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Saturday, July 25, 2015

Candidate Profile: #4. Chris Christie

For background to this series, click here. For previous posts in the series:

Tier 4--They Know They Can't Win
16. George Pataki
(15.5. James Gilmore)
15. Lindsey Graham
14. Carly Fiorina

Tier 3--We Know They Can't Win
13. Rick Santorum
12. Mike Huckabee
11. Donald Trump
10. Bobby Jindal

Tier 2--So You're Saying There's a Chance!
9. Rick Perry
8. Ben Carson
7. Ted Cruz
6. John Kasich
5. Rand Paul

We've arrived at the final four! This candidate will be the last one in Tier 2. It's important I reiterate here that this list is a ranking of the most likely Republican nominees, NOT a prediction of how the final delegate count or voting percentages will shake out. For example, due to a variety of reasons, Ron Paul was always a great bet to finish as one of the top four candidates in the last two primaries, but he never would have been ranked as one of four likeliest candidates to win the nomination. Those are two separate and very different lists. Think of it this way: if we ran this primary a thousand times, one of the three candidates in the Top Tier would win it something like 750 of those times.  The other 250 would be split among the other candidates. Here's a guy who I'm guessing would win it only 80 out of those 1000 times, which is still good enough for fourth most. The fourth most likely Republican nominee is . . .

Chris Christie, 52, Governor of New Jersey, 2010-current

Campaign Website and Slogan--www.chrischristie.com--"Telling It Like It Is"

PPFA Slogan--"Vote For Me or I'll Punch You in the Nose"

Ideology on liberal-conservative spectrum (-10 is far left and +10 is far right. A center moderate is 0.): +1.5 (Individual rights: -1; domestic issues: -1; economy: +5; foreign policy: +3). Without question, this number is his biggest hurdle to the nomination. It's not Bridgegate. It's not his embrace of President Obama. It's not his weight. It's not his submerged New Jersey approval rating. . . .

Conservative Rank based on above: 16 of 16. . . . It's the fact that the record says he's the most liberal Republican in the field, and said field will be quick to remind everyone of that if Christie ever gains traction.

Spin from the candidate's campaign--No candidate in this field can better connect with voters than Chris Christie. No candidate can do retail politics this well. If you click on his campaign website, it shows a well-directed, emotional clip of Christie talking to voters, explaining the roots of his blunt directness:
"I get accused a lot of times of being too blunt and too direct and saying what’s on my mind just a little bit too loudly. I have an Irish father and I had a Sicilian mother. . . . My mom was the one who set the rules and set the tone. No suffering in silence, if you’ve got a problem, tell me. She would tell us every time she had a problem, to the point where we were just like, 'Mom, do we have to hear this?' And she’d say, 'Yes, I need to get it off my chest now. There will be no deathbed confessions in this family, you’re going to hear it now.'
"In 2004, my mom got diagnosed with cancer. And all of you who have lost a family member to cancer, you understand what this scene is like. She grabbed my hand and she said, 'Christopher, there's nothing left unsaid between us.' It was an incredibly powerful moment in my life. . . .
"When people wonder why I do the things I do, that moment affirmed for me, forever, that I’m going to be this way. I know if my mom were still alive, she would say to me, 'I taught you that in a trusting relationship, you don’t hold anything back. And if you're going to run for president of the United States and you’re going to ask these people for their vote, that is the single most trusting thing they can do as a citizen, is to give you their support. So you better tell them exactly what you’re thinking and exactly what you’re feeling.'"
The video on his About page continues the theme of honesty and fallibility. Other politicians pretend they have perfect records and all the answers. Christie admits he's made mistakes along the way, but he also says that acknowledging these mistakes helps us learn and improve ourselves. This message will be a breath of fresh air when voters get to meet him.

No candidate has more guts either. When others duck the third rail of politics--entitlements--he grabs it with both hands and says reform is necessary. He is the closest thing we have to Ronald Reagan, who he admires, like all Republicans do, but for different reasons: Reagan could communicate to voters, and he knew when and how to compromise to get things done. Working with a heavily Democratic legislature and constituency has forced Christie to have a record more liberal than Republican governors who are afforded Republican counterparts. And yet, he has remained a strong Republican. His platform, on top of entitlement reform, calls for stronger defense, promoting alternatives to failing education policies, pro-growth tax reform, and incentivizing not only hiring, but working as well.

This is a Republican who in 2013 got re-elected with 60 percent of the vote in a dark blue state. You want to beat a Democrat in November? There's no better candidate.

Spin from opponents--How dare the normally flawless Presidential Politics for America rank Chris Christie this high! He's almost as bad as that RINO John Kasich, to say nothing of being almost the size of an actual rhino. The Bridgegate scandal sent his reputation into a nosedive, evidenced by his 30 percent approval in last month's poll. New Jersey's credit has tanked since he became governor. And who could forget when he gift wrapped the 2012 presidential election to President Obama through his visible admiration of the man at his post-Hurricane Sandy visit? It's one thing after another with this guy, AND, lest we forget, he's the most liberal Republican in the field! This campaign was D.O.A.. Shame on you, PPFA.  Shame!

How do the polls look?--(Hang on, still reeling from that blistering attack... okay, ready.) His Real Clear Politics national average is 2.8 for 9th place. He's hit exactly 3 in the last four polls. In Iowa, his 2.8 is only good enough for 12th place, but it's a state where he's not expected to play well unless he barnstorms it a la Rick Santorum four years ago. Instead, his focus is likely to be on a state more palatable to his moderate views: New Hampshire. The Granite State polls show him at a respectable 5.3 for 7th place, but trending up and just 0.2 behind #8 Ben Carson. In South Carolina, another tough state for a moderate New Jerseyan, he's beating expectations with an average of 5.7, tying him for 8th place with #5 Rand Paul and just 0.3 behind Marco Rubio.

