Yes. Well, probably. At least, I don’t see how he doesn’t win the Republican nomination given current facts on the ground (the general election is a much different and much more unpredictable story). Donald Trump has won nearly every category of voter – and in Nevada, every category – so far that has come out for the Republican contests. It used to be self-evident that support for dropouts Chris Christie and Jeb Bush would go to Marco Rubio. Reality had other plans. If Trump’s lead only increases when a candidate drops out, he wins. Now we have the three-man race predicted here, and if Rubio and Ted Cruz don’t play rock-paper-scissor or whatever it takes to get one of them to drop out, Trump wins. And if one of them drops out, Trump probably still wins.
Those of you who have been reading Swinging Dead Cats since it started last August already knew that Trump was likely to win the Republican nomination. Along with declaring Trump the frontrunner in my post “Surprise! Donald Trump Appeals to White Nationalists” I mentioned that the Republican party harbors a substantial minority of no-doubt-about-it racists. I got some pushback on that one. This is an important point that people keep missing. Sometimes, the answer to questions like the ones I asked in the linked post are really, horrifyingly simple.
So what’s going on here? Why would a bloc of voters who have always voted for GOP economic policies all of a sudden be open to Democratic economic policies espoused by someone who sounds like a racist demagogue?
Anyone pushing back want to read this polling of South Carolina’s Republican voters and try to argue again that many of them are not racists? A staggering 38% of South Carolina Trump voters wish the South had won the Civil War. If 38% of Trump voters wish the South had won the Civil War, and the South fought the Civil War over the right to continue owning slaves, then 38% of Trump voters still believe that we ought to have the right to own slaves. As Esquire’s Charles Pierce likes to say, South Carolina is the “home office of American sedition.” So some might say hey, it’s South Carolina. But if people think that 38% number isn’t similar across the South, they haven’t been following American politics.
Now, Christie’s endorsement of Trump blunts the momentum Rubio may have had after Thursday night’s debate. The idea that Rubio did any real damage to Trump among the latter’s own core supporters was laughable anyway.
Meanwhile, the math is what it is: Trump is winning and racking up delegates, and a strong plurality of the hundreds of delegates up for grabs on March 1st look likely to go Trump’s way. Trump is leading in every state that votes next Tuesday and usually by wide margins, except in Texas – Ted Cruz’s home turf. Cruz is likely to win in Texas, giving him a second state (he won Iowa). Rubio will do well enough that the Republican establishment and much of the media will convince themselves he still has a chance. So Cruz and Rubio will both stay in the race.
This is a nightmare scenario for the GOP establishment. Starting on March 15th most Republican contests are winner-take-all, meaning that Trump would win all of a state’s delegates with only a plurality of the vote. This will almost certainly happen if both Cruz and Rubio stay in the race. Trump could essentially have the nomination wrapped up by the end of March!
The Trump phenomenon is not really a mystery, as Matt Taibbi explains in his excellent recent piece over at Rolling Stone. The racial and cultural resentments of many Americans, and their justified anger over their economic situations (though deeply ironic as they’re the ones who have been voting middle class-gutting Republicans into office, after all) – these were always there for someone to come along and put them together, unleash them without filters, and see what happens.
Unfortunately, it probably means we won’t have a full Supreme Court until well into 2017. Republican officials, most importantly Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senator Chuck Grassley (the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee), are already calling for no movement on the vacancy until the new president is sworn in. They will try to support their arguments with reasons and precedents, but there are no good reasons or precedents.
So, expect President Obama to nominate one or two people but to be rebuffed. In the meantime, we can expect contentious cases over union rights, emissions regulations, etc. to split 4-4 and default to lower court rulings. But, for someone better informed than I, go read Rick Hasen.
If President Obama gets a nominee through before his presidency ends, I will be an extremely happy and surprised man. If he doesn’t, well, I’d like people to remind me again about how important it is to vote for someone who will pinkie swear to always tell them the truth cross their heart hope he/she dies stick a needle in his/her eye.
