This Campaign Has Revealed The Dirty Side of Republicans and Democrats

isRepublicans used to be the party of upper-income, educated Americans with a smattering of blue-collar whites and evangelicals bolstering their ranks.  The party shared a sense of belief in the value of education, immigrants and family.

While some of those tenants have held up over the years the influx of blue-collar whites into the GOP fold has also led to an erosion of support in affluent and middle class suburbs.  In turn, this has led to the the rise of candidates like Trump and Cruz and how winning candidates like Rubio who adhere to this older philosophy are viewed as establishment.

It’s also led to Republicans over the last several years becoming an increasingly antagonistic party doubling down on opposition to any governmental action.  But, what makes Cruz and Trump increasingly dangerous is their willingness to appeal to a culture of “white identity” in a way no other candidates have.

Indeed, every other Republican candidate has pushed back against it to an extent.  Bush views Trump as “extreme.”  Kasich has called Cruz “crazy.”  But, it is becoming increasingly clear that a solid plurality of the GOP, if not majority, favor Cruz’s and Trump’s views on immigration and immigrants.

For a small government conservative like myself who believes anybody should have a chance to succeed this is disappointing.  Instead, Republicans (conservatives if you call them that) are increasingly moving away from their small government roots and instead embracing the viewpoint of many Democrats, “I want to get mine.”

To be fair, melding small government, constitutional and free market principals to the modern GOP platform has always been a challenge.  Different candidates have taken different routes to adapt.  Trump has full on embraced the new “white identity” phenomenon gripping the GOP.  Cruz has adopted a mixed approach where he is just as tough on immigration and immigrants but talks about spending, small government and the constitution.  All the other candidates, including Rubio, have largely avoided taking such a path and have mimicked Romney and prior nominees.

Such strategies represent the various views the candidates have of their parties.  Older school candidates like Bush, Kasich, etc. view their party as that of Reagan (supporting immigration, free trade, etc.) as does Rubio (however he is a hardliner on illegal immigration).  Cruz and Trump see the shift occurring in their party toward a more downscale coalition and have adapted their messages accordingly.

If you listen to Trump and Cruz (and in conversations with some of their supporters) it is hard to miss the unmistakable fact they blame “immigrants” for Americans troubles.  This represents the views of their supporters who live in majority white, rural communities left behind in a global economy.  Cheap labor, facilitated by lack of immigration enforcement and free trade agreements have eroded the average American’s ability to compete against foreign labor.

That is partly what makes Trump’s ascension fascinating.  He has captured the hearts of a faction of the party less wedded to ideology and more faithful to the mantra “I want mine.”  Cruz has captured some of these voters as well but by wedding this ideal with free markets and a strong foreign policy he has added libertarians and hawks to his ranks.

Rubio is probably the pro-immigrant, affluent wing of the party’s best hope to not only win this year but also slow the tide of likely inevitable change sweeping through the party.  Bringing in an influx of immigrants into the party (which polls show Rubio would do against Clinton) might make individual candidates re-calibrate their messages going forward.

Then again, maybe not.  The rise of polarization and partisanship has been blamed on gerrymandering but in truth gerrymandering has facilitated the rise of the anti-establishment in the party.  Rural, majority-white districts have fed a Republican wing in the House that is obstructionist and these voters are the most likely to support Trump and Cruz.

If their is one saving grace for the party it is that after March 1st many of the states up for grabs (including many winner-take all contests) have smaller numbers of blue-collar Republicans and evangelicals.  It is particularly notable that an analysis by Civis Analytics found that Trump and Cruz do best in Congressional Districts where former Democrats abound (ie. the South and rural Northeast).  But in the West, where many Republican voters are non-evangelical or better educated, they fair poorly.

The party cannot count on demographics to carry their preferred nominees to victory though.  At some point party elders will have to come to terms with the fact that many of their supporters are not pro-trade, pro-immigration and pro-free markets.  Instead, they are likely many aspects of the modern Democratic coalition which wants what they deserve.

This phenomenon has been ignored for too long by GOP leaders.  They have had numerous warnings.  The multiple primary defeats of preferred nominees in 2010 (DE, CO and NV), 2012 (IN, MO) and in several Congressional races were the first signs.  Candidates like Santorum who challenged Romney were yet another sign.  The 2014 contests were more an aberration than a return to normalcy.

Until the party gets a clue on how to handle these competing factions of their coalition they will continue to splinter and lose Presidential contests.  For while the Democratic coalition has its issues and is splintered they are far more loyal to the party’s appearance of embracing immigrants and diversity.

 

 

Why Donald Trump Will Not Have A Lasting Impact On the GOP

Hogan_2014-02981-447

Larry Hogan, the pro gay-marriage, pro-choice Republican Governor of Maryland, is a perfect fit for his deeply blue state.

Liberals are giddy.  The Republican establishment is weary and resigned.  Donald Trump will define the party for this cycle and many more.  Or will he?  The conventional wisdom that Trump will turn off a generation of voters to the party is founded on a pretty simplistic assumption about his candidacy.  Donald Trump will define his party to a generation of young voters as being anti-immigrant, bigoted, racist, etc.

Except, Democrats have been saying this for a long time.  Certainly, the GOP has never had to deal with a potential nominee like Trump before.  I’ll give that.  But, all voters have extremely short memories and there are many competing theories about how younger voters form their partisan preferences.

The primary theory that seems to hold the most water is what I call “Presidential Choice Theory.”  No, the name is not as simplistic as it suggests.  Rather, young voters form their preferences based on how things are going under the incumbent party’s President they grow up under.

The best example of this would be George Bush’s tenure.  The Millennial generation is probably the most liberal generation in history and it came of age in a political cycle when the market tanked, the Iraq War went sideways and scandals rocked the Republican White House consistently.

Now, flip this around.  The Obama economy has been anything but stellar.  Sure, the economy has improved somewhat but the young still are struggling to find decent wage paying jobs, afford college, afford Health Insurance (which they are mandated to get with no off-setting age subsidy) and see the US still embroiled in foreign entanglements.  Is it any wonder the youngest Democrats are going towards a candidate like Bernie as opposed to Obama’s third term (Clinton)?  Well, it shouldn’t be.

Under Obama Democrats have seen  an erosion in their numbers among younger voters.  Where Obama won 68 percent in 2008 the party barely cracked 50 percent in 2010 and 2014.  In his reelection bid Obama only won 60 percent of the vote and their percentage of the electorate dropped.

It’s true that while Trump might represent the GOP this cycle has has already been rebuffed by the future of the party.  Remember South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley’s SOTU response?  Not only did she criticize the President she also criticized Trump’s rhetoric towards immigrants (she is one).  Even Cruz and Rubio, Trump’s primary rivals, are the children of immigrants.

