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Saturday, August 08, 2015

Comment Response

I wasn't going to post today unless we got our first post-debate poll (WHERE IS IT!). However, a thoughtful comment on yesterday's "Debate Grades" post deserved a thorough response, out of which I might as well make a post. Below, I've pasted the comment from the reader, Billy, in italics. My thoughts are in bold font.

I'd have to disagree with you on the Trump grade. I thought what he did was play to his supporters really well. He isn't going to be picking up any voters, but I think he did enough to solidify mid-teens in the next few polls, which probably keeps him out front for the next few weeks.

But can't he both play to his supporters and drop some knowledge? It's not like they're against facts. (Or maybe they are?) I agree his supporters probably weren't turned off too badly by the performance, but he also didn't pick up anyone new, either. I made a parenthetical note next to his grade that I really don't know if the debate will hurt his numbers; I just think he was an embarrassment during the debate and after it.

Bush's performance wasn't memorable, but could he be taking a Romney strategy for the first few debates? Romney was the front runner, like Bush, and skipped the first debate and tried to keep a low spotlight until Iowa was in sight. Bush probably is doing the same. He is going to be around for Iowa, alls he has to do is not lose the election. Let Trump take the jabs for a while and he can stay under the radar at about 10% and still be in the good spot for the stretch.

I strongly agree Bush is still the favorite, but he's not nearly as certain as Romney was four years ago. Romney was up big in Iowa, New Hampshire, and usually nationally. It was all about protecting those leads for him. He was also always hovering around 25 percent nationally. Bush is half that. Yes, he's playing the long game for sure, but that was a strikingly vanilla performance for someone who isn't yet in that great a position.

I thought Rand Paul was not good at all. He did play his Libertarian part well, so I don't think he will lose much in the polling, but I will be surprised if he gains ground.

Paul probably alienated more Republicans than he earned, but at this point he's just trying to stop hemorrhaging polling numbers. He reasserted his libertarian streak from which he had been drifting, a drift which coincided with his drop in the polls from 3/4/5 to 8. That performance, bad as it was for most viewers, can be the start of the slow climb back up. The Paul/Christie exchange is a good example of what he was trying to accomplish. Libertarian Republicans thought Paul won, mainstream Republicans thought Christie won. But Paul wasn't trying to win over mainstream Republicans. He can try again after polling closer to double digits.

My predictions for the first post debate national poll
1. Trump(Though less than 20%)
2. Bush
3. Rubio
4. Walker
5. Cruz
6. Huckabee
7. Carson
8. Kasich
9. Paul
10. Christie
11. Fiorina (though I think she is on her way to the top 10)
12.+ All Marginal, making no ground up

An interesting point will be to see if Trump loses 5+ points, if the difference between 10th and 11th becomes significantly bigger than the 1 point it is now on RCP.

I agree Rubio will shoot up into the top four and the rest of the field will hold generally steady. I'm reading that a lot of people thought Carson won the debate, though. I thought he was genuinely bad with substance, but since he was so good with style, it should help him stay in the top six. Maybe Huckabee is the one who drops out of it to make room for Rubio.

Ranking Kasich, previously #10, over Paul, previously #8, makes sense given how I interpreted the debate, but we have yet to see if what played so well for Kasich on his home stage also played well across the country. That's what I'm most eager to see with the next few polls.

Fiorina should pop more than anyone, and it makes sense that she breach the top ten, but then who in the top ten did poorly enough to get replaced by her? Christie (#9 by the polls) and Kasich (#10) did well. Of course, #8 Paul struggled, but he was at four percent and galvanized his base. Then we expect #7 Rubio to pop, too. Surely the top six is out of reach for now. I'm not sure who Fiorina will pass. But make no mistake, she'd be a dangerous #11. Christie should watch his considerable back.

Friday, August 07, 2015

Debate Grades

Aside from general election night and perhaps Super Tuesday, you will never hear more noise from the political corners of the internet then you will on the night of a debate. It's a cacophonous mess of bias, spin, rancor, and applause. Everyone has opinions on who won and who lost, and you'll find every name in each of those categories across the blogosphere. For example, the candidate I think did most poorly--Donald Trump--has earned nearly half the winner vote on the Drudge Report and Time, for example, which I'm guessing must be mostly from those trying to game the system. In sum, if you search google or the news sites, you'll see all sorts of clashing opinions on who did well and who did poorly.

That's why I'm here.

No, not really. I'll just be one more voice in the noise. If, however, you've come to trust this voice, perhaps you'll trust the thoughts below, mere opinions that they are. I'm most interested to see what lines up with my predictions from yesterday because I'm a blogger with an ego to feed.