Let me express this clearly if condescendingly. It doesn’t matter if you trust Hillary Clinton enough to invite her to your sleepover or not. She will not appoint to the Supreme Court anyone who will (1) vote to let states criminalize all abortions, (2) vote to overturn a right to same-sex marriage, (3) vote to uphold unlimited corporate money in elections, (4) vote to strike down emissions regulations, etc. Every single Republican running for president will nominate someone who will vote for those things. The 2016 election is for huge stakes no matter whom the two parties’ nominees are; people need to stop pretending it isn’t. A conservative justice on the Supreme Court just ate a dirt sandwich. The stakes couldn’t be higher, and the differences between the two parties couldn’t be bigger.
Want to know how absurd this 2016 Republican nomination contest has become? Here’s the spokesman for the fourth-place finisher in New Hampshire, whose campaign has spent way more money than any of the other candidates’ campaigns, arguing that the second-place New Hampshire finisher has no viable path to the nomination. That’s right, Jeb Bush’s campaign is trying to stake out ground as establishment frontrunner even as it departs New Hampshire having placed behind John Kasich and Ted Cruz and just barely in front of Marco Rubio. And of course, I’m burying the lede here: Donald Trump placed first in New Hampshire, has outperformed the polls in doing so, and his potentially damaging second-place finish in Iowa is now a distant memory.
Just one week ago, the Republican establishment seemed poised to rally around Rubio and his strong third-place finish in Iowa. One humiliating debate performance and a fifth-place finish in New Hampshire later, and Rubio appears to be dead in the water. It’s not a strong look when your state campaign chairman is caught on camera physically assaulting a “Robot Rubio” protestor. The Rubiobot has indeed malfunctioned.
What do the New Hampshire results mean for the Republican race? Ben Carson (dead last) and Carly Fiorina (second to last) should drop out. Chris Christie’s sixth-place finish and return to New Jersey would indicate that he’s dropping out. He shook up the race by badly exposing Rubio during last Saturday’s debate, but Rubio’s poor performance in New Hampshire did not benefit Christie. The Granite State was everything for Christie’s campaign, but it turns out he is about as well-liked there as he is in New Jersey.
Moving on, the field will effectively consist of five candidates. Here are the five in order of their support in an average of national polls: Trump (29.5%), Cruz (21.0%), Rubio (17.8%), Bush (4.3%) and Kasich (4.0%). Carson has been running fourth nationally at 7.8%, and Christie and Fiorina are tied at 2.5% each. That’s almost 13% of the electorate that needs to find a new candidate.
Now the circus moves to South Carolina, which holds its contests on February 20th. South Carolina polling is badly outdated; we don’t even know the effects of the Iowa contest there and now we have New Hampshire’s results to consider as well. Trump has been running strong in South Carolina, so that probably won’t change. If Trump can break 40% in South Carolina, that would indicate he’s on his way to securing a majority among some voting populations, even in a still crowded field.
Nobody in South Carolina knows who Kasich is, so how does he capitalize on his second-place finish in New Hampshire? For some perspective, let’s remember that Kasich won second place in New Hampshire with about 16% of the vote; it’s a crowded field, sure, but when 84 out of 100 voters are choosing someone else, you’re not exactly crushing it. But this “success” in New Hampshire means Kasich will move on and try to compete in at least one more contest. That leaves him, Bush, and Rubio vying for establishment support. In the wake of Rubio’s face plant last Saturday and disappointing New Hampshire result, maybe Bush, who has been close to Rubio in South Carolina, actually has an opening. I can’t believe I’m writing that.
New Hampshire was a bad result for the Republican establishment. Support for its preferred candidates is extremely fractured. Trump and Cruz go into South Carolina competing for first and second, while the establishment candidates will likely continue to fight among themselves. As long as nobody emerges to lead the establishment, Trump and Cruz will keep this a two-man contest and will rack up valuable delegates in these early states.