Trump represents the past for the party.  Candidates like Haley, Rubio and Cruz represent the future and they have proven they can win over their party and actually do well among non-whites.  Cruz won almost half of Hispanics in 2012 and Rubio actually carried them in his 2010 bid.

There is yet one more reason I don’t worry that Trump will define the GOP for a generation.  The GOP is ideologically flexible, especially at the state level.  Liberals and Democrats can deny this all they want but they have lost ground in blue and purple states because of this simple fact.

You might be wondering how this is possible, especially when you see the rightward march of all the Presidential candidates.  Simple.  Republican voters are simply not that ideological in state elections.

Take the cases of Illinois and Massachusetts.  In Illinois, Republicans went from a socially conservative state senator in 2010 to a pro gay-marriage, pro-choice businessman in Bruce Rauner.  It was a smart choice.  Rauner won every county except Cook County and won by 5 points.  In Massachusetts, the party did not shift quite so much as they nominated 2010 candidate Charlie Baker.  But, Baker, like Rauner and Hogan (in Maryland) is pro-choice and pro gay-marriage.  The party base did not fight any of these candidates and these candidates rolled to victory in these deeply blue states.

Obviously, if Trump or a candidate like Trump came to define the GOP this would never be able to happen.  Admittedly, there is no way to know whether a) Trump will be the party nominee and b) his impact on future races.  But history suggests he won’t damage the party for a generation as many suggest.  Rather, it is more likely he will be yet another failed, has run Republican Presidential candidate the party forgets about and moves on.

 

 

 

George W. Bush and Trump Are A Lot Alike and the GOP Should Take Notice

US President Bush speaks to US military personnel at the Thunder Dome at Eielson Air Force Base in Fairbanks

U.S. President George W. Bush speaks to U.S. military personnel during a refuel stop at the Thunder Dome at Eielson Air Force Base in Fairbanks, Alaska, before continuing on for a three-nation tour of Asia, August 4, 2008. REUTERS/Larry Downing (UNITED STATES) – RTR20MJP

Sean Trende over at RCP has a thoughtful piece on the Trump phenomenon (in fact, it’s part of a three-piece column).  Trump connects culturally to his supporters in a way that transcends ideology and that matters.  Trump is not a rock-ribbed conservative and neither are his voters.

But none of this is surprising.  What is surprising at first glance (not so much later) is the comparison made between Trump and Bush.  Bush was a doctrinaire conservative on many issues (abortion, gay marriage, defense) and a life-long partisan in direct comparison to Trump.  But get beyond those differences and you see their similarities begin to emerge.

Both Bush and Trump grew up to pretty silver spoons.  Yes, Bush’s parents were richer but Trump went to private schools and elite colleges just like Bush.  Both were incredibly wealthy when they ran for the Presidency.  Yet, both had a cultural connection to rural America that transcends the current divide.

Almost all political analysis today divides things into worlds of black and white; pro/anti abortion, pro/anti legalization, etc.  In reality there is a significant segment of the public that simply does not care about these issues.  What they care more about is the cultural divide that is increasingly growing in our nation.

You can call this the rural/suburban/urban divide, the cultural divide but I think I tend to lean more towards Trende’s traditionalist vs. cosmopolitan view (full disclosure, I am a religious conservative with cosmopolitan views on gay marriage).

What connects Bush and Trump is their ability to discard their cosmopolitan views (on some issues) and connect directly with the traditional crowd.  Bush and Trump might have been born with silver spoons but their language and actions don’t suggest they did.

Think about the response to the Iraq War in the run-up to the 2004 election.Bush’s blunt, outspoken support for the War and the threat we faced connected with traditionalists in a way not seen since Perot.  All the silly attacks on Bush on his vocabulary, his accent, etc. did nothing to dent his support.  The same is true of Trump.  Why the hell can we not call illegals, well, illegals?  What’s wrong with saying radical Muslims want to kill us and moderate Muslims are weak for not doing about it?

This is why Bush’s support never faded until after he was reelected and why Trump continues to sit at 30 percent in many state surveys and nationally.  There is a base of voters, traditionalists, who connect to Trump at a visceral level.  We can call them downscale whites, blue-collar voters, etc. but at the end of the day they will always relate to Trump (let’s not forget Bush).

There are many reasons why this is important to the modern GOP.  First-off, it tells the GOP they have to navigate not just an ideological divide in their party but also a deeply cultural one.  Secondly, and most importantly, it means the party will have to rethink its ideological priorities to make its message more appealing just to its base.

Think about it this way.  Who runs GOP campaigns?  The cultural elite, aka cosmopolitans.  Who inhabits the offices of power in Congress and the RNC?  Cosmopolitans.  I can’t tell you how many articles I have read echoing this theme but it is very true.

All this creates a political minefield for the GOP.  Either they acquiesce to Trump and let him win the nomination, winning whites by significant margins but losing suburban and minority voters or they go towards a more cosmopolitan candidate like Rubio who would never garner Trump’s numbers among the politically ignored.

There is a third option.  Find another Bush.  In the current field the closest candidate the GOP has to fitting this description is Rubio and it has far more to do with his rhetoric than his style.  Yes, Rubio won’t win traditionalists the way Trump can but the difference is Rubio probably could take these losses while still adding to the party’s numbers among Millennials and minorities.  Trump is more of a win/lose scenario for while he is drawing in new voters he is driving others out of the party.

 

What Trump Means for the Future of the GOP

Donald Trump

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump greets supporters before speaking at a rally and picnic, Saturday, July 25, 2015, in Oskaloosa, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Donald Trump’s rise has shaken the very foundations of the GOP.  The 2016 election was supposed to be about a clash of ideas.  Instead, it has turned it a clash over personality and grievance based politics.

It is important to note that Trump’s rise in the GOP is not unprecedented.  He certainly represents a sizable wing of the party and one that has been growing in recent years.  But, unlike in years past, this wing of the party is now almost so large it can nominate a Presidential candidate.

The larger story about Trump has ignored the fact that Trump is the candidate of the “base.”  Trump is getting some base voters (as are all the candidates) but not in the traditional sense.  By traditional I mean voters that vote often and vote Republican.

Some history is worth discussing here.  In 1960 the GOP was largely a middle manager, businessman party with strong support in the suburbs and West.  Nixon’s 1968 appeal and strategy to peel off “blue-collar” and “Southern” voters worked but it cost the party an erosion of support in the suburbs.

Poor Gerald Ford could never keep these voters in the GOP camp and after Nixon they went back to the Democratic Party until Jimmy Carter’s fiasco in foreign policy and the intensifying Cold War drove them into Reagan’s arms.  Circumstances at the time were fortuitous to the GOP.  So much so in fact the GOP coalition not only grew with an influx of blue-collar voters but also suburban voters (The New Right), and social conservatives while the mainstream Republicans from the Midwest and moderate Northeastern wing also thrived.

