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Posts tagged “Republican Primaries

Nevada: Still the Land of Make-Believe


With apologies to the Walt Disney Corporation, Nevada has always been America’s “Land of Make-Believe.” After all, the state’s economy depends on making ordinarily sane Americans think they can show up with $500 in their pocket and leave with a cool million. But after yesterday’s Republican Presidential Caucus, it seems seems as if the state (and national) party sprinkled fairy dust on the nation’s journalists. Why? Because they’re all pretending as if yesterday’s vote is actually significant.

The Real FairyTale Land in NJ

Ssshhh. Don’t wake the sleeping beauties in Las Vegas, but what they’re full of is usually found in a septic tank. But if you’re not afraid of being turned into a toad, here are three things to keep in mind before following the national media in their hallucination…

Point One: It looks as if only 35,000 or so people bothered to vote in the caucus. That’s roughly 1.5% of the state’s population. You could also, for comparison’s sake, note that this is about the same number of people as live in my hometown of Manahawkin. To pretend that Mitt Romney won a “resounding” or “decisive” or even “big” with minscule turnout like that is being more than a bit disingenuous.

Point Two: Of course Mitt won. Everyone expected him to win the state easily, given the inherent advantages he enjoyed. He won in 2008, one of the few states he did win that year. Then there’s the large number of Mormons that inhabit Nevada (I know, it seems incongruous that Sin City and the LDS co-habitate), giving Mitt a natural organizing advantage. It’s hardly surprising that Mitt won the percentage of the vote he did. It might be more surprising if he doesn’t capture 50% of the final tally. (Point 2A – people in Nevada might be able to count cards, but they have hard time counting votes. As of 2pm today, only 71% of the votes were counted.)

Point Three: Ron Paul seems equally caught up in the fairy tale being spun off the Vegas strip. The only candidate other than Romney to actively compete for Nevada, Paul’s third-place finish and fewer than 5,000 votes wouldn’t seem to be something anyone could put a positive spin on. But there was Paul this morning on ABC’s “This Week” program, doing his best to pretend his campaign is actually viable. The reality is that at best he’ll garner 4 of Nevada’s delegates, which would run his total to 8. If he wants to pretend having a campaign that rivals Rick Santorum’s for futility is viable, that’s fine. But he shouldn’t expect those of who aren’t insane to join him in his fantasies.


Newt vs. The Establishment


"I want a good, clean fight...no hitting below the belt"

Well, you knew it was coming, right? Establishment Republicans, as I’ve pointed out before, are determined that Mitt Romney will be the party’s Presidential nominee this November and will brook no compromise on the matter. Since last summer, I fully expected the party would do it’s best to eliminate anyone who dared get in the way of that result. After rising in the polls in early December, Newt Gingrich faced a potent barrage of negative coverage that dropped him to fourth place finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire. Then came the drubbing Gingrich delivered Romney in South Carolina and a 31 point swing in Florida polling, along with the two men virtually tying in national polls.

Cue the extensive establishment machinery. This morning, it seems every Republican-leaning pundit opened up on Gingrich in what seems suspiciously like a coordinated broadside aimed at derailing his campaign. Among the articles that stood out:

Ann Coulter, writing on her blog:

“To talk with Gingrich supporters is to enter a world where words have no meaning. They denounce Mitt Romney as a candidate being pushed on them by “the Establishment” — with “the Establishment” defined as anyone who supports Romney or doesn’t support Newt…

“This is the sort of circular reasoning one normally associates with Democrats, people whom small-town pharmacists refer to as “drug seekers” and Ron Paul supporters.

Romney is the most electable candidate not only because it will be nearly impossible for the media to demonize this self-made Mormon square, devoted to his wife and church, but precisely because he is the most conservative candidate.”

Former Senator and failed Presidential candidate Bob Dole:

“In my run for the presidency in 1996 the Democrats greeted me with a number of negative TV ads and in every one of them Newt was in the ad. He was very unpopular and I am not only certain that this did not help me, but that it also cost House seats that year. Newt would show up at the campaign headquarters with an empty bucket in his hand — that was a symbol of some sort for him — and I never did know what he was doing or why he was doing it, and I’m not certain he knew either.”