PPFA analysis--The most important thing to take away from those polling numbers is that he's in the pack, which was no sure accomplishment before he declared. His 2.8 national average may not seem like much, but it actually makes him "king" of the bottom half of the field. Consistently clocking in at 3 while no one below him is averaging better than 1.8 means he's almost certainly in the first debate, and, as we saw four years ago when debates catalyzed huge Gingrich and Cain bumps but also a Perry collapse, that's when polls can really move.

His approval among New Jerseyans should also be unpacked. We don't have to think that far back to find the last Republican governor who was unpopular in his Democratic home state before running for president. He was the 2012 Republican nominee. From 538:
By the end of his term, Romney's approval rating in Massachusetts sank to just over 30 percent. It was projecting to go even lower, but he left after four years, unlike Christie who after four years got re-elected by 22 points. By 2012, Romney's approval was still just 35 percent, so home state unpopularity in a Democratic state is by no means a disqualifier for a Republican who wants to be president. The poll that has Christie at 30 percent also has him comfortably above water among New Jersey Republicans with a 50-35 split. He doesn't have to win over Democrats to win the Republican Primary.

A big reason for his plummeting ratings since the election was Bridgegate, but he was cleared of wrongdoing by a Democratic-led committee while still apologizing for not having more oversight of the people he trusted to make good decisions. This national campaign will be a useful way for him to straighten the record.

His liberal record is also misleading. From his perspective, New Jersey's recent financial woes are the fault of the state's Democratic congress who won't let him reduce spending. The American Conservative acknowledges his mostly conservative, with scattered moderate, tendencies. The New Republic explains that at the very least, he's to the right of Rudy Giuliani, who many Republicans seriously considered in 2008.  The Guardian lists all his conservative achievements, especially fiscal ones, asking the question, "Christie did all of this despite a Democratic Legislature in one of the bluest states in the country. What more could conservatives want?"

In sum, I don't think any of these red flags disqualify the Christie campaign from making a run at the Republican Primary. As for his tryst with President Obama after Hurricane Sandy, I actually expect that to turn into an advantage. Speaking of advantages:
  1. Like most of my top contenders, he's an executive, and Republicans love executives. Of their last 18 nominees, 13 were presidents, vice-presidents, or governors. Of the remaining five, two were Dwight Eisenhower (1952 and 56), who was basically an executive when he, you know, defeated Nazi Europe. Two more (Senators Bob Dole in 1996 and John McCain in 2008) were basically lifetime achievement awards. The other was 1964's Barry Goldwater, which can't possibly be rationalized under any circumstances.
    • As a result, my list has twice as many governors than senators in the top six and ten.
    • This pattern, by the way, works against Marco Rubio, #5 Rand Paul, #7 Ted Cruz, and #8 Ben Carson.
  2. He does not carry the stench of a primary loser, a factor which works against #9 Rick Perry, #12 Mike Huckabee, and #13 Rick Santorum.
  3. He is not Donald Trump, a factor which works against #11 Donald Trump (who, despite leading another poll this week, was called a "disaster in general" by the pollster).
  4. And yet, he brings Trump's perceived strength--which I think are speaking emotionally and truthfully, no matter how unpopular--but he's also being a legitimate politician. If Christie has established himself by the time Trump collapses, a lot of that support might move to him and be much more likely to stay with him unlike its flirtation with Trump.
  5. Hurricane Sandy is essentially attack-proof from his fellow candidates. It looks terrible if they blame him for putting his state above politics. Meanwhile, when it inevitably does come up, he will actually look like he cares about people over party, even when a high profile presidential election hung in the balance. Other candidates say they don't care about politics, but rarely do they show it in such a prominent way.
    • Voters will connect to this incident. Sometimes they can't understand education reform or a tax code, but they could easily tell a pollster, "I really like how he didn't care about politics with Hurricane Sandy. He's not a normal politician." Republicans will be slow to warm due to many conservative pundits thinking Christie's actions handed Obama the election, despite Christie's vehement criticisms of the President during all other stages of the campaign. However, independents will absolutely respect Christie for those actions.
  6. As a result, his head-to-head polls with Hillary Clinton will gradually improve, making him seem more and more electable, especially as he constantly beats the "blue state conservative Republican" drum.
  7. Finally, his amazing ability to connect to voters will be extremely valuable in early voting states, where he can do retail for months on end. I don't think any candidate in this race has a better chance to pop like Rick Santorum did four years ago. Santorum did it by visiting all 99 Iowa counties to win over voters--retail politics at its most impressive. Santorum was similarly under water in his own state (soundly defeated for Senate re-election in 2006), but that didn't stop him from being the national runner-up. However, whereas Santorum was always seen as Republican suicide in a general election, Christie will not be. (Runner-up candidate in likelihood to pull off the Santorum pop: #10 Bobby Jindal)
In sum, he aligns the strengths that I've been talking about during this entire countdown--executive, electable, voter connection. For that reason, I see enormous upside to his candidacy.

PPFA nomination rank--4 of 16 (Odds: 12:1). All that being said, I still see his odds at 12:1.  In other words, he has about a 1 in 13 chance of winning the nomination. It's overwhelmingly likely that he won't. While I think it's reasonable to deconstruct most of his drawbacks as a candidate, the fact that all those drawbacks exist mean this primary will be a mountainous, arduous climb for a man who isn't in the best of shape (politically. POLITICALLY!). All of the concerns in tandem make it unlikely he ever catches fire, but I think he has a better chance to catch and sustain that fire than any candidate ranked 5 through 16 on this list.

PPFA general election rank--1 of 16. Reader be warned that I'm making a sort of circular argument. "I rank Christie high in likelihood to be nominated because he's so electable. As proof of his electability, look at how electable I rank him!" I get it. But as I've said before in this category, these candidates are ranked here based on an assumption that they get the nomination. If Christie gets the nomination, it means he clicked with Republican voters mostly due to his Reaganasque communication and electability argument. Christie would necessarily be scoring high with moderates at that point, whereas Clinton will look calculating by comparison to Christie's ostensible earnestness.