There are four tiers of performances here: The Losers, The Unimpressives (not a word, so says the red squiggly underline), The Solids, and The Winners. I also think it's an internet mandate to assign grades to each candidate, so you'll find those as well. (Transcript from the debate)

The Losers
Donald Trump, AKA "The Biggest Loser"
PPFA prediction: "Look for him to confidently hammer home his outsider status, while also having some impressive facts he memorized on the limo ride to the arena."

I was only half right. Outsider status? Check. Facts? Yeesh. Did he even have one? I don't care what those online polls say, he was a disaster behind the podium last night.  He had a poor debate from the very first question, which, despite ostensibly being asked of the entire field, was surely designed for him: "Is there anyone on stage, and can I see hands, who is unwilling tonight to pledge your support to the eventual nominee of the Republican party and pledge to not run an independent campaign against that person." (The very wording of the question was forced to root out Trump; the far simpler question, "Which candidates pledge to support the nominee?" would have made Trump's dissension less obvious and dramatic.) Up goes his hand. Then, when he was challenged on his misogynistic background, he not only accepted it, he embraced it with his Rosie O'Donnell comment. And as if we didn't leave the debate with our jaws open wide enough, he then went on a Twitter rant against Megyn Kelly, the moderator who asked him the question, including calling her a bimbo. Performances like that are why "F"s were invented. (Of course, he has blamed unfair questions.) Debate grade: F (But will it affect the polls? If the McCain comments didn't bring him down...)

Ben Carson
PPFA prediction: "Expect his soft-spoken nature to continue tonight, but I'm eager to see if he can think on his feet in regards to foreign policy, a place where he's blundered badly in the past."

Soft-spoken indeed, and his tithing idea is surely popular with his evangelical base (because "God is a pretty fair guy"?), but he did not stand out on any kind of policy, foreign or otherwise. Incredibly, he almost salvaged a bad night with a great finisher ("I'm the only candidate to separate Siamese twins..."). He was the candidate of memorable lines ("Thank you, Megyn, I wasn't sure I was going to get to talk again"; "If Hillary is the candidate, which I doubt, that would be a dream come true.") but he lacked substance. His was a night of stringing together memorized facts which never seemed to come out comfortably. His defense of his lack of experience was that he had a brain and "experience" comes from a wide variety of places, which is true, but it's also the answer a student can give after struggling on a test. ("Sorry, Mr. Smith, but at least I have a brain and know other stuff, so I still pass, right?") He's a fish out of water, and his performance reflected that, despite his calm demeanor and surely popular soundbites.  Debate grade: C-

The Unimpressives
Jeb Bush
PPFA prediction: "I expect him to get hit on immigration, and he will respond with an empathetic response that includes how necessary it is for the GOP to reach out to new demographics if they want to win a national election." Also, earlier in the week I said, "If he looks confident, competent, and hammers home his conservatism in most areas, that will play really well."

He was at his best talking about his conservative record in Florida, but confident and competent-sounding he was not. He was a lot more George W. than I expected, fumbling with wording and tone. He still doesn't have a good answer to the Iraq War question, but he did a good job defending his moderate stances on immigration (no citizenship; the U.S. must stop illegal immigrants even if they want to come here out of love) and Common Core (states can do their own thing as long the standards are high). He was hoping to be the adult in the debate, but at times he had his brother's childish look. Not a good job from the front-runner and I expect him to take a slight hit in the polls. Debate grade: C

Scott Walker
PPFA prediction: "Expect a boring performance tonight where he just talks about 'himself' and 'his record.' Whatever."

That was pretty much exactly what happened, and we got an underwhelming performance as a result. That's probably what he was going for, but with so much color from other candidates--I really think all others had memorable moments--Walker's bland pallet did not attract attention. I don't think he gets helped from it. Also, his belief that his abortion position, which rules it out in all circumstances, is "in line with everyday America" is flat wrong. This position will still play great with conservatives, but he became a slightly less viable general election candidate. Debate grade: C+

The Solids
Rand Paul
PPFA prediction: "Except for the incomparable Trump, no candidate on this stage has a more exceptional platform. Expect Dr. Paul to remind us of that tonight. He doesn't have to win over the entire party, which his campaign advisers have foolishly advised him to do. He just needs to recapture that libertarian streak which made him so beloved by a strong minority of Republicans."

Nailed it. He even said, "I’m a different kind of Republican." His "The Fourth Amendment was what we fought the Revolution over!" was one of the best lines of the night. That being said, I thought Christie got the better of their tête-à-tête when one considers where mainstream Republicans fall on the NSA issue. When Christie mentioned 9/11, Paul's smirk was as disrespectful as Christie's attempt was cheap. Paul just never got going; he had these isolated moments where he tried to inject himself into other people's questions--indeed, to show how he was different--but that made him seem petty and rude. One can understand why he did that, though. He got the least amount of speaking time last night, in fact getting doubled up by Trump:
image (1)
Debate grade: B-

Mike Huckabee
PPFA prediction: "He's pretty likable on stage. Expect that affability to continue tonight. I don't see him attacking anyone."

