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“Electability May Be Hillary Clinton’s Secret Weapon”: “Can Win In November” Is Top Candidate Quality Voters Are Looking For

It’s a bit early in the presidential nominating process for “electability” arguments to become prominent. Voters are just now hearing candidates’ messages, which do not typically revolve around the ability to win a general election (though that may be a component in the message). Some of the more ideological voters may sense that caring more about electability than about core values or policy goals is unprincipled. But in polarized times like our own, the closer we get to the final choice of presidential standard-bearers, the more we’ll hear discussions of their strengths and weaknesses as general-election candidates.

Interestingly enough, entrance polls from Iowa and exit polls from New Hampshire show almost identical percentages of Democratic and Republican participants saying “Can win in November” is the top candidate quality they are looking for (as compared to perceptions of candidates’ empathy, honesty, and experience). But how these premature general-election worrywarts distribute their support differs considerably.

Among the 21 percent of Iowa Republicans placing a premium on electability, 44 percent caucused for Marco Rubio, 24 percent for Donald Trump, and 22 percent for Ted Cruz. As it happens, all three of these candidates stand for different theories of how a general-election campaign would be waged.

But among the 20 percent of Iowa Democrats prioritizing electability, 77 percent caucused for Hillary Clinton and only 17 percent for Bernie Sanders.

In New Hampshire, 12 percent of Republicans and 12 percent of Democrats ranked electability first among candidate characteristics.

Again, the Republicans so inclined were scattered, with 33 percent voting for Trump, 29 percent for Rubio (far above his overall percentage), and 16 percent for Kasich (New Hampshire Republicans were not, it appears, as impressed with Cruz’s “54 million missing evangelicals” electability argument, since only 6 percent of electability-first voters went in his direction).

But again, electability-first Democrats went 79-20 for Clinton.

Now it’s possible there’s some extrinsic reason for this finding other than Clinton having a superior perception of electability; maybe voters already inclined to vote for her simply find it easier to call her electable rather than “honest and trustworthy,” another choice. It’s more likely, though, that voters simply figure this well-known candidate running for president a second time is a better bet than a septuagenarian democratic socialist with a hybrid Brooklyn/Vermont accent and a strident tone. There’s really no reliable evidence for that; Sanders does as well as or better than Clinton in early general-election trial heats, but even if he didn’t, such polls aren’t terribly useful given the inclusion of many voters who aren’t yet paying attention to politics at all.

Later in the process, however, electability will begin to matter a lot to Democrats, especially if Republicans seem poised to nominate Rubio, who creates troubling generational comparisons to both Clinton and Sanders, or Donald Trump, whose character and conduct could create many millions of swing voters.

As I noted when listening to her in Iowa, Clinton does spend a good amount of time warning Democrats of the long-term damage Republicans could do if they controlled both Congress and the White House in 2017. That certainly gets people thinking about electability, and also thinking about liberal policies that need to be defended as opposed to less-immediate goals like amending the Constitution to ban unlimited corporate-campaign spending or building a majority to impose a single-payer health-care system on a balky Congress.

In any event, Clinton would be smart to explore these themes more often, and see what happens. It’s one thing to accuse Sanders of promoting “pie in the sky” policy ideas. It’s another altogether to describe him as a high-risk candidate who’ll invite catastrophe if he loses and won’t accomplish much if he wins. And Sanders would be smart to spend more time talking about the unconventional alliances he put together in and out of office in Vermont. Electability will eventually matter a lot.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, February 11, 2016

February 12, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, Electability, General Election 2016, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“Live By The Media’s Favor, Die By The Media’s Disfavor”: After Pumping Him Up For Months, The Press Turns On Marco Rubio

Marco Rubio is in serious trouble, so he’s now attacking Donald Trump, something he hasn’t been as eager to do before. While it may produce a return slap from the Republican front-runner, it probably won’t be enough to shift the discussion around Rubio, who is now learning a very hard lesson: Live by the media’s favor, die by the media’s disfavor.

