Monday, September 14, 2015

by Reed Galen

Days Until Iowa Caucus: 137

Quote by A Smart Person: "The political arena leaves no alternative, one must either be a dunce or a rogue." - Emma Goldman

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

American Singularity – Insert: Reagan Library Debate: Pre-Game Report

A Note on Rick Perry

Last week, Governor Rick Perry became the first Republican to end his campaign for the White House. Despite having performed well throughout the summer, the effort was starved for cash and had trouble moving numbers. I do not believe Perry’s decision to engage Donald Trump directly was ultimately responsible for the campaign’s troubles, but it will be remembered as a key part of his story in 2015. Perry’s decision to retire from the field also highlights the fact that having millions of dollars in a super PAC cannot make up for hard money. There is only so much an outside effort can do without coordination – as evidenced by the fact Austin Barbour was unaware of Perry’s decision until he checked his cellphone last Friday.

For the remaining candidates at this week’s “Kids’ Table” debate, it begs this question: If a 14 year governor of Texas, one of only two military veterans in the field, whose state created more net jobs than any other in the union after the economic collapse and the only with firsthand experience dealing with immigration was unable to make the case for his candidacy, what exactly is your rationale for remaining in the race?

The Bobs would like to know. From Office Space, courtesy 20th Century Fox.

The Bobs would like to know. From Office Space, courtesy 20th Century Fox.

The race was better for having Governor Perry in it, and it is worse for his absence. I’ve known he and his team a long time and think a great deal of all of them. I wish him the best in his next endeavors.

Now, onto the show.

Top Thoughts

With one debate under their belts, the candidates should have an idea of what Wednesday will be like. Good candidates and campaigns have ruthlessly examined their high and low points from last month and should, to the extent possible, make sure they’re ready for Wednesday night.

The host of the debate, CNN will not conduct the debate in the same manner Fox News did in the opening contest. It’s not in their DNA. With radio host Hugh Hewitt serving as a panelist, there will be an inquisitor with true conservative bona fides putting the candidates through their paces. Whether he will make special light of Donald Trump’s comments following their radio segment last week remains to be seen.

With CNN drafting most of the questions, I’d expect to see more discussion related directly to policy – both economic and national security. The candidates should come prepared to offer specifics when asked about the Iran nuclear deal, the refugee crisis in Europe or the country’s continuing sluggish economic growth. Jake Tapper and Dana Bash are veteran political reporters. I hope the panel presses candidates who try and skirt issues.

Outside In

If last month’s Cleveland debate was all about the Donald, Simi Valley will be all about The Outsiders. Trump has retained or extended his lead in early state and national surveys. Dr. Ben Carson, the antithesis of a Trump candidacy, is surging. And CNN went out of its way (in a move I agree with) to include Carly Fiorina on the stage Wednesday night. Each of them has unique skills – Trump the quickness on his feet, Carson his calm, thoughtful demeanor and Fiorina, an ability to deliver razor-sharp answers and draw in an audience.

Courtesy Zoetrope Studios

Courtesy Zoetrope Studios

Whether the three of them will tangle remains to be seen – the political veterans would probably hope so. I believe both Carson and Fiorina, sensing their momentum, know better than to attack Trump directly, or even take a moderator’s bait to do so.

Xs and Os

As I noted above, the campaigns need to take their experience from Cleveland and devise a new game plan for California. Each of the 11 candidates on the stage have specific goals they must accomplish, whether it’s just surviving the event or if it’s making a serious move among a crowded field. With an additional participant, there will be even less airtime for the contestants to make their case to the audience at home.

In particular, Governor Jeb Bush needs a blueprint that will both allow him to parry what are likely to be incoming shots from Trump, show that he indeed has energy to burn, and should still be the choice of the GOP establishment. But he cannot ignore Trump, at least not altogether. The danger of dancing with the Donald is that he loves to play the game, and it’s often a one-way street. Once you start, Trump isn’t going to let you go until he feels like he’s taken his pound of flesh.

Ooh! Ooh! Ooh!

For several of the candidates, 2015 was their Summer of Discontent. Former front runners now find themselves back in single digits after Labor Day. Trump has vacuumed up oxygen and support to their detriment. Specifically, Governor Scott Walker and Senator Rand Paul must reassert themselves; both having suffered bad summers and lackluster (at best) first efforts in Cleveland. Paul was laid low by one-liners from both Chris Christie and Trump. Walker looked more like part of the backdrop than a participant last month.

Ron Palillo as Arnold Horshack in Welcome Back, Cotter

The challenge is to assert oneself into the conversation without looking like Arnold Horshack on Welcome Back Cotter. Senator Ted Cruz, too, will have to get past his long-programmed high-school debate rules and put himself in the mix, if for no other reason that to try and sweep up some of Trump’s support, should he falter later in the fall.

The Dude Abides

There are three candidates that may be able to ride the wave of the cycle this week. Senator Marco Rubio has seen his poll numbers decline, but his campaign has by all accounts been well run and he is a natural political talent. Judging by his effort to date, Rubio is playing his game and letting the campaign come to him. He should continue this strategy on Wednesday. When asked a question, answer it. When baited, deflect it.

Ohio Governor John Kasich, too, has impressed with his early performance, unique brand compassionate conservativism and a solid (albeit home field) first debate. Kasich has the policy chops to school most others on stage. He has just enough rogue in him to stick it to those who would abide by dogma alone. And Kasich, too, appears to understand his game: go to New Hampshire and appeal to Granite Staters who like a straight talker. 

Governor Chris Christie may be near the bottom of the Top 11, but he’s built for debates. With a ready quiver of tough one-liners, Christie did well in Cleveland and gave some excellent answers, specifically on entitlement reform. He should do what he can to replicate last month’s performance, taking his opportunity to make forceful statements and remind Republican voters why he was once their favorite.

Governor and Mrs. Mike Huckabee with Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis and her husband. Courtesy Raw Story

Governor and Mrs. Mike Huckabee with Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis and her husband. Courtesy Raw Story

And then there’s Governor Mike Huckabee. After last week’s drama in Kentucky with the Kim Davis Affair, Huckabee reasserted himself as the social conservative in the race. He should build on the attention and work to pump up his voters and remind other faith-based Republicans why he’s been one of their favorites for so long. He can still own the evangelical vote, but he needs to focus on messaging to them and win his lane.

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