Saturday, August 8, 2015

1st GOP Debate Fall Out

The biggest news from the first debate is that Fox News has turned on Donald Trump.  For all 7 years of the Obama presidency they have happily given him a platform to pronounce how terrible the Obama administration is.  Once or twice a week he would phone into "Fox & Friends" and plug up some air time with his droll commentary about where Obama was born and why China was "beating" the United States at everything. It was a symbiotic relationship.

Once Trump announced he was running for president, they had to scale back his presence on the shows. But the Fox team seemed to enjoy the early moments of Trump mania. But eventually it got out of hand. By the time of the first debate, he was doubling the nearest competitor in all the early state polls. (He actually has a 3 to 1 lead in South Carolina, a state not known for loving Yankees.)

The debate was crafted to make Trump look as bad as possible. They started with a show of hands question designed to make the crowd boo him. Then Megyn Kelly called him on his sexism. The very same shtick that her network has ridden for ratings glory the past 7 years was now being used as a cudgel against his orange-quaffed head.  Things didn't get much better after that. By the end of the night, Mr. Trump was staying up at his beautiful, classy, luxurious, Cleveland hotel room tweeting about how mean Megyn was to him.  Thirty tweets in all, between the hours of 2:30 and 4:30 AM.

The next day he continued the attack against Fox pollster Frank Luntz, calling him a loser who once tried to beg for consulting work with Trump's empire.  Priceless stuff.  The best outcome of this nuthouse in-fighting has been the new conspiracy theory that the Trump campaign is actually an outgrowth of a collusion between Trump and the Clintons to get Hillary elected. This has the very ring of all the right-wing conspiracy theories.  Trump won't be the nominee. But he might run as a third party candidate. Now he might just run to spite Fox News. And next year, if  Hillary wins with say, 50% of the vote, to Rubio or Bush's 46% and Trump's 3 or 4 percent, the teeming masses of low-information votes will know who to blame.  But there will be plenty of blame to go around, for both Dr. Frankenstein and the Monster he waited too long to kill.

On a happier note, two candidates stood out during the debates.  Marco Rubio was the clear winner on substance in the prime-time debate. He still comes across as a little too green for the Oval Office, but he had the best night. And in the earlier debate Carly Fiorina stood out for her ruthless ability to say mean things about Hillary Clinton.  She is having a moment, and I expect this will lead to her making the prime-time debate next time around, probably at the expense of Chris Christie. Christie was 9th in the polls before Cleveland but Kasich also had a solid performance and Christie was obviously underwhelming to the Republican crowd.  I think he will slip to 11th.

Fiorina now has a path to the nomination. It is remote and it will probably go away as people begin to look at her dreadful record as CEO of Hewlet-Packard. But she connected with the base and she has a certain "Little Engine That Could" feel to her now.  If Fox News continues to turn on Trump, she may become their new darling.

Before the prime-time debate I went to Paddy Power, an Irish betting web site and wrote down the betting line for each of the top ten candidates to win the nomination.  I post them below next to the current odds, about 36 hours after the first debate.  There has been very little movement after the debate among the top ten, although Walker and Kasih got modes bounces.  I did not note what Fiorina's odds were before the debates, but I'm sure they were longer than 20 to 1. She has had the most buzz in the past 48 hours, and I'm sure the punters have noticed.

Paddy Power Pre-debate  Post Debate
Trump 8 to 1 8 to 1
Bush  5 to 4 5 to 4
Walker 4 to 1 5 to 2
Rubio 6 to 1 7 to 1
Huckabee 20 to 1 25 to 1
Santorum n/a 40 to 1
Paul 10 to 1 10 to 1
Cruz 25 to 1 25 to 1
Kasich 16 to 1 14 to 1
Carson 16 to 1 20 to 1
Christie n/a 16 to 1
Jindal n/a 33 to 1
Fiorina n/a 20 to 1
Graham n/a 66 to 1
Perry n/a 40 to 1
Pataki n/a 66 to 1
Gilmore n/a 66 to 1

Now back to my subtective forecast.  I have 4 columns this time, fore my pre-debate numbers, Nate Silver's pre-debate numbers, my current numbers and the change in my numbers before and after the debate. I don't think Nate Silver has updated his subjective forecast yet. He's not very big on subjective and I suspect he'll only do it again right before Iowa.

Candidate Pre-debate Nate Silver Post 1st Debate Change
Trump 2 2 1 -1
Bush  34 28 31 -3
Walker 32 28 29 -3
Rubio 23 21 28 5
Huckabee 3 3 3 0
Santorum 1 0 1 0
Paul 2 3 1 -1
Cruz 1 1 1 0
Kasich 1 6 2 1
Carson 0 1 0 0
Christie 0 3 0 0
Jindal 0 1 0 0
Fiorina 0 1 2 2
Graham 0 1 0 0
Perry 0 0 0 0
Pataki 0 0 0 0
Gilmore 0 0 0 0
The Field 1 1 1 0

There are only 4 crooked numbers in that last column. These reflect Rubio gaining a bit at the expense of the other 2 top tier candidates and Carly Fiorina getting her boomlet.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

First GOP Debate Reactions

First impressions of the performance of the candidates.  I list them by how much pre-debate buzz they had generated.

1. Trump.  He was exactly what we expected because that is the only thing he is capable of being.  He may recede in the polls, but that was going to happen anyway. I don't think anyone landed a good punch on him, which may be a sign of maturity. I think the serious candidates know that he's not a real threat.  (Kudos to Fox News for getting the crowd to boo him by asking the candidates if they would pledge to endorse the eventual Republican nominee.)

2. Bush: didn't do great. They may call him Vito Corleone in Florida, but I'm beginning to think he's still called Fredo at family reunions.

3. Walker: Boring, as advertised. But he didn't really need to do much tonight and he didn't have any Perry like "Ooops" moments, and that's probably all he needed to accomplish.

4. Rubio.  The clear winner, in my view. He looked mature and articulate and I think he may get a modest bounce out of this event.