Rich Lowry, in an article damningly entitled “Gingrich: The Republican Clinton“:

“Newt is the Republican Clinton — shameless, needy, hopelessly egotistical. The two former adversaries and tentative partners have largely the same set of faults and talents. They are self-indulgent, prone to disregard rules inconvenient to them, and consumed by ambition. They are glib, knowledgeable, and imaginative. They are baby boomers who hadn’t fully grown up even when they occupied two of the most powerful offices in the land.”

In a similarly themed article in The American Spectator, Emmett Tyrell’s writing is nearly syllable-for-syllable:

“Newt and Bill are, of course, 1960s generation narcissists, and they share the same problems: waywardness and deviancy. Newt, like Bill, has a proclivity for girl hopping. It is not as egregious as Bill’s, but then Newt is not as drop-dead beautiful. His public record is already besmeared with tawdry divorces, and there are private encounters with the fair sex that doubtless will come out. If I have heard of some, you can be sure the Democrats have heard of more. Nancy Pelosi’s intimations are timely.”

Perhaps no author sums up the Establishment’s “Fear of Newt” better than Eliot Abrams. Abrams, in decrying Newt’s penchant for publicly disagreeing with policies he views as flawed:

“Presidents should not get automatic support, not even from members of their own party, but they have a right to that support when they are under a vicious partisan assault.”

Comparing Gingrich supporters to Ron Paul supporters and Democrats is ignoring the fact that unlike either of the latter, Gingrich’s support has waxed and waned weekly. You can attach many adjectives to Newt’s supporters, but “fanatical” would be the most disingenuous. Of course, anyone willing to call Mitt Romney “the most conservative candidate” has already escaped the bounds of reality. The remaining establishment attacks seem to focus on two themes.

The first is that Newt is the ultimate RINO, willing to abandon the party in order to further his own views. This probably is an accurate depiction, but not much of an attack. Abrams’ attack line is viewed by most Americans as a positive – we prefer our Representatives to vote their conscience and not the party line. In a year when the electorate is largely disgusted with the way the party establishment has failed, attacking a candidate for preferring to vest in his own beliefs over orthodoxy is probably not a smart play. The base wants a candidate who’s willing to shake things up a bit – that certainly isn’t Romney. It could be Ron Paul, but by pointing out that Gingrich has a history of breaking with party orthodoxy the establishment allows him to claim that mantle.

The second is that Gingrich is flawed in character; volatile in nature and unable to lead. This line of attack is similar to the one employed in December with success. The problem is that line of attack isn’t new. Voters are well acquainted with Gingrich’s peccadilloes from the 90’s. If they’re as willing to overlook them in Florida as they were in South Carolina, the establishment is likely out of bullets.

This is just a sampling of the pile-on that seems to be taking place. Fear is in the establishment air, understandably so. Gingrich already leads in delegates. Florida is the first “winner-take-all” primary; adding another 50 delegates to his total guarantees that Romney can’t get the lead in the delegate count until March. What the establishment still hopes to sell the party – that Romney is the only electable candidate – would be forever gone as an argument. Because of that, fully expect party leaders to turn up the heat even further on Gingrich until January 31. They can’t risk having a “rogue” candidate win.


UPDATED (3/7): Delegate Counts


For all the talk this season about the Republican presidential primary season, one thing keeps getting overlooked: it takes delegates to lock up a first ballot nomination. A lot of delegates. 1,144 of them, in fact.

In fact, the total number of delegates up for grabs through January 31 is 115, or only 5.1% of the total. So ignore the press when they tell you anyone can wrap up the nomination before Super Tuesday – Republican Party leaders intentionally set up the primary season to be a drawn out affair. And that’s exactly what they’re getting.

UPDATED 3/7: Super Tuesday results included. Note that there’s a whole gaggle of unallocated delegates. How they break could really shake up the race!

Below, is a basic chart showing the total number of delegates up for grabs by state and the total number each candidate has won. I’ll update this after each contest.

