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“In Search Of A David To Take On Goliath”: Will The Republican Establishment Rally To John Kasich?

As expected, Donald Trump cruised to a crushing victory in New Hampshire on Tuesday night. (Who would have believed last June when Trump entered the race that we’d be yawning at his winning New Hampshire?) Trump blew away his competitors, securing well above 30 percent of the vote – more than double that of the first runner-up.

And that’s where the real story of New Hampshire lies: Ohio Gov. John Kasich came from the bottom of the pack to secure a second-place finish. Will he be the savior to deliver us from Trump?

“Enormous pressure is on the establishment wing to consolidate around one candidate soon,” Republican strategist Ron Bonjean says, “or else it will hand the Republication nomination over to Trump.” Indeed, the Republican primary has made a fickle fashion show thus far. The establishment and donor classes have tried on different candidates, sizing up their chances of taking down Trump before casting them aside for the next contender.

Even before Trump took over the race, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush was supposed to be the party’s heir-apparent. Leading in the earliest polls (pre-Trump, of course), he had the name and the cash to make the establishment drool. But Trump’s entrance into the race flat-lined Bush’s already lackluster campaign, and Jeb’s been floundering ever since to regain steam, with little success. Consider that his campaign is touting his fourth-place finish in New Hampshire as a sign of great momentum. Please clap.

Then there was Ben Carson, an outsider like The Donald but more humble than braggart. Carson shot to favor in August and soared so close to Trump in the polls that the nervous front-runner publicly compared him to a child molester and mocked his self-described violent past. Amid more questions about his biography and bizarre religious and historical beliefs, Carson’s near-catatonic excuses proved ineffective and his support plummeted by mid-November.

Enter Sen. Ted Cruz, who almost immediately rose to second place. A month out from the Iowa caucus, he secured endorsements from influential conservatives in the state like Rep. Steve King. Yet almost as quickly as Cruz settled in behind Trump, the Republican establishment wanted him out. It turns out that nearly everyone who has come into contact with the senator from Texas dislikes him. With a passion.

Faced with the option of a President Trump or a President Cruz, the GOP looked ready to unfurl a “Make America Great Again” banner over the White House. Yet rather than capitalizing on this momentum, Trump busied himself picking a fight with the GOP’s official mouthpiece, Fox News, skipping the last debate before the caucus. Meanwhile, Cruz zeroed in on Iowa’s evangelical vote and came out of the Feb. 1 caucus with a surprise win.

Now desperate, the establishment looked to Florida Sen. Marco Rubio for salvation. Rubio took the bronze in Iowa but treated it like a runaway victory, and that was good enough for the Washington establishment. He shot up in national polls and climbed to second place behind Trump in New Hampshire last week. He looked to be just the bright, energetic contender the party had been waiting on to unite its factions and take down Trump – until he famously malfunctioned at last week’s GOP debate, earning nicknames like “Rubot” and “Marcobot.” Rubio finished fifth in New Hampshire.

Which brings us to Ohio Gov. John Kasich. “What’s clear is that Christie’s suicide attack against Rubio had an impact on voters who turned to Kasich and Bush as an alternative,” says Bonjean. Long overlooked by the Republican establishment, the governor is suddenly number two.

Kasich bet the farm on New Hampshire. Barely two months ago, he was polling sixth among GOP candidates in the Granite State. He put in more appearances there than any other Republican and built up a muscular ground operation, and it paid off.

Whether or not Kasich’s win is also a win for the establishment is up to the party itself. The revolving door of favored alternatives to Trump is spinning faster and faster, nurturing the chaos that has handicapped Republican opposition to Trump from the start. But if it stops with Kasich, there could be bright days ahead.

Kasich is everything Trump is not. He’s experienced – serving nine terms in Congress before becoming governor; bipartisan – the twice-elected chief executive of critical swing state Ohio; thoughtful ­– he’s consistently touted realistic and detailed policy platforms, and even The New York Times endorsed him as “the only plausible choice for Republicans tired of the extremism and inexperience on display in this race.” He’d be a formidable opponent to Democrats in the general election.

