What we learned from the RNC

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Talking with people about the presidential race often elicits a deep disappointment about today’s politics. This is certainly the case with Clinton and Trump, but it was also true for Romney and Obama four years ago. A typical sentiment voiced is a longing for the presidents of old, such as Jefferson and Lincoln. Of course, in his time Jefferson was seen by many as an academic and hypocritical ideologue, whose handshake was so cold that anyone who grasped it was said to walk away a Federalist.

Lincoln was loathed by a majority of the country. His election, which he won with less than 40% of the vote and for which he was publicly burned in effigy around the country, initiated a four-year civil war. His re-election required throwing disagreeable journalists in prison, allowing only Republicans to vote in some Confederate states, and the new states of Nevada and West Virginia to be brought quickly into the Union for a handful of free electoral votes. After which he was murdered by Americans. This, probably the country’s best president.

These are the stories I tell people when they say there’s no good choice for president. Romney would have been a fine president, as Obama clearly is. They have their separate flaws, and they would have set different courses for the direction of the country. But the electorate was given a choice between two qualified individuals to manage the executive branch. It was a choice of direction, not competency or character.

That is not true this year.

The Republican National Convention was a four day infomercial for why the GOP is not ready to manage the country. The ridiculous episode of plagiarism isn’t the problem, but how poorly it was handled by Trump and his team after it happened: The cover up, the denial, and then the North Korean-style written apology to Mr. Trump by an previously unknown speechwriter the following day. The very public rebuke by Kasich and Cruz underscored that Trump’s immature and petulant personality will prevent him from uniting his party, let alone governing the country. Trump couldn’t even get through his own convention without stating that he would break America’s promise to defend other NATO countries, inducing an immediate rebuttal from Mitch McConnell and led George W. Bush to openly wonder if he’ll be the last Republican president.

This year’s RNC was so fundamentally different in ideology from any since the Progressive Era that it was a surreal thing to watch. Gone is the idea that government needs to get out of the way and that individuals can take care of themselves. Enter the era of Big Trump, where all of your problems, real or perceived, will be solved by a new and stronger Federal Government, led by the only man that can distill your prejudices into policy cloaked in the slogans of false patriotism.

One can and should take issue with Hillary Clinton’s record. Her decision to support the Iraq war, her insistence on the invasion of Libya, and her imprudence in taking large checks from financial institutions before running for president, just to name a few. But she has a record of public service to criticize. She is “the man [sic] in the arena.” And only the most recalcitrant of Republicans would argue that Secretary Clinton has not had a successful career in public life, or that she lacks the temperament to be president.

In Federalist No. 10, Madison argues that the structure of the new constitution will naturally bring about political factions. Madison was speaking mainly of regional factions, rather than today’s ideological ones, but his basic thesis was that these factions would function to produce a majority voice. I doubt he imagined that factions would become so institutionalized that a minority of a party could control the whole.

Party identity is not just influenced by politics, but individual identity. Many Republicans will vote for Trump because he is a Republican, even though they think he is unfit to be president. That is their team, either because of personal history or ancestry. The fact that Trump holds few traditional Republican beliefs is simply unfortunate. It’s the same reason I root for Alex Rodriguez because I’m a Yankees fan, despite the fact that his career is a monument to dishonesty, ego, and greed.

But this is not baseball.

Trump to skip CPAC

His campaign released a statement saying that Trump would rather be in “Witchita, Kanasas [sic] for a major rally on Saturday prior to Caucus.” Witchita Kanasas sounds like a pretty fun card game.

South Carolina and Nevada

Donald_TrumpJeb!? What happened? Jeb Bush’s campaign for president came to its final punctuation mark before midnight of the South Carolina Primary, finishing only as high as fourth in any contest. 63% of Jeb Bush’s genome has been President of the United Stated for a total of three terms, almost as many times as it as collectively invaded Iraq. Genes and money go pretty far in politics, but Bush’s campaign may be the worst spent 150 million dollars in American political history. It goes to show just how tired Americans are of the Bush family, how much politics has changed in a decade, and what the Republican Party has come to be. The GOP isn’t engaged in a civil war initiated by Trump. It’s been being pulled in two directions, old blue blood federalism and rural whig principles, since the Great Depression. The house is divided and the halves cannot stand each other.

The big winners last Saturday were Marco Rubio and Hillary Clinton. Marco because he vanquished Jeb and will now inherit many of his supporters, and Hillary because she managed to prevent disaster in another close caucus. They both addressed potentially existential questions to the candidacy, and are now in position to strike, maybe.

