Thursday, January 31, 2008

Déjà vu all over again

Does anyone else see parallels in the Republican race of this year to the Republican race of 1996?

- a large field of candidates is whittled down much sooner than anyone expects.
- the most conservative candidates don’t get much traction.
- the last man standing is an older senator with an impressive legislative record that looks and sounds old, and who can’t stand up to his younger, more attractive Democratic opponent.

Only difference this time is the probable last man standing is considerably more liberal than last time.

Someone please tell me I'm wrong.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Your Two Party System At Work

In a way that I haven't seen in any prior presidential election during my voting years, this year we are seeing the two-party system played out before our eyes. The "big tent" theory of each party is that the parties will form coalitions, long before the election. Then the election will be between two parties, making the formation of a government easier. Contrast that to the parliamentary system in many countries, where each party has a fairly small tent, the general election often does not result in a plurality, and before a government can be formed, coalitions must be worked out. These coalitions often result in strange bedfellows sharing the government, with stability not resulting.

We've done it differently in America.

Based on the differences in the candidates who announced for the presidency, and on who have survived the fund raising and early endorsement wars to be able to continue to this point, the Republicans have a bigger tent than the Democrats. I base that on the relative sameness of the positions of the three surviving Democratic candidates, and the distance between the surviving Republican candidates. As I mentioned before, in terms of how what policies they would promote, who they would nominate for their cabinets and to the SCOTUS, and how they would handle issues of terrorism, war, and peace, there is essentially no difference between Clinton, Obama, and Edwards. So the Democratic contest has come down to a beauty contest based on perceived experience, eloquence, and endorsements.

But the Republican candidates are much more diverse in their stated positions and in their established records. Giuliani is probably the most liberal--but not on the war in Iraq. McCain is next most liberal--but not on social issues. Romney is next most conservative (note the shift in general description), but is untested on terrorism and a little uncertain on social issues. Huckabee is the hardest to place. On social issues he is clearly the most conservative, while on economics he is closer to Giuliani than any of the others. Ron Paul, while appearing whacko sometimes, if the most conservative of the five left standing, and might have earned more support except for his loony stand on Iraq. The fact that Thompson and Brownback could not get any traction indicates either a shift in the average feelings of those in the big tent, or that the party is not yet ready for or has not yet found Reagan-2.

It appears the Democrats are doing nothing to enlarge their tent. Joe Lieberman is kicked out, telling all that pro-Iraq war positions can leave the tent. The former pro-life governor of Pennsylvania (was it Casey?) was run out of office. Even the strange but somewhat conservative Traficant of Ohio was ruthlessly herded to prison thanks to his fellow Democrats. The rhetoric of the Democratic blogs seems to reinforce this.

The Republicans have not been perfect at enlarging their tent. Jumping Jim Jeffords was not much courted to stay with his party. A few others have changed here and there. Of course the establishment did its best to keep Chaffey-lite viable in RI, as the other team members know only so well. But Giuliani is welcome, despite his social issue positions, because he is right on the war, right on terrorism, and acceptable on economics and taxes. Paul is not driven off because he is right on so many things and is definitely for less government interference in everyday life. Romney and Huckabee are accepted because...well, need I go on?

The question is: Is the Democratic tent too small to give them victory in November, and is the Republican tent too large to generate enough excitement to get people to the polls? I guess another question is: Is either tent too large or too small to result in a fringe, third party candidate this year? I have no answers; this is just food for thought. But I find it fascinating.

Monday, January 14, 2008

It's National Security Stupid

Matthew Continetti has a great post in today's NT Times on how the War on Terror may actually be more significant to voters than the current state of the economy. It is a little bit of a creative stretch, but I like the concept, and hope he is correct. Here's an excerpt:

It’s tempting to claim, based on recent polling data, that the central issue in the 2008 presidential election will be the U.S. economy. In the Iowa Republican Caucus entrance poll, more voters chose the economy as the most important issue (26 percent) than the Iraq war (17 percent). And in the Iowa Democratic Caucus entrance poll, the economy and the Iraq war were tied for most-important-issue status, with each drawing 35 percent support.

Things were the same in New Hampshire. According to the New Hampshire Republican primary exit poll, voters in the Republican primary said the economy (31 percent) was more important than Iraq (24 percent). So, too, on the Democratic side, where the economy was king — in that exit poll voters deemed it more important than Iraq, 38 percent to 31 percent.


