December 18, 2015 by Thomas Hauber
The Early Primaries… and beyond
Everybody loves a horserace, punsters, pollsters and potential prognosticators like the Waffle and Crow. Early crowing by this forum all but crowned the big-money establishment candidates as likely nominees without mention of primary battles. Despite a minor Bernie Sanders insurrection, Hillary’s widespread party support has never faltered and nobody believes her nomination is seriously in doubt.
The Republican Party in contrast has been in chaos even before the primary season exposed its deep wounds. With the ouster of House Speaker John Boehner, the Republican establishment effectively threw in the towel. The Party had been successfully hijacked by the House Freedom Caucus, a group comprised of about forty U.S. Congressmen from over 25 different states that believes the Federal government in Washington simply does not represent them. Spawned by the Tea Party movement, the Caucus’ avowed goal of “limited government” is the logical culmination of a carefully thought out strategy begun twenty years ago by none other than Newt Gingrich, a college professor turned Representative of Georgia’s 6th Congressional district.
Newt had a plan to wrest the US House of Representatives from decades of Democratic control by initiating a campaign of confrontation and obstruction. He attacked his fellow legislators with ethics charges and, rising to the Speakership of the House, threatened to shut down the government twice. Mann and Ornstein in the book, “It’s even Worse than it Looks,” point out, “Thus he adopted a strategy of vilifying Congress itself hoping to negate the incumbent advantage in elections by associating those incumbents with a corrupt institution. “ What follows from a frustrated electorate is the current mantra to “throw all the bums out”. With government itself perceived as the problem, a new breed of Representatives (the Freedom Caucus) came to power seeking to dismantle government altogether. What surprised everybody as an unintended consequence of the current government stalemate was a hostile takeover engineered by businessman Donald Trump. By thumbing his nose at the entire Republican Party, he all but buried the established pols represented by Governors Bush, Christie and Kasich as well as temporarily marginalizing the entire field. Trump even threatened to run as a third-party candidate if what was left of the Republican establishment abandoned him.
It is pretty clear Trump’s support lies with the so-called Angry White Males (AWM) whose early voice has been the loudest. Interesting to note Gallup did a poll attempting to verify Trump’s “blue-collar” support. Gallup revealed a straight gender gap of +21%, men over women, the highest of the candidates. When the dividing line includes college degrees, further gaps appear for Trump that are not characteristic of the other candidates.
While Trump and the House Freedom Caucus may share the overlapping support of the disgruntled and disaffected white males, Trump does not share the Freedom Caucus’ grand ideological plan to dismantle the government. Trump believes Social Security and Medicare both work and its silly to attempt to dismantle them.. Trump scolds America for not taking care of its Veterans, its elderly, or from funding schools and the nation’s infrastructure. Trump doesn’t mind paying his fair share of taxes and opposes those who enjoy privileged tax breaks. Like him or not, there is a certain amount of business practicality in Trump that the pure ideological right does not countenance. To my mind we have much less to fear from Donald Trump than the logical representative of the obstructionist House Freedom Caucus, namely Ted Cruz, who would starve every one of the above programs to death. Recall Cruz just last month revealed his desire to eliminate the IRS, the Departments of Education, Energy, Commerce and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. This a recipe for complete social chaos and the return to the jungle where it’s everyman for himself.
To this writer there is something insidious going on within the new Republican Party. The seeds of its chaos seem a logical extension of the Southern state Dixiecrat revolt that began over civil rights legislation in the 60’s. While the Democratic Party has stuck pretty much to its ideology, the Republican Party is now infected with the same vitriolic ideological arguments that are as old as the philosophic debate between State’s Rights and Federalism. It is as symbolic and potentially damaging to public policy as the War to preserve the Union itself.
Large portions of this country profess no love or need for a central government. The southern states dislike being told what to do by Washington. The heartland’s religious and cultural provincialism has isolated it and embroiled it in a furious culture war. The country’s overall anti-immigration attitudes harden while Conservatives fan the flames of the fear factor. Texas openly boasts of secession as its Chamber of Commerce advertises Texas, “… as a whole other country.” Farmers and Ranchers in Wyoming and Montana claim they have nothing in common with a government so far away as to have no relevance to their lives and so they form militias to protect themselves. When the central government itself is perceived as the problem, politicians lose, especially incumbents, and the opportunity arises for outsiders to seize the podium.
Along came the egotistical Donald Trump in an surge that finally gives the country’s angry white males the voice they’ve always wanted. Trump’s bombastic non-PC barrage resulted in an inevitable backlash with Ben Carson emerging as a softer and gentler citizen-statesman. Carson could not survive the national security vetting and the growing fear factor following repeated terrorist attacks. Carson supporters looking for someone else to have faith in turned to fellow evangelical Ted Cruz.