Nailed it again! Full of jokes (including his closing line getting people to think he was about to take a swipe at Trump but then throwing in Clinton instead), one-liners (the military is not a social experiment, it's meant to kill people and break things), and evangelical outreach (fifth and fourteenth amendments should apply to unborn babies). But he also suggested pimps, prostitutes, and drug-dealers are the reasons social security and Medicaid are going bankrupt. I thought Christie won that entitlement exchange as well. Still, he was affable from bell to bell, and only had the moment with Christie because the moderators forced it. Debate grade: B

Chris Christie
PPFA prediction: "He is also a candidate that can convey a lot of sincerity through his ostensible "Tell It Like It Is" approach. It appears he's connecting with New Hampshire voters, as seen in his steady climb up that state's polls. I think both Kasich and Christie will gain on the main pack due to this debate."

Speaking of Christie. I stand by that prediction. Tackling entitlements is a bold and controversial. It's an unpopular strategy, even with Republicans, especially those over the age of 50, a demo that really like to vote. Christie has to mean it if he's not saying it for political purposes. Going after Rand Paul on security--a guy many hawkish Republicans want to strangle--probably played really well at home. Since his polling average was only 3.4 heading into the debate, it'll be easy for him to get a bump, and I think he'll do so. One concern: did blaming the previous governor of New Jersey for all of the state's problems that he's steadily fixed sound a little like President Obama's "blame Bush" strategy? I wonder if voters picked up on that. Debate grade: B+

Ted Cruz
PPFA prediction: "Expect a calm performance tonight where he articulates the merits of conservative winners (Bush, Reagan) over moderate losers (Dole, McCain, Romney)."

He didn't mention the names, but he did promote unapologetic conservatism all night. ("If we’re going to win in 2016, we need a consistent conservative, someone who has been a fiscal conservative, a social conservative, a national security conservative.") He was challenged on being too divisive, and he embraced the idea. He said he'd be someone who goes to Washington not to make friends, but to push the conservative agenda. His debating experience was also evident with his slow, deliberate, confident deliveries. He never talked over anyone and even responded with total silence when he asked to speak to a point and was denied by the moderators. Even though Walker's similar strategy was similar, Cruz came across as a more charismatic and vocal champion of conservatism. Walker was counting on his record to do the talking, which wasn't enough. Debate grade: B+

The Winners
Marco Rubio
PPFA prediction: "His argument will be it's a dangerous world with Putin, ISIS, and Iran, and it's important to put someone in office who on Day One who is grounded in national security."

I swung and missed here, which surprises me because it was one of my most confident predictions of the night. Maybe he's saving it for closer to the primaries? That being said, he shined across the board. I didn't even pick up on it in the first hour, but I gradually realized he was giving solid, confident answers across the board. Seeing that come from someone so young was impressive. He was also among the best at setting himself up for a potential Clinton showdown. Directly, he referenced his own impoverished background and asked “How is she going to lecture me about living paycheck to paycheck?” channeling the problems Mitt Romney had in 2012. Indirectly, he said this election was about the future, not who had the biggest résumé, because if it were, "Hillary Clinton is going to be the next president." What better candidate to look to the future than the youngest guy on stage? My biggest concern for him is moving to a Walkeresque conservatism on illegal abortion with no exceptions. That could hurt in the general if he makes it that far. Debate grade: A-

John Kasich
PPFA prediction: "As all these candidates will do, he'll boast about his record, which in this case is as a popular governor of major swing state Ohio. . . . An interesting X-factor here is the Cleveland crowd. Will they be allowed to get behind their governor? If he gets the right atmosphere, that will play very well at home and reinvigorate the Kasich charge."

The crowd was into it! Every answer he gave was met with raucous applause, only some of it undeserved. A nervous first response evolved into confident responses the rest of the way, including an empathetic response on gay marriage. ("I just went to a wedding of a friend of mine who happens to be gay. Because somebody doesn’t think the way I do, doesn’t mean that I can’t care about them or can’t love them. So if one of my daughters happened to be that, of course I would love them and I would accept them. Because you know what? That’s what we’re taught when we have strong faith.") The positive support from the audience with that response--just four years away from booing a gay soldier--not only helped inoculate him from conservative criticism, but it might even have changed some minds at home. For better or worse, he just became the candidate Republicans see as the most electable. Debate grade: A

Thursday, August 06, 2015

PPFA Official Republican Debate Preview

It's here! It's finally here. The first debate of the 2016 campaign cycle. The venue is set:

The candidates are chosen:

And, at 9:00 tonight, the contest begins.

