ll see if he can do anything to leverage that.

 

GOP Electorate Responds to Paris Attacks

The country is divided on how to respond to ISIS and what to do in Syria.  The division is not between hawks and doves, interventionists and isolationists.  Rather, most Americans are unsure themselves about what to do.

This is complicated, messy and scary.  It’s easy to argue Bush administration policies failed in important ways.  It’s no stretch to say the Obama administration has chosen poorly too.  The only opinion almost impossible to find is that the past fourteen years were an uninterrupted series of intelligent national security and foreign policy decisions.

In retrospect, it appears the three key decisions were invading Iraq, implementing the surge, and removing ground forces from Iraq.  A majority of voters and analysts would tell you today that the invasion was a bad idea, the surge a good one, the withdrawal a bad one.

It’s hard to find a public figure (or armchair decision maker) who was 3 for 3.  Most surge supporters also supported the invasion.  Most who were against the war were for the withdrawal.

Since few of us were consistently right, it’s hard to sit around and think you have the answers now, especially as things are messier than a decade ago.  Anyone standing behind a podium can have previous comments or positions thrown back in their face.

As mentioned above, this is a big problem for Hillary Clinton, who (at least as part of the public record) is 0 for 3.  She voted for the Iraq War, treated then-General David Petreaus roughly during a senate committee appearance early in the surge, and supported the administration position to withdraw from Iraq.

The trifecta of misjudgment makes it very hard for her to lead now.  While she displays plenty of facility with foreign policy/national security issues, that in and of itself will not rally a majority of Americans behind her.  Hillary also can’t move that far away from the president, as she served in his administration and is relying on Democratic establishment support.  So don’t expect her to say anything that greatly changes the debate.

Bernie would really rather talk about domestic issues.  If you make him talk about terrorism, he links it to global warming (for what it’s worth, over the long haul, there’s logic in his thesis, but many voters aren’t going to agree with his order of operations in allocating mental focus).  Sanders is not the Democrats’ standard bearer in this debate.

Then there’s Martin O’Malley.  Next.  So the debate is now and will likely continue forward for a few weeks as Obama (AKA the current Commander-in-Chief) v. GOP candidates.  This contest favors the Trump candidacy.  When Republican voters are more fixated on Hillary, other candidates, most notably Marco Rubio, stand to benefit.

Other voters might contrast Ben Carson’s personal integrity with the malleable Clinton.  A few others, notably those voting in New Hampshire, feel more comfortable with the establishment-friendly governors, the better to match up in experience and chase after swing voters.

The election is still a year off.  The current administration will deal with ISIS in the meantime.  GOP voters don’t like Obama under the best of circumstances, but the past week reminded many why that is.

The biggest contrast to the president in the field is Trump, especially when he’s operating at maximum decibels, optimum anti-PC commentary and sounding super self-assured, while Obama attempts to balance previous policy, existing realities and speaking from foreign countries with majority Muslim populations.

Trump was against invading Iraq.  He was against withdrawing from Iraq (post-surge that is).  He wasn’t pro-surge.  That makes him 2 for 3, no worse than anyone else.  More important than track record is attitude and lack of concern for what he may have said  a month ago.

Remember a month ago?  Trump was ok with leaving ISIS to Putin for a while.  Better to let the Russians get bogged down.  No sense in getting involved where you don’t have to.

Now he’s up for doing anything necessary to defend the homeland (nothing new) and going hard after ISIS.  Most importantly, he’s against the idiot politicians that got us in this mess.  Given the size and complexity of the mess and the years and years of questionable strategy, it’s hard for defenders of the status quo and or establishment to push back.

In times of fear, it’s always tempting to turn to someone who claims to have all the answers and Trump’s core supporters were already predisposed that way.  The difference is those who were on the fence about him.  They too like his attitude and are willing to give the benefit of the doubt, but sometimes move their support elsewhere.

A week like this reminds them why they like him.  Trump’s ability to monopolize media coverage guarantees these voters won’t wonder where he is on responding to Paris.

Chris Christie responded strongly to the attacks, mixing Trump-style toughness with a little more care on the policy/seriousness side.  You’d think that’s the best of both worlds, but the polls aren’t showing that’s the case.

He’s actually dipped slightly the past couple days.  The voters most opposed to Trump’s bombast are extra horrified at times like this and would prefer Rubio or Bush/Kasich depending on their leanings.

Those who would respond well likely aren’t even hearing him over Trump’s din.  Jeb isn’t in a great position to respond because his existence reminds everyone how this whole thing started.

While Rubio didn’t have a bad week, or a bad polling week, making sure to emphasize his strong positions on pushing back against ISIS and his repeated warnings over the past several months, he may have lost some ground to Ted Cruz.

As we know, no matter the topic, Cruz sounds more harsh than Rubio.  When talking about protecting Social Security recipients, this favors Marco.  When dealing with ISIS, the edge may go to Ted, even if Cruz has resisted some of the steps that would have helped contain or roll back the enemy.

It’s hard to speculate how possible future events will impact the campaign.  Today is the 52nd anniversary of the JFK assassination, a reminder that nasty surprises happen sometimes and with hard to foresee results.  Ideally, we won’t be analyzing the effect of a major ISIS attack in America next week, next month or next ever.

Just because this attack favored Trump doesn’t mean future problems automatically will.  However, at the moment, his position is stronger than any time since he entered the race.

GOP voters have responded to Paris.  Based on polls released over the weekend, which show advances for Trump and Cruz and further setbacks for the establishment, it appears voters are still on track to storm the Bastille when voting starts.

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