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Saturday, July 11, 2015

Candidate Profile: #11. Donald Trump

For background to this series, click here.

Now let's get to him. You know. . . . HIM.

Donald Trump, 69, Real Estate Tycoon, Reality TV host, billionaire, classy, huge

Campaign Website and Slogan--www.donaldjtrump.com--"Make America Great Again"

PPFA Slogan--"Wait, America Isn't Great?"

Ideology on liberal-conservative spectrum (-10 is far left and +10 is far right. A center moderate is 0.): +5.25 (Individual rights: +8; domestic issues: +7; economy: +3; foreign policy: +3) While there is no voting record on which to base these numbers, the total tonnage of his bluster is enough to stun a team of oxen in its tracks.

Conservative Rank based on above: 10 of 16.

Spin from the candidate's campaign--"Donald J. Trump is the very definition of the American success story." Whether its real estate, entertainment, or his four billion dollar net worth, everything he touches turns to gold. Will the White House be next? It could use some gold plating. He's not only a man of conviction, like other Republican candidates in this election, but unlike them he also is a man of action. Neither party has fixed illegal immigration, and it's a huge problem. He's promising to fix it. Admit it; he's already got the nation talking about issues it didn't want to! He's playing the field like a puppet master. What a man.

Spin from opponents--Where to begin? I think I actually need to break out paragraphs for this category.

Ideologically, he's done even more of an evolution than Mitt Romney, a candidate of whom many conservatives were skeptical. On a 1999 Meet the Press, Trump told Tim Russert that he was "very pro-choice." In an interview where he praised the Canadian health system(!), he said, "I'm very liberal when it comes to health care. I believe in universal health care. . . . It's an entitlement." As recently as 2010 he was donating to Democratic campaigns, including those of Anthony Weiner, Chuck Schumer, and Harry Reid. He once advocated for the legalization of drugs, and he proposed a massive tax on the wealthy to sustain Social Security. Romney hard a hard time shaking the accusation of moderation; will Trump be able to?

Electorally, he could very well give the Democrats a landslide victory in November. CNN, Fox News, and Quinnipiac all have him down by gargantuan numbers to Hillary Clinton in a general election match-up. Public Policy Polling shows how Hillary Clinton trails all but one candidate in reliably red Kentucky. That one candidate?  The Donald.

Rationally, he's a birther, and he still doubts the President's place of birth. I needn't go on.

Politically, until very recently, he was a prominent supporter of Hillary Clinton. As late as 2012, he called her a "terrific woman" and noted he liked her husband as well. He once described Jeb Bush, the favorite for the Republican nomination, as "a good man," "bright, tough and principled," and "exactly the kind of political leader this country needs now and will very much need in the future." Now he's making the case that Bush is "pathetic."

Statistically, well, we'll get to that below...

How do the polls look?--His RCP national average is 6.5, which slots him in seventh place. However, there's a bullet next to his name as he charges up the charts. That 6.5 average is factoring in the four most recent major national polls, but in the earlier two of those he registered at merely 1 and 2 points. In the last two polls, however, he hit double digits each time--11 (Fox News poll) and 12 points (CNN/ORC poll). Those each put him in second place, behind only Bush.

In Iowa, he again averages 6.5 for seventh place, and again we see momentum for him. Quinnipiac has him at 10 points and again tied for second in its most recent Iowa poll. In New Hampshire, he averages 10.0, only 0.2 behind Scott Walker for second place. In fact, he's polled double digits there in three of the last four polls, coming in second to Bush in each of the last two.

Based on these national, Iowa, and New Hampshire numbers, Donald Trump is polling like a top three candidate.

PPFA analysis--So why then is he ranked number 11 on my countdown? First let's talk about why his numbers are, at least ostensibly, so strong, and why they'll probably hang there for a while.

First, if you're a single-issue voter on illegal immigration, you're probably an angry or fearful white Republican, which is a small but solid constituency to which Trump most directly speaks. As the economist noted, "For conservative whites who also feel that their relative position is slipping in an increasingly multicultural nation, such an unflappably indomitable fighter and audaciously authoritative voice makes a most welcome standard bearer." In other words, Trump's aggressive language on the issue taps into that anger and/or fear. He could very well be earning close to 100 percent support from that type of Republican, in addition to other small pockets of Republican voting groups. While that's not enough to challenge Bush, Walker, or Rubio nationally for the long term, it does separate him from the rest of the pack in the short term.