Before taking a dive into the delicious piece of programming that is ten Republicans pointing out everything wrong with Hillary Clinton, we should not forget about the 5:00 kiddie table forum with the candidates who did not qualify to sit with the adults. There, we'll see Bobby Jindal, Carly Fiorina, Lindsey Graham, George Pataki, James Gilmore, and Ricks Perry and Santorum complain about how unfair life is and how democracy isn't supposed to work like this. Rick Santorum will note how Bill Clinton was out of the top 10 at this point before the 1992 election that ultimately crowned him president. Perry will intensely lock eyes on the audience through his dark rimmed glasses and confidently deliver his rehearsed soundbite. Graham will pivot to Iran on every issue, including "favorite color." Pataki will struggle to stay awake, as will anyone listening to him. Will any of them find a way to use the forum to leap into the top ten? That's not a bad reason to watch.

But enough of the appetizer. Let's get to the main course: the 9:00 debate. (What's for dessert you ask? The post-debate spin off, of course. Where every campaign tries to convince us their candidate just won. Yummy!)

First, big picture: Often, presidential debates aren't actually debates, especially in a primary. They are mostly exchanges of canned responses that more resemble stump speeches than genuine debate. Moreover, generally speaking, the candidates that are most likely to attempt big right hooks are those who are near the bottom of the pack in polling, but the debate rules have thinned out that herd. What remains are ten candidates that are all alive and well in the 2016 Republican Primary. Most years, rather than swinging big and risking a miss, we'd normally expect comfortable candidates to throw light jabs all night.


But tonight... tonight!... we get Donald John Trump, the man who treats anyone in his way like they're the sanitation fixture that his middle name represents. We know he's a loose cannon, but if he were the only one pocketing gunpowder, he'd be an isolated sideshow. What Trump has shown, however, is that people really seem to like his finger-pointing rhetoric, delivered as the very embodiment of confidence he has so ungracefully become. He has soared to the top of every national poll with double-digit leads, despite proposing little in the form of reasonable policy. Will other candidates take notice and follow suit tonight? Can they be seduced to that side of politics? Is it that far of a reach to picture Chris Christie, barely in the top ten, talk hyperbolically tough tonight, or Marco Rubio, who has been tumbling down the polls, aggressively go after the polling favorites on their lack of foreign policy experience? We can hope.

Now for their close-ups. Here's what I expect to see out of each of the ten candidates tonight. We'll go in reverse order of poll rank. Let me remind any new readers that I did a deep profile on each of the Republican Candidates last month. I'll link you to teach of them.

#10. John Kasich--2.8 Real Clear Politics average
The candidate of momentum! Yesterday's Gravis poll in New Hampshire had him second to Trump with 15 points. Expect Kasich to point out that he was the last candidate not named James Gilmore to enter the Republican Primary, and he's already in the top ten in national polls and making a run in the first primary state. As all these candidates will do, he'll boast about his record, which in this case is as a popular governor of major swing state Ohio, a state that has voted for the winner in every election since Eisenhower left the White House. An interesting X-factor here is the Cleveland crowd. Will they be allowed to get behind their governor? If he gets the right atmosphere, that will play very well at home and reinvigorate the Kasich charge.

#9. Chris Christie--3.4
The other candidate of momentum? In that same New Hampshire Gravis poll, Christie ran third, ahead of the likes of Scott Walker, Ben Carson, and Jeb Bush. His entry was also relatively late into the race (he was 14th) yet he's also worked himself into the top ten nationally. (Remember, it's not easy: Perry, Santorum, Jindal, and Fiorina are huge Republican names and they can't get anything going.) The debate should be a strength of his, especially in the Trump Era. Republican voters have responded to the confident brashness of the billionaire, and Christie is nothing if not confidently brash. He's as capable as any candidate of saying something provocative that draws headlines and followers. At the same time, he is also a candidate that can convey a lot of sincerity through his ostensible "Tell It Like It Is" approach. It appears he's connecting with New Hampshire voters, as seen in his steady climb up that state's polls. I think both Kasich and Christie will gain on the main pack due to this debate.

#8. Rand Paul--4.8
If Kasich and Christie are the candidates of momentum, Rand Paul is the candidate of whatever the opposite of momentum is. There was a time in 2013 and 2014 where he was considered among the front-runners for the nomination, regularly polling double digits nationally and earning lots of headlines and free attention through his dramatic Senate strategies. Even after Jeb Bush and Scott Walker ascended the polls to bump him out of the top tier, he and Marco Rubio were still there as solid 3rd or 4th options. But over the last month, his national polling average has fallen to 4.8, putting him in just eighth place. In fact, he's closer to Christie (averaging 3.4) in ninth than he to getting back into the top five (Carson at 6.6). I discussed reasons why he has fallen apart in my candidate profile on him, but remember, I also still had him at #5 overall in likelihood to win the nomination. That's because he can differentiate himself from the other candidates on tonight's stage. Except for the incomparable Trump, no candidate on this stage has a more exceptional platform. Expect Dr. Paul to remind us of that tonight. He doesn't have to win over the entire party, which his campaign advisers have foolishly advised him to do. He just needs to recapture that libertarian streak which made him so beloved by a strong minority of Republicans.

