Friday, 26 February 2016

Christie endorses Trump

Chris Christie, governor of New Jersey and one of the candidates for president who has departed the Republican race, has endorsed Donald Trump for the job.

A lot of speculation going on that Christie wants to be considered for the Vice Presidency. And let's face it, he will be out of a job in 2017 (term limited), has pretty awful job approval numbers (about 29% give or take) and tanked in the nomination race, so the only way he is going to get another role is through patronage. If not Veep, he would take a cabinet position. Heck, he would probably take anything that was offered.

He has known and worked with Trump for a few years (Trump being from just across the water in New York) and Trump's politics, when they aren't completely 'out there for the shock value', are more in tune with Christie's Northeastern values than anything else.

Trump is now massive favourite to win the nomination and Christie hates Rubio and Cruz and has little chance of re-building bridges with them. So if you are going to endorse anyone, it may as well be Trump. And he gets extra points for being one of the first elected members of the GOP to actually endorse Trump.

Unintelligible Yelling

There was another Republican Presidential debate last night. Pretty much summed up in one image:

Donald Trump needed to be taken down and two of his four remaining rivals tried to do just that. Both Ted Cruz and (especially) Marco Rubio were determined to land a blow on the billionaire. They attacked his failure to publish his tax returns, his plans for healthcare, his alleged business failings and his use of illegal immigrant labour.

But most of the debate descended into shouting which will have done no candidate much good. Only John Kasich stayed determinedly above the squabbling. But the moral high ground has very low poll numbers.

The commentators seem to have split between awarding the win to Trump and Rubio. So maybe Rubio will pick up a few points ahead of the eleven state Super Tuesday next week. But with Trump now so far ahead, what Rubio really needs is for his rivals - particularly Ted Cruz - to drop out of the race and give him a clear run against Trump.

......

Meanwhile, there is a very important election going on today.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Bernie down. Bush out. Boris for Out.

Bernie Sanders lost the Nevada democratic caucuses by just over 5%. According to Nate Silver and his team at FiveThirtyEight.com, if Sanders and Hillary Clinton has been tied nationally, he would have expected Clinton to win Nevada by about 3%. So Sanders is down on that, but not by a huge amount.

In among the overall result, it is estimated that Sanders did better among hispanic Americans than predicted but even worse among black Americans than previous estimates.

......

Sorry for the prediction that Jeb! Bush would be the last establishment Republican standing. He won just 7% of the vote in South Carolina and came in a virtual tie with John Kasich and Ben Carson. He was miles behind Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, who each managed around 22% and even further behind the winner Donald Trump. Before the dust was settled, Bush called it a day.

......

When a presidential candidate gives up, they suspend their campaign rather than formally ending it. This is because if they end it they have to pay back their donors, whereas if they suspend it then (at least in theory) they can come back. Semantics, but financially very important.

......

Boris has announced that he will be joining the Leave campaign in the EU referendum. The way that the media have reacted, you can be sure that the entire focus from now until June 23rd is going to be on Boris vs Dave. Non-Tories may as well take the next four months off for all the chance they will have of any media appearances.

I also think the chances of a decent debate featuring the leaders of each side (assuming they are Boris and Dave) are now virtually non-existent. The PM will put forward a surrogate and I fear Boris will wipe the floor with them.

Boris' decision indicates that he thinks Leave can win and that he wants to play the short game when it comes to leadership of his party.

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Jeb! News

In years to come, someone will design a campaigning course based around the Jeb! Bush campaign. It will be how not to run for president.

Among the modules will be:
  • You can't make a really dull candidate more exciting simply by putting an exclamation mark after his name.
  • You really should buy up all the common URLs based on your candidate's name, otherwise someone will buy the .com version and point it to the website of your main opponent. Read more here.
  • If you tweet a picture of a handgun with your name inscribed on it and the word 'America', it would probably be best if that gun wasn't made by a Belgian company.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Good news for superannuated sports fans who still think their time might come...

News from the States where a local bank manager got drafted in to be reserve goalie in an NHL ice hockey game. Not only did he get the best seat in the house, he was paid $500 and was declared man of the match (and got to keep his jersey.)

Read the full story here.


US presidential update: In which Jeb! gets a gun

President Obama says that Donald Trump won't get into the White House because it is a serious job. But the Republic voters of South Carolina still seem set to make the New York property developer their top choice. The latest batch of polls, including some taken after Saturday's debate when he appeared to have something of a meltdown, give Trump a commanding lead.

PP Politics had:

Trump 35%
Rubio 18%
Cruz 18%
Kasich 10%
Carson 7%
Bush 7%

There is still time for movement before the vote on Saturday and Jeb! Bush is going after Second Amendment voters by tweeting a picture of a personalised hand gun - something that has outraged many.