5. Carson: He's a really bright guy who got all of his non-medical information by listening to Rush Limbaugh to and from Johns Hopkins. And any candidate who doesn't know shit about the Baltic Republics is dead to me.

6. Paul.  He obviously was told by his staffers that he needed to make an impression and he came out swinging but I don't think he made much of an impression either way.

7. Kasich. He had obvious home-court advantage but he didn't do much with it.

8.  Cruz:  Wow, did he come out flat. I think he is used to formal, competitive debates and that does not translate well into these televised joint television appearances.  He might be the biggest disappointment of the night. But I also think he will prep like hell for the next one and come out swinging.

9. Huckabee.  Solid but bland. He's destined for the back of the pack so who cares?

10 Christie.  Pretty much an after-thought His whole shtick of being the straight talker has been stolen away by the man at the middle podium.

Upshot:  I think Rubio will close the gap on Walker and Bush in the next few weeks. No one else made much of an impression. Trump will begin to fade over time, but that was going to happen anyway.

What did we learn?  Trump will probably run as a 3rd party candidate and if he does next year's debates will be awesome!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Good News Is There Are a Lot of Options. (The Race for the right to lose to Hillary next November.)

Tomorrow night in Cleveland the glorious spectacle that is the 2016 GOP presidential primary begins in earnest. There are currently 17 announced candidates who are fighting for the right to be a 2 to 1 under dog in the general election. But only 10 of them have earned a spot in that prime time debate. The other 7 will have to fight for scraps at the 5PM kiddy table.

Of course, most of these folks, including a majority of the 10 with seats at the big boy table, have no chance of being the nominee. But ever since Mike Huckabee parlayed a 2nd (or 3rd, depending how you count) finish in the 2008 GOP primary into a multi-million dollar TV deal, there is clear value in just running for president.

I wrote my first assessment of the field almost a year ago, before any candidate formally announced. Now the field is set and there has been a lot of movement in my rankings. In that first ranking I broke the filed into three tiers: Contenders (6), Pretenders (4) and Niche Candidates (6). Eleven of those sixteen prospects are now in the field, including all ten from the top two tiers.  But there's been a lot of movement between and among the tiers.  Here are the updated rankings:

I. Three Contenders.:  Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and Scott Walker.

There are only three candidates that I can realistically see winning this nomination.  Among the three, I give Bush a slight advantage over Walker. Rubio has yet to get his feet but he is a plausbile nominee for reasons that I will discuss below.

1.  Jeb Bush.  This country has felt destined to wake up to the reality of another Clinton versus Bush election.  The first one was in 1992.  Since then we have had 8 very prosperous years under Clinton, eight terrible years under Bush and a prolonged if uneven recover from that Bush disaster. But all of these ups and downs have only solidified the natural rift in our politics. The Red States still like the Bush philosophy-plain spoken slightly less rabid than other options in that party, and bereft of any hope for a better tomorrow.  Hillary Clinton has been scarred by the various proxy wars and nontroveries of the past quarter-century, but she's still standing, and she's virtually certain to be her party's nominee. Sadly, the most likely outcome of this nominating process is the son of Bush 41/Brother of Bush 43 fighting the wife of Clinton 42 for the right to be #45.
Rank Last Time:  1st (No change)
Odds of being the nominee: 34%.  (Up from 23%)

2. Scott Walker. As this field takes shape, it has become clear that Scott Walker has the widest appeal. He is acceptable to every substantial demographic in the party.  Billionaires Snake Handlers and War Mongers all seem to find him palatable. He's also done very well with fund raising and I think that has more than a little to do with his electoral track record. He can say, with a straight face, that he has won 3 statewide elections in a Blue State. No one else on this list can claim that.

But there are problems ahead.  Put simply, the candidate is not very bright. This would be a complete deal breaker in a rational party, but fortunately for Scott, he's running for the Republican nomination. One of the most interesting things to look for tomorrow night is which candidates go after Walker. The media attention will swirl around Trump, but Walker is the real threat to win this nomination. Trump is Tattaglia. Walker is Barzinni.
Rank Last Time:  9th (+7)
Odds of being the nominee: 32%. (Up from 1%)
Note: the last time I forecast the field Walker was still facing a reelection campaign in Wisconsin. If he had lost that, he would  have been done, which is why I ranked him so low then.

3.  Marco Rubio.  I think Marco Rubio would have been better off sitting this one out. He could be the nominee in 4, 8 or even 12 years time.  Running against Hillary after 12 years of Democratic rule or for an open seat after 16 would be ideal. By then the Republican fever will have broken and they will be so desperate to regain power that they will be ready to nominate a candidate that championed immigration reform. Indeed, they will no option but to do so.

But Marco correctly figured that he has a path to the nomination this time, and he went for it. He looked bad changing tracks on immigration but that won't kill him in the primary and come next year the party might let him walk that back a little in the general election. The Republican party also have a long track record of being a royalist party.  If Rubio finishes second this time, he instantly becomes the favorite for 2020.

He just does not look mature or confident yet.  He's not quite ready for the nomination but maybe the next few months will light a fire under him. Stranger things have happened.
Rank Last Time:  6th (+3)
Odds of being the nominee: 25%. (Up from 1%)

II.  Two Pretenders: Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum.

4.  Mike Huckabee.  Huckabee has strong support among the Christianist wing of the party but Wall Street and the Club for Growth Crowd have their doubts.  So far he has run a very ineffectual campaign and I'm not sure he wouldn't prefer to be back doing his weekly Fox News show.