What’s worth noting in this time is the rise of populists and very ideological conservatives.  Both were small groups at the time but by 1992 they were integral to GOP success.  While many conservatives stuck with H.W it was the populists who split between Clinton, Perot and Bush.

Ideologically these voters often chaffed under the GOP banner.  Many were union members and against free trade.  They also did not mind debt to finance supporting the middle class.  But they stuck with Reagan largely because they saw him as willing to stand up to the Soviet Union (the great Jacksonian American threat) and willing to try to make America great “again.”

To a degree George Bush’s 2004 election was contingent on his appeal to these voters.  However, considering many of these voters have not voted in several elections many may not have voted for Bush during his reelection campaign.  Rather, they probably rooted for it but did not vote.

Considering it sells to talk about ideological purity and gridlock it is little wonder the pundits have focused on the search for “purity.”  After the 2010 and 2012 elections the notion was reinforced with upstart primary challenges upsetting the GOP establishment’s favored candidates.

Except, many of these Tea Party voters were the kind of voters Trump appeals to but even then they were not base voters.  Rather, they showed up to vote to send a message against the status quo.  The true fiscal hawks and pro-free traders who make up the Tea Party’s ranks have gone to Cruz.

In truth, the “base” voters of the GOP have found their candidate in Cruz.  He fits the typical “true conservative” candidate mold on virtually every issue (pro free trade, anti-union, against gay marriage and abortion, etc.).  His pitch is specific to their desires and needs (we can win if we just give them a reason to vote).

Trump’s voters are much more driven by the candidate himself.  Much as Reagan had a force of personality to attract such a large coalition Trump does as well.  But Trump’s appeal is much more Buchaninistic (to create a word) than anything else.  The rich and powerful have sold out the middle class, the parties are in cahoots with big business, etc.  While modern day liberalism shares some of these views they, like many conservatives, also focus on social issues Trump backers just really don’t care about.

You could argue that we’ve seems recent forms of Trump in Huckabee and Santorum.  Yet, even these candidates incessant focus on social issues makes them unique from Trump.  Rather, Trump is very much in the mold of Buchanan who tended to ditch social issues and focus on the power structure of the US economy and democracy.

Sean Trende, over at RCP, uses a great example. “Think of it this way: Club for Growth, which Huckabee routinely railed against, would likely love Cruz, but I find it hard to believe that they would be excited about a more protectionist candidate like Trump.”

So, Trump is actually drawing in new, lower educated, politically diseffected whites into the process.  On the flip side though he is likely hastening the flight of upscale, suburban whites to the Democratic Party who now see higher taxes as worth the cost.

Trump’s campaign has been smart and fed the mindset that he is winning over base voters.  It allows Trump to talk about the issues he wants to talk about and avoid standard points on abortion and gay marriage.  Apparently, voters are smarter than the pundits and DC political class because Trump’s support has come from almost all wings of the party evenly.  But his biggest support is among less educated self identified moderates and liberals.  In other words the voters with loose affiliation to the party he is connecting with.

How long Trump can keep this game up is unclear.  Trump is not drawing enough support from within or outside the party to win a majority but only maintain a lead in a crowded field.  It cannot be kept up indefinitely.  If a true alternative like Rubio or Cruz rally support they could end Trump’s run.

Long-term the GOP’s issues go beyond Trump.  They need candidates who have his force of personality who can bridge the ideological/partisan gap.  Maybe a Rubio could if Trump was not in the race.  Perhaps a better message or micro-targeting is the answer.  But the GOP’s ideological cleavages are becoming even more pronounced than Democrats and if not fixed it could tear the party apart (considering almost a 3rd of Republicans in any given survey disapprove of their party maybe it already has).

 

 

 

 

Hillary’s Worst Traits Are Showing

isHillary Clinton had the nomination all to herself.  After surviving a horrific Summer where virtually every story about her was negative she weathered an 11 hour Congressional hearing on Benghazi, scared Joe Biden away from running and bumped up in the polls.

Clinton genuinely appeared to have calmed down.  Until the Sanders campaign picked up steam.  The two are now virtually tied in Iowa and Sanders lead in New Hampshire, after shrinking in December, has begun to grow again.  In short, Clinton could lose both Iowa and New Hampshire, a nightmare scenario for her campaign.

Clinton does not have a lot of attacks to unload on the veteran Senator.  She’s tried with limited success to paint Sanders as pro-gun (Vermont may be blue but they like guns).  She’s also attacked his record on Wall-Street regulation (as if she is Wall-Street’s biggest enemy).  It has not worked.

But perhaps her biggest mistake was attacking the Senator on a liberal’s dream; Universal Healthcare.  Specifically, the former Secretary of State went on the attack by arguing Sanders truly does not support UHC (ahem, what) and would never be able to achieve it.

Certainly the second part is true.  Sanders is not a policy expert despite decades in the Senate and let’s be honest, a self described Socialist Senator from Vermont really would not do well in divided government.

But Hillary’s attack is also certainly wrong.  Sanders is a significant proponent of UHC.  In fact, he lobbied his home state Governor, Democrat Peter Shumlin, to implement its own version of UHC.

One problem, the plan would have been prohibitively expensive.  To implement the single-payer plan, the cost would have been $4.3 billion.  Vermont taxpayers would foot $2.6 billion and the Fed the rest.  For comparison the entire 2015 Vermont budget was $4.9 billion.

The Governor’s office estimated the state would need to impose new personal income taxes of up to 9.5 percent, on top of current rates that range from 3.55 to 8.95 percent. Businesses would be hit with an 11.5 percent payroll tax, on top of 7.65 percent payroll taxes employer pay for Social Security and Medicare.  No wonder lawmakers backed off.

So Clinton is right he would not know how to govern.  But she is also wrong he does not support UHC and it showcases her worst quality.  She is not a good candidate.  Not only is she not charismatic, she’s power-hungry and just not trustworthy.

Clinton certainly is a smart woman.  She has held so many high profile gigs it is hard to count them.  She can quote the ins and outs of policies lightning quick.  But none of that is honestly that useful to campaigning before a primary electorate that wants to hear more platitudes and hopes of liberal dreams being fulfilled.

In this the Clinton campaign fails because their candidate is simply not equipped to run an election that way.  She does not trust voters to behave rationally.  So, she pretends to be something she is not.

The examples of this backfiring are legion and they have been multiplying of late.  First, there was her campaign’s focus on making Clinton relatable to working, college educated women.  Except that failed because Clinton linked herself to a man who was as power-hungry as she was and easily made more than most women earn in a lifetime.