On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton has to be disappointed with receiving under 40% of the vote and losing by a bit more than 20%. Bernie Sanders outperformed the polls and received about 60% of the vote. Nevada is going to offer Democrats their first venue that doesn’t skew so white and liberal, so Clinton has reason for optimism. The theory of the race that the Clinton campaign has embraced so far is that Clinton will do well in more diverse states where Democrats are not so liberal. Past polls have backed up this theory. I’m looking forward to seeing new polls out of Nevada and South Carolina to find out if the ground has really started to shift or not in this race.
It’s just hard to say what’s going to happen. Sanders couldn’t have asked for two friendlier states to start the nomination contest, yet he only won one of them. However, if you had told the Sanders campaign seven months ago that they would practically tie in Iowa and dominate in New Hampshire, they would have taken that in a heartbeat. Clinton came out of the first two contests bruised but certainly not broken. She has contests in much friendlier states coming up. However, she got crushed again by younger voters. Is it time for the Democratic establishment to start panicking?
It’s been a tough time for predictions here at Swinging Dead Cats. Last week, in the Iowa Caucus preview, I had Donald Trump winning there only to see Ted Cruz score a big victory. I called Iowa a coin-flip between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, so that one came out looking okay. But then, in my last “Weekend Links” post I wrote that the Carolina Panthers would beat the Denver Broncos by a touchdown or more in the Super Bowl. Well, that didn’t happen.
The Broncos’ defense made Cam Newton and his Panthers team look like a hapless high school squad as they fumbled and bumbled and missed a field goal on their way to an ugly loss on the country’s biggest stage. This was the one game I caught the whole season and it was a giant piece of garbage. Maybe I should write my own disingenuous piece about boycotting the NFL. Seriously though, I should boycott the NFL.
Back to predictions. One out of three is good for a hitter in baseball, but not for some random guy trying to establish credibility as a commentator on American politics. New Hampshire is unlikely to help me; the state can be very hard to predict because many people participate and many of them tend to decide just before they vote. This time, there are a few complicating factors as we wait to see how tomorrow’s actual voting compares to the polls and pundits’ predictions. For a good primer on New Hampshire’s contests, check out this piece over at Raw Story.
Let’s look at the Republican primary. Marco Rubio has been trending upwards in New Hampshire since his stronger-than-expected finish in Iowa. He seemed to be on his way to a comfortable second-place finish, and he could possibly challenge Trump for first. However, the overwhelming consensus is that Rubio received a savage beating at the hands of Chris Christie during Saturday night’s Republican debate. Polls won’t have the opportunity to register the effect of this, if any, before the good citizens of New Hampshire go out and vote.
With some recent polls indicating that around 30% of Republican primary voters are still undecided, it’s just hard to say what’s going to happen. Trump is comfortably in the lead but his support could be soft. However, his backing in New Hampshire has always been stronger and his lead over his opponents has been larger than either ever were in Iowa. I think Trump wins New Hampshire and Cruz outperforms his polls but I’m not sure that would be enough for Cruz to finish second. If Rubio really did come out of Saturday looking weak, then John Kasich, Jeb Bush, and/or Christie could all challenge him for pride of place among establishment candidates. If Rubio places behind any of them, he’ll have to beat them all in South Carolina on February 20th before he can continue arguing that he’s the best choice for the establishment. It will look even worse for Rubio if he also finishes behind Cruz tomorrow.
On the Democratic side, remember that it was New Hampshire that saved Clinton’s candidacy in 2008. That was a surprising outcome. Even though she’s been trending in the right direction since her slight victory in Iowa, I don’t think there will be any surprises tomorrow. Sanders has a comfortable lead in the polls and I think he’ll win with more than 50% of the vote. If Clinton finishes with 40% or higher, that will allow her to claim she did well enough. She’ll be relieved to move on to Nevada and then South Carolina where she has enjoyed huge polling leads. However, if Sanders wins New Hampshire as expected, the next big question will be: can Sanders put up a decent challenge in South Carolina and keep himself viable heading into the many March contests?