But the Republicans have a long history of nominating a previous runner up.  (Reagan was runner up in 76, nominee in 90. Bush 41 did the same in 88/80, Dole in 96/88 McCain in 2004/2000 and (arguably) Romney in 2008/2004.  I say arguably because although Mitt Romney got more votes than Huckabee did in 2008, Huck won more delegates. He sat out the last election to make easy money on FNC, but he's back in the ring now and theoretically has a path to the nomination. He has to finish strong in Iowa and wipe up in the South. His biggest advantage is that he's the only true Southern boy in the field.  (Texans and Floridians are only quasi-southern.)
Rank Last Time:  4th (Unchanged)
Odds of being the nominee: 3%. (Down from 12%)

5.  Rick Santorum. Last time around he snuck up on everyone and wound up being the runner-up. This campaign has started much more roughly for Senator Santorum and not making the first debate is a big setback. But voting for a candidate is a habit, and there are 4 million Republicans who vote for him in the last primary. They can't all go elsewhere.  He needs another miracle in Iowa, and he needs Huckabee to drop out fast. There is a route there, but it's a long shot.
Rank Last Time:  3rd (-2)
Odds of being the nominee: 1%. (Down from 13%)

III. Twelve Niche Candidates (And the Niches they Represent).

6.  Donald Trump (Assholes)

You can see why he's leading the polls; his niche is the biggest in the party. Trump has made the race fun and he has energized the low-information voters by giving them exactly what they want: the same stupid rhetoric they've been hearing on Fox News and talk radio for seven years.  But let's keep things in perspective: he can not win. Four years ago the runaway leader was Rick Perry. Four years before that it was Rudy Giulliani.  This man will come back to the back and then fall down to earth  The only open question is how the eventual nominee handles him in the early going.  He could be somebody's Sister Souljah or he could be their Willier Horton.
Rank Last Time:  Unranked
Odds of being the nominee: 2%.

7.  Rand Paul (Libertarian-lites)

Rand Paul has always struck me a lazy dofus. He inherited the family business, running for president on a vaguely Objectivist platform of calling the Federal Reserve the boogeyman. Thanfully he's less charming than his father.

I will give him credit for one thing. He seems to understand that the Republican party needs to attract minority voters. He also knows that the present system does not serve the needs of inner-city black folk well at all. I admire him for reaching out to those people and asking for their vote. Eventually, some Republican will convince them to vote for him That person's name is not Rand Paul.
Rank Last Time:  5th (-2)
Odds of being the nominee: 2%. (Down from 10%)

8.  Ted Cruz (Tea Party Purists)
Let me begin by saying that he makes my skin crawl. Every time he tells the crowd that he is "the son of an immigrant" I have to yell "You ARE an immigrant."  But he'll keep doing it.

I could vent about this guy's naked hucsterism for hours but he's not worth the time.  So I'll just leave one anecdote here.  When Ted Cruz was a first year student at Harvard Law School, he refused to study with anyone who was not a graduate of Harvard, Yale or (like himself), Princeton. Standford, MIT and Columbia were not good enough for young Ted.  But when he wanted to announce his campaign for presidency he did so at Liberty College, a diploma mill for home-schooled teenagers who think human being used to put saddles on dinosaurs.

This man only buys from the best. But he'll sell to anyone  That's a hustler.
Rank Last Time:  4th (-4)
Odds of being the nominee: 1%. (down from 10%)

9.  John Kasich (Sane People)

You can see why he's struggling.  This guy is by far the most competent and sensible candidate in the field.  He also is the governor of a state that the Republicans must win next year.  I suspect that he's running to be Joe Biden, the centrist candidate who gets wiped out in the primary but winds up on the ticket.  Depending on the nominee, he might have ended up their without this run, but he's probably holding out some hope that he can distinguish himself in the early debates and let his resume carry him to the nomination.  If Trump, Walker, Bush and Rubio all win large numbers of delegates, he could be the best compromise candidate.  But the days of brokered conventions have gone the way of three man pitching rotations.  That won't happen in 2016.
Rank Last Time:  Unranked
Odds of being the nominee: 1%. (Up from 1%)

10.  Ben Carson (People Who are Not Racist and Aim to Prove it to their Snippy Grandchildren)

Ben Carson is a great surgeon who became famous by being very rude to the President of the United States at a Prayer Breakfast.  This gave him a certain amount of cache to the Fox News crowd and he has parlayed it into decent poll numbers.  He will probably get more votes than some of the people ranked above him in this list, but he simply will not be the nominee.
Rank Last Time:  12th (+2)
Odds of being the nominee: 0%. (Unchanged)

11.  Chris Christie (Dallas Cowboys Fans From New Jersey)

A year ago he seemed like a plausible nominee but the base simply has not and will not forgive him for appearing in public with President Obama during the response to Hurricane Sandy. This deflated his shtick of being the no-nonsense guy who will tell anyone and everyone what he thinks. That problem was compounded when the genuine article wafted into the race on monogrammed solid gold comb over.  He's toast.
Rank Last Time:  2nd (-8)
Odds of being the nominee: 0%. (Down from 20%)

12. Rick Perry (People Who Think Glasses Make You Smart.)

Perry's resume is reasonable but everyone remembers the train wreck of his 2012 campaign. I think he wants to erase the memory of that, but early signs are not encouraging. Not making the early debates was probably the last nail in his coffin.
Rank Last Time:  5th (-7)
Odds of being the nominee: 0%. (Down from 10%)

13 Bobby Jindal (People Sick of Being Called Racist but Who Think Ben Carson is a Little Too Militant.)

Running for president can be a joke, but it can also hurt real people. (Ask Ricky Ray Rector about that.) What's really said is when a joke candidacy hurts real people.  Two days ago Bobby Jindal announced that the state of Louisiana would cancel it's medicaid contract with Planned Parenthood over their practice of donating fetal tissue for reimbursement.  (I mean, selling baby parts to get filthy, filthy rich.)  Never mind that the Planned Parenthood clinics in question do not perform abortions, a stand had to be made, and he was going to make it!  Everybody wins, other than the poor women of Lousiiana who rely on Planned Parenthood for contraception, cancer screening and HIV testing.
Rank Last Time:  7th (-6)
Odds of being the nominee: 0%. (Down from <1 p="">
14. Carly Fiorina (Women and the Fiscally Incompetent)