Second, he has seemed inoculated from aggressive rebuttals. Why, if you are a candidate from the middle or bottom part of the field, attack a bloviating billionaire? Is that a fight you can win, or even a winnable fight worth your while, with precious few resources? He's shown he'll take wild swings in any particular direction. Trump has famously hurled bombs at his fellow candidates like a guy with nothing to lose, because he really doesn't.  He was wealthy before and he'll be wealthy when this is over.  He's not a current office holder who has to consider re-election. He's a dangerous politician right now, and the field recognizes that. Until the candidates begin to take shots back at him--which has just begun in the last few days--it will be tough to dent his numbers.

A third reason for these early polling numbers is his huge name recognition advantage over the field. A voter is more likely to respond affirmatively to Donald Trump, who they've seen on TV a lot, than Bobby Jindal or Ben Carson, who they have not. What's most relevant about this situation is that of the many people who recognize his name, relatively few of them actually like him. This graphic from FiveThiryEight charts it nicely:
enten-datalab-trumphated

He's known by over 80 percent of Republicans polled, and his net favorability rating--determined by the percentage of people who view him favorably minus those who view him unfavorably--is unprecedentedly bad. So whereas other candidates who aren't known as much can still frame a favorable narrative for themselves and rise in the polls, there are few remaining voters Trump can still rally to his cause. Similarly, a recent Washington Post/ABC poll tracked his net favorability compared to other candidates in the race, and it looks even worse:

Yikes. And that's among his own party.

See, the problem with the traditional polling style that we like to use in political horse races is that we usually favor and rebroadcast one statistic above the rest: "Which candidate do you most support?" In a sixteen seventeen candidate field, all their numbers in that category are going to be pretty suppressed. There are only so many percentage points out of a 100 to spread around. But whereas other candidates can grow their numbers as voters learn about them, Trump's numbers show that he doesn't have that room for growth. Everyone has pretty much made up their minds about him, and while his recent incendiary comments galvanized his voting base, he's turned far more voters against him.

Practically speaking, what his disastrous unfavorability numbers mean is that when candidates start dropping out of this crowded field, their supporters will not to go Trump. They'll diffuse to candidates similar to the one dropping out or to realistic general election winners. Trump is proving to be neither. Therefore, he's at or near the ceiling of his possible support, and ten to fifteen points does not a nominee make.

PPFA nomination rank--11 of 16 (Odds: 33:1).  I have to be honest: I was torn between Trump and the next candidate on the list for the Number 10 and 11 spots. I broke the tie very scientifically, ultimately reasoning that, "No way can I put Trump in the top ten." The next candidate, #10, will be the last candidate in Tier 3--We Know They Can't Win.

PPFA general election rank--15 of 16. But only because Rick Santorum would be just as polarizing as a general election candidate, his well-established record would scare away all Democrats and most Independents, and he does not have massive personal wealth to invest in a campaign like Trump does.

Tier 4--They Know They Can't Win
Number 16
(Number 15.5)
Number 15
Number 14

Tier 3--We Know They Can't Win
Number 13
Number 12

Friday, July 10, 2015

Jim Gilmore Inconveniently Declares Candidacy

Former Virginia governor Jim Gilmore is declaring for the Republican nomination early next month, and this column from the National Review pretty much sums up my feelings on the matter. Not only is it an annoying, purposeless late entry, I've already started my countdown series on the SIXTEEN Republican candidates!  Sixteen, not seventeen! Look, evidence:

Tier 4--They know they can't win
Number 16
Number 15
Number 14

Tier 3--We know they can't win
Number 13
Number 12
Number 11 is coming out tomorrow.

It was working out fine. Sixteen candidates, every other day for the month of July. Number 16 on July 1, Number 1 on July 31. It was neat. It was elegant. I'd be done by August. Now a former Virginia governor who no one cares about decides he wants some attention? What am I supposed to do--go back and re-do these numbers? Not happening. Not for Jim Gilmore. Let's just call him #15.5 (sorry, George Pataki) and be done with it.

Sigh. This was supposed to be my day off.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Candidate Profile: #12. Mike Huckabee

For background to this series, click here.

Now let's get to the OTHER guy who won the Iowa Caucus and finished in second place but is still counted out this time around. The 12th most likely nominee of the Republican Party is . . .

Mike Huckabee, 59, Former Governor of Arkansas, 1996-2007

Campaign Website and Slogan--www.mikehuckabee.com--"From Hope to Higher Ground"

PPFA Slogan--"From God, to God God."

