Monday, October 26, 2015

by Reed Galen

Days Until Iowa Caucus: 97

Quote by A Smart Person: "Through perseverance many people win success out of what seemed destined to be certain failure." Benjamin Disraeli

Welcome to the American Singularity.

Why the Singularity?

•    The presidential nominating process is one in which everything, large and small, is sucked into its gravitational maw, allowing nothing to escape its grasp as events pass through the campaign cycle’s event horizon.
•    There is no more singular political experience on the planet than electing the President of the United States.
•    The United States is still the most free, most prosperous and brightest beacon of hope to billions around the world.

Every action and reaction feeds into this black hole of press coverage, donor reactions, voter sentiment and activist opinions. Nothing goes unnoticed and nothing is forgotten. Legions of reporters, bloggers, opposition researchers, trackers, social media monitoring services, vacuum up every last syllable.

Every week we’ll take a look at the campaign as it unfolds, and how events reflect the campaigns, the issues of the day and the country at large. Have a tip, piece of advice or something to add? Email me – reed@jedburghs.com

The American Singularity - Insert: Republican Debate Pre-Game Report

Top Thoughts

The Republican candidates have been off the debate stage for six weeks. In that time, Governor Scott Walker has dropped out of the race, John Boehner announced he would step aside as House Speaker and Hillary Clinton, on the strength of her own debate performance and Christmas presents from Republicans, has seen her campaign seemingly turn a corner. 

The latest finance reports came out earlier this month, giving the world a close-up look at how the campaigns are faring financially. Carson raised (and spent) a ton. Cruz is strong. Rubio disappointed, but has kept spending to a minimum. And Jeb Bush's shock and awe strategy of Spring 2015 has seen his campaign transformed from battleship to pirate ship in short order.

CNBC will serve as the host for this debate. Knowing that, we can only hope that it's shortened length (two hours thanks to Carson and Trump) and the network's focus on economic and finance issues will allow the field to discuss the economy, still the number one issue of voters for the seventh year running.

Lastly, the event itself will be held on the campus Colorado University in Boulder. In choosing the location, the organizers managed to find the only city in the country that might remotely compete for title of "Liberal Capital of America" with San Francisco and Madison, Wisconsin (incidentally the site of the NEXT GOP debate.) CU students have requested tickets and been rebuffed. But if I were the folks at the Democratic National Committee, I'd have the College Democrats firing up every last kid I could find to make a mess outside the debate hall.

The Undercard

Once again the debate will feature the lagging candidates in an early contest. Happy Hour, the Kids' Table, whatever we're going to call it, the five remaining low-performers need to make a move. With the network hosts ratcheting up the poll numbers needed to be on the main stage, it is likely at this point that candidates in the undercard will stay there and a few hopefuls from the later event will likely slide into the minor leagues between now and New Year's Day. As we've seen on the Democratic side, at some point sooner than later, the longest of long shot candidates are going to need to move on with their lives. Unlike the Democrats, who had to invite everyone so as not to leave Bernie and Hillary alone on stage, the Republican field still has seven-eight legitimate contenders.

Main Event

Donald and the Doctor

What would happen if there weren't 15 candidates sharing the night, but only Donald Trump and Ben Carson? What would that debate look like. How would the front runners fill two hours of TV time? Other than immigration and carried interest taxation, Trump has studiously avoided actually policy proscriptions.

Carson's campaign is visionary; that is, a run based on HIS vision and philosophy for the country. Carson, too, has either not answered traditional policy questions or answered them so opaquely as to leave one wondering if he's spent much time thinking about them. They will be side by side Wednesday night. Will Trump try another low-energy attack on Carson? There is a fair amount of risk lampooning a candidate who enjoys an 84% favorability rating among GOP primary voters.

Trump needs to show he can discuss policy coherently and avoid the silly ad hominem attacks of September. Carson needs to display an ability to take hold of his pack-leader status and try to expand the voters willing to give him a serious look in Iowa and beyond.

Current-Riders

Carly Fiorina and Marco Rubio have done extremely well in both debates. Both have turned those performances into public, but not overwhelming financial, support. While riding high briefly, Fiorina has fallen somewhat, unable to break through a noisy media atmosphere. Rubio's ability to straddle the establishment and conservative wings of the party makes him formidable later on. Both candidates find their strength in the big events. They will need to do so again.

Ted Cruz has not had any standout debate performances, but his stature is rising among conservative primary goers, who now appear to be the majority of the party. He needs to do well in Iowa and must overcome both Trump and Carson to win outright. I expect Cruz will continue to espouse Carson-like social conservatism with Trump-like certainty. For these three candidates, this debate is all about setting up a later drive as we approach the caucuses and primaries.

Must-Winners

Where have all the establishment Republicans gone? Did they disappear into thin air? Will they, as they've done so many times previously, save the nomination for the most electable candidate? Or have they dwindled so precipitously in numbers that despite having two sitting big-state governors and a big-state former governor, the "Establishment Lane" can't catch fire.

Chris Christie has performed well in both debates so far. They have given his effort life. He does well in these settings and I expect that he'll do well again. John Kasich has done fairly well but needs a breakout performance to solidify growing support in New Hampshire. Mike Huckabee has largely seen his support, eroded after eight years away, go to the likes of Ben Carson and Ted Cruz. Huckabee will be literally be touting fire and brimstone as he rages that we should "Burn Washington down." Rand Paul likely needs to take one last look around the stage for this go-around and head back to Kentucky to salvage his US Senate seat.

But Jeb Bush, surprisingly, has to have the biggest night of them all. While Bush received fair marks in both debates, the only people they reassured were those who already have "True Believer" stamped on their forehead. For the donor class and establishment voters, Bush's troubles over the past six weeks have severely dented his air of inevitability. He must be positive, forceful and forthright. He must expect questions about his campaign's financial troubles and avoid (PLEASE AVOID) tangling with Donald Trump, who like Jaws, now senses blood in the water and will be on the prowl. As Bush said in South Carolina over the weekend, he's got better things to do than get knocked around while running for President. If he doesn't perform well in Boulder, his donors and his voters may begin to agree with him.

Posted
AuthorReed Galen