The most interesting number in the PP poll is that Marco Rubio appears to have refound his form and could take second place. Whether he beats Ted Cruz or not, he seems well ahead of the rest of the establishment candidates. If that is the result that emerges from Saturday then my 'Buy Bushes' advice might have come a cropper.

......

In other news, the President has said he will be nominating a new Supreme Court Justice and that this person will be indisputably qualified for the seat. So my guess is that he will pick a comparative moderate and he will portray any Republican senator who tries to delay confirmation as simply playing politics.

Best quote on the issue comes from Senator Elizabeth Warren (herself mentioned as a possible nominee, but hardly in the moderate mould):
Article II Section 2 of the Constitution says the President of the United States nominates justices to the Supreme Court, with the advice and consent of the Senate. I can't find a clause that says "...except when there's a year left in the term of a Democratic President."


Sunday, 14 February 2016

An excuse to re-watch the West Wing

Another Republican debate - something like the 524th of this primary campaign - but in order to liven things up a bit, the organisers brought in an audience from a WWE wrestling event. And this audience didn’t like Donald Trump one bit. To be fair, Trump decided now would be a good time to expand on all the policies he supports which are at odds with Republican mainstream. In particular, he lambasted George W Bush, blaming him (and by extension Jeb!) for the September 11th attacks, and the Iraq war. It’s worth remembering that W still has a 67% favourability rating among current republican voters and the decision to go to war is even more popular.

Trump also defended Planned Parenthood, the organisation which helps women in the USA to obtain abortions (among many other services). And he chose to raise his own policy on what is known in the USA as eminent domain - compulsory purchase here in the UK. The eminent domain debate is so esoteric and hard to fathom that in seven seasons even the West Wing never made it a story line. Although Ted Cruz did make it into an attack ad.



But apparently it matters to some Republican voters who don’t support Trump’s line. So Trump’s decision to raise the issue is either going to bore or alienate voters.

What is the outcome of all this Trumpery? He’s so far ahead in the polls in South Carolina that it is unlikely to stop him winning there. Perhaps it was just Trump being Trump?

......

The other big news is the death of the most Conservative Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia. This gives President Obama a chance to tilt the balance of the Supreme Court towards the liberal side for the first time in a while - crucial when there are likely to be cases on abortion coming up soon.

But with just under a year left in office, the question is whether Obama will be able to get his nomination through. In theory he should be ok. The longest period from nomination to confirmation is 180 days or so. But Obama will need to pick someone who can be confirmed, consult widely and vet the choice before they are put forward. If he cannot get the support of 60 or more senators (and that means at least 14 republicans) then he will be at the mercy of a filibuster as conservatives seek to hold the appointment over to the next president. So he won’t get to nominate another liberal inclined judge as he did with his first two appointments (which were to replace liberal justices in any case and so did not upset the balance of the court).

One interesting idea doing the rounds is that if Hillary Clinton wins the presidency then she should appoint Obama to the court.

The West Wing did cover the issue of appointing a Supreme Court justice a couple of times, so I'm off to re-watch those episodes.


Friday, 12 February 2016

On to South Carolina for the Republican race

In the aftermath of the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday there has been a bit of flux in the polls for the next state in the Republican contest - South Carolina. As expected, the candidate with the best outcome from NH - Ohio Governor John Kasich - has got a significant bounce from his second place there - an eight point jump, largely at the expense of the candidates who have left the contest.

The latest poll, by the Augusta Chronicle, sees Donald Trump still with a commanding lead. In second place is Ted Cruz, followed by Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush and Kasich. But Kasich has jumped to 9% from just 1% of voters who said they would back him in the last published poll by Marist for the Wall Street Journal and NBC. The only other candidate still in the contest, Ben Carson, trails in sixth.

The figures in full (all comparisons are with the Marist poll):

Trump 36 (no change)
Cruz 20 (no change)
Rubio 15 (+1)
Bush 11 (+2)
Kasich 9 (+8)
Carson 5 (-3)

So Donald Trump looks on course for another big win - confirming his status as the front runner - and Ted Cruz will cement his standing as the main challenger. But the race is tightening for third place between the three candidates vying for 'establishment' front runner status. My guess is that whoever ends up with third spot next Tuesday will be seen as secure in the contest for a few weeks to come.

But if Marco Rubio fails to get that third spot then he will come under huge pressure to withdraw. His campaign set out a 3-2-1 strategy a couple of weeks ago - aiming for 3rd in Iowa, 2nd in New Hampshire and a win in South Carolina. He failed by just a few thousand votes to get the second place he wanted in New Hampshire but has put a huge effort into South Carolina. More so than any of the others, if he fails to live up to expectations then he may be seen as a busted flush.