If Republicans can rally around Kasich, Trump’s a goner. It’s a big if – Kasich didn’t finish far enough ahead of Bush (who finished fourth) or Rubio to decisively clear the field. Without a concerted effort to consolidate voters around one candidate, the madness seems ripe to continue in South Carolina. My guess is that Trump will continue his winning streak in the Palmetto state next week – though pundits predict Cruz might carry the day with the evangelical vote, my read is that anti-immigrant sentiment runs so deep in the South, where voters are still miffed that Barack Obama has been president for eight years, that Trump will prevail. But still, the division would remain. But if Republicans rally around Kasich, where can Trump go from South Carolina? Not very far, if two-thirds of the GOP sided with Kasich and the rational wing of the party.

All we’ve heard from the Republican establishment this cycle is weeping and the gnashing of teeth over Trump’s lead. And now they have a man in hand who could topple the tyrant – let’s see if they truly want to.

 

By: Emily Arrowood, Assistant Editor for Opinion, U.S. News & World Report, February 10, 2016

February 11, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Establishment Republicans, John Kasich | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“The Momentum Premise”: The GOP Race Is As Crazy And Wide Open As It’s Ever Been

After the results in Iowa, I crowed about how I called it. Now that the New Hampshire results are in, I have to own the fact that I faceplanted. I predicted that Donald Trump would underperform and that Marco Rubio would overperform (and win, even!). After Trump’s dominating victory, and Rubio’s meek fifth-place finish, I must admit that I was totally wrong. Fair is fair.

Where did I go wrong? By putting my faith in momentum.

The idea that candidates accumulate or lose this thing called momentum based on how they perform relative to expectations in a primary, while sometimes true (remember Bill Clinton in 1992?) is also not an iron law of politics, and perhaps less so now than at any time, when the media world is so fragmented. Back when there were only three networks, and all three were saying that So-and-So is outperforming expectations and gaining momentum, it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Voters only had so many places to turn for information and analysis, and whatever the media Powers That Be declared as truth often came to be. But today, with hundreds of news organizations covering the election in their own way, neither the fragmented media nor voters themselves need to buy the momentum premise and feed it.

And in hindsight, is it really so hard to see how even after losing his momentum in Iowa, Trump’s message would still appeal to New Hampshire voters? After all, this is a state that rewarded the working-class populism of Pat Buchanan in 1992 and 1996. The state has lost more manufacturing jobs to trade than any other state, and its now infamous heroin epidemic must reinforce the general impression of a societal malaise and decline that calls for a strongman who can, well, Make America Great Again.

As for Rubio, well… that debate failure really, really mattered. I have high regard for Rubio, who I think understands the political challenges facing the GOP better than any other candidate in the race, who has actually shown depth on the issues, and with whom I agree on most issues (though certainly not all). After his faceplant, I downplayed it. People only tuned in during the second half of the debate! They’re not going to pay attention to the debate replays because of the Super Bowl! Actual voters didn’t see it the way the chattering class did!

In hindsight, I must concede that it’s not that I thought it wouldn’t have an impact, it’s that I didn’t want it to have an impact.

So, what to make of the results now? My support for Rubio notwithstanding, it’s pretty much the worst possible outcome for the GOP. As a card-carrying member of the anybody-but-Trump, anybody-but-Cruz crowd, the hope for the New Hampshire primary was to solidify the non-Trump, non-Cruz vote (which happens to be the biggest slice of the vote) by kicking out most of the half dozen candidates running for that vote. Instead, it did exactly the opposite.

New Hampshire elevated John Kasich and Jeb Bush. Kasich seems like an honorable man and a talented administrator, but he’s almost certainly too moderate to win in the primary and too uncharismatic to win in the general. His second-place finish, by boosting his campaign, only hurts the GOP by encouraging him to stick around and take votes from the others.

And as for Bush, his heart just isn’t in it, which means he’s likely not going to win anything. And he’s a Bush, which means putting him as the face of the party in a change election, at a time when the GOP needs to change, would be a disaster. Like Kasich, the only thing he can do with his new lease on life is to hurt the party.

And yet… the race is as wide open as it’s ever been. Cruz is doing very well and has a plausible path to the nomination. Bush has a plausible path to the nomination if Rubio keeps foundering and Bush can consolidate the establishment vote. Rubio has a plausible path to the nomination if he bounces back. Even Trump has a plausible path to the nomination, now that he’s shown he can win primaries and has scattered his opponents who, inexplicably, still fail to attack him in any meaningful way.