With the crashing of the Big Three Governors, the fall of Ben Carson, Rand Paul’s fatal anti-military stance, the apparent discounting of Marco Rubio’s impetuous youth and Carly Fiorina’s desperate attempt at respect, Republicans had been frantically looking for someone to close ranks around. Ted Cruz was the only logical alternative. Despite his Harvard law establishment credentials, he has craftily masqueraded as a Texas good ole boy while snubbing his fellow Senators and snuggling up to the House Freedom Caucus. Cruz to this writer defines the term demagogue.
Going into the final debate the media set the stage for a potential battle between the renegade Donald Trump and the Party ideologue, Senator Ted Cruz. It never happened.
The Donald had previously called Cruz a maniac for going off the Senate rails while condescendingly accusing him of me-too-ism for agreeing with him on everything. With his numbers rising, Cruz turned the other cheek realizing Iowa’s evangelicals were taking him as their personal savior. Trump is no evangelical. His paper-thin Christian credentials amount to little more than big-city Presbyterianism and a warehouse full of Bibles he doesn’t feel like recycling. I believe both men took a cautious look at their support and decided Iowa was not the time or the place to start a range war. Instead of a cage match what we got in the last debate was a temporary love fest.
Trump even took the pledge to support the Party’s eventual nominee in an attempt to mainstream his candidacy and forestall any attempts at the party from icing him out. Trump and Cruz essentially hugged each other on stage over a variety of shared hardline positions including immigration and tough talk on ISIS while agreeing to keep American troops safely away. In the past both Trump and Cruz were publically outspoken in opposition to the Iran nuclear deal. At least for now, there wasn’t anything to fight about.
Trump and Cruz are clever calculating men circling each other looking for some potential advantage. Each is a little unsure of their future support and whether the America voter will opt for broader practicality or strict ideology. Both would like to win Iowa but would be happy with a 50-50 split.
Iowa is the first primary and non-binding as it awards no delegates at the outset. As such it is a free-for-all to test any and all campaign strategies hoping to find an receptive audience. Everybody enters but few survive. Iowa has faithfully foretold the Democratic nominee since 1996. It has recently been less accurate in selecting the eventual nominee from more fractured Republican Party fields. In 2008 Mike Huckabee won the Iowa primary with John McCain, the eventual nominee, coming in fourth. In 2012, Rick Santorum, Ron Paul and Mitt Romney (the nominee) each won an indecisive one-third of the vote. Prediction: Iowa women will give Cruz a narrow win.
The temporary truce in Iowa probably signals the front-runners are looking toward New Hampshire, a state that actually awards convention delegates albeit only a few. New Hampshire gets massive media attention and allows the first look at undecided voters who, if they are not registered in either party, are free to vote in either primary. New Hampshire also has the reputation of vaulting upstarts into serious contenders while forcing also-rans to scratch from the race. In 2008, the State correctly chose the eventual Republican nominee John McCain over Mitt Romney, who in 2012 won the primary handily over Ron Paul.
On the Democratic side, New Hampshire correctly chose Gore in 2000, Kerry in ’04, but hiccoughed in 2008 choosing Hillary Clinton over Obama by a scant 2%, but chose Obama in a runaway in 2012. I feel Trump will take a more practically minded New Hampshire.
By far the most interesting of the final “early primaries” is South Carolina. Since 1980, South Carolina has correctly determined the actual Republican nominee. It has earned the reputation as the contest that separates the men from the boys eliminating any upstart or frivolous candidates from the race. It has proven to be the race that consolidates the Party around a candidate and sends the winner onto the remaining primaries with flags flying high and everybody on board. In 2008, South Carolina stunningly reversed John McCain’s loss in Iowa to Mike Huckabee. This with McCain’s win in New Hampshire revitalized and solidified his nomination. There are always surprises. In 2012 homeboy Newt Gingrich actually defeated eventual nominee Mitt Romney by 12%. This was not really a surprise considering South Carolina is a bastion of the original “southern strategy” and Newt being a Georgia homeboy
South Carolina loves homeboys. Tennessean Al Gore ran away with the Democratic primary in 2000. In 2004, North Carolina Senator John Edwards beat the eventual nominee John Kerry, though Edwards had to settle for the Vice Presidential nomination.
With no Republican homeboys in the race this year, it’s liable to be the guy that speaks the Reagan speak that finally pulls ahead. Right now the outspoken Trump is ahead and maintaining his lead. Ted Cruz is the cleverest of the lot and as is his style will do or say anything to please. Look for Cruz’ essential phoniness to be his undoing. Southerners don’t mind bull-shitters, as long as they’re authentic. Trump wins with flags flying.
On March 1st , Super Tuesday, twelve states hold their primaries. This is the decider as states from many geographic areas from Alabama to Texas and Alaska to Massachusetts are represented and award more delegates on that day than any other. On Super Tuesday in 2008, Republican John McCain nearly swept the field. Similarly Mitt Romney in 2012 solidified his position once and for all. In 2008 Democrats split for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama 50-50, continuing a tough race that would not be decided until June when Super-delegates, party insiders like members of the US House and Senate, state governors, DNC committee members and State VIPs finally committed to Barack Obama.
It looks to me like Trump v. Clinton. There will be no love fest there. Stay tuned.