Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Opposites Attract: Is the Potential for a Trump v. Sanders General Election Real?



It is finally, officially, really...2016! Yes, the election year is here and with it the primary season, more scrutiny of polling numbers, and the realization that things aren't always what they seem.

This time last year Donald Trump was never going to be the GOP Presidential nominee and Hilary Clinton was the obvious and inevitable lock for the Democratic nomination. It was supposed to be a matter of time before we witnessed the ultimate culmination of one of the single longest Presidential bids in U.S. history with Hilary finally becoming the first female U.S. President. Between then and now an entire year has passed and my, oh my, what a year it was.

YEAR OF THE HAIR?

2015 was the year of Trump's rise from goofy celebutant (If that's not a word it should be, so I'm going with it) pretender to clear and obvious GOP frontrunner. It was the year of “feeling the Bern” as Bernie Sanders went from long-term and well respected Democratic Senator from Vermont to primary frontrunner in Iowa and New Hampshire, ahead of Clinton. Had you predicted Trump as the leader going into Iowa, even six months ago it would have been met with laughter and skepticism, which is why no pundit was saying it would happen. Yet, here we are...you would have been correct. Trump, first classified as a toupee wearing blow-hard that didn't know the first thing about running a campaign and probably wouldn't be trusted by the Republican faithful is now the blustery, straight talking candidate that says it like it is. Unreal.

I have been standing by my own predictions of Christie v. Clinton, and I'm not ready to give that up just yet, but I am starting to feel the sand shifting beneath my feet. The once logical and inevitable choices are blasé, boring, and brackish. And the polls, MY GOD MAN THE POLLS! Trump is, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the indisputable frontrunner for the GOP. Sanders is leading or tied in Iowa and ahead by leaps and bounds in New Hampshire. (Not to mention Leo is the favorite to win the Oscar...2016 could be a true year of big changes.)

THE NUMBERS.

For those of you that haven't been following along with my political musings, I like to use the numbers from Real Clear Politics a great webpage for the politically minded. The national average polling section compiles information from both right and left leaning companies, and uses a variety of samples so the numbers are much more realistic and representative of the actual national mood. However, polling numbers should always be viewed with a degree of skepticism; in 2012 the race between Obama and Romney was within 3-5% on almost every poll, but Obama ran away with the election. The polling had failed to pick up on the shifting dynamics of race and ethnicity in Florida, plus there is the “I don't want to admit it” effect of answering a pollster's questions that can suppress true voter intentions. Basically, if I ask you in person if you support Trump you're more likely to say no than if you are filling out an anonymous form. 

As of the middle of January, Trump is sitting fairly steady at about 35% overall in the GOP. He is the clear frontrunner, but the inverse of that number means that 65% of GOP voters are not going to vote for Trump, at least at this point. Trump's numbers are where I think the potential for voters being less than truthful to pollsters is most likely. Admitting you fully support Trump has additional baggage because of the labeling of Trump as racist. So, there could be a portion of the GOP voters being polled that just aren't willing to say out loud that Trump is their candidate, even if it's a subconscious issue for them. If we assume Trump really has closer to 40% support that still leaves well over ½ of the GOP voters opposed and could lead to a contested convention, but it should not lead to a Trump nomination. But, at least for now Trump is the “most likely” nominee, so let's run with it.

Trump's numbers have been reasonably steady for the last few months. Cruz is rising, Rubio appears to be losing steam, Bush has been dead in the water since June, but Christie (yes my pick) is still making waves. The GOP race is very far from over and we won’t have any real clarity until Super Tuesday. What makes this even more interesting is Sarah Palin’s endorsement of Trump. While this could solidify Trump's position, I think it will be fool's gold.

At the same time, Sanders is slowly and methodically chipping away at Clinton. His numbers are real. He built them slowly. Clinton's numbers are like a huge rock resting on top of a pole. The rock is high, but it wasn't built slowly. Sanders numbers are like a pyramid. At first it didn't look like much because the base takes so long to complete, but once it is done it can hold so much more than the pole can. Layer by layer Sanders has built and in October the pyramid started to cast a shadow. That shadow is getting bigger. That pole is getting weak, and the rock is very heavy.

