Wednesday, May 6, 2015

by Reed Galen

Days Until Iowa Caucus: 271

Officially Declared Candidates:

·      Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-AR)

·      Dr. Ben Carson (R-MD)

·      Carly Fiorina (R-VA)

·      Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT)

·      Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)

·      Sec. Hillary Clinton (D-NY)

·      Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)

·      Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)

·      Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA)

Quote by a Smart Person: "Gravity is more powerful where there's more stuff." - David Christian

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

This Week: Populism’s Gravitational Pull (or Bernie and Carly and Ben and Huck)

Four candidates jumped into the increasingly crowded Presidential swimming pool this week. And four more different candidates it would be hard to imagine: A socialist, a former Fortune 500 CEO, a brain surgeon and a bass-playing southern Governor make for the most interesting* and diverse collection of contests we’ve yet seen.

*Note: Interesting does not denote electoral strength in this context.

But their differences shouldn’t define them. Individually and collectively they share a common trait; despite their long climbs to a presidential nomination, they will each reshape the race in their own way – providing the gravitational pull of smaller bodies that has the potential to change the trajectory of larger objects that pass by them.

Further, they each have the ability to siphon off support, attention, money and momentum from larger, better-funded campaigns, not necessarily affecting their own outcome in the race, but upsetting the applecart far above them in election results. In the GOP contest for example, the difference between garnering 19% support in the Iowa Caucuses and 15% may mean the difference between finishing first and catching fire and finishing fourth and going home to the Capitol (choose your own – state or national.)

I’m Bernie, I’m Bernie, I’m Bernie For You

Bernie Sanders is the leftiest lefty to run for president since Eugene V. Debs left the stage back in the 1920s. Thankfully, Bernie didn’t have to spend anytime in the pokie for his views. Sanders’ entry into the Democratic presidential contest fills a void on the far left that might have been taken by Senator Elizabeth Warren.

Unlike Hillary Clinton, Sanders has the ability to ignite the passion of true-believing liberals. During his announcement speech on the lawn of the US Capitol, he excoriated income inequality and the billionaires that cause it. Unlike most other candidates, he’s sworn off a super PAC in favor of building his support on the foundation of small dollar donations.

Courtesy Bernie 2016

Courtesy Bernie 2016

What Sanders says, does and believes has a direct effect on how Clinton conducts her campaign. Like 2007-2008, she now faces a candidate firmly to her left on most major issues, though without the transformational nature or ability of then-Senator Barack Obama. That Sanders is the longest of shots doesn’t matter. Drawing Hillary further into the Deep Blue Sea has real, practical consequences for a General Election campaign should she win the Democratic nomination.

Hillary and Bill have never been true believers – they’re compromisers, dealmakers and pragmatists. Activists hate those things. To counter the passionate orthodoxy Sanders can bring to his campaign, Clinton and her team will have to build a Potemkin Village of ‘true liberalism’ – keeping the far left at bay long enough to get through primary season without shooting herself in the foot (again.)

Senator Bernie Sanders held a press conference this afternoon to officially announce his 2016 run for the White House. Courtesy YouTube.

iCarly, uCarly, weCarly, sheCarly

Carly Fiorina’s story is one that ranks up there with many of the other self-made candidates in the GOP field. She started as a secretary at Hewlett-Packard and ended up in the CEO’s office. True, there was trouble to be had when she got there, but in her case, the journey is likely more important than the destination.

This too may be the case for her presidential ambitions. As the only woman, only Fortune 500 CEO and a breast cancer survivor, Fiorina brings a unique voice and perspective to the GOP contest; that is good for her, and good for the campaign at large. She is a long shot to win the nomination, but she will have an immediate impact on the field.

Courtesy Carly Fiorina 2016

I saw Fiorina speak at a conference (of which I was an organizer) in Washington earlier this year. I hadn’t seen her on stage since she debated Barbara Boxer during her US Senate run in 2010. I was struck first by the passion of her remarks – a spirited defense of conservatism and a dismantling of liberalism, and by the simplicity of her argument.

As an old friend and colleague of mine (and former Fiorina campaign manager) Marty Wilson told me, “She is a tireless campaigner and fearless when it comes to overcoming obstacles in her way.”

She’ll be outspent and likely out-organized, but Fiorina will have a place on the debate stage as long as she wants one. Like all other candidates, she will be fully vetted by the press and her opponents. And without natural or built-in constituencies, she will need to work harder convincing voters in early states that this is truly her time to be President.