State by State

Candidates

Others/ Unallocated

(date)

Delegates

Gingrich

Romney

Santorum

Paul

IA (1/3)

28

1

12

13

1

1

NH (1/10)

12

0

7

0

3

2

SC (1/21)

25

25

0

0

0

0

FL (1/31)

50

      0            50        0      0             0
NV (2/4)

28

      6      14        3      5             0
CO (2/7)

36

      4      13      17      2             0
MN (2/7)

40

      4       6      19     11             0
ME (2/11)

24

      0        9       3     10             2
AZ (2/28)

29

      0      29       0      0             0
MI (2/28)

30

      0      16      14      0             0
WA (3/3)

43

      0      16       7      8            12
AK (3/6)

27

      0       0       0      0            26
GA (3/6)

76

     43      12       1      0            20
ID (3/6)

32

     0        32       0      0             0
MA (3/6)

41

      0      41       0      0             0
ND (3/6)

28

      2       7      11      8             0
OH (3/6)

66

      0      35      21      0            10
OK (3/6)

43

     13      13      17      0             0
TN (3/6)

58

     11      12       31                    4
VT (3/6)

17

      0        9        4      4             0
VA (3/6)

49

      0      43        0      3             0
WY (3/6)

29

      1      10       8      6             4
Guam (3/10)

9

KS (3/10)

40

USVI (3/10)

9

AL (3/13)

50

Samoa (3/13)

9

HI (3/13)

20

MS (3/13)

40

MO (3/17)

52

PR (3/18)

23

IL (3/20)

69

LA (3/24)

46

DC (4/3)

19

MD (4/3)

37

TX (4/3)

155

WI (4/3)

42

CT (4/24)

28

DE (4/24)

17

NY (4/24)

95

PA (4/24)

72

RI (4/24)

19

IN (5/8)

46

NC (5/8)

55

WV (5/8)

31

NE (5/15)

35

OR (5/15)

28

AR (5/22)

36

KY (5/22)

45

CA (6/5)

172

MT (6/5)

26

NJ (6/5)

50

NM (6/5)

23

SD (6/5)

28

UT (6/26)

40

Totals

2226

110

386

169 

53

81

* Maine’s caucuses open on February 4, but vote totals are not released until the following week.


Poll: Who is your choice?


Earlier today, I broke down the different blocks within the Republican Party. As we get ready for tonight’s debate, who is your choice if you had to vote today?


Santorum v. Perry


Well, well. It seems Rick Perry took one look at his war chest and decided he’s back in the race. About 12 hours after a dejected and deflated Perry seemingly left the race, he tweeted he was back in. Only caveat: he appears to be bypassing New Hampshire entirely and going for broke in South Carolina.

Skipping New Hampshire makes sense for Perry. That’s Mitt Romney’s back yard and Romney is expected to crush his competition there. Unfortunately for Granite Staters, it makes their primary virtually irrelevant, barring another Rick Santorum miracle or surprise from Jon Huntsman.

No, the real battle becomes a fight for the anti-Romney vote in South Carolina. Perry, well financed but bumbling vs. Rick Santorum, newly minted as the anti-Romney favorite. It should be fun to watch the two conservatives with vastly different styles going after the same voters. Will Perry’s southern charm and immense campaign coffers allow him to overcome the fact he can’t seem to utter a coherent sentence in public? Or will Santorum’s down-to-earth, middle-class sensibilities combine with his oratorical repertoire in wooing over South Carolina’s conservative base?

We’ll know the answer in 16 days. Until then, game on!


Iowan Insanity


Cherokee Hospital for the Insane - Cherokee, Iowa

Here we go again. In four days, the nation is going to let a state representing 7 electoral votes set the tone for the quadrennial Presidential Election process. This  state is hardly representative of the nation as a whole, either. The residents of Iowa have more disposable income than the rest of us. Demographically, Iowa is less ethnically diverse, less educated and more rural than the country in general. The state’s largest city, Des Moines, is ranked 106th in total population and 98th in population density – making it more a large suburb than an actual city.

Why do we do this? Why do we allow 1.2% of the nation’s populace decide the fate of the Unites States for the next four years? I can’t think of a particularly good reason. But I can think of a particularly good way to end the charade. Have all primaries conducted on the same day.