Iowa and New Hampshire are supposed to winnow the field. Instead, they have blown it wide open. The 2016 Republican presidential nomination is as up for grabs as it’s ever been.

 

By: Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, The Week, February 10, 2016

February 11, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP Primary Debates, Marco Rubio | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Perfect Storm Of Indecisiveness”: There Are Only Two Paths Left For The GOP: Chaos Or Catastrophe

Coming out of New Hampshire, the Republican Party faces two possible scenarios: chaos or catastrophe.

Right now, either looks equally possible.

Let’s start with the chaos.

Perhaps the biggest question going into the New Hampshire primary was whether Donald Trump would match, fall short of, or surpass his polling numbers. He fell several points short in Iowa, leading many analysts to conclude that his support could be soft, with voters willing to express enthusiasm for Trump to pollsters, but balking at the prospect of actually voting for him.

New Hampshire failed to make it a trend. Trump finished with about 35 percent of the vote — which is pretty much at or slightly above where he’d been polling over the past week. And that might indicate that his considerable support in upcoming states is solid. If so, Tuesday’s victory will be followed by several more over the coming weeks.

But that’s exactly what most analysts and pundits have been predicting for quite a while — even many of those who have remained broadly bearish on Trump’s chances. So what else is new?

This: complete disarray among the other candidates. Had Cruz come in a strong second — say, around 30 percent to Trump’s 35 — that would have combined with his victory in Iowa to make him the clear alternative to Trump. Likewise, had Rubio given Trump a run for his money, that would have built on his surprisingly strong third-place showing in Iowa to make him, if not the definitive non-Trump option, then at least a strong contender to battle Cruz for that distinction in the upcoming Nevada caucus, South Carolina primary, and beyond.

Instead, the GOP ended up with a perfect storm of indecisiveness. Besides Trump, no candidate inspires as much derision among rock-ribbed conservatives as John Kasich, who came in a wan second place with 16 percent, fewer than half as many votes as Trump. Then came last week’s wunderkind, Ted Cruz, who barely managed to come in ahead of Jeb “Please Clap” Bush and everyone’s favorite robot, Marco Rubio.

It already looks like Chris Christie’s sixth-place showing is going to drive him from the race. The same will soon likely be true of Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson, who brought up the rear. But the top five finishers? It’s hard to see why any of them would quit on the basis of their performances so far.

Cruz can pin his hopes on the South, and especially his delegate-rich home state of Texas, which votes on March 1. Rubio can continue to believe that despite the scorching humiliations of the last week, he’s the frontrunner-in-waiting that so many establishment Republicans desperately want him to be and thought they saw emerging on the night of the Iowa caucuses.

Kasich, meanwhile, certainly won’t quit after ending up the runner-up. And that leaves Bush, who won’t quit either — not after besting Rubio, his one-time protégé and present-moment bête noir. Bush still has money and a flush super PAC on his side. Had he finished in the basement in New Hampshire, he would have quit in abject embarrassment. But now he’ll have a chance, if not to win, then at least to bow out later on with a smidgen of his honor intact.

And that, my friends, is a perfect storm of chaos: Trump riding high, but not high enough to best the non-Trump vote, while the non-Trump vote remains badly splintered, with no movement at all toward clarifying which single candidate might emerge to challenge him, and the various options training their fire (and tidal waves of negative ads) on each other.

For the past several months, the smartest of the Trump doubters have based their case on Trump’s relatively low ceiling of support. Yes, he’s leading the polls in a very crowded field, but that ceiling (never higher than the mid-30s) is unlikely to go much higher, and certainly not past a majority in any state. As soon as the non-Trump vote falls in behind an establishment candidate, he’ll be beaten.

But what if that doesn’t happen before the GOP primaries become winner-take-all in mid-March? In that case, Trump is going to start piling up an awful lot of delegates, even if his share of the popular vote never rises above 40 percent. That might not be enough to clinch the nomination, but it would be enough to give us the most riveting political convention in a very long time.