Then there was her “abuela” comment.  It was a relatively harmless attempt by the campaign to make Clinton’s new status as a Grandmother mean something to Latino voters.  Except it didn’t.  Instead, it surprised the campaign when thousands of Latinos, many Democrats, took to social media and in some cases the airwaves to argue Clinton, a privileged white women, had no idea what it was like to be an “abuela.”  Grievance culture sure is grand. Then came her disingenuous attack on Sanders stance on UHC.

Even worse, the Clinton campaign is being dogged by accusations of Bill Clinton’s past indiscretions (the author believes the man should be in jail).  In a recent interview Clinton was actually asked if she “enabled” her husband’s actions.  This was not on Fox News by the way.

At a time when the Sanders campaign is surging it would make sense for the campaign to want to debate ideas and values more.  Except, yet again, the Clinton’s penchant for secrecy and not trusting voters won out.  Only six Democratic debates have been scheduled and they have all been at times when viewership is low (Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays).  Indeed, the latest debate took place last night when it was competing with a divisional football playoff game.

Clinton has arguably won every debate she has been in.  Her command of history and the facts are impressive.  Her policy acumen shines through.  But when you hide that from the voters because you don’t trust them it makes it more likely these voters will act with their hearts in the ballot box.  Not their brains.

Perhaps Clinton’s saving grace is her opposition.  Martin O’Malley is a data driven technocrat who excites only actuaries and number crunchers.  Sanders, for all his strengthens, seems to behave as if he cannot win.

Indeed, Sanders has said he is leading a movement more than a campaign.  Despite his campaign’s gradual increase in infrastructure, funding and resources, Sanders still behaves as if he is merely representing the ideas of a movement.  As Brian Beutler at the New Republic writes, “Sanders, as New York Times columnist Ross Douthat has noted, often renders his criticisms of Clinton in the most positive possible light, prefacing his answers to debate questions with compliments and qualifiers.  If he took it to her and attacked her on her credibility and beliefs she would likely prove easy pray.

But he has not and Clinton remains the front-runner.  It is hard to imagine that changing in the near-term.  But what about the general?  If Clinton cannot even appear genuine to Democrats how can she be to a more skeptical electorate?

Clinton might school Trump on the issues but Trump would come off as at least honest.  Against a Ted Cruz she could go toe to toe but again, Cruz at least believe what he says whereas Clinton is questionable.  Finally, against a Rubio not only would he appear genuine but he could offer a generational contrast Cruz cannot (due to ideology).

Clinton cannot change who she his.  She’s a weak “beer” candidate.  She instead should focus solely on the issues.  Except she has broken with the base on Iran (wants new sanctions) and already criticized the liberal dream of UHC.  Further, due to modern campaigns being as much about culture as the issues she has to behave as somebody she is not.  Unfortunately, she is no better at that then she was in 2008.

 

Bernie Can Beat Clinton: Here’s How

16702549983_39be228dc7_nHillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee.  How can she not be?  She has a financial jaurguranaut behind her, the establishment supports her and she has crossover appeal with Independents and Moderates.  Enter Bernie Sanders.

The eccentric Senator from Vermont has largely turned conventional wisdom on its head.  Since he entered the race last year he has led in New Hampshire consistently.  Most analysts simply chalk this up to his geographic proximity to the state and the more liberal electorate in the state compared to Iowa.  Except a spate of recent polls out of Iowa now show the Senator either statistically tied or ahead of the First Lady.

This inevitably leads to the question of whether Sanders can actually compete with Hillary?  I unequivocally say yes.  I’m skeptical Bernie can win Iowa but recent polls are saying he can and if true it opens up a path to the nomination for the 75 year old.

Sanders has been plagued by the same problem that has hindered Trump’s support; electability.  It has taken time but many Republicans now believe Trump is electable (a sign of his strength among even GOP voters who won’t support him).  Sanders has not led consistently in national polls like Trump.  This has meant he has yet to convince the party he is electable.

But assume for a moment that Bernie does win Iowa.  He goes onto New Hampshire and wins there.  He hits Nevada and South Carolina at full steam.  It has long been assumed that Hillary’s lock on the party’s diverse base of young, single women and minorities is unbreakable.  But that assumption would be put to the test after two straight losses.

Indeed, in Iowa, the assumption was that Hillary’s lock on women would ensure her a solid victory in the state.  Yet, in the latest DMR survey the poll finds not just the two statistically tied but Sanders actually winning women under 45.  You know, Hillary’s bread and butter voters who favor abortion, gay marriage and are driven by issues of gender equality.

Flashback to 2008 and Hillary led in almost every poll out of the state up to the Caucus.  But then Obama won and Edwards surprised her.  That started the Clinton campaign’s death spiral.  Suddenly Obama became an electable alternative to Clinton and key parts of her coalition started to peel off to Obama (single women and men, urbanites, blacks and asians).  Combined with a superior ground game the Obama machine utterly destroyed Clinton.

In 2008 it seemed blacks, Asians and women needed a reason to abandon Clinton and Obama’s victory in Iowa gave them that.  A Sanders win in Iowa and New Hampshire could have the same impact.  Suddenly, Clinton’s support among minorities might dissipate just like 2008 and give Sanders an in in Nevada, South Carolina and future states.

Sanders would likely need this to happen.  Many Democratic states up after Nevada and South Carolina are in the heavily black Democratic South.  This supposedly means that Clinton has a firewall to fall back on except it assumes voters will not have gotten a green light from earlier votes to vote for Sanders.

The messages both candidates use matters.  Sanders focus on class is not the same message based on shared grievances that unites the Obama coalition.  But, it does unite the largely white Iowa and New Hampshire electorates.  Indeed, Nate Silver sees Sanders strength in Iowa and New Hampshire largely as a result of the white electorates that dominate both states.

This probably has a lot to do with it.  But, again, remember that Obama did not break out until after his Iowa win (in the states or nationally).  That could be the case for Sanders.  He will need it though.

Sanders path to the nomination runs through the heavily black South and the diverse West and East Coast.  Sure, he can bring out the crowds in big cities like Portland and Seattle (mostly white) but he needs to expand that coalition.  He’s done so in Iowa but until polls show he is doing it among non-white Democrats he still is a long shot for the nomination.

To be fair though, not many polls have been taken outside of the first four states.  So the only thing to go off beyond the first voting states is national polls.  They may be a good barometer of the race right now but if all these voters need is for Sanders to rack up two W’s to start to seriously consider Sanders it could spell trouble for Clinton.

 

Why I’m Skeptical Iowa and New Hampshire are Toss-ups in the Democratic Primary

clinton_sandersUnless you have been living under a rock for the past month the formerly sleepy Democratic Primary has begun to heat up.  Clinton’s commanding lead in Iowa has evaporated according to several polls and Sander’s advantage in New Hampshire has begun to diminish.  Yet, I find myself skeptical of both claims.  Hear me out.