But the data are misleading. This is still a national security election, at least for Republicans. Here’s why: For some reason, pollsters separate “Iraq” from “terrorism” when they provide respondents with answer choices for the “most important issue” question. Yet, if you add the percentage of voters who choose Iraq as the most important issue to the percentage of voters who choose terrorism as the most important issue, the national security issues are more important than the economy by a stastically significant margin....

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Ideology or Electability?

The time to Super Tuesday draws short, when Arkansas will hold its presidential primary, and I will have to decide who to vote for. What to do, what to do. Voting is open, so I could go either Democrat or Republican. Hmm, be a spoiler on the Democratic side? I don’t think so.

Of course, by the time that day rolls around, the voting in Michigan, South Carolina, and Florida may have served to whittle down the number of candidates. Still, the time is so short that maybe all of them will decide to stay in the race until that day and hope for the best.

But first, before thinking about individual candidates, I have to settle the question in my own mind, do I vote based on ideology, or based on electability? This is similar to the debate we used to have in college about practical politics vs. theoretical politics. Let’s see, who was it who said that theoretical politics was the wife, while practical politics was at most a flirt and much less than a mistress?

In the past, it seems Republicans have usually selected their candidate based on electability, while the Democrats were more concerned with ideology. Based merely on the candidates who have survived thus far, that appears to be holding true again. The three Democrats are all similar in ideology, and are straight down the liberal-conservative spectrum for the party base, maybe a bit to the left of the base center line. The Republicans, however, have but one candidate who could be considered at or to the right of their base’s center line: Fred Thompson. Indeed, candidates with firm conservative records either decided not to run (Newt Gingrich), or were weeded out through fund raising as unelectable (Brownback, Tancredo, and Hunter). So the field that is left falls this way on the Left-Right Continuum, left at the top, right at the bottom.


I don’t put Paul in the mix, for he is too hard to characterize on the continuum. The others aren’t easy enough to place, either. Each has economic or social conservative positions, whether or not their track record is where we think it should be. I wouldn’t argue with switching Huckabee and McCain, or Huckabee and Romney.

But how to choose? I guess first I need to decide what the issues are.

Clearly abortion and social issues are not in the forefront. Crime is not an issue; either we’ve taken care of it, or without a true conservative in the Republican mix, the issue doesn’t come up. Illegal immigration is portrayed more for its economic impact, rather than as a legal issue. The war on terror, including its theatre in Iraq, is foreign policy. No issue of interest to social conservatives has really surfaced, and likely won’t. Maybe everyone is tired of fighting those fights. So the main issues seem to be, not in any order: illegal immigration, the war on terror, the war in Iraq, health care, the economy. The whole issue of "change" as now dominating the Democratic and spilling over into the Republican debate is somewhat bogus, and nothing new. Kerry argued for change in 2004, Bush in 2000, Clinton in 1992, Dukakis in 1988, etc. I think that will somewhat fade as the general election draws near, especially if Clinton is the candidate we face.

Based on those issues, it would seem that Romney is the candidate for whom the sum of four or five variables is maximized, with Thompson second. Or maybe it’s Thompson over Romney by a whisker. However, if I think about those issues driving the debate up to November, and put electability as the basis for selection, I think McCain comes to the top, for he can better compete with the Democratic nominee and hold the base at the same time. Clearly, the choice is different if electability, rather than ideology, is the basis for selection.

But I ask my fellow bloggers, which is the right basis for selection? Ideology is somewhat easier to determine than electability. With the former you have records and positions to assess, however closely the elected would govern to their record and positions. With the latter you have only gut feelings, while at the same time trying to guess who the candidate will face. Is choosing based on electability a sell-out to principles, or is abandoning the most likely winner handing the office over to the opposition, with all the consequences thereto?

What to do, what to do. Only 23 days to decide.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Hillary's Rise Surprise

My good old friend and former college roommate David A. Todd makes fun of me for being slightly off in my prediction (in my post "Change?" below) of the winners in the New Hampshire's primary last Tuesday.

Well, Dave, I am in relatively good company, because nearly every pundit from left to the right and sea to shining sea called it wrong, and now there is a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking.

But a couple of very well written pieces enlighten us as to what may have been at the root of Hillary's surprising success.

So here they are.  One from the NY Times by David Brooks, and one from the Wall Street Journal by Karl Rove on how it was that Hillary pulled it off.

By the way, a bit of good news:  Both the Times and the Journal editorials are no longer available solely to paid subscription holders.  They are now free, and available to all.