Next week is the top tier as we careen toward July 31st's most likely nominee. Is anyone else getting tired? Don't forget to follow me on Twitter @PPFAmerica!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Candidate Profile: #5. Rand Paul

For background to this series, click here. For previous posts in the series:

Tier 4--They Know They Can't Win
16. George Pataki
(15.5. James Gilmore)
15. Lindsey Graham
14. Carly Fiorina

Tier 3--We Know They Can't Win
13. Rick Santorum
12. Mike Huckabee
11. Donald Trump
10. Bobby Jindal

Tier 2--So You're Saying There's a Chance!
9. Rick Perry
8. Ben Carson
7. Ted Cruz
6. John Kasich

Into the top five we go!  The fifth most likely Republican nominee is . . .

Rand Paul, 52, senator from Kentucky, 2011-current

Campaign Website and Slogan--www.randpaul.com--"Defeat the Washington Machine"

PPFA Slogan--"I'm Totally More Mainstream Than My Dad Unless You're a Libertarian in Which Case I'm Totally Just Like My Dad!"

Ideology on liberal-conservative spectrum (-10 is far left and +10 is far right. A center moderate is 0.): +2.5 (Individual rights: +5; domestic issues: +3; economy: +3; foreign policy: -1). Paul, like many Republolibertarian hybrids (which sounds like a SyFy movie), are hard to pinpoint on a liberal-conservative spectrum. They appear extremely conservative on some specific issues and extremely liberal in others. For example, if we look at his record on "Individual Rights," he gets a full +10 on abortion and environmental issues, but he also gets a full -10 on enforcing voting rights. No other candidate has such a violent swing in subcategories, but since all we use for determining his left-right score is the average, he gets a +5 on Individual Rights.

When we move on to Domestic Issues, we again see massive disparity. Of its six subcategories, he gets a +10 on four (guns, Obamacare, school choice, and green energy) while a full -10 on the other two (crime and punishment and marijuana legalization)!  The result: an average of +3, which does not grasp the deviation of the subcategories.

And then we get to his most liberal category: foreign policy. In its four subcategories, he gets a full +10 on free trade, but he scores negative numbers in the three other areas (expanding the military, sovereignty from the UN, and Iran). That ultimately gives him a liberal score on foreign policy.

Conservative Rank based on above: 15 of 16. Again, see above. Paul's supporters would cry foul at this second-most-liberal ranking, but his libertarian streak is impossible to chart on the left-right spectrum. I'd agree with his supporters; he is an extremely conservative candidate on most issues, but his few very liberal positions corrupt his left-right average. Simply put, the website I've used for these rankings is unreliable when trying to quantify Rand Paul's ideology.

Spin from the candidate's campaign--The Messiah! "I am running for president to return our country to the principles of liberty and limited government." His About page repeatedly hammers home that message. He is an "outspoken champion for constitutional liberties and fiscal responsibility." He's "a fierce advocate against government overreach" and "has fought tirelessly to return government to its limited, constitutional scope." He's "been fighting big government his entire adult life" and "is running for president to restore liberty." You can see why libertarians fawn over the man. His Issues page rips the snooping NSA, ballooning debt, and cumbersome tax code (which he wants to rip up and replace with a simple 14.5 percent flat tax across the board that would simplify your taxes and catalyze enormous economic growth), while championing individual liberties, the Second Amendment, and the sanctity of life. His message is clear: he wants as much government as is necessary and no more. Who can forget his Tea Party response to President Obama's State of the Union, or his epic 13-hour filibuster to get answers from the Obama Administration about drone strikes, or his 10-hour filibuster to block the Patriot Act? Those filibusters took "Stand With Rand" to new heights.

Showing his broad appeal, he has earned a lot of grassroots support. Of all Republican candidates, he has the second highest percentage of contributions from donations of $200 or less. Yet, in total, he still ranks on the fop five in hard (non-SuperPAC) money raised among Republicans, even though most of the candidates ahead of him are getting big checks from big Republicans. Instead, Paul stands for everyday working Republicans who are sick of getting told by big party donors who their candidate will be. He even told the Freedom Summit, organized by Citizens United, which was behind the legalization of SuperPACs, that the GOP should not be the party of "fat cats, rich people and Wall Street," saying that conservatives "are the middle class."

His popularity among conservatives has been evident at the annual, high profile Conservative Political Action Conference. He has won CPAC's straw poll three years running. The 2012 winner? Mitt Romney, the last Republican nominee for president.  Previous winners include George W. Bush in 2000 and Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 1984. Might they have again picked the Republican nominee? (There were no CPAC straw polls in 1988, 92, 96, or 2004. McCain came in second by a percentage point behind Romney in 2008.)

Spin from opponents--False prophet! Let's remember who his father is--the problematic Ron Paul. There's a reason the party didn't support that libertarian, just like they won't support this one. If the Pauls had their way, they would scale back the American military and isolate it from the rest of the world. That is not an option. We live in dangerous times. Putin's Russia looms to the east of our European allies, ISIS and Al Qaeda continue to wreak havoc in the Arab world, and China is increasingly competitive as a world superpower. The U.S. needs to be active leaders on the world stage while protecting democracy and liberty. This is not the time for America to tuck its tail and go home.

Elect a Paul and it will do just that. He consistently shirks his own party on key issues, as NBCNews tells us:
"But Paul has broken with GOP orthodoxy on a number of national security policies: supporting Obama's decision to normalize relations with Cuba; pledging to end the NSA program by which the U.S. government has collected the phone data of millions of Americans; suggesting the U.S. should engage in direct talks with Iran about its nuclear program; and saying he would oppose U.S. airstrikes in Iraq to fight ISIS, a position he has since reversed. 
"While polls suggest some younger Republicans agree with Paul, most of the party's members in Congress adamantly oppose these positions, isolating the Kentucky senator within the GOP."
And how about that time he didn't adoringly cheer on Israel's Prime Minister when he addressed Congress? A Republican who has "isolated" himself from the Republican Party just as he would like to isolate America from the world cannot be this party's nominee. His supporters will claim it's because he's actually a libertarian, but he's not even that good a libertarian, and he's admitted he's not one. The inconsistency of his ideology and unwillingness to embrace GOP values shows he's not presidential material, especially as a nominee of the Republican Party.