To be clear, I am NOT advocating for federal administration of primary elections. The states have done a fine job running them. If they would rather have the circus atmosphere of a caucus than an election, fine. If they want restrictive and onerous ballot rules, okay. This is directed at the national parties, who are responsible for creating the primary schedule and have perpetrated the insanity of allowing a very non-representative portion of the population to determine their candidates for President. (After Iowa comes New Hampshire, with its four electoral votes and even less representative of the nation).

But a National Primary Day does several things to help end the confusion common to Presidential primaries. First, it effectively ends the candidacy of people with marginal appeal. Let’s face it, by focusing all of their energies on one small state, some pretty marginal people have been able to enter the national conversation based on one position – only to fade into political oblivion. Mike Huckabee won Iowa, only to become a talk show host. Pat Buchanan used Iowa to re-energize a fading career as a political pundit. Howard Dean made plenty of noise in Iowa, only to become a punch-line on late night television. This year, can anyone really imagine that the race baiting history of a Ron Paul wouldn’t be a political albatross in states with more than a 5% minority population? Or that single issue candidates Michelle Bachmann or Rick Santorum would be players on a national stage?

Second, having all Presidential primaries contested at the same time would require candidates to create a national political organization. Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry were surprised by their inability to get on the Virginia primary ballot. Yet the underlying reason is their inability to properly organize. Gingrich can be excused, in a sense; his campaign is underfunded and was largely seen as a joke until last month (although, residing in Virginia probably means he should have understood the rules better than any other candidate). Perry, however, has oodles of money – more than anyone in the race not named Romney – and his inability is due simply to a lack of campaign oversight. Seriously, do we want a President who can’t organize well enough to ensure he’s on every state ballot? Or hire someone to do that for him? Making speeches is one thing, but ensuring the basics are attended to is an essential leadership trait. The United States federal government is a much larger enterprise than any political campaign. A candidate who can’t assume the responsibilities of Chief Executive of a political campaign certainly can’t be trusted to be the Chief Executive of the United States.

Finally, a National Primary Day ensures that every primary vote carries the same weight. The essential element is this: by giving various states an initial say in the nominating process, the citizens voting later have less input. Odds are that by the time “Super Tuesday” rolls around, the parties have already settled on a presumptive nominee. By the time I get to cast a ballot in June, the nominee has been decided – voting becomes nothing more than a pro forma exercise in civic responsibility. The effect, of course, is suppressed turnout in those states, which has dramatic effects on down ballot candidates and initiatives.

It is time to end the madness. Allowing the voters in Iowa (or New Hampshire) to have more input than voters in California (or us poor New Jerseyans) is one 19th century idea whose time has passed.


Mr. Perry, Only serious candidates need apply


In a way, I feel sorry for Texas Governor Rick Perry.

Is Rick Perry really just another Bozo?

When Sarah Palin decided not to run for President, Perry was anointed as the only real conservative with any political heft running for President. After all, he is the longest serving Governor of the nation’s second largest state, a state that remains prosperous despite the national economy generally being in the tank for the past four years. He announced his candidacy to the thunderous roar of making the federal government “as inconsequential in your life as I can.” I’m hoping that statement isn’t a result of introspection – because right now, a Perry presidency looks like an even bigger disaster than the Obama presidency became.

First, Perry proved everyone right when they said he was a lousy debater. Along with the rest of the nation, I can handle a guy who flubs an occasional fact (it happens to everyone). I can stomach the person who comes across as a walking stiff; nobody should be overly confident on a debate stage. But Mr. Perry managed to come in even below the already low expectations set by his campaign and supporters. When Perry was awake enough to pay attention to what was happening on the stage around him, he demonstrated an incredible inability to articulate even the simplest thoughts, much less explain policy decisions a Perry administration would make. In the end, his only recourse was to lash out angrily (a lá Newt Gingrich, but without Newt’s wit) at his competitors. The resulting image is of a slightly dim-witted bully, not a future President of the United States.