Rubio’s rapidly shifting fortunes demonstrate how capricious those ups and downs in coverage can be. As much as we might like to believe that we’re nothing more than observers, chronicling the events that take place in as fair a way as we can, the media inevitably shape events too. As Walter Lippman wrote in 1922, news coverage “is like the beam of a searchlight that moves restlessly about, bringing one episode and then another out of darkness into vision.” For a long time, the light shining on Rubio illuminated the things that people thought made him a formidable general election candidate. But when the light’s focus shifted, things got very bad very fast.

A lot of Republicans fail to understand media dynamics because they’ve bought in so fully to their own propaganda about how the liberal media are biased against conservatives. Here’s how Sen. Orrin Hatch explains Rubio’s fall:

“Democrats can run a younger person like John F. Kennedy because the media is with them. Republicans will have a more difficult time because if somebody’s young, they’re going to get beaten up like never before by this biased media.”

Putting aside the utility of Kennedy’s experience running for president 56 years ago in explaining what’s going on today, the notion that the media were biased against Marco Rubio is ludicrous. In truth, no other Republican candidate got more glowing coverage for months than Rubio did; as I and others have pointed out, there have periodically been waves of stories about how Rubio was about to have his moment and rocket to the front of the race, since those in the know understood just what a formidable general election candidate he would make.

The trouble was that Republican voters never seemed to clue in to what the insiders were telling them. And even though after the Iowa caucuses media outlets everywhere declared Rubio the real winner despite his third-place finish, the Rubio explosion never happened. So when last Saturday’s debate came, the stage was set for a new story about Rubio. Chris Christie mercilessly attacked him for repeating a line about how “Barack Obama knows exactly what he’s doing” was the hook for the new narrative.

Why was Rubio’s performance in that debate such a big deal? It wasn’t because there’s something objectively horrifying about a candidate repeating a talking point a bunch of times, even after getting called out on it by an opponent. The real problem was the substance of what he was saying: that Barack Obama is intentionally trying to destroy America, a rancid idea that is no less vile for being common on the right. The repetition got so much attention in part because reporters approach debates by looking for some supposedly revealing moment or exchange that can be replayed over and over again. All the better if it involves confrontation (as this one did, between Rubio and Christie) and all the better if if makes somebody look foolish (as this one also did).

It also created a new story to write about — Is Rubio too robotic? — that reporters may have been primed for by watching Rubio’s message discipline on the campaign trail. That’s critical to understand, too: among the media’s most important biases is a bias toward the new. A new event, a new story, a new narrative will always be more interesting than another iteration of a story you’ve written ten times before. After writing “Rubio Poised to Break Out” for months, the media was ready for the dramatic shift to “Rubio Crashes and Burns.”

And then, just two days after the debate, Rubio had a brain fart during a town hall meeting, repeating twice the same line about pop culture getting rammed down our kids’ throats — saying it, then immediately saying it in almost exactly the same words again. That was too good for the press corps to pass up, since it reinforced the emerging storyline. (This narrative has also been pushed forward by his opponents.) Then when Rubio came in fifth in New Hampshire, the cascade of negative stories continued, leaving him where he is today.

Though he has taken responsibility for his own poor performance in the debate, if he’s like most candidates (both Democrat and Republican), Rubio probably thinks he’s not being treated fairly by the media. But nobody gets to have it both ways. You can’t say that it’s entirely appropriate to characterize a third-place finish in Iowa as a grand victory, then say it’s unfair to characterize a fifth-place finish in New Hampshire as a crushing defeat. You can’t say that everyone should pay attention to all the things that on paper make you a strong candidate, but object when too much attention is paid to your real-life flaws. And you can’t bask in your positive coverage, then object when you screw up and that winds up on the front page, too.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, February 11, 2016

February 12, 2016 Posted by | Chris Christie, GOP Primary Debates, Marco Rubio, Media | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“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

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