Ideology on liberal-conservative spectrum (-10 is far left and +10 is far right. A center moderate is 0.): +6.5 (Individual rights: +9; domestic issues: +5; economy: +3; foreign policy: +9) That economic number sticks out the most and pulls down his average. Indeed, there has been considerable conservative criticism of his fiscal record as governor. He earned an "F" from the CATO institute in their Fiscal Policy Report Card of 2006, his last full year in office, and a "D" for his tenure as governor.

Conservative Rank based on above: 5 of 16.

Spin from the candidate's campaign--This pastor turned governor turned runner-up presidential candidate has long listened to God for his conservative values. As a seminary student and then minister, he learned of the world's moral absolutes. Then, as a politician, he applied what he learned as he dedicated his governorship to those who needed his help--businesses, the working class, and children. His efforts earned him a spot as one of Time Magazine's top five governors in the country. In his 2008 campaign for the presidency, he won Iowa, challenged the establishment candidate John McCain to stay the right course, and ultimately came in second. Even after the loss, Huckabee stayed in the conservative spotlight with a show on Fox News and publishing several conservatively themed and religiously grounded books. Never straying from his moral compass, he has been among the most vocal critics in the onslaught against traditional American values.

Spin from opponents--Republicans: He says he's conservative, but is he tricking us? There's no doubt about his vocal opposition to abortion, same sex marriage, and the erosion of Christianity from the center of public life, but take a closer look at his so-called conservative record. He granted over 1,000 pardons as governor (ten times more than predecessor Bill Clinton), only tepidly supports the death penalty, favors environmental regulations, scores abysmally on immigration, and his aforementioned fiscal record speaks for itself. He might not be liberal, but he's much too moderate for our nomination. Democrats: "I feel homosexuality is an aberrant, unnatural, and sinful lifestyle"?? "I think that students also should be given exposure to the theories not only of evolution but to the basis of those who believe in creationism"?? "There are only 10 basic laws that we need. If you think about it, the Ten Commandments cover it all"?! Ewwwwwww.

How do the polls look?--His RCP national average is a healthy 7.8. Our first four entries in this series were almost afterthoughts nationally. Huckabee's RCP average, however, makes the top five, and he's polled in double digits a handful of times in the last couple months. In Iowa, where he won in 2008, he averages at an even 8, although he's surprisingly out of the top five there. (He was hurt by a recent Quinnipiac poll that had him at just 5 points; he was between 8 and 11 in the preceding eight polls. Throw out the Quinnipiac poll and he'd average in the top three.) In New Hampshire, his Midwest preacher approach has never played as well, so his 3.8 average, 10th place ranking is expected. In South Carolina he averages a solid 7.0, good enough for sixth place. My guess is the Huckabee camp is extremely happy with these numbers as they start planning for the August 6 Fox News debate.

PPFA analysis--Huckabee's great poll numbers stem from how active he's been since his 2008 campaign. Since then, he's published four books and hosted his eponymous talk show for over six years on Fox News. That's how you stay on the minds of Republican voters even without holding or running for office. The question is, since he's a known quantity, can he grow his support any more?  (We'll be asking the same question of Donald Trump.) To start answering that question, let's look at his competition, starting with the candidate I just covered in the last entry. An analysis of Huckabee is similar to one of Rick Santorum (#13). The tale of the tape:

Rick Santorum: 57, former office holder, 2012 Iowa winner, 2012 Republican runner up, extremely conservative on social issues, mostly known for traditional values.
Mike Huckabee: 59, former office holder, 2008 Iowa winner, 2008 Republican runner up, extremely conservative on social issues, mostly known for traditional values.

Remarkably similar. Due to these remarkable similarities, we can probably say they appeal to same exact constituency. They'll both put most of their chips into the Iowa basket and hope to ride evangelical Christians to victory. And for that reason, they'll eat into each other's support and both end up nowhere. Meanwhile, newer faces to the presidential process like Ben Carson and Bobby Jindal will be competing for the same type of voter. The result is that no single candidate of this group will garner the type of support or raise the amount of money necessary to do battle with Jeb Bush and the other favorites.

PPFA nomination rank--12 of 16 (Odds: 34:1). He's just a shade better than Santorum because of the better polls numbers, but their chances of ultimately winning are nearly the same.

PPFA general election rank--14 of 16. Unlike Santorum, who I ranked last in this category, some good things have actually been said about Mike Huckabee from crossover voters. Those same fiscal issues that make some conservatives skeptical of Huckabee will help make him a bit more realistic in a general election. That being said--he's not too realistic in a general election.