Here is an excerpt from the Brooks piece:

This election isn’t only about change, it’s about surprise. Here are the top 10 surprises of New Hampshire primary night, 2008:


4. Working-class women stuck with Hillary. The secret to her success, and the reason she may win the election in November (if she gets that far) is that less-educated women like her. Better-educated women are ambivalent, but the so-called waitress moms will stick with Hillary through thick and thin.


9. Crying works. I have no data to back this up. But Hillary’s human moment must have helped. Expect Romney to cry a river of tears at the next press conference.

Obviously, there are 8 other good points you'll have to read about by following the link.

Here is another good excerpt.  This one from the Wall Street Journal piece.

Mrs. Clinton won a narrow victory in New Hampshire for four reasons. First, her campaign made a smart decision at its start to target women Democrats, especially single women. It has been made part of the warp and woof of her campaign everywhere. This focus didn't pay off in Iowa, but it did in New Hampshire.

Second, she had two powerful personal moments. The first came in the ABC debate on Saturday, when WMUR TV's Scott Spradling asked why voters were "hesitating on the likeability issue, where they seem to like Barack Obama more." Mrs. Clinton's self-deprecating response -- "Well, that hurts my feelings" -- was followed by a playful "But I'll try to go on."


Third, the Clintons began -- at first not very artfully -- to raise questions about the fitness for the Oval Office of a first-term senator with no real accomplishments or experience.

Former President Bill Clinton hit a nerve by drawing attention to Mr. Obama's conflicting statements on Iraq. There's more -- and more powerful -- material available.


The fourth and biggest reason why Mrs. Clinton won two nights ago is that, while Mr. Obama can draw on the deep doubts of many Democrats about Mrs. Clinton, he can't close out the argument.

But read the whole thing.

I was right about one thing:  I stated that eventually voters would see through Obama's shallow and emotional rallying cry for "change."  Change to what?  Evidently the voters in New Hampshire saw through that sooner than I thought voters in general would.  Nonetheless, I admit my prediction was wrong.

So that's my excuse and I am sticking to it.

My friend and fellow blogger Dave feels a sense of pride because his predictions on Iowa were a slightly better than mine were on New Hampshire.  Just let me say, at least I don't throw hamburgers on the ground!

An Aim of Radical Islam,2933,321486,00.html

And yet the Left still cozies up to them.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Semi-Random Thoughts on the New Hampshire Primary

The buzz on the Internet is why did Hillary Clinton bounce back. I don't think she did bounce back, because I think she was already and always ahead.

Obama wins by a decent margin in Iowa; Clinton is third. This was the result of a late surge for Obama and was somewhat, but not totally, unexpected. On to New Hampshire, with only five days between. The polls immediately shift. Clinton's lead had already been narrowing, and the media buzz resulting from Obama's win was instantaneously reflected in the polls, showing him pulling ahead, maybe way ahead. But it seems that only five days are not enough time for the polls to fully grasp what the electorate is thinking in response to major news. Sure, Obama began closing the gap--which the polls reflected--but not really enough to win in NH. Given another week for Granite-staters to consider him, I think he would have won in NH.

My conclusion: At times of major news or changing situations, polls are at best indicators of trends, not predictors of results.

On the Republican side, it appears Thompson is not a viable candidate, more the pitty. He is clearly the most conservative of the field, at least having the most consistently conservative record. Now the most conservative in the field is...Ron Paul? Mitt Romney? I wish Newt would have run. It looks to me to be a McCain/Giuliani race, because I don't see Romney recovering enough to challenge for the lead again.

My conclusion: Without a true conservative as the Republican nominee, liberal issues will dominate the general election, favoring the Democratic candidate.

What to do, what to do. Our Arkansas primary is on super Tuesday, and I don't have it in me to watch another six thousand debates and interviews.

Monday, January 07, 2008


Tomorrow is the New Hampshire Primary. The weather is supposed to be an unseasonably balmy 60 degrees. This will facilitate an even greater turn out than expected and that will be helpful to Obama, and on the Republican side, probably not too helpful for Romney.

My prediction on the Democrat side is: Obama - Clinton - Edwards.

On the Republican side I say it will fall out as: McCain - Romney - Giuliani - Huckabee - Paul - Thompson.

I just finished watching Judy Woodruff's report on PBS. Smiling like a Cheshire Cat, she said something like this, and I paraphrase: "there is a lot of exuberance and enthusiasm among the Democrats. There is much less among the Republicans. And perhaps there is a grain of truth in that. The Democrats have a very exciting race among three serious contenders, not to belittle the former Governor of New Mexico, but he's really running for Veep.