Really though, we shouldn’t look too far ahead. The Republican contest has always deserved a wait-and-see approach, and the Democratic contest is turning into a much closer fight than I was anticipating just a month ago. Whatever happens, trying to figure out what these strong challenges to both parties’ establishments mean for the state of American politics and the general election in November will be interesting.
We’re going out to my parents’ house for the Super Bowl this weekend. I think the Carolina Panthers will beat the Denver Broncos by a touchdown or more, but I have no gambling or rooting interest here and will hope for a good, close game instead. Living in China, I don’t get to watch much football and that gets me down sometimes. Maybe my body mass doesn’t, but I really miss the classic American snack foods that are part of the ritual.
Some links for the weekend:
Josh Marshall ponders Ted Cruz’s collapse in the New Hampshire polls. Go read his theory, which builds up to this great conclusion:
If that’s true, his continuing decline in New Hampshire is no mystery. It’s just the natural reaction to seeing Ted Cruz.
Erik Loomis at Lawyers, Guns & Moneyflags this piece by Alex Pareene, in which he points us to a moment during this week’s debate when Hillary Clinton bragged about receiving a compliment from Henry Kissinger. This small anecdote helps explain why she’s still having trouble with the Democratic Party’s left wing. Pareene’s a great and funny writer so go read his piece, but the main point, which I agree with, is that for Clinton and her peers, the left appears silly and unserious when it says Kissinger is an amoral war criminal. Except, you know, he is an amoral war criminal. The left is a growing bloc within the Democratic coalition, and the faster Clinton realizes that the left is trying to make a new world in which Kissinger-types are not respected elder statesmen anymore, the better chance she’ll have of putting down Bernie Sanders’s challenge. Really, go read the rest, but here’s a quote:
Bernie Sanders’ critique of Clinton is not that she’s cartoonishly corrupt in the Tammany Hall style, capable of being fully bought with a couple well-compensated speeches, but that she’s a creature of a fundamentally corrupt system, who comfortably operates within that system and accepts it as legitimate. Clinton has had trouble countering that critique because, well, it’s true. It’s not that she’s been bought, it’s that she bought in.
More good Gawker writers, this time Tom Scocca on the logical trap in which Jeb Bush finds himself.
Steve M., a writer I really like, finds a piece in the The New York Times that gives many of us flashbacks to the 2000 election. I touched on this in my post yesterday. To make the point explicit: in 2000, a lot of reporting and opinion pieces during the general election focused on personality rather than policy, as you can see in this great Vanity Fair piece from 2007. Many of us believe this contributed to Al Gore’s defeat, with George W. Bush made out to be the affable frat dude we all want to party with and Gore made out to be the egghead know-it-all that needs a wedgie. I’m only half-joking here man – if 2016 is a replay of 2000 with Marco Rubio in the Bush role, I’ll be moving back to China. (OK, I’m entirely joking, but remember New York Times, Washington Post, etc. – every time you write personality-driven nonsense about the election, you make Benjamin Franklin cry in heaven.)
Steve M. appears to have a new writing gig at Crooks and Liars. I’m not sure what I think about his piece on the purity tests going on in the Democratic contest. Steve M. argues that we need to focus on the practical policy implications of candidates’ proposals and that debates over ideology threaten to make the Democratic nominee look like a crazy socialist that many Americans will have difficulty voting for. Generally I agree. But look what’s happening on the right. It’s difficult to keep your most motivated supporters’ passions in check. Now, I’d argue that the loudest on the left are at least making sense of the world while the loudest on the right are off their rockers. But that’s the problem, right? Democrats arguing over whether Clinton is progressive enough or not looks reasonable to me, someone who shares most of the goals and is sympathetic to the different ideologies, but to an “independent” voter? I’m afraid they might be thinking “Go back to the USSR you pinko commies!”
For a profane and funny Super Bowl preview, check this out by Drew Magary.