I know of no earthy rational for this woman running for President. She was a tech CEO oversaw the loss of more than 50% of her companies valuation. And she got clobbered in her only previous run for office. But onward and downward, I guess.
Rank Last Time:  Unranked
Odds of being the nominee: 0%. (Unchanged)

15. Lindsay Graham (War Hawks and Closet Cases.)
I at least understand why he is running. He really likes scaring the shit out of people about Iran and John Bolton decided not to.  Best of luck, Lindsay.
 Rank Last Time:  Unranked
Odds of being the nominee: 0%. (Unchanged)

16. George Pataki (Rockefeller Republicans)
Remember Rockefeller Republicans? Like January Jones' 2nd husband on Mad Men? Yeah, they were fun.
 Rank Last Time:  Unranked
Odds of being the nominee: 0%. (Unchanged)

17.  Jim Gilmore (The Entire Gilmore Family)
I lived in Virginia during half of this man's tenure as Governor of the Old Dominion. I can't tell you the first blessed thing about him. Best of luck, Jim.
 Rank Last Time:  Unranked
Odds of being the nominee: 0%. (Unchanged)

JUST FOR FUN: My Odds against Nate Silver's:
About an hour after I posted this blog I came across Nate Silver's "completely subjective" odds for the GOP Nomination, as expressed in the 538 Podcast.  So here's where my numbers stand against Nate Silver.

Candidate Spider Stumbled Nate Silver Difference
Trump 2 2 0
Bush  34 28 6
Walker 32 28 4
Rubio 23 21 2
Huckabee 3 3 0
Santorum 1 0 1
Paul 2 3 -1
Cruz 1 1 0
Kasich 1 6 -5
Carson 0 1 -1
Christie 0 3 -3
Jindal 0 1 -1
Fiorina 0 1 -1
Graham 0 1 -1
Perry 0 0 0
Pataki 0 0 0
Gilmore 0 0 0
The Field 1 1 0

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

An Endorsement, a Concession and a Far-fetched Prediction

It has been nearly eight months since I wrote about the 2016 election cycle.  In a sane world, it would be another eight months before I felt compelled to break that streak.  But we are now living in a world of more or less permanent campaigns and now that the front-runner has officially declared, I think it's worth going on the record with how I see the next 16 months playing out.  I will start with the race, such as there is one, for the Democratic Nomination.

1.  This Blog Endorses Lincoln Chafee.  He will not win. 

The foolish decision to invade Iraq in 2003 is the most important moment of this nation's history that I have personal memory of.  For the first time since the Polk administration, this country began a war not just of choice, but of naked aggression. And the consequences were disastrous. The United States lost 5,000 lives, several trillion dollars and untold prestige around the world.  The results for Iraq were much much worse, in human casualties and in future uncertainty.

Next year, I will probably vote for a woman who voted for that war in the presidential election.  But I have no intention of doing so in the primaries.  Luckily, there is one candidate with stellar anti-Iraq war credentials.  His name is Lincoln Chafee.  In 2002 he was the only Republican in the Senate to vote against the authorization of force in Iraq.  He has since left the party. He was elected as an independent governor of Rhode Island and eventually registered as a Democrat.  I will be voting for him in the Illinois primary next year.  Dozens of others will join me.  But he has no chance of being nominated.  None.

Here's a look at the rest of the field:

1. The Nominee in Waiting: Secretary Hillary Clinton.

Hillary has been the presumptive 2016 nominee from the day she agreed to be Barack Obama's Secretary of State.  Although her tenure was short on specific achievements, she didn't do anything to compromise her standing with the party or the voting public.  So even eight months ago I wrote that she had a 70% chance of being the nominee. Since that writing, Elizabeth Warren has made clear that she will not run.  Senator Warren was always the most credible challenger to Hillary and it's now obvious that she won't take up that challenge. Vice-President Biden has also shown no interest in running. I didn't think he was likely to beat her in a competitive primary season, but he could have at least sucked up some of her donor and volunteer base. He also had the right to run as Obama's preferred choice, a role that would have helped him a lot in the primary.  I expect that Biden will try to keep a toe in the water just in case Mrs. Clinton screws up.  But he's not making the steps necessary to run. That may have been related to his son's health challenges but I don't think Beau Biden's passing will change his plans for 2016.  It's hard to put a precise number on Hillary's chances of being nominated but it is comfortably over 95%.

But Bernie Will Have  a Surge.

Bernie Sanders has been actively campaigning for weeks and a few polls have shown him putting up respectable numbers in New Hampshire.  He has also raised enough money to put up a respectable boutique campaign in the early primary states.  And there are plenty of young people who will trot out to Iowa to knock on doors for him.

But he can't win.  At some point he will probably have to choose between a serious effort in Iowa or New Hampshire.  Hillary will run big in both states.  Bernie will make the debates interesting and the media will desperately want him to make this race competitive.  If he loses New Hampshire by less than 10%, they will act like this race is a contested one. It is not.

Someone Else Will Have a Boomlet.

The rest of the field is remarkably weak.  That's not surprising given that most of the serious contenders to be President one day are sitting this one out rather than spend a year sleeping in motels only to get crushed by Hillary. Here's the rest of the field:

1. Martin O'Malley.  A mediocre governor of a medium-sized state.  He also picked the wrong year to run for President on the strength of having been a mayor of Baltimore.  His biggest claim to fame is being the basis for Mayor Carcetti on the Wire, a distinction that he loathes.  He did a Reddit "Ask Me Anything" and about half of the questions were about the Wire.  More damning than his fictional portrayal on that show is his horrific record as a stone cold war on drugs enthusiast.  He can't outrun that in a democratic primary.  He might have been a VP contender but I expect him to go all-in on the primaries and he might burn some bridges along the way.

2. Lincoln Chafee.  My aforementioned candidate of choice.  He is bright, moderate and competent. He is as exciting as a grilled cheese sandwich. He has no ties within the national party.  He won't break double-digits in Iowa and might not get there in New Hampshire either.  But like I said, a good man.

