This Election Arizona and Georgia Will Stay Red

isA series of new polls have Democrats optimistic in Georgia and Arizona.  In Arizona, a new PPP (D) survey finds Trump with a narrow 45-41 lead over Trump.  In Georgia, two local polls have Trump ahead by only 3 and 4 points.

At first glance this might indicate that what Republicans initially worried about, Trump’s weakness among minorities and suburban women, is being proven true.  If Trump can barely carry these reliably red but demographically changing states how can he hope to win blue battleground states?

Except, these polls indicate exactly nothing.  That’s right.  Nothing.  Firstly, Trump has a lead in both states.  Secondly, 40 to 45 percent has historically been the floor of recent statewide Democratic candidates in Georgia and Arizona.  Keep in mind Democrats have been hot on flipping Georgia since 2008 and Democrats have been salivating over Arizona since 2012.

Just look at the recent performances of statewide Democrats in Arizona and Georgia since 2008.  The Democratic candidate for Governor in Arizona hit 42 percent.  In 2012 Obama garnered 44 percent and their Senate candidate 46 percent.  In 2014, Democrats hit 41 percent for Governor.  In Georgia a similar pattern has followed.  Democrats hit 42 percent for Governor in 2010, Obama hit 45 percent in 12 and their highly touted recruits for Senate and Governor in ’14 hit 44 and 45 percent.

It’s also important to keep in mind that polling in both states is notoriously difficult for the simple reason both states are demographically diverse.  Polls out of Arizona in 2014 had the GOP and Democratic candidate for Governor tied until a month before the election.  In Georgia, polling struggled even more.  Though Republicans won all statewide races by at least 8 points, polling had Democrats ahead in both the Senate and gubernatorial contest.

Issues over the individual polls and their sample populations aside (they were bad), these recent polls do not indicate Trump is in trouble in either state.  It would be nice to be ahead by a little more in both states in early polls but Trump never was going to run away with either state.  Georgia has a large black, Democratic base and Arizona a large, Hispanic base.

Democrats anticipate Trump turning out Hispanics in massive numbers in Arizona and blacks to come out in force for Clinton.  They cite statistics showing Hispanic turnout has lagged in Arizona (it has) and black turnout is only getting bigger in Georgia (it is).  But, what they forget is that for every Hispanic or black voter that turns out it is countered by a new white voter.

Both states are heavily defined by their racial voting patterns.  In 2014, exit polls showed whites went heavily (74 percent) for Republican candidates in Georgia.  Not even 90 percent and above support among blacks could make up for the massive deficit Democrats suffered from among rural and suburban whites.  Until this is turned around Democrats cannot hope to win the state.  In Arizona, exit polling was not available but precinct and county level data indicates Hispanic turnout was above 2010, below 2012, and heavily Democratic.  But, this was outweighed by GOP strength in Maricopa County.

There is little evidence Trump’s candidacy will break these patterns.  He is not a perfect fit for the modern GOP coalition in Georgia (where he seems in greatest danger) of evangelicals, suburban and rural whites.  Hispanic turnout could threaten him in Arizona.  But this assumes voters in both states find Clinton palatable.  The best assumption is probably not.

The theory that voters will back the son, daughter, aunt (or in Clinton’s case, wife) has already been tested in Georgia.  Jason Carter ran for Governor and Michelle Nunn ran for Senate.  Jimmy Carter was a former Governor of the state and Sam Nunn was an influential US Senator who hailed from down south.  Both Carter and Nunn tanked in the rural areas their family once dominated.  Good luck changing that Clinton.

Clinton is an especially bad fit for Georgia.  She’s toxic to white men and her run to the left has robbed her of appeal in the Georgian suburbs.  In Arizona, her embrace of amnesty might work well with Hispanics, but again, it makes her ability to reach white suburbs almost impossible.

So, take a chill pill.  Democrats might be able to flip one or both states in the future but they need at least another four years of demographic changes, a better candidate and an especially flawed GOP nominee to make it happen.  Trump is many things but he is not as damaged or toxic as Democrats assume in either state.  They will find that out this November.

 

Trump Has Yet To Impact Down-Ballot Contests and May Not Regardless

donald-trumpUnderstandably, if you are a Republican concerned about the impact of Trump on your Congressional majorities your worries are valid.  But, to date, there are few if any polls that indicate Trump is a drag on down-ballot Republicans.