People say they “just don’t trust Hillary.” Are you hearing people say this? I’m hearing this – I’m hearing this a lot, actually. It’s disturbing because while there are reasons not to trust Hillary Clinton, there aren’t very many good reasons. Most of the “reasons” are nebulous, confused, based on erroneous information, or outright made up.
I’m going to deal with the “Hillary” issue in two parts. First, in today’s post, we’ll look at why the particular person running for president does not matter nearly as much as the party he or she represents. Of course, there are differences between candidates running for the same party’s nomination, but once in office, these differences don’t amount to much. In a subsequent post, we’ll try to explain why the reasons for disliking Clinton are mostly unfair, unfounded or worse (I’m looking at you, Bob Woodward.) Now, I’m not trying to convince anyone they have to love Hillary Clinton. While I think it’s extremely important that the country elects another Democrat to the White House this year, and while it would be great to elect our first woman president…
I don’t love Hillary Clinton as a candidate. I don’t love the idea of reading a list of US presidents a few decades from now and seeing Bush (41) 1989-1993, Clinton (42) 1993-2001, Bush (43) 2002-2009, Obama (44) 2009-2017, and Clinton (45) 2017-?; something seems a little off when a democracy elects presidents from the same two families for six out of eight terms.
Also, there are aspects of Clinton’s judgment I don’t love; for example, she surrounded herself with centrist buffoons such as Mark Penn back in 2008. I supported Barack Obama in 2008 mostly because I thought Clinton showed poor acumen in foreign policy. However, she certainly wasn’t the only Democrat guilty of that in the early 2000s. Many prominent Democrats covered themselves in shame, in terms of foreign policy, during those difficult post-9/11 years. Clinton has redeemed herself a bit after doing a good job as Secretary of State.
This election, I’m somewhat indifferent between Clinton and Bernie Sanders but I lean towards Clinton because I think she has a better chance than Sanders does to win the general election. Sanders has the more compelling case about the American economic system, and he’s offering a strong critique of the way our election processes have been corrupted by plutocratic interests. Clinton offers a more pragmatic style while agreeing on many policies with Sanders; as of now, Clinton seems to be the candidate who is best suited for dealing with the American political system as it currently exists. My heart says Sanders is right about the need for a political revolution; my head says that the median voter in a general election will reject that notion and vote for the Republican candidate.
The identities of the individual Democratic candidates in the 2016 presidential election do not matter much. Unless Sanders’s revolution actually happens at the ballot box and he’s swept to power along with a filibuster-proof Democratic majority in the Senate and a Democratic majority in the House, Republicans will be in charge of at least one house of Congress. Look at Republicans today. Do we seriously think that if they maintain control of the House, which seems almost certain at this point, that they’re going to help Sanders pass single payer legislation? Health care is one of the only issues that Sanders and Clinton have major disagreements on, but Sanders’s proposals are dead on arrival if he’s elected president and Republicans keep control of the House. Same goes for every big thing Sanders wants to accomplish. Same goes for every big thing Clinton wants to accomplish.
The 2016 election is about the differences between the parties, which are huge and wide-ranging. The Democratic Party needs to hold the presidency in order to preserve all of President Obama’s accomplishments. Admittedly, saying “vote for our party so that the other party doesn’t reverse everything we did over the last eight years” isn’t sexy or exciting politics. But it’s important. Presidential elections are zero-sum: either your preferred party controls the executive branch or it doesn’t.
If a Republican is elected president, he will almost certainly have a Republican House and will probably have a Republican Senate for at least the first two years of his administration. Do voters understand the Republican Party’s agenda and what Republicans are likely to do if they have unified control of the government? First, Republicans are committed to repealing Obama’s big legislative accomplishments with no intention of replacing them with something else beneficial to the American people. That means that a Republican government would throw millions of people off of their healthcare plans with no avenues for securing new ones at an affordable price. A Republican government would also repeal Dodd-Frank, the financial reform bill that has made some incremental changes for the better in the finance industry.