#7. Marco Rubio--5.2
Rubio's fall from grace has mirrored that of Paul's. He, too, was once considered a favorite--and by many the favorite--for the 2016 nomination over the last four years. But he, too, has collapsed in recent polling. He's down to 7th place in the RCP average at just 5.2 percent support nationally. He also has nothing going in the first three states, ranking 8th, 8th, and 7th in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, respectively. Tonight, I expect him to go after the leaders on foreign policy. The top five candidates in the polls--Trump, Bush, Walker, Huckabee, Carson--don't have a lick of foreign policy experience. Rubio has made it a point to inject himself into foreign affairs during his Senate tenure. His argument will be it's a dangerous world with Putin, ISIS, and Iran, and it's important to put someone in office who on Day One who is grounded in national security.

#6. Ted Cruz--6.2
In his candidate profile, I gave serious props to his educational background (cum laude Princeton, magna cum laude Harvard Law), including his debate chops (he won the national and North American debating championships). It stands to reason that he should therefore dominate the debates, right? Wellll, not exactly. As I discussed on Monday, these debates aren't really debates. In primaries, the candidates rarely go back and forth while seriously challenging each other's positions. Instead, these candidates will mostly try to pivot from answering questions to spitting out their stump speeches by attacking President Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Planned Parenthood. This monolithic pattern neutralizes Cruz's debate experience, but he won't mind. I think Cruz loves his position right now. He was in eighth for much of the last month before showing a bump in the last week that has him up to sixth. He's also raising money better than anyone not named Bush or Clinton. Expect a calm performance tonight where he articulates the merits of conservative winners (Bush, Reagan) over moderate losers (Dole, McCain, Romney).

#5. Ben Carson--6.6
Charles Krauthammer recently called Carson "the tortoise" of the race. "He's slow, he's steady, he's quiet, but he's staying there, and he's got staying power." Indeed, to think that he's basically been somewhere between three and six in the polls since last year, it's a pretty impressive run from the neurosurgeon with no political experience. I have not backed off my assertion that the party won't take him seriously enough to actually nominate him, but he has impressive grassroots support (only he and Bernie Sanders have raised 80 percent of their money from donations of $200 or less) and enormous popularity from church goers. Expect his soft-spoken nature to continue tonight, but I'm eager to see if he can think on his feet in regards to foreign policy, a place where he's blundered badly in the past.

#4. Mike Huckabee--6.6
Was I too unkind when I ranked him the 12th most likely Republican nominee? He is the top "second tier" candidate in the polls, and at a 6.6 average, he's closer to the first tier than he is the third. Meanwhile, he's also top five in Iowa and South Carolina, the first and third contest in the primary. But I have yet to see him grow something more than his evangelical base. He came in with high name recognition after his Iowa win and overall second place finish eight years ago. So why can he never crack double digits this time around? As for tonight, let's remember that in 2008, he rode debates to an Iowa victory. He's pretty likable on stage. Expect that affability to continue tonight. I don't see him attacking anyone. He's not interested in catching the leaders quite yet.

#3. Scott Walker--10.6
Walker has already made his debate strategy clear--he won't engage with any candidate. He wants to stay above the fray. Boooooooo. But you can't blame him. He's top tier nationally and still the obvious anti-Bush candidate once Trump finally gets around to the inevitable collapse that people are nervously starting to doubt will never happen. He still has a big RCP lead in Iowa. No one is asking, "What's wrong with the Walker Campaign?" like they are Paul, Rubio, and Bush. Expect a boring performance tonight where he just talks about "himself" and "his record." Whatever.

#2. Jeb Bush--12.8
The prohibitive favorite for the Republican nomination is trailing Donald Trump by double-digits. That is a sentence I never expected to write. He's also trailing Trump in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. Human sacrifices, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria. But we mustn't forget, especially after imitable presidential politics blog Presidential Politics for America pointed out last Friday, Bush dwarfs the field in money and endorsements. He's playing the long game here. Tonight, I expect him to get hit on immigration, and he will respond with an empathetic response that includes how necessary it is for the GOP to reach out to new demographics if they want to win a national election.

