Sunday, October 4, 2015

How to Get to 270 (General Election Matchups Speculation)

In my last post I made the case for why I believe the Democratic nominee is likely to win the next presidential election. My premise is that Democrats have a small but significant and growing advantage with the current presidential electorate.  To demonstrate this advantage, I categorize all of the states based on how they have voted in the past four presidential cycles.

True Blue (18 states that voted Dem in all four Bush/Obama Elections):  241
Baby Blues (3 states that voted Dem 3 out of 4 times)                                 15
Purple States (5 states that voted for the winner 4 times:                              75
Pink States (2* states that voted for the GOP 3 out of 4 times)                     27
Deep Red (23 states that voted GOP in all 4 Bush/Obama elections:         179
Note: Nebraska's second district is counted with the pink states.

So there are 256 votes likely to vote for the Democrat and 206 likely to vote for the Republican in a close election.  These 206 votes are the exact votes that Romney won in 2012.

But it's not all good news for Team Blue. In 2012 the Democrat won every close state except North Carolina. That is actually good news for the next Republican nominee. He or she will only have to really defend one state in a close election. Everywhere else they will be on offense.  So the biggest question is what is the quickest path for them to get to 270.  The simplest way to compute this is to flip the states they came closet to winning last time.

Here is every Baby Blue, Purple and Pink State,

Competitive States
Votes State Margin 2012
29 Florida 0.88%
15 N. Carolina 2.04%
18 Ohio 2.97%
13 Virgnia 3.87%
9 Colorado 5.36%
4 New Hamp. 5.58%
6 Iowa 5.81%
6 Nevada 6.68%
1 Nebraska-2nd 7.17%
5 New Mexico 10.15%
11 Indiana 10.20%

So the Republican nominee can get to 235 by just adding Florida, 253 by also adding Ohio and 266 by flipping Florida, Ohio and Virginia. Beyond that they only need to pick up one more state. Colorado, New Hampshire alnd Iowa were all decided by less than six points and would be competitive if the Republicans run a better candidate and campaign than they did last time.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Some Good News and Some Bad News

The beginning of the present.

The presidential election is 58 and a half weeks away. I have not done a detailed analysis of it yet but my assumption has been that the Democratic nominee is the heavy favorite. The betting line as of now makes the Democratic nominee the favorite. If you bet $100 on the Democrats, you stand to profit $66 if they win. Betting $100 on the Republicans would net a $120 profit if they win the election.

I think there are three trends that make the Democrats more likely to win than the current odds suggest: the changing demographic composition of the electorate, the likely strength of the economy and a short but very significant list of absolutely terrible policy positions that the Republican nominee will have to embrace in order to be nominated. I will write about each of these trends below. At the current odds, the smart money is on the Democratic party. But it is far from a lock.

I. Demographics and Historical Trends.

One of the biggest challenges with handicapping presidential elections more than a year out is that we only have so many previous elections to go by. There have been more than 50 presidential elections. But only twelve in which both gender and all races could vote in every state.  (Yay for us. We finally have 50 years of true democracy on the books.)

But one under-appreciated fact is that there usually is a dominant presidential party. From 1896 to 1932, the Republicans won seven out of nine presidential elections. The only losses were to Woodrow Wilson, who only got into office because Teddy Roosevelt made the 1912 election a three way race. Wilson won less than 42% of the vote and was only re-elected by a margin of fewer than 4,000 votes in California.  From 1932 to 1968, the Democrats won seven out of nine elections. The only exceptions were when General Eisenhower chose to run as a Republican rather than as a Democrat. (He could have had either party's nomination.)  And from 1968 to 1992 the Republicans won five out of six elections, with the only exception being a very narrow loss by Gerald Ford to Jimmy Carter than can be chalked up almost entirely to the Watergate scandal. The Republicans won all of the other elections by landslides, including two elections in which they lost only one state. (Massachusetts in 1972, Minnesota in 1984).

Since 1992 the Democrats have won four out of six Presidential elections. They have not run up any 49 state victories but both wins by Clinton and by Obama were by clear margins and with an average of  369 electoral votes. In between these wins were two narrow losses to George W. Bush, including one where the Democrat won the popular vote and another in which he almost became the first war-time incumbent to lose re-election.