 (Author’s note: With so many qualified candidates likely eligible for debates, the RNC may have to set up choral risers to make them work.)

Paging Dr. Carson, Dr. Ben Carson

Ben Carson may arguably be the smartest person (by IQ) to ever run for the presidency. I don’t know this to be the case but I do know he’s a retired pediatric neurosurgeon who performed the first separation of conjoined twins - which I guarantee no other candidate in American history has done.

I also know that sometimes folks with these super brains have trouble communicating to the likes of you and me – they live on a different plane. Indeed, he’s already had several verbal miscues that made me scratch my head.  

Watching his announcement speech in Detroit yesterday, I was struck by his soft-spoken manner. This probably ideal in the sterile air of the operating room, but may make it tough to rile the passions of Iowans and Granite Staters looking for someone to follow.

Carson’s performance at the National Prayer Breakfast made him into a darling of an as yet undefined segment of Republican voters. One speech does not a campaign make. While he can claim expertise on healthcare, his bona fides on other issues remain to be seen.

And while I haven’t figured out the electoral rationale for his candidacy, operatives working for his Super PAC, the 2016 Committee, told me they have already recruited 30,000 volunteers to Carson’s cause and raised $16 million since August 2013. I don’t know where all these folks live or whether they’ll translate an online sign-up to actually showing up in early states, but it’s certainly worth keeping an eye on. If he can truly mobilize early state voters with an enormous field army, he will affect the calculus of other GOP entrants. Take a look at the collected media coverage he received below. By comparison, Carson had more than five times the number of stories as Fiorina.

Social share and media coverage of Ben Carson's presidential announcement. Courtesy @ZignalLabs (http://zignallabs.com/)

Social share and media coverage of Ben Carson's presidential announcement. Courtesy @ZignalLabs (http://zignallabs.com/)

Who Hearts Huckabee?

For Mike Huckabee, the song remains the same. Today, as in 2008, the former Arkansas governor will rely on his staunch social conservatism, generally good humor and populist, champion of the workingman rhetoric.

In Iowa, as before, he will likely do well. Caucus goers are older, whiter and more conservative than just about any other voters in the country, save Huckabee’s own home in the Deep South. As Matt Lewis points out, Huckabee will have an immediate impact on the likes of Ted Cruz – another candidate who is trying to woo social conservatives and bring straight talk to the campaign trail.

But it’s not just Cruz whose glide path will shift with Huckabee’s entry. Governor Scott Walker, who squandered a perfectly good opportunity to be the establishment alternative to Jeb Bush, moved himself into the right, more conservative lane of the primary field. This move may end up badly for Walker.

But it won’t be because Huckabee is viable anywhere past the cornfields of the Hawkeye State. If there is such a thing as a “Big Government Conservative” Huckabee is it. He doesn’t want government to go away, he just wants to move it out of Washington and closer to your house.

During his speech in Hope, Arkansas, Huckabee referenced the 1950s twice – first about lining up to receive the polio vaccine and then to mention old Westerns with good guys in white hats and bad guys clad in black. They were both appropriate as much of the speech felt like it could have been given during Dwight Eisenhower’s 1956 reelection campaign. The only things missing were the Red Menace and a duck and cover drill.

His reliance on old tropes – like abolishing the Department of Education (a good idea, sure? But come on,) and his reference to meeting “men in American Legion caps” illustrates a guy who hasn’t been out much in the world except to leave his big house in Florida for his Fox News studio in New York.

Though Huckabee claims to be ready to appeal to the other two-thirds of Republicans not identified as social conservatives, watching his speech and listening to him, it’s hard to believe he can or wants to do that. As I wrote in early 2008, even those of us who don’t publicly announce our faith have deeply held beliefs – many we hold just as dear as Huckabee does his own. Claiming the moral high ground isn’t what we’re looking for. Nor are we willing to be lectured about it.

Magnetizing, But Not Magnetic

Each of the four candidates who launched their presidential bids has their unique story to tell. They each have their own ability to affect the race in small, but substantive ways. And while they may make other, larger and more formidable campaigns move tactically around issues of common concern, it remains to be seen that any of them can harness the organization, resources or momentum to go all the way to November 2016. That being said, their efforts may have an outsized effect on who else gets there.

Author’s Note: This series is not in any way related to Harold Hyman’s American Singularity – The 1787 Northwest Ordinance, 1862 Homestead and Morrill Acts and the 1944 GI Bill.