Now, we have the Perry economic plan. In announcing this plan, Perry declared it to be “bold.” If by bold, you mean “schizophrenic,” then I agree with you, Mr. Perry. This is nothing more than pandering to various interest groups. If meant as a way to kick-start the conversation about the role of government, then it might be acceptable. But I think he actually meant it as an economic outline, in which case it will only work to drive millions of Americans into destitution and despair. Why? Look under the hood and here’s what you find:

  1. Tax policy: Perry proposes a 20% flat tax, except it isn’t. It is a 20% personal income tax policy, with deductions for mortgage interest, state and local taxes, and charitable gifts. Worse, for those with incomes under $500,000 the personal exemption increases to $12,500 per person. Taxes on business profits are also reduced to 20%, with no deductions – save for a one-time reduction on off-shore profits to 5.6%, intended to lure overseas profits here to spur job growth. Still, even if you get past the misnomer (a flat tax is just that; one tax rate without any exemptions) then you’re tempted to say this seems reasonable.The biggest complaints regarding the current tax code are the complexity and that the current distribution of the tax burden predominately falls on the middle class. How does the Perry Plan address these two problems? My best guess is by ignoring them. For starters, any taxpayer can opt to keep the current tax plan instead of the new one. Imagine running a business under those circumstances: now you have to track two different tax codes and try to determine which works best for your company (I suppose accounting firms will love it).An entire new level of complexity just got added into your business model, because no business I know is going to arbitrarily choose one plan over the other without doing a full cost-benefit analysis. As to the personal taxes, Perry is correct in assuming most Americans will opt for his single rate plan. After all, a full 50% of American households won’t pay any taxes under it. The remaining half will bear the brunt of the tax burden – which is roughly the same distribution as we currently have, just with less money coming in. Unless you’re in the middle class, in which case you’ll probably wind up paying more in taxes. Brilliant election year strategy (see: Cain, Herman for how well raising taxes on the middle works).

    This is no gain, all loss. (You can find the data used to compute tax distribution here).

  2. Social Security: Perry proposes relieving income taxes on those receiving Social Security, while making it an opt-in program for current workers. Sounds great, except the only people currently paying taxes on Social Security benefits are those with over $50,000 in personal income per couple (how many retired couples do you know with $50,000 in annual income?). As for making Social Security an opt-in program, there’s a very big problem with that plan: current workers actually pay for existing retirees. The. idea that the government takes your money, then invests it into a “trust fund” from which you draw your retirement benefits is patently false. What happens is the government takes those payroll taxes we all pay and uses those funds to pay current retirees. If there’s a surplus, then the government uses that money to purchase T-Bills and then uses those funds to help the general ledger; if there’s a shortage, then the reverse is true. This is a month-to-month accounting system, not an annual line-item budget item. So, imagine what happens if even half of current workers opt out of Social Security? Yes, you guessed it: the entire system goes belly up, threatening in one fell swoop to turn us into Greece, with a national debt ballooning by the billions every month and an unfunded national pension plan. Worse, you and your employer is still obligated to pay those pesky payroll taxes, but with an entirely new level of complexity. Is this now income, since it is being deposited into an investment account? What type of account is it? Who manages it? What level of accountability is there, and to whom?Social Security does need to reform to keep it solvent. But nuking the entire economy in order to do it isn’t very bright.
  3. Health Care: One of the greatest threats to economic growth, both now and in the future, is the dizzying rate of increase in health care costs. Nobody has yet to put forth a proposal that actually does anything to reduce that curve and Perry joins right in. His plan is little more than “reduce fraud in Medicare.” Lovely idea and it should certainly be part of the agenda. Except we’ve been hearing about that for 25 years now. It seems to me that with that much emphasis on reducing Medicare fraud, it should amount to $1.30 or so by now. 
  4. Balancing the budget: Well, of course. Everyone I know agrees the federal budget should be balanced (except for a few die-hard Keynesians, but they’ve been proven wrong on this so many times over the past 60 years I find it hard to believe they’re still around). But Perry doesn’t offer any specifics aver how he would do it. He does offer platitudes, such as “Pass a Balanced Budget Amendment” and “Cap Federal Spending at 18% of GDP.” He suggests freezing federal hiring – not a bad idea, but we’re not running $1.4 trillion deficits because of federal hiring. He also wants to do away with earmarks. While that is certainly an admirable goal, the President (as leader of the Executive branch) can’t do much about it: appropriations bills are still written by Congress. If some Congressman from Bum Rush wants $800 million for a road to nowhere and can convince a majority of his peers to go along with the idea, it’s getting added into an appropriations bill somewhere.