With his huge organisation and PAC money, Jeb Bush will survive anything but a cataclysmic performance in South Carolina. Kasich looks like he will do okay, but that is probably not good enough for a candidate short on money. Third place will keep him in the hunt. Fourth or lower might spell the end.

UPDATE - CBS South Carolina GOP race poll
 
Trump 42%
Cruz 20%
Rubio 15%
Kasich 9%
Bush 6%

So Trump has picked up 6 points, putting him even further ahead, almost exclusively at the expense of Jeb! Bush.

Funny but fair - how to generate political nicknames that work

As political attention spans get shorter, it becomes ever more important to be able to label a candidate or a cause with a nickname that resonates. Whether you are tagging your own side or your opponents, if you can find a reference that people will remember then you have made a major step forward.

The history of political nicknames is a pretty long one. They divide into four basic categories:
  • those which are basically affectionate endorsements of a character;
  • those which are dreamt up by newspapers
  • those created as put downs by people supposedly on your own side, and
  • those designed to label your opponents in a negative fashion.

So Charles Kennedy, before he became Leader of the Liberal Democrats, was Chat Show Charlie - thanks to his frequent appearances on TV in panel games. To those who believed politicians should be serious at every turn, the nickname was an insult. But Kennedy kept up the appearances both because he was comfortable in such situations and was making a connection with those who would never dream of watching Question Time. See also Dennis Skinner, the Beast of Bolsover.

UK newspapers, in particular the tabloids, are responsible for many of the best nicknames. Paddy Pantsdown stayed with the former Leader of the Liberal Democrats long after people had forgotten the details of his affair with a former staff member. John Prescott will always be known as Two Jags for his government car use. And referring to Norman Tebbit as the Chingford Skinhead accurately reflected his willingness to trade blows (albeit metaphorical) and I suspect was a nickname he didn’t particularly mind.

Labour seems to be a fertile breeding ground for epithets designed to denigrate one of your own. The party has given us Brains (David Miliband), St Ella (Stella Creasy), and the Streatham Obama (Chuka Umunna). None are intended to be particularly complimentary.

Some politicians will be lucky enough to be given nicknames from more than one source. So Ed Miliband was Red Ed to the right wing press and (when a Special Advisor in Downing Street) the Emissary from the Planet F*ck according to Alastair Campbell.

When it comes to generating a nickname for your opponents, it can be a tricky business. There is the danger of being seen to be over the top or, most dangerous of all, unfunny. You might even find your nickname is taken on board by the recipient. So when Labour’s Harriet Harman (herself nicknamed Harperson by opponents deriding political correctness) labelled Danny Alexander the Ginger Rodent, not only did this deflect from the far more dangerous (because it was funny) Beaker epithet, but also gave Alexander the chance to take the name as his own, to the extent that he sponsored a guest beer in a House of Commons bar named ‘The Ginger Rodent’. The joke was on Harman.

In the United States, the attacks on Barack Obama claiming he was secretly a muslim were recognised by mainstream republicans to be alienating to most voters. But whilst they did not find favour with the GOP presidential campaign, Obama was referred to in all internal campaign briefings as BHO - for Barack Hussein Obama (his full name). If the republicans could not claim that their opponent was a muslim, they could at least continually remind people that he had a muslim sounding middle name.

The run up to the EU referendum in the UK is looking like fertile ground for nicknames. Home Secretary Theresa May is seeing the revival of her Theresa Maybe label as she vacillates between support for In and Out camps. And the attempt by the Leave camp to tag their opponents as Remainians could be seen as a clever move, linking the the notion of Romanian migrants to an In vote.

In UK by-elections, the labels get somewhat more personal. The Conservative candidate in the 2006 Bromley and Chislehurst by election, Bob Neill, came close to losing a 13,342 majority (holding on by just 633 votes) after a targeted campaign by the second place Liberal Democrats who named him Three Jobs Bob in respect of his roles as a barrister, member of the GLA and health authority boss, a targeting that Neill reflected on angrily in his count speech.

In 1991, the Liberal Democrat candidate in the Hemsworth by-election, Val Megson was labelled by the media as ‘the candidate who hasn’t paid her poll tax’. True enough. But at a time when many thousands of less well off voters in the seat were also struggling to pay the charge, it might not have been the worst nickname to have - particularly when it deflected attention from a number of other alleged financial difficulties the candidate was facing. Although never in danger of winning that contest, she nevertheless leapfrogged the Conservatives to take second place.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

When voters don't understand their job (a US election post)

The point of the primaries is to pick a nominee and the point of the early contests is to narrow the field somewhat so that the choice is clearer. The trouble is that voters in neither Iowa nor New Hampshire appear to have read their job description. Donald Trump’s failure to win in Iowa had him reeling, but his win in New Hampshire - and at 35% he hit the very top of the predicted range - restores him to favouritism. Ted Cruz, for all that he should have been weeded out by now, is in it for the long term thanks to his Iowa win. He also speaks to the Tea Party and the evangelicals in a way that no other candidate remaining does.