For months Clinton has been able to maintain a large edge in Iowa.  Her lead has been built on massive margins among moderates and a slight lead among liberals.  The new NBC/WSJ poll finding out of Iowa shows her only with a 47-44 percent edge over the Vermont Senator.  Even when all caucus goers are included her lead is only six points.

One could point out that Sanders has seen a surge of support if individual donations and fundraising are any indication.  But, even when Clinton was being dogged by allegations of mishandling classified information (and she still is), her lead in Iowa remained formidable.  Only now her lead is shrinking?  That is hard to believe.

It is also hard to believe that Sanders edge in New Hampshire has shrunk to a mere 4 points and six points when the pool of likely voters is expanded.  New Hampshire has a more active liberal base than Iowa and is home to many voters familiar with the next-door Senator.

The NBC/WSJ survey is not the only poll to find these results. A poll by American Research Group (ARG) found Sanders ahead by 3 percent, 47-44, in Iowa.  In addition, it found Sanders with an identical, small lead in New Hampshire.  More ominously for the Clinton camp, a national survey conducted by IBD found Clinton with a small 43-39 lead nationally.  Things sure are tightening nationally aren’t they?

I would argue not so fast.  First, the polls usually tighten as voting nears.  This occurs because candidates tend to consolidate their bases.  Unlike the GOP contest, the Democratic primary really only has two candidates (functioning much like a general election contest).  Clinton’s lead in Iowa could never remain at the commanding 20 percent level she previously held but for her to lose it this suddenly in essentially a two-way race would be even more surprising than 2008.

Secondly, this casts doubts on polls, but polls have shown a remark tendency to cluster around each other.  This is not to say they purposely obscure their numbers but their results tend to mirror each other.  This phenomena was on full display in the 2014 midterms.  In numerous contests ranging from Wisconsin to Iowa to big leads for incumbents the polls tended to mirror each other.  Short of local polls in Wisconsin and Iowa they were also badly off.

Further complicating polling accuracy this go-around is the fact that on the GOP side Trump’s lead is built on attracting non-Caucus goers in Iowa and primary voters in New Hampshire.  Sander’s numbers in Iowa are built on the same except he has a stronger following among Independents.  General elections get higher turnout meaning likely voter screens are more accurate than in intra-party contests.

Lastly, polling in the last week is not a good long-term snapshot of where the race stands.  It was inevitable the polls would tighten but by so much is questionable.  In the end I still expect a single digit victory for Clinton in Iowa and a similar victory for Sanders in New Hampshire.  After that the map just does not favor Sanders.  Short of a Clinton indictment or the bottom dropping out of her campaign she is likely to be the flawed, Democratic nominee for President.

 

The Establishment Needs to Rally to Rubio: Now!

marco-rubioIf the establishment is serious about stopping Trump and Cruz they need to rally around somebody.  Now!  Today, the establishment is divided between Kasich, Bush, Christie and Rubio.  Where their support should go should be a no-brainer; Rubio!

It is true Trump is fading to 2nd/3rd in Iowa and he has about a 30 percent ceiling in New Hampshire.  But in South Carolina and Nevada he still leads.  Worse, Cruz’s campaign is gaining steam at exactly the right time and he now leads in a California Field poll.  It’s only a matter of time before national polls reflect this.

One has to wonder why the establishment is waiting to make up its mind.  They should know who is most palatable to the base while having the best general electorate appeal.  Yes, Rubio has his flaws, but compared to the alternatives he is light years better.

Rubio probably would have already taken off if not for Bush and Christie in New Hampshire.  In the latest poll of the state taken by PPP, a Democratic polling firm, Trump leads with 29 percent and Cruz sits at 10 percent.  But among establishment candidates Rubio has 15 percent, Christie and Kasich sit at 11 percent and Bush at 10 percent.  That means there are 47 percent of voters who back a more establishment orientated candidate to a Trump/Cruz type candidate.  Indeed, the PPP poll finds Rubio barely behind Trump in a three-way race with Bush involved and well ahead in a head to head match-up.

Part of the problem lies in the fact that Super PACs and 3rd Party Groups allow campaigns to get almost unlimited cash.  Along with this comes the ability to pay 6 figure salaries to the cream of the crop consultants.  Indeed, Bush has arguably some of the best consultants on his team.  So do Rubio and Christie but if they left their candidates where would they be?  Up a certain creek without a paddle.

Another issue is the party and voters refuse to see the obvious.  Rubio is the candidate for a party looking to appeal to a younger, more diverse nation. He is young, telegenic, articulate, smart, sharp, relatable, likable, from the swing state of Florida, and Hispanic. He would rather talk football than politics, but can give you remarkable depth on crises around the world if you need it. He has young kids, a wonderfully kind wife, and can go either way — bro or nerd.

Most importantly, he is relatable to Millennials. The GOP often misses this fact but Democrats largely turn out their base only if they can demonize their opposition.  How do you do that with a Rubio.  For goodness sakes, he is still paying off his student loans.  Talk about something that appeals to the largest bloc of voters around.

In 2004, it is often said Bush won because he was the candidate you want to have a beer with.  Duh.  Neither Bush, Kasich or Christie have that ability.  All are good, honest men but none of them have the charisma and presence Rubio can project all while appearing humble enough to be “average.”

Even if Rubio does not open new doors for the GOP with minorities he can appeal to suburban families in places the GOP has lost ground in (Denver, Las Vegas, Cincinnati, Philly, DC).  Can you see a Bush, Christie or Kasich doing that?

Now, just think about this for a moment.  The establishment has a candidate they all like and he can win.  He can throw the 1992 playbook against Hillary (like her husband did against H.W.).  He can let the media do the tarnishing due to Bill’s untold indiscretions.

But the establishment won’t support Rubio (at least not today).  They are too old, too rich, and cozy with the Christie’s and Bush’s of the world.  They don’t seem to want to win as much as just make money over the campaign and then wait for Trump/Cruz to lose in the general election and tell the base, “see, we told you so.”  No wonder the grassroots is so alienated from their party.

Rubio’s campaign has been smart in anticipating the primary would be a long slog.  They’ve know the establishment would not rally around them until at least New Hampshire.  But even with low burn rates and candidates rising and fade, Rubio will still need to spend a lot of money to fend off Christie and Bush (who have no future beyond New Hampshire).  A limping Rubio campaign heading into South Carolina and Nevada would likely be unable to win either state and then it would be a battle of attrition.  Meanwhile, Clinton sits pretty (assuming no surprise Sanders wins after New Hampshire).

The biggest shock out of this entire campaign has been Bush, a good and honest man who is an intellectual conservative and loyal Republican still thinks he can win.  He is wooden on the stump and holds views on education and immigration anathema to the base.  Kasich, a good Governor, keeps talking about nothing but what he did in Congress and a “decent” stewardship of Ohio.  Like Paul, he seems to enjoy ripping his party and its voters.  Lastly, how Chris Christie, a common core supporting Governor who supports gun control legislation and hugged Barack Obama on live television, thinks he is the guy is beyond even me.