How do the polls look?--His Real Clear Politics national average is 5.6 for seventh place. He's been damaged by the surge of #11 Donald Trump just like everyone else near the top. In Iowa, his solid 8.5 is good enough for a tie for third with Trump behind front-runners Scott Walker and Jeb Bush. In fact, his average is only 0.4 behind Jeb Bush for second place in the state. The fact that he's beating out Huckabee and matching post-surge Trump shows how strong Iowa's Paul network continues to be, just as it did with his father. His New Hampshire RCP average is 8.8, putting him fourth place behind Bush, Trump, and Walker. It seems that after Trump's inevitable collapse, Paul will be running like a top three candidate in the two opening states. In South Carolina, his 5.7 puts him down at eighth place, but strong showings in the first two states would help his chances there and thereafter.

One more poll is of note. Real Clear Politics has been keeping track of head-to-head theoreticals between Clinton and nine different Republican opponents: Bush, Walker, Rubio, Trump, Cruz, Huckabee, Christie, Carson, and Paul. All trail Clinton, but the candidate who polls best is Rand Paul, trailing by an average of 5.2.  (Coming in last, it's worth saying, is Trump, who trails by an average of 17.8.)

PPFA analysis--It's that head-to-head figure that Paul's supporters will point to when identifying him as the candidate best equipped to go up against Hillary Clinton in a general election. But can he survive the Republican Primary first?

The case against Paul's chances at the nomination was made in the spin section earlier. He is way out of lockstep with the Republican Party on matters of foreign policy and a few other issues (Marijuana should be legal! Government should stay out of marriage! Republican presidents have exploded the debt!). But in a way, that's also the case for Paul's chances at the nomination.

A theme of the other "candidate profiles" in Tier 2 has been those candidates' strategies to be the alternative to their counterpart in the top tier. If we look at #9 Rick Perry, for example, he wants to be the conservative governor alternative to Scott Walker, while #6 John Kasich wants to be the moderate governor alternative to Jeb Bush. With #7 Ted Cruz, he sees flaws with conservatives who are polling well--#8 Ben Carson has no political or military experience while #12 Mike Huckabee is not a fiscal conservative--and expects to coalesce their support to win Iowa and beyond. When you're Tier 2, this strategy is probably your best bet.

But Paul out "alternatives" the entire field. He offers something different than just about every other candidate, so he might be able to piece together a sizable coalition. He can obviously play to the party's libertarian wing, his flat tax proposal and criticism of Republican spending is adored by fiscal conservatives, he has won the last three CPAC straw polls showing his broad strength with archconservatives, he had been flirting with the Tea Party (with major competition from Ted Cruz), and it makes sense that most anti-war Republicans would back him. But the question is, can winning a plurality of each of these pieces be enough to win the nomination against mainstream opponents? Moreover, is it possible to hold onto his father's libertarian fanatics while also courting and convincing Republicans that he's also one of them?

Perhaps not. In his effort to woo the establishment, he has softened his libertarian position. He went from vowing to cut Pentagon spending to proposing a nearly $200 billion increase. Whereas a libertarian would want a strict division between church and state, to court evangelicals he's injected religion into his politics, going so far as to say that the First Amendment only meant to keep government out of religion, not the other way around. After the Supreme Court same sex marriage decision, he carefully tried to walk the tightrope between libertarianism and evangelicalism. He split with Tea Party favs Rubio and Cruz by voting for a recent health care spending bill that will increase the debt by a half trillion dollars. In sum, he's at once vowing to change the Republican Party while becoming more and more Republican to do it.

Therein lies the problem. In trying to broaden his father's base, he might be losing a base of his own.  Every time he cozies up to the Tea Party, he loses a moderate. Every time he defends Republicans, he loses a libertarian. And he just can't figure out if a dove in the hand is better than two hawks in the bush.

PPFA nomination rank--5 of 16 (Odds: 15:1). Ultimately, the upside of his coalition gives him a higher upside than anyone below him on this list. The best comparison out there is probably #7 Cruz. They vote similarly. Again this week they're prominent allies trying to hold up the federal highway bill. However, the polls and logic agree with Paul--he's just more electable. Whereas the center might embrace Paul due to his cross-party appeal, it could be cautious of a Cruz candidacy that merely excites the conservative base. His ranking above #6 John Kasich is due to Paul being able to win without a complete Bush implosion.

PPFA general election rank--3 of 16. In an election against Hillary Clinton, establishment Republicans will turn out for their nominee. Meanwhile, Paul excites enough conservatives while also appealing to moderates that he could make inroads with independents. There's a reason no other candidate does better in head-to-heads with Clinton. However, some of his extreme conservative opinions would also turn out the Democratic base, whereas someone like Kasich is at least tolerable to some of them.


Four candidates remaining! Boy, I'm getting tired. Don't forget to follow me on Twitter @PPFAmerica. Yesterday I tweeted a sneak preview of #5. I'll do that with #4 again tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Candidate Profile: #6. John Kasich

For background to this series, click here. For previous posts in the series:

Tier 4--They Know They Can't Win
16. George Pataki
(15.5. James Gilmore)
15. Lindsey Graham
14. Carly Fiorina

Tier 3--We Know They Can't Win
13. Rick Santorum
12. Mike Huckabee
11. Donald Trump
10. Bobby Jindal

Tier 2--So You're Saying There's a Chance!
9. Rick Perry
8. Ben Carson
7. Ted Cruz

As we enter the top six, it's worth noting that the remaining six candidates are also, in some order, the six most viable general election candidates. (See bottom category of each entry.) That is not a coincidence. I see the trend of the last two elections--that of Republicans nominating moderates who can do well with independent voters instead of conservative ideologues who randy up the base--continuing. The top six has one exception to that, but for reasons I'll get into, I still find him one of the six most likely Republicans to win a general election as well.

But we'll get to him later. For now, the sixth most likely Republican nominee is . . .