But in the mainstream column there is a clusterf*ck of epic proportions. John Kasich ‘won’ New Hampshire by coming second to Trump and will receive flavour-of-the-moment status despite his campaign being low on money. For the Ohio governor, New Hampshire was always going to be a good contest but there are few bright spots on the primary horizon. The failure of Jeb Bush and Chris Christie to shine - and Marco Rubio’s descent back into the pack - gives Kasich a few days of attention which he will have to make the most of if he is not to fade again.

......

While it is likely that Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson will be dropping out soon, the plethora of candidates in the ‘Not Trump or Cruz’ column is troubling for the party. The media love to talk up the prospect of a contested convention but the GOP appear to be playing into their hands. A run of states friendly to the Trump (and more so, Cruz) vision is coming up and the supposedly mainstream candidates could be calmed in very shallow waters unless something can be sorted quickly.

But (and it is a big caveat), if the mainstream could get behind a single candidate, then the pressure will fall back on Cruz and Trump. Neither is the sort of character to bow out but if they are facing a single establishment candidate then they are likely to lose a lot of states.

......

If Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina do drop out after New Hampshire then what happens to their supporters? They may have been also rans but they had the backing of about one in nine republican voters. The pollsters (who largely got it right in NH) suggest that the Carson fans will break for Cruz above Trump and the Fiorinas for Rubio above the Donald. But there may be a bit of tactical scrambling to be done among the remaining candidates over the next 48 hours.

......

The next primary is South Carolina which is a something for everybody state. Unlike Iowa (lots of evangelicals) and New Hampshire (lots of liberals), each of the different parts of the Republican Party will be able to find a lot of supporters for their cause next week. So the primary will be an opportunity to see who is able to turn out their supporters and, possibly, win a few from one of the other camps. But it is also possible that it will produce yet another muddled result in which everyone can take a positive and no candidate drops out.

......

If I had to guess what will happen then I think Chris Christie will be bowing out this week or next. So too will John Kasich after his few days in the sun and a disappointing result in South Carolina. Which will leave the mainstream to Jeb and Rubio. And whilst Rubio was given his chance after Iowa, his showing in the New Hampshire debate was pretty disappointing and late-deciding voters on Tuesday say they were put off by this. If he doesn’t recover pretty soon then he might be seen as another busted flush. So for all that the latest Bush has been written off and his vote tally underwhelmed in New Hampshire, it may well be time to see Jeb as the great survivor. Buy Bushes.

......

A footnote on John Kasich. So far, he is the only candidate (on either side) talking about winning the general election. As a left-leaning Republican it is probably the case that he doesn’t really have anywhere else to go. But while the bulk of the GOP candidates are talking to a small constituency on the right of American society, it was pretty clear that Hillary Clinton wanted to be able to tack to the centre and hoover up enough support to win the Presidency before the GOP even had their nominee sorted. But the strength of the Bernie Sanders campaign has thwarted this ambition.

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Is Hillary Clinton the new Barack Obama? In a complete reversal of eight years ago, it is Clinton who is relying on the higher income, intellectual and ethnic minority voters. Bernie Sanders is picking up the blue collar and rural Democrats who Clinton won last time. (Clinton still wins among women and loses among the young, however).

......

For all that Sanders won big in New Hampshire, the odds are still stacked against him for the nomination. None of the next few contests are even close to his ‘backyard’ either geographically or demographically. He has the momentum at the moment but will have to capitalise on it hugely - and pick up a resonance among black voters that he has failed to show so far - if he is to have a chance.

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Speaking of having the odds stacked against him, Sanders must also overcome the vagueries of the Democratic system. He (all but) tied with Clinton in Iowa and won comprehensively in New Hampshire but some how trails Clinton in delegate numbers. Not that it will be close enough to matter come the convention, but young idealistic Sanders fans will find it hard to come to terms with this sort of machine politics fix. (H/T John Ault for the link)

......

The billion dollar question is whether former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg will do more than hint at a third party candidature. It is said that he is determined to avoid a Trump (or Cruz) presidency. The trouble is that whilst a third party candidate has traditionally been of the Ross Perot right - and thereby weakened the Republicans - a Bloomberg centrist run is likely to take votes away from the Democrats. Pit Bloomberg against Hillary and they may battle to a score draw allowing Trump or Cruz to win on a (very messy) plurality. Only if the Democratic nominee is Bernie Sanders does Bloomberg actually emerge as a possible winner. And that ain’t gonna happen.