The establishment, Ryan, McConnell, Karl Rove and others needs to have a come to Jesus moment and make it clear to donors and voters they need to get behind Rubio.  Now!  Not after Iowa, not after New Hampshire.  Now!  If they don’t, the train-wreck that the GOP presidential primary has become will become a disaster when Clinton ascends the Presidency.  But then again, they love money and power more than winning so it will only be a disaster to the base.

 

 

 

Clinton Forging A New Democratic Path to the White House

2014-06-11t155415z1813105711gm1ea6b1uc101rtrmadp3usa-politics-clintonBarack Obama campaigned in 2008 on changing America.  It helped a economic crisis had erupted under a Republican President.  But Obama’s policy ideas and oratory helped create the idea that he would change things in DC.

By contrast, Obama’s primary challenger, Hillary Clinton, campaigned on being a steady hand to right the economy and tough enough to confront terrorism.  So did Republican John McCain. Of course Clinton lost.  Minorities and liberal, single women and Millennials flocked to Obama.

This go-round, Clinton initially changed her strategy.  Fearing a liberal insurgency, she tacked to the Left to steal the thunder of Bernie Sanders.  By and large it has worked and in turn her campaign has returned to their 2008 theme; slow and steady.

This strategy would mark a significant departure from Obama.  Clinton is not promising to shake things up or being a transformational President.  It’s true she has shifted to the left on certain issues (Immigration Reform, Cuba, Climate Change, TPP, etc.) but this was always expected.

What is more notable is the Clinton campaign seems resigned to the fact they are unlikely to assemble the electoral coalitions of Obama circa 2008 and 2012.  This reflects a reality of a post-Obama Presidency.

The largest generation in America, Millennials, are unlikely to fall in love with another candidate like they did Obama.  They have become just as disillusioned with the system as every other voting cohort.  The Clinton camp knows they can target certain segments of this voting bloc, college educated women and minorities, but they are unlikely to come out in force for a 70 year old political woman.

Such a fact can  be gleaned from watching the Democratic debate the Saturday before Christmas in New Hampshire.  During an exchange over providing paid maternal leave for all employees (minus men of course), Clinton attacked Sanders plan to pay for it by creating a new payroll tax.  Clinton’s plan was to tax the rich or make employers pay for it.  Bernies plan was for equal in everybody paying for it.

Clinton’s argument against the idea was based on protecting the middle class.  She must have looked at electoral results from the past three elections.  In the last 2 midterms and in 2012 Democrats lost every income group except those earning less than $50,000.  More notably, turnout among low income groups dropped significantly among the midterm electorates.

Clinton’s campaign has cash and a data targeting operation that rivals Obama.  But, unlike Obama, they do not have a candidate that their base can rally around.  Clinton’s background is the definition of privilege and does not fit well with the narrative of grievance based politics.

Thus, the Clinton campaign knows it has to do better with middle and upper income voters.  To this end, promoting a steady and smooth agenda that promotes stability and change over time is a way to appeal to these voters.  Unlike voters in the lower income strata, middle and upper income voters have things to protect and they tend to not support candidates they consider radical or fringe.

Ultimately, the Clinton campaign is trying to forge their own electoral coalition.  It’s a coalition that reflects the political realities of a post-Obama Democratic Party and attempts to meld the party’s grievance base voting blocs with the more moderate, businesscentric wing of the party together

 

The Great Class War

isIt was not supposed to be this way.  The Democratic and Republican donor classes had their nominees chosen well in advance of this year (Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton).  It was supposed to be a clash of dynasties where conventional wisdom was to be tested.  Could Republicans do better with Hispanics?  Could Hillary reassemble the Obama coalition?

Instead, this Presidential race has turned into something else entirely.  The angriest and most vocal segment of the electorate on both sides has come out in force.  For Sanders it is in the cities. among academic elite and the young.  For Trump it is among the forgotten blue collar Joe and Jane.

But the Democratic side of this dynamic does not match up to the GOP side.  The angriest and most pessimistic segment of the electorate is by far blue-collar men and women.  In poll after poll, they have expressed dismay over the direction of the country.

These individuals could be called Middle Americans.  They could even be classified as Middle Class Radicals.  Either way, they are neither poor nor rich, they work construction, are annoyed that English is being spit on for a multi-cultural society wonder how white male became an accusation instead of a description.

They share Sanders Democrats distrust of institutions like the big banks. But they differ on their distrust of unions and government regulation making things better.  They distrust the GOP of Romney, Ryan and McConnell and wonder how even when they give a party control of Congress it is powerless to stop an agenda that they believe is crippling their aspirations.

Contrary to popular wisdom these are not ideologically super-conservative voters.  Yes, they may believe in some tenants of conservatism but these are some of the same voters who gave Democrats control of Congress for 40 years.  It is only in the age of Obama they have turned to Republicans at the legislative level.  Yet, unlike the beliefs of free market conservatism and libertariansim these voters do not want the welfare state cut.  If anything, they want it preserved, even if it means taxing the rich.

This is not an American phenomenon by any stretch.  In Europe, the rise of nationalistic, almost monolithically white voting blocs has given both left and right-wing parties major toeholds in developed democracies.  Across the continent, populist parties are delivering messages that defend the welfare state with little regard for more immigration, denounces the corruption of the current government/s and risks of a global market system.

Just like America, these parties do not fit distinctly into a left or right leaning political paradigm.  In Italy, the left wing Five Star Movement almost gained a plurality of legislative seats in the last election.  Others are rooted in the right of center like the United Kingdom Independence Party which campaigns hard against the EU.  In many former Soviet bloc countries, parties having roots in Communism like Slovakia’s governing Direction-Social Democracy party have come to prominence.

Some of these parties have a leftish flavor, like Italy’s Five Star Movement. Some are rooted to the right of center, like the U.K. Independence Party. Some descend from neofascists, like France’s National Front. Others trace their DNA to Communist parties, like Slovakia’s governing Direction–Social Democracy.

None of these parties are exactly alike owing to the nationalistic content they operate in.  But they all defend “acquired rights” such as pensions, healthcare and other benefits that support older workers and should be around for younger citizens.  They loathe the technocratic bankers that demand austerity, demand tax cuts for only the wealthy, and call for more immigration (skilled or not).

In the United States these voters have flocked to the GOP in increasing numbers because they have perceived the party better represents their interests than an increasingly grievance and technocratic Democratic Party.  They have even gone so far as to knock out dozens of long-time Democratic Congressman and legislators to try and send a message to the Democratic Party to no avail.