The Democratic advantage has been less obvious than during these prior periods of party dominance. But it is growing,a dn the reason for that is demographics. In 1996, 79.2 of voters were non-Hispanic whites. That number has dropped to 77.7, 75.2, 73.4 and 71.1 in each subsequent presidential election. These voters are disproportionately young and are much less likely to turn out for midterm elections, which explains why Republicans have held the house during all but four of the past 22 years. (During the earlier period of 36 years with Republican presidential dominance, they never had control of the House.)

This demographic shift is projected to continue and to favor the Democrats. This trend has been exacerbated by the Republican party's decision to concentrate on policies favored by its older, almost entirely white base and by their political decision to undermine the first black President at every turn. Consider that Mitt Romney won 59 percent of white voters in 2012 but only 27 percent of Latino/a voters, 26 percent of Asian voters and just six percent of black voters. Age demographics are also discouraging for the GOP. They won 56% of people over the age of 65 in 2012 but just 37 percent of people under 30. Some of that is attributable to people growing more conservative with age. But another part of it can be attributed to the fact that a lot of lifelong Republicans are dying and being replaced in the electorate by millenials who are much more racially diverse, culturally accepting of homosexuality and liberal or progressive on social issues. 

The long term solution to these trends will be for the Republican party to adopt less rigorous positions on issues that young people care about. By 2024 the Republican nominee will support marriage equality and will probably have stopped blaming "illegals" for the economic problems we face. But in 2016, he or she will not. 

A Brief Word of Caution. 

 We are still more than 13 months from this election and if there is one encouraging sign for some Republican candidates, it is that the country is clearly sick of the establishment wings of both parties. The names Clinton and Bush are handicaps in this election cycle. So maybe the Republicans can nominate a fresh face and make this race competitive. The hardest election for a party to win is when it's going for it's third straight term.  Since 1960, parties that have been in power for exactly eight years have lost five out of six presidential elections. The exception was George H.W. Bush in 1988. If the Republicans nominate a relative centrist, there is a path for them to win. More on that below.

II. The Economy

Ever since James Carville hung a sign that read "It's the economy, stupid." On the wall of Bill Clinton's campaign headquarters during the 1992 presidential election, it has become common knowledge that the incumbent (party) will win during a strong economy and lose in a weak one. The Obama economic record is a lot stronger than is generally perceived and can be summed up in two points. Economic growth has been modest compared to previous recoveries but it has been quite sustained. Jeb! Bush is running on a platform of economic policies intend to "unleash 4 percent growth". If you don't count 2009, when the Bush fiasco was still smoldering, growth has averaged 3.9%. The most recently quarterly statistic showed that same number: 3.9% growth. So essentially the best credentialed Republican candidate is promising to increase growth by 1/10th of 1 percent.

I don't want to be to rosy about economy. There are real problems, including wages and inequality. The problem for the Republican party is that they are still wed to a fundamentally stupid economic idea: that the way to grow the economy is to reduce taxes on the very wealthiest people. This has not worked for 35 years and it will not start to work next year. To the extent there is hay to be made on the economy, the popular proposals would be to raise the minimum wage, require paid family leave and a half-dozen other issues that the Democrats are likely to support and the Republicans are certain to oppose, vocally.

III. Policy (Yes, That Still Counts).

The Democrats are only modest favorites in the betting markets because Hillary Clinton has some bad polling numbers. Her unfavorable ratings are high and she polls terribly on issues related to honesty and trust.  These are very serious problems for a candidate and I don't think she will be able to shake these perceptions completely. They will prevent her from winning a landslide. But they will not prevent her from winning unless one or more of the endless investigations of her turns up something disqualifying.

The Republicans have a more fundamental problem, that does not yet show up in the polls fully. Their ideas are terrible. Worse than that, they are deeply unpopular.  This list could go 20 issues deep but I'll just focus on the most important landmines that the Republican nominating process will lay for its candidate in the general election:

1. Healthcare. Repealing Obamacare is absolutely dogma among conservatives. They fight each other for being most rabid in their desire to do so because they are now trying to win the votes of people who watch Fox News and think Obamacare is a failure. But it is not a failure. The uninsured rate has fallen from 15% to 10%. Millions of people now have insurance because they receive subsidies or because they no longer have to worry about lifetime coverage caps and other ways that our system allows insurance companies to deny coverage. A lot of those people are young and of modest income. They are less likely to vote in a typical election but if the choice is between a candidate that wants to take away their insurance and one who ants them to keep their insurance, they will turn out in droves. If this election is close, this will be the issue that keeps a few of the crucial states in the blue column.