John Kasich, 63, Governor of Ohio, 2011-current

Campaign Website and Slogan--www.johnkasich.com--He announces today! Therefore, the website hasn't gotten going and he has no official slogan yet.

Ideology on liberal-conservative spectrum (-10 is far left and +10 is far right. A center moderate is 0.): +3.25 (Individual rights: +5; domestic issues: +7; economy: +5; foreign policy: -4). Very interesting. Like #9 Rick Perry, the most conservative governor in the field, Kasich brandishes a +5 or higher on all domestic matters. However, his foreign policy clocks in at a negative four. That number stems from his belief on not overspending on the military, avoiding unilateral action abroad, and continuing to be involved with the United Nations.

Conservative Rank based on above: 13 of 16. Remove that foreign policy figure, however, and he'd be at +5.67 for 8th place, just behind Scott Walker and more conservative than Mike Huckabee.

Spin from the candidate's campaign--The campaign hasn't quite begun yet, but they'll hammer home that he is the most complete candidate in the field. His political career stretches back to 1978, when he became an Ohio state senator. Four years later, he ran for and won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives and went on to be re-elected eight times before leaving on his own accord. During that stretch, he rose to become the Chairman of the House Budget Committee in 1995. In the previous year, the U.S. had a deficit of $163 billion. His fiscal conservatism and Budget Committee leadership helped the United States turn that into a $236 billion surplus by the time he left the House in 2001. It was America's first surplus since 1969. He left politics to work in television, hosting a show on Fox News and publishing bestselling books. He served on the board of several corporations. By the time he got back into politics a decade after leaving it, he had gained experience in media and the private sector.

He then won the 2010 Ohio gubernatorial election over incumbent Democrat Ted Strickland. Last year, he was re-elected by over a 30-point spread. And let's remember, this isn't some Deep South red state that rubber stamps the Republican nominee.  This is Ohio, the purplest of states. Yet that didn't stop Kasich from earning enormous popularity. He won 86 of 88 counties, including those that encompass urban Cincinnati, Columbus, and Cleveland. Two years earlier, Cuyahoga County, home of Cleveland, voted for Obama over Romney by a spread of 40 points, and yet the Republican Kasich won it. He now maintains an amazing 61-28 favorable rating, one of the best in the nation. After Kasich's State of the State address this year, conservative political commentator David Brooks noted that the Governor focused on core Republican values, mixing in Christian and small government themes. But he also "celebrated government workers," unlike a certain Wisconsin governor that will scare away every union in the country. (Brooks also calls Kasich "easily the most underestimated Republican this year.")

In sum, this straight-shooting (click the link for some cool quotes), plain-talking, conservative, has experience in Congress (where he was a primary architect of balanced the budget), the media, the business world, and as an executive of a large state. And he's never lost an election in his life. You want to beat Hillary Clinton?  Here's your candidate.

Spin from opponents--Why do you think he did so well in Ohio? He says he's a Republican but he too often talks like a Democrat. Look at his record:
  • In the Nineties he earned an "F" from the NRA after helping to ban assault weapons. That grade later improved as he moved to the right on the issue, but when he challenged for Ohio Governor in 2010, the NRA actually endorsed his Democratic opponent.
  • At a Koch-organized conference, he defended accepting the Medicaid expansion of Obamacare in his state by telling an angry top-level party contributor, "When I get to the Pearly Gates, I'm going to have to answer for what I've done for the poor." That response caused about 20 audience members to walk out and two governors to openly reject his statement. He hasn't been invited back to a Koch seminar.
  • He supported Common Core and continues to defend that position.
  • He's frighteningly moderate on immigration, once favoring a path to citizenship while still against deportation.
  • He says there's a problem with the climate.
Yes, there are other issues where his conservatism shines through, most notably on abortion and fiscal issues, but isn't that list enough to revoke his Republican credentials? Republicans not only need someone who highlights conservatism's strengths, but also a candidate who will go after Hillary Clinton. However, he's resisted doing so. Once, at a Kasich event in Iowa, an audience member took Clinton to task on her email controversy. He responded to this potential voter: "I'm more worried about what we're going to do to fix America than I am about Hillary's (email) server." He is not ready for this fight.

How do the polls look?--Uh oh. His RCP national average is a microscopic 1.5, which is tied for 11th place in the field with #13 Rick Santorum. In Iowa, he has an average of 1.8 percent support for 14th place, which is only above #16 George Pataki, #15.5 James Gilmore, and #15 Lindsey Graham, This company might make you wonder why Kasich is #6. Patience, my young Padawans. Patience. In New Hampshire he's at 2.0 for 12th. In South Carolina he's not registering, putting him behind the 12 candidates who are.

Yeah. Uh oh.

PPFA analysis--In defense of his polling numbers, remember that he is the only candidate who hasn't declare yet. Usually, declaring one's candidacy results in a polling bump as people who were waiting for a candidate to appear in a poll can finally support him or her, while the media starts talking about this candidate and more voters get to know him or her. Today's announcement will probably help to the tune of a couple polling points which, in this field, would be enough to move him from 12th to 9th. He would then qualify for the August 6 Fox News debate.

At the debate, he could remedy the other cause of his bad polling numbers: nobody knows who he is! A spring PPP poll determined he had the least name recognition of any candidate in the field--a laughably low 36 percent, nine points back of #14 Carly Fiorina in next to last. In one way, that's an obvious disadvantage; people won't vote for someone they've never heard of. But in another way, it shows why someone like Kasich has a better chance at the nomination than other well-known candidates who are polling higher (I'm looking at you, #11 Donald Trump). In this month's national Suffolk poll, Trump and Bush were out in front at 17 and 14 percent, but undecided voters accounted for nearly 30 percent. That's twice as much as what the leaders were getting. If 30 percent of voters are still waiting to make up their minds, that also means they're waiting for the right candidate. Kasich might strike them the right way, and he could quickly become a factor. Then there will be the period when voters jump ship from the inevitability sinking campaigns of half the Republican armada; if Kasich is there with life rafts, he could win their support.

