Thursday, September 3, 2015

by Reed Galen

Days Until Iowa Caucus: 160

Quote by A Smart Person: “The ear tends to be lazy, craves the familiar and is shocked by the unexpected; the eye on the other hand, tends to be impatient, craves the novel and is bored by repetition.” - W.H. Auden

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 24: Different ≠ Better

As I mentioned last week, Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina have made the biggest moves to date in the GOP primary election. While still five months from the first Caucus, their success has solidified the notion, this early in the campaign season, that voters are unhappy with politics and politicians as usual. But just being new and different doesn’t make one better. Often the new new thing makes us feel good, until we realize it’s not that good for us and it’s not going to keep us happy for long. Like a kid with a new stuffed animal - they love it - until the next one comes along or you find them playing in an old Amazon box.

The GOP’s Seven Year Itch
The reminder that neither Donald, nor Ben nor Carly have held elective office is now ubiquitous. Indeed, the balance of the Republican field has decades, if not centuries of collective political experience. But in the early states and nationally, GOP primary voters don’t seem to want to hear any more from them.

They’ve been married to Establishment Republicans for many years and the fire left the relationship long ago. Voters and the politicians who represent them are not speaking the same language, aren't concerned about the same things and are not even listening to one another. Like any relationship on the skids, once the communication goes, the inevitable breakup is only a matter of time.

What is interesting is how Carson, Trump and Fiorina have gone about making their case to skeptical voters. Trump’s place on the political spectrum is ultraviolet - you can’t see it but you keep getting a sunburn from it so you know it’s there. Carson lays out his vision almost philosophically; less specifics on programs or policy and more about why we do things and how we should do them.

Donald Trump is dominating the media and social media in the presidential race, according to data provided by Zignal Labs. For comparison, Hillary Clinton is next with 10% share of voice.

Donald Trump is dominating the media and social media in the presidential race, according to data provided by Zignal Labs. For comparison, Hillary Clinton is next with 10% share of voice.

Fiorina, of the three, is most in line politically with the majority of the “Establishment” Republican candidates. However, her ability to crystalize a compelling message in simple, but substantive terms is her competitive advantage. Other candidates give speeches. Carly makes a solid case for conservatism over liberalism, and why her experience is what the country needs.  

True Believers
For political consultants, the idea that many die-hard activists would rather lose on principle than win an election with a less than perfect candidate has caused us to lose our hair and eat way too much McDonald's. But true believers want it all - and they are typically the backbone of any viable political party. In the case of Trump, ironically enough, GOP activists are willing to put aside his apostasy on many of their core issues because The Donald is so willing to stick it to the Jeb Bush’s of the world and the corruption of Washington. He had them at “Immigration.”

Fiorina, it should be remembered, ran a much more conservative 2010 California Senate race than Meg Whitman did for governor, spent a tenth of the money, and fared far better (despite still losing by 10 points.) Carson has a solid movement on his side - propelled forward both by social conservatives and as one of my friends texted, this week, “For me Ben Carson is the most interesting candidate at this point. He must really have a decent grassroots effort. He’s so below the radar but getting so much traction.”

Clone Wars
The Neo-Trio is absolutely taking advantage of their non-status among the politicians in the race. The remaining 14 candidates in the race all have generally similar views on the biggest issues of today: Business Good. Taxes Bad. Iran Bad. Obamacare Bad. Immigration...Next question! There are only a few degrees of separation among them on core Republican policy issues. With such a crowded field, a candidate without an Obama-like ability to command a stage, has difficulty connecting with voters in a large scale way.

Infographic Courtesy Crowdpac. Relative Liberal or Conservative mapping based the partisan make-up of political donors and recipients over time.

Infographic Courtesy Crowdpac. Relative Liberal or Conservative mapping based the partisan make-up of political donors and recipients over time.

Much of what will happen in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina in the next six months will be candidates literally trying to win over voters individually - at state fairs, house parties or fish fries. The debates, though, where the contenders have the chance to offer their vision to a macro audience, is where the Clone Warriors may have the most difficulty. Most have neither the over-the-top brashness of Trump nor the cool, clarion vision that Fiorina has demonstrated so far. To break out of the pack, one of the other candidates will have to make a forceful and compelling case of their own.

Heart Over Head
As Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post pointed out this week, voters in surveys don’t care about policy specifics. When asked about their stance on a given issue, they give a pollster an answer, but given Trump’s schizophrenia and Carson’s relative lack of policy experience or platform, clearly the voters aren’t judging them based on their research papers. As Cillizza writes, “Just 41% of Republican Caucus goers said they wanted their preferred candidate “to be clear about specific policies” while almost six in 10 (57%) said they would simply trust him or her to figure it all out once they got into office.” (Emphasis mine)

Survey Data Courtesy RealClearPolitics

Survey Data Courtesy RealClearPolitics

Any decision, including for whom we vote is ultimately emotional in nature. We then wrap rationality around them to make sense in our own heads. Barack Obama, George Bush, Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan may have offered solid policy proscriptions during their campaigns. But each in their own way was able to communicate to voters’ hearts in a way that brought their heads along for the ride. So far Trump, Carson and Fiorina are best riding the wave of an extremely emotional electorate.

Hitting the Beach
A parting note on Trump and his effect on the race writ large. His entrance into the contest has brought out, in stark relief, those campaigns that, early on, had a solid strategy that has allowed them to compensate or pivot around the fulcrum that is The Donald. Eisenhower’s famous words about plans and planning are as true today as they were in 1944. Once the campaign is underway, the process takes over - and that in a nutshell is the American Singularity. Those that are able to react successfully to an intrusion the size of Donald Trump may find electoral success down the road. Those that can’t will be one more footnote in history.

American soldiers go ashore at Normandy on June 6, 1944. Courtesy National Infantry Museum

American soldiers go ashore at Normandy on June 6, 1944. Courtesy National Infantry Museum

American Singularity Reader Survey #2
Now that we’re into September, it’s time for the second installment of the American Singularity Reader’s Survey. The questions are the same as before, and it should only take about five minutes to complete. You can take the survey here: http://goo.gl/forms/oxQPkPLwJO

I’ll release the results in a couple of weeks. As always, your name and information will remain confidential.

Thanks for your help!

Reed