2. War. There is a lot of bad things going on in Iraq and Syria and it's easy for the GOP to point at them and blame President Obama and Secretary Clinton for them. The problem is that they only tangible way to put ISIL on the run is to commit American ground forces to the fight.  It would be a multi-year commitment and we would again see dozens of Americans dying every month, as they did for most of the first decade of this century.

Consider the trend of American military casualties under President Obama. These numbers come from

Year                   Iraq                     Afghanistan                Total
2009                   149                             317                        466
2010                     60                             499                        559
2011                     54                             418                        472
2012                       1                             310                        311
2013                       3                             127                        130
2014                       3                               55                          58
2015                       3                                 8                          11

That's 1,808 during Obama's first term and only 189 so far in his second. The Republicans should be able to make some hay over the dire situation in Iraq but unless they nominate Rand Paul, their candidate will be someone whose proposed solution will be to send Americans back into harms way for an indefinite duration in order to improve the lives of people that we frankly do not care about. This is a political loser.

3. Fiscal Policy. As mentioned above the GOP nominee will be running on a platform of reducing taxes. They will promise reductions to everyone but those reductions will be heavily slanted toward the very wealthiest Americans, who are going to vote Republican anyway. The Democratic nominee will make this plan look terrible. Perhaps more importantly, the Dems will be able to run on the fact that the deficit has steadily plummeted throughout the recovery. The Republicans will bemoan the national debt but their dual policies of tax cuts and increased militarism will show that they are not serious about that issue.

4. Planned Parenthood. Earlier this year a group committed to criminalizing abortion made a serious of undercover films taken at Planned Parenthood locations. Federal law prohibits medical providers from profiting from the sale of fetal tissue to medical researchers. On some of the tapes Planned Parenthood employees discuss the fees they will charge for shipping the tissue to these proposed buyers. There are a few clips where employees make vague references to agreeing to the prices proposed by the buyer because they would more than cover the related shipping expense. There are also some clips where medical professionals discuss the abortion process and the resulting fetal tissue in unemotional clinical language.

Somehow, the movement conservatives have taken these tapes to be evidence of vast crimes and depraved indifference to human life. Some Republican candidates, including Marco Rubio have insinuated that some women are pressured into having abortions so that Planned Parenthood can sell this tissue for profit. There is absolutely no evidence for this accusation and it makes very little economic sense. (Can you imagine a woman being talked into an invasive medical procedure by a doctor motivated by an extra $20? Of course not.  You're not a crazy person.)

The timing of this controversy is most unfortunate for the Republican party. The candidates now have to trip over one another to show off their disgust at this practice. The fact that one of the current front-runners for the nomination, Ben Carson, conducted medical research with such tissue is of no moment to the people who reflexively take the most radical positions against legal reproductive choice.  This race to the bottom just might come back to bite them. Marco Rubio has said that he believes abortion should be a crime even where the life of the mother is at risk. That position is perhaps philosophically consistent but it is political poison and if he does win their nomination, he will regret making that statement.

5. Immigration. This booby trap could not be avoided. The Republican base has extremely skewed ideas about illegal immigration. The issue is especially ripe for distortion by the right-wing media who can point to serious crimes committed by undocumented individuals as evidence of systemic lawlessness. So the Republican nominee was always going to be someone that talked tough on immigration policy. But Donald Trump ratcheted up the rhetoric within mere moments of entering the race. And most of the field chose to join him out on the fringe.  This is not helpful.

 I list this fifth on the list because I think there was little the GOP could have done to mitigate their position on the issue. It's also not as important to voters as the ones I listed above. But it will do long-term structural damage to the Republican party as the country become more racially diverse.

IV. The Electoral College.

The 2000 Presidential election was the worst event to happen to this country in my lifetime. I know no one died that day but it had two profound outcomes, and both have been disastrous. If you think I'm wrong, go back and watch the 2000 debates between Bush and Gore. They are on YouTube and they are hard to even fathom now. The issues of the day are how to spend our enormous budge surpluses. (Cut taxes or preserve the social security trust), how generous should the medicare prescription drug plan be and some vague clap trap about restoring honor and integrity to the White House.  (That didn't work out so well.)

The obvious one is that an utterly incompetent person became president. We squandered those surpluses on tax cuts and a completely unnecessary invasion of Iraq. The more subtle outcome was the polarization of politics into two identity camps called Red States and Blue States. One of my favorite political factoids is that before 2000, the colors Blue and Red did not mean what think they do. Al Gore was Blue in 2000 because the Democrats were the incumbent party. Blue being the color of tranquility, Red was used to signify the out party, who was hoping to change the previous result.