Who would emerge from the chaos in Cleveland? Trump? Cruz? Rubio? Bush? Paul Ryan? Mitt Romney? It could be any of them. Or someone else not currently on anyone’s radar screen.

But there is, of course, another possibility: the catastrophe of Donald Trump winning the nomination outright and competing head-to-head with the Democratic nominee to become president of the United States.

For that to happen, he’d probably need several of the non-Trump options to remain in the race through March, a significant number of their supporters to pull the lever for him when their first choice does drop out, and (most ominously) substantial numbers of Democrats to vote for him in those states that have open primaries (including South Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Michigan, Illinois, Missouri, Wisconsin, and Indiana).

The first scenario looks likely. The second and third somewhat less so. But we just don’t know.

Just as we don’t know the outcome of a general election contest that pitted a demagogic megalomaniac against Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders.

Or what he would do once elected to the most powerful job in the world.

 

By: Damon Linker, The Week, February 10, 2016

February 11, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Establishment Republicans, GOP | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Voter Turnout Challenges Sanders’ Recipe For Success”: There Is No Real Evidence Supporting His Thesis

It’s not exactly a secret that Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign faces skeptics when it comes to “electability.” With so much on the line in 2016, including the prospect of a radicalized Republican Party controlling the White House and Congress, plenty of Democratic voters, even some who may like Sanders and his message, are reluctant to nominate a candidate who’s likely to fail in a general election.

And on the surface, those concerns are hard to dismiss out of hand. Sanders is, after all, a self-described socialist senator running in an era in which most Americans say they wouldn’t support a socialist candidate. He’s 74 years old – two years older than Bob Dole was in 1996. Sanders has no experience confronting the ferocity of the Republican Attack Machine.

When GOP officials, leaders, and candidates take steps to help the Sanders campaign, it’s pretty obvious why.

But Sanders and his supporters have a counter-argument at the ready. Below these surface-level details, the argument goes, Sanders’ bold and unapologetic message will resonate in ways the political mainstream doesn’t yet understand. Marginalized Americans who often feel alienated from the process – and who routinely stay home on Election Day – can and will rally to support Sanders and propel him to the White House.

The old political-science models, Team Sanders argues, are of limited use. Indeed, they’re stale and out of date, failing to reflect the kind of massive progressive turnout that Bernie Sanders – and only Bernie Sanders – can create.

This isn’t the entirety of Sanders’ pitch, but it’s a key pillar: the Vermont senator will boost turnout, which will propel him and Democratic candidates up and down the ballot to victory.

There is, however, some fresh evidence that challenges the thesis.

In last week’s Iowa caucuses, turnout was good in the Democratic race, but it dropped when compared to 2008, the last competitive Democratic nominating fight. (Republicans, however, saw turnout increase this year to a new, record high.)

In yesterday’s New Hampshire primary, turnout was again strong, and with nearly all of the precincts reporting, it looks like about 239,000 voters participated in the Democratic primary. But again, in the party’s 2008 nominating contest, nearly 288,000 voters turned out, which means we’ve seen another drop. (Like Iowa, Republican turnout in New Hampshire yesterday broke the party’s record.)

This is obviously just two nominating contests, and there will be many more to come. It’s entirely possible that Sanders-inspired turnout will start to appear in time.

But Iowa and New Hampshire are arguably the two best states in the nation, other than Vermont, for Sanders. But that didn’t produce an increase in voter turnout.

It’s a metric that may give Democrats pause as the fight continues. If Sanders’ entire model of success is built on the idea that he’ll bring more voters into the process, it matters that there’s no real evidence of that happening, at least not yet.

Update:  I received an update from a reader who suggested comparing 2016 turnout to 2008 turnout isn’t entirely fair, since the 2008 Obama-Clinton race was an epic fight that drove numbers up. It was, in this sense, an outlier – which makes it a poor point of comparison.

And while there’s likely something to this, it actually helps reinforce my point: if a 74-year-old socialist is going to become president of the United States, he’d need to boost turnout in ways without modern precedent. Or more to the point, he’d need to be able to match and build on the kind of turnout Dems saw in 2008. So far, the numbers simply don’t show that.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, February 10, 2016

February 11, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Electability, Election 2016 | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Different Analyses Of What’s Wrong With America”: Here’s The Big Difference Between Bernie Sanders And Donald Trump

Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary represented about as emphatic a rejection as you could imagine of that imposing monolith we’ve been calling “the establishment.” Bernie Sanders certainly felt it. “The people of New Hampshire have sent a profound message to the political establishment, to the economic establishment, and by the way, to the media establishment,” he said. “The people want real change.” On the Republican side, you could almost hear the establishment whimpering sadly as the possibility of Donald Trump being their nominee became even more real.