3.  Jim Webb.  Oh, this guy had promise.  He holds the Navy cross and he was Ronald Reagan's secretary of the Navy.  Pretty hard to swift-boat that, if he ever got the nomination. While in the senat he also took some principled stands on issues like prison reform. But he's a bit too "principled" when it comes to things like being unable to say the Confederate flag is a symbol of racism. I also doubt he will be able to connect with the left-wing of his party and I doubt he'll make a serious run anywhere.  But I do think he would elevate the debates and be an interesting candidate to follow.  But he can't win.

Hillary could run the table and win all 50 primaries, as Al Gore did over Bill Bradley in 2000.  And as Hillary did in the imaginary world of Bill Kristol's prognostications in 2008.  Bernie will carry Vermont and he might be able to pick off another state somewhere.  Jim Webb might carry Virginia or some oddball state like Oklahoma or some other state that does not matter in the general election.  And O'Malley could theoretically win Maryland, but I doubt it.  If I was making book, I would put the over/under for states won by Hillary at 48.5.

I haven't exactly made a lot of news in the blog post so I'll take one long term flier on Hillary's running mate.  I expect her running mate will come from Virginia, but it won't be Jim Webb. Mark Warner will be on the short list, but I think a better and more likely choice is Senator Tim Kaine.  He's a former governor, he's very smart and perhaps most importantly, he is fluent in Spanish. (He lived in Hondurdas for on year and has given the Democratic Spanish-language response to the State of the Union.)

So here comes the Far-Fetched prediction.
I think the GOP nominee will be very wise to pick Governor Susanna Martinez of New Mexico as his running mate.  The Republicans will need to do something to close the gap among Latin voters and women.  If the nominee is anyone other than Marco Rubio (it won't be Ted Cruz), then Susanna Martinez will make the most sense.

So here's the long shot prediction.  Next year, there will be a vice-presidential debate held in Spanish. And the next election will be decided by Latino voters. By the time the general election is underway, both parties will be vying for every last vote in Florida.  And New Mexico might become a swing state if the Republicans put Gov. Martinez on the ticket.  Yes, this will make head explode among the Fox News crowd, as so many things do lately.  But this is the way of the future and once the election is on the line, it will make sense for both parties.  The Republicans will probably need a long shot to come in and the Democrats would be crazy to decline the offer and risk alienating the fastest growing segment of their base.

Of course this won't happen if Donald Trump is the nominee.  But more about that in my next post.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Where Does the Carousel Stop?

"When our boys are fighting, and they need it, and America needs it, Dow makes it and it works." Don Draper, on Napalm

I think of Mad Men as two shows.  The first few seasons covered a lot of ground and much of it was new for television. Eventually it fell into the inevitable rut pock marked by tropes and under developed supporting characters.  But the narrative matured eventually, with latter seasons each ending with a payoff that landed well enough to justify the digressions and meandering episodes.

The turning point was season five.  That was the season that Don was newly married to Meghan and committed to trying out monogamy, which of course threw off the pulse of the show. The writers took this device to its ultimate absurdity by having Don tag along to a whore house only to spend the night bullshitting with bartender.  This felt like watching Batman whistle Dixie while watching the Joker rob a bank.  But then the season finale redeemed it all by having Sterling Cooper relaunched as a new agency and by having a blonde approach Don for a light and ask him if he's alone.  Don looks back at her. Without saying a word, we know: Gotham can rest easy.  The Caped Crusader is back.

Season six ended with another great one-two punch of Don telling the Hershey executives about his tawdry childhood, and then being put on a leave of absence by his partners.  This is Don's lowest point. But rather than run off and hide, Don, for once, does something brave.  He drives his kids to a sketchy neighborhood and shows them the dilapidated remnants of the brothel where he spent his adolescence.  It is the most honest thing that Don has ever done; it is the closest Sally Draper has ever gotten to meeting Dick Whitman.

The first half of season seven ended with man landing on the moon and a recently departed Bert Coooper returning to wish Don happiness via a memorable song and dance number. Speculation ran rampant that the final seven episodes would take place after a considerable time jump.  But the story resumed eight months after Don watched Bert's soft shoe routine.  We have stuck our toes in the 70s, technically.  But decades end in zeroes, not nines.  The second half of season seven has been on familiar if not comfortable territory so far.

What does Matt Weiner have in store for us tomorrow night?  

Weiner has given us several hints of varying clarity. One is that he has known what the final shot would be since before the pilot was filmed. He has also said that he just hopes no one gets this shot first, which implies that it's something iconic   Another was that the teaser trailer for the final half-season contained Diana Ross' "Love Hangover", which came out in 1976.  This suggests the time jump may come after all. The third hint is a little less direct.  But we know that Mad Men was not guaranteed a second season, so he wrote season one well aware that he might have to tell the whole story in just 13 episodes.  For what it's worth, that episode includes Don's brilliant presentation to Kodak for the Carousel, and his progressive decision to promote Peggy out of the secretarial pool, although he was probably more motivated by a desire to tweak Pet Campbell than to help Peggy.  The final shot is of Don sitting alone on the stairs, having just missed his chance to join Betty and the kids on a Thanksgiving with Betty's family.

Don mentions happiness in his pitch to Lucky Strikes in the pilot.  ("Happiness is...a billboard on the side of the road that screams, the reassurance that whatever you're doing, is okay. You're ok.") If Matthew Weiner wants his characters to have a happy ending, then this episode will assure us that hey are okay.  What constitutes a happy ending for Don Draper probably depends on your perception of him as a man. I have long believed that Don Draper is a bad man.  This idea was best explained by Mary MacNamara in 2010 when she wrote an article for the L.A. Time putting forth the idea that Don Draper is a well-dressed, handsome devil whose evil deeds get glossed over because of his charm and looks:

   While everyone has been sidetracked by tortured-soul vampires and loveable werewolves, Don                    has been quietly taking over the world, one manipulative half-truth at a time. Think about it.                      In the three years we've known him, has Don Draper done one single thing that wasn't driven by rabid      self-interest? Sure he kept quiet about Sal ( Bryan Batt) being gay, but did Don step up and demand           that Sal not be fired? And yeah, he didn't condemn Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) when he figured out she           had had a baby, but how did he help her exactly? By telling her to nail down those emotions, keep her       painful secrets secret and get back to work. So he could continue to profit by her underpaid creativity.