Sanders is at about 38% nationally. Clinton is at 51%. O'malley is still running, but I'd be shocked to see him get even 5% at his highest as he is under 4% now. Quick math shows there is something missing: about 8% of the “other/undecided” group. (A/K/A the group still hoping for Biden.) What happens if Sanders picks up most of that group? He could easily get to 44-45% without touching Clinton's base. If he is able to sway just some of Clinton's less devoted supporters, or encourage high turnout among voters under 45, then the Democratic race is suddenly within the margin of error. Holyshnikes.



On the Republican side it's pretty simple. People are sick and tired of ___________(fill in the blank) and Trump is going to fix it. Imagine getting very ill. You go to the doctor's office. After you stare at a slightly off-white wall, read an old children's magazine, and look at that sort of interesting painting of the people in the boat for the 17th time, the door opens and you're ushered back. The doctor spends 30 seconds looking at your chart and then says to you “This is some bad stuff, but I'm going to make you better and you'll be better than ever when I'm done. Trust me, I'm a doctor.” 


Bush is the wall. Rubio is the children's magazine. Cruz is the oddly entertaining painting. Obviously, Trump is the doctor. Are you going to go out and tell people “Hey you should go to this office, the painting will make you feel so much better!” or “I don't know what this doctor is going to do, but I already feel better about it!” when you leave? Most likely the painting will get little mention, and the wall and magazine are already forgotten. Who doesn't like a guarantee of being better than ever?

Wait, what about Christie, was he part of this exam? Not exactly. Which is why he still matters so much. Christie is the second opinion. The problem is, the second opinion is a chance to have someone tell you bad news, and if the first opinion is nothing but sunshine and rainbows then why bother listening to the guy that might tell you something bad? I still think the 60-65% of “non-Trump” GOP voters will want a second opinion soon which is why I am not ready to abandon my pick of Chris Christie as the GOP Nominee (which was made WAY before it was cool). Christie's appeal is similar to that of Trump as the guy that will talk tough. The difference is that Christie could actually win a general election and Trump cannot. 

On the Democratic side it is much simpler. Hilary Clinton has worn out the welcome. We all get it, she wants to be the President. That's great. So did Mitt Romney. So did Bob Dole.

Persistence doesn't always pay off.

Meanwhile, Sanders is “new” to the game. Sure, he's been a Senator for a generation but even the most politically minded hardly uttered his name before he announced his candidacy. He's physically old but his rhetoric is radical and sounds like change. Obama swept the nation with “Hope and Change” in 2008, but all he did was use the phrase. Sanders is doing much more than that. He's putting out real policy stances that are different. He is unabashedly calling out the power structure rather than just trying to make nice with it (sort of like that other guy with the crazy hair named Donald), which is the exact opposite of Clinton. Hilary, like Bill, is a very centrist political animal. In 2008 the Democratic voters wanted something new. They rejected Hilary for Obama and got a somewhat left leaning centrist for 8 years. It was more of a certified pre-owned than new. The Fox News crew might think Obama is a radical, but policy realities suggest he is far from it. The feelings that swept him from Jr. Senator to Commander-In-Chief are still swirling, and Sanders is harnessing them in an effective way, similarly to Trump.

WHAT IT MEANS.

It means the primaries matter. Like, really-super-mega-big-time matter. On the GOP side the primaries will solidify the “other” candidate. Someone will become the clear second choice to Trump, and there may be a third as well, but the bottom feeders will drop off. If you finish out of the top three in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina people tend to stop giving you money to spend on your campaign and start giving it to the top contenders. Cruz is strong, no question about that, and I think Christie really comes alive during the primaries. If Christie finishes top two in New Hampshire and top three in South Carolina he will begin picking up serious momentum. Plus, the SNL Christie is so much fun that we really deserve to have him on the ticket. 

For the Democrats, Sanders could win both Iowa and New Hampshire. Check out this Iowa poll showing a possible Iowa tie. Clinton is likely to win South Carolina, but Sanders winning 2/3 of the first primaries would be a massive story. (Sanders winning all 3/3 would be a freakin' A-Bomb.) Suddenly the narrative wouldn't be about if Sanders' campaign is viable enough to beat Clinton, but would shift to whether Clinton's campaign can hold on long enough to win. Like Christie, the SNL Sanders (played masterfully by Larry David) is too good to be true. I love Kate McKinnon's Clinton, it's funny, but Larry David as Bernie Sanders is the impersonation we really deserve. He is 2016's Tina Fey as Palin. Although, if this Trump-Palin relationship blossoms then Tina Fey as Palin could be 2016's Tina Fey as Palin... but I digress.

