February 21, 2016
Following the South Carolina primary, Jeb Bush, the once prohibitive favorite, is gone from the Republican Presidential contest. He is a decent, capable man. (One must struggle to avoid referring to him in the past tense, as if he were dead.) What went wrong with a conservative and very successful two-term governor of a major swing state? There was his somewhat prissy speaking and debating style. He gave the impression that he wanted to be with the wild kids but can’t help that he is a good boy and would report to your mother, if you got out of line.
That’s all window dressing though; His major problem is the same as his major strength. He is a Bush and a good one. Although six years younger, he, not George W., is the brother the family expected to be President. Had he not lost his first run for Governor of Florida in 1994, while George was winning his first race in Texas, he surely would have been first in line. And he would not have had such a close race for the Florida electors in 2000.
Insurgents are in favor in both parties in the current election cycle. The Bush family network of donors and political allies, so effective in earlier elections was a millstone this time. Jeb is only 63 and may be back, riding a wave of buyer’s remorse, if Donald Trump brings the G.O.P. crashing down in defeat.
Meanwhile though, the support of the “establishment” seems a disadvantage, at least in a crowded field. Yet the two Democratic candidates are still claiming the Big Money somehow dominates elections.
Exit polls in South Carolina show that less than 10% of those who voted for Trump think that he shares their values, but 77% think “he tells it like it is.” It still seems as though Trump voters are trying to send a message and give Washington D.C. a good shakeup, more than anything else. They seem oblivious to Speaker Sam Rayburn’s maxim, “Any jackass can kick over a barn. It takes a carpenter to build one.”
The current perception is that there is now a three-way race among Trump, Cruz and Rubio with Carson and Kasich bringing up the rear. Carson was indeed a feel-good fad. Kasich is a serious guy. A successful 2nd term conservative Governor of a large Midwest swing state, he has a substantial grasp of national security issues from 18 years on the House Armed Services Committee. As Chairman of the House Budget Committee for six years, he was largely responsible for the only balanced budget in recent times as well as comprehensive welfare reform. He can build the barn and is not inclined to kick one over. That may be a fatal flaw, as he is mired in single digits in the national polls.
Kasich’s only hope is in the North. While Republicans were voting in South Carolina, he was campaigning in Massachusetts, which also votes on March 1. He hopes to do well there and go on to Michigan, Illinois, and New York and, of course, Ohio. If his campaign can keep a pulse, there will be California in June. He is refreshingly positive but, as Bush showed in the first few debates, that doesn’t get you anything in a sea of hostility. He may be campaigning now to be Trump’s running mate.
Back in the South the three leading candidates have one and a half terms in the Senate among them. Trump is doing a fair impression of General Sherman but starting west from Charleston where Sherman ended his March to the Sea. Ted Cruz is the smarmy, unctuous “true believer” conservative, despised as a snake and liar where he is known best – in the Senate – to the point that Republican Senators, if pressed would choose Trump over him. Marco Rubio, easily the most eloquent of the candidates unless his recording gets stuck as it did in the New Hampshire debate, was elected as a Tea Party creature, morphed into senator trying to put together a compromise package on immigration reform but now is reduced to denying he ever did anything so reasonable.
The word is that Mitt Romney may be about to endorse Rubio, completing his transition from Tea Party to establishment candidate. There was a time that would have been a good thing but perhaps not now. Bush’s departure may help Rubio in their shared home state of Florida, but the last polls show Trump beating them – combined.
If all this is enough to make one want to think about the Democrats, let’s do that. Hillary Clinton beat Bernie Sanders in the Nevada Democratic caucuses. No surprise there, but her margin was only 52-48, not much for an heiress-presumptive against, recently, a “fringe” candidate. Next week is the South Carolina Democratic primary. (Don’t ask. I have no idea why they do them on different days.) Democratic primaries in South Carolina, like those in other Southern states, are dominated by African-Americans. Those voters love the Clintons, except for a hiccup in 2008, when they decided to go for a real First Black President instead of the wife of the metaphorical one. Are they loyal? In Nevada Blacks are only 13% of the electorate but Hillary won them big enough to offset Sanders beating her among both white and Hispanic voters.
After March 15, the Republicans have a number of big winner-take-all primaries where Trump getting 40% will enable him to win in a three or four man (the remaining Republicans are all men, so I don’t have to say “person”) field. The Democrats, however, continue distributing delegates proportionally, so Clinton continuing to win will not deprive Sanders of some delegates. The Democrats are not as susceptible to insurgencies, owing to the 10-15% of their delegates who are Super Delegates – party leaders and elected officials.
There is still the question of Secretary Clinton’s potential legal problems, either an indictment or, nearly as bad, a leak of a recommended prosecution, quashed by Attorney General Lynch (Guess she couldn’t get a building named after her at Lebanon Valley College. Google it.) or President Obama, causing a “Saturday Night Massacre” style firestorm. If that happens, will Clinton brazen it out? Will Democrats try to stop her?
Lots more to come.