But we shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking that Sanders’ and Trump’s success — whether temporary or not — represents two sides of the same coin, a single phenomenon manifesting itself simultaneously in both parties.

That isn’t to say there aren’t a few similarities between the messages the two men are sending. People joke about Sanders and Trump both being supporters of single-payer health care, even though Trump’s “support” consists of a couple of favorable comments years ago; the truth is that he doesn’t seem to know or care much about health care, just like most policy issues. But Trump has sounded some economic populist themes, particularly on trade, where he’s been as skeptical as Sanders of the free trade policies pursued by Democratic and Republican administrations alike. And Trump has no particular commitment to conservative ideology, so if he does become the nominee, don’t expect him to advocate for traditional Republican economic ideas.

That aside, Trump and Sanders have fundamentally different analyses of what’s wrong with America and its government, and what ought to be done about it.

Anger has been the signature emotion of this election on the Republican side. And while there’s no question that many Democratic voters have problems with what has happened during the Obama years, they’re not angry so much as they are disappointed. And that disappointment is really with governing itself — the difficult slog of legislation, the necessary compromises, the inevitable mix of victories and defeats. Hillary Clinton’s problem is that she doesn’t promise anything different; her point is not that she’ll remake American politics, but that through hard work and persistence she can squeeze out of that unpleasant process some better results.

It’s a pragmatic, realistic message, but not one to stir the heart. Particularly for idealistic younger voters, Sanders’ vision of not just different results but a transformed process was bound to be appealing. To those liberals whose attachment to the Democratic Party is less firm — which may also be true of younger voters — Sanders says that the problem isn’t the other side, it’s the whole system, and the “oligarchy” that controls it.

Trump too has a message that transcends partisanship. But where Sanders says the problem is that the system is corrupt because it’s controlled by the wealthy and corporations, Trump argues that the problem is stupidity. He doesn’t want to bring about some kind of transformation in the system. He wants to just ignore it, and produce unlimited winning through the sheer force of his will. For instance, they may both have problems with the trade agreements America has signed, but Sanders will tell you it’s because corporations exerted too much influence over the content of those agreements. Trump just says the agreements were negotiated by idiots, so we got taken to the cleaners by foreigners.

Here’s another important difference between the two: For all their misgivings about the Democratic establishment, Sanders’ supporters are idealistic, hopeful, and looking for dramatic change that is rooted in liberal ideology. They want more comprehensive government benefits in areas like health care and education, higher taxes on the wealthy, and greater restrictions on financial firms. In short, they want their party to be more ideologically pure.

Trump’s supporters, on the other hand, aren’t motivated by hope and idealism but by anger: anger at immigration, anger at Muslims, anger at foreigners, anger at a changing country that seems to be leaving them behind. They want a restoration of American greatness, the feeling of mastery over events and the world. They are far less interested in fulfilling a wish list of conservative policies — which is why they’re unfazed when other Republicans accuse Trump of not being a “real” conservative. He isn’t, and his supporters don’t really care.

There’s another difference: As dramatic as both victories in New Hampshire were, Trump and Sanders face very different prospects from this point forward. Trump is the overwhelming Republican frontrunner, standing far atop a chaotic race in which his opponents are dropping like flies. He may or may not become the nominee, but at the moment he’s got a much better shot than anyone else. Sanders, on the other hand, still trails Hillary Clinton in national polls and faces a daunting map. He’ll now have to go to states with large numbers of the minority voters among whom Clinton has been particularly strong.

We don’t yet know how deep the desire for “revolution” among Democrats really goes, and that question will probably determine the outcome of their primary race. The conservative rage that propelled Donald Trump to victory in New Hampshire, on the other hand, seems virtually inexhaustible.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Week, February 10, 2016

February 11, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, Ideology, New Hampshire Primaries | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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