Their fears are not unfounded.  In 2008, they realize the Democratic Party had officially left them when then candidate Obama told Joe the Plumber he needs “to spread the wealth around.”  Passage of Obamacare in 2009 was a massive wealth transfer from the middle class to the rich and insurance companies.  The Dodd-Frank Wall-Street reform did nothing to stop speculation on the market.  Cap and Trade would have been a field day for bankers and massive companies.  True tax reform has proved elusive.

Yet, they fear their political arty is not listening to them either.  For the first time in many years, polling shows a majority of Republicans believe taxes should be hiked on the wealthy and corporations have too much power.  This is heresy to many in the GOP’s donor and management class.

In the midst of the 2008 campaign, former Arkansas G0vernor and winner of the Iowa Caucus Mike Huckabee made a point that was reflective of the former GOP electorate, “their next president to remind them of the guy they work with, not the guy who laid them off.”  But the power of blue-state Republicans and the donor class gave them McCain and the result was a crushing defeat.

Confident that 2008 was an aberration the party moved forward with a preferred 2012 nominee that was in some ways worse than McCain.  Romney had made his fortune in the financial sector and came from a political family.  To many blue-collar voters, especially in the Midwest, this was repellent.

So what happens next?  Well, for indications we can look back at previous elections.

It was not long ago we heard people bemoan how disengaged the public was from voting.  Turnout in 1996 was lower than 1992 (despite Perot being back on the ballot).  It picked up slightly in 2000 and then overdrive.  The 9/11 terrorist attacks indelibly changed America’s political culture.  The 2002 midterms and 2004 Presidential contest were arguably decided on the issue.  Scandals, issues of race, the bank bailouts, governmental regulation, the ACA all drove voters to show up in historically large numbers.  It’s true that some still do believe midterm turnout is a problem.  However, they tend to be of the losing side of late; Democrats.

Whether 9/11 was the primary factor or one of many in changing America’s political dynamics can be argued.  What cannot be argued is how integral political identity is to how Americans are identifying themselves in every facet of life.

Perhaps the most notable example of this is a question Pew has asked since 1960, “Would you be upset if your child married a supporter of a different party from your own?”  In 1960 a mere 5 percent said yes.  In 2010 a third of Democrats and half of Republican said yes.  In 2012, the number among Democrats had ballooned and more women than men for the first time in history echoed the divisive answer.

Of course, there are other examples of America’s growing divide.  In 1960, if you were unmarried it meant little.  Today, it means you are likely to be a Democrat.  An unmarried women?  Even more likely to be a Democrat.  A married middle class man?  A devout Evangelical?  A white Catholic?  All indicate increasing preferences to support Republicans.

It used to be class divided the parties.  Republicans were the party of the middle class and the affluent.  They operated as middle managers.  The Democrats won the poor and working class.  But today, class is not a political dividing line between the parties.  It is among them.

Look at past Presidential campaigns.  Since 1980, every Democratic Presidential primary has featured an affluent, liberal (Gary Hart, Michael Dukakis, Paul Tsongas, Bill Bradley, and Barack Obama) vs. a working class candidate (Walter Mondale, Dick Gephardt, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and Hillary Clinton).

Republicans have had their conflicts between Main Street and Wall-Street candidates but been able to mend the wounds of a divisive primary battle. Unfortunately, that is in the past for the GOP.  Events such as the Great Recession, Stimulus, ACA, Bush tax cuts have forever altered that dynamic.

Since the Great Recession ended the economy has barely budged.  While the stock market has soared and corporate profits have increased real median income is below 1999 levels.  Many Americans don’t qualify for government help yet struggle to make ends meet.  Unlike the growing professional wing of the electorate that becoming more Democratic they have not followed politically or economically.

The mistake the media often makes in portraying the Tea party is that of a conservative, libertarian movement.  While some certainly were the movement that spawned GOP successes in 2010 (and some defeats) was far more likely to say I want to protect entitlements than gut them.

An interesting case study of this can be seen in the 2015 Kentucky race.  Republican Matt Bevin won a historically Democratic seat but he did so only backing away from plans to take away Medicaid and close the Kentucky exchange.  In other words, in a predominately poor to middle class white state, the Republican only showed power in the final week when he modified his orthodox conservative stances.

It is often forgotten but Obamacare promised to gut $500 billion from Medicare between 2010 and 2020.  The result was a Democratic shellacking not seen since the 1946 midterm.  But the opposition to entitlement reform was not limited to Democrats.  In 2011, soon after Republicans unveiled the Ryan budget which vowed to balance the budget through entitlement reform the GOP lost a winnable race in a Republican congressional district in New York.  The party had split and an Independent running on the Tea Party line took 9 percent of the vote.

Still, the donor and professional wing of the GOP ignored these warnings.  Just like Democrats are now ignoring the nascent Sanders/Warren wing of the party.  One of the benefits of having cash is you don’t have to here anybody disagree with you.

Yet, the polls are clear.  A majority of voters support higher taxes on the wealthy.  Among Republicans the number is rising.  The number among Democrats has risen in Gallup polling every year since 2010 (on average).

The first candidate who got the post-Tea Party nod was Mitt Romney.  He was an ill fit for the group.  He assumed the base rejected him because of his liberal stances in Massachusetts (didn’t bother them in 08).  Despite all his shifting in the primary support went to all his opponents and one by one they fizzled out.  Romney was the only one left standing.

His past history of liberal stances certainly did not help him in the general.  But conservatives still came to him in the same numbers they did Bush.  That’s not why he lost to the dismay of donors and party managers.

The party elite could not fathom how a candidate that that had followed classical conservative tenets; budget cuts, tax cuts, entitlement reform, and free trade had lost.  It had to be because he had shifted too much to the right on immigration reform.

The answer: support comprehensive immigration reform.  The thinking was pretty straight-forward.  In 2004, GW Bush won 44 percent of the Hispanic community and 40 percent of Asians supporting the move.  Never-mind Bush won less than 51 percent of the vote and only won 16 more electoral votes than he did in 2000.

In the eyes of the donor and management wing immigration reform was a no-brainer.  Not only would it open the door to attracting more Latino and Asian voters but it also would benefit the economy.  At least those at the top who benefit from cheap and unskilled labor.

The Republican National Committee released a self-affirming autopsy in 2013 urging the party to reach out minorities and young voters by becoming more liberal on immigration.  They missed the mark on the report.  Their voters, older and whiter, wanted conservative not liberal enforcement on the border.

The report detailed other aspects of the campaign but failed to mention anything that strayed from GOP economic orthodoxy.  The idea to phase out Medicare to those under 55, lack of support for raising wages and providing ideas for health insurance were no biggie.  No, the report clinged to the belief wealth creation and ownership were the ways to get ahead.

Republicans rightly argue immigration is a wedge issue Democrats use to deadly effect.  Rupert Murdoch, Charles Krauthammer, Sean Hannity, all representing different ideological wings of the party espoused such.  But they also missed the change that was gripping their party.