So maybe Don doesn't deserve a happy ending.  But I think this show isn't about justice or growth. It's about how we really are.  And I expect Don to land on his feet, not because he deserves to, but because he's talented and because people like him, even when they shouldn't.  In that season one finale, Don's brilliance and bliss are mirrored by Peggy having her promotion out of the secretarial pool by a trip to the hospital that ends in the maternity ward.

My most in-depth writing on this blog has been about the Walking Dead, an entertaining but infuriating show.  I feel comfortable making predictions about that show, because the plot leads to predictable places, and it often feels like it is written for 11 year olds. Mad Men is several cuts above that, and Matthew Weiner's artistic vision is way more ambitious than any show based on a comic book about zombies ever could be.  So I gladly admit that I don't know what will happen tomorrow night.  But I would like to put forth three broad categories of endings we might see.

1. A Soprano.
Weiner wrote for the Sopraons, the show with the most discussed ending in television history.  Last week's episode contained a moment where Don's motel television conks out on him, right before a Red Foxx punchline, an obvious call back to that moment when millions of people thought their TV died at the worst possible time. Much of the debate around that show has focused on what happens after that infamous cut to black.  Did Tony live or die?  I actually think that's irrelevant.  The very first shot of the Soprano's Pilot is of Tony, sitting in Doctor Melfi's waiting area, staring up at the Romanesque statue of a nude woman.  When we last see him, he is facing the front door of that diner, presumably looking at Meadow.  Tony ends right where he begins, just like Sisyphus. Just like a Kodak carousel.

Naturally, we first met Don in a smoke filled Manhattan bar. After a swirling establishment shot of the boozy, well-dressed crowd, we find Don at a table by himself scribbling ideas on a napkin. Moments later he strikes up a conversation with a black busboy, about cigarette brands. The conversation culminates with them sharing a laugh about how women are silly because they like to read magazines. I would love an ending where Don is told by a waiter or bartender that he's in the no smoking section, so he gets up to walk to the other end of the bar, and we get a final shot of a smoking crowd, wearing slightly less elegant clothing than he.  Society has moved on, but Don has not.  However, I think we'll get something a little more dramatic.

2. A Monolith.

Last week's episode was brilliantly constructed to show Don tramping around the country, while we know the terrible truth of his future.  Betty Hofstead-Draper-Francis is about to die.  And while Henry Francis is a heck of a nice guy, he's not going to assume the parenting of another man's children.  Don's wondering is about to be replaced by a large dose of single parenthood.  I expect the finale to take place after Betty has passed away. I don't think we're going to see Don's live reaction to the news of her diagnosis or her passing. It will probably start sometime early in 1971.

The economics of his new plight, recently aggravated by walking away from two million dollars of McCann money, making Meghan a millionaire to spite her and giving a Cadillac to a grifter that reminds him of himself, might cause Don to crawl back to McCann.  Especially if the ink is not dry on his buyout.  McCann will probably want him back, especially if he's slightly humbled and measurably desperate. And Weiner might just want to torture Don by putting him back in those hallways, but this time he has to be there.

One great internet rumor is that Don will go back and get put on the Coca-Cola account, just as he was promised in the meeting where McCann tells them they are going to pull the plug on Sterling Cooper partners.  In 1971, McCann created the first "I'd like to teach the world to sing" commercial for them.  It's an incredibly iconic ad and it would be great for Don to go out with the pitch for that meeting.  Weiner could do a really great comedic musical number where the commercial rolls, with all the women Don has bedded in seven seasons singing on that hill. But that's a bit much.

3. A Downer.

I suspect the show will end where the first season ended.  Don will land on his feet at work, whether at McCann or in a less prestigious setting. But what about his kids?  I know he loves Sally and he's more than capable of providing for all of them, even with his reputation flawed.  So I don't think we'll see him shaft them or run back to Iowa to be Dick Whitman again.  But that shot of him on the stairs of an empty house is probably close to the emotional tone of the finale. I don't think we'll get the "Happily Ever After" vibe, however it ends.

4. A China Beach.
Kevin Rahm, the actor who plays Ted Chaough, confirmed that only five actors know how the show really ends. The other filmed what they thought was an ending, but those five were brought back later for additional scenes. He described these 5 as "the originals".  By my count that would be Don, Peggy, Roger, Joan and Pete. (Betty would have been a 6th original, but she doesn't work at the agency and for obvious reasons is unlikely to be involved in extra shoots.) So maybe Mad Men will end, as China Beach did, with an update of where our heroes land, well after the show's story lines conclude.  This could ruin the period mystique of the show.  But it might be satisfying to the audience in all the ways that the Sopranos finale left some people (mostly dullards) aggravated.

So what might the future hold for our heroes?

JOAN: I think Joan will get a happily ever after vibe, because she is in many ways the most admirable character of the core cast.  Not just because she's been through a lot, but because she has genuinely grown as a person through those experience. Re-watching early episodes, it is remarkable how shallow and snippy she is.  She never became a nice person, but she matured into someone who deserves to be happy.

ROGER:  I hope that Roger's ending won't require him to change at all. Times do change, but men like Roger Sterling are still doing perfectly well in this world, and Roger is to clever to be felled by any of the traps that might undo a less calculating man of his generation.  If this was fan faction, I'd show him drunk as a skunk on the 50th anniversary of Pearl Harbor.

PETE:  I think Pete is a wonderful plot device.  He is exactly as shallow and petulant as Don, but he doesn't get away with it because he lacks Don's looks and charms.  One of the great disappointments of this season was when they has some other underling spell this out to Don.  Great television is about showing without telling.  Mad Men rarely gives into the impulse for the latter option. I'm a little surprised that things appear to be turning out so well for Pete, but I guess his destiny was determined when he was born to the right blood lines of Dutchmen and English aristocrats.