Frankly, the entire Perry candidacy so far has shown him to be a man whose ambitions far outstrip his talents, ability, intelligence and demeanor. As such, I think his current poll standing is about right (barely treading more water than Michelle Bachman or Rick Santorum). The American people are interviewing candidates for the Presidency, Mr. Perry. Only serious applicants will be considered.


The Scarlet Knight to the Rescue?


The GOP is finally starting to get it’s act together. Some of the “headliners” are throwing their hats in the ring for the upcoming primaries. Over the past week, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul have officially launched campaigns. They join Herman Cain, Tim Pawlenty and Rick Santorum as officially declared candidates. By  this evening we’ll know if Mike Huckabee is running and by the end of the month, we’ll have Donald Trump’s decision. Mitt Romney hasn’t officially declared yet, but he certainly acts as though he’s in the race. Then there are those who are playing coy and may yet run, such as Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann, Jon Huntsman and Buddy Roemer.

Color most rank-and-file Republicans unimpressed by their options. Each of the above carries significant baggage. The staunchest conservatives, such as Palin, Bachmann and Santorum, have negative ratings among the general electorate as high – or higher – than their positives and are generally considered “unelectable.” Romney and Gingrich are know commodities but known for the wrong reasons, namely, they change positions so often they’re perceived as standing for whatever will get them elected. Pawlenty and Huckabee are seen by many Republicans as not being conservative enough. Paul is a libertarian at heart; his stances on drug and foreign policy leave many Republicans cold. Everyone else in the race is a virtual unknown – except for Trump, who’s considered so Loony even Bugs Bunny wouldn’t vote for him.

So, the Republican base is still casting about for their dream candidate: someone who embodies conservative principles, wins in liberal regions and has the national name recognition needed if entering a national race. The names most often floated in conservative circles are Chris Christie and Mitch Daniels, governors of New Jersey and Indiana respectively, and Marco Rubio and Col. Allen West, Senator and Representative from Florida respectively. West would be a long-shot; while he meets the first two criteria, he doesn’t have national name recognition.

Of the remaining three, the rank-and-file and power brokers may be coalescing around one potential candidate in particular: Christie. Why Christie? He’s been on the national stage and fought many of the battles that others are now wading into. Public employee unions, school reform, budget reform; check, done all that. Additionally, his blunt speaking style and deft humor have drawn favorable comparisons to another Republican icon, Ronald Reagan. And like Reagan, regardless of where you align politically, the man is genuinely likable – the kind of guy the average Joe could picture himself having a beer with after a long day at work.

We’ll soon find out if the rubber is meeting the road here. A delegation of Iowa donors is coming to New Jersey at the end of the month to meet with Christie, presumably to persuade the New Jersey governor to enter the primary campaign. This is unique in recent political memory. Where once the primaries were mere formalities and the actual candidate was selected during the convention, that hasn’t been the case in a couple of generations. This could be the ultimate play for Christie, as well. He’s been adamant about not running for President, despite numerous speaking engagements around the country (including a memorable one in which he lambasted politicians for refusing to acknowledge the need to cut entitlement spending). But if he jumps in at the behest of party and country, then abandoning his first term could actually be cast as a positive: I didn’t want to, but was convinced the country needed me – and I can best serve my state by serving my country. Already, the establishment Republicans are lashing out at Christie, as evidenced by this article I came across. They know if he is in the race, then their chances are immediately dwarfed by a Tea Party darling.

Will Christie answer the siren song sung by the Iowans? Time will tell. And this story won’t be over before the convention, especially if the current field continues to uninspirationally march through the primaries and caucuses of 2012.