In the end Trump is looking more like a real possibility than anyone could have guessed. As for Sanders his odds are getting better because his campaign has been pretty, pretty...pretty good.

PREDICTIONS.

Trump v. Sanders is possible, but I don't think it's likely. It requires the GOP to bend to a candidate that has undeniably high unfavorable ratings, and I don't think the party is really that self-destructive. Then again, this is the same GOP that thought Romney could unseat an incumbent President so, maybe they are. Of the two Sanders seems to have a more realistic chance, though I'm still confident in my prediction of Clinton v. Christie. 

The details of what Sanders is proposing will start to matter more and I'm not so sure that is good for him. Plus, Clinton can outspend him by a ton (really, a literal ton of cash) and it won't be shocking to see her pick up O'Malley's endorsement if Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina don't provide him with something more than a 5% showing. Clinton/O'Malley is a strong ticket. I said a long time ago that Jay Nixon could pull the Clinton VP pick, and O'Malley is like a handsome and friendly Nixon. 

Christie needs to keep doing what he has been doing, playing a good ground game and building slowly. Slow and steady can win the race for Christie, but for JEB! 2016 was over before it started no matter how many turtles he has in his pocket. Trump should be able to break down Cruz enough that when Christie comes knocking for the VP pick Cruz can jump on board, unless Rubio is already aligned with Christie. A Christie/Cruz or Christie/Rubio allegiance can keep the brokered convention from getting out of control, will please the establishment enough to support it, and can defeat Trump. I think I speak for a lot of voters, on both sided of the spectrum, when I say that would be a good thing. 

- Adam Sommer



with editing by Drew Hooper

Friday, December 11, 2015

Cruz Control: Predictions for the GOP from now until Super Tuesday


The 2015 political year is almost over, and what a year it has been! For the Democrats it was a year full of defense for Hillary, and the Summer of Bernie, and what a Bern it was. For the Republicans it was a year of vetting to find their actual primary candidates for 2016, and with the GOP debate on December 15th looming it looks like the field has finally trimmed down to (mostly) serious contenders. Also, Donald Trump. The final GOP debate of 2015 will have a big impact on fundraising, public support, and momentum going into the early voting states, particularly Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. Win just one of those three states, and you're in for the long haul, finish below second in all three and you're presidential bid could be over before March. It's go time.

The Democratic field is boring, Clinton probably wins, Sanders has a shot. So, let's break down the GOP field, where the fireworks are flying!

Right now there are three groups of GOP candidates: the legitimate contenders, the demagogue and wishful thinking pretenders, and finally Mike Huckabee. Sorry Mike, you have no chance and you never did. Of the remaining candidates, a handful could win the nomination, and fewer still can win the general election. 

PRETENDERS

Most of the candidates remaining are in the second group of pretenders, including Rand Paul and Ben Carson. Both Paul and Carson have genuine supporters - Paul probably more so than Carson - but their messages and brands are both too narrow to be a real contender. Fiorina is probably in this group too, though a strong debate performance on the 15th could change that. But, if I'm making a full group of the “pretenders” I'd include Paul, Carson, Fiorina, and Huckabee. They all have something to say, but I don't think the GOP really cares to listen to any of them at this point.

DONALD THE DEMAGOGUE & THE CONTENDERS

That leaves Trump (who I still classify as a separate thing all together, basically the candidate version of this guy) and the contender group. That group includes Cruz, Rubio, Christie, & Bush. Make no mistake about it, that is the top tier. I could see any combination of those four creating the final GOP ticket, but let's talk about Trump first.

Trump's numbers are real. They are real enough to last into February. The last three names of candidates to lead in Iowa for the GOP, based on the Real Clear Politics polling information, are Trump, Carson, Trump again, and – can you guess? – Scott Walker! That's right, remember Scott Walker? That's the guy from Wisconsin that jumped out to a lead only to find out there was no more runway but, had the good sense to jump out of the way of the locomotive coming down the tracks with the word “TRUMP” on the side of it. That's the same Scott Walker that implored other candidates to be more like him, and quit. The same Scott Walker...aw heck, I done introduced him enough.