Let’s take a look at polling in some of the most competitive Senate races in the country.  In Wisconsin, Senator Ron Johnson started out his race as an underdog and that has not changed.  Neither has the polling.  In January Marquette University had Feingold up by double-digits.  Their last poll, taken in the run-up to the Wisconsin primary, had Johnson within 4 points.

But one case is an isolated incident, right?  Well, let’s also look at New Hampshire.  At the start of the year, Kelly Ayotte had a lead from anywhere from 1 to 10 points.  Since the New Year, Ayotte has led in the polls from anywhere between 1 and 7 points.

Wisconsin and New Hampshire are fairly white states and since Trump’s appeal is particularly strong among white voters that must be a factor.  Not so much.  In North Carolina’s Senate race, Richard Burr’s average lead is largely unchanged from the start of the year (outlier polls included or not).

Since the 2004 election it has largely been assumed by many pollsters and analysts that as the Presidential race goes so go many down-ballot contests.  The links between partisanship and voting are clear as is the significant drop-off in split-ticket voting.

This assumption has always suffered from one flaw though, it is based on self reported voting habits of voters.  We all know how accurate self-reported voting habits can be.  In 2013 the Census Bureau reported that more blacks self-reported voted than whites as a percentage of their respective shares of the US population.  Um, except that this would mean that more blacks would have had to vote than there were registered black voters in 2012.

Already, we have seen just how weak the connection is between voting at the top of the ticket and the bottom.  In a previous column, I noted how outsider candidates have been unable to harness the power of Trump voters to their benefit.  Well, that certainly has not changed and it could indicate for the first time that voters are not letting partisanship be the end all to guide their actions.

One recent race in particular stands out to show this phenomenon in detail.  The 9th CD GOP Primary pitted longtime Congressman Bill Shuster against arch conservative Art Halvorson.  You would think if ideology or outsider status was guiding voter habits Trump’s wins would coincide somewhat with Halvorson’s.  None of that happened.

Instead, 5 of the 10 counties Shuster won gave Trump some of his biggest margins in the state.  These counties-Huntington, Somerset, Washington, Fayette and Greene- are downscale white and Trump country.  By contrast, the counties Halvorson won-Franklin, Fulton, Indiana, Blair and Bedford- are more upscale and would appear more likely to go with an establishment figure like Shuster.  Well, no.

This kind of election frustrates the pundits and analysts because it makes current election models appear less accurate and less likely to be correct.  For so long the correlation between top of the ticket results and down-ballot races has been clear.

Recently, there have been many election outliers to top of the ticket races swinging down-ballot contests.  The 2012 election was notable because it had several.  In Montana, a state Romney carried by 14 percent, Bill Tester won reelection by 4 percent.  In North Dakota, a state Romney carried by 20 percent, Heidi Heitkamp won by 1 percent.  West Virginia was even more notable because Obama did not win a single county in the state and Democratic Senator Joe Manchin won by 24 percent.  Senator Claire McCaskill in Missouri won by 15 percent in a state Romney won by double-digits.  Republican Dean Heller won a squeaker in Nevada while Obama was winning the state by 6 percent.

These results were largely ignored because they contradicted the connection between top of the ticket decisions deciding all.  After GOP wins in 2014 in mostly red states (minus Iowa and Colorado), it was assumed these 2012 results were largely outliers.

Except they seemed to be more prophetic than not.  In three of the Romney states Democratic Senate candidates ran in they disavowed their party’s President and ran on bipartisan credentials.  They ran on the interests of their states and never directly tied themselves to ideology, unlike many of their now former Democratic colleagues defeated last cycle.

In these results we can see perhaps the precursor to 2016.  This election has opened up the deep class, ideological and racial divides in BOTH parties.  How else can one explain the rise of a socialistic Senator from Vermont challenging the Clinton Machine and the Speaker of the House on national TV saying he is “not there yet” in endorsing his party’s nominee for President?

Ironically, as more and more Americans believe the system has become too ideological and partisan we are seeing parts of both parties coalitions splitting from the ranks and partisanship finally not being the end all-be all.  The free-market, pro-reform, pro-business wing of the party is running away from Trump.  Constitutional conservatives are doing the same.  Meanwhile, the blue-collar wing of the party is embracing Trump as their hero (never-mind he has never been poor).