But in the Autumn of 2000, we spent a tedious month staring at that map wondering where Florida would go and ever since then we have thought of the country as two irreconcilable camps of liberals and conservatives. "Red State" and "Blue State" has become shorthand for a political identity. 

There has been very little movement across this divide.  In 2004 Iowa and New Mexico went Republican while New Hampshire switched sides for its neighbor John Kerry. In 2008 Barack Obama ran against a terrible candidate from a disgraced party.  He reclaimed Iowa and New Mexico while moving the battle grounds of Ohio, Florida, Colorado, Nevada and Virginia into the blue column. He also won Indiana, North Carolina and one congressional district of Nebraska, but he gave those back four years later.

Forty states and the District of Columbia have voted for the same party in each of the last four elections It strike me as very unlikely that any of those states will switch in the next election. 

I: 19 True Blue States worth 242 Electoral Votes.

II. 22 Deep Red States worth 180 Electoral Votes.

This means the election will be fought and won in ten states. I put them in three color-coded categories:

A,  Three Baby Blue States worth 15 Electoral Votes.
      The states that voted for Obama twice but for Bush once.
       (Iowa: 6 New Mexico: 5 New Hampshire: 4)

B. Two Pink States worth 26 Electoral Votes.
    These are states that voted Republican three out of four times
    (North Carolina:  15 and Indiana: 11)

C. Five Purple States worth 75 Electoral Votes.
      States voted for the winner in each of the past four elections, twice Blue and twice Red.
      (Florida: 29 Ohio: 18, Virginia: 13 Colorado: 9 Nevada: 6)

The Democratic advantage is obvious. If they defend the True Blue State, they need only win Florida to get past the magic number of 270. If they hold all three Baby Blue States that Obama won twice, they get to 257 and need only win Florida or Ohio or North Carolina or Virginia. If they lose all of those battlegrounds, they could still win if they win 2 of the remaining three states. (It is unlikely that they would win Indiana in an election that close but winning Colorado and Nevada seems very possible.)

I believe the next election will be similar to the previous four. The same battle lines will be drawn and the same demographic trends will move the close contests. The simplest formula to keep in mind for now is this:

                                     Blue (242) + A. Baby Blue (15) = 257
                                     Red (180)  + Pink (26) = 206   (AKA The Romney States)

If the Democrat defends every Blue State and Baby Blue State, they will need to win 13 of the 75 Electoral Votes in the Purple States. If that  Democrat carries Florida or Ohio or Virginia or Colorado as well as Nevada, she will be the next President of the United States.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Waiting for Godot (D-DE)

The second GOP debate was the one thing I thought it would never be: boring. The consensus is that Carly Fiorina won and it certainly seems like this format plays to her strength. She is likely to gain some steam and stay near the first tier going forward. The other semi-important development was that Scott Walker did nothing to help himself. He is beginning to look like he is in over his head.

The one truly disturbing moment came when Donald Trump was asked about his anti-vaccination stances. He clearly rehearsed for this moment and managed to answer the question in a way that would sound less than bat shit crazy to anyone who is completely unaware of the science. And then it got worse. Dr. Ben Carson and Dr. Rand Paul, two men with decades of experience as doctors responded to him by suggesting there was something wrong with the vaccination schedule. This is not just stupid, it's very dangerous. A lot of people had their anti-vax views validated by no fewer than three presidential candidates.  That was disgusting.

Speaking of boring, the Democrats.

There have been only two stories on the Democratic side: Hillary Clinton's emails and occasional speculation about who else might join the field. 

A. Hillary' Emails.
I haven't watched the McLaughlin group with any regularity since Hillary was First Lady but I will frame the subject as the moderator of that show might: On a scale of 0 to ten, zero being no scandal at all, 10 being a metaphysical certain death of her campaign, how you would rate the e-mail scandal? At this time Mort and Freddie the Beetle Barnes would say 8 or 9, Jack Germond would say 2 and Eleanor Clift would say zero.

I'll go with four.  It's still not clear to me if any real damage was done by her decision to not use a .gov e-mail address but it is clear that her judgment was poor. If nothing else, she saddle her candidacy with a monstrous distraction. The degree of this distraction seems worse because all of the energy this cycle has been on the Republican side. The impact on her polling numbers has also been lasting because people are simply sick of both Clintons and Bushes.

