Thursday, July 23, 2015

by Reed Galen

Days Until Iowa Caucus: 201

New Candidate this Week: Gov. John Kasich (R-OH)

Quote by a Smart Person: "I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy necessary in living." Dr. Seuss

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

Week 18: Trump Awakens the Establishment

The lumbering GOP Establishment has been awakened from its slumber by Donald Trump running through the political forest, making too much noise and drawing attention to himself. Photo Courtesy Gerd Wustknecht/AFP-Getty Images

The lumbering GOP Establishment has been awakened from its slumber by Donald Trump running through the political forest, making too much noise and drawing attention to himself. Photo Courtesy Gerd Wustknecht/AFP-Getty Images

Over the weekend, Donald J. Trump, the monomaniacal millionaire mogul who has to date roiled the Republican race for president, cracked the door open for his opponents and the Republican “establishment” to begin taking him on directly. During a candidate forum in Iowa, Trump mused that John McCain wasn’t really a war hero because he’d been captured by the North Vietnamese and subsequently imprisoned and tortured in the Hanoi Hilton for the next five plus years.

Immediately, most of the mainstream Republican world jumped all over Trump – lighting up social media and the blogosphere with denunciations and accusations of supreme disrespect for the one-time Republican presidential nominee.

Trump did not and will not apologize for the remarks, instead doubling-down in what is now his trademark response to most things. The moment represents the first instance in which the balance of the field (save Ted Cruz) was willing to openly criticize The Donald. For many opposition research and rapid response sharks, they only need a little blood in the water to start circling.

A Holistic Issue

The lollapalooza that Trump has transformed the GOP nominating contest into has drawn enormous attention. But to what benefit? No one who marks himself as an independent in a target state is taking a second look at the Republican Party to decide if they agree on policy positions. They’re tuning into the freak show – waiting to see which contestant can hurl themselves into a pot of boiling oil as Donald stands by, laughing and pointing.

And with the latest news that Hillary Clinton is now lagging well behind other Republican candidates in several battleground states such as Colorado, Trump’s antics make it that much more difficult to accomplish the ultimate goal of all this: Winning the White House and taking the country in a different, better direction. Bottom line: Donald, you’re mucking this up for a candidate who can actually beat Clinton and be a conservative president.

Hillary Clinton is trailing in three target states. Courtesy, RealClearPolitics

Hillary Clinton is trailing in three target states. Courtesy, RealClearPolitics

Why the Establishment Candidate Wins

To that end, I posit that Donald Trump is actually a larger threat, in a primary contest, to those that are pursuing the very conservative end of the spectrum in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. It’s a crowded field all around, but those chasing single-issue voters tend to have smaller war chests than Trump carries around in his wallet. If he comes in and steamrolls them, their fight to reclaim the White House for cultural conservatism, already a long shot, goes away altogether.

And as we get past the early small states, the numbers get bigger in larger blue and purple states. The number of establishment voters begins to grow and consistently outpace those voters for whom the hot button issues make up most of their reason for participating.

Courtesy New York Times

Courtesy New York Times

The Establishment Lineup

Though there are 16 candidates in the race now, they won’t all make it to Iowa and New Hampshire. The toughest part of this time in the campaign is simply getting to the first Election Day. Even with Super PACs following closely behind, some also-rans and even past Caucus winners may flame out before anyone casts a ballot.

Lucky for the Establishment, Donald Trump didn’t run in 2012. While Romney most likely would have prevailed, he might have had a much more difficult time dispatching The Donald than he did Newt and Santorum (and that wasn’t exactly easy.)

This year, the mainstream Republican bench is stocked with quality candidates. Here’s why they’re likely to outlive Trump and make it to Game Day:

Jeb Bush

If you can only have two things in politics, money and name ID are a good place to start. Add those to Bush’s record as governor of Florida, soon to be sprawling organization and family track record, he will be formidable early next year. So far he has been on the receiving end of some of Trump’s sillier attacks and has chosen to largely ignore the noise.

Marco Rubio

Rubio has had a strong start even if his numbers have declined slightly. He’s raised a healthy amount of money, has multiple outside committees helping him and is still the only viable candidate who can claim the voice of ‘tomorrow’ among the field. He’s been canny in how he’s spent his money – achieving a low burn-rate coupled with a multi-million dollar ad buy in early states. He’s also largely avoided being singled out by the party’s number one carnival barker. In the debates, if he can avoid the crossfire and get his messages in, he’ll do well. He also is the only candidate among this group with a future in presidential contests should he want one – given his age (43) and an open Governor’s seat in Florida come 2018.

Rick Perry

Perry will likely claw his way to the debate stage in Cleveland next month on the back of strong retail campaigning, thoughtful and substance policy pronouncements and a willingness to be the only candidate who will go after Trump head on - going so far as to refer to him as a 'cancer' on conservatism. This is good for Republicans and good for Perry as it keeps his name intertwined with that of Donald. Perry is on the conservative side of the Establishment spectrum but he’s got the bona fides with the activist class and a great story to tell in Texas.

Gov. Rick Perry's remarks on Donald Trump. Courtesy, Twitter.

Gov. Rick Perry's remarks on Donald Trump. Courtesy, Twitter.

Scott Walker

Walker’s stock rose precipitously on the back of his Iowa performance earlier this year. And while he maintains a lead in Iowa and is polling well nationally, he will have to clean up what look to be conflicting positions on a number of issues and a perception that he’s not ready for prime time. While he may have been able to duck the media during his pre-announcement phase, given the amount of air time Trump is filling up, Walker will have to take advantage of every opportunity he can to get his name out to early state voters. Still he has the ability to communicate to both Establishment voters in New Hampshire and conservatives in Iowa.

John Kasich

Kasich’s late entrance into the race would be harmful if there weren’t so many other candidates vying for the Republican nomination. He’s got policy chops from his days in Washington and is enormously popular at home in Ohio. While he may not make it to the Main Event on August 6th, that may actually be a boon for him. While Bush and Perry spar with Trump, Kasich will have the opportunity to introduce himself to an enormous Republican audience with relatively clean air.

Chris Christie

While Bridgegate might have blunted Christie’s popularity, he’s still a strong natural politician. If he camps out in New Hampshire, conserves his campaign funds and carries a strong Super PAC to buy late media in Manchester and Boston, he can play in the First in the Nation Primary. And while he too, might be left out of the Top 10 next month, utilizing the early debate to reintroduce himself to Republican voters may be just what the doctor ordered.

Carly Fiorina

Fiorina has gotten rave reviews for her early campaigning in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. As the lone woman on the GOP side, she’s able to contrast herself and Hillary Clinton in a way that no man can. As someone who has seen her speak, she has an excellent command of the audience and her riff on the difference between what it means to be a liberal vs. a conservative is not to be missed. While she has a much tougher climb, with low numbers on the fundraising front and no natural constituency, she’s an excellent foil for Trump’s nuttiness.

Kicking and Screaming

The end of Donald Trump’s campaign will not come soon, nor will it come easily. But it will come. The Establishment candidates need to do what they do best: outline a practical, conservative vision of the country, build their organizations, and motivate their voters in states large and small. Trump has all the money in the world ($10 BILLION) by his own admission. With his habit of doubling-down on foolish statements and decisions, he might well spend tens of millions of dollars out of spite. At the end, he’ll be a little lighter in the wallet, probably a TV star again but still only going to the White House as a guest.

This prize is too big. This is not a legislative primary in a southern state. This is not even a contest for a US Senate seat. This is the fight to be leader of the free world. If it is the Establishment’s job to ensure they find someone who is both electable and capable of governing, than their task may have never been more important.