Likewise, on the Democratic side the young, up and coming wing of the party composed of college educated Millennials and upscale, white suburbanites, is divorcing itself from a party they view as too moderate and business friendly.

Add it all up and the assumption that Trump equals a death knell for down-ticket Republicans is patently absurd.  American politics has entered uncharted territory and nobody knows what will happen.  For the first time in a generation, not seen since Watergate, both parties political establishments are losing control and watching their carefully crafted coalitions splinter and fracture.  Either Trump and Clinton will win and the top of the ticket results may influence some down-ballot races but the results cannot change the fact both parties are struggling to adapt to the demands of a 21st century electorate hungry for change.

West Virginia and Montana: Indicators of Democratic Trouble

cole_announcementPolitically, Montana and West Virginia have shared many characteristics for decades.  Until the 60’s both were considered swing states at the Presidential level.  In the 1980’s, when both states turned dark red Presidentially, they remained loyal to their local, Democratic roots.

Montana’s political transition has been faster.  Since the 2000’s the legislature has been more red than not and the GOP has controlled the state’s at-large house seat for over a decade.  The GOP historically has controlled at least one Senate seat since the 90’s.  By contrast, West Virginia’s legislature had been Democratic for over 100 years until 2014.  In the same year WV also elected its first GOP Senator in decades.

This cycle, both states offer the party a dilemma; how to hold the Governor’s mansions when their party’s base of increasingly urban and suburban whites and minorities is leaving the values of these states voters behind.  Both states offer case studies in just how competitive the Democratic Party remains in red states.

In Montana, the task is arguably easier for the party.  Governor Steve Bullock, elected in 2012, is closely attuned with his state’s electorate.  He outran Obama by almost 8 percent in the state allowing him to win with an underwhelming 49 percent.  He allied with moderates in the GOP legislature to pass Medicaid Expansion and has turned it into a managed/community care system.

The Democratic Party in Montana is relatively healthy.  Bullock’s Lt. Governor is a Democrat, as is the Secretary of State.  Senior Senator Jon Tester formerly led the DSCC and was reelected in 2012.  While the legislature is not likely in play this cycle the party consistently puts up candidates in over 80 percent of districts on a regular basis.

Compare that to the sorry state of the Democratic Party in West Virginia which has seen a massive reversal of fortune since 2008.  At the start of 2009, the party held better than a 3-1 advantage in the state House and an even larger advantage in the state senate.  They held both US Senate seats, every statewide, constitutional office, the Governorship and 2 of 3 US House seats.

Heading into 2016 the party is reeling from losing the legislature for the first time in over 100 years, does not control a single US House seat and lost a Senate seat they have held for almost 100 years.  Now, the best the party can hope for is to hold the ancestrally blue Governor’s mansion.  The party might be lucky if it can.

Once dominant at the local level the party has seen voters run away from it in droves.  Unlike Montana Democrats who have maintained the loyalty of rural voters at a consistent level under Obama the party has literally been obliterated in West Virginia.  How else can one describe a party disappearing under a fellow partisan President in 6 years?

Worse, the Democratic Party in West Virginia is defending an open seat and is seeing the party’s ideological fissures play out in its multi-candidate field.  Republicans have settled on new Senate Majority Leader Bill Coles to be their standard bearer.

Demographically, both states are similar; heavily white, ancestrally populist and beholden to a heritage of Democratic conservatism.  Formerly, both states offered Democrats a strong base of union strength.  But West Virginia just recently passed a right to work law and Montana’s labor base has been leaving for decades.  In addition, union membership in both states is not a reliable indicator for additional Democratic ballots.  Many of these union members are white, culturally conservative and as angry as many conservative Republicans.

Put all this together and you see the issue Democrats face in both states.  The GOP is politically aligned with the voters of both states far better than Democrats.  But gubernatorial elections can be swayed by local factors and that is why Bullock has a better than 50/50 shot.  He’s an experienced politician running against an inexperienced businessman.

Not so much in West Virginia.  Republican candidate Bill Coles is an experienced politician who knows his state.  He has run in a heavily Democratic district for years and won.  No Democratic candidate can say the same.  The only boost for Democrats in WV is that Jim Justice can spend millions if he is the Democratic nominee.