B. Whither Biden?.

Forecasting the Democratic race is boring because Hillary is and remains a prohibitive favorite to be the nominee. I don't think even Bernie Sanders would bet on himself to give an acceptance speech in Philadelphia next July. Handicapping the race has been made even more difficult by the continued practice of every major pollster to include Vice-President Biden in the field. Biden has been averaging about 15 percent in the polls that include him. In Iowa and New Hampshire that amount is greater than the gap between Secretary Clinton and Senator Sanders. It's also roughly equal to the combined polling numbers on the Republican Side of Scott Walker, Jeb! Bush and Marco Rubio. That's more than enough to distort the state of the race for a candidate unlikely to enter the field.

It's true that he has begun kicking the tires on a run but he's not in any great hurry to actually enter the fray. More problematic for him as a candidate is that there are simply very few policy differences between he and the front-runner. The only one that comes to mind is that he was against authorizing the raid that led to the death of Osama bin-Laden, a point that will be made endlessly during any primary against Clinton and in the general election against any Republican who can fog a mirror.

Yes, he has some great intangibles.  He's well-liked and very experienced. He has both an ironic hipster appeal and foreign-relations bona fides that go all the way back to the Cold War.  But he's also past his prime and better suited for his current role than for being the leader of the free world, although we'd trust him to assume that role in a pinch. His status reminds me of a sports cliche: the most popular guy in town is the backup quarterback.

But Hillary's weakness as a candidate is real.  If she wasn't a weak candidate, than Vice-President Obama would be rehearsing for his first debate against Senator Booker and a field of also-rans. So we have to acknowledge the possibility that she will not sweep Iowa and New Hampshire. If she splits them, she'll probably still look strong headed to South Carolina. But if she loses both, the party bigwigs and the Silicon Valley donor class will look elsewhere.  The only person that could raise the right amount of money and be treated seriously by both the establishment and the lefties is Elizabeth Warren. So yes, I'm including her in the forecast.

Where they stand:

Hillary still has the institutional support of all the right people. She has a ton of money and there is zero chance that she will go gracefully.  In June I said her odds of being the nominee were "comfortably over 95%" and I didn't attach a specific number to any other candidate.  That has changed, but only slightly.
Note: I used 95+ for more than 95% and -1 for less than 1% because < and > screwed up the HTML.
Candidate.                November 2014      June 2015     September 2015
Hillary Clinton                 70                             95+                  83

Bernie Sanders                  n/a                           -1                      5
Jim Webb                          10                            -1                      1
Lincoln Chafee                  n/a                           -1                      1
Martin O'Malley                  1                            -1                      1
Elizabeth Warren              12                             n/a                    5
Joe Biden                            5                              n/a                   3
The Field                           -1                               -1                    2

And yes, my preferred candidate is still Lincoln Chafee. And yes, he's the only one listed with a less than 1 percent chance to win. He is moderate, centrist, even-tempered and reasonable. Just does not feel like the the year for any candidate with those attributes.  Webb and O'Malley each get one percent because they are in the field and I can imagine things going to shit in a way that it falls into their lap. Webb's scenario would have to involve some kind of horrific war breaking out. O'Malley's would be something health-related forces Hillary to drop out and then he manages to eke out a  plurality primary win in a multi-candidate field. You know, just like Carcetti did in Season 3 of the Wire.

So the race is still Hillary's to lose. But unlike three months ago, I can now imagine a plausible scenario for that to happen. I will get on that general election preview soon.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Second GOP Debate Preview

For the past several months I have been intending to write a preview of next year's general election. But this Republican primary is just too entertaining to not obsess on their sideshow. Their second debate is tomorrow night and I wanted to update my forecast before this blessed event. But first a few observations about The Greatest Show on Earth

What We Have Learned About the 2016 Electorate.

1. The Fox News Effect is Real.  For seven years the yammering faces of Fox News have been selling their audience a steady stream of anger and vitriol directed towards the President and sometimes toward the Republican establishment. The audience bought it. And now the closest proximity to this product in the field is Donald Trump.  A frequent contributor to Fox & Friends, Trump has merely taken his shtick to the competitive field. And the same people are buying it.  

The most entertaining thing on television is watching Fox personalities like Charles Krauthamer and George Will act completely perplexed by Trump's domination of the field. They seem to legitimately not understand why the same people who watch their shows are enamored with the idea of a brash jerk who likes to insult people and offer simplistic solutions to all the world's problems. It's like they didn't know O'Reilly and Hannity have shows on their channel.  If Trump is the Monster of this election cycle, then Rupert Murdoch is its Doctor Frankenstein.