LOOK CLOSELY FOR THE TRUTH

The bottom line is this: Walker's numbers were a mirage. He was a flavor of the week candidate called out by anyone capable of evaluating longevity early on. So was Carson. Both Carson and Walker were like champaign with exciting beginnings and that great bubbly taste, but bubbles go away and you are left with flat grape juice that no one wants to drink. Champaign is for celebrations and mimosas, not for everyday drinking. 

While the bubbles on the Carson and Walker champaign fizzled out, Trump's were growing stronger. The GOP can't stay away from Trump. I see Trump as the bacon wrapped little smokies at the party. You know you shouldn't eat ANY of them. You also know you're going to eat, like, at least five or six (ok, ten) of them and then talk about how you're sorry you did it later. The point is, Trump is not so easily set aside. Trump is the holiday food you try to stay away from, but you keep coming back because it's consistently good, even it's it's terrible for you. None of this is a surprise.

Just take a look at what I said about this group in early June,especially Trump, Walker, and Carson. (I'll wait a minute for you to do that while I rest my arm from self-fiving.)


But the season for the Walker, Huckabee, and Carson type candidates has come to an end. If Huckabee was going to have a big month, that time has come and gone. If Rand Paul was ever going to get into the twenties in support numbers we would have seen it already. Things are going to settle down. The cream will rise to the top and settle over the next 30 days. Come February 1st we will finally have a true snap shot of the top candidates.

PREDICTIONS FOR FEBRUARY

I think the Iowa caucus is when Trump's bad nature and general negativism come home to roost. I expect Cruz to walk away with Iowa at at least 25% or greater,  which should be good enough for a first place finish. I see Trump's support still being big enough to keep him in the conversation in second place, likely 15%-20% of the vote. That leaves about 50% of the vote for Rubio, Bush, Carson, Christie, Fiorina, Kasich, and I guess Huckabee. Sadly, Huckabee will probably do well in Iowa due to his extreme religious nature, but it will be fool's gold. Rubio will earn a nice slice, likely more than 10% and could do better yet (Rubio could finish second, its hard to tell at this point), Bush and Carson will each land in that 5%-15% land, with Christie, Fiorina and Kasich all at 5% or less. Of those final three, Christie should finish highest, and has the only real potential to do better than 5%. I think the GOP in general is finally coming around to the reality that they need to pick a candidate for a general election. That means someone that can beat Hilary or Bernie, or a joint ticket of the two. Christie has been my pick from the start, for this very reason. Here are my Iowa predictions:

Winner: Ted Cruz

Most surprising outcome in a favorable way: Christie

Most surprising outcome in a negative way: Bush

Top 5 after Iowa: Cruz, Trump, Rubio, Huckabee (Iowa is into the religious guy, always), & Christie

Most Likely Move for Trump:  Declare Third Party Candidacy in March

Top 3 after February:  Cruz, Rubio, Christie

By the end of February the GOP will have gone through Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada all leading up to the March 1st, Super Tuesday primary date. I think the end of February is the end of Trump as a viable GOP candidate and will leave us with four potential candidates: Cruz, Rubio, Bush, and Christie. Fiorina remains a dark horse, and I won't be shocked if Kasich hangs on for dear life hoping for the V.P. nod, but Carson is on his way back to irrelevancy and Huckabee won't be far behind.

Ultimately, I think the GOP will end up with Christie, Cruz, or Rubio at the top of the ticket and possibly any of those three in the V.P. spot, with Kasich and Fiorina as possible running mates as well. I don't think the GOP wants Bush any were near the general election in reality, and if Christie, Cruz, or Rubio win the nomination there is NO WAY IN HELL they are picking Bush as their Veep. Zero chance. They don't need him to win Florida, and why would they pick up a tainted brand when you could grab Kasich and possibly Ohio along with it? Frankly, Rand Paul has a better shot at V.P. than JEB!, and the Kasich pick for Ohio is s.m.r.t. SMART from an electoral math standpoint. 

One thing is for certain: we have probably yet to see the true bottom of the barrel with regards to Trump. It could get pretty nasty before it's all said and done. (Yes, even more than it already has.) Surely with a few more months of screen time Trump can complete his quest to insult and offend every single person in America that isn't named Donald Trump, right?



Quick Note: Don't lose site of Paul Ryan, or his beard. He could emerge from the winter with a freshly shorn face and a V.P. nomination.  


- Adam Sommer



This post written and edited by Adam Sommer.