The two men in the red corner

August 19, 2013

The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza thinks the fault lines of the Republican Party can be personified in the towering figures of two men: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Senator Rand Paul. A bold claim this far out… but party poll data do emphasise how neatly the Party is bifurcated. Here’s Cillizza’s main argument (full article here):

The political reality is that Christie and Paul almost certainly can’t peacefully coexist within the Republican Party — which has lost the popular vote in four of the past five presidential elections and finds itself on the wrong side of the shifting demographics of the country — because they represent such divergent views on the right way to move the party forward.

Paul sees principle at the root of the Republican renaissance, a core set of beliefs grounded in libertarian principles of keeping the government out of people’s lives and fundamentally rethinking the way American military might is used abroad.

Christie is openly dismissive of the “college professors” in the party who would rather win arguments than win elections. He is a political and policy pragmatist who is explicitly positioning himself as the guy best able to break the Republicans’ White House drought.

And this is the polling data:

Fifty-four percent of respondents believe the party needs to be more conservative; 40 percent believe it needs to moderate. On abortion, 26 percent believe the party isn’t conservative enough while 25 percent think it’s too conservative. Ditto gay marriage, with 31 percent describing the GOP’s position as too conservative and 27 percent saying it isn’t conservative enough.

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Are older people deserting the Republican Party?

August 14, 2013

If they are, it would be a really big deal, not least because ‘seniors’ are amongst the voters most likely to actually vote. The Atlantic has this story which suggests it’s happening quickly and dramatically. It stems from a national survey by ‘respected on both sides of the aisle’ Democrat pollster Stan Greenberg, although a national survey with a comparatively small – for the US – sample size of 841 likely votes (in 2014).

But the drop in support does seem big even if you stick to comparing to an earlier Greenberg poll, taken at the start of 2011:

Just 28 percent of voters 65 and older had a favorable view of the Republican Party in a national survey conducted last month by the Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg, versus 40 percent who had a positive view of the Democrats. That’s a reversal from a poll Greenberg conducted in early 2011, when 43 percent of seniors saw Republicans favorably and 37 percent saw Democrats that way.

What are the reasons for this? Probably a mix of reaction against Republican plans to change healthcare funding, more positive feelings about Democrats’ ability to run the economy, and ever-increasing frustration at GOP obstructionism in Congress. Interesting stuff.


The next president and The Boss

November 14, 2012

No: not a post proposing that Bruce Springsteen’s late involvement in Obama’s campaign was the crucial factor in pushing the President-Elect over the finishing line, but a window into a possible, plausible future; a future where New Jersey governor Chris Christie – he who the more shortsighted in the GOP are keen to blame for stalling Romney’s momentum by praising Obama’s response to Hurricane Sandy – becomes the man to haul the Republican Party away from the politics of fear, negativity and protection of privilege to a land of hope, dreams and fairness. Any man who’s willing – keen even – to spell out his political principles in the form of an imagined debate with Bruce has proven his credentials as far as I’m concerned. Here’s the ‘exchange’ in question, taken from an interview with Christie published in The Atlantic earlier this year, with Jeffrey Goldberg asking the questions in the midst of a Springsteen concert:

Christie argues that the only thing separating his philosophy from Springsteen’s is a single word. At concerts, Springsteen has often told his fans: “Nobody wins unless everybody wins.”

“I think I would agree with that statement if he added a word,” Christie told me. “‘Nobody wins unless everybody has the opportunity to win.’ If he said that, I’d be 100 per cent on board.”

But here’s what I told him I imagine Springsteen might ask: “Governor, do you really believe it’s a level playing field? Do you really believe that marginalized people even have access to opportunity?”

“Look,” Christie said to the imaginary Springsteen. “I’m attempting to level the playing field. We just disagree about how to level it. I think we level it by improving an urban education system that is dominated by union interests that are not working for the best interests of kids, but working in the interest of their next contract. You do it by bringing more private-sector business to the state.”


You snooze you lose?

September 26, 2012

The vast majority of people writing about US politics – any politics, arguably – have little or no clue as to what’s really going on ‘behind the scenes’, but that doesn’t stop them putting pen to paper. And at times of apparently momentous change, for example the recent and seemingly stubborn shift towards the Dems, the bollocks multiplies. Levels of interest rise, insight doesn’t.

A case in point: Arianna Huffington’s blog post last week entitled Is Sleep Deprivation the Reason the Romney Campaign is Blowing It? It’s hard to know where to begin: this isn’t a light, humorous piece, but a fairly detailed analysis of Romney’s mis-steps, arriving at the coup de grace…

So what is behind all these bad decisions? Here’s my theory: not enough sleep. And I have evidence (at least one piece)! While I was at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, a well-sourced journalist told me that senior Romney advisor Eric Fehrnstrom sleeps only three or four hours with his devices beside him, then wakes and checks his email, sends out replies, and then gets another hour of sleep. Or not. If Fehrnstrom’s habits are at all indicative of the Romney campaign operation at large, then voila — mystery solved!

And what, Obama’s senior people are taking regular catnaps? Sleep deprivation and politics go hand-in-hand, and whilst today’s neverending news cycle means things may’ve gotten worse, at some level it was ever thus. In his biography of LBJ Robert Dallek recounts how Johnson would work such long hours on the campaign trail he would have to be literally propped up at parties in the evening, able to barely raise a hand to greet wellwishers.