Whether Bernie or Hillary top the ticket probably will not make much of a difference.  Maybe Bernie can get a few more votes in union county in West Virginia.  Maybe Clinton can get some suburbanites in Missoula.  But both do not play well with rural, conservative voters.  The kind that decide elections in both states.  Which leaves both states Democratic heritage in peril.

If one, or both states, governor’s mansions turn red regardless of the national results it will signify that Democrats, even running to the right, cannot distance themselves from their national brand.  But, if Bullock or a Democratic candidate can win in West Virginia, it may at least slow the tide.

Will the Polls Be Wrong Again On the Democratic Primary?

opt_IMG_6845Boy, polling has had a rough go of it the last few years.  First, they vastly underestimated Obama’s 2012 margin of victory (thanks Gallup).  Then they were significantly Democratic leaning in 2014.  Combined with international polling misses in Israel, the UK and domestically with the Kentucky guberntorial race and you can see why polling misses get noticed more and more.

But, none of that can compare to the polling miss last week in Michigan.  According to the RCP average of polls not a single poll had Clinton leading the state by single digits.  Yet, when the final votes were tallied she lost narrowly.

The reasons offered for the miss but they seem to focus around the idea that Clinton damaged herself with trade.  Sander’s focus on the issue probably hurt the wife of Mr. NAFTA.  But that still does not explain why the last three polls up to election day had Clinton ahead by 27, 37 and 24.

I doubt we will get a good answer but exit polls showed Sanders crushed Clinton among whites and lost blacks 60-40.  This suggests Midwestern blacks, more educated, unionized and middle class, are more receptive to the Senator than Southern blacks (just look at Mississippi).

Next week most of the focus will be on the GOP battles for Florida and Ohio but the Democratic races across the country will be interesting.  Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio and Florida vote.  Polling has been sparse in each state but Illinois and Florida stand out.

Polls show Clinton with massive leads in both and yet both places have fertile populations for Sanders support.  Nobody expects a Michigan upset in either but that is exactly the problem.  The polls could be well off the mark.  In Florida, Sanders has a wealthy, liberal elite to poach and a young Cuban and Puerto Rican base to draw from.  In Illinois, it is hard to see Cook County blacks acting differently than say Wayne County blacks.

The same dynamic holds true for North Carolina and Ohio.  Blacks make up a sizeable chunk of the Democratic base in both states but so do young, college educated whites as well as rural, unionized whites (more so Ohio).  Polling in Michigan significantly underestimated Sanders strength among the latter.

Now, a caveat is in order here.  There are few good pollsters in Michigan but national outfits also thought the race was a foregone conclusion.  Well, few good outfits have polled Illinois or Ohio.  Heck, Missouri and North Carolina for that matter.  Clinton will probably add to her delegate total and is the odds on favorite to win all 5 states.  But, after Michigan, I don’t have much faith in the polls.

 

What to Watch For on Super Tuesday GOP Style

635920304493623629-AP-GOP-2016-Debate.1Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are in commanding positions heading into Super Tuesday.  Buoyed by victories in recent weeks both front-runners expect to dominate the Southern heavy voting.

But straight up victories will not tell the story of who won the night.  The reason why is simple: delegates.  Specifically, the way the state and national parties allocate them.  Due to RNC and DNC rules, no state is allowed to allocate all its delegates to the winner until after March 8th.  In an effort to get around this rule though many Super Tuesday states have minimum threshold support a candidate must maintain to receive delegates.

These rules have the potential to make the ultimate winner of Super Tuesday, well, less of a winner.  Tomorrow, voting states will allocate their delegates proportionally with a threshold of either 15 percent (Arkansas, Oklahoma) or 20 percent (Texas, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Vermont) of the vote. In other words, the state divides up its delegates proportionally between the candidates who surpass the threshold.

For some candidates these rules are incredibly beneficial (Rubio and Cruz).  Yet, for others, Kasich and Carson, the rules are disastrous because neither is polling strongly outside of one or two states.  For Trump, the rules stink because it means his wins will not allocate him all the delegates of the states.

However, this is not a given.  Cruz and Rubio have the potential to see their lanes of support split with Kasich and Carson in the mix.  This means that in some states they could fall under the needed thresholds for delegates.  The primary beneficiary of this would be Trump but it also is true that Cruz or Rubio could benefit (assuming one falls under the threshold).