PEGGY: I want Peggy to be happy, but I hope they don't over do it. She should get married but I think her professional life is more important to her than having a family.  I don't want them to slap a romance with Stan Rizzo. She deserves to be a success without any cliches.

DON: If there is a China Beach conclusion, I expect that the last shot will be of Don, sometime in the future, perhaps with kids played by adult actors.  (Kiernan Shipka has proven to be a great young actress but she is 15 years old.  I don't think Weiner would use her to play a 22 or 30 year old Sally.) I think he'll be smoking and I think he'll be lonely, whether or not he's alone.  I think something in the closing moments will remind us of how far we have come in race relations or (more likely) gender roles. I just hope it's not too on the nose.

The China Beach Scenario opens up to a lot of possibilities for the last shot.  The one that Weiner fretted about having someone else get to first. I don't have a strong feeling about any of these, and I'm hoping to be surprised but let's consider a few possibilities.

a. The Twin Towers, under construction.  The towers opened in 1973, but were construction was well underway by the time we're up to.  (1970 photograph here.)  It's a little obvious but it hasn't really been done since 2001. And it would bring the story into the "present" in a sharp way. (And the shot of a plane flying past the Empire state building seemed ominous.)

b. Nixon's resignation.  The Pilot contains a joke where Roger Sterling tries to get Don enthused about doing work for a 1960 Presidential candiate.  "He's young, he's handsome, he's a navy vet. Shouldn't be hard to convince America that Dick Nixon is the man for them." This requires a jump of more than three years but it's as good a symbol for the end of that era as any other.  But Watergate as a symbol for the end of that era has been done, countless times.  So I'm expecting more.

c. The Bicentennial.  Well, the Donna Summer song is from 1976.  If that's authentic period music, we might see something about the bicentennial. I have nothing else for that year.

d.  The aforementioned Coke commercial.

e. Some other iconic ad, like Mean Joe Greene's Coke ad.

f.  Don Draper's suicide from a tall building.  The original Mad Men conspiracy theory. I don't buy it.

g. Where the fuck is Sal?

Sunday, March 29, 2015

No, Really, what was conquered? (Immediate reaction to The Walking Dead Season 5 Finale)

I enjoyed the finale, very much. I thought Morgan's return was fantastic and his anti-climatic reunion with Rick was handled perfectly. Immediate impressions:

1. What was conquered?  Well, Glenn conquered some fear in letting Nicholas live.  That was actually pretty impressive and it's consistent with his character.  I guess Rick's way of doing business conquered the Alexandrian's denial.  And of course Morgan conquered two huge scum bags with W's carved into their foreheads.

2. What was gained and what was lost? They lost an architect and a doctor but they gained a Jedi in Morgan and a huge dose of reality in the Ricktatorship's way of doing business.  Perhaps most importantly Dianna lost a husband but gained a very competent general.  I love that she gave the order for Rick to kill Pete.

3. Carol is the Paulie Walnuts of this Zombie Apocalypse.  I keep thinking that she will die, but she hangs around. And she's also being asked to deliver some of the comedic relief, albeit a more ironic tone than Paulie's was on the Sopranos.

4. There probably will be a time skip but I don't think it will be as long as I had hoped.  The Wolves are 50 miles out from Alexandria and I don't think those photos will have any revealing signs because Aaron knew they could fall into the wrong hands.  The ones Rick saw had no such signs at least and the ones they added just showed people. (Probably in response to Rick and Michonne's freak out that there were no people in the pictures.)  So they can play with the timeline as much as they want. I expect it will be like the jump between season 2 and 3: a few months but not more than year. Probably the first way to tell will be when we see Judith for the first time.

5. Morgan and Rick are going to have some great conversations next year.  Lenny James has already revealed on The Talking Dead that Morgan had some kind of life-changing experience between when we saw him in Season 3 and his meeting up with Rick and gang in Alexandria.  Rick of course has descended nearly into the kind of madness that Morgan was grappling with back when he had a booby-trapped town to himself.

6. The Wolves have great potential.  I hope they don't screw up the casting.  When Michonne first appeared in the Season 2 finale, they never showed her face.  We did see a couple of the Wolves tonight but they don't have to be the, well Alpha males of the pack. So they will probably cast someone with at least a bit of name or face recognition for that part. The show has an uneven track record of casting.  Hopefully they will cast someone more like Andrew J. West (who played Gareth) than David Morrisey (the Governor).

One interesting thing is that they do not seem to be well supplied. After all those 2 dudes that confronted Morgan had to do so with an empty 9MM.  Makes you wonder how efficient that food trap is.

7. Negan is another year away.  I don't think we will see Negan in Season six but he's probably on track for a Season 7 story arc.  The Wolves should be able to up the cruelty ante and only Negan will be able to top that.

8. Lennie James is the best actor in this company and I love his British accent.

A Final Thought, Much Repeated.

Please for the love of God can this group think a little more Strategically next season?  Now that they have a congressman, a UNICEF veteran and a Jedi to go along with the sheriff, the archer, the samurai  and the soldier, there is no reason they can't start to think more than 2 moves in advance.  A few suggestions:

1. Dig Zombie Pits.  Why on Earth was the Governor the only person to figure out that gravity is our friend?
2. Send a search team to destroy that food truck trap.  It's obviously a tool of very bad people.  You don't want them to survive and you don't want them to kill any more good people, like poor Mr. Red Pancho.  Send a team back and bring enough explosives to destroy that whole yard.
3. Eugene needs to contribute more.  Maybe he can design the perfect way to destroy the Wolves food trap or figure out a way to make bullets. (Something he apparently does eventually in the comics.)

