Thursday, November 5, 2015

by Reed Galen

Days Until Iowa Caucus: 87

Quote by A Smart Person: "I love the urgency of what we do. I like the battles that take place, the jousting." Mike Wallace

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 –

The American Singularity - Week 33: T-Minus 90 Days

We’re three months to the Iowa Caucuses. All of the work, money, television ads, emails and debates will soon become something tangible: winners and losers. The snowy wastes of Iowa and New Hampshire will once again be littered with the aspirations and ambitions of presidential contenders. As we begin the end game of the pre-primary period, here is a quick reset of the Republican contest.

The Field

15. Even after all this time, we’re still carrying an enormous slate of candidates through the fall. Perry and Walker left us more than a month ago. Pataki and Gilmore just won’t leave. The size of the field has made debates difficult and predicting an eventual nominee a full-employment opportunity for pundits and media alike. The candidates represent the full spectrum of American conservatism, and so far, the outsiders are winning the race.

Surprises (So Far)

Donald Trump

When The Donald launched his campaign this summer the political glitterati (myself included) believed this was one more stunt by the bombastic billionaire businessman. His outspoken opposition to illegal immigration got the Trump candidacy into orbit. Trump’s inability or unwillingness to speak coherently about “the issues” as we typically hear from candidates has not harmed him. His up and down debate performances have not materially harmed him. His numbers have plateaued but have stabilized. Whether or not he is ultimately the nominee, Trump has fundamentally changed the direction and tenor of the race to date.

Ben Carson

The only person running a less conventional campaign than Trump is Dr. Ben Carson. His support has been rising, again without the virtues of a traditional campaign platform or structure. He enjoys enormous favorability among GOP primary voters and is positioned well to win the Iowa Caucuses. Whether or not he can turn this support, and his ability to raise large sums of money into electoral success remains to be seen. But if the strongest evangelical candidate winning Iowa is now a tradition, then Carson may wake up February 2nd as the frontrunner for the nomination.

Jeb Bush

Jeb Bush’s campaign planned for the D-Day landings. Bring overwhelming force and barrel inland on your way to a broad-based victory. Instead, when the door to the landing craft came down, Bush world found itself in the middle of the Tet Offensive. (hat-tip: a smart friend for cleaning up my analogy) Fighting an asymmetric battle against non-traditional opponents appears to have thrown Bush’s campaign off-balance to a place from where it may not be able to return. Their latest attempt at a reboot “Jeb Can Fix It” leaves a lot to the imagination. What is he fixing? His campaign? The country? Jeb’s financial strength (on the super-pac side anyway) still allows him to change the dynamic of the race – but it as likely to change in someone else’s favor as his own.

US Marines take cover from North Vietnamese snipers in Hue during the Tet Offensive. 1968. Courtesy UPI

US Marines take cover from North Vietnamese snipers in Hue during the Tet Offensive. 1968. Courtesy UPI

Scott Walker

Walker rose to far, too fast and collapsed like a giant game of Jenga. Without a firm grasp of issues, and multiple positions on others, Walker wasn’t able to turn his early success into long-term stability and growth. While I didn’t believe he’d be the ultimate nominee, I was surprised how quickly the campaign lost lift and ultimately fell terminally back to Earth.

Carly Fiorina

Carly, better than any other candidate, has so far crystallized what it means to be a conservative versus what it means to be a liberal. She's had two very strong debates and is steady in the middle of the pack. She need another breakout moment. Currently there are too few people that wake up in the morning and self-identify as Carly voters. She must do well in next week's debate in Milwaukee to reignite her campaign and push her fully into orbit. Without that focused attention, it is unlikely she will be able to maintain her lift.

Finalists for the RHG Political Management Award

Marco Rubio

As I’ve said several times this year, the Rubio campaign has run the best campaign, pound for pound so far. The freshman senator has shown a natural political talent that only a couple of his opponents enjoy. Their fundraising numbers haven’t been the strongest but they have been the best by far on husbanding their resources. Rubio’s performances in the debates have allowed him to rise despite the noise created by Trump and Carson. Rubio is now positioned as one of the four likely finalists for the GOP nomination.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) (left) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) (right) Courtesy USA Today

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) (left) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) (right) Courtesy USA Today

Ted Cruz

Cruz’s rise has taken a bit longer to find his footing and his voice but is coming on strong as we swing toward the New Year. While Cruz is anathema to many, if not most, Establishment Republicans, his ability to fire up conservatives is unquestioned. He is a highly intelligent and ambitious individual who knows his place in the race and has resources to back him up. His biggest issue is whether his effort can weather a loss or two as he awaits the fall of Carson and/or Trump. Cruz has already been active in the Southeast, site of the so-called “SEC Primary” and likely has the best story to tell in that ultra-conservative region.

Chris Christie

While Christie still has a long road ahead to winning the GOP nomination, he is going to get a second look from voters in New Hampshire and other early states based on the strength of his debate performances. His crowds are growing. His comfort level is increasing. The scars of New Jersey are beginning to fade. His team is made up of very smart, thoughtful and solid professionals (disclosure: all are friends and colleagues on past campaigns.) If he can continue his slow and steady pace to February, he may well surprise us.

This Time, Four Years Ago…

It doesn’t matter what happened this time four years ago in terms of individual candidates. It just doesn’t. Michelle Bachmann and Herman Cain, despite their individual blips on the radar screen, were never going to be the Republican nominee, let alone the president. Mitt Romney, once Rick Perry faded, was the alpha in the pack. Despite the best efforts of Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, neither of them was going to be the GOP standard-bearer in 2012.

Former Rep. Michele Bachmann (left) and Herman Cain (right). Courtesy Getty Images.

Former Rep. Michele Bachmann (left) and Herman Cain (right). Courtesy Getty Images.

However, something we should look at strategically is how voters’ affections start to move in the next four to six weeks. It was this time four and eight years ago that Mike Huckabee (2007) and Rick Santorum (2011) started showing their organizational strength in the Hawkeye State. Given the chaotic nature of this year’s race and the later caucus date (February 1st, 2016) this effect may be delayed slightly.

However, as the holidays approach, campaigns with resources will either have to start spending them down to try and give themselves a bump or hold their fire until after New Year’s Day and hope there’s enough inventory and mindshare to break through.

Exit, Stage Right

Rand Paul

The Bluegrass State beckons. Senator Rand Paul started the 2015 cycle as one of the most interesting candidates. He will likely close out his presidential campaign

George Pataki

Pataki is a throwback to another New York governor, Nelson Rockefeller. And like Rockefeller, Pataki’s brand of old-line Republicanism isn’t playing with an angry and reactionary electorate. He, too, left office better than a decade ago: The world and the GOP have fundamentally changed in that time. Pataki may well have a contribution to make, but it’s not in this field.

Jim Gilmore

No longer invited to debates, the former Virginia governor continues his quixotic-at-best race for the White House. Gilmore should take a page out of Lincoln Chaffee’s playbook and hang up his spikes. The White House was always a chimera for Gilmore. It’s time for him to clear the field.

AuthorReed Galen