Tier 4--They know they can't win
Number 16
Number 15
Number 14

Tier 3--We know they can't win
Number 13

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Candidate Profile: #13. Rick Santorum

For background to this series, click here.

Our last three candidates belonged to the lowest of four tiers, one I call "They Know They Can't Win."  Next we have Tier 3: "We Know They Can't Win."

Now let's get to the guy who finished in second place last time but is counted out four years later. The 13th most likely nominee of the Republican Party is . . .

Rick Santorum, 57, Former Senator from Pennsylvania, 1995-2007

Campaign Website and Slogan--www.ricksantorum.com-"Restore the American Dream"

PPFA Slogan--"Restore the American Dream . . . of 60 Years Ago"

Ideology on liberal-conservative spectrum (-10 is far left and +10 is far right. A center moderate is 0.): +8 (Individual rights: +5; domestic issues: +9; economy: +10; foreign policy: +8) You would think a spectrum that has Rick Santorum's conservatism only at +8 out of 10 needs some recalibration, but his surprisingly moderate record on individual rights slides him further left than one would expect. So even though he hits a full +10 on the individual liberty issues of abortion, gay rights, and religion in public schools, his openness to affirmative action and campaign finance reform brought him down to a +5 in that category.

Conservative Rank based on above: 2 of 16. Yes, someone is to the right of Rick Santorum.

Spin from the candidate's campaign--In 2011, Rick Santorum went from the very edge of the December debate stage, polling 3 to 4 nationally and 4 to 8 in Iowa, to the forefront of it in January 2012. He was the only candidate to visit all 99 of Iowa's counties, and at the January 3 Iowa caucuses, he came out of nowhere to fall just a few votes short of overwhelming favorite Mitt Romney. Two weeks later, it was determined that Santorum actually won the Iowa Caucus, though it was far too late for the "Iowa bump." For three months, in an astounding underdog run, he then challenged the much better funded Romney, but he ultimately had to suspend his campaign. Imagine what he can do now that instead of having to exert so much energy to make a name for himself, he comes into the Republican Primary with a raised profile.

Spin from opponents--What Republicans say: The man is a great conservative, no doubt about that. But he had his chance, and he went up against a candidate that, let's get real, was seriously doubted by the party. The theme of the 2012 Republican Primary was which "NonRom" the Republicans would settle on. It ended up being Santorum, but he wasn't good enough to win. Plus, he's a polarizing figure that would alienate so many moderates in November that he could hand deliver the White House to Hillary Clinton in November. Like White Gloves Service deliver. What Democrats say: NO STOP IT GO AWAY!

How do the polls look?--His RCP national average is 2.3, which is 11th place in the field. He has polled as high as 4 but as low as 0. In Iowa, that kick-off state he narrowly won in 2012, he averages only 5.3, putting him in 9th place. His 0.7 RCP average in New Hampshire is dead least among the 14 candidates registering (but at least he IS registering, unlike Bobby Jindal and Poor George Pataki). He's also dead last among those registering in South Carolina. In sum, he has little traction in the first three primary states, including a state that embraced him in 2012.

PPFA analysis--I just don't see him having another miraculous run. Last time he won Iowa, albeit retroactively, and ten more states. Yet it still wasn't enough, because too much of the country just didn't buy in. He won states like Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Kansas, but that's not enough to win a national campaign. With that failure on record, even far right conservatives will try their luck with someone else; with Carson, Cruz, Jindal and others in the race, there are a fair share of far right conservatives to choose to from. Indeed, just last month at a Santorum event in Hamlin, Iowa, just one person showed up. One. Last time he came out of nowhere as voters learned about him on his Iowan crusade, but now people know who he is and are rejecting him nonetheless. Not good.

PPFA nomination rank--13 of 16, although Santorum and the next couple candidates in Tier 3 will be tightly packed. (Odds: 35:1)

PPFA general election rank--16 of 16. He's made a career out of making the far right swoon but everyone else squirm. Although other Republican candidates compete with him in the "extreme conservative" status that alienates large swaths of America, none of them are as known a quantity as Santorum. He has become the personification of the far-too-conservative right that incenses the left and much of the center. Whereas other arch conservatives will have a puncher's chance of constructing a better narrative for themselves, Santorum would be dismissed before he even begins general election campaigning. Therefore, I rank him dead last in general election likelihood of victory.

Tier 4--They know they can't win
Number 14
Number 15
Number 16

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Candidate Profile: #14. Carly Fiorina

For background to this series, click here.

