We are at the halfway point between Iowa and New Hampshire. Here’s five things we now know about the presidential election.
5. Hillary Is in Really, Really Big Trouble
Hillary Clinton sort of, kind of won Iowa through a series of coin flips and grotesque incompetence by Democrats in managing the caucus process. On top of that, a bunch of FBI agents and staff are preparing for another hobby: becoming an anonymous source for the media. Hillary indictments for improperly handling top-secret information have purportedly been drafted. The investigation has expanded to pay-for-play allegations involving the Clinton Foundation and foreign powers.
The prognosis is not good for Mrs. Clinton. Yet she remains the front-runner. Republicans are gleeful, but they should temper their glee for two reasons.
First, the Clintons have a unique skill set. They have the uncanny ability to turn felony allegations into a net political positive, particularly allegations that are not pressed vigorously by the DOJ lawyers who should be pressing them.
Second, Republicans should be careful what they wish for. America in 2016 isn’t what America was in 1996. The country has changed underneath them, and it is folly to assume a socialist like Bernie Sanders has no chance in a general election. Decades of race-baiting, government education, distance from knowledge of the Soviet gulags, and moral relativism among millennials make Sanders a far more potent candidate than many Republicans realize. What’s worse, the Democrats have adopted data models that allow them to win elections relying mostly on the leftist base.
Republicans, slow to develop and employ sophisticated base-turnout methods, still think elections are won or lost in the middle, among independents.
Many Republicans still believe this even though Mitt Romney won the independents but lost the election.
4. Donald Trump Is Running an Issues-Free Campaign
Trump promises to “make America great again.” Yet I’m still not sure how. (Trump supporters, be sure to fill the comments below with concrete plans before any insults. Appreciated.) For sure, Trump will build a wall, he says, to stop the flow of illegal immigration into the United States. That’s good. But that doesn’t make America great. What else? Highway projects? Plans for a new bomber? Fireworks? Torchlight parades and stadium rallies?
We just don’t know. Instead of issues, Trump’s campaign for the last few weeks has been about sniping at Ted Cruz (starting with the absurd birther narrative) and continued on to how Cruz “stole” the Iowa caucus.
The latter relates to a Cruz staffer acting competently in alerting caucus captains that CNN was reporting that Ben Carson may be dropping out. (We’ll cover Carson and competence in #3, below). Memo to all those offended by Cruz: that’s what competent campaigns do. They take news reports and pulverize opponents with them at key moments. It would be an outrage had Cruz not done so.
Trump’s proxy Sarah Palin has piled on, framing the Cruz competence as “dirty.” This only serves to remind voters what a pass the 2008 ticket gave to candidate Obama, and perhaps now we understand why Obama had it so easy.
Trump has lately run a campaign that relies on cultural demographics rather than issues or ideology. Vulgarity, bombast, and bluster have been the Trump post-Iowa pivot. Trump’s campaign now seems reliant on a view of America where voters “are fled to brutish beasts and men have lost their reason,” where his campaign stirs “hearts and minds to mutiny and rage.” It just might work. Maybe America is ready for bread and circuses.
3. Ben Carson’s Campaign Has Stumbled Badly
Where to begin? Carson has burned through millions of dollars of donor money with little to show for it. He has endured wave after wave of staff defections. It is going to be a very interesting investigation to see exactly who has gotten rich off his donors once Federal Election Commission reports are filed.
The latest stumble was when Carson announced he’d be taking time off to go to Florida to get a change of clothes and relax for a few days. Competent campaigns don’t do that after Iowa — at least not campaigns that expect to compete in New Hampshire.
Learning that CNN was reporting Carson might be dropping out, the Cruz camp rightfully and properly used this report to pound Carson while the caucuses were going on. That’s what politics is. If you don’t like it, do something different, like brain surgery. Politics is about moving information to move minds. In this instance, the information came from a news source, and fit a long-standing pattern of looming surrender.
Instead of trying to salvage his sinking campaign, Carson spent the next two days complaining about Ted Cruz. Even after Cruz graciously (and needlessly) apologized, the Carson camp was still wound up. Carson and Trump and Palin went on an incredible and outlandish journey through conspiratorial and alternative-history outcomes. Do the election over, Trump suggested. “Can votes be given to Carson?”, others wondered. “This is why people hate politics,” we were lectured.
Your campaign said you’re taking off to Florida and issued a statement about a change of clothes, and the political world acted reasonably.
I had a conversation with the Ben Carson campaign manager a few weeks ago, who told me Ben Carson was against photo voter ID multiple times, and then corrected himself to tell me he was for photo voter ID. It’s just been that kind of campaign. If I was a donor, I’d want my money back.
2. Unprecedented: Either Hillary, Sanders, Trump, Rubio, or Cruz will be the next President
That’s what Iowa does. Iowa reduces the field, and we now know the next president will be one of five people. Barring some unforeseen entry or cataclysm, one of them will be president on January 20, 2017. All five would represent something far outside the traditions of American politics.
1. Cruz, Rubio, and Trump represent three divided legs of the GOP
Rubio’s post-Iowa spin was that he is the only candidate that can unify the GOP. I don’t think so. I’m not sure the party can be unified.
The biggest issue dividing the party is immigration. The Rubio effort to legalize illegal aliens (known as the Gang of Eight) set off a firestorm among both ideological conservatives and cultural foes.
Immigration might not be the top issue to a majority of Republicans, but it is close to a plurality, and nevertheless creates more intensity than any other issue. Rubio supporters will tell you Rubio regrets his amnesty efforts and now is reformed. The problem is the Trump supporters will never believe it. And on the other end of the spectrum, Trump launched his presidential campaign on the central platform of opposing illegal immigration. His supporters consider amnesty an existential cultural issue.
If you think Rubio is best suited to “unify” the Republican Party, then you don’t understand the Trump phenomenon very well. The more Rubio gets endorsements of moderate establishment-leaning Republicans like George Pataki, the harder it will be to unify the Trump wing with Rubio.
Cruz is supported by movement conservatives, constitutionalists, and evangelicals. Could that be the foundation to actually unify a party divided by those who want (or wanted) illegal aliens to become citizens, and those who want them back where they came from? Time will tell.