And there is a much broader field of Republicans, and among them it is simply a lot harder to make differentiations. I would expect less enthusiasm but a lot more thoughtfulness.

And it is true, in every media blip I've seen on Obama, the man is very sharp, attractive, clear and articulate, but he really isn't saying anything of substance. I think, for the time being, in the newness of enthusiasm for him, driven by momentum out of Iowa, he can get away with that. But even on PBS, voters were interviewed who asked the legitimate question. Change? But where does he stand on global warming? On energy needs? On the war? On taxes? On the economy?

If the candidates were a little more clever they could basically say that essentially voters can look forward to change with ANY candidate running. After all, this is the first election in a long time where a President and his Vice President are not candidates. So whether it is a new Democrat or a new Republican, all of those running would be different and bring about change - though i know that deep down, Obama believes the voters see Hillary as "Clinton the sequel," and a return to something old. But if he wins the day, and it looks like he will, his rallying point of "change" may not hold up.

It is interesting that the Clinton contingent, who are well known for their political savvy, have not determined a way to put the brakes on Obama. It is quite conceivable that Hillary is toast after New Hampshire, as they sail into Michigan and South Carolina, particularly the latter where more than 50% of the Democratic voters are African American.

One last observation on the Democratic side. It is a lot of fun to see Americans enthusiastically supporting an African American for president. It demonstrates a natural color blindness in the voting public. Certainly, we will always have those among us who are bigots, but with not only a Black American running, but a woman, an Hispanic American, an Italo-American running, it is great to see this diversity, and very little negativism about that.

I watched the ABC Republican debate, and I thought ABC did an excellent job. I loved the format. I learned a lot more about the candidates. I know my colleagues on this blog will criticize me for this, but the one guy who I thought came across as likeable, knowledgeable, energetic and presidential was Rudy Giuliani. I'd say he won the debate.

Giuliani, who continues to lead nationally, basically is running on a Reaganesque approach, promising originalist judges (so regardless of his view on abortion, if he keeps his promise on this point, so-called abortion "rights" will be challenged in a Giuliani presidency). His views on taxes, and of course, the war, were all themes I could enthusiastically rally behind.

In each of the other candidates I saw problems. McCain, much more attractive than usual, was factually firm, had excellent positions, but he was much too droll, and uncharitably overplayed his hand with Romney. And were he to end up being the candidate against Obama, it will be 1960 all over again with McCain playing the roll of Richard Nixon.

Romney, I heard was better in the Fox debate that took place yesterday, but was simply hammered hard by his opponents in the ABC debate, and probably because of his unabashed negative ads. Though I liked his answer on the way he took advantage of scale economies to provide health insurance to all citizens of Massachusetts without raising taxes. The scheme sounded clever, but died in the wool conservatives, suspicious of government run anything, probably did not like his approach, and the contingent against him made that pretty clear.

Thompson's droll and cryptic, sarcastic remarks was just not attractive. He's likely to drop out after New Hampshire where he's running below 5%.

Huckabee remains a problem. With the exception of when he spoke very positively about Obama, I wanted to run from the TV with a vomit bag in tow. He was overly patronizing, attempting to woo New Hampshire voters by applauding their love of freedom and liberty. It sounded phony to me. But I thought his positive remarks about Obama were quite clever. It was a back handed compliment to himself - "the people like the idea of someone new bringing in new people to the process..." which is what Huckabee sees himself doing. Clever.

Huckabee still struggles on foreign policy matters. I loved Giuliani's comment in response to another Ron Paul's diatribe that the war with Islamic terrorists is the result of a failed "foreign policy" due to our meddling in the affairs of these jihadists. Giuliani said, correctly, and I paraphrase, "these extremists have attacked westerners in Indonesia, Spain, London, on the sea, elsewhere around the globe as well as in New York City. They are not trying to get even with Americans for putting bases in Saudi Arabia. They simply hate the West and want to kill every westerner they can because of the aberration of their so-called religion." And we can't stand idly by even though we may want to.

I've got to think Giuliani improved his lot, but polls taken immediately after the debate had him dropping into fourth place.

We'll know better tomorrow.


Friday, January 04, 2008

Pondering the Results in Iowa

The outcome in Iowa was informative.  A number of observations:

Mark Shield's principle of candidates either "doing better than expected" or "worse than expected" rules the day here.