Law & Order was  really successful show that eventually launched two spin off.  Law & Order SUV was more salacious and less challenging than the original. Law & Order Criminal Intent was slightly brainier and attempted to be clever from time to time.  Of course of the 3, SUV became the most successful and is still on the air.  I'm sure Fear the Walking Dead will follow in that vein. But I'm a dreamer and I choose to hope that the smarter version of TWD will come along, eventually.

Conquer what, exactly?

One of my criticisms of The Walking Dead has been its predictability. But I don't think tonight's Season 5 Finale has been telegraphed at all. For one thing, the title is "Conquer" and it doesn't get more vague than that. The last several episodes have had one word titles taken from something that Dale said all the way back in Season 1, episode 4,when explaining why he still kept time on his watch. The words in bold have each been the title of  a recent episode.

  • ‘I give you a mausoleum of all hope and desire which will fit your individual needs, no better than it did mine and my father before me. I give it to you not that you may remember time, but that you may forget it. For a moment, now and then, and not spend all of your breath trying to conquer it.’

So what is to be conquered tonight? Alexandria? The Dianna Regime?  Time Itself  I really don't know.

 I have expected for a long time that this season would end with relative calm in order to set up a time skip for this off-season. And there isn't an obvious conflict to resolve tonight but it is a 90 minute episode and we do know about a few loose ends that need to be tied up. I think if you put them all together, you can get a good idea of what we're in store for.

1. Rick's Punishment.  Last week ended with Michonne punching Rick's lights out. We know from the previews that Deanna convenes a meeting to discuss what to do with him.  There is a shot of him in a small room that look like it was set up to confine him.  Of course the Alexandrians are going to be inclined to punish him but Dianna's made clear that killing him is not an option. And they're not about to exile the father of a teenager and a baby. We've already heard Deanna's husband rave about how many great things Rick's group said about him.  So they'll probably come up with some ham-handed BS punishment that involves him not being a constable and being put on some petty work detail.  But then....

2. Darryl and Aaron are in Danger and the Wolves are Not Far. Throughout this half-season we have seen a number of Walkers with a "W" carved into their forehead.  A screen shot from Episode 9 shows grafitti in Noah's neighborhood that refers to "Wolves Not Far".  This is probably a reference to a group of bad guys, although no such group exists by that name in the comic books.  Last week we saw Darryl and Aaron come across a couple horribly mutilated people and they saw in the distance the light from a camp fire.  So that's probably the antagonist for tonight.

3. Morgan.  One very clever detail from last week is that the one of bodies Aaron and Darryl came across seemed to match Morgan.  The hand was about the right coloration and it featured a wedding ring like the one worn by Morgan back in Season one.  The clothing also matches the sneak peaks we've seen of Morgan as this season went along.  This has naturally led to some speculation that Morgan is dead and maybe we will see his demise in a flashback of some kind.  I don't think that's right.  I think that was a purposeful misdirect by Nicotero's crew.  They like to have fun like that.

Morgan is the most popular character on the show after Darryl and possibly Michonne.  His return has been hyped since the season opener and I'm actually impressed that they have waited this long to bring him back to the story. They're not going to waste him on a one-off flashback of a death at the hands of bad guys we have never met.

So this is how I think everything gets tied together tonight: Rick gets put in the penalty box.  But then Aaron and/or Darry run afoul of these new bad guys.  My hunch is they have Darryl hostage but Aaron makes it back to Alexandria and wants to raise a posse.  Having been away when Rick went ape-shit on Pete, he will insist on Rick coming. Rick of course will jump at the chance and everyone else form our group (with the possible exception of Michhone) will want him to lead the mission.

He will.  But things will still be hairy. And the group will need saving.  That's where Morgan comes into play, earning hero status and joining our group in Alexandria for good.  All of which leads to the inevitable question about a season finale of The Walking Dead....

Who Will Die?

The Walking Dead's willingness to kill popular and important characters has become its trademark.  When the plot meanders, they usually justify it by killing someone like Tyrese.  And it's a pretty standard part of every season and mid-season finale although the season 4 finale was an exception to this rule.  Season 5 started with a lot of dead weight in the group and they have not been shy about shedding those folks this season.  I still think they have one more big death to go and here's who I think are the likely candidates.

a.  Carol. Her sweet-talking in public, threatening innocent people in private act is a time bomb.  I think someone will see through it tonight and she'll pay a price for her bullshit. Death Chances: 70%

b.  Dianna.  If the danger comes inside the walls, I think Dianna is on the short list of people to be killed.  After all, we need Rick to be the undipsuted Alpha character, right?  (65%)

c. Glenn.  All season long I have thought that Maggie or Gleen would die this year. Glenn seems to be in more danger, having punched that D-bag who stole Ricck's 9MM from the blender outside the gate. (50%)

d. That D-bag Who Stole Rick's 9MM from the Blender.  We need to have a kill to root for. He's the obvious choice.  (50%)

e. Pete See above (45%)

e. Tara.  She's not doing well and her friends are busy threatening the only doctor who can help her.  (40%)

f. Sam.  The story probably doesn't need another kid to slow the story down. But they can always re-cast another actor if they do in fact do a time-skp after this season (35%)

g. Enid.  It's probably better for her survival chances that Carl didn't actually kiss her last week. But she still could become a poignant symbol of Carl's suffering.  (33%)

h. Gabriel.  It's bad enough that the Walking Dead killed off Cutty and DeAngelo this year but is there any worse indignity for fans of The Wire than to make Carver a snitch?  (30%)

i.  Abraham.  Earlier in the season there were some ominous signs about Abraham but lately he seems to have settled in to his expected role as a bad ass and a 2nd tier leader. (20%)

j. Maggie.  I don't think they've set this up right, so I'm leaning against it.  More likely she lives to either Mourn and/or take over the administrative duties from Deanna in a new Rickatorship. (10%)

k. Darryl Okay. This is the big one.  Nothing would hurt the show more than his death. But there's always the chance that Norman Reedus over played his hand in contract negotiations.  I think it's unlikely but if they want to go out with a bang, this is the way to go.  (1%)