Second, Republicans would reverse Obama’s executive actions on immigration and climate change, both of which are credited with having massive benefits for the country. Third, Republicans have their own reactionary agenda they would like to implement once they succeed in reversing the progress made during the Obama presidency. Who knows where a Republican unified government would start, but all of the following would be on the table: tax cuts that overwhelmingly benefit the rich and explode the deficit, raised eligibility ages and reduced benefits for Social Security and Medicare, criminalizing more and more abortion services with the main goal of overturning the Roe decision, destroying the organizing and collective bargaining power of unions, deporting millions of otherwise law-abiding people who are living in the US without proper documentation, among other things.
A Republican president would almost certainly put the US on a more belligerent footing with other countries, especially Iran, Russia, and maybe China. Do you trust the party of George W. Bush to not launch any more stupid wars? And make no mistake, the Republican Party is still very much the party of Bush. He’s not allowed to campaign for Republicans because so many Americans remember how bad his presidency was, but if you can find one policy matter where the 2016 Republican Party isn’t in agreement with or to the right of the last Bush administration, I’ll give you a free year-long subscription to this blog. Bush wasn’t a bad president because of armchair psychoanalyst reasons like he’s an incurious rich kid born into privilege; Bush was a bad president because his party is backwards and insane. It wasn’t some unfortunate coincidence that Bush was a Republican and a bad president. He was a bad president because he was a Republican.
Lastly, and often overlooked, is that the president is the one who staffs the federal government. The next president will very likely have to fill at least one Supreme Court vacancy, not to mention many other spots throughout the federal judiciary. Also, the president sets the course for the country in different areas in concrete ways through his or her cabinet appointments. These decisions, especially on the Supreme Court, will have decades-long ramifications. Right now, conservatives enjoy a 5-4 advantage and have used it to impede Democratic policies. If that were 5-4 in favor of liberal justices, Obama’s achievements would be even stronger.
Even if a President Sanders or a President Clinton doesn’t pass a single piece of significant legislation between 2017 and 2021, the mere fact that he or she is president will ensure that Obama’s policies stay in place and that the Republican Party’s agenda stays on the shelf where it belongs. It is nice to elect someone you feel a connection with, but honestly, that doesn’t matter. The last time the country went for personality over policy, we ended up with George W. Bush. A Republican.
Nothing in particular to focus on this morning, so some links:
Contra me, Matthew Yglesias over at Vox argues that Donald Trump’s performance in Iowa was impressive. Yglesias is right that by historical standards Trump did well in Iowa, where several factors favor a Ted Cruz-type or a Marco Rubio-type. However, doing well in relative terms is not going to help Trump. His supporters are not interested in the nuanced arguments of liberal pundits, nor are they interested in how when you think about it, second place in Iowa is actually pretty good. The premise of Trump’s entire campaign is that he’s a winner and the US is a loser so elect a winner so the country can win again. Losing and then whining about losing complicate Trump’s core message.
Yglesias has another interesting piece on how Bernie Sanders’s candidacy exposes the Democratic establishment as out-of-touch. Democratic Party power brokers rallied hard around Hillary Clinton, yet Democratic voters are not completely sold. Sanders won younger voters in a landslide, as Martin Longman points out. Longman also argues that Clinton needs to be careful about becoming the “no, we can’t” candidate against Sanders as the “yes, we can” candidate.
If Cruz and Rubio are going to contend for the nomination, we’re going to need almost daily reminders that these guys agree almost entirely on policy questions. Just because Rubio appears “moderate” or something, remember, he still wants to make you a criminal for having an abortion under any circumstances, take away healthcare from millions of people, blow up the federal budget through tax cuts for the rich, allow people to carry any gun they want wherever they want whenever they want, and ignore climate change just as much as Cruz does.
Here’s an article about how the Republican Party’s structure for allocating delegates is making it even harder to choose a candidate that can get to the 270 electoral college votes needed to elect a president.
For a no politics link, although everything about China seems to be political these days, here’s a cool collaboration by photographers working in China.