Evangelicals were more organized and more monolithic in their support around Mike Huckabee than Clinton supporters were motivated by the big, old Democrat machine.

Only a small percentage of Huckabee supporters claimed not to be Evangelicals, about 14%, which means this is a feat that will be difficult to repeat, particularly in the Northeast.

McCain, despite coming in fourth, may be bigger news than meets the eye.  He was all but out of it, and essentially ended tied with Thompson for third in Iowa, which I believe gives him momentum into New Hampshire.  If McCain wins there, he could enter the southern states with a lot of juice.

Giuiliani, who is banking on Florida and points south may already be toast.  Huckabee will likely motivate Evangelicals in South Carolina, and McCain may momentum coming out of New Hampshire into the southern primaries, so it may be all over but the crying for Rudy.

Ron Paul was supposed to have been the big surprise that wasn't.  His motivated followers who were out fundraising all the main candidates, and their youthful exuberance was supposed to move him into a very visible third or fourth place.  He ended up fifth with 10% of the vote.  I predict he'll hang in until the end, and will go to the convention with a dozen or so delegates.  And that will be it, though one must admire his pure libertarian principled ideas.

Thompson's third place is, to me at least, a pleasantly "better than expected" surprising outcome, though I don't see him reappearing in any solid position above 3rd place in any of the upcoming primaries.

Romney (worse than expected) will continue to fight on, but I think he comes in second in New Hampshire, then begins to fade in the south.

Huckabee remains to me an interesting and problematic phenomenon.  I see him as representative of the recent fads in Evangelical churches, which have been undergoing a significant transformation in the past decade.  Evangelical church demographics are becoming more liberal.  As a result, churches that bring in more of the "prosperity gospel" and simplistic worship music in place of doctrinal, conscience challenging hymns are breeding pastors and lay people like Mike Huckabee, with fewer Chuck Colson's, J. I. Packer's, R. C. Sproul's,  Jim Dobson's but more and more Mike Huckabee's.  As mentioned in a previous post, Huckabee's Fair Tax idea is rather scary, though his views on social issues are, in my humble opinion, right and on the mark.  Moreover, he has shown himself to be an exquisite debater, self deprecating and humorous.  His foreign policy ideas are, however, reckless at best.  What do you do with a candidate like this?  I suspect his win in Iowa will go down to something akin to George H. W. Bush's victory there in 1980 before Reagan swept the table. 

One thing is certain, the status quo is over.  We are likely not going to see a return of Clinton, though they will fight hard and to the end.  Obama, who has far more intellect and gravitas, is likely to hold on through New Hampshire, though I suspect the Clinton's will do a lot of damage along the way.  Obama is reminiscent of John F. Kennedy.  He is attractive to a new generation of voters, but also those, like me, who have been around a long time, and remember John Kennedy, a literate, articulate and fresh face.

Don't get me wrong, Obama is a liberal, and his ideas on health insurance and taxes is a notch and a half toward full out Socialism, and his views on the Iraq war are as isolationist as Paul's, but I think he is more electable than people give him credit for.  Some Republicans are rooting for him because they think he is beatable.  I think they are mistaken.  He could take the country by storm.  I hope not.

But the way the media portrays Huckabee along side him is an error.  Huckabee and Obama may both be relatively new faces on the presidential path , but Huckabee has a far narrower constituency.  And though I am sympathetic to that constituency, I see a lot of problems with Huckabee's electability, and mainly because of his ideas.

So what next?  I see McCain and Obama winning in NH.  Huckabee will rise a bit in the standings there, though he will end up well behind Romney. 

After that, there are too few equations with too many unknowns.

What Now?

Okay, so my predictions (made at another site) turned out to be true: Huckabee winning Iowa for the Republicans and Obama for the Democrats. I was not confident enough to predict the order of the also-rans.

The question is, what does this do to the races? In the past, and I'm thinking back to 1976, the Iowa caucuses served the purpose of weeding out the lower tier candidates, and propelling one or more of them into the limelight. It did not necessarily choose the winner. But I wonder if the 2004 Democratic caucus result shows a change in the status of Iowa, or if it was an abberation. Kerry won that, destroying Dean and Gephart in the process. It was pretty much all over after Iowa, with Edwards holding on as long as he could.

Now, with all the primaries scrunched together like never before, what does Iowa mean for the nomination? And is it the same for the Democrats and Republicans?

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