Sunday, April 23, 2016

By Reed Galen

Quote by a Smart Person: "Number one...cash is king...number two...communicate...number three...buy or bury the competition." Jack Welch

Welcome to the American Singularity.

We’re down to it. Between now and June 7th, the political fate of the five remaining candidates still alive in the Presidential Primary Election will play out over the remaining 20 or so states yet to vote. The Democratic contest looks decided in principle, if not quite electorally. Hillary Clinton has a formidable lead in Super Delegates and looks to maintain her lead in pledged delegates as she attempts to put Bernie Sanders away for good. But she hasn’t won yet. The Republican side is tumultuous. The candidates and the party engaged in conflict on multiple levels. Candidates vie for wins on Election Day while their operations cater to “unbound” delegates at local party conclaves around the country. GOP poobahs are being courted by the various campaigns to either join up with a campaign or stay on the sidelines until the Convention.

Indeed both parties are experiencing the internal G-forces of not just broadly disparate voters, but the increasing distance between those who elected Republicans and Democrats to office, those party elite who see themselves as the keepers of the ideological torch of both tribes. Regardless of the outcome of both contests, each party has a great deal of self-examination to do both before the conventions, before Election Day in November and into the future. While Hillary Clinton will ably represent the Democratic establishment, the GOP, short of massive upheaval in Cleveland will have a bonafide outsider at the top of the ticket.

With the stretch run set to start on Tuesday, let’s take a look at the campaigns left in the contest:

Scouting Reports

Donald Trump: The Trump campaign is the 1989-1990 UNLV Runnin’ Rebels under Jerry Tarkanian. How fitting both have stakes in Las Vegas. A high-octane, high-offense operation, Trump doesn’t do defense. Trying to knock him off rhythm is the best you can probably hope for; more likely it will be a mistake of his own making that would ultimately lose him the GOP nomination. And while his style of play is unconventional to say the least, that flair and bombast has engaged millions of new (or long-fallow) voters in the Republican primary. Against a more experienced, determined, sophisticated opponent in the General, Trump still likely loses. But it will be one hell of a show to watch him try.

Tark the Shark watches his UNLV Runnin' Rebels play ball in 1990. Courtesy AP

Tark the Shark watches his UNLV Runnin' Rebels play ball in 1990. Courtesy AP

Ted Cruz: If Trump plays like the Rebs, Ted Cruz runs a campaign like his alma mater, Princeton, plays basketball. A lot of technical gameplay. Crisp passing and the four corners offense proves he and his team know the game cold. They have enough self-awareness to know Cruz is no natural political athlete, so he makes up for it by knowing the rules of the game better than anyone. The Cruz campaign, like them or not, has run the best operation of 2016 so far. They know their stuff. They know their voters. They know their data. But like watching the Tigers play basketball, it’s not a particularly inspiring thing to witness. In basketball that may not matter, but in politics, winning hearts and minds is crucial to the country believing you should occupy the White House.

John Kasich: The Kasich campaign won’t quit. They came to the tourney relatively late and hung around like enough to make the quasi-semi-finals. His team plays with heart, they play with defiance and they play like they have nothing to lose, because frankly, they don’t. Like Northern Iowa this year, he’ll need to heave up a three-pointer at the buzzer to make it past Cruz and Trump. He stays in because he has the money. He stays in because he believes he’s the best chance to beat Clinton in the fall. And perhaps he stays in because he knows, as a second-term governor in his sixties, this is likely his last shot. The convention will be a home game for Kasich. He’ll need to have every last fan and referee on his side when he gets to Cleveland.

Hillary Clinton: The Clinton machine is big, well-funded and stocked with the most talented operatives money can buy. She is the Duke Blue Devils of this presidential season. She has a history of success spanning decades and, like Duke, those loyal to her are loyal to no one else. And just like Duke, she is reviled by so many others; Republicans and many Democrats alike. The Clinton campaign will have whatever it needs in money and manpower this fall. But like Cruz, her campaign will need to use those resources and the fact her Republican opponent is likely to be even less popular than she is, to win in November. She may inspire some. But she lacks the gene of either her husband or President Barack Obama to personally connect with millions of people on a personal level, even on television. This is clearly not her fault. That sort of charisma is in-born: people have it or they don’t. And most people don’t.

Bernie Sanders: If there is a Cinderella story this year, it’s Sanders. From humble beginnings as a socialist Senator from Vermont to a contender for the Democratic nomination, Bernie has shocked and surprised everyone with his staying power, his ability to inspire millions of young voters and to raise money in boatloads without employing a traditional fundraising operation. His chances of winning the nomination are slim; but the impact of his candidacy has already had marked effect. He single-handedly prevented Clinton from being able to stay center-left, moderate or traditional establishment Democrat in her positions. Bernie’s gravitational pull on Clinton’s left flank has changed the discussion of the Democratic race and it will ultimately change the General Election. Hillary’s reorientation for the fall is now far more dramatic a move than it would be if Sanders hadn’t entered the race.

Roster Moves

Campaigns hate “process stories” - those pieces reporters love to write and people love to read that detail how a candidate’s operation works on the inside. The Trump campaign’s internal strife is catnip for correspondents and political junkies alike. The palace intrigue, who’s winning, who’s losing, who’s in and out, it all makes for what most think of when they watch House of Cards or The West Wing. But shakeups are as old and common as the campaigns themselves. I’ve been part of one - it’s no fund being on the losing end. And even if it’s not something as high-profile as Paul Manafort acing out Corey Lewandowski for control of the candidate, the money and the schedule (the three best things to control), most roster moves are far more mundane and under the radar.

You’ll arrive at the campaign one day and you’ll see a new face. You’ve probably heard of them, if not worked with them before. They’ll have a title like “Senior Advisor for States” or something nebulous like that. Later in the day you’ll find out that they’ve actually taken over the field program. The Field Director is still there. Still sitting at their desk, still getting paid, still getting on phone calls and going to meetings; but now, someone else does their job. Campaigns are intensely conflict averse so rather than firing someone outright, they’ll be “layered” by the aforementioned senior advisor. If layering isn’t really an option, suddenly a job at the Convention, the national committee headquarters or in a target state will suddenly need to be filled immediately. Before anyone gets to work on Monday, the Field Director has been shipped to Cleveland or Philadelphia or back to Washington under the newly created title of Director of Special Projects. It is often a ruthless and cold-blooded process.

These moves typically coincide with a rapidly growing campaign infrastructure. The effort will reorient itself to 12-14 target states (Ohio, Florida, Virginia, etc…) and simply needs more bodies to make all the different pieces work. A corner of the office will be reserved for the soon-to-be-named Vice Presidential office, a microcosm of the larger effort. Young staffers who’ve done excellent work will be given more responsibility - campaigns are at their hearts meritocracies, even if dysfunctional ones. Old campaign hands will reappear to help with major events like debates. From a relatively tight crew of a few dozen people that stood up Hillary 2016 over a year ago, the campaign will swell to a thousand people, maybe more, spread all over the country. It is a billion-dollar start-up that launches, does its work and closes shop in 18 months. There’s little like it in the world.