2.  Trump's Citizens United Jujitsu is Pure Brilliance. The biggest problem in the American political system was created by the Supreme Court just a few years ago, when they essentially deregulated Super PACs. The political process is now dominated by ever-larger donations from an ever-small class of extremely rich people.  The problem seemed to favor the Republican party who therefore had no incentive to do anything to reverse it. But they may soon be regretting that because Donald Trump's number one talking point has been that he is immune to the obvious corruption created by this system. He's self-financing his campaign and he does not have a Super PAC.  His number one talking point is stating the obvious: the rest of the field is compromised by these donations and they enter office under a cloud of malfeasance for all the favors they owe people.

Despair is the growing mood surrounding this election. But if you're the optimistic sort, then you might want to ponder the possibility that Trump mania just might convince the Republican party that unlimited donations by a tiny class of oligarchs is not the way to run a democracy. Who knows, maybe they will even agree to some non-trivial reforms. But only if they get their ass kicked first. 

3. The Republican Base Hates the Republican Establishment. At the start of the primary season I thought three candidates had clear, reasonable paths to the nomination: Rubio, Walker and Bush. Nate Silver agreed with my assessment, saying that each of these three candidates had approximately 25% chance of being the nominee, with the remaining quarter spread out among the field.  The most recent polling in Iowa and New Hampshire have all of these men stuck in the mid single digits. Some polls have them getting 12 or 13 percent...combined. (The most recent national poll has Scott Walker at just 2 percent; Bush and Rubio are tied at six.)

Trump's rise is only party explained by his incredibly brash persona. The second layer of his popularity is explained by his ability to whip up the base's emotions without committing to some of the really stupid aspects of Republican dogma. He's willing to say things about taxes, healthcare and even the Iran deal that would get Rubio, Walker or Bush killed by the right-wing talking heads.  The path forward is very long and filled with booby traps. It is unlikely that Trump will navigate them all safely.  But it's a lot more likely than anyone other than Trump himself could have forecast just 60 or 90 days ago.  

4. Hillary is still a lousy candidate but also still the heavy favorite to win the election.

The Questions I Would Ask.

If I were a panelist and had the opportunity to ask the candidates one question each, I would ask the following (in rough order of polling status):
1. Donald Trump.  You have indicated a willingness to raise income tax rates on wealthy Americans. If so, what is the lowest income amount that you would consider raising rates on. (Hopefully he'll give some spectacular Lucille Bluth answer like "How much can one banana cost, ten dollars?)

2. Ben Carson.  Doctor Carsson, Governor Jerry Brown of California recently sent you a flash drive filled with information about the evidence for climate change.  Have you reviewed that evidence and what is your assessment of its merits?  (I'd make his title sound like Tommy Lee Jones announcing the manhunt for "Doctor" Richard Kimble.)

3. Jeb Bush.  You recently announced a tax plan. Outside experts have calculated that 53% of these cuts will benefit the wealthiest 1% of society. Is that enough?

4. Marco Rubio.  You seem like a polite young man. Say something nice about Hillary Clinton.

5. Ted Cruz. You went to Princeton and Harvard Law School. Shouldn't you know better?

6.  Mike Huckabee. Do you believe the first amendment of the constitution applies equally to Christianity and other religions and why not?

7. Carly Fiorina.  The value of HP stock surged by three billion dollars when your resignation was announced. Why was Wall Street so glad to see you go?

8. John Kasich. You are one very few Republican governors who accepted an expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare. Has this decision benefited Ohio and would you as President encourage other states to expand Medicaid further?

9.  Rand Paul.  Would you be willing to make any reduction to the foreign aid that the United States gives to Israel?

10. Scott Walker. Do you think your anti-union policies will be a hindrance to the Republican party in the general election if you are the nominee?

11. Chris Christie.  You once behaved decently toward the President of the United States during a major natural disaster. One a scale of 9 to 10, how much do you regret that decision?

And no, I'm not wasting my time on questions for the kiddie table debate.

Without further, ado, I spill out a little of my 40 for Rick Perry's Historic 17th place finish and give you this:

 Updated Forecast

CandidatePre 1st debatePost 1st DebatePre 2nd DebateChange
Bush 343124-7
The Field1132

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