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

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.