My biggest question about him: is he a poor man's Jeb Bush or a rich man's George Pataki? While they were both governors on the moderate side of the Republican spectrum, they seem to bookend these 17 candidates in likelihood of winning the nomination. If he's a rich man's Pataki, things won't end well for his campaign. Just being a competent, moderate governor of a large state, if slightly more viable nationally, is all well and good, but without a more colorful personality, it won't translate to the rest of the country. If Kasich patakis his way through an uninteresting campaign, he'll endure the same fate as the former New York Governor.

But if he's a poor man's Jeb Bush, things will get interesting. His hope is to be the establishment candidate for those who don't want another Bush. It's not an unrealistic desire. As we've seen with media coverage, fundraising and polling numbers, Bush is obviously the moderate-ish establishment candidate of choice. However, the anti-Jeb sentiments (expanded on here, here, here, here, and here) in the Republican Party mirror and might prove to be stronger than the anti-Romney movement of 2012. If the third Bush coronation is indeed cancelled, to where does the king's court turn?

Kasich thinks it'll be him. In a recent New Hampshire visit, he took a dig at Bush's flailing front-runner status, pointing out, "I thought Jeb would just suck all the air out of the room, and it just hasn’t happened." Kasich is hoping that when the time comes for the establishment to back another horse, they'll look for a fiscally conservative executive with a record moderate enough for November, one who doesn't alienate people with divisive language or extreme opinions, and is, most importantly, electable. Kasich fits that mold perfectly, with Ohio's practically assured 18 electoral votes as a cherry on top. A couple deep looks at him online from Politico and FiveThirtyEight see him as a contender with this strategy.

In final analysis--or, at least, as final as an analysis can be six months before the Iowa Caucus--it's surely a possibility that the people can turn on Bush. People then turning to Kasich, however, is less likely. For one, they can't turn to someone they haven't heard of, and we have yet to see if the "announcement bump followed by debate success" plan will actually develop. Is there enough time between today's announcement and the first debate to qualify him for it? He'll need to rapidly rise into the top ten. And then can he win Republicans over on a stage of ten? That also remains to be seen.

And those are just the most immediate hurdles. Much more important in the long run is if he can get enough separation from Jeb Bush on more than just the name. If Jeb Bush is going down in the general election, his name will surely be a factor. If he's going down in the primary, however, his name will actually be more of a help. A CNN/ORC poll from two months ago has George W. Bush's approval rating among Republicans at 88 percent and among conservatives at 73 percent. So, in the Republican Primary, the Bush name actually isn't an awkward drag on Jeb. It's an unfurled sail.

What, then, might take him down in a primary? According to conservative camps (see links from four paragraphs ago), it's his less than conservative platform, including one issue that might be dominant over all others in the primary, which Bush, according to most Republicans, is on the wrong side of.  That issue is his moderate stance on immigration. I'll get more into that at a later post, but Bush has hijacked this one for long enough.

The relevance here is that if Bush crumbles due to his stance on immigration or his general "left of far right" ideology, Kasich cannot be the alternative, because he is also left of far right on immigration. A secondary issue--Bush's support of Common Core--is also held by Kasich. If Kasich doesn't offer alternate positions than the establishment's front-runner, Bush's fading support, if that even ever happens, would probably head elsewhere.

Thus, Kasich might indeed be a poor man's Jeb Bush, but that could be exactly what keeps him from getting the nomination. Meanwhile, he still might still turn out to be a rich man's Pataki. Losing the Kochs and being prickly toward Republican voters shows he might not be a candidate of the Republican establishment after all.

PPFA nomination rank--6 of 16 (Odds: 16:1). Candidates like #7 Ted Cruz, #8 Ben Carson, and #9 Rick Perry are all more exciting candidates for the conservative base, but that's kind of the point.  If party elders are still strong enough to control the process, they won't let those candidates win. Kasich, however, is extremely electable in a general, and beating Hillary Clinton is extremely important to these elders. Therefore, Kasich's electability puts him above that conservative trio ranked lower in Tier 2. Still, until he starts polling better and ups his name recognition, it's hard to put him into the top five. It's very important he gets into the debates.

PPFA general election rank--2 of 16. Yeah, pretty good. His +3.25 conservatism could look very good in a general election, especially with his tamer foreign policy being put in front of a war-weary country. His complete resume makes him a candidate moderates could embrace. He'd show very well in general election debates with his frank, no-nonsense attitude. And then there's Ohio, so he expands the map without taking away from it elsewhere. The establishment might happily turn to him because of these factors.

Monday, July 20, 2015

PPFA Now on Twitter!

No one is more surprised than me. Follow me @PPFAmerica!

Educational Backgrounds of the Candidates

On yesterday's Ted Cruz post, reader Stevie K. brought up an excellent question:

"Thanks for the reminder on Cruz's impressive educational background. An overwhelming number of overall US presidents come from Ivy League schools, and we're amidst a trend of electing US presidents who have graduated from Yale/Columbia/Harvard. Is Cruz the only Republican candidate with an Ivy league pedigree?" -Stevie K., Belo Horizonte, Brazil

That is indeed a recent trend. Let's look at our recent presidents and their college background:
44. Barack Obama--Columbia and Harvard Law
43. George W. Bush--Yale and Harvard Business School
42. Bill Clinton--Georgetown, Oxford, Yale Law
41. George H.W. Bush--Yale

Reagan, our 40th president, breaks the streak with the heretofore unheard of "Eureka College," which he might have just made up for his résumé. Since him, though, we'll have had 28 straight years of Ivy League presidents heading into president #45.

If we buy that trend, we can help weed through the candidates when trying to predict our next chief executive. Below are the Republicans revealed in my countdown series so far, and then the remaining six in alphabetical order.