If, as some argue, this was a recipe for a Bush candidacy they might be right.  After 2012, Republicans wanted to compromise.  Their fight to preserve the Bush tax cuts was a disaster in public polling.  They had lost seats in Congress.

That is they wanted to compromise on immigration. The Gang of 8 was formed to work out immigration reform.  Republicans put Hispanic Senator Marco Rubio of Florida front and center.  A plan was created to meld border enforcement with a plan for citizenship and a new influx of low and highly skilled laborers.  Republicans got an earful from their constituents and backed off.

Then they dug in.  Republican refused to back Immigration Reform.  It passed the Senate.  It died in the House.  During budget negotiations in 2013 the GOP gave away nothing and as a result the two year budget deal included sequestration cuts that hit the military and even cherished GOP social programs.

In the run-up to the 2014 midterms the GOP Congress doubled down and it worked temporarily.  Republicans won predominately red districts and states and even a purple Colorado and Iowa.  But the theme connecting the candidates was running against Congress and their own party as much as Obama and Democrats

Republican leaders got a preview of this theme in an earth shattering result in Virginia.  In Virginia’s 7th Congressional District, Eric Cantor had been upset by a little known professor at a local college, Dave Brat.  Cantor had been a vocal supporter of the new line on immigration.

Party leaders were stunned.  How had this happened?  In the run-up to the primary Cantor and Boehner had been quietly pushing the House to embrace a step by step approach to immigration reform.  This quashed it.

Smart and savvy candidates like Rubio and Cruz walked back their comments on immigration.  But the donor class had their candidate in Bush and he was not as politically astute.  Moreover, he was a political relic from a different time and did not have the skills to change minds.

It showed.  Bush raised a whopping $103 million in PAC money before he declared.  The plan was simple.  Shock and awe!  But the rules of the game had changed.  Even past managerial candidate supporters were not willing to go with Bush.  Despite spending millions and millions in Iowa and New Hampshire the candidate is mired in single digits.  This occurred as Bush dominated the airwaves.  Between late September and mid-October, he purchased 60 percent of all political spots aired in New Hampshire.

Bush had a stellar track record as Governor of Florida.  He cut taxes, balanced budgets, reformed welfare, and funded a statewide charter system.  But he was always liberal on immigration and it was the one issue that galvanized the base like no other this cycle.

Bush could not change who he was and has not.  But the result has been a tumble in the polls he is not digging out of.

Contrast this with the other Republican candidates.  One by one, every Republican Presidential candidate turned away from immigration reform after once supporting it (Scott Walker, Rubio, Cruz, Christie).  Those that didn’t are going the way of the dodo bird (Lindsey Graham).

When Trump entered the race in June he was met with open contempt by the GOP field.  Bush ignored him.  Walker was ahead in Iowa.  The real contest was viewed by donors as a Bush vs. Walker vs. Rubio contest.

By the end of the summer Trump was ascendant and had basically pushed Walker out and marginalized the field.  His campaign themes of ridiculing the Koch Brothers, dissing trade agreements, arguing for the preservation of entitlements, etc. all jettisoned party orthodoxy and the party ate it up.

Initially, polls showed Trump drew support evenly from among all groups of the party.  But as the campaign has progressed and Rubio and Cruz have begun to consolidate support it is becoming clear Trump’s support is strongly among the blue-collar, non-ideological wing of the party.

Republicans argue that as the campaign progresses Trump will struggle if the opposition consolidates against him.  Maybe true.  But it is also clear Trump’s economic populism on wages, taxes, entitlements, defense and most importantly, immigration, have attracted a swathe of the party’s backers.

Peeling off Trump supporters will be no easy task.  According to an August PPP survey 63 percent of wished to end birthright citizenship for the children of illegal immigrants born on U.S. soil—a dozen points higher than the norm for all Republicans. More than other Republicans, Trump supporters distrusted Barack Obama as alien and dangerous:  disapproval of the President was almost 40 points higher than the general public.

The intensity of Trump’s support is partly driven by what he says.  He is a candidate that draws the masses partly on personality alone.  But it cannot be denied his message of denigrating both cherished left and right wing institutions has paid off.

He has already ended Walker’s campaign (sorry Team Cruz) and crippled Bush and Christie.  He continues to roll onward.  Even as polls show opposition consolidating around Cruz in Iowa his leads in New Hampshire and South Carolina remain.  He is here for the long haul and the party has become resigned to the fact.

Beyond Trump the party now has to decide what to do.  The Democratic Party has similar issues (see above) but they have yet to morph into a full on base revolt.  For the Republican Party to survive as a political institution they need to determine a national path forward.

One option is personified in the candidacy of Marco Rubio.  Keep going on with the same message and draw enough voters to your ranks to win.  This assumes Rubio performs better among the groups Romney alienated just by being a minority.

The route more traveled by Trump alternatives this go around has been modification.  Ted Cruz expresses support for the traditional conservative message but with a slight deviation; no open borders.  Rubio has done the same though with Rubio he has endorsed populist ideals like a much larger EITC for the middle class (not just low income families).

Perhaps the most popular route and one likely to be taken in the future is opening up more economic avenues for the middle class.  Democrats have the line down pat about how they care about their interests but they haven’t bought it since 2008.  But, Republicans are not viewed much better.

Changing this view requires an entire rethinking of the party’s ideology.  It would require treading on some sacred cows like fiscal conservatism and free trade in favor of deficit infrastructure spending.  Most importantly, the party would have to reexamine their adherence to capitalistic principles of lower taxes for all and social conservative views.  Take to heart the issues that middle class Americans worry about; college tuition increases fed by monopolistic practices, nursing home care, etc.  Quit fighting a lost battle on gay marriage and tone down rhetoric on abortion.  Focus on regulations that harm the middle class like environmental regulations (an easy fit for the party currently) and downplay tax transfer upward instead of to the middle.

In this GOP the party would not mind going after insurance companies for colluding.  Ideas like expanding the EITC would be welcome.  Using government to align all Americans with a strong moral and work ethic would be smiled upon.

To witness how devastating this would be for the party is on display in Congress today.  Distinct factions have formed and hardened.  Party elites in Congress believe the status quo is fine.  They fight when must but back down to battle another day.  The ideological right fights until the end.  In the middle in both chambers is a sizable contingent of Republicans who hold mixed views.

Republicans have a fallback with their strength in the states.  This allows them to implement their agenda in many states.  But this is being done by Governors and legislatures with varied ideological views and cannot be done nationally.  In the end, Congress and power in the states cannot formulate and direct an agenda like the President can.  If Republicans cannot find an answer to their divide they likely will be back in the same position they found themselves occupying in 2012; control of the House and the states but in the minority in the Senate and without the direction the Oval Office can provide and asking why we lost?