Now let's get to that woman with no political experience that you've never heard of and is polling terribly but who still thinks for some reason she can win a national election. The 14th most likely nominee of the Republican Party is . . .

Carly Fiorina, 60, Former CEO of Hewlitt-Packard, 1999-2005

Campaign Website and Slogan--carlyforpresident.com-"New Possibilities. Real Leadership."

PPFA Slogan--"I'm the Woman!"

Ideology on liberal-conservative spectrum (-10 is far left and +10 is far right. A center moderate is 0.): +4.25. (Individual rights: +2; Domestic: +6; Economic: +5; Foreign policy: +4). She leans or is solidly conservative in all categories. However, she's extremely conservative in none of them, which can be said for only one of the other 16 Republican candidates. It's also worth noting she's never held elected office, thanks to a failed 2010 U.S. Senate run in California, so the calculation of her ideology is gleaned from what she says rather than a voting record.

Conservative Rank based on above: 12 of 16. That's what a lack of extremely conservative positions will do to you in this field. As for why she's not ranked lower, a few candidates are to the left of her in a couple categories.

Spin from the candidate's campaign--"Only in the United States of America can a young woman start as a secretary and work to become Chief Executive of one of the largest technology companies in the world." In 15 years she went from entry level work at AT&T to reaching its highest levels of management. Four years later, Hewlitt-Packard recognized her abilities and hired her to be its CEO, the first female CEO of any Fortune 50 business. For six years she was a titan of the private sector before leaving and turning her sights to politics. She brings business experience that nearly all the men in this massive field do not. She's an outsider who realizes career politicians are not going to change the problems in Washington. Someone with a new face who is a proven problem solver is required. This female, consistent conservative is the candidate Hillary Clinton and the liberals are terrified of.

Spin from opponents--"Only in the United States of America can a young woman start as a secretary and work to become Chief Executive of one of the largest technology companies in the world". . . and then become one of the worst CEOs in the country. When she left HP in 2005, it was a forced resignation from the board, which had seen its shares cut in half since she took over. Here, here, here, and here are major publications riffing on her place among the worst CEO or tech leaders of all time. After she resigned, HP stocks immediately rallied. Her only political attempt was a run at a California U.S. Senate seat in 2010, but it ended with a double-digit loss to Barbara Boxer. Can she really handle a national election against Hillary Clinton?

How do the polls look?--Her RCP national average is a paltry 2.0, good enough for 12th place in the field (above the undeclared John Kasich, the recently declared Bobby Jindal, the single-issue Lindsey Graham (#15), and, of course, Poor George Pataki (#16)). But she also announced her candidacy a month before any of those guys, so she's had a lot more time to consolidate that whopping single point advantage over them. She's polling at an average of 3 in Iowa (12th place) and looks to be a non-factor there. In New Hampshire, though, she's averaging a more respectable 4.6, good enough for eighth place. The reason for her stronger showing in New Hampshire, however, has less to do with her campaign skills and more to do with that fact that the more tailor-made Iowan candidates like Ted Cruz (averaging 4.2 in New Hampshire), Mike Huckabee (3.8), Rick Perry (2.0), and Rick Santorum (0.7) don't play too well in the northeast. It keeps her from the bottom of the pack but doesn't help her make a run at Bush, Walker, Rubio, Paul, and Christie.

PPFA analysis--There's a chance here that her gender affords her the unique capability of attacking Hillary Clinton without sounding demeaning or insensitive to women. A chance. The problem is that's not exactly something her campaign can broadcast; they're depending on Republican voters to draw that conclusion themselves. This development is unlikely, and therefore her greatest strength will probably never materialize. However, the strength she will trumpet--her outsider experience as a problem-solving CEO--will quickly evaporate in the debates, as there is a LOT of material for her opponents to hammer, which will ultimately marginalize her. I think she's the candidate most likely to drop out before Iowa.

PPFA nomination rank--14 of 16 (Odds: 40:1)

PPFA general election rank--11 of 16. Republicans nominating a woman could yield some unexpected results. Would women of almost all backgrounds still overwhelmingly vote Democratic? Of course her opponent will be female as well, so there's that. If Fiorina wins the nomination, how she did it will determine how well she'll do in the general, but I see her as having a Romneyish run, a description which I hope is clearly not a compliment. She could easily be portrayed as a wealthy CEO who laid off American workers and doesn't understand the language of the electorate.

Who will number 13 be?  See you Tuesday!

Number 15
Number 16
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