Tier 4--They Know They Can't Win
16. George Pataki--Yale, Columbia Law
(15.5. James Gilmore)--Virginia
15. Lindsey Graham--South Carolina
14. Carly Fiorina--Stanford, Maryland, MIT

Tier 3--We Know They Can't Win
13. Rick Santorum--Penn State and Pittsburgh's School of Business
12. Mike Huckabee--Ouachita Baptist Univeristy
11. Donald Trump Clown College University of Pennsylvania
10. Bobby Jindal--Brown, Oxford

Tier 3--So You're Saying There's a Chance!
9. Rick Perry--Texas A&M
8. Ben Carson--Yale and Michigan Medical
7. Ted Cruz--Princeton and Harvard Law

Remaining Six
Jeb Bush--Texas University at Austin
Chris Christie--Delaware, Seton Hall
John Kasich--The Ohio State University
Rand Paul--Baylor, Duke Medical
Marco Rubio--Florida University, Miami Law
Scott Walker--Marquette (did not graduate)

When we get to the Democrats next month, I'll include their education as one of the categories of each post.

Tomorrow, we get to #6 in the countdown!  I'll give you a hint: he's a Republican.

See you then.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Candidate Profile: #7. Ted Cruz

For background to this series, click here. For previous posts in the series:

Tier 4--They Know They Can't Win
16. George Pataki
(15.5. James Gilmore)
15. Lindsey Graham
14. Carly Fiorina

Tier 3--We Know They Can't Win
13. Rick Santorum
12. Mike Huckabee
11. Donald Trump
10. Bobby Jindal

Tier 2--So You're Saying There's a Chance!
9. Rick Perry
8. Ben Carson

Now we get to the candidate who's MORE CONSERVATIVE THAN RICK SANTORUM.

Ted Cruz, 44, senator from Texas, 2013-current

Campaign Website and Slogan--www.tedcruz.org/--"Reigniting the Promise of America"

PPFA Slogan--"Reigniting Literally Everything"

Ideology on liberal-conservative spectrum (-10 is far left and +10 is far right. A center moderate is 0.): +8.25 (Individual rights: +7; domestic issues: +8; economy: +9; foreign policy: +9). Holy Moses. He makes Ronald Reagan look like a clean shaven Karl Marx.

Conservative Rank based on above: 1 of 16. In other words, conservative stalwarts like #9 Rick Perry#10 Bobby Jindal, and #12 Mike Huckabee, are too liberal for Ted Cruz.

Spin from the candidate's campaign--Remember the last time a young, idealistic, well-spoken U.S. senator, just two years into office, threw his hat into the presidential ring against an old establishment candidate? He became President of the United States. Ted Cruz can repeat that feat. No one in politics is a bigger champion of limited government and the Constitution. This obsession with liberty stems from his father who fled oppressive Cuba and repeatedly told his son, “When we faced oppression in Cuba, I had a place to flee to. If we lose our freedom here, where do we go?” His career as a lawyer, Solicitor General, professor of law, clerk to the Supreme Court Chief Justice, and senator has seen him fight many battles to defend a strict interpretation of the Constitution, including defending the Second Amendment; opposing Obamacare and President Obama's relentless executive orders; fighting federal spending; and supporting the values of life, family, and marriage. He wants to abolish the IRS and simplify the tax code with a flat tax.

Importantly, he might just be the smartest guy in the field. He graduated cum laude from Princeton. While there he became one of the top debaters in the country, winning the national and North American debating championships. He then attended Harvard law school, graduating magna cum laude, but not before becoming a primary editor of the prestigious Harvard Law Review. One of his professors described him as "off the charts brilliant." In a likely showdown with Hillary Clinton, is he not the candidate Republicans should want as her competitor? We saw Mitt Romney take his only lead of the general election against Obama after Romney's superior first debate performance, but he couldn't keep the momentum in the next two. Cruz gives the Republicans their best chance to sweep all three and seal the deal in November.

Ultimately, let's remember that we tried maverick McCain and moderate Mitt. Neither worked.  Nor did Bob Dole or Gerald Ford, the establishment candidates of their time. George W. Bush worked. Ronald Reagan worked. True conservatives. If Republicans want to win this time around, they should look to their "right" to find the right candidate.

Spin from opponents--Even brilliant people can be unelectable. This unelectability stems from two factors. First: his extreme conservatism. His greatest advantage this election has been Donald Trump overthrowing him as mayor of Crazytown. He's seen even by members of the GOP as too extreme. FiveThirtyEight--or, as bloggers call it, "the Gospel"--did an entire article on Cruz's unelectability. It noted:
Cruz is likely far too extreme ideologically to win the nomination. The Republican party has a habit of nominating relatively moderate candidates (see John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012). . . . A Cruz nomination wouldn’t just break this streak; it would throw it off a 100-floor balcony and drop a piano on it.
Cruz is more conservative than every recent nominee, every other candidate who mounted a serious bid in 2012 and every plausible candidate running or potentially running in 2016. 
Moreover, his obsession with derailing the President was too aggressive for even Republicans' liking (remember the government shutdown?). He's earned a lot of enemies in his two years as a senator, enemies that might try to curb his chances were he to become a viable candidate.
If we’re ever in a world where it looks like Cruz could win the nomination, you’ll very likely see such pouncing. You can read article after article about how Cruz has isolated himself in the Senate. It got so bad that he recently had to apologize to his Republican colleagues.
And the Cruz hatred doesn’t stop at the edges of the Senate cloakroom. Influential party actors dislike him, too. I can’t remember another Republican who united Ann CoulterPat RobertsonJennifer Rubin and Thomas Sowell in opposition.
Party standard bearer Mitt Romney piled on, not counting Cruz as one of the electable candidates. If nominating him just hands the White House over to Hillary Clinton, then who cares how smart he is?

How do the polls look?--His RCP national average is 5.5, putting him in eighth place. (He's the last candidate before the big drop off. His eighth place 5.5 to Rick Perry's ninth place 2.8 is the only spot where support is halved from one candidate to the next.) In Iowa, he's again in eighth place, this time at an average of 6.5 polling points. However, the last two polls--the only two taken in the last month--have him at a competitive 8 and 9 points, which puts him with a handful of others competing for second place behind Scott Walker. His New Hampshire numbers are struggling as he unsurprisingly languishes outside of the top eight at an RCP average of 3.8, but he makes up for that with his fourth place, 7.7 average in South Carolina. As expected, he's much more competitive in the conservative states. Doing well in Iowa and South Carolina is all he needs to do to survive until Super Tuesday.

PPFA analysis--Again, Cruz's biggest break so far has been the wrecking ball called Donald Trump. The attack on Cruz was going to be how "out there" he was in his views, but with Trump losing sight of "out there" in his rear view mirror, a well-spoken Senator, even one with extreme conservative views, looks downright moderate.

If you listen to Cruz, who almost comes across as an objective pundit here, he's the natural candidate to unite the factions of the Republican Party. He compares these factions to an NCAA bracket with four regions; in this case the factions are types of Republicans: moderates, libertarians, evangelicals, and Tea Partiers. Cruz thinks one candidate can emerge from each of these four brackets, and that "final four" will do battle for the nomination. The winner will be the one who can best pull from multiple factions. Naturally, according to Cruz, he's the guy who can best do it. With his ultra conservatism, he sees himself as the favorite in the Tea Party bracket while also playing well in the evangelical and libertarian brackets, especially with libertarians fearful of Rand Paul's dovish foreign policy. If he can combine those three groups, he can stand up to whichever candidate comes out of the moderate bracket, most likely Jeb Bush.

If only it were that easy for Senator Cruz. Thinking positively, he is indeed the preferred candidate of the Tea Party and a top three candidate for those who call themselves "very conservative." It's also worth noting another strength here: he has had a tremendous start to fundraising. These passionate bases of support have made him the top fundraiser in the entire GOP field in terms of hard money. He's even doing well in soft money, running second only to the gargantuan totals earned by Jeb Bush Super PACs. If you combine both hard money and Super PAC money, he's running in third place of all presidential candidates, behind only the titans of the election--Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton. (I highly recommend looking at these charts assembled by the New York Times to see who's winning the fundraising races from both parties. It has many categories to sift through.)

And let's not forget that he hasn't even begun debating yet. For the reasons mentioned earlier, he's expected to show really well in them, which would give him a boost in the polls and even more cash flow. He could be Gingrich minus the baggage, which will be attractive to all the voters who were skeptical of the establishment candidate both last time (Romney) and this time (Bush).

Impressed yet?

But now we get to the limitations of the Cruz campaign. Sure, he seems to unite multiple camps of conservatives, but so does Scott Walker.  The big difference is that Walker, on top of being an executive, which the Republican Party usually prefers to a Washington Congressman, is doing extraordinarily well in the polls. Until the surge from #11 Donald Trump, which is expected to fizzle thanks to, among other factors, yesterday's disrespectful comments about John McCain, Walker was the only candidate competing with Bush in national polls. Meanwhile, Walker has dominated the Iowa polls since wresting control of the state from #12 Mike Huckabee in February. In New Hampshire, Walker has gone back and forth with Bush in leading it. In South Carolina, only Walker and South Carolinian but no-shot candidate #15 Lindsey Graham have competed with Bush at the top of its polls. In other words, if the anti-Bush movement wants a conservative alternative, Walker is probably their guy. In fact, he may have already has been anointed it.

Furthermore, we can't forget just how detested Cruz is by moderates and establishment Republicans. That is a group that has been strong enough to send McCain and Romney to victories over the likes of Huckabee, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and Ron Paul. They have more money and weight in the party than Cruz could dream of, and they probably have the ability to pull the rug out from underneath him if the time comes.

Still, his puncher's chance derives from the fact that the people do ultimately make the decisions, even if a few powerful people are really good at convincing them what decision to make. Here's how a Cruz nomination could develop:
  • Step 1: Continue doing what he's doing: being a top fundraiser in the field and polling well, staying in the top half of the field nationally, in Iowa, and in South Carolina.
  • Step 2: While laying low but competitive in the polls, the frontrunners--Bush, Walker, Rubio, and, incredibly, Trump--attack each other. Cruz comes out relatively unscathed while also hoarding his money.
  • Step 3: Debate well.
  • Step 4: Peak in Iowa. Top four finish in its conservative February 1 caucus. (Walker, Huckabee, Bush, Cruz is a realistic top four there)
  • Step 5: Repeat the feat in the February 20 South Carolina Primary. (February 9 New Hampshire finish irrelevant for him.)
  • Step 6: As the other conservative candidates drop out due to their lack of money--Santorum, Jindal, Graham, and later Huckabee and Perry--much of their support goes to fellow conservatives Walker and Cruz.
  • Step 7: Win his home enormous state of Texas on March 1's Super Tuesday, where he's currently leading in the polls. The delegate haul from this and other conservative states that day--Arkansas, Oklahoma, Tennessee--will see him as one of the big winners of Super Tuesday, even bigger than Walker.
  • Step 8: A majority of Republican voters determine they really don't want another Bush. Since Cruz has debated better and beat expectations while Walker has fallen short of them, he becomes the Bush alternative.
Are the specifics of the above likely? No. Are they realistic? Okay, still no. But are they possible? Absolutely. But much more likely is him merely but significantly affecting the primary. His conviction that pure conservatism is absolutely necessary instead of the "mushy middle" if Republicans want to win the White House can make him a dangerous candidate. He's not afraid of using his considerable war chest to wage a conservative campaign against the moderate candidates, because he'll conclude that even if he can't win himself, he'll need to move them to the right to get them to win.

PPFA nomination rank--7 of 16 (Odds: 18:1). He has Perry's conservatism combined with Carson's fresh face, but he also doesn't have their weaknesses. Cruz's education and debate experience starkly contrast Perry's, and Cruz has served on some heavyweight Senate committees to bring some solid, if minimal, experience, unlike Carson's biggest weakness. However, the six candidates above Cruz on this list are all more viable general election candidates and therefore have the edge over the Texas Senator in a desperate election for the GOP.

PPFA general election rank--13 of 16. I reserved the bottom feeders of this category for those who are either too conservative for the general electorate, or their name is Donald Trump. Cruz fits in nicely. The three below him are two also-ran conservative Republicans--Huckabee and Santorum--and the aforementioned Trump.
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