The Republicans

Rubio answered the question of whether or not he could consolidate the GOP establishment, but he still needs to figure out how to win a state. Iowa was his triumphed 3rd, New Hampshire was his RubioGlitch finish in 5th, and now South Carolina his victorious 2nd. At some point, the boy wonder needs to bring something home other than a participation trophy.

The man with a third of the votes, half of his hair, and all of our hearts is again Donald Trump. Most of South Carolina’s delegates are winner-take-all, but each congressional district additionally gets three delegates. It didn’t matter, because Trump took them all. Typically, back-to-back wins in New Hampshire and South Carolina should lead to an unstoppable snowballing of support and the GOP nomination; however, Trump is neither typical nor unstoppable. Demographics favored Trump in the early states, but that will shift toward Cruz and Rubio as we move forward through Super Tuesday. Nevada caucuses for the GOP today, and it will be the first major test of Trump’s growing support. First, it’s a caucus like Iowa where ground game matters more, and second, it’s closed to independents. Our Iowa model predicted Trump victories in New Hampshire and South Carolina, but has him finishing third in Nevada. If Trump wins, it would mean he’s actually building support going into Super Tuesday rather than simply benefiting from better demographics.

The major problem for Trump going forward is his greatest strength: a third of GOP will vote for him no matter what he says. The back half of the equation is that he’s said a lot already and two thirds of the party is extremely reluctant to vote for him. The likelihood of Trump running away with a majority of delegates is still small. Rather, a Trump nomination would require the slimmest majority of delegates, built on a plurality of the votes. If he fails to procure a majority of delegates before the convention, even if he’s in the lead by a lot, he has zero chance at the nomination. The RNC would stand at Armageddon and fight for the soul of the party. A Trump nomination would cause widespread party bolting, low republican turnout, loss of the Senate, and deep donor dissatisfaction. Elephants would be extinct outside the confederate south and the far-flung rills of Appalachia for two years.

What’s more likely is a three-way race that continues between Trump, Cruz, and Rubio until the latter can seize momentum in mid-march with the winner-take-all Florida Primary. Ted Cruz is now under performing his Iowa numbers, losing evangelicals to Trump (take a moment to think about that), and finishing third in a state he had been referring to as his firewall. Cruz’s actual firewall is Texas on Super Tuesday. A loss on home soil to a New Yorker would mean more than just the end of his Presidential run, it would be the end of his political career. Luckily, Fox News is hiring.

The Democrats

It appears to be the beginning of the end for Bernie Sanders. He will be blown out in South Carolina this weekend, and then lose every state south of the Mason Dixon line on Super Tuesday, which is a majority of them. Hillary Clinton, off wins in Nevada and South Carolina, will point to her lead in delegates and ask, “Where’s the revolution Bernie?” In the most firm, monotone, and semi-aggressive voice focus groups can approve of. However, it is possible that like the Hispanic vote in Nevada, African Americans will not vote as monolithically as expected. If Sanders, like Obama 8 years ago, can exit Super Tuesday in a tie in committed delegates, we’ll be here all spring.

A fascinating outcome in the Democratic Primaries now versus 8 years ago, is that Clinton’s base has fundamentally shifted. In 2008, Clinton, slightly to the left of Obama, led with Hispanics and blue-collar workers, but eventually lost to the Obama coalition of young, Black, and/or highly educated voters. Clinton has absorbed many Obamacans, but lost much of her old base to Sanders. This may mean Secretary Clinton consolidates the Democratic Party more quickly and easily than Obama did, when many Hillary supporters vowed for months to support John McCain, only to eventually come home to the Democratic Party when the economy completely tanked mid-summer. If I’m Clinton, I want Bernie in the race to the end and 10 percentage points behind in every state, building Democratic voter rolls across the country. Then, allow Bernie to have influence over the party platform and give a primetime speech at the  Democratic National Convention to chants of “Feel. The. Bern.” He’s earned that.

Can Iowa Predict the GOP Nominee?

The Wigwam

This is not one of those articles about how the winner of Iowa almost never goes on to win the GOP nomination, or how New Hampshire tends to be more predictive. The saying goes, “Iowa picks corn and New Hampshire picks the President.” Rather, we’re asking if we can build a state-by-state electorate model based on the demographic data and voting patterns in Iowa. I know what you’re thinking, “Is Iowa white enough to accurately represent the GOP electorate?” It’s hard to say. According to the Iowa entrance polls all the non-white GOP voters caucused for some candidate with the initials N.A. (whom I’ve never even heard of). .