Winning/losing and pure percentages are not the only things that matter.  So will margins.  For example, if Cruz is racking up big margins in TX it likely means he is winning congressional districts and tallying up more delegates.  By the same token, smaller Trump victories tomorrow mean he is likely not winning all the districts he could have.

Put another way, according to RNC rules, each congressional district gets three delegates to the national convention. And in many states (including Texas, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, among those voting Tuesday) those delegates are allocated based on the results in each district. If a candidate wins a state by a large margin, he’s more likely to rack up delegates in more of that state’s congressional districts. We saw this in South Carolina – Trump beat Rubio 32.5 percent-22.5 percent, but that was enough to carry every congressional district and net him all 50 of the delegates.

Most notably, in the two biggest delegate rich prizes tomorrow, TX and GA, a majority of delegates are allocated by CD.  In TX it’s 108 (36*3) while in Georgia it is 42 (14*3) out of 155 and 76 total delegates.

For some candidates some states have more meaning than others. Cruz desperately needs to win TX because be badly trails Trump in many states and Rubio is edging him out in others.  In addition, Cruz could probably never recover losing his home state.

Trump, due to his commanding lead in delegate totals and polls to date, can easily stand to lose Texas and still rack up the most delegates for the day.  Even a massive Cruz win in TX would likely not blunt Trump’s margins elsewhere.

For Rubio, the strategy is simple to survive until Florida.  If he can finished second in many states (VA, AR, OK, GA, MN and AL) are probably his best bets he can plausibly come out of Super Tuesday still in the game and the candidate of the establishment.  If you are Carson or Kasich, it’s a wing and a prayer night.

Marco Rubio’s Coup

GTY_marco_rubio_jt_150325_1_16x9_992Coming into South Carolina the Rubio camp was on life support.  Their strong third place showing in Iowa at the start of the month had surprised and excited donors and the media. But their dismal fifth place showing in New Hampshire all but seemed to mark them as dead in the water.

But, word of Rubio’s demise has been greatly exaggerated.  The candidate has rebounded strongly and showed off in a recent debate while he might be green and still a bit robotic he knows his policy.  His appeal to the particular demographics of South Carolina also works in his favor.

Rubio’s been aided by events he cannot control of course.  Bush’s fourth place showing in New Hampshire did not exceed expectations and John Kasich’s 2nd place showing kept others from picking up steam.  Kasich is a fine moderate Republican, but he just does not have the flash or roots in South Carolina to play.  Cruz, who is in a battle for second place with Rubio has been unable to get above 25 percent and Trump sits at an unimpressive 35 percent plurality.

Indeed, on the stump Rubio seems reinvented.  Instead of simply talking endlessly about Obama transforming the country he is openly talking about his faith (something he did well in Iowa but downplayed in secular New Hampshire).  In addition, Rubio is actively discussing his favorite topic, military spending, and how he wants to see it beefed up.

Whereas Trump and Cruz are both playing to the party’s biggest wings, blue-collar voters and evangelicals, Rubio gets some support from each of these groups and is starting to actively eat into Bush’s support among the state’s business community.

Perhaps no endorsement better encapsulates Rubio’s comeback than the endorsement he received yesterday from none other than South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley.  Haley had probably already been leaning toward Rubio but Kasich and Bush were both in the mix.  Rubio’s rhetoric, combined with his background and pushing of certain issues probably put him over the top.  Keep in mind as well that Haley had all but publicly rebuked the rhetoric of Donald Trump in her response to the SOTU speech last month.

It’s unclear exactly how much pull a Haley endorsement has.  It definitely hurts Bush and Kasich among the state’s business wing but how much is unclear.  Considering Cruz and Rubio are running neck and neck in most polls a few percentage points could spell the difference between 2nd and 3rd.  If Rubio keeps eating into Cruz’s evangelical support then he could easily challenge Trump for first, especially if undecided voters move decisively to him in the end.

A Rubio victory does not mean Kasich or Bush will drop out.  But it does mean the air will be taken out of their campaigns right before the Nevada Caucus (where Rubio has a strong organization) and SEC Primary, long viewed as favorable to Trump, Cruz and Rubio.

Just as the Democratic primary is heating up so is the GOP contest.

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).