Little sleep is one thing, no sleep another matter entirely, however. One man with real access to a presidential campaign – unlike Arianna – is Jay Root, who this weekend revealed that Romney’s onetime challenger Governor Rick Perry did, in fact, have lack of sleep at least partially to blame for his botched showing. Following a couple of truly disastrous debates, the medics were called in…

After conducting overnight tests on Perry, they produced a rather startling diagnosis: He had sleep apnea, and it had gone undetected for years, probably decades. The ailment, which affects one in 10 men worldwide and becomes more common as people age, causes loud snoring and temporary lapses in breathing that disrupt normal sleep.

So when truth can be stranger than fiction, the problem we seem to be left with is which bollocks to believe?


Wishful thinking, or will Obama really benefit from a global leftward trend?

September 17, 2012

In amidst news of infighting amongst members of Team Romney and a shift of that campaign (from ‘focused but ultimately ineffective’ to ‘unfocused’) I find it important to bear in mind the old rule of thumb: campaigns are rarely going as badly or as well as it seems.

And yet… goodness it’s tempting. Tempting to believe that the challenge facing Romney isn’t just a mad professor chief of staff doing three jobs or a Hollywood director who refused to be scripted. Tempting to think that the Republicans are running against the tide. That the President’s narrow lead has structural causes.

Especially when respected political commentators like E. J. Dionne (Jr.) suggest the flow may be a global one:

The movement in the presidential race reflects a broader trend visible in many nations. In the immediate wake of the financial crisis, electorates moved not toward parties of the left, which is what one might expect during a crisis of capitalism, but toward the right. Conservative-leaning parties won a long list of national elections in 2009 and 2010, including the Republicans’ midterm triumph here.

Since then, thinks Dionne, the centre-left has mounted a comeback, resulting in Hollande winning and Miliband leading. Can it be true that voters the world over eventually always come back to the middle of the road?


Americans say: enough God (in politics)

March 27, 2012

The Republican race has been over since Super Tuesday, really. Santorum’s successes in the South artificially prolonged the sense that somehow he might sneak it.

So now we’re into what The Post’s Chris Cillizza cheerfully calls the ‘walking dead’ phase of the campaign, recalling memories of Hilary’s limp to the finish line in 2008.

Pointing to Santorum’s angry defence of his equally angry ‘Romney is the worst Republican in the country’ speech, Chris says ‘This is how primary campaigns end, not with a bang but with a wimper. Or, more accurately, a whine.’

Standing back from the fray, what deeper trends did the GOP battle reveal? One that caught my eye – reported in the NYT yesterday – centres on the role of religion in politics which ‘regular readers’ (hello mum) will know to be a topic of ongoing (if not eternal, ho ho) fascination to me.

The Times piece – primarily about the fact that Santorum did peculiarly badly amongst Catholics (who, it turns out, probably unsurprisingly on reflection, do not vote as one bloc) – included coverage of a study by the Pew Research Center that suggests a big increase over the last decade in the proportion of US voters who think there’s too much religion in politics.

The nationally representative poll of 1500 Americans found that about two-fifths (38 per cent) felt there was ‘too much’ by way of ‘open expressions of religious faith and prayer by politicians’, more than a threefold increase since the question was first asked by the Pew Center in 2001 (when 12 per cent agreed there was ‘too much’ religion on display amongst politicians).

This would seem to explain why Romney’s Mormonism – which every bugger thought would be a major issue for Republican voters – simply wasn’t a big deal (apart from for loony Evangelicals, of course).

It will be interesting to track whether the changing demographics of the States – I’m thinking in particular here the rapidly increasing size of the Latino population – will have any bearing on the downward trend in Americans’ willingness to tolerate God in politics.

But for now… onto the big race.


Wishful thinking continues as Romney’s businesslike campaign does just enough

March 7, 2012

So: Super Tuesday played out much as expected. Romney snuck Ohio – the biggest prize of the night – and won four other contests easily, Santorum took Tennessee, Oklahoma and North Dakota, and Gingrich was the comfortable Georgia victor.

A number of early comment pieces attempt the tricky balancing act of pretending that Romney might not win the race (no Super Tuesday knockout!) whilst accepting that, er, there’s no way Romney cannot win the race. I have absolutely no idea what BBC North America editor Mark Mardell is actually saying in this, for example.

(Incidentally if you’re not convinced that Romney will be the eventual nominee, then go quickly to the ever-excellent FrontloadingHQ blog written by psephologist Josh Putnam.)

Slightly more interesting is this piece in the New York Times which suggests that Mitt’s campaign has ‘always resembled a detailed, methodical business plan’ and makes an indirect comparison between this race and Obama’s own ‘winding path’ to the White House.

That the Obama campaign was businesslike is an inescapable conclusion of reading campaign manager David Plouffe’s utterly absorbing and even thrilling The Audacity to Win. The memoir works just as well as a management textbook – on effective delegation, strategy vs. tactics, personnel management, risk-taking and lines of command – as an election-winning guide. The Plouffe campaign was consummately businesslike.

But there are few other similarities. Romney has millions in the bank, Obama had to generate his funds largely through grassroots donations. Obama was up against the colossal might of the Clinton machine, Mitt faces a motley crew of half-baked nonRom contenders. Perhaps most pointedly: Obama had a clear and positive mission, which he communicated consistently, so that voters knew what he was for. Romney chops and changes, beats his opponents with wave after wave of negative advertising, and fails to enthuse.

There is, however, one further similarity that will certainly be to the forefront of Mr Plouffe’s mind as he looks to support his boss triumph again (from the safe distance of the White House this time, and as a senior adviser rather than campaign manager). Once the primary tousle was over in 2008, Democrats unified solidly behind their candidate, brought together by the common over-riding goal of getting rid of a hated commander-in-chief.

No-one should pretend that beating Obama won’t have a similar edifying effect on Republicans, whether ultra-conservative, liberal, from the North or from the South. And the GOP on the march is a fearsome prospect.


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