#1. Donald Trump--23.2
Did I mention the dogs and cats living together? Trump is way, way up on the field nationally; he's doubled up second place Bush in the last two New Hampshire polls; and he sported a jaw-dropping 34 points in the only July South Carolina poll, trouncing second place by 23 points (Bush and Carson clocked in at 11). The whole thing is rather surreal. Not only does he dominate the entire field in the polls, but he also will dominate our attention tonight. There's a reason this is such a highly anticipated debate, and that reason is Donald Latrine Trump. Look for him to confidently hammer home his outsider status, while also having some impressive facts he memorized on the limo ride to the arena.

Let's do this thing!

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Republican Debaters Selected

It's official--Fox News has announced the ten candidates for tomorrow night's debate. For readers of this blog, the outcome is no surprise. I've been predicting the same ten candidates for over ten days. They are, in order of polling averages:

1. Donald Trump--23.4
2. Jeb Bush--12.0
3. Scott Walker--10.2
4. Mike Huckabee (who gets the coveted #4 podium position)--6.6
5. Ben Carson--5.8
6. Ted Cruz--5.4
7. Marco Rubio--5.4
8. Rand Paul--4.8
9. Chris Christie--3.4
10. John Kasich--3.2

That should translate to the following podium spots:

The big surprise, other than Walker's beret and ties that start at the sternum, is that Senate heavyweights Rubio and Paul will be so marginalized. More on that in tomorrow's official Presidential Politics for America debate preview.

Four hours before this primetime debate will be the 5:00 forum  (2:00 Pacific time... ouch!) for those who did not qualify. Invited to that are:

1. Rick Perry--1.8
2. Rick Santorum--1.4
3. Bobby Jindal--1.4
4. Carly Fiorina--1.3
6. George Pataki--0.6
7. Jim Gilmore--0.2

I considered depicting them moping around with frowny faces, but A) The structure of this "forum" is unclear, and B) That first piece of "art" took a lot longer than one would expect.

See you tomorrow for the debate preview!

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Deadline Day: Three More Polls (and Counting?)

Yesterday afternoon, Fox News, Monmouth, and Bloomberg each released new national polls for the Republican race. With today's 5:00 deadline looming for polls to be considered for Thursday's Fox News debate for which only ten candidates qualify, they might be the last three polls to play into the five-poll calculus... or not. We have just over nine hours for another poll or two to sneak in.

Anyway, here are the results. First, Fox News:
1. Trump 26
2. Bush 15
3. Walker 9
4. Carson 7
5. Cruz, Huckabee 6
7. Rubio, Paul 5
9. Christie, Kasich 3
11. Santorum, Fiorina 2
13. Perry 1
13. Jindal 1
15. Graham, Pataki, Gilmore: 0

1. Trump 26
2. Bush 12
3. Walker 11
4. Cruz, Huckabee 6
6. Carson 5
7. Rubio, Paul, Christie 4
10. Kasich 3
11. Perry, Fiorina 2
13. Santorum, Jindal, Graham 1
16. Pataki, Gilmore 0

And Bloomberg:
1. Trump 21
2. Bush 10
3. Walker 8
4. Huckabee 7
5. Rubio 6
6. Carson, Paul 5
8. Cruz, Kasich, Christie 4
10. Perry, Santorum 2
12. Fiorina 1, Jindal, Graham 1
16. Pataki, Gilmore 0

1) Trump hits 26 points twice. Amazing. His Real Clear Politics average is now 22.4, and he holds a double digit lead over second place. These numbers signify the most support any Republican candidate has had at any point this year.

2) Bush is back in second after languishing in third for a few days. His RCP average is now 12.2 to Walker's 11.2.

3) Walker rounds out what's still a clear top tier of polling.

4) Yesterday I noted an interesting under-the-radar race for fourth place, which is important because fourth earns a prime podium position with the big three. That race held five candidates--Carson, Cruz, Huckabee, Paul, and Rubio--all of whom were found within 0.4 of each other in their RCP average, from Cruz's 6.2 to Paul's 5.8, with the other three in between. After yesterday's polls, the gulf has widened to 1.4. Carson is up to 6.6 and in position for the #4 spot. Huckabee is at 6.2 and Cruz clocks in at 6.0, so they're still alive for it if we have another poll or two today. Incredibly, Rubio and Paul have fallen to a tie for 7th/8th at 5.2.

5) That means Rubio and Paul, once considered favorites for the nomination, will only barely be inside the outer podiums.

6) The Kasich announcement bump might be over. Since July 12, here are his national poll numbers, earliest to most recent: 1, 1, 2, 2, 3, 4, 5, 5, 3, 3, 4, 3. That was a steady and impressive climb followed by a clear flat-lining. Still, he's in 9th place by RCP average at 3.6 and looks headed for Thursday's debate.

7) Christie has to be excited about two of those polls having him tied for 7th, including with Rubio and Paul. His average is now at 3.4. Remember, he's in competition with Perry for the tenth and last debate spot. And luckily for Christie . . .

8) . . . Perry, who was at 2.5 yesterday, fell to 2.0; polling at 1, 2 and 2 was not what he had in mind when needing to catch Christie. He needs another released poll today showing him with a big lead over Christie, or two more polls with small leads. Keep in mind he can also tie Christie, making it an 11-person debate. Fox could also do some creative rounding here and there to get Perry in, which I wouldn't rule out. This development would also put Trump in the exact center of the 11 candidates. Two more candidates and he could pull off the Last Supper pose he's probably always wanted.

9) Of everyone who's eliminated from debate contention, none showed any life.  Fiorina and Santorum went 2, 2, 1. Jindal did a triple 1. Graham continues to poll like the binary solo from Flight of the Conchords' The Humans Are Dead, going 1, 0, 1. (His last 15 polls have been 1s and 0s.)

10) Pataki and Gilmore are still doing a real good job of keeping their campaigns a secret from the voting public.

I'll leave you now with the latest RCP averages. Tomorrow I'll look at who won the races for fourth and tenth, and Thursday I'll have an official debate preview. Two more days!

RCP Averages:
1. Trump 22.4
2. Bush 12.2
3. Walker 11.2
5. Carson 6.6
5. Huckabee 6.2
6. Cruz 6.0
7. Rubio, Paul 5.2
9. Kasich 3.6
10. Christie 3.4
11. Perry 2.0
12. Santorum 1.4
13. Fiorina, Jindal 1.2
15. Graham 0.6
16. Pataki, Gilmore: Not registering

Monday, August 03, 2015

Seeding the Republican Debate

Whenever I get asked by people in my make believe world where I'm an influential blogger if polls matter so many months before February's Iowa caucuses, I always say yes!. Thanks to this Thursday's highly anticipated Fox News debate, I've never had a better supporting argument. Only ten candidates qualify for this primetime debate, while all other candidates, barring a tie for the 10th spot, get relegated to an earlier 5:00 forum. (The deadline for national polls to be considered is tomorrow at 5:00 pm EDT.) Last Sunday, I determined that of the seventeen candidates, eight could book their tickets to Cleveland, four danced on the bubble (inside of which I put John Kasich and Chris Christie, outside of which languished Rick Perry and Carly Fiorina), and five had no chance.

Since then, however, we've had four national polls. Should I amend my prediction? Here are the updated standings from the Real Clear Politics' average of the polls. I'm putting the updated polling averages second and sorting the list by that number. Last Sunday's polling averages are listed first.

1. Donald Trump--------18.2--->20.8 (+2.6; stayed #1)
2. Scott Walker----------12.0--->13.3 (+1.3; rose from 3 to 2)

3. Jeb Bush---------------13.4--->12.5 (-0.9; fell from 2 to 3)
4. Ben Carson-------------6.4--->6.2 (-0.2; rose from 5 to 4, despite drop in average)
5. Ted Cruz----------------5.4--->6.0 (+0.6; rose from 8th to tie for 5th)
5. Mike Huckabee--------6.2--->6.0 (-0.2; rose from 6th to tie for 5th, despite drop in average)
5. Marco Rubio-----------7.0--->6.0 (-1.0; fell from 4th to tie for 5th)
8. Rand Paul---------------5.6--->5.8 (-0.2; fell from 7th to 8th, despite rise in average)
9. John Kasich-------------1.8--->3.5 (+1.7; rose from 10th to 9th)
10. Chris Christie---------2.8--->3.0 (+0.2; fell from 9th to 10th, despite rise in average)
11. Rick Perry-------------1.8---->2.5 (+0.7; stayed #11)
12. Rick Santorum--------1.4--->1.5 (+0.1; stayed tied for 12th)
12. Bobby Jindal----------1.2--->1.5 (+0.3; rose from 14th to tie for 12th)
14. Carly Fiorina----------1.4--->0.7 (-0.7; fell from tie for 12th to 14th)
15. Lindsey Graham------0.0--->0.5 (+0.5; stayed in 15th)
T16: George Pataki and James Gilmore: Still not registering


  • We still have eight candidates who are clearly in. They did a lot of shuffling--most dramatically Rubio's drop and Cruz's rise--but even that scrambling has more to do with razor tight standings from than actual tectonic shifts in the race. The difference between fourth place and eighth place is just 0.4 points. One released poll today or tomorrow could totally shuffle them again.
  • Interestingly, that second tier--those from fourth to eighth place--is a relevant race ahead of Thursday's debate. These debates always have those polling highest in the center of the stage, giving them a prime podium position. For example, if it were a seven-candidate debate, the candidate polling highest stands in the center, and then the next two are on either side of him, and out we go from there, until those polling the lowest slouch forlornly on the margins. With ten candidates, we'll have two sharing the center, and then two candidates directly next to them on each side, giving us four prominent positions. We know who will occupy three of those four, but the remaining polls between now and tomorrow's polling deadline will determine who will be the fourth.
  • Our bubble has shrunk from four to two. Kasich rose to ninth with a lot of momentum, so he's almost certainly our ninth debater. Fiorina is eliminated; her four polls since last Sunday sported three 1s and then a goose egg in yesterday's NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, so her RCP average has fallen below Santorum and Jindal's to an almost Patakiesque 0.7.
  • That leaves Christie and Perry vying for the last spot, barring a massive polling surprise this week. Here's a closer look, with their last six polls next to their averages (most recent poll first):
    • -----10. Christie, 3.0---3, 3, 2, 4, 3, 3
    • -----11. Perry, 2.5:-----3, 2, 2, 3, 4, 1
  • That's close! Christie is still inside of the bubble and Perry outside of it, but with two more days of polling to move things, it's far from certain. Our next poll bumps out the oldest of those six, which Christie led by 2. If Perry leads that new poll by one, he matches Christie. If Perry leads a new poll by two, he surpasses Christie. And there will probably be more than one poll released between today and tomorrow at 5, so that spot is really uncertain. Forget Trump, Walker, and Bush; this Christie-Perry race is THE thing to watch over the next 34 hours of polls. Plus, they still might tie and both get in, remember.


I've decided to seed these eleven candidates heading into this debate. I am not ranking their likelihood of winning the nomination--I dedicated an entire month to that. Instead, I'm seeding them on likelihood of doing well in the debate and coming away with more people seriously considering them for their primary vote. I'll count it down from the candidate most likely to do poorly to the candidate most likely to do well.

Group 1: A lot to lose
11. Ben Carson: He has no experience doing this sort of thing, and he has no political record to reference. "I'm really good at separating conjoined twins" does not double as a good political platform. I expect most things he says to sound hollow and a little Monday Morning Quarterbacky, and there's a chance his foreign policy answers will embarrass him.

10. Scott Walker: Walkerholics will hate this ranking, but I find him wooden and too deliberate. His supporters will spin that he just means business, but post-debate polls won't recognize that. That doesn't mean he's not a top contender for the nomination, though.

Group 2: The Wildcards
9. Donald Trump: As if he could belong in any other category. Most expect him to fall on his face, but it seems like 50 percent of a debate performance is confidence, and he has confidence oozing out of his scalp. He's certainly not afraid of the spotlight. Can he talk substantively on the issues, though? (And will supporters care if he can't?)

8. Rick Perry: He swears he's been preparing this time, and he'd benefit from the low expectations. From everything I've seen about Perry 2016, it seems he's perfected short, confident answers. If he does a decent job on stage, it'll look great. But if all his preparing hasn't actually helped, he'll again make a fool of himself and probably won't be taken seriously for the rest of the campaign. A true wild card. (Maybe he'd prefer cutting his teeth on the afternoon forum first?)

Group 3: They'll do well
7. Marco Rubio: The last couple weeks have been hardest on Bush and Rubio. People have seemingly forgotten about Rubio as the handsome young Latino Floridian savior of the party, and he's fallen in the polls. I expect him to hit foreign policy hard and call out others on stage for not having his foreign policy chops.

6. Mike Huckabee: Eight years ago, he rode debates to an Iowa victory. He's pretty likable up there. I do wonder, however, if he might look too vanilla compared to some of the louder voices on stage.

5. Chris Christie: Speaking of louder voices. It's time for the party to start falling in love again with Christopher Christie. It might not happen on Thursday, but it'll happen. Oh, it'll happen. (Or maybe not.)

4. Rand Paul: Like his father, he has a way of sounding like a sane man surrounded by insanity. He's level headed, engaging, and sports a more creative platform than anyone on stage, which can help him stand out. But he might also say some unpopular things. His choice.

Group 4: High upside
3. Ted Cruz: He has the best debating chops in the field, but are these debates really debates? Rather than go back and forth while challenging each other's positions, these candidates will mostly try to pivot from answering questions to spitting out their stump speeches and attacking Hillary Clinton. That nullifies Cruz's intellectual advantage. That being said, he's cool, articulated, and glows with conservative conviction, which is a great way to win a Republican Primary debate.

2. Jeb Bush: No one has bled more polling points than him over the last month. I expect him to bring his A game, and he has a good record to boast. I also think he has low expectations because he's a Bush and so many conservatives remain skeptical. If he looks confident, competent, and hammers home his conservatism in most areas, that will play really well. Look for him to have an empathetic response to the immigration question.

1. John Kasich: A popular, confident, no-nonsense Ohio governor famous for memorable one-liners with the Cleveland home field advantage? If the crowd